Saturday, January 17, 2009

Vampyre with a Y and the Price of Fish Wrap

The Red Vic posted their February calendar on-line a few days ago.

I bought a discount punch card when I saw Fallen Angels. I'm busy checking their calendar looking for opportunities. Looking at their February line-up, I was surprised at how many films I've already seen. Among the films I've viewed with the past year that are on their calendar are:

Stranded (2008 SF International Film Festival)
Timecrimes (December 2008 at the Bridge Theater)
Happy-Go-Lucky (December 2008 at the Roxie)
Let the Right One In (2008 Dead Channels Film Festival)

In addition, they are screening 12 Monkeys and Annie Hall; both of which I've seen previously.

Lest you think there is nothing on the calendar that appeals to me, I quickly noticed that February 11 and 12, they are screening Werner Herzog's Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979) with Klaus Kinski as the vampyre with Bruno Ganz and Isabelle Adjani as the Harkers. This film gets the full Herzog/Kinski treatment - stylish visuals, heavy symbolism and a focus Kinski's existential interpretation of the weary vampyre.

The only problem with the film is that it is being screened during SF Indiefest. To be frank, Herzog's film certainly better than whatever Indiefest is screening those two night.

At the end of the month, the Red Vic is screening two Kevin Epps films - Straight Outta Hunters Point and the premiere of The Black Rock. Epps grew up in Hunters Point and directed this documentary on the recent history of the troubled neighborhood. The Black Rock is another documentary about black prisoners at Alcatraz and the added burden they carried by being a black convict during a period of open racism.

Straight Outta Hunters Point screens on February 26 while The Black Rock screens February 27 to March 5.

Tomorrow and Monday, the Red Vic is screening Jean-Luc Godard's Vivre sa vie (1962). The film star Anna Karina who was Mrs. Jean-Luc Godard at the time. In the film, Karina plays a prostitute and her story is told in twelve vignettes. The full title of the film is Vivre sa vie: Film en douze tableaux. Karina was absolutely gorgeous in the early 60's and there is something about her that I find incredibly appealing since watching her dance the Madison in Band of Outsiders.

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Just before the New Year, the price of the San Francisco Chronicle went up. I'm an old school type of guy; I like to read my news on paper and on the subway. At the subway stations, the vendor (a human) sold the paper for a quarter. Now, the price is 4 bits. The news-stands sold the paper for 50 cents and now charge 75 cents. No one likes to pay more for the same product and I feel that the product has been diminished (both in quantity and quality) over the past several years. The paper is thinner and local stories are less frequent. Still, it's hard to get too worked up over an additional $1.50 per week (6 days x additional 25 cents). For some reason, they didn't increase the price of the Sunday paper.

This morning, I had a bagel at Java Beach Cafe. I bought the Chronicle out of a machine outside the cafe. Lo and behold, the price was 50 cents! The vending machines closer to where I live have all been converted to 75 cents. What's the story with that? Maybe it takes time to convert all the machines but it has already been several weeks since the price increase.

I'll give you one guess where I'm buying my newspapers on Saturday mornings now. I have to drive 5 miles to save 25 cents but it's worth it...it's like spending $200 on a film festival pass so you can average less than $6 per film. Total costs go up but the average unit cost goes down.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

2009 San Francisco Independent Film Festival Lineup

In the past few days, the San Francisco Independent Film Festival (Indiefest) has posted their 2009 schedule. The festival runs February 5 to 19.

I noticed a few items off the bat. First, the opening night film is not at the Castro. It's at the Victoria Theater which seats about 1/3 the capacity as the Castro. I don't know if that implies that they expect smaller crowds for opening night or maybe they didn't want the expense of renting out the Castro. The opening night films are Somers Town and Fanboys.

The next thing I noticed is that Indiefest is screening two days at Sugarbowl. I'm not referring to the chain of local Chinese bakeries but the ski resort in Tahoe. For me, that is very incongruous. Indiefest is rooted in the Mission District with an occasional foray to Berkeley but a Tahoe ski resort? I wonder what their strategy is? I doubt that many people will travel that far for Indiefest and the people that are up there that weekend will be up there to ski and not watch movies. If they can pull it off, more power them. Maybe, festival founder Jeff Ross planned around a ski trip. Regardless, Hannibal Chew doesn't like the cold (in Blade Runner as well in Tahoe).

Like DocFest, Indiest is a full three weekends (not including Sugarbowl weekend). Docfest was 21 days whereas Indiefest is only 18. My impression was that Docfest was not well attended at the few screenings I went to in Berkeley and Indiefest is screening in Berkeley the last two or three days. I do notice, they dropped the Berkeley weeknight screenings.

Indiefest is having a launch party at 9 PM on Friday, January 23 at the Elbo Room.

The first thing I do when I see an Indiefest program is look at the Japanese films. Indiefest has a good track record of showing outstanding Japanese films. I filtered the films by country and it looks like Indiefest has a Japanese soft porn fetish this year. They have four films on two Saturdays with the subtitle "I Am Curious (Pink): The Second Wave of Japanese Sex Cinema | 1986-present." That makes me wonder about the First Wave. The films have titles such as S+M Hunter and New Tokyo Decadence: Slave. Despite being highly offended by porn, I'll have attend these screening...to support Indiefest being the sole reason. Actually, I seem to recall Pinku films being screened at the Asian American Film Festival a few years back.

The second thing I checked on the schedule were the Midnight screenings. The four midnight films are Home Movie, I Sell the Dead, Super Happy Fun Monkey Bash! and The Teeth of the Night. One measure of a midnight movie's worth is whether it screens elsewhere on the schedule (i.e. non-midnight times). Sadly, all four do screen elsewhere in the schedule. I will say that The Teeth of the Night appears to have potential although the copy ad may be the best part of film. Many a time, I have been led on by the festival guide synopsis to be bitterly disappointed by the actual film. A beautifully filmed ‘horror-zombie-comedy’ that’s sexy and French, gruesome and funny.

The final thing I checked was to see if there were any films directed by Greg Hatanaka on the line-up. I'm relieved to announce I didn't see any. Hatanaka perpetrated two of the worst films in Indiefest history - Until the Night and Mad Cowgirl. There has to be a conspiracy to explain how he gets his films screened at Indiefest. I will never watch another Hatanaka film; I rather schedule a dentist's appointment.

An IndiePass is selling for $200 so I guess in again this year.

23 days to Indiefest...

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I've seen five films in the past week:

JCVD starring Jean-Claude Van Damme; (2008) - Official Website
Frost/Nixon directed by Ron Howard; (2008) - Official Website
Gran Torino starring and directed by Clint Eastwood; (2008) - Official Website
The Candy Snatcers; (1973)
Fallen Angels with Takeshi Kaneshiro; directed by Kar Wai Wong; Cantonese with subtitles; (1995)

I don't have the average cost spreadsheet with me; I'm averaging ~$6.50 per screening. $10 for The Candy Snatcers put me over my target cost.

It's been a good week. Of those five films, Frost/Nixon was the worst of the bunch and it was an above average film. For some reason, I can never get excited about a Ron Howard. He makes a lot of films that solid but nothing extraordinary - Apollo 13, Cinderella Man, Backdraft, etc. I have not seen A Beautiful Mind.

I didn't know Diane Sawyer worked for Nixon. I didn't know legendary Hollywood agent Swifty Lazar represented Nixon. Nor did I know he looked like the bald headed guy on the Six Flag commercials; even the glasses were the same. That could not have been a coincident.

I desperately need a Kar Wai Wong program at PFA to fill in my gaps in his filmography.

Mr. Six or Swifty Lazar

Monday, January 12, 2009

Gran Torino

Your humble blogger has been laid up since Saturday afternoon with some sort of intestinal ailment. Having gone 36 hours with nothing but chicken noodle soup and tea, I ventured to the movie theater. I justified this by the fact that I feel better sitting down than laying down and it was unseasonably warm in the Bay Area today. I don't have air conditioning so in my weakened condition, I needed cooler temperatures to recuperate.

I saw Gran Torino with Clint Eastwood. There was a surprisingly large number of people in the audience for mid-day Monday. I noticed they had some Senior Monday special and there were a number of Clint's contemporaries in the audience.

Gran Torino was a fun film. It plays off of Eastwood's tough guy image while acknowledging his advancing years. As the film opens, Walt Kowalski is at the funeral of his recently departed wife. His two sons and his grandchildren are in attendance but that doesn't add much comfort because Kowalski doesn't seem to like them and the feeling is reciprocated.

As Kowalski become situated in his life as a widower, he becomes drawn into the family drama playing out next door. A Hmong family has moved in and Walt doesn't like it. This is probably a good point to mention that Walt is a racist and has a lot of guns including the carbine he used in Korea. As only Eastwood can portray, Walt is an irascible but lovable racist. He'll judge a man fairly once he gets to know him but until then, he'll call him a wop or a zipperhead. In that regard, Eastwood seems to be channeling Dirty Harry or Gunny Highway from Heartbreak Ridge.

The drama next door involves the two Hmong teenagers - sister Sue and brother Thao (aka Toad to Kowalski). Their father is dead and Thao is coming under pressure to join his cousin in the gang. Sue is more bookish but she is a little smart ass which is what Walt responds to. Thao's gang initiation is to steal Walt's prized, cherry 1972 Gran Torino. Walt built the car himself when he worked on the assembly line at Ford. Thao is not much of thief (actually, he's suffering from a serious case of lack of self-esteem) and Walt gets the jump on him with the aforementioned carbine. Thao runs like hell and Walt doesn't recognize the kid next door...probably because they all look alike to him.

This bungled car boost sets off a deepening friendship between Thao, Sue and Walt. Walt assumes the father figure role to Thao (which he never did to his own sons) and Sue educates Walt on the Hmong traditions. High on the list for Walt is eating their home cooking and drinking their Tsingtao beer. Walt breaks up a fight between Thao and his cousin's gang (again with the help of his trusty carbine) and also intercedes when Sue is being accosted by some black guys walking down the street (this time with a pistol he keeps in his Ford pickup).

Everything seems to be going well. Thao is gaining some self-confidence (he even start dating the delectable Miss Yum Yum) and Walt lands him a job on a construction site. The problem is that Thao's cousin won't let the guy be. They bust his tools and put a cigarette out on his face. Walt knows how handle that kind of crap but his actions set off of cascade of tragedy.

Some people say the ending is a surprise. I saw it coming and think it was telegraphed. I won't go into the details but regardless of what ending you are expecting, the joy of this film is in the journey and not the final payoff.

With that said, I wonder how a guy like Kowalski survived the 60's and 70's calling everyone a gook or a spook. What did his dearly departed wife think of his racist rants and gun collection?

There was one scene that stood out for me. Sue is walking with a white guy that looks like Vanilla Ice and acts like Ali G. They get confronted by three black guys. For some reason, they don't react kindly to the white guy saying "It's all good bro." Then they comment about the Sue's anatomy and some mutual activities they would like to engage in. Sue literally complains about their objectification of women (Asian women in particularly). That doesn't dissuade from their task at hand which seems to be to kick white boy's ass and have Sue pull a three car train. Fortunately, Walt rolls up in his pickup and the first thing he says is "What are you spooks doing?" Soon after, Walt pulls his pistol, the three men back down and voila! it's the start of a beautiful friendship between Sue and Walt.

I also read that with one exception, all the Hmong characters were played by Hmong people recruited from Michigan and Fresno and they were first-time actors. I think it showed to be honest. Sue was a annoyingly pedantic and Thao's performance was uneven although he was gamer. Given their novice status, I think Bee Vang (Thao) and Ahney Her (Sue) turned in strong performances.

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I missed the midnight screening of Legend of Drunken Master due to my illness. Even if I was healthy, I would have missed the screening. Based on the Red Vic calendar, I interpreted the showtime to be midnight on Sunday, January 11. In other words, one minute past 11:59 PM, Saturday, January 10. Based on this post, I believe the screening was really at midnight on Monday, January 12 (i.e. 20 hours ago). Typically, midnight screenings are listed as 11:45 PM or 11:59 PM so as to avoid confusion. I submit that the Red Vic was incorrect in stating the film screened on January 11 so I guess it worked out well that I was sick. I would have been peeved to go out there on Saturday night to find out I was 24 hours too early.

I still question whether people will go out to midnight screenings on a worknight.

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The Josef von Sternberg retrospective starts on Thursday at PFA.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Candy Snatchers

I saw The Candy Snatchers last night at the Castro. The film was the back third of a Midinite for Maniacs triple bill. The first two films were Watcher in the Woods and Stand By Me. The theme was Broken Homes. The crowd streaming out of Stand By Me was impressive as I arrived.

I skipped the first two films and arrived around 11:30 for the 11:45 show. Actually, the film didn't start until after midnight because director Guerdon Trueblood's son was in the audience to take Q&A from Jesse Hawthorne Ficks. If you read the credits of The Candy Snatchers, you will note that Christopher Trueblood has a acting credit but he was not in the house last night. It was his older brother from Napa or Petaluma that came down with some friends for the showing. I think Trueblood was drunk but who can blame him? His rambling answers delayed the film until ~12:15 AM.

The film certainly was a bitter, jagged little piece of 70's exploitation cinema. The title song is "Money is the Root of All Happiness" which says it all. By my count, there were six murder (including matricide), two rapes and one mutilation of a corpse. What it lacked in quantity, it made up for in quality. The basic premise is that three buffoonish ne'er-do-wells (a brother/sister combo and overweight sidekick) kidpnap a teenage girl (Candy). Right off the bat, we see Candy, in her schoolgirl uniform, hitchhiking home after school. It's established that Candy has a ~$2M estate so I wonder why she hitchhiking but it's best not to question such things in films like this.

The three stooges kidnap Candy with the intention of ransoming her for jewels at her father's jewelry store. What they didn't count on was that Avery is not her father but her step-father. Not only that but the only reason Avery married Candy's alcoholic mother was because he has been scheming to get his hands on the $2M Candy will inherit when she turns 21. So when the kidnappers make their demand, Avery is only too willing to allow them to kill his "daughter" because that means he'll get the money immediately.

This is unknown to the kidnappers as they ratchet up their strong arm techniques which eventually include burying Candy alive in a shallow grave (twice) and raping her (once). When the kidnapper finally figure out Avery's true intentions, they decide to rob him of his jewels (couldn't they have done in the first place?). There is a shoot out and four of the six die as a result.

The B plot in the film involves a mute, boy that witnesses them burying Candy. It's never established why the boy doesn't speak except his shrewish mother thought therapy was too expensive. In the end, the boy commits the final two murders; it's not important how or why because that's not the point of this film. They point of this film is to cringe and laugh at the stupidity of everyone in the film.

The mute boy is played by Christopher Trueblood (credited as Christophe) - the director's son and the brother of the Trueblood in attendance. According to him, the character and his brother have a learning disorder. The boy did look a little strange - he had a slight harelip.

Let's see if I can summarize the highlights:

1) After raping Candy, one of the kidnappers tells the other two (shocked at what he has done) "You didn't want her to die a virgin did you?"
2) Two of the kidnappers go to a hospital morgue and pay the attendant $50 to cut an ear off a corpse. This is after haggling over the price and then trying to find a corpse whose ear matches the gender, size and skin tone of Candy.
3) After raping Candy, the kidnappers go to her home to wait for Avery. They get his wife drunk and the rapist start taking advantage of Candy's mom because he wants to have both the mother & the daughter.
4) Eddy, the "sensitive" kidnapper bares his soul to Candy (while she is bound and blindfolded). He tells her about his dream to own a bar with a bowling alley attached and have a couple of hookers.

Despite this grisly veneer, the film had some laugh out loud moments that I'm not sure were planned or unintentional. There is scene where they are pretending to be birdwatchers (in fact, they are watching the drop off site) is pretty funny. Every scene with the drunk wife much have been played for laughs (even the one where she is stabbed to death while receiving cunnilingus). The scene where the three kidnappers get their ass whipped by a brawny telephone repairman (until one of them takes a two by four to his skull) was pure slapstick.

I recommend The Candy Snatchers to anyone interested in the genre of exploitation films. Ficks said the film has been recently released on DVD but the print we watched was genuine grindhouse. Indeed, the soundtrack skipped alot and much of one reel had been destroyed by acetate deterioration. I'm surprised that it went through the projector without breaking.

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I was looking at the upcoming film posters outside the Castro. Milk is returning February 13 to 26, I believe. A restored 35mm print of Fellini's Amarcord (1973) is playing February 27 to March 5.

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Trivia from IMDB - Guerdon Trueblood is General Billy Mitchell's grandson. If you don't know who Billy Mitchell is, I wish I could recommend a good film. The only one I know of is The Court-Martial of Billy Mitchell with Gary Cooper in the title role. That movie didn't really do it for me although it could serve as an introduction as could the Wiki entry.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Two Out of Three Ain't Bad But What About 100?

I counted up the films I saw in 2008...the grand total was 243 films. That works out to approximately two films every three days. For these purposes, I counted short film programs as "one film" and the short film that sometimes precedes the feature film at festivals as "zero films."

Of those 243 films, I watched 80 at the Castro, 80 at the Roxie and 40 at the PFA. That means I saw over 80% of the films at three theaters. I'm proud to say that they are all independent theaters and in the case of the Roxie and PFA, affiliated with universities. The Roxie has been affiliated with New College of California since 2006. I'm not sure what the status of New College is. The last I heard, it was on its deathbed. According to Wikipedia, New College "ceased operations in early 2008."

The Roxie has been on the verge of shutting down many times in the past dozen years. I recall one time, Nicholas Cage provided a donation to keep it operating because he launched his comeback with Red Rock West (which I saw at the Roxie). It was distributed in the US by Roxie Releasing. Roxie Releasing is the independent film distribution company affiliated with the Roxie theater.

Another little tidbit is that the Roxie is turning 100 years old this year. It doesn't look a day over 80. Luckily, I'm not too picky about the amenities of the theaters I go to. I can only imagine how someone that is used to stadium seating and Dolby Surround Sound would react to the Roxie.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Living After Midnight

This morning, as I was driving to work, I was listening to the radio and heard "Living After Midnight" by Judas Priest. I loved that song when I was a teenager. Actually, I was a Judas Priest fan growing up in Texas. If anyone had suggested to me that lead singer Rob Halford was gay, I would have scoffed at the idea. Of course, having lived in San Francisco for nearly two decades, I can't believe how naive I was. The guy looked like the poster boy for a queer S&M club.

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It is my intention to see midnight movies on consecutive nights this weekend.

On Friday night (11:45 PM to be exact), I will see The Candy Snatchers at the Castro.

On Saturday night (12:00 AM Sunday to be exact), I will see The Legend of Drunken Master (aka Drunken Master II) with Jackie Chan at the Red Vic.

The Legend of Drunken Master kicks off the Red Vic's 2009 Midnight Movie series. The hook for them is that they are showing midnight movies on nights with full moons. Full moons can occur on any night of the week so I wonder if they are really going to show midnight movies on weeknights...I wonder if I'll be crazy enough to go to a midnight movie on a weeknight. The next full moon is on Monday, February 7.

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On January 16, Chandni Chowk to China opens at the Balboa. This Bollywood action/musical/comedy was the first Hindi film shot in China. Not quite sure if I'll see it but I might give it the benefit of the doubt to support the Balboa.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Milk Returns to the Castro

Drawing from my own experience and what I've read & heard, Milk had a triumphant run at the Castro in December. The crowds were big and that's saying a lot if your theater can seat more than 1,000 people. I read on the Castro website that Milk is returning in February. I didn't put any special significance in seeing the film in the Castro District although it was fun to see a few scenes filmed a few hundred feet from where I was sitting. Undoubtedly, the allure of seeing Milk in the neighborhood that Harvey Milk lived and worked is strong to many people in the area.

I was in Las Vegas for part of the Christmas break and Milk wasn't on too many screens. Clint Eastwood's Gran Torino was even screening. A quick search on the internet reveals that Milk has grossed $17 M and its widest release was 356 theaters. Those are very "modest" numbers and probably says something about the film going public (inside & outside of the Bay Area).

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The last film I saw in 2008 was The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. The plot involves two boys in Nazi Germany. One is the son of a SS officer who is the commanding officer at Auschwitz (presently Poland) and the other is a Jewish boy interned at the camp. The two boys strike an unlikely friendship which ends horribly. Beyond that I won't go into much detail. The film was entertaining although I don't know if I think as highly of it as some critics. I certainly became engaged with the characters and cared what happened to them but I could never quite fully commit to the film. My father called it the best film he saw in 2008. I'm not quite sure which film I would give that superlative but it wouldn't be The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. David Thewlis as the father turned in a strong performance although most reviews laud Vera Farmiga's performance as the mother.

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I've seen three films since the last post.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas; (2008) - Official Site
Charade starring Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn, Walter Matthau, James Coburn and George Kennedy; directed by Stanley Donen; (1963)
Experiment in Terror starring Glenn Ford, Lee Remick and Ross Martin; directed by Blake Edwards; (1962)

The latter two films were part of the Castro's Legendary Composers program. The featured composer this month is Henry Mancini; probably best known for the theme to the Pink Panther films.

I've seen Charade many times and never tire of it. Part of the reason is that I'm madly in love with Audrey Hepburn. George Kennedy chews up the scenery like a mad dog (using his hook prosthesis to great effect) & James Coburn speaks with a Texas drawl that makes LBJ sound like a Yankee. Hepburn plays the ingénue who seems to have a daddy complex judging by the way she pursues Cary Grant despite catching him in repeated lies.

The discovery was Experiment in Terror which is a film I had never heard of. Filmed in San Francisco (the City hasn't changed that much since 1962), the movie seems to be the nexus between classic noir and modern pyscho killer movies. The opening is an extended scene with the asthmatic Ross Martin (in shadows) terrorizing Lee Remick. The plot has to do with Martin threatening Remick and her younger sister (played by Stefanie Powers) unless Remick helps him rob the bank she works at. The plot is secondary to the real stars of the film - Martin's evil genius character and the San Francisco locations - Fisherman's Wharf, Candlestick Park, North Beach, etc. I noticed that the film gets the locations right - the street names match the images. Frequently, films set in San Francisco jump from neighborhood to neighborhood. A character will say "Meet me at Polk and Bush" but they really meet somewhere on Potrero Hill.

As for Martin, his wheezing killer will stop at nothing - he puts on a dress and eyeglasses that are decidedly reminiscent of Anthony Perkins in Psycho and later he wears a hood and sunglasses that makes me think the UnaBomber saw this film when he taught at Cal. There is also a nicely done scene where Martin orders Powers to take off her skirt & sweater that gave me the creeps (which is saying a lot). Also, The Fan must have been influenced by Experiment in Terror. Kudos to the Castro programmers for unearthing this gem.

Blake Edwards must have been in love with the City by the Bay as he filmed Days of Wine and Roses (1962) here as well.

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I also noticed Midnites for Maniacs is screening The Pope of Greenwich Village (1984) on February 6. Undoubtedly inspired by the reviews Mickey Rourke is getting in The Wrestler, Jesse Hawthorne Ficks has chosen one of my favorite films from the 80's.

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For 2009, I decided that just listing the films is not exciting enough. Now, I'm going to indulge my anal retentive tendencies even more by listing the running average of the price per film admission! Charade and Experiment in Terror were a double feature so my 2009 average cost (YTD) is $4.75/film. I'm hoping to keep that number below $6.