Saturday, April 24, 2010

Jason goes to SFIFF--Day 2

Two shows last Friday Night, but first I got to the theatre way early (but not early enough to catch another show) and so I had lots of time to hang out in the festival lounge, drink a few Stella Artois (yay sponsor beer!), have enough snacks to constitute dinner, and chat with lots of film fans, professionals, and my fellow press (I still think I'm fooling everyone by walking around with press credentials).

Then, when I was good and liquored up, I settled into the front row for the Persistence of Vision Award night for Don Hertzfeldt (who I'm now declaring "The Pride of Fremont"--he takes that title away from M.C. Hammer).

Mr. Hertzfeldt started the festivities with some reminiscences of life in Fremont--particularly the one art class he took in school, the girl who accidentally sliced off her fingertip in the paper cutter and had to be rushed to the nurse, and the gruff teacher who simply tossed her fingertip into the trash.

By the way, prior to the show I spoke with a number of people who were going there just to support the POV award, and knew nothing about Don Hertzfeldt. I hoped they enjoyed the rare treat they got.

We then progressed to a clip reel of his work, starting with many I had seen before. In no particular order: his astronomical evolution epic THE MEANING OF LIFE. His classic (and Oscar nominated) tale of an artist gone mad in a commercial world REJECTED ("My spoon is tooooo big!" "My anus is bleeding!" His harrowing student film of a world where toys rebel against their children, BILLY'S BALLOON. INTERMISSION IN 3-D, part of the Animation Show he did with Mike Judge (one thing missing, we never talked about his Mike Judge collaboration).

We then moved on to his later work which I hadn't seen. EVERYTHING WILL BE OKAY and the follow-up I AM SO PROUD OF YOU where Bill worries so much about his life (and crotch-level fruit) that he goes a bit mad.

Then it was time for the interview/Q&A section. Just a couple of questions in Don announced that he had one more clip to show, and he introduced it as as a 35mm film can found clutched in the hands of a corpse that was locked in an old rusted trunk in the attic of a distant relative's house in Sweden. Yeah, right, it was WISDOM TEETH, a sick little flick about a stitch that just won't end. Brilliant.

As for the interview, Don was funny, engaging, his mind wandered to some weird places. But I liked how he admitted silent films--especially the gags of Buster Keaton--were a big inspiration (BTW, anyone interested in silent films and animation should check out the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum's Roots of Animation show tonight). He talked about sneaking into front row center for a Monty Python reunion show (and being mistaken for Johnny Depp). And all around, he was a funny, engaging guy. I wasn't even perturbed that a guy two years younger than I was getting a lifetime achievement award (and I still consider myself a young guy).

Anyway, next up was the late show CARGO. A sci-fi epic of great ambition and intelligence, but relies a bit too much on plastic-looking CGI and some less-than-stellar acting and writing. In 2267, Earth in uninhabitable. People live like refugees in space stations, but there is one inhabitable planet--RHEA--that everyone strives to (afford to) live on. People will do anything to get to RHEA, and Dr. Laura Portman has joined the crew of a cargo ship to make the money and join her sister there. Should be uneventful--go into cryo-sleep, wake up at space station 42, collect a paycheck, go to RHEA. But of course things don't go as planned. Recent terrorist attacks have made a TSA agent on-board mandatory. And incidents happen--accidents (or murders?), a stowaway on board, maybe? But what is clear is the cargo is not just ordinary supplies. They pull out one crate and find a little girl inside. Alive, but in a cryo-sleep coma and with wires in her brain hooking her in to...they don't know what. The sci-fi lineage (ALIEN, THE MATRIX, SUNSHINE, even a bit of MOON from SFIFF 2009) is pretty clear, and the filmmakers are clearly fans of the genre. And they've put together a clever idea (and allegedly Switzerland's first sci-fi film), and should be commended for making it at a fraction of what a Hollywood studio would spend. But I do have to complain about the fake-looking CGI. There are some beautiful shots, but too often it created a world that the actors didn't fully inhabit, and that kept me from being fully drawn into the movie. Last year MOON succeeded so well in large part due to the quality of the practical effects. CARGO is a near miss (and a shame, given the smart script) for it's over-reliance on CGI. And it's not that I'm opposed to CGI, it's just that the difference between excellent (i.e., really expensive CGI) and bad CGI is so great, if you're going to rely on it so much you better do it much, much better.

Total Running Time: 194 Minutes (note, the time for the Don Hertzfeldt cartoons was estimated at 74 minutes, the interview time was not counted)
My Total Minutes: 181,490

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