Saturday, April 30, 2016

Jason goes to SFIFF--Day 9

We're at the halfway point. The big second weekend has started. 3 more films on Friday.

First up was DEAD SLOW AHEAD. I admit, I only saw this because it kinda fit perfectly as filler in my schedule. And I ended up being very surprised by how much I liked it. Even more surprising be it reminded me the most--at least superficially--of LEVIATHAN (SFIFF 2013) which I absolutely hated. Superficially, they're both mostly wordless, observational films about the life on a boat. And it would be really interesting to play these side by side as a demonstration of what (for me) makes a film enjoyable or unwatchable. In a word, it's cinematography. While LEVIATHAN intentionally removed the eye behind the camera, in DEAD SLOW AHEAD, director Mauro Herce--who is most famous as a cinematographer--very intentionally chooses beautiful angles, and scenes that capture both the human interest and technological wonder of a giant cargo ship on the sea. When a leak threatens their cargo (wheat) the crew springs into action to save what they can. And that's about all that comes up in terms of a narrative story. Instead, it's all about Herce's choice of camera placement, and the beautiful, intriguing, sometimes surreal or hypnotic images he captures. I could follow him pointing his camera at stuff all day.

And then I saw a film that was truly nuts...called NUTS! I had heard (from being a silent film fan) about the old "goat glands" treatment--that a crazy quack doctor was implanting bits of goat testicles into men to cure anything--especially impotence, but also lethargy, dementia, malaise... In fact, there's an industry term for early talkie scenes added into otherwise silent films--they're called "goat glands scenes." Well, this is a mostly-animated (there are a few talking heads for authority) about Dr. John Romulus Brinkley, the man who invented the goat glands treatment, and made a fortune on it as well as several other "alternative" medical cures. In a genius move, most of the movie is adapted from Brinkley's authorized biography, which casts him as a genius hero set upon by the lesser, narrow-minded men of the AMA, especially Morris Fishbein, editor of the Journal of the AMA. Not just a pioneer in medicine quackery, Brinkley was also a pioneer in radio, getting his message to the masses. And in politics, when both his medical and broadcasting licenses were revoked, he ran a write-in campaign for Governor of Kansas, which would've been successful were it not for illegal dirty tricks (i.e., "John Brinkley" or "Dr. JR Brinkley" were not considered valid write-in votes. It had to be "J. R. Brinkley"--periods and all, even "J R Brinkley" was invalid.) There's an abrupt twist--much like in his life--at a trial pitting him and Fishbein against each other. His patients weren't allowed to testify, only doctors could give expert advice. So of course that stacked the deck against him. Also...the fact that he was a quack sticking goat nuts inside mens' nutsacks and selling them water with blue dye as a cure-all didn't help his case one bit. This was a beautiful, hilarious, incredible film. Perhaps my favorite of the festival so far. 

And then I ended the night with the Dark Wave show, UNDER THE SHADOW. Set in a Tehran apartment during the Iran-Iraq war, it's the story of Shideh and her daughter Dorsa. In the opening scene, Shideh is told she cannot continue her medical studies (a combination of being a woman and being a naive leftist during the revolution.) When her husband (who is already a doctor) is drafted to the front lines, they're alone in their apartment. Frequent air raid sirens usher them into the basement, but Dorsa won't go without her favorite dolly. After a missile strikes but doesn't blow up, strange things start happening. I.e., ghostly hauntings, Dorsa sees them first, but pretty soon so does everyone else. It's a wonderful slow burn, dramatic, and truly frightening. Iranian cinema has been greatly respected for years, and I have to confess I haven't been all that into it, mostly because it focuses on "slice of life" storytelling that tends to bore me (Alfred Hitchcock was fond of saying he wants his movies to be a "slice of cake" instead of "slice of life" and I tend to agree.) So it's thrilling for me to see an Iranian genre film, taking a lot of that slice-of-life aesthetic and using it in a slice-of-cake horror flick.

Total Running Time: 237 minutes
My Total Minutes: 427,687

Friday, April 29, 2016

Jason goes to SFIFF--Day 8

Just one more film last night (Thursday.) I was supposed to see a second one, but...well, when I get to it I'll tell the brief story. I don't want to dwell too much.

Anyway, I first caught a strange, inventive, visual pop-art project, SIXTY SIX. It's kind of a short film program, in that all the chapters were originally made as short films, using photographs and comic book art (including using a lightbox to see both sides of the comics page superimposed, which is really cool, and makes for some surprisingly scenes of The Flash.) But they are sequenced in a very particular order, that put together make...not a single narrative (most of the chapters aren't even narrative themselves) but a growing meditation on a theme. On a time. On a place. On a style. 1966 is before my time--director Lewis Klahr was 10, but I was negative-8--so for me it's a sense of weird nostalgia for a time before I was alive (I might be an "old soul," I frequently feel false nostalgia for times before I was born. Most noticeably with silent films.) Anyway, there's no way I can possibly tell you what this was all about. I'm not even sure I can tell you how I felt about it. I'm pretty sure I enjoyed it. But I'll have to mull on that for a while.

And then I got a ticket for RADIO DREAMS. And I walked over to the Victoria theater for the screening. And the place was a madhouse. I got inside, but every seat was taken. All the empty seats--they were all being saved by someone for their 2 or more friends who were totally in the theater. I believe them, because the aisles were too crammed for me to walk down to find any other seats. So after a few frustrating minutes of that, I panicked, gave up, walked out, and went home. I'm sure the movie was probably great. I'll never know.

Running Time: 90 minutes
My Total Minutes: 427,450

Jason goes to SFIFF--Day 7

I only had time for one film on Wednesday, but it was a doozy. Once again, thank you SFIFF for bringing the weird.

GRANNY'S DANCING ON THE TABLE is a strange Swedish film about abuse and family history. In the present day, a young girl with a bloody nose tells her story, but the story really goes back to her grandmother. The backstory is told in crude stop-motion animation, and was apparently drawn from the stories Kickstarter backers told about their grandmothers, making for a wild, somewhat inconsistent character drawn from several sources. In any case, the broad stroke is that granny and her sister Lucia were homeless orphans who found work on a farm. Lucia ended up marrying the farmer, but granny ended up getting pregnant. And the farmer (i.e., the narrator girl's grandfather) ends up becoming abusive. Granny goes away to...make a living, as best she can. Lucia and the farmer raise the baby (the narrator girl's father) as their own, but like I said, the farmer is an abusive a-hole. Strange, dramatic, creepy, and matter-of-fact in a very Swedish way (decide for yourself what that means.)

Running Time: 89 minutes
My Total Minutes: 427,360

Jason goes to SFIFF--Day 6

A couple more movies on Tuesday, both at the gorgeous Victoria Theatre.

SOUTHSIDE WITH YOU is the story of a first "date" (or non-date, depending on who you believe) between a young Chicago legal associate and her summer intern. She's afraid he might just be another "smooth-talking brother." And definitely afraid that anything other than a professional relationship would doom her reputation at the firm. But he invited her to a community meeting, and she used to do a lot of that kind of stuff before getting into trademark law, and she is interested in getting back into it--purely professionally. But...he is kind of a smooth brother, having planned to pick her up several hours before the meeting, take her to an afro-centric art exhibit, buy her lunch at the park, etc. Basically spend a day with her, whether or not she calls it a date. And it's really sweet to see their tentative friendship kind of blossom into a mutual acknowledgment of attraction...whether anything can actually happen or not. It's also really charming to see history happen, in a way that those involved don't know it's history. Oh, I think I forgot to mention that her name is Michelle Robinson, and he's her future husband...Barack Obama. A few times the movie gets a little too cute for its own good, when they speculate on the possibilities that he might be interested in getting into politics. But overall, it was beautiful and reminded me how certain I am that their relationship is a big part of their mutual success. I am absolutely convinced that Michelle and Barack have the kind of partnership that makes both of them better, both in their work and as human beings.

And then a change of pace, with THE APOSTATE, a Spanish film about a young philosophy student (actually, he's failing philosophy) Gonzalo Tomayo (co-writer Álvaro Ogalla.) He's a stubborn young man, and decides that one thing he needs to do is leave the Catholic Church. But not just leave it, he needs to make it official. He needs to apostatize. And he needs his baptismal record removed. Well, the Catholic Church is equally stubborn, and a great deal of the movie is over whether the baptism record is a historical record (i.e., can't be changed) or is a database entry (i.e., can be updated, annotated, or even deleted.) This becomes a kind of proxy war for everything else in his life. Failing philosophy? Fight the Church! Arguing with your mother? Go fight the Church! Have a complicated love life? Fight the Church! It becomes a bit surreal and bizarre what lengths he will go to in his fight, and what lengths the Church goes to stop him. But he's a likeable, funny character, so seeing him tilt at his own special windmills is quite a lot of fun.

Total Running Time: 160 minutes
My Total Minutes: 427,271

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Jason goes to SFIFF--Day 5

Two movies last Monday, as we celebrate some of the few Latin American offerings in this festival (now that their home is in The Mission, here's hoping there's more.)
First up was the Mexican youth movie, LEAF BLOWER. Three friends are walking back from a soccer game. Walking through the park, there are big piles of leaves. One of them offers 10 pesos if another one jumps into a leaf pile. He does, they have a laugh, he stiffs him the 10 pesos (claiming he has no change on him at the moment.) And then the leaf jumper realizes he has lost his keys. It must be in the leaf pile. Which is a bummer, because he needs to go home and change for their friend's funeral (he died in a motorcycle accident.) Worse still, he had borrowed his girlfriend's car, and her key was on his key ring. She's gonna kill him. So the three of them spend all day coming up with brilliant plans to find the keys without actually doing much work looking for them. All the while, they tease each other with a sort of stereotypical young Latin machismo (not that this isn't common place in the U.S., either.) As their day progresses, the lack of effort in finding the keys becomes a kind of metaphor for their lack of effort in taking any sort of role in growing up. But by the end, they each take their own sort of tentative steps into maturity. Your enjoyment of the movie probably hinges on how much you'd enjoy hanging out with these three. I personally found them kind of dull and annoying (i.e., very believable as young men,) but know a lot of people who enjoyed the film.
And then I saw NEON BULL. As an aside, kudos to the festival for really bringing the weird stuff this year. So far, it's been a delightfully weird lot of films I've seen, and this one is right among the top. It takes place on the rodeo bull-wrangling circuit, with the protagonists being the behind-the scenes workers. A very macho world, but the main character is more interested in designing clothes than corralling the bulls. So much so that when he steals his colleagues nudie magazine, it's so he can draw his clothing designs on the naked women. He also designs sexy horse costumes for his female truck driver/boss to wear in dance routines at the end of the rodeo. Weird, erotic, gender- and genre-defying. Not just the sexy horse dances, but this whole darn movie. And it was fantastic. It'll also be coming to the Roxie right after the festival.
Total Running Time: 197 minutes
My Total Minutes: 427,111

Monday, April 25, 2016

Jason goes to SFIFF--Day 4

Four more movies on Sunday
We started with a kid's cartoon from the team behind 2011's SFIFF hit, A CAT IN PARIS. Their latest is set in New York, and is called PHANTOM BOY. Leo is a good kid, smart, caring, and loves reading hero action stories to his little sister. He's also losing his hair--a side effect of the chemo treatment for his cancer. But his illness and treatment have a side effect. He can leave his body for a time and fly over the city (and through walls) as the titular phantom boy. He can't touch anyone until he's back in his body, but he can observe and report back (his otherwise comatose body speaks.) And he uses that power to help out an injured policeman and his journalist girlfriend who are chasing a disfigured madman who has held the city captive with the threat of a computer virus. It's like he's a hero in one of those stories he loves reading. A charming story full of heart and empathy, simple, moving, exciting, and beautiful.
And then it was off to New Zealand for Taika Waititi's (EAGLE VS. SHARK, WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS, the upcoming THOR: RAGNAROK) latest, HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE, starring a scenery-chewing Sam Neill and youngster Julian Dennison. Julian plays Ricky Baker, a foster kid and a real "bad egg" who is currently placed in the home of kindly Auntie Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and gruff Hec (Neill.) And things are okay for a while, despite running away most nights, he's back in time for breakfast and Bella  is really nice to him. Too bad she passes away. And that means child protective services will have to come and get him. And that's his last chance, now it's juvenile incarceration for him. So he sets out to run away for real. And Hec tries to stop him, but some wacky hijinx lead to them being away too long and the authorities assuming the worst--that Hec has kidnapped Ricky, taken him into the woods, and is molesting him. So they just stay on the run, living in New Zealand bush for as long as they can, having increasingly bizarre adventures (when Psycho Sam shows up, it really goes beyond the bend.) But it's the relationship between Ricky and Hec--who are both in their own ways very ill-prepared for such an adventure--that's the heart of the movie. Waititi keeps it briskly moving for the most part, while still letting the story meander a bit to keep the audience guessing. A less confident storyteller might hang the plot on a "must get from A to B" conceit, but this story is more free-flowing and eccentric, which I really enjoyed.
And then it was time for a bunch of shorts. I think all the shorts program are at the Roxie this year, which has certainly given me my exercise. The press office, where I have to check in to get tickets between each show, is near the Alamo Drafthouse, a good 5 long blocks from the Roxie. Also--and this is nothing to do with the festival, I just want to say something about it--there is a hunger strike going on outside the 17th street and Valencia SFPD station to protest police brutality/killings. I'm kind of surprised it hasn't gotten bigger news, but local outfits like Mission Local are covering it. I give them a little nod and fist bump of encouragement each time I pass by, and here's hoping they get more visibility (more than I can give them) and actually get their demands met.
Okay, back to the film festival.
Shorts 1
THE BOATMAN: An old couple, celebrating their 70th anniversary together on the Louisiana bayou. He hopes to finish building the boat in his yard, the one that was partially wrecked by hurricane Katrina. But it's looking tough, as he's losing his sight.
THE DREAM OF BOTTOM: A very strange film about a man following the tracks and finding his lost animal companion. Or...more companion than animal.
IN ATTLA'S TRACKS: George Attla was a native Alaskan hero and world champion sled dog musher. In the later years of his life, he used sled dog mushing to teach young natives about their culture and to take pride in it. Especially his grand-nephew, who is a young professional musher himself.
PEACE IN THE VALLEY: Eureka Springs, Arkansas. A fairly liberal town that passed an LGBT anti-discrimination ordinance. It's also home to a world-famous Passion Play, retelling the story of Jesus. Now there's a referendum on whether to repeal the anti-discrimination law. And people on both sides have strong opinions about it, but still manage to be neighborly, friendly, and respectful. It's like Bizarro-America.
SEIDE: In the Kyrgyzstan mountains, a young woman Seide is arranged to be married. As part of the tradition, her horse will be killed for the celebration. Of course, she does not like this.
SOMEONE IS HAPPY SOMEWHERE: A class divide is bridged and an odd encounter takes place, set against Brazil's devastating and embarrassing loss in the World Cup semifinals. And oddly moving film.
Shorts 1 plays again May 5th, 5:30 pm at the Roxie.
And finally, Shorts 3: Animation. Hooray, cartoons!
ALL ROT: An abstract, split-screen view of processed photography. I don't even know what it's supposed to be, but I loved the inherently physical, film look of it. Remembering that film is a chemical and physical medium, not just ones and zeros.
BOB DYLAN HATES ME: Caveh Zahedi, tells a couple of stories of when he was a young film student and had a couple of encounters with his idol.
DEER FLOWER: A Korean story of a young boy whose parents take him to an antler farm to drink antler blood to make him grow up strong. It doesn't agree with him.
EDMOND: A man regresses as he looks for love over and over again.
GLOVE: An astronaut's glove, lost in space. The astronaut contemplates how that glove was made, and where it's going on its adventures.
LIFE SMARTPHONE: A funny cartoon about the dangers of never looking up from your smart phone. A Chinese film, but a pretty universal message about paying attention to the moment.
MANOMAN: One of my favorite mindbenders from Cinequest. A man in a primal scream therapy gets in touch with him primal Id. And goes a little nuts with it.
THE ORCHESTRA: In a the Lo(v/n)ely Hearts retirement home, a man and his miniature band of musicians try to work up the courage to talk to a woman and her similar band. They could make such beautiful music together.
SPLOTCH: A coffee spill becomes swirling shapes, then a little more concrete as they take you back to a celebration of a coffee cup.
TRACK: In this cool Japanese art piece, streaks of light tell the story of the universe. And it's awesome.
Shorts 3 plays again May 3rd, 9:00 pm, at the Roxie.

And that was the end of the first weekend of SFIFF 2016.
Total Running Time: 349 minutes
My Total Minutes: 426,914

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Jason goes to SFIFF--Day 3

A big day of films on Saturday, starting with a bunch of shorts.

Shorts 6: Youth Works. The future of filmmaking, this is consistently one of my favorite programs in the festival.
CHILDREN FOR SALE: Fiona Bock, the 17-year old director and daughter of a prosecutor, has been investigating and exposing human trafficking in the U.S. for five years already. And this isn't poor children from 3rd world countries sold into sexual slavery--these are American kids, shockingly similar to herself.
DOMAR: TO TAME: A horse tamer from Uruguay, performing his craft while expounding on his life and what it means to be a horse tamer.
ELLIOTT: Simple hand drawn animation of an elephant named Elliot, his clever friend's invention, and his adventures meeting a lady elephant name Ellie. A deceptively deep story of love and loss, and how our experiences create who we are.
FRAGILE: Gil Batle was a repeat offender (mostly drug related) Filipino San Franciscan. But art made him popular in prison and is now keeping him out. Featuring his amazingly intricate and evocative ostrich egg-shell carvings.
FROM MY HEAD TO HERS: A story of hair donation, from the donor's perspective and the recipient's perspective. The recipient is a little girl who was born with alopecia totalis, where the immune system attacks hair. A moving story, and also a fascinating look at the process of making high-end, realistic wigs.
I DON'T BELONG HERE: A brief examination of bipolar disorder, and what it means to live with mental illness and trying not to succumb to the undeserved stigma of it.
LUCKY NUMBERS: A comedy of a young man who wins $50 million in the lottery. Well, actually the old man he helps out won, and then was so excited he had a heart attack. Which is kind of the same thing...although it kinda haunts him.
RUN, RUN AWAY: A track and cross-country athlete thinks that by running she can run away from the problems in her life. It's not that easy, of course.

Next up, more shorts. This time the experimental shorts, Shorts 4: New Visions
ABU AMMAR IS COMING: Using a black and white photograph as a starting point, this film examines the history of Bangladeshi fighters in the PLO. Like...were there any or was that just a rumor?
FALSE START: A fossil museum. And a nearly wordless documentary about the talented artists who make the fossils they sell there. Pretty fascinating, and makes you think about authenticity.
MANY THOUSANDS GONE: Rumors persist that the docks where African slaves first set foot in the New World are full of ghosts. 16 mm footage of Harlem, New York and Salvador, Brazil...if they don't show literal ghosts, they certainly evoke some figurative one.
MY ALEPPO: A halting, frequently interrupted personal documentary of Syrian refugees in Pretoria, South Africa. Living in their new home while getting spotty news of their old one.
SEPT-OCT, 2015, CIZRE: Cizre is a Turkish town on the border with Syria. A story of the fighting that erupted there, shown mostly through cell-phone footage from the residents.
UNTITLED: A very short, succinct point a new immigrant to the U.S. makes about what the U.S. appears to be all about--black and white. He's not wrong.

Shorts 4: New Visions plays again May 4th, 8:45 pm at the Roxie.

And then for what may be the weirdness movie I've seen in the festival so far (and I'm including Saturday's late night film, so scroll to the bottom, read that, and then come back here and realize this film was even weirder.) TICKLED is a documentary about the world of competitive endurance tickling. Or, really, it's a story about David Farrier, a New Zealand journalist and co-director of this film. Farrier has, for quite a while, specialized in "news of the weird" kind of stories. Eccentrics who are usually delighted for their small slice of fame. So he finds out Competitive Endurance Tickling, and a site that hosts competitions and posts videos of them--Jane O'brien Media (I'm not providing a link, because...well, read on and find out as much as I can say without spoiling it. Or see the doc either tonight or later when Magnolia releases it.) Anyway, Farrier contacts Jane O'brien Media about doing a story, and gets a surprising reply. See, he's an out, proud gay man, and they don't want competitive tickling videos associated with homosexuality. Which is weird for a few reasons. First, it's the 21st freakin' century and hardly anyone cares anymore (I know, this is an exaggeration, but still...) Second, most people would like the publicity, especially if it appears to be some sort of business. And's a guy shackled head and feet to a bed while 2 or 3 other guys straddle him and tickle him. It's fully clothed and (arguably) non-erotic, but it's about as gay as you can get without actually having gay sex. But lawsuits (or at least threats thereof) start flying, representatives come to meet with him, and the whole documentary changes from a funny story about a quirky sport to a dark thriller about whose really behind it and why do they want him silenced so badly? It get's really scary when we meet former participants. Usually when they were in college, they were offered somewhere in the neighborhood of $1,500 to make a video. And that's easy money...until they no longer want to do it (e.g., they graduate and get a job.) That's when the harassment starts. When one guy asks Youtube to take down his video (and they comply) all of a sudden it's up on every other video site, and e-mails are being sent to his family, friends, employer (he's a high school football coach,) etc. Massive harassment intended to destroy the guys life--and it's successful. With the massive efforts to harass and silence critics, you'd think this was a multi-billion dollar industry somehow. But there's no pay structure for these sites. And now I will visibly struggle with spoilers...I want to tell you whose really behind it, because it's even weirder than a multi-billion dollar industry. ...And I won't tell you. You'll have to see it yourself.  

TICKLED plays again April 24th, 9:00 pm at the Victoria Theatre.

Then I caught a comedy of technology and relationships, OPERATOR. This is part of a new collaboration between the SF Film Society and the Alfred P. Sloan foundation, providing grants for science in the arts--basically giving the filmmakers money to do the research and get the science parts of the film as accurate as possible. Which is cool. Anyway, Joe Larsen is neurotic coder who is working on a project for a lifelike voice to be the automated telephone guide for a health insurance companies phone support. He obsessively keeps data on everything in his life, but that doesn't keep him from having massive, debilitating panic attacks. Nobody helps him more than his loving, empathetic wife Emily. So, when their first prototype is a complete bust, he strikes on the brilliant plan to make Emily the new voice of their system. And it works excellently. In fact, a little too well, as he starts becoming more attracted to the voice of Emily (which he has programmed, so is predictable and never changes) than to the real Emily--who is constantly changing, trying to get out of her frustrating job as a hotel concierge and pushing her creative boundaries as a writer/actress in an experimental performance group. Martin Starr and Mae Whitman are perfect as the leads, expressing the tender, loving side of their relationship as easily as the frustrating, flawed sides. And the supporting cast, from Joe's eccentric co-workers to his ailing mother are also excellent. Overall it's a funny, enjoyable comedy that also has some serious things to say about how technology is changing--or stifling--human relationships.

OPERATOR plays again April 25th, 3:30 pm at the Roxie.

And finally, I ended the night with the second weirdest film of the festival so far (see TICKLED, above,) ASSASSINATION CLASSROOM. Leave it to the Japanese to bring the weird. The moon has been destroyed, save for a small crescent. An all-powerful, tentacled alien is responsible. And he'll do the same thing to the Earth. But first...he's going to teach home room for the misfits and failures of Grade E Class at Kunugigaoka Junior High School. The lesson for the year--how to become an assassin. And if they can successfully assassinate him before graduation, not only will the Earth be saved but they'll be awarded 10 billion yen by the government. And it turns out, he's a fantastic teacher! While dodging knives and artillery, he instills the kids with a love of learning (if only because of how that learning can be applied to assassination.) Throw in some more odd elements like a transfer student who also has crazy tentacle powers, an heavily armed AI "student," and a sadistic alternate teacher, and the wacky, wacky hijinx ensue. And not to spoil too much, but it's all set up for a sequel! Awesome!

ASSASSINATION CLASSROOM plays again April 27th, 10:00 pm at the Alamo Drafthouse.

Total Running Time: 448 minutes
My Total Minutes: 426,565

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Jason goes to SFIFF--Day 2

Or day 1? I've been doing this long enough I should at east know how to count. In any case, I skipped Opening Night, and this is the first full day of the festival...which I call day 2.

I started the day in Tibet, with PATHS OF THE SOUL. Tibetan villagers decide to make the arduous pilgrimage to Lhasa. It's a 1,000 mile journey. On foot. Kowtowing the entire way (every few steps they clap their hand paddles together and prostrate themselves on the ground, even touching their forehead to the road.) Have I mentioned it's 1,000 miles? They load up their supplies into a trailer, pulled along by a tractor, and set out, stopping only to rest for lunch and to set up camp each night. Cars roll by them, but still they make their way. Obstacles are put in their path, ranging literally from death to birth. But still they make their way. It's shot in an observational and contemplative documentary style (but it is a scripted narrative) and features gorgeous landscapes of Tibet. It made me want to visit Tibet--but as a tourist, not as a pilgrim.

PATHS OF THE SOUL plays again April 23rd, 2:00 at the Alamo Drafthouse and April 29th, 4:00 at the Pacific Film Archives.

Then I checked into my hotel for the weekend, the lovely Inn San Francisco. And headed over to the festival lounge--a cool venue called Amado's at the corner of Valencia and 21st Street--for a little happy hour indulgence courtesy of Fort Point Beer and Blue Angel Vodka (also Coppola wines, but I didn't imbibe any of that)

Next up was HONG KONG TRILOGY: PRESCHOOLED, PREOCCUPIED, PREPOSTEROUS. Director Christopher Doyle (better known as a cinematographer) created the film starting with interviews from ordinary Hong Kong residents--children, adults, and the elderly. And then put images to their answers to craft...less of a story than a whimsical love letter to his adopted city. It's divided into 3 sections. In PRESCHOOLED, children play and work in roughly equal amounts. Whether they're fetching and carrying stuff, or practicing with tutors so much that school is almost redundant, we see the lives of children--the next generation of Hong Kong. In PREOCCUPIED, we take a look at the 2014 Umbrella Movement, the short-lived sit-in protest and demonstration for democratic reforms. We see the optimism, the drive, the cohesion, and ultimately the crackdown and breakup of the movement. Also, we get introduced to Umbrella beer--which looks an awful lot like Corona, but has an umbrella logo on it and seems to be the official drink of the movement. And finally, in PREPOSTEROUS we get silly with old people. Specifically, old people on a speed-dating adventure all over the city. And intersecting with the children on a tour bus. Where their teacher Kevin, who has stolen some Umbrella beer, leaves them to go off and get drunk. I love that 'drunk white guy' is the thread that ties all three stories together. Really makes me feel important!

HONG KONG TRILOGY plays again April 26th, 6:45 at the Alamo Drafthouse.

And then for something really strange and shocking, with WILD. Ania (Lilith Strangenberg) works a dull office job that consists mainly of fetching coffee for her creepy boss. Her life is going nowhere, until one day she sees a wolf on the edge of the local park. And she becomes obsessed with it. And when I say obsessed, I mean romantically fixated on it. When fixing him a nice steak dinner doesn't do the trick, she organizes an all-women hunting party, tracks him down, drugs him, and drags him back to her apartment. And...if not tames him, at least seduces him. Gross spoiler alert (highlight to read): she tempts him into cunnilingus using her menstrual blood. But this isn't just some shocking, sensational 'what the fuck is wrong with Germans?' film. Director Nicolette Krebitz is an accomplished actress, and she has, to the best of my knowledge, crafted a sort of modern feminist fairy tale. Now I'll admit that I'm not a woman, so I won't understand all of the female condition, but here's my best guess at empathizing. This is about how men treat women as animals already. It's about the creepy fact that when a guy hits on a girl, her saying "no" doesn't end it. Her saying "I have a boyfriend" does--because men have more respect for another man's 'property' then they have for female agency. There's definitely an element that she's seducing this wolf as protection against her creepy boss. But it's also about how far women will go to be with the man they want. She will literally let herself go feral, descend into an animalistic state, to be with her love. And I'm sure there are other intriguing angles to this, too. It's definitely not exploitation, there's quite a bit of depth here, just not necessarily the type I can grasp. Either that, or she just really wants to fuck a wolf.

WILD plays again April 26th, 6:00 and April 28th, 3:00, both at the Alamo Drafthouse.

And finally, I ended the night with THE GREASY STRANGLER, which would've been the sickest film I saw on almost any other day, but I had just seen a woman have sex with a wolf. Big Ronnie and his son Brayden run a disco tour. Big Ronnie also likes eating grease. He even wonders why people don't put grease in their coffee instead of cream. In fact, he eats so much grease, you probably think he's the greasy strangler. Well, no comment. Also, no surprise. Also, hopefully I have you overthinking that. This is not a movie for overthinking, it's a movie for greasy, comic murders and people yelling "bullshit artist!" at each other over and over and over again. Oh yeah, it's a movie that revels in repetition as much as in the greasy killings. It also revels in male nudity, father-son hate, and general unpleasantness. And it's kinda hilarious.

THE GREASY STRANGLER plays again April 25th at 9:15 at the Alamo Drafthouse.

Total Running Time: 395 minutes
My Total Minutes: 426,117

Friday, April 22, 2016


Okay, let's start with this. Ben Affleck is fine as Batman/Bruce Wayne. In fact, in general the casting is all good. Gal Gadot is cool as Wonder Woman, but not given enough to do (duh, it's Batman vs. Superman, what would she do? I'll eagerly await her stand-alone film.)

I'll also say that much of the fight scenes, especially the titular Batman vs. Superman, were great. The sort of thing I expect Zack Snyder to excel at, and he does.

As for the rest of the what exactly was Lex Luthor's grand plan? Or why does a movie that presupposes the audience's knowledge of Robin, Batman's rogues gallery, etc. need to rehash the origin of Batman? Well...I've learned that the worst thing a critic can do is not completely trash a movie. If you tear into a film, dissect everything that was horrible about it, people will want to see it out of morbid curiosity or just a sense of 'what pissed that guy off so much?' No, the worst thing you can do for a movie is actually say, "it was just okay."

Overall, BATMAN VS. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE was just okay.

Running Time: 151 minutes
My Total Minutes: 425,722

Jason watches ZOOTOPIA

I love this movie, mostly (but not solely) because the hero is a bunny. I should have a lot to say about it, but I'm catching up and only doing quickie reviews today. And you can read all about it in any number of professional reviews. So I'll just reiterate, I love ZOOTOPIA.

Okay, one thought...with this, and BIG HERO 6, and FROZEN, and Walt Disney Animation Studios now better than Pixar? (which, in my opinion, has had some uninspired releases recently, INSIDE-OUT excepted.)

Running Time: 108 minutes
My Total Minutes: 425,571

Jason goes to CAAMFest--March 19th, 2015

More quickie updates, on the last day of CAAMFest.

CRUSH THE SKULL was a cool, funny horror flick. A team of thieves have a chance at a big score, a mansion up in the hills, secluded, and with the owner away of vacation.'s not what it seems. Okay, I'll spoil it, it's a trap set by a SAW-style serial killer (just minus the bullshit philosophizing, he just does it 'cuz he likes to torture and kill.) So bumbling crooks against a psychotic madman and his lair of traps. Good times!

GOOD OL' BOY is the story of Indian-American child Smith Bhatnagar (named because his father wanted him to have a typical American name, and he didn't understand Smith was the most common surname, not first name.) Smith loves America, is obsessed with Star Wars and Saturday Night Fever. But his family makes it pretty tough to fit in, especially with the constant threats to send him to India if he misbehaves. Well, add a pretty next-door daughter and her cool father (Jason Lee, in a token "good white guy" role) and you've got a great little misfit comedy that truly pleases. Excellent fun.

PAINTED NAILS is a documentary about nail salons in San Francisco. The struggle to make a living in a rapidly gentrifying area, and the health problems of breathing in the toxic fumes of salon products all day. And the difficulty in finding non-toxic products (or convincing customers to pay a little more for them.) It's a world I knew nothing about, neither working in nor patronizing nail salons. But I can empathize with people struggling to make a living, and hope that sharing these stories might make it easier. And it's a very well made movie.

And finally, I ended CAAMFest with RIGHT FOOTED, and excellent, engaging documentary about Jessica Cox. Jessica was born without arms, so she learned to do everything with her feet. Dressing herself, eating, driving a car, etc. Or becoming a martial arts expert, or flying an airplane, or all sorts of things I can't do with my two perfectly good arms. And most importantly, being a mentor, role model, and inspirational speaker for others with disabilities. An excellent and inspiring way to end the day, and the festival. And it really helps the movie that Jessica is such an engaging, enjoyable person to spend tie with (and sorry guys, she's married. The wedding is part of the movie.)

Total Running Time: 323 minutes
My Total Minutes: 425,463

Jason goes to CAAMFest--Thursday, March 17th

Continuing with quickie updates.

THE NAME OF THE WHALE is an odd hybrid "drama-mentary" about a young student and his love for whales and finding whale fossils. It's also a look at a modern Japanese fishing village, and that was kind of fascinating. But mostly it was a slow-moving (read: boring) little exercise.

And then FRANCE IS OUR MOTHER COUNTRY was a clever and profound look at the French occupation and control of Cambodia, told through the archives of home movies made by the French occupiers. Casual racism about "The White race is the only creative race." The cheerfully, casually racist home movies give way to war that occupation inevitably engenders, and the movie takes us through that too. It's a meditation not just on Cambodian history, but world history.

Total Running Time: 165 minutes
My Total Minutes: 425,140

Jason goes to CAAMFest--Wednesday, Mar 16th

I've fallen way far behind, so time for some quickie updates, starting with some Shorts - Portraits From The Schoolyard. Here we go.

AMERICA 1979: An Iranian-American family deals with the Iranian hostage crisis, and the racist bullying that results at school.
STUDY ABROAD 2: THE DAYDREAMING BUNNY: A Chinese art student in New York deals with her mother not believing in her and the difficulty of living in New York. But she gets by, with help.
FROM TONGA: Euless Texas, home to many Polynesian immigrants, and--of course, since it's Texas--high school football. A short documentary about the Tongan students who dominate on the field.
BORN WITH IT: An African boy in Japan lives with some horrible racist bullying. Like that all Africans have AIDS. But he at least breaks through with one friend.
HOROSCOPE: Two friends ride the bus, and meet an unusual man.
PIONEER HIGH: A Palestinian American girl, with little English, accidentally leads a revolution in clothing choices, overturning the school's longtime ban on girls wearing pants.

And then the documentary NO LAND'S SONG. I should have a lot more to say about this excellent documentary about Sara Najafi (the diretor's sister) and her efforts to put on a all-female concert in Iran, confronting the ban on women singing solo. a pretty unbelievable ban. Anyway, like I said I should have a lot more to say. But I also said I'm way behind and this has to be a quickie update. So I'll just say it was an excellent documentary (which I've already said.)

Total Running Time: 184 minutes
My Total Minutes: 424,975