Monday, February 13, 2017

Jason goes to Indiefest--Day 11

5 more movies, as the second weekend wraps up. We're down to the home stretch left.

First up was the documentary CHEER UP, from Finland. It's about the world of competitive cheerleading, seen through the worst team in Finland, the Ice Queens. Ever since SPELLBOUND, I've had a particular affinity for documentaries about eccentric competitions. Everything from Air Guitar to pizza dough tossing to Rock, Paper, Scissors to memory sports. So this should be right up my alley, and competitive cheerleading is relatively mainstream. And I enjoyed it, I just thought it could've been better. Using a 'fly-on-the-wall' technique, we see the Ice Queens come in dead last at the local competition. So their coach travels to the world championships in Plano, Texas to learn some tips and pick up some inspiration. Armed with a new attitude and a tougher philosophy, she returns and works her team harder than ever before. There's some resistance, some girls kind of drop out for a bit, but come back when they decide it's important. And the new, reenergized team is ready to come out strong in their next competition. Some of the best parts are the slow motion close-ups of the girls working on their routine. In slow motion, it looks less fun and more like the serious athletic feats it really is. But I said it could be better, and what I mean is that I think the fly-on-the-wall approach becomes limiting. It's good enough to make me curious about the sport (is it particularly popular in Finland? Why do all the teams have English names?) and about the characters (we see some of their home life, but never once do I get a sense of why they want to be competitive cheerleaders.) There's nothing wrong with a fly-on-the-wall, but this called for some more traditional interviews to set up the story better.

And then I saw another documentary that used an observational approach, although at least the characters in MYRTLE BEACH addressed the camera. But that mattered little, since I found them pretty insufferable and the movie alternately exploitative and boring. I gladly dozed through a good chunk of it. So instead, I'll tell you a story about my positive experience at the screening. Most people there (in the full-to-capacity 50-seat Little Roxie) were actually there to see the short (which I'll get to shortly) including the woman who sat next to me. She was hard of hearing, and had with her a hearing assistance dog--a very friendly and adorable pug. And he came over and sniffed me and let me pet him (I checked that it was okay first) and then climbed right up into my lap. So for about the first 20 minutes of the film, I got to pet an adorable lap dog, until he got bored, climbed down, and explored as far as his leash would let him. That was by far the best part of the film.

And then after the feature was the short, LADY BOUNTIFUL. A late (i.e., after the guides went to press) addition to the festival, this is a 20 minute film-poem about Joan Von Briesen. She's 85 years old, an artist and ultimate recycler, scrounging the trash of San Francisco to find things to use in her work. She even in the movie finds a fake breast, which turns useful as she has cancer and is about to undergo a mastectomy. She claimed she was in fact wearing it at the Q&A, I took her word for it and didn't check (sorry, my sense of decorum is more powerful than my journalistic zeal!) A lovely movie about a lovely woman. I feel bad for the people who walked out of MYRTLE BEACH and missed this. But I also feel bad for the people who watched all of MYRTLE BEACH.

MYRTLE BEACH and LADY BOUNTIFUL play again on Tuesday, Feb 14th at 7:15.

Next up, another movie with a fly-on-the-wall approach, but this time a narrative film (although it took me a little time to realize it,) LUPE UNDER THE SUN. Lupe (Daniel Muratalla) is a Mexican immigrant, working in peach farms in the U.S. He travelled there to make money to send back to his family, but now he hasn't seen his family in several years. He's old, has health problems, drinks a bit too much (lots of Coors Lite) and is full of regret for all the life he has missed away from his wife and kids. Moreover, he's having an affair with another immigrant, and she's filling his heads with ideas that his family has forgotten him and his kids hate him. Fears that unfortunately are founded, as he discovers when he calls them after wiring them some money. It's a slow, contemplative, melancholy film. One that shows the life of oft-overlooked people, and doesn't allow a lot of happiness in.

LUPE UNDER THE SUN plays again on Thursday, Feb 16th at 7:15.

Next up was technically the closing night film, but Indiefest always repeats their weekend shows over the next week. LITTLE BOXES is a subtle dramedy about the strange "nice" racism that exists in small, liberal towns where gosh darn it, if a black guy ever moved in, we'd be totally nice and welcoming about it. I've come to realize that I grew up in one of those towns, so this was particularly interesting. Interracial couple Gina (Melanie Lynskey, who also had a small role in the opening night film FOLK HERO AND FUNNY GUY) and Mack (Nelsan Ellis), and their sixth grader Clark (Armani Jackson) are moving out of their Brooklyn life so that Gina can start her new career as a college art professor in Rome...WA. Rome, WA does not actually exist, and as an old Bellinghamster, I was interested in what part of the state it was supposed to be in. Given that Wenatchee is referenced as a nearby town and it's on the way to Seattle, this puts it in the Eastern foothills of the Cascades, not quite to the dusty might-as-well-be-Idaho shitty part of the state (I kid because I love.) In any case, it didn't really look like the Washington I remember, and for good reason--it was shot in  Harrison, NY and Newburgh, NY. Anyway, they get there an people are friendly. Kind of going out of their way to be friendly. And not hiding very well that it's unusual for a black guy--and especially a mixed race family--to live there. Clark quickly falls in with two white girls who are excited because the town "totally needed a black kid." But to be popular, Clark abandons his kinda nerdy, book-loving true self and tries to fit in and learn the misogynistic rap music that the white kids like, thinking it's cool because it's black. Weird, weird dynamics. The parents are dealing with their own shit, too. Gina is nervous about work and fitting in. Mack is a writer who has been struggling to come up with a second novel and is making some money writing an article about food vlogs, complicated by the fact that the movers are late so all their stuff is on a truck somewhere between New York and their new home. Oh yeah, and their house has mold. As a metaphor for the ugly rot just below the pleasing surface--and the fact that only Mack can smell it--it's a strong metaphor, if a little on-the-nose. All in all, this is a great movie about attitudes that are a little hard to discuss (paradoxically, maybe harder to discuss as overt expressions of racism become easier?) And it's particularly remarkable that so much of the story is carried by the child actors, who are pretty terrific.

LITTLE BOXES plays again on Thursday, Feb 16th at 7:15. It also has distribution through Netflix, so keep an eye out for it.

And finally, I ended the night with a clever, low budget, local superhero...ish movie, SUPERPOWERLESS. Bob (Josiah Polhemus) used to be a superhero. He was Captain Truth, the savior of San Francisco, along with his sidekick Liberty Boy (our own local filmmaking hero, H.P. Mendoza.) But in his 40s, his powers started to disappear, to the point where he doesn't really have any anymore. Punches hurt him now. He can't run that fast. And flying...well, flying was never a matter of running and jumping, it was about falling and then...deciding not to fall. So the only way to test if he still can do it, is to take a chance that might kill him.

But he doesn't have a bad life, exactly. He's got his respectable if not fancy home in the city. He's got a beautiful and loving girlfriend Mimi (Amy Prosser) and he has his friends--most notably a homeless ex-psychiatrist Dr. George Holst (Pepe Serna) who helps him talk through his issues. Their backstory sounds pretty intriguing...I would see a prequel/spinoff just about that. Anyway, Mimi and the good doctor convince Bob to write his memoirs--if not for publishing, at least to work through the process and deal with his mid-life crisis. So he does. And he gets an editor. And when they meet he finds that "Daniel" is actually "Daniell" a pretty young woman who becomes really interested when she finds out he's Captain Truth. So of course that sets off a little wishful thinking about her. It's a very clever concept, that capitalizes on the popularity of superhero flicks but doesn't feature a single scene of super powers. Rather, it's a heartfelt drama about reaching middle age and realizing what you once had is gone, and what you dreamt of may never happen, but learning to appreciate the good things you do have.

SUPERPOWERLESS plays again on Wednesday, Feb 15th at 6:30 at the Alamo Drafthouse.

Total Running Time: 428
My Total Minutes: 418,831

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