Saturday, April 30, 2011

Jason goes to SFIFF--Day 9

Yup, I skipped a few days there. I had to take a quick business trip to Vancouver, but I got back last night in time to have a few beers at the festival lounge and then catch the late show world premiere screening of THE SELLING.

THE SELLING is a horror-comedy about real estate and haunted houses, made mostly by filmmakers with a background in sketch comedy (there are significant connections to Sketchfest here). As such, the comedy can best be described as broad, and the comedy is the focus here, not the horror (true horror fans note, this movie won't even try to scare you). The hero is Richard Scarry (not the child's book author, but writer Gariel Diani), an overly nice real estate agent whose mom is in the hospital with cancer. His partner (in business, they're not a couple) is Dave (Jonathan Klein), and their nemesis is manipulative backstabber Mary Best (Janet Varney). At least, she is their nemesis until she unloads a house on them that they can fix up and flip to make money for Scarry's mom's treatment. Sure, she reveals that a serial killer, the Sleepstalker, lived there. What she doesn't reveal is that the house is still haunted--by his victims and by some Ancient Unnamed Evil. The AUE becomes their new nemesis, and wacky hijinks ensue. Some of it very funny (like when a pair of witches are looking specifically to buy a haunted house, and the ghosts just don't cooperate. He has to act out the bleeding walls and the closet that sometimes contains a portal to another world). Other lines kinda fall flat ("We're gonna need a bigger goat"). But all in all it was fun and funny, and it was good to see local filmmakers do well.

Running Time: 92 minutes
My Total Minutes: 233,765

Friday, April 29, 2011

Jason goes to SFIFF--Day 6

Two more movies:

First up, Catherine Breillat's THE SLEEPING BEAUTY. Fans of Breillat's highly sexual (borderline pornographic) earlier career (ROMANCE, FAT GIRL, BRIEF CROSSING, SEX IS COMEDY, THE LAST MISTRESS) may be surprised by her recent fascination with fairy tales, starting with BLUEBEARD a couple of years back. They'd also pick up on the overt sexuality in her take on fairy tales, and hence might be a little creeped out by the age of the characters. This is especially true of THE SLEEPING BEAUTY, her take on the classic fairy tale. In her telling, the good fairies are skinny dipping, and hence late to Anastasia's birth. The witch still curses her to death, but the fairies commute the sentence to sleep. Specifically, she'll sleep for 100 years, have vivid dreams, and age 10 years (from 6 to 16) during her sleep. Then rather than showing the handsome prince rescue her, she shows Anastasia's dream, and particularly (via dreams) her change from the tomboy who wanted to be a boy named Vladimir to a young woman in love with young, handsome Peter. I bet there's something allegorical to explicate in her specific dreams--boil ridden monsters, towns full of mannequins, a gypsy girlfriend, etc. But darned if I could unravel it. I get the distinct feeling that Breillat is doing something very interesting with her fairy tales (at the very least, she's playing up the extreme artificiality of them), but I don't think I quite get it.

And finally, the most eagerly anticipated film of the festival, Werner Herzog's CAVE OF FORGOTTEN DREAMS in 3D. In a cave in France, explorers discovered by far the earliest cave paintings ever, astounding images that track the contours of the cave. Herzog got special permission to film in the caves, and the images he brought back are breathtaking. He also interviews locals and scientists working there, and waxes philosophical about the meaning (and, what with Herzog being Herzog, you can't help but laugh a few times).

Let me just get this out of the way--it's a breathtakingly beautiful film, and my poor words can't convey that so just see it. Now the big question--is this finally the film that must be seen in 3D. I've said many times that I've yet to see the movie that must be seen in 3D (yes, including AVATAR, although I'd argue that doesn't have to be seen, period). That might have just changed. It's not a gimmick for throwing stuff at you, rather Herzog uses 3D as a portal to draw you in. And the contours of the cave are very, very important to understand what it must be like to stand there. I doubt it would be the same in 2D. My only hesitation comes from my scientist mindset. I feel I must do a control study:
  1. Watch it again in 2D, see if it loses something
  2. Watch it yet again in 3D to see if it loses something just from multiple viewings.
Hopefully there will be a theatre showing it in 2D so I can complete this experiment.

Total Running Time: 177 minutes
My Total Minutes: 233,673

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Jason goes to SFIFF--Day 5

Two more movies, as the weekday grind starts with HOT COFFEE (ha, get it, "grind"..."coffee!") Uhhhhh...sorry. Anyway, HOT COFFEE is one of the social action documentaries in the festival, and it uses the famous McDonald's spilled coffee lawsuit as a jumping off point. You know the case, right? Where the lady was holding her coffee cup between her legs as she drove, spilled it on herself, and sued for millions and millions of dollars? Well, did you know that actually she wasn't driving, the car was parked and she was in the passenger seat while her grandson was in the driver seat? Did you know that McDonalds intentionally kept the coffee way hotter than was safe for human consumption (because their market research showed that drive-through customers preferred it extra hot so that it would be drinking temperature once they got to their destination)? Did you know that there were months worth of complaints--it was hardly an isolated incident? Did you know McDonalds had specifically used a cheaper cup with a poorly fitting lid in order to save a couple of cents per cup? And after all this happened, McDonalds major response was to print a warning label stating that the coffee is hot, which only makes sense if you believe that the root cause of the accident was A) she didn't know coffee was hot, and B) she thought the best way to find out was dumping it in her lap.

Okay, all that above I knew and wrote before seeing the movie. The movie didn't contradict any of that, and I even included a few points the movie didn't address (warning, don't take my word for anything, check it for yourself. I'm operating on my own fallible memory). What I hadn't seen were the pictures of her burnt legs, which if anything makes me think she deserved more (the jury awarded ~$200,000 in economic damages and $2.7 million in punitive damages, which was reduced to ~$400,000 by the judge). But really that's just the movie's jumping off point to address four major fronts on which the civil justice system (remember, your right to your day in court) is under attack:
  1. Tort Reform
  2. Caps on Damages
  3. Judicial Elections
  4. Mandatory Binding Arbitration contracts
First time director (previously a lawyer) Susan Saladoff does an admiral job not only explaining each of the issues via interviews with experts, but delivering the message with personal stories. She interviews parents of twins, one of whom was born with brain damage because their doctor missed obvious danger signs and delayed a cesarean section too long. She interviews former judge Oliver Diaz, who lost his re-election bid when the U.S. Chamber of Commerce targeted him as not being business friendly enough. And most harrowing, she interviews a young woman who was working for KBR (part of Halliburton) in Iraq when she was drugged and brutally gang-raped by her co-workers, and had to fight 4 years for her day in court (now scheduled for this June).

Perhaps the most moving lines were at the end, with a former judge explaining that suing someone is actually a heroic act. It takes a lot of work, and you have to put your life on hold, but by going through the process and getting a jury to acknowledge that someone has wronged you, you don't just get compensated, you change their behavior and prevent them from harming others. The world is a much safer place because of lawsuits changing economic behavior.

I think it's pretty obvious that this film was pretty much preaching to the choir with me. But this choir member was happy to learn a few new hymns. And if you want to learn more, check out their website by clicking here. And especially check out their Take Action link.

And then the second film of the night was HAHAHA, by Korean auteur Hong Sang-soo. He's up to his old, playful tricks again, employing parallel actions, a character who is a filmmaker, and lots of talking over drinks. Specifically, two old friends meet for drinks as one is on his way out of Korea--moving to Canada to live with his aunt. They each tell stories of their recent trips to the same seaside town, and the audience learns (but they don't) that they were there at the same time, and ran into a lot of the same people. The similarities don't stop there. They both drink a lot, they write/recite poetry, they both have impulsive love affairs (oh yeah, that's the inspiration for the poetry). Early on, one challenges a tour guide at a historic site. When she tells a class that the more they know, the more they can see, he asserts the opposite--the less you know the more you see. Hong Sang-soo is clearly creating a situation where the audience knows more than the characters. Question is, does that make you see more or less than they do? I don't know the answer for sure, but I think, "more."

Total Running Time: 203 minutes
My Total Minutes: 233,496

Monday, April 25, 2011

Jason goes to SFIFF--Day 4

Happy Bunny Day everyone! Today I took a break from the drinking and partying and just focused on the movies. I was at the PFA in Berkeley all day,

First up was SOMETHING VENTURED, a well made piece of hero worship documentary about the entrepreneurs of Silicon Valley and the money men who invented venture capitalism and got them started. The story starts with the "Traitorous Eight"--brilliant scientists and engineers working at Shockley semiconductors but totally fed up with their Nobel winning boss' attitude. The story goes that they ended up getting money from Fairchild and founded Fairchild Semiconductors, but the in between step is all about Arthur Rock, the man who is credited with coining the term Venture Capitalism. He was just a junior investment banker when a letter from the Eight passed through his company. No one knew what to do with it, but he saw an opportunity, and after failing to raise money from tons of sources, he connected with Fairchild and the rest, they saw, is history. Arthur Rock shows up again and again in the movie, but the documentary interviews a wide range of VC's and entrepreneurs, the people behind Intel, Cisco, Apple, Genentech, etc. It's mostly adulatory, with the biggest "failure" they profile being the man behind Powerpoint, who sold out to Microsoft (for a lot of cash...but they were offering stock). I can pretty much forgive the adulatory tone, as these men are titans. And mostly it's fun to take a look at the beginning of so many industries (especially talking about how bad Jobs and Wozniak smelled as they were trying to get Apple off the ground). And that reminds me, the film owes a debt of gratitude to the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, CA. I actually have a friend, Chris Garcia, who is a computer historian. And as I always tell him, "You have a totally made up profession. There are only about five computer historians in the world, and you're in the top ten." I suppose that was neither here nor there. Anyway, entertaining movie, although I would've like to have seen more of the failure stories.

The next program started with a short, AGLA√ČE. The title character is a feisty, crippled schoolgirl. A classmate, Benoit, loses a bet and has to ask her out. But she refuses him. You know what's worse than having to ask out the "loser" girl--being turned down by her.

And the feature was CHILDREN OF THE PRINCESS OF CLEVES. The documentary draws parallels between the 17th century French novel The Princess of Cleves and the lives of the school students studying it. I suppose this works a hell of a lot better if you are familiar with the novel. I wasn't, so I was pretty lost. I did gather that it's a story about love vs. courtly obligations, and I got the parallels between the students' desires and their duties of studying for their baccalaureate exams. But as I said before, I was pretty much lost beyond that. I'm happy to acknowledge my shortcomings and say this movie was simply beyond me. Maybe I'm already tired this early in the festival. This doesn't bode well.

Anyway, next up was CHANTRAPAS, a sort of simultaneous love song to the art of filmmaking and a protest anthem against the business side of it. Nico is a young Georgian filmmaker working in the Soviet Union of the 50's/60's (much like director Otar Iosseliani himself). He's full of the rebellion of youth, and of course that gets him into plenty of trouble. And so he runs away, emigrates to France. That's the land of freedom that celebrates cinema and especially directors more than anywhere, right? Well, he runs into just as many obstacles, but now based on commercial and economic decisions. He doesn't have a government censor throwing him out of the editing room, but his meddling producer is just the same. Iosseliani based a lot of this on his own life, and it's too his credit that it comes off as comical but never bitter or shrill. Above all, he's playful, and to me that's best shown in the parallel scenes of his set decorators putting up/taking down an actual film set and putting up/taking down Soviet posters in preparation for a visit from a diplomat. I'm normal one to prefer my satire to be biting, but I was surprised to find how much I enjoyed the more playful tone here. Now I just gotta fall into a lake and find a mermaid.

And finally, the night ended with THE ARBOR. Based on the life and work of Andrea Dunbar, who shook up the Royal Court Theatre with her play "The Arbor" at the age of 17. Set squarely in the lower class street of Brafferton Arbor, Bradford, West Yorkshire, it's a gritty story of teenage sex and violence, based on her life and the things she saw growing up. And then 12 years later she died of a brain hemorrhage in a local pub. She drank a lot, and left behind two daughters and a son (each with a different father). The story of her children, and her complex legacy, is told mostly through actors lip-synching to interviews. There's also some archival footage and a performance of her play in Brafferton Arbor itself, with locals watching. It gives everything an oddly artificial feel, and yet somehow makes that artifice seem essential, like reality would be just too painful (perhaps an explanation of why she wrote "The Arbor" in the first place.) That's certainly true in the story of her eldest daughter, half-Pakistani Lorraine, who fell into a world of drugs, prostitution, and prison. A haunting, but beautifully done movie.

So that was Easter Sunday at SFIFF.

Total Running Time: 388 minutes
My Total Minutes: 233,293

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Jason goes to SFIFF--Day 3

So I missed the first half of Saturday to watch my beloved Quakes lose to Chivas USA 2-1. Stupid referee...stupider defensive lapses.

But I was up in time for a little free beer in the lounge, and then off to my first film of the day, THE FUTURE by Miranda July, whose YOU AND ME AND EVERYONE WE KNOW was awesome back in 2005, so I was very excited for her follow-up. I distinctly remember when I saw YOU AND ME AND EVERYONE WE KNOW being impressed with the combination of earnestness, silliness, and variety of the ideas that I wanted my behavior to be influenced by it in a concrete but minuscule manner. My solution--never buy uncomfortable shoes. I had much the same feeling with THE FUTURE, and I'm thinking I'll pay extra attention to things people say while they're touching doorknobs.

Anyway, about the movie. It opens with a cat's voice, talking about living outside, injuring his paw, and being taken to the cage-atorium where it meets the people--Sophie and Jason (Miranda July and Hamish Linklater) who will adopt him when he's well enough. That's about a month, and Sophie and Jason contemplate what a massive change it will be in their lives. See, they originally were going to adopt him thinking he'd only live a few months, but the vet tells them with proper care he could live up to five years. Well, in five years they'll be 40, and then life is pretty much over. Yeah, they'll still be alive, but it'll be too late to accomplish the great things they intended to do but didn't because they were on Facebook or Youtube watching other people do not-so-great things. And that revelation leads to a bizarre series of events where Jason becomes a door-to-door tree salesman who can stop time with his mind. And Sophie cuts off their Internet, has an affair, and is stalked by her creeping, crawling shirt. But the magic surrealism is rooted deeply in real portrayals of people who just happen to look at the world a little differently and notice amusingly true details. With all the weirdness going on, perhaps my favorite piece is simply July lamenting about how she wishes to be just one notch prettier. You see, she's just at the level where everyone has to decide for themselves if they think she's pretty, so she constantly has to sell her attractiveness. I never thought of that before, it's maybe not an earth-shatteringly deep realization, but it's an amusingly true detail.

As a bonus, I got a button that says "I HAVE SEEN THE FUTURE." And of course, I'm easily influenced by buttons, so that was cool!

Anyway, back to the lounge for a couple more beers, and then I caught the animated shorts program Get With The Program.
THE CAP: A story of an Hindu boy and Muslim man in a train station during the partition of India and Pakistan. The boy's moving with his mom to the Indian side, and the old man is moving to the Pakistani side, and a fight breaks out. A moving story of strangers helping each other.
DROMOSPHERE: An experimental film with a toy car and the representation of speed.
THE EXTERNAL WORLD: Hilarious, kind of offensive, hard to describe. This film takes no prisoners, and I loved it.
GET WITH THE PROGRAM: A meditation on conformity, with cell phones stuck into the head with spikes so you can talk to the person right next to you, and somehow the cell phone signals become commodities and then a bunch more weird stuff happens.
HAIL: A hand drawn music video about heaven being the place where you can be yourself, and trying to make Earth the same.
PIXELS: Wild, hilarious mix of live action and CGI, as classic video games come to life and destroy New York. Space Invaders attack, while Donkey Kong climbs the Empire State Building. Awesome.
A PURPLEMAN: He's not red, nor quite blue, this North Korean defector loves his new opportunities in the South, but doesn't quite fit in.
SYNC: Best inappropriate use of PowerPoint ever (scandal, it was actually made on Apple QuickNote).

And finally, the late show was THE TROLL HUNTER, a brilliant piece of "found footage" from Norway. There's a guy driving through Norway in a Range Rover with a ton of weird gear, and the local bear hunters think he's a poacher. So a film crew tries to confront him, but get tons more than they bargained for. He's not hunting bears, he's hunting Trolls. In fact, he works for a secret government agency meant to control the troll population. Trolls are big and dangerous, but dumb as hell. They're susceptible to direct sunlight (even artificial) and either turn to stone (if they're old) or explode. There are many different types, but they all seem to be more aggressive right now. And the hunter is tired of his work, and especially the secrecy, so invites the film crew along for the an incredible ride. It has a great faux-documentary feel and never breaks that realism, and the CGI (I think?) trolls are ripped straight from Norwegian folklore. Just brilliant.

Total Running Time: 266 minutes
My Total Minutes: 232,905

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Jason goes to SFIFF--Day 2

A work holiday during a film fest so I can see as many movies as possible? That's what I call a Great Friday. Anyway, here we go:

First up, the shorts program Irresistible Impulses. The films:
DELMER BUILDS A MACHINE: One of my favorites from Cinequest, so much fun to see it again. And it's still a hell of a machine, and I won't give away what it does. But if you've seen it and know me, you know I want one.
INTO THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE: A verite look at children playing in an outdoor nursery. Interesting celebration of imagination. The centerpiece is an imaginary airplane made of logs.
THE STRANGE ONES: A pair of brothers on a road trip without a car. They stop at a motel for a dip in the pool and have an interesting encounter with the young women managing the place.
BITCH RABBIT: A wonderfully surreal French film about a down and out prostitute who meets a bear. Not a rabbit, a bear. The title promised a rabbit! What a bunny-tease!
NOREEN: Brendan Gleeson stars in a hilarious comedy (directed by his son Domhnall) about two Irish policemen. They're so clueless when they see a dead body clutching a suicide note they have no idea what happened. And it circles out of control from there.
THE HOME FRONT: A Danish documentary about conflicts and mediation between neighbors. Good fences make good neighbors indeed, and most of the conflicts are about fences.

Next up was MISS REPRESENTATION, a documentary about media representations of women and their damaging affects. Director Jennifer Siebel Newsom starts off very personal, explaining her concerns as she's pregnant with her daughter and worries about the world she'll be born into. Tye movie then launches into a bombardment of facts and figures, selected news clips showing sexist treatment, and interviews with plenty of famous people--powerful women like Condi Rice, newsmakers like Katie Couric, activists like Gloria Steinem, and personalities like Margaret Cho. The one sort of jarring interview is Lt. Gov (and former SF Mayor) Gavin Newsom--jarring not for what he says but because they never point out he's the director's husband. Not that it would've made such a big difference in the movie, so I can understand why she left it out. But it's just curious that she was so upfront about her personal life in the beginning, and then shied away from that.

Anyway, the greatest strength of the movie is the collection of interviews with local Bay Area teens, who come of very smart and self-aware. As much as you can point to negative portrayals, and even argue that we've slid backwards in the past decade or two (after decades of progress), seeing these kids renews my faith in the future.

Where the movie leaves off--and it never really answers this--is what to do about it. This is where the social action campaign takes off, and a great place to start is their website.

Next up was a Czech thriller WALKING TOO FAST. Antonin is a secret state policeman in Cold War Czechoslovakia. And he's having a nervous breakdown. He was the best cop on the team, but he's having panic attacks, abusing his wife, and obsessing over the girlfriend of a writer he's investigating as a possible subversive. He sees that rather than the simple love and soul that they share, his success has all been based on allegiance to a corrupt, cynical, and worst of all monotonous system. So he decides to torture the happy couple until he accepts exile and she...falls for him? Wonderful performances, and a pretty brutal story that, if I'm not mistaken, can be read allegorically. Oh yeah, and the girlfriend's roommate is pregnant. Remember that, it'll be important later.

And finally, a mostly kick-ass, balls-out horror flick STAKE LAND. It opens with young Martin and experienced hunter Mister on the road. In a flashback we see the zombie vampires (yeah, zombie vamps) attack Martin's family, getting his parents and devouring an infant before Mister shows up to take them out. That's how they met, and that's how uncompromisingly dark this movie will be. Although storywise there are obvious similarities to ZOMBIELAND, this is not camp. Humanity has degenerated into clans and doomsday cults, and as Martin and Mister make their way north to New Eden (aka Canada), they run into a clan of brutal doomsdayers known as the Brotherhood, who believe the vamps are the tools of God to purify the humanity in preparation for the end times. And they use them as tools--setting up traps for hunters (they have a particular vengeance for Mister, after he killed a couple members of the Brotherhood who were trying to rape a nun) and dropping vamps from helicopters on unbelieving compounds.

If the religious satire is the strongest part (and it is), the weakest would be the handful of cliches that trip it up. Most egregiously the old 'leave your opponent in the trap and don't watch to make sure they die' canard. Not meaning to give spoilers, but that's done twice and bugged me both times. But even with that, it's still a kick-ass, awesome movie.

Oh yeah, and one of the member of Martin and Mister's travelling crew is a young pregnant girl, which leads into my daily themespotting: All three features included a pregnant lady. Clearly the subtle message is SFIFF wants to have a baby with me?

Total Running Time: 432 minutes
My Total Minutes: 232,639

Friday, April 22, 2011

Jason goes to SFIFF--Opening Night

The big one began last night, and I think this might be the least prepared I've ever been for the San Francisco International Film Festival. I'm in full 'wing it' mode, and it feels good.

So 54 might not be a big anniversary, but it's still the oldest film fest in the Americas, and it's Graham Leggat's fifth anniversary leading the show, and there was quite a bit of adulation for him. I'll echo that he deserves it all, but also add the most important bit. We can talk about how the staff has increased, how the year-round program has expanded, how the budget (and revenue, keeping the budget balanced) have multiplied. But the most important thing is that the quality of films--he has had a marked affect on that, and has kept the quality high the hole time. None of the rest would matter if SFIFF played shitty films.

And that leads into the opening night film, BEGINNERS. A very autobiographical comedy/drama about a man whose mother dies and then his 75 year old father comes out of the closet. Ewan McGregor plays Oliver, the semi-substitute of director Mike Mills, and Christopher Plummer plays his dying father. The movie jumps around in time, showing Oliver as a child, as a sad son watching his father die, and as a still sad man finding new love with a French actress. And all that sadness makes the movie sound terribly depressing. But that's the key--it's actually absurdly funny. It's the story of a guy who is naturally so witty and absurd (likely from the influence pf his father) that he can't help but joke even in his saddest moments. He hears his dog (the scene-stealing Cosmo in the role of Arthur) talking to him (the subtitle gag is perfect), he plays a depressed Sigmund Freud at a costume party, he makes darkly satiric cartoons about the history of sadness (when it was supposed to just be album cover art). I don't need a dying gay dad to understand masking depression with humor or failing at love--those things are universal.

Ewan McGregor hadn't actually seen the film, and the plan was for him to see it with us. But his flight from Paris was delayed (something about leaking fuel) and by the start of the movie he had only made it as far as Los Angeles. So he still hasn't (or at least, as of last night, hadn't) seen the film, but he did make a dramatic entrance in the middle of the Q&A. Pretty cool. He and Mills certainly seem like they formed quite a friendship during the film, and apparently he and Cosmo did, too. In fact, McGregor said he'd never owned a dog before but after working with Cosmo he had to go out and get a dog after the shoot (same size and color, different breed from Cosmo). He also pointed out that the old actor's adage about never working with children or animals isn't because they're hard to work with, it's a vanity thing that children and animals will upstage you. And as much as Cosmo upstaged McGregor he seemed totally cool with it.

Oh, and for my regular readers who are wondering why I'm writing so much about the dog, let me assure you--there were a couple of brief bunny rabbit scenes, too, it's just the dog was so important.

Then a little after party action. Allow me to welcome Grolsch as the new beer sponsor (and opening night party sponsor) of the festival, replacing the long relationship with Stella Artois. Stella, it's been fun but I'm with someone new, now. Anyway, I had a few beers, chatted with a few film fans, and generally the vibe was this was a great movie to play opening night. Usually you can find a few naysayers who think opening night was "too commercial" and they only played it because they could get the big star. I'm sure those naysayers are out there, but everyone I ran into last night genuinely thought the film was great.

Running Time: 104 minutes
My Total Minutes: 232,207

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Jason goes to the Beanbag Film Festival for HAROLD AND MAUDE and RUSHMORE

Excited to see a larger turnout last Friday night. I was otherwise engaged Saturday night so I didn't see the closing of the festival, but I hope this means it was successful enough to do it again. If I may make a suggestion, put it in the fall/winter when it gets dark early enough to not affect the first movie. This was particularly bad with the opening scene of HAROLD AND MAUDE.

Speaking of that movie, no need to review it. Everyone who has seen it knows how awesome it is, and if you haven't seen it just freakin' see it already. But I do want to point out one important, fleeting scene that I always manage to forget, because I somehow always wait several years between HAROLD AND MAUDE viewings. MAUDE, of course, is a Holocaust survivor. It's just a brief scene when Harold sees Maude's tattoo, and no one ever says anything about it, but it's there, near the end, and it retroactively colors everything in the movie. Maude is so full of life because she's seen so much death, and Harold is so infatuated with death because he's seen so little of it. Somehow I always get sucked into the oddness of the characters and am re-reminded of that message every time. Perhaps actually writing it down will help me remember this time.

And then RUSHMORE as the second film. Some interesting, obvious parallels, of course. But mostly it's just fun seeing the movie that not only introduced the audience to Jason Schwartzman but re-introduced us to the subtlety and wit of a mature Bill Murray. Those who were 'amazed' at his dramatic performance in LOST IN TRANSLATION should have known better, he's been doing some pretty fascinating work his whole career, and RUSHMORE was just one of the highlights.

Total Running Time: 184 minutes
My Total Minutes: 232,103

Jason watches SUPER

And it's pretty damn demented. Sadly, few will see it because it sounds a lot like a rip-off of KICK-ASS. But it's the movie that thought KICK-ASS was neither nihilistic nor religious enough. Rainn Wilson plays a schmuck who loses his wife to a drug kingpin (deliciously evil Kevin Bacon...mmm, delicious bacon...) and becomes a costumed hero. That is, he runs around in a red suit and mask and clonks bad guys on the head with a pipe wrench while yelling, "don't [insert bad behavior here]!" And bad guys run the gamut from drug dealers to pedophile priests to guys who butt in line. Yeah, it plays with the psychotic aspects of being a superhero, which is all the more twisted because he's inspired by God literally touching his brain. Oh, and Ellen Page is at her best as his even more psychotic, enthusiastic sidekick who needs to actually be told that they only injure bad guys, don't kill them.

But you can get all that from any other review. The real revelation is [SPOILER ALERT!!!] the bunny! Okay, not a big part of the movie (although bunnies are a big part of the opening credits). It's really a story about a guy who snaps and starts bashing people's skulls in with a pipe wrench because he didn't have the guts to get a bunny. But at least there's a happy, bunny-rich ending. Bunny! Bunny! Bunny bunny bunnybunny bunny!

Running Time: 96 minutes
My Total Minutes: 231,919

Friday, April 15, 2011

Jason goes to the Bean Bag Film Festival for a night of Zombies

As I mentioned in a previous post, there's a new film fest in San Jose. Last night it kicked off and I was there at The San Jose Women's Club for it (with a few friends). It was sparsely attended, but honestly I've seen worse at inaugural film festival attempts. It's hard to get the word out. Plus last night they were competing with the Shark's opening playoff game, so here's hoping tonight will be better.

As it was, the space was pretty cool, beanbags across the first half of the floor, tables and chairs in the back if you wanted to eat and drink a little more civilized. The food was provided by Tikka Bytes food truck (different truck every night) which had tasty, tender lamb naanwiches and of course veggie options (if you really like spicy be sure to ask for extra peppers). And they served beer and wine inside. All in all, a comfortable, chill space to watch a movie, although the windows let in a bit too much light until the sun went down midway through the first film.

Okay, as for the movies, not too much to say since I've seen them before:

SHAUN OF THE DEAD: Still hilarious. It had been so long since I had seen it that I had forgotten many of the callback scenes in it. And it's fun to remember that feeling of first being introduced to the comedy team of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost.

ZOMBIELAND: Also still hilarious. The voice-over narration is still a bit too much. The big BM cameo is still awesome. It's a little weird to watch now that Jesse Eisenberg is famous for playing Mark Zuckerberg in THE SOCIAL NETWORK. Which leads to the best line in the movie, Jesse Eisenberg's character declaring, "The best thing about Zombieland: no Facebook status updates!" Did he know he was cast as Zuckerberg when he said that?

Anyway, the mini-fest continues through Saturday with HAROLD AND MAUDE + RUSHMORE tonight, and SWINGERS + THE BIG LEBOWSKI on Saturday (and rumor has it the bar menu will expand to include Martinis and White Russians that night). Come out and check out some great, modern classic flicks!

Total Running Time: 187 minutes
My Total Minutes: 231,823

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Jason watches INSIDIOUS

James Wan, by directing the first SAW film (and executive producing the rest) has possibly done more than anyone in creating the recent wave of sadistic, ultra-violent horror movies (I resist the words "torture porn" because it presupposes no other possible value in such movies, and I don't believe that). So it's interesting and refreshing to see him dive into a PG-13, rather classically composed horror film. No blood here, but he continues to show mastery of creepy visuals (I always thought the Jigsaw puppet in SAW was more moving than the elaborate, bloody traps).

A young boy slips into a coma for no discernible medical reason, devastating his family. And that leads into a plot involving ghosts, demons, and astral projections. And that lets Wan show off some nice visuals, and shows how some of the simplest effects can be the most effective. The guy pacing outside the window only to walk off screen and pace back on screen inside the room is more effective than the red-faced demon, no matter how easy it is to realize how they did it.

It also shows silly, laughable, ineffective moments that pull me right out of the movie. The acting just isn't that good, but I think the worst offense is a blackboard with the name James Wan written on it and a doodle of the SAW Jigsaw puppet head. I can't imagine this scene is intended to do anything other than pull you out of the movie and say, "hey, remember this is directed by James Wan! Remember this other, completely different movie he directed/franchise he launched?" It would be so easy to rip this movie apart at Bad Movie Night.

So I ended up not really knowing if I really liked it or not, but I am convinced that Wan is a more interesting director than I gave him credit for, and I should pay more attention to his work in the future.

Running Time: 103 minutes
My Total Minutes: 231,636

Monday, April 11, 2011

Jason goes to Bad Movie Night and watches FOXY BROWN

Blaxploitation month continues. Pam Grier takes down an evil, passionless white bitch (to be fair, maybe the character wasn't passionless, maybe the actress was just terrible) who killed her boyfriend. And she gets her tits out a few time, which is nice.

The biggest problem is that the plot hinges on her junkie brother recognizing her "new" boyfriend is really her old boyfriend--a government agent who faked his own death. Now maybe I'm not the target audience, but to my eye the only two characters who don't look alike are...

Ah, fuck it, I can't finish that joke.

Oh yeah, and spoiler alert: it's got a penis-severing scene. Not graphic, but I still love a good ol' cinematic de-phallusing.

This might just be the best bad movie ever!

Running Time: 94 minutes
My Total Minutes: 231,533

Jason goes to the Niles Film Museum and sees SONS OF THE DESERT

SONS OF THE DESERT isn't just the name of a hilarious Laurel and Hardy film, it's also the name of the official Laurel and Hardy film appreciation society (not a fan club, by the express wishes of Stan Laurel they don't have a fan club, but a film appreciation society), and once a month the local "tent" (the MIDNIGHT PATROL tent) meets at the Niles Film Museum and hosts an afternoon of Laurel and Hardy/Our Gang talkies. And yesterday they played SONS OF THE DESERT.

But first, a couple of shorts:

ARBOR DAY (1936): Our Gang celebrates Arbor Day with a pageant and tree-planting ceremony. Of course wacky hijinx ensue. And a couple of midgets escaped from the circus get in on the act. Plus it has future Oscar winner Hattie McDaniel in a brief (but speaking) role as Buckwheat's mother.

BUSY BODIES (1933): One of the most plotless but funniest Laurel and Hardy shorts--they go to their job in a lumber mill and totally wreck the place. Awesome!

And finally the feature, SONS OF THE DESERT (1933): Laurel and Hardy are in a fraternal organization and take an oath to join the national convention in Chicago. Now they just need their wive's permission. Or failing that, they need to get there without their wives knowing. Hilarious, and a great supporting role by under-appreciated comic Charley Chase.

Total Running Time: 107 minutes
My Total Minutes: 231,439

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Jason watches HANNA

And the punchline is that Hanna (Saoirse Ronan), the titular bad-ass child raised in the Arctic by rogue spy Erik (Eric Bana) is supposed to be "abnormal." But really, no one in this movie is normal. Beyond the spy intrigue among Hanna, Erik, and spymaster Marissa (Cate Blanchett), she meets an absurdly non-traditional hippie family, a kindly Moroccan innkeeper, and a bizarre magician living in an abandoned Grimm-themed amusement park. Plus the background is littered with people--cripples, homeless, etc.--living on the fringes of society.

The movie tries to have it both ways--being a thoughtful character drama and a stylish spy action thriller. Inevitably, there will have to be scenes where it fails--the action is often too cartoonish (particularly her first escape) to sustain believability. But the action is totally cool. Once I got into the mindset that this movie will occasionally flip a switch and turn instantly from 'character drama' to 'cool action flick' and back, I enjoyed the ride, as bumpy as it was.

Running Time: 111 minutes
My Total Minutes: 231,332

Monday, April 4, 2011

Jason goes to Bad Movie Night and watches SHAFT

Kicking off blaxploitation month at BMN. Now I know this is a delicate subject, I have been known in the past to make some insensitive racial remarks in my attempts at humor (perhaps not so much in the pages of this blog, but certainly at Bad Movie Night). My claim is that these comic attempts are actually parodies and deconstructions of racism and racist humor, but I know that's a fine line to walk and not everyone will be on board. So I could attempt to walk this fine line while poking fun at the movie's turtleneck wearing titular bad mother-[watch your mouth!] But I also want to make it very clear that I like blackies! Blacky blacky blacky! Blacky! Blackyblacky blackyblackyblacky! Blacky blackyblacky blackyblacky! Blacky blacky blacky blacky blackyblackyblacky! Blackyblacky blackyblacky blackyblacky blackyblackyblacky! Blacky blackyblacky blackyblacky blacky blacky blacky! Blacky blacky blackyblacky blackyblacky blacky, blacky blacky! Blackyblacky, blacky--blackyblacky! Blacky, blacky blacky; blackyblacky blacky!

Blacky blacky blacky blacky blackyblackyblacky! Blackyblacky blackyblacky blackyblacky blackyblackyblacky! Blacky blackyblacky blackyblacky jungle bunny blacky blacky! Blacky blacky (blackyblacky) blackyblacky blacky, blacky blacky! Blackyblacky, blacky--blackyblacky! Blacky, blacky blacky blackyblacky blacky!

Running Time: 100 minutes
My Total Minutes: 231,321

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Jason watches HOP

I like bunnies! Bunny bunny bunny! BUNNY! Bunnybunny bunnybunnybunny! Bunny bunnybunny bunnybunny! Bunny bunny bunny bunny bunnybunnybunny! Bunnybunny bunnybunny bunnybunny bunnybunnybunny! Bunny bunnybunny bunnybunny bunny bunny bunny! Bunny bunny bunnybunny bunnybunny bunny, bunny bunny! Bunnybunny, bunny--bunnybunny! Bunny, bunny bunny; bunnybunny bunny!

Bunny bunny bunny bunny bunnybunnybunny! Bunnybunny bunnybunny bunnybunny bunnybunnybunny! Bunny bunnybunny bunnybunny bunny bunny bunny! Bunny bunny (bunnybunny) bunnybunny bunny, bunny bunny! Bunnybunny, bunny--bunnybunny! Bunny, bunny bunny bunnybunny bunny!

Bunning Time: 95 minutes
My Total Minutes: 231,221


Jason watches SOURCE CODE

I'll say it, Duncan Jones may just be the smartest man working in sci-fi films today. MOON blew me away a couple of years ago, and he has definitely avoided the sophomore curse.

I've ranted before about how most time travel movies are not really about time travel because you can't draw a self-contained Feynman diagram with time-like loops in it. True time travel movies include 12 MONKEYS and TIMECRIMES (go ahead, diagram them). Most time travel movies are really about travel to an alternate world that happens to have the same timeline with our world up until some divergence point. BACK TO THE FUTURE is a prime example, as are the TERMINATOR movies. Well, SOURCE CODE is explicitly a movie about travelling to alternate worlds that share a timeline with ours, or as one character calls it, not time travel but "time reassignment." It's like Duncan Jones (and writer Ben Ripley) get this distinction that bothers me in so many "time travel" movie and explicitly made a great "alternate worlds with the same past timelines" movie.

Jake Gyllenhaal plays Colter Stevens, a pilot fighting in Afghanistan who wakes up a train in Chicago. 8 minutes later, while he's still trying to figure out where he is, the train explodes. And then he wakes up in a pod, where military officers talk to him, and explain the source code. It's a device (based on quantum mechanics and parabolic algebra) that allows him to occupy someone else's body in the last 8 minutes of his life. He can't change what happened in the real timeline, but he can figure out who planted the bomb so they can catch him before he sets off his much bigger dirty bomb. Of course, that doesn't explain how Stevens got there...

Okay, so it's extremely high concept, but the concept is well executed (just don't think too hard about the physics or philosophy behind it) and anchored by an excellent performance by Jake Gyllenhaal. In fact, despite opening up the action to numerous characters, at it's best moments SOURCE CODE is as much the one man Jake Gyllenhaal show as MOON was the Sam Rockwell show. And like MOON, we play around with issues of personal identity and the powers that be sabotaging our view of reality. Apparently these are things Duncan Jones likes exploring. And in his hands, I say continue to explore away.

Running Time: 93 minutes
My Total Minutes: 231,126

Friday, April 1, 2011

Jason slips into a Vortex for a little spy action

Back at my favorite underground movie club for the last night of the month long "Agent from V.O.R.T.E.X." series of cult spy movies.

First up SOME GIRLS DO. Sexy lady spies, an experimental aircraft, and some corporate sabotage by some guy who stands to make a ton of money if the aircraft isn't ready on time. Lots of scientists are assassinated, and I think at least some of the girls were robots. I don't know, I kinda dozed off. Too many Manhattans...

But I was back awake in time for THE PRESIDENT'S ANALYST. James Coburn is a psychoanalyst in the swinging 60's. One of his patients is a CEA agent (definitely not the CIA, the CEA) and reveals that he was actually doing a background check to see if he was qualified. See, the President needs someone he can talk to. Someone who can be on call and sworn to secrecy. He takes the job, but it soon becomes too much, and he has a little nervous breakdown and runs away, only to be chased by intelligence agencies from around the world (as well as the FBR...which is totally not the FBI). But he uses his super analyst powers to save not just himself, he saves the world from the worst evil ever...TPC (watch the movie to learn what that means).

Total Running Time: 191 minutes
My Total Minutes: 231,033