Saturday, February 28, 2015

Jason goes to Cinequest--Day 4

A big six-movie day on Friday, so let's jump right in.

As always, I was there for one of the first two beers of the day (the other belonging to my friend Roy) in the lounge. But this time it wasn't so crazy to be there at 10 am. After all, my first film was at...noon.

And that first film was the Hungarian comedy, FOR SOME INEXPLICABLE REASON. Hapless Aron expects to just fall down dead at any random moment, be it in the park, in the middle of the street, or wherever. And that's the least of his problems. He's got no money, no job, and now no girlfriend. Not even the remnants of her hair in the sink--and she always left her hair in the sink, it was something they fought about. But she even took that when she left. But he does have some friends who will go out drinking with him all night, even if it means he wakes up with a plane ticket to Lisbon and no memory of the night. And he's got friends who will teach him how to pick up floozies in bars, even if he wusses out when she gets all naked on her bed waiting for him (what, like actually knowing her name is so important to you?) Star Áron Ferenczik does a great job of bringing that nerdy, neurotic innocence of an aimless 29 year old to the film, and his performance, whether at a loss for words or babbling non-stop keeps it grounded in an innocent charm that's perfect. And who knows, maybe he can find some meaning in his boring dishwashing job--maybe finding meaning in the strange patterns and pictures customers draw in their leftovers. Very funny.

FOR SOME INEXPLICABLE REASON plays again Mar 7 at 9:30 pm.

And then a very different film, in an example of the common film festival phenomenon I call "emotional whiplash." THREE WINDOWS AND A HANGING is a drama from Kosovo (their first Oscar submission as a country) and is a story of simple village life, recovering from the war, and opening old wounds with painful revelations. Lushe is a brave woman, a mother and schoolteacher who is waiting for her husband to return (he was dragged away by enemy soldiers long ago.) She also knows something that the rest of the village would prefer remain secret. So when she talks to a reporter, and claims that she and three other women were raped by enemy soldiers while the men of the village were powerless to stop it, that causes extreme tension in the village. It's shameful, too shameful for the village to bear, and so they compound her trauma by initiating a hate campaign against her, taking their children out of school and making it very clear they won't come back until there's a new teacher. Irena Cahani is excellent playing Lushe with strength and vulnerability, and her revelations have reverberations throughout the village that break their traditional ways of life. Lest you think this is only a sad, bleak drama (which it is in many parts) there is also a great deal of humor, starting in the opening scene of three old men arguing about a story one is telling under the biggest shade tree in the village (wait, is it traditional to knock three times and call the name of the head of a household before you come in, or do you call his name three times?) And it's that juxtaposition of the smallness of village traditions and the enormity of her revelations that drives the film. The men are simply much better at dealing with the small, unimportant things, it takes a woman to tackle the big issues.

THREE WINDOWS AND A HANGING plays again Mar 2 at 4:45 and Mar 7 at 4:15

Next up was a long-ish short and a short-ish feature, starting with THE BREATHARIANS. Auggie is a 12 year old boy living on a farm with his dad. And his mom lives in the old farmhouse just across the pasture. His parents are estranged, and they kind of take it out on him. His father by giving him jobs that he knows will piss of his mother (like killing all the cats in the barn, and nailing their tails to a board as trophies.) And his mom...well, maybe she's just going crazy but she's had a breakthrough and realized that she doesn't need to actually chew and swallow food, she "eats" by breathing the air. A very strange film, anchored by a solid performance by young Sawyer Nunes. Also, it fits into an unofficial festival theme I've noticed this year--killing of animals.

And then the feature documentary, SWEDEN'S COOLEST NATIONAL TEAM. That team competes in...memory sports. Memorizing the order of a deck of cards in 2 minutes...or thousands of binary digits in an hour, or spoken numbers, or whatever. As a relatively new sport, it has a niche but growing following, and three time Swedish champion Mattias Ribbing has some competition in the up-and-comers Jonas von Essen and Marwin Wallonius. The trio might also has what it takes to raise Sweden from interesting also-rans in the world championship to a competitor for the gold medal (against powerhouse Germany.) A very funny documentary, but one where the humor never comes at the expense of the eccentric competition or the brain-athletes. In fact, my favorite part is when they explain how memorization is all about making a story out of the things you need to memorize (like a 6 of hearts is a fish...because...okay, I don't get why.) And most of the stories--just because it's the easiest thing to remember--are about sex and violence. But they will never reveal any of those stories because this is such a charmingly chaste movie. And so the comedy really only exists in my mind, as I watch these eccentric mental athletes memorize stuff, but I know they're really thinking the most violent, X-rated thoughts. That's pretty awesome.


Then a sci-fi post-apocalyptic coming of age story, ASTRAEA. The title character is a teenage girl, walking the empty, frozen wasteland with her brother Matthew. Heading to Nova Scotia to visit her other brother and her grandmother, who survived the "drops" (the cause of the apocalypse is kept a secret for a while, but eventually it's revealed that there was a plague that incubated and spread for months without symptoms, and then the infected just dropped dead--heart stopped--with no warning (come to think of it, like the comic opening montage of FOR SOME INEXPLICABLE REASON.) On the way, they meet another pair of survivors, James and Callie. Things start of tense, with mistrust and guns pointing at each other. But eventually they settle down, start talking, share a meal, and decide that Matthew and Astraea can stay for a day or two. See, James and Callie have set up a house with propane, septic tank, etc. They can live here alone indefinitely. However, they're not a couple--their cousins (this becomes important later, as is the fact that James is wrong in his paranoid speculation that Matthew is an escaped convict and Astraea is his sex slave...just saying.) Well, a day or two becomes weeks...months...maybe they'll head up to Novia Scotia in the spring. Adding a sci-fi element, Astraea might be a bit of clairvoyant, and she knows her grandmother is still alive. So there's a tension between moving on and finding the last survivors of their family and staying and forming a new family with people they know are alive. A great little movie, that does a lot with a white wintery landscape and just four people.

ASTRAEA plays again Mar 1 at 11:30 and Mar 3 at 2:00

Then another short and feature, starting with ADEN, a short that hopefully will become a feature sometime soon. A bounty hunter tries to keep the city safe from a mechanical monster only he can see. A monster created by the imagination of a little boy. Very cool, with some impressive special effects.

And then the feature, THE CENTER. (#ItsNotACult) Ryan has a boring job for a coupon company (but it's much more than coupons!) and troubles with his mom and sister. He's an aspiring writer, working on his novel, but his day job and family obligations keep him from accepting an exciting opportunity at a university. Aimless and seeing a late-night interview with the charismatic self-help guru Vincent, Ryan goes on a retreat with The Center and finds a community that might just be what he's looking for. But then it becomes a lot more. After a period as a rising start, he finds the Center is taking over more and more of his life, he can't even talk to his sister without his superiors observing, and he witnesses how they treat a guy who left the group years ago. Best line of the movie--"It's funny what happens when you believe too much. You end up doing a lot of things you don't believe in." That pretty much says it all. A great, well-acted, and scarily believable story. And fits into another unofficial festival theme I've noticed this year--smoking, and particularly difficulty in getting cigarette lighters to work.

I have to briefly relate my own experience with a group-that-shall-not-be-named (let's just say they're not scientist, and they're not...ologists) trying to recruit me. After an evaluation, they told me that I clearly am too easily influenced by wanting to please others, and they would be very, very sad if I didn't let them help me. I did not join.

ADEN and THE CENTER plays again Mar 1 at 1:30 and Mar 3 at 4:30

And finally, we ended the night with a recently unearthed Canucksploitation diamond-in-the-rough, BAD CITY. A hilarious 70's flick, the evil Dominic Kincaid has murdered the mayor, made it look like a guilt-and-corruption inspired suicide, and seized control of the city. He's also the man behind a new drug that is killing kids, under the cover of his books program, Kincaid's Kid Aids--we give kids...Aids. So it's up to by-the-book cop and ladies man Franky New Guinea to stop this jive turkey with his new partner--plays-by-no-rules super-badass Detective Reverend Grizzly Nightbear. Super groovy. This film was never quite finished, and never released anywhere but Copenhagen, Denmark before it was rediscovered and finally given it's rightful place in the pantheon on Canucksploitation.

Detective Reverend Grizzly Nightbear was there for the Q&A, and I have to say his health plan is phenomenal, he looks like he hasn't aged a day in 40 years!

BAD CITY plays again Mar 1 at 9:30 and Mar 3 at 3:30

Then I took a few friend back to my luxury suite at the Fairmont for some after hours drinking with filmmakers (mostly the gang from THE CENTER) until about 3 am, when everyone was just too exhausted to go on. Besides, I gotta be back to the lounge and drinking by 10.

Total Running Time: 540 minutes
My Total Minutes; 386,178

Friday, February 27, 2015

Jason goes to Cinequest--Day 3

Once again, up bright and early to watch some movies drink in the VIP lounge. Got there shortly after 10 am, and my first movie wasn't until 1 pm.

First up was the Icelandic film, LIFE IN A FISHBOWL, a multi-story, intersecting drama about broken lives. Eik is a preschool teacher who doubles as a high-priced prostitute to make ends meet. She meets Mori, a once-famous-now-drunk writer, who will be famous and wealthy again when the reviews of his new novel, "Life in a Fishbowl" come in. That novel is about a traumatic experience in his earlier life, and one that will resonate later in the movie. He becomes the babysitter for Eik's little girl, who can't have any sugar (seriously, it could kill her.) It seems like an old, long-haired, long-bearded drunk (wait, that reminds me of someone...) isn't a good choice for a babysitter, but for reasons we find out later he's better than her parents and especially her grandfather. And meanwhile Solvi is a former footballer now making a new career as an investment banker, but facing moral dilemmas as his hard-charging colleague has other ideas about both work and play. Everything comes together in grand, violent, and dramatic fashion, making for an excellent and exciting film.

LIFE IN A FISHBOWL plays again Mar 2 at 4:15

Next up was BEASTS OF CARDO, a Dominican magic-realist piece about a town full of...well, beastly people. Legend has it that Cardo is built of darkness and nothingness, where people are all tied up on marionette strings. Hermes, a talented but vain tailor has just moved to town, and Moira has just moved back from New York where she got her Masters degree but also got a reputation for being a slut. They both live under snide gossip and backstabbing, but when they're alone they find a bit of relief. And then...well, it just goes on for a long time. I loved the ending, but it took too long to get there. It's clear early on that this town is full of awful people and they need to get out. The only question is if one, the other, both, or none will actually escape. And I like how it ended. And this is frustrating to write, because the best part of it was the ending but I don't want to give up any spoilers. But trust me, even if the middle starts to drag, the ending is worth it.

BEASTS OF CARDO plays again Mar 3 at 6:00 and Mar 7 at 4:30 

Then after a bit of time at the Mosaic bar and restaurant for the VIP Soiree, I was back for more movies.

Next up was WHEN I'M WITH YOU, the story of Lea, a wonderfully sweet woman who's in love with her gay best friend. She's also putting up with her brother, who runs with some assholes who are beating and killing gay men in the neighborhood. As her gay friend has a blossoming relationship with a new man, her relationship with her brother is falling apart. And if she admits how much she really loves her gay friend, she might lose him, too. The film is shot in a very intimate, close up style that gets into the inner lives of the characters visually. Everything comes to a head in a climactic confrontation that is tense, scary, and ultimately wonderful. Great movie. 

WHEN I'M WITH YOU plays again Feb 28 at 11:15 and Mar 5 at 2:00

And then I saw MALADY, a movie that I didn't exactly enjoy while I was watching it, but now I can't stop thinking about. A story of death and sex in blurry closeups. Holly is grieving her mother's passing, and her last wish was for her to have children. So she hooks up with Matthew, where their best to conceive. But when she learns that Matthew's mother is ailing, she prepares to go through the same trauma of watching her slowly die. And then it gets weird. No, wait, it was already weird. Little things, like how it's shot in such an intimate yet...searching manner, or how Matthew peels scabs off his hand, keeps them in a box, and gives them to his mother. Yeah, that was very, very weird. It's an unsettling film. And I'm still deciding if I like it. In fact, no, I know I didn't enjoy it, I'm still deciding if I was amazed by it.

MALADY plays again Feb 27 at 10:00 pm and Mar 6 at noon.

Total Running Time: 437 minutes
My Total Minutes: 385,638

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Jason goes to Cinequest--Day 2

After an epic after-party on Opening night, I was up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for the opening of the VIP lounge and a few free beers promptly at 10 am. My first movie started at 2:45.

The first feature of the day was preceded by the Picture the Possibilities short, OUT OF THE CLOSET. Three youngsters reveal secrets about themselves, then come together to form a band. Pretty cool.

Then the feature was an award winning Israeli film, APPLES FROM THE DESERT, a beautifully sensitive drama about a religious orthodox family and their strong-willed daughter Rivka. She's determined to have more from life than the pre-set path of marrying whoever her father chooses (especially when he chooses a 35 year old widower who already has kids) and raising a family. She wants to do crazy, free dance. So when she meets a nice boy from a kibbutz who is in Jerusalem studying, she has a very chaste affair with him, meeting and talking but not even touching. That is, until her father finds out, drags her back home, and locks her in her room. So she runs away and joins the kibbutz. And this causes no small amount of heartache and scandal back home, but she soon she blossoms from a conservative fish-out-of-water on the secular kibbutz (full of ham-eaters!) to an active and popular member of the community. A generational struggle and a conflict of lifestyles, what's most remarkable is the sympathy the story had for both sides. It would be very, very easy to label her father as the villain of the story. But there's a great line in it--while talking to her boyfriend--where he reveals that "everything is always the same--the husband works, and the wife makes fun of him behind his back." In that moment he stops being the villain and reveals that he's as much of a victim of the expectations of the system as she is. And that's the start of reaching some understanding that his daughter's happiness is the most important thing, and to really live by what he constantly says--that he doesn't care what other people say.

APPLES FROM THE DESERT plays again March 6 at 7:00 pm and March 7 at 7:15 pm. And unrelated to Cinequest, SVJFF will be hosting two screenings at 6:00 and 8:30 March 15th at the Oshman Family Jewish Community Center in Palo Alto. Good, this film is awesome and should have a chance to be seen by as many people as possible.

Then I had time for just a quick two beers before the next film, which was again preceded by a PTP short, this time UNEXPECTED WONDERFULNESS. When all of humanity suddenly loses their voices, petty squabbling turns in to understanding and actually paying attention to each other. With a funny twist ending.

And then the documentary feature, CHILDREN OF THE ARCTIC. Set in Utqiaġvik, which us white guys call Barrow, Alaska, it's the story of a small group of native teenagers just coming of age, and balancing their native culture with western education, globalization, and of course the north slope oil industry. For those who are squeamish about such things, the film opens with one boy hunting and butchering a caribou (and talking about first going hunting when he was 3 or 4.) Later you'll see more caribou butchering and the butchering of a whale. But that's just one aspect of their culture. We also get to see star students go off to college and then decide to come home and put college off to spend more time with their culture and their elderly grandparents. We see another star student and aspiring politician go off to work on the oil fields. We see a spirited school debate for and against offshore oil drilling. And we see the making of seal skin boats, the hunting of a whale, and community celebrations. And we see the effects of global warming as a spring whale hunt is cancelled. It's a really fascinating slice-of-life look into a culture that is rarely seen, and if the young generation doesn't preserve it, might never be seen again.

CHILDREN OF THE ARCTIC plays again Feb 28th at 2:00 and March 3 at 2:30.

And then it was time for shorts, specifically Shorts 2: (Dis)connection
HOME: A Chinese family is seen over a decade through a hole in their wall. From global events like the millennium, Iraq war, and SARS to personal events like opening a restaurant, moving to a bigger home, having an affair, getting a divorce...
THROUGH THE BREAKING GLASS: The adventures of Alice become a connection for a little girl and her mother struggling for life after a car accident. With some beautiful special effects it's easily the most visually impressive film in the series.
CONEY ISLAND DREAMS: Maggie is down on her luck and needs money to return to Ireland. A bad man convinces her to lure a man into a certain spot at a certain time. But after a lovely time with this man, she has second thoughts. And then third thoughts, after a twist ending.
STRANGE MEN: Abby is a drifter, just released from jail after the police let her off early with just an open container citation. She's on her way back home to Washington (from L.A.) when she sees a strange man following her. This leads to an odd confrontation and maybe the start of a reconciliation.
THE BADDEST PART: Two lovers take a road trip, with a goal of robbing a gas station. And there are unexpected results. (You know, I've realized that unexpected results/twist endings are a theme of this series.)
CUPCAKE: Lena and Karin are very, very close. Like soulmates...or cell mates. Until forces beyond their control tear them apart. Powerfully emotional performances.
BARRIO BOY: A pale, young Irish man walks into a Latino barbershop in Brooklyn. The barber has to act all macho, although he's really attracted to this man. Like anyone would believe a hairdresser could be gay.

Shorts 2 plays again Feb 26 at 7:15 and March 3 at 4:30

Shorts 1: Life Constantly Changes Us
LIFE ENDING SPECIALIST: A man with a very stressful job learns how to relax with a bubble bath and the right music.
AUSSI IOIN: Two lovers on the run after a political attack.
CAMELOT: Tracking down a Ford Capri that was her birthright, a young woman learns a few things about hard times.
HAPPY FUN ROOM: In a police state, a woman who lived through the revolution tries to teach children how to be safe, but they can't stop laughing.
LA PRINCESSE DE LAMOUR DAMOUR: The Princess of the Love of Love lives in a world where everyone falls in love. But she hasn't yet. Until she falls in love with a hot salsa dancer...and the princess Lezzy from the neighboring kingdom...and a few more and has a wonderful multi-amorous happy ending. What a beautiful story for children!
LITTLE COFFINS: A man stabs himself, but cannot die. In a diner, he and the waitress talk about their shared past, loves, and loss.
NEWBORNS: A harrowing look at the survivors of acid attacks. Seriously, this is a thing in other parts of the world--to throw acid on the faces of women. That's just fucked up, but this movie was a good, sympathetic look at them.
SAERTO ENA: In 2008, Russia and Georgia had a little conflict. Civilians feared the military on both sides. Seriously, it didn't matter if the soldier was Russian or Georgian, nor did it matter who the civilian was. Threat of death was just always there.

Shorts 1 plays again Feb 27 at 1:30 and March 2 at 10:15 pm.

And that was Cinequest 25, day 2. More films today. Lounge opens in less than an hour!

Total Running Time: 423 minutes
My Total Minutes: 385,201

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Jason goes to Cinequest--Opening Night

The biggest, bestest party in San Jose started last night, and of course I was there. In fact, I was there a few hours early to check into the lounge, get my VIP pass, have a free drink or two six, taste some delicious chocolate from Marich, and hug all my Cinequest friends.

Then over to the fabulous California Theatre to meet and hug more friends, hobnob a bit on the red carpet, and settle in to my front row seat. Before the films, there were the obligatory thank-yous and announcements, including a couple of shout-outs to yours truly (at least, I assume the reference to a "guy with a top hat and a ZZ Top beard" was me, although for the record my beard is neatly trimmed, it's my hair that's wild.)

But enough about me, the night was about BATKID BEGINS, a perfect way to start what's looking to be a perfect festival. You may remember the phenomenon of Batkid, 5 year old leukemia survivor (spoiler alert, he's in remission!) whose Make-A-Wish was to be batkid for a day, and how San Francisco transformed into Gotham for a day and blew the world away. Well, this is a thorough behind-the-scenes documentary about it. From the dedicated Make-A-Wish workers who only hope to get a few hundred people to show up. To the amazing creative people who just kept building on the idea. To how social media took over and blew it up. To how San Francisco stepped up and brought the full force of awesome to it. How people traveled from all over the world to be in San Francisco for it. And that's not even getting to Miles himself. In fact, I caught myself about halfway in wondering if this movie would even be about him. But when he put on that costume, and he puffed out his shoulders, put on his best crime-fighting face, and did a perfect John Wayne walk, he freakin' OWNED it! That was a transcendent moment of, check that, it was a transcendent moment of real life. It was amazing how the city, the Internet, and the world came together to play with a sick kid. But Miles made it worth it, and as one person points out in the movie, the signs of "Save Us, Batkid!" take on a different meaning when you realize he really is saving us, from the dull, serious drudgery of adulthood.

Speaking of playing, Cinequest goes on for another week and a half. Hope to see you all there.

Running Time: 87 minutes
My Total Minutes: 384,778

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Jason goes to Indiefest--Closing Night

And the end, last Thursday night, with a pair of movies.

First up was the perfectly executed drama UNCERTAIN TERMS. Set in a home for pregnant teens, each resident is dealing with different relationship issues...well, since they're all teenagers they're mostly dealing with the same relationship issue--the guy who knocked them up isn't ready for the responsibility and has bailed/will likely bail. And then you add to the mix a handsome handyman, Robbie, who is dealing with his own crumbling marriage (a marriage that started out when he was as young as some of these girls.) He's friendly, but he tries to keep his distance and not be too friendly. But at least some of the girls--with their raging hormones--make that kind of difficult. And he doesn't make it easy either.


I just realized how I wrote that seems like the setup for some pregnant teenage fetish porno. But please believe me, it's not. It's a careful, thoughtful movie that explores the inner lives of young women figuring out life in one of the hardest possible ways, and it's fantastic.

And then I ended the night, and Indiefest 2015, with JACKY IN THE KINGDOM OF WOMEN. A French movie that's entertaining although a little bit too on-the-nose about the fictional kingdom of Bubunne where women rule and men are forced to wear burkhas, tend the house, serve the state-provided mush, and basically dream of marrying a good, powerful woman. The best and most powerful would be the Colonel (Charlotte Gainsbourg) which would make one lucky man the "Big Dummy." Jacky (Vincente Lacoste) plays the Cinderfella role in this world, trying to win an invitation to the ball and hoping that the Colonel will take his leash. But wacky adventures turns it into a revolution in the entire society. With a bit of Cinderella, a bit of Barbarella, a bit of Soylent Green, and a giant spoiler.

And that's that, Indiefest is over. Bring on Cinequest!

Total Running Time: 162 minutes
My Total Minutes: 384,691

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Jason goes to Indiefest--The Penultimate Night

Last Wednesday, a shorts block and a feature.

Shorts 4: Based on a True Story. Not necessarily documentaries, but "non-fictionish" as the program notes say.
11-MINUTE MILE: A businessman in the Boston airport, calling his friend to give him grief about his time in the marathon. And the grief turns around when the news reports the bombing at the finish line, and he frantically tries to find out if his friend is okay.
BREAKING IN: A black guy walking down the street, minding his own business, is hassled by the NYPD. That's just part of getting "broken in."
CAB CITY: Ride-alongs with two different SF taxi drivers. The sweet old French lady who is practically a historian of the city. The brash, aggressive driver who is always ready to yell "criminal!" to Uber/Lyft/Sidecar drivers while he speeds off without his seatbelt. Of course, ride-sharing companies are a big topic of discussion, and the film also interviews several passengers about their opinions of them. And there's even a brief ride-along with an Uber driver.
DOCUMENTERS: A story of the citizen journalists of Syria, the only ones who can get the real stories out, since foreign journalists are banned and state-run TV is lies.
ELGIN PARK: Michael Paul Smith has been many things, but most recently he's an artist and model-maker, famous for creating entire realistic worlds of model vintage cars. Really stunningly realistic.
HEIRLOOM: Part road trip, part home movie, Malia Bruker travels with her parents as they return to the small rural community where she grew up, and examine inter-generational notions of hope, idealism, values, nature, family, etc.
TRASHCANLAND: A profile of DJ Dan Cashman, janitor and tumblr star.

And then the feature, BLACK MOUNTAIN SIDE. It draws immediate comparisons to THE THING, and scientists in a frozen arctic land come across a major archaeological find and start to suffer from strange...happenings. Paranoia, self-abuse (and not the good kind) mutilations, and murder. But with a wildly inconsistent tone that left the audience transfixed at some moments and howling with laughter at other and me wondering if that was all intentional. Like when a doctor is talking about internal bleeding when staunching an obviously externally bleeding wound. It never really answers what's going on, and that clearly is intentional, to confound and amaze the audience with mysteries upon mysteries. I'm just not sure if this was ever supposed to be a comedy, and if so whether the audience was laughing at the right parts. It was, however, never boring.

Total Running Time: 193 minutes
My Total Minutes: 384,530

Jason goes to Indiefest--Day 13

It's all over but the blogging. So here's last Tuesday at Indiefest.

The first program was a short and a feature, starting with BROKEN CITY POETS. That broken city is Stockton, CA. And the poets are high school students, some living in the poorest, most crime-filled parts of the city, using poetry workshops to make sense of and hopefully improve their city. It was a joint project of the Center for Investigative Reporting and Youth Speaks, and the results were pretty moving.

Then ALL CONTAINED IN VOID, and intriguing and almost meditative look at 'Dead Zones' in California's road systems. The medians, the underpasses, etc. Mini-forests, or urban gardens, and the people who repurpose them into productive--or at least entertaining--spaces. It was fascinating and brief (just ~50 minutes, which is why it was paired with the short) and features a good mix of city planners, architects, engineers, and eccentrics, including John Law, member of the Cacophony Society and co-founder (now having nothing to do with it) of that thing in the desert.

And then, IS THIS THE REAL WORLD, which bothered me by not having a question mark in the title. But the rest of it was pretty good. It's the story of bright but troubled high-schooler Mark, making a clean start in a new school. His brother is a criminal, his mother is an alcoholic, and his grandmother is on her deathbed. And he's having trouble fitting in at school. One Aussie Rules Football scene is particularly brutal, and shows off his fatalistic determination and eventually wins him some friends. And it wins him the eye of a beautiful girl in school. Too bad she's the daughter of the overbearing principal, who takes things a little way too far in imposing "discipline" on him. It was a good story, beautifully shot, and takes its own pace to get where it's going--pausing to observe the little things like jumping a puddle on your bike (over and over again, biking is one of Mark's releases.) And the climactic scene is pretty powerful, despite all the foreshadowing that went into it.

Total Running Time: 169 minutes
My Total Minutes: 384,337

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Jason goes to Indiefest--Day 12

Just one movie on Monday--President's Day. So I got the day off, slept in a lot, caught up on my blog, and saw AEROBICS: A LOVE STORY. A tender entry into the festival's unofficial theme of disabilities, this Swedish film is the love story of mentally-challenged Maria and...well, I don't think they ever officially diagnose him as mentally-challenged, but Janne is an overweight, awkward, wannabe-TV producer whose puppet show idea has got no traction with the local station. They meet online, and when he misses their meet up (due to being drunk and sad at home) she finds his address online and goes to help him. Their relationship comes from a place of lonely people needing companionship, but it unfolds in such a sweet, tender, loving way that it's hard to resist. For a while, it basks in the relationship so much that I was afraid there would be no conflict in the film at all. A meddling sister puts an end to that, and much like LOVE LAND it explores the tricky line of protecting the mentally ill and allowing them their freedom, with all the joy and possible heartbreak that entails.

Running Time: 77 minutes
My Total Minutes: 384,168

Monday, February 16, 2015

Jason goes to Indiefest--Day 11

The big second weekend wraps up, there's just a few weekdays left now.

First up was THE CULT OF JT LEROY. Indiefest is actually part of the JT Leroy story, having shown THE HEART IS DECEITFUL ABOVE ALL THINGS as the opening night film in 2005. That was how I even knew about JT, and not just because Indiefest played it but because the director Asia Argento had been my pretend girlfriend for quite a while already. So to me it was always a work of fiction and I was more interested in it as an Asia Argento movie than as the "based on true life" story of a child truck-stop prostitute. And within they year, the news broke that it was all a fraud, and I laughed, thinking it was a good story but I was never invested in the veracity of it to begin with. Well, this movie delves into the people who were emotionally invested--sometimes deeply, in the life of this damaged little boy/girl (in the process of a sex change) who started writing as therapy and became a literary sensation. And his entourage gobbled up celebrities, filmmakers, musicians, writers, etc. who somehow didn't know that something didn't add up. I feel like I shouldn't give too much away, but if you've seen the trailer you've seen pretty much the whole story. What isn't shown in the trailer--and so what became so interesting to me--was the emotional toll on the people who really did take a guardianship/mentorship/caregiver role in "his" life. Their stories ended up being more interesting than JT Leroy himself (or not himself.)

Then I saw SEX AND BROADCASTING, a documentary about WFMU, a listener-sponsored volunteer-run free-form radio station out of East Orange, NJ. The film shows us the wacky characters, some amusing behind-the-scenes stories, a bit of the history, and a lot of fan worship. And it focuses a lot on station manager Ken Freedman, the heart behind the station for the last several decades, the man who took it from failing Upsala College and turned it into a cult phenomenon, and then took it onto the Internet, at the forefront of online streaming. What the movie doesn't show is little things like...they do actually play music sometimes. In fact, while it showed me some interesting people pursuing their passion, it didn't show me much of a reason to actually tune in. Which is one of the things Ken Freedman bemoaned during the Q&A. Make no mistake, he likes the movie and likes that it exists and gets more exposure for the station, he has some conflicts with some of the choices that director Tim Smith made.

Next up was Film School Gems, a compilation of recent and upcoming shorts from KQED's Film School Shorts Program. Since there wasn't a comprehensive list of films, I'm sure I've forgotten one or more of these.
GOD OF LOVE: A lovelorn darts expert/singer gets a special package delivered to him, and when his love darts don't work for him, he finds a new career.
JOSEPHINE AND THE ROACH: A woman, her abusive, drunk husband, and the roach who lives in the wall. There's a musical bond that binds them together.
THE CHAIR: The repercussions of a killer mold that has decimated a town.
THE HUNTER AND THE SWAN DISCUSS THEIR MEETING: The hunter sees a group of naked women playing in the water. When they see him, they put on their feathery cloaks, turn to swans, and fly away. Until one night, he catches one of them, and so starts a beautiful romance...if you don't ask too many questions.
FLUFFY THE FLYING FISH: A funny, short, animated piece about moving a pet goldfish from L.A. to Denver via carry-on luggage.
A SERIES OF KINETIC SETS TELL A STORY: Boxes, cardboard dioramas tell the story of the filmmaker's grandparents' life.
UNDER: A harrowing story of a couple trapped in an avalanche. As a Boy Scout in Alaska, this is the sort of thing that gave me nightmares, so this was a particularly effective movie.
PENNY DREADFUL: A twist on the Ransom of Red Chief story, but with murder and hamburgers.
WILL: An animated piece about a phone message on 9/11. Very moving.

And then my new favorite of the festival, THE VOICE OF THE VOICELESS. Made for zero-budget with zero-experience filmmakers, and with zero dialogue. Based on the true stories of deaf people trapped in human trafficking scams. Olga from Central America (Janeva Zentz, mute but with a certain charm and amazingly expressive eyes.) When she arrives in New York, she's put into a house where she has to go on the subway and sell trinkets. If she doesn't make $100 every day, she gets tazed. But with her ingenuity, charm, and the help of a stuffed penguin, she might just have a plan to get out of this particular hell. Oh yeah, and since she's deaf and mute, it's made as a silent film in black and white (save just a couple of scenes--one in the opening and one during a dream sequence.) It was billed as a cross between Chaplin and Eraserhead, and while that might be a bit of a stretch, it's an undeniably beautiful, charming, and moving film.

In the Q&A, one big issue did come up, that while it was a story of deaf people, they used hearing actors, and there are a lot of great deaf actors who would've killed for a chance to be in a movie like this--even though there was no budget and everyone worked for free. That's a fair point, but in my opinion shouldn't distract too much from how great the film is--including the acting.

And then we ended the night with VIOLET. Which I renamed YOUNG (BELGIAN) BODIES HEAL QUICKLY. It opens with a senseless murder, caught on security video. Jonas is the only witness, and his BMX buddies turn to him for answers--not that he has any. And then...not much happens. They ride, they have bonfires, they drink and smoke. They deal with the trauma by not really dealing with it, just trying to get on with the routine of life even though everything is different. I'm kinda proud of myself for staying awake through the entire film...but that's not much of a reward.

Total Running Time: 408 minutes
My Total Minutes: 384,091

Jason goes to Indiefest--Day 10

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Saturday, February 14, 2015

Jason goes to Indiefest--Day 9

Two more movies last night, as we start the second week of Indiefest with a whole new slate of films.

First up, a new contender for the best of the fest, THEY LOOK LIKE PEOPLE. Dressed in genre trappings, this is really a psychological story of friendship and trust. Wyatt is mentally ill. He believes shape-shifting monsters have taken over the bodies of people. Even his fiancee is not who she appears to be. So he runs away to New York City and meets up with his old friend Christian. And Christian reacts like a saint (come to think of it, that name doesn't seem like a coincidence.) He takes Wyatt in, plays old childhood games with him, puts his life basically on hold (even though he finally got a date with his hot boss) to try to calm Wyatt down. So it's not too good when Wyatt ( I don't think that name's a coincidence either) starts suspecting that maybe Christian is infected, too. The movie is shown from Wyatt's perspective, so there are mysterious phone calls and distorted faces that make you question whether it really is an alien-invasion horror film. Which was my favorite thing about the movie--I felt like there was a ~10% chance it might actually turn out to be a horror film, and that mimics the temptation Wyatt must feel about believing his hallucinations. So I struggled with how to present this (and in the Q&A, the filmmakers admitted they struggled, too.) I actually think the best way to see this is to expect a horror film, but be pleasantly surprised at something much smarter and much more interesting. But I'm afraid that the majority of the horror audience would just be disappointed and pissed off by that. So here it is not an alien invasion horror film. Not at all. Unless you want to believe it is, in which case maybe it is, but be prepared for it to not be.

And then we went from my favorite to my least favorite, with YOUNG BODIES HEAL QUICKLY. It starts out promising, with some mostly wordless mindless destruction. Two brothers smash up a car, then fire a bb gun at some girls on ATVs, then the older one gets his ass kicked by the girls. Then the younger one breaks up the fight with a baseball bat to the head of one of the girls. And she's dead. So they go on the run. Check that, they go on the pointless meander, getting away from there but not really doing anything. The constable shows up, identifies the older brother's helmet, but doesn't go off chasing them down. They just...wander. To their sisters house (Kate Lyn Sheil, showing up in Indiefest again. Remember that movie where she looks like she's paying attention to what's going on instead of daydreaming and thinking about something else? Neither do I.*) Then they eventually make it to their dad's place, where he takes them into the woods for his annual war reenactment--the Vietnam war.

Ya know, I'm a big fan of subverting expectations (although it's been done so much that it would almost be more subversive to fill a movie with cliches) but please entertain me while you're doing it. This movie did not do that and did not even try.

*Note: I actually don't think Sheil is a bad actress. I've liked a lot of the movies she's been in, and I actually liked her in the short in this year's festival, HELBERGER IN PARADISE. I just whispered that to my friend during the movie, and she laughed.

Total Running Time: 192 minutes
My Total Minutes: 383,292

Friday, February 13, 2015

Jason goes to Indiefest--Day 8

Two feature films last Thursday. First up was WILD CANARIES, the latest from the indie film power couple Lawrence Levine and Sophia Takal (who are still the face of partying at Cinequest from when they brought GABI ON THE ROOF IN JULY there years ago.) They play engaged couple Noah and Barri. Arrested Development's Alia Shawkat plays their roommate Jean. There seems to be some discord in Noah and Barri's romance. Noah stays out late drinking and gambling with their landlord. He's also paranoid that Barri has a romantic interest in Jean. Not far fetched, since his previous girlfriend left him for a woman after he "annoyed the straight" out of her. Of course, the fact that he stills works with his ex and is kinda trying to get back together with her doesn't help matters. Oh yeah, and there's a murder mystery in this screwball comedy, too. The kindly old lady next door has passed away. And while it looks like a heart attack, it might be something else. And of course it is. And it turns out a little sleuthing and a bit of violence (all directed onto Noah) are exactly what they need to rekindle the passion in their romance. That was a lot of fun. And it's an interesting time to follow indie film, as all these filmmakers I've seen come up through the "mumblecore" movement (whether that's a fair label or not) are branching out into more genre projects but still keeping that strange and fresh low-budget make-a-film-with-whatever-you-got sensibility.

And then the oddest film in the festival so far, 101 SECRETS, by returning filmmaker Tophy Cho (A RIPPLE IN THE WORLD, Indiefest 2007.) It's a non-linear journey through Buddhism, video games, strip clubs and prison, featuring pussy and french fries (who doesn't love pussy and french fries?) Cho stars as a hobo who finds himself trapped in a video game where he must beat the boss/devil/Mr. Wonderful in order to escape and/or achieve nirvana. Huh, that's a weirdly succinct way to say it. I'm not sure that captures it. I'm not sure if anything captures it. Anyway, Cho is even weirder than he was when he was here for A RIPPLE IN THE WORLD, telling stories about casting the movie on Craigslist and working with a homeless guy who stepped in his own shit and smeared it all over the inside of Cho's car. He also provided Red Bull to the audience, which helped counteract the effects of the beer I had been drinking earlier. So that was much appreciated. Oh yeah, and his movie is insane. He knows that.

Total Running Time: 179 minutes
My Total Minutes: 383,100

Jason goes to Indiefest--Day 7

Another night, another shorts program, and another feature. Here's last Wednesday at Indiefest.

Shorts 5: An Animated World. Yay cartoons!
BETWEEN TIMES: A life of a pleasant little village, and an exploration of the subjective nature of time, as seen from the view of a clock on the wall.
THE BROTHERS BRIMM: Two little demons, Waffles and Syrup, have stolen the devil's car and are on a mission from God.
COOPED: The hellish life of a dog who can't go outside and goes a little crazy waiting for his human.
FOOTPRINTS: Yay! A new Plymptoon! And it's kind of a mindbender, as a man follows footsteps to find the creature who broke his window. But instead, he ends up finding himself. Kind of.
FOREST LIGHTS: The big black blob in a dead forest. Well, a nearly dead forest.
FORMING: A teeny tiny speck of the beginning of the universe. Very, very short.
HIGHWAY OF HELL: Clam Cove, Long Island, and the punk kids, violent mooks, and aggressive women who live there. Quite a little adventure.
LOAD: From Israel, a man in a rubber raft loaded down with TVs. A metaphor for memories that weigh one down and threaten to drown you.
PART OF THE CYCLE: The water cycle, that is. A water color (I see what they did there) primer on the water cycle and the work of our diligent water treatment plants and workers.
PIFUSKIN: Ever get an itch? Ever get one you can't stop scratching? Until you scratch off all your skin? And you head?
POINT: From Matt Abbiss, the director of FORMING, another ultra-short, minimalist exploration of a point in space.
RE:BELIEF: A 3-d printed, colorful exploration of cycles of life.
STEADFAST STANLEY: A zombie apocalypse and the most loyal, adorable dog ever.

And then the feature, THE YANK. Tom Murphy is a walking Irish American stereotype from Cleveland--idolizing U2, celebrating a half-way to St. Patrick's party, and generally celebrating everything Irish. So when his best mate gets engaged to a nice Irish girl--and the wedding will be in her hometown in Ireland--he's very excited to say the least. Until he finds out that the maid of honor is the woman who threw him out of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. While in Ireland, of course he'll try to find a good Irish girl of his own, but maybe that woman will also get in his way. And maybe it turns out she's the woman for him. I'm only speculating, since I fell asleep, but I've been assured by friends that A) everything I assumed would happen did, and B) I was better off for having taken a nap. Fred Willard as the father character does an admirable job trying to wring any comedy possible out of the material he's given...which is not much. And he doesn't make the trip to Ireland so he's gone after about 30 minutes. I was gone after about 60.

Total Running Time: 172 minutes
My Total Minutes: 382,921

Jason goes to Indiefest--Day 6

Two more films last Tuesday.

Shorts 2: No Regrets. Films with a bit of a dark edge.
TOTAL FREAK: Summer camp pranks and hijinx, with a monstrous ending.
BAD AT DANCING: A boundary pushing film as a perpetual third wheel constantly gets in the way of a couples love life. Like, interrupting them and having a conversation right in the middle of sex. And it ends with a full on graphic female masturbation scene. Porn at Indiefest, yay!
QUESO FLAMEADO: That's the secret word to trigger a most idiosyncratic assassin.
FANTASTIC: Vincent Gargiulo (DULUTH IS HORRIBLE, THE MUPPETLESS MOVIE) is back at Indiefest with a hilarious FANTASIA parody/bizarre ride. Balloon people, classical music, getting stuck in an art film, and Mozart's back with his first new piece in centuries.
SMITHSTON: A grieving father deals with tragedy...and more importantly how to pronounce "Smithston." Not "Smithson," no "Smithton," but "Smithston." Smithston. Smithston. Smithston.
BUFFALO JUGGALOS: Buffalo is horrible. Juggalos are horrible. Buffalo Juggalos is boring.

And then another film in the running for best of the fest. THE APOSTLE is a super atmospheric claymation animated feature from Spain, set in the style of old UK Hammer Horror films. An escaped convict sets out to find the gold his partner hid. But the town, a pilgrimage destination for Christians, has a secret. They seem friendly, but they're living under a curse, a curse which compels them to lure the unsuspecting to their doom. Everything about this film is pretty darn perfect. The story, the look, the animation, the music. Wow. I need to watch it again when I'm better rested and not fighting exhaustion. But even in my groggy! Oh, hey, the DVD is available!

Total Running Time: 170 minutes
My Total Minutes: 382,749

Jason goes to Indiefest--Day 5

Two movies last Monday, starting with the first shorts program I've seen this year.

Shorts 1: Personals. As the title suggests, some very personal stories.
BIG GIRL: A 6 year old, her mother, lies, the truth, and school.
HELBERGER IN PARADISE: Kate Lyn Sheil stars as a New Yorker traveling to her small town to attend her friend's funeral. Well, disrupt it is more like it. But a cab driver with a conscience spoils their plans.
KEEP THE CHANGE: Two...sufferers of social disorders go out in the city. He likes cabs and is afraid of the bus. She is the other way around. To maintain an air of normalcy he always pays with a twenty and tells them to "keep the change." Awkward tensions ensue.
PERSON TO PERSON: Don't you hate it when you wake up an there's a girl passed out on your floor? And that's how you answer every question? "How are you doing today?" "I got a girl passed out on my floor!"
THIS IS NOT THE END: A family history and secrets are told through handmade signs.
WEDDING DRESS: And estranged brother in law shows up, and mysteries ensue.

Then the feature that is a leading contender for my favorite in the festival, DARKNESS ON THE EDGE OF TOWN. A stylish revenge thriller from Ireland, sort of a modern small town Irish take on the revenge western. It opens with a murder, and we see full well who the murderer is. Then we meet the victim's little sister. And while they didn't talk much recently, she vows revenge on whoever did this. And she has her best friend to help her. Problem is--and the audience knows this so it's not a spoiler--her best friend is the killer. The fact that the heroine doesn't know this is the source of  unique tension as well as humor (the first time a cop asks her about where she was that night she sarcastically responds, "Oh, you figured it out!") I also loved how it's a traditionally masculine story (murder and revenge) but told via female characters. And it's not just that females are put in places males traditionally go, these are women playing distinctly feminine (tough, but still realistically feminine) characters. If director Patrick Ryan wasn't there to introduce the film (and I didn't pay attention to his name on the credits) one could easily convince me that this film was directed by a woman.

Total Running Time: 173 minutes
My Total Minutes: 382,579

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Jason goes to Indiefest--Day 4

Finally going all-out with a 5 film day. Feels good...exhausting and good.

First up was FREE, a documentary about Destiny Arts Youth Performance Company and the students who study dance there. It's actually primarily a violence prevention program, but the movie focuses less on the mission and more on the dance, and especially the hard work of half dozen students they follow around (not to mention the instructors.) With a deadline looming to their big premiere , we see the struggles they go through to perfect their performances and the struggles they go through at home and entering adulthood. It's a beautifully shot, compelling story of some kids who live in a dangerous world, and put their all into the dance--their one oasis of safety and self-expression where they can feel...well, free.

Then a very different documentary, a cult movie journey THE SEARCH FOR WENG WENG. Australian director Andrew Leavold is a cult movie buff/scholar, who is a huge fan of the diminutive Filipino action star Weng Weng. I had heard about his most famous film, FOR Y'UR HEIGHT ONLY back in 2011 when Indiefest played the Filipino exploitation film making documentary MACHETE MAIDENS UNLEASHED! But despite holding a Guinness record for the smallest leading man in a movie, surprisingly little is known about Weng Weng (like, for instance, his real name.) Well, over 7 years Leavold corrects this, and documents his journey. Traveling all over the Philippines and meeting all sorts of interesting characters--from cultural scholars to filmmakers to Imelda Marcos (seriously, he's a guest of honor at her birthday party!) he finally gets some answers. Like his real name (Ernesto De La Cruz) and his relationship with his "adopted" parents/producers, the Peter and Cora Caballes. A fascinating little gem for those who love cult films...and of course I do.

Ever since I learned about it at Indiefest 2011, I've actually been trying to find a good copy of FOR Y'UR HEIGHT ONLY, so it was rather fitting that this was the next screening. Silly, funny, and totally ridiculous, what can be said of this James Bond spoof? Only that having a 2'9" leading man is the least unbelievable thing about the movie. The villains are even more ridiculous, without any business plan beyond 'hooray for evil, we will defeat good!' But through a series of barely held together adventures, Weng Weng thwarts them and saves the day. A scientist is kidnapped in the opening scenes and he doesn't show up again until the end. Most of the movie the evil plots had nothing to do with him...or anything for that matter. And of course there's the reveal of the nefarious baddie, Mr. Giant. The climactic fight with Weng Weng is...well, it happened. That's all. And a good time was had by all.

Then we had a real oddity (and yes, after FOR Y'UR HEIGHT ONLY this was the oddity,) FOR THE PLASMA. In voting for this movie I had to give it both 1 and 5 stars, because it's either brilliant or it pissed me off. A woman accepts a new job helping monitor cameras to watch for forest fires in the woods of Maine. But in the opening scenes, the woman training her explains how she stares at the screens until she starts seeing things differently. Scale and space get distorted, patterns emerge. And she's been using that and focusing on finance as a sort of experiment. Turns out her stock market predictions are perfect, and while she doesn't care about that she's been selling her observations to investors. Her assistant is there to verify her observations, with careful attention to what is in frame and what is not (or rather, not what is not in frame.) So it sets up the audience to actively engage in a new type of watching a movie. To focus on the mis-en-scene, discover how lines cut the screen, etc. To search for patterns, even where there are none. And that's the thing, I'm convinced (beyond an obvious scene of art of frames within frames) there are no patterns in the movie. At least, none intentionally, it's the ultimate 'you see what you want to see' movie that engages the audience in actively creating the film. And I was digging on that the whole time. Until the end, when I started thinking about why I was doing it, and realized that all the film did was flat out ask me to watch differently, and isn't that the laziest fucking way to get your audience to do what you want? So I started getting pissed off. Then I realized it was always my decision, so I was cool with it. And perhaps it's genius in its simplicity. Or perhaps it didn't earn my attention the way it should have. So I spent a couple of days flipping back and forth between loving this movie and feeling used and cheated. And ultimately...I've decided to like the movie, because that's more fun for me.

And finally, I ended the day with a little fucked-up romance with LOVE STEAKS. Clemens is a masseur in a high-end hotel. Lara works in the kitchen. Clemens is shy and timid, not reacting well at all to his female clients who want a little more than just a massage. Lara is an aggressive drunk. They form a badly dysfunctional couple, and create an epic romance that I like to believe will continue battling until they're both dead. And I'm not sure that's a good thing for either the characters or the audience.

And that was the end of the opening weekend of Indiefest. Just under two more weeks to go.

Total Running Time: 427 minutes
My Total Minutes: 382,406

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Jason goes to Indiefest--Day 3

Only three movies last Saturday. Which is low for me at a film festival, but I had a wedding to attend (Congratulations Chris and Vanessa, you crazy kids have a wonderful journey in front of you!)

Now for a horrible journey (but a great movie) - LOST SOUL: THE DOOMED JOURNEY OF RICHARD STANLEY'S ISLAND OF DR MOREAU. I've never actually seen the critically reviled and mocked Marlon Brando/Val Kilmer version of THE ISLAND OF DR MOREAU. Having seen this documentary, I kinda want to see the movie the same way that I'd kinda like to see a train wreck (for any authorities reading this, I don't.) Richard Stanley was a highly regarded up-and-coming indie genre director, with two hits under his belt with HARDWARE and DUST DEVIL (which I actually do want to see now.) THE ISLAND OF DR MOREAU was to be his welcome into Hollywood and really launch his career. And for a while things seem to be going fine. The studio is throwing money into it. Stan Winston studios was making some wonderfully bizarre and grotesque prosthetics. And best of all, he took a meeting with Brando and Brando insisted he would do this only if Stanley was involved. Then...things go off the rails. Some of it is tragic bad luck (Brando's daughter committed suicide) some a combination of bad planning and luck (the sets are washed out in a flood...but they did choose the rainiest part of Australia--Cairns--to shoot in.) And some of it seems to be the pains of a young filmmaker who had never dealt with anything that big. And some of it is that Val Kilmer is just a colossal prick. Seriously, for all the talk about how difficult Brando was, this movie makes him seem playful while Kilmer is a straight-up junior high bully. Anyway, the upshot is that Stanley gets fired and then things get crazy. Fairuza Balk gets into her car and tells the driver to take her to Sydney (she does not know the geography of Australia.) They can't cast different actors as the creatures because all the prosthetics were made based on their life casts. So the cast hotel becomes a drug-fueled party as they're all paid to wait for the studio to bring in a new director. Brando finally shows up and goes typically Brando-batshit on them. Eventually Stanley is found living in the jungle nearby and sneaks onto set as an extra in a dog-man costume. It's weird, very weird. And my favorite part is how everybody seems to have a different memory of how weird it was and whose fault it is. And that continued into the Q&A, where Stanley was there to defend himself. Which was even more interesting. Details like how he didn't show up to meetings because he didn't know how to drive a car (didn't need to living in London) and they wouldn't either meet at his hotel or send a driver. Or how he wasn't actually living in the jungle, he had flown to Sydney, contacted a lawyer, and was returning to spy out what was happening with the people he cared about who he left behind there. And so as much as I loved the documentary, and as much as I know this could have gone on forever with different stories, I kind of wanted to see more of Stanley's defense of himself in there, if for no other reason than to offer more conflicting stories.

So...I've identified a theme early in the festival. Developmentally disabled (or differently-abled) people (and yes, when I've had a beer or two in me, I start joking about it being tard-fest.) THE ISLAND OF DR MOREAU featured Nelson De La Rosa, the smallest man in the world (there's more in that vein the next day with a Weng Weng double bill.) Now CHOCOLATE STRAWBERRY VANILLA features at least a mildly challenged ice cream vendor as the lead (and he definitely has a developmentally disabled best friend.) It's a slow burn film, as he obsesses over his favorite soap opera star, and tries to avoid conflict with a drug dealer selling right across the street from him. Heavy in voice-over, in one early scene he describes how he snapped and savagely beat a kid in school as revenge against all his bullies. So that just hangs over the film and gives it somehow more tension while tipping exactly how it will end. And that ending...brilliant. It's also broken up with fantasy scenes of himself as the hero of either the TV show starring his favorite actress, or other heroic roles (the western showdown is pretty great.) A clever, well acted, ingenious film.

And then I ended the night with a short and a feature about the internal lives of young women. In INSIDE VOICES two best friends have a sleepover while one's uncle is out of town. They drink, they sing, they talk about sex, there's a bit of a lesbian vibe to it all...and that's it. Oh, one cuts her foot on broken glass. It was mercifully short.

The same cannot be said of NO LAND WITHOUT EVIL, the first feature from Argentinian director Belen Bianco. And she made the journey all the way here for the first screening of her film outside of Argentina. I wish I liked it more, because she seems like a very nice person. And I can't say it was bad, I can only say that I was bored. I can tell there's an internal emotional journey going on in the young heroine on the cusp of womanhood, and the next-to-last scene where several of them finally openly talk about their opinions about sex, it gets interesting. It's just...I don't know. A long day, late at night, I'd been was hard for me to focus on the rest of it.

Total Running Time: 255 minutes
My Total Minutes: 381,980

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Jason goes to Indifest--Day 2

Indiefest started in earnest last Friday night, and I was there for a pair.

First up, the beautifully bizarre low budget comedy I AM A KNIFE WITH LEGS. Full of half-sequiturs (a word I just made up for quotable lines that make a bit of sense in context but none out of context--like "This eclair is weird" or "You can't fool Death. Death knows you microwave your soup.") It's the story of Bené, a French pop superstar whose girlfriend Baguette was blown up in a suicide bombing and who now has a fatwa on his head, either related to that or to his popular song, "All Religions Suck, Especially Yours." Anyway, he found out about it from an online site where you can request fatwas on people, and someone who goes by iluvtennis127 has put a fatwa on him. Then it gets weird. Simple drawings animate a little less than half the film (done by director/star Bennett Jones who used it as a way to get crazy ideas he couldn't possibly afford to film live.) It's about as wild a ride as you can have with two men (Bené and his rotund friend/manager Beefy) sitting around in an apartment waiting to die.

So my Indiefest has started with a couple of great comedies, so let's try to keep it going by comparing 90s TV teen cultural icons in TGIF vs. SNICK. So in full disclosure, I'm a little too old for this comparison to work for me. I was a Nick kid back in the days of You Can't Do That on Television! and (my favorite almost forgotten show) Turkey TV. I had never seen Clarissa Explains It All before last night. And other Nick shows I would watch with the ironic cynicism of a college student. Anyway, it was still impossible to avoid the culture, so let's take a trip back not-really-my-memory lane.

Full House: I never really watched this show when it was first on. And watching it now all I can say is Bob Saget was a trouper. You can see the famously dirty stream-of-conscience comedian's soul shriveling up as he controls himself to not be dirty (and not really be funny) in this wholesome show. Also, remember when the Internet was full of countdown clocks to when the Olsen twins would be legal? Remember how this show is how we knew about them? Internet, we're sick! I've never needed a shower so badly after watching family television.

Clarissa Explains It All: I had never seen this at all. It was supposed to be the cooler, cable TV version of family friendly entertainment. I know I'm no longer the target audience, but I find it hard to believe that there was a time I ever would've been impressed by this. Yeah, the insult comedy runs a little freer, so it's a little edgier than Full House, but that's kind of like saying tea is more flavorful than water.

Dinosaurs: Now finally we get into a show I watched--and loved. It was uneven and weird--just my kind of thing. I think their multi-part episode on operation We Are Right (W.A.R.) is still brilliant and my first experience with criticism of media coverage. All they played last night was a clip of the series finale, which (spoiler alert) ends with permanent winter and the Dinosaurs all going extinct. Now that's a ballsy way to end a show, even more so than smash cut to black.

Family Matters: Never really watched it at the time, but nobody could escape knowing who Urkel was. The interesting thing to look back on is how Urkel was treated as a stereotypical unpopular nerd, to be laughed at. But watching it now, Urkel is brimming with confidence that has never been seen in any true nerd before or since. He's not an icon in social awkwardness, he's a beacon of radical individuality in a world just starting to recover from the conformity of the Reagan years. I would start a cult of Urkel but emulating him would be completely missing the point. He's a guy who emulates no one, is uniquely himself, and is showing the world that with enough confidence, you can be yourself, too. And the show knew it, they couldn't make Urkel the "real" hero--people had to pretend to hate him, but when he get's everyone to dance the Urkel on a rooftop party, you know they all really love him.

The Adventures of Pete and Pete: And we ended on this absurdist masterpiece. I actually did watch this at the time (in my post-college still ironic and cynical phase, but I loved it all the same.) If Urkel showed us how to be individuals, Pete and Pete took us to a utopia of radical individualism that I've never seen before (and I've been to Burning Man every year since 1998--that's just a drunk party with weirdos. The Adventures of Pete and Pete is true absurd individualist utopia.) In this episode, they try to track down the identity of the friendly but mysterious Mr. Tastee, an ice cream man who never takes off his big plastic costume head. With cameos by Michael Stipe as a rival ice cream man, and a not-yet-famous Heather Matarazzo. Weird!

Total Running Time; 183 minutes
My Total Minutes; 381,725

Friday, February 6, 2015

Jason goes to Indiefest--Opening Night

My first and (for the next two weeks) favorite film festival started last night. And there was definitely a feeling of old friends in the air. I arrived early at the Brava Theater to grab my pass, chat with friends (some of whom I see routinely at the movies, some I see practically just this time every year) and drink some free wine courtesy of Dark Horse Wines. The love was definitely there when I saw this on front row center:
Then promptly at 7:30 Jeff took the stage, thanked all the sponsors behind Indiefest, and introduced the director of the opening film, David Cross! He was, of course, hilarious in his introduction, but I was a bit puzzled why he warned the audience not to expect broad comedy. It seemed like he was setting the expectation that it might not be as funny as we expect. If so, that expectation was wrong, because it was hilarious.

HITS is a story of desperate people and Internet fame. Some are just desperate for justice...or their version of justice. Like Matt Walsh's character Dave, a loving father, municipal worker, and thorn in the side of the city council. He always shows up to demand redress of his grievances--from unplowed streets (I mean, they were unplowed months ago, the snow is gone now) to unfixed potholes. Despite his lack of speaking skills and tenuous grasp of Constitutional law, he's a generally sympathetic character. More on that later. His daughter is desperate for fame, imagining herself being interviewed on Ellen. Unfortunately she can't really sing and won't take advice of Amy Sedaris, who was on Star Search Jr. once upon a time. And then there's the creepy, white, wanna be gangster who follows her around. He's desperate for love...or respect...or fear. The town is rounded out with a who's who of David Cross' celebrity friends, from David Koechner to Wyatt Cenac to Michael Cera. Well, Dave's city council rants grab the attention of a small group of Brooklyn social justice warriors, who make him their cause celebre, producing pandering videos of him as a heroic figure against the evil city council of the ironically named Liberty, NY. The cynicism of YouTube fame and hipster douchebags is given a good skewering, and Dave's final rant in a climactic city council meeting is an excellent payoff. I heard later that some test audiences didn't think it was too funny, and that probably had something to do with his introduction, but I loved it.

And then of course he was hilarious again in the Q&A, chatting with Michael Keegan, talking about how many city council videos he watched and how much of Matt Walsh's dialogue in the meetings was taking from real life.
And then there was an after party where I drank a lot of beer before it was time to BART home. Hooray, another Indiefest is kicked off!

Running Time: 96 minutes
My Total Minutes: 381,542

Jason watches Amadeus - live on stage at the Hillbarn Theatre

Hurry! Only 3 more shows (including tonight.)

And it was pretty darn fantastic. Jerry Lloyd (who needs to get introduced to The Thrillpeddlers at the Hypnodrome in SF) owned the role of Salieri, appearing in practically every second of the 3 hour play and frequently breaking the fourth wall to address the audience. Ross Neuenfeldt was great as Mozart, for most of the film taking the happy, self-admitted jackass role with verve. But he really impressed me in the final act when the jackass turns into a pitiful figure and draws out some real pathos. And, of course, the reason I was there, my friend Ray D'Ambrosio was fine in the smaller role of Emperor Joseph II, providing welcome comic relief (his specialty) in what is a pretty bleak, depressing story.

The story is familiar to anyone who has seen the movie, but this is a fresh take that seems to resonate even more in the YouTube "Epic Fails" age when infamy can be just as valuable as fame. Come to think of it, I was at Indiefest opening night last night (post coming soon) and David Cross' HITS makes some similar points about modern fame. It's pretty interesting juggling those two in my mind right now.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Jason goes to Noir City--Closing Night

And finally, Noir City ended in particularly sleazy fashion.

SECONDS (1966): John Frankenheimer directed this wonderfully bizarre sci-fi noir. Rock Hudson stars as a bored banker who gets a mysterious phone call from a friend that he thought was dead. It reveals a secret organization that will fake your death and give you a whole new look, a gorgeous house, and a wonderfully free and hedonistic lifestyle. There is, of course, a bit of a catch. But I won't tease you too much (except to say that the grape-stomping scene was particularly fun.) A brilliant, mind-bending ride.

THE HONEYMOON KILLERS (1969): And then the absolute sleaze. Based on a true story of the "Lonely Hearts Killers," homely, unpleasant nurse Martha finds true love via a correspondence dating service. Sort of. Who she meets is Ray Fernandez, a con man who routinely romances women via this service, and fleeces them out of their money. But there is chemistry between them. So she joins him in scamming them. And then eventually murdering them. Two sickos teetering between love and jealousy, with greed driving it all. And shot in a way that immediately makes me think of early John Waters films. This took me a few showers to recover from. Awesome!

Total Running Time: 214 minutes
My Total Minutes: 381,446

Jason goes to Noir City--Day 9

A huge marathon, 5-movie Saturday

The first three were a tribute to married filmmaking couple Andrew and Virginia Stone (real noir fans think of them when they say "The Stones," not Mick and Keith)

THE STEEL TRAP (1952): Joseph Cotton is excellent as a bank teller who hatches a plan to steal $1 million from his bank on Friday and escape to Brazil (no extradition treaty) before it opens on Monday. Getting his wife and daughter to come with him without them knowing why might be trouble. And he stupidly rushes his plan because the bank switches to being open on Saturday during the winter (why he didn't wait until next year is kind of beyond me.) The tension of getting a flight, getting their passports and visas, and dealing with delays from the weather is all delicious (when a connecting flight is grounded due to a storm, I almost leaped out of my seat and cheered knowing he was thwarted by risk management!) But when his wife finds out and leaves him, he has a moral reckoning and the plot turns to a race to replace the money before the bank opens. Equally thrilling, adding up to a great movie.

JULIE (1956): Doris Day shows her considerable strength in this story of escaping the abusive husband from hell (Louis Jourdan.) She eventually escapes him in Carmel by hitchhiking and relying on a friend in San Francisco. There she takes a job as a stewardess on an airline, which mercifully keeps her out of town most of the time. Until one time she has a layover in San Francisco again, and her insane husband sneaks aboard with the ultimate "If I can't have her..." psychotic plan. Fun fact, there's a scene in there that will be immediately recognized by fans of AIRPLANE! And in the thrilling finale, I believed Doris Day really could fly and land an airplane...because I believed she could do anything.

CRY TERROR! (1958): What a cast in this one. James Mason plays a humble engineer. Inger Stevens his wife. Rod Steiger as the villainous criminal mastermind that has framed him for an insane bombing/ransom plot. His crew includes Jack Klugman, Angie Dickinson, and a super-creepy Neville Brand. The plot is absolutely insane. The mastermind tricked the engineer into building an ingeniously strong but small bomb, promising a major defense contract. Instead, he's using it for a ransom plot, threatening to blow up an airplane. And he kipnaps the engineer, his wife, and his daughter and threatens them into playing along. The FBI has their best agents on it, and it all climaxes in a frantic chase through the subways (original title, THE THIRD RAIL)

I find it very interesting that the three films that had some of the strongest female characters in the whole festival were created by a husband/wife team.

Then after a break and a little dinner, onto the final double bill of foreign masterpieces.

OSSESSIONE (1943): The Italian neo-realist version of The Postman Always Rings Twice. Luchino Visconti was encouraged to make this movie by Jean Renoir, and the story of it's creation is as infamous as the content of the film. Banned by the fascists, reviled by the Catholics, wasn't officially released outside of Italy for over 30 years due to copyright's a masterpiece. A drifter, a bored housewife and her husband. Lots of drinking, an affair, murder...all the best things in life.

LES DIABOLIQUES (1955): Hitchcock is known as the master of suspense, but he's got nothing on Henri-Georges Clouzot (whose THE WAGES OF FEAR was my favorite Noir City film last year.) Dripping in conspiratorial lesbian undertones, the wife and mistress of an abusive school principal conspire to murder him. It's a perfect plan--they go out of town for the break. They drug and drown him. Then hide his body and dump it in the school pool, which has grown dark with algae. Since they were far away at the time of death, they can't possibly be suspected. With a bit of tension, things go off without a hitch. All that remains is to drain the pool and find the body. And when that happens...there's no body there! And now one of the school boys is insisting he saw the principal. And the two women quickly come unhinged as they can't figure out what's happening. And the ending...I can't tell you about the ending. Seriously, it ends with instructions to the audience to not give away the surprise. And this is a 60 year old spoiler I'm inclined to keep. Brilliant!

Total Running Time: 536 minutes
My Total Minutes: 381,232

Jason goes to Noir City--Day 8

Well, crap. This has to be quick as I've fallen way behind again and Indiefest starts tonight.

Friday...too many Fridays ago was Cornell Woolrich night

THE GUILTY (1947): A minor low budget gem. Two men--old service buddies--are living together in an apartment. They're friends with twin girls (both played by Bonita Granville) who despite their looks are polar opposites--sweet and innocent vs. bad news. And then the wrong one is murdered. I mean, ideally neither are murdered, but the sweet and innocent one was. A dogged police inspector finally gets his man (maybe) in a wrong suspect/wrong victim tangled web.

NO MAN OF HER OWN (1950): Barbara Stanwyck is brilliant in this believably far-fetched (a Woolrich specialty) story of woman posing as someone else. In the beginning, she's kicked out of her no-good cheating boyfriend's apartment. Despite being broke and pregnant she takes a train to California. On the train, a nice newlywed couple befriends her. They're heading out to introduce her to his wealthy family. And then the train derails...and the newlyweds are killed...and she's mistaken for the bride and eagerly welcomed by the family. The first half, despite the family being very friendly, is full of tension as you wonder if she'll be found out. Then her asshole of a boyfriend shows up with a blackmail plot. This all sounds too ridiculous, and it kinda is. But it's also played in such a straight, believable way that it works, and Stanwyck is excellent.

Total Running Time: 169 minutes
My Total Minutes: 380,696