Thursday, March 5, 2015

Jason goes to Cinequest--Day 9

My stamina was back on Wednesday, with another 5 movies. Of course, first a few drinks in the lounge. By this time in the festival, I have a few screws loose, so I needed a couple of screwdrivers.

The first movie started with a short MY GLOVES ARE HANDS. A young girl is fascinated by boxing, although her mom wants to make sure she's ladylike and doesn't miss ballet practice. A film about the power of hope that a good coach can give you.

And that was the lead-in to the feature, CRESCENDO! THE POWER OF MUSIC. In 1976 Maestro Jose Antonio Abreu founded El Sistema in Caracas, Venezuela. The idea was simple and powerful--to use youth orchestras to promote social change by lifting up the lives of underprivileged children. Since then, it's spread around the world, and this film mostly follows the lives of participants in New York and Philadelphia. We see these kids come alive in music class, succeeding there when they've struggled elsewhere in school and growing up. We see kids have a rock of stability in their lives where they've had none before, a reason to pursue something good morning, noon, and night. But this isn't just a simple, feel-good, 'music saves everything' story. They still struggle with school and growing up (which is hard no matter how privileged you are.) We see young Raven go from a violinist with a lot of potential (I'd stop short of saying prodigy, but she's definitely head and shoulders above other students) to a little diva who won't pay attention and behave. We see Mohamed, who shows so much life and passion on the trombone but is still struggling in math (now if someone shows him how math and music are so intimately connected, I'm sure he'd excel at both) and his father is threatening to pull him out of the program if his grades don't improve. Music provides something good for them all, and for a special few it might even become a career. But that's just one island of stability in a choppy sea of real life and growing up. And the movie captures that brilliantly, without losing the overall message that music, and La Sistema, is pretty awesome.

This was the last showing, barring an Encore Day screening. In fact, it's late enough in the festival that let's just make that the assumption unless I say otherwise.

Next up was ELSEWHERE, NEW YORK, which I'd estimate is one of the more divisive films in this year's festival. Jen is new to the city, and while waiting for her friend Chris to come home, she stops at a local bar for a drink. There she meets the bartender Todd, they have a fun night, and she wakes up at his place with a note thanking her for the wonderful time and...nothing else. So she's a little annoyed by that, although to me that seems kind of petty--she knows where he works and lives, she didn't give him her number, so it seems like she has all the power to see him again if she wants. Anyway, cut to a couple of years later. She's with Ethan, a gallery manager and they seem to have a nice, loving relationship. His roommate is moving out, so she has an opportunity to move in with him, but she isn't sure so he gets a new roommate. Who by shear coincidence is Todd. So the second point that annoyed me about her character. Yes, it's awkward but she could've been upfront and said, "Hey, funny story. You know what, we've actually met before." Yeah, it would be awkward and weird for a moment, but they're adults and presumably could work it out (and if they couldn't, they're not adult enough to be having adult relations.) But instead both she and Todd decide to keep it a secret. Worse yet, she starts thinking she might actually prefer Todd over Ethan. And her indecisiveness just bugged the heck out of me. That, plus Todd seems like kind of a douche and Ethan is kind of a pussy, so I didn't really like any of the characters (not that I found them unrealistic, mind you, just unlikable.) 

Now talking to other people about the movie, there's varying degrees of agreement or disagreement over how likable or believable the characters are. But there does seem to be widespread agreement about the cinematography, and I seem to be the only one who likes it. Shot hand-held, guerrilla style over New York, and often floating in and out of focus, this seems to bother a lot of people (including at least one person I know who sees a lot of movies and had to cover her eyes for much of this because it was making her sick.) I might be the only person at Cinequest who liked the look, I thought it gave a distinct searching quality to it that matched the story (as much as I didn't really like the story.) So...take that for what it's worth.

Then we stayed in New York for a no-budget (total cost as claimed in the closing credits: $880.09) cinephile's visual poem FOREVER INTO SPACE. Shot in beautifully stark black and white, and peppered with visual cues about films and filmmakers (opening shots reference Errol Morris. Pauline Kael's book comes up a few times. There a reference to Roger Ebert's passing, and the closing credits show off tons of New York cinematic landmarks that I didn't catch during the film.) It's the story of  Audrey, a young blogger (hooray, hero bloggers!) moving to the city with hopes of fame or at least work as a writer. She lives on friend's couches struggles for work, makes friends, and learns they're all struggling too. Everything from a struggling artist to amateur porn star to professional lab rat (as in, subject of drug experiments, not a scientist.) It's a story of post-college recession, creating a "city family" and the inherently impossible pursuit of trying to make sense of the times you're living in. There's a lot in this movie that seems to be critical of "the kids these days" (in particular, a visit by Audrey's big sister) but I'm actually impressed by the young generation (and I'm old enough for that to almost mean something.) Where other grumpy old farts see narcissism, I see self-reflection. Where other old farts see ironic detachment, I see hilarity (and self-knowledge.) Where other old farts see annoying self-entitlement, I see...well, self-entitlement, but I also remember how entitled I felt coming out of college. The only difference is that with a high-tech degree in 1997 you really were guaranteed a good job. So no, kids today aren't annoying, ironic, self-entitled brats...they're awesome, in part because they make movies like this.

Then after a couple of drinks and some crumbs of calamari at the soiree at The Loft, I decided to see something commercial that didn't tax my brain. I seem to do this once every Cinequest, it's always a guilty pleasure, and I always have a great time. Anyway, I shouldn't apologize for seeing KILL ME THREE TIMES because it was hilarious fun. Simon Pegg plays a hitman in Australia. The film opens with him narrating his own death. Then we go back and watch three times as botched assignments and ridiculous double-crosses lead to death and hilarity.... I will end this right now, because I don't think I will ever write a better sentence than that. Anyway, it will be on Demand and iTunes on Mar 26, and in some theaters starting April 10.

And then I ended the night with GUARD DOG. At first--at least in terms of bloodiness--it was almost a continuation of KILL ME THREE TIMES. But in tone it's very, very different. Dog is an ex-military man turned executioner-for hire. He kills people, and he stares at his ceiling as water damage spreads...which I think is a metaphor for his decaying soul, or the decaying soul of Peru (the whole thing seems intimately linked to some Peruvian political issue from the 90s that I didn't understand. Anyway, it was late at night and I succumbed to exhaustion. I'm pretty sure my eyes were open most of the time, but it just wasn't registering in my mind. I'm sorry, but I have to call this one I slept through.

GUARD DOG plays again Mar 6 at 10:00 pm

Total Running Time: 465
My Total Minutes: 388,410

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Jason goes to Cinequest--Day 8

It was a light day on Tuesday--only 3 films. Which gave me a lot more time for drinking.

As always, opening the lounge at 10 a.m., blah blah blah... Interesting, they no longer serve Stella Artois in the lounge, they're saving the last of it for the closing night party. I think that might be related to how much I've drunk.

Anyway, my first show of the day was Shorts 3: Lessons learned. A wide variety of coming-of-age movies.
BERNARD THE GREAT: On his tenth birthday, Bernard decides that adults are stupid and selfish, so he decides to never grow up, and builds a not-growing suit to prevent it.
COLD SNAP: A young trapper boy (theme of the festival--hunting and butchering animals) meets a woman making a fresh start.
DEAD HEARTS: A young mortician falls in love with the kung-fu version of Little Red Riding Hood, who kicks the crap out of werewolves. 70-some years later, he literally gives her his heart for a second chance at love as a zombie.
ITSY BITSY SPIDERS: This boy likes drawing spiders. Lots and lots and lots of spiders. His obsession will prove useful, though.
MY LIGHT IN DARKNESS: A young girl meets an befriends a lonely tramp in the old west. Unfortunately, he's black, so it's not going to end well for him.
NAVIDAD: Family Christmas on the beach in Tijuana. Honestly, I think I fell asleep in this one. Too many drinks in the lounge, I guess. Sorry.
PISS & VINEGAR: A girl hates her stepfather, and digs at him in humorous ways, like fingernails in his eggs, or piss in his bath.
SLAP: A young man is a talented boxer and a cross dresser. He hides it until his gay best friend is being threatened, then runs out in full drag to beat the crap out of his attackers. Thinking this might give him acceptance (his girlfriend thinks it's incredibly brave) he goes to a costume party in drag. But things do not go well. A moving story of true colors, being yourself, and struggling for acceptance.

Then I actually blew off a movie (fuck it, they didn't drink with me) to go to the Soiree at SP2 for food (great ribs!) and drink (Moscow Mules) before heading over to the Media Legacy Award for Richard Von Busack and a screening of the 1934 classic and Jean Vigo's only film (he died at 29) L'ATALANTE. The story is quite simple--the captain of the ship L'Atalante has just gotten married, and they live on the ship with the first mate la pere Jules (Michel Simon, stealing the show) a cabin boy, and a lot of cats (I love those darned cats, they also steal the show.) They travel to Paris, they have some fun there (she's never been) and they put some strain on their relationship. The film is shot beautifully, always framed excellently, and always engaging. This was actually my first time seeing it, and it immediately invites multiple viewings. I also know it inspired the whole French New Wave, but I'm not nearly erudite enough to say something smart about that (now ask me about Italian neo-realism and I about how PEE WEE'S BIG ADVENTURE is a remake of THE BICYCLE THIEF...anyways....)

Then we had a brief interview with Richard Von Busack, the reviewer for the San Jose Metro, talking about his 30+ year career (including the entire life of the Metro) and love of movies. The interview was short because some of us (myself included) had to make a 9:30 screening of KILLSWITCH, which I'm sure Richard was fine with, since he wrote a glowing review of it (which was their cover story.)

But first, the short FORTUNE TELLING from Cinequest's own Vijay Rajan and Siren Song Productions. Four friends grew up wanting to go to Los Angeles and become movie stars. Years later, none of them have been. Life and fears have gotten in the way. So one hand of poker will decide who goes and pursues the dream for all of them. Very moving. And as much as I love teasing Vijay, it's actually really cool to watch him develop as a filmmaker. He might actually have the chops to make a living at this.

And then KILLSWITCH, all about the Internet. Specifically about privacy and freedom of information on the Internet. Ideally, our personal information would be private and public information (e.g., the whole of human knowledge) would be available for free. So of course, those in power want it the other way around. Spy on everyone, and prosecute people like Aaron Swartz who make scientific journals available for free. Or Edward Snowden, who revealed that the government is spying on you (Hi, Mr. NSA man, I hope you're having a great day and enjoy reading this!) Those are the two big stories the movie follows, and they started making the film back when Aaron Swartz was still alive and Edward Snowden hadn't done anything yet. But the philosophical questions...the journey of Lawrence Lessig, or Tim Wu, or Peter Ludlow, or Kim Dotcom...they'd still be important without Swartz or Snowden (okay, Lessig might not be as much of an activist were he not inspired by Swartz, but still...) And the points about how communication technology always seems to evolve this way--from freedom to control. How governments like monopolies so they can control them (Western Union liked Republicans, and from Lincoln until Wilson we had only Republican Presidents...scary.) How these sort of revolutions seem to happen approximately every 50 years (and the last one was the 60s, do the math) is all very fascinating. And the climax, wrapping it all up in Chaplin's speech on humanity in THE GREAT DICTATOR--that was brilliant. I had actually only watched THE GREAT DICTATOR for the first time last year, and I'm convinced that speech should be required reading for anyone who...wants to be human. In fact, stop whatever you're doing, and just watch it again right now, thanks to the awesomeness of the Internet. And now imagine a world where doing that was a felony. Now get scared about how close we are to that world.

Total Running Time: 296 minutes
My Total Minutes: 387,945

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Jason goes to Cinequest--Day 7

Stop me of you've heard this one. Another day, another 5 movies....

Once again I was there at the lounge WHEN it opened at 10:00 a.m. for a couple of Bloody Marys and some blogging.

first up was the Mexican drama/thriller GONZALEZ. A story of struggle, debt, church, and success at all costs in Mexico City. González is struggling with debt and exorbitant interest from his bank--he's paid for his TV four times over and still owes money on it. He finds work at a mega-church run by a charismatic preacher (Carlos "brother of Javier" Bardem.) He works in the call center, but that's not enough to cover his debt. He studies the preacher, and is convinced he can do the same thing. But there's a long training program for that, and you need to have a calling. After all, pyramid schemes only work if there are very few people on the top. Anyway, it all leads to a thrilling, explosive climax, which I really liked. It just took a long time to get there, and I struggled to stay awake and interested at times (that couldn't have anything to do with the 3-4 drinks I had in the lounge before the movie, right?)

GONZALEZ plays again Mar 7 at 4:15

Next up was HAPPY ENDINGS, quirky heist flick from Croatia. Ankica and Ljilja run a massage parlor. Just that, a legitimate massage parlor, nothing dirty. No "happy endings" allowed. Ankica hopes to make enough to support her unemployed husband and daughter, plus enough left over for Ljilja's son's rehab. But without happy endings they're barely surviving and a loan shark is hassling her. So, out of a bit of desperation and with some inside information on the bank's security training (let them take the money to save lives) they make off with a pretty nice score. But more money, more problems. A funny, distinctly Balkan story.

That was the last show of HAPPY ENDINGS, barring a repeat screening on encore day. That means we're well into the festival now.

And then a really funny, cool documentary, MEET THE HITLERS. People with the name Hitler (or Hittler,) people searching for the Hitler's last descendants, or people who really, really like Hitler. It runs the gamut, from a friendly man and his four adult daughters in Salt Lake City, to a teenage girl whose friends don't care about her name (it's the adults who think it's strange,) to a German man with no friends or family, to a journalist looking for the last descendants of Hitler's nephew, living in America, to the New Jersey neo-nazi who named his son Adolf Hitler (and sued a cake shop for not putting that on his birthday cake, and then lost his kids to social services, and then showed up in court in a full Nazi uniform...seriously, fuck this guy.) It's an interesting look at how names influence us...or how they don't. It makes a pretty compelling case that it's the person, not the name, who determines how people will see him (after all, the neo-Nazi's real name is Campbell, and he's easily the most despicable person in the movie (seriously, as much as he tries to make it a first amendment issue and present himself as a loving father...fuck that guy!) And I have some personal experience with dealing with an embarrassing last name, being a Wiener and all. And I can say that when I was a kid I hated being a Wiener, I'd pretend it's pronounced "whiner" like that's better. And now I'm proud to be a six foot tall, fat, hairy Wiener. And my name hasn't changed, just my personality. So that's what's important--Q.E.D.

MEET THE HITLERS plays again Mar 7 at 1:30

Next up was ANTOINE ET MARIE, a French Canadian drama. Marie is a fun, flirtatious girl who goes out with her colleagues at the auto repair shop. But as flirtatious as she is, she is loyal to her boyfriend. Antoine is a frustrated man who spends his nights with online sexual encounters (warning...or enticement, there are pretty explicit masturbation scenes in the film.) One night out at the bar with colleagues, she wakes up not knowing what happened the night before. Antoine is the obvious suspect, but she has no proof so doesn't know what to do. Even when she's pregnant, she doesn't quite know what to do. It's a tense, slow-burn drama with a somewhat ambiguous ending. In fact, not much of an ending at all, although...without giving away any spoilers, I liked the ending despite--or maybe even because--I hated the reality behind it.

ANTOINE ET MARIE plays again Mar 4 at 4:45

And then I ended the night with DERMAPHORIA, a cool, stylish drug-fueled thriller set in New Orleans. Eric Ashworth is a chemist, being quizzed by the cops (Ron Perlman) and his lawyer. He has a bit of amnesia after an explosion at his drug lab. Great, explosive (literally explosive) opening. All he remembers is his girlfriend Desiree, he has to find her and make sure she's safe. Or she might not actually exist, she might just be a code word for the best batch of the drug he made. Set in the seedy--not the touristy--parts of New Orleans, he searches for her in a strip club, at least as a start. The story unfolds in a complicated, confusing way, matching Eric's own confusion. Flashes of memory fill in the gaps--or they might be drug-induced false memories for all Eric knows. The drug he invented is very much related to memory. Without giving too much away, I was hoping for a bit of an easier, cleaner, more satisfying wrap-up at the end. But thinking about it more, and treating it as an atmospheric piece rather than a clean, all-ends-wrapped-up narrative, it was really, really cool.

DERMAPHORIA plays again Mar 6 at 4:30

Then just a couple of nightcaps over at Tanq, and then to bed before 1 a.m. I mean, I needed to be back at the lounge at 10:00 a.m. to start drinking again.

Total Running Time: 450 minutes
My Total Minutes: 387,649

Monday, March 2, 2015

Jason goes to Cinequest--Day 6

The big first weekend wraps up, with just 5 movies on Sunday.

First up was DIRTY BEAUTIFUL, a romantic comedy about not sticking your dick in crazy, especially if you're a bit crazy yourself. After all, it takes two to make a relationship crazy. David is an aspiring screenwriter and storyboard artist struggling to make it in L.A. His car is a piece of crap that keeps overheating. And then he meets Kat in the most interesting way. And it starts out just with him helping her out. She's homeless and escaping a bad guy, so he gives her a roof over her head and food. She's inclined to repay him with sex, but he's old fashioned enough that he actually wants love and intimacy. He has his little obsessive traits, and she...drinks a lot (as far as I'm concerned, that makes him the crazy one.) Odd couple becomes wild romance, and the movie navigates deftly from laugh-out-loud comedy to almost palpably painful dramatic scenes, without ever feeling forced in either direction. That's really what I loved the most about the film--how easily it moved between comedy and drama with every scene feeling like it had the right tone for that moment. Beautifully done, even in the dirty parts.

DIRTY BEAUTIFUL plays again on Mar 3 at 5:00

Next up was MILWAUKEE, which I'm calling the best Burning Man movie to not take place at Burning Man. A group of friends meet in a mountain cabin for a weekend getaway. One has recently been cheated on, another couple is just getting engaged. And one new guy in the group starts talking about Burning Man (as anyone who has ever been there does eventually.) They start talking about worlds with no rules, and decide to maybe try that for a night. Everybody steps across the line to the "no rules" side of the room--some are more eager, some are very reticent. And my favorite thing is that although there's sexual tension all over the place they don't immediately start jumping into bed together. In fact, the first thing they do (after stripping down to their underwear) is playing hockey with brooms and an orange. That to me is a much more Burning Man thing than jumping into bed with someone other than your regular partner. But eventually it does proceed to sex, jealousy, violence, and the safe word. You gotta remember the safe word--#DudeMilwaukee.

MILWAUKEE plays again on Mar 4 at 5:00

I must have been losing it yesterday. I don't think I adequately explained why it's "he best Burning Man movie to not take place at Burning Man." More than just the fact that the night is inspired by a Burning Man conversation, it's the fact that Burning Man can be hell of relationships. It's a real test of strength. And that's true even if you don't have sex with other people. Just the act of declaring "anything goes" too easily becomes a license to temporarily not care about your partner's feelings. To just run off and do what you want, whether he or she wants to join you or not. And that...well, I hope it's not fatal to a strong relationship, but it's a test. And that's what the movie gets so right and what reminds me so much of Burning Man.
-----End Update-----

Next up was a short and a feature, starting with THE ASSISTANT. Janeane Garofalo plays the worlds worst boss. Super-demanding, she's shocked to come back to the office and find her assistant on her couch. She's even more shocked to find she's dead. And then things get even worse.

And then the feature documentary ASPIE SEEKS LOVE. David V. Matthews (no relation to the singer) has Asperger's syndrome (technically by the new DSM it's high-functioning autism scale.) He has been looking for companionship (other than his cat) for decades, going back to the days when he posted quirky dating flyers on telephone polls. He's also the funniest guy at Cinequest this year--maybe for several years--maybe ever. The movie follows him for several years, with a mix of his Aspie therapy, dating adventures, and putting together his book Meltdown in the Cereal Aisle (available on Kindle.) Spoiler alert: he does find a girlfriend, and I am so happy for him. But even if the film didn't have that happy ending, it would still be awesome to just spend some time with this quirky, awkward, sarcastic, and hilarious guy.

This show plays again Mar 4 at 2:45

Then to Switzerland for DRIFT. Robert Felder has just gotten out of jail and is on probation. He was an illegal street racer, but accidentally ran into a little girl and killed her. Now he's trying to get his life back together. He's got a job at a car repair shop (dangerous for a guy who made mistakes with a car to be around so many cars all the time.) His old mates either want nothing to do with him or want him to race again. One of them drags him to a club to party, and he keeps staring at Alice. While we don't learn this until much later--like after they've become friends--is that Alice is the mother of the little girl he killed. Which kind of explains why he gave her a fake name. The tension mounts as we learn more, and we know there's going to be an explosive climax. But it's really the powerful, intense, and very realistic acting that makes this so good. In fact, more than good, phenomenal.

DRIFT plays again Mar 3 at 2:45

And then I ended the night (well, kind of, I ended the night by drinking at the Maverick Meetup until they closed the Loft) with CRUSHED LIVES, SEX, OR KIDS? from Italy. With a movie-within-the-movie, Saverio interviews various couples about how and why couples stop having sex when they have kids. Inspired by his own disrupted sex life due to his kid, he finds everything from a younger couple that still seem to have it going on--until their nanny quits--to an older family who has gone right past not-having-sex to outwardly hating each other. A very funny movie about a taboo subject that doesn't offer a solution other than to laugh and just enjoy having children--but no sex.

CRUSHED LIVES, SEX, OR KIDS? plays again Mar at 12:15


I totally forgot there was a short with CRUSHED LIVES, SEX, OR KIDS?  VERMILLION is the story of Charlie, a bald, sad-sack loser who has had one too many fights with his girlfriend Lucy and kills her. While disposing of her body, his sister Sally finds him and he's compelled to kill her, too. Aaargh! Also I assume his dog is named Snoopy. A noirish take on the grown-up Peanuts gang.

-----End Update----

Total Running Time: 469 480 minutes
My Total Minutes: 387,188 387,199

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Jason goes to Cinequest--Day 5

Another day, another 6 shows (because I just didn't have the stamina for 7, I must be getting old.)

Once again I was in the lounge and having a beer at 10 am. But this time, my first film was at 10:45

It started with a PTP short, AT WHAT AGE? Four people at age 12, 18, 40, and 70 talk about what society says they can and cannot do at that age, and conclude that chronological age is just a hangup.

That was the perfect lead-in to STILL DREAMING. At a retirement home for old entertainers--that is, actors, crew people, or even family of actors--they decide to team up with a couple of up-and-coming Shakespearean directors to put on a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream with the residents. For several of them, this is their first time working at a professional level in decades. For at least one--who's a family member not an actress--it's her first time acting, period. For others, they were song and dance people and never did Shakespeare before. It's hard work (especially if your eyesight isn't good enough to read a script anymore) but they throw themselves into it. Tension mounts as the performance date approaches. There's a dramatic blowup, in fact, and it almost looks like all their work will unravel. But...well, it's not actually important how the performance goes (it's great, actually, and everybody seems to enjoy it) what's really awesome is how the staff talk about being able to reduce their medication and just how much more energy, vibrancy, and life the place has. And that's pretty darn awesome.

STILL DREAMING plays again Mar 4 at 9:15 and Mar 6 at 12:15

Then because the first show started late I had to book it out of there as the credits started to make it to the opening credits of THE ANNIVERSARY. One year ago was Sam and Teresa's 20th anniversary, and they planned a huge party. Then Sam went for a run...and never come back. Now one year later they're having the party again, inviting all their friends although only a handful show up (good for keeping the cast small) because most of them think Teresa is crazy and sad for believing he'll show up again. They go through many stages of...well, complicated relationships. Hate, love, drunkenness, drugs, singing. I know it's a goddamn cliche, but I really did laugh and cry. It's a beautiful movie and I am not a good enough writer to communicate that, so I'm just going to have to ask you to trust me on this. Oh, it's also got Colin Mochrie in a superhero costume, if that hooks you in!

THE ANNIVERSARY plays again Mar 3 at 5:15

Then I hadn't drunk with any filmmaker in the next time slot, so I took a refreshing and revitalizing nap in the lounge....  Ha ha ha! No, I drunk like beer had just been invented! So I was kinda hammered by the time I went to HOW TO LOSE JOBS AND ALIENATE GIRLFRIENDS. So it's a testament to how engaging this movie is that I didn't fall asleep even for a minute. Thomas Meadmore was an editor for Lonely Planet films. His boss is an aspiring musician, and agrees to let him make a documentary about his band Speed Orange making their second album. Problem is he is admittedly not a great guitarist and doesn't have the best voice (this confession will come back to haunt...Tom.) Meanwhile his girlfriend is also an aspiring musician--a folk singer who doesn't put nearly enough work into practicing and writing. And Tom's blunt criticism as a film director threatens to...well, do exactly what the title says it will. Well, that and breaking all the rules about a documentary filmmaker maintaining some degree of distance and impartiality with the subject. Filmed over several years, the story eventually became about how the movie has ruined Tom's life, and the biggest moral, of course, is get your subjects to sign a release first! Tom makes a big deal about how Tarantino was a big inspiration for him to become a filmmaker. I don't know if he'll ever make a Tarantino-esque film, but he's made a great, hilarious, personal documentary.

HOW TO LOSE JOBS AND ALIENATE GIRLFRIENDS plays again Mar 2 at 1:00 and Mar 3 at 9:15

A little schedule reshuffling that I hadn't paid attention to left me scrambling a bit for my next movie, but I eventually settled on the Spanish/Indian movie, TRACES OF SANDALWOOD. Mina was a little girl when her sister Sita was born and her mother died in childbirth. She saved her from being drowned and started taking care of her, teaching her to do laundry as a toddler. But they're sold to a new family, and while Mina is taken to a brothel (where she quickly escapes, no worries) Sita is given to a Catholic orphanage. Mina escapes (as I've said) and becomes a servant/friend for a nice family with a nice older brother who takes a shine to her and takes her to the movies. Flash forward 20 some years and Mina is a Bollywood star, the older brother is her husband and producer, and she's still searching for Sita. In fact, she makes a movie about her life just for that purpose, and gets a call from that Catholic orphanage and through a little digging find out that Sita is living as Paula Diaz in Barcelona. So a trip to Barcelona is in the works. And that was all set up about as quickly as I wrote it. The heart of the movie is really Paula/Sita coming to terms with her hidden past She had forgotten her early years in India, and her parents had never even told her she was adopted. So first she reacts with disbelief, then mistrust (as everyone is telling her that Mina must only be looking for money.) But she starts watching Bollywood movies and starts getting close to a nice Indian man who gives her advice about Mina's films. A charming drama about different cultures and learning how to be part of both of them.

TRACES OF SANDALWOOD plays again Mar 3 at 7:30 and Mar 7 at 2:00.

Then again because one movie started a bit late, I had to run out to make it to the next film at the California, FOR HERE OR TO GO? Keeping with the Indian dual-culture theme, this is very much a Silicon Valley film. Vivek is a tech worker in Silicon Valley, on an alien work visa. He wants to leave his big company job where everyone is a moron who doesn't understand scalability. He wants to work for a small healthcare technology startup, but they don't have a budget for dealing with immigration paperwork. So he's always under threat to lose his job and be deported back to India. His circle of friends are all in similar straits--ranging from illegals to  temporary visas to about to get their green cards. The tension between the "freedom" of America and how quickly that can all be taken away is the source of high drama and some comedy. Add in that a complicated dating life (he seems to know every Sweta in the world) and a spirited debate between making a success in America or returning to India and using skills learned in America to improve their homeland. The immigrant experience has never exactly been an easy one, but the bureaucratic nightmare America has created seems particularly suited to make it impossible (seriously, how can you demonstrate one year of good behavior if that would mean overstaying your visa--by definition being in America one year later is demonstrating bad behavior...never mind the seven years of good behavior preceding it.)

FOR HERE OR TO GO? plays again Mar 6 at 7:00 and Mar 7 at 9:15

And finally, the midnight movie BAD EXORCISTS, a cheap and hilarious story of loser kids at a Catholic school--a nerd, a Jew, and a fat weirdo. And they're all film geeks...but really bad at making a movie. So they decide to make an exorcism flick by stealing their teacher's book on exorcism to add a little verisimilitude to the film. It adds to much, as they get their lead actress possessed by a demon. Oops! Wacky high school hijinx ensue, complete with bitchy girlfriends, super-soakers full of holy water, and heroic nerds. Awesome!

BAD EXORCISTS plays again Mar 1 at 4:00 and Mar 5: at 2:45

Total Running Time: 542 minutes
My Total Minutes: 386,720

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Jason goes to Cinequest--Day 4

A big six-movie day on Friday, so let's jump right in.

As always, I was there for one of the first two beers of the day (the other belonging to my friend Roy) in the lounge. But this time it wasn't so crazy to be there at 10 am. After all, my first film was at...noon.

And that first film was the Hungarian comedy, FOR SOME INEXPLICABLE REASON. Hapless Aron expects to just fall down dead at any random moment, be it in the park, in the middle of the street, or wherever. And that's the least of his problems. He's got no money, no job, and now no girlfriend. Not even the remnants of her hair in the sink--and she always left her hair in the sink, it was something they fought about. But she even took that when she left. But he does have some friends who will go out drinking with him all night, even if it means he wakes up with a plane ticket to Lisbon and no memory of the night. And he's got friends who will teach him how to pick up floozies in bars, even if he wusses out when she gets all naked on her bed waiting for him (what, like actually knowing her name is so important to you?) Star Áron Ferenczik does a great job of bringing that nerdy, neurotic innocence of an aimless 29 year old to the film, and his performance, whether at a loss for words or babbling non-stop keeps it grounded in an innocent charm that's perfect. And who knows, maybe he can find some meaning in his boring dishwashing job--maybe finding meaning in the strange patterns and pictures customers draw in their leftovers. Very funny.

FOR SOME INEXPLICABLE REASON plays again Mar 7 at 9:30 pm.

And then a very different film, in an example of the common film festival phenomenon I call "emotional whiplash." THREE WINDOWS AND A HANGING is a drama from Kosovo (their first Oscar submission as a country) and is a story of simple village life, recovering from the war, and opening old wounds with painful revelations. Lushe is a brave woman, a mother and schoolteacher who is waiting for her husband to return (he was dragged away by enemy soldiers long ago.) She also knows something that the rest of the village would prefer remain secret. So when she talks to a reporter, and claims that she and three other women were raped by enemy soldiers while the men of the village were powerless to stop it, that causes extreme tension in the village. It's shameful, too shameful for the village to bear, and so they compound her trauma by initiating a hate campaign against her, taking their children out of school and making it very clear they won't come back until there's a new teacher. Irena Cahani is excellent playing Lushe with strength and vulnerability, and her revelations have reverberations throughout the village that break their traditional ways of life. Lest you think this is only a sad, bleak drama (which it is in many parts) there is also a great deal of humor, starting in the opening scene of three old men arguing about a story one is telling under the biggest shade tree in the village (wait, is it traditional to knock three times and call the name of the head of a household before you come in, or do you call his name three times?) And it's that juxtaposition of the smallness of village traditions and the enormity of her revelations that drives the film. The men are simply much better at dealing with the small, unimportant things, it takes a woman to tackle the big issues.

THREE WINDOWS AND A HANGING plays again Mar 2 at 4:45 and Mar 7 at 4:15

Next up was a long-ish short and a short-ish feature, starting with THE BREATHARIANS. Auggie is a 12 year old boy living on a farm with his dad. And his mom lives in the old farmhouse just across the pasture. His parents are estranged, and they kind of take it out on him. His father by giving him jobs that he knows will piss of his mother (like killing all the cats in the barn, and nailing their tails to a board as trophies.) And his mom...well, maybe she's just going crazy but she's had a breakthrough and realized that she doesn't need to actually chew and swallow food, she "eats" by breathing the air. A very strange film, anchored by a solid performance by young Sawyer Nunes. Also, it fits into an unofficial festival theme I've noticed this year--killing of animals.

And then the feature documentary, SWEDEN'S COOLEST NATIONAL TEAM. That team competes in...memory sports. Memorizing the order of a deck of cards in 2 minutes...or thousands of binary digits in an hour, or spoken numbers, or whatever. As a relatively new sport, it has a niche but growing following, and three time Swedish champion Mattias Ribbing has some competition in the up-and-comers Jonas von Essen and Marwin Wallonius. The trio might also has what it takes to raise Sweden from interesting also-rans in the world championship to a competitor for the gold medal (against powerhouse Germany.) A very funny documentary, but one where the humor never comes at the expense of the eccentric competition or the brain-athletes. In fact, my favorite part is when they explain how memorization is all about making a story out of the things you need to memorize (like a 6 of hearts is a fish...because...okay, I don't get why.) And most of the stories--just because it's the easiest thing to remember--are about sex and violence. But they will never reveal any of those stories because this is such a charmingly chaste movie. And so the comedy really only exists in my mind, as I watch these eccentric mental athletes memorize stuff, but I know they're really thinking the most violent, X-rated thoughts. That's pretty awesome.


Then a sci-fi post-apocalyptic coming of age story, ASTRAEA. The title character is a teenage girl, walking the empty, frozen wasteland with her brother Matthew. Heading to Nova Scotia to visit her other brother and her grandmother, who survived the "drops" (the cause of the apocalypse is kept a secret for a while, but eventually it's revealed that there was a plague that incubated and spread for months without symptoms, and then the infected just dropped dead--heart stopped--with no warning (come to think of it, like the comic opening montage of FOR SOME INEXPLICABLE REASON.) On the way, they meet another pair of survivors, James and Callie. Things start of tense, with mistrust and guns pointing at each other. But eventually they settle down, start talking, share a meal, and decide that Matthew and Astraea can stay for a day or two. See, James and Callie have set up a house with propane, septic tank, etc. They can live here alone indefinitely. However, they're not a couple--their cousins (this becomes important later, as is the fact that James is wrong in his paranoid speculation that Matthew is an escaped convict and Astraea is his sex slave...just saying.) Well, a day or two becomes weeks...months...maybe they'll head up to Novia Scotia in the spring. Adding a sci-fi element, Astraea might be a bit of clairvoyant, and she knows her grandmother is still alive. So there's a tension between moving on and finding the last survivors of their family and staying and forming a new family with people they know are alive. A great little movie, that does a lot with a white wintery landscape and just four people.

ASTRAEA plays again Mar 1 at 11:30 and Mar 3 at 2:00

Then another short and feature, starting with ADEN, a short that hopefully will become a feature sometime soon. A bounty hunter tries to keep the city safe from a mechanical monster only he can see. A monster created by the imagination of a little boy. Very cool, with some impressive special effects.

And then the feature, THE CENTER. (#ItsNotACult) Ryan has a boring job for a coupon company (but it's much more than coupons!) and troubles with his mom and sister. He's an aspiring writer, working on his novel, but his day job and family obligations keep him from accepting an exciting opportunity at a university. Aimless and seeing a late-night interview with the charismatic self-help guru Vincent, Ryan goes on a retreat with The Center and finds a community that might just be what he's looking for. But then it becomes a lot more. After a period as a rising start, he finds the Center is taking over more and more of his life, he can't even talk to his sister without his superiors observing, and he witnesses how they treat a guy who left the group years ago. Best line of the movie--"It's funny what happens when you believe too much. You end up doing a lot of things you don't believe in." That pretty much says it all. A great, well-acted, and scarily believable story. And fits into another unofficial festival theme I've noticed this year--smoking, and particularly difficulty in getting cigarette lighters to work.

I have to briefly relate my own experience with a group-that-shall-not-be-named (let's just say they're not scientist, and they're not...ologists) trying to recruit me. After an evaluation, they told me that I clearly am too easily influenced by wanting to please others, and they would be very, very sad if I didn't let them help me. I did not join.

ADEN and THE CENTER plays again Mar 1 at 1:30 and Mar 3 at 4:30

And finally, we ended the night with a recently unearthed Canucksploitation diamond-in-the-rough, BAD CITY. A hilarious 70's flick, the evil Dominic Kincaid has murdered the mayor, made it look like a guilt-and-corruption inspired suicide, and seized control of the city. He's also the man behind a new drug that is killing kids, under the cover of his books program, Kincaid's Kid Aids--we give kids...Aids. So it's up to by-the-book cop and ladies man Franky New Guinea to stop this jive turkey with his new partner--plays-by-no-rules super-badass Detective Reverend Grizzly Nightbear. Super groovy. This film was never quite finished, and never released anywhere but Copenhagen, Denmark before it was rediscovered and finally given it's rightful place in the pantheon on Canucksploitation.

Detective Reverend Grizzly Nightbear was there for the Q&A, and I have to say his health plan is phenomenal, he looks like he hasn't aged a day in 40 years!

BAD CITY plays again Mar 1 at 9:30 and Mar 3 at 3:30

Then I took a few friend back to my luxury suite at the Fairmont for some after hours drinking with filmmakers (mostly the gang from THE CENTER) until about 3 am, when everyone was just too exhausted to go on. Besides, I gotta be back to the lounge and drinking by 10.

Total Running Time: 540 minutes
My Total Minutes; 386,178

Friday, February 27, 2015

Jason goes to Cinequest--Day 3

Once again, up bright and early to watch some movies drink in the VIP lounge. Got there shortly after 10 am, and my first movie wasn't until 1 pm.

First up was the Icelandic film, LIFE IN A FISHBOWL, a multi-story, intersecting drama about broken lives. Eik is a preschool teacher who doubles as a high-priced prostitute to make ends meet. She meets Mori, a once-famous-now-drunk writer, who will be famous and wealthy again when the reviews of his new novel, "Life in a Fishbowl" come in. That novel is about a traumatic experience in his earlier life, and one that will resonate later in the movie. He becomes the babysitter for Eik's little girl, who can't have any sugar (seriously, it could kill her.) It seems like an old, long-haired, long-bearded drunk (wait, that reminds me of someone...) isn't a good choice for a babysitter, but for reasons we find out later he's better than her parents and especially her grandfather. And meanwhile Solvi is a former footballer now making a new career as an investment banker, but facing moral dilemmas as his hard-charging colleague has other ideas about both work and play. Everything comes together in grand, violent, and dramatic fashion, making for an excellent and exciting film.

LIFE IN A FISHBOWL plays again Mar 2 at 4:15

Next up was BEASTS OF CARDO, a Dominican magic-realist piece about a town full of...well, beastly people. Legend has it that Cardo is built of darkness and nothingness, where people are all tied up on marionette strings. Hermes, a talented but vain tailor has just moved to town, and Moira has just moved back from New York where she got her Masters degree but also got a reputation for being a slut. They both live under snide gossip and backstabbing, but when they're alone they find a bit of relief. And then...well, it just goes on for a long time. I loved the ending, but it took too long to get there. It's clear early on that this town is full of awful people and they need to get out. The only question is if one, the other, both, or none will actually escape. And I like how it ended. And this is frustrating to write, because the best part of it was the ending but I don't want to give up any spoilers. But trust me, even if the middle starts to drag, the ending is worth it.

BEASTS OF CARDO plays again Mar 3 at 6:00 and Mar 7 at 4:30 

Then after a bit of time at the Mosaic bar and restaurant for the VIP Soiree, I was back for more movies.

Next up was WHEN I'M WITH YOU, the story of Lea, a wonderfully sweet woman who's in love with her gay best friend. She's also putting up with her brother, who runs with some assholes who are beating and killing gay men in the neighborhood. As her gay friend has a blossoming relationship with a new man, her relationship with her brother is falling apart. And if she admits how much she really loves her gay friend, she might lose him, too. The film is shot in a very intimate, close up style that gets into the inner lives of the characters visually. Everything comes to a head in a climactic confrontation that is tense, scary, and ultimately wonderful. Great movie. 

WHEN I'M WITH YOU plays again Feb 28 at 11:15 and Mar 5 at 2:00

And then I saw MALADY, a movie that I didn't exactly enjoy while I was watching it, but now I can't stop thinking about. A story of death and sex in blurry closeups. Holly is grieving her mother's passing, and her last wish was for her to have children. So she hooks up with Matthew, where their best to conceive. But when she learns that Matthew's mother is ailing, she prepares to go through the same trauma of watching her slowly die. And then it gets weird. No, wait, it was already weird. Little things, like how it's shot in such an intimate yet...searching manner, or how Matthew peels scabs off his hand, keeps them in a box, and gives them to his mother. Yeah, that was very, very weird. It's an unsettling film. And I'm still deciding if I like it. In fact, no, I know I didn't enjoy it, I'm still deciding if I was amazed by it.

MALADY plays again Feb 27 at 10:00 pm and Mar 6 at noon.

Total Running Time: 437 minutes
My Total Minutes: 385,638