Monday, August 27, 2012

Jason hosts Bad Movie Night--IMMORTALS hosting means I get to sit in the front row with a microphone and riff on the movie. It means I pay extra close attention so I don't miss any possible opportunity for humor. And I still have no fucking clue what happened in this movie. While Mickey Rourke's old scarred face was one of the ugliest things in the movie, the whole damn thing was pretty unwatchable. All I'm sure is I'm glad I'm not immortal, because this movie made me want to die.

Running Time: 110 minutes
My Total Minutes: 297,835

Friday, August 24, 2012

Jason goes to the Dark Room to see The Princess Bride Live!

The Dark Room has built a bit of a local reputation as a place for low-budget, micro-theater comic adaptations of famous movies. And with THE PRINCESS BRIDE being one of the most quotable movies ever, you'd expect it to be a perfect match and lots of fun.

And it is. But here's what I didn't expect:

  1. It draws from the book as well as the movie, and since I haven't actually read the book, that left me with a fair number of surprises.
  2. The interaction of the grandpa/narrator and the characters onstage is a great source of comedy.
  3. The sword fight scene is actually pretty amazing, considering it's on such a tiny stage that they had to use comically short swords (think tiny daggers with full sword handles.
  4. It's sold out, and has been consistently enough that they've added an extra week.
Actually, that last one I did know in advance. And I also knew that the three additional shows next weekend are already sold out of advance tickets. But if you show up early (last night the line started at about 6:30) you can still get tickets at the door. There are five more shows--tonight (Friday, August 25th, 2012) and tomorrow, as well as Thursday, Friday, and Saturday of next week. Catch it while you still can!


Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Jason watches THE MASTER

In a special sneak preview screening, in 70 mm, at the glorious Castro Theatre.

This is Paul Thomas Anderson's latest, and I was surprised to realize that he hadn't completed a movie since 2007 with THERE WILL BE BLOOD (which is still among my all-time favorites.) I was also apparently the only person in the theater who didn't know anything about what the movie was supposed to be about. I went solely on the fact that it was Paul Thomas Anderson, but everyone else there seemed to know that it was in some way about Scientology.

Well, the Scientology parallels are there if you look for it, but it's not really about that. And I don't just mean that they change enough of the cult (it's called The Cause, founded by Lancaster Dodd, not L. Ron Hubbard) that it's not obviously Scientology. The fact is the movie is not really about the cult at all. It's about a WWII vet and his struggles with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (although it's never called that, there's just one brief scene where a psychiatrist talks to a group of returning soldiers about their "nervous condition.")

That soldier is Freddie Quell, played by Joaquin Phoenix, and you can bet that he'll at least get an Oscar nomination out of this. He's a hard drinking, hard-fucking drifter. And when I say hard-drinking I don't just mean alcohol. He drinks fuel right out of bombs. He mixes drinks with photograph developing solution, paint thinner, whatever he can find. And he serves these drinks to his friends and colleagues, sometimes poisoning them. And then one night he stumbles onto a boat that happens to be owned by Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman) who gives him a job on the ship and teaches him the ways of The Cause. He also takes quite a shine to the powerful concoction in the flask Freddie was carrying. Their relationship forms the majority of the movie, although the crazy drinks sort of disappear as Lancaster's wife Mary Sue (Amy Adams) disapproves of the boozing.

Now Lancaster Dodd is clearly based in part on L. Ron Hubbard, but I don't know enough about either Scientology or The Cause to say if they're at all similar. There's no talk of Thetans or Xenu, and personally I think the only people who would make Scientology connections are people who already know something about and have formed an opinion of Scientology. So to Scientologists who are offended by this movie, my only advice is to be offended in silence. Talking about it will only point out a Scientology parallel that many people wouldn't see in the first place. I know the scenes that will upset them the most are scenes implying that Lancaster is simply making up his religion as he goes along (although he insists he's simply incorporating new data from his studies.) And there are scenes where Lancaster loses his composure (it seems he's also suffering from some sort of PTSD, although he hides it better than Freddie.) But these are fine when he's the leader of a generic cult, so why go around raising the thought that this is really supposed to be about Scientology.

And anyway, I've already stated that this is Freddie's story, not Lancaster's. And it's the story about his struggle with PTSD. And it's about how he believes in Lancaster and The Cause at first, but how he struggles to follow it, leaves it, comes back to it, struggles more, etc.

It's also a dense and somewhat disjointed movie. The most beautiful image--which opens the film--is simply a turbulent wake in a bright, blue water. That image shows up three times in the movie, each time with a different meaning. After seeing it I read that Anderson wrote the movie by writing individual scenes without knowing how to fit them together, and then ultimately found a way. And it's a pretty darn effective way, given how far he goes and the scale of his journey (both geographically and psychologically) Anderson did a remarkable job of tying everything together and even alluding back to opening scenes at the very end.

I also want to talk about my favorite scene--the motorcycle scene. But to do so would get way to spoiler-y, so I'll drop it. If and when you see the movie, you can talk to me about that scene out in the real world.

Running Time: 137 minutes
My Total Minutes: 297,725

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Jason skips Burning Man

For the first time since 1997, there will be a Burning Man and I won't be there for any of it.

I started coming to terms with this back in February when I and most of my friends failed to get tickets in the lottery. And on March 2, when I was away from my computer from 12:00-12:15 pm Pacific Time, and therefore lost out on my chance to enter the STEP (Secondary Ticket Exchange Program) it became more real. And when they announced their policy for "Directed Distribution" of the last batch of tickets, I knew it was over. Even after 14 years of burning, I had always just done my own thing without every registering a theme camp, meaning apparently I'm not one of the important people for making the city what it is. So I shrugged, realized that while all Burners are equal, some are more equal than others, and made my break.

Since then, many friends have tried to convince me to find a ticket somehow anyway. There were plenty of people scalping selling their surplus tickets when they find out they or their friend can't go. There was an extra release of 10,000 more tickets. I didn't flinch. The fact is I just wasn't feeling it. I had decided--like I had jokingly threatened for the past decade--to just stay at home and take three showers a day instead.

And then a couple of things happened. First, I saw THE WIND (1928) at the Stanford Theatre with Dennis James rocking the Mighty Wurlitzer Organ. That story of a young Lillian Gish who travels to a remote desert town where the howling wind and dust drives her insane always reminds me (fondly) of Burning Man. True, there's no crazy art projects or raves or naked people running around, but I'm jaded enough that I care more about the weather than the art.

Second, there was suddenly a ton of face-value or cheaper tickets on Craigslist (and I assume other sites.) I was no longer afforded the excuse that I can't get a ticket without paying outrageous scalper prices (BTW, the fact that a ton of cheap tickets appeared at the 11th hour I think is pretty compelling evidence that scalpers bought a lot of the early tickets and are now panicking. I wish the organization would acknowledge they had a huge scalper problem this year.)

And yet, I simply was still not feeling it. So I took a closer look at why I didn't want to go, and it started with the question, "What is Burning Man?"

There's a lot of different answers to that question. I've heard, "like the Internet come to life." "An arts festival." "A bunch of crazy people in the desert doing drugs, getting naked, and playing with fire (hopefully not often all at once.)" Or my personal favorite, "The world's shittiest gated community." (Okay, I came up with that last one. Remember, I'm a jaded old-timer.)

But when I take it seriously, the answer I really like is, "It's an evolving social experiment." Specifically, it's an experiment to determine if it's possible to build a society that lives according to the Ten Principles of Burning Man. And what I realized, and no one is talking about (okay, maybe people are talking about it and I just haven't seen it, but no one I've seen is talking about) is that the experiment has yielded a result. The answer is , "No." This answer was confessed in the announcement of the directed ticket distribution, and foreshadowed just a week before in an ominous announcement titled Radical Inclusion, Meet the Other Nine. And I realized my little Orwellian joke of "All Burners are equal, but some are more equal than others" actually weighed on my conscience more than I thought.

You see, it would be one thing if they acknowledged that Radical Inclusion simply can't exist if there are more people who want to be included than they can legally include. And in some ways (e.g., rising ticket prices, changes in culture) there has been a steady process of (I assume unintentionally) convincing some people to self-select out of inclusion. Still, they've been very good at doing everything they can logistically to keep the event inclusive (e.g., low income tickets, etc.)

But the result is something more than just Radical Inclusion runs up against large numbers. They made a conscious decision to jettison Radical Inclusion for the benefit of...I'm not exactly sure which one of the other principles, but something about keeping Burning Man and Black Rock City the special place that it is. Now I understand there are certain camps that are pretty vital--Ice, for example. Or First Aid. Or the Fire Department. But if there are camps that are that vital, just make them part of the staff and give them free tickets (for all I know of the organization, the camps I've listed already are staff and get free tickets.) But you know what would happen if that one cool theme camp didn't show up? We'd survive anyway, and probably find something even cooler to do. Do you really think we couldn't have Burning Man without Thunderdome? It seems priority was given to camps that had registered in previous years, because the true spirit of Burning Man is filling out the proper paperwork. Camps that had done their own thing, even if it was popular in their local corner of the city, were still left out in the cold.

I've lived in a few places that claimed to be "very inclusive" (or worse yet, "very tolerant.") The thing is, universally when it really came down to it what they meant is they were inclusive/tolerant of people or behaviors that the rest of society generally didn't tolerate. It did not mean they included/tolerated everybody who wanted to be there. And even if you got in, there were always some people who were way more "included" than others. And even when I found ways to become one of the more included members, the hypocrisy still bugged me (often not until I was out the environment and could see it with fresh eyes, but still.)

In fact, I began to believe there really was no such thing as full inclusiveness. Then I went to Burning Man. In 1998 it was truly inclusive. One thing I've loved so much over the years is the attitude that once we're out here, we're all equals. Larry Harvey is just another Burner. The guys who founded Google, if they're out here are just other Burners. If you run into (whatever rock star/actor is allegedly out this year) he/she is just another Burner. In 2012, in part because of forces beyond their control, but mostly because of a very conscious decision that certain Burners are more important than others, they have lost a little bit of that inclusiveness. If you run into someone camping in a large theme camp, chances are they're more than just another Burner, their the privileged class to whom tickets are directed.

And even this wouldn't bother me as much if it weren't for the fact that every time I look at that Ten Principles page, there's Radical Inclusion, still right at the top. No change in the text describing it, no asterisk. I've enjoyed plenty of things in my life that were not at all inclusive. Burning Man could be one of them, but it just turns my stomach when I read "Radical Inclusion" there and I know it to be a lie.

Maybe I'm too much of an idealist. Believe me, I'm not all that idealistic about much. Maybe they can acknowledge that Radical Inclusion isn't possible, but continue on the best they can. Maybe they can redefine the principle of Radical Inclusion to mean that your chances of getting a ticket won't be affected by X, Y, or Z, but the fact is you might not get a ticket just because of the luck of the draw. Maybe they'll actually find a better solution that restores inclusiveness next year. But until there's a serious examination of this negative result and its implications, I don't think I'll be back.

Groucho Marx said, and I agree, "I would never want to be a part of a club that would have someone like me as a member." Besides being a wonderfully head-spinning, self-deprecating one liner, there's a serious side to that witticism. It attacks the "someone like [our members]" attitude that so many exclusive clubs have. Groucho, as a Jew, was denied access to several clubs until he was extremely famous, and suddenly those same clubs wanted 'someone like him.'

I know I'm in no danger of Burning Man wanting "someone like me." Even if they would take me, there are officially thousands of Burners they wanted more. Until they meet my ideal of Radical Inclusion, fuck 'em. I'm not going to Burning Man, because they don't deserve me.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Jason goes to Bad Movie Night and watches HARLEY DAVIDSON AND THE MARLBORO MAN

Mickey Rourke month continues, despite all pleas for leniency and appeals to human decency.

The two "heroes" in this nearly action-less action movie are the embodiment of smoking and riding motorcycles--two of the leading causes of premature death. This movie, on the other hand, is a leading cause of wishing you were dead.

Remember when THE WRESTLER came out in 2008 and people talked about how it resurrected Mickey Rourke's career? Like he hadn't made anything in years? Well, check out his IMDb page and it turned out he was routinely getting work the whole time. Granted, he hadn't made a movie that was released in 2007, but other than that he has at least one credit every year dating back to 1979. Many of them small roles, but he was hardly a guy who was lost wandering in the wilderness. I think it was just movies like HARLEY DAVIDSON AND THE MARLBORO MAN that made people prefer to believe he didn't appear in anything.

Running Time: a mercifully brief 98 minutes, although it felt like 98 hours.
My Total Minutes: 297,587

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Jason goes to the Niles Film Museum for Comedy Shorts Night--August 18, 2012

Yay, comedy! Everyone likes to laugh. And I do mean everyone. The Niles Film Museum and its Saturday night shows are becoming more and more popular. Especially comedy shorts night. And especially last night, when we had to turn quite a few people away. Let that be a lesson, if you're coming to comedy shorts night, buy tickets in advance. There's a Paypal link on the website (which is taken down the day of the show) or you can show up to the museum when it's open noon-4 pm, or you can call (510) 494-1411 and order tickets over the phone with a credit card.

Anyway, on to last night's movies. But I will say two things first. One, there was a common them of policemen in the movies. Not surprising, since cops and robbers was a common comedy setup back then. Second, it was great seeing these with a large, enthusiastic, laughing audience. I had seen 3 of the 4 before, but it's always better seeing silent films with an audience.

THE ADVENTURER (1917): Convict Charlie Chaplin escapes from the cops and rescues Edna Purviance, her mother, and her boyfriend (Eric Campbell) from drowning. He's set up in their house, where he passes himself off as a great adventurer, and starts wooing Edna, much to the displeasure of her boyfriend. Things get even wackier when he recognizes Charlie as the escaped convict in the newspaper, and calls in the cops.

Very funny, but on a tragic note this was Eric Campbell's last film appearance. He was Charlie Chaplin's greatest foil, a giant man with a bushy beard and huge eyebrows. He was known as "Chaplin's Goliath" and despite the gruff appearance and characters onscreen, everyone said in real life he was the nicest man you could know. But he had a fondness for fast cars and died in an automobile crash just months after shooting this movie. And this was pretty early in Chaplin's career, no doubt if he had survived they would've faced off many more times and he'd be way more famous today.

COPS (1922): Buster Keaton, in one of him most famous shorts. Through a series of missteps, he ends up stealing a policeman's wallet, "buying" a truckload of a furniture, and ending up in the policeman's parade. And that's just the start, as his wacky missteps lead to the entire police force chasing after him. All, of course, to make something of himself and win the hand of his girlfriend.

Then a brief intermission, and back to the second half of the show.

NUMBER, PLEASE? (1920): Harold Lloyd stars in the only movie last night I hadn't seen before. He and Roy Brooks are at the amusement park, both vying for the hand of the lovely Mildred Davis. She has a pass for a balloon ride, and will go with the first one of them who gets her mother's permission. So Roy runs off to her home, while Harold has the brilliant idea to just call her up on one of those new-fangled public pay telephones. Wackiness ensues, as it's a struggle just to get into the phone booth, much less get the attention of the operator, or get connected to the right number. SPOILER ALERT: This is one of the very few films where Harold Lloyd doesn't actually get the girl in the end. But don't worry, in real life he went on to marry Mildred Davis, and it wasn't any short-lived Hollywood affair either. They stayed married for 46 years, until she passed away. Oddly enough, Roy Brooks became Harold's social secretary and lived with them at their estate, and would keep Mildred company while Harold was away. But there was no hanky-panky--Roy was simply Mildred's old friend (they new each other as kids before they both moved to Hollywood) and he was gay.

BACON GRABBERS (1929): And finally, we end the night with the Boys--Laurel and Hardy. This time they're debt collectors sent to repossess a radio from a deadbeat, played by none other than Edgar Kennedy, master of the "slow burn." But he fights them off, keeping them out of the house and away from his radio. At least, for as long as he can. Brilliant, funny, and a great way to end the night.

Total Running Time: 97 minutes
My Total Minutes: 297,489

Jason watches THE WIND

I first saw this back in 2009 at the SF Silent Film Festival. Here's what I said back then:
The feature was a Lillian Gish drama, THE WIND. This was Gish's last silent film, and the last film in Hollywood for Swedish director Victor Sjöström [note: credited as Victor Seastrom].  When it was released (in 1928), it was critically mixed and a commercial flop, and ended Gish's relationship with MGM. However, she got the last laugh when it was added to the National Film Registry in 1993. Gish always talked about how this was her hardest film to make, and well in to her 80's and 90's (she lived to be just short of 100) she was touring with this film and others. In those tours the accompanist was the acclaimed organist Dennis James. For the performance last Saturday, the accompanist was also acclaimed organist Dennis James on the Mighty Wurlitzer, plus sound effects artists on two wind machines (plus a few other effects, like a cap gun that did a great job of making the audience jump). By the way, Dennis performed for two films of the festival, but was in the audience watching the other 10 (for at least a few, in the row right behind me). He's a fan, he's very personable, and told some funny stories about Lillian Gish (like how she advised him never to get married). He's not just a great musician and silent film accompanist, he's officially a cool guy.

Now (finally) to the film. Gish plays Letty, a girl from Virginia who's moving out to Texas to live on her cousin's ranch. While still on the train, the fierce winds appear as a character as much as a force of nature. When she arrives, as the beautiful new lady in town she attracts the attention of all the neighbors. That's not so bad. The bad thing is she attracts the wrath of her cousin's wife, Cora. She's not just jealous of the attention her children pay to Letty, she's jealous of the attention her husband pays to her (um...nothing happens. And gross, they're cousins!) She's kicked out of the house with no place to live and the relentless wind driving her madder and madder every minute. She agrees to marriage, but it's a loveless marriage of convenience. At least, it's loveless on her end, he loves her but she's disgusted by him. In a way, her home becomes a prison with the wind as the ever watchful guard (there, I kept the prison theme going one more movie!) Well, there's a climax with yet another suitor who just can't give her up no matter how married she is, and finally she learns to love the wind (after all, any force of nature that will bury a body is a friend of mine).

The version of THE WIND we saw had a happy ending, but an original ending--with Letty going mad and walking off into the wind--is rumored to exist (and there are also rumors that the original "going crazy and walking off into the desert ending is just a rumor and never existed).
Well, other than the fact that we "only" had Dennis James on the Wurlitzer last Friday, no wind machines or cap guns, it's still pretty much as I said before. Although this time, I picked up a little more tenderness from her for her suitors (and her eventual husband.) She is definitely (although innocently) flirting with them ever so slightly. And the fact is, she didn't enter the marriage intending for it to be loveless. She just figured it would take a little time for her to warm up to him. The key scene for me was when he tried to push himself on her too quickly and she says, "Oh, now you made me hate you. I didn't want to hate you." That scene figured much more prominently in my reading this time. Interesting how the same movie can feel slightly different every time you see it.

Running Time: 81 minutes
My Total Minutes: 297,392

Jason watches PARANORMAN

The makers of CORALINE have made another brilliant stop-motion animated kids movie about the supernatural. In this case, it's Norman and his gift of being able to see--and talk to--ghosts. And that makes him kinda weird, kind of an outcast, and an easy target for bullies. But it turns out his skills will be necessary when an old witches curse raises the dead. It was cool, a whole lot of fun, and some pretty good messages about respecting weirdos and the danger of fear leading you to say or do something you'll regret.

But I don't really want to give away any more. Just trust me that it's as cool and as fun as it looks like. Also, watch through the very end credits for a cool time-lapse photography scene showing the creation the Norman figure.

Running Time: 93 minutes
My Total Minutes: 297,311

Jason watches THE CAMPAIGN

Okay, this had some pretty funny moments. And I'm now trying to remember the last time I saw a Zach Galifianakis when he didn't own comically pampered dogs. Has that become his "thing" now?

So Will Ferrell's sleazy 4-time Congressman character Cam Brady is challenged by Galifianakis' Marty Huggins, the slightly-off son of a powerful family. For what it's worth, Brady is a Democrat and Huggins is a Republican, but the parties seem pretty intentionally interchangeable. The real power behind everything is the Motch brothers (Dan Aykroyd and John Lithgow, in an obvious dig on the Koch brothers) wealthy industrialists that want to sell their district to China, repeal minimum wage and safety laws, and save a bundle on shipping costs by "insourcing" crappy, underpaid, dangerous Chinese labor to the U.S.

Wacky hijinx ensue, and SPOILER ALERT: everyone learns a lesson about honesty and good governance, and the U.S.A. is A-OK in the end.

And that fucking bugged me.

A couple of years ago some cinephile friends of mine were talking about whether a movie's aesthetics could be "morally offensive." E.g., by trivializing a horrible situation by making it look pretty. The example given was CITY OF GOD and  I believe a term like "poverty porn" was used. Similarly, I guess it would apply to movies that show a lot of violence--gun fights, explosions, etc.--but not the realistic effects of violence, hence glamorizing it. At the time, I objected, in part because I pride myself in not offending easily. In part because I really liked CITY OF GOD. And in part because I thought, 'Gee, it's just a freakin' movie. You don't have to get so worked up about it.'

But now seeing this, I think I understand what they're getting at. The comedy only works because of the common knowledge (or widespread belief, if you're still a denier) that our political system is completely fucked up. But it doesn't propose a solution. It proposes laughing at the system while fantasizing that a good guy will come in and clean it all up. I'd even go so far as to say it promotes an attitude of 'Let's keep the system fucked up, just for the lulz!' It's political corruption porn. And for just a second, I found that morally offensive.

Of course, I quickly remembered that I still pride myself on not being offended easily, and I reminded myself that it's just a freakin' movie. So I won't begrudge anyone liking the movie. And I don't want to spend any more time up on my high horse ranting about it. But the next time I hear someone get worked up over the aesthetic immorality, whether I agree with them or not I can say, "I know what you mean, I felt the same way about THE CAMPAIGN."

Running Time: 85 minutes
My Total Minutes: 297,218

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Jason slips into a Vortex and sees STREETS OF FIRE (1984)

Walter Hill directs. Michael Pare as the hero. Diane Lane as the love interest/damsel in distress. Rick Moranis in...a serious(-ish) role? And Willem Dafoe as a psychotic leader of a biker gang. That's a night to remember, even with a few too many martinis erasing my mind.

Running Time: 93 minutes
My Total Minutes: 297,134

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Jason watches SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD at the Roxie

Odd, the last time I saw it I found it exhausting. Cool, but exhausting. Since then, any time I'm flipping the channels and it happens to be on, I can't help but watch it. And  last Friday I saw it on the big screen again at a near-midnight (11 pm) screening at the Roxie, and it was just awesome. The compressed time frame, the video game/comic book style, the hipster jokes, all worked perfectly. It was also my 365th movie of the year, which I usually don't get to until October.

When I saw it nearly two years ago, I felt old. Now I feel a lot younger. I guess not working is totally working for me.

Running Time: 112 minutes
My Total Minutes: 297,041

Jason slips into a Vortex and sees THE TOUCHABLES

Admittedly, I was a couple of martinis down even when the movie started. But I'm pretty sure even sober I wouldn't know what's going on in this oddity. We start with some mods stealing a wax statue of Michael Caine from Madam Tussaud's....then it gets weird. What's it about? It's about...97 minutes.

Running Time: 97 minutes
My Total Minutes: 296,928

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Jason goes to Jewfest North--The End

A good 11 days or so after "Closing Night" the festival finally ended with their first day ever at Oakland's Piedmont Theatre, and the place was packed (so expect them back there for more than just one day next year.) I caught all four shows there.

The first show started with the silhouette-animated short 55 SOCKS. A story about Nazi occupied Holland, famine, and 4 women who unravel a bedspread to knit socks and trade them for food. Very cute, with a funny twist.

That was the lead in to the documentary feature, BESA: THE PROMISE, all about the brave and heroic efforts Albania went through to rescue and protect Jews from the Holocaust. King Zog, who doesn't just have one of the coolest names ever, but was also the last Muslim King of a European country, ordered Visas given to any German Jew who requested one, no questions asked. Further, all Jews residing in Albania would be given citizenship. That's pretty important to note, as there are many stories of brave, moral individuals rescuing Jews while living under collaborationist governments. But Albania, from the top down, really resisted the Nazis. The title comes from the Albanian word "besa" which kind of means "promise" but much, much more. Like an oath, but one you take really, really seriously. They say things like, 'I would rather let my children die than break my besa.' Anyway, this spirit of hospitality and besa inspired the rescue of tens of thousands of Jews. And in 2002, Jewish-American photographer Norman Gershman was looking for a project to counter the post-9/11 anti-Muslim hatred he saw around him, and so he traveled to Albania to document these stories and photograph the Albanian heroes (or, if they were no longer with us, their children.) The interesting and tragic thing is immediately following WWII, Albania full under the iron curtain and so they were cut off from the rest of the world and couldn't keep contact with the Jews they had saved (many of whom moved to Israel, of course.) Only some 50 years later could they re-establish contact, and some did in the course of this movie. Most moving is Rexhep Hoxha, the son of a man who had hidden the Abadjens in his home. Rexhep still had the volume of prayer books the Abadjens had left when they fled to Israel (afraid that being found with them at a checkpoint would doom them.) Rexhep returns them to the son of the Abadjens (who was just 12 when they hid in Albania) who bursts into tears before explaining he never cries. Pretty powerful stuff, and all because of simple humanity.

The next show started with the short CATHERINE THE GREAT. A beautifully animated story...about sex trafficking. I don't really want to get into questions of the morality of making a movie about something so awful. Or the aesthetics of making said movie beautiful. But I will say that there was some loud booing in the audience. What's significant about that is it was actual booing, not the hissing you get everywhere else in the Bay Area and drives me crazy. I prefer booing over hissing, so thank you, Oakland, for keeping it real.

Anyway, that was the lead-in for the light Russian coming-of-age comedy MY DAD IS BARYSHNIKOV. Boris Fishkin loves ballet. He is even enrolled in the Bolshoi Ballet Academy, even though he's kind of scrawny, isn't a great dance, and isn't strong enough to actually lift his partner. But he's obsessed with Mikhail Baryshnikov, even though as a traitor and defector even saying the name Baryshnikov is forbidden. Meanwhile, this is the mid-80's, Perestroika is well on its way, and more and more Western tourists are showing up in Moscow. So, with the help of his older friends--including a paraplegic veteran--he sells black-market souvenirs (especially Soviet military regalia) to tourists. And when he learns that his mother went to the dance academy with Baryshnikov, and one of his friends mentions that he has the same face, he decides that his long-absent father is actually Baryshnikov. Wacky hijinx, of course, ensue.

Next up, another short and feature. This time the short, B-BOY, is a documentary about Eli, a thirteen year old Jewish boy who excels at yeshiva and at breakdancing. In fact, he's part of a cross-cultural competitive breakdancing crew, and they all show up at his Bar Mitzvah to breakdance to the Hava Nagila. Crazy cool.

And then the feature, OFF WHITE LIES. It's set in the 2006 war with Lebanon, when Hezbollah was firing rockets at the north of Israel. Libby is sent to spend some time with her father in Israel (her parents split up, and she grew up mostly with her mom in Los Angeles.) Once she gets there, she learns that her father--a sort of irresponsible inventor (his proudest invention is half-sized cigarettes. You know, for if you just want a really quick smoke.)--is sort Yeah, he's homeless, but a television report about a family from the south hosting northern war refugees gives them an idea. They claim to be refugees and find a family in the south to host them. It's just a little white lie. Or an off-white lie. And it's pretty funny, and shows the unique Jewish/Israeli capacity to find humor in wartime.

And finally, the night and the festival ended with the funny and self-indulgent French comedy IN CASE I NEVER WIN THE GOLDEN PALM. Renaud Cohen last made a feature film over ten years ago (ONCE WE GROW UP, which opened the 2001 SFJFF.) So now he has made a film starring himself (renamed Simon Cohen) as a filmmaker who hasn't been able to make a feature film in over a decade. He goes to a director's support group. He talks to actors (I don't know French actors all that well, but my understanding is a lot of actors in the movie are playing a fictional version of themselves.) On a weird dare, he shaves his head and discovers a weird lump on his head. Fearing cancer, he decides to throw himself into what may very well be his last movie ever--self-financed and self-produced, starring himself as himself, his wife and children as his wife and children, and his parents as his parents. It's the story of a struggling director who discovers he has cancer and decides to make his last movie. It's a playful self-satire and industry satire that sort of spins you around wondering how much is really autobiographical and how much is satire. And it's just a lot of fun.

And that's it. It's finally over. Now I can finally rest a bit.

Total Running Time: 371 minutes
My Total Minutes: 296,831

Jason goes to Bad Movie Night and watches NINE 1/2 WEEKS

Mickey Rourke month started last Sunday, and I want to say it started with a "bang," but I'm too sophisticated for a cheap sex joke.

Ah, who am I kidding, this whole movie is a cheap sex joke. Mickey Rourke seduces Kim Basinger, and they have an affair for 9 1/2 weeks. But for them, an affair means blindfolds, tying up, drizzling food, etc. Until maybe about 8 weeks in they finally smoosh their genitals together (on a staircase, like that's comfortable.) Call me an old fuddy-duddy, but I'm kind of a fan of the classic interlocking crotches. Maybe that goes back to my childhood and my fondness for jigsaw puzzles. But what am I, a Freudian? All I know is this movie sucked.

Next week, ANGEL HEART.

Running Time: 112 minutes
My Total Minutes: 296,461

Jason goes to the Niles Film Museum to see Clara Bow in DANCING MOTHERS

But first, as always, a couple of shorts.

THE AUTOMOBILE RIDE (1921): A Koko the Clown "Out of the Inkwell" story by the Fleischer brothers. Always funny, although I expected something called THE AUTOMOBILE RIDE to involve more of an automobile ride (there was a little, I just expected more.)

DAD'S CHOICE (1928): Did you know Edward Everett Horton (the voice of "Fractured Fairy Tales") goes all the way back to silent film? And he looks young as heck in this, as a young man wooing his girlfriend while trying to avoid her stern father. Little does he know, there's a case of mistaken identity involved, and the old grouch is not, in fact, her father.

Then a brief intermission, and on to the feature.

DANCING MOTHERS (1926): Clara Bow, one year before officially becoming the "It" girl (by starring in, of course,  IT (1927)) is already a flapper, going out and partying every night. Her father, who's a bit of a playboy, is out every night, too. Poor mom is left home alone, wondering how her husband and daughter can be so selfish. That is, until a friend convinces her to get in on the act, and wacky hijinx ensue when mother and daughter fall for the same man. Yikes!

Total Running Time: 93 minutes
My Total Minutes: 296,348

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Jason goes to Jewfest North--Day...whatever

It was last Saturday, up at the Rafael Film Center. And I only caught one movie, that I had missed in San Francisco/Berkeley/Palo Alto. And it was a great one, very glad I didn't miss it.

UNDER AFRICAN SKIES is the story of Paul Simon and the groundbreaking, influential, and controversial recording of the album Graceland. Groundbreaking and influential for its melding of Simon's lyrics and American pop style with African styles by genuine African musicians (heck, his performance on SNL introduced Ladysmith Black Mambazo to the rest of the world.) Controversial, because he recorded it in South Africa, breaking the anti-Apartheid boycott (which included a cultural boycott.) For his part, he figured he was invited by black South African musicians, they worked together and treated each other as equals. Apartheid and racial issues were something obvious outside the studio, but inside they had nothing to do with that (and, of course, he opposed Apartheid.) Plus, he was pretty well opposed to asking any politician--even one he agreed with (like the leaders of the ANC)--for permission to practice his art.

Director Joe Berlinger (who made BLAIR WITCH 2: BOOK OF SHADOWS, but should probably stick to documentaries like this or METALLICA: SOME KIND OF MONSTER) follows Simon on his 25th anniversary tour of Graceland, reuniting him with the original South African musicians. And it mixes in archival footage from the studio and from the ensuing world tour (everywhere except South Africa, the closest they came was Zimbabwe.) Most interestingly, he meets face to face with Dali Tambo, the founder of Artists Against Apartheid, one of the most vocal supporters of the cultural boycotts and critic of Simon. Although he acknowledges the great artistry of the album, he does say it happened at the wrong time and just wasn't done right. But ultimately they have a very friendly conversation and bury the hatchet. In the end, I don't think anyone could argue that Apartheid lasted one day longer because of Paul Simon and Graceland, and there are some people in the movie who argue that by putting a more beautiful, relatable face on black South Africa he did his part to end it.

Oh, and of course most importantly it's full of great music. Which brings me to my only problem with the movie--that the digital projection got all glitchy at the end. I'm not sure what format they were playing (they did talk about "the disk" and it looked great most of the time, so I'm assuming Blu-Ray?) but the last five minutes were problematic. Normally I wouldn't even mention that, but it was right during the musical performances. Just as the whole audience was grooving to "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes" it seized up, and that was really jarring. So as much as I try not to wade into the debate of film vs. digital, here's a case for film. Not that film couldn't jam, or burn, or the soundtrack could screw up. But in my experience that's much rarer than digital glitches. Oh, well.

Anyway, I'll only be at the festival one more day. Monday, at the Piedmont for the last four films. I almost can't believe it's nearly over.

Running Time: 102 minutes
My Total Minutes: 296,256

Jason watches WAY DOWN EAST (1920) at the Stanford Theatre

Two of the greatest of the greats of silent film teamed up in this (and many other films)--Lillian Gish and D. W. Griffith. And they made an excellent, epic broad and effective melodrama with equally broad comedy. Lillian plays Anna Moore, a naive country girl who is tricked by a rich playboy Lennox Sanderson (Lowell Sherman.) He stages a fake wedding, while she just thinks they're getting married in secret. Then he has his way with her and leaves her pregnant, alone, and humiliated. The baby dies, which is bad enough, but due to her past she has to live in secret and never marry another man (okay, this is1920, you have to look at it from 1920 standards.) She gets work at a simple country farm run by a hard, moral Squire Bartlett (Burr McIntosh) and his kindly wife (Kate Bruce.) They also have a very handsome son David (Richard Bartelmass,) which would be nice if she were marriageable. Oh, and Sanderson happens to live right across the street, making everything awkward.

A romance between the Squire's niece Kate (the lovely Mary Hay) and a visiting professor studying butterflies (Creighton Hale) provides comic relief. And the busybody maid who finds out about Anna's past provides the tragedy, culminating in a famous scene with Lillian lying, freezing on an ice floe.

By the way, the ice floe scene actually left Lillian with lifelong nerve damage in her hand. And yet, she claimed this wasn't the most difficult movie to film. That was THE WIND (1928)--coincidentally playing on August 17th at the Stanford.

Dennis James rocked the mighty Wurlitzer organ with the original 1920 score, and it was fantastic. The film was actually a reconstruction of the original 1920 premiere. A few scenes were missing and replaced with text and production stills illustrating what was supposed to be on screen. Interestingly enough, Griffith was famous for going back and re-editing his movies long after their initial release (even after donating them to the Museum of Modern Art.) So this reconstruction was guided by the original score--it had all the information on the order and length of every scene. It's an interesting thing to think about the next time you get upset that George Lucas went off and changed STAR WARS again.

Running Time: 145 minutes (estimated, because I forgot to set my stopwatch. And, in fact, I'm pretty sure this is an underestimate.)
My Total Minutes: 196,154

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Jason celebrates the Vortex Room's 5th anniversary, with MOOCH GOES TO HOLLYWOOD

Well, there was also a continuous loop of Vortex room weirdness on screen, but the actual feature was MOOCH GOES TO HOLLYWOOD.

In case you're counting, that's 6 movies in 4 venues on 1 day. And then I stayed up all night until BART was running again and I caught the first one home. And then I woke up in Dublin/Pleasanton, and transferred to another BART home. This time I made the Bay Fair transfer okay, and I woke up in Union City--going the wrong way. Third times the charm, and I actually made it home. What a night!

Anyway, the Vortex is back after a couple of months of hiatus, and every Thursday of August will showcase more of their weirdness. This was about as crowded as I'd ever seen the Vortex, it was tough to make my way through to the bar for my martinis...and manhattans...and I don't remember what else I drank. I just know I felt bad pretty much all of Friday. Heck, it's 11:45 am on Saturday, and I'm still kinda feeling it.

Oh yeah, as for the movie, MOOCH GOES TO HOLLYWOOD. Higgins the Dog (the first Benji, but playing a bitch in this movie) goes to Hollywood to become a star, with narration by Zsa Zsa Gabor. She meets several celebrities, including Vincent Price, Jill St. John, and Jim Backus, who all take her to the same vet. She gets thrown out of many establishments (I doubt the Humane Society was around to monitor the action.) Oh, and at one time she dances in a g-string at the playboy club. Which doesn't make sense at first, because dogs are normally naked. But when you think about who plays mooch, "she" would have to put on a g-string to cover up "her" doggie wiener. I'm kind of surprised that didn't give me nightmares.

Running Time: 51 minutes
My Total Minutes: 296,008

Jason goes to the Roxie for an H.P. Lovecraft double feature

So after two films at Jewfest, then BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD, I skipped over to the Roxie for this double feature of Lovecraftian weirdness (oh yes, this is all on the same day.)

First up, WHISPERER IN DARKNESS, which I had seen just a few months back in Portland at the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival and Cthulhu-con. Here's what I said then:

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.
Wow, I was kind of light on the details...and I suppose appropriately so. No spoilers. I will just add that the CGI Mi-go were the one part I didn't quite like, just because it broke the illusion of the 1931 movie. It was very interesting to hear producer Andrew Leman talk about how the original plan was to have fully stop-motion Mi-go, but that would've added about 9 months to the project and they just ran out of time. Fair enough, I still loved it.

And the second show was Stuart Gordon's FROM BEYOND. You know, you can complain all you want about Gordon's not-at-all-serious, irreverent takes on Lovecraft (yes, RE-ANIMATOR is way too jokey compared to the story) but he makes movies that are uniquely his and deliver bizarre thrills (dammit, RE-ANIMATOR is a fine movie and lots of fun, if you just get over yourself and don't expect it to be live the book.) Here he takes FROM BEYOND and makes the unlocked sixth sense as perverted as possible. He makes it a story of a totally Dr. Edward Pretorius pervy, S&M obsessed scientist who wants to unlock the sixth sense of the pineal gland basically because the normal five senses aren't enough to get him off anymore. And it's the story of his lab assistant, Crawford Tillingast (Jeffrey Combs) who is charged with Dr. Pretorius' murder after a creature from beyond bites his freakin' head off. And it's the story of Dr. Katherine McMichaels (Barbara Compton) the hotshot "girl wonder" psychiatrist who examines Crawford and determines they should recreate the experiment to see if he's telling the truth or if he's crazy. Oh yeah, and throw Ken Foree in there as the big brute of a cop who's there for their protection. And let the sleazy wackiness commence! Lots of fun, just don't get hung up on it being a faithful Lovecraft adaptation--it belongs much more to the world of Stuart Gordon.

Total Running Time: 170 minutes
My Total Minutes: 295,958


Once, there was a Hushpuppy, and she lived with her daddy in the Bathtub.

Watch the movie, and that line makes sense.

The movie works best as a window into a seldom seen community. The Bathtub is a small bayou community that has more holidays than the whole rest of the world put together. They live kinda in squalor, with bad health and lots of drinking, but party all the time. They're truly a "live for the moment" community. But sometimes they just don't fit into the larger world. Storms threaten to submerge the bathtub at any moment. Global warming is causing the southern ice cap to melt and vicious metaphors called "aurochs" to go on the attack. Plus Hushpuppy's daddy has got a heart disease and isn't long for this world, so he's got to teach her everything she needs to survive once he's gone.

Hushpuppy is very much the soul of the movie, and little Quvenzhané Wallis does a fantastic job. And the whole Bathtub community is so vividly and lovingly portrayed that you can't help but like them. Even when rescue workers are trying to give them medical treatment and they'd rather go back to the Bathtub and live out their final days, I sympathized more with them than the people trying to save their lives.

Not that everything is perfect in this movie. The aurochs were kind of silly and a distraction (I understand they were there as a metaphor of outside forces--i.e., environmental change--threatening the existence of the bathtub. They were just kind of silly.) And the detour to the floating catfish shack full of prostitutes was just...weird (I know, it's about Hushpuppy's search for he mother. It was just...weird.) But as a window into a seldom seen community, it works beautifully.

Running Time: 93 minutes
My Total Minutes: 295,788

Jason goes to Jewfest North--Day 13

They actually had "closing night" last July 26th, but it turns out there was enough movies for (more than) eight extra days. It's a miracle! Let us celebrate!

Sorry, a little Jewish inside joke there. Anyway, I caught two more shows last Thursday

First up was a double feature of short-ish (about 45-50 minutes) documentaries, starting with Y-LOVE. Y-Love is the stage name of the premier Orthodox Jewish entity in hip hop. Or, if you prefer, the premier hip hop entity in Orthodox Judaism. A kid from Baltimore who at age six knew he wanted to become Jewish. He converted, excelled at Yeshiva, and married a Yiddish speaking girl. It was, however, an arranged marriage, and it didn't last because she didn't think he was religious enough...that, and he's gay. That's already enough drama, without losing a mother to cocaine abuse. But the whole time, he's all about the music...and answering the eternal question, "Why?" with his eternal answer, "Love."

The second half of the documentary double feature was THE MOON IS JEWISH, the story of Pawel, a soccer hooligan in Poland. And not just your random run-of-the-mill hooligan, soccer was his religion and getting into fights--in particular, beating up minorities (including, of course, Jews)--was a matter of faith. And then he discovers his family was Jewish, and he starts on a journey to return to his roots, becoming an Orthodox Jew. A pretty startling discovery, but a surprisingly poetic movie.

The next show was also a pair of documentaries, also about Jews and their connections to their past. But this program had a lighter, funnier tone. First up was the short WOODY BEFORE ALLEN, the story of two former Konigsbergs. The first is the city that was home to philosopher Immanual Kant and was annexed by the Soviet Union after WWII and became Kaliningrad. The second is Allan Stewart Konigsberg, who grew up, changed his name to Woody Allen, and became one of the most prolific and celebrated filmmakers ever. Now the city of Kaliningrad is commissioning a statue of Woody Allen to be placed in the lobby of their oldest cinema, and director Masha Vasyukova travels to New York to get Woody's opinion about which proposed design is best. Very funny.

And that led in to the feature, HOW TO RE-ESTABLISH A VODKA EMPIRE. British director Daniel Edelstyn discovers an old journal from his grandmother Marouissia Zorokovich. And it sends him on a multi-year journey that even he admits was a little crazy and all his friends tried to dissuade him from. He heads off to the Ukraine to find the sugar factory that his ancestors ran before they were chased off by the 1917 revolution. He actually finds it in a small, economically depressed village. By dropping the name Zorokovich he finds plenty of people willing to show him around town and have a drink with him. He also finds out that his great-grandparents ran two businesses that were really the economic heart of the town--the now closed sugar factory, and the still operating vodka distillery. And they welcome him so much like royalty that he feels a bit of a desire/duty to do something with the vodka, so he sets out on a quest to penetrate the UK market. His quixotic journey is mixed with vivid and clever recreations of his grandmother's life story. And the end result...well, you can find out more about it here (I haven't found where to buy it in America, yet.) 

Total Running Time: 185 minutes
My Total Minutes: 295,695

Friday, August 3, 2012

Jason goes to Jewfest North--Day 12, part 2

So after sneaking off to catch DARK HORSE and BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL, I was back at the SF Jewish Film Festival for the late show.

We started with the short SAVIN, which had most people in the audience shaking their head but might be my favorite short of the festival (well...maybe not. SEVEN MINUTES IN THE WARSAW GHETTO was pretty amazing.) It's simply a shot of Savin, a fan of the soccer team Hapoel Tel Aviv, as she watches the game. No shots of the actual action, just her and the rest of the cheering section reacting. I love that I could follow the game just by following her reactions. Hapoel went up a goal, then gave up two. Then they thought they scored the equalizer but it was called back for offsides. I could even tell when there was a great cross but the shot went just wide.

And that had absolutely no relation to the feature film, the comedy MAN WITHOUT A CELL PHONE. It's a comedy about Arab Israelis and the generation gap. An Israeli telecom company puts up a cell phone tower in the middle of an Arab village. The young people are happy--cell reception has never been better. But sour-faced farmer Salem doesn't like it. He believes it's destroying his olives and giving everyone cancer. So he organizes a protest. Of course, his son Jawdat needs his cell phone for business--or at least the business of juggling multiple girlfriends at once. Then there's his latest girlfriend's brother--a police officer who is kind of overly protective. Oh, and then there's his backup girlfriend in Ramallah--calls there have drawn the interest of the national security forces. Funny and political.

Total Running Time: 94 minutes
My Total Minutes: 295,510


Elderly Brits move to a crumbling retirement hotel in Jaipur, India, and wackiness ensues. It's not particularly groundbreaking, but darn if it isn't fun watching a troupe if master thespians practicing their craft in this fish-out-of-water comedy. And it's nice to see an ensemble comedy about the dignity of aging and the possibility of always starting anew. Also, Dev Patel (SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE) is nice as the overenthusiastic but under-skilled dreamer who created the hotel and will totally stand up to his mother and marry his girlfriend as soon as the hotel is profitable. Even the storylines that don't quite work for me (Maggie Smith's conversion from an overt racist, Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton as an unhappily married couple) are still somewhat enjoyable. And it throws out the occasional witty one-liner that actually made me laugh out loud ("I've still got it...just nobody wants it." or the suggestion to celebrate a wedding anniversary with a moment of silence.) Of course, everything will be okay in the if it's not okay, that means it's not the end.

Running time: 124 minutes
My Total Minutes: 295,416

Jason watches DARK HORSE

Back in 1995, Todd Solondz made a brilliantly cynical movie that really spoke to me, seeing as how it was all about how much junior high sucks when your name is Wiener. Since then, his movies have earned a reputation of being cynical, depressing, and hilarious (okay, maybe I'm the only one who finds them funny. Although I do remember a pair of lesbians sitting behind me during HAPPINESS and laughing even more than me.) So it seems something of a departure for him to make a somewhat sweet love story. That is, if you find thirty-something losers with severe emotional problems sweet. Oh yeah, and (SPOILER ALERT) death. Yes, for Todd Solondz this is sweet and romantic. 'Nuff said.

Running Time: 86 minutes
My Total Minutes: 295,292

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Jason goes to Jewfest North--Day 12, part 1

Day 12 was broken into a couple of parts, since I had a big break in the afternoon where I had already seen two movies, so here's the first half of the day.

We start with the short, PANTA RHEI. A 17 year old Israeli boy prepares for his military exam. Shot in a verite style, it's an interesting look at how a kid who really only cares about his girlfriend and getting high isn't at all ready for military service. But he's going, whether he's ready or not.

Then the feature, 400 MILES TO FREEDOM, is an account of director Avishai Mekonen's family's journey from Ethiopia to Israel, and an examination of Jews of color around the world. First the personal story--they walked 400 miles (hence the title) and Avishai miraculously survived a kidnapping in the Sudan in order to board an Operation Moses plane and arrive in Jerusalem. There...they were welcomed but still didn't quite fit in (the funniest moment is when Avishai's mom reminisces how she thought, 'Everyone here is white. If we stay long enough will I turn white, too?') There are issues of questioning Ethiopian Jews real "Jewishness." Even though they kept the traditions in isolation for 2,500 years, there are still those who pressure them to "convert." And when they push back on the word "convert" they try to come up with a different "lighter conversion" scheme (like an "affirmation.") Might I suggest the term, "Rejewing your vows?"

Anyway, Avishai uses his and his family's personal story as a jumping off point to interview rabbis from other non-white Jewish communities. Jews are actually common all over Africa. They are more common than you think in South America (many of them not actually knowing they're descended from Jews, but they were hidden during the Inquisition, pretended to be Catholic, and immigrated to the New World.) There are even Jews in Asia, and he interviews a Korean-American rabbi.

Now, here's a little secret--one that isn't in the movie--everyone is Jewish. Mathematical models in human genealogy confirm that we're way more interconnected than we think, and it doesn't take too much in the way of mobility between populations (just a few randy explorers here and there.) So any sufficiently prolific and sufficiently ancient ancestor (like Abraham and Sarah) would in just a few thousand years see their descendants encompass the entire population of the earth (as it turns out, we're all descended from Confucius, too.) In fact, the only possible way to not be Jewish is to be completely inbred--only siblings mating with siblings, every generation, with no exceptions, for about 4,000 years. So given that, whenever I meet anyone who insists there's no way he could have any Jewish blood in him...I believe him.

Okay, on to the next show. Again, we start with a short, THE PENCIL. A scene from a pre-1939 courtyard in Bialystok where Jews and Poles lived side-by-side in harmony. A Jewish boy is supposed to be studying, but he keeps catching glances of a Gentile girl. His mom scolds him, when he gets home his dad scolds him. And eventually they take his pencil away.

Then the feature was KADDISH FOR A FRIEND. A Lebanese family moves to Berlin. There, they discover an old Jewish war veteran--Alexander--is living above them. 14-year-old Ari and his Arab friends decide to break in and wreck the place. The rest get away, but Ari is caught (or at least Alexander catches his shoe.) This is bad, as a police record could end up getting his family deported. It's also bad because a wrecked apartment could put Alexander in a nursing home. Anyway, Ari's mother forces him to help Alexander clean up, a deal that at first neither is happy with. But this is a story of unlikely friendship, and although it takes quite some time, Ari and Alex do become friends, despite the surprise and disapproval of both communities. The enemies-become-unlikely-friends story has been told often enough to become kind of cliche, but this is done with great acting and realistically enough that it's still very enjoyable.

Total Running Time: 182 minutes
My Total Minutes: 295,206

Jason goes to Jewfest--Day 11

Just one movie yesterday (a matinee in Palo Alto,) but it was a great one, HARBOUR OF HOPE. It's the story of Malmö, Sweden, a port where about 30,000 Jews--survivors of the concentration camps--restarted their lives. It's also the story of the Swedish Red Cross, and the brave drivers and nurses in white vans who drove to the concentration camps and rescued the survivors. But mostly, it's the story of Irene, Ewa, and Joe, three survivors whom director Magnus Gertten found and showcased for the film. It's very moving how he shows old archival footage and has the survivors reacting to the footage, recognizing themselves (or their mother--especially in the case of Ewa, who was born in Ravensbrück concentration camp.) Joe Rozenberg (who was there for the screening) is one of the most remarkable, as this film actually reunites him with his good friend in Malmö, who he had lost touch with after he moved away and his friend changed his name.

It's a documentary that showcases the generous spirit of the officially neutral Swedes, and it's a movie that doesn't shy away from the horrors of the Holocaust but prefers to focus on the new beginnings.

Running Time: 76 minutes
My Total Minutes: 295,024