Monday, March 31, 2014

Jason goes to CAAMFest--Friday, March 21

Just one show last week Friday, and it was a shorts program Provocateurs. I think the name says it all.

H7N3: C. S. Lee (the pervy colleague on DEXTER) is a travelling field doctor trying to take a mouth swab from a sick little girl. Perhaps it's just knowing him from DEXTER but I thought it got a little creepy when he talked about "just the tip" and I got a real rape culture vibe from it. Which made the ending pretty cool.
THE HOLE: A recently released convict witnesses a grisly murder of a little girl. So he digs a grave and buries her. And then digs her up, then buries her again. He appears to be torn between doing the right thing and being afraid that he'll be blamed for her death.
KILL OF THE NIGHT: When a cop pulls over a beautiful young woman, he hears noises in her trunk and is about to arrest her for a serious crime. But it turns out it's just a kinky game, so the most he has is a traffic violation--driving without a seat belt. Or not.
MILKYBOY: A child commercial star is all grown up, and now works in advertising. But he can't escape his Milkyboy past, no matter how much he wants to. But then, every once in a while it helps to have a bit of a superhero in you.
SEWING WOMAN: A creepy, grisly animated look at one theory of what happens after you die.
SUKIYAKI WITH LOVE: A young husband is so beaten down by his nagging wife that he has already had an affair and is now considering asking for divorce. But when he comes home, his wife is all sweetness and love. She even made him his favorite--Sukiyaki...with a special ingredient.
THINKING ABOUT THINKING: Experimental, black and white exploration of people's varying opinions about mortality.
WHAT REMAINS: Bad memories leave ghosts in a woman's old childhood home.

And that was that. A really cool shorts program.

Running Time: 84 minutes
My Total Minutes: 358,848

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Jason goes to CAAMFest--Thursday, March 20

Just one film a week ago Thursday. But it was an awesome one. It even says so in the title--AWESOME ASIAN BAD GUYS. Made as a web series by the National Film Society (Patrick Epino & Stephen Dypiangco) as a parody and loving homage to all the awesome Asian bad guys of the 80's. Tamlyn Tomita (Kumiko from KARATE KID II) comes to the NFS for help both protecting herself and avenging the murder of her sister Pamlyn. So they assemble the heroes of their youth--first and foremost Al Leong, who cannot be killed. Then they try to find Jet Li, only to find out that George Cheung daughter was named after his ex-wife's favorite Asian actor--Jet Li. Luckily, she still kicks butt. Yuji Okumoto (Chozen in KARATE KID II) still has some moves, and for some reason comedian Randall Park rounds out the cast. And they all go do what they do best--kick butt, take names, and get laughs. That was lots of fun.

Running Time: 52 minutes
My Total Minutes: 358,764

Jason goes to CAAMFest--Wednesday March 19

Just one show last week Wednesday, one of the few movies I actually missed at Indiefest.

But first, the short GRACE. A ballet dancer and a prostitute, in parallel action. Set to the sound of Amazing Grace.

And that was the lead-in to KARAOKE GIRL, a semi-documentary about Sa Sittijun. With flashbacks to her parents meager subsistence in rural Thailand, Sa works in the nightclubs of Bangkok. It's not hard to figure out that she does more than sing for a living. She's a sex worker, and it's not the least bit glamorous. Nor is it all that compelling. At least not to me, not in my state of exhaustion. I spent most of the movie struggling to stay awake. I'd apologize, but all my friends who saw it at Indiefest told me the same thing. So that's that.

Running Time: 85 minutes
My Total Minutes: 358,713

Jason goes to CAAMFest--Tuesday, March 18

I gave myself one day of rest after Cinequest, and I was back in festival mode with CAAMFest (formerly SFIAAFF, what I always called Asianfest.) It actually started on Thursday, so I missed all of the big first weekend. This seems to happen every other year or so, so hopefully next year they won't overlap. And now, over a week later, I finally have a little time to write about it.

Anyway, I was up in Japantown for two shows a week ago Tuesday (I guess that would be day 6 of the festival.)

First up was AMERICAN ARAB, a personal and political documentary by Arab-American director Usama Alshaibi. He opens with the death of his own brother--overdosed on heroin, leading to an exploration of the phenomenon of "too much freedom" in America. He then explores many other examples of the Arab American experience, from his own life and the lives of others. A woman in a hijab attacked in a grocery store. He has his own racially-motivated attack. And the more benign the Arab-American kids asked to explain what they thought of 9/11, or just the average every day racial epithets. In a scant 60 minutes, he explores a lot of complexity of identity. Oddly, none cut through the complexity more clearly than the Arab American punk rock band, who rebel against both establishment America and Islam, forming an identity that's neither American, nor Arab, but totally individual. And that's really what everyone is looking for--to be treated as an individual. Very cool.

Then I caught the shorts program A Modern Family. Shorts about family, in all its straightforward complexity.
GRAND CANAL: Canal sailors in China, as director Johnny Ma remembers his father.
HAPPY DANCE: Experimental animated dancing toys, inspired by director Crisanta Deguzman's autistic son.
HER PRIZE: A rubber ducky, and a funny father. Very cute.
MAKATO: OR, HONESTY: The last days of director Christopher Makoto Yogi's father, as remembered by his mother and grandmother.
MALAYSIAN MEMORIES: Director Celeste Chan’s father remembers growing up in Malaysia in poverty and desperation.
MANDEVILLA: In Koreatown, a young man can hear fighting in the apartment next to him. And he struggles with what to do about it.
MEI: Memories of Hong Kong, and director Margaret To's old caretaker. A clever, partly animated short.
SWEET CORN: Corn rots on the stalks while father and son fight over the direction of the farm.

Total Running Time: 142 minutes
My Total Minutes: 358,628

Friday, March 21, 2014

Jason goes to Cinequest--Closing Night

Breakfast was at 9:00 am. And I had a beer (or several) with that breakfast. Then I left to my room to actually do a little bit of my day job before I had to check out. As a result, I missed hanging out more with Matthew Modine, who showed up just as I was leaving. Oh, well.

Anyway, I was back to the lounge soon enough for a little bit of a rest more drinking as I skipped the first showings of Encore Day (the one film I had not seen in the first time slot was EAST SIDE SUSHI, which I heard great things about but I'm already planning to see at CAAMFest)

And I had a drink with my final filmmaker of Cinequest. That is, the final time I applied my "drink with me and I will see your movie" (and the third time this rule forced me to miss out on the Patrick Stewart starring HUNTING ELEPHANTS) The winning filmmaker was a producer of SLINGSHOT, so I saw this excellent documentary on the life and work (mostly the work) of Dean Kamen. If that name is familiar at all, you likely recognize him as the inventor of the Segway. But he's been an inventor for a long time, with big, big ideas. While the Segway became the butt of several jokes, he's actually still pretty proud of it (I've never actually ridden one, so maybe it is actually really cool.) He also invented the iBOT mobility wheelchair. And he founded FIRST--For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology--to get kids interested in science. And his most important project right now--and the title of the movie--is the Slingshot, a water purification device based on vapor compression distillation (i.e., evaporate water and make it rain in a tank.) The name comes from the story of David and Goliath, with the Slingshot delivering the blow that takes down either the Goliath of large government/corporate control of potable water or the Goliath of water-borne pathogens being responsible for half the illnesses in the world. Bill Clinton, incidentally, seems pretty fond of telling the story of how Dean filtered the dirtiest water he had ever seen through the Slingshot, and he enjoyed the pure, delicious water out the other end. It's a really cool story of an inspiring guy and the persistence of fighting for his invention for 15 years (and counting.) It's also a story of how corporate partnership (in this case, Coca-Cola) can sometimes work well to get things done. Now I know that Coca-Cola has not had a great record in the past with managing water resourced, particularly in their third world bottling plants. But if it comes down to a choice between partnering with an 'Evil Corporation(tm)' or not distributing your life-saving devices, I'm on Dean Kamen's side. Partner with whoever can get the job done.

Anyway, then it was time for more drinking. So I went back to the lounge and discovered that the VIP Soiree at Gordon Biersch was moved up to 4:00 (normally they start at 5:00.) was more drinking their beers instead of Stella Artois (and actually, drinking margaritas was more the order of the day.)

Then finally the closing night event. I have to say, I kind of miss something they did in past years, which was to bring all of the filmmakers who were still in attendance up on stage for a standing ovation. That was back when they announced the award winners there, but this year they did that the previous evening. I can dig wanting to get to the film as quickly as possible, but this was something I always looked forward to. Anyway, I did get called out by board member Carlso Montalvo, so that was pretty awesome!

And then the movie, SMALL TIME. Al Klein (Christopher Meloni) owns a used car lot with his friend Ash Martini (Dean Norris.) He is also the proud father of a recent college graduate, Freddy (Devon Bostick.) Freddy lives with his mother (Bridget Moynahan) who is divorced from Al. And rather than go to college, Freddy wants to come work for Al at the car lot. Which for a guy who constantly feels inferior to his kid's stepfather (Xander Berkeley) that's pretty cool. And Freddy is actually pretty good at selling cars. In fact...too good. He kind of reminds the audience (and Al) of all the bad stereotypes of used car salesmen. And looking in the mirror like that, seeing your son becoming you, seeing a side of yourself you have kind of buried...that forces Al to take a tough look at himself and make some tough decisions. More importantly, this is a comedy. It's funny, especially the scenes where All and Ash are bullshitting with their friends (where Kevin Nealon has a small role) or the tricks they use to lure in a buyer. But beyond the comedy is a pretty serious and poignant story.

And then more drink. The closing party was simultaneously at neighboring bars The Farmer's Union and La Pinata. Drink drink drink, hug so many filmmakers, staff, friends. And that was finally that. I'll just end on these final words:


(until next year, when I'll find a way to make Cinequest 25 top it!)

Total Running Time: 192 minutes
My Total Minutes: 358,486

Jason goes to Cinequest--Day 12

It was the final Saturday, and despite staying up until 4:00 paying with friends and filmmakers (redundant, filmmakers are my friends) I was still in the lounge when it opened at 10:00 for the first beer of the day. I think I was more Stella Artois than man at this point. There were a lot of other people in the lounge Saturday morning for some presentation about 4K video. I wasn't paying attention, and I feel just slightly guilty about that. But later I drank with the presenter, so it's all good now.

Anyway, maybe I had just a bit too much to drink, or maybe GO DOWN DEATH is just a very strange movie, because I had quite a bit of trouble following it/ staying awake. Folklorist Jonathan Mallory Sinus (a fictitious creation of the movie?) left a body of work that spanned a total of 6 pages. So some extrapolation was necessary for this movie. Prostitute with a syphilitic client. Soldiers wandering in the woods. A card game in a saloon...stuff happens. I keep being told that if I like David Lynch and Guy Maddin (which I do...a lot!) than GO DOWN DEATH should be right up my alley. Maybe it will be if and when I see it again when I'm well rested. As it the end of the festival...operating on no sleep...and more beer than human...I struggled with it.

Then I had all the best intentions to get a little rest, maybe do a little work before seeing THE MAN BEHIND THE MASK. Instead I drank more beer and went to get Mexican food with some of my friends.

The upside was that I didn't have to rush out of the credits to see Matthew Modine accept the Maverick Innovator Award. He was getting it for the iPad app version of his Full Metal Jacket Diary. The hardcover version (limited printing, complete with a full metal jacket) has become quite a collector's item and fetches a pretty high price. I want it! And his iPad version...that might actually convince me to go buy an iPad. Basically since he was playing a military journalist, Stanley Kubrick encouraged him to keep a journal during filming. So this isn't some memory decades after the fact, this is what Modine wrote at the time. And it's really cool. Stories of Kubrick, growing tensions with Vincent D'Onofrio, etc. And to not spoil everything, he left quite a lot for you to see and hear (oh yeah, the app has audio and video segments that you can't really do in even the fanciest book) but I do love his reflections on his one time rivalry with Val Kilmer.

Then it was off for the VIP Soiree and Awards Ceremony at San Pedro Square Garage (food courtesy of Little Chef Counter.) Om nom, glug glug!  And somewhere the award winners are listed. But I can't seem to find them. And who really cares? All the Cinequest finds are awesome! 

Speaking of which, then I made my way to the California theater for my next show, which started with the short SHIFT. An excellent sci-fi story of a man who invents a device that lets him jump through space. Just a short, fixed distance, but enough that with careful planning he can rob a bank. Very cool.

That was the lead in to DOM HEMINGWAY, one of the very few of Cinequest's high profile studio films that I saw this year (really, it's this and the opening and closing night galas.) Jude Law stars as the titular anti-hero, a British gangster just released from prison after 12 years. First thing he does is strut through town, find his ex-wife's lover (and his daughter's stepfather) and bears the crap out of him. No particular reason, other than he hates him and he can. Second order of business, meeting with his associate and friend (Richard Grant, doing a spot-on English version of Christopher Walken) meet with their boss, and get the big pile of money due him. Things get a little tense, but Dom being Dom eventually everything is settled and they celebrate with an insane booze-drugs-and-hookers party all night, culminating in the most cinematic and hilarious car crash I've ever seen. It's tempting to call DOM HEMINGWAY an action-crime-comedy hybrid, but really it's a character study. And the character of Dom Hemingway is not just an angry, out-of-control maniac. He's a man with little impulse control, who feels everything in the moment waaaay too hard. When things are going well, they're the greatest they've ever been and he will push them to the edge. When he falls over the edge and things go poorly, he will feel that suffering more than anyone ever has, succumbing to the "Woe is me!" morass. And that suffering, while ostensibly about his money, is mostly about trying to reconnect with his estranged daughter. And that brings a surprising amount of heart into everything. 

Then the next show started with the PTP short DREAMING OF THE SWEET LIFE. A mother and daughter, homeless, remembering back to when they had everything--a roof over their heads, food on the table, and abusive husband and father.... Excellent touching performances in this short.

And then the feature was a mostly finished work-in-progress, THE PURPLE ONION. So first I have to confess that I kind of struggled to follow/stay awake in this movie. I did get that the title refers to a (now defunct) San Francisco comedy club. And that the hero Johnny Lee (actual stand-up comedian Edwin Li) is trying to launch a comedy career. And while some of his jokes land by the end, in the beginning he is not good. And there's a woman who shows up at his home to stay with him (there was confusion over whether she was mother, sister, friend) and a lot of the movie is about their relationship. But as I said this is a work in progress (particularly evident in transitions between scenes) and I struggled to follow it. So I will withhold judgment until I see the finished version (presumable at Cinequest next year?)

Anyway, then I made my way to the Maverick Meetup at SP2, where I ran into Matthew Modine, shook his hand, hugged him (because we hug here,) and chatted for just a little bit. he revealed that he was looking over at me to gauge whether or not he was losing the audience. I told him he shouldn't do that because I'm so exhausted by now I'm struggling to stay awake no matter what's going on. Ah, good times!

Short Program 5
BIOGRAPHER: A cool Russian long-ish short (30 minutes) about a guy who works in the Research Center for Personality Reconstruction. Basically he rewrites peoples back-story (and probabilistically predicts their future) in order to turn them into who they want to be. But he has some moral qualms about his work.
BOX: An experimental visual treat with various 3-D patterns projected onto a screen being moved about by robotic arms. All while a man stands in the middle. Very cool.
CARGO: A man makes a desperate trek with his baby daughter, hoping against hope to save her from the zombie apocalypse. Great little story.
A CONVERSATION ABOUT CHEATING WITH MY TIME TRAVELING FUTURE SELF:'s exactly what it sounds like. A man meets his future self, who tells him that he must cheat on his girlfriend, right now! But there's way, way more to it than that. As a side note, there's a heck of a lot of time travel in this program.
GÖDEL INCOMPLETE: Kurt Gödel was weirdly obsessed with time travel. This story speculates why.
I'M 23 AND THERE'S A FUCKING MONSTER UNDER MY BED: The monster is real, and he needs a special lady friend to help him destroy it.
OVER THE MOON: A cool, mostly animated (with real faces inserted) story about the woman who landed on the moon first and the American dick-headed astronauts who found her there.
SHIFT: It's like I time traveled back to earlier in the day when I saw this excellent sci-fi story of a man who invents a device that lets him jump through space. Just a short, fixed distance, but enough that with careful planning he can rob a bank. Very cool.
SORRY ABOUT TOMORROW: A thriller about a time travelers and the authorities who are chasing him. Yup, there's definitely a theme in this program.
A STITCH IN TIME (FOR $9.99): Funny comedy about a low-tech time travel agency that will send you to take a look at your future for under $10. A client has a burning question--does her co-worker like her? But the results just get stranger and stranger (multiple trips can be dangerous.)

And then I went back up to my room, where the party was already going strong thanks to my wonderful girlfriend. And friends and filmmakers stayed up in my room until about 5:00 am. And I was still up for a special Cinequest 100 breakfast (and for me, beer) at 9:00.

Total Running Time: 369 minutes
My Total Minutes: 358,294

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Jason goes to Cinequest--Day 11

It's all over but the writing. Which with the way things are going might take a while.

The big final weekend started with a 6 movie Friday. Here we go.

First off, after an extended conference call at work that made me just slightly late (luckily technical difficulties with the film made it start just as I got there) I started with the Facebock comedy FRIENDED TO DEATH. Michael Harris is kinda a jerk. He works in parking enforcement and gives out more tickets than anyone. He takes his job seriously, considering himself the Batman of parking enforcement. Of course, that wins him no friends in real life, but he has 417 friends on Facebock (check the screen carefully,) where he posts annoying stuff about the people he tickets, and "losers" he sees around him--even someone with only 3 people at his funeral. Well, that gets into a discussion about how many people would show up to his funeral. Especially when his best friend Joel dumps him to live with a colossal douchebag (there...really aren't a lot of likable characters in this movie.) So he teams up with a recently laid-off friend from work to fake his death online. First as a joke to see how many people are sad, but then he gets deeper and deeper into faking his own death, and wacky hijinx ensue. The premise is both high concept and simple, almost sitcom-y. But the execution is great, and the end result is lots of fun, and maybe a message about social media, if you're into that.

Then I dashed out of there as soon as it was over to make it to Shorts 4: Animate Me. Yay, cartoons!
DADDY ABC: From the United Arab Emirates, a cool little story about a couple celebrating their first child, the put upon mother, and a father finally learning...well, if not how to be good at managing the household and the baby, at least appreciative of all the work his wife does.
A DREAM AT THE EDGE OF LAND: I had already seen this at Indiefest, and it was cool to see it again. As I said at the time, "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.)" I'll stand by that, and I'm not sorry for the pun.
DRUNKER THAN A SKUNK: Bill Plympton (CHEATIN', also at Cinequest) animated this adaptation of Walt Curtis' "The Time The Drunk Came To Town And Got Drunker Than A Skunk, or So He Thought." Cowboys harass a drunk, and it's awesome.
LOVE IN THE TIME OF ADVERTISING: A man living in a billboard romances the woman across the street. But not very successfully. In fact, he mostly just convinces her to buy stuff she doesn't need.
THE MISSING SCARF: A friendly little squirrel helps his woodland friends with their problems, from lack of confidence to the heat death of the universe. Narrated by George Takei.
MR HUBLOT: This year's Oscar Winner, and adorable piece about a clockwork man and his pet dog.
THE NUMBERLYS: Little guys who make numbers all day decide they need something different. So overnight, they invent letters! Presented in vertical aspect ratio, because it's meant to be watched on an iPhone.
PUT A LID ON IT: Cool cats (literally) strutting to some cool jazz.
THE RISE AND FALL OF GLOBOSOME: Little dots, replicating out of control.
SALMON DEADLY SINS: Anagram-tastic adventures with 5,000 hand drawn index cards.
STICK OUT: Fun with popsicle sticks!
STRANGEL: A weird little guy torments E. A. Poe until he learns that strange misfortune can befall anyone.
SUBCONSCIOUS PASSWORD: A trip into the strange mind of Chris Landreth, as he tries to remember his friend John's name but instead sees his mother as Ayn Rand and H.P. Lovecraft explains the correct way to pronounce Cthulu (the "h" is guttural.)
THE VIDEO DATING TAPE OF DESMONDO RAY AGED 33 AND 3/4: Won't you please love this weirdo, or at least love his dad?

Then it was back to lounge for several more beers to get me in the right frame of mind for my next film--LOADED. Alex is an alcoholic and drug addict who is robbed by a hooker in the opening scenes. His father, who has always bailed him out, is sick of this shit and so calls his friends Raza and Ethan to help him. Raza is the career-oriented family man while Ethan's more of the partying L.A. actor. Alex is just wasted in San Diego and they have to get him up to San Francisco to check into a rehab facility. Wacky road-trip hijinx ensue, mostly having to do with Alex thwarting their plans and partying like a madman. A wonderfully made movie, with lots of fun but also (despite my joking to the contrary) a serious heart that shows the dangers of addiction and destructive behavior.

Then just a quick drink at the VIP Soiree at Zero 1 Garage (courtesy of Catering With a Cause) and then next door to the California for the silent film THE HANDS OF ORLAC (1924.) Orlac is a famous concert pianist who is badly injured in a train crash. The doctors rescue him and using an experimental procedure graft New hands onto him. The only problem is the donor--a murderer who was condemned to die. But the doctors assure him that it's the mind and the heart that control his hands, they don't have a mind of their own. That doesn't keep him from having bad dreams, and losing all his concert work. And when the police find the fingerprints of the executed murderer at the site of a new murder, it looks like pretty damning evidence. A pretty awesome movie and of course Dennis James rocked it on the Mighty Wurlitzer organ with a few little theremin touches for added sci-fi creepiness. And Michael Pecak joined in on the grand piano for that extra concert pianist feel.

Then I caught BURKHOLDER, Taylor Guterson's follow up to OLD GOATS using star Bob Burkholder (renamed Teddy in the movie) in his final starring role (unfortunately, the 90 year old Burkholder passed away after filming.) Teddy lives in the basement apartment of his best friend Barry (Britton Crosley, also of OLD GOATS) and has for decades. But Teddy is getting on in years, more than a little senile, and Barry is worried about him. At first his eccentricities are kind of charming--he's really into photography right now, even if he takes a lot of pictures with the lens cap off. And you have to admire his determination to remain active, even if it doesn't always seem like a good idea. The scenes of the two best friends in "couples" therapy is simultaneously hilarious and heartwarming, and they reveal that Barry has his own problems, particularly with nightmares. A climactic wilderness retreat for seniors likewise ends with a charming low-key combination of comedy and pathos. While OLD GOATS challenged stereotypes about seniors clinging not just to life but to the enjoyment of life, BURKHOLDER pushes that challenge to the extreme, exploring when--if ever--the enjoyment of life might actually run out before life itself.

And finally I ended the night with APP. And I want to take a moment to note the cool symmetry of starting the day with FRIENDED TO DEATH and ending with this cool Dutch movie about a literal killer app (with an accompanying app to go along with it.) Anna is a typical young college woman, always fiddling with her cell phone. She discovers a helpful new personal assistant, IRIS (Siri backwards?) was auto-installed on her phone. At first IRIS is helpful. And then embarrassing. And then downright deadly, as it takes out anyone who tries to delete it. The movie itself is a cool, well-made thriller, but it also comes with a gimmick. "Second Screen" technology allows you to download the IRIS app that will give you extra content. It's not a whole lot of extra content, I'd estimate that generously it does something for about 20% of the movie. It starts with an image of a news article referencing the opening scenes. Then you get to see alternate angles of some scenes (some are just random, some from her phone's point of view.) You get to see an embarrassing video of Anna's butt just seconds before the rest of the character's in the movie do. And probably the best feature is that you get to see some text messages characters in the movie are sending each other off-screen.

As for the Second Screen's actually pretty cool, but not at all necessary. Especially when you have to read subtitles, it's probably better to just watch the movie through once, then watch it a second time with IRIS. It's also my understanding that it's triggered by audio cues in the movie, so it should work without a data connection and if you're watching the movie at home--but I'm not sure about it. Also, you should set your phone to vibrate and be aware that IRIS will vibrate seconds before any content shows up on screen. So you don't have to keep looking at your phone to see if it's doing anything, it will alert you  (it took me a while to figure that out, and I think it's useful to know.) As for the distraction of a cell phone in a theater--that's normally something that I consider worth a savage beating, if not execution on the spot. But when the filmmaker intends for it to be seen that way, that's another matter. I always sit in the front row, so I wasn't distracted by everyone else's phone, just my own. But friends of mine who sat in the back thought it wasn't distracting at all, and was part of the experience. Cool movie, and a cool gimmick to go along with it.

Then I invited whatever filmmakers and fans were still around back to my suite at the Fairmont for drinks and partying until about 4 am. But I was still up and ready for the first VIP lounge beer of Saturday at 10.

Total Running Time: 563 minutes
My Total Minutes: 357,925

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Jason goes to Cinequest--Day 10

Up early, at the lounge by 10 am, and drink, drink drink. Then time for some movies.

First up was the Norwegian thriller/drama IT'S ONLY MAKE BELIEVE. Jenny has a bit of a criminal past. Like, 'she's spent 10 years in prison for shooting a man' type of criminal past. But now she's out, looking for a fresh start with her young daughter. But when the bank won't give her a loan to fix up her shithole of a home (you know, to make it livable for her daughter) she turns back to her drug-dealing past. And that just puts her deeper in debt, not just monetary debts but favor debts. And they threaten her daughter, too, which is just going too far. Lead actress Silje Salomonsen does a fantastic job, and her innocent-looking beautiful face (especially when she's with her daughter) creates a stark contrast to the dangerous crime-world she's trapped in.

Then back to the lounge for another drink, and then the Vietnamese comedy FUNNY MONEY. A comedy about bad luck and unintentional counterfeiting, our hero is the ironically named Lucky Loc. He runs a company making fake paper money and luxury goods to burn as an offering to your ancestors (it's an Asian thing, you burn paper of a nice fancy suit to your grandfather, he is nicely dressed in heaven, etc. I happened to know that from my Asian friends, and perhaps if you didn't know it would be a little confusing.) He specializes in making the most realistic paper products possible, even texturing the paper and adding leather scents to his paper Luis Vuitton handbags. Of course, having fake money that's overly authentic can be a problem, and he accidentally pays a salesgirl with one of his "funny money" bills. And that causes his luck to just...suck. And, weirdly, it causes her luck to be awful, too. Meanwhile, his skills at authenticity attracts a gang of Chinese criminals who sucker him into making counterfeit $100 bills for them. And wacky, wacky hijinx ensue. That was a lot of fun.

And then I ran to the nearby screen for the comedy NOTHING IN LOS ANGELES. Writer/Director Alexander Tovar stars as Quinn, a sort of chubby Woody Allen of Los Angeles, attempting to write an artsy screenplay about a screenwriter named Alexander who is trying to write a screenplay. Meanwhile he is distracted by the vapidity of the industry. His best friend is cheating on his wife--with a man. He is falling for his best friend's wife even though he's in a committed relationship. That relationship is with a woman twice his age though (50 to his 25) and there's even explicit speculation that he's only in the relationship to get an experience to write about in his screenplay. Meanwhile his friend is actually making a movie--a feature based on a short about a filmmaker trying to make a feature out of a short about a retarded kid in a wheelchair who wants to be a boxer (the kid, not the wheelchair. That's just stupid, why would a wheelchair want to be a boxer?) And it's chock full of iconic L.A. landmarks, my favorite being the Original Pantry, although they chose instead to focus the action in the HMS Bounty. It's a pretty funny movie, even if it doesn't exactly amount to much, but as a former L.A-lien (my preferred term,) I like seeing it get sent up like that.

Then I ambled over to the Soiree at Brittania Arms, finally got my phone working at the Verizon store along the way. And while I was there, I met the filmmakers of AS IT IS IN HEAVEN, had a drink with them, and then according to my rules I had to see their movie. Previously I was planning to see MYSTERY ROAD, but if Hugo Weaving is too important to have a drink with me, screw him. Anyway, AS IT IS IN HEAVEN is a wonderfully made cult movie. That is, it's a movie about a cult, not what is typically meant by a "cult movie." In the opening scenes, David is baptized and joins a small religious community. One year later he's a leader in that community, as they welcome a new member, a young Asian woman. Their prophesied judgement day is just a month away, when their prophet Edward passes away after a fall. His last words are to David, expressing sorrow at his failure to lead them into sufficient purity, and asking David to lead them for the final month. And David takes it up whole-heartedly, instituting a fast until their final day. This does not sit well with Eamon, Edward's son who knows that Edward never would have done something so dangerous. While David could have easily come off as something of a psychotic asshole, he doesn't. It's very, very important to see that David is genuinely doing what he thinks is right to prepare his flock for salvation--even if it means starving an infant because no one is exempt from the fast. Similarly, in defying him Eamon is not looking for a power struggle, he's genuinely doing what he thinks is right, believing that David is a false or mistaken prophet. The story and performances are rich, textured, and nuanced. And the ending, which I won't spoil, is handled with subtlety, style, and grace. I am pretty open about not being a believer, but I like the way this story was presented much more than if I had seen something that was mocking religion or showing how stupid and foolish cult members are. These cult members aren't stupid, they have something they believe in deeply and are crushed if it isn't true--and that phenomenon is true of anyone who believes anything deeply.

And finally the last show started with the PTP short CHECKMATE. A blind teenage chess master challenges a wealthy landlord to a game of chess to get his father's farm back. A cool, stylish story of revenge, justice, and honor.

And then...HAPPENINGS OF THE EIGHTH DAY...happened (oddly, on the 10th day of Cinequest.) This movie is...just weird. On the one hand, it's a long meta-joke about making the movie. On the other, it's...well, maybe it's just evil. I'll get back to that. It opens with shots of silent films, so that had me interested. Then it's shot all over San Jose, so it was cool to identify all the places I know. But then...I guess there's a plot, it's just a plot about making the movie. And censorship's never really explained. They've burned through so many sound men that their new guy is a mute...and quite possible deaf (in talking to the director afterwards he confirmed their sound guy was not actually deaf, but it was an elaborate plot to intentionally put bad sound in parts of the movie.) And now the evil part--it very often quickly cuts between slapstick comedy and scenes of horror--Auschwitz, 9/11, etc. So you laugh, and then you suddenly feel bad for laughing. Or it even happens so quickly you don't have time to feel bad and you continue laughing through Auschwitz. Or you don't laugh at all and you cry through those scenes. Or you feel angry, or numb. It's a challenging movie, very difficult to watch, and I'm as unconvinced that it was successful as I am unsure of what it is it was trying to do anyway. It's a movie that reminds me of early David Cronenberg student films. Not directly, but in the fact that if you just watched Cronenberg's student work you could easily dismiss it. It only gains meaning once he became "David Cronenberg." Similarly, if director Arya Ghavamian goes on to have an important enough film career that it becomes worth studying his early work, we might find that the germ of many of his ideas were in this movie. So check back 10, 20, 30 years from now, and maybe it will turn out that I was at the world premiere of genius. But for now...I doubt it.

Total Running Time: 456 minutes
My Total Minutes: 357,362

Friday, March 14, 2014

Jason goes to Cinequest--Day 9

Only 4 films on Wednesday, it was a light day (because I had a gap in my schedule where I had seen all the films that were playing)

The first film of the day was VICTORIANA, a nice drama/thriller about the dangers of gentrification. Tim and Sophie Becker buy a rundown Brooklyn Brownstone. They want to be good landlords, and not kick any of the long term tenants out. But there are only two tenants--one is a spoiled rich girl living cheap in her deceased grandmother's rent-controlled apartment. Suddenly less sympathy for her. And the other one is a cranky old woman. In fact, in the move-in party she starts screaming at them through the floor and threatening to kill them and their friends. The cops won't do anything, so they just have to live with her. At least, for a little bit. An accident with a paint stripper kinda slits her throat and she bleeds out in the hallway. And instead of going to the cops (because it looks pretty bad) they just decide to take care of it on their own. That, and money problems, put quite a strain on their relationship. And it looks for a while like it will be a story about dumb criminals doing dumb things (like ineffectually mopping up the blood with paper towels. It made me invent a crime-scene Swiffer(tm) in my head.) And it came perilously close to losing me. But it redeemed itself with an ending I kinda loved, which I won't spoil her but if you follow my twitter account you can figure it out.

Then I had a long break where I had the best of intentions of taking a nap and getting some work done. But somehow I spent the whole time drinking and joking around in the VIP lounge.

And then it was time for CONFESSIONS OF A WOMANIZER. Loosely based on Miguel Ali's battle with sex addiction, it's the story of Ritchie, a handsome young man looking to bed a different woman every night. He spends a lot of time in a diner with his best friend downing junk food and talking about getting some stink on his hang-low. And then boom--Garey Busey pops up out of nowhere to give sage advice like expounding on love by asking "If you licked my asshole would it change your life?" I wish I could remember all of the hilariously filthy things that are said in the movie ("yogurt squirter" is a particular fine one.) Needless to say, Ritchie has to hit rock-bottom, and the movie actually opens there with him in jail with a transgender prostitute (Kelly Mantle.) Ultimately, as filthy as it is it's got quite a nice heart. And I'm totally on board with their Oscar campaign for both Garey Busey and Kelly Mantle. It's not every movie where I can hug the director afterwards, call him "Sugar Booger," tell him he has a beautiful asshole, and have it make sense in context (and not be too gay.)

Then I spent a little time at the VIP Soiree at Loft and I was back again for more movies.

The next show started with the short PARK ARCADIA. Produced locally by SJSU's Spartan Studios, it's the story of a young woman and the watch her father invented. Well, it's more than a watch, it allows her to jump through parallel dimensions. And she uses it to try to prevent her father's death, in what becomes an exploration of what's really real when all possible realities are within reach. A cool long-ish short (at 24 minutes) that I (and many others in the audience) would like to see expanded into a feature. 

And that was paired (as far as I can tell, for no reason other than running time)  with theshort-ish (55 minutes) feature documentary DEEP CITY. An exploration of the early days of soul music in Miami, and the titular independent record label that released most of it. Founded by Willie Clarke and Johnny Pearsall, it existed for a while and released quite a collection of hits, both local and national. And the music was cool, and the story...not so engaging. I'm not sure I got anything more out of this than listening to early Miami soul music for 55 minutes. But the music was cool, so maybe that's enough.

And then I ended the night with the controversial Indian film PAPILIO BUDDHA. This is banned in India, at least in it's uncut form. To show an edited form there they had to make over 50 cuts, including bleeping out the name "Ghandi." It's the story of the Dalit people--a collective term for landless people (usually untouchables if you follow the caste system)--and their mistreatment at the hands of an unjust system. Sankaran catches butterflies with his gay American lover, in the opening scenes he catches the rare Papilio Buddha of the title. Meanwhile his father fights for Dalit rights, his people are tortured and displaced. One woman tries to make a living driving an auto-rickshaw cab. That's a traditionally male job, and her mistreatment (okay, call it what it is--beating, rape, torture) is the worst of all. This is a powerful film, politically charged (there's a climactic showdown with the neo-Ghandian party, which kind of explains why Ghandi had to be bleeped out of the approved cut) that makes you sad and angry. Quite a film to end the day on.

Total Running Time: 370 minutes
My Total Minutes: 356,906

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Jason goes to Cinequest--Day 8

Another day, another five films.

First up was MASTERPIECE: FRANK MILLER'S THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS. Let me sum up this extended piece of hero-worship for you. Oh, Frank Miller, you're awesome! You're so great! You're so BIG! Oh God, oh God, oh Goooooooooood! Hnnnnghuuuugh! Umm...sorry about the mess....

Anyway...the movie was actually well produced, and they got some impressive interviews. But there's no one who will challenge whether any of Frank Miller's decisions were perfect and brilliant and one of the greatest works of literature of the 80s. I don't know what this has to offer someone who isn't already a fan, and I don't know what it can add to someone who is already a fan. I guess, other than the scene I described above. And I suppose there's some value to (metaphorically) orgasming to something you love. But that happened in a public theater, dude!

Then I had to run out on the last few minutes of MASTERPIECE (I don't know, maybe once they brought the colorer in to talk about his work, it redeemed the film?) to see THE DAVID DANCE. David is a shy, soft-spoken man. Except when he's on the air, hosting Gay Talk, where he's Danger Dave. Danger Dave is the charismatic hero of the gay community of Buffalo, New York, dishing out humor, sympathy, love and music, while challenging the local Christian radio host who is pushing conversion therapy on gay teenagers. David also loves his sister, but we learn early on that she has passed away (although he still has conversations with her all the time.) We also learn, through a deft process of sliding back and forth in time to reveal details in the right order, that both David and his sister had quite a bit of pain in their lives. His sister was thrice-divorced and yet still childless, so was looking to adopt from Brazil. David is...lonely. At least until he starts up a romance with his new colleague. It's a wonderfully engaging story with people I found very easy to love. And it made my girlfriend cry, but I forgive them, because she was crying because it was so good.

And speaking of people who are very easy to love, there aren't any of those in THE DIVORCE PARTY. Not that that's necessarily a bad thing, I've liked several movies without liking the characters as people, and this is one of them. Kip and Leena are splitting up, unable to withstand the stress of a car accident that Leena still has scars from. Kip is not ready to give up, but Leena wants to have one last big party with all their friends. It's not just the titular Divorce Party, it's also a Farewell Party as she's moving back home with her parent's in Scottsdale. So they have one last big night where Kip tries to win her back and Leena reexamines how she really feels (does she still love him? Is it really just about money and the financial support her parents can give that he can't?) And their friends all try to hook up with someone, because they're the type of young people who figure everyone hooking up at a party is completely normal. Even the uptight virgin seems to accept that's perfectly normal while she's looking for her perfect man (someone with a plan...and money.) It's a well made movie with a satisfying ending, it's just a lot of people I would not really want to go to a party with.

Then after a brief soiree at SP2 I was back at the Camera Cinemas for more movies, starting with the Italian/Slovenian comedy ZORAN, MY IDIOT NEPHEW. Paolo is the kind of man who knows what he wants in life--nothing more than an easy job and a place to get drunk every night (and maybe, to occasionally annoy his ex-wife.) And then, when his Slovenian grandma (or is it his aunt, Zoran's grandma?) passes away, he's left to take care of a nephew he's never met. While Paolo is large and boisterous, Zoran is small, skinny, bespectacled, and...just freakin' weird. This is pretty clearly not going to work out, the state is going to have to find someone else to foster Zoran, until...we learn that Zoran has one amazing skill. He always hits the bullseye in darts. Suddenly, seeing an easy money-maker, Zoran has become very dear to Paolo. And wacky hijinx ensue, of course, including Zoran falling in love. And a bunny rabbit! I like bunnies!

And finally I ended the night with WINTER JOURNEY, a controversial gay Russian film. Erik is a promising classical singer, with an upcoming audition for Schubert's Winterreise. One day on the bus, he is witness to an altercation in which Lyokha, a petty criminal, ends up stealing his phone and dropping a plastic lizard keychain in front of him. Erik is fascinated by him, and when they finally meet (Lyokha, in an insane kind of obsession doesn't care if he's arrested, he just wants his lizard back) Erik's nights of loneliness and drinking vodka are transformed into nights of wild abandon at gay clubs...and drinking vodka. And abuse, and misery (for Lyokha much more than Erik, but they both take a heck of a lot of abuse) but at least a lot more than a glimpse at the possibilities of sexual freedom. As a friend pointed out to me afterwards, it seems that for every country that goes through a process of acceptance of gays, there has to be a period of gay cinema that's all about the abuse and misery of it all. And this is likely to be a classic in the Russian version of that process.

Total Running Time: 471 minutes
My Total Minutes: 356,536

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Jason goes to Cinequest--Day 7

Another day, another 5 movies, another untold amount of beer.

We started the day with LAWRENCE & HOLLOMAN, a wacky comedy about a sad sack loser accountant (Glen Holloman) and his eternally optimistic, charismatic, charming, handsome salesman (Lawrence) who works at the same department store. Holloman is about ready to kill himself. But instead he has a drink with Lawrence to find out what makes the world work for him (Lawrence) while it seems to not even notice he (Holloman) exists. Lawrence is just a happy, happy guy, the eternal optimist dropping malapropisms all over the doggy-dog world. So Lawrence takes Holloman under his wing, and...Holloman decides to torture the crap out of him. See, it's just not fair that one person gets to  be so happy while another is so miserable. So to prove Lawrence's happiness is all because of his good luck, Holloman sets out to make his luck become very, very, very bad, in escalating and morbidly hilarious ways. And that is sickly awesome.

Shorts 7: Wait for It
ADRIFT: Fog, rolling in an out of the San Francisco Bay. That's all...nothing happens...and it's beautiful.
THE BRUNCHERS: A British couple, afraid they've become boring, decide to have brunch like all their hipster friends. An adventure to try to get a seat at new Toast, or even old Toast, or even Marmalade (where no one goes because it isn't hip.) Very funny.
GOLDFIELD: Finding gold is hard. Not killing each other after you've found it is even harder.
HALF SHAVED: The whole time I was trying to remember why this was so familiar and where I had seen it before. Turns out I hadn't; it was supposed to play in Cinequest last year and in looking up why it didn't, I discovered the screenplay. By pure chance, a barber happens to meet his former tormentor.
ME + HER: Cardboard characters on a journey of love, loss, life, and recycling.
MY FATHER'S TRUCK: A coming-of-age road journey in Vietnam, as a little girl follows her father around for the day as he makes a living giving rides on his truck. Sometimes to good people, sometimes to bad, and sometimes it's complicated.
THE TRYOUTS: A young American Muslim girl tries out for her school's cheer-leading squad. She's good, she's been practicing with her friends. But the issue of the uniform might be a problem. A problem that can no doubt be solved with a little creative teenage rebellion.

Shorts 3: Humor Me. Comedy shorts that are funny with the jokes and humorous situations that make you laugh!
#TWITTERKILLS: A woman is tormented by a stranger (or strange force) who is deleting her tweets and replacing them with tweets about what she's really doing. The horror, the horror!
BOWLING KILLERS: Killing for a living, bowling for fun. We see a mundane conversation about the big match, their uniforms, Flemish colors, etc.--all through the eyes of their latest contract victim, who is apparently unkillable. Very funny.
DATE OF THE DEAD: Exactly what it sounds like, a date with a zombie. But when you look past the rotting surface, you realize you have a lot in common. So don't blow it by coming on too strong.
THE GHOST PEPPER EATING CONTEST OF JEFFERSON COUNTY: A hilarious documentary about eating really, really, really hot peppers.
OLYMPIC AND WESTERN: A PRIMER ON THE TYPOGRAPHIC ORDER AND AND ARGUMENT FOR ITS PROPER USAGE IN THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT: The most important thing you will ever read and/or hear. So important that rather than try to sum it up, I will simply link to the full film on Vimeo.
REEL LIFE: A man who knows he's in a movie, and recognizes montages, cutaways, etc. He's on a date with a woman who is very confused about it. Especially when they go back to her place for a PG-13 edit of a love scene.
SUMI: A woman who makes a strange living on the phone, giving...many different services.
TEXAS: A dispute on the Texas/Oklahoma border, where a broken family tries to work it out and get back together.
THANK YOU, CABBAGE: An acclaimed female writer, the "songstress of the small" who embraces neo-domesticity, is confronted with what a freakin' jerk her husband is and finally reinvents herself. Um...all thanks to a cabbage.

And then just a little break before WHEN THE MAN WENT SOUTH, the first feature film shot in the Tongan language. The light-hearted narration explains from the beginning that this isn't an important story, or one with a deep lesson. It's just a bunch of stuff that happened. Flying Fox is beloved in his village. Enough so that he's the front-runner to be the new Headman. His only competition is a complete moron who is only under consideration because his father begged the current Headman. But first, Flying Fox must learn of the world, so he heads south to learn what he can learn. And he runs into villages who have been at war so long they can't remember why they're fighting. He studies the situation, thinks up clever solutions, and eventually decides it's time to return home. There he finds new challenges, and perhaps the lessons he learned in the south will help him. Or not. Maybe all that's really important is getting a well-prepared meal. A wonderful little gem of a film that provides a window into a different culture, shows us our similarities, and makes us laugh. At least, it made me laugh.

And finally the last film of the night started with the PTP short JASON AND ROY, which is an awesome title since I've been running around with my friend Roy all festival. But it's not actually about that, it's about Jason Collins, coming out as a gay professional basketball player. And it's about some other player named Roy who made some homophobic slur in a game. And mostly it's about two friends talking about that, and one learning something about his own homophobia.

And then the feature, BITE SIZE, about childhood obesity. By following a few children, it makes the epidemic personal instead of a statistical. Like Davion, a kid who was told he had the body of a football player, but can't even run a lap around the field. Or Moy, who likes playing video games and is trying to learn to eat right. Or Emily, who has been to fat camp a couple of times but always backslides when she gets home. Or KeAnna and her group of friends all going through a weight loss/healthy living program together with their diabetic counselor. A big recurring theme is how much the adults--be they parents or teachers--have to learn. And how bad it is for parents to keep up their bad habits when the kids are trying to be good (I'm looking at you, Moy's dad!) And most importantly, it's about realizing that obesity is a symptom of something else. And finding that problem, replacing food with another passion and realizing that the goal isn't about losing weight (especially not about losing weight quickly) but about finding what you're living for...that's what it's all about. And seeing Davion grow into actually being a football player and a bit of a leader--he seems to be the one who gets it the most. He might just grow up to be okay (of course, I hope that for everyone.) And that's pretty cool.

Total Running Time: 466 minutes
My Total Minutes: 356,065

Monday, March 10, 2014

Jason goes to Cinequest--Day 6

So, with less than 3 hours of sleep, I was up and at it again, having a couple of beers in the lounge before the first movie. The big difference on Sunday was that instead of sneaking an extra beer into the theater, I snuck in Red Bull.

The first film was THE FRONT MAN, a surprising and wonderful long-form documentary about Jim Wood, the front man for The Loaded Poets, still chasing that elusive world-wide fame after 17 years. Actually, the film was shot by his friend Paul Devlin over the course of 13 years so know they're chasing fame for 30 years (and in the Q&A swore they'd keep playing music together until they were physically unable.) And the magic of the movie is really in the under-used long form documentary. Life can't be understood in the moment. There are so many movies that follow people around for a year, and while many of them are great they then end with a little coda about what the people are up to now (after maybe a year of post-production work) and they're completely different. If THE FRONT MAN had ended after a year of filming, it would be a story about Jim Wood, wannabe rock superstar, entertaining guy who never quite made it big, and who jokes around with his loving wife about all the reasons they should never have a baby. But by following him around for so long, it's a story about a loving father who realizes the blessing of being there with his daughter (who turns 10 in the movie) and having a stable day job while still getting all the fun of making music with his friends whenever he can. It's the story of a guy who talks with the people he knows who did make it big and realizes that they envy him because they were on the road when their children were growing up and missed out on the greatest things in life. And that's the kind of story anyone can relate to, whether or not you want to be a rock star, and whether or not you care about someone trying to be a rock star.

And then I took a quick break from the movies to catch a bit of the Day of the Writer. In particular, the pitch session and award presentation for the screenwriting finalists, and the Maverick Spirit Award and interview with Neil Gaiman. I don't how much I can say. He's abso-fucking-lutely awesome. He's very funny, he started by reading a story about adventure (a piece that was rejected by NPR's This American Life, about his grandmother calling everything an adventure while hiding the fact that his grandfather had some real, unbelievable adventures during his military service.) Then he was interviewed by Cinequest's own Vijay Vanniarajan, which I have to say was kind of weird. Because I've known Vijay for years, and he was always kind of this goofy kid who I would joke around with, make fun of, and molest with...overly aggressive hugging...yeah, let's call it that. And there he was talking to a great writer. Gaiman did deftly deflect his first question, which was overly effusive in its praise. Vijay kept it playful, allowing Neil to choose each question from a category--Who are You (as a person, nothing about his work), Body of Work, Writing Process, or Miscellaneous. And Neil was always funny and personable, but also incisive and thought-provoking about how important information is passed on through stories--like legends of the gods becoming angry and making the mountain explode tells us--for centuries after civilizations fall--that you're living near volcanic mountains. Or how scary stories make us (as kids...and I think sometimes as adults) practice being brave, and that practice is so valuable later when you need to be brave for real. Oh, he also answered a question (from the audience, not from Vijay) about his epic mop of hair. That's been my favorite repeating theme of Cinequest this year--meeting people with epic hair.

Anyway, back to that point about kids learning to be brave. That's a perfect lead-in to the next movie I saw, the Filipino production A THIEF, A KID, AND A KILLER. We open with little Maximo, a student returning to class after a period of absence. The lesson of the day is people who are important in your life. So Maximo tells them about Nico, who taught him to pee standing up and how to make sandwiches. When the teacher asks, "Is Nico your father?" Maximo replies, "No, he's a heroin addict who broke into my home and held me hostage...and he was my friend." So...that grabs your attention right there. After a jewel heist gone wrong, skilled thief but born loser Nico is on the run from a gang of corrupt cops along with his cousin Lloyd (who is maybe willing to sell him out to save his own skin.) So, we got the Kid Maximo, Nico is the thief, and the killer is closing in on them. It's a tight little thriller, and a very funny story, made on a shoestring budget when a studio project in the Philippines fell through. And it was good fun, although this was also the time of the festival when my exhaustion was catching up with me and I struggled to stay awake. I bet I would enjoy it even more if I were well-rested.

Then I rushed over to the VIP Soiree, which was the Maverick Chef Event at the Fairmont.

And then a very moving and powerful story, KNOW HOW. It's written and acted by foster care youth in New York, and based on an off-Broadway musical that was the work of the Possibility Project. The stories are brutal. Abused by parents, bullied by other kids in the system, living on the streets, getting high, stealing old ladies' purses... There were several times when I, from my white, upper-middle class lifestyle looked at that and...well, this seems like a weird thing to say but I don't understand why they aren't more violent. At least, I'm sitting there analyzing their situation, seeing that those who have the power to fix things aren't willing to use that power...and I see how tempting it is to think that lashing out is the only thing you can do. And the fact that these kids have found a different way...have found a way to bring their stories to the world and (hopefully) get some reforms implemented (they have shown the film to the director of ACS)...well, that's the power of movies. That's what putting the power of the dominant storytelling form of our time in the hands of people with important stories to tell is all about.

Ya know, it's weird when the standard question from filmmakers afterwards is "did you enjoy it?" and you have to check yourself because these aren't the kinds of stories that you enjoy. You are moved by them, you maybe cry a little, you want to tell everyone to get involved at least by liking their Facebook page. But "enjoy" it? That's the wrong word.

And finally, I ended the night with IT WAS YOU, CHARLIE. It's set over the 40th, 41st, and 42nd birthday in the life of Abner Roth (diminutive Michael D. Cohen, with a pair of the most expressive eyes I've ever seen) and it took me just a little bit to get used to the jumping back and forth in time. But there are plenty of clues, once you're aware enough to see them. Like is he an acclaimed artist (at 40) or is he a sad, lonely doorman on the graveyard shift (at 42.) The film actually opens with a car crash (heard, but only the aftermath is seen) and over the course of the film, while we as an audience learn about what happens, Abner reaches some sort of...well I won't say resolution but he has to come to terms with what happened somehow, get over survivor's guilt, and reconnect with his family. And spritely, cheerful taxi driver Zoe is just the person to help him work through it all. At least, if he can avoid the mysterious men who are chasing him. I really loved this movie, and it makes me keep coming back to something Neil Gaiman said about how stories do something really amazing--they first entertain you, and then they sneak in important information. Whether that information is "those mountains are volcanoes" as in Gaiman's example, or "your family loves you and is important" as in IT WAS YOU, CHARLIE, the mechanism is very much the same.

Then I spent just a little bit of time at the Maverick Meetup at Loft, where I got into a bit of a challenge with head programmer Mike Rabehl over who gives the best hugs at Cinequest. So...look for that competition to continue.

Filmmakers whose films I've added to my schedule through drinking with them: THE DAVID DANCE and CONFESSIONS OF A WOMANIZER. Unfortunately, it's getting late enough in the festival that I had my first drink with a filmmaker whose film I am unable to fit in my schedule (barring an encore day screening) and that was WHITE RABBIT. Fortunately, that was in the pack of press screeners I got, so I will still be able to see it, just not on the big screen.

Total Running Time: 349 minutes
My Total Minutes: 355,599

Jason goes to Cinequest--Day 5

Holy crap! That was a fairly epic Saturday. And it’s only the first Saturday of the festival.

Anyway, after a small get-together in my suite at the Fairmont, I got a little bit of sleep and woke up early to start drinking in the VIP lounge at about 10:00 am. A few Stellas later and I was ready for the first film, NEVER. Twenty-something Denim has just moved to Seattle and is working as a graphic designer, mostly making t-shirt designs. He hardly knows anyone in town so he jumps at an invitation from a co-worker to go to a local club. There he sees Nikki (Zelda Williams, daughter of Robin Williams) singing, and is smitten. The only little problem is she’s a lesbian. But they become friends and she shows him all the cool spots in Seattle. Meanwhile his co-worker is falling for him while he is falling for Nikki no matter how impossible that is. The movie is split into two distinct halves, one focusing on Denim and one on Nikki. The Nikki section is several months later, Denim has settled well into Seattle, but still has impossible feelings for Nikki. A carefully crafted, astute look at complicated modern relationships, with some fantastic acting and beautifully raw singing by Zelda Williams (I’m assuming she did the singing herself.)

Then I couldn’t stay for the Q&A because I had to run over to the California Theater for the next show, starting with the Picture the Possibilities short DANCE. A young woman is an aspiring dancer hoping for a dance scholarship to college. When her boyfriend gets a soccer scholarship, they talk about how unfair it is that she doesn’t have one and what it will take to go to college.

And that was the lead-in to THE RUGBY PLAYER. A homecoming of sorts for this documentary about Mark Bingham, a local Los Gatos kid who played rugby for Cal Berkeley, started his own PR firm, and died on United Flight 93 on 9/11. We start with that last one, with footage of his mom visiting the memorial to the victims of Flight 93. We then go back for a loving look at his life, from childhood right up to a phone call during the tragedy. And while we can never really know what happened on that day, the view of pretty much everyone who knew him is that he must have somehow been involved with rushing the cockpit and saving unknown numbers of lives while sacrificing his own. Oh, and I haven’t even gotten to the fact that he was gay. I guess that’s pretty important, too, what with all the stereotype-shattering and what not; and the fact that the international gay rugby championship is a battle for the Bingham Cup, named after him. I haven’t even mentioned that Cinequest is the first non-LGBT-specific festival to play this film, which is both freakin’ cool and a little bizarre, since this certainly has a lot of appeal beyond his sexual orientation. Nor have I mentioned what an absolutely awesome person his mom is. While this is supposedly a bit of a hero piece on Mark, it kinda become hero worship of his mom by the end. Which is really freakin’ cool because she was there at the screening and I got to give her a standing ovation and a hug. Sweet!

Then, for the first time in the festival, I actually had a significant amount of time to relax. So I did the smart thing—hung out in the lounge drinking a ton with filmmakers until it was time for my next movie.

That next movie started with the short THE SHOEMAKER, an interesting look at a 90-something year old man who has been fixing shoes in a small Brooklyn shop for over 60 years.

And then the feature, A IS FOR ALEX starring and about Alex Orr (director of BLOOD CAR, producer of CONGRATULATIONS!), his wife Katie Orr, and eventually introducing his son Truman. Allegedly born out of how insufferable Alex became in real life when he learned they were having a baby, they turn the pregnancy into an insane adventure of insecurity, mechanical bees, corporate advertisement on the moon, and busting his mom out of jail (for child pornography of all things.) Damn, I think I just gave the entire film away and still left you with no clue what the film is like. It’s funny, that’s what it’s like. Whether he’s waxing hopeful that brain chemistry will kick in and make him love his son, or he’s breaking the fourth wall and giving notes to the actor playing his father, there’s an insane, free-wheeling inventiveness that makes it pretty easy to throw any crazy idea into the story and watch them somehow all stick.

Then the VIP Soiree at Blackbird Tavern looked too crowded, so I just took a few friends up to my suite to relax and have a few drinks.

And then back to the movies with ACTING LIKE ADULTS, an almost-mumblecore comedy about romance and a scavenger hunt in Los Angeles. Brett and Shannon go on a fun couples scavenger hunt around L.A. But when Shannon discovers right at the beginning that the prize is a diamond ring—perfect for proposing—the day starts off on an awkward note. Over the course of the day, as competition and pettiness bring out the worst in each of them, it becomes kind of clear that this relationship is probably not going to last. But it’s not really the story of a dissolving relationship. It’s a story of two people who love each other—there are scenes of tenderness where you can see why they’re together—who have a lot of…compatibility issues. And with a married couple of friends who can provide expert commentary on how screwed up they are, and a run-in with his ex and her new boyfriend…well, relationships are complicated, funny things. And this is a funny and deceptively simple movie about complicated, funny things.

Then it was time for a real treat, ETERNITY: THE MOVIE, the story of the greatest contemporary R&B duo of the 80’s. Sensitive Todd moves to L.A. to make music, meets his beautiful and friendly neighbor and teams up with BJ, his saxophone playing co-worker at BJ Maxx, the best store for great fashion on a budget. Bearing a striking similarity to Hall and Oates, they have a #1 hit with the song “Make Love, Not Just Sex.” Their “brilliant” lyrics all come from Todd’s sense of heartbreak, while their bodacious sound comes from BJ’s absolute drive to score with a different hot chick every night. A hilarious send-up of the 80’s, with epic hair, Teb soda, Mr T Cereal, bubble baths, and Martin Cove (“Sweep the leg!”) smacked with a VHS of THE KARATE KID. Funny to the max! And it’s the type of dumb, goofball comedy that totally works because the actors totally commit and actually take it seriously. If that didn’t work, it would’ve been just a bunch of jerk-offs making fun of the 80s, and where’s the challenge in that?

And then the midnight movie, the horror-comedy LOVE IN THE TIME OF MONSTERS.  A couple of sisters travel to the remote vacation lodge Uncle Svetko’s All-American Family Lodge. The specialty there is Bigfoot tours, and the boyfriend of one of the girls works there as a Bigfoot. Anyway, toxic waste turns the bigfoot actors and lots of woodland critters into crazed mutants with a taste for human flesh. If only the on-site Abraham Lincoln impersonating doctor can synthesize an antidote before everyone suffers horrible, hilarious deaths. Yeah, this movie is pretty freakin’ awesome.

Then it was back to my suite where I drank with several friends and filmmakers until about 5:30 am (Damn you, Daylight Savings Time!) And I was still up again to get the first beer in the lounge at 10:00 am. Because it’s Cinequest, and I Cinequest like a rock star!


Total Running Time: 503 minutes
My Total Minutes: 355,251

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Jason goes to Cinequest—Day 4

The big first weekend begins! I wasn’t at the VIP lounge quite at opening time (10:00 am) because I actually have a day job for which I’m working remotely on nights and mornings. But I was still there in time to get a beer or two (or three) before running off to the first movie, ABOVE DARK WATERS (TUMMAN VEDEN PÄÄLLÄ.) It’s a Finnish dark drama through a child’s eyes, written and directed by Peter Franzen, the star of HEART OF A LION. Little Pete seems to have a happy childhood--family, friends, a birthday party, cool grandparents, and a beautiful imagination. Wait, let’s go back to that first one, family. Usually his family is loving, except when his stepdad has a few drinks. Or when his biological dad shows up and tries to reconnect, throwing a little tension in there. Actually, his biological dad is pretty cool, it’s his stepdad and his drinking that’s the problem, especially when he gets abusive. And he gets abusive far too often. And, to complicate matters further, he’s a cop so maybe it’s no good to call the cops for help (or maybe there is, but he at least threatens as if it isn’t.) This is a wonderful slice-of-life drama of one year in Pete’s life (specifically, his seventh year) that’s full of whimsy and wonder as well as darkness and turmoil. And yet, through deft direction and some excellent performances, it all holds together well and even the magical glowing friend who appears whenever he needs it makes good sense.

Oh yeah, and while the villain of ABOVE DARK WATERS is alcoholism and abusiveness, I should remind everyone at Cinequest that if you see me drinking all you have to fear is an enthusiastic hug!

And then I saw my favorite film of the festival so far, HEAVENLY SHIFT, a bloody comedy set in a night shift ambulance in Budapest. Milan is a Croat soldier who has gone AWOL and fled Sarajevo. He simply walks up to the border, throws a stone at the sign to confirm the guard is asleep, and continues on his way. And when a wacky late night incident in a market shows himself as a skilled paramedic, he is hired on the spot. His colleagues are a cynical doctor who can predict time of death to the minute (and doesn’t put in any more effort than necessary) and a crazy guy who carries around a ninja sword because he’s a huge fan of the movie AMERICAN NINJA (any movie that can pull off an AMERICAN NINJA reference already has me hooked.) He also meets the shifty undertaker who has a scheme to smuggle people out of the Balkans using spare coffins. So just raise enough money and he can bring his girlfriend—a nurse in a Sarajevo hospital—to live with him. All he has to do is starve himself on rice with no meat and eventually he’ll have what he needs. But instead, what he needs is many nights of insanity that give him a new perspective.  Absolutely hilarious, and if saying so makes me kind of a sick bastard, then I’m a sick bastard.

Then I ran out right when the credits started so I could run over to Shorts 6: Docu-nation and tell everyone in the theater how awesome HEAVENLY SHIFT is! Oh, and also watch some short documentaries.
AMERICAN LAWN: The love affair with neatly manicured grass in front of your house—and its pros and cons—are explored in multiple interviews. Is it a sign of status? Is it wasteful and ruining the environment? Is moving a chore? Is it relaxing? Is it “work” you can do while drinking a beer? Heck yeah it is!
DISARMING FALCON: Travel to Qatar, where we meet a charming group of falconers training and then hunting with them.
ETCHED IN SKIN: A look at tattooing as art. In particular, whether it has become too popular and ubiquitous. And whether the artists are paid to make exactly what the customer wants or if they can really pursue their own vision (in collaboration with their canvases.)
FABIAN DEBORA, A LIFE IN ART: Some really cool looking art. That is all. And…actually I kind of dozed off in this one. But I was at least awake enough to see some of the art.
HERD IN ICELAND: A look at native Icelandic horses, and the people who take care of them.  There’s not much more to say, except that this movie was beautiful and really captured these people’s love for their horses.
MARGO: A hospice worker who has seen many people through their final days—including succumbing to cancer—now finds herself facing her own death from cancer. No matter how often you see death, you’re never ready for it.
STICKY: A partially animated film about the discovery and captive breeding of the phasmid a New Zealand invertebrate that was thought extinct but was discovered on one shrub on one tiny, craggy island. And about the scientists who nursed it back from the brink and will hopefully introduce it back into the wild some day.

Then I had time for just the briefest of stops at the VIP Soiree at Scott’s Seafood. Two drinks, lots of filmmakers, and then ran out to the California Theatre for my next film.

And that film was SOLD, the narrative version of LIFE IS LOVE set in India. Lakshmi is a little Nepali girl, and when tragedy strikes her family she is sold to an Indian madam on the pretense that she will work for her by cleaning and cooking. Then when she pays off her debt she can go back home a hero. Of course, that’s not how this works. She is trapped in a brothel now, and there’s not much she can do about it. The “work” scenes are unflinching while still being tasteful, and the camaraderie of the girls is…strange. They can all sympathize with each other, but nobody can trust anyone else. There’s even a rumor that Americans show up to “rescue” them just so they can steal your kidneys and leave your body to rot in the street. Which makes the job of the Americans who really are trying to help them (Gillian Anderson as a photographer and David Arquette as an investigator) a little more difficult. But Lakshmi is clever, strong, and determined and…well, I don’t want to give away spoilers but with all the horror she experiences she needed a happy ending. And with the help of Hope House she eventually does get a happier ending than most girls in her predicament.

Then I was off to the San Jose Repertory Theater for A PRACTICAL GUIDE TO A SPECTACULAR SUICIDE, one of the best titles of the festival (right up there with KISS ME YOU FUCKING MORON.) A Scottish comedy shot on an unbelievably small budget (note to the filmmakers, never reveal how small your budget was. At most say, “under $1 million.” That’s low enough to impress people and doesn’t give away enough for them to lowball you on a distribution deal.) Tom Collins has…an awesome name, in my opinion (but what do I know, my name is slang for penis.) And apparently he’s got not much else going for him, at least judging by how often he tries to off himself. And by how often he fails, maybe dying isn’t what he was put on Earth to do. But he’s determined, and neither his court-ordered shrink (named Dr. Watson,) nor the grumpy old man he’s assigned to work for, nor the cute fellow patient he strikes up a friendship with can deter him from his goal. Well, heck, the fellow patient doesn’t even want to stop him, she just wants to help make it spectacular, always with fireworks. Lest you think it’s all just an excuse to make a bunch of jokes about killing yourself, it’s got some smarts, too. It’s probably the smartest slapstick comedy about suicide I’ve seen since…ever, maybe? I’m a little sleep deprived, but I can’t actually think of another one. Oh yeah, I think there was a Danish film called WILBUR WANTS TO KILL HIMSELF, that one might be competition but there’s not much more.

Then I had just enough time for one drink at the Maverick Meetup at South First Billiards, where I managed to meet lots more filmmakers, and then I was back to the Camera 12 for the midnight showing of BLOOD PUNCH. Milton wakes up with a hangover in a cabin. He throws up, finds a video screen with a message imploring him to watch, and sees a video of himself cutting two of his fingers off. This is especially odd because his fingers are completely intact this morning. Flashback to one day previous (give or take) and we learn that he’s a meth cook. And we meet the wild woman who breaks him out of rehab for one epic cook that will leave him set for life. They just have to beware of the third in their trio, her psychotic boyfriend. A little drinking, a little peyote-laced meth, a wild night…and that’s where Milton wakes up. Kinda. I’m dancing around the huge spoiler here, and everyone ends up describing the film as ‘XXXXXXXXX XXX crossed with…something violent and insane.’ Needless to say, the classic noir triangle of bad girl, worse ex, and good guy gets spun super-hard here, with a near-exhaustive list of kills (you know the old adage that if a gun is seen in act 1 it must be used by act 3? Well, what if a cabin full of weapons is seen in act 1?) despite a surprisingly small cast list. This was just one beautiful, bloody mind-fuck.

Then I was back at my luxury suite at the Fairmont for a little nightcap with some friends. No filmmakers showed up, but you’re all invited over tonight (Saturday night) and next weekend (Friday and Saturday.) Just find me and hit me up for my room number. Or decipher the magical code I left on Twitter/Facebook.

Drinking with filmmakers added the following films on my schedule:  A IS FOR ALEX, ACTING LIKE ADULTS, ETERNITY: THE MOVIE, Shorts 3: HUMOR ME. Well done people, this is how it’s done! Oh, and I finally met the director of DESERT FISH and we enjoyed the glory of our epic hair for a moment, but I haven’t drunk with him yet.

Total Running Time: 609 minutes
My Total Minutes: 354,748

Friday, March 7, 2014

Jason goes to Cinequest--Day 3

Another day of Cinequesting, another 5 movies. And at least that much alco-booze-ahol.

First up, the Finnish neo-Nazi movie HEART OF A LION (yeah, because I like to start the day on a light note.) Teppo just got out of prison, and is trying to make a go of it in civilized society. Even if that means heating his iron on the stove and patching up his dress shirt with duct tape. Needless to say, his job interview doesn't go well. So when local waitress Sari takes pity on him (when he doesn't even have 50 cents for a refill of coffee) and brings him back to her place, it seems like that's the only thing going right for him. But when she sees his Nazi tattoo the next morning, she kicks him out. He convinces her he's trying to change, and that's all well and good, but can he handle her son from a previous relationship? Oh yeah, that son, Ramu, is a black Muslim. And actually...after a bit of trying to kill each turns out that his love is stronger than his bigotry. It's just a question of whether or not it's strong enough to stand up to his neo-Nazi gang (and especially his little brother, on the run from the Army because 'won't take orders from a damn chink.') Wonderfully acted and a great, gripping story. Peter Franzén blew me away as the conflicted Teppo, and the climax is undoubtedly the most brutal and cathartic tattoo removal in history.

Then from Finland we traveled to Slovenia for CLASS ENEMY. All the students love their German teacher. But when she takes leave to go have her baby, she is replaced with cold, authoritarian teacher Robert Zupan. He starts by flatly telling everyone their grades should all be two points lower (to which the class clown replies "So I should have an H?") He seems like he just might have the tough love and guidance to make these kids special. But a suicide in class throws everything off track. Especially since all the students start blaming him (because he had a talk with the suicidal girl the day before.) Accusations of "Nazi methods"  are thrown about. The kids rebel in numerous ways (the climax being a provocative broadcast on the school radio station.) But as everyone takes harder looks at the situation and themselves, nothing is quite black and white. An exceptionally acted movie, tackling head-on big questions of life and how to teach such a rebellious generation. This was Slovenia's official submission as best foreign picture to the Oscars, and it's a pretty smart, challenging, and entertaining movie.

Then I had no time at all (not even enough to have a beer) to run to the neighboring auditorium for SHORTS 2: On the Edge of Adulthood. Which is a much better name for the program than my idea, "Let's see some kids' shorts." Ummm...anyway, short movies about children.
HOMESICK: An Australian family just moved to New York. And the little girl refuses to speak because she misses Australia. Did you know that Sydney Harbour Bridge was modeled after Hell Gate Bridge in New York? Because I didn't, and that's a pretty cool thing to learn.
A PARENTLESS TURN OF EVENTS: When their parents die, a smart young lady has to take care of her little brother without the nosy neighbor finding out.
RAVI AND JANE: A young Indian boy is new to his grade school in Australia. Jane is kind, and they become friends. But he has to leave again just before her birthday party. Exactly why is a mystery, but his parents are in some sort of situation. An interesting view through child's eyes.
MY FOREST: A young boy and his favorite tree. A bit surreal, as there seems to be no one else around. Very beautiful, and then melancholy as the only other person in the forest is a lumberjack cutting down a tree.
THE DIVE: The classic scene. A pool, in the hot French summer. A young boy observes the scene and prepares for his first jump off the high dive.
WOLF, ARE YOU HERE?: An 8 year old girl gets to the bottom of the death of a cow, in a wonderfully acted mini-thriller. Warning, there are scenes of dead cow that...whether or not they're faked...are pretty gross.
THE SLEEPING PLOT: Shorts programmer Chris Garcia told me this would be my favorite. He's a sick bastard. And he thinks I'm a sick bastard. And he's right, this was definitely my favorite.
SIX LETTER WORD: A young boy and his mom (Rumer Willis) are doing their best to survive. He loves crossword puzzles, to the point where if you try to take them away he freaks the heck out. She has to sell her body for money. And when she recognizes the school psychologist as a client, things get weird. (spoiler alert: The six letter word is "autism.")

Then I actually had a little bit of breathing room to head over to Il Fornaio for the VIP Soiree. A few free beers. A few bites of what snacks they had left. And schmoozing with a lot of filmmakers. I should remind everyone, my rule is that if I have a drink with a filmmaker, I have to see their film at the next possible opportunity (exceptions: If the film is playing in a morning/midnight slot when it has no competition, that's when I'll see it. Also, if I've already drunk with a filmmaker their movie has precedent. Drinks from previous years with returning filmmakers count. I.e., I will see A IS FOR ALEX.) Anyway, A PRACTICAL GUIDE TO A SPECTACULAR SUICIDE was added to my schedule, as was IT WAS YOU CHARLIE. It's a good system, my only worry is that feature film directors have so far been much better at it than shorts directors. And I don't like missing the shorts. So hit me up in the lounge, VIP Soirees, or Maverick Meetups, shorts directors!

Anyway, back on opening night I had a drink with Harry Knowles, so my next show was to watch him receive the Maverick Media Legacy award. There was a good long conversation with him (as top geek, he can go off on a subject and be entertaining and engaging for hours.) I'll just repeat paraphrase my favorite thing that Harry Knowles had to say--movies should be written about by people who love them. Too often critics go to movies to point out what's wrong, and it's more fun to go and see what's right. As someone who is often criticized for "loving everything I see" I'm in 100% agreement. Not that it isn't fun to totally rip into a movie now and then, but why bring up SAMUEL BLEAK (Cinequest 2011, worst film I've ever seen at Cinequest) now?

Then we settled into a great, clever, tight Hitchcockian flick, GRAND PIANO. Elijah Wood plays Tom Selznick, a once-great concert pianist who choked onstage 5 years ago and hasn't played since. He is married to a famous actress Emma (Kerry Bishé) who has arranged his comeback, playing in honor of his dearly departed and kind of crazy mentor. And once he's on stage, he finds there are threatening messages written on his sheet music. If he plays one wrong note, he'll be shot. If he makes any attempt to call for help, Emma will be shot. So the thriller takes place over the course of the concert, as he desperately tries to get a message out to a friend, while his faceless tormentor (unfortunately, hyped too much in the advertisements, it would be sooo much better to be surprised) checks his every move with the help of his assistant (Alex Winter, good to see Bill S. Preston, Esq. getting some work!) This is just a really cool movie that (if you'll pardon the pun) hits all the right notes. And it happens to be out in limited release today (although so far I don't see any Bay Area theaters on the schedule. It is coming to the Bear Tooth Theatre in May for all my Anchorage friends.)

And finally, after the Harry Knowles program went a little long and then we had a little technical difficulties with the sound, the final film of the night, PARALLEL MAZE started only about a half hour late. This is a weird film. Which is good, Cinequest usually brings the weirdness at least a few times a festival, and I've kinda been waiting for it so far this year. A debut feature film from Chinese director Hua Ya, on the one hand it's a Hitchcockian thriller with an explicit homage to PSYCHO, and on the other hand it's a wildly experimental exploration of the possibilities of the universe and of film. The simple part is a story of stolen money and a girl on the run. But this is not a simple film. It's a film I will need to see at least a few more times in order to fully digest. There parallel universes, there is a hotel full of them, there are scenes replayed with different results. There is enough to make you question whether anything you saw is real. I talked to plenty of people afterwards who were frustrated by it. But to me (and I don't admit this very often) it was clearly a movie made by someone smarter than me. I will have to watch it multiple times to get it all, but a filmmaker who can combine Alfred Hictchock with Stephen Hawking is someone I want to see more from.

And then I rushed over to The Blackbird Tavern just in time for them to refuse to serve me a drink because it was midnight. But I still managed to stay up joking with friends until my train came by at 12:45 and took me home. Another day of Cinequest is in the books, and it's time to start the first big weekend (including after hours partying in my luxury suite at the Fairmont.)

Total Running Time: 533
My Total Minutes: 354,139

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Jason goes to Cinequest--Day 2

So opening night is all about the partying, but day 2 is when it gets serious, just about the movies. Ha! Who am I kidding? I got to the lounge a good 2 hours early so I could down a few Stellas before the first film. But to keep from falling asleep I had a Red Bull...with Tito's Handmade Vodka.

So the first film started with a bonus Picture The Possibilities (PTP) short SHOTGUN CYANIDE. A guy who seems perfectly fine is hiding something pretty dark. Luckily he has friends who care about him...maybe just in the nick of time.

And that was the lead in to MAPA. A clever little travel diary through India via Spain, and eventually through the twisted contours of the human heart. Director León Siminiani recently lost his job shooting a children's TV show. So he packs up, heads on a trip through India, and sets about to make his feature length, personal documentary. What starts as a travelogue of India, with pilgrims in the Ganges, etc. turns into an self-reflection on his own attitudes about post-colonialism. And eventually when his thoughts turn to his ex-girlfriend, that starts to dominate the movie. A little girl he saw in the Ganges reminds him of her. He goes back, gets old VHS tapes of her at the same age (in Disney World of all places) and obsesses over her. His obsession literally causes him to skid off the road (when we finally see León's face, he's in a neck brace after a car crash) and yet his obsession lingers. So his story becomes a quest to forget, to literally erase the map of his past. And he implores on the psychic energy of the audience to help him. It's a movie that could easily devolve into self-centered navel-gazing (my review certainly sounds like that) but a cleverness and mastery of the cinematography (even poorly executed shots have a reason) keeps it above that.

Then the next show started with another PTP short EL CAMINO. In Mexico City, one young man on a skateboard decides today is the day he stands up to bullies on behalf of a defenseless girl. Inspiring.

And then the feature THE DESERT FISH, from Iran. Ahmad is a little boy whose mother was lost at sea several years ago. His father used to be a famous sea captain, but now spends his days deep underground, digging wells far from the sea. This is ruining his health. Or at least, his health is failing, whether it's from the lack of sunlight or the years of unforgiving sorrow. So while Ahmad routinely helps everyone else in town (e.g., bringing bread to an old woman and fixing her radio) he finally realizes it's time to help his father. And to do that he has to make a journey all the way to the sea, find his uncle, find his lost mother, and find his father's forgiveness. The movie is slow and poetic the way Iranian films typically are (I sometimes wonder if Iranians watching American films think they're all hyper-frenetic, ADHD, spazz-fests) and the cinematography is just gorgeous. 

And then after a bit of VIP Soiree at Cafe Stritch, where I had a few appetizers and a couple more Stellas I was at the California Theater for LIFE IS LOVE. No PTP short in front of this one, since it actually grew out of what was once going to be a PTP short until everyone realized it had to be a feature film. So Cinequest co-founders Halfdan Hussey and Kathleen Powell produced and directed this amazing film that can somehow be heart-wrenching while still so full of hope. There's a phenomenon I encounter regularly in film festivals that I call Emotional Whiplash. That's pretty self-explanatory, and usually the result of scheduling an odd series of films (once I saw a documentary about suicide, followed by a romantic musical comedy, followed by another documentary about suicide, followed by a magical fairy tale musical comedy. That was weird.) But this might be the film that contains the most emotional whiplash entirely inside it. We're thrown in right in the beginning with young Cambodian women telling their stories. These are stories of being sold into slavery by their parents (desperate situations after the Khmer Rouge have forced a lot of families to decide to sell one child so another can live.) And that slavery is sexual slavery (even if they were told they would just be cleaning.) So at 10 years old or younger they are forced to take on "clients" if they want to eat. And so...overwhelming sadness. And just when the sadness is getting too overwhelming, we switch up and meet the clients. And the emotion turns to anger. But then...these aren't some disgustingly rich perverts. They are working class people (more than one Tuk Tuk driver) They talk about wanting a little romance and comfort from the girls. I couldn't get over my anger, but there's definitely more to they're story than is shown (and in one case, a client named Ted starts to explain but then decides he can't talk about his past.) And just when the movie needs a hero we finally get one--Somaly Mam. And...well, there's still a heck of a lot of sadness as she recounts some of the stories that even the girls wouldn't say. But needless to say she has also lived in slavery...and survived...and created a foundation to help other girls in the same situation. And over the course of her interviews, we learn her sympathy, her strength, her love, and her amazing hopefulness and positivity. So our journey was from sadness and despair to anger to understanding back to sadness to hopefulness and love. That's what emotional whiplash is like.

The one criticism I'll make is that it could use some subtitles. And I hate to say that, because I usually find it kind of demeaning when films use subtitles for heavily accented English. But I did struggle sometimes to make out exactly what they were saying. Then again, given the subject matter if I could understand every word maybe it would just be too much to take.

SHORTS 1, an international tour of people mostly being horrible to each other.
DOOR GOD: A Chinese girl eagerly awaits her mother's return. She has been away in the city for two years, leaving her husband and daughter behind.
FOR THE BIRDS: In Iran, adultery is punishable by death. This intentionally un-subtitled film explores the injustice and what happens if just one brave person stands up to it.
FREESTATE: A Zimbabwean white female TV producer and her black driver have a bit of adventure on the road when they have car trouble and stay with a family of cowboys eager for some company.
FALLET: A Norwegian couple goes mountain climbing and secrets are revealed in one of the tensest films I've ever seen.
RICOCHET: An Australian father, raising his daughter alone after his wife passed away in childbirth. When a stranger shows up years later claiming to be family, he refuses to let him speak, leading to a horrible confrontation.
INSOMNIACS: The most romantic film of the program. And that says everything you need to know about the program, once you know it features the threat of suicide.

Then the Maverick Meetup was at The Farmer's Union, and I went there just enough to say hi to some people and get a few pictures with Harry Knowles. And then I was just beat. I didn't even have a full drink (just a few sips of my girlfriend's margarita) and I had to catch the VTA Light Rail home.

Total Running Time: 354 minutes
My Total Minutes: 353,606