Monday, October 29, 2012

Jason goes to the Niles Film Museum for a Creature Features show

This is one of only four complete Bob Wilkins Creature Features shows that has survived. As explained by local historical documentarian Tom Wyrsch, Bob Wilkins would go in Thursday night and tape his segments. Then when they played Saturday night, they would switch from tape for his segments to 16 mm film for the movie. Then during the next week the tapes were always recorded over. Bob Wilkins saved four of the tapes, and gave them to Wyrsch. This is the second one he has put back together with the movie (the first one, THE CREATURE WALKS AMONG US) played at Niles a couple of years ago. And he's got two more to go.

But first, we got to see Ernie Fosselius' PLAN 9.1 FROM OUTER SPACE. A short PLAN 9 remake/spoof (although how do you spoof something that is practically a mockery of itself?) with puppets. Excellent. And if you want the movie (with the bonus feature of Ed Wood's original PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE) it's available on his website (where you can also get his HARDWARE WARS, PORKLIPS NOW, and Disasterous Shorts DVD's.)

And finally, the feature, TARGET EARTH. Oooh, this was pretty bad. A woman wakes up after trying to overdose on sleeping pills. She finds she's the only person left in (the unnamed) town. Or almost. She meets a few others, and they whole up in an apartment trying to figure out what happened. Meanwhile, the Army is trying to figure out the same thing. Turns out what happened was an invasion...of robots...from Venus! (probably?) Or, to be more precise, an invasion of the crappiest looking robot in the history of cinema. I mean, it was really, really bad.

But that's not the point. The point is to enjoy the vintage commercials and Bob Wilkins' dry humor (my favorite bit, after the first commercial break when all that has happened is the woman walked around the empty town, Bob promises the film is about to pick up "just a little bit.") And then there's the interviews. He interviewed a guy who built an actual robot (of course, this was the 70's so not particularly sophisticated, but much better than the robots in the movie.) And later he interviewed Bruce Hyde. Who's Bruce Hyde? Well, obviously he's the guy who played Kevin Riley on two episodes of the first season of Star Trek. He actually talks rather candidly about leaving show business (or at least L.A.) because he didn't like what it was doing to him.

Oh, and one final note, John Stanley (who took over Creature Features after Bob left) was supposed to be there for the show, but he was recovering from a mild heart attack. The word is that he's okay, but all of us at Niles and all your fans around the Bay Area wish you a speedy recovery, John.

Total Running Time (estimated): 120 minutes
My Total Minutes: 301,708

Jason goes to the Roxie for Not Necessarily Noir III--SOMETHING WILD and KISS KISS BANG BANG

I haven't made it to as much of Not Necessarily Noir III as I intended, but I did make it to this double feature on Saturday. And, of course, it was great.

SOMETHING WILD I had seen before, but not in about 10 years. A funny, sexy, and ultimately pretty violent romp. "Closet rebel" Jeff Daniels is seduced by Melanie Griffith and taken on a road trip that turns from crazy to strangely quaintly romantic. And it was already a pretty wild ride when Ray Liotta shows up at his crazy psychotic best (with those psychotic eyes!) And, despite some snide comments when the film broke for just a minute, I think the drawn out ending is perfect.

But what interested me the most was Melanie Griffith's character. Before I had seen it and sympathized with Jeff Daniels--how would I react if I was drawn into this crazy world by some hot seductress. But this time I noticed her character arc more. When we first see her, she's reading a biography of Frida Kahlo. She's also dressed in a Louise Brooks wig and calls herself Lulu. Later she's reading book on Winnie Mandela. I'm sure there are other references I missed, but she's absolutely obsessed with strong women. She desperately wants to be one, and despite some mistakes in her past she effectively is one (or pretends to be one. The facade falls at times.) That's why [SPOILER ALERT] when Jeff Daniels rescues her from Ray Liotta she's so angry. She tries to make it about how he lied to her about being married (not that way--she thought he was married but his wife had recently left him.) But really she's upset because being rescued by a man violates he 'I'm a strong, independent woman' fantasy. [END SPOILER.]


Then the second movie was KISS KISS BANG BANG, which I had never seen. It's sort of the perfect pairing with SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS out now. They're both highly meta Hollywood satires in the guise of an action flick. Robert Downey Jr. plays a New York thief Harry Lockhart, who accidentally runs into an audition and nails it. So he's brought out to Hollywood where he's told to take lessons in playing a private eye from "Gay" Perry (Val Kilmer.) But their mundane stakeout turns into something big, Harry runs into his old childhood crush Harmony and tells her he's a private eye. Two cases turn out connected, wacky violence occurs, Harry loses a finger, etc. It's actually pretty funny, if you're a fan of meta-humor. I know a lot of people tire easily of that stuff, and I can  understand that. But I still like it.

Total Running Time: 216 minutes
My Total Minutes: 301,588

Jason goes to the Hypnodrome to see Shocktoberfest 13: The Bride of Death

The Thrillpeddlers never fail to deliver, and their annual Shocktoberfest show is what started it all. I've proudly been a fan since they were doing their show in the old Odeon bar, and have been delighted to see how they've grown since getting their own space--the fabulous Hypnodrome.

Their Shocktoberfest show is their homage to/recreation of Grand Guignol theater (for more information, check out grandguignol.com, which is also maintained by the Thrillpeddlers.) In recent years they've also delved into the Theater of the Absurd and musicals, recreating some of the old Cockettes musicals. Music found its way into Shocktoberfest last year with their Fear Over Frisco show (in collaboration with Czar of Noir Eddie Muller.) And there are some very clever musical interludes this year, too. But I'm getting a little ahead of myself.

First up, Coals of Fire, which is the simplest and most serious of the plays in the show. An old, blind wife spends an evening talking to her young female companion. Secrets are revealed, and of course there's a violent end. But it's really all built on just the two women talking, if that didn't work I'd have been bored way before the big payoff.

Next up, the first musical piece, I'm a Mummy. A comical duet of Mr. and Mrs. Mummy singing about...well, being a mummy, and all that goes with it.

And then, The Bride of Death. A newspaperman and his photographer travel to an old mansion wherein lives Evelyn Maxwell. She's the former star of several bloody horror plays (including Coals of Fire, and many titles from previous Shocktoberfest shows) but has been out of the public eye for decades. Now she's making the jump to the silver screen with an adaptation of her most famous role--The Bride of Death. But something is pretty odd in the house. A creepy doctor, a mute servant, a star who hasn't aged a day in 30 years, and strange singing from the hidden corridors in the house. Very well done!


And then an intermission. Time to fill up on a little more beer.


Coming back from intermission we had another musical piece, Those Beautiful Ghouls, all about sexy demonic ladies. Lady Dracula, Lady Werewolf, etc. Nice.

And finally, the climactic play of The Twisted Pair. Two scientists--Earnest McKenzie and his assistant Anthony Lark--are working in the basement of their boarding house. Their trying to discover the secrets of life--it's in the blood after all. So far they've failed (and just learned Watson and Crick made a big breakthrough on DNA.) All they've really accomplished is making a powerful adhesive. That was Lark's invention, but it turns out that contact with the skin can cause powerful hallucinations. Too bad McKenzie has glued his scalpel to his hand so he can work non-stop. A wonderfully psychotic and hilarious descent into madness and murder. All for the sake of fame, because first comes fame, and then comes funding. Yup, that seems to be how science works. And, of course, it all ends with their famous lights-out horror effects.


There are only a handful of shows left. The special Halloween and night-before-Halloween shows are sold out, but they still play Thursday through Saturday for three more weekends. Advanced tickets are here and I'd suggest you buy early because they tend to sell out.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Jason slips into a Vortex and meets BAD RONALD

Ah, back at the Vortex room. A couple of martinis down, and I settled into this bizarre little flick. Ronald isn't really as bad as the title BAD RONALD would suggest. He's just kind of shy and weird. Oh, and he did one bad thing--he accidentally killed a girl who was mocking him (he just pushed her and her head fell against a brick and she died.) But then he made it worse by burying her. So his mom knows no one will believe it's an accident. So she does the only logical thing--walls off the spare bathroom, hides him in there, and tells everyone Ronald's run away (nobody seems to concerned about that, or even concerned that she's not concerned.) And the months go by. And Ronald's mom goes to the hospital for an operation. And she never comes back. And the house is sold to new owners. And Ronald goes a little crazy in there. He sure has a vivid imagination, creating an entire fantasy world in there. A pretty twisted little flick.

Running Time: 74 minutes
My Total Minutes: 301,372

Jason goes to Not Necessarily Noir III--WHITE OF THE EYE

Not Necessarily Noir III rolls along at the Roxie. I only made it to one half of the double-feature last night (Thursday) because A) I've already seen MANHUNTER plenty of times and B) there was stuff going on at the Vortex I wanted to see.

Anyway, what can I say about WHITE OF THE EYE? David Keith looking kinda crazy and Donald Cammell in total, exquisite control of the camera. It's a serial killer flick that's got a twisted flair that has never been duplicated. I loved it from the first murder, where a beautiful dinner spread is upended and a shattering bottle of wine becomes a visual surrogate of the bloody massacre (also, the gasping goldfish on a rack of ribs--quite a striking shot.) Local sound engineer Paul White (David Keith) becomes a prime suspect simply because of the tread of his tires. While he tries to prove his innocence, the fact is he does have dirty secrets he's hiding, and his wife is none to happy to find out.

Ah, but enough of the spoilers. This film is about a close, attentive study of evil in all its depraved beauty. And it might just be about how that close, attentive study of evil induces evil in the student. And it's about the nature of the hunt. And it's about meticulously designed murders. And it's about an explosive ending. And it's awesome.

Running Time: 110 minutes
My Total Minutes: 301,372

Jason goes to SVJFF and sees DAVID

Last Wednesday I was down at the Camera 7 in Campbell for this charming little child's cross-culture adventure. Actually, first I was next door at Rock Bottom for a couple of hours watching the Giants build up a nice lead over the Tigers in game 1 of the World Series. And of course while I was there I sampled their fine selection of beers. Sadly, they had just run out of IPA, but everything else I tried was pretty darn tasty. But hey, this isn't a beer blog, it's a movie blog. And this is all just to say A) I was a bit toasted when I settled in for the movie, and B) Go Giants!

Now the important thing about having a few beers before a movie is that is typically a recipe for falling asleep. But I didn't. Which means the movie was good enough to command my slightly-pickled attention. It's the story of a good, studious Muslim boy in Brooklyn. He's not just devout, he's also a good neighbor. When he sees one of the Jewish kids accidentally left his prayer book at the park, he follows him to school and drops it off. Or he thinks he does, but accidentally drops off his Muslim prayer book. So he has to go back, and he's mistaken for a new student. So Daud becomes David, and he starts attending a Jewish school. And he makes friends and becomes a part of their society despite himself. Kids just make friends easily, even if it means hiding a bit of what you are. Of course, his deception will have to come to a head, both with his family and his new schoolmates. But I think I've already been spoiler-y enough here, so I'll just end by saying it's a charming little look at cross-cultural awareness through a child's eyes.

Running Time: 80 minutes
My Total Minutes: 301,262

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Jason goes to Not Necessarily Noir III--COCKFIGHTER and BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA

It's one hell of a Warren Oates double feature!  Not Necessarily Noir III is already in full swing, but this was the first night my busy schedule allowed me to make it here.

COCKFIGHTER (1974): Faded/slightly damaged print aside, this was pretty freakin' awesome. And as for the projection problems, well let me just say that they were a minor frustration that I guess is just necessary to see perhaps the only 35 mm print of this film available.

Monte Hellman (kind of a perfect last name) directs and Warren Oates stars as Frank Mansfield, a talented trainer of fighting cocks who never says a word. In a flashback, we learn that he wasn't always a mute. In fact, his big mouth got him into a lot of trouble (with his main rival, played by Harry Dean Stanton.) From that point on he decided he wouldn't say a word until he wins the Cockfighter of the Year. Pretty universally, people agree he's much easier to get along with now. More importantly, it gives Warren Oates a chance to shine in a role that's all about understated, enigmatic facial expressions rather than words. And he gets to beat the crap out of Ed Begley Jr. But what I really love is the ending. So much so that I can't avoid talking all spoiler-y and stuff. So highlight to read on:

In the ending tournament, his fiance finally showed up to watch him fight. He's sure that if she sees him in his element she'll understand his obsession with being the best cockfighter out there and they can finally get married. Instead, she's horrified at the violence. After the final match (where both chickens die, but he's declared the winner when Harry Dean Stanton quits) he chases her down to the parking lot with his dead champion rooster in his hand. She berates him for his cruelty. And not even necessarily the cruelty of the sport--she wasn't looking at the chickens, she was looking at his face and concluded the chickens had more heart and more soul than he did. In response, he rips the head off his chicken, wraps it in a handkerchief, and places it in her hand. As she runs off horrified he gets the word that he's just won Cockfighter of the Year. And his first words, while watching her run away, are "She loves me."

I love the ambiguity of that ending. The easy interpretation is he's wrong. She hates him and wants nothing to do with him, but he's delusional about it. But there's also the interpretation that he's right. That even though on the outside it looks like hate, there's something a cockfighter understands that sees it as love. Something only a cockfighter can recognize. She can't recognize it, the audience can't recognize it (at least this audience member can't,) but he can, and he's right. The easy interpretation is the former, but after thinking about it for a good few hours last night, I've decided to go with the latter.

[End Spoiler]

BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA (1974): Next up was this Sam Peckinpah classic that I had somehow missed over the years. So it was great to see it in brilliant 35 mm (this time a nice, relatively clean print with no issues.) A wealthy Mexican aristocrat finds his daughter is pregnant. After a bit of torture, he finds that Alfredo Garcia is the father, so he demands his head (for a $1 million reward.) While searching for him, some of his goons run into an American bartender (Warren Oates) who doesn't exactly know where he is, but knows the name. They offer him $10,000 for his head. So he sets out with his prostitute girlfriend to find him. And, of course, they have to deal with everyone else who is looking for his head, as well as just random violence (in the form of a pair of bikers, one of whom is a young Kris Kristofferson.) Lots of violence, plus Isela Vega's fantastic breasts. And bleak nihilism by the end. Yup, that's classic Peckinpah at his best. And it's awesome. I don't know how I missed it for so long.


Hey, I also just noticed that besides being Warren Oates movies, both of these were also released in the greatest year of human history--1974. That's the same year the greatest work of art in history was released into the world. Which reminds me, my 38th birthday is coming up in just one week, so get shopping everyone!

Total Running Time: 195 minutes
My Total Minutes: 301,182

Monday, October 22, 2012

Jason watches SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS

The trailers had me sold when they just showed the cast--Colin Farrell, Christopher Walken, Sam Rockwell, Tom Waits, Woody Harrelson, etc. and promised them all acting crazy. That's enough to sell me, but when you make it a smart meta-comedy that's really a commentary on violent movies, that's even better. Colin Farrell plays a screenwriter who is working on a script called, conveniently enough, "Seven Psychopaths." The thing is, he's bored and tired of writing violent shoot-em-up films. He wants to make something that's really, under it all, about love. Also, he's an alcoholic (and yes, there's a meta-joke in there about how writers--and Irishmen--have a propensity for alcoholism.) But while he wants to write something that's more about love, his real life is surrounded by psychopaths, like his best friend (Sam Rockwell) and his partner-in-crime (Chrisopher Walken) who kidnap dogs and return them to their owners to collect the rewards. Or there's the crazier crime boss (Woody Harrelson) who loves his dog enough to kill anyone involved in kidnapping him. And then there are more bizarre side-stories like the Vietnamese psycho who is on a mission of revenge against everyone who destroyed his village of My Lai. Or there's the first psychopath--the mysterious jack of diamonds killer who assassinates mid-level operatives of the mafia (or yakuza) and leaves a jack of diamonds on their bodies as a calling card.

All of this does tie together, and Colin Farrell's character does get his wish as the movie has plenty of his preferred talking scenes (instead of Sam Rockwell's preference for action and big shoot-outs) and is ultimately a story about love. But more importantly, it's just a funny movie and an excellent way to pass some time.

Running Time: 110 minutes
My Total Minutes: 300,987

Jason goes to the Silicon Valley Jewish Film Festival--Opening Night

The Silicon Valley Jewish Film Festival (or as I call it, Jewfest South) started up last Saturday night at the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto, and of course I was there.

After some introductions and thank-yous to all the people who make the festival work, we finally launched (pun intended) into the opening night film. AN ARTICLE OF HOPE is the story of Col. Ilan Ramon, the first Israeli astronaut. He was the son of a Holocaust survivor, a decorated veteran of the Israeli Air Force, and selected to be a crew member on the space shuttle Columbia. Unfortunately, that's the space shuttle Columbia that broke up on reentry and killed everyone on board. And the scenes in mission control as they lose contact are some of the most chilling scenes I've ever seen.

But this isn't just a movie about a tragedy. It's a movie about triumphing over tragedy. It's a movie about people persevering even if individual people pass away. It's a story of faith. It's a story about a lot of things (all crammed into a dense 54 minutes, with really no seconds of wasted time.) And, in the most literal sense, it's a movie about a little torah scroll that was hidden in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp and brought along on the space shuttle (it was never recovered in the wreckage.) And in one of my favorite lines in the movie, it's not about how a man carried a tiny scroll into space, but about how a tiny scroll carried a people into space.

Afterwards there was an excellent panel discussion with director Daniel Cohen, Ilan's widow Rona Ramon, and Ilan's friend and fellow astronaut (and a Jew who put a mezuzah over the entrance to his bunk in the International Space Station) Garrett Reisman. A very moving and emotional night all around.

And, I'm pleased to help announce some big news hot off the presses. They have just finished a deal and AN ARTICLE OF HOPE will play on PBS Jan 31, 2013, the eve of the 10th anniversary of the Columbia disaster.

Running Time: 54 minutes
My Total Minutes: 300,877

Jason watches THE THING: LIVE!

Hey, last Friday was a double-dip night of films adapted to the stage at the Dark Room. After THE FIFTH ELEMENT: LIVE! I was pretty amazed at how quickly they turned it around for THE THING: LIVE!, based, of course, on John Carpenter's classic film (like usual, it helps a lot but isn't entirely necessary to know the film all that well.)

Unlike THE FIFTH ELEMENT: LIVE!, which had a good four shows under their belt already, this was opening night of THE THING: LIVE! Add to that the fact that a bust water main and flooded theater sort of disrupted their dress rehearsal chances, and I can charitably say that I expect the acting (particularly just the details of getting the lines and the cues right) to improve later in their run (hopefully I can make it to one of their later shows to confirm that.) But I will say that they generally got the atmosphere of paranoia and mistrust right. And for a low-budget micro-stage adaptation, I was pretty impressed with their special effects (even if the doctor didn't know a liver from an intestine.) And I really admire their courage in working with a dog onstage. Live animals can always be unpredictable so they took a bit of a risk there and it payed off.

THE THING: LIVE! has just started its brief (6-night) run. It plays again at the following times:
Thursday, Oct. 25th at 8:00 pm
Friday, Oct. 26th at 10:00 pm
Friday, Nov. 2nd at 10:00 pm
Saturday, Nov. 3rd at 10:00 pm

Advanced tickets are available through Brown Paper Tickets.

Jason watches THE FIFTH ELEMENT: LIVE!

Last Friday I got to the Dark Room really early to make sure I wouldn't miss one of the last chances to see their latest comic adaptation of a cult movie from the big screen to the small stage. As it happened, a friend ended up with an extra ticket and I didn't need to stand in front of the door two hours early eating a burrito and chatting with passers-by. So I guess I just did that for the fun of it. And, of course, to support small, independent, local theater. And especially to support Tim Kay, a longtime Dark Room actor who made the silly suggestion to adapt THE FIFTH ELEMENT and then accepted the challenge of writing and directing it himself.

Anyway, THE FIFTH ELEMENT: LIVE! lives up to the spirit of the movie, with all the cheesy plot, outrageous characters, and strategically placed thermal bandages of the original. And it squeezes it into the intimate Dark Room stage and somehow still maintains the goofy, galactic scope. A good knowledge of the movie isn't exactly necessary, but certainly helps with a lot of the jokes.

And most importantly, Ruby Rhod is still annoying (intentionally so) when played by a white guy. This might be the first time I've gone to the Dark Room and concluded I was less racist than previously thought. So that's something!

THE FIFTH ELEMENT: LIVE plays two more night, next Friday and Saturday nights (October 26th and 27th) at 8:00 pm. There are no advanced tickets left, but they always sell a handful (some with partially obstructed view) at the door the night of the show. I can't guarantee anything, but I'd recommend showing up at 7:00 (doors open at 7:30) and you'll probably get in.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Jason slips into a Vortex and watches THE MEPHISTO WALTZ

I learned my lesson Wednesday night about too many martinis. So last night I had four manhattans instead (they're so delicious, I wish there was some magical land devoted to them--like say an Island of Manhattan.)

Anyway, I then settled in for THE MEPHISTO WALTZ. Satanism and classical piano, with pre-M*A*S*H Alan Alda. He plays a music journalist who used to have a promising career. He studied at Juilliard but his career ended abruptly when his first concert got awful reviews. But through his journalism he interviews an aging classical pianist Duncan Ely (Curt Jurgens) who takes him under his wing. And then performs a Satanic spell to switch souls so he can stay young forever.

There's something I just love about watching Alan Alda play evil. And Alda + Satan is a perfect pairing (almost as good as Alda + a southern accent in THE MOONSHINE WAR.)

Running Time: 115 minutes
My Total Minutes: 300,823

Jason watches DUST UP

Well, that was a crazy fucking ride, and not just because of the four pre-film martinis. Last Wednesday, the Vortex Room was host to the San Francisco premiere of this new indie western action gorefest comedy. Drugs, revenge, violence, a lizard-man, cannibalism, an orgy and more. A one-eyed vigilante hero, out to save the young mother and wife of a speed freak who is in deep debt to an insane, violent drug lord. Oh, and his Indian sidekick--and by Indian I mean a white dude who dresses as a Native American and says, "Namaste" a lot. Crazy, kinda sick fun.

Oh yeah, and a pretty kick-ass soundtrack by Spindrift. Afterwards, we went to The Monarch where they were to be playing. But they didn't go on until nearly midnight (at the earliest) so I had to bail and catch the BART home. At least I left with a soundtrack CD.

DUST UP is on demand on some services now and some services coming soon, as well as Netflix and DVD soon (Nov. 13th.) Or you might live near one of the lucky places where it will play on the big screen.

Running Time: 90 minutes
My Total Minutes: 300,708

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Jason previews upcoming events--why the Roxie is the place to be for the next month or so

One thing I'm really bad at on the blog and wish I did more was letting you all know what the cool upcoming film events are. I know that way too often I write about a one-night-only or limited-run program after you no longer have a chance to see it. And I'm sorry about that, but knowing my nature that will probably continue (I don't mean to self-analyze too much, but it has to do with my background in science and never wanting to state any results before the experiment.) But right now there's such a full schedule I'm even struggling to decide what to see, so I might as well let you know at least some of the rich array of film watching choices in the Bay Area.

First, as I wrote in the headline, The Roxie will be the main place to be until pretty much the end of the year. Besides their always interesting regular programming, things are really going to take off with their Not Necessarily Noir III festival, starting Friday until Halloween. A mix of classic and forgotten-but-uncovered neo-noir, crime, and horror movies for a lucky 13 days. I missed Not Necessarily Noir I a couple years ago, but caught a lot of Not Necessarily Noir II last year, and this year looks to be an exceptional program.

The one downside of Not Necessarily Noir III is it relegates BEL BORBA AQUI to the Little Roxie. This documentary on "The People's Picasso" was one of my favorites from Cinequest this year, and really deserves the bigger house. But still, if you're interested in art and an interesting character (or if you're already at the Roxie and are tired of crime films) go see this.

Shortly after Not Necessarily Noir III ends, Docfest comes to both houses of the Roxie, as well as the Shattuck Cinemas in Berkeley (for my East Bay friends.) They always have a really interesting program, proving truth is stranger than fiction. A good mix of local interest films, politically inspired films, and (my favorite) just really weird-but-true stories. Sadly, with conflicts and previous personal commitments I won't make it to a whole lot of Docfest this year. I haven't bought my pass yet but it looks like I'll probably just get a 10-film pass instead of the full pass (sorry, Jeff.)

If I can single out one highlight of Docfest, it's another film that was one of my favorites from Cinequest--JASON BECKER: NOT DEAD YET. No word on if Jason Becker will actually be there (he did attend Cinequest, but obviously it depends on his schedule and his health.) Coincidentally, this film will also be playing in the SFFS program Cinema By The Bay.

The whole SFFS Fall Season is in full swing as well. I actually haven't made it to any of it so far, and probably won't make it to very much. That's not a reflection on the quality of their programming, but just how crowded the fall calendar is. But the two films I will be sure not to miss are in Cinema By The Bay--AMITY and CXL. In fairness, I'm seeing these because I know the filmmakers, so I'm a little biased. I mean, I know the filmmakers and they always do great work so their films are sure to be exceptional works of unadulterated brilliance.

Back to the Roxie, ANOTHER HOLE IN THE HEAD is returning at the end of November/first week of December. Their schedule is not out yet, but I do know a little bit about what they'll play. No spoilers here, though. This has moved from June to December, and scaled down to a single week. Hopefully it will be successful here as a bit of counter-programming to the creeping Christmas cheer (IMHO, it all comes down to the quality of the films, and I know they'll get some good ones this year.)

Other acceptable places to be (instead of the Roxie) are:

The Vortex Room: They're halfway through their October-long program Don't Fear The Vortex. Every Thursday night a double-bill of classic and/or forgotten horror films from the 60's and 70's. Plus the best damn martinis in town.

The Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum: Okay, this is actually the place to be every Saturday night for silent film fans. This coming Saturday (October 20th) is comedy shorts night, and I'd highly recommend buying tickets in advance if you want to see that, because it does sell out (it's only a ~120 seat theater, and I have had to turn people away before. That's never fun.) Then the 27th--the last Saturday before Halloween, they have Lon Chaney in THE MONSTER which promises to be awesome. But what I'm really looking forward to is on Sunday the 28th at 4:00 pm Bob Wilkins' Creature Features is coming back to the big screen there. A whole reconstructed program with the Bob Wilkins bumpers and vintage commercials. John Stanley will host the program with local documentary filmmaker Tom Wyrsch (WATCH HORROR FILMS, KEEP AMERICA STRONG!) And Ernie Fosselius will be there with his classic spoof HARDWARE WARS.

Then, although details aren't out yet, the next Sunday November 4th, will feature The Great Nickelodeon Show by Dr. Russell Merritt. I don't want to promise anything, but the last time they did this they even busted out their vintage hand-cranked 35 mm projector and used that.

The Stanford Theatre: Another place that's always awesome to be. But what I'm really excited about is the Nov. 2 show of Lon Chaney's PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1925) with Dennis James on the organ.

The Castro: No list of bay area film events would be complete without this movie palace. But I haven't actually studied their schedule enough to know what the best bets there will be. I will give a shout-out to the Midnites for Maniacs "End of Days" triple bill of TERMINATOR 2: JUDGEMENT DAY, INCEPTION, and HALLOWEEN 3: THE SEASON OF THE WITCH. Unfortunately, this is also Nov. 2 so I'll  probably be at the Stanford for PHANTOM OF THE OPERA. But maybe I can get from there to the Castro in time for the midnight show of HALLOWEEN 3.

Oh yeah, and not film but I love them like they were a film, The Thrillpeddlers are well into their run of Shocktoberfest 13: The Bride of Death. Live Grand Guignol theater. Damn, I love this town.

Jason watches DETROPIA

So after THE AMERICAN SCREAM, I just sort of stuck around at the Roxie and caught this.

DETROPIA is a documentary collage/tone poem/love letter to Detroit. In 1930, Detroit was the fastest growing city in the world. Now it's one of the fastest declining, with massive unemployment, huge areas of unoccupied homes being demolished (at least demolition is a booming industry,) high crime, and a near constant state of crisis. But this film is no polemic on why or how it got that way, or on what to do about it.

Instead, through the eyes of committed citizens, it's a look at the vibrancy that still lives underneath the decay, and the hopes it still has. It's about the world-class opera (70% of the corporate funding is from the big 3 automakers.) It's about the owner of a blues lounge who has seen the good times and tough times of his business. It's about the video blogger keeping an eye (and her camera) on her city. It's about the local UAW president and his fights with management. It's about the difficult and unpopular decisions put before the mayor every day (I'm surprised they got as much access as they did to mayor Dave Bing.) And it's even about the return of young people to the downtown area, and about the pair of artists who chose to move there from Hawaii. It's even--in a very oddly offensive scene--about a pair of Swiss tourists who were tired of how new everything is where they're from and wanted to see some decay.

But if you're not from Detroit, and don't plan to ever visit, why should you really care? Well, first if you're a fan of good movies you should just watch it because it's a good movie. Second, it makes a compelling case for Detroit as a microcosm for all America. Perhaps Detroit historically has been affected harder by the direction of America (for better in the past, maybe for worse at times, and definitely for worse now) but what's happening in Detroit is happening for better or worse across America. So the fact that it ends on a hopeful note, with GM posting profits and bringing some jobs back to Detroit, is maybe a good sign for America. Or maybe it's a sign that the rest of America has to go through some Detroit-sized pain before it can really recover.

Also, go Tigers! One win away from knocking off the Yankees and going to the World Series! Woo hoo! (that wasn't in the movie, that's just real life right now.)

Running Time: 90 minutes
My Total Minutes: 300,619

Jason watchesTHE AMERICAN SCREAM

It was officially Docfest preview night at the Roxie, showcasing this wonderful film that they just couldn't quite fit into Docfest (and which really should be seen pre-Halloween anyway, Docfest doesn't start until November 8.

THE AMERICAN SCREAM is all about the fine art/obsessive hobby of home haunting. It's the people who do a little more than put a jack-o-lantern and maybe a scary skeleton on their lawn. These are people who spend months turning their home into a house of horrors for one night.

Specifically, it's about three families in the sleepy town of Fairhaven, MA, who do home haunts. They have varying levels of skill/obsessiveness, ranging from the father who goes crazy about perfection for months beforehand, working himself nearly to death. To the father/son team who...it's charitable to call them amateurs, but they still love doing it. In between is the family that does a pretty good job, avoids getting too obsessive, and just has fun with it (ending the night with a big silly-string fight.)

What's really interesting (and I'm no sociologist, so I don't know if this is indicative of anything more than the filmmakers' focus) is that these are all stories of families. They don't show any creepy loner who likes to build haunts (or maybe someone whose obsession with haunting drove his family away.) These are things they do as families, for families, and if the family wasn't into it I'm sure they would stop immediately. Heck, my favorite relationship in the movie is with that perfectionist father and his little girl who is totally into haunting, too. My favorite line is when daddy calls her, "a sick little girl" with all the warmth and pride that any father would tell his daughter he loves her.

The movie takes us through pretty much all of October, as the preparations get more and more frantic, until the big night when everything pays off. I loved the reaction shots--especially little kids screaming and crying with fear. And the older woman who is delighted that she "hasn't been so scared since [she] was a kid!"

THE AMERICAN SCREAM is coming to ChillerTV on October 28th. Or you might be lucky enough to live somewhere where it's playing on the big screen.

Running Time: 91 minutes
My Total Minutes: 300,528

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Jason watches VAMPYR with live music by Steven Severin

Wow! All hail Carl Theodor Dreyer! I had only ever seen his PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC, which is magnificent. This was his first sound film, but last night at the Roxie it was silent again with a new score by Steven Severin (with pre-show help by Jill Tracy conjuring up the spirits of the night.) Now I could go off on an internal debate about the merits of watching the film in the original version (although the English version is lost, what remains is pieced together from the French and German versions) vs. new interpretations. And that debate actually becomes more interesting when it involves an early talkie film, where there is one true soundtrack (even if there's a written score for a silent film, you're still at the mercy of the accompanist's interpretation.) But instead I'll just leave it at Steven Severin did a great job with the creepy, supernatural score that always put the film first. And I'll say that it's real interesting how easily Dreyer's first talkie is turned back into a silent film.

Dreyer clearly was an expert at silent cinema, and was still relying on all his silent film skills even when he transitioned to sound. And it's pretty amazing what he did visually to create the weird atmosphere. Disembodied shadows walking around. Ethereal, translucent ghost versions of people walking around (I remember being amazed in 1985 when Michael J. Fox dissolved before our eyes in BACK TO THE FUTURE, but Dreyer did the same thing 53 years earlier!) These are even more impressive when you know there were no computers and all the effects were done in-camera.

Oh, as for the story, it's pretty simple. A traveler Allen Gray arrives at a small village where strange things happen. He has an interest in the supernatural, and soon finds evidence of vampires. But the story is really immaterial, it's the tone and style that's important. And last night, both Dreyer and Severin got it just right.

Running Time: 70 minutes
My Total Minutes: 300,437

Jason watches SINISTER

And I really wanted to like it more than I did. I like that while it relies on some horrible macabre 8 mm snuff films--showing the kind of elaborate executions inspired by the SAW series, with a bit less gratuitous creativity--it really creates the chills through atmosphere and a slowly revealing mystery (no surprise that the commercials tout the producer connection to PARANORMAL ACTIVITY.) But it also suffers from too many bad horror cliches. The hero is an idiot who is his own worst enemy. That would be Ellison (Ethan Hawke, doing a fine job playing a bad character,) a true-crime author who had a big hit 10 years ago and has been coasting on that ever since. He moves his family into a house where the previously family had been hung (dumb) but doesn't tell them (dumber) because he wants to research the crime but doesn't want to freak out his wife and kids (of course, they'll find out very quickly.) He finds rolls of 8 mm home movies in the attic with no explanation, all of which show ironically titled murders (e.g., "Family Hanging Out") but doesn't bring it to the cops (dumb, greedy, and illegal.) And when clearly supernatural things start happening he dismisses them and just continues to drink, watch the films, and freak himself out more.

Oh, and the soundtrack relies to heavily on "stingers" to make you jump. I freakin' hate that.

On the other hand, there is something in there to like. The unfolding paranormal mystery. The writer's obsession, getting lost in the details of a mystery you know is consuming you. And I liked the playing with multiple media. 8 mm film gets edited, crudely copied to digital (by playing the film and filming the screen with a digital camera.) In his depressed moments he watches old VHS tapes of his interviews from better days. More than anything, it made me think about the impending death of film, and unfortunately that scared me more than anything in this movie.

Running Time: 110 minutes
My Total Minutes: 300,367

Monday, October 15, 2012

Jason watches ARGO

And at least for the next week or so the word "exfiltration" and the line "Ar-go f*ck yourself!" will be forefront in my mind.

It's a really good movie, and Ben Affleck is showing himself to have greater skills as a director than as an actor. As an actor, even with the central hero role, Affleck doesn't give himself much more to do than sit and look like he's thinking really, really hard. But I do love that he put himself in the lead, if for no other reason than to see John Goodman tell him that a monkey could learn to be a director in a day.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. If you've seen the trailers, you know it's a story about the Iranian revolution of 1979, about the American hostages, and specifically about the 6 embassy workers who fled out the back and holed up in the Canadian ambassador's residence. And it's about the daring and improbable mission to rescue them (or, in CIA-speak, "exfiltrate" them.) Enter exfiltration expert Tony Mendez (Affleck) who sees no good ideas available. The State Department wants to send them bicycles to bike to the Turkish border. No good, too far, and too difficult to pass until the spring. Other plans include cover ID's as Canadian teachers (but all foreign teachers had already left Iran) or as crop inspectors making sure there's enough food for the starving kids (but what crops would they be inspecting in winter when there's a cover of frost?) So, while watching a PLANET OF THE APES movie and talking to his son, Tony gets the crazy idea to pass them all off as a film crew scouting locations in the Middle East, looking to make a low-budget sci-fi film. John Goodman enters the picture as special effects makeup guru John Chambers--not that there's much need for makeup effects, he's just their contact because he's done contract work for the CIA before. He knows the ins and outs of Hollywood, and his first step is to get a producer on board. That would be Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin, who's as brilliant as always) and they set up Studio 6 productions (named for the 6 people they're rescuing) and set out to secure the rights to a script and really drum up press notice for their fake film.

This is all based on a true story, and it's not a true story of 6 people who died trying to do something incredibly stupid. So you know how it's going to end. Which makes it all the more remarkable how Affleck managed to crank up the tension to the point I was really afraid of whether or not they would make it. And, at the same time, he throws a bit of Hollywood satire in there to break the tension. I'm sure some scenes were ramped up a little bit for extra drama (if you've seen the movie, the phone call to Studio 6 stood out for me this way) but it never feels phony or forced, it's just classic, tense storytelling.

Running Time: 120 minutes
My Total Minutes: 300,257

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Jason goes to Midnites for Maniacs--Countdown to Hell

Okay, so part of why I thought about THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER as a horror movie is because I followed it up later that evening with this horror movie triple-bill. As with all Midnites for Maniac shows, a big thanks to Jesse Hawthorne Ficks for being our high priest proselytizing under-appreciated films in our church of film. And thanks to the Roxie for being our church for the night (instead of our usual church, the Castro.) Anyway, here's the rundown:

First up, NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3: THE DREAM WARRIORS. The last surviving Elm Street kids are in a mental institution for sleep disorders and serial nightmares. Young grad student Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp, the heroine/survivor of the first two NIGHTMARE movies) is the only one who sympathizes with them because she knows exactly what they're going through. Kristen Parker (Patricia Arquette) has the unique ability to draw other people into her dreams, and that power becomes crucial for them to team up and defeat Freddy before he kills them all in uniquely ironic ways. This is sort of the cusp of when Freddy became really, really silly in the creative deaths, when you actually still cared about the kids and rooted for some of them to survive.

Next up was TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 (get it--the first one was a part 3, this is a part 2, the final one will be a part 1) This is a movie so fucking psychotic that Dennis Hopper plays the good guy. And it's not Dennis Hopper playing a sane role, like in...I can't think of any movie where Dennis Hopper pretended to be sane. But this is Dennis Hopper at his manic usual, and he's the good guy. It's also a weirdly comical and gratuitously gory flick. And it's a movie where Leatherface has a bizarrely sympathetic side, even has a love interest with the girl. And Leatherface is constantly being upstaged by Bill Mosely insane turn as "Chop Top."

A couple of things I noticed this time around. First, when Dennis Hopper goes into the final battle with 2 small chainsaws and one giant one, his bandoleer is filled with spare chains for his saws. That's a nice touch and I don't know why I never noticed that before. The second thing is the religious elements of both of the first films. In NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3 (spoiler alert), Freddy is defeated by burying his remains in consecrated ground. In TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 Dennis Hopper is singing a hymn as he storms the home of the psycho cannibal killers.

And that religious theme continues in HELLRAISER, Clive Barker's classic flesh-ripper about the puzzle box, the cenobites, and the pleasures of heaven or hell. It's also a surprisingly erotic movie (at its heart its a story of forbidden female longing--not just for her husband's brother but for his reincarnated corpse that becomes stronger the more blood she feeds him.) And I forgot how damn goopy the movie was. I remembered the flesh ripping and the hooks and chains (I used to fantasize about being wealthy enough to afford a house with an extra room I could decorate in a chains-and-hooks HELLRAISER theme.) But I had forgotten the goopy bits of gore falling off the reincarnated corpse as he's building himself back up. Damn, that was awesome.

And that pretty much sums up the whole night--damn, that was awesome.

Total Running Time: 279 minutes
My Total Minutes: 300,137

Jason watches THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER

And I liked it. It's a nicely awkward slice of high school life, as Charlie (Logan Lerman) starts his freshman year of high school after recovering from some slowly-revealed psychological trauma. Eventually he makes friends in the form of Patrick (Ezra Miller, great as the quirky-cool gay kid) and Sam (Emma Watson, who quickly becomes his close-friend-but-unrequited-crush.) But the casting that surprised me the most was horror FX guru Tom Savini as the shop teacher. Just seeing Savini on screen makes me think horror, but this isn't a horror movie. Or is it...

Kid with psychological issues that makes him see things and occasionally black out and kick the asses of the bullies in school. Violence, blood, death (in his past) and creepy, unexplained psychological issues. In an alternate universe, this same story could be made as a horror movie. And that makes me love it all the more.

Note: it is not made in the style of a horror movie. That's just my weird obsession that makes me see it as one.

Running Time: 103 minutes
My total Minutes: 299,858

Jason watches FOOLISH WIVES

At the Stanford Theatre, with Dennis James rocking the Mighty Wurlitzer Organ. And it was pretty awesome.

Of course, it's all about Erich Von Stroheim. He directs and stars (and is credited as the author of the novel-within-the-film) as a count/conman in Monte Carlo. He lives off counterfeiting and from the money he swindles from the rich ladies who pass through the town. Especially the wife of the U.S. Ambassador.

But to understand the movie, you have to understand how it was made. After a couple of successes, he was given carte blanche by Universal to make whatever he wanted. So he made the first film ever to cost over $1,000,000. He obsessed over verisimilitude to the point where the underwear of his military uniform needed to be authentic (it is never seen on screen.) And his final edit was 32 reels (~8 hours.) Universal cut it in half, then thought about it for a year, then cut it in half again, down to 7 reels. Fortunately, there were two different 7 reel cuts that survived and have been pieced together as best as possible. The final result ran 2 hours and 22 minutes (~9-10 reels.) But it means the end result is choppy and poorly paced, but contains individually brilliant scenes (my two personal favorites are the mirror scene and the crying scene, both showcasing Von Stroheim at his conniving best.) I know it's crazy to say I wish the 8 hour cut survived so I could see it, but that's the honest truth. I'm sure the original was brilliant and although it would be an all-day marathon with more than a few intermissions, I'm sure the time would fly right by. Well, one can only wish.

Running Time: 142 minutes
My Total Minutes: 299,755

Friday, October 12, 2012

Jason slips into a Vortex and sees BLOOD AND BLACK LACE

And I had four martinis, which should have meant I would feel awful this morning. But I actually feel fine. Weird, perhaps my tolerance has been built up really high. Which is good news, what with Scotchtoberfest coming up in a couple of weeks. But that's another story.

Oh yeah, the movie. BLOOD AND BLACK LACE is a Mario Bava classic and a wonderful example of the "giallo" film. Gruesome murders, eroticism, a fetishistic style, it's all there. A fashion model is murdered by a mysterious figure in a cloak, hat, and white cloth mask over his face. They discover a diary which might have incriminating evidence on who the killer is. Then the diary disappears. And then more fashion models are gruesomely murdered, as the killer is apparently looking for the diary. You know, classic giallo stuff. Awesome.

My only regret is I didn't stick around for BLUE BLOOD. I'm sure that would've been classic, too. Anyway, next week is THE MEPHISTO WALTZ and LOVE ME DEADLY. More info available by joining their Facebook group.

Running Time: 88 minutes
My Total Minutes: 299,613

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Jason goes to Bad Movie Night and watches DRACULA 2000...or something similar

I'm not sure how this qualifies as a vampire movie. It's a story of a young man who is bitten by a strange creature and then develops weird powers. And it seems to be a metaphor for puberty, as there are a lot of sight gags about white stuff shooting out of him.

Also, the disk of DRACULA 2000 was bad--we couldn't turn off the director's commentary. And you know how we hate hearing people talk over the movie. So we turned it off and watched SPIDER-MAN instead. Vampire month is off to an even less auspicious start than usual.

Running Time: 121 minutes (note: just counting the running time of SPIDER-MAN, not the ~30 or so minutes we spent trying to watch DRACULA 2000. I don't give myself minutes for movies I don't finish.)
My Total Minutes: 299,525

Jason goes to the Niles Film Museum and sees THE MATRIMANIAC

But first, a couple of shorts

THE DUMB-BELL (1922): Snub Pollard stars in a behind-the-scenes satire on the movie business. Shoot, I've already given away the big twist. Anyway, it's pretty darn funny, especially the way dumb-bell actors drive directors crazy. That's even funnier if you know the director was comedy genius Charley Chase.

THE SURF GIRL (1916): Raymond Griffith and a cast of what seems like thousands in this breakneck paced comedy from Keystone. I couldn't exactly follow the plot, but it played by the standard Keystone formula--throw random gags in there so fast that it doesn't matter if you don't get one, there's another one coming up in a few seconds.

Then a brief intermission. Since we were short-staffed last Saturday night (a lot of the regular staff were in Chicago at the site of the original Essanay studio) I got to do tours of the projection booth, which is always fun. And then back for the feature.

THE MATRIMANIAC (1916): Douglas Fairbanks, before he was a swashbuckler, made a series of "social" comedies. In this one, he's planning to elope with Constance Talmadge despite the objections of her father and his rival suitor. The rival suitor, especially, is a total dick--he shoves a priest off the train and spends most of the movie "wooing" Talmadge in a manner that starts to have a really rapey vibe to it (not exactly rapey, just sort of a 'you need to be owned by some man, so I think it should be me' vibe--which for my money is close enough to rapey.) Which is fine, just makes me root for Fairbanks more. Fun, and kind of shows off a bit of the athleticism he would soon be famous for.

Total Running Time: 89 minutes
My Total Minutes: 299,404

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Jason watches FRANKENWEENIE

I am a Tim Burton fan. Really, I am. The fact that I've been disappointed by everything he's made since BIG FISH, and a fair amount of what he made before that (PLANET OF THE APES) hasn't changed that fact. In my barely-a-review of DARK SHADOWS I hinted at how I've basically put my fandom on the line by getting excited for FRANKENWEENIE.

Well, I'm still a fan. I loved it. Sure, there are the Burtonesque excesses, where he'll go down a side path just for some sight gag or visual splendor without moving the plot forward. But at least now it feels like he's inviting you into his toybox rather than jumping into someone else's and throwing the toys around. And I liked how it celebrates science and children's natural wonder. There's something to be explored there about how curious children turn into close-minded adults. And I liked the blatant references to classic horror movies (particularly the burning windmill straight out of the end of FRANKENSTEIN.)

Oh yeah, the plot--if you didn't already know--young science genius Victor is heartbroken when his dog is run over by a car. But when his crazy science teacher shows how the nervous system runs on electricity, he digs his dog up and uses one of the frequent lightning storms to reanimate him. Then wacky hijinx ensue. Oh yeah, and it's stop motion animation (the original short it was based on was live-action.)

Anyway, good job, Tim Burton. I am still (and probably always will be) a fan. I'm willing to allow a few more silly, indulgent "reboots" like PLANET OF THE APES, ALICE IN WONDERLAND, or DARK SHADOWS if you at least make something as fresh as FRANKENWEENIE every once in a while.

Running Time: 87 minutes
My Total Minutes: 299,315

Friday, October 5, 2012

Jason goes to Berlin and Beyond--closing day/night

[Correction: In an earlier version of this post I stated that Berlin and Beyond was moving back to January, and the next festival would be in January 2014. I was incorrect, there will be a January 2013 Berlin and Beyond film festival. And that makes me happy. --Jason]

So I missed most of Berlin and Beyond, just catching opening night and the final day (and night.) So here we go with 4 movies last Thursday.

First up was LESSONS OF A DREAM, a schoolyard comedy/drama set in 1874 Brunswick. So normally I try to eschew comparisons describing a film as "[Insert film name] set in [time/place] with [this twist.]" I think it's lazy writing and it belittles the film in question. But this time it's just too perfect--it's DEAD POETS SOCIETY set in 1874 Germany with soccer (and without Robin Williams hamming it up.) Konrad Koch (Daniel BrĂ¼hl) is brought to the school in Brunswick to teach English. He had spent 4 years on the island, so he's fluent not just in the language but in the culture. Of course, this is the Kaiser's Germany, who had just conquered France and most of those in charge care more about obedience and discipline, not comradeship and understanding foreign cultures. Who cares if you pronounce your "th" correctly if you're just there to kill as many Englishman as are necessary to conquer them? Well, after some struggle Koch breaks through with his students by introducing them to the strange English game of football. And then the real struggles start, as the kids love the game but the powers that be hate it as anarchic and don't like how Koch is encouraging his students to rebel. It's wonderful watching the kids come alive playing soccer, especially how the smallest kid--the proletariat whose mother works in the factory--becomes the star striker. And it's hilarious to watch the adults protesting against the moral degradation of soccer. And, of course, it all has to culminate in a big tournament, against an English team coached by Koch's friend. The German kids aren't just playing to win, they're playing to win the hearts of the entire town and the Kaiser's observers who are there to see whether there's anything worthwhile to this game and whether it should be added to the curriculum.

And the most remarkable thing about it all--it's based on a true story. Hard to believe it, but many German towns did ban football when it was first introduced. In fact (according to the epilogue in the movie) Bavaria didn't formally lift its ban on football until 1929.


The next show started with a short, OF DOGS AND HORSES. Rolf loves his dog, but his dog is getting old and has a limp. The vet recommends he simply give him painkillers and enjoy the last bit of his life. The only other option is a surgery that would cost thousands. So Rolf collects up his money and takes it to the racetrack. He just needs one lucky bet on a longshot to save his dog. Very well done, and nicely tense. The kind of movie where you root for the improbable outcome even when expecting tragedy at every corner. It's a movie about hope.

And then the feature documentary, BATTLE OF THE QUEENS. This was actually one of my favorites at Cinequest. Let's see what I said then (down at the bottom):
And then the feature length documentary, BATTLE OF THE QUEENS. I have no idea how to convince you to see it, it's the sort of unsellable concept that no one thinks could possibly be this great. In a town in Switzerland they have a contest known as the Battle of the Queens. Cows battling each other (not bulls, mind you. The bulls are too dangerous to ever let out of the stable. These are cows of a specific giant, aggressive breed fighting each other for dominance.) And it's beautiful, it's funny, the music is great. It's a cacophony and poetry all at once. Nicolas [Steiner, the director] made liberal use of beautiful widescreen black and white cinematography, lots of slow motion shots (particularly in the fight scenes), wrote his own music, and made a freakin' masterpiece.
Again, I just don't know how to sell this film, and judging by the meager audience last night nobody does. But those who saw it last night (or its previous screening on Sunday) [or at Berlin and Beyond] witnessed something amazing. So I'm sorry for the fact that I don't have the right words to convince you to see it. 
Hmmm...while that's all true and I loved it a second time yesterday, I'm still at a loss of how to explain how great it is. The closest I can come to doing it justice is to say that when you're in the lobby afterwards raving about how cinematic that snot flying from that cow's nose was...well, you're in the hands of someone who knows how wield a fuckin' camera.


Next up we had a Holocaust drama from a kids point of view, WUNDERKINDER. Larissa (on the piano) and Abrascha (on violin) are two of the greatest child prodigies in the entire Soviet Union. They live in the Ukraine, and they are Jewish (like their teacher.) But who cares, they're magnificent, they've played for comrade Stalin, and they've even been invited to play Carnegie Hall. Meanwhile, Hannah also lives in their town. She loves music, too, but isn't as good as them. But she wants to be friends, even though she's German (her father is there to run a German-style brewery.) Well, that doesn't matter, Hitler and Stalin have a non-aggression pact. So they become friends as easily as children do. And then war breaks out. At first, well behind the Soviet lines, it's actually Hannah and her family that are in danger, and their Russian Jewish friends protecting them. That was easily the most interesting part. I've seen dozens of films about the plight of  Jews in WWII and the brave Germans who protected them. I'd never seen (or even thought about) the story of a German family trapped in Soviet territory and relying on the help of Jews to protect them. But it happened, all quite naturally in the movie. Soon enough the Germans take over the town and the dynamic is what we're used to in these kinds of movies. Luckily the local officer is a fan of culture and the wunderkinder are good enough to get some consideration from him. But culture alone can't overcome racial purity laws.

It's not the first 'Holocaust-through-the-eyes-of-a-child' movie I've seen. In many ways, it seems like there's a natural connection between the loss of childhood innocence and the time when the whole human race lost its innocence. And this movie is very well done and still manages to find a different angle on a familiar story. My favorite line, when the brewery assistant is trying to smuggle the Jewish families away to safety, he says (I paraphrase,) "Fascism, socialism, all political ideologies are worthless. There is only individual struggle."


And finally we ended with an exciting and nostalgic look at skateboarding in the GDR (East Germany) with THIS AIN'T CALIFORNIA. It centers around the life story of Denis aka "Panik," one of the skaters and apparently just all around craziest guy they'd ever met. In fact, the film is dedicated to him as he passed away last year at the age of 41 while serving in the military in Afghanistan. That's probably the biggest mystery--and one that's never really solved--how did someone who rebelled against authority so much end up in the military. They'd all pretty much lost touch with each other after the Berlin Wall fell, but now I'm getting ahead of the story. The story is really about before the wall fell and how kids learned about skateboarding, made their own boards, learned their own tricks (instead of ollie-ing, they used the bicycle tire inner-tube technique) and just kind of goofed around. Then how they moved to Berlin and took over the concrete jungle of Alexanderplatz. And how the Stasi followed them. How the GDR tried to institutionalize it with formal skating schools (many became instructors, including Panik for a time, but he rebelled against that as well.) And it's about how they were allowed to travel to international competitions, to see the world, and learn that there's really a great fraternity of skaters out there and being a skater was more important than what country they were from. And, more than anything, it's about youthful exuberance, captured in glorious 8 mm faded colors. Tons and tons of footage with just enough modern interviews looking back at the time. Oh, and sex--it's about sex. Particularly the one guy  who always seemed to be surrounded by naked women (I think his name was Patrick, but I'm not sure if I'm remembering that right. I must have been distracted by all the naked lady footage when they mentioned his name.) Sweet!

And that's Berlin and Beyond for 2012. Important news from the closing of the festival--it's moving back to January, where it used to be. So no festival for 2013 (although I'm sure they'll have one-off and year-round programs,) and look for it to come back in January of 2014. Wrong! Look for it in January 2013!

Total Running Time: 403 minutes
My Total Minutes: 299,228

Jason watches VULGARIA

This Chinese satire on filmmaking opens with disclaimer that promises filthy, politically-incorrect humor and then gives the audience a chance to leave.

And filthy humor it has, but surprisingly not that explicit. Not that I wanted much of it to be more explicit, but it's kind of surprising that a movie about a small-time film producer who is cornered into making a porno for the mob has nary an exposed breast in it. Ample cleavage...sure. Even the outline of erect nipples under a t-shirt. But considering the filthy subject matter, exposed titties are conspicuous in their absence.

Ah, but I'm getting ahead of myself. After the warning, we open on a shot of our producer hero To (Chapman To) addressing an auditorium full of film students about the role of the producer. He opens by explaining that a producer is kind of like a big bush of pubes--ugly, smelly, undesirable things that exist to reduce friction and help the magic get made.

He then tells the story of the making of his latest film. How he was put in contact with a triad boss Brother Tyrannosaurus with odd tastes in food and odder tastes in sex. I'll try not to get too spoilery, but I will say that given how much the film is about film, I'm sure the dinner scene was meant to bring up memories of the banquet in THE TEMPLE OF DOOM.

Anyway, after a night that includes some "lost footage" that becomes a bit of a running gag, Brother Tyrannosaurus convinces producer To to make a sequel to the classic CONFESSIONS OF A CONCUBINE, which Brother Tyrannosaurus loved as a child. He even insists on getting the original star--Yum Yum Shaw--to star in it, even though she's an old lady now. So To has to deal with those logistics, Tyrannosaurus' insistence that his girlfriend be in the movie, and paying alimony to his ex-wife while trying to stay on good terms with his daughter. Oh, and he has to deal with a sexual harassment claim from his secretary and all sorts of other awful, hilarious shit that happens. At least one good point is his starlet/girlfriend "Popping Candy" (yes, there's a reason for that nickname but no spoilers here.)

It was funny and I liked it a lot. But I'm left wanting to hear from any actual independent producer who has seen the film and can tell me if this is at least emotionally realistic. I want to know if I'm laughing because it's true or because it's so unbelievable.

Oh, and since it's such a film-geek film, I'm sure it's also completely intentional that now whenever I hear "Also Sprach Zarathustra" I don't think of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, I think of "mule pussy."

Running Time: 92 minutes
My Total Minutes: 298,825

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Jason watches LOOPER

Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays a very special kind of assassin in 2044. As he explains, time travel hasn't been invented yet, but 30 years in the future it has been. It's immediately outlawed, and only the most powerful criminal organizations have it. They use it to kill those they want to get rid of. Apparently something about how hard it is to dispose of a body in the future (don't think to hard about it, trying to explicate its logic is where the movie is at its weakest.) So a guy is sent back in time to a designated spot (near a field in Kansas) with a bag over his head and silver bars tied to his body. The assassin or "Looper" kills him right away, disposes of the body, and pockets the silver as payment. However, their knowledge of time travel is also dangerous to the mob, so eventually their future self is sent back to be assassinated. It's a big payday (gold instead of silver) and your retirement party, but also proof that you'll be dead in 30 years. Killing your future self is known as "closing your loop" and hence they're called loopers.

There's also some stuff about telekinesis that's introduced early on, forgotten for an hour, and then of course is massively important in the end. That part is pretty telegraphed.

So let me deal with the time travel logic first, since I'm kind of a time travel geek. It uses essentially Back to the Future rules, where changes in the past rewrite the future, even for characters who have travelled to the past from a different future. But instead of Marty McFly slowly dissolving away in front of his own eyes, time travelling characters can lose fingers or gain scars as their younger selves sustain injuries (in fact, carving a message onto your arm is a way to send that message in scar form to your future self.) This is not Feynman-diagrammable with closed time-like loops. I.e., it does not represent a single, self-consistent universe (few movies do, with my favorite examples being TIMECRIMES and 12 MONKEYS) but rather a multiple possible universes interpretation. This already makes me discount it a bit as "not a real time travel movie."

However, the time travel logic isn't what's important. As I said, explicating the logic is its weakest point. What is strong is how it presents a world where the hero character can directly see the 30-year repercussions of his actions. A world where the older version of himself (oh yeah, played by Bruce Willis) can actually sit his younger self down and tell him how stupid he's being (something I think everyone dreams of doing once they've reached a certain age and made the requisite number of mistakes.) But if it's a movie about what lessons we learn with age, it's also a movie about what lessons we fail to learn with age. And only when we get the privileged view of seeing the whole path of our life from the outside do we really know what to do. It's also a movie about what you're willing to kill for, and more importantly die for. These are the points where the movie is the strongest. In between are the action scenes, which are effective but border on being gratuitously bloody. I think that's just the style of the time, and you shouldn't expect anything less.

Running Time: 118 minutes
My Total Minutes: 298,733

Monday, October 1, 2012

Jason goes to Bad Movie Night: THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE RETURN OF THE KING part 2

And finally, at well past way-too-late-o'clock last night, Bored of the Rings Month mercifully came to an end.

Lots of people commented/joked when the movie first came out about how long Peter Jackson took to end the movie. False ending after false ending after false ending. And that's just the regular theatrical version, not the extended editions which we (like a bunch of dumb-ass hobbits) watched all month (okay, I wasn't there every week, but it still felt like forever. Here's the thing, not only are there about 100 endings in ROTK, but nearly half the movie is in slow-motion. If they just played every scene at regular speed and ended at the first logical ending, it's like a 20 minute short. But no, we need a scene of hobbits jumping on Frodo's recovery bed in slow motion. Because it's...just...that...important.

Running Time: 118 minutes and 15 seconds--I timed it. And that's just for the second half of the movie. And we stopped halfway through the credits, otherwise it would've been another half hour.
My Total Minutes: 298,615