2013 CAAMFest: Opening Night, Linsanity, Graceland
CAAMFest kicked off with a screening of Evan Jackson Leong’s look into the Jeremy Lin phenomenon, Linsanity, at San Francisco’s Castro Theater, and then moved a few blocks down Market Street to the beautiful Asian Art Museum for the Opening Night Gala. The Museum was transformed into a bustling party room full of excited festival-goers, filmmakers, and slimy press people like me. Well, maybe I was the only slimy one, but nevertheless, everybody was buzzing.
There were lots of local chefs to provide us with delicious food (the chocolates from Socola Chocolatier were my favorite) and frosty alcoholic beverages raised in the air all throughout the building. The San Francisco community came out strong, and the enthusiasm was contagious. When I asked people what their most anticipated films of the festival were, the responses were all over the board, which should be an indicator that this festival’s lineup is going to have a bit for everybody. The party was crazy fun, but now on to the important stuff…the films!
I was a loser and missed the opening night screening of Linsanity, but I had seen it at the press conference for the festival held a few weeks ago. On Friday, I saw Graceland, a thriller from the Philippines, and Someone I Used to Know, an ensemble drama a la Breakfast Club but set on a summer night in Los Angeles.
This is embarrassing, but I’ll admit it: I had almost no clue who Jeremy Lin was going into this movie. I’d heard his name on TV a few times, but that’s about it. Evan Jackson Leong’s documentary follows Lin’s story of hard work and struggle from childhood to worldwide NBA superstar. Some of the footage of Lin playing ball is absolutely astonishing; to see him dominate Kobe Bryant and the Lakers after Kobe Bryant claimed to have never heard of him was a highlight. However, the most enjoyable bits of the film are the moments when we see Lin in an intimate environment, being himself and having fun. Later in the film, when Lin is in the NBA and obviously financially stable, we see him go to Target and get excited over a tacky fountain he found in the novelty aisle. Stuff like this gives his story heart and genuineness.
The success of this movie isn’t simply the chronicling of Lin’s rise to fame; it shows that even through all the craziness on his rise to the top, he remained the same goofy, likable guy throughout. There’s nothing really bad to say about this film, other than that it is a pretty standard sports documentary with an all-too-familiar structure to the story. But man, no matter how much you watch footage of this guy on the court, it still sizzles.
A raw, violent hostage thriller from the Philippines, Graceland, by director Ron Morales is rock-solid, though just short of exceptional. Arnold Reyes works as a chauffeur in Manila for a corrupt businessman while also juggling the stresses of his home life; his disobedient daughter and his hospitalized wife weigh on his mind heavily. When kidnappers rip his and the congressman’s daughter away from him as he is driving them home from school, a classic tale of large ransoms, corruption, double-crosses, and violence emerges. The story is executed well, but aside from the uncommon (for this kind of film) setting of Manila, it’s quite derivative. There is not a scene in this movie that I haven’t seen before in some other hostage thriller. There are some scenes from Taken, some from Akira Kurosawa’s incredible High and Low, and even some Die Hard thrown in. Hell, there’s even stuff from Ransom: “Give me back my daughter!” Again, the scenes always work, but there’s nothing new brought to the table here.
The cinematography is a little dark at times, literally; in some scenes, I had to strain my eyes just to make out what the hell I was looking at. But overall, the visuals serve the story well, which is always the goal. Arnold Reyes is very good as the lead, showing just the right amount of emotion when he needs to without overdoing it. A standout role is Dido De La Paz as the classic barking, mean-faced “bad cop.” His imposing physicality and constant irritation are very effective. The twist at the end is unsurprising, predictable, and lacks any punch (I only call it a twist because it is presented as such in the film), but the story leading up to that point has a frenetic pace that never slows down and always entertains.