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

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