Friday, March 29, 2013

Jason goes to Asianfest--Closing Night

So I skipped the penultimate Day 10, because I just had to watch my Quakes beat the Seattle Sounders (with Wondo nabbing the Goal of the Week.) But I was back for the final hurrah on Sunday. A full day with 4 movies at the New People Center screw it, for me it's still The Viz.

First up, a comedic drama about death and family, DEAD DAD. Russell Sawtelle is a struggling drummer living in L.A. and taking care of his dad, until he finds him dead. So he calls his sibling back to help take care of the funeral arrangements. Sister Jane (aka, Chainsaw--get it, Jane Sawtelle becomes Chainsaw) and adopted Asian brother Alex (although they don't get to the adoption until much later, leaving me wondering for a while if their dad had a previous marriage to an Asian lady and he's really a half-brother.) They all had issues with dad, who became something of an asshole for the last decade after their mother passed away. Jane had gone away to school in San Diego, and I know from personal experience how easy it can be to convince yourself not to come up and visit family in L.A. when you're living in San Diego, even though it's just a few hours away. Alex, meanwhile, had traveled the world and settled in the east coast, ostensibly for his career but there was clearly a 'get away from dad' aspect to this. In any case, when they get together they fight, they joke, they love each other, they're frustrated, they fight, they try to deal with dad's ashes (which was his wish, despite the fact that there is a plot waiting for him to be buried with his wife.)

Y'know, fuck it. I can't continue thinking about this movie. It had just the right balance of comedy, drama, and pathos, despite some details being off (e.g., cremated ashes aren't that fine, and aren't given in a plastic bag inside a cardboard box. Even if you don't get an urn, they put it in a more sturdy canister.) But mostly it just reminded me of my grandfather's funeral last year, and the whole family getting together. I'm one of six kids, scattered across the country (well, up and down the western part of the country) and I'm happy to say that we know we're always there for each other. We might not be as tragically funny as the siblings in this movie, but we got each other's back (and, in my humble opinion, we're pretty funny, too.)

Then from one tragedy to another, I saw the documentary WHEN HARI GOT MARRIED. Just kidding, it's not really a tragedy, but there is quite a bit of trepidation involved. Hari is a taxi driver on the Indian side of the Himalayas. He has seen his bride-to-be, Suman, only once, but has talked to her on the phone every day for months. Hari is a fun, chatty, gregarious character. He loves talking about his work, his taxi, the people he meets, his hopes for a family, his fear, his excitement, anything. Suman, on the other hand, is very shy, and only says a few things about her fear and her excitement. I kind of wish they had more balance showing her point of view, but as the title says it's his story, and honestly I suspect if they had started out trying to show both points of view, Hari is just a more camera-ready personality so the narrative would naturally gravitate to him. I will confess that exhaustion got the better of me and I slipped in and out of consciousness a bit in the middle. But it was still interesting to watch the intersection of traditional customs and modern technology. And [SPOILER ALERT!] It was nice to see the epilogue, showing 9 months later when they have a beautiful newborn baby girl and they are obviously happy with their marriage and love each other. I think this marriage will last. [END SPOILER.]

Then the closing gala was a mixed-media presentation of MEMORIES TO LIGHT. This is a new project by CAAM to showcase a particular time in Asian American history (and perhaps eventually all ethnicities of American history) through the use of home movies. More information will be available here. This was sort of the kick-off event, explaining the project (e.g., they're only looking for home movies on film, VHS and later would just be too much and also was a little too easy to use and so has a different feeling than the more deliberate action of loading a super-8 camera, shooting film, sending it to the lab to be processed, threading the returned film through a projector, etc.) And the kickoff featured a selection assembled and narrated live by filmmaker Mark Decena, which he called THE WAR WITHIN. He used his family's home movies as well as others that were donated to tell his family's story. How his Filipino father and Japanese mother met, how despite the horrific WWII history between the two countries they fell in love and got married, leading to good times, bad times, divorce, confusion, animosity. Decena choked up a few times during the presentation, which although kind of awkward it added to the power of the presentation. It was a pretty remarkable project, and I'm excited to see what comes out of it next.

And finally, while most everyone else left for the closing night after party, I stayed for one last movie, the documentary XMAS WITHOUT CHINA. Chinese-American filmmaker Tom Xia explores the recent spate of paranoia surrounding unsafe products from China (lead in toys, etc.) He looks for anyone who is willing to spend most of the month--from December 1 through December 25, without using any product from China (including, of course, not buying any Christmas presents that were made in China.) Of course, this could get a little tricky as even "Made in the U.S.A." products might have Chinese components. But the standard is if China shows up anywhere on the label, it's not legal. So he finds a willing couple--The Joneses, a good, red-blooded American family with a son and daughter--and out go most of their lamps, their toaster, their coffee maker, all their light bulbs. They're making toast in the oven and reading by candlelight. And, of course, checking the labels on everything they buy. One of the most extreme things they do is when they decide they absolutely need a string of Christmas lights but can't find any that aren't made in China. So the father decides to make his own. He finds little bulbs made in Mexico, gets wire and all the necessary tools, and makes one string of Christmas lights--final cost (excluding labor) is around $160. Contrasting all of this is Tom's own family, Chinese Americans in southern California who have "made it"--they're wealthy enough to own a two-story house, and they want to decorate like crazy and celebrate the heck out of Christmas (even though they aren't actually Christians.) So while the Joneses struggle with making one string of lights the Xia's are struggling with the logistics of hanging many strings of lights from their ~100 foot tall tree in their front yard (and, of course, hiring a Latino worker to do it. There's something oddly American about seeing an Chinese man hire a Mexican to do difficult and dangerous manual labor.) They whole project is pretty funny, and while it could've dug deeper into the issues of international industry and commerce it still made it's point pretty well. In fact, the best line came from the Joneses, who said they didn't blame China for dangerous products, they blamed the greedy international (often America) companies who move manufacturing there and then don't monitor the safety at their plants. That got a bit of an applause from the San Francisco audience.

Total Running Time: 243 minutes
My Total Minutes: 323,189

Jason goes to Asianfest--Day 9

Okay, my updates are a week late, but CAAMFest ended last Sunday, I've gotten some sleep, and today is a holiday (Good Friday) so it's time for me to finally update my blog.

Last Friday I was delayed at work for way too long and so missed ASTROBOY, but I was there in plenty of time for NICE GIRLS CREW: SEASON 2. I hadn't seen the first season, but it didn't really matter. It's pretty easy to find on Youtube, and pretty easy to get into. Three longtime friends start a book club. They drink, they make fun of each other, they plan their careers, they try to men broken hearts, the...I guess maybe they sometimes read books, but that never really becomes part of the plot. Pretty ridiculous, and very funny.

And then I stayed up for the late show, GRACELAND. Actually, that's not really true, I fell asleep during the late show, GRACELAND. I was awake for enough of the beginning to meet our hero, a chauffeur, and his employer, a corrupt Congressman in the Philippines. And I was awake long enough to see both his daughter and the Congressman's daughter get kidnapped from his car. And then...there's a long blank area with flashes I can't really put together, and an ending which indicated that the hero had been put through the physical and--more importantly--moral wringer. I trust that the parts I missed were well done, tense, dramatic, and exciting. But this is one I need to watch again when I'm well rested.

Total Running Time: 134
My Total Minutes: 322,946

Friday, March 22, 2013

Jason goes to Asianfest--Day 8 it through the weekend. Man, this non-stop festival after festival after festival action is kinda killing me. Living off too little sleep and a new, more powerful source of caffeine. Only a few days ago I noticed the warning to limit the use to no more than 10 pieces a day (which I've held to) and no more than 2 pieces in a three hour period (which...I actually looked up the symptoms for caffeine toxicity today and...I need sleep.) This was easier last year when I didn't have that day job getting in my way.

Anyway, my problems aren't yours, let's get back to the movies.

First up I made my way to the Asian Art Museum for DOSA HUNT and the accompanying party. The movie was very funny and might just be the start of a series of culinary adventures (there were rumors of a possible DOSA HUNT 2 set in San Francisco.) First time filmmaker and long time music blogger Amrit Singh gathers his friends--who are all "brown" musical luminaries (Vijay Iyer, members of Das Racist, Vampire Weekend, Yeasayer, Neon Indian, etc. Yeah, I'm kinda cribbing from the program notes and IMDb page, I'm not actually all that up on the music scene these days) and takes them on a quick journey to find the best Dosa in New York (spoiler alert: Dosa Hutt in Queens wins.) But it's not just about the tasty south Indian crepe, it's about the camaraderie and comedy from all these highly charismatic people. As rock stars, it took about a year to get them all in the same place with a free day on their schedule, but once that happened the magic was palpable. I especially liked the joking about rating the dosas on a scale of how many "Bobby Jindals." For the record, the fewer Bobby Jindals the better. At one point there's a debate about the scale--if Bobby Jindals are bad, then shouldn't something good be scored as negative Bobby Jindals? In any case, the winner was scored negative Jindals, 5/5 Ghandis, and I don't remember how many mangoes, etc. But it was funny, I swear.

The event included a reception, admission to the museum (including the Terra Cotta Warriors, which I skipped because I saw them opening night and didn't want to deal with the crowds again), one ticket for a free Sapporo (more beer, wine, or vodka was available for purchase. I stopped myself at the Sapporo and one glass of Merlot), a DJ set before the movie, a performance by Indian Bastards from Hell (former members of Das Racist) and food trucks serving dosa and frozen custard.

It was a lot of fun, and I hope they keep up this mix of movie, music, and food in future years. But it needs to be better organized, managed, and communicated to the fans. Example: the schedule said 6:00, so I busted my ass to get there by 5:45, thinking the movie was starting at 6:00 (and all the other party stuff--music, food, drinks, touring the museum) was after. In fact, the movie didn't start until 7:00 (I don't know if that was the original plan, or if logistics of setting up the equipment just pushed it back.) When I got there, I was given conflicting information about where to get my will-call ticket, and once I got it I got conflicting information on where the screening actually was (I was first told downstairs around the side, then upstairs at the top of the grand staircase.) If I had known that the movie wasn't going to start until 7:00, I would have gotten a dosa at the food truck first. By the time I got to the food--after the movie and chatting with people for about 20 minutes--they were out of potato and I settled for a "dosaritto" wrap instead of an authentic dosa. In fact, I went to the dosa truck right as Indian Bastards from Hell were starting their set, and the line was long enough I pretty much missed them, once I got my food I had to run off to Japantown for another movie there. While in line, I actually talked to the DJ who did the set before the movie, and he remarked how odd it was that everyone was just sitting there like a recital. I told him I think that's because most people thought the movie was supposed to start at 6:00 and they were patiently waiting for that rather than really getting into his music.

Maybe I can't blame CAAM too much for the confusion, but I feel like if I knew when and in what order things were happening (especially movie at 7:00, not 6:00), I would've done it differently. Got a dosa first. Maybe have time to tour the Terra Cotta Warriors again. I certainly wouldn't have been so impatient getting my ticket. Have a leisurely drink and some chocolate (oh yeah, free treats from Jade Chocolates! Yummy!), watch the movie, and actually see some of Indian Bastards set before heading off to Japantown. That would've been the right way to do it, if I knew then what I know know.

Anyway, I made it to the New People cinema in Japantown in plenty of time, in no small part because the show that was originally (in the printed mini-guide) scheduled for 9:20 was actually moved back to 9:45. Made getting there easy, but getting to BART and eventually home afterwards was more stressful, as it didn't get out until about 11:45. Anyway, for this show I will state in advance that I struggled to stay awake, even though it might have been my favorite program of the festival (might have been. Maybe all the parts when I dozed off kinda sucked)

First up was the short SHANGHAI STRANGERS, directed by Joan Chen. Christmas Eve, Shanghai. A brief power outage, a British man and a Chinese woman get to talking. He compliments her child, she reveals something to him that she's never told anyone. But somehow this stranger is just the right person to take her confession.

And then the feature, BEIJING FLICKERS, a funny, violent, sad, and thrilling look at down-and-out young adults in Beijing. San Bao opens the movie by saying his first word in 127 days--"Me." Before that, he hadn't spoken since his girlfriend left him for a rich guy, his dog ran away, he was nearly arrested for punching a guy on a bike who got in the way of his pursuit of his dog, he lost his job, and he lost his home. Yeah, he's not having a very good life. He even tries to end it all, by drinking a lot and then eating the glass he was drinking from. He wakes up in a hospital with a bandaged mouth and a new friend. And he, and more friends, become a new sort of impromptu family that...well, if they don't cheer up San Bao, they at least help him through life until he gets to a non-suicidal point. This is where exhaustion caught up with me, so I don't remember all the details exactly, but most every time I snapped back to consciousness something weird and funny was going on. I really need to watch this again when I'm well rested. Oh yeah, and SPOILER ALERT! his dog eventually comes back to him, so there is a happy ending.

Total Running Time: 139
My Total Minutes: 322,813

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Jason goes to AsianFest--Day 7

Another night, another two movie programs. First up was THE MONKEY KING: UPROAR IN HEAVEN in 3-D. This is actually a restoration and 3-D-ification of a 1961 Chinese animation classic (released just before the Cultural Revolution shut down the film industry.) More on the 3-D in a moment. First, the story, which is based on part of the classic epic Chinese novel Journey to the West. The Monkey King is a mischievous immortal trickster, who plays with his children (all the monkeys of Fruit Flower Mountain) and teaches them martial arts. When he breaks his sword, he goes in search of a new weapon and ends up taking a mighty cudgel from the Dragon King of the East Sea. Among his powers, he has the ability to change the size of things (including himself), so when the cudgel is a giant tower on the bottom of the sea, he simply shrinks it down to hand-held size...and then so tiny he can hide it in his ear. Anyway, the Dragon King appeals to the Jade Emperor of Heaven, who invites the Monkey King up to Heaven in an attempt to control him by giving him a minor appointment there. But the Monkey King kowtows to no one, and his antics upturn all the courtly order of Heaven. Needless to say, wacky hijinx ensue. And no matter how mighty the gods are, the Monkey King always has a new trick up his sleeve. Lots of fun.

Now for the 3-D. It was well done, but totally unnecessary. And when so much of the beauty is in the hand-drawn, 2-D frames, the 3-D effects make just make 2-D surface appear at different depths. Less like a full 3-D world and more like watching an animated pop-up book. Which has its own charms, but I'd be just as happy to watch it in 2-D.

And then, after a beer and a realization that I had actually gone two straight days without drinking, I caugh the Shorts program Queer Convergence--yay Gaysians!
THE HEART'S MOUTH: A very short scene, connecting two young Asian men. The greatest thing you'll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.
LOVE BANG!: A "sexperimental" music video from Cambodia. A mix of Cambodian lyrics and American pop and hip-hop. Sci-fi trannies. Yak-horn hair. Fun and weird. See it for yourself.
TOM/TRANS/THAI: A quiet, contemplative view into the spirit of a Thai FTM transgender. Uses crossroads and language to explore masculinity and Thai identity in a very fluid way.
IF I FOUND THE PLACE: A music video homage/memoir of Seo Taiji and Boys. Not that I knew anything about them before. To me it was just lo-def Youtube clips that were from sometime in the late 80's/early 90's (turns out 1992).
LAST TEA PARTY: A big party, drugs and alcohol. Two best friends who are about to go into the Singaporean Army kind of hook up. It's even a surprise to them.
PRETTY PICTURES: Laney draws very nice, very detailed, very sexy sketches of her girlfriend Marcy (whether she's a real girlfriend or imaginary isn't revealed...and isn't really important.) Her cousin finds out and wants to "borrow" the pictures. Luckily her aunt is understanding.
BORN TO DANCE THIS WAY:  Joo Si!!!!! He's just like J-Lo, just don't be fooled by the rocks he's got. This is the third time I've seen it now, and it's great each time. By now, the fun is in listening to the rest of the audience and how they react (spoiler: they laughed in all the right places.)

Total Running Time: 160 minutes
My Total Minutes: 322,674

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Jason goes to Asianfest--Day 6

Two more movies last night, starting with the latest by Royston Tan, who was described as "the bad boy of Singaporean cinema." I am actually not that familiar with his work, but the festival is doing a tribute to him and retrospective of his work. However, I think this is the only one of his films I fit into my schedule.

OLD ROMANCES is a sequel to his documentary OLD PLACES (he revealed he has been approached to make a third, that he might call OLD FRIENDS.) It's a simple concept--about 45 different places in Singapore that are under threat of being destroyed (actually, about half have been destroyed by now to make way for new construction.) Restaurants, hospitals, train stations, etc. that are being kicked out with the old to make way for the new. And to accompany the view of the places, voice-overs by people who have loved these places. Maybe it's where someone fell in love. Or where met friends for years. Or where they worked. Anywhere people made memories that will last far beyond the building's physical existence. It can't help make me think back on the places I've loved and missed. There was a little burrito shop near my old work that went out of business rather suddenly. Or then there's the Red Vic, that closed recently. Or many other movie houses in the Bay Area that have closed or are in danger of closing. Or the house at my alma mater that I hear isn't in danger of actual physical destruction, but will soon irrevocably change in character. Or places that I'd be heartbroken if they disappeared, like the Roxie, or the Niles Film Museum, or the Castro, or the Stanford, or...hey, I'm noticing a theme. Anyway, the movie isn't a diatribe, more of a loving reminder that every place that gets torn down has or had people who loved it, just the same as your favorite places.

And then I ended the night with JISEUL, a visual poem on the absurdity of war. I had known nothing about the 1948 Jeju Massacre, but apparently the occupying American forces issued a "shoot to kill" order on anyone within a 5 km border of the peninsula, on the assumption that those who didn't leave were communist infiltrators. In this movie, a small group of villagers (representative of the ~120 in the true event it's based on) hole up in a cave hiding from the army. There's no politics here, just a will to survive. And what they first thought would be a couple of days drags on for two months. Starvation, fear, death. But it's shot with a black-and-white elegance and beauty that conflicts with the gritty subject matter. And the soldiers hunting them...well they're absurd nearly to the point of slapstick. Somehow neither villainized nor humanized, just absurd. A scene where an officer makes a soldier strip and stand naked in the snow for a long time because he hasn't caught any commies is kind of funny. Then it actually gets more absurd when the commanding officer intervenes and smacks the lower officer around telling him not to worry so much  and that there are plenty of commies out there to kill. And then there are just beautifully sad scenes, of course. And really, it's beauty that is the dominant theme here, even more than the absurdity of war. Which, in itself, is pretty absurd for a movie about civilians trapped and hunted in a war.

Total Running Time: 185 minutes
My Total Minutes: 322,514

Jason goes to Asianfest--Day 5

Here's a refrain I'll be writing all this week--"Two more movies last night."

In this case, the two movies were two excellent and very different documentaries, starting with the Korean War short-ish (official running time is listed as 37 minutes) documentary MEMORY OF FORGOTTEN WAR. 2013 is the 60th anniversary of the armistice that "ended" the Korean War (and with current events, who knows how much longer it will last.) So this timely documentary is a sobering account of how we actually got here. I learned more about the history of Korean war in the first few minutes of this documentary than...well, I guess I've never really spent much time studying the Korean War, but I learned a lot more than what is in the general culture.... There's more good information in here than in all of M*A*S*H (both the movie and the TV series.) Like, the exact dynamics of the post WWII U.S. vs. Soviet Union power struggle/proxy war on the peninsula. Or how arbitrary the 38th parallel was. Or how the cease fire suddenly put cities and towns that were on one side of the 38th parallel on the other side of North/South divide (e.g., Kaesong) and how that split up families where members ended up on different sides of the DMZ. This history lesson is told a little bit by historians and academics, but far more by survivors, and especially by survivors who emigrated to America and still carry the damage from their torn country with them.

Chief among them was Grandma Kim, a feisty but life-loving old woman who was there for the Q&A and totally owned that room. The poor translator tried to keep up as she exhorted us all in Korean to live and love life, and to not just laugh a little but enjoy big belly-laughs at life.

Then we were treated to mini concert of by the drumming group Jamaesori and singer/rapper Skim. That was pretty damn cool. If I had stayed, I also could've taken a picture in the interactive photo booth set up by HOBAK, but alas I had to run off to my second film of the night.

And that was another documentary, but a much more playful and cheerful (pun intended) one, THE CHEER AMBASSADORS. It's the story of the team from Bangkok University who took the world of International Cheerleading by storm. Starting with just some goofy, energetic kids from Thailand who loved to stay up all night to watch cheerleading on cable TV (where it came on--sometimes--at 4 am. Sometimes it was scheduled and didn't come on at all.) The high school competitions were already pretty popular, but these kids took it to the next level and went from relative unknowns to getting the whole audience (including competing teams) to cheer "Bangkok! Thailand!" in Orlando. And they did this with very sparse facilities, with incredible drive and dedication (their captain actually has a seizure from the stress of it all), with dreams (the poor country girl who couldn't afford college without a cheerleading scholarship and goes on to be a champion...awesome!), and most of all with a sense of style, pageantry, and cheer that other teams can't match. One of my favorite parts was when an official explains how other teams might have the technical skill, but only Thailand looks like they're really having fun out there. I normally wouldn't be that interested in competitive cheerleading (which still seems pretty silly to me) but these characters and their journey was more than interesting, it was exhilarating.

Total Running Time: 132 minutes
My Total Minutes: 322,329

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Jason goes to Asianfest--Day 4

Wrapping up the first big weekend, four more shows on Sunday.

First up was the shorts program Wrench in the Works, shorts with a disruptive side to them:
LITTLE MAO: A knock on the noggin turns a 12-year old kid into the new hero of the workers. He organizes them against bullies, but then his corruption gets the best of him.
FOOTSTEPS: A North Korean kid, on a dare from his friends, sneaks onto a heavily guarded beach to collect clams. The prank turns into a showdown between the North and South, and the standoff becomes life-threatening as the tide comes in.
BANZAI RISING: As a Mexican boy immigrating to America, Pedro Gomez made friends through skateboarding. Now that he's moving to Shanghai, he looks to skateboarding again as a way into the community. Pretty cool how a simple board and four wheels makes a Mexican-American at home in China.
DAWN: A black man watches as an Asian man makes an awkward glance at him before getting off the bus. Interpreting it as racist, he goes and confronts the man, pretending to mug him...well, actually mugging him, but to teach him a lesson. But it turns out there's a different lesson to be learned.
SHAYA: They may have escaped war, but for this Pakastani family in Los Angeles, that doesn't mean their troubles are over.
BORN TO DANCE THIS WAY: Joo-Si!!!! I saw this back at Indiefest, and it was still fun a second time.
ANTI-VERSARY: Old friends get together to play Mah Jong. One man is late, but he's brought a bottle of old wine. This was the wine he was supposed to drink with his wife at their first anniversary, but things kept getting in the way. Now that she's gone, they're all the people he has left to drink with.

Then I saw the controversial feature, WHEN NIGHT FALLS, the story of Yang Jia, a man who allegedly killed six police officers, and was put to death after a quick, closed-door trial and a series of equally quick appeals (the crime happened on July 1, 2008 and he was executed November 21st of the same year.) I linked to the Wikipedia article so that you can get some sense of the drama of the story, because the movie itself is an interesting, dramatic, and important story...not told. It opens and closes with a slide show explaining the crime and the punishment. The fictionalized account focuses entirely on his mother, shown in static shots, as she works with her lawyer to plead her case to the appeals court. The whole process is just...tedious, not dramatic. I fully acknowledge that I came into this screening with no knowledge of the Yang Jia case, and I'm sure someone who has been steeped in the media coverage and online commentary of the case would have a different experience. My experience, however, was just confusion, boredom, and disappointment.

But luckily, I followed it up with my favorite shorts program of the festival so far, WYSIWYG (What You See Isn't What You Get)
...OR DIE: A hilarious take on the annoyingly real racist reaction three "brown" comedians get when they try to pitch their ideas to a certain online comedy video site--officially in the film it's the fictional site Funny or Fail. I wonder if the title might hint at what the real site was.
SCREAMING IN ASIAN: The frustrations of a young Asian-American actress trying to find work. Director Joyce Wu is fundraising to expand this into a feature film (about her character returning home to Michigan). Details here.
MORE THAN A FACE IN THE CROWD: A loving portrait of director Samantha Chan’s great-aunt Jane Chung. Jane acted in dozens of movies, TV shows, and commercials. Often as an extra, so finding her can be a bit of a challenge. There are rumors that she was on an episode of I Love Lucy. She was an extra in THE BIRDS. Her most famous role was as one half of a documentary couple in WHEN HARRY MET SALLY (ironically, in her most famous role she doesn't speak a word, her "husband" says everything.) She also beat up the Incredible Hulk with a broom once. Quite a career, for an unknown. And her career gives a unique perspective to the portrayal of Asians in American cinema (e.g., how often the leads were played by white actors.)
TAIWANFAMOUS: A self-documentary by Chinese-Iranian-American actress Sarah Tadayon, who happened to have some success on a Taiwanese talk show, and is now trying to be a bigger star in Taiwan. The thing is, anyone can be on TV in Taiwan, it's actually pretty easy. But to be popular enough to make a living at it is a lot harder. Especially body issues (lose weight, put invisible tape on your eyes to give them a fold, etc.) which seem to be even more ingrained in Taiwanese TV culture than they are in America.
MOTHER AND CHILD: A Filipina mother in America prepares for her husband to join her, with poignant and frightening overtones.
AT YOUR CONVENIENCE: A hilarious green-screen sitcom, about friendship, gangs, racism, crocheting, and crack. Sweet, beautiful, non-discriminatory crack.

And then I ended my night with ABIGAIL HARM, an odd, dream-like journey through a traditional Korean folk tale set in New York. Abigail (Amanda Plummer, as excellent as ever) is a reader for the blind. She has a lot of interesting clients, including Mr. Warren (Burt Young) who asks her to read pornography and describe the pictures to him. That foreshadows the odd, displaced eroticism that will follow. The one story that sticks in her mind is a Korean folk tale about a woodcutter who rescues a deer who then tells him the secret to winning a nymph's undying love. Soon enough, similar events occur in her own life. The visitor (Will Patton) appears, and she tends to his wounds. He tells her that if she steals the robe of the visitor (Tetsuo Kuramochi) he will be hers forever. And so that's exactly what she does. Or maybe this is all an erotic fantasy in her mind. It's hypnotic, quiet (it takes the visitor seemingly forever to say anything), tender, and...strange. I was tired, I don't know if I processed it well, but it is sticking in my brain. In fact, I had a ticket for the late show of TURN IT UP TO 11, PART 2: WILD DAYS, but it was late, I was tired, and this movie wouldn't exit my brain so I decided to call it a semi-early night, go home, get some sleep, and continue thinking about it. The next day, I had no further insights. But the acting was amazing.

Total Running Time: 331 minutes
My Total Minutes: 322,197

Monday, March 18, 2013

Jason goes to Asianfest--Day 3

The big first weekend of CAAMFest is over, so let's jump right in with what I saw.

I started Saturday with BEAUTIFUL 2012, a project by the Hong Kong Film Festival, they commissioned four of Asia's most acclaimed directors to make a short film (~20-25 minutes each, total running time was 92 minutes) answering the question, "What is Beautiful?" And to the eyes of this glib Westerner, apparently sadness is beautiful.
YOU ARE MORE THAN BEAUTIFUL (Kim Tae-yong): A young man hires an actress to pretend to be his fiancee and impress his dying father. But in their collaboration, they do share a moment of beauty. Oddly enough, I couldn't shake how this was the serious, melancholy version of ONE SMALL HITCH from Cinequest.
WALKER (Tsai Ming-liang): A monk walks incredibly slowly through the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong. It's actually a beautiful contemplation on movement and pace of life...I fell asleep. I've fallen asleep in hundreds, perhaps thousands of movies by now. But with this one, more than any other, it seems like falling asleep and reflecting on that fact became in itself an important part of processing the experience. If art teaches you about yourself, what does it say about me that I fell asleep? Do I have insufficient patience for the monk's deliberately slow life? Or have I just not gotten enough sleep in a few months?
LONG TOU (Gu Changwei): Conversations of life, birth, death. At best, it's the philosophical beauty of the mundane dirtiness of life. Or perhaps it serves as a counterpoint, reminding us that without the constant ordinary ugliness of life, beauty means nothing at all.
MY WAY (Ann Hui): The tribulations and support group of a male-to-female transsexual, as she undergoes her surgery. Easily the most accessible of the group, which I guess means that to me the most beautiful thing is a man turning into a woman.

Next up was the Shorts Program, On Bodies.
SECRETS OF THE MONGOLIAN ARCHERS: A fascinating look at a cold, remote Mongolian village, where archery is integral to the native DNA and their best archers prepare for the Olympics.
JUDY: A love letter to an old woman (the director's grandmother, if I recall correctly) who in her advanced age taught line dancing (not lion dancing, line dancing) at her community center.
NO LONGER THERE: A beautiful story about the art of crafting perfect dentures for people who have lost their teeth through age or injury. A denture artist puts great care into his work (so much that his colleagues tease him about it) while fantasizing about the woman whose teeth these will become.
BOLLYWOOD INVASION: A fun and colorful story of an awkward kid who has to step up, join the dance team, and win the big contest in order to win the girl.
BIGGER THEY COME: Like a video-game come to life, Jynx is the kick-ass girl who has to defeat all the bad guys and avenge her grandfather's death. Lots of fun.
DILLI DREAMS: An elderly man interacts and reflects on the youth of the city in this beautiful and poetic Indian movie.
INSIDE OUR HEARTS: The touching documentary about unique (I've decided to stop using the term "disabled" but I'm no fan of "differently-abled" so I'm still looking for the right word) parents raising their little boy.
TULE LAKE: An animated story of Japanese-American internment in WWII and the sacrifices a mother will go through to provide for her family.

And then I got a unique treat, COMRADE KIM GOES FLYING is a U.K., Belgium, and North Korean co-production, filmed in North Korea. I know what you're thinking (because apparently I'm psychic?) a North Korean film must be nothing but propaganda, right? Well, maybe a little bit, but the co-producer/co-director stated that actually real North Korean propaganda films were something else. This does have a lot of references to "revolutionary spirit" and showcasing the "strength of the working class", but it is ultimately the story of one girl succeeding in pursuit of her dreams. As the opening text states, we all have dreams, no matter where we are. Well, Kim Yong Mi dream is to fly, ever since she saw a dove when she was a little girl. But she lives in a mining town, so she lives most of her life underground. But she excels at acrobatics as well as her job--frequently exceeding quota and then entertaining her fellow workers with her acrobatic skills. When she gets a plum assignment to the construction team in Pyongyang, she goes early to visit the circus and see her idol, the trapeze star. And that visit convinces her to try out for the circus. Of course, at first she doesn't succeed. But when she overhears the male trapeze star Pak Jang Phil (Pak Chung Guk) making fun of her, she is more determined to succeed just to show him up. And luckily her fellow workers are behind her in this effort. Not only are dreams universal, but apparently so is the desire to help cute, charming, plucky girls with bubbly personalities to pursue their dreams. More than a few moments in the film come off as naive or childlike to Western sensibilities, but it's a lot of fun as well as an interesting look into North Korean sensibilities (I was particularly struck by the vibrant colors used, so different than the stereotype of a bleak and colorless dictatorship.)

The Q and A afterwards was also fascinating, but I had to leave about 15 minutes into it to catch my next film.

And that was HIGH TECH, LOW LIFE, a documentary about Chinese bloggers. Specifically, about "Zola" and "Tiger Temple." We open on Zola, a young guy who is a kind of "happy warrior" (Tiger Temple's words) in the fight against official news accounts. Part citizen-reporter, part merry prankster, he pulls off borderline offensive photography/video shenanigans and posts them online using various techniques to get around the "Great Firewall" of Chinese Internet censorship. You can see he cares, and some of his playfulness is a defense mechanism ('I was just another tourist and I made this little joke that happened to be picked up as a social message.') Tiger Temple, meanwhile, is a more serious citizen-reporter who travels the countryside documenting and telling stories of the people. Stories of polluted waters, or homeless people evicted from Beijing in advance of the Olympics. Director Stephen Maing gets some pretty remarkable access to both of them, and shows their adventures in pushing the boundaries of Internet freedom in China (and the  push back by the authorities.) It serves as a useful reminder both of the Internet freedoms I take for granted here (although I'm under no illusion the Internet is completely free now or will continue to be as free as it is) and the spirit of netizen activists in other parts of the world.

And finally, I ended the night with THE LAND OF HOPE, the latest from Sion Sono (LOVE EXPOSURE) and his response to the Fukushima disaster. Although not directly about Fukushima, it is referenced as a past event frequently. Instead, this takes place in the fictional prefecture of Nagashima, which has a similar nuclear power plant and suffers a similar earthquake. This leads to the utterly ridiculous but perfectly believable premise that the government would declare an evacuation zone so precise that the border is placed between neighboring houses. Officials tell one family they must move, it's too dangerous for them to stay while simultaneously telling the neighbors just outside the evacuation zone that it's perfectly safe for them to stay. It becomes a contemplation on nuclear energy, nuclear paranoia, facing the end of life gracefully (or not), governmental insanity, and...well a heck of a lot more. Because it's Sion Sono it's beautiful and it pushes a heck of a lot of buttons. It just sort of...overwhelmed me to a point where I can't sum it up nicely. I can say, as a physicist, that love does not beat radiation. I can also say, as a viewer, I think the title is ironic (unless there's some hidden hope I missed.) Also, the fire was freakin' beautiful.

Total Running Time: 478 minutes
My Total Minutes: 321,867

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Jason goes to Asianfest--Day 2

2 films last Friday night, as the regular festival schedule ramps up.

First up was the U.S. premiere of Taiwan's highest-grossing documentary ever, GO GRANDRIDERS. A group of 17 septuagenarians and octogenarians (average age 81 years) embark on a motorcycle rally around the island of Taiwan. They all need to take a test of skill and balance before they are allowed on the journey. If they get tired or injured there's a bus to ride on and a team that will take care of them and their bikes. But for the most part, they all want to stay on their bikes. Not that problems don't come up--their captain hid the fact that he was suffering from an ulcer and the bumpy ride sets his stomach to bleeding again. And there are the occasional scrapes and spills. But for the most part it's a story of fun and celebration of life. Watching these old guys go to an arcade and slide into the ball pit or play video games like children is a treat (one exclaims, "I never knew kids' games were so much fun!") Or watching one guy hide from a group portrait so he can eat ice cream, that was pretty funny, too. And there are poignant moments, of course. There's the man who stops at his wife's grave, and knows she still wants to ride along with him even though she's dead. Or the old soldiers--one of whom actually was in the Japanese army--finding friendships decades after they were trying to kill each other, and letting bygones be bygones. Overall, it's a portrait of people who have led long, full lives, with some pain and some sorrow, but still want to get everything they can out of life. Riding long distances on a motorcycle in your eighties might seem silly, but the end result is an illumination of what's really important in life, by way of subtracting all the unimportant things.

And then I caught the shorts program One on One--shorts that showcase the relationships between pairs of people, be they friends, relatives, lovers, etc.
DISTANCE: Locally shot, a young couple in the San Francisco explore issues of closeness and distance--both physical and emotional, as he prepares to fly to Hong Kong.
FOR HIRE: A taxi driver in Mumbai, one of his regular passengers is a sex worker. His job is as much ignoring what he sees as it is driving her and her clients around. But one night, as the abuse gets too much, he can't ignore it anymore.
GREAT BIG LIGHTS OUT: A fun and clever mix of live action and animation from Korea. It asks the question, what would happen if everyone you knew died in their sleep at the same time? And everyone they knew? And so on until everyone suddenly blinks out in the Great Big Lights Out? (Answer: the pets would be very sad.)
BUBBLE: Scotch. They make such a big deal about drinking scotch right, and then they put too much water in it anyway. Oh well, it's only Glenlivet, anyway. I think other things happened in this movie, but I was too fixated on the Scotch.
BROKEN MAIDEN: An old man begs his son for money to cover his gambling debts. But his son is just trying to keep the shoe repair/key copying stand he runs afloat, as he's still paying off his father's previous debts.
BENCHMARK: Basketball, Harvard, and the appropriate look for an Asian-American student come together in this short that would make a perfect companion piece to opening night's LINSANITY.
UNMENTIONABLES: Laundromat time machine! Save the girl in the past, and see how that saves the future. Awesome!
SIX FROM CERTAIN: A series of very brief soundbites from friends, we learn the story of Sean, the seemingly perfect girl he went out with, and why things didn't work out.
GOT A JOB!: A couple of old women, a fortune cookie factory, super-short, and super-funny!
TWO FOR DEPARTURE: Stop copying me! I'm trying to commit suicide!

Total Running Time: 165 minutes
My Total Minutes: 321,389

Friday, March 15, 2013

Jason goes to AsianFest--Opening Night

The Center for Asian American Media, or CAAM (Formerly NAATA, as in "NAATA chance I'm going to remember what it stands for), which has put on the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival, or SFIAAFF (as in, "How do you pronounce SFIAAFF? And while we're at it, how can it be the International Asian American Film Festival?) has officially changed the name of the festival to CAAMFest (As in, "Screw it, I'm going to keep calling CAAMFest 'AsianFest.' And yes, I know there are other Asian Film Festivals in the bay area, but they're the first, biggest, and best, so they get the 'honor' of the name.")

Anyway, after the extensive opening thank-yous, we finally got to the opening night film, a crowd-pleaser about a local hero, LINSANITY. That's right, Jeremy Lin grew up in the bay area (Palo Alto, to be specific) and was a local high school basketball star before...not being recruited by any major basketball schools. So instead he attended Harvard, where he was a star there and showed NBA potential, and eventually was...undrafted. But he was picked up and signed by his local team, the Golden State Warriors, and got a chance to play in front of his vocal hometown fans. And he...didn't do too well. So he was cut. And signed to the Houston Rockets...and cut again in under two weeks. And he signed with the Knicks. Where he struggled. Over the course of his early career, he was sent down to the D-league many times, which he described as some of his worst basketball times (in the D-league everyone is playing for himself to get back to the NBA, nobody plays as a team.) And he was maybe a day from being cut by the Knicks when Linsanity exploded. And that's when even I, who doesn't follow the NBA much at all, heard about him. But the filmmakers, led by director Evan Jackson Leong, had followed him around for quite a while before that (you have to wonder what movie they would have made if he hadn't broken out like that--the struggles of an Asian American with hoop dreams?)

Now, the story is undeniably inspiring (although he's fallen to earth a little bit recently, ironically while playing for the Rockets) and the last chapter is yet to be written. The filmmakers were blessed to get such great access to Lin before he blew up, and they build a portrait of a charming, goofy, very personable guy who loves his family and is devoted to God. And here I need to be very careful. I have been fairly open about my atheism here. But I certainly don't think belief in God--and a frequently publicly declared belief in God--makes you an unlikable person or an uninteresting/unsympathetic character for a movie. If you'll pardon the cliche, some of my best friends are Christian. But in general, a belief in God (at least if you're doing it right) reduces the conflict in your life. And conflict is the heart of drama, so a story that minimizes the conflict inherently minimizes the drama.

And it's a shame, because the movie could have emphasized the conflict and drama surrounding his story a lot more. Specifically, the questions of racism that surrounded him. Several times it's touched upon briefly before going back to an account of his career and his faith. Would he have been recruited in college, or drafted into the NBA, if he had the same game and same stats but were black instead of Asian? (The quick answer that Lin himself offers is "Yes" but it's never explored further.) Are the fans who yell racist insults at him really racist, or are they passionate fans who are trying to disrupt an opposing player in whatever way possible? Is there a difference? Is that an excuse? When a commentator asks if there's "any chink in his armor," is that overtly racist? An unfortunate choice of words/slip of the tongue? An innocuous expression that doesn't mean everything and got an overblown reaction? When Jon Stewart holds up a fake (I think?) newspaper offering "Am-Asian!" as an alternative to "Linsanity" is it racist or is it mocking racism? These are all brought up quickly, and then even more quickly forgotten.

Consider these two stories:

1. A kid with a dream works hard to achieve it. He has talent, work ethic, and a strong faith. While he faces hurdles and times of tribulation, his faith guides him and keeps him on the right path even in his darkest moments. Eventually he succeeds, despite being seen as a big underdog.


B) A kid with a dream works hard to achieve it. On all sides, he faces prejudice because his dream is atypical for someone of his race. Through talent and hard work, he succeeds at every level, but he has to work harder just to get a chance, all while faced with horrible racist insults. Eventually he succeeds, despite being seen as a big underdog, but even his success is beset with more racist whispering about it.

Which would you rather see? That's an honest question. No doubt I'd rather see the latter, but I'm sure many people would prefer the first. Judging by the audience reaction, nearly all of them last night liked it. Heck, I liked it, and I ended up liking Jeremy Lin as a person a whole lot more. I just can't shake the feeling that it's kind of like telling the Jackie Robinson story but glossing over the whole crossing-the-color-line and focusing instead on how much he prayed.

Running Time: 88 minutes
My Total Minutes: 321,224

Thursday, March 14, 2013



In Sam Raimi's take on an Oz prequel/origins story, James Franco plays Oscar Zoroaster [lots of other names] Diggs, a small-time magician, con-man, and inveterate womanizer who goes by the stage name of Oz. He escapes in a balloon after seducing the carnival strongman's girlfriend in one of his string of hump-em-and-dump-em schemes. The balloon is sucked into a twister, which lands him in the colorful land of Oz, where he is greeted by Theodora, the smoking hot witch of my southern regions (if you know what I mean) played by Mila Kunis in form-fitting leather pants.

The movie is full of allusions to THE WIZARD OF OZ, but due to rights issues between Warner Bros. and Disney, everything has to be off just a little bit (so it's officially based on L. Frank Baum's public-domain novels, and not the 1939 film classic.) So the cowardly lion looks like a lion (and doesn't speak), not Bert Lahr in a lion suit. But why even have a cowardly lion cameo if he's not going to do anything in the movie? Glinda the good witch is there, and travels by bubble, but it's just different enough. Eventually the Wicked Witch shows up, but with just enough of a different green skin hue (and missing the chin wart) that it doesn't infringe. The Emerald City looks damn familiar, but again is different enough. And of course the ruby slippers (an invention of the movie, the book had silver slippers) are nowhere to be seen. But we do get a black and white opening and characters from Kansas showing up as different characters in Oz. I kind of wish WB had made the movie instead so they could have used the more familiar elements.

We do get a new cast of characters, and by far the best one is the China Girl (made out of china, not from China) played by Joey King. She's the clearest reminder that all the girls he's mistreating are fragile creatures, and she opens his heart (she also plays a crippled girl in Kansas who believes in Oz and asks him to fix her legs and make her walk). Zach Braff as the assistant in Kansas becomes a helpful winged monkey in Oz (not the evil ones, who are winged baboons, just a helpful winged monkey butler) and he plays it exactly like Zach Braff. Tony Cox rehashes his acerbic midget bit from THE HEBREW HAMMER as Knuck, the herald of the Emerald City. And Bill Cobbs appears as the Master Tinker, who ends up being one of Oz's most important allies (BTW, forget Morgan Freeman, going back to THE HUDSUCKER PROXY Bill Cobbs has been my favorite magic negro).

Then about halfway through, I realized the movie wasn't really a rehash/prequel/reimagining of Oz, it was a remake of ARMY OF DARKNESS. Quick, can you name the Sam Raimi movie where a prophesied hero falls from the sky, turns out to be more of a womanizing blowhard than the hero they were expecting, but after [spoiler alert] his initial love interest is turned ugly by evil he leads a successful battle for the side of good using a mix of ingenuity and modern technology that the locals think is magic? I started expecting Oz to drop a "Groovy" or "Gimme some sugar, baby." I expected the Wicked Witch to cackle "I'll swallow your soul!" Even the "You found me beautiful once..."/"Honey, you got reeeal ugly!" exchange would have worked perfectly. The winged baboons look a heck of a lot like the winged Deadites, and the second Wicked Witch [spoiler again, sorry!] looks a heck of a lot like the demon woman.

Of course, as cheesy as it is I really like ARMY OF DARKNESS, so the parallels aren't necessarily a bad thing. I'm just left wondering about Sam Raimi. If he doesn't know how obviously he's treading the same ground, well, then he's an accomplished craftsman who has run out of ideas. But just imagine this: Sam Raimi  sitting in a room bullshitting with his closest friends and advisers (I assume Ted Raimi and Bruce Campbell would be there. Maybe Bob Tapert is there, too.) The start joking about the craziest movie he could do. And he says..."I want to remake ARMY OF DARKNESS.... And then I want someone to sue because...[thinking to himself, 'what's the craziest reason to sue an ARMY OF DARKNESS remake?'] it infringes on THE WIZARD OF OZ! .... And I want Disney to pay for it!" [everyone busts up in an outpouring of semi-drunk laughter]. If that's anything close to the actual genesis for the movie, then to paraphrase Oz himself, this was his greatest trick yet.

Total Running Time: 130 minutes
My Total Minutes: 321,136

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Jason goes to Cinequest--Encore Day

Partied until 6:30 am on Saturday night (it was so wild, I have no idea what happened between 2 and 3 am*) And I was up and in the VIP Lounge by 11 for a breakfast beer--because I'm a bad-ass (or is that dumb-ass?)

First up was TANGO ABRAZOS, a Slovenian romantic comedy about tango, friendship, more-than-friendship, and infidelity. Or rather, it's about fidelity, with the threat of infidelity. Two couple, both long-established and committed to each other, enroll in tango classes. At first both the men are hesitant but go along to humor their wives. But the tango is "a horizontal thought, expressed vertically" and when in a class exercise they switch partners they both find they dance better with the other partner. And that leads to a closer friendship between the two couples, and that leads to...well, I don't want to give anything away, but it leads to at least a constant threat of cheating, and a lot of insecurity on behalf of both couples. A funny, endearing movie.

Oh yeah, between movies the street in front of the California was filled with food trucks (at least until 3 pm or so.) I grabbed a bite to eat at Grilled Cheese Bandits. I recommend the Jesse James.

Next up I saw ONE SMALL HITCH, because apparently I was in a romantic comedy mood (seriously, WTF did I take last night?) The setup seems like it should be as formulaic as it is contrived--Josh and Molly (who are friends from childhood) fake their engagement to please his father who is dying of cancer. Wacky hijinks ensue as they try to keep up the charade while actually falling for each other and eventually deciding to get married for real (I don't think that's a spoiler because it's really the only way such a movie can end.) Here's the thing--sometimes, when it's done well, the formula actually works. And here you've got charming and appealing leads (Shane McRae and Aubrey Dollar) and a great supporting cast that really pull it all off easily (throw in his Jewish family vs. her Irish Catholic family and let the comedy play out.) Shane plays Josh as a 'player' but with an evident tender, caring, and generous side that he for some reason reserves only for his non-romantic friends, like Molly. Aubrey plays Molly as a girl who has been hurt by creepy boyfriends in the past and is just on the borderline of hopelessly cynical, but can actually be her goofy, teasing self with Josh. And that's really the thesis of the movie, that true love exists when you can be yourself with someone. And maybe it's better to find the someone you can be yourself with and then work on the romance rather than find an immediate romantic connection and hope that being yourself eventually becomes part of the deal.

In other words, it offers hope to the hopelessly "friend-zoned." If only I had called it "false hope" I would have that cynicism I'm used to.

Then back to the lounge to meet a friend who missed all of the festival except Encore Day, have a few more drinks, and then watch WAMPLER'S ASCENT. I hereby declare that the labels "disabled" and "able-bodied" be struck from the lexicon. At least in comparing anyone to Steve Wampler. Here's a guy who suffers from cerebral palsy, but still climbed Yosemite's El Capitan using a special rig in which he's strapped into a chair and each pull-up he does brings him up 2-6 inches. So for the better part of a week, his daily job was to do on the order of 1,000 pull-ups. I don't think my never-stricken-with-a-horrible-disease body has done 1,000 pull-ups in its entire existence! So I can't used "able-bodied" to describe myself and "disabled" to describe him. Instead I will describe myself as "lazy-slug-who-is-so-afraid-of-heights-he-probably-would-have-shit-his-pants-the-first-time-he-looked-down-if-he-was-in-good-enough-shape-to-even-start-the-ascent-in-the-first-place-bodied" and Wampler shall be described as "Bad-ass-hero-bodied." Oh, and he did it all to raise money for his foundation, which he started to give similarly afflicted children the same outdoors experience he had as a kid (he had previously raised money to buy the camp he had gone to when it went out of business.) Oh, and the movie--well besides the inspirational story, besides his loving wife and adorable children, and besides the good cause, it's also got some breathtaking nature views from up on the wall. Especially the moments where Steve is dangling away from the wall in his rig. I'm not kidding when I say I have a bit of acrophobia. I know for a fact that if I were in that situation I would be shitting myself.

And then a couple more drinks, including a Manhattan at the Fairmont Hotel bar, I ended the night with my favorite, LOVELESS ZORITSA. I had other choices, including films I had missed, but I just wanted to end with my favorite, and it was excellent and held up to multiple viewings. 

And then it was barely 8:30, so I went home early, read the Bible a little bit, had a warm glass of milk, and went straight to bed. Just kidding! I and a few friends went to Original Joe's for some drinks and food. Christina and Goran from LOVELESS ZORITSA were among them. And before I knew it, it was somewhere past 11:00 pm. Not quite the same as partying into the wee hours of the morning, but I did have to go to work the next day.

And that's how Cinequest 2012 ended. Then I had 3 days to rest up, write these reviews and start again with CAAMFest (starts tomorrow!)

Total Running Time: 359 minutes
My Total Minutes: 321,006

*That's a Daylight Savings Time joke.

Jason goes to Cinequest--Closing night

The adventure continued, after I got to bed around 4 am, I was up bright and early in time for a breakfast beer and a 10:30 screening for my first film.

And that first film was GOLDFISH GO HOME (AKANE IRO NO YAKUSOKU), a charming little childhood comedy from Japan (with help from Brazil.) Ricardo is a Brazilian immigrant in Japan, living with his mother. She struggles to pay the rent, he struggles to fit in in school. Meanwhile his classmate Hanako has her own problems--mainly that her father's goldfish farm is in danger of going under. When Ricardo follows a mysterious spirit onto forbidden sacred ground, he finds a specimen of a bright blue goldfish that was formerly thought to be extinct. In fact, it's actually the spirit of a mythical Chinese princess who is searching for her prince (who is a bright red goldfish.) So that launches them on a magical journey which includes taking on the mayor and the yakuza, and a heroic samba parade. Beautiful, magical, kind of weird, and a lot of fun. Director Shohei Shiozaki is actually a returning San Jose State alum, and he made the movie based on his hometown, which is a center of goldfish farms in Japan. So there's a clear affection for home in the movie, and in bringing the movie to San Jose.

Next up was the final shorts program of the festival (I missed the student shorts and some of the shorts before the features, but I did see all the rest of the shorts programs), Shorts 6: Docu-nation
CARDBOARD TITANICS: SMART PEOPLE BEING STUPID: Hilarious fun of people who make and race boats made out of cardboard and duct tape. Energetic silliness, and I really appreciated the beach volleyball scenes.
CRISALIDA: A day in the life of an 86 year-old Cuban woman.
ENDING IN 6 MINUTES: People on the streets of Sydney wear masks and reveal their secrets, in extreme close-up on their eyes. An intriguing mix of tragedy, comedy, and first-world problems.
HERSTORY: And animated chronicle of a Korean sex slave. Moving, but would have been better if there were subtitles.
IN HANFORD: Quite possibly my favorite short of the entire festival. The story of the town of Hanford, WA, once a thriving agricultural town, polluted and destroyed by nuclear manufacturing. Shocking story, told with grotesque, Lovecraftian animation.
LADYBOY: The animated, silhouetted story of a MTF transsexual hooker in Bangkok who has to choose between making money to support her mother and following her love.
SKY BURIAL: A rare glimpse of the obscure and nearly extinct Tibetan "sky burial" ceremony, courtesy of Buddhist lama Bat-Orshikh. Chop the body to pieces and feed it to the birds to fully separate the soul from the body.
TAXIDERMISTS: A look at the World Taxidermy Championships, where artists pose animals in imaginative and artistic ways, all to try and make the Taxidermy of the Year. Some pretty cool stuff.
WADE KRAUSE: PINBALL ARTIST: Master screen printer Wade Krause restores and reinvents pinball machines for a new generation, resulting in some wild designs, including the clear pinball machine where all the mechanisms are visible.

Then...nothing else really fit into my schedule until the closing night gala. I kind of wanted to see CHITTAGONG, but with a delay in the schedule (due to a misprint in the guide) it was starting late and I would be rushed to make it to the closing night awards and screening of MIDNIGHT'S CHILDREN. So instead I decided to hang out in the lounge and have a few drinks. And then I went to the VIP Soiree, had a few snacks, had a few drinks, and oh yeah, I met Salman Rushdie. We chatted for a little bit. I told him I was excited to see his movie. He said how great the cinematography was, making it look like it cost way more than it did. I mentioned how we have a great movie palace (The California Theatre) to play it in. Then we got to talking about Wurlitzer organs. So from now on, whenever the conversation turns to Wurlitzer organs (and I will make sure it does as often as possible), I will throw in an occasional, "As I was saying to Salman Rushdie..."

Anyway, I got to the California in time to grab a front row center-ish seat (the exact center is reserved for the photographers). Of course, one of my favorite things about the closing ceremony at Cinequest is how they get all the filmmakers who are still in town up on stage for a standing ovation, before they congratulate the award winners. As is typical, no matter how many I see at Cinequest I always manage to miss the bulk of the award winners. Even seeing every shorts program (except the students), I missed the best narrative short because it played in front of a feature I didn't see instead of in a shorts program. However, my favorite of the festival--LOVELESS ZORITSA--won the Global Vision Award! So as far as I'm concerned, I Cinequested right this year!

And then it was finally time for MIDNIGHT'S CHILDREN, screenplay by Salman Rushdie and based on his allegedly unfilmable novel of the same name. Confession--I have not read the novel (I did read "The Satanic Verses" in college, in an "offensive literature" class. I liked it quite a lot, although it was pretty digressive--a word that Rushdie himself used to describe the novel of "Midnight's Children", so I can understand how it got the reputation of unfilmability.) The story centers around two children, both born at the stroke of midnight on August 15, 1947 (for those who, like me, don't immediately appreciate the significance of that date, it's the day India became independent from Great Britain.) But the story began years before that--with the grandfather of one of the boys, a doctor with a famously giant nose, and his romance with a patient whose family is so strict he can only examine her through a hole in a sheet. Back in 1947, the two boys born at midnight are actually switched at birth by a nurse who is inspired to "make the poor rich and the rich poor." So the son who was meant to be a rich, privileged kid grows up a near beggar singing for his supper with his accordion-playing father. And that accordion players son is raised by a wealthy family, but has his own pressures to do great things. And he is the psychic link to all children who were born in the hour after midnight on that date--and they all have some form of super powers (flight, magic, invisibility, strength, whatever.) That link drives a lot of the story, but isn't all of it. In fact, nearly all of the psychically linked children are meaningless, except for the love interest. But the rise and fall of the two boys is played out in parallel to the political turmoil in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. And I suppose if I knew that history better I would appreciate that more, but it is unfolded in a way that at least makes it accessible to a novice. As for the movie in general--every scene looks great, is acted great, and is never boring. What it all adds up to is harder to wrap my head around. I ended up left with a feeling that I liked it, but the book must be much better. I guess I'll have to go read that sometime, along with more of Rushdie's work.

Then there was an on-stage interview with Rushdie, which dealt not just with the movie and novel of MIDNIGHT'S CHILDREN, but also of course "The Satanic Verses", the fatwah against him, his secret identity as Robert Anton (also the title of his memoir of that time.) It was a good interview, although the interviewer tended to talk a little too much. General opinion afterwards was that it was a good interview when he let Rushdie speak. I think that sums it up pretty well.

And then it was time for the official after party at the Tech Museum. Lots of drink, snacks, desserts, dancing, drinks, etc. (and then a few drinks.)

The previous night, of course, I had a few people up in my suite until 4 am, and it was really cool. I had plenty of people passing around the word that we were doing the same thing on Saturday night. Then, about 1 am as the party at the Tech was winding down, I suddenly heard the DJ announce, "apparently we're keeping the party going in room 979 of the Fairmont!" Well, cool! But I was not ready for logistics of that magnitude. This was in a building where you needed the keycard to get in, and on a floor where you needed to use the keycard in the elevator to get there. So we had a couple of people shuttling groups up to the room. While we had plenty of alcohol, we had no snacks, no music except for the room radio alarm clock, and no cups quite a while. Next year, I'll have that better organized. Hell, next year, if all goes well, we'll have a large group pooling resources for the party and we'll reserve the whole top floor. In any case, the party did go well. Maybe about 50 people or so, and it went on until about 6-6:30 am. No noise complaints (that I know of) and only one pass-out throw-up drunk (who actually arrived at the party in that manner. She was taken home by the gentleman who brought her, and I got an update the next day that she was hungover but none the worse for wear.) A good time was had by all and no dead hookers were found the next morning, so I guess the party was successful.

And I still dragged myself out by 11 am to make it to Encore Day. Because I am a fuckin' rock star!

Total Running Time: 346 minutes
My Total Minutes: 320,645

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Jason goes to Cinequest--Day 11

Well, Cinequest 2013 is all over but the writing (and the recovering from the hangover--more on that later.) I'm almost recovered now so lets look back at what I did last Friday.

First a few drinks and snacks at the VIP Soiree (which featured the Maverick Spirit award to Chef Dominique Crenn.) Like most of the Soirees, if you got there right at 5:00 there was plenty of food and wine, and by 5:20 it was so crowded it was kind of hard to get a glass of wine and the food disappeared within seconds of it appearing. But I got there early and got to enjoy everything.

So then I started the actual films off with the Silent Film program. This took quite a bit of soul-searching, because as much as I love these films, I've seen them many times before. And as much as I love Dennis James rockin' the Mighty Wurlitzer organ, I've even seen the feature, SAFETY LAST with Dennis James playing. And there were so many other films to see at Cinequest, many of which I won't have any other chance to see. But, my argument came down to this--"Screw it, I'm seeing the silents!"

COPS (1922): The legendary Buster Keaton in one of his best short films. To prove he's a good businessman and win the girl, Buster gets into a ton of wacky shenanigans which lead to pretty much every cop in L.A. chasing him. Hilarious.

SAFETY LAST (1923): The legendary Harold Lloyd in what is certainly his most famous film. Even if you've never seen a silent film, I'm sure you've seen the shot of Harold hanging from the clock on the side of the building. Interesting trivia--legend has it he really did climb that building. They set up a platform every floor that was just out of the shot so if he fell he'd only fall one story...if he didn't bounce off the platform and plummet to his death (this longtime official account has been refuted by a stuntman who claims Lloyd had a false facade built on the roof of another building. In any case, to get the right angle for the camera shots the platform was pretty small and there was still a danger of Lloyd falling over the edge if he fell.) Another interesting bit of trivia--he did that all without the thumb and forefinger of his right hand, which had been blown off in 1919 when a prop bomb (think the classic black sphere with a fuse sticking out) he was holding in a publicity shot turned out to be real. Anyway, the whole thing is hilarious and as someone with a healthy dose of acrophobia, the shots of him dangling from the side of the building really, really gets to me.

Some interesting similarities between the movies--both are shot in the same block of Los Angeles (you can recognize the famous building) and they both open with a shot of the hero behind bars that turn out to be something other than jail. So while I had seen them each many times, I don't think I've ever seen them paired together, and that was really cool.

Then I rushed over to the Camera 12 for the next program, which started with a bonus showing of the short NO ONE PUKES IN HEAVEN, which I had seen previously (and liked quite a lot) in Shorts Program 1. It holds up well to multiple viewings.

And that was the lead-in to the absurdist comedy POLSKI FILM. Festival European programmer Charlie Cockey introduced the films and explained a bit about the Czech sense of humor and how much they like "mystification"--questioning what is real. Well, that's on display like crazy in this film. It opens with a puppet rat insisting this isn't a puppet show. 4 Czech actors make a movie, playing themselves, about 4 Czech actors making a movie playing themselves. One of them even drops out, forcing them to audition for an actor to play him--and then he shows up in his alter-ego to audition to play himself. Some scenes are played for broad, bizarre comedy, and some scenes are played completely seriously to the point where you wonder if you're seeing a scripted moment in the film or they just left the camera running and caught the actors in the serious moments of discussing their craft and their lives. Absurd, mystifying, and maybe about 20-30 minutes too long. As much as I liked it at first by the end it just seemed to be dragging on. But then, maybe that was just because I was facing the prospect of not having any time to run to the meetup for a quick drink before the midnight film.

So as it happened, I didn't have time to run for a drink before MON AMI, so I had to watch it sober (gasp! Even the filmmakers were surprised, as I'd been drinking with them all week). I had actually seen it before at Holehead, so let's take a look at what I said then:

First up was the comedy MON AMI, which George (Kaskanlian, the festival head) introduced as DUMB AND DUMBER meets FARGO and HOSTEL. And damn, that's a pretty good description. I hate to admit it, but sometimes George knows what he's talking about. Two friends from age 6--one a congenial slacker and one who is...also a slacker, but totally whipped by his wife--work in a hardware store. When the owner decides to retire and leave the company to his meathead boys, the two friends are a bit pissed that they didn't get promotions after their years of loyal (okay, rude and boneheaded) service. So they come up with a cunning plan to kidnap the boss' daughter and hold her for ransom. And things go hilariously, bloodily wrong. I don't want to spoil anything by detailing their comedy of errors, but I will say that its the two friends obvious bromantic chemistry that makes it all work. The way they rib each other and call each other pussies (for being to wussy to commit murder) but still ultimately have each other's back is both believable (at least in the context of the ridiculous situations) and endearing. Everyone should be lucky to have friends as loyal as these, and no one should be so cursed as to have friends this stupid.
Yup, that's pretty much nails it, without giving too much away. I'm happy to just add that it's still funny a second time. And then I brought the filmmakers (and a few other guests) to my Freemark Abbey Suite at the Fairmont, where we drank and talked and laughed until about 4 am. Awesome!

Total Running Time: 312 (approximately. I didn't time the silent films so I used the IMDb running times of 22 minutes for COPS and 70 minutes for SAFETY LAST. I'm pretty sure it was actually a bit longer than that.)
My Total Minutes: 320,301

Friday, March 8, 2013

Jason goes to Cinequest--Day 10

I actually slipped away from work early enough to catch 3 films, not just two last night. Also, I was so busy with films I actually didn't have a drink all day. I didn't even hit the Maverick Meetup last night, preferring instead to get home early-ish (still near midnight) and try to get some sleep before the big final weekend. So my one-sober-day-a-week project is still on, and now here are my totally sober reviews of the films:

First up was the drama DREAMER. Joe is something of a mathematical bad-ass at work. When his boss says HR wants to see him, his first thought is that he's up for another award. But when that's not the case, he knows what it's really about. His Social Security Number got a "no match" letter...because he doesn't actually have a SSN...because he's here illegally. His mother brought him here when he was 2. When she left, he stayed with an American adopted family (well, I guess not legally adopted, he just kept living there and was welcomed by them.) He considers the matriarch of that family his mother (one of his mothers, at least) and he has a white American brother and sister that he simply considers brother and sister (and they consider him part of the family, too.) His aunt, on the other hand, doesn't approve and forces him out. And over the course of one weekend nearly everything unravels. Faced with the prospect of losing his good job, he goes back to a dry cleaners where he used to work. Then a lost ID leads to a weekend of pain and suffering that emphasizes exactly how tenuous his situation is. Filled with references to his 'invisibility' and a somewhat paranoid grasp of reality (tiny spoiler: he suffers a concussion at one point and his vision and hearing are impaired. That includes visions of police following him when maybe they aren't actually there.) It's a well made and moving story, although a bit heavy-handed in the heaps of abuse leveled on him (the aunt character in particular seemed over-the-top nasty). And then it ends with a kind of sappy resolution (I have my own very cynical take on the ending, but I can only share that if you've seen the movie. Even beyond spoilers, it just wouldn't make any sense unless you've seen it.)

Then I caught Shorts program 7: Time, Space, and In Between.
AFTER YOU: A charmingly simple animated story about the long career of a Dublin doorman and the great threat to his way of life--the revolving door. It's a cute metaphor--doors are our passages through life, and aren't the passages through life nicer when nice people are helping you along?
BOOP BEEP: A clumsy, boxy robot goes through his daily drudgery. Each day is awful, until he meets a pretty lady robot. Very funny.
CALCUTTA TAXI: It's hard enough to find a taxi in Calcutta, but on days of political protest it's near impossible. Three lives--a student and two taxi drivers--intersect on this strange day, and we get to see the events from everyone's point of view. How it unfolds the story is very well done.
CLIFF: Cliff is a sexual altruist. He finds the women no one else wants--the ugly, the overweight, the crippled...any woman who is somehow damaged. And he takes them home and fucks their brains out, gives them one night of a good time and then dumps them. But when he meets the girl of his dreams (the woman who God seems to hate) he can't stomach the idea of spending the rest of his life with her. Very funny, and pretty damn misogynistic. BTW, Happy International Women's Day, everyone!
JACK TO THE FUTURE: Hilarious! And yes, it's exactly what you think it is...if you think like me (hint, while the time traveler is named Jack, the title has a double-meaning.)
LAST TIME WE CHECKED: Stan, a gay man, is defending his husband (a Canadian drag queen) from deportation. But he just won't shut up and keeps digging himself a deeper and deeper hole. The straight-faced immigration agent is a perfect counterpoint to his queen-ish histrionics. Hilarious!
STRANGEFACE: Ana has trouble making friends with people. It's easier to make friends with dogs. That's because people suck and dogs are awesome. I mean, people do awful things like drown dogs in a burlap sack. So maybe Ana has to do awful things to people. Shocking and awesome.
THREE SIXTY: A kidnapping gone horrible wrong. But amusing, just to hear what Australians think a Jersey accent sounds like. Also, a gripping, well told story. But I can't get that Australian/Jersey accent out of my head.

This program had misogyny, gay panic, and...whatever JACK TO THE FUTURE was. If I'm wrong to say that was my favorite shorts program, Chris Garcia is more wrong for having picked several of those films.

And then the final program started with the Picture the Possibilities short WHERE WE ARE SAFE, from East Palo Alto. Kids discuss violence (3 murders on 3 consecutive nights in their neighborhood) and how to avoid falling into gang life. Ends with a plea for a drugs and violence free skate park for the kids to play in.

That was the lead-in to THE ALMOST MAN, a Norwegian comedy about growing up, even if you don't do it until you're well into adulthood. Henrik has the trappings of adulthood--a job, a home, a wife (or was it just a steady girlfriend. I wasn't actually sure about the legal status of their relationship. Anyway, her name is Tone), a baby on the way. On the other hand, all this adulthood--especially the baby--is kind of making him freak the hell out. He kind of wants to still act like a kid--hanging out with his even more immature friends, making inappropriate jokes, etc. And that part of him is charming. It's very clear from their interactions that it's a big part of what drew Tone to him in the first place. But if that's all there is too him, things won't work out. He struggles to grow up, she needs him to grow up faster, and his friends keep dragging him back down (actually, this would make an interesting double-feature with DETONATOR). It's a good story of a man who definitely wants to grow up, as long as growing up isn't too hard. Too bad that it is.

And that was Cinequest Thursday. Almost time to start the big final weekend. And I'm sure I'll make up for my sobriety on Thursday. I just hope I don't puke on anyone's shoes.

Total Running Time: 276 minutes
My Total Minutes: 319,989

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Jason goes to Cinequest--Day 9

Got to SJ last night just in time for the VIP Soiree at P.F. Chang's. Much drinking ensued, then off to the movies!

First up was Shorts 2: Looking for Something New
AFRICAN RACE: A young boy builds a motorcycle from salvaged parts, and races it against the big boys. Pretty awesome.
BLESS YOU: Church-snot. Gross! And funny!
BONA NOX: Boy in a wheelchair. Dead mommy. Sad daddy. Time for some time travel.
HIGH NOON: The showdown after school is set. That big guy is totally going to whup that little nerd's ass. If he actually shows up, that is. Good story with a nice twist.
LOLOTTE: The ultimate daddy-daughter day...and maybe the last one for a long, long time.
LULLABY FOR LUCIOUS AND SUMAT: Beautiful and inventive collage-style film. The moon spies on everyone, from werewolves to lovers. And he's so smitten by a woman that he gives up being the moon and decides to settle down with her...then weird things happen.
LUNCH DATE: A guy actually sends his 14-year old brother to break up with his girlfriend at lunch. But it turns out the little brother is a really nice guy and a good friend.
NIGHT SHIFT: The survival struggle of an airport cleaning lady. A look at the life of one of the invisible people. Well made and touching.

That was the last screening of Short 2. Sorry, but that will be a more common occurrence as the festival winds down.

Then I actually had time for a quick dinner and then to the fabulous California Theatre for THE CITIZEN, a drama about the American Dream and American reality. It opens on the deportation hearing of one Ibrahim Jarrah (Khaled Nabawy). William Atherton (who in my mind has already been typecast as the professional jerk) plays the aggressive prosecutor. Cary Elwes is Ibrahim's attorney. And then we flash back to five years ago, when Ibrahim won the green card lottery and first set foot on American soil. Specifically, in JFK airport, on September 10, 2001. Next day, of course, things turn really, really bad. But Ibrahim is an eternal optimist. He survived the Lebanese civil war. He worked in Kuwait just before Saddam invaded in the 90's. He's had bad luck, but he's survived, and now he's in the land of opportunity. Even when he's detained with no charges for 6 months (until they release him for lack of...any reason at all to keep him) he still wants to stay in America and become a citizen. And yes, he's surrounded by racism and violence. His friend gets assaulted. He gets beaten just trying to help a stranger (who is jumped by a racist gang just for replying "Happy Hanukkah" to a "Merry Christmas.") A big theme in the movie is how people who have suffered and survived are much more likely to help out, starting with Ibrahim himself. Then the girl who helps him out and offers him a couch to sleep on after she flees from her abusive boyfriend. Pretty much all the good people in the movie are people who have had some tough times. It makes me think...the fear of losing the good things you have (i.e., "your" country) can make people do stupid, hurtful things. But if you've lost everything before and still survived, maybe that fear isn't so powerful. It's easy to think that once you've been hurt you'll be less trusting of others. But maybe once you've been hurt you'll realize that you're actually strong enough to take it and you'll actually be more ready to trust others. Interesting thought at least. And a good movie with a great hero. I have a well-known love for immigrants (I don't think anyone appreciates America more than people who chose to be here), and I would say THE CITIZEN is just the kind of American we need more of.

THE CITIZEN plays again Thu, 3/7 2:30 PM and Fri, 3/8 7:00 PM

Then I headed to the Maverick Meetup at Myth Taverna, had way too much to drink and stayed up way to late before finally heading home.

Total Running Time: 204 minutes
My Total Minutes: 319,713

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Jason goes to Cinequest--Day 8

Another night, another bout of binge drinking stimulating and enjoyable Soiree (this time at The Loft) meeting awesome filmmakers, and then another two movies. By the way, I made a drinking-related resolution/experiment to start the year. I may have to officially suspend it this week to better fulfill my drink-with-a-filmmaker-and-I-have-to-see-her/his-movie rule. But kudos to Mike Gendemenico for calling it immediately. You know me...too well....

Anyway, after just a few drinks I was off to the Camera Cinemas (BTW, big thanks to them for supporting Cinequest from the very beginning) for AGNUS DEI, a sort of modern Oedipus story set in the Kosovo war, and based on a true story. Peter is generally a good guy. He was a teacher. He took care of his mother, Mary. He defended her against her drunken lout of a husband, who he thinks is his father (oops, spoiler! But that's in the program guide so it's not too much of a spoiler.) Then all that war shit started. Suddenly Serbians and Albanians hate each other. For example, Peter's mother (a Serb) is not welcome anywhere near her lover (an Albanian.) And even though Peter tries to escape to Turkey, he is conscripted. And he becomes quite a good that he's great at leading massacres of civilian villages. And that, naturally, wears on him. In an attempt to reclaim a little freakin' humanity, he saves a condemned Albanian girl, who happens to be named Mary just like his mother. And...I've already given away too much plot. It takes a little bit of setup time before it gets going (I'll admit I was a bit lost for the first 15-20 minutes), but when it does it's a well made movie with an engaging plot and good dramatic twists.

AGNUS DEI plays again Thu, 3/7 8:45 PM

And then, for the first time in this year's festival, I had a real dinner. I had enough time to run over to La Victoria to get a burrito with their famous orange sauce. I hesitate to mention them because they aren't officially one of the Cinequest Dining Sponsors, but they are damn good and I couldn't go too long without that orange sauce.

And then I caught the Belgian drama, OFFLINE. Rudy (Wim Willaert from EX DRUMMER) is recently out of prison. He's trying to get his life back on track, with the help of his friend Rachid. Rachid was in jail with him but has things going okay now. He has a family and kids--kids Rudy is really good with, he makes a fine baby sitter. That is, until he puts them to bed and immediately goes to the computer and looks up a pornographic webcam site. He finds one girl in particular, and starts chatting with her. As their relationship develops, and we slowly learn more about his past and why he was in prison, it becomes a tense tale of the nature (and limits) of forgiveness and how the past can never really leave you. The movie is definitely from Rudy's point of view, so as we see all these people from his past treat him so terribly (his ex-wife won't speak to him and threatens to call the cops when he comes by, the gang at the bar tease him and when he reacts they beat the crap out of him, etc.) we sympathize with him. But when you eventually learn why he's in prison...well, his life is still kind of hellish, and it's pretty much all his fault. But I, at least, still wanted him to get some forgiveness. Because if he can be forgiven, pretty much anyone can. Great story, great characters, good slow reveal of information that really makes you think.

OFFLINE plays again Thu, 3/7 9:15 PM

Total Running Time: 221 minutes
My Total Minutes: 319,509

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Jason goes to Cinequest--Day 7

Back to the weekday schedule at Cinequest, where being gainfully employed means only 2 movies a night. But I did get there in time for the VIP Soiree at the fabulous Silicon Valley Capital Club. Drinks, snacks (which disappeared too quickly) and a wonderful view of the city. A nice way to prepare for my first film of the day.

And that first film, THE SPACE JOCKEY PURSUIT, was a delightful laugh-out-loud comedy (seriously, I laughed out loud many times, and I wasn't the only one, although I wish there had been a bigger crowd at the screening.) Tom Bernstein is the son of a wealthy auto manufacturer who is being groomed to take over the company by travelling to Japan and heading up the new factory there. Trouble is, he doesn't want to. Taking over the company was his dream when he was little, but now it sounds kind of boring, especially as he's missing his recently deceased mother (who was way more of a free spirit) and his brother who has been away in a mental institution. Well, his brother Alvin is back, with dreams of landing the choice role in the upcoming feature film SPACE JOCKEY (yes, as in horses in space...just go with it.) And Tom, seeing Alvin's dogged pursuit of his dream, has his own dream--to have a dream. He doesn't really know what he wants in life, but he knows helping Alvin escape and make it to his audition is somehow part of it. So they set out with a 3-day deadline and a list of Brando-inspired "method" prerequisites for preparing for the role (learn to ride a horse, learn Spanish, learn to drink Wild Turkey, etc.) Primary among them is to convince his scene partner to come along, and it becomes pretty clear that this might be just as much about an infatuation with her. Anyway, the plot arc itself doesn't exactly break new ground (road trip, ticking clock, love triangle, lessons learned--check, check, check, check), but it's just very well executed and hilarious. Man might not have been meant to travel twice the speed of light, but if you like a good laugh you were meant to see this movie.

THE SPACE JOCKEY PURSUIT plays again Fri, 3/8 4:45 PM

Next up was DETONATOR, which suffered from a few brief but annoying technical glitches and ultimately started (for the third time) about 20-30 minutes late. Let me detour a bit and thank the hard-working projectionists. I know they're dealing with several different formats, several pieces of media, and every show is different. It's not like a regular theatrical run where they might have to work out the technical kinks once and then it should play the same way for weeks. And I don't want to hear any guff about how 35 mm film never has glitches--it's not like I've never seen 35 mm jam and burn up, or a reel accidentally inserted backwards. There's a lot to say about 35 mm vs. digital, but they both are subject to the whims of the projector and the skilled but all-too-human hands of the projectionist. So I mention there were technical glitches not because I want to "call out" anyone, but because it's a factual account of what happened. The fact is, given the complexity of this festival, I'm surprised there haven't been more glitches (incidentally, I heard at the same time OH BOY was playing without subtitles. So two glitches on the 7th day of the festival--not bad.) Thank you again to the hard-working projectionists.

Oh yeah, the movie. We open with Lawrence Levine getting his anarchy tattoo burned off. Ok, I know his character is named Sully, but to me he's Lawrence, the filmmaker of GABI ON THE ROOF IN JULY who I partied with at Cinequest a few years back. Similarly, when his (real life) wife Sophia Takal shows up as a young temptress at a party, I can't help but think 'Hey, that's Sophia! They're married.' Same thing when Joe Swanberg shows up as a lawyer (only difference is I know him from Indiefest instead of Cinequest.) Wierd that I have this reaction to this group of indie film friends, and not to giant stars. I guess I just care more about them.

Anyway, I will write about the movie. Sully is getting his tattoo removed because he has finally given up his punk-rock youth and settled into being a family man in the Philly suburbs with a wife (Dawn Hall) he loves and a beautiful son (Chris Lamothe) they're raising. He's even going to finally sell his amp to buy some good furniture for his home. But an old band mate, Mick (Benjamin Ellis Fine) shows up and stirs up some trouble for him. Although he looks older (and runs slower) than Sully, he's still pretending he's young. While Sully can acknowledge they got old, Mick insists the kids on the scene now are just babies. And Mick is convinced that Abrasion--a band headed by Sully's ex-girlfriend--ripped off one of their songs to make their big hit. So he goes to a club to get an old tape they had recorded there, which totally pisses off the tape's owner Dutch (Robert Longstreet). Which is a bad idea, because he's kind of a violent fuckin' psychopath. So they're entering a night of pain, with Sully just trying to get out of this scene-that's-totally-not-his-scene-anymore and Mick insisting it's still his scene and he has a brilliant plan and it will all work out. It's a thriller about friendship and other dangers. In particular, it's about how much a toxic friend can ruin your life and how hard it can be to leave him.

I have to say, I'm pretty lucky I don't have any toxic friends like that anymore. Wait...does that mean I'm the toxic one? I do try to convince people to drink a lot...

DETONATOR plays again Wed, 3/6 2:45 PM

And actually, I was so exhausted from the weekend and then trying to work, I didn't even stop at the Maverick Meetup at Tanq. Which is, for the record, an awesome bar. But I had to go home, do some laundry, and actually get some sleep. Don't worry, I'll be back to tearing it up all night soon enough.

Total Running Time: 191 minutes
My Total Minutes: 319,288