Saturday, October 30, 2010

Jason goes to Docfest--Closing Night

Well, once again I've fallen about a week behind on my updates. Here are the final two movies:

First up, the ultimate fan film, THE PEOPLE VS. GEORGE LUCAS. Made with contributions of fans around the world, it is at parts a love-fest of the original STAR WARS trilogy (and of the first INDIANA JONES movies), at parts a diatribe against the "improved" versions (of course Han shot first! In my mind, he shot, then hacked in and edited the security footage to escape prosecution). And then memories of the great expectations for the prequels, and the disappointment that followed (okay, mitichlorians (don't care how it's spelled) determine how much Force you have, but lifestyle, training, and concentration can increase your mitichlorian count. Can we all be cool with that? Didn't think so...) And it's a celebration of fan edits--as I said, it's the ultimate fan-made movie (and now I have to check out that Silent Star Wars). It would be ridiculous to say that you can enjoy this without being a STAR WARS fan. But on some level, it's really a movie about a lot of people who take one piece of pop culture way too passionately. In theory, a similar movie could be made about anything else--except there's nothing else like STAR WARS.

And while I'm at it, I'll throw in my one "STAR WARS changed my life" story. Actually, it's the story of my very first memory of being at a movie. I was 3 when STAR WARS came out. And I have a very vague memory of being in the back seat of my parents' car at a drive-in theater, and Princess Leia's face on the screen. Considering most of my very early memories are completely wrong, this might be as well, but I'll still count it as my first movie.

Anyway, the next movie started with a short, BABBLE. People speak gobbledygook impersonating various foreign languages (and English gets it, too). Very short, and kind of amusing.

And the final film, TOYLAND. Partly a fun history lesson, with the creators of such classics as Slinky, Lite Brite, Twister, Ant Farm, Operation, etc. And it's partly a cautionary tale of one toy inventor trying to hit it big. The inventor part is at the same time the most fascinating and the most painful. See, he has this big idea for Crazy Chins. You know, you draw an upside-down face on your chin (as simple as two dots for eyes) and make movies by blocking off the rest of your face with a sheet and shooting it upside-down. It just struck me that as fun as it may be, it's so effort-intensive and requires so many extras (chiefly a video camera and a friend to film it and possibly help apply it) that the kids who would be so inclined are already doing it (or would do it without the kit). I don't know, I could be totally wrong, but no big toy dealer at any of the shows bought it, and one made essentially the same criticism I had above.

This movie was an interesting pairing with THE PEOPLE VS. GEORGE LUCAS, in as much as it featured a whole lot of grown men playing with toys. But I was really struck how middle-aged STAR WARS fans are a whole lot more passionate (or a whole lot crazier on camera) about their thing than people who made millions off the toys they invented.

Total Running Time: 160 minutes
My Total Minutes: 213,546

Jason goes to Jewfest South--Wednesday, Oct 27

Just one film, down at the Camera 7, and that film was JUMP, starring Patrick Swayze in one of his final roles. It's the story of Philippe Halsman, one of the most famous photographers of all time, with over 100 covers of Life magazine. As the movie opens he's in his Manhattan penthouse studio taking pictures of Marilyn Monroe jumping. He did a whole series of celebrities (even Richard Nixon) jumping, and he talks about how when someone jumps you get all of their natural, unguarded, "real" movements (as opposed to the mask we wear the rest of the time). An interview is the framing device to take him back to the traumatic events of his earlier life in Austria. While on a hiking trip with his father, they had a fight and later his father fell after a heart attack and died (or was murdered while Philippe was going to get help). However, as antisemitism was on the rise in the area, he was accused and put on trial, what some claim is the first Nazi trial of a Jew. Swayze plays his lawyer, and does an admirable job. And there are quite a few very good scenes in the movie. But there are also far too many overly melodramatic, unsubtle monologues. I can't help but think there's a better movie to be made about the same story.

That feels unfair. This really is a good movie, just with a few scenes that I felt were overdone.

Running Time: 102 minutes
My Total Minutes: 213,386

Jason goes to Docfest--Day...12?

I don't know, I've missed too many days. Anyway, it was last Monday. Two movies.

First up, ON COAL RIVER, a movie about coal mining (particularly strip mining and mountaintop removal), Massey energy, and the effects on the local population. Taking as a jumping off point a "fill" (not waste, that would be illegal) pool that is poised just above a local elementary school. The heroes work to get a new school, clean water, etc. Even walking all the way to D.C. to meet Senator Robert Byrd. It's pretty easy to sympathize with them, and the movie seems to make a conscious decision to keep it a personal narrative rather than digging too deeply (no pun intended) into the economic questions. There are quite a few people shown who support Massey in particular and mining in general--it's the economy there, and they don't see a lot of alternatives. But by keeping it a personal narrative, I think it makes it a more engaging movie.

And I followed that up with BAS! BEYOND THE RED LIGHT. It's about a dance school for girls who have been rescued from the brothels of Mumbai. And that's quite a jarring dichotomy. One moment, they'll be talking about how they were abducted (often sold by their own family) or we'll see an interview with a trafficker, and then the next minute you see them practicing their dance routine and you see quite a lot of joy. I have to admit I dozed off from extreme exhaustion at a couple of points during the movie. But what I stayed awake for was alternately traumatic and inspiring, and the final dance video is really good.

And that was last Monday at Docfest

Total Running Time: 158 minutes
My Total Minutes: 213,009

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Jason hosts Bad Movie Night--THE WOLFMAN

That would be the 2010 version with Benicio Del Toro. And it's soooo daaaamn sloooow. Except for the moonrise/moonset scenes, which are shot in time lapse and are extremely fast. I couldn't help but wish the whole movie was shot like this.

So excruciating, that even with my hosting duties (I was supposed to make smart-ass comments all through the film) I left halfway through the movie to go get more beer*.

Running Time: 103 minutes (but it could've done the same in about 20)
My Total Minutes: 212,851

*For legal reasons, I must point out that root beer is a type of beer.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Jason goes to the Niles Film Museum for a Creature Features show

I love Niles, and especially when they go nuts for Halloween.

Ernie Fosellius (HARDWARE WARS) was there to show PLAN 9.1 FROM OUTER SPACE. A remake/parody of Ed Wood's classic PLAN 9, with nods to GLEN OR GLENDA and a little dig at George W Bush's intelligence. Hilarious, and the 'outtakes' are even better.

Then, after Ernie played with dolls right in front of us (having James Lipton interview Tor Johnson), we settled in for an actual Creature Features show. It was THE CREATURE WALKS AMONG US, the third and final in the CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON. In this one the creature is burnt, captured, and his scales are replaced by skin and his gills give way to lungs (which he had all the time). So he's no longer a sea creature, he's a land creature. And there's stuff about science vs. religion, nature vs. nurture, and whether man can create a new species or just use what nature gives him.

Whatever, the important things are the wacky old commercials and Bob Wilkins doing his sly, comic thing (like jolting awake during a break in the film). And an interview with Forrest J. Ackerman. Hilarious good fun. I feel bad that I had to split right when the movie ended.

Total Running Time: 110 minutes (estimating at least 10 minutes for the Creature Feature extras)
My Total Minutes: 212,748

Jason goes to Docfest--Day 10

Last Saturday, after the two Berlin and Beyond films I caught 3 Docfest films. It's been a while since I've done 5-a-days...feels good.

First up, THE VANISHING OF THE BEES. I've heard reports on the news and stories here and there about mysterious bee disappearances. I think I've probably heard the term "colony collapse disorder" before, too. But this movie tackles it in a comprehensive and entertaining way. There's plenty of alarmist doom and gloom--without bees pollinating we'd lose the majority of our fruits and vegetables. Bees dying (or just disappearing, the odd thing is there aren't piles of dead bees near the collapsed colonies) is a sign of an environment badly out of balance, etc. But it's also a personal story of the beekeeper who first sounded the alarm, it's a political thriller as he attempts to get action, it's even an engaging narrative about the science around it--the breeding of bees, the systemic pesticides used on modern crops, etc. All in all, a well told story. Oh, and it's narrated by Ellen Page. I like her, although I didn't recognize it was her voice until the end credits. She just did a good job, the narration was helpful and not intrusive.

Next up was TRAMPOLINE, a shockingly intimate look at a family falling apart over the course of the year. Osla and Nathaniel are the parents--or rather Osla is the mother and Nathaniel is the stepfather. And Nathaniel is apparently diagnosed as psychotic, although I don't see it. The kids are a freakin' mess--mostly drug use but also other forms of teenage rebellion (make that super-rebellion). Family friend Mark Wojahn filmed it all. And it looks like a home movie, and obviously jumps around in time (particularly Nathaniel's haircut is a giveaway), but it's still pretty compelling. They're interesting people, and the film gets into their lives pretty deeply.

And finally, the night ended with AMERICAN MYSTIC. A parade of deeply religious, non-Christians (or even non-Abrahamic). We meet several, mostly living in secluded, rural landscapes (desert retreats are popular). Most swirl around nature worship of some sort--call it Wicca or Paganism or whatever. What we don't get is much explanation of the beliefs and practices themselves. I suppose that gives us a view of several people who live happy, spiritually fulfilling lives with religions other than the dominant ones in America. But without the hook of 'they believe/practice this' I was left with little reason to care about them. I know it's way more of a task than this movie set out, but I really could've used some brief explanation of the religions.

Total Running Time: 267 minutes
My Total Minutes: 212,638

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Jason goes to Berlin and Beyond--Saturday, October 23rd

First, as a fan let me express some frustration with the festival's move from January (where it was unchallenged on the calendar) to October (where it's up against practically everything). I've preciously gone every day, this year I'll only make this one day and only two movies.

Since I'm not really in the know, I won't discuss the rumors I've heard about the move being connected to the circumstances of Ingrid Eggers departure. I will just say that for years Ms. Eggers ran a great festival, as a fan I will miss her and hope for nothing but the best for her.

Also, I like the fact that they have added a San Jose day (Saturday Oct 30, at the Camera 12) in the festival, although I won't be able to attend.

Okay, with that out of the way on to the movies:

First up, THE WOMAN WITH 5 ELEPHANTS, a charming documentary about Swetlana Geier. Considered one of the greatest Russian-to-German translators, her "5 elephants" are the translations of Dostoyevsky's 5 great novels. But this is not just a movie about translations, it's a movie about a deeply fascinating old woman. She's well in her 80's now, and walks painfully hunched over, but is meticulous and careful in everything she does. There is a sort of care she takes with everything in her life, like she's in the moment observing, appreciating, and reacting to it. That's true whether she's discussing translations with a colleague, baking a pie, or ironing. And she manages to drop subtle and humorous bits of wisdom. Particularly good was her "translate with your nose in the air" story (which doesn't mean be stuck up, it means read a passage, internalize, and look up and speak/write it in the translated language without going through word by word).

I had a bit of an epiphany while watching it--this is why I love movies. My mind tends to wander all over the place and I think of many things at once. When I'm in a meeting, I'm likely to be thinking about what I did just before or (more likely) what I'll do after the meeting. But while watching movies (and not during all movies) I can focus on just the movie. Being in a darkened room with a lighted screen, in a social atmosphere where having a conversation or checking my cell phone is taboo...calms me. That's also why I don't watch many movies on DVD at home--there's not the same forced attention. I readily admit that I couldn't keep my mind from wandering at times. I would catch myself thinking about something else (usually how much time there would be between films and if I had time to get a bite to eat), and then I'd be brought back to the film by a particularly beautiful or intelligent scene. As I felt that increased focus, I thought this must be how Swetlana Geier feels all the time, and it's pretty cool.

For the record, I had time enough that I could've gotten some food, but chose to stay in the theater and chat with friends before the crowd-pleasing MEN IN THE CITY. It's a story of five men and their romantic tribulations/adventures. There's a shy weakling who falls for the checkout girl at the pet store. There's her extremely violent ex, who wants her back but has also caught the eye of his father's nurse. There's a music producer/party animal with tons of women, none of whom he loves (and the flamingly flamboyant pop star whose music he produces). And there's the (seeming) loser with the pregnant girlfriend and no job, but a grand plan for a chain of healthy, organic fast-food restaurants. And finally, there's the normal guy with a plan for his whole life and a beautiful fiancé. But he's got a complication when a hot young model throws herself at him, forcing him to make a choice. Oh, and although they are strangers (at least at the start), they all go to the same gym, making it a sort of comic intersection for all their problems. As I said, it's a crowd-pleaser, and it's pretty darn good at that (they're filming the sequel right now).

Total Running Time: 200 minutes
My Total Minutes: 121,371

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Jason goes to Docfest--Day 9

Yeah, I spent two consecutive days at Docfest! (in fact, I'm writing on my third consecutive Docfest day) In past years, that's nothing, but with my schedule that's an accomplishment this year.

Anyway, two more movies with the theme of nudity and self-love (giggitty!)

First up, MAY I BE FRANK. Frank Ferrante is (spoiler alert: was) a fat, self-loathing Sicilian with a history of drugs and alcohol, an estranged daughter, and a host of physical ailments--most importantly Hepatitis C. Talking one day to friends who run a Vegan restaurant (now that's a story they didn't get into--how did Frank ever walk into a Vegan restaurant?), he mentions that all he wants to do is fall in love and be loved once more before he dies. But no one (he believes) can love him looking like he does. Heck, he can't even love himself. So the three kids--Ryland, Cary, and Connor--take this as a challenge, and challenge him to a 42 day project. He will eat all his meals vegan (at their restaurant, if possible), will do daily affirmations, will keep a journal, and will go through any other "cleansing" processes they choose for him (yes, colonics are involved--hence the nudity theme of the night). And they will videotape the whole thing, and in doing so these complete amateurs became film directors. With such an outspoken personality, Frank is bound to be entertaining, and he is. For quite a while, it plays like a trio of annoying hippies torture a goombah (watching him drink wheatgrass juice is more painful than anything I've seen in the JACKASS movies). And I know it's totally wrong of me, but there's a part of me that liked the big, fat, unhealthy goombah more. Frank was there for the screening, and he looks tiny compared to what's on screen. I'm very happy that he's healthier and happier, and that he is on speaking terms with his daughter and ex-wife. He doesn't drink wheatgrass juice regularly anymore--although after seeing the movie people like buying him wheatgrass shots and colonics. And, of course, he's still as outspoken and hilarious. Despite what I wrote just a few sentences ago about preferring the fat, unhealthy goombah, after an hour and a half of such a (pun intended) frank look at him, he becomes a sort of friend, and I like to see my friends do well.

Next up was SEX MAGIC. Early on someone describes the Sedona Temple as like Oz, and shaman Baba Dez is the Wizard of Oz. When I heard that line, I thought to myself that the Great and Terrible Oz was a fraud, a humbug, just a weak little man pulling levers to manipulate a greater illusion. And whether intentional or not, that thought colored the rest of the movie. Dez practices tantra, polyamory, and sexual healing. But of all the thousands of women he's made love to, his true beloved is Maya. But then she up and leaves him. She claims she was okay with polyamory, but the extreme level of his promiscuity was too much for her. So he hatches a plan to get her back--using Sex Magic. That is, harnessing orgasmic energy for casting spells (or something like that). Basically, she left because he was having sex with too many other women, and his plan to get her back is too have lots more sex with many other women.

There was a lot of discussion in the Q&A over whether the movie was making fun of Dez and other practitioners at the temple. I was inclined to believe not--the movie was a sincere look at him, and it's just reality that makes it funny. But thinking about it more I think it goes back to the Wizard of Oz line. If it (the line and my reaction) was intentional, then yes, the movie is making fun of him. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Total Running Time: 167 minutes
My Total Minutes: 212,171

Friday, October 22, 2010

Jason goes to Docfest--Day 8

Yeah, I skipped another couple of days. Wednesday was the Quakes last regular season home game, so I was there to watch Wondolowski score a hat trick, set a new Quakes single season goal record, and pull into a tie for the Golden Boot. Oh yeah, and they beat Chivas U.S.A. 3-0.

And Tuesday I a top secret undisclosed location. Doing something awesome, no doubt.

But Thursday I was back at Docfest for two more movies:

While the Giants were playing Philly (we'll get them in Philadelphia and make the World Series), I was actually watching GIANTS. And there was a lot of Giant orange, but not for the baseball team, for pumpkins. In fact, the question of whether a giant gourd that is genetically the same species but is not orange is or is not a pumpkin becomes a central conflict in the movie, tears apart a Pacific Northwest growers club, and turns old friends into bitter enemies. But aside from that, it's a humorous procession of obsessive oddballs all trying to grow the biggest pumpkin and claim the most prestigious prize--winning Half Moon Bay (their festival was on Columbus Day weekend, I just missed it). Almost nobody turns a profit on this--it's a giant (no pun intended) money sink, where people spend hundreds on a single seed, obsess daily on the progress of their vines, and ultimately mourn when they grow too fast and split, rendering them invalid. It's also a competition where the world record is routinely broken by ~50 lbs a year. This movie was shot in 2005, and the winner at Half Moon Bay (which wasn't even the record that year), at a measly 1229 lbs is just a baby compared to the recent record of 1810.5 lbs.

My only nitpick is that Tom Skerritt's narration was often unnecessary. I like Tom Skerritt as an actor, but often the information was redundant, and the attempts at humor fell flat (I'd chalk it up to his deadpan delivery doesn't play if you don't see his face). And sometimes it felt like a person just off-screen reacting to dialog on-screen. Maybe there wasn't enough of a pause between on-screen dialog and the narration (a minor tweak to the sound editing could fix that?)

So next up was PLUG & PRAY, a fascinating look at the world of Artificial Intelligence. Told in interviews with luminaries like Ray Kurzweil (inventor of a reader for the blind, a famous music synthesizer, founder of Silicon Valley's "Singularity University," and a futurist who predicts immortality is within our grasp through nano-robots in our bloodstream. Or the Japanese like Hiroshi Ishiguro or Minoru Asada, developing lifelike human robots (like the ones you see on the news every few months) that are currently inhabiting the uncanny valley (this movie, more than all the crazy shit at Holehead, reinforces my thesis that the Japanese are freakin' weird). Or professor Neil Gershenfeld of MIT's "Center for Bits and Atoms." I just like that name, and as it suggests it's the merging of physics (particularly nano-physics) and computer science. The loudest dissenting voice, and nominally the star of the film is (the late) Joseph Weizenbaum, In 1966, his speech recognition program ELIZA arguably started the field of artificial intelligence, but now he rails against it, arguing against the loss of humanity/the soul, and the dangers of the limitless faith in science. His death--and his comment that it is the duty of the old to die and make room for the young, thereby allowing them to reinvent humanity and keep the whole crazy thing going--is all the eerier set against Kurzweil's prediction that immortality will be possible in as little as 20 years.

Oh, and speaking of matters of the soul, I'd be remiss if I didn't tell you about the Italian researchers who consulted with the Vatican and got a statement from the Pope saying essentially that their creativity and genius is a gift from God, so it is appropriate to use it to make amazing creations. So say what you will about the moral implications, but artificial intelligence has the blessings of the pontiff.

In contrast to the previous movie, this could have used some narration or another framing device to give it a point of view and walk the audience through the journey. As it was, it was very free-flowing, to the point where I sometimes got lost.

And that was last Thursday at Docfest.

Total Running Time: 160 minutes
My Total Minutes: 212,004

Jason goes to Docfest--Day 5

Or something. I skipped a few days, this is last Monday, two movies.

First up, MISS LANDMINE. This is truly a weird project, and I don't quite know how I feel about it. It's the brainchild of Morten Traavik, who creates beauty pageants of victims of land mines. It draws attention to their plight, and empowers women who are often marginalized. Particularly in Laos--where the Miss Landmine pageant was held the year this movie was made, and where some Buddhists ostracize victims of tragedies because they must have bad karma.

But all the good that Miss Landmine does is undermined (no pun intended) by Traavik's somewhat abrasive, self-aggrandizing, douche-baggy personality. Opponents (including those in the government) try to shut him down, and he has to sneak into Laos in order to crown the winner (who receives a state of the art artificial leg and a golden prosthesis trophy) and deliver prize money to all contestants. But I can kind of see his opponent's point. It's like he's trying to do a good thing in the most annoying, provocative way possible.

And speaking of annoying douchebag provocateurs, BIKER FOX. Frank P. DeLarzelere III is Biker Fox. He hails from Tulsa Oklahoma, where he's a motivational bicyclist (in that he bikes a lot while yelling at people). He makes his living selling muscle car parts, and he calls himself a nature conservationist--because he feeds the raccoons that are all around his property. And he's a giant pile of bipolar disorder (note: this is not said in the movie, and I'm not qualified to diagnose him. It just seems pretty freakin' obvious). It is so amazingly appropriate that his best friend is deaf. Although I'll always remember him for his obnoxiousness, I'm afraid this is a movie (and a character) I'll always remember.

Total Running Time: 160 minutes
My Total Minutes: 211,844

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Jason goes to Jewfest South, Sunday October 17th

Just had time for one movie last Sunday night, A SECRET. A story that spans a generation in a family of survivors

During the Holocaust, the Grinbergs changed to Grimbert, and changed from Jewish to Catholic. After the war, young, insecure, unathletic Francois Grimbert is something of a disappointment to his father. Particularly, that "unathletic" part. See, both his father and mother were great athletes, which sort of makes him an oddity. But through flashbacks we learn the secret of his family's former Judaism, his father's former wife, his deceased half-brother, and the tragic circumstances around them. It's a solid drama of what it takes to survive, and sometimes the simple tasks (such as keeping a secret about yourself) that make survival impossible.

Against typical convention the "present day" scenes are in black and white, while the past is in color. It took me a while to figure that out, but once I did I kind of dug the "happy memories of the past" vs. the "bleak present" feeling. However, it did confuse me for long enough that now I want to see it again. In fact, this film originally played at the festival in 2008, and is brought back as a "Best of the Best" offering. I wonder how I missed it back then?

Running Time: 110 minutes
My Total Minutes: 211,684

Jason celebrates Edna Purviance's birthday at the Niles Film Museum

Happy 115th, Edna, you don't look a day over 20-something. Of course, I only see you in those Chaplin movies, when you were his greatest leading lady, so that might explain that. Niles is proud to keep your memory alive.

First up, the short A NIGHT OUT (1915): Edna's debut, and filmed right here in Niles. Charlie and Ben Turpin paint the town a drunken shade of red, and after being tossed out of the restaurant, they end up in a hotel. In the room across the hall is the lovely Edna Purviance, and Charlie immediately has his eye on her. Too bad about her husband.

Then a brief intermission, with a little birthday cake and punch.

Then the feature, A WOMAN OF PARIS (1923). Charlie directed this movie, his first attempt at straight drama, in an attempt to make Edna Purviance more famous (it didn't work, but did wonders to further the career of Adolphe Menjou. Marie (Purviance) starts out poor, with her loving but poor artist fiancé, Jean (Carl Miller). But she heads off to Paris where she becomes the mistress of the wealthiest bachelor in town, Pierre Revel (Menjou). When Pierre gets engaged (not to her), and Jean comes to town, she has a choice of being the wealthy "other woman" or being the poor wife of her old love. Or, she would've had a choice if Jean's mother didn't get involved, and misunderstanding lead to tragedy.

We would've had a second short, A JITNEY ELOPEMENT (1915, also an Essanay film, like A NIGHT OUT), but we ended the show early so everyone could watch "60 Minutes" on TV. Why the big deal? Well, our historian/projectionist David Kiehn was on, as was the museum. And if you look at the very end of this segment, I make a split-second appearance. Woo hoo!

Total Running Time: 111 minutes
My Total Minutes: 211,574

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Jason watches JACKASS 3-D


I don't think there's any point in reviewing this as cinema. If it's art at all, it's performance art.

And there's no point in calling it juvenile and disgusting. It's called "JACKASS," and by the third time out in theaters (not to mention the MTV show that I never actually watched), you pretty much known what you're going to get.

And yes, there are scenes that are pretty clever, sometimes laugh out loud funny, although I've found that mostly it's the gang laughing at the one guy in pain that is the funniest part.

Look, this movie will find its audience, and there's nothing critics can do about that. And, in fact, I'm not ashamed to count myself as part of its audience. I greatly enjoyed a lot of the movie.

So why the sigh at the beginning? Because I thought JACKASS 2 was better, and maybe I got my hopes up too high.

Running Time: 94 minutes
My Total Minutes: 211,463

Jason watches LET ME IN

And it's pretty good, but not quite as good as the Swedish original LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (Låt den rätte komma in), which should be the gold standard of pre-teen vampire romance.

It's a fairly faithful remake, enough so that nothing really surprised me in it. I think it will have an effect similar to THE RING (American version)/RINGU (Japanese original)--whichever one you saw first, you like more (unless it's the Korean version, I don't know anyone who argues that RING VIRUS is the best version of that story).

I got a little off topic there. There are two main differences that make me like the Swedish version better. First, LET ME IN takes out the shocking and somewhat controversial nude scene. I can live without it, but it was such a memorable part of the original version that I kept wondering if they'll do it in the American version, and if they do how will they do it. The second difference is simply a matter of style. The swimming pool scene in the original is, in my opinion, in the running for most beautiful scene in any movie ever. They still have the swimming pool scene in the American version, but just not quite executed with the same framing, beauty, and grace.

But hey, when my major nitpick is that the climactic scene doesn't hold up against what is possibly my favorite movie ever, that's not too bad.

Running Time: 116 minutes
My Total Minutes: 211,369

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Jason goes to Docfest--Day 2

Two more movies last (Friday) night, so let's jump right in.

First up, a hero-worship doc that has a very worship-worthy hero, AMERICAN: THE BILL HICKS STORY. A fairly straightforward narrative of the life of the outspoken stand up comic, told by the people who knew him best--friends and family. It was clear from a very young age (like 13, when he first broke into the stand-up clubs in Houston, TX) that he was a born comic. The movie recounts his early squeaky-clean days, his dabbling in psychedelic mushrooms (one of his oft-repeated jokes is about how the news never does a positive drug story), and his drinking--leading to his anger and bitterness coming out in his act. Eventually his "act" just became people in the audience buying him drinks and him getting royally wasted on stage. But he cleaned up, stopped the booze, and came back as a seriously funny angry comic with political messages about the drug war, free speech, and flag burning. Although he had the the respect, admiration, even worship of fellow comedians, he was ahead of his time and never really caught on the way he should've in America. So he went to England, where he played giant sold out theaters, and then returned to America and played small clubs. In fact, this movie titled AMERICAN was actually made in the UK. I have to believe, especially seeing the success of angry political comics today, that had he not died young (of cancer) that fame would've come to him. As it was, I remembered several of his bits when I saw them again in the move, but didn't know him as a household name. More's the pity.

And then I followed that up with an odd, traumatic story of pedophilia and incest, FAMILY AFFAIR. Filmmaker Chico Colvard's father molested and abused his daughters and went to jail for a long, long time. And now he's done his time and he's out, and somewhat inexplicably the daughters still see him, even have him over for Thanksgiving dinner. Colvard sets out to document this, and try to understand why they still let their abusive father (to be fair, they refer to past abuses but you never see him acting abusive nowadays) into their life.

So I have to confess, I was exhausted and dozed off a couple of times during this film (it happens). So if he answered the question of "why?" I didn't see it. Instead, what I saw was a close examination of a family, that raised an interesting and powerful question without answering it--possibly because it's unanswerable.

Total Running Time: 187 minutes
My Total Minutes: 211,253

Friday, October 15, 2010

Jason goes to Docfest--Opening Night

Last night was opening night of SF Indiefest's annual Documentary Film Festival. I have to warn you all right now that my coverage will not be as complete as previous years. What with Docfest, the Silicon Vally Jewish Film Festival, the Arab Film Festival, and Berlin and Beyond all overlapping, not to mention my volunteer work at the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, my rooting for the Quakes (back in the playoff, woo hoo!), and Mill Valley Film Festival and Taiwan Film Days (which I simply won't make it to), as well as other assorted social obligations...well, I'm just way to busy. If all goes as planned, I'll see just over half of Docfest.

But let's not let that take away from the fun of opening night, and the high energy fun of EVERYDAY SUNSHINE: THE STORY OF FISHBONE, about a band that's full of high energy fun. Black punk rockers, unclassifiable funky metal (early record producers didn't know whether they could put them into "black music" or not), and one of the most uncompromisingly democratic groups ever, they let every member do their own thing and somehow it came together great. Or at least, that's what the critics and the bands they inspired (who went on to greater success) all said. They never really reached the success that seemed promised when the group of friends from Los Angeles hit the scene in the 80's. It seems their fatal flaw is refusing to dumb themselves down to the point where they can be easily understood.

The film--narrated by Laurence Fishburne (hey, I just got that, Fishburne/Fishbone)--mixes archival footage (mostly provided by dedicated fans) with interviews from admirers (ranging from Flea to George Clinton to Tim Robbins to Gwen Stefani) and contemporary 'behind-the-scenes' footage of the remaining founding members Norwood Fisher and frontman Angelo Moore. With a 25 year history, including members leaving and a trial for attempted kidnapping, you can't avoid a "Behind the Music" feel, but they take their bruises as a sort of pride, admitted that they (okay, maybe just Angelo) may be crazy, but that's the source of the creative genius.

With a movie like this, it's hard to know when the story is done. Filmmakers Lev Anderson and Chris Metzler spent four years, and it still feels like an unfinished story--obviously because Fishbone is still performing. Here's hoping the end of that story includes the success that seemed inevitable 25 years ago.

By the way, Lev and Chris, along with Norwood and Angelo were there for a Q&A session afterwards, and they were a total trip to meet.

Next up was a documentary that took a long time to really get going, both technically (problems with the media, they eventually gave up and switched to a screener DVD), and cinematically. EAT THE SUN is primarily the story of Mason, a young man in San Francisco who gets involved in the practice of sungazing. That is the spiritual/lifestyle practice popularized by Hira Ratan Manek--better known as HRM, fitting since his followers treat him kinda like His Royal Majesty. Sungazing (or Solar Gazing) is the practice of staring into the sun for 44 minutes a day (starting at 10 seconds, working your way up by adding 10 seconds every day, until you level off at 44 minutes). HRM claims he hasn't eaten solid food in years (even if you pay him a lot of money, he won't eat!), that he gets all his energy from the sun, that teams of doctors have verified his fast for as long as 411 day. Although he does occasionally drink tea, coffee, or buttermilk, he somehow photosynthesizes all he needs to survive (something about direct sunlight stimulating the pineal gland). Many follow his practice, and swear that they have more energy, don't eat (in fact, are no longer hungry), and...I don't know, gain super powers? The downside is they get withdrawn, lonely (not surprising, given how much socialization happens around food). Director Peter Sorcher follows Mason (now up to 30-some minutes of daily sungazing) as he searches for explanations, answers, and some assurance that he's on the right path. At first he seems like an incredibly naive, deluded young man, and the movie is something of a parade of equally deluded sungazers--including an anthropologist who claims to be the inspiration for Indiana Jones and has started a church in (I think?) New Mexico based around solar gazing. But surprisingly, Mason actually is pretty level headed, and medical results showing he is slowly burning his retina (despite feeling no symptoms) leaves him conflicted, as does a meeting with possibly the loneliest solar gazer on earth (he claims he can't be around anyone because his energy is too great. In fact, he eats only to lessen his energy). Without giving away any spoilers, the real gold is when they catch HRM's dirty little secret on camera. Took a long time to get there, but ultimately there was a pretty satisfying payoff.

And that was the start of Docfest 2010

Total Running Time: 186 minutes
My Total Minutes: 211,066

Monday, October 11, 2010


The first intentional step in my Zach Galifianakis fan project.

Okay, first, as far as the movie. It's a little surprising to see a movie with so little ambition. A stressed out kid checks himself into a mental hospital. And four days later, he checks out, a little better. While in there, he learns to relax and enjoy art more than his ultra-competitive high achiever school. And he meets a girl there. And, most importantly, he meets Bobby (Zach Galifianakis), a fellow patient who teaches him about life.

Now, as for the Galifianakis himself. He plays a bit of a cliche, the mental patient with surprising wisdom. But he plays it with his trademark mix of self-assured zaniness and vulnerability. His antics of sneaking out of the mental ward dressed in scrubs and bribing a janitor with meds to let them into the gym is fun. But at the same time, the scenes with his ex-wife berating him in front of his daughter are a little heartbreaking, and shows some depth in his acting ability.

On the Galifianakis-meter (which measures, of course, Galifianomics), I'll give it a solid 5/10.

Running Time: 91 minutes
My Total Minutes: 210,549

Jason goes to Jewfest South--Sunday, October 10.

And on 10-10-10, the movie was a perfect 10.

I skipped ANITA, which is fantastic (might see it Wednesday) but I'd already seen it in Jewfest North. Instead I just showed up for one movie, the Slovakian Holocaust movie BROKEN PROMISE. It's based on the true life story of Martin Friedmann, a young Jew (and local soccer star) in Bratislava. Sitting down to the Seder dinner in 1941, his father talks about how tough things are getting, and they all make a promise whatever happens they will meet again for the Seder next year. Of course, given the title (and knowing history), you know that promise will be broken. The thing that always strikes me about these stories is how in denial everyone is. When various family members are shipped off to Poland (Auschwitz), they rationalize that the Germans need workers because all the men are off at war. They won't kill them, they'll just make them work hard, and they're not afraid of hard work. Martin, however, survives in a Slovakian camp by...being an excellent soccer player. The guards like to watch soccer matches, and he gets extra rations for scoring goals. He's even kept off the train to Poland. But that's not his only survival technique. Number one is luck. Even bad luck works out for him, as a lung infection lands him in a hospital (he's lucky to have a camp commander who is "practical"). More luck hooks him up with a Catholic monk who hides him in a monastery. And eventually he joins the Partisans--the local band of fighters harassing the Germans while waiting for the Soviet Army. Even then, survival depends on hiding his Jewishness. It's a pretty powerful story of survival, and while it's treading ground that has been tread before (THE PIANIST, EUROPA EUROPA, etc) it still manages to stay fresh and compelling.

Running Time: 129 minutes
My Total Minutes: 210,458

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Jason invades the Vortex and watches THE ALIEN FACTOR and NIGHT CALLER FROM OUTER SPACE

And also drank a lot of martinis, so I don't quite remember all of it. That was last Thursday at the Vortex.

THE ALIEN FACTOR: An alien space ship full of specimens for an intergalactic zoo crash lands. Aliens escape, and mutilate people. But it's just in Baltimore, so nobody cares. Just kidding! But I didn't care.

NIGHT CALLER FROM OUTER SPACE: Aliens are here to use our females as breeding stock (giggity!) John Saxon must stop them.

Total Running Time: 165 Minutes
My Total Minutes: 210,329

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Jason goes to bad movie night and watches DOG SOLDIERS

And if I have the lingo of the film's Scottish soldiers right, it was so shit it was bone--meaning bollocks or naff.

No, I don't really know what it means either, now imaging watching 105 minutes of that talk and pretty soon you'll wish you were being devoured by werewolves.

Running Time: 105 minutes
My Total Minutes: 209,974


And yes, the critics are pretty much right, it's a great movie. Intriguing, well told, interesting characters. I think they go too far when they call it the modern CITIZEN KANE or the movie of the generation, but maybe that just means I'm old.

What really intrigues me is all the chatter about how it slams Mark Zuckerberg (excellently played by Jesse Eisenberg). Yeah, he's shown as flawed--arrogant, a little misogynistic (but hardly the biggest misogynist in the movie), obsessive--but ultimately he's very sympathetic (please tell me I'm not the only one who sympathized with him). In a movie where everyone has flaws, he's actually relatively grounded. He's smart, but is interested more in doing something cool that changes the world rather than making a ton of money (ironic, then, that he becomes the world's youngest billionaire). He has a few beers, but isn't the party animal (that would be Justin Timberlake as Sean Parker, the creator of Napster and ultimately the devil on Zuckerberg's shoulder). He starts off by making Facemash--a sexist site where people can rank the hotness of Harvard women (he makes it in one night, while drunk, while blogging, while hurt that his girlfriend dumped him for being an elitist). But in the end that comes off more as an impressive (though hurtful) college prank. Hell, in my college years rather than doing anything that cool I just burned shit. Ultimately, his tragic flaw (if you can even call his life a tragedy) is that he's smarter than everyone and not afraid to show his disdain for other's intelligence. In a telling scene, he's staring out the window during a deposition and mentions "it's raining." The opposing counsel is irate, and tries to call him out for not giving the proceedings the proper attention. He responds in an eviscerating monologue telling them exactly how little attention he feels the proceedings deserve. Sure, he comes off as a total jerk, but one who is also right. All the more impressive that he's right using only (by his estimate) the bare minimum of the required attention.

The narrative plays out against two separate lawsuits brought against Zuckerberg, and both are revealing about different aspects of his character and rise to power. In the first, the twin Winklevoss brothers--rich Harvard jocks who rule the social scene (they're in a house he wants to get into) and eventually represent the U.S.A. in Olympic rowing--accuse him of ripping off their idea for Harvard Connections to create Facebook. It seems pretty clear he didn't--Facebook (or, as it was first known) was much more, and he never re-used any of their code. At the same time, it's pretty clear he jerked them around by promising he'd do coding work for them while he was really beating them to the punch with TheFacebook. In this case, it's pretty clear that he's in the right. And it's kind of a sad ending when his lawyer convinces him to settle because no matter how right he is he'll come off as a jerk to a jury. And maybe that scene is what makes this the movie that describes this generation. He has created a world for himself (not just Facebook, but the entire world he lives in) where being right makes him king, and being likable means nothing. But back in the real world--which still at least sometimes plays by the rules of the previous generation--being likable is everything and even if you're right you lose if you're not popular.

In the second lawsuit, he's actually sued by his best friend and co-founder of Facebook, Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield). Eduardo was a business major, the CFO of TheFacebook, and provided the original seed money to get it off the ground. He started with a 30% share, but when more "angel" investors joined his shares were diluted to a fraction of a percent (and his name taken off the masthead as co-founder). This one feels like the real tragedy, that it's not about money but about Zuckerberg losing his one real friend because they had a disagreement over where to take the company (Eduardo was lining up advertisers early on, and the argument was that would've made Facebook "uncool" and killed it off before it really got rolling. Sean Parker is implied as instrumental in forcing Eduardo out). In the end, this lawsuit was settled for undisclosed terms, but Eduardo's name was returned to the masthead as co-founder. I like to think that the resolution left Mark and Eduardo patching up their differences and remaining friends. Zuckerberg is consistently portrayed as someone who doesn't care about money, and I was left convinced that this friendship--as battered as it was--really is still more important.

I should stress that I am critiquing the character of Mark Zuckerber in the movie, not the real Zuckerberg. That's simply all I have to work on. From what I've heard from people who've met him, the real Zuckerberg is not like that at all.

I will say that I also have sympathy for reviewers who have attacked the movie for its misogyny. I was likewise struck by how little there was for female characters (and yes, his counsel in the end is a female, but a small role). I didn't get a good sense if this was a reflection of the filmmakers (doubtful given Sorkin's previous work, possible for Fincher--I thought FIGHT CLUB was similarly male-centric to the point of misogyny) or if it was an intentional reflection on the attitudes of the characters. It's possibly even a commentary on the chauvinistic that Zuckerberg was trying to get into in Harvard. And in that interpretation, the fact that he not only has a female lawyer but he actually thanks her in the end for all her work is perhaps telling of the arc of his character. That in the end, he has let go of the misogyny and contemplates how he has created something far greater than the elitist, sexist clubs he wanted to get into so long ago--something great, something so egalitarian that a billionaire can use it to check on the status of the girl who broke his heart years ago and started the whole story.

Running Time: 120 minutes
My Total Minutes: 209,869