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

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