Friday, December 28, 2012


And first and foremost, it's good to be back in Middle Earth. And I actually liked how Peter Jackson started at the beginning of Lord of the Rings, with the preparation for Bilbo's party. I thought it would just be a bit of fanboy service, an excuse to bring Ian Holm and Elijah Wood back...and maybe it was, but it worked, darn it (although it did bring up the question of why young Bilbo has more of an English accent than old Bilbo. I guess he lost his accent somewhat on his journeys.) And, in fact, the same with bringing Hugo Weaving back as Elrond (who is at least a part of the book) and Cate Blanchett as Galadriel and Christopher Lee as Saruman. They aren't in the book (as far as I can remember, unlike LOTR, I wasn't excited enough to go back and re-read the book just before the movies.) But they fit into Peter Jackson's Middle Earth easily, and their discussions about a growing evil and a "necromancer" who is turning the Green Woods into something the locals have started calling "Mirkwood" lends some much needed gravitas to a story whose source material is a much lighter children's story. I think balancing the silliness of the source material with the Middle Earth he's already created is one of Peter Jackson's biggest challenges here.

Speaking of silliness...Radagast the Brown. Okay, unlike a lot of criticism, I actually don't mind the eccentric, crazy hobo take on the character. I didn't need to see half of his face caked with bird crap. I don't care if it's in keeping with his character (his hair is a literal birds' nest.) For that matter, I didn't need to see a troll blow his nose on Bilbo. For that matter, since when do trolls use handkerchiefs? (Again, I haven't read the book since I was a kid, so if that was in the book I'm sorry.)

I actually did like Radagast's sled pulled by bunnies. But then, I kind of have a thing for bunnies.

I also thought that stretching it out to three movies would be a big challenge (even though Jackson insisted he needed to do it because he came up with so much to shoot.) But I was surprised how the action kept going. I'm still skeptical as anyone about stretching it into three movies, but I have to admit that it never really dragged for me (maybe a bit during the introduction of all the dwarves.)

Ah, the dwarves. That's a sticky point. They are individualized enough that they all have their distinct characters. But there's so many of them and they're introduced so rapidly that it's still hard to care about each of them individually, other than Thorin Oakenshield. Perhaps this will improve with the next installments. But so far, nearly all the dwarves come off as comic relief, and that's more comic relief than this movie needs.

Now some of the technical points. First the IMAX 3D. It was generally okay. It broke Jason's Rule of 3D a few times and other times it just didn't make full use of the 3D potential (specifically, in one of the panorama scenes when the company was running across the screen, I thought a better use of 3D would be to have them running into the screen.) But all in all I'd give the 3D work a B-. And, of course, the IMAX screen is beautiful, and congratulations to Anchorage, AK for having an IMAX screen (at the Regal Tikahtnu.)

Oh yeah, I saw it in Anchorage, with (most of) my family. And that brings me to the next technical point--High Frame Rate, or HFR, or 48 fps (frames per second.) Movies were all at 24 fps from the advent of the soundtrack on the film Peter Jackson made THE HOBBIT an experiment in doubling that frame rate. And quite a bit of pixels have been sacrificed by others writing about it. Some say it looks "weird," "artificial," "plastic," "too real" (i.e., it looks like actors holding props, not dwarves holding axes and swords.) Alternatively, the action scenes are supposed to be clearer and easier to watch, since there's only half the motion blur. For the rest of my family, they thought it looked weird for a bit at the beginning, but they got used to it right away. For me, I thought it looked weird almost the whole time. The exception for the most part were night/low light scenes. And that's what I felt more than things being "fake" or even "too real," it's that light and shadows play a bit differently in 48 fps than 24 fps (this might also be a function of the Red Epic cameras they used.) I don't know a lot of the technical aspects of filmmaking, but it reminded me a lot of the first digitally-shot films where the digital cameras picked up light differently than film. It took a combination of art (learning to light digital video) and science (innovations and improvements in the cameras) to make DV look almost as good as film (cinephiles out there may now lynch me in effigy for suggesting that's even possible, but dammit, there is plenty of DV that looks great.) In any case, as I already said the rest of the family got used to it quickly, so this is bound to be a personal reaction. All I can advise is check it out for yourself and see what it's like for you.

The second aspect of HFR is how the action scenes are supposed to look clearer. And certainly it's good for that. But the thing is, Peter Jackson was already excellent at making battle scenes you could actually follow. The battles in LOTR are about a thousand times better than your average shaky-cam action scene. And the thing is, I felt like Jackson used HFR to engage in more shaky-cam antics than he ever had before (especially in the early scenes of Smaug's attack.) Going from relatively smoothly shot 24 fps to shaky-cam 48 fps is a step backwards, not a step forwards.

So, in the ultimate analysis...I don't think this experiment in HFR entirely worked. But I'm also not ready to abandon the experiment entirely. So here's hoping they get it to work better in the next couple of movies (and hoping other filmmakers make their own HFR experiments.)

Running Time: 169 minutes
My Total Minutes: 308,569

Monday, December 17, 2012

Jason goes to Bad Movie Night and watches THE NUTCRACKER 3D in glorious 2D

It doesn't lose anything with that missing dimension, unless the third dimension isn't depth, but competent filmmaking.

Apparently I didn't learn my lesson last year. To make things worse, as part of my 'I-won't-be-a-total-ass-(just-a-half-ass)-at-Bad-Movie-Night' pledge, I watched it sober this time. That was a mistake.

So let me continue to harp on the fact that Nathan Lane...plays Albert THE NUTCRACKER. This is empirically a worse career move than voicing a cartoon animal from Africa that most Americans have never heard of.

Consider this. In an alternate universe Nathan Lane never got famous for voicing the meerkat in THE LION KING. He is basically still a struggling actor, getting enough work to make a living but never being in high demand. This movie is in fact the biggest thing on his resume. He meets with a lot of casting directors and the conversation goes something like this.

Nathan Lane: Hi, I'm Nathan Lane, here's my resume [hands resume to casting director]
Casting Director: Interesting...[scans down the page, then stops] Oh! I see you were in a film version of THE NUTCRACKER, a delightful holiday classic! One of my favorites!
NL: Yes, I'm very proud of that one.
CD: What role did you play?
NL: Ummm...[whisper-mumbles] Albert Einstein.
CD: I'm sorry, I didn't catch that.
NL: Albert Einstein.
CD: Get the fuck out of my office!

Running Time: 110 minutes
My Total Minutes: 308,400

Saturday, December 15, 2012


PUS (Performers Under Stress) have a new show playing now at Bindlestiff, and all it needs is more...audience. I know, everybody is busy with holiday plans, parties, etc. But go ahead and take a break from that and read some poetry...or watch other people read and perform it for you.

So I really didn't think I was much of a poetry fan, but that didn't stop me. And it shouldn't intimidate you, either. They start with poems and performance about poetry, leading with the thesis that poetry should be performed and experienced in all ways possible, not chained up on the page to be studied and analyzed.

And then they move briskly from poem to poem--politics, sex, humor...probably other stuff, too, but that's actually what I remember most as the overarching theme. There are a lot of poems about politics, sex, and humor. I'm not going to get into the weeds of all the poets they showcased. It simply moved to fast for something like that, and besides explicating the poems and throwing a list of names you might never have heard of at you is exactly the sort of intimidating barrier to poetry appreciation that this show is tries to break down. I will say that even in the couple of times when my mind wandered and I caught myself not even knowing what words were being spoken, I was still enjoying the rhythm of the words.

Then, after a short intermission the second half started out with a poetry slam. And I got to be a judge. And there was a poem about bunnies! You might not know this, but I like bunnies! You can catch more of that kind of action at the Oakland Poetry Slam.

And you can catch YOU NEED TO READ POETRY! in their handful of remaining shows--Friday, Saturday, and Sunday until Dec. 23. Tickets available on their website. And if I remember my program guide correctly (I seem to have misplaced it) the Friday and Saturday shows include the Oakland Poetry Slam, the Sunday show includes poetry readings and something called The Explication Game. Sounds interesting. Anyone who goes to (or has gone to) a Sunday show, go ahead and let me know how that is.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Jason celebrates the apocalypse in The Vortex Room with THE ΩMEGA MAN

Yeah, check the credits, it's not THE OMEGA MAN, it's THE ΩMEGA MAN (or, if you want to spell out the Greek letter it's THE OMEGAMEGA MAN.
Anyway, Charlton Heston as the last man on Earth...kinda. During the day he loots L.A. for survival necessities. At night he bunkers up in his home while he's attacked by sunlight-averse ex-humans. Unlike the Will Smith piece of garbage, these aren't brainless zombies. In fact, they're called The Family and are led by the rather articulate Mathias (played by Anthony Zerbe--Charlton Heston, you got Zerbed!) In fact, the scenes where Mathias pontificates about how Neville (Heston) is the last of the true evil to infect the earth and his race is the new, deserving replacements for humans...well, those are easily the most interesting parts of the movie. Well, that and a naked Rosalind Cash.
I really should read the Richard Matheson novel it's based on. And see the Vincent Price version. And stop thinking too hard about how the light-averse Family's primary weapon is fire. You know fire gives off light, right?
Anyway, Merry Apocalypse everyone, and if the world doesn't end I'm looking forward to many excellent nights in The Vortex Room next year (their Apocalypse series continues, but I'll be out of town.)
Running Time: 98 minutes
My Total Minutes: 308,290

Wednesday, December 12, 2012


And if it's me reading the signs, it's waaaay overwritten.

I really wanted to like this movie more. There's a lot going for it. Although I've been accused of not liking romantic films (and I'll admit they're not exactly my cup of tea) I do appreciate them. Especially a good crazy-meets-crazy romantic dramedy (BENNY & JOON is still a classic to me.) And the leads--Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence--are plenty appealing. Bradley plays a guy who just got released from a mental hospital, after he caught his wife cheating and flipped out a bit (the fact that he was undiagnosed bi-polar just made things worse.) Jennifer plays the little sister of his best friend's wife, a widow who has psychological issues of his own. He's still trying to get back with his wife (despite a restraining order) even though she's just perfect for him. And the supporting cast is so high caliber it includes Robert De Niro as his Eagles-obsessed bookie father with his own anger issues.

So why didn't it work for me? Let me explain the inside joke in the first line. I've given enough spoilers already, so highlight to read more [SPOILER WARNING] A large part of the plot revolves around Bradley Cooper's character trying to get a letter to his wife (illegal, what with the restraining order and all.) Jennifer Lawrence's character agrees to help him, in exchange for him being her partner in a dance contest. Well, he hands off the letter and a few days later she brings him a reply. First clue his wife didn't write it (other than that's obviously what the plot called for)--it's typed instead of hand written. But there's the conspicuous phrase, "if it's me reading the stars..." in the letter. Later, they have a confrontation with his whole family where she defends him spending time with her rather than watching the Eagles (his dad has this superstition that he's a good luck charm for the team.) Not once, but twice she uses the phrase, "if it's me reading the stars," as if it wouldn't be obvious enough the first time. Then, just to drive it home, there's a scene where he steps outside and re-reads the reply letter. I got it the first time (and I assume he would've, too. He's crazy, not stupid!) you don't have to repeat it. And that's just one of the more glaring examples. And it all just bugged me. It's not even so much that it took me out of the moment and made me notice I was watching a very distinctly written movie, it's that it made me realize I was reading something written by someone who doesn't think much of the intelligence of his characters...or his audience. [END SPOILER.]

But then, it has a 90% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, so what the hell do I know?

Running Time: 122 minutes
My Total Minutes: 308,192

Jason goes to the Roxie and watches THE COMEDY

It bears repeating, there is still time to donate to the Roxie's Kickstarter campaign. I know they've already reached their goal, but anything extra is...well, extra. And as any film fan in San Francisco knows, our single-screen art house theaters need all the help they can get. R.I.P., Bridge.

So I saw a second movie at the Roxie last night (Tuesday,) and it was as different as night and day from THE HOUSE I LIVE IN (inspiring a rather odd tweet.) It's the story of a 30-something hipster Swanson (Tim Heidecker) and his small group of friends (most notably Eric Wareheim, Tim's partner in "Tim and Eric's Awesome Show, Great Job!") Swanson is set to inherit his father's estate, which is large enough to make it apparent that he's a trust fund hipster who has never really worked a day in his life. I assume so are all his friends. When he does decide to work (which seems more of a curiosity than a necessity) he doesn't even know what typical dish-washing wages are. Instead he and his friends hang out, drink (and spit) beer, and make bizarre jokes to try to make each other laugh (like riffing on how clean hobos' dicks are because they all go to Wall Street at 5:01 where all the investment bankers just can't wait to suck them off.) But they don't laugh--they're hipsters so they're way too cool to laugh. The audience last night laughed quite a bit, but the characters didn't. And that awkward dynamic is what the movie is all about. People who are too cool to laugh trying to make each other laugh. And how far that practiced indifference can go. What's surprising is how well it seems to work for him. I would never have believed you could get a girl naked by talking about how Hitler had some good ideas...and horrible flatulence (I almost said "bad gas," but that could be taken the wrong way.)

Running Time: 90 minutes
My Total Minutes: 308,070

Jason goes to the Roxie and watches THE HOUSE I LIVE IN

A reminder, there is still time to donate to the Roxie's Kickstarter campaign. I know they've already reached their goal, but anything extra is...well, extra. And as any film fan in San Francisco knows, our single-screen art house theaters need all the help they can get. R.I.P., Bridge.

Anyway, on to the movie, THE HOUSE I LIVE IN is a powerful documentary about the effects of the War on Drugs. Especially powerful are the stories of the men charged with fighting the war. The narcotics officers who are no longer rewarded for good police work but are rewarded for the easy work of routine drug busts. Or the judge who sees the inequity of harsh drug sentences (e.g., 100 times harsher punishments for crack vs. powdered cocaine) but whose hands are tied by mandatory minimum sentence laws. It's a particularly chilling statement to hear a judge--a man whose entire calling in life is to dispense justice--talk about going home knowing he was forced in his job to dispense injustice (BTW, for all the fury over 'legislating from the bench' why are there so few complaints about 'adjudicating from the legislature?' Checks and balances are supposed to go both ways.)

And that's not even getting into the common people's lives that are affected--people who need medical treatment, not incarceration. What's so powerful there is not that drugs have such a strong pull on them or that they made bad choices. It's that so often given their living situations and employment prospects, drugs (doing them or selling them) was a completely rational, sensible choice. The doctor in the film has a great metaphor. People do drugs to escape the misery of life. Attacking drugs instead of treating the underlying misery makes as little sense as suppressing the cough associated with pneumonia. So often the "tough on drugs" policies just make life more miserable in those communities, creating conditions where dealing drugs is the only viable economy and doing drugs is the only viable means of (temporary) escape.

It's also full of interesting historical perspective. You may know that Nixon coined the term "War on Drugs" but I didn't know that under Nixon spending was 2/3 treatment and 1/3 law enforcement (privately he knew treating it as a health matter was more effective, publicly he knew "tough on crime" wins more votes than "fair on crime," "sensible on crime," or even "effective on crime.") Going back even further, many drugs used to be legal. We all know Coca Cola got its name because it contained cocaine. Hemp was a major textile crop (Betsy Ross sewed the first American flag on hemp, etc.) And opium was commonly used and sold in toothache drops for children. But California outlawed opium in the 1800's. And why? Well, there was a major influx of Chinese immigrants--hard workers building the railroads for low pay. They couldn't exactly criminalize being Chinese, so they looked at what vices were more prevalent in the Chinese community compared to the white community...and opium is outlawed. Similar with cocaine and blacks (particularly blacks of the post-slavery migration to industrial northern factory jobs.) And marijuana--that's illegal to keep the Mexicans down. There's a fascinating documentary that could be made just on that history.

But ultimately, what makes it work as a movie are the personal stories, including director Eugene Jarecki's good friend Nannie Jeter (his former nanny, although they never called her a nanny, they just called her...Nannie, because that's her name.)

Running Time: 108 minutes
My Total Minutes: 307,980

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Jason goes to Holehead--Closing Night

Now it's all over, including the writing.

Sunday was a closing night party all day, Art & Beats with local artists and music. But I was volunteering at the Niles Film Museum during the day, so I missed most of it. What I did see looked pretty cool, and I did like the "Arts and Meats" sausage BBQ outside. The Louisiana Hot Links were delicious.

But really, I just came up for the movie, starting with the short THIS LITTLE LIGHT. A cool little atmospheric piece mostly in darkness (so the sound editing had to be excellent) periodically illuminated by a match. And it slowly reveals the horror right behind its main character.

And finally, the closing movie was ZERO KILLED, a documentary exploration of death from Austria. Since 1996, director Michal Kosokowski has provided a unique service. People have acted out their murder fantasies with him. They write the scenario, he films it. The only condition is they must act in their movie--either as a killer or as a victim. After collecting these murder fantasies for over a decade, he brings some of them back to discuss their films and their thoughts about death and killing. The conversations are wide ranging, and juxtaposed with their films. Topics such as torture, revenge, war, the death penalty, etc. are discussed, and answers are mostly left to the audience.

It's a very good film, and probably one that would benefit from a second viewing. There were a few things making this a less-than-ideal screening. First and foremost, the acoustics in the Terra Gallery are pretty bad. Loud and echo-y, and you can hear everyone talking on the other side of the screen (where the party space and bar were still open.) I know they explored the option of showing the film outdoors but decided against it (that has its own issues--traffic noise, streetlights, etc.)

Second, the digital projection there was pretty low resolution. Pretty badly pixelated. But that's something I can usually power through and not let it bother me.

And finally, I was a bit drunk (did I mention there was a bar there) and struggled a bit to stay awake. In fact, I might have taken a tiny catnap in the first 10 minutes or so. But I still saw enough to know it's a quality film. So here's hoping it plays again somewhere in the Bay Area.

And that, finally, my friends, is the end of Holehead 2012, and the end of the film festival year (at least for me.) I guess all that's left is to congratulate the Award Winners. Congratulations, everyone!

Another Hole in the Head 2012 Audience Awards:

Best Local Feature: DAY JOB
Best Local Short: WELCOME WAGON
Best Foreign Feature: NERVO CRANIANO ZERO
Best Foreign Short: GAME


[Update: As of this writing, this isn't up on the festival website, but I have it on good authority that EUROCRIME: THE ITALIAN COP AND GANGSTER FILMS THAT RULED THE '70S also won Best Documentary. I trust that will be updated soon.]

Total Running Time: 94 minutes
My Total Minutes: 307,872

Jason goes to Holehead--Day 11

Last Saturday was the penultimate night of Holehead 2012. So here we go.

First up was the make-up screening of CELL COUNT, which which was supposed to play last Monday night but didn't. And it was more or less worth the wait. It's a bit of a mad scientist story about a horrible disease (they never name it, but it looks a heck of a lot like cancer) and the cure that might just be worse than the disease. In the opening scenes, a rather pushy doctor tells our hero Russell Carpenter (Robert McKeehan) that his wife Sadie (Haley Talbot) is terminal. He offers them a choice--he'll pay them $10,000 each to participate in a trial of his miracle cure and have a chance at life..., or she can die within a few months. He gives them fair warning, the cure involves unimaginable pain, but he swears he has survived it himself and is now completely disease free. So, of course, this seems like a good deal. And Russell is even allowed to stay by Sadie's side, since the trial needs some healthy participants...for control, I guess? Of course, this is a horror movie so the cure turns out to be something pretty extreme and horrific, but no spoilers here. I will say that I wanted to like this movie much more than I did (I liked it somewhat, I just didn't love it.) After the great setup, things got kind of muddled and the motivations of certain characters seemed to turn on a dime. Near the end, one character was often asking, "What's going on?" A question that I was echoing. But then, maybe that had a little to do with the couple of martinis I had before hand, but I don't really think so.

Next up was a film that injected a little new life into the "found footage" horror genre, specifically by taking some time to make it somewhat believable (not just that the events take place, but that they keep the camera rolling the whole time.) THE GARLOCK INCIDENT takes place in the wilds of Garlock, California. A van full of actors are on their way from Los Angeles to Las Vegas to shoot a movie. They decide to stop for a bit in Garlock to check out the abandoned mines. Then their van won't start. So they're stuck for the night. The next morning, their van isn't even there. And that's enough spoilers for you. It follows a fairly standard plot concerning some mysterious force fucking with them and people getting hurt. The twist was pretty good, and unexpected. But what really impressed me, as I alluded to before, is that they took the time to make it believable that they would still be filming. Case in point: the first night they're sitting in an abandoned cabin where they've sheltered for the night. At one point, someone asks the director/camera operator to turn off the camera. She points out that A) she has a room full of actors at her disposal, of course she's going to keep the camera on, and B) the camera light is their light source, so if the camera is off they're sitting in the dark. I appreciated this scene a lot.  Especially when compared to something like CLOVERFIELD--one of the biggest found-footage movies ever, and one I could never believe (not only would they have dropped the camera about 2 seconds in, but what's up with the scene where the guy is on his cell phone in the store and asks people to be quiet? Not only does everyone in the store shut up, but even the 50 foot monster and the army fighting him shut up so he can check his messages. I digress, but that was one of the most laughable unbelievable scenes in the history of cinema.) Anyway, my thanks to the makers of THE GARLOCK INCIDENT for allowing me to believe in a found footage film.

And then I ended the night with AXED, or should I say "FANGORIA PRESENTS AXED"? Eh, either way, it was a fun and funny family horror flick, marred only slightly by a few technical glitches in the projection. AXED, of course, has a double meaning--there's the literal "chopped up with an axe" and also the figurative "fired/let go/laid off/downsized/shown the door." I think the term "axed" for "fired" is more common in the UK, which is exactly where the movie was made and takes place (American audiences need to think for maybe 30 seconds before getting it.) Anyway, Kurt Wendell is axed (fired) in the opening scenes. He just can't bear to tell his family--his sissy son, his provocatively-dressing daughter, his...loving(?) wife. So instead he keeps the kids out of school and takes them on a nice outing to the countryside. Where of course he goes off the deep end and threatens all their lives (not to mention the guy tied up and tortured in the attic.) Sick, awesome and funny. And it kept teasing the audience with a pick-ax just outside the cabin door. About a half dozen times a character (especially his wimpy son) runs right by the pick-ax. I kept waiting for someone (preferably the son) to pick up the pick-ax and we could have a pick-ax vs. wood ax showdown. And then finally...I won't tell you because I'm trying to avoid spoilers.

And that was it for last Saturday. I didn't stick around for the late show of CROSS BEARER, because...I didn't like it the first time. Although I will say [SPOILER WARNING] it could have been improved if during the final scene when the cross bearer gets up and walks off screen they had put up text saying "Three Days Later..." [END SPOILER.]

I was a little conflicted that I didn't stick around for the short SHELTER, but I had already watched the screener online (I think they played it based on my recommendation) and I was pretty tired. From what I heard, it was well received.

Weirdly, this day started with a cure for cancer and ended with unemployment. And then just two days later (Monday) I got a call with a job offer working in radiation oncology. So my unemployment will end and I'll start working soon...on curing cancer!

Total Running Time: 259 minutes
My Total Minutes: 307,777

Monday, December 10, 2012

Jason goes tot Holehead--Day 10

It's actually all over--not just Holehead, but the 2012 film festival schedule (for me)--except for the writing. I've got seven shows from the weekend to write up, so let's just jump right in with the three I saw last Friday.

First up was DEADBALL, a sort of follow-up to BATTLEFIELD BASEBALL (a hit from the first Another Hole in the Head in 2004.) Director Yudai Yamaguchi teams up again with Tak Sakaguchi and his character Jûbei Yakyû, the baseball prodigy with a tragic past--accidentally killing his own father with his super-powered fastball. Since his time in school in BATTLEFIELD BASEBALL, he's become a juvenile delinquent (I suppose being a 36 year old juvenile delinquent isn't much less believable than being a 28 year old high school student. Besides, he's got the boyish looks to pull it off.) Well, his baseball-related spree of destruction has led him to a prison run by a psychotic Nazi warden. Literally, swastika-wearing, goose-stepping, Japanese Nazis. And for the second time in the festival there's Nazi butt-rape. In prison, they're forced to play a psychotic game of baseball against a psychotic team of Japanese schoolgirls. But the point of the game isn't to score runs, it's to score style points with how creatively you kill your opponent. So Jûbei again has to rally his team and use his baseball superpowers to save the day. And [SPOILER ALERT!] destroy the whole an agent of North Korea. [END SPOILER.] If I hadn't seen BATTLEFIELD BASEBALL, I would've said this was an insane, one-of-a-kind piece of Japanese insanity. But as it is, it's too obviously treading ground that they've tread before (even with a new Four Eyes character) and tread much better the first time.

Then I bid farewell to the Roxie (just for the rest of the festival, I will be back!) and rushed over to the Vortex Room for the next show. And that was the animated short and feature starting with the Canadian short AMAQQUT NUNAAT. A wolf hunt turns into a journey of survival in the spirit realm, with wolves in human form.

And then the feature THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF THE LIVING CORPSE, by Justin Paul Ritter (KATIEBIRD: CERTIFIABLE CRAZY PERSON--Holehead 2005, and A GOTHIC TALE--Dead Channels 2008.) In the most prevalent theme of the festival, this is the third feature with zombie family members (narrowly edging out Nazi butt-rape as the theme of the festival.) The dead come back to life,  and of course start feasting on the brains of the living. But one is just aware enough to avoid eating his son. In fact, aware enough (and agile enough) to fight off the other zombies and save his son. So he becomes a warrior for the underworld, keeping corpses in their place (and his son safe,) while his son goes off to a boarding school for orphans where he has to contend with bullies, the undead/paranormal, and a mad scientist. Then the second half of the movie takes place 15 years later, when he has become the scientist's most valuable assistant.

There are some very good ideas in here, but ultimately I was disappointed. Not by the story so much, although the jump to 15 years in the future was awkward and felt like two different issues of a serial comic book (which it was based on, so that's understandable.) I'm afraid it was the look that didn't really work. It was made in 3-D, and unfortunately the Vortex Room just isn't set up to project 3-D, and it just doesn't look good in 2-D (and I'm a little surprised to say that, as I'm not much of a fan of 3-D.) It's just that the CG animation looks...unsophisticated...plastic, fake, etc. Skin and hair have no texture and so it looks like a mid-90's video game intro movie. It bugged me when the kid's hand-drawn sketches of his zombie father look more realistic than the rest of the movie. And I feel it wasn't a matter of insufficient resources to make it look more realistic, it felt like a stylistic choice. And I have a feeling like that style just works better in 3-D and looks bad in 2-D. So I'm hoping for a chance to see it again in 3-D and give it a second chance.

And then the late show started with the short SHACK (instead of short in the program, SHELTER. A simple screw-up of grabbing the wrong disc. Screw-ups like this have become way to common at Holehead. Of the 12 days of the festival (including opening and closing nights, with just one show each, unexpected schedule changes happened at least half of the days. Sometimes it's not their fault, but this time it was. Holehead is lucky they have a core group of fans who don't really mind this, but I'm starting to feel a bit like a battered wife here.)

Anway, SHACK. It was a cool little story of a couple on a date who take a romantic walk on the beach and end up at a lifeguard shack where he starts freaking out and acting really weird. Turns out it's for a good reason, though.

And that ended up being the lead-in to GUT, which was a good idea with uninteresting results. A horror movie about the watching of horror movies. Tom and Dan are old friends and horror movie fans. But years of the 9-to-5 grind in cubicle-land have made their lives boring. Tom at least is married, but even that's gotten kind of boring. Dan tries to snap him out of it with late night horror marathons, but Tom has to watch the latest Pixar flick with his family. Finally Dan has something that gets Tom's attention--a mysterious DVD that shows a woman bound and slit open from the belly. We're supposed to believe this is disturbingly realistic (I'm sorry, the SFX were good, but I've seen enough horror to not think it's anything other than SFX.) But Tom and Dan believe it might be a real snuff film, and...well that excited Dan, disturbs Tom, and ultimately leads them both down a dark road of paranoia. And it leads to a lot of thoughtful, frightened staring into the distance.

And that's really the problem--it's a question of pacing. Too many times I thought to myself, 'Okay, I get it. In this scene he's afraid for [himself/his wife/his friend]' and then waited for the scene to move on. Those scenes became interminable, and ruined it. I bet if I took a stopwatch and counted all the seconds that staring-into-middle-distance scenes took too long, it would take up about half the movie. Okay, that might be an exaggeration, but I'm also sure that if you trimmed those scenes down considerably, you'd have a much better movie. It might be a 40 minute short, but I don't mind. I like short (even long-ish short) films.

Total Running Time: 298
My Total Minutes: 307,159

Friday, December 7, 2012

Jason slips into a Vortex and witnesses THE LAST DAYS OF PLANET EARTH

Well, this was a sporadically fun, mostly boring and incomprehensible bit of Japanese junk. A Japanese professor has studied Nostradamus and is convinced that his prophesies predict the end of life soon--like, in the 20th century soon! (Oh yeah, this movie is from 1974) And sure enough, mankind's meddling with nature is destroying us. You see, it all started with a plan for giant, genetically engineered rice, which leads to other mutations including giant slugs. No, wait, it has to do with radioactive clouds. No, actually we'll destroy ourselves (or, at least, models of all our greatest cities) through nuclear war. No, wait...seriously, wait. Can we decide on one single catastrophe that will destroy the earth. All this catastrophe-of-the-minute stuff makes the movie hard to follow. In fact, forget all the catastrophes, let's just jump forward to the post-apocalyptic mutants. That's the last few minutes of the movie and that's the part where it really started to get interesting.

Oh well, at least I got to hang out at the Vortex room and enjoy a martini. I think I'll do that again tonight. And then again Saturday night.

Running Time: 90 minutes
My Total Minutes: 307,131

Jason goes to Holehead--Day 9

So I got to Holehead a little late last night (Thursday) so I missed a bit of the beginning of the first film (and apparently a surprise short that preceded it.) In any case, the first film was THE 25TH REICH and the bit I missed was apparently the introduction of the classically stereotypical squad of American soldiers. But it was pretty easy to pick them up--the tough-as-nails colonel, the movie star who joined up, the little nerdy Jewish kid, the Midwest farm boy, and the sarcastic Italian American straight-shooter from the Bronx. Yup, it's a WWII classic American squad. So what the heck are they doing in Australia? And why are they dragging a giant piece of electronics equipment with them? Well, [SPOILER ALERT] they're there to travel through time, find a crashed spaceship, and use it to defeat the Nazis. But one of them is a Nazi spy. And another is a sniveling racist coward who is quick to switch sides anyway. And, since I'm in spoiler land anyway, this all leads to 2243 and giant Nazi robot spiders sodomizing a guy. [END SPOILER] Well, that was pretty fun, but I wished for a bit more of an ending than a spoof setup to a much bigger sequel (promising a War on God.) I felt like it ended just as it was getting really big. So here's hoping the sequel actually happens (even if it was just a joke in this movie.)

Speaking of sequels that shouldn't have happened, next up was ROAD TO HELL, the sort-of sequel to STREETS OF FIRE (1984.) As my friend Ira said, it does for STREETS OF FIRE what S. DARKO does for DONNIE DARKO--and that's not good. (And I was kind of a giant douche for tweeting that last night without attribution.)

You know what, this whole review is going to get pretty spoiler-y, I just can't do it any other way. Sorry about that. Highlight to read:

So they bring back Cody (Michael Pare) from STREETS OF FIRE but instead of just an unreliable but ultimately heroic loner, he's now a psycho killer. Ellen has been killed but her daughter--also named Ellen--has grown up to be a huge pop star (although still singing '80s style music, including some of her mother's old hits.) Cody is waiting for her on the road as she returns to do a concert in Edge City. But on the way he meets a pair of lesbian spree killers who've...wait, what!? Well, a big chunk of the movie is Cody talking to, then beating up, then killing the lesbian spree killers while waiting for Ellen to arrive. I have no problem with Michael Pare as an anti-hero killing a couple of psycho bitches and rescuing a 2-year old baby girl (oh yeah, they have a baby in a storage box.) It just seems so out of nowhere and gratuitous (especially when one chicks severed head is used as a hood ornament.) And then you intercut that with Ellen on the radio either playing her songs or giving an interview--specifically, an interview about how she never knew her biological father (who, of course, is Cody.) And then, after all that, you get a five minute back-stage reconciliation followed by a 20 minute concert film. There isn't just a one song coda but three songs. One for her father, one for her mother, and one for the guy who left her but now is back. 

Now, I actually have no problem with the idea of Cody becoming such a psychotic wreck. He was on the edge before, and the idea is the military brought him back into service and he has been fighting their wars for the past 28 years. What I do have a problem with is the terse manner they dispense with the rest of the tie-in to the STREETS OF FIRE plot. Apparently Ellen (the mother) was murdered and Billy Fish (the Rick Moranis character from STREETS OF FIRE) was responsible (if he didn't actually do it he arranged to have it done.) Never mind that he was supposed to be the good, reliable guy Ellen could stay with. But what really bugs me is that's resolved with just a few words of text saying after the concert Cody went "fishing" and took care of him. As for Raven (Willem Dafoe's character), in that same text in one line it's revealed that he was killed by his own daughter. What the fuck? If you're going to put that little effort into dispatching those characters why bring them up at all? You know, this had the makings of what could've been a pretty fun flick if it didn't try so hard--and fail so spectacularly--at tying it back to STREETS OF FIRE. It could've just been a story of a soldier who's gone a bit psycho but is searching for his estranged daughter to make things right. But sadly, this happened instead.

Total Running Time: 166 minutes (giving myself full time for 25TH REICH. I figure giving myself 10 minutes I missed there is more than compensated for by giving myself nothing for ROSALIND LEIGH when I missed 45 minutes)
My Total Minutes: 307,131

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Jason goes to Holehead--Day 8

Two more movies last night, and the first day since last Friday (and only the third day in the festival overall) that there wasn't a last minute schedule change. Nicely done, guys.

First up was the comedy MON AMI, which George (Kaskanlian, the festival head) introduced as DUMB AND DUMBER meets FARGO and HOSTEL. And damn, that's a pretty good description. I hate to admit it, but sometimes George knows what he's talking about. Two friends from age 6--one a congenial slacker and one who is...also a slacker, but totally whipped by his wife--work in a hardware store. When the owner decides to retire and leave the company to his meathead boys, the two friends are a bit pissed that they didn't get promotions after their years of loyal (okay, rude and boneheaded) service. So they come up with a cunning plan to kidnap the boss' daughter and hold her for ransom. And things go hilariously, bloodily wrong. I don't want to spoil anything by detailing their comedy of errors, but I will say that its the two friends obvious bromantic chemistry that makes it all work. The way they rib each other and call each other pussies (for being to wussy to commit murder) but still ultimately have each other's back is both believable (at least in the context of the ridiculous situations) and endearing. Everyone should be lucky to have friends as loyal as these, and no one should be so cursed as to have friends this stupid.

Then the late show was the world premiere of THE G-STRING HORROR, shot in and about San Francisco's iconic and allegedly haunted adult entertainment establishment, the Market Street Cinema (link NSFW.) And, like CROSS BEARER last Monday, it once again proves that boobs + blood does not a movie make. I will give them credit for an intriguing premise. The idea is a filmmaker (director Charles Webb, playing himself) is making a documentary about the alleged hauntings at the Market Street Cinema. While filming, he notices odd things showing up on his footage. The ghosts show up, especially "Baby Doll" (Natasha Talonz) who was killed by some psychos in the basement some 20 years ago. The movie becomes a kind of seance for her troubled soul, as they spread her ashes in the bay. BTW, did you know stripper ashes are actually glitter? That and the penis-severing (oh yeah, SPOILER ALERT!) were the two scenes that got thumbs up from me. The rest...just meanders kind of directionless. It ended up being a collection of interesting ideas that needed a better narrative to hold it together. The narrative of the director seems to be better suited. If he made a sort of narcissistic Michael Moore style 'director-is-the-main-character-of-his-documentary' and told it from his one consistent point of view I think the narrative would have worked about a hundred times better.

BTW, this is all based on true stories of alleged hauntings at the Market Street Cinema. In fact, it is supposed to be featured on an upcoming (i.e., sometime next spring) episode of one of those ghost chasers show. I don't know which one, they all look alike to me, but if you care you should keep a look out for that.

There was a Q&A afterwards (it was, after all, the World Premiere) and the whole cast was there, including Natasha Talonz who was practically popping out of her dress. Good (if perhaps awkward trying not to stare too much) for the front row. There was also an after party at the Penthouse Club (not Market Street Cinema, the got a classier place) but I had to catch the BART home. So...that was the end of my night.

And now the public information dissemination part of my blog. For those continuing with Holehead through the weekend, there are two things you should know:

First, the Vortex is a small (but awesome!) venue, so I expect it to fill up. Be sure to get your tickets early.

Second, there's at least a plan in consideration for the closing night film (ZERO KILLED) at Terra to screen outdoors, weather permitting. This is in response to the acoustics in Terra Gallery, which I can confirm from opening night is just too loud and echo-y. I actually expect that an outdoor screening can work very well, but if you plan on coming prepare to bring a jacket.

Third, it appears based on the website (I haven't confirmed with George yet) that the makeup screening of CELL COUNT will be [updated] Sunday, Dec. 9th probably Saturday, Dec. 8th at 5:00 pm at the Vortex. As of this writing the website has it listed as Sunday, Dec. 9th but I have been informed that the Vortex room is otherwise scheduled at the time. I also know the original desire was Saturday at 5:00 so hopefully this is a website snafu and it will be resolved soon. I shall update as I know more.

[Update] Within minutes of posting this, the website has been updated to show CELL COUNT on Saturday, Dec. 8th at 5:00 pm. I repeat, Saturday, not Sunday at 5:00 pm. I apologize for any confusion created. Although I could put this on the Holehead staff, I knew they were pushing for Saturday at 5:00 so I should have confirmed with them before reporting that the website (briefly) showed Sunday.

Total Running Time: 169 minutes
My Total Minutes: 306,965

Jason watches HOLY MOTORS

And it's about...holy crap, I don't know. It's about a guy named Oscar (Denis Lavant) who rides around in a limo and acts out different roles all over Paris. He becomes a businessman, an assassin, a monster, a family man, a beggar...not in that order. And apparently there are dozens of such limos with different actors and actresses. And then in the end it gets really weird, when [SPOILER ALERT! highlight to read] he goes home to his family of apes and the limos all go home to have a conversation of existential crisis in the garage. Yup, it ends with a bunch of limos talking and worrying about their uncertain future. [END SPOILER.]

I guess the easiest reading is it's an exaggerated metaphor on the life of an actor. Reading further, perhaps it even relates to the multiple roles everyone plays in life. Or it's most direct reading is that director Leos Carax is an audacious, exciting, puzzling director whose work I should catch up on.

Running Time: 115 minutes
My Total Minutes: 306,796

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Jason goes to Holehead--Day 7

Two more movies on Tuesday, but first I must correct an oversight. I forgot to mention the short that played with SLICE AND DICE last Sunday, THE VOICE OF GOD. Ten minutes of time-lapse shots of  daily life in India with voice over in Hindi (I assume)...with no subtitles. Except for one brief bit where a woman's voice in English explains to be careful of suspicious packages, as they might be a bomb. So I assume that's what the rest of the voice-over was about, too. I'm not exactly sure if it was supposed to be un-subtitled. The credits do, after all, list a translator.

Anyway, that was ten minutes I should have added to last Sunday's total, and I'm adding it now (or rather, I added it into my previous post on LIFE OF PI.)

So Holehead Tuesday started with NERVO CRANIANO ZERO, from the Brazilian group (and Thrillpeddlers collaborators) Vigor Mortis, (aka, the team behind the  2009 Holehead hit MORGUE STORY.) Keeping it in the medical realm, a brilliant neurosurgeon believes he has unlocked the secret to unlimited creativity. His chip, melpomene, will stimulate creativity when attached directly to the cranial nerve zero (or, in Portuguese, the title of the film.) But it does more than stimulate creativity. It also controls all necessary body function--including blood flow--making the heart redundant. More than redundant, in fact, if the heart tries to pump while the melpomene is active, the overflow will cause overheating and eventually explosion. That's right, in the first few minutes we're promised an exploding head, and I was just giddy in anticipation. Add a famous writer who likes her fame more than she likes writing anymore. Then add an unfortunate young lady who was just a horribly embarrassing failure on the national Pop Idol show, and you've got the recipe for a wonderful little three-way of sickness, perversion, and gore. Like in MORGUE STORY, they pay homage to classic cult films--most notably this time around is RE-ANIMATOR and SCANNERS--but make it totally their own. Awesome flick!

And, just to keep up the tradition of Holehead never quite following the schedule, the short that was supposed to play with it, MORGUE STREET, didn't play. I don't know if it will be made up at a later date.

And finally the night ended with SATURDAY MORNING MASSACRE, a sort of Scooby-Doo story on acid. A team of two girls, two guys, and a dog are paranormal investigators, but their investigations always end with no ghosts but rather shady politicians, real estate moguls, businessmen, etc. Or, as in the case of the opening scene, a child porn racket (only problem is the cops were already staking it out and their "bust" tainted months of carefully gathered evidence.) Oh, did I skim over the child porn racket? Yeah, this isn't your Saturday morning Scooby-Doo gang, this is serious shit. They do do drugs and screw, and they have trouble with money. And when they come across a real "haunted" house, they really die (oops, spoiler!) Think of it as an adult version of Scooby and the gang meet the family from Texas Chainsaw Massacre. But I think I've already given way too much away. Anyway, while it meandered for a bit in the middle, by the end it was some sick, gory fun.

Total Running Time: 174 minutes
My Total Minutes: 306,682

Jason watches LIFE OF PI

Yup, it's beautiful, just like the trailers (and pretty much all reviews) indicate. And the bulk of the story is about a young man who, after a shipwreck, lives for weeks on a life boat with a dangerous Bengal tiger.

But that's not what it's really about. Early on we meet an older Pi, living comfortably in Montreal, and we learn that he's a Hindu, Catholic, and Muslim (and though not Jewish, he does teach a class on Kabbalah at the local university.) What the story is really about is God, and the many paths to find him.

I won't elaborate for spoiler reasons. But I do find it interesting that the trailers emphasize the adventure but don't really mention God at all. But I don't really want to start a discussion as to the marketing reasons why. So I'll just let that hang here.

Running Time: 127 minutes
My Total Minutes: 306,507

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Jason goes to Holehead--Day 6

Monday night, and we kicked off a big week full of films at Holehead.

First up was PORTRAIT OF A ZOMBIE, which I saw at Cinequest and in fact I programmed it for Holehead. So it would be a little self-serving for me to just write about how much I like (I like it a lot, and I'm happy to say it gets better with multiple viewings.) Instead I'll just copy and paste what I wrote at Cinequest when it was a revelation for me:
And finally, I [...] ended the night with the midnight screening of PORTRAIT OF A ZOMBIE. This is truly a unique and effective film, shot in the street where director Bing Bailey grew up in Dublin. It's the story of a zombie, and the documentary film crew telling the story. Billy Murphy got infected with zombism while working at a meat processing plant (since shut down.) There was a bit of an outbreak, but his family now has him under control. They keep a muzzle on him, feed him what they can, and basically try to get on with life. Hell, he doesn't stop being your son just because he's sick, now does he? Well, his neighbors (who I like to think of as the collective Neighbors Against Zombie Invasions or NAZIs for short) don't take to kindly. Throw in a pregnant girlfriend and an unscrupulous American film director and you've got the makings of a catastrophe. A hilarious, hilarious catastrophe. Horror comedies are pretty common (at least, they make up a good staple of the films I watch.) Horror comedies that are this effective both as comedies and as horror are pretty rare.
And then for Holehead I got to introduce the film and Bing Bailey and sort of run the Q&A with him and star Todd Fletcher (although there were enough questions that I didn't have to do much other than point at people and let them ask.) It was a lot of fun and the film was certainly well received. I assume Bing got a lot of positive feedback from it. I know quite a few of the regulars thanked me for programming it. Maybe it's time I step up and take on a larger role in programming this festival.

And then the late show was a continuation of Holehead's last-minute program change drama. You might recall that there were last minute, unannounced changes to the Shorts programs both Saturday and Sunday. Well, Monday a feature--CELL COUNT--didn't arrive. Apparently UPS lost it somewhere, and festival head George was in Vallejo all day trying to track it down. So it's UPS's fault (I officially won't voice an opinion over whether the filmmaker should have sent the movie earlier--with a backup mailed separately--or whether the festival should have demanded such. I'll just echo that apparent proximate root cause is UPS lost it.) Anyway, the festival will continue trying to track down CELL COUNT and hopefully add a screening of it. I don't promise anything but the hope last night was to add a screening either Saturday or Sunday afternoon (since the scheduled films those days don't start until pretty late.) I will keep you all posted as soon as I know something definite.

Anyway, the replacement show started with the longish (30 minutes) short, SURVIVOR TYPE, which was one of the short films that didn't play due to technical difficulties last weekend (Big thanks to festival regular and impromptu AV geek Ira for getting it working last night!) What a cool short! Based on a Stephen King story about a surgeon who has been smuggling heroin from his hospital (in a nod to the short-lived Stephen King-produced American adaptation of Lars Von Trier's cult TV series, he works at the Kingdom Hospital.) He ends up shipwrecked on a rocky island with just a few basic supplies, 2 kilos of heroin, and his wits to survive. So he puts his surgical skills to the test in an ultimate (and ultimately unsettling) bid for survival.

And then there was the feature, CROSS BEARER. This film is proof positive that you can fill a movie with tits, gore, and depravity and it can still be boring as hell. Lesbian strippers, cocaine, an abusive boss, and one big score get sidetracked by a psychopath who spouts religion and carries a carpenter's hammer (get it? Jesus was a carpenter!) In a few brief early scenes we see that the psychopath also has long, Jesus-like hair, because maybe quoting the Bible and calling the girls "harlots" was too subtle?  I just couldn't care about this at all. Actually, it's not just that I didn't care, it's that I actively hated watching this movie. I'd rather be crucified than watch it again. I guess the only saving grace is that I was planning on seeing it 11 pm Saturday at the Vortex, but now I know I can call it an early night instead.

Total Running Time: 189 minutes
My Total Minutes: 306,370

Monday, December 3, 2012

Jason goes to Holehead--Day 5

Four more movies on Sunday, and I was hungover and tired as hell (there was a bit of an after party Saturday night at the Vortex Room after THE KILLING GAMES) so I was proud of myself just for surviving the whole day.

First up was the Shorts Program part 2:
TRAVIS PORTER: RED ROCK: A hip-hop group vs. a small town full of psychos who all work for the kingpin, from the director of ROID RAGE.
A MIDSUMMER NIGHTMARE--THE BETRAYAL: Shakespeare actually trapped pagan spirits in his book, but 250 years later a greedy gunslinger releases them in California.
GAME: A bound, gagged, terrified woman running through the woods trying to evade her murderous pursuers. But there's a twist in this game.
FINE DINING: A highly stylized view of a young man exploring his culinary talents as he cooks a fine meal for his overbearing mother. Much like he did earlier with his overbearing girlfriend.
TECHNICALITY: Based on the true story of a lab technician whose drug use led to many cases being dismissed or overturned. One angry detective decides to take matters into his own hands.
WELCOME WAGON: A creepy, overly-friendly neighbor welcomes the new panda to town, in this award winner from the 24 hour film race.
BLUE HOLE: There's a devil in that frozen lake. Don't go close. And don't try to trade a new victim for the old one. The devil is the king of liars.
AS HUMAN AS ANIMAL: Confession time, I think I dozed off a bit during this one. I remember there was practically no dialogue, and it had Diamond Dallas Page and some gross close-ups of meat and a maggot-infested corpse. But I don't know what else. I want to emphasize that I started the day exhausted and hung over, so if I dozed off in this film it's entirely my fault and says nothing about the quality of the film.

Due to technical issues, STEAM CLOCK didn't play (which is a shame, because that was one of the screeners I got to watch while helping the programmers decide what to play, and I really liked it.) Instead we got to see SACKED, which was supposed to play last Thursday with A LITTLE BIT ZOMBIE but didn't because of technical issues. So I finally got to see it, and it was a pretty cool story of the dangers of stupid hippies and their ridiculous super-broccoli cure.

Then, after a bit of a break, it was time for the first of two documentaries on the day (I guess this was doc day at Holehead?) SLICE AND DICE: THE SLASHER FILM FOREVER. It's a whole lot of fan service, giving us interviews from the likes of Tobe Hooper, Tom Holland, Corey Feldman, Mick Garris, and many others, as well as clips from many classic slasher films, starting with PSYCHO. And visually it keeps things moving briskly as it goes from topic to topic--the history, the bloody effects, the psychology, the monsters, the misogyny, etc. The only problem is that it doesn't really offer any insight into the genre. As a matter of fact, the most interesting parts of the film are watching the diverse group of filmmakers differ on key elements. Some insist the best monsters are the most realistic or the ones who have the best back story. Others insist the best monsters are silent and mysterious (i.e., Michael Meyers from HALLOWEEN, who has practically no motivation.) Or differing opinions on the treatment of women--are these actually morality tales that celebrate strong women, or are they overwhelmingly misogynistic? In the end, I'd say the only insight this offers is that even the people who make these films don't have a unified vision of what the genre means or what it's all about. And that might just speak volumes more about the genre than the most enlightened academic analysis.

Then there was a big pile of silliness from the director of SEX GALAXY, Mike Davis. His newest, PRESIDENT WOLFMAN, uses the same "recycled footage" style to create a political satire about President John Wolfman (Dean Stockwell) trying to stop congress from selling America to China, creating the super-nation of Chimerica. John Wolfman is a good man, but doesn't have enough leverage to stop them. That is, until he's bitten by a werewolf and suddenly all his political opponents start turning up dead. The style--if you don't just roll with it--can get tiring. And some of the jokes fall flat but enough of them work to make it fun ("I know why you're called madam Speaker, because you never shut your damn mouth!") Pretty weird.

And finally, the night ended with the second documentary of the day, EUROCRIME! THE ITALIAN COP AND GANGSTER FILMS THAT RULED THE '70S. While SLICE AND DICE offered little insight into the genre, EUROCRIME had definitely done its homework and was as informative as well as being fan service. Again we get a good mix of interviews (John Saxon, Franco Nero, Henry Silva, Fred Williamson, Joe Dallesandro, Antonio Sabato, Richard Harrison,...the list goes on and on) and clips from movies. But we also get a good overview of the Italian film industry of the time. How it was very fad based (think Swords and Sandals, Giallos, Spaghetti Westerns, etc. Wave after wave of genres that get over-made and then played out) How they copied from U.S. movies (scene by scene comparisons to the GODFATHER or DIRTY HARRY bear this out.) How the film industry colluded with the TV stations to keep the number of films on TV low so that people would have to go to the theater to watch movies, leading to a huge demand for films. How the films, as a result, were made so quickly and so cheaply that they invented their own uniquely Italian style with flexibility, speed, creativity, actors doing real stunts, dubbing all the dialogue in post (because it took too much time to do live sound), heavy reliance on zoom effects (saves the time and cost of doing multiple setups), etc. They explore how a lot of this "style" prevented them from being better received in America (the biggest laugh was when Fred Williamson talks about how Americans are spoiled and don't like when the dialogue doesn't match the lips...and suddenly his dialogue goes out of sync with his lips.) They also explore how organized crime got involved in the production of these movies, often insisting they get plum roles in the films. And they explore how other uniquely Italian elements of the style. Over-the-top violence (I usually say this in response to the old Italian cannibal films, but remember this is where 2,000 years ago when looking for a good time they decided to throw Christians to the lions and see what happens.) Brutality towards women. A fondness of car chases and elaborate crashes (which were often real.) Guerrilla style filming where the crowd in the marketplace just happened to be the people who were there when they shot. If nothing else, it makes a powerful case that despite all the over the top plots and violence, there was something in that spontaneous, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants style that made them somehow more "real" (or at least "real" in the way that Hollywood films aren't.) The film sort of ends with the re-discovery of a lot of these films on DVD, affording them a new life (and sometimes the actors finally get to see their own films decades after making them.) I say it "sort of" ends because the new cult audiences offer a little glimpse of hope that maybe the story isn't done yet and there's still a final act left.

I have to say that I didn't know much about the genre before. I kind of knew it existed but hadn't seen most of the movies. So in terms of the amount of information thrown at me it was a bit like trying to drink from the fire hose. But the best compliment I can give is that even with it's 137 minute running time (and being my 4th movie of the day, and that I started the day exhausted and hung over) the time flew by quickly.

Total Running Time: 392 minutes
My Total Minutes: 306,181

Jason goes to Holehead--Day 4

A long, 5-film day at Holehead last Saturday, so let's just jump right in.

First up was a Shorts Program. Here's the rundown of the lineup:
TWISTED: A love story. Or at least a sex story. With a twist (of course.)
DISTANCE: Fighting over what to watch on TV.
SINK HOLE: Umm...most tragic seduction by an inanimate object ever. That was pretty sick.
IRIS: A dystopian view of dating in the status-obsessed future.
BUG CHASER: It starts out kinda as gay porn. Then it gets really gross. Incidentally, I had never heard of the term "bug chaser" before, but it refers to gay men who intentionally try to contract HIV. As sick as the film was, the fact that such people exist scares me even more.
APARTMENT 15: Four colleagues show up to look at an apartment to possibly rent. Unfortunately, it's not furnished as advertised. More unfortunate, they get locked inside and can't escape. And then it gets weird.
TAKEOUT: A young lady has a crush on the delivery guy from the local Chinese restaurant. She finally gets up the courage to ask him out for a drink. All's well, until a tragic turn.
Due to technical issues, SURVIVOR TYPE and LOVE BUG didn't play, but they were replaced by:
BAD MOON RISING: A brutal interrogation/torture takes a more brutal turn when the full moon is out.
AXED: This actually played at Holehead last year, I liked it then and it was cool to see it a second time.

Next up was the feature film RESOLUTION. If you stripped out the genre elements, it could still be a good straightforward drama about a guy who helps his friend get off drugs. Chris is living out in the woods, getting high and shooting stuff. His best friend Michael gets an e-mail from him with a video showing him as high and reckless and a map to his location--a remote cabin on an Indian reservation. When he gets there, Chris knows nothing about sending the fact he has no computer there...nor any video equipment. But Michael is there to sober Chris up, so he handcuffs him to the wall and swears to take care of him--and to keep all the drugs away from him--for one week. But then weird things happen. Books, pictures, videos are left where they can be easily found, like someone is leading them down a path. It's handled with a nice mix of humor, drama, suspense, and mystery. And as I already said, it would have been fine as just a straight get-off-the-drugs drama. But I sort of have to talk about the villain in the movie, but I can't do that without spoilers. So here's your spoiler warning, highlight to read. [SPOILER ALERT!!] The villain is an unseen force that is motivated only by the desire to see a good story through to the end. And the final shot is from that force's POV. So I think the clearest interpretation is that the villain is the audience--we are the monster. Other's just thought it was an intentionally ambiguous force. Or some might think its the spirits of French archaeologists/folklorists who went missing on the reservation. But to me, it's clear who the villain is, and it is I. [END SPOILER]

Next up was PLAY DEAD, essentially a concert film of a live stage show of the same name. The stage show was directed by Teller (of Penn and Teller) and stars Coney Island impresario Todd Robbins. He delights and tortures the audience with glass eating, magic tricks, and tales of serial killers (e.g., Albert Fish), geeks (real, bite-the-head-off-of-animals geeks, not the modern computer/pop culture geeks), and psychics. And he scares the audience with absolute pitch-black (even the exit signs are turned off) scares (actors in all black with night vision goggles running up and down the aisles molesting the audience.) As a show, it looks like an absolute blast and I hope it comes to San Francisco in some form (might I recommend a collaboration with the Thrillpeddlers at the Hypnodrome, who already have experience with lights-out scares.) As a film...well, it actually does a pretty good job of putting us in the audience. Maybe it's just me acting out my desire to see it live, but I found myself automatically joining in with the audience response, yelling on cue, "Hallelujah!" or "Amen!" or "We're all screwed!" and applauding when the audience did. Yup, it's a pretty freaking cool show.

Then there was AMONG FRIENDS, the return of Jennifer Blanc-Biehn to Holehead (after starring opposite her husband Michael Biehn in THE VICTIM.) She stars and produced this film directed by Danielle Harris (also in THE VICTIM.) Several Hollywood friends gather for a murder-mystery dinner party at the home of their psychiatrist (Alysa Lobit, also from THE VICTIM and she wrote the screenplay.) It's already pretty clear they are all shallow, narcissistic, horrible people, because...well, they're from L.A. And to just amp everything up, it's an 80s theme party, the most empty, shallow, self-indulgent and narcissistic decade possible. And then the evening is hijacked by their hostess who forces them all into a game of torture and revelations. Now here's my problem with the film (and I admit it's to a large extent just my problem, it might not be true of all audience members): I didn't like anyone in the movie. On the one hand you have a group of morally reprehensible, shallow narcissists. On the other hand you have a psychiatrist (never mind that she's a psycho who tortures them all, it's bad enough just that she's a psychiatrist.) I didn't root for anyone to survive, I just rooted for them to all die faster and in more painful ways. And I didn't see the psychiatrist as any sort of noble, avenging voice of morality. I'm not really sure if she was supposed to be, but if she was I already blocked it out because she's a psychiatrist. I really fucking hate psychiatrists is what I mean.

And then, finally, the late show was the U.S. premiere of Barry J. Gillis' sick little twisted flick, THE KILLING GAMES. Dirty Jesus and Son of Satan are a pair of thrill killers. When two girls witness them raping and murdering a couple, one films it with her cell phone. And she fucking films it in vertical movie mode. That in and of itself is enough reason for her to die. But she survives long enough to make it home to her father and her mother who is dying of some mysterious disease (she's already missing an arm and half her face is caved in.) And it gets pretty fucking sick and brutal, at least when it wants to. I will admit I thought it dragged at a few moments, mostly because I was kind of drunk and really just wanted to see more of Dirty Jesus and Son of Satan. Even when they weren't killing people (just talking about it) the movie always picked up when they were on screen. Dirty Jesus and Son of Satan may just be the best onscreen couple since...ever, I guess.

Total Running Time: 451 minutes
My Total Minutes: 305,789

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Jason goes to Holehead--Day 3

The big first weekend started last Friday. And I already failed in my quest to see everything in the festival because I got there 45 minutes late for the first film. But that's okay, I was late because I had a job interview, and I can't be unemployed forever.

Anyway, I did catch the last half of THE LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT OF ROSALIND LEIGH. So don't consider this a full review but here's what I could glean from the last half (apparently I came in right when the supernatural stuff was happening, as Leon picks up a book on communicating with the dead.) First, I could tell it was definitely well made technically. The lighting, framing, set design, editing, etc. was all top notch (something that's not always true of festival films, particularly a festival that celebrates "outsider" films as much as Holehead does.) Second, the acting was great, Aaron Poole (Leon) had to pretty much carry the movie as he's alone in the house for the majority of what I saw, and he always held my attention. Third, the creepy scares were well done, in particular the black demon/animal/man who haunts the shadows. Fourth, it appears that at its heart it was more of a family drama (Leon returning to the house of his dead, estranged mother) and a religious story (the estrangement has to do with his mother's faith and his lack of faith) rather than straight-on horror. The same story with no horror elements could still be a good drama, but the horror elements are like icing on the cake. Anyway, since I missed the first half I might actually be wrong about all of that, but I can say what I saw lived up to its reputation and really makes me want to see the whole movie.

The next show started with the short ODOKURO, a cool stop-motion story of discarded objects, their lives, and how they imbue others with life. Very cool.

That was the lead-in for I DIDN'T COME HERE TO DIE, a cool and clever kids-dying-in-the-woods comedy. From the opening credits, it's firmly in the 70s grindhouse mode, with the fake scratches, inconsistent lighting, varying quality of "reels" (although of course it was digital.) A group of kids working for VAGG (Volunteers of America Generating Goodwill, but...hee hee, "vag"...hee hee) are out in the woods building a campsite. But the land was donated by a family whose little girl was killed maybe her spirit haunts the woods. Or maybe they just have incredibly bad luck and through a series of wacky accidents and mounting paranoia everyone gets killed in hilarious ways. Love it!

And then the late show, DAY JOB. Director Dave O'Shea introduced it by admitting it's amateurish and nobody really knew how to make a movie. But he certainly made up for it with heart...a sick, twisted, demented heart. Dave, who is a cable installer/technician in his actual day job, plays a cable installer/technician in the movie. And for the first half hour or so it's kind of slow, showing the sort of work he does and annoying customers he meets on the job. And then it gets into his twisted revenge plots and just out-and-out perversions. I don't want to give any spoilers, but I will say I was amused at how condoms aren't always a sign of safe sex. For example, when there's a wall with hundreds of bloody condoms nailed to it, it's more a sign of a very unsafe sex dungeon. And that's not even close to the extremes of the sick and twisted...ummm...twisted sickness.

It's tempting to think that festivals like Holehead exist to give weird, extreme films like this a chance to be seen. But I prefer to think these films exist to give festivals like Holehead a reason to exist. It's certainly an unpolished movie. The lighting and filming is inconsistent at best, acting is amateurish, pacing and editing is all over the map. But if you find this film, give it a chance. Don't turn it off if you're bored or confused in the first 15 minutes. Because if sick and twisted is your thing, this will pay off in the end.

Total Running Time: 199 minutes, not counting any time for ROSALIND LEIGH. I'll give myself time if I see all but a few minutes of a movie--if I get there just a minute or two late, or if I run out right when the end credits start--but not if I miss this much of the film.
My Total Minutes: 305,338

Friday, November 30, 2012

Jason goes to Holehead--Day 2

Two more films last night, in the only night in the Victoria for Holehead this year. Today (Friday) we move to our traditional home of the Roxie for a week before having the final weekend in the intimate confines of the Vortex Room (fair warning, if you want to see anything at the Vortex room, it's an awesome space but there's only room for about 50 people, and the passholders will take up about a third of that. So get tickets early because it's likely to fill up.)

Anyway, the first show was supposed to start with a short called SACKED. But...something to do with the DVD not arriving or not working and no backup...anyway, it was cancelled. Sucks, but I've come to expect at least one technical screwup like that in every Holehead. Doesn't mean it doesn't suck, though.

Anyway, the first feature was A LITTLE BIT ZOMBIE, and I have to give them credit for attacking the zombie genre with a ton of slapstick glee. There's a zombie hunting duo of a psychotic, heavily armed old man (with a fondness for tactical bacon) and a young female researcher who wrote the book on zombies and carries an unexplained mystical orb that glows and points the way to zombies. Then there's the vacationing couples. The engaged couple--the nice corporate conflict resolution specialist and his domineering bitch of a fiance. And the other couple is his sister and her husband/his best friend. Well, long story short he gets bit by a mosquito full of zombie blood and starts turning. But he also resists the infection pretty well, I assume because of his awesome conflict resolution skills. And that's the source of most of the slapstick. He finds that he's impervious to pain and eating anything other than brains makes him throw up (it's just a dietary restriction!) Like most slapstick, some gags work and some fall flat. I wasn't really getting into the movie until the big projectile vomit scene. Ultimately, it was pretty fun, although [SPOILER ALERT!!!] I really wanted that bitch of a fiance to die in the end. Oh yeah, and it had a cute little bunny in it!

Next up was FIRST WORLD PROBLEMS a movie about meta-movies that's so meta it crawls up its own ass, out its mouth, and back up its ass again (maybe 5 more times. It's like the INCEPTION of head-up-your-ass movies.) People Persons has gone off to Hollywood to become a star. But celebrity has changed him, so he goes back to San Francisco to reconnect with his roots and mend fences with his former friends, chiefly Sherman Firecracker, the struggling auteur behind such ideas as THE KILLING FIELDS...on ice! When they get together they decide ultimately to make a movie called...FIRST WORLD PROBLEMS about People Persons (playing himself) returning to San Francisco and reconnecting with his friends to make a low movie. But the lines between the movie and reality get so blurred that he doesn't know if he's fake killing his friends in a movie or really killing them in real life. And that's just the first half, before it contorts itself into yet more layers of reality/artifice (and, of course, the whole thing is just a movie anyway.) I think it started as a clever idea, maybe good for a 20-30 minute short, tops. But stretching it out to 87 minutes it just ended up dragging on, and on, and on. When someone yelling, "cut" and revealing one more layer of movie-making isn't surprising but annoying, you should stop.

Total Running Time: 174 minutes
My Total Minutes: 305,139

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Jason goes to Holehead--Opening Night

San Francisco's premiere (and to my knowledge, only) horror, fantasy, and sci-fi film festival kicked off last night at the Terra Gallery. I had a few beers and then settled in for the opening night film, Richard Elfman's FORBIDDEN ZONE.

The black and white version of FORBIDDEN ZONE actually played as a midnight movie at Another Hole in the Head back in 2007, and as a result of my write-up my blog is still (as of the time of this writing) the #1 Google search result for "Richard Elfman's taint."

He mooned the audience again twice more before the movie and twice after during the Q&A. I swear it's to the point where I could pick his ass out of a lineup more easily than my own.

Anyway, the festivities started with the old Betty Boop/Cab Calloway cartoon MINNIE THE MOOCHER (1932), since that is one of the obvious influences on FORBIDDEN ZONE.

And then we were treated to a teaser trailer for FORBIDDEN ZONE 2: FORBIDDEN GALAXY. I really hope it's finished soon. The Youtube trailer says 2012. The one I saw last night was exactly the same but said 2013. I hope it isn't in development hell forever (and Richard insisted he can still bully his little brother Danny Elfman around, so he will have to come back as the devil and possibly more.)

Anyway, on to the feature, FORBIDDEN ZONE. Here's what I wrote back in 2007:
I'd never seen this 1980 [Note: it's actually from 1982, this was a special 30th anniversary screening. I don't know how I got that wrong. --Jason] cult classic from the brother of composer Danny Elfman (who scores the film with his Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo and appears as Satan himself), and after watching it, I'm still not sure if I've seen it. An odd bit of black and white comic surrealism, the Hercules family lives in a house with a secret passage to the Sixth Dimension, where Herve Villachez is king, there's a frog servant, and...what the fuck did I just watch? I'm not even going to bother. I've seen some strange-ass movies in my time, but this one walks that fine line of having just enough pretense of a plot to make you think you should be able to follow it. You can't, don't try.
Okay, well the biggest superficial difference is that it's now colorized. In the Q&A, Richard revealed his original plan, before he ran out of money, was to have the Forbidden Zone sequences hand-tinted in the manner of old silent films. He says the new colorized version is the only one he can watch anymore. However, after hearing that my favorite version is the one that only exists in my mind--where the "real world" is black and white and the Forbidden Zone is hand-tinted colors, like some sort of even more demented acid trip version of THE WIZARD OF OZ.

Speaking of which, Richard Elfman also admitted he doesn't do drugs (although I can confirm he drinks.) This actually doesn't surprise me. It in fact reminds me of the Alejandro Jodorowsky quote, "I try to do with cinema what Americans do with recreational drugs." You don't need (recreational) drugs if you already have these images in your head.

I was also surprised to learn Richard Elfman was once part of the Cockettes, the notorious San Francisco drag musical theater group. I don't know if he knows the Thrillpeddlers have been reviving the Cockettes' musicals as part of their Theater of the Absurd. Now I shall fantasize about a Thrillpeddlers Forbidden Zone collaboration.

But, most importantly, I think I started to understand what's going on in the movie. I'm beginning to understand some of the machinations of King Fausto, Queen Doris, Princess Polly, etc. I still don't know what the giant frog-headed servant is about. But I'm becoming convinced that if I watch it enough, it will all make sense. And that scares me. Which is what Holehead is all about. So I guess it's off to a great start!

Total Running Time: 83 minutes
My Total Minutes: 304,965

Jason watches WRECK-IT RALPH

And I kind of enjoyed it, possibly despite my better judgement.

But first, there was a short animated film, PAPERMAN. A simple love story between a man, a woman, and a whole lot of airborne paper (with a BRAZIL homage in there, but I guess from the "Love Conquers All" version of BRAZIL.) It was cute and simple and more than a little old-fashioned. Not just in how it actually uses traditional hand-drawn animation, but in how it's a silent (that is, dialogue-free,) mostly black-and-white film.

And then the feature, WRECK-IT RALPH. It's hook is as a nostalgia trip through a world of classic 8-bit video games (it's possible the most unrealistic conceit isn't that video game characters have lives of their own, it's that a video arcade would still be in business today.) John C. Reilly voiced the title character, a video game villain who is tired of getting no respect. As he says, "It's hard to love your job if everyone hates you for doing it." So he goes rogue, or in the lingo of the video games, "goes turbo" (explaining what that means would be too much of a spoiler.) He escapes into other games and starts, well, wrecking everything. Not on purpose, that's just sort of what he does. And along the way he meets a glitchy little adorably annoying girl in a candy-themed racing game (voice of Sarah Silverman.) That relationship is the real heart of the film, and takes it from being a gimmicky nostalgia trip to a real character-driven story. And the story is sweet, kind of sappy, predictable but still pretty exciting.

And then after the movie I thought about the message for a while. On the one hand, it has a dignified, blue-collar moral of the value of honest work, and how nobody appreciates the valuable lower-rung laborer until he's gone. On the other hand, it's also a message about the dangers of trying to go "against the program." Learn to be happy with your lot in life, and never reach for anything better. And that's why I say I might have enjoyed it against my better judgement.

Total Running Time: 108 minutes
My Total Minutes: 304,883

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Jason watches LINCOLN

And it's good, really good. Daniel Day-Lewis is, of course, brilliant and disappears in the role of Lincoln. I'd call him a lock for an Oscar but then I remember Joaquin Phoenix in THE MASTER and I'm torn. In any case, Daniel Day-Lewis creates an Abraham Lincoln who is full of good humor and illustrative stories (even echoes of Jesus' fondness for parables), and equal parts courage, righteousness, wisdom, and guile. It's that guile--the political machinations that contort the conscience all in effort of the greater good--that's the backbone of the story. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

It's a well written, engaging story. It eschews the 'whole life arc' that bogs down too many biopics, instead focusing on arguably the most important month of Lincoln's career. That would be January of 1865, just after his re-election, as he tries to push the 13th amendment (you know, that anti-slavery one) through a bitter, divided, and partisan House of Representatives.

Throwing the audience in the middle of this with not context might be a bit jarring with other figures, but I think it's safe to assume that pretty much everyone who sees this movie knows who Lincoln was and knows that America fought a civil war over slavery. I.e., it's not really without context, it just trusts the audience to bring the context into the theater with them and figures (rightly) that spoon-feeding the audience would be more insulting than enlightening. As such, I'm curious how it plays overseas to audiences who don't know as much about Lincoln and the American Civil War (how much is generally known about Lincoln in other countries?)

It also challenges the oft-told story that the Civil War had more to do with states' rights than slavery. It even obliquely mentions the Lincoln quote that "If I could save the union without freeing any slave I would do it...." (the film mentions he had said it three years earlier, and his position was much more firm as The Great Emancipator now.) In fact, it makes the compelling case that Lincoln could have negotiated a peace in January (instead of the surrender at Appomattox in April, after yet another "spring massacre") but to do so would have scuttled his attempts at getting the 13th amendment ratified. Perhaps to many it was a fight over the principle of states' rights, but to the commander-in-chief, at least by the end of the war (and according to this film), it was a fight over slavery.

All that and I haven't even mentioned my favorite character yet. Tommy Lee Jones as Congressman and fierce proponent of racial equality Thaddeus Stevens. He is the north star of the story's moral compass, while Lincoln is the crafty navigator who knows how to avoid the swamps and canyons in the treacherous path north. His 'I don't hold to equality in all things, only equality under the law' speech is easily my favorite part of the movie. Starting as a craven betrayal of his lofty principles for political expediency, he turns it into a venomous mocking dismissal of his opponents. Absolutely freakin' awesome! And for someone who really knew nothing about him before seeing the film, the big reveal at the end was...well, sweet. He seems a complicated, colorful, and fascinating character. Another movie could be made just about him.

Running Time: 150 minutes
My Total Minutes: 304,535

Monday, November 26, 2012

Jason watches SKYFALL

And yes, its an exciting action thriller worthy of James Bond, if you ignore the plot holes. It also has a ridiculously omniscient super-villain (Javier Bardem) who would be worthy of Batman.

But I digress. The fact is, I've gone on record before saying that as much as I recognize that Daniel Craig is surely the most talented actor to ever play Bond (sorry Sean Connery) he's not actually my favorite Bond (sorry Daniel Craig, I'm still a Sean Connery guy.) And I think I can now articulate why.

In 1995 GOLDENEYE came out ushering in the Pierce Brosnan Bond era. And I was excited, it had been 6 years since Timothy Dalton ended his run in LICENCE TO KILL (still the longest gap between Bond films.) I was in college at the time and asked one of my friends if he was excited that they were making a new Bond film. He replied, "No, because I'm not 12 anymore."

After much thinking, I realized that was what I liked about Bond. His adventures could always take me back to a place where I was emotionally 12 years old and I could fantasize about growing up to be James Bond. And through all the different iterations (even George Lazenby) I could watch the movie and say, "Damn, I wanna be James Bond!" He is the epitome of the classic character who 'all the women want and all the men want to be.'

And then Daniel Craig came in. And the producers decides to make a grittier, tougher, more realistic (if realism means anything in the Bond universe) take on the hero. They starting making Bond movies that appeal your adult side, not your inner 12 year old. And I...just...don't...want...that. I generally forgave CASINO ROYALE (QUANTUM OF SOLACE is kind of a muddle, so let's not speak of it) as an "origin" story with the promise that after some learning curve Craig's Bond would become more like Sean Connery's uber-cool, unflappable Bond. That he'd gain his 'Bond swagger.' But dammit, as unforgettable as the scene of Mads Mikkelsen whipping a naked, chair-bound Daniel Craig in the balls was, at that moment I definitely didn't want to be James Bond.

Well, SKYFALL offers a few glimpses of that Bond swagger. Most notably in the opening action sequence (shown in most of the trailers, so not really a spoiler) when he jumps into a car of a moving train while the cars behind him are destroyed and gives a quick little adjustment to his cuff links. That's a great, classic Bond swagger scene.

But doesn't carry that swagger through. And it's not that he's still learning the ropes, becoming jaded and cool. This is explicitly an older Bond, one who even if he's not pondering retirement others are pondering it for him. But they don't focus on how freaking cool Bond is, they focus on how troubled he is (he wins ultimately by simply being more driven than the psycho bad guy, not by being more talented.) Well, why the hell would I fantasize about being a psychologically damaged alcoholic? Or, more importantly, why would my inner 12 year old fantasize about that? There's really no answer to this question, because this movie isn't aimed at my inner 12 year old. It's aimed at psychologically damaged alcoholics who want to fantasize that they can still be heroes somehow.

Anyway, it really is a pretty good movie, and my rant is my own problem, not the movie's. But it is what it is.

Running Time: 143 minutes
My Total Minutes: 304,385

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Jason goes to Docfest--Day 7

For those keeping score at home, yes I skipped day 6. I was at a top secret film club undisclosed location. This (last Wednesday) was also my last day of Docfest for this year, as I have a more important family obligation.

First up, we started with a short film HANGING DOWNTOWN, a brief profile of Jason Escape, a Boston comedian/magician/escape artist/street performer. As the highlight of his act, he is bound in a strait jacket and tied in thick ropes and then hung upside-down 20 feet in the air as he escapes. Pretty wild act, and a pretty interesting guy.

That was the lead-in to WITHOUT A NET, a term which could describe both the circus acts  and the lives of the various young performers in a "social circus" in the ghetto of Rio de Janiero. The circus tent was put up in an abandoned parking lot (since the making of the movie it has been moved to make way for infrastructure for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics, and is also under new management.) The owners run the circus and teach circus performing to the youth in the neighborhood as a way to give them self-confidence and keep them away from the drugs and violence of the favela. It's a nice behind-the-scenes look at making the show, but the show is almost secondary from the difficult lives from which the kids are using the circus as an escape. And, it's important to note, more often than not it's a temporary escape. Some go on to professional careers, but for the most part one year later everyone is still just struggling to survive. In a way, it seems a little naive to think that a circus will somehow solve all their problems. And it doesn't...but it is a rare positive element to their lives, and that's important in and of itself.

And then the second show I caught was MARRIED AND COUNTING, the epic love story of Pat Dwyer and Stephen Mosher. Sweethearts since college (in North Texas) they've been together nearly 25 years. And while there are a few places in the U.S.A. where they can get married, in most states they can't. And even if they did, the federal government under DOMA wouldn't recognize it, nor would it force any other state to recognize it (at the time of the beginning of the film, their home state of New York would recognize same-sex marriages legally performed in other states, but didn't sanction their own--that changes midway through the film.) So they decide to celebrate their 25 years together by getting married in every state that will allow it (note: civil unions don't count) culminating on their 25th anniversary with a wedding in Washington D.C. on the steps of the Supreme Court. But the politics really takes a back seat to the personal. The two of them fretting over being late to the clerk's office in Vermont for their marriage license is no different than any other couple's wedding jitters (well, I guess it's a little difference, because they had to drive to another state.) You could easily call this an example of making the political personal. But for me they do such an amazing job of opening up their lives and love to the audience that it really highlights the absurd injustice of making their personal lives politcal.

And I want to leave it at that (and add a shout-out to George Takei as the narrator.) It's a beautiful, personal story. So the rest of this post just happens to be a related political rant that is my personal view and is far more strident than anything actually in the film.

I support same-sex marriage (in case you couldn't already tell.) And I prefer to call it marriage instead of "civil union" or "domestic partnership." With that said, for many years I have taken the position that those who support the same rights for same-sex couples but want to keep the word "marriage" for heterosexual couples are allies on this issues. Rights are more important than words, and as long as this is still a fight for rights I'm willing to be flexible on the words. If I could snap my fingers and make same-sex civil unions (with all the rights and privileges of marriage, just not the word) the law of the land across the country, I would consider the battle won and not worry about the words. This has been my position for many years, and continues to be my position. But I don't believe it's the ideal, I believe it's a reasonable goal given the current political climate (heck, even George W. Bush has shown acceptance of civil unions.) It's reasonable to believe universal legal status of civil unions--equal to that of marriage--is an achievable goal and we shouldn't let perfect be the enemy of good by insisting on the word "marriage" (even if it's a preferable word.)

With that said, I would ask everyone who backs civil unions but balks at calling same-sex unions "marriages" consider this: Would you back a law that redefines murder so that the killing of an African American is punishable exactly the same as a "real" murder, but is officially called "nigger-killing?" The legal prohibition on nigger-killing would be exactly the same as, and carry the same punishments, as murder, so all the same legal rights and protections exist, the difference is purely in the word that is used. I suspect most of you are offended by my suggestion (if you're not, kindly get the fuck out of here.) I also suspect many of you will (rightly) find fault with my metaphor (for one, "civil union" was never meant as an epithet.) But I offer this example as a simple illustration of the fact that WORDS... ARE... IMPORTANT.

Total Running Time: 168 minutes
My Total Minutes: 304,259