Thursday, December 22, 2016

Jason goes to Holehead--Day 12

Two features on Monday...about a month...and a half...ago. I apologize, but it's time for a late data dump.

SAVE YOURSELF is a clever and knowing look at the role of women in horror films. A team of female horror filmmakers are on a cross-country trip, traveling from their film festival premiere screening back to their homes in L.A. They met some...interesting people at the screening, and they'll meet a couple of them again. And they'll get kidnapped and held for twisted experiments by an ex-Nazi scientist with some interesting ideas about eugenics. That's pretty spoiler-y for a short-ass review. Oops.

Then the highlight of the festival MAD MAX: SILENT FURY. I should say, as someone who has attended the festival from the very beginning (even before the beginning, if you count the final horror-themed weekend of the 2003 SF Indiefest as the proto-Holehead) they roped me into a volunteer job for the festival. Specifically, my job was to introduce the films and (when there were filmmakers present) lead the Q&A. Which turned out to be a lot of fun. And nothing was more fun that introducing a packed house to MAD MAX: FURY ROAD, in black and white, with the sound removed, and with a live score by The Firmament. Especially as a silent film fan, I got to wax eloquent on how silent film is still alive today. It's inspiring your favorite filmmakers, I guarantee it (unless you have no taste.) And, in fact, silent films are still being made today--you just don't know it, because of all the talking in them. The fact is, the art of a silent film is not in the lack of dialogue--that's just the technical limitation. The art of a silent film is in conveying an idea--an emotion, a story point, a little piece of information--through a moving picture, rather than through exposition. Show, don't tell. And every time that happens in a movie (and it happens all the time in a good movie) silent films are still alive. And what we watched that night completely validated my theory, as MAD MAX: FURY ROAD still works in black and white, and it works without dialogue, and it was brilliant.

Total Running Time: 211 minutes
My Total Minutes: 437,162

Friday, December 2, 2016

Jason goes to Holehead--Day 11

Okay, catching up from about a month behind...

The final Sunday of Holehead started with a program of local films that just didn't quite fit into the festival theme, but were great anyway--Not Another Hole in the Head
I HATE THE COLOR RED: The comic struggles of a family working hard to keep their business afloat. Difficulty level: that business is a video rental store. A film about cinephilia with a touch of nostalgia.
IMPRESSIVE STACKS: Trying to impress with the books you pick up at the library. Very funny.
THE LAST SUMMER: Five friends on a road trip, sharing a night in a cheap motel, and pondering their future. And comically struggling with the lights.
REBEL CHILD: A kid can't be a kid forever. And when you're raised in war, personal tragedies can determine which side you'll join.

And then more shorts. These ones fit in the festival, but not in any particular program. Beacause they're Random Acts
THE BRIDGE PARTNER: A nice, genteel bridge club gets a new member. And the timid housewife she's partnered with gets quite a shock.
CRUEL FORGIVENESS: A cool Mexican horror film about strange religion.
D.C.E.: Fight over a mysterious box, in a post-apocalyptic world.
DARK_NET: A man, with a problem, finds his assassin. Or maybe he just found a scammer online as is about to be taken for everything. Pretty amusing, either way.
THE EASTERN SEA - THE FOOL: Love and UFO conspiracies.
THE EDGE: Primitives, refugees, and anarchy in the woods. Pretty cool.
THE GREAT EMU WAR: The only surviving documentation of the time emus and humans fought a war.
LAURA, LOST: Friends believe a creepy woodsman is responsible for the disappearance of a local girl.
ROADSIDE ASSISTANCE: Surprises, as a man picks up a stranded woman. But who will be victimizing whom?
THAT'S HOW I ROLL: A Dungeons & Dragons game goes badly out of control.
WHISTLE IN THE DARK: Brother and sister in the woods. And some demons. Pretty cool.

Then more shorts, with people doing bad things. It's Inappropriate Behavior
AFTER WORK: A black and white animated normal evening at home. Getting ready for dinner...with a little sexual assault.
THE DUCHESS OF MARS: A noise complaint is not at all what it appears to be, as a racist, homophobic cop is going to be put through an awkward situation. Actually, it's strange enough it would be awkward for anyone.
HARMFUL SENSATIONS: The night life takes its toll. This time, in the form of a particularly gross venereal disease.
IN A WORLD OF BAD BREATH: Ummm...I remember this one was pretty weird, but not much else about it.
INK, COCKS & ROCK'N'ROLL: Steve Martin (not that one) talks about his graphic artist alter-ego, Krent Able, and his outrageous works.
LAVENDER: A drug that will make you live your greatest sexual fantasy. But what if you find out something about yourself you weren't prepared for?
THE MUFFLER TEST (A SHORT FILM ABOUT RELATIONSHIPS): An emotional connection to something an old man left in his VW bus.
SCARY LITTLE FUCKERS: Goes on a bit long, and is heavily inspired by GREMLINS, but a lot of fun.

Then guess what? More shorts! These ones with an LGBT theme, because it's Dark Rainbow
AXIOMATIC: When seeking revenge, it helps to suppress your conscience. A few nanobots can do the trick, and make you unstoppable.
THE DOODLER HOMOCIDES: A fascinating documentary about a serial killer who victimized the gay community of San Francisco in the 1970s. Scary stuff.
DREAMS WE SHARE: Outside, there's war. Insider an abandoned house, there are memories of when there wasn't war.
EDEN: In 2042, "curing" gay people is once again the norm. And gay youth are sent to the Eden Institute to be tortured cured. A story of an attempted escape.
A FALL FROM GRACE: The prequel to EDEN.
HARD BROADS: Three women are living it up on a celebrity's long as nobody finds out she's dead.
NUOC: Experimental narrative of a Vietnamese American kid trying to understand his mother's experience as a war refugee.
PYOTR495: In Russia, after the passage of a "Gay Propaganda" law, online hookups come at a great risk. But a little monsterism makes the risk a two-way street.

And then the one feature of the day, the very strange THE ALCHEMIST COOKBOOK. A young black man hides out in a trailer in the woods. His supplies--including his anti-psychotic medication--is provided at regular intervals by his friend. But he's out there to crack the secrets of alchemy--to turn base metals into gold, and to make a fortune. And the isolation and...irregular medicine intervals...they take their toll on him. Either that, or he's really tapping into some satanic forces to get his fortune at a terrible price. The movie is an excellent, slow-paced burn, that keeps a surprising amount of tension for what is mostly one guy puttering around his trailer alone. Actor Ty Hickson deserves a heck of a lot of credit for keeping it intense but believable. And director Joel Potrykus deserves just as much credit for keeping the audience guessing and interested in the little glimpses into a broken mind.

Total Running Time: 463 minutes
My Total Minutes: 437,052

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Jason goes to Holehead--Day 10

It was a long, long day last Saturday. 7 shows, from 11 a.m. to 1 a.m.

We started with the shorts program Adventures in Time and Space. Two of my favorite dimensions.
ALEKTO: Julia Forward from Earth finds out that the Alekto corporation is more than a multi-national insurance company, when she wakes up on a distant world and the locals tell her the truth.
ATTRACTIVE FORCE: An excellent Russian animation. A cosmonaut crash-lands on a planet, where local shadow creatures help him fix his ship. They're very friendly, as long as you don't try to take their beautiful sparkling jewels.
A DAY IN THE LIFE OF THE PASSENGER: Every time our hero falls asleep, he wakes up in a slightly different universe. Something subtly changes, but those changes multiply over time to make his many lives very different--like choosing beer or pot, or maybe even bigger differences.
ENTROPIC: A scientist has come up with the perfect way to find the meaning of the universe--create a simulated universe, and analyze the meaning of that. It's not as easy as you'd think.
INFINITY: A cool time-travel mindbender, as an investor bullies a scientist to perfect her time travel device. Which leads to the question--with time travel, can you die an infinite number of times?
LONG TIME CALLER: A man can call himself in the past or in the future, to try to make sense of his life. But future self can't tell past self anything, or it will fuck everything up. Very funny.
THE QUESTION: A cool animation that ponders the great question of life out there in the universe. And more importantly, who's asking?
SPUTNIK: From Spain, so the American characters don't quite speak right, and I assume the same for the Russian characters. It imagines a different first man in space, Nikolay. He's just not the first person to return, since an accident makes landing impossible. As he's supposed to initiate the sequence to crash land (rather than become the first corpse in space and a great national embarrassment) he makes contact...with Sarah Sullivan of Los Angeles. A little girl confined to a wheelchair but dreaming of space. He pretends to be a Martian, and they become close friends in his final hours before his oxygen runs out. Despite what I said about the awkward accents, it's an amazing, beautiful, touching movie.
THEREFORE I AM: A man goes back in time to try to convince his younger self to take action and avoid a tragedy. He does this many, many, many times, with different branching results. But always leading to him having to go back in time and warn himself.

Next up was more shorts, Androids, AI's, and Other Good Neighbors.
APPLE: An android malfunctions, killing his owner. But only because his owner was malfunctioning and abusing his daughter. And the daughter was a friend--she gave the android an apple.
CAPACITY: A farmer invents a robot to carry on his work after he's gone.
ELF: From South Africa, an android learns about being human. Especially, she wants to feel the all the feels.
QUBITPUNK: A hacker girl delivers pizza--and vengeance against the punks who stole her cubes and killed her father.
ROCOCO NEURON: Rococo and Mori-maaa develop apps--virtual reality cosmetic surgery and such. Mori-maaa's latest is a bit strange. It creates an Arumata--an alter-ego. A vulgar man who does all the things that Rococo can't. And a battle of wits ensues over control. Very inventive.
THE SHAMAN: A scene from a future battle. A Shaman, using the power of music and...I don't know, astral projection? Goes into a netherworld trying to convert a battle colossus to his side. You know, it's a very well realized scene, that would be cool in a movie that expands on this universe more. I like story.
STREAM OF DOUBTS: Very inventive. A character in a streaming video makes a call to a crisis worker. You see, as a character in a streaming video, she's afraid that she doesn't actually exist. Nice little mind-bender.
GIFT OF LIFE: The human-android war has begun, and two androids are on the run seeking the sanctuary where they can ride it out until there's peace. But one escaped from the factory, and isn't quite all put together yet. Nevertheless, he appreciates his gift of life.

Next up, more shorts! Myths, Legends, and Fairy Tales
BETA PERSEI: At the planetarium, the legend of Perseus and Medusa lives on. Or at least in the head of one guy.
THE BUNNY MAN: Don't go out at night, or the Bunny Man will get you, in this bit of rural horror. Pretty cool, but needs more bunny. Then again, that's just me. I think every movie needs more bunny (except one.)
A HOUSE OF ILL FAME: A legendary house, previously a brothel, where the owner froze to death. Now it's haunted, as an Okie during the Great Depression is about to find out.
LAMP: A woman rubs a tiny lamp, and immediately a genie is at her door. She gets three wishes, but instead they spend a little time bonding and becoming friends.
LEGEND OF DARK RIDER: The king's men, on the northern outposts, looking for the legendary Dark Rider. Nobody who sees him lives. But he's just a legend, so instead they'll spend their time bossing around the locals in the tavern. Cool scene, wish I could see the rest of the story. I like story.
MADRE DE DIOS: A gory little movie about a woman being turned into a flesh-and-blood icon.
QUENOTTES (PEARLIES): From Luxembourg, a cute little story about a mouse--not a tooth fairy--who steals teeth. Just don't lose them. That mouse can get vicious.
WOLF OF VENGEANCE: From Japan, some stylish sword-fighting as a man known as The Wolf kills everybody. Then more come. Cool scene, wish I could see the rest of the story. I like story.

And then up next, guess what? Even more shorts! The Bold, The Beautiful, and The Bizarre.
ABSENCE: 15 goddamn minutes of a lady in a bathtub. I think it's supposed to symbolize birth. And then after dumping her out, it catches on fire.
ANIMA RADIX: Dark, ghostly animation. Very evocative.
AYMARA: A strange little story, that creates an other-worldy look by shooting in infrared black-and-white.
BØLGE: A funny little animation about a brain-damaged box who is almost tricked by an old friend into helping out an anarchist collective.
DECISION: The anxiety of choice. Do you go with the black and white? Or the white and black?
DOGSTEIN:SUPER SCIENCE ADVENTURE: A dog is taught to play catch with a disk. He loves it. This skill will come in handy.
FIST BIRD FLIES THE GAUNTLET: The most literal interpretation of "hand-made animation" I've ever seen.
GINGER AND SNAPPER: In the zombie apocalypse, Ginger survived by going to high ground. But now she's lonely. Not even zombies have come by in days. So when one is trapped in her fence, she has a new friend. Turns out zombies get lonely ,too.
MY QUEEN: The memories of an old house, as layers are stripped away.
NEMESIS: A bounty hunter, on a mission, but always checks in with his wife. She's his reason to live.
THE PAST INSIDE THE PRESENT: A freaky little story of a couple reliving their old memories. Like literally their heads become video input panels and they plug into old VHS tapes of their life together. Hopefully that will rekindle a spark.
RIPTIDE RHAPSODY: A cool little paper puppet stop-motion animation of a band of furries swept up in a flood. Cool music, too (the project started out as a music video for the band, but took on a life of it's own, and several years later, here it is.)
SUBMERGENCE: A woman looks at her fish bowl, while remembering a time when water did something awful to her.
SUFFER NOT A WITCH: Hand-drawn animation of superstition and violence.
WORLD DOMINATION: A sketch animation of a mad scientist and his plan to conquer the world with an army of cloned mammoths. Not as easy as it sounds.
ROGER BALLEN'S THEATRE OF APPARITIONS: A beautifully freaky spectacle of dreams, violence, sex, and insanity. Might actually be my favorite of the whole program.

And then we got into the feature film part of the day, starting with LET HER OUT. 23 years ago, a woman was raped in the Gemini Hotel. When she became pregnant, she decided to end her life and her fetus's life, with a pair of scissors to the belly. She died, but her baby lived. Now that baby, Helen, is a bike courier in Toronto. One night she is struck by a car. She survives with just a broken arm. But then some strange things start happening. She has blackouts where she's been doing some strange things. Turns out, she has a growth in her head. Not a tumor, but her twin sister who was absorbed into her in the womb. And she's coming out, and planning to take over her life. And she's not a kind person. There's a lot to like about this very well made movie, but there were also a lot of little moments that just kind of insulted the audience's intelligence. Little clichés, like "we have to go back to where it all began" that just took me out of the movie. Don't get me wrong, it's like 90% great. Which means it's not consistently bad enough to enjoy as a bad movie. But it's also not consistently good enough for me to take seriously. But it's close enough for me to wan to see what director Cody Calahan does next.

And then to Korea for some animated re-animated in SEOUL STATION. I haven't seen TRAIN TO BUSAN (out in theaters now) but this is an animated companion piece to it. An old man, bleeding from the neck, wanders through the city and lies down in the train station. Lots of homeless there. Soon, a zombie outbreak. Meanwhile a teen runaway is living with her boyfriend, but is mad that he tried to sell her into prostitution. After all, she's done it before, she just doesn't want to do it again. As the zombie outbreak starts, she's trapped in the station, while her boyfriend is accosted by her father, who found her picture online. There's some sharp social commentary, which I'm sure if I were Korean I would get more out of. But even I can recognize the significance when the authorities can't tell the difference between zombies and homeless. It's an exciting, sometimes terrifying story. And that's the most important part. I might have mentioned before that I like story. This has a hell of a story, with action and great plot twists that kept me engaged the whole way through. It just never freakin' lets up.

And finally, we ended the night with TOKYO GRAND GUIGNOL, an anthology of weird, gory stuff going on in Tokyo. From a man who can travel back in time via murder, to a woman haunted by her mirror self, to shadows that hide, to an extremely loyal BDSM werewolf (featuring, I believe, the first werewolf transition scene that includes the dick.) Crazy, violent fun in the night in Tokyo. Gotta love it.

And that was the end of the night. And the end of a very long day. Thank goodness for the Daylight Savings Time transition. I really needed that extra hour.

Total Running Time: 679 minutes
My Total Minutes: 436,589

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Jason goes to Holehead--Day 9

Three films last Friday night.

First up was ANOTHER EVIL, an excellently done, clever combination of horror and comedy, in which neither one is sacrificed for the sake of the other. Dan and his family are in their vacation home, when some strange things happen. They bring in a paranormal expert, who concludes there are 2 ghosts in their house, but they're basically harmless. So that's cool. Except the father wants a second opinion. And this second, industrial grade exorcist, concludes that they are actually evil, and determined. So the (the exorcist and Dam) spend a week up there bonding, catching ghosts, getting drunk (puts him in more childlike state to sense ghosts) and basically having a good ol' guys' time up there. But Dan didn't tell his wife and son that he got a second exorcist and if he doesn't finish by the time they come visit for the weekend, things are gonna get awkward. Especially when the exorcist concludes it's not the house that's haunted, it's the family. Just a superb mix of dry comedy and genuinely frightening moments.

And then the found-footage anthology, THE DARK TAPES. A clever mix of styles exploring scientific demon hunting (with a Caltech physics shout-out!) the hunters becoming hunted, cam girls and horny guys, revenge, demons, and crazy time dilations. Of course, I'm partial to the one with the Caltech physicist (which is also the one that sort of frames everything,) but they're all excellently done, effective, scary, and funny. Even if the found-footage sub-genre is kind of played out, THE DARK TAPES shows there's still some life in it.

And finally, a few brave souls stuck around for the late-late screening of ATMO HORRORX. Even fewer made it to the ending. Just weirdness for the sake of weirdness, featuring a guy with a half-dozen long balloons sprouting out of his crotch and who makes people disappear by clapping them on the side of the head with shoes. One of my new fears is that some day director Pat Tremblay will actually make a worthwhile movie. Because then people will look back at this early work and decide it's genius. It's like watching David Cronenberg's early student films (even down to the Canadian-ness.) They're unwatchable messes, but because he later became David Cronenberg, people watch them and decide they're genius. I hope to hell the same doesn't happen here. But I want to end this on a kind note, so I'll just's not STRUGGLED REAGANS.

Total Running Time: 296 minutes
My Total Minutes: 435,891

Jason goes to Holehead--Day 8

Two shows on Thursday, starting with the shorts Neo-noir is the New Black (get it? It's a French/English pun.)
BAD HABITS: A librarian discovers a knife, and a book about killing bad habits. It gets a little too literal.
HEART ROCK AND DOLLARS: Love, betrayal, gangsters, and poison in gloomy Lebanon.
HOLE: A woman moves into a new apartment, and finds a hole in the wall where she can spy on her neighbor. That might not be a great idea.
THE SHADOW HOURS: Twin private eyes, with an odd condition. Only one of them can be awake at a time. So one takes the day shift, one takes the night shift. But when one falls in love and she wants a relationship that can last 24 hours a day, things get pretty tense.
SWING SHIFT: A film that would've been equally at home in the Lovecraft shorts program. A noir-ish dame is the night guardian against creatures from beyond. Very funny mix of genres.
THE WHISKEY TALKING: The highlight of the program. A recovering alcoholic is poisoned, and there's no antidote. But he can counteract the poison by being drunk. So a wasted man and his nearly-as-drunk sidekick go on an adventure to find his murderer. What kind of man is he? 100 proof.
THE WRITER: From Italy, a beautiful, stylish thriller of cursed writer.

And then for a bit of sci-fi with VIRTUAL REVOLUTION. It's 2047, and in this dystopian future most of the people spend almost all their time online. Can you imagine that? There's a small population of unconnected, and also a handful of hybrids--people who can actually log off once in a while and interact in the real world for just a bit before heading back into the virtual world. One of those hybrids is the hero, a private bounty hunter working for the virtual gaming corporations. Seems there's some terrorists--necromancers who are killing connected via a virus that fries their brain through the headset. The fake excitement of the virtual world is beautifully contrasted with the brutal punishment of the real world, and it's provocative how the movie delves into the blurring of the worlds. In an unsurprising twist, the terrorists are really (maybe?) a team of freedom fighters--but giving people freedom by forcing them out of what they've already chosen they want. What I found most intriguing is how it isn't black and white about virtual reality being bad and real reality being the right way to go. I don't know how old director Guy-Roger Duvert is, but I'm going to guess he would count as a "millennial." And I would consider this the first millennial sci-fi dystopian film about virtual reality, and how in choosing between real and virtual, virtual is a completely legitimate choice. After all, if experience is all just chemical reactions in our brains, who cares what triggers them?

Total Running Time: 179 minutes
My Total Minutes: 435,596

Jason goes to Holehead--Day 7

Two more movies last Wednesday night, starting with Sophia Takal's ALWAYS SHINE. As a fan of Sophia Takal's work--mostly familiar with her acting work--I'm...let's say "keenly aware" of how often she is naked on screen. So the significance isn't lost on me when she opens the movie with an actress (Beth, played by Caitlin FitzGerald) auditioning for a part that requires extensive nudity, and they want to see that in the audition. But rather than showing it, Takal focuses on her face and her discomfort in the moment. Imagine that--a nude scene that shows female emotions instead of tits. This immediately lets the audience know this will be a movie told from a female perspective, not the male gaze. So I'll admit straight out that as a man some things will go right over my head. Anyway, Beth is an up-and-coming star of shitty, exploitative horror films she doesn't even want to be in. In the second scene, we see her best friend Anna (Mackenzie Davis) in what appears to be an audition for the role of "woman who is being cheated by her mechanic and is pissed about it." Until there's a wide shot and we realize she's actually at the mechanic. Anna is the more aggressive of the friends, but that hasn't helped her acting career. To reconnect, they take a trip to Big Sur for some best-friends girl time. But jealousies take hold, it seems Beth is so meek she hasn't even taken a chance at the steps she promised Anna she'd take to help her career (e.g., show her acting reel to a producer.) So there's an altercation, and then...things get strange. I don't want to spoil it more. But I will say there was much discussion amongst the festival regulars about what exactly happened there. Anyway, I enjoyed it.

Then the late show was on glorious 35 mm film, and started with the projectionist's stash of secret bonus shorts. This included a timely trailer for THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE. And the highlight was a film called THE CREDITORS which a short online search reveals...nothing. It looked like it was from the 50s or 60s and was just a long, opening credit sequence. That's the whole joke. Stock footage and increasingly ludicrous credits. Like a previous generation's TOO MANY COOKS.

Anyway, that was the lead-in to the classic, PAN'S LABYRINTH. Still a fantastic movie. I remember seeing it back in 2007, and after all the trailers showing the amazing monsters, I was surprised how much of it was about fascist Spain, and how the fantasy elements were about escaping from that. But rewatching it now, I'm impressed at how well the two were integrated and the seamless transitions. Still a truly amazing movie.

Total Running Time: 203 minutes
My Total Minutes: 435,416

Jason goes to Holehead--Day 6

I skipped day 5. The movies--KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE and HALLOWEEN 3: THE SEASON OF THE WITCH--I had seen several times before.

First up was an excellent, slow-burn drama THE UNSEEN. Bob is struggling. Struggling to keep his hours at the lumber mill. Struggling in his barely-existent relationship with his ex-wife and daughter. Struggling to keep it all together--literally. See, Bob is slowly turning invisible, piece by piece. It's a story of the difficulty of being there for people when you're not entirely there yourself. And when his ex-wife calls him about trouble with their daughter, he has to go. But he's also got to run some errand for a shady character who has got him in a bind. The story develops at its own deliberate pace, and is definitely more character driven than gimmick-driven. Especially when it turns out his condition might be hereditary. And excellent surprise of the festival.

Then the shorts program At the Movies of Madness. Lovecraftian overload!
Note: due to a technical glitch, only half of AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS played. Which was a shame, it was looking pretty good.
BEYOND THE REACH OF STARS: A man summons some mysterious beings. With funny results.
THE CALL OF CHARLIE: Don't you hate it when you set up a date between your two friends (one of whom is a tentacle-faced monster) and some other friends stop by unannounced and ruin everything? Very funny.
AN ELDRITCH PLACE: From Belgium. The horrors of being a night watchman.
HARBINGER: A POV nightmare through an old farmhouse that contains a portal to a dangerous world.
THE HAUNTER OF THE DARK: A clay-mation adaptation of Lovecraft's story of an explorer who discovers a "Trapezohedron" which summons a being from across time and space.
HPL INSURANCE: An insurance policy against indescribable terrors from other dimensions.
HYPNOS: A man, the planet he loves, and space monster who will destroy them. Visually amazing.
THE MUSIC OF ERICH ZANN: An animated story. As a young man, our narrator befriended a strange, reclusive violinist named Erich Zann. As an older man, he can't find Erich Zann, or the street they used to live on, or anyone who has ever heard of him.
THE OTHER GODS: Partially animated. A wizard finds a way to witness the dancing of the gods on top of their mountain. But beware, they don't dance for themselves, they dance for the other gods.
THE PACKAGE: A man receives a package containing the diary of his adventuring father. A mystery awaits, if he chooses to pursue it. Or he could just keep drinking by the fire.
POETRY AND THE GODS: The right poems will open the right portals and you can meet the gods.
STRANGE AEONS: Based on "The Shadow Over Innsmouth." I confess, it was late at night, I was tired, and it was kind of a long-ish short (30 minutes) so I kind of dozed off. But the parts where I was awake were good.
ZERCH: A gay love story of devotion, sacrifice, and metamorphosis.

Total Running Time: 246
My Total Minutes: 435,213

Friday, November 4, 2016

Jason goes to Holehead--Day 4

Last Sunday was a pretty short day, at least by weekend film fest standards. Only four shows.

First up was the shorts program Crime and Punishment
CYCLE: A desperate man gets a new chance with a mysterious bag in the airport which contains an important and morally questionable guide to his new life.
THE DISAPPEARANCE OF WILLIE BINGHAM: A short Australian masterpiece of creepiness and body horror. In the near future, criminal punishment is dealt out in a series of grisly amputations--as much as the victim's family can endure--and a series of "scared straight" school visits.
KONG'S: A bit of late night criminality in a low-class Santa Cruz convenient store.
NOMAD: Criminals, a runaway, and a lot of driving.
SNOW CONE: A father tries to teach his son how to live like him, just before he goes away to prison. It's not a very good lesson.
SUCH APPETITE: From Bulgaria, a man, a bicycle, a road, and a scam.
VALLE DE LAS CABRAS: From Mexico, a long and brutal story of immigration, smuggling, and ripping off the wrong guys.

Then another shorts program, It Came From the Grindhouse. Which for my money was the best shorts program so far.
THE BARBER'S CUT: A psycho barber and the collection of living body parts he keeps in his basement.
THE BIRTHDAY: A young couple, expecting a baby. But there's a violent surprise in store for one of them.
BLOODY HENRY: A bible salesman with a bloody side project.
DEMONOID (1971) (ENGLISH DUB): Some friends on an adventure in the Mexican jungle. But they awaken an ancient curse, and things go bad. Don't forget your 3-D glasses!
FAIR CHASE: White supremacists chase a victim around some farmland. Seems like fun? Actually, a pretty cool setup for what could be a much longer film.
MATALOS: Some sadists (and rapists) holding a woman captive. But she's got some strength and ingenuity to fight her way out.
NO TOUCHING: Speaking of chicks who know how to fight back, Zoe Bell and Heidi Moneymaker kick the ass of every monster in a haunted house. Even the real ones who aren't actors in makeup. Awesome.
PREPARE TO DIE!: A faux trailer for an excellent looking grindhouse slasher flick.

Next up was the feature PANOPTICON. Alex is allergic to the sun, which sucks since he lives in a sunny beachside town. The few times he goes out in the day he's completely covered. And when he goes out at night, he likes dressing like a girl. But most of the time he stays home on his computer, spying on people's webcams with a program called Panopticon. He becomes infatuated with a local art gallery owner. He also meets a 14 year old victim of human trafficking. And this draws him out of his isolation as he tries to get to know the former and help the latter. Alas, in both cases, human connections are not his strong suit. It's shot in beautiful black and white, with a lot of fascinating ideas about isolation and violation, and most importantly it features an outstanding performance by the lead actor, Guilherme Scarabelot.

And then the late night show, a bit of local fun with THE CURFEW GANG. A young woman is walking home at night, when she's suddenly attacked, bitten, and wakes up kind of freaking out with new powers. She's not a vampire (they're weak-ass bitches) she's a nightmare. And she's the newest member of an all-girl gang of nightmares. They rule the night, they drink coffee and booze (because water will kill them.) They make fun of vampires (who sparkle and smell like rotten eggs.) But there are some vampire hunters in town, so everyone's in danger. Or maybe not, maybe they're too powerful to be killed. It's some silly, low-budget fun where it's not so much about the story or the danger, but about some kick-ass women hanging out and making fun of the new girl.

Total Running Time: 350 minutes
My Total Minutes: 434,967

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Jason goes to Holehead--Day 3

Saturday was a short day, and a shorts day at Holehead.

First up was Apps Against Humanity - shorts about technology
#MURDERSELFIE: A couple who are more into their smartphones than each other get a scary interruption, but eventually she'll get her Instagram trending.
C.T.R.L: An app that lets you control other people's action, turning a chance encounter into an amazingly awkward dance.
FRIEND REQUEST: Some people think we already talk too much via apps and not enough in real life. But this takes it a step further.
GPS: There's just a few simple rules to using this sinister GPS. Follow all of the directions precisely, and never go to the bathroom after eating tobacco sauce.
HIDDEN WINDOW: A stalker website where it looks like the videographer is stalking and killing his victims. And a young journalist investigating a series of murders that might be connected to the website. Excellently done.
MANDRONE: A master at chess, traps, and survival takes on an army of drone-controlled men.
THOUGHTLESS: From Berkeley, in the future not only will hate speech be policed, but the hateful thoughts that lead to hateful speech and hateful actions. They'll just be wound back and replaced with positive thoughts.

Next up was Work Is Hell. I tend to agree.
THE DOOR: A particularly observant janitor notices a non-descript door, just like all the other doors in the building, only it was never there before. Or maybe he's going crazy.
EXTINCTION: When social security is all about exactly how long your benefits will allow you to live, bureaucracy makes end-of-life decisions for you.
KNOCK!: A man working late...a knock on the door.
THE NIGHT SHIFT: An orphanage that's run with all the efficiency of an animal shelter. And not a no-kill shelter. The new hire finds out more about his duties.
OVERTIME: A guy is forced to work late. He's desperate to get home in time. But he just keeps getting delayed. That's bad for him...and everyone.
PORTAL TO HELL: In one of his final roles, Roddy Piper plays a crusty old building superintendent. He has to deal with unclogging toilets, replacing lightbulbs, fixing the power, dealing with the two old dudes in the basement who are summoning Cthulhu,...
THE RIDE: Based on a true story, a guy gets a ride to work from some random good Samaritan, who turns out to be really weird and maybe deadly.
THE SUIT: A superhero has had it with being a tool of American foreign policy, and is determined to quit. But he has to make sure his family is safe, first. Hey, you do the same job long enough, you get burnt out.
THE WORKING DEAD: Post-mortem revival brings a star employee back to work after just a few weeks off for death. He quickly becomes the braaaaaiiiinnns of the operation.

Then there was Love Is Strange. I tend to agree.
APOLO81: Due to a technical glitch, this didn't actually play. Sorry.
DEAR ANIMA: A man, his childhood love, his drawings of her, and one of them comes to life. Trippy.
ELLE: A woman, the nice man she takes home, and her unusual pet.
FATE: A wealthy man looking for love consults a psychic.
IN BAD FAITH: A woman gets a little bit of payback on her ex and his new girlfriend.
THE LOCK-IN: A bartender deals with incredibly rude customers. Until he can't deal with it anymore. And then he deals with it perfectly. And gets a lovely lass to help him out.
NEON: Never actually called an angel, but a man who brings people together is forbidden by a higher power from actually pursuing love for himself. But he has fallen in love, and he has a plan to save her.

And I missed the rest of the day because I went to Scotchtoberfest. But that's a different, drunker story.

Total Running Time: 282 minutes
My Total Minutes: 434,618

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Jason goes to Holehead--Day 2

We started with a lovely and challenging art documentary, which had some wondering what it's doing in a horror/fantasy/sci-fi festival. WEAPONS OF LIGHT is a look at artist Philip Lawson. He's a painter, a poet, a sculptor. He's a gentle, thoughtful man who teaches art and art therapy at a institute for the mentally and physically challenged in Marin. And his latest project--Weapons Of Light - The Art of Peace--takes an iconic and challenging image and repurposes it. The AK-47 is surely the most iconic weapon of the last century. And Philip has reformed that symbol by casting translucent, colorful resin into that shape. Director Leila Namvar captures his art, his heart, his process, and his friends. There's such a gentleness behind everything in this movie, that it makes the image of the AK-47 all that more striking. It's a lovely and challenging movie, about a lovely and challenging image. And as for it belonging in a horror/fantasy/sci-fi festival...well, I can be convinced it belongs.

Afterwards, there was a very engaging Q&A session, and I'm not just saying that because I was a last-minute recruit to run it. Mostly it was because Leila and Philip could speak quite eloquently about their work, and because the movie draws out such interesting reactions. Oh yeah, also because there were pouring free wine before the film.

Then the open cocktail bar started up, and we all go ready for a 90s Sing-A-Long: Halloween Special. I got really drunk, tried to sing along, and mostly decided that 90s music doesn't do shit for me. But other people seemed to be having fun. And so did I, once I got drunk enough.

And then the late night show, THE GIANT PAPIER MACHE BOULDER IS ACTUALLY REALLY HEAVY. A cleverly silly comedy from New Zealand. Three friends go to a sci-fi convention, even though only one is really into it. While there they go to a screening of a cheesy B-movie "Space Warriors In Space" and as the opening credits roll, they see their names as the stars. Next thing you know, they're sucked into the cheesy B-movie world. No explanation given, and none needed, really. A world where spaceships fly around on strings, silver-painted hair dryers are guns, and robots are made out of cardboard. It was clearly made by people who are fans of sci-fi, and had a lot of fun with it. And the end result is actually pretty fun, and not--as I was afraid--a joke that would wear out too quickly. At least, the parts where I was conscious were fun. Did I mention the cocktail bar for the 90s sing-a-long was free?

Total Running Time: 248 minutes
My Total Minutes: 434,335

Friday, October 28, 2016

Jason goes to Holehead--Opening Night

Despite it's inconsistent schedule (both in terms of time of the year and program offerings) I still consider Another Hole In the Head one of the High Holy Days of the film festival calendar. And the 2016 version started last night.

First up, were some Homegrown Horrors--locally made short films
BENEATH THE LAKE: A wordless, atmospheric piece about a woman who crawls out of a lake and through the woods to explore a house.
DEMONOLOGY: Creepy doors and shadowy monsters. All the good things.
E.Z.P.Z.: Inspired by a failed cobra bounty program in India, a story of zombie bounty program with unintended side effects. Like...zombie breeding.
ETERNAL COMA, 1994: The horrors of black metal music and D&D. So appropriate after the recent death of Jack Chick.
THE EXISTENTIAL ZOMBIE: What if a zombie still holds on to a little piece of his humanity...and his loneliness. All anxiety is existential awareness of undeadness.
IN HYDRIA: Don't open the creepy, goopy box. Just don't.
NOW'S A BAD TIME: Don't you hate it when your friend's untimely death messes up your chance for quick cash by selling your World of Warcraft account? A very funny little flick.
WARM INSIDES: Very effectively creepy body horror, as a woman thinks there's something sinister growing inside her.

And then the feature, THE MASTER CLEANSE, produced by and starring Johnny Galecki, playing Paul--a sadder, dumber version of his lovelorn loser character from The Big Bang Theory (I mean, the seasons when he's not with Penny.) He's lost his job, his fiancée left him, and he's so low he checks out some self-help class by a famous guru who invented the lemon cleanse and is now offering the Master Cleanse. He signs up for the retreat--despite having to sign a waiver that mentions the possibility it will kill him--mainly because of the cute girl who is also attending. And it starts out simple enough. They each have a course of foul-tasting drinks specially concocted just for them. That's the cleanse part. Then there's the "elimination." That's where all the nasty stuff inside you comes out. And...then grows into a squirmy little monster who copies your mannerisms. Then it gets kind of weird. Other "retreaters" have different ways of dealing with their monsters. It's kinda funny, not really scary, but well made and with a cast you wouldn't expect given what I assumed was a fairly limited budget for an independent feature by a first-time director (Bobby Miller, who has directed several shorts but this is his first feature.) Anjelica Huston and Oliver Platt both play important roles, and both are fantastic. And in the end it leaves you with a bit of an ambiguous note on the perils of trying to destroy your flaws, since after all they do make you who you are.

Total Running Time: 164 minutes
My Total Minutes: 434,087

Thursday, October 27, 2016


Well, I managed to go nearly a decade writing about every movie I saw. 2016 finally broke me. It's been 4 months since I've blogged. And that was after habitually falling behind by months and then delivering a massive dump of reviews. I just don't have it in me to catch up this time.

So instead I apologize to the remainder of Docfest, to the Niles Essanay Film Museum's Broncho Billy Film Festival, and the the smattering of general release films I've seen. I won't be writing about them.

Holehead starts tonight. With luck I'll be able to write about everything I see there.

Oh, and I have still been keeping track of the minutes I've spent watching movies. The count is up to 433,923.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Jason goes to Docfest--Friday, June 10

Two more, including one of my favorites and one I wish I had missed.

THE TWO DOLLAR BILL DOCUMENTARY was awesome. It's a sharing of stories and history of that amazingly quirky bit of currency. People think $2 bills aren't made anymore (some have even spent some time in jail for trying to spend them.) But in fact they're quite common...sort of. They're not much in circulation, simply because people think they're rare, so if they get one they hold onto it. And they become--to casual collectors, at least--emotionally valuable. You have fond memories of where you got it--even if it's a strip club (oh yeah, I'd heard--but never confirmed--that's a good place to get them. And that does make it into the film.) Another good place to get them in Monticello, since Jefferson enthusiasts have a yen for the $2. We meet people who love spending the $2 bill, and other than the semi-rare moments where the authenticity is questioned, people generally love it. Then we meet the serious collectors. So a regular $2 bill is worth...about $2. But there are some rare ones. Misprints..."star" series...amusing serial numbers...actually, we get a pretty good look at how all our paper money is made, but just focusing on the $2. And then there's the really old, really rare money. Like I had never actually known the difference between a Federal Reserve Note and a United States Note. I even won a $2 bill in the Q&A, for having a sharp eye to notice a 6 1/4 cent (half a "bit"--as in "2 bits, 4 bits, 6 bits, a dollar!") note. And guess what--it's a 1963 United States Note, crisp--that might be worth slightly more than $2. But to me, it's priceless, because it contains the memory of this movie.

And then the second show started with a short,

DISAMBIGUATION is seven minutes of experimental film about the BP oil spill of 2010.

And then the feature THE GREAT WALL is a study in borders. As a voice reads Franz Kafka's "The Great Wall of China" we see footage of walls...and fences...and anything else that separates people. And it just goes on and on for 74 freakin' minutes. And with how exhausted I was, and how desperately I wanted a nap, it's like this movie cursed me and wouldn't let me just peacefully drift off. I shoulda left. What the hell?

Total Running Time: 184 minutes
My Total Minutes: 431,793

Jason goes to Docfest--Thursday, June 9

A couple more films last week Thursday.

KATE PLAYS CHRISTINE was the Centerpiece feature about actress Kate Lynn Sheil preparing for and shooting a movie about Florida newscaster Christine Chubbuck, who in 1974 killed herself live on air with a bullet to the back of her head. It shows Sheil's preparation and process, and is pretty interesting. But it really should be called KATE PLAYS KATE PLAYING CHRISTINE, as it becomes clear that the existence of the documentary crew is changing the reality of how she (pretends to) prepare. I'm torn as to whether that's a detriment or not, but moments where she breaks from talking about the role to talking about how she really would prepare end up more interesting than when she's interviewing people who are tangentially connected to the shooting (i.e., people who work at the station now, or people who work at the gun store where she bought her weapon, or psychologists and other experts in suicide.) It picks up emotionally when she actually finds and talks to people who knew Christine, and the final scene is pretty powerful. But mostly I was just kind of exhausted by that time. It's another one of those films that desperately needs some editing.

Then the second program was 3 shorts and a short-ish (60 minute) feature.

JOSHUA TREE: THREATENED WONDERLAND is a gorgeously shot look at Joshua Tree National Park and the trees that give it its name. The trees, the rocks, the landscapes have given inspiration to several artists, but environmentalists warn that with air pollution, fires, and global warming the iconic trees might all be dead in less than a century. They're just not growing back at the rate they're dying, and that's sad.

CALIFORNIA DRYING is a short meditation on the years-long drought that has been affecting California, featuring some excellent aerial photography. I've certainly known the drought and have cut back on water, but honestly where I live in the Bay Area it hasn't really affected me much.

THE CROSSING is the reflections of a crossing guard in Silicon Valley, where the Caltrain tracks are a way too popular choice for teen suicide attempts. Pretty sobering.

And then the feature, EAST LA INTERCHANGE, narrated by Danny Trejo, is the story of urban planning cutting up the poorer neighborhood of Boyle Heights while leaving the more affluent neighborhoods spared. The neighborhood was (and still is, to some extent) home to a mix of Latinos, Jews, African-Americans, Asian-Americans, and lower class whites (who admit to being "rednecks.) With no political power, their neighborhoods were carved up to put in the freeway interchange of the 5, 10, 101, and 60. An interesting story of what is done to the politically powerless in the name of "progress." I kinda wish I had been more awake for it.

Total Running Time: 200 minutes
My Total Minutes: 431,609

Jason goes to Docfest--Wednesday, June 8

Way behind. Two more. Quickie updates

ART OF THE PRANK is the story of Joey Skaggs, performance artist and professional media hoaxer. Sort of a spiritual successor to Alan Abel but with a more politically-minded bent (also a predecessor of The Yes Men, but with a less political bent.) Skaggs has joyfully trolled the media with a Celebrity Sperm Bank (which happened to get robbed just before the press conference) and a Cathouse for Dogs. He set up a mobile confessional booth on the back of his tricycle as a "Portofess."
The movie serves as a good overview of his career and his methods (he's a big fan of revealing the joke when it goes far enough) and features a good mix of archival hits and new interviews, as he is still working diligently to get his message out in the funniest ways he can.
THE MILLION DOLLAR DUCK is mostly about a different, and more serious, form of art (although of course my favorite guy in it is a prankster.) You might remember a side plot from FARGO about painting a duck for an art contest. That contest is for the Duck Stamp, needed for hunting licenses and used to raise money for U.S. government conservation efforts. And wildlife artists (and one impressive art prankster) compete every year to create the painting that will be featured on that year's Duck Stamp. And these are incredibly talented artists. To my untrained eye, any one of the entries we see could win. But when it gets down to the judging--three rounds of it--it's absolutely brutal. The film follows several artists, and I'm happy to say the person I was rooting for (other than the prankster) won it all. But in the interest of spoilers, I won't tell you who that is.
Total Running Time: 156 minutes
My Total Minutes: 431,409

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Jason goes to Docfest--Tuesday, June 7

Two movies a week ago Tuesday.

First up was IN CALIFORNIA, a ridiculously self-indulgent troubled romance between the director Charles Redon and his ballerina girlfriend / fiancé / wife (sorry, SPOILER ALERT) Mathilde. She's a ballerina, and he opens the movie with their breakup. Then they go back to them meeting, her struggles to make it in ballet, her job offer from San Francisco, and them moving there. Then it gets to him being bored and playing with a selfie stick, while he realizes more and more that she has her life outside of him. So he starts pushing her away and being a jerk. It gets really weird as he gets into some S&M stuff, sees a dominatrix, and buys a leather dog mask. But it doesn't feel like some breakthrough or growth, he's just as unlikeable before and after. In fact, the whole movie feels like something that should be a breakthrough and somehow isn't. So instead it's just a story of an unlikeable person and the woman he successfully stalks.

Then for a little comedy, with EAR BUDS: THE PODCASTING DOCUMENTARY. Comedy Film Nerds Chris Mancini and Graham Elwood created this documentary about podcasts. Specifically (I assume just because that's what they know) about comedy podcasts. And about how the format lets them be a little more raw, a little more experimental, and a lot more direct with fans. That's the heart of this--what makes podcasting so special is the community of fans that keep in contact even between shows, and make connections based on more than just 'I like this comedian.' The film even takes us to Japan in the wake of the tsunami, or to the middle of the Australian outback, just to meet fans and connect. And it's a good deal of fun, but it desperately needed an editor. I swear there were more than half a dozen times when the music was swelling and the narration was making some profound-ish point and I expected that to be the conclusion and credits...but instead it went on to the next story.

Total Running Time: 193 minutes
My Total Minutes: 431,253

Jason goes to Docfest--Monday, June 6

Well, the festival is almost over, so I might as well start writing about it.

I missed the whole first weekend due to Silentfest, but now it's time to hit the documentaries hard. Two programs a week ago Monday.

First up a shorts program, Cool Old Guys. Cool!
ROLLIN' FOR MILES: David Miles Jr. is cool for roller skating, dressing up, and founding the Church of 8 wheels.
A PASSION OF GOLD AND FIRE: This guy is cool for keeping bees. Bees!
BOB SWANN: Bob Swann is cool for...lots of shit. Being a bail bondsman. Having a huge collection of clocks. Shellacking roaches. Anything, really.
BORN FIGHTER: I had previously seen this at Cinequest, But Johnnie Gray is still cool for running his East Palo Alto boxing gym.
DAVID FAIR IS THE KING: David Fair is cool for being the co-founder of the band Half Japanese. Now he's cool for keeping up with art in daily life however he can.
EMORY DOUGLAS: THE ART OF THE BLACK PANTHERS: Emory Douglas is cool for... ummm... being an artist for the Black Panthers. I guess the title gave that away. In fact, he was their Minister of Culture, and the film is a cool look at art as a weapon.
PHIL'S CAMINO: Phil is cool for using walking and faith as a tool in his fight against caner. Not being Catholic, I had actually never known about the Camino de Santiago, but he sets up the equivalent in his backyard, and when his cancer is in remission, he goes on the real thing.
ROBIN BROWN: Robin is cool for being an athlete, a body builder, a model, a darling of the Parisian social classes. Until MS robbed him of all of that. But you know what, he's still cool.

And then a feature, THE DWARVENAUT. Stefan Pokorny is an artist, entrepreneur, and D&D (Dungeons and Dragons, in case anyone didn't know) enthusiast. He builds exquisitely detailed models of dungeons and cities for his fellow gamers to enjoy (at a cost, of course.) It probably helps to be a D&D fan, but it's definitely not necessary to enjoy this movie. It's more the story of a hungry artist living his dream and trying to make a living off his passion. It also gets a bit into some of the trauma in his childhood, but steers away from that before it gets too dark, focusing instead on a fairly anticlimactic Kickstarter campaign and his life at conventions (particularly drinking too much with Gary Gygax's son.)

Total Running Time: 161 minutes
My Total Minutes: 431,060

Friday, June 10, 2016

Jason goes to Silentfest--The Finale

And I've fallen about a week behind, all while I've been attending Docfest. So I hate doing this, but this'll be a super-quick abbreviated update.

The first program, bright and early, was on Fantasia of Color in Early Films. I'm not going to describe all of the movies, but for the record they were:
THE MILLS (1913)

And it was a beautiful program, reveling in the fact that color was around from the very beginning of film. Even well before Technicolor and other photo-realistic color systems, the art of hand painting, stencils, tinting (soaking the developed positive prints in a color bath, so the whites got colored,) and toning (a chemical process during developing the negatives, to give color to the black parts of the black and white film) brought the joys of color to the earliest films. And it's really cool to see, and to hear Donald Sosin playing for it.

Next up was a cool gender-bending double feature listed in the program as Girls Will Be Boys

I DON'T WANT TO BE A MAN (1918): Ernst Lubitsch makes a delightful comedy in which Ossi Oswalda is a young woman who likes to smoke, drink, and play cards. But her gender keeps her from going to the coolest clubs. But not if she dresses up like a man. And she passes pretty well as a clean shaven dandy-ish young man. And she learns how rough men are, and how rude women are. And she makes a new best friend. In fact, the film features their "bromance" blossoming into something really special (she kisses him, as a man.) Excellent.

WHAT'S THE WORLD COMING TO? (1926): A Hal Roach production, starring Jim Finlayson as a husband 100 years in the future, when women wield all the power and men are the weaker, meeker sex. Featuring "blushing grooms" and handsome, tuxedoed brides.

And featuring the music of Maud Nelissen and Frank Bockius accompanying.

Then I finally got a chance to check out a movie I've always heard of, but never actually seen, NANOOK OF THE NORTH (1922): The first "documentary" despite its questionable claims of authenticity, is still an engaging story with a likeable character and his family. That it plays fast and loose with the facts is both undeniable and important. But also the fact that it's a sensitive portrayal of a way of life that used to be, even if it's long gone by the time the movie was made, is also important. As is the fact that this movie kind of set the mold for how documentaries are done--for good or for bad.

And of course, if it's set in a cold environment, the Matti Bye Ensemble has to provide the music. And they were fantastic.

And then one of the great revelations of the festival, DESTINY (DER MÜDE TOD) (1921): Fritz Lang's grand, epic battle of Love vs. Death. A mysterious stranger moves to town, buys up the land by the cemetery, and builds a giant wall with no doors or gates. This is death, and only he can take you through the walls--and no one can come back out. But when he robs a young bride of her groom, she attempts suicide to join him. The sympathetic portrayal of death--a spirit hated by all, just for doing God's will--is very powerful. And in his sympathy he makes her a deal. 4 candles are about to go out--the candles representing the life of a person. If she can keep just one of them from going out, he will let her live and give her her husband back. And so the story travels to ancient Persia. And to Venice. And to Imperial China. And is exquisite and daring and bold and powerful each and every time. But no (spoiler alert) Love cannot conquer Death. But it can willingly join it.

And the Stephen Horne Ensemble--Stephen Horne, Frank Bockius, Guenter Buchwald, and Brian Collins (of the Mont Alto Orchestra)--were magnificent in providing the music.

Next up was LES DEUX TIMIDES (1928): René Clair with another of his unique little comedies. We start with a bumbling, timid young lawyer bungling his very first case and getting his client sentenced to the maximum for (allegedly) beating his wife (the flashback scenes of both the prosecution and defense describing his domestic behavior is pretty fantastic.) Later, he and his client are rivals for the hand of a beautiful young lady. She loves him, but he's too timid to even talk to her father. Her father is likewise timid, and gives in to the ruffians demands to marry his daughter against her will, unless the timid young man can save the day. The middle part starts to drag a lot--since it's the story of timid people, much of the action is hemming and hawing and refusing to take action. But the ending is excellent as all hell breaks loose.

And the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra was likewise excellent providing the score.

And then the grand finale, WHEN THE CLOUDS ROLL BY (1919): Douglas Fairbanks, in one of his social comedies before becoming a swashbuckler (although he still finds plenty of opportunity to show off his athletic talents.) He also wrote the story, about a mad scientist who is intent on driving a person crazy to prove he can drive him to kill himself. His poor victim is Fairbanks himself, a pleasant but superstitious young man, who always seems to screw up. His butler (in the employ of the scientist) feeds him disagreeable food late at night, giving him nightmares. That makes him late for work, where his uncle has to fire him. But things turn around when he meets a nice, equally superstitious girl and falls in love. But the scientist just ups his evil plot with this new wrinkle, and an oil land swindle that's...not worth sweating the details. The most powerful part of it--and something I've been thinking about ever since--is near the end. And I have to get a bit spoiler-y about that. Fairbanks is driven to the brink, and we get a look inside his mind as the queen of reason is shaken off her throne by paranoia, fear, despair... And just at the critical moment, it's the heroic jester--sense of humor--who defeats the evil forces and returns reason to her throne. And that idea--that a sense of humor is our most powerful weapon to protect our sanity--is still true, and still profound today. I love it.

And Guenter Buchwald and Frank Bockius sent us off in style. And finally, Silentfest 2016 is in the books.

Total Running Time: 458 minutes
My Total Minutes: 430,899

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Jason goes to Silentfest--Day 3

Another huge day at SFSFF, starting with a show of Comedy restorations courtesy of Lobster Films.

BATTLE OF THE CENTURY (1927): This was the headliner, discovered recently by Jon Mirsalis (who also accompanied all the films on the piano) the famous lost second reel of this legendary Laurel and Hardy film, featuring an epic pie fight. The two reels oddly pretty much stand on their own as separate films, with Stan as a prize fighter and Ollie as his coach in the first reel, and the second reel starting with them walking down the street after buying some accident insurance. Then some hijinx with a banana peel, and we're off to the pie fights. You'd think the gag of hitting people with pies would grow old...and you'd be wrong. It was fantastic.

COPS (1922): A Keaton classic. Buster accidentally steals a wallet (from a cop) and "buys" a truckload of furniture to prove he's a good businessman and win his girl. But wacky hijinx ensue (including a particularly famous boxing glove gag, and a reference to "goat glands" treatments.) And it culminates in all of the L.A.P.D. chasing him all over town. Hilarious.

THE BALLOONATIC (1923): Buster Keaton again, with the sort of wacky hijinx only possible in cartoons (or in Buster Keaton's world.) Surprisingly, very little ballooning occurs in the movie, mostly serving to transport Buster from his crazy mishaps in an amusement park to the wilderness where he tries to survive and romance Phyllis Haver. Then it shows up again in a gag at the very end. It's not a very coherent story, even by silent short comedy standards, but it's a good collection of gags that makes your head spin.

THE DANCING PIG (1907): Completely bizarre. A pig invites a girl to dance. She strips him naked and dances with him. And then it gets weird. Those eyes...that tongue...that mouth.

Okay, I needed a break and a palate cleanser after that pig, so it was time to go to Sweden with THE STRONGEST (DEN STARKASTE) (1929.) The stark nature vistas are a character in themselves in this film. Skipper Olsen of the hunting ship Viking has a beautiful daughter, and a farmhand Ole who's sweet on her. But his son-in-law must be strong enough to take over as captain of the Viking some day. So next spring, he takes on with a rival ship, Maud, and becomes their best gunner, hunting seals. But an accident leaves him stranded on an ice floe where the Viking picks him up and rescues him. It turns out his rival for the daughter is there, and he must prove he's not just the strongest but also an honorable, good man to win the hunt and win the daughter. Some scenes of hunting (seals and polar bears) which appear to feature real animal kills tend to upset modern audiences, but I thought overall the film was magnificent and amazing.

Matti Bye Ensemble provided the soundtrack, which played as the tense heartbeat of the film. I'm running out of superlatives for the musicians.

Next up was SHOOTING STARS, a back-lot comedy-drama from England. Mae Feather (Annette Benson) and Julian Gordon (Brian Aherne) are a married acting team. Andy Wilkes (Donald Calthrop) is the studio's bushy-mustached comedy star. Unbeknownst to Julian, Mae no longer loves him and has been having an affair with Andy. So when they all get invited to make films in America, she is eager to go there with Andy, but not as much with Julian. The middle part drags somewhat...or maybe it was just me succumbing to exhaustion. But it ends with a surprising shift in tone, as the more comic tone of the first half gives way to a deadly serious dramatic turn, and a post-script that's a downright depressing statement on the fickleness of fame.

Stephen Horne was a one-man band on piano, flute, and accordion providing an excellent score for the film.

Next up was WITHIN OUR GATES (1920,) the oldest known surviving film made by an African American director (Oscar Micheaux) and something of a direct reaction to BIRTH OF A NATION (1915.) A complex and unflinching look at race in both the American south and the north, where the hatred isn't as prevalent but lynchings are not unheard of. It's a complicated plot going back and forth from the north to the small southern town of Piney Woods, where Sylvia tries to help a reverend keep his school for black children open. Actually, that part of the story is pretty straightforward. But it's complicated by her mysterious past, an anti-negro politician, his Uncle-Tom servant, a philanthropist, a murder, a frame-up, a lynching, etc. I need to watch this again with a little more rest, so I can follow all the threads. It's a smart, multi-layered movie with good and bad characters of all skin tones.

The excellent accompaniment was courtesy of a new score by Adolphus Hailstork, performed by Oakland Symphony musicians and members of the Oakland Symphony Chorus, conducted by Michael Morgan. The music was beautiful, and I was most impressed with the frequent use of silence, like the music made you feel, but this is a film that also requires some quiet moments to think, as well.

And then it was time for a comedy masterpiece, THE ITALIAN STRAW HAT (1928.) Building comedy layer-upon-layer based mostly on how articles of clothing can fail you. Cravats slip, shoes are too tight, pins stick in your back, an ear trumpet gets clogged, and then there's the business of the titular hat. A groom is on his way home to get married, when he drops his riding crop. While he fetches it, his horse wanders off and takes a big bite out of a rare hat made of Italian straw hanging from a nearby tree. It turns out that belongs to a woman who is just off in the woods with her boyfriend...who is not her husband. And if she comes home with the straw hat destroyed, her husband will know something is up. And the boyfriend--who is also a soldier--will do what it takes to make sure that doesn't happen. So the groom has to sneak away from his own wedding and find a replacement hat. And wacky hijinx ensue. What's so wonderful about this is the setup is ripe for slapstick zaniness, but director René Clair imbues it with subtle playfulness instead, with little side jokes that whimsically build on each other, so that it all feels like a perfectly natural, elegant comedy of errors and manners.

And the Guenter Buchwald Ensemble did a fantastic job complementing the comedy, after Guenter himself introduced the film.

And finally, we ended the night with THE LAST WARNING (1929.) I was tempted to skip this, as I had seen it recently back in Niles, but was intrigued by the new restoration by Universal. Here's what I wrong when I saw it last Halloween:
THE LAST WARNING (1929): Paul Leni's funny/scary backstage murder mystery, and much like his CAT AND THE CANARY established all the clichés for haunted house movies, this does the same for backstage murders (well, I guess Phantom of the Opera did a lot of that first, but still...) The opening scenes set the stage (pun intended) brilliantly. Famous actor John Woodford dies on stage during a performance of his play "The Snare." Chloroform poisoning seems to be the cause, murder is suspected, and the leading lady Miss Doris Terry (Laura La Plante) is the prime suspect. And then...the body mysteriously disappears before the coroner can conduct his autopsy. Flash forward five years, the theater has been closed, the cast has gone their separate ways. And now a new producer wants to open it up, putting on a new production of "The Snare" with the original cast (minus, of course, Woodford.) And soon after a phantom-like character appears to torment the cast with warnings and more. A nice mix of humor and suspense that Paul Leni was great at (too bad he died shortly after making this film) and an effective reveal at the end. Good film.
All still true, and still a great film. And the restoration is pretty clean, although I have it on good authority there was more source material (including a little color) that they could've used. Still, a great way to end a great and exhausting day at the festival.

Donald Sosin and Frank Bockius were the fantastic accompanists for the film.

Total Running Time: 535 minutes
My Total Minutes: 430,442

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Jason goes to Silentfest--Day 2

Friday started bright and early at 10:00 am with a SFSFF tradition, Amazing Tales From the Archives. It is...exactly what it sounds. A short series of presentations about what's going on in archives around the world.

First, from BFI, footage from Stoll studios in Cricklewood England. We get treated to some "behind the scenes" footage, everything from workers entering the studio, to auditions from women all over England, to lab footage showing how the film is made, from perforation to developing to positive prints and drying. And we end with a gala visit by Jackie Coogan. And the whole thing was accompanied by Stephen Horne on the piano.

Then Universal Studios did a presentation on their overall restoration/archival program, focusing on a sneak previews of scenes from THE LAST WARNING, playing Saturday night (by the time this is written, probably "tonight.") I was actually considering skipping that, just because I had seen it just last Halloween at Niles. But having seen a taste of the restoration, I'm going to have to see the whole thing.

And finally, Georges Mourier, who is currently overseeing a new restoration gave us the epic story of the epic reconstruction of the epic film, Abel Gance's NAPOLEON (have I mentioned it's pretty epic?) Most amazing is how many versions of this film exist/have existed. 4 versions by Gance himself: 2 silents--the Opera and Apollo versions (named after the theaters where they premiered) and 2 talkies, made decades later and with different actors in framing scenes as Napoleon. 5 different reconstructions (3 by Kevin Brownlow.) And finally the amazing discovery--the key to the film. That the ~4.5 hour Opera version and ~9 hour Apollo versions were from completely different negatives. They really were completely different films. Gance himself described seeing restorations mixing versions as like listening to a few bars of Debussy then a few bars of Brahms. Truly an amazing tale from archives all over the world. Now I can't wait to see the Mourier reconstruction.

Then after a brief break, A WOMAN OF THE WORLD (1925) starring Pola Negri as the beautiful and sophisticated Countess Elnora Natatorini. After being betrayed by the man she loved so much that she got his crest tattooed on her arm (scandalous!) she travels halfway around the world to visit her Midwest American cousin Sam Poore (Chester Conklin, in a wonderfully funny role.) The local D.A. Granger (Holmes Herbert) has it in for vice--dancing, women who smoke, etc. But it'll be hard to keep his resolve when the countess comes to town. After all, Pola Negri just doing what she does with her eyes while fondling a cigarette is damn near the sexiest thing I've ever seen...and I watch a lot of porn. But I digress. It's just a funny, funny movie. 

And Donald Sosin did a great job accompanying, as usual.

Then we traveled to Japan for a little Ozu with THAT NIGHT'S WIFE (1930.) A rarity for Ozu--a gangster picture. We start with a robbery, and only later we learn the reason--a father trying to save his sick daughter. But a cop tracks him down at home, and a tense standoff begins, with the wife holding the cop at gunpoint and trying not to fall asleep (it's either unfortunate or appropriate that I was having a similar struggle with exhaustion at this point.) The crime thriller turns into a tense family drama, as the father feels remorse for his crime and the cop doesn't want the daughter to die. So at least wait until the doctor can treat her before anything regrettable happens. A simple little drama, that showcases (especially with background posters) Ozu's inspiration from American cinema, and his ability to  make it his own.

Silentfest newcomer Maud Nelissen accompanied on the piano, with a score that was beautifully understated.

Next up was MOTHERS OF MEN (1917) or EVERY WOMAN'S PROBLEM (1921 re-release title) Shot in Santa Cruz, it's a suffragette picture, but rather than an earnest plea for women's suffrage, it takes place in the "near future" when women already have the vote and are entering the world of politics. In particular, Clara Madison (Dorothy Davenport) who has just been elected superior court judge in an unspecified western state despite having the local muck-raking newspaper totally against her (strangely, California, where it was shot, still hasn't had a female governor nearly 100 years later.) It makes it awkward when her husband actually argues a case before her (um...were there not recusal rules back then?) Anyway, even when she rules against her husband's client and the way the newspaper wanted her to, they still write biased editorials that she only did it to misdirect the public about all the corruption and graft she's gonna pull. Now...while this film might be friendly to gender equality, it's not so friendly to race...particularly Italians. Who hatch a ludicrous plot to blow up the newspaper and frame her husband...right when she's running for governor. And even when she wins, and they have a baby on the way, she can't pardon him because...reasons? Really, because it would show women are ruled by emotions rather than a stern sense of justice that's needed in a political leader, so if she did it no woman would ever be elected again. I really, really wanted to like this movie more, and it's heart is in the right place...but by now it's pretty corny and dated. Not that some issues of sexism in the media aren't still totally valid.

And the Mont Alto Orchestra did a typically excellent job accompanying.

Then there was VARIETÉ (1925) by E.A. Dupont and starring Emil Jannings and Lya de Putti. Damn, with Lousie Brooks, Pola Negri, and now Lya de Putti (who is pure sin poured into the shape of a woman) in two days, women of the silent screen have never been more alluring. Anyway, Jannings plays Boss, a retired trapeze artist. And de Putti plays a girl who seduces him out of retirement. He leaves his wife and young child to run away with her to Berlin, where they play in the carnival by the Wintergarten. There they are spotted by master of the trapeze Artinelli, whose brother has just broken his leg so he needs a new partner--or partners--for his act. And they are just the thing, until the little seductress might like him more than Jannings...

I won't say how it ends...but it starts with Jannings in prison, confessing to how he got there. And along the way there are all sorts of bawdy, silly, acrobatic, astounding acts.

Berklee Silent Film Orchestra, in their second year at the festival, again makes me run out of superlatives and marvel that they're still only students. The longest standing ovation I've seen at the festival since...I don't remember when.

And finally, we ended the long day and night with BEHIND THE DOOR (1919,) and oddity I had never heard of, and now doubt I'll ever forget. Hobart Bosworth (who I'll always remember in Captain January opposite Baby Peggy) stars as Captain Oscar Klug, a kindly taxidermist with an admittedly German name but American through-and-through. But he has to prove it with his fists when WWI is declared. And he does a fine job at that, beating the crap out of MacTavish until he's convinced and they're immediately best friends. Soon enough he enlists and is captaining an American ship, along with his new first mate MacTavish. Unfortunately, his girlfriend's father still doesn't like him. And especially doesn't like when they married just before he shipped out. So faced with the prospect of being kicked out of home, she stows away on her husband's ship. Which is only nice for a brief moment, until they're attacked by a U-boat with a dastardly crew of rapists. Yeah, this movie pulls no punches. And neither does Klug, when he survives, blows up the U-boat, and gets his revenge-bent hands on the captain.

Stephen Horne accompanied, bringing us full circle from the morning, and sending us off with...well, that's not a movie that ends with a smile. But sends us off impressed. I'm still not sure I really saw what I know I saw.

Total Running Time: 397 minutes
My Total Minutes: 429,907

Friday, June 3, 2016

Jason goes to Silentfest--Opening Night

The most intense weekend of film in the whole Bay Area kicked off last night, and despite the conflict with Docfest I was there (hey Docfest friends, I'll see you Monday)

After the standard thank-yous, we jumped right into the opening film, BEGGARS OF LIFE (1928,) starring Louise Brooks, Richard Arlen, and Wallace Beery. Arlen plays "The Boy" (who is actually referred to as "Jim" at one point in the movie) a tramp who happens upon a house where breakfast is laid out. He knocks, and enters, begging the man for a bite to eat, and promising he'll work for it. And then he finds the man is dead, shot through by his adopted daughter (Brooks) who is now dressed in boys' clothes. She explains how he tried to molest her and she defended herself, and soon they're on the run, at first just far enough for her to hop a train and him to hop one going in the opposite direction. But soon enough they end up together, sleeping under a haystack and eventually getting in with a gang of hoboes led by Oklahoma Red (Beery.) Director William Wellman (WINGS) is fantastic at playing the pathos, the comedy, the action in equal measures, as they struggle to survive the hobos (especially Red, who tries to claim her as his own) and the cops (or "dicks"...tee hee!) who are chasing her down for murder. It's a wonderful, exciting time, although the whole part where Red the attempted rapist turns out being not such a bad guy after all is a little...let's call it "outdated" for these times.

The Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra did a typically fantastic job of providing the musical accompaniment, and the SFSFF is off to an excellent start to 2016!

Running Time: 81 minutes
My Total Minutes: 429,511

Thursday, June 2, 2016


The story of Srinivasa Ramanujan, the self-trained Indian mathematician who was supposedly "personal friends" with ever positive integer. Dev Patel does a fine job, alongside such British iconic actors as Jeremy Irons, Toby Jones, and Stephen Fry (among others.) And his life story is certainly an interesting one. A powerful mind, intuitive with numbers, but died way too young of tuberculosis. They movie has a lot of interesting parts to it, and the acting was great, but I don't think the filmmakers ever decided what exactly it was about. Was it about the mathematics?'s there, but a movie that explored the mathematics more would've appealed to a very limited audience. Was it about his marriage? Now there's an interesting story (I don't know how true it is) where he went overseas to work at King's College leaving his wife behind, and his mother interfered with their communications. But that part is badly underdeveloped and often forgotten entirely for long stretches. Is it about his relationship with his mentor and ultimately friend G. H. Hardy? Mostly, but it doesn't commit fully to it. Is it about racism in WWI-era England? Partly, but again underdeveloped. I don't know, maybe he's just a man who lived so much in his brief years (less than 33) that it's impossible to focus on just one thing.

Running Time: 108 minutes
My Total Minutes: 429,430


The Marvel Cinematic Universe rules still hold: For pure fun, see the new character introductions (ANT-MAN, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, etc.) For fan service, see the Avengers titles. And to actually move the universe forward, see the Captain America movies.

Also, it's becoming increasingly clear that as much fun as they are, the main motivation to see these movies has become fear of not knowing what's going on in the next one.

Now I want to make this clear: I enjoyed this movie. In many ways it's the bravest of the MCU, challenging the audience with political/philosophical questions about hero-hood, oversight and responsibility. And the new characters (Black Panther and Spider-ManBoy) are introduced well and given their time to shine. In fact, everyone is given their time to shine, in an even more balanced and interesting way than either Avengers movie.

But none of that can overcome the fact that the entire plot--the plot of the villain as well as the movie--relies on both Iron Man and Captain America acting completely out of character. It would make much more logical sense if Cap was willing to place oversight over the Avengers and Tony was the wild card who believed in himself above all. And they're given reasons--good reasons--to act as they do, but it still bugged me...if not in the moment then at least a couple of weeks later when I wrote this.

And I wrong to be somewhat underwhelmed by  the new Spider-Man? I'll wait for his stand-alone movie to come out. And I'm not saying Tom Holland was bad. But I'm just perplexed by people gushing over how we finally have a "good" Spider-Man. I'm not saying Andrew Garfield was great, but I did like Tobey least for two movies (I'll admit part 3 went off the rails.) I don't know, maybe that's just me.

Running Time: 147 minutes
My Total Minutes: 429,322

Jason goes to SFIFF--Closing Night

Yay, finally I'm finishing SFIFF! And that final film was THE BANDIT, a funny, engaging documentary about Burt Reynolds, Hal Needham, and their iconic film, SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT. But let's start with their friendship. Hal Needham was Burt's longtime stunt double, friend, and sometimes roommate. In many ways, Hal always wanted to be the star, and Burt wanted to be the stuntman--the ultimate in masculinity. So they got along great as a sort of mutual admiration society. The film rolls along with gusto exploring their friendship and the wacky hijinx making SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT, starting with the original idea when they noticed the crew on GATOR were bringing in cases of Coor's beer to Georgia, which didn't have any. And taking the story all the way to the release, where Hollywood/New York critics hated it, but the intended southern outlaw audience loved it. Dammit, it's been so long since I've seen SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT, I kinda want to see it again.

And then over to the party for a little snacks and a whole lot of booze, and finally...finally...SFIFF 2016 is in the books.

Running Time: 82 minutes
My Total Minutes: 429,174

Jason goes to SFIFF--Day 14

The penultimate night, and just one film. I needed a little sleep before the big final party.

UNLOCKING THE CAGE is a fascinating documentary about animal rights. And not just in the philosophical, activist sense. In the legal sense, as in establishing some notion of legal "personhood" for at least some types of animals, and giving them legal rights. Steven Wise is a lawyer, and his clients are all animals. He's the council for the Non-Human Rights Project, and his cases are all (so far) about chimps being kept in captivity in inhumane conditions. Which seems like something that could be argued on an animal welfare basis, but he's specifically pushing for it to be about animal rights. The distinction is least to him. And leads to a fascinating, well-made documentary that raises some really interesting questions about where you draw the line on autonomy. Although to be clear, his goal isn't to set these chimps free entirely (they wouldn't survive in the wild) but to get them into a much better sanctuary than the roadside attractions they're kept in now. So even then, there is some limit to the freedoms they'd have.

Running Time: 91 minutes
My Total Minutes: 429,092

Jason goes to SFIFF--Day 13

Almost finished with SFIFF...barely a month later.

MUSIC WITH STRANGERS: YO-YO MA AND THE SILK ROAD ENSEMBLE is a documentary Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble. That is, a collection of world-renowned and highly adventurous musicians who collaborate to create...well, they start out not knowing what they'll create. But when you get creative people from around the world who are eager to not just share their style but to play with someone else's...the results are bound to be interesting. And it's really that love of music and experimentation that makes this such a joy. It could've been a 100% concert film, and the music performances are wonderful, but it's also the fun of the musicians talking to and about each other, and their mutual respect and admiration for each other. That was just really, really cool.

And then GOAT was something completely different--a narrative about frat hazing. A freshman suffers a mugging at the hand of some townies. He's vulnerable, and likes the idea of having a whole fraternity of brothers who will have his back in any incident. Meanwhile his actual older brother (played by Nick Jonas, who does a fine job transitioning from pop star to actor) is already in the frat, and having some misgivings about the hazing rituals. Physical abuse, alcohol abuse, pushing them father then ever. And while the pledges are called "goats" there's also a real goat that they have to...perform acts on. Or at least it's threatened. As the hazing abuse piles on, it gets really really creepy, and ends up being a condemnation of not just frat hazing specifically, but fucked-up notions of masculinity generally. But I'm not going to tell you if there's any actual goat-fucking.

Total Running Time: 198
My Total Minutes: 429,002

Jason goes to SFIFF--Day 12

I have fallen way behind schedule again, so these will be brief review-dumps.

LIFE-ANIMATED is the inspiring and heartwarming story of Ron Suskind's son Owen. At the age of three, Owen became withdrawn. Shortly thereafter, he was diagnosed as autistic (Pervasive Developmental Disorder.) Unable to communicate, make friends, etc. He was pretty much doomed to live a pretty difficult, lonely life. Until they realized the gibberish he was supposedly speaking was actually his attempt to quote Disney cartoons, and that was how he was trying to communicate. And he built a life, and relationships, based on that. As a film fan, I gotta say it's really pretty cool to see this art form that has brought me so much joy--but which I still see as just an extreme hobby--bring so much more to something else. These aren't just telling stories...or rather, stories aren't just pastimes...they're bringing life. And that's awesome.

WIENER-DOG is Todd Solondz's long-awaited sorta-sequel to WELCOME TO THE DOLLHOUSE (even after he killed off Dawn Wiener in PALINDROMES.) I gotta start by saying that as a Wiener myself, WELCOME TO THE DOLLHOUSE--all about how much junior high sucks when your name is Wiener--is a very important movie to me. And while his humor is pitch-black (and still is) it's a bit more playful by now (like...maybe he's calmed down a bit and softened some of his roughest edges.) The main character is actually not Dawn Wiener, but a daschund, who goes through several stories spreading joy...or his succession of owners. Dawn Wiener does show up, all grown up now. And as appealing as Greta Gerwig is (and she does a fine job) Heater Matarazzo will always be my Dawn Wiener. But let's not dwell on the past too much.

Total Running Time: 181 minutes
My Total Minutes: 428,803

Jason goes to SFIFF--Day 11 (plus one bonus film)

Sunday was a long, exhausting day. I might actually be getting too old for this. I'm starting to sympathize more with the people who go home early instead of staying up for the last show of the night. Maybe in another 10 years, that'll be me.
Anyway, I started bright and early at 10:00 a.m. with the special members' screening, A MONSTER WITH A THOUSAND HEADS. Taking a concept that would feel right at home in the U.S. a middle-aged Mexican woman's husband is gravely ill and the insurance company is blocking the necessary treatment to keep him alive. She tries to navigate the labyrinth of administrators who give her the runaround. But when that doesn't work, she takes the logical step of grabbing a gun and getting things done her own way. For a slow-build, tense thriller, it's remarkably short and efficient (74 minutes) and completely satisfying both as a dramatic social justice thriller and a melodramatic revenge fantasy. I'll admit I was a bit too sleepy that early in the morning, so I'm sure I missed some of the finer points of the film, but I'll be happy to watch it again when it gets released into general theatrical distribution (I don't know when that will be.)
And then I played hooky for one film. The film I've heard the most about isn't actually playing in the festival, but is playing at the new home of the festival--The Alamo Drafthouse New Mission. GREEN ROOM is the latest from Jeremy Saulnier (MURDER PARTY and BLUE RUIN...and I'm very happy we didn't need six years between features this time.) A punk band is on a not very successful tour. But through a friend they get booked into a pretty...unusual place. Specifically, a skinhead white supremacist bar. And they are ballsy and punk enough to sing a song that's entirely a "fuck you Nazis" message. But their show still goes...more or less okay. Until they kinda sorta accidentally witness a murder, and then are help captive. They're probably gonna be killed, but for the moment they're just held in check until the leader of the skinheads, Darcy (Patrick m-fuckin' Stewart!) decides what to do. Stewart is obviously relishing his chance to play an absolutely evil guy, and he's great at it. And once again, I'm very happy Saulnier has made a new film so shortly after his last one. Can't wait to see what he'll do next.
So then back to the festival, with AUDRIE & DAISY, a powerful hot-button documentary about schoolgirl sexual abuse, and the aftermath. Teens go to parties. Teens drink too much. Teen girls sometimes pass out. And, unfortunately, sometimes the boys who they thought were friends, take advantage of them. And, worse yet, sometimes that gets posted online, and the victim is re-victimized with cyber-bullying and slut-shaming. Sometimes this even drives them to suicide (that was the case with Audrie.) But lest you think this is a completely depressing film, let me assure you it's only mostly depressing. Because it also showcases the courage of survivors who do speak out (that's Daisy's story) and the support network that comes from that. If there's one big message I could give to anyone who has been in any sort of bullying situation (sexual or otherwise) it's this: it's not the taunts of your enemies that hurt, it's the silence of your friends. Actually that's especially directed and anyone who knows someone who has been bullied. Please keep that in mind.
Next up was a very different kind of documentary, PETER AND THE FARM. Peter Dunning is a very interesting man. He has a past that is...well, let's say it's "mixed." He now lives alone on a farm, with his animals. And at times it's like he's found his own slice of paradise. And at other times, he goes on about how this movie should climax with his suicide. He's a funny, prickly, philosophical man. Also a recovering alcoholic who suffers from depression and is convinced his now grown children wouldn't even pick up the phone if he called. He's also getting too old and frail to successfully operate his 187 acres at Mile Hill Farm, so even the one thing that brings him joy and peace is slowly slipping away. But don't mistake this for a depressing movie. He's still a quick-witted, funny guy and the movie is full of gorgeous shots of the farm and the surrounding wilderness. He just has a lot below the surface, and will freely let you know that, without telling you exactly what it is.
And finally, I ended the night and the weekend with VERY BIG SHOT, a Lebanese crime thriller comedy. Allegedly inspired by true events (namely, a coked-up filmmaker) it's the story of a small-time drug dealer in Beirut who learns from a director about an old legendary scam where they hid drugs in film cans to sneak them past customs. And so he becomes an independent film producer just to make this scam works. And it turns out...he's got a knack for filmmaking, and wacky hijinx ensue! What a cool way to finish the weekend.
Total Running Time:  463 minutes
My Total Minutes: 428,623