Monday, May 5, 2014

Jason goes to SFIFF--Day 10

My first day of really going all in at the festival, and even then, on Saturday I only saw 4 movies.

First up was KUMIKO, THE TREASURE HUNTER. It's inspired by the movie FARGO's famous opening text claiming to be real events, and the urban legend that sprung up over a Japanese woman dying searching for the treasure. A fish out of water comic tragedy, first Kumiko doesn't fit in her native Japan, especially in the perky office culture. She doesn't like work, she has no love life, she doesn't even want to move back in with her mother. She's a failure and a shame to her family. Fighting the urge to spit in her boss's tea, her one comfort is a secret--a videotape with a key to a missing treasure. That videotape, of course, is FARGO, and FARGO is not a real story. Well, that and her odd collections of junk, and her adorable bunny Bunzo. But eventually she works up the courage to spit in the tea, walk out the office, take the company credit card, leave her bunny on a subway (too sad!) and head off to the promised land of Minnesota, and then on to Fargo. Well, there she's maybe even more of a fish out of water, where her limited English, guilt, and paranoia run up against Minnesota nice. Rinko Kikuchi does a fantastic job as Kumiko, bringing a lot of sympathy to a character that--if not for her deeply expressive eyes--is otherwise equal parts delusional and unscrupulous (and would abandon a bunny on a subway car!) Without giving anything away, I absolutely loved the ending. And I want to see a companion piece about the adventures of Bunzo on the Tokyo subway system. I need to know that he's okay.

Then I ran back to the press lounge in time to get a ticket for BURT'S BUZZ, and ran right back to see this documentary about the Burt behind Burt's Bees. But first, I've been reading a bit recently about a new thing kids are doing called beezing--rubbing peppermint Burt's Bees on your eyelids to get a minty-fresh high. That strikes me as, 1. it's stupid, 2. it won't work, and 3. it's probably a hoax. So of course I tried it. As the lights went out I smeared a little Burt's Bees on my eyes stings. And your eyes water a lot. And there is an interesting minty feeling all up in your sinuses. The stinging and worrying if I'd blink so much I'd miss a significant part of the movie wore off in about 3 minutes. The last vestiges of mint in my sinus were gone before 20 minutes. I did not get high. So...I feel that's the first piece of real investigative journalism I've ever done on this blog.

As for the movie, it's pretty great. Burt is a fascinating guy. A mass of contradictions. A hippie who became a massive corporate icon (it's unclear if he knows that he's practically the Col. Sanders of earth-friendly, organic personal care products.) A friendly guy who seems to enjoy posing for pictures with fans and will then talk about how some days when they come to see him he just wants to grab his shotgun and chase them away. Oh yeah, and he's a pacifist who likes to shoot guns. He'll claim one minute that he has no need for the Internet, ever! And then the next moment he'll be Skyping with his dog. And he's a guy with just a hint of bitterness about being cheated out of millions when he was sort of pushed out the company but he's also a guy who probably wouldn't live any fancier if he had those millions. Although they don't get into his finances, he doesn't seem to be lacking in funds, he just likes to live simply, in his cabin in Maine, with a wood-burning stove and no TV. A lot of movie is focused on his origins--as a highly accomplished photographer in Manhattan who ditched it all to live simply in upstate New York. A guy who learned beekeeping from monks, who realized he'd never need to look for another job if he mastered beekeeping. He used to sell gallons of honey from his truck until he met Roxanne Quimby. She was an artist also living simply in the country, but with two kids. They struck up a romance, she used her art to package his honey better, and they got into making whatever else they could with the beeswax. She runs the company now, and Burt wants nothing to do with her. And I don't want to put words in his mouth, but it seems that it's not about the money, it's about how at one time it seemed she might be "the one" but that her priorities turned to running the company instead of living a simple life with him. And there's...more of a story there (Roxanne's side of the story is not represented too well) but what is told is fascinating enough. And if Burt's story were easier to understand--if he wasn't so full of contradictions--he wouldn't be nearly as interesting. There's a point where he talks about being owned by nobody, and I think the contradictions are part of that. It's not his responsibility to dumb down his life just so that we can understand it. Kudos to him and to director Jody Shapiro.

Then I was lucky enough to get a press ticket for the Centerpiece presentation, and a few Grolsch's later I settled in for PALO ALTO. It's good to see someone take a chance and let a Coppola kid make a movie, in this case director Gia (granddaughter of Francis Ford.) Based on James Franco's "Palo Alto Stories," it's a loose collection of high school adventures of kids in Palo Alto. Drinking and driving, getting hit on by the creepy soccer coach (Franco himself,) etc. It's all very well shot, well acted, and...doesn't amount to much, in my opinion. I'll be honest, I struggled with this, contrasting my admiration for the skill involved with my ambivalence towards the subjects. Perhaps this is because I work in "Shallow Alto" and don't really care all that much about the problems of kids growing up in a town where the millionaires are complaining about the billionaires taking over and giving them no voice in how things are run. Especially knowing that it's right next to one of the most impoverished, crime-ridden places in the Bay Area, and I just have very little love for Palo Alto, the city. And I'm afraid that has transferred into not much love for PALO ALTO the movie. In the festival lounge yesterday several of us were discussing about what could be fixed to make the movie work, and I've decided a one-word change is where it all starts--make it EAST PALO ALTO and I'm immediately more interested in the kid's problems.

Then a few more beers and off to the late show, the Hong Kong action flick FIRESTORM. Violent crime in the most crowded parts of Hong Kong, starting with an armored car getting picked up and smashed around by a crane. Andy Lau plays the good cop (who has occasionally slipped up and done bad things) who has to bring bring the bad guys to justice. And he has the help of a mole--an old schoolmate who is trying to leave his criminal past behind and focus on becoming a good father.) And then metric tons of bullets fly around and things explode. And a good time was had by all. Look, there's really only one reason to watch the movie. There's a solid plot, there's a through-line about the intense surveillance state that...doesn't exactly pan out. But you watch for the action, the gunfire, the explosions. And there are tons of it, so it's good. That's it.

Total Running Time: 410 minutes
My Total Minutes: 361,894

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