Thursday, March 08, 2012

Another Day at the Movies

Today I saw a collection of shorts in addition to one feature film, How to Cheat.

However I don’t have time at the moment to review all of the shorts. But if you like the unexpected and sometimes creepy/horror genre then the Shorts 5 collection has enough good stuff to be worth your time. They weren’t kidding when they called this series the Mindbenders. However the last film in the collection really tested my patience. I noticed many audience members checking their phones for the time during Mask (Maska) – dir. Quay Brothers, and the most positive feedback came from some composers in the audience who liked the music. But regarding story, pacing and visuals it left something to be desired.

How to Cheat was not what I expected. The genre was defined as a comedy, and while it had funny moments it was much more serious than expected. If I hadn’t been expecting the laughs, the subtle and low key humor with quirky moments would have probably had a greater impact. The story follows the frustrations of a man and his wife who’re trying unsuccessfully to have a baby until driven to just feel something more, he decides he should have an affair because guilt would be better than feeling nothing. The characters were believable as were the many scenes showcasing LA traffic and the boredom of a limo driver who’s life is not what he’d hoped for. A good film but nowhere near the top of my favorites from this year’s programming at Cinequest.

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Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Tuesday At Cinequest

Today I saw 2 films – but due to entering one of them late, I feel it would be unfair to give a review based on an incomplete viewing.

The film Four Lovers was not what I expected – when one hears there’s a film about sex, couples and exploring relationships there’s the certain amount of sex and exploration expected. But this film was very down to earth in a way that was more honest and less titillating than expected given what implications sex has in American cinema. Obviously I should have read the description of the film and realized the french attitudes would be reflected more. However I was both late to the film, and I failed to read the descriptions. That being said it was well acted, well shot, the characters were well developed and I’m sure if I showed up on time the film would make a lot more sense as it took me a while to figure out which couple was which given their swap. Given that I was late and missed the intro – I can’t say much more other than what I saw was well done.

Following that I saw another sex based film Come As You Are which tells the story of three handicapped men going on a roadtrip to lose their virginity. An honest portrayal of desire not just for sex but for normalcy, connection, and life as one faces his worsening illness and the others enjoy leaving home and the first taste of independence. With two in wheelchairs and one blind, the standard road trip adventures are made all the more difficult, and their relationship with the nurse hired for the trip make the journey that much more amusing. I found this a much sweeter film than I expected with tender moments and raw emotions in much greater abundance than the crash humor one expects from a film about men on a road trip. It was definitely an enjoyable film to watch though it wouldn’t match my festival favorites. Fans of Little Miss Sunshine will likely enjoy this one.

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Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Another Day at Cinequest

So today I’ve seen three films. But only two new ones. I started the day seeing The Other Family (La Otra Familia) which I also saw last week. Refresher for those who didn’t see that post my comments on that:
“Charming, nuanced, not cheesy, enough of a bite to be real and enough sweetness to tug at the heart strings. Basic plot is the son of drug addict is taken away from his mom after she has been missing for several days, and ends up being taken care of by a gay couple. We also see a lesbian couple go through the process of family planning, a couple that’s trying to adopt, and what family means to each of these characters. It is set in Mexico and thus is in Spanish, but if you see it at Cinequest it will have subtitles and the performances need no translation to be brilliant. If you have a chance – go see it!”
On a second viewing I found it just as powerful. The visuals are well constructed but I was so engaged in the story I didn’t notice it as much the first time. It’s bittersweet and honest- not the sugar coated gay story. I hope it gets wider release eventually because I’d really love for my friends who weren’t at the festival to get a chance to see this one.

Following that I went to see a documentary, The Island President about President Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldives, as he explains why for the lowest-lying country in the world global warming could be the literal death of his nation. The documentary follows him as he goes to Copenhagen to try to convince the nations of the world to do more to reduce carbon emissions and in doing so protect his country. Bringing a deeply personal reality to the consequences of global warming through showing erosion across the islands and showcasing the culture of the Maldives this movie educates viewers on what the world could lose if we all fail to act. Extremely powerful. So powerful in fact that not only did it make me cry but when the film ended and the directors name flashed across the screen the audience was so stunned it took over a minute before a round of applause hit the theater. Not sparse applause of the sort that almost all films can get at a festival – but the sound of everyone in the theater clapping hard. Environmentalists should bring this to college campuses if they want to add a fact to the risks the planet faces. And anyone and everyone should see this film. Everything a documentary should be.

To finish off the night I went to see The King (Ko) an Indian political thriller. A photojournalist takes an action photography to a new level covering bank robberies, political underdogs, fires and more. Insert the expected betrayal, false allies, unrequited crush, romance interest, old friends, and of course song and dance that is required from an Indian film. Lots of fast cuts and action, cheesy hero dynamics, everything you think of specifically relating to Bollywood it has in its own way. A few modern touches like a political optimism worthy of Obama in 2008 and guys taking a feminist stand in college. It was a good film, but I was far too tired for such a long one… 165 minutes… At just shy of 3 hours long it is a typical Indian film, but a horrible choice for the last screening of the evening. Or if you do want to see it late night, get some coffee or chai beforehand.

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Monday, March 05, 2012

Coming Soon - SFIAAFF!

Just a quick head’s up to what’s on the horizon other than all the Cinequest films I’m still trying to squeeze in: the 30th Annual San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival.
With 102 Films and Videos in 98 Screenings I’m sure there’s something for absolutely everyone…

I’m excited that among the 10 World Premieres, 7 US Premieres and 20 San Francisco Premieres there is the centerpiece feature Yes We’re Open which is as San Francisco of a production as you can get with writer H.P. Medoza and Director Richard Wong showcasing the world of a modern liberal couple from social politics to sex as they meet a polyamorous couple who challenge their assumptions about themselves.

Opening night promises to be an exciting affair with the world premiere of White Frog, Quentin Lee’s latest film about what appears to be a perfect family as things slowly unravel. While I haven’t had the chance to see it yet, I’m looking forward to seeing the all star cast of Joan Chen, B.D. Wong, and Harry Shum Jr. both onscreen and in attendance for what I’m sure will be a memorable evening in the Castro Theater. Following the screening the festivities continue at the beautiful Asian Art Museum where the opening night Gala offers the chance for fans of cinema to mingle with the film makers and community organizers who bring the festival to life.

Joan Chen will also be the focus of this year’s spotlight with a 
Sent‐ Down 
 and she will also be present at 
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present. Her fans will thus get three chances to see her: March 8th, 9th, and 12th. I’m personally quite excited for Saving Face to be on a big screen as I only recently saw it and found it a charming and unconventional comedy which appeals to all generations. I will also be attending the spotlight screenings so you can expect more on this later.

I also am excited to see that Joan Chen is not the only actress with multiple films, as Lynn Chen also in Saving Face seems to be making a comeback with a packed schedule for this year’s festival appearing in “Yes We’re Open”, “Daylight Savings”, “Nice Girls Crew”, and of course the reunion screening of “Saving Face”. Her costar in “Saving Face” Michelle Krusiec is also going to be with her in “Nice Girls Crew” along with Sheetal Sheth who is additionally also costarring in “Yes We’re Open”. Meanwhile the writer of “Yes We’re Open”, H.P. Mendoza will also be premiering his new horror film “I Am A Ghost” and Dave Boyle who directs “Day Light Savings” also appears in “Yes We’re Open” With this amount of talent overlapping both in front of and behind the camera, it seems SFIAAFF’s aim of offering a stage to both established and up and coming talent is right on target.
The party will continue with the annual Directions in Sound showcasing the contributions of Asian American musicians while offering festival goers yet another chance to party and connect. I found this event particularly enjoyable last year and am looking forward to hearing the artists.

By the end of next week I’ll be coming back to San Jose as the festival migrates south to make sure Asian Americans in the south bay have the same opportunity to enjoy cinema within their community. Film goers currently at Cinequest which will end March 11th will thus have the ability to continue seeing festival films in the same theaters beginning Thursday night with the San Jose Opening night screening of Knots followed by yet another Gala.

If you want to buy tickets to any of these events or see what else the Center for Asian American Media has up their sleeve, check out

With that said – I’m off to movies!

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Mixed films at Cinequest – “Mixed Kebab”, “Love, Wrinkle Free” & “Forgetting the Girl”

Yesterday I saw three films at Cinequest.

I began at the San Jose REP to see Mixed Kebab which presents the story of a young Belgian Turk, Ibrahim, as he tries to juggle his homosexuality with societal expectations before an arranged marriage. Meanwhile his brother’s trouble making leads him to religious extremism after he lands in jail and a local copwatch run by the mosque recruits him, and his love interest Kevin tags along with prodding from his mother to get into a relationship. When Ibrahim travels to Turkey to meet his bride to be he brings Kevin along for support and the inevitable cultural clash emerges as Ibrahim is forcefully outed and blackmailed. While the visuals and acting were fine, Mixed Kebab was a somewhat cliche story that is pretty obvious before it unfolds with only slight variations. While I appreciated the multiculturalism of Belgian gay life as it relates to a Turkish minority and the diaspora, the films writing felt underdeveloped and I left neither impressed nor feeling like I wasted my time. My reaction in one word: meh.

Next I saw Love, Wrinkle Free the story of a husband and wife in Goa as the husband tries to nuture professional aspirations in a start up selling edible underwear while his wife tries to avoid the reality of aging as her church choir seeks a more youthful presence. Further complicating their lives is a new pregnancy and how their adopted daughter reacts along with how a start up idea and a new relationship with an attractive aspiring photographer. While this one started on a good note centering around the start up story line, it got more jumbled as it introduced other side stories which weren’t well developed enough nor logical enough to fit well. What began as a promising comedy from an unconventional perspective slowly became more and more kitschy and absurd. If you like mindless comedy then you’ll enjoy this, but I found the kitsch a bit too much for me.

The last film of the evening I saw was Forgetting the Girl, a psycho drama about a photographer trying to forget the death of his sister through his interactions with girls in the present. It begins with an almost sweet tone of a socially inept nerd trying to get over his awkwardness which eventually sneaks up on the audience until you’re squirming in your seat. Based on the audible reactions of the audience I was not the only surprised with where this went. And I left the theater thoroughly creeped out (Mom was too). Definitely not the type of film I would normally choose to see as I’m not the biggest horror fan, but it was well executed as well as visually engaging, and I could easily appreciate that.

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Sunday, March 04, 2012

Sometimes People Do the Right Thing

I just saw the following story and thought in this current climate of political polarization and irrational attacks, it was honestly refreshing to see someone examine his behavior and then hold himself accountable.
What do you do if you are a federal judge who sent an inappropriate email about the president?
You file a complaint against yourself, obviously.

Chief Federal Judge Richard Cebull was outed this week after sending a “racially charged” email to his home address and several other contacts via his chamber computer.  According to Cebull, who was appointed to his judgeship by former President George W. Bush, he didn’t send the email on because it was racist, however, but because it was anti-Obama.

Via the Great Falls Tribune, “The judge acknowledged that the content of the email was racist, but said he does not consider himself racist. He said the email was intended to be a private communication. ‘It was not intended by me in any way to become public,’ Cebull said. ‘I apologize to anybody who is offended by it, and I can obviously understand why people would be offended…This is a private thing that was, to say the least, very poor judgment on my part…I did not forward it because of the racist nature of it. Although it is racist, I’m not that way, never have been.’”

As word of his actions spread, Cebull realized that a more heartfelt apology was in order, so he provided one to the person who most deserved it — President Barack Obama.  “I sincerely and profusely apologize to you and your family for the email I forwarded. I accept full responsibility; I have no one to blame but myself. I can assure you that such action on my part will never happen again….Honestly, I don’t know what else I can do. Please forgive me and, again, my most sincere apology.”

But he did find one more thing he could do.  He filed a complaint against himself, initiating a disciplinary investigation on his own actions.  “‘Chief District Judge Cebull has publicly acknowledged that he has acted inappropriately,’ said Cathy Catterson, circuit executive for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, in a prepared statement. ‘By letter to Chief Judge Alex Kozinski of the Ninth Circuit, Judge Cebull has initiated the process by which a complaint of judicial misconduct will be brought against him, Chief Judge Kozinski has informed the Judicial Council of the Ninth Circuit of the complaint. The Judicial Council is expected to act expeditiously in investigating and resolving this matter.’”

According to the National Law Journal, once the investigation is completed, Cebull could face any form of discipline ranging from a reprimand to impeachment.

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Young Film Makers at Cinequest (And Prop 8 is live streamed as a play)

Today I saw three productions - two at Cinequest, and one online. The online one was AFER's production of 8 - a play which takes dialog directly from the court transcripts of the prop 8 trial before Judge Walker.

I always fear watching young film makers first works. On one hand the age means we have more in common and I'm more inclined to relate to the subject mater, on the other hand often times production values make it a painful endeavor to watch. Much like amateur theater productions - you're not going for the quality but rather to support budding artists.

I started the day with a film that felt like it was a college production, Cheap Fun. Cinequest's guide begins their description of it with, "Cheap Fun is a comedic wake-up call, playing off the monotony of a directionless life." However I found such a wake-up call was lacking. The directionless life made for a directionless narrative where the characters wandered through the night in search of amusement. With a large ensemble cast this proved problematic for me as no one character was interesting or compelling enough to hold my attention. It felt like I'd wandered into a party where I didn't know who amongst the crowd was the host - who should be deserving of attention and who was an extra? Also after seeing L!fe Happens last night, it was especially disappointing that the only female character was written in a flat way that felt like a cliche more than a character. By the end of the film there was a bit more action and one character who ended up streaking through town proved the most realistic and ironically the most fleshed out of the bunch (Sadly due to the size of the cast I can't remember the character's name). Overall the plot felt to me like an attempt at the Hangover for younger directionless students, but the lack of a solid storyline other than, "let's go anywhere" made it drag for me. There were some funny moments but it felt stretched out, and what could have been a solid short film ended up being a less impressive feature.

After that I watched the livestream of 8 (on twitter as #8LA) which was an extremely star studded affair. Judge Walker was played by Brad Pitt, David Boies was played by George Clooney, Theodore B. Olson was Martin Sheen and the opposition's lawyer Mr. Cooper was played by Kevin Bacon.

(To save time on listing the talent I'm posting a screenshot of the program... )


I knew the material would be powerful beforehand. Having watched the Prop 8 trial - excerpts from that really could be nothing but a tear jerker. Literally. Not ashamed to admit by the end I was crying. Dustin Lance Black added to the official transcripts by weaving in pieces featuring Jamie Lee Curtis and Christine Lahti portraying Kris Perry and Sandy Stier the lesbian couple who were two of the plaintiffs as they explain to their sons why they're missing soccer practice, and arguing about getting take out. Seeing Martin Sheen say the words of Mr. Olson definitely made me feel like life was becoming West Wing, a rational response being the appropriate way to react to injustice. (I must admit, the policy nerd in me WISHES life was like West Wing). Overall all of the actors were incredible at portraying the emotion of the trial and watching and hearing the words over again brought me back to the uncomfortable wooden seats in the court room. I feel like using Prop 8 as source material is a double edged sword, while it has powerful and honest compelling stories illustrating the impact both emotionally and politically, there is also a whirlwind of emotions attached to it, so to make something that resonates for people who weren't there and also for those who were requires a very honest production which everyone delivered on. I would love it if this was aired on TV in full as I feel it would do more to explain fight for same-sex marriage than almost anything (releasing the tapes of the trial would top it, but little else.)
Luckily for drama students everywhere - the script is available royalty free - so if you want a powerful production with strong characters, an easy to build set and a topical plot, you've got your play. I imagine what the Laramie Project was for me in high school, 8 will be for the next batch of young drama kids.

Returning to the film festival for another film made by young film makers I was a little apprehensive. With heightened emotion from an amazing cast and oscar winning writer - surely nothing could compare? Even worse, I'd met the actors behind the film earlier in the festival and enjoyed their company, so if I didn't like it I'd almost certainly be asked what I thought. Luckily such fears proved unfounded. Percival's Big Night was fun, quirky and engaging with a unique visual style that felt like the fly on the wall was on steriods with a steadicam, buzzing through the action while never being noticed and yet presenting the closest possible portrait of two roommates and two friends who come to buy drugs from them. Like Cheap Fun, Percival's Big Night was about the young and directionless as they seek better - but it was refreshingly honest as it exposed the peacocking of the men as they at last minute shower and change shirts while concocting excuses to be alone with their crushes as well as the seemly snide remarks flying between the girls despite their deep loyalty for each other as they look out for each others interests. The four characters had obvious chemistry on screen and the rhythm of the banter, camera movements, and story felt very comfortable. There were no cheap laughs or moments when I felt the action was directed towards the camera rather than the story which always seems to be one of my issues with student films, so I was pleasantly surprised. I was glad to hear during the Q&A portion following the film that they have left room for development and I look forward to seeing their web based extras. The characters were both fleshed out enough to feel complete, and yet layered enough to leave room for more, and I would happily watch future films of the same characters. Unfortunately unlike some of the other films I've seen this festival, my parents weren't with me as I would be very curious if my enjoyment was increased from a general audience perspective due to being similarly young and in that early establishing phase of life post graduation that the characters were in. However most of the folks I got a chance to speak to after the film were similarly young and in the early stages of their careers, so I can't speak with certainty on how it reads to other age groups. What I can say though is the film was well crafted and fun and I look forward to seeing future work from this cast and crew.

Beginning with this:

Percival's Big Night's Riku (Angelica Reeve) Explains How to Survive Assholes from Percival's Big Night on Vimeo.

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Saturday, March 03, 2012

An Evening in the California Theater

Today I saw two films at Cinequest, both screened in the California Theater.

First "L!fe, Happens" a charming buddy film about two roommates and how their lives change when one has to adjust to having a baby while the other remains committed to her professional ambitions. While it had all the elements of a cheesy romantic film including handsome crush, awkward misunderstandings, nerdy/quirky side kick best friend, and accessory characters with easy to predict side stories - it was much more about the two girls relationship with each other than it was about either of their lovers, a refreshing change that was enjoyable to watch. After the film during the Q & A portion the two co-writers, who doubled as director (Kat Coiro) and lead actress (Krysten Ritter) were equally engaging. They both credited the honesty of the film as it's draw and the collaborative process of writing together to the point they don't remember who wrote what as what drove the film to be at it's core an honest and endearing film. They drew a strong round of applause from the audience when they pointed out while female driven comedies like Bridesmaids are great, the reality is women are more than a majority of the population and the media should reflect this more. They also commented on how it is strange to them how the timing worked as they are always being asked about how it feels to be coming in on Bridesmaids' coat tails despite the fact that they began writing years before that film. Overall I highly enjoyed this program and based on the amount of laughter heard from the audience I'm sure I'm not the only one. Also the men sitting near me were laughing too - so men don't be scared off by the idea of a female driven comedy, it's worth the time! (I hate that I feel compelled to justify that... I don't think that factors into any discussion of films quality being because they're male driven yet it seems to always be in the picture when there are ladies in control...)

I also found it strange how low their IMDB ratings are (4.9) until I looked into it and saw that is the weighted average. The mean of the ratings was 7.3 and the median was 9.5 - however due to a large number of people ranking it a 10, some of those votes were assumed spam and thus the average tries to correct for that. However 50% of the viewers loving it does not surprise me as when you look at the ratings breakdown women under 18 all voted 10 of 10 and women 18 - 29 averaged a 9.7. Thus the demographics of the majority of high ranking raters were young women which fits perfectly with the protagonists of the film. I would also say IMDB's ranking algorithm is off to rate this film so lowly, and I hope viewers don't find this number deters them from seeing the film.

Following that I saw Dorfman. Which was proceeded by the presenting of an award and then the interview portion of the programming. A choice that makes sense from a programming perspective (An audience will wait to see the film, but after the film is less likely to wait for a Q & A after 11pm) but it also irked me. I personally feel a good film speaks for itself, so to see the people talk about the process before the content was shown made me feel disrespected as an audience member. If I wanted to see someone interview or lecture a famous filmmaker I'd seek that programming out, but if I buy a movie ticket I am first and foremost there to watch a film - so anything else is a distraction. But I digress. First Elliott Gould was given his award and allowed to speak, then producer Leonard Hill, writer Wendy Kout and Director Bradley Leong came out. However Bradley Leong need not have come out as Leonard Hill and Wendy Kout dominated the discussion with most questions addressed directly to them, and the only open questions quickly being answered by them as well. (No offense meant to Mr. Leong, I just found his presence on stage was unsupported by the others and thus he was mostly a prop - the one time I noticed him trying to answer Leonard Hill cut him off)

The reason I mention this dynamic is I found my greatest annoyance when watching the film Dorfman was it felt off balance. The general story is about a Jewish girl who looks after her father, works for her brother's firm, has been head over heels for a friend of her brothers for year but ends up in unbalanced relationships where they all take her for granted. While helping her brother's friend/potential love interest by cat sitting his loft in LA, she finds herself pushed out of her comfort zone, meeting new people, learning about her city and finding her sense of self amongst the men in her life. But watching the film I found the difference between Elliott Gould's performance and the rest of the cast jarring. His presence was greater, the shots with him seemed longer and the cuts seemed to have a different rhythm. He did what he did, and though he acted well - it didn't seem to mesh well with the others on set in that they all seemed to have a similar rhythm. It felt to me as if they were all preforming a stand up sketch and he was an improv actor thrown into the mix - its not that the other actors were bad or he was bad - it just felt mismanaged and ill suited to be in the same film. It wouldn't surprise me if in his shots he had more artistic control than the other actors who probably followed the director. Because all of their performances fit well, the brother, the love interest, the neighbor, the model friends, parents etc... They all felt like they were in the same B romance film, while Gould felt like he wandered out of As Good As it Gets or any other quirky comedy poking fun at life. While I found this film less enjoyable, my parents seemed to enjoy it more than I - so if you see it - I'd love to hear what your thoughts were and compare notes!

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Friday, March 02, 2012

So Gay… (in that 1950s way that actually means cheerful)

So this week I’ve got three pieces of LGBT news in the arts:

I saw La Otra Familia (The Other Family) at Cinequest in San Jose and WOW. Charming, nuanced, not cheesy, enough of a bite to be real and enough sweetness to tug at the heart strings. Basic plot is the son of drug addict is taken away from his mom after she has been missing for several days, and ends up being taken care of by a gay couple. We also see a lesbian couple go through the process of family planning, a couple that’s trying to adopt, and what family means to each of these characters. It is set in Mexico and thus is in Spanish, but if you see it at Cinequest it will have subtitles and the performances need no translation to be brilliant. If you have a chance – go see it!

I also saw No Look Pass, a documentary film about Asian American Harvard Basketball star (Not Jeremy Lin) Emily Tay as she works towards a professional basketball career, sharing her life with her family, and the process of coming out. While some of the shots were more the classic talking to the camera moments, the camera follows her through her senior year and the post-graduation period resulting in many touchingly honest moments when you forget about the camera and think only of the moments in her life. A unique sort of coming of age tale – I’d recommend it as well. It will be playing a few more times in the bay area at both Cinequest and the SF International Asian American Film Festival this month.

And this one I have not seen as it has not come out yet – but it’s a one day only play about Prop 8 titled “8″ presented by AFER. The one day show’s live presentation will be raising funds for the Prop 8 repeal efforts however it will also be live streamed on March 3rd, 2012, at 7:30pm Pacific Time at With the likes of George Clooney, Brad Pitt, & Martin Sheen adding their star power – it should help both raise awareness of the case, and funds needed in the continued legal fight. It will also be on YouTube in case AFER’s site gets overloaded:

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