Monday, May 6, 2019

Jason goes to Silentfest: Day 4

Finally, I got the full experience, from 10 am to nearly 11 pm, with six shows and very little in the way of breaks.

But first, I just had to have my traditional breakfast at Orphan Andy's, a Castro institution. Fully fueled from that, I was ready for some movies!

THE LIGHTS OF OLD BROADWAY (1925): We started it off with a showcase of Marion Davies. Two twin orphaned infants on a ship to America. One is adopted by a wealthy family, heavily invested in gas. The other adopted by poor Irish immigrants, heavily invested in throwing bricks at the rich landlords trying to evict them from their slum. Each grows up according to her environment, and each is played by Marion Davies as an adult. Fely, the rambunctious poor Irish lass, is definitely the starring role, as she is discovered first by a theater manager who puts her on stage where she's a hit. And then by Dirk de Rhonde (Conrad Nagel), the son of a wealthy family...heavily invested in gas...who is smitten because...she reminds him of his adopted sister, Anne? Okay, that's kind of creepy. Their romance challenges his family loyalty, as his father is trying to evict her family from their slum, and her father beaned his father with a brick. Only one thing can save them--an all out fight and the advent of electric lights, which brilliantly turn everything from black and white to color, and change fortunes overnight. Excellent fun, a great way to start a long day of movies.

And moving it all along was the excellent accompaniment by Philip Carli on the grand piano.
Marion Davies, stealing the show
BROWNIE'S LITTLE VENUS (1921): The next show started with this adorable Baby Peggy short. Let's see what I wrote about it back in 2012:
One of Baby Peggy's earliest co-stars was Brownie the dog, and with her rediscovery he's getting a renewed career, too (although he has to appreciate it from doggie heaven.) As adorable as Baby Peggy is, Brownie's really the star here, helping her get dressed (even tightening her corset) for a big day, then helping her foil a robbery.
Okay, I'd add to that he's not just Brownie the dog, he's Brownie the Wonder Dog! And I'd be remiss not to give credit also to Peggy's parents, Bud Jamison and Lillian Biron.

HELL BENT (1918): Then it was time for a John Ford / Harry Carey collaboration, a team who took westerns to new heights of popularity. Carey practically perfected the iconic character of the "good bad man" that had been previously explored by William S. Hart and of course Niles' own Broncho Billy Anderson. Here he plays a card sharp with a heart of gold. He befriends Cimmaron Bill (Duke Lee) in typical cowboy fashion--by getting into an all-out brawl with him that ends with them singing. He also falls for Bess Thurston (Neva Gerber), who works in a dance hall because her lazy, good-for-nothing brother Jack (Vester Pegg) is...lazy and good for nothing. Jack ends up joining a gang led by Beau Ross (Joseph Harris) so Harry has to do the right thing and foil their robbery and save Bess. Full of rousing action, good humor, tension, and sweeping John Ford vistas. Good fun.

Philip Carli again provided the accompaniment, and was excellent.
Harry Carey, at his Harry Carey-est

GOONA GOONA (1931): Then it was time for a trip to Bali for this amazing cultural artifact. Shot on location, and framed as a story told to an anthropologist, a Balinese legend is brought to life by Balinese locals. A prince comes home from studying in Europe, and brings with him dangerous European ideals. Like, it's okay to marry outside your caste, or to marry for love, or when that doesn't work out, just go ahead and have an affair with your servant's wife. Okay, these ideas don't exactly work out well, but it's an engaging story well told, with plenty of local flavor and traditional dress...meaning the women are often topless.

I know, we westerners have an obsession with tits, sorry, that's the culture I grew up in. And it's not just me. The title (which is supposed to be a sort of love potion powder) ended up becoming a generic term for southeast and far east Asian exploitation flicks, particularly one in which the women are topless...for ethnographic authenticity, a la National Geographic. I guess that's Bali for you.

But let's not obsess over that, instead obsess over the amazing score by Club Foot Gamelan, the combination of Club Foot Orchestra and Gamelan Sekar Jaya.
An authentic (as far as I know) Balinese ceremony.

L'HOMME DU LARGE (MAN OF THE OPEN SEAS) (1920): Then it was time for some high melodrama of the sea, based on a story by Balzac. We begin with Nolff (Roger Karl), a fisherman taking a vow of silence for the rest of his life. We then flash backwards to what led up to his sorry state. A loving wife, a young daughter, and a newborn son. He lets his wife raise the daughter, and he raises the son with a plan for him to love the sea. But that doesn't go as planned, and the grown-up son is a ne'er-do-well who hates the sea to spite his father. He loves the village...the excitement there...although he has run up some debts. This ruins the family, and through tragedy upon tragedy leads to Nolff's vow that opens the film. Beautifully shot and acted, it's high melodrama at its highest, and a bit of a tribute to the power and beauty of the see, particularly on the Brittany coast.

Guenter Buchwald and Frank Bockius provide the excellent score, and instead of obscuring the beautifully crafted French intertitles, translations were narrated live by actor Paul McGann

THE WEDDING MARCH (1928): Melodrama was the order of the day, and what could be more melodramatic than Erich von Stroheim directing and starring is a romance. Opposite both Fay Wray (in her first featured role) and Zasu Pitts, no less. Stroheim plays Nicki, a prince of Vienna whose full name is a kilometer long, who gives up his skirt-chasing ways as soon as he lays eyes on Mitzi (Fay Wray.) Trouble is, the royal family needs money, and she is a commoner. His parents want him to marry into money, and that would be Cecilia (Zasu Pitts), the limping daughter of a local tycoon of corn plasters. But Nicki wants Mitzi, even if that raises the hackles of local butcher (and ironically, a pig) Schani. Raises them to possibly murderous levels. It's again high, high melodrama, and with an ending that's...well, that's a Stroheim kind of ending (hint: not happy.)

The whole affair was beautifully accompanied by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra
Fay Wray and Erich von Stroheim, in love.

L'INFERNO (1911): And finally the long, long day ended with this lavish Italian interpretation of Dante's Inferno. It's been about a decade since I read it, but from what I remember it's a fairly faithful adaptation. Virgil, at the behest of Beatrice, leads Dante through the 9 levels of hell. The visuals are lavish and actually pretty creepy. Like many early movies it suffers from a very staged, static style, which makes it a pretty long slog even at just 66 minutes. Or maybe that was just my exhaustion. Anyway, great special effects (especially with the guy condemned to carry his own severed head around) but they were still figuring out pacing. But at least the visuals were beautifully gruesome and macabre. Oh, and most of the tortured souls are nearly naked in hell. But I guess that's Italy for you.

And for the macabre and weird, of course the Matti Bye Ensemble needed to provide the accompaniment, with Paul McGann again providing narration for the intertitles.
There's a lot of nudity in Hell, but not the kind you want to see. Kind of like Burning Man.
Total Running Time: 470 minutes
My Total Minutes: 504,876

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Jason goes to Silentfest: Day 3

Two more movies on Friday. Again my day job kept me away from the early shows, but I got to see a couple of great ones, and I checked into my weekend home, Beck's Motor Lodge.

THE LOVE OF JEANNE NEY (DIE LIEBE DER JEANNE NEY) (1927): Set in Crimea after the Soviet Revolution, where Bolsheviks and Cossacks are fighting. Jeanne (Édith Jéhanne) is the daughter of French diplomat André Ney (Eugen Jensen) and lover of Andreas Labov (Uno Henning). A scheming, lecherous opportunist Khalibiev (Fritz Rasp) sells André a list of Bolshevik agents--a list that includes Jeanne's lover Andreas. That leads to a confrontation that kills her father, wounds Andreas, and leads to Jeanne fleeing to Paris. She is followed, more dangerous encounters ensue, and Brigitte Helm (most famous, of course, for METROPOLIS) has a supporting role as a blind girl who is the target of more of Khalibiev's schemes. And my head is kind of left spinning by the plot but marveling at the camerawork, pacing, and editing.

Guenter Buchwald Ensemble (Guenter, Frank Bockius, and Sascha Jacobsen)
Jeanne and Andreas

WEST OF ZANZIBAR (1928): And we ended the night with a co-presentation by Midnites for Maniacs, introduced by the head Maniac himself, Jess Hawthorne Ficks.

It's a Todd Browning (DRACULA, FREAKS) and Lon Chaney (the original Man of 1,000 faces) collaboration, one of the greatest partnerships in the entire silent film era, at least for classic genre fans. Chaney is a stage magician, Phroso, with a beautiful wife and assistant Anna (Jacqueline Gadsdon). But she's been cheating on him with Crane (Lionel Barrymore) and Crane attacks him, leaving him crippled and running off with Anna. A year later, a broken Phroso learns that Anna has returned. He finds her dead in a church with a baby girl--the proof of her infidelity--by her side. So he plots revenge. It takes 18 years, in Africa, where Crane has become an ivory merchant. But he gets in good with the natives, using his magic to lead them with his cadre of helpers, he is now known just as "Dead Legs." The plot and visuals are somewhat shocking, even today, and the revenge scheme is grotesque. And of course, because it's from the master of the macabre, things don't go quite according to plan. An absolutely dark treat, and a great film to just try to sleep after (I didn't, I stayed up and halfway caught up on my blog.)

Stephen Horne and Frank Bockius again (he's been busy this festival!) kept the tight, tense, and macabre plot churning ahead with their score, and it was all a lot of fun.
Dead Legs keeping the co-conspirators in his revenge plot in line.

Total Running Time: 170 minutes
My Total Minutes: 504,406

Jason goes to Silentfest: Day 2

I worked my day job so missed the matinee shows on Thursday, but I was there for two evening shows, and they were both amazing.

THE SIGNAL TOWER (1924): This train picture climaxes with one of the most tense and thrilling scenes I've ever seen. But first, we meet Dave (Rockcliffe Fellowes) who runs the signal tower remote in the Mendocino Mountains. He has an important job, making sure the tracks are cleared so the trains can get through. He lives there was his wife Sally (the beautiful Virginia Valli), their son (Frankie Darro), and his aging colleague and friend, Old Bill (James Barrows.) But the railroad has pensioned Bill and sent him into retirement with a vacation in New York. So a new night shift signal man comes in, Joe, played by Wallace Beery at his oiliest. Dave and Sally could use rent money, so the bring him into their home. And at first it looks like there might be a romance between him and cousin Gertie (Dot Farley.) But he has his eyes on Sally, instead. It gets super creepy, and then super dangerous when a train breaks on a stormy night and the back half starts barreling down the track and must be derailed before it crashes into the Express. That's the super-tense scene I alluded to in the beginning. It all plays out with the dual tension of the train and Joe's assault on Sally, but there's also plenty of room for humor and well-fleshed out characters.

Keeping things alternately tense and humorous was the charging score of Stephen Horne on piano and Frank Bockius on percussion.
Virginia Valli doing her best to resist Wallace Beery

OPIUM (1919): And then the late show was a trip as hallucinatory as the title would suggest. Directed by Robert Reinert, it's the story of Dr Gesellius (Eduard von Winterstein), who has studied the terrible effects of opium and set up a sanitarium to treat addicts. But he himself falls under its spell, and the whole movie takes a wild turn. It's a sprawling tale, from China to England to India, and the costumes and makeup reflect the unfortunate racism of the time (the scheming Chinese opium dealer shows up repeatedly to torment the good doctor.) But there's a very full story (I was surprised to look back at the notes and see it's only 91 minutes long) and takes you on a trip around the world and through the mind of a hallucinating opium fiend (including more topless scenes than you usually see in a movie of that time, but I guess that's Germany for you.)

And Guenter Buchwald's amazing score kept the hallucinations flowing freely.
Dr Gesellius feeling guilty about his patient, since he kind of caused his injury

Total Running Time: 175 minutes
My Total Minutes: 504,235

Jason goes to Silentfest: Opening Night

The most amazing, intense, extended weekend of the year kicked off Wednesday night, and of course I was there.

The film of the night was Buster Keaton's THE CAMERAMAN (1928): Let's look back on what I said about it back when it was the closing night film in 2012:
What can I say, this is Buster Keaton being a comic genius. It's also the first film he made for MGM, and the start of him losing control over his own films--something he later called his worst mistake in his life. But he's still great in this as a humble tin-type photographer who sees a pretty girl (Marceline Day,) finds out she works at an MGM newsreel office, and decides to clear out his savings account to buy movie camera, get the great footage, and really impress her. He just has a bit of a learning curve. But with his stone-faced gumption and a very clever monkey, he saves the day. It also includes a hilarious public pool sequence that is surprisingly risque for the time. Hilarious, and I just had to wonder how the cameramen on the movie felt about the scene showing a monkey could do their job.
Yup, I still stand by all of that. I'll just add a comment about the hilarious running scene where the girl of his dreams calls him up and he runs to her building before she can even hang up the phone. And, of course, I have to give credit to the brilliant musical accompaniment by Timothy Brock conducting students of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.
Credits where credit is due, with a cameo by my fingertip!

Then a little after party at McRoskey Mattress Company, the festival's longtime sponsor. A few drinks, catching up with my one-weekend-out-of-the year friends, and then it was time for a little sleep so I could work and then be at the festival again the next night.

Running Time: 72 minutes
My Total Minutes: 504,060

Jason goes to SFFILM: Closing Night

My final three movies of the festival. The fest continued for a couple more days, and I had tickets but my day job kept me from using them. But let's not worry about that, instead enjoy the films I did get to see.

I started the day with the documentary SHOW ME THE PICTURE: THE STORY OF JIM MARSHALL. Even if you don't know the name, if you've ever seen a picture of a musician you probably know the work of Jim Marshall. Chock full of archival footage and dazzling candid photographs, you get a sense of a master photographer, a man who loved music and the whole lifestyle, and whose lifestyle led to his ruin. Drugs and an obsession with guns ended up ruining him, and even his best friends and lovers couldn't sugar-coat it. But he certainly left a legacy, and this excellent documentary will ensure his legacy lives on.

Probably Jim's most famous photograph. The audience gleefully reproduced it.

Next up was THE HARVESTERS, a challenging film from South Africa. Janno is a sensitive boy living in a deeply religious, white Afrikaner family in Free State. His mother takes in a tough, troubled street kid named Pietr, and tells Janno to treat him like a brother. And Janno is a good kid, so he tries. But Pietr has a sort of charisma that seems dangerous. I'm sure if I knew more of the history and culture of South Africa, I could read a lot more into the parallels of family and post-Apartheid culture wars. But as it is, I confess I was a bit bored. So I'll leave it as "challenging." I could tell there was a great deal of skill and care taken in making the movie, but it's just not my cup of tea.

And then I ended the night with the closing night film, OFFICIAL SECRETS, the latest from Gavin Hood (TSOTSI, EYE IN THE SKY,...we won't speak of his attempts at a more commercial studio blockbuster). This time he takes on the true story of Katharine Gun (who was there for the screening!), played by Keira Knightley. She worked for UK intelligence, and was disturbed by an e-mail that went around urging them to dig up dirt on leaders of foreign countries as leverage for them to go to war with Iraq over...let's say "flimsy" evidence at best. For doing that, she was charged with treason and put on trial, then the charges were dropped because the government refused to present their evidence. The question of "Why?" has still never been answered. The movie is political, of course, but at it's core it's a story of the relationship between a journalist. In this case, Martin Bright of the Observer (Matt Smith) who carefully checked and corroborated every detail he could. All in all, a rousing and important film with which to end the festival.

Total Running Time: 308 minutes
My Total Minutes: 503,989

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Jason goes to SFFILM: Saturday, April 20

My third and longest day of the festival--a whole 4 movies! (My regular readers will know how weak that is for me.)

First up at the Roxie was THE LITTLE COMRADE, a funny Estonian film about the Soviet era resistance and a six year old girl who doesn't understand all of what her parents are into and instead is happy with the recognition she gets being a good little comrade and singing the anthem of the Young Pioneers. So when her mother is taken away to a prison camp (which her father covers by saying she's going off to be treated for a medical condition) she only understands her instructions to be a good little girl, and she thinks that means to be a good, respected comrade. It's a movie about authoritarianism, but through the lens of how confusing it can be for a child, when everyone is an authority to you. It might make one wonder about today, and how authoritarianism creeps into the minds of children--and those with childish minds.

Next up was DEBT, a Turkish slice-of-life about a dutiful husband, father, and upstanding community member Tufan. He works in a print shop, but they're struggling. When his elderly neighbor is sick, he takes her in. But as economic hardships set in, and his houseguest strains his marriage (and her daughter is no help at all) the strain starts to get to him. It's not just about monetary debts, it's about the debts we owe to each other as human beings--kindness, charity, respect, tolerance, forgiveness. Sometimes it feels like he's falling behind because he's the only one paying those kinds of debts, while everyone else is just out for themselves. In that regard, he certainly makes for an engaging and sympathetic hero.

And then it was time to HAIL SATAN? Penny Lane (NUTS!, Festival 2016) is one of my favorite filmmakers. She brings comedic insight into her documentaries and is never boring. And she has a ripe subject here. First you have to understand the difference between The Satanic Temple and The Church of Satan, Aleister Crowley's hedonistic cult from San Francisco. The Satanic Temple is the more publicly engaged, politically active, and comedically inclined church (yes, this happened after the movie was made, but they're now officially recognized as a church). Most of them don't literally believe in Satan, they're atheists or non-theists who believe in Satan as a useful (albeit loaded) metaphor for principled and reasoned opposition to an overbearing power. After all, the Bible calls upon us to serve God without question. Another word for servitude is slavery. So they're calling on people to reject slavery for themselves and others.

They're the ones who, for example, when a statue of the Ten Commandments went up in front of a courthouse in Oklahoma City, they sued to put a Baphomet statue next to it. (And when the Ten Commandments was taken down, they removed their Baphomet statue because it didn't work out of the context of religious plurality). The movie follows the leadership as they pick their battles, advance their strategy (working within the system), and deal with some of the growing pains of becoming a large, international organization. There's an interesting episode with their Detroit chapter, whose leader is way more radical than the rest of them. Eventually they do have to sort of...excommunicate her? I don't know what to call it. It's not that they object to her radicalism, even with the parts of her shows where she calls for assassinating the President. But it doesn't help their strategy if she's doing that in their name. So they can let her keep doing it (because unlike most religions they want to let people do their thing, even if it's following a different religion) and she gets to talk about how she's so radical she was kicked out of The Satanic Temple. The movie also gets into the more mundane activities--adopting a highway or beach clean-up. For many of them civic duty is a part of their faith, and that's a good thing. And I'd be remiss not to mention the Seven Tenets, none of which I can find objectionable. All in all, a very entertaining movie that might just open some eyes, but at least never bores you.

And finally, that wasn't weird enough so I ended the night with MONOS, a war movie unlike any other. With absolutely no context, we are introduced to young soldiers (nearly child soldiers) fighting for "The Organization." They have a hostage, "Doctora" whom they must keep alive and keep from escaping. And they have a cow, a gift from their higher-ups as thanks for their great work. And they train, and they goof around and fires their guns randomly. If it weren't for the occasional battle scenes, you might think it was a group of crazy kids in the wilderness playing war (which, come to think of it, is a pretty good description of most wars.) This is another movie--sort of a hallmark of this festival--that I loved while watching it and then find incredibly difficult to describe afterward. It's surreal, hallucinatory, frightening, and hilarious. Events veer radically out of control, and I don't even remember how it ended, but I know I loved it.

Total Running Time: 388 minutes
My Total Minutes: 503,680

Jason goes to SFFILM: Saturday, April 14th

For my second day of the festival, I spent the full day in the amazing Dolby Labs. Seriously, next year when they open up again, you all have to see at least one film there.

First up was a documentary MIDNIGHT FAMILY. Mexico City is woefully understaffed by public ambulances--and that's an understatement. In place of a public system, an informal, largely unlicensed network of private ambulances serve the population. This is an extended ride-along with one of them, and it's the family business with everyone chipping in. They race other ambulances to scenes of accidents, they get abused by corrupt cops who need bribes or they might be run in for running an unlicensed ambulance business. They advise their "customers" whether to try to get help at a public hospital or actually get helped (if they can afford it) at private ones. Oh, and occasionally their customers can actually pay, and they eat something a little better than saltines and canned tuna. It veers wildly from tragedy to comedy (just like life) and is never ever boring (unlike life.) A hell of a ride.

Then a movie that really made use of the beyond-state-of-the-art Dolby Atmos format,THE SOUND OF SILENCE. Peter Sarsgaard stars as Peter Lucien, a "house tuner" in New York. The idea, vastly simplified, is that you might be having trouble sleeping not just because your old radiator is noisy, but because it's out of tune with your refrigerator, or the whole neighborhood. He's got quite an ear, and quite a wild theory. There's something orchestrating our lives. If not exactly controlling our every movement, it at least helps the denizens of New York City go about their lives without tripping over each other. And he thinks it's sound. Every neighborhood, every block has it's one chord. E.g., the Financial District has a fast-paced, frantic chord, while Central Park has a more relaxing one (I don't know enough music theory to even confirm this makes sense.) Anyway, that's his theory, and his house tuning business is a perfect way to collect data on that. But his theory runs into an anomaly--a woman whose troubles aren't fixed with a simple house tuning. The movie teeters on the edge of rom-com territory, as he becomes obsessed and maybe infatuated with her and how she just doesn't conform to his model of the world. She challenges him, and as he seeks recognition of his theory from the scientific community, it might just break him. A fascinating story that sounded amazing inside Dolby Labs. It'll be interesting when it comes out (in the Fall, I believe) how well it will play at the local multiplex. 

And finally I ended the night with AQUARELA, the newest from Victor Kossakovsky (¡VIVAN LAS ANTIPODAS!, San Francisco Film Festival 2012). He takes his vibrant camera work and observational style to the world of water. From rescuers on not-frozen-over-enough Lake Baikal to hurricanes in Miami and everywhere in between. Water is life, but water can also be a deadly instrument of nature's fury. There's little to no narrative here, so it's difficult to describe in words. But it's beautiful, thrilling, sometimes terrifying. And again, in Dolby's amazing theater lab, I just sat back and let it wash over me (pun intended). Fantastic.

Total Running Time: 258 minutes
My Total Minutes: 503,291

Friday, May 3, 2019

Jason goes to SFFILM: Saturday, April 13th

My day job has kept me away from going all out at film fests, and from blogging. But I did make the weekends of the SFFILM Festival. So here we go.

I started my festival in the amazing Dolby Labs (which opens it's beyond-state-of-the-art theater one weekend a year just for this festival) and the documentary WE BELIEVE IN DINOSAURS. It's an engaging, funny, informative, sincere, and even-handed look at the Ark Encounter creationist museum and...theme park? in Kentucky. The building of it (extremely polished and professional), the controversies (tax breaks for an institution that doesn't just discriminate against non-Christians, even evolution-believing Christians or old-earth creationists are barred from working there), and sometimes just the bizarre. One of the real head-scratchers (at least for me, who hasn't delved into the world of young-earth creationist "science") was their solution for how all the animals could fit on the Ark. See, it wasn't two of "every animal", it was two of "every type of animal." So for example they didn't need two lions and two tigers and two of every other species of big just needed two prototypical big cats and then they...didn't "evolve" but somehow over several generations became all the species of big cats? I guess? Anyway, I have to hand it to them, they made a place that looks like a lot of fun to visit, just based around an idea that I totally disbelieve.

Then over to the Roxie for Shorts 4: Animation. Hooray for cartoons!
You know, normally this is the part where I list them all, and tell you a little bit about each one. Sorry, it's been too long, I don't remember well enough. Some were funny, many were abstract, I was drinking a beer or two. It was good. Sorry for punting.

And then I ended the night with THE INNOCENT, an audacious Swiss German drama about religion, animal testing, former lovers, hallucinations, and a monkey. Ruth is an evangelical who works in an animal laboratory, experimenting in head transplants (or whole body except the head transplants) on monkeys. She passes out in church one day. Then while recovering she see her long lost fiance (who had gone to jail, then disappeared) has reappeared. But when she hires a detective to investigate, he finds solid, irrefutable proof that he is dead. And then it gets weird. And the driving scenes get terrifying. And I haven't even mentioned the sex cult at the youth Bible study camp. So I just sat there and watched in shocked delight. One of my favorites of the festival (since I'm writing all these after the festival is long over, I can say that without the qualifier of "so far.")

Total Running Time: 287 minutes
My Total Minutes: 503,032

Jason goes to Cinequest--Closing Night

I guess I should finally write this. It's been a while, so this will have to be extra-short reviews. Sorry.

Of course, despite the long night before, I was still up and in the lounge for drink number one on the final day. Or was that not me but...the Tito's Bandito?!!!
Look out for the self-proclaimed Tito's Bandito!
First up was BRING ME AN AVOCADO, an excellent little local drama. It's the story of tragedy befalling a good, loving family. Specifically, in the form of a mugger shooting and seriously wounding the mother. So the father has to step up and take care of the kids. But he has help, in the form of his sister-in-law and her best friend. Tragedy brings out strength. But over time, that strength diminishes and...moral failings surface. But it's to the credit of the movie and its excellent cast that even as you watch people fail, you still sympathize with them and believe their motivations. Ultimately, the strength of family love wins out over the messiness of life, but not without a struggle.

Then it was time for TEEN SPIRIT, starring the lovely Elle Fanning, recipient of a Maverick Spirit Award. She plays a small town girl who loves singing and gets a chance to shine in a televised pop singing contest, Teen Spirit. Elle does all her own singing, and I'm no expert but I thought she sounded good. The plot is a bit formulaic, but fun. The best part by far is Zlatko Buric playing the creepy looking old guy who cheers for her when she's performing in the bar, but who turns out to actually know talent and ends up being her (deeply flawed, alcoholic) mentor. So let that be a lesson to the volunteer who was introducing a film a couple of days before and tried to shame me and my friend when we cheered at the mention of Elle. Sometimes the creepy looking drunk guys cheering are actually just cheering in deep admiration for talent, not because they're creeps. (Note: I took that whole exchange as a joke and exchanged a thumbs-up with him afterward.)

The lovely and talented Elle Fanning.

Then I had time for a quick VIP reception at the Grill in the Fairmont, a few drinks, a few snacks, and then back to the California for a Life of a Maverick Award presentation to educator and innovator Esther Wojcicki.

And then finally time for the closing night film, THE MAN WHO KILLED DON QUIXOTE. Terry Gilliam's quest to make this film has become a thing of legend, even spawning the first (that I know of) "Unmaking-Of" documentary. Well, he's finally done it, through the story of a frustrated commercial filmmaker (Adam Driver) who had shown so much promise when he made his student film of Don Quixote. His strategy at the time was to find locals in Spain to play the roles, for added realism. And he happens to find himself in that same spot in Spain, and looks up the old shoemaker (Jonathan Pryce) who played his Don Quixote way back then. But he was confused then, and senile now, and believes he really is Don Quixote and Sancho Panza has come back to take him on a new adventure. What ensues is pure, mainlined Gilliam. Extravagant set design, a head-spinning story (although maybe that was all the booze) and a celebration of obsession and pursuit of art and beauty, even if (especially if!) it drives you absolutely mad!

And then it was all over but the drinking. First the official after party, and then the unofficial but traditional after-after party in the Fairmont lounge, and finally up to my suite for the last drinks with the last few die-hards at about 4 am.

And with that, another Cinequest is in the books...unless I finally find time to watch all those screeners...

Total Running Time: 328 minutes
My Total Minutes: 502,625

And since it was asked after I crossed my 1/2 a million minute mark:
Total Running Time of Cinequest movies I saw this year: 4,878  minutes
My Total Cinequest Minutes: 63,066*

*Since 2005, when I started counting. So this doesn't count my few Cinequest years before that. But it is fair to say I've spent a lot of time there.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Jason goes to Cinequest--Day 12

The penultimate day! And I was legitimately hurting by then. But sometimes you have to play through the pain. So here was the last Saturday at Cinequest:

I started with...well, let's be honest, I started with drinks in the lounge at 10 am, like every day. But after enough of that, I went to the movies.

The first show started with the short INTO THE PLAINS, starring Maggie Alexander, a returning Cinequester whose previous film ENTHUSIASTIC SINNERS...I slept through. Look, my blog has some integrity, if not intelligence. Anyway, this time I more or less stayed awake (by the end of the festival, I don't really know what I'm watching vs. what I'm dreaming,) and it's a very good and gripping story of a woman who is avoiding her husband, "working late," and not facing their shared trauma of losing a child. Instead, she just takes off.

That was paired with the feature, RITOMA, a fascinating and inspiring documentary about the worldwide reach of basketball. Worldwide, as in...all the way to nomadic tribes in Tibet. Even more amazingly, it made it all the way to MIT (okay, I can kid because my alma mater literally had a documentary made about how much they suck at basketball.) Anyway, Tibetan nomads learn basketball from NBA broadcasts in their free time. They've got a little skill, a lot of enthusiasm, and zero sense for the strategy of the game. Bill Johnson was an assistant coach for MIT, and he learned about the basketballing nomads, so he comes up with a wacky plan. He travels to Tibet, teaches a team, and sets up a tournament with 8 local teams (and some visiting Americans.) And they have a blast. It's clear from the beginning, although there is a "hero" team, it really doesn't matter who wins. This is all about the fun they're having. International sports diplomacy on the smallest scale possible.

Blah blah blah, more drinks in the lounge. Ya know, I think I blame "Hambone."

Then back to the movies for a German crime thriller, CUT OFF. It's a satisfyingly gruesome story of a forensic pathologist who discovers a capsule inside a victim's skull. Inside is a note that leads to the realization that his 13 year old daughter has been kidnapped and threatened. This leads him on a wild chase with the help of his bumbling intern, with more notes hidden inside more victims, and a roundabout plot involving the an old case where he couldn't provide enough evidence to put a murderer away for long enough. Like most overly elaborate thrillers, the plot steps way outside the bounds of credulity, but ignore that and it's a lot of fun, and is twisty enough that I couldn't quite see the ending coming.

Next up was Shorts Program 4 - Animated Worlds. Hooray for cartoons!
THE BACKWARD ASTRONOMER: The decadent but empty romance of the wealthy, until a young man learns to be a backward astronomer and look down on the world from the moon.
FREAKS OF NURTURE: A young woman learns that her mom is amazing, in a cool stop-motion short.
FUN MORE: Super short, overlapping tasks and crude line drawings.
GUAXAMA: Memories of children on the beach, literally drawn in the sand.
I'M OKAY: Expressionist artist Oskar Kokoschka in WWI. Animated in a very playful style.
INANIMATE: A puppet has a sort of mental breakdown and starts questioning reality. Expect the unexpected.
MR. DEER: Animals on the subway. Being animals, just like people do.
NOT YET: A Hungarian film about a child searching for his mother. TBH, I don't remember much about this one.
ON THE DAY YOU WERE BORN: With simple line drawings, a man starts growing on his 45th birthday. Soon he can't fit his house, or his clothes, and then there's just a naked giant walking through town with his dong hanging out. Very funny.
PRIZEFIGHTER: Heavyweight champion Jack Johnson beat the whole world. But he was still subject to racism.
RANDOM THOUGHTS: Man Hurts Hotdog. Other anagrams. The story of an animator submitting to a film festival. Possibly based on Cinequest. From Steven Vander Meer, of SALMON DEADLY SINS (Cinequest 2014).
SELFIES: Made from selfies, about selfies.
SOLILOQUIES: A teen with anxieties, based on the life of filmmaker Julia Song.
TRUMP BITES: Bill Plympton animates actual Trump quotes, in his inimitable way.
TWO OF EVERY KIND: A couple of peacock queens make snarky comments about the others on the ark.

Then more shorts, Shorts Program 3 - Sci-Fi,  Fantasy, and Horror. Hooray for the far-out films (but not quite Mindbenders)
8:27: Earlier in the fest I saw THE LAST SUNRISE, which was a long form Chinese story about what happens if the sun goes out. This is a German take, and a more humorous take, on the same premise. Based on the time it takes light to travel from the sun to the Earth.
BOOK OF THE DEAD: A gorgeous CGI dream/nightmare about the process of dying...and returning.
I just really, really, really like this image
DAZZLE BEAST: A dirty underworld, and a young girl with a little magic.
THE GIVE AND TAKE: A funny story of an old eighties video game, a helpline that shouldn't really work anymore, and a cosmic glitch that allows it to work, and change the life of the guy answering the line.
HENRIETTA BULKOWSKI: Stop motion animation of a hunchback woman who wanted to fly, but could never look up. So she spent her life building a plane, only to find a bigger surprise.
JUMPY: An 8 bit videogame character has a lot of determination. He just needs to make that one big jump, but he keeps missing and getting increasingly frustrated.
LIFE ON MARS: A dying father convinces his little son that they'll meet again--on Mars.
NADINE: Superpowers and overcoming hate.
NEGROLAND: A poor black town, if the residents there were zombies. Or at least, if they were quarantined and mistreated like zombies. Actually, maybe it's a documentary about Flint, Michigan.
SHOULD YOU MEET A LADY IN A DARKENED WOOD: A nicely creepy animated piece about a taxidermist and his final prize. But the lady turns on him.
SINGULARITY: A brief consideration of super-intelligent artificial life.
TERMINALLY IN LOVE: Lovers, memories, fantasies, and dreams.
THE MISSING TRAIT: Inspired by the art of Magritte, a man...and his hat, are looking for the thing that is missing. Maybe an apple? Very cool.

And finally, I ended the night with BLOOD PARADISE, a very Swedish film featuring some gratuitous violence and the most gratuitous nudity of all of Cinequest. This wins the Skinequest prize this year. Robin Richards is a best-selling sleazy crime author, but she's in a bit of a rut. Her last book kinda flopped, and she has no inspiration for her next. So her publisher has an idea--send her to a Countryside Farm rustic resort for a little peace and quiet and hopefully some inspiration. But it's all just a little off, starting with the creepy driver Hans who claims to be her biggest fan and insists she calls him "Hans, Bubbi." Hans' wife is jealous and thinks they're having an affair. The farmer is a weirdo with a secret, his sister never speaks, his son is a gun nut. And it's all hilarious and sleazy, in a perfectly Swedish way, if that makes sense. At least, it has a Swedish sense of dry absurdity. I'm not sure if there's a stereotype of Swedish sleaze, but for now, for me, this is it.

And that was the end of Saturday. At least for the movies. There was still the matter of heading back to my hotel to drink with friends and filmmakers into the wee hours of the morning. First in the bar lounge so as not to disturb the sleeping guests. Then after they kicked us out at 2 am up to the room.

Total Running Time: 517 minutes
My Total Minutes: 502,297

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Jason goes to Cinequest--Day 11

It's all over but the writing now. For brevity's and sanity's sake, I'm skipping over most of the drinking and just writing about the movies now. Here's what went down on the last Friday of Cinequest:

It started the day with Shorts Program 1 - Inbound Visions. More than any other, the shorts program where you should expect the unexpected.
THE 17: The true story of a truly unjust law in El Salvador. It's bad enough to criminalize abortion, but classifying miscarriage as abortion and jailing women who experience it? That's beyond bad.
CHICKENS: Racist cops try to cover up a murder. The chickens come home to roost.
HAYLEY: A flight attendant might be paranoid, or she might actually be saving a little girl from trafficking.
LAMB: Led to the slaughter, like women in Hollywood to powerful predators.
NOCTURNE: A retirement home, a guest, and pie. Surprise.
NOTRE MORT: What do you do if you find your own dead body in the wilderness?
NURSERY RHYMES: For the life of me, I don't remember what actually happened in this one. But this image is pretty striking, isn't it?

THE REVOLUTIONARIES: From returning Cinequester Jadrien Steele (VICTORIANA), a story based on bombings by American radicals in 1970, in hopes of sparking a revolution. After an accident, one woman wants out, and suspicion, reprisal, and manipulation is the result.
THE WIND PHONE: In Otsuchi, Japan, there is a phone booth with a long line of people waiting to make a call. Their calls are ones of loneliness, missing their loved ones, maybe even regret. This phone isn't connected to anything.
WOMAN IN STALL: A woman goes into the bathroom, into a stall, and starts doing what she came there to do. A man knocks on the door. Did she run into the wrong bathroom, or is he a creep?

Next up was Shorts Program 6 - DocuNation. Hooray for real-life stories!
49 MILE SCENIC DRIVE: A brief history of San Francisco's famous scenic drive, the choice of the artist to design the signs, and the controversy when the design was recently changed.
BONES: Some artists just feel their art in their bones. And one uses that to make bones out of marble.
DOUBLE EXPOSED: A woman reflects on the home movies of her grandfather. Over footage of the one movie-making mistake he ever made (see the title) she reveals a much worse transgression of his.
I AM THINKING OF PIERRE CARDIN: A clever and colorful homage to the style of the great designer.
LION IN A BOX: A short, mostly animated account of a proud veteran's experiences with sexual assault, starting in boot camp when her drill instructor offers to make things either "very easy" or "very hard" for her.
NAZI VR: A fascinating look at the latest (possibly last ever) Nazi war crimes trial, which used a VR reconstruction of the camp to prove that the guard on trial couldn't have missed what was going on around him.
PROJECT CHICK: A look at artist Kim El from Pittsburgh. A poetic look at her life and work.
SHADES: Caring way too much about emojis.
SHOUT AT ME!: The training of a luchadora, and how she uses wrestling to combat violence and judgment against women.
THE SPRING THEY DIDN'T SEE: Shocking and depressing visual account of a Kurdish genocide, including the use of chemical weapons.
SUPER 80: An 80th Birthday party shot on Super 8. And how the love of his wife keeps him feeling super.
SWAN: A ballet performance. And it's beautiful.
THE SWIMMER: Swimming. And the thoughts that go through your head on a long-distance swim.

Next up was RED LETTER DAY, a hilarious, cynical, and gruesome horror flick from Canada. It takes a ridiculous premise, leaps far outside the realms of the believable, and completely fucking delivers. The day starts more or less normally in an affluent suburban town of Aspen Ridge. That is, until people check their mail. Seems like everyone has gotten a mysterious red envelope. Inside are instructions--you've been paired with someone in town, based on your social media presence you are the most antagonistic towards each other. Well, now it's time to kill them before they kill you. And let the mayhem begin! Of course, most people would refuse to kill. But the fear is there, and fear makes you irrational. The action follows one family around as they...kinda...try not to kill anyone, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do to survive. I heard a lot of people grumbling about this one on the way out, but if you read the synopsis in the guide and were expecting something else, I think that's your mistake. This completely delivers on its outlandish premise, and has a lot of fun along the way.
What wouldn't you do to protect your family?

Then it was time for THE BLACKOUT. No that's not a description of my mental state at this point of the festival. Rather, it was the first episode of a new Russian television mini-series. Or maybe the first half of a two-part made-for TV movie? We were a little unclear on the concept, but in any case we only saw the first half. Which opened with an exciting premise--it's the near-ish future, and for some unknown reason communications between most towns on earth have been severed. Most of the world has gone black, except for a small area in Eastern Europe. We meet the main cast, the visuals are like a snazzier and more militarized take on BLADE RUNNER, and we almost get to find out what's going on. Seriously, that's the cliffhanger of the first episode. Whatever is in the woods outside town is about to come out and attack, and then credits roll. Apparently it'll be on Russian TV in the fall, and coming in some form to the U.S. in November.

The good news is because the slot was planned for two parts, we had a lot of time between this and the next film, which I spent going to the Maverick Meetup at Mosaic and having exactly one beer, then deciding what I really wanted was a burrito. So I stopped at Taco Mania (hey, it was closer than La Vic and just about as good, although it's true that nothing beats the orange sauce)

Then it was back to the Hammer for EVERY TIME I DIE, a clever and entertaining thriller. Sam is a paramedic, he has friends, but his life isn't great. He has blackouts, and visions of him accidentally killing his little sister Sara when they were little. He's also got a best friend, Jay, who invites him to a weekend at a lake house. Jay's wife Poppy has a sister Mia, and neither Jay nor Poppy know that Sam is already having an affair with Mia, and for that matter neither does Mia's husband, Tyler. Okay, confused yet, because it's easier to follow in the movie than in my terrible writing. Anyway, Mia wants to break it off, Tyler finds out about it, and when Sam tries to leave, Tyler runs him off the road, chases him down to the lake, and murders him. End of story? Not really, because Tyler's consciousness just floats into another body. Specifically, Jay's. That's the supernatural premise, and it's very well done. Sam, inhabiting other bodies, tries to both get back with Mia and reveal Tyler's crime, but isn't believed because, of course, he's in a body that's obviously not Sam's. It's a clever premise, and makes for an entertaining ride that's a spin on the "ghost possession" genre from the ghost's point of view. Really cool, and also a bit philosophical about the nature of identity.

And finally, the midnight movie, starting with the short COME CORRECT. You gotta know what to wear, and what to order, if you want to hang out in the swankiest bar in town. And if you get it wrong, you can either leave, or challenge the bartender to a shake-off. All you need are skills...and a man with an epic beard to be the judge.

And that was the lead-in to the feature, TERROR NULLIUS, a movie edited together from the history of Australian (and if I'm not mistaken, a little New Zealand) cinema, as well as the history of Australia itself. The title is a play on the concept of Terra Nullius, which was used as a legal excuse for invaders to steal aboriginal land. So classics like MAD MAX; PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK; PRISCILLA, QUEEN OF THE DESERT; ROMPER STOMPER; THE BABADOOK (which in this movie turns you gay) etc. as well as more obscure fare are edited together in a sort of story about feminism, gay rights, aboriginal land rights, and more. The stereotypical (and cinematic) outlaw Aussie persona is turned around to one who is finally standing up for the aborigines and against colonialism. Or maybe not, it's such a head-spinning ride and it was so late at night all I really know is I fucking loved it.
Wait a minute... one of those characters wasn't in the original ROAD WARRIOR
Total Running Time: 512 Minutes
My Total Minutes: 501,780

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Jason goes to Cinequest--Day 10

Five films last Thursday, as we're finally coming down the home stretch

First up, after a few drinks in the lounge, was a Georgian film, HORIZON. Giorgi is a young man who is somewhat starting his life over. He has officially separated from his wife Ana, and he has a sense of freedom and opportunities open to him for the first time in years. Basically, his whole life is on the horizon (at least, I assume that's the point of the title.) So he moves out to the country, living with his new best friend and enjoying country pastimes like fishing and duck hunting. Well, "enjoying" isn't exactly the right word. He muddles through them with his friend. And pines for Ana. His whole life is on the horizon, but the trouble with that is the horizon is always too far away to reach (don't @ me, flat-earthers) and so he never really gets there. The acting is good, the natural vistas are pretty, and the movie is a slow, "slice of life" drama. I will trust you to know if you like those. If you're a fan of those kinds of movies, this is a good one. For me, it comes down to whether or not I'm in the mood at that time. And it's so late in the festival and I'm on so little sleep that I need something with a little more kick.

HORIZON plays one more time Sun, Mar 17 3:45 PM in Redwood City

Next up was the documentary GIFT, a beautiful, colorful documentary about artists and the gifts they give to the world. Specifically, it's about artists who give away their works. There's a "moving garden" exhibit where the audience each takes a flower, as long as they can give it away to someone else. There's an artist collective who turn a threatened building into a living museum to protect it and the inhabitants. And, of course, there's Burning Man, that thing in the desert that has enshrined the "gift economy" into its values (we won't mention how much you have to spend just for a ticket there, not to mention supplies to live out there.) I have a little bugaboo about Burning Man docs, only because I've been going for a couple of decades and no documentary has ever captured my experience, instead pushing insistent optimism and purity of the Burning Man ethos. But really that's my hangup. This movie is legitimately great and beautiful, although probably about 10-15 minutes too long, since I started getting bored and sleepy at the end.

Then I had time to catch about half of the TV Dramas Shorts Program
THE SHADES: A man is on trial for a violent crime against a woman. His lawyer, who seems completely bored with the proceedings, gets him off on a due process point. So the community takes matters into their own hands. And the lawyer is part of it, but since it's only the pilot it doesn't reveal everything. This one was intriguing enough I'd be tempted to follow the series all the way through.
NICE IRANIAN GIRL: A short comedic series that is exactly what the title says. Well, specifically it's a nice Iranian girl living in the U.S. and trying to balance cultures.
TUCSON SALVAGE: Based on the book by Brian Jabas Smith, it's a look at the lives of some of the most marginalized people in Tucson. And it's really depressing.

Then I bailed early for some VIP Soiree time at Cafe Stritch. Sorry, I just needed a break.

Then an English thriller, THE UNSEEN. A young well-to-do couple has a happy life with their young son, until tragedy strikes in the form of a pool accident, and they lose their son. Gemma has panic attacks that literally strike her blind (a real condition...I forgot the medical's very rare to happen in both eyes but that's what she has.) When this leads to an auto accident, a stranger named Paul steps in and helps. And he develops a friendship with Gemma and her husband Will. In fact, they become such good friends that Paul invites them to his country guest house so they can get away for a while and maybe get their lives back together. Of course, with the festival theme of Expect the Unexpected, Paul is more than he appears and it becomes a thriller. Which I guess isn't too unexpected because I said that in the beginning. Anyway, the acting is great, the surprises are satisfying, and overall it's a good story well told.

THE UNSEEN has two more screenings Sat, Mar 16 4:00 PM and Sun, Mar 17 1:15 PM, both in Redwood City

And I ended the night with Shorts Program 9 - Hidden. Expect the Unexpected!
BEN AND MIMI - MIMI AND BEN: A love triangle of a woman, her husband, and her pet caterpillar.
BLACK HAT: A distracted orthodox Jewish man keeps leaving his hat behind. And one night, he leaves it in a potentially very dangerous place.
THE BUMBRY ENCOUNTER: A young couple, lost on a mountain rode, witness what may be a U.F.O. But the authorities have other ideas...ideas that a mixed-race couple just shouldn't be. A great story of manipulation.
BUNNY MAN: Some young people in Vancouver talk about ethnic stereotypes. Then a Bunny Man walks in. My favorite!
The titular Bunny Man
DOLOR: Stop motion animation about the pain of losing a loved one.
FAUVE: Two kids play a game of trickery and one-upsmanship. Until things go wrong.
THE FISHERMAN: An old man talks to a fish. No wait, reverse that. A fish talks to an old man. People think he (the old man) is crazy. But the fish has an important message.
GUNS FOUND HERE: A fascinating look at the center that traces gun records back to their owner. In any police procedural, they "run a trace" on a gun. These are the guys who do that trace, and how the law is designed to make it difficult and time-consuming, so that there is no national gun registry.
NEFTA FOOTBALL CLUB: A donkey carrying a package of white powder. They say it's laundry detergent, but it's really something else. Anyway, a couple of kids find it. The older brother knows what's up, but the younger brother has a much better use for that white powder. A very funny Tunisian story.
SPECIAL DELIVERY: No one is more lonely than the mailman around Valentine's Day.

Shorts Program 9 - Hidden has two more screenings: Sat, Mar 16 2:30 PM at 3Below, and Sun, Mar 17 10:30 AM in Redwood City

Total Running Time: 474 minutes
My Total Minutes: 501,268

Friday, March 15, 2019

Jason goes to Cinequest--Day 9

Wednesday. Five more films. Let's go. I think this was technically my "rest" day. Not that I stopped watching films, I just slowed down my drinking. Even the bartender noticed that the Tito's Bandito (confession--my alter-ego!) was a little slow on the draw. Don't worry, the Bandito will be back!
The Tito's Bandito. Have you seen this man?

Anyway, I started the day with BITE ME, A surprisingly sweet vampire love story that completely rejects the supernatural vampire myths (in fact, it starts with the protagonist looking into a mirror). 
Instead it's about fringe counterculture and finding love with a mundane. Sarah identifies as a vampire, in that she hangs out with fellow self-identified vampires and feels weak if she doesn't drink some human blood every week or so (no biting, all from willing donors, mostly in the community). She and a couple of her friends have been living in what they claim is a church, and therefore not paying taxes. So that gets the attention of the IRS, and James is the agent assigned to audit her church. And they turn out to get along very well. Even if it goes against the norms of both societies (it's interesting to think of the parallels between James' intolerant Christian friends and family and Sarah's too-cool-for-mundanes subculture) and especially against all professional codes of conduct (don't start dating until the audit is over!) they just kinda can't help it. It's funny and colorful, and in the end has a totally sincere message about how nobody is too special for ordinary, run-of-the-mill love.
It's so much fun when people ask my favorite film of the festival to yell out, "BITE ME!"

BITE ME plays again Sun, Mar 17 10:45 AM in Redwood City

Next up was LAST SUNRISE, a very clever sci-fi from China. It starts with a very simple but high-concept premise--the sun goes out. And not that it's slowly fading, it just rather suddenly blinks out, and what are the consequences of that? Obviously it's dark (dark enough for some beautiful vistas of the stars.) It's also cold and getting colder. And with plant life dying there's no more oxygen. Also our orbit is now more or less a straight line. Astronomer Sun Yang (I assume the name is intentional) was one of the few who saw it coming, but he's still not immune. He and his neighbor Chen Mu team up and work to survive I an increasingly cold world (both physically and emotionally) and make it to district 4, where allegedly there's a sanctuary that can save them--or at least prolong their survival. Really, without the sun all life on Earth is screwed pretty quickly, so it's more about the reactions of people to their impending extinction. Do you bind together in allegiances? Do you trust other people, or fight to protect yourself above all else. Really fascinating, although by the end you start to feel every minute of the 104 minute running time. It's great, but kind of exhausting (probably doesn't help that I was exhausted going in.)

LAST SUNRISE plays again Sat, Mar 16 6:30 PM in Redwood City

Then there was no time for Q&A, because I had to run off to the next show, which was Shorts Program 2: Family, For Better or Worse. All the different ways that a family can be:
ARCANGEL: Family can be a man and his elderly woman (maybe mother, maybe just friend) whom he's trying to get services for
BOY BOY GIRL GIRL: Family can be a gay couple and the drug-addicted lesbian couple who are carrying their baby girl.
THE CIRCLE: Family can be an aunt, spending the day with her niece before breaking some bad news
HAVE IT ALL: Family can be a working mom and her baby, and the exhausting comedic adventure of going to a work meeting
I AM MY OWN MOTHER: Family can be the mom who gave you up for adoption, and doesn't want you now, even if you're carrying get grandchild
MOVING ON: Family can be a surprise revelation after a dad's funeral
NAYSAYER: Family can be a father, barred from seeing his own son, who takes matters into his own hands. But in a recurring theme of the festival, his grip on reality is not good.
ONE CAMBODIAN FAMILY PLEASE FOR MY PLEASURE: Family can be one refugee family helping another, in the new paradise of Fargo, North Dakota
POZOLE: Family is food, even if it violates your dietary restrictions.
This is family

Next up was WBCN AND THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION, about a Boston cultural institution in the late 60s through the 70s. A great indie radio station that combined rock and roll, politics, and rebellion (which is the only way to do rock and roll.) For a brief time it was the cultural institution of Boston. If you said you listened to the radio you didn't have to specify WBCN, that would be redundant. People would listen and turn their radios out the window so neighbors could hear. Legend has it you could walk across town without a radio and never not hear it. Using a wealth of archival footage, the film tells the story of a square entrepreneur and a gaggle of student radio DJs who first booked some overnight time on a failing station, and had the radical idea of playing what people were actually listening to. That turned out to be a winning formula, and by staying true to those roots they grew to become an institution. And then...they kind of knew it was over when they moved to some of the most prestigious real estate in Boston and really went "professional." But for a period it was an amazing place. Discovering new artists. Publicizing anti-war protests. Doing real investigative journalism (with their official "New Dissector"). I didn't live in that time or place, but the movie kind of makes me wish I had.
There was a time when these guys were the avant-garde of culture in Boston. Really.

And finally, I ended the night with a short and a feature. First up was the short, AMERICAN MUSCLE. It's a cool episode of a late night street race, directed by a guy who might or might not know how real it is. A story of leaving it all on the pavement to win a car, money, or at least some respect. Hopefully this short will get be expanded into a feature. At least, that's the plan.

And finally, APARTMENT 413 was an excellent thriller with a clever comedic touch. I don't want to give too much away, but it's part of the festival theme of mental illness and questioning reality (I guess in Cinequest-speak, they call it "Expect the Unexpected.") Marco has a good life...or at least an okay life. He has a girlfriend. They have a baby on the way. They have an okay apartment. He just needs a job so he can support them. But he has some bad habits. He oversleeps and misses an interview. He gets bored filling out applications and takes a break to play video games...for most of the day. And he's got a much, much bigger problem. Someone is leaving creepy notes around the apartment to threaten him. Or he finds a cell phone and some creep starts sending him messages that his girlfriend's baby isn't really his. Or he cleans the apartment and a second later it's a mess again. He starts questioning his own grasp on reality so much that he takes pictures of things to prove to himself and his girlfriend what's really real. Like I said, no spoilers, but expect the unexpected. Very well done!

AMERICAN MUSCLE and APARTMENT 413 play again Sat, Mar 16 10:30 AM in Redwood City

Total Running Time: 524 minutes
My Total Minutes: 500,794

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Jason goes to Cinequest--Day 8

5 more films on Tuesday, as we're now over the halfway point. Time for some quickie reviews, because I've reached the point of the festival where I can't do much better.

First up was a trip to Canada and the fossil fuel industry for CIRCLE OF STEEL. Wendy is an engineer, fresh out of school starting her new job. She might not like the oil and gas industry, but it's a job and she likes it more than being unemployed. There's also not much to do in this small town--pilates at home, Internet dating, drinking at the bar. Yeah, so it's not the good life, but it's better than unemployment. Oops, except there are rumors of unemployment and her last performance review was only rated "Acceptable." So she's likely to have bigger problems than a shitty job. Chantelle Han is excellent as Wendy, and the movie has fun with what easily could've been a really bleak premise.

Next up was AN AUDIENCE OF CHAIRS. A talented and popular concert pianist seems to have her life in order. And then it falls apart. And I confess I dozed off during the "incident" that estranged her to her family. But I was awake for the long struggle to regain her mental health and win them back. Carolina Bartczak gives a knock-out performance, depicting the struggles of someone going through a disease that alters her reality (which is kind of a recurring theme of this years festival.) And the ending is good, showing the importance of the smallest victories against illness.

Then for some silly fun, with the British comedy KILL BEN LYK. A serial killer is running around London killing everyone named Ben Lyk. So...if you're a Ben Lyk, you should probably lay low, right? Well, if you're a marginally famous YouTuber, you vlog about it and worst case, the views on your murder will be through the roof. Scotland Yard gets involved, and whisks all Ben Lyk's into a safe house, which is very convenient...for the murderer. Now he doesn't have to run all over town. In a bit of a CLUE-like setup, the Ben Lyk's start dropping. We do eventually get the backstory of why all this is happening, and it's funny and satisfying. But the most fun is just watching all the idiotic Ben Lyk's reactions to what's going on.

The next show continued the theme this year of including music videos before the features. SNEAKS - MONEY DON'T GROW ON TREES is a good song with a cool video, and rather than a review I'll just provide a link so you can enjoy it yourself.

That was the lead-in for ALL MY NIGHTS, and Italian thriller that for one reason or another I just couldn't get into. I've talked to several audience members who loved it, so don't take my word for it. A woman--Sara--escapes into the night in a seaside Italian town. A stranger--Veronica--picks her up, and brings her to her home. And the security is pretty quickly broken, as there were more twists and turns than my sleep-deprived brain could follow. Sorry.

ALL MY NIGHTS plays again Friday Mar 15, 3:10 PM in Redwood City

And finally, I ended the night with Shorts Program 7: Something Funny. Hooray for comedy!
TELLING PEOPLE YOU'RE NATIVE AMERICAN  WHEN YOU'RE NOT NATIVE IS A LOT LIKE TELLING A BEAR YOU'RE A BEAR WHEN YOU'RE NOT A BEAR: Made me laugh while providing important advice for avoiding getting mauled--and avoiding pissing off Native Americans.
THE BROWNLIST: Made me laugh while exposing the intricacies of how to be ethnic but not too ethnic in Hollywood. Especially if they've already cast someone super-Asian in another part.
HOLDING: Made me laugh when do strangers are put on hold at the same time. Seriously, maybe that suicide hotline should hire an extra operator.
HOOK UP 2.0: Made me laugh with a sorority girl and her clever approach to casual college encounters. From Cinequest vet Dana Nachman (BATKID BEGINS, PICK OF THE LITTER) and edited by Cinequest super-vet Kurt Kuenne.
HOW TO APPLY FOR A SEXUAL POSITION: Mad me laugh at the idea of a bureau licensing new sexual positions. Also, WTF is wrong with Cleveland?
HOW TO OUT-DRINK YOURSELF: Made me laugh with a recipe for new life goals. All it takes is a little time travel!
I WILL NOT WRITE UNLESS SWADDLED IN FURS: Didn't make me laugh...because it didn't play (because, if the rumor mill is correct, it was poached by another festival.) But it makes me laugh to post the online guide picture for it.
Seriously, either this film didn't play or I completely blanked on it.

MADE PUBLIC: Made me laugh when "I do" is put to an online vote. If only 50.01% of your friends agree, should you still get married?
PEGGY: Made me laugh when the perfect wife and mother is challenged at her son's birthday party.
THE PUPPET MASTER: Made me laugh when a sinister mastermind's plan hits a little snag.
SORRY NOT SORRY: Made me laugh when a husband-wife war starts with plums and ends with a perfect plan coming together.
SPOONING: Made me laugh thinking about the old adage of "no small roles, only small actors." Still, it can be tough getting typecast.
THERE'S SOMETHING ABOUT MY SISTER: Made me laugh because...incest is just always funny.
WHITE GUYS SOLVE SEXISM: Made me laugh because it's about damn time!

Shorts Program 7: Something Funny plays again Sunday Mar 17, 8:00 PM at the Hammer Theater

Total Running Time: 445 minutes
My Total Minutes: 500,270 (like I said, we're over the halfway point!)

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Jason goes to Cinequest--Day 7

The second week starts with a five-film Monday. Or rather, it really started with a couple of early drinks in the festival lounge.

The first film of the day was BORDERLINE, one of the more challenging films I've seen in the festival--and not just challenging due to the 144 minute running time. A story of love, obsession, self-destruction, and writing, it's shot mostly in oppressive close-ups of the characters faces. Director Anna Alfieri stars as Anna (essential, herself.) She has her first lesbian relationship with Robyn. It becomes an obsession, intermixed with her obsession to become a great writer. That gets in the way of the relationship, as she simultaneously gets overly attached and feels she doesn't deserve the relationship unless she becomes a great writer. So it ends, and she spirals into self destruction. And it's brutal and difficult to watch, but more than that it just drags on and on. It's 144 minutes, and you feel every minute of it. And I've been told at least 20 minutes had already been cut out of a previous cut. I think there's probably a good story in there--keep cutting.

BORDERLINE plays again Tue, Mar 12 6:00 PM and Fri, Mar 15 9:30 PM, both shows in Redwood City

Then, after a few more drinks, I caught the bizarre and twisted surrealist neo-noir Western with possible political overtones, LAKE OVER FIRE, from those wacky, wacky Norwegians. A small town gets along well, riding their motorbikes and singing, while wearing fluorescent-trimmed cowboy hats atop their motorcycle helmets. The local mine (mining those little plastic beads you can iron together to make designs) has made the town wealthy, but with that wealth comes greed, in the form of The Cowboy. Different factions of the town are set against each other, murder and false accusations are the order of the day, and those peaceful townsfolk who try to bring everyone together fail horribly. Probably the funniest movie I've ever seen to feature repeated torture of a baby (relax, it's not a real baby, it's just an actor.)

I could describe more, but it really has to be seen to be believed. Too bad that was its last screening in the festival. Sucks to be you!
Well, well, well, we got a group of bad-asses here!
Then a couple more drinks in the lounge, and off to the Australian coming-of-age drama, SUBURBAN WILDLIFE. Four friends just graduated University. So adulthood begins. Well, it'll begin soon enough, after sufficient partying has been had. So drunken stupidity is the order of the day, and for once I'm not the one serving it up. Maybe this didn't quite speak to me because all the characters eventually learn something about growing up, and I've never really had that lesson. I've never had a need for the party to stop (then again, I've never started the day by stepping into a bowl of my own vomit, so I got that going for me.) Anyway, I really wanted to like this movie, but it was hard because I really didn't like any of the characters. So I found myself just counting the minutes until I could run off the the Soiree (at neighboring bars of Chacho's and San Patricio's) and drink some more.

SUBURBAN WILDLIFE plays again Sun, Mar 17 3:00 PM in Redwood City

So yeah, the Soiree was good. But this time I didn't just slam down a few drinks. I also gorged myself with fried Mexican junk at the buffet. Happy belly!

The next show started with a cool animated short, CROW: THE LEGEND. With a great voice cast including John Legend, Constance Wu, and Oprah Winfrey, it tells the Native American legend of the crow--once a brightly colored bird with a beautiful voice, his magnanimous quest cost him his plumage and his dulcet tones, but he did save all his friends, so it was worth it.

That was the lead in to the feature, LUCKY FIFTY. Regular readers of my blog (and I know that includes at least some of the team of this local production) know that my most common criticism is that a movie drags on too long. I call these "feature length shorts"--movies with a simple idea that are badly stretched out to 90 minutes. So it's refreshing to see a movie that knows it has a 56 minute story and doesn't tack on a minute more. Well done!

As for the story, Jay (Lawrence Kao) is a writer, trying to get any investor interested in making his script. After being turned down again, he's throwing a little tantrum behind the office where Monica (Jaya Prasad) finds him. And he finds a $50 bill. Monica is also a struggling actress, so they decide to use this new windfall for a day of fun on the cheap, starting with some tacos! They have a fun day and night, and seem to be on the same page in all ways. The next day he drives her home, and as luck would have it her boyfriend is interested in his script. If only he'd make some changes so it's not so...minority driven. A nice little story of the struggle of making it in an art that is at all times also a business, and the challenge of staying true to your vision.

LUCKY FIFTY plays again Tue, Mar 12 12:15 PM in Redwood City; Sat, Mar 16 5:30 PM also in Redwood City; and Sun, Mar 17 1:15 PM at the Hammer Theater.

And finally, I ended the night with COME, SAID THE NIGHT, a weird and creepy horror thriller about the Greek Gods. Or at least, about a family that still believes in them. Roy Grady is an eccentric single father (his wife died some time ago, and if it was explained I missed it.) His eldest daughter Magda also passed on just last year, and he and his two children (13 year old daughter Sprout, and young son Percy) are in their remote wood "sanctuary" to pay homage to her. At first they just seem a little eccentric. They worship the Greek Gods (particularly Harpocrates, the God of Silence) and he homes schools them to protect them from "otherness"--like the idea that the Gods aren't real or worse yet, there's just one singular God in charge of the multitude of different things. But he never really raises his voice to them, he definitely cares about them. And the kids have their quirks--for Percy, hypochondria that keeps him from almost never exposing his hands; for Sprout, sleep paralysis and the belief that a Gorgon is haunting her--but they all love their family. Which is not to say that it's entirely surprising when things turn dark an murderous, triggered by a little bit of "otherness" in the form of a beautiful park ranger and her son who is just Sprout's age. Well developed characters and a good story well told makes for a good end to another long day at Cinequest.

COME, SAID THE NIGHT plays again Wed, Mar 13 6:00 PM in Redwood City

Total Running Time: 489 minutes
My Total Minutes: 499,825