Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Frameline Film Fest: Little Joe

This review originally appeared on the San Francisco Appeal.

My mother is crazy about Joe Dallesandro, and always has been. I don't know when I became aware of who he is, but it definitely coincided with knowing my mother had a raging and undying crush on the guy, so there was no doubt who I'd be taking along to the documentary Little Joe on Saturday, as it played as part of the Frameline Festival at the Castro.

Joe Dallesandro was one of Andy Warhol's Superstars; was immortalized in the Lou Reed song "Walk on the Wild Side;" and it's his crotch pictured on the cover of the Rolling Stones album Sticky Fingers. He was certainly one of the most beautiful men to grace the screen in the early 70s, even if his acting often left something to be desired.

The lines into the theater snaked around in two directions on Castro street, and the theater was so packed they had to open the balcony to accommodate everyone. This came as no surprise. Joe Dallesandro's cult following is largely a gay one, and he is, as one member of the audience dubbed him post-film, "the gay men's Marilyn Monroe;" a legendary sex object. As luck would have it, Joe Dallesandro himself was in attendance, and when the introductions to the film were being given, there he stood in the balcony, mere seats away from where we were sitting. My mother was thrilled, to say the least.

The documentary is unique in that the only person talking about Little Joe in the film is Little Joe himself. There's no one else giving their opinion about why Joe was considered such a sex god; you just have to look at the guy to understand that. So we hear Joe talking about his teen years and stealing cars; getting involved with the Factory; and questioning director Paul Morrissey's directing style, which always required Joe to strip and improvise dialogue, and often entire movie plots. The doc is filled with a wealth of images and film clips, including clips from the films Dallesandro did while living in Italy, many of which never made their way back to the States. Any fan of Joe's will not be disappointed by this documentary, and while the story may be a bit one-sided, it's an incredibly entertaining side.

The film was produced by his daughter, Vedra Mehagian, and directed by Nicole Haeusser, on a limited budget. Sometimes that shows. Dallesandro is often hard to understand, and it sounds like he wasn't miked for much of his interview footage, with the audio instead being picked up by the mic on the camera. That paired with the Castro Theater's infamously bad acoustics often led to long moments that were just impossible to hear. Hopefully, a DVD release will happen.

After the screening, Dallesandro, his daughter, and the director took the stage to answer questions, and some of those moments can be viewed on his MySpace page. After the Q&A was over, we made our way downstairs, and as we were leaving the lobby from a side door, Joe was emerging the theater at the same time, and brushed right past us; (he's about my height; he ain't called "Little Joe" for nothing). Thankfully, my mother didn't go nuts and attack the guy, but I was happy that after all these years of fandom, she was able to get THIS CLOSE to her object of desire.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Another Hole In The Head: Pig Hunt

This review originally appeared on the San Francisco Appeal.

Pig Hunt, a local production, was easily the best film I saw at this year's Another Hole in the Head festival. Set in the woods around Boonville, it's a horror flick that features scary rednecks, evil hippies, AND a giant wild pig (referred to as "The Ripper," "Hogzilla," and "Pigfoot" throughout the course of the movie). You get your money's worth with this one.

The fun starts in San Francisco, as John (Travis Aaron Wade) and three of his friends take off for a weekend of hunting at his uncle's cabin in Boonville. John also brings his girlfriend Brooks (Tina Huang) along, and gets all kinds of grief from his friends for bringing a "ho" along on a "bros" weekend. Of course, before the weekend is through, they're all pretty glad to have her around.

The number of horror movies that begin with a bunch of people venturing out into the woods for the weekend is probably too large to count, but Pig Hunt recognizes this, and relishes in its reverence for and references to other movies, including Deliverance, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Apocalypse Now, Evil Dead, and Jaws, among others. But despite the obvious influences, Pig Hunt still manages to surprise. While the movie includes a lot of the requisite T & A, it was refreshing to see a female character (Brooks) who's a lot tougher than most of the men around her, and even though she is, of course, put in peril, I don't recall even hearing her scream for help once. It was also nice to see a monster that was more than just some computer generated code. The movie's not perfect--there are some jarring edits here and there, making the transition between different settings a little puzzling, and the ending includes a final shot that's a bit of a head scratcher--but it's a whole lot of fun.

Writer Robert Mailer Anderson spoke briefly before Saturday night's screening. The town of Boonville and the drive-in at Ukiah were a big influence on him and his cousin, Zack Anderson, co-screenwriter movie, and he talked about the film's decidedly Northern California (or "Up Cal," as he called it) feeling. They'd always wanted to do a movie about Boonville, and realized the only way to get the feeling right was to make it a horror movie. Anderson also revealed that one of the rundown cabins featured in the film (the one you first see Les Claypool's scary patriarch character standing in front of) was actually a place he had lived in, and was also where Alice Walker wrote the book The Color Purple. Anderson wasn't able to stick around for a post-film Q&A, but he and some others involved with the film are supposed to be around for tonight's screening. It's worth checking out. Get yourself some pork chops beforehand and make it a theme night

Friday, June 12, 2009

Another Hole In The Head: Someone's Knocking at the Door

This review originally appeared on the San Francisco Appeal.

Someone's Knocking at the Door starts off good, with an awesome credit sequence and an opening scene that sets the stage for some really depraved horror. It even features a completely incongruous animated teddy bear, which, alas, is never seen again. Also not seen again is the inspiration witnessed in those opening moments.

The film focuses on a group of med students who like to take drugs and hang out in old file rooms. During one of their druggie evenings of drug taking and file reading, they seemingly release the spirits of a murderous 1970s couple who raped their victims to death. Those spirits get back into business by possession and subsequent rapings. To death. The moment one of the duo's murderous appendages is revealed is certainly shocking, to say the least, but it's just too bad that once the story gets going, the film gets bogged down in really bad pacing. A sequence in an interrogation room seems to go on for half the film. Its limited budget is also apparent in the lackluster sets, as most of the movie appears to have been filmed in an abandoned office building. Most of the actors give good performances (lead Noah Segan has been seen in some other horror flicks, as well as 2005's Brick), but a few others suffer from the stilted line delivery of amateurs.

A lot of the film's shortcomings could be forgiven if it had a good payoff, but the only thing that can be said about its ending is it's a huge cop-out. Horror aficionados may want to seek this one out, just for its few moments of originality, but the less-adventurous should probably stay away.

The filmmakers are scheduled to appear at Saturday's 11:45 P.M. screening, and hopefully they'll bring a copy of the movie that isn't branded with the words "PROPERTY OF CW FILMS" at the bottom of the frame throughout the entire film.

The feature is paired with a short called "The Facts in the Case of Mister Hollow," which is a visually stunning animated film that takes a 3-D look into a mysterious black-and-white photograph.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Another Hole In The Head: Monsters From The Id

This review originally appeared on the San Francisco Appeal.

Monsters from the Id, the only documentary in this year's Another Hole in the Head fest, is a film with an agenda. It's an entertaining agenda, but an agenda nonetheless, and therefore falls less into the realm of "documentary" and more into the realm of "thesis statement," or, as my moviegoing companion deemed it, "infomercial for a career in science."

The main point of the film is that the science fiction movies of the 1950s had a direct influence on the brainy kids of the day, influencing many of them to enter into careers in science. And this at least holds true for the scientists interviewed for the movie, which include Homer Hickam, author of Rocket Boys, which was made into the film October Sky. It's just too bad the director couldn't just let these men talk, instead of forcing an imposing soundtrack over every second of the film, even to the point that it clashes with the soundtracks of the film clips featured. The movie would be a lot more fun if it wasn't so damn...noisy.

And the numerous movie clips that are included in the doc certainly maintain the premise that in 1950s science fiction, it's scientists and smart guys who conquer the monsters and aliens in the end, not sheer brute force. But anyone who has seen a lot of these 1950s films knows that science is not always the savior, and is often to very cause of monstrous calamities. Even the film that the doc takes its title from, Forbidden Planet, includes a military hero, and a scientist whose experiments ultimately lead to the complete destruction of a planet.

It's not imperative that all science be "good" science to influence a generation of braniacs, just a little myopic to assume 1950s science fiction was really that much different from the science fiction of later generations. Although I do think it is true most sci-fi these days probably doesn't have the influence on youngsters it may have had in the past, this probably has more to do with the "novelty" of the atomic age. The atom is old news these days, and the biggest influence the science fiction of today probably has is on kids wanting to work for ILM, not NASA.

(As the festival program notes, this flick is suitable for the entire family, but the short that's playing with it, called "Eat Me," most definitely is not.)

Monday, May 4, 2009

SFIFF: Can Go Through Skin

This review originally appeared on the San Francisco Appeal.

The theater was packed during Saturday's SFIFF showing of the Dutch film "Can Go Through Skin," but one wonders if the theater would have been as full if the audience has expected such a difficult film.

The story focuses on an Amsterdam woman named Marieke. While dealing with the emotional toll of a break-up, she is attacked in her home. She decides to escape the city and its violence by moving to a rundown house in the countryside. But she soon learns it's a lot easier to escape a city than it is to escape your own troubled psyche.

The film is fragmentary and at times impressionistic, illustrating Maireke's paranoid and vengeful head space. It is difficult to know what is real, and what is merely going in in Maireke's mind, and this jagged storytelling would be very hard to sit through were it not for the amazing performance of Rifka Lodeizen as Marieke. She's astounding. Let's hope she can break out of her native Holland and find some roles in more international releases. Also impressive is the film's sound design and music, both done by Dan Geesin. Much of the film's moodiness and mystery depends on the soundtrack, since there are large parts that are dialogue free.

Director Esther Rots spoke briefly after the film and answered a few questions. She revealed that when she started the movie, she didn't have a complete story in place; she started with one idea and then branched off into other directions as the filming progressed, which explains a lot about the movie's disjointed feel. It is definitely not a conventionally told tale. Some questions from the audience focused on plot points, in an attempt to get some clarity, but Rots said that she prefers the viewers to fill in any blanks they see in the film with their own stories. Which either seems like way of pointing out that all art requires the viewer to project a bit of themselves onto what they are viewing, or just a veiled admission that she didn't have the answers.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

SFIFF: Ferlinghetti

This review originally appeared on the San Francisco Appeal.

There wasn't a lack of berets at the screening of "Ferlinghetti" on Tuesday, that's for sure. There also wasn't a lack of your usual San Francisco filmgoing...eccentrics, as was evidenced by the questions asked during the post-movie Q&A session.

The documentary, by director Christopher Felver, is a portrait of the legendary San Francisco beat poet, book publisher, and City Lights proprietor Lawrence Ferlinghetti. The focus is on the man and his work, and less on the beat movement in general, but his influence on the scene is undeniable, and it's unlikely San Francisco would have built the literary reputation it has without the presence of Ferlinghetti. Unfortunately, what we learn about him leaves a lot of stuff out. It's only until close to the end of the film that we learn he has kids and (had?) a wife. (That's not really made clear, as she isn't discussed, and is only shown in a photo.) The extent of his current involvement with City Lights also isn't addressed. The movie is a portrait, but not a biography.*

After the movie, Ferlinghetti took the stage to give a very brief thank you to the director for making it (although he admitted he felt the director presented a portrait free of warts, and he thought a few warts should have been thrown in) and to the audience for coming out to see it. After that Christopher Felver took the stage to answer audience questions, and that's when the cringe-inducing moments began. Two separate people felt compelled to talk about Timothy Leary (who plays no part in the movie, and is only seen briefly in a crowd scene) and both seemed to hold grudges against the guy, (apparently, he got all his LSD from the CIA, and was nothing but a big phony). Another person asked about drug use during the beatnik era (although the way the question was phrased made it sound like she was wondering about drug portrayals IN the movie, of which there weren't any). And another woman asked about the lack of women in the film. Which was actually a good question. Felver didn't really address it, though, instead saying he did the best he could. But really, women were always underrepresented during the beatnik era. It seems like the beats were willing to rage against a lot of things, but sexism wasn't one of them. Later, as my father, Alan, and I discussed the movie over some noodles at Sapporo-Ya, he pointed out that the beats were kind of the last gasp of machismo in art. Ain't no room for chicks in that!

My dad, back in the day, was an aspiring beatnik, and though younger than the guys who pioneered the movement, he still found himself crossing paths with some of them more than once. The best story he has about that is probably the time he found himself in New York with no place to stay, so he called Allen Ginsberg's roommate, Peter Orlovsky, who he had met the previous summer, to see if he could crash at their place. Orlovsky said that he could crash in Allen's room, since he wasn't there that night, but my dad would have to leave first thing in the morning because the landlord was a "hardass." Once there, Orlovsky showed my dad the place, and where he'd be sleeping, and admonished him, more than once with, "Don't forget to brush your teeth." He was very adamant about it. Strange thing was, to get to the bathroom, you had to go through his room, and my dad didn't want to disturb the guy, so he just went to sleep.

The next morning, the first thing Orlovsky said to my dad was, "You didn't...brush...your teeth."

A weirdly disguised attempt to get my father into his room in the middle of the night? Or just a guy obsessed with oral hygiene? We'll never know. But at least my dad has a good beatnik story to share with the ages.

The SFIFF screens Ferlinghetti again today at 4 at the Kabuki, and next Wednesday, May 6, at 6:30 at the PFA. Info.

*Ordinarily, here's where Rain would tell you more about the movie, but since the SFIFF asked us to hold off on reviewing the film for now, that's all she could say.
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