Thursday, March 26, 2015

Jason goes to CAAMFest--Day 6

Just one film last week Tuesday, but it was a doozy and my favorite of the festival, Lav Diaz's STORM CHILDREN: BOOK ONE. For Lav Diaz, this was practically a short, clocking in at under 2.5 hours. Now, I have no idea how to convince anyone that the black and white, mostly wordless documentary about about survivors of super-typhoon Yolanda in the Philippines is the best movie ever. Oh, and I haven't even mentioned that it was almost all in long, static shots. I know, it sounds boring, and I've talked to other people since then who thought it was boring. But they're wrong, it's brilliant. Children walking around, playing in the garbage, picking out plastic bottles, while the world around them rebuilds from the devastation. But the long, static shots and the way he frames them create a sort of...I don't know what to call it, but it's an opportunity to be keenly aware of the act of watching a film...truly watching, not just waiting for what will happen next. There are layers in his composition, and for a while you'll watch the kids...then the cars on the street...then the ripples in the water...then the windows on the house in the background...then the tree swaying in the breeze behind that. And after he spends about 2 hours creating this, he breaks it. He has the kids talk (about how their homes and families were destroyed by the storm,) and he even follows them on a walk along the beach (a moving camera in a Lav Diaz film! Shocking!) And it ends with an amazing tableau of kids climbing all over abandoned ships to jump into the water. Yeah, I don't know how to convince anyone that this movie is freaking brilliant. And I'm not sure I want to, since so many will probably disagree. But I loved it. I've only ever seen his 4.5 hour NORTE, THE END OF HISTORY before, but now I want to see his really long films, like the 11 hour EVOLUTION OF A FILIPINO family.

Running Time: 142 minutes
My Total Minutes: 391,431

Jason goes to CAAMFest--Day 5

Dangit, I've fallen way behind on my blog...again. This is from last week Monday.

First up was SHE LIGHTS UP WELL, Joyce Wu's feature length follow-up to SCREAMING IN ASIAN. She directs and stars as Sophie, a struggling actress in New York who takes a temporary hiatus to return home to Detroit and live with her parents. While there, and thanks to her grandmother (Tsai Chin) she gets involved in the local amateur theater group and their production of Gilbert and Sullivan's The Mikado (full disclosure, I followed this project and contributed on Indiegogo when it's working title was THE REAL MIKADO.) And gets involved in local politics surrounding shutting down the community theater due to budget cuts. We meet an odd and charming cast of local actors (played mostly by local community theater actors) and see Sophie go from a partially defeated failed New York actress to a take-charge, successful community theater director and star...sort of. There are comic mishaps along the way, of course. And I realize I wrote that really badly, like it sounds like a big step down. But the end result is she discovers that fulfillment can be found in unlikely places of community, and that's pretty damn cool. And the movie is funny and charming.

Then I saw PARTNERS IN CRIME, a beautifully shot schoolkid murder mystery drama. Huang, Yeh and Lin are schoolmates but not really friends. They discover the body of a schoolmate, and things take off from there. While officially ruled a suicide, the boys start investigating it themselves as a murder. Well, they each start investigating it on their own, but sure enough the effort brings them together as unlikely allies. A smart crime drama, and an interesting look at school culture in Taiwan (especially the bullying aspect.) But most of all, I remember how beautifully it was shot.

Total Running Time: 169 minutes
My Total Minutes: 391,289

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Jason goes to CAAMFest--Day 4

4 more movies last Sunday.

First up was OFF THE MENU: ASIAN AMERICA, by festival favorite Grace Lee (THE GRACE LEE PROJECT, AMERICAN ZOMBIE, AMERICAN REVOLUTIONARY: THE EVOLUTION OF GRACE LEE BOGGS.) This time she's taking on Asian American identity through food. From the sushi king of Texas--who does a lot more than sushi...and a lot more than Japanese food, but at least it's Asian! To the tofu king, also in Texas. Or kimchi burgers. Or a Sikh temple that serves food for anyone who comes by (it's a Sikh tradition, and it's kind of killing me that I forgot what it's called.) Or new fusion restaurants in New York. It presents food both as a way to connect to your culture but also to express your individuality. And here in America there's a strange tension between traditional dishes and the fusion of the great melting pot. Personally, I'm all about fusion. One of my favorite things I used to get at the Indian grocery store I used to live near was jalapeno and nacho cheese samosas. They're exactly as good as they sound, and to me they taste like America.

Then a more sobering documentary, with THE KILLING FIELDS OF DR. HAING S. NGOR. Dr. Ngor is most known here for winning the Oscar for best supporting actor in THE KILLING FIELDS. But before that, he was a survivor of the Cambodian holocaust, and saw horrors that make the movie pale in comparison. He was killed in 1996 outside his Los Angeles apartment. Officially it was a robbery and he was shot when he refused to give up a locket with a picture of his late wife My-Huoy (who had died under the Khmer Rouge.) But there are still conspiracy theories that he was assassinated by Khmer Rouge sympathizers. Anyway, this movie covers pretty much the entirety of his life, based on his own memoirs. From being a wealthy doctor in Phnom Penh (where both he and his wife had their own Mercedes and driver.) To the underpinnings of corruption in Cambodia that led to the Khmer Rouge taking control. The first few days of excitement that at least they can't be worse than the previous regime. To that all falling apart, and the years of abject horror in the jungle. No food, frequent beatings. Even a crucifixion (yeah, the guy was literally crucified, and survived it.) To the escape and 20 miles of mine fields to the Thai border (out of ~200 that joined him on the journey, 17 survived.) His was truly a harrowing life, but one he survived to make a life for himself in America, work with refugees, and sort of randomly be cast in a movie for fun. And the rest, as they say, is history. But history that will live for hundreds of years, and should never be forgotten.

And then the centerpiece program, MARGARITA WITH A STRAW. Laila is a student at Delhi University. She has friends, is a lyricist for a school rock band, and she has sever cerebral palsy. She goes to study in New York, where she meets and befriends a blind Pakistani girl. Oh, and they become lovers. Although she also has sex with a boy. Oh yeah, and her mom has cancer. Yeah, trying to describe it makes it sound like the movie is trying to set a record for the most dramatic buttons it can push--disabled rights, bisexuality, intolerant parents, India-Pakistan conflict (although the politics isn't featured,) cancer...but it doesn't feel like that when you're watching it. Anchored by excellent performances by Sayani Gupta (who I was surprised to learn is not actually blind) and especially Kalki Koechlin (who I was surprised to learn is not actually disabled) and a smart script, this transcends all the emotional hot buttons to be a sweet, tender, and smart story about people. Just...people.

And finally, the night (and the weekend) ended with MY FAIR WEDDING. Specifically the wedding of film director Gwang-Soo and his producer and long time love, Dave. Ah, yeah, gay marriage in Korea. Nope, it's not legal. But it's a huge media circus and spectacle. And that's intentional...and kinda puts a strain on their relationship at times. But it's all fun as the gay community comes together to throw them an amazing public party. At times the editing leading up to the festival is choppy and head-spinning (probably evoking how they felt at the time) but when they get to the actual wedding, the crowd and spectacle is fabulous. And just a couple of protesters who actually break in and try to disrupt things. So...hundreds (thousands?) come out to celebrate and only two object? Not bad, now if the laws can just catch up. I would have liked to stay for the Q&A, as the two lovebirds were there in person. But it was late and I had to catch the BART home.

And that was the first weekend at CAAMFest. I'm slowly catching up...

Total Running Time: 337 minutes
My Total Minutes: 391,121

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Jason goes to CAAMFest--Day 3

After skipping opening night and day 2, I was up in Japantown for a day off films, mostly shorts.

The first program was Flipside, films that show a different perspective.
D. ASIAN: The perspective of a little boy in 1986 who wants to identify as Asian although he looks white. Turns out he has a pretty compelling case.
DANDEKAR MAKES A SANDWICH: The perspective of a man in a supermarket who makes the most of the free samples. Turns out he has a good reason.
GIVE IT UP: The perspective of a stand-up comedian who jokes about being bad at relationships, drinking a lot, and having a small penis. Turns out he's at least telling the truth about the drinking.
HYPEBEASTS: The perspective of teenagers waiting overnight for the hottest new sneakers to go on sale. Turns out black and Asians don't get along, especially when cutting in line is involved. Things escalate quickly.
MY HOT MOM GANDHI: The perspective of a couple deciding what to wear for Halloween. Like should they do something political like white-face? Turns out they decide it's a bad idea even though it got the best laughs in the movie.
N. KING: The perspective of a couple of Hawaiian youth plotting to rob a store. Turns out at least one had some moral qualms and makes an important decision.
THE OTHER SIDE: The perspective of the hero cop (white guy) taking on a gang of bad guys (all Asians.) Turns out, when you get a glimpse of the other side, thinks aren't so black and white (or yellow and white.)
WOMAN IN FRAGMENTS: The perspective of a dancer who is technically talented but not expressive enough on stage. Turns out it takes a little vulnerability to be a better dancer.

The next program was Family Ties, shorts about family.
COLD SPRING: A father learns his estranged daughter is getting married, and tries to get back into her life and get invited to the wedding.
GIAP'S LAST DAY AT THE IRONING BOARD FACTORY: A loving tribute to the filmmaker's mom, a Vietnamese refugee who settled in the American midwest and made it her home, working for decades in an ironing board factory.
JAYA: Inspired by a true story. A young Indian street girl, posing as a boy to avoid being raped and forced into prostitution. She and her friends run pick-pocketing schemes while she searches for her real father.
MAMA TANG: An old woman in San Francisco tries to hold on to her Chinese way of life while her Americanized son is too busy for her.
MY FATHER, FRANCIS: A documentary about filmmaker Casey Mecija's father who works in a factory but has some time during breaks to make stuff--chairs, toothbrush holders, etc.--with recycled material in the factory. A sweet look at a couple of makers making stuff together.
TO SIT WITH HER: Without being able to speak the same language, a trans-male and his Vietnamese grandmother still share a sweet bond.

Then the next program was Short Shorts, shorts that were programmed by the Short Shorts Film Festival in Japan, and they brought their best here to CAAMFest. I don't want this to sound like a criticism against the CAAMFest shorts programming team, but this was easily my favorite of the shorts programs I saw. So...take that as a compliment to the Short Shorts programming team instead.
IN THE TREE HOUSE: The story of a family where everyone has their own agenda and their own little world. And then it's all disrupted when mom decides to take an unannounced trip, leaving them enough food for a few days. By the time she's back, they're much closer as a family.
AN INNOCENT BEAT: In a world where children aren't allowed outside except to go to school, one girl travels to the forbidden zone, with dangerous levels of radiation. And there she finds something amazing about stopped clocks and heartbeats. Mind...blown.
A SOCCER STORY: Kids playing soccer on Kozu Island (technically part of Tokyo.) When one player on the opponent's team gets injured, a benchwarmer switches sides and gets his time to shine. But friendship and team loyalty get tested.
STROBOSCOPE: A guy just trying to return a briefcase to a police station gets roped into pretending he's a movie director taking people on a location scouting tour of Ibaraki Prefecture. A clever story with a lot of twists and humor.
TWO JULIETS OF VERONA: When the Verona (formerly girls-only) school of culinary arts and nursing gets its first male student, their annual musical gala is set as Romeo and Juliet, and it becomes a crazy competition with surprising results.

Then I took a brief break from shorts to see a feature documentary, TOP SPIN. It follows the path to the 2012 Olympics for three young American athletes--ping pong players (okay, "table tennis" if you wanna get technical.) Ariel and Lily are both from the Bay Area (if I recall correctly, Ariel is from Fremont/San Jose, and Lily is from Palo Alto.) Michael is from New York, and the youngest U.S. champion ever. They're all ping pong American standards. That's the thing, Table Tennis is one of the few Olympic sports the U.S. has never even won a medal in (along with badminton and handball) and one that China absolutely dominates. So...I guess no surprise that Lily and Ariel are both Chinese-American (Mike, on the other hand, is about as white as you can get.) Cool, whatever, they were born here, live here, play for America...they're as American as I am, and I probably wouldn't even mention it if it wasn't in an Asian-American film festival (well, that and one throw-off laugh line in the film about Mike being white.) Anyway, back to the film. It shows the difficulties of balancing training, school, and a social life. And it shows how they put absolutely everything into being the best. As for the Olympic trials...well, you could watch the movie and have the experience I did of watching it unfold as if it was happening right then...or you could look up the results online somewhere. It doesn't really matter, what's important is this was a fun, engaging movie with some very likable young people and a positive outlook about the future of U.S. Table Tennis.

And then back to shorts, with Falling, shorts about love, for good or for bad.
AFTER US: After a breakup, a woman's inner voice talks her through the pain, recovery, and ice cream until she's ready to go out there again.
COMFORT GIRLS: This music video uses comedy to explore the harsh realities of Korean "comfort girls" in WWII, and the harsh realities for women today trying to make men happy (like plastic surgery and a submissive demeanor.)
IF YOU LIVED HERE, YOU'D BE HOME ALREADY: A question of love, home, and marriage as a long time marriage that has fallen into a routine is shaken up when the wife goes to a open house.
MISS GUIDANCE - EP. 4: PERSEVERING: An episdoe of the webseries. In this one, part-time guidance counselor Nilly resists a mandatory social event. Things are awkward until she meets a guy. To be continued?
NEXT LIKE: A funny short using social media to describe different types of women, while a guy gets over his breakup with the help of his soon-to-be brother-in-law.
NO NO, HOMO: Two guys out at the movies...the matinee. They're the only ones in the theater. But is it a date or just a couple of guys watching a movie. The only way to find out is to reach for something other than the popcorn.
SEED OF NEED: A woman has traveled the world, had adventures and romance. But she hasn't found herself. Not until she lets go of everything.
TOUCH OF ESSENCE: And old couple, both with health issues, near the end of their lives. Each makes a last attempt to do something for the other. A beautiful, tender look at the tail end of a life of love.
TRAMP: A beggar in the Seoul subway gets a big surprise from a visitor from his past.

Total Running Time: 469 minutes
My Total Minutes: 390,784

Friday, March 13, 2015

Jason goes to Cinequest--Encore Day and Closing Night

It's finally over. The writing, that is. Not the beautiful memories.

4 more movies last Sunday, bringing my in-festival total to 58, a new personal best (note: I have surpassed that in a combination of pre-screeners and festival screenings before, but this is a new personal best for movies actually seen in the festival.)

First up was the Chinese business drama FACTORY BOSS. Lin Dalin is the director of a toy factory in Shenzen. They have gone several months with no work...which means no ability to pay his workers. In desperation, he accepts a major order from an American toy company. Which is great, they're going back to work. But to deliver on time he has to cut corners. Too much overtime, insufficient safety measures, etc. He basically turns the factory into a sweatshop--and still can't fully pay his workers until the order is delivered. Well, an undercover reporter exposes him, a woman gets sick on the fumes in the paint shop, and his workers go on strike. We've all seen reports of sweatshop conditions in China and elsewhere around the world. This movie shows it from the factory owner's point of view. And it portrays him as a decent, caring man who is doing what he has to to survive, and to provide jobs for hundreds of workers. And when things finally come to a head...well, he tries to do the right thing, as best as he can. But the truth (that is touched on but passed by quickly) is that it is the big businessman ordering from him--at a major discount and with a short deadline--who is far more insulated from his actions than he should be. Full of plausible deniability, he tries to lay the blame on his assistant (a black man, not to subtly becoming the sacrificial sheep.) I applauded when he stood up and took his boss to task, telling him essentially "You knew how low that bid was, you knew what that meant, and you took it anyway." A fascinating, brilliantly acted story that sheds more light on what exactly "Made in China" means.

Then it was time to see the BARCO Escape Shorts Program. BARCO Escape is a system of screens in a movie theater (can be installed in a regular, pre-existing theater) for creating a more immersive experience. And while I had quietly been mocking it as the return of Polyvision it's a bit more sophisticated than that.

First some thoughts on the technology itself, before getting to the content we saw. This had been set up in Screen 10 of the Camera 12 for basically the whole run of the festival. So I walked past it frequently, noticing how it drastically narrowed the aisles near the front of the theater, and how the extra screens were masked with what looked like fake walls you can lean against but you really can't. The safety officer part of my brain triggered on that. Then when I walked into the theater on Sunday with the two side projectors running, the noise was noticeable. What I'm getting at here is although it's designed to go into an existing theater, it will work better in some than others (and theaters built specifically for it would be ideal.)

The other thing I noticed is that although marketing pictures of the panoramic views on the three screens show them melding nearly seamlessly together, the setup they had there did have black curtains masking a small strip between the screens. The presenter did say that this is a work in progress, and this is definitely something they're looking to improve. So actually I don't want this to sound too much like criticism. I really appreciate that BARCO is doing its R&D in public. Whether that's a smart business strategy we will see.

Finally, just a comment on how I liked watching it. First of all, I always sit in the front row anyway. I'm looking for an immersive experience. And I love that they're looking to enhance the immersion without sacrificing the communal experience of the theater (it would be easy for everyone to just slap on goggles and watch immersive content at home, but I crave the communal theater experience.) The other thing I noticed is that I vastly preferred it when the three screens were showing different content, not when they were forming one panoramic shot. When it's panoramic, I tended to focus on the seams to see how well they "connected" and that's the worst part of the image to focus on (perhaps my background as an image quality expert for a medical company played some part here.) Playing three different (but related, of course) scenes on the three screens made for a much more engaging experience for me. Come to think of it, what if you played three completely unrelated scenes on there? That would make for an interesting experimental experience.

Anyway, now on to the experience. And this is not in order:
Clip of THE MAZE RUNNER: I have never seen THE MAZE RUNNER, but it has been released in BARCO Escape format with selected scenes expanded to three screens. But I didn't think this clip worked all that well. The action was all still on the center screen, with the side screens filling out more of the maze, but not really adding too much.
Red Bull footage of skiing/paragliding: Okay, this was actually really cool, and made great use of both the panorama and the three separate views formats. I could definitely see action sports documentaries being a big use of this format.
Concert/Rave footage: I forget the name of this piece, but it was actually pretty cool. Using the immersive technology (I really need to find another word for "immersive") to put you inside a giant rave. Pretty cool.
BURNING MAN: Interesting footage of that thing in the desert, from building the massive art projects to building the city to the variety of people there to burning it all down at the end and packing the remnants home. A fine film and good use of the format, although I generally don't like Burning Man documentaries. That's just kind of my thing. I've been going to Burning Man every year since 1998--longer than I've been going to film festivals. And Burning Man docs never tell my story. They all tend to be awe-full (pun intended) worship pieces about the great art or mind-blowing experiences. They never tell you about being drunk, dusty, smelling like ass, and feeling even worse while yelling obnoxious things at naked passers-by. You know, my Burning Man.
THE 9TH HOLE: A comedy about a girl going to prom, her dad, and her date. Amusing, and featured my favorite scene in the whole program for using the three screens. Dad and date sitting on couches facing each other on the two side screens, while the middle blank. Elegant use of negative space to show the chasm between the two of them.
WITHDRAWAL: A powerful story of a father helping his estranged daughter kick heroine. As they fight and she goes through the spasms of withdrawal in the center screen, the side screens are used to tell their backstory. It does get a little bit like a flood of information, but that just means it's bound to reward multiple viewings. So...where can I see it again?
CANTEEN: Post-apocalyptic world. Danger everywhere. Nothing more dangerous than running out of water, though. Good use of the three screen format, too.
LADY GAGA AND TONY BENNET IN CONCERT: This was a sneak preview of a feature-length concert film in the works. Great use of the three screens, and with this and her Oscars performance, Lady Gaga seems to be making a strong case that she's a legitimate, serious musician.

So that was really cool, and I'm looking forward to how this concept and technology evolves over time. But I had to run off for my next movie (after another drink in the lounge, of course.)

And that next film, my penultimate film of the festival, was NO EVIDENCE OF DISEASE, the greatest words that a cancer patient can ever hear. The film is an inspirational look at the doctors treating cancer. Specifically, gynecological cancer (you know, cancer of the lady parts.) They're also rock stars, and their band (playing benefits to raise money for GYN-cancer, which receives much less funding than prostate cancer alone...just saying) happens to be called No Evidence Of Disease (which they abbreviate as N.E.D., which must be cool/confusing for anyone in the audience named Ned.) The film also follows several patients, with outcomes ranging from the hoped-for N.E.o.D. to the...not so good. Moving, and powerful, one of the points the movie makes is that a positive attitude is very important to surviving cancer, and these doctors do heroic work fighting it on a medical and spiritual level.

And finally, after one last drink in the lounge, it was off to the closing night film.

After a talk and Maverick Spirit Award presentation to legendary producer Mike Medavoy, we settled in for 5 TO 7. Anton Yelchin plays Brian, a struggling writer in New York. And then he sees Arielle (Bérénice Marlohe) and crosses the street to talk to her. He's immediately intrigued, then quickly smitten, then a bit confused when she says she's available every day from 5 to 7. Turns out that's something of a French/upper class code for "I'm married, but my spouse doesn't mind if I take a lover as long as I come home every night." In this case her husband is the French ambassador, and he has his own lover and she's practically part of the family. And so they start an affair that forces him to break all of his rules, and eventually it gets so intense that he...well he tries to get her to break her rules, too. A smartly written, finely acted story of an intense love affair that has to end eventually leaving only the sweet memories remaining. Kind of like Cinequest.

And then it was all over but the drinking. The after party was at The Glass House, and everybody got 2 drink tickets. But because I know everybody and have something of a reputation everyone was slipping me extra tickets. So I drank until near midnight. Hugged everyone in the room (yes, including Anton Yelchin and director Victor Levin,) had a ton of laughs, took a few flipbook pictures, maybe ate a snack or two. And finally got home a little after midnight, just to go back to work the next day.

And then over the course of the week it finally hit me that it's really, really over. Well, except for writing up the end of it. Which now is...over.

Total Running Time: 346 minutes
My Total Minutes: 390,315

ps: At least CAAMFest started up Thursday, to keep me from getting the film fest DTs.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Jason goes to Cinequest--The Penultimate Day

5 more movies last Saturday, and another 4 on Sunday. It's all over now but the writing.

First up an animated short LOVE IN THE TIME OF MARCH MADNESS. A funny and poignant look at a 6'4" women's basketball star, and her awkward love life dating shorter men (because she just can't find guys taller than her.)

That was the lead-in to THE YEAR WE THOUGHT ABOUT LOVE. And I'm pretty sure if I hadn't been so exhausted, running on whatever you run on when you've run out of fumes, I would've felt so many feels my heart would've exploded and I would've died.

That's a horrible way to review it (especially using "exploded" in a movie with a scene at the Boston Marathon bombing.) Let me start again...

THE YEAR WE THOUGHT ABOUT LOVE is an amazing, beautiful, incredibly moving film about a theater troupe of LGBTQ (if I missed any letters, I'm sorry) youth in Boston. They tell their stories of love, acceptance, and struggle for acceptance (thankfully, more of the former than the latter) over the course of a year while creating this powerful and cathartic stage show. Beautiful and inspirational. There, that's better.

Next up was SHORTS 7 - Something Funny. Hooray, laughter!
DE SMET: A new neighbor provides a chance at romance that breaks up the best cigarette-rolling, card-playing trio of single guys ever.
DONATIONS: A woman finds the man of her dreams working in the blood bank. Sure, it took her a few tries to get him to draw her blood, but sacrifices are worth it for a chance at true love.
FIRSTWORLDPROBLEMS: Beautifully short, hilarious, and to the point. Sometimes mothers just worry too much.
THE FLY: The getaway driver is foiled by an annoying insect. Absolutely hilarious.

I have to pause and mention that there was someone in the audience laughing uproariously through the whole program, but none more than this one. It was a piercing, horror-movie kind of laugh punctuated with "Holy Shit that's funny!" He kind of became part of the show, and it was awesome. I wish I could've found that guy.

GRAND ZERO: It's not a's a multi-level marketing opportunity. But a son doesn't necessarily want to inherit the downstream from his parents.
HOW GUYS' THOUGHTS RUIN PERFECT RELATIONSHIPS: Perfectly to the point, a guy's inner monologue of stupid complaints destroying his perfect relationship.
LATE SHIFTERS: Two convenience store workers on the midnight shift listen to conspiracy radio and meet an eccentric customer who might just be an interdimensional space alien disguised in human form.
LEONARD IN SLOW MOTION: Leonard lives in slow motion in a regular-speed world. But maybe a massive overdose of energy drinks can cure him? The best use of slow-motion gold vomit ever!
LORD OF CATAN: Some people take Settlers of Catan waaay too seriously. Hilarious mayhem ensues.
NEW SOUL: A new soul just about to be born. Larry Miller as the exit interviewer preps him for his new life. He gets to make some choices, but race and sexual orientation are up to chance. Otherwise everyone would be gay Samoans, and if we were all gay Samoans there would be no more gay Samoans. Sorry I gave away the best joke in the short, but I couldn't resist.
TUNING OSCAR: A couple agrees that if she dies, he will wait at least two years before dating anyone else. Almost two years after her death, he's still afraid to cheat on her.

Then I actually had time to go the the Soiree at San Pedro Square Market and see the announcement of the jury awards. Congratulations to all the winners! And while I'm at it, since I'm writing this a few days later, congratulations to the Audience Award winners, too! And heck, congratulations and thank you to all the filmmakers who brought their work to Cinequest, especially the ones who had a drink with me!

Okay, now back to our regularly scheduled blogging.

Next up was SHORTS 6 - Docunation. Hooray, real life! (I ended up seeing every shorts program except #9, the high school student shorts.)
BEYOND RECOGNITION: Native Ohlone (not a federally recognized tribe, which is kind of a travesty) activists fight San Francisco Bay Area sprawl, particularly building shopping malls on their burial grounds. For real, this happens.
ELGIN PARK: As I said at Indiefest, 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.
HOTEL 22: The VTA bus route 22 is the only 24 hour bus service in the Silicon Valley. And at night, for $2, the homeless and destitute can sleep for an hour or two. A sad look at the poorest people living in one of the richest parts of the world.
LOOKING AT THE STARS: Blind ballerinas are freakin' awesome!
LUCHADORA: And so are female Mexican wrestlers!
RARE TEA CELLAR: A look at a shop selling rare teas and other treats, and its proprietor Rodrick Markus.
SEVEN WAYS FROM SUNDAY: Audio descriptions of life, with stuffed animals in strange conditions.
SUGAR COATED: Lolita fashion in Los Angeles. It's about being cute and fun, not about sex. Right? Ignore the fact that it's named after a famously smutty pedophile book, it's not about sex.

Okay, then it was time for HEART STRING MARIONETTE by Cinequest alum M. Dot Strange. There's an interesting story behind how it came to Cinequest, which you can read here. And for that matter if you want to know what I thought of his first movie, here it is:
And finally, the midnight mixed-media animation "We Are the Strange". Set in the world of a video game of the same name, with characters like "Blue", a girl who's skin turns to scales if she talks, smiles, or opens her mouth; "Emmm", a little doll boy on a quest for ice cream; "Rain", a cloaked, flamboyant monster-killer; and "Him", the pure E-vile overlord of stopmo city. For the first half, it's sort of a WTF trip, like watching the world's dumbest/craziest video game play with itself. And then eventually there's a story that takes over, in the form of giant robots battling each other. Pretty f-in' cool.
Okay, cool.... Well, HEART STRING MARIONETTE also feels like watching a video game. But this is a game about an avenging samurai an an evil clown. And either I was really tired, I have less patience for gratuitous weirdness, or this movie was worse that WE ARE THE STRANGE because this time rather than "pretty f-in' cool" I would say "that was pretty f-in' exhausting." Oh, well.

And finally, the midnight movie, THE HOUSE ON PINE STREET. This was pretty f-in' cool. It starts by looking like a pretty standard, very well done haunted house movie. Jennifer (pride of San Mateo Emily Goss) is seven months pregnant and moving with her husband Luke from Chicago to her old hometown in Kansas. And she doesn't like it. She had a good life and good friends in Chicago. In Kansas she's under the control of her domineering mother, who seems to have teamed up with Luke to keep her under control. Then strange things start happening in the house--like doors slam shut or furniture moves around. The acting is excellent and the sound design keeps the tension perfect. And as the story unfolds I realize this is much, much smarter than the typical "haunted house" flick. The ghost...or energy...or whatever is in the house isn't the real monster. The real monster is isolation. I really felt for Jennifer living there all alone. No friends in town. Her husband doesn't trust or believe her. Her mother doesn't trust or believe her. When her best friend comes to visit for a's nice for a while, but eventually apparent that she doesn't trust or believe her either. Now...there's a backstory that drives all of this, but I can't spoil that.  Nor can I spoil the ending, which I'm still kind of puzzling over (in a good way.) And I'll also mention that there's a possible political reading of it, as it's kind of a horror movie about how when a woman gets pregnant she's no longer able to make her own decisions about her own body. But mostly I want to say how it's a great, smart, and very professional-looking horror movie with excellent performances. But don't just trust me, there are other much better written and also glowing reviews here, here, and here (full disclosure, that latter one republishes my reviews often) and Emily Goss did win the Best Actress Award at the Fargo Film Festival. So I'm not the only one who thinks it's great!

Now the one reason you might not trust me is that I've drunk with the filmmaking team all week and even led the Q and A after the film. I've been at Cinequest for 15 years, but this is the first Q&A I did. We talked about the making of the film, the impressive sound design, and the funniest thing that happened on set (life lesson--skin tight unitards can be see-through in bright light) until eventually the theater manager kicked us out, since it was daylight savings time so we lost an hour during the Q&A and it was not after 3 a.m.

Then I was back to the penthouse of the DeAnza to party until about 5 a.m. with whatever friends and filmmakers could keep up with me. Then up again for Encore day starting with drinks in the lounge at 10 am, because I'm a fucking rock star!

Total Running Time: 539 minutes
My Total Minutes: 389,969

Monday, March 9, 2015

Jason goes to Cinequest--Day 11

Another 5 shows on Friday. For those keeping score at home, that makes my total so far 49. Which means I'm unlikely to hit my goal of 60. But I have a good shot to break last year's record of 57, depending on the Encore Day schedule.

Anyway, my Friday started with IN THE COMPANY OF WOMEN. This was a movie that I was primed to hate, and did for about half of it. A young, handsome, escort is given one night and one last big paycheck to help elderly college professor Peter get laid. So they go to the clubs, the escort uses his skills, moves, and expertise to get women to talk to Peter, and then Peter continually fucks it up by being an old-fashioned gentleman who prefers to talk about conservative notions of romance and monogamy. But then what the heck is he doing trying to pick up chicks? Well, over the night we learn more about him, and about the escort, and...without giving too much away it goes from a sort of situation I was primed to dislike to characters who are good enough that I ended up liking them and liking the ending. So stick with it, even the characters and situations seems annoying at first...they redeem themselves by the end.

Next up was SEA HORSE, the other post-apocalyptic journey through the wilderness in the festival (the first being ASTRAEA.) Beautifully shot in the woods outside Seward, Alaska, it's the story o f a few women (and one Walrus Man) traveling to the sea for...some reason. I didn't quite understand a lot of the motivation in the movie. There's a lot of distrust, fights, etc. It's definitely one of those movies that you have to fill in the blanks yourself. But at least it was beautiful to watch while I was mystified by it.

And then the even that is always one of my favorite events of the festival, the Silent Cinema at the California with Dennis James rocking the mighty Wurlitzer organ (which he calls the only perfectly restored Wurlitzer he has ever played.)

This year's silent feature was King Vidor's THE CROWD. John Sims was always told by his father that he would grow up to be someone special. So he becomes one of the 7 million people who are sure New York City would collapse without him. That despite just being one of hundreds of clerks for his firm, and not one who is moving up the ladder quickly. His friend Bert convinces him to blow of studying and come party at Coney Island with him and a couple of girls. Which is how he meets his wife Mary. So before his ship has come in he has a wife, a kid, and some in-laws who hate him for not earning enough. And then...well, I don't want to give too much away because for some reason I still care about spoilers for an 87 year old film. But it's a brilliant, moving, subtly acted and still relevant movie about struggling to make it in the big, cold city. And it even provides its own applause at the end.

And then I caught BOOZE, BOYS, AND BROWNIES. Boy, I really wish this was less auto-biographical because I found the main character really, really, really annoying. Vivian (writer/director Veronica Mannion) is a struggling actress in L.A., drinking a lot and obsessing over one of four different guys at a time. That and working on a one-woman show, although you rarely see her writing or rehearsing. Oh, and it's a musical, but I don't really care about that either. I saw the movie because I had a drink with her in the lounge. So I've completed my duty, but it doesn't mean I have to like it.

And finally, I ended the night with a midnight screening of Shorts 5: Mindbenders. Hooray, my mind was bent!
BURNT GRASS: Bent my mind when that girl got all duplicated.
DANNY AND THE WILD BUNCH: Bent my mind with how sometimes the characters you write do what they want to do, not what you think you want them to do.
THE DETECTIVES OF NOIR TOWN: Bent my mind when the puppet detective tried to solve the Rubik's cube, and realized how hard that is in black and white.
ECDYSIS: Bent my mind when...umm...not much happened. And I think I fell asleep.
IN EXTREMIS: Bent my mind when the night watchman found something disturbing behind the brick wall.
LOVE AT LAST SIGHT: Bent my mind with how fucking rapey it was, then how murdery it was, too.
SOLO FINALE: Bent my mind with opposites--old and new, light and dark, and upside-down dancing.
TURN OF THE SCREW: Bent my mind when that guy found a loose screw and searched everywhere to find what it came from. It's like a scene from my own life.
WIEN FOR LIFE: Bent my mind when the wrong guy won the lottery, and everything went downhill from there. Hilarious.

Then I had a few filmmakers back in my penthouse suite at the DeAnza Hotel. Partied until about 4:30 am, and was still in the lounge by 10 am for the first drink of the day. That drink was coffee.

Total Running Time: 506 minutes
My Total Minutes: 389,430

Friday, March 6, 2015

Jason goes to Cinequest--Day 10

Another day, another 5 shows. So after a few screwdrivers to wake me up in the lounge, I was off again and running.

The first show started with the Picture The Possibilities short, SNACK MOMS, a funny little story about super-competitive moms who insist on being the snack coordinator for their kids' event.

And that was the lead-in to the feature WAX: WE ARE THE X. Set in the French Riviera and starring a trio of thirty-somethings late-end Gen-Xers (also known as the Expendable Generation) it takes a sly jab at selfie culture as found footage documents the adventures of three expendables on their way to a commercial shoot in Italy. A lot of it is funny slice-of-life stuff, but it really picks up with the twist at the end. Which is a shame, not because it doesn't make for a good movie but because it makes for something that's really hard to write about. So instead of writing about the ending (which is my favorite part,) but instead about the found-footage style of the rest of the film, including several scenes that were shot on an iPhone. And all I'll say about that is don't be afraid that it will look like crap just because of that. It actually looks pretty great. And this is the second time in the last 3 months I've been surprised by how good an iPhone movie can look. We're truly in an age when everyone has the ability to make a good-looking movie on their cell phone. So if the crap you put on Youtube sucks, it's your fault, not your phone.

Next up was my favorite of the fest so far, ALLY WAS SCREAMING. Okay, first I have to lay out my biases, so you can judge whether or not to even trust my review (but trust me, you should trust me.) Back in 2008 Jeremy Thomas came to Cinequest with this awesome mind-blower called THE END. It ended up being my favorite of the festival, and my favorite film to champion for the rest of the year (and beyond, like when it came out on Netflix.) And now fast-forward to this year and with my drink-with-you-and-I'll-see-your-film rule I don't even read the descriptions anymore. So I didn't realize Jeremy was back until I started talking to him in the lounge. But when we reconnected, I knew this was my most anticipated film in the festival. Too bad it was late enough in the festival that I could only make their final screening (barring an Encore Day, I hope.) Anyway, for a few days the anticipation was rising and I was hoping I wouldn't get my hopes up too high and be disappointed. I was not disappointed.

After a few technical glitches that caused us to restart the movie three times, we finally got this little masterpiece on the screen (with sound.) It actually starts at Ally's funeral, and we quickly learn a few things about her life. Like her best friends from high school were Seth and Nole. And that her husband beat her, and then beat up his boss and went to jail. And that she was finalizing her divorce. And worst yet, that she never got around to updating her will so the abusive jailbird gets everything. Which is painful enough, but when they discover a winning lottery ticket worth $30 million, things take on a new dimension. Her sister Casey is the executor of the estate, and is scrupulous perhaps to a fault. Even knowing he beat her, she would give the $30 million to the jerk. Not split it with Seth and Nole, not even give it away to Ally's charity helping African kids. At least, that's what they expect. So is it possible they can find some other way to collect the money without her knowing. Options--convince her to split it--not likely. Try and cash it without telling her--also problematic, as Ally doodled all these distinctive bells on it, like she did on everything. If they show the ticket on the news Casey will know it was hers. about killing her? Out of the question, right? They're too nice for that. But then, how many thousands of African kids could her death save? And she does say without a question she'd give up her life to save thousands of poor, starving strangers if given the opportunity. This is a very, very smart movie about morality. And much like I had to dance around the giant twist in THE END, I now have to dance around the question of whether or not they go through with their sinister plans. In fact, I won't say anything about it, other than it had me squirming in my seat. I'll also say that it's a smart psychological movie. So many morality tales are relatively simple--even if it deals with a complicated moral quandary, the story is generally of a form that there is a "correct" decision and as much as the characters can be tempted to do the wrong thing, if you don't choose the right decision you're not a moral person. But that's not the case here. This isn't a morality play as much as it's an engaging mental story that happens to be about questions of morality. And rather than making you feel immoral if you choose the wrong option, it makes you feel at least somewhat moral just for entertaining these moral questions. What I'm trying to say is this movie got me closer to thinking about becoming a vegetarian than any movie ever. I'm not going to do that, because meat is delicious. But it made me think about it, so that's something, and according to my read of the movie, that makes me good. Maybe I'll look more for humanely butchered meat.

Then I saw a stupid crowd-pleaser (actually, I don't know if anyone was pleased, because I ran out during the credits to get to the tail end of the soiree, but it was certainly constructed to be a crowd pleaser.) MISS INDIA AMERICA opens with Lily giving her valedictorian speech and telling everyone how she knew she was the best when she was a freshman 4 years ago. She hates to lose, and she's bitchy enough that I immediately don't like her. She has her whole life planned out--Harvard, John Hopkins, famous brain surgeon. That's okay, but she also has planned out her boyfriend's life. At least up until he takes a break and starts spending time with the reigning Miss India Nationals. So she enters the competition, stomping on her best friend's dream, and is just as bitchy, competitive, and overachieving there. Then she learns a lesson and undergoes something like a growth arc, but by that time I cared so little about her that I wanted her growth to be a tumor.

MISS INDIA AMERICA has no more scheduled screenings at Cinequest, but does play at CAAMFest up in San Francisco in a week. 

And then Shorts 4: Animated Worlds. Yay cartoons!
BEAR STORY: A beautiful story of a bear who was stolen by the circus, escaped, and made a clockwork story box about it. Really cool.
BEHIND MY BEHIND: A poem about what you might find in the cushions of your couch. You know, crumbs, the remote, a completely new magical world...
CHIAROSCURO: A flaming ball in a labyrinth is chased by a threatening black blob of blocks. The look was pretty awesome.
CROW: Poetry set to avant garde imagery of fluid and decay.
THE DAM KEEPER: Piggy is teased. Piggy makes friends with fox. Fox betrays him. Piggy can't hold the dam back, and lets darkness overtake the town.
DINNER FOR FEW: A social/political metaphor for greed, exploitation, revolution, and repeat.
FOOTPRINTS: Bill Plympton's latest, which I saw at Indiefest.
GERMAN SHEPHERD: The memories of the son of a Holocaust survivor, his hatred of Germans and his love of Holocaust movies.
HEAVENLY PEACE: An estranged couple reconnects on Christmas thanks to a beleaguered Cupid and Miss Barbara Streisand. Maybe the best romantic comedy at Cinequest.
JINXY JENKINS, LUCKY LOU: Or maybe this is the best romantic comedy. Jinxy Jenkins lives in building 13, Lucky Lou lives in lucky number 7. He's an accident magnet, she lives a charmed life. The only lucky thing that has ever happened to Jenkins is meeting Lou.
THE LAST RESORT: Mom and dad are out, so twin teenage girls are managing the lakeside resort. There's one customer, and one little sister who will make their lives hell. Hilarious.
LUNA AND LARS: Stop motion dark story of the night life of marionettes.
NINE: Cats and butterflies and warthogs and monsters and cats who have powers. Very cool.
TEETH: A man's complicated life-long relationship with his own teeth. From baby teeth to losing his adult teeth to dentures to teeth of other animals to the greatest dentures ever!

This program plays again Mar 6 at 1:30. Crap, that's like right now! Go see it now. Fast, like a bunny!

And finally, I ended the nights with Shorts 8: College Film Competition
ATTACK OF THE KILLER TREES: Lumberjack vs. demon trees. He might have to call in the beavers for backup.
BELL JAR: A swimmer in San Francisco, pondering jumping into the ocean.
BLAME: A kid on his way to a bright future. First of his family to go to college. And not some podunk community college, M.I.T. And then his parents find some horrible incriminating evidence on his phone, leading to a moral crisis.
THE COLUMBARIUM: A brief look at the last place in San Francisco where your earthly remains can rest.
HE TOOK HIS SKIN OFF FOR ME: A story of the things guys do for love.
INCH ALLAH: The life of a young Moroccan living in Mexico.
LAST STOP IN SANTA ROSA: A hostel for aging and dying pets, which I saw back in Docfest.
MARVELOUS FISHMAN: A sideshow attraction runs away and tries to find his parents. But he can't stay out of water too long. Maybe the little girl who is his new friend can help him.
NEW MISSION: A look at the changing face of the Mission district in San Francisco. Fuck gentrification.
NO REFUGE: PTSD is a bitch.
RATTLEFLY: Fuck it, I can't describe it, just watch it.
TIMMY II: Timmy II isn't accepted because he's a robot. So he undergoes expensive upgrades to look human. Too bad he looks like a Middle Eastern human and then 9/11 happens. Dude, 9/11 just happened. That's hilarious.

This program plays again Mar 6 at 9:15. So if you have no other evening plans...

Total Running Time: 515minutes
My Total Minutes: 388,925

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Jason goes to Cinequest--Day 9

My stamina was back on Wednesday, with another 5 movies. Of course, first a few drinks in the lounge. By this time in the festival, I have a few screws loose, so I needed a couple of screwdrivers.

The first movie started with a short MY GLOVES ARE HANDS. A young girl is fascinated by boxing, although her mom wants to make sure she's ladylike and doesn't miss ballet practice. A film about the power of hope that a good coach can give you.

And that was the lead-in to the feature, CRESCENDO! THE POWER OF MUSIC. In 1976 Maestro Jose Antonio Abreu founded El Sistema in Caracas, Venezuela. The idea was simple and powerful--to use youth orchestras to promote social change by lifting up the lives of underprivileged children. Since then, it's spread around the world, and this film mostly follows the lives of participants in New York and Philadelphia. We see these kids come alive in music class, succeeding there when they've struggled elsewhere in school and growing up. We see kids have a rock of stability in their lives where they've had none before, a reason to pursue something good morning, noon, and night. But this isn't just a simple, feel-good, 'music saves everything' story. They still struggle with school and growing up (which is hard no matter how privileged you are.) We see young Raven go from a violinist with a lot of potential (I'd stop short of saying prodigy, but she's definitely head and shoulders above other students) to a little diva who won't pay attention and behave. We see Mohamed, who shows so much life and passion on the trombone but is still struggling in math (now if someone shows him how math and music are so intimately connected, I'm sure he'd excel at both) and his father is threatening to pull him out of the program if his grades don't improve. Music provides something good for them all, and for a special few it might even become a career. But that's just one island of stability in a choppy sea of real life and growing up. And the movie captures that brilliantly, without losing the overall message that music, and La Sistema, is pretty awesome.

This was the last showing, barring an Encore Day screening. In fact, it's late enough in the festival that let's just make that the assumption unless I say otherwise.

Next up was ELSEWHERE, NEW YORK, which I'd estimate is one of the more divisive films in this year's festival. Jen is new to the city, and while waiting for her friend Chris to come home, she stops at a local bar for a drink. There she meets the bartender Todd, they have a fun night, and she wakes up at his place with a note thanking her for the wonderful time and...nothing else. So she's a little annoyed by that, although to me that seems kind of petty--she knows where he works and lives, she didn't give him her number, so it seems like she has all the power to see him again if she wants. Anyway, cut to a couple of years later. She's with Ethan, a gallery manager and they seem to have a nice, loving relationship. His roommate is moving out, so she has an opportunity to move in with him, but she isn't sure so he gets a new roommate. Who by shear coincidence is Todd. So the second point that annoyed me about her character. Yes, it's awkward but she could've been upfront and said, "Hey, funny story. You know what, we've actually met before." Yeah, it would be awkward and weird for a moment, but they're adults and presumably could work it out (and if they couldn't, they're not adult enough to be having adult relations.) But instead both she and Todd decide to keep it a secret. Worse yet, she starts thinking she might actually prefer Todd over Ethan. And her indecisiveness just bugged the heck out of me. That, plus Todd seems like kind of a douche and Ethan is kind of a pussy, so I didn't really like any of the characters (not that I found them unrealistic, mind you, just unlikable.) 

Now talking to other people about the movie, there's varying degrees of agreement or disagreement over how likable or believable the characters are. But there does seem to be widespread agreement about the cinematography, and I seem to be the only one who likes it. Shot hand-held, guerrilla style over New York, and often floating in and out of focus, this seems to bother a lot of people (including at least one person I know who sees a lot of movies and had to cover her eyes for much of this because it was making her sick.) I might be the only person at Cinequest who liked the look, I thought it gave a distinct searching quality to it that matched the story (as much as I didn't really like the story.) So...take that for what it's worth.

Then we stayed in New York for a no-budget (total cost as claimed in the closing credits: $880.09) cinephile's visual poem FOREVER INTO SPACE. Shot in beautifully stark black and white, and peppered with visual cues about films and filmmakers (opening shots reference Errol Morris. Pauline Kael's book comes up a few times. There a reference to Roger Ebert's passing, and the closing credits show off tons of New York cinematic landmarks that I didn't catch during the film.) It's the story of  Audrey, a young blogger (hooray, hero bloggers!) moving to the city with hopes of fame or at least work as a writer. She lives on friend's couches struggles for work, makes friends, and learns they're all struggling too. Everything from a struggling artist to amateur porn star to professional lab rat (as in, subject of drug experiments, not a scientist.) It's a story of post-college recession, creating a "city family" and the inherently impossible pursuit of trying to make sense of the times you're living in. There's a lot in this movie that seems to be critical of "the kids these days" (in particular, a visit by Audrey's big sister) but I'm actually impressed by the young generation (and I'm old enough for that to almost mean something.) Where other grumpy old farts see narcissism, I see self-reflection. Where other old farts see ironic detachment, I see hilarity (and self-knowledge.) Where other old farts see annoying self-entitlement, I see...well, self-entitlement, but I also remember how entitled I felt coming out of college. The only difference is that with a high-tech degree in 1997 you really were guaranteed a good job. So no, kids today aren't annoying, ironic, self-entitled brats...they're awesome, in part because they make movies like this.

Then after a couple of drinks and some crumbs of calamari at the soiree at The Loft, I decided to see something commercial that didn't tax my brain. I seem to do this once every Cinequest, it's always a guilty pleasure, and I always have a great time. Anyway, I shouldn't apologize for seeing KILL ME THREE TIMES because it was hilarious fun. Simon Pegg plays a hitman in Australia. The film opens with him narrating his own death. Then we go back and watch three times as botched assignments and ridiculous double-crosses lead to death and hilarity.... I will end this right now, because I don't think I will ever write a better sentence than that. Anyway, it will be on Demand and iTunes on Mar 26, and in some theaters starting April 10.

And then I ended the night with GUARD DOG. At first--at least in terms of bloodiness--it was almost a continuation of KILL ME THREE TIMES. But in tone it's very, very different. Dog is an ex-military man turned executioner-for hire. He kills people, and he stares at his ceiling as water damage spreads...which I think is a metaphor for his decaying soul, or the decaying soul of Peru (the whole thing seems intimately linked to some Peruvian political issue from the 90s that I didn't understand. Anyway, it was late at night and I succumbed to exhaustion. I'm pretty sure my eyes were open most of the time, but it just wasn't registering in my mind. I'm sorry, but I have to call this one I slept through.

GUARD DOG plays again Mar 6 at 10:00 pm

Total Running Time: 465
My Total Minutes: 388,410

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Jason goes to Cinequest--Day 8

It was a light day on Tuesday--only 3 films. Which gave me a lot more time for drinking.

As always, opening the lounge at 10 a.m., blah blah blah... Interesting, they no longer serve Stella Artois in the lounge, they're saving the last of it for the closing night party. I think that might be related to how much I've drunk.

Anyway, my first show of the day was Shorts 3: Lessons learned. A wide variety of coming-of-age movies.
BERNARD THE GREAT: On his tenth birthday, Bernard decides that adults are stupid and selfish, so he decides to never grow up, and builds a not-growing suit to prevent it.
COLD SNAP: A young trapper boy (theme of the festival--hunting and butchering animals) meets a woman making a fresh start.
DEAD HEARTS: A young mortician falls in love with the kung-fu version of Little Red Riding Hood, who kicks the crap out of werewolves. 70-some years later, he literally gives her his heart for a second chance at love as a zombie.
ITSY BITSY SPIDERS: This boy likes drawing spiders. Lots and lots and lots of spiders. His obsession will prove useful, though.
MY LIGHT IN DARKNESS: A young girl meets an befriends a lonely tramp in the old west. Unfortunately, he's black, so it's not going to end well for him.
NAVIDAD: Family Christmas on the beach in Tijuana. Honestly, I think I fell asleep in this one. Too many drinks in the lounge, I guess. Sorry.
PISS & VINEGAR: A girl hates her stepfather, and digs at him in humorous ways, like fingernails in his eggs, or piss in his bath.
SLAP: A young man is a talented boxer and a cross dresser. He hides it until his gay best friend is being threatened, then runs out in full drag to beat the crap out of his attackers. Thinking this might give him acceptance (his girlfriend thinks it's incredibly brave) he goes to a costume party in drag. But things do not go well. A moving story of true colors, being yourself, and struggling for acceptance.

Then I actually blew off a movie (fuck it, they didn't drink with me) to go to the Soiree at SP2 for food (great ribs!) and drink (Moscow Mules) before heading over to the Media Legacy Award for Richard Von Busack and a screening of the 1934 classic and Jean Vigo's only film (he died at 29) L'ATALANTE. The story is quite simple--the captain of the ship L'Atalante has just gotten married, and they live on the ship with the first mate la pere Jules (Michel Simon, stealing the show) a cabin boy, and a lot of cats (I love those darned cats, they also steal the show.) They travel to Paris, they have some fun there (she's never been) and they put some strain on their relationship. The film is shot beautifully, always framed excellently, and always engaging. This was actually my first time seeing it, and it immediately invites multiple viewings. I also know it inspired the whole French New Wave, but I'm not nearly erudite enough to say something smart about that (now ask me about Italian neo-realism and I about how PEE WEE'S BIG ADVENTURE is a remake of THE BICYCLE THIEF...anyways....)

Then we had a brief interview with Richard Von Busack, the reviewer for the San Jose Metro, talking about his 30+ year career (including the entire life of the Metro) and love of movies. The interview was short because some of us (myself included) had to make a 9:30 screening of KILLSWITCH, which I'm sure Richard was fine with, since he wrote a glowing review of it (which was their cover story.)

But first, the short FORTUNE TELLING from Cinequest's own Vijay Rajan and Siren Song Productions. Four friends grew up wanting to go to Los Angeles and become movie stars. Years later, none of them have been. Life and fears have gotten in the way. So one hand of poker will decide who goes and pursues the dream for all of them. Very moving. And as much as I love teasing Vijay, it's actually really cool to watch him develop as a filmmaker. He might actually have the chops to make a living at this.

And then KILLSWITCH, all about the Internet. Specifically about privacy and freedom of information on the Internet. Ideally, our personal information would be private and public information (e.g., the whole of human knowledge) would be available for free. So of course, those in power want it the other way around. Spy on everyone, and prosecute people like Aaron Swartz who make scientific journals available for free. Or Edward Snowden, who revealed that the government is spying on you (Hi, Mr. NSA man, I hope you're having a great day and enjoy reading this!) Those are the two big stories the movie follows, and they started making the film back when Aaron Swartz was still alive and Edward Snowden hadn't done anything yet. But the philosophical questions...the journey of Lawrence Lessig, or Tim Wu, or Peter Ludlow, or Kim Dotcom...they'd still be important without Swartz or Snowden (okay, Lessig might not be as much of an activist were he not inspired by Swartz, but still...) And the points about how communication technology always seems to evolve this way--from freedom to control. How governments like monopolies so they can control them (Western Union liked Republicans, and from Lincoln until Wilson we had only Republican Presidents...scary.) How these sort of revolutions seem to happen approximately every 50 years (and the last one was the 60s, do the math) is all very fascinating. And the climax, wrapping it all up in Chaplin's speech on humanity in THE GREAT DICTATOR--that was brilliant. I had actually only watched THE GREAT DICTATOR for the first time last year, and I'm convinced that speech should be required reading for anyone who...wants to be human. In fact, stop whatever you're doing, and just watch it again right now, thanks to the awesomeness of the Internet. And now imagine a world where doing that was a felony. Now get scared about how close we are to that world.

Total Running Time: 296 minutes
My Total Minutes: 387,945

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Jason goes to Cinequest--Day 7

Stop me of you've heard this one. Another day, another 5 movies....

Once again I was there at the lounge WHEN it opened at 10:00 a.m. for a couple of Bloody Marys and some blogging.

first up was the Mexican drama/thriller GONZALEZ. A story of struggle, debt, church, and success at all costs in Mexico City. González is struggling with debt and exorbitant interest from his bank--he's paid for his TV four times over and still owes money on it. He finds work at a mega-church run by a charismatic preacher (Carlos "brother of Javier" Bardem.) He works in the call center, but that's not enough to cover his debt. He studies the preacher, and is convinced he can do the same thing. But there's a long training program for that, and you need to have a calling. After all, pyramid schemes only work if there are very few people on the top. Anyway, it all leads to a thrilling, explosive climax, which I really liked. It just took a long time to get there, and I struggled to stay awake and interested at times (that couldn't have anything to do with the 3-4 drinks I had in the lounge before the movie, right?)

GONZALEZ plays again Mar 7 at 4:15

Next up was HAPPY ENDINGS, quirky heist flick from Croatia. Ankica and Ljilja run a massage parlor. Just that, a legitimate massage parlor, nothing dirty. No "happy endings" allowed. Ankica hopes to make enough to support her unemployed husband and daughter, plus enough left over for Ljilja's son's rehab. But without happy endings they're barely surviving and a loan shark is hassling her. So, out of a bit of desperation and with some inside information on the bank's security training (let them take the money to save lives) they make off with a pretty nice score. But more money, more problems. A funny, distinctly Balkan story.

That was the last show of HAPPY ENDINGS, barring a repeat screening on encore day. That means we're well into the festival now.

And then a really funny, cool documentary, MEET THE HITLERS. People with the name Hitler (or Hittler,) people searching for the Hitler's last descendants, or people who really, really like Hitler. It runs the gamut, from a friendly man and his four adult daughters in Salt Lake City, to a teenage girl whose friends don't care about her name (it's the adults who think it's strange,) to a German man with no friends or family, to a journalist looking for the last descendants of Hitler's nephew, living in America, to the New Jersey neo-nazi who named his son Adolf Hitler (and sued a cake shop for not putting that on his birthday cake, and then lost his kids to social services, and then showed up in court in a full Nazi uniform...seriously, fuck this guy.) It's an interesting look at how names influence us...or how they don't. It makes a pretty compelling case that it's the person, not the name, who determines how people will see him (after all, the neo-Nazi's real name is Campbell, and he's easily the most despicable person in the movie (seriously, as much as he tries to make it a first amendment issue and present himself as a loving father...fuck that guy!) And I have some personal experience with dealing with an embarrassing last name, being a Wiener and all. And I can say that when I was a kid I hated being a Wiener, I'd pretend it's pronounced "whiner" like that's better. And now I'm proud to be a six foot tall, fat, hairy Wiener. And my name hasn't changed, just my personality. So that's what's important--Q.E.D.

MEET THE HITLERS plays again Mar 7 at 1:30

Next up was ANTOINE ET MARIE, a French Canadian drama. Marie is a fun, flirtatious girl who goes out with her colleagues at the auto repair shop. But as flirtatious as she is, she is loyal to her boyfriend. Antoine is a frustrated man who spends his nights with online sexual encounters (warning...or enticement, there are pretty explicit masturbation scenes in the film.) One night out at the bar with colleagues, she wakes up not knowing what happened the night before. Antoine is the obvious suspect, but she has no proof so doesn't know what to do. Even when she's pregnant, she doesn't quite know what to do. It's a tense, slow-burn drama with a somewhat ambiguous ending. In fact, not much of an ending at all, although...without giving away any spoilers, I liked the ending despite--or maybe even because--I hated the reality behind it.

ANTOINE ET MARIE plays again Mar 4 at 4:45

And then I ended the night with DERMAPHORIA, a cool, stylish drug-fueled thriller set in New Orleans. Eric Ashworth is a chemist, being quizzed by the cops (Ron Perlman) and his lawyer. He has a bit of amnesia after an explosion at his drug lab. Great, explosive (literally explosive) opening. All he remembers is his girlfriend Desiree, he has to find her and make sure she's safe. Or she might not actually exist, she might just be a code word for the best batch of the drug he made. Set in the seedy--not the touristy--parts of New Orleans, he searches for her in a strip club, at least as a start. The story unfolds in a complicated, confusing way, matching Eric's own confusion. Flashes of memory fill in the gaps--or they might be drug-induced false memories for all Eric knows. The drug he invented is very much related to memory. Without giving too much away, I was hoping for a bit of an easier, cleaner, more satisfying wrap-up at the end. But thinking about it more, and treating it as an atmospheric piece rather than a clean, all-ends-wrapped-up narrative, it was really, really cool.

DERMAPHORIA plays again Mar 6 at 4:30

Then just a couple of nightcaps over at Tanq, and then to bed before 1 a.m. I mean, I needed to be back at the lounge at 10:00 a.m. to start drinking again.

Total Running Time: 450 minutes
My Total Minutes: 387,649

Monday, March 2, 2015

Jason goes to Cinequest--Day 6

The big first weekend wraps up, with just 5 movies on Sunday.

First up was DIRTY BEAUTIFUL, a romantic comedy about not sticking your dick in crazy, especially if you're a bit crazy yourself. After all, it takes two to make a relationship crazy. David is an aspiring screenwriter and storyboard artist struggling to make it in L.A. His car is a piece of crap that keeps overheating. And then he meets Kat in the most interesting way. And it starts out just with him helping her out. She's homeless and escaping a bad guy, so he gives her a roof over her head and food. She's inclined to repay him with sex, but he's old fashioned enough that he actually wants love and intimacy. He has his little obsessive traits, and she...drinks a lot (as far as I'm concerned, that makes him the crazy one.) Odd couple becomes wild romance, and the movie navigates deftly from laugh-out-loud comedy to almost palpably painful dramatic scenes, without ever feeling forced in either direction. That's really what I loved the most about the film--how easily it moved between comedy and drama with every scene feeling like it had the right tone for that moment. Beautifully done, even in the dirty parts.

DIRTY BEAUTIFUL plays again on Mar 3 at 5:00

Next up was MILWAUKEE, which I'm calling the best Burning Man movie to not take place at Burning Man. A group of friends meet in a mountain cabin for a weekend getaway. One has recently been cheated on, another couple is just getting engaged. And one new guy in the group starts talking about Burning Man (as anyone who has ever been there does eventually.) They start talking about worlds with no rules, and decide to maybe try that for a night. Everybody steps across the line to the "no rules" side of the room--some are more eager, some are very reticent. And my favorite thing is that although there's sexual tension all over the place they don't immediately start jumping into bed together. In fact, the first thing they do (after stripping down to their underwear) is playing hockey with brooms and an orange. That to me is a much more Burning Man thing than jumping into bed with someone other than your regular partner. But eventually it does proceed to sex, jealousy, violence, and the safe word. You gotta remember the safe word--#DudeMilwaukee.

MILWAUKEE plays again on Mar 4 at 5:00

I must have been losing it yesterday. I don't think I adequately explained why it's "he best Burning Man movie to not take place at Burning Man." More than just the fact that the night is inspired by a Burning Man conversation, it's the fact that Burning Man can be hell of relationships. It's a real test of strength. And that's true even if you don't have sex with other people. Just the act of declaring "anything goes" too easily becomes a license to temporarily not care about your partner's feelings. To just run off and do what you want, whether he or she wants to join you or not. And that...well, I hope it's not fatal to a strong relationship, but it's a test. And that's what the movie gets so right and what reminds me so much of Burning Man.
-----End Update-----

Next up was a short and a feature, starting with THE ASSISTANT. Janeane Garofalo plays the worlds worst boss. Super-demanding, she's shocked to come back to the office and find her assistant on her couch. She's even more shocked to find she's dead. And then things get even worse.

And then the feature documentary ASPIE SEEKS LOVE. David V. Matthews (no relation to the singer) has Asperger's syndrome (technically by the new DSM it's high-functioning autism scale.) He has been looking for companionship (other than his cat) for decades, going back to the days when he posted quirky dating flyers on telephone polls. He's also the funniest guy at Cinequest this year--maybe for several years--maybe ever. The movie follows him for several years, with a mix of his Aspie therapy, dating adventures, and putting together his book Meltdown in the Cereal Aisle (available on Kindle.) Spoiler alert: he does find a girlfriend, and I am so happy for him. But even if the film didn't have that happy ending, it would still be awesome to just spend some time with this quirky, awkward, sarcastic, and hilarious guy.

This show plays again Mar 4 at 2:45

Then to Switzerland for DRIFT. Robert Felder has just gotten out of jail and is on probation. He was an illegal street racer, but accidentally ran into a little girl and killed her. Now he's trying to get his life back together. He's got a job at a car repair shop (dangerous for a guy who made mistakes with a car to be around so many cars all the time.) His old mates either want nothing to do with him or want him to race again. One of them drags him to a club to party, and he keeps staring at Alice. While we don't learn this until much later--like after they've become friends--is that Alice is the mother of the little girl he killed. Which kind of explains why he gave her a fake name. The tension mounts as we learn more, and we know there's going to be an explosive climax. But it's really the powerful, intense, and very realistic acting that makes this so good. In fact, more than good, phenomenal.

DRIFT plays again Mar 3 at 2:45

And then I ended the night (well, kind of, I ended the night by drinking at the Maverick Meetup until they closed the Loft) with CRUSHED LIVES, SEX, OR KIDS? from Italy. With a movie-within-the-movie, Saverio interviews various couples about how and why couples stop having sex when they have kids. Inspired by his own disrupted sex life due to his kid, he finds everything from a younger couple that still seem to have it going on--until their nanny quits--to an older family who has gone right past not-having-sex to outwardly hating each other. A very funny movie about a taboo subject that doesn't offer a solution other than to laugh and just enjoy having children--but no sex.

CRUSHED LIVES, SEX, OR KIDS? plays again Mar at 12:15


I totally forgot there was a short with CRUSHED LIVES, SEX, OR KIDS?  VERMILLION is the story of Charlie, a bald, sad-sack loser who has had one too many fights with his girlfriend Lucy and kills her. While disposing of her body, his sister Sally finds him and he's compelled to kill her, too. Aaargh! Also I assume his dog is named Snoopy. A noirish take on the grown-up Peanuts gang.

-----End Update----

Total Running Time: 469 480 minutes
My Total Minutes: 387,188 387,199

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Jason goes to Cinequest--Day 5

Another day, another 6 shows (because I just didn't have the stamina for 7, I must be getting old.)

Once again I was in the lounge and having a beer at 10 am. But this time, my first film was at 10:45

It started with a PTP short, AT WHAT AGE? Four people at age 12, 18, 40, and 70 talk about what society says they can and cannot do at that age, and conclude that chronological age is just a hangup.

That was the perfect lead-in to STILL DREAMING. At a retirement home for old entertainers--that is, actors, crew people, or even family of actors--they decide to team up with a couple of up-and-coming Shakespearean directors to put on a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream with the residents. For several of them, this is their first time working at a professional level in decades. For at least one--who's a family member not an actress--it's her first time acting, period. For others, they were song and dance people and never did Shakespeare before. It's hard work (especially if your eyesight isn't good enough to read a script anymore) but they throw themselves into it. Tension mounts as the performance date approaches. There's a dramatic blowup, in fact, and it almost looks like all their work will unravel. But...well, it's not actually important how the performance goes (it's great, actually, and everybody seems to enjoy it) what's really awesome is how the staff talk about being able to reduce their medication and just how much more energy, vibrancy, and life the place has. And that's pretty darn awesome.

STILL DREAMING plays again Mar 4 at 9:15 and Mar 6 at 12:15

Then because the first show started late I had to book it out of there as the credits started to make it to the opening credits of THE ANNIVERSARY. One year ago was Sam and Teresa's 20th anniversary, and they planned a huge party. Then Sam went for a run...and never come back. Now one year later they're having the party again, inviting all their friends although only a handful show up (good for keeping the cast small) because most of them think Teresa is crazy and sad for believing he'll show up again. They go through many stages of...well, complicated relationships. Hate, love, drunkenness, drugs, singing. I know it's a goddamn cliche, but I really did laugh and cry. It's a beautiful movie and I am not a good enough writer to communicate that, so I'm just going to have to ask you to trust me on this. Oh, it's also got Colin Mochrie in a superhero costume, if that hooks you in!

THE ANNIVERSARY plays again Mar 3 at 5:15

Then I hadn't drunk with any filmmaker in the next time slot, so I took a refreshing and revitalizing nap in the lounge....  Ha ha ha! No, I drunk like beer had just been invented! So I was kinda hammered by the time I went to HOW TO LOSE JOBS AND ALIENATE GIRLFRIENDS. So it's a testament to how engaging this movie is that I didn't fall asleep even for a minute. Thomas Meadmore was an editor for Lonely Planet films. His boss is an aspiring musician, and agrees to let him make a documentary about his band Speed Orange making their second album. Problem is he is admittedly not a great guitarist and doesn't have the best voice (this confession will come back to haunt...Tom.) Meanwhile his girlfriend is also an aspiring musician--a folk singer who doesn't put nearly enough work into practicing and writing. And Tom's blunt criticism as a film director threatens to...well, do exactly what the title says it will. Well, that and breaking all the rules about a documentary filmmaker maintaining some degree of distance and impartiality with the subject. Filmed over several years, the story eventually became about how the movie has ruined Tom's life, and the biggest moral, of course, is get your subjects to sign a release first! Tom makes a big deal about how Tarantino was a big inspiration for him to become a filmmaker. I don't know if he'll ever make a Tarantino-esque film, but he's made a great, hilarious, personal documentary.

HOW TO LOSE JOBS AND ALIENATE GIRLFRIENDS plays again Mar 2 at 1:00 and Mar 3 at 9:15

A little schedule reshuffling that I hadn't paid attention to left me scrambling a bit for my next movie, but I eventually settled on the Spanish/Indian movie, TRACES OF SANDALWOOD. Mina was a little girl when her sister Sita was born and her mother died in childbirth. She saved her from being drowned and started taking care of her, teaching her to do laundry as a toddler. But they're sold to a new family, and while Mina is taken to a brothel (where she quickly escapes, no worries) Sita is given to a Catholic orphanage. Mina escapes (as I've said) and becomes a servant/friend for a nice family with a nice older brother who takes a shine to her and takes her to the movies. Flash forward 20 some years and Mina is a Bollywood star, the older brother is her husband and producer, and she's still searching for Sita. In fact, she makes a movie about her life just for that purpose, and gets a call from that Catholic orphanage and through a little digging find out that Sita is living as Paula Diaz in Barcelona. So a trip to Barcelona is in the works. And that was all set up about as quickly as I wrote it. The heart of the movie is really Paula/Sita coming to terms with her hidden past She had forgotten her early years in India, and her parents had never even told her she was adopted. So first she reacts with disbelief, then mistrust (as everyone is telling her that Mina must only be looking for money.) But she starts watching Bollywood movies and starts getting close to a nice Indian man who gives her advice about Mina's films. A charming drama about different cultures and learning how to be part of both of them.

TRACES OF SANDALWOOD plays again Mar 3 at 7:30 and Mar 7 at 2:00.

Then again because one movie started a bit late, I had to run out to make it to the next film at the California, FOR HERE OR TO GO? Keeping with the Indian dual-culture theme, this is very much a Silicon Valley film. Vivek is a tech worker in Silicon Valley, on an alien work visa. He wants to leave his big company job where everyone is a moron who doesn't understand scalability. He wants to work for a small healthcare technology startup, but they don't have a budget for dealing with immigration paperwork. So he's always under threat to lose his job and be deported back to India. His circle of friends are all in similar straits--ranging from illegals to  temporary visas to about to get their green cards. The tension between the "freedom" of America and how quickly that can all be taken away is the source of high drama and some comedy. Add in that a complicated dating life (he seems to know every Sweta in the world) and a spirited debate between making a success in America or returning to India and using skills learned in America to improve their homeland. The immigrant experience has never exactly been an easy one, but the bureaucratic nightmare America has created seems particularly suited to make it impossible (seriously, how can you demonstrate one year of good behavior if that would mean overstaying your visa--by definition being in America one year later is demonstrating bad behavior...never mind the seven years of good behavior preceding it.)

FOR HERE OR TO GO? plays again Mar 6 at 7:00 and Mar 7 at 9:15

And finally, the midnight movie BAD EXORCISTS, a cheap and hilarious story of loser kids at a Catholic school--a nerd, a Jew, and a fat weirdo. And they're all film geeks...but really bad at making a movie. So they decide to make an exorcism flick by stealing their teacher's book on exorcism to add a little verisimilitude to the film. It adds to much, as they get their lead actress possessed by a demon. Oops! Wacky high school hijinx ensue, complete with bitchy girlfriends, super-soakers full of holy water, and heroic nerds. Awesome!

BAD EXORCISTS plays again Mar 1 at 4:00 and Mar 5: at 2:45

Total Running Time: 542 minutes
My Total Minutes: 386,720