Thursday, April 30, 2015

Jason goes to SFIFF--Day 6

Just one movie last night, but it was a great one. The Kanbar Storytelling award (previously the screenwriting award) was awarded this year to Paul Schrader, and it was pretty cool. Unfortunately, the award was announced after the schedule was released and the program guide printed, so I think a lot of people had made plans to see other shows at that time. At least, that's the excuse I'm using, because the house wasn't nearly full enough for such a great artist.

The interview was good, and Schrader talked about life, writing, directing, etc. In particular he kept moving the conversation back to the movie they were showing afterwards. Which was nice, often the interview gets kind of far-ranging and the presentation is barely mentioned. But he talked about writing with his brother (and then falling out and not talking to him for decades.) And he talked about the odd financing that left it (in his words) a movie made for nobody. Although I do have to give a shout-out to a couple of Bay Area legends--Lucas and Coppola--who got the film made.

Ah, heck, I'm not good at doing or writing about interviews. Let's just get to the film, MISHIMA: A LIFE IN FOUR CHAPTERS. Shot in Japan, in Japanese (which Schrader barely spoke) and about the extraordinary life of Yukio Mishima. He was arguably Japan's most celebrated 20th century author. As a child, he learned the force of words before he learned the force of his own body. He was a sickly child, and that sickness kept him out of WWII. But despairing at the post-war consumerism of Japan, he became a right-wing traditionalist leading his own paramilitary unit to fight for the emperor. The movie starts with scenes from his final day, which you can read about here. Oh, what the heck, it's enough of a well known event and foreshadowed so much that spoilers no longer count (also, the movie is 30 years old.) He eventually took over a military commander's office, addressed the gathered soldiers from the balcony, failed to win them over to his cause, and committed ritual seppuku. But that comes at the end of the film, in fact in the fourth chapter. The others--his childhood, his post-war years, his narcissistic bodybuilding obsession, etc. are told in three chapters, interspersed with adaptations of three of his his works--The Temple of the Golden Pavilion, Kyoko's House, and Runaway Horses. The adaptation scenes provide a fascinating counterpoint, riffing of some of the same ideas in his life but through brightly colored, staged versions of events--comparing and contrasting reality with fiction. An amazing, fascinating movie, and I wish I hadn't been so exhausted (it bodes poorly that I'm struggling to stay awake and it's only halfway through the festival.) So I've already got the Criterion DVD on order, because this is one worth studying a few times.

Running Time: 121 minutes
My Total Minutes: 394,266

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Jason goes to SFIFF--Day 5

Two movies last Monday.

First up was FAR FROM MEN, starring Viggo Mortenson, who as far as I know speaks perfect French and Arabic. He stars as Daru, a friendly schoolteacher in an Algerian village. As the Algerian war of independence incubates, he attempts to stay out of it. As an Algerian-born son of Spaniards who fought for the French (alongside many Algerians) in WWII, he's trying to stay out of it, as he's kind of an outsider to each side. And then Mohamed (Reda Kateb) is dumped at his doorstep. He's been accused of murder, and they want Daru to take him to the local authorities, who will undoubtedly execute him. But Daru is too kind-hearted for that. He actually gets to know the man, learns a bit about him. Like that the plan to turn him over to the authorities is to circumvent an inevitable cycle of revenge killings between his family and his cousins. So he doesn't really want to turn him over, but his hand is forced. And forced again when they're captured by Algerian rebels. And then again when those rebels are ambushed by the French. The cinematography is fantastic, shot in Morocco near the Algerian border. And Mortenson does a great job portraying a man who knows how to fight but also knows that it's more important to live.

And then THE STATIONS OF THE CROSS. Wow, what an interesting movie. And I can't really say why without spoilers. So I'll do a brief explanation and then get to the spoiler part. This is a German movie about Maria, a 14 year old in a strict Catholic family--like, 'reject Vatican II' strict. Her mother is domineering, but basically she wants to live a good, pure life, like Jesus. And she has to navigate the difficulties of that and normal teenage school life. You know, things like gym class playing pop music or a cute boy inviting her to choir practice at a less traditionalist church. True teenage temptations! Oh, and it's formally organized in the stations of the cross, making a direct and blatant parallel between her life and Jesus'.

Okay, now the spoilers part: Her little brother is seemingly healthy but hasn't spoken a word yet. She decides she wants to sacrifice her life to God in hopes that he will hear her prayer and make him speak. So she starves herself. To death. I guess that's the big spoiler. But here's the thing--at the moment of her death (choking on the Eucharist, as she insisted on taking communion on her death bed) her little brother speaks. And then in the final shot, after so much of the movie is in still frames, it ends with a rising crane shot that is an obvious point-of-view shot of the soul ascending to heaven. This is what makes it so interesting. Many of my friends have described the movie as a slow-motion train wreck you just can't look away from (that's meant as a compliment.) And they've talked about how religion (or at least religious fanaticism and asceticism) is child abuse. And that's a fair reading of the movie. But an alternate is that she aspired to sainthood and achieved it. That her death is a happy ending--she gets to go to heaven, her brother gets to speak, and her parents are starting the process of getting her declared a saint. To approach it a different way: if her story parallels Jesus', and her story is a slow-motion train wreck, what is Jesus' life? And I say this as an atheist. This movie isn't great because it condemns religion, this movie is great because it inspires deep thoughts about religion.

Total Running Time: 212 minutes
My Total Minutes: 394,145

Jason goes to SFIFF--Day 4

5 shows on Sunday, and the big first weekend is finished.

I started with the shorts program of family films. And when youth education manager Keith Zwölfer introduced the program and asked if there were any adults here without kids, I proudly raised my hand. Because I, like a few others, know that great movies are great movies no matter what age they're aimed at.

ARIA FOR A COW: A funny, musical number about a cow who demands respect, not just to be thought of as a source of dairy. Because life is a cow-baret old chum. Interesting background info, the song was actually written (by award winning team of Howard Ashman and Alan Menken) on spec for Sesame Street. They passed, but they always liked the song and eventually Disney animator Dan Lund made it into this great little independent short.
COWS (MOOSIC VIDEO): A funny, musical number about cows...who are cows who dance and sign because why not? Every movie should be about singing, dancing cows!
DUET: Was not about cows, darnit. But is instead is a beautiful portrayal of the life of a couple from birth to childhood friendship to couplehood. From master animator Glen Keane. And can be seen here.
HOME: A moving story. Ha ha, get it? It's a moving story because it's about a mother and her son moving to a new place and saying goodbye to the old one. Nice...but the kid wasn't wearing his seatbelt in the final scene.
LAVA: A singing volcano dreams of love...excuse me, some to laaaaava. Kinda cute. But mostly sappy.
LILA: Changing the world, though the power of art. A lady sees the world as it should be, and draws it into existence.
MY BIG BROTHER: We're talking about a really, really big brother. Like a giant. Like almost as big as the house. He can be annoying at times, but other times he's pretty awesome.
ONE, TWO, TREE: A tree steals a pair of boots and goes on an adventure. Yeah, it's pretty weird.
SIMORGH: I'm not familiar with the Persian story this was based on, but the animation was freakin' beautiful.
THE STORY OF PERCIVAL PILTS: He spends all of his life on stilts. A story of a childhood obsession becoming a lifestyle, and how the world has to adapt to the crazy dreamers. But what a view from up there.
SUPER SOUNDS: A shy, reclusive boy doesn't seem to notice the girl who is watching him. Perhaps he'll notice if she buys him a comic book. A cute way to start a new friendship, with an interesting surprise at the end.

And then from family films to the story of a dead mother and cross-dressing father, François Ozon's THE NEW GIRLFRIEND. In the opening scenes we see Laura and Claire, best friends since childhood, growing up, playing, consoling each other over failed romances. Laura finally gets it right with David, and they have a beautiful baby girl named Lucy to start their family. But tragedy strikes when Laura falls ill and passes away. After some time of mourning seclusion, Claire goes to see how David and Lucy are coping, and is shocked to see David in Laura's clothes. Turns out he was a cross-dresser before, and Laura knew and accepted that. He never fancied other men, he was always heterosexual, he just loves women so much he wanted to be like them. And with Laura, she was always feminine enough he didn't need to dress up. But with her gone, he felt the urge again, and honestly the comfort of mommy's clothes helps when feeding Lucy. And so Claire goes along, even convincing David to go out in public as Virginia (he had never cross-dressed in public before.) And he likes it...and she likes it...both "shes" in this case. In fact, the title is delightfully ambiguous as to whether Claire is David's new girlfriend or Virginia is Claire's new one. Of course, Claire's boyfriend can never know...and a web of silly lies is woven (including that David is gay, that is supposedly the big secret they've been keeping and why Claire is always going away with him.) The film breezes through some difficult issues of fluid sexuality with grace and humor, but never shies away from the difficult dramatic elements. And ultimately becomes a tender love story of acceptance and living as yourself.

And then the furthest thing possible from a tender love story was BEST OF ENEMIES. In 1968 ABC News was third in the ratings, and would've been fourth except there were only three networks. NBC and CBS were doing gave-to-gavel coverage of both the Republican and Democratic nation conventions. ABC didn't have that budget, so they went with an hour and a half ever night. And their biggest innovation in their self-advertised "unconventional" convention coverage would be a nightly debate on the issues between a liberal and conservative titan. First they found the conservative--William F. Buckley, Jr. When they asked him who he would refuse to debate, he said he wouldn't appear with a communist, and also really didn't like Gore Vidal. So they got Gore Vidal as the liberal voice. And a war began. Both were powerful intellects, and both understood the issues as a fight for the cultural identity of the nation. Not even a battle of ideas as much as a battle of lifestyles. The movie is very, very funny, and mixes new interviews with clips of the debates and other scenes that set out the backgrounds of the editor of the National Review and the author of Myra Breckinridge. A few things struck me in the actual debates. First, it was great entertainment, but not because the debates were particularly illuminating. As erudite as each man was, I didn't see the merits of many ideas being discussed (perhaps due to editing) but rather witty albeit trite bon mots being tossed. While it might have been fun for Vidal to characterize the Republicans as a party built entirely upon greed, it's not a very illuminating observation. What made it fun to watch was that the people clearly enjoyed playing in this new format (something the shouting heads on today's cable news can learn about.) But especially they both enjoyed getting under each other's skin, and it was kind of like a contest to see who would explode first. And you can see a clip of the famous explosive exchange here. There's a lot that can be said about how these debates invented a big part of televised political theater (and arguably the worst part.) But what I got out of it was how funny the whole movie was.

Looking back on my schedule, I realized I went on a little documentary kick. That was the first of three last Sunday, and the second was ELECTRIC BOOGALOO: THE WILD, UNTOLD STORY OF CANNON FILMS. Director Mark Hartley had previously made two of my favorite cult film documentaries, MACHETE MAIDENS UNLEASHED (Indiefest, 2011) and NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD: THE WILD, UNTOLD STORY OF OZPLOITATION! Cannon Films existed before, but became the kings of cheap schlock films in the 80s when they were taken over by a couple of Israeli filmmakers, Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus. They had a perfect formula--make movies cheaply, make a lot of them, and one or two will be a hit and keep the company afloat to keep making movies. Hartley brings his same exhaustive research and maniacal love of cult films to this project, and makes me genuinely nostalgic for Dolph Lundgren in MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE or SUPERMAN IV (which featured a nuclear-powered Superman clone...cloned from his hair...but the clone was blonde. I shouldn't think too hard, that's not even the worst part of the movie.) And then they had genuine breakthroughs like RUNAWAY TRAIN or John Cassavetes' LOVE STREAMS. Heck, Jean-Luc Godard loved making films with them, because they gave him just enough money and let him do his thing. But ultimately their willingness to greenlight almost anything, and their ability to ruin almost anything, did them in when they took on too much and too high of a budget (like with Tobe Hooper's LIFEFORCE, which I think is still amazing.) And yes, they did popularize the breakdancing craze with BREAKIN', and they made bad sequel history with BREAKIN' 2: ELECTRIC BOOGALOO. Okay, they made a lot of crap, made a few amazing films, seemed to have a lot of fun doing it, and left their mark on the industry, for good or bad. And they did start the film careers of some guy named Chuck Norris and some other French dude named Jean-Claude Van Damme. And this movie shows all of it. In fact so much I'm sure I've forgotten the best part. So my apologies to any Cannon Films fans out there who is disappointed I didn't mention their favorite Cannon film (THE APPLE, maybe?)

And finally, I ended up DRUNK, STONED, BRILLIANT DEAD: THE STORY OF THE NATIONAL LAMPOON. Okay, I wasn't drunk, stoned, brilliant, and dead. But one out of four isn't bad, and neither is this movie. Of course it's going to be funny. And learning about the origins and the iconoclastic founders Douglas Kenney and Henry Beard was a lot of fun. Of course they were both from Harvard, and the National Lampoon was based on the famous Harvard campus humor magazine. They immediately became the icon of bad taste, outrageous comedy. Shock humor, certainly. Misogynistic, offensive, crude (particularly crude for a Ivy League intellectuals,) obscene, but funny. And launched the careers of...well, a lot of their people were lured away to a new Saturday night show on NBC. But the Lampoon is still going strong, after having branched into radio and movies--especially movies. And that's despite the founders not being around, and Kenney's unfortunate death falling (jumping? pushed?) off a cliff. It gives a pretty well rounded portrait of a crazy, dysfunctional, hilarious group of guys (with just a few gals) making some pretty funny shit.

And that was the big first weekend at SFIFF.

Total Running Time: 464
My Total Minutes: 393,933

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Jason goes to SFIFF--Day 3

4 (and a half) movies last Saturday, starting with a program of Youth Shorts. That is short films by--and mostly for--youth.
CUPCAKES: An unconventional and funny love triangle in a cooking class, where romantic fantasies abound.
GODONG'S PARTY: A weird little crudely animated short about a cat's birthday party and the little dog who is upset that he wasn't invited (note: I don't remember, but I might have the species backwards.) It was just a mixup, the invitation was lost, but still a good time is had by all.
KEEP IT CLEAN: A fastidious clean freak meets a grimy salesman, and things escalate out of hand. I hope this isn't too spoilery, but along with COP CAR this is part of a running theme of dead bodies in cop cars...I guess that's a spoiler for COP CAR, too.
KERS: A young graffiti artist, struggles for respect on two fronts. One, that her art is illegal. Two, that she's a girl, and her art is actually good, not just "good for a girl." Very interesting.
NOT JUST A TREE: FRIENDS OF THE URBAN FOREST: Meet the local kids of FUF--Friends of the Urban Forest, and their Green Teen initiative to plant and maintain trees in the city.
THE OFF / SEASON: A look at Kahlil Bell, once a promising young running back in the NFL. In fact, in his first play he set a record with a 72 yard scamper. But he has struggled since and had fumbling problems. And he has bounced around to a few teams. But he's working hard to make it back in the NFL and stay there.
SOPHIA: An excellent, short music documentary about Sweden's Sophia Higman, a maestro of several instruments and styles.
STRANDED: When the bus taking a group of young dancers breaks down, they use the time for practice and more.
TWO AND A QUARTER MINUTES: That's how long it takes to drown. And how long a young boy contemplates what's going on in the mind of someone for those two and a quarter minutes.
THE WAITING GAME: Overcoming writer's block, and dealing with the pain of a loved one's passing. Very thoughtfully done.

Then I dashed out of the Q and A and just barely managed to score a rush ticket to MR HOLMES, Bill Condon's new movie about an elderly Sherlock Holmes, played by Ian McKellen. It starts off very well, with great humor and wit. Holmes wants to set the record straight, explain that he never wore a Deerstalker or smoked a pipe (he preferred cigars) and correct all the rest of Watson's embellishments. The problem is, his memory is going (although he's still very observant.) He got some powder from China to help him with his memory, and has started writing the story of his last case...

And then the movie was interrupted by fire alarm. And then I completely miscalculated the time remaining and the time between when it would end (assuming a minimal delay for the fire department to give them the all clear) and when the next movie I wanted to see would start. I actually had plenty of time, but I forgot how to tell time and thought I wouldn't, so I bailed on the rest of the film to go get a leisurely lunch with a friend. But I saw enough to know that it's going to be an excellent movie and I know it's getting a wide release so I'll be excited to see it when it comes out.

Then my next full film was FLAPPING IN THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE, a debut feature from Vietnam, directed by Diep Hoang Nguyen and anchored by a stellar and moving portrayal by Thuy Anh Nguyen. She plays Huyen, a 17 year old student in Hanoi who finds out she's pregnant. Her transvestite roommate/best friend tries to help but just...isn't helpful. Her boyfriend is equal parts asshole and loser. And she's not sure she wants to abort or not...I mean, she does, but there are obstacles. Mostly money...which leads her into prostitution. At least, it kind of does. Her one client doesn't sleep with her right away, he actually...treats her really nicely. To the point where I don't understand what's up with him beyond being a really nice guy who can't possibly last. The movie is beautifully shot, with frank but tasteful depictions of sexuality, and walks the fine line between her youthful innocence and the harsh world around her. 

And then I caught CALL ME LUCKY, Bobcat Goldthwait's excellent documentary about Barry Crimmins. It starts by introducing him, via interviews with numerous comedians, as this sort of legendary figure of a brilliant comedian and angry political voice of the left. A sort of hero of radical comedy and one of the best stand-up comedians you've probably never heard of. And a pioneer of Boston's stand-up scene, where he nurtured many acts (including Bobcat, Steven Wright, and Kevin Meaney) out of a Chinese Restaurant. But there's constantly this undercurrent of 'he has his demons.' He's clearly a very angry, kind of damaged man. And about halfway through you learn why. And now I have to pause and struggle with the question of whether to reveal it or not, as it's kind of a big spoiler but also something that...would be bad to be blindsided by, because it could be pretty upsetting. So...I won't. Or I'll keep it vague. I'll say that he has survived some trauma. And he became an activist in protecting others from suffering the same way. And he became downright heroic (which is strange to say about a guy who claims his two most important goals are to overthrow the government of the United States and to destroy the Catholic Church.) And by the end, I was definitely crying, but I'm not sure if it was more from sadness, admiration, or laughter. Quite a great movie.

And finally a delicious journey through weirdness, Guy Maddin style, with THE FORBIDDEN ROOM. Born out of a project of recreating "lost" films based on their descriptions and his wild imagination, Maddin has created multiple storylines in beautiful 2-strip technicolor. There are the doomed submariners with a deadly, unstable cargo. There's a woodsman leading a team to rescue the lovely Margot. There's a tutorial on how to take a bath. And there's a guy who visits a doctor to get bits of his brain ripped out so that he can stop obsessing about butts (in a music video called The Last Derriere.) And that still doesn't tell you how weird it is. The look is amazing, and like he often does he creates the look of old silent films (or in this case, early talkies) that were made in a different universe that's a little similar to this one but where people enjoy a lot more recreational drugs. (Or maybe less, there is certainly less need for hallucinogens if you watch enough Guy Maddin films.)

Total Running Time (not including the beginning of MR HOLMES): 415 minutes
My Total Minutes: 393,469

Monday, April 27, 2015

Jason goes to SFIFF--Day 2

Two movies last Friday, and two beautifully weird movies.

First up was LUNA, one of the most strangely beautiful and beautifully strange movies I've ever seen. A surface plot synopsis can't possibly do it justice--4 friends hang out in a secluded seaside home for a weekend, reminisce about the old days, and reveal a surprising and traumatic past. And that tells you absolutely nothing. This movie is more about vivid, hallucinatory visuals coexisting with everyday life (a lot of it is about personal perception and how we all experience reality differently.) A mysterious angel/demon/creature/child wanders through, sometimes seen by one person, sometimes by another. Dinner conversation gives way to a melodious song about how words are both powerful and meaningless. And other stunning, breathtaking scenes. But still this doesn't capture what the film is. The film is...just so warm and loving. The director wasn't there but one of the artists was and he said the film was about healing. And that makes sense. I've seen a lot of films, and most films want to be loved. This might be the first film I've seen that cares more about loving the audience than about being loved.

And then over to the Roxie (the venue for the Dark Wave late night shows this year) for a very different kind of beautifully weird movie, COP CAR. A couple of kids are out in the fields of rural...somewhere, America. They're running away...or at least having an adventure. Engaging in a little childhood rebellion, like saying swear words when no adults are around. They even say the F-word! And then they find a seemingly abandoned cop car and decide to play around in it. Turns out the doors aren't locked. And the keys are in the visor. And it runs. So they run off with it. Then we go back in time a little bit to learn about a finely mustachioed Kevin Bacon as the cop whose car those kids just stole. See, his car wasn't abandoned, he had just driven to that secluded spot because that's where he drops the dead bodies. Yeah, he's a corrupt cop, and kind of a psychotic one at that. And now he's chasing the two kids who think they're on a joyride. As a friend pointed out to me afterwards, it's kind of the perfect coming-of-age movie. It starts with the joy of freedom, and quickly becomes a story about the big, dangerous world and the consequences of your actions (deserved or undeserved.) But also it's just a cool genre flick with a couple of great child actors leading it.

Total Running Time: 192 minutes
My Total Minutes: 393,054

Friday, April 24, 2015

Jason goes to SFIFF--Opening Night

The biggest film festival in the Bay Area--and longest running one in the Americas--kicked off last night, and of course I was there. Got up there nice and early, hugged a bunch of my 2-weeks-a-year friends, grabbed my tickets, grabbed my press pass, grabbed a burger and a beer next door, and settled into my front row (slightly-off) center seat (a lovely couple I see at the festival every year got there first and grabbed the absolute center seats.)

Then the obligatory introductions and thank-yous to all the sponsors (big news: there's a new sponsor beer this year, Fort Point Beer Co., which I tried at the after party and is delicious! Although I will miss the resealable tops on the Grolsch bottles, which allowed one to theoretically sneak beer from the lounge into the movies. Not that I would ever do that.) And finally we got to the opening night film.

And that film was Alex Gibney's newest doc, STEVE JOBS: THE MAN IN THE MACHINE. I've been a fan of Gibney's work ever since TAXI TO THE DARK SIDE (DocFest 2007) and I've always been impressed with his ability to take complicated issues and make them understandable and entertaining. And then with Jobs being such an iconic and controversial figure--all over the world but especially in Silicon Valley--this was just too promising to pass up. And it's well made and entertaining, but with Steve Jobs I'm afraid Alex Gibney has finally run up against an enigma he just can't fully explain. It starts with footage of a young, nervous Steve Jobs prepping for a TV interview (I assume if not his first, at least very close to it) reminding us that he wasn't always the confident tech giant he turned out to be. Then we cut to his death, and the outpouring of grief and memorials from so many people who had never actually met the guy. Gibney expresses puzzlement at this. Obviously his devices made such a profound impact on people's lives. But still...these are people who never actually met him. And for those who've been paying at least a little attention, the guy was kind of an asshole. And the film definitely shows that side of him. It starts at the very beginning creating Breakout at Atari with Woz (who was working on it on the side, not actually employed at Atari) and telling him that their $7,000 bonus was just $700, and giving him just $350. It's just a weird sort of intense desire to win, that he would screw over a friend who was happy to work just for the challenge of the work--Woz insisted that if Jobs had simply said he needed the money he would've let him keep all of it. And there's a pattern that runs through his behavior--when he's giving IBM the finger in the early days, he looks like a rebel upstart taking on Goliath. But once Apple becomes Goliath, he's still giving the finger to...well, it's no longer clear. To whatever rules there are. Silly things like leasing cars for 6 months at a time so he never needs to get license plates (it was legendary that a silver Mercedes without a license plate meant it was Steve Jobs' car.) Or more troubling issues like the whole Foxconn working conditions thing. Or just weird, troubling anecdotes from people who left Apple to work elsewhere--which eventually became a class-action suit against several companies for colluding to not recruit each other's employees. And then the fact that he explicitly rejected the idea that he should use any of his fortune for charitable work (contrast to Bill Gates, thought of as the evil one when Microsoft was the giant, but now seems to be using his fortune on a personal mission to save the world.)

But this movie isn't all about how evil Jobs was. It's about the enigma. There are plenty of testimonials about how he was a brilliant, personable, charismatic man. There is, of course, mention of his "reality distortion field" (e.g., that if he told you the sky was green, you would start to believe it.) And wrapped into that puzzle was his zen practice and love of Japan. Which is never really resolved, beyond the observation that he had the focus of a monk with none of the compassion of one. That he somehow had a brilliant mind that achieved some form of personal "enlightenment" but definitely without freeing himself from his own ego. And so in the end, that question--why were so many people grieving a man they never met because of the gadgets he created? Well, it's never really answered--at least not to my satisfaction (confession, and I probably should've revealed this sooner--I'm not part of the Apple cult, I proudly own an Android phone, never owned a Mac, never even owned an iPod. So there's clearly something there that I just don't get) And it ends with an interesting observation that perhaps the enigma of his life is reflected in his devices--that these clever devices that connect us with the world also isolate us from the ones we're setting next to. That there's amazing promise but something lacking on the human side--just like Jobs. But you know what...that's true of my Android phone, too. And I just can't imagine people reacting the same way if any of the Google founders pass away. It's still just a puzzle.

But speaking of the human element, we were then off to the party to hobnob with big-wigs and high muckety-mucks at Madame Tussaud's wax museum on Fisherman's wharf. Drinks, a few snacks (apparently I missed more food on the second floor, as I went straight to the third floor VIP section) greetings of friends and more drinks. Then I had to take off early to catch BART back home.

And now the festival really starts.

Running Time: 127 minutes
My Total Minutes: 392,862

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Jason goes to Midnites for Maniacs for a Macho Maestros double feature

Screw your fancy art-house cinema, these are some serious guys' flicks. And it's time to give them their due.

ROCKY IV (1985): Widely mocked as a weird bit of Cold War propaganda (and winner of the Razzie Award,) this movie actually has a bit more going for it than you might expect. For no reason in particular, I had seen this movie more than any other Rocky film, but hadn't really considered its merits until Jesse Ficks (aka, the Maniac of Midnites for Maniacs) starting talking about it. So I watched it with new eyes, and noticed some things about it. Like while it's about the Cold War, it's not really Cold War pro-U.S. propaganda, if anything it's anti-Cold War propaganda. It's about nationalism, but it isn't nationalistic. In fact, the crazy, over-the-top nationalism that accompanies Apollo Creed into the ring in the first match comes crashing down with his death (this move is 30 years old, spoilers are okay, right?) Consider that as the image of the prevailing 80s attitude of America #1, we're unbeatable! And Stallone intentionally kills it. And then Rocky steps up, with the weight of his nation on his back (along with all those logs!) and goes and trains in the wilderness. The training montage is secretly brilliant. I think in the 80s everyone read it as a contrast of the American individual spirit vs. the Soviet state machine. But watch it again, seriously. What comes out isn't the contrast, but the similarity--shot for shot they're doing the exact same thing just with different trappings around them.

So then we get to the actual fight, and what is still the least plausible part of the film. When Rocky starts winning the crowd over, and they start chanting his name. It still kind of strikes me as silly Hollywood wishful thinking/happy ending. But for the first time I watched it not as Rocky winning them over to America, but as Rocky winning them over with his sheer humanity. Perhaps the beating he is taking resonates with something about their experiences under their political system, and the fact that he keeps getting up and keeps punching gives them hope for themselves. And then the real turning point--when Drago turns on the party official and declares that he is fighting for himself. Finally even the supposed villain embraces his humanity and proclaims himself an individual fighting for himself. At that point, I don't even think it matters anymore who wins the fight (of course Rocky has to.) Because it's not a story about America winning the Cold War, it's a story about individuals transcending the Cold War and embracing their shared humanity. And it's secretly great.

Or it's a rah-rah "go 'Murica!" boxing flick. I could always be wrong.

THE ROCK (1996): And then we watched this film, which has always been a guilty pleasure of mine. Even I will point to this and say Michael Bay has made a damn good movie.  (And I did dismiss TRANSFORMERS by saying there's not enough venereal disease in the world to make Michael Bay pissing on my childhood hurt for him as much as it does for me.) Nicolas Cage brought his Nouveau Shamanic acting style to action flicks for the first time in this one, and a 65 year old Sean Connery brings total badassdom to his role. Ed Harris brings gravitas as the noble villain, and it all comes together in a great mix of comedy, action, and drama. And I've actually been known to use my favorite line from the movie--"Your 'best!' Losers always whine about their best! Winners go home and fuck the prom queen!"--in conversation...when I can get away with it. Damn, I don't think I've watched it since it came out, and I was in college, and it was a staple flick among me and my friends. That was quite a trip back in time and a joy to realize the film still fuckin' works!

Total Running Time: 227 minutes
My Total Minutes: 392,735

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Jason watches the death of Bad Movie Night with RED DAWN and RED DAWN

Yeah, both of them. But I was really there just to make sure Bad Movie Night was really, really finished.

RED DAWN (1984): It sucked. And I've seen it too many times.

RED DAWN (2012): It sucked. I've only seen it once now, and that's too many times.

Bad Movie Night: It's over!!!!

Total Running Time: 392,508

Jason goes to Niles to see THE MIDNIGHT GIRL

But of course, first a couple of shorts:

AT FIRST SIGHT (1924): One of Charley Chase's "Jimmy Jump" comedies. Hilarious sight gags like his hat gets set on fire and he gets drenched in a storm trying to help a young lady with her convertible. Then it becomes a wacky romantic comedy as he tries to impress the girl but doesn't have enough money for a nice suit. So his kind boss lets him borrow one of his. But then it turns out the girl isn't a fancy society lady, but just the maid. And there are more twists and more hijinx, and it's a sweet and funny film.

FEARLESS HARRY (1926): Little know Earl McCarthy as "Hairbreadth Harry" based on an old comic strip. Harry has to rescue Beautiful Belinda (so warm-hearted, she has to wear asbestos lingerie) from the diabolical Relentless Rudolph. Hilariously over the top gags that really look like they came straight out of a comic strip. Very cool.

Then intermission, and on to the feature program.

THE MIDNIGHT GIRL (1925): Bela Lugosi in an early silent role. He plays a creepy opera patron, infamous for casting his girlfriends over more talented singers. In fact, his latest girlfriend is destroying the opera. His son calls him on it, and decides to leave and forge his own path, forgoing his father's financial support. But he actually has talent as a musician, and grooms a lovely young lady as a star in the local nightclub. When she's accomplished enough, he takes her to meet his father in hopes of turning her into a star and maybe even reconciling with him. But instead, a really creepy love triangle ensues. Actually, that's not right. She doesn't love the father, he just tries to take advantage of her, and it's really creepy. Damn, Bela Lugosi has that creepy look down, even before he was Dracula. And there's even a point in the sexual assault scene where I swear it looks like he was about to bite her neck. That was really weird, as is this movie. But it was fun to watch.

Total Running Time: 96 minutes
My Total Minutes: 392,301

Jason watches WILD TALES

Even though Cinequest is over, it's never really over for me (which is a good time to brag about how Cinequest was voted the #1 film festival in the country!) This is one of the films I missed at Cinequest, and it was quite a treat.

Six vignettes, all hilarious, all pretty violent, most of them ending in death, tell the story of modern Argentina. I confess I don't know much about the culture, and I've read that these stories are very particular to different aspects of Argentinian culture or politics. If that's so, it's to writer/director Damián Szifron's credit that he has made them pretty universally acceptable. While the nuances of Argentinian life are lost on me, who doesn't understand revenge? (in an opening sequence that is hilarious but kind of eerie in the aftermath of the Germanwings crash.) Or wanting to poison the corrupt asshole who destroyed your family? Or road rage (in one of the funniest things I've seen, and the most scatological of the stories.) Or how about bureaucratic annoyances and petty local government extortion? Or, in a more serious story, the divide between the rich and the poor, and how the top 1% takes advantage to buy and sell poor people's lives. And, in the final vignette, there's the most violent act of all--love!

Goddamn, that was fun!

Running Time: 122 minutes
My Total Minutes: 392,205

Jason goes to CAAMFest--Day 10

I skipped Day 9 (Friday) but was at the New Parkway for a full day on Saturday, my final day of CAAMFest 2015 (at least the SF version. I might make it to the San Jose festival later this year, assuming they do it again.)

VERSES IN EXILE (EP 1 and 2): Kosal Khiev was a child refugee. Got involved in gang violence, and was deported back to Cambodia, the land his parents fled. And there he has become a renowned poet, with some unique insights on life, crime, and violence. This was the first two episodes of a 4-part web series.

TASHI'S TURBINE: In the Himalayan mountains, Tashi Bista and Jeevan are teaming up to build a small windmill and provide power to the little village of Namdok. At least, to the ones who live close enough to run a wire to it. It's a funny, engaging, sometimes uplifting, sometimes frustrating story of friendship, hope, and engineering challenges. But it's absolutely clear that these people are doing great work, improving Nepal one wind turbine at a time. Ironically, the biggest problem is it's too windy for their little turbine.

MAN UP: Then this funny, silly buddy comedy about a couple of teenage slackers nearing twenty and trying to become adults. Or, more often, trying not to become adults. Martin is ready for the summer after high school, relaxing at the beach and playing video games until...well, until he can't anymore. He certainly doesn't have plans for college. All his plans go out the window when his girlfriend announces she's pregnant. And when it's clear he's not father material she leaves him. So Martin and his best friend Randall decide to learn all about fatherhood (including taking childbirth classes together) so he'll be a great dad. It does not work. With all their enthusiasm, they're still total slacker deadbeat goofballs who can't--and probably shouldn't--grow up. At least not right now. Which is good, because they're so fun to watch as idiot goofballs.

ALL EYES AND EARS: And finally, I ended my festival with this fascinating documentary about U.S. ambassador to China Jon Huntsman and his family. Especially his adopted daughter Gracie Mei, returning to the land of her birth for the first time since her adoption. Woven into their story is the story of Chen Guangcheng, an activist and legal advocate who was placed under house arrest. He escaped with the help of local villagers and with the help of the U.S. embassy emigrated to the U.S. Oh, and he's blind. The movie explores the complicated diplomatic relations, and especially how Chen Guangcheng's case strained those relations at just the time Huntsman was trying to strengthen them. There are many facets to this documentary--family, human rights, activism, diplomacy,'s a beautiful, powerful movie that is definitely worth an extra look.

And finally, my 2015 CAAMfest is over!

Total Running Time: 238 minutes
My Total Minutes: 392,083

Jason goes to CAAMFest--Day 8

Dammit, I've fallen well over a month behind on my stupid blog. Okay, prepare for a review dump.

FLOWING STORIES: This is a meditative documentary about family, place, and changing times for the Ho-Chung Village. Set during their 400 year old decadal festival, we see several generations of a family. Grandma reminisces about growing up in poverty, while the younger generations have moved to Europe and are trying to make a living there. But they come back for the festival. And for the place. It's really a movie about place, and what keeps drawing us back to...whatever place is special for us (usually where we grew up.)

RIVER OF EXPLODING DURIANS: And then this film, which at least has the best title in the festival. A factory upstream is poisoning all the fish--at least, that's the suspicion. It's simultaneously a story about teenage love and violent political activism, as students--and one idealistic young teacher--start protesting the plant. And then it goes further, gets a bit more violent, and it turns out that the teacher is the most radical of them all. A cool story, well told, and engaging. And apparently loosely inspired by a true story.

Total Running Time: 225 minutes
My Total Minutes: 391,845

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Jason goes to CAAMFest--Day 7

Damn, I'm now two weeks behind on my blog. Too busy with other things.

Okay, on...whatever day this was I first saw CICADA, which is a charming and thoughtful story about a little boy's birthday party and how it affects...everyone but him. The boy is almost invisible in the movie. Instead the story is mostly about his uncle Jumpei, a teacher who likes children but is disappointed to find out he's infertile. Anyway, his nephew is being bullied in school and his mother and father (who's a gambling addict) decide to throw him a big birthday party to make him popular. The cast is rounded out by other odd adults who haven't quite grown up--my favorite being the old man who builds shadow-box stories with endings and morals that, while realistic, are not necessarily appropriate for kids (at least, that's what everyone else says, I think they're great.) As the day of the party approaches, the adults get sillier and sillier, and Jumpei develops a psychic ability to find cicada shells, which...actually becomes important. A quiet and meditative look at being a child of any age in Japan today.

And then I saw DOT2DOT. Set in fast-paced, ever-changing Hong Kong, it's a story of deliberate slow-living, noticing the things around you, and remembering the past. Oh yeah, and it's about graffiti, a crime that's actually punished fairly heavily in Hong Kong. Chung has moved back to Hong Kong after living abroad for a while in Canada. And instead of getting into the fast-paced Hong Kong life, he sets about leaving mysterious dot graffiti all over town. Like a connect-the-dots without the numbers, his dots actually do make pictures. It's just impossible for anyone to tell what they are (or even that the dots were deliberately placed there.) Enter a teacher from the mainland. She's alone in the big, bustling city. And she discovers the dots and actually solves them. And then starts leaving dot puzzles of her own. A romance where the leads don't actually meets starts to unfold, and it's a charming story of finding your place and your place in the world.

Total Running Time: 189
My Total Minutes: 391,620