Monday, February 27, 2006

Brunch and The Bee

Sunday was a busy little day. First was brunch with the some of the Northen California PMP Yahoo Group members at a NEW place to me: Momo's, which had an incredible Murphy's Eggs on Corned Beef Hash! Oh YUMMMMM!!! And we had a good time chatting. After that...

A matinee of "The 25th Annual Putnum County Spelling Bee", which was on it's final preview before opening on Wednesday night. I. LOVED. IT!! (Thank you, Judy!) There has been some tweaking to make it locale specific to San Francisco, as well as some current headline inclusions for 'Schwarty's' political screeds (i.e. "She earned a medal in civics, however declined it due to the NSA's wiretapping scandal.") The entire cast was terrific and even the audience participation moments worked better than I imagined it would! (You need to sign up in the lobby before the show to participate. They are then given a good amount of direction by one of the cast members at the 'registration table' after being called on stage.) It is quite apparent why it won the Tony for Best Book of a Musical and the Featured Actor - he's got the BIG Number in the show. I could go on a snark-rant and analyze why this show is so much better than "Lestat", but I would rather NOT dip "...Spelling Bee" in any negativity! This sit-down production in San Francisco is directed by James Lapine and designed by the rest of the Broadway staff, so we are getting not a regional version, but the 'original'! Woo hoo!!! Maxxxxx gives it a "Woooooo!" too!

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Saturday, February 25, 2006

Walk the Unknown White Male Line

Ok. I FINALLY saw "Walk The Line". It's ok, in that better-than-a-tv-biopic way. Though not better than, say, "The Life and Death of Peter Sellers." I'm not a Johnny Cash fan to begin with, so this had a hard row to hoe for me. Plus, I saw it on a plane. And I dozed off at one point. However, Joaquin Phoenix does a really good job as Johnny Cash and, though I sort of don't want to admit it, Reese Witherspoon does pull out ALL of her best tricks as June Carter. She does quite the job as an actress portraying an actress, who is acting for Johnny. My only hesitation in their performances is that I didn't see them age during the 20+ years that the film traces. But considering how I am not a country music fan, I wasn't completely turned off by the numbers, which were well produced by T. Bone Burnett. The sound mix was a bit odd, though, as you could tell that Witherspoon was dubbed in later, whereas Phoenix sounded 'live.'

Anyway, now that I've seen it, I feel qualified in 'passing judgement' regarding Witherspoon's Oscar chances. I LOVED Felicity Huffman in "Transamerica," which I just saw a second time this week. However, I can see why one might cast their vote at Reese W., as she nearly steals the flick away from Phoenix, and she doesn't even enter for nearly a half hour into it! Say what you will about the gossip surrounding her unlikeable work habits, the girl can act!

On a completely unrelated note, I saw "Unknown White Male" a couple of weeks ago. It's a documentary about a (VERY handsome) man who completely lost his memory (retrograde amnesia) and his re-introduction to his 'old life.' Oddly enough, what could have been fairly dramatic, was just dull. The director is an old friend of his and, basically took advantage of the situation. However, he didn't give us enough of a look into the man's personality to really care about him - before or after the amnesia hit. It also raises more issues than it cares to address. For instance, the admitting nurse talks about how good looking he is, which one assumes why they worked so hard at finding SOME connection to his identity. If he had been a poor black man, I would kind of guess that he would have been sent back out into the streets. Also, the structure of the film is just... fishy. At the time, I was wondering why no one from his recent past were included. The film just focusses on OLD friends from 20 years ago. Roger Ebert has written a commentary which expresses some doubt as to the authenticity of the documentary itself. As the characters lacked any real 'heart' I wouldn't be surprised to find out that it was a poorly acted fake.

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Thursday, February 16, 2006

The Comedy of Errors

I avoid being overtly political here, but this just borders on comedy, if it weren't so pathetically tragic. From Arianna Huffington's blog:

The Hume interview contained a pair of TiVo-worthy moments that left me wondering "Did I really hear that?" and reaching for the replay button.

TiVo Moment #1: After Cheney walked Hume through the specifics of the shooting, including a cataloguing of Whittington's injuries ("He was struck in the right side of his face, his neck and his upper torso on the right side of his body"), Hume inexplicably followed up with this jaw dropper: "And I take it you missed the bird?"

The VP has just painted a verbal picture of blasting his friend in the face and Brit is wondering about... the bird?!
TiVo Moment #2: Hume asks Cheney if the shooting will "affect your attitude toward this pastime you so love in the future?"

Cheney: I can't say that. You know, we canceled the Sunday hunt. I said, look I'm not -- we were scheduled to go out again on Sunday and I said I'm not going to go on Sunday, I want to focus on Harry.

Wow. How many guys out there would be willing to cancel a Sunday hunt to focus on the fate of the man they just blasted in the face with birdshot? Not many. Self-sacrifice in the face of overwhelming temptation. That's Dick Cheney for you.

Maxxxxx says, "Shhhhhhit!"

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Monday, February 13, 2006

Resting From the Rest of the IndieFest

Yes, yes, I've been slightly neglectful, or at least tardy, in posting and recapping the second half of the San Francisco Independent Film Festival. I have excuses!! A) It was Chemo-Week, so I was 'out of it' for part of the week. B) Things weren't striking me as must-sees, or at least after the cinematic orgy of "Mad Cowgirl" (it's got an encore screening on Tuesday night! 9:30 pm), I just wasn't as needful in my viewing habits. (I even walked out of one!) But enough with the excuses already.

Topping my list in the features is "Ellektra" (dir. Rudolf Mestdagh, Belgium/Netherlands/Germany, 2004, 103 min.). I really didn't have any expectations walking into this, but it delivered on so many levels. Mestdagh's screenplay intertwines a half dozen stories of people who suffer SEVERE debilitations in their lives, i.e. a concert pianist whose fingers are amputated. They are brought together by a young woman via text messages to their cell phones, where they experience one of the most thrilling climaxes I've seen on screen in a LONG while! I was blown away! Of course, during the Q&A afterwards, some guy asked why Mestdagh 'sold out' with a happy ending. Our moderator joked, "Leave to a San Francisco audience to hate a happy ending!" Oh fuck you both! I LOVED it! And told the director such afterwards, where he guided me to his distributor to obtain a copy on dvd - a REAL catch as it were, since there were only 17 prints struck! Maxxxxx gives it a whooping whistle!!

Topping my list in the shorts was "Pretty Kitty" (dir. Gregory McDonald, US, 2004, 4 mins.). This was sick, twisted and hysterically funny! The man wrote, directed, edited and starred himself. His editing is of special note as the suspense of him digging through a kitchen utensil drawer and it's pay-off was fabulous. (He's also quite easy to look at! hee hee) I snagged him after the screening and will be getting a copy of this, too! Maxxxxx gives it a "Sweet, sweet eye juice!" (Yes, I taught him that actual phrase for my own sick enjoyment!)

Of the approximately 30 other short subjects I saw, only "The Listener" (dir. Michael Chang, Ireland, 2005, 11 mins.) came close to catching my attention the way that "Pretty Kitty" did. "The Listener" played before "Ellektra" and it was a fabulous pairing! Briefly, a deaf woman becomes infatuated with a blind man. Awkwardness and surrealism ensue. I loved it! Must have it! Maxxxxx whistles, plaintively.

Other features of note included "Filmic Achievement" (dir. Kevin Kerwin, US, 2005, 80 mins.) which was a 'Spinal Tap'esque treatment of a class of students in an accelerated film production school. I appreciated the snarky typecast of characters, but it just didn't go FAR enough. It tries to make the mockumentary a tad TOO real, when it could have easily gone way out there into farce-land. Which I like. If I had my druthers, anyway. Being a armchair director/producer and all. But it was well crafted and had excellent pacing and knew better than to milk for laughs (which is a topic that will come up later). Yep, I liked it, but won't need to have it. Maxxxxx chuckles.

Also, for closing night was "The Great Yokai War" (dir. Takashi Miike, Japan, 2005, 124 mins.), which is Miike's foray into children's fantasy. Where "Filmic Achievement" may not have gone far enough, discrimination is NOT in Miike's forte! He just vomits up images in this thing! It is sort of a Japanese "Never Ending Story" meets "HR Pufenstuff" meets "Dark Crystal" meets "The Lord of the Rings" meets... Well you get the idea. I have sort of a love/hate thing going with Miike (LOVED "Bird People of China"! HATED "Ichi The Killer"! LOVED his part of "3 Dumplings"! HATED "Audition"!), but this sort of broke that rule. It was so fabulous to look at, but it ran too long. There were a couple of characters that served no purpose, but took a lot of screentime. However, the yokai are incredible to watch and look at. It would be a keeper, just as a curiosity piece and easier to take in a couple hour long parts. Maxxxxx screams in terror and flies around the apartment!

The 'star studded' event for the fest was a late showing of ."Masters of Horror: Incident On and Off a Mountain Road" (dir. Don Coscarelli, US, 2005, 52 mins.), which featured the presence of Mr. Coscarelli ("Phantasm" "Bubba Ho-Tep") and Agnus Scrimm (the Tall Man in "Phantasm"), who was featured in the flick. (This is part of a Showtime series apparently.) Mr. Scrimm was actually extremely informative during the Q&A in his analysis of what makes Coscarelli such a good director. (It was having to do with 'the reveals' of each character.) It was a nifty enough little flick and I did not stay for the Dario Argento that followed it. Another "Sweet, sweet eye juice!" from Maxxxxx.

Now, working my way DOWN in the features, I would have to include "Waterborne" (dir. Ben Rekhi, US, 2005, 85 mins.). I hate to relegate this to a derivative, but it's sort of a "Crash: WMD" as we follow a large group of Los Angelenos during a crisis: the city's water supply is contaminated with a biohazardous material. Our cast of characters go into meltdown, of course, and some of them awfully quickly, I might add. Rekhi has good technique, great pacing, a good cast, but the screenplay is just a bit forced for my taste. It just didn't click for me. (Available at Amazon for 32% off? Naw, I don't think so.)

Speaking of not clicking, "Sidekick" (dir. Blake van de Graaf, Canada, 2005, 87 mins.) had hardly any kick in it at all. It's supposed to be this humorous story of a guy who discovers a man with special powers and decides to train him to become a superhero. Hilarity is supposed to ensue, however, you can feel the director pausing for laughs. That's a killer. Ironically, the script has been picked up to be Hollywoodized, so it's not going away. But there is some potential there. Just not with this director or cast. (The lead is surprisingly TALL as I found out at the closing night party.) Maxxxxx asks "Is it bedtime?"

And rounding out the bottom of the features I saw would be "Under the Rainbow" (dir. J.R. Heffelfinger, Japan/US, 2006, 75 mins.) This was only 75 minutes?! I walked out of it at maybe 30 minutes into it. It is a D U L L little feature about a man in midlife crisis in Tokyo. I guess. It was D U L L. I couldn't stand it and had to get out into the SUN!!

As I said further up, there were over 30 short subjects. Here are a few that still stick in my mind as worth mentioning. "Circus of Infinity", "Dirty Mary" (featuring a TERRIFIC farcical performance by a woman who gets just a bit TOO drunk during her HOT DATE), and there was a truly twisted little bit that would make David Lynch proud (and Maxxxxx would LOVE) called "Duck Children" which you can watch "here."

I'll leave you with the Duck Children...

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Sunday, February 05, 2006

SF IndieFest, 2006 (Opening Weekend)

The 8th Annual San Francisco Film Festival (aka SF IndieFest) began on Thursday night. Since I am slowly getting through this one, seeing only a couple of films a day as opposed to the Orgy Of Celluloid that happens during the spring (SF Intl. and Frameline's Lezzie/Gay Fests), I thought I would recap the past 4 days, aka 7 programs and a party.

Opening night beheld box office nightmares ("WHERE is my Festival Pass?!") followed by "The Proposition" (dir. John Hillcoat, Australia/UK, 2005, 104 minutes). The film addresses the moral questions of what was justice in the Australian outback during the late 1800's. Ray Winstone ("Sexy Beast") and Emily Watson are sheriff and wife in a particularly dirty little outpost, that is absolutely plagued by flies. The film also addresses the question of how much more weight can Guy Pearce ("Memento") lose? He plays the brother of a fairly psychotic killer, and he is used by Winstone to bring him in. Oh, and John Hurt is in here also, but I'm not exactly sure why. He does, however, go to slobbering and drooling extremes to express whatever purpose his character has here. There's lots of violence. There's lots of dirt. There are a LOT, and I am talking swarms, of flies! The gnarliness of the production design got in my way of experiencing the film's emotional quandaries. Oh, and Nick Cave wrote the screenplay and score.

The party afterwards was 'ok.' It was held at this desperate little gallery in the Mission District. I LIKED the Harris' roast beef sandwiches and have discovered a NEW liquor! Harry Love's!! (Yes, the same Harry Love who owned that hideous pick-up joint on Polk and Broadway.) It was this pineapple infused vodka that was just SCRUMPTIOUS! The crowd, however, was not nearly as appetizing. Lots of 'Mission Yuppie Artistic Wannabes'. Yawn. Continuing on...

"Mad Cowgirl" (dir. Gregory Hatanaka, US, 2006, 89 mins.) has been my favorite selection so far. In fact, it could very well rank up there in the top of my freaky faves, somewhere around Damon Packard's "Reflections of Evil" and Aronofsky's "Requiem for a Dream"! Sarah Lassez plays a health inspector, specializing in meat, who is also having a torrid affair with a priest played by Walter Koenig (of "Star Trek" fame), as well as her brother (James Duval - "Donnie Darko") and assorted other individuals. Let's just say she's sort of lonely. And she's addicted to bad kung fu movies. Anyway, she develops a brain tumor that we are led to believe was caused by 'mad cow disease.' It's feasible since she eats more beef in 90 minutes than I have in a year!(In fact, the steaks are lovingly and deliciously photographed!) The tumor begins to cause some mood swings, hallucinations and nifty psychotic episodes. I. Was. With. Her. Every. Step. Of. The. Way! She is quite adept at various tools, since she has been working with beef slaughterhouses. I was ok with the thumbs. Then there was an axe. Then a knife. A gun. Then a pneumatic drill and, ohmigod, she brings out a circular saw! SHE ROCKS!!

Now, that's just the plot. I have only hinted at Hatanaka's technique. The cutting (oh that word!) is almost as violent as the action that is happening. There are moments when you're not sure what is real and what isn't. For instance, the dialogue is in four languages, i.e. she receives her cancer diagnosis in Hindi, she speaks French to her mother and the film starts as a Japanese educational video! This thing was just OUT THERE!! And I loved every second of it! In all fairness, I do have to report that there were walkouts. But during the Q&A afterwards, we sat there still stunned by the brilliantly nihilistic fantasmagoria that Hatanaka created. I. Loved. This!

Not as nearly as psychotic, but perhaps as hallucinogenic would be "Blood Tea and Red String" (dir Christiane Cegavske, US, 2006, 70 mins). If you are familiar with Jan Svankmeyer ("Alice" "Conspirators of Pleasure"), than you know what you're getting into here. Cegavske worked on this stop motion feature ALONE for 12 years. Artistically, it is without reproach. She has created some creatures that defy pithy literary description. She has also written a lovely fable about greed, loss, life and death. And beautifully. Forest creatures create a doll-being that is stolen, transfigures, is recovered and dies. The pacing is graceful and lyrically accompanied by flutes in the soundtrack. Oh, and there is NO dialogue. I'll be frank that the trailer for this made me hesitant. However, it was a charming and sweeping little epic (yes, I recognize the contradiction in terms) that took me away for the hour or so.

My next favorite feature, "These Girls" (dir. John Hazlett, Canada, 2005, 92 mins.) was not as cinematically aggressive as the latter two films. But it did have the ever watchable David Boreanaz ("Buffy..." and "Angel") as the 'local stud' who is beset upon by three teenage girls (led by Caroline Dhavernas "Wonderfalls") who blackmail him into affairs. He is nearly twice their age, married and has a baby, which is how the babysitters got in there to begin with. It's a funny enough farce, but during the Q&A we learned that it is having trouble finding U.S. distribution since the girls characters are 'only 17'. ACK!

I also saw a pair of documentaries: "The Holy Modal Rounders... Bound To Lose" (dir Sam Wainwright Douglass and Paul Lovelace, US, 2006, 87 mins.) and "a/k/a Tommy Chong" (dir. Josh Gilbert, US, 2005, 75 mins.). Both of them feature fairly burnt out leaders of the counter culture. I am not familiar with "The Holy Modal Rounders" whose pinnacle of success seemed to be having appeared on the "Easy Rider" soundtrack. Their brains are fried and they're crazy. Entertaining to watch, but crazy. "a/k/a Tommy Chong" focuses primarily on Tommy Chong's imprisonment for selling 'drug paraphenalia': "Chongs Bongs." The film does present a good case against the government for targeting Tommy Chong as a celebrity example in it's "war against the terrorist money making machine that is drug trafficking." I don't think Tommy Chong was helping terrorists. Do you? It was touching and a hoot to watch some of the old Cheech and Chong bits revisited!

And finally for this report, I saw "Cartoons, Etc." which was a program of over a dozen animated shorts. I won't put you (or myself, really) through the tediousness of recapping all SIXTEEN SHORT SUBJECTS (three of which I apparently fell asleep through), but I will point out the two that I MUST GET COPIES of:
"Emelia" (dir Derek Flood, USA, 2005, 9 mins.) and "Fumi and the Bad Luck Foot" (dir. David Chai, USA, 2006, 7 mins.)

The Maxxxxx Meter:
Maxxxxx gives "Mad Cowgirl" a "Sweet, sweet eye juice!" and "These Girls" a "whoooo!"
Maxxxxx gives "The Proposition" a "Time for shower," and the documentaries a "doobie doobie doo-ooo!" And he LOVES cartoons and screams and whistles at all of them!

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"Looking for Comedy...

[and not finding it] in the Muslim World"
Pity. I LIKE Albert Brooks. But this was just sort of dead. His comedy is sarcasm. And this was sarcastic about sarcasm, which is a 'concept on top of a concept' and simply didn't work. And then there is the subplot about India and Pakistan preparing for war. Sheesh!

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