Sunday, April 30, 2006

49th San Francisco International Film Festival - Day 10

We begin today with the 'Surprise Members Screening.' It is an annual event, in which the San Francisco Film Society administration thanks the members with a free screening in the middle of the festival. It is never announced what the film will be. But no one seems to mind, as the yummy danish, croissants and juice alone are enough to get us in there! Alexandra Ruhmann and Ben Friedland, Membership Manager and Membership Coordinator respectively, begin the morning welcoming us, in sort of a 'Sonny and Cher manner' (per Judy Brisby). Alex does most of the talking and Ben backs her up. She then introduced the exceptionally casual HFD, whose shirt was unbuttoned to the mid-chest, and he did some thank yous and introduced us to the morning film.

"Swimmers" (dir. Doug Sadler, USA, 2005, 100 mins.) is a typical independent film domestic melodrama, which is only remarkable due to some terrific performances, most notably Cherry Jones, Sarah Paulson (unrecognizable from her role in "The Notorious Bettie Page"!) and newcomer Tara Devon Gallagher, who has the unenviable task of playing most of her scenes opposite the two other actresses, yet she keeps her ground. The men are not so much in the background as they are weakly written into basic stereotypes: brooding husband, slacker first son, cherubic second son. There are some elements of wit in the screenplay, though I have a feeling that they were improvised by the performers. I didn't really find it to be too exceptional, though one should never pass up an opportunity to see Cherry Jones work!

I then popped across the Bay Bridge to Berkeley and the Pacific Film Archive for a pair of presentations over there with East Bay'er, Gretchen.

"Into Great Silence" ("die grosse stille") (dir. Philip Groening, Germany, 2005, 164 mins.) is a minimalist epic documentary of life with the Carthusian Order monastery in the French Alps. They take a vow of silence, ergo the reference in the title. At nearly three hours long, the film becomes something of a Rorschack test for the viewer. The director in the Q&A compared the film to a Rothko painting, which is sort of true. Some audience members were spiritually moved. As I was trying to focus on the film, an older gentleman a few seats away from me was CHOMPING on some gum or something. I know this sounds trivial, however during the three hours of silence, I found myself becoming sort of obsessed on the annoying noise nearby, and oddly enough, nearly meditating on that fact. I didn't want to disrupt those around me by telling him to can it, as I began to wonder whether it was part of MY test in this screening. No, it wasn't as spiritual as what the monks went through, nor necessarily as profound as some other audience members, but it was a mental exercise, nonetheless. It may also come as a surprise to some of you that I did NOT take a lengthy nap. Yes, I sort of 'wandered off' with my eyes shut a couple of times, but considering the late night fest the night before, I did pretty well! In the end, I did found this to be a very unique experience. It isn't one that I would rush out and repeat, mind you, however I am very glad to have done it.

I am not so glad to have witnessed "Princess Raccoon" ("Operetta Tanuki Goten") (dir. Seijun Suzuki, Japan, 2005, 111 mins.). In fact, I actually DESPISED this thing! Had I not walked out of it halfway through, I don't know what carnage I might have been responsible for on the drive back across the Bay Bridge! It is a pop musical, with a Kabuki stage setting, that is so sluggishly paced, I found myself wanting to snap my fingers at the performers in hopes of getting them to pick up their cues! The production as a whole is 'cute.' I LOATHE 'cute'! Especially poorly produced 'cute'! The hour that I saw was simply painful. Some of my discomfort could have been due to the literal and cultural translation as I didn't know what or who the characters were nor what their relationships were with each other. With that as a groundwork, the horrid pop songs that are slammed onto this period stage setting was jarring to the point of embarrassing. I simply could not stand this thing and had to leave as I'd rather get caught up on TiVo and sleep than spend an extra minute with this mind numbing crap.

Errata re SFIFF - Day 9: I received an 'ok' to acknowledge my source for the 'come-fuck-me-pumps' reference in that days posting. It was graciously offered by Sue Jean.

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49th San Francisco International Film Festival - Day 9

Well, before I launch into a day dominated by death, sex and screaming, I will begin with the gentle matinee program, 'Youth Gone Wild.' This was a program of eleven short subjects created by directors under 21 years old. As a group, they were all mature works and there wasn't a weak flick in the bunch, which was quite impressive! I would be hard pressed to pick a favorite and there wasn't one that I despised. I liked them all. As a matter of record, I will list them with essential details. (P.S. If possible, I'd love to have copies of ANY of these!):Happy Birthday (Justin Reckart, USA 2005, 8 min.); Community Gardens (Jonathan Rosen, USA 2005, 3 min.); The Boat (Alexandra Hontales-Adams, USA 2005 5 min.); Grand Mal (Danny Bailey, USA 2005, 4 min.); Shoes (Jake Sawyer, USA 2005, 13 min.); A Drive Thru Society (Aaron Chiang, Winnie Huang, Sandra Wong, USA 2005, 7 min.); RIP Oakland (Streetside Productions, USA 2005, 9 min.); Expectations (Gilberto Francisco, USA 2005, 9 min.); Slip of the Tongue (Karen Lum, USA 2005, 3 min.); The Signal from Planet Q (Danny Bailey, USA 2005, 2 min.); The Fish (Sarah Blake, USA 2005, 5 min.)

Now, let the morbidity begin.

"The Sun" ("Solntse") (dir Alexander Sokurov, Russia, 2005, 110 mins.) chronicles Emperor Hirohito during the last days of World War II, before meeting with General MacArthur. Issey Ogata plays Hirohito and is incredible! He is in nearly every frame of the film and gives a performance that is so controlled, stylized and filled with character quirks, that he dominates the film, which is saying quite a bit considering Sokurov's intense directorial style. The cinematography is VERY GREY (to the consternation of some viewers), but it is part of the point. Also, Sokurov has a penchant for exceptionally long and still takes (i.e. "Russian Ark"), which would normally work my nerves, were it not for Ogata's magnetic performance. I Loved This!

"Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple" (dir. Stanley Nelson, USA, 2006, 86 mins.) is more than just a rehashing of the Guyana tragedy, but is an examination of the history of the Peoples Temple, as the title implies. Including interviews with survivors and ex-members, as well as members of Congressman Leo Ryan's ill-fated investigative party, the film gives a complete and haunting look at what happened. The final scene is quite eerily done. Also, there were quite of few of the interviewees in the audience, however, I did not have time to stay for the Q&A.

"Brothers of the Head" (dirs. Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe, England, 2005, 90 mins.) is the story of a set of conjoined twins who become punk rock stars in the mid-1970's. The film is so seriously composed as a documentary that I was unable to distinguish whether this was true or not! The twins (played by Luke and Harry Treadaway) are fabulous, as is the rest of the cast. There is even a film-within-the-film, as it interviews Ken Russell, as having made a fictional account of the brothers that was never finished (featuring Jonathan Pryce and Jane Horrocks). It completely kept me guessing. The score is quite authentic sounding and actually sort of fun! Also, the Treadaways are quite EASY to look at!

Speaking of "easy to look at," I feel the need to interrupt this little report for not so much of a gossip item, as just an homage to Ted Casablancas. The screening of "Brothers of the Head" had a celebrity audience member who discreetly sat in the back row (across from me tonight, as I was with a friend who prefers that area, also). She of the Snow White skin and bright red 'come-fuck-me-pumps' (per Sue Jean!) was quite INVOLVED with her gentleman companion. At one point, their 'involvement' was so intense that they got up, went around behind their seats at the back of the theater and proceeded to make out as if there were no tomorrow. My friend, not realizing who she was, suggested that they 'get a room.' They worked their way back to their seats, where those 'come-fuck-me-pumps' would eventually end up hanging over the seats in front of them during the Q&A. Quite the spectacle, especially considering that she had just given an hour long speech about CINEMA right before coming in and making out with her boy-toy!

I completed the day with the film that the HFD had promised us at the members preview last month would make us "piss our pants" out of fear! I don't know if anybody actually did wet themselves, but I do know that grown men screamed like little girls!

"The Descent" (dir. Neil Marshall, England, 2005, 99 mins.) features six female spurlunkers and their cave exploration INTO HELL!!!! Did I scream? Did my 6'4" ex-farmboy friend, Jimmy, scream? We ALL screamed! Though it leans a bit heavily as a shocker more than psychological thriller, it doesn't really matter when you're on this rollercoaster into cave dwelling HELL!!! It ROCKED!! Rod Armstrong, the programmer of the Late Night Series, really outdid himself this year, as the three out of the four that I saw were all exceptional!

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Saturday, April 29, 2006

49th San Francisco International Film Festival - Day 8

Today was so extremely varied that I have to bring up the schedule to remember what I saw.

"The Lost Domain" ("Le Domaine perdu" (dir. Raoul Ruiz, Spain/France, 2005, 106 mins.) is brought to us by the genius that adapted Proust into "Time Regained" (1999). Or at least I think he is a genius. I loved "The Lost Domain" despite some quirkiness that pulled me out of the film now and then. Ruiz plays with a non-linear narrative (as he did in "Time Regained") spanning over 60 years in the life of a pilot. It is GORGEOUSLY photographed, handsomely performed (there is a moment of double-casting that threw me off a bit - one of the quirks) and lushly orchestrated. It is like watching a novel unfold. A bit of his plotting is a subject of discussion and debate, but I don't mind! I would love to see his latest film, "Klimt"!! So, following this gorgeous (did I say that already?!) poetic piece, I walked into a historic melodrama.

"October 17, 1961" (dir. Alain Tasma, France, 2005, 106 mins.) is a docudrama made for TV, recreating the "Black Night" in which thousands of Algerians were arrested and dozens killed in Paris as part of the reaction to the Algerian war. Apparently, this event was ignored by the French government for 40 years. This film wishes to dramatize that moment. However, it over compensates the historical exclusion by literally depicting the Algerians as lambs brought before the slaughter of the French police. The characters are stereotypes - they are either GOOD or EVIL, which sets up a manipulative climax, however historically justified. I just found it too melodramatic, regardless of the injustice involved.

So, I've seen the poetic and the melodramatic. Next up is the technically cutting edge of multi-media live performance, as part of the 'Spotlight: KinoTech' which has a half dozen performances and demonstrations. Tonight's program entitled "Scribble, Scrapple, I.C. You" featured live performances by Golan Levin, Sue Costabile and Laetitia Sonami, with extremely mixed results.

"Manual Input Workstation" "Scribble" and "Scrapple" were demonstrated and performed by Golan Levin. These were digitally beautiful and musically amusing performances. He has a sense of humor and playfulness in his use of the technology of manually manipulating designs on various digital capture surfaces, which act as both pallette and keyboard. I really enjoyed his stuff and would love to play with the software at home!

"Mini Movies" and "I.C. You" were performed by Sue Costabile and Laetitia Sonami and attempts to "...investigate the persistance of visual memory and aural associations..." by using a computerized animation technique, aka blah blah blah. This was A.R.T. - in ALL CAPS!! So, since they went THERE... This was crap. Masturbatory excrement, projected and forced upon the viewer with a sense of austentation and pretention that was a total turn off. To quote a man two rows behind me when it was finished, "Thank god that's over!"

And finally for something COMPLETELY different:

"Executive Koala" (dir. Minoru Kawasaki, Japan, 2005, 85 mins.) was the third in the 'Late Show' series, aka midnight madness! And, boy, does THIS fill the bill! A koala, who is the executive of a pickle factory, may be having psychopathic blackouts and is killing people with an axe. Or is he? A total B movie HOOT!! I had a good time despite the late hour and without imbibing on any Stella Artois, which is the sponsor of this series.

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Friday, April 28, 2006

49th San Francisco International Film Festival - Day 7

Well, it was a surreal day all around!

"The Shutka Book of Records" (dir. Aleksandar Manic, Czech Republic, 2005, 78 mins.) was (apparently) a quirky little documentary about the people of Shutka, a little town in Macedonia. I say "apparently" because I can not tell a lie and I did fall asleep in the middle of this. (Yes, it was only an hour and eighteen minutes, but...) What I did see was charming and pretty well described by Benjamin Friedland in the SFIFF program notes. I did catch enough of it to realize it does have a distinct charm of its own, though it does over use a 'cute' musical score, predominately featuring music from "8 1/2". Harumph.

More cuteness was around the corner in the shorts program, 'Friends - Lost and Found' which is aimed at childrens audiences. There were 8 shorts, with 4 directors in attendance, who nearly outnumbered the audience! A couple of families with kids were also there at this mid-afternoon screening. The highlights were:
"Hide & Seek" (dir. Charlie Canfield, USA 2005, 2 mins.) Set to the music of Chopin's Minute Waltz, a baby wolf and its mother play a game of hide and seek. Visually, it just POPPED! And it was short and sweet!

"Roberto the Insect Architect" (dirs. Galen Fott, Jerry Hunt, USA 2005, 12 min.) It benefits from having the largest budget of the group, as it was produced by Scholastic Books and based upon the book of the same name. It owes its look and wit to the book, no doubt. However, it was fun nonetheless.

"Kylie Goldstein, All American" (dir. Eva Saks, USA/China 2005, 3 min) A brief portrait of a little girl born in China and adopted by an American family. She was adorable and the film was quick, pithy and effective.

And not to be overly cynical, but the rest were fairly routine in that 'let's teach the kids a lesson' way: "A Bag of Sweets" (Matthias Bruhn, Germany 2005, 5 min.), "Cake" (Jennifer Arzt, USA 2005, 8 min.), "Emelia—The Five Year Old Goth Girl" (Derek Flood, USA 2005, 9 min), "Rubber Soles" (Christine Turner, USA 2005, 10 min) and "Sirah" (Cristine Spindler, USA 2005, 18 min).

The day continued to go down a surreal path as I entered the Castro district to meet my friend Jimmy for dinner and the evening flick, and we were greeted by this scene of chaos. The wreckage was only being cleared when the late evening screening was letting out.

"Heaven and Earth Magic" (dir. Harry Smith, USA, 1962, 81 mins.) is an animated feature that rivals and surpasses anything that Terry Gilliam may have created during his Monty Python years. The cut-out images continually evolve into icons, creatures and mystical settings. The film was accompanied by a live band, Deerhoof, who gave any group or composer from 'Bang the Can' a run for their money! The music actually kept me interested in what would have been a VERY LONG hour of surreal imagery. I loved them!

After an uncharacteristically nervous Sean Uyehara (associate programmer) gave us a little intermission info about Harry Smith and Deerhoof, the program continued with "Early Abstractions: Films 1 - 5" (dir. Harry Smith, USA, 1946-50) which were totally mind blowing! It was a psychedelic series of images, which Deerhoof provided an explosive score for! I LOVED this section of the evening!

There was not an HFD sighting tonight, as he was engaged at the Awards Banquet. I'm sure that's why he hasn't returned any of my calls, my letters or my email...

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Thursday, April 27, 2006

49th San Francisco International Film Festival - Day 6

A late start to a late night, beginning with:

"Play" (dir. Alicia Scherson, Chile, 2005, 105 mins.). It's a trippy little movie, which plays with some non-linear plotting, which is always sort of fun. There are three characters: a couple who are in the midst of a break-up and a technologically consumed young woman who witnesses and literally stalks them in an effort to feel something. Or so it seemed to me. Since it is produced in such a lyrical and parable-like fashion, it is open to interpretation. 'He' is quite lovely to look at, and the 'stalker' is played with such finesse that I was able to accept her, even under the most contrived of circumstances. Plus, the film looks great! It was a pleasant enough afternoon viewing.

Speaking of 'looks great,' I would like to think that word got back to the HFD that he looks much better without the tie and tight collar. He looked quite comfortable tonight in his TWO appearances. The first was to introduce Werner Herzog as the recipient of the 2006 Film Society Directing Award. There was a 90 minute interview conducted by David Sterrit, in which Mr. Herzog proved himself to be as dour and dogmatic as one would expect. That's not to say that he doesn't have some sense of humor, but it is REALLY DRY! He also has a nearly pretentious opinion of his own work, regarding his 'search for reality' in everything he sees. Ironically, the film that was presented afterwards was anything BUT real.

"The Wild Blue Yonder" (dir. Werner Herzog, Germany, 2005, 78 (LONNNNNG!) mins.) features Brad Dourif narrating the story of an alien landing and exploration of earth and beyond, underneath the visuals of a 1989 space shuttle mission and diving underneath an Arctic shelf. Visually, it got pretty tiresome. And some of the technical explanations of launching a craft outside of our solar system literally put me to sleep. Yes, I admit it. I fell asleep for approximately 10 minutes. And I am not ashamed! The entire program (tribute and film) ran 40 minutes overtime, so I had to CHARGE back to the Kabuki for the second HFD appearance.

Matthew Barney is fucking hot. There. I got that out of my system.

Unfortunately, his voice is not. The HFD (in front of an unusually young and pretty crowd!) introduced Mr. Barney to make a few opening comments regarding the film we were about to see. Barney's voice is higher than mine and mincier, too. Yes. Believe it. He is also terribly pretentious when discussing his own work. (This even prompted an eye-roll from my friend Sue Jean!) The program did not start until 11:30 p.m. and after having sat through the mind-numbing "Wild Blue Yonder" I really wasn't in the mood to listen to pretention. But I didn't mind looking at someone or something PRETTY!

"Drawing Restraint 9" (dir. Matthew Barney, USA, 2005, 135 mins. - yes that meant ending at 2:00 a.m.!!) is not quite as spectacular as his "Cremaster Cycle" but it gives it a good run! Also, it benefits from a score by his partner, Bjork! She also co-stars in this. The setting is a ship. The theme is transformation. The media is petroleum jelly. It is art. Er, I mean "ART." But it looks incredible! Thank gawd Barney has a sense of spectacle! Oh, and of course, he appears fully nude in this, too.
Barney and Bjork

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Wednesday, April 26, 2006

49th San Francisco International Film Festival - Day 5

Well, after over doing it yesterday, I started today on the wrong foot by screwing up the only responsibility I had in my 'real life' but arriving at the Kabuki and seeing that the Hot Film Daddy (aka HFD, to those in the know) (aka Graham Leggat, executive director) was standing outside in a fairly smart pin-striped suit chatting away with somebody (not ME?!). This held promises of treats to be in store inside. However, the first 'treat' was a bit stale.

"Illumination" (dir. Pascale Breton, France, 2005, 130 (LONG) minutes) is described in the program as "challenging and elusive." Let's call an orange and orange, shall we? It's long and dull. Yeah, yeah, we get that he is spiritually and emotionally adrift (he works on a fishing boat). Yes, we know he needs to be emotionally cracked open. So, just how LONG are we meant to wait for it? The 'interior landscape' (gawd, how I hate a festival hard sell!) is pretty well drawn for us within the first 20 minutes. Why then are we submitted to another two hours of looking at it? I spent the first half hour trying to remember why I chose to see this. I spent the next half hour waiting for SOMETHING to happen, like maybe he might TAKE A SHOWER! I spent the next forty-five minutes wondering what happened to the chicken. (Don't ask.) I spent the final thirty minutes 'challenging' myself to actually finish it. "Challenging..." Yeah. The only good thing I can find to say about it right now is that I liked the music supervision and score.

Afterwards, I cleansed my palate with a lovely pear salad next door and returned for the Persistance of Vision Award Presentation to director, Guy Maddin. The HFD (whose suit just seemed ill fitting on stage - something about the shirt collar - I can't quite put my finger on it) introduced programmer Linda Blackaby, who in turn introduced and presented the little obelisk to Guy Maddin, who would in turn be 'in conversation' with Steve Seid. Mr. Maddin turns out to be quite the self-effacing wit ("I hope someone might want to ask me some questions after this, as I'm sort of lonely, but needy." [paraphrased]), as well as what it means to be from Winnipeg. During the two hour 'conversation' (which actually was something of a therapy session for Mr. Maddin) numerous shorts were screened: Sombra Dolorosa (2004), The Heart of the World (2001), Odilon Redon or The Eye Like a Strange Balloon Mounts Toward Infinity (1995) and (my personal favorite of the night) Sissy Boy Slap Party (1995).
The program concluded with his latest short, "My Dad Is 100 Years Old" (2005) which is Isabella Rossellini's commemoration of her father Roberto's centennial. The program went overtime, but I hardly minded, as he is a fascinating, affable and entertaining guy.

And finally, "Manslaughter" ("Drabet") (dir. Per Fly, Denmark, 2005, 103 mins.). I loved this. It is intensely written and brilliantly performed by Jesper Christensen, who more than reminded me of Peter Finch at his most intense. I don't want to give anything of this away, except that it focuses on the conflict between political ethics and personal passions. It is also stunningly paced. (And I HATE using over worked terms like 'brilliantly' and 'stunningly'!) I was on the edge of my seat. LOVED IT! I can't say it enough!

Tomorrow: Werner Herzog!!

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Monday, April 24, 2006

49th San Francisco International Film Festival - Day 4

I'm sleepy. Starting at 10:00 a.m., with the "School's At the Festival" program screening of:

"Eden" (dir. Michael Hofmann, Germany, 2005, 98 mins.). Cooking as seduction! Woo hoo! Well, that and more as Josef Ostendorf portrays a very large chef who is only able to express his feelings through the art of his cooking. He is fabulous in this! He plays opposite Charlotte Roche, a married mother who finds an emotional and physical release in his 'cucina erotica.' It is wonderfully written and edited, almost as a recipe itself. It will give you the ingredients for an upcoming scene, and without condescendingly guiding you through all the steps involved, the final consequence is revealed. Those scenes are almost as mind-opening for the viewer as the food is for the characters. The film allows the chemistry of events to mix off screen, and presents the final products in the scenes. I love that! I was actually pretty touched at one point during its climax! I also enjoyed the Q&A for this film, as the students actually ask simple and pertinent questions, without kissing ass or trying to impress the audience and director with their own insights.

Following "Eden" was an unannounced free screening of "Cartography of Ashes" (dir. Dolissa Medina, USA, 2006, 45 mins.) which was originally part of the 'Satellite Performances' playing against the SFFD Fire Station #7 training tower last Friday. Today it screened at the Kabuki. It was a really nice commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the great San Francisco Earthquake, as well as a tribute to the work of the SFFD during that disaster. There is also a gentle educational component in which the audience is brought to realize how important it is that the residents be prepared for 'the big one.'

After that, and following up on the recommendation of a certain party that will remain unnamed to protect his 'innocence,' I popped into "In Bed" ("en la cama") (dir. Mates Bize, Chile, 2005, 85 mins.). The entirety of the film is located in bed with a couple who are in the midst of a one night stand. Yep. That's it. Oh, there's a good amount of commingling going on, but the ENDLESS DIALOGUE that plays between rounds plays like a poor man's "My Dinner With Andre" under the covers. I will admit that I did doze off for a few minutes, but didn't miss a thing. Visually, the director is faced with the '"Lifeboat" Quandary' that Hitchcock brilliantly maneuvered around. Unfortunately, Bize doesn't sit still enough to allow scenic changes, however slight, to occur. It was dull to look at (even if Gonzala Venezuela is a hottie!) and duller to listen to. Yawn.

I next popped into the middle of 'Circles of Confusion' which was a program of 10 experimental short subjects. I missed the first three due to "In Bed," and here in order of preference are brief bits about the remaining seven."Suspended 2" (dir. Amy Hicks, USA 2005, 5 min.) Hicks has manipulated a drive across the Bay Bridge to appear creepily like a look into the future, as is evidenced by the still pictured above. Looked great and was nice and short, for a demonstration of her visual technique.

"Instructions for a Light and Sound Machine" (dir. Peter Tscherkassky, Austria 2005, 17 min.) "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" is deconstructed and deformed into an optical hallucination of widescreen visceral miasma! Yeah, sounds 'artsy' but I really lost myself into it for a few minutes there! Woo hoo!

"site specific_LAS VEGAS 05" (dir. Olivo Barbieri, Canada/Italy 2005, 12 min.) was simply a series of helicopter shots of Las Vegas and its environs. What sets it apart is the odd focus of the lenses, which gave the visuals the look of miniature set pieces. Its hard to describe, but was sort of fascinating to look at for a bit.

"Benediction" (dir. Tess Girard, Canada 2005, 12 min.) was a nice impressionistic memorial to the director's father. The visuals were distorted, as her memory of him was fading. (That is what I got out of it, as I did come into it halfway through.)

The following three ranged from trite to utter CRAP, and I don't want to waste anyone's time talking about them. I list them as a future warning: "Open" (dir. Katherin McInnis, USA 2005, 4 min.), "Relative Distance" (dir. Cathy Begien, USA 2005, 12 min.), and most hideously last, "Troglodyte" (dir. Desiree Holman, USA 2005, 7 min.) which featured performers in chimpanzee outfits, dancing and inevitably having sex with each other. This was the 'utter CRAP' moment.

Next up, "The House of Himiko" (dir. Isshin Inudo, Japan, 2005, 111 mins., according to the program, however, it actually ran 135 mins., causing me to be late for my final feature.) is a seaside rest home for elderly gay men. An estranged daughter of one of the men RELUCTANTLY (yes, all caps) takes a part time job there to assist them in their daily living. Campy comedy and LIFE LESSONS (yes, all caps) ensue. The performances are widely unbalanced. All of the men are obviously gifted actors and comedians. The daughter is not. The pacing in the last third of the film is PONDEROUSLY slow, as it hopes to work our unwilling heroine into a catharsis. Perhaps by itself, it would have been more bearable. However, sandwiched into a FULL DAY (8:45 pm at this point), it was just tiresome.

"The Life I Want" (dir. Giuseppe Piccioni, Italy, 2005, 125 mins.) started a few minutes late, so I walked in during the opening credits. This is sort of an Italian version of any number of Truffaut 'film/actors-within-a-film' type of affair. It's been done before, which sort of trivializes this production. However, Luigi Lo Cascio (the younger brother in "Best of Youth") is so appealing to gaze at, if not too much so, as the character would have benefited from the weariness that Marcello Mastroianni brought into this kind of role. Sandra Ceccarelli does a very tricky and well performed job as an up-and-coming actress who may or may not be using all the men around her as career moves. The two of them together save the film, though it is too long for its own good.

It's a shorter day tomorrow (three, MAYBE four programs) and a guaranteed appearance by the HFD!

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49th San Francisco International Film Festival - Day 3

It was a day of Silents, Silence and Music.

I began the day with a program of silent short subjects, accompanied by the Alloy Orchestra. It was part of the "Spotlight: Family Films," and we were greeted with a bag full of noise makers so the kids could participate with the band. Yes, I know. It sounds like a recipe for disaster. Ironically, the kids were pretty quiet and it was the adults who were trying to 'participate! (It is worth noting that all three shorts are available at the Alloy Orchestra's website.)

"One Week" (dir. Buster Keaton, USA 1920, 19 min.), features the 'amazing spinning house' bit, that if you saw it, you'd recognize it. It is early Keaton, so there are some inspired moments there, but he hasn't come into full force yet. The Alloy Orchestra really suits the manic energy that Keaton creates (i.e. "The General"). This was probably my favorite of the three shorts.

"Back Stage" (dir. Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle, USA 1919, 26 min.) featured Keaton in a supporting role, which is a pity, as Arbuckle is just a fat clown. I've never understood his huge popularity at the time. There are a few ok bits and the accompanimentnt here was fine, though unmemorable.

"Dragonflies, the Baby Cries" (dir. Jane Gillooly, USA 2000, 10 min.) was created specifically for the Alloy Orchestra by Gillooly, who is the wife of one of its members. Not surprisingly, this was the best match of the three, though the film itself may have been a bit over the heads of the kids. But I don't know. It's sort of poetic and dreamy and just dips it's toe into fantasy.

The next screening was of "Iberia" (dir. Carlos Sousa, Spain, 2005, 99 mins.). This was a beautiful piece of art! Sousa films several interpretations of Isaac Albeniz's "Iberia Suite" adapted by dancers and musicians. Sousa does more than just record these performances, as the cameras themselves become part of the choreography. It is so highly visual (there is no spoken dialogue), it defies adequate written description. I loved it!
I saw this with Judy and Gretchen, and we met up with Jimmy for a quick dinner before Judy and I returned for:

"The Eagle" (dir. Clarence Brown, USA, 1925, 82 mins.). The Alloy Orchestra returned to the theater to perform their original score for this Rudolph Valentino period romance. It is sort of a Zorro/Robin Hood meets Catherine the Great type spectacle. Frankly, I've never been a big Valentino fan, and this didn't persuade me. The score for it was ok. I do not understand why the Alloy Orchestra, which is primarily percussion, attempts to take on romances, which seems to me, requires a 'softer sound.' They ran into this problem with "The Phantom of the Opera" last year. They are at their best when they're banging away at comedies! Ah well.

Finally, the HFD (aka Graham Leggat) introduced the pornographic musical for the evening. He stated how much he loves this film, that this was one of his favorite films at the fest and how hard it was to get a hold of. After having seen "The Glamorous Life of Sachiko Hanai" last night, I think the HFD is a naughty, naughty man!

"The Wayward Cloud" (dir. Tsai Ming-liang, Taiwan, 2005, 112 mins.) looked like it may have been produced by a collaboration of Stanley Kubrick, Luis Bunuel, Ken Russell, Matthew Barney, Dennis Potter and a little bit of Vincent Gallo. However, it came from Tsai Ming-liang, whose only other film I have seen was "Goodbye Dragon Inn." This had what might be his trademark: paced so slowly, to the point of madness, and with not more than two dozen lines of dialogue during the entirety of the film! But, unlike "Goodbye Dragon Inn" the near excruciating pace is broken by some truly mad musical numbers and furious sex scenes! This thing is just going to haunt me!
I may never be able to eat watermelon again.

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Sunday, April 23, 2006

49th San Francisco International Film Festival - Day 2

Slowly, but surely we're revving up here! (I say that as I did skip the first two available matinees today.)

"Obaba" (dir. Montxo Armendáriz, Spain, 2005, 107 mins.) is a quirky little character study of an entire town, as seen through a student's (though the program notes say she is a young teacher) video assignment. The people of this little town reveal a history of mysteries, scandals, murder, insanity and heartbreak. It was sort of like watching a really good Stephen King novel, as it was quite episodic and had a darkness associated with the stories. The photography is quite striking, there were no bad performances and the cast was predominately beautiful to look at. All in all, a very pleasant way to spend an afternoon, though it is quite likely that I will forget I saw it by the end of the festival. However, I will not forget:

"Al Franken: God Spoke" (dirs. Nick Doob, Chris Hegedus, USA, 2006, 90 mins.), quite briefly, a documentary about Al Franken's activism during the 2004 Presidential campaign, from the people who brought us "The War Room" and "Elaine Stritch, at Liberty" amongst a long and diverse number of titles. Yes, it is funny and angry and frustrating and loving and, in the end, just a bit heartbreaking. I find it difficult to watch political documentaries anymore, as just the image of the smirking zealot, er, I mean President Bush, makes me cringe. However, seeing how invested Al Franken is, not so much in revitalizing the left as in revealing the hypocrisy and vileness of the far right, does give one some hope. Our esteemed Executive Director, Graham Leggat (I have yet to come up with a suitable pet name for him) introduced the directors for a Q&A. I have not been much of a fan of these things, as the questions can be pretty mundane and sometimes border on embarrassing. This Q&A didn't reveal much. I had bigger hopes for the next guest, however.

Matt Dillon is fucking hot. There. I got that out of my system.

"Factotum" (dir. Bent Hamer, Norway, 2005, 93 mins.) was based upon the writings of Charles Bukowski, with Matt Dillon playing the Bukowski role/alter-ego. Lili Taylor and Marisa Tomei play his lovers, and even Fisher Stevens pops up in this briefly as his horsetrack friend. (Stevens really needs to eat something, though!) Dillon and Taylor prove to be the best combination in the mix. You can see how he relies on Taylor to support him through some unusually long takes, as well as her absurd sense of comic timing. Dillon does a pretty good job with some of these very dark punchlines as well. Also, this is possibly the first time I have actually appreciated Ms. Tomei. The film overall is not as dark as "Barfly" but it is seedier to look at. The production design as well as the costume and makeup designs for Dillon and Taylor are pretty grim. But even though the film broke towards the last third of the screening, I still thoroughly enjoyed this! It was followed by a Q&A, also.

Mr. Leggat, aka our Hot Film Daddy (yes, I think I like that) introduced Matt Dillon (have I mentioned he is fucking hot?) for a brief Q&A. I'm not sure what they talked about as my mind drifted to a scenario where our HFD and Dillon leave the theater together, headed to Dillon's hotel. There is a bottle of Barbera awaiting them. Our HFD peels off his Armani and Dillon disrobes his Hugo Boss and they... well, the rest of it is something out of Falcon Video. Which oddly enough sort of leads in to the Late Night selection:

"The Glamorous Life of Sachiko Hanai" (dir. Mitsuru Meike, Japan, 2004, 90 mins.). This is a 'Japanese pink film'. In other words, it is soft core porn. But this one has a twist, or is simply twisted depending on your frame of mind. Let's just say that any film featuring the cloned finger of President Bush being used as a dildo is a film for me! I and a half dozen other people in this nearly sold out crowd, laughed VERY hard throughout this totally off the wall flick. I LOVED IT. It makes a great midnight movie!

Tomorrow: all day at the Castro, featuring the Alloy Orchestra! woo hoo!!

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