Saturday, March 19, 2016

Jason goes to CAAMFest--Tuesday, Mar. 15th

Two shows last Tuesday, starting with a very special event:

The Super Story Behind SANJAY'S SUPER TEAM. I had already seen the Oscar-nominated short before THE GOOD DINOSAUR (although I could've sworn I had seen it at another festival, too...but checking my records I guess I didn't?) I freakin' love this movie.

So after playing the film, we got a special presentation from director Sanjay Patel and producer Nicole Paradis Grindle. And it was pretty great, going from the original idea, to the work behind the style, bringing in a traditional Indian dancer to inform the movement, etc. There are a lot of incredibly subtle ways this movie is influenced, and it was really cool to learn about it. Personally, my favorite moment was during the explanation of the sound design, when they showed how they made a fire sound by lighting a gas in a big jug. and they made a joke about this being evidence for an OSHA investigation. And (this will only register with a few of my friends) I thought...well, I know a great environmental healthy and safety person who you fired about a year ago...

Anyway, the second best moment was when they were talking about it not being played on the big screen again, someone asked if they could then play it again. And checking with the house managers, they had plenty of time so we watched it again. Awesome!

And then the second film of the night, the feature THE ROYAL TAILOR, and it was excellent. Starting with the conceit that a museum has discovered the most important tailor in the history of China, the audience is treated to the story of a local tailor named Kong-jin, who is renowned not just for making great clothes, but for getting ladies out of them. He becomes both a friend and a rival of the royal tailor, in a wildly exciting story of palace intrigue that both showcases his cleverness at clothes design and the deadly silliness of social climbing. A cool costume drama with a ton of anachronistic winks and solid belly laughs, building up to some serious social commentary. Plus, the hero gets to romance the queen, who among you can say that!?

Total Running Time: 141 minutes
My Total Minutes: 424,791

Jason goes to CAAMFest--Monday, Mar. 14

I missed the first half due to overlapping with Cinequest, but the very next night, I was up at the Alamo Drafthouse for some Asian American films. First thing I learned--after Cinequest made their festival theme "Unite" the theme for CAAM this year is...Stories That Unite. I love it!

So, my first CAAMFest film this year was JASMINE. It's a cool psychological thriller set in Hong Kong. Jason Tobin stars as Leonard To, a Hong Kong businessman whose wife was brutally murdered in a knife attack one year earlier. He's been away, but now he's back and trying to rebuild his life. He's finding a new job, he's reconnecting with old friends. And he's still calling the detective hoping they found new clues to his wife's unsolved murder. When he goes to lay a flower on her grave, he sees a stranger at her grave. He chases him, but no luck. He becomes obsessed with this stranger. Is he the killer? At least he's suspicious and needs some answers. Interspersed with scenes from a support group for people with murdered loved ones, Leonard conducts his investigation, tailing the strange man everywhere. I've never been to Hong Kong, but in a way I feel like I've traveled the streets through this movie. And there's an ending that I won't give away, other than to say it was a genuinely effective surprise.

And that's how I started my 2016 CAAMFest.

Running Time: 80 minutes
My Total Minutes: 424,651

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Jason goes to Cinequest--Encore Day and Closing Night

One last day of Cinequest for 2016 (except for when I finally have a chance to watch the media screeners of films I didn't catch at the festival...)

So of course I was up at 10 am for nearly the first beer of the day in the festival lounge (that honor, as always, goes to my friend Roy. He's there to make me look like less of a drunk. And I'm not afraid to write that, as he doesn't own a computer.)

Anyway, along with the constant boozing, did you know Cinequest also shows movies!? Here are three I saw last Sunday.

First, the Winner (tied with LOVE IS ALL YOU NEED?) of the Cinequest New Vision Award, I LOVE YOU BOTH is the comic story of twins Krystal and Donny (played by real life siblings Kristin and Doug Archibald.) They're in their 20's, still live together, care for each other (codependent-ly,) and commiserate over their miserably romantic lives. Which seems like it might improve when he meets a really nice man at a party. But the complication does she. That is, they're attracted to the same man. And he's bi, so they each have a chance. What I love about this movie is that it doesn't fall into clichés. There's a hypothetical cynical Hollywood version of this story where Krystal and Donny go at each other's throats through a series of increasingly wacky hijinx. This doesn't happen here. It's more about sibling support than sibling rivalry, and the humor comes from the realness of the characters rather than the absurdity of the situation. (Something I've noticed and loved as a theme in Cinequest this year: flawed characters, sympathetically portrayed.) A sweet, funny story about the importance of family, even if you have to grow up eventually and move out (just not too far.)

And then I saw the Jury Award Winning Best Drama, FEVER AT DAWN. It's a beautiful true story of Miklos, a Hungarian Jew who is being treated in a Swedish hospital in 1945. There he is told he has a lung disease and only six months to live, after surviving the Holocaust. Miklos has never found true love, and so even if it's brief he's determined to find it. He writes 117 letters, to fellow survivors. He just looked for Hungarian names being treated in Swedish hospitals. Write enough, he figures, and he'll get a good match (that was some pre-Tinder perseverance, there.) 19 year old Lili responds, and they hit it off. Of course, his condition is an obstacle. But a bigger obstacle is her jealous friend who constantly sabotages their chances (oooh, I hated that little...I'll say it...bitch!) Then of course there's the detail that the Jewish authorities might not approve a marriage for a man who is about to die. But even if they have to convert, they're determined. It's a really beautifully shot, powerful film that breathes new life (sorry for the pun) into the "Love Conquers All" genre. Oh, and spoiler alert, it's told from the point of view of Lili as an old woman in Israel, reflecting on the long, happy, fruitful marriage she and Miklos enjoyed.

Then it was back to the lounge for a snack, a drink, and a rest before the closing night film. There I happened to run into the amazing Rita Moreno, who asked me why I was wearing that costume. Thing is, I'm wearing what I always wear--cargo pants, t-shirt, trench coat with a lot of buttons on it, and a Victorian top hat. That was delightful. I'll have to see REMEMBER ME soon.

And finally, it was off to the closing night film, THE DAUGHTER. Henry (Geoffrey Rush) has ruined the lives of pretty much everyone in a small Australian logging town. Starting with shutting down the mill and putting everyone out of work. But also financial shenanigans sent his friend and CFO Walter (Sam Neill) to jail. And he has pretty much no relationship left with his son Christian (Paul Schneider.) But Henry's getting married, so Christian is back in town, carrying his own problems (alcoholism and a dying marriage) but trying to be good. There he runs into his old pal Oliver (Ewen Leslie,) his wife Charlotte (Miranda Otto, who was in attendance and did a wonderful Q&A and whose favorite ice cream flavor is caramel,) and their daughter Hedvig (Odessa Young, a young talent to keep an eye on.) Christian's arrival is going to cause some friction, as he reveals some long kept secrets. And once again, it all traces back to Henry as the origin of the problems. The story almost collapses under the weight of the bleak hopelessness, but thank God for Sam Neill as Walter. He's the only one who gets that it's not about the havoc that Henry causes, it's about your response, and whether you multiple the damage or heal from it. In the opening scene, Henry is hunting and wounds a duck. Walter and Hedvig (his granddaughter, I can't remember if he's her mom or dad's father) nurse the duck back to health, in a pretty clear metaphor for how to recover from Henry's damage. As it turns out, when he's dispensing some wisdom later, he has been hurt many times, and not just by Henry. He gets it, and hopefully with the wisdom of some years, other characters will get it too. Instead we're left with an incredibly on-the-nose scene of Hedvig urging Lucky the Duck to fly again, while absolutely refusing to see the metaphor. At least the acting was great.

And then all that was left was the partying. Party until they shut down both the Loft Bar and Bistro and M Asian Fusion. Then back to the hotel lounge where some sponsor booze magically showed up, and the party kept going until...well, this is embarrassing...I left before it was over. I...I don't think that has ever happened to me before. Note to self: next year get a hotel room for Sunday night, too, and take that Monday off work.

Total Running Time: 279 minutes
My Total Minutes: 424,571

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Jason goes to Cinequest--Day 12

The penultimate day. And I'm writing after the festival. It's all over but the writing.

I started last Saturday with MAGALLANES. A story from Peru, Magallanes is a taxi driver as well as being the private driver of a retired and senile old colonel--his old commanding officer. When a girl from his old past--his past with the colonel--takes a ride in his cab, it brings up some long-suppressed memories. Memories of guilt, but memories he hopes he can overcome through arguably heroic acts. Much of the film becomes a semi-comic series of capers--blackmail and kidnapping. But that's hiding some serious trauma underneath, and the eventual reveal is excellent, both as a plot reveal and a philosophical point about the impossibility of escaping your past. The acting is great, especially Damián Alcázar in the title role.

Next up was a Czech comic masterpiece, LOST IN MUNICH. This does not take place in Munich, rather the title refers to the Munich Agreement, where the Sudetenland was ceded from Czechoslovakia to Germany, and is widely remembered as a national embarrassment and betrayal of Czechoslovakia by the French. On the 70th anniversary in 2008, the French and the Czechs attempt to make amends. As a gift, the French ambassador presents the Czechs with...a parrot. But not any parrot, the parrot that lived in the French prime minister Édouard Daladier's office at the time. The last surviving witness who can repeat the warm, loving attitude Daladier had towards the Czechs. So too bad when he starts spouting pro-Hitler statements and insulting the Czechs. Oops! A struggling journalist steals the bird and prepares for a story recounting everything he says. And then...something completely different. I don't want to give too much away, since it relies on the Czech comedy technique of "mystification." But it suddenly becomes a making-of story about the movie itself. All of the behind the scenes trouble, etc. But...that's all (I assume?) a fiction, too. And to get the movie right they have to go back to the original Munich agreement, figure out what was really behind it, and whether it really was a national betrayal and embarrassment, or secretly a master-stroke by the Czechs that worked out for the best...other than weighing on their psyche for generations. Brilliants mind-twisting fun, that I think might have had a serious point?

Anyway, next up was the Barco Escape Shorts Block A. This was the only Barco program I saw this year (I want to see MR INVINCIBLE, but once it's finished, not as a work-in-progress.) I will echo my feelings after seeing it last year--while the 3 screen technology is interesting (if not entirely new) it's rarely used well. I'm not a fan of stitching the 3 screens together into one panoramic image--it's a nice idea, but I always end up focusing on the seams, and whether they stitch well (spoiler alert--they never do.) So it works best when there's something different going on in each screen. But even then, it's rare that it's used effectively to create something that can't be seen on just one screen. There's one good example of that this year.
GUARDING GRACE: Parallel stories of a young disabled girl, her dying father, and a drug dealer who becomes her unlikely guardian. A good story, with compelling characters, but I honestly can't remember what the 3 screens were used for. I'd rather see this story drawn out into a feature than expanded to 3 screens.
IN ANOTHER ROOM: This is the one that really used the three screen effect well. The team from HOUSE ON PINE STREET is back with another haunted house. In the center screen, we see a real estate agents and her clients touring a house. On the side screens, we see other rooms--usually the ones they're about to enter. Halfway through, the clients stop, feeling the ghosts in the house, they leave. So the agent is there alone when supernatural events start happening. And by showing the rooms where she's not, we're constantly scanning back and forth to see the ghosts she can't see. And it builds slowly, beautifully, scarily. Truly effective use of the format to create something that couldn't work on a single screen.
THE PARANOID CAT: A funny little cartoon about a cat who sees danger in every shadow. Very cute, but again I can't think of anything the three screens added that wouldn't work on one screen.
TOUCHING HEAVEN: Some beautiful shots of wingsuit adventures. And often a clear example of the potential of the three screens to create a panorama, but for that I'd rather see a single panoramic screen. Paying attention to how well the three screens stitch together just ruins it for me (I fully admit this may be solely my problem, and not representative of the audience in general.)
VOODOO APP: And angry ex-girlfriend and an app that's perfect for revenge. Very funny, but again not much added value in the 3 screens.
WIFI: A guy is just looking for the WiFi password, when he realizes he's in a very different kind of meeting. The 3 screens are actually used pretty well, to create the immersive overload of social media addiction. Nicely done.
TWO LEGGED RAT BASTARDS: And finally, this bonus short that was actually a part of the other shorts program. Derek Waters' (DRUNK HISTORY) father recounts a very high stakes poker game. Hilarious. Didn't need three screens, but frickin' hilarious.

Then fresh off it's win for Best Documentary at Cinequest, I caught the inspiring film, THE PROMISED BAND.

But first, the short STICKS. A Picture The Possibilities short, all around the world people explore the differences between living in the country or in the big city, be it Beijing or New York.

Okay, then the feature, THE PROMISED BAND. Let's get this out of the way first--they're not a real band. In fact, they only sing together once--kind of--at the end when director Jen Heck plays their recordings together on screen. Jen quickly becomes one of the subjects of her documentary, when an encounter with a Palestinian mountain climber on Everest gets her interested in meeting and making friends with people in the occupied territories--especially Lina Qadri. And that grows into an interest in getting people together from opposite sides of the border. In particular, getting women together. But the legal ability to do that is...complicated (the graphic showing the 3 zones in the Palestinian territory is frighteningly complex.) Well, a few arts/cultural exchanges are allowed, so they might able to cross if they were all in a band. So that's exactly what they do. The results are funny and poignant, and the quest to just be able to play one song together (first, learn to sing and/or play an instrument. Second, get everyone together in one place) becomes epic in its scale and importance. And it's funny to watch who sticks with it and who drops out (spoiler: I don't want to ascribe motives to anyone...but men are cowards.) Great movie, and well deserving of Best Documentary of the festival.

Then I was over to the California Theatre for WEEPAH WAY FOR NOW. Elle and Joy are sisters (played by real-life sisters and musical act Aly and AJ Michalka.) As such they have a beautiful, witty charm that plays very, very well. In a conceit that sounds kinda eerie but ends up being very sweet, the film is narrated by the spirit of their stillborn middle sister. And it jumps around in the past and the future as it sets up a going-away party for them. Not only are they going on tour, they're forever leaving their old house. Complications arise at their divorced parents show up to the party and cause quite a bit of chaos. But I'm getting ahead of myself. The strength of the movie is the easy, hilarious, and often filthy rapport the sisters have with each other. It's full of rapid-fire witticisms that you'd probably have to watch a couple of extra times to catch, what with so many 'did she really say that?' or 'did that really happen?' moments. Quite a lot of fun.

And finally, the midnight movie was WE GO ON. Miles, like a lot of, is afraid of dying. Like very few of us, he's willing to put up a $30,000 reward for any form of proof that...we go on...that something still happens to our...souls, consciousness, whatever...after we die. And so of course he gets a tremendous response from his advertisement. But he manages to narrow them down to a few. And he puts them to the test. And not surprisingly, he finds scams (well, he's a bit too credulous, his skeptical mother--who is no fan of his activities--finds the scams.) Still, there's a wild-card. There's that guy who didn't contact him by e-mail or snail mail, but through a text message...even though he didn't put his phone number in the ad. And that's when he gets more than he bargained for. A cool thriller that lets comedy give way to some serious scares. Very nicely done. (Note: I still don't believe in life after death.)

And then just a little drinking with filmmakers back at the hotel...until about 4:30 am (assisted somewhat by stupid Daylight Savings Time.) But I was still up and in the lounge by 10 am for the first beer of the day. Because that's how I Cinequest.

Total Running Time: 608 minutes
My Total Minutes: 424,292

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Jason goes to Cinequest--Day 11

I skipped out of work a little early Friday so I could start the big final weekend of Cinequest right.

And that meant starting with the short OUT WITH A BANG. A man is having a miserable life. So miserable, it's come to the desperate act of suicide. But he can't even get that right, and he's interrupted in a most unusual way. Very darkly funny.

And then the feature DEPENDENT'S DAY was one of the funniest things I've seen in the festival (and I say that even though I supposedly missed the funniest thing in the movie--the red wings scene. [UPDATE: First, to clarify, I stepped out for a minute to piss, I didn't fall asleep or get bored and walk out or anything. Second, I have seen the scene now and it's hilarious and helps establish why the leads are such a great couple]) Cam (Joe Burke, who is hilariously inept and still sympathetic) is an unsuccessful actor. His girlfriend makes a six figure salary, while he barely makes anything. Not that he's useless. He cooks, he cleans, his gives her great sex. But for simple financial reasons their accountant advises she claim him as a dependent on their taxes, which is kind of a blow to his ego. He struggles to pull his weight at a series of demeaning jobs--party clown, baby-sitter (where he gets in a mess of trouble in a scene that was the original short film idea behind the movie,) etc. Eventually he winds up as a secretary at his girlfriend's office, where...dammit, I'm just recounting the plot, I hate it when I do that. Let's just say there's an incident that leaves everything in a state of disarray. This movie jumps from belly-laughs to cringe-worthy moments to heartfelt emotion while always being real and sympathetic to its fucked-up characters. There's a way to make this same movie very cynically, heaping abuse on Cam and laughing at him. But writer/director/producer Michael David Lynch has a clear love for his characters that makes you root for them, no matter how small their victories are. And come to think of it, the ultimate victory is being with the one you love and is right for you, and that's a pretty damn big victory.

DEPENDENT'S DAY got an encore screening Sunday at 3:30. Oh yeah, and the Encore Day schedule is out!

Next up was Shorts 9A - International College Shorts.
COULEUR: A dog puts on an artist's glasses, and can suddenly see Paris in color. A cute animated film.
GLOWSTICK: A girl celebrates her birthday with her best friend, a lot of glowsticks, and memories. A beautiful little film from Thailand.
I AM AYOTZINAPA: In Ayotzinapa, Mexico, 43 students were kidnapped in an incident with local police, details of which are unclear. In San Francisco, Latin-American artists collaborate on an exhibition to raise funds to support the families in their fight for justice. A very moving story.
JEWISH BLIND DATE: Wacky hijinx ensue, as a couple of non-Jews meet for a Jewish blind date, each assuming the other one is religious.
MIS HIJOS: Hmmm...I don't remember this at all. The program says it was only a minute long. It's entirely possible I slept through it?
THE NATURE OF COMMUNICATION: From the Czech Republic, a documentary about a real dog whisperer, and how to learn from dogs. Really cool guy, and weird that I saw this on the same day that news that the famous "dog whisperer" Cesar Millan is accused of animal cruelty. I can't imagine the guy in this movie ever being anything but gentle and loving to his dogs.
SKIN AND BONES: From Israel, a young gay man is attracted to the images of BDSM, and decides to take it a step further. Turns out maybe his vanilla relationship with his lover is better.
VIRAL: From Australia, a story of a woman on the bus, frustrated by the rudeness of a teenager, goes on a racist rant and is captured on cellphone video. Horrible consequences ensue, in an exploration of repressed racism and the disproportionate response on the Internet.
WATER GHOST: From China, a story of the fishermen whose life work is fishing bodies (mainly of suicides) out of the Yuanjiang river. Very moving, and kind of unsettling.

Shorts Program 9A plays again Saturday (today!) at 1:15 pm. Gee, I hope I get this posted in time.

Then I was over to the California for THE LAST SMILE. Inspired by the death of Amit Zutshi, and featuring home movies of him, it's the story of a dietary supplement company, their dangerous product, and the private investigator who takes them down. Two years after his death, a loving father just wants to see the medical records and find out what killed his son, a seemingly healthy, fitness-obsessed young man. He enlists the help of a private investigator who is down on his luck and owes a lot of money to the Chinese mob. And what ensues is partially a discussion of the poorly-regulated health supplement industry (being not quite food and not quite drugs, they're not subject to FDA oversight) but even more a surprising potboiler thriller with some pretty strange twists (and local Bay Area locations.) Unfortunately, I didn't have time to stick around for the Q&A, so I don't know how much of it is based in reality and how much is fictionalized. If it's real, it's an amazing story. If it's fiction, it's a pretty standard intrigue thriller, and kind of weird that the Zutshi family (who produced the film) used their son's death in this way.

THE LAST SMILE plays again Saturday (today!) at 11:45 am.

And finally, the midnight film THE STRANGE EYES OF DR MYES. A drug-trip of a movie, about a doctor who wants to expand human consciousness by expanding the range of our senses. A weird hybrid of animation, mad scientist flick, musical, and...well, lots of weird, trippy stuff. And it would've been great as a short film, but got exhausting stretched out even to the lean 76 minute running time. Or maybe that was just the exhaustion talking, but I got the idea pretty quickly and was just waiting for it to finish for about half. The hucklebuck song was pretty groovy, though.

And that was the last Friday at Cinequest. The late-late party in my hotel suite got broken up by security, but they were pretty cool about us taking it down to their bar area, as long as we weren't making a mess and not disturbing the other guests. So I did still manage to drink until 4 am. And now I'm up again to head to the VIP lounge and start drinking at 10 am. Because that's how Cinequest rock stars roll.

Total Running Time: 373 minutes
My Total Minutes: 423,684

Friday, March 11, 2016

Jason goes to Cinequest--Day 10

Two more movies last night (Thursday) as I prepare for the big final weekend.

This was my one night to see a big spotlight film (well, other than opening and closing nights,) so I checked out Emma Watson's new film, COLONIA. Watson plays a Lufthansa stewardess in Chile in the 70s. She's shacking up with her boyfriend (Daniel Bruhl,) a photographer and Allende-supporting political activist. And then Pinochet takes control, and I expected it to become a political thriller. Instead, it's something far stranger. He's taken away to Colonia Dignidad, which I didn't know was a real place that was a religious commune/cult on the outside but also used to house and torture political prisoners. So she pretends to join the cult, where Paul Shafer (Michael Nyqvist) commands the compound, abuses her, and rapes little boys. Nobody ever escapes from Colonia Dignidad, so of course that's exactly what she and her boyfriend plan to do. And here it's really unbelievable. Seriously, I couldn't believe any of it. The film says it's inspired by a true story. I'm not sure it's inspired by anything more than the existence of the compound. That's creepy enough but the escape just becomes ludicrous. If anything close to that actually happened, it's pretty amazing.

That was the only screening of COLONIA at Cinequest, but it does open in theaters April 15th.

And then I caught a feature cartoon, EMPIRE OF CORPSES. A cool, slick anime that draws together influences all over the place. It's set in an alternate turn-of-the-century world and based on a steampunk-zombie premise that reanimated corpses are the engine of the British imperial power. John Watson is a brilliant medical student, studying corpse engineering, which is based on a combination of Victor Frankenstein's reanimation studies and Charle's Babbage's analytical engine (i.e., an early mechanical computer.) In particular, he's looking for the secret of The One--Frankenstein's original creation and the only corpse to ever  have...let's call it a soul. The ability to speak, think, be angry enough to want to kill... Oh yeah, the initial use for zombies? Soldiers. Mothers loved not having to see their husbands and sons go off to war, so when the villagers put down their pitchforks they decided that fighting wars as zombie-vs-zombie was a pretty good idea. They don't exactly have a will to fight--they don't have a will for anything--but they can be programmed. They can also be programmed to be bombs, which is pretty freakin' cool. But now the Russian corpses--programmed by Karamazov--seem to actually have a will to fight--one step closer to The One. Eventually the plot machinations got to be too much for me to follow (I don't know if that's my sleep deprivation or just the way the movie goes) but it was a fun, delirious ride all the way along.

EMPIRE OF CORPSES plays again Friday at 11:30 am (oops, that's gone) and Saturday at 8:45 pm.

Total Running Time: 230 minutes
My Total Minutes: 423,311

Jason goes to Cinequest--Day 9

We're all a little mad here! I've been saying that over and over again whenever anybody comments on my top hat (featured in the CQ trailer.) But it occurs to me that I've seen a lot of films about or featuring mental illness this year. So is Cinequest crazier than it has ever been?

Anyway, after a few drinks and other adventures at the VIP Soiree at Loft, I started the evening with the short film WEN'S DAY. A chronically ill man lives in the hospital. His favorite doctor is Dr. Wendie Everstone, but drop the "Die" and "Stone" and you get Dr. Whenever, because she's always there for him. Except on Wen's Day. Which I saw on Wednesday. Whoah! Mind...blown! Also the film was pretty cool.

And then the feature NIGHT SONGS. Seungwoo is a film director, travelling to the town of Samnye to write. There he drinks a lot, fails to write, and stays in a love hotel (but, like, as a regular hotel for him to sleep in.) He doesn't know what to do with himself, to the point that he has to call a friend who advises he masturbates, because that's what guys do when they're alone. Fortunately, he doesn't take that advice. Instead he meets Heein, a beautiful, charming young woman who becomes something of his muse as their friendship grows. It's a wonderfully contemplative film, and the cinematography is spectacular--whether it's views of the cosmos (solar system/eclipse visuals show up repeatedly,) or nature, or people.

WEN'S DAY and NIGHT SONGS plays again Friday at 12:15. Holy crap, that's today, very soon! Go! Now!

Next up was TRANSFIXED, a documentary about a unique couple, Martine Stonehouse and John Gelmon. They both have Asperger's syndrome (technically, high-functioning autism, Asperger's is not a real diagnosis anymore. But since they use it in the movie, I'll use it here.) And Martine was born Martin. And while they love each other, John won't marry her until her sex reassignment surgery is complete--he's a big fan of vagina (penis, not so much.) Now I could feel some in the audience cringing. This is the good liberal Bay Area where your gender is not defined by your plumbing and there's other ways to make love than penis-in-vagina. But I took it as 'this is what they want' (and she certainly wants the surgery, it's not just John pushing her into it) and even if their fixation on this issue is in part due to their Asperger's, It's rare enough for a couple to get what they want, so I won't criticize them for that. The big complication in all of this is her weight issue, which makes her not a good candidate for surgery. And here is where I can grumble a little bit--there's some editing of her talking about struggling with her weight that's then cut with her eating fast food that I thought was a bit of fat-shaming humor I didn't appreciate. But ultimately (SPOILER ALERT) this is about a couple that does what they have to do, fights for their love, and makes it in the end. And I was rooting for them, so that was great.

TRANSFIXED played again Thursday at 3:00, but I didn't get this written in time. However it is scheduled to be in theaters locally in April!

Total Running Time: 174 minutes
My Total Minutes: 423,081

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Jason goes to Cinequest--Day 8

Two programs and a bonus short yesterday (Tuesday.) By the way, I've only now noticed that because the festival started on March 1, I can easily tell how many days into the festival it is just by checking the date. I am a freakin' genius.

First I caught the short NORA: THROUGH THE YEARS. A nice little documentary about Nora Axbey, an out and proud woman who recounts her life adventures.

NORA: THROUGH THE YEARS plays again with THE MODERN PROJECT Friday at 2:00

And then I did not stick around for the feature, because I had only drunk with Ryan Bruce Levey, the director of NORA, and I had drunk with the director of the film playing just next door.

First, the short TICK TOCK is a cute animated story of an old man just passing his latter years, but sees a neighbor renting out his spare room, so decides he wants to do the same.

Then the feature documentary, DAN AND MARGOT. Margot is a vivacious, fun young woman. She had a stalker back in college. He tormented her for three years. His name was Dan. And he was her first schizophrenic manifestation. She has a serious mental illness, but that doesn't stop her from enjoying life, traveling the world, looking for love, etc. Her friend Chloe wrote, produced, and directed this film, and it's a portrait of Margot in all her...uniqueness. And she does come across as a very enjoyable woman (although I'm not a fan of the constant smoking, but that's none of my business.) Ultimately, I was less repelled by her mental illness than by her cheesy online dating profile name. I think it was cutiebooty69? Something that made me cringe like that. Anyway, I was assured afterwards that was a joke, so cool!

Barring Encore Day, that was the last screening for TICK TOCK and DAN AND MARGOT

Then the next program started with the long-ish short, STALKING SISTER. A long lost brother returns every few years to threaten his sister in creepy, incestuous ways. That was...weird. Possibly the most unsettling movie in the festival.

And then I ended the night with the feature ZANJAS, a story from Patagonia about a ditch digger who travels into the mountains for...well, here's the thing. It's a movie where not a lot is said. Bodies of women are found in the creek, but there's no frantic search for the killers. He's escaping something, but we don't find out what until the end (unless, of course, I was struggling to stay awake and missed something. That's entirely possible.) Nearly the only sign of progress is his task of slowly repairing a dilapidated rope and wood bridge that was damaged in last year's storms. There are some beautiful scenes, and it's a very contemplative movie. But I'm afraid it was too late at night and I was too exhausted/drunk to give it a full viewing. So this might be one for me to revisit later.

STALKING SISTER and ZANJAS plays again today (Thursday) at 5:00.

Total Running Time: 203 minutes
My Total Minutes: 422,907

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Jason goes to Cinequest--Day 7

Two movies last night (Monday) starting with a last-second change of plans. I was originally scheduled to see NIGHT SONG, but I had a drink with the lovely and awesome team from ACCORDING TO HER and found a way to move my schedule around I will now be seeing NIGHT SONG on Wednesday at 7:00.
So first up was the short MARATHON. Julio is an Ecuadorean cook in New York. He works, he lives his life, and he runs, winning his age group in the New York marathon. Also, he's undocumented.
And that taste of New York led us into ACCORDING TO HER, a wonderful drama about motherhood and careers, that made me appreciate again my own mother, who raised six kids (most of whom are better socially adjusted than I.) Inspired somewhat by director Estelle Artus' experience as a mother, the hero of our story is Veronica, a brilliant rising star of a concert pianist. And then she takes a hiatus to have a baby. And she decides to actually raise her son herself instead of hiring a nanny and jumping back into her career right away. She's in New York, far from her family, friends, and support network in Russia. She has her husband, of course, and he's not a bad guy. But he works very hard at his bank, which takes him all over the world. And he has his social circle--mostly French friends (I'm not sure about this, but I got a definite sense that there's a social class divide, that the French look down on the Russians. Knowing a bit about the history of the languages--Russian royalty spoke French, not old Russian--it wouldn't surprise me.) Once her son is a toddler, and she's ready to re-enter the classical music world, along comes Amanda, a promising and beautiful young pianist who catches everyone's attention. A few people here and there remember Veronica, and those who do admit she's a technically superior pianist. But if you're out of the music world for too long, you're forgotten, and breaking back in is that much harder. It's a fantastically empathetic movie, with great acting and a bit of a gut-punch of an ending. A must-see for anyone who has ever had a mother.
MARATHON and ACCORDING TO HER plays again Wednesday at noon
And then the late night show was the debut of a new director who is looking like a major talent to keep an eye on. NILA is director Selvamani Selvaraj's first movie, he never even made a short before. But his work is already highly professional--the cinematography is vibrant, the music is enchanting, and the mood is perfect. The very simple. So much so that recapping it would be a letdown...but let's do it anyway. Vimal is an auto-rickshaw (taxi) driver. One night, he picks up a young woman whom he recognizes as his old childhood crush. He drives her where she's going. And then stalks her a bit, waiting outside for the next time she needs a taxi. They talk, he gives her his number and urges her to call whenever she needs a ride. Slowly she warms to him, and he hopes that she feels the same for him as he does for her. But she's keeping a secret--one that audience gets well before our naïve, innocent hero. But this isn't about plot twists or story arc. It's about mood, about just feeling the piece. It's a 90 minute melancholy love poem to these two people. And it's gorgeous, and I can't wait to see what Selvaraj does next.
That was, unfortunately the last scheduled screening of NILA at Cinequest, barring a possible encore day screening. You never know...
Total Running Time: 194 minutes
My Total Minutes: 422,704

Monday, March 7, 2016

Jason goes to Cinequest--Day 6

Just 5 programs on Sunday. It was a light day.

I started with the short, EMMA. In an old Victorian house, an old man calls his friend over with his help in a matter. Turns out his wife has disappeared, much as the young man's wife disappeared years before, and never returned. He suspects foul play, and while his friend advises calling the police, he has another plan, involving a psychic and a séance, with a surprising result. Very cool.

And then the feature VIRAL VIRAL, a comedy about what people are willing to do to achieve dubious YouTube fame and even more dubious fortune. Director Taylor Guterson (OLD GOATS, BURKHOLDER) at least temporarily has dropped his aging comedies for a comedy about the young and stupid. A small time Pacific Northwest (yay, my old stomping grounds!) company makes short videos hoping for one to go viral. No success, despite the overwhelming cuteness of a cat sitting in front of a greenscreen waterfall. Their investors are getting impatient, and they desperately need a viral hit. Enter a mysterious consultant, who routinely churns out viral hits by doing stupid, offensive, tasteless stuff. Like take a camera into the ladies bathroom to record reaction videos. Or teaching people how to get out of a DUI (I won't bother explaining it, but it's not smart and not likely to work.) He brings some badly needed sex appeal to their videos, which now feature fishing in thongs, or Yeti vs. Bigfoot curling, or (and you'll have to watch to understand) "soaking." As the original team gets more suspicious of his motives, at least their videos are taking off. But he has one last big viral idea in mind, one that might really take things too far. It's a very funny dark comedy about the stupid shit that's on the internet (this blog excluded.) 

EMMA and VIRAL VIRAL plays again on Tuesday at 4:45 pm

Shorts 6 - Docu-nation. Hooray for true stories!
BACON AND GOD'S WRATH: An old Jewish woman, who has kept kosher most of her life. She recently got online and found more connection there than she ever had with her religion. So she's preparing for a big step--tasting bacon for the first time.
BORN FIGHTER: In East Palo Alto, one guy and his boxing gym gives kids in this crime-riddled city a safe place to train and stay off the streets.
THE BOX: An animated short, because the reality of kids placed in solitary confinement on Rikers Island would be too horrible to show in real life.
CONRAD AND THE STEAMPLANT: Conrad Milster has worked in a Brooklyn power plant since 1958, and has been the chief engineer since 1965. And he knows how to hand make every piece in the place.
A DRAG QUEEN FOR KIDS: Philadelphia's famous Martha Graham Cracker reads Dr. Seuss at the museum. Their preparations are difficult. Parents' reactions are complicated. But the kids have a great time.
GOLD HEIST: A whodunit, as $3 million worth of gold was stolen from a display case remembering the gold rush. It was in the lobby of a courthouse in Yreka, CA, a pretty brazen place to steal from.
OUT IN ALABAMA: A look at the brave out people and communities that embrace them in the south. Featuring pioneering Birmingham drag queen Libertee Belle, an icon in their community. the film is not just about breaking down stereotypes about gay people, but breaking down stereotypes about southerners. There are plenty of people shown in the movie who are accepting and welcoming of the queer community.
SANDORKRAUT: An awesome doc about how fermentation makes death and decay turn into something delicious. A repeat viewing of a short I saw at Indiefest.
SHAKEN: A Sherpa in Nepal sees his whole fall apart around him in a magnitude 7.8 earthquake. Pretty terrifying.
UNCOMFORTABLE TRUTHS: A look at the 9/11 truth theorists, what they believe know, how they get their message out, and their frustrations with the kooks who make them look bad. Impartial, but pretty funny. Forget jet fuel and steel beams, explain the collapse of building 7!

Shorts 6 - Docu-nation plays again Monday (today!) at 4:45 and Wednesday at 5:00.
Shorts 7 - Comedy shorts. Hooray for laughing!
1-0: Let's laugh at how a televised soccer game can ruin a good haircut.
THE BLACK BEAR: Let's laugh at a bear tearing apart and umm...having his way...with a bunch of Belgian terrorists. Like if Monty Python made a wilderness safety video. And if you look closely, you can see it's actually a man in a bear suit.
CHASING DAYCARE: Let's laugh at how hard it is, even in good ol' progressive Germany, for expecting parents to find a good day care so the mother can go back to work.
DEATH OF A CONTENT CREATOR: Let's laugh at how hard it is to support a family on viral videos. Especially if you suck at it. But Chewbacca singing "Let It Go" might be worth watching.
THE FIRST SESSION: Let's laugh at a lesbian couple seeking advice from their first visit to a couples therapist. I think the key is communication, they don't seem to know each other that well.
HELLO CHARLES: Let's laugh at a man who in a moment of desperation is visited by his childhood imaginary friend.
I AM FAIRY: Let's laugh at that guy in the woman's tree who insists that he's a fairy, not a pervert. I mean, really a magical fairy, that's not a euphemism.
MADAM BLACK: Let's laugh at...ummm...a guy running over a cat. And then convincing a little girl that her cat just went on holiday, and will send her postcards. And then it actually gets pretty sweet.
MR. EGG: Let's laugh at the silly man in the egg costume who just has to make one person happy to win a bet with his roommate. The stakes are pretty high.
OPT OUT: Let's laugh at how freakin' hard it is to get off an e-mail list.
THE OTHER RIPKEN: Let's laugh at Billy Ripken and his infamous baseball card.
STUDIO OF TOMORROW: Let's laugh at how easy it will be to make perfect movies in the future, with the help of science!
THE TALK: Let's laugh at a man delivering some uncomfortable honesty to his daughter. Then laugh more as she turns the tables.
TOMMY AND DAVID: Let's laugh at a man who set up a profitable business importing clothing and trinkets with the image of Michelangelo's David. At least, one distinctive feature of it.
TOO FAST: Let's laugh at a relationship moving way too fast. Although the guy and the girl have different ideas of what "too fast" means.

Shorts 7 - Comedy plays again on Friday at 4:30 pm.

The next show started with another short, THE OFFER. A man is moving out, when he is approached by a door-to-door salesman. He reluctantly agrees to give him 2 minutes of his time. What he finds is the answer to any question he could have. That's right--an encyclopedia! But this is no ordinary encyclopedia.

And then the feature, INDIVISIBLE, a documentary about the human toll of our broken immigration system. Director Hilary Linder follows three remarkable DREAMers on their journey to speak to Congress. These are all kids who were brought to the U.S. by their parents without proper documentation (or overstayed their visas) and have stayed here while their parents were deported. They've spent years on their own, knowing that their parents can't come and visit them, and knowing if they go back home (to Mexico, or Columbia, or Brazil, as the case may be) they'll never be allowed back into the U.S. And the U.S. is really the only home they've known, even if they weren't born here. And often they left the place of their birth for good reasons--mainly the dangers of the criminal elements there. Look, I don't care about your politics on immigration. It's a thorny, complicated issue and well-meaning people can have differing opinions--that's fair, I think. But this movie does well to highlight the real, human suffering behind our broken system, and why obstruction is evil and the fight for a good--if not perfect--bill is a noble, heroic one. There's a scene where the kids get to see their parents, through a fence on the border running through Nogales, that is absolutely heartbreaking. There is some hope by the end with President Obama's executive orders and some temporary relief, but there's still a long way to go for a real solution--even a half solution.

THE OFFER and INDIVISIBLE plays again Friday at 2:15

And finally, I ended the night in CREEDMORIA. Named after the local asylum, this charming comedy seems to take place in a time warp. I couldn't tell if it was supposed to be in the 50s or the 80s or even modern times, so let's say a modern-ish setting but a town that lives in the past. Candy (Stef Dawson) is endlessly cheerful, always having a SBDE (Stinkin' Best Day Ever!) even when her mother is domineering, her brother is getting drunk and getting into trouble, her other brother is coming out of the closet, and her father (who taught her a lot of her cheerfulness) is keeling over dead with a stroke. Oh, and her boss at Burger Barn is a dickhead, her co-wokers are abusive, her boyfriend is a Neanderthal, and his other girlfriends are planning to kill her. You'd think this would get to her, but somehow she smiles through it all. Perhaps she's just as crazy as the Creedmorians who go for a walk and stop at the Burger Barn every day. After all, they seem to enjoy their walk even though they can't go further than the Burger Barn. Because, you see, they've been told that's as far as they can go. Come to think of it, has she ever been further than the Burger Barn? Hah, just thinking about this movie again makes me smile. Stinkin' Best Movie Ever!

CREEDMORIA plays again Wednesday at 4:30 pm

Total Running Time: 484 minutes
My Total Minutes: 422,510

Jason goes to Cinequest--Day 5

A huge 7 program Saturday, so lets just jump right in. It was a long rainy day, which makes it a perfect time to watch movies. Of course, I also think it's perfect to watch movies when it's sunny. Or when toads fall from the sky. Or when hail falls from a cloudless sky and turns to fire when it hits the ground. I like movies.

First up was Shorts 8 - High School Student Shorts. Some pretty talented kids making movies.
AMERICAN HEROES: Soldiers back from war, pay one last tribute to the Sarge they lost. With a twist.
BARRIERS OF SEPERATION: Part of a workshop with Syrian refugee girls in Jordan, this is a personal story of 18 year old Raghad and how she wants to find and reconnect with her father.
DREAMS WITHOUT BORDERS: Another part of the same workshop, this one is about 16 year old Muna, adjusting to her family's new life in Jordan.
FALLING: A girl and her best friend, a girl who kinda looks like a boy. Her father was already kinda mad she had a boy over. When he realizes she might actually be more interested in girls, he has even more problems with it.
FOR SALE:'s entirely possible I slept through this movie. I don't remember anything about it.
THE GIFT: Even in the zombie apocalypse, those little tokens of undying love are important. Ha, get it, "undying" love? I'm so funny....
THE GIRL, WHOSE SHADOW REFLECTS THE MOON: Another of the Syrian refugee girls in Jordan. Walaa recounts her journey and the power of filmmaking. By the way, kudos to Cinequest for programming these, they're very powerful stories.
LILLY'S BIG DAY: In simple paper animation, a big, orange, hairy monster gets a fabulous makeover.
NEW NEIGHBORS, OLD FIGHTS: From Peru, a man and a women, living next door, fight over everything. But when she's gone, the old man is lonely he has no one to fight with. Funny, and a little touching.
PERPETUAL WOODS: Huh, another one I had trouble staying awake for. I remember the images of the woods and the young lovers, but the description says "A lover leaves a girl dead inside and out." I...don't remember the death part.
SWIMMY: A boy buries his pet goldfish. Then thinks about the life Swimmy must have had, confined to his bowl the whole time. So he does something for the other fish.
WONDERFUL WORLD: A stroll through a post-apocalyptic world, while the last survivor dreams of a green, beautiful, natural world.

Shorts 8 plays again next Saturday at 11:15 am 

Then back to the VIP lounge for a quick beer with the director of the next feature. Hooray for morning drinking!

But first, the short MOOM, a cute computer animated film about stuck memories and learning to be free.

That was the lead-in to THE GREAT SASUKE, a documentary of wrestling and politics in Japan. Drawn to wrestling, and taking his inspiration from Mexico's Lucha Libre, The Great Sasuke was a superstar. He never takes off his mask (there's not a scene in the movie that shows his face, and a few wear he changes masks without showing his face) and was a champion who brought aerial moves never before seen. He also wanted to give back to his community, so he became a politician and even won a seat as a prefecture legislator (and yes, he attended and gave speeches with his mask on.) But now, things are different. He's older, his body is failing, and he lost his campaign for governor. And instead of a champion, he's kind of an embarrassment. But he's still fighting, and he runs a new campaign to get back into the legislature. It might be easy to just laugh at him, but there's something very appealing about his refusal to ever give up. And there's something very genuine in his belief that he was called by God to be a wrestler and to use his powers to improve the lives of others (such as when he visits and helps out with earthquake/tsunami victims.) He might not be the hero we want...he might not even be the hero we need anymore. But he is, in his own way, a hero.

MOOM and THE GREAT SASUKE plays again Tuesday at 12:15 pm and next Satuday at 5 pm

Next up was THE OTHER KIDS. Director Chris Brown worked with real high school seniors in Sonora, CA, and let them improvise and develop their own characters, and created something truly remarkable--funny, real, and moving. These seniors are stepping up to a great transition to adulthood, but in many ways are already dealing with pretty adult issues--ranging from love, relationships, college, immigration status, sexual orientation, suicide attempts, even being the new kid in town. This is without a doubt the kids' story, and that's a good thing. It lets them explore issues that they care about, beyond just the goal of graduating. In fact, it's very easy to forget that these are high school seniors and instead just see them as young people dealing with the drama of life. To the point where the final scene at graduation is  kind of jarring--a reminder of where society places these kids, and how the graduation ceremony is hardly going to change the issues that they will still have to deal with. Excellently done.

THE OTHER KIDS plays again Monday at 7:15 and Thursday at 11:45 am.

Then the next program started with the short BIRTHDAY, which I had also seen at Indiefest. But this time I was actually more awake, so I could follow the wounded marines progress in physical rehab much better. A very moving short. 

And that was the lead in to the feature JOSEPHINE DOE. Shot in glorious black and white (there's something I still love about black and white movies every time.) Claire works in a bookstore with her father and has a new friend, Jo. Jo is a charming free spirit that helps Claire enjoy life. Which is especially important when her father passes away, her sister inherits the bookstore, and she's left with very little. So one night Claire and Jo break into a roller skating rink for a little after-hours fun. Nothing too bad. But the cops catch them, and back at the station Claire tries to explain they were just having a little fun, and it was all Jo's idea. But the cops can't see Jo, even though she's sitting right there. Spoiler alert (not really, it's described in the program guide)--Jo is a figment of Claire's imagination. And there's history of this in the family--namely her mother. So this becomes a story of coming to grips with her mental health issues, but also about how Claire's hallucination helps her as much as she causes distress. In fact, I may be completely missing the point (possible give how exhausted I was by this time) but I was rooting for Jo to stick around. Even as a hallucination, she was more fun and more supportive than anyone else in the movie. Which was pretty cool. And like I said before, I love how beautifully it was shot in black and white.

BIRTHDAY and JOSEPHINE DOE plays again Monday at 9:30 pm and Friday at 4:45.

Next program started with the short, I AM GOOD. A new mother out for a walk meets a model who has had a bad day. They share and commiserate over their lives and how they envy each other. A short and sweet story about the power of good simple human interaction. And carbs.

And then the feature, MY FERAL HEART. Luke doesn't let his Down's Syndrome slow him down. He still gets up every morning, shaves, makes his mum breakfast, does the shopping, does the laundry, helps bathe his mum, etc. He's her main caretaker, and he does a fine job at it. But nothing lasts forever, and mum is old. So when she passes away, he's sent to a care home for the disabled. And while the staff there are kind, it's too little freedom for him. So he doesn't stay, he simply breaks out. And he meets some new friends, but I won't say too much about that to avoid spoilers. It's really amusing and heartwarming to watch so many people go from viewing Luke as disabled to viewing him as a strong, heroic character who takes care of people a lot more than he needs taking care of. There is so much warmth and love in this movie, it's just beautiful.

I AM GOOD and MY FERAL HEART plays again Sunday at 11:15 am (sorry, didn't get this written in time) and Tuesday at 4:30 pm.

And then I was over at the beautiful California Theatre for LOVE IS ALL YOU NEED? (The question mark is part of the title.) The feature expands on the premise set up in the short film of the same title. It starts with the high-concept premise of sexual politics being reversed. What if homosexuality was the norm, and heteros were mocked, bullied, beaten, killed, and driven to suicide? It's really interesting how quickly that premise goes from a joke to being taken very seriously, which is a tribute to the filmmakers' world-building ability. The major story is taken from true stories, with a healthy dose of artistic license. The star quarterback is outed as a 'ro, her boyfriend is attacked and beaten, and a junior high girl mercilessly teased just for being friends with a boy. Meanwhile a preacher is spewing hate sermons lifted directly from the Westboro Baptist Church. And the teachers, coaches, and parents--the ones who are supposed to be protecting these kids? They're often doing as little as they can, pretending it's not an issue. Or when they do stand up, they get smacked back down (one of my favorite side plots features Jeremy Sisto as a drama teacher who is scandalously teaching Shakespeare's original version of Romeo and Juliet--not Julio.) It's a powerful, moving story, and while it might be mostly preaching to the choir, at least her in the progressive, gay-friendly Bay Area, that question mark in the title becomes awfully important. Because at least at this point, you do need more than love--you need strength, courage, allies, hope. And I hope this movie helps.

LOVE IS ALL YOU NEED? plays again Sunday at 4:00 (same apology as above) and Wednesday at 5:15.

Shorts 5 - Mindbenders. Hooray for late-night mindbending shorts.
DEATH IN BLOOM: It bent my mind when a personalized death agent went the extra mile to please a very wealthy, and very picky, customer.
HOW DEEP CAN I GO?: It bent my mind when Hairy Soul Man (possibly NSFW) was back, and more sick and twisted than ever.
MANOMAN: It bend my mind when a man got in touch with his naked, primitive id. And went a little crazy with it. Cool stop-motion animation.
MONSTER: It bent my mind when this little boy faced off with the monsters in the night.
MONSTER: It bent my mind when this artists creation came to life, due to just the right (or wrong) combination of glue.
MONSTERS: It bent my mind when Cinequest played three straight movies with (almost) the same title. Also when the little girl hidden in the underground bunker escapes and finds what horrors are on the surface.
ORANGES DON'T GROW ON TREES: It bent my mind when I found out where oranges actually come from.
THE PUPPETEER: It bent my mind when these kids wondered about the strings around their wrists, and who is controlling them. And how grown-ups can't see them.
THE SITTER: It bent my mind when the babysitter realizes she's in for more than she can handle. From Cinequest veteran Rory O'Donnell (AUTODRIVE)
THE WOOLLEN BUTTERFLY: It bent my mind when...shit, I think I fell asleep in this one. Gimme a break, it was a really long day, that started with not nearly enough sleep.  

Shorts 5 - Mindbenders plays again Monday at 9:30 and Wednesday at 2:30.

Total Running Time: 652 minutes
My Total Minutes: 422,026

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Jason goes to Cinequest--Day 4

Three programs last Friday night, as the big first weekend starts

The first program started with the short BROKEN WINGS, created by Cinequest veterans and mother/daughter team Elizabeth and Isabella Blake-Thomas. A young girl (played by Isabella) is running for her life as fantasy and reality blur, with a pretty surprising ending.

That was the lead-in to HEAVEN'S FLOOR, based on the true story of director Lori Stoll, although in the movie her name is changed to Julia. She is a photographer, and took an assignment to Baffin Island, Canada, to get some glorious pictures of the arctic. And the pictures are great, but she was ill-prepared and ends up freezing and miserable. As her guides move on and leave her behind, a nice Inuit man and his 11 year old niece Malaya come by on a snow machine and rescue her. They take her back to the village, and take care of her while she waits for the next plane out of there. While there, she befriends Malaya and pretty soon Malaya's grandmother is asking Julia to adopt her and take her to Los Angeles, rescuing her from the bleak hopelessness of the village in a parallel to how Malaya rescued her from freezing to death in the arctic wasteland. But that comes with its own challenges, as Malaya struggles to adjust to the very different world on Los Angeles, and a family that doesn't entirely want her. Make no mistake, Julia wants her, but her husband doesn't want to adopt a new kid (he'd rather make one of their own) and her young son isn't too happy no longer being their only kid. It's a very well made, sensitive movie with very endearing characters. I personally preferred the scenes in the arctic, mainly because I find that landscape a lot more beautiful than Los Angeles. 

BROKEN WING and HEAVEN'S FLOOR plays again Sunday at 8:45 and next Friday at 2:45 

Next up was LOST SOLACE, a visually vibrant story of a young psychopath's descent into...not exactly sanity, but the ability to feel stuff, and how horrifying that is. Spencer Cutler is charming as hell, and has no problem stealing from the people he charms. He steals a painting and expensive car from a woman he's romancing. He goes to a club and does a few lines of coke...and walks off with the $100 bill he was snorting it through. At the same club, he does a new form of ecstasy called Pink Dove. And that stimulates something that starts him to actually having feelings and question his morality for the first time. And it's painful, like literally gut-wrenching. Fortunately (for him) it's somewhat temporary, and can be controlled through medication (as long as he doesn't take too much so that the effectiveness wears off.) This becomes the format for a thriller, with a girl, her abusive (possibly psychotic) father, and mentally disturbed brother (although not psychotic enough to stand up and take down their father.) Oh, and his psychiatrist who...helps...although may be more interested in publishing groundbreaking research than his well-being. The story is well told, but my favorite part was the visual techniques used in showing Spencer's changing mental state. The visuals in this are truly impressive.

LOST SOLACE plays again Sunday at 9 pm and next Thursday at 4:45

And last was the midnight movie, THE PHOENIX INCIDENT. Using real events--mainly the Phoenix Lights and the Heaven's Gate, director Keith Arem sets up a paranoia filled world of apparent alien invasion, told in faux-documentary found-footage style. Four guys go missing (you can read about them at, which is part of the film's extended viral universe) and the film pieces together news reports, interviews with government researchers, and found footage from the guys to tell a terrifying story of alien invasions, government cover-up, and a suicidal cult leader. The documentary elements are very effective, but the found-footage falls victim to many of the problems I have with the genre. Mainly, the believability of it all. First, that they would continue filming, or that they're cameras would survive and record for that long (this was 1997, before GoPro. Let me tell you kids about that time...) Second, that in the panicked moments of action, they actually get perfect, clear shots of the monsters. Believability plagues other parts of the film, too, but this might just be my pickiness. I'm not a big fan of found footage, but I talked to a number of people after the screening who did like it. And like I said, the documentary elements were very well done.

Oh, and there was supposed to be a short before the feature, but due to a mix-up it wasn't shown until after. PRICK is a funny story of a cat burglar who hides in the closet while he watches a fucked up family fight and fields text from his wife angry that he's late for their sexy night. Very funny.

PRICK and THE PHOENIX INCIDENT plays again Sunday at 11 am and next Friday at 12:15.

Total Running Time: 291 minutes
My Total Minutes: 421,374

Friday, March 4, 2016

Jason goes to Cinequest--Day 3

Two more movies last night (Thursday.) The evening started with a few drinks at the VIP Soiree at Il Fornaio, and the good fortune of meeting and drinking with Jeremy LeLonde, the director of HOW TO PLAN AN ORGY IN A SMALL TOWN. That was already kinda the movie I wanted to see in the 7:00 time slot, but you know my rules, if someone else had drunk with me, I would've had to see their movie.
Anyway, HOW TO PLAN AN ORGY IN A SMALL TOWN is a funny, raunchy, Canadian comedy that certainly delivers on its premise, although it doesn't have quite as much nudity as the title would suggest (of course, the title suggest porn, so I don't know what I was thinking.) What it does have is a lot of laughs, and some surprisingly sympathetic characters. Years ago, Cassie Cranston had an awkward teenage experience that ended with her streaking through the small town of Beaver's Ridge. More than embarrassing her, it mortified her mother, a famous writer of wholesome, small town literature. So Cassie ran off to New York, and became a mildly famous sex columnist. And when her mother passes away, she returns home for the funeral, and to confront her old antagonists and their backwards, prudish, small-town ways. And wacky hijinx ensue. It might be pretentious to drop a name like David Lynch when talking about what is really a silly sex comedy, but the hidden kinkiness of small town life is certainly a bit reminiscent. But the angle I really loved is that big town cosmopolitanism perhaps isn't as adventurous as you'd think. Ultimately, for as nasty as it is (and it delves into varying aspects of sexual dysfunction) it is, literally, a loving movie. Also, it's got a pretty funny Holocaust joke in it.
HOW TO PLAN AN ORGY IN A SMALL TOWN plays again Saturday at 7:15 and Monday at 4:15. And if you like it, Jeremy promises his next movie, THE GO-GETTERS, will be even wilder. And you can donate and be a part of it.
Next up was the first show I've seen this year at Cinequest that was my own choice--not driven by drinking with a filmmaker. That would be Shorts 2: Transitions (or as the guy doing the introductions said, Ch-ch-ch-chaaaanges)
DAISY CHAIN: Narrated by Kate Winslet, little Buttercup Bree, through the power of sharing, changes bullies into friends.
FIG: An old man does whatever it takes to fulfill his bedridden wife's wish. She wants a fig, he'll battle the harsh forces of nature to get her one.
THE FORMULA: The power of the words "I would prefer not to" changes everything.
LEND A HAND FOR LOVE: Two horribly bashful neighbors are changed forever when their hands decide to make the moves they're afraid to.
MY BROTHER IS A ZOMBIE: It's so annoying to have a little brother who's different. But a good sister watches out for him anyway.
THE NIGHT THE MOON FELL: A beautiful computer animated film about a young boy's sense of wonder at the moon. With a heck of a twist.
PEOPLE ARE BECOMING CLOUDS: And that can put quite a strain on a relationship. So John and Eleanor see a marriage counselor/meteorologist for advice.
REVERSAL: A broken camcorder changes a father from a videographer to a proud parent.
RING AROUND THE MULBERRY BUSH: A stop-motion story of a prostitute and her badly burned client, and the sharing of old wounds. Very moving.
TOWED: A woman having the worst day of her life. She's newly homeless, and living in her car. But her car is in a tow-away zone and is out of gas. The tow truck driver can't tow her while she's in the car, but she can't stay there forever. And apparently he doesn't have much else to do today but watch for her to leave. A standoff with a surprising ending.
Shorts Program 2 plays again Saturday at noon and Monday at 2:15
Films I've added to my schedule through drinking with filmmakers:
MY FERAL HEART, Saturday at 7:15
THE MODERN PROJECT (although technically I only need to see the short, NORA: THROUGH THE YEARS) Sunday at 4:15
NIGHT SONG, Monday at 6:45
BUDDY SOLITAIRE, next Thursday at 5:00 (if I can escape from work early enough. Otherwise, I have a press screener.)
Total Running Time: 207 minutes
My Total Minutes: 421,083

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Jason goes to Cinequest--Day 2

I'm working my regular day job this year, no time off for me. So it's evenings and weekends only. But I made it there in time for the VIP Soiree at Café Stritch. Where of course I met and drank with more filmmakers. My schedule is coming together, but I actually don't know what to see tonight. So any filmmakers in town, find me at the VIP Soiree at Il Fornaio, have a drink with me, and make me see your film.
Anyway, after probably one too many Stellas Artois, I headed over to the newly re-opend San Jose Rep Hammer Theatre for the SJSU student film/work in progress THE YELLOW WALLPAPER, although it doesn't feel like either a student film or a work in progress (in fact, the word I heard is it's mostly music rights that are still "in progress" so when I'm sure Cinequest plays the finished product next year, it might have a different soundtrack, but otherwise be very close to the same.) Based on an 1892 short story that is credited as an important feminist work (I haven't read it, so I can't comment) the movie is re-set in the 1950s, a pretty important time for American feminism. A woman and her husband (who is also her physician) move into a house for the summer. He sets her up in a former nursery, and orders rest and relaxation as treatment for her post-partum depression. But the isolation gets to her, and that yellow wallpaper with intricate patterns (excellent set design there) starts getting to her, too. Not to minimize the condition of post-partum depression, but the treatment, needless to say, is not making her better. At first, she imagines faces in it (and I can see it, the patterns really were excellent) and just asks her husband to change the paper. But they're only there for a few months, so why go to all that trouble? ("Why go to all that trouble" just for a woman's problem is pretty much the theme of the story.) Her condition deteriorates until she starts seeing dark figures, and tries to tell people about it, but nobody will believe her, much less help. This started as a short film and grew into a feature in production, and as a result the pace lags somewhat. Or maybe that was all the drinks I had. Anyway, it's a really well made movie, definitely worth seeing as a "work in progress" and worth seeing when it's completely finished (when I suspect it won't be much different.)
THE YELLOW WALLPAPER plays again Saturday, March 12 at 2:00 p.m.
And then I was over to the Camera 12 for Shorts 4: Animated Worlds. Hooray for cartoons!
BENDITO MACHINE V - PULL THE TRIGGER: Using clever silhouette animation, an alien comes to earth and is utterly befuddled and overcome by our capacity to kill each other. With that description, you'd be surprised to realize how funny it is.
BOUND FOR GLORY: Cinequest veteran David Chai (FUMI AND THE BAD LUCK FOOT, BEHIND MY BEHIND) returns with a sweet song and a train ride with a grandfather and grandchild.
CARFACE: Cars sing Que Sera, Sera, as an ode to big oil. A pretty funny way to watch the world die.
CARLO: From Italy comes a hilarious story of an unimportant office worker. He has a crush on the girl who works there. And back home, he has an entire world that he has created and is their God. A story of God watching over his people, when he's not worrying about more important things. Very, very funny.
CITY OF ROSES: A tearjerker, and based on a true story. An Irish child rescues a suitcase from a bonfire, curious about what's in it. He finds a cache of letters, correspondence from an Irish man who moved to Portland, OR and was drafted into the Army. There's something beautiful and touching about learning of this man's life, love, and tragedy through the recovered letters.
COWS: I had seen this before at SFIFF, and it's still funny. All singing, all dancing, all glorious cows!
THE FOREST PAPER: From Thailand, a charming animation about a world made out of paper, a commuter, and a bird looking to build a nest.
FULFILAMENT: A lightbulb searches the world to find the spot where he fits. Turns out, he's the lightbulb of a bright idea.
GOLDEN SHOT: Machines, powered by light, spend all their time and effort trying to keep the lights on. But one has the daring idea--build the sun.
IF I WAS GOD: A 12 year old boy, feeling the power of oncoming adolescence, absolutely fries a dead frog in biology class.
MY HEART ATTACK: Director Sheldon Cohen's true story of how his wife tried to save a dog and failed, but then saved his life. A personal story of what it feels like to suffer--and recover from--a heart attack.
THE STORY OF PERCIVAL PILTS: Another one I had seen at SFIFF. A dreamer reaches great heights. And the world just has to learn to adapt and appreciate him. And what a spectacular view he has.
TAKING FLIGHT: Grandpa and grandson turn a boring day into an adventure with the help of dad's old Radio Flyer red wagon. Beautiful.
WELCOME TO MY LIFE: Yeah, he's a monster in high school. No big deal, he has friends, he has classes, he is sometimes challenged to fights. Normal high school stuff, for anyone who has ever felt a little different.
Shorts 4: Animated Worlds plays again Friday, March 4 at 4:45 and Saturday, March at 2:30
And as I said, my program is coming together. More filmmakers I drank with to fill my schedule:
NILA on Monday
DEPENDENT'S DAY a week from Friday (shoot, I'll have to rush to make it to that on time.)
THE PROMISED BAND a week from Saturday (actually, I drank with one of the producers a month ago at the media launch, but I forgot and circled HEAVEN'S FLOOR on their first screening. So...oops. But I'll still see it!)
Total Running Time: 197 minutes
My Total Minutes: 420,876

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Jason goes to Cinequest--Opening Night

The best 2-week party in San Jose started last night, and of course I was there. Got there a couple of hours early, to get my pass and check out the VIP lounge (thank you Continental Bar) and hug as many people as I could. Also get a few complimentary beverages from our sponsor, Stella Artois (it's a scientific fact that sponsor beers taste better.) As long as I'm thanking sponsors, let's also hear it for Tito's Vodka, who made the after party amazing, and I'm sure will make the entire festival epic. That and, of course, the great films.
Which reminds me, first a little business. This Friday, March 4, is the world premiere of a film called TEMPS. I don't know anything about it beyond what's in the program guide. I assume it's great, because it's at Cinequest. And for being my loyal readers, I can offer you a 50% discount on tickets to the world premiere. When you click on buy tickets (for the Friday, March 4 show only) click on the "Know a Promotion Code?" button and enter the code: CQCtemps

You can use that for as many tickets as you want, until they sell out. I'll see you there. Unless my have-a-drink-with-me-and-I'll-see-your-film rule supersedes and I'm watching something else. Which reminds me, all filmmakers should know that if you have a drink with me I will see your film the next chance I get. Note, if you're not a drinker, that's okay. It's not you drinking that seals this contract. Also, since about half the filmmakers this year are women, let me assure you I have no ulterior motives behind this. I just like drinking and I like movies, and this is a fun way to put them together.

By the way, how awesome is it that about half the films this year were directed by women!? Of course, half the world's population should have half the stories to tell. So it's only remarkable in comparison to the whole of recorded history. But still, here's to making this the new normal!

Okay, there was a movie last night, too--EYE IN THE SKY. In the glorious California Theatre. But first, an introduction  and an engaging talk with director Gavin Hood and festival director Halfdan Hussey. Gavin spoke lovingly of Alan Rickman (this was his last film) and his great--and funny--performance in the film. And while he didn't mention any movie in particular, he did talk about how he learned a lot working on big Hollywood productions, but he'd much rather be remembered for his personal films like TSOTSI and EYE IN THE SKY. And yes, despite having some pretty big name actors and production values, he considers this a small, personal film, primarily due to his returning to his native South Africa and using local crew members. In fact, he spoke about how as a child seeing the rare films from his own land awakened his cinematic spirit. Something Americans don't really understand, because there are so many films about Americans. And if you liked his story about how cinema was a way to open up a closed world, might I recommend a film in the festival called CHUCK NORRIS VS. COMMUNISM. It's excellent (sorry I don't have a discount code for that one.) Anyway, his story made me think of that.
Okay, on to the actual movie. EYE IN THE SKY is a modern warfare film. In fact, my favorite shot is in the beginning, when Steve Watt (Aaron Paul) is in his bed in Nevada, about to go on duty as a drone pilot. A fan is rotating above his head, exactly like the opening shot of APOCALYPSE NOW. This is still a story about a soldier in the shit, but the heart of darkness looks a lot different today. Steve is the titular "eye in the sky," as he pilots his drone high above a house in Nairobi where several Al-Shabaab members are meeting (including 3 of the top 5 targets on the President's kill list for Africa.) Colonel Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren) is running the mission with the local forces, and the capture mission turns into a kill mission when a bug (literally, a beetle robot with a camera) finds that they're planning a suicide bombing. Alan Rickman plays Lieutenant General Frank Benson, whose role is to navigate the legal and political machinery to get permission to take the shot. And he's easily the comic tension-breaker in the film, although never letting go of the fact that the ridiculous process all leads to a deadly serious outcome. And things are really thrown into disarray when an innocent wanders onto the scene. A little girl just selling her bread. And so the whole movie becomes a giant moral question. In fact, it's basically the trolley problem, but with a semi-comical political PR spin angle. And that's freakin' awesome.

Then it was over to The Farmer's Union for drinking, partying, and meeting filmmakers until just before midnight, when I took the VTA back home (Hooray for alternatives to drunk driving!) I think at some point I was interviewed by a TV station. So...that'll be fun to find.

Anyway, films I now have to see because I've met and drunk with the filmmakers:
THE YELLOW WALLPAPER, tonight at 7:30, opening the Hammer Theatre (formerly the SJ Rep)
LOST SOLACE, Friday night at 9:30 (unless I switch it around for the Cinequest Connoisseur screening of TEMPS)
SHORTS 8: HIGH SCHOOL, Saturday at 10:00 am (Hey, how did I have a drink with a high school student? Don't ask.)
THE OTHER KIDS, Saturday at 2:30 at the Hammer Theatre (note, this is a change from the schedule in the printed guide, it's popular enough to move to a bigger venue)
LOVE IS ALL YOU NEED? Saturday at 9:30
SHORTS 5: MINDBENDERS, Saturday at midnight
SHORTS 6: DOCUNATION, Sunday at 1:15

Okay, see you at Cinequest!
Running Time: 102 minutes
My Total Minutes: 420,679

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Jason goes to Midnites for Maniacs and celebrate's Jesse's Birthday with Dean Cameron

Happy 40th Birthday to my favorite Maniac, Jesse Hawthorne Ficks! And what a better way to celebrate than to program a triple-bill of Teen and Alienated flicks at the brand new Alamo Drafthouse New Mission San Francisco. And better yet, have the star of all three films--Dean Cameron--there to talk about them, sign autographs, and hang out with the fans.

SUMMER SCHOOL (1987): First up was this comedy about teen dunces...only not really, they're actually kind of smart. Nominally starring Mark Harmon as Shoop, the PE teacher who gets roped into teacher remedial English over the summer, and Kirstie Alley as the advanced placement teacher whose kids actually want to spend more time in school (we mercifully never hear from them.) But the kids are the stars, and of course Dean Cameron as "Chainsaw" (as in "Texas...Massacre") with his equally movie obsessed buddy Dave (Gary Riley.) They don't want to be there, and neither does he. So they come to an agreement to just waste the summer away on "field trips." But that doesn't last long, when the vice-principal gives him an ultimatum--they pass their test or he's fired. So Shoop and the kids set up a little quid pro quo, they'll study if he'll help them out in various ways. Anything from teaching them to drive to playing TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE in class (interesting trivia, originally they were supposed to be obsessed with Tod Browning's FREAKS, but the studio nixed that as too obscure.) Director and comedy genius Carl Reiner crafts a film that's not just very funny, but also has a heart about caring about the kids as people, not just as test scores. A message that's surprisingly politically relevant still today (perhaps more so today.) In fact, there's a lot about it that's still surprisingly relevant. In the aftermath of #OscarsSoWhite, it's interesting to see a movie from 1987 make a long joke about how the black kid is invisible (and secretly smarter than all of them.)

SKI SCHOOL (1990): And then this not-quite-a-sequel features Dean Cameron as Dave Marshak, an instructor at a ski school. I like to think Chainsaw took up skiing, then used it as a way to make a living while still partying all the time. He runs "Section Eight" the freakiest, loosest team on the mountain. First Section is run by uptight rich kids, and yes, as Jesse promised in the introduction, there's a fucking Holocaust metaphor there. Oh, you might want to dismiss this movie as mindless, but in order to be the best, you must lose your mind. And this movie loses its mind pretty brilliantly. There's a lot of partying (and a lot of naked ladies) and a lot of skiing, which is shot pretty well. And after all, skiing is partying, partying is skiing. And goddamn this movie is quotable.

ROCKULA (1990) And finally, we ended the night on this bizarre piece of pure silliness, from the waning days of Cannon Films. Dean Cameron is Ralph, a 400-year old teenage vampire. In his youth--well, in the early years of his youth--his true love was killed by a pirate with a rhinestone peg-leg and a hambone. He did nothing to stop it, and for his cowardice he is cursed to watch her be reborn, grow to 22 years of age, and be murdered again the same way every time (pirate, rhinestone peg leg, and a hambone--this last time played by Thomas Dolby.) His reflection in the mirror talks him into actually manning up and saving her this time, and to do that he has to--for some reason--become a rock star. Toni Basil co-stars as  his mother, and Bo Diddley is his freakin' Axman. That was all way too much fun.

Total Running Time: 279 minutes
My Total Minutes: 420,577

Jason goes to Indiefest--Closing Night

It's almost over...two films (including actual film!) last Thursday night.

First up was LEAP YEAR GIRL and I guess it's encouraging to see Japan get aboard the mumblecore train? Emi has returned home for the first time in 12 years. All her friends have moved on and are doing adult things. She's still trying to be an actress, but with not a lot of luck (although she'll occasionally run into someone who has seen her work.) She meets a nice videographer and they have a brief relationship. But mostly it's about her trying to avoid embarrassment while still pursuing her destined fame as an actress. Occasionally funny, and the lead is a strong actress, but I wasn't too impressed. Perhaps it was just too late in the festival to hold my interest.

And then the closing film, the excellent 35 mm experimental gumshoe thriller TOO LATE. John Hawkes stars as Sampson, a private investigator, and the story plays out as five 20-minute shots. No edits, no cuts except for the film reel changes. And the story jumps around in time, leaving large gaps and allowing us to play in the style without getting too caught up with the mechanics of the story. We start with the murder--a young stripper is killed in a park in LA, and Sampson can't get there quite in time. We jump to him confronting the...if not the murderer, certainly the guy who ordered it. We go back in time to see his meeting, three years ago, and one special night he had with the victim. We go well into the future to see how his life turns out. And ultimately the last reel contains a major spoiler that ties it all together very well. The gimmickiness of "no cutting" fades away pretty quickly as it becomes more about the immediacy and sincerity of each scene. And just the technical skill to make this film is incredible, and well worth it. A great ending to Indiefest 2016.

Oh, and TOO LATE is being rolled out independently, on 35 mm, over the next few months. Including April 8 in San Francisco, San Jose, and Berkeley. More information here.

Total Running Time: 196
My Total Minutes: 420,298