Monday, September 26, 2011

Jason watches DRIVE

This is one of those wonderful little cult movies that is best to stumble upon by accident. I envy the people who saw this expecting a romantic crime drama with Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan being all cute together. I don't care if they were shocked and upset with the gruesome violence and hated the experience as a result--that's how I wished I saw it. Instead, I heard about the gruesome violence and wanted to see that. Yeah, it's gruesome, but the violence is also often cartoonishly over-the top. Instead I found myself fascinated by Gosling's quiet, almost walking dead performance. The title seems almost like a joke, as "drive" is what Gosling character does, but also what he seems to lack. He's quiet, makes his living as a mechanic, a sometimes stunt driver, and a sometimes getaway driver (in a rather riveting opening scene, he shows his talents at being quiet and inconspicuous when that serves the purpose and being fast and daring when he has to). The romance is there basically only to get him back into the crime world when he and his business partner (a stubbly, bedraggled Bryan Cranston) are trying to get into the racing world with the backing of a couple of local gangsters (Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman, who do an excellent job in unexpected roles). Things go horribly wrong, and things get really, really bloody. It's excellent, and I want his scorpion jacket--I don't care if it would make anyone else look like a douche.

Running Time: 100 minutes
My Total Minutes: 249,130

Jason goes to Bad Movie Night and watches MEGASHARK VS CROCOSAURUS

Mockbusters month finally, mercifully ends. I only went to two of them, but that was painful enough.

So I've never seen (and hopefully never will see) MEGASHARK VS. GIANT OCTOPUS, which this movie is something of a sequel to. I'd like to be charitable and say that put me at a disadvantage, but I'm pretty sure this would be a puzzling, irredeemable mess even if I knew the backstory. First puzzling question, what the hell is Jaleel "Urkel" White doing in this? I mean, even if he blew all his "Family Matters" money, he hasn't lowered himself to porn yet (that I know of, it's not like I do a daily google search for "Jaleel White porn"...really, I don't), so he still has relatively respectable options. Anyway, he incorporates a "why am I here" 100 yard death stare into his role as a shark scientist. There's some other guy, kind of a rascal, who is the croc expert. And they fight at first. If only they killed each other, we'd get some relief, but instead they learn to work together and do something about the Megashark and Crocosaurus...see, the croc is protecting her eggs (there are apparently a billion croc eggs despite being only one Crocosaurus) and Megashark thinks Crocosaurus eggs are the tastiest thing ever. Oh, and at one point the shark swallows a nuclear submarine so they can't destroy it without causing a nuclear explosion. But honestly, by then I couldn't even care about a frikkin' shark with a frikkin' nuke in it's belly.

Next month--zombies, starting with NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD 3-D.

Running Time: 88 minutes
My Total Minutes: 249,030

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Jason goes to Hong Kong Cinema--Day 2

A nice, relaxing, 4 film Saturday. Let's jump right in

First up, a bit of craziness with CITY UNDER SIEGE. What can I say about this? A somewhat psychotic circus troupe constantly picks on their clown Sunny (Aaron Kwok, showing his comic chops). Sunny, for what it's worth, sort of brings it upon himself, claiming to be "the master of the twin daggers," when they already have a knife-thrower. And then, while searching for some hidden treasure, they're exposed to a biotoxin left over by the Japanese in WWII, and it turns them all into hideous evil super-mutants. Or rather, all but Sunny become evil super-mutants. Sunny is dropped on a ship, then tossed in the ocean, and washes up on shore as a waterlogged fatso. He meets Angel, a local news beauty. He loses all the water overnight, and becomes a heroic, normal looking, semi-mutant (mostly, he has strength, speed, and can actually throw knives accurately). And then the fight is on, with the help of Angel and a couple of police investigators who are completely unfazed by mutants (they talk so much about having battled other mutants that their scenes feel like a sequel to some other movie). Very fun.

Next up, a literal San Francisco/Hong Kong connection with MERRY-GO-ROUND. A story of choices, memories, regret, and loneliness. Eva and Nam both live in San Francisco, and while they aren't friends they have run into each other before in the Chinese American community there. They both, coincidentally, decide to return to Hong Kong. Eva to deal with her deceased grandfather, Nam's less clear, but she starts by delivering a letter from her friend Merry (who has leukemia) to her online boyfriend. Along the way their lives become intertwined more (the boyfriend--who becomes the disinterested object of Nam's affection--is Eva's nephew, etc.) and the central character turns out to be an elderly mortuary worker, who takes Nam is as an assistant, and who also has a history with Eva (Ella Koon, who plays Nam, also plays young Eva in flashback scenes). It's a slow developing story, but with excellent performances and a thoughtful script, it's ultimately rewarding if you stick with it.

And then the delightfully entertaining destruction of sexual stereotypes, ALL ABOUT LOVE. Macy is a hard-working activist, who opens the movie by marrying a gay man so he can get residence and stay with his lover (a friend of Macy's). The plan, of course, is to divorce as soon as he gets permanent residence. Macy herself is a lesbian. Or she was, then she turned straight for a while, now she's back to girls. As the hardcore lesbians complain, she's one of those bi-girls who just "eat and run." Well, she's got bigger problems than just her moribund love life (although that's the problem her lesbian friends are trying to fix)--she's pregnant. But things turn around when she sees someone special in her pregnancy class--her ex from 12 years ago, Anita. They broke up (really, Macy dumped her) when they were way too young to settle down, but now (in a delightful sequence where they walk each other back and forth to their homes) they reconnect and realize a spark is still there. So two pregnant lesbians give it a go at lasting love. Meanwhile the very confused father's get in on the act. And as they both debate whether to keep both babies or abort one (or even both), everyone has an opinion. Ultimately resulting in a family with two babies, four mothers, and two fathers. Funny and delightful, but with just a few things that bugged me. [Spoiler alert!] One, there are scenes of the pregnant women drinking wine--apparently this just isn't as taboo in Hong Kong as it is in America. Second, one of the father's is married but his wife is never shown (talked about a lot, but never shown) and presumably when he decided to be upfront and take care of the baby, she would find out and have something to say (presumably it happened offscreen?). And finally there's a scene at the end where they all go out dancing, and I kept wondering 'who is taking care of the babies?' Of course, they surely hired a babysitter, but it bugged me that after so many scenes of taking care of the babies they didn't show that. [End spoilers] But beyond that, it's a pretty delightful movie.

And finally, we ended the night with a little Johnnie To produced (but not directed, eh left that to Law Wing-cheong) brutality in PUNISHED. The master Anthony Wong stars as a business tycoon. He's got money and power, and he has a problematic, drug-addicted daughter. Or at least he does for a while--she is kidnapped, the kidnappers extort millions from him, and they kill her anyway. So now he and his loyal and capable bodyguard are out for revenge. And it gets brutal and bloody without leaving the realm of believability (i.e., it's not the most violent movie out of Hong Kong, but the violence is used wisely). And Anthony Wong's acting raises it above a standard revenge flick and turns it into a smart reflection on grief (literally a reflection, beginning and ending on a Bolivian salt flats that become like a mirror of the sky after it rains.)

Total Running Time: 433 minutes
My Total Minutes: 248,942

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Jason goes to Hong Kong Cinema--Opening Night

The SFFS Fall Season has officially begun. A series of weekend mini-fests, starting with Hong Kong Cinema. I just caught one movie last night, the late show action comedy, MR. AND MRS. INCREDIBLE.

10 years ago, there were two great superheroes. Gazer Warrior (high flying kung fu master with heat vision eyes) and Aroma Woman (also a high flying kung fu master but with a flower attack that renders the victim a babbling, hallucinating idiot). They were so popular their followers urged them to fight to find out who is the greatest superhero. But they had other ideas--run away, retire, romance, marriage, and a peaceful life in Rainbow Village (where there's a double rainbow every day). And that's where they are today. She cooks, he's the leader of the village guards, and they keep their powers secret. They've just saved up enough to by a secluded house by the sea, and now maybe they're ready to have a child. Boooring...we (and it turns out, they) want Gazer Warrior and Aroma Woman to come out of retirement. And of course, eventually, they do, at a Kung Fu ranking competition that is clearly the cover for something more sinister. On the way there, there's too many side distractions, mostly around how the doctor prescribes a little more excitement in their life, so they try to have a fight with each other (we're to believe they've been married 10 years and don't know how to have a fight?) But ultimately it's funny, playful, silly, and rides easily on the chemistry of the two leads, Louis Koo and Sandra Ng, who reappears in the festival in ALL ABOUT LOVE and ECHOES OF THE RAINBOW (sadly, she won't be here in person).

Running Time: 100 minutes
My Total Minutes: 248,509

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Jason goes to Cine+Más, Sunday September 18

Four films at the Latino Film Festival, which I haven't been back to in a couple of years. In fact, the last time I visited the SF Latino Film Fest, it might not have actually been Cine+Más. No matter, I was there Sunday, so let's go.

We started with a light romantic comedy, HABANA EVA. Eva has an uncanny ability to see beauty when other people are just muddling through life. While she works as a seamstress in a wedding dress factory sewing government-approved dresses, she designs her own superior dresses, which of course gets her into all kinds of trouble. Walking home, she spies a red crystal in the street. No one before her has bothered to pick it up, and when she does she suddenly meets a handsome, wealthy young photographer from Venezuela. Nice, but she already has a fiancee. But he insists on paying her to be his guide as he photographs various buildings in Havana. And of course that turns into an affair. And so she has sexy adventures with her happy hooker friend, her two boyfriends, a couple of green aunts (that was really weird), and so on. But ultimately, she does have to choose which man she wants. But who cares what the decision is. It's the journey there that's the fun (okay, the choice was fun, too, but no spoilers here).

The next show started with the short LALO, a comic adventure of a delivery boy on a bicycle.

That was the lead in to the Chilean feature, FUCK MY LIFE (QUE PENA TU VIDA). A bitter romantic comedy for the facebook generation. It stars Ariel Levy as Javier, a young man who just broke up with his girlfriend Sofia. In fact, he dumped her, and then went crazy, begs for her back, parties too much (especially given that he has lost his advertising job and is in danger of losing his car and his apartment). Worse yet, he watches her become a famous singer, a duo with her new boyfriend, the singer Jean-Paul whom everyone loves. As he continues to spiral in bad decisions and self-pity, his long-suffering friend Ángela is always there to pick up the pieces. That is until/unless he becomes too much for her, too.

You know, Javier is not a very good person. He's flawed, and not very likable. Based on that alone I shouldn't enjoy this movie. But there are just enough wickedly, bitterly twisted lines that I couldn't help but be won over. Just examples of my two favorites: First, while dining with one of his desperate drunken hookups, he starts connecting with her based on things they both hate. He agrees with everything, until she blurts out, "And I hate Down Syndrome kids!" Second, after a drunken night with his friend/roommate/bartender, Javier wants to go to bed but his friend insists they stay up and play "hide it in the mouth." Not a gay thing, not a BJ, just "hide it in the mouth" (a game he learned in prison). When Javier refuses, his friend gets mad and challenges him, "Don't be such a faggot, just take off your pants so we can play 'hide it in the mouth!'"

Okay, not the humor for everyone, but I liked it.

The third film of the day was THE BAD INTENTIONS (LAS MALAS INTENCIONES) from Peru. It's the story of little 9-year old Catayena, an only daughter of a wealthy family who has a bit of an active imagination. For instance, when her mother announces she's going to get a baby brother, she figures that her parents are throwing her out because she's defective (she has asthma) and the day he's born, she dies. Set against a background of early 80's terrorist attacks in Peru, she retreats into her fantasy world of heroes, determined that if she has to die she'll at least die honorably like the heroes of Peruvian independence--who somehow managed to win independence despite seemingly winning no battles. A nice bit of dark humor about growing up and dealing with change, and a charmingly winning performance by young Fatima Buntinx as Catayena.

And finally, we ended the night in HELL (EL INFIERNO), a highly anticipated winner of 9 Ariels (the Mexican equivalent of the Oscars), including the Golden Ariel (best picture) and Silver Ariels for best director, actor, supporting actor, art direction, editing, make-up, sound, and special effects. So the bar was set pretty high, which is at least partly to blame for why I found it a bit disappointing. The core of the story is pretty solid and dramatic--Benny, away in the U.S. for 20 years, returns and finds his small town overrun by drug gangs, his little brother dead, and his best friend a local thug. Benny seems too gentle to be a gangster himself, but he finds himself needing money (to bail out his nephew and continue sleeping with his brother's widow) and so he finds himself drawn into the drug gang life. And for a while he actually has a pretty sweet life--he's making tons of money, has respect, has women (not just his brother's widow, whom he really likes, but tons of whores), and no one messes with him. Except, of course, the rival gang. And as the local war (between two rival brothers, no less) escalates, you know things will turn for him. I don't know, I'm sure there's a great movie in there somewhere, I just didn't find this very believable. And here I have to be a bit circumspect, because I did end up chatting with a guy afterwards who is involved in the war on drugs (I helped him find out that the movie is available on DVD, he wanted it for an upcoming conference in L.A.), and he did say it was realistic. I'll grant that the environment is realistic--that many small towns in Mexico are overrun with drug gangs, and that people who never thought they'd join that life end up caught up in it. And drug wars get pretty damn bloody and pit brother against brother, I'll believe that. Mostly I found the characters unrealistic. Particularly Benny, who even at the end still seems to gentle (with a silly grin on his face far too often) to get caught up in the life. And the ending...without giving away any spoilers, the only way I can contemplate the ending they tacked on is as pure fantasy. The ending just wasn't realistic at all.

Oh well, still, a damn fine day at the festival, and there's still another week of it to go (don't know if I'll make it to any more of it, though. I'm just busy with other things). And after a bit of a hiatus, it's nice to have another 4 movie day.

Total Running Time: 460 minutes
My Total Minutes: 248,409

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Jason goes to the Niles Film Museum for comedy shorts night--September 17, 2011

Gotta love comedy shorts night

THE ADVENTURER (1917): Chaplin in one of his funniest Mutual shorts. He's an escaped prisoner who evades the police, becomes a hero for saving several people from drowning (including leading lady Edna Purviance and giant foil Eric Campbell in his final performance before his fatal car crash). And he causes a ton of havoc at a party. Chaplin at his manic, slapstick best.

THE HIGH SIGN (1921): Keaton as a not-so-sharp sharpshooter who is simultaneously hired to protect and assassinate the local miser August Nickelnurser. The Blinking Buzzards want to kill him because he has refused to pay their extortion price. So not only does Mr. Nickelnurser hire the most inept bodyguard, he also rigs his house with all sorts of secret passages, leading to a pretty frantic and hilarious final act chase.

Then a brief intermission, and the second half of the program

ISN'T LIFE TERRIBLE? (1925): Niles favorite Charley Chase stars as a beleaguered husband (a common role for him), with a supporting role by Oliver "Babe" Hardy as his ne'er-do-well brother-in-law. At the urging of his family, he wins a cruise vacation by selling the most fountain pens (including a rather Freudian scene where he keeps shaking a pen and it spurts in his face. Or maybe I just have a way too dirty mind). Well, the cruise is no vacation. He loses his daughter, picks up a little black girl instead, the boat is falling apart, and the lifeboats don't work. Pretty hilarious.

BACON GRABBERS (1929): And finally The Boys, Laurel and Hardy, in their second to last silent. They play debt collectors tasked by the sheriff to recover a radio from local miser Edgar Kennedy. Of course, he has no intention of paying, giving up the radio, or even being served. In fact, the first half has Stan and Ollie just struggling to put the paperwork into Kennedy's hand. And when they finally do, their work is only half done. Very funny stuff.

And that was that.

Total Running Time: 94 minutes
My Total Minutes: 247,949

Jason watches CONTAGION

Which is kinda fun to do when you have a bit of a cough, you can at least scare the rest of the audience.

It's a pretty good movie, a serious, thoughtful take on the subject. What I was most impressed by was the ensemble cast. I couldn't tell you who the "hero" of this movie is, although there are plenty of a big name actors and actresses. Like the nature of real epidemics, fighting it isn't one brave man or woman's job, there are a lot of players, some doing good, some just getting in the way (Jude Law's conspiracy-minded citizen blogger/journalist was interesting, and I loved the line "Blogging is not writing. It's just graffiti with punctuation.") Likewise, Matt Damon was good as the husband who loses his wife (Gwyneth Paltrow) and son in quick order, and is paranoid about losing his daughter. And Kate Winslet as a the epidemiologist investigating the outbreak in Minnesota. And Marion Cotillard as the W.H.O. official travelling to China. And that's not even getting into the CDC and DHS officials (including Laurence Fishburne and Bryan Cranston). Yeah, great cast, and everyone is given his/her moment but not enough to overshadow everyone else. Compelling argument for why the Oscars should have a "Best Cast" award instead of just Best Actor/Actress and Best Supporting Actor/Actress.

Running Time: 106 minutes
My Total Minutes: 247,855

Jason goes to the Dark Room and sees STAR TREK: LIVE

Last night was the first time I'd been to the Dark Room for anything other than Bad Movie Night. Turns out they do a lot more than just drunkenly raucously make fun of bad movie. They do a whole lot of live theater there, on their cozy little stage.

Anyway, STAR TREK: LIVE was a live adaptation/parodyPublish Post of the classic episode THE WAY TO EDEN. I suppose it might have been even funnier if I was one of those geeks who had committed the entire series to memory, or if I'd even done my homework and re-watch that episode. But as it was, it was hilarious. Making fun of Kirk's penchant for space women, Kirk's acting, Kirk's singing... oh, and the rest of the crew. Sulu is gay, Chekhov is useless, Bones is insane (when asked for a medical conclusion, he blurts out, "Dammit Jim, I'm a doctor not a doc...oh yeah." Oh yeah, and crazy space hippies take over the Enterprise and pilot it into Romulan space looking for a mythical primitive paradise called Eden. And corrupt everyone with their rock music and free love.

Three more shows, tonight (Saturday, Sept 17) and next Friday and Saturday. As of last night, there were still tickets available. But the place did fill up pretty well last night, so I suppose in theory it could sell out. Tickets are $20 at the door or online, use the code word "maggie" to get $5 off.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Jason goes to Bad Movie Night and watches TITANIC II

Yes...they made a sequel to TITANIC? Well, not quite, it's The Asylum the creators of exploitative "mock-busters" like TRANSMORPHERS and SNAKES ON A TRAIN. And these aren't parodies, they're cheap rip-offs. Bad Movie Night is doing a whole month of these, and I'm not sure I can survive.

This is not really a sequel, and it's not about the Titanic. It's about Titanic II, a luxury liner built by a rich playboy to cruise across the Atlantic on the 100th anniversary of the original fated trip. Of course, nothing could go wrong. They throw in a bit of global warming mumbo jumbo explaining how a glacier in Greenland just calved a 'berg (why do the Jews get blamed for everything?) the size of Manhattan--and could possible break off one the size of Rhode Island (judging by the scale, of the fake CGI hole they look at, Manhattan is about 50 yards long in this universe). Their brilliant twist, though, is to tell the story from the iceberg's point of view. Or rather, it would have been brilliant, the iceberg had more personality than anyone in the movie.

These jerks don't even do exploitation right. How the hell can you do a cheap, exploitative rip-off of a movie and have less nudity than the original?

Running Time: 90 minutes
My Total Minutes: 247,749

Jason goes to the Niles Film Museum for a Laurel and Hardy afternoon

Okay, I'm finally mostly back in the real world (from Burning Man). At least back enough to get back to the movies. Last Sunday was the monthly Laurel and Hardy talkie matinee at Niles

FISH HOOKY (1933): The Our Gang kids decide to play hooky and go fishing instead of going to school. Little do they know instead of school they have a field trip to an amusement park. And the truant officer is chasing them anyway. A lot of the charm is that the truant officer and the teacher are both played by former (silent era) Our Gang kids, as well as little Joe Cobb showing up as a teenager.

THE HOOSE-GOW (1929): In one of their early talkies, Laurel and Hardy find themselves in prison, despite protesting their innocence. No luck, they're on the work detail and cause all sorts of mayhem. Especially when the Governor (their longtime foil Jim Finlayson) shows up to inspect the camp. No spoilers, but you know they'll turn just about anything into a really messy fight.

Then a brief intermission, and the feature

PARDON US (1931): In fact, Laurel and Hardy's first feature film (that just sort of grew until it was feature length). Laurel and Hardy are back in prison (get the theme--back to school = back to prison), this time for selling bootleg booze to a cop. They get into all sorts of trouble with the toughs there, mostly due to Laurel's loose tooth that makes him give everyone the raspberry. Jim Finlayson shows up again as the teacher (literally, prison = school). The boys escape, go on the lam, hide out in blackface as cotton pickers (yikes!) and eventually get hauled back, just to become accidental heroes. Hilarious.

Total Running Time: 94 minutes
My Total Minutes: 247,659