Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Jason goes to the Niles Film Museum and watches THE FOUR HORSEMEN OF THE APOCALYPSE

But first, of course, a couple of shorts

PERILS OF PAULINE EPISODE 9: THE FLOATING COFFIN (1914): Another in the most famous of the silent serials, this one ultimately puts Pauline in a lifeboat in a Naval firing range. Yikes!

BACK STAGE (1919): Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle and Buster Keaton are working back stage at a vaudeville house, and of course get up to their usual shenanigans. When the strongman quits (just because the crew attacks him for abusing his small assistant, played by Molly Malone) they decide to put the show on themselves (including Keaton in drag!) It also features an eccentric dancer by the name of John Coogan--father of Jackie Coogan, the first child star (appearing in THE KID at Niles next Saturday)

Then a brief intermission, and on to the feature:

THE FOUR HORSEMEN OF THE APOCALYPSE (1921): The movie that made Rudolph Valentino a star (and I'm certain had a hand in popularizing the tango.) He plays the favorite grandson of a wealthy Argentine. As the designated heir and clear favorite, he can't help but grow up to be quite the libertine, living in Paris (where his mother is from,) painting (and romancing) beautiful women, including some of the higher echelon of society whom he'd be well advised to avoid scandalizing. Meanwhile, the other grandsons--his cousins--move to their fatherland of Germany. Then a little thing called World War I gets in the way. It's an epic (over 2 hours long) with quite an arc for Valentino's character.

Let me just say that I was kind of tired going in. I actually struggled to stay awake through the two shorts. But somehow this movie gave me my second wind and I had no problem staying awake through the whole thing.

Next weekend is Charlie Chaplin Days, with extended museum hours from 11 am to 5 pm (normally we're only open noon to 4 pm) During both days we'll feature all of the shorts Chaplin made in Niles, and Saturday night THE KID with Chaplin and Jackie Coogan. Then Sunday, a look-alike contest and the pie fight of the century. And more! Details here.

Total Running Time: 175 minutes
My Total Minutes: 286,445

Wednesday, May 23, 2012


Bobcat Goldthwait, in relative obscurity, has actually been doing the most interesting work of his career recently directing independent, envelope-pushing comedies. SLEEPING DOGS LIE is an unheralded masterpiece about perversion, relationships, and secrets. Now GOD BLESS AMERICA is a glorious revenge fantasy about the inanity of modern American culture, while also being a parody of its own "kill 'em all" attitude.

Frank (Joel Murray) has a lousy job--which he loses, an ex-wife and daughter who hate him, neighbors who drive him crazy, and a brain tumor that will kill him any day. And to top it all off, he can't find anything good on TV--nothing but horribly despicable people on reality shows. So when he's on the brink of killing himself, he decides to take a little trip and kill some of the worst aspects of America, too. He picks up a teenage accomplice, Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr) who joins in with a little too much enthusiasm. She also has a creepy Bonnie and Clyde romance fantasy about Frank, which he admirably rejects. But these moments, like the discussions about who deserves to die and who doesn't, kind of slow things down. It's at its best when it's a delirious revenge fantasy satire. And such serious moments make it a bit uneven. But the revenge part--that's a lot of fun.

Running Time: 105 minutes
My Total Minutes: 286,270

Monday, May 21, 2012

Jason updates his total minutes, again.

This is an update on the process I explained here.

You might have noticed in the last couple of posts, my total minutes number has gone up more than it should have. In particular, between my post on BATTLESHIP and THE BRIDGE BUILDERS, I saw 26 minutes worth of movies but added nearly 1,000 minutes to my total. Well, there's a simple explanation--I've finally gone through all my movies of 2006, looked up the running times for all, and entered them into my records (I had previously updated for 2007 and included that in my calculations without comment.) And it turns out 2006 is the current record holder for the highest average minutes per movie. My average time per movie in 2006 was 100.264 minutes. 2007 was actually pretty close with 99.666 minutes/movie. 2008-2012 (so far) is significantly lower, fluctuating between 96.25 and 97.63 minutes/movie. My gut feeling is I'm watching more film festival screenings instead of mainstream blockbusters, and they tend to be a bit shorter.

Anyway, updating my actual minutes and my estimate of the average running time for the movies I haven't updated yet explains that jump in total minutes. Also, 2005 is the first year I started keeping records of what movies I saw, so once I finish that I'll have a real* count of my total minutes. There is a bit of a problem with that, though.  Turns out my records from 2005 are pretty lousy. For the regularly theatrically released movies I saw, I recorded the titles. But for film festivals I only recorded the festival name. I.e., I have records that say I say N movies at Cinequest, or the SF International, of the SF Jewish Film Festival, etc. but no titles. So I'm going to do my best to reconstruct what I saw, but worst case I might just drop 2005 from the count. In which case, my total minutes would go way, way down.

[Update: I've gone through what was easy to reconstruct in 2005, and that actually gives me another few ~300 minutes. My estimated total is now 286,536. I still have 72 movies from 2005 left to reconstruct, 50 from Cinequest (man, I went all out that year, and that's not counting opening and closing night films, which of course I know,) 15 from the SF International (I took it kind of light that year) and 7 from the SF Jewish Film Festival (I saw more, but I couldn't quite figure out what I saw on a few of the days.) I'll do my best to figure it out soon.]

*Except that sometimes the running times are estimates, especially when I see silent films that can and often are projected at different speeds. Or when I'm not sure which version of a movie I saw (an edited theatrical cut, director's cut, etc.) For these I've tried to at best underestimate the running time so as not to give myself undeserved minutes.

Jason goes to Bad Movie Night--John Carpenter's VAMPIRES

John Carpenter month continues at Bad Movie Night, and it's actually pretty painful to see the awful work that a director I like so much did in the latter half of his career.

It's too damn easy to just say VAMPIRES sucks...but it does. James Woods is a vampire hunter for the Catholic church, who runs across a Master vampire who happens to know his name. But he's got a plan to bait the master. And that's pretty much the whole movie, just John Carpenter, one of the cheaper Baldwins, and James Woods master-baiting at the audience for 108 minutes.

Running Time: 108 minutes
My Total Minutes: 286,240

Jason goes to the Niles Film Museum for a history lesson in Bay Area Bridges

Sunday was my normal day of volunteering at Niles. The gift shop was hopping with people attending the Niles Wildflower, Art, Garden, and Quilt show (Niles is quite an interesting place) and coming in to buy $2 charms they collect from all the local merchants (this year, ours was a little director's chair.)

Anyway, that's completely off topic, at 4:00, right at the end of my shift, we had a little program to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge. First our very own museum president Dorothy Bradley gave us an overview of the history of all the major Bay Area bridges. As someone who has only lived in the Bay Area about a dozen years, it's interesting to think that it wasn't that long ago when the Bay Area was connected more by ferries than bridges.

Anyway, then Larry Hees gave a presentation on the history of railroad bridges in the Niles Canyon and the immediate vicinity. Quite an interesting amount of local history.

And then the highlight of the afternoon, they showed THE BRIDGE BUILDERS, a documentary made By Ray Hubbard for KPIX Television in 1962 (for the GG Bridge's 25th anniversary.) It's a rather stirring tribute to the brave, clever, and hardy men who built the Golden Gate Bridge when a lot of self-appointed experts said it couldn't be done. It was too large a span for a suspension bridge, the currents, winds, fog, etc. would be too hard to deal with. Or they argued it could but shouldn't be done. It would destroy the natural beauty of the Golden Gate (now it's become an icon, of course.) Or it cost too much during the Great Depression (of course, it created a lot of jobs.) Or it would attract too many picnickers from Marin County taking day trips into the city (ummm...I don't live in the city, but isn't it the reverse? San Franciscans escape to Marin County for a day in the country?) Mostly, the movie features dizzying shots from atop the half-constructed bridge, with workers hanging on what looks like the most delicate of wires. Pretty amazing stuff, and certainly triggers my sense of acrophobia.

Running Time: 26 minutes
My Total Minutes: 286,123

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Jason watches BATTLESHIP

Writing that feels more like the start of a confession than a review. And you can judge and condemn me, but trust me I've suffered enough.

So someone, somehow, thought it was a good idea to adapt this simple game of guessing coordinates of your opponent's ships into a movie. Their solution--turn it into an alien invasion movie. And yes, at one point (because the aliens are invisible to radar, sonar, anything) they create a grid from tsunami warning buoys to track them via water displacement, the closest they get to mimicking the original gameplay.

Now, when I heard they were making a BATTLESHIP movie, I joked that the weapons better be white pegs that turn red when they hit a ship. Well, they didn't do the white/red thing, but the weapons the aliens fire are shaped exactly like the pegs from the game. I'm not fucking kidding. This is how silly the movie is.

And I haven't even gotten into the characters. And for good reason. The hero is the smart but undisciplined guy who's dating the admiral's daughter. He has to team up with the Japanese captain whom he hates in order to save the world. And there are other ridiculously 'inspirational' cliches, like the guy who lost his legs and will to fight but perks up at the thought of saving the world. The only guy I really liked was the cowardly scientist, but they ruin him by giving him a heroic moment in the end.

Oh, and when they have no other ship so they recommission the U.S.S. Missouri ("Mighty Mo") but none of the current crop of sailors know how to run this antique so they get the original crew of WWII, Korean, and Vietnam veterans (those who attended the decommissioning) to help them man it. Cheesy as hell...but I gotta admit that kind of worked for me.

Okay, I've already written way too much about a movie that I could've waited and seen at Bad Movie Night next year.

Running Time: 131 minutes
My Total Minutes: 285,038

Friday, May 18, 2012

Jason watches THE DICTATOR

Sacha Baron Cohen has made quite a career out of satirizing cultural ignorance and pushing our buttons. This works best when there's an unwitting foil, as in the best moments in BORAT, BRUNO, or DA ALI G SHOW. Here the movie suffers a bit by being completely scripted and not having such moments (the closest, which is featured in the trailers, is when he and his colleague are taking a helicopter tour and their innocuous conversation is mistaken for a terrorist plot.)

It also suffers from inconsistency in his title character, Admiral General Aladeen, dictator of the fictional North African country of Wadiya. Mostly he's a murderous, torturous madman. He's also a brazenly naive idiot. And finally, he's a lonely, lovelorn man who doesn't just want to pay fantastic fortunes to have celebrities sleep with him, he wants to cuddle afterwards. It's this last element that semi-successfully makes him a sympathetic character the movie really needs him to be.

And yet, despite all the inconsistencies, it's still funny as hell. A winning combination of slapstick and political humor.

Running Time: 83 minutes
My Total Minutes: 284,899

Jason watches DARK SHADOWS

First, allow me to confess that I've never seen the original TV series (in my defense, the series ended 3 years before my birth.) But judging from the reaction I've heard from friends it wasn't nearly as silly as what Tim Burton put on screen. And judging from what was on the screen, not much could've been sillier.

You know, I consider myself a Tim Burton fan. I like his dark sense of humor, his outrageous art direction, etc. But I'm becoming less and less impressed, especially when he adapts other people's work (exception, BIG FISH.) So instead of spending any more time caring about this movie, I'm just gonna get excited about FRANKENWEENIE, his first original work in years (granted, it's based on a short film, but his short film, so it's still something he came up with originally.)

Running Time: 113 minutes
My Total Minutes: 284,819

Monday, May 14, 2012

Jason goes to the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival--Day 3

And it's only a 3 day festival, so that would make it closing night as well. Honestly, I'm a little surprised there's enough material for a three day HPL Film Festival. What's more surprising is this is (if I recall correctly) the 17th annual festival? It appears they created a HPL film industry by creating this festival. And now it's adding a new location, in Southern California in late September. Pretty impressive.

So the first things I saw on Sunday were the results of "Lovecraft Under the Gun," a 72-hour film project. This was the first year they've done this, and it hasn't quite taken off like wildfire yet. There were only two entries...and one missed the deadline. So at least judging was easy. The winner was a dream/nightmare poem entry based on Nightgaunts. The entry that was disqualified was also shown, and was in a way more interesting. A stop-motion journey through a nightmarish world. Very cool.

Well, then I stuck around for the documentary BARBARIAN DAYS. Not exactly Lovecraft, but about some kindred spirits following another pulp writer and contemporary of Lovecraft--Robert E. Howard. Howard created, among other characters, Conan the Barbarian. And he came from the small town of Cross Plains, Texas. And every year they celebrate him with a "Howard Days" festival, featuring the small group of Robert E. Howard scholars. Now I have to confess I've never actually read his work, so for me this movie is more about watching fans--some of whom get so obsessed they become scholars--come together and celebrate their shared passion for a few days. And what could be wrong about that? Well, nothing really. Although there's a little push-back from a few locals, and there's one incident between a pair of scholars that nobody really wants to talk about (and it's the reason one scholar who is referred to repeatedly doesn't show up for Howard Days or get interviewed for the movie.) I think my favorite part is near the end (sorry for the spoiler, but I don't think it's that important) where all the scholars reveal what their day jobs are and introduce their significant others. Nobody makes a living as a Robert E. Howard scholar (even if they've written a widely respected biography) and everyone has a pretty normal, happy life outside of Howard Days. It's just that Howard is always with them.

Then I had to race upstairs to a different theater and got in just in time to see the beginning of the Hammer Horror film THE SKULL (1965.) In fact, I'm not sure how much I missed, when I came in Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee were at an auction bidding over a set of grotesque statues. It seems they are both collectors of such odd items. In fact, Peter Cushing plays Dr. Maitland, a professor of such oddities. Later that night, he is visited by a seller who is a frequent source for his collection--Anthony Marco (Patrick Wymark.) Marco has an interesting artifact--a book bound in human flesh. But not the Necronomicon, rather a volume by and about the Marquis De Sade. They make a sale, and then Marco tantalizingly promises an even greater prize. That prize turns out to be the Marquis' skull. And that skull turns out to be haunted by an evil spirit that takes over whoever owns it. The whole second half is practically dialogue free, and often Cushing alone with the skull. Often from the skull's point of view (which moves to follow him) as it manipulates Maitland into doing horrific things. Pretty remarkably experimental for a Hammer film, but it totally works.

Then after a dinner break, I was back for the last two films.

First up, IT'S IN THE BLOOD (which won the award for best feature.) It's a father and son in the woods story, with the father played by Lance Henriksen. The son is played by Sean Elliot, but who cares, it's got Lance freakin' Henriksen! Anyway, the son has a photographic memory and is back home after being away for a long time. The father is the local sheriff and kind of a cold-hearted bastard. They go off into the woods for some not fully explained reason, and there they run into some sort of monster that causes the father to fall off a cliff and break his leg. So it's up to the son to take care of him and try to get them out of there, but the monster (who is excellent at camouflaging himself in the trees) won't let them out. Through flashbacks we learn a lot more about the family, including the adopted sister and a horrific encounter. It becomes a lot more psychological, as the monster represents the past they must face in order to escape and have a future. Well done.

And finally, I ended the night and the festival with MONSTERS (2010, which I guess stretches the meaning of "retrospective," but it did play in theaters before. I just missed it.) Sometime in the near future, aliens have invaded earth in the area of northern Mexico, up to the U.S. border. Trying to get from Mexico to the U.S. is even harder now, since you have to pass through the "infected zone" (that is, unless you get on the very expensive ferry that will take you around.) So a pair of Americans stranded in Mexico just south of the infected zone decide to make that journey, and it's more than a bit eye-opening. I'll just say that the biggest complaint I heard afterwards was that there weren't enough monsters. I'd say there were plenty of monsters--they were just all human.

And that's the end of the 2012 HPLFF (at least the Portland edition, as I mentioned there's a Southern California version coming up in September.) Oh, and one final note, I'm not looking to uproot myself from the SF Bay Area, but Portland seems like a really cool town. I even managed to get to Voodoo Donuts for a maple bacon bar before I left.

Total Running Time: 356 minutes
My Total Minutes: 284,702

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Jason goes to the H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival--Day 2

Well, now that I'm back from my trip, I suppose I should write up everything I saw.

Saturday started with the feature that won the award for best adaptation, DIE FARBE, a German adaptation of "The Colour Out of Space." Superbly well made all around, and an excellent use of black and white with spot color (for, of course, the titular Colour.) Jonathon Davis goes on a journey to find either his missing father or some answers about his life. Since it's a German production, instead of travelling just outside of Arkham, MA, he follows the trail to Germany where his father served in WWII. Other than that, the story is pretty faithful--he meets a local who spins him a tale about how a generation ago a meteorite crashed into the valley, and then strange things happened. First the fruits on the trees grew giant but tasteless, then people and animals started acting strange. A good, smart adaptation for people who like their horror films atmospheric, psychological, and strange instead of just bloody.

Next up I finished up the shorts programs with Shorts 3
THE SHADOW OUT OF TIME: Another great adaptation, this time from Sweden. A professor from Miskatonic discovers proof that his vivid dreams were in fact real, and he was used by the Yith to store knowledge.
A LOT OF EVIL: Beware of online scams on books for summoning monsters. Sometimes they actually work.
RE-ANIMATE HER: A mail-order bride...some assembly required.
GAMMA: Gamma is a company that regenerates cities destroyed by radiation. Of course, nothing could go wrong with that.
SPACE BUGS: They're bugs...from space...and they're deadly. Cool!
ASLEEP IN THE DEEP: Alyce gets caught in a strange world, courtesy of the Zahn's violin.
CODA: There's a bit of magic in that piano. Or maybe just in that melody.
SHINE: A puppet barbershop quartet and something that attacks them if they ever leave the spotlight. Very funny, and in 3-D...but it didn't really make much use of the 3-D effect.

Then there was a dinner break and a VIP reception at Magnolia's corner, just across the street from the theater. Had some snacks, had a few free glasses of wine, and chatted with some fellow fans and some of the festival staff. Good times.

Then the evening show started with THE LURKING FEAR (1994), one of the festival's handful of retrospective screenings. Leffert's Corner is practically a ghost town. Or, more appropriately, an underground-monster-demons town. Not much left there other than the drinkin'est, smokin'est priest ever (Lovecraft film icon Jeffrey Combs), a well armed soldier chick, and a pregnant lady. They're holed up in the church ready to put a final end to the monsters tonight. Unfortunately John Martense shows up. No big deal, he's just looking for his father's money that was buried in one of the coffins. But the bigger deal is that hot on his trail are a crime lord and his lackeys, and they're ready to kill just about anyone they need to in order to get that money. It's all very cheesy. Combs seems to be the only person who knows what he's doing in the movie, and he's a lot of fun. The rest of the people, I couldn't wait for them to die.

And then what might be my favorite film of the festival (at least favorite feature), WHISPERER IN DARKNESS. It's made by the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society, who earlier had produced the excellent silent version of THE CALL OF CTHULHU (2005.) Since "The Call of Cthulhu" was written in 1928, they adapted it in the style of the time--a silent film. So for WHISPERER IN DARKNESS, they adapted it in the style when it was made--1931. So early talkies, the same year as DRACULA. That's an excellent choice of style (which they've dubbed "Mythoscope.") Professor Albert Wilmarth of Miskatonic University is a folklorist and a skeptic, spending much of his career debunking various legends. But an urgent letter brings him to the woods of Vermont, where he learns something of the truth behind the local legends, with terrifying and sometimes humorous results.

And that was day 2 of the HPLFF

Total Running Time: 363 minutes
My Total Minutes: 284,364

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Jason goes to the HP Lovecraft Film Festival--Day 1

Appropriately I'm a little outside of my normal haunts, up in Portland, in fact, for a weekend of Gothic horror at the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival and CthuluCon. I started with an evening full of shorts.

Shorts Program 1
AMBIDEXTROCITY: An amusing demonstration of 2-handed drawing, using a split screen mirror effect to make it look like faked 2-handed drawing.
BEDTIME FOR TIMMY: A cute and funny stop-motion animated piece. Timmy is worried about the monster in his closet, when he should really focus on the monster under his bed.
BLACK PHARAOH: A scene shot and then cut out of THE WHISPERER IN DARKNESS (included as an Easter Egg on the DVD,) re-worked with Swedish metal music.
CULTIST CO. STARTER PACK: A commercial for everything you need to go to hell.
DOCTOR GLAMOUR: Funny, crazy mini rock opera about Miskatonic students in love, a portal to surreal lands, and the Doctor who is your guide there.
MIDNIGHT, THE STARS, AND LOVECRAFT: Beautiful visions of the heavens, hellish rituals, and an observatory, with Lovecraft's face in the sky.
STAY AT HOME DAD: A comedy of gender roles, male lactation, and demons.
THE CURSE OF YIG: A story of an anthropologist studying snake god legends in Native American tribes, who finds more than she bargained for. Based on the story by Lovecraft, but it sort of dragged on too long. Could've been tightened up considerably for the screen, I think they were too faithful to the story and every element in it.
THE EVIL CLERGYMAN: Shot in 1988, this is a segment of the abandoned horror anthology PULSE POUNDERS. It's actually being cleaned up and released on its own, but this was a special sneak preview of  the unfinished footage. It reunites the RE-ANIMATOR cast of Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton (looking very good!) and David Gale.
THE TUNNEL: A Swedish short about dark brooding, a darker tunnel, and an even darker creature.

And after a brief Q&A, I raced upstairs to another theater for Shorts Program 2. Not as much comedy as Shorts Program 1, but still very good. And a fair bit of silent film, which I not only love but is very appropriate for Lovecraft's time.
CELL PHONE PSYCHO: A graphic display of what will happen if you're rude with your cell phone in the theater.
CTHONIC DOODLING: Another live art creation piece from Mike Dubisch (AMBIDEXTROSITY), this one showing all the weird mirrored creatures he creates by pure chance while doodling.
DUMBSHOW: Mimes have strange, brutal powers. At least, some mimes do.
FORTUNA: Second in a trilogy of silent film homages, it's the story of a woman who wants to speak to her recently deceased father, and instead lets a demon into the world.
NIGHTGAUNTS: Terrifying stop-motion dream monsters.
THE EARTH REJECTS HIM: The sad, scary story of a confused little kid who plants a tooth and grows a  man out of the ground.
THE THING IN THE LAKE: The thing is certainly bizarre and twisted. So much so that the professor wants to destroy it. But the student wants to study it...that might not end well.
VADIM: A chest bolted to the floor unleashes a bit of hell on the couple who just moved in.

Then I caught a bit of the after party at Tony Starlight's Supper Club and Lounge just down the street. The Irresistible Manhattan was delicious, and the musical entertainment courtesy of Mike Dalager singing from "Ogham Waite and the Amphibian Jazz Band: Live at Gilman House" (available on CD) was pretty damn amusing.

Total Running Time: 181 minutes
My Total Minutes: 284,001

Thursday, May 10, 2012


Yeah, that was pretty fun. A ham-loving crew of misfit pirates battle rival pirates, Queen Victoria, Charles Darwin and his monkey Bobo for the honor of being named Pirate of the Year. Silly, silly, silly fun.

Running Time: 88 minutes
My Total Minutes: 283,820

Jason watches CHIMPANZEE

And I also checked out the new Century Theaters at Pacific Commons, Fremont. My hometown finally has a first run theater for the first time since the Fremont Cinedome closed. It's been all silents and Bollywood in Fremont, but Hollywood is back now. The theater is state of the art (unfortunately meaning all digital, but that's the wave of the future) and I appreciate all the Charlie Chaplin posters on the walls, a little nod to the history of filmmaking in the area (you can learn more about that at the Niles Essanay Film Museum)

Okay, now for the movie. It's a remarkable view into the lives of a group of chimpanzees. They find food, fight the neighboring group for territory (led by Scar, a name that's a little too on the nose) and raise the young. The focus is on Oscar, one of those young just learning how to get around in the world, devoted to his mother. But when his mother is lost in an attack by the neighboring group, Oscar has to fend for himself. And I'll leave the story at that. That's already enough of a spoiler.

I will say I got pretty tired of Tim Allen's narration. I'm fine with just enough narration to let us know what's going on, I don't need some corny jokes.

And I'll say I would've rather seen this on film. I'm not a knee-jerk film purist, I think a lot of movies look fine digitally. But especially with a lot of fine detail in the trees, I could see a lot of pixelation artifacts. This was particularly distracting in a nature film, to be reminded that all I'm seeing is really cleverly sequenced ones and zeros.

Running Time: 78 minutes
My Total Minutes: 283,734

Monday, May 7, 2012

Jason goes to Bad Movie Night and watches VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED

More like audience of the damned, amirite? Or in my case, audience of the damned sexy!

Yeah, the whole fucking night was jokes like that. They get tedious and dull in about 2 minutes, which is 3 minutes longer than the movie took.

Running Time: 99 minutes
My Total Minutes: 283,661

Jason goes to the Niles Film Museum and finds himself LAUGHING AT DANGER

Ah, back at my local silent film theater/museum. I've missed this place.

PERILS OF PAULINE, EPISODE 7: THE TRAGIC PLUNGE (1914): An episode of the most famous action serial of the day (maybe ever?) In this one, there's a high-tech submarine, agents who want to steal the plans, and a dastardly goon working for the bad guys who has a plan to plant a bomb and destroy the submarine. Of course, Pauline saves the day. Pretty good action, although the scene of Pauline escaping the submarine through the torpedo tube looks pretty fake.

THE WAITER'S BALL (1916): Roscoe 'Fatty' Arbuckle and Al St. John are cook and a waiter in a restaurant. They work together and battle each other in typical Keystone slapstick style, culminating in a showdown with Fatty in drag at the titular Waiter's Ball. Very funny.

Then an intermission, and our feature.

LAUGHING AT DANGER (1924): The shorts were action and comedy, and the feature combines comedy and action starring Richard Talmadge (no relation to the Talmadge sisters, in fact his real name was Sylvester Metz. But he was Douglas Fairbanks' stunt double at one time. That's right, contrary to publicity reports, Fairbanks did use a stunt double on the more dangerous stunts.) Talmadge plays a Alan Remington, a lovelorn young man just eager to "ring a belle." When his latest night out is fruitless, he falls ill. But the doctor insists the illness is all in his head, and what he really needs is some adventure in his life. Meanwhile, bad guys are stealing the professor's new invention, a death ray. His daughter steals the key that makes it all work, and tosses it out the window into the lap of Alan, who is driving along outside. Of course, he thinks this is all a ruse set up by his father to cheer him up, so he plays along. And of course not only does he become the unwitting hero of it all, but he gets the girl, too (the lovely Eva Novak.) Pretty silly plot device, but it actually works as both action and comedy, and there are some great rooftop escape scenes and other scenes that showcase Talmadge's skill as a leaper.

And that was last Saturday at Niles. Lots of cool stuff coming up, including Charlie Chaplin Days in early June, and the Broncho Billy Silent Film Festival in late June. More information on their website or like them on Facebook.

Total Running Time: 107 minutes
My Total Minutes: 283,562

Jason watches THE AVENGERS in 3-D

Well, it's about as much fun and excitement as you'd expect. The heroes from some of the best superhero movies ever made, plus the Hulk, first fight each other and then eventually team up to fight Loki and his army of invaders from the other side of the universe (brought courtesy of the Tesseract/Cosmic Cube, aka the world's most powerful macguffin.) Joss Whedon is pretty darn good at ensemble action, and I never really felt that anyone was short-changed on screen time. Ultimately, things get nice and blowy-uppy, and, of course, smashy-smashy. It's kind of interesting that Hulk, the one character who had the weakest setup movie, and the one character where they didn't manage to hang on to the original actor, ended up being my favorite in the movie.

Now, as for the 3-D, really don't bother. It of course violates Jason's Rule (as a refresher, the rule states that 3-D should be used to create depth into the screen, not throw crap out of the screen) plenty. But more importantly, I don't think there was a single scene that was really designed to use the 3-D effect at all (for good or for bad.) Now you can take that as you will, fans should take it as the movie relies on storytelling instead of 3-D gimmicks. Haters can scoff at the ridiculous extra charge for 3-D and call it a ripoff. They're both kind of right.

Running Time: 142 minutes
My Total Minutes: 283,452

Jason blasts off in the Starship Vortex and lands on THE PHANTOM PLANET

What a better way to celebrate the end of the 55th San Francisco International Film Festival than to ditch the party semi-early and walk a few blocks to my favorite underground film club and catch one more movie?

I missed the very beginning, but I got a Manhattan and was assured I missed nothing importnat and then I settled into THE PHANTOM PLANET (1961.) A spaceship captain crash lands on a planet and finds himself surrounded by tiny people. Then something in the air makes him tiny, too. And he becomes one of them. So he spends half his time trying to figure out a way to escape, contact his colleagues, etc. and the other half of the time allowing a couple of women to fight over him. Oh, and eventually they're attacked by a monster and he has to help out with the defense. Or something like that, I dozed off at some point. Mostly I was interested in seeing Francis X. Bushman in one of his final film roles as the planet's elder leader, Sessom. He was still cool, even when everything around him was cheesy as all hell.

Running Time: 82 minutes
My Total Minutes: 283,300

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Jason goes to SFIFF--Closing Night

Well, I've had the whole weekend to recover, so I might as well finish up my festival coverage with the last two movies I saw, and then the festival is officially over for another year.

First up, I saw TRISHNA, Michael Winterbottom's take on Tess of the D'urbervilles reset in modern India. So first a confession--I've never read Tess of the Du'rbervilles. So for all I know this is a wonderfully innovative adaptation, but sadly it never really caught my interest as a movie. Freida Pinto plays the titular role, but kind of sleepwalks through the movie giving a performance that made me reassess whether she was actually any good in her breakout performance in SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE. After a traffic accident cripples her father, she takes a job in a hotel, offered to her by Jay, a wealthy businessman and heir to his father's hotel fortune. She takes the job for money, but he has romantic plans. And the romance goes nice for a while, then goes very, very bad. I bet if you've read the book you know how bad. I get the sense that the book was a story of class differences, and coming from a lower class Tess is treated like the property of the businessman. Resetting it in India seems to focus on the caste system (even if it's not explicitly spelled out) and makes me wonder if this isn't a bit racist. At least, all the Indians I know (who, granted, and Indians living in America) get pretty defensive about the caste system and claim it's a thing of the past.

Anyway, on the closing night film. Let me try to lay out the bare elements of the story without getting into details first. Poor boy living in a poor country (I don't know, does the Philippines count as third world?) At one time he was even homeless living in the park. Had some trouble with drugs and alcohol at one time, but is clean now. And he's a big fan of a certain institution. In fact, he practices to be just like them. And then, just when he's about to give up on his dreams, that institution contacts him with an offer to try out and see if he's got what it takes to join them. And he does, and is successful, and basically lives a fairy tale life.

Now if you wrote that script for a fictional movie, first nobody would believe it, it's just a little too perfect. Second, if you actually got it made the soundtrack would probably feature a lot of the inspirational music of the band Journey (especially, say, their hit Don't Stop Believin'.) Well, the documentary DON'T STOP BELIEVIN': EVERYMAN'S JOURNEY is the story of Arnel Pineda, Journey's new lead singer. They were going into the studio to record a new album but didn't have a lead singer. Neal Schon was actually on Youtube looking at video of Journey cover bands and found Arnel's band Zoo, and thought he was perfect. They flew him out, auditioned him, and after jet lag and nerves wore off, he killed it. And the rest is history. Well, the rest is the history of an incredibly successful tour, a legion of new Filipino fans, and marveling at how Arnel had the pipes to not just sing but run around the stage like "a cross between David Lee Roth and Bruce Lee," a quality that earned him the nickname "Air-nel." And it's a history of converting the haters who insist Journey isn't the same without Steve Perry (Arnel, for his part, doesn't argue. He's a Steve Perry fan who is just doing his best and letting his performance speak for him.) There are a few moments in the film that talk about difficulties and temptations on the road, and you get the sense that it's foreshadowing a 'Behind the Music' moment when things break down, he cheats on his wife or falls back into drugs and alcohol. But luckily [SPOILER ALERT!!] it's foreshadowing for a breakdown that never happens. It's really a remarkably, consistently upbeat story. And it's all true, which is even better.

And then it was all over but the Q&A, featuring all the current members of Journey. And featuring an impromptu bit of singing by Arnel that pretty much blew the audience away (I heard from at least one person there who wasn't a Journey fan before, but was moved by that moment.) And then, of course, the after party. Crowded, noisy, but plenty of free beer and food (yay garlic noodles!) as long as you're willing to fight through the line for it.

Total Running Time: 234 minutes
My Total Minutes: 283,221

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Jason goes to SFIFF--Day 14

It's the penultimate day. I can't believe it's almost over.

First up I saw 17 GIRLS...and then I saw a movie, ha ha ha! (Yes, it's that time in the festival I make lame jokes like that. I'm surprised it hasn't happened earlier.) While the film was made and set in France, it's actually based on real events that happened in Massachusetts, where an epidemic of teenage pregnancy broke out. I don't know the details of the real case, but in this movie it starts when the most popular girl, Camille (Louise Grinberg) gets pregnant. Rumors swirl, and after a little thought and discussion she decides to keep it. She has all these romantic notions that far from ruining her life, it'll give her something to live for. She'll live 200% and have someone who will always love her for the rest of her life (that reminds me, Mother's Day is coming up soon. Everyone go get your mommy something nice.) Soon enough the unpopular, annoying girl who is always trying to get into the cool girls' clique announces she's also pregnant. And that does get her into the clique but also sets off something of a chain reaction, with all the girls intentionally getting pregnant so they can raise all of their kids together in some sort of Utopian commune. And if that seems incredibly naive, that's nothing compared to the parents, who can't for the life of them figure out what's going on. At one point their discussion even goes so far as to blame the unique conditions of the city--a combination of old, crumbling construction and the new, which causes the girls, I don't get what they're thinking either. And that's kind of my only issue with the movie. It's well made and well acted, but I can't really understand what anyone is thinking. I know from the script and performances that peer pressure and naive thinking is the main part of it, but I suppose since I've never been a teenage girl I don't really understand that degree of peer pressure (back in school, I was just told about peer pressure in relation to doing drugs, but I was never even cool enough to be offered drugs.) I'm sure this movie speaks more to people other than me, as it was I got a well-made movie that adds up to something of a mystery.

Next up, a short and a feature. The short was POSTCARD FROM SOMOVA, ROMANIA. Scenes of life--goats, a dog, a cat, a horse, garbage. Eventually a couple of guys show up and ride away with the horse and cart. Then more shots of garbage. And why the heck were there so many shots of that horse's vagina?

Well, that was the lead in to TOKYO WAKA, a "city poem" about Tokyo (of course.) And more to the point, it's about Tokyo's crows. It's funny how we reflexively think of nature as intruding on a city instead of vice-versa. But you can't keep nature out, and in Tokyo that means crows. Crows eating the garbage, building nests out of coat hangars, cracking walnuts under car tires. Oh yeah, these crows are damn smart. They build hooked tools out of twigs, they know how to operate drinking fountains (as an aside, I was a bit disappointed to learn in the Q&A that some of the crows-being-clever footage was bought or licensed from other sources, they didn't always just find crows doing brilliant things in the city.) I guess there are also people in the movie. People who love crows, people who consider them pests, even people whose job it is to trap and exterminate (humanely, through CO2 asphyxiation) crows. But honestly, I was so taken by the crows that I was a bit bored and impatient when there were only humans on screen. Especially when they were talking about something other than crows.

Then I caught another short + feature program, this time animated. We start with the short AND/OR, a visual exploration of an artists struggle with finding inspiration, and how awesome it is when it happens just right.

Then the feature, the brutal and disturbing CRULIC - THE PATH TO BEYOND. We open with Crulic's death, and his uncle in Romania reclaiming his body from the Polish authorities to return him for burial. Crulic was only 33. We then learn a bit of his childhood and growing up, and finally his false arrest and imprisonment in Poland. Although he had travel documents proving he was in Italy on the day in question, a judge insists that he and his girlfriend were the Romanians who stole his wallet. When the legal system doesn't work for him (the prosecutor rejects the whole "here's the travel agency I used, they'll confirm I was in Italy" line of investigation as "irrelevant") he goes on a hunger strike. This is, eventually, what kills him. Turns out that an inept, possibly racist (I got that sense but not knowing the racial tensions in Eastern Europe I don't know for sure) system that falsely imprisons you isn't necessarily going to be very good at responding to a hunger strike and saving your life. In fact, for months psychological reports claim he's fine (although he's hovering just above 50 kg) and force-feeding is unnecessary. Well, since he dies in the beginning you know how it will end. But what's also interesting is the multi-layered use of animation. Photographs, collage, watercolor, stop-motion animation. It paints a bleak but surprisingly beautiful (or at least moving) world. I've decided if I ever live a life (or suffer a death) worth retelling, I want it to be told by Eastern European animators.

And finally, we ended the night with the new cult (soon to be) classic from Don Coscarelli, JOHN DIES AT THE END. It's a whacked-out story of crazy drugs, alternate dimensions, demons, ghosts, unlikely heroes, and a doorknob that turns into a penis. David Wong (Chase Williamson) relates his story to journalist Arnie (Paul Giamatti) who is skeptical of its truth but at least appreciates a good story. And he spins a tale with all the bizarre, absurd elements I listed above, plus some. Dave and his best friend John (who actually dies in the middle but is still talking to him because the drug "Soy Sauce" either makes him live outside of time or allows David to talk to the dead. I'm not really clear on that) encounter the drug and shortly afterwards all the demons of which it's a harbinger. You know...I give up on trying to retell the story. It's crazy, it takes a surprise turn every few minutes, and dissecting the story would kill the fun of the insanity. In fact, the core of the fun is watching Dave go from freaking-out incredulity to taking it all in stride as part of his new role as a reluctant cross-dimensional hero. Damn, that was fun. And in the Q&A afterwards Don hinted that not only would he (and the whole cast) like to also make the sequel (the book's sequel, This Book is Full of Spiders, is due out soon) but he teased his fans with a little hint that there might be news about a new PHANTASM movie soon. Here's hoping, on both those counts. And while we're at it, how about BUBBA NOSFERATU?

And that was the penultimate night of SFIFF. I caught the bus just in time to make it to BART and home (avoiding a two hour bus ride) so I'm bright and rested for the big closing night with Journey tonight.

Total Running Time: 348 minutes
My Total Minutes: 282,978

Jason watches PINA in 3-D

Shhh...don't tell anyone, but I snuck away from SFIFF and cheated on it with this movie. But I think it's a fair rule to say you're allowed to cheat as long is it's with someone hot as this.So about a year ago I saw (actually at SFIFF) Werner Herzog's CAVE OF FORGOTTEN DREAMS in 3-D, and it completely reinvented in my mind how 3-D movies should work (note: I never actually got a chance to check it out in 2-D.) I realized a rule (which I shall call Jason's Rule of 3-D)--that when 3-D works, it works because it's putting depth into the screen, not throwing stuff out of the screen at you. The screen forms a box that is a view to another world, but the theater, audience, etc. are not a part of that world. So when 3-D tries to jump out of the screen, it breaks the illusion of the box creating a separate world, and it's revealed to be nothing but gimmicky bullshit. The key is action into the screen, not out of it. And looking back, the best scenes of great 3-D movies follow this rule, and the scenes that bug me break it. Well, about a year later I finally saw Wim Wenders' entry into the 3-D field, his homage to famed dancer/choreographer Pina Bausch. And he has made me reexamine the Jason Rule.

Wenders uses into and towards the screen in pretty much equal parts, but 99% of the time the action towards the screen stops just short of action out of the screen. There are two bits--one with kicking around leaves, one with splashing around water--where the action actually flies out of the screen. And in those moments I admit the words "gimmicky bullshit" flashed through my mind ever so briefly. But the movie is so beautiful, and the 3-D so effective in the rest of it, that the words left my mind as quickly as they appeared.

Now, why was the 3-D so effective in PINA? Two reasons I could see, both relying on the fact that it's all about dancing. First of all, dance is all about the exploration and discovery of the space around you. So, in fact, the movie paradoxically gives us more of a 3-D sense of that space than watching live dance. It kind of becomes artificial how hyper-real the sense of space is. In any other context, this would actually be a bad thing, but since dance explores space, exploring that space cinematically complements it well. Secondly, the world inside the screen is a world of performance, while the world outside the screen is the world of people watching a performance. So a bit of judicious intrusion between worlds actually works very, very well. In some scenes, it actually includes a view of the first few rows of a theater, which meant I wasn't really in my customary front row center seat. Some friends warned me about this before and jokes I might be upset I'm not front row center. But I was more pleased to be inside the world of the movie anyway.

As for the movie as a whole--it's about dance. It's visual, exciting, beautiful...graceful, inventive, funny. I'm pretty sure those are all qualities that could also be captured in 2-D. I'm not sure if I'm ready to declare 3-D necessary for this movie, but I'm easily certain that 3-D improves it greatly.

Running Time: 103 minutes
My Total Minutes: 282,640

Jason goes to SFIFF--Day 13

I can see the light at the end of the tunnel now. Three more movies on Tuesday.

First up, the bizarre, personal, and delightful AN OVERSIMPLIFICATION OF HER BEAUTY. Years ago, director Terence Nance made a short film, featured as part of this film, called HOW WOULD YOU FEEL? He made it with his friend Namik Minter, and it was really about how loved her but wasn't able to say it. He presented it as fiction, and didn't tell her it was about his feelings for her until its first public screening. And now he made a feature length version that's part documentary, part animation, part recreation, entirely funny, maybe a tad too long, and pretty repetitive. As for the last part, his background is in music and he wrote the movie like a song--with a refrain and various verses. Not just repetitive but variations on the repetition. And the sum total is a wonderful work of art and play that still didn't keep him from getting "friend-zoned." I heard the best comment of the festival as we were walking out (I paraphrase), "Finally, someone who is honest about art. All art is about trying to get into someone's pants, but he actually admits it!" Oh yeah, and let me add that the title is total irony--he doesn't simplify anything here, he over-complicates it.

AN OVERSIMPLIFICATION OF HER BEAUTY plays one last time today, May 2, at 4:00 at the Kabuki.

Next up, a really fascinating Israeli documentary THE LAW IN THESE PARTS. It's all about the military justice system set up after the 6 days war to administer justice in the occupied territories. Some 45 years later, this system that was set up as a temporary court system to comply with international law has become an institution, and a weapon of the occupation. But at the same time maybe it mediates the occupation and keeps it from going too far (or at least as far as some Israelis would like it to go.) The movie only interviews the (retired) judges from the courts. It injects some stories of the Palestinians, but only to ask the judges to respond. And it's an interesting and difficult look at a system. In some ways, my gut reaction was this is just "justice theater." After all, what is the law if it's imposed by others and you have no democratic way of changing it? But on the other hand, these judges seemed to believe in what they were doing. Or at the very least, they were in a system that they weren't able to change, and believed they did their best given the system. And that's maybe really the point of the movie (and the point that certainly came out of the Q&A)--that if you make a conscience decision to work within a system, when history changes and the system is looked upon unfavorably, you will look like the villain even if you were just doing your job in the system to the best of your abilities.

So after that, how about something light, like SOMEBODY UP THERE LIKES ME, the new comedy by Bob Byington, who had previously either confused (most of the audience) or delighted (me) audiences at Indiefest with RSO: REGISTERED SEX OFFENDER and HARMONY AND ME. Well, he's kinda hit the big (or at least bigger) time now, and I still love his extremely dry absurdist brand of comedy. Max Youngman (apparently named in reference to how he doesn't seem to age, which could just be a shortcut to save on old-age makeup.) Max doesn't try very hard, but seems to get by pretty easily. He's a waiter at a restaurant, and will probably be there forever with his best friend Sal. He's divorced, but hooks up with the breadstick loving Lyla (Jess Weixler, and of course I can't stop thinking about her in TEETH so I wanted to jump into the screen and warn him.) Well, as life lurches forward five years at a time, they go through ups and downs, he has a fortune, he loses it all, he makes another fortune, he...dies. Oops, maybe that was a spoiler. The important thing is it's hilarious. Or not. Most people I know don't actually like Bob Byington movies, but I consider myself a fan.

Total Running Time: 270 minutes
My Total Minutes: 282,535

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Jason goes to SFIFF--Day 12

Four more movies on Monday, here we go:

I started the day with LEAVE ME LIKE YOU FOUND ME, which would make an interesting pseudo-sequel to THE LONELIEST PLANET, at least in as much as they're both about couples walking in the wilderness. But while THE LONELIEST PLANET featured a recently engaged couple with a love that gets tested, LEAVE ME LIKE YOU FOUND ME features a couple that has broken up before and is (for some reason) trying to get back together. What it illustrates better than anything is why they broke up--they had gotten to the point where they knew how to push all of each other's buttons, but didn't have the willpower to refrain from doing so. Well, they still don't, but they're still attracted to each other. So they go on a camping trip in Sequoia National Park, where they alternately fuck and fight in the woods--sometimes within minutes of each. It's very well made, the two leads (Megan Boone and David Nordstrom) do a fine job, and it's a believable portrait of a possible resurrection of a relationship that maybe should stay dead. But pretty quickly into it I kind of stopped caring about them and whether these two kind of annoying and selfish people would find happiness together. At one point, they get lost in the woods as night falls. I confess I was hoping they would stay lost and the movie would end with them dying in the woods, dehydrated and not talking to each other. I'm not sure if that's because I disliked them, just didn't care about them, or just desperately hoped for some drama. Spoiler alert: No such luck.

Next up, a story of kids and adults behaving badly in SUMMER GAMES. 12 year old Nic and his little brother Agostino are on holiday on the Tuscan coast with their abusive father and their mother who has returned after some absence (she insists for the kids, not for the father, but there's still a little something there.) Meanwhile, Marie and her little sister Patty are also on holiday there, with their mother and no father in the picture at all. Nic finds a shed in a cornfield , and brings the whole gang there (including a fifth kid who really isn't as interesting as the main four. In fact, the interesting ones are Nic and Marie) at first to see a dead body (that turns out to be a scarecrow) and then to invent some rather perverse games about killers, policemen, and punishments. Nic brags about how he can't feel pain (easier than admitting he feels anything for Marie) and Marie for her part totally shuns Nic. Or at least tries to. It's an interesting and often unsettling (particularly the dog scene) coming-of-age story that in its own way is about the importance of good parenting, but more about we manage to muddle through in the absence of it.

SUMMER GAMES plays again on closing night, May 3 at 7:30 at the Kabuki

Then I enjoyed an absolutely beautiful and delightful bit of magic realism from the director of PERSEPOLIS in CHICKEN WITH PLUMS. It's the story of Nasser Ali, a violin virtuoso living in Tehran of 1958. He is unhappily married with two children (the scenes of them as grown-ups are excellent wild comic relief--particularly the son going to America is a hilarious parody of America and foreign views of America.) His only love is his violin, and when it gets broken he cannot find one with the same sound he loved (even a Stradivarius is not good enough, although it might well have been a fake) he decides to lie down and die. Eight days later he is dead, and the movie takes us through his thoughts, memories, and fantasies on those final eight days. Mostly the melancholy story of his first true love, Iran (that's a girl's name, not the country, but the allusion is unmistakable) and how her father forbid them to marry. But also memories of grade school, a chat with Azrael the Angel of Death (including a pretty funny animation sequence,) and the story of how he ended up with his current wife. It employs a wide range of styles and if it leaves realism behind in the quest to make the most beautiful movie possible, I wholeheartedly approve. Frankly, it can get tiring at a film festival watching dozens of movies with a hand-held camera and natural lighting trying to capture reality at it's most real. This was good, powerful escapism with a beautiful heart.

CHICKEN WITH PLUMS plays again May 2, 12:30 at the Kabuki, and opens nationwide August 22.

And finally, I ended the day with THE EXCHANGE. I loved that this movie opens with a brief reference to E.P.R. and that non-scientists have read way too much into it regarding objective reality. There's never any explanation of what E.P.R. is, so it's a reference only physicists will get. And how many physicists would watch a movie like this? It might only! Has he (director Eran Kolirin) really made a movie for me and me alone?

So let me begin by explaining, to the best of my memory from college, what the EPR experiment (and I'll try to do so without math.) First, you have to understand the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. The Uncertainty Principle is a relationship that sets a limit on how well defined a particle's position and momentum can be. If you know a particle's position very well, it's momentum is less well defined and vice-versa. Often this is described using a fan as a metaphor. When you turn a fan on, the blades spin so fast you don't know exactly where they are. If you stick your finger in there to discover their position, you stop (or at least disrupt) the fan, changing its momentum at least briefly. So you cannot measure the position without disrupting the momentum. And if you let it run and measure the momentum somehow (say you can deduce it from the pitch of the motor's whine) you don't know its exact position.

Well, this is okay for a metaphor, but misses an important bit. Really, it's a better description of the Observer's Paradox--you can't measure (or observe) a system without being a part of the system, and your presence (or the presence of your measuring apparatus) will change the system, however slightly. As it's often related, the Uncertainty Principle is interpreted (by novices) as setting an absolute mathematical limit on the Observer's Paradox. That's because it's often described as the limit of how well known a particle's position and momentum can be. But there's more than that. It's not just a matter of how well known these are, it's really a matter of how these properties really exist.

Heisenberg was describing a mathematical relationship between the Quantum Wave Function and its Fourier Transform. The Fourier transform is simply a mathematical operation that translates any function between spatial and frequency domains--in the case of the Wave Function spatial and frequency domains translates to the physical properties of position and momentum. The Wave Function is...well, that's kind of tricky. But when you take the square of its magnitude, you get a probability distribution function. I.e., if you're operating in the spatial domain you get a cloud of probability of where the particle is, and if you transform it to the frequency (momentum) domain, you get a cloud of probability for what its momentum is.

Now the really interesting part. Does that cloud of probability describe a limit on our ability to know more about a particle, or does it really describe all there is to a particle? Well, Heisenberg said the latter--there is nothing more than the Wave Function. Moreover, when you measure a particle's position (or momentum) you change or "collapse" the Wave Function into one with well-defined position (or momentum) and undefined momentum (or position.) But the important thing is the Wave Function is all there is. If that bugs you, you're in good company, it bugged Einstein, too (finally, we get to the E of EPR) who famously said "God does not play dice."

Einstein was a proponent of so-called "hidden variables"--the idea that a particle does have a well-defined position and momentum but that the rules of Quantum Mechanics keep it hidden from an observer. At least, hidden from direct measurement, but he, along with colleagues Boris Podolsky and Nathan Rosen (the P and R of EPR) proposed an experiment. First you take two particles and have them interact in such a way that they end up flying apart in exact opposite directions. Then you measure the position of particle A, and you can infer from that what the position of particle B is. Simultaneously, measure the momentum of particle B, and you can infer what the momentum of particle A is. And you can do these measurements far enough apart that they are outside of each other's "light cones" to insure that there is no interference between the measurements (i.e., far enough apart that light cannot travel between them in time to affect the other measurement. And since nothing can travel faster than light, there's no way for them to interact at all.)

Well, Heisenberg countered that when particle A and B interact in the beginning, they become "Quantum Entangled"--one Wave Function that describes both particles. When the Wave Function collapses (from measuring one particle only) it collapses the entire function...everywhere...instantaneously. This is, if you pardon the expression, fucking weird as hell.

And well, the argument rested there for quite a while, because that experiment is really hard to do (first getting the particles to interact right, and then actually measuring position and momentum so precisely.) But some 30 years later a physicist named John Bell formulated an alternate experiment using pairs of polarized photons (particles of light.) These are really easy to create, you just need a positron emitter (like Na-22, which I used to work with back when I was employed.) Positrons (anti-electrons) immediately interact with electrons, pair-annihilate creating two photons of the same energy and polarization, travelling in opposite directions. So have two detectors with rotatable polarizing filters on opposite sides of the source, and then simply count photons on each side. Then rotate one filter a bit, count photons again, etc. And...I promised no math, so I'll cut to the chase. The results of these experiments match the predictions of Quantum Mechanics and violate the predictions of hidden variable theories (okay, local hidden variables if you want to split hairs.) In short, the Quantum Wave Function really is all there is (or the world is even weirder, like probability doesn't work the way we think it does,) Quantum Entanglement happens, and we are all just wandering around collapsing Wave Functions all the time. Now, the collapse of the Wave Function is such a mysterious and philosophical thing that it's way too long for me to expound on here. It's the subject of papers, books, and maybe even a 2 hour movie.

Oh yeah, back to the movie, how does all this EPR rambling tie in to the movie? Well, I really wish I had seen it when Eran Kolirin was still here, because I would've loved to quiz him about it. But I can say that festival programmer Rod Armstrong introduced the movie by saying in previous Q&A's some audience members wanted to ascribe mental health issues (anything from depression to schizophrenia) to the protagonist, and Eran was adamant that he's not crazy in any way. Well, that's easy for me--he's not crazy, he's just a physicist. And his class ends one day when he's right in the middle of discussing EPR. So he goes home with all this at the front of his mind, keenly aware he's collapsing Wave Functions all around him. Well, as a guy, what's the one thing that is most profound to collapse by observing. That's right, his own penis. So he takes a second, whips it out, and looks at it in the mirror. Then he notices another guy watching him. And wacky hijinx ensue.

So the movie is an examination of how by observing the world around you, you create it (or at least change it.) But that's not to say the world is subjective. There is an objective reality to it, and it is described by the Wave Function. Sure, you can collapse the Wave Function, but that collapse is the same for everyone. You can't collapse it one way at the same time as someone else collapses it another way (i.e., you can't get around the Uncertainty Principle by measuring a particle's position at the same time as someone else measures its momentum. The collapse of the Wave Function happens the same for everyone.) It's a subtle distinction between subjective reality and objective reality that you are a part of and influence.

At least that's what I got out of it. I don't know what the heck other people could get from it.

Total Running Time: 384 minutes
My Total Minutes: 282,271