Thursday, May 26, 2005

40 Years in a Day

Ok, I finally forced myself to run down to the Balboa Theatre to see "The Best of Youth" (La Meglio giovent├╣). All six hours and six minutes of it. Screened in two parts of three hours each. And that is the short US version. The original is nearly seven hours long.

It is a beautiful experience. Particularly part one. The film follows a family in Italy from 1966 to 2003. The performances are exceptional! Especially those of the principals who play the characters for the entire 40 year period! Yes, they might seem a bit older than college students (where it begins) and perhaps they never truly appear to be in their sixties by the end, but that's not really the point. (Plus if you can watch "Smallville" featuring the country's oldest high school graduates without wincing, then this is a breeze!) It's watching the family deal with and change with the times that is totally absorbing. I was never bored and only began to feel the length in the fifth hour, when the film takes a little bit too much time to do a little bit too much wrapping up. However, that is just my opinion. The opinion of the woman sitting in the row behind me would be much stronger, as she was a sobbing mess through most of the last two hours.

I can only assume that it was originally produced for television, which explains its length and the preponderance of close-ups. However, it's a pretty, pretty cast, so that's no problem! (The 1966 sequence is particularly nice to look at!) I don't know if it has a wide distribution, though it has garnered a great deal of press and reviews, so perhaps it is playing near everyone... Today was it's closing day at the Balboa after having been there for 8 weeks or so.

I would be quite willing to find this on DVD! Especially to see what those other 40+ minutes were about!

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Where's Gilligan?

[May. 26th, 2005|08:49 am]
[ mood | amused ]
[ music | only the sound of the air filters in the apartment... ]

I don't know who or what is exactly responsible, but I must give credit to the producers of "Lost" for keeping me as involved as they do, considering how annoying the cast of characters (with MAYBE 3 exceptions) are. In watching the season finale, I was actually hoping for deaths! The one absolute death (Arnst) that occurred was more than deserved, considering that he was only on two episodes. However, I have a LIST of characters that deserve to be bitch-slapped! I also fear that one of the three characters that I can tolerate (Locke) seems about to cross over into faith-based Red State Territory, as he began his 'man of science vs. man of destiny/faith' argument with the ever obnoxious Jack (who is on the TOP of my list of those to be bitch-slapped!). I also wish that Merry-on-Heroin-Boy dies an exceptionally violent death at some point in the series. He is playing the 'obsessive-compulsive-addictive' personality quite well. However he is just simply too annoying and must be destroyed, along with his "A [dingo, woman, The Others, etc.] took my bay-bay!" girlfriend. Neither of them served any dramatic purpose, except to get others into trouble with her baby bait. But now that we have had the kidnapping of Walt by the Gorton Fishermen, let's get rid of the happy couple, shall we?

Also, the kidnapping of Walt was a cool cliffhanger for the season and should have been left for the climax, as opposed to staring down into The Hatch Which Leads to the X-Files! However, should we find a naked and shivering David Duchovny at the bottom of it next season, all will be forgiven.

The List of Those to Be Bitch-Slapped:

Jack, Merry-Boy-On-Heroin and his Girlfriend, Shannon, Claire and maybe Sayid, but only if he does not finally do the bitchslapping of everyone ahead of him on the list.

The List of Those Who Should Have a Spin-Off Series:

Hurley, the Three Guys on the Raft, Sun and Vincent

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Tuesday, May 24, 2005

The People's Temple (Berkeley Rep)

Well. "The People's Temple" currently playing at Berkeley Rep, is sort of a dry subject matter for a play. It is an analysis of what happened with The People's Temple when it finally self-annihilated itself in Jonestown, Guyana. However, created and performed by some of the people who worked on "The Laramie Project," it does come to an emotional climax. Taken from interviews and diaries of the 'victims' as well as the few survivors, the play does create a clearer picture of what was going on with these people, as they followed Jim Jones into their mass suicide. By explaining how economically, politically and sociologically trapped congregation members felt before they even found The People's Temple to begin with, it isn't too difficult to follow their mass depression and persecution complexes as they move from SF, to Guyana and, eventually, to their deaths. The play includes a number of surprisingly musical moments, as the congregation re-enacts the joy it felt when they were together. The play doesn't paint Jim Jones as a diabolical cult leader, as much as a man who manipulated the congregation into creating a micro-society, in which he felt could be the model for the society at large. Apparently, his ideals were quite powerfully engaged by the S.F. politicos at the time, including Willie Brown and Moscone. But it was his machiavellian technique in some matters to make the Temple exist (i.e. claiming members' real estate, etc.), that would drive him and his people out of S.F., to create his own personal Walden, in Guyana. Yet, as even that failed, his final act of destroying the People's Temple by killing its members, was enacted as a societal suicide than a mass murder. Some of the testifying of victim's families don't seem to blame Jones, as much as mourn the loss as suicidal acts. However, the play does not absolve Jones of those that were murdered on the airfield as they attempted to escape during that last day. The heart of the play focused more on how the survivors attempt to resolve The Event, so that the audience can come to a closer understanding of what went on there. It's a complicated, yet quite emotional evening, as you listen to the characters struggle with the choices they made within The People's Temple. It is this internal struggle, as if they were out of control with their destiny, that provides the poignant drama and, an overall successful theatrical evening. It is truly a remarkable piece, considering that it is at the least 'navel gazing' but what an extraordinary group of people to be doing it!

The production values are stark, but quite tasteful and make the point about the exploration and research that the evening is going to be about. Yes, there was a pretty slow period in the first act (Judy caught me snoozing!), and the lady next to me was completely out of it (snoring) in the second act, however, it is a LOT of information to process during it's three hour running time! I would see it again, or at least read it!

P.S., before the play, Judy and I had a bit more than moderately priced dinner at La Rose Bistro, which might be a place worth exploring again! Judy had a fabulous looking Salmon Steak and I had lamb chops, with the creamiest sweet potatoes EVER! (I do, however, need to avoid red meat during these next few months, I believe.) We preceded the main course with crab cakes (yum!) and ended with the cinnamon gelato was different, but nice! Neither of us had any wine, for fear of interrupting our senses for the three hour skit that was to follow...

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Sith vs. Crowe

Ok, so I meandered down to the Century 20/Daly City for the DLP projected "Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith." The opening sequence is so visually PACKED, that it began to look like the ILM Audition Reel to me. I wasn't even sure who was fighting at one point. It's pretty though. Then I could literally feel Mr. Lucas launch MS-Word and begin to type dialogue. At that point, I actually began to doze off. The dialogue between Anakin and Amadala is just soooo... dull. Natalie Portman CAN act. We saw her do it in "Closer"! But here she is, sort of looking like she has been up since 4 a.m. in costume and makeup, waiting for the set up, and finally the moment for the performance has arrived and Lucas is more concerned with where she's hitting her marks against the green-screen and I swear I can see all of that on her face: just get the lines out, because he's watching what's going on behind me. The rest of the cast don't look necessarily lost as much as adrift in the fact that the Production is technically so much larger and complicated than anything they seem to feel they can bring to the screen themselves. It sort of clears up for me the odd fascination with Charles Heston and the like during the 60's. Yes, some of those performances were huge and campy. BUT, Cecile B. and his cronies KNEW they had to be! I mean, if you're gonna cut from parting the Red Sea to "Let my people go," you better have that actor deliver the line with force, bordering on camp! It seems that Lucas tries to create the details of this world to such specificity and 'reality' that he chooses (or allows?) to have his characters react with relative nonchalance. These people should be in a state of CONSTANT STRESS and just BITING each other's heads off!! Those were the sparks that made the first trio (Luke, Leia, Han) engage us. Here, they all seem pretty resolved to the idea that, "Oh, there are at least 3 more episodes to go, so why burn out now?" And poor Hayden... left to be petulant and then covered in latex... Anyway, I could go on, but I'll just stop there.

Afterward, I popped over to a preview screening of "Cinderella Man" with markosf , starring everyone's bad boy Russell Crowe. Yeah, he might be an asshole in 'real life' but man can the man act!! For a guy who is reportedly so FULL of himself, he can bring such pain to his characters! Renee Zellwegger is fine as his wife and she actually manages to keep up. Paul Giamatti is GREAT as his manager! In fact, it screams "Oscar Turn"! He IS the next Burgess Meredith!! Ron Howard actually has moments where he expands his technique to something more 'nightmarish' and edgy than I can recall seeing from him before. The fights are truly quite violent, and Howard has a couple stunning cinematic tricks up his sleeve before it becomes too trite. The screenplay itself is fairly routine and owes any of its suspense to the existence of "Million Dollar Baby." In fact, "Cinderella Man" only made me appreciate "M.D.B." even more. In the end, though, Crowe is amazing to watch... He just is!

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Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Batman Begins FINALLY!!

So, at the end of the Season Finale of "Smallville" (go ahead, MOCK!), there was a 10 minute preview of "Batman Begins"... WB has been rolling this thing out as if it were it's last gasp or something. I mean, it feels like it has been YEARS of publicity covering rights acquisition, pre-production, production and finally, now, its release! And in this 10 minute promo-thon, well,... it looks gorgeous!

I. Can't. Wait! Christopher Nolan has been brilliant in the past ("Following," "Memento"), so I do trust him and can't wait to see what he can do with an actual BUDGET! ("Following" cost a mere $50,000 UK pounds.) And of course, Christian Bale looks gorgeous! And he's backed up by none other than Michael Caine, Liam Neeson and Morgan Freeman! I mean... The thing has GOT to be BRILLIANT!!! The ONLY hesitation I had during that 10 minutes was the Bat-Hummer-Mobile. It's a bit over the top. Nevertheless, I. Can't. Wait!

And this coming from someone who has never been a bat-fan.

In other news, "Smallville" rocked! Or at least, as is it's tradition as far as Season Finales are concerned! They are FINALLY the Oldest Living Graduates from Smallville High. Finally! There might be some dead bodies, though none quite as dramatic as last season's 'shocker' when we watch (what we thought) was Chloe being blown up. And apparently, Clark has been sent to his Fortress of Solitude in the artic!! Now, please indulge me and let us all take a moment to meditate that they will let time pass!! And in the next season opener, Smallville's Oldest Living Graduates will be playing their actual ages! But that might be too much, I know....

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Monday, May 16, 2005

Mad Hot Ballroom

Last night,markosf and I went to a preview of "Mad Hot Ballroom" (dir. Marilyn Agrelo, US, 110 mins., 2005), which I had a ticket for on the last day of the SF Film Festival (aka first day of chemo - blech!). Needless to say, I was thrilled to get a chance to see it for 'free.' ('Free' as in I paid for it once already.) Sometimes, festival audiences can be overly enthusiastic to a film as it ends. If last night's audience was any indication, the festival audience must have gone NUTS and given the director a standing ovation! Tonight's preview was a 'SF Film Society Members (and guests) Only' screening, and we did give it a pretty rousing bit of applause at the end! (Yes, I know that bothers some of you...) I was right there with them!

Paramount Pictures (the distributor) is pitching this as "A kind of 'Spellbound' crossed with 'Strictly Ballroom'" (which is a pull-quote from Kenneth Tynan, LA Times). Well, that does sell it, but it is actually somewhere in between. Where "Spellbound" is at times harrowing and "Strictly Ballroom" is camp, "Mad Hot Ballroom" is joyous and celebratory. We follow groups of 10 and 11 year olds from three schools in the New York City public school system as they prepare for the city wide ballroom competition, where they will compete as teams. Though the kids get most of the screen time, the teachers are an important part of the documentary as well. Oddly enough, we only see some of the parents at the final competition. The film doesn't focus on the typical 'nature vs. nurture' argument that most, if not all juvenile documentaries do, but it focuses almost exclusively on the classes and the competition. The interviews with the kids mainly concern their feelings about the intimacy of 'dancing hand in hand and eye to eye' with each other and a lot of 'critiquing' of their potential dance partners. The teachers interviews don't get TOO preachy about the role of the arts in education, but they do make their point early on. As the time of the competitions (there are quarter finals, semi-finals and the finals) draw near, the teachers actually start speaking more like sports coaches than dance instructors.

There are some stand out personalities, however the only very small glitch I had was that I couldn't keep track of who was in which school. Once it gets into the semi-finals, I wasn't really sure who was and wasn't there. In fact, it was even difficult to associate which teams were associated with which teachers, at one point. There is also a small diversion to the school representing Queens (the reigning champions) in an effort to find a 'villain' to root against during the finals, which was not necessary.

However, the true joy of the film is watching the children physically, mentally and emotionally deal with each other during the dances in the five weeks of preparation for the competition, as well as the reactions from the teachers and judges. A great deal of that is due to the fact that they all want to be there! And you should want to see this! It opens Friday...

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Sunday, May 15, 2005

I AM MY OWN WIFE

No, I'm not talking about what living alone these past 13 years has done to me...

For my 'Christmas present,' Gretchen took me to "I Am My Own Wife" by Doug Wright, playing at the Curran this month. It features Jefferson Mays in his Tony Award winning role as German transvestite, Charlotte Von Mahlsdorf, as well as a good dozen or more characters.

For me, that was this productions best and worst feature: Jefferson Mays, in a simple black dress and pearls, brilliantly playing a multinational cast of characters. So adept and with such transparency are his transitions that the technique itself got in the way of my understanding what the hell was going on up there. 'Charlotte' does more than narrate an autobiography, but the some scenes are played out - conversations with two or three people - all by Mr. Mays. Additionally, the frame of the piece is the 'author' who is interviewing her and investigating the museum she kept. Then Charlotte goes into flashbacks. Then I started to drift off. The SF Chronicle's RAVE review pointed out "the use of Mays to depict all the characters underscores the universal slipperiness of identity." Oh dear. Is THAT what was going on? It is, in Gretchen's words, a very dry play. So, true. There is no one to laugh with or cry for in the play. We just sort of witness this character's ability to survive the Nazis and the Neo-Nazis.

The set and lighting are HUGE and GLORIOUS to look at, though!

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Friday, May 06, 2005

48th SF Intl Film Festival - The Awards

Well, needless to say, it is another year where I didn't see most of the winners. I just don't understand that! Anyway...

Skyy Prize ($10K) for Best First Feature: "Me and You and Everyone We Know" Idir. Miranda July, USA)
Fipresci Jury Award (Best International Feature): "Private" (dir. Saverio Costanzo, Italy)

Virgin Megastore Audience Awards
Best Narrative Feature: "Me and You and Everyone We Know" (Dir. Miranda July, USA); honorable mentions: "Brothers" and "Take My Eyes" (I saw that one!)
Best Documentary Feature: "Pursuit of Equality" (dirs. Geoff Callan and Mike Shaw) This was the SF Gay Marriage doc, shown ONCE at the Castro and directed by Mayor Newsom's brother in law. It's spelt like this:
b a l l o t s t u f f i n g. Honorable mentions: "The Real Dirt on Farmer John" (I saw that!) and "Murderball" (that one too, and it was GREAT!)

Golden Gate Awards, and these read like Emmys with so many categories:
Best Documentary Feature: "Czech Dream" (saw it!)
Bay Area Documentary Feature: "The Real Dirt on Farmer John" (saw it!)
Documentary Short: "The Ecstatic" (saw it! INTENSE)
Bay Area Documentary Short: "The Life of Kevin Carter" (never heard of it)
New Visions Award (experimentals): "Phantom Foreign Vienna" (missed it! damn!)
Best Narrative Short: "Twilight" (saw it but don't remember it...)
Bay Area Non-Documentary Short: "Torchlight Tango" (saw it. eh. ok)
Best Animated Short: "Ryan" (saw it! It won the Oscar too, so who is to dispute that?)
Youth Works: "Intertia" (missed it)
Work for Kids and Familes: "A Slippery Tale" (Hmmm. Odd. I thought it was the weakest one in the program, but oh well...)
Best Television Documentary Feature: "Off to War" (nope)
Best Television Documentary Short: "Facing the Dead" (which I think played with "Off to War" but.. I didn't see either of them.)
Best Television Narrative Feature: "Tempus Fugit" (LOVED IT!!)
Best Television Narrative Short: "The Newsroom, Season 3: Baghdad Bound" (LOVED IT!! It played along with "Tempus Fugit")

Here's a link to the official press release and recap:
San Francisco Film Society

All done! Woo hoo!!

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Wednesday, May 04, 2005

48th SF Intl. Film Festival - Day 13

Yes, I am slowing down as we come to the end of the festival (tomorrow). I only saw 3 out of a possible 5 programs today. Plus received a bit more clarifying dirt regarding Rrrrrrrroxanne(!)'s apparent job hunt, though the source has asked us to keep it low key and under wraps. Well. Too late for that, eh? ;-) Oh, and speaking of 'dirt'...

"The Real Dirt on Farmer John" (dir. Taggart Siegel, USA/Mexico, 2005, 83 mins.) The program description sort of insinuated that this was a documentary about a drag queen farmer. Well, that's not quite accurate. He's a farmer in Illinois who just doesn't always dress the part and 'encourages self expression.' Basically, his farm became something of an artistic commune in the 1970's, to the extreme consternation of his neighbors. However, by the 1990's, the farm had evolved into an "organic Community Supported Agriculture" farm, and is apparently fairly successful in the Chicago area, which is about 100 miles away. In other words, I walked in hoping for 'Sequins and Seed', but actually got organic tomatoes. Even the Q&A, and he was there in a farmer's overall and a pink boa, was dull. It's a pleasant enough little doc, but... well... it's about organic farming. I mean, how exciting is that?! Not very.

"Czech Dream" (dirs. Vit Clusak, Filip Remunda, Czech Republic, 2004, 87 mins.) Ok, so hang in there: This is a documentary about a prank in which a 'Czech hypermarket' is marketed - however, it doesn't exist. Apparently, the filmmakers are actually satirizing the government's campaign to convince the populace to join the EU. And if that doesn't sound droll enough, let's just toss in an hour's worth of footage of meetings with the public relations and marketing firm that was hired to do this faux ad campaign. The idea does have some comic potential, however the directors are taking this just seriously enough as an exercise in political protest, that they drain nearly any humor from what could be a farcical situation. Their dry cynicism just sapped the life out of the documentary, which is sort of their purpose, I guess. It just seems to me that if they had a bit of Michael Moore-like levity, that they would get their point across and gain more audience sympathy and agreement. But then, I don't know what the stakes are for the Czech Republic in joining the EU to begin with, so perhaps it is a serious situation? I dunno... I was just bored and turned off by it all. I needed a comedy:

"Beyond Our Ken" (dir. Pang Ho-Cheung, Hong Kong, 2004, 97 mins.) This was a delicious little revenge comedy involving two women and the man they love. One is his ex, the other his current girlfriend, and he is a womanizer (a Gemini - the WORST kind, I think), who thinks nothing of loving and leaving them, since he is a hunky fireman. The ex decides that the current needs to be informed as to what a pig the guy is. And that forms their alliance to teach him a lesson. But it doesn't stop there... Tonight was its North American Premiere, and it does not appear to have distribution, but I don't want to give away spoilers. It's a delicate little situation and Ho-Cheung was able to create a nice, big farce out of it: chases! some slapstick! even the ever popular and classic 'hide her under the bed' moment! I really enjoyed this and have put it onto my 'must have!' list. And after a fairly fun Q&A, I have included him on my 'what's he done-I want to see more!' short list!

Speaking of a short list, tomorrow is closing day and I am only able to see ONE feature. And even that might not happen... Also, the Golden Gate Awards were announced tonight, so there should be a press release about those and the Audience Favorites tomorrow, too!

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Tuesday, May 03, 2005

48th SF Intl. Film Festival - Day 12

A triple feature, some fun intermission gossip and a Rrrrrrrroxanne(!) sighting.

"Split Screen: Two Films by Amir Muhammad" was a program that included two one-hour films by Malaysian director Amir Muhammad. The first one, "The Year of Living Vicariously" (2004, 63 mins.) was a documentary, aka 'making of' on the set of a historical epic being shot in Indonesia. Since the film is about the transition of power between dictatorships, the 'making of' portion of the documentary actually becomes more of an investigation into the political ideals of the people of Indonesia, as represented by the cast and crew. Visually, Muhammad records the entire thing in split screen: the talking head on one side and the actual film shoot on the other. That sort of made it a bit more interesting than a typical talking-head docu.

His second film, "Tokyo Magic Hour" (2005, 60 mins.) was anything BUT talking heads! This was a simply gorgeous and completely abstract hour of images, music and some poems. During the Q&A, we found out that it actually had to do with the conflicts between many nations in Asia. However, I'm sort of ignorant to that, especially as abstractly presented here, so I just went along for the psychedelic ride! I. Loved. It!

After this little afternoon pair of featurettes, I of course had to chat with some film society members and got some gossip! It seems that Rrrrrrroxanne(!) is job hunting! Apparently, she heard that Peter Scarlet was planning on leaving the Tribeca Film Festival and contacted someone over there (who promptly alerted the masses) and inquired that she was quite interested in the position. However, he has no plans to leave, what so ever, which makes something of a faux pas on Rrrrrrrroxanne(!)'s part, as word is out that she may be leaving at the end of her 5 years here. (She is at the end of her 4th year of an apparent 5 year contract.) Also, the Roxie Theatre in the Mission is up for sale, which is sort of sad news... But back to Rrrrrrroxanne(!), who was present and looking as uncomfortable as always, though I'm glad she is dressing less formally now, to introduce the director of the next film:

"Cronicas" (dir. Sebastian Cordero, Ecuador, 2004, 98 mins.) As well done and taut as this crime thriller was, it is incredibly unlikable. It takes villains and anti-heroes to a new level. John Lequizamo plays the anti-hero, by the way, which he seemed born to do. He plays a Gerardo Rivera inspired journalist on the track of a serial child rapist and murderer. I'll just stop there, but to say that it's quite the feat to be almost as despicable as the villain he's hunting. I had NO time between this and the next feature to hang out for the Q&A, which I would have really loved to know what people had to say about it.

"The World" (dir. Jia Zhangke, China, 2004, 140 mins.) I now know that it takes 140 minutes for paint to dry. It's an Altman-esque story of a group of employees at 'The World Park' in Bejing, but at half the pace. And in Mandarin. With lots of subtitles. There was not a single cross-cut in the entire 140 minutes: it was completely made up of master shots. Long, tedious, dreary, unfortunate, un-understandable master shots. As the HOURS drug on, I really wanted to pop away home so I could see 'The AMAZING Race,' but thought that this would give me the opportunity to further appreciate what editing a film is all about. Cut! Cut! Cut!!!

Another triple tomorrow, too...

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Monday, May 02, 2005

48th SF Intl. Film Festival - Day 11

[May. 2nd, 2005|09:59 pm]
uh oh! I'm starting to slow down, starting at 12:45 pm, I just couldn't make it to the 9:30 pm film...

"The White Diamond" (dir. Werner Herzog, Germany, 2004, 88 mins.) This gorgeous documentary follows Dr. Graham Dorrington, an engineer who is obsessed with engineering a two-man blimp to survey the canopy of the Amazon forest. Dorrington is a bit of a diva, but it is a sign of Herzog's genius to find a personality that compliments him as well as the Amazon forest! The documentary was recorded in HD video and projected as such in the Kabuki's main room and it was gorgeous!!

"Take My Eyes" (dir. Iciar Bollain, Spain, 2003, 106 mins.) This is a spousal abuse flick, but with a twist: it focuses as much on the husband's efforts to change as it does the wife's victimization. In this way, it was the relationship as a whole that was revealed as 'corrupt' and not a simple matter of "Beater vs. Beaten." The screenplay also played with the wife's efforts to become a docent at an art museum, where she is introducing works that all revolve around the theme of obsessive love, which was a nice poetic touch. The performances are pretty extraordinary, also. Oh! I almost forgot! The film was preceded by a Rrrrrrroxanne(!) sighting! She introduced the film in typical stammering fashion, unable to look away from her notes without getting lost. Speaking of fashion, she was dressed in what might best be described as 'Lands End,' which made her almost unrecognizable.

"Tempus Fugit" (dir. Enric Folch, Spain, 2004, 90 mins.) This was a charming time traveling romantic comedy! I. Loved. It! I. Must. Have. It! I'm not even going to try to explain much more, considering how twisted and complicated time travel movies can be. However, Folch handles the problem of present and future selves running into with terrific fun!

Well, that was it for the day, as I was able to pass off my last ticket for the 9:30 pm film at the Rush Line. Tomorrow is another triple feature, that could be a quadruple feature, but I just don't think so...

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Sunday, May 01, 2005

48th SF Intl. Film Festival - Day 10

Oh dear. I went a little nuts today. Since last night's midnight movie ended well after 2 AM, Maxxxxx the Parrot insisted on waking me up at 6:30 AM. This meant that I was up and ready to spend the entire day at the Kabuki, starting with the Member's Screening (which included bagels, donuts and juice!) at 10 AM of:

"The Syrian Bride" (dir. Eran Riklis, Israel/Germany/France (aka strange bedfellows), 2004, 97 mins.) This is a quirky little thing. A Syrian bride is residing in the Israeli occupied Golong Heights and is about to marry a man residing in Syria. This is much more complicated than it sounds due to some bureaucratic red tape having to do with Syrians not allowed into Israel, which considers the Golong Heights part of Israel, so once she does cross the border to marry him, she can not return to her family, but Syria doesn't recognize Israeli passports originating from the Golong Heights, so how is she going to crossover to marry him in the first place? Did'ja get that? Probably not, which is what I guess is the point. Actually, the real surprise about this film is that it was made with Israeli funding, as it criticizes its own policies. It's well acted and the complications are played out clearly enough via the domestic dramas and conflicts within the bride's family that I was never bored. I won't see it again and the ending is very muddy, but it is worth seeing once.

"The Gravel Road" (dir. Deepak Kumaran Menon, Malaysia, 2004, 92 mins.) Speaking of domestic drama, this story focused upon an Indian family in Malaysia and the teenage girl's attempt to leave their poor, agricultural lifestyle to attend university. The screenplay is pretty routine. However, the settings are quite lovely and the performances are actually kind of sweet. It is painless, but probably quite forgettable, by the end of this week, anyway.

"Relativity" (dir. Brenda Kovrig, USA, 2004, 57 mins.) This was the pleasant surprise of the day! I actually went to this to see the accompanying short subject, but found this to be quite worthwhile. Though its description sounds like another 'adoptee finds her birth parents and sibling' story, the director/adoptee has given her journey a unique voice. She diaries her expectations and anxieties as she undertakes her search. It is how she feels with the results that set this film far apart from any others that I have seen of this ilk. She has a really cool sense of humor and her adoptive parents are a treat to listen to in their interviews. Oh, yes, there are a lot of talking heads in this, which sets it back a step. But her resolution (which I won't spoil it here) was pretty refreshing, when all is said and done. This was preceded by the short:

"Buried in the Backyard" (dirs. Monica Bigler, Sarah Prior, USA, 2004, 30 mins.) This interviewed and profiled a half dozen or so individuals and families who have recently built bomb shelters. Of course, what made this sort of entertaining to me anyway, was that most of these people live in rural areas (how else would they have the space to build a bunker?), which makes their paranoia a subject of some mockery on my part, but sort of disturbing when you realize how SERIOUSLY these people feel threatened and how ready they are to turn against "those neighbors who will rush [their] shelter[s]" when the apocalypse occurs. These are scary people! Speaking of turning against each other...

"Whisky Romeo Zulu" (dir. Enrique Pineyro, Argentina, 2004, 105 mins.) This is a 'whistle blower movie' featuring a pilot's struggle against the Argentinean airline industry's lack of safety standards. Now, I found this to be pretty routine dramatic stuff. However, what does set it apart is that it IS Pineyro's (writer, director, star) true story! He has pulled together a very Hollywood (dare I say Movie-of-the-Week) quality production, which is it's best and weakest link, for me anyway. I did seem to be in the minority when talking to friends afterwards, but I really did find the screenplay and style to be trite. I am also in the minority in my views of the last piece of the day:

"Following Sean" (dir. Ralph Arlyck, USA, 2004, 87 mins.) This punched my 'documentary format' buttons. The program notes compared this piece to Michael Apted's "7 Up" series, which is a brilliantly conceived, and wonderfully objective, chronicle of a group of children, following them every 7 years of their lives. "Following Sean" revisits the subject of a documentary the director made 35 years ago: the 4 year old Sean, living in the middle of the Haight in 1968. What punches my buttons is that the film does not TRULY focus on the man that Sean becomes, but is actually a diary of how the director is reacting to the adult Sean. He actually spends more time bemoaning his own loss of idealism during these years than chronicling his subject. In fact, Arlyck spends more time giving us his OWN biography than focusing upon Sean himself. He uses Sean as an example of how the counter-culture of the late 60's, which he never seemed to approve of in the first place, failed. The film is not an effective Op/Ed piece, nor is it a 'pure' documentary. I became increasingly cognizant that it was actually the director trying to work out his own mid-life crisis. Perhaps it is a 'generational thing' and I am just not quite old enough to appreciate the cultural revolution that Arlyck seems to be struggling with. Or perhaps it really is just 90 minutes of self indulgent navel gazing and he is using Sean to justify (and fund) the "project." I found it quite annoying and did not stay for the Q&A, which was going to include the director, Sean and his parents, as well as the director of the short that preceded it:

"Radio Takeover" (dirs. Serena Down, Mike Seely, USA, 2004, 10 mins.) Who knew that there was a pirate radio station here in San Francisco that was transmitting highly progressive information for the homeless and other disenfranchised parties? Of course, since it only broadcast 100 watts, who actually HEARD it in the first place? Well, apparently the FCC did, as they were busted, the equipment confiscated and the group is now broadcasting over broadband internet. That last fact is the ironic punchline [paraphrased here]: "Yeah, 'Joe Homeless' is going to pull up his shopping cart and plug into a broadband modem."

Well, just 4 more days and another dozen programs to go...

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48th SF Intl. Film Festival - Day 9

I don't think I could have picked a more extreme opposite pairing of films than what I saw today/tonight. First (after a series of literal roadblocks on the Bay Bridge), Judy and I arrived to meet Gretchen at the Pacific Film Archive (albeit FIFTY MINUTES LATE) for:

"The Power of Nightmares: The Rise of the Politics of Fear" (dir. Adam Curtis, Great Britain, 2004, 180 mins.) We finally got into this three hour documentary about 30 minutes late, which I do not think actually impaired the experience too much. The film is actually three one hour episodes made for the BBC. So, we only missed the first half of episode one. Anyway, Adam Curtis is also responsible for last year's brilliant "The Century of the Self" and he continues his investigation of the motives underneath popular culture, in this instance, how the populace is manipulated by politics and why. He focuses most primarily upon the last 20 years and climaxes with the fallout of 9/11. The film presents some extremely controversial thesis regarding the 'mythology of terrorist networks' and how both sides have much to gain by promulgating that myth. I can't really summarize his exhaustive work in a simple paragraph. However, I can HIGHLY recommend this, if you possibly get the chance to see it! During the Q&A, Curtis was asked if it is available on video. It is not. However, Curtis informed the audience that it is available 'out there' by downloading via Bit Torrent. ("If you don't know what that is, I'm certain you can ask someone sitting next to you in THIS crowd!" hee hee)

After a little dinner and bopping back across the bridge, I had a quick nap before the FINAL Midnight movie this year:

"Izo" (dir. Takashi Miike, Japan, 2004, 128 mins.) Firstly, I need to remember to double check how long these midnight movies are. Secondly, as this weird and extravagantly designed tale wore on, I started to dwell on "What is it about Miike that keeps me coming back?" Then it dawned on me. Takashi Miike is sort of a Japanese Ken Russell: regardless of how absurd, if not incomprehensible, the screenplay might be, there's always something to look at. This tale of a demon samurai who is doomed to lurch through the centuries destroying the souls of all around him, lurched along in about the same pacing as the demon himself. 128 minutes?! He could have easily cut out 30. And most of those should be the appearance of this whacked out folk singer (credited as Tomokawa Kuzuki), who continues to pop up, commenting on the action with the most inane songs! (Castro-Bob snarked, "He's the Japanese Tom Waits!" ha!) I can't say I loathed this, but I couldn't wait for it to end. Then again, I couldn't bring myself to leave either. It might have been the psychological-contact high with the obviously stoned guys seated in the row behind Bob and me...

Tomorrow: 10 AM??!! and only one other... so far...

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