Thursday, November 11, 2010

Dark and Disturbing Times

Wow, the second day of LSIFF sure served up a lot of angst and outright horror. Primarily I'm thinking of the shorts program that started off the evening. The Wonder Hospital is a disquieting Dali-esque animated Korean film about a girl who goes into a hospital for cosmetic surgery and has it go very wrong indeed. That was followed up by Pinched, another animated film (this one from the U.S.) about a pickpocket battling schizophrenia, personified by a giant dreadlocked gorilla with a Caribbean accent. The racial caricature made me uneasy, as did the conclusion implying that a girl's love can make mental illness go away. Yet there's no denying the slickness of David Vandervoort's drawing style, about halfway between Jules Feiffer and Gorillaz' music videos. I wasn't offended by it, though, like I was with Matthew Morgenthaler's Love Me Tender, a slasher flick about a wholesome girl seeking a "white knight" and hacking to death any boy who doesn't measure up. I'm told the intentions were satirical; any humor the film had was lost on me. Then there was a Swedish film called An Affair With Dolls, which told much the same story but in more effective terms, with a woman in her 30s dressed up as a doll (knee socks, frilly blouse, short tutu) and acting out a story with dolls that ends with her committing violence against both dolls and people. What is with all these unhinged women early in the going? The Swedish film is nicely hinky, but Marwencol addressed dolls in more creative terms yesterday.

There was a much funnier entry with the Finnish short The Patient, which is about a security guard at a mental hospital who's making rounds late at night when he runs into a patient outside the ward who claims to be an angel. The twist is that the patient may be right, but there's one more twist after that. The short is full of that deadpan Finnish sense of humor that one sometimes hears about, as the guard unleashes an astonishing monologue that goes seamlessly from "What was in the universe before the Big Bang?" to "Why does the Easter Bunny exist? And isn't it strange that a bunny lays eggs made of chocolate?" The most frightening short film was S. Vollie Osborn's Monsters Down the Hall, in which a kid in New York City sees his heroin-addicted mom coming out of an apartment down the hall and is told by her to never go in there. Naturally, he imagines the place as full of monsters. The filmmakers do an excellent job of making that apartment building look like something in one of Hell's sleazier neighborhoods, and the creatures there would do any haunted house proud.

The feature I saw was Monogamy, the first fiction film by Dana Adam Shapiro, whose documentary Murderball was my favorite film of 2005. I had high hopes for this thing, which only set me up for disappointment. Chris Messina (from Vicky Cristina Barcelona and the recent Devil) stars as a New York City photographer who's hired by various people to take candid shots of them from afar as they go about their business. One hot young woman who hires him starts masturbating in public, visible only to his camera lens. Then she starts engaging in high-risk sexual activity for the benefit of his camera. His fiancee (Rashida Jones) knows about this from the beginning. I guess later on his obsession starts driving them apart somehow. It's not really clear. The movie does give us Rashida Jones singing and playing guitar; it's no surprise that Quincy Jones' daughter is musically talented. Still, what starts out as an intriguing erotic thriller with psychological overtones turns into a tedious disquisition on pre-wedding jitters. That's no fun.

I went straight to Mark Claywell's documentary American Jihadist. I missed the first few minutes, but I caught the gist of this profile of Clevin Holt, an African-American U.S. Army Special Forces soldier who converted to Islam in the 1970s and changed his name to Isa Abdullah Ali. Isa went rogue and traveled to Iran, Afghanistan, and Bosnia to help revolutionaries spread the word of Allah and fight the Shah, occupying Soviets, and genocidal Serbs. The CIA kept careful tabs on him the whole time, yet they were powerless to keep him out of America or off any planes because he only provided training for the Muslim insurgents/guerrillas/freedom fighters/what you will. There's no evidence that he ever took part in any war crimes or terrorist acts. He has since settled in Bosnia, and if he has any sort of opinion on the terrorists currently waging war on Islam's behalf, I missed it. The insights into him aren't deep, but his story is interesting enough to be worth hearing.

The festival is running humorous locally made segments before showings about people applying movie logic to real-world situations. I thought the one before Marwencol would be the only one, but there was another one before the shorts program, so apparently there'll be more of these. The first was a pretty lame bit about a dude trying to perform an inception on his girlfriend so she'll let him watch football on Sundays. The second was much better, with a guy deciding to ignore an animal bite that he sustains while gardening. ("It's probably a bat! I'll turn into a vampire! We'll be wealthy and I'll have diamonds in my skin!") I badly needed the dose of humor on this night. If there are more of these, I'll pass the word along. — Kristian Lin

No comments: