Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Puzzle Within the Castro Theater's November 2014 Calendar

This month's Castro calendar was hit and miss.

I immediately recognized Rock Hudson on November 17.  After a little bit of staring, I recognized Richard Burton on November 10.

I was drawing a blank on the two females.  Searching the internet in an attempt to tie Hudson & Burton together, I noticed Hudson was born on November 17 and Burton on the 10th.

Looking for actresses born on November 3 & 4, I quickly found Monica Vitti & Linda Haynes.

Summarizing the images:

November 3 - Monica Vitti

November 4 - Linda Haynes

November 10 - Richard Burton

November 17 - Rock Hudson

I could not find the link between the four actors.  November 11 is Veterans Day (previously Armistice Day) which is the anniversary of the end of WWI.  The Best Years of Our Lives which played on Veterans Day premiered on November 21, 1946 but its hard to find that link.

I give up...

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The private event on November 16 was a SFFS screening of Selma.

The TBA for November 24 has been changed to closed. The Castro will have been closed six days in November once Thanksgiving is complete.

The TBA for November 25 will be Boyhood (directed by Richard Linklater).

Some December screenings are already known.

Midnites for Maniacs is screening a double feature with the theme "LA: Out of the Past" on December 12.  It consists of Who Framed Roger Rabbit & Ed Wood.  I am told that the Maniac was inspired to program this double bill by the same screening of Los Angeles Plays Itself which I was impressed with.

Blade Runner: The Final Cut is screening on December 15 & 16.  I named this blog (dansmovieblog.blogspot.com was taken) after a character in Blade Runner but I don't believe I have seen the film since starting this site.  I think it is time I see Blade Runner for the 18th or however many times I have seen it.

Although not on the Castro Theater website, Eddie Muller is holding his annual Noir City Xmas/kickoff event on Wednesday, December 17 at 7:00 PM.  The films have not been announced for December 17 nor Noir City.

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That reminds me:  several 2015 film festivals have already announced their dates.

Another Hole in the Head will be December 5-14, 2014 at the Viz.  The schedule is up and tickets are available for purchase.

Noir City will be January 16-25, 2015 at the Castro.

Berlin and Beyond will be at the Castro (Jan 29-Feb 1), Goethe-Institut (Feb 1-2) and Landmark California Theater in Berkeley (Feb 3).

The Mostly British Film Festival will be February 12-19, 2015 at the Vogue.  I've seen a flyer with a partial listing of films but I cannot recall any of the films.

Cinequest will be from February 24-March 8, 2015 in San Jose.

CAAMFest will be from March 12-22, 2015.

The only film festival missing firm dates from the 2015-Q1 lineup is Indiefest and they most likely have announced the dates but I cannot find them listed on their website.

Finally, the San Francisco Silent Film Festival has added a fifth day to its 2015 run. Originally scheduled for May 28-31, the festival will now conclude on Monday, June 1.

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Castro Theater Calendar - November 2014

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Finally...Gone With the Wind

Last night, I saw Gone With the Wind at the Stanford Theater.  GWTW is playing nightly at 7:30 PM until November 21 with 2 PM screenings on Saturday & Sunday (November 15 & 16).

Gone With the Wind starring Clark Gable & Vivien Leigh; with Olivia de Havilland & Leslie Howard; directed by Victor Fleming; (1939)

I had never seen GWTW in its entirety nor had I seen it in a movie theater.  I had only seen parts of it on television and not even that for many years.  The version the Stanford is screening clocks in at about 3 hours and 50 minutes including an intermission. December 15 will mark the 75th anniversary of the premiere of the film (which took place in Atlanta).  I also notice that the Castro Theater will screen a double feature consisting of GWTW and Django Unchained on December 28.

GWTW was sparsely attended last night and David Hegarty stuck around to play the Wurlitzer during the intermission around 9:20 PM.  They have some interesting letters & memos from David Selznick on display in the anteroom of the theater.  I have always wondered what that room was originally designed for.  I notice some stairs leading down in the southeast corner of the room.  I wonder where they go.

I won't bother to recount the plot.  The film rambles too much for my taste.  It starts off as if it is going to be an epic about the Lost Cause of the Confederacy but for long stretches the film abandons this plot line.  Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O'Hara is the protagonist who undergoes a transformation as an attractive, willful, jealous, younger woman to an attractive, willful, greedy, older woman.   Watching the film, I was surprised at how much Leigh's performance reminded me of Joan Crawford.  Ten years older than Leigh, Crawford was too old for the role of O'Hara but it is fun to imagine the screen chemistry between Gable & Crawford would have had since the two had an intense affair off-screen.

I also couldn't help but think about the off-screen lives of the actors.  It was during a filming break on GWTW that Gable married Carole Lombard while Leigh was having an affair with Laurence Olivier (who was married at the time) throughout the filming.

I also couldn't help noticing that three of the four lead actors are English - Leigh, Olivia de Havilland & Leslie Howard (although de Havilland was raised in California).

As for the film, it never lost my interest but characters moved in and out with seemingly no purpose.  I have not read Margaret Mitchell's novel upon which the film is based but I have read that the film is atypically faithful to its source material.  I think an hour of film could have been trimmed from GWTW without much impact on the film's plot.

I was particularly looking for blatant and latent racism in the film.  There are certainly scenes depicting both forms of racism but it wasn't any more prevalent than I remembered.  Butterfly McQueen's turn as the slave maid Prissy was difficult to watch at times but her character has always bothered me due to her voice, duplicity and weakness.  Hattie McDaniel received a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance as Mammy.  Mammy is meant to serve as a counterpoint to Prissy but in my opinion, her performance was more rooted in racial stereotyping.

Leigh & Gable commanded the screen in a manner which today's actors cannot match.  Leigh showed quite a bit of acting range in her role and I could never quite come to dislike her character despite her many flaws which I suppose has a much to do with Leigh's performance as the screenplay and direction.  Gable is as debonair & impish as he is in any film I can recall.  When his Rhett Butler banters with O'Hara, it is as enjoyable as any exchange from Hollywood's Golden Age.

Having seen the film from soup to nuts in one sitting, I'm not sure what elevates it to its iconic status.  As I mentioned, the plot meanders and at times, the character's motivations and behaviors change with little rhyme or reason.  I assume these inconsistencies are better explained in the novel.

I would be hard-pressed to recommend GWTW to anyone on the basis of the film itself.  If it is on your cinematic bucket list or missing from your viewing filmography, seeing it on the big screen is much preferred to any other media.  I think due to the racism inherent in the film, GWTW is not often on television now.  I cannot recall the last time I saw it on television whereas I recall its television screenings were heavily advertised in advance in 1970s and 1980s.

I don't think GWTW is part of society's collective conscious anymore so there are fewer people who feel compelled to see it.  To be frank, I don't think people are missing much by not seeing it.  Off the top of my head, if I had to recommend one Clark Gable film it is It Happened One Night and for Leigh, it is A Streetcar Named Desire.  Many people will point to the racism in GWTW as a reason enough to avoid it.  I think any film about the American Civil War has to depict racism since it was integrated into the fabric of the era.  For me, GWTW just doesn't live up to its reputation.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Trips to Los Gatos & Livermore

In March, I wrote about some Bay Area movie theaters I wanted to visit.  In October, I was able to visit two of them.

I saw Gone Girl at the Los Gatos Theater in Los Gatos and Pride at the Vine Cinema & Alehouse in Livermore.

Before I forget, I also mentioned that I went to the Magick Lantern Theater in Pt. Richmond in March.  I signed up to their email distribution list and realized recently that I have not received their weekly email for sometime.  I checked their website and was greeted with this message:  "The Magick Lantern is closed we anticipate re-opening very soon under different and better circumstances! If you're on our email list, we'll keep you posted on all the details!"  The last email I received from them was for films screening September 19-21.

I only visited the Magick Lantern once.  I wasn't particularly impressed.  It had the look and feel of a high school A/V clubhouse.  I think it only operated 3 or 4 days per week; perhaps 6 to 8 screenings per week.  I certainly didn't want the theater to close but I'm not that surprised that it did.  In fact, I'm surprised it lasted for 20+ months.  Even if Magick Lantern had impressed me, it was inconveniently located for me to make frequent visits.  I wish Ross Woodbury (the owner & operator of the Magick Lantern) well.

Gone Girl starring Ben Affleck & Rosamund Pike; directed by David Fincher; (2014) - Official Website
Pride starring Ben Schnetzer; with Bill Nighy, Dominic West, Imelda Staunton & Paddy Considine; directed by Matthew Warchus; (2014) - Official Website

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I made a dedicated trip to Los Gatos to see Gone Girl.  It was playing at several theaters closer to me but I wanted to see the Los Gatos Theater.  Actually, I had never been to Los Gatos so I wanted to see the town of Los Gatos.  The theater is located in Downtown Los Gatos.  I was running late so I was not able to stop in any of the shops.  The only store I do recall is the Sierra Toy Soldier Company a few doors down from the theater.  I wish I had time to stop in there but as I said, I was running late and by the time the film ended, all the stores were closed.

The Los Gatos Theater consists of two screening rooms.  The larger auditorium is on the first floor and has a balcony.  I don't recall what was playing in the auditorium.  I peeked in after Gone Girl and it was empty.  The auditorium looks has traditional theater seating and can seat a few hundred.

The second screening room has a lounge type design.  It is located on the second floor.  There are large photos of Hollywood Golden Age movie stars on the wall.  There is a small kitchenette area in the back corner and bar tables in the other corner.  The seating is shaped like a check mark.  Most of the seats are directly facing the screen but on the left side of the room there is a pillar.  The rows angle out slightly on the other side of the pillar such that the seats on that side are not directly facing the screen.  The seats are recliners.  There is a seating capacity of 40+ if you include the bar tables.  There is a large area to stand behind the back row if SRO is needed.  This is where I saw Gone Girl.

I was impressed with the Los Gatos Theater.  It is quite a drive for me and I would think it would take three hours (one-way) to get there via public transit.  I don't think I will be going there often but it is certainly worth a stop if I am in the area.  I would like to window shop the area around the theater if I return.

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I work in San Francisco and do not have to travel much for work.  Recently I spent two days in the Tri-Valley for work and decided to take advantage of opportunity to stop in at the Vine Cinema in Livermore.  I had never been to Livermore before.

The Vine is located in Downtown Livermore which is laid out in a number and letter street grid.  The Vine is at the corner of 1st and O.  Actually, it is South O Street with the railroad tracks serving as Livermore's Mason-Dixon line.

The theater was built in the 1950s but it reminds me a lot of the Stonetown Cinema in San Francisco which was built in the early 1970s.  It's obvious that the theater was built as one large auditorium and has been divided into two long, narrow auditoriums.  You can see the support beams on the walls and ceilings so you can tell immediately if you are in the left half of the original auditorium or the right half.  In its original incarnation, I would say the Vine was comparable in size to the Castro Theater less its balcony.  I couldn't tell if there was a balcony in the original design of the Vine but there was no visible access to an upstairs area.

The Vine is next to the Zephyr Grill & Bar.  The Vine has traditional movie theater concessions along with beer on tap and wine by the glass.  I suspect they have an arrangement with the Zephyr for food service.  Pizza, hamburgers and salads were on the menu.  I ordered a Caesar salad which was less than memorable.  The food is brought to your seat.

The auditorium has several rows of traditional theater seating but also several tables dispersed throughout.  The tables have been laminated with movie posters.  There were also a few rows of couches and love seats.

I wasn't as impressed with the Vine as I was by the Los Gatos.  Perhaps that's because Livermore isn't as well-heeled as Los Gatos.  The Vine was remodeled in 2009 into its current setup whereas as the Los Gatos is just over six months from its restoration so it still has the new car smell.

I doubt I'll return to either theater very often due to this travel distances involved.

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As for the films...

Gone Girl was number one at the box office for two consecutive weeks and has grossed over $120 million in four weeks.  I won't write much about it as it has been well reviewed.  I am a fan of director David Fincher's work (dating back to Seven & Fight Club).  I recommend Gone Girl.  Rosamund Pike is outstanding and shows quite a bit of acting range.  The plot is a shamelessly contrived and the ending didn't quite mesh with the 2+ hours of film leading up to it but Gone Girl is a fun ride.

As I get older, I have a harder time understanding English as spoken by our cousins across the pond. At times, I could not understand the actors in Pride (set in London & Wales of the 1980s) due to their accents.  That didn't detract much from the plot which is based on historical (some of which I vaguely remember).  In the mid-1980s, coal miners in the UK went on strike; the strike lasted about one year.  This was one incident in the strife which marked Margaret Thatcher's time as Prime Minister.

A group of gay activists in London raise money in support of the coal miners.  They visit a Welsh mining town to formally donate the money and are received with hostility for the most part.  A few open minds salvage the relationship until someone leaks the story to the press.  One must recall that during this era of AIDS, anti-homosexual behavior was more overt.  Anyway, the a vote is taken and the coal miner's union decides to disassociate itself from the gay activists.

I wasn't too impressed Pride.  It was often predictable and cliched.  I read that it received a standing ovation at this year's Cannes Film Festival.  It surprises me that it was even accepted at Cannes.  The events depicted are historic and important but the film feels more like a series a comedy sketches.  That's a little unfair because many of the actors shine in certain scenes.  Paddy Considine has a great scene as the union leader who is definitely out of his element in London drag queen bar.  Bill Nighy also has a few strong scenes as the poet/historian/tragic coal miner.

I laughed at some of the scenes in Pride but overall the sum of the parts was less than the whole.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

2014 Cinequest (Part 2 of 2)

Although I wrote "I remain convinced that the film programming at Cinequest best matches my tastes," I did think the 2014 programming was off a skosh compared to the past few years.  There were still plenty of films I was mightily impressed with but a large number fell in the "above average category."  Some were below average too.  Never missing an opportunity to accentuate the negative, I'll list my least favorites films from the 2014 Cinequest Film Festival.

At the bottom of the list were two biopic documentaries:  Masterpiece:  Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns and The Man Behind the Mask.  At a crisp 79 minutes, Masterpiece didn't have enough time to make much of an impression.  Not being particularly familiar with Frank Miller or his comics, I was anxious to learn more about him.  The film was enthusiastic in its praise of Miller.  It could have been titled Hagiography:  Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns.  I left the film without much of a change in impression about Miller or The Dark Knight Returns.  

The Man Behind the Mask is the story of Mexican wrestler El Hijo del Santo son of El Santo.  The film was directed by El Hijo del Santo's wife and it showed.  Much like Masterpiece, Man Behind the Mask was far from objective and worse it was kind of boring because chronicling his wresting tours and matches just didn't hold my interest.  El Hijo del Santo kept his mask on for the entire film; even during interview and when he was with his family.  That indicated that the film was more PR than honest exploration of the man.

Actually, my recollection was that there were more films which I disliked or regretted seeing but now that I look down the list, I see there were only the aforementioned two.

The next category would be films which had enough moments to be enjoyable if not disappointing overall.

Lawrence and Holloman - an over-the-top comedy about two co-workers.  One's positive outlook seems to compensate for his lack of competence and ethics.  The other is morose and even suicidal...that is until he sabotages the other's life.  The film is a bit mean spirited even for my tastes.

Parallel Maze -  an indecipherable film with homage to Hitchcock's Psycho.  Several people walked out of the screening I attended.  This probably had to do with the mind-bending plot structure which made use of alternate or parallel realities.  A Ph.D. in Theoretical Physics should have been a pre-requisite for viewing this film.

A is for Alex - a comedy which I didn't find too funny.  One good thing about procrastinating in writing these entries is that I have topics which I would not have had if I had written it immediately after the viewing.  One of the major plot points in A is for Alex is that Alex's mother accidentally uploads a video to the internet.  Unfortunately for Alex, the video is of him having sex as a teenager.  This bears a similarity to the Cameron Diaz film Sex Tape.  How many people record themselves having sex?  Apparently it is not uncommon.

Sex(ed):  The Movie - a documentary consisting of clips of Sex Education videos throughout the years.  I didn't find the film that interesting or the clips of old movies that funny although much of the audience seemed to appreciate the film.

Funny Money -  an overly contrived Vietnamese comedy about a guy whose shady business is making counterfeit money to be burned during funeral ceremonies.  He accidentally passes one off to a salesgirl and both their lives get turned upside down.  In addition to a plot I couldn't relate to, the actors were over the top in their performances which was annoying for me.

Sold - a tale of child sex trafficking in Nepal and India.  Everyone down to the street people speaks English though.  There were a few tense moments in the film but I felt the filmmakers were more interested making a statement than telling a story.

The Divorce Party - a couple decides to divorce; the husband is reluctant but agrees.  The wife decides to throw a party to celebrate the divorce which everyone else finds odd (including me).  This film continues a trend I have noticed of young men being ineffectual and unable to land decent jobs.  In this case, the wife had an illness or car accident which required medical attention.  Their lack of health insurance coverage creates a financial strain which in turn leads to a marital strain.  I particularly disliked the ending where the solution is for the husband to rely on his mother-in-law for financial support.

Unforgiven -  who knew cowboys roamed Northern Japan during the 1800s?  A very faithful retelling of Clint Eastwood's award winning film of the same title...maybe a little too faithful.  This film seemed, at times, to be Japanese actors playing cowboys akin to watching a Japanese stage production of Oklahoma!.

App -  I don't have a smart phone so I couldn't download the app.  There was an app for App which was timed with the action in the film to do certain things.  The film literally involved a killer app with overtones of HAL from Space Odyssey 2001.  Maybe I would have enjoyed this Dutch film more if I had the app but it seemed silly to me; not very frightening at all.

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That leaves 26 interesting to fabulous films.  In the interest of time and given the tardiness of this post, I'll summarize on most of the films.

Hunting Elephants - Patrick Stewart plays a ne'er-do-well British actor who travels to Israel when his sister dies.  He gets mixed up in a bank robbery with his brother-in-law and great-nephew.  This is a comedy and good one.  Hunting Elephants is playing at this year's Silicon Valley Jewish Film Festival.

Class Enemy - A Slovenian film about a high school German language teacher who alienates his class to the extreme.  I thought interesting that the rigid disciplinarian is German and the characters are a tad too familiar but I definitely recall the teenage angst and can relate to way the kids focused their anger and frustration on their teacher.

Just a Sigh - Gabriel Byrne & Emmanuelle Devos are strangers who meet on a train. They share a very intense afternoon in Paris involving a funeral, sex and long-standing family feuds.  This film has a dreamlike quality when Byrne & Devos are together which is interrupted periodically with absurd situations and the reality of their lives.  This is a tremendous film which deserves more publicity than it has received.

The Verdict - a Belgian film about a man whose wife is murdered.  The killer gets off on a technicality and the widower turns vigilante by killing his wife's killer.  The film compelling focuses on the man's trial.

A Squared - (aka Asquared) a modern day love story about two teenagers in Italy.  The title refers to the names of the two lead characters - Amanda and Alberto.  Alberto has an on-line sex addiction.  Deeply in love, Amanda stands by him.  Actually standing is not her most interesting position.  Their first time having sex (in a classroom during lunch!) is recorded by Alberto and then posted on-line causing shame & other disciplinary actions against them.  For my middle-aged sensibilities, the plot seemed to defy belief but it was still fun ride.

White Rabbit - set in Oakland, this is the story of an ex-Army communications specialist who gets pulled into a shady plot by a crooked OPD detective.  The ex-GI is a female although that doesn't really figure into the story.  In fact, it felt as though the role was originally written for a male actor.  It's also set against the time period when there were Occupy protest in Oakland although again that wasn't integral to the story.  White Rabbit has elements of film noir which I enjoyed.

East Side Sushi - also set in Oakland.  In fact, I think I've been to the Japanese restaurant where much of the film is set.  A Latina looks for a better life than selling shaved ice from a pushcart.  She applies for and gets a job in the kitchen of a Japanese restaurant where she quickly falls in love with the cuisine as well as the head chef.  She aspires to be a sushi chef but is the victim of racial and gender discrimination by the restaurant owner who feels only Japanese males are qualified.  He hides this sentiment by saying that the customers expect authentic Japanese food made by authentic Japanese men.  Her opportunity comes in the form of a food competition television show.  It was fun to see Oakland locations I recognized and the clash of Latino & Japanese cultures.

Eternity: The Movie - the story of Eternity, a faux musical duo from the 1980s who bear a casual resemblance to Hall & Oates.  Eternity skewers 1980s music, fashions and the latent homoeroticism which I was largely unaware of at the time.  Eternity is a lightweight comedy which is its strength in that its reach doesn't exceed its grasp but also its weakness in that the film feels like a glorified SNL sketch.

Breathe In - a very engaging story about a foreign exchange student who comes to live with a family of three in upstate New York.  The father of the family (Guy Pearce who is racking up an impressive filmography) is a frustrated high school music teacher and part-time symphony musician.  It turns out the exchange student (Felicity Jones) is musically gifted.  Although, that is something they share, their attraction is slow burning and most of the film is restrained.  They don't take action until the last third and the impact is devastating on his family.  Amy Ryan and Mackenzie Davis as Pearce's wife and daughter round out a strong cast.  The plot drags at times and the examination of these characters is largely superficial but Pearce & Jones capture something ineffable in their characters.  Interestingly, I didn't think they had great chemistry together.

A Thief A Kid And A Killer - a dark, Filipino comedy about a jewel heist gone sideways in which the thieves hide out in an upscale apartment.  However, a young boy is in the apartment and forms a friendship with one of the thieves.  I really enjoyed this film.

Victoriana - this was my second favorite film of the festival.  A young couple buy a fixer-upper in New York.  The wife accidentally kills a tenant and the ensuing cover-up changes their lives.  This film touches on gentrification and a perversion of the American Dream.  It also nicely explores the shifting power dynamics between the couple.

A Practical Guide to a Spectacular Suicide - a Scottish comedy about a suicidal man, his budding romance and his relationship with his outrageous psychoanalyst.  The film was amusing but at times I had a hard time understanding their Scottish brogues.

Confessions of a Womanizer - an outrageous comedy about the dating misadventures of the titular protagonist.  The film has many over-the-top performances but is punctuated by Gary Busey's unabashed portrayal as the mentor to the womanize.  I can still remember one of the quotes - "You punched the starfish without wearing a Hazmat suit."

The Illiterate - Paulina Garcia (Gloria) stars as the eponymous character in this Chilean.  When her "reader" is unavailabe, a young woman offers to substitute which then becomes an effort to teach the older woman to read.  The younger woman's professional and sexual frustrations play against Garcia's insecurities.

A Short History of Decay - a failed, thirtysomething NYC writer decamps at his parents' Florida home.  When his father's health problems force him to extend his stay, family dynamics and budding romances come to the forefront.  Nice performances by Linda Lavin & Harris Yulin as the parents.  The film is a bit scattered but comes together nicely by the end.

Zoran, My Idiot Nephew - this seemed to be the darling of the festival goers I chatted with but I found the film not as funny as it was made out to be.  A shady Italian slob learns his Slovenian aunt has died.  Looking to collect an inheritance, the man is instead saddled with his teenage nephew - an functioning autistic who is a natural at darts.  A scheme is hatched and hijinks ensue.

The Hands of Orlac - Orlac (the always exceptional Conrad Veidt) is a concert pianist who loses his hands in an accident.  He receives a hand transplant but is disheartened to learn the hands belonged to a murderer.  Orlac loses the ability to play the piano and begins to have strange thoughts about a knife which appears in his house.  I am finding that my enjoyment of silent films is hit or miss.  I am alarmed that there seems to be more misses than hits lately.  I was mild about Orlac; I can't quite put my finger on the reason (no pun intended).

Heavenly Shift -  this Hungarian film was my favorite film of the festival. Set in Budapest during the Bosnia Civil War, a Serb finds work as an ambulance EMT.  Together with the ambulance driver and attending physician, the three men form a close friendship.  They need to be close because they are also running a scam.  A shady undertaker needs bodies and sometimes the trio decide an accident victim can't be helped or doesn't deserve to be helped.  The film mixes absurdist humor with political commentary and Tarantinoesque flourishes with darker tones.

Blood Punch - a horror-comedy about a three people - a dirty cop, the girl and the mark who are forced to live the same day over and over again.  Even death doesn't stop the repetition.  It just so happens that the day they repeat is the one in which they all double-cross each other.  This film was a lot of fun.

Dom Hemingway - a showcase for Jude Law to chew up the scenery as a ex-con looking to collect a payday for keeping his mouth shut.  His hot temper and a beautiful woman gets him more trouble than he can handle.

Finsterworld - a German ensemble cast of odd people.  I recall the man who likes to dress up like a horse, a pedicurist who makes baked goods from the dead skin shavings from his clients' feet and high-schoolers who visit a concentration camp.  With the passage of six months, I find this film to be less interesting than when I viewed it.

Friended to Death - a comedic commentary on modern social media, the film is about LA parking meter cop who is addicted to his Facebook page.  Fired from his job and by extension severed from his on-line identity, he decides to fake his own death to see what happens.  Manic and ambitious, the film doesn't come close to the level of satire it aspires to be.  However, for a smaller budget film, it is adequate.

The Rugby Player - a bio-doc about Mark Bingham, one of the passengers of United Flight 93 on 9/11.  Bingham happened to be gay which is the subject of much attention in the film.  In fact, his bravery on 9/11 seems to be overshadowed by his bravery in coming out.  Far from objective, the film intends to be uplifting but I have a hard time believing anyone is 1/5 as great as Bingham was made out to be in the film.  Perhaps my commentary is more of a statement about my own cynicism than Mr. Bingham's life.

It's Only Make Believe - a tense Norwegian film about a woman who gets out of a prison and attempts to reclaim her daughter from foster care.  However, she is quickly pulled back into her drug-dealing past by the thugs who killed her boyfriend.

Tempo Girl - the quirky story (with an out-of-place epilogue inspired by Uma Thurman from Pulp Fiction) of a female writer who travels to remote Swiss Alps village to find inspiration but instead finds odd and oddly menacing characters.

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Of these films, which I sadly do not have enough time to write more about, I strongly recommend Heavenly Shift, Victoriana, Class Enemy, Just a Sigh, The Verdict, Breathe In, A Short History of Decay, Tempo Girl, Blood Punch and A Thief A Kid And A Killer.  With less enthusiasm, I recommend Hunting Elephants, East Side Sushi and It's Only Make Believe.

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I have been receiving emails from Cinequest about their next film festival.  2015 will mark their 25th anniversary.  The festival will from from February 24 to March 8, 2015 which is week earlier in the year than this year's March 4-16 dates.  Maybe it won't conflict with CAAMFest next year.

With the SJ Rep closed, I wonder if they are going to screen films there or in an additional Camera 12 auditorium in 2015.  The SJ Rep building (aka The Susan and Phil Hammer Theatre Center) appeared to be vacant the last time I was in the area (a few months ago).

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him/Her

Earlier this week I saw The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby at the Landmark Embarcadero.  Technically, I saw two films.  The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him followed by The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Her.  However, the two films were packaged together as a single 3 hour, 9 minute film with no intermission titled The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him/Her.

The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him/Her starring Jessica Chastain & James McAvoy; with Viola Davis, William Hurt, Isabelle Huppert, Ciarán Hinds, Bill Hader, Jess Weixler & Nina Arianda; directed by Ned Benson; (2013) - Official Website

The premise of the films is that the audience sees a couple break apart.  First, from the perspective of the man and then from the perspective of the woman.  There is actually a third version of the film called  The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them which combines the two but frankly that seems to defeat the whole purpose of the project which is to show how the two people view the breakup so differently.

The first question is why invoke The Beatles with the title?  Having read the lyrics to the song, I don't see a direct connection and referencing the name seems to be unnecessarily distracting (not to mention the added licensing fees).  I never figured that out but it didn't matter because I quickly became engrossed with the film.

I walked in about 5 minutes late and I missed the opening which I have read involves Connor (James McAvoy) and Eleanor (Jessica Chastain) Ludlow (née Rigby) doing a dine and dash.  As I later discovered, the film starts with the Him version.

When I walked into the theater, Connor (a restaurateur) is depressed at the state of his relationship.  He returns to his Brooklyn walk-up apartment before the dinner service to find his wife still in bed and morose.  As the film progresses, it is made known that the Ludlow's son has died and it has put an enormous strain on their marriage.  Eleanor eventually attempts suicide and afterwards disappears without a trace.

Connor chances upon Eleanor and begins to stalk his own wife.  Eleanor is largely absent from Him.  Connor is left to deal with his seemingly irrational wife's absence.  As time passes, Connor's most pressing problem becomes his restaurant which is financially failing.  At a crucial juncture, Eleanor returns and the audience is hopeful that the couple will reconcile but Connor admits an infidelity at an inopportune moment.

Him ends at some unspecified point in the future when Connor has taken over his father's restaurant and as he takes a walk before the dinner service, his wife trails behind him...reversing their roles from earlier in the film.

In Her, we learn that after her suicide attempt, Eleanor has taken refuge with her parents in a wealthy suburb.  We learn a little more of the backstory of their relationship.  Eleanor's parents seem to have not approved of their romance initially.  In addition, Eleanor is more rational and less angry than the glimpses we see in Him. She also thinks back to the early days of their relationship more often that one would think given her behavior in Him.

Ultimately, the Her story converges with Him but Her is viewed differently than Him because the audience already knows what happens.  However, director Ned Benson does something clever.  In the scenes which overlap the two viewpoints, he occasionally changes events between the two version.  I caught a number of small discrepancies but there were three significant ones which make the story more ambiguous.

First, during an intimate encounter in an automobile Connor confesses he has slept with someone during their separation.  In the Her, Connor does not confess but rather Eleanor correctly guesses his indiscretion based on his hesitation.  The even switch physical positions:  Connor on top of Eleanor in Him and vice versa in Her.

The second discrepancy occurs when the pair are clearing out of their apartment.  In Her, Eleanor apologizes for her behavior while that does not occur in Him.  In one version she wants to apologize and in the other, he doesn't hear the apology.

Finally, the ending of the two films leave the audience with distinctly different impressions.  In Him, Eleanor follows Connor without saying a word and the film fades to black.  In Her, after following him for a period, Eleanor calls out to Connor who turns around and approaches her.

I interpreted these differences as the Rashōmon Effect which makes me wonder how they were dealt with in Them.

The cast is uniformly fantastic.  McAvoy's Connor comes across a little too passive and whiny for me while Chastain's Eleanor is too shrill at times.  Both of these characters are flawed yet also appealing.  Of the two, Chastain's part is the more meaty one; particularly when considering both films as whole.  She really gets to show some range in the role of Rigby.

The real treat in Eleanor Rigby are the supporting performances.  William Hurt & Isabelle Huppert play Eleanor's parents.  I didn't know Huppert could speak English well enough to act in English language films.  Here, she nicely plays an alcoholic mother who regrets her life choices which explicitly includes having her daughters.  Jess Weixler is Eleanor younger sister, an unmarried mother who lives at home and has some issues with her big sister.  Ciarán Hinds portrays Connor's father, a famous and successful restaurateur who is one-step removed from being estranged from his son.  Bill Hader is Connor's flaky best friend and chef.  Finally, Viola Davis commands every scene she is in as Eleanor's cynical psychology professor with whom she forms a friendship.

The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him/Her was a very satisfying film for me.  It's one of the better films I have seen in 2014.  Both Chastain & Davis have had some high-profile parts in the past few years (both were in The Help a few years ago).  It's good to see them continue their histories of strong performances.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Puzzle Within the Castro Theater's October 2014 Calendar

The October calendar at the Castro Theater was tough.  The only person I quickly recognized was Ralph Bellamy on Halloween.  My co-worker, whose facial recognition skills I praised in my September post, drew a blank for the other three.

I cheated and used Google Image Search to identify Ruth Gordon on October 6.  Ms. Gordon is best known for her role in Harold and Maude which doesn't get screened as much now that the Red Vic is closed.  She was also memorable in Every Which Way But Loose and Rosemary's Baby.

That knowledge broke the logjam for me.  I recalled that Ralph Bellamy & Ruth Gordon appeared together in Rosemary's Baby (1968).  Then I noticed the guy on October 20 looked a lot like the actor who portrayed Ruth Gordon's character's husband in the film.  A quick IMDB search resulted in his name - Sidney Blackmer.  That only left the woman shown on October 28.  Seeing the Rosemary's Baby association, I looked each actress in the cast up in IMDB until I found Patsy Kelly.

Summarizing:

October 6 - Ruth Gordon

October 20 - Sidney Blackmer

October 28 - Patsy Kelly

October 31 - Ralph Bellamy

The clues obviously point to Rosemary's Baby but unfortunately the film is not on the Castro Theater's October calendar.  Roman Polanski directed the film so I looked for other films by Polanski on the calendar this month. No luck.

After perusing the calendar for a few moments, I recalled what Jesse Hawthorne Ficks of Midnites for Maniacs had told the audience at the September 19 screening of Inside Llewyn Davis and Coal Miner's Daughter.  He mentioned his upcoming events.  On October 17, Ficks is screening The Dark Knight & Reign of Fire.  Although not listed on the Maniac's website nor the Castro's, I recalled that Jesse had said he was screening a double feature consisting of The Notebook (directed by Nick Cassavetes) and Minnie and Moskowitz (directed by John Cassavetes) in November.  John Cassavetes was in Rosemary's Baby but it seems a stretch for the clues in the October calendar to be pointing to a November film event.

I can't find anything with Mia Farrow on the calendar either.

I also tried looking for anyone whose mother was named Rosemary.  The following individuals' mothers were not named Rosemary - Alfred Hitchcock, Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak (Vertigo), Bernardo Bertolucci (October 18), Nicholas Kristof (October 7), Lauren Bacall (several films on multiple dates) and Andy Warhol (Chelsea Girls).

I notice Ghostbusters on October 24.  That movie deals with a case of demonic possession which is close to the plot of Rosemary's Baby.

Halloween is the most obvious choice for the object of the calendar's clues, but I don't think that is right.  Kind of life, the puzzle on the calendar don't come with a key so I can never know with 100% certainty if I am right or wrong.

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I've never been a big fan of horror films or Halloween.  Halloween always seemed silly to me and now seems like an excuse for people to get drunk.  Horror films rarely frighten me anymore.  I guess I'm just becoming a grumpy old man.  For that reason, the Castro's October calendar is not particularly appealing to me.  Also by my count, the Castro is screening 21 films in October which I have seen before.

I would have liked to have seen Gandhi on Sunday but had other plans.  Orpheus (October 21), The Pawnbroker (October 22) and Giuseppe Makes a Movie (October 27) interest me.  All three non-film events sponsored by the Bay Area Science Festival on October 25 interest me as well.

However, it is the Hou Hsiao-hsien retrospective at the PFA which excites me the most in October.  With 18 films in the series, I believe the series contains all of the Taiwanese director's feature film efforts.  The series begins Friday (October 10) with The Sandwich Man and Cute Girl and continues until December 14.

At present, the Mill Valley Film Festival is occurring.  It will continue until Sunday (October 12).  I have seen several films there this past weekend and intend to see more this upcoming weekend.

November looks to be a busy month compared to October.  The San Francisco Film Society is sponsoring three mini-festival:  French Cinema Now (November 6-9), Hong Kong Cinema (November 14-16) and New Italian Cinema (November 19-23).  All three series will be at the Vogue Theater; their lineups are scheduled to be posted tomorrow.

Third I's program has already been announced.  The San Francisco International South Asian Film Festival runs in two segments.  The festival will be at the Viz and the Castro from November 6-9 and at CineArts in Palo Alto on November 15.

Finally, Elliot Lavine (and Don Macolm) returns to the Roxie from November 14-17 for a French film noir series titled "The French Had a Name For It: Classic French Noir from the 40s through the 60s."  The program for the series is not yet posted.

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Castro Theater Calendar - October 2014

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Los Angeles Plays Itself, Dragnet, James Ellroy, Jack Webb and Yasujirō Ozu

I am so far behind in chronicling the films I have seen that I don't know if I can catch up.  Between work and family obligations, this blog and my exercise schedule are suffering.

On September 21 (Sunday), I saw Los Angeles Plays Itself at the Castro Theatre.

Los Angeles Plays Itself; directed by Thom Andersen; documentary; narrated by Encke King; (2003)

Los Angeles Plays Itself (LAPI) is a three hour compilation of films set in Los Angeles with trenchant narration by Encke King reciting director Thom Andersen's commentary. Long enough to have an intermission, the film has countless clips of famous and not-so-famous films shot in Los Angeles.  A partial listing of films shown in LAPI includes Double Indemnity, The Big Sleep, Sunset Boulevard, Rebel Without a Cause, The Exiles, Chinatown, Blade Runner, Die Hard and many, many more.

LAPI touched on so many topics that it was exhausting.  The film seemed to run out of steam rather than end with a coherent conclusion.  King was talking about racism and urban blight but rather than wrap it up, the film concluded somewhat abruptly.  It's as if Andersen ran out of time, patience or money.  Far from unsatisfying, LAPI was dizzying in its scope.  Highlighting specific locations, social trends and attitudes among Angelinos, corruption within LAPD and a myriad of other topics, LAPI was exhilarating.

Part of my enjoyment stemmed from recognizing so many of the films but there was a confluence of events which culminated in my viewing of LAPI and by viewing it, I gained an understanding of something which had up-to-then been subliminal.

Although my enjoyment of his works has waned in recent years, the novelist James Ellroy has returned to form with his latest novel, Perfidia.  I came to admire Ellroy's work just over 25 years ago.  I was living in Los Angeles (Arcadia to be exact) and read about Ellroy's novel The Big Nowhere which had just been published in paperback.  I had never heard of Ellroy up until reading the LA Times review of his novel.  I picked up a copy at the Santa Anita mall; I think it was a Vroman's Bookstore.  Anyway, I read that book until 3 or 4 AM that night and had to get up to go to work the next day.

The Big Nowhere was part of Ellroy's LA Quartet consisting of The Black Dhalia, The Big Nowhere, L.A. Confidential and White Jazz. The four novels dealt with rampant corruption in the LAPD during the post-WWII years.  The setting of the novels roughly coincided with the classic film noir period but Ellroy's prose was more violent/racist/sexist than any film of the period.  Ellroy wrote like he was jazz musician on heroin or Hemingway on crystal meth.  The words jumped off the page and the convoluted subplots intertwined like the incestuous relationships (figuratively and literally) of his characters.

After White Jazz, Ellroy vowed to not write about Los Angeles again and published American Tabloid which is part of what has been dubbed his Underworld USA Trilogy.  Frankly, I didn't enjoy the Underworld novels as much as the LA ones.  I think Ellroy's reach exceeded his grasp when he attempted tie together all major events from the JFK assassination to the Vietnam War.

With Perfidia, Ellroy is back in LA.  The novel is the first of his Second LA Quartet or LA Quartet II.  The novel follows the LAPD investigation into the murder of a Japanese American family on December 6, 1941.  Ellroy, with his encyclopedic knowledge of mid-century Los Angeles, is back in his milieu.

What does LAPI have to do with Ellroy and Perfidia?  The film does showcase clips from L.A. Confidential and comments quite a bit on the corruption and brutality of the LAPD...a topic which Ellroy has made a career out of.  There was a particular resonance for me since I was reading Perfidia during the days before and after the screening of LAPI.  King got off a line which Ellroy should envy - "Is there any other city where the police put their motto in quotation marks? Are they trying to be ironic?"  For those unfamiliar, that motto is "to serve and to protect."

LAPI struck a second harmonic resonance with me.  I have discovered this television channel called MeTV (pronounced Me-Tee-Vee but an acronym from Memorable Entertainment Television).  MeTV programs classic television shows from the 50s through the 70s.

Among my favorites are I Love Lucy, M*A*S*H, The Twilight Zone and Adam 12, but my current favorite is Dragnet. MeTV shows what is referred to Dragnet 1967.  The original television series ran in the 1950s.  As an aside, I've never seen an episode from the original run.  In 1966, Webb rebooted the franchise with TV movie called Dragnet 1966.  The next year, he started weekly episodes with Dragnet 1967.  It ran for three seasons with the title changing each year:  Dragnet 1967, Dragnet 1968, etc.  However, the second run of the show is typically referred to as Dragnet 1967.

Although I saw many of these episodes as a boy, over the past few months, I have come to appreciate them more.  Webb directed every episode of Dragnet 1967 and I have come to recognize his distinctive style.  In his portrayal of Sgt. Joe Friday, Webb is self-righteous to the point of self-parody.  However, it is the formulaic set up of the episodes which are simultaneously predictable and comforting.  Without exception, Friday will launch into a monotone lecture which is ostensibly a civics lesson but has more ominous overtones if you believe in the LAPD of James Ellroy's novels.  Friday memorably launches these with something like "Now mister you listen me..."

The highpoint of each episode of Dragnet 1967 is when Friday gets off a zinger at the expense of a criminal, disinterested witness or some other poor soul who runs afoul of Friday's viewpoint.  Again, the exchange usually follows a pattern.  Friday will say "Well we know one thing."  Response: "What's that?"  Then Friday will state something as fact which is really a pointed criticism of the person he is conversing with.

Again, Andersen (through King) gets off a memorable quote:  "[Dragnet's] creator and star Jack Webb directed each episode with a rigor equaled only by Ozu and Bresson, the cinema’s acknowledged masters of transcendental simplicity.  Dragnet admirably expressed the contempt the LAPD had for the law-abiding civilians it was pledged 'to protect and to serve.'"  When I heard that line, it crystallized for me why I enjoyed Dragnet 1967.  I'm not sure if the average viewer of the show picks up on Andersen's observation even 40 years after originally being aired.

The Ozu comment is spot on.  Frequently, Webb frames the scene such that he and his partner (Harry Morgan) walk into a room, they talk and then the walk out of the room.  Camera movements are kept to a minimum.  Most likely due to budgetary and time constraints, Webb's adherence to this set-up creates a zen-like awareness through its repetition.  Webb is truly inculcating the viewer to see the virtue of the LAPD and its officers.  Webb strips away anything that could distract the viewer from that message and his strict discipline in adhering to his storytelling techniques rivals Dogme 95.  There is something beautiful about Webb's exactness of direction but when viewed through a cynicism informed by Ellroy's works, Dragnet 1967 becomes absurdly grotesque which is a quality I find irresistible in films.

Circling back to Los Angeles Plays Itself, the viewing experience was something special for me because these thoughts about Ellroy's novels and Dragnet coalesced in a split second during the viewing and reminded me why I like films so much.  I don't always have these "Eureka!" moments.  In fact, I have them too seldom but I guess that results in them being more special.  I'm not sure how much of my praise of LAPI is due to the film itself or my unique viewing circumstances.