Friday, March 9, 2018

Jason goes to Cinequest--Day 10

Three more movies on Thursday, my last night of Cinequest in Redwood City (the festival continues, but I'm spending all weekend at the San Jose venues) and it was a truly grand night.

We started in Canada, Toronto to be specific. And not the good parts of it. LUBA is the story--and the name--of a single, struggling mother (Nicole Maroon.) Okay, technically not single, but her husband Donnie (Vladimir Jon Cubrt)--they're separated but not divorced--is a former crack addict and totally unreliable. But her son Matty (Porter Schaefer) loves him. Of course, because he's the cool dad who always wants to do something fun. He's also the irresponsible dad who will leave him in the movie theater while he goes chasing some tail. So Luba has to be the bad mom, the strict one who looks out for him. She has some help from Donnie's mother, (Jillian Rees-Brown) but things get really bad when Donnie relapses and loses his job (and then relapses harder.) A rich supporting cast rounds things out really well, as Luba desperately tries to hold together and find anyone who can help her. But help is hard to get, since everyone has their own troubles. And there's a really beautiful tension between trying to take care of everything herself and looking for someone who can just make everything better. Of course, the truth is somewhere in the middle. You have to be able to take care of yourself, but also reach out and accept help where it comes. A really beautiful, nuanced film that will destroy any notion that all Canadians are nice and polite.

LUBA plays once more, Friday night (tonight!) in Redwood City

Then a quick jaunt over to LV Mar for a drink and chat with a few Cinequesters, and back for another show, starting with the short HEIMLICH. Thematically, this actually follows LUBA pretty well, in that it's a story of a shitty father/husband, a mother who puts up with it, and a child. In this case, they're not separated, but should be, because the husband is an abusive piece of shit. But eventually the wife decides not to put up with his shit anymore.

And that was the lead-in to my new favorite in the festival, CHARLIE AND HANNAH'S GRAND NIGHT OUT. I don't even know how to translate into words how wonderful and weird this movie is. Charlie and Hannah are two lovely Belgian ladies out for a night of drinking and fun in Antwerp. And when they take some drugs homeopathic candy, things get beautifully insane. I don't know much about drugs, I don't know if there's anything that can create an experience like they had. I think it's something more powerful than psychoactive chemicals--it's cinema! Breasts start talking. Historical figures show up. A homeless person hands out a keychain containing a black hole. Their guy friend endures so many challenges (eat 17 cigarettes, scalp Tilda Swinton while hopping on one foot, swallow this bomb) that he ends up a pile of ash, only to be resuscitated with a beer. Buildings talk to each other (about meeting the Eiffel Tower on Tindr.) Pineapples get chased. Most importantly, it's an immensely playful movie. And a movie that's equally playful about the Grand Unified Theory, operettas, history, and cinema. It's mostly in black and white (with some stunning, beautiful color scenes) and makes no sense other than to just enjoy it.

Oh, and sometimes there's a moment in a movie--a line, a visual, an idea, etc.--that brings a certain clear and simple explanation to your life up until then, and your path forward. It's probably a bad sign that the line "Let's get life-threateningly drunk" feels kinda like one of those moments.

HEIMLICH and CHARLIE AND HANNAH'S GRAND NIGHT OUT plays twice more, Saturday and Sunday, both times in Redwood City.

And then the last film of the night was CROWN AND ANCHOR, which I was very excited to see because I had drunk with the filmmakers several times earlier in the week (they had to return home prior to this screening, unfortunately.) I'm very happy to report that their film totally delivers. Jimmy (writer/director/star Andrew Rowe) is a cop in Toronto, and he has anger issues. His cousin Danny (Matt Wells) has a drug problem. They both suffered different but connected childhood trauma. And the repercussions of that have left them estranged for years. But when Jimmy's mother passes away, he returns home to St. John's, Newfoundland and has to face the past trauma and estrangement, as well as the current shit situation. As his uncle informs him, Danny is is in deep shit. See, though Jimmy is a cop now, the family were a small-time Irish crime racket. Protection stuff, mostly. Sure, they took money and kept the neighborhood in a kind of order. They'd burn down your place if you didn't pay, but they also took care of those who did pay. Like if a priest diddled a kid, they'd eliminate that fucking priest. Or they'd keep drugs (at least the worst of it) out of the neighborhood. Well, Danny kind of dropped the ball on that one, bringing in some drug dealers who now have him by the balls. As well as being a solid story with a strong arc and powerful violence, it's also a gritty, low-budget ($300,000) masterpiece with a punk score to match it's punk attitude and aesthetic. Fucking great. Now I wish I had drunk with them even more. Like maybe gotten life-threateningly drunk.

That was their last screening, save for maybe an Encore screening on Sunday? Here's hoping!

Total Running Time: 293 minutes
My Total Minutes: 473,733

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Jason goes to Cinequest--Day 9

I started Wednesday night in Redwood City, grabbing a margarita and some nibbles with some Guerilla Wanderers friends Sean and Elizabeth (have I mentioned how cool the festival trailer is every year, and that their series Doucheaholics is coming soon) at Quinto Sol. Then time for some sexy comedy.

First the short SOME BRIGHT WHITE. The son of a Bob Ross-esque famous painter has troubles. Mostly, that he can't find love. And then, when he least expects it, love finds him. And kidnaps him, thinking he's his father. And demands that he paint her. And tortures him when he says he can't. Love always wins, usually be kicking the crap out of you. Hilarious.

And then the feature, THREESOMETHING, a very funny take on sex, relationships, and how complicated and ridiculous they can get. Charlie and Isaac are best buddies. At least, Isaac will admit that Charlie's his best friend, Charlie is a little weird about it. And that's the theme of the movie--people being weird about their feelings. Anyway, they feel like...having a threesome. Charlie knows a girl, Zoe. She's pretty, and she might be down, and he's had a crush on her forever. Well, it turns out, on that night, after some awkward crying, she's really into...Isaac. And Charlie can just wait outside. Well that's just the start. I was afraid for a bit that would be the one joke carrying the movie all the way through. I have a concept I call 'feature length shorts,' which are feature films that have enough of an idea to be a great 10-20 minute short, but are stretched out to feature length. They're very common in independent film festivals, and for a few minutes, I was afraid I was heading into another one of those. In fact, I was ready to say that the short should've been longer and this should've been a short. But then it starts taking some turns and throwing new layers on and realizing there's more hilarious weirdness than just the starting premise. Not to give away too much, but I love Charlie's mom's advice. And when Charlie and Zoe realize they have something they really like doing together, too. But the best joke is Isaac's last name. You have to watch and pay attention to catch it, but as a Mr. Wiener myself, I appreciate humor that involves embarrassing names. And there's absolutely no way I'll ruin the joke by linking to to his character's Facebook profile.

SOME BRIGHT WHITE and THREESOMETHING play one more time, Saturday night in Redwood City.

Then I drove down to San Jose. Although I got lucky with the traffic, it's not something I recommend doing during the festival. There is a convenient Caltrain station that will take you between San Jose Diridon and Redwood City in 30-50 minutes (depending on if it's a bullet train or not.) The problem is that off-peak hours, it only comes by about once an hour. So if you time things right it's easy, but if not you can be waiting for an hour for your train. Best bet to maximize your film-watching is simply pick one locale and stay there all day.

Anyway, I was lucky and it worked out. Not only was I there in plenty of time, I was there with enough time to spare to stop by the Maverick Meetup at Loft to have a couple of drinks before the next movie.

And that movie was VIRGINIA MINNESOTA. Lyle (Rachel Hendrix) is a traveler, living out of her car, writing a travel blog, talking to her only companion, a hitch-hiking robot suitcase named Mister. She grew up in the care of the Larsmont home for troubled girls, or girls from troubled families...I forget the actual name of the place. The important thing is she's one of four girls who last lived there when the place shut down, and the old caregiver has passed away, and mentioned all of the girls in her will. But all four have to be there for the will to be read. And while two of the girls are already there, Addison (Aurora Perrineau) is stubbornly staying in her hometown of Gran Marais (which is a real town, along with Larsmont, along the Lake Superior coast of Minnesota. Well, Lyle has places to go, and can't stay long, so she takes on the mission of finding Addison and dragging her back to Larsmont. Along the way they'll have wacky adventures, but also dig up old childhood trauma. And it's all imbued with this sense of magic realism around the local legends, like the Wendigo, or the Lake Superior Sea Panther, of the Viking who is still looking for his lost daughter. Just fantastic all the way around. Funny and touching, great acting (from very beautiful actresses,) surprises, absurdity, and a recovery of the sense of wonder. An excellent way to end the night.

Well, okay, I really ended the night with one more drink at the Loft. But still...

VIRGINIA MINNESOTA plays one more time, as the early show on Friday at the 3 Below in San Jose.

Total Running Time: 179 minutes
My Total Minutes: 473,440

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Jason goes to Cinequest--Day 8

Two more films last night, back in San Jose. But first a quick bite and a few drinks at the soiree at Scott's Seafood.

The first show was the documentary shorts program, which top to bottom might just be my favorite shorts program I've seen.
6TH GRADERS SCHOOL ROY MOORE'S ATTORNEY: Returning Cinequester Sam Frazier (CARDBOARD TITANICS: SMART PEOPLE BEING STUPID, THE GHOST PEPPER EATING CONTEST OF JEFFERSON COUNTY) presents a reversal of his standard formula. Instead of smart people being stupid, smart kids are smart and make fun of a stupid adult. Shot over last Thanksgiving, his two young nephews proofread an infamous letter from Roy Moore's attorney. And it's pretty darn funny.
DESCRIBE WHAT YOU HEARD: Milking humor from the worst situations, a sound effects expert gives advice on how to make gunshot noises with your mouth, so the next time you find yourself on the news describing gunshots, you'll do better than just "pop! pop! pop!"
THE DUEL: A remembrance of a father's mental breakdown, that almost ended with him forcing his son into a knife fight. Powerful and frightening.
FREE FALL: On the lighter side, no matter how rich or poor you are, every kid loves a bouncy castle!
THE HAPPINESS MACHINE: Some guys just have life figured out. Like Carl, a septuagenarian from rural Iowa, who gave up his lucrative career as an academic librarian when he realized that rich or poor, what he wanted to do was live on the land his father promised him (his literal Promised Land) and work the land, improving it in sustainable ways, with a wonderful sense of the importance of place for future generations. He lives in a way he calls (if I got this right) IDIYLOCAL - Independent, Do It Yourself, Low Cost, Agrarian Lifestyle. And he's an inspiration.
THE LECTORA: A look at a profession that is going away, replaced by automation. In cigar factories, for over a century, la lectora was someone who read stories and newspapers to the workers rolling the cigars. Most of them have been replaced by radios or television. But sometimes the personal touch is better.
MISTER SUNSHINE: An old black man, who used to be a millionaire, decided to chuck it all and become a shoeshine man. Because that's where he could get some real human connection. It's not about the shine on the shoes as much as the shine on your face.
NOBODY DIES IN LONGYEARBYEN: Or at least, in this northernmost city in the world, nobody can be buried, because the permafrost will just push the body back out. And that can be a problem, when bodies full off once-eradicated disease start coming back and thawing out.
PHOTOTAXIS: An animated examination of West Virginia's mythical Mothman, set to the text of narcotics anonymous literature. There's a demon in West Virginia still. It's haunting much of the nation, in fact, and it's called opiod addiction.
TWILIGHT DANCERS: Colonizers foisted square dancing on the first nations' people. But they incorporated some of their own moves and made it their own.
UNSPOKEN: A profile of Farah Chamma, a young Palestinian poet, and the ways she expresses (and sometimes censors) herself.
THE VELVET UNDERGROUND PLAYED AT MY HIGH SCHOOL: The discovery of underground art, told through animation and the narration of one of the few students who dug what the Velvet Underground was doing when it played just 3 songs as one of the opening acts for some rock band I've never heard of.

The documentary shorts program plays again on Sunday in Redwood City.

Then after a couple of drinks at the Maverick Meetup at M Asian Fusion, I wandered down to the California Theater for THE LINE, Slovakia's submission for the 2017 Academy Awards (it did not get nominated.) It takes place on the Slovak-Ukrainian border, where Adam is a no-nonsense father and a no-nonsense businessman. His smuggling cigarettes over the border. And with the EU instituting the Shengen Zone, that previously lax, eminently bribe-able border is going to become one of the most secure and patrolled borders in Europe. So that complicates his business. So does his beautiful daughter marrying the doofus nephew of Adam's second-in-command, Jona. Oh, and Jona's son is in prison for political reasons. And some of Adam's people are sneaking drugs into the cigarette shipments, which is something Adam wants no part of. Well, this film is dripping with genre style, and there are so many side plots that it was hard to keep track of it all (definitely worth a second look when I'm more rested, if I ever get that chance.) And there's tons of dark humor, so of course I loved it.

THE LINE plays again Saturday night in Redwood City.

Total Running Time: 222 minutes
My Total Minutes: 473,261

Jason goes to Cinequest--Day 7

Two more films Monday night, up in Redwood City this time.

I started with EYES AND PRIZE, a pretty weird, high concept movie about reality shows and the desperate fascination with fame. Four strangers meet in a flat (oh yeah, this is from the UK.) They've been invited to be contestants on a reality show. But they haven't been told the rules. They just know that they're in this flat together. There's plenty of food and wine, and they...will get instructions some time? Maybe? Well, when one of them locks them in and disappears into a locked, adjoining room, it seems like there's a new wrinkle in the game. Still no rules, but they begin to suspect he might be in on it. There are long stretches where they muddle through daily living, with no idea what the point of this all is. To get a little film-theoretical on you, this brings to mind Paul Schrader's theories on the Transcendental Style in film (and yes, I'm obliquely comparing this film to TAXI a way.) The thing is, the style does require a payoff at the end. And while there is a payoff (actually, I'd say there are two payoff scenes, and intermediate one and a final one,) I'm hesitant to say how satisfying it is. I'm trying not to give away anything, but the intermediate payoff was both more predictable and more satisfying. Then it plunges back into a darker version of the transcendental style, setting up the final payoff not bad, it's just too brief and punctuated for what I wanted. But still, getting there was an audacious and accomplished bit of cinema.

EYES AND PRIZE plays again Wednesday night at 3 Below in San Jose, and Friday afternoon in Redwood City.

Then I caught a short film, EMPIRE ON MAIN STREET. The Main Street would be Main Street in Guerneville, California. And the Empire would be the creation of Crista Luedtke, tireless chef, hotel manager, bar owner, cafe owner, and travel/cooking show star. She grew up watching the exhausting restaurant business split her parents apart. Then she came out of the closet, moved to San Francisco, and then decided to buy a hotel in the sleepy town of Guerneville, a few hours north. And after surviving a flood and eventually making the place profitable, she opened her restaurant. And things just kind of snowballed, until this old run-down town was a thriving destination spot. Which brought its own challenges, as prices went up and the character of the town changed. The film packs a lot into 24 minutes, easily enough that it could be a feature. But I have to say I appreciate a film that understands brevity and the power of the short format.

EMPIRE ON MAIN STREET plays again with HERMANOS on Saturday at 3 Below. I didn't stick around for the feature, because I had another movie to get to...after a quick glass of zinfandel and chatting with HUNTING LANDS team at Cru Wine Bar.

And then I ended the night with SAVIORS, a powerful drama about infiltrating a white supremacist group. Blaze is embedded there, pretending to be one of them. The thing is, her adoptive mother--her adoptive African American mother--is missing, and she thinks this group has something to do with it. So she's dating the leader, going to rallies, etc. And this night, after a rally, she has a surprise for him--a genetic test that proves her 100% pure European heritage. And they've got a surprise for her, too--a test of loyalty in the form of a couple of black hostages. Just kill them, record it, and the whole group will advance to a more secretive, more powerful organization. Needless to say, it's a pretty wild night, and shot in one continuous 81 minute take, which is pretty exceptional. The frank and disturbing racism covers over the fact that these guys are kind of pathetic losers. Some of them are grossly overweight, and all weirdly into homoerotic teasing. I mean, these guys would not be fun to hang out with even if they weren't horribly racist douchebags. But I enjoyed watching a movie where they are taken down for the gross losers they are. And without giving too much away, I also loved the ending, and the promise of what's to come.

SAVIORS plays again Thursday night at the Hammer Theater

Total Running Time: 200 minutes
My Total Minutes: 473,039

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Jason goes to Cinequest--Day 6

The big first weekend is over, with another 5 shows on Sunday.

I was once again up for some 10 am drinks in the lounge (who the hell needs sleep?) and then off to see some shorts, with Shorts Program 2: Bending Space, Folding Time
THE APOCALYPSE WILL BE AUTOMATED: Clearly the one thing that makes of self-driving cars have not considered is how they will work in a zombie apocalypse.
HYBRIDS: When there's more trash than animals, the two will merge.
NON MERCI: Stop and smell the roses, if you can. Or waste another 24 minutes of your life with this nonsensical film.
RAKKA: Neil Blomkamp playing with short films again. It's pretty clear he's practicing for his rumored ALIEN project. He even got Sigourney Weaver in on this one.
SPACE GIRLS: The most important thing for 9 year old future astronauts--sleep. Or maybe it's dreaming, but sleeping is important, too.
THE TESLA WORLD LIGHT: A wonderful experimental film, about one of the world's most wonderful experimenter. Tesla calls JP Morgan, asking him to invest in his plan to light up the entire world.
TREE HOUSE TIME MACHINE: Those kids need the time machine to go back and solve a past mystery. Excellent short.

I hope you all had a good time bending space and folding time, but there are no more screenings of this program at Cinequest.

Next up was a feature from returning Cinequest royalty, Alex and Katie Orr (BLOOD CAR, CONGRATULATIONS, A IS FOR ALEX.) POOR JANE tells the story--character study, really--of a woman, Jane (Brandy Burre,) who suddenly and without a good explanation, finds she no longer loves her husband. That's it. It happens. So does she stick around just for the sake of it? Does she go find someone else who she does love? Does she focus on her career and herself? In Jane's case, a little of all of it. It's really kind of how this realization throws her into a state where she doesn't really know what she wants, and that's pretty scary. She dates a guy (Robert Longstreet) and they seem to hit it off...but not really 100%. She makes a lot of pretty foolish decisions, but what does foolish even mean if there's no end goal in mind? Burre is excellent in the lead role, and kudos to the film for showing a female point of view that is only her point of view--not how her decisions affect those around her. I mean, you're free to care about what her husband is going through, but this film very clearly and defiantly does not. That's just not the story it's telling.

POOR JANE will play again Wednesday and Saturday in Redwood City.

Next up was BIKINI MOON, an excellent examination of homelessness, mental illness, and the responsibility of a documentary filmmaker. Condola Rashad plays Bikini, a former marine who is now homeless on the streets of New York. A documentary crew is following her around, filming her. They know they've got a bit of indie-film gold here. Not only is Bikini's story powerful and tragic, but she is a charismatic and her antics can be downright funny. I mean, that's not an excuse for not caring about her or if the documentary is actually making her life worse. Which eventually the filmmakers-within-the-film start to realize, and the film is as much about their fights as it is about her. By the time various members of the team either drop out or change their focus to helping her, a lot of damage has been done. Great film, that gives you many different levels of things to think about.

BIKINI MOON will play again Tuesday and Saturday nights in Redwood City.

The next show starting with a really cool animated short, VALLEY OF THE WHITE BIRDS. Cycles of life and guilt, very cool.

That was the lead-in to the feature ARUN, from Thailand. Three childhood friends are not at all ready to face the real world as adults. That's okay, their still kids, right? That is, until Isara, the only girl of the group, is taken away to Bangkok. Arun and Kasem go to find her, their only lead being her fear that she would be taken away to "work in a bar" (i.e., forced into sex work.) And that's the whole movie, Arun and Kasem searching for her in Bangkok, and learning how horrible the real world of adults is. Man, that was uncomfortable. But I guess that's the point.

This program will play again Tuesday and Sunday in Redwood City, and Thursday at the 3 Below in San Jose.

And finally, I ended the night with shorts Program 3: The Reality of Illusion
ALTERNATIVE MATH: 2 + 2 = 4. Or at least it used to. But in a post-fact world, what's more important is what the child thinks it is. But if this teacher is going to lose her job over that, well she's not going down without a fight.
DON'T PASS THROUGH SAN BERNARDINO: Because if you do, you could get murdered. And the government is going to be no help out all for your mother. (Note: the title refers to the village in Mexico, not the city of California.)
THE FIRST OF MANY: Based on a true incident in 1971 (that's fully relevant today,) a young actress was raped by an award-winning songwriter, as she auditioned for his movie. This recreation is directed by that actress, and stars her daughter and returning Cinequest alum Lawrence Levine as the rapist (yikes, I like Lawrence, and I know it's just a role, but I don't like seeing him as such a creep.)
IMAGINARY CIRCUMSTANCES: Dating is hard. Maybe it would be easier to start with the breakup?
MINA TOBIAS: KINGS AND QUEENS: A music video about love and fantasy.
PAGG: A Sikh American faces racist abuse. Still. Because people suck. C'mon white guys, we can do better.
PLAYING IT STRAIGHT: A guy tells his girlfriend about his mother. Who is married to a woman she loves and spends all her time with. You know...I think she might be a lesbian, even if she won't admit it.
SNIP: Weird stop-motion animation about a land accessed through the subway tunnels, and the escape of the two children trapped in there.
TIME TRAVELER: From Ireland, a family is forced to move from their meadow. Hopefully not before the little kid can finish his BACK TO THE FUTURE car. A Honda is a fine replacement for a DeLorean, right?

That was the last screening of this shorts program. Sorry.

Total Running Time: 491 minutes
My Total Minutes: 472,839

Monday, March 5, 2018

Jason goes to Cinequest--Day 5

Saturday started with very little sleep, after keeping filmmakers up in my room partying until 4:30 or so. But I was in the lounge at 10 am for morning drinking, because that's how I Cinequest.

I started with the comedy shorts. Hooray for starting the day drunk and laughing!
BIGFOOT'S LOVE SLAVE: It's exactly what it sounds like, a musical homage to the hairy hunk himself.
FUCK EVERYTHING: Speaking of hairy hunks...of something. The Hairy Soul Man is back with a song that has become my manifesto for the week.
GRAHAM'S MATE: Just don't fuck with the guy who owns the junkyard. If you want a headlight, pay fair price for it.
MIXTAPE MARAUDERS: Stoners, arguing over the art form of mixtape creation, and refusing to call it a mix CD even though it's a CD, not a tape.
MULTIVERSE DATING FOR BEGINNERS: With a flip of a scarf, you can try the same date over and over until you get it right. Or maybe just give up.
MUST KILL KARL: I mean, Karl is a total ass. It's not such an extreme solution. He kind of has it coming.
POSITIVE: It's good to be positive. Unless we're talking about herpes. Then it's not so good.
SPACE BUTTHOLE: Also played at Indiefest. From long time Cinequester and animator David Chai, comes an endless string of poop jokes.
THE SPECTACULAR SUMMER OF WEREDOG AND AMY: Dogs are so much nicer than men. But a dog who turns into a man once a month, that's not so bad.
WE KNOW WHERE YOU LIVE: The scary side of gentrification
WE SUMMONED A DEMON: If you're gonna play with magic spells, learn to do 'em right, dammit!

You too can laugh it up when this plays again on Saturday in Redwood City and Sunday at the Hammer Theater.

Then back to the lounge for a few more drinks before ENTHUSIASTIC SINNERS. Now I'll admit, my enthusiastic drinking got the better of me, and I kinda snoozed through this movie. Which is a shame, because there's a lot of nudity and sex in it. That's really all I remember. Apparently there's a story about a married cop and a widow who have a lustful day that might end in them actually liking each other. But the important part is all the nudity. Viva la Skinequest!

You can enthusiastically sin when is plays again on Tuesday and Friday in Redwood City, or next Saturday at the 3 Below.

Then Skinequest continued with SNAPSHOTS, a sexy story of three generation of women. The legendary Piper Laurie plays Rose, the matriarch of the family (played in flashbacks by Shannon Collis.) Her daughter and granddaughter are visiting her lake house, and each carrying some relationship issues secret. Turns out, keeping secrets goes way back in this family, as some rediscovered old photographs reveal. Seems like back in the 60s, Rose and her husband Joe were very good friends with the neighbors, Zee (Brett Dier) and Louise (Emily Goss, a returning Cinequester from THE HOUSE ON PINE STREET--Cinequest 2015.) In fact, Rose and Louise were very much more than friends. Louise was a bold, brash woman of the 60s, and taught Rose quite a bit about love. But it was a different time, they were both married, and the thought of leaving their husbands was just not possible. So they had a brief affair, and while they went their own ways, the memories and the snapshots remained, and while they were secret for 50 years, when they're brought out they can offer some wisdom and insight into the complexities of love in every generation.

This plays again Saturday and Sunday in Redwood City.

The I had time for a quick bite and a drink at the VIP soiree at the Fountain restaurant in the Fairmont. Then to the magnificent California Theater movie palace for YOU CAN'T SAY NO, a comedy about how love ends...or maybe doesn't fully. Hank and Alexandra (Hus Miller and Marguerite Moreau) had a good run--14 years and a couple of kids. But it's just not fun anymore, so they're getting a divorce. Hank takes a road trip up to Sonoma to visit his wine-drinking, pot-smoking, eccentric father (Peter Fonda.) Alex takes her own trip, but soon sees Hank stranded on the side of the road. Sometimes fate plays funny tricks like that. So with the kids shuttled off to stay with family, they have a little time to themselves, and decide to play a game. That game is, "you can't say no." I mean, they're clearly not getting back together (right?) but at least they can recapture a little bit of the fun-loving, spontaneous spirit that they once had. Well, wacky hijinx ensue, but maybe the game is just as bad for them as their marriage was. But it's fun while it lasts. As long as no one does something crazy like jump off a bridge.

You can play the game, too, since it plays again Tuesday and Friday in Redwood City, and you can't say no.

Next up I stayed in the California for SEEDS, a psychological thriller/horror film set in New England. Marcus (Trevor Long) has gotten a little too far into drunken debauchery (thank God that hasn't happened to me yet. Worst I do is get drunk and fall asleep in movies.) So he's holing up in his family home, looking for a little solitude and maybe get his life back together. It doesn't really work out when his brother asks him to look after nephew and niece. Which he tries to do, but there's a monster infecting him. I mean, maybe it literally is a monster growing inside him, taking him over. But maybe it's all in his head. The tension is excellent, as this is a film that builds and builds, with the horror elements coming as well-timed punctuation. This one I think will grow in my brain for a wild before I decide how much I like it.

This plays again Monday at 3:15 in Redwood City. Hey that's really soon. Go run see it now! Also next Friday night, again in Redwood City.

And finally I ended the night with a little demonic possession and TELL ME YOUR NAME. Inspired by true event, Ashley (Sydney Sweeney) is mourning her mother and has moved in with her aunt Tanya (Jessica Barth.) She still sees her mother, and she opens up to her best friend (Madison Lintz) about it. A seance gone wrong leads to something far worse. It seems not only is she possessed, but she unwittingly invited the demon in. So we're in exorcist territory, especially after a pretty shocking scene in a church. Reverend Michael (Bruce Davison) takes the role of lead exorcist, assisted by young Pastor John (Matt Dallas.) The title comes from the concept that knowing the demon's name is key to defeating him. But if the demon was invited in, all the commanding in the name of Jesus Christ won't work, he's got the power over her soul now. Well done, solidly scary horror film.

You can get demonically possessed by this film as it plays again Monday at 1 pm in Redwood City (yikes! too late!) and Saturday night, also in Redwood City.

Then it was all over except for the drinking back in the hotel room until security broke up the party around 4 am.

And that's how you do a Cinequest Saturday.

Total Running Time: 552 minutes
My Total Minutes: 472,348

Jason Goes to Cinequest--Day 4

Well, the big first weekend of Cinequest is in the books, I guess I should get to writing about it. Let's see how well I remember any of it. After checking into my hotel, I had a quick beverage (or several) in the lounge, then on to the soiree at Mosaic for some serious drinking.

Finally I made it to a film, TOMMY BATTLES THE SILVER SEA DRAGON. A wild and inventive musical about guilt and inner demons. Tommy Silver (director/writer/star Luke Shirock) is on trial. Well, sort of, he's on trial in his mind, where he has manifested his judge and jury. In particularly, he's battling the guilt over the circumstances of his mother's death. And this is really fucking up his relationship with his girlfriend Carolyn (Celine Held.) Oh, and did I mention it's a musical? And it's a beautiful, kinda insane fantastical trip? Well, it is.

And it plays again next Thursday night at the Hammer Theatre and on Sunday at Redwood City.

And then I caught YOU AND ME, a beautiful romantic comedy of differences. Ella (Hillary Baack) is a sweet, beautiful writer. Oh, and she happens to be deaf, but is great at reading lips. Tony (Paul Guyet) was  recently blinded in an accident. But he tries to keep a positive outlook on life, and not let his disability affect him. Of course, Ella knows a bit about that. So they become friends. They go out on a few dates. And we get to watch it unfold, with all the human vulnerability and sweetness. I love how these characters have their disabilities, but it never defines them. They're fully realized, well-rounded characters with strengths (especially their humor, which IMO is the best strength to have) and weaknesses. And it's just beautiful. I'm not crying, you're crying! Shut up!

If you wanna feel the love, it plays again next Tuesday in Redwood City and Friday at the classic movie palace, The California Theater.

Then it was time for some Mindbender shorts
ARCANE: It bent my mind when a women interrogated for murder tells a story of the creature who did it. Or maybe the guy was a creep and attempted rapist who got what he deserved.
CARGO: It bent my mind with all that dancing.
CONTACT: it bent my mind when the idyllic pastoral scene changed, and we started learning what's actually going on.
DEFUNCTIONARY: It bent my mind learning what a hilarious and terribly run bureaucracy limbo is.
FILIPPA: It bent my mind when a simple game of hide and seek turned super dark.
IMMERSION: It bent my mind when that guy woke up to see a couple of dead guys and a briefcase full of money.
INFORMATION SUPERHIGHWAY: It bent my mind how a man tested the artificial intelligence of self-driving cars.
PIE: It bent my mind what's really in that pie.
STEVE'S KINKOES: It bent my mind how much making copies can give a guy with a lost (and dead) cat a lot of comfort. Maybe too much comfort.
STRANGERS: It bent my mind with all the crazy, imaginative stuff going on in this wordless film.
VALENTINA: It bent my mind when it was so damn hot that the maid's vagina rebelled and demanded some relief. The climate change revolution will be led by suffocated vaginas.
YOSHUA: It bent my mind how a team of kids from South Central LA harbored an illegal alien.  A big, blue, furry alien. He was cute.

You can get your mind bent as well, when this shorts block plays again on Monday (hey, that's later today!) in Redwood City, or Friday at 3 Below, or Saturday back in Redwood City.

Total Running Time: 305 minutes
My Total Minutes: 471,796

Friday, March 2, 2018

Jason goes to Cinequest--Day 3

My first day in Redwood City, and I caught three great films.

But first, to clear up a mystery from Wednesday night. I have identified the mysterious "Robert" who had Lee at the Continental deliver me a shot of Tito's vodka. Turns out it was none other then the Old Man on the Dance Floor, producer and star of many a Cinequest party from last year, Mr. Robert Emmett Kelly. I couldn't find him, because he's back East.

He's also the founder of the Intrepid Audience Members--I AM. As his official West Coast Proxy, I have been/will be investing anyone who is interested into this not-very-secret society. If I don't find you, you should find me. All you have to do is take an oath (but you don't have to take it seriously) and learn a secret handshake, and you get a cool pin!

Anyway, on to the movies!

First up I caught LOVE AND SHUKLA, from Mumbai, India. The titular Shukla is from the Brahmin (priestly) caste, but works as a rickshaw driver. He doesn't make much money (often because he's so trusting and timid that his passengers rip him off) and he lives in a small home with his parents--his quiet father and his assertive mother, who will always get her way and cries if anyone talks back to her. He has never been intimate with a woman, although he has watched a lot of porn (which is okay as long as it's foreign women, it's a sin to leer at Indian women) and drunkenly brags to his friends about how great it will be once he's married. But when he does get married, it turns out his small home is just...crowded. Him, his wife, and parents all in the same room. And then his sister moves in, when she's fighting with her husband. And his wife is very shy, so he's got the double problem of no privacy and a wife who, while very pretty with a beautiful smile, he can't really communicate with, much less...well, you know. In one of the funnier scenes, he rents a hotel room for a few hours...just so he can talk to his wife. Despite all his hardships, he never loses the dignity and honor that comes with being a Brahmin, even if it's a Brahmin in poverty. This is a deeply romantic movie, even if romance in this case doesn't necessarily mean getting physical, it means being able to sit at the beach, a respectable arm's length apart, and talk openly to each other.

LOVE AND SHUKLA plays again next Wednesday at 8:45 pm in Redwood City and Saturday, March 10, 11:15 am at the Hammer Theatre in San Jose.

And then the next program was a short followed by a feature, about very different ways of making art.

AUTOMATIC ON THE ROAD was a fascinating short documentary about AI and creative writing. We start with an AI that has been taught language by "reading" American literature--especially road trip stories like "On the Road" or "The Electric Kook-Aid Acid Test." Then take it on a self-driving journey across the United States, and using input from cameras, GPS, 4Square, etc., have it "write" a novel about the adventure. The snippets we get are reminiscent of beat poetry, although technologist Ross Goodwin, who conceived of this project, describes the AI as having the understanding of an insect brain. I'll leave it to the reader to decide what that says about beat poetry.

And then the feature, MR. FISH: CARTOONING FROM THE DEEP END, which is the first film to rate a perfect 10 from me at this year's festival. Mr. Fish (aka Dwayne Booth) is an artist, cartoonist, provocateur, and first amendment hero. We start with his first experiment, at 7 years of age, when he wrote "Fuck Your Ass" on sheets of paper, folded them into paper airplanes, and threw them from his window. Rather than the subsequent arrest and first amendment trial he expected, he was simply scolded by his mom. But that true rebellious spirit is still alive in him. Funny, caustic, and kind of pornographic (he draws a lot of private parts) the movie takes us through his life and career, from notoriety to difficulty, as he refuses to sell out or tone down his art. In one happenstance scene, he runs into his former sales agent, who describes how he could've edited 80% of his work, kept the salient point, and made it 8th-grade appropriate, and he would've sold tons. But Mr. Fish doesn't play that game (although he did spend a year creating store displays for Whole Foods, which he described as a nightmare, because no one would ever send him hate mail. The worst part is, he really liked his co-workers and had fun and the money was good.) Oh yeah, the movie follows his money problems, too. Which is ironic, since he claims he doesn't believe in money. The problem is the bank does, and they'll take his house if he can't make payments. His loving wife and biggest fan is featured, too, as are his wonderful little daughters who share his acerbic wit (fuck it, there's nothing wrong with little girls saying "fuck" in a movie, right? After all, as he quotes Lenny Bruce, "If you can't say 'Fuck,' you can't say 'Fuck the Government.'")

I realize I'm rambling in this review. It's because I was bombarded by so many amazing, uncensored ideas and images that it's hard to concentrate while thinking about it. Should I focus on his art of nude female figures with famous men's faces on them? Or his cartoons that attack the left from the left? Or maybe his editors, current and former, at Harpers and Truthdig? And how outlets for hard-hitting political satire are dying, because the media has been co-opted by corporate interests who sell your own protests back to you to earn credit for being "edgy." I think the story that sticks with me the most is about his updated version of Norman Rockwell's famous painting, The Problem We All Live With. It's a depiction of a young black girl, Ruby Bridges, going to school, escorted by U.S. Marshals, while the word "Nigger" is scrawled on the wall behind her and a tomato has been thrown at her. Now this is Norman Fuckin' Rockwell--Mr Americana--who maybe doesn't get as much credit as he should for his edge. But Mr Fish updated this for today, by turning the girl into a Muslim girl, and changing "Nigger" to "Sand Nigga." And that last part was censored out when it was shown on (IIRC) Truthdig. He really didn't say anything in that image that Norman Rockwell didn't already say. But nowadays, even for a liberal bastion of free speech, he can't get away with it (in fairness, the editor confessed that was a mistake, but that's after the fact.) The world needs Mr Fish, and it starts with the world needing to know about Mr Fish. So now I know, now you know, and hopefully with this movie a lot more people will know soon.

This program plays again this Sunday, 11:00 am at the Hammer Theater in San Jose, and Friday, March 9, 2:00 pm at the 3 Below Theater in San Jose. See it!

Then a quick drink and a chat with a couple of fellow Cinequesters at the designated hangout of the night, L V Mar, and back for one more show, full of sci-fi horror.

ZYGOTE is a new short from Neill Blomkamp (DISTRICT 9, CHAPPIE) and is an adrenaline ride as two survivors in an arctic mining camp (shades of THE THING, anyone) rush to escape from a hideous monster, built from the melded-together limbs and features of the other miners who didn't make it. Well done, and it felt like a climactic scene of a much larger movie. Maybe one Blomkamp will make soon?

And then the feature, CYGNUS, a sci-fi horror film from Mexico. Jorge Luis Moreno stars as Fabi├ín Ocampo, an astronomer who has just been giving time on the Large Millimeter Telescope to do research. And his interest is in Cygnus X-3, a binary star system where one star is well understood, and one is a complete mystery--is it a neutron star, a black hole, or what? Well, one night he detects a very strong signal, at a very distinct peak frequency that has never been identified before. And then he passes out. And when he wakes up, the whole lab is trashed. And he's chased by his own shrieking doppelganger...and then he wakes up in the infirmary, where the doctor gives him a sedative and explains he's suffering from altitude sickness. Well things get stranger when he tries to find proof of what he saw and it has been erased. His files are gone, and his colleague and manager seem to be conspiring against him. Or is that just paranoia from the altitude sickness? This is one of those great movies where everything just works together. A good story that's not at all predictable (I would describe my favorite scene, but it would be too much of a spoiler.) Great acting (with a pretty small cast, but an excellent one all around.) The cinematography is great, the soundtrack. Just everything about this film is top notch. It was an immense pleasure to watch it, and I highly recommend it (especially when it screens at our grand movie palace, the California Theater.)

This program plays again Saturday at 1:05 pm in Redwood City, Monday at 4:45 pm at the glorious California Theater in San Jose, and Saturday, March 10th, 2:15 pm back in Redwood City.

Total Running Time: 293 minutes
My Total Minutes: 471,491

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Jason goes to Cinequest--Day 2

Now Cinequest is really rolling along. And so far my liver is holding together okay.

I got there just in time for a drink or two in the lounge before heading off to the VIP Soiree at Forager. I nice buffet of Mediterranean food Because those go together, right? Also beer. And guava Moscow Mules. Nice.

So then I jaunted over to the California to see a true Maverick, Nicolas Cage, getting Cinequest's highest honor, the Maverick Spirit Award. A cool clip reel showcasing his long and eclectic career. Then an on-stage interview, where Nicolas was just as charismatic and full of stories as you'd think. And Sal Pizarro was an excellent interviewer.

And then the program ended with a brief discussion of VR filmmaking and acting, where Nicolas admitted that he's still learning that, because you can't put all your energy at one camera. He's in one of the VR programs (THE HUMANITY BUREAU, in program 4.) I have to confess I haven't been excited about VR, as an audience member. The few times I've tried it, I've come away with great appreciation...for the art of traditional film. Specifically, how directors, cinematographers, and editors take great pains to choose shots, angles, and sequences to draw my attention where they want it to go. That's kind of thrown out the window with VR, as I'm in total control. And I'm kind of a dumbass when given that control. I mean, I know where I should look, but I'm more interested in looking for the holes in the technology, so I'll watch a VR film by staring at the sky to see if they put anything up there, and miss all the action.

But Nic's brother Christopher Coppola (a regular at Another Hole in the Head, which I've emcee'd for the past couple of years) made an excellent point. He compared the technological leap from movies to VR as like the leap from stage acting to movies over a century ago. Just like filmmakers needed to learn how to use the medium, audiences had to learn how to watch it, too. Nobody screams at an approaching train onscreen anymore (and in fairness, they likely never did, that was just some promotional hype.) So maybe I can learn to watch a VR movie without constantly looking for holes in the sky. Be it hereby resolved: I will give VR a fair try at this year's festival.

And then it was time to high-tail it over to the Hammer Theater for HIGH AND OUTSIDE: A BASEBALL NOIR. We start with Phil Harding (Phil Donlon) struggling through an at-bat in the minor leagues. Strikeout, and after the game the skipper (Ernie Hudson) wants to see him. Really, just long enough to tell him he's cut. No more work for him on this team, but he wishes him the best. He's a good guy, just not a good enough ballplayer to make it. So he goes back home to his dad (the late Geoffrey Lewis, in his final role) who is a former star in the majors. Phil still has his baseball dream, and his agent suggests he attends a development camp, but he doesn't have the money for it. So he starts making...very bad decisions. Decisions he knows are wrong, but he does them anyway (which is pretty much the definition of film noir.) And it's not like he doesn't have a support system that could help him out--especially his father--he's just too proud, too stubborn to admit he needs it. He'd rather be the big time athlete who can solve it all himself. A solid story, with great acting. Excellent.

This film plays three more times in the festival, all in Redwood City.

Oh, and since I forgot to on my opening night write-up, allow me to congratulate the Guerilla Wanderers and their excellent festival trailer. Everyone should know, the way to celebrate the Impact of Cinequest this year is to yell "Stelllllaaaaa!" at the same time as the trailer. Although, Stella Artois is no longer a sponsor (gasp!) Instead, the damage to my liver will be brought to you by the local Umunhum Brewing, and especially their Stout as a Service. Which is delicious, but I just can't slam them the way I did Stellas. And, of course, Tito's Vodka will fuel me as well, for when I need that turbo-boost to oblivion.

Speaking of which, here are the films that have filmmakers doing it right, and drank with me yesterday:

Next Sunday is almost completely set. I'm starting the day with Shorts Program 2 and LITTLE WOMEN, then ending with ARUN and Shorts Program 3. That leaves just one gap in the middle, and I think the race is on between SNAPSHOTS and BIKINI MOON for who can drink with me first (I've been promised drinks with them both, and technically I have drunk with Emily Goss of SNAPSHOTS before...just not in the past year.)

VIRGINIA MINNESOTA was so nice that I may have to break my "don't drive between Redwood City and San Jose on the same day" rule to catch their show Wednesday night.

Next week Thurday Ry Leavey drank me up to see a couple of films he's distributing--LUBA and CHARLIE AND HANNAH'S GRAND NIGHT OUT, which I'll then follow with CROWN AND ANCHOR, made by a team of Canadians who don't do anything without drinking.

And Saturday, March 10, I'll start the day with another Ry Leavey distributed film, PURDAH. Holy cow, 10 am? That might be before my first drink of the day. It better be worth it!

Oh, and the bartender at the Continental gave me a shot of Tito's and told me it was from Robert, who said I have to see his movie now. But he didn't know what movie it was and Robert wasn't there anymore. So...I don't know? I guess I have to see every movie made by a Robert now?

Happy drinking film watching everyone! I'll be in Redwood City tonight, starting in a few hours.

Running Time: 98 minutes
My Total Minutes: 471,198