Monday, May 31, 2010


It's not great. It's pretty much a brainless summer action movie. I could dismiss it as that, even damn it with the faint praise of 'pretty good for a movie based on a video game,' and the acrobatics are entertaining.

But I can't say why I hated the movie without spoiling the ending. So here goes (in the most generic terms I can come up with): Throughout the movie, there's a mystery around a magical artifact, and if you do a certain something with it, it can destroy the entire world. And in the end, the villain does just that, while the hero tries to stop him, and...instead of destroying the world, it puts the hero in position to save everything.


You know, I'm so worked up about this, I actually retroactively hate the "cross the streams!" ending of GHOSTBUSTERS.... Ah, who am I kidding, I can't not love GHOSTBUSTERS. PRINCE OF PERSIA, on the other hand, sucked.

Oh yeah, and as for the time travel logic (I guess that's another big spoiler)--it's branching world logic, so kind of "meh." No big inconsistencies, because they didn't even try to address potential time travel paradoxes.

Jason goes to the Hypnodrome to see some HOT GREEKS

Ah, the Thrillpeddlers. So I wasn't born yet when The Cockettes were first doing their magic in San Francisco, but if the Thrillpeddlers' resurrection of their work is any indication, I would've been a fan (if I had been of age). Their revival of Pearl Over Shanghai was outrageous enough to be held over more than a year (now running through August 1). And HOT GREEKS was the Cockettes other "book" musical (as opposed to a revue, it actually has a story--if you can call it that).

HOT GREEKS is a college campus/Greek mythology musical comedy. The boys (one of which was a girl) of Athens U are preparing for the big game against Sparta State, and completely ignoring the sorority girls (most of which were boys) who are left "pining for their pins." So the girls get together and plan plan a little something to get the boys to play their game. And there's singing, dancing, hilarity, a lascivious sculpture professor, and basic Cockettes/Thrillpeddlers outrageousness.

It is, however, a little short (maybe about an hour), so after an intermission we were treated to HOT COCKETTES, a musical revue and a bit of a Cockettes history lesson led by original Cockette Scrumbly Koldewyn (who also wrote the music and played the piano for HOT GREEKS). Lots of hilarity, gotta love "A Crab on Uranus" from JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF URANUS (1972). Oh yeah, and plenty of nudity (of whatever variety you prefer) all the way through.

HOT GREEKS plays Thursdays and Sundays until June 27, 2010.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


And it was an experiment that was either idiotic or the most inspired movie pairing I've ever seen.

Clearly the wrong one was in 3-D.

One movie was pure, unmitigated, practically unwatchable torture...and the other featured a mad scientist sewing people's mouths and anuses together.

Okay, that's enough snark. But seriously, SHREK had more scatological humor than THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE.

SHREK FOREVER AFTER takes place in an alternate universe. Literally. In the beginning Rumplestiltskin tricks Shrek into signing away one day of his life in exchange for one day of being a feared ogre (rather than beloved but put-upon celebrity) again (I fully understand, we all need a bit of "me" time once in a while). Rumplestiltskin takes away...that day Shrek was born. And the rest of the movie takes place in a world where Shrek never existed, Fiona was never rescued, and Rumplestiltskin tricked the King and Queen into signing over Far Far Away Land. Once Shrek's one day as a "real ogre" is over, since he was now never born he'll disappear. But there's a way to break the curse, which he does, and everything roles back to the beginning. And while Shrek learned and Important Lesson™, nobody else realizes some crazy alternate-universe crap happened. Which is great, because I've already nearly forgotten it.

As for the HUMAN CENTIPEDE, given the hype about the disgusting premise (mad doctor kidnaps three tourists and sews them together ass-to-mouth so food goes in the first and out the last) it's a surprisingly sterile movie. The operation is described to the victims in a brisk but detailed slide show (using an overhead projector. I haven't seen that in years, get with the program and use Powerpoint, man!) It's so clinically described, that the end result is underwhelming. This is torture porn for people who consider diagrams of genitalia in medical textbooks as porn. Which isn't to say it's worthless. The fact that somebody had this idea and put it on film with a minimum of competence says a lot about human nature. Dieter Laser (BTW, great name) is born to play the role of the mad doctor. But beyond that, is there anything it says about...anything? I find it odd that so many critics have been saying it's oddly compelling. The doctor is doing this discernible reason. The only clues we get are:
  1. He was (still is?) a famous surgeon specializing in separating Siamese twins. Now he's reversing his career work and creating something new by conjoining people. About the only insight is that sometimes people come up with humorously sick ideas by reversing something benign (or even beneficial). Hell, I've come up with ideas that way. For example, I once read a story about how an airport was shut down because a vibrator was mistaken for an explosive device....
  2. He tested his idea on dogs first, and he loved his 3-hound, but it died. So he decided to repeat the experiment on humans. Because he doesn't like humans? I have no idea if he's trying to create a creature he will love, or just torture people he hates.
As for the victims, they don't like it (duh!) They scream a lot, at least until the operation is over, then only one (the Japanese guy) can actually scream.

Director Tom Six has announced a sequel. This is technically THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE (FIRST SEQUENCE), the sequel is THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE II (FINAL SEQUENCE) which is supposed to feature a 12-person centipede (and in the words of Mr. Six make the first film look like "My Little Pony"). Well, here's my suggestion: The human centipede case is a news sensation. Underground fetish clubs where people pretend to be human centipedes appear. A group of 12 people form one of these clubs and party ass-to-mouth nearly every night. But it's not enough for them, so they kidnap an unwilling surgeon and force him to perform the operation on them. As it becomes more real, some members of the group have second thoughts, but the charismatic leader keeps them in line. Now there's a vehicle where you could explore many aspects of the dark, sick side of human nature.

Instead, I suspect Mr. Six will just torture more people and make a bigger centipede, ultimately saying nothing.

Total Running Time: 183 minutes
My Total Minutes: 186,132

Jason co-hosts the as-yet-unnamed-geek-movie-night at the Vortex room

Holy crap, that's tonight!

The trial run of a series that will really take off when I'm back from a little trip to South Africa to see a certain sports competition. Anyway, doors open at 7:30, REAL GENIUS starts at 8:30 (complete with my insightful explanations of Caltech in-jokes and trivia), followed by WEIRD SCIENCE at...I don't know, probably 11:00.

Vortex Room 1082 Howard, near 7th.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Jason goes to Bad Movie night and sees WILD WILD WEST

So usually I try to come up with a funny way to mock the movie, but I'm stumped here. Some comical line can actually live up to how truly awful this movie is. It is paradoxically bad: you must be brain-damaged to like it; watching it causes brain damage; and yet somehow it didn't damage my brain enough to like it.

Running Time: 106 minutes
My Total Minutes: 185,949

Sunday, May 23, 2010


And it's a fairly straight-forward, by-the-numbers story that is buoyed by some excellent acting. That comes mostly from Q'orianka Kilcher (THE NEW WORLD) as the title character, the princess of Hawai'i during the annexation by the U.S. Her mother was Hawaiian royalty and her father was Scottish. Near the turn of the century, the haole (white ranchers, most notably Sanford Dole) were taking over Hawai'i, and pushing the royal family out of power. Ka'iulani is taken by her father back to the U.K. where she faces racism in school (leading to many a single crystalline tear streaming down her cheek) but also finds love. But by the time they let her know about the trouble back home, it's nearly too late. So this "barbarian princess" travels to the East coast of America, charms the press, meets President Cleveland (who is sympathetic, but unfortunately is a lame duck at this point, just weeks from being replaced by a less sympathetic McKinley). About her only victory was getting the natives the right to vote. Small consolation, given that she's lost her entire nation.

Running Time: 130 minutes
My Total Minutes: 185,843

Jason goes to the Niles Film Museum for Anna May Wong in THE TOLL OF THE SEA

But, as always, first a couple of shorts:

SPRING FEVER (1919): Harold Lloyd, early in the development of his "glasses" character. He plays a little hooky from work, and causes a bit of chaos with his mainstays Bebe Daniels and Snub Pollard. Pretty funny, but one of the early glasses characters shorts where he was quite a bit meaner/more mischievous than his later far more sympathetic characters.

SHOOT STRAIGHT (1923): Paul Parrott, looking every bit the spitting image of his big brother Charley Chase, goes a-hunting, and hilarity ensues.

Then the intermission, and back for the feature.

THE TOLL OF THE SEA (1922): This is doubly famous for being the first feature to have an Asian leading star (Anna May Wong) and for being the first to be shot in 2-strip Technicolor (and produced by Technicolor). And the color is still amazing. The story is a re-telling of Madame Butterfly moved to China. Young Lotus Flower (Wong) finds an American sailor washed up on the rocky beaches. She nurses him back to health, they fall in love, he goes home, forgets about her, she has his baby, he returns with his new wife...and the audience cries. And it's still totally effective.

Total Running Time: 74 minutes
My Total Minutes: 185,713

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Jason slips into a Vortex and sees THE MONITORS and THE WAR IN SPACE

Right after seeing P.U.S. perform their take on Faust, the Vortex room was just a block away and I arrived just in time for the first show.

THE MONITORS is a silly bit of late 60's sci-fi paranoia about a seemingly benevolent race of aliens in bowler hats who make sure everyone plays nice together. All this world peace just doesn't sit right with some people, who want their freedom back. By the end, I was totally rooting for the monitors, because it turns out people are jerks.

And then THE WAR IN SPACE.'s Japanese, by Toho studios, and it's about a war in space. Okay, I might've gotten drunk and dozed through a lot of this, but I think I caught all the important bits. There's a war...and it's in space.

Total Running Time: 179 minutes
My Total Minutes: 185,639

Jason watches An Apology for the Course and Outcome of Certain Events Delivered by Doctor John Faustus on This His Final Evening

My second time seeing a P.U.S. show. And this was very different from TEMPEST(uousness). This re-imaging of Faust's final day, tormented by Mephistopheles before descending to hell. It's almost a one man show by Scott Baker as Dr. John Faustus (the only one who actually speaks), apologizing to the audience not for the events of his life, but for his inability to keep a proper diary. Seems that Mephistopheles (Valerie Fachman, doing some great diabolical pantomime around him) keeps stealing his diary, so to foil the demon's plan Faustus has written nothing but hatch marks in his diary. Counting...nothing in particular. It's an ode to meaninglessness as a means of conquering (or attempting and failing to conquer) the devil. Or perhaps an apology that a life spent in Faustian pursuits leads, ultimately, to a life that means nothing.

Or I'm over-analyzing, even trying to find meaning. The important thing is it was funny, and the bit about time travel and finding our "future beer" and "future potatoes" (Budweiser and potato chips) at some corner store whose name was a short number poem (two numbers that rhyme...what were they?) was funny and resulted in free beer and chips for the audience (sadly, the bit about the future beer being called the king is in the title, so the free beer had to be Budweiser. That's what the apology should really be for).

Anyway, last chance to see it is tonight. Details here. Tickets are $15. If you tell them Jason sent'll get nothing but I'll look cool. If you mention their Facebook ad, you'll get 2-for-1 admission.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Jason watches IRON MAN 2 in IMAX

And I won't compare it to TETSUO II: BODY HAMMER (although I'll point out Sam Rockwell's villain character is named Hammer, so maybe...)

Anyway, it's a fun, frantic action flick. If you're in the mood for summer action fun, Downey Jr. is still perfect as Tony Stark/Iron Man, and really hams it up well. Mickey Rourke equally so as the villain (and son of a Russian physicist who believes Stark's father stole the ARC idea from him, hence a really overdeveloped grudge). Sam Rockwell is excellent as always conniving business rival. Gwyneth Paltrow is still fine as Pepper Potts, and Don Cheadle is also great as Rhodey (and one of the few characters aside from Stark who's actually given an arc to follow). Gary Shandling makes a great turn as a Senator, Samuel L. Jackson is just keeping us warmed up for THE AVENGERS movie, and Scarlett Johansson isn't given enough to do. For that matter, neither is Samuel L. Jackson, and they sort of make the movie feel a little over-stuffed, but no matter. Oh yeah, and director Jon Favreau again gives himself the role of driver Happy Hogan and for some reason likes to show himself getting punched in the face many times. He's the comic relief.

Also, if you don't like big action movies but like pointing out plot holes, that's a second source of fun. Most egregious example is in Monaco, at the Grand Prix where Stark decides to drive his own car. Although all of his inner circle is surprised, and it appears to be a spur-of-the-moment decision, for some reason Ivan Vanko (Rourke) knows he was going to do it, had already snuck onto the track as part of a pit crew, and is waiting to attack Tony. Electricity whips are one thing, but his psychic powers are even greater. And that's just one example.

Running Time: 124 minutes
My Total Minutes: 185,273

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Jason slips into a Vortex to see LOGAN'S RUN and MOON ZERO TWO

Just catching up from last Thursday night. Geez, I've been too busy to blog.

Anyway, Vortex room, which means get fueled up on a couple of martinis. I'm going to go ahead and assume you've all seen LOGAN'S RUN. It's a freakin' classic. If not, just go see it.

MOON ZERO TWO was much sillier. A wacky little trip about a moon salvage expert (whose title craft, Moon Zero Two, is the Eagle from Apollo 11) who after getting fired teams up with a band of criminals to hijack an asteroid made of sapphires to crash it into the moon and salvage it. What the hell...

Total Running Time: 219 minutes
My Total Minutes: 185,149

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Jason goes to SFIFF--Closing Night

It's over, finito, nothing left after this post (just about a week after the fact). And I decided not to go to the closing night film, JOAN RIVERS--A PIECE OF WORK, or the after party (I had to get home and pack quickly for a flight to LA the next day, but that's another story). Instead I went to the Kabuki, had a few beers for the last time at the festival lounge (I'll miss you most of all!) and then saw a couple of movies.

First up, from Chile, YOU THINK YOU'RE THE PRETTIEST, BUT YOU'RE THE SLUTTIEST definitely wins the award for best title. And it's not a bad movie, either. Broken into five parts over the a crazy weekend, Javier nearly seduces Valentina but she says no just before they go all the way. Instead, she leaves him and sleeps with his best friend Nicolas. And Javier slowly goes insane all night, imagining what they might be doing, trying (and failing) to sleep with a prostitute, and mostly having an awful night. And it was pretty funny. In some ways it seems an unambitious fim--on the surface it's about nothing more than trying to get laid, and it was director Ché Sandoval's student thesis film. But it does a simple and effective job of balancing the comedy of trying to get laid with the insecurity underneath.

And finally, I ended the night and the festival with the documentary GARBO THE SPY. Named because his British handlers thought he was the best actor ever, this Spaniard survived both the Spanish Civil War and World War II, serving on both sides and never firing a shot. And he might just be the most important figure in the war. You see, on D-Day the Nazis were convinced that the boats landing on Normandy were a decoy, and the real invasion was coming at Pas de Calais. That was Garbo. But let's back up. He lived in Spain during the Civil War. After defecting to/from both sides, he escaped to Lisbon where he claims he was determined to offer his services to the British. Since he had no experience as a spy, they had no interest in him. So he sold his services to the Nazis. And without ever leaving Lisbon he convinced them he was living in Great Britain and had a network of 27 agents working for him. In fact, he was making everything up. Once the British found out, they were very interested. Ultimately he was working for the British against the Nazis, but was so convincing he's the

The movie plays quickly through talking head experts and archival footage (featuring, I think, SECRET D-DAY, where he was played by Sam Spiegel). But some of the most interesting part comes at the end, where one of the researchers discovers he was still alive (he was though to have died in 1949 Angola, in fact he eventually died in 1988 in Venezuela). His true name was Juan Pujol, and he wrote a book about his life as a spy. A great movie about a truly fascinating man, and the only man to be awarded both the Order of the British Empire and the Iron Cross.

And that's it. It's over. Don't ask me more about SFIFF 2010. I'm tired! Good night!

Total Running Time: 169 minutes
My Total Minutes: 184,743

Jason goes to SFIFF--Day 14

Two more movies on the penultimate night of the festival:

First up, the short ARSY-VERSY, a Slovakian documentary about directory Miroslav Remo's eccentric uncle, his bats, his photography, and his amateur filmmaking (including a role as a human bat).

That short led into THE INVENTION OF DR. NAKAMATS, a documentary on an even more eccentric man. Yoshiro Nakamats holds over 3,400 patents (way more than that hack Thomas Edison), including the floppy disk (and he has a gate in the shape of a floppy disk at his home). He's 80 years old, but plans to live to 144. That plan is based on photographing every meal he's eaten for 34 years and using his findings to invent the perfect life-sustaining drink. And currently, he's inventing a new type of bra. But his biggest invention might just be his own personality cult. For his birthday, he got a hotel to change one of it's banquet rooms to the "Nakamats Room" so he could have his party there. As a movie, this doesn't offer a whole lot more than a look at a very strange, maybe brilliant man (although he doesn't seem like a technology nerd), and it's pretty brisk at just under an hour. But the short time with this eccentric was enough.

And then I ended the night with a war film, LEBANON. Director Samuel Maoz fought in a tank crew in the first Lebanon war, but set this film in a tank in the second Lebanon war. Like DAS BOOT on land, the claustrophobia is palpable, as what was supposed to be a cake walk goes horribly wrong and they end up isolated from the rest of their comrades. Although it's set in the middle of a war, by confining the action entirely within the tank, it not only creates a claustrophobic atmosphere, it strips the war of all context and makes the squabbles inside the tank far more important. And those squabbles--about morality and what it takes to shoot someone who may or may not be a threat to you--are plenty weighty. Excellent, powerful movie.

Total Running Time: 174 minutes
My Total Minutes: 184,551

Monday, May 10, 2010

Jason goes to SFIFF-Day 13

Just one show last Tuesday

I've always loved the Silent Film + Live Music programs at SFIFF. THE GENERAL with the ALLOY ORCHESTRA at the Castro was one of my favorite movie experiences ever. They came back for Murnau's SUNRISE which was awesome. Guy Maddin's BRAND UPON THE BRAIN was one of the coolest things I've ever seen. And last year Dengue Fever rocked THE LOST WORLD. And then there's what Stephin Merrit did to 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA last Tuesday.

First, the movie. 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA (1916): The story is familiar--Captain Nemo in his Nautilus terrorizes the sea, out for revenge against those who wronged him. This movie is also famous for its groundbreaking underwater cameras by the Williamson Brothers (and like any new technology, as cool as it is it was overused to the point of slowing down the plot. Still, cool as hell to see it). And it's a solid, exciting adventure and romance story.

In life, Jules Verne didn't get the acclaim in English-speaking countries that he got in his native France, mostly because of poor translations. For example, Verne was very precise about measurements and dimensions in his stories, however many translators were unfamiliar with the metric system and simply translated the numbers with some similar English standard unit attached, rendering his meticulous dimensions into mathematical gobbledygook. And last Tuesday, over 105 years after he passed away, Jules Verne was the victim of another horrible interpretation.

Stephin Merrit (of The Magnetic Fields) designed a score that mocked and distracted from the movie, rather than accompanied it. The few moments where he knocked off the tricks and actually used music (especially the mighty Wurlitzer played by Castro organist David Hegarty) were nice, and showed glimmers of what could've been. And I could even tolerate Daniel Handler (Lemony Snicket) singing the falsetto refrain "20,000 leagues under the sea/That's where I want to go/And as long as you'll be there with me/That's all I need to knooooow!" once or twice--but not the hundred times it felt like. But the rest of the time, Handler was screeching the women's lines into a megaphone, Merrit was mumbling the male lines into another megaphone, and I was puzzling over 1) the difference in volume between the two, and 2) why a silent film needed added dialogue anyway. It works fine as a silent! Other annoyances: screams of fright that go on longer than the attack and underwater "bubble" sound effects during scenes on dry land (I was thinking everyone in the scene was supposed to be gassy?)

I've heard other people liked it. And generally I try to be a generous reviewer, making excuses for why I didn't enjoy it. But not this time.

I could point out that most people there (at least up near the front) were Stephin Merrit/Magnetic Fields fans, and I was there as a film fan (and silent film fan especially), so maybe I didn't "get it" the way his fans would. But screw that, it's a silent film at a film festival, a film fan should be in the target audience. I "got it" well enough, it just sucked.

Perhaps I was sitting in the wrong place, that the sound works better further back. But screw that, if you can't make your show work for the front row, you've lost me.

Biggest disappointment in the festival. But again, the movie is good. I'd like to see it with just a simple musical accompaniment sometime.

Running Time: 84 minutes
My Total Minutes: 184,400

Jason goes to SFIFF--Day 12

SFIFF is over, but I still have 7 movies left to write up. So let's go, starting a week ago.

First up last Monday, LAST TRAIN HOME. Director Lixin Fan assisted in last year's excellent UP THE YANGTZE, and is back with another exploration of an underrepresented population in China. Over 130 million Chinese people come from the countryside but work in factories in cities, coming home on for 1-2 weeks during the New Year celebration. All these people jamming into the trains represent the largest seasonal migration of human beings anywhere on earth. And while shots of crowded train stations and people running to climb on board are incredible, the strength of the movie is in how Fan keeps the story focused on a single family. The Zhangs left the poverty of their village for factory work 16 years ago, but left behind an infant daughter. That daughter, Qin, was raised by her Grandma and Grandpa (who has passed away) has grown to be pretty angry at her absentee parents, and the yearly reunion gets increasingly tense, devolving at one point to a full-blown fight. She drops out of school, moves to the city and works in a bar, and doesn't let them know where she's living. Meanwhile the younger son is still doing well at school, and shows every indication that he will stick with it. There are many angles that make this story endlessly fascinating, not the least of which is the global economy, and how events on the other side of the world affect demand for Chinese made goods, and directly affect their livelihood (interesting side note, during the recent economic collapse, Mrs. Zhang couldn't get factory work and stayed home for one year. During that year their son was top of his class). Very well done, and again especially for balancing the scope of the phenomenon with the story of one family.

Next was a fascinating experimental history lesson, 14-18: THE NOISE AND THE FURY. The title refers to 1914-1918, and the noise and fury of WWI. Narrated by an unseen French man who joined up at the start of the war, it uses oddly colorized newsreel footage (Ted Turner would be proud) and clips from other war films to tell the comprehensive one-man's-story of WWI. Going from the beginning when "everyone was behind the war" and thousands were executed for any hint of cowardice or un-patriotism, through the fabled Christmas day soccer game in no-man's land, through the mutinies of 1917 (where very few mutineers were actually executed). It's a powerful look at the miseries and the psychology of war, and how so many continued to support a war slaughter of attrition. How propaganda highlighted the "barbaric hun", and how it became known as "The War to End All Wars" later as a justification and morale-booster for continuing. Although it's quite an achievement, and I don't think there's been an exploration of any war quite like this, I'm afraid that all the fancy tricks detract from the message. This feels more like a movie that has more to say about cinema itself than about war.

So that was last Monday. 3 days/5 films to go.

Total Running Time: 187 minutes
My Total Minutes: 184,316

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Jason goes to SFIFF--Day 11 (with a detour to Bad Movie Night)

So despite staying up very, very late to see ALL ABOUT EVIL on Saturday night, I was still up bright and early Sunday morning and made it to the Kabuki just in time for the secret member's screening. That is, a secret screening for members, not a screening for secret members. And really, the screening wasn't a secret, it was in the festival mini-guide, it's just exactly what was screening was a secret.

And after some hi-jinx with festival director Graham Leggat (that devolved into charades), we found that the movie was MOTHER AND CHILD, featuring a lot of great acting (great female acting has been a highlight of the festival). It opens with a very tender scene of two fourteen year olds preparing to have sex. Flash 37 years in the future, and that little girl (named Karen) is played by Annette Benning. She still has nightmares about the daughter she gave up for adoption. That daughter, who named herself Elizabeth, is Naomi Watts (in real life, only 10 years younger than Annette Benning), and she's now a successful lawyer who refuses to put down roots in either a place (although she keeps returning "home" to Los Angeles) or in a relationship. She does have an affair with her new boss, played by Samuel L. Jackson. Karen splits her time between taking care of her frail, elderly mother, bickering with the maid and her adorable daughter, and working as a physical therapist--an incredibly bitter, angry one. Fellow hospital worker Jimmy Smitts starts paying attention to her, and after brushing him off a few times they finally get together, and he convinces her to go to the adoption agency and see if she can't contact her daughter. Which might or might not be a bad thing. And finally, Lucy (Kerry Washington) and Joseph (David Ramsey) are trying to conceive with her husband but isn't successful, so they're looking to adopt. Everything comes together a little too neatly at the end (although getting there is anything but simple, and has its share of tragedy). But mostly this movie is about excellent performances by a wide array of women navigating the dual roles of mother and child.

And now back to our regularly scheduled festival with the documentary PIANOMANIA. How interesting could a documentary about piano tuning possibly be? Turns out, when you're tuning Steinway grands for world famous virtuosos, pretty interesting. Stefan Knüpfer is the man in charge of the Vienna Steinway-Haus, and collaborates with some pretty amazing pianists. The focus of the film is his year-long collaboration with Pierre-Laurent Aimard, planning to record Bach's "The Art of the Fugue." And to make it clear, this is more than just making sure the piano is in tune. Every piano has its own character, and there are many difficult moves as they switch out pianos looking for the perfect one. The felt hammers have their own characters, and one of the best scenes is when Knüpfer receives a new set of hammers and immediately realizes they're about 0.6-0.7 mm too wide--they'll never work! It's a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at incredibly specialized work, and it also features some beautiful music. Always nice, since it's a very aural movie, it's easy to close ones eyes and take a power nap while enjoying the music. But I seemed to always snap awake in just a few minutes, because the technical aspects behind it were also so interesting.

Then I saw another documentary, this one on the Mexican "justice" system--PRESUMED GUILTY. José Antonio Zúñiga (nicknamed Tono) was a gangster rapper, and was at a bad point in his life when he pleaded with God to either kill him or put him in jail. Well, God obliged by sending the cops after him on a murder charge. Despite witnesses placing him far away at the time of the crime, just one witness who didn't name him until his third interview (after the police told the witness Tono was a suspect), and never even being told what crime he was being arrested for, he was still convicted and sentenced to 20 years in prison. Berkeley lawyers-with-cameras Roberto Hernández and Layda Negrete (who similarly explored the Mexican judicial system in 2006's THE TUNNEL) both took on his appeal and documented the ordeal, starting with a new trial. Hey, at least this time the judge showed up for trial instead of letting an underling preside (apparently very common in Mexico). Too bad the judge (same judge that found him guilty before) has no interest in hearing the new evidence or in admitting that he could've made a mistake. Court officials look like bored bureaucrats rather than officers upholding the law. When asked why she was accusing Tono, the prosecutor scoffs and says, "Because it's my job." I want to tell you there's a happy ending to this story, but that would be a spoiler. Oh, fuck it--his conviction is overturned on appeal (not by the first judge, they take it to a higher court). Moral of the story--don't get arrested in Mexico. At least, not unless you have a few years to waste in the squalor of prison and know some pretty talented and persistent lawyers-with-cameras.

Now I have to digress. I've been criminally negligent in not mentioning how awesome the hospitality lounge has been this year. I've only been press for 2 years now, so I don't know a lot about how it was in the past, but I know this year it's a much more happenin' place than last. And I'm not the only one who agrees. Last year, I was all about making it to the theater just in time for the movie. This year, I've been getting there early just to take advantage of happy hour (free drinks starting at 5:30). I've drunk so much sponsor beer (scientific fact--beer tastes better when it sponsors a film festival) that my blood is about 35% Stella Artois now (which gives me such a bubbly personality).

So I mention the hospitality lounge because at this point they were integral in preparing me for the next stage of my Sunday adventure--taking a break from SFIFF to co-host Bad Movie Night at the Darkroom. They crammed me full of Stella Artois (and, oddly enough, one glass of wine) and then I hopped on a bus to the heart of the Mission. There I grabbed another six-pack (I forget what kind of beer) and settled in to kick off Will Smith month, starting with I AM LEGEND.

I AM LEGEND is actually a pretty good movie. At least, you can tell it's artsy and shit because nothing happens for so much of the movie! Will Smith walks around with his dog, who he loves even more than his family whom he abandoned to their deaths while he rules New York alone. Oh, and there's zombies (apparently created by a genetically altered measles virus? Science has doomed us all!) but by the time they showed up I didn't care. And the whole movie was ruined by a drunk-ass racist with giant hair sitting in the front row and making so-called "jokes" into the microphone.

Then there was one final SFIFF movie that night--up to the Castro for THE LOVED ONES. Now I could mention how exceedingly drunk I was. I could also mention that I was surviving on about 2 hours sleep and had been watching movies pretty continuously for over 12 hours at this point. But instead, I like to think I AM LEGEND was so awful it put me into a mini-coma for about 80 minutes during this movie. Great ending, though!

Total Running Time: 493 minutes (yes, I'm counting THE LOVED ONES even though I slept through it. You still get frequent flier miles even if you sleep on the airplane)
My Total Minutes: 184,129

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Jason goes to SFIFF--Day 10

Saturday, normally a day jam-packed with movies, but the two-a-day formula was working so well for me....

I started the day bright and early with a wonderful documentary, THE PEDDLER. In Argentina there's a strange, charming old man named Daniel Burmeister who travels village to village and makes amateur hand-crafted films with the villagers. In exchange for food and lodging (he admits he didn't used to be such a savvy businessman--he used to only ask for lodging until he found out he needed to eat) he brings the whole village together to make a movie (he does charge 5 pesos to see the finished film, which nets him enough to make it to the next village). He used to write a new film for each village, until someone pointed out travelling theatre troupes perform the same few plays at every village, so now he keeps remaking the same few movies (he's remade one movie 12 times, which is probably a record). His methods are below amateur--while scouting talent with the mayor he asks if the village has anyone with a video camera he can borrow; while handing an actor a sheet as part of his ghost costume, he warns him not to ruin it because it'll be the movie screen later. But he's a charming man, sort of reminiscent of Ed Wood's charming, Quixotic cinema questing, but without any delusions of fame. This film follows Daniel around as he makes LET'S KILL UNCLE, and it's a charming, funny trip. Made me actually want to see his films.

Then I skipped out on the middle of the day to see my beloved San Jose Earthquakes take on the Colorado Rapids (Major League Soccer, in case you didn't know). That's a different story, but they won 1-0 on a goal by hometown hero Chris Wondolowski.

And then back up to the City, specifically to the Castro for the sold-out world premiere extravaganza of Peaches Christ's (Joshua Granell's) ALL ABOUT EVIL. What can I say, it was a wild night. Peachres hosted a 45 minute pre-show, with a lineup of gore drag queens, her sidekick Martiny, star Natasha Lyonne, another star and John Waters regular Mink Stole (they did a duet of Female Trouble. BTW, John Waters was in the audience), and the villainous Deborah (that's De-BOOR-ah, not Deb-bra).

Once the audience was fully stoked, the film finally ran, and fully delivered. Natasha Lyonne stars as Deborah, a nerdy librarian and manager (after her father) of the Victoria Theatre. Her dad was a great man who loved his daughter, loved his theatre, and loved classic horror films. Too bad he died, and now her total bitch of a mother wants to sell the Victoria and tear it down. So Deborah snaps and kills her. What's worse, she accidentally projects the security footage on the screen...and everyone loves it. Suddenly she's the hottest underground filmmaker in San Francisco (with the help of the excellent Jack Donner as the old projectionist Mr. Twigs). Her crew is rounded out by some delightfully psychotic twins (their end is possibly the best horror scene I've ever seen) and a junkie. And they make all sorts of true-death films, until of course it all has to come to a head. So I won't give that away, but I will say they've already booked a run at the Victoria in October, and I'll definitely be there.

Total Running Time: 182 minutes
My Total Minutes: 183,636

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Jason goes to SFIFF--Day 9

Stop me if you've heard this one: Two more movies last night...

First up, and excellent Ozarks crime and family drama, WINTER'S BONE. 17 year old Ree Dolly (the excellent Jennifer Lawrence) is the de facto head of her household. Her mom is ill and her dad--a notorious meth cook--is missing. And that's her biggest problem. See, he's due in court and put their house up for a bail bond. If he doesn't show up in one week she, her mom, and her two younger siblings are homeless. Between teaching them to hunt, clean, and cook squirrel and applying for the Army (presumably at one point her way out) she navigates a dangerous clan of meth dealers to either find her dad or prove he's dead (without getting killed herself). Both hindering and helping her is her uncle Teardrop (John Hawkes in a role both menacing and tragic), who warns her that she's likely to get herself killed (the first of many such warnings). A tense drama where the danger is very real and omnipresent, but Ree's cool head, though full of doubt and fear, steers her true.

The local culture is very important in this film, and it's helpful to know it was shot on location (in Missouri) with the help of locals. In most movies like this from "redneck/white trash" country, I'm afraid I'm buying into ugly stereotypes. The Q&A was very helpful in assuring me that the portrayals were accurate. And in fairness, for as much squirrel-eating and meth abuse, there were also helpful neighbors helping out a family in need.

So the next movie couldn't be more different. Hirokazu Kore-eda's AIR DOLL is the funny tale of a blow-up doll come to life (and becomes Korean actress Bae Doo-na). Employing some excellent physical humor, she learns her way around Tokyo, gets a job in a video store, falls in love with her co-worker (who claims to also be an air doll), and dashes off lines like "Because I had a heart, I was heartbroken." She also nearly dies from a cut when all the air leaks out, but luckily a piece of tape and her co-worker/love's breath saves her. Later that scene is mirrored with less positive results. I suppose I could wax philosophical about the contrasts between her physical emptiness (but emotional fullness) and the emotional emptiness of those around her. But instead I'll just focus on how it made me laugh. It's very, very funny.

And that was the second Friday at SFIFF

Total Running Time: 216 minutes
My Total Minutes: 183,454