Friday, July 30, 2010

Jason goes to Holehead--Closing Night

It's over, feels like it took forever. Don't know what I'll do now...oh, hey, Jewfest is already half over.

But first, three movies last night

First up, Holehead ended how it started...literally, with DEATH KAPPA. Okay, some background--a kappa is a friendly Japanese goblin with a turtle-shell back, a plate on his head, and an insatiable hunger for cucumbers. Seriously. In the first half of the movie, a singer returns to her home town, where immediately a gang of drunk-driving teens kills her grandmother and knocks a kappa mummy into the ocean, where it comes back to life. The girl and the kappa become friends, as her grandmother was the keeper of the Kappa. But she can't stop the psycho Japanese neo-imperialists bent on taking over the world with an army of fish-mutant soldiers cloned from the skin of the mummified kappa. And they end up nuking the world. And then it becomes a completely different movie, with a Godzilla knock-off attacking the city, until a giant, red-eyed death kappa shows up, defeats the monster, and starts attacking the city itself. And it's ridiculously cheesy--intentionally and obviously using toys on strings as the aircraft attacking a man in a suit. The giant cucumber scene and the death of the reporter are hilarious. And then some bad singing and it ends. Wow. And I didn't even mention the disturbingly white professor who explains this all. All this needed was random inserts of Random Burr walking through rubble.

So then more Japanese weirdness with the reprise of the opening night film, MUTANT GIRLS SQUAD. It seems some people (for some reason, mostly girls) are really a race of mutants with different "treasures"--weapons integrated into their body like ass-chainsaws or boob-swords (I think a lot of the movie was written by rolling a pair of dice--one with body parts and one with weapons). And they're led by a psycho with a phallic belly-sword who's bent on destroying all humans. Our hero (who until her powers manifest on her 16th birthday was the victim of school bullies) still holds some allegiance to humans, and so has to fight the mutants (with the help of two friends), save the humans, and usher in an era of peace. Or something, it's just a crazy excuse for mutant fighting, and it's awesome. Although I have to say enough--Holehead has overdone it on Japanese weirdness this year (MUTANT GIRLS SQUAD, DEATH KAPPA, ALIEN VS NINJA, ROBOGEISHA, SAMURAI PRINCESS, VAMPIRE GIRL VS FRANKENSTEIN GIRL). Given that, MUTANT GIRLS SQUAD was near the best of the bunch (the best was ALIEN VS NINJA).

And finally the festival ended with the most charismatic introduction ever (everyone else ran off somewhere, so I stepped up to introduce it) and a silly bit of fluff from Hong Kong, FUTURE X-COPS. Andy Lau stars as a cop in a Utopian future where Dr. Masterson has invented a solar energy system that makes fossil fuels obsolete. Problem is, the oil companies don't take it lying down, and try to assassinate him. The cops have a good bead on them, though, and even the toughest cyborgs can't get to him, although they do kill Andy's wife. And then, with little explanation, they steal a time travel machine to go back and kill Dr. Masterson as a kid (where have I heard that idea before?) So Andy travels back, with his own cyborg body, sets up a life in the past, and tracks them down. Only one rule--he can't change the past by doing something stupid like falling in love or showing his future technology powers. Oops, he does both. Ya know, I could have just grooved to the silly plot, which is derivative but gleefully enough done to enjoy. But the CGI was so awful I literally thought during the opening scene that this was an animated movie with a few human faces pasted in. Bad, bad CGI! Be more realistic!

And that, finally, is the end of Holehead 2010.

Total Running Time: 275 minutes
My Total Minutes: 191,665

Jason goes to Holehead--Wednesday July 28

The penultimate day, and just one movie. This is the easy night.

That movie was PHASMA EX MACHINA, and thank you Ira for coming up with the one-liner review I'll use: "It's SOLARIS in suburbia"

As a random side note, the one and only time I've seen Tarkovsky's SOLARIS, I was in college and a fat Bulgarian classmate rented it. Prior to showing it on the TV in the lounge, he announced that in order to like the movie, you must be "a person without glands." Truly, words to live by.

Anyway, PHASMA EX MACHINA. Two brothers are dealing with the death of their parents. The youngest acts out in school (side questions, can you really blow up a frog with just 6 D batteries? This looks like a job for science), but the elder really goes over the deep end looking for their ghosts in electrical noise. The thing is, he succeeds...kinda. That is, he brings people back to life, just not the right ones. Oops. A quality sci-fi drama that goes for atmosphere instead of cheap scares.

Running Time: 86 minutes
My Total Minutes: 191,390

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Jason goes to Holehead--Tuesday July 27

Near the end. Two more movies last Tuesday night

First up, a striking but blood-free psychological thriller, FELL. Leah (the excellent Cheryl Fidelman) is a victim of an abusive father and a powerless mother. Now grown up, she's pushed to the brink (and beyond) by the demands of work and her invalid mother. Her only joy is designing and sewing dresses, especially an extravagant frilly yellow dress (perhaps inspired by her canary) with equally extravagant matching panties (oddly enough, that was the part that really clued me in that she was psycho). Oh yeah, and she takes men back to her barn, tortures, and kills them. It's a really well-made, dramatic film, and the art design by the late Reuben Godinez (the film is dedicated to him) is extraordinary.

And if I left it at that, FELL was a great experience. But the filmmakers were there and talked about how they hoped the film could help stop child abuse. Now don't get me wrong, I am absolutely against child abuse, and I hope they really are successful. If they get distribution, a certain amount of the proceeds will go to charities fighting abuse, and I think it's great. But I don't really see the movie convincing anyone to stop abusing their kids. It's really kind of exploiting child abuse for entertainment value ("exploiting" is maybe the wrong word, it's far from a trashy film. But it's using child abuse as a dramatic driver). Leah responds to abuse by becoming a serial killer, which isn't really a solution. Maybe mothers with abusive husbands could be inspired, because you really don't want to be like the mother in FELL. And maybe (like one of the producers mentioned) it will just start dialogues that will be more serious and solution-oriented than this movie. In any case, I support the goal and wish them well, but I wanted to get that off my chest.

And then I stuck around for STRIGOI, which I previously saw at Cinequest, but I stayed awake this time. Here's what I wrote back then:
And finally, the night ended with a midnight screening of the strangest vampire story I've ever seen, STRIGOI. It takes place in a small Romanian village, although it was an English production and as such contains one of my biggest pet peeves--badly accented English filling in for a foreign language. I have no problem with suspending disbelief and letting English stand in Romanian. It's just if you do that, why do you need the thick accents? I'm already suspending disbelief, so let them just speak normal English
Okay, as for the story, I said it's the strangest vampire movie I've ever seen. It's not scary, it's kind of funny, but mostly it's just strange. In the opening scenes, the hated town master Constantin and his wife are murdered. But when young Vlad comes back to town, he swears he can see Constantin walking around at night. Meanwhile another man is dead, and the locals are keeping watch over the body. Tradition says to watch it for 3 (or was that 5?) days, too make sure it doesn't come back to life. Too bad the locals really use the wake as an excuse to drink over the body, and don't quite watch it enough. That and Vlad wakes up with his dad (or was it granddad, I forget) sucking his blood while patting him and saying "it's all right, it's all right..." Seems there are (un)dead strigoi and living strigoi and none of them make sense. Just really, really really weird
Okay, well I can fill in some gaps. There's something about land being sold to Constantin (or deeds being forged). The priest might or might not be a crook. Vlad has an MD, but never worked as a doctor (instead he was in Italy working in a fried chicken restaurant). That's important because the townspeople need a doctor to cut the Strigoi's heart out and burn it. Everyone is trying to pretend Strigoi don't exist. Oh, and it's his granddad who is living Strigoi and sucks his blood at night (sorry, spoiler!) I will, however, stand by my statement that it's really weird.

Total Running Time: 195 minutes
My Total Minutes: 191,304

Monday, July 26, 2010

Jason goes to Holehead--Monday July 26

Two movies, starting with (and I'm trying to be fair here) the abomination that is the 1984 version of METROPOLIS set to a rock score, partially colorized, and released by Giorgio Moroder as METROPOLIS 1984 REDUX (to really be fair, I wrote this sentence on the BART while on my way there. I haven't seen it yet)

Okay, I've seen it now and while METROPOLIS will always be a strong film, there's plenty to hate about what was done to it. The colorization (tinting and spot-color) was completely wrong. It looked beautiful in black and white, and while tinting didn't completely ruin it, the spot color was ridiculous. It just took me right out of the movie, calling attention to an irrelevancy instead of the story. As for the music, in a way it's more inappropriate, and in a different way just made it not METROPOLIS. While the METROPOLIS I saw just over a week ago at the Castro had a remarkably fluid, logical story (aided by the extra footage and possibly by improved/restored editing), what I saw last night was a series of connected scenes made to accompany music. The best comparison I can make (and I'm not the only one who noticed this) is the difference between a good narrative film and Pink Floyd's THE WALL, a movie made to accompany an album. Which is an interesting comparison, because I really like THE WALL, and it's possible (likely, given the crowd's reaction that if this were the only version of METROPOLIS I knew, I'd like it the same way. But having seen the most complete version since 1928 (not, as the film's intro claimed, 1926), it's but a distorted fun mirror reflection of true beauty.

Oh yeah, and the film's intro claimed a Fritz Lang quote in which he admits to being visually oriented, but not much for the audio elements, as if that makes it right to replace the original soundtrack with this. Fuck that! If you want to change it, just say you wanted to do something different with a movie you like for the sake of a new and different experience. Don't try to pass it off as you're improving something the director said he didn't do well.

The only thing more blasphemous would be re-casting the role of the robot.

I will grant that METROPOLIS 1984 REDUX can get some people who normally aren't interested in silent film to see one. And maybe that will get some new people (especially younger people) interested in silent film. And, by the way, if you saw this and are now interested in more silent film and live in the SF Bay Area, there's a place you can see silent films with live piano accompaniment every Saturday night--the Edison Theater at the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum.

And then I stayed to see DR S BATTLES THE SEX-CRAZED REEFER ZOMBIES again. Because Dr S is awesome. And you know what, the boobies are fine (and got some of the biggest laughs last night). I have to stop pretending the audience is cinephiles who know about the Hays Code era (and besides, with the gore and swearing it wouldn't have passed the Hays Code anyway) and remember that we're cult film fans who just want kick-ass awesomeness (and boobies!)

Total Running Time: 163 minutes
My Total Minutes: 191,109

Jason goes to Holehead--Sunday, July 25

I've given up trying to figure out how many days this festival has run so far. Three movies, here we go:

First up, a documentary AMERICAN GRINDHOUSE. A history of grindhouse/exploitation/underground films from the time of Edison to the modern day. It features interviews with cult/grindhouse filmmakers (John Landis, Joe Dante, Herschell Gordon Lewis, etc) as well as film historians (including San Francisco's own Czar of Noir, Eddie Mueller). Like the other doc in the fest, NIGHTMARES IN RED, WHITE, AND BLUE, it's a bit too much to absorb in 90 minutes. But I especially liked learning about the independent exploitation flicks of the Hays Code era, and the case that mainstream films have borrowed (and maybe surpassed) grindhouse films in terms of exploitation. But mostly, I liked seeing clips from all these films I know (and sometimes love) as well as finding out about films I've never heard of (who knew there was a Nazis vs Jesus flick, and who cares if it sucks, it's like $1.58 on

Next up a bit of sci-fi fighting fun. But first the short ESCAPE FROM DEATH PLANET. Cheap, lousy CGI of a few survivors trying to escape from giant sand worms and catch a rescue ship. I didn't care if they survived (especially since the scientist was such a schmuck)

Luckily the feature, ALIEN VS. NINJA, delivered a surplus of awesome. Starting with the ninjas. These are the ninjas of legend who can leap across forests and fight hordes all at once. Plus there's a hot lady ninja...nice! And comic relief in the form of a fat, cowardly ninja who at least invents cool (but often ineffective) weapons. The master sends them to explore a mysterious fireball that streaked across the sky. Enter the Aliens (technically, the title should be ALIENS VS NINJAS, since there are many of each), running wild and destroying villages while their young crawl up noses. And do you really need to know more, it's ALIEN VS NINJA, and it's awesome!

And finally, the night (and the weekend) ended with REYKJAVIK WHALE WATCHING MASSACRE. The setup sounds simple and a bit derivative--a group of people are isolated and attacked by maniacs. The hook (so to speak), is that the setting is an Icelandic whale watching tour and the maniacs are whalers who've seen their livelihood destroyed by hippie whale-huggers like Greenpeace (or as they call them, Green Piss). But the real strength is the performances, breathing reality into each character, whether it's the hard partier, the recent widow, the bitter old local women, the Japanese family, the French drunkard, or the calm, ass-kicking black dude. You understand these characters, and care whether they live or die (of course, I was rooting for die). Oh, and the gore is great, the tension is built well, the maniacs are appropriately maniacal (modeled after THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, and no accident that Leatherface himself, Reykjavik-born Gunnar Hansen appears as the whale watching boat captain) and it's just an all-around well made flick.

Total Running Time: 252 minutes
My Total Minutes: 190,946

Jason watches a midnight screening of PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE

After Lebrowski (and after watching my buddy Ira bust his ass cleaning up. Good luck on your job interview, Ira!), we drove over to the Bridge for a midnight screening of PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE.

With Peaches Christ touring with her film ALL ABOUT EVIL, we needed new midnight happenings at the Bridge. And stepping in is Citizen Midnight with Rocksploitation. A little rock and roll to start it off--a few original homages to the movie, and a few from the soundtrack. And then it was time to start the flick

As always, Brian De Palma's glam-rock take on Faust, Phantom of the Opera, and a few other horror classics (a bit of Cask of Amontillado, a bit of Frankenstein) is awesome. So awesome, I loved it even though I was so exhausted I dozed off a bit near the end.

A bit of trivia: PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE was released on the most important day in the history of the human race--October 31, 1974 (my birthday).

Running Time: 92 minutes
My Total Minutes 190,694

Jason watches the Primitive Screwheads production of MUCH ADO ABOUT LEBROWSKI

Not Lebowski, or Lebronski, or Leb-don't-sue-ski.

The Primitive Screwheads, famous for dousing audiences in gallons of fake blood, have toned it down and just threw a bit of water on the fans (mostly me) for their take on a completely original 9-pin playing slacker comedy in the style of William Shakespeare. Jokes abound, a rug (i.e., me) gets pissed on, minstrels serenade us, pornographic playwrights run amok, and there's even a plot in there (something about a kidnapping, which may be know how complex this Shakespearean stuff is). They've also got the hottest cowgirl Greek chorus ever, and there's some comic relief from a couple of escaped jailbirds trying to get in on the ransom. They're from some place called Raising in Arizona.

You know, as much as I love getting blood dumped on me, (and I have it on good authority that their next production is a reprise of their first one--Evil Dead Live), once again the Screwheads show that when they put the blood away they can make a good (and wonderfully interactive) show with their comedy alone.

They've added a few more shows, at Cell Space on July 31 and August 6, 7, and 20. More info here, and tickets here. Go see it!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Jason goes to Holehead and barely knows what day it was.

Friday, definitely Friday. I flew back from Cleveland (real life work thing) and for the second time two weeks apart went from the airplane straight home and then to Holehead to see three movies. I really need a rest (note to self: start planning for Jewfest)

Anyway, the first movie started with a short ZOMBIFICATION. Three survivors try to keep safe (or safer) from a zombie horde by reading Max Brooks' "Ultimate Zombie Survival Guide." It's a good book, but let's see how it holds up to reality.

That led into a spot-on hilarious 50's sci-fi parody DOCTOR "S" BATTLES THE SEX-CRAZED REEFER ZOMBIES. Made in Texas and shot in black and white (of course), Dr S works (or worked) for a research company that was working on a reanimation formula to fight communism. And they test the formula by sneaking it into a batch of the most devious communist plot ever--marijuana! Things go horribly wrong, and Dr S has to kill all the sex-crazed reefer zombies, if not the whole town. Oh yeah, and he's super strong/unstable from a formula he gave himself. Watching a crazed superhero in a lab coat slaughter teenagers reminds me of why I got into science in the first place. Only issue I had was with the gratuitous stock footage boobies during intermission. Not that I don't like boobies, but it was just incongruous. The rest of it played like a bit of early 50's Hays Code weirdness, like REEFER MADNESS, where kids smoke pot and commit murder, but don't swear.

By the way, DR S plays again tonight, Monday July 26th at 9:00 at the Viz Cinemas.

So from the world of 50's science the next show moved to 70's revenge (and queer lifestyles) with TICKED OFF TRANNIES WITH KNIVES (oddly enough, it did stay in Texas). A group of transgender performers (with names like Pinky La'Trimm, Tipper Summore, Emma Grashun, Rachel Slurr, and Bubbles Cliquot) are beaten and left for dead by Bubbles' sadistic boyfriend (seems he didn't like finding out his girlfriend has a penis). Well, the survivors plot their revenge, and get it beautifully in the end (pun absolutely intended). It's full of great 70's grindhouse style, with missing reels, jumpy transitions, lots of blood, and tons of political incorrectness (mostly courtesy of Rachael Slurr). In the Q&A, director Israel Luna talked about how the premiere at Tribeca was protested by GLAAD and the resulting controversy has kept it out of a lot of queer film festivals. So it's up to the horror festivals to man up (so to speak) and champion this great film.

And finally, the night ended with JIMMY TUPPER VS. THE GOATMAN OF BOWIE, MARYLAND. About 80% of it is shot in jerky hand-held home movie format (and the final bit, where it transitions away from it is jarring, incongruous, and awesome!) Jimmy Tupper is a loud, drunken loser. His friends hate him, and with good reason--he gets drunk, throws up at parties, plays with his friend's brother's rifle, and is generally an ass. His friends are no better, dumping him in the woods one night when he's passed out. The next morning he doesn't show up for work (Starbucks) and when they finally find him in the woods he's freaking out, yelling at them and screaming about a creature who dragged him through the forest. It sounds a lot like the Goatman, which is apparently a real legend of the woods around Bowie, Maryland. His friends give him shit, of course, but he's so serious he resolves to go camping and get a video of whatever dragged him. He's so serious, he even resolves to do it sober. Without giving to much away, I'll say it's like THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT but with a payoff. A pretty freakin' awesome payoff.

Total Running Time: 240 minutes
My Total Minutes: 190,602

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Jason goes to Holehead--Day…whatever

When I jump between film festivals and take big breaks from some, I lose count. Anyway, three shows last Monday night:

First up, MACABRE. From the To Brothers, this is Singapore's answer to THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, and that answer is, "We can top that!" A group of friends--newlyweds, her brother, a couple of other friends--are going home from a bar when they meet a young, apparently helpless woman. She begs for a ride home, and leads them to a remote house in the woods. There she introduces them to her surprisingly young mother and invite them to stay for dinner. They also meet her surprisingly strong brother. And then they get drugged at dinner and it gets insanely bloody. It's brilliantly, shockingly bloody (and only gets more so when the police show up), especially given the somewhat formulaic setup. But beyond the blood, I really loved how the family's supernatural origins (especially mother Dara) are never fully explained. This movie does a really good job of leaving mysteries that you can fill in for yourself.

Then the feature, 90%+ of a gripping chop-em-up with the type of ending I hate (but no spoilers here), SHADOW. An Iraq war vet returns to civilian life and takes a trip to the mountains to do some biking. While there, he meets an attractive young lady (and fellow mountain biker) and a couple of psychotic hunters. While out biking, they're attacked by the hunters, who chase them into the woods that are allegedly haunted by some evil. And boy, is it. He and the hunters are captured by some emaciated, pale psycho who tortures them, while the girl has totally disappeared (presumably trapped in a different part of the psycho's lair). Bodies are fried, eyelids cut off, and more bloody, deadly torture. As I said, it's got an ending twist that I always find kind of cheesy, so I won't say more about it, except there's a second twist on that twist that halfway redeems it. But mostly it's a grueling torture film as only the Italians can do. Director Federico Zampaglione is solidly in the tradition of Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci, or Ruggero Deodato here (probably most closely aligned with the last).

And finally, after a couple of grueling gorefests, it was time for a bit of comedy with THE DEAD AND THE DAMNED. I mentioned before that the festival is sponsored by Tall Chair and their game Cowboys vs. Zombies. Well, this movie is about...cowboys vs. zombies. Our hero is a bounty hunter, trying to earn enough money for something very important. So he's chasing an Indian chief who is wanted for the rape and murder of a white woman. In the meantime, two prospectors find a mysterious meteorite that's glowing green. So they take it into town to the assay office, where it breaks open releasing spores that turn everyone into zombies. So the bounty hunter, his prisoner the Indian chief, and the prostitute he used as bait to catch the chief have to fight zombies for their very survival. Hilarious hi-jinx ensue, and a fun time was had by all.

And that was last Monday at Holehead.

Total Running Time: 265 minutes
My Total Minutes: 190,362

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Jason goes to Silentfest--Day 4

Which would be the first time ever anyone has been to a fourth day of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival. They've expanded, as if they aren't exhausting enough already.

Anyway, I was there bright and early for Amazing Tales from the Archives, a lecture/presentation by Mike Mashon of the Library of Congress (Happy 50th, Mike!) And Annette Melville of the National Film Preservation Foundation. First Mike bummed us out by telling the bad news--less than 25% of silent features survive, mostly due to early studios having no sense of preservation (or no sense, period). Although they all now have better stewardship of their legacy, the only one to have a preservation ethos early on was MGM, due to a direct project by Louis Mayer. Mike talked about various reasons films were destroyed or never saved, and then Annette gave us the good news. Many films survive and new ones are found all the time. Often overseas, at the end of their run when it was cheaper to leave them than to ship them back to the studio (where often the silver nitrate films were melted down to recover the silver). And there's a treasure trove of films currently being restored and repatriated from New Zealand.

And now, more movies. Once again, the next show started with a Georges Méliès short, this time THE PROLIFIC MAGIC EGG (1902). An egg becomes a larger egg, becomes a woman's head, and clones itself many times.

That was the lead-in to THE SHAKEDOWN (1929) starring James Murray and directed by William Wyler (BEN HUR). And, as an extra treat, Wyler's three daughters were there to talk a bit about their dad. Then the movie is a rousing, feel-good story of a con man turned good. Murray comes to town, gets a reputation as a tough guy, and then a travelling prize fighter rolls in taking all comers. The town puts up their hero, and enough people bet on him that when he takes a dive in the second round, the whole group escapes with a bundle. But in the latest town, he meets a little orphaned ragamuffin and a beautiful girl who both steal his heart and make him turn legit. Only problem is, now he can only get the prize money by beating the pro fighter. Good, solid crowd-pleasing fun, and of course excellently aided by Donald Sosin on piano.

Next show started with the most famous Georges Méliès short, A VOYAGE TO THE MOON (1902). Scientists go to the moon, fight moon men, and return. But the great treat in this presentation was the live narration (originally written by Méliès) read by David Shepard. Not coincidentally, David Shepard compiled what is undoubtedly the most complete Méliès DVD collection ever, and they have a supplemental disc out this year. Also, keep an eye out next year for a new preservation of this movie with the original tinting.

Well, that was the lead-in to the strangest movie in the festival, the Russian film THE MAN WITH A MOVIE CAMERA (1929). All I can say with any certainty is this movie featured a man with a movie camera. He runs around and films all sorts of things (especially motion--train, cars, people, etc.) I suppose the rest of the film is things he shot, but really it all plays as a massive hallucination. He plays with camera tricks--fast motion, slow motion, freeze frame, double exposure, etc. Oh, and I haven't seen INCEPTION yet, but there are double-exposure (or mirror exposure) scenes of a city folding in on itself that made me think of scenes in the trailer. Perhaps Chris Nolan was referencing this film? In any case, it was sort of amazing to be there as a 1,000+ crowd at the Castro experienced a shared hallucination. And while the film provided the visual hallucination, The Alloy Orchestra provided the auditory hallucination.

All right, I'm down to the second-to-last show, and again it started with Georges Méliès, this time with THE ECLIPSE: THE COURTSHIP OF THE SUN AND THE MOON. An astronomer gets so excited watching the Sun do the Moon from behind, he falls out of his tower (although that last scene wasn't in the print we saw). Perhaps my favorite Méliès.

And then the feature, THE WOMAN DISPUTED (1928), starring the beautiful Norma Talmadge as a turn-of-the-century prostitute Mary Ann Wagner. But, of course, she has a heart of gold and after a bit of a tense opening incident she catches the eyes of two men--an Austrian soldier Paul (Gilbert Roland) and his Russian soldier friend Nika (Arnold Kent). They get her respectable work, and call on her frequently. Of course, the war interrupts all this, but the real wedge is her engagement to Paul, just as she's shipped off to war, mere minutes before Nika could ask her (as he's also shipped off to war). And when Nika leads the Russian army triumphantly into town, he gives her an indecent proposal to save the lives of the townspeople. Many scenes strain credibility, especially the final hero's welcome, but as a solid melodrama, it succeeds beautifully. And equally beautiful was the accompaniment by Stephen Horne on piano.

And finally we come to the closing film, staring with Georges Méliès and THE KINGDOM OF THE FAIRIES. One of his more epic story films, it's about a princess kidnapped by demons/witches, the king who braves numerous dangers to rescue her (including a bit of action at the bottom of the sea), and the fairy who helps him (mostly by keeping the witch out of the way).

Well, the sea also plays an importan role in L'HEUREUSE MORT (1924), a french film made by Russian immigrants (the title means THE HAPPY DEATH). Nikolas Rimsky plays Theodore Larue, a french playwright who is more often a playwrong. His latest play closes after one performance. In fact, it closes before it's premiere is even finished, as a chorus of jeers brings the curtain down. But his loving wife encourages him to spend some time at the sea to clear his mind and find his genius again. There he meets an old school chum who is now a sea captain and takes him out on his yacht. They set out on a cruise to Denmark despite Larue suffering from terrible seasickness. So terrible, in fact, that he falls overboard and is presumed dead. And his death is the talk of the French theatre scene. Suddenly instead of a hack he's a genius lost in his prime. So great are the accolades that when he returns safe and sound he and his wife conspire to hide the fact so that he can bask in his posthumous fame (and write his posthumous works). He impersonates his brother, who is off in Africa (interesting side note, he marries an African girl and it is not the shock I'd expect from the time. Everyone takes it in stride as if it's nothing unusual, which is petty cool). Well, without giving more away, of course wacky hi-jinx ensue, and it's still hilarious some 86 years (and who knows how many repetitions of the main premise) later. And the Matti Bye Ensemble did another great job with the accompaniment, showing they're equally adept at screwball comedy as the moody atmospherics of HAXAN. Let me be yet another one to thank them for coming and I hope they enjoyed their debut at SFSFF as much as the audience did.

And that's the end of the most exhausting and intense weekend on the always exhausting and intense San Francisco Bay Area film festival calendar.

Total Running Time: 331 minutes
My Total Minutes: 190,097

Monday, July 19, 2010

Jason goes to Silentfest--Day 3

Or SFSFF, or (SF)^2Fest. I dunno, I still like Silentfest.

I feel like my review of METROPOLIS yesterday was missing something. Lost in all the details was the simple joy and awe of seeing the most complete version since 1928. The Castro was packed, and I could swear but for 3-4 moments of applause, we all held our breath until we exploded in applause at the end. The only downside is I had to run out as quick as possible to catch the BART home.

Anyway, huge day last Saturday, so let's jump right in.

First, bright and early at 10:00 am (meaning catch the BART in Fremont at 8:10), we started with The Big Business of Short, Funny Films. It's the director's selection, by guest Pete Docter of Pixar. To start, he talked a bit with Leonard Maltin, about silent comedies, their influence on the Tex Avery and Chuck Jones cartoons he watched as a kid, and finally their influence on Pixar. Then to the classics, all of which I've seen before.

THE COOK (1918) Roscoe 'Fatty' Arbuckle and Buster Keaton team up, Arbuckle as a cook and Keaton as a waiter in a restaurant, and of course crazy hi-jinx ensue.

PASS THE GRAVY (1928) This is a Thanksgiving tradition down in Niles. Max Davidson (mostly forgotten because his comedy was usually a badly racist Jewish stereotype) stars in the screwball comedy of warring families brought together by marriage and torn apart by an unfortunate chicken dinner.

BIG BUSINESS (1929) Laurel and Hardy tear apart Jim Finlayson's house, while he wrecks their car. There's a story (that I've heard people swear is either completely true or completely apocryphal) that on the day of shooting they accidentally went to the wrong house and the owners were gone, so producer Hal Roach had to pay to rebuild the house.

All the films were accompanied by Dennis James on the mighty Wurlitzer, who did as fantastic a job as always (I've actually seen him accompany BIG BUSINESS before).

And that led into a panel discussion, Variations on a Theme: Musicians on the Craft of Composing and Performing for Silent Film, Moderated by Chloe Veltman (NY Times contributor and host of public radio's VoiceBox). All the musicians were there (although the groups--Mont Alto, Alloy Orchestra, and Matti Bye Ensemble--had one representative, not the whole group). Donald Sosin kicked it off with a short film he put together on his process. Stephen Horne talked about the art of improvisation and a unique solution he found when playing for a mostly silent film that had a talkie section, but the talkie soundtrack had been lost. Dennis James spoke as a historian and researcher--his goal is to preserve the art of the theater organ and to perform the original score written by the filmmakers (although he conceded that certain pieces, e.g. The William Tell Overture, were ruined for modern audiences so he might have to substitute other stock chase music). Oddly enough, while the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra is the closest to James in performing/preserving the original scores, they ended up having the most heated exchange debating what exactly that means. On the opposite end, The Alloy Orchestra are something of the "bad boys" of silent film music, creating all new scores but still trying (and to my ear, succeeding) in complementing the film well. And Matti Bye is the new guy to the festival...and honestly I don't remember what he had to say. Sorry. I think he echoed everyone else in saying that it was critical that the music complemented and didn't distract from the movie.

Definitely the most interesting question was from the audience, asking about the practice of various artists and film festivals presenting silent films with contemporary pop/rock commissioned soundtracks. Of course, Dennis James was on one side, the fundamentalist about "the original soundtrack." For the most part everyone agreed with Stephen Horne that as long as it works, it's okay (by the way, Another Hole in the Head will be playing the 1984 rock music version of METROPOLIS in the coming weeks. I'm kind of dreading making that comparison). I will say that I definitely appreciate Dennis James' take, and want to hear the original soundtrack if at all possible. But I can also appreciate different takes on a movie. The first time I actually saw THE GENERAL on the big screen, Alloy Orchestra did the soundtrack and I loved it. SF International Film Festival has done silent films with live music for as long as I've gone, and even when they've tried something different (e.g., THE LOST WORLD with Dengue Fever) I've usually liked it. However, this year had a big exception, 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA with Stephin Merrit. It was a ridiculous, distracting, abysmal (no pun intended) failure. I might have been more pissed off then I've ever been after seeing a movie. So while I give a lot of leeway to experimentation, and I'm always up for a new experience, remember the advice of Stephen Horne--it's just gotta work (and that means complementing the movie, not distracting from it).

Back to more movies. Most shows have started with a short by Georges Méliès, and this show was no exception. I forget the title, but in the short an inventor has a nightmare about a flying machine and wakes up and immediately destroys his plans.

The shorts, of course, were chosen to complement the features, and this feature was THE FLYING ACE (1926). It's a "race" movie, by which I mean it stars an all black cast, not that there's a race in the film. The only surviving film by Richard Norman, who was famous for a time for making movies with "coloreds" (to use the language of the times) in positive roles. It's the story of a WWI flying ace, returning home and immediately taking up his old job as a railroad detective. Seems someone has stolen the payroll, and he tracks the bad guys down and, of course, gets the girl. Ironically, the only scenes that don't work are the flying scenes, obviously fake even by the standards of the day. The great rescue (from one plane to another by rope ladder) is simply laughable. But the rest of the story was great, as was Donald Sosin accompanying on the piano.

The next show started with another Méliès short, AN IMPOSSIBLE BALANCING FEAT (1902). How impossible? He balances 3 copies of himself, upside down. One on his head, and one in either hand.

And that led into THE STRONG MAN (1926), starring oft-forgotten (and honestly, oft for good reason, although this is one of his better ones) Harry Langdon. It starts rather oddly in WWII, where Langdon is a Belgian soldier, and after a bit of hijinx (in which he's distracted by a letter from his American sweetheart pen-pal) he's captured by a German soldier. After the war, that German is famous strongman Zandow the Great, and Langdon is his assistant. They're setting off for his American tour, and Langdon uses the opportunity to find his girlfriend and get into lots of trouble (interestingly, I think what makes it work for me is that Langdon is an active participant instead of a passive reactor, although he's put into plenty of situations against his will). Pretty funny, and is also an early work of famous director (and my fellow Caltech alum) Frank Capra. Unfortunately, their collaboration fizzled after their next film, which flopped. Under Capra's directing, Langdon could have lived up to his brief reputation as the fourth great silent comedy star (after Chaplin, Keaton, and Lloyd, of course). And of course Stephen Horne kept everything rolling along on the piano

Another show, another Méliès short, this one THE BUTTERFLY AND THE SPIDER. Both of which, incidentally, are played by beautiful girls.

And speaking of beauty, DIARY OF A LOST GIRL (1929) stars the fabulous Louise Brooks in a film by G.W. Pabst (their previous collaboration was PANDORA'S BOX). Brooks is the daughter of a wealthy family (at least, they own a apothecary), but when she has a baby by the co-owner, and they don't choose marriage, she's sent to a home for wayward girls (and her daughter is taken from her). The home is run with strict, sadistic cruelty, and when she and a friend make a break for it, the only place they can stay is the local house of ill repute. A perfect place, too, for her ne'er-do-well boyfreind (penniless, although he is a count). But of course, she will have her victory in the end. An excellent drama showcasing Brooks as not just glamour and beauty, but a telented actor. And the wonderful Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra did a great job with the live accompaniment.

The last Méliès of the night, THE INFERNAL CAULDRON. Demons throw helpless girls into a cauldron, trying to summon spirits (which they do).

And that led into HAXAN: WITCHCRAFT THROUGH THE AGES (1922). Essentially an extended lecture on the history of witchcraft. Told in seven parts, the visuals are amazing. As much of a story as there is comes in the middle, where they go through the steps of a witchcraft trial--the accusation, torture, and confession leading to new accusations. In the end, it looks at "modern" conditions, comparing psychiatric patients suffering from hysteria to ancient witches. And then it gets horribly repetitive, re-using the same footage over and over. The Matti Bye Ensemble made their SFSFF debut with an appropriately atmospheric, somewhat minimalist score.

My only real complaint would have to be the starting time. Due to starting nearly 45 minutes late (and if I'm right, slowing down the film so that a 1:46 film took 2:05), it was over just after the last BART ran. So thank you very much to my friend Phil who let me crash in his hotel room. I got a shower, but no change of clothes, so it made for a slightly stinky Sunday, but better than multiple buses and almost no sleep.

Total Running Time: 426 minutes (using the HAXAN running time from the program, not what I believe was the real running time)
My Total Minutes: 189,766

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Jason goes to Silentfest--Day 2

First off, I have to applaud a major innovation over last year. The festival is so jam-packed, I often have no time to leave the beautiful Castro Theatre and grab a bite to eat. Last year I spent Saturday from 10 am to 1 am living off nothing but popcorn. But this year, our friendly neighbors from Poesia Italian Restaurant are providing (for $6), delicious panini sandwiches. At least, the prosciutto was delicious. I'll keep you updated as more information is available.

Anyway, I caught two movies last night, so let's go:

First we started with a Georges Méliès film PANORAMA FROM A MOVING TRAIN (1898). Melies shorts will be a staple of the fest this year (like Griffith Biograph shorts were last year). But this was an odd one--no magic, no trick photography, just a camera bolted to the roof of a train and driving around.

And that train motif led into the feature, the Italian film ROTAIE (1929). Big props to Anita Monga for finding this little gem at the Pordenone Silent Film Festival. Two poor young lovers are at the end of their rope--literally. They check into a hotel intending to commit suicide, but a passing train interrupts them, knocking their glassful of poison to the ground. Dreams of the train distract them, and then become reality when they recover a lost wallet at the station. They join the vacationing rich to wherever they're going, which turns out to be weeks of partying and gambling. However, it's clear from the looks of the other passengers that they don't fit in, which is confirmed when he loses all their money gambling and a wealthy playboy makes a move on her. In the end, it's a political pre-fascist (director Mario Carmenini's reputation was eventually destroyed by working for Mussolini) tale of the nobility of the working class. And the style is both steeped in German impressionism and presages Italian Neo-Realism. Quite a discovery. And a great job bringing it to life by Stephen Horne on the piano and flute.

And then it was time for the clear highlight of the festival--the as-fully-restored-as-ever-since 1928 version of METROPOLIS. For those who don't know the back story (and the news headlines didn't tell the whole story), here's the quick version. Almost immediately after release in January 1928, Fritz Lang's original 153 minute version was cut. Eventually it was cut to barely an hour and a half, and while still recognized as a classic for the special effects, art design, style, and theme, the story was badly mangled. Over the years, extra bits and pieces were found and restored, until there was about a 2 hour version. Then in 2008 in the Museo del Cine in Buenos Aires, Argentina, a 16 mm print with 25 extra minutes was "discovered." Or, to be more precise, 20 years ago Fernando Peña's colleague told him a story of a private collector who showed his 16 mm print of METROPOLIS to a private film club sometime in about 1959. He remembered the film "flickered" so he put a little extra pressure on the film against the gate--with his finger. He held his finger against that gate for two and a half hours. Pena asked him many times, "are you sure it was 2.5 hours, not 2?" He assured him you don't forget how long you have to do something like that. So Peña knew this print existed and had tried to get access to it for 20 years. It was hardly a "surprise" discovery. All it took was for his ex-lover Paula Félix-Didier to be named head of the Museo del Cine and for them to patch things up. Once they had access, they had the print in about 5 minutes.

Okay, as for the film itself--of course it's awesome. If you haven't seen it...shame on you, but here's the quick and dirty summary. In a dystopian world, the working masses power machines to let the wealthy intellectual elites live in comfort in an eternal garden of play. This is lorded over by Joh Frederson, but his son Freder, by following beautiful evangelist Maria (Brigitte Helm) discovers the truth, and discovers his destiny--to be the heart that mediates between the head (the planners) and the hands (the workers). But Joh has other ideas, and enlists a mad scientist Rotwang to create a mechanical man in the image of Maria to lead the workers astray. But Rotwang has his own ideas. As for the 25 new minutes: much of it was quick inserts that didn't add much but improved the flow of editing. It seemed like the largest added scene was when Freder returns from the worker city (impersonating worker 11811) and what happens to both of them when he tries to find him and switch identities back. It's a significant loose end that just wasn't tied up before. But I suspect the most significant changes aren't necessarily the new scenes, but having a (near) complete original cut of the film to guide the editing of the restoration. It's been a long time since I've seen METROPOLIS (and actually, this is the first time on the big screen), and I was impressed by how well the story flowed, not really a slow scene in it. Of course, big thanks to the Alloy Orchestra whose score has been so well received it will be included as an alternate track on the Kino DVD. Oh, and for anyone who thinks the search for the "definitive" version of METROPOLIS is over, there's still 5 minutes missing, and these new 25 minutes were from a badly scratched 16 mm print, so there could still be better/more complete versions out there. So keep looking (oh and a great new resource to search forgotten films and post any finds you make is right here)

Total Running Time: 222 minutes
My Total Minutes: 189,340

Friday, July 16, 2010

Jason goes to the San Francisco Silent Film Festival--Opening Night

I've gotta shorten that, how about Silentfest?

Anyway, the most intense (if not the biggest) festival in the Bay Area kicked off. They've added a day, for a grand total of 4. But last year I was more exhausted after three days than after most multi-week festivals. So I just hope I survive this year.

Oh yeah, and the big local news is my gang at the Niles Film Museum were given a vendor table this year. Between films, come up to the mezzanine and buy stuff. Or just chat with me, I'll be working there sometimes.

Anyway, the big opening night gala was John Ford's 1924 film, IRON HORSE. A tale of the transcontinental railroad, with Indians, dirty dealing, double-crossing, engineering, and long lost lovers. And, of course, John Ford's brilliant composition (incidentally, it was shot on the Pyramid reservation near Wadsworth, NV--a view I recognized from the many times I passed it on my way to Burning Man. Starting in Springfield, IL years before the transcontinental railway was more than a dream, a young man named Abraham Lincoln watches two young children--Davey Brandon and Miriam Marsh play together. Davey's father is a surveyor determined to build a transcontinental railroad, so he takes his son out west plotting a route. Trouble is, he's attacked by Indians and young Davey watches his father get killed (by a surprisingly white Indian...) Years later, Davey's a mountain man, Lincoln is President signing into law the building of the transcontinental railroad, Miriam's father is a contractor building it, and she's engaged to the engineer laying out the route. Re-enter Davey into the picture, add a dirty deal to restrict the route of the train (although Davey remembers his father showing him the best route) and high adventure ensues. Along with Ford's excellent composition, you have his attention to detail making it a near documentary in some parts.

And, of course, I'd be remiss if I didn't give a shout out to the excellent Dennis James rocking the Mighty Wurlitzer to kick things off right!

Running Time: 131 minutes
My Total Minutes: 189,118

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Jason goes to Holehead--Day 6

First, how about a little sponsor love for Tall Chair, a local company that's been advertising it's new Iphone/Ipod Touch/Ipad game, "Cowboys Vs. Zombies" before each show.'s not released yet, and I actually don't have any of those Apple products, so I can't really say much about it. But they're a sponsor, so love them!

Okay, movies.

First up, SILENT NIGHT, ZOMBIE NIGHT. For no reason, a week before Christmas in Los Angeles people start turning into zombies. Two cops--partners and best friends for years--are bickering because one (Frank) is an alcoholic jerk and the other (Nash) either slept with his wife or wants to sleep with him or something. The few survivors fight more with each other than with the zombies, especially once they learn some tricks like slow zombies can't see at night, they find victims by smell. So their easy pickings at night, just don't mistake your buddy for a zombie. Other than that, it was a pretty standard zombie movie, and the whole Christmas element is kind of a wash. There are trees and lights up, but it's Los Angeles so it's bright and sunny with no snow on the ground so it doesn't look like Christmas at all. Whatever.

And then I saw YATTERMAN, Japanese bad boy Takashi Miike once again taking on a children's film (much like his GREAT YOKAI WAR). This is his take on a 70's TV show that I never saw. A boyfriend/girlfriend pair of children, their little robot Botty, and their mecha dog Yatterwoof take on the evil thief Doronjo and her henchmen (really hench-pig Tonzurra and hench-rat Boyacky) as they work for the evil god of thieves Skull-Obey to find/steal pieces of a stone skull that will unleash chaos onto the world. It's as fast paced as any Miike film, but played at more of a children's level, although there's plenty of cheeky humor including some uniquely perverse takes on young love. Even when Miike isn't shocking you and/or covering the screen with blood, he always keeps you entertained and on your toes.

Total Running Time: 194 minutes
My Total Minutes: 188,987

Jason goes to Holehead--Day 5

First, an update on my BART rules rant from last Sunday. As I expected, the rules for photography on BART are as such (from their web page on photography/video permits):
BART is a Bay Area icon. As such, it attracts more than a few amateur photographers. If you are a paying passenger making your way from point A to point B, then there is no specific prohibition to taking photographs in areas that are accessible to the public [emphasis added] provided you do not appear to be a security threat, involved in a commercial activity or harassing other riders. If, however, you appear to be taking photographs of potentially sensitive areas or obviously involved in some commercial enterprise like an advertising agency, BART employees, especially BART Police Officers, may approach you and ask you to identify yourself and possibly take further action against you.
So again, flash photography on the platform is actually allowed (although I suppose overuse of bright flashes could be construed as "harassing other riders," so I would encourage basic courtesy). And as such, the "No babies as doorstops" rule is also suspect (I couldn't find anything on their website).

Anyway, on to the films, starting with porn!

For the past couple of years, Indiefest and Holehead have had a healthy relationship with Pink Eiga, a company distributing (on DVD) classic Japanese "Pink" films--soft core porn made for the most part by young directors just starting their career. Most famously, Yôjirô Takita started out in Pink films and went on to direct the 2008 best foreign picture Oscar winner DEPARTURES. He also happened to direct the movie I saw. Basically, the industry rule is basically that as long as you through a sex scene in every 10-15 minutes, you can make whatever movie you want.

First up, to add a bit of context, they showed RIDING THE GROPER TRAIN, a quick interview with a pink film director preparing for his 109th film. He explains how crowded Japanese subways are during rush hour, and how "accidental" groping sort of automatically happens, and how the GROPER TRAIN series of films is a response to male fantasies about groping women on the train.

And, believe it or not, the feature SEXY TIME TRIP NINJAS was a groper train movie. As the title would suggest, warring ninjas (one male, one female) from the past travel through a time vortex and land on the train, where she immediately gets groped and he goes nuts groping. Then they have wacky, sexy adventures in modern (okay, 1984) Japan, visiting brothels and "love hotels." Then eventually they go back through a different time slip, and there's something about a historical event but who cares about that. Oh yeah, and it's really pretty funny.

And then I followed that up with SAMURAI PRINCESS. More crazy Japanese splatstick fun from TOKYO GORE POLICE screenwriter Kengo Kaji (this time taking the director's chair). Psychotic cyborgs ("mecha") are terrorizing the countryside for some reason. A mad doctor resurrects a victim, gives her some mecha powers of her own (e.g., detachable boob missiles) and imbues her with the souls of 11 victims--all girls who were brutally raped and murdered. And so the fun begins. Bloody, funny, insane...all the things I've come to expect from these movies.

Total Running Time: 152 minutes
My Total Minutes: 188,793

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Jason goes to Bad Movie Night and sees TAPS

Which is why I didn't see more of Holehead (that and the fact I have seen/can see everything I missed).

Anyway, it's Tom Cruise month. And last Sunday's pack of fudge was his second movie ever, where he plays a semi-psychotic student at a military school that's threatened with closure. So when the commandant George C Scott accidentally shoots a townie and then has a heart attack and is hospitalized, the students (including Sean Penn) take over and barricade the school.

Interesting trivia: this was originally a 10 minute short until everyone decided to act...really...slowly.

This movie pissed me off so much I wanted to use babies as doorstops and take flash photography on BART platforms.

Running Time: 126 minutes
My Total Minutes: 188,641

Jason goes to Holehead--Day 4

An odd day for me at a horror film festival. I only saw one movie, despite it being a weekend, and it was a documentary.

But first, I want to relate an odd thing that happened on the BART on the way up. I BART up all the way from Fremont, and as it happened an A's game was just getting out as I passed the Oakland Coliseum. A fairly large rush of people got on, enough to create a bit of confusion. And in the midst of that the driver got on the intercom to announce, "Please don't use babies as doorstops!" Now, I agree with that rule in general, but I couldn't help wondering if that was in response to something or just general advice. And for that matter, was it just the BART doors or all doors? In any case, I spent most of the rest of the trip thinking about babies stuck in subway doors. That is, until I got the the Civic Center stop (one before my exit) and the driver got on the intercom to announce this time, "No flash photography on the platforms!" Which made me wonder a few things: What about on the trains? Or on the stairs/escalators/elevators? And most importantly, is that really a rule? Maybe she was just making up random rules, I had certainly never heard that one before. Which suddenly made me think, is that 'no babies as doorstops' rule real? Probably not, given the source. So go ahead and use your babies as doorstops if you want to. At least you can in my America, the America where there are no rules, just helpful suggestions (which, as it turns out, makes my America actually South Africa. R.S.A! R.S.A! R.S.A!)

Oh yeah, and I saw a movie. NIGHTMARES IN RED, WHITE, AND BLUE explores very quickly the entire history of American horror film from Edison's FRANKENSTEIN (a commercial flop) through the Universal monsters, the kids monster movies, horrors of war, Atomic Age, Psycho, torture porn, etc. While it was fun to see clips of so many classics, it really went by too fast to make much of an impression. The subject would be better handled as a multi-volume scholarly (but accessible) tome. As it is, the movie almost by design fails to answer the question of what American horror movies mean about us, because it's a constantly moving target. And with no era given sufficient time to really explore it ends up as little more than an extended clip show intercut with famous horror directors talking. (Ooh, maybe it would work as a multi-volume Ken Burns style documentary series. I'd buy that)

Running Time: 96 minutes
My Total Minutes: 188,515

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Jason goes to Holehead--Day 3

4 movies, so let's just jump in:

First up, the world premiere of the Christian scare film homage/parody SATAN HATES YOU. In true Christian scare film form, there's no swearing or nudity, but plenty of graphic violence and sinning. Also, there's plenty of horror icons like Angus Scrimm (as a kindly televangelist), Reggie Bannister (as a gruff bartender), Michael Berryman (as a God-fearing manager of a flophouse hotel). And it pretty much channels Jack Chick. Two cartoonish devils follow people around, urging them to turn to sin and away from God. They have a particular interest in Marc--an alcoholic with a nasty streak of leaving the Coco 66 bar with men, then murdering them when they insinuate he's gay. And they have an interest in Wendy, a wild party girl who has sex with dozens of anonymous men, eventually leading to an abortion. There's all the big sins here--drug use, murder, abortion, blasphemy, Dungeons and Dragons, Halloween parties... And ultimately it's done well enough that I have no idea if the "Good News" scenes are supposed to be serious or a parody. I suppose it's like the old saying, "Sincerity is everything. If you can fake that, you've got it made." I have no idea if director James Felix McKenney is a believing, born-again Christian. I suspect not, and if I'm right, good job faking that sincerity.

Next up was a film that left absolutely nothing a mystery and absolutely no taboo untouched--A SERBIAN FILM. It's hard to talk about this movie without talking about the shocking scenes (it has been banned in its native Serbia), and I can't really do that without giving away spoilers. I'll just say the only time I've seen anything more shocking is whenever I close my eyes. It's easier to say what it's about metaphorically. It's about the Serbian war/genocide, and on a more universal level it's about how people, when they abdicate control of their lives to any authority (e.g., government, a sick film director, etc.) can be coaxed to perform horrible atrocities for which death isn't even an escape. Milosh is a retired porn star (he starred in such classics as MILOSH THE FILTHY STUD, and the movie opens with his ~8 year old son watching that movie). He has retired to family life--a loving wife and son. He...maybe? misses the old work, but he definitely misses the money. So when an old co-star (Milosh was so good that when he retired she could only co-star with donkeys afterward) contacts him with a lucrative one-movie deal that would set his family up for life, he hesitates but goes forward. The big catch--he can't read the script in advance. The director Vukmir has a vision, and it pretty quickly gets degrading. A bit of abuse in front of an underage witness is just the start. The movie is powerful, all the more so for how well made it is (narrative structure, acting, special effects, foley art, etc. are all top-notch) and especially because it very definitely has a not-very-subtle point.

And then we returned to a Holehead mainstay, crazy Japanese splatstick comedy with VAMPIRE GIRL VS FRANKENSTEIN GIRL. Vampire girl would be Monami Arukardo, a transfer student new to school just around Valentine's day. Keiko is a spoiled rich girl, her father is the assistant principal, and her love interest is Jyugon Mizushima. On Valentine's day, it's tradition for girls to give their beloved chocolates. But the stern teacher confiscates all chocolates as not classroom related and therefore contraband. But Monami hides one piece of candy and gives it to Mizushima. However it has a very strange filling--her blood. That turns Mizushima into a vampire (or at least halfway there). That's a problem for Keiko. Luckily her dad isn't just assistant principal--he's a mad scientist and heir to the legacy of Dr. Frankenstein. Wacky hijinx ensue throughout. Pretty funny, especially in the parodies of various school cliques (the cutting girls, the "ganguro" girls, etc.)

And finally, the late show was a blast from the past, THE EXTERMINATOR. Vietnam vets John Eastland (Robert Ginty) and Michael Jefferson (Steve James) are still friends well after the war. After Jefferson (who was the tougher one back in 'Nam) breaks up an attempt by a street gang to rob the warehouse where he works, they come back and get revenge, putting him in the hospital paralyzed. So Eastland seeks revenge, and finds the role of a vigilante "exterminator" fits him pretty well. Too bad the law doesn't agree. And that's that.

Total Running Time: 385
My Total Minutes: 188,419

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Jason returns from South Africa and goes (almost) directly to Holehead--Day 2

I did go home, showered, and changed first. Had I not it would've been a stinky 4 movie night (I hadn't showered or changed clothes in 60 hours when I landed. You're welcome, everyone at the Roxie last night). As it is, just three movies.

Oh yeah, and South Africa was a blast! But that's another story.

Holehead, aka Another Hole in the Head, aka SF Indiefest's fantasy, horror, sci-fi film festival, aka one of the High Holy Days of genre film watching in the Bay Area...actually started while I was somewhere over the Atlantic ocean. But I should still be able to see nearly everything (depending on how much of the SF Silent Film Festival I do). Anyway, here were the movies last night:

First up, SYMBOL, by Hitoshi Matsumoto (BIG MAN JAPAN). I have to struggle a bit with spoilers here, but I will say it has offered a glimpse into a religion that I could actually believe in--that the world is the result of the random actions of a frightened, confused Japanese man locked in a room whose walls are covered in cherub penes that he presses almost randomly. I think I just failed to not give out spoilers. Oh well, at least if you see the movie and see that it starts off with a story about a Mexican wrestler named Escargot Man and his loving family, you'll be thoroughly confused. But trust me, it all makes sense and is definitely worth sticking with.

plays again 7/14 at 7:00 pm at the Roxie and 7/24 at 5:00 pm at the VIZ Cinema

Next up was ROBOGEISHA, and it's exactly what you'd expect from the title, director Noboru Iguchi (MACHINE GIRL) and special effects expert Yoshiro Nishimura (MACHINE GIRL, TOKYO GORE POLICE, as well as SAMURAI PRINCESS and VAMPIRE GIRL VS. FRANKENSTEIN GIRL from this year's Holehead). Two sisters, one an aspiring geisha and her little sister who serves (and is abused by) her, are brought into a steel magnate's geisha army. They train, they are surgically modified (boob guns, armpit swords, ass swords, wigs that shoot napalm, etc.) But the younger one turns good and fights their evil plan to drop a bomb into Mt. Fuji and destroy Japan. Not much of it makes sense, not much is supposed to, and a good time was had by all.

ROBOGEISHA plays again 7/15 at 9:00 pm and 7/20 at 7:00 pm, both at the Roxie.

It's a testament to the strength of the schedule (so far) that ROBOGEISHA was actually the least interesting movie I saw last night (mostly because after seeing MACHINE GIRL and TOKYO GORE POLICE it was kind of more-of-the-same). But the late show was a certified hit that has apparently been getting all kinds of buzz online (it might surprise you to learn I don't really follow stuff like that) and might be getting a theatrical release if the buzz is loud enough (so here's me adding my bit: buzz buzz buzz)--TUCKER & DALE VS EVIL. Tucker (Alan Tudyk of "Firefly") and Dale (Tyler Labine of...a lot of stuff I haven't actually seen, but is awesome here) are a couple of hillbillies in West Virginia who just realized their dream--owning a vacation home. Okay, it's a run-down cabin by a lake where apparently some horrific things happened 20 years ago, but it's a place where they can go be alone and do some fishing. Only problem (other than the place is falling apart and kind of a death trap) is a bunch of college kids who are going camping by the very same lake. And the college kids are a little bit bigoted against hillbillies. So when they see Allison (Katrina Bowden) fall into the lake Dale jumps in to rescue her. The college kids think he's kidnapping her (maybe to torture her?), and set out to rescue her. And wacky hijinx ensue. Something as innocent as sawing into a log with a beehive makes Tucker look like a chainsaw waving maniac, and college kids start dying in freak accidents, making Tucker and Dale look like psychos when they're really innocent. Yeah, I've already said too much, and I suppose I could say something about the message of tolerance and getting to know people. But really it's not about that, it's about the fun of watching "educated" idiots die in hilarious ways. Here's hoping it gets a release, and if it does I'm telling all of you to go see it then. Unfortunately, this was the one show at Holehead that only plays once.

Total Running Time: 285 minutes
My Total Minutes: 188,034