My Name is Jonah
My Name is Jonah is a documentary about a man named Jonah. Jonah has no last name (and in fact, Jonah is not even his real name), lives in upstate NY, plays harmonica in a rock band, owns a sword that’s taller than himself, has a friend named Mr. Chips (who created demented taxidermy sculptures), and may or may not worship the devil (if you let his older brother tell it). He had a 7-foot custom bed built for him at a Renaissance festival (that he cannot fit in the bedroom of his current house), wears a lot of black leather and tight pants, works out every day, makes annual Christmas cards featuring himself and a bunch of models in fantasy situations (think Robin Hood or superheroes), and admitted to loving his deceased dog more than his deceased mother. And all of that is just the tip of the Jonah iceberg. He’s that guy we’ve all heard of, the weird one living down the street that our parents warned us to stay away from.
The film was definitely engaging, somehow endearing, a little random and haphazard, but totally fitting for Jonah’s bizarre nature. It brings up questions of what constitutes the common, everyday hero, and how we create ourselves and defend those choices we make in becoming the person we’ve always dreamed of, that we’ve always wanted to be. Why do we care about Jonah? I really don’t know. Maybe we don’t, even Jonah himself admits that. All I know is that the filmmakers and their star take the viewer on one wild ride.
Why Don’t You Play in Hell?
I saw this film right after My Name is Jonah. Why Don’t You Play in Hell? is the Japanese auteur Sion Soto’s story of… um… a renegade film crew?... and the yakuza… and somehow they become involved with each other?... and…
You know what, I don’t even know. No one knows (well, except for Soto…). This toast to 35mm film was literally the absolute most insane thing I have ever seen in my entire life. When the film ended, I was shell-shocked; I could not believe what I just had seen (like, literally my jaw dropped). It was insane. But it was oh so right. The film was hyper-absurd and hyper-surreal. There was violence so indulgently gratuitous that the audience was bellowing in laughter. There was hilarity, overacting, a crazy premise. It was wildly over-convenient, filled with bad dialogue that was only excellent, spoken by wonderfully absurd characters that just bordered on annoying. It was the best form of ultimate titillation in a different way, examining how we can trivialize human suffering and laugh at gross amounts of violence. Why do we do this? Who knows? Maybe the movie was a toast to the height of film in cinema, one last memorializing to the 35mm film format in the overwrought, high drama, melodramatic, improbably unbelievable style of its golden age. All I know is that whatever went into the soup of this movie was the most-insanely genius.
Find this movie somewhere and watch it, you won’t be disappointed. I had a really crazy first night of BUFF…
Ari Folman’s follow-up to the amazingly powerful Waltz with Bashir (2008), The Congress, was my last film at BUFF. And I must say, even as one who loves Waltz with Bashir, it was pretty disappointing. I’ll have more on this later in a full-length review, but for now: Folman tells the story of Robin Wright, an actress growing older and declining in popularity, in the near and distant future. In order to keep her career alive, she is forced to sell her essence/ herself to Miramount Pictures, a fictional film studio. In this arrangement, they can do whatever they want with her animated body, and she can’t act anymore, anywhere. Surprisingly, it started as live action, and then went to fantastical animation; the live action parts suffered, and there, in fact, wasn’t enough animation. The story contains the beginnings of some great and compelling ideas and themes, but Folman’s over-ambition ultimately resulted in a film that never quite achieved what it was trying to do.