Friday, November 13, 2009

Prawns, Pods, New People and Loud Talk in Small Cafes

In the past month and a half, I've focused on independent documentary films, Julian Duvivier films, South Asian films, Japanese pinku eiga and films screening in Marin County. I did find time to catch three films not associated with a film festival or retrospective.


District 9; (2009) - Official Website

District 9 got a nationwide release and had a fair amount of box office success so it is well known to most. I caught it at the 4 Star. I don't have much to add that hasn't been echoed by the reviewers. I enjoyed the film; particularly the special effects, the role reversal and cinema vérité style. Sharlto Copley was effective in the lead role as the human who suddenly goes from complacent oppressor to desperately oppressed. One subplot I liked was how the Nigerian lived among the "prawns" in their concentration camp. Actually, this plot point led t a boycott of the film in Nigeria. I guess some governments don't like their citizens being depicted as cannibalistic gangsters and interspecies prostitutes.


We Live in Public directed by Ondi Timoner; documentary; (2009) - Official Website

We Live in Public played at the Roxie. It's a documentary about Josh Harris, an internet pioneer. He founded, the first internet television network to the halcyon days of the late 1990's. After minting millions the way dotcommers did back in the day, Harris moved to an experimental art project called "Quiet" where 100 people lived in an underground bunker in Manhattan. Everything was filmed, each person slept in a pod with a television from which could watch everyone else, there was no privacy (including toilets and showers), there was a gun range and for fun people could submit interrogations conducted with East German Stasi techniques. It sounds exhilarating and stultifying (and a little like Burning Man).

Eventually the project was raided by the cops on 1/1/2000 due to fears it was doomsday cult. Director Timoner (who may have been the videographer on the project) distilled the thousands of hours of footage into even handed chronicling. The thought of living in that environment does not appeal to me at all but apparently, there were many people in the late 90's that were more than willing. Actually, the Quiet project presaged the YouTube/Facebook/Burning Man/streaming video lifestyle that is not so uncommon. Ultimately, Timoner coaxes out the dehumanizing aspects of the project from the participants. The takeaway lesson is that being interconnected 24/7 is a guaranteed way to lose you morale compass and self-identity. I don't think that is particularly insightful but it was fun to watch other people come to that realization.

Harris wasn't done after Quiet was shut down. He wired up his apartment and his live-in girlfriend and him lived the ultimate jennycam life (including the infamous toiletcam). Harris wired his place with 40something camera and microphones and proceeded to live his life on camera. Not surprisingly, his relationship disintegrated although in must have been a lot of fun at the beginning. There was one scene I recall vividly. Josh's girlfriend (can't remember her name) has lost her keys. She asked aloud if anyone had seen them. Within seconds, someone texted her the location (they had instant messaging on multiple computers). Another time, Harris and his girlfriend had a argument and afterwards, they go to their respective computers to see the reaction of their audiences.

After that, Harris disappeared for several years. He lost his fortune in the dotbomb and lived on an apple farm for several years. Later he was soccer coach or something in Africa. His most recent hurrah was a failed attempt at getting funding for an idea from Google or Myspace or some internet company.

Watching the film was like watching a car crash; I knew it would end badly but there was nothing I could do.

Timoner directed an entertaining documentary in 2004 called DiG! about two bands with a love/hate relationship - Brian Jonestown Massacre and The Dandy Warhols.


Battle League Horumô starring Chiaki Kuriyama and Takayuki Yamada; Japanese with English subtitles; (2009)

There's not much to say about Battle League Horumô. I didn't like it. It had something to do with invisible imps that fight massive battles in Kyoto. They are led by students from four universities. The students make awkward movements and speak in gibberish to lead the horumo. The two leads were Chiaki Kuriyama (Kill Bill Vol. 1 and Exte: Hair Extentsion - 2008 Hole in the Head) and Takayuki Yamada (Crows: Episode Zero - 2009 Hole in the Head)

The film was notable for me because it was the first time I've been to the new Viz Cinema or New People World Cinema in San Francisco's Japantown. I've been meaning to catch a film there since it opened (in August?). Sadly, there were only seven people in the audience. Actually, I'm glad there weren't that many because there has to be J-Pop films than Battle League Horumô.


On Veterans Day, I stopped in at the Sea Biscuit Cafe on Noriega Street - a funky little cafe that can seat about 15. Anyway, while eating my bagel (with cream cheese because they were out of hummus), I could hear a man across the room talking to the owner or at least the guy I think is the owner. They were talking about obscure horror films and I've seen all them. They talked about Machine Girl, Dead Snow and Samurai Avenger: The Blind Wolf. The customer looked vaguely familiar but he had this loud & raspy voice that reminded a little of Penn Jillette. I wonder how many people have seen those films and the odds that three of us would be in a small cafe out in the Avenues. I wouldn't even have been there except it was packed at Java Beach.


This gets me completely caught up in terms of documenting the films I've watched. I don't have the count and average cost of the films I've watched in 2009.

For the rest of the month, I'll be at the 4-Star to catch the Chinese American Film Festival or at the PFA to catch the Ingrid Bergman program.

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