Saturday, March 7, 2020

Jason Goes to Cinequest--Day 4

The big first weekend begins. Also, I'm officially on vacation and am Cinequesting full time until the end of the festival. First thing, I checked into my luxury suite at the Fairmont for the weekend. Then it was just about time for the VIP Soiree at The Grill on the Alley, conveniently located in the Fairmont. A couple of hours of too many drinks, and I was ready for the first movie.

Nina, in the woods, or at least in the tall grass
My first film of the day was the world premiere of  NINA OF THE WOODS, from returning Cinequesters, Charlie and Wendy Griak (THE CENTER, Cinequest 2015 #ItsNotACult). They're back with a completely different kind of thriller. Megan Hensley plays the titular Nina, a young actress who in the beginning appears to have botched an audition for a TV reality series about supernatural phenomena. Not her fault, really, the production team are totally unprofessional, barely paying attention to her and carrying on distracting conversations in the background--the kind of rude people who you wish would just disappear. Anyway, she actually does get the part, because they want her as a local to lend some authenticity to their story about the allegedly haunted, ancient woods. Except they're not really interested in authenticity, because they're plan is to stage everything. But plans don't always work and it seems there really is something there. Not any sort of traditional monster, though. Just...well, things get strange and I don't want to reveal more. It's far more meditative and quiet than any thriller I've ever seen, but it's beautifully shot (using the natural beauty of Grand Rapids, Minnesota) and wonderfully acted, showing that the mysteries of being a human in an unfamiliar and puzzling situation is more unsettling than any made-up monster.

NINA OF THE WOODS plays again 3 more times:
Mon, Mar 9 at 9:00 PM in Redwood City
Wed, Mar 11 at 5:05 PM in Redwood City
Sat, Mar 14 at 6:30 PM in Redwood City

And then it was time for some bat-shit crazy insanity, with the world premiere of FRIED BARRY. Barry is...pretty indescribable, you just have to experience him. 
Barry, completely fried. The role Gary Green was born to play 
He's a drug addict and abusive husband and father, but that was before he was abducted by aliens and put under their control, presumably so they can navigate the world (of Capetown, South Africa) while blending in. Although blending in is not Barry's strong suit in the best of times. The whole thing plays out as a kind of hyper-active, drug-fueled, fish-out-of-water comedy, but in a sort of crazy environment that I couldn't imagine anyone fitting in. I could get weird and philosophical about how by making it an alien visitor story it offers an outsider's perspective about the insanity of the human condition. But really, it's all about crazy adventures and nods to 80's movies...oh, and 10-second pregnancy. And it gives Gary Green (who is apparently a pretty famous extra in South Africa) a chance to go totally wild and rule this movie.

FRIED BARRY plays again two more times:
Sun, Mar 8 at 6:35 PM in Redwood City
Tue, Mar 10 at 9:30 PM in Redwood City

Once the movie ended, the Cinequest Social at Mosaic was just winding down, so I took a bunch of the hardcore partiers up to my suite and celebrated Cinequest until about 3 A.M. But I still got up in time to write this and have a morning drink at the lounge before my first film of Saturday. Because that's how I Cinequest! 

Total Running Time: 188 minutes
My Total Minutes: 522,596

Friday, March 6, 2020

Jason goes to Cinequest--Day 3

Another day, another full dose of Cinequest!

First up was the short THE CUNNING MAN. An old man collects roadkill and other various dead animals. The authorities have their eyes on him, but this cunning man has a cunning plan, which is a pretty cool surprise. (It's probably worth noting that "Cunning Man" or "Cunning Folk" is a term for folk healers who use magic. I don't think it's very common in America. At least, I didn't know the term until I googled it this morning)
This man is, in fact, very cunning

That was the lead-in to the feature, SLITS (FENDAS), from Brazil. This contemplative film follows a quantum physicist Catarina in her travels. But what she's studying is nothing like quantum physics as I know it (and not that I'm a professional, but that is what I studied in school.) It's more a study of images and sounds. Specifically, creating a new phonetics of sound spaces via light passing through slits in images. Which is an excuse to get really artsy with images and manipulating them on screen while distorting sound. There are many scenes which were beautifully framed and shot, but overall it's slow, contemplative piece that struggled to keep my attention.
One of the many beautiful travelogue shots in SLITS, where I either took a really
long blink or she managed to skip a few floors when ascending that spiral staircase
THE CUNNING MAN and SLITS plays again Saturday, March 7, at 10:15 am in Redwood CIty 

Next up, ...a few drinks and a bit of food at the Soiree at Cafe Stritch. Then I hadn't drunk with anyone in the next time slot, so I checked out the spotlight film THE BURNT ORANGE HERESY at the California Theatre. It's an art world thriller starring Mick Jagger and Donald Sutherland, and featuring less than a single atom of subtlety. We open by meeting art critic James Figueras (Claes Bang) in a presentation that makes it clear that he is not to be trusted, and that he revels in the manipulative power he has as a critic (I can relate!) And he quickly meets his love interest, Berenice (Elizabeth Debicki) and they have a quick fling. He takes her along on his great opportunity to meet famed collector and seemingly omniscient Joseph Cassidy (Mick Jagger, Jaggering it up all over the place.) And he gives him an opportunity of the lifetime to interview renowned artist Jerome Debney (Sutherland, reveling in his opportunity to play such an enigmatically pompous character--his most famous work is a blank frame.) Well, the power--or rather the opportunity for power--totally goes to Figueras' head, and he becomes a thoroughly despicable villain. Oh, and you might notice that flies are a metaphor (e.g., you might notice when he explicitly describes how flies are a metaphor for sin in medieval art.) Like I said, subtlety has no place in this film, but it's still a pretty fun ride, if you're willing to watch such an unlikable character for that long.

THE BURNT ORANGE HERESY only played that one time at Cinequest, but it's being released in the U.S. by Sony Pictures Classics, so it'll be available soon.

And finally I ended the night with DARK WHISPERS Volume 1, a short horror anthology all directed by women. The connective thread is Clara, a young woman who has inherited from her mother a book of scary stories. Each story is a short, and each short affects her in some way. Honestly, I'm not a big fan of anthology movies, unless you really have a framing device that can tie them together, and this isn't it. I probably would have liked it more as just a collection of short films, because all of them were creepy, tight, and right to the point. As a short film collection, it's great. And I understand that not everyone is like me and will go see short films, so if an anthology framework helps these shorts get seen, I approve. And my favorite was the stop-motion animated one, GLOOMY VALENTINE.

DARK WHISPERS plays again multiple times at Cinequest
Friday, March 6 at 1:15 PM in Redwood City - better hurry!!
Sat, March 7 at 9:30 PM in Redwood City
Mon, March 9 at 1:30 PM in Redwood City

Total Running Time: 291 minutes
My Total Minutes: 522,408

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Jason goes to Cinequest--Day 2

Now the festival's starting in earnest. Although I'm still working my day job, so just 2 shows last night. But first, a couple of drinks in the lounge at the Continental Bar, and then some food and drinks at Rookies Sports Lodge, featuring a wine pouring of Cabernet and Chardonnay from J Lohr.
That's a heck of a beverage Frankie is enjoying there

Then I wandered over to the Hammer Theatre just in time for LOVE TYPE D. Frankie just got dumped, again. And in the worst possible way--her boyfriend sent his 11 year old science nerd brother to break the news to her. Worse yet, since he's a science nerd and keeps up on the latest papers, he informs her that she probably has the newly discovered "dumpee" gene. See, some people dump others, some people get dumped, and she's genetically destined to get dumped. This bit of pseudo-science is the premise behind this comedy. The pleasing illusion that it's your fate--not your faults--that cause one to repeatedly fail at love. There's a whole institute set to study it and find...well, not a cure, but effective "hobby therapy" to let the unlovable live...marginally palatable lives. There are several funny bits (especially the super-concentrated pheromones that make men fall in love while simply angering/confusing their soon-to-be-ex-girlfriends). Overall it's very enjoyable, largely on the strength of Maeve Dermody's performance, but it does suffer slightly from what I call the "90 minute short" syndrome--when a movie had an idea that would be really effective and snappy as a 20 minute short, but stretches a little thin when it's feature length.

LOVE TYPE D plays again three times:
Thu, Mar 5 2:30 PM at the California (OMG! That's like now! Run!)
Sat, Mar 7 12:20 PM in Redwood City
Sat, Mar 14 12:45 PM in Redwood City

So I didn't have time to stick around for any Q&A, because I had to run to the 3Below for the shorts program (really, TV pilots program) "Shocks, Thrills, and Dark Visions"
ASKING FOR A FRIEND: Sometimes you come home and see your roommate standing over a dead body that's bleeding out and soaking into the carpet. You know, one of those days. Looks like the start of a hilarious dark comedy series.
R. L. ALMAN'S PETER PAN: A clever re-imagining of Peter Pan, set in modern San Francisco, where the evil Hook corporation is gentrifying all the artists out of there.
S41NT: A hacker's adventure with government conspiracies. Looks like it could take several seasons to untangle, but this was a good introduction.
SUCKED IN: A very short (think a concept for a pilot) and funny twist on a woman being stalked by a dangerous junkie who knows she was stealing (he assumes drugs) from her hospital. Spoiler alert--she wasn't stealing drugs.
GLITCH!: Unless I blacked out for 24 minutes, this one actually didn't play. And a lot of people were confused at the end thinking there was one more film to go. So I'm going with it didn't play...I guess there was some sort of glitch?
Some of Peter Pan's fairies, in R. L. ALMAN'S PETER PAN
Shocks, Thrills, and Dark Visions plays again Saturday March 7 at 4:15 in Redwood City

Then over to Chacho's for one last beer and then home. Because there's more Cinequesting to do tomorrow (which is now today)!

Total Running Time: 185 minutes
My Total Minutes: 522,117

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Jason goes to Cinequest--Opening Night

It's been too long since I've blogged, but guess what, I'm back!  Time to drink, eat, drink, watch movies, drink, meet filmmakers, drink, and write about it all!

Of course, the first place I went to, a couple of hours before the opening night film, was the VIP lounge in the Continental Bar. A smattering of hardcore festivals were there, but as soon as I settled in with a couple of drinks from my favorite bartender Lee, the place filled up. I guess I'm a trend setter! (which is like an Irish setter, but instead of Irish, I'm trendy).

Anyway, after catching up with some old friends, making some new ones, lots of hugs (Covid-19 be damned!) it was time to mosey next door to the fabulous California Theatre movie palace and settle in for the opening night film. Of course, first a lot of celebration and opening remarks, and a spot of stand-up comedy by the very funny Matt Donaher

John Pinette, being very funny, I'm sure.
I mean, I can't be 100% sure because this is a
picture so I can't hear him speak, but everything he
said in the movie was pretty hilarious...

Is this caption too long? Probably
Then the feature presentation, the documentary JOHN PINETTE: YOU GO NOW. If you're like me, John Pinette wasn't a household name but when you saw him you immediately recognized him as that very funny fat guy who was on lots and lots of shows (most famously, the final episode of Seinfeld, although I first remember him on Alf.) Well, in showcasing his talent and through interviews with his admirers in the comedy world (and for some reason, Bill Gates?) you realize what an enormous (pun only slightly intended) talent he really was. A very funny guy, who definitely played on his physical size for laughs. And sadly, like most comics there was a dark side to this. The self esteem, the health impacts, the fear that he wouldn't be as funny or as popular if he lost weight. And that led to prescription drug addiction, and ultimately his death in 2014 (officially of a pulmonary embolism). The film was made by people who knew him personally, and I think it's fair to say weren't happy that reports of his death just called him "the fat guy on the final episode of Seinfeld." So they went out of their way to collect archival footage and testimonials of how great he really was. I have to say, it was darn convincing, and despite his tragic ending, a really fun way to open the festival with elation (the theme of Cinequest 2020)

There will be an encore screening of JOHN PINETTE: YOU GO NOW on Monday, March 9 at 6:45 at the Hammer Theatre (first time Cinequest has had an encore of their opening night film!)

Then it was off to the Glass House for the after party (albeit somewhat slowly, because I had to stop and say hi to nearly everyone there. It's fun to be locally famous, but it's also hard work!) A few more drinks and meeting more filmmakers and then it was time for me to call it a night. Gotta pace myself, it's a long festival!

Most importantly, the following filmmakers learned how to play my game and drank with me, guaranteeing I'll see their films (if I can find a way to fit it in my schedule, splitting the festival between San Jose and Redwood City makes it harder than in years past):
SLITS [Edit: actually it was the preceding short, THE CUNNING MAN, who I drank with]
HELTER SHELTER (in Shorts Program 9: Home & Away)
NINA OF THE WOODS (from Cinequest alums, Charlie and Wendy Griak!)
THE TALL BIKE JOUST (From Cinequester Emeritus and master of smart people doing dumb things, Sam Frazier, Jr.) part of Shorts Program 7: Comedy Favorites
Ummm...and I forget which one in Shorts Program 11B: It's a Mad World (which only plays in Redwood City on weekends, so I can't make it and will have to watch the online screener instead)

[Edit: Oh yeah, and A BAD PLACE. Of course I drank with the lovely and talented Jessica Cameron, Holehead alum and finally a Cinequester! I just forgot to circle the film because I've kinda...already watched a screener]

Running Time: 80 minutes
My Total Minutes: 521,932