Saturday, September 29, 2012

Jason watches ASTEROIDS: LIVE at the Dark Room

Yes, a live micro-stage adaptation of the classic video game. How the heck do they do that? Well, first, with no actual asteroids seen. And with a framing device involving an ape telling a story of something that happened to humans long, long ago. It's a story of the Administration Spinner Ship Alpha, sent on a mission to clear asteroid fields for a hyperspace transit lane (I forget the meaningless technical jargon, I just laughed at it.) But when they're nearing the field, they get sent on a mysterious side mission to investigate a derelict spinner ship. And comic hijinx ensue.

Jokes about the 61 states of America (including most of Europe and Russia.) A Tron parody. The crew's confusion over being blown to bits and somehow being alive again. And puppet aliens. Lots of fun.

And there's only one more chance to see it, tonight. More info here.

The Dark Room, of course, is also the spot for Bad Movie Night every Sunday, and they do lots of stage plays. Next month, THE FIFTH ELEMENT: LIVE.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Jason goes to Berlin and Beyond--Opening Night

I'm finally getting into the swing of the Bay Area fall film festival schedule. Berlin and Beyond, a week-long all German language film festival (typically films from Germany, Austria, and German-speaking regions of Switzerland, but this year they're branching out to Russia, Kazakhstan, etc.) After the compulsory thank yous to the sponsors, staff, and audience (yeah, me!) we finally got to the movie.

And it just so happens the opening night film is Germany's entry into the 2013 Academy Awards--BARBARA. It's directed by famous German director Christian Petzold. I haven't seen much of his work, but I did see JERICHOW when it played at Berlin and Beyond a few years back. BARBARA is a story set in the former East Germany, in the 1980's. The title character of Barbara is a doctor sent to work in a small country town. And it's pretty clear very quickly that this station is partly about punishment and partly about putting her somewhere where it's easy to keep an eye on her. She did do some time in jail, and it's pretty easy to guess that it had something to do with an attempt to escape to the west. It's also made explicitly clear that she's still trying to escape. The Stasi are keeping an eye on her and subject her to humiliating house searches and more humiliating body searches. Her boss, Andre, seems nice enough and appears to be trying to start a friendship (if not more) with her. Of course, she doesn't trust him, and probably rightly so. She believes (and the audience is made to believe, even if it's never explicitly shown) that he is filling out daily reports on her activities to the authorities. But while it has the plot of a political escape thriller, it more often has the tone of a slice-of-life drama. While plans for escape are always in motion, the film focuses just as much on the day-to-day aspects of living (bathing, dealing with faulty wiring, getting the piano tuned, making friends--such as it is) and doctoring. In fact, I would judge that the doctoring scenes--where it's clear how much she cares about her patients--carry as much weight or more than the scenes of intrigue and plotting escapes. Director Petzold could not make it to the screening, but in his stead we had an introduction by Professor Jaimey Fisher who is about to publish (through U of Illinios Press) a book on Petzold called The Cinema of Christian Petzold: A Ghostly Archeology. He pointed out how much of the depiction of East Germany was a colorful response to the muted color palette in such movies as THE LIVES OF OTHERS (BTW, a fantastic film if you haven't seen it.) And it's true, while East Germany isn't exactly depicted as a wonderful place, it is a place with color and life, and people getting by.

Running Time: 105 minutes
My Total Minutes: 298,497

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Jason watches DREDD 3-D

I...must...avoid...calling it, "Dredd-ful."

So while I was in the theater, and still had my 3-D glasses from FINDING NEMO, I went ahead and snuck into this. I want my money back.

Seriously, this is lacking in the subtlety, wit, and social relevance of the Sylvester Stallone version. And that's a sentence I thought would never be constructed unless I somehow got my shot-for-shot remake of the entire Rambo series starring a poop-flinging gorilla off the ground.  ("The threw first turd!")

Judge Dredd (Karl Urban, not that it matters since he never takes his helmet off) takes a rookie (Olivia Thirlby) on her first mission. The rookie actually scored a few points below a passing grade on her exams, but she was passed by special order because...she's a psychic. That's also a reason for her to not wear her helmet, because it interferes with her psychic powers. Anyway, they respond to a call about three guys who were skinned and thrown from the top of a 200-story apartment complex. There they find the whole complex is controlled by a ruthless ex-prostitute turned drug lord, Ma Ma. Then a lot of violence happens.

Oh yeah, and the drug is called "slo-mo." Which is really an excuse to use ridiculously slow motion 3-D shots to show the effect of the drug. It's all an unpleasant exercise in overly stylized, beautiful, violent gore. Now, I'm a fan of beautiful gore, but call me an old fuddy-duddy because I like my violent gore to have brains that aren't just smeared across the ground (and wall, and stairs, and everywhere.)

This movie takes place in a dystopian world where America is an irradiated wasteland except for Mega-cities behind (presumably radiation shielded) walls. Mega-City 1 stretches from Boston to New York. It's full of crime, poverty, desperation, and the judges of the League of Justice keep order. But if you really wanted to depict a dystopia, create a world where the only movie you can watch is DREDD 3-D.

Running Time: 95 minutes
My Total Minutes: 298,392

Jason watches FINDING NEMO 3-D

So I've been mostly away from the movies for a while. I'll fix that tonight when I go to the opening night of Berlin and Beyond. I've just been a little busy going to Burning Man at the last minute, moving to a new place in San Jose (moving in with a couple of friends to save money on rent,) then traveling halfway across the country and helping friends move from Houston, TX to Bakersfield, CA. But now I'm back in the swing of things, and while I've barely started unpacking stuff into my new room, that doesn't stop me from seeing some movies.

So before the main feature, there was a new Pixar short, PARTYSAURUS REX. The timid, vervous T-Rex (voice of Wallace Shawn) is generally a party-pooper who keeps the other toys from having fun. But when he's chosen as the toy for bathtime, he suddenly has a new lease on being the life of the part--Partysaurus Rex. Cute and fun.

Then the feature, the recent classic FINDING NEMO. Damn, I forgot how good of a movie it is. My eyes still get a little watery in the beginning when Coral and all but one of the eggs (NEMO, of course) are devoured. And the emotional journey of Marlin (Albert Brooks) as a timid fish afraid of everything battling the whole darn ocean to find his son--damn that's powerful.

But hey, we knew that nine years ago. The real difference this time is the 3-D.'s...good. Really, well done. Unnecessary, sure (the film was already made to be excellent in 2-D), but given that they did the 3-D, I'm glad they did it well. And, of course, it's just great to see it on the big screen again. So if you like 3-D, go see it in 3-D. If you just like a great animated movie, go ahead and see it in 2-D, you won't really lose anything.

Total Running Time: 107 minutes
My Total Minutes: 298,297

Monday, September 17, 2012

Jason goes to Bad Movie Night--THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE TWO TOWERS Part 2

Yeah, we all know the movie. No need to rehash it. Instead, I'd just like to take this opportunity to apologize to everyone I offended last Sunday night. I will be good from now on.

Running Time (approximate): 117 minutes (the important thing here is part 1 and part 2 add up to 235 minutes)
My Total Minutes: 298,190

Jason goes to the Bad Art Gallery for Bad Movie Playhouse--POINT BREAK

Hey, there's another Bad Movie Night in town, and I was there for its inaugural night last Friday. They started with a Patrick Swayze program, but at my urging they avoided starting with RED DAWN. That would be copying the Dark Room's Bad Movie Night too much.

Anyway, so they started with POINT BREAK. You know, Swayze being all guru, Keanu being all blank. Gary Busey getting a raging clue by checking out the tan lines on men's asses. Good times. And all directed by future Oscar winner Kathryn Bigelow (and produced by her then husband James Cameron, just before they divorced.)

But you know the movie (or should. Or shouldn't...depending on if you like quality.) so I'd rather compare the Bad Movie experiences at B.A.G. and the Dark Room.

At the Dark Room, they turn down the volume on the movie and put on the subtitles, so you can still follow along while hearing mostly the rude comments from the audience. Point, Dark Room.

At B.A.G., you can drink booze. They even sell booze right there. Point, B.A.G.

At the Dark Room, they have designated hosts, with microphones. Point, Dark Room.

At the Dark Room, they have a pre-show of clips based on the them of the night's movie. Point, Dark Room.

At the Dark Room, they actually introduce the movie and even have a theme song. Point, Dark Room.

At the Dark Room, the projector is lined up correctly at the screen, so you're watching a rectangular movie instead of a trapezoidal one. Point, Dark Room.

At B.A.G., you can browse bad art and laugh at the funny "artologists" notes before the movie. Point, B.A.G.

At B.A.G, there's a designated front row seat that's just behind a corner of the wall, so I can sit in the front row and not block anyone's view. Point, B.A.G.

So counting up the final score, the winner Because I was drunk and rowdy and making fun of a bad movie. Hooray, me!

Running Time: 120 Minutes
My Total Minutes: 298,073

Monday, September 10, 2012

Jason hosts Bad Movie Night: THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE TWO TOWERS (Part 1)

So this month at Bad Movie Night is BORED OF THE RINGS month. All of Peter Jackson's LOTR movies, all in the extended edition. For the rest of the month we're breaking THE TWO TOWERS and RETURN OF THE KING into two parts (like on the two disk DVD set.) I missed last week, when they did the full extended version of THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING. Of course, I saw it when it came out and more than once on DVD, so here's what I remember: People walk around, talk about danger, walk some more, talk some more, can't walk there so walk somewhere else...all while wearing silly costumes.

THE TWO TOWERS is a lot more of the same. But now there are two or three groups of characters walking around in different places, plus a dwarf running while talking to himself (as if talking will help him keep his breath.) Snore. And I was pretty drunk while hosting, so I know I said a lot of inappropriate things. But I still maintain that everything sounds sexier in Gollum's voice.

Okay, maybe I was drunker than I thought.

Running Time (approx): 118 minutes
My Total Minutes: 297,953

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Jason goes to Burning Man...and returns safely

Yup, despite my earlier post, I did get a ticket and found myself back on the Playa by Monday night.

The thing is, I still believe everything from my previous post, except for the obvious factual inconsistency of me going. I packed up an SUV with my friend and we headed out, joking I'd decide whether or not I was really going when we got to the gate. Thing is, I'm not so sure we were joking.

Gate was easy. I had a physical ticket I got from someone on Craigslist, my friend had to stop at will call. But near sundown on Monday night, there wasn't much of a wait at all. That is, until we got to the greeters.

Pardon my jaded old-timer rant, but screw you, greeters. I know where I'm going, I don't want or need a hug, and fuck you if you think I should make a playa angel. I don't even want to get out of the car. The only thing more frustrating than all that bullshit is watching the greeters go through that with a car-full of virgins for a half an hour as the last rays of daylight dip behind the mountains. Screw you even harder and in extra holes for that.

Fortunately, I had augmented my costume from previous years. Traditionally, I wear an orange prison jumpsuit with "Psycho" written across the back matched with a belt made out of a wire coat hanger with little plastic fetus dolls strung on it. This year, I added a hockey mask, and apparently that was enough to put it over the top (more people wanted my picture this year than any other.) When we finally got to the greeter, she took one look at me and said, "You look scary." I stared out of my mask for a few seconds, then said, "Just give us our shit and let us go." She did with no further word. Success! (of a sort.)

Within minutes, we were at our camp at 5:00 and E (technically "Edelweiss" but nobody cared about what the letters stood for this year--even less than other years.) I jumped out of the moving vehicle and let out my traditional Burning Man greeting--"Hello, Black Rock City! Who wants to have my abortion?"

I discovered I have friends who will cry with joy if I show up unannounced after telling them I won't show up. We all started drinking scotch. Then I went to the porta-potties and drank some hand sanitizer. Because that's just the year I was determined to have. I even took up smoking--or rather, bumming cigarettes from friends.

I broke a guy's hand, and he gave me the finger. For the rest of the week, Unnecessarily High Five camp sported a high four on their lowest hand. I hear there's some discussion of leaving it that way next year. So find them and see if I made a permanent impact on their camp.

I even got a playa wife! Actually, just a playa fiance, because she slept through the wedding. But the important thing we engaged in some sexy rumpus. Contrary to common belief, this is not unheard of for me. But this time I cared about her pleasure above my own, and that is unheard of. And we got applause from my friends in the neighboring camp, so that was cool. Now I don't know anything about true love, but when she was away I drank heavily, and...actually this does not indicate anything.

I walked out to the edge of the universe (trash fence) twice. Once under the heat of the mid-day sun, once in the middle of the night during a near white-out. This is kind of tradition for me. During the walk back to camp in a midnight white-out, I simply had to trust that the prevailing winds come from ~6:00, and march directly into the blinding wind. I ended up reaching the city at 2:00 and A, which is honestly closer than I expected. In such situations, hitting the Esplanade is a sort of miracle trick-shot, and I came within a short block of it.

A good friend had to be ambulanced to Reno. He came out just after being diagnosed with Crohn's disease, and was planning to start treatment (yanking out a bit of necrotic intestine and stitching the good parts back together) when he got back. Seems he had to start the treatment a little early. He's recovering now and hope is good. Just an extra bit of playa drama.

And finally, the burn. I was high as hell. For some context, a friend of mine has a medical marijuana card for his insomnia. He used it to get some pot chocolate, which comes in regular strength and high strength, which is 18 times stronger. Of course he got the latter. Each square of chocolate is supposed to be one dose, and I took one and a half. So I had approximately 27 regular "doses" of marijuana in me. For some extra context, another friend of mine took one square and said he felt nothing. Maybe I'm a lightweight, or maybe he's a hopeless addict, but I think someone just spiked the hand sanitizer.

I walked out with my campmates and some kids we met and hung out with all week. The idea was to find a nice place to watch the man burn in the distance, but before we knew it we were past the art cars and up near the front of the audience. We even had to sit down (damn my old bones, getting back up was an ordeal!) I don't think I've actually felt the heat of the Man burning in about five years. Not sure if I liked it. Not sure if the high helped or not. I do know it felt like someone was totally tweaking my contrast and brightness knobs to their max. On the walk back, my blotto-pilot totally failed. I mistook the art car circle for the Esplanade (rookie fucking mistake) and had to rely on my traditionally far more wasted/less reliable friend to be blotto-pilot. And he was perfect. Then I sat in camp for hours afraid to go to bed (which was really the passenger seat of our car, since we had mostly broken camp) because I knew I was going to throw up. And sure enough, I did. Three times. Lost all the steak I had eaten at our big steak feast at steak o'clock earlier that evening. But I survived, and once we were on the road and back in cell phone range, I even tweeted a snarky comment about myself.

Maybe the weirdest thing--exodus was extremely easy and quick. No stopping at all, around 11 am on Sunday. Very weird. But we made up for that by getting stuck in an awful traffic jam over Donner Pass the next day.

A common refrain of the week was, "the playa will provide (whatever you need.)" Perhaps it provided me with what I most needed--a lesson in humility. I'm tempted to call it my best burn ever and declare myself Burn Again. But then I remember all my friends who couldn't make it because of the ticket fiasco (despite the fact that the BLM cap was raised, peak attendance was actually down from what I heard.) By a rough count, of the veteran burners I personally know and consistently hang out with only about 2/3 of the ones who wanted to go actually went, entirely due to the ticket situation (usually some combination of they couldn't get tickets so they made other plans or by the time tickets were available they couldn't get time off work.) So I'm still bitter about that. I guess at this point, this year could serve as a re-invigoration of my burning spirit, or a final fanfare. And I think that will entirely depend on what the powers that be do to learn from this year's ticket fiasco.

Oh, and one final note. There's not a lot of outside news that gets into Burning Man, and what there is ends up getting mixed into weird rumors. I remember four years ago John McCain nominated Sarah Palin during Burning Man week, and it was hard to convince people (like me) that this wasn't just a crazy playa rumor. In 2005, Katrina struck during Burning Man and we first heard rumors of over 100,000 dead. So when we got back and heard the real death toll was only a couple of thousand, it was good news to us. If someone had arrived on the playa on the final weekend and told me that Clint Eastwood did a long, rambling bit with an empty chair representing Obama on stage at the RNC, I would've praised them on coming up with the best playa rumor ever, but there's no fucking way I would've believed him.