Thursday, December 15, 2011

Jason watches THE ARTIST

I know that this and HUGO are just two movies, but it still feels like there's suddenly a glut of romanticizing the silent era. Not that I'm complaining, I love silents, and anything that increases interest is good. And, oh by the way, THE ARTIST is also a solidly entertaining and clever story.

But before I get to the story, let me first talk about the gimmick--this is a silent film. It's set in the late silent era and early talkies (spanning 1927-1933). It allows for some pretty clever laugh lines (particularly when the titular artist's wife tells him, "We need to talk"), but rarely rises above the level of a gimmick. When talkies are introduced in 1929 there's a pretty ingenious scene where he has a mental breakdown while for the first time hearing sound effects (glasses clinking, girls laughing, etc.) At that point I expected it to slowly become a talkie, but it doesn't, it remains silent even in the sound era. But the best thing about making it a silent film is it expertly illustrates exactly how few words are needed to tell a story. When you have body language to express the emotions, the words are very rarely needed. This is a skill that you pick up from watching silents and has actually served me well before--e.g., when I went to a German film festival and watched a film that accidentally arrived with no subtitles. For all the stereotypes (alluded to in the film) of silent film stars "mugging" for the camera, in fact it's talkies that are more likely to insult the audience by verbalizing emotions that should be clear without words.

Okay, now on to the story. The artist of the title is George Valentin, a silent film star (Jean Dujardin). In a random chance, he bumps into fan Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo) and if photographed playfully flirting with her. She becomes the talk of the town and parlays that into a role in the movies, dutifully working her way up from extra to beauty girl to supporting player to star. They work together briefly, and the flirtation ramps up a notch. And then tragedy, in the form of sound. It is very true that talkies destroyed the careers of several excellent silent actors and actresses. But George seems to see his career dying when he watches his first sound test. The next time he sees Peppy, it's on a staircase where she is literally on her way up and he's on his way down, mirroring their careers. Peppy easily makes the transition to sound and becomes a huge star, while George fades into obscurity--sinking all his money into one last silent adventure. He's left with no one but his faithful servant and chauffeur Clifton (James Cromwell). But Peppy still loves him, even if he's too dense to realize it or too proud to take her charity.

It's a loving and upbeat homage to the silent screen, and I couldn't help thinking it would make an nice angel/devil double feature with Richard Dreyfuss' 1974 X-rated tale of a broken down silent film director, INSERTS.

Running Time: 100 minutes
My Total Minutes: 259,876

Jason celebrates a Noir City Xmas

Up at the Castro last night for a double feature of Christmas Noir (how many can there possibly be?), which was also a double feature of Deanna Durbin movies.

But first, a preview of schedule for Noir City X. Great looking lineup. A little odd that they're playing THE KILLERS (1964) after the Roxie played it at their Not Necessarily Noir festival, but that's forgiven since they'll have Angie Dickinson in person! And just lots of great stuff, check it out.

Now for the movies, starting with LADY ON A TRAIN (1945), which can best be described as "slapstick noir." Deanna Durbin is Nikki Collins. She's riding a train (San Francisco to New York) and reading a trashy crime novel, when she looks out the window and witnessed someone beating an old man to death with a crowbar. She goes to the police, who think she's crazy and just obsessed with crime novels. They tell her to go get the author to help her--so she does. Or at least she tries. He's not very cooperative, and her unannounced visits really upset his fiancee. But through a bit of luck she learns the identity of the victim and gets more and more entangled in a series of wacky twists (mostly around the key piece of evidence--a pair of bloody slippers). Ultimately, she ends up masquerading as a nightclub singer (which gives her a chance to show off her musical talents) and even gets sent to prison before everything is resolved (or not, why should I spoil it?) Very funny, and with a great cast that includes Ralph Bellamy, David Bruce, Dan Duryea, and Edward Everett Horton.

As funny as LADY ON A TRAIN is, the second half of the double feature was just as depressing. CHRISTMAS HOLIDAY (1944) should win an award for the most misleading title. Technically, it is about what happens when a soldier goes on leave over the holidays. Lt. Charles Mason (Dean Harens) is on leave for a week, and plans to fly to San Francisco (a big cheer in the Castro when he insists it's San Francisco and not "Frisco") and marry his sweetheart. But his plans get waylaid twice--first when he gets a telegram saying she already married someone else, second when his plane (he decided to go and confront her anyway) is diverted due to weather and he spends a night in New Orleans. There--in a house of ill repute that he gets dragged to--he meets and learns the sad tale of Jackie Lamont/Abigail Martin (Deanna Durbin. Another coincidence, both movies had Deanna's character using two names). Seems she married a guy who turned out to A) have mommy issues, B) have a gambling problem, and C) have a slightly bigger murdering problem. Her husband, Robert Manette, is in prison for murder, but she (for some reason) still professes her love for him. That's all fine and good until he breaks out of prison and wants a little payback for the rumors he has heard about her (for some reason, he thinks she's a whore just because she worked as a prostitute to make ends meet). Oh yeah, and her psychotic husband? Played by Gene Kelly. That was weird.

And that was Noir City Xmas, 2011. Looking forward to the full week of Noir City in January.

Total Running Time: 187 minutes
My Total Minutes: 259,775

Monday, December 12, 2011

Jason goes to Bad Movie Night and watches IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE


Yup, we skewered the holiday "classic" again. But this time, I wasn't on the mic. Which I assume explains the low turnout. It was really the core regulars, plus a small group that I think actually wanted to watch the movie. We looked back halfway through and they had walked out. But at least we entertained ourselves. And damn, Pottersville looks like a fun town.

Running Time: 130 minutes
My Total Minutes: 259,591

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Jason celebrates Christmas with the Centipede

Knock knock!
Who's there?
Centipede who?
Santa peed on my Christmas tree!

Okay, so the Roxie is notorious for their Christmas celebrations. I missed the Amy Sedaris event just because tickets were a bit much. And I missed the DIE HARD/DIE HARD 2: DIE HARDER double bill because I went to see Don Hertzfeldt. But of course I wasn't going to miss their double bill of THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE 1 and 2. Not that it isn't totally worth missing, it's just I'm bit of a glutton for punishment.

So I've seen the HUMAN CENTIPEDE 1 (FIRST SEQUENCE) before, and I can charitably say I was unimpressed (but it was better than SHREK FOREVER AFTER. I forgot I saw them on the same evening). It's not just that it's a distasteful, disgusting premise, it's that it doesn't even attempt to offer an insight into the dark corners of the human experience. The fact that the movie was made says more about humanity than anything actually in the movie. And on a second viewing, I'll stand by that statement even more. The only thing I got from a second viewing is noticing how much glass gets broken. Yeah, a few people get tortured, but glass really has it rough.

Okay, now for HUMAN CENTIPEDE 2 (FULL SEQUENCE). I begrudgingly liked it more than the first, but it still suffers from having no connection to the human experience. It's definitely funnier, and more visceral than the first. And it goes meta right away. This time the villain is Martin, a pudgy retarded security guard obsessed with the first movie and dreams of expanding on the fictional Dr. Heiter's project. Once again, casting is perfect as Laurence R. Harvey is perfect in the role. Of course, he's no doctor so while the first movie was sterile and clinical, in this one he performing the operation with hammers, pliers, steak knives, and staple guns. And yes, it's a 12 person centipede (at least, that's what IMDb says, I could've sworn I only counted 10, but then I was pretty drunk). And the result is gory, messy, and hilarious. And I'm not the only one who thought that. The small audience of sickos in the audience also laughed at it.

Beyond that, the meta-humor gets tedious fast. Use it as a set up and then stop mentioning the original. And if I'm being charitable and search for any statement about the human condition in the film, I suppose it's that fans of such films are sick, disturbed villains. Fair...uninteresting, but fair.

I still like my idea for the planned third film: a kinky fetish club that gets off on "centipeding" kidnaps a doctor and force him to operate on them.

Total Running Time: 180 minutes
My Total Minutes: 259,452

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Jason spends a lovely evening with Don Hertzfeldt

Oooh! That sounds like it might be romantic. It wasn't. It was a night of somewhat twisted cartoons, culminating in his new one IT'S SUCH A BEAUTIFUL DAY, the culmination of the "Bill" trilogy (Billogy?) But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Don Hertzfeldt is a multiple-award-winning and staunchly independent animator. Probably most famous for his Oscar-nominated short REJECTED. He also grew up in my current hometown of Fremont, CA, so I can bestow on him the semi-official title of "Pride of Fremont" (former title-holder: MC Hammer). Oh, and he was honored with the San Francisco Film Festival's Persistence of Vision Award last year, and of course I was there. It's arguably not really a "Lifetime Achievement" award, but it's still pretty amazing to get something like that at age 33.

Anyway, on to last Thursday's show, which as I said was to showcase his new film, but I'm getting ahead of myself. We started with WISDOM TEETH, which I think should be the litmus test of whether or not you like Hertzfeldt's undeniably twisted sense of humor. This is actually one of his more recent films, and most twisted (nice to see he isn't entirely mellowing with age).

Other early works shown were BILLY'S BALLOON and INTERMISSION IN THE THIRD DIMENSION (part of THE ANIMATION SHOW 2003 edition).

And then on to the Bill trilogy. When he got the Persistence of Vision award, we were treated to the first two, EVERYTHING WILL BE OKAY, and I'M SO PROUD OF YOU. In the first one, we meet Bill--a typical Don Hertzfeldt stick figure who lives in a world that is sometimes also stick figures, sometimes photo-real, and sometimes some strange netherworld. We learn his phobias (grocery store fruit displayed right at crotch level), and his weakening grasp on reality. We learn he has been diagnosed with some condition, and while there are good days and bad, his condition is generally deteriorating. It of course has the twisted Hertzfeldt sense of humor, but there's also a sense of affection for the character and melancholy at his plight. In I'M SO PROUD OF YOU, we learn Bill's family history, going back through several generations of thoroughly messed-up people who tend to get run over by trains.

And finally, IT'S SUCH A BEAUTIFUL DAY. Bill's condition is worsening, and this may just be the end of Bill. Like in the previous two films, there are a lot of meandering detours, so explicating the story is awfully hard. But he has bad days, and good days (when he goes on long walks and enjoys the view). And he goes on long drives, meets people he knows but can't remember. Has a brain test where they shut off one hemisphere of his brain (actually, I can't remember, maybe that was in one of the previous ones, but I think it was this one). He meets his father, who abandoned him with his mother (who had her own dementia problem) as a baby. And then he...well, the movie ends and I don't want to give it away. But let's just say there's something about Bill that will live on forever.

Then afterwards Don got up on stage and answered questions for maybe half an hour. He's a very engaging guy and talked about how important seeing an audiences reaction is, since he often works alone at odd hours and only hopes what he makes will work. And, of course, we made him recount the story from his days as a high school student in Fremont, taking his one and only art class, which was also taught by the shop teacher. I can't do it justice, but the gist is a student accidentally cut off her fingertip in the paper cutter, and after the student was rushed to the nurse the teacher just tossed her fingertip in the trash rather than put it on ice so they could reattach it.

Ahhh...good times!

Total Running Time: 77 minutes
My Total Minutes: 259,276

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Jason watches THE MUPPETS...again. And sober this time.

And it's still awesome. I think my new goal will have to be to get through this movie without crying. Thank god the movie theater is dark. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go stop being sober.

Running Time: 105 (including the short SMALL FRY)
My Total Minutes: 259,204

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Jason watches DR. STRANGELOVE: LIVE!

At the Dark Room. Yeah, they do stuff other than Bad Movie Night there. In fact, they do bad movies and good plays, often (as in this case) based on good movies.

DR STRANGELOVE is, of course, a classic. And this play reminded me why it's one of my favorite movies ever. They do a pretty straightforward take on this, not a lot of jokes that aren't in the film. Often such pop culture plays are parodies of the original, but this is more accurately an homage by people who love the film (it was written and directed by Dark Room owner/operator Jim Fourniadis, who not only claims this as his favorite movie, but met his wife at their first production of DR STRANGELOVE: LIVE! some number of years ago).

The stage is pretty bare and simple, but the energy is excellent, and the cast is spot on. Particularly high marks for Sean Kelly as the titular Dr. Strangelove, Damien Chacona as General Buck Tergidson, and Tim Kay as Group Captain Lionel Mandrake. Even more than the rest of the cast, they became Peter Sellers, George C. Scott, Sellers.

The only thing I missed from the original was the closing song of "We'll Meet Again." Jim told me they had tried it in earlier productions but it was too somber and he prefers ending on an upbeat note. So instead they played "Dr. Love"

It plays Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays until the 17th. Tickets here.

Oh yeah, and see pics of the performance from my friend Ira here.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Jason goes to Bad Movie Night and watches THE NUTCRACKER: THE UNTOLD STORY

Of course, when it came out last year it was called THE NUTCRACKER IN 3D, but since no one saw it they changed the name on DVD to THE NUTCRACKER: THE UNTOLD STORY. They should have gone with THE NUTCRACKER: THE UNWATCHABLE STORY. Here's all you need to know: Nathan Lane (using his worst German accent) as Albert Einstein, singing about relativity with his god-daughter and god-son (um, yeah...Einstein was Jewish, but he could still be their godfather). Then a bunch of crap happens, a nutcracker dressed as Napoleon comes alive, John Turturro is the Rat King, but I don't give a rat's ass.

I have a horrible feeling this will become a War On Christmas tradition at Bad Movie Night. Shit. You know, it's bad enough waking up with a massive hangover, but then you remember that you were so drunk you watched this piece of crap, and you just want to die.

Running Time: 110 minutes
My Total Minutes: 257,491

Jason goes to the Niles Film Museum and sees SUTRO'S: THE PALACE AT LAND'S END

From the maker of several local (SF Bay Area) cult nostalgia films, Tom Wyrsch (WATCH HORROR FILMS, KEEP AMERICA STRONG!, REMEMBERING PLAYLAND AT THE BEACH, BACK TO SPACE-CON).

I'm not old enough to remember when Sutro's existed (besides, I'm not a native to the Bay Area). But I have seen the ruins that are left, by the ocean near the new Cliff House. And, of course, the ruins are featured in HAROLD AND MAUDE, one of my favorite movies.

Originally, Sutro's Baths were a major tourist attraction, back when Adolph Sutro owned the Cliff House (by the way, the story of his life could make for another great movie). The world's largest swimming complex, with heated pools fed directly from the Pacific Ocean. But it was so much more, both in its original incarnation and in its future lives. It was always a huge glass building. But it was also a skating rink at one point, and the home to several odd museums. There was a mummy exhibit, a museum of torture, the Musée Mécanique (which now lives on Fisherman's Wharf, I stumbled across it with my dad a few year's back. I didn't even know the history at the time). Anyway, the film showcases a veritable treasure trove of vintage photographs and artifacts, as well as interviews with history buffs and other people with fond memories of the place, and like all Tom Wyrsch films, Ernie "HARDWAR WARS" Fosselius has to show up. And most haunting, it contains home movie footage of the place burning down in 1966.

It's an odd accomplishment, this movie has made me nostalgic for a place I've never been. In fact, for a place that was gone before I was even alive.

Running Time: 84 minutes
My Total Minutes: 257,373

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Jason goes to the Niles Film Museum and sees BEAU GESTE

But first, as always, a couple of shorts.

THE GIRL IN THE ARMCHAIR (1912): Back in the really early days, when female directors were respected if they were good. Alice Guy made this little romantic drama about a young lady who is sent to live with family friends after her father passes away. She immediately falls in love with the young man of the family, but he doesn't feel the same way. And all her inheritance doesn't change that...until he needs some money and she helps him out of a jam. Mostly kind of a cheesy story, but I did love the card-playing nightmare sequence.

A SMALL TOWN PRINCESS (1927): A Mack Sennet Comedy starring Billy Bevan and bathing beauty Madeline Hurlock. They live in a small Iowa town, perhaps the last young Iowans who haven't moved out to Southern California. But when a movie star gets off the train for a bit on his way back to Hollywood, she gets the fame and fortune bug. So she borrows a fancy dress from the store she works at, and goes on a vacation posing as a Russian princess. And a couple of producers decide they can make a lot of money if they put her in the pictures (and pay her way too much). And, of course, wacky hijinks ensue.

Then a brief intermission, and our feature.

BEAU GESTE (1926): I saw this when it played before in Niles, back in February of last year. Here's what I wrote then:
Famously remade many times, I've seen no versions, and so I've started with the first [Note: I've still seen no other versions]. The movie opens with a battalion of the French Foreign Legion approaching a fort, warned of an impending Arab attack. They find a mysterious scene. First a trumpeter goes over the wall, and disappears. So the captain goes over. He finds everyone dead (but propped up on the walls to appear as a defending force). The fort's commander is dead, with a french bayonet in his back. Another corpse is holding a letter of confession about a sapphire called "The Blue Water". The captain opens the gate, walks out, and starts describing the scene to his men. And then the fort spontaneously catches fire, and burns to the ground. The rest of the movie is about getting us back to that scene.

Flash back to the Geste brothers--Michael (Beau), John, and Digby--as young boys in England. They're from an aristocratic family, and play at being soldiers. The Blue Water is a family treasure. But the family is on hard times, and has to sell it. So Beau steals it and runs away, or so says his note. In fact, John claims he's only covering for him, and he runs away too. And Digby does the same, all covering for each other. And they all, to escape their self-condemnation, join the French Foreign Legion. There they are split up, but the bonds of brotherhood are stronger than any bond, and they brave the desert, a sadistic commander, attack by Arabs, and a plot to steal Blue Water. All ending in a viking funeral in the desert.
Yup, that's certainly what it's about, and I have nothing to add. It's still exciting. In February 2010 we had John Marsalis playing the Kurzweil organ, so we had trumpets, guns and winds. Last night, we had Judith Rosenberg on the piano, making it up as it went along. She had never even seen the film before. That always amazes me how people can do that.

Total Running Time: 139 minutes
My Total Minutes: 257,296

Jason watches IN TIME

And given the concept, I have to resist the temptation to say it wasted nearly 2 hours of my time.

Confession: I have a soft spot for high-concept sci-fi, especially the way they use ridiculous constructions of the future as analogies for modern issues. But I wasn't really excited about this film because the trailer just didn't look that good--looked like no subtlety in either the concept or execution. That was just compounded when I heard they stole the idea for a Harlan Ellison short story, and weren't giving him credit (to be fair, they also stole ideas from Bonnie & Clyde and Robin Hood). But recently a couple of different friends told me it was worth seeing, so I decided to check it out.


Eh, I could've missed it. The concept was interesting enough, if completely unsubtle. In the future, instead of money we use time. On your 25th birthday you stop aging, but a clock grows in your arm that counts down from 1 year. You can add or subtract time like money from a checking account, but when the clock counts down to zero, you die. So the rich are immortal, but in order for a few to be immortal, many must die. Justin Timberlake stars as Will Salas, a poor 28 year old (or "25 for 3 years") living in the ghetto day-to-day. Literally, he rarely has more than 24 hours on his clock. But then he meets a rich guy drinking in a ghetto bar with over a century on his arm. That's just asking to be mugged and killed. So Will saves him, only to learn that the guy wanted to die--he's tired of life, how the rich are immortal but never really live, and how the system is rigged specifically to keep the masses poor--the cost of living goes up because people have to die or else we wouldn't have any room. So while their sleeping, the mysterious century-aire gives Will nearly all his time and goes off to die. And then Will uses that time to first get into the rich guys club and then when he's discovered and tracked down by a Timekeeper (Cillian Murphy), he works with a rich man's impetuous daughter (Amanda Seyfried) to bring down the whole system.

There's some okay action, but given the promising concept it fails to rise above a standard action flick. The problem is there are two many potentially intriguing philosophical ideas that just aren't explored. With every adult a perpetual 25 years old, fathers, sons, mothers, daughters are all the same age--that could be interesting, but it feels more like an excuse to only cast attractive youngsters rather than anyone with a single damn wrinkle. The Timekeeper keeps saying that giving away time is more dangerous than stealing it, but the "why" of that is never really explained (seems like a knee-jerk "communism is bad!" reaction, rather than any true insight). The idea that the poor die all the time but the rich never really live is mentioned, but then goes nowhere. I get the feeling that if this were a TV series (and the writing was better, maybe actually do more than thank Ellison, bring him in at least as a consultant) they would have time to flesh out these ideas and explore them from all angles, and that would be a lot more interesting.

Running Time: 109 minutes
My Total Minutes: 257,132

Jason revises his total movie minutes

My few readers who actually care might notice in my last post my total minutes actually went down. Allow me to explain.

See, I've been tracking the total number of movies I've seen since 2005, but I've only been tracking the number of minutes since the start of 2010 (when I saw UP IN THE AIR and decided the movie watching equivalent of 10 million miles is 1 million minutes). But rather than start at zero I allowed myself to start with the time I've spent watching movies since I started tracking them.

At first, I estimated 90 minutes per movie (feature length program, be it a feature, a program of shorts, or a short + feature). I figured that was low, and I was okay with underestimating my total minutes.

But always, in my free time, I would look back at my records and calculate the totals for previous years. Some time back I finished finding the running time for everything I saw in 2009. It turned out my average time/movie in 2009 was just over 97.5 minutes. So I did two things to adjust my estimate of the total minutes. First, I included the actual running time instead of an estimated time for 2009. Second, for the movies prior to 2009 I used my 2009 average of 97.51126 as the estimated time/movie.

Well, I've just finished calculating the total running time for 2008. And I've updated my calculation in a few ways:

First, of course, I'm using actual values for everything from 2008 on. As of today, that's 1663 movies (feature length programs) with a total running time of 160,804 minutes, for an average of 96.69512928 minutes/movie.

Second, I've updated my estimate for pre-2008 movies using this average. That's 995 movies for a total estimated running time of 96,212 minutes (rounded off).

Third, and most importantly, I've automated the calculation of a new average time/movie based on every new running time I enter into my records. This is the most important part because it means when I add a movie and a running time, it doesn't just add to my total minutes. It also recalculates my estimate of pre-2008 movies. So if I see a film with a higher than average running time, not only are those minutes added to the total but the average goes up and adds even more to my total. The converse, of course, if I see something below the average running time.

In the meantime, I will, of course, continue to find more accurate records of the minutes I've spent watching movies pre-2008.

I'm posting this because I'm sure you all really come to my movie review blog to read about math.

A few side notes:
  • 2009 actually had my highest average running time of any year I've calculated so far
  • 2011 is pretty far below average, currently at just 96.092. That might not seem like much, but a half minute over the course of 400 movies is quite a bit. Especially odd since I've had some 4+ hour epics in there.
  • Even with looking up the running times for everything, there is still some guesswork. Occasionally movies have different versions in different festivals or different countries, and vary by a few minutes. More importantly, a lot of silent films don't have set running times, since the projection speed was variable. I do my best to estimate and have noted the ones which I haven't found a listed running time. In general, my rule of thumb if I don't know is to give a silent film 10 minutes per reel. I think this is actually a pretty drastic underestimate, and that is intentional. I'd rather undercount than overcount.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Jason watches THE SKIN I LIVE IN

There's just something way too right about Pedro Almodóvar and Antonio Banderas teaming up for a bit of perversion, revenge, and madness. Banderas plays a famous if unscrupulous plastic surgeon Robert Ledgard. Early on, in addressing his colleagues, he talks about how our face is our identity. Burn victims don't just need to survive, they need a face that can show expressions, even if you have to take that face off a corpse. He, in fact, has participated in 3 of the 9 face transplants in the world. And now he has invented an artificial skin that is stronger than any human skin--impervious to burns and insects.

Then we see him go home and tend to his patient/captive, Vera (Elena Anaya). He comes bearing a gift of opium, but she has tried to kill herself. We know something is wrong with her, but we don't find out what for quite a while (and when I realized, it was a beautiful Oh-My-God! moment). Little by little, the madness is revealed, triggered by an attack by the housekeeper's son, who is dressed as a tiger for Carnival. We find first that Vera's face is remarkably similar to Robert's late wife. And then we find...another big surprise, which I won't ruin. But it certainly explores some interesting ideas about physical form and identity.

Almodóvar has done a fine job of romanticizing deviant behavior before, for me most memorably in TIE ME UP! TIE ME DOWN! (also happens to be my introduction to Almodóvar). Here he doesn't quite go the romantic route as much as the outrageous route. And I was certainly on board to enjoy the ride.

Running Time: 117
My Total Minutes: 257,016

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Jason slips into a Vortex for an Intemperance Playhouse

A double feature of weird, ridiculous Brad Grintner flicks that can at best be charitably called "not very good."

First up, a biker gang flick DEVIL RIDER! A young girl rejects the karate teacher who likes her, and falls in with a biker gang led by a boxer called Champ (because, you know, he was/coulda been the champ). Her dad hires a private eye, who tracks her down through her sister (who spends half the movie explaining how she fell in with a similar gang and that lead her to a sad life of prostitution) and then goes undercover as the oldest and least convincing biker thug ever. So now the karate master has to rescue both her and the private eye. You know, describing it actually makes it sound like a movie that makes sense. But the editing was so bad I was left puzzling over how all those scenes were actually in the same movie and almost told a story.

But that wasn't the weird part. The second feature was BLOOD FREAK. This time, the biker is friendly. In fact, he helps a stranded girl with her flat tire. She invites him home to a party, and then he follows her to her father's turkey farm. Too bad his father is a mad scientist who slips him a drug that turns his head into a giant turkey head. That's right, he spends most of the movie walking around as a giant man-turkey. That actually happened, and I am speechless.

Total Running Time: 161 mintues
My Total Minutes: 257,979

Monday, November 28, 2011

Jason watches MARGIN CALL

It's a pretty daunting task to make complicated financial transactions dramatic. Even more daunting to make the ethical implications of complex financial transactions dramatic. But damned if they didn't pull it off, even if I couldn't understand most of it. Here are the important bits--after a massive round of layoffs at an investment bank, including a significant part of the risk management group, young whiz-kid Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto) stays late working on what his laid off boss (Stanley Tucci) was working on. Late at night, he calls his colleague and new boss (old boss' boss) in from their night at the bar, and shows them something that leads to an escalating series of meetings all through the night. Turns out, their models relied on volatility of their investments (specifically, mortgages) staying within normal bounds--historical ranges plus some margin. Problem is a) if the volatility strays outside those bounds, they could lose more money than the entire company is worth, and b) it's strayed outside of those bounds several times in the last two weeks. So after these late night meetings, resulting in 3-4 more layers of executive management coming in (culminating in a brilliant turn by Jeremy Irons), they decide to dump the troublesome holdings (for the record, I don't think the term "toxic asset" is ever actually used). Turns out, it's pretty clear that other firms are doing the same thing, and it's only a matter of time before they find out how much trouble their in. The shit is going to hit the fan, and it's best to be the first one flinging it. So after quite a bit of ethical dilemmas (Kevin Spacey does a fine job outlining exactly how this will kill a lot of their young traders' careers, as well as dump worthless crap on the buyers), the financial collapse of 2008 begins.

Excellent job of humanizing the characters, while also showing some of them (particular Paul Bettany's character) to be particularly monstrously unsympathetic humans. I particularly liked Stanley Tucci's character reminiscing about how he used to be an engineer and how he built a bridge that saved so many people so many miles/hours of commute time. It doesn't just show how he misses honest work. And it doesn't just show how after the initial shock he has come to terms (or is even kind of relieved) with being laid off. It also shows his incredible facility for doing arithmetic in his head.

Running Time: 107 minutes
My Total Minutes: 257,916

Jason watches PUSS IN BOOTS

Not much to say about it. It was actually pretty cute. No classic, but better than it deserved to be, considering it's a spin-off to a series that had long since run its course.

That is all.

Running Time: 90 minutes
My Total Minutes: 257,809

Jason goes to Bad Movie Night and watches LOST BOYS: THE TRIBE

That's right, the old gang is back together! That is, Corey Feldman is back, sort of...and Corey Haim's corpse was propped up long enough for a nonsensical post-credits cameo. And, of course, Keifer Sutherland...'s younger half-brother, Angus. The belated 80's sequel month comes to a dubious close, and oddly enough although it was just one month (and I only attended 2 nights), it still felt like it took about 25 years too long. This movie simulated immortality by seeming to take forever.

Oh yeah, and even though it has "THE TRIBE" in the title, there was nothing to indicate they were Jews. I mean, other than the vampirism, of course. But not all vampires are Jewish, that's just a hateful, ignorant stereotype and I will not tolerate it.

Oh, and final comment, there's actually a third LOST BOYS movie that was made, so technically this wasn't so much a sequel as the second chapter in a trilogy. And of course, there are rumors of a 4th in the series, with the tentative title of LOST BOYS: PAYING FELDMAN'S RENT.

Running Time: 92 minutes
My Total Minutes: 257,719

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Jason goes to the Niles Film Museum and sees STEAMBOAT BILL, JR.

Plus, of course, a couple of shorts.

First up, LEATHER PUSHERS, ROUND 3: THE KNOCKOUT (1922): A short time ago they played round 2 of this serial at Niles. In the series, Reginald Denny plays Kane Halliday, aka Kid Roberts, the son of a failed businessman who's trying to raise a fortune through boxing, even though that's not considered appropriate in his college-educated society circles. So he solves that by boxing behind a mask.

RUN, GIRL, RUN (1928): A Mack Sennet Comedies production, so you know wacky hijinks will be involved. Carole Lombard plays Norma, the star of a girl's track team so inept, they haven't won since the Dead Sea was only sick. Diminutive Daphne Pollard plays coach Minnie Marmon, and pratfalls abound in training Then when Carole is is trying to sneak out at night to see her boyfriend. And then finally at the big track meet. Very funny.

Then, after a brief intermission, we were back with the main event.

STEAMBOAT BILL, JR. (1928): The Buster Keaton classic. What can I say? Keaton at the top of his game, playing the puny college son of burly steamboat captain William "Steamboat Bill" Canfield (Ernest Torrence.) He's an embarrassment to his father, and to make things worse it turns out his college sweetheart is actually the daughter of his father's worst enemy, the rich and powerful (and appropriately named) Mr. King. It seems he's in for nothing but trouble, but when a big storm hits town, Steamboat Bill, Jr. uses his wits to save everyone and win the girl. It also features one of Keaton's most famous gags--where the side of a house falls on him, leaving him unscathed as the open window frame falls right around him.

Oh, and STEAMBOAT BILL, JR. was shown in a beautiful 35 mm print. Most films shown at Niles are on 16 mm, and the format made a huge difference. Just beautiful.

Total Running Time: 110 minutes
My Total Minutes: 257,627

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Jason watches HUGO

And it's very, very cute. And the 3-D is well done, although I'll still maintain it's not necessary. It struck me while watching the swooping, kinetic shots that the depth would still be very clear even projected in 2-D. If you can't communicate three dimensional space in two dimensions, then you don't know how to make a movie to begin with, and should just give up.

But, to get away from that tangent, yes, HUGO is a beautiful movie, with heart and whimsy and love and all those things you just wouldn't expect from Scorsese. Ostensibly it's about a kid--Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield)--an orphan who lives in the walls and the clocks of the Paris train station. He steals gears from a local toy shop in order to fix an automaton that his father (Jude Law) was fixing when he passed away. And the grumpy old toy shop owner (Ben Kingsley) turns out to be the temporarily forgotten master filmmaker Georges Méliès, the inventor of special effects and the first to really see the potential of movies as dream-like entertainment. And that's the thing for a cinemaniac like me--I want to see Méliès and all the other films of the time. When Hugo and his friend Isabelle sneak off to the movies and see Harold Lloyd's SAFETY LAST, it's quite a treat. And seeing Méliès' studio recreated was also pretty awesome. I want to see them so much that I stopped caring about Hugo's story and was waiting for the next silent film treat. That's definitely a limitation I bring to the movie, and shouldn't reflect on its inherent quality. Still, that's just the way I reacted, and I can't do anything about it.

Running Time: 127 minutes
My Total Minutes: 257,419

Friday, November 25, 2011

Jason watches THE MUPPETS

Obscene tweets aside, I really, truly, honestly, and innocently loved this movie. More than that, it was something I really, really needed. Too much of my childhood has been "rebooted" in hip, edgy, cool, sucktastic forms. The worst offender, of course, are Michael Bay's TRANSFORMERS movies. But there are any number of lesser transgressions against my childhood. Scooby-Doo doesn't need wink-wink stoner jokes. I refuse to watch THE DUKES OF HAZZARD with Johnny Knoxville and Jessica Simpson. I don't want to see the Smurfs in New York. And while I wasn't a huge fan as a kid, I'll steer clear of the Alvin and the Chipmunks movie. Hell, don't even get me started on the "improved" Star Wars movies.

Too much of what passes for culture nowadays is some soulless cross between nostalgia and masturbation--nostalgibation, if you will. I'm constantly being told to remember the simple joys I had as a child and somehow be excited that now they're all edgy and cool and I can enjoy them as an adult. Well, I loved the Muppets growing up. And their movie gave me exactly what I wanted--a chance to enjoy them again in the exact same way. Yes, they acknowledge that the world has changed, they even give us a glimpse into what it would look like if the Muppets were given the edgy modern update (and called The Moopets). But they give us the Muppets that can be enjoyed in the same way I enjoyed them as a kid, and give us a story that's all about how important and valued that timelessness is. Sure, the voices aren't quite right (haven't been since Jim Henson passed away), and I do wish that Frank Oz was on board (for what it's worth, I respect his decision to stay away, but think he's wrong). Maybe no one Muppet gets quite enough time, and maybe Animal shouldn't have gone quite so long before his anger management training fell away. I'm sure if I could stand back and view it from a distance, I could be more critical. As it is, I'm just glad the movie theater was dark so no one could see the tears welling up in my eyes or me lip-synching to "Rainbow Connection."

Of course, maybe it's just that I was pretty drunk when I saw it. I'll have to see it again sober to see if it really holds up.

Oh, and just so I have one solid piece of criticism, Jason Segel should never be allowed to dance again (or whatever it was he was doing while other people danced around him).

Oh yeah, and it was preceded by a TOY STORY short, SMALL FRY, about the lives of the crappy little fast food kid's meal toys. It was cute.

Total Running Time: 105 minutes
My Total Minutes: 257,292

Monday, November 21, 2011

Jason watches MELANCHOLIA

I nominate Lars von Trier as the inaugural inductee into the Drama Queen Hall of Fame.

With that said, he did create a beautiful movie. I just wonder, has anyone tried to interpret it completely literally--no allegory allowed?

Well, then, it's a story of two sad sisters, Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) dealing first with Justine's debacle of a wedding, and second the impending destruction of the entire earth. In part one (titled "Justine"), we see her wedding limo attempting to make it to the post-ceremony party, only to get stuck on the winding road up to the luxurious country estate (which, we are reminded many times, includes an 18-hole golf course). Once she and her husband (Alexander Skarsgard) finally make it there, things just get worse and worse. She struggles to keep a happy appearance, but she is surrounded by loathsome, self-serving people. Her boss (Stellan Skarsgard) keeps hounding her about work. The most expensive wedding planner in the world (Udo Kier) won't even look at her because she "ruined my wedding!" Claire's husband John (Keifer Sutherland) at least asks if she's happy, but it's more of an accusation in the context of how much money he spent on the wedding (he's filthy rich, the party is at his estate). Oh, and her father (John Hurt) is a drunken lout, but at least he's charming. Can't say the same about her mother (Charlotte Rampling) who is a bitter, mean woman who toasts to how pointless and impractical marriage is. All through this, Claire at least tries to pull her through, and there are references to her not causing a scene, implying she's had issues before. Clearly Justine suffers from depression, but honestly if I were surrounded by such awful people, I'd be depressed, too.

At the end of part one, Justine and Claire go on an early morning horseback ride, and Justine stops and notices that a star in Orion's belt is missing (one they talked about the previous night). This leads into part two ("Claire"). Maybe a couple of weeks later, Justine's depression is at its worst, and she comes to stay with Claire, John, and their son Leo in their country estate (same one where the wedding party was.) More importantly, we learn that the star in Orion's belt was blocked out by Melancholia, a giant blue planet that's on a course to make a pretty close "fly-by" with the earth. In fact, according to doomsayers on the Internet, it will collide and destroy the earth. Claire has become obsessed with that, even though John insists that the scientists have done the calculation and determined that it will come close enough to be an amazing view, but not collide. However, as Melancholia approaches, Justine emerges from depression. She knows, somehow, that Melancholia will collide, and she's looking forward to it. While John is excited about the flyby (and draws Leo into his excitement), and Claire is freaking out about it, Justine bathes naked in the Melancholia's light (thank you!)

Okay, so now that I've described pretty much the entire movie I'll spare you the spoiler at the end. And I'll spare you any allegorical, philosophical, psychological, autobiographical, or anything-else-ical interpretations. Those are easy and you can find those in any other review. I'll just leave it at "it's a beautiful film."

Running Time: 136 minutes
My Total Minutes: 257,187

Jason goes to Bad Movie Night and watches WAR GAMES: THE DEAD CODE

Yeah, so WAR GAMES has been updated so instead of the Cold War it's the War on Terror...whatever. There is no way you can convince me this was originally written as a WAR GAMES sequel. I'm sure there was a crappy script floating around Hollywood about a hacker kid who causes a bunch of trouble with an accidental fake bioterrror attack on Philadelphia. Then finally a studio exec decided that if they call it a WAR GAMES sequel and throw in some clumsy fan service then the dozens of fans who have been waiting for a sequel will go and see it buy the video illegally download it.

Running Time: 100 minutes
My Total Minutes: 257,051

Jason goes to Jewfest South and sees 100 VOICES: A JOURNEY HOME

The final show of this year, and SVJFF ends with a beautiful crowd-pleaser. A concert of cantors travelling to Poland for a series of shows. Maybe not quite 100, but close enough (just round up). I had never thought about or realized before how intrinsically linked Jewish culture and Polish culture is. But the film opens with an explanation, saying what a remarkably high percentage of American Jews are ultimately of Polish descent. Poland is the origin of the chazzanut (cantor), hence the "journey home" of the title. And while the predominant thought is that Poland--with the Warsaw Ghetto and Auschwitz--was just as bad if not worse than Germany for Jews in the holocaust, the truth is the Poles were just as much victims. 3 million ethnic Poles were exterminated. The Polish underground, of all the forces in Europe, was really the only one that had a focus on rescuing Jews. Poland has the highest number of "righteous gentiles"--non-Jews who risked their lives to rescue Jews. And they talk about Poland feeling a "phantom pain" in their culture, much like an amputee still feels his missing limb. So that makes the concerts--everywhere from the largest opera house in all of Europe, to an outdoor Jewish cultural festival (with thousands of gentiles celebrating), to the grounds of Auschwitz itself--all the more moving. And the music.... Look, I don't know much about music, but sometimes I just had to intentionally close my eyes (not your typical movie behavior) and let the music wash over me.

Afterwards, we were treated to a cantorial concert by Cantor Devorah Felder-Levy of Congregation Shir Hadash, Cantor/Rabbi Philip R. Ohriner of Congregation Beth David and
Cantor Meeka Simerly of Temple Emanu-El. They sang several songs from the film, and there was a good mix of solemn and comical numbers. Even without understanding the words, somehow the meaning comes through.

Which reminded me of some words I heard from a Rabbi years ago when I was visiting my aunt in Vista, CA. We went to temple (for the record, I've never been very religious) with her son, who was pretty young at the time. During the service, when it came to the sing-along parts, the rabbi encouraged the kids (or really, anyone, including me) who didn't know the words to just sing "la la la..." He gave two reasons--first, so you can learn the tune before you put the words to it. Second, he assured us that if your heart is in the right place, "la la la" is a good prayer. I liked that.

Running Time: 91 minutes
My Total Minutes: 256,951


And it's a fun, funny movie. Turns out, in France the Mexicans are from Spain. The Jouberts are a wealthy couple, Jean-Louis inherited an investment firm. But their maid fights with Suzanne, and finally quits. So they decide to hire a Spanish made, from the women who live on the sixth floor of their building and are all maids around town. But after an odd job of moving some of Jean-Louis' departed mother's stuff upstairs, Jean-Louis gets a glimpse of how the women on the sixth floor live. And he feels sorry for them immediately, hires a plumber to fix their one shared toilet, and in general starts helping them out a bit. Soon he's known as Saint Jean-Louis, and is immensely popular with the women. Especially his maid, Maria. And he finds that spending time with them is far more enjoyable than his own life. They work all day, but still find time to throw an odd party, and all help each other out. Even after his wife throws him out (over a complete misunderstanding), he finds peace by moving into an empty room on the sixth floor. After all, he went from boarding school to military to marriage--this is the first time he's actually had a room to himself.

It's maybe not even close to novel to point out different classes don't know how the others live and there's joy to be found in the simplicity of the humble life. And it doesn't even really matter if you believe that. There's certainly joy to be found in this movie.

Running Time: 104 minutes
My Total Minutes: 256,860

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Jason watches a P.U.S. production of How To Love

P.U.S.--Performers Under Stress--is a cool little San Francisco theater group. I've seen a couple of their plays before, and last night I caught the second to last show of their latest, How To Love. (Their last show is today, Sunday Nov. 20th at 2:00 pm, so you just barely have time to see it).

It's a funny little bizarre treat, by local playwright Megan Cohen. Deep under the earth's surface, a team of researchers answer all of humanity's problems. In the past, they've answered such important question as How to be born, How to die, How to belch, How to build a jet engine, etc. There are three researchers--The Sexy One, The Stern One, and the Very Young One--plus a magistrate. They spend one week on each question, at the end if they're successful they move on to the next question, if not they disappear, leaving mankind with no one to answer the questions. Of course, you know by the title that this week's question is How to love.

The process of research is very simple--on day 1 they all think. On day 2, they rest. On day's 3, 4, and 5 they present results. On day 6, they consider and reconsider everything, then eat a great meal. On day 7, they give a final presentation, and then are judged. This has worked quite well in the past. But this time, things are a bit trickier. While the Sexy One and Stern One have lots of ideas (much of which either contradict or make very little sense), the Young One has nothing. This has never happened before!

Okay, I've gone far enough into the spoilers. I'll just say it's very funny, with comedy high-brow and low-brow, verbal and physical. The question of How to Love may or may not have been answered, but I found it pretty easy to love the show. And if you can't make it to their last show, you should at least follow whatever PUS is doing next.

Oh yeah, and since the reason I was there is because I'm friends with the stage manager, I should mention he had an exciting night--dealing with a couple of uncooperative lights and a theremin that was a little wonky on the volume. So kudos to Colin, the hardest working stage manager in San Francisco (at least last night.)

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Jason sees DARK COUNTRY in 3-D and then Eddie Muller interview director Thomas Jane

Normally, at the top of the list of things you don't associate with film noir would be "digital cinema" and "3-D." Perhaps shortly behind would be "comic book," but there are plenty of good noir-inspired comics. But when the Czar of Noir Eddie Muller blesses a film, you can bet it's noir.

Back in 2009 Thomas Jane made his directorial debut with this low budget (only a few million dollars) flick that sadly went straight to video in 2-D. But it was always meant for the big screen and 3-D, and last Friday night the Castro Theater gave it a proper showing, with Thomas Jane there to take questions first from Eddie Muller and then the audience.

The flick is set up as simple as can be--newlyweds (Thomas Jane and Lauren German) alone in a car driving through the desert at night. And then weird shit happens. And then things get weird. They get lost, roads dead end, double back on each other. It's all very Twilight Zone-ish, especially when they meet (and nearly run over) a survivor of a car crash. And, in fact, saying much more would be too much of a spoiler. The surprises were all the fun. In fact, you should find this movie but don't even read the credits in IMDb, there's too much of a spoiler there.

Afterwards, Eddie interviewed Thomas, and it's weird to remember that 2009 was really the infancy of digital 3-D. His team actually had to invent their own camera rig to shoot this, and they claimed (I can't confirm this, and it doesn't sound right to me) that this was the first 3-D film shot entirely on digital. Really interesting stuff.

And oh yeah, I made a reference above about this being a "comic book" film. Well, it's not based on an actual comic book, but on Thomas Jane's love of old noir comics. And, in fact, the comic book adaptation of the film will be coming out sometime soon.

Running Time: 88 minutes
My Total Minutes: 256,756

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Jason goes to Jewfest South and sees A MATTER OF SIZE

Which I'd actually seen before, but don't want to repeat my review here because it turns out it's embarrassingly spoiler-y. But the film is still crazy funny, and is due out on DVD December 6. Go buy it.

Before the film, the big treat of the night was a live Sumo demonstration. Byamba and Big Joe squared off, showed us a bit of the sumo rituals, what's not allowed (punching, wedgies from the back, etc.) and showed us some winning moves. Then they invited the audience to come up and give it a try. The festival's executive director Tzvia Shelef gave it a try and actually beat Byamba (I don't think he was giving it his all). A kid came up and beat big Joe. And then a third guy came up and beat Byamba (in a controversial decision). I did not volunteer, because I'm a coward.

Running Time: 90 minutes
My Total Minutes: 256,668

Jason watches THE RUM DIARY

And it's impossible to watch without thinking about Johnny Depp's deep man-crush on Hunter S. Thompson. I love Depp, and he's fine in this film, but I have to wonder if a different guy playing Thompson's alter-ego might be less distracting (not that I would know who else to cast).

For those who only know/think/care about Thompson's drug-fueled ridiculousness in FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS (the book or the movie), this story might seem tame. And it's a shame people forget that Thompson wasn't just about drinking and doing lots of drugs--he was about speaking bizarre, drug-fueled truth to power (or taking on "the bastards"). This is the story of how he came to that worldview, how he found his voice. He's in Puerto Rico, with a job for a local failing newspaper. He drinks, but he swears he's trying to cut down. And he's welcomed into a rich real estate developer's (Aaron Eckhart) plan. The contrast of poverty vs. wealth is stark, it's definitely a film for the times of the "Occupy" movement and the 99% vs. the 1%. And it's the story of how Hunter S. Thompson found his voice, and became a constant antagonist to "the bastards." Great, now show me more of his wacky, drug-fueled craziness.

Running Time: 120 minutes
My Total Minutes: 256,578

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Jason goes to Jewfest South--Sunday, November 13

Three more movies at the Silicon Valley Jewish Film Fest last Sunday. Let's just start right in.

First up was an amusing and surprisingly thought provoking JEWS AND BASEBALL: AN AMERICAN LOVE STORY. Opening with the standard joke about how Jews are no good at sports, it proceeds to explode that myth, and explore the relationship of Jews, Baseball, and American integration. Of course the giants--Hank Greenberg and Sandy Koufax--are highly featured. And plenty of due is given to the more recent greats--Shawn Green, Kevin Youklis, etc. But it's the unexpected stories that make this a treat. Did you know the very first professional (i.e., paid) ballplayer was Jewish? (Okay, go ahead and make your Jews and money crack and be on your way). Or the first designated hitter? (Okay, but you can't blame all Jews for ruining the game). Did you know that the music to "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" was written by a Jew? How about Moe Berg, known as "the smartest man in baseball," of whom it was said he could speak 7 languages and couldn't hit in any. He was a spy in WWII (there's another movie that could be made just about him.) Hell, even the current commissioner is Jewish. But the major thread through it all is the story of American assimilation. At a time when most Jews were recent immigrants, playing the national pastime was an important way to be American--and show the rest of the world that your people are as American as anyone else. The movie even contends that Hank Greenberg was possibly the most important man in American Jewish history, and I might just agree. And the story of assimilation is not uniquely Jewish. One of the most poignant stories in the film happens in Greenberg's final season. After a career with the Detroit Tigers, he was traded in 1947 for one final year with the Pittsburgh Pirates, moving to the National League. That was the same year Jackie Robinson broke the color line with the Brooklyn Dodgers (oh yeah, as an aside the Dodgers had an earlier history of specifically recruiting Jewish players to appeal to the largely Jewish Brooklyn neighborhoods). So for one season Greenberg and Robinson actually played against each other. And in one game, there was an incident where Robinson collided with Greenberg at first base. There were concerns that either one would be injured, or worse that there would be a scuffle. But Greenberg got up, dusted himself off, then helped Robinson up and asked him if he was okay. Robinson said later to the press that Greenberg was a "class act." And Greenberg spoke about how he thought the Anti-Semitic slurs he heard in his day were bad, but nothing compared to what Robinson went through. Powerful story, and a really good, entertaining documentary all around.

Next up, a rather difficult drama RESTORATION. The title refers to furniture restoration, but maybe also to restoration of family and life. When Max dies, that's bad news for his friend and business partner Yaakov. Even worse, he finds that their furniture restoration shop is in bad financial shape. Worse yet, Max has bequeathed his half of the business not to Yaakov, but to Yaakov's estranged son, an ambitious attorney with no interest in the shop. But when an antique Steinway is discovered, it might just be the key to saving everything. Or not. It's a tricky, subtle thing, and honestly I was so tired I struggled to stay awake. The acting, cinematography, score, etc. were all well done (especially acting), but I'm just not sure I "got" the film. Perhaps if I saw it again when I wasn't exhausted (like that will ever happen) I can get more out of it.

And finally, I ended the night (I had already seen the late movie, INTIMATE GRAMMAR) with another fascinating documentary about Jews in unexpected roles, JEWISH SOLDIERS IN BLUE AND GRAY. It sometimes feels like a typical PBS or History Channel Civil War documentary, but with a focus on Jews. Jews like the Confederate Secretary of State Judah Benjamin. Or, oddly enough, Lincoln's foot doctor, confidant, and spy Dr. Isachar Zacharie. Or any numbers of foot soldiers and officers. On both sides, there are fascinating stories of Jewish opinion on slavery, loyalty to a nation that doesn't really accept them, and Abraham Lincoln's personal reverence for the Jewish race. There's even a fascinating coda where Mark Twain is convinced to retract a statement he made regarding the Jewish aversion to actually fighting in war. Really interesting.

Total Running Time: 282 minutes
My Total Minutes: 256,458

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Jason goes to 3rd i--DELHI BELLY

So I skipped out on the last show of the Animation Festival on Saturday to make a mad dash to the Castro to catch this one 3rd i show, because it just looked awesome. And I was not at all disappointed.

It was a big hit in India, despite (or because of) breaking many taboos. It's not >3 hours long, not even long enough for an intermission. There are only a couple of songs. And, most importantly, there's some rather frank sexuality (nothing too dirty, save for a brief oral sex scene it would probably be PG-13 in America). Of course, it's funny that the country that literally wrote the book on interesting sex positions and has reached a population of a billion people likes to pretend in the movies that sex doesn't exist...but I digress. Oh yeah, and the title refers to a movie-long poop joke.

Three lazy roommates live in squalor. But at least Tashi has an improbably hot girlfriend (Shenaz Treasury, who was there for the screening). She asks him for just one small favor--deliver a mysterious package (which she picked up at the airport from a very nervous Russian) and deliver it to an address. But he passes it on to one roommate, who passes it to the other, who gets food poisoning and passes it back to the other roommate...who mixes up the package with a stool sample to be delivered to the doctor. Oops! Needless to say, the gangster who was supposed to get the package doesn't appreciate getting a thermos of shit instead, and so now their lives are endangered. It's like a Guy Ritchie gangster flick filtered through a raunchy comedy that just happens to be set in India, earning a Bollywood designation and an obligatory musical number. Loved it!

Running Time: 103 minutes
My Total Minutes: 256,176

Jason goes to the SFFS Animation Festival

Part of the SFFS Fall Season. I've only managed to fit one day into my busy schedule. But I saw three pretty great programs on Saturday.

First up, an adorable little movie NOCTURNA. Tim is a little boy in an orphanage (or maybe boarding school, it wasn't quite clear). He's sort of the quiet kid the other kids make fun of, and he's horribly afraid of the dark. In fact, every night he pushes his bunk to the window so he can look at his star--Adhara. His mother told him that his star would always be there to watch over him. But one night, his star disappears and that sends him on an adventure into the world of the night--a world known as Nocturna. He meets his cat, Tobermory (cats are responsible for making children go to sleep, but it turns out Tobermory is more of a sleepy head himself) and the giant Cat Shepherd. Turns out, the sounds and sights of the night aren't random--flickering streetlights, crickets chirps, branches rustling, wind, fog, everything is the tireless, never ending job of the denizens of Nocturna, ruled over Moka. But tonight, there's a terrible new danger to Nocturna, and Tim goes on an adventure to save his star--and as it turns out all the lights in Nocturna. Just a beautiful, charming adventure.

Then the second show was a shorts program (some short films, some music videos) called Ball of Confusion.
CRYSTALLINE: A musci video for Björk's song Crytalline. Points of light hit the moon, while crystals grow from below ground, and the disembodied, lit up head of Björk sings in the sky.
CENTRIFUGE BRAIN: A hilarious look at how extreme amusement park rides are really experiments in vertical centrifuges.
FINGER FIGHTER: Mortal Kombat, with fingers. And a really cool and funny surprise end.
THE HOLY CHICKEN OF LIFE AND MUSIC: Giant chicken creatures play opera music.
LEVITATING: A woman goes through her daily life while levitating a few inches above the ground (stop motion of her jumping). Mostly mundane tasks--shopping, ironing, etc.
POINT DE GAZE: Images of lace, which can serve as a music video for 4'33".
POSSESSION: By Aideen Barry, who also did Levitating. Similar technique used to show the repetition of suburban life and the surreal horror within. Includes eating a whole table full of desserts and cutting the grass with scissors stuck in your hair.
REULF: Little angular critters of color bring color to black and white Paris.
SPLITTING THE ATOM: A Mezzanine music video. Sci-fi war scenes, featuring a giant devil bunny! Giantdevilbunny! Giantdevilbunny! Giantdevilbunny! Giantdevilbunny!
SUNDAY: Church, visiting the grandparents, squashing quarters on the railroad tracks. Squashing an animal in the car (boor bunny!) making friends with a grizzly bear who stuck his head in through the window. Canada is weird, man.
THE THIRD & THE SEVENTH: Old cameras, lots of books, wild architecture. I don't know exactly what it's "about" but the whole thing was beautiful.
WILD LIFE: An English gentleman in the 1900's moves to Canada to become a rancher. He is not at all equipped for such a life, but at least he's very polite.

And then I finished up with a bit of Japanese weirdness, MIDORI-KO. The 10 year labor of love by master artist Keita Kurosaka. As a little girl, Midori loved vegetables but refused to eat meat because she always felt bad for poor animals. Now as a young woman she's a scientist researching and growing odd-shaped but delicious vegetables. Meanwhile, elsewhere five characters--one each with an eye, ear, mouth, nose, and hand for heads--bear witness to a mysterious vegetable pod brought forth by the sun's laser eyes. Out of the pod pops some sort of squash, which flies through the air and lands in Midori's apartment. There she finds it has a baby's face, and while her scan of it reveals it's all vegetable matter, it's a sentient vegetable. So she raises this little veggie as her son, protecting it from the odd denizens of her apartment building (including an old man and his fish-headed lover). And then things get weird. Beautiful, surreal, and grotesque. Of course I loved it!

Total Running Time: 215 minutes
My Total Minutes: 256,073

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Jason goes to the Hypnodrome to see SHOCKTOBERFEST: FEAR OVER FRISCO

I do love me some Thrillpeddlers! And this year for SHOCKTOBERFEST they've teamed up with the Czar of Noir Eddie Muller for a trio of short plays set in San Francisco (all written by Muller.)

We start with a musical number "Fear Over Frisco" taking us through the various decades of debauchery and death in San Francisco. Lyrics by Eddie Muller, music by Cockette and Thrillpeddler Scrumbly Koldewyn.

The first play is The Grand Inquisitor. I had earlier seen this story in short movie form, but it works even better on stage. An old woman living alone gets an inquisitive visitor. Seems some young woman had bought some old books and found tons of cryptic scribbles in the margins. Turns out the books had been owned by the old woman's husband, and the symbols might just be important clues to a famous old San Francisco mystery.

Then a little musical interlude of Johnny Mercer's "I Remember You" while they changed sets for the next play. That play was An Obvious Explanation, and "I Remember You" is a perfect lead-in, because it centers around a man with amnesia. He has escaped from the hospital with just an address, which turns out to be his own home. His brother is there, with a story of robbery and murder, and an important question--where's the money? This was the comedy show of the night (horror-comedy-horror is the traditional Grand Guignol "Scottish shower") and it was hilarious. And it featured the best surprise of the night.

Then we had about a 20 minute intermission. Time to get another beer before the finale.

Post intermission, we came back to a musical performance of "Pack up You Sins and Go to the Devil" by Irving Berlin.

And finally, the closing play was The Drug, adapted from the 1927 Gran Guignol play "La Drogue" by René Barton. A party at an inspector's house. We learn the details of a troublesome case involving an artist who was blinded by his lover. And we learn just who that spiteful, jealous lover might be. And then we sink into an opium dream, gouge out some eyeballs, and have some scares in the dark. Awesome!

There's one more weekend of this show. I don't know if there are any tickets left, but you can find out at

Jason slips into a Vortex and gets BEDAZZLED

That's the 1967 version with Dudley Moore, not the more recent version that I've never seen and so can easily pretend doesn't exist.

Anyway, the Vortex Room's 6 weeks of Satan (admission: $6.66) is over, and I caught the first half of the final night (couldn't stay for THE CAR, I had to catch BART home). BEDAZZLED is a devilish comedy starring the excellent Dudley Moore as virtual nobody Stanley Moon. He's a short order cook, no family, no friends, not even enough courage to speak to the waitress he likes. After chickening out one last time, he decides to end it all, and can't even do suicide right. And then he meets his new best friend--George Spiggot aka The Devil, the Prince of Darkness, Beelzebub, Lucifer, etc. (Peter Cook). Turns out the devil is more of an annoying prankster, scratching records and making prank phone calls. But he is a collector...of souls. He wants Stanley's, and is willing to trade him seven wishes for it. Of course, they all go wrong. Of course, Stanley learns a lesson. But what makes this movie fun is the chemistry between Moore and Cook. Really, the devil is Stanley's only friend so even when his wishes all backfire, it comes of as more like a mischievous friend pulling a practical joke--he does it because they're friends. That, and of course it's very silly (culminating in nuns jumping on trampolines). Oh yeah, and Raquel Welch has a brief bit as Lust, very nice!

Running Time: 103 minutes
My Total Minutes: 255,858

Jason goes to 3rd i--Day 2

Okay, I just caught one 3rd i program last Thursday. And it was the local shorts program The Family Circus. So here we go, in no particular order (actually, in the order they're listed on the website, but not the order they were shown).

We actually started with a live neo-benshi show using footage from PURAB AUR PASCHIM (EAST AND WEST), turning it into a sci-fi story of a boat to the moon where eunuchs save the economy through a focused program of smoking and shopping. Awesome.

FIRST OF MANY: A typical scene of Christmas morning, when a little girl gets the bike she asked Santa for, and gets something more.
PRETTY TIED UP: Dominatrices at work, with a big surprise.
DO I?: Paranoia, fear, bad dreams, must be something important on this guy's mind.
NARCISSUS: Surreal and beautiful retelling of the Narcissus story (you know, the guy who fell in love with his own reflection)
ABSOLUTION: Opens with a Camus quote, "There is only one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide." And then it explores those philosophical questions through the story of two businessmen--a desperate old guy and his former partner who betrayed them. They all seek--and perhaps find--absolution.
SATI: About the not-so-pleasant tradition of a widow throwing herself (or, more likely, being thrown) onto her husband's funeral pyre. One woman fights back against it.
FAIR AND LOVELY INSIDE: Don't you hate it when you do everything you can to look like you belong in white culture but you still don't feel comfortable? Well, here's a fantastic new product that will make you feel white on the inside!
THE POST-NUP SHOW: An animated show about the trials of a married couple Omar and Gaby. We saw two episodes. First THE TRAVELLING MAN was a musical montage of the difficulties of frequently being away on business, and the joy of returning home. Second was BEING SALMAN RUSHDIE, a hilarious take on what happens when Omar thinks he downloads an app that translates his writing into the style of Salman Rushdie (instead, it does a little more than that).

Total Running Time: 80 minutes
My Total Minutes: 255,755

Friday, November 11, 2011

Jason goes to 3rd i--Opening Night

Last Wednesday, the 3rd i South Asian Film Festival started, and of course I was there for the opening presentation of BIG IN BOLLYWOOD.

Okay, time for a little confession. I live in Fremont, CA, and the nearest theater to me is actually a Bollywood theater. Several years ago (back when it was the NAZ 8, a different Bollywood theater chain), I spent a year checking out the films there...and then I grew tired of it. I get it, and a good bit of Bollywood escapism can be fun as a rare treat. But after watching so much of it, I found it tiresomely repetitive. What I'm saying is--and it actually kind of hurts me to say this about any type of film--I am not a fan. I'm sorry.

Now, with that said, BIG IN BOLLYWOOD is hilarious fun. It's a documentary about Bollywood and the rise of star Omi Vaidya. In fact, the filmmakers are friends of Omi, and had no idea he would become so huge in Bollywood (and, from the Q&A, they don't really follow Bollywood so needed help from the audience to understand how huge he is). Omi is an Indian American actor struggling in L.A. Then he gets his Bollywood break--a supporting role in the film 3 IDIOTS, starring Aamir Khan, directed by Rajkumar Hirani, produced by Vidhu Vinod Chopra (in case you--like me--don't know these names, I'm assured they are huge). So his friends travel to India to attend his premiere and while they're there maybe make a little documentary about Bollywood. They sneak into the premiere by making fake press passes claiming they're press from "Hollywood Kitchen." And the movie is a huge hit. In fact, the biggest Bollywood movie of all time. And instead of just a small role, Omi (who they call the 4th idiot) has the funniest scene in the film (an ass-kissing speech where the word "miracle" is replaced with "rape" and he doesn't know because he's delivering it phonetically). So instead of the various side stories they were going to pursue about Bollywood, the whole movie becomes about their friend Omi becoming a star--winning awards, making public appearances, being recognized, being mobbed, actually being offered roles instead going to a ton of auditions. Whether you like Bollywood or not, it's a fun story of a guy making it big in a way he never expected. And, of course, it's all true (if you can trust the guys who lied about being press to get into a movie premiere).

Oh yeah, and from the scenes shown in this film, I went ahead and bought a DVD of 3 IDIOTS.

Running Time: 70 minutes
My Total Minutes: 255,675

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Jason goes to Not Necessarily Noir II--the grand Ed Wood Finale!

Yeah...Ed Wood (woo hoo?) Anyway, here we go.

Oh, by the way, big thanks to the inimitable Johnny Legend (world's first Ed Wood fan) for not only this program but Monday night's GIRL GANG/TEENAGE GANG DEBS program. Really cool guy.

First up, JAIL BAIT, starring Timothy Farrell (remember him from GIRL GANG?) as hoodlum Vic Brady. He's friends with Don Gregor, although he's certainly not the type of friend Don's father, Dr. Gregor, would approve of. In fact, he convinces Gregor to help him on a job robbing a theater after hours. But things go wrong, Vic shoots a girl (who lives) and Don shoots a security guard (who dies). Well, that's a problem because Don has enough of a conscience that he might just go to the cops. However, Vic has no such conscience, he just needs a way to evade the cops. Oh, hey, Dr. Gregor is actually a plastic surgeon, that's convenient! Also features the first speaking role by Steve Reeves (as a cop).

Second up, the classic GLEN OR GLENDA. This version was edited by Johnny Legend to be closer to Ed Wood's original cut, removing the incongruous bondage scene (don't worry, it was shown later in Johnny Legend's WOODWORLD presentation). Once again Timothy Farrell once again appears, as both the narrator and a psychiatrist who specializes in transvestism. When the cops find a cross-dressing corpse after a suicide, they go to him for advice. He spins two stories, one of normal heterosexual cross-dressing Glen/Glenda (Ed Wood himself), who loves the feel of angora sweaters but is terrified his fiancee won't approve. The second is Alan/Anne (Tommy Haynes), a pseudo-hermaphrodite who undergoes a sex change operation to become a woman. Throughout it all, Timothy Farrell gives a heartfelt and earnest appeal for tolerance and understanding. And oh yeah, Bela Lugosi lords over it all as some God-like puppet master laughing at humanity while proclaiming, "pull the string!" Oh, and there are actually rather brilliant dream sequences with the devil. In fact, this might seriously be an overlooked surrealist masterpiece, incorrectly dumped into the "bad movie" pile due solely to the name Ed Wood.

Next, we saw Johnny Legends compendium of WOODWORLD. A 45 minute collection of bizarre clips, interviews, etc. Yes, there's the bondage scene taking out of GLEN OR GLENDA, now re-titled BELA'S BONDAGE BOUTIQUE. There's Johnny Legend being interviewed on MTV by an incredibly young looking Jon Stewart. And there's my favorite part, commercials Ed Wood shot "on spec." Normally on spec refers to a script you write hoping someone will want to buy it and make it into a movie. Well, Ed Wood shot a series of commercials for generic objects (e.g., a car) and then inserted a blank spot where the sponsor's card would go. I.e., a car maker might want to buy a commercial for a generic car (instead of actually showing their own) and then slap up a card with their brand name? Needless to say, Ed Wood sold exactly zero of these.

And finally, we had to end with the classic PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE. This is actually the second time I've seen it on the big screen this year alone. Now this time it wasn't colorized, it wasn't in 3-D, and I wasn't dressed as Vampira (I'm sure at least one of these made it a more pleasant experience for the audience). But it was still pretty good...or pretty bad. Hell, it's PLAN 9, it exists in a realm outside of such outdated terms as "good" or "bad." It's just 100% PLAN 9.

Total Running Time (estimated): 261 minutes
My Total Minutes: 255,604

Jason goes to Not Necessarily Noir II--GIRL GANG and TEENAGE GANG DEBS

Catching up on the last week of movies. Monday was a night of naughty girls, all right!

First up, GIRL GANG (1954). Although the gang is full of girls, it's run by a man, Joe (Timothy Farrell, who showed up in Tuesday's Ed Wood night, but I'm getting ahead of myself). He runs the girls in a ring of robbery and prostitution. Of course, he controls them by getting and keeping them hooked on heroin. And that's the strangest thing about the movie--step by step, explicit instructions on how to shoot heroin. And this is in the middle of the Hays code era. What...the...fuck? I'm sure other stuff happens, but I'm still kind of hung up on the heroin scenes.

And the second half of the weirdness is TEENAGE GANG DEBS. Shot with the help of real motorcycle gangs, it's the story of a Brooklyn gang "The Rebels" and the nasty Manhattan girl who ruins everything for her. She seduces the "Prez" Johnny, then seduces a tough guy Nino, then convinces them to fight each other, leading to Johnny dying and Nino taking over as the new Prez. Oh, and she makes all the guys gang rape Johnny's girl. Yeah, she's pretty bad. And things get worse until the other debs decide it's time to take her out. Pretty awesome.

Total Running Time: 138 minutes
My Total Minutes: 255,344

Monday, November 7, 2011

Jason goes to Jewfest South, Sunday November 6th

Formally known as the Silicon Valley Jewish Film Festival, but of course I call it Jewfest South, to distinguish between Jewfests North and East. Anyway, it's already half over and I only finally made it to their films yesterday. Four films, though:

First up, a pretty remarkable documentary A FILM UNFINISHED. In 1942, the Nazis made a propaganda film in the Warsaw Ghetto. The footage, labelled simply "The Ghetto" would've made it the longest Nazi propaganda film ever, if it had been completed. Instead, there are a collection of scenes of daily life--some staged showing Jews living in relative comfort, and others showing abject deprivation. For years the film was used as an "authentic" portrayal of ghetto life (although it's pretty clear when some scenes were staged). In 1998, new outtakes from the film were discovered that shed new light on exactly how much of the footage was staged. That, plus the meticulous diaries of Jewish council leader Adam Czerniakow and testimony of a cameraman show more precisely how much was staged and perhaps lead to clues about what the propagandists were trying to portray. My best guess is that they intended to contrast the privileged Jews living in luxury with the starving Jews on the streets, as some sort of "see, they don't care about their own people" message. Alternatively, perhaps only the luxury/comfort scenes were intended to be shown in one movie, and the scenes of starvation and death were for something else. In any case, there are of course plenty of shocking, horrific Holocaust scenes, and a fascinating inspection of the process of propaganda.

Speaking of propaganda and staged reality, next up was BERLIN '36. As in, the Olympic games in Berlin in 1936. And a major issue of the games--a threatened American boycott over Nazi Germany's racial policies. Specifically, if Jews weren't allowed to compete for the German team, the U.S. was threatening to walk out. Most important was Gretel Bergmann, one of the best female high jumpers in the world. If she wasn't given a chance to make the German team, that was a deal-breaker. So first Germany had to convince her to return from England, where she had fled. A few threats to her family made that happen. Then they had to make sure she didn't qualify. That's the hard part--she was clearly the best of their female high jumpers. So they found a new talent--Marie Ketteler had everything a champion female high jumper needed--strength, stamina, heart, a penis...wait, what?! Raised by her mother who always wanted a daughter, if (s)he hadn't been a useful part in the plan to keep Gretel out of the games (s)he probably would've been exterminated as a "mental defective." Instead, she's brought in as the main competition/Gretel's replacement. But as training is pretty miserable for both of them (Gretel isolated by others, Marie self-isolated), they actually end up becoming friends. The film really builds up the tension well, and leaves you hoping that Gretel will have a chance to compete and show the Nazi dolts how wrong they are. Of course, this is all based on a true story, so even though I won't spoil it here it's pretty trivial to read up and get spoilers from true life.

From a cursory read, it seems the biggest change in the film was that the Marie Ketteler character in real life was named Dora Ratjen. I'm not sure why they changed it for the movie (perhaps rights to her/his life story). The movie actually ends with a brief interview with Gretel, in her 90's and living in New York, and that was pretty cool.

Then the third film of the day, a real comedy treat, THE CONCERT. 30 years ago, Andrei Filipov was the conductor of the Bolshoi symphony. Now he's the janitor. Turns out that's because he stood up for his Jewish musicians against Brezhnev. Fat lot of good it did him, though. But then he intercepts a fax inviting the Bolshoi to play a concert in Paris. So he does what any sane man in a wacky comedy would do--he steals the fax and conspires with his friends to impersonate the Bolshoi and go to Paris and finally finish the Tchaikovsky concerto he was conducting when he was rudely interrupted by a party official. That's right, it's time to get the band (symphony) back together! All the musicians are off in different lives now (an ambulance driver, salesmen, gypsies, etc.) but they all magically pull together to make the impossible happen. A movie with a lot of laughs, a good heart, and I guess under it all a pretty sobering story about the treatment of Jewish musicians in the old Soviet Union.

And finally, we ended the night with the touching documentary PRECIOUS LIFE, which I had seen earlier this year at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival. Here's what I said back then:
PRECIOUS LIFE by journalist Shlomi Eldar. Shlomi had covered Gaza up until Hamas came to power and Gaza was essentially closed. One of the few remaining connections to Gaza are the hospitals--if a Palestinian in Gaza is sick enough, they will let him through to an Israeli hospital on humanitarian grounds. And that's how he met Mohammad, an immune-compromised infant whose desperate mother takes him to the hospital and tries to raise money for a bone marrow transplant. Shlomi goes on TV with the story and a mysterious anonymous donor offers up all the money needed. Now they just need to find a matching donor. None of Mohammad's siblings are a match, so they have to try to get cousins into Israel, which is no easy feat. There's a really moving comparison with the efforts to save one baby and the military operations that destroy so many people. It's a powerful reminder that when you look into innocent, dying eyes you can't help but see how precious life it. At the same time, conversations about martyrdom, and the family's struggle with scorn back in Gaza underscore how little we truly understand each other.
Yup, that pretty much sums it up. A really powerful movie, and then we followed it with a Skype chat with Shlomi, moderated by Permanente Medical Group CEO Dr. Robert Pearl. It was really great to get to hear from the director. And the best part--when he described how Mohammad's mother and father watched the movie and she was a strong, relatively stoic women (much like how she appears in the movie) but he was crying all the way through. One thing that really struck me seeing the movie again was how the mother really is a strong woman, just put in an awful situation so sometimes she says things she probably wishes she hadn't.

Total Running Time: 401 minutes
My Total Minutes: 255,206