Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Jason goes to Cinequest--Opening Night

If you're within 100 miles of San Jose, and you're not planning to come to at least part of Cinequest...well, then I just don't know how to relate to you. I know I say this about every festival, and I'm definitely a proponent of the "love the one you're with" school of film festival sluttiness, but Cinequest really feels like a special homecoming this year. I hugged so many old friends (at least, friends for two weeks a year) in the VIP lounge before the film, and at the party afterwards. This year just feels extra special, like there's some extra energy this year--a "Neverending Passion" as it were.

Oh, and there was also an excellent movie, THE LADY directed by Luc Besson and starring Michelle Yeoh and David Thewliss. It suddenly dawned on me that Luc Besson has made quite a career out of showcasing very strong women, either from his imagination (LA FEMME NIKITA, THE FIFTH ELEMENT) or from history (THE MESSENGER: THE STORY OF JOAN OF ARC.) Well, now he takes on the story of possibly the most inspirational woman leader alive today--Burmese civil rights/democracy activist (and Nobel Prize Winner) Aung San Suu Kyi (portrayed with unflappable grace and determination by Michelle Yeoh.) Like most westerners, I know her as 'that woman kept under house arrest by the brutal military government of Burma/Myanmar.' I'm ashamed how surprisingly little I knew about the rest of her life. How her father, General Aung San, led the fight for Burmese independence (making her an immediately recognizable leader.) How he and his ministers where assassinated when Suu was only 3. Most embarrassingly, I knew nothing about her husband Michael Aris (David Thewliss, who does a remarkable job as not only Michael but his twin brother Anthony) or her two children Alex (Jonathan Woodhouse) and Kim (Jonathan Raggett.) While her political struggle (which has been going on since 1988 when she returned to take care of her ailing mother and saw the chaos and brutality in the country) is self-evident, and the generals are appropriately evil, it's really her personal ordeal as a wife and mother that is the emotional core of the movie. The moments of joy are the tenuous connections she keeps with her family--the rare visits they are allowed. The phone calls that are always cut off too soon. Listening on the radio as Alex gives a speech accepting the Nobel Prize on her behalf. There's even a heart-wrenching scene (during one of the few in-person visits) where she offers Michael her permission to divorce and start anew with someone else. He has a moving response where he talks about how their struggle for Burmese democracy and civil rights has--far from separating them--been their strongest bond. And, of course, that's a bond that gets horribly tested when Michael is diagnosed with prostate cancer and isn't allowed to visit her (she is given permission to leave the country to visit him, with the understanding that she would never be let back in.)

If there's one shortcoming, it's that the story is unfinished, because her life story is unfinished. So I, for one, am eager to see a sequel. And as long as Michelle Yeoh is starring, she should go back to her Hong Kong action roots and give some generals a roundhouse kick to the head.

THE LADY is slated for a limited release in the US in April.

Running Time: 132 minutes
My Total Minutes: 268,102

Monday, February 27, 2012

Jason slips into a Vortex and meets KAFKA

Back at my favorite underground movie clubhouse, for a martini, a couple of beers, and some Kafka.

First up, Richard E. Grant stars as Franz Kafka in the short FRANZ KAFKA'S IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE. He's got writer's block, knowing he wants Gregor Samsa to wake up as...something...a kangaroo, maybe? But he can't concentrate with these constant interruptions. Hilarious.

And then we saw the feature-length KAFKA, by Steven Soderbergh and starring Jeremy Irons (and Alec Guinness, and Theresa Russell, and Joel Grey, and Ian Holm, and Jeroen Krabbe...I had forgotten what a great ensemble cast it had.) Kafka is a clerk at a medical insurance firm, and he dabbles in a little writing. But when a friend is murdered he gets caught up in the intrigue of a local resistance/terrorist group, responsible for bombings all over town. So things get weirder and weirder in what can only be described as a Kafkaesque nightmare. Soderbergh doing Kafka somehow is a lot like the bastard son of Terry Gilliam and the Coen Brothers. So of course I loved it.

Total Running Time: 121 minutes
My Total Minutes: 267,961

Jason goes to Bad Movie Night and watches X-MEN: FIRST CLASS

More like LAST CLASS, amirite? I was already wasted after the Roxie's Oscar Party. Do you know what's even worse than getting drunk while watching bad movies? Sobering up while watching bad movies. That...almost...happened.

I'm gonna go find someplace private and think about Raven's blue boobies now.

Running Time: 132 minutes
My Total Minutes: 267,834

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Jason goes to Indiefest--Closing Night

It's all over but the writing and the preparing for Cinequest...

I started the last night with the shorts program Our Strange Connections.
LITTLE HORSES: A divorced father competes for his son's love with the new man in his ex-wife's life.
ABET: A young woman witnesses a crime, and watches a victim bleeding. This is supposed to be the same as when she was squishing caterpillars earlier. Sorry, I don't quite buy that, but it was pretty gross watching her squish caterpillars.
L TRAIN: Grim determination and a hard life, meet harder life and greater determination.
BYSTANDER: Set in a mirror homonormative world, a boy is a victim of a hate crime for choosing to be open about whom he loves. And his former friends have to decide whether they will be bystanders or stand up for him.
THE LAST VIRGIN: When your girlfriend won't go all the way, there's always your friend's hot (and drunken) mom.

And finally, the night and the festival ended with a rocking good time with GIRL WALK//ALL DAY. A feature length dance and music video, shot guerrilla style all over New York and set to the mash-up album All Day by Girl Talk (aka Greg Gillis.) The story is pretty simple--the girl (Anne Marsen) is bored in ballet class, so she breaks out and heads to New York, dancing on the Ferry the whole time. There she dances all over the city, meets like-minded dancers, is pursued by a creep (John Doyle) and pursues a gentleman (Dai Omiya.) Since it's shot guerrilla style, the bystanders of New York become characters, and the best parts are the reactions. Or rather, the rare times when the jaded, stoic New Yorkers actually do react. Director Jacob Krupnick was there, and in the Q&A he remarked how he was surprised how difficult it was to get people to react. But when they did, it was magic. At one point they got a whole subway car dancing. One of the best parts (and the only dialogue in the whole movie) was when a Hasidic Jew asks her, "Why are you dancing?" She replies, "Because I'm happy!" To which he replies, "You should always be happy!" Completely spontaneous, and yet it sums up the entire movie.

Of course, the audience was encouraged to dance along with the movie, but in the Roxie there's only so much room you have in the aisles and you don't want to block other people's views. So there were some people dancing along, and that was pretty cool. Although I didn't get up myself, I like to think I did my part with my patented seat-dancing moves--wiggle my butt and wave my arms and feet around while staying firmly in my seat. Who cares, it was tons of fun, and a great way to send off the festival with good feelings all around.

Now it's time for me to rest up a bit.

Total Running Time: 151 minutes
My Total Minutes: 267,693

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Jason goes to Indiefest--Day 14

Say it with me, folks, it's the penultimate night!

Actually, it's all over but the writing. This year I ended the festival with just 4 shows (2 nights) to finish writing up. Not bad.

First up was the short THE UNADVENTUROUS LIFE OF AI: THE MARRIAGE OF AI AND JIM. This is actually the second in a 3-part series on the UNADVENTUROUS LIFE OF AI. In this one, Ai is married to Jim (not James, or Jimmy, or Jimbo, just Jim.) But they don't really have a traditional marriage. They see other people (or rather, she sees people, he watches porn.) Their therapist has them slap each other. And they are hateful and competitive to the point where Ai wants to kill Jim. In other words, true love? Pretty funny.

Speaking of love, the feature was JUKO'S TIME MACHINE. I'm a total sucker for time travel movies, and this is sort of the rom-com take on TIMECRIMES. Juko has loved Rory since he first saw her in grade school. He has also been afraid to talk to her since then (he's now about 30.) His best friend Jed has always been there to help him. They've both been inventors since grade school, and their inventions have always been about winning Rory. But now, it seems that the dream is finally over--Rory is getting married. Wait, there's one last invention that could work--a time machine! But, of course, Jed and Juko don't get it right the first time so they have to go back again...and again...and again, with the extra complication that if a past self sees a future self the "exponent goes to infinity" and they both blink out of existence. That would be bad. But this movie is good, and lots of fun. A lot of the fun is watching Juko get more and more confident every time as things get worse and worse--he's got problems of existence to worry about, so talking to the girl he loves is no big deal.

And then we ended the night on a completely different note with MONSTERS CLUB, by Indiefest super-veteran Toyoda Toshiaki who previously played at Indiefest with BLUE SPRING (Indiefest 2002), 9 SOULS (2004), HANGING GARDEN (2006), and THE BLOOD OF REBIRTH (2010). As an aside, Indiefest should clearly do retrospective screenings of PORNOSTAR and his documentary UNCHAIN just so we can complete his filmography as a director.

Anyway, MONSTERS CLUB is at times beautiful and at times completely unsettling. In an isolated cabin in a beautiful, snow-draped woods, Ryoichi fends for himself and tinkers around with mailbombs that he sends to CEOs and TV networks responsible for the scourge of advertising (for the record, although his lifestyle is inspired by the Unabomber, his philosophy is somewhat different. Ryoichi seems to have a general grudge against advertising, consumerist culture, and the system. Kaczynski had a beef about how modern convenience robs us of the freedom to pursue what he called the "power process" which is never addressed in this movie...but I digress.) One night, a mysterious creature with a face covered in white foam with red lips and a blue eyes visits him. And then things get really weird, involving the ghost of his brother (who committed suicide, which is something of a recurring theme for Toyoda) family secrets, and eventually him smearing white foam on his face and becoming the monster himself (the scene where he's riding the train covered in face foam and the passengers move away from him is pretty funny.) I reiterate, it's a film that is at once beautiful and unsettling, but beyond that I'm not really sure what to make of this oddity.

Total Running Time: 155 minutes
My Total Minutes: 267,553

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Jason goes to Indiefest--Day 13

Two more movies last Tuesday, starting with the exceptionally inventive BESIDE MY BROTHER. Single father Josef (Michael Hase) is in no state of mind to raise a son, much less twins Thomas and...Thomas (played by Steven Cloos as a child and Pierre Kiwitt as an adult.) Yeah, he just raises his twins as a single boy, calling them by one name, only taking one to school, making breakfast for just one, etc. And they get so used to living one life, they continue doing it even when they move out and go to the city to become an artist. Oh yeah, they have very different personalities (one is healthy, outgoing, colorful in his painting; the other is quiet, sickly, and meticulous in his drawings), but they do have art that keeps them together. Oh, and a budding romance with Magda (Ricarda Zimmerer,) but I think only Thomas loves her, other Thomas doesn't. What I appreciated most in this movie is that it takes a premise that is ripe for sitcom hi-jinks and plays it as completely straight drama. Not that it doesn't automatically have some comic moments, just that it's played with a very German (or rather, Austrian) sense of precision and logic, with just slight moments of dark humor.

Speaking of dark humor, the next show had that in spades, starting with the short STUCK. A man wakes up, standing up in a pit, stuck up to his waist in concrete. This is revenge, and we soon meet his tormentor--a man who is still grieving his little girl who was kidnapped and murdered. Best part is when the tormentor's wife shows up and has a "not again" moment.

Then the feature THE DEVIL'S BUSINESS, the second of the two 'hit man horror' films in Indiefest (the other being KILL LIST, which returns for a one week run at the SFFS cinema March 16-22.) This is the more supernatural version of hit man horror, and also the more claustrophobic. Two hit men--an old veteran and a young rookie--are given an assignment to take out a former associate of their boss. They show up early and...wait. To pass the time, the veteran (Billy Clarke) tells a story to the rookie (Jack Gordon) that unnerves him. And then a lot of weird shit happens in the house. Of course, given that one of the first things they saw was a skinned animal head (complete with eyes) on a plate, you know something weird is going on. This movie was just cool as hell--scary, funny, creepy, and a real testament of what can be done with little budget but a whole lot of atmosphere and great performances.

Total Running Time: 171 minutes
My Total Minutes: 267,408

Jason goes to Indiefest--Day 12

We're down to the final week. Just two-a-day until Thursday. I'd get all depressed and lonely...but Cinequest is right around the corner. And then Asianfest. Anyway, let's jump right into Monday's movies.

First up was EXLEY, the new film by Canadian indie film pioneer Larry Kent (who also made HIGH, in this year's festival.) This is one of the few movies he didn't write himself. In fact what was written was little more than an outline. The movie was almost completely improvised, which makes it pretty remarkable how well the story flowed and held together. We meet Exley (Shane Twerdun) as he's getting the crap beaten out of him in an alley. His girlfriend defends him and takes him home, where they wake up naked together. That's right, we get the violence and the sex out there right away. Then he gets a phone call that sets the rest of the film in motion--his long-estranged mother is dying, and he needs $1000 to travel across the country to see her. And so after he deals with his crazy jealous girlfriend he sets out to achieve this. The first couple of attempts range from fruitless (his gay lover) to outright hostile (his sister and her wife.) And then it descends into a surrealist nightmare, including marriage. It's a wild, funny ride and Exley is the perfect hard-luck hero for a world that is at best indifferent to your concerns and more often than not is openly hostile.

Then I ended the night with the tedious and painful BAD FEVER. Eddie (Kentucker Audley( is an aspiring comedian. The festival write-up compares his style to Mitch Hedburg, which would only be appropriate if Mitch Hedburg weren't funny in any way. He picks up homeless girl Irene (Eleonore Hendricks) and starts the world's most awkward romance with her. She's squatting in an abandoned schoolroom and has a video camera setup to record their time together. There's some mysterious guy who gave it to her because he likes the tapes (even though they're not porn.) It's all just painfully, painfully awkward. I can feel sorry for Eddie but I wouldn't want to spend any time with him. The only redeeming feature is the ending, which I kinda liked don't want to spoil. I will say (and credit goes to a friend of mine for coming up with this) that the only thing that could redeem this movie is if it was sponsored by a group that is lobbying to legalize prostitution.

Total Running Time: 167 minutes
My Total Minutes: 267,243

Jason watches MARGARET

There's an English classroom discussion (with Matthew Broderick as the teacher) in MARGARET on the line from King Lear, "As flies to wanton boys are we to th' gods,/They kill us for their sport." The debate is between the scholarly consensus--that the gods don't give a shit about humans, our lives and our problems--and a student who contends that maybe the point is that we cannot understand the gods anymore than a fly can understand us--i.e., we are just too stupid to see the big picture. My takeaway from MARGARET is a combination of the two. The gods don't give a shit about humans. More importantly, humans don't really give a shit about our fellow humans. And it's because we are all as stupid as flies. I'm at a bit of a loss to think of another movie that is this engrossing despite having no character I really liked (and only a few that I didn't actively dislike.)

The story revolves around Lisa Cohen (Anna Paquin,) a privileged private-school girl in New York. One day, while shopping for a cowboy hat as if it's the most important thing in her life (and honestly, it probably is) she witnesses a bus accident that results in a death. In fact, more than witnessing it she probably caused it by distracting the driver (Mark Ruffalo.) Worse yet, she lies on the police report--saying the light was green when in fact it was red--to avoid responsibility (and maybe to save the bus driver, too.) According to much of the press about this movie, this event becomes the catalyst for her personal transformation. I disagree--I don't think she transforms all that much. Without giving too much away, I will say there's a catharsis at the end, but not much of a transformation. She simply goes from having her whole life revolve around her personal petty dramas to her whole life revolving around her personal "important" dramas. Perhaps there's a transformation and maturation that is implied after the final scene, but for much of the movie her biggest transformation is from a typical teenage drama queen to a strung out drama addict (is there such thing as a drama crack whore?) As an example, there is a scene (spoiler alert) near the end where she blurts out that she had an abortion. I don't believe she actually had one, she just said that for the attention and drama (end spoiler.)

There are plenty of other moments of high personal drama, which I won't get into for fear of more spoilers. It's only very near the end does the victim's best friend Emily (Jeannie Berlin) call her on her bullshit, screaming that, "this is not an opera! And we are not all supporting characters to the drama of your amazing life!" I think that pretty well sums up my frustration with the character.

But I must be very careful to not confuse my dislike of her character with a dislike of the movie. I actually liked the movie quite a lot. The different threads--her teachers, her mother (an actress--someone who literally makes her living by faking dramatic emotions), her mother's boyfriend, her friends, her debates at school (especially over 9/11 and the Israel/Palestine issues), the loss of her virginity, etc.--all tie together to create a pretty rich and multi-faceted portrait of not only Lisa's character but all the characters.

In fact, the more I think about it, what I like about it the most is that it is multi-faceted enough that I might be completely wrong about the whole movie. In fact, as I think about it more (particularly the ending) maybe the point is that all drama is personal, and the way to bring meaning to your life is to embrace the personal drama in it.


I don't really believe that, but I do believe that it would be possible to interpret MARGARET that way.

Running Time: 150 minutes
My Total Minutes: 267,091

Monday, February 20, 2012

Jason goes to Indiefest--Day 11

A 5 movie Sunday, so let's jump right in.

This is the day Indiefest got high, with 3 of the 5 films having some kind of drug theme. First up was a pot documentary, CALIFORNIA 90420. The tagline is "The story of 4:20 somethings" but the movie is kinda stolen by one person--Ix. She's a spritely figure who is so effusive in her love of pot that it made me think two things: A) I hope some day to love anything as much as she loves pot, and B) when I do, I hope I'm not as annoying as she is about it. It can be fun to watch a pothead for a couple of hours, but I don't wanna be one, and I wouldn't even want to be around one for too long. Maybe I'm officially old, but nowadays my support for pot legalization (and I do support it) is entirely a libertarian argument. I have little appreciation for people who believe legalizing pot will solve all (or any) of the world's problems. But I'm digressing, Ix is very excited to get into Weed College (no, not Reed College, Weed College) or as it's officially known, Oaksterdam University. For the most part, it is there that we meet the rest of the characters--professors, students, activists, and patients (one particularly compelling story is a mother who is suffering from cancer and uses marijuana medicinally. They could have used more of her story.) A large part of the movie focuses on their efforts (which ultimately failed) to pass Proposition 19 in 2010. The festival guide describes this as, "Possibly the most honest marijuana film out there." I suppose it is as honest as its subjects, who are remarkably open about their marijuana use. But the honesty is self-selecting, so we really only get certain views of the story, and we don't even get a sense that the filmmakers were interested in other views. I understand that it's a pro-pot documentary, and I'm fine with that. But I was particularly annoyed by how dismissive they were (in a short piece of animation) of the growers who didn't want Prop 19 to pass because they were afraid it would drive down their prices (this was a big part of the much better short documentary POT COUNTRY at last year's Docfest.) Oh, and they never even bothered to explain what 420 means or where it came from, and it's not like it's some big secret. Anyway, the movie was actually pretty well made, and entertaining in scenes but it didn't entirely hold together.

Next up was another drug documentary, THE SUBSTANCE: ALBERT HOFFMAN'S LSD. It starts with the fairly amusing story of how Albert Hoffman, as a young chemist experimenting on himself with ergot (a type of fungus that grows on rye) took a fraction-of-a-milligram dose of a chemical he had isolated--Lysergic Acid Diethylamide--and had a pretty wild experience. It then follows the history in a fairly straight forward manner. It goes from it's use in psychiatric practice/research, to it's embrace by the likes of Ken Kesey and Dr. Timothy Leary, to it's close association with the hippie movement (and the Haight Ashbury neighborhood that exploded with homelessness in the later 60's.) It's a well produced movie and has some interesting points, but it never really rises above a PBS style recitation of the facts. Okay, so LSD became a banned substance. What were the arguments for or against that? Was it a good or bad thing? If it was used in psychiatric research/treatment before, will it be again (with some loosening of the rules around it) and is that likely to be good or bad? We don't really get any answers to this. But we do get the obligatory distorted "psychedelic" effects that are in just about every LSD movie.

Hey, I just realized that not only were 3/5 of the Indiefest shows on Sunday drug-related, but 3/5 of them were documentaries. The next show was the one documentary program that was not drug-related.

First off, the short STREET BY STREET. A recent San Francisco transplant walks along the streets of San Francisco, and in a series of letters between herself and her father, compares the joy of walking in San Francisco and in her hometown in Turkey.

And then a truly amazing documentary, DEAF JAM. It's all about American Sign Language (ASL) poetry. Yeah, poetry without voiced words, and it's some amazing stuff. And the thing is, I know I don't really get it. ASL isn't just translated English words into gestures. It's its own language, its own culture, and there are many elements to it. Facial expression, hand position, hand shape, motion, all go into it. In fact, I know I'm forgetting one because in the beginning they run through the 5 elements of an ASL sign. Then they show an ASL poet and point out he "rhymed" in 4 ways at the same time (no, I couldn't follow it...but I was amazed.) I, as a hearing person, have my bias where I think I have this whole world of sound that the deaf are missing. This movie gave me a taste that there's a whole world of ASL expressiveness that I'm missing.

The story focuses on a group of teens from the Lexington School for the Deaf in Queens, NY. They are introduced to ASL poetry, have their own poetry show, but take it one step forward to compete in the New York poetry slam, introducing ASL poetry to an audience of hearing children (who, of course, don't quite get it.) The main character is Aneta Brodski, an Israeli immigrant from an all-deaf family. She's also the one student who isn't graduating this year. She has one more year and so her story continues. And as if the story wasn't amazing enough up to that point, during her senior year she ends up collaborating with a hearing slam poet. And not just anyone, but Tahani, a Palestinian American poet. Now that's some history right there--a deaf Israeli girl and a hearing Palestinian girl becoming friends and creating hybrid spoken/ASL poetry together. Wow!

Oh yeah, and much of the movie there was a speaking interpreter for the ASL. The speaker is always subtitled, as are much of the ASL-only scenes. So the deaf audience can get this movie at least as well as a hearing audience. And the ASL-fluent audience can get it even better. The general issues of deafness, cochlear implants, and ASL as a culture are brought up in the movie, and I think it would be very valuable for deaf audiences to see this.

Next up was a special retrospective screening of Larry Kent's 1967 masterpiece HIGH. Shot in 16 mm (and shown in an uncut 16 mm instead of the edited/censored 35 mm version that existed before.) Kent (who was a major influence on a number of Canadian directors, most notably David Cronenberg) said that this film was a response to his visiting the Haight Ashbury district of San Francisco two consecutive years and seeing how much it changed (for the worse) in such a short time, going from the free love days to overcrowded decay in just a year (something that THE SUBSTANCE: ALBERT HOFFMAN'S LSD also touched on.) Here he shows the dirty underside of the free-love drug culture through his two protagonists Tom (Lanning Beckman) and Vicky (Astri Thorvik.) Tom hustles money any way he can (yes, any way he can) on the streets of Montreal and hooks up with librarian Vicky who quickly becomes his partner/accomplice. They do a lot of drugs. They have sex (in some very frank scenes.) The film switches from black and white to color to red-infused in response to their levels of highness. And it is full of funny little moments like, "I need the money, I have a kid and three wives to take care of!" or "Have you read all these bricks? No, I just keep them around to impress people." (maybe you had to be there for that last one.) And it even has a happy ending...of a sort. Well, it made me happy, and Larry Kent insisted it was a happy ending.

HIGH plays! Tuesday the 21st at 7:15 pm.

Finally, I ended the night with WITHOUT. This was a really odd, really tense movie that worked in nearly every scene but ultimately didn't add up to much--lots of tension and no release. Joslyn is hired by a couple to come to an island (it's shot on Whidbey island, WA, which is in Puget Sound and happens to be near where I grew up in Bellingham) and take care of an invalid old man (I assume, but didn't catch, that he was the father of one of them) while they're away on vacation. They pelt her with dozens of rules--no knives in the dishwasher, you can have some Kahlua but no whiskey, keep the TV volume between 54 and 56, he likes watching the fishing channel, etc. And then they're gone and she's all alone without even cell phone service. In fact, as the title suggests, there's a lot that she's without--contact with the outside world, her girlfriend, possibly her mind. Oh yeah, it took a long time to reveal that she has (or rather had) a girlfriend. Or that she is from this island. Or that she has an ex-boyfriend here who is kind of aggressive. It says something pretty telling about our electronically connected culture that her cell phone--despite having no service--is practically another character in the movie. She spends a good part of her days looking at pictures or videos of her girlfriend on it. Whenever she goes to sleep she wakes up to find her phone isn't where she left it. That element--along with the TV mysteriously changing channels and/or volume--is the biggest genre element in the movie. And it ratchets up the tension nicely (either there is something weird going on or she is going insane.) But as I said before, there's never really a release of the tension. I spent the whole movie (and the whole BART ride home) wishing something would actually happen in the movie.

WITHOUT played again Monday the 20th at 7:15 pm, but I didn't have this post up in time to let you know. Sorry about that.

Total Running Time: 415 minutes
My Total Minutes: 266,927

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Jason goes to Indiefest--Day 10

The long second Saturday, 6 movies in total....

So let's start with the shorts Beautiful Dreamers. A diverse program of 3 medium-length movies, but all are biographical shorts about interesting and strange people.

HONKYTONK BEN: A stylish look, including home movies, at an eccentric fellow (who happens to be the director's uncle) buries himself into the odd hobby of decorating pianos in strange ways and making the "honky tonk." Since an intrinsic element of honky tonk is the tinny sound from worn out felt on the hammers, he simulates that by putting thumbtacks on the hammers. He leaves the pianos intentionally out of tune. He opens up the sound board so you can see the hammers and strings. But most importantly he turns them into gaudy monstrosities/masterpieces. Keys become blue...or red...or mirrored. The frame and stools become filled with decorations (e.g., silver dollars.) And they become showcase works of art and furniture, entirely separate from their use as musical instruments.

DYLAN: An interesting verite-style look at a young metal rock fan in Ireland. I particularly liked when he talked about how there was a movement underway to make Metal an official religion, and how if it was successful he would officially change his religion from atheist to Metal.

BORO IN THE BOX: And finally, the most beautiful and stylish movie of the program, and maybe the entire festival. The alphabetical biography of Walerian Boroczyk. He's the Polish erotic surrealist filmmaker behind THE BEAST (Indiest 2003, Holehead 2006) and several other films I now want to see. And it's shot in a surreal erotica style that is an homage to Boroczyk.

Speaking of odd biographies, the next feature fits perfectly with that theme. HEAVEN + EARTH + JOE DAVIS is the story of Joe Davis, a one-legged man who could still whup all of you in an ass-kicking contest. It's really a testament to his life and personality that the fact that he has a peg leg is a minor afterthought to his story. He's a scientist, and an artist. He has a research position at MIT and Harvard Medical School, but supports himself by washing dishes in a Cambridge bar (where director Peter Sasowsky met him.) He builds crystal radios out of objects he found in the trash. He invented the audio microscope to turn light into sound and learn the characteristic sounds of various bacteria. He invented the light stethoscope where he could listen to a woman's heartbeat by holding a light up to her body (naked, and covered in honey to protect her and then gold leaf to produce a good reflection.) He placed the Arecibo message in bottles in the MIT library (presumably the home to higher-than-average terrestrial intelligence) where rather than decoding it (despite all the information to decode it being in the same library) everyone just argued whether or not it was art. Annoyed that the Pioneer Plaque showed an anatomically correct man but a Barbie doll woman--and arguing tongue-in-cheek that maybe that's why all alien abductions come with a probing--he invented a machine to transmit vaginal contractions into space. He's also one of the preeminent researchers in DNA computing, finding ways to encode information first in "junk" DNA (which isn't that great, since organisms are pretty good at discarding junk DNA over generations) and then written "under" the useful DNA in ways that it wouldn't be expressed by the organism (this is the tricky part that he's still working on.) Let's see, what else...he invented an air laser that harnesses the power of storms, but he's not sure if that would dissipate the storms or make them worse. The thing is, I know just enough physics to know he's not bullshitting you. But the movie isn't really about the work (there's another movie--or series--that could be made about that) as much as it's about the man, his life, and his thought process. I think the best summary is the one Joe makes near the beginning where he explains that everything is connected so he finds it natural and obvious to demonstrate the connections between seemingly disconnected things. HEAVEN + EARTH + JOE DAVIS played again...on Sunday, but I didn't have a chance to get my review up in time. Dammit, I'm sorry.

Next up was the film that is now the rival of THE COLOR WHEEL as my "reward for seeing everything," SAHKANAGA. The festival write-up is intentionally very cagey about the subject matter, talking about a "terrible secret" and how it's "based on actual events" without telling you what that event was. I will also be cagey about it, but since I don't think the actual event is too much of a spoiler, you can find out what it was by going here (or avoid it if you don't want a spoiler.)

Director John Henry Summerour is from the town where the incident happened, and after going to film school in New York he came back to make this movie in part because he didn't want Hollywood exploiting it. He employed local talent from the community, none of whom were professional actors, some of whom were victims. And he wrapped it in a fictional story of a boy who discovers the terrible secret, and the effect it has on his whole life. He's afraid to tell anyone at first, and his delay and churning guilt make it worse. It turns out the incident is related to his family business, and so there's the horrible thought that maybe his dad knew or was involved. It will ruin his friendship, his chances with the girl he likes, everything. And it is ultimately a story not just about an event that tears a town apart but also how the town processes it (touching on everything from racism to religion to the nature of the soul, the body, and heaven) and ultimately forgiveness and the healing of wounds. It's amazingly well done, and a real surprise.

SAHKANAGA plays again Wednesday, Feb 22 at 7:15 pm, don't miss it!

Then I saw an amazing documentary about Pentagram lead singer Bobby Liebling, LAST DAYS HERE. It's not so much a music documentary as much as a terrifying portrait of addiction. Pentagram was poised to be the biggest thing in Doom Metal in the early 70's, but Liebling's perfectionism in their first big studio production (basically he expected the initial demo to sound like a record with $200,000 worth of production in it) ruined the deal. So there was a ton of unreleased recordings of Pentragram, a band that was pretty much broken up (although it existed in one form or another the whole time,) and a lead singer who by all rights should have died curled around a crack pipe years ago. The first time we see Bobby we might as well be looking at a ghost. Gaunt, white hair, sunken bulging eyes, and most shocking are the arms wrapped in bandages. He's living in his parents sub-basement, always talking of a comeback if he can just get the parasites out from under his skin. I was pretty sure at that moment I was watching the closest thing I'd ever see to a real snuff film (not that the filmmakers would kill him, but that we would watch him die on screen.)

The other star of the film, besides Bobby, is Sean "Pellet" Pelletier, a super-fan who releases a ton of the old lost recordings and becomes Bobby's de facto (and long-suffering) manager. Most of his work is about trying to get Bobby off drugs and performing again. And you can see there's a part of Bobby that wants to. He even at one time promises Pellet his entire record collection he will never smoke crack again (note: Bobby has an amazing record collection, but Pellet doesn't want that, he just wants Bobby off crack...and heroin...and meth...and anything else.)

I didn't think there's any chance but then a ray of sunshine enters Bobby's life, his new girlfriend. And well...I just always had this foreboding that it wouldn't work out. That even sober he's too intense for her, and if you replace a drug addiction with a person addiction that is really, really tough for the person. And if she leaves him he'll get even worse than he was before and he really will die. Well, I don't want to give away spoilers but I'll tell you they end the movie on a high note. I do have a sense that his story is so up and down that if they continue following him for a few years there will be another horrible downer. But for now, that's a great place to end his story.
LAST DAYS HERE plays again Monday, Feb 20 at 9:30 pm.

Then I saw a really fascinating, funny, well made, and surprising con artist movie, SILVER TONGUES. We open with a couple of newlyweds. They have a fight, but go down to the hotel restaurant for dinner. There's too much of a wait for a table, so they join an older couple, Gerry and Joan (Lee Tergesen and Enid Graham.) They talk, they have some fun, and then...things get weird. I'll try not to spoil it, but I will say that based on how the movie started I was afraid that we were going to follow the newlywed couple the whole time. And that bugged me because they failed a moral test by subscribing to the worst cliched stereotype of men. But the movie isn't about them, it's about Gerry and Joan, so in a way even the audience was conned. Gerry and Joan are lovers who travel around and mess up people's lives, usually by tempting them with a moral choice that ends up messing up their lives. But they never seem to take money from anyone, they're just getting off on screwing with people. Which makes you wonder why they do this. And based on their interactions when they're alone, it seems they do this because Gerry is a sadist and Joan is trapped. Or perhaps she's playing him, or maybe they're both out of their minds. What's really cool is that every new twist isn't just arbitrary. It's not like you can't see the twists coming because they don't make sense. They make so much sense that they add to the scenes that came before, instead of deleting the character as it was up to that point and saying 'Ha ha, just kidding!' Really ingeniously done.
SILVER TONGUES plays again Thursday, Feb 23 at 9:30 pm.

Then I went to the Big Lebowski party, which of course was awesome as always (and crowded. It seemed more crowded than past years, but maybe that's just me.) I had my obligatory White Russian, and then a few beers before taking the all-night BART home (speaking of crowded.) But I also stayed behind in the theater to watch CLOWN. That's right, I was two places at once. I'm a physicist, I can do that. Hell, let's pretend Joe Davis taught me how to do that. The important thing is it has nothing to do with me having access to the online streaming press screener of this movie.

First up was the short, AFTER-SCHOOL SPECIAL. Wes Bentley is a single dad taking his daughter to an indoor playground. There they meet Sarah Paulson, who at first looks like a mom but is really a schoolteacher watching after a student whose parents are late. Wes awkwardly tries to talk to her, even ask her out, but she rebuffs him. And then there's a shocking ending to remind you this was all written by Neil LaBute.

See, and that short isn't even available as a screener, so I must have been there to see it!

Anyway, CLOWN opens with a scene of goofy looking (or maybe just Danish) schlub Frank in bed with his girlfriend Mia. She asks if he wants a little "yummy yummy" and Frank readily agrees, thinking she means sex not a late night snack. See, that scene isn't even on the online screener, so I must have seen it in the theater, more proof I was two places at once! So after an opening credits with music that's almost ripped off from "The Odd Couple" we go to a party where we meet Frank's friend Caspar, who is planning their vacation "Tour of Pussy." We also learn the Mia is so hungry because she's pregnant. She just wanted to keep it a secret because she wasn't sure if she would keep it. She's just not sure if Frank is father material. And boy, is she right to not be sure. To prove his worth Frank takes his nephew Bo on the canoe trip with them. But did I mention before this was supposed to be the "Tour of Pussy." Clearly many things are bound to go wrong with gross-out body (or is that bawdy?) humor in the vein of the HANGOVER movies, but even gayer. And even when Frank does come through as a father, it's in an insane, psychotic manner that lands him in jail. It's actually pretty damn funny if you're into that sort of thing. But if you're not into humor revolving around the size of a twelve year-old boy's penis, maybe this isn't the movie for you.

CLOWN is the feature length version of a Danish sitcom of the same name (KLOVN in Danish) starring the same cast, and which is available on Danish DVD (with English subtitles, but you will need a code free player and PAL format.) Perhaps being familiar with the whole series would make the movie better.
CLOWN plays again Tuesday, Feb 21 at 9:30 pm.

Total Running Time: 424 minutes
My Total Minutes: 266,530

Friday, February 17, 2012

Jason goes to Indiefest--Day 9

The big second weekend starts. I'd like to thank Caltrans for A) closing the Bay Bridge westbound for the weekend, and B) as a result, keeping BART open (with limited service) all night. Although I wish it went all the way to Fremont, closest I could get was Bay Fair.

We started the night with something totally insane,THE FP. It's small town white kids pretending their hardcore urban toughs (even calling each other "nigs" so I'm not racist.) It's clearly a parody, but they play it as if it's real. Or "real" if 80's fashions were still cool and Dance Dance Revolution (excuse me, 'Beat Beat Revalation') were a way to vanquish your enemies and gain street cred. You might think the gang rivalry between the 245's and the 248's (think the first three digits of the local phone numbers, not including area codes) would be a trivial matter. But you have to realize that when gang leader L Dubba E (Lee Valmassy) takes over, he runs the only liquor store in town, and he decides who gets alcohol. At this point I had to keep reminding myself, "It's only a movie. It's only a movie. It's only a movie." But luckily JTRO (co-director Jason Trost) returns from a self-imposed exile to go through some Jedi Beat Beat training shit with his blood brothers KCDC (Art Hsu) and BLT (Nick Principe) so he can take back the FP. And then maybe the ducks will come back to the pond, because what's a motherfucking town without motherfucking ducks, yo!

In the Q&A after, they praised this audience for laughing at the film (and oh, did this audience laugh.) Apparently about half the time the audience thinks they're serious and they hate it. I don't see how you can't see it's a joke. It's pretty clearly a parody of all the cliches in all their favorite movies. All I can think is that they play it with such balls-to-the-walls conviction and never wink to the audience (yes, even when KCDC is lamenting the loss of the ducks, he doesn't wink) that slower audiences don't catch that it's a joke. In those cases, the joke is on the audience.

So there was an after party next door at 518 Valencia, but I only had time for one quick beer before I got back in the theater for something weird, Everything Is Terrible! presents DOGGIE WOGGIEZ! POOCHIE WOOCHIEZ!

Okay, I had never heard of EIT before, but based on the number of fans in dog costumes, a couple of which were clutching copies of JERRY MAGUIRE, they have a very loyal cult following. Anyway, they do a comedy show of found footage mash-ups and some original material. The show started out with some shorts. Well, actually the show started with a musical cat explaining that whenever you see a dog you should lose your shit in applause, and whenever you see a dogcatcher you should boo like crazy because--and I quote--"fuck that guy!" Then they showed some "best of" shorts. The ASPCA parody plea to find good homes for abandoned Jerry Maguire tapes was golden. As was Colby the Christian kids' show computer. And other funny bits. Then they had a live-in-the-fur show as three dogs showed up to do some live bits that were more weird than funny until they're chased off by the dogcatcher (Boooo! And can I say, I love that they got a San Francisco audience to actually boo, not just hiss. After more than a decade living here it still drives me crazy that SF audiences hiss their disapproval instead of boo.)

And then their feature film, DOGGIE WOGGIEZ! POOCHIE WOOCHIEZ! It's a mash-up of dog footage, and there were definitely progressing themes. Scenes where there a doggy showdowns, doggy joy, doggies speaking, etc. But the joke got tired after about 10 minutes. I got tired and zoned out a bit at 20 minutes. And the movie went on for about 45 minutes. And now I read the write-up in the festival guide that says it was supposed to be a remake of Jodorowsky's THE HOLY MOUNTAIN? Fuck, I love that movie! Now I need to watch DOGGIE WOGGIEZ! POOCHIE WOOCHIEZ! again to see if it really works. Or maybe I don't.

In any case, I ended the night with KILL LIST. And I am very sad to say as much as I struggled I couldn't quite stay 100% awake for this, but what I saw made for an excellent, very disturbing film (Indiefest has been damn good at those this year.) Jay is a former Iraq war Vet. And apparently he's pretty fucked up from what he saw there (or maybe in Kiev, there are references to a botched job in Kiev.) He has his wife and son, and his psychological issues which make him fly off the handle at a moment's notice. His old war buddy Gal comes over and has a job opportunity. They meet an old mysterious guy who cuts his hand (his own and Jay's, but not Gal's. I was puzzled by that) to seal a blood oath and then hires them as hitmen. Then they get the titular kill list. These are all bad people (supposedly) but Jay goes into the job with a gusto that no one deserves. And this is where the film is at it's strongest, never blinking and showing the gruesome, graphic details of his hits. Particularly when he tortures one guy with a hammer until the guy thanks him for taking the hammer to his head. And then (I probably dozed through bits and missed bits of continuity) his assignment is to take out some weird pagan cult. And then things get even weirder and more shocking. It's a shame that I have to now fall back on "no spoilers" because I assure you I was awake and aware of what was going on in the ending. And wow, what a shock there.

KILL LIST Plays again Wednesday the 22nd at 9:30. But if I saw it then I would have to miss MONSTER'S CLUB, which I'm not going to do. So I guess it's a search for the DVD for me....done!

Total Running Time: 265 minutes
My Total Minutes: 266,123

Jason goes to Indiefest--Day 8

Two more shows last night, starting with the local shorts program Nothing is What it Seems. I have to say this was a really excellent program. I was very impressed.
SUSPICION!: A dance party on the beach. With a gargoyle and people dying.
I LOVE YOU LIKE CRAZY: A rom-com in a mental hospital. He's a schizophrenic singer, she's a psycho who stabbed her last boyfriend. But you just gotta root for these crazy kids to make it work.
PROPOSAL: Based on a true story, a man recounts how he caught his wife cheating on him, so he took back her wedding ring and uses it to make a very different kind of a hit man.
ROAD RAGE: A woman is driving with her boyfriend when two things happen: First, she confronts him on a certain sensitive topic. Second, a cop pulls her over and takes her away.
CHUCK'S CHICKEN: The secret, disturbing lives of those guys who wear costumes and hold signs. I'm pretty sure there's not really a Chuck's Chicken restaurant, it's all some guys weird fetish.
WORKING: The son's boss is a total jerk. Wackiness ensues.
SEVEN MINUTES IN HELL: This was a pretty cool concept, very cleverly done. A zombie movie that mixes real life performance with what's on the screen. The technique dates back at least as far as 1914 with Winsor McKay and Gertie the Dinosaur, and it's still magical when it works today. And it totally worked here.

And then the second show was a very interesting feature, STILL LIFE. It's a disturbing film made all the more tense by its stoic approach to a very traumatic and controversial event. A father hires a prostitute, with very explicit instructions for her to act out. It becomes pretty clear that he is acting out (maybe reenacting?) an incestuous desire for his own daughter (now fully grown, but apparently his desire was from when she was a child.) His son follows him, finds the prostitute, and finds out what he has done.

And now I have to confess, I kind of dozed off for parts of the movie. I tried to stay awake, but it was difficult. I blame my sheer exhaustion at least as much as this movie, but the rest of this review is based on piecing together the parts that I was awake for and talking to friends about what happened. The son finds the daughter to try to find out if anything really happened. The daughter may have suppressed memories, but she insists he never touched her, just took naked pictures of her. The dad does masturbate to those picture. The dad is wracked with guilt but doesn't know what to do. He even goes to the police, but it turns out just fantasizing about your daughter but not acting on it isn't a crime they can punish. Oh yeah, and everyone drinks a lot.

I see this movie as kind of an exercise/challenge from the filmmaker. What's the most shocking, traumatic event you can conceive of and show everyone suppressing their reactions as much as possible? Still life could refer to the cinematography, that includes long shots of static scenes (a shed in the field, the street corner after the prostitute has left, etc.) Or it could refer to the stillness of everyone's reactions. Or it could refer to the fact that they are still alive and life goes on. In any case, it was interesting and very tense, but the tension is never released. That's very intentional, it's just not very cinematic.

Total Running Time: 157 minutes
My Total Minutes: 265,865

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Jason goes to Indiefest--Day 7

Wow, I'm exhausted and I haven't even quite reached the halfway point. This used to be easier. I think I have extra stresses dragging my spirits down.

Aaah, enough of my whining, let's get to the movies.

The first program started with the short CIGARETTES AND DEATH. Two girls become instant friends based on the most tenuous of connections--the desire to commit suicide. Specifically, one wants to die young and pretty, one is just obsessed with death and wants to watch her die. Very cool and funny.

That was paired with the feature film, GREEN. This was one I was very excited to see. It was directed by and stars Sophia Takal, the star of GABI ON THE ROOF IN JULY. It stars her, her partner and GABI director Lawrence Levine, and Kate Lyn Sheil (Julia in THE COLOR WHEEL.) Oh yeah, I was even more excited when I learned they were frequent collaborators with the team from THE COLOR WHEEL (director/star Alex Ross Perry appears in a brief party scene in the beginning.) Which is all to say that maybe I had built up my expectations too high, because my first reaction was disappointment. I don't know, it just didn't quite grab me like these other movies did. My second reaction was that I should give it another chance. There's a lot to acknowledge is well done in this movie. In particular, I liked the realism of the small talk chatter--there's something charming about three people sitting around a campfire naming as many cheeses as they can think of. And I liked the culture clash of hipsters vs. hicks. And although I've never been a woman, nor one who is prone to jealousy, I am told that the portrayal of friendship turning into paranoid jealousy (one meaning of the "Green" of the title) is accurate and insightful.

Genevieve and Sebastian (Sheil and Levine) are New York intellectuals who go to the countryside so he can try a season of organic farming and write about it (in one particularly funny scene, he complains about clearing rocks and if he can't get his crops planted he'll have nothing to write about. Talk about misplaced priorities, most people plant crops so they'll have something to eat.) There they meet local girl Robin (Takal, sporting quite a hick accent.) Since Sebastian is absorbed in his farming/writing, Genevieve and Robin become friends. And soon they are frequently dining together and talking like friends (although there's always a bit of smug intellectual superiority that Sebastian and Genevieve feel towards Robin.) Soon that transitions into Robin and Sebastian being closer friends and Genevieve getting all paranoid (including paranoid fantasy sequences featuring Robin and Sebastian getting it on, so that's nice.) And then it ends in a somewhat shocking way, that to me felt like an unfinished thought.

Oh, I'd also be remiss if I didn't mention some projection problems. I'm hesitant to blame my disappointment on this, because I'm a proponent of the philosophy that if you're paying attention to the projection rather than the story, the story has already lost you. But with that said, the Little Roxie is not a great place to watch movies (which is a shame, because they often play great movies.) There was the normal warping of the screen which is always an issue but I've pretty much trained my eyes to see around it. The resolution was poor, and there were scenes where the lighting was blown out--I'm not sure if these were in the movie (and intentional) or the projection was just bad. And there were a few minutes early in the movie where the image was (for lack of a better word) pulsating. I'm pretty sure that wasn't intentional. And I really only mention this because I know some people who saw THE COLOR WHEEL in the Little Roxie and didn't like it. They specifically mentioned how bad it looked. But I saw it in the Big Roxie and it looked great. So I can't help but wonder if I saw it on a better screen if GREEN would also be better.

In any case, I was back in the Big Roxie for the second show of the night, SIRONIA. Based on the music (and more loosely inspired by the life) of Wes Cunningham, who plays Thomas. Thomas was a successful singer/songwriter. He had a moderately successful first album, and just finished recording his second. But the studio heads don't like it, the singer/songwriter thing isn't hot anymore, and so they decide to bury it (and him). The only work his agent (Jeremy Sisto, in a fine cameo) can get him is writing songs for a brainless pop star to sing for a movie soundtrack. He hates this, it's beneath him, and so he and his newly pregnant wife Molly (Amy Acker) move to Sironia, Texas (actually, Waco) to be near Molly's brother Chad (Tony Hale) and his family (particularly cute is Stella Otto as little Heather, who adores her uncle Thomas.) There they experience a bit of culture shock, but Thomas actually kind of digs the "real life" with all it's simple quirks like mutton busting. But "real life" doesn't go all that well with being really broke. So Thomas takes a job he doesn't really like (helped along by Chad) but never really gives up on his dream. Which is a problem, because his dream isn't working out and he starts replacing it with getting drunk hitting on college girls. In a way, this movie is the antidote for the inspirational "never give up on your dreams" movie. It's a more realistic take, a sort of "if your dreams don't work and chasing your dream is destroying your family, maybe you should try a different dream and who knows, maybe you'll love it" story. Chad tells a story in the movie that I think sums it up pretty well. He talks about how he went to law school and his plan was always to ace the bar exam and then get a high paying job in a prestigious firm. Then he failed the bar (a few times.) And moved to Sironia, took a few jobs, ending up working for a community service organization, found out he loved it, and now he's saving the world (or his little corner of it) and probably happier than he would have been otherwise. A nice message, solid acting, well made film, and oh yeah, the music is pretty darn good, too (and everyone at the screening got a CD of five songs from the movie.)

And that was last Wednesday at Indiefest. More to come soon.

Total Running Time: 188
My Total Minutes: 265,717

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Jason goes to Indiefest--Day 6

Yeah, I spent Valentine's Day the same way I've done for the past decade--watching movies at Indiefest. And that's truly the steadiest, most committed relationship I've ever had.

Sorry for getting mushy. No more romance, let's just get to the movies, starting with the shorts program...The Languages of Love.
KITAGAWA IN THE 2ND GRADE: Okay, I'm pretty sure 2nd grade means something different in Japan than it does in America. Like there it means the 2nd grade before you graduate high school (here it would be 11th grade or junior year). In any case, Kitigawa admits her love to two boys--friends who are about to graduate (which I guess would be called 1st grade there, 12th grade or senior year here). She likes them both for different reasons, and sets them into weird competition with each other.
A LOVE STORY IN MILK: Happy Farms loves Valley Dairy, and it's super cute. My one problem is why would anybody by two different cartons of milk? It would make sense if one was whole milk and one was 2% or skim, but they were both whole milk.
BUBBLES: And Israeli woman whose husband is away on yet another business trip. A complex love triangle that's open to some interpretation. My interpretation is that one man is really the memory or her ex-lover who has passed away but in many ways she's still more in love with him than her husband.
FIRECRACKER (FATAKRA): An Indian family is reunited in America after way too long. It has left some bad feelings and the father needs to earn his wife and son's love again. Features a beautiful dance.
WE REFUSE TO BE COLD: That's kind of hard to promise in a Montreal winter. But you gotta start with some significant promise before you work your way up to the more important ones.
SUPER. FULL.: A very tender love story of two impoverished deaf people. He puts up with a miserable job and saves up all his money to take his wife to an elegant dinner at the fancy hotel across the street. I really liked how their deafness worked and the use of sign language. It's all about appreciating the quiet moments, which is maybe easier to do when it's always quiet.

Well, the quiet didn't last long, because next up was LOVE BITE: The 80's POWER BALLAD SING-ALONG. This has become an Indiefest tradition, 3 years and running. Here's what I said the first year they did it:
And I ended the night with LOVE BITES: The 80's Power Ballad Sing-along. I got drunk with a lot of weirdos, we played old hair band love ballad videos, and sang along as loud as possible while still heckling the videos. It's exactly what it sounds like, and it was much more fun than it had any right to be. And since I do have the hair for it, I even got up in the front and head-banged to Shot Through the Heart to end the show. That's not something I thought I would do...ever.
Well, I don't have the hair for it anymore. So I put on a blue punk wig and rocked out anyway. It was still way too much fun, even when they ran out of free whiskey. FYI, based on the hangover I still kind of feel two days later, I think I'm solely responsible for them running out of whiskey.

Happy Valentine's Day, indeed.

Total Running Time: 180 minutes
My Total Minutes: 265,531

Jason goes to Indiefest--Day 5

Now we're into the weekdays, which means two-a-day until Friday. So let's just jump right in.

First up was CASSEROLE CLUB by Steve Balderson, and it was an interesting little slice of late 60's suburban American decadence. Five couples get together for a dinner party. They eat, elect a "Queen Casserole" for the best dish, have some drinks, play some games...and then the debauchery starts. Some are more into it than others. Some are specifically into certain other people. All wake up a bit...awkward. And then go back about their lives. And then do it again. Hell, it's 1969 (as evidenced by the Manson family murders and the moon landing), free love, all that stuff, why not have a little fun? Eventually the fun does give way to more serious ramifications, and there's a pretty good shock that changes everything. For a while it's fun to revel in the campy, sexy, nostalgia, but the ending shows that this is a movie with a little more thought and heart than just nostalgia. While the characters might be dumb (or at least selfish), they are smartly written and the story is pretty solid. Oh yeah, and maybe I'm making something out of nothing, but I noticed that a lot of the male characters had feminine names--Connie (short for Conrad), Leslie, etc. It seems likely that means something.

CASSEROLE CLUB does not play again in Indiefest, but you can pre-order the DVD from their website.

And then I ended the night with THE COLOR WHEEL. I hate saddling a film with the label "mumblecore," particularly if I don't know whether the filmmaker embraces the term or not (personally, I think it is poorly defined and too often used dismissively.) I will say that it's black and white, shot on 16 mm, and mostly features the two main characters talking to each other--take from that what you will. Colin (director/co-writer Alex Ross Perry) is going on a road trip with his sister JR (Caren Altman) to help her move stuff out of her professor/ex-lover's apartment. They joke with each other with a significant amount of hostility, and they run into some pretty strange characters (the Christian hotel clerk was particularly creepy), have a lot of awkward times, and...well I won't spoil it beyond saying the ending is pretty controversial.

I think this is the type of movie where you have to decide quickly if you care about the characters, because if you don't care about them the movie would just be tedious. And I have a feeling that it might come down to just my mood at the exact moment I start watching. Luckily, I was in the mood to enjoy the company of these characters. I loved the playful, natural, affectionate hostility between JR and Colin. Perhaps because I have a lot of siblings (I'm one of six kids) that I found their relationship accurate and endearing. Everyone with a sibling knows exactly how to push his or her buttons, everyone with a sibling knows their buttons will get pushed, and we all know how to avoid falling for the button-pushing. Most importantly, we all know that as hostile as we can get with each other, family counts on family, even when some family members can't really be counted on (disclaimer: this comment is in reaction to the movie, not to my family, every member of which is absolutely perfect.)

This will be my 11th year of seeing everything at Indiefest (well, it will be after I catch NO LOOK PASS at either Cinequest or SFIAAFF. I just couldn't fit it into my Indiefest schedule.) I like to give an informal award to the film that is my "reward for seeing everything." That is the film I end up loving even though I had no anticipation for it. So something like CHOP or DISCO EXORCIST would be ineligible because I always look forward to genre films. This year BULLHEAD got the Oscar nomination press, so it's not eligible. GREEN is from filmmakers I met at Cinequest a couple of years back and have been waiting for a chance to see it, so it's not eligible. Perhaps if I had been paying more attention and seen that THE COLOR WHEEL was on a number of lists of best unreleased films I would have had higher anticipation, but as it is THE COLOR WHEEL is currently my reward for seeing everything. Of course, it's still early in the festival so that could change.

Sadly, THE COLOR WHEEL does not play again at Indiefest. Next it's going up to Seattle for the Northwest Film Forum. You can check out their website, Facebook, or Twitter feed for more information.

Total Running Time: 173 minutes
My Total Minutes: 265,355

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Jason goes to Indiefest--Day 4

Wrapping up the big first weekend, and I I've far.

First up was a short documentary followed by a long discussion. The movie was DEFAULT: THE STUDENT LOAN DOCUMENTARY, about the crisis in student loan debt. When I graduated 15 years ago, I had a good chunk of student loan debt (I don't remember the exact amount, but safe to say I went to a fairly expensive private university.) But it was low interest (some even no-interest) with fairly reasonable terms and I actually paid if off early. I, like so many people in this movie, was told that student loan debt was "good" debt and I'll get a good job and I'll be able to pay it off. For me, that was true. But damn, a lot has changed since then--school is more expensive, there are fewer grants, and the loans have worse terms (and no bankruptcy protection! Since I didn't default on my loans, I don't actually know if I was protected back then, but damn!) The thing is, when these students were 18 they were all getting advice from people in my generation or older. For our generations, student loan debt was good debt. But if this movie (and the panel discussion after) is to be believed, not any more. It's eye-opening, but at under 30 minutes it's about the right length to barely start a conversation. I'm sure there's 90 minutes of material that could be in there, like how did the situation get to be like this, or how do we fix it?

But at least we had a panel discussion/extended Q&A with the filmmakers and activists. And that had some interesting bits of extra information, both bad and good. On the bad side, did you know when applying for a job they can ask for your credit report and screen you out because of bad credit (which is often due to student loans?) How the hell do people think you'll pay it off if you can't get a job? On the good side, more and more schools are offering their curriculum online for free (you just need to pay if you actually want to attend classes and get a degree, but the information is free.) Apparently, you can get the entire London School of Economics MBA curriculum online for free. So...if you can prove to a prospective employer that you know your stuff even though you don't have a diploma, you don't need to pay a dime for college. So I guess we got that going for us?

Then next up was a food doc, IN ORGANIC WE TRUST. Despite the title, it really only spends the first part of the movie investigating organic food, framing it with "man on the street" interviews revealing what we know (or think we know) about organic food: It's healthier...not really. But it doesn't use toxic pesticides. It's more environmentally sound...not really, sustainable != organic, although there is plenty of overlap--farmers who care about organic also tend to care about sustainability. Where the movie really takes off is when it leaves behind the questions of certified organic and moves on to the bigger issues--sustainability, local food, diet-related health care costs (that cheap processed food is more expensive in the long run), school lunches, etc. It throws a lot of information at the audience, and for a San Francisco audience it's mostly stuff you've heard before. But it is well put together and a good introduction to the breadth of the issues. And it plays again closing night, Thursday the 23rd, at 7:15.

Next up was a painfully, awkwardly innocent drama, GIRLFRIEND. Evan (Evan Sneider) is a really sweet guy. He loves his mother, loves calling people on the phone just to say hello, loves soap operas, and is ready with a hug for anyone in town. Oh yeah, and he has Down's Syndrome (as does the actor, and he totally steals the show.) He also has a crush on Candy (Shannon Woodward), and plays really well with her son. He even gets along well with her ex, even though he obviously has ulterior motives. And this is really the crux of the movie--this innocent guy who is surrounded by people with ulterior motives. In a way, when he comes into enough money to woo Candy, this makes things worse. She's not interested in him romantically, but she likes him as a friend and is in no position to turn down the money (she's months behind in rent and her ex isn't paying the child support he owes.) So I wrote in the first line of this review that it's painfully, awkwardly innocent. Seeing such a sweet, innocent guy approach the girl knowing his advances aren't going to work is painful. Even more painful is watching him interact with her ex (especially when he explains that she likes it rough, you just know that's not going to end well.) I don't want to get into spoilers, so I won't tell you if it eventually ends well or if Evan is resilient enough to not be corrupted by all the people around him. But I will say that I was definitely rooting for him. GIRLFRIEND plays again Tuesday the 14th at 9:30.

So after all that innocence, I could totally use a good dose of sleaze, and I got just that with THE DISCO EXORCIST. I'm really, really impressed by the trailer--impressed that they could find a couple of minutes worth of footage that didn't have any titties in it! Oh yeah, it's practically porn. It's the story of disco super-stud Rex Romanski and Rita Marie, the satanist chick who he romances and then dumps. But to be fair, he dumps her for his favorite porn star, Amoreena Jones. Also, to be fair, it was pretty well set up that he's a hump-and-dump kinda guy. Anyway, after Rita is embarrassed on the disco floor, she curses Amoreena, and the movie changes from naked, drugged up people everywhere to naked, drugged up, bloody people everywhere. It is kind of a one-note joke, but it is my favorite note ever. And the intentionally cheesy lines, lighting, and dialogue may be off-putting to some, but are totally in keeping with the look of a cheap 70's exploitation flick. It's a nice guilty pleasure. Anyway, that was the last screening in Indiefest, sorry! But I assume it'll be on DVD soon enough. Just keep an eye on their Scorpio Films website.

And finally, I ended the night with a real oddity, FINISTERRAE. I'll start off by saying I'm pretty sure I didn't like it. I was pretty frankly bored a lot of the time, and I know I dozed off in bits (in fairness, I was pretty exhausted. That was the end of a 14-film weekend.) But it's also a film I haven't been able to stop thinking about since. Two Russian ghosts (played by people wearing a sheets with eye-holes) walk across Spain to find new bodies to inhabit. Somehow if they get to the holy city of Santiago de Compostela they will become corporeal. I learned later that first time feature director Sergio Caballero shot the images first and put the dialog in later. So we get ghosts walking through the countryside, often one is riding a horse and the other is carrying a windsock. Or we get a ghost on horseback inside a ring of fire while the other one stands outside. And we get Russian dialog added on whether or not it matches the action (as a side question, why Russian if the film is Spanish? On the other hand, I know a local filmmaker who shot an entire feature in Russian despite not speaking it.) Perhaps it was exhaustion, but the film just didn't catch me in the moment, although I remember laughing at bits of it. But it is certainly a film that I can't help still thinking about. I don't think I've ever been so bored by a movie that had a scene with boobies and a scene in which a hippie gets shot. That was the last screening in Indiefest, sorry! But it is available at least on foreign import (PAL format) DVD.

Total Running Time: 363 minutes
My Total Minutes: 265,220

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Jason goes to Indiefest--Day 3

And I'm already dragging. Didn't get much sleep last night. Long story, and it was nothing serious, but a little police activity delay on my bus home cost me about an hour of valuable sleep time. Maybe the movies will be boring today so I can make some of it up.

Nope, no such luck. Not that they were all great, but as I draft this write-up on the bus home I saw six movies and except for a few minutes in one of them I didn't sleep through any.

First up was MOTHER COUNTRY, a rather interesting road trip movie with some great acting (particularly star Thomas Galasso) and some not-as-great writing. Galasso plays Dwight, an African American in Austin. He seems to be a bright, good young man but not strong enough to resist his cousin when he puts a gun in his hand and insists he must help him get revenge. Things go wrong and he ends up on the run, on foot across the desert. His goal is to get to his old high school teacher's place in California. But along the way...well, to avoid spoilers let's just say there are difficulties all along the way. And, at the risk of generalizing, those difficulties all seem to center on race issues, questions of personal responsibility, or both. In the end, we're supposed to believe he has learned a lesson and will make an important choice. I just saw his choice as very naive, and it won't work out the way he thinks it will. I'm sorry to be so vague, but I'm struggling with spoilers here. If you've seen the movie, I can talk about it more. And if you haven't, your last chance is today (Sunday the 12th) at 5 pm.

Next up was the shorts program An Animated World. Yay cartoons (and other forms of animation)!
(BABY) ITS YOU: The robot Frankenstein of love. Cool stop-motion animation.
WALTZ OF THE DEMON KING: Very cool story of warriors, the demon king, and the unconquerable love of a big sister.
ATTACK OF THE KILLER MUTANT CHICKENS: It's exactly what it sounds like, with the extra bonus of being Bangladeshi. Awesome.
THE NATURAL ORDER OF THINGS: Robot naturalists in search of phosphorescent rabbits. Yay, glow-bunnies!
THE REALITY CLOCK: Lots of clocks, but reality still seems to be disintegrating. Perhaps a visualization of the struggle with a deteriorating mind.
SHERMAN: Minimally animated over still pictures, it tells the story of a decaying house from the point of view of an abandoned, imaginary friend.
BEING BRADFORD DILLMAN: The hilarious story of a little girl whose drunk mother tells her how she was born a boy but she wanted a girl so she asked the doctor to cut her willy off.
ANIMEDITATION: A cool, simply drawn bit of surrealism--shapes, faces, etc.
EVIL: A music video for Marble Hill, all about what is considered evil--dancing gorillas, samurai, boats in the sky, brains, alien invasions. Maybe evil is just your opinion, man. But that gorilla head flying around with arms is evil, I don't care what anyone says.
MASKS: First the score was written, then the animator invented this story to match the music. It's a story of mask-wearing giants who eat the little white people
KISS: A gorgeous black-and-white film of the mingling of the sun and moon during an eclipse, set to Bjork-ish music. Made I 3-D, but shown in 2-D here (it's still beautiful.)
TIME FOR CHANGE: This was easily my favorite, the secret life and troubled marriage of the characters who ring in the hour on the big town clock.
THE MAN WITH THE STOLEN HEART: And when he finds his heart, it's irretrievably connected to another.
BRUCKE: In the swinging post-WWI world, a disabled veteran struggles to fit in.
An Animated World plays again Wednesday the 15th at 7:15.

Then I saw a pretty interesting feature I LIKE YOU. I was surprised to find out the actors were amateurs (and real high school students), because they were excellent. I was a bit surprised to learn director Jamie Heinrich was a veteran filmmaker, but I wasn't surprised to learn he had made shorts but this was his first feature. In principle it's a very simple teenage love story. Avery (Mike Brenna) is smitten with Parker, the new girl in class (Parker Peterson), even though she has a boyfriend who is likely to beat the crap out of him. Plus his band mate and best friend Echo (Brian Boush) also likes her, and it's not clear at first if Parker even likes him. I found it very odd and challenging how individual scenes were great but seemed to end in the middle and not lead directly in to the next scene. It would jump from Avery talking to Preston to fighting with Echo or talking to his uncle without a lot of connecting tissue. But in a way that reflects the fractured, compartmentalized, multi-faceted life of a young man in love. So maybe that actually worked. Or maybe I'm being too generous. In any case, the aerial shots of them on the railroad bridge were pretty awesome. I LIKE YOU plays again Tuesday the 14th at 7:15.

And then one of the highlights of the festival, Belgium's Oscar nominee, BULLHEAD. It's a story of mafia and growth hormones in Flanders. Mostly illegal amounts of bovine growth hormones to increase the size and price of cattle. But there's also the cocktail of testosterone supplements that protagonist (it's impossible to call anyone in this dark, violent film a "hero") Jacky takes. That is a result of a squirm-inducing childhood incident, and let's just leave it at that. In the tense aftermath of a murder of a "hormone cop" there's a new cattle mafia deal in the works that brings up Jacky's traumatic past, and that just ends up being bad news for everyone. Excellent acting (I particularly liked seeing Sam Louwyck of EX-DRUMMER and 22ND OF MAY show up as a mafia boss, and it amuses me that I have a favorite Belgian character actor) and a good story with enough twists that I'm sure it would reward multiple viewings, if you can stomach that. BULLHEAD plays again Monday the 13th at 7:15.

Then I saw a really daring and novel documentary/narrative hybrid, SNOW ON THA BLUFF. According to a statement from the director, the beginning and ending were staged but everything in between is raw documentary footage, but I'm not sure I believe that (there is at least one scene where the subjects had to have been mic'ed, they were too far away from the camera for the built-in microphone to pick them up so clearly.) In any case, here is the story as presented: a drug gang steals a documentary crews camera, shoots their activity for several days, then drops of the footage to an editing house to make this film. That footage includes doing drugs, stealing drugs, shooting rival gangs, getting shot at, gratuitous nudity, and a surprisingly tender and innocent love of their children. To be honest, I had trouble following the story or the characters. I hope that has more to do with the raw nature of the footage--no establishing shots defining the characters and their relationships--and less to do with me being a racist who can't tell one black drug dealer from another. In any case, I spent almost the whole film awash in disbelief at the raw visceralness of this unique view into such a crazy fucking world. That is, except for the few minutes I nodded off. Hey, I was tired and this was my fifth film of the night. SNOW ON THE BLUFF plays again Thursday the 16th at 9:30.

And finally, I ended the night with a delightfully sick torture comedy, CHOP by Trent Haaga (writer of DEAD GIRL) and starring Tromeo himself, Will Keenan, who was there for the screening and is an awesome live wire. Will (credited as Billy Bakshi) plays Lance Reed, a seemingly normal guy who gets caught up in a hellish situation. It seems he has offended a stranger (Timothy Muskatell) who demands a sincere apology or he will make Lance's life a short, torturous hell. First he forces Lance something horrible (must...avoid...spoilers.) Then when Lance doesn't play entirely by his rules, he systematically removes everything important to his wife...or his limbs. And as Lance tries desperately to remember his infraction, he confesses to increasingly horrible behavior (turns out he used to be quite the drug-addicted asshole, and maybe he doesn't exactly deserve to survive this.) It's hilariously sick and twisted, with loads of insane characters--a detective who get off on solving weird torture cases, a crippled drug-dealer, his Conrad Bain-obsessed pervert bear cousin, and a blackmailing hooker to name just a few. Quite an unforgettable and hilarious experience. CHOP plays again Monday the 13th at 9:30 (and Will Keenan will be there again)

Total Running Time: 543 minutes
My Total Minutes: 264,857