LAFF 2007: Chasing Ghosts and Iranians

I think I may finally be getting the hang of this festival schedule. Four shows today, and I never felt close to collapsing from tiredness. Perhaps it was the concession food that kept me going. Speaking of which, doesn’t it seem totally wrong that a hot dog is cheaper than a small popcorn? I’m no economic whiz, but meat product, bread, and multiple condiments seems a better option than corn-flavored air dipped in grease. But maybe that’s just because the latter often comes free at press screenings.

Many great screenings have been held in the mighty Mann National -- King Kong, Gladiator, Fantastic Four, and lots more were experienced by me there for the first time, so it’s sad to hear that it will soon be no longer, replaced by a Banana Republic store, of all things. But before the end comes, festival-goers get the last of it, and on this occasion, it was hosting a movie called CHASING GHOSTS, which sounds like a really banal title until you realize it’s referring to Pac-Man. The original obsessed videogamers are the topic of this documentary, from Joel West, who has mapped out all 64,000 possible winning techniques fro Berzerk, to Chris Steele, who chose his own last name in honor of TV’s Remington Steele, and mullet-headed Billy Mitchell, self-proclaimed “player of the century” (and also featured in the upcoming doc King of Kong, about Donkey Kong). Then there’s “Mr. Awesome,” who wears a modified cop uniform, calls Mitchell “Silly Bitchell,” and proclaims to all who will listen that Missile Command is a macho game, unlike Pac-Man, a “candy-ass” game “for girls and chumps.”

Calling these folks a little socially awkward would not be unfair. As with Mark Borchardt in American Movie, some who see this film will laugh at its protagonists, others with them. A little of both feels about right, as they do seem to have a sense of humor about themselves.

Back in the contemporary world, we have HALF MOON, an Iranian film inspired by Mozart’s Requiem, in which an aging Iranian Kurdish musician puts together a band, and attempts to travel by bus into Iraqi Kurdistan to play at a concert celebrating the death of Saddam Hussein. Along the way, he must outrun his own mortality, corrupt officials, and the chaos that war has brought -- it’s a comedy, though. While perhaps overlong, it has some good laughs (what exactly are “woman-sniffing dogs”?) and moments of odd beauty, as when our protagonist encounters a valley village full of 1,334 exiled female singers (only men can sing in Iran, it seems), who now harmonize with one voice.

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A colleague turned to me during the screening and whispered, “Kurds are a strange group. Maybe it’s just the musicians.”

Larry Fessenden’s THE LAST WINTER, meanwhile, takes place in a region that George Bush merely desires to screw up, rather than one he actually has...the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Ron Perlman plays the rough-and-ready macho oilman leading a team into drilling preparation, while James LeGros is the whiny hippie environmentalist who notices things are going wrong -- global warming is melting the permafrost, releasing strange gases, and possibly evil spirits too. It takes almost a n hour for the first corpse to show up, but then things quickly accelerate into horror mode, and fans of Fessenden’s Wendigo will recognize his style...not to mention a reference to the actual Wendigo of myth, again, who may be the culprit. Imagine a talky indie that suddenly turns into a slasher flick where the killer is in fact the invisible hand of Mother Nature, and you’re close.

I thought AXIS OF EVIL was going to be a movie, but it turned put to be a live comedy show from Middle Eastern comedians Ahmed Ahmed (soon to appear in Jon Favreau’s Iron Man), Dean Obeidallah, Aron Kader, and Maz Jobrani (no North Koreans as yet, because they aren’t funny). Most of the audience were Arab or Persian, so the “Persians do this, but Arabs do THIS” jokes resonated well for them. The surprise was that they played pretty well even without such a specific frame of reference, drawing on stereotypes you don’t even know you hold.

Also had a chance to play the Transformers movie X-Box game in the Target Red Room. You can play as a Decepticon and trash a U.S. military base in Qatar. Why does Bill Gates hate America?

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