Monday, February 28, 2011

Jason hosts Bad Movie Night--THE EXPENDABLES

More like THE UNWATCHABLES amirite!?

Yeah, so I started watching the Oscars at the Roxie's legendary "Up The Oscars!" party, but had to bail early to get over to the Dark Room and host Bad Movie Night. Normally I'd take any opportunity to skip the narcissistic festival of self-fellatio that is The Oscars. But why did I skip it for an even bigger festival of self-fellatio? Tons of action stars (plus Dolph Lundgren) get together to make a dumb-ass movie about some made up Caribbean island that's under the thumb of some drug lord and...fuck it, I just can't care. You know what happens if that island isn't freed? NOTHING!!!! Life goes on. Sucks for the hundreds of people living on the island, but you know what? The island is made up. So I don't care what happens to them.

I will say, it's definitely the movie for anyone who has been dying to see the playful, homoerotic competition between Dolph Lundgren and Jet Li. And for anyone who has wanted to see that...I'd tell you to seek help, but I think you're beyond hope.

Running Time: 103 minutes
My Total Minutes: 224,533

Jason spends the day at the Red Vic with the Film on Film Foundation

Embarrassing confession. I've lived in the Bay Area over 10 years now, and have never made it out to the Red Vic. It's kind of a schlep from my home in Fremont, but I make it to other SF theaters (e.g., the Roxie) all the time. I don't know, maybe it's the extra transit from BART, or that they don't host the big film festivals. Doesn't matter, I busted my cherry there last Saturday, with the good folks at the Film on Film Foundation, and it was a blast of animated fun.

First up was GUMBY 1, the optimistically titles first (and only) feature length Gumby film. It came out in 1995, same year as TOY STORY. I remember hearing rumors that Art Clokey was offered substantial money for Gumby to appear in TOY STORY, and passed to make his own money. You can argue the business wisdom of his decision, but something as weird as GUMBY 1 could only come from one man's vision unfettered from committee decisions. A weird tale in which the Blockheads foreclose on the family farmers' lands, and Gumby and his band hold a benefit concert. The Blockheads kidnap Gumby's friends and make duplicate robots to wreak havoc...and then things get weird. He's green, he's clay, he's a cosmic display, he's Gumby. And by far the highlight has to be the Gumby vs. Robogumby lightsaber battle (incidentally, the sound was done by Skywalker sound, so you know George Lucas had to know about this and give it the okay). Wow!

While Gumby was trippy for the simple, handmade charm that celebrated Gumby as a clay-based space alien (with a sad-sack pony and a dog that cries tears), the second movie was a claymation masterpiece of complexity by Will Vinton, the man who coined the term "claymation." Based on the life and works of Mark Twain, the framing device is Twain travelling in a steamboat/airship to reach Haley's comet for his final act. Along the way are stowaways Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn, and Becky Thatcher. It starts out with very childlike whimsy, but quickly transitions into some rather mature, adult whimsy (The Diary of Adam and Eve) and even a little darkness with (The Stranger), until a conclusion that explicates and celebrates the necessary existence of everyone's dark side. I don't know why I had never heard of this film. It's an absolute masterpiece.

And finally, things went full adults-only with Peter Jackson's early bad taste puppet extravaganza, MEET THE FEEBLES. I've seen it many times before, and it's still fun (if crudely structured and lacking a narrative flow). In a Muppets-esque variety act, the star bunny (oh yeah, there were bunnies in all three films, which of course tickled my fancy) has V.D., the knife-throwing frog has a drug problem (brought on by his experiences in Nam), the diva hippo has a weight problem, her producer boyfriend Bletch the walrus is banging some pussy (an actual cat) on the side and taking part in the shady business of drugs and pornography. And that's just the tip of the sleazeberg. The only thing that would make it better is if we had an impromptu sing-along to the Sodomy Song.

So yeah, that happened.

Total Running Time: 270 minutes
My Total Minutes: 224,430

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Jason gives away his Cinequest Pass

As in previous years at Cinequest, I am both Press (in fact, an "esteemed media member" according to my Press Credential approval e-mail) and a supporter at a level that gives me a Mavericks Pass. So once again, I have to come up with a contest to give away my pass.

Last year it was all about encouraging someone to write more about film (and specifically, Cinequest).

Blogsturbation is soooo last year. Now it's all about the twitter (that's right, you will need to have a twitter account to enter). And in fact, I feel like celebrating the greatest feature of twitter--utterly concise stupidity.

A few days ago as a bit of a joke I tweeted that I wanted to dress as Vampira for the world premiere of PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE in 3-D. So here are the rules: To enter you have to @ reply me (start your tweet with @puppymeat) and include #CQFF in the tweet. That leaves you 125 characters to come up with a pithy, compelling argument as to why somebody with a body closer to Tor Johnson either should or should not dress up as Vampira.

You can enter as many times as you want, but the winner will be chosen as the best single tweet. I won't give you any extra points for multiple tweets.

Deadline is midnight, Sunday February 27. Cinequest starts Tuesday, March 1.

Note: my final decision as to whether or not to dress as Vampira is not necessarily dependent on the winning tweet. It'll have more to do with my comfort level and whether I actually have time/resources to do it. Of course, compelling arguments do move me.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Jason finishes Indiefest

At least, the 2011 edition. There will always be another one next year.

One new movie last night, the documentary FREE RADICALS: A HISTORY OF EXPERIMENTAL FILM. Director Pip Chodorov is an experimental filmmaker whose father worked in TV and grandfather worked in film. He grew up a fan of experimental film, and the movie is as much about the filmmakers--Hans Richter, Jonas Mekas, Ken Jacobs, Peter Kubelka, Maurice Lemaitre, Robert Breer, Stan Brakhage (hey, one I recognize!), etc. and their work as it is about his hero worship of them. And that's not a bad thing, in fact, it's infectiously fun. Look, I think I qualify as a cinephile, but I'll admit I sometimes roll my eyes and think 'oh, brother' when faced with a program of experimental films. But by showing us the artists who from the 20's until today (okay, it really kind of ends in the 60's/70's, but humor me) have followed their personal visions, have struggled to make a living, and have carved out a little niche for themselves, I'm faced with an inescapable realization: Makers of experimental films are far more interesting and engaging people than watchers of experimental film (and especially those who write about it).

And then I watched THE LAST CIRCUS again, because it's that awesome.

And so, for the tenth year running, I've see all movies in Indiefest. That is, if you don't count the 80's power ballad sing-along (which I count as more movie than party, and besides even if the program was a little different I saw it last year and don't need to again) and do count SEED OF CHUCKY/CHUCKY VS. PEACHES CHRIST (which I do).

I've gone back and forth over the years whether I rate the films or not. Indiefest, like most festivals, asks you to rate each film on a 1-5 scale. Sometimes I'm enthusiastic to do so, especially since I see everything and really can compare them all (I don't think any of the programmers can even say that). On the other hand, I can come out of a movie with a swirling headful of ideas and emotions, and it seems trite and insulting to reduce that to, "I guess that's a 4." This year I did rate everything, so whoever wins the audience award, that's in small part due to me. Of course, this blog is the outlet by which I try to communicate that mass of thoughts. So before we get the final tally on the audience awards, here's my thought on what stood out:

My favorites: KABOOM, THE LAST CIRCUS (incidentally, this is the first festival in maybe forever in which the opening and closing films were among my favorites), THE DRUMMOND WILL, THE BEAST PAGEANT, MACHOTAILDROP (biggest surprise, and I'll give it my "reward for seeing everything" award), WORST IN SHOW, MACHETE MAIDENS UNLEASHED.

Also great: THE EVANGELIST, GABI ON THE ROOF IN JULY (apparently I'm the only one at Indiefest who liked it. It got a great reception at Cinequest last year), A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE, MARS, NUDE NUNS WITH BIG GUNS (the criticism people gave me on this is 'it was too serious.' WTF, I thought it was hilarious!), WE ARE WHAT WE ARE.

Interesting despite flaws (sometimes interesting because of the chances they took that led to the flaws. These actually often become the movies that stick with me later): THE ARISTOCRAT, CORPUSSE, TOUMAST: GUITARS AND KALASHNIKOVS, THE SENTIMENTAL ENGINE SLAYER, THE SINGULARITY IS NEAR, THE TRASHMASTER.

Avoid: TRANSFORMATION: THE LIFE & LEGACY OF WERNER ERHARD, TRIVIALITY (basically, I didn't appreciate the films that were nothing but masturbation)

I know that doesn't cover everything. Tough, I've already given you my somewhat detailed take on everything. I'm not going to categorize everything, too. That's it, I'm done. It's over, go home!

Total Running Time: 181 minutes
My Total Minutes: 224,160

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Jason goes to Indiefest--it's almost over

In fact, the penultimate night. Two more programs, a pair of music docs and an animated short, here we go:

First up was TOUMAST: GUITARS AND KALASHNIKOVS. It starts very strong, giving a brief history of the last century for the Toureg people. Nomads of Northern Africa, who we're oppressed by the French and the various post WWII nations that popped up (especially Niger). The one nation that sorta welcomed them was Libya, in that Qaddafi invited them to join the military and fight and die for him. We then meet Moussa Ag Keina, a former Toureg soldier and current musician, who performs in Paris and travels back to the Toureg nomadic territory (now overrun by uranium mines) to lobby for his people. As he says, he has put down his Kalashnikov and now lets his music talk. There's a great, compelling story here, but unfortunately the movie becomes too fragmented to tell it well. The first 20 minutes or so was great, the end (with a concert including electric guitar for the Toureg) was great, in between I had trouble focusing. And there wasn't really enough music. The music was really cool, but there was never really a complete song. It could be much better as a concert film, with complete songs interspersed with interviews giving the background and current state of the Toureg struggle.

Then the next program started with the short MARGARET'S MOUNTAIN. A cut-out animated exploration of the importance of music, poetry, love, and freedom on a woman's life. And how the seasons change because of Leonard Cohen's tears.

And finally, SUPERSTONIC SOUND: THE REBEL DREAD was a documentary about Don Letts. He's the guy who brought Reggae beats and bass lines to the British punk scene, and he narrates, talking about life growing up in pretty much the first generation of British blacks. He riffs on what his parents brought from Jamaica, and what he's passing down to his son (who is also in music). It's short (a lean 45 minutes running time) and breezy, like spending a little time hanging out with the Mr. Letts, with his music constantly but unobtrusively in the background, just setting the style. And it turns out he's a pretty cool guy to hang out with.

And that's Wednesday at Indiefest. One night left, one last film and maybe a repeat of THE LAST CIRCUS, if I feel up to it.

Total Running Time: 146 minutes
My Total Minutes: 223,979

Jason goes to Indiefest--Day 13

Two more programs.

First up, the final shorts program of the festival, Not Your Average Kids Movie:
BIRTHDAY CIRCLE: Cake and family, in this funny exploration of how the elderly are treated like children.
LAUGH AND DIE: A clown finds out he has "laugh cancer" and every laugh brings him closer to death. If only he were a sad clown like Javier in THE LAST CIRCUS.
INDELIBLE: A young hoarder befriends a refugee in the motel his mother manages. A touching story of the fringes of society.
DE LUCHA BOYS: Adventures in wrestling, childhood friendship, death, and theft.
ANDY: A young boy plays with shoes and lipstick before making an important decision at the restroom.
VENTO: A windless Brazilian village is saved by a young boy's Superman fantasy.
40 YEARS: An old man faces the monsters of his youth. Literally, he's haunted by a rock monster.
STRANGER DANGER: I don't want to give anything away, so I'll just say it's a cautionary tale of what happens to the little girl in the windowless van. Hilarious!
RED BALLOON: The terror of babysitting.

Then I saw the feature film FUERTEVENTURA. Mostly improvised and playing with dream logic a lot, it's the story of Jesper. He's a Swedish guy who travels to Fuertevenura, a resort island in the Canary Islands. He drinks, he parties, he gets laid, all seems pretty good. But it's quickly apparent, through flashbacks and nightmares, that he's escaping a horribly traumatic incident back home in Sweden. And in fact, the new girl he starts dating bears a striking resemblance to his lost love. But now I'm afraid I've given too much away, so I'll just say that it's an intriguing movie with some great acting and a really cool looking location. Perhaps this isn't the main takeaway from the movie, but I'd really like to visit the Canary Islands now. That place seems really cool.

Anyway, that was Tuesday at Indiefest.

Total Running Time: 186
My Total Minutes: 223,833

Monday, February 14, 2011

Jason goes to Indiefest--Day 12

Two films, this Valentine's Day night. As always, I spend it with the ones I love--movies.

First up, the shorts program THE END OF LOVE AS WE KNOW IT:
FIRST KISS: The comical adventures of a couple 30 year old guys looking for chicks at a college party. Bad kissing and other fun on a rooftop.
MR X: A garbageman befriends an old filmmaker who shows him the greatest love of all--love of the magic of the movie camera. Oh, and there's a girl, too.
BATHING AND THE SINGLE GIRL: Comedienne Christine Elise McCarthy details her humorous adventures trying to be a cougar.
A FACE FIXED: Rural Missouri, where a young man navigates his own love life while learning (mislearning?) about his parents' past through videotapes.
BRINK: When gravity fails, a young man takes one last shot at the love of his life.
THE TENNESSEE WALTZ: Space travel and love between a man and his suspended animation wife.

Then I saw the feature film, a 24 hour romance JE T'AIME I LOVE YOU TERMINAL, an Israeli film shot in Prague. As we learn from the opening narration, Ben is a guy who historically can't make decisions. But he's just made the biggest decision of his life--asking his long-distance girlfriend to marry him. She says yes (I assume, he asked over the phone and we don't get to hear the other end). Then he just has to get from Tel Aviv to her place in New York, which he books with a stopover in Prague. On the plane he meets Emma, a free spirit on her way to San Francisco who believes in reinventing herself while she's on the road. So when they both miss their connecting flights, she reinvents them as a couple (with a little quick explaining about their different destinations). So they spend a day in Prague--talking, dancing in the street, visiting his aunt, telling her they're engaged, fighting, etc. You know, having a funny, fast forward relationship and forcing Ben to question whether he really wants to continue to New York or stay with Emma. A light, enjoyable movie that lets you spend 24 hours (in 90 minutes) with a couple of interesting people.

And that was Tuesday at Indiefest. Just three days left (2.5 if you consider I've already seen both late shows on Thursday, so I could wrap it up early that night)

Total Running Time: 170 minutes
My Total Minutes: 223,647

Jason goes to Indiefest--Day 11

Four more movies to round out the final weekend. Now we're really on the home strech.

First up, the documentary THE SINGULARITY IS NEAR. Last year at Docfest I was introduced to Ray Kurzweil in the movie PLUG AND PRAY. That was a wide-ranging exploration of artificial intelligence--the cutting-edge research and the moral and philosophical implications. Kurzweil was one of the fascinating subjects in that film. He made a fortune in text-to-speech scanners for the blind, which brought him into collaboration with Stevie Wonder in developing the synthesizer keyboard that bears his name (which is all I knew of him before). But now his passion is immortality, and he has founded the Singularity University in Silicon Valley to pursue that goal.

Okay, so far everything I wrote is based on my memory of/previous post about PLUG AND PRAY. I wrote that on the BART en route to Indiefest, and I haven't actually seen THE SINGULARITY IS NEAR yet. So now I'll watch it and see what new, fascinating things I learn from it.


Okay, first thing I'll say is that was the wildest, most entertaining infomercial I've ever seen. Second thing is that for all the talk, the "singularity" is fairly poorly defined. Is it the moment machine intelligence outpaces our own? Is it when the distinction between the two becomes meaningless? (In which case, I think it'll be more of a continuum than a singularity) Is it the point at which our ability to replace/augment our own bodies (including the brain) becomes so advanced we are essentially immortal (which would be awesome)? Maybe it's all that and more, but Kurzweil definitely believes in the law of accelerating returns in information technology, and the film posits a future where AI passes the Turing test (and is granted legal person status) by 2030, and by 2045 (as Ray's AI creation Ramona explains), the idea of going a day without automatically backing up your brain is unthinkable.

As far as a back and forth about the likelihood of all this happening, there isn't much in the film (one person argues that AI will be very, very clever but won't pass the Turing Test by 2029). Instead, as I said, it's an infomercial for Kurzweil's view of the future. But as far as that goes, it's a fascinating, tantalizing view of the future that's fun to play with and for all I know might just come true.

Oh yeah, and whatever happens, I like my meat brain. I think I'll hold on to it for as long as I can, if only for the ironic hipster retro-cool of it.

Next up, food documentaries starting with the short THE INHUMAN EATING MACHINE. Andrew Levy writes a blog with a simple challenge: once every other month he'll explore bay area restaurants by eating at at least 8 in a 24 hour period. He'll have at least two of each meal (typically the same thing at each restaurant--he has done hot dog days, hamburger days, taco days, ice cream days) and will finish everything before moving on to the next restaurant. And just to keep it affordable he puts a $10 limit at each. I love this guy! This is exactly the sort of crazy, obsessive, stupid behavior blogs were made for!

That was the lead in to FOOD STAMPED, the antithesis on the scale of responsible nutrition. Some 27 million Americans are on food stamps. Paradoxically, that's contributing to the obesity epidemic, as the cheapest foods are the highest calorie, lowest nutrient stuff--fast food, junk food, ramen, etc. Co-directors Shira and Yoav Potash set out to go one step beyond the Congressmen who spent a week eating on a food stamp budget. They set out to see if it was possible to eat healthy on $50 a week (for one week). No spoilers intended, but the answer is, "kinda." But more importantly I liked how they showed positive steps. Rather than repeating the depressing stories I hear routinely on the news, they show school lunch (and breakfast) programs that are at least trying to do better. Community gardens, organic foods, and conscious moves away from cheap, easy, but bad food. Yeah, there's stuff there about government subsidies pushing down the prices of junk food ingredients like high fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated oils, but the Potashes seem to take a deliberately positive look. In the greater question, "can we feed our population well without spending too much?" the answer is an optimistic yes, we can, we just happen not to.

Then I saw THE SENTIMENTAL ENGINE SLAYER, a beautiful and befuddling first feature from Omar Rodriguez Lopez. The writer/director also stars as Barlam, a young Mexican-American living in El Paso. The world is bright and colorful, and drug dealers and prostitutes live amongst the devout Catholic iconography (a bit of a theme of the festival--religious trappings juxtaposed with sin). He has a bit of an incestuous attachment to his sister, often waking up embracing her. Or perhaps that's the same waking up scene many times. And that brings me to the befuddling part--several scenes are either repeated, out of order, or maybe exist only in his imagination (perhaps all three). What is clear is that the frustrations of this terminally shy, anti-social kid turns very dark by the end. Dark and violent. I'm not sure if this is a 'puzzle' film--if teasing out what 'really happened' is at all more rewarding. This might be more of a tone poem--the (d)evolving mood is more important, whether it's brought on by real events or violent hallucinations. What is clear is that it's very visually engaging the whole way through, and the auditory soundscape is deliberately designed to increase the feelings of frustration and alienation.

And then the last film of the night (and the official Indiefest Closing Night film when it plays again on Thursday), THE LAST CIRCUS from Alex de Iglesia (ACCION MUTANTE) kept up the theme of church iconography + evil. In fact, after a brief setup scene establishing the Spanish Civil War interrupting children laughing at the circus, the opening credits role over a montage of clowns, monsters (both historical and mythical), and the church. By the end our hero is a killer clown dressed as a demonic pope, but I'm getting ahead of myself. Little Javier witnessed his father die at the hands of Franco's soldiers (particularly, one sadistic colonel). Before he died, his father told him that the only way to carry on the family profession (clowning) was to be a sad clown. He had never had a childhood, being born and raised among death, and so could never make children laugh. Decades later, Javier joins a circus led by a popular, funny clown who turns violent and maniacal when he drinks (which is only every night). To make matters worse, he beats his acrobat girlfriend, whom Javier falls for. It all gets to be too much, and things are bound to fly out of control. There are also plenty of references to the Spanish Civil War and to Franco, much of which I confess was lost on this ignorant American. But what wasn't lost was the awesome, sick, anarchic glee infused in this movie (and pretty much all of Iglesia's work that I've seen). Oh, and it included a version of my favorite baby joke, first told to me by a friend at college. But I won't give that away.

Total Running Time: 344 minutes
My Total Minutes: 223,477

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Jason goes to Indiefest--Day 10

A four movie Saturday. Usually at Indiefest I do five movie Saturdays, but Peaches Christ made me trade quantity for quality. Anyway, let's dive right in.

First up, the surreal masterpiece THE BEAST PAGEANT. Abraham lives in his stultifying modern life, working a rote mechanical job (stuffing pills into fish as part of an assembly line) then goes home to his apartment full of electro-mechanical marvels, like his woman (wife?) who is a head in a fishbowl who calls him on the phone, and his TV with an old bearded guy instructing him how to buy such conveniences as the breakfast cereal Fish Chompers (the only way to start the day) or New Shoes. But something is crawling out of his stomach--a tiny country singer named Zeke, with whom he sets out into the wild world to be molested by trees, rocks, and an artichoke man before learning to connect with his natural side. Hell of an adventure.

I heard many people comparing THE BEAST PAGEANT to ERASERHEAD, and the comparison is as obvious as it is superficial. BEAST PAGEANT is about the stultifying effects of modern life and the freedom of the return to a more primal state, ERASERHEAD is about the fear of sex. They couldn't be more different.

Next up, we continued the grand Indiefest tradition of odd music documentaries, starting with the short NEGATIVIPEG. In 1985 Guess Who lead singer Burton Cummings was involved in an altercation in a 7/11 in his hometown of Winnipeg. Talking of his experience and venting frustration, he called the city Negativipeg (although Lose-ipeg would've been a better quip) and swore to cut all ties. In this film Rory Lepine, the guy who broke a beer bottle over Cumming's head, tells his side, and is augmented by opinions of local leaders. Very interesting, and a keen observation of the lasting effects and reinterpretations of a single incident.

That was a lead-in to CORPUSSE: SURRENDER TO PASSION. Corpusse (pronounced like Corpus, the extra -se is some unexplained legal issue) is a Montreal rocker/performance artist (although he insists simple rock and roll). His shows feature extreme, in your face rants and even more extreme performances (icluding simulated sex acts with poultry). It's kinda goth, maybe not. It's kinda metal, maybe not. It's kinda music, maybe not. But it's all extreme and passionate. Oh, and he paints, too, but that's secondary. He's gotta be seen to be believed, and I'd bet seeing him live is better than seeing this movie. By the end I was interested in him, but it took a long time to get there. The first performances shown were rough and not shot well. They waited way too long to get to his family--his loving, supportive mother and his recently reunited father. It's tempting to make something out of the absent father, but I don't really think there's anything there that explains where his music is coming from (although, as an aside, the cut from Corpusse trailing off as he admits he doesn't know where his dad is to suddenly interviewing the dad is one of the best moments of the film). Instead, it'll just have to remain his singular, passionate, personal vision.

Then I had something I hadn't had all of Indiefest--a break. I actually sat down for dinner (had sushi, it was good), all because the next show was at 8 instead of 7.

And that was Peaches Christ presenting SEED OF CHUCKY with star Jennifer Tilly and director/Chucky creator Don Mancini. Peaches did her always fantastic pre-show, featuring herself as Chucky Christ and her usual entourage all dolled up, including Little Orphan Trannie, Puta Nesca as the Bride of Chucky giving birth to Martiny as Glen/Glenda.

After that, an inspired clip role of Jennifer Tilly in Oscar-nominated roles and Don Mancini's earlier Chucky creations, coalescing into Jennifer Tilly as the Bride of Chucky.

Then the stars came out, as Jennifer Tilly came out looking absolutely fabulous including shoes she insisted cost more than the entire theatre, and Don Mancini came out wearing a t-shirt of Jennifer Tilly breastfeeding the spawn of Chucky and blood dribbling down her chest (advantage of the front row, and it was excellent). They told great stories about the movie--how Jennifer didn't want to barf in her purse, how she ad-libbed the line (referring to herself) "this bitch is fat!" Mostly it was just clear they had a blast making the movie and a blast being in front of such an enthusiastic audience.

And then finally the movie. It's ten years old, I assume anyone who cares has seen it by now. Chucky and his bride Tiffany (voice of Jennifer Tilly) died at the end of the last movie, but left behind a timid...son? Daughter? Doll with no genitalia (voice of Billy Boyd, who went on to star in the LORD OF THE RINGS movies. Which also featured Brad Dourif, who voiced Chucky. How's that for a weird reunion?) He goes to Hollywood where they're making a Chucky movie based on the events of the previous film, and starring Jennifer Tilly (played by Jennifer Tilly). He revives the prop dolls with the demonic curse, and things go crazy. Plus John Waters plays a paparazzo whose face gets melted by sulfuric acid. Pretty freakin' awesome, and better with an enthusiastic audience, as I knew it would be.

And that ended in time for me to catch the late show, featuring nunsploitation!

First, the short THY KILL BE DONE. Drug gangs have taken over the church parking lot, and kill the priest who confronts them. So the nuns take over, using the fighting skills they learned in Nam. This must take place in the late 70's at the latest, because the nuns are pretty much the same age in the Nam flashbacks. Anyway, an amusing film that's an excuse for some awful/great puns like "it's a cloisterfuck!" and "Bad habits die hard!"

And then the feature, NUDE NUNS WITH BIG GUNS. How can you go wrong with such a title? Answer: you can't, as long as you deliver on that promise. And it delivers, it more than delivers! Tons of boobies, plenty of full frontal, and plenty of kick-ass killing. The church is a front for a drug smuggling gang. At least, primarily drug smuggling. When the nuns get uppity it's also a prostitution racket. One nun escapes, and returns for revenge. This movie is from the modern grindhouse auteurs who brought the rape and revenge flick RUN BITCH RUN to Holehead a couple of years back. That had promise, but not a high enough revenge/rape ratio. NUDE NUNS amped up both the rape and the revenge, and also improved the ratio. And it's perfectly set up for a sequel (which I will see, if given a chance).

Total Running Time: 358
My Total Minutes: 223,133

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Jason goes to Indiefest--Day 9

And we just keep chugging along, entering the second weekend with three movies on Friday.

First up, BLOODIED BUT UNBOWED, a documentary about the Vancouver punk scene circa late 70's to early 80's. The movie's funny, fast paced, and wild--kind of like the music. It's very, very specific in time and place. Vancouver, 1978-82, in very specific clubs with very unique people. Bands include D.O.A., The Subhumans, Pointed Sticks, etc. Music was varied, ranging from angry, fast, thrashing punk to comic political anthems. Oh yeah, and the politics was sort of unique to Vancouver (as opposed to L.A., where the punks were just about music, partying, and being punks). The political side of punk actually create a bridge between the scenes in Vancouver and San Francisco, where it seems like the two punk cultures "got" each other better than others. But what makes the movie is the personalities--people like Joey Shithead, Zippy Pinhead (who was there--and wasted--at the screening), Randy Rampage, Gerry Useless, Mary Jo Kopechne (not that one, the one who is alive and I assume named after her), and Art Bergmann (there's probably an interesting movie just about him. The star of the scene who burnt out way to quickly and seems to live a quiet life out in the country now).

The Q&A was pretty amusing, too. As I mentioned, Zippy Pinhead was there along with director Susanne Tabata. And he was wasted. After we found him drinking in the alley behind the theater and dragged him in for the Q&A, he took over and went a little wild, telling rambling stories about his childhood that had nothing to do with the questions. So we had Q's, we had A's, but there was nothing connecting the two except whatever neural pathways were left in Zippy's pin-head. Example: "How did you get the name Zippy Pinhead?" Answer: "I've known Joey Shithead since we were in junior high! Let me tell you a rambling story of how I first met him...[something about a tree-house and him beating me up...]). Maybe some people found that annoying, but it amused me. That's just part of Indiefest.

Next up was the skateboarding flick MACHOTAILDROP. Skateboarding is the spine of the movie, but the flesh is a bizarre surreal fantasy about glory, opulence, aging, and oppression. A sort of WILLY WONKA AND THE SKATEBOARD FACTORY THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS. Walter Rhum looks to escape his boring suburban life and find fame and glory through the Machotaildrop skateboard company. His carefully edited (and gold-painted) video earns him just that invitation, and he gets to meet The Baron. He also gets to meet his idol, skater Blair Stanley. Yup, Walter is all about the BS. And after a rough start he quickly becomes the fresh new face, gracing the cover of the brand magazine MT Life (Empty Life, get it?). But there's a dark side to his current glory. What happens when he gets too old and injured to skate? And what's with the band of feral skaters roaming the abandoned amusement park?

I went in to MACHOTAILDROP knowing little more than it's a 'skating movie.' So that was the biggest, weirdest surprise of Indiefest, and it's a good one.

And finally, I ended with the late screening of THE TRASHMASTER. It's machinima (movie made from video game footage) made using Grand Theft Auto IV. Our hero grew up wanting to be a cop, but failed the exam three times. So he's the next best thing--a garbage man for the Liberty Sanitation Department (LSD. It's been a night of interesting acronym-play), although the film's pretty inconsistent as to whether it takes place in Liberty City or New York. He drives around the city, disposing of garbage--mostly the human kind. That puts a crimp in his budget, as he has to constantly explain to his boss why he's late and has to fix up the truck with his own money. But it's worth it to him. Every night, he relaxes in the local strip club. But when one of the dancers is murdered, it's time for him to investigate. Seems there's a stripper murderer (umm...someone who murders strippers, not someone who murders and strips) running around town. Worse yet, he might be linked to the big oil company RON, who pretty much rules Liberty City/New York. And worse worse yet, our hero gets framed for the murders.

Most machinima I've seen is either comedy shorts like Red Vs. Blue or bits inserted into live-action movies (like R U THERE and SECOND BODIES from this very festival). This is the first time I've seen feature length machinima. It's a solid accomplishment, although the format does put up some interesting roadblocks. Dialogue apparently isn't a part of the game, so every place there should be dialogue there is instead our hero's voice-over narration explaining the conversation. It's clunky when used, and sometimes left me puzzled when not used. And the violent action is awesome in a short clip but grows pretty tiresome over feature length. So I think it's safe to say that machinima will continue to be a niche novelty, but it's an interesting experience.

Total Running Time: 255
My Total Minutes: 222,775

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Jason goes to Indiefest--Day 8

Two more movies, and officially past the halfway point (better start planning my Cinequest schedule).

First up, R U THERE, a drama about the dichotomy of real life and online life. Jitze is a gamer from the Netherlands, in Taiwan for a tournament. Online he's a kick-ass soldier, and commander of his team, leading a blood-soaked life without fear. But when he witnesses a little blood in real life, things change--or rather, he changes. He wakes up with a sore shoulder, and starts losing at games, eventually being replaced on his team. So he starts talking to Min Min, a prostitute whom he pays to...massage his shoulder. In real life, they become sorta friends although he's way too withdrawn and tense (as an acupuncturist says, he lives to much in his mind, he has to remember he has a body, too). In Second Life, however, he opens up a bit more, although he still has problems loosening up. I suppose there are interesting comments here about the dual nature of modern life, and the movie has some moments. But mostly I was pretty bored.

And then, after about a 40 minute technical delay, I saw GABI ON THE ROOF IN JULY, which I saw at it's world premiere at Cinequest last year. The delay meant I would get home (on BART) very late, and I had seen it before, but as I recall it would be worth it to see it again. And I was right. Here's what I said last March at Cinequest:
Sam (director-writer Lawrence Michael Levine) lives in New York, and is the responsible one among his roommates. At least, he's the one who pays the rent, when he can. He's not that responsible at returning phone calls, since his cell phone won't hold a charge. His sister Gabi (Sophia Takal, who is not actually Levine's sister, she's his fiance) is visiting for the summer. She's a wild, hilarious free spirit. While they're both artists, he wants to get his paintings into galleries while she eschews that scene for more wild experience pieces. Oh yeah, and her art often involves getting naked, which is a nice little treat for the audience (twister and whipped cream, very nice!). In fact, it was appropriate that GABI featured "Naked Day," since it actually was the start of "Naked Night" at Cinequest. This and the next two movies I saw featured full frontal nudity. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Sam's life gets extra complicated when his ex comes back to town (from San Francisco) with an offer to buy some of his paintings for a gallery show. Problem is, his current girlfriend is more than a little jealous and kind of freaks out (I have to admit, I was waiting the whole movie for them to break up. I didn't like her character). Bigger problem, it looks like Sam might just want to go back to his ex, and dude, that's just not cool. Nobody in this movie is perfect, though. As much as I kinda fell in love with Gabi, she is naive and she does make a poor decision that ends with her getting hurt. And sometimes her "free spirit" is really more childish (like the job interview scene. Funny the way she pulls it off, but I don't know any 5 year old who hasn't played that game).

Besides being very funny, GABI ON THE ROOF IN JULY also has a very real, very free-flowing energy to it. In the Q&A, they talked about endless rehearsals where all the character's back stories were completely explicated, even if it wouldn't show up in the movie. Well, that effort payed off. And by the way, as much as it might look improvised, they claimed all but a few lines were actually scripted (they just shots after months of improvised rehearsals).
I'll stand by that review. And I'll mention that Indiefest hasn't had a good "naked day" like Cinequest did (get on it, Indiefest). And most importantly I'll add a new observation about the tone of the movie. It's full of scenes where one person is joking and another person absolutely hates it. It's about jokes use as weapons, and the cruelty of humor. Thinking about that, now I like it even more.

Total Running Time: 192 minutes
My Total Minutes: 222,520

Jason goes to Indiefest--Day 7


First up, a black (and black and white) comedy, THE EVANGELIST. Theatre director and confirmed atheist Daniel gets more than he bargained for when he adopts what seems like a cool kid, Gideon (dig the Bible names). Turns out, besides being enthralled with stage blood, Gideon reads the Bible and believes it (the horror!) Daniel plays along with Gideons mission to convert people, thinking it's just a phase that will pass quicker if he doesn't fight it. But it doesn't pass, and instead leads to hilariously grisly results.

It's hard to peg if this movie is anti-religious or anti-atheist. It seems to be anti-fanaticism on either side. Certainly the scene with Daniel finding out the book Gideon is hiding under his pillow isn't a porn magazine but the Bible makes him (Daniel) out to be the intolerant one. And since the movie is about religious fanaticism, I feel like going off on a weird rant about my own beliefs.

I am an atheist. And I mean that not in the sense that I have no beliefs one way or another, but I believe (without proof of the unprovable) that God does not exist. Although I can summon doubt, I am still an atheist, not an agnostic. Those who argue that if you have doubt you're an agnostic piss me off. With them, the word agnostic stops meaning anything about your (lack of) belief in God one way or another but rather about your capacity to see other viewpoints and summon doubt in your beliefs. In their definition, people are either agnostics or arrogant drooling morons with insufficient mental agility to imagine a world in which they're wrong. While this definition might ensconce agnostics in a cloak of smug superiority, it's a useless definition for discussing matters of faith, and agnostics who insist on that definition are just assholes.

Besides, agnosticism is a dangerous gateway philosophy. Sure, I understand how it's appealing. You're hanging out with friends, maybe having a few beers when someone sparks up a thought, 'Dude, what if God like...existed, man?' And you might experiment with it a few times, just to expand your mind. And maybe it makes the world more intense and alive (or maybe it makes everything more mellow, I don't really know). I've even tried it before, although I am by no means an agnost-head. But beware, it can lead to harder, more dangerous beliefs. No sir, it's just good, clean atheist lifestyle for me!

With that said, I did once try to read the Bible cover to cover. I got bogged down in Leviticus, but before I gave up I did read a story that changed my whole worldview. It's an oldie but goodie--the ten commandments. But it's an onscure part that most people gloss over, if they know it at all. You may recall that God gave Moses the ten commandments on Mt. Sinai, but he was up there so long those silly Israelites started worshipping a golden calf. And you may recall that Moses was so angry he smashed the tablets and ran back to tell God, who this time made Moses carve the commandments into the stone tablets and bring them back to his chosen people. But I just skipped my favorite part, Exodus 32:7-14 (KJV)

7And the LORD said unto Moses, Go, get thee down; for thy people, which thou broughtest out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves:

8They have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them: they have made them a molten calf, and have worshipped it, and have sacrificed thereunto, and said, These be thy gods, O Israel, which have brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.

9And the LORD said unto Moses, I have seen this people, and, behold, it is a stiffnecked people:

10Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may wax hot against them, and that I may consume them: and I will make of thee a great nation.

11And Moses besought the LORD his God, and said, LORD, why doth thy wrath wax hot against thy people, which thou hast brought forth out of the land of Egypt with great power, and with a mighty hand?

12Wherefore should the Egyptians speak, and say, For mischief did he bring them out, to slay them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth? Turn from thy fierce wrath, and repent of this evil against thy people.

13Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, thy servants, to whom thou swarest by thine own self, and saidst unto them, I will multiply your seed as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have spoken of will I give unto your seed, and they shall inherit it for ever.

14And the LORD repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people.

My added emphasis. Basically, God wanted to kill all the Israelites, and Moses talked him out of it. What Moses did was pretty darn amazing, but what struck me is that God can change his mind. I suppose there are many possible ways to interpret this. For example, it could mean that even God can make mistakes and be corrected. Or he could've been testing Moses, with no intention of killing anyone. But when I first read it I chose to interpret it as God is perfect (at least, the Bible is written with that premise) and yet he can change his mind. The obvious implication that perfection--in particular moral perfection--does not have one unique solution. For a given situation (in this case, the tribe abandoning God) there are multiple possible actions (Kill them all! Forgive them all!) that are all morally correct. Now maybe that's only true for God himself, but once that idea got into my mind I couldn't shake it, or how right it felt when applied to human actions, too.

Please note, this is not moral relativism. There can still be objective, constant standards of what is or isn't moral. Nor does it mean that normally immoral actions can become moral when compared to more immoral alternatives. Instead, this is about recognizing that there are multiple good options to every scenario, and fighting over which good option is better is kind of silly. I've heard many times that "honest, well-meaning people can disagree." It's a common phrase in political debates (or at least was, back in the days of more civil, reasoned debates, like the Clinton impeachment hearings). I used to always think the implication at the end was that people disagree because we're all fallible and as much as we want to be morally correct we all routinely fail. However, after reading and thinking on these Bible verses, I now think that honest, well-meaning people can disagree because they're both morally correct, and just haven't come to the realization that morality does not have just one unique solution.

Anyway, I'm sure there are religious people who will insist I have my head up my ass and this sort of thinking will lead me straight to hell. I will remind you that I am an atheist. I don't believe in heaven or hell, so I really don't care if this thinking condemns my soul in the afterlife. It has brought me a great measure of peace here in life on Earth, and that's a good thing.

Okay, that's enough of that tangent. This is supposed to be a movie blog, not a religion blog! Good God, I can't possibly let this become a religion blog, that would really be hell.

So the next show was WORST IN SHOW, and ironic title for such a fun, well made movie. It's about the amusing little world of ugliest dog competitions. The Sonoma-Marin Fair in Petaluma started it, or at least popularized it so that it's become a bizarre worldwide phenomena. There are controversies, like should badly sick or injured dogs compete against perfectly healthy but just butt-ugly dogs (like the Chinese Cresteds, they're perennial competitors). While there are some pictures of truly ugly dogs (the first appearance of the late, great Sam actually brought out a few screams and then laughter from the audience). But the movie is really about the owners, the wacky people who all insist their dogs are just "unique" and it's just the outside world that finds them ugly. They all truly love dogs, and while there's a natural camaraderie, there's also a natural competitiveness. And no one is more competitive than Dane and his pride and joy (and multiple times champion) Rascal. And that was really the oddest thing for me. You see, Dane comes off--despite his smiling, happy demeanor--as someone who takes this way too seriously, even as kind of an ultra-competitive jerk about it. But the thing is, I know him from Cinequest. In his day job he's a celebrity photographer, and he works Cinequest as well as other local film festivals. I didn't even know he had Rascal and competed in ugliest dog contests (much less competed for decades with champions going back to Rascal's grandparents) until a couple of weeks ago when he showed up to the Cinequest media launch party with Rascal. In fact, since I knew this movie was playing in Indiefest and Cinequest's scheduled hadn't been announced yet, I figured that WORST IN SHOW was going to play Cinequest and that's why he brought Rascal (it isn't, and what's up with that Cinequest? It's a great documentary with local interesting and Rascal would be a returning star after appearing in CARMA back in 2005 when it was called COMPARTMENT). Anyway, it was a really fun movie, and it was really weird seeing a film festival friend in a totally new light.

Total Running Time: 174 minutes
My Total Minutes: 222,328

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Jason re-reviews THE ARISTOCRAT

So the second movie I saw last Saturday was THE ARISTOCRAT. I had a review up, then at the request of the director Greg Croteau I took it down for being too spoilerific. With his permission (in that he said I could go ahead and put it back up once he had his Tuesday night screening), I will include the original in this post.

But the exercise got me thinking about spoilers, which is something I struggle with constantly. Sometimes (probably too often) I fail, but my general rule is too not give away much more than is in the festival program. For this film, the program notes included the line, "This classic tale of grifters will leave you wondering who's schooling who in the business." I could argue that I actually gave away less than this (I will not address the question of whether the festival showed good judgement in their program notes).

But I have thought a lot about this film, spoilers, and particularly how to describe this film without spoilers. It's a pretty tough chore. So I will now present three takes on the film (the middle one being my original review) in increasing order of spoilerificness.

Take 1 as spoiler-free as I could make it:
THE ARISTOCRAT is the story Marc Ward, a travelling salesman who is looking to quit the business. He trains his replacement, Eddie Kent. Eddie is charismatic and confident, but thinks he can sell just by running his mouth instead of listening to the customer. Over the course of a few days he and Marc bond. Then fairly late in the movie there's a twist and you get to see the previous events in a whole new light. There were two big reveals to me--everything else I had already guessed so some of the re-hashing of events was unnecessary. But still, it's an interesting structure that's anchored by some fantastic performances.

Take 2, my original review, judge for yourself how spoilerific it is:
This is word for word the review I posted Saturday night/Sunday morning, and took down after receiving an e-mail from the director:
I hesitate to say it's about a con, since that would be a spoiler if it wasn't so darn obvious. Marc Ward is a travelling salesman in 1989 (just before cell phones became commonplace). He's ready to quit and do something else, maybe pursue his passion for stained glass art. But first he has to train the new guy, brash young Eddie Kent. They meet with customers, drink a lot, Eddie realizes that Marc has a thing for Becca, the cute girl who always has breakfast in the same diner as Marc. But soon after Eddie 'runs into' his old pal Flodie, it becomes clear there's something more at work. The film is structured in a very interesting way, with Marc's story told all the way through and then the same scenes shown from Eddie's point of view. This reveals a few new twists, but a lot of it was unnecessary. It's still a pretty tight story with a lot of great acting (particularly Jeff Gill as Marc), but I think a little more before and (especially) after scene of Eddie's story would have been more rewarding.

In fact, I'll now talk about things you need to have seen the movie to understand, so if you haven't seen it not only will this spoil it, this also won't make much sense. Here we go:

In the Q&A at the screening I saw, someone asked what happened to Marc afterwards. I agree with Greg Croteau's take on it, and more importantly, I didn't think that was the interesting "what happens next?" question. I was more interested in what happened next for Eddie, particularly after Flodie discovers the diamonds are fake. So I concocted a story in my head, and fashioned it into a hypothetical movie I like a little better. I think Flodie tracks Eddie and kills him. And in my hypothetical movie, we start with the police questioning Marc (or maybe we don't see who they're questioning at first). Then we go through Marc's story. We have the twist that changes it to Eddie's story, but a little more abbreviated. Then we end with the cops having to let Marc go for lack of evidence, but maybe they still believe he did it. In fact, maybe we never see conclusively whether Marc did it or Flodie did it (or some third person), leaving that as the "big question" at the end. And then maybe Marc gets into a car with Becca and leaves (I just stuck that in there because I'm a romantic, that probably wouldn't really work).

Jason goes to Indiefest--Day 6

Another night, another two movies, starting with an excellent animated shorts program, Animated World. Yay, cartoons!
MONDO CLAYMO: Claymation documentary on bizarre and shocking rituals, like tofu carving and plastic (plasticine?) surgery.
KIDNAP: A little chick (literally, a young chicken) explains why she's just a little late to school. Seems she got kidnapped, in a story that involves guns, karate aliens, and her hatest word--"cute."
SOMETHING LEFT, SOMETHING TAKEN: Forensics geeks land in San Francisco and immediately meet the Zodiac killer. Or they just let their imaginations run away with them.
RIP DRIP TEAR: And fold, crumple, mutilate, in this abstract paper world with a bird flying through it.
DAISY: I'd put money down on this tale of picking the petals off a daisy will win the audience award. It's hilarious.
THE GENTLEMAN'S GUID TO VILLIANY: A silent cartoon lesson on how to tie a lady to the railroad tracks.
BIKE RACE: Belgian Eddy and American Lance (not Eddy Merckx and Lance Armstrong) compete in a bike race, the Tour de Force, which becomes a race for the love of Eddy's girlfriend.
THE WIND UP LIFE: A surreal trip underwater with a lot of gears.
THE NEST: An even more surreal trip about animals pulling apart a wall to build a miniature castle, and a man taking off his face and arm to build siege vehicles. Awesome.
THOUGHT OF YOU: Simple sketches dance to the music.
THE NECESSITIES OF LIFE: The survival and cultural halves of the brain compete in this dazzling CGI film.
BEAN SOCIETY: Turns out beans are just as stupid and xenophobic as people.
HUMPTY DUMPTY: In this retelling, the "fall" is more psychological, and psychotic.
THE BIRDS UPSTAIRS: Dude, I just watched bird skeletons try to conceive, and I liked it!
DEATH BUY LEMONADE: Death vs. a little girl with a lemonade stand.

And then I saw a second program, the feature film, A LITTLE HELP. Sometimes, the last thing you need when you're in trouble is help. That's the moral I got out of the story of Laura Pehlke (Jenna Fischer), a mom struggling with a failing marriage, a rebellious 12 year old son, and a family of busy-bodies in the summer of 2002 (definitely in the wake of 9/11, which serves to up the tension and becomes something of a critical plot point). I suppose everyone--her mother and sister especially--means well, but for some reason all their "help" comes off as meddling, like they don't care so much about her well-being as the feeling of superiority they get from having all the answers for her. Not that she couldn't use help--she doesn't know what her finances are, she might lose her house, she can't control her son (who's a sweet kid, just at that age where you pretend you sprang full-formed from the ether because having a mommy is embarrassing). The acting was great, the story was smart and funny, and while the moral of self-reliance has been done many times before, it still comes off as true.

And so that was Tuesday at Indiefest.

Total Running Time: 180 minutes
My Total Minutes: 222,154

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Jason goes to Indiefest--Day 5

A couple of excellent movies Monday night:

First up, MARS, a funky, funny, animated sci-fi flick about the first manned trip to Mars. A pair of American astronauts, Hank Morrison (Paul Gordon, also the director and star of HAPPY POET) and hotshot Charlie Brownsville (Mark Duplass) team up with New Zealand scientist Casey Cook (Zoe Simpson), in a race to be the first people on Mars. Really, it's no competition, as the other team is an unmanned artificial intelligence robot launched by the European Space Agency. But the really prize is to be the first to find life on Mars. There's plenty of evidence it's there (in the world of the film, at least). Ever since the Beagle 2 was lost there, the ESA has continued studying the planet from the Mars Express. Of course, the crew finds danger...and love (it's an odd romance, but it works). Oh yeah, and Kinky Friedman is the President of the United States. I should also mention the cool look of the film--live action in front of a green screen, then lavishly rotoscoped with custom made software. This look perfectly complemented the playful, easy comedy and science-geeky fun of the story.

Back in college, a common "what if?" people asked was "What if you had the opportunity to go to Mars and live there for the rest of your life, but there was no way to return--you had to stay there for the rest of your life? Would you go?" I always answered, "Hell yes!" And people took it as some insult that I would leave them behind without a second thought. I would still answer yes, and to all my friends I just want to say, "It's not about you, it's about how freakin' awesome it would be to go to Mars!" I've come to terms with the fact that I won't be able to go (if someone goes in my lifetime, it'll be someone who is in way better shape than me). So maybe the closest I'll ever get is watching MARS. And that's good enough for me.

Then I saw an excellent horror serial killer film, A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE. The setup sounds like it could be the start of a standard slasher flick--psycho serial killer Garrick Turrell (A. J. Bowen) escapes from prison. Sarah, the girl who put him away (Amy Seimetz), has started a new life in a small town. Of course he's going to chase her. But there's more brains than that. Rather than a cartoonish serial killer, he's a guy battling his addiction to killing. She's got her own addiction (alcohol), and the parallels are fascinating. Oh, and it's got indie icon Joe Swanberg (Indiefest alum with KISSING ON THE MOUTH and LOL) in a wonderful role as Sarah's new boyfriend.

Total Running Time: 168 minutes
My Total Minutes: 221,974

Monday, February 7, 2011

Jason goes to Indiefest--Day 4

The end of the opening weekend, and a four movie Sunday.

The day started with my favorite film of the fest so far, THE DRUMMOND WILL. Two perfectly opposite brothers--one a long-haired, free-wheeling optimist, the other a button downed, serious professional--show up at their father's funeral. The next day they learn their father had no money but they get his old house. They go to the house and find a broken window and an old man hiding in the cupboard clutching a bag full of money. And this sets off a series of wacky accidents and a wild, hilarious, crime-thriller story. It's shot in black and white, although it takes place in fairly modern times (at least since the World Wrestling Federation became World Wrestling Entertainment). I think it's best described as slapstick noir. And a pitch perfect clever comedy. Have I mentioned I freakin' loved it?

Next up, THE HAPPY POET, which so far is leading the race for Most Ironic Title. Bill never smiles and hasn't written poetry since grad school (and his one poem he reads, I wish he hadn't). But has a dream of an organic, vegetarian food stand (and eventually solar powered). All he lacks is any business sense. He does make a few friends who 'help' with his food stand (i.e., one just sponges and the other uses it as a front to deal pot). It's a well made movie, but I really didn't like this idiotically bland, spineless 'hero.' And I have a sneaking suspicion the whole movie was made to justify the closing joke.

Actually, that was kind of the theme of the features today. An ending bit that was excellent. Of course, in THE DRUMMOND WILL I also loved the whole trip there. With HAPPY POET, I was often annoyed and/or bored. And with the third film of the day, I was somewhere in between. HEARTBEATS (or it's much better French title, which translates as something like IMAGINARY LOVES) is the second film by highly accomplished wunderkind Xavier Dolan (I KILLED MY MOTHER). Xavier also stars as Francis. He and Marie have been friends forever, and they both are attracted to pretty curly-haired Nicolas. The three of them go out, have fun, often crashing together in Francis's giant bed (Nicolas, of course, in the middle). Nicolas is (maybe?) blithely unaware, and it all leads up to a humorous finale. Naturally, there's not much story since the love triangle is pretty much imaginary. But Dolan keeps it at least visually interesting (although I don't think I could take one more slow-motion close up of bodies in motion and soaring music), and he breaks it up with funny testimonials of love gone awkward from random people. I've heard (from someone whose movie opinions I trust) that I KILLED MY MOTHER was even better, so I'll have to check that out.

And finally, I ended the night with the shorts program, Offensive!
INFIDEL PIG: Sometimes you need some fanatical motivation to clean up your life.
THE BOOK: Specifically, the book of Khomeini's Rules of Etiquette, used by the religious in Iran to be good Muslims. Or used in other ways by some people.
SOMEWHERE ONLY WE KNOW: Reality show anxiety is broken by an earthquake. But soon things get back to normal.
JUST DESSERTS: Two old sisters run a diner, in a film that explicates the difference between "just desserts" (as in, only sweet dishes like cakes and pies) and "just deserts" (what someone justly deserves, and pronounced the same way). I'm so thankful they got it right, it's a little per peeve of mine when people obsess over the difference between "desert" (sandy, arid terrain) and "dessert" (sweet dish) and forget there is a word spelled the same as the former, pronounced like the latter, and meaning "something deserved." Anyway, I got off on a tangent there...the movie's good.
GAY KEITH: A mostly true story of Scott, a red-headed Canadian living in L.A. who just needs to empirically answer, "Am I gay?"
DREXEL CROSSES THE POVERTY LINE: Filthy puppet comedy, where Drexel has to rescue his long lost retarded brother Eric from the clutches of Mitt Romney's live bestiality show. Pretty awesome.
TRIVIALITY: 9 minutes, 19 seconds of a guy jerking off while a voice repeats how the secret to violent men is that they're ashamed of such trivial things that their very triviality makes the even more ashamed. Pretty quickly, both acts just become tedious, which I guess (hope?) Is the point. I don't know how I could judge this film as good or bad. I think most everyone would know if they do or don't want to see that. Well, except for maybe the red-headed Canadian from GAY KEITH

And that's the final image that I had to go home with. Thanks a lot, Indiefest!

Total Running Time: 360 minutes
My Total Minutes: 221,806

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Jason goes to Indiefest--Day 3

A four movie Saturday, so let's jump right in.

First up was the documentary GAINSBOURG, THE MAN WHO LOVED WOMEN. I'm the first to admit I knew nothing about Serge Gainsbourg. His daughter Charlotte I know, but Serge meant nothing to me. Over the course this movie, which consists entirely of old video and interview footage, with voice-over comments by his many women, I got to get a picture of the man. He's a singer-songwriter, a provocateur, a seducer, and an intentionally misunderstood sensitive artist. He was ugly, with big ears, a big nose, and kind of froggy eyes, but he was still able to seduce French starlets from Bridget Bardot to Isabelle Adjani. Oh, an he was a huge misogynist. Or not. Maybe that was all exaggerated. Or an act. Or his Jekyl and Hyde persona (he even had a "Gainsbarre" and "Gainsbourg" personality he kept separate.) Oh, and he smoked like a chimney. Basically, I started out thinking 'This guy is really, really French!' And I ended up thinking 'Maybe all bad French stereotypes are based on this guy!' And true or not, that conclusion was pretty amusing.

Then I saw the no-budget con flick THE ARISTOCRAT. [Review pulled for spoilers. Will either rework and post later or not rework and post once spoilers are irrelevant].

Then, after quite a long technical delay (which, along with great Foley work, has been the theme of the fest so far) I saw SPECIAL TREATMENT starring Isabelle Huppert. As always, she gives a fine performance. This time she's playing a prostitute who makes good money (500 euro in a half hour) for dressing up and fulfilling fantasies. While she's doing her job, there's a psychoanalyst Dr. Demestre (Bouli Lanners) who has all sorts of trouble of his own, and through a colleague approaches her for services, although he's too timid to even know what he wants. The parallels the movie draws between the two professions is pretty blatant, and the story is mainly about how people who offer comfort and help for a living can be the most in need of it themselves. Great acting of course. Much better than the weak script deserved.

Then it was time for the program of music shorts, THE SIGHT OF MUSIC.

INDESTRUCTIBLE: Even if your love doesn't last forever, your mix tape does. And that's not a good thing.
SLEEPING WITH FRANK: A rhythmic, musical take on daily life, leaving only the question: who (or what) the heck is Frank?
PENGUINS: a girl wakes up, gets ready, and faces the day, followed by her entourage of crudely animated CGI animals. I was unimpressed.
GET AWAY: Jenn Dorn sings about having to get out of her relationship. Simple mirroring special effects is all this video needs. Her voice and her song were cool at first, but got grating by the end.

Then we interrupted the movies for a short performance by Black Flamingos. Apparently they rarely play unplugged, so they're usually louder than what we heard. Well, I liked what they did anyway.

PSYCHE OR LIKE SCOPE: Mareesa Stertz of Black Flamingos (and director of the short EMOTION MALFUNCTION from last year's Indiefest) shot this trippy video for Family of the Year, where they climb a mountain outside the city and are surrounded by red robed figures (members of Black Flamingos) and start flying through space.
WAYS TO STOP TIME: Classic sci-fi set to music by the Exrays.
BURNING WIGS OF SEDITION: Extra Action Marching Band (who are freakin' awesome!) Created this wild adventure of a slave rebellion on a hedonistic ship. What a party!

Then we ended with a performance by one of the members of Exrays. He was pretty cool, too.

And then I made it down for the end of the (in)famous Indiefest annual Lebowski party. Had a white Russian (but after last year, I had just one and switched to beer), saw the costume contest, chatted with Walter and The Dude, and had a grand old time. Then caught a bus to a bus to home. Long night, but at least I drafted these reviews on the way so I'm all up to date.

Total Running Time: 333 minutes (counting only the movie time of SIGHT OF MUSIC--it was listed as a 90 minute program, but only 39 minutes of film)
My Total Minutes: 221,446

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Jason goes to Indiefest--Day 2

Now it's starting in earnest, and starts with a little twisted weirdness from Mexico, WE ARE WHAT WE ARE. It's an earnest family drama, a story of grief and struggles after the father dies. Not that he was a great man, but he did provide. Now there are power struggles, mother vs. sons, sons vs. each other, a daughter who seems to be the only one with a solid head on her shoulders. It's also a story about coming out of the closet. Oh yeah, and it's got cannibalism, whores, inept cops, and (for some reason) lots and lots of clocks. But let's go back to the cannibalism and whores. If I described this as a movie about cannibals vs. prostitutes, it would be completely accurate and totally misleading. It isn't the exploitation elements that are the driving force behind the movie, it's the drama and the characters. And of course, that tricks you into caring about the cannibals for reasons completely unrelated to their rituals. Brilliantly done, and very funny.

Next up, a pair of long shorts (they barely straddle the 40 minutes cutoff the Academy uses to define "shorts" for Oscar contention, so technically GOLD FARMERS is a short while SECOND BODIES is a feature, even though there is only 8 minutes difference in running times).

GOLD FARMERS is the story of Chinese "farmers"--gamers who collect gold/items/experience points for players of online games (e.g., World of Warcraft). These are kids in China who export their gaming labor to western gamers who want to skip the tedious parts of the game and get to the epic quests. They work 10 hour days, usually with just one day off a month (which they spend gaming. You know, they say if you do what you love you'll never work a day in your life). At first glance, of course this seems pretty odd. And I'm not a gamer so I can't tell you personally how much sense it does or doesn't make. But I can say that it was presented as a totally legitimate business model. The founder of one "farm" explains that on a trip to the U.S. he was struck by how everything from food to a haircut cost eight times more in America. While he can't export a meal or a haircut, he can easily export his time, so he does. Although there are roadblocks--the Chinese government shuts down his Paypal account, so he has to get an American partner; game makers themselves shut down farming accounts; and there are vigilantes opposed to farmers who run quests to kill them (even though they're way off in the wasteland killing minor monsters and not bothering anyone). I think it's most revealing that as odd as gold farming is, it was the vigilante railing against it who appeared to have absolutely no life.

And then SECOND BODIES, an exploration of Second Life. Or rather, it's Second Life used as an exploration of body issues and disability. Director Sandra Danilovic features herself and her friends (a heavy set bi-polar woman and another woman with cerebral palsy) talking about their lives both online and in the real world. There's a lot about how they're unhappy with their lives and their bodies in the real world, but in Second Life they can be sexy fox ladies, or whatever they want to be. It's a very visual movie, mixing machinima (live video capture of a game) with live action pieces. And for the most part it's interesting enough. I'm just sorry to say that I found Danilovic's voice really annoying (and too loud), so the movie would've been about 10 times better with a different narrator.

And finally, the night ended with some midnight madness, MACHETE MAIDENS UNLEASHED! After a good 40 minute delay while the film escaped the snowstorms in Boston and arrived at SFO (we decided to wait rather than watch a screener with a huge timecode on the bottom), the fun started. It's directed by Mark Hartley, who made the outrageously fun Oz-sploitation doc NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD, and he's at it again with another forgotten genre--exploitation films of the 70's and 80's from the Philippines. Mostly Roger Corman stuff, and he's interviewed extensively in the film. So are his stars and directors like Joe Dante, Jack Hill, Sid Haig, Pam Grier, etc. And a hilarious John Landis to burst bubbles and keep things in perspective whenever anyone suggests these films were secretly subversive works of art. The Philippines is described as alternatively the wild, wild, east and the only place in Asia that still loved America after Vietnam (they still remember MacArthur freeing them). It's also shown as a repressive, brutal regime under Marcos--who was very accommodating to American filmmakers (and their money). Mostly it's shown as a place that schlock filmmakers made some very cheap, very outrageous movies. All of which I now want to see (check that, all I really want to see is the midget Weng Weng in his Bond spoofs AGENT 00 and FOR Y'UR HEIGHT ONLY). Near the end, it describes the fall of exploitation--or rather, the fall of cheap exploitation, as filmmakers started making exploitation plots with budget and talent. You know, like STAR WARS and JAWS. Finally, they end the era of American movies in the Philippines with APOCALYPSE NOW. At least, that's how I think it ended. Actually, the movie froze up with about 4 minutes left. Neither the print from Boston or the time-coded screener would play. So if there was an amazing summing-up line at the very end, I don't know what it was. And whatever it was, it wasn't needed for me to love this movie.

Total Running Time: 273 minutes (that includes the 4 minutes of MACHETE MAIDENS that wouldn't play. I waited 40 extra minutes in the theater for that, and I freakin' deserve it!)
My Total Minutes: 221,113

Friday, February 4, 2011

Jason goes to Indiefest--Opening Night

The one that started it all (for me) starts again. Two movies, let's just jump right in.

First up, Gregg Araki's KABOOM. I'm trying really hard not to write it opened the festival "with a bang" but it's (including as a double entendre). Araki introduced it as both his most autobiographical and most off-the-wall film he's ever made. Thomas Dekker (THE SARAH CONNER CHRONICLES, ALL ABOUT EVIL) stars as Smith, the most consciously ordinarily-named character ever. He's a college student who has sex with all kinds of people--he doesn't describe himself as gay, straight, or bi, just "undeclared" in a bit cleverness that let's you know Araki hasn't forgotten what college was like. He has weird dreams and then starts meeting the characters from his dream in a story that spirals into cults, witches, psychic powers, and doomsday plots. And Araki regular James Duval appears as his typical stoner character with a pretty awesome twist.

I'm no stranger to the weird world of Araki. I saw THE DOOM GENERATION so often it practically became the film of my college experience. And I always new of his career but hadn't really followed up. I even missed MYSTERIOUS SKIN when it was out. But tonight I only half paid attention to the Q&A because I was on the Amazon app on my phone buying pretty much everything of his that's out on DVD (NOWHERE only had used copies for $75, so I'll continue to shop around).

And just to play the pull-quote game, I'll reprise my tweet here (with thanks to Marvin and his Illudium Q-36 explosive space modulator): KABOOM was so earth-shattering I now have a better view of Venus.

And then I stayed for TRANSFORMATION: THE LIFE & LEGACY OF WERNER ERHARD. Mr Erhard and his EST seminars were well before my time. Here's the nutshell summary I got from the movie: it's a "human potential" movement, but for the mainstream middle class, not hippy-dippies. It's about seeing reality clearly (the main mantra is, "what is, is. What isn't, isn't.") The methods are confrontational, he'd start a seminar by yelling, "you're all assholes who don't know your ass from a hole in the ground" (to which I always thought, 'then how do I know I'm not actually a hole-in-the-ground-hole?' His movement quickly gathered popularity, attracting tons of followers including the expected celebrity wackjobs. And just as quickly there was a backlash--first against the 'no victims' message which allegedly included telling real victims (e.g., rape victims) that whatever happened they did to themselves. Then personal allegations--he abandoned his family, he molested his daughters, etc., culminating in a devastating 60 Minutes piece. And so he fled the country. The movie mostly interviews his defenders (director Robyn Symon talked about her frustration getting his attackers for interviews), which opens the film up to easy charges of bias (or as one audience member commented, it feels unfinished). Judging by the audience, which was heavily stacked with (former?) Erhard followers, it was a cathartic feeling of closure and/or completeness for many of them. For me, it only transformed me into a bored man who had trouble staying awake.

Due to technical glitches, TRANSFORMATION started late, so I didn't have time to run to the opening night party. That is, I could've run there and immediately turned around to catch BART. But no worries, there are plenty more parties (including the Lebowski party Saturday night!) So let's just pretend I had my own party by sneaking a few beers into the theater and drinking during the movies. It's easy to pretend that, because I did. Hooray for multi-tasking!

And that's how Indiefest 13 started.

Total Running Time: 163
My Total Minutes: 220,840

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Jason shows you how to see everything at Indiefest

The 13th Indiefest starts tomorrow night. For those who don't know, this is the festival that started it all for me. Back in 2002, I saw there was something called Indiefest playing at the Roxie Theater (and a few other locations, but I found out about it because I followed what played at the Roxie). I bought a pass, and planned to see as much as possible. In fact, by planning the schedule correctly I realized I could see everything--and I figured that's what you're supposed to do, so I did. The rest is history, and this year I will attempt to (for the 10th year in a row) see every movie at Indiefest.

However, this year there's a little wrinkle. There are a couple of special events: On Saturday, February 12, Peaches Christ is hosting a screening of SEED OF CHUCKY at the Victoria, with Chucky's bride Jennifer Tilly and Chucky's creator Don Mancini. Sounds awesome. Then on Monday, February 14 Indiefest is reprising LOVE BITES: The 80's Power Ballad Sing-along. I did this last year, and it was a heck of a lot of fun--waving lighters, whipping my hair, and getting really, really drunk.

Now the casual observer would say, "Awesome! They don't play on the same night, I can see both!" However, it's not possible to see both of them and see everything else at Indiefest. And so my dilemma. Below I've shown two possible schedules--one for seeing every movie plus SEED OF CHUCKY, and one for the Power Ballad Sing-along. Click on the images for full size. Gray rows indicate time slots where I have a choice.

A quick review shows I have until Friday, February 11 at 9:15 before these schedules diverge. So I don't actually have to choose now. But for now, I'm learning towards SEED OF CHUCKY. Peaches just puts on a damn good show.

Anyway, see all y'all at Indiefest!