Chinese “Angels” and an Alcoholic, Paraplegic Cartoonist: My Last Day at SFFILM Fest

Technically, the San Francisco International Film Festival is still going on. Today and Tuesday, you can catch movies you missed, but only at the Roxie and the Victoria. But last night was the official Closing Night, which sort of makes everything after that a bit anti-climactic.

Here’s what I saw on my last day at SFFILM Festival.

Angels Wear White

Fifteen-year-old Wen (an extremely talented Meijun Zhou) works in a resort beach hotel in southern China. She’s detached, aloof, and suspicious. When she sees, and films, the beginning of a sexual assault on two underage girls, she sets out to use the information to make money. But she’s not the only one suffering and making others suffer in this complicated and haunting exploration of a society filled with graft, cruelty, and misogyny.

It is not an easy film to watch, but I’m giving it an A.

I saw the last SFFILM screening of Angels Wear White. I doubt, but hope, that it will be available somehow in this country. The screening was at the YBCA Screening Room.

There was no Q&A after the screening.

Closing Night Film: Don’t Worry He Won’t Get Far on Foot

This movie is on the Festival’s Hold Review List, which means my review is restricted to 75 words or less. I’ll eventually publish a full review.

John Callahan (Joaquin Phoenix) was little more than a drunk before an alcohol-fueled accident left him without the use of his legs. In Gus Van Sant’s sympathetic and entertaining biopic, the accident becomes his salvation, bringing him to Alcoholics Anonymous and inspiring him to use his deep sense of dark humor to become a successful cartoonist. I don’t think I’ve seen a film that so clearly showed the agonies and triumphs of overcoming addiction.

I give Don’t Worry He Won’t Get Far on Foot an A-.

I saw the festival’s only screening, at the Castro (of course). It will get a theatrical release.

After the screening, writer/director Gus Van Sant and composer Danny Elfman came on stage for a Q&A. Not surprisingly, much of the discussion was on the art of scoring a film.

Some highlights, edited for clarity and brevity:

  • John [Callahan] was very visible around Portland. He would go very fast on his wheelchair. I knew him, but not very well. He was a local character.
  • Robin Williams optioned Callahan’s book, and he invited me to develop it. We kept trying to get it going, but it had many non-commercial aspects and the studios kept passing on it. Then John died. Then Robin died. And I did this version.
  • Danny wasn’t working on it initially. He was saying “Yeah, yeah, I’ll wait until we have the money.”
  • Elfman: We don’t really talk about the music a lot. Talking about music before you compose it doesn’t work. It’s a visceral thing. It’s better to look at a rough cut before composing.

After the show, I went to Public Works for the closing night party. The music was loud, and there was a lot of booze – which seemed ironic considering the movie we had all just seen. But I did get to talk, briefly, with Annette Insdorf.

And now, with this article done, I can return to a normal life.

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