Thursday, May 12, 2011

Day One

Friends: And we're off with a first day of market appetizers before the full onslaught of Competition entries and other invited films tomorrow. The first of Day One's 87 screenings was at 9:30 this morning, an hour later than it will be in the future. It was a Hong Kong film about the opera in the 1920s. I opted to delay my first immersion for fifteen minutes until 9:45 for something a little more palatable to my tastes, "Saving Grace B Jones," an American film starring Tatum O'Neal.

The film take place in a small Missouri town in 1951 and is based on true events. O'Neal has been held in an asylum for the past seventeen years after losing her mind when she was badly injured on her wedding day as a seventeen year old, run down by a truck. Her brother has been battling to gain her release for years.

The head of the asylum thinks it is a big mistake to let her go, but her brother is absolutely determined. On the long drive back to the town they grew up in he tells O'Neal how much the world has changed during the seventeen years she has been like a Rip Van Winkle. "Nearly everyone has a car now," he tells her, a hint of the nightmare to come, as the film slips into a horror film.

O'Neal shines in her role, especially compared to the rest of the cast. Her natural, sincere delivery is a stark contrast to the all too eager dialogue from everyone else. This could have been a powerful movie. There were only six of us sitting in on it and I was the only one left at the end, justifiably. The projectionist ducked in with half an hour to go hoping the theater had cleared out and he could stop projecting, not knowing I was tucked up in the back row. If nothing else maybe Aronofsky or Tarantino will get word that O'Neal can still do it and revive her career as they have others.

I had a few more options at the noon slot, but it was hard to resist a title such as "Dear Friend Hitler." The title was taken from a letter that Gandhi wrote to Hitler in 1939 encouraging him to back off on his aggressive behaviour. This film from India film doesn't answer the question if Hitler responded to the letter or even if he received it, but it hypothesizes that Hitler was haunted by Gandhi in his final days in his bunker, the focus of the movie. This bordered on the wacky with Hitler and all his henchmen (Goebbels, Goring, Himmler, Speer) and Eva Braun all played by Indian actors, but not quite. The Hitler character gave a very enthusiastic performance.

During my two months in Turkey this past fall I saw billboards in every sizable town advertising the Turkish film "Five Minarets" starring Danny Glover. I was pleased to have the chance to see it here knowing it would be fully English subtitled. The first hour of the film takes place in Manhattan with high productions values (plenty of aerial shots and chase scenes and dramatic settings) as the FBI tries to track down a Turkish cleric they suspect of being the head of a terrorist organization. Two Turkish cops are in on their efforts as they want to extradite him to Turkey.

The film didn't pander as much as I feared it would to its Turkish audience, though the FBI agents are cartoon caricatures who have it in for Muslims. The film doesn't spare the Turkish authorities either when the story moves on to Istanbul and then the small town of Bitlis in eastern Kurdish Turkey near Lake Van, a town I biked through. It was a much more pleasurable movie-going experience than the first two films, but not something that will have any kind of release in America. It is one of three market films that Glover appears in, the same number as William Forsyth and one less than Ray Liaotta, the most of any one. The past few years that distinction has gone to Michael Madsen, but I didn't notice him in the credits of a single film this year.

India offered another title that was hard to resist--"With Love to Obama." The film opens in a small village of India as several guys in a bar are listening to an Obama campaign speech. They are inspired by his slogan "Yes We Can." Then it moves on to Manhattan where an Indian entrepreneur faces bankruptcy due to the recession. His only hope to save himself is to return to India and sell his ancestral home. Complications ensue. How he manges to resolve them I know not as I ducked out half way through to see "Magic Bus," a must-see documentary on the legendary bus trip of Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters across the US in 1964 to attend the World's Fair and experiment with LSD along the way. Kesey is already a famous author having published "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," which is being performed in Manhattan as a play at the time with Kirk Douglas in the lead.

The film is composed nearly entirely of footage shot on the trip that has been waiting to be made into a movie all these years. Kesey never managed it before his death in 2001 at the age of 66. The movie states that the bus trip launched the '60s culture, though Kesey and his gang were caught in the middle of being beatniks and hippies, too young to have been beatniks, and too old, in their late 20s, to have been hippies. The prototype beatnik, Neal Cassady, immortalized in "One the Road," drove the bus to New York, but didn't return to the West Coast. The footage of him at the wheel rapping away on speed alone makes the movie. There are encounters with Ginsberg and Kerouac and Leary and a few cops. This was before drugs were synonymous with the counter culture, so the cops weren't as thorough in their search for drugs as they would later be when they pulled over the brightly painted school bus.

The first of two Japanese baseball movies in the market was next up--"Drucker in the Dugout." Drucker is the author of a book on business management theory that a high school girl cites as she tries to inspire her school team. She assist the coach as a team trainer. The team has never made it beyond the first round of the the national nation-wide playoffs and is a bunch of goofs. She gets them focused and on they go. There is plenty of baseball in the movie, but it won't be of much interest to anyone outside Japan.

There were only two films in the final market time slot of the evening, one for buyers only and the other a low-budget shoddy American horror film, "Fading of the Cries." Ordinarily I wouldn't go near such a film, but with the usual heavy load of horror films in the market, I always end up having to see one. Its good to get it over with. It played in the lone new theater this year, a 19-seat venue in the Grey Hotel. Every seat was taken, my only full house of the day.

Even though it was a late start and an early finish, only twelve hours of cinema compared to the usual sixteen or more to come, it was a long day. I am eager for more substantial fare that will make the days seem not so long.

Later, George

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