Saturday, November 30, 2013

Jason goes to Holehead--Opening Night

3 solid weeks of horror in San Francisco started last night. And yes, that's Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving Thanksgivukkah. And 3 weeks means it takes us right up to the last week before Christmas. Heck of a way to spend the holiday season, and I promise that is the last time I will complain about it (complaining about the quality of movies--and the goofs in running the festival--will continue as usual.)

So the festival kicked off with STALLED. As in, a bathroom stall. As in, trapped in a bathroom stall when the zombie apocalypse breaks out. Janitor W.C. goes into the ladies room for some maintenance during the company Christmas party. While in the stall, two women walk in. And instead of announcing his presence he just hides in there...and watches them start lezzing out. Then one of them bites the other one, and she turns into a zombie. Then the title comes on screen and I think 'Ha! What a funny little short!' Then the damn thing goes on for another 80 minutes. There are funny bits sprinkled throughout, but basically it's one joke spread waaaaaay too thin. Which, come to think of it, is kind of typical of a Holehead film.

Then it was time for the official opening night film, ALL CHEERLEADERS DIE THE BATTERY. Okay, it was supposed to be ALL CHEERLEADERS DIE, but due to a DCP festival management error, we switched it with next Thursday's film. So everyone who was eager to see THE BATTERY next're out of luck. Everyone who was bummed they couldn't make it to ALL CHEERLEADERS DIE last night (maybe you're still doing Thanksgivukkah stuff?) you're in luck, it'll play 7:00 next Thursday.

Anyway, THE BATTERY was a pretty damn good movie anyway, so it was a fine replacement for opening night. We start firmly within the zombie apocalypse this time, and it the sparsely populate New England woods. There Ben and Mickey are a duo staying on the move, killing whatever zombies they find (well, Ben does, Mickey sort of lives inside his headphones) and surviving however they can. We find out that they were minor league ballplayers, Ben's a catcher and Mickey's a relief pitcher. And the scenes of them working out their stress by playing catch are some of the finest in the movie. And that's the key to the movie, that the stress of the post-apocalyptic world is more dangerous than the actual zombies. At least, Ben dispatches zombies pretty easily. Mickey still has problems. Ben has adjusted well, with his huge mountain-man beard and live-in-the-moment attitude. Mickey is still grasping for whatever comforts he can find of the old world--especially sleeping in a real house. Ben knows that's a dangerous idea, you can get trapped inside a house pretty easily. Only in the final scenes do the zombies become a real danger, and without giving too much away that's actually because of what living humans do. This definitely subscribes to the Romero philosophy that the real danger is fellow survivors, not the walking dead. Anyway, the characters are well developed, and the story of two guys bonding on an aimless trip through the woods is engaging enough that the zombies are just kind of icing on the cake.

And then the late show was THE SHOWER, a funny little story of struggling entertainment industry friends who are at a baby shower when everything goes wrong. Nick is a screenwriter/unemployed waiter. His wife is 8 months pregnant, and they're having a baby shower with all their friends--mostly waiters/actors who have been in a few commercials. The hostess is a former child star turned talent agent. One guy there actually has a starring role in a TV show. And one has an actual job--she's a doctor (her husband played a doctor in a commercial once.) Well, she get calls in to work because of some outbreak--foreshadowing! Shortly after she leaves, we find the whole neighborhood is cordoned off by the police and people just suddenly snap and start attacking. The clown who was hired to entertain the kids turns homicidal, etc. Not zombies exactly, more like homicidal rage, which will subside temporarily before they go right back to attacking everyone. A lot of the fun is trying to distinguish if people have actually "turned" or if they're just selfish southern Californian entertainment industry types. But there I'm showing my Bay Area bias. I'll just cut that short by saying the movie was a lot of fun, and made by a group of friends for a surprisingly low budget.

There ended up (accidentally) being a theme of the night--facing the apocalypse (zombie or otherwise) non-heroically.

Total Running Time: 252 minutes
My Total Minutes: 342,945

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Jason watches TOP GUYS LIVE!

In conjunction with Another Hole in the Head, Hampants presents TOP GUYS, a live-action parody of Tom Cruise's classic TOP GUN (or as my gay friends refer to it, "That volleyball movie.") It's funny. It's gay. It makes fun of Tom Cruise, the movie, and the whole concept of aerial dogfights. Plus it's a sing-along! Ummm...I don't have much more to say other than it was a whole lot of fun. Get your tickets here, playing Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays until December 14th.

Jason watches ENDER'S GAME

I'll start by confessing to blasphemy by saying I've never read the book. I know it's supposed to be excellent, I've just never gotten around to it. As for the's full of training and training and training and I'm waiting for the goddamned action (and for Ender to have more than a token setback. He wins every damn thing.) That probably works better in a book than a movie. And the ending is powerful and thought-provoking. But I was distracted by two things, one my fault and one not.

My fault: when Ben Kingsley makes his appearance late in the movie, I was chuckling that the HUGO co-stars were reunited.
Not my fault (and pretty spoiler-y, even though it happens early in the movie): So...50-something years ago we beat back an alien invasion using what looks like contemporary fighter planes. Certainly not some extreme futuristic technology. Then 50 years later...we have a fleet of giant interstellar spaceships and have established at least one military base on a planet orbiting a different star. So we go from contemporary times (interstellar travel is theoretically impossible within a single human lifetime) to interstellar travel in a matter of...days at the most? commonplace enough that it's not even commented on.

Also, why we're at it, kids are the only ones smart enough to process game-like information quickly enough? Really? I guess that's central to the premise so I have to accept it, but normally I wouldn't buy it.

Oh, and Ender is smarter than everyone because he understands that there's no up or down in space? No other kids are smart enough to see that...or at the very least have seen STAR TREK 2: THE WRATH OF KHAN?

Okay, I should stop thinking about it because I'll probably find other points that don't sit right with me. Ultimately it was a fun movie with great acting, incredible special effects, and a very thoughtful ending.

Running Time: 114 minutes
My Total Minutes: 342,693

Jason watches THOR: THE DARK WORLD

Ho hum, another Superhero movie. And like IRON MAN 3, it seems Marvel doesn't know how to deal with solo stories after THE AVENGERS. They can't ignore the plot, but they're poor at explaining why some characters weren't there (I do kind of like Natalie Portman making Chris Hemsworth apologize for her not being in THE AVENGERS) or why the fellow Avengers don't help them out (why is Thor fighting an existential threat to the Earth...alone?) Anyway, there's some fun action, a plot that...I guess exists (oogity-boogities from before the Universe existed want to destroy everything.) It used to be taken for granted that--with the exception of THE DARK KNIGHT--Marvel has done a better job with their superhero movies than DC has. But THOR: THE DARK WORLD is about as silly and insubstantial as THE GREEN LANTERN (nerds may now commence hating me.)

Running Time: 112 minutes
My Total Minutes: 342,579

Jason watches a PUS production of SCAMORAMALAND

Sooo...this is a couple of weeks late for you to do anything with it, but the latest Performers Under Stress (P.U.S.) production is pretty damn funny. A fast paced, funny look at an intertwined world of Nigerian scammers, victims, and scam-baiters. It's very funny, but it doe more than just mock the scammers, or the victims. And it doesn't always laugh with the scam-baiters. There's some sympathy for the low-level scammer, who is  actually beholden to an abusive boss. Then there's the older English man who falls for a scam and chooses to actually meet the sender of the scam e-mail in Paris instead of just wiring money. His...well, it's a kind of tragic story. And then the Guild. Three scam-baiters, one American man, one English woman (who happens to be the daughter of the victim) and one French man who lure the scammers into wasting their time with elaborate pranks. But...they're not necessarily as heroic as they seem at first. There's a level of complexity that makes this rise over simple mockery of Internet scams.

Anyway...SCAMORAMALAND is no longer playing, but you can keep up with what's going on with P.U.S. right here. Sorry again that this is so late.

Jason goes to Niles to celebrate a 95th Birthday and a 100th Birthday

Niles was proud to celebrate the 95th Birthday of our good friend Diana Serra Carey (aka Baby Peggy, the last surviving silent film star) but I'm about a week and a half behind on this blog, so Happy 95 years, 1.5 weeks, Diana! (Actually, her real Birthday was October 29th, so it's even more than that.) She showed up at the museum during the day to talk to all her fans (and the place was actually pretty packed with them) and sign her books and the DVD of Vera Iwebor's excellent documentary about her, BABY PEGGY: THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM. I got mine signed, woo hoo!

She didn't stick around for the evening movies, which was also the 100th Anniversary of the first show at the original theater that was built in 1913. Then it was the Bell Theater, licensed to the Edison Company, which is why we call it the Edison Theater today.

VERSUS SLEDGE HAMMERS (1915): We kicked off the celebration by actually using a vintage hand-cranked projector to show this movie that was shot in Niles. Here's what I said when I first saw it back in 2008:
Snakeville comedy also shot in Niles. Sophie has inherited a million dollars. The Count hears of it, and decides to seduce her and marry her for her money. But her sweetheart Pete, the local blacksmith, won't give her up without a fight. Who do you think will win, in this battle of pompous aristocracy versus sledge hammers?
And here's what I said when I saw it again in 2010:
A Niles Essanay production, and one of the few surviving Snakeville comedies. Margeret Joslin is Sophie Clutts, the only eligible woman in Snakeville, AZ, and sweetheart of Mustang Pete (real-life husband Harry Todd). Tall, svelteVictor Potel is a count visiting from out of town who has his eye on Sophie, and so the battle begins. Googly-eyed Ben Turpin plays the Count's valet, who does helpful stuff like light his hat on fire (I guess you had to be there).
Ha! I have nothing to add, other than to notice how my writing evolved over time.

BRONCHO BILLY AND THE BANDIT'S SECRET (2013): Now we celebrated 100 years of movies by playing a brand new movie...made with 100 year old technology. And while we were promised this would be the final, final version...actually we only got half of it back from the film lab. Turns out film labs are closing faster than we can get this finished. Anyway, here's what I said just a few months ago when I saw it the first time:
Now this is the treat of the [Broncho Billy Silent Film] festival. A brand new silent film (formerly known as THE CANYON) produced by the museum, directed by our historian/projectionist David Kiehn using authentic ~100 year old cameras and genuine black-and-white 35 mm film. It was even edited by actually cutting and splicing film. This was actually a work print, the brightness hasn't been balanced on all the scenes (although they didn't really do that back in the day, so it's kind of more authentic this way) and they need a few more intertitles, but this was the mostly finished version (since everything is done in the camera, there are no special effects to add.) 
The story starts--much as G. M. Anderson did before he was Broncho Billy--with a great train robbery. Broncho Billy (our own Bruce Cates) is on the train but instead of running away he pays careful attention to the robbers. Enough that he--along with his crew at the Essanay Studio--can assist the sheriff in catching the bad guys. Lots of adventure, and when it's all over Anderson has a great idea for a movie and it all ends with a proud Anderson and an embarrassed sheriff watching the movie-within-a-movie (that is actually an actual Broncho Billy movie.)
Ha! Well, the brightness balance was better, of course. And the word I've heard is we'll finally get the final-final version and show it in January (fingers crossed.) And I can't believe I ended with the phrase "...actually an actual..." Do I even know English? Anyway, this was still a treat.

Then a brief intermission, and the feature film celebrating Baby Peggy.

CAPTAIN JANUARY (1924): I first saw this film 5 years ago, at Diana's 90th Birthday party. Here's what I said then:
Peggy plays the title character, the ward of the old lighthouse keeper Daddy Judkins. She washed up from a storm 5 years ago, and has been the light of his life (and an able and strong helper) ever since. Busybodies in town think that's no way for a girl to grow up, and want to take her away to an orphanage. They fight them, with the help of the town preacher, who is a decent, honorable, and honest man. But when a yacht runs aground and a passenger recognizes Peggy as her niece, she's taken away to live in a Boston mansion. Both her and Judkins are heartbroken, so she sneaks away to come back to him. A beautiful, charming tearjerker.
Not much to add there, except for two things. First, although it was a tearjerker at times, it does have a happy ending. Second, this is also a bonus feature included on the BABY PEGGY: THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM DVD I mentioned above.

Hey, I did all my reviews just by quoting my old reviews. That was pretty easy.

Total Running Time: 102 minutes
My Total Minutes: 342,467

Jason goes to the Santa Cruz Film Festival--Sunday November 10th

Four more programs on Sunday, the last day of the short-but-intense festival.

The first two programs were short programs, starting with the local high school program REEL FRESH. This is the program of shorts made by students in video production classes in the Santa Cruz County Regional Occupational Program (ROP).

Ummm...this was almost two weeks ago, and I don't have a list of the films with descriptions. I do remember being pretty darn impressed at what high school kids could do. And I remember it ended with one that turned into a documentary about why their movie project failed, and it was pretty funny. But other than that...sorry I don't remember them that well.

Then graduating from high school to college we saw the UCSC shorts program Desire Obscured. This time I do have the advantage of a list of films, so here we go.
UNTITLED: An experimental, backwards, hand-drawn animated piece about memories of childhood.
BITS AND PIECES: Home movies...pieced make...I don't know what.
DAYDREAMERS: A student's mind wanders, and in her wandering mind, she lives in a musical.
RUNNERS, SWIMMERS, BANDERS, AND TRACKERS: A sort of "ride-along" documentary on the day in the life of scientists tracking and banding birds in the South Bay.
A RIFT BETWEEN: The difficulties of trying to reconnect after years of estrangement.
I'M BLACK AND I THINK I SHOULD BE PROUD: A personal documentary, using Superman as a jumping off point, about white people dominating the television landscape and a dearth of black role models.
FERN BABY FERN: A woman and her prize-winning fern...who becomes a little too emotionally attached with her.
LOVE, OBSESSION, DESIRE: Director Carmella Crissman explores issues of femininity, sports, and body perception in a series of scenes dressing (and undressing) her in a baseball uniform and a dress...and playing baseball in a dress...and really, really enjoying holding a bat in her hands.
HIGH WIND ADVISORY: A daughter interviews her father on camera about his cross-dressing, which he kept secret for so long. Issues of trust are brought to the surface.
VENUS: A black and white animated homage to Venus Xtravaganza, who...I admit I had to look up on Wickipedia to understand who she was.
PRIMAL: Stan is bullied by Ted, just for talking to his ex-girlfriend Sarah. Sarah defends Ted. More bullying, leading up to a horrible event in a pool, that leaves everything changed.
FRAGMENTS: An experimental piece made from what looks like 8 mm home movies.

Then the next show was a short followed by a feature. First the short, MAGI, about the magic of Christmas. Specifically, about how on Christmas an excited little boy learns something about how sick with cancer his mom really is, and what sacrifice really means. Very sweet, and a little heartbreaking.

And that led into the feature documentary, ANNIE: IT'S A HARD KNOCK LIFE. It's a behind the scenes look at the recent Broadway revival of Annie. Specifically, about the kids and the choreography behind the featured song "It's a Hard Knock Life." There's some historical context from the writers of the musical, a little dig at the movie for making the song too fun, a nod to Jay Z and how he re-purposed the song to apply to life in the ghetto. But most of all, it's about the kids. Starting with auditions, we see how hard they work to get the steps right, how hard the choreographer works with them (and doesn't seem to know how to tackle it until very near the end) and how they somehow still manage to stay kids and laugh and have fun with it. It's a pretty pleasant film, and leaves the audience with a smile (this isn't a hard-hitting exposé on the working conditions of child actors--by all accounts they seem well taken care of.) I was just hoping all the way through we'd finally get a performance of the full song...and spoiler alert, that's exactly what you get for the finale.

And finally (only two and a half weeks late with this post) I ended the festival with the very funny CEMENT SUITCASE. Franklin is a wine salesman in Yakima Valley. And he's good at his job--he's very personable, knows a lot about wine, and gets people to laugh and buy a lot. Only problem is, he hates his job. It's not fulfilling. Instead, he has all these wild, impractical ideas that aren't of any financial value--like building a structure out of shopping carts and calling it Carthenge. Plus, he finds out his girlfriend is cheating on him and he...does nothing about it. Actually, he befriends the guy. Oh, and he can't keep up with the mortgage payments on his mom's house, so he's looking for a roommate. The only guy to answer his listing is an eccentric who breaks into his house. They have wacky adventures (including an explanation of the title) and despite a major nervous breakdown, Franklin ends up...well, somewhere. It's a movie that encourages you to...if not follow your dreams, at least indulge the crazy ideas you have, even if you can't make a living off them. Maybe not the most practical message, but it sure is fun to watch.

And that's my (very late) take on the 2013 version of the Santa Cruz Film Festival.

Total Running Time: 349 minutes
My Total Minutes: 342,365

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Jason goes to the Santa Cruz Film Festival--Saturday, November 9th

Okay, I'm officially waaaaay behind on my blogging, so this will have to be unfortunately short.

First up on Saturday was a program of LGBTQ themed shorts collectively titled Genre Queer:
CHANGE OVER TIME: Genre - avant garde/experimental. Subject - sex reassignment. In an autobiographical, semi-animated poem director Ewan Duarte examines his first year on testosterone therapy and contemplates the changes ahead of him.
CONTRIBUTION OF A VERSE: The struggles of Jo, a genderqueer teenager who has been kicked out of her home. She lives in her car, showers in the school locker room before classes, and scrounges for whatever food she can find. A tough life, with almost no support, and invisible to the teachers.
PLANÈTE ROUGE: Two gay men in Los Angeles meet on grindr and go on a date. A look at a first date that's as sweet, tender, and (extra)ordinary as any first date.
STRAIGHT DOWN LOW: An adolescent noir film with a gay twist. A smart young man investigates a gang murder, with some surprising results.

Then the next show was the documentary MUSICWOOD, and it was a real surprise. Starting with the fine are of guitar-making, it gives a quick primer on the specific types of wood that are best for making guitars. And it specifically focuses on the spruce that is the best wood for the face/soundboard of the guitar. See, a lot of the woods used in making fine guitars are actually being rapidly depleted. And given that you need a pretty large piece to make a guitar face, you specifically need old growth spruce. So the film moves to southeast Alaska, home of the largest forests of old-growth Sitka Spruce in the world. The thing is, these forests are under the control of the Sealaska native corporation, and without a lot of other economic opportunity, they're being rapidly clear-cut. Just a tiny fraction of the wood goes to guitars, but the luthiers (did you know that's the word for guitar makers? I didn't, and I find that pretty cool) have a pretty vital interest in keeping enough old-growth trees around for their needs. So enter a three-way discussion between Sealaska (who wants economic activity), Greenpeace (who wants an end to clear-cutting, period) and the guitar makers (who want a sustainable source of spruce). Sometimes things get tense, sometimes they're downright cordial. To many natives, their visit is kind of a wake up call that they've gotten away from the land. On the other hand, they don't really have a lot of other opportunities. And on the other other hand (apparently this is a three-handed issue, at least) many of the natives complain that they don't see any of the benefits of the timber industry and the pollution has actually decimated their subsistence fishing. It seems like the obvious solution is to get Forest Stewardship Council certification, ensuring that the forestry practices are sustainable, and allowing them to charge more for their wood. But at least by the end of the movie, that's still not settled and negotiations were strained to the breaking point. I don't know if there are updates on this, but the movie gives you a good overview of the issue, from an interesting point of view, and full of gorgeous shots of Southeast Alaska forests (and illuminating shots of clear-cut forests.)

The next program started withe the short BARE AS YOU DARE: PORTLAND'S WORLD NAKED BIKE RIDE. Umm...that's exactly what it sounds like. The world naked bike ride is a (counter-)cultural phenomenon that takes place in several cities, and Portland's is one of the biggest. We get to briefly meet some of the participants--from long-time riders and organizers to first-time riders who are nervous not just about riding naked but about being in a movie about it. And we also get to see some of the audience and their reactions--from stunned, to amused, to wanting to join in.

And that was the lead-in to the feature, THE ORGANIC LIFE. Director Casey Beck turns her camera on her boyfriend, Austin Blair for a year-in-the-life look at the grueling, low-paid, but somehow rewarding work of being a certified organic farmer. Spurred heavily by his desire to eat good food, Austin starts working for Paul’s Produce in Sonoma, CA. Paul Wirtz proves to be an excellent mentor for Austin, and Austin's enthusiasm invigorates Paul. In fact, in the Q&A afterwards Casey and Austin revealed that one of the original ideas for the film was to focus on the relationship between Paul and Austin. Unfortunately, Paul simply isn't very charismatic on camera, and they wisely chose to focus the film on their own relationship instead. So we get to see the frustrating moments, the times when they (Casey especially) question the decision (did she really study film to live on a farm?) And it becomes more than just a story about growing organic vegetables. It's a story about growing a life, about creating a home, and about two people sharing their life. And that's pretty freakin' cool.

And then a real oddity, DIAMOND ON VINYL. Henry has an odd...hobby? Fascination? Quirk? I don't know what to call it, but he likes to record conversations, play them back, and study them. He's a big fan of the Safe at Home series--records of people having mundane conversations. The idea is you play them when you're out so that would-be burglars think people are home (what happens if you're out for more than 90 minutes? Umm....) Anyway, his latest recording--of him and his fiancee having sex--doesn't go over so well when she finds out about it. Even less well when she rewinds the tape and hears him practicing proposing to her...including him voicing his own doubts. Well, she kicks him out, he obsesses over her. He meets a fun, spontaneous young female photographer (the opposite of everything he is) who...fixes him? Not really? Breaks him? He was already kind of broken. But definitely dangerous, as they act out various imagined/practiced conversations and blur the line between fantasy and reality. Not said in all of this is what the heck is up with Henry anyway. It's never said, but I assumed he had some sort of high-functioning Aspergers Syndrome that made him unable to carry on a real, spontaneous conversation and so he was practicing every possible conversation in order to fit in.

Then I skipped the late movie to go to the Big Lebowski party instead. Interesting, Indiefest has done this party for ten years in San Francisco. This is the first year of doing it in Santa Cruz, and nearly everyone upon entering the party went straight to the screening room to watch the movie. I, instead, had an obligatory White Russian before moving on to "oat soda" and having...several of those. Hung out with The Dude and Walter for quite a while, somehow ended up at a vegetarian restaurant downtown at ~3 am before heading back to the hotel to sleep it off. Woke up with quite the hangover the next morning, but that's a story for a different blog post.

Total Running Time: 306 minutes
My Total Minutes: 342,016

Friday, November 15, 2013

Jason goes to Midnites for Maniacs for a triple-bill of Acid Westerns

I'm a week behind on my blogging, and in some ways that's a good thing. It gave me some time to think about what to write (so it will be all the more disappointing in the moments where I got nothing.)

THE LONE RANGER (2013): Midnites for Maniacs mission statement is to honor and appreciated unseen, under-appreciated films. I read Jesse Hawthorne Ficks review of THE LONE RANGER too late to catch it when it was still in it's regular theatrical run (full disclosure for those who don't know, Jesse also runs Midnites for Maniacs and has been pushing this movie for months.) Re-reading it today...I'm tempted to just say "me too" and be done with it. He certainly points out a lot of things that bewildered, angered, or bored many critics, and interprets them in a way that makes it clear that the filmmakers are a lot smarter than their critics. In full disclosure, the one thing I couldn't quite reconcile on my first viewing was the slapstick self-parody moments in what I thought was a surprisingly deep movie. I felt it undercut the fact that's smarter and deeper than most people will acknowledge, sort of saying "hey, don't take me seriously" even though it makes some pretty good points. But Jesse makes some good points about that, and convinces me (not that I wasn't already convinced) that I should watch this again.

This movie is in large part an origins story, but not really about the origins of the character of the Lone Ranger. It's about the origins of the myth. It's about how--and why--we tell stories (specifically stories about America, and stories on film). It's weird that the first (that I caught) of dozens (hundreds? thousands?) of movie references is to THE RED BALLOON. This is chock full of movie references, from the origin of cinema with THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY to...well, at least to Verbinski and Depp's first PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN. And that's more than just a game for cinephiles, this movie is obsessed with the art of telling stories--and making you think about storytelling.

Now the elephant in the room, is that this is Tonto's story far more than the Lone Ranger's. It's actually told by an aged Tonto in 1920's San Francisco to a young boy in a Lone Ranger mask. And for about half the movie I was thinking 'If only they had called the movie TONTO instead, people would have loved it.' It would be like WICKED retelling THE WIZARD OF OZ from the witch's point of view (not that Tonto is ever the villain, but retelling stories from a non-traditional point of view has been pretty popular in modern literature for quite a while.) But then something pretty cool happens. John Reid (Armie Hammer) finally understands why Tonto kept telling him to wear the mask, and he puts the mask on. And when see him shortly afterwards, and the William Tell Overture plays...well, my heart started racing. I finally got to root for him, and it was all the better for knowing I was doing it for the right reasons. For nearly two hours this movie had told me to forget everything I know about the Lone Ranger, to even hate the myth or at least feel guilty about the white male-centric nature of it. And then it gave me a Lone Ranger to believe in, and earned it's title.

Jesse ends his review with some thoughts about Tonto's meditative walk during the end credits, and speculated about its meaning. Here's my thought. Just before the credits rolled, Tonto finishes telling his story to the little boy in San Francisco. He (the little boy) thinks about it, puts his Lone Ranger mask on, and says, "Never take off the mask." I think Tonto's walking off to finally rest and pass away in peace knowing that at long last he finally told his story to someone who got it.

And now it's way too tempting to think about that in terms of the success (or lack thereof) of the movie. Verbinski et al. actually knew they were making a movie that's difficult to get. A movie that takes multiple viewings (and on screens bigger than your damn phone.) And maybe they can let this movie rest peacefully if at least one kid gets it. I'm pretty sure I'm not (yet) that 'kid who gets it.' I'm not sure that Jesse Ficks, as big a fan as he is, is the 'kid who gets it.' I'm not sure if Quentin Tarantino, who has an intimidating knowledge of film and put this on his top ten of the year list, is the 'kid who gets it.' I'm not sure that there is any 'kid who gets it' yet, really. But if all it takes is one...I'm convinced it can happen. But it will be quite an undertaking, because this movie is big and deep.

DEAD MAN (1995): Well, after THE LONE RANGER left my head kind of spinning, almost anything would be a bit of a let down. So I was grateful to follow this with a movie I had seen before. But only on home video, and not since it was first out. It's slow, it's black and white, it's poetic, it's weird. Johnny Depp as William Blake (not the old English poet, but you'll be forgiven for that mistake) arrives in a frontier town with a letter offering him a job as an accountant. But he's too late, the job has already been filled. And he's out of money, and he meets a girl, and he sort of kills the guy who is attacking her. Which is bad, because he's the son of the guy who runs the town (same guy who through him out on his ear.) So wounded and hunted, he goes on the run and meets an Indian named Nobody (Gary Farmer) who becomes his guide to...well, to fulfilling his death. I think there's something wrong with me that when I saw it back in college I didn't run out and learn all about William Blake's poetry (or his drawings.) When I was in college, I thought I was deep and smart for liking it. Now I feel shallow and dumb for realizing how little I get this. Also, I'll confess that I kind of dozed off for some parts of it.

WALKER (1987): And finally, after a theater crawl to the Roxie, we got this piece of the extreme weirdness. Alex Cox (REPO MAN, REVENGERS TRAGEDIE) directed Ed Harris in this story based on the real life William Walker. In the beginning, he's the leader of a band of American mercenaries in Mexico, facing certain annihilation. But a freak sandstorm gives them cover to escape and he returns to America where he's promptly put on trial. He gets off pretty easily (there's a strange air about him that no matter how many bad things happen he's supremely confident, calm, and sure of success). Cornelius Vanderbilt calls for a meeting with him, and tasks him with leading a coup in Nicaragua to secure transportation lines between the Atlantic and Pacific (this was in the 1850's, well before the Panama canal.) So he goes...and he slaughters them. And he makes deals with the local officials. And the locals fight back. And he promises him men no harm will come to them even as they're being slaughtered. And he becomes President...for a year, before everyone rises up, overthrows him, and executes him. Basically his story is the least successful version of 'White American sticks his nose where it doesn't belong and screws everything up' ever. And the contrast between the action on screen and his hilariously upbeat letters home is priceless...and resonates with other recent "They'll greet us as liberators!" moments.

And that was M4M's salute to Acid Westerns. Next month for Christmas on December 20th they'll be doing HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS (1995), LOVE ACTUALLY (2003) and...we don't know yet.

Total Running Time: 364 minutes
My Total Minutes: 341,710

Friday, November 8, 2013

Jason goes to the Santa Cruz Film Festival--Opening Night

I haven't been to the Santa Cruz Film Festival since...[looks up his records]...2007. And even then I only made it down for one movie. Mostly that's because of a combination of A) it's kind of a long schlep down there, and B) it used to be in the spring, and butted up against the big San Francisco International Film Festival, which took all my time and energy. Well, two things happened in the past year that made me give it another look: A) it moved to the fall, still heavy with lots of mini-festivals (e.g., 3rd i, the SFFS Fall Season, Jewfest South, etc.) but doesn't have the the big dog dominating the calendar, and B) Jeff Ross, the impresario or Indiefest, joined their team as director. Now he doesn't really do any programming of the movies, but he puts on a darn good festival and I like to support his work (and I'm looking forward to the Lebowski Party on Saturday).

Anyway, after fighting a little bit of traffic down from Palo Alto after work, I made it there with about 15 minutes to spare before the opening night film, GOODBYE GAULEY MOUNTAIN: AN ECOSEXUAL LOVE STORY. Beth Stephens and her wife Annie Sprinkle travel to West Virginia (the state where Beth was born and raised) to protest mountain top removal (MTR) by coal mining companies. But they're not your typical eco-warriors. Annie is a former sex worker/current sex educator and they are both "Ecosexuals." That is, they take tree-hugging a bit to the extreme side. They don't think of "mother" Earth, but instead take the Earth as a lover, engaging in the sensual delights of nature (I've never seen so many vaguely erotic shots of tomatoes in my life.) And they ceremonially marry various aspects of nature--the water, the sky, and in this instance the Appalachian Mountains. That's the climax of the movie, and it's pretty fun, but the journey there is even more interesting. They meet a variety of locals, including legendary (and recently deceased) Keeper of the Mountains Larry Gibson. He's an inspiring guy and a lot more should be devoted to him in another movie (sadly, he's not around to give any more interviews).

The movie played to a very like-minded audience in Santa Cruz, and of course I'm like-minded as well (fuck MTR! I don't care if half the electricity in the U.S. comes from coal. It shouldn't, and even so we used to be able to extract coal without blowing up entire mountains.)  But for my money the best scene of the movie was when they had a surprisingly agreeable conversation with a guy (the boyfriend...or husband? I wan't quite sure...of Beth's childhood friend) who considers himself a tree-hugger but still supports MTR. It's in no small part because his livelihood depends on it, and his argument eventually devolves to 'In The Bible, God gave man dominion over nature' but it felt like the one time the thesis of the film (MTR is bad, and here's a creative way to combat it) was challenged. This is my personal taste, but I'd rather see a film that challenges my beliefs than one that reinforces them.

Running Time: 70 minutes
My Total Minutes: 341,346

Jason goes to Jewfest South and finds that THE WORLD IS FUNNY

Back at the SVJFF for antother movie last Wednesday night.

THE WORLD IS FUNNY is the first half of a line (ending with "...and so we laugh") made popular by the Israeli comedy group HaGashash HaHiver. I had never heard of them before but apparently they were (still are?) hugely popular cultural icons and the pride of Tiberias, a town of some ~40,000 people in the north of Israel on the Sea of Galilee. I had never heard of them before, but the opening text made it clear that they are the inspiration behind this film (whether it's made in a style similar to their comedy, or just made by fans depicting fans, I can't really say.) The movie also takes place in Tiberias, and follows a loosely connected cast through...well, not really comic adventures. More like tragedy, or comi-tragedy. The title doesn't really refer to actual humor, but to how laughter is used to dispel life in general and in Israel in particular. There's a man coping with his girlfriend's terminal brain cancer. A father and son who bring their eldest son home from the hospital after waking up from a 10-year coma. A young cleaning woman who visits everyone, a writing workshop, a mysterious pregnancy, a much less mysterious pregnancy. It would be impossible to try to describe the plot (although I guess I just did) precisely because there isn't much of one. A lot of stuff happens, but it's more about getting to briefly know these characters, their anxieties, and how they deal with it through comedy--particularly the comedy of HaGashash, whose lines they quote to each other (and one member shows up for the climax to the film, explaining that since one of the original trio is dead, there can be no reunion.)

Incidentally, from what I can glean a lot of their humor was elaborate wordplay, which would make it pretty hard to translate for a non-Hebrew speaking audience. Kind of like explaining Abbot and Costello's "Who's on First?" to non-English speakers (or those who don't know baseball, for that matter.)

Running Time: 122 minutes
My Total Minutes: 341,276

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Jason goes to Jewfest South--Sunday, Nov 3

A couple more Jew-flicks last Sunday, so let's jump right in.

We started with the documentary KOCH, a mostly-loving tribute to Ed Koch, the man and legend who for some time dominated and defined New York City. Now I know pretty much nothing about New York City politics today, much less 1978-89 when he was mayor. So I can't really render an opinion of the man as a leader. I can say that the movie shows quite a few people remembering him fondly, and more than a couple who remember him with disgust. They say he was an enemy to black people (although he got their support in his first mayoral race, he then shut down an culturally important but expensive hospital in Harlem.) They say he was an enemy to gays (although he did campaign for and implement some anti-discrimination laws, he didn't do much about the AIDS crisis when it was first exploding.) They also say that he was gay (In his first campaign--against Mario Cuomo--there were signs saying "Vote for Cuomo, not the homo.") In fact, a lot of the conflict with the gay community seemed to stem from the belief that he was gay but refused to come out of the closet, robbing them of an important political ally. There's a very interesting part where Koch in 2012 answers those rumors with a very well-articulated response--essentially amounting to "it's none of your damn business and I refuse to answer so that others won't have to answer either" that is simultaneously utterly convincing and convinces me he really was gay. But so what? There's so much more to him. The cantankerous, sharp-elbowed, rough-edged New Yorker who brought the city back from the brink of bankruptcy, replaced blighted, abandoned neighborhoods with new public housing (really the first city to do this, back when Reagan was gutting the federal housing projects) and...well, again I know nothing of New York politics, but if this movie is to be believed he made New York what it is today. And I guess that's a good thing. The movie takes place shortly before he passed away, during the time when the Queensboro Bridge was being named after him. And it shows a man who--though getting on in years--could still motivate a crowd and loved being important more than anything else.

Next up was CLOSED SEASON, a very interesting WWII drama. It's told in a flashback by an Israeli man retelling his story to a young visitor who claims to be his biological son--which gives away a great deal of the plot there. A Jew on the run is discovered by a German farmer who is illegally hunting a deer. Taking pity, he brings the young man home, and even though his wife is nervous (she's clearly not a fan of Jews, and even less a fan of getting into trouble for one) he puts him up in the barn in exchange for various chores. And since the farmer is impotent the most important chore is to father a child for him. Yeah, with the wife whose not really happy with it but goes along out of a sense of duty. At first it's a sense of duty. Then the physical contact leads to emotional connections, and...well...when she does get pregnant she decides not to tell her husband right away so they can try at least a few more times. Needless to say, trouble ensues. I fear I might have given too much away in this review, but believe me I've left quite a few twists out. I'll just leave it at that and say it's a very interesting and slightly disturbing film.

I didn't stick around for ROMAN POLANSKI: A FILM MEMOIR because A) I'd already seen it before and B) I'm not really a fan of how it portrayed his legal troubles. But if you want to read what I wrote about it last year at Jewfest North, go here (about halfway down the page.)

Total Running Time: 199 minutes
My Total Minutes: 341,154


Huh, somehow with all the film festivals and everything else going on, I found time for a mainstream movie. And it was a pretty good one. Tom Hanks, of course, does a great job. So does everyone else. And Paul Greengrass (BOURNE SUPREMACY, UNITED 93) does a great job of making it feel very real. In fact, that was the major response I had immediately after watching it--it felt very, very real (because, of course, it's based on a true story.) And that overwhelmed me so much that it wasn't until a couple of days later that I realized how different and subversive it really is. I'm going to have to get into spoilers here, but since the story was plastered all over the news just a few years ago, I think that can be forgiven. In any case, don't say you weren't warned.

For the first half of the movie, it plays out like a tight, expertly-crafted action/suspense film. Tom Hanks is cool and collected as Capt. Phillips. He doesn't have weapons, but he has guile and knowledge of his ship. He's very clever at getting messages to his hidden crew letting them know exactly what needs to be done. And it's effective...up to a point. Once the pirates shove him into the lifeboat and launch into the water to head to Somalia, it's a different ballgame and a different movie. And it's not just that Phillips is reduced to nothing more than a hostage, it's that the central conflict in the movie changes. Instead of wily Capt. Phillips vs. vicious pirates, it's 4 young, scared Somali boys against the might of the U.S. Navy. Not that you necessarily root for them, it's that you root for a resolution without bloodshed (alas, knowing the real story that's just not to be. Maybe a later generation that doesn't know the story would have a more fulfilling time with the movie.) In the end, the greatest trauma Capt. Phillips experiences isn't having his ship taken over or being a hostage, it's having three kids shot right in front of him and their blood splattering all over him. And that's unlike any action movie I've ever seen. Bravo, Paul Greengrass!

Running Time: 134 minutes
My Total Minutes: 340,955

Jason goes to Jewfest South for AN AWKWARD SEXUAL ADVENTURE

I was more than a little surprised to see such a sexually explicit title on the schedule for this festival. I was a little more surprised to see that the movie is just as explicit as the title would suggest. There is a fair amount of fully frontal nudity and sexual situations...and very little Jewish content. So with that warning (or enticement) out of the way, I can say it's also a very funny movie. Jordan is a nice (overly nice) Jewish accountant in Winnipeg, dating the girl he's had a crush on since...forever. He's just not that good at sex. In the opening scene he's going to town and she's falling asleep. So when she suggests maybe they shouldn't take their romantic trip to Niagara Falls...he proposes. And she promptly dumps him. And then he takes a trip to Toronto to meet up with his Indian horndog friend and learn how to be a great lover. And when a night at a strip club ends with him waking up hungover on a stripper's couch, figure she's gonna be the stripper with a heart of gold and they're going to end up together. At least, that's what I thought at first, but there are enough plot twists and enough bad mistakes on his part to wonder if he'll end up with (or deserve) anybody. And...I won't spoil the ending for you. But I will say that since this was a Jewish Film Festival, even with all the sex comedy the biggest laugh still came from an accountant joke.

Running Time: 98 minutes
My Total Minutes: 340,821

Jason goes to the Hypnodrome for Shocktoberfest 2013: Jack the Ripper

Oh yes, sometimes I actually go see live theater instead of movies. And my favorite live theater is with the Thrillpeddlers at the Hypnodrome. I've actually been following the Thrillpeddlers since before they had the Hypnodrome, when they were doing their Grand Guignol show, Shocktoberfest! at the old Odeon Bar. Things have changed quite a bit since then, and the Hypnodrome (especially the shock boxes) really up the game.

Anyway, in the spirit of the original Grand Guignol, Shocktoberfest 2013 was a series of short plays, alternating between sexy farces and blood-curdling terror (with bloody special effects).

First up, A VISIT TO MRS. BIRCH AND THE YOUNG LADIES OF THE ACADEMY (Scene One): Author unknown, from 1888, just a spanking scene. That is, the housekeeper likes to spy on the young girls getting spanked by the headmistress, then the girls catch her and spank her. I guess this was the 1888 version of porn, and it takes a unique sensibility to put it on stage today.

JACK THE RIPPER: Originally written by André de Lorde and Pierre Chaine for the Grand Guignol in 1934, this is the premiere of the new English adaptation by Carl Grose. Based on the legend of Jack the Ripper, we have a city gripped in terror, an unruly prostitute used as bait, and a tale of blood and madness. Great, great stuff.

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

SALOME was a short, funny, sexy, and twisted musical take on Oscar Wilde's play. Very freakin' cool.

And finally, the grand finale with THE WRONG RIPPER: or, HEADLINE NOOSE: or, PAGEANT FOR THE HANDSOME ACCUSED. Now, I have no idea if the newspaper sensationalism aspect of this brand new play is inspired by the theory that Jack himself was the creation of a desperate crime writer. But I can tell you that the media sensationalism is played up quite a bit (in a role by Thrillpeddlers master Russell Blackwood as an editor for the '7th newspaper in San Francisco' (a city of six newspapers.) And I can tell you it's based on the very real case of one Theodore Durrant. The play mixes just the right amount of blood and comedy. From the cat burglar using the fear of the Ripper of San Francisco as cover for his crimes, to the prostitutes who simply refuse to believe handsome Theodore could possibly be a killer, to Moira Von Stepp singing about how she's "In love with a naughty, naughty man" and of course the newspaper editor constantly reminding you that the world is dangerous and the information he provides is all that stands between you certain doom! Pretty excellent stuff, and the lights-out thrills were great. This is actually the first time I've had a Shock Box (with a lady friend) for Shocktoberfest, and the extra features in there were...well, I won't spoil it, but they were pretty damn effective!

Shocktoberfest plays Thu-Sat until November 23rd, get your tickets here. And since I recognized new Thrillpeddler George Epsilanty from his work with Performers Under Stress, that also reminds me that P.U.S.'s new show SCAMORAMALAND is currently playing through Nov. 17th. I haven't seen it yet, but hope to before it closes. And I trust them to do good work.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Jason slips into a Vortex on Halloween and sees HALLOWEEN III and SUSPIRIA

For Halloween--aka my birthday--I was up at my favorite underground movie club and for once actually stayed for both films (I took the next day off from work.)

HALLOWEEN III: THE SEASON OF THE WITCH (1982): is often unfairly maligned as the "bad" Halloween movie just because it has nothing to do with the Michael Myers character of every entry in the series. The fact is, John Carpenter's original idea with the HALLOWEEN series is to produce a new low-budget horror film every year, to be released around Halloween. And this is really the only time they fulfilled that vision. To all the haters, can you really say this film is worse than an endless string of re-hashed Michael Myers stories (including the remakes)? I think it's a great story on it's own, a cult classic about a madman who plans to wipe out all the children on Halloween using magically booby-trapped masks. Very sick, and a great ending (which I won't spoil even though it's over three decades old.)

SUSPIRIA (1977): I can never really deem any movie my "favorite." Sometimes I'm in the mood for comedy, or action, or drama, or supernatural horror. But there are moments, when I'm in just the right mood, when SUSPIRIA is my favoritest movie ever. Dario Argento at his best and weirdest (I prefer this over his more realistic giallos, I think he has an underrated flair for the supernatural and surreal.) Saturated primary colors. A bizarre, dream-like plot. And some of the most inventive, original kills in any movie ever (screw the "SAW" series. When they have Jigsaw punch a demon arm through a window, yank a victim outside, drag her across the roof, throw her through an elaborate stained-glass-window, and then hang her from an electrical cord, then we talk.) No matter how many times I see it, it's still just fantastic.

And that made for a very happy birthday indeed.

Total Running Time: 190 minutes
My Total Minutes: 340,723

Jason goes to Jewfest South and sees SIMON AND THE OAKS

Hastily catching up on my blog, so apologies for a shorter-than-normal review

A week ago Tuesday I was back at the Century 24 on Winchester for another SVJFF screening, this time of the award-winning Swedish hit, SIMON AND THE OAKS. Simon is a quiet, bookish boy who doesn't even come close to living up to his dad's idea of a masculine son. He doesn't care about learning his father's blue-collar trade (boat-making) but wants to go to school, which his mother encourages. There he meets Isak, a Jewish boy from a wealthy family. The become friends, Simon gets along very well with Isak's family, while Isak actually likes working with his hands and learning from Simon's father. And then, of course, WWII gets in the way. The story spans the years 1939 to 1952, and is a wonderful, richly told story of friendship, Sweden's situation during the war, and family secrets. Really good stuff.

Running Time: 122 minutes
My Total Minutes: 340,533


I first saw WATCH HORROR FILMS, KEEP AMERICA STRONG a few years back. And a week ago Sunday (wow, I'm really behind on my blog) they played it again at the Niles Film Museum. This is a new edit, as director Tom Wyrsch--now with four more films under his belt--went back and recut it mostly for pacing reasons. I have to say, the end product is very good. I liked it before, but I confess it did drag on with interview clip after interview clip (although when I saw it in 2009 I was also pressed to make it to another even so I had to split early, that could've contributed to my frustration.) Anyway, it was a treat to see it again, and I think it works much better now.

Tom Wyrsch was in attendance, and talked about the movie a bit (and raffled off some amazing prizes.) John Stanley was also supposed to be there, but he had an unspecified family emergency. Last year he was supposed to be there, too, but he was recovering from a heart attack. It's like he has been cursed to never be able to come back to Niles. Spooky!

Then us die-hards stayed for a screening of HOORAY FOR HORRORWOOD, a loving tribute to Forrest J. Ackerman, the man behind Famous Monsters of Filmland and a tireless (well, at least until he got too tired and passed away) advocate of the fun side of scary movies. And it's a fun if low-budget ride through the life, inspirations, and influence of a true American original.

Then for the truly, true die-hards we got the museum's own Michael Bonham's home video touring the Ackermansion and meeting Forry. I won't speculate how old this was, but he had quite a bit more hair back then (and I hope he doesn't mind me mentioning that). And it ends with footage of him buying a copy of HOORAY FOR HORRORWOOD...which we just saw. We're through the looking glass now, people!

Total Running Time: 162 minutes
My Total Minutes: 340,411