Monday, February 29, 2016

Jason goes to Indiefest--Day 12

It's all over but the writing. A ton of writing to get done today, or at the latest tomorrow, before Cinequest starts. This is from last Monday.

First up was the comedy DIAMOND TONGUES. If it's true that the hardest thing for an actor to do is pretend to be a bad actor, then Leah Goldstein is a master. She plays Edith Welland, a struggling actress in New York with big dreams. All her friends' careers are starting to take off. Even her ex-boyfriend just decides on a whim to become an actor, and lands the lead role in an indie film. A film that she auditions for...opposite him--awkward! But it's not like she doesn't deserve all of this. She really...isn't that good. Both in the sense that she's not very talented, and in the sense that she's kind of a vindictive bitch who starts sabotaging other people's careers. Bad people doing bad things, and the end result is pretty darn funny.

And then the documentary BURIED ABOVE GROUND, a personal look at people suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD.) From an Iraq war vet, to a Katrina survivor, to an addict struggling to keep clean. It's a well enough made movie, so it probably says something about me that I found the most sympathetic character to be...the service dog. Al Franken makes an appearance, supporting his service-dogs-for-vets bill, and reminds me again what an effective statesman he is. And I'm very glad that the featured vet got his dog and bonded with him well. But mostly I just like dogs, because they're cool.

Total Running Time: 178 minutes
My Total Minutes: 419,772

Monday, February 22, 2016

Jason goes to Indiefest--Day 11

Sunday started with a bunch of shorts. First up, the program Based On a True Story.
SANS PLOMB (UNLEADED): An environmental activist and his not-quite successful plan against an international oil company.
BIRTHDAY: A tribute to our wounded vets, as an injured Marine and his wife face the rest of their life together.
LOS NINOS SICARIOS: The life of teenage hitmen working for a drug cartel. Chilling.
THE WORLD OF FILM FESTIVALS: Important information from this guy, who has also been entertaining us in the trailer reel all fest long.
VESSELS: A cautionary tale of dangerous transgender surgery in an unlicensed clinic living room. What a girl has to do to get tits.
LAST BASE: Two friends go base-jumping one last time, to scatter their friend's ashes. As a storm approaches, they have to question whether the thrill is worth the danger. Especially when one of them is about to settle down and become a father.
MY DREAM'S A JOKE: Wes Austin is a successful patent attorney in Salt Lake City. But he has a secret dream to be a comedian. So he writes his own script for a sitcom pilot--about a patent attorney who dreams of being a comedian. This is the behind the scenes "making of" documentary, and if you want to check out the finished product, go here and use the password SFINDIE2016. least according to the cards they handed out after the show. I haven't been able to get it to work. And it's limited to 30 days, so...good luck? [Update: It's working now!]

And then the "genre" shorts program, Revenge of the Shorts. My favorite shorts program.
LA FORCE DE L'AGE: An old guy with a rifle take on a few maintenance men there to check his phone line.
VICIOUS: A repeat screening of this Holehead short. A young woman afraid that there's something in her house that shouldn't be there. And she's too foolish to think of opening a door instead of reaching around it. But still pretty scary.
SYNCHRONICITIES: Peter Maxwell Slattery knows UFOs exist. He's an experiencer, and while I don't believe, I believe he believes (or knows) and there's something charming about him anyway.
TIME TRAVEL THROUGH TIME: Multiple hilarious overlapping timelines converge over a broken coffee maker. Excellent!
FILTHY BUT FINE: A hilarious animated adventure of a delivery boy and all the dangers he faces.
LA BUENA FE (FOLLOW THE INSTRUCTIONS): A woman arrives at a hospital after her water breaks. There's no one there, no doctors, no nurses, just automation taken a ridiculous extreme. Meanwhile, her friends are trying to get through traffic to be there for her.
THE HOUSE IS INNOCENT: A documentary about an infamous house in Sacramento where several murders took place, and the nice older couple with a great sense of humor who bought the place.
LUXURE: Just because a man loves his wife, it doesn't mean he won't occasionally seek out a little strange. Sometimes...a little too strange.

And then for something a little different, a shocking music/performance art documentary, DEAD HANDS DIG DEEP. Edwin Borsheim was the lead singer of Kettle Cadaver, a shock metal band from Temecula, California. He was infamous for shocking acts of bloodshed and necro-bestiality (he allegedly fucked a dead coyote) on stage. And while the band is gone (ranging from dead to having families) he's still as wild, angry, violent, and destructive as ever. Wanna know how I know that growing up and having a corporate sponsor hasn't slowed Indiefest down one bit? Because this movie took me back to my very first Indiefest and the every-bit-as shocking (and far more political) performance art in UNSPEAKABLE: THE LIFE AND ART OF REVEREND STEVEN JOHNSON LEYBA. That was a heck of a trip down memory lane. And it's nice to know that as jaded as I've become, there are still potential shocks out there. 

And then over to the Alamo Drafthouse for way too much booze and BUNNY, THE KILLER THING. Those who know me know I have an affinity for genre flicks and for bunnies, so when I saw that on the schedule I had to assume this was made--or at least programmed--just for me. I will keep believing that. It's a hilarious romp of low-budget cheesy horror starting with the mad scientists abducting a man and injecting him with a serum made from rabbit DNA. He turns into a giant horny bunny-man (no pretense of realism, it's a guy in a bunny suit with a ridiculous prosthetic phallus running around looking for "Fresh Pussy!") Toss in a group of people (some friends, some mysterious guys with a secret they're hiding in their trunk) who are holed up in mountain cabin. And the bunny-man runs amok an bloody splatstick hilarity ensues. A great way to end to weekend.

Total Running Time: 349 minutes
My Total Minutes: 419,594

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Jason previews Cinequest--A BEGINNER'S GUIDE TO SNUFF

And now LADY PSYCHO KILLER isn't even the best lady psycho killer movie I've seen in the past 24 hours.

That might be a bit of a spoiler. Or maybe not, given the opening shot, where the "victim"of a snuff film is clearly the one on control. Even strapped to a table, she's clearly in power over the two numbskulls who are torturing her. Switch to a couple of days earlier, and we see loser idiot brothers trying to make it as filmmakers in L.A. The elder, Dresden, has dreams of money and fame. His little brother Dominic just wants to act. But their dreams may be at an end and they might have to move back to Minnesota, much to the chagrin of their flaming landlord Jorge (who starts out as a cringe-worthy gay joke, but the joke quickly turns to how the brothers are so clueless they don't even see he's gay. He just likes getting "brews with the bros." Anyway, their last chance is a horror film competition, but the deadline is way too close. So they--Dresden, really--come up with a plan. They'll make a snuff film. Not a real one, but the actress won't know that. By kidnapping her and torturing her (without actually hurting her) they'll get a more believable performance. After a pretty funny audition montage, they find their actress. But like I said, they're no match for her. It's a funny ride, and imperfectly enjoyable just for the visceral thrill. But there's also some smart points made about sexism in the media, and in the film industry, and how truly shocking and transgressive it is to go against that grain.

A BEGINNER'S GUIDE TO SNUFF enjoys three screenings at Cinequest. Check it out, it's awesome.

Jason goes to Indiefest--Day 10

A five film Saturday, the longest day of the festival, and it was pretty great. Love that feeling of utter exhaustion at the end of a nice little marathon.

The first show started with a couple of shorts:
TOUCHING THE UNTOUCHABLE explored the lives of an Indian Dalit (untouchable) community, and their desire for clean drinking water. They had to walk miles to a well they weren't even allowed to use. Once there, if no kindly upper caste person helped them, they'd have to go home thirsty. So they sought out the help of an African-American Buddhist nun to help them organize and dig their own well. There's some pointed commentary about how as an African American, she knows a little something about being treated as sub-human.
SANDORKRAUT is the story of fermentation and expert Sandor Katz.  How a connection with food--particularly how death and microbial activity turns into something wonderful--changes your moral relationship with the world.

And then the feature, CHANGING SEASON: ON THE MASUMOTO FAMILY FARM, goes further along the connection-with-food line. Food and family, in fact. Following a year on their family farm, the film explores their family history, from the WWII internment camps to buying a hard 40 acre patch of ground, to working that into a sustainable farm, to passing it on to future generations. The central relationship is with current patriarch David “Mas” Masumoto and his daughter Nikiko. Fresh off graduating from UC Berkeley (with a women's studies major) she decides she really does want to return home and work the farm with her partner. Oh yeah, she's a lesbian, and while that's no big deal in the progressive Bay Area, that still can be a problem in the central valley. But she seems to be getting by fine with a strong family and her sharp wit. Really, after some mentions of the social issues, the bigger issue becomes the ongoing drought and how to keep the farm in business. The film is a tight 60 minutes (a requirement, as they're showing on PBS sometime in the future) and as a result they had to cut a lot, so it focuses on the family dynamic more than the farming, which is ultimately a good choice, I think. I wouldn't mind a longer cut (maybe DVD extras) that shows a little more of the farming side.

Next up was an 80 minute Coke commercial, THE JOURNEY WITHIN. Okay, it's supposed to be a documentary about Pakistan, and how a music show called Coke Studio is bringing hope to the war-torn country, giving musicians a chance to make a living at their art, and introducing a new generation--who prefers Western style music--to experience their traditional culture, with a western twist to it. But they never do much to address the fact that this is all prominently sponsored by Coca-Cola, and that "Coke" and the red and white logo is splashed on everything. In the Q&A, the question was asked and answered--that of course Coke sponsored, but they were very good at leaving the creative team alone to do the show they wanted. Just because it's funded by a giant multi-national company doesn't mean it can't be good (I'd like to take a moment to thank Toyota for sponsoring the festival.) And if a little bit of that was put into the movie, it would be much better. As it was I was tired and struggled to stay awake. But every time I woke up I was impressed by the music and annoyed by the Coke logo.

And then it was back to the Alamo Drafthouse for some more Far-Out Flicks, starting with THE SIMILARS (LOS PARECIDOS) from Isaac Ezban, who also directed EL INCIDENTE. This guy is one to watch, and I told him afterwards that I want to buy a ticket now to whatever he makes next. In a love-letter (homage is too weak of a word) to The Twilight Zone, the film starts on a dark, rainy night in 1968. A bearded man is trapped in a bus station, trying desperately to get into the city where his wife is giving birth to twins. Another woman is there, 8 months pregnant and desperate to get to the hospital after a fight with her husband. More people show up--a medical student on his way to a protest, a mother with her sick child, a native woman. And of course, the man behind the ticket counter. And they're all trapped in there--not just the rain, not just the warnings on the radio to not go out, but physically trapped--the doors won't open. And then some extreme strangeness starts happening. They all start growing beards and looking like that first man I mentioned. Paranoia sets in, as they all start setting against each other, and some final twists add up to another brilliant little mindbender from one of my new favorite directors.

And then it was LADY PSYCHO KILLER. With a title like that and a promise of a "feminist slasher flick," how could you go wrong? Well, they found a way--mostly by making the female slasher the product of her father's psychotic genes, a twist that adds nothing and detracts heavily from the feminist aspect. In any case, Ella is a good girl and an even better student. When her psychology professor assigns the entire class to "break a sexual norm" she goes to a strip club and is immediately creeped out by the owner (Ron Jeremy.) So she kills him...and she likes it. So she does it again, and again, and again. But it just never reaches its potential. I don't want to say it's a bad movie, because I liked a lot of it. It's just that it could've been something more. I mentioned that the father-was-a-psycho angle didn't work for me, and a few of my friends preferred to believe that her mother was actually the psycho who killed her dad. I like that idea, but want to take it one step further--that there was no dad. Mom was a psycho killer and she was immaculately conceived. After all she does say the Ella means Goddess. Anyway, is it a spoiler to talk about what I wished a movie had been instead of what it actually was? If it is, then don't read the previous few sentences.

And finally, I ended the night with the horror anthology LATE NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE. It uses the framing device of a crappy late night show Dr. Nasty's Cavalcade of Horror. Dr. Nasty is an alcoholic pervert, and his assistant Nurse Nasty does all the work to keep the show going but gets none of the credit. Tonight they're showing a cannibal flick, DINNER FOR MONSTERS. A chef is called upon to cater a fancy dinner party, where the hosts have provided their own roast. Of course it's human, and if he doesn't cook and serve it, he will be next week's main course. Grotesque wackiness ensues. Next up is the art-house S&M movie SLIT, about a man who is paid to cut people--carefully and with sanitized blades. But one girl is unsatisfied with his services. And finally, the behind-the-scenes antics and abuse of Nurse Nasty get to be too much, and framing device is of course the third horror film in the double feature. With a most satisfying ending, to the film, and to the longest day of Indiefest.

Total Running Time: 418 minutes
My Total Minutes: 419,245

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Jason goes top Indiefest--Day 9

Two more films last night, Friday. And my first night at the New Mission Alamo Drafthouse! Cool place with a good selection of movies (this is the first film festival they've hosted, but more are planned. Like CAAMFest.) And they have an amazing beer selection. The food is a bit overpriced, but you're paying for the environment and the service of bringing it directly to you theater seat, so it's all cool. Anyway, on to the films.

First up was a brilliant mind-bender from Mexico, THE INCIDENT (EL INCIDENTE.) Director Isaac Ezban (whose THE SIMILARS plays tonight) has crafted a wonderfully entertaining mind-fuck. A man comes home to see a detective holding his brother captive. They fight, they run, they run down a stairwell and...they're trapped there forever. It becomes an infinite looping stairwell with no exit, where below level one is level nine and all the way down (and up) repeating. In fact, if one of them stays there and another runs up/down nine flights, he'll run into the other guy again. And they're trapped there. Meanwhile, in a parallel story, a family drives the same endless, repeating road over and over again. As they both drag on for 35 years, we see different ways the subjects adapt, either falling apart of making the best of their situation. These stories do eventually connect, and expand to higher thoughts of different realities. And the ending is brilliant and can make you question anything. Except for the mind-bending talent of Ezban--that's beyond question. 

And then just as strange, but a bit more straightforward MEATHEAD GOES HOGWILD is a no-budget guerrilla gem from Chicago. The titular meathead (I don't recall if he's ever given a name, and I don't think he had one in the credits) is a scrawny guy who works with a personal trainer to bulk up and who works in a deli slicing meat for a living. He's also having a really bad day. Stood up on his date. Fired from his job for staring at the lady customers' tits, and worst of all his online sandwich order never arrived. So he does the logical thing--breaks into the deli and steals all the meat. An encounter with a homeless guy, and the realization that meat is power leads him to "seek the good"--by taking the train to the poorer neighborhoods of Chicago to give away free meat in the middle of the night. Things don't go as planned, instead they go exactly as you expect. At least if you expect him to end up running around town in his underwear growling like a rabid dog. Fuckin' awesome and hilarious, with some interesting observations on masculinity.

Total Running Time: 203 minutes
My Total Minutes: 418,827

Friday, February 19, 2016

Jason goes to Indiefest--Day 8

Two more movies last night, starting with the reaction-comedy PREOCCUPIED. Shot during the real Occupy Wall Street protests a few years back, the "heroes" are a couple of investment banker douchebags. Actually, modify that--one is a total douchebag, and kinda proud of it. The other is a genius at math, but might...might...have a bit of a conscience about it. In any case, the Occupy protests are inconveniencing them, so they get the idea of going down there and staging their own counter-protest. A protest about how great the 1% is and how all the smelly hippies need to go get a job. Of course, wacky hijinx ensue. The movie is more interested in poking fun at both sides than in taking a strong stand, so it's an enjoyable movie that took a good idea for a short and stretched it to near the breaking point. Still, I laughed at several moments.

And then PARADISE CLUB should've been a movie I loved, at least for two reasons--tits. Director Carolyn Cavallero was a topless dancer in the North Beach bars of 60s San Francisco, so I assume she brings some authenticity to the film. Starting from the end of 1968 and going through to New Year's Day of 1970, we follow a year in the exotic Paradise Club, run by a coke-snorting Eric Roberts. He does anything to keep the club profitable--and pay off his dope dealer--from changing from topless to bottomless to...more. As the 60s are ending and the Vietnam War is raging on, politics and sex collide. The atmosphere is (I assume) accurately captured. The music is good, and the girls are hot and frequently naked. I'm just not sure I've ever seen a movie where absolutely every scene was so sure it was the most important scene ever. It's so wrapped up in it's own self-importance that it suffocates and sabotages itself. It's a very interesting disappointment.

Total Running Time: 179 minutes
My Total Minutes: 418,624

Jason goes to Indiefest--Day 7

Two more shows last Wednesday night, starting with some anti-romantic shorts, Don't Get All Mushy On Me:
COUCH: Apartment living, with furniture, household repairs, and dating.
HIP HIP HOORAY: On his 30th birthday, a man breaks up with his overly controlling girlfriend, just in time to find out she threw a surprise party for him.
KETATAPAN: A Singaporean engaged couple have a conversation about just one more thing she needs him to do so her Muslim family will accept him. He's already given up drinking and pork, so there's just one thing left.
LOVE AND FAITH: And fear of the water, because you can't swim. It's a comedy.
MUSH: Crime scene cleanup is not an easy place to meet people. But one woman fascinated by the process keeps interrupting.
MY FATHER, THE SHOT PUTTER FROM DDR: That title is pretty self-explanatory, and the movie is really nicely done.
NO BREATH PLAY: A little light BDSM leaves a woman in a difficult situation. Problem solving skills to the rescue!
TWO DOLLAR BILL: Halloween choices for two roommates.

And then the feature CAMINO, starring Zoe Bell. I remember when she visited San Francisco with the documentary DOUBLE DARE, about her work as a stunt double. In the Q&A that time, she talked about how she didn't want to be seen, and how her work was all about being anonymous. If people notice her on screen, it meant she did a bad job doubling for the lead (Lucy Lawless in XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS or Uma Thurman in KILL BILL.) Well, thanks in large part to that movie, and to Quentin Tarantino, she's now an action star in her own right, and gets a juicy starring role here. She plays Avery, a photojournalist embedded with Columbian revolutionaries. Guillermo (TIMECRIMES director Nacho Vigalondo) is their charismatic leader who brings hope to the people. But he's not really a good guy. In fact, she sort of a catches him doing something bad. And worse yet, catches it on her camera. So he quickly turns from a friend to a hunter, and she's alone in the Columbian jungle fighting to survive. And she's one hell of a fighter. Unfortunately, I had a bit much to drink, so I don't quite remember all the details. But what I remember/stayed awake for was a showcase of her physical strength and survivor mentality. Zoe Bell is freakin' awesome.

Total Running Time: 198 minutes
My Total Minutes: 418,445

Jason goes to Indiefest--Day 6

Two more a couple of nights ago.

First up was a German film, STUBBORN BOY (BUBE STUR.) The slice-of-life story of Hanna, a young woman recently released from prison. The last step in repaying her debt to society is community service, which she is performing on Uwe's remote dairy farm in the Black Forest. She doesn't fit in there at all, and as often as she can she escapes to the nearby town, goes partying, and makes friends in the park with a family and their foster baby. When her stubbornness (and economic hardship brought on by a milk strike) gets to be too much for Uwe, he kicks her out of the house. And as stubborn as she was to leave, she becomes just as stubborn at staying. It's a slow moving film with some great performances but not a lot of action. Which is fine, when I'm in the mood for it. And I more or less was.

And then on the opposite side of the spectrum was a Turkish screwball comedy, NIYAZI GUL, THE GALLOPING VET (NIYAZI GUL DORTNALA.) Ever since he was a child, Niyazi Gul had a way with animals. And so he grows up to be a a veterinarian and a professor of veterinary medicine. His grandfather was also a great vet, and on his deathbed, gave him the formula for a magic elixir that will cure all animals. Unfortunately, he couldn't hear the final ingredient over the sound of his father's band. So his life's work is finding that mystery ingredient and perfecting the cure-all serum. Meanwhile, Sultan and Ryza are competing plutocrats and avid horse racers. They place a wager with the highest of stakes--if Ryza wins, Sultan has to marry him. And when they hear about the magic serum, they pull poor, humble Niyazi into their wacky hijinx, ultimately bringing out the animal in him (literally.) Pretty darn funny.

Total Running Time: 187 minutes
My Total Minutes: 418,247

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Jason goes to Indiefest--Day 5

Two movies Monday night, so let's get right to it.

FRAME BY FRAME is an excellent documentary about photo-journalists in Afghanistan. Under the Taliban oppression, photography was illegal. Now that they're gone, a fledgling fourth estate is starting up. We see the people learning and teaching basic photography skills, and we get a glimpse of what Afghanistan is like now. And it's far from perfect. The bulk of the movie is devoted to the people who take great risks to document horrible things that are still happening. But through it all I felt an incredible sense of hope. That however many problems still exist--and there are many--this is a people who are once again able to tell their own stories. And that's powerful. Someone makes the point early in the movie that a people without photography do not exist. And that seems weird, since on the scale of human civilization photography is relatively recent. But by the end I'm convinced. At least in this day and age, people who are not able to take pictures are not able to tell their story. And people who can't tell their story don't exist. It's weird that photography was ever illegal. But it's even weirder to realize that photography--even when it's legal--is still a radical act.

And then a bit of late-night weirdness from Switzerland with POLDER. A story with multiple levels of reality (including the reality of the audience sitting in the theater watching it.) We open inside a virtual reality game. Marcus is the game developer. Or maybe he's the AI of the game. Or maybe he's both. Or maybe we're all in a game right now. Maybe the final level of reality is me writing this blog, or you reading this. No...that's just stupid. That would require Internet companies to be collecting your information and controlling your entire life--or what you think is your life. It's a visually dazzling mind-fuck, and the filmmakers took the extra step of having actors in character show up in the theater at various moments to add to the overall experience (hence why I said that the audience watching the film is yet another layer of reality.) Personally, I think the film works fine on its own, and I'm a bit surprised they took a chance on something that could be very distracting and doesn't add a whole lot (just my opinion--in the Q & A some people talked about how much they liked it.) There was one moment--when there was no image on screen, only sound, and an actress walked across the front of the theater--that I thought was effective. Other than that, I mostly ignored the actors, even when they were sitting two seats away from me.

Total Running Time: 180 minutes
My Total Minutes: 418,060

Jason watches DEADPOOL

President's Day is a holiday, but Indiefest doesn't play any movies until the evening. So I took the opportunity to check out this little movie that came out last weekend.

And it's funny. Really fucking funny. And bloody and violent. But mostly just really, really, really funny. From the opening credits that make fun of everyone involved, to the ending that spoofs/pays homage to the greatest fourth-wall breaker of all time. It's a quick ride, lots of fun, and if you don't get all the little in-jokes don't worry, another one is coming soon.

The story hits all the necessary notes. The origin story, the motivation, the characters. I could complain about on lazy script detail--that if he had just come clean to the love interest right away, there would have been no problem (I think I've said that before)...but also no movie. So I'll let that slide and just enjoy the ride.

Running Time: 108 minutes
My Total Minutes: 417,881

Monday, February 15, 2016

Jason goes to Indiefest--Day 4

Four more shows on Sunday, so let's just jump right in.

The first show started with a couple of shorts.
SILVER DOGS: The fictional adventure of a homeless (from divorce) comedian, his van, and his two dogs. Funny and touching.
WELCOME TO THE LAST BOOKSTORE: The true life adventure of Josh Spencer; father, husband, paraplegic and a guy who's crazy enough to not just own a bookstore, but open a new one. "The Last Bookstore" in downtown L.A. is his passion and a great neighborhood hangout.

And those were the lead-ins to #BEROBIN THE MOVIE. Inspired by the life and death of Robin Williams, his friend and fellow San Franciscan comedian Margaret Cho carries on his life's mission of helping the homeless. With the mantra "Don't grieve Robin, Be Robin" she takes to the street to busk for the homeless. Holding an open case and a sign that says "If you have, give. If you need, take." It has become a bit of a movement, with lots of local comedians, musicians, and activists helping out. And it's interesting how it explores not just their good work, but how much comedy is drawn from a dark, dark place, and so the connection of comedy and people in need is pretty strong. As one person says in the movie, we don't laugh because we're happy; we're happy because we laugh. With all that said, it's a short "feature" (41 minutes) and in terms of filmmaking, it's a series of good people doing good work, but without much of an arc to hold it together. And that's fine, it's strength is it's people, and they can carry it easily.

Next up was a black-and-white oddity from Japan, AND THE MUDSHIP SAILS AWAY. Takashi is a slacker living with his grandmother (director Hirobumi Watanabe's real-life 96 year old grandmother, who steals the show with her deadpan expressions.) He doesn't have a job, doesn't particularly want one. He is bothered by a guy selling handkerchiefs to raise money for earthquake relief. And out of the blue, he suddenly has a sister. Half-sister, that is. His father's love child, although she doesn't like being called that. Well, having a long-lost love-child half-sister calling you an unemployed middle-aged loser should shake things up. And by the final act (a truly strange trip through Southeast Asia, once he finally takes the drug mule job) he...kinda gets shaken up. This is a very funny, very deadpan, very strange movie. In the director's statement, he lamented he couldn't be there to have a beer with us. So I had one for him. And I suggest anyone who sees this movie should, too.

But that wasn't the truly strange film of the day. That would be MA, a wordless (save for a singing child near the end) journey of a women through the desert of the American southwest. It's supposed to be the pilgrimage of Mother Mary, but I'm not religiously attuned enough to follow that. It's not a movie to follow as a narrative. It's a series of gorgeous scenes that flow freely one into the next. And there's a lot of religious symbolism, from Mother Mary to the Burning Bush, to...okay, those are the only ones I can think of at the moment. There's symbolism of dust and water. And I also thought it was somewhat about the struggle of a woman in society (and how she's not truly successful until the end, when she becomes a man.) Yeah, I don't know what it's about, but I loved every scene in it. It's beautiful.

Then, simultaneously, I watched CHUCK NORRIS VS. COMMUNISM. I'm a physicist, I can be in two places at once. It's...umm...gravity waves, that's it. It certainly has nothing to do with the fact that it's also on the Cinequest press screener list. So...this is also a Cinequest preview. If you can't make it to the next Indiefest screening, or if you're just a South Bay guy like me, there's a few chances at Cinequest.

Anyway, it's a funny documentary about Romania in the 80s, under the communist regime of the dictator Nicolae CeauČ™escu. And the video clubs that played American movies in secret there. In a time when a VCR cost as much as a car  and could be confiscated by the secret police at any moment. Brave film fans arranged video nights (and charged admission, of course) where they would marvel about the western world and dream of being heroes. And they'd dream of Irina Nistor, the translator who dubbed nearly all the films. Her part of the story is pretty excellent, becoming the voice of hope and freedom. The film follows the story of the people behind the underground movie ring, especially the ringleader Mr. Zamfir, and thematically tells their story through clips of the very movies they showed, as well as modern interviews of them looking back at the time. As a film glutton, sometimes it gets to be too much, and I can't let movies affect me too much (if every film fully transformed me, I'd be a psychotic schizophrenic.) So it's great to see a world where films--especially easily dismissed cheesy 80s action flicks--really did make so much of a difference in people's lives.

And then I ended the night with LLUC SKY WALKER, a Spanish comedy about death. Lluc is a Jedi master of dickishness. A bitter man, with no family, no friends, and a brain tumor. And a homeless man yelling at his window at night, "Lluc! I am your father!" When the doctor tells him he has very little time left, he starts planning his funeral, and tries to make amends so that he'll have an actual crowd there. He takes care of the homeless man, buying him golf clubs and all the balls he wants. He romances the girl next door. And generally tries to be nice to everyone, despite the fact that he's still a depressed, deadpan, sad sack. STAR WARS is of course referenced liberally throughout the film, to humorous effect. And the ending even takes place in Tunisia, in the original Tatooine sets. Very cool.

Total Running Time: 317 minutes
My Total Minutes: 417,772

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Jason goes to Indiefest--Day 3

4 movies on Saturday, which might seem like a lot, but not for me, not on a weekend, not in the middle of a film festival. So Indiefest has only one midnight show this year. Which for the sake of my sleep, I appreciate.

Shorts 1: To A Fault
ALL YOUR FAVORITE SHOWS!: An animated/sampled story of a boy being a little overwhelmed by smartphone addiction. I can't possibly relate.
BOB SPELLS BACKWARDS: A very short film about a guy with an weird skill.
BRITNEY-HOLICS ANONYMOUS: A SPEAR-ITUAL AWAKENING: Exactly as it sounds, a club/support group for die-hard Britney Spears fans. Using her lyrics for inspiration.
DOG BOWL: A repeat of this Holehead selection. A woman who doesn't quite fit in with humans. In fact, she's more simpatico with her dog, drinking from a dog bowl and stealing an wearing a service dog's vest. And then she learns the surprising truth (either that or she's just fuckin' nuts.)
GUEST ROOM: A couple with Down's syndrome makes some very adult decisions. Very tenderly done.
SCRATCHERS: You're not going to win if you don't believe. And if you do win, why not dump your winnings back into more scratchers? Just don't lose your faith.
THUNDER ROAD: Hands down the standout of the program (and hot off of an award-winning debut at Sundance) in a single take, a bereaved son, in his police uniform, gives a loving, awkward, and hilarious tribute to his mother. 
VANILLA: In this Spanish film, a support group for people who have lost loved ones talk about their last words. And how it wasn't something important, it was often something silly. Which is often more important that important words. Also, it's about confusing Meryl Streep and Glenn Close.

Then the feature film THE WINDS THAT SCATTER. Ahmad is a Syrian immigrant in New Jersey. In the beginning of the film, he works in gas station and some jerk rips him off, getting $50 worth of gas and then insisting he only asked for $15 and won't pay him any more. So Ahmad is unemployed. And he bounces from job to job to job to job. You get the idea, he takes a lot of different jobs, and doesn't hold on to any of them very long. He also lives his Muslim life. Going to prayers. Going to demonstrations where he reads his anti-Bashar Assad poetry. But more and more it becomes about his working-class, just trying to get by daily struggle. It's a slow, contemplative, slice-of-life film, and Ahmad (who is not a professional actor) makes for a compelling and sympathetic lead. Also, there's a jet lying in the woods for some reason.

Then the next feature was KEEP IN TOUCH, the funny story about a parolee looking up his old grade-school friend. Colin was in jail for an accident where he ran into a guy. Now he's paroled and working at his cousin's nursery, where the Mexican Guatemalan workers don't much care for him, and his cousin just wants to horse around and show him videos of their old classmate who went into porn. This gets him to thinking about the girls he went to school with, and after searching for some of them, he searches for Annie Parcel but without the word "porn." He finds out...that she's dead. But she does have a sister, and she's a musician in New York. So he breaks parole (he's not supposed to leave Connecticut unless it's for work) to see her play. And he starts to have feelings for her. And a lot of wackiness ensues, but the major conflict could've been avoided if he was upfront at first and just said he was curious about her because he knew her sister. It's an engaging, funny story with a lot of good characters (Reggie Watts as the motivational speaker is pretty amusing) and if you can get past his major mistake, he even becomes a likable character. And I just realized I wrote about his "major mistake" and wasn't alluding to the fact that he hit a guy with his car, but the fact that he's a coward with women. That...seems right.

And then I booked it to the Brava for THE BIG LEBOWSKI party. In it's 13th year, I've made it to at least some of...most of them? But there was no way I was missing this one, because in a team-up with The Bawdy Caste they were playing the movie with a live shadowcast of the action. Also, because my friend Ira was playing Walter Sobchak and he'd kill me if I didn't make it. So I got there just in time to grab an oat soda and catch the end of the costume contest, and then the movie/live action experience began. And it was frickin' awesome. I've seen the film more times than I can remember, and seeing the cast join in was a lot of fun. And somehow I always see something new every time I see it. I think I had previously noticed that Bunny's license plate was "LAPIN" which I knew was from the root for rabbit. But I didn't realize until I looked it up that it was specifically a castrated male rabbit, appropriate since Bunny almost makes the Dude lose his johnson. But what I definitely noticed for the first time was that in the ashes-scattering scene there's a guy walking on the cliff in the corner. I don't know if he's intentional or a mistake, if he's part of the crew or just some guy who wandered buy during the shot. But he's my new favorite obscure character. I'm going to tell people I'm in costume as him at the next Lebowski party.

Total Running Time: 381 minutes
My Total Minutes: 417,456

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Jason goes to Indiefest--Day 2

Two films last night (Friday) starting with one I somehow missed at Cinequest last year.

SONGS SHE WROTE ABOUT PEOPLE SHE KNOWS is the story of Carole and here unique way of expressing herself. She's quiet, never opens up about...anything. And attended a little musical therapy (in the opening scene) before walking out. But she takes musical therapy to heart and uses it to express herself. If she's just singing, it's not the same as saying it. So she calls up her neighbors and leaves a message singing about how she dreams of killing them. This does not go over well. She calls up her boss and leaves him a song called "Asshole Dave" (which, I'm not kidding, has been nominated for the Canadian equivalent of an Oscar--one of the films three nominations.) And that doesn't have the intended effect either. Come to think of it, I'm not sure what the intended effect is--I think to make her feel better but the subject of her song to not react at all? Instead, Asshole Dave is inspired, remembering how he wanted to be a musician before he gave up and became an asshole boss. So he comes over, sings to her, creeps her out, and then the next day he fires her, quits, and asks her to go away with him to pursue their dream of being musicians. She...does not. At least, not until he's in California, off his meds, and needs some help. Wacky adventures lead up to a climactic concert (hey, just like the opening night film FRANK AND CINDY!) And it's all a glorious celebration of expressing yourself...and how everyone else is horrible and should die in a fire.

And then we switched gears to the documentary/narrative hybrid film BOOGER RED. A while back, the small town of Mineola, TX was rocked by the worst child sex ring scandal in Texas history. And it looks like it was all a fake--a frame up that landed 6 people in jail for several years (they got out on plea deals) and one man in jail for life (he was not so lucky.) Onur Tukel plays Onur Tukel, a journalist looking for the real story. And all the people he interviews are people actually involved in the case. Thing is, he can only get the defendants to talk, the prosecution side and the foster parents won't talk. This was true for the filmmakers as well, and so rather than make a one-sided documentary, they turn their frustration into a part of Onur's story. The rest of his story is how he has become an expert at writing about child sex abuse, and how he wants to write about anything else. And about how he's drinking himself to death. And about his brother's widow showing up to help. The hybrid aspect of it is fascinating, and pretty quickly the "is this real?/is this fake?" questions disappear as you get wrapped up in a fascinating, dramatic, and unfolding story of an ongoing miscarriage of justice.

Total Running Time: 178 minutes
My Total Minutes: 417,075

Friday, February 12, 2016

Jason goes to Indiefest--Opening Night

My first film-fest love kicked off for the 18th time last night (15th with me in the front row.) Jeff still managed to seem like he was winging his opening remarks even when reading from his paper, that's just the punk-rock, DIY aesthetic of the place (something that shouldn't be lost just because they have an actual corporate sponsor.)

So then the movie, FRANK AND CINDY. Based very definitely on director G.J. Echternkamp's family (and looks like a dramatic take on his 2007 documentary of the same name,) it's the story of his mom and step-father. Frank Garcia (Oliver Platt) was the lead singer of OXO, a one-hit wonder in the 80s. Cindy (Renee Russo, completely unrecognizable in character) was his groupie, and married him. And G. J. (Johnny Simmons) is home, ready to go to arts school as a film student, and fucking hates his alcoholic mother and even worse step-father. And when he finds out that A) his mom has (claimed to have) stopped drinking and B) spent all of his savings (intended to send him to film school) on a basement studio for Frank, he gets pretty upset. And decides he's going to film them, every day, to document their horribleness.

The thing is, I didn't understand right away why the audience was roaring with laughter at moments I thought were kinda funny, but mostly uncomfortable. By the end, I was laughing along, because here's the secret--Frank and Cindy are flawed people, but G.J. is a truly horrible person. Not just torturing his parents, but sleeping with any woman who's willing, including cheating on the one girl (Jane Levy) who he might actually feel something for.

There is some resolution by the end, and a nice scene with G.J.'s biological dad (who was a cool surprise, so I won't spoil that.) And the final concert is actually...redemptive, in a way. For everyone, in fact. So G.J. didn't make a movie entirely about what a horrible person he is. That was just my favorite part of it.

Running Time: 100 minutes
My Total Minutes: 416,897

Jason watches HAIL, CAESAR!

The Coen Brothers have gotten really weird recently. I mean, their zany characters and strange antics are no weirder than they've ever been. But it's getting harder and harder for me to say what their movies are about. Not that following the plot is hard, but identifying what they're about had gotten harder. There was a time I could always see what the point was. In fact, there was a time I could reliably say it was about greed making a fool (or a corpse) of someone. And then, starting with A SERIOUS MAN, that was simply no longer the case. It's like they became self-conscious about greed being the major motivation in all their pictures, and decided to make movies about characters who are very explicitly motivated by anything else, just to show us all how weird that is.

So we get our cast of zanies, all circling around Josh Brolin's Eddie Mannix, a "fixer" for Capitol Pictures. When the studio has a problem, he fixes it. Or he tries to, often times they all seem to work themselves out (even his son's issue with little league requires nothing on his part.) George Clooney is their big star Baird Whitlock, who has been kidnapped and held for ransom. Meanwhile DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson) is their water-ballet star, and she has a little trouble fitting into her mermaid tail with her baby bump. Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich, who is one of the brightest spots) is their singing cowboy star, but the studio wants to change up his image and put him in a costume drama directed by Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Nathaniel Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes.) Tilda Swinton is a pair of twin gossip columnists hounding Mannix for a story, Channing Tatum is a singing / dancing star, and Jonah Hill is a...person. Literally, that's the joke, he's a person.

So they have all the wackiness, so what does it add up to? That's what I struggled with, and here's what I've come up with. The Coen Bros have made a movie about how making movies is holy work. Mannix goes to confession way too often, but in his own role he's a kind of a priest. People come to him with problems, he tries to help, but most of the time it all works out on its own. He talks daily to a person who is never seen (the studio head) and ultimately gives up his chance for a more lucrative, easier job because...he's found his calling.

Running Time: 106 minutes
My Total Minutes: 416,797

Jason watches BROOKLYN

And it does a great job of evoking time and place (Ireland and Brooklyn in the 1950s.) There's a very nice lead in Saoirse Ronan and she does a great job playing Eilis, a young Irish woman with no future in her home town, so a helpful priest, Father Flood, helps her book passage to New York and sets her up in a boarding house and a job. And she's homesick for a while, but starts to fit in, especially with the help of a handsome Italian suitor Tony (Emory Cohen.) And then for a long, long time I start to worry that there won't be any conflict at all in the movie. Like it really seems like a sweet, innocent story of a woman moving halfway around the world, feeling homesick, and then getting over it. Finally, there is some conflict when she returns home to Ireland for a visit (the exact motivation would give too much away.) But this isn't about drama so much as a sweet but not too sentimental love letter to the American immigrant experience.

Running Time: 111 minutes
My Total Minutes: 416,691

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Jason goes to Noir City--Closing Night

This is a week and a half ago, but still fresh enough in my mind.

We end as we began, with photography. But a week of non-stop art has left us changed forever.

PEEPING TOM (1960): Carl Boehm plays Mark Lewis, an odd young man. He works on a film set, He has an interest in photography, and makes some money selling cheesecake shots to a shop that sells magazines with "girls on the front covers, and no front covers on the girls." He also lives in his parents old house, and makes ends meet by renting out the rooms. But he keeps to himself so much that his boarders don't even know that he's the landlord. He's just the creepy guy who lives upstairs and sometimes peeks in the windows. Oh yeah, and he kills girls and films it, trying to capture the best image of pure terror. See, his father was a psychologist who experimented on him to write his seminal work on childhood fear. But perhaps I've said too much. A wonderfully sleazy yet artistic flick.

BLOW-UP (1966): And then we ended the festival with probably the most important art film of the 60s. Michelangelo Antonioni dresses up a slice-of-life film about what it means to be an artist in the trappings of a murder mystery. But make no mistake, this is about art, not about a dead body. David Hemmings plays Thomas, a successful fashion photographer in London. His life is photography, parties, fashion, drugs, booze, sex. A nice life, but one that has left him somewhat bored. One day, taking some pictures in a park, he catches a couple of lovers (Vanessa Redgrave as Jane, and who cares who the guy is.) Jane insists she gets those photos back. And he promises, but not until he develops them. He keeps the negatives...just because he likes them. It's only later, when he blows them up, that he finds he might have just caught a murder on film. Or maybe it's just illusions in the grain of the film. Nope, it's murder. He goes back to the park and sees the body. But then...the film just refuses to turn into a murder mystery. He's not some super-sleuth who will catch the bad guys. We never even learn who the murderer is. Rather, it's a way to explore art. In particular, is art about discovering what's there, or is it (as the mimes who bookend the film) would have us believe, about seeing what's not there? A brilliant, fascinating film that refuses to answer.

Total Running Time: 212 minutes
My Total Minutes: 416,580