Sunday, April 16, 2017

Jason goes to SFFILM--Day 11

A four movie Saturday, as the final weekend is half over. Let's jump right in.

My first show started with a short, FAJR, a beautifully shot, very stylized sunrise and morning call to prayer. Figures in silhouette, as the light grows the desert reveals some mysteries...mostly mysteries about how it was shot.

And that was the lead-in to the feature THE CHALLENGE. The film is nominally about falconry, and a competition in the Arabian desert. But don't expect to learn much about falconry. Instead, prepare to immerse yourself visually into a world of opulence, with gold-plated Harley Davidsons, a pet cheetah in a Lamborghini, and opulent bidding (in the near 100,000...but I didn't catch the currency) on a single prize falcon. There are scenes here that are as beautiful as anything I've seen in a movie (especially speeding across the dunes in souped-up SUVs.) And then there are lo-res cell phone videos that totally take me out of the film. It makes a lot more sense when you realize director Yuri Ancarani is known more as a visual artist, not a  traditional filmmaker. So think of it as spending 70 minutes in a visual art installation, more than watching a traditional documentary. Most of all, don't expect to learn much about falconry (which is a shame, because I really wanted to learn about falconry.)

Then I made my way over to the Alamo Drafthouse for I LOVE DICK. A sneak preview of a new Amazon Studios show from the creators of TRANSPARENT. Griffin Dunne plays Sylvere, a writer and scholar, working on a new take on the Holocaust, and recently awarded a fellowship at a small institute in Marfa, Texas. His wife Chris (Kathryn Hahn) is a Brooklyn filmmaker whose newest film was accepted to the Venice film festival...until it wasn't. Seems she didn't get rights for some of the music in it. So they move their passionless marriage to Marfa, where they meet the charismatic leader of the institute, artist and teacher Dick (Kevin Bacon.) And she immediately becomes obsessed with him, even when he dismisses her art, and to some extent all female artists. In fact, that kind of makes her more obsessed. And that obsession also affects Sylvere. In fact, their loveless dry spell is broken in spectacular fashion. We got a sneak preview of the first two episodes, and it looks pretty good. Definitely something to check out when it comes out later. We were also treated to a discussion with write Sarah Gubbins (oh yeah, behind the scenes, it's an all-female writer's room) and stars Griffin Dunne and Kevin Bacon. Without giving too much away, they talked about the free, almost experimental process of making the series, and how an all female-written show still has a heck of a lot of male energy in it. Also, getting naked episode after episode after episode. Also, how funny it is, it's sexy and downright silly at times.

Then I stayed at the Alamo, had a delicious beer from their menu--a Laughing Monk Evening Vespers Dubbel--and was transported to Ireland for A DATE FOR MAD MARY. Mary (Seána Kerslake) is just out of prison--she did six months for a bar fight--and doesn't have a whole lot of time to prepare to be her best friend's Charlene's (Charleigh Bailey) maid of honor. She's got the speech (Charlene wrote it for her) and the dress. What she needs most is a plus-one, to show that she's got something of a life and is grown up and isn't still the wild child they both were in school. There's a bit of a dating montage, but nothing is working right. One bloke seems like a fine choice--he needs a date for his brother's wedding, too, so they can make it a sort of business arrangement--but he splits when she asks him to dial down the "camp." Seems the only person she can even stand to be around is Jess, the videographer she hired to shoot the wedding. But it would be pretty scandalous to show up with a lesbian date for the wedding, wouldn't it?

In the hands of a less subtle team, this would just be a silly rom-com, good for a few laughs but ultimately forgettable. But the writing-directing team (brothers Colin and Darren Thornton) and especially the actresses do a fantastic job of getting into the characters and showing us something real.

Interesting, if I LOVE DICK is remarkable for women writers telling a story with lots of male energy, A DATE FOR MAD MARY reverses that, with male writers telling an excellent story through females characters. But most importantly, through interesting characters.

And then I ended the day at the Roxie with HEADSHOT, a brilliant, brutal action thriller. It opens with a super-violent prison escape, and a young man (Iko Uwais from THE RAID) washing up on the beach with no memory of his past. He's rescued by the beautiful medical student Ailin (Chelsea Islan,) who names him Ishmael (she's a fan of Moby Dick.) But they're not going to get to enjoy a peaceful life, because crime boss Lee (Sunny Pang) is looking for him--and looking to end him. And so there will be fight after fight after fight as Ishmael has to defend himself. And then when Ailin is kidnapped, he has to fight a horde of bad guys--and one exceptionally bad girl Rika (Julie Estelle)--to find his way to Lee, learn his own past, and kill him. Not an especially complicated plot, but the fight choreography is some of the best ever. A lot of fun, a great way to end the night, and a great cap to all the fantastic Dark Wave films in the festival.

Total Running Time: 342 minutes
My Total Minutes: 426,840

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Jason goes to SFFILM--Day 10

After playing hooky for just one little film, I was back at the festival for 3 more films on Friday.

First off I was at the Alamo Drafthouse for HEAVEN SENT, a Lebanese absurdist comedy. Omar is a bodyguard. And he has his dream job, protecting a beautiful singer who is getting into politics. Meanwhile, a man arrives to town, after walking over snow-capped mountains, is loaded into the back of a truck, and is dumped on the street outside the club where Omar's singer is performing. He tries to get in, and is pushed away a few times, until Omar finally knocks him out cold with a head-butt. Then Omar takes him home and takes care of him, because it turns out the mystery man is Omar's brother. He's been lost, and presumed dead, since the 90's. But he was a great soldier in the civil war. And why he's back is not entirely clear, except perhaps to teach Omar a lesson. But as absurd as that setup is, it's the small details where the humor comes from. The dad ranting about all the invaders that Lebanon has cut to pieces over the centuries. The feud with the neighbor across the street who plays his TV too loud. Or bodyguards discussing whether a white shirt or a black shirt (under their black coats) is better. Very funny stuff, even before the rocket launcher comes into play.

Then I made my way over to the Roxie for PARK. In 2004, Athens hosted the Olympics, and it was a grand spectacle. Now, the venues are abandoned and rundown. They've become modern Greek ruins. And they're inhabited by youth with nothing better to do and no parents in the picture. They play, their play gets kind of dangerous (it gets very dangerous to a dog, one of the unfortunate themes of the day was violence against animals) but mostly they're just aimless kids without much in the way of a hopeful future. The cast is mostly amateurs, bringing to mind some of Harmony Korine's films. The default main character is an older teenager who is kind of a leader and has a fumbling relationship with the only girl in their circle. A fascinating, real movie showing a snapshot of disaffected youth.

And finally, I ended the night with the dark wave show, MRS. K. The titular Mrs. K (Kara Wai) looks like the sweet housewife to a successful doctor, and a doting mother to her daughter. But early on, when some thieves posing as delivery men confront her, we find out that she can kick a serious amount of ass. Meanwhile, three bad guys are offed in succession, and we learn that a vengeful madman is behind it all. And he has a connection to Mrs. K and her past. Something about a casino heist, but who cares...this is all about the dizzying, bone-splitting action sequences. And they totally freakin' deliver. Especially when the daughter is kidnapped and Mrs. K has to go full rampaging vengeance mode. Awesome.

Total Running Time: 267 minutes
My Total Minutes: 426,498

Jason watches RAW

I had Friday off as a holiday at work, so I planned on 4 films at SFIFF. But when I got there, turns out that press tickets were all distributed for all the 3:00 shows. I could've gone to the venues I tried for rush tickets. Or I could've hung out in the lounge for a few hours. But instead, with a few hours to kill, I looked at what other movies were playing, then made my way to the Landmark Theaters in Embarcardero Center to check this out.

And it's a damn funny cannibal movie. Justine is a young woman who has grown up in a strict vegetarian family. She's off to veterinary school, just like her big sister Alex. Alex is quite the party girl at school, and it's quite a party school. And as a "rookie" (don't know if that's a different term or an odd translation of "freshman") she's going to be subject to a lot of hazing. And one bit of that hazing is eating a raw rabbit kidney (hey, Bunny!) She objects as a vegetarian, but Alex doesn't back her up. And so she goes through with it. And...she develops a taste for meat. Worse yet, she develops a taste for raw flesh. Worstest yet, she develops a taste for raw human flesh. And so wacky hijinx ensue. Oh, there's plenty of blood and gore, and it's all played very seriously, so I'm sure some people will object to me classifying it as a comedy. But this is definitely funny. A comedy about shambling heaps of flesh who have fucked-up relations to other flesh--shambling heaps or otherwise.

Running Time: 99 minutes
My Total Minutes: 426,231

Friday, April 14, 2017

Jason goes to SFFILM--Day9

I'm always cautious of the silent films with live music events at the festival. I've been burned before, and tend to boycott them for a few years. But this one was too good to pass up, and I was right to see DeVotchKa accompany (that's the critical word, accompany, not do a concert in front of) Dziga Vertov's THE MAN WITH A MOVIE CAMERA.

When I last saw this film, at the SF Silent Film Festival back, 2010, has it been that long?...I described it as a hallucination. It still kind of is. But more importantly, it's a wall-breaking film that invites the audience into the process of making the film, and invites the film into the process of making an audience. It has no intertitles. It's very explicitly attempting to invent a new language--a language of moving images that it uniquely cinematic and universal. And it shows the mechanics of film-making, but at the same time creating intentionally artificial images. If it has succeeded in creating a language of film, it's created a language where it's easy to convincingly lie, and a literate audience must be aware of that. Last time I saw it, I thought of INCEPTION (or the trailer to it) and that's even more resonant now, as INCEPTION was based on layers upon layers of artificial worlds until you literally don't know if any are true (INCEPTION was also based on shared dreaming... which is what films are.) I'm certain Chris Nolan has studied THE MAN WITH A MOVIE CAMERA. If not, he has at least been subconsciously influenced by other works who were influenced by it.

And DeVotchKa...they were amazing. Keeping it high-energy and fun. Accompanying the film, but recognizing it as a very very playful film. There are big ideas in there, but it's ultimately about a man playing with a movie camera. And their standing ovation was well deserved, and their encore was greatly appreciated.

Running Time: 67 of the best damn minutes ever!
My Total Minutes: 426,132

Jason goes to SFFILM--Day 8

Another movie on Wednesday. This time the YouTube documentary of a YouTube star, THIS IS EVERYTHING: GIGI GORGEOUS. Born Gregory Allan Lazzarato, he was an outgoing boy (when he was a boy) and a champion diver. He was also a gender non-conformist, who did makeup tutorials online as Gregory Gorgeous. He didn't really surprise any of his family when he came out as gay. He did terribly confuse his dad David for a few seconds when he later announced he's not gay...then she explained she was transgender. And she started on the medical path to become Gigi Gorgeous.

I have to pause and give a shout-out to David Lazzarato, who is a very traditional, conservative father and if very open about his surprise at how Gigi's life as turned out, but has always been there to love and support her (even when he screws up and calls her Greg or uses male pronouns.) I don't have kids of my own, but he did make me think about how I'd feel if I were in his shoes. In my mind it came down to, 'Would I rather have a happy daughter or a miserable son?' And that answer was easy, and I suspect, without him saying it, that it was part of his thought process, too.

Anyway, back to Gigi, she's a woman now, and a celebrity. And good for her. She's vivacious, entertaining, and endlessly upbeat. She really appears to love her life (and own it...those are probably related.) That celebrity aspect is the other really fascinating aspect. Because in the past, people were celebrities for playing a role. Actors, of course. But even sports stars were famous for one skill they had, which hardly defines their entire character. So if you tell someone you met a celebrity, the first question they tend to ask is "What is she really like?" Well, with the YouTube generation, it's possible to become a celebrity for being yourself. I knew hardly anything about Gigi before seeing this movie. But I know enough that I can answer the question. What is she really like? Exactly what you see on YouTube.

Running Time: 92 minutes
My Total Minutes: 426,065

Jason goes to SFFILM--Day 7

Just one event last Tuesday, but it was a great one. I made my way to the Castro for Asian Dub Foundation performing their live score to George Lucas' art film sci-fi THX 1138. It had been nearly two decades since I had watched THX 1138. And I remembered it being good, and fascinating, and very sterile and cerebral. It's a dystopian sci-fi in a world built for efficiency where people are administered drugs to keep them calm and compliant and individual thought--and especially love--are strictly forbidden. Well, THX 1138 (Robert Duvall) goes off his drugs and escapes to the surface (sorry...spoiler alert...if you can say that for a movie that 46 years old.)

What Asian Dub Foundation gave it was a beating heart and turned it into something that hit me in the gut as much as in the mind. And I suddenly realized how very, very funny this movie is. THX's big crime is...drug evasion. He frequently stops for confession at state-run kiosks ("mass for the masses") which give pre-recorded encouragement that barely matches what he confesses. And the best joke, at the very end he escapes because...the pursuing police run out of budget. The world is so devoted to efficiency that it ends up being more efficient to just let him go. And then the ending...he's just standing on the surface, out of focus, with the setting sun behind him. A gorgeous scene, but leaves you wondering if he actually won anything.

Oh, and the best part is a lot of it was shot in the under-construction tunnels of the BART (which gets a thank-you in the credits) and then I hopped on BART home.

Running Time: 88 minutes
My Total Minutes: 425,973

Jason goes to SFFILM--Day 6

Most days, with my day job, I'll only be able to see one film per weeknight. But Monday was special. I wasn't going to miss the first show, BILL NYE THE SCIENCE GUY. Especially since Mr. Nye himself was there. Now most of the audience were fans of his show when they were kids. Or there were older fans whose kids were fans of his show. But I'm in the in-between generation where I was a fan because I watched his show in college--he had a pretty big following at Caltech. So I knew most of the science he was teaching, and either enjoyed his show ironically, or for the genuine entertainment value, or for just how freakin' cool it is that someone is pushing the meme that Science Rules!

Anyway, the movie mentions his show briefly, but quickly gets on to what he's been doing since then. He's the CEO of the Planetary Society  (I imagine him idolizing Carl Sagan the same way the next generation idolized him) and is making Sagan's dream of a solar sail a reality. He's brought in as an expert on news shows to talk about science, and that has gotten him into feuds. He famously debated evolution vs. creationism with young-earth creationist minister Ken Ham. And most recently, he's injected himself into the debate on global warming/climate change. Now, I don't remember years ago anyone particularly caring that Bill Nye didn't have a PhD. He was the "Science Guy" not the scientist (he's a mechanical engineer who studied a lot of physics.) But it seems once he got himself into political issues, speaking on behalf of the pro-science side, it's now a very important point to make sure everyone knows he's Mr. Nye, not Dr. Nye (because, of course, the difference between science being correct or incorrect hinges on the difference between a D and an M) Okay, enough editorializing, back to the film. A large part of the climate change section of the movie is devoted to his friendly duel with Joe Bastardi, meteorologist and outspoken skeptic of human-induced climate change. One of the funniest dynamics in the film is how Joe's son grew up as a big Bill Nye fan, and so he spends a lot of his screen time kind in amazement as his father argues with his 4th grade hero. It's very funny.

After the film, there was a brief panel discussion with Bill Nye; the filmmakers David Alvarado and Jason Sussberg; and Dr. Eugenie C. Scott, the former Executive Director of the National Center for Science Education. One of the most interesting points to come out is how public, moderated debates (like the one Nye had with Ham over creationism) are a pretty bad way at getting to scientific truth. Because debates are about scoring points and winning the debate, while science is about getting at truth. Also, because scientists are good at drilling into complicated subjects, but to win people over you need three things. A simple message...repeated...from a trusted source. Let me repeat that:
- A simple message
- Repeated
- From a trusted source

Scientists tend to be bad at the first one (but Bill Nye is great at it.) The second one anyone can do. And the third one is always tricky, because you tend to be trusted right up until you say something that your audience disagrees with. It's maintaining that trust that's hard.

I would've loved to stick around more, at least to shake Bill Nye's hand, but I had another movie to run off to, over at YBCA. I have to say, with a more spread out festival this year, I'm getting my exercise.

78/52 is an excellent documentary with an awful name that nobody understands. It refers to 78 set-ups and 52 cuts that make up the iconic shower scene in Hitchcock's PSYCHO. The circumstances in the world and in Hitchcock's career that led up to PSYCHO. The setup of the scene, and finally the scene itself. Dissected by directors, editors, actors, and the actual body double in the scene (who was hired for a 2-3 day job that went on for 7 days...just to get like 45 seconds of screen time.) How the shrieking strings make such an impact (which we had seen the day before in SCORE.) How, despite what everyone thinks, you never actually see any nudity (okay a little side-boob) or ever see the knife touch the skin (or do you? Hitchcock himself said it never happened, but the body double said that they pressed the knife against her belly, then pulled it away and ran the scene in reverse and you see it in the film.) Or how about the great sound effects of knife stabbing flesh (the key--casaba melons.) Director Alexandre O. Philippe seems to have lined up everyone in Hollywood eager to talk about the scene, then put them in a mock-up of the Bates Motel to do it, which is clever and funny wall-breaking that's appropriate for such an intense and film-geeky dissection of less than a minute of cinema.

Total Running Time: 181 minutes
My Total Minutes: 425,885

Monday, April 10, 2017

Jason goes to SFFILM--Day 5

I skipped the festival on Saturday, since I have season tickets to the San Jose Earthquakes, and I've already missed the first two games. So I watched a feisty Quakes squad have a bit of bad luck but pull out a last minute draw with the Seattle Sounders in a game (this hometown fan believes) they should have won.

But I was right back at it again on Sunday, starting in the fabulous Dolby Theater for SCORE: A FILM MUSIC DOCUMENTARY.

First, let me just say that the Dolby Theater is awesome. It's mostly used by Dolby Labs and is completely state of the art, with bright, high-contrast images and spectacular sound. It's not often open to the public, so this was an amazing treat.

And the movie was just as much of a treat. An exciting and informative overview of the art, craft, experimentation, and history of movie music. Starting from the very early days, we all know the saying that "silent films were never really silent." At least a piano was played, sometimes a theater organ (usually a Wurlitzer.) And while I've learned quite a bit about silent film accompaniment over the years as an audience member, a little tidbit I learned is that the music was at least partly there to cover up the sound of the projector. I never really thought of that before.

Then we get into the sound era, and the classic Hollywood golden age scores. Another little tidbit I didn't know before--that famous 20th Century Fox fanfare? It was originally written for--and rejected by--MGM.

In a preview of something I'm looking forward to tomorrow, we got to see the famous shower scene from PSYCHO, with and without the music, to realize how tame that scene actually is, and how much terror the shrieking violins lend to it. Some thing with KING KONG--without the music, it's a cheesy and unconvincing movie, but with the music it's awesome.

Once the important of music is established, and some of the basic techniques (e.g., repeated themes) are explored, we get into the maestros. Too many to name, so I'll forget a few, but how about Morricone, Williams, Zimmer, Elfman, Reznor,...the interviews are fantastic, and show the creativity and vibrant boundary-pushing of the art. All the while, it's important that the movie never upstage the film. Somehow, if you come out thinking about what the movie was trying to do, it didn't do it. It's an art form that is subliminal. Or as Moby (I think it was him, the interviews kind of come at you fast and furious) points out, music is the only art that doesn't exist as a physical object. There are instruments, and there are recordings, and there are musicians, but the art itself is just subtle vibrations of air that vibrate your inner ear in a certain way. Fascinating stuff, in a marvelous state-of-the-art theater (seriously, I'm still kinda blown away by Dolby, and this was a great way to introduce me to the theater.)

Unfortunately, I couldn't stick around for the Q and A, because I had to run off to SFMOMA for MARIE CURIE: THE COURAGE OF KNOWLEDGE. A fascinating biopic exploring the work and life of the great woman of science, played splendidly by Karolina Gruszka. It starts off midway through, when she and her husband Pierre are awarded the Nobel Prize. Or rather, a year later when they finally agree to take a break from their work and go to Sweden to pick up the prize. Pierre is careful to give Marie credit not just for the work, but for coining the term "radioactivity." When they tell their young daughter Irene that Marie is the first woman to ever win a Nobel Prize, Irene blurts out, "Well than I shall be the second!" (spoiler alert, she was!)

But the film delves equally into her private life. Her struggles even after the Nobel to be taken seriously by the all-male scientific community. The denial of a professorship, at the hands of a boorish dean who had previously called her "fuckable" (you're left to wonder...but not too hard...what she possible could have done differently to get his approval.) And her grief after Pierre dies suddenly after slipping in a rainy street and being run over by a carriage. This happens early in the film, but it had already been well established that they were the best of partners--in life and in science. There's a beautiful scene early on where they're in bed, he snuggles up behind her, he nudges her and asks, "shall we?" She smiles and says yes, and so...they sneak down to their lab to work!

Much of a the second half of the movie is devoted to her affair with fellow physicist Paul Langevin, a married man and former student of Pierre's. The scandal--which included a severely anti-Semitic angle--was exploited by her enemies, but nevertheless she became the first person to ever win a second Nobel Prize, this time a Chemistry Prize to go with her Physics one (the only other person to win to Prizes in two fields is Linus Pauling, for Chemistry and Peace)

Oh, and I almost forgot to mention, the Curies did significant research and experiments in using radiation to treat cancer. In the movie, they show a collar with chambers for doses of radium. This is especially cool, because radiation oncology is the field I work in now (for a medical device manufacturer, not as a researcher or anything...but still cool to see a movie about the founder of my field!)

Then as a bonus, we got a panel discussion with three women of science talking about their careers and the ways sexism has--or hasn't--hindered their careers. The big theme's really annoying. They've generally been successful on the strength of their work and have plenty of motivation in just trying to solve scientific mysteries, but the little things, comments from colleagues and the like...that aren't a big deal individually but just get really annoying and tiring as they build up. Ya know...I probably shouldn't try to mansplain their lives. I just want to say it was really cool seeing smart, accomplished women talk. Also, learn about and check your implicit bias.

These women are really, really smart.

And finally, because I just can't get enough of powerful, inspiring women, I made my way up to the Castro for DOLORES. A great documentary about the most important activist you've never heard of (and if you're a public school student in Arizona, you'll never hear of--by law.) Dolores Huerta was a co-founder of the United Farm Workers. Not just Cesar Chavez's assistant, or his girlfriend (as one badly informed politician says in the movie.) No, she was very much his equal, and often the only one in the movement who would challenge him. She came up with "¡Si, se puede!" which Obama translated to English as his "Yes, we can!" motto (when giving her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, he joked that she forgave him for stealing that.) Also, to tie it back to the start of this post, it's a pretty common chant at soccer games I've been to. She was a tireless organizer, speaker, activist, marcher. She tied the farm worker's movement to the civil rights movement, to feminism, to the environmental movement (an important point about pesticides is that we wouldn't be poisoning our crops if it were middle-class white people working in the fields.) This was before we had the word "intersectionality." Anyway, it would take way too long to explicate her total awesomeness, so instead I'll just encourage you all to see the film (PBS is releasing it in theaters this fall, and then on TV later) and wish her a happy 87th birthday, today!

Peter Bratt (director) and Dolores Huerta (superhero)

Total Running Time: 286 minutes
My Total Minutes: 425,704

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Jason goes to SFFILM--Day 3

Two more movies on Friday, but first a little party in the festival lounge, featuring a couple of drinks made with a Steven Soderbergh adventure, in alcohol form, Singani 63. That was freakin' tasty!

And then the world premiere of PEOPLE YOU MAY KNOW, a very funny movie about the possibilities and dangers of social media. Jed (Nick Thune) is a freelance photo editor and Photoshop wiz who spends all day staring at a screen and therefore doesn't feel the need to add to it by joining social media. He also likes to personally entertain himself by photoshopping himself into the pictures he works on (not the ones he sends to clients, just ones he keeps for himself.) Well, when a friend convinces him to join Facebook, he finds that those photoshopped pictures are pretty popular. Tasha (Halston Sage) meets him in a coffee shop, and decides to take him on as a project--turn an unknown into a social media star. She already knows he's a nice guy, and he has Photoshop skills, so they go big pretty quickly. They even meet Usher, who totally doesn't remember that time in Vegas when they met, but the picture is online so it must be true and they were just really drunk and should hang out again sometime (oh yeah, Usher was there at the premiere, too) But, of course, there's a dark side to all of this, too. The Internet is a great place to meet people, but it's also a really easy place to lie to people. And not just big 'Here's a picture of me with Usher!' lies (seriously, I saw Usher last night, but didn't get a picture with him.) There's also the little lies like 'I forgot to tell you I'm married...' Which is what happens to Jed when he runs into an old high school flame, Franky (Kaily Smith Westbrook.) A very funny movie, with some clever insights into the power and problems of social media.

And then I rushed over to the Roxie just in time for the Dark Wave show, THE TRANSFIGURATION. Milo is a black teenage loner who may or may not be a vampire. In any case, he has a thirst for blood, and a fascination with vampire movies (although when he finally sees TWILIGHT, he things it sucks--not realistic at all.) The local older kids call him a freak, and beat on him, but he has methodical ways to set up and take his victims. One day, a slightly older white girl named Sophie moves into his building. They become friends, he shows her his vampire movies (she is the one who convinces him to check out TWILIGHT.) While their friendship grows, his problem with the local bullies gets worse. It's a slow boil drama that's more about character and atmosphere than bloodshed and violence, and it makes for a strong, compelling story with a powerful, philosophical ending.

Total Running Time: 188 minutes
My Total Minutes: 425,418

Jason goes to SFFILM--Day 2

Just one film last Thursday. One small drawback for me personally to the festival moving to early April is that this is the beginning of the fiscal quarter, and in my new position at work beginning of the quarter is busy, busy time (also, since it's my new position, I'm dealing with a learning curve) so I do have to be professional, get my real work done, before I can have my reel fun.

Anyway, the silver lining is that when I didn't get up to the city in time for any ~6:00 show, I had plenty of time to hang out in the lounge, invest a few more IAMs, and drink several beers, courtesy of the local Fort Point Beer Company. Lots of fun.

Then it was over to the Roxie for NOBODY SPEAK: THE TRIALS OF A FREE PRESS. This documentary tackles the Gawker/Hulk Hogan sex tape trial, from the point of view of how it attacked the principles of a free press. Heck, it literally destroyed Gawker, they are no more because of this lawsuit. And while I wasn't a fan of Gawker, I can easily see how it has a chilling effect on journalism. Not because sex tapes are (usually) important news stories, but because of how a billionaire can destroy a news outlet just because he has a grudge against them. Oh yeah, this wasn't really about Hulk Hogan, it was about Peter Thiel, the billionaire founder of PayPal who secretly funded the lawsuit (until good journalism uncovered it!) And okay, if you're not a fan of Gawker and take Thiel at his word that he has no intentions of going after other media companies, what of the precedent it sets that billionaires can destroy news companies for personal vendettas? How about Sheldon Adelson buying up the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the paper of record in Nevada? Or how about Donald Trump going after...everyone in the news media?

But with all that, what I found most fascinating was the subtle legal machinations at work in the Hulk Hogan sex tape trial (I hope I only felt that because I was already on the pro-free press side of the big issue.) In one move, the plaintiffs dropped any claim that Terry Bollea suffered emotional distress. That's because that would fall under the terms of Gawker's insurance policy, and so if they lost their insurance would have to cover the costs. Instead, they made Gawker (and the owner and editors) personally liable for everything. Because it wasn't about maximizing the award, it was about destroying the company. The other interesting point is how much hinged on the notion that Hulk Hogan and Terry Bollea are separate persons. They inhabit the same body and have the same voice, but Hulk Hogan is a character created by Terry Bollea and that character is a public person--who therefore gives up some of his right to privacy. For example, if you go on the Howard Stern show and brag about your sex life and the size of your penis, then a sex tape of you actually is newsworthy. But Terry Bollea, on the other hand, is a private person, and is afforded greater privacy rights, so details of his sex life are not newsworthy. I'm no lawyer, but I believe the technical term for that is...bullshit!

Running Time: 93 minutes
My Total Minutes: 425,230

Jason goes to SFFILM--Opening Night

The biggest party of the year started last Wednesday night, and of course I was there. One quick note, for people who are used to seeing me post this time of year (or a few weeks later) about SFIFF...this is the same thing, rebranded as SFFILM, and the festival is moved to early April.

After the opening remarks and thank-yous from SFFILM Executive Director Noah Cowan, and an introduction from Director of Programming Rachel Rosen, we settled in for the film.

LANDLINE is a very funny comedy about a screwed up family in the 90s (you know, back when landline telephones were a thing.) Mom and Dad (Edie Falco and John Turturro) have a failing marriage, she thinks he's a failure, he's having an affair. Youngest daughter Dana (Jenny Slate) is nervous about marrying her boyfriend Ben (Jay Duplass) and reconnects with her old college friend Nate (Finn Wittrock.) And youngest daughter Ali (Abby Quinn) goes out clubbing and is on drugs--and she's the normal one. Hilarity ensues, as everyone attempts to follow their own bliss, not exactly caring about who they hurt along the way. Until it becomes clear they are hurting the very people who keep them grounded--their personal landlines--and they attempt to navigate their way back. They're probably not the sort of people I would want to know in real life, but they're certainly entertaining to watch for 96 minutes.

Then a short discussion and Q&A with Jenny Slate, Abby Quinn, and writer/producer Elisabeth Holm. With Rachel Rosen leading the discussion, it was pretty cool to see four smart, talented, funny women talking on stage.

Then over to the Regency Center for the after party. A little food, a lot of drinks, and investing some new people into IAM-Intrepid Audience Members. As the official west coast proxy for this not-very-secret society, I have pins to give out if you're willing to take an oath, learn a handshake, and be intrepid in your support of the arts. Hey, you know where's a great place to do that? At the SFFILM Festival! Just look for the guy with the big hair and top hat who sits in the front row.

Running Time: 96 minutes
My Total Minutes: 425,137

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Jason goes to Niles for a Buster Keaton Weekend--part 2

The fun continued on Sunday

First up was a panel discussion with Harry Keaton (Buster's nephew) and historians Martha Jett and Lloyd Williams. Led by our very own Larry Telles, it was a jovial conversation about Buster, mostly about debunking the rumors about his life. No, he wasn't illiterate. He didn't have much schooling but was tutored on the road in the tent shows/vaudeville circuit. Yes, Harry Houdini was a family friend, and Buster's dad Joe Keaton did tell the story of how Harry Houdini named him "Buster." But Joe was also a great...advertiser. So let's go ahead and call that one true. We also had great stories of Buster shooting his classic THE GENERAL in Cottage Grove, Oregon, and how he became a fixture in the town for a time.

And that was a nice lead-in to a very short clip of Buster Keaton on location shooting THE GENERAL.

And then a Warner Brothers Cartoon HOLLYWOOD STEPS OUT, featuring a shot of cartoon Buster Keaton. Check out the Wikipedia article for all the references its making.

Then we were treated to s series of commercials Buster did later in his career for Alka-Seltzer, Country Club Malt Lager, and more.

And finally, that afternoon was the grand finale, ending with his greatest classic. More copy-paste from previous times I've seen them.

Buster and his fellow farmhand (who live in a wonderfully inventive house. Eating breakfast is an adventure in and of itself) are both after the hand of the farmer's lovely daughter. Wacky hijinx ensue, eventually leading to Buster disguising himself as a scarecrow. And getting the girl--actually matrimony is the recurring theme in these shorts.
Yup, still hilarious.

THE BOAT (1921):
THE BOAT (1921): Buster Keaton in yet another movie I'd seen before at Niles. Here's what I said in August 2009:
Buster Keaton's classic of destruction. Just trying to take his boat the Damfino on it's maiden voyage, he destroys his house, his car, the dock, and more. He ends up soaked, the Damfino does somersaults on the waves, and when he sends an S.O.S and they ask what boat is calling, answering "Damfino" doesn't result in help.
Yup, that sums it up pretty well. Plus there's a treat at the end for any lip-readers.
Yeah, pardon the nested references to previous reviews. I've seen it a few times. An excellent showcase of Keaton's inventiveness, as well as his physical skills. Also, I should recommend Kevin Brownlow's excellent "The Parade's Gone By" for...well, for many reasons. But high among them is Keaton's description of how he finally pulled off the boat-sinking gag. So much work for just a couple of seconds of screen time. But perfectionism pays off this time.

And finally...

Buster Keaton's classic! No need, really, to describe it. If you haven't seen it, just go see it. But I will tell you instead about the first time I saw it on the big screen. Which was at the Castro. And with the Alloy Orchestra. This was at the San Francisco International Film Festival in...I think 2004. I had seen a few silent films before, but mostly on DVD at home and it might have been my first experience seeing a silent film in a theater with live music. At the very least, it was the first time I really appreciated what the big screen, enthusiastic audience, and live music can do for a film. It was then that I realized you haven't necessarily "seen" a silent film if you only watched it alone at home. It was a complete revelation, and still one of my favorite film events ever. And it definitely holds up to multiple viewings.
Huh. Well, that's not very descriptive. So here goes. It's actually based on a true story from the Civil War, and Buster plays a Confederate engineer (train driver, not thing builder) named Johnie Gray. He tries to enlist, but is rejected because he's too valuable to the Confederacy as an engineer. But when his engine is stolen, he chases it behind Union lines, steals it back, and saves the day. You do have to be able to accept a Confederate as the hero, but this isn't a politically charged film like BIRTH OF A NATION. It's just a fact that the story is one of Confederate heroism. Anyway, I found it easy to get over it. And it's both a hilarious physical comedy, but also a thrilling action flick. And it's fantastic on both counts. Truly a master at the top of his game.

Total Running Time: 129 minutes
My Total Minutes: 425,041