Friday, September 5, 2014

The Puzzle Within the Castro Theater's September 2014 Calendar

As frequently happens, one person introduces another to an activity and to paraphrase Darth Vader, "the student becomes the master."

The person who sits next to me at work has become more adept at identifying the individuals in the Castro Theater calendar than I have.  I initially told him about the puzzle in the calendar and more often than not, I provide him with a hard copy of the calendar.  Now, he identifies the individuals and asks me if I have solved the puzzle.

September 8 - Peter O'Toole.  I didn't recognize O'Toole.  In the photo, he looks nothing like he did in Lawrence of Arabia.  My coworker correctly identified O'Toole in the photo and even the film (Goodbye, Mr. Chips).

September 15 - Eve Arden.  I originally thought this was Lucille Ball, but once again my coworker trumped me.  He partially identified her as "Eve something from that television show."  We quickly surmised it was Eve Arden and the photo is from Our Miss Brooks.

September 22 - Ray Walston.  I immediately recognized Walston and even recognized the photo as being taken from his portrayal of Mr. Hand from Fast Times at Ridgemont High.

September 29 - Anne Bancroft.  I didn't recognize her but my coworker misidentified her after some time.  He thought the photo was of Patty Duke from her role as Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker.  Suspicious because Duke is a blonde, I confirmed the photo is of Anne Bancroft from her role as Anne Sullivan, Keller's teacher.

It doesn't take a genius to figure out the photos of are actors portraying teachers and that September is traditionally back-to-school month.  Actually, it doesn't appear to be that way anymore.  I recall not going back to school until after Labor Day but most school districts in the Bay Area started classroom instruction in August this year.

If the clues are pointing to specific films on the program, it is perhaps If.... and The Chocolate War on September 10.


As for the Castro's calendar, I cannot recall a month where I have previously seen more films on the schedule than this month.  I've seen at least 26 films listed on the September calendar (which includes the first four days in October).

Among the highlights for me:

September 6 - two Bob Fosse films; Sweet Charity paired with All That Jazz.  I saw the former five years ago and loved it.

September 19 - Midnites for Maniacs' double feature of Inside Llewyn Davis and Coal Miner's Daughter.  I missed Llewyn Davis when it was in the theaters earlier this year and it's been many years since I saw Coal Miner's Daughter.

September 20 - the Silent Autumn program from the San Francisco Silent Film Festival.

A grab bag of other films which I hope to see - If...., Petulia, Los Angeles Plays Itself and Sam Fuller's favorite among his own films, Park Row.

Castro Theater Calendar - September 2014

Thursday, August 7, 2014

The Puzzle Within the Castro Theater's August 2014 Calendar

August was a bust for me.  I only got one photo correct.

August 4 - Fredric March.  This is the one I guessed correctly.  I took me awhile but somehow I picked March out.  It surprises me that I got it right; I can't say I'm a big fan of March's work.  I get him confused with E.G. Marshall.

August 5 - Ilka Chase. With all due respect, I have never heard of Ilka Chase.  After looking at her filmography, I can count her films which I have seen on one hand and have a couple fingers left.  I have not seen any of her films within the past few years.  I see she appeared in Robert Aldrich's The Big Knife (1955) which if memory serves me correctly, I have missed not one but two screenings of this film at the PFA over the past few years.

August 18 - Charles Dance.  From the on-line calendar, I thought this was Steve McQueen.  However, upon reviewing a paper copy, I realized it was not McQueen.  This was the point I gave up on August's calendar.  Dance is best known to modern audiences as Tywin Lannister, patriarch of the House of Lannister on Game of Thrones. I recently saw Dance in François Ozon's Swimming Pool at the Castro Theater but that did not help me recognize him.

August 25 - Audrey Totter.  This drove me crazy as I recognized Totter but couldn't place her name or film(s) in which I had seen her.  I spent several days staring at the photo with her maniacal eyes.  I recall her performance in Lady in the Lake from the 2012 Noir City Xmas.

I had to use Google Image Search to identify Chase, Dance & Totter and confirm March's identity

March, dance, chase & totter could refer to many things.  My initial guess is The Wiz which screens August 29 or perhaps The Wizard of Oz which screens this weekend (August 8 to 10).  Dorothy is chased by the Wicked Witch, the flying monkeys march, there is dancing in the film and the scarecrow totters.  This is further bolstered by the fact that August 29 is Michael Jackson's birthday.  I learned that fact from reading my gym's monthly newsletter (don't ask how or why).  Jackson played the Scarecrow in The Wiz.

Castro Theater Calendar - August 2014

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Puzzle Within the Castro Theater's July 2014 Calendar

I couldn't solve the July puzzle without cheating.

July 7 - my co-worker (whom I am increasingly relying on) identified Julie Andrews quickly.

July 14 - I identified Groucho Marx immediately.  I also knew that Groucho's real name was Julius Marx.  Chico's name was Leonard and Harpo's name was Arthur.  I don't know what Zeppo's birth name was.

July 21 - Neither of us knew who this was.  Armed with  knowledge of Julie Andrews, Julius Marx and the month of July, I was certain the woman pictured on July 21 was named Julie, Julia, Juliette, etc.  However, Julie was a popular name back in the day - Julie London, Julie Newmar, Juliet Prowse, Julie Christie, etc.  I eventually cheated using the Windows Snipping Tool & Google Image Search.  The actress pictured on July 21 is Julie Harris from East of Eden.

I think Groucho was called Julie by his friends.  Three Julies which looks as if it could be the plural of July.  I'm not sure what this pointing to.  July 3 when Jaws & The Towering Inferno was screening?  Do the three Julies plus July point to July 4 and Independence Day?  I also wonder if there was a Jewish connection which would point to the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival which starts on July 24 at the Castro.

As it's already the second half of the month, I'm giving up.

Castro Theater Calendar - July 2014


Much of the Castro Theater's August calendar is posted.  Among the highlights for me:

On the final three Thursdays in August, they are playing double and triple features of Leo Carax and Richard Linklater films.  The Castro is screening Linklater's Before Sunrise trilogy (one film each Thursday).  I haven't seen any of the films in the trilogy as I've been waiting for some theater to program them as such.  For the Carax portion, they are bringing back Mauvais Sang which I missed in April due to a conflict with the San Francisco International Film Festival.  The dates of the Carax/Linklater features are August 14, 21 & 28.

As long as I am digressing, I wish some theater would screen Cédric Klapisch's Spanish Apartment trilogy which consists of The Spanish Apartment (2002), Russian Dolls (2005) and Chinese Puzzle (2013).  I'll throw in Krzysztof Kieślowski Three Color trilogy which is celebrating its 20th anniversary:  Blue (1993), White (1994) and Red (1994).

The Knack…and How to Get It won the Palme d'Or at the 1965 Cannes Film Festival.  Directed by Richard Lester & sandwiched between his collaborations with The Beatles (A Hard Day's Night and Help!), The Knack is a film I have long heard about but never had an opportunity to see.  A Hard Day's Night which screened on July 9 is on the August 6 double bill with The Knack.

I notice that the Castro is bringing back more films.  Only Lovers Left Alive screened on July 11 but is on the schedule for August 12.

Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains is a legendary cult film which has eluded me for years.  Diane Lane, Laura Dern & Marin Kanter form an all-girl punk rock band.  It plays on August 20 with We Are the Best!  The inclusion of the Japanese film Linda, Linda, Linda would have made a nice triple bill.

I didn't realize Paul Mazursky died on June 30.  In memoriam, the Castro is showing Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice and Tempest on August 27.  I remember seeing Tempest when it came out in 1982 but I was too young to appreciate it.   The reviews are mixed so I'm not sure if I'll go but I'm leaning towards going.

As I mentioned previously, Midnites for Maniacs is screening The Wiz (with Popeye) on August 29.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

2014 Cinequest (Part 1 of 2)

Cinequest was held from March 4 to 16 this year.  It seemed to start a week late this year.  The festival typically starts in the late February.  It started on February 26 last year, February 28 in 2012 and March 1 in 2011.

As has been the case since I started attending, Cinequest's venues were the California Theater, the SJ Rep and four screens at the Camera 12.  Last month, the SJ Rep announced it was closing.  I wonder if that means the theater will be repurposed.  The distinctively shaped building doesn't seem as though it could be used for anything else except a theater or performance space.

I saw 37 programs this year which is my all-time high for any film festival.  Of the 37, I watched 27 at the Camera 12, seven at the California and three at the SJ Rep.

I remain convinced that the film programming at Cinequest best matches my tastes and as such, Cinequest is likely my favorite film festival in the Bay Area.  Only its location detracts from a more enthusiastic endorsement.  Driving round-trip from SF to SJ everyday is exhausting.

This year, Cinequest did have some issues.  I noticed that they didn't have handheld ticket scanners at all locations.  Instead, the volunteers had an app on their cell phone which photographed and scanned the tickets and passes and then compared against some database.  At times, this was very slow.  For two programs, I entered the theater after the film had started because it took so long for the ticket takers to scan the tickets and get the "OK" response.

I also noticed that the LCD monitors which displayed the film schedules were missing.  Instead Cinequest went old-school.  Colored pieces of paper were cut into strips with the film title, start time and duration.  These were taped to the windows of the Camera 12.  As the day progressed, the volunteers had to manually remove films which had already screened and re-tape the paper higher up on the window.  Towards the end of the day, they would tape the next day's schedules below the current day's schedule.  It was sufficient but decidedly low tech especially for San Jose.  In fact, some people were confused.  I helped more than one person decipher "the board."  I noticed HP was not one of the sponsors this year.  HP monitors were used in past years to display the schedules.


Hunting Elephants starring Sasson Gabai, Moni Moshonov, Patrick Stewart & Gil Blank; directed by Reshef Levi; Hebrew & English with subtitles; (2013)
Class Enemy starring Igor Samobor; directed by Rok Bicek; Slovenian & German with subtitles; (2013) - Official Facebook
Just a Sigh starring starring Gabriel Byrne & Emmanuelle Devos; French & English with subtitles; (2013)
The Verdict starring Koen De Bouw; directed by Jan Verheyen; Dutch with subtitles; (2013) - Official Website
A Squared starring Maria Vittoria Barrella & Lorenzo Colombi; directed by Stefano Lodovichi; Italian with subtitles; (2013)
Lawrence and Holloman starring Ben Cotton & Daniel Arnold; directed by Matthew Kowalchuk; (2013) - Official Website
Masterpiece:  Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns; documentary directed by Alexander Gray & Jeff Maynard; (2013)
Parallel Maze starring Run Zhang & Ya Shu Zhan; directed by Hua Ya; Mandarin with subtitles; (2013)
A is for Alex starring Alex Orr & Katie Orr; directed by Alex Orr; (2013)
Sex(ed):  The Movie; documentary; directed by Brenda Goodman; (2013)
White Rabbit starring Carla Pauli & Eric Michael Kochmer; directed by Bill Kinder; (2013) - Official Website
East Side Sushi starring Diana Elizabeth Torres & Yukata Takeuchi; directed by Anthony Lucero; English, Spanish & Japanese with subtitles; (2013) - Official Facebook
Funny Money starring Khuong Ngoc & Van Trang; directed by Thien Do; Vietnamese with subtitles; (2013)
Sold starring Niyar, David Arquette & Gillian Anderson; (2014) - Official Website
Eternity: The Movie starring Barrett Crake, Myko Olivier & Nikki Leonti; directed by Ian Thorpe; (2013) - Official Website
The Divorce Party starring Ashlynn Yennie & Collin Owens; directed by Edy Soto; (2013)
Loaded starring Patrick John Flueger, Kumail Nanjiani & Andrew W. Walker; directed by Christopher Zonnas; (2013)
Breathe In starring Felicity Jones; Guy Pearce & Amy Ryan; directed by Drake Doremus; (2013) - Official Facebook
A Thief A Kid And A Killer starring Felix Roco & Arvy Viduya; directed by Nathan Adolfson; Tagalog & English with subtitles; (2013) - Official Facebook
Victoriana starring Marguerite French & Jadrien Steele; directed by Jadrien Steele; (2013)
A Practical Guide to a Spectacular Suicide starring Graeme McGeagh & Annable Logan; directed by Graham Hughes; (2013) - Official Facebook
Confessions of a Womanizer starring Andrew Lawrence, Gary Busey & C. Thomas Howell; directed by Miguel Ali; (2013) - Official Website
Unforgiven starring Ken Watanabe & Akira Emoto; directed by Lee San-il; Japanese with subtitles; (2013) - Official Website
The Illiterate starring Paulina Garcia & Valentina Muhr; directed by Moises Sepulveda; Spanish with subtitles; (2013)
A Short History of Decay starring Bryan Greenberg, Linda Lavin & Harris Yulin; directed by Michael Maren; (2013) - Official Website
Zoran, My Idiot Nephew starring Guiseppe Battiston & Teco Celio; directed by Matteo Oleotto; Italian with subtitles; (2013)
The Hands of Orlac starring Conrad Veidt; directed by Robert Wiene; musical accompaniment by Dennis James; silent with intertitles; (1924)
Heavenly Shift starring Andras Otvos, Roland Raba & Tamas Keresztes; directed by Mark Bodzar; Hungarian with subtitles; (2013) - Official Facebook
Blood Punch starring Milo Cawthorne & Olivia Tennet; directed by Madellaine Paxons; (2013) - Official Website
The Man Behind the Mask; documentary; directed by Gabriela Obregon; Spanish with subtitles; (2013)
App starring Hannah Hoekstra; directed by Bobby Boermans; Dutch with subtitles; (2013) -  Official Website
Dom Hemingway starring Jude Law, Richard E. Grant & Emilia Clarke; directed by Richard Shepard; (2013) - Official Website
Finsterworld starring Corinna Harfouch & Ronald Zehrfeld; directed by Frauke Finsterwalder; German with subtitles; (2013) - Official Website
Friended to Death starring Ryan Hansen; directed by Sarah Smick; (2013)
The Rugby Player; documentary; directed by Scott Gracheff; (2013) - Official Website
It's Only Make Believe starring Silje Salomonsen; directed by Arild Østin Ommundsen; Norwegian with subtitles; (2013) - Official Facebook
Tempo Girl starring Florentine Drafft & Jose Barros; directed by Dominik Locher; German & Swiss German with subtitles; (2013) - Official Facebook

This year it seemed like there weren't as many short films preceding the feature films.  I did not see any short film programs but I did see four short films...I think.    In the listing below, PTP stands for Picture the Possibilities, a Cinequest initiative that "is a transformative leadership movement, where empowered youth create visions for a better tomorrow."

The Shoemaker; documentary; directed by Dustin Cohen; (2013)
The Closest Thing to Heaven; documentary; directed by Ryan Bruce Levey; (2013)
Birdboy (PTP);
Shift starring Lindsay Farris; directed by James Croke; (2013) - Official Website

According to the festival guide, The Shoemaker preceded A is for Alex, The Closest Thing to Heaven preceded Sex(ed):  The Movie, Birdboy preceded The Illiterate and the last minute schedule addition Shift preceded Dom Hemingway.

I don't recall Birdboy whereas I recall the other three short films and all the feature films.  I didn't jot any notes about Birdboy either.  I wonder if it actually screened or if I came in late for that screening.  There are frequent schedule changes at Cinequest so it is quite possible Birdboy did not screen with The Illiterate.  Many of the PTP films from last eyar were posted on YouTube but I cannot find Birdboy on that website.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

2014 CAAMFest

The 2014 CAAMFest (formerly the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival) ran from March 13 to 23 with screenings at the Sundance Kabuki, New People Cinema, the Castro Theater, the Great Star Theater, PFA and the New Parkway.  I recall there was an announcement for the dates of CAAMFest San Jose this summer but I cannot find any information on their website.  Last year, the San Jose edition ran in mid-August so it should be coming up.

The first four days of the 2014 CAAMFest conflicted with the last four days of the 2014 Cinequest.  I chose to attend Cinequest.  It was a tough choice because many of the CAAMFest films I wanted to see only screened during those first four days of the festival.  As a result, I missed out on several films - Farah Goes Bang, Siddharth and the Run Run Shaw retrospective consisting of The Kingdom and the Beauty, Come Drink With Me and King Boxer (the latter which I saw at the New Parkway last year).

Cold Eyes starring Sol Kyung-gu, Jung Woo-sung & Han Hyo-joo; directed by Jo Ui-seok & Kim Byung-seo; Korean with subtitles; (2013)
Innocent Blood starring Jun Sung Kim & C.S. Lee; directed by D.J. Holloway & Sun Kim; (2013) - Official Website
White Powder and Neon Lights starring Leung Bik-Yuk & Hok Sing Wong; directed by Wong Kam-yan; Cantonese with subtitles; (1947)
Innocents starring Nameera Ashley & Cai Chengyue; directed by Chen-Hsi Wong; English & Malay with subtitles; (2012) - Official Website
Awesome Asian Bad Guys starring Stephen Dypiangco, Patrick Epino & Tamlyn Tomita; directed by Stephen Dypiangco & Patrick Epino; (2014) - Official Website

Provocauteurs (portmanteau of provocative and auteurs) was a short film program consisting of:

H7N3; directed by Iris K. Shim; (2013)
The Hole; directed by Joon Seong Ahn & Min-Seop Lee; Korean with subtitles; (2012)
Kill of the Night; directed by Aya Tanimura; (2013)
Milkyboy; directed by Arnold Arre; Tagalog & English with subtitles; (2013)
Sewing Woman; directed by Woo Jin; Korean with subtitles; (2012)
Sukiyaki with Love; directed by Akiko Izumitani; (2013)
Thinking About Thinking; directed by Adrian David; (2013)
What Remains; directed by Sarita Khurana; (2013)

I saw Cold Eyes at the Castro, White Power and Neon Lights at the Great Star Theater, Provocauteurs at the Viz and everything at the Kabuki.

In general, I was disappointed with the program at this year's CAAMFest.  Cold Eyes was a Centerpiece Presentation so I couldn't use a Festival 6-Pack for it.  I had difficulty finding six other films which interested me.  I used one of the 6-Pack vouchers for Black Market Couple on March 19 but I skipped out on the screening.  Although I was fatigued from having seen films on 22 out of 24 consecutive days prior to March 19, I had enough energy & desire to see Generation War Part 2 at the Landmark Embarcadero & then hightail it to the 4 Star for Special ID on the evening Black Market Couple was screening.


Cold Eyes is a remake of Eye in the Sky, a 2007 Hong Kong film starring Simon Yam and Tony Leung Ka Fai and produced by Johnnie To.  I saw Eye in the Sky at the 2007 SFIAAFF.  I don't remember Eye in the Sky too well.  Yam and the instantly recognizable Suet Lam are part of To's regular acting troupe.  Leung was very intimidating in his role as the master criminal as I recall.

As I was watching Cold Eyes, I recalled portions of Eye in the Sky.  Like the HK film, Cold Eyes is a little impersonal.  Character development was given perfunctory screen time while much more was devoted to the "hunt" which was overly elaborate, bordering on rococo.  Plot summary - the chief of the surveillance unit in Seoul (I think) hires a rookie female cop into his unit.  Around the same time (during the interview actually), a gang of professional robbers strike.  Using Seoul's surveillance cameras and through highly coordinated actions, the police close in on the gang but not without bloodshed.

Of the seven programs I saw at the 2014 CAAMFest, Cold Eyes was my favorite but frankly it was slightly above average.  It was fun while I was watching but it didn't leave many lasting impressions in my memory.


Innocent Blood - poorly acted and an uninspired script left my wandering during the screening.  My lasting impression is that during the screening I wanted the film to wrap up.  Not horrible; rather I would call it second rate.

White Powder and Neon Lights - for the second consecutive year, I ventured to the Great Star Theater in Chinatown to see a film at CAAMFest.  CAAM Executive Director Stephen Gong gave an interesting introduction about the filmmaker and how several reels of historically important films were saved from a trash dumpster in Oakland.  WP&NL was made by the Grandview Film Company in San Francisco.  Grandview made Cantonese language films in San Francisco during WWII and afterwards.  It also has the distinction of being the first Cantonese language film shot in color.

WP&NL is a melodrama about a Chinese theater troupe in San Francisco.  A famous HK opera singer is signed to appear in a SF production.  When she arrives she falls for a gangster/lothario which puts the production in jeopardy.  WP&NL had a forgettable plot; I can't remember how it ended.  More of a novelty piece, the film showcased many locations around SF and had the added benefit of Chinese actresses dressed in fashionable, post-WWII outfits.

Black Market Couple, the film I missed was another Grandview production from the same era.  The main difference being it was a comedy.

Innocents - an abstract film which spent too much time luxuriating on composed images and nature scenes.  This film tells the (non)story of two children - one a studious young girl and the other a lackadaisical boy.  The two classmates become friends and spend a lot of time playing near a forest, railroad tracks and storm drains.  The two children had somewhat turbulent home lives but the narrative was underdeveloped which ultimately turned me against this film. I am finding that as I get older, film must capture my interest by the 30 minute or 45 minute mark or I simply lose interest.  When I lose interest, I have a hard time appreciating the remainder of the film.  Innocents lost my attention at some point and it never regained it.

Awesome Asian Bad Guys - the little Asian American film that could.  Funded by a Kickstarter campaign, co-directors Stephen Dypiangco & Patrick Epino also starred in this comedy.  I can't remember all the details.  Tamlyn Tomita is kidanpped by her evil twin sister Pamlyn or something.  Anyway, Dypiangco & Epino are compelled to act so they assemble a team which consists of Al Leong (the Asian bad guy from Die Hard and Lethal Weapon), George Cheung (Rambo: First Blood Part II), a young girl named Jet Li and Randall Park (best remembered by me as the guy with the big penis from The People I've Slept With but apparently better known for Larry Crowne).

At 52 minutes, AABG doesn't delve too deeply into satire or anything.  I think it was a web series compiled to make a "movie."  It had a few laughs.  They milked the Asian angle for everything it was worth and then some.  Much like Nice Girls Crew from previous CAAMFest, I was amused but mostly underwhelmed by the program.

Provocauteurs - this was the last program I saw at this year's CAAMFest.  By this point in the festival, I had given up on it.  I was disappointed in the quality of the programs I had seen.  I came very close to skipping the screening but having skipped out on Black Market Couple, I felt it was too wasteful to burn another ticket.  I should have skipped out because my attention waned throughout and I dozed off for some of the short films.  It is possible that the films I was asleep for were great but the ones I remember aren't worth the effort to document them here.


The 2014 CAAMFest was one of the most disappointing film festivals I can recall attending.  The films I saw were disappointing or forgettable.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Inframan and Neighbors

One weekend in May (the one between the SF International Film Festival and the Roxie's I Wake Up Dreaming), I caught two films which in hindsight were less than worthwhile.

Inframan starring Danny Lee; directed by Shan Hua; Mandarin with subtitles; (1975)
Neighbors starring Seth Rogen, Rose Byrne & Zac Efron; directed by Nicholas Stoller; (2014) - Official Website

I saw Inframan at the New Parkway as part of their martial arts matinee series.  On the second Saturday of each month, they screen a martial arts film.  July 12 is the second Saturday in July and they will be screening Shaolin vs. Wu Tang.  On August 9, they are screening Sword of Doom, a Japanese samurai movie from the 1960s starring Tatsuya Nakadai.

Inframan (sometimes spelled Infra-man and sometimes titled The Super Inframan) was inspired by popular Japanese TV shows of the era but was a Mandarin film produced in Hong Kong (by the Shaw Brothers).  I've mentioned before that I watched Kamen Rider and Kikaida on television in Hawaii as a boy in the 1970s.  Not being sure if I had seen this film when I was a boy, I attended hoping to relive some of my youth.

I'm still not sure if I saw the film as a boy but I think I saw portions of it on KOFY's Creepy KOFY Movie Time within the past year or so.  I don't watch CKMT regularly but sometimes when I get home on Saturday night and SNL is a repeat, I'll watch a little.  The skits by Balrok & No Name frequently fall flat and girls in skimpy outfits can only go so far.

I'm not sure if I would have liked Inframan as a boy but I certainly didn't like it as middle-aged man.  The plot involved some monsters from Inner Earth who are released due to volcano eruptions or something.  They are intent on conquering the surface but Hong Kong has a Science Directorate or something.  One of their agents submits to a procedure where mechanical systems are integrated into his body and he becomes Inframan, kind of cross between the bionic man and Robocop.  For the rest of the film, Inframan has to battle Demon Princess Elzebub's various monsters and goons dressed in bodysuits with skeleton patterns.

I wanted to go to sleep during the film but could not.  The monsters' costumes were pretty cheesy.  The women's costumes were not skimpy enough to hold my attention.

Dana Shun Shuk Yee in Inframan

The next day, I stopped by the 4 Star theater to pick up a discount card.  I had gone there a few days earlier and they were out of the discount cards so Frank let me in and said I could pick up my card that weekend.  Realizing that film festivals would take over several of my next few weekends, I stopped by on late Sunday afternoon with the intention of picking up the card and going home but they don't call me a cinephile for nothing.  The timing was perfect to see Neighbors although I hadn't planned it that way nor did I have any real interest in seeing Neighbors.

I walked into the large auditorium and there were only three people in there.  This was opening weekend for Neighbors so I was later surprised that it was #1 at the US box office in its first week.  During the screening, the three people (I think they were two parents and their grown daughter) walked out.  I believe they were offended by crass humor.

I won't bother to recap the plot except a couple with a newborn have invested their life savings into their new house only to see property values plummet when a college fraternity moves in next door.  After some initial friendship overtures, the two sides declare war on each other.  There were some humorous moments.  I particularly enjoyed the Dress Like Robert DeNiro party.  However, Neighbors was right in the middle; not the funniest film I've seen in awhile nor the worst film I've seen in awhile.

I don't know what it says about the state of cinema today that Neighbors can gross nearly $150 Million in 8 weeks.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

2014 Noir City

Noir City ran from January 24 to February 2 at the Castro Theater.  The program was billed as "International Noir" as there were films from around the world.

I saw 18 of the 27 films on the program.

Journey Into Fear starring Joseph Cotten, Dolores del Rio & Orson Welles; directed by Norman Foster & Orson Welles (uncredited); (1943)
Border Incident starring Ricardo Montalban & George Murphy; directed by Anthony Mann; (1949)
In the Palm of Your Hand starring Arturo de Córdova & Leticia Palma; directed by Roberto Gavaldón; Spanish with subtitles; (1951)
Victims of Sin starring Ninón Sevilla; directed by Emilio Fernández; Spanish with subtitles; (1951)
Too Late for Tears starring Lizabeth Scott, Dan Duryea & Arthur Kennedy; directed by Byron Haskin; (1949)
The Hitch-Hiker starring Edmond O'Brien, Frank Lovejoy & William Talman; directed by Ida Lupino; (1953)
Stray Dog starring Toshirô Mifune & Takashi Shimura; directed by Akira Kurosawa; Japanese with subtitles; (1949)
The Murderers Are Among Us starring Hildegarde Knef & Wilhelm Borchert; directed by Wolfgang Staudte; German with subtitles; (1946)
Berlin Express starring  Robert Ryan & Merle Oberon; directed by Jacques Tourneur; (1948)
Death of a Cyclist starring Lucia Bosé & Alberto Closas; directed by Juan Antonio Bardem; Spanish with subtitles; (1955)
Death is a Caress starring Claus Wiese & Bjørg Riiser-Larsen; directed by Edith Carlmar; Norwegian with subtitles; (1949)
Never Open That Door starring Ángel Magaña, Roberto Escalada & Ilde Pirovano; directed by Carlos Hugo Christensen; Spanish with subtitles; (1952)
Hardly a Criminal starring Jorge Salcedo; directed by Hugo Fregonese; Spanish with subtitles; (1949)
The Black Vampire starring Nathán Pinzón; directed by Román Viñoly Barreto; Spanish with subtitles; (1953)
Two Men in Manhattan starring Pierre Grasset & Jean-Pierre Melville; directed by Jean-Pierre Melville; French with subtitles; (1959)
Rififi starring Jean Servais, Carl Möhner, Robert Manuel & Jules Dassin;  directed by Jules Dassin; French with subtitles; (1955)
Singapore starring Fred MacMurray & Ava Gardner; directed by John Brahm; (1947)
Macao starring Robert Mitchum, Jane Russell & William Bendix; directed by Josef von Sternberg & Nicholas Ray (uncredited); (1952)

Never Open That Door consisted of two films - Somebody on the Phone (Alguien al teléfono) and Hummingbird Comes Home (El pájaro cantor vuelve al hogar).

The Black Vampire was a remake of Fritz Lang's M.

Journey Into Fear, Border Incident, Too Late for Tears, The Hitch-Hiker, Singapore & Macao were Hollywood productions.  Berlin Express was filmed in Germany after the war but was a RKO film.

Of the Spanish language films, In the Palm of Your Hand and Victims of Sin were Mexican productions.  Never Open That Door, Hardly a Criminal and The Black Vampire were Argentinian films.  Death of a Cyclist was made in Spain

Stray Dog is, of course, Japanese.  Death is a Caress was made in Norway and The Murderers Are Among Us was the first German film made after WWII (sponsored by the Soviet Occupation Forces).  Two Men in Manhattan and Rififi were French made films.

I had previously seen Border Incident, Stray Dog & Rififi at the Castro.  I believe those are the only three "repeat" films of the eighteen I saw this year.

I had previously seen the nine films (in a movie theater) which I skipped at this festival - The Third Man, Drunken Angel, It Always Rains on Sunday, Brighton Rock, The Wages of Fear, Pépé Le Moko, Jenny Lamour, Riptide and The Shanghai Gesture.  Jenny Lamour screened under its French title (Quai des Orfèvres) at the PFA's Clouzot series in 2012.  Elliot Lavine screened Riptide under an alternate title (Such A Pretty Little Beach) in 2012.


The 2014 Noir City was the 12th annual rendition of the festival.  As mentioned, the theme was international noir and the audience was receptive.  The audience is always enthusiastic but seemed extra so this year.  Attendance seemed up from previous years.

They screened a Serena Bramble video like have for the past several years.

They also screened an episode of Noir House which is a on-line series based out of Australia.

I recall a pair of tango dancers on the night they screened a pair of Argentinian films but I cannot recall their names.

Miss Noir City 2014, Evie Lovelle, performed a burlesque routine on the Castro Theater stage.  It was clear from her movements, costume, props and assistant that she was an experienced burlesque performer.

Czar of Noir Eddie Muller announced the creation of the Nancy Mysel Legacy Project. The project was created by the family of the late film preservationist whose restorations have screened at Noir City. The inaugural honoree, Ariel Schudson, knew Mysel and will work on restorations for Noir City.

The alcohol was flowing throughout the 10 day festival.  Eddie has become quite adept at getting liquor donated to Noir City.  I believe he mentioned that his temporary license to serve hard alcohol during Noir City only allowed him to serve 2 consecutive days.  Every third day was wine only.


My favorite films were two that I've already seen - Stray Dog & Rififi.

I've long stated that Stray Dog is one of my favorite films by Akira Kurosawa.  I almost skipped the screening.  I didn't really gain much from this viewing so I 'll stand by what I wrote in this post.  I enjoyed it just as much as I did during my previous viewings.  Stray Dog holds up to repeated viewings.  By coincidence, actress Keiko Awaji, who played the self-conflicted girl the killer was in love with, died at age 80 a few weeks before Noir City.  She was only 16 (like her character) when Stray Dog was made.

I saw a 35 mm print of Rififi at the Castro several years ago (before I started this blog).  Now that I think about it, Rififi and Stray Dog would make a great double feature.  Whereas Stray Dog is a policier which transcends the genre, Rififi is a caper film which approaches the sublime.

The plot centers around a jewel heist involving four career criminals -  Tony le Stéphanois (Jean Servais), Jo le Suédois (Carl Möhner), Mario Ferrati (Robert Manuel) and director Jules Dassin as César le Milanais.  In true gangster film style, three out of the four are identified by their home towns:  Tony from Saint-Étienne, Jo the Swede and César the Milanese (resident of Milan).

Tony just gets out of prison and is met by his friend and protégé, Jo.  Jo has a wife & son so Tony didn't rat him out to the cops which resulted in his extended prison term.  Grateful for his silence, Jo proposes a jewelry heist to Tony who passes.  Tony instead looks up his old girlfriend Mado (Marie Sabouret) only to confirm that she has taken up with the gangster Grutter.  As an aside, Grutter runs the nightclub L'Âge d'Or (reference to Luis Buñuel?).  Second aside, at some point, the San Francisco Silent Film Festival has adopted an image L'Âge d'Or to accompany their tagline True Art Transcends Time.  The image is from an infamous scene of a woman (Lya Lys) sucking on the toe of a statue in a suggestive manner.  Is there a non-suggestive manner to suck on a toe?

Back to Rififi, after confronting his ex (Tony has some anger management and communication issues), Tony agrees to the heist but not any old smash and grab job.  Tony wants the contents of the safe so he can make enough money to lure back his ex.  I would think the belt-whipping he gave her would have ended any possibility for future rapprochement but who knows in 1950s Paris.  The job now requires a safecracker and Jo & Tony's friend Mario knows just the guy - César le Milanais.

Most of the film deals with the planning and actual execution of the heist.  I thought it was fascinating and the film was banned in several countries out of concern that it was a "how to" manual.  The highlight of the film is a 30 minute sequence without dialogue (and complete silence for much of the time) during which the actual burglary occurs.

The undoing of plan occurs when César le Milanais impulsively steals a diamond ring from the jeweler for a showgirl he lusts after.  The girl works for Grutter, Tony's sworn enemy.  When Grutter finds out who gave her the ring and reads about the jewelry heist, he puts two & two together and tries to muscle in.  One by one, the thieves are killed while Grutter holds Jo's young son hostage.  I won't give away too much of the ending except it's hilarious and sad.  Jo's son looks like he is on a sugar high while Tony, in agony from the bullet Grutter put in him, drives the boy back home.  The dichotomy between the grizzled criminal and his namesake is made comically clear.  When I saw the scene, I wondered if Dassin directed the boy to behave that way or if the actor was bored and fidgety and Dassin decided it would work better that.

Rififi has three things going for it.  First is Jean Servais in a role that I have to believe Jean Gabin was considered.  I'm sure Gabin would have been fine in the role, Servais plays the taciturn with a "still waters run deep" intensity.  Tony doesn't lose his cool except when he beats his ex-girlfriend which I guess is misogynistic expression of sexuality.  Even then, he barely says a word.

Next, the plot of Rififi is stripped of everything that could become extraneous; most obviously women.  The actresses play small and rather inconsequential roles in Rififi.  The film is about these four guys, the crime they plan and execute, and the criminal code of honor.  I wonder how a twentysomething woman in 2014 would react to Rififi.  The men in the film are a long way from vegan, tablet totting, New Age, metrosexuals.  I don't know if men really behaved this way in 1950s Paris, but they are entertaining as hell.

Rififi is a less is more approach.  By stripping away any direct or extended dialogue about the emotional state of these men, Dassin allowed the viewer to draw his or her own conclusions.  Tony is crazy for Mado and resentful that she didn't wait for him.  Jo is settled into marital life.  Mario has this earthy, Italian woman who he adores probably because she has a healthy sexual appetite that matches his own.  César doesn't get much action so when a showgirl gives him some attention, he breaks from the plan to pocket a diamond ring to impress the girl.

Finally, Dassin is meticulous in his direction.  The plot is laden with these scenes where the focus is on the action and not the dialogue.  He makes spraying fire retardant into an alarm box exciting.  He gave himself the difficult role of comic foil.

Strong performance by the lead actor plus a sharply focused plot plus detailed direction equals a great film.


Journey Into Fear - set in WWII Istanbul (and later a tramp steamer bound for the Soviet Union), Joseph Cotten is an American weapons engineer who is drawn into intrigue involving a Turkish secret police officer (Welles), Nazi spies, an assassin and a sexy magician's assistant (Dolores Del Rio looking incredible considering she was 37 years old during filming).  Journey Into Fear was paired with The Third Man on the Noir City schedule.  The latter film captured the intrigue of post-WWII Vienna (in large part because it was filmed there).  Journey Into Fear looks like it was filmed on a sound stage.  In addition, the plot had a few too many false leads and twists; too clever by a half.  In comparison to The Third Man and many other films on the Noir City program, Journey Into Fear suffers.

Border Incident - a Mexican Federale (Ricardo Montalban) and US Border Patrol agent (George Murphy) go undercover to bust a illegal immigrant smuggling operation.  The film is not as powerful as I recall from my first viewing.  Actually, considering it was directed by Anthony Mann, filmed by John Alton and featured the incomparable Charles McGraw in the supporting role, Border Incident was slightly disappointing.  However, I will readily admit that high expectations and foreknowledge of the plot from my previous viewing were to blame for my mild reaction to the film.  The film presented a surprisingly sympathetic view of illegal immigration for 1949.

In the Palm of Your Hand - a astrologer/scam artist learns from his wife (who eavesdrops at the upscale beauty salon where she works) that a wealthy man has died just after learning his beautiful wife has been having an affair.  He targets the widow or does she target him?  I liked this film about a criminal getting in over his head due to greed, love & overconfidence.

Victims of Sin - a cabaret singer/dancer (the stunning Ninón Sevilla) rescues another dancer's baby from the garbage which puts her afoul with the cabaret owner/pimp/baby daddy.  Forced to be a streetwalker, she raises the baby boy as her own until a another club owner meets her, marries her and adopts the boy as his own.  All is well until the pimp kills the husband.  In a crowd pleasing scene, Sevilla kills the pimp with guns blazing.  You get the gist of the film.  Victims of Sin was a too melodramatic to be great noir and Sevilla's character was too selfless for my liking.  The musical numbers were smoking hot...just like Sevilla.  Victims of Sin is definitely worth a viewing if you haven't seen it.

Too Late for Tears - Lizabeth Scott plays a happenstance femme fatale.  Jane Palmer (Scott) and her husband are driving on a road one evening when a passing car throws a suitcase into the backseat of their convertible.  The suitcase contains a large sum of money.  Jane's husband wants to turn it over to the police but Jane convinces him to keep it for awhile.  The access to such a large amount of money brings out a new attitude from Jane.  She starts spending the money, lying to her husband, manipulating the criminal (Dan Duryea) who comes looking the money and ultimately t killing men left & right.  It's quite a showcase of Scott and very enjoyable in an "only in Hollywood" way.

The Hitch-Hiker - directed by Ida Lupino, this film involves two American buddies in Mexico on a fishing trip.  The pick up a hitch-hiker who turns out to be psychopath escaped from a criminal mental asylum.  The remainder of the film is a psychological drama as the two men's loyalty is tested by the sadistic killer.  Even at a modest 71 minutes, the film dragged at times.  Keeping the three men together in a car or on foot became an anchor on the plot.  The performances are fine but the script could have used another draft or two.

The Murderers Are Among Us was the first German film made after WWII.  It was filmed in the bombed out ruins of 1945 Berlin.  A young woman returns to her family's apartment.  She is a concentration camp survivor.  There, she discover an alcoholic doctor squatting.  Unable to displace the unsettled doctor, the woman befriends him.  The relationship is good for the doctor as his nightmares and obsessive behavior dissipate...until the chances upon his SS captain from the war.  The man committed war atrocities and the doctor's own complicity has haunted him.  He decides to kill the former officer who is now a wealthy businessman.

The backstory to the film is more interesting than the film itself.  The original ending had the doctor killing the man but the filmmakers were concerned about their Allied Occupational Forces censors so in the final version, the woman convinces the doctor to allow the man to stand trial (like the Nuremberg Trials which ended just as the film was released to German theaters).  The actor who played the doctor  (Ernst Wilhelm Borchert) had lied about his Nazi affiliation so his name was struck from the credits and promotional materials.

A film like this must be viewed within the context of its production.  The moral tone in the film was a result of collective German guilt and efforts to please the Occupational Forces.  On the flip side, for a concentration camp survivor, Hildegarde Knef (spelled Neff in her Hollywood films) was exceeding healthy looking and well dressed.  The Murderers Are Among Us must have been place on the Noir City program due its historical significance because I thought the film was mediocre at best.

Berlin Express - a bit of gimmick film.  The premise sound like a setup for a joke:  an American, an Englander, a Frenchman and a Soviet search for a German physicist.  That was the reality of postwar Germany.  If The Murderers Are Among Us was the first German film made in Germany after the war then Berlin Express is the first Hollywood film made in Germany after the war.

In the film, the German scientist is kidnapped from a train station in Berlin and the four occupiers search their respective zones for him.  Again, it was fascinating to see the bombed out city nearly three years after the war ended.  I can't recall much before a big showdown in a brewery.  I also recall the Frenchman was the perfidious one which surprised me a little since I would have assumed the Soviet would be cast as the villain.  I wonder what that says about US relations with France in the late 1940s.

Death of a Cyclist - one of my favorites from this year's festival.  Directed by Spanish actor Javier Bardem's uncle, Death of a Cyclist is a masterpiece tale of self-destruction.  Two lovers are driving on a deserted road back to Madrid when the strike a bicyclists.  Knowing that calling an ambulance or police will expose their extramarital affair (the woman is married), they leave the cyclist to die.  The resulting guilt and paranoia that an acquaintance (Carlos Casaravilla in a great supporting role performance) turn the two lovers against each other with fatal consequences.

Death is a Caress - in many noir films, a man meets a femme fatale who is married.  They decide they must kill the husband.  Sometimes the woman has duped her boyfriend and sometimes the guilt from the act (or fear of being caught) break the couple apart.  In this Norwegian film, the husband is quite amenable to stepping aside when his wife falls for a young car mechanic.  In fact, the mechanic's girlfriend doesn't squawk much either.  It doesn't seem to be much of a noir but the tension ratchets up after the couple weds.  The insecure man is unable to adjust to married life; specifically marriage to an older, poised woman.  Let's just say that for this couple divorce is not an option.

Never Open That Door - Never Open That Door was an anthology which consisted of two films:  Somebody on the Phone and The Hummingbird Comes Home.  Watching these Argentinian films, I realized how certain plot devices are ingrained in my consciousness.   Somebody on the Phone felt Hitchcockian to me.  A brother overhears her sister on the phone and assumes the other party is blackmailing her and takes appropriate actions; appropriate by noir standards at least.  The Hummingbird Comes Home has the prodigal son return home to his blind mother.  The young man has gotten involved in crime and has his associates with him.  They pretend to be something they aren't to fool the mother but a mother always knows; even a blind one.

Hardly a Criminal - another gem from this year's festival.  A bank employee learns that the maximum sentence for embezzlement is six years in prison.  Considering how much he can embezzle, he plans to steal the money, hide it, do the time and reclaim it after his sentence.  As is usually the case in these films, his perfect crime doesn't go as planned.  Nice exterior shots of Buenos Aires.

The Black Vampire - first there was Fritz Lang's M, then Joseph Losey's Hollywood remake (also called M) and then The Black Vampire from Argentina.  Having seen all three, I am partial to the original but The Black Vampire is very good.  The film follows a psychopathic pedophile (Nathán Pinzón who bore a resemblance to Peter Lorre).  Like the other two films, Vampire has the criminal underground policing themselves.  There is a subplot involving a cabaret singer witnessing the killer and a flirty police inspector which seemed out of place but otherwise the film sticks close to the major plot points of M.  If memory serves me correctly, Pinzón even whistles In the Hall of the Mountain King which Lorre used as his leitmotif in M.

Two Men in Manhattan - director Jean-Pierre Melville casts himself and Pierre Grasset as a news reporter and photographer searching for the missing French delegate to the UN.  The film functions as a NYC travelogue as the two men pass by all the tourist landmarks and nightlife spots.  As they follow the missing man's steps, they discover mistresses, suspicious characters and a corpse.  Melville makes 1959 NYC look fabulous on film and his characters (particularly Grasset's character) remind more of his later French noir films than the standard cast of American noir films.  On its own merits, Two Men in Manhattan is a good film but it was paired with Rififi which may have colored my thoughts.

Singapore - Fred MacMurray is Matt Gordon, a pearl smuggler returning to Singapore after the war.  Returning to retrieve some pearls he hid as the Japanese were attacking, Gordon is shocked to encounter his wife (Ava Gardner) whom he thought was dead.  Instead, she has amnesia and does not recognize him.  Gordon must evade the local police and other criminals who suspect he will try to smuggle the pearls out of Singapore while simultaneously trying to win back his wife who has married another man in the intervening years.  Don't they bigamy laws in Singapore?  It takes another whack to the head for Gardner to recall her previous life.  The amnesia was a little too much for me and I didn't think MacMurray and Gardner had much chemistry either.

Macao - Jane Russell had some serious sex appeal in the early 1950s!  Three foreigners arrive on a tramp steamer in Macao:  Jane Russell as a sassy, headstrong lounge singer; William Bendix as a  pantyhose salesman and Bob Mitchum as an ex-GI  who wore out his welcome in the US.  One of them is a NYPD undercover agent sent to lure Brad Dexter out to international waters so he can be arrested for a murder in NYC.  No extradition treaty?  Anyway, Jane gets a job singing in the club Dexter owns and making Gloria Grahame jealous, Mitchum sticks around for no particular reason except Jane Russell is nearby (I would too) and I can't recall what Bendix does.

Although Josef von Sternberg has the director's credit, Nicholas Ray finished the shoot.  Macao seems to simply be a vehicle for Jane Russell to sing and look good and for Bob Mitchum to be paired up with Russell.  The best I can say about Macao is that I liked it better than Singapore.


Now that I've completed this post, it occurs to me that the Hollywood films were the weakest on the program.  Of course the first time out, they were able to cherry pick the best films from each country.  I'll be curious to see what the festival programs next year.  They could run with the international theme for many years before running out of steam.  As long as I've revisited Stray Dog, I'll put in a plug for another of my favorite films by Kurosawa - High and Low (based on a Ed McBain novel).  Melville's Bob le flambeur would also be a welcome sight on the program.

I noticed that this year's Noir City poster uses the star and crescent image to dot the "i"s.  The star and crescent is most associated with Islam and appears on the flags of several Muslim nations.  That makes sense since there are several minarets behind the sheer curtain that Eddie is emerging from.  Typically Eddie is the victim in these posters.  However, with black glove on his right hand and his left hand ominously in his overcoat, it appears as those Ms. Lovelle is the one in danger.  Also that globe and airplane statuette seems familiar.  Was it in Gilda?

2014 Noir City Poster