Thursday, May 31, 2018

Jason goes to SilentFest--Opening Night

Even when it was just 3 days, I was consistently more exhausted after the San Francisco Silent Film Festival than I was after any other 2+ week long festival. Now that they've expanded to 5 days, let's find out if I can even survive. 

After some obligatory introductions and thank-yous (especially, thank you to Universal, as this is part of their project to restore their silent films, which they announced tonight they have expanded by 10 more) we got on with the program.


This is my second time seeing this film, but the first time in this restored version. The first time was back in 2011, when it was the Halloween show at the Niles Film Museum. Here's what I wrote then:
THE MAN WHO LAUGHS (1928): I'd never seen this classic Paul Leni directed Conrad Veidt starring film. It's an adaptation of a lesser-known Victor Hugo (Les Miserables, The Hunchback of Notre Dame) novel. And it's a shockingly grim story, even for today (it's especially bleak for the audiences of 1928, it didn't do well on the initial release). Gwynplaine is the son of a nobleman who has displeased King James II. So while his father is sentenced to death in the Iron Lady, Gwynplaine is surgically altered so his face is in a permanent grin--as the king say, "So he will always be laughing at his fool of a father." He's abandoned, and in his wanderings in the snow he encounters hanged corpses in a rather shockingly grim scene (oh yeah, it's a very German expressionist style) and then he comes across the corpse of a mother with a baby girl in her arms. The baby is still alive, so Gwynplaine rescues her, and eventually finds himself at the home of the philosopher (i.e., playwright/mountebank) Ursus. There we find out the little girl (who they name Dea) is blind. Years later they are travelling performers, and Gwynplaine (now played by Conrad Veidt) is known as The Man Who Laughs. It's a very popular show, and he and Dea are falling in love. And then his noble birth becomes known, and he's drawn into palace intrigue with the Queen (King James' heir), the seductive Duchess Josiana (who is living in his rightful family home), and especially the evil jester/power behind the throne Barkilphedro. Amazing story, very melodramatic and dark. And just an amazing movie.
Oh yeah, and a lot has been made about Conrad Veidt's performance being at least part of the inspiration of The Joker in the Batman comics. This might or might not be true, allegedly there are no accounts of Batman creator Bob Kane ever claiming this. Maybe it's true, maybe the coincidence is just so striking that it's impossible to believe there's no connection. Certainly, the similarities are absolutely there, and it's become enough of Batman lore that if the original connection wasn't there it's certainly been put in there since. But while we're comparing him to famous pop culture characters, with his angular nose and covering his mouth with a scarf so often, I also saw a bit of The Shadow in him.
Conrad Veidt as Gwynplaine, looking really Shadow-y (Still courtesy of Universal Studios)
I'll stick by that plot synopsis, although I'll say that this time it didn't seem quite so dark and I picked up more on the comedy, particularly broad satire of the nobility. Perhaps that's because of the restoration, or perhaps that had to do with the excellent score by the Berklee Silent Film Orchestra, who got that it was a melodrama more than a horror film, and played it for high drama and comedy, as appropriate.

Running Time: 110 minutes
My Total Minutes: 480,223


And I enjoyed it.

I appreciate most of the criticism, especially the criticism that can fit under the umbrella of "the existence of this movie is entirely unnecessary." I just don't care, I still enjoyed it.

It's a fun action movie. Alden Ehrenriech is not Harrison Ford, but he's fine in the role. He's not the character we meet early in the original STAR WARS, because he still has some adventures to hone him into the cynical braggart we meet there. And he doesn't look the same because (and this is entirely head-canon) in some adventure between now and then he has to get plastic surgery to escape from some gangster...but not change his name.... Okay, it's not perfect, but it's still fun.

Yeah, it hits a bunch of points that didn't really need to be hit, but were entirely expected fan service. We learn how he got his name, how he met Chewbacca, how they became lifelong friends (kinda, I'm still unclear why Chewie doesn't run off and rescue more Wookies without Han,) how he got the Millennium Falcon, and most importantly...he shoots first. I don't care about that, it's everything else that's fun.

Oh yeah, and there's a big surprise cameo near the end (that if this were a Marvel movie would've been a post-credits scene. It's fine where it is.) And some origins of the nascent rebellion that are pretty cool. But that's just teasing possible follow-up films. The important thing is the action sequences are well done and they keep cooking one after another. It's just a fun movie. A fun, unnecessary movie.

Running Time: 135 minutes
My Total Minutes: 480,113

Jason watches 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY in glorious 70 mm at the Castro

Goddamn that's a gorgeous movie. Go see it, whenever you have the chance.

Okay, not going to recap the plot, just a few thoughts that passed through my mind while watching.

The opening pre-human scene kind of drags on, but is beautiful. In our prequel-obsessed Hollywood, I'm surprised nobody has pitched a 2001 prequel just fleshing out the dawn-of-man sequence.

For how much I remember HAL, that's a pretty short part of the movie. There's more time on the moon and the space station then on the trip to Jupiter.

Why TF did Dave go out without his space helmet, anyway? That seems like a supremely dumbass move.

Everything from going into the monolith until the star baby is maybe better on drugs. But I don't know if there are any drugs that are better than watching that sequence.

Mandela Effect: the line "My God! It's full of stars!" is not in the movie (it's in the novel, and is the opening line of 2010: THE YEAR WE MAKE CONTACT.

Okay, that's enough. Writing about 2001 is just silly compared to actually watching it.

Running Time: 149 minutes
My Total Minutes: 479,978

Jason goes to CAAMFest--The End

Well, actually the festival continued for a few more days in Piedmont, but Sunday was my last day there.

First up was DEAD PIGS, a weird, interwoven story of different people living on the fringes of Shanghai, and how thousands of dead pigs ended up floating down the river. I mean, the short version is the pigs died of a mysterious illness, the farmers didn't know what to do, so they dumped them in the river instead of calling authorities. But beyond that is a farmer's sister and proud beauty salon owner who refuses to move from her family home. An American ex-pat architect who finds lucrative part-time work as a unique kind of model. A young man who tries to get money to help his father by getting hit by cars. And a spoiled rich girl who is looking for something a little more adventurous. It's a beautifully shot, intriguing film, and the different story threads all come to a climax in a surreal musical number. Cool!

And speaking of music, the next show was Anatomy of a Music Video with Ruby Ibarra. Ruby makes her directorial debut with NOTHING ON US: PINAYS RISING BEHIND THE SCENES. It's the making-of documentary of her music video, US. Easily the best part is the reaction to her open call for Pinays to participate in the video, and over 200 show up, fill a local high school auditorium, and absolutely rule the documentary and the video. Oh, and since it was local, they also ruled the audience. Maybe I was a little out of place as the white dude watching and appreciating it all, but it was still pretty cool from the outside looking in.

Let's stick with the musical theme, with another documentary, HAVANA DIVAS. When you think of Havana, Cuba, you think mostly of Chinese Opera, right? Okay, maybe that's not the first thing, but they did have a thriving Chinatown with a popular Cantonese Opera company, that both attracted stars from around the world and traveled the world. Caridad and Georgina are now octogenarians, but they were the star divas of the company at one point, and will still perform if given the chance. Especially if the documentary producers finance a trip to China for them. They are such lovable, exciting people that they easily carry the film and it's just as fun to hear them reminisce as it is to see their next adventure.

And finally, I ended the night with UNLOVABLE, a biting dramedy about sex addiction. Joy is a sex addict, and hits rock bottom shortly after her boyfriend dumps her (because, of all things, pierogies are a trigger for her, and he catches her with leftover pierogies in the fridge.) So...she goes out and has a drunken orgy that she can't actually remember that culminates the next morning with the realization that everyone else thought she was paid to be there. So she enters a 12-step program. She meets Maddie, a recovering addict who sponsors her and puts her up in her home on the condition that she stick to a severe 30 day cold-turkey abstinence program. Not even masturbation (turns out she has to restart the clock a few times.) When Joy meets Maddie's eccentric musician brother, something serious starts to develop. A friendship that's based not just on fucking--a radical concept. In fact, in keeping with the emergent theme of the day, it's based on music, as Joy picks up playing the drums for the first time since she was a kid. A funny, dark but hopeful story that's anchored by a great performance by Charlene De Guzman, who also co-wrote the script.

And that was how CAAMFest 2018 ended for me.

Total Running Time: 329 minutes
My Total Minutes: 479,829

Jason goes to CAAMFest--Day 10

I skipped another couple of weeknights, but was back on Saturday

I started with ORIGIN STORY, Kulap Vilaysack’s documentary about herself. She came from a turbulent home. Her mom and dad fought a lot. And she tended to get along better with her dad. At least, until...when she was 14...her mother angrily told her that he wasn't her real dad. Now grown up, living and working in Hollywood (and married to Comedy Bang-Bang's Scott Aukerman) she decides she can't start her own family without knowing the real story of where she came from. Her true "origin story" (appropriate, considering she has been immortalized as a DC comics hero.) Her personality keeps the story of discovery interesting and funny, even as many of the discoveries turn out pretty negative (she comes from a family of seriously messed-up people who just use people.) In the end, it was probably the best and most engaging documentary I saw in the festival.

And then a less engaging documentary, LOOKING FOR? A story of dating apps, the gay men who use them, and their hook-ups. I hope I wasn't bored just because they were gay and I'm not. But it was just talking head story after story of how people met on the apps. Cool. Good for them. No examination of whether this is a good or bad way to meet people. Nothing about what it's uniquely like to be an Asian man meeting people there. I understand that it's been pretty recent that gay men can even safely tell the story of meeting their boyfriends. And it's great that it's safe(r) for them now. But that doesn't make for an interesting movie. It makes for a tedious stream of meet-cute stories.

Anyway, I skipped out on the Q&A not just for that, but because I really wanted to get rush tickets for H.P. Mendoza's latest film, BITTER MELON. And at 5th in line, I figured it would be no problem. But it was a problem. I failed and didn't see it. But I don't feel bad for myself. I feel bad for the people in line who did have tickets and were there on time and still weren't allowed in because it was so oversold. I also feel bad for the makers of LUMPIA, since I was tired and a bit annoyed so instead of killing a couple of hours and seeing it, I went home instead. But I am a crowdfunding backer of LUMPIA II. That's right, I Backed That Lumpia, even if I still haven't seen the original.

Total Running Time: 167
My Total Minutes: 479,500

Jason goes to CAAMFest--Day 7

I took a night off for the festival, but was back on Wednesday, May 16th.

First up was Women on the Rise: South Korean Cinema. A series of 3 short-ish films:
PRAGMA: Two young women, who loved each other in high school, were torn apart by the school's anti-gay policy.
170 BUCKS FOR A CAB, ONE RIDE, ONE NIGHT: Based on a true story, a couple of drunk girls try to figure out why one cab ride cost so much money, even getting the police involved.
A LETTER FOR SANG-AH: Single mother aren't common in Korea. At least, they weren't a few decades ago. Most unwed mothers had to give their kids up for adoption, which leaves a hole in the lives of both mother and child. This letter hopes to bring them back together and fill that hole.

Then I caught the feature, HALF WIDOW, a surprisingly touching narrative based on true stories. That story starts off as a love story. Man and woman meet, they fall in love, they marry, they're about to have a child. Life is pretty good. But they live in the disputed and conflict-torn Kashmir region. So, the husband is just taken away by the authorities. And the stress causes a miscarriage. And the police deny he even exists. And when the wife and her brother start protesting, the brother is taken, too. A powerful, heart-wrenching story anchored by a fantastic performance by Neelofar Hamid, who shows the heights of love and the depths of sorrow.

Total Running Time: 168 minutes
My Total Minutes: 479,333

Jason goes to CAAMFest--Day 5

Just one film on Monday the 14th, but it was the Shaw Brothers classic, COME DRINK WITH ME. A wuxia (martial arts) classic with heroes, sword-fights, kung-fu, poison darts, drunken masters, and lots of fighting. The Shaw Bros practically created the genre as we know it today, probably most familiar to modern audiences from CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON. And in fact, Pei-Pei Chang, who plays the elder Jade Fox, in that film, had one of her first starring roles in COME DRINK WITH ME as the heroine Golden Swallow. And, in fact, she was there to introduce the screening and talk a little bit about it before all the fun. Pretty freaking cool!

Running Time: 90 minutes
My Total Minutes: 479,165

Jason goes to CAAMFest--Day 4

Okay, I've fallen two and a half weeks behind, but now it's time to catch up. Four more movies on Sunday, May 13th.

First up was GO FOR BROKE: AN ORIGIN STORY. Man, this movie had a lot going for it, and I really wanted to like it more than I did. It's the true story of Japanese Americans on Hawaii in the immediate aftermath of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Loyal Americans, they hated the Japs as much as any of the Haoles (white people.) In fact, even more so, because their actions made them become the subject of hate and suspicion. But they fought in the Hawaiian guard, and when they were relieved of duty due to racist suspicions, they continued to serve--not with rifles, but with picks and shovels, doing whatever menial work they were allowed to do. And these were college educated ROTC members, but not allowed to fight for their country. At least, not until they proved themselves, and became the heroes of the 442nd and 100th infantries (including late Senator Daniel Inouye.) So...this movie should've been great. It's subject was great. But the execution just felt...vaguely low-energy and kind of disjointed. And I understand micro-budgets (and they did a heck of a lot with micro-budgets.) And I understand wanting every story to be told, and to be told faithfully and honestly. And really, most of the fighting scenes, with explosions and violence, are really good. It's the drudgery of politics scenes that don't have the same pizzazz, and that's entirely understandable. I go back and forth in my mind whether a hypothetical big-budget Hollywood telling of the story would be better. There are pros and cons, and I respect the movie that exists while still wanting something that has more energy.

Next up was STAND UP MAN, a Canadian-Korean story, from Windsor, Ontario (trivia answer to "what city is due south of Detroit, Michigan.") Moses Kim is a stand-up comedian. He's just had his biggest break yet, performing in Toronto. And he's about to get married to the love of his life. Things are going nice, until his parents announce that they're taking off on a Christian mission in Mali, and leaving him in charge of their Chinese restaurant in Windsor (yeah, they're Koreans, but the Canadians of Windsore don't know the difference.) This is not the life he wants. And to make it even worse, his family foists upon him his cousin, a Korean exchange student who speaks little English and has trouble fitting in. I mean, he's popular in the K-pop dancing crew at school...despite the fact that he doesn't actually know how to dance. Anyway, Moses needs to face some tough life decisions, will he get back into stand-up comedy, or will he be a stand-up man? A nice, funny story anchored by some solid acting and a good script.

Then it was time for the documentary, LATE LIFE: THE CHIEN-MING WANG STORY. Chien-Ming Wang was a star pitcher for the Yankees. Coming from Taiwan, he had a devastating sinkerball, famous for it's titular "late life" (i.e., a late break that fooled hitters.) But in 2008, he suffered a foot injury while running the bases (in an inter-league game, since batting and base-running is a rare activity for AL pitchers.) That cut his season short, and eventually led to the Yankees cutting him. But his story wasn't quite over. He made a comeback...and then another comeback...and another, and another.... This is a personal documentary of grit and perseverance, as he does whatever it takes--including many minor league and independent league stints, to make it back to the majors. And he does this well into his 30s, giving a different meaning to "late life." Ultimately, he comes across as a very pleasant, personable guy who is dedicated to his dream but also the more important things in life, like family and friends.

And I would've gotten to know that a bit better if I had stayed for the Q&A with him, but I had to run off to the next show, which was the Life, Animated Shorts. Hooray, cartoons! (or at least partially animated shorts!)
73 QUESTIONS: A repeat of a short from SFFILM, about some good, old-school San Francisco advice. Very cool.
CENTENARIAN: A 104 year-old man muses on his life, to his grandson, the director.
MARVEL PRESENTS A NEW SUPERHERO...MODEL MINORITY!: Witness Model Minority's adventures with fellow minorities and the fragile white guy. Will they ever realize that white power structure is the real villain?
PACHINKO: Bizarre animated pachinko balls and other goofiness inserted into mundane Tokyo life.
SOAP &  SHADOWS: Pillow talk of foghorns and analog animation (via overhead projectors. Does anyone even remember those?)
STRAWBERRIES WILL SAVE THE WORLD: I like strawberries. But nobody likes strawberries more than Yuko Okumura.
TO BE FIONA: A little time-travelling mindbender of an adult explaining to her child self how everything turns out fine, even things that aren't so fine in the moment. And don't be in such a hurry to grow up.
WHITE TUNNEL: A taxi driver, a funeral, a ghost, and a buried treasure. Pretty cool.
WONDER BUFFALO: A young woman is teased by her own mother for being fat. But a cosplay convention will help her find her inner power.

Total Running Time: 366 minutes
My Total Minutes: 479,075

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Jason goes to CAAMFest--Day 3

The first big weekend kicks off, and I started it by revisiting a classic, EAT A BOWL OF TEA. Actually, "revisiting" is the wrong word, since I had never actually seen this 1989 Wayne Wang film, although I'm familiar with some of Wang's work through previous festivals (back when it was SFIAFF, not CAAMFest. For the record, my favorite was LIFE IS CHEAP, BUT TOILET PAPER IS EXPENSIVE.)

Anyway, EAT A BOWL OF TEA starts with a brief explanation of the Chinese Exclusion Act (CAAM produced an excellent documentary about it, which I saw on closing night last yer.) The Act was lifted after WWII, when we had fought alongside the Chinese, and when many brave Chinese American soldiers served with valor. One of those soldiers is Ben Loy (Russell Wong, in a very early role) whose father Wah Gay (the always excellent Victor Wong) pressures him to get married. So he goes back to China, visits his mother for the first time since he was little, finds a beautiful girl (Cora Miao, wife of Wayne Wang,) and brings her back with him to New York. They've got a life set up for them, but the pressures of immigrant life, family expectations, and Ben's new job managing a all leaves him with not enough energy to fulfill his father's next request--give him a grandchild. Oh yeah, this is a story of impotence, as a metaphor for the struggles of an outsider in America and the struggles of a son trying to live up to his father's expectations. The title refers to the bitterness of the experience, but also to a traditional herbal remedy for the condition. Very funny, if the acting is a bit uneven in places. All in all, I'm very glad to have seen it. And in the Q&A, Wang talked about changes he had made since the initial release (because he sees flaws in all of his films.) In particular, apparently the originally ending was unambiguously happy, instead of the hopeful but uncertain ending presented in this version. I think it's one worth revisiting, so maybe when I have time I'll seek out the original version.

Next up was a pretty surprising documentary, NAILED IT. I normally wouldn't be too interested in a documentary about nail salons, but it fit into my schedule well, and ended up really impressing me. The stereotype of the Asian nail salon is pretty true. The majority of nail salons in the U.S. are actually not just owned by Asian Americans, but specifically by Vietnamese Americans. And why that is...well that's pretty interesting. It was definitely a post Vietnam War thing, as Vietnamese refugees flooded into the U.S. But why did they go into nail salons in particular? That wasn't a big business in Vietnam, it wasn't something they knew already. It's something that's pretty easy to learn and run as a small cash business, so it's a good way to make money. But the reason they chose that really comes down to two words--Tippi Hedren. Yeah, the star of THE BIRDS was also a humanitarian who took an interest in the Vietnamese refugees, visited them in Northern California, and helped send 20 of them to beauty school. And then that absolutely took off, because it's also the story of how nail salons became a thing not just in trendy upscale spas, but in the inner cities. Because that's where they could afford space, and they could partner with the local community and become a part of it. It's also a story of how it became a glutted market, and how the cost pressure from competition pushed to some unsanitary practices and gave Asian nail salons a bad reputation. That has been cleaned up, but now the big fight is on safe conditions for the workers. The chemicals in a lot of these products are pretty toxic. Not bad once they dry, and not bad for the short time a customer is in there, but really, really bad for the workers (which I know I had seen in another documentary, I just can't remember where or when.) So now safe salons are the things to look for. Obviously it makes no difference where I never get my nails done. But the next time you're looking for a salon, please check with the Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative.

Well, if that documentary surprised me, the next one blew my freakin' mind. THE PEOPLE'S REPUBLIC OF DESIRE is all about Chinese streaming video stars. Particularly on the platform YY, These are people with a webcam who do shows. Sing, talk, rant, whatever. All very PG rated, but nonetheless the world is totally creepy. See, beneath all the technology is a society that is broken and lonely, and they're trying to find some bit of comfort in the world, but the only people who are profiting in the long run are the ones running the platform. So there's the streamers, competing for popularity. Often playing up their common "poor loser" backgrounds. Then there are their fans, most of whom are poor losers themselves, but who nonetheless pay for "gifts" to the performers--virtual trinkets that aren't important, but some of the money goes to the streamers (60% to YY, 40% to the streamers...and their agency. More on that later.) So some streamers get legitimately rich. Then there are the patrons--rich people, often newly rich, and stereotypically without great taste. They're the ones who pay top thousands of dollars to become a duke or a king and get special access to the performers. But they also have the throng of fans wanting to talk to them. Again, they're lonely people, just lonely and rich, so they can conspicuously spend for fame and attention. Well, once a year there's a competition for the most popular streamers, and you better win that competition if you don't want to lose all your fans. And that's where the agencies come in. Patrons with enough money will start an agency. Agencies will promote streamers--for a cut of their 40%. But that's what it takes to win. And if you really want to win, streamers will pour their own profits back into buying "votes" (it's a literally cash-based competition.) So while streamers can make money for a while, they can also spend millions trying to win the competition, and end up losing anyway. It's a ruthless, lonely world, with all the misogyny and vileness of the Internet, and someone's making a shitload of money off of it. Fans might think it's the streamers, and that might be true for a while, but it's not true in the long run.

Well, I've done my best to try to explain the system of streaming. What I haven't told you about is the personalities themselves. We follow a couple of streamers--Big Li and Shen Man. To really get to know them you'll have to watch the documentary, I can't do them justice. What I found remarkable is they don't seem to have any great talent. Shen Man sings, Big Li talks. And mostly they just talk to their fans asking them to spend, spend, spend. It's utterly bizarre.

And then I ended the night with the Disoriented Comedy Show. Yeah, live stand-up comedy, taking a bit of a break from movies. Atsuko Okatsuka, Jenny Yang, and D'Lo are very funny, and...I just realize I have no idea how to review a stand-up comedy show (you may argue I don't know how to review movies, either.) I will say I laughed a lot, live comedy looks really fucking hard, and apparently stand-up comedians needs to check in frequently to make sure the audience knows what she or he means (know what I mean?) And I'll say that while the comedy is from a different perspective than we're used to--female, trans, Asian-American, etc.--it's inclusive. It's about the truths that bring us together. As one of the few white dudes in the audience, I can say I never felt attacked or ridiculed. And as a mediocre white man, I want them to have all the chances they need to be successful. So check them out...wherever they're playing next.

Total Running Time: 239 minutes
My Total Minutes: 478,709

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Jason goes to CAAMFest--Day 2

Two more movies last Friday night, as the first big weekend kicks off.

I started with some Filipino food porn with ULAM: MAIN DISH. Oh, and I went in knowing practically nothing about Filipino food, so I was like a virgin watching this food porn.

It's kind of a cliche to say a culture is embodied in its food. I mean, if there were any cultures who didn't really value food, they've probably died of starvation long ago. But the people in this documentary really, really take their Filipino food to heart. It's hard to get flavors across on screen (although it is explained that due to the warm, humid climate, there's a lot of sour, vinegary, and citrus flavors) so the story is told through the enthusiasm and frustrations of people trying to make Filipino cuisine the next big thing. It explores the central difficulty of attracting people to the food--people who like Filipino food get it at home, and nobody cooks better than your own lola (grandmother.) And for those who are unfamiliar with the food--well, chances are the first thing you learned about was balut, and you learned about it from Fear Factor (for the record, I have actually eaten balut. It's not that bad, but I'm not about to repeat it.) And it talks about micro-aggression of the Filipino culture, which is already kind of the bastard step-child of both the Hispanic and Asian worlds. But they have one big thing going for them--they have great cooks who know the restaurant business. They've just been working in the kitchens of Italian restaurants, Chinese restaurants, Thai restaurants, French restaurants, etc. Oh yeah, Filipinos work a lot in the restaurant industry, at least here in America. And it's about time they step out and make an impact with their own cuisine.

There was an after party, where I probably could've sampled some Filipino food (at least lumpia,) but I had to go right back in the theater for the next show. So tasting Filipino food will be my low-key goal for the rest of the festival.

Anyway, I was right back in the theater for the Altered States Shorts program. Hooray for weird-ass shorts!
ASWANG NEXT DOOR: The Aswang is a terrifying monster from Filipino folklore. And what if he were living next door, and looked perfectly human during the day. Except that he came over and warned you that he will probably shape-shift and kill you and eat the fetus right out of your womb. So...stay safe!
RUNNER: A woman in San Francisco is training for a run. A run for her life. A life in a post-apocalyptic world with a biohazard on its way up the coast. An intriguing and exciting mini-thriller.
SANZU NO KAWA: THE RIVER OF THREE CROSSINGS: Based on the Japanese Buddhist belief in a river crossing in the afterlife (similar to the Greek myth of the river Styx) a boy deals with the loss of his sister, and the memories of her.
SPACE BUTTHOLE: It seems every film festival is in love with David Chai's latest. I thought the string of poop jokes was pretty childish to begin with. But now I'm really getting tired of this shit.
THE TROUBLED TROUBADOUR: From South Korea, a wandering minstrel is proud to have peed in every ocean in the world. But his servant almost leaves without him, pushing the gondola on rails. Then they meet some little kid demons, who take him on a journey. Pretty freakin' weird!
A VACATION IN HOLLYWOOD: Some AirBnB rentals are nice. Some have strange things going on in them. With nifty nods to GHOSTBUSTERS and THE RING, among other horror film classics I'm sure.
YOUR HAND IN MINE: Relationships can be scary. Especially when your ex-boyfriend is not at the institute where he's supposed to be, but shows up in your home. You gotta shut that down fast.

Total Running Time: 162 minutes
My Total Minutes: 478,470 

Friday, May 11, 2018

Jason goes to CAAMFest--Opening Night

I am so happy that CAAMFest moved from it's previous dates in March to May! Of course, it's appropriate that it's in Asian and Pacific American Heritage Month, but more important to me, it no longer conflicts with Cinequest. So instead of just the final weekend, for the first time in quite a few years I can go all out for nearly the whole festival.

And the opening night film was a doozy. Of course, after the obligatory thank-yous and introductions, and an award presented by Mayor Willie Brown to the night's rock star celebrity Norm Mineta, we finally got down to the movie.

I was surprised when I checked my watch and the program guide and realized AN AMERICAN STORY: NORMAN MINETA AND HIS LEGACY is only a scant hour long. Because they cram a heck of a lot of information into that time. It starts with his father's journey from Japan to America (where he missed his intended stop in San Francisco and got off in Seattle instead, before making his way down to San Jose and starting a family. A big chunk of the story focuses on when Norman was a child, and his family was interned in Heart Mountain Relocation Center in Wyoming. Yup, he was a victim of a particularly shameful part of America's history. But rather than bitterness, he put his efforts into making America a better place--a place that wouldn't do anything like that again. In fact, I'm jumping a bit ahead, but George W. Bush credits the fact that Muslims weren't rounded up and put in internment camps after 9/11 to Mineta's inspiration--he didn't want America to do to Muslims what they did to Norm and his family. Oh yeah, Mineta, despite being a lifelong liberal Democrat, served as Bush's Transportation Secretary, after serving as Clinton's Commerce Secretary. Which I believe (and the movie asserts) makes him the only person ever appointed to a cabinet position by two Presidents of opposite parties (others have served across administrations until a new President has nominated a successor, but I believe he's the only one nominated by both Presidents.)

Anyway, the movie highlights all his accomplishments, but always grounding them in the lessons and persecution he received as a minority and child of immigrants. But the most important thing is the airport named after him in San Jose (he jokes that his grandchildren ask him if he owns that airport.) Which means I have flown several times on trips originating from and ending at airports named after people I have met (or at least, seen live and was within a dozen feet from.) The other one is Ted Stevens, who despite being the Alaskan of the Century (last century) is not quite the man Norm Mineta is. He also ended up convicted of corruption (although the charges were later dismissed) and ending up dying in a plane crash. So now whenever I fly into the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, I'm flying into an airport named after a crooked politician who died in a plane crash--my go to example of why you shouldn't name things after people who are still alive! So here's hoping that a similar fate won't befall Norman Mineta. After seeing the man and hearing him speak, I'm pretty confident his legacy will endure.

Running Time: 60 Minutes
My Total Minutes: 478,308

Thursday, May 10, 2018


I've had a rule about Marvel films for a while. For a fun ride, see the first of each character's solo films. To move the overall story forward, see a Captain America film. For bloated fan service, see an Avengers film. (The individual character sequels are hit and miss. And for the most fun possible, see a Taika Waititi film.)

Well, I'm gonna say that the pattern still holds.

"But Jason!" I can hear you screaming (because apparently I'm a psychic?) "This totally moved the world forward! Think about all the heroes who died, along with half the life in the universe! Surely that moves the universe forward!"

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention. Fuck you! There will be SPOILERS!

But the thing is, if everyone dies but is still under contract for more movies, I don't for a second believe any of them are dead--and neither do you. And I know I'm just being a cranky old man here. I heard audible gasps in the theater for nearly all the deaths (Yeah, especially that one. And that other one, too.) But they have zero weight. Some magic will bring them back by the next movie. Maybe someone else will really, really die. But I still won't care because there will always be the ability to bring them back.

And I know, even though I don't read the comics, that dead characters returning is a common occurrence in the comics. But why would you want the most annoying thing about comic books to be transferred to the movies?

But that's just minor league crankiness. My real beef is with Thanos. He wants to "balance the universe." The world is overpopulated, so his plan is to kill half of all life in the universe. But dude...have you ever met life? It's really, really fucking (literally fucking) good at making more life, and it really enjoys doing it. You think you can control life with these sissy-ass half measures!? The next movie should start 1 year later, with Thanos checking in on how his balancing plan has worked, then screaming "Fuuuuuuuuuuuuck!!!! They've repopulated how much already!!!"

Now if he really wanted to tackle overpopulation, he would've snapped his fingers and turned half the universe sterile. Plus the audience would witness the heart-wrenching scene of Peter Parker saying, "Mr. balls feel funny."

Anyway, the movie was a lot of fun, action-packed and did a great job juggling all those characters all over the universe. Can't wait for the next one!

Running Time: 149 minutes
My Total Minutes: 478,249

Jason goes to the Castro for a double bill of kick-ass spy ladies

A couple of recent spy lady flicks that I finally got around to watching, thanks to the Castro Theatre programming.

RED SPARROW: This movie, despite the anticipation of Jennifer Lawrence's nude scenes, has been more or less a box office flop. Personally, I blame the Internet for making it too easy to see stars naked without ever having to go to the movies. Anyway, if you actually watch the movie you'll see her boobs, and her ass, and if that guy just moved a foot to the left soooo much more. But you'll also see a pretty good spy thriller with revenge and double-crosses galore. In fact, all the promised sexiness--even between the characters who allegedly fall for each other--is just spy games. This should've been marketed as a kick-ass espionage thriller with a solid dose of violence. In fact, my only real disappointment is not enough violence. When J-Law has to kick someone's ass, she can do it very well. But it holds that back in favor of double-crossing and psychological violence. Which is cool, I guess....

Now ATOMIC BLONDE had no problem dialing up the violence. Charlize Theron kicks more ass here than she did as Furiosa. I won't even attempt to untangle the plot, which is secondary to the action and the cinematography. I will say they really drive home the point that this is all taking place in Berlin, as the Berlin Wall is about to fall. So there's this overwhelming sense that all of the espionage plots don't really matter (or won't in just a matter of days.) But the characters aren't going through the motions. It's like they have a desperate sense that what they're doing really, really matters (spoiler: it doesn't, but it's fun as hell to see that commitment.) Oh yeah, and in this one the sex scenes really are about sex. At least as much as about spycraft.

Total Running Time: 255 minutes
My Total Minutes: 478,099

Jason goes to the Niles Film Museum for the trains!

It was our great train weekend a couple of weekends ago in Niles.

THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY (1903): I've seen this one many times. Arguably the first American narrative film, and featuring our patron saint Broncho Billy Anderson (before he was Broncho Billy) in a triple role. Although I've seen it many times (most recently last year at our Broncho Billy Silent Film Festival) for some reason the last time I actually wrote about it was at the Great Nickelodeon Show back in 2009 (either that or I'm really bad at searching my own blog.) In any case, it's still a great film, silly fakeness and all. They were inventing how to make movies back then, and this was a huge step in bringing it from a novelty to the world's dominant art form.

TEDDY AT THE THROTTLE (1917): Another one I've seen many times, and wrote about as recently as 2012. Back then I said:
TEDDY AT THE THROTTLE (1917): I'd seen this before, and I still don't understand the complicated will with the marriage clause any better. But the important thing is Gloria Dawn (Gloria Swanson) is engaged to her sweetheart Bobbie Knight (Bobby Vernon) but her evil guardian (Wallace Beery) is trying to break them up and have Bobbie marry his (Wallace Beery's) sister so they can keep control of his inheritance. And Teddy is a wonder dog who rescues them all, even after Wallace Beery does the ultimate villainy cliche of tying Gloria to the railroad tracks. Again, funny and high energy.
All still true. Especially the confusion about the will and the marriage clause. It's from a different time, I guess.

Then an intermission, and on to the feature.

THE GREAT K&A TRAIN ROBBERY (1926): Finally, one I hadn't seen before, and it's an action packed riot. Tom Mix is the real deal, with charm, humor, heroics, and stunt-work like crazy. Heck, he's introduced hanging on a rope over the end of a cliff, spying on the robbers, then slides down zipline-style and lands right on his horse. He's a detective who was hired by the head of the railroad to stop the gang that keeps robbing his train. But he quickly discovers that the railroad secretary--the boss's main confidante--is in cahoots with the robbers. So rather than reveal himself, he goes undercover and is chased as a robber. But he's still got the moves and the style to stop the robbers, win the girl, and catch the secretary. All in just under an hour. Lean, but action-packed--just like I like 'em!

Total Running Time: 90 minutes
My Total Minutes: 477,844

Jason goes to the Castro for a George Romero tribute

It was a NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968) / DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978) double feature. I don't need to recap either of those movies for you. They're classics, and if you haven't seen them, go fix that right now.

I've often said, in complete sincerity, that I understand the decades of American zeitgeist through George Romero's "Dead" series.

1960s - NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. This decade is about racial tensions.
1970s - DAWN OF THE DEAD. This decade is about mindless consumerism.
1980s - DAY OF THE DEAD. This decade is about out of control military buildup.
1990s - ...This is the decade I came of age. It should be the most important decade in my life. But I don't really understand what it was all about because George Romero didn't make a "...OF THE DEAD" movie.
2000s - Now things are getting complicated, with three movies.

In 2005, he makes LAND OF THE DEAD, possibly my favorite of the series. I know that's blasphemy (true cinephiles are supposed to prefer the classics!) but it's all about class warfare, plus Dennis Hopper being Dennis Hopper. And dammit, the 21st century has been all about class warfare so far.

Then two years later he follows it up with DIARY OF THE DEAD. Playing on the faux-documentary style that become so popular after THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, he adds another layer of media savviness by having his character point out how this "documentary" is edited and music is added to create tension. It's artificially trying to scare you, because you should be scared. And certainly audiences are much more savvy.

And finally in 2009 he releases SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD. I confess, I'm the least familiar with this one, and I really need to revisit it. At the time, I even admitted I didn't immediately get what it was about. In retrospect, I think it might be about hyper-partisanship. The "Us vs. Them" mentality that has become so ingrained we fight each other more than the common enemy that literally wants to kill us and eat our brains. It's a Hatfields vs. McCoys story. Or, in modern day, a Democrats vs. Republicans story.

Ya know what, I don't need to revisit SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD. I need to revisit them all. It was a joy to see the first two again, especially on the magnificent Castro screen. But that's only a third of story. I need to do a Marathon of the Dead--all six. Who's with me?

Total Running Time: 223 minutes
My Total Minutes: 477,754

Jason goes to SFFILM--Bonus Day

Surprise, the festival isn't over just because there was a closing night party!

Two more films on Monday, April 16th

THE WHITE GIRL is a story of Hong Kong, old and new. But not the bustling big city, the small Pearl Village, a fishing village on decline. And it's a story of confinement and of breaking out. The titular girl was born allergic to the sun. So her father keeps her cooped up in doors, and heavily covered if she ever goes out. Her classmates tease her, and all she wants to do is go out. Which she does by taking walks at night. On one of these walks, she meets a stranger from out of town, and they start a tentative relationship. The story meanders pleasantly and somewhat non-linearly. There are historical ruins and shady developers from the mainland. But the movie is driven less by plot and more by mood and character, especially the White Girl's enigmatic mix of cheer and melancholy. And, of course, it's driven by the gorgeous cinematography of Christopher Doyle (also a co-writer and co-director with Jenny Suen.)

And finally, there was RAVENOUS, an odd zombie flick with gratuitous furniture stacking. It's Quebecois, which might explain some of the oddness. It mixes deliberately paced art-film moments with gory flesh eating and moments of absolutely bizarre humor, never settling into one genre for too long. It's a weird, weird trip, and I'm still puzzling over what those huge stacks of chairs were all about. Maybe the sequel will explain? Or better to leave it a mystery.

And that was the end of my SFFILM 2018. There was one more night of the festival, but work kept me from attending (because I had a super early meeting I was leading the next morning) and that was fine. I was exhausted. I had finally had enough (for now.)

Total Running Time: 197 minutes
My Total Minutes: 477,531

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Jason goes to SFFILM--Closing Night

Three movies on Sunday, April 15th, including the closing night party...although the festival continued for a couple more days.

THE NEXT GUARDIAN is a touching documentary about tradition, modernity, identity, and a generation gap. Gyembo and Tashi are siblings in Bhutan. Gyembo, as the eldest son, is expected to take over and maintain the family monastery. But he's more interested in soccer and social media. Tashi, his little sister, is even more into soccer. In fact, a lot of the movie is about her attempt to make the national under-14 girls' soccer team. But then she identifies as a male in a female body. Gyembo, meanwhile, is genial and funny, just not all that interested in taking over the family business. In fact, he's kind of aimless, not really interested in anything. But the two of them have an easy, teasing sibling vibe, and the movie is pleasant and never tries to push the drama, just lets it happen. There's something very Buddhist about the attitude of everyone involved.

And then BISBEE '17 is...I guess a documentary? Director Robert Greene (KATE PLAYS CHRISTINE) likes to make movies that bend the documentary/narrative boundaries. This time he takes on the story of Bisbee, Arizona, both in 1917 and in a historical recreation in 2017. Bisbee is--or was--a mining town. But in 1917 the miners went on strike for better pay and working conditions. And the strike was put down by rounding up all the striking miners, running them out of town, leaving them in the desert, and telling them to never set foot in Bisbee again. The history is explored through interviews with locals (many of them descendants of people on both sides of the deportation) and through a recreation held for the 100th anniversary. Which is pretty remarkable, because this isn't a part of their history that they talk about, much less celebrate. But this is a way to confront and deal with their history, and people get into greater or lesser degrees (some to frighteningly high degree.) It's impossible to watch this and not think about the partisan divide in the country today. The fact is, rounding up your own countrymen, driving them to the desert, and leaving them for dead is horrific. But it's also something that's not too hard to imagine...or at least fantasize about.

And finally, the closing night gala was Gus Van Sant's DON'T WORRY, HE WON'T GET FAR ON FOOT. Joaquin Phoenix stars and practically disappears in the role of John Callahan, an alcoholic, a quadriplegic (by way of a drunken car crash) and a famous cartoonist with a wicked sense of humor. Jonah Hill, Jack Black, and Rooney Mara also give wonderful supporting performances. The story focuses mostly on his drinking and his journey with Alcoholics Anonymous--the stresses and the successes. For my taste, it doesn't feature quite enough of his sharp, anti-political-correctness humor. But you can get that online. And while he has passed away, I have a feeling he'd appreciate that I was drunk enough that I dropped my flask of whiskey during the film and needed help from the guy behind me to retrieve it.

 Anyway, after a Q&A with Van Sant and composer Danny Elfman, it was off to Public Works for several more drinks and a few snacks before I took public transit home--I was in no mood to follow in Callahan's metaphorical footsteps (wheeltracks?)

Total Running Time: 306 minutes
My Total Minutes: 477,334

Jason goes to the Niles Film Museum for the Big Earthquake show--featuring recently discovered footage of San Francisco after the quake

So I skipped Saturday night at SFFILM, because I had an incredible opportunity back at my local silent film theater.

A TRIP DOWN MARKET STREET (1906): The film that, through a 60 Minutes piece (look for me in the final seconds in the audience at the show!) made our little film museum famous! A camera attached to a streetcar, from 8th street to the Ferry Building. Watch all the traffic going past! Read the license plates! Watch the guy in the bowler hat go back and forth a half dozen times! Watch for the puddles at the end! Realize these are all inside jokes, because they're part of how David Kiehn figured out that it was made just 4 days before the famous 1906 earthquakes.

SAN FRANCISCO AFTER THE EARTHQUAKE (1906): So this was the amazing treat. A TRIP DOWN MARKET STREET was filmed by the Miles Brothers Studio, and was on a train to New York the night before the earthquake. But when they heard about the earthquake, they took a crew onto a train back to San Francisco and started filming some of the first footage of the aftermath. And that footage was discovered at a yard sale, and the museum is in the process of restoring it. This was a digital work-in-progress screening, but it was still incredibly moving. And the 35 mm restoration will premiere at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival (with TRAPPOLA) in under a month!

Then a brief intermission, and the feature.

OLD SAN FRANCISCO (1927): A thriller of land deals, organized crime, and Chinatown (complete with really bad Chinese stereotypes. Some of the challenge of these old films is dealing with old attitudes.) The Vazquez family was one of the oldest in San Francisco, but they're in decline. Just an old man, his granddaughter, and his grand but crumbling estate. And a sleazy businessman with Chinese crime connections who wants their land...and the daughter...and will resort to ruthless means to get them. And there's the dashing hero, who happens to be the nephew of an employee of the villain and also happens to be smitten with the granddaughter. He might be able to save the day, maybe with a little help by the shaking earth.

Total Running Time: 106 minutes
My Total Minutes: 477,028

Jason goes to SFFILM--Day 11

Just two films at the festival on Saturday the 14th. And first up was the program that is often the best of the whole festival--Shorts 5: Family Films. Hooray for kid-appropriate films!
BIG BLOCK SINGSONG WIZARD: A big purple block in a wizard hat, singing about how he's a wiz at everything. Because he is. At everything except...being a wizard.
BIRD KARMA: A beautiful, stylish animated short about a bird who won't settle for any old fish. He wants the shiniest fish in the whole river.
COIN OPERATED: A young aspiring astronaut is disappointed that the coin operated rocketship in front of the store won't actually fly him to the moon. So he works to earn more coins until it will work.
CRISANTO STREET: 8 year old Geovany Cesario takes a video camera and videos his family, living in a trailer on Crisanto Street in Mountain View. But soon they will move into low-income housing (because they're being evicted from the street.)
JESSZILLA: I love Jesszilla. I saw this at Indiefest as was thrilled to see it again. Jesselyn “Jesszilla” Silva is a kick-ass little girl. 10 years old, and in love with boxing. She trains hard and already has plans to go pro. Her father...well, he's not exactly thrilled, but he's totally supportive.
LATE AFTERNOON: An animated film of an old woman who drifts in and out of memory, and her daughter who is taking care of her.
PIG: THE DAM KEEPER POEMS: CHAPTER 4: Beautiful animation from Tonko house. Pig has a little trouble having lunch, because everyone wants a taste. Before he knows what's happening, he's running a restaurant.
SCRAMBLED: A Rubik's cube helps people put down their darn smartphones and maybe connect with real life a little bit.
SHERBERT ROSENCRANTZ, YOU'RE BEAUTIFUL: Sometimes guinea pigs are better than people. They can be the best friend to a shy little girl.
UNDISCOVERED: A favorite from Cinequest, A cute animated short about bigfoot, and why he can't be found.

And then the documentary RBG, a hero-worship piece about Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The progressive icon and trailblazer actually was ideologically middle-of-the-pack when she was appointed by Bill Clinton. She has become a liberal dissenter because the court has veered to the right. But this joyful documentary is about more than that. It's about her spirit, her personality, her unlikely friendship with Antonin Scalia (built a lot on a shared love of opera.) It's also about her late husband Martin Ginsburg, who was her biggest fan and completely at ease reversing the role of the great woman behind the great man. And it's about the cult of Notorious RBG that has built up around her. She's not a naturally funny woman (Martin was the joker of the couple) but she understands and jokes about the meme. And it's about her amazing career as a lawyer in gender equality cases well before she joined the court. Really, it's about everything related to her...other than criticism. I mean, it briefly mentions the controversy when she spoke up about Trump being unfit for office during the 2016 election. But other than that, even her conservative critics talk about how much they like her personally. That is, other than the talk radio extremists, and I don't think their voices would add much of value to this documentary.

Total Running Time: 160 minutes
My Total Minutes: 476,922

Jason goes to SFFILM--Day 10

Two more on Friday the 13th. But it turned out I was pretty lucky with both.

First up was THE SOWER, a period piece featuring the female erotic gaze, from director Marine Francen. In an 1850s French rural village, all the men have been arrested for sedition. So the women run the village themselves. They plant and harvest, and do all the hard labor as best as they can. Surviving is one thing. Having children is another concern, and one they obviously can't solve themselves. So when a mysterious stranger arrives, he's the subject of a great deal of interest.

And now I realize I'm a man and can't describe that plot in any way that doesn't sound like it's going to become a porno. But it's not. It's totally from a female perspective, which I can appreciate. I liked it. I just can't write about it correctly. Maybe that's because I'm a lousy writer, not just because I'm a man.

So then I got a big shot of masculinity with the prison boxing movie, A PRAYER BEFORE DAWN. Based on the real story of Irish boxer Billy Moore, it starts with him being arrested in Thailand (for heroin.) Thai prison is not an easy place to live, especially if you're white. Very crowded, very violent, almost no rules other than no escape. But if you make the boxing team, you have some benefits. Moore is a bare-knuckled brawler. Tough, brave, but untrained and technically underskilled. And he gets into trouble a lot. It's a brutal, visceral film that holds no punches (pun intended.) It's intentionally unpleasant, and the "victory" at the end means he gets to get the fuck out of Thailand and never come back. Oh yeah, and the real Billy Moore was a consultant, but because they shot on location in an abandoned Thai prison, he had to consult over the phone.

Total Running Time: 271 minutes
My Total Minutes: 476,762

Jason goes to SFFILM--Day 9

Two more on Thursday, April 12th.

THE CHILDREN ACT stars Emma Thompson as a British High Court judge who specializes in case involving children. Custody battles, etc. And she always follows the law of the Children Act--that the welfare of the child is paramount. Also, she's a workaholic...or at least overworked. To the point where her husband (Stanley Tucci) comes right out and says he plans to have an affair. She doesn't like this plan. But she's also too busy, and too emotionally distant, to actually do something about it (like...make love to him for the first time in 18 months.) Meanwhile she's on one of her hardest and highest profile cases in her life. A teenager, just months short of adulthood, is deathly ill. But his parents' religious beliefs--and his--forbid the blood transfusion that could save him. But the court has the ability--if she chooses--to compel that transfusion to save his life. So all that emotional connection she's avoiding with her own husband she pours into this case, making the unorthodox decision to visit him in the hospital. It's wonderfully acted, and a compelling drama. A bit emotionally overwrought, but that will probably make it more popular, just not my preference.

Next up was WINTER BROTHERS, a movie that had some interesting things going for it, but not a compelling protagonist. It takes place in a stark white industrial compound, where Emil is a screw-up and not at all popular. He pursues many interests, all of them poorly. And a bad batch of moonshine that hospitalizes a coworker is the last straw. He's out, friendless, jobless, aimless. There are many scenes that are interesting, even compelling. Most of them have to do with toxic, fragile masculinity (including a very literal pissing contest.) It just doesn't add up to a compelling whole. But it has fantastic cinematography.

Total Running Time: 199 minutes
My Total Minutes: 476,545

Jason goes to SFFILM--Day 8

I skipped Tuesday, April 10th, because I was too busy at my day job. But I was back for two films on Wednesday.

LOTS OF KIDS, A MONKEY, AND A CASTLE is director Gustavo Salmerón's bizarro documentary homage to his own mother. What could be a glorified home movie (which would prove correct mother Julita's prediction that nobody outside of friends and family would want to watch) is brought to life by her...amusingly aggressive personality. The title comes from the three wishes she had in life. Since she was a little girl, she wanted lots of kids, a monkey, and a castle. And, amazingly enough, she got them all. But now the kids are grown, although some of them still come back and live at home for...too long. And the monkey was not as charming of a pet as you'd think, so they didn't remain a monkey-owning family. And they've fallen on some hard times and have to move out of their broken down castle. But at least she still has her grandmother's vertebra. And an extendable poking stick. And lots more of odd knick-knacks. A charming little wonder of a movie, about a pretty weird family.

And then a Secret Screening. Let's pretend I'm still not allowed to talk about it. Because I didn't enjoy it as much as the description led me to believe I would. I'm not going to say it was bad. In fact, much of what I didn't like--overwrought emotional performances, everything wrapped up so nicely at the end--will probably make it popular. It just wasn't my cup of tea.

Total Running Time: 211 minutes
My Total Minutes: 476,346

Jason goes to SFFILM--Day 6

Just one show back on Monday, April 9th, but it was a doozy.

Oddball Films is a film archive and a lifestyle. And up until his recent passing, it was synonymous with Stephen Parr. This program was an homage to Parr, and a celebration of his weird, eclectic collection (which provides stock footage to several films, from independent to Hollywood blockbusters.)

Live music was provided by an equally eclectic group, Marc Capelle's Red Room Orchestra. Jazzy, eclectic, experimental, with many instruments, found objects, and distorted voices.

So, it was weird movies with weird films. And I couldn't possibly describe it. Not just because it's been three weeks and my memory fades. I don't think I could describe it from the moment I walked out of the Castro befuddled but exhilarated. And WTF was up with those horses and the fire?

Running Time: 84 minutes
My Total Minutes: 476,545

Jason goes to SFFILM--Day 5

Well, the festival ended over 3 weeks ago, so I guess I better finish writing. Sunday, April 8th I had a prior commitment in the morning, so only 2 films that afternoon, and they were both pretty great.

THE THIRD MURDER is Hirokazu Kore-eda’s latest film, and it's a courtroom drama thriller...kind of. Actually, the case looks to be pretty straightforward. A wealthy factory owner is killed, Misumi (Koji Yakusho) confesses readily, and it all looks easily wrapped up. But his story keeps changing slightly, and a young defense attorney starts investigating. His job was supposed to be straightforward--present the best mitigating case to avoid the death penalty. But there might be evidence that Misumi is innocent, and is accepting being framed for some other reason. Why I say it's only "kinda" a courtroom thriller is because so little of it takes place in the courtroom. I mean, there are proceedings, filings, etc. But the whole point is that the courtroom is a lousy place to get to the truth. So it becomes a semi-surreal parody of courtroom drama, while still being a taut thriller about truth and justice (and how often they don't go hand in hand.)

And then... (STAR.) Actually, the title isn't a word, it's just a symbol of a star. And it's my favorite movie that I could never actually recommend to anyone. Not that I don't have friends who would like it, it's just that they don't need film recommendations, they're ambitious enough to seek out strange films themselves. And my friends who do need film recommendations...won't like this. It's a compiled film, and a work in progress (as long as people still make films with star fields in them, director Johann Lurf will continue adding to this film.) And it's simply images from films of star fields and nothing else. It spans the history of film from silents by Georges Melies to very recent works. And he leaves the soundtrack in (at least once he gets out the silent era) but will cut out everything that has something other than stars. E.g., if the credits of a film play over a scene of stars, he'll leave the music in but cut out every frame that has words on screen. So you get to hear chopped up versions of both the STAR WARS and STAR TREK themes, and a chopped up version of the STAR TREK intro monologue. Film geeks--at least the truly hearty, experimental ones--can enjoy this on many levels. You can get a quick overview of the history of film. You can witness all the different ways stars are show. You can play "guess the film." You can be shocked when he cheats on his own premise in a scene from THE RIGHT STUFF (he shows lights on Earth as seen from space.) You can appreciate how a static star field seen from Earth is so different than a moving star field as seen in a sci-fi space travel adventure (one of my favorite end credits ever is David Lynch's THE STRAIGHT STORY specifically because the credits roll over a moving star field even though the characters are sitting on Earth looking up to the stars.) Anyway, I know it's not everyone's cup of tea, but it's a fantastically film-geeky trip.

Total Running Time: 224 minutes
My Total Minutes: 476,545