SFIFF Friday: Great trains, bad entertainment

I caught two films at the Kabuki Friday. Here’s what I saw:

D+ Entertainment
Being weird isn’t always enough. A deeply depressed, horrifically inept stand-up comic (Gregg Turkington) travels through small towns in the desert, flopping over and over again. Between lousy material, a complete lack of taste, horrific delivery, and utter contempt for his audience, he’s painful to watch. When he isn’t performing, ihe’s depressed and unable to connect with anyone. There are a couple of good scenes and no real story. For the most part, it’s just extremely unpleasant with nothing to say.

I didn’t stay for the Q&A.

Just in case you’re feeling masochistic, Entertainment will screen again tonight (Saturday) at 9:45, and Monday at 9:30. Both screenings are at the Kabuki. 

A- The Iron Ministry
Life on a Chinese railroad. This narration-free documentary catches life on a long train trip in China. (From where to where? It doesn’t say.) People find comfort in close quarters. They tell funny stories. They drink and flirt. They buy food from a cart. And they talk about religion, ethnicity, and politics. The staff serve dinner in the dining car, object to being filmed, sweep the floor, and in one case agree to talk to the filmmaker (American J.P. Sniadecki). A handful of shots go on too long, but altogether it’s an amazing slice of life in a foreign country, set on one of the most social–and cinematic–forms of transpartition. 

After the film, Sniadecki stepped up for Q&A. Some highlights:

  • This was the sixth film he made in China, a country he fell in love with from books when growing up. “My parents were kind of hippies. I skipped school a lot but I road a lot of trains.”
  • On the idea for this film: “I didn’t choose it. It kind of chose me. I was filming my life and I started to film on the trains. I was hanging out with a friend and she said I should make a film of this. Most of the trains were ones that i had to take anyway.”
  • “When you see the movie, a world opens up. When I see it, I see three years of my life cut down to 83 minutes.”

The Iron Ministry screens again today (Saturday) at the Pacific Film Archive, and May 4, 4:00 at the Kabuki.