Thursday, March 3, 2011

Jason goes to Cinequest--Day 2

All about the movies, here we go:

First up was HEAT WAVES, from Montreal. When social worker Gisele's husband dies, she finds A) her husband hadn't been 100% faithful, and B) she now has her pick of potential new suitors--friends, colleagues, a 20 year old suicidal kleptomaniac former client. Guess who she goes for.

Okay, I'm going to pause right here and proclaim my general disdain for movies about women knowingly making awful romantic decisions. I've seen it enough to declare it a cliche--women are the weaker, emotional sex and so it's dramatic when they can't avoid the bad boy even when they know it's a bad idea (because they can't actually make decisions based on their brain, just their hearts). It usually aggravates me to no end.

Okay, back to HEAT WAVES. This has all those elements that should turn me off, but the story is handled so well--with the right mix of humor, pathos, and conflict--and Marie-Therese Fortin does such a great acting job that I actually sympathized with her. More than "felt pity" I "sympathized" in that I could understand why she felt compelled to make her dumb decisions (it's beyond just base attraction) and possibly why her dumb decisions weren't so dumb after all.

Next up I crossed the street to the San Jose Rep for I AM. Big time Hollywood comedy director Tom Shadyac (ACE VENTURA, BRUCE ALMIGHTY, PATCH ADAMS) was living the "good life" when a few years back he took a bad spill on his back and suffered a concussion. Worse yet, he suffered post-concussion syndrome, where the symptoms of a concussion last long (up to years) after the event. This is a serious thing, almost invariably resulting in depression and at least thoughts (if not action) of suicide. Well, Tom suffered this and as the symptoms slowly receded he used this as a jumping off point to examine his life, human nature, and the two biggest questions in the world: "What is wrong with the world?" And, "What can I do about it?" The intermediate result (because the story is still evolving) is this film. And it's a film that mixes the Einstein Podolsky Rosen experiment with Ghandi and psychic empathetic yogurt. Yeah, it goes pretty much everywhere, sometimes hitting and sometimes missing. But the them that ties it all together is that...we're all tied together. Secondarily (or rather, logically flowing from that theme) is that pursuit of unlimited wealth isn't making us happier, and in fact is a mental disease (particularly when your neighbor is homeless and eating out of the trash). Shadyac keeps it constantly entertaining, even when moments are aggravating. I'm sure I've bought too much into the scientific story to buy all the new age hippie bullshit.

I'd like to take a moment to take exception to what is said many times in the movie, that "science is just another story." Science is a process--not what is in science textbooks. Science isn't a story, science is a tool for changing stories. Calling science a story makes as much sense as saying a typewriter is a story (after all, the output of both can be stories).

Luckily (or frustratingly, depending on your point of view), Shadyac allows for multiple paths for approaching his central thesis of interconnectedness. There's a story that when the Israelites were wandering through the desert, Moses' tent had doors on all four sides. The idea being no matter how you approached him, you were welcomed. And that's like, a metaphor, man! Anyway, the point is that for all the people who will be inspired to reject science (because we once thought the world was flat) and embrace aboriginal mysticism, there are also people like me who are more inspired by arguments about how Darwin was misinterpreted/co-opted (The Descent of Man mentions "survival of the fittest" twice and "love" 95 times, and Darwin argued that more than anything it was man's capacity for cooperation that was his greatest evolutionary advantage) or that mirror neurons show that humans (as well as many other animals) are biologically hard-wired for sympathy. And then there are the far out experiments, like the psychic empathic yogurt.

Einstein was quoted as saying if there was a imminent catastrophe and he had only one hour to save the entire human race, he'd spend 55 minutes defining the problem, and 5 minutes solving it. I don't think it matters whether I believe that living a more charitable, sympathetic, interconnected life will really make the world appreciably better. Maybe it'll just make me, and the people around me, happier. In any case, I think Tom Shadyac and his cadre of interviewees did a fine job of defining, redefining, re-examining, and exploring the nature of the problem.

Or I don't know, maybe if I just hoard all the world's atmospheric Argon I'll finally be happy.

Anyway, afterwards Tom Shadyac was presented the Kaiser Permanente Thrive Award and we had an engaging Q&A with a very receptive audience. I would've like to stay through the end, but I had to run off for my next movie.

And that started with the short THE TANNERY, an animated short of nature, predators, death, spirits, and the difference between being killed for your meat and killed for your skin. Plus it's got a bunny. I like bunnies.

And I ended the night with LITTLE BABY JESUS OF FLANDR. I saw the three Down's Syndrome Wise Men give the baby Jesus (or maybe just some random newborn) the gift of 6 slightly crumpled cigarettes. That would be enough to tickle my irreverent (okay, blasphemous) sense of humor. But there's a lot more going on. Beautifully stark (mostly) black and white cinematography (for some reason I was always drawn to the very high tree branch with three long swings hanging from it). And the three Wise Men (really three drunk beggars) get into arguments and conflicts about faith. There's something poignant and funny (without being mocking) about three actors with Down's Syndrome arguing about faith, miracles, and temptation. An audacious film, and if only my brain were working better I know it was full of quotable lines.

And then it was all over but the drinking (more and more, Cinequest has become a drinking festival with a film problem). I skipped over to the Maverick meetup at Clubhouse (right next to the Rep) and hung out and had a few drinks with head programmer Mike "Cuddles" Rabehl. And eventually got a ride home with my buddy Ira (star of PUPPYMEAT PRODUCTIONS PRESENTS the glass slipper, premiering next Wednesday).

Total Running Time: 249 minutes
My Total Minutes: 224,877

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