Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Jason goes to Indiefest--Day 12

Now we're down to the final stretch. 2 movies a night from Monday through Thursday. And I am so grateful that Presidents Day is a paid holiday at my work. I really needed the chance to sleep late, update my blog, and spend a leisurely day before heading up to the movies.

First up was FORTY YEARS FROM YESTERDAY, set in the small town of King's City, California (co-director Robert Machoian's hometown) and starring non-actors (some from Machoian's family) it's a simple, carefully constructed, and surprisingly beautiful story. One day, after his morning run, Bruce comes home and finds that Suzette, his wife of 40 years, has passed away unexpectedly. We then follow two parallel paths, told through the quiet, ordinary moments that are usually left out of a movie. One path is Bruce's mourning process. Questioning his faith, talking to family, going through his days. The other path has a documentary feel, as the funeral home picks up and loads the body, cleans her, dresses her, and prepares her for burial. They are also training a new employee (I got the sense both the assistants were the mortician's sons, but I don't think that was ever said.) So we get a subtle glimpse into the process as he's learning the ropes.

I can't help but review this movie from a very personal perspective (more so than most of my reviews) because it's a very personal movie. I have friends--friends whose opinions about movies I respect quite a lot and usually agree with--who found this movie boring. They got nothing out of it, and I can understand that but I actually got quite a lot. As I've mentioned a few times on this blog, I lost both my paternal grandparents in the past couple of years. So I was back at the same cemetery three times (twice for burials, once for a headstone unveiling, with another unveiling upcoming this summer.) I was a pallbearer for both funerals and was guided by the same man (I don't know what you call the guy at the cemetery who oversees the logistics of stuff like that) and found myself both times thanking him for his help. And I realized something I could finally articulate after seeing this movie. We think at a funeral that we gather together with friends and family to find comfort in mourning together. And we do...but a group of fellow mourners are better at sympathizing than comforting, and that's an important distinction. Actually, a bunch of sad people can be really bad at providing comfort. Even when they try to make it a celebration of life and tell funny stories about the deceased, it's still not great comfort. But I found comfort in the fact that there are professionals who deal with the logistics of death and burial with grace, dignity, courtesy, and professionalism. At least, to me it's a comfort. Your mileage may vary.

And then to Poland for the opposite end of the timeline of life with BABY BLUES. 17 year old Natalia (Magdalena Berus) has a little baby Antek. She loves him, and is...generally a good mother. But she's still a teenager, and subject to all the various temptations of youth. For better or worse, she's intent on making sure having a baby doesn't ruin her own childhood. That's evident in the opening scene where she confronts her baby-daddy about his alleged infidelity and then confidently roller skates away with Antek in the stroller. The father, Kuba (Nikodem Rozbicki), is 18 years old and not much of a father at all. He's way more into skateboarding with his friends or just laying back and lighting up a joint. The colorful energy masks how serious it is to have a baby, particularly when you're still a child yourself. So while all these hijinx are going on, you just sort of know that the other shoe has to drop. Something horrible will happen eventually, and...I'm not giving away the ending. You'll have to watch it for yourself, maybe it all works out in the end (SPOILER ALERT: no it doesn't.) A pretty great movie, even given the technical glitch that disrupted the climactic scene.

Oh, and also add "blue" to the list of Indiefest themes this year--goldfish, pregnancy, breaking glass, vomiting, and blue. Not just in the titles--BLUE RUIN, BLUEBIRD, BABY BLUES, but it seems to be a recurring color theme, too.

Total Running Time: 185 minutes
My Total Minutes: 352,320

Monday, February 17, 2014

Jason goes to Indiefest--Day 11

5 more movies on Sunday, to wrap up the big second weekend and lead into the final 4 days of bonus screenings (now everything in the festival--including the Closing Night feature--has played at least once.)

This was a day of running back and forth between the Big and Little Roxie, starting in the Little Roxie for THE LOVE SONGS OF TIEDAN. It takes its inspiration from (and is dedicated to) the folk song tradition of Er-ren-tai, from director Hao Jie's home region near the Mongolian border. It's a bawdy type of comic mini-opera often sung as kind of a dialogue between two people. Tiedan as a child is seen first as a little boy who falls for Er-ren-tai singing Sister May. Later we see (in the only scene that anchors the story in a time period) the Cultural Revolution banning Er-ren-tai in 1966. Then we see a grown-up Tiedan, getting into romantic entanglements with all three of Sister May's daughters (who are only called First Daughter, Second Daughter, and Third Daughter.) I have to confess I was pretty exhausted and struggled to stay fully awake during this movie. But the parts I was awake for were pretty funny. I really should watch it again.

Then over to the Big Roxie for the shorts program Stranger/Danger, the shorts program that just brings the weird.
#POSTMODERN: The technological singularity, as a musical comedy.
BREAK: A man says goodbye to his best friend--his goldfish.
By the way, this reminds me of some of the themes I've been seeing in this festival. Goldfish, pregnancy, broken glass, and vomiting. So the perfect Indiefest film this year would be about about a pregnant woman and her goldfish breaking windows while vomiting. That...I wanna see that movie.
CASIMIRO EFFECT (EFEITO CASIMIRO): The true story of a UFO incident that happened in the small Brazilian town of Casimiro de Abreu back in 1980. And just because the predicted UFO landing didn't happen (the man in contact with the aliens said it was because the field was too crowded with spectators) it doesn't keep people from believing.
LOVE (LIEBE): The fine line between romantic love and creepy possessiveness is explored in this odd love triangle.
MR. GRILLO: THE THEREMINIST: A documentary about Thomas Grillo, an under-appreciated musical genius in Jackson Mississippi who is a master of the Theremin. But not just to make spooky 50's b-movie sci-fi music. He plays beautiful classical music on it, and reveals the Theremin--in the right hands--to be the most versatile and expressive instrument possible.
MR. LAMB: A romance between a lonely waitress, a convicted killer she loves, and the cop who loves her. And a story of wood that is too green to burn well.
THROUGH THE TUBES: An old woman, a clogged and overflowing sink, and imagination/memory.

Then back to the Little Roxie for the feature THE WAIT, starring Jena Malone and Chloe Sevigny. They play sisters whose mother has just passed away after a long illness. They receive a mysterious phone call from a psychic saying that she will be resurrected if they just wait long enough. Emma (Sevigny) believes it, and keeps their mother's body in the house. Angela (Malone) doesn't, and thinks her sister is crazy for suddenly believing in magic. And then...well, an atmosphere is definitely set. There's a forest fire slowly encroaching while planes drop retardant on it. Angela meets a guy and falls in love, which changes her view of what is and isn't possible re: resurrection. And...well, like most of the audience members I was talking to afterwards, we just kept waiting for something that would make it all make sense or at least be worthwhile. Maybe it's the exhaustion from the middle of going all-out at a film festival, but I just couldn't hold onto anything in the film. I was bored. That's what I'm trying to say--I was bored. At least at the end I could quip, "THE WAIT is finally over."

And then back to the Big Roxie for BLUE RUIN by Jeremy Saulnier of MURDER PARTY fame. This is a very different movie, although there is some comedy it is mostly a serious story of revenge. A disheveled homeless man named Dwight (Macon Blair, also of MURDER PARTY) gets picked up by the cops, who explain that he's not in trouble but they want him to know that Teddy Cleland has been released from prison. This triggers Dwight into action. Specifically, into murdering Teddy at his "welcome back" party. And only much later do we get any information on why Dwight was so intent on revenge. That comes after learning Dwight has a sister who has children and that the Cleland's will want revenge for Teddy and...well, things spiral worse and worse. The movie takes a well-known genre--the revenge picture--and breathes some fresh life into it by looking at it sideways. Instead of 'bad-guy does bad thing, good guy becomes bad-ass and gets revenge, happy ending!' we start with a good guy who never really has a chance of becoming a bad-ass. And we start with revenge before knowing what the bad guy did. And we spend most of the movie looking at the aftermath of that revenge. And there are twists, and it's awesome, and hopefully not only will Jeremy Saulnier not have to go six years between movies again but Macon Blair will be recognized as the great actor he is. Because I want to see both of them working a lot more.

And finally, there were two shows in a row at the Big Roxie...but I had to run to the Little Roxie to grab the luggage I had stashed there and then back to the Big Roxie for PROXY. We start with very, very pregnant (i.e., about-to-pop) Esther at an obstetricians visit. Walking back to the bus, she is knocked out and viciously attacked. She survives, but the baby is dead. In fact, the attacker seemed to be targeting the baby. After some time in the hospital, she is released and urged to go to grief counseling support groups. There she isn't exactly keen on speaking up but she does make a friend in Melanie, who seems downright cheerful for a griever. There are several surprises and twists. I don't want to give them away but let me say that for the second half of the film the characters who started out as secondary become the primaries. Oh, and Indiefest/Roxie favorite Joe Swanberg plays Melanie's husband, and is pretty fantastic in a very dark role. Now...I want to tread around this pretty carefully, because I don't want to give anything away. But I do want to say that at 2 hours long the movie feels long. I liked most every scene in it but felt like the pacing dragged, and maybe some scenes could have been cut or at least tightened up. And there's a term for this, taken from a Faulkner quote, and there's a dark humor joke I could make about it that only makes sense if you know what the movie is about. So I won't say it, but I'll let you figure it out for yourself. Oh, and would it be much of a spoiler if I explained the title?

Total Running Time: 479 minutes
My Total Minutes: 352,135

Jason goes to Indiefest--Day 10

Saturday was a big 5 movie marathon at Indiefest. So let's just jump right in.

First up was a special bonus repeat of the opening night program, starting with the short BEASTS IN THE REAL WORLD. A wild, unpredictable romp that starts with a camera going through a sushi restaurant recording the customers' reactions. Then into the kitchen where we meet the main dish. And then into its memories where we see the bizarre backstory that led it there--frustrated naturalists and a bloody civil war.

And then the feature film, THE CONGRESS. Based on Stanislaw Lem's "The Futurological Congress" through the eyes of an aging actress who has made some bad career decisions. Robin Wright plays...Robin Wright, living in a trailer near the airport where her ill son gets into trouble with his kite, she's given the last offer Miramount Studios will ever make her--a fortune to capture and digitize her entire essence. Every mood, look, etc. is recorded and Robin Wright the actress is now a completely digital creation owned completely by Miramount. That leaves Robin Wright the person as...well, we don't exactly know. We see her again 20 years later when she's invited as a guest to the titular Congress. A gathering of the most important hallucinators in the Animated Zone. She sniffs an ampule, becomes an animated version of herself, and enters a bizarre cartoon world where people just party all the time and take chemicals to momentarily become famous people (she's actually the sixth Robin Wright to check into the hotel for the Congress.) There's an insurgency, she gives a controversial, shattering address to the Congress, she meets the digital animator who has lived and breathed Robin Wright for the past 20 years. And then it gets kinda weird. By the end we go back into the real world and see sharp divide between reality and illusion. But if everything happens in the mind, does it really matter what's real? Very cool, kind of long, and I suspect I'd get it a lot better if I actually read Lem's novel.

And then we caught a couple of shorts programs, starting with the documentary program Real Talk
THE APOTHECARY: A look at the kind man who runs the pharmacy in a small Colorado town. It's miles to any doctor, so he serves as the unofficial doctor for most of their routine medical complaints. And his life is pretty tough, too, with a wife suffering from her own medical problems and a town full of unemployed, uninsured people whose IOUs he will likely never collect. In fact, it almost drove him to quit and close the pharmacy (that was originally going to be the movie before he changed his mind at the last minute.)
I KILL: A look at a travelling farm animal slaughterer in New Zealand. He kills cattle, sheep, and pigs, and explains his work in a very matter-of-fact way. A fascinating look at where our food comes from. I liked it a lot, although the images can be pretty disturbing.
A CONFUSED WAR: The Bay Area city of Richmond has one of the highest murder rates in the world. But in recent years the rate has gone down, thanks to the hard work and cooperation between the police, the Office of Neighborhood Safety, and the concerned members of the community.
PIANO HEIGHTS: Up at the top of Bernal Heights someone gifted the community a piano. So the plan was a twilight concert up there...until the piano was taken away at about 3-4 pm. So a mad scramble to get a new piano, and a filmmaker who randomly showed up that day makes a perfect, only-in-San Francisco, serendipitous documentary.
SEX: M: A look at Lucas (nee Laura) as he begins his testosterone treatments as a beginning of his transgender life process. An interesting look into his evolving life, his friends, and the San Francisco community that (of course) supports him. And he's just an engaging, funny guy who is interesting to follow around.
WHITE EARTH: And this was an extra bonus sneak preview screening (this was also the movie I couldn't remember in the "All Figured Out" program) of this documentary. North Dakota is having a pretty famous oil boom right now. And this is a look at that boom through different perspectives. The locals who are witnessing their towns double overnight, the young son of an oil worker, etc. What's interesting is that there really isn't any footage of the oil workers at work. It's all about the impact on the town, and that's pretty cool.

And then another shorts program, An Animated World. Hooray for cartoons! And hooray for inventive animation that isn't always for kids!
A DREAM AT THE EDGE OF LAND: A mix of old and new technologies as hand-painted 16 mm film meets computer generated cutouts for this brief story of a man and woman on the beach...becoming fish...becoming birds (it's a boy meets gull story! ...sorry.)
HUMANEXUS: A story of the history of communication and connecting, from cave paintings to social media. With the question of whether we've gone too far. Do we really want this much connectedness if it ends up isolating us from the people nearest us?*
LEVIATHAN AGES: A wild CGI battle of stone giants and a robo-octopus. I don't know what it was about, but it looked cool as hell!
MAKOR: A man cuts his legs off. Then modifies his arms. And his face. And pluck out his eyes. And eventually becomes a bird. Pretty cool.
MEDICAL ADVENTURE POWER!!: Adventures in colonoscopy, Crohn's disease, and explosive diarrhea.
A RIDE TOWARDS THE SEA (UNE BALADE A LA MER): A stop motion adventure of a tiny guy and his tiny scooter riding to the sea. All so he can set his fish free.
RPG OKC: An 8-bit online love story as two minor video game characters find each other and meet at the place between worlds.
THEY LOOK RIGHT THROUGH YOU: A look at people and their pets. Particularly, the powerful emotional connections they make and how some people--and some animals--understand each other better than they understand their own species.
TIN: Cool jazz and a romance across balconies in the projects. Very cool.
VIRTUOS VIRTUELL: The overture to Louis Spohr's The Alchemist is animated in drips, runs, and dashes of ink. An abstract realization of classical music.
A WALK IN THE WOODS: Leaves and twigs, found and animated. Be careful not to trip and fall.

And then a very important, instructional comedy, HOW TO BE A MAN. Former stand-up comic Mark McCarthy (Gavin McInnes) has male breast cancer. He also has a pregnant wife who doesn't know about this. But he's determined to teach his soon-to-be-son about what it takes to be a man. So he hires a cameraman over Facebook and sets out to make a series of "how to be a man" videos for his son at various stages of his life. Things get complicated when his cameraman turns out to be the son of a woman he was fooling around with a lot during his partying days. So...in fact he might be giving these father-son lessons to his actual long-lost son. In any case, they form a very strange surrogate father/son relationship. The lessons go from dealing with schoolyard bullies to dressing well to picking up women in bars. And...let's just say the lessons get more and more dangerous. It becomes pretty clear that Mark is excited about leaving a legacy for his child but not actually being there for him. In fact, he's more interested in getting wasted and reliving his wild partying stand-up comic years. If he wasn't so damned funny he would be totally unlikable, but the movie is totally carried by his comic talents and director Chadd Harbold and his writing team (including McInnes) know enough to dish out more than a few vicious hits of comeuppance on him.

Now on a personal note, I'd like to say a little something to all the comics out there who have their take on the right way to perform cunnilingus. First off, thank you, I appreciate your perspective and I know you mean well. Second, can you all please get on the same page here? Between this and MY AWKWARD SEXUAL ADVENTURE I have two completely different, exceptionally graphic tutorials in the past 3 1/2 months. It's almost enough for me to give up on getting sex advice from comedians and just figure it out for myself.

And then we saw the low-budget horror flick ALMOST HUMAN. It's an alien abduction picture sort of in the style of classic John Carpenter. Set in 1987 in the woods of Maine, it opens with Seth Hampton (Graham Skipper) showing up at Mark Fisher's (Josh Ethier) home ranting about blue lights and a mutual friend disappearing. He's clearly shaken up, a little paranoid, but...correct. Soon enough a blue light fills the night sky, and Mark disappears. In the aftermath everyone thinks Seth has something to do with Mark's disappearance, and although they can't prove anything he becomes something of a pariah in town. And then two years later, Mark returns. A really cool thriller with the suspense of early John Carpenter and the venereal horror of early Cronenberg (particularly when...how can I say this without spoiling too much? Implanting alien eggs into a host's mouth isn't really the most sensible orifice when you really think about it.) An excellent little micro-budget exploitation horror flick that's getting a limited theatrical release and V.O.D. (thanks to IFC Midnight) in just a few days--February 21st!

Then we stuck around for a little bit of the annual Big Lebowski Party. Had a couple of "oat sodas" (although I had to explain to the bartender that meant beer.) Then settled in for the awarding of the costumes and a moment of silence for Philip Seymour Hoffman. And then we bailed on the movie. I know, it's a great movie, and cool to see it in 35 mm. But I've seen it dozens of times now, and I needed some sleep.

Total Running Time: 474 minutes
My Total Minutes: 351,656

*Note: The movie did a great job illustrating the technological isolation paradigm, but I want to go on record as saying I've come around to the point where I disagree with this argument. Being connected to more people at the same time does not, in fact, weaken our connections with any one person. If you're with someone and are too insecure to let them text their friend, that's not about making them be polite, that's about you being selfish. Sure, there are intimate times when your focus should be solely on the person you're with. But unless my penis is inside you, it doesn't detract from you if I respond to a text or check my Facebook or Twitter really quick.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Jason goes to Indiefest--Day 9

Three more shows on Friday--Valentine's Day. Like every year since 2003 I've spent Valentine's Day at Indiefest. But this year I took my girlfriend there, and she dug it. So I'm not saying Indiefest is the perfect Valentine's date, but I will say that if you find a girl who thinks it is you should keep her.

First up was the short LOVES OF A CYCLOPS. A one-eyed guy sees the world very differently. A disgraced scientist attempts to bring his vision to the world through a series of experimental lenses. But then he (the cyclops) falls in love with former child star books-on-tape narrator. And things get weird. Hilarious, deliriously lo-fi, impossible to predict but somehow makes perfect sense.

Making perfect sense was definitely not a concern of the feature ASPHALT WATCHES. An animated Canadian (it's always the Canadians, isn't it) road movie. Allegedly based on a road trip filmmakers Shayne Ehman and Seth Scriver took in 2000, it's a trip across Canada with Bucktooth Cloud and Skeleton Hat. They meet...nobody you'd ever want to meet, starting with psychotic Santa Claus. The animation is intentional lo-fi flash animation and the story...goes nowhere and everywhere at the same time. It was so insane I didn't know whether to be bored or laugh hysterically. So I alternated between both. And mostly, in the end, I just concluded it was too damn long. Maybe that was because we had to rush over to the next show (which was sold out) but mostly it was because this kind of humor/insanity gets exhausting after about 30 minutes...and it went on for 94.

And then I initiated my girlfriend into an Indiefest tradition--the 80'S POWER BALLAD SING-A-LONG. Every Valentine's, we get liquored up (yay Jameson!) and play 80's Power Ballads on the big screen while flicking our Bic lighters and raucously singing along (if you can call what we do singing.) It always starts with Love Bites, and ends with Shot Through The Heart. And in between...there's a rotating playlist but several standards (my favorite being Meatloaf's I Would Do Anything For Love.) Of course, this is billed to cynics who aren't spending a romantic dinner with their sweetie. So bringing a date and being all kissy-face in front of those cynics is pretty fucking rude. Which made it all that much more fun for me.

And then we stuck around for the late show, a late addition that wasn't on the printed schedule--BOUNTY KILLER. In the future there is no government. Corporations run everything. And corporate heads put out hits on each other--the ultimate violent takeover. The two best--and fierce rivals--are Mary Death and Drifter. Throw in a goofy "gun caddy," cannibal gypsies, and a powerful business elite recognizable by their distinct yellow ties and how could it possibly get any weirder? Three words--Gary Fuckin' Busey--that's how! Stop reading this right now and just buy the damn Blu-Ray already (it's also on Amazon streaming, and I assume Netflix, etc. if you prefer streaming.)

Total Running Time: 301 minutes
My Total Minutes: 351,182

Friday, February 14, 2014

Jason goes to Indiefest--Day 8

After getting a little bit of rest Wednesday night, I was back for two movies on Thursday.

First up, the coming-of-age drama HIDE YOUR SMILING FACES. Two brothers live in the rural Northeast. It's not really an idyllic childhood. They fight, they get in trouble (for playing with a friend's father's gun) they run around in the woods, they steal burgers from the local drive-through. But what innocence was in their youth gets shattered with a shocking discovery. The younger brother's friend is found dead at the bottom of a bridge. No one knows if he fell by accident or jumped on purpose. But this first face at death forces changes. They talk...a bit. But mostly the younger brother starts getting very interested in small living things--bugs, worms, etc. seem to fascinate him. Like death has made him more keenly aware of life. The older brother, meanwhile, becomes moody, reckless, and violent. It's like death has made him rebel and try to prove that he's invincible. It's a careful and atmospheric study of place, character, and age that's thoroughly engrossing.

And then I saw what is probably my favorite film of Indiefest so far (discounting, of course, LOVELESS ZORITSA which I brought there.) DOOMSDAYS is a pre-apocalyptic buddy comedy. In wealthy upstate New York pals Dirty Fred and Bruho traipse through the wood, break into empty houses (when the wealthy owners are off vacationing...or living elsewhere.) Once inside, they eat, trash the place, drink all the booze, and then within a few days--when they're either nearly caught or run out of booze--they move on to the next one. The idea of it being pre-apocalyptic is that after the apocalypse everyone will live like this (we've seen plenty of those movies) so they're just getting a jump on the process. And it's pretty freakin' hilarious. Bruho does it because he's read about peak oil and believes the apocalypse is imminent (and refuses to ride in cars out of principle.) Dirty Fred seems to do it just because he's an asshole--which immediately makes him my favorite character. Along the way they pick up Jaidon, an unpopular, heavy-set young man who seems to prefer their 'fuck society' vibe over the harassment of his sister's popular friends. And then they finally become a foursome with the introduction of a woman, Reyna, who is beautiful enough that she is bound to drive a wedge between the friends. Funny, inventive, and driven by great performances and an unbridled glee in delivering a sincere 'fuck you' to polite society. Splendid, absolutely splendid!

Total Running Time: 170 minutes
My Total Minutes: 350,881

Jason goes to Indiefest--Day 7

Just one movie last Wednesday, and it was the shorts program All Figured Out. Celebrating Indiefest's own Sweet Sixteen with a program of films featuring adolescents.

BAD KID: Max is a really bad kid. Like kills-his-parents bad. But at least he calls the cops on himself. And he throws a pretty cool house party. But still, over all, a pretty bad kid.
I'LL BE FINE: A loving documentary look at a family and their 19 year old autistic son (who is the director's...cousin, I think he said.) Beautiful movie.
IN PRAGUE: An American Teenage girl goes to live with some relatives in Prague. While she's struggling to fit in we learned she's not just dealing with language and culture shock, but a pregnancy.
MOTHER CORN (NAHIIN NUU): A Triqui Indian teenager struggles with cultural identity. She only speaks Spanish instead of Triqui, no matter how much her patient and loving grandmother takes care of her.

And I could've sworn there was one more, but it's not listed on the program guide and I'm too exhausted to remember. In fact, those four films add up to 75 minutes but the guide says 95 minutes. So there must have been another 20 minute short?

And then I went home early due to sheer exhaustion. I've already resigned to the fact that due to my business trip to Switzerland I couldn't see absolutely everything in the festival. And that's the first time that has happened since I started going in 2002 (sort of, there have been bonus, last minute additions that were impossible to fit in my schedule, but that's another issue.) That's significant, but this in a way is more so. For the first time ever, I chose to sleep rather than watch an Indiefest movie in the one chance I had to see it. And for that, I would like to formally apologize to the makers of REMEMBER YOU'RE SPECIAL. In a way...this kind of makes you special.

Total Running Time: 95 minutes (I think...see above)
My Total Minutes: 350,711

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Jason goes to Indiefest--Day 6

Two more shows last Tuesday, starting with the shorts program all about modern approaches to love--#feelings.

BLAKE: Blake is obnoxiously near suicidal in his obsession over his ex. He leaves flowers in her mailbox every day no matter how much she hates it. It even impedes his ability to connect with weirdo hookups on Craigslist. Although one woman he meets that way might just be his salvation.
DULUTH IS HORRIBLE: It sure is. It's cold and dreary, and even worse when you're lonely...as this series of vignettes (sometimes musically) illustrate.
LAST YEAR: A nervous guy works up the courage to propose to his girlfriend on New Year's, and we learn from going back to the previous two New Year's parties that he was just as nervous, tentative, and awkward in previous years.
BEAUTIFUL DREAMER: Kevin quits his job. He can do that, because he's reckless and impulsive. He stalks his ex for the same reason. He picks up an injured pigeon for the same reason and brings it into a church. Where something magical happens. Or a coincidence happens, if you're a cynical bastard like me.
ON YOUR LIPS (HUULILLA): In this Finnish short, a 12 year-old boy and his father's girlfriend's 14-year old daughter spend some time in an amusement park, where he grows up just a little bit.
ANOTHER TIME, MAYBE: In a black and white, semi-improvised film, two strangers meet on the streets in New York, get to talking, and realize they must have known each other from somewhere before.

And then it was time for me to once again introduce LOVELESS ZORITSA. But this time I got to see it with the audience. And I got to enjoy how they laughed at all the right parts, cheered at the end. And I especially enjoyed how many people congratulated me and thanked me for bringing the movie to Indiefest. No doubt about it, no matter how dangerous it is the SF Bay Area loves LOVELESS ZORITSA.

At the same time, Bill Plympton's new film CHEATIN' was playing on the other screen. And normally I would be compelled to see it but...it's playing at Cinequest. And I got a press screener so I've already seen it (actually, I watched it on the plane to Switzerland.) I love Bill Plympton. His sick sense of humor, his inventive visuals (like a dream of being rescued by a hose-wielding fireman transforms into...the use of a different kind of hose.) It might be strange to someone unfamiliar with Plymptoons, but his latest is kinda tamed down (compared to the hijinx of MUTANT ALIENS or I MARRIED A STRANGE PERSON.) A bookish woman goes to an amusement park, where an accident with the bumper cars leads her to meet her true love. But when another woman has eyes for him, she schemes to break them up. First convince him that she's cheating. Then invite him to cheat on her. And then she cheats for real, and it all snowballs. It's funny, inventive, and a little twisted--i.e., a Plymptoon. But what struck me this time--and I realize it's true for practically all his films--is that it's a silent film. Not completely silent, but no dialogue, only sound effects and screams. And his use of visual storytelling is fantastic. Study the silent masters, then study Bill Plympton, and it becomes clear that Plympton has studied the silent masters, perfected their art, and taken it to a new level. This is the first time I've noticed the direct lineage from Winsor McCay to Bill Plympton.

Total Running Time: 166 minutes
My Total Minutes: 350,616

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Jason goes to Indiefest--Day 5

Now we enter the daily grind of 2 movies per weeknight. Monday was pregnancy night. Yikes!

Monday night started off with the semi-autobiographical movie LET'S RUIN IT WITH BABIES. Part road trip, part relationship film, all a lot of fun. Writer/Director Kestrin Pantera plays Channing. She's living the hipster dream-life of a comfortable home, good relationship, lots of friends, and a job that's all about creativity and fun. She owns and operates the RVIP (as in, a VIP lounge in an RV)--a mobile karaoke club/bar in an RV. And just as she and her husband are about to embark on a cross-country tour two big things happen: First, he announces to everyone at a party that they're officially "no longer trying to not get pregnant." Second, he gets his dream job and cannot go on tour. So Channing goes on tour with her best friends but not her husband, has a lot of wacky adventures (my favorite being the elderly woman who eventually figures out she's on the wrong bus but still sings a song before they drive her home) and questions where her relationship is going. A really fun movie, and tuns the standard romantic comedy formula around by making it a journey to stay in love, not to fall in love.

Then pregnancy night continues with DELIVERY. A horror mocku-mentary about Kyle and Rachel Massy (Danny Barclay and Laurel Vail) who--after trying for years--are finally pregnant. And they're filming the whole thing for a reality TV show. But things go badly wrong and the movie ends up being edited out of the unaired footage from the show. After the initial joyous reactions there's a scare with an apparent miscarriage. There's some bleeding, she's rushed to the hospital, and the doctors can't find a heartbeat on the ultrasound. She's kept overnight to recover and the next morning...actually there is a heartbeat. What a lucky break! Or it would be if strange things didn't start happening. The dog starts barking at her. Video footage is broken up with static and artifacts, specifically when she's on screen. As her due date approaches, things go from weird to worse, and it manages to be an effective genre thrill as well as a fresh approach to the "found footage" sub-genre.

And that was Monday at Indiefest.

Total Running Time: 166 minute
My Total Minutes: 350,450

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Jason goes to Indiefest--Day 4

5 more movies on Sunday...instead of sleeping...because I'm a freakin' addict.

First up was YOU MAKE ME FEEL SO YOUNG by Indiefest alum Zach Weintraub (THE INTERNATIONAL SIGN FOR CHOKING.) I get that the title is supposed to be ironic--that "feeling young" isn't about the spring of youth but about the confusion, awkwardness, and general disillusionment of not knowing where your life is going and what you want out of it. Following in the Joe Swanberg tradition of using the actor's names for their characters, Justin Eister plays Justine, whose boyfriend Zach (played by the director) has just gotten a job in a small-town art-house theater. The relocation breaks their comfortable routine, and their relationship slowly deteriorates. Or something like that. It was tedious, I was tired, and I struggled to stay awake. And I was more interested in the art-house theater programming than their relationship, but that's on me.

Then I got into the documentary part of the program starting with HANK: 5 YEARS FROM THE BRINK. Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson--along with Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke and Timothy Geithner--was one of the key figures in the credit crisis of 2007-2009. And this movie, relying exclusively on interviews from him and his wife, is very definitely his story--both the personal story of his life and his view of the economic perils he steered the country through. I will readily confess I don't know squat about the economics involved. Did his maneuvers save the economy? Wreck it? Keep it from getting worse? Create a "moral hazard" re: bailouts? I don't know. I do know that if he's remembered as a "bailout king" he prefers that over being the guy who did nothing as we entered a second Great Depression. But the personal story is the meat of the movie anyway. From his young days courting his soon-to-be-wife Wendy. To sort of falling into a job at Goldman Sachs without knowing a thing about investment banking and working his way up to CEO. To twice refusing the Treasury Secretary job before accepting. And his surprisingly left-leaning views about the hazards of income inequality. And his management philosophy (which boils down to know your strengths and weaknesses, play to your strengths and surround yourself with good people who can cover for your weaknesses.) I still know nothing about the economic questions, but I left the movie with a great deal of respect for him as a man.

Then another documentary on a very different topic. A WILL FOR THE WOODS deals with the subject of green burials. That's being buried with no embalming, in a biodegradable coffin (i.e., untreated wood box) so that your burial has as little negative impact as possible (and possibly a positive one) on the environment. Even cremation and scattering the ashes is seen as not green because of the fuel spent incinerating the body. We see this through the story of Clark Wang, clinical psychiatrist, classical musician, folk dancer, and lymphoma patient. While he loves life and doesn't want to die, he knows it's inevitable and is making preparations for his own green burial. He is even involved in getting Wake Forest to designate a forest as a green burial site. The forest was at least under consideration to be cut down to make room for more traditional grave plots but now is Pine Forest Memorial Gardens and (spoiler alert!) Clark Wang is buried there. Through his story we meet activists and cemetery administrators who are involved in the green burial movement, but really the story is all about him. And I was powerfully struck by how--despite loving life and really wanting to beat cancer and live a long time--he faced death with grace, serenity, and purpose. There can be a spirited debate (but not in this movie) over how much of a positive impact green burials do or can make. For me it's pretty obvious that there's not a downside but I tend to believe (with no data behind me) that your environmental impact is dominated more by what you do in your life than how you're buried. But I felt the greater story was how this cause gave Clack a sense of peace with his own death. Dying is something everyone does, and truly coming to terms with it is something I think is so rare it borders on the magical. And that the green burial movement can achieve that is something pretty great.

Then we returned to the world of narrative, fiction film with Chad's official entry into the 2014 Oscars, GRIGRIS. That's the nickname for the character played by lead non-actor Souleymane Démé. Despite being born with one paralyzed leg, he's a master on the dance floor (the movie was inspired when director Mahat-Saleh Haroun saw him dancing in a club in Burkina Faso.) With his killer moves (including throwing his lame leg around his body) he makes a decent living with tips at the local club. But tragedy strikes when his step-father falls critically ill and needs money for the hospital. So he falls in with a local petrol smuggler, which leads to some disastrous results. He also befriends the beautiful prostitute Mimi who has dreams of being a model (played by real life model Anaïs Monory.) When trouble with the petrol smugglers threatens his life, they go on the run and try to create a new life for themselves. It's a good story with some great performances by first-time actors.

Then, after spending all day in the Little Roxie, I finally got into the Big Roxie...long enough to introduced LOVELESS ZORITSA, the Cinequest hit from Serbia that I brought to the festival. There looked to be a reasonable sized crowd, and I hoped they liked it. Tonight (Tuesday) I'll actually get to see it with the audience and I can see if they loved it as much as San Jose did.

But instead I ran back to the Little Roxie for BLUEBIRD. Lance Edmands' debut feature is a story of a go-nowhere small town in northern Maine, where the paper mill is the major employer and is rapidly downsizing. It's also a story of how interconnected small communities are. Lesley (Amy Morton) is a school bus driver. She takes good care of the kids on her bus, even loaning her wool hat to one who forgot his. But when she is distracted (by the titular bluebird) she fails to notice a boy asleep on the bus and doesn't see him until the following morning. Meanwhile, the boy's mother Marla (Louisa Krause) was at the bar after her shift and didn't show up to pick up her son. Their mutual negligence leads to tragedy, and that's the focus but not the entirety of the plot. There's also worry over the mill closing and costing jobs. There's the ambulance-chasing lawyer. There's a young love/lust story that might derail the life of the one character who seems like she has a reasonable chance of getting out of town and making something of her life. That last sentence sounds harsh--like there's no way to live a worthwhile life in a small town. And that's...well, that's a side of the movie but not all of it. The landscape is also beautifully shot to showcase its stark beauty. I get the sense that maybe, in a different time, different place, different circumstances, there could be some charm to living in this small town. Just not now, not under these circumstances.

And that was the end of the first weekend of Indiefest. Two more weeks to go!

Total Running Time: 445 minutes
My Total Minutes: 350,284

Jason goes to Indiefest--Day 3

So I missed the first two days of Indie fest. First time that has happened since I started going in 2002. But I had a good excuse, since I was on a business trip to Switzerland. It takes a certain kind of crazy to get off a 12 hour flight and go directly to the movies. Not home, not to see my girlfriend (whom I love and have already apologized to) but to the movies. Because I am that kind of crazy.

Anyway, I feel like I should eventually apologize to the filmmakers whose films I am unable to see this year. But first, I'll see as much as I possibly can, by coming straight from the airport to the Roxie.

First up was A FIELD IN ENGLAND by Indiefest regular and rising star of British cinema Ben Wheatley (DOWN TERRACE, KILL LIST, SIGHTSEERS) This time he's gone black and white for a period piece set in the 17th century during the English Civil War. A small band of deserters--self-professed cowards--decide to quit the war and go work out their differences in an ale house. Something I wholeheartedly agree with, but something that never comes to fruition as they're captured by an alchemist who is sure that they know the location of a buried treasure in the field. Weird, bloody, bizarre, and featuring period music. And that's before they find the magic mushrooms. Weird stuff, but a lot of fun, even if I was a bit too jet-lagged to fully appreciate it (I admit I struggled with wakefulness.)

Next up was SEE YOU NEXT TUESDAY (if you don't get the joke, think C. U. Next Tuesday.) Mona's life...sucks. She's got some mental issues fucking crazy. And very pregnant. Like about-to-pop pregnant. But she's not quite sure exactly when her due date is. She hasn't been to a doctor in a couple of months. And she does drink sometimes. Meanwhile her co-workers are cruel, nasty bitches (there's a definite streak of racism as she's the only white checkout girl in the grocery store.) Her mom is a recovering junkie who can barely take care of herself. In fact, Mona is very proud of her ability to take care of herself without her junkie mom's help--thing is, she really can't. She lives in a pigsty, her doorman is a pervert who just sits in the alcove jacking off in the middle of the night. She gets evicted and moves in with her estranged sister, who is in her own barely functional lesbian relationship. Basically everyone in the movie is over-the-top horribly broken. And yet it's all somehow presented in a way that makes you sympathize with her at the same time as you recoil in horror. Oh yeah, and it's funny. In a sick, twisted, maybe-it-wasn't-supposed-to-be-funny way, but I laughed. 

And finally, we ended the night OBJECTS ATTACK, a true underground lo-def (shot on super-8) oddity. Lovey (so named because it's better to be a lovee than a lover) has a boyfriend she loves. But when she stops off at a hypnotist show suddenly her life becomes chaos. Money disappears from her purse. A driver-less car follows her. And inanimate objects attack her (a wrench, power cords, etc.) And that's before she runs afoul of The Kid--a genius/bookie/martial arts master trapped in the body of a pre-teen girl. Oh yeah, and she deals with a guy who is infatuated with her and a new guy who will either sweep her off her feet or kill her. Clearly she's having a resistential crisis, and hopefully Dr. Hirschfelder at The Institute for Controlled Psychomotor Phenomena can help her.

And that's how I started my Indiefest 2014 experience.

Total Running Time: 255 minutes
My Total Minutes: 349,840

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Jason goes to Noir City--The End

Well, the end for this year, I'll definitely be back! Heck, I spent last Sunday at Noir City even though I heard something about a huge television event that I shouldn't miss. Something about a Superb Owl, and I am a fan of all things avian*.

To end the festival, we took a whirlwind tour of the Far East, Hollywood style. Movies set in the mysterious Orient...but shot mostly on backlots in Hollywood...with maybe a few second unit shots on location.

SINGAPORE (1947): Fred MacMurray plays Matt Gordon, a decorated GI with a bit of a checkered past. He used to smuggle pearls in Singapore, and now after WWII he's back. Of course, the deputy commissioner Hewitt (Richard Haydn) has his eye on him, but Gordon swears he's there for sentimental reasons. And that's not entirely false. After all, he lost his fiance (Ava Gardner) there in an air raid. And things get really complicated when he finds her again, but with amnesia, and married to a rich plantation owner. Throw in the stash of pearls he hid in his old hotel room (somehow never discovered...or bombed out...in the war years) some bad guys who want the pearls, and you have an absolutely ludicrous plot that still pleases with the energy and grace from its stars and cinematography.

MACAO (1952): I can't believe I almost made it through Noir City without seeing a Robert Mitchum flick. That would've been sacrilege. He plays Nick Cochran, an ex-pat American in Asia. He can't leave do to an outstanding warrant back in the States (some fight over a girl, maybe someone was killed, maybe not.) At least, that's his cover story. The local baddie pegs him for a cop immediately. Something about a jewel robbery and a murdered detective and if the baddie ever leaves a 3 mile radius from Macao he's liable to be picked up by the authorities who aren't on his payroll. Throw in William Bendix as the comical tourist/import/export guy (only the finest contraband!) and Jane Russell as the love interest and you got a movie, no matter what it's about. The program notes actually make fun of the plot (or lack thereof) noting that the movie really exists just to throw all these stars together and have a good time. For what it's worth, I actually enjoyed the story and the bizarre twists, but maybe that says more about me.

THE SHANGHAI GESTURE (1941): And finally I ended my tour of the festival (there were still encore screenings of SINGAPORE and MACAO, but I needed to get home and pack for Switzerland) with Martin Scorsese's personal print of this cult classic. Watching this, it's clear that it's more "cult" than "classic" with a bizarre mish-mash of characters, starting with Mother Gin Sling (Ona Munson in yellow-face.) She runs a gambling den (in the original play, which seemed design to dare the censors every step of the way, it was a brothel) in Shanghai where eccentrics from around the world meet. One of them is Dr. Omar (Victor Mature) a fez-bedecked "Doctor of Nothing" who takes the title because it makes him sound important and doesn't hurt anything--something most real doctors can't claim. Enter young Poppy (21 year old Gene Tierney) who drinks, loses a lot of money gambling, and latches onto Omar and his poetry (after about a minute of wooing her, he seems to spend the rest of the picture visibly regretting it.) Toss in an eviction notice and a rich real estate developer Sir Guy Charteris (Walter Huston) who has a past with Mother Gin Sling and you've got something resembling a picture. More importantly, you have a wild, impossible, incomprehensible adventure in which no one comes out looking good--if they come out of it at all. What a way to end the week. Can't wait to see how Noir City 13 can top it!

Total Running Time: 255 minutes
My Total Minutes: 349,585

*Especially hawks...from the sea. Yeah, I grew up in Bellingham as a Seahawks fan. I hadn't really followed football much for several years, but it was still kind of a tough choice to pass up their first Super Bowl win ever. But I figured if they won and I didn't watch it live, I'd still be happy. If I watched it live and they lost, I'd be bummed I didn't go to Noir City Instead.

Jason goes to Noir City--Day 9

I had a birthday party I had to run off to later on Saturday, but there's no way I could let the International Edition of Noir City go by without catching at least a little bit of the French flavor.

PÉPÉ LE MOKO (1937): So our Noir City trip to France didn't actually start out in France. It started in Algiers. In particular, it started in the Casbah. That's where gangster Pépé le Moko (Jean Gabin) is hiding out, and a labyrinth so intense, isolated, and dangerous the authorities dare not go in. But in a way the Casbah becomes his own prison--he is free from prosecution, but not free to leave. Inspector Slimane (Lucas Gridoux) is intent on drawing him out. And when pretty little Gaby (Mireille Balin) shows up, he has a chance. Pépé, like all great villains--like all great noir male characters, good or bad--has a weakness for the ladies. Great acting and an exciting plot, but most of all a glimpse into a strange, exotic, intoxicating, and dangerous world make this a great adventure.

JENNY LAMOUR (Quai Des Orfèvres) (1947): The French title doesn't exactly translate, it's essentially Paris' version of Scotland Yard. So for the American title they just used the (stage) name of the female lead, played by the lovely Suzy Delair. She's a dance hall entertainer, wildly ambitious but not so ambitious that she would cheat on her husband Maurice (Bernard Blier) to get ahead. That's true even though the rich pervert Brignon (Charles Dullin) couldn't certainly advance her career in exchange for...companionship. Well Maurice isn't so naive, and tells Brignon off in no uncertain terms, even threatening to kill him. Which makes it all very awkward when Jenny goes off to make nice with Brignon (he can, after all, help her career.) Especially awkward when Maurice goes to kill Brignon (making sure he has an elaborate alibi) only to find Brignon already dead. A sarcastic but brilliant inspector Antoine (Louis Jouvet) is hot on his trail, and things are looking pretty bleak for Maurice...or Jenny...or both. Classic noir story, with some solid acting, some fun musical performances, and of course a surprise twist in the end.

And that's all I could do of Saturday. I was back for one final day on Sunday.

Total Running Time: 200 minutes
My Total Minutes: 349,330

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Jason goes to Noir City--Day 8

It's all over now but the writing. And after all that noir I just had to escape to a neutral city, so I'm writing this from Switzerland.

Last Friday was the highlight of the festival, so let's jump right in.

THE BLACK VAMPIRE (El Vampiro Negro) (1953): The Argentinian remake of Fritz Lang's M. Who knew that even existed? Not me. What can I say, other than confessing I've never actually seen M, which is famous for Peter Lorre playing cinema's first serial killer. In the Argentinian version, the role is given to Nathán Pinzón, who (according to the program notes) was a popular comedic actor (interestingly enough, according to IMDb, so was Peter Lorre before starring in M.) Olga Zubarry stars as a cabaret performer who witnesses something from her dressing room, and gets caught up in the whole investigation (she also has a young daughter she's obviously intent on protecting.) A great movie, and now I'm kicking myself once again for having never seen the original. I need to see it...then watch this one again...then see the 1951 remake set in Los Angeles....

WAGES OF FEAR (1953): And then my highlight of the festival, a movie that speaks directly to my work in risk management, H. G. Clouzot's WAGES OF FEAR, shown in it's full, unedited running time. In a small South American village people from all over the world gather to...well, if not exactly get a new start at life, at least lay low until some opportunity presents itself. The movie takes its time at first--we get to meet the characters there, see them interact, understand their dynamic. More importantly, we get to understand the big American oil company that controls the area (apparently a lot of that was cut out in other versions--"Southern Oil" was just too close to Standard Oil, but honestly I can't see how you make the movie any other way.) While they are a major employer, they don't care too much for worker safety. And when an oil field blows up and catches fire, the plan is to demolish the whole thing--collapse it in on itself with nitroglycerin. The complication is that they need to transport all that nitroglycerin via truck over treacherous roads. An errant bump could set the whole thing off, and they have to drive over washboard, up winding mountain roads, through jungle, etc. And that's the setup to what is arguably the most suspenseful film ever made. I can tell you, just watching it I feel like I've been put through the wringer (that is, after I was just angry at the company for ignoring basic safety and risk management work. I guess it was a different time and different place.)

Total Running Time: 236 minutes
My Total Minutes: 349,130

Jason goes to Noir City--Day 7

Last Thursday Noir City's international tour landed in Argentina, and Ferdinand Peña (the man famous for finding the most complete version of Fritz Lang's METROPOLIS) was back in the Castro to dub Eddie Muller not just the Czar, but now the Emperor of Noir. As a loyal subject of The Empire, I approve!

NEVER OPEN THAT DOOR (NO ABRAS NUNCA ESA PUERTA) (1952): Actually a pair of films based on Cornell Woolrich stories (it was supposed to be a trilogy, but the third one, IF I DIE BEFORE I WAKE, grew to the size of it's own 73 minute feature, hopefully coming to Noir City in the future.) The first story, SOMEBODY ON THE PHONE is a tale of gambling, debt, blackmail, and revenge. A brother sees that his sister is being blackmailed. He has even cracked their "phone code." So he seeks out the man he saw her talking to at a casino, set on the belief that he must be the extortioner and he must die. Then in the second half, HUMMINGBIRD COME HOME features a blind mother, a wayward son, and his gang that have escaped to his childhood home to lay low after a robbery. The blind mother, who of course can "see" more than anyone else, is absolutely brilliant. And, surprisingly, a crack shot.

HARDLY A CRIMINAL (APENAS UN DELINCUENTE) (1949): A lowly bank clerk (Jorge Salcedo,) just scraping by, learns of a loophole in the law. See, the penalty for embezzling is six years--no matter how much was stolen. So he embezzles, fully intending to get caught. All he has to do is hide the money, survive six years in prison, and walk out with more money than he could make in a century of being a clerk. Sure, prison is harder than he thought. But the real difficulty is all the people who want to know where the money is--the good guys and the bad guys. Especially when they learn that they can get to him through his girlfriend. This was billed in the program as the "best Argentine film noir of the 1940s." Well, I can't say that I've seen much to compare it to, but I'll say it certainly put the bar pretty high. And yes, that is a hint that Noir City should play more Argentinian noir in the future.

Total Running Time: 173 minutes
My Total Minutes: 348,894