QZ qz thoughts
a blog from Eli the Bearded
Tag search results for movie Page 1 of 22

SF Film Festival 2024

The San Francisco Film festival gets smaller every year. It's now down to five days, plus a few more "encore" days. I watched four of the films in this year's line up, one documentary and three fictional.

Porcelain War
Janet Planet

Porcelain War is a is a much more hopeful film about the war in Ukraine than the recent Oscar winning 20 Days in Mariupol, and possibly the most beautiful film you can imagine being made inside a country at war about the people trying to keep on with their lives there. After the film, both co-directors Brendan Bellomo and Slava Leontyev, plus cinematographer Andrey Stefanov (and little dog Frodo[*]), were there to talk about how the production was done. Bellomo had previously met these people and was planning a film about their art before war broke out. Then they changed the subject matter. Because of the deep involvement in the war by two artists, and the working relationship with a third artist, this is a lovely film about art in wartime with some slightly awkward cuts to artists waging war.

Four out of four bombs dropped by a whimsically painted DJI drone.

[*] No questions were directed to Frodo and he did not speak on his own.

Janet Planet is a film about an 11-year-old girl one summer in 1991. Her mom is divorced and has a series of relationships that constitute the major chapters of the film. It's from A24 and a first time movie director and follows in the footsteps of A24 giving a chance to first time directors to tell stories of girls (eg, Greta Gerwig's _Lady Bird_). This would fail a gender reversed Bechdel Test, if that sort of thing bothers you. What bothered me about the film was just how slow it is. At one point, near a major plot event, we see some blintzs get put in a microwave and cooked for 30 seconds. The camera just stays there immobile watching the food cook. I can see the message there: 1991, home alone in the woods, no friends, no video games, no cellphone, no cable TV: life is slow and you watch your food cook. It's not an thing kids today (and there were a lot of under 30s in the audience) really know. But it is a little tedious. Afterwards, over the next few days, I did find myself thinking a lot about the film, but boy was it slow to watch.

Two out of four frozen blintzes.

Dìdi makes an interesting contrast to Janet Planet. This is about a boy one spring and summer in 2008, at the end of 8th grade up to the first few days in high school, in Freemont, California. His dad works in Taiwan, and he lives with mother, his paternal grandmother (Nai Nai), and his older sister, about to head off to dental school. The boy goes by different names with different people, "Dìdi" ("younger brother") to his family, "Wang Wang" to some of his friends, "Chris" to others. He is trying hard to fit in and become more popular, definitely falling into the tag along friend in his social groups, and having some rough times getting along with his family. And so the movie follows his failings and growth at that time when socialization was in person, on Myspace, on Facebook, on Youtube, and on text messages by flip phone.

Three out of four hasty Google searches.

Thelma is a delightful film that manages to deftly juggle the concerns of seniors (Thelma is 93 and played by a 94 year old actress) and a loving hommage to Mission: Impossible. It starts with Thelma discussing Tom Cruise doing all his own stunts while they watch a clip from MI Fallout, which is meta-relevant in that June Squibb (long a supporting actress, now in her first starring role) did "many" of her stunts for Thelma. "Stunts" in the Hollywood union rules sense of stunts, at least, and not really challenging for the able-bodied. The story concerns a common scam that targets seniors, and Thelma's quest to recover her lost money after falling for it.

Three out of four hearing aids.

Links for other movies mentioned:
20 Days in Mariupol
Lady Bird
Mission: Impossible - Fallout


A little over ten years ago I watched Tarkovsky's Solaris, I rated it "three mysteriously reappeared wives out of five", but after all this time my memory of it is more two of five.

Anyway, I saw HBO recommending Stalker to me. Made seven years after Solaris, this film was Tarkovsky's last Soviet film, and it probably was the death of him. A couple of the actors and Tarkovsky all died of cancer and some people suspect chemical exposure from the filming locations used in Stalker. I started this film without realizing it was the same director as Solaris, which is good because I probably wouldn't have watched it at all if I had remembered.

The slow pace, and lingering shots are more of a match for Stalker than that other film. One can see thematic similarities, but this is much more about a journey and the psychological toll the trip takes on people than mysterious thing at the end of that journey. The alien intelligence in Solaris grants wishes, of a sort, apparently as a method of attempting communcation with humans. Here there's an unseen thing, possibly alien, in a "Room" at the heart of "The Zone" filling a similar grant wishes role.

Entering the Room at the heart of The Zone gets those wishes, which is why people try to get there. Armed guards protect the borders, and unseen threats apparently lurk within. This movie focuses on a guide (the "Stalker") who knows how to find a safe path to the Room and his two customers, Professor and Writer, who have reasons to visit the Room. Getting to the threshold is 95% of this 160 minute film.

If you're a fan of urbex photography, or Chernobyl Exclusion Zone nature taking over mankind's work, then the slow shots of beautiful decay and nature's reclaimation of industrial sites in Stalker are quite pretty and help alleviate the plodding plot. I watched it in two viewing sessions. There's a on-screen title indicating that an intermission was probably part of the original plan.

You can read a lot of allegory in this story, but ultimately it's hard to say what it really means. Nevertheless I think it is a lot better than reappearing wives above a roiling planet wide ocean. Call this four improvised trap detecting projectiles out of five.

Stalker at imdb
Stalker at wikipedia

Wikipedia has a link to it on youtube, but it is "unavailable" when I check there. I don't know if that's a region block thing or something else. I am not really well versed in youtube errors and restrictions. Also wikipedia: "an average shot length of more than one minute" while typical Hollywood films average a tenth of that.

Clothing that kills

Sometime in the last year I watched Slaxx. I thought I wrote about it at the time somewhere, but I don't find it in my blog here, archives of Usenet posts, or archives of forum posts. More recently I watched In Fabric. Both movies feature an article of clothing that is cursed and kills the people who wear it. That's probably about where the similarities end, but I couldn't stop making mental comparisons to Slaxx while watching In Fabric.

Slaxx at imdb (2020 Canadian comedy horror)
In Fabric at imdb (2018 British horror comedy)

Slaxx is an obvious low budget production for younger audiences that like horror. There's a nightmarish retail store and the staff in it are the first victims of a pair of unisex trousers that look good but also thirst for blood. In this movie you can see a puppet pair of jeans dance to a Bollywood music tune.

In Fabric is an arty piece where a shop with low budget 1980s comercials lures people in to sell a very red size 36 dress that seems to fit anyone who tries it on, but they all end up dead shortly thereafter. In this movie you will see a mannequin with pubic hair and a bleeding gash.

There's probably no cast in Slaxx that you've heard of, while In Fabric has a number of people who have done things, even if they aren't huge stars. Gwendoline "Brienne of Tarth" Christie makes an appearance, does not wear the dress, but is near it and survives an attack.

The source of the curse is very clearly explained in Slaxx and it follows typical horror curse logic right at home in, say, Chucky (Child's Play). Slaxx also has as much psychological horror from the retail working conditions as it has threats to humans by the bloodthirsty pants. This aspect gives me a good idea of the target audience.

The source of the curse In Fabric is not clearly explained, and follows the hinted at horrors I associate with A24 Films, like say Heriditary. (I don't think A24 had anything to do with this, and this is further towards the "art house" end of the film spectrum than their works.) Everyone working at the store that sells the dress is supremely odd and you get the impression that the killer dress serves them in some sort of black magic sex way.

Slaxx overall rating of one Instagram influencer out of four. (Or two out of four if cheesey horror is your cheese.)

In Fabric: four hellish sewing machines out of eight. (Five or more if mannequins are your fetish. In that case, see also The Duke of Burgundy by the same director, which is much more erotic but the mannequins are more minor characters.)

The Green Knight

This a two hour ten minute retelling of the Arthur Extended Universe story Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. It's a slow and meditative movie, with several extended sequences lacking in dialog. Some of the lines that were spoken were hard to understand, so working well as silent film is a plus.

Without spoiling any of the story, let me recount a scene near the end. Having left the house of the mysterious Lord (most characters lack names) who played the game of exchanging winnings, Gawain makes his way to Green Chapel, arriving a day earlier than appointed time. He Sees the Green Knight sitting, eyes closed in a throne at the back of the broken down hall. Gawain places the axe down at the foot of the Knight and sits on the floor to wait. There's somewhere between two and five minutes of silent waiting, the camera lingering on the closed eyes of the Green Knight's face mixed with cuts to Gawain coming to terms with the fate ahead of him. This is used to show the passage of time until the next morning when the Green Knight awakens.

If you are stoned enough to find that deep or patient enough to tollerate that sort of slow moving story, this is a pretty entertaining retelling of the legend. If you'll be checking your phone when nothing happens for a while, stay away.

I think it helps to already know the story, and it also helps to be willing to accept some changes to the story. There's a fox in this version, for example, that is not in the one I read.

A six day journey out of ten.

The Green Knight at imdb

Also get ready for a bunch of different ways to pronounce "Gawain".