Monday, May 30, 2011

Jason goes to bad movie night and watches SURROGATES

Thank god Bruce Willis month is finally over. Now if only they could invent a robot that could've watched this movie for me.

I need to review this about as much as anyone needs to see it. Don't bother, just watch all other sci-fi movies ever made, it steals from all of them. Here's a hint to tell if you're watching SURROGATES. Check to see if there's a single original idea in the movie. If the answer is, "yes" then no, you're not watching SURROGATES.

Running Time: 89 minutes
My Total Minutes: 237,066

Jason watches THE HANGOVER II

And it's exactly like the first one. Crude, sometimes funny, mostly just shocking. Plus they've moved it to Thailand, so they can make some vaguely racist observations about Bangkok. But at least I got some more Zach Galifianakis for my become-a-Zach-Galifianakis-fan project (he was good in it, as before, as the blissfully unaware instigator).

Best part of the movie: when the family with little girls sitting next to me got up and left. I won't spoil the scene, but they got up and left right was too late.

Running Time: 102 minutes
My Total Minutes: 236,977

Jason goes to the Niles Film Museum and sees IT

As in IT, starring Clara Bow, The "It" Girl (formerly the Brooklyn Bonfire, this is the movie that gave her the nickname that stuck).

But first a couple of shorts, on ladies night at Niles.

THE NEW YORK HAT (1912): Mary Pickford's mother passes away, leaving her a very special inheritance in the care of the pastor. See, with her miserly father she'll never need for food or shelter, but she will have no joy. So the pastor is in charge of money to buy her things she wants, but doesn't need. Of course, for some reason she doesn't know that. And when the pastor buys her a fancy new hat, gossipy tongues wag. Pretty funny.

THE DANGER GIRL (1916): A madcap Keystone comedy starring Gloria Swanson, sometimes dressed as a man. To be honest, I couldn't follow half of it, but it was pretty manic. Something about protecting her brother from marrying a "danger" girl.

Then a brief intermission, and the main show

IT (1927): Clara Bow, of course, in her most famous role. Based on the novel by Madame Elinor Glyn, who helpfully shows up in the movie to explain exactly what "It" is--pure, honest sex appeal. Clara Bow as Betty Lou, of course, has "It." So does her wealthy employer, Cyrus Waltham (Antonio Moreno). So they'd be a perfect match, as long as Cyrus' assistant Monty Montgomery (decidedly "It"-less comic relief courtesy of William Austin) doesn't get in the way. Of course, no good deed goes unpunished, and for helping her kind-hearted but down-on-her-luck neighbor keep her baby, Betty Lou gets branded with an undeserved reputation. But not even that can keep someone with "It" down. Brilliant and sexy, from when Hollywood knew how to make them that way.

Next week at Niles, check out Charlie Chaplin Days, with all the movies Charlie made in Niles (matinee shows) and the regular Saturday night show is THE KID with Jackie Coogan.

Total Running Time: 106 minutes
My Total Minutes: 236,875

Jason watches WIN WIN

Part of my ongoing project of taking too many business trips to Cleveland, and while I'm there checking out the cool places for cinephiles. Last week was the Cedar Lee Theatre. Like most art house cinemas it's in a bit of disrepair, but it has a great program and you can get a beer with your movie--awesome! I had the good fortune of going there on a night there was a thunderstorm. I was one of only three people in the screening, and an usher came up before the show and explained that if the power went out or the storm warning increased, we would evacuate and take shelter in the basement. That didn't happen, but I did get to listen to the booming thunder outside all through the movie. It wasn't really the right movie for that.

As for the movie, WIN WIN showcases the acting talent of Paul Giamatti as Mike Flaherty, a struggling lawyer and volunteer wrestling coach. The title seems ironic at first, with not much winning in either his professional life (he doesn't even have money to fix the furnace, which might go at any moment) or his wrestling team. He pulls a bit of a fast one when he volunteers to be the legal guardian for a wealthy but senile client Leo Poplar (Burt Young) and then cashes the checks while putting him in a home. All well and good (and illegal/unethical) until Leo's grandson comes to visit. He's got a story about how he can't go back home to his mother, and this seems like just another headache for Mike until it turns out the kid is a brilliant wrestler. In fact, there might eventually be some winning going on. Or instead his past misdeeds will catch up with him. Good acting and well rounded characters.

Running Time: 106 minutes
My Total Minutes: 236,769

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Jason goes to Bad Movie Night and watched THE FIFTH ELEMENT

And it's just like the actual fifth element of the periodic table, that it's a combination of boring and moronic. Although I have to give Chris Tucker some credit, it's refreshing to absolutely loathe the black guy without being labelled a racist. Other than that, there are some glimpses of Mila Jovovich's boobies, so it's not all bad.

Running Time: 126 minutes
My Total Minutes: 236,663

Sunday, May 22, 2011


Unless I'm misremembering, the third POTC movie ended with Jack Sparrow "dead"...ish. That is, he had taken over Davy Jones' role as captain of the Flying Dutchman, ushering souls of the departed into the underworld. Or something like that. Anyway, ON STRANGER TIDES makes no effort to explain how he's no longer in that role. He's just...back in the land of the living. So I spent the first 5 minutes wondering why Jack Sparrow isn't dead...and the last two hours wishing I was.

In the closing credits, we learn the movie is "suggested by" the novel by Tim Powers, but apparently it was actually scripted by a mechanical plot-twist generating device. By far the worst plot twists are at the end, setting up the inevitable sequels.

You know, there was a time, early on in this series, that Geoffrey Rush as Barbossa could hold my full attention just by eating an apple and waxing poetic about his inability to taste anything. Now I don't give a damn when Ian McShane's Black Beard waves his hands and makes the rigging fly around capturing everyone. All flash, no character, even for the characters who used to have character.

Running Time: 137 minutes
My Total Minutes: 236,537

Jason slips into a Vortex and sees BLOW-UP

Of course, I did down four martinis before hand, so I don't necessarily remember all of it. I do remember the hero is a somewhat sleazy photographer who lives in a world of drugs, sex, and fashion. And apparently there was something about a murder.

I love the Vortex, but I did kind of overdo it.

Running Time: 111 minutes
My Total Minutes: 236,400

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Jason watches RIO in 3D

And I finally, finally understand what's going on in Angry Birds Rio. Not that it makes the game any better, but definitely count me as a win for the marketers who came up with that partnership. I wouldn't have seen the movie were it not for the game. It's predictable but reasonably fun. It's kid's entertainment. And as an adult I suppose I could make some observation about how "flying" in the movie is a metaphor for sexual awakening...but I should stay away from that.

Running Time: 96 minutes
My Total Minutes: 236,289

Jason goes to Bad Movie Night and watches LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD

Is this a trick question? Given the choices, I'd rather Live Free.

So I have a certain amount of affection for the DIE HARD franchise. The first one is a true classic, a blueprint for its own genre. It had a good setup, a nicely claustrophobic setting, and (I shudder to say this, but) an engaging hero and some kick-ass stunts.

DIE HARD 2 followed basically the same format. And in fact, by sticking so strictly to the same formula (even bringing back an incidental character like Sgt. Al Powell) it becomes pretty silly. And I'm sorry, but the grenade scene was ridiculous and the special effects in that stunt didn't age well. But I don't hate the movie. It's a product of its time and it's fun.

DIE HARD: WITH A VENGEANCE I have an odd amount of affection for. See, it came out while I was in college, and at my school we had a tradition of "Ditch Day" where the seniors would leave campus and the underclassmen would try to get into their rooms. Tradition was that the seniors would leave behind a series of challenges to get into the room, sending the students all over the campus (or city) to collect clues and finally get into the room, where there would be a bribe of treats and/or toys. DIE HARD: WITH A VENGEANCE seems like an action movie based on Ditch Day, and if I recall correctly it came out on Ditch Day +/- a few days (or that's just when I saw it). So maybe it's objectively silly but it holds a special place in my heart.

LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD sucks!!! If my uncle raped me for its entire running time, and I only had the mental ability to block out one thing, I would still be whimpering about the horrible, horrible day when my uncle sodomized me for 2 hours, 8 minutes AND NOTHING ELSE HAPPENED.

I think I've made my opinion clear.

Running Time: 128 minutes
My Total Minutes: 236,193

Jason goes to the Roxie for the I Wake Up Dreaming Noir Festival

So the Roxie is in the middle of a two week Noir Festival. I can't make it up to much of it, but I did catch one day, two movies:

THE NIGHT HAS A THOUSAND EYES (1948): The movie opens with Jean Courtland (Gail Russell) about to throw her self off a walkway onto a train. Luckily her fiancée Elliot Carson (John Lund) gets to her just in time. She says something about the stars haunting her, and he takes her to a diner where they mead John Triton (Edward G. Robinson), someone they clearly know. He spins a fantastical tale about how he used to be a carnival psychic. A complete fraud, until he started having real visions. And that, in a reasonably circuitous route, leads us to this moment, with Triton predicting Jean will die by the end of the week, under a starry sky. Ominous...or maybe he's a con artist. An odd bit of supernatural(?) noir, with a cool performance by William Demarest as the sarcastic, skeptical detective Lt. Shawn.

THE SPIRITUALIST (aka THE AMAZING MR. X) (1948): We stick with the psychic theme and a woman in trouble. This time Christine Faber (Lynn Bari) thinks she hears he dead husband Paul (Donald Curtis) calling to her. On the beach she meets the mysterious and suave psychic Alexis (Turhan Bey). And he might just be able to help her...or scam her and her entire family out of a vast fortune.

Both films were pretty silly, with THE SPIRITUALIST being more so (or more intentionally so). But it was still a pretty good night.

Total Running Time: 160 minutes
My Total Minutes: 236,065

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Jason watches I SAW THE DEVIL

Took a little business trip to Cleveland last week, and while I was there I checked out the Cleveland Cinematheque. Nice that it's an auditorium in the Cleveland Institute of Art that has pretty cool programs coming up. The seats sort of need replacing. I know nothing of their financial situation, but I wouldn't be surprised to learn they're struggling as much as many art house cinemas across the nation. So to any of my Cleveland readers, be sure to support the Cinematheque as much as possible. It's not like you have anything else like it in town.

Okay, as for the movie. I SAW THE DEVIL is a brutally gruesome Korean horror-thriller. I've seen enough Korean (and other Asian) thrillers to know mostly what to expect. There's a sadistic psychotic killer, a dedicated cop, a cat and mouse game, and usually the cop wins but only after the psycho takes out the one person the cop cares most about. And while I SAW THE DEVIL kind of follows that formula, it also pushes it to gruesome extremes. First it just pours way more blood on the screen than most films. But the true bit of sadistic genius is making the good guy (a secret agent. The psycho kills his wife in the opening scenes) just as sadistic as the killer. He hunts down the killer pretty quickly actually. But instead of just killing him or bringing him in to the police, he beats the crap out of him and plants a bug on him. That way he (the "good" guy) can track the psycho and repeatedly kick the crap out of him. I suppose you can find some philosophical point in there about the nature of revenge. But really it's an excuse to continually up the ante on gory physical violence. So if you're into that (as I admit I am), it's a beautifully guilty pleasure. After all, nobody films torture quite as well as the Koreans.

Running Time: 141 minutes
My Total Minutes: 235,905

Monday, May 9, 2011

Jason hosts Bad Movie Night--COLOR OF NIGHT

Let me just say that quite a few Bad Movies are actually kind of fun. They can be enjoyed on their own terms, but are also fun to make fun of (e.g., FOXY BROWN). But COLOR OF NIGHT really is very, very, very, sincerely bad.

Anyway, it's Bruce Willis month, and why couldn't I have hosted a good Bruce Willis movie, like...okay, I can't think of one, but they're pretty much all better than this. Willis plays a psychiatrist whose patient kills herself, and the sight of the blood renders him colorblind. If only it could've rendered me colorblind...without the color part. It's got a hell of a cast--Brad Dourif, Lance Henriksen, Scott Bakula (who wisely gets killed as quickly as he can), Lesley Ann Warren...not that any of them would admit to it if they have any self respect left. Oh, and you get to see Bruce Willis' penis. That's not a selling point.

Running Time: 121 minutes
My Total Minutes: 235,764

Jason watches THOR in IMAX 3D

And it's fun. Chris Hemsworth must've been a saint in his past life to get an iconic role as a god in a story with accents of King Arthur and Jesus Christ (spoiler). This'll either make him a star or be the only memorable thing he ever does. Meanwhile Kenneth Branagh takes a break from doing nothing that anyone really cares about for a decade to make a light, fun, and funny comic book movie. More than anything, what struck me is Thor's unrelenting positiveness. He has this Norse god cheerfulness that isn't diminished in the slightest when he's stripped of his power and becomes mortal. Nobody loves being Thor more than Thor.

And that's it. Fun, funny, probably not too consequential. And I have no interest in being the thousandth person to write about it. So I end here.

Running Time: 114 minutes
My Total Minutes: 235,643

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Jason goes to the Niles Film Museum to see Gary Cooper in NEVADA

But first, a couple of shorts:

THE NARROW ROAD (1912): America's Sweetheart Mary Pickford stars in this early Biograph short. She anxiously awaits her husband's return from prison. He's determined to stay on the straight and narrow, but his counterfeiting biddy has other plans. A funny morality tale, and if I'm not mistaken I saw a Max Davidson cameo in there.

MANY SCRAPPY RETURNS (1927): My favorite forgotten funnyman Charley Chase is in his element. And that element is marital strife. He seems to have a fine marriage, it's his brother who always fights with his wife. So Charley and his wife stage a mock fight to teach them a lesson. Things get out of hand, culminating in a hilarious and perfectly times extended gag of everyone running around among adjoining rooms, never quite running in to each other.

Then an intermission, and on to the feature. But first, the musical accompanist, Jon Mirsalis at his Kurzweil electric organ, gave a brief demonstration of the art of accompanying a silent film. Very few of the thousands of silent features had full scores written. Some more had cue sheets, but for the vast majority the pianist was left to his or her own devices. And Mirsalis did an excellent demonstration of how what you play doesn't matter, it's how you play it. He played "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" in several different styles, ranging from romance to western and everything in between. Very illuminating.

And the feature, NEVADA (1927). Gary Cooper, William Powell, and Thelma Todd...all before they were really famous. It's a somewhat standard B Western. Cooper plays Nevada, wanted for killing a man back in Lineville. But he feels the tide of history turning--it's no longer the wild west, but a place where law will reign and he wants to change to the right side of it. The pursuing sheriff makes that kind of hard, especially when he's accused of being in cahoots with a gang of rustlers. William Powell co-stars as the bad guy (he was the villain in a lot of silent films before becoming a hero in the talkies) and Thelma Todd is the love interest--the main impetus for him turning good. Pretty good.

Total Running Time (estimated): 97 minutes
My Total Minutes: 235,529

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Jason goes to SFIFF--Closing Night

But I chose not to attend the closing festivities. Instead I decided the best way to end a film festival, in my utterly exhausted and brain dead state, is with a 3 hour film that requires a little extra concentration.

AURORA is a crime story, but one carefully stripped of all genre elements. Viorel (director Cristi Puiu is a quiet man who goes about his life in Bucharest. He redecorates his apartment. He talks to the upstairs neighbors when their son overflows the bathtub and causes some water damage on his roof. He cleans and tests his guns. And eventually we (the audience) catch on that he's planning a shooting. I hate to say this, but it kind of reminded me of BULLET IN THE HEAD. I hate to say that because I hated BULLET IN THE HEAD, while I didn't hate AURORA. At 3 hours it's tedious, often boring, and always a challenge. But I didn't hate it, I was fascinated by it.

And that's how my SFIFF 2011 ended.

Running Time: 181 minutes
My Total Minutes: 235,432

Friday, May 6, 2011

Jason goes to the penultimate day of SFIFF

As regular readers know, I like the word, "penultimate."

Another night, another two movies.

First up, THE TRIP, which reunites Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon, and director Michael Winterbottom from the hilarious TRISTRAM SHANDY: A COCK AND BULL STORY. Coogan has an assignment writing restaurant reviews for the Observer. His girlfriend, who's the real foodie, was going to accompany him, but had to go to America. So he calls up his old pal Rob, and they set out on the road together. And that's about it. It's as close to "about nothing" as you can get, but very, very funny. They're two showmen who can't ever let the spotlight be on anyone but them, so they're constantly cracking jokes at each other, and especially doing impressions (they have a running contest over who does the best Michael Caine). There is some stuff in there about career anxiety (especially a brief but awesome Ben Stiller cameo), but it's hard to care about the worries of someone who makes a lavish living entertaining people. And that's when they're at their best--when they're entertaining. Or when Rob is challenging Steve by asking him if he'd let his son contract a painful disease (from which he would make a full recovery) if it meant he (Steve) would win an Oscar.

And then I saw BLACK BREAD, a dark look at the Spanish Civil War through the eyes of a child but not featuring Pan or his Labyrinth. Instead, it features politics, reprisals and murder. Oh yeah, it starts with a murder. A very gruesome murder that literally made my jaw drop. Young Andreu finds the dead bodies, and recognizes his friend. And his trauma is complete when his father is accused of the crime--perhaps truly, or perhaps as political retribution. Anyway his father goes into hiding, his mother works extra shifts, and he is sent to live with relatives. And in this environment he has to try to make sense of the world as he's growing up (including young love. Creepy, young love). A fantastic, traumatic story with a lot of great performances. No wonder it took in such a big haul at the Goya awards (Spain's equivalent of the Oscars).

Total Running Time: 215 minutes
My Total Minutes: 235,251

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Jason goes to SFIFF--Day 13

Okay, it's getting to me, I'm exhausted. Of course that didn't stop me from seeing two more movies last Tuesday night, starting with LETTERS FROM THE BIG MAN, a Bigfoot movie that is one of the oddest by virtue of playing it totally straight. Sarah is an artist who has recently broken up with her boyfriend. She takes off, leaves no forwarding address, and takes a job surveying old growth forests (especially their regrowth after a devastating fire) in Oregon. I should start by saying how much I love the Pacific Northwest. I grew up in Bellingham, WA (until my junior high years when we moved to Anchorage, AK) and you'd be hard pressed to convince me there's a more beautiful place on earth than the forests of the Pacific Northwest. So if this movie was just 100 minutes of her sitting in the wilderness with beautiful shots of the forests and streams, I'd groove on it and be homesick for a place I haven't called home in over two decades. But there's also a story, that's a bonus! And that story involves Bigfoot spying on her, a political intrigue involving deforestation and government researchers, and perhaps a new love. There's never a big "wow, we found Bigfoot!" moment, just a series of quiet encounters and gradually acceptance. There's a little pseudo-scientific explanation (which frankly I could've done without) about how Bigfoot can control ultra-low sounds to either terrify enemies or put people completely at ease. It borders on making Bigfoot a metaphor for nature--that depending on how you approach it and your state of mind, it's beautiful and calming or incredibly dangerous (or, for that matter, an economic opportunity). But I decided I prefer to avoid the metaphor and accept Bigfoot as a character like anyone else in the movie, simple but powerful.

And then TABLOID, the newest film by Errol Morris, and perhaps the most controversial ticket in the fest, spurred by the film's subject protesting outside the theater. I have to admit I put this on my schedule as soon as I read the name Errol Morris, and didn't know more about the subject. As fellow blogger/tweeter Brian Darr/@hellonfriscobay put it, that's the right way to see it. So I'll now attempt to describe it without giving anything away:

Joyce McKinney is the star/subject, and some time in the past she was a subject of the tabloids. Mr. Morris got her to talk about it, and the result is his funniest movie far. He also interviews other related characters--her friends, cohorts, tabloid writers, and while everyone gets to spin their side of the story no one really comes off looking good. But it's easy to tell how McKinney got into trouble. She likes talking about herself, she's funny and engaging, and she has a penchant for making quotes that writers can run with. And it seems she might have just done it again on film.

So Errol Morris was there to introduce the film (which he said was his favorite so far. The rest of his films took him some time and distance to appreciate), but he didn't stay for a Q&A. kind of disappointing, but I did have to run to catch a bus to BART to home anyway, so I wouldn't have been able to stay long. McKinney was there, and a small crowd gathered around her (and her doggy, I think she said it was Booger-Lee) to listen to her. I did hear her say how Morris had approached her saying he was doing a series on paparazzi victims for Showtime, and she thought if he used her at all it would be a brief clip amongst several other victims. She never knew he would make a feature film all about her. That appears to be at least part of her anger at the film. Although I have to say in person she was pleasant, engaging, and still way too eager to talk about herself.

Total Running Time: 192 minutes
My Total Minutes: 236,043

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Jason goes to SFIFF--Day 12

Now we're really heading down the final stretch.

Two more movies last night, starting with the French-Canadian Oscar submission INCENDIES. It's a very well constructed, overly melodramatic piece of excess. Twins Jeanne and Simon Marwan are given instructions in their mother's last will and testament. Their previously unknown father and brother are still alive, and her will instructs them to go to Unnamed-istan (somewhere in the Middle East), find them, and deliver a letter to each of them. Simon refuses, but Jeanne is game. And while she's there she learns horrifying things about her mother's past. How she barely escaped the violence of a civil war, how she assassinated a right-wing militant leader. How she was tortured in prison. And ultimately the complex web results in a bizarre, unbelievable climactic reveal. It's an odd movie, while I was in it I was drawn in by the power of the highly accomplished cinema. As soon as it was over and the applause died down I realized exactly how absurdly overblown the melodrama was. I don’t know, maybe your mileage will vary, but I just couldn't swallow that story taking itself so earnestly.

And then I saw the documentary I've been hearing everyone in the festival lounge talking about (other than HOT COFFEE), CRIME AFTER CRIME. Let me start by saying only twice in my life have I jumped to my feet and given a film a standing ovation without first checking to see if anyone else was standing. The first was the documentary THE RITCHIE BOYS at Cinequest in 2005, and of course this was the second. The case of Deborah Peagler is so compelling that as long as you laid out the facts, put her on screen, and the camera was at least close to in focus, you'd have a good documentary. So it's just a bonus that director Yoav Potash (FOOD STAMPED from this year's Indiefest) also knows what he's doing. Deborah was in an abusive relationship with a man who forced her into prostitution back in the 80's. She conspired with some local gang members to beat him up so he'd leave her alone. Well, they beat him a little too hard and killed him. Sure, she bears some responsibility, but the prosecution at the time went for the death penalty with a (very weak) case that she conspired in cold blood to collect his insurance money. At the time, evidence of abuse wasn't presented at trial (although the D.A. knew about it), and they intimidated her into a plea of first degree murder with a sentence of 25 years to life (as opposed to a more appropriate manslaughter charge, which would've carried at a maximum 6 years). Some 20 years later, California became the first (and still only) state to pass a law allowing women to reopen their cases if they were victims of abuse and that abuse had some bearing on their crime. Seems like her case is clear cut, right? Whatever she did, she's more than paid for it, and you just have to let justice work it out. Well, that's what pro bono team Joshua Safran and Nadia Costa thought. What they didn't count on was a parole board with little interest in hearing this new evidence. A court system with little interest in (or perhaps even understanding of) the new law, and especially an Los Angeles D.A. office that seems politically motivated to avoid the embarrassment (and possible civil action) of admitting to decades of wrongful imprisonment. The estimated 6 month pro bono project becomes 5 years, as parole, appeals, etc. are denied. Most disheartening is a written deal with the D.A.'s office that is then withdrawn.

You know, I could say more but I think I've said enough. Check out the movie when it comes out (should be August in the Bay Area), and check out the movie website here to learn more, and especially click on The Campaign link to find out what you can do to help other women in similar circumstances.

Total Running Time: 223 minutes
My Total Minutes: 235,851

Monday, May 2, 2011

Jason goes to SFIFF--Day 11

I stayed out late Saturday for the late show, and yet I was still back at the Kabuki bright and early for the member's screening. That turned out to be BUCK, the Sundance Audience Award winning documentary about Buck Brannaman, the 'real' horse whisperer. It's a well made and compelling piece of hero worship, and Buck's a pretty convincing hero. A soft-spoken, gentle man who doesn't 'break' horses, he 'starts' them. He's also a very funny man who jokes that after working as a consultant and Robert Redford's double in THE HORSE WHISPERER (confession, I haven't seen that movie) that he (Redford) was getting pretty good and if the acting thing doesn't pay off he could make a living as a cowboy. Underneath it all, and pulled out very slowly, is that he had a horrible childhood. He and his brother were child stars doing rope tricks blindfolded. But for all their fame (including a national commercial), their father beat them mercilessly. Much later in life, he can pontificate about how he can feel for the horses because he understands the cruelty and fear in traditional horse 'breaking.' But to the movie's credit, it balances well the pain in his past with the peace and contentment in his present, and celebrates the man he has become rather than obsessing about the abused boy he was.

Next up, a pairing of French animated children's programs starting with the short SPECKY FOUR EYES. Arnaud has awful eyesight, but with his imagination he sees more in the blurry shapes than people with 20/20 vision. Too bad his parents force him to wear thick glasses and act like an adult.

That led into the feature film A CAT IN PARIS. Leave it to the French to make a hero of a cat burglar, but the fact is nimble Nico is actually quite the gentleman. His faithful companion during his night raids is an actual cat, Dino. But during the day, Dino is the pet of Zoe, a little girl who is too shy to say a word. Her mom is the police commissioner, and she has no time for Zoe because she works too hard trying to catch mob boss Costa. But when Costa's gang kidnaps Zoe, Nico becomes the hero using his cat burglar skills to rescue and protect her. A charming little movie that shows traditional hand drawn animation doesn't need 3D or fancy computer graphics to have a lot of heart.

Next up, THE DISH AND THE SPOON, a wonderfully acted two-person story of a woman breaking down after her husband betrays her, and about the new friend she meets. The movie opens with Rose (Greta Gerwig) driving through gray, wintry Delaware, wiping the tears from her face. She stops, goes into a convenience store and with the last of her money buys a pack of donuts and 5/6 of a pack of beer (provided by Dogfish Head Brewery). Her plan is to go to an abandoned lighthouse and eat donuts and drink beer. But that's interrupted when she finds a wild-haired English boy (Olly Alexander) huddling in the lighthouse. He's clearly been through his own trauma, and looks a bit sick so Rose carries him to her car and tries to take him to the hospital. But instead, they end up at an empty beach house (I think it was Rose's relative's summer house? The important thing is it's empty at the moment). There the commiserate and plan revenge on her husband and especially the little bitch he cheated on her with. Meanwhile there might just be a new romance brewing between them--or they might just be play-acting to cover their recent pains.

I left the movie thinking it was wonderfully acted, well made, and "quirky." I'm glad I talked to a couple of women in the lounge who assured me the odd behavior is perfectly realistic. Yes, they do odd things (like dress in drag or pretend they're married), but I was assured this quirky behavior is entirely in keeping with the actions of a betrayed woman.

I'll also add that Gerwig's rants on the phone were excellent, and her explication of Thanksgiving (that while the relationship between the white settlers and the Native Americans didn't really work out well, but we still celebrate the time they ate together) really stuck with me.

Oh, so I mentioned I went to the lounge. Yay, free drinks! The benefits of being press. But I feel like I should go to cinema confession and admit I had a chance to squeeze in an extra movie (even an outside chance of getting to the Castro for Serge Bromberg's program) but chose to drink for an hour and a half instead. I know I'm weak, but I ended up only seeing 4 movies on Sunday.

And that fourth movie was a doozy, Takashi Miike's celebration of battle 13 ASSASSINS (oddly, it was in line for this movie that I learned Osama Bin Laden had been killed. Interesting coincidence). Anyway, I won't swear to the historical accuracy of any of this, but here's the story: In the waning decades of the Shogun era, it was a time of peace (as opposed to the famed time of war of earlier generations). Lord Naritsuga, a well protected relative of the Shogun, is exceedingly--even comically--cruel. One scene--showing a woman he delimbed and used as a plaything before he grew tired and cast her aside--showcases the trademark Miike extreme abusive absurdity. But other than that he plays it comparatively straight (for him), showing the lords conspiring against Naritsuga and hiring famed samurai Shinzaemon to assassinate him. Of course, Shinzaemon needs help, and he recruits another dozen samurai to fill out the group. Okay, one isn't a samurai but a total kickass mountain man who provides excellent comic relief, but still think of it as nearly doubling up Kurosawa's SEVEN SAMURAI. They set their trap and prepare for a bloody battle against Naritsuga and hundreds of his soldiers, knowing full well that almost no one will survive. And that final battle is a non-stop 45 minutes of action. Traps, walls collapsing, explosives, swordfights, gunfights, fistfights... It's just amazingly staged and executed, and I would say exhausting but I was actually more amped up at the end then at the beginning. I suppose you could argue it's little more than an expertly crafted glorification of battle, but there's still something convincing and compelling in that glory. And on a night when America celebrates the end of the battle against public enemy #1, I find it hard to complain that a movie (especially a Miike movie) glorifies killing a truly evil guy.

And that's the end of the second weekend at SFIFF. We're really on the home stretch now.

Total Running Time: 380 minutes
My Total Minutes: 234,628

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Jason goes to SFIFF--Day 10

Big Saturday program, so let's get straight to the movies:

First up, a Hong Kong romantic comedy about smokers, LOVE IN A PUFF. This isn't actually in the movie, but it brought to mind a statement by Nobel Prize winning physicist (and one of my personal heroes) Richard Feynman, who said that if he could save one sentence about physics to pass down to a civilization that lost all of our scientific knowledge, it would be this: The world is made up of particles that attract each other from a distance but when they get very close they change to repelling each other. LOVE IN A PUFF makes the same statement about humans. It's well made and very funny. It shows how strict laws about no-smoking zones actually bring smokers together when their backgrounds and professions usually wouldn't. However, when everyone has a lit fire a few inches from your mouth, there's only so close you can get without getting burned. Smokers are by nature friendly (at least with each other) but always playing it cool. A parallel is shown with texting--a technology that brings people somewhat together while keeping them at a distance just short of intimacy.

It's in this environment that we meet Johnny and Cheri. There's a pretty immediate attraction, but they're both holding back. Johnny just broke up (his girlfriend was cheating with a French diplomat) and Cheri is in a stale relationship. At one point, she describes how an ex once gave up smoking because he left her for a non-smoker. She explains that she hasn't found a reason to quit, and when you know she's asthmatic you realize that line really means she hasn't found a reason to live. As her and Johnny's friendship grows to the verge of something more, it's clear that he will eventually provide her with a reason. While their ultimate pairing is predictable, the story of how they got there, complete with all the foibles of casual relationships, is a joy to watch unfold.

The next show started with the short PROTOPARTICLES. Our hero is a walking spacesuit. While he goes through the most mundane daily tasks, he explains how he he got that way. An experiment with tachyons turned him into "protomatter" retaining his consciousness but not his physical form. The protomatter was contained I his spacesuit, however. The experiment also sent him 96 years in the past and made him immortal, so he's just biding his time until he can share the greatest secret in the universe with the scientists who did this to him. Regular readers know what a time-travel geek I am, so it's no surprise I loved this smartly simple short.

That short was the lead-in for A USEFUL LIFE, the story of the struggling Cinemateca Uruguaya in Montevideo. Shot in beautiful black and white, reminiscent of the classic old films that play there, it tells the fictional story of Jorge, who has worked there for decades. He programs series, does a radio show, repairs equipment, and chats with the small but loyal group of patrons.But the Cinemateca is a relic--outdated, falling apart, and simply not economically viable. So it's losing its support, and he's losing the thing that brought meaning to his life. It's full of wonderful deadpan humor (the classroom scene alone is brilliant). And despite what the rest of the world might think, it definitely shows a life of viewing, exhibiting, and studying films is useful (so of course it goes over well at a film fest).

Next up was ASLEEP IN THE SUN, which I instantly tweeted might be my favorite of the festival. That's always a very dynamic distinction, and can easily change (I don't really know what sticks with me until a few weeks later), but I will say it impressed me enough that I bought the book it's based on right away.

The story is about Lucio and Diana. He's an unemployed watchmaker, she's his mildly crazy wife. She's had treatments before, but still has episodes, particularly dealing with talking dogs. More or less their life is nice, though, living in a pleasant part of 1950's Buenos Aires. But a family friend recommends a doctor who can really cure her, they go to him and then things get weird. She's taken away for treatment where he can't visit her, and when she returns she's beyond "cured," she's a completely different person. Lucio investigates and his life turns into a surreal nightmare. The hospital and the actor playing the doctor are wonderfully comically creepy (oh yeah, important thing about the movie--it's subtly funny), and the atmosphere builds and builds. Although there are plenty of hints as to what's going on, the mystery is so delicious that it's kind of a letdown when it's explained at the end. Great movie.

Oh yeah, and it barely kept the festival pregnancy theme alive as there's a quick reference to a neighbor who is pregnant. However, the next film, END OF ANIMAL, definitely keeps the theme alive. In fact, the main character is a pregnant teenager, Soon-young. She's taking a taxi to her mother's house, when a strange young man flags down the taxi and hops on board, sharing the ride. He starts talking to her and to the driver, and it becomes clear that he knows everything about them. Not just that he's been stalking them, like he has supernatural knowledge, both of their past and future. A future that will very quickly contain a blinding white flash, followed by darkness and nothing that depends on electricity will work (most importantly cars and cell phones). He predicts it, counts down, and it happens. It's hard to tell if this supernatural man is benevolent, malevolent, or just chaotic. He reappears at convenient times, and at one time he refers to himself as God before saying he's just kidding. What is clear is that Soon-young is in for a torturous night. She eschews advice (both from the taxi driver and the supernatural man) to stay in the car, and things go from bad to worse. First time feature director Jo Sung-hee made this film with a graduate grant from the Korean Academy of Film Arts, and he throws so much in the movie that just when you think you have a handle on what it's about, it slips through your fingers again. I can't tell you what it all amounts to, but I loved it, I'd welcome an opportunity to re-watch it, and I want to see what he makes next.

And then I had to run to the next theater for the late show screening of Takeshi Kitano's highly anticipated return to the gangster genre, OUTRAGE. I couldn't begin to describe the twists and turns in yakuza politics, but it's a brilliantly psychotic story of escalating violence. It all starts when one low-level yakuza family boss becomes friends--in fact, brothers--with a rival while in prison. The chairman doesn't like this, so despite their friendship they have to make a show of hostilities--really just a formality. But the underling sent to do the job, Otomo (Kitano), sends a bit too harsh of a message. He's an effective enforcer, but subtlety is not his style (nor is dentistry, but you have to see the movie to get that). And as the old adage goes, if the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Well, for the yakuza everyone has their own angles and their only tool is violence. Fingers are cut off as apologetic tributes, and rivals (who are more often then not former friends) are executed in increasingly creative ways, leaving very few people standing at the end. Pretty awesome.

Total Running Time: 483 minutes
My Total Minutes: 234,248