Saturday, August 24, 2013

Jason's friend Ira watches the Cornetto Trilogy, including a sneak preview of THE WORLD'S END

Welcome to the start of something that might just become a recurring feature: the first ever Jason Watches Movies guest blogger! Ira is a good friend whom I've seen many, many movies with, and he had the great opportunity to see THE WORLD'S END before it's released nationwide. I'm jealous, but I wasn't able to (as he says) "play quasi-hooky with my job." I think the review speaks for itself, and I'm looking forward to my chance to see it. Thank you, Ira.


------------Every word below this line is written by Ira---------

I should preface this by saying that I'm a pretty big Edgar Wright fan.  Not big enough to have hunted down his work prior to Spaced, and not big enough to have become a die-hard fan of Scotty Pilgrim in all it's myriad genres and media formats.  But I fucking loved Shaun of the Dead.  I came in to this party pretty late, because the first I knew of Edgar Wright was a Facebook (Holy crap, I was on Facebook all the way back in 2004?) posting from my cousin back home in NY (Check out her stuff sometime,, *SHAMELESS PLUG*) about this movie I absolutely had to see.  I'd noticed some promotional material for it the last time I'd been at the California Theater in Berkeley but, as is with most of these things, had no idea what it was about.

Well, about a month and a half later I saw SotD in it's initial limited American release and it was kinda mindblowing.  I mean, it's hard to reflect back on a time prior to seeing it, but at the time I don't believe I'd ever seen a film that so effortlessly blended genres together.  It wasn't purely a slapstick horror parody (we've had plenty of those lately, and most of them SUCK).  It wasn't a simple homage.  It was, in my humble opinion, something new.  A film that transcended barriers and made a right mess of everything that it tried to be, and in a GOOD way.  Even when the story took a dark turn (the death of Shaun's mum..  Oh... wait..  Did I forget to mention there might be spoilers here?  It's A NINE YEAR OLD MOVIE!  GO SEE IT IF YOU HAVEN'T!), and it seemed as if it couldn't return to making me laugh, it DID.  Edgar Wright had found a formula which had started out with the television show Spaced (which I finally saw several moons later) that he'd successfully translated to the big screen.

Three years later, Hot Fuzz did for mismatched partner-police action flicks what SotD did for horror.  Simon Pegg, formerly the rudderless Shaun in the last flick, now portrays, for all intents and purposes, a London super-cop named Nicholas Angel.  He's so amazingly good at his job, in fact, that his superiors decide he's making the rest of them look bad and force him into a promotion that moves him out to a quaint country village.  But all is not what it seems in Sandford, Gloucestershire and shortly after teaming up with man-child police constable Danny (Frost), Sergeant Angel soon finds himself facing incredible odds in England's "safest countryside village".  More slapstick action-comedy than the first film of the trilogy, the references turned from horror films to action films (most notably Point Break and Bad Boys 2).  The cornetto theme is maintained in a small scene early on in the movie, and both films share a "short cut", fence-hopping gag.  One particularly standout performance is turned in by Flash-Gordon-forest-prince/brief-James-Bond Timothy Dalton as a flamboyant supermarket owner.  At many points of the flick, he totally steals the show.

Several weeks ago now, I had an amazing opportunity: to see the Cornetto Trilogy in it's entirety for the first time in San Francisco.  Jessie Hawthorne Ficks (chief "maniac" of "Midnites for Maniax") secured a spot on Edgar Wright's North American Cornetto Trilogy Tour for the Metreon in SOMA.  All three features in 4K digital projection and, of course, a month-early preview of The World's End.  Although I had to play quasi-hooky with my job in order to attend (sadly meaning a fair amount of quick ducks out of the theater in order to field phone calls during the first two movies), both of the first films stand up quite well to the test of time.  To this day (and TWE included), Shaun of the Dead still remains my favorite.

The latest entry in Edgar Wright's filmatic directorship, The World's End, continues to star both Simon Pegg (who also shares a writing credit with Wright) and Nick Frost.  With the sadly notable exception of Jessica Hynes, nearly every member of Shaun of the Dead's minor cast returns for at least bit parts in The World's End.  The film centers around the character of Gary King, a man stepping into his fourth decade of life but finding himself stuck in the glory days of his youth, particularly his last night of high school.  That night, he and his four chums attempted to make the epic pub crawl through their small town: 12 pubs in one night, culminating at The World's End.  Of course, they never completed the crawl and ended up having the night of their lives (at least as far as Gary is concerned), but he is still stuck on the failure of their "mission" and is determined to get the gang back together and conquer the Golden Mile.

The problem?  The rest of his gang have grown up.  Nearly all of them have families of their own and worthwhile careers and absolutely no desire to return to their dead-end hometown, much less relive the pub crawl 20 years prior.  Nick Frost's character has, in fact, become a complete teetotaller following his last traumatic interaction with Gary years prior.  That falling out has led to a complete rift between the two and it is he that Gary has the hardest time convincing.  The cast is rounded out by some relative newcomers to Edgar Wright films: Eddie Marsan, Paddy Considine (one of the "Andes" from Hot Fuzz), and Martin Freeman (also a small part in Hot Fuzz, more well known for his roles in the original BBC show The Office, as Arthur Dent in Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and most recently as Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit films).

There are a lot of themes being explored in the film.  At times, they tend to add a little too much to what should be a simple sci-fi/horror/comedy (emphasis primarily on the last), but the story does manage to reassert itself and you're kept entertained most of the time.  The theme of "You can't go home", represented by the current trend of "Starbucking" (everywhere you go, there's a Starbucks, and every one of them is EXACTLY THE SAME) hit me fairly poignantly seeing my relatively small Long Island town (primarily known for it's risque no-tell motel "The Commack Motor Inn" and being the birthplace of Rosie O'Donnell and Bob Costas) being completely overrun by Targets and Wal-marts where iconic childhood landmarks like the roller rink, drive-in, and arena flea market once stood.  The theme resonates to me seeing as I am one of these old fart at this point, not quite so childhood-retentive as Gary, but I can certainly identify with his character to some extent, having seen most of my friends get married and start families while I'm still basically striving to have a good time.

This, I believe, is really where the crux of the film lies.  Gary, point blank, is an alcoholic, a drug addict, and severely damaged.  Not unlike Humbert Humbert of Lolita, he has found himself stuck, fixated in his teens while pushing 40.  The repeat of the pub crawl is his obsession, perhaps because he feels that, if he finally completes it, maybe he can finally grow up.  This last film of the trilogy, all three of which have at least to some extent revolved around drinking and pubs, is inarguably the "drunkest" of the three, and yet, it is also the most sobering.  The severity of Gary's problems, though mostly the butt of jokes, is made pointedly clear in the climax of the film and, not to give away much of a spoiler, figures prominently in The End of the film.

In short, though I do not consider it the best of the three films (Shaun still holds that place in my heart, and has red on him), The World's End dovetails perfectly into place as the trilogy's caboose.  It is more similar to SotD in that the comedy is mixed and even becomes semi-melodramatic at times as opposed to the utter slapstick of Hot Fuzz.  I highly recommend it, even if you haven't seen either of the first two films though, I'm quite sure once you've seen The World's End, you'll be seeking out both Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and the BBC comedy Spaced which was the first collaboration between Wright, Pegg, and Frost.  Hopefully, even though they have made pointedly clear that the Cornetto Trilogy has been completed, it will not be the last.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Jason watches THE CANYONS

Early in Paul Schrader and Bret Easton Ellis' anti-Hollywood Hollywood tale, Christian (James Deen...yeah, the porn star James Deen) looks directly into the camera and asks, "Are you for real?" Ostensibly he's talking to the actor who was just cast in the movie he's producing, and who is celebrating that casting with a double-date dinner out. See, this actor has the temerity to want to talk about the movie and his role rather than just play on his cell phone. But he might as well be directing this question right at the audience. This is a paradox of a movie, almost an anti-movie. It's a movie about how nobody makes or watches movies anymore. Christian produces movies because he has the money to do so (no word on where he gets the money) and he can use it as a vehicle for his sick psycho-sexual games with his girlfriend Tara (Lindsey Lohan.) But it's okay that he doesn't even try to make good movies, because nobody watches them anymore. The landscape is riddled with shuttered movie theaters, and everyone is just looking at their cell phones, anyway. There's a love triangle (or more sides, maybe a love quadrilateral...and come to think of it, there's not really much love, it's more like a sex quadrilateral) plot, backstabbing, cheating, deceit, and eventually murder (oops, SPOILER!) But I was more interested in the post-cinema hellscape.

It's either apropos or a shame that most people--if they watch it at all--will watch it at home on video on demand. And most people will watch it just to see Lindsay Lohan's tits or James Deen's cock (whatever's your preference.) And most of those people will be bored and say it's not worth it. And it isn't...if that's what you're looking for you can find Lohan's tits and/or Deen's cock on your smartphone.

But if you want to appreciate things like the genre shift near the end, or the use of colors (red and green feature heavily,) or the humor, or the detachment (the Canyons could be a setting, or it could be the gulf of true intimacy between any two people in the film,) or anything else that makes this a compelling piece of art...well, I think you need to see this in a theater. This is a movie directed by a master filmmaker and written by a master writer who had to beg, scrape, sacrifice, and compromise to get it on screen. You can tell it's written by people who love the art of cinema but hate the business of it, and they leave that all on screen. I don't know who the right audience is for this film, but I have a feeling if it finds that audience the reaction will be fear, depression, and admiration.

Running Time: 99 minutes
My Total Minutes: 337,043

Jason goes to SFJFF--Thursday, August 8th

And that's it for me. The festival continued a few more days in other venues (the Grand Lake in Oakland, the Rafael Film Center, etc.) but I was done as of two Thursdays ago.

First up I saw OUT IN THE DARK, a drama, thriller, and gay love story set in Tel Aviv and the occupied territories. Nimr is a Palestinian and a grad student in Tel Aviv with a promising future ahead of him. He's also gay, and he takes the big chance of going dancing in a gay Tel Aviv nightclub. Well, that gets him on the radar of the police. Not that it's illegal to be gay, but it's great blackmail material--become an informant or his student visa will be revoked and he'll have to go back home...and if anyone back home finds out about his dalliances, he's as good as dead. In Israel, even in liberal Tel Aviv, he's an outsider viewed with suspicion for being Palestinian. Back home in the occupied territory, he has to keep his lifestyle a secret. And his only friend (and lover) is Roy, a sweet kid from a wealthy family who thinks he--with the help of his father's connections--can solve anything. It's a tense and provocative story about a very difficult situation.

And finally, I ended my time at the festival with THE STRANGE CASE OF WILHELM REICH. Reich was a German-born psychoanalyst, controversial in Germany first for his explicit dealings with sexuality (specifically, the negative effects of sexual repression) and then for being the wrong time to be Jewish in Germany. But the movie only touches on that briefly, and really focuses on the later years of his life, when he lives in America and is a controversial experimental scientist...or crackpot...or both. He invented and marketed a box that if you spent time in it it would increase your vitality and potency. But it's just a box. Maybe similar to a sensory deprivation tank today. He also experimented in controlling the weather, and had a machine that allegedly could make it rain. He seems to be the kind of guy who in a sane world would be a harmless kook, maybe taking some money from some suckers (for the record, the movie depicts him as completely sincere in his beliefs and research and it shows some success stories from his work) but pretty much harmless. But this wasn't a sane world, this was 1950's American Red Scare paranoia-land. So he's hauled into court over trumped-up charges, and foolishly chooses to defend himself. Well, his life is a matter of public record, so it's no spoiler to say that he was pretty much doomed. But his influence in psychology is still remarkable and while his physical research into "orgone" and cloudbusting might be the work of a crackpot, the shock therapy and lobotomization common in mainstream psychiatry that persecuted him at the time is significantly more damaging.

Total Running Time: 207 minutes
My Total Minutes: 336,944

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Jason goes to SFJFF--Wednesday, August 7th

I'm way behind on this blog, so here goes. With a couple of weeks ago Wednesday, still at the SF Jewish Film Festival.

First up I saw JOE PAPP IN FIVE ACTS. Now I'm not a New Yorker, so I didn't actually know Joe Papp before this movie. He was a theater man in New York. But not just any theater man, he was the founder of the New York Public Theater. He brought Shakespeare to Central Park, he did it for free, and he got famous actors to appear in it. He was also a communist who got caught up in the Red Scare. And he was a secret Jew, only coming out and admitting he was Jewish when rabbis complained about the anti-semitism in The Merchant of Venice. And he became a powerful Broadway producer, with huge hits such as Hair and A Chorus Line. The movie itself is a fun, breezy, fast-paced affair that starts with plenty of hero worship but doesn't shy away from some less flattering portrait later in his life, when perhaps he becomes too isolated from his success. But this isn't a movie to dwell on how power corrupts. It's more about the incredibly charismatic and dedicated man who became so powerful in the first place.

And then I stuck around for ALIYAH, a deliberately-paced story of an aimless young French man. Alex deals a little drugs, he fixes his brother's problems, he...wanders through life. Then his cousin Nathan visits from Israel, and tells him of his grand plan to open a restaurant in Israel. Alex sees an opportunity out of his doldrums. But there are complications. First, he needs money to buy into the restaurant so he increases his dealing a bit. Second, he meets a new woman, and she might just be interesting enough to keep him in town. Aliyah is the word for Jewish immigration to Israel, and this is a particularly ambiguous kind of immigration story. Unfortunately, I found it kind of slow and boring. But maybe that's just me.

Total Running Time: 172 minutes
My Total Minutes: 336,737

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Jason goes to SFJFF--Tuesday, August 6th

Another night, another two movies. And last Tuesday night started with a real treat, 3 episodes of season 4 of ARAB LABOR. I first got into this popular Israeli comedy last year when I saw three episodes of season 3 at this festival. Since then I bought season 1 and have season 2 and 3 on the way.

In season 4, Amjad is out of work, being unable to capitalize on his recent fame on Big Brother. Plus his wife Bushra is pregnant...and he reacts incorrectly to that news. So he finds himself living out of a tent, inadvertently leading a protest movement, and a star again. That is parlayed into a new position as a consultant on Arab affairs...only one problem, he's so modern and liberal he has no idea how Arabs react to anything. Meanwhile Meir and his wife (remember, he's Jewish she's an Arab--they're very modern and liberal) are also out of work. To make ends meet they might have to move to the Arab neighborhood. But he loves her and after some time in a tent is convinced to do that. Or one step further--move to the occupied territory. Which is difficult until the Jewish telecom company thinks he's a brave lone settler and they hook up phone lines and Internet access, which all his Arab neighbors are happy to share. Turns out this unwelcome Jew was actually a miracle. As funny as always (and my cousin can attest that it's funny even if you jump into the middle of it) and of course it pushes a lot of hot buttons.

And then I saw THE LAST SENTENCE, A Swedish biopic about journalist and editor Torgny Segerstedt. Shot in beautifully photographed black and white it tells the story of a brave man and his few friends who stood up to Hitler. Sweden was officially neutral in the war, but those in power basically rolled over for the occupying Germans. But not Torgny, he and his magazine attacked the Nazis in print with the combination of wit an anger the times called for. As the powers that be clamp down on him more, he continues to print (or in one piece of brilliance, prints a headline only (about the death camps) and leaves a blank space where the objectionable article was.) While war throws his country into chaos, he is haunted by the ghosts of women in his life--his mother and his (Jewish) mistress. The movie is long (running just over 2 hours) and as I'm not a Swede I didn't get all the references there. But the choice of black and white was perfect, the cinematography was gorgeous, and the final scene was poignant and brilliant. (SPOILER ALERT: An ill and aged Torgny gets confirmation that Hitler is dead, then allows himself to die. That's the last sentence) An excellent look at a man whom he and his friends saw as a valiant knight riding into a battle against existential evil armed with nothing more than a pen.

Total Running Time: 204 minutes
My Total Minute: 336,565

Jason goes to SFJFF--Monday, August 5th

Two more shows a week ago Monday.

First up, the short documentary AFTER. An alternately haunting and mundane look at prepping Auschwitz for the daily tourists.

And then the feature, THE CUTOFF MAN. Moshe Ivgy, arguably Israel's greatest actor, is excellent as the quiet, desperate man. His job is to cutoff the water to people who can't pay, hence the title. It also puts him in position to be hated by those people, and so he is cut off in that way. And when the government decides that with local elections upcoming you don't want to piss off any voters so they suspend any cutoffs,...he's out of a job. Which is too bad, because he's got a lot of drinking to do...oh, and a wife...and a kid that's about to go in the army. Ivgy is always fascinating to watch, and as always does a great job. The movie itself is slow...very slow. If you like that, I suppose it's good. For me, I was often bored.

Then the second show of the night was IN THE SHADOW, a really cool film noir set in Prague in 1953. Hakl  is the best detective on the force, and when a seemingly ordinary jewelry store smash-and-grab gets taken over by State Security, he gets a little miffed and a little curious. As it turns out, the ex-SS East German in charge of the investigation is an expert at rooting out criminal behavior by Jews who are funneling money to Israel. So maybe that's what he finds...whether that's what really happened or not. Great drama and suspense, and just dripping with noir genre sensibilities--even the opening scene has the classic trench-coated figure in a dark alleyway lit only by the glow of his cigarette--classic! I can see why this was the official Czech entry to the 2013 Academy Awards.

Total Running Time: 189 minutes
My Total Minutes: 336,361

Jason goes to SFJFF--Sunday, August 4

The San Francisco Jewish Film Festival moved south to Palo Alto (and East to Berkeley, but who cares about that?) last Saturday, and I...was busy elsewhere (Go Quakes!) But I was there for a full day on Sunday--four movies.

First up was FIRST COUSIN ONCE REMOVED, which I saw with my first cousin once removed who lives in Palo Alto. Director Alan Berliner, this year's Freedom Of Expression Award recipient, turns the camera on his family, specifically Edwin Honig, his cousin once removed who was a celebrated poet and translator (knighted by the king of Spain) but who is now wasting away from Alzheimer's dementia--hence the "once removed" takes on a double meaning. Honig gave him permission (when it first started setting in) to record the process, and the result is this movie. Several times it's a little difficult to watch (especially when his deepest memory--of his 3 year old little brother dying while running after him across the street--surfaces) and we were warned before the movie that this would be the case. But I found it surprisingly funny. Late in the movie Berliner tells Honig he's proud of how he (Honig) "never stopped being a poet." And that is very true. No matter how much Honig forgets, no matter how many times he has to be reminded of who Berliner or other family members are, he always has a love of playing with words. Even when he can't form a rhyme more complicated than "Up, down, and all around" there's a joy in just saying those words. Or at the very end, when he's not even verbal, there's a beat to his grunts and moans Don't get me wrong, Alzheimer's is horrible, and this movie shows it. But it also shows that there's some core to our sense of self, that we're more than the sum of our memories. Or, if we live our whole lives thinking we're the sum of our memories, what is left when our memories are taken away? Because there's still something there, and it's pretty amazing.

Next up was THE ZIGZAG KID, the opening night film of the festival but I waited until it was conveniently down south. It's a funny, exciting, sprawling action-comedy about Nono, the police inspector's son who always seems to get into trouble. After his latest antics ruin a friend's bar mitzvah, he is sent to live with his boring, strict uncle. But a mysterious letter left in his luggage sends him on a wild adventure with his new mentor. An adventure that pairs him up with the world's greatest thief (who always leaves a zig-zag charm in place of the treasure he steals, hence the title.) And one that sends him in search of a famous singer. And it sends him on a search to discover his past. But let's not get too serious, this movie is about pure fun. Adventure, crime, romance, and discovery. Very cool.

Then we switched gears again for SOLDIER ON THE ROOF, a verite-style documentary about Jewish settlers in Hebron on the West Bank. Filmmaker Esther Hertog lived with the settlers for three years, and the result is this movie. She steps back and lets the settlers tell their own story. We see them talk about faith, about the importance of this land (it's the site of Abraham's tomb) and about the wonderful Jewish community they have there. And they talk about how much they hate their Arab neighbors. Jewish kids throw rocks at them and taunt them to retaliate, knowing that the soldiers will step in and save them. The soldiers know this, too, and they're really interesting. They see their job as keeping the peace, and they know usually the Jews are the instigators (especially the children) and they actually work pretty hard to be fair and reasonable...up to a point. They're still there to protect the Jewish settlers, but more importantly to keep things from escalating and erupting. Not using force is the goal. On the Arab side...well, it's hard not to feel sympathy for them, but they do push back in their own way. In the opening scene one old Jew is trying to show a hillside view of the city for the camera. Arabs come, insist they have a right to stand there, too, and constantly block him from view and chant over what he's trying to say. And I know that's pretty minor compared to what they put up with, but it just comes off as a dick move on their part. Ultimately, everyone gets to show what they are, and it's not that pretty on either side, but it is fascinating.

And finally, I ended the day with ALL IN, a romantic comedy from Argentina (by the way, that's quite a few mood swings--documentary about a guy deteriorating from Alzheimer's, kid's adventure-comedy, documentary about Jewish West Bank settlers, and romantic comedy. A tip of my cap to the programmer who came up with that.) Uriel is a single father of two who runs the family finance company. He's also an accomplished ladies man, and an excellent poker player. After all, they both take the same skill--bluffing. But when he runs into his old girlfriend Gloria they rekindle what they had, and it's nice...except that he tells a few lies that will come back to haunt him--like that he's a show promoter who is working on reuniting their old favorite band. See, he also has a habit of making promises that he doesn't quite keep (like getting his daughter a fish after he bought her fish tank.) But with some fast talking, quick thinking, and the help of a punk-rock rabbi, he might just make everything work. Very funny.

Total Running Time: 366 minutes
My Total Minutes: 336,172

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Jason goes to SFJFF--Castro Closing Night

The San Francisco Jewish Film Festival bid farewell to it's main venue for another year last Thursday night. The festival continues for over a week, but it's not at the Castro anymore. I was there for the "Closing Night" feature (less than halfway into the festival.)

RUE MANDAR is a French-Jewish comedy about tradition, family, and remembering where you came from (that sounds so Jewish it would belong in the festival even if the characters weren't Jews.) When the widowed matriarch of the family passes away, all her children show up. They muddle through the Jewish funeral service--it's clear none of them are religious. Then they set about dealing with their loss in different ways. The centerpiece of their grief and strife is the old apartment on Rue Mandar--the street where they grew up. Do they keep it or sell it? Do they renovate it? Or--as it so happens--do they all go a little insane? One decides all this apartment talk--and thoughts of life passing him by--has convinced him to renovate his own apartment. He and his wife have talked about it, but that didn't mean she was ready for a Polish construction crew to barge in while she was still in her bathrobe having breakfast. One daughter is a psychiatrist, who just stops listening to her patients. Some want to hold on to the place--and the memories--while one clears the place out and has a "mourning special" street sale of all the stuff.

They say comedy is very culturally based, and hence doesn't play well in foreign territories. And I confess there were times I was perplexed by situations and what seemed to be a leisurely pace. But there was enough universality (or Jew-niversality?) in this that I quite enjoyed it.

And that was SFJFF at the Castro. Now for a week in Palo Alto (just a half block from my work) and the festival is over...for me...for another year.

Running Time: 95 minutes
My Total Minutes: 335,806

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Jason goes to SFJFF--Wednesday July 31

I was back at the Castro for two more SFJFF movies last Wednesday, starting with the highest-selling show in the history of the festival.

First up was the short SHANGHAI STRANGERS by Joan Chen. I had already seen it at CAAMFest, and here's what I wrote then:
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.
Yeah, that's all true but I skipped right over the Jewish content. Her confession is about an affair she had with a man whom she was showing an old apartment--an apartment with ties to the Jews who lived in Shanghai in the middle of the 20th century. In fact, Shanghai--a war torn city that people were fleeing from--kept taking in Jewish refugees long after all other ports refused them. A pretty powerful and beautifully shot movie.

And then the feature, AMERICAN JERUSALEM: JEWS AND THE MAKING OF SAN FRANCISCO. San Francisco has a large--and largely secular--Jewish community. But it doesn't have a "Jewish" neighborhood. That's because the Jewish community came with the origins of San Francisco--as part of the 1849 gold rush. And Jews--often fleeing German kingdoms that were passing laws against them--stayed in San Francisco at twice the rate of any other group. And they were the merchants (most notably, Levi Strauss) who supplied the gold miners. Sure, they came to find gold, too, but as they were reduced to being merchants back in Europe (many places had banned Jews from owning land, so they couldn't farm) they knew just what the fast-growing tent city on the port of San Francisco needed. And the Jews there were also generally secular--young, male, and embarking on a difficult journey where keeping kosher was near impossible. So that character informed the nature of San Francisco Jews--secular and completely integrated...white, even. And the movie doesn't shy away from that. The San Francisco Jews were just as guilty as anyone of racism against the Chinese laborers. Or when Eastern European Jews fleeing pogroms arrived around the turn of the century, the established Jewish community pretty much forced them to integrate and hide their Jewishness. The movie doesn't avoid these episodes, but they're overshadowed by the heroic stories of Jewish leaders. And I should say that none of them were bigger, more iconic, and more American-Dream-heroic than Adolph Sutro, the self-made millionaire who became the first Jewish mayor of a major American city, and is enough of a dominant, charismatic character that he should have his own movie just about him.

Then we were treated to a short concert by Crystal Monee Hall (currently the front woman for the Mickey Hart Band) exploring the jazzy roots of Amy Winehouse's music. And that lead into the film (originally made for Irish TV) AMY WINEHOUSE: THE DAY SHE CAME TO DINGLE. Dingle is a tiny town on the coast of Ireland that invites artists to perform in their church in front of dozens of people. The ones who choose to come usually end up loving it, and the town is awfully fond of talking about how living on the edge of the known world tends to inspire artists. Anyway, Amy Winehouse came there and gave what some regard as her greatest performance ever, and it was caught on tape. The film is about 3/4  performance (including both Amy Winehouse live in Dingle and archive footage of her self-described influences) and 1/4 interviews and people talking about her, her music, and her personality. For all the tabloid hype that was going on around her, everybody talked about how professional, courteous, and down-to-earth she was. I have to admit I never really paid attention to her until she passed away, but I've listened to her music since and she's pretty damn good. And this was a great look at her.

Total Running Time: 137 minutes
My Total Minutes: 335,711

Jason goes to SFJFF--Tuesday, July 30

I'm falling a little behind in this blog. Time to recover before I spend a week watching the films is Palo Alto.

Last Tuesday I was back at the Castro for the Centerpiece presentation of THE ATTACK by Ziad Doueiri. It's a story of Arab assimilation into Israel, being the "model Arab," and how things can fall apart so easily. Amin Jaafari is a Palestinian, an Israeli, and a widely respected and admired surgeon in Tel Aviv. In fact, as the movie opens he's getting a humanitarian award--the first Arab to receive this particular award ever. Then when a suicide bomber goes off in Tel Aviv he springs into action saving as many of the victims as he can (many women and children.) He's still a hero...until evidence appears linking his wife to the attack. He can't believe it. When her body is found with the lower half blown away--typical of suicide bombers--he still can't believe it. When the police take him away, torture him, show him evidence that she was involved...he still can't believe it. And without giving away too many spoilers, I'll just say his own investigation leads him to a very different perspective on his (previously) comfortable Tel Aviv lifestyle. It's a challenging movie--both with the unflinching scenes of violence and its aftermath, but in the societal questions it brings up. It doesn't give answers, it leaves that to the audience. But it does a great job of framing both sides of the issue.

And then I stuck around for AFTERMATH, a controversial film from Poland about anti-Semitism. Polish-American Józef Kalina returns home from Chicago after his dad passes away. He's back in his small Polish town for the first time in 20 years. Things have changed, and nothing more than how hated his brother Franciszek is. Seems Franciszek has been engaging in some behavior that has pissed off the town. He shrugs it off, and eventually we learn what he has done. He has dug up stones that were used to pave an old road. Specifically, he has dug up old gravestones. More specifically, he dug up old Jewish gravestones, that the Nazis dug up in the week that they occupied the town during the war. At first Józef doesn't understand why Franciszek is putting himself up for so much abuse just for those "Yids." And Franciszek can't really explain, other than he felt compelled to do it just out of human dignity. He's made a small memorial in his field out of the gravestones. As Józef starts to join in on the project he also starts digging up the history of the town. And in particular, their shameful history towards the Jews during WWII. Not to give too much away, but it quickly becomes apparent that the worst atrocities in town weren't committed by the Germans but by the locals. And the Kalina family was heavily involved. Another challenging movie, and one that's remarkable not just for its message about troubling history, but about the casual anti-Semitism that still persists. A friends pointed out that Poland is often characterized as "Anti-Semitism without any Jews." According to AFTERMATH, that's a pretty accurate description.

Total Running Time: 209 minutes
My Total Minutes: 335,574