Wednesday, September 29, 2010


The follow up to the Swedish blockbuster and Cinequest hit THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO. Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist are back, some time after the events in DRAGON TATTOO. Millennium is back, too, and have hired a new reporter to write a story about sex trafficking. He's already done the research, just needs to follow up with a few things like contacting the alleged perps and offering them a chance to comment. But suddenly the new reporter (and his girlfriend, who also wrote a book on the subject). Not only that, but Lisbeth is framed for the murders (plus one other). Mikael knows she's innocent, but can't contact her. She goes on the run, Mikael starts investigating. Horrible secrets from her past are revealed, about which I won't say more. I will say that it's once again a smart, exciting thriller. It's good to see Mikael and Lisbeth back on screen (although they aren't on screen together until the very ending). And I'll say that the ending was pretty abrupt, leaving a heck of a lot unresolved. Apparently THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNET'S NEST picks up right where this ends, and completes the Millennium Trilogy (Oh yeah, and it's making its U.S. debut at the Mill Valley Film Festival October 13th, although there's little chance I can make it from my job in San Jose up to San Rafael by 6 pm to see it--and besides, it's already gone to rush tickets only. It opens in select theaters October 29th)

Total Running Time: 129 minutes
My Total Minutes: 209,749

Jason sneaks into and watches RESIDENT EVIL: AFTERLIFE in 3D

Because I ain't paying for this shit, and oddly the thrill of sneaking into a 3-D movie and having the glasses with you is kinda fun.

I could tell you about how the RESIDENT EVIL has run its course and they shouldn't still make these movies, but that was true with the first one. I could also tell you how 3-D added absolutely nothing. And I suppose I could at least provide a courtesy of a brief plot summary. But instead I'll treat this movie with as much courtesy as it deserves.

The only thing I want to mention is related to the 3-D effects. There are maybe a half dozen scenes where Alice (Mila Jovovich) is speaking directly into a video camera. We see the video screen, and with the 3-D effect, the video status icons (timemark, etc) are floating above the screen. Why? Why the fuck would you put in an artificial 3-D effect into an inherently 2-D scene. The video screen is flat, the icons aren't floating above the screen, but they added an effect as if they were! I suppose you can come up with an explanation that the Umbrella Corporation for some retarded reason made and widely marketed a 2-D video camera with holographic icons floating above the screen. But then you'd be thinking about this about 100 times more than the filmmakers did.

You know, I normally hate people who pick on one little detail to tear apart a movie--like they like being a critic more than they like movies. But the fact is there was absolutely nothing in this movie more worth thinking about.

Total Running Time: 97 minutes
My Total Minutes: 209,620

Jason watches THE TOWN

Yeah, it's pretty much as good as you've heard. I suppose calling it a surprisingly gripping story directed by and starring Ben Affleck is kind of a backhanded compliment. So fuck it, that's exactly what I'll say (because I'm a jerk and I'm way behind in my reviews so I don't want to write more).

Total Running Time: 123 minutes
My Total Minutes: 209,523

Jason goes the Niles Film Museum for a talkie matinee of ONE WAY PASSAGE plus a few shorts

David Shepard was still here in town, and just for fun showed some gems from his collection. First a few shorts:

PRECIOUS IMAGES (1986): I've seen the similar effect many times, but this is the first time a montage of scenes from the history of movies was made (according to Shepard, who worked on the film). This was commissioned for the 25th anniversary of the Director's Guild of America

MOODS OF THE SEA (1941): An experimental film by Slavko Vorkapich, who claimed he tried to create the same feeling through images that are evoked by music (i.e., the thesis is that cinema is more closely aligned to music than literature, and this film is an experiment to show how this works). It's completely images of the sea, alternately calm and violent.

PAS DE DEUX (1968): Another experimental film, this time with two ballet dancers enhanced with trailing after-image 'echoes' (I don't know the technical term, but it's dizzying).

Then, after a brief intermission, the feature

ONE WAY PASSAGE (1932): An early talkie in which William Powell stars as Dan Hardesty, a smooth operating criminal in Hong Kong who is finally tracked down by Steve, the cop who's been chasing him around the world and will bring him back to San Francisco to stand trial for murder (a capital crime). He meets Joan (the lovely Kay Francis), who is also a passenger on the boat to San Francisco. While she doesn't know he faces the hangman's noose, he doesn't know that she's terminally ill. But they have one whirlwind romance on the boat, leading up to an attempted escape in Hawaii. Great story, well told, with an amusing side story with some of Dan's criminal confederates.

Total Running Time: 98 minutes
My Total Minutes: 209,400

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Jason goes to the Niles Film Museum for a sneak peak at CHAPLIN AT KEYSTONE

Film collector/historian extraordinaire and friend of the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum was in town all last weekend, and Friday night he shared the fruits of his 6 year effort to restore the works of Charlie Chaplin in his first film contract--at Mack Sennet's Keystone studios. The DVD will come out in October, but we were the first audience to see these beautifully restored films (no more blurry, faded, scratched up prints run at the wrong speed, this is the real deal). I have to say, the beautiful quality of these restorations have reopened my eyes to the early years of Chaplin. These are actually darn good movies. Here's the rundown (all from 1914):

MABEL'S STRANGE PREDICAMENT: Chaplin's first role wearing the Tramp outfit (he said he didn't know what he was doing when he put it on, but new the character by the time he got to the set). We see him as a drunk (his "inebriate" act was a favorite in his Music Hall days) who chases Mabel Normand around a hotel after she gets locked out of her room. And her predicament gets stranger when she hides under another guest's bed.

CAUGHT IN THE RAIN: Chaplin's first time writing and directing a whole film. Oddly another story of a mistaken tryst in a hotel between Chaplin and another man's wife.

THE MASQUERADER: Chaplin (again writing and directing) takes a poke at Keystone itself with this behind the scenes spoof (including Keystone star Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle) where he messes up several scenes and is fired. He returns in a "feminine pantomime" (i.e., drag) act. And don't take this the wrong way, but he makes a pretty good looking lady.

THE ROUNDERS: Chaplin and Arbuckle as drunks about town. They get into wild shenanigans, of course.

THE NEW JANITOR: Charlie's first take at invoking pathos, and proves he can bring the audience to tears as well as laughter. He's a humble janitor in a big company. He throws a bucket of water out the window, soaking the boss, and so is fired. But ultimately he triumphs by saving the company safe from getting rob (and the company secretary from danger)

HIS MUSICAL CAREER: Charlie and Mack Swain as piano movers. They're supposed to deliver a piano to house 666, and repossess one from 999. Or is that the other way around? Hi-jinx ensue, of course.

DOUGH AND DYNAMITE: Charlie is a waiter, but not much of a baker--as he finds out when the regular bakers go on strike. And things get really strange (and kind of political) when the bakers sneak a stick of dynamite into a loaf of bread.

Total Running Time: 130 minutes
My Total Minutes: 209,302

Jason slips into a Vortex for MASSACRE AT CENTRAL HIGH and THREE IN THE ATTIC

Back at my favorite underground film club for martinis and movies as the Vortex finishes going back to school.

MASSACRE AT CENTRAL HIGH: It's fun to root for the killers. Takes me back to the days before Columbine when fantasizing about killing everyone in my high school was just good, clean fun. Anyway, I sort of dozed off for this one.

THREE IN THE ATTIC: Paxton Quigley is a real ladies man. And I do mean that in the plural, not possessive sense. But tables are turned when his three girlfriends find out about each other, and vow to get even, in a sort of a hellish ironic punishment way (akin to cliche of mom catching you with a cigarette and forcing you to fuck the whole carton).

Total Running Time: 177 minutes
My Total Minutes: 209,172

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Jason goes to the R-squared Horror Festival--Tuesday, Sep 21

The last two movies I saw in the theater. I also "won" a DVD set of the whole series, so the one film I missed--CARNIES--I'll watch later.

VINDICATION: This movie was very, very similar to AEGRI SOMNIA, almost to the point where if you showed me a random clip I'd have to think to remember which is which. This time, the main character (Nicholas) is absolutely suicidal (although so far has failed). Cinematography is still striking, but again overworked to the point where it's tiring to see a feature length movie this way. And it turns out Nicholas is a psychotic killer as well. The "vindication" of the title seems to be him showing the world that he was right to kill himself. Good for him?

And finally, CRYPTIC, and although it's barely even PG-13 it's the only movie in the series other than LONG PIGS that I'd actually recommend to anyone. When she was just 9 (in fact, on her birthday), Jesse witnessed her mom dying in a freak electrical accident in a swimming pool. Years later, as she's moving out, she finds the old cell phone that was her birthday present that day. On a lark, she calls her old number and talks to...herself, as a 9 year old. Giving herself clues, she saves her mom and finds out her dad actually tried to kill her. It's a really clever, well-written and well thought out take on time travel. Regular readers know I'm kind of a time-travel logic geek and while I don't think the time travel in this movie is Feynman-diagrammable, it is clever, logically self-consistent, and tells an enjoyable, exciting story that kept me in suspense (except for the final scene that was as predictable as it was satisfying).

Running Time: 169 minutes
My Total Minutes: 208,995

Jason goes to the R-squared Horror Festival--Monday, Sep 20

Just one movie last Monday

AEGRI SOMNIA: Well, at least the cinematography was pretty good on this nightmare come to life. Edgar is a whiny little guy still in mourning over his wife's suicide. And that grief is consuming him, to the point where he can't relate to anyone. When a girl at work takes him out, just to get him out of the house, he ends up not talking to anyone while she goes and hooks up with another guy. And she doesn't come back to work the next day...or week...or ever. It's pretty clear early on that Edgar isn't a victim, he's a killer (sorry if that's a spoiler, but it was pretty damn obvious). And it's got the sort of overplayed camera work that's okay for a short film (many scenes, taken on their own, are excellent) but just gets artsy and pretentious when taken to feature length.

Running Time: 90 minutes
My Total Minutes: 208,826

Jason goes to the R-squared Horror Festival--Sunday, Sep 19

Three more movies last Sunday, here we go:

WOMEN'S STUDIES: Our hero is a women's studies major who volunteers for a senator who is dying of breast cancer. She and her friends (including her fiancée) have their car stolen on their way to college. They're taken in by students from a local all-girls college. And of course they're a horribly overblown parody of the evil coven of witches intent on enslaving men (for reproductive necessity) and eventually killing them all. At least, I hope it was a parody because then it's just dumb. If it was serious than I'm annoyed (I don't offend easily, but if anyone believes that any feminist thinks like that, I'm saddened by your ignorance). Oh, and they use a framing device to show you in the first scene that the hero survives (at least up to a point), and so all suspense is lost.

THE DIRECTOR'S CUT: At least it has a fairly amusing premise--a film crew (with a first time director) goes to a remote country house to shoot a movie...and then someone kills them all. Okay, but the amusing part is that the director is so selfish (or so single-minded in his focus on getting the movie made) that the first couple of deaths don't matter. Only when it's clear that they're not getting the movie made and their all targets does he even get behind the efforts to get the heck out of there (of course, by then the cars have been sabotaged). So they're all at the mercy of a psycho in a koala suit who's trying to kill them all--and pretty much succeeding.

JINGLES THE CLOWN: Okay, this was the biggest disappointment of the whole series. So horribly lit, couldn't see what was happening most of the time. And when I could, it mostly just annoyed me. There's a killer clown who comes back from the dead. A schlock TV crew of psychics and paranormal investigators travel to the house where he did all the killings, and as a ratings stunt bring the one girl (now all grown up) who escaped Jingles the first time. And there's killing, some sort of magic (I think it was that the souls of his victims keep him alive, I didn't care) and some bad special effects. I didn't care, it was a better use of my time to take a catnap through the middle of this movie. And it's not just me, I didn't speak to anyone who would say they liked this movie.

Total Running Time: 261 minutes
My Total Minutes: 208,736

Jason goes to the Niles Film Museum for Comedy Shorts, Sept 18, 2010

Another night at my favorite local silent film theater (okay, only local silent film theater. Okay, only regular silent film theater that I know of anywhere). And it's comedy shorts night, always fun!

A NIGHT AT THE SHOW (1915): Charlie Chaplin, while finishing out his Essanay contract in L.A., made this little piece about comic mishaps during a night out at the theater. He even plays a dual role in which at one point he dumps drinks from the balcony onto himself below.

GET OUT AND GET UNDER (1920): Harold Lloyd in this movie I saw last year at the same place. Here's what I said then:
Harold Lloyd is late for his big amateur stage role. No problem, he has his beloved automobile. Problem is, stuff keeps getting in his way. Stuff like arguing with a neighbor, the car stalling, and lots of police chases. But if he doesn't get there in time, his rival will step into the role of the masked prince and he'll lose his girlfriend (Mildred Davis, his future wife).
Yeah, that still works.

And then an intermission....

And back to the show. By the way, note the theater theme.

THE PLAYHOUSE (1921): Buster Keaton in an amazing multiple-role tour de force (impressive even if you don't think about how all effects were done in camera, even more amazing when you do think about it), where he plays all the roles in a theater production. And then he wakes up from that nightmare, and he's in the theater. Now with just one role, but wackiness still ensues.

YOU'RE DARN TOOTIN' (1928): Laurel and Hardy as lousy musicians (they don't play by ear or by reading music, they play by brute force) in an orchestra. They get fired, try to survive as street performers, and get into all sorts of hilarious trouble.

So that was last Saturday at Niles. Coming up this weekend:

David Shepard is in town, and Friday night we get a sneak peek at the upcoming DVD release of Chaplin at Keystone, with 7 shorts from his years working for Mack Sennet.

Saturday we have the usual Saturday night at the movies, featuring the 1927 original version of CHICAGO.

And Sunday, David Shepard is still in town and showing some rare not-on-DVD talkies from his collection. Should be fun.

Total Running Time: 95 minutes
My Total Minutes: 208,475

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Jason goes to the R-squared Horror Festival--Friday, Sept 18

At the Bluelight Cinemas in Cupertino. I didn't even know we still had (had a new?) discount second run theater in the bay area. I'm still mourning the loss of the Cinemasaver Milpitas.

Anyway, R-squared is a DVD distributor who specializes in indie horror and is doing a festival there for a week (I also happened to chat with the distributor and he revealed they're doing another series around Halloween).

Anyway, here's the lineup last Friday:

OFFICE OF THE DEAD: A very low-budget horror-comedy with a somewhat new take on the zombie genre. In 2004 SHAUN OF THE DEAD breathed new life (so to speak) into the zombie genre with the clever comic premise of a slacker so deadened by his dull, dull life that he doesn't even notice when everyone around him becomes zombies. In OFFICE OF THE DEAD, the same concept is applied to cubicle-dwellers. In a company that makes life happiness solutions, a couple of engineers are working on the ultimate solution--a neural feedback device that "spins" unhappy, stressful memories into good ones. Or, if you're behind schedule and a couple of hot-shot jerk contractors step in, it takes stressful memories and makes you violently psychotic. Not real zombies, just crazies. There's a few good bits about fighting a zombie apocalypse with corporate-speak (I always chuckle when someone reads "think outside of the box" out of a management manual), and the smarmy CEO, smarmier marketing team, and socially inept engineers all get a good natured skewering. But it just doesn't come together with any sense of urgency or fear. Blame the acting, writing, or directing, it was a good idea with a middling execution.

CLOSET SPACE: A group of adventurous grad students go to find their missing professor, who is late returning from his latest expedition. They end up in a dilapidated house in rural America, where one student who was on the expedition with him shows them all a remarkable discovery. Behind a closet door in the house is a portal to a different world. But this ain't Narnia, it's a dark, dangerous cave with dangerous tentacle monsters who can infect people and turn them into monsters themselves. Something about ravenous parasites from another dimension. Good use of practical effects over CGI (it's pretty silly already, but would've been downright stupid with lame CGI). Oh, and of course the giant toothed vagina monster was cool.

LONG PIGS: Okay, so the whole reason I went to this festival is I saw it was playing LONG PIGS, which I had previously seen at Cinequest back in 2007. Back then I called it a brilliant cannibalistic serial killer mockumentary" which I quickly qualified by saying it shouldn't really be called a mockumentary (although I didn't suggest an alternate term like "faux-umentary) because "they really play this seriously, not for laughs." And I heaped on the praise saying "it's very well done and was the perfect Cinequest midnight movie." and that "the sped-up butchering scene is brilliant."

I still mostly stand by my statements the first time, but I'll add that it's funnier than I remembered (just perfectly dark deadpan humor), so the mockumentary label is completely appropriate. I came to this festival hoping the rest of the films were of similar quality. So far (and I've seen another 4 movies I haven't written up yet), LONG PIGS is still far and away the best.

Total Running Time: 243 minutes
My Total Minutes: 208,380

Jason slips into a Vortex for THE EXPLOSIVE GENERATION and then some MARY JANE

Thursday Night is Vortex Night. A few martinis, a few beers (a delicious dark hefeweizen on tap), and a couple of movies.

First up, THE EXPLOSIVE GENERATION (1961). Controversy and a student revolt ensue when popular teacher Peter Gifford (The William Shatner) allows his home room class to talk! The scandal!

And if that wasn't enough, we follow that up with Mary Jane (1968). This time Fabian (I'm not old enough to know or care who he was) is the teacher Phil Blake, and the subject is drugs, not sex. Also, he's not quite as popular, and instead the drugged-out students frame him for pot possession, when really he was just trying to find out what the students were doing.

Total Running Time: 184 minutes
My Total Minutes: 208,137

Jason goes to the Niles Film Museum for a Laurel and Hardy afternoon

Only about a week late with this update. So last Sunday was the monthly "Afternoon with the Boys" at the Niles Film Museum. Here's the lowdown:

HOG WILD (1930): Laurel and Hardy have loads of hijinx (of the wacky variety, of course) trying to install a rooftop radio antenna. Okay, that's kind of dated, but let's just say they're trying to install a MacGuffin on the roof, it's still just as funny (which is a lot of funny).

READIN' AND WRITIN' (1932): Our Gang goes back to school. Some like being back in class, but Breezy (in one of his rare starring roles until sinking into obscurity) doesn't. So he comes up with a plan to be as bad as possible and get expelled. Works a little too well.

Intermission, take a quick break.


And we're back.

COUNTRY HOSPITAL (1932): Ollie's in the hospital with a busted leg. He finally gets some good rest, until Stan comes by to visit. Very funny.

TEACHER'S BEAU (1935): And in just a short hour or so Our Gang went from starting school to the end of the school year. They all love their teacher Miss Jones, but are dismayed when they hear their teacher next year will be Mrs. Wilson. They figure Miss Jones is giving up teaching because she's getting married, so they try to break up the engagement, with hilarious results. Of course, what they don't realize is that her fiancée's name is Ralph Wilson.

And that was last Sunday at Niles.

Total Running Time: 78 minutes
My Total Minutes: 207,953

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Jason watches PIRANHA 3-D

It's spring break. Chicks lose their tops, then they lose their skin. In 3-D. The end.

Running Time: 88 minutes
My Total Minutes: 207,875

Jason watches MACHETE

And it delivers everything that the "fake" trailer in GRINDHOUSE promised, and more. Danny Trejo killing everyone, bloody revenge, naked chicks, intestines used as ropes, 'splosions, well hidden cell phones, and an evil Steven Seagal. Yeah, it's ludicrous. Yeah, you might as well ignore the "message" of the film (immigrant rights, but you really just want to see the boobies and killing). But you can't ignore the shear concentrated power of awesome here.

Running Time: 105 minutes
My Total Minutes: 207,787

Jason slips into a Vortex for THE TODD KILLINGS and SATAN'S SCHOOL FOR GIRLS

I know I've been off for a while. I was at Burning Man. No, I won't tell you about it, you just have to go yourself.

Anyway, back at my favorite underground film club. A couple martinis, and a couple of movies to not quite stay awake through (hey, I've been unpacking from Burning Man, and I'm exhausted). Anyway, here's what I was awake for. The theme was back to school, 70's cult film style:

THE TODD KILLINGS: Todd is a real lady killer, in every sense of the word. He's a charismatic 20-something who trolls high schools looking for girls. If that's not creepy enough, he usually ends up killing them in the desert.

SATAN'S SCHOOL FOR GIRLS: Aaron Spelling produced this (using Kate Jackson and Cheryl Ladd, before "Charlie's Angels"). Martha Sayers comes home from school and immediately commits suicide. So her sister Elizabeth goes to school--under a fake name--to find out what happened there that drove her over the edge. She finds a hell of a lot of psychological manipulation, and an ending that I'd swear was ripped off from THE WICKER MAN, except that it was made a few months earlier.

Total Running Time: 171 minutes
My Total Minutes: 207,682