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

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