Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Jason slips into a Vortex for an Intemperance Playhouse

A double feature of weird, ridiculous Brad Grintner flicks that can at best be charitably called "not very good."

First up, a biker gang flick DEVIL RIDER! A young girl rejects the karate teacher who likes her, and falls in with a biker gang led by a boxer called Champ (because, you know, he was/coulda been the champ). Her dad hires a private eye, who tracks her down through her sister (who spends half the movie explaining how she fell in with a similar gang and that lead her to a sad life of prostitution) and then goes undercover as the oldest and least convincing biker thug ever. So now the karate master has to rescue both her and the private eye. You know, describing it actually makes it sound like a movie that makes sense. But the editing was so bad I was left puzzling over how all those scenes were actually in the same movie and almost told a story.

But that wasn't the weird part. The second feature was BLOOD FREAK. This time, the biker is friendly. In fact, he helps a stranded girl with her flat tire. She invites him home to a party, and then he follows her to her father's turkey farm. Too bad his father is a mad scientist who slips him a drug that turns his head into a giant turkey head. That's right, he spends most of the movie walking around as a giant man-turkey. That actually happened, and I am speechless.

Total Running Time: 161 mintues
My Total Minutes: 257,979

Monday, November 28, 2011

Jason watches MARGIN CALL

It's a pretty daunting task to make complicated financial transactions dramatic. Even more daunting to make the ethical implications of complex financial transactions dramatic. But damned if they didn't pull it off, even if I couldn't understand most of it. Here are the important bits--after a massive round of layoffs at an investment bank, including a significant part of the risk management group, young whiz-kid Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto) stays late working on what his laid off boss (Stanley Tucci) was working on. Late at night, he calls his colleague and new boss (old boss' boss) in from their night at the bar, and shows them something that leads to an escalating series of meetings all through the night. Turns out, their models relied on volatility of their investments (specifically, mortgages) staying within normal bounds--historical ranges plus some margin. Problem is a) if the volatility strays outside those bounds, they could lose more money than the entire company is worth, and b) it's strayed outside of those bounds several times in the last two weeks. So after these late night meetings, resulting in 3-4 more layers of executive management coming in (culminating in a brilliant turn by Jeremy Irons), they decide to dump the troublesome holdings (for the record, I don't think the term "toxic asset" is ever actually used). Turns out, it's pretty clear that other firms are doing the same thing, and it's only a matter of time before they find out how much trouble their in. The shit is going to hit the fan, and it's best to be the first one flinging it. So after quite a bit of ethical dilemmas (Kevin Spacey does a fine job outlining exactly how this will kill a lot of their young traders' careers, as well as dump worthless crap on the buyers), the financial collapse of 2008 begins.

Excellent job of humanizing the characters, while also showing some of them (particular Paul Bettany's character) to be particularly monstrously unsympathetic humans. I particularly liked Stanley Tucci's character reminiscing about how he used to be an engineer and how he built a bridge that saved so many people so many miles/hours of commute time. It doesn't just show how he misses honest work. And it doesn't just show how after the initial shock he has come to terms (or is even kind of relieved) with being laid off. It also shows his incredible facility for doing arithmetic in his head.

Running Time: 107 minutes
My Total Minutes: 257,916

Jason watches PUSS IN BOOTS

Not much to say about it. It was actually pretty cute. No classic, but better than it deserved to be, considering it's a spin-off to a series that had long since run its course.

That is all.

Running Time: 90 minutes
My Total Minutes: 257,809

Jason goes to Bad Movie Night and watches LOST BOYS: THE TRIBE

That's right, the old gang is back together! That is, Corey Feldman is back, sort of...and Corey Haim's corpse was propped up long enough for a nonsensical post-credits cameo. And, of course, Keifer Sutherland...'s younger half-brother, Angus. The belated 80's sequel month comes to a dubious close, and oddly enough although it was just one month (and I only attended 2 nights), it still felt like it took about 25 years too long. This movie simulated immortality by seeming to take forever.

Oh yeah, and even though it has "THE TRIBE" in the title, there was nothing to indicate they were Jews. I mean, other than the vampirism, of course. But not all vampires are Jewish, that's just a hateful, ignorant stereotype and I will not tolerate it.

Oh, and final comment, there's actually a third LOST BOYS movie that was made, so technically this wasn't so much a sequel as the second chapter in a trilogy. And of course, there are rumors of a 4th in the series, with the tentative title of LOST BOYS: PAYING FELDMAN'S RENT.

Running Time: 92 minutes
My Total Minutes: 257,719

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Jason goes to the Niles Film Museum and sees STEAMBOAT BILL, JR.

Plus, of course, a couple of shorts.

First up, LEATHER PUSHERS, ROUND 3: THE KNOCKOUT (1922): A short time ago they played round 2 of this serial at Niles. In the series, Reginald Denny plays Kane Halliday, aka Kid Roberts, the son of a failed businessman who's trying to raise a fortune through boxing, even though that's not considered appropriate in his college-educated society circles. So he solves that by boxing behind a mask.

RUN, GIRL, RUN (1928): A Mack Sennet Comedies production, so you know wacky hijinks will be involved. Carole Lombard plays Norma, the star of a girl's track team so inept, they haven't won since the Dead Sea was only sick. Diminutive Daphne Pollard plays coach Minnie Marmon, and pratfalls abound in training Then when Carole is is trying to sneak out at night to see her boyfriend. And then finally at the big track meet. Very funny.

Then, after a brief intermission, we were back with the main event.

STEAMBOAT BILL, JR. (1928): The Buster Keaton classic. What can I say? Keaton at the top of his game, playing the puny college son of burly steamboat captain William "Steamboat Bill" Canfield (Ernest Torrence.) He's an embarrassment to his father, and to make things worse it turns out his college sweetheart is actually the daughter of his father's worst enemy, the rich and powerful (and appropriately named) Mr. King. It seems he's in for nothing but trouble, but when a big storm hits town, Steamboat Bill, Jr. uses his wits to save everyone and win the girl. It also features one of Keaton's most famous gags--where the side of a house falls on him, leaving him unscathed as the open window frame falls right around him.

Oh, and STEAMBOAT BILL, JR. was shown in a beautiful 35 mm print. Most films shown at Niles are on 16 mm, and the format made a huge difference. Just beautiful.

Total Running Time: 110 minutes
My Total Minutes: 257,627

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Jason watches HUGO

And it's very, very cute. And the 3-D is well done, although I'll still maintain it's not necessary. It struck me while watching the swooping, kinetic shots that the depth would still be very clear even projected in 2-D. If you can't communicate three dimensional space in two dimensions, then you don't know how to make a movie to begin with, and should just give up.

But, to get away from that tangent, yes, HUGO is a beautiful movie, with heart and whimsy and love and all those things you just wouldn't expect from Scorsese. Ostensibly it's about a kid--Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield)--an orphan who lives in the walls and the clocks of the Paris train station. He steals gears from a local toy shop in order to fix an automaton that his father (Jude Law) was fixing when he passed away. And the grumpy old toy shop owner (Ben Kingsley) turns out to be the temporarily forgotten master filmmaker Georges Méliès, the inventor of special effects and the first to really see the potential of movies as dream-like entertainment. And that's the thing for a cinemaniac like me--I want to see Méliès and all the other films of the time. When Hugo and his friend Isabelle sneak off to the movies and see Harold Lloyd's SAFETY LAST, it's quite a treat. And seeing Méliès' studio recreated was also pretty awesome. I want to see them so much that I stopped caring about Hugo's story and was waiting for the next silent film treat. That's definitely a limitation I bring to the movie, and shouldn't reflect on its inherent quality. Still, that's just the way I reacted, and I can't do anything about it.

Running Time: 127 minutes
My Total Minutes: 257,419

Friday, November 25, 2011

Jason watches THE MUPPETS

Obscene tweets aside, I really, truly, honestly, and innocently loved this movie. More than that, it was something I really, really needed. Too much of my childhood has been "rebooted" in hip, edgy, cool, sucktastic forms. The worst offender, of course, are Michael Bay's TRANSFORMERS movies. But there are any number of lesser transgressions against my childhood. Scooby-Doo doesn't need wink-wink stoner jokes. I refuse to watch THE DUKES OF HAZZARD with Johnny Knoxville and Jessica Simpson. I don't want to see the Smurfs in New York. And while I wasn't a huge fan as a kid, I'll steer clear of the Alvin and the Chipmunks movie. Hell, don't even get me started on the "improved" Star Wars movies.

Too much of what passes for culture nowadays is some soulless cross between nostalgia and masturbation--nostalgibation, if you will. I'm constantly being told to remember the simple joys I had as a child and somehow be excited that now they're all edgy and cool and I can enjoy them as an adult. Well, I loved the Muppets growing up. And their movie gave me exactly what I wanted--a chance to enjoy them again in the exact same way. Yes, they acknowledge that the world has changed, they even give us a glimpse into what it would look like if the Muppets were given the edgy modern update (and called The Moopets). But they give us the Muppets that can be enjoyed in the same way I enjoyed them as a kid, and give us a story that's all about how important and valued that timelessness is. Sure, the voices aren't quite right (haven't been since Jim Henson passed away), and I do wish that Frank Oz was on board (for what it's worth, I respect his decision to stay away, but think he's wrong). Maybe no one Muppet gets quite enough time, and maybe Animal shouldn't have gone quite so long before his anger management training fell away. I'm sure if I could stand back and view it from a distance, I could be more critical. As it is, I'm just glad the movie theater was dark so no one could see the tears welling up in my eyes or me lip-synching to "Rainbow Connection."

Of course, maybe it's just that I was pretty drunk when I saw it. I'll have to see it again sober to see if it really holds up.

Oh, and just so I have one solid piece of criticism, Jason Segel should never be allowed to dance again (or whatever it was he was doing while other people danced around him).

Oh yeah, and it was preceded by a TOY STORY short, SMALL FRY, about the lives of the crappy little fast food kid's meal toys. It was cute.

Total Running Time: 105 minutes
My Total Minutes: 257,292

Monday, November 21, 2011

Jason watches MELANCHOLIA

I nominate Lars von Trier as the inaugural inductee into the Drama Queen Hall of Fame.

With that said, he did create a beautiful movie. I just wonder, has anyone tried to interpret it completely literally--no allegory allowed?

Well, then, it's a story of two sad sisters, Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) dealing first with Justine's debacle of a wedding, and second the impending destruction of the entire earth. In part one (titled "Justine"), we see her wedding limo attempting to make it to the post-ceremony party, only to get stuck on the winding road up to the luxurious country estate (which, we are reminded many times, includes an 18-hole golf course). Once she and her husband (Alexander Skarsgard) finally make it there, things just get worse and worse. She struggles to keep a happy appearance, but she is surrounded by loathsome, self-serving people. Her boss (Stellan Skarsgard) keeps hounding her about work. The most expensive wedding planner in the world (Udo Kier) won't even look at her because she "ruined my wedding!" Claire's husband John (Keifer Sutherland) at least asks if she's happy, but it's more of an accusation in the context of how much money he spent on the wedding (he's filthy rich, the party is at his estate). Oh, and her father (John Hurt) is a drunken lout, but at least he's charming. Can't say the same about her mother (Charlotte Rampling) who is a bitter, mean woman who toasts to how pointless and impractical marriage is. All through this, Claire at least tries to pull her through, and there are references to her not causing a scene, implying she's had issues before. Clearly Justine suffers from depression, but honestly if I were surrounded by such awful people, I'd be depressed, too.

At the end of part one, Justine and Claire go on an early morning horseback ride, and Justine stops and notices that a star in Orion's belt is missing (one they talked about the previous night). This leads into part two ("Claire"). Maybe a couple of weeks later, Justine's depression is at its worst, and she comes to stay with Claire, John, and their son Leo in their country estate (same one where the wedding party was.) More importantly, we learn that the star in Orion's belt was blocked out by Melancholia, a giant blue planet that's on a course to make a pretty close "fly-by" with the earth. In fact, according to doomsayers on the Internet, it will collide and destroy the earth. Claire has become obsessed with that, even though John insists that the scientists have done the calculation and determined that it will come close enough to be an amazing view, but not collide. However, as Melancholia approaches, Justine emerges from depression. She knows, somehow, that Melancholia will collide, and she's looking forward to it. While John is excited about the flyby (and draws Leo into his excitement), and Claire is freaking out about it, Justine bathes naked in the Melancholia's light (thank you!)

Okay, so now that I've described pretty much the entire movie I'll spare you the spoiler at the end. And I'll spare you any allegorical, philosophical, psychological, autobiographical, or anything-else-ical interpretations. Those are easy and you can find those in any other review. I'll just leave it at "it's a beautiful film."

Running Time: 136 minutes
My Total Minutes: 257,187

Jason goes to Bad Movie Night and watches WAR GAMES: THE DEAD CODE

Yeah, so WAR GAMES has been updated so instead of the Cold War it's the War on Terror...whatever. There is no way you can convince me this was originally written as a WAR GAMES sequel. I'm sure there was a crappy script floating around Hollywood about a hacker kid who causes a bunch of trouble with an accidental fake bioterrror attack on Philadelphia. Then finally a studio exec decided that if they call it a WAR GAMES sequel and throw in some clumsy fan service then the dozens of fans who have been waiting for a sequel will go and see it buy the video illegally download it.

Running Time: 100 minutes
My Total Minutes: 257,051

Jason goes to Jewfest South and sees 100 VOICES: A JOURNEY HOME

The final show of this year, and SVJFF ends with a beautiful crowd-pleaser. A concert of cantors travelling to Poland for a series of shows. Maybe not quite 100, but close enough (just round up). I had never thought about or realized before how intrinsically linked Jewish culture and Polish culture is. But the film opens with an explanation, saying what a remarkably high percentage of American Jews are ultimately of Polish descent. Poland is the origin of the chazzanut (cantor), hence the "journey home" of the title. And while the predominant thought is that Poland--with the Warsaw Ghetto and Auschwitz--was just as bad if not worse than Germany for Jews in the holocaust, the truth is the Poles were just as much victims. 3 million ethnic Poles were exterminated. The Polish underground, of all the forces in Europe, was really the only one that had a focus on rescuing Jews. Poland has the highest number of "righteous gentiles"--non-Jews who risked their lives to rescue Jews. And they talk about Poland feeling a "phantom pain" in their culture, much like an amputee still feels his missing limb. So that makes the concerts--everywhere from the largest opera house in all of Europe, to an outdoor Jewish cultural festival (with thousands of gentiles celebrating), to the grounds of Auschwitz itself--all the more moving. And the music.... Look, I don't know much about music, but sometimes I just had to intentionally close my eyes (not your typical movie behavior) and let the music wash over me.

Afterwards, we were treated to a cantorial concert by Cantor Devorah Felder-Levy of Congregation Shir Hadash, Cantor/Rabbi Philip R. Ohriner of Congregation Beth David and
Cantor Meeka Simerly of Temple Emanu-El. They sang several songs from the film, and there was a good mix of solemn and comical numbers. Even without understanding the words, somehow the meaning comes through.

Which reminded me of some words I heard from a Rabbi years ago when I was visiting my aunt in Vista, CA. We went to temple (for the record, I've never been very religious) with her son, who was pretty young at the time. During the service, when it came to the sing-along parts, the rabbi encouraged the kids (or really, anyone, including me) who didn't know the words to just sing "la la la..." He gave two reasons--first, so you can learn the tune before you put the words to it. Second, he assured us that if your heart is in the right place, "la la la" is a good prayer. I liked that.

Running Time: 91 minutes
My Total Minutes: 256,951


And it's a fun, funny movie. Turns out, in France the Mexicans are from Spain. The Jouberts are a wealthy couple, Jean-Louis inherited an investment firm. But their maid fights with Suzanne, and finally quits. So they decide to hire a Spanish made, from the women who live on the sixth floor of their building and are all maids around town. But after an odd job of moving some of Jean-Louis' departed mother's stuff upstairs, Jean-Louis gets a glimpse of how the women on the sixth floor live. And he feels sorry for them immediately, hires a plumber to fix their one shared toilet, and in general starts helping them out a bit. Soon he's known as Saint Jean-Louis, and is immensely popular with the women. Especially his maid, Maria. And he finds that spending time with them is far more enjoyable than his own life. They work all day, but still find time to throw an odd party, and all help each other out. Even after his wife throws him out (over a complete misunderstanding), he finds peace by moving into an empty room on the sixth floor. After all, he went from boarding school to military to marriage--this is the first time he's actually had a room to himself.

It's maybe not even close to novel to point out different classes don't know how the others live and there's joy to be found in the simplicity of the humble life. And it doesn't even really matter if you believe that. There's certainly joy to be found in this movie.

Running Time: 104 minutes
My Total Minutes: 256,860

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Jason watches a P.U.S. production of How To Love

P.U.S.--Performers Under Stress--is a cool little San Francisco theater group. I've seen a couple of their plays before, and last night I caught the second to last show of their latest, How To Love. (Their last show is today, Sunday Nov. 20th at 2:00 pm, so you just barely have time to see it).

It's a funny little bizarre treat, by local playwright Megan Cohen. Deep under the earth's surface, a team of researchers answer all of humanity's problems. In the past, they've answered such important question as How to be born, How to die, How to belch, How to build a jet engine, etc. There are three researchers--The Sexy One, The Stern One, and the Very Young One--plus a magistrate. They spend one week on each question, at the end if they're successful they move on to the next question, if not they disappear, leaving mankind with no one to answer the questions. Of course, you know by the title that this week's question is How to love.

The process of research is very simple--on day 1 they all think. On day 2, they rest. On day's 3, 4, and 5 they present results. On day 6, they consider and reconsider everything, then eat a great meal. On day 7, they give a final presentation, and then are judged. This has worked quite well in the past. But this time, things are a bit trickier. While the Sexy One and Stern One have lots of ideas (much of which either contradict or make very little sense), the Young One has nothing. This has never happened before!

Okay, I've gone far enough into the spoilers. I'll just say it's very funny, with comedy high-brow and low-brow, verbal and physical. The question of How to Love may or may not have been answered, but I found it pretty easy to love the show. And if you can't make it to their last show, you should at least follow whatever PUS is doing next.

Oh yeah, and since the reason I was there is because I'm friends with the stage manager, I should mention he had an exciting night--dealing with a couple of uncooperative lights and a theremin that was a little wonky on the volume. So kudos to Colin, the hardest working stage manager in San Francisco (at least last night.)

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Jason sees DARK COUNTRY in 3-D and then Eddie Muller interview director Thomas Jane

Normally, at the top of the list of things you don't associate with film noir would be "digital cinema" and "3-D." Perhaps shortly behind would be "comic book," but there are plenty of good noir-inspired comics. But when the Czar of Noir Eddie Muller blesses a film, you can bet it's noir.

Back in 2009 Thomas Jane made his directorial debut with this low budget (only a few million dollars) flick that sadly went straight to video in 2-D. But it was always meant for the big screen and 3-D, and last Friday night the Castro Theater gave it a proper showing, with Thomas Jane there to take questions first from Eddie Muller and then the audience.

The flick is set up as simple as can be--newlyweds (Thomas Jane and Lauren German) alone in a car driving through the desert at night. And then weird shit happens. And then things get weird. They get lost, roads dead end, double back on each other. It's all very Twilight Zone-ish, especially when they meet (and nearly run over) a survivor of a car crash. And, in fact, saying much more would be too much of a spoiler. The surprises were all the fun. In fact, you should find this movie but don't even read the credits in IMDb, there's too much of a spoiler there.

Afterwards, Eddie interviewed Thomas, and it's weird to remember that 2009 was really the infancy of digital 3-D. His team actually had to invent their own camera rig to shoot this, and they claimed (I can't confirm this, and it doesn't sound right to me) that this was the first 3-D film shot entirely on digital. Really interesting stuff.

And oh yeah, I made a reference above about this being a "comic book" film. Well, it's not based on an actual comic book, but on Thomas Jane's love of old noir comics. And, in fact, the comic book adaptation of the film will be coming out sometime soon.

Running Time: 88 minutes
My Total Minutes: 256,756

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Jason goes to Jewfest South and sees A MATTER OF SIZE

Which I'd actually seen before, but don't want to repeat my review here because it turns out it's embarrassingly spoiler-y. But the film is still crazy funny, and is due out on DVD December 6. Go buy it.

Before the film, the big treat of the night was a live Sumo demonstration. Byamba and Big Joe squared off, showed us a bit of the sumo rituals, what's not allowed (punching, wedgies from the back, etc.) and showed us some winning moves. Then they invited the audience to come up and give it a try. The festival's executive director Tzvia Shelef gave it a try and actually beat Byamba (I don't think he was giving it his all). A kid came up and beat big Joe. And then a third guy came up and beat Byamba (in a controversial decision). I did not volunteer, because I'm a coward.

Running Time: 90 minutes
My Total Minutes: 256,668

Jason watches THE RUM DIARY

And it's impossible to watch without thinking about Johnny Depp's deep man-crush on Hunter S. Thompson. I love Depp, and he's fine in this film, but I have to wonder if a different guy playing Thompson's alter-ego might be less distracting (not that I would know who else to cast).

For those who only know/think/care about Thompson's drug-fueled ridiculousness in FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS (the book or the movie), this story might seem tame. And it's a shame people forget that Thompson wasn't just about drinking and doing lots of drugs--he was about speaking bizarre, drug-fueled truth to power (or taking on "the bastards"). This is the story of how he came to that worldview, how he found his voice. He's in Puerto Rico, with a job for a local failing newspaper. He drinks, but he swears he's trying to cut down. And he's welcomed into a rich real estate developer's (Aaron Eckhart) plan. The contrast of poverty vs. wealth is stark, it's definitely a film for the times of the "Occupy" movement and the 99% vs. the 1%. And it's the story of how Hunter S. Thompson found his voice, and became a constant antagonist to "the bastards." Great, now show me more of his wacky, drug-fueled craziness.

Running Time: 120 minutes
My Total Minutes: 256,578

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Jason goes to Jewfest South--Sunday, November 13

Three more movies at the Silicon Valley Jewish Film Fest last Sunday. Let's just start right in.

First up was an amusing and surprisingly thought provoking JEWS AND BASEBALL: AN AMERICAN LOVE STORY. Opening with the standard joke about how Jews are no good at sports, it proceeds to explode that myth, and explore the relationship of Jews, Baseball, and American integration. Of course the giants--Hank Greenberg and Sandy Koufax--are highly featured. And plenty of due is given to the more recent greats--Shawn Green, Kevin Youklis, etc. But it's the unexpected stories that make this a treat. Did you know the very first professional (i.e., paid) ballplayer was Jewish? (Okay, go ahead and make your Jews and money crack and be on your way). Or the first designated hitter? (Okay, but you can't blame all Jews for ruining the game). Did you know that the music to "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" was written by a Jew? How about Moe Berg, known as "the smartest man in baseball," of whom it was said he could speak 7 languages and couldn't hit in any. He was a spy in WWII (there's another movie that could be made just about him.) Hell, even the current commissioner is Jewish. But the major thread through it all is the story of American assimilation. At a time when most Jews were recent immigrants, playing the national pastime was an important way to be American--and show the rest of the world that your people are as American as anyone else. The movie even contends that Hank Greenberg was possibly the most important man in American Jewish history, and I might just agree. And the story of assimilation is not uniquely Jewish. One of the most poignant stories in the film happens in Greenberg's final season. After a career with the Detroit Tigers, he was traded in 1947 for one final year with the Pittsburgh Pirates, moving to the National League. That was the same year Jackie Robinson broke the color line with the Brooklyn Dodgers (oh yeah, as an aside the Dodgers had an earlier history of specifically recruiting Jewish players to appeal to the largely Jewish Brooklyn neighborhoods). So for one season Greenberg and Robinson actually played against each other. And in one game, there was an incident where Robinson collided with Greenberg at first base. There were concerns that either one would be injured, or worse that there would be a scuffle. But Greenberg got up, dusted himself off, then helped Robinson up and asked him if he was okay. Robinson said later to the press that Greenberg was a "class act." And Greenberg spoke about how he thought the Anti-Semitic slurs he heard in his day were bad, but nothing compared to what Robinson went through. Powerful story, and a really good, entertaining documentary all around.

Next up, a rather difficult drama RESTORATION. The title refers to furniture restoration, but maybe also to restoration of family and life. When Max dies, that's bad news for his friend and business partner Yaakov. Even worse, he finds that their furniture restoration shop is in bad financial shape. Worse yet, Max has bequeathed his half of the business not to Yaakov, but to Yaakov's estranged son, an ambitious attorney with no interest in the shop. But when an antique Steinway is discovered, it might just be the key to saving everything. Or not. It's a tricky, subtle thing, and honestly I was so tired I struggled to stay awake. The acting, cinematography, score, etc. were all well done (especially acting), but I'm just not sure I "got" the film. Perhaps if I saw it again when I wasn't exhausted (like that will ever happen) I can get more out of it.

And finally, I ended the night (I had already seen the late movie, INTIMATE GRAMMAR) with another fascinating documentary about Jews in unexpected roles, JEWISH SOLDIERS IN BLUE AND GRAY. It sometimes feels like a typical PBS or History Channel Civil War documentary, but with a focus on Jews. Jews like the Confederate Secretary of State Judah Benjamin. Or, oddly enough, Lincoln's foot doctor, confidant, and spy Dr. Isachar Zacharie. Or any numbers of foot soldiers and officers. On both sides, there are fascinating stories of Jewish opinion on slavery, loyalty to a nation that doesn't really accept them, and Abraham Lincoln's personal reverence for the Jewish race. There's even a fascinating coda where Mark Twain is convinced to retract a statement he made regarding the Jewish aversion to actually fighting in war. Really interesting.

Total Running Time: 282 minutes
My Total Minutes: 256,458

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Jason goes to 3rd i--DELHI BELLY

So I skipped out on the last show of the Animation Festival on Saturday to make a mad dash to the Castro to catch this one 3rd i show, because it just looked awesome. And I was not at all disappointed.

It was a big hit in India, despite (or because of) breaking many taboos. It's not >3 hours long, not even long enough for an intermission. There are only a couple of songs. And, most importantly, there's some rather frank sexuality (nothing too dirty, save for a brief oral sex scene it would probably be PG-13 in America). Of course, it's funny that the country that literally wrote the book on interesting sex positions and has reached a population of a billion people likes to pretend in the movies that sex doesn't exist...but I digress. Oh yeah, and the title refers to a movie-long poop joke.

Three lazy roommates live in squalor. But at least Tashi has an improbably hot girlfriend (Shenaz Treasury, who was there for the screening). She asks him for just one small favor--deliver a mysterious package (which she picked up at the airport from a very nervous Russian) and deliver it to an address. But he passes it on to one roommate, who passes it to the other, who gets food poisoning and passes it back to the other roommate...who mixes up the package with a stool sample to be delivered to the doctor. Oops! Needless to say, the gangster who was supposed to get the package doesn't appreciate getting a thermos of shit instead, and so now their lives are endangered. It's like a Guy Ritchie gangster flick filtered through a raunchy comedy that just happens to be set in India, earning a Bollywood designation and an obligatory musical number. Loved it!

Running Time: 103 minutes
My Total Minutes: 256,176

Jason goes to the SFFS Animation Festival

Part of the SFFS Fall Season. I've only managed to fit one day into my busy schedule. But I saw three pretty great programs on Saturday.

First up, an adorable little movie NOCTURNA. Tim is a little boy in an orphanage (or maybe boarding school, it wasn't quite clear). He's sort of the quiet kid the other kids make fun of, and he's horribly afraid of the dark. In fact, every night he pushes his bunk to the window so he can look at his star--Adhara. His mother told him that his star would always be there to watch over him. But one night, his star disappears and that sends him on an adventure into the world of the night--a world known as Nocturna. He meets his cat, Tobermory (cats are responsible for making children go to sleep, but it turns out Tobermory is more of a sleepy head himself) and the giant Cat Shepherd. Turns out, the sounds and sights of the night aren't random--flickering streetlights, crickets chirps, branches rustling, wind, fog, everything is the tireless, never ending job of the denizens of Nocturna, ruled over Moka. But tonight, there's a terrible new danger to Nocturna, and Tim goes on an adventure to save his star--and as it turns out all the lights in Nocturna. Just a beautiful, charming adventure.

Then the second show was a shorts program (some short films, some music videos) called Ball of Confusion.
CRYSTALLINE: A musci video for Björk's song Crytalline. Points of light hit the moon, while crystals grow from below ground, and the disembodied, lit up head of Björk sings in the sky.
CENTRIFUGE BRAIN: A hilarious look at how extreme amusement park rides are really experiments in vertical centrifuges.
FINGER FIGHTER: Mortal Kombat, with fingers. And a really cool and funny surprise end.
THE HOLY CHICKEN OF LIFE AND MUSIC: Giant chicken creatures play opera music.
LEVITATING: A woman goes through her daily life while levitating a few inches above the ground (stop motion of her jumping). Mostly mundane tasks--shopping, ironing, etc.
POINT DE GAZE: Images of lace, which can serve as a music video for 4'33".
POSSESSION: By Aideen Barry, who also did Levitating. Similar technique used to show the repetition of suburban life and the surreal horror within. Includes eating a whole table full of desserts and cutting the grass with scissors stuck in your hair.
REULF: Little angular critters of color bring color to black and white Paris.
SPLITTING THE ATOM: A Mezzanine music video. Sci-fi war scenes, featuring a giant devil bunny! Giantdevilbunny! Giantdevilbunny! Giantdevilbunny! Giantdevilbunny!
SUNDAY: Church, visiting the grandparents, squashing quarters on the railroad tracks. Squashing an animal in the car (boor bunny!) making friends with a grizzly bear who stuck his head in through the window. Canada is weird, man.
THE THIRD & THE SEVENTH: Old cameras, lots of books, wild architecture. I don't know exactly what it's "about" but the whole thing was beautiful.
WILD LIFE: An English gentleman in the 1900's moves to Canada to become a rancher. He is not at all equipped for such a life, but at least he's very polite.

And then I finished up with a bit of Japanese weirdness, MIDORI-KO. The 10 year labor of love by master artist Keita Kurosaka. As a little girl, Midori loved vegetables but refused to eat meat because she always felt bad for poor animals. Now as a young woman she's a scientist researching and growing odd-shaped but delicious vegetables. Meanwhile, elsewhere five characters--one each with an eye, ear, mouth, nose, and hand for heads--bear witness to a mysterious vegetable pod brought forth by the sun's laser eyes. Out of the pod pops some sort of squash, which flies through the air and lands in Midori's apartment. There she finds it has a baby's face, and while her scan of it reveals it's all vegetable matter, it's a sentient vegetable. So she raises this little veggie as her son, protecting it from the odd denizens of her apartment building (including an old man and his fish-headed lover). And then things get weird. Beautiful, surreal, and grotesque. Of course I loved it!

Total Running Time: 215 minutes
My Total Minutes: 256,073

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Jason goes to the Hypnodrome to see SHOCKTOBERFEST: FEAR OVER FRISCO

I do love me some Thrillpeddlers! And this year for SHOCKTOBERFEST they've teamed up with the Czar of Noir Eddie Muller for a trio of short plays set in San Francisco (all written by Muller.)

We start with a musical number "Fear Over Frisco" taking us through the various decades of debauchery and death in San Francisco. Lyrics by Eddie Muller, music by Cockette and Thrillpeddler Scrumbly Koldewyn.

The first play is The Grand Inquisitor. I had earlier seen this story in short movie form, but it works even better on stage. An old woman living alone gets an inquisitive visitor. Seems some young woman had bought some old books and found tons of cryptic scribbles in the margins. Turns out the books had been owned by the old woman's husband, and the symbols might just be important clues to a famous old San Francisco mystery.

Then a little musical interlude of Johnny Mercer's "I Remember You" while they changed sets for the next play. That play was An Obvious Explanation, and "I Remember You" is a perfect lead-in, because it centers around a man with amnesia. He has escaped from the hospital with just an address, which turns out to be his own home. His brother is there, with a story of robbery and murder, and an important question--where's the money? This was the comedy show of the night (horror-comedy-horror is the traditional Grand Guignol "Scottish shower") and it was hilarious. And it featured the best surprise of the night.

Then we had about a 20 minute intermission. Time to get another beer before the finale.

Post intermission, we came back to a musical performance of "Pack up You Sins and Go to the Devil" by Irving Berlin.

And finally, the closing play was The Drug, adapted from the 1927 Gran Guignol play "La Drogue" by René Barton. A party at an inspector's house. We learn the details of a troublesome case involving an artist who was blinded by his lover. And we learn just who that spiteful, jealous lover might be. And then we sink into an opium dream, gouge out some eyeballs, and have some scares in the dark. Awesome!

There's one more weekend of this show. I don't know if there are any tickets left, but you can find out at

Jason slips into a Vortex and gets BEDAZZLED

That's the 1967 version with Dudley Moore, not the more recent version that I've never seen and so can easily pretend doesn't exist.

Anyway, the Vortex Room's 6 weeks of Satan (admission: $6.66) is over, and I caught the first half of the final night (couldn't stay for THE CAR, I had to catch BART home). BEDAZZLED is a devilish comedy starring the excellent Dudley Moore as virtual nobody Stanley Moon. He's a short order cook, no family, no friends, not even enough courage to speak to the waitress he likes. After chickening out one last time, he decides to end it all, and can't even do suicide right. And then he meets his new best friend--George Spiggot aka The Devil, the Prince of Darkness, Beelzebub, Lucifer, etc. (Peter Cook). Turns out the devil is more of an annoying prankster, scratching records and making prank phone calls. But he is a collector...of souls. He wants Stanley's, and is willing to trade him seven wishes for it. Of course, they all go wrong. Of course, Stanley learns a lesson. But what makes this movie fun is the chemistry between Moore and Cook. Really, the devil is Stanley's only friend so even when his wishes all backfire, it comes of as more like a mischievous friend pulling a practical joke--he does it because they're friends. That, and of course it's very silly (culminating in nuns jumping on trampolines). Oh yeah, and Raquel Welch has a brief bit as Lust, very nice!

Running Time: 103 minutes
My Total Minutes: 255,858

Jason goes to 3rd i--Day 2

Okay, I just caught one 3rd i program last Thursday. And it was the local shorts program The Family Circus. So here we go, in no particular order (actually, in the order they're listed on the website, but not the order they were shown).

We actually started with a live neo-benshi show using footage from PURAB AUR PASCHIM (EAST AND WEST), turning it into a sci-fi story of a boat to the moon where eunuchs save the economy through a focused program of smoking and shopping. Awesome.

FIRST OF MANY: A typical scene of Christmas morning, when a little girl gets the bike she asked Santa for, and gets something more.
PRETTY TIED UP: Dominatrices at work, with a big surprise.
DO I?: Paranoia, fear, bad dreams, must be something important on this guy's mind.
NARCISSUS: Surreal and beautiful retelling of the Narcissus story (you know, the guy who fell in love with his own reflection)
ABSOLUTION: Opens with a Camus quote, "There is only one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide." And then it explores those philosophical questions through the story of two businessmen--a desperate old guy and his former partner who betrayed them. They all seek--and perhaps find--absolution.
SATI: About the not-so-pleasant tradition of a widow throwing herself (or, more likely, being thrown) onto her husband's funeral pyre. One woman fights back against it.
FAIR AND LOVELY INSIDE: Don't you hate it when you do everything you can to look like you belong in white culture but you still don't feel comfortable? Well, here's a fantastic new product that will make you feel white on the inside!
THE POST-NUP SHOW: An animated show about the trials of a married couple Omar and Gaby. We saw two episodes. First THE TRAVELLING MAN was a musical montage of the difficulties of frequently being away on business, and the joy of returning home. Second was BEING SALMAN RUSHDIE, a hilarious take on what happens when Omar thinks he downloads an app that translates his writing into the style of Salman Rushdie (instead, it does a little more than that).

Total Running Time: 80 minutes
My Total Minutes: 255,755

Friday, November 11, 2011

Jason goes to 3rd i--Opening Night

Last Wednesday, the 3rd i South Asian Film Festival started, and of course I was there for the opening presentation of BIG IN BOLLYWOOD.

Okay, time for a little confession. I live in Fremont, CA, and the nearest theater to me is actually a Bollywood theater. Several years ago (back when it was the NAZ 8, a different Bollywood theater chain), I spent a year checking out the films there...and then I grew tired of it. I get it, and a good bit of Bollywood escapism can be fun as a rare treat. But after watching so much of it, I found it tiresomely repetitive. What I'm saying is--and it actually kind of hurts me to say this about any type of film--I am not a fan. I'm sorry.

Now, with that said, BIG IN BOLLYWOOD is hilarious fun. It's a documentary about Bollywood and the rise of star Omi Vaidya. In fact, the filmmakers are friends of Omi, and had no idea he would become so huge in Bollywood (and, from the Q&A, they don't really follow Bollywood so needed help from the audience to understand how huge he is). Omi is an Indian American actor struggling in L.A. Then he gets his Bollywood break--a supporting role in the film 3 IDIOTS, starring Aamir Khan, directed by Rajkumar Hirani, produced by Vidhu Vinod Chopra (in case you--like me--don't know these names, I'm assured they are huge). So his friends travel to India to attend his premiere and while they're there maybe make a little documentary about Bollywood. They sneak into the premiere by making fake press passes claiming they're press from "Hollywood Kitchen." And the movie is a huge hit. In fact, the biggest Bollywood movie of all time. And instead of just a small role, Omi (who they call the 4th idiot) has the funniest scene in the film (an ass-kissing speech where the word "miracle" is replaced with "rape" and he doesn't know because he's delivering it phonetically). So instead of the various side stories they were going to pursue about Bollywood, the whole movie becomes about their friend Omi becoming a star--winning awards, making public appearances, being recognized, being mobbed, actually being offered roles instead going to a ton of auditions. Whether you like Bollywood or not, it's a fun story of a guy making it big in a way he never expected. And, of course, it's all true (if you can trust the guys who lied about being press to get into a movie premiere).

Oh yeah, and from the scenes shown in this film, I went ahead and bought a DVD of 3 IDIOTS.

Running Time: 70 minutes
My Total Minutes: 255,675

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Jason goes to Not Necessarily Noir II--the grand Ed Wood Finale!

Yeah...Ed Wood (woo hoo?) Anyway, here we go.

Oh, by the way, big thanks to the inimitable Johnny Legend (world's first Ed Wood fan) for not only this program but Monday night's GIRL GANG/TEENAGE GANG DEBS program. Really cool guy.

First up, JAIL BAIT, starring Timothy Farrell (remember him from GIRL GANG?) as hoodlum Vic Brady. He's friends with Don Gregor, although he's certainly not the type of friend Don's father, Dr. Gregor, would approve of. In fact, he convinces Gregor to help him on a job robbing a theater after hours. But things go wrong, Vic shoots a girl (who lives) and Don shoots a security guard (who dies). Well, that's a problem because Don has enough of a conscience that he might just go to the cops. However, Vic has no such conscience, he just needs a way to evade the cops. Oh, hey, Dr. Gregor is actually a plastic surgeon, that's convenient! Also features the first speaking role by Steve Reeves (as a cop).

Second up, the classic GLEN OR GLENDA. This version was edited by Johnny Legend to be closer to Ed Wood's original cut, removing the incongruous bondage scene (don't worry, it was shown later in Johnny Legend's WOODWORLD presentation). Once again Timothy Farrell once again appears, as both the narrator and a psychiatrist who specializes in transvestism. When the cops find a cross-dressing corpse after a suicide, they go to him for advice. He spins two stories, one of normal heterosexual cross-dressing Glen/Glenda (Ed Wood himself), who loves the feel of angora sweaters but is terrified his fiancee won't approve. The second is Alan/Anne (Tommy Haynes), a pseudo-hermaphrodite who undergoes a sex change operation to become a woman. Throughout it all, Timothy Farrell gives a heartfelt and earnest appeal for tolerance and understanding. And oh yeah, Bela Lugosi lords over it all as some God-like puppet master laughing at humanity while proclaiming, "pull the string!" Oh, and there are actually rather brilliant dream sequences with the devil. In fact, this might seriously be an overlooked surrealist masterpiece, incorrectly dumped into the "bad movie" pile due solely to the name Ed Wood.

Next, we saw Johnny Legends compendium of WOODWORLD. A 45 minute collection of bizarre clips, interviews, etc. Yes, there's the bondage scene taking out of GLEN OR GLENDA, now re-titled BELA'S BONDAGE BOUTIQUE. There's Johnny Legend being interviewed on MTV by an incredibly young looking Jon Stewart. And there's my favorite part, commercials Ed Wood shot "on spec." Normally on spec refers to a script you write hoping someone will want to buy it and make it into a movie. Well, Ed Wood shot a series of commercials for generic objects (e.g., a car) and then inserted a blank spot where the sponsor's card would go. I.e., a car maker might want to buy a commercial for a generic car (instead of actually showing their own) and then slap up a card with their brand name? Needless to say, Ed Wood sold exactly zero of these.

And finally, we had to end with the classic PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE. This is actually the second time I've seen it on the big screen this year alone. Now this time it wasn't colorized, it wasn't in 3-D, and I wasn't dressed as Vampira (I'm sure at least one of these made it a more pleasant experience for the audience). But it was still pretty good...or pretty bad. Hell, it's PLAN 9, it exists in a realm outside of such outdated terms as "good" or "bad." It's just 100% PLAN 9.

Total Running Time (estimated): 261 minutes
My Total Minutes: 255,604

Jason goes to Not Necessarily Noir II--GIRL GANG and TEENAGE GANG DEBS

Catching up on the last week of movies. Monday was a night of naughty girls, all right!

First up, GIRL GANG (1954). Although the gang is full of girls, it's run by a man, Joe (Timothy Farrell, who showed up in Tuesday's Ed Wood night, but I'm getting ahead of myself). He runs the girls in a ring of robbery and prostitution. Of course, he controls them by getting and keeping them hooked on heroin. And that's the strangest thing about the movie--step by step, explicit instructions on how to shoot heroin. And this is in the middle of the Hays code era. What...the...fuck? I'm sure other stuff happens, but I'm still kind of hung up on the heroin scenes.

And the second half of the weirdness is TEENAGE GANG DEBS. Shot with the help of real motorcycle gangs, it's the story of a Brooklyn gang "The Rebels" and the nasty Manhattan girl who ruins everything for her. She seduces the "Prez" Johnny, then seduces a tough guy Nino, then convinces them to fight each other, leading to Johnny dying and Nino taking over as the new Prez. Oh, and she makes all the guys gang rape Johnny's girl. Yeah, she's pretty bad. And things get worse until the other debs decide it's time to take her out. Pretty awesome.

Total Running Time: 138 minutes
My Total Minutes: 255,344

Monday, November 7, 2011

Jason goes to Jewfest South, Sunday November 6th

Formally known as the Silicon Valley Jewish Film Festival, but of course I call it Jewfest South, to distinguish between Jewfests North and East. Anyway, it's already half over and I only finally made it to their films yesterday. Four films, though:

First up, a pretty remarkable documentary A FILM UNFINISHED. In 1942, the Nazis made a propaganda film in the Warsaw Ghetto. The footage, labelled simply "The Ghetto" would've made it the longest Nazi propaganda film ever, if it had been completed. Instead, there are a collection of scenes of daily life--some staged showing Jews living in relative comfort, and others showing abject deprivation. For years the film was used as an "authentic" portrayal of ghetto life (although it's pretty clear when some scenes were staged). In 1998, new outtakes from the film were discovered that shed new light on exactly how much of the footage was staged. That, plus the meticulous diaries of Jewish council leader Adam Czerniakow and testimony of a cameraman show more precisely how much was staged and perhaps lead to clues about what the propagandists were trying to portray. My best guess is that they intended to contrast the privileged Jews living in luxury with the starving Jews on the streets, as some sort of "see, they don't care about their own people" message. Alternatively, perhaps only the luxury/comfort scenes were intended to be shown in one movie, and the scenes of starvation and death were for something else. In any case, there are of course plenty of shocking, horrific Holocaust scenes, and a fascinating inspection of the process of propaganda.

Speaking of propaganda and staged reality, next up was BERLIN '36. As in, the Olympic games in Berlin in 1936. And a major issue of the games--a threatened American boycott over Nazi Germany's racial policies. Specifically, if Jews weren't allowed to compete for the German team, the U.S. was threatening to walk out. Most important was Gretel Bergmann, one of the best female high jumpers in the world. If she wasn't given a chance to make the German team, that was a deal-breaker. So first Germany had to convince her to return from England, where she had fled. A few threats to her family made that happen. Then they had to make sure she didn't qualify. That's the hard part--she was clearly the best of their female high jumpers. So they found a new talent--Marie Ketteler had everything a champion female high jumper needed--strength, stamina, heart, a penis...wait, what?! Raised by her mother who always wanted a daughter, if (s)he hadn't been a useful part in the plan to keep Gretel out of the games (s)he probably would've been exterminated as a "mental defective." Instead, she's brought in as the main competition/Gretel's replacement. But as training is pretty miserable for both of them (Gretel isolated by others, Marie self-isolated), they actually end up becoming friends. The film really builds up the tension well, and leaves you hoping that Gretel will have a chance to compete and show the Nazi dolts how wrong they are. Of course, this is all based on a true story, so even though I won't spoil it here it's pretty trivial to read up and get spoilers from true life.

From a cursory read, it seems the biggest change in the film was that the Marie Ketteler character in real life was named Dora Ratjen. I'm not sure why they changed it for the movie (perhaps rights to her/his life story). The movie actually ends with a brief interview with Gretel, in her 90's and living in New York, and that was pretty cool.

Then the third film of the day, a real comedy treat, THE CONCERT. 30 years ago, Andrei Filipov was the conductor of the Bolshoi symphony. Now he's the janitor. Turns out that's because he stood up for his Jewish musicians against Brezhnev. Fat lot of good it did him, though. But then he intercepts a fax inviting the Bolshoi to play a concert in Paris. So he does what any sane man in a wacky comedy would do--he steals the fax and conspires with his friends to impersonate the Bolshoi and go to Paris and finally finish the Tchaikovsky concerto he was conducting when he was rudely interrupted by a party official. That's right, it's time to get the band (symphony) back together! All the musicians are off in different lives now (an ambulance driver, salesmen, gypsies, etc.) but they all magically pull together to make the impossible happen. A movie with a lot of laughs, a good heart, and I guess under it all a pretty sobering story about the treatment of Jewish musicians in the old Soviet Union.

And finally, we ended the night with the touching documentary PRECIOUS LIFE, which I had seen earlier this year at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival. Here's what I said back then:
PRECIOUS LIFE by journalist Shlomi Eldar. Shlomi had covered Gaza up until Hamas came to power and Gaza was essentially closed. One of the few remaining connections to Gaza are the hospitals--if a Palestinian in Gaza is sick enough, they will let him through to an Israeli hospital on humanitarian grounds. And that's how he met Mohammad, an immune-compromised infant whose desperate mother takes him to the hospital and tries to raise money for a bone marrow transplant. Shlomi goes on TV with the story and a mysterious anonymous donor offers up all the money needed. Now they just need to find a matching donor. None of Mohammad's siblings are a match, so they have to try to get cousins into Israel, which is no easy feat. There's a really moving comparison with the efforts to save one baby and the military operations that destroy so many people. It's a powerful reminder that when you look into innocent, dying eyes you can't help but see how precious life it. At the same time, conversations about martyrdom, and the family's struggle with scorn back in Gaza underscore how little we truly understand each other.
Yup, that pretty much sums it up. A really powerful movie, and then we followed it with a Skype chat with Shlomi, moderated by Permanente Medical Group CEO Dr. Robert Pearl. It was really great to get to hear from the director. And the best part--when he described how Mohammad's mother and father watched the movie and she was a strong, relatively stoic women (much like how she appears in the movie) but he was crying all the way through. One thing that really struck me seeing the movie again was how the mother really is a strong woman, just put in an awful situation so sometimes she says things she probably wishes she hadn't.

Total Running Time: 401 minutes
My Total Minutes: 255,206

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Jason goes to Not Necessarily Noir II--BLOW OUT and BRAINSTORM

A couple more Not Necessarily Noir films at the Roxie last night. But first, since the series title begs the question, let's consider whether they really can be classified as film noir. I will use my favorite definition, from the Czar of Noir himself, Eddie Muller. To paraphrase, at the last Noir City he declared that noir doesn't have to be American, Black and White, or even about criminals. It just has to be about people who know they're doing the wrong thing but choose to do it anyway.

By that standard, THE KILLERS was certainly noir. PLAY MISTY FOR ME is...borderline. Evelyn certainly did the wrong thing, but if she was crazy did she really know it was wrong? More importantly, is the movie really about her, or about Dave Garver, who arguably did nothing wrong? I'll score that (if anyone cares) as "not noir."

Now on to BLOW OUT (1981). A Brian De Palma classic, in his full-on sleazy Hitchcock mode. John Travolta plays a movie sound engineer who is an "ear-witness" to a car accident, where he jumps into the water and saves a woman. Thing is, he was sure (and has it on tape) that there were two bangs in the blow out. First a gun shot, then the tire blew out. But no one believes him, the official report is that it was a freak accident. And oh yeah, Governor Ryan, the leading presidential candidate died in that accident, and nobody seems to care about investigating further (as an aside, it was pretty silly that the news reports showed polls that Governor Ryan leading the unnamed "President" by a wide margin.) But Travolta conducts his own investigation--trying to protect the girl and get the video footage from a slovenly Dennis Franz who just "happened" to be testing some high speed film that night and caught the crash on film. Oh yeah, and he goes up against a diabolical John Lithgow. And, without any spoilers, I just have to say I loved, loved, loved the ending.

Is it noir? Maybe half. There are definitely people (mostly John Lithgow, but also some unknown powers behind him) knowingly doing bad. But it's not really his character's story. Certainly there are enough noir elements to qualify.

And then BRAINSTORM (1965) stormed my brain. Jim Grayam (Jeff Hunter) finds a car on the railroad tracks with a woman (Anne Francis) passed out in the front seat. He saves her, and then finds out she's Lorrie Benson. That's a bit awkward, because her husband Cort Benson (Dana Andrews) is his employer--he's a scientist working on the moon shot. When he delivers her home, her husband is grateful but she screams about how it had taken her 6 months to work up the nerve, and calls her husband a sadist. But the next time Jim sees Lorrie, she's all perky and slightly drunk. She drags him off to a party where in spite of himself he A) has fun, and B) falls for her. That's a big problem because Mr. Benson is a man of means and, as it turns out, sadistic enough to try to drive him crazy. But Jim finally hatches a plan--kill Benson, but pretend to be insane so he'll get away with it. But is there a difference between pretending to be insane and actually being insane? Beautifully twisted!

Is it noir? Oh, most definitely.

On little comment, the Roxie tried and tried but could not get Warner Brothers to release their archive film print of BRAINSTORM. So they played it on digital, which was...okay. I could see a few digital artifacts, but nothing too distracting. I'm not a hard-liner, I love film but I'm not afraid of digital. I've certainly seen worse than this, and mostly have trained myself to ignore it. And a clean, high resolution, artifact free digital print vs. a grainy, scratched, deteriorated film--I'd prefer digital. But in this case I was left just slightly wishing for a film print.

Total Running Time: 221 minutes
My Total Minutes: 254,805

Saturday, November 5, 2011


And it's as funny as it is unnecessary. Two years after their escape from Guantanamo Bay, Harold and Kumar are no longer friends. Harold has moved on--he's married, with a big house, a scary father-in-law (Danny Trejo), and a new best friend (a milquetoast Tom Lennon.) Kumar is still in the apartment, which is now a total mess, and he has grown a beard. They've made a clean split, but when a package is delivered to Kumar's apartment with Harold's name on it, he has to make at least an obligatory visit. And that sets in motion the wacky adventure with a burnt tree, Ukrainian gangsters, a high baby, Santa Claus, and of course Neil Patrick Harris as "Neil Patrick Harris" (oh yeah, he's back, after going to heaven and being cock-blocked by Jesus himself.) Oh yeah, and it's in 3-D, and they make a few cheesy meta jokes about that. I'm so over 3-D, and I'm so over Harold and Kumar...except that I really enjoyed this. Almost enough to actually care if they make a fourth movie.

Running Time: 90 minutes
My Total Minutes: 254,584

Jason goes to Not Necessarily Noir II--THE KILLERS (1964) and PLAY MISTY FOR ME

I love the lineup for the Roxie's Not Necessarily Noir II series. It goes through next Tuesday, but started last night with a bang.

First up, THE KILLERS. This in the 1964 Don Siegel-directed remake, not the 1946 version, which I've never seen but I hear is a classic. In this version, two hitmen (Lee Marvin and Clu Gallagher) knock off an auto mechanic teaching in a blind school (John Cassavetes). He offers no resistance, and that bothers Lee Marvin's character. He just has to find out why. So he digs, and finds that mechanic was a race car driver brought down by a dame (Angie Dickinson). He was lured into a world of crime, led by ruthless crime boss Jack Browning (Ronald Reagan, in his final movie role). There's something enormously satisfying about watching Ronald Reagan slap Angie Dickinson and then John Cassavetes responding by punching Reagan in the face. Oh yeah, and Reagan's assistant/partner in crime is Mickey Farmer, played by Norman Fell. It took me an embarrassingly long time to recognize him as Mr. Roper from "Three's Company."

And then the second half of the double bill was PLAY MISTY FOR ME. Clint Eastwood stars in his directorial debut, playing a late-night disc jockey Dave Garver with an overly obsessed fan Evelyn Draper (Jessica Walter). It was fine when she just called every night asking him to play Misty. And it was even okay when she met him at a bar after work and let him think he picked her up when in reality it was vice-versa. And it was okay when they had one night of mutually agreed upon no-attachments sex. But when she started showing up at his house unannounced, it was not okay. And when her obsession went into overdrive and she pulled out all the stops (even a suicide attempt) to stay with him, it was less and less okay. To complicate things further, Dave is trying to leave his "player" past behind and focus on getting back together with his old flame Tobie (Donna Mills) who just blew back to town unannounced (side note, that town is Carmel-by-the-Sea, where Clint Eastwood would later serve as mayor. So the theme of the night was actors who appeared in other films with monkeys and who later got into politics.) Plus he has a big career opportunity in San Francisco. Evelyn, of course, will mess all that up. There's a big final-act twist which I won't reveal. But I will say I saw it from a mile away because I remembered a bit of poetry from high school. Seeing as how Eastwood's character is all about reading poetry on air between the music, I found it a little hard to believe that he didn't also recognize the poem, it's a pretty famous one. But then the money scene (which I also won't reveal) at the very end made me forget everything else. That scene alone is worth the price of admission.

Total Running Time: 197 minutes
My Total Minutes: 254,494

Jason slips into a Vortex and into the ASYLUM OF SATAN

So instead of going to the Cinema By The Bay opening night party, I booked it over to the Vortex Room (walked 1.7 miles in just under 30 minutes--just because I'm a fat slob doesn't mean I'm a fat, lazy slob). Got there just in time as the pre-film treats were playing. A couple of Manhattans down, and I was ready for some silly satanism.

And silly is the right word. A young woman wakes up in a hospital bed, not remembering how she got there. Turns out the asylum is a pretty weird place--run by a mysterious Dr. Specter (no double meaning in that name) and his androgynous nurse assistant Martine (who drew a "What's that? It's Pat!" reaction.) There are a lot of wheelchair bound patients in white robes with pointed hoods, making some gatherings look like a klansmen's retirement home. Eventually we do get to Satan, and of course Dr. Specter is sacrificing his patients to the dark lord. But by then I was still more interested in the trailer for THE CAR that they showed earlier.

Running Time: 80 minutes
My Total Minutes: 254,297

Friday, November 4, 2011

Jason watches I THINK IT'S RAINING

It was the opening night of Cinema By The Bay, part of the SFFS fall program, and probably the only film I'll see in this program.

This is the directorial debut of Joshua Moore, programmer for the SF Jewish Film Festival. So I already knew he could pick good films, but it turns out he can make them, too.

The film is mostly a character study of Renata (Alexandra Clayton). She's seems a bit of a quirky free spirit, opening the film with a monologue about always moving forward, until a little girl offers her an ice cream cone (What flavor? Yummy!) Then we see her wandering through San Francisco, getting drunk and disruptive, being both funny and annoying. And we see her taking some medication, and having a few breakdowns. And we learn that she's back in San Francisco after some unexplained absence. Presumably it had something to do with those breakdowns, but at least San Francisco is welcoming her with open arms.

And then she meets Val. And equally quirky guy, waiting for a bus in the rain. It's raining, she has an umbrella, he doesn't, but rather than just wait under the bus stop shelter, he decides to chat her up and try to get under that umbrella with her (opening move, pull out a cocktail umbrella and try to huddle under it). And it works, and it looks like romance might be in the air. At least, it might be if she can drop her quirky defenses and not have another one of those emotional breakdowns.

As a final point, I kind of hate the cliche of saying "the city is a character!" but g-d damn if it isn't appropriate here. I just loved that it's set in a very distinct San Francisco, but San Francisco for insiders (residents or frequent visitors like myself). There's not a shot of the Golden Gate Bridge or cable cars (or Coit Tower, the Transamerica pyramid, or anything recognizably San Francisco to someone who has never been here). Instead, it's the San Francisco of Muni buses and BART tickets (although using a BART ticket as a bookmark was kind of nostalgic for me, everyone is on Clipper now). In fact, now that I rack my brains, I'm not sure if the words "San Francisco" were ever spoken. I felt it made the movie work on different levels depending on if you're familiar with SF or not. If not, it works perfectly well as a universal story, it could happen in any city. If you know San Francisco, it's a unique story that could only unfold in exactly that way in exactly that city.

Running Time: 92 minutes
My Total Minutes: 254,217

Jason watches MINDGLOW, with performances by Limosine and Bronze

I've never seen such a hullabaloo for the world premiere of a short film. But then, I've never seen a short film quite like MINDGLOW before (and you know I see a lot of films). Teeth brushing...infected burritos...male pregnancy...alien vagina football babies with eleven eyes...I swear I'm not just typing random words, all these and more are in this film. Describing it would defeat the purpose.

Oh yeah, and the world premiere featured an opening performance by local bands Bronze and Limosine. I know fuck-all about music, including which band was which. But the pre-band was a bunch of screeching and tribal chants, plus some paper snowflake chains. The post-band were dressed as cops, and once they got going (after some technical difficulty, blew a fuse or something trying to plug in a fog machine) they were slightly more musical, but still pretty loud and screechy. Either that, or sitting as far up front as possible isn't the best spot acoustically. Both bands made me think, 'man, that movie was pretty fucked up.' Quite a night.

Running Time: 17 minutes
My Total Minutes: 254,125

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


Back at the Roxie, because this one just looks like fun.

Kevin Corrigan stars as Ken Boyd, an artist and recently released mental patient who works in an ice cream shop. He seethes with revenge for the bullies from his high school who left him literally scarred. He doesn't talk much, and his acerbic mother (Karen Black) cuts him no slack, while dating the eccentric town sheriff, played by Barry Bostwick. I just have to say how good Barry Bostwick is in this. Barry Bostwick Barry Bostwick Barrybostwick. Barrybarrybostwick Bostwick, Barry Bostwick. Barry Bostwickbarry....

Sorry, slipped off into something there. Anway, Ken's childhood tormentors start dying in unusual and somewhat artistic murders. Meanwhile Ken finds out he has a daughter (Ariel Gade) who has been kept away from him for 11 years. And he meets a girl who might just be interested in him (Lucy Davis). So things might just be looking up for him. Of course, he still has an odd habit of going out alone in the middle of the night on just those nights when his enemies end up dead.

Overall, there are a lot of cheesy and/or flat moments that you might expect from the director of MEGASHARK VS. GIANT OCTOPUS. Personally, I think it would've worked better as straight-up comedy instead of trying to be a bit too earnest at times. Often I found myself waiting for the next Barry Bostwick scene. Barry Bostwick Barry Bostwick Barrybarry Barrybostwick....

Oops. But yeah, overall it wasn't high art but it was actually pretty fun.

Running Time: 97 minutes
My Total Minutes: 254,108

Jason watches ZOMBIE

Gotta love Lucio Fulci going classically, crazily gory. This is an Italian gorefest classic released in 1979 and getting a limited theatrical re-release (digitally restored and remastered) by Blue Underground. And on the Roxie screen on Halloween night, it looked beautiful and the fans were cheering at all the right (i.e., goriest moments). Makes you even forgive the cheesy plot and the bad dubbing (like many Italian productions of the time, it had half a cast that spoke English and half only spoke Italian--all dialogue was dubbed in after the fact). There are other cheesy/exploitative elements that I don't even need gore to forgive--like why does the hot chick need to scuba dive topless? I don't care if it makes no sense, it's one of those "best movie ever!" surprise moments. And a topless scuba diving chick being attacked by a shark and an underwater zombie--that's a good candidate for the definition of cinematic perfection.

Running Time: 91 minutes
My Total Minutes: 254,011

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


It was a super-cheesy dumb blonds in sci-fi double feature at the Stanford.

First up, THE TIME MACHINE (1960) roughly followed the trajectory of H. G. Wells' novel. Sure, you have to gloss over the idea that the Eloi, some 800,000 years in the future, still speak English. And I love the thinking behind a movie that in 1960 predicted London would be nuked into oblivion in the distant future of...1966. As far as the dumb blond, that would be Eloi Weena, played by Yvette Mimieux. Of course, maybe this is a bit unfair, since all the Eloi, by nature of their characters, are sort of idiots. But in all seriousness the mannequin was a more compelling female lead.

And the second half was the classic alleged adaption of Shakespeare's The Tempest--FORBIDDEN PLANET. What's not to love--electronic theremin soundtrack, Robby the Robot, monsters from the Id, an unrecognizable dark-haired Leslie Nielsen, Walter Pidgeon as the reclusive survivor Dr. Morbius (and finally some recognition for the scientific contributions of philologists!). And, of course, Anne Francis as the dumb blond Alta Morbius.

Once again, of course, the dumb blond character is really just naive, and there's a good reason behind it. In this case, she's led the ultimate secluded life, with just her father and Robby the Robot to keep her company. It's still just striking how there are no strong female characters in either movie. Apparently girls in the 50's and 60's didn't need role models.

Total Running Time: 201 minutes
My Total Minutes: 253,920