Saturday, December 28, 2013

Jason watched 47 RONIN

I've already tweeted most of what I want to say about it:
But that aside, let me say that Keanu Reeves is not the problem with the movie. Many people have seen the trailers and immediately dismissed this is 'Keanu Reeves: White Samurai.' Well, his character is written as a half-breed, son of an Englishman and a Japanese peasant girl and...he is not wrong for that (if you ignore the fact that his character was written especially for this movie and wasn't a part of the traditional 47 ronin story.) No, Keanu is not what's bad about the movie, and that says a lot. The movie dooms itself from the beginning by reeking of self-importance, starting with insisting that the story of the 47 ronin is the story of all of Japan. And apparently that story involves lots of CGI monster effects and Japanese actors speaking in broken English. Which is just something that bothers me to no end. Why the heck would you make a movie about Japan, cast all but one role with Japanese actors, and have them all speak English. Just speak Japanese (dub Keanu if you have to) and subtitle the damn thing. Or if you need to have English fill in for Japanese, make it unaccented English. No offense to the Japanese actors who made an admirable effort, but there are plenty of great Japanese-American actors who could have done a great job with an English-language Japanese story (and who wouldn't want to see George Takei as the Shogun?) It was just ill-conceived all the way.

Running Time: 119 minutes
My Total Minutes: 347,903

Jason goes to Midnite for Maniacs and has some Hard Times During the Holidays

I'm only posting this about a week late, but Midnite for Maniacs celebrated the holidays in its own inimitable style.

First up was Jodie Foster's HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS. Holly Hunter plays Claudia Larson, a recently unemployed art restorer whose life is kinda a mess (not just the recent unemployment, but also kinda making out with her soon-to-be-ex-boss, and learning that her daughter is planning to lose her virginity to her boyfriend over Thanksgiving.) She heads home for a Thanksgiving with her insane family, dominated by her annoying man-child of a gay brother played with gusto by Robert Downey, Jr. It's a movie of all the most awkward holiday moments. It skips over the family meals and gets right to the family fights. And yet, there's still a positive, supportive heart to it all. It's about family--both the ones you're born with and the ones you make--and how frustrating, insane, and insufferable they can be. And how they're the only ones you can turn to when you need help dealing with your frustrating, insane, and insufferable family.

And then we moved on to LOVE ACTUALLY. It's become kind of a cliche to finally see this film after avoiding it for a long time and then admitting that LOVE ACTUALLY is a surprisingly good film (this showed up as a throw-away joke in the Holehead film BUCK WILD.) Well, let me live up to the cliche by admitting this is the first time I've seen the film (after my girlfriend won the award for seeing it more times than anyone else in the audience) and I will admit that it's actually a pretty good film. What's surprising (and made me enjoy it more) is that it's not a particularly romantic movie. It's about love in all it's surprising, awkward, sometimes silly, sometimes sad forms. It's about love that almost sparks an international conflict, but it's also about love that a cynical, bitter rock star feels for his manager that was with him through all the worst times. It's about love that blossoms between co-workers--especially when they're stand-ins for a movie blocking out some particularly steamy love scenes. Or it's about love for a mentally ill brother that gets in the way of romantic aspirations. Or it's about the love between an old, reserved husband and wife when he is tempted to cheat, comes back as a fool, and they stay together for the kids. Or the love of a man for his dead wife, or the first boyhood crush of a kid who is wise enough to know that falling in love means his life is over. Like I said, not actually as romantic as you'd think. But kind of an interconnected survey of all kinds of love, straddling the line between cynical realism and cartoonish comedy, with everything in between. And most importantly, it's pretty damn funny.

And then the theater crawl to the Roxie for Harmony Korine's TRASH HUMPERS. It's a movie about... humping trash (why should I be surprised.) And while it didn't feel that festive at first, it's definitely the movie I thought about the most afterwards. It's intentionally lo-fi, ugly, and difficult to watch (even boring and long despite a bare 78 minute running time.) Old people (who are obviously young people in old-age masks) run around at night, break shit, and hump trash. And near the end they make a grand speech about how they're free. And in the middle there is one Christmas carol, so at the very least it superficially fits the theme. But it's also about our consumerist culture. Imagine all the trash and waste from the holidays. Now think, is it more shocking to hump that trash than to create that trash? Well, by the norms of society, yes it is. But that's the sort of weird idea that kept me awake for a few nights after seeing it.

Total Running Time: 316 minutes
My Total Minutes: 347,784

Friday, December 27, 2013

Jason goes to Holehead--Closing Night

And finally we get to the end of this 3 week ordeal. Some good stuff. An equal amount of absolutely horrible stuff. And a fair amount of in-between.

I skipped THE G-STRING HORROR: THE DEMON CUT because I had to work late. Not that I would have seen it anyway (I saw and hated the original cut last year, and didn't want to see it again,) but it gave me a good excuse.

So instead I settled in to watch the closing film, SENN. This is a majorly ambitious movie, much bigger than its micro-budget. And it's a bit of a puzzler, and a hard one to write about a week later, especially when I was so exhausted when I saw it. So I'll start by saying I'm sure it's something I'll get more out of if when I see it again. It also warns you in its opening moments that this movie--like life--is not what you want it to be, it's just what it is. So it's very much the kind of movie where what you pick up on and what you see is a reflection of you. For my part, I saw it as an epic sci-fi adventure about the importance of empathy. And I liked the joke about God becoming a giraffe. But I'm getting way ahead of myself. Senn, the title character, is a factory worker on Pyom, a planet that's nearly forgotten by the corporation that colonized it, mined it dry, and now uses its people as cheap labor to build things they (and the audience) couldn't possibly comprehend (there's definitely some commentary about both environmentalism and globalism.) Strange dreams and stranger reality take him and his lover Kana to a strange world with a strange guardian who wants them to investigate a strange enormous object called the Polychronom. Have I mentioned this movie is strange? The film occasionally reveals it's micro-budget, mostly in the CGI effects that are pretty and inventive but hardly realistic. At times it feels like an intentional, surreal protest against realism (like when the mysterious alien power serves them from an airline cart beside a wooded stream) But at other times it seems like great care has been taken to create realism--gorgeous satellite shots (courtesy of Creative Commons,) an entire fake language (that is currently known by exactly one person,) and some superb acting.  I've already tipped some of the ending of the movie, and I don't want to do more because that's just my take on it and it would take away from the fun of finding out for yourself what the movie means to you.

And that is finally that. After 3 long weeks of films--some great, some terrible, and a few somewhere in between--at least Holehead went out on a high note. Congratulations to all the winners! And thank you to everyone who had a film in the festival. Even the shitty ones. Maybe it's the holiday spirit, but I want to end by saying that even if I hated your film, I (almost) always respect the effort that went into making it (except for STRUGGLED REAGANS, your movie is bad and you should feel bad.)

Running Time: 85 minutes
My Total Minutes: 347,468

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Jason goes to Holehead--Day 20

It's almost over! (Okay, actually it's all over, but my writing about it is almost over) The penultimate night of the festival featured two more movies.

First up was the crowd-pleaser (Holehead has some weird crowds) CHEAP THRILLS. Craig is a struggling writer, supporting his wife and infant by working a lousy job in an oil-change shop. Or at least he did, until the shop downsized and he was let go. So after his last day of work he stops at a bar for just a drink or two. There Vince, an old friend he hasn't seen in 5 years runs into him, and they get to talking. And then they meet a couple who is out for a night of adventure. The guy (David Koechner) is loaded (both with money and cocaine) and offers them money for various dares ($20 to get a girl to slap you, $50 to slap that stripper's ass, $500 to punch the security guard before he punches you...) Then the party heads back to their place, where the dares get increasingly expensive and increasingly extreme. Craig and Vince are pitted against each other, their limits are pushed and their friendship is challenged. And there's a point where Craig goes beyond just doing this to support his family--he's doing this to win. And the end result is pretty incredible.

And then a very different take on dares going too far, the fraternity/sorority challenge FACE. A Halloween tradition is for the brothers and sisters to try to scare the crap out of each other, with the winners getting to make the losers their slaves for a day. They don't do that anymore, not after the massacre last year. There's some dispute over whether drugs or mob mentality were to blame, but through the magic of home video and miniature cameras we get to see this from both points of view. First the guys, who are total frat-boy bros who are looking to dominate the girls through trickery, drugs, and brute force. They are quickly revealed to be awful people and you want to see them get what's coming to them. Then we see the girls, who are employing more advanced trickery and drug use to get the guys. While the guys are despicable frat-bros, the girls are over-the-top parodies of trying to be more "bro" than the bros. So there are possibly some smart ideas in there about the destructive power of exaggerated masculinity. But for me (and for most of the people I talked to afterwards) it just tested my capacity for "found footage" in all it's shaky-cam, poorly lit, poorly edited glory. They even attach a camera to the dog and get its point of view (most of the time this footage is faked, but they at least tried to take doggy-cam footage.) The dog was the only likable character. So if you have a high tolerance for found footage mixed with sadistic gore, you might like this movie. I just like my sadistic gore to be a little more watchable.

Total Running Time: 160 minutes
My Total Minutes: 347,383

Monday, December 23, 2013

Jason goes to Holehead--Day 19

Two more movies last Tuesday, and they were both pretty awesome. We started with EVIL FEED, and American take on sick-n-twisted Hong Kong gore/comedy films. At a little Chinese restaurant called The Long Pig, they serve human meat. In the opening scene, the owner is screaming at the chefs...about potential health code violations. Then after a bit of a confrontation his psychotic son kills him and takes over the restaurant. Switch to many years later, and the place is doing great business with it's unique mix of specialty foods and entertainment. They kidnap MMA fighters, force them to battle to the death with their in-house gladiators--and the losers are served up to the patrons (the house specialty is the dicky roll, which looks a bit like won-ton fried sausage.) When their beloved master goes missing, a group of martial arts experts track down the place, infiltrate it, and hilarious bloodshed ensues. Wild over-the-top action, which keeps moving along with hardly a moment to catch your breath. Hilariously twisted fun.

And then we saw PATRICK, a remake of the 1978 Australian cult classic (which I confess I've never actually seen, although I did stumble across the unofficial Italian sequel/rip-off PATRICK STILL LIVES, but that's another story.) A new nurse arrives at a remote hospital that treats coma patients. The doctor has some controversial ideas for treating the patients with electro-convulsive therapy and a drug of his own invention. And Patrick, his prize patient, still comatose. But when he's alone with his nurse, he reveals 1) that he can hear and see everything going on, and 2) he has telekinetic powers/control over electricity. And he can and will use his powers to keep her to himself. The power over electricity adds some elements that surely were missing in the original--like attacking people through cell phones and scanning her Facebook profile. But that's almost immaterial to the horror. The real heart of it is that someone seemingly so harmless--constantly described as a lifeless piece of flesh that happens to still have electricity flowing through it--can be so dangerous. If the original was half as good as the remake (and usually it's the other way around) I can see why it's a cult classic. And now I have to see it.

Total Running Time: 181 minutes
My Total Minutes: 347,223

Jason goes to Holehead--Day 18


Two more shows last Monday.

First up, the short HOG'S TOOTH, a very well made and thoughtful look on a rookie sniper in Iraq, the days of tedium, and the difficult situation he has to deal with.

Thoughtful and well made are the exact opposite of the feature BATH SALT ZOMBIES. A genius chemist invents a new, more potent strain of "bath salts"--the drug that makes people go crazy and rip each others' faces off. I will give them credit for some funny face-ripping-off special effects. And I'll give them...a certain form of credit for crassly exploitative nudity. I won't give them any credit for story, pacing, acting, or general competence. I could tell early on it was going to be a long, tedious haul when the crassly exploitative nudity was dragging on way too long and I wished it would just move along to the story. And I was right. At 70 minutes, it was about 2 hours too long. It's a movie for those who thought KRACKOON was too cerebral.

And then the second show was THANATOMORPHOSE. The title is a word meaning the visible rotting of flesh, and that's exactly what the movie is. A beautiful young girl rots away completely...over the course of 100 minutes. And what at first seems like a no-budget, poorly shot, poorly paced story of a girl alone in her apartment turns out to be...a no-budget, poorly shot, poorly paced story of a girl alone in her apartment, rotting. Actually, the rotting flesh effects are very good, very effective, and very disturbing. And there is something to this film--something about body image and a woman's value being tied up in her looks--that is interesting but I was too tired to parse. But the scene where she calls her male friend over and demands he fucks her rotting corpse is funny and disturbing (spoiler alert: he doesn't do it.) So I think there is probably something there, but I just left thinking about how most of the time it was too poorly shot for me to see anything and when I could see it was too slowly paced for me to care.

Total Running Time: 190 minutes
My Total Minutes: 347,042

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Jason goes to Holehead--Day 17

I actually skipped day 16 (Saturday, Dec. 14th) because that was the day for me an my roommates to host our holiday party. Good times, and then on Sunday I dragged my hungover self up to the New People Center in Japantown for 4 more shows.

First up was shorts block #2:
THE HEART THAT TOLD TOO MUCH: Longtime Holehead favorites Vigor Mortis (MORGUE STORY, NERVO CRANIO ZERO) present their short film faux-documentary take on Edgar Allan Poe's famous Tell-Tale Heart. Pretty fantastic.
EDWARD LEE'S THE BIGHEAD: This short is kind of practice/audition reel for a planned feature-length version of the cult horror novel (which I haven't read.) Rednecks, misogyny, a butt-kicking priest, and a Bighead monster who...doesn't do anything in this short. But presumably will in the featre.
TERRITORIAL: A very unusual (and very funny) home invasion.
AX: A man who has just committed the unthinkable struggles with his guilt. Do axes kill people, or do people with axes kill people?
YOU SHOULD STOP: A woman gets a text she doesn't understand. That leads to a psychic and a life lesson. Or not.
THE COLLECTOR: An animated short about a girl, a forest, a monster, and changing your head.
DEAD VOTES SOCIETY: Arizona politics (and politics in general) is roundly mocked in this story about zombie (or undead-American) suffrage.
LEVELED: A documentary meditation on death, told through the eyes of a cemetery worker.
BABYSITTING: And because a couple of shorts were missing, we got a bonus showing of this hit from the previous shorts block. Creepy silent French kids who kill their babysitter and all her friends.

BLACK SUGAR and THE TOWN THAT CHRISTMAS FORGOT were on the schedule, but didn't play. I don't know why.

Then the next show was the torture comedy TRUTH OR DARE. A group of friends play Truth or Dare with some pretty dangerous dares--like playing Russian Roulette. And they become an online video sensation as the Truth or Daredevils. Of course, their videos are faked (the guy who supposedly died in the opening scenes is shortly revealed to be alive all along.) So their number 1 fan decides he has to become part of the team, and make the game real. And so some deliciously appropriate torture ensues. But while the dare-torture of is good (cutting off nipples, playing William Tell, and...worse) the truth aspect is even better. Revelations of child molestation, rape, incest, and more. Enough to make everyone unlikable enough that you kind of want them to be tortured to death. So the torture is emotionally satisfying and very well done. And that makes the movie a heck of a lot of fun.

Next up was LOLA ROCK 'N' ROLLA'S LEZ-PLOITATION, a collection of no-budget shorts from Lola Rock 'n' Rolla, who is billed as New York City's answer to John Waters. Except that even in his earliest, trashiest work Waters didn't make anything this bad. I don't know, perhaps in the right context this could have been fun, but it just seemed out of place at this festival.
DRAGZILLA: A drag queen can't get her makeup right, and when she experiments she becomes gigantic and wrecks the city.
NIGHT OF THE LIVING GAY: Gay zombies are taking over, making all of New York gay...and zombies, I guess, but gay is more important.
I WAS A TRANNIE WEREWOLF: A high school girl starts growing body hair. Her classmates make fun of her. She gets the last laugh.
BRUNCH: A hip brunch party, with bonus cannibalism!
NEFER-TITTY: Blacksploitation...with titties. And the World Famous BOB as the Albino Queen from Aberdeen.

And finally, we ended the night with an action-horror-comedy ZOMBIE HUNTER. Drugs turn people into zombies. In the post-apocalyptic world one hero hunts and kills as many zombies as possible. He kicks ass, takes names, and meets Danny Trejo. 'nuff said, right? I don't have a lot to say about it, it's just high-energy kick-ass action the whole damn time.

Total Running Time: 385 minutes
My Total Minutes: 346,853

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Jason goes to Holehead--Day 15

Two more movies on Friday, as we enter the final week of the festival (3 weeks just before the holidays is too damn long for this!)

First up was an odd hybrid movie, SLEW HAMPSHIRE. It starts out very promising, with a teaser of news reports of strange, ritualistic mass killings in the Northeast and a group of young men from New Hampshire setting out for an adventure at an exclusive, secret strip club just on the Canadian side of the border. They predictably get drawn into something very dangerous. Specifically, a gang of rednecks with their psychotic "games." But then a centuries-old lost tribe of Vikings show up. There's some unexplained supernatural critter running around, and more plot twists than I could keep straight. I got the sense that a lot of the story evolved over the making of it (director Flood Reed was there and revealed that this was mostly made during everyone's free time over the course of a couple of year) and maybe originally it was supposed to feature the supernatural creature more, but budget and time constraints eventually made his drop more of the supernatural elements. Which is fine. The story works with rednecks vs. horny college kids vs. Vikings, with a dash of supernatural on the edges. Or rather, it would have worked, if the second half had more structure.

The the second film started with the short ELIZABETH about a hot vampiress and the clean-up the morning after a wild night.

And then the feature, THE DEMON'S ROOK. A bunch of guys who are into monster makeup and gore effects but don't give a damn about plot or pacing make a movie. Oh, wait, that's my review of the imaginary "making of" documentary. I'm sure this can be edited into something good--there's a lot of individual scenes and images I enjoyed. But at 103 minutes it just became tedious by the end. It could probably be cut down to a 75 minute movie that keeps trucking along and it would be really good.

Total Running Time: 211 minutes
My Total Minutes: 346,468

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Jason goes to Holehead--Day 14

Thursday I worked a little bit late, and struggled to make it to the city in time for the 7:00 movie. It was too late for me to take public transit, and traffic was a mess. I was monitoring my progress with Google navigation on my phone, comparing the estimated time remaining to the time remaining until 7:00. I watched as that ticked down from "you'll be there with a half hour to spare" to 20 minutes...15 minutes...10 minutes...5 minutes...and I almost gave up. So few of the Holehead movies are good, and maybe it would be better to just turn around, head home, and get a reasonable night's sleep. That's what I thought to myself. But it held steady at 5 minutes. With parking and running to the theater, it was more like 5 seconds. And I ended up seeing my favorite film of the festival so far.

FOUND opens with a bit of a shock. Our narrator is Marty, a mostly well-behaved 5th grader. And the first words of narration are "My brother keeps a severed head in his closet." See, Marty knows everybody's secrets in his family. His mom keeps old letters from a previous boyfriend under her bed. Dad keeps a stash of porno mags in the garage. And his big brother Steve is a killer. Marty likes horror films, and is fascinated by the heads that occasionally show up in Steve's bowling ball bag. He's not exactly afraid of Steve. He's afraid of what he'd do if he found out that Marty knew, but Steve has always been a good big brother to him, giving him life advice and protecting him in his own way. Marty is far too gentle to take anyone's life. Heck, he's far too gentle for 5th grade, and he's the constant target of bullies. And Steve...well he takes care of that. But that's just the beginning. What I loved about this movie (which was made on a shoestring $8,000 budget, but looks fantastic) is that it is 100% uncompromising. In the Q&A producer Shane Beasley (who plays a killer in a movie-within-the-movie) said that they did their best to make a faithful adaptation of Todd Rigney's original novel. And I can't speak to the novel but there are things in here you can get away with on the written page that you...just don't do in a movie. I love that it did them. I can't say anymore because I'll reveal too many spoilers, but the movie is fantastic. And I love that the killer is portrayed sympathetically not because some past trauma or some vengeance ethos justifies his actions. He's shown sympathetically because he's seen through the eyes of an adoring little brother.

The book that FOUND is adapted from is available here.

And then it was time for THE SHINING FORWARDS AND BACKWARDS. Back when I saw ROOM 237 it mentioned this idea--that if you watch THE SHINING will projecting the movie backwards on top of itself...something will happen. Secrets revealed, or something. My statement at the time was:
...the experiment of playing it overlaid forwards and backwards to see what lines up just illustrates how much Kubrick framed his characters in the center of the screen. opinion is unchanged. Sure, a few things line up ("Come play with us Danny" become "Come play with us Daddy" when Jack Nicholson's face is on the screen.) There are eerie coincidences, but they're still all just coincidences. And the midpoint, where the forwards and backwards version meets, that's kind of cool. But it doesn't imbue the scene (Scatman Crothers in Florida watching TV with pictures of topless black women with huge afros on the wall) with any magical significance. I really don't think Kubrick put that scene in the exact center of the film for any reason other than that's the point in the narrative where it belonged.

Now, with that said--that there's nothing magical about watching THE SHINING (or any movie) this way--there are some cool effects. In general, watching the early scenes where everything is fine and seeing the foreshadowed violence is interesting. And vice-versa when you're seeing Jack go on a murderous rampage and you're seeing shadows of the quiet peaceful life they used to have. So it's an interesting experiment, but I saw nothing in there other than a few coincidences.

Total Running Time: 196 minutes
My Total Minutes: 346,256

Jason goes to Holehead--Day 13

Two more movies last Wednesday. Both low budget. Both with filmmakers in attendance. One of which was good. And that one was HUNGER UNHOLY. A group of friends gather in a remote house in the woods. Gabe's father used to live there, but recently passed away. Out of fear that the creepy neighbor--who was fighting with their dad--might steal stuff, they get there as quickly as possible. But they've got bigger things to worry about as the whole gang starts disappearing one by one under the full moon. Yup, it's a werewolf story. And it's low budget and it shows. But in a good way. Reminiscent of late 70's/early 80's lo-fi work of John Carpenter. It's got the lo-fi aesthetic down perfectly, not just in the cinematography (kinda grainy, like something you'd watch on VHS from the local video rental, ask your parents what I'm talking about) but the shot selection editing (close ups on small details like turning the key in the ignition to start the car.) The story isn't too much to get excited about, and when the monster is finally revealed it looks pretty cheesy (it was better when the monster was hidden off-screen or in shadows) but with just a $5,000 budget Nicholas Holland has shown he can squeeze every drop of quality out of his budget.

BTW, someone has to tell these young filmmakers never brag about how cheap your movie was. If you made a low-budget film and people are interested in the cost, you tell them "Under a million" and that's all. At least, that's what all the indie filmmakers were saying 5 years ago, I'm not actually in the industry so take my advice with a grain of salt.

And then...sigh...STRUGGLED REAGANS. The title actually comes from a line of cheap knock-off Tokusatsu (think  Power Rangers) toys that director Gregg Golding saw in the Mission district years ago. So he made this weird-for-the-sake-of-being-weird mess about them with a tumor growing in the collective unconscious and Reagans with aborted fetuses, dripping faucets, vaginal cucumbers, and BTK killer themes. And there's a Hindu God, and a guy who lost his dick in a motorcycle accident. And it's loud, weird, and annoying (at least, for the moments I was awake.) I think my friend Ira tweeted it best, and I really have nothing to add:

Total Running Time: 147 minutes
My Total Minutes: 346,060

Jason goes to Holehead--Day 12

Two more movies last Tuesday, starting with THE MIDNIGHT GAME by Alejandro Calvo (who also did HOUSE OF DUST.) Once again it's "inspired" by true events, in this case the urban legend around a game that some high school kids play. There are a series of steps, and rules you can't break (see the rules here.) The punishment if you break the rules--you will be haunted by your worst fears. Or maybe you'll be stuck in an eternal loop reliving your fears (and dying from them) over and over again. So a group of high school kids play this game. And of course they break the rules. And of course bad things happen. Like with HOUSE OF DUST, this is mostly PG-13 horror (not rated yet, and there are one or two scenes that could--but probably won't--get them an R) and relies on atmosphere and performance to make the movie, not blood and guts. And again, Calvo does a pretty good job with it.

By the way, both of his movies are slated to be released by Anchor Bay in 2014, so look for them.

And then some really gross shit (literally) with SEPTIC MAN. In a small Canadian town, the water supply is tainted and everyone is getting sick and literally shitting themselves to death. So the town is evacuated and quarantined. But one man, Jack the plumber, is approached by a guy named Phil Prosser who works for the mysterious "Consortium." He's been impressed with Jack's plumbing skills, and wants him to stay behind and get to the root of the problem. And he'll pay him handsomely for it. So Jack stays. Jack finds the problem. Jack gets trapped in an old sewage holding tank. And Jack also finds a couple of psychos who have been dumping bodies there. And they won't let Jack out. So over days (weeks? Time is uncertain down there) Jack slowly morphs into Setpic Man, crusted with shit and sores. And...that's the whole story (sorry, I guess that's spoilers.) But that's the problem. The gross effects were great, but I want more of a story than "guy is stuck in a hole for days." It's like it's all set up for a sequel where Septic Man--a grosser, more serious version of the Toxic know...does something (for the record, I would totally want to see that sequel)

Total Running Time: 157 minutes
My Total Minutes: 345,914

Jason goes to Holehead--Day 11

Last Monday started with an Uwe Boll produced (but not directed) movie, ZOMBIE MASSACRE. Holehead actually has a long relationship with Boll, and I swear that some of his movies aren't bad. In fact, some are pretty good. And here he's just producing, not directing. Unfortunately, the movie is still crap, worse than your typical Boll-directed mess. A science accident turns all the people in a small Eastern European town into zombies. The town is fenced off, and the plan is to send a team of mercenaries--led by a former special ops soldier who is now serving life in jail--to blow up the nuclear power plant, make it look like an accident, and essentially wipe the town off the map before the zombies can spread. Nice premise, as for the execution...I'm all in favor of executing director Marco Ristori. Poor acting, worse pacing. Their reactions just make no sense. Case in point, after they plant the bomb, they have an hour to escape to the check point (where, of course, the evil Americans running this operation will kill them to keep the secret from getting out.) You would think they'd drive/run/get out of there as fast as possible. Instead they sit around and argue about their options. At one point, they get to an airport and are within sight of a helicopter, so instead of sprinting for it (remember, there are zombies chasing them as well as that bomb that's about to go off) they jog halfway and sort of fast-walk the rest. That says all you need to know about the overall laziness of this movie.

After that was CANNIBAL DINER. Sexy models in the woods. Hunted by crazed cannibals. And it sucked. Another fine premise, badly executed. I don't even have the energy to write this one up. It didn't even suck in an interesting enough way for me to care.

Total Running Time: 162 minutes
My Total Minutes: 345,757

Jason goes to Holehead--Day 10

We started last Sunday with a long Shorts Block (as opposed to a short Shorts block?) Here we go:

DEAD RIGHT II: A sequel to DEAD RIGHT (duh!) which is available online here or on DVD here. But you don't even need to watch the first. The second one drops you right into the action with Deke drugged in a hospital room with creepy Nurse Bobo, the Surgeon, and the Captain (the Surgeon's brother) he has to use his wits and strength to escape and get revenge on the man who put him there--his own brother. Come to think of it, if part I sets up a lot of this, I should probably watch it. And wait for part III coming...sometime.
MORATORIUM: Japan...with an English-speaking journalist along for the ride, a group of survivors in the van try to...continue surviving. Good zombie action, with a good phallus-chomping.
MIDNIGHT SNACK: The really gross horrors of food stalls in Taiwanese night markets.
BABY-SITTING: Creepy French kids who never smile, laugh or move. They just stare at you...until they...until the horror starts.
THE END OF FOREVER: A wishing well that really works! Not a good idea to use it when you're pissed off at your significant other.
THE UGLIEST MAN IN CARTOONS: He's pretty ugly, all right. His only friend is a fly, and he basically only communicates in Rodney Dangerfield jokes. But when he meets the real ugliest man in cartoons, mayhem ensues.
THE DUMP: One of the funniest things I've ever seen. A serial killer goes to his usual body-dumping grounds and finds...another guy there dumping a body. A bit of a stand-off, will it mean war or the start of a beautiful friendship?
TORTUROUS: The wrong guy is kidnapped and set up for torture. Luckily he's a professional career counselor, and maybe he can just talk his torturer into switching careers?
SO, NOW I'M A ZOMBIE: The conversion process and rapid loss of humanity, from the new zombie's point of view.
MIRACLE ON METAL STREET: An artist who used to be metal is asked to design the cover art for a heavy metal band's new album. But he's got nothing, and now it's due tomorrow. So he does what anyone would--gets high and lets the devil inspire him...with a musical number!
DEAD NOTE: A popular guitarist, riding high on his fame, is the victim of a tragic accident. Or maybe the victim of a deranged, psychotic woman.

I gotta say, it's typical that the shorts are some of the best programs at Holehead. If you're not sure about the quality you can expect for everything else, I can at least recommend the other shorts program, next Sunday.

Next up was the feature HOUSE OF DUST, one of A.D. Calvo's two films in the festival, both of which are "inspired" by true events. In this case, the true event is that there used to be insane asylums that had in-house incinerators for cremating the inmates after they died. Or, in the case of this story, one particularly dangerous inmate before he died. Cut to the present day, the insane asylum is boarded up and there's a medical school next door. A group of students break in, find the incinerator room, accidentally knock over the cremains of the inmates, breathe the dust, and the haunting is on. This is PG-13 horror (technically, not yet rated, but I'd be shocked if it got more than PG-13) so it relies on atmosphere and acting rather than blood and gore. And it's very good at that. Particularly the group of young actors, who really get to dive into roles where their characters change quickly depending on if they're haunted or not. And it plays a little bit with the ambiguity there. After all, college is a place where a lot of young people try new things and find themselves. So if the former teetotaler now drinks beer and gets rowdy, is he haunted or is he just trying new things and not handling it well. I liked that, and I liked that the festival played this movie, even if I'm not all that into PG-13 horror.

Then was the movie I've probably struggled with the most in the festival. I really wanted to like REMINGTON AND THE CURSE OF THE ZOMBADINGS. I mean, it's a gay zombie movie from the Philippines, that sounds fun, right? Well, as a kid Remington liked to yell gay slurs at everyone (I now know the Filipino word for "homo," not that I want to use it.) Until one drag queen curses him, guaranteeing that he will turn gay when he's older. Cut to when he's 19, throw in an intolerant scientist with a "gaydar" gun that only kills gay people, raise some of his victims from the dead, and you've got what could be  great, campy fun with a solid pro-gay viewpoint. And that last bit is where it falls down. In being pro-gay, it relies on every over-blown gay stereotype. Gay men all dress like women and are flaming queens. Being gay is a curse--like it would be so awful to fall in love with your best friend, come out to him, and find out he reciprocates? The only problem in that situation is the girl who Remington had a crush on before the curse hit him, but she wouldn't give him the time of day before he turned gay. There's even a time (and I'm going to go ahead and get spoiler-y here) where it could've all worked out. Where he could've said "I don't want this curse lifted, I'm okay with being gay and dating my best friend!" But instead his homophobic dad makes the ultimate "sacrifice" by turning the curse on himself so his son can be happy. What the hell? The guy who would've been just find being gay gets turned back straight because the dad is...I guess too old to matter anyway? I really, really wanted to like this concept, but if this is what the Philippines considers pro-gay, I have to wonder what the heck is wrong with the Philippines.

And then the last show started with a short, LIBRARY, hand-drawn animated look at a dystopic future among the ruins of old libraries. About the power of written word, and its persistence beyond death.

And for some reason that was the lead in to Troma's RETURN TO NUKE 'EM HIGH VOLUME 1. Look, you either get Troma movies or you don't. The stories are ludicrous, the special effects are silly, and they throw tons of random jokes in there that get in the way of any semblance of a plot. And ever since SGT. KABUKIMAN, NYPD they've put the exact same car flip/crash scene into nearly every movie (heck, saves on the budget. They shot one good car crash, and they're getting the most out of it.) Now that nuclear power isn't such a big political bugaboo, the Troma nuclear power plant has been  bulldozed and instead a "Tromorganic" food processing plant, run by a lunatic (director/Troma king Lloyd Kaufman) who wants to make a fortune selling his green (and I don't mean environmentally conscious) tacos to the local school. Of course, the kids mutate--in particular the awful, nerdy glee club becomes a vicious gang of Cretins (or Cree-tones, when they're singing) and rampage through town. There's also some good lesbo action with the food nerd and the new rich girl in town. And ends all abruptly. It's split into two parts (they did the same thing with TOXIC AVENGER 2 and 3, and I assume it's for the same reason--they shot too much footage.) I'm fine with that, I want to see RETURN TO NUKE 'EM HIGH VOLUME 2 (preferably both back-to-back,) and I actually liked the ending scene (a CARRIE parody) in and of itself. It just makes for a very abrupt ending.

Total Running Time: 457 minutes
My Total Minutes: 345,595

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Jason goes to Holehead--Day 9

Four more movies Three more movies and some crap about a Krackoon last Saturday at Holehead. Here we go.

First up, the cosplay documentary MY OTHER ME. It gives a look at the world of cosplayers  in the pacific northwest, particularly around Vancouver. Cosplay = costume play, cosplayers dress up usually as their favorite comic or video game characters. While we get a glimpse of a lot of costumes, the movie focuses on three. There's the veteran who is trying to parlay her cosplay fame into work as a costume designer in movies (actually, she has already done that, but movie work is notoriously spotty, so she goes through some lean times where she's not getting any work.) There's the transgender man with his fiancee. In a weird move for the film, he drops out and refuses to participate halfway through. I found him fascinating, particularly his thoughts on cosplaying a woman now that he's a man. And his story does get a resolution in the end, but the movie feels like it's missing a huge chunk when they abruptly announce he dropped out. It might have been better to leave him out and follow a different person. Then there's the 14 year old girl just getting into the hobby with the help of her grandmother (featuring a reunion with her totally irresponsible mother--the type who want to be a "best friend" but aren't that interested in being a parent or guardian.) It was kind of startling how much cosplayers talked about feeling more secure in their costumes at conventions and how they could just walk up and talk to anyone. I know there's this stereotype about cosplayers--and nerds in general--being socially awkward outcasts with emotional issues. And...this movie seems to support that stereotype. Which is weird, because I know some people who like to dress up (not sure I would quite call them cosplayers) and out-of-costume they're still fun, sociable people. I really don't buy into the stereotype of cosplayers, so I was hoping to see someone who said "I'm a normal happy person who makes friends easily! I don't have to put on a costume and pretend I'm someone else to have a good time, but I like doing it anyway!" But it was still a pretty fun movie, and the costumes were very cool (even the ones I didn't recognize.)

Next up was JUDAS GHOST, a play on the term Judas goat, which is apparently something that exists but I just never heard of. The movie is chock-full of references to horror films and literature, starting with the researchers from the Carnacki Institute. They're investigating a haunting in a seemingly normal abandoned English schoolhouse. It's supposed to be routine, and so they're filming it for training purposes. And things go wrong pretty quickly. The psychic can't feel anything, even though a schoolhouse should be full of "trace memories." There are sudden cold spots, doors disappear, reappear, lead to nowhere (or are full of blood.) Then the Judas Ghost appears, the link between the Beast that haunts the building and the world of the living. The team members are all experienced--including one who is coming out of retirement after a stint in the nuthouse after his last mission went awry. But all their expertise might not be enough. The movie is a lot of fun, inventive while building on a vast library of horror references. The single-room setting is sometimes conspicuous (maybe that's just because I know producers love having just one location as this cuts down the costs and location scouting efforts enormously) but they do a lot with it. And the production values, acting, and special effects are all high-quality enough that this doesn't scream "low budget." In fact, this is a very polished movie, and a pretty scary story.

Then we saw another single-location movie, the hilarious horror-comedy MOTIVATIONAL GROWTH. Ian Foliver is a loser. He lives in filth. He only opens the door for food deliveries. His beard is scraggly and unkempt, his clothes are filthy, he has sores on his face. When his only friend--his old cabinet-style TV he calls Kent--conks out, he finally decides to end it all. But he fails at that, too. And he wakes up with a pile of bathroom fungus talking to him (in the voice of RE-ANIMATOR'S Jeffrey Combs.) And the mold gives him great life advice. Or so it seems, maybe "The Mold" (as he refers to himself) is really in it all for himself. Or maybe this is all a horrible hallucination Ian is having as he dies. In any case, he shaves, cleans up his place (hard to tell where all the trash goes since he's still afraid to leave the apartment) and even meets a girl. Or rather, watches her through his door's peephole every day when she walks by. Bizarre and hilarious, with some wacky characters and surprising shock moments. I.e., the best kind of Holehead film, I loved it!

And then we ended the night with BLOODMARSH KRACKOON. A couple of years ago Holehead screened KRACKOON pretty much sucked. But George insisted this one is better. The little green mutated baby krackoons were cool, It might technically be better, but it's still not good. Here are the jokes that need to be in part 3:

  • Crack was invented by the CIA to destroy the coons.
  • "Release the Krackoon!" (That can be the title of part 3)
And I'll probably see it, because I'm kind of a glutton for punishment like that. And in fairness, while I was bored and annoyed, there was a lot of hooting and hollering in the audience. They seemed to like it, and unlike last time they seemed to actually be into the movie rather than into being drunk and annoying.

Total Running Time: 405 minutes
My Total Minutes: 345,138

Monday, December 9, 2013

Jason goes to Holehead--Day 8

Through a combination of late work and bad traffic, I got to the first night of the festival at the New People Center about 10 minutes late. Once again, if it had been at the Roxie, I would've been there in plenty of time.

Anyway, I got into THE HOUSE OF GOOD AND EVIL right when the married couple Chris and Maggie Conley are buying their house. It's a nice secluded place, where they can start a new life (I learned from talking to friends afterwards that this was after an accident incident of domestic abuse where she had a miscarriage.) The house is maybe too secluded. There's no phone signal. They hardly ever see the neighbor couple. And Maggie is having bad dreams and strange visions. Add to that the fact that Chris is leaving for work (he's a forest firefighter, and is away on training.) So Maggie is all alone with her seclusion...and is not competent enough to start a generator, or ride a bike, or pick up a shoe when it falls off. Apparently had I seen the beginning some of this would have made more sense. As it was I was a little confused and bored. And if it was just me, it would be very unfair of me to say that. But in talking to several friends who were there from the beginning, the consensus seems to be my reaction was appropriate.

And then...more adventures in Holehead Screwups. The film programmed for that time slot--SENGOKU: BLOODY AGENT never arrived (there is apparently only one copy with English subtitles, and the festival that was supposed to forward it to Holehead just...didn't.) So instead we finally got to see BUCK WILD, once they had an actual physical copy of the film. Here's what I said when they tried to play it a week before:
...the copy of the movie never arrived. So we watched a screener--an online screener via Vimeo. And it started out okay, despite poor audio and a watermark across the bottom, it actually looked okay. We met the main characters--a group of young men off on a hunting trip on Buck Wild ranch in Texas. There's the leader, the horny one, the glasses-wearing nerd, and the crazy cousin. And we meet the bad guys--Billy Ray (who we are assured is a bad-ass despite dressing like a gay pimp and speaking in a British accent) and his gang. And we're introduced to the concept of the Chupacabra. And then...the movie freezes up. And we fuck around with getting Vimeo to play it. And we switch to non-HD. And it works some more. The video quality isn't that great, but it's still watchable. And the horny friend is attacked by the Chupacabra-infected ranch owner's daughter. And they accidentally shoot the ranch owner, and the crazy cousin totally non-accidentally drugs the ranger, and the nerd accidentally drives his 4x4 onto Billy Ray's property and...the movie freezes again. And this time they just can't get it to play. So we call it a night. Too bad, because it was looking pretty promising, had a good mix of comedy and horror, and wacky characters that kept your interest even if they were over-the-top, unrealistic, and one-dimensional. But, those are the breaks, and they've become a bit too common at Holehead.
Yup, it looked pretty promising, and ultimately delivered on that promise. I have no idea if SENGOKU was any good (I might never know) but BUCK WILD was a heck of a lot of fun.

Total Running Time: 195 minutes
My Total Minutes: 344,733

Jason goes to Holehead--Day 7

Two more movies last Thursday, the last night at the Balboa theater (it moved to the New People Center in Japantown starting Friday)

First up was what was supposed to be the opening night film, were it not for DCP issues--Lucky McKee's ALL CHEERLEADERS DIE. This is a great, fun film and I can see why they wanted it for opening night. We start with a student video project showing the popular kids--cheerleaders and jocks--having a great time...all the way up until a tragic accident. In the aftermath of that, the girl who was doing the video project decides to try out for the cheerleading squad. She's actually doing it for nefarious reasons, but becomes friends of the girls on the squad. Then it takes a very weird left turn. The head jock is a major asshole, the weird goth girl is an actual witch, and...I've already given too much away. Let me just say it's bloody, funny, and sexy--all things I like. Great flick.

Then the next show started off with THE SHINNING. That would be the Simpson's parody that was completely unannounced (but all the regulars knew it.) A wise man (okay, not to name drop but it was Ernie Fosselius, director of HARDWARE WARS) once told me that you should always watch the parodies before seeing the real thing. So this was a good move.

Then Stanly Kubrick's classic THE SHINING, in glorious 35 mm! Okay, maybe not "glorious" but in a perfectly watchable, somewhat faded 35 mm print with some of the most iconic scenes cut out (Wheeeeere's Johnny?) Presumably this was done by a rogue projectionist, and I know a lot of audience members were pretty upset about it. Festival producer George actually posted a Facebook apology about it. For my money, it's still excellent. And I've seen enough faded 35 mm prints to not mind what I saw. And I know 35 mm is getting to be rare enough that I appreciate any chance to see it. And if you really want to see it, the screening next Thursday will be on Blu-Ray. You have a chance to see what's more annoying, a faded, chopped 35 mm print or seeing the movie played backwards over itself.

Also, this is the first time I've seen it since watching ROOM 237, so this was the first time I could catch a lot of the weird things--like the car that almost hits everyone before disappearing in the reverse shot, or the fact that Jack's reading a Playgirl magazine in one scene. Pretty cool.

Total Running Time: 234 minutes
My Total Minutes: 344,538

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Jason goes to Holehead the Roxie and watches IS THE MAN WHO IS TALL HAPPY?

So I meant to make it to Holehead for the 7:00 screening of ON AIR. But I had to work a little late, and the Balboa Theater is way up in the hinterlands of the Outer Richmond. If it was still at the Roxie like in previous years, I would be there in plenty of time, but by the time I got on BART it was clear I wouldn't make it there before 7:30 at the absolute earliest (if I didn't have to wait for a bus at all.) So...I just stopped at 16th and Mission and caught...whatever was playing at the Roxie.

IS THE MAN WHO IS TALL HAPPY? is an animated conversation between director Michel Gondry and linguist/intellectual/activist/one of the most influential men in the world Noam Chomsky. And when I say it's animated, it's both lively and presented as animation. In fact, in the introductory remarks, said over animated footage of him animating the movie, Gondry explains how all movies purporting to show the philosophy and ideas of a person is actually a lie. The director necessarily has to edit it down to a watchable size, and in doing so the director chooses what to keep, what to throw out, and how to arrange everything. Therefore the movie becomes the director's philosophy, not the subjects. Seeing no way to overcome that, Gondry instead uses animation to emphasize this, to show the unmistakable hand of the director. Also, it makes it a lot more fun to watch than a talking head.

By the Way, in the same way this review is not Gondry's vision, nor Chomsky's. I've done my best to accurately reflect the film (from memory, after one viewing) but I choose the words and what points to emphasize. As much as I'm trying to tell you about Chomsky, or Gondry, I know (and you should to) that I will end up telling you more about myself.

Chomsky himself is a fascinating man and one of the preeminent thinkers on the subject of thinking. I love his explanation of Galileo's great philosophical leap--to be puzzled by what seems simple and obvious (e.g., the Aristotelian view that rocks fall and steam rises because it is finding it's natural place.) And he claims our understanding of linguistics is still at the Aristotelian stage and needs to find the capacity to be puzzled by things that seem simple. For example, what's a dog? Gondry starts by musing how he saw pictures of dogs (or tigers, or any number of exotic animals) before he saw one in real life, and it's interesting how he can know a creature is a dog the first time he sees it in real life. But Chomsky counters this, and explains that what you think of when you think 'dog' is not the physical form. It's something physicists can't measure ( a physicist I have to be stubborn and insist someday we'll be able to do anything.) It's "psychic continuity"--whatever trait a being (or even object) maintains whether or not it changes its physical form. If a spell was cast on a dog and turned it into a camel, then the spell was reversed and it returned to its dog form, a child can tell you it was the same being all along. Similarly if I take a branch from a tree and use it to grow a new tree, it has the same DNA as the original tree. But even if it grows to the same shape it's not the same tree. For that matter (and this part isn't in the movie, it's something I thought about during this discussion) I don't know if I have any molecule in my body that has been there since birth. Yet my "me-ness" has persisted uninterrupted quite well, thank you. Here's the kicker--as far as we can tell, other animals don't think that way. For them if a dog turned into a camel, that's a different animal. Humans are the only ones who think in terms of psychic continuity, as far as we know.

Anyway, the conversation continues, it becomes self-referential as Gondry starts talking about wanting to finish the movie so Chomsky can see it, and commenting on the rough cuts. This poor blog couldn't possibly cover it all, but it's a fascinating conversation that occasionally made my head spin but always kept my interest.

Running Time: 88 minutes
My Total Minutes: 344,304

Jason goes to Holehead--Day 5

Two more movies last Tuesday. I'm trying to catch up so let's just jump right in.

First up was THE CEMETERY. A cynical team of "Ghost Seekers" spends the night in an allegedly haunted cemetery in the middle of the Pennsylvania woods. The legend is that in 1671 this was the site of a plague of demonic possession. was a site where a bunch of sadistic, bloodthirsty priests tortured the natives to death while trying to "convert" them, and then with no more victims and a taste for blood, they turned on themselves. Anyway, the jaded, cynical, and very horny ghost seekers set out to find demons...or prove they don't exist...or just fuck around in the woods. You can guess how this will turn out. With lots of blood, nudity, and comedy. Nice.

Next up was THE DIRTIES, a very clever movie about cinephilia and school shootings. Matt and Owen are best friends and movie geeks (Gotta love a movie that opens with kids making a Gaspar Noe reference.) They're also teased by bullies. Not as bad as the kids in AN AMERICAN TERROR, but enough to be kinda miserable in school. For their school film project, they have and idea for a film called THE DIRTIES. The titular Dirties are a gang of bullies at school, and Matt and Owen will play the heroes who take them down in an orgy of violence. And it's pretty funny how they steal footage at school for use in their movie. But when their teacher nixes a rough cut of their film...reality and fantasy blur, as it looks like Matt might just take it to the next level. I can't help but make a comparison to AN AMERICAN TERROR, because I loved both movies, they're both about (planned) school shootings, but beyond that they're very different movies. AN AMERICAN TERROR presents a situation so horrible that shooting the school bullies is almost a rational act, and it's about finding the inner strength to not do it. THE DIRTIES presents a world where kids are just kind of dicks but a mass shooting would be decidedly crazy, and it's about finding the inner sickness to go through with it. And it's about using movies to find that inner sickness. Which for a film nut like me is kinda scarier.

Total Running Time: 161 minutes
My Total Minutes; 344,216

Friday, December 6, 2013

Jason goes to Holehead--Day 4

Okay, I'm falling too far behind on my blogging. Stupid...employment.

Last Monday started with GHOSTLIGHT. So...a guy wins a radio contest with a $50,000 prize. All he has to do is spend one night in an old theater that's the site of a famous murder 80 years ago. Despite that kinda cheesy sounding setup, I was willing to give it a chance. There's a domestic drama with he and his wife obviously trying to get over some past trauma (no spoilers, but I think it was supposed to be a surprise. It isn't.) The owner of the theater is appropriately eerie looking/acting. The acting is...not great, but good enough for Holehead standards. Ah hell, I'll jump right to what ruined it completely--the music. We start with a dream sequence of a woman...I guess you could call it "singing" because that's what she's trying to do. But it doesn't end there. The soundtrack in general is badly overdone with creepy music, or stingers to tell you when to be frightened. I like to be generous and believe if the soundtrack weren't so over-the-top bad and insulting, there might be a watchable movie in there (some of the audience wasn't so charitable.) As it is, I left the theater with one question--has director Jeff Ferrell

Then the late show at least had a solid musical footing. DISCOPATH is the story of a man with a bit of a mental problem. Normally Duane is just kind of a socially awkward loser. But when he hears disco music, he freaks out and kills people (hence the title.) This stems from an old childhood trauma that is about as silly as 'Disco killed my father!' And that's the thing about the movie--it's pretty silly, with amazing cheesy clunker lines like, "Calm down! Your friend is dead!" that had the audience laughing pretty hard. But this isn't really a movie that takes itself seriously, and even the dumbest moments had a sort of cheesy 70s exploitation vibe to it that made me willing to roll with it and have a good time. Plus (without giving anything away) the ending was pretty damn cool, and leaves it open for a sequel.

Total Running Time: 171 minutes
My Total Minutes: 344,055

Monday, December 2, 2013

Jason goes to Holehead--Day 3

So THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE ended on one screen in the Balboa Theater just in time for me to walk out and back in to the other screen and catch the first movie at Another Hole in the Head.

The first movie there was an ultra-low-budget oddity from South Africa, BLOOD TOKOLOSHE, which wasn't helped by the fact that they couldn't show it at the right aspect ratio and so everything was squeezed into 4:3 (yes, some Africans are very tall and very skinny, but not all of them are!) It's a story of a businessman who hires a witch doctor to make him rich and have lots of women. The witch doctor summons a Tokoloshe, a demon who will do the businessman's bidding but has to drink victim's blood to do it. This works for the businessman as long as he follows a few simple rules--like thank the demon every day, don't steal the Tokoloshe's blood, etc. Seems like an easy rule to follow, but greed gets the best of him, the demon is on the loose, and the witch doctor and the local priest have to set their differences aside and fight it. The acting is pretty damn bad, and if I hadn't been to South Africa before (for the World Cup in 2010) I would have been pretty bored by this. As it was, little things kept reminding me of my time there. Things like newspapers plastered everywhere with the front page displaying one giant headline. Or when one woman refuses to take a 200R bill--almost nobody takes 200R bills, they're too widely counterfeited. Other than that, the best I can say is I hope they learned some things making this and that BLOOD TOKOLOSHE 2: REVENGE OF THE TOKOLOSHE is better.

Then it was time for the highlight of the festival so far, AN AMERICAN TERROR. It's set in Colorado, deals with school shootings and other acts of senseless violence, and is unapologetically sympathetic to the shooters. Josh wakes up with voices in his head telling him to give up. He lives in a trailer park, his parents ignore him, the popular kids at school bully him, he only has two friends and they're equally unpopular as him. After a particularly mean and humiliating event (broadcast on Youtube, no less) they finally decide they've had enough and plan to attack homecoming with guns and pipe bombs. It's set up to be an interesting horror/drama about being bullied and what it takes to become a "deranged" killer (in fact, it's most interesting aspect is that the killing isn't deranged at all. By this point it has become a completely rational act.) And then in the search for weapons it becomes a very, very different film, more along the lines of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE or SAW. And...I feel like I should have been disappointed because I was all psyched up to see the school shooting from the shooters point of view (that sentence sounds bad, but they really made the bullies awful people who deserved to die.) But the psycho redneck freak they run into is so impressive I didn't care, I'd rather watch him anyway. I don't want to give too much away, but the set pieces in the underground lair are...amazing. And--if you watch all the way through the credits--it's set up for a sequel that I would like to see.

Oh, and as for all the sympathy with the school shooters above. I'm not saying that school shootings are a good thing, or that any real kids deserve to die (kids in horror movies, on the other hand....) But I'm a nerd who's last name is a slang term for penis. I know something about being bullied. And when the Columbine shooting happened (which I learned about when I made an off-hand pipe bomb joke at work and my colleagues gave me an 'I cannot believe you just went there!' look) and everyone was asking 'How could they do that?' I was asking myself 'What kept me from doing that?' And this film offers me an answer--that I was strong enough that none of the teasing and bullying could hurt me.

Next up was THE COHASSET SNUFF FILM. You all remember the 2009 string of murders in Cohasset, MA, right? Where Colin Mason murdered three girls in his school and uploaded the footage to the Internet? If you don't, it's probably because there was a massive cover-up. Things like that just aren't supposed to happen to small, affluent New England towns. Anyway, director Edward Payson, with help from true-crime collectors, pieces the definitive story together. Colin is a pimply-faced teen playing with his camera and pretending to be way more bad-ass than he is (other than...when he's strangling his victims.) In fact, if he was more impressive as a killer I'd probably like this movie a lot more.... Oh, crap, I broke the premise that these are real events. Nope, it's just a movie. And as a movie...well, I stand by my statement that Colin was just not a charismatic killer. That's probably the point, that a harmless looking kid can be a killer in plain sight with no one noticing. In fact, rather than hiding from the cops he has more trouble making anyone notice he exists. That's the point...but it doesn't change the fact that he failed to hold my interest most of the time. The rest of the movie--the collectors, the macabre cult built up around him (the restaurant he used to frequent is now Mason Burgers and they serve serial-killer themed burgers,) the interviews, the full-frontal nudity of one of his victims--that all works. But without a charismatic killer, the movie is kinda flat.

And finally, we ended the night similar to how we started, with a foreign oddity. This time it's from the Philippines, and the movie is THE GRAVE BANDITS. Decades ago a meteorite with an alien virus landed near a small island in the Philippines. The virus turns people into flesh-eating demons. But the meteorite is also a very pretty and valuable jewel, so pirates and a scientist search for it with the unwilling help of a local girl. And they find it, and the virus gets out and they start destroying each other. Luckily it's confined to this small island. Unfortunately Romy and Peewee--homeless orphans who make a living by robbing graves of the jewelry of the recently departed--flee from an angry mob and make their way to the island. So all hell breaks loose, lots of zombie-demon flesh-eaters. Miraculously, the scientist and the girl are alive. The scientist because he hid in a tree. The girl because she grew up on the legends of the demons and knows things about them like how the smell of alcohol confuses them so they won't attack. So we get lots of fighting demons and lots of running from the demons. It's also pretty funny, and actually a pretty good time, if a little on the long side at 100 minutes.

And that was day 3 at Holehead. Not too bad, and much better than day 2--both in the quality of the films and in the technical issues (not that there weren't any, just that they were...tolerable.)

Total Running Time: 342 minutes
My Total Minutes: 343,884


In preparation for this review, I went back and read my review of THE HUNGER GAMES. Holy cow, I devoted a lot of that to comparing it to BATTLE ROYALE. Nobody's talking about that anymore, which is good because the comparison wasn't really that apt.

Now we're on Katniss' and Peeta's Victory tour, being showered as the new darlings of the capitol but also seeing how her victory (and defiance of the rules) has sparked more rebellious spirit in the people. President Snow pays her a personal visit and assures her if she can't convince the people--especially him--that her love story with Peeta is absolutely true--that she'd rather die than be without him--than there will be hell to pay. If not for her, for her family, friends, and the whole district.

Philip Seymour Hoffman shows up, at a party in the capitol but not dressed as outrageously as everyone else. He's the new game designer, and cryptically mentions that Katniss' victory convinced him to come out of retirement. And he has a great twist for the new games. It's the 75th Hunger Games, and every 25 years there's something called a "quarter quell." This being the third quarter quell, the games have a special twist--the tributes shall be selected from the ranks of the victors. Since district 12 has only 3 victors--Katniss, Peeta, and Haymitch (Woody Harrelson, becoming more interesting than just the cynical drunk he was in the first movie)--we get the ridiculous scene of all the pageantry of selecting Katniss' name from a pool of exactly one female. Peeta volunteers as the male tribute, and finally an hour and a half into the movie we actually get to the Hunger Games part. The competitors are now older and (mostly) deadlier, and none are very happy about being there (well, maybe the ones from districts 1 and 2, where training to be a tribute is a career track.) Alliances are formed and...well. I won't give away the ending. I will say I predicted some of it. And it's basically all a setup for the third movie, the rebellion, and an actual war. And I'm looking forward to that.

If I think about it, all my objections about the unrealistic world-building in the first movie still hold, but...they just don't bug me anymore. It's entertainment, and for what it is it's pretty damn good. I'll just accept that it takes place in a world so stagnant that this system really could hold for 75 years. But it's finally cracking.

Running Time: 146 minutes
My Total Minutes: 343,542

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Jason goes to Holehead--Day 2

So the second day of Holehead started with some free Saturday morning cartoons of the 80s and 90s, because...that's just the kind of odd festival it is. And Saturday morning started at 1:00 pm, because that's definitely the kind of festival this is. Free sugary cereal (I ate too much and got kinda sick, so I had to balance that with a couple of beers) and SUPERFRIENDS (a weird space-Arabs episode), SMURFS, TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES (the origins episode where April O'Neill meets the turtles), CARE BEARS (learn sportsmanship with magic bears who help you cheat and win!), SHE-RA (crossover episodes featuring HE-MAN and SKELETOR), THUNDERCATS (the origins episode, where before they land on Earth they're actually walking around on their spaceship naked--but covered in cat fur. That's right, a little naked-ish Cheetara action! And I feel dirty writing that). Anyway, it was free to everyone, and quite a lot of families brought their kids there. A lot of them were asking the Balboa Theater management about doing this again, so...maybe?

Then the festival continued with...a surfing documentary? Okay, some explanation is necessary. Because the Balboa Theater is a new venue for the festival, and because it's near-ish the beach (certainly nearer than the Mission), the organizers of the festival thought it would be fun to take a break from horror and do a kind of mini-fest of surfing documentaries at the Balboa. And so H2INDO was the first one they booked. And then they couldn't find any more. But they talked to the director and he was super-excited to play the festival, especially at the Balboa. Then at the last minute he couldn't make it (or, I guess, convince any of his friends to go) so we ended up with a surfing documentary in a horror festival with maybe 5 people in attendance, myself included.

It's a shame this wasn't played in the right context, because it's actually a pretty good movie. It explores the world of the surfing sub-category or Stand Up Paddling through a two week trip to Indonesia with 7 giants (old guard and new stars) of the sport. I'll admit I know nothing about the surfing world, but for some reason the name Dave Kalama seems like someone I should know. The rest of them are Connor Baxter, Slater Trout, Talia Gangini (the one girl among all these guys,) Chuck Patterson, Dave Boehne & Jamie Mitchell. First-time director Brent Deal writes himself into the movie by essentially integrating his "making of" scenes into the film, starting with the phone call from his main backer--his grandma--agreeing to give him the money to make his movie. Then it's off to Indonesia with the gang, where he obsesses over how he doesn't know how to shoot surfing scenes--shooting from the boat is too shaky, and shooting from land he can't get good shots, so he gives all credit on his first day to his assistant who is shooting in the water. At first the idea of focusing on his struggles to make the movie seemed kind of self-indulgent, but eventually I realized that since he's a novice to Stand Up Paddling, having himself as a character actually serves as the point of view of the audience, letting us discover the world as he does. Too many surfing documentaries (in fact, action-sports documentaries in general) fail to do this, and end up being movies by and for the surfing/action sports community that aren't all that accessible to those outside. So that novice point of view is greatly appreciated.

Anyway, I've gone a full paragraph and haven't even explained what Stand Up Paddling (SUP) is. You might have seen those guys on big surfboards standing up with a long paddle (as opposed to lying on your board and paddling out.) Well...the guys standing up and paddling are doing SUP. Simple as that. Staying upright and using the paddle makes it easier for newbies to learn, and you can surf in more "junk" waves that shortboard surfers would pass up. And those shortboard surfers don't like these "spoon goons" getting in their way. That's a part of the story that plays heavily but isn't very well explained (mostly because it's explained by people who don't agree with it) but surfers can be very territorial and shortboarders don't think SUP is "core" enough to share the waves. Whatever, SUP looks like a heck of a lot of fun, and the movie ends up--despite Brent Deal's early concerns--getting some absolutely awesome shots of it.

Then the next show--exactly six hours after the beginning of the festival day--was the first horror movie of the day. And PINUP DOLLS ON ICE made me yearn for more surfing documentaries. Okay, not really, but it made me yearn for a good horror any-genre movie. It's derivative of any number of slasher movies, but with the misogyny dialed up to eleven and the intelligence dialed down to zero. The Pinup Dolls are a retro burlesque act that despite being introduced as kick-ass girls who will beat a guy with a baseball bat because he owes them money, but as soon as the generic-homicidal-maniac-with-a-weak-backstory-told-through-gratuitous-exposition-long-after-we've-stopped-caring shows up, they turn into quivering, scantily-clad (or not clad at all) weaklings who can't recognize and pick up a weapon in a roomful of weapons (hell, they're all wearing spiked heels and none of them think to take them off and use the heel as a weapon; instead they'll all try to run in them.) What bothers me most is that it was pretty well made. It was well shot, the bloody effects were good, and the acting was...energetic, if not exactly great. It bugs me that some obvious skill went into making something so distasteful, pointless, and dumb.

Then the next film was the highlight of the night, Bobcat Goldthwait's latest directorial effort, WILLOW CREEK. Set in...or at least near...the site of the famous Patterson-Gimlin footage, we follow a couple of documentary filmmakers on the search for Bigfoot. Or at least he is on the search for Bigfoot. She's along because they're a couple and she supports him. So they travel to the town of Willow Creek, California, home of the Bigfoot museum (and Bigfoot Burger, and multiple Bigfoot statues, and lots of ardent "squatchers.") They interview locals, hear some Bigfoot-themed folk music (this part blurs reality and fiction.) And for the first hour or so it plays out as if it's a pretty cool Bigfoot documentary. Then they go on a camping trip, against the warning of an angry local (San Francisco's own Bucky Sinister, who was there for the screening) and...well that night it turns into a genuinely scary horror movie. There's an already-famous 17 minute scene of them sitting up in their tent at night listening to noises and freaking the heck out. As someone who has in my youth spent more than a few nights in a tent in bear territory in Alaska (and with Boy Scouts who like to prank you by faking bear attacks) I can tell you how scary that can be. And as someone who watched the scene with THE HUNGER GAMES blaring in the theater next door, I can tell you how important it is to watch it in a well sound-insulated room, because that kinda broke the scene a little bit. But just a little bit, the scene was still excellent and made me jump at the right moment. I've said this quite a few times, but I think Bobcat Goldthwait is one of the most interesting directors working today, and Bucky Sinister related that Bobcat calls this time "the Ed Wood part of his career" where he will make the movie he wants to make, take a studio note from nobody, and then figure out how to sell it. Kudos to him for this movie, and for that attitude towards filmmaking.

Then we ended the night with a valiant attempt to watch BUCK WILD. More mis-adventures in Holehead screwups, the copy of the movie never arrived. So we watched a screener--an online screener via Vimeo. And it started out okay, despite poor audio and a watermark across the bottom, it actually looked okay. We met the main characters--a group of young men off on a hunting trip on Buck Wild ranch in Texas. There's the leader, the horny one, the glasses-wearing nerd, and the crazy cousin. And we meet the bad guys--Billy Ray (who we are assured is a bad-ass despite dressing like a gay pimp and speaking in a British accent) and his gang. And we're introduced to the concept of the Chupacabra. And then...the movie freezes up. And we fuck around with getting Vimeo to play it. And we switch to non-HD. And it works some more. The video quality isn't that great, but it's still watchable. And the horny friend is attacked by the Chupacabra-infected ranch owner's daughter. And they accidentally shoot the ranch owner, and the crazy cousin totally non-accidentally drugs the ranger, and the nerd accidentally drives his 4x4 onto Billy Ray's property and...the movie freezes again. And this time they just can't get it to play. So we call it a night. Too bad, because it was looking pretty promising, had a good mix of comedy and horror, and wacky characters that kept your interest even if they were over-the-top, unrealistic, and one-dimensional. But, those are the breaks, and they've become a bit too common at Holehead.

So that was day 2 at Holehead. Only half of it was horror, and only half of that was watchable (but at least WILLOW CREEK was pretty great.)

Total Running Time: 451 minutes (only counting completed programs)
My Total Minutes: 343,396