Thursday, February 25, 2010

Kurosawa Retrospective at the Stanford Theater

The Stanford Theater is screening 18 films by Akira Kurosawa from now until March 30.

Looking at the list, I've seen several of the films before. There was a Samurai film series at the Balboa a few years back where I caught several of that genre by Kurosawa. The PFA and Castro screened several Kurosawa/Mifune collaborations in 2007 I think Looking at the Stanford line-up, I've already seen 12 of the 18. The films I haven't seen are indicated with an asterisk.

The Seven Samurai; (1954)
Rashomon; (1950)
Scandal; (1950)*
Ikiru; (1952)
One Wonderful Sunday; (1947)*
Stray Dog; (1949)
Drunken Angel; (1948)
High and Low; (1963)
I Live in Fear; (1955)*
The Hidden Fortress; (1958)
Yojimbo; (1961)
The Bad Sleep Well; (1960)
Throne of Blood; (1957)
Kagemusha; (1980)
Sanjuro; (1962)
The Idiot; (1951)*
The Lower Depths; (1957)*
Ran; (1985)*

I've enjoyed every Kurosawa film I've ever seen (although Kagemusha less so than the others). I particularly enjoyed The Seven Samurai, Ikiru, Stray Dog and High and Low.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Paris Ballet, Bitch Slap and Jennifer Jones

I think I've missed cataloging a few films.

La danse - Le ballet de l'Opéra de Paris; documentary French with subtitles; directed by Frederick Wiseman; (2009) - Official Website
Bitch Slap; (2009) - Official Website
Duel in the Sun starring Jennifer Jones, Joseph Cotten, Gregory Peck and Lionel Barrymore; directed by King Vidor; (1946)
Portrait of Jennie starring Jennifer Jones, Joseph Cotten, Ethyl Barrymore; (1948)


La danse was a ponderous film clocking in at 2 hours, 38 minutes. I guess the point was to see the inner workings of Le ballet de l'Opéra de Paris. I found the film to be tedious and much in need of editing. Perhaps it was too much inside baseball for me. We are treated to scenes such as the union delegate talking about how ballet dancers should get a different pension than other government workers or the management talking about marketing packages they'll offer for the upcoming season. I found it terribly boring. Even the rehearsals were boring. Only the performances held my interest. There was one where a woman killed her two children that was fascinating.

Bitch Slap also bored me. It was film that was just too cute for it's own good. It had so many plot twists than it left me numb by the end. The fight scenes dragged on for too long. There was enough nudity to make it raunchy and there wasn't enough plot to make it Tarantinoesque. The film was left to be an example of excess which definitely proved the addage less is more. Zoe Bell was the fight choreographer and some of the fight scenes were quite good but the film makers piled one scene on another and let each scene run twice as long as it needed to.


I caught a double feature at the Jennifer Jones retrospective at the Stanford Theater in January.

Duel in the Sun is famous for a shoot out at the end between Jones and Peck. Before that, the film is all about sexual tension. Jones plays a half-breed 2nd cousin to Peck and his brother Joseph Cotten. Lionel Barrymore plays their father and Lillian Gish their mother. As Pearl Chavez, Jones exudes sexuality. There is a scene where she stands before a preacher (Walter Huston as the Sinkiller) wrapped in a blanket. Apparently she sleeps in the nude and there was no time to get dressed. Anyway, I certainly was thinking about sin when I saw Jones.

The film becomes a love triangle between good-hearted but undisciplined Pearl, the gentleman brother (Cotten) and the snake (Peck). In films of the era, the typical plot device seemed to be that the woman is raped, then discovers she enjoys it and becomes hopelessly in love with her rapist. The same holds true for this film although Peck is particularly convincing in his role. Barrymore was also effective as the cantankerous and racist patriarch.

Duel in the Sun was not a great movie but a lot of fun. In fact, I think they tried to hard to make a great film and ended up making something that borders on camp if not for some strong performances.

Portrait of Jennie was a more thoughtful film. In this one, Joseph Cotten plays a struggling artist who happens upon a girl. The girl gives him inspiration to make his greatest painting. As he continues meeting the girl, she is advancing in age. Eventually, he figures out he is meeting a girl from the past at various points in her life. He discover that when grown, the woman will be killed in a sailing accident. He rushes to the same spot and on the same day (different year) for his rendezvous.

The plot is a little dated but I read that is was an innovative fantasy plot for its time. I found the film mildly entertaining. Cotten's performance stood out. Ethel Barrymore's gravelly voice was well used as Cotten's art patron.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

2010 San Francisco Independent Film Festival

The 2010 San Francisco Independent Film Festival (IndieFest) wrapped on February 18. I was able to catch 26 of the 36 programs. All programs were screened at the Roxie Theater. The programs I watched were:

Feature Programs

Access Denied; compilation of public access videos; (2009)
A+D; (2009) - Official Website
The Art of the Steal; documentary; (2009) - Official Website
At the Foot of a Tree; (2009) - Official Website
Beyond the Pole; (2009) - Official Website
The Blood of Rebirth directed by Toshiaki Toyoda; Japanese with subtitles; (2009) - Official Website
Cigarette Girl; (2009) - Official Website
City Island starring Andy Garcia and Julianna Marguiles; (2009) - Official Website
Easier with Practice; (2009) - Official Website
Godspeed; (2009) - Official Website
Harmony and Me; (2009) - Official Website
Last Son; documentary; (2009) - Official Website
Less Adolescent; (2009) - Official Website
Limbo Lounge; (2010) - Official Website
My Movie Girl; (2009) - Official Website
Point Traverse; (2009) - Official Website
René; Czech with subtitles; documentary; (2009) - Official Website
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Undead; (2009) - Official Website
Wah Do Dem; (2009) - Official Website
Zooey & Adam; (2009) - Official Website

Short Programs

An Animated World
Backwards; (2009)
Light Headed; (2009)
Unbelievable 4; (2009)
Down to the Bone; (2009)
Manifestations; (2009)
Fuzzy Insides; (2009)
'nstaCharge; (2009)
The Falcon; (2009)
Lev; (2009)
Dave Talks About Stuff And Things; (2009)
Pause Replay; (2009)
The Stressful Adventures of Boxhead & Roundhead - Brothers In Arms; (2009)
Roue; (2009)
Entering the Mind Through the Mouth; (2009)
So Then, Don't Wait; (2009)

Games of Telephone
True Beauty This Night; (2009)
Sapsucker; (2009)
Christmas Night with Fritz Dubert; (2009)
The One Last Time; (2009)
Felicita; (2009)
Nice Shootin' Cowboy; (2009)

Life Nor-Cal Style
Drugs; (2009)
Second Nature; (2009)
El Milagro de Stockton; (2009)
New American Soldier; (2009)
A Sentence Apart; (2009)

You're Not The Only, Lonely
Bean; (2009)
Weight; (2009)
Me, You, A Bag, & Bamboo; (2009)
Backyard; (2009)
Penance; (2009)
Lollipop Man; (2009)

None of the Above
Medicine Man; (2009)
Emotion Malfunction; (2009)
Life On Earth; (2009)
The Gynecologist; (2009)
Il Vincitore (The Winner); (2009)

The End Is Not The End
Adrift; (2009)
The Last Page; (2009)
In Space; (2009)
Dreamland; (2009)
Tungijuq; (2009)
Rufus; (2009)


My general thoughts about the festival...

The programming was quite strong this year. I can only think of one film that I will actively discourage people from viewing. That's Access Denied which isn't a feature film but rather a compilation of public access videos. Thankfully, there was a technical glitch that reduced the screening time from 90 minutes to closer to an hour. Out of that hour, there was perhaps 10 minutes of footage that were entertaining.

There seemed to be more short films this year. There were six programs of short films. I feel the quality of the short films was down from previous years. Also, very film of the feature films were preceded by a short film. There was only one feature paired with a short film and I missed that program. Given how short some of the features were (several were between 70 and 80 minutes), I wished they would have cut one of the short programs and screened the short before the shorter features.

I saw a fight for the first time at Indiefest. After the screening of Cigarette Girl on Valentine's Day, a couple (man & woman) became involved with a verbal and ultimately physical confrontation with another man. The woman was providing running commentary during the film in a loud manner when the man told her to "Shut the fuck up." She complied for the remainder of the film but as the credits were rolling, she confronted the man that admonished her. Eventually, a shoving and wrestling match ensued between the man and the woman's boyfriend. All three were ejected from the theater.

A few minutes later, I was standing outside the Roxie waiting for the next show and the woman again confronted the man on sidewalk. Contact was made and eventually the boyfriend got into it again and all three were scuffling on the sidewalk. They were broken apart and the police came. No arrests were made.


As for the films, there were several standouts.

My favorite was Zooey and Adam, a Canadian drama about the after effects of rape. Zooey & Adam are a married couple trying to have a baby. While camping, Zooey is raped by a group of men while Adam is beaten and restrained. Later, Zooey discovers that she is pregnant. Rather than struggle with the difficult question of parentage, Zooey decides to believe the baby is Adam's and ask him to do the same. After some argument, he agrees but it is a decision he will come to regret. The movie spans approximately 6 years from the time Zooey and Adam are trying to conceive to the time their son (Carl) is 5 years old. During those years, Adam has difficulties fully accepting Adam as his own son. As a result, he & Zooey split up. I won't reveal the ending since the film has been distributed in Canada and may be distributed in the US. I will say that the film has less to do with the act of rape and focuses on the lingering trauma caused by the rape (particularly on the man). I don't recall the performance of either lead actor to be strong but combination of their performances and the plot create a powerful film.

A half step behind Zooey and Adam was Easier with Practice. The difficult to categorize film kept my interest throughout. The basic plot involves two brothers traveling around New Mexico on a low budget book tour. Older brother Davy (Brian Geraghty) has published a set of short stories. His younger brother Sean is along for the ride. Davy hopes the book tour will lead to some bonding between him and his brother; Sean doesn't seem to have any goals for the trip except to pick up women despite having a rather attractive girlfriend back home.

One night in the motel, Davy receives a call from Nicole, a forward women with a very sexy voice. Davy and Nicole engage in a weeks long phone sex relationship. Nicole never gives Davy her phone number because her boyfriend Aaron is the jealous type. Davy patiently awaits each phone call while trying to keep his "relationship" with Nicole a secret from his brother. As the calls progress, Davy and Nicole form an intense emotional bond. When the book tour ends, Davy & Sean return to their normal lives; Davy is a temp office worker. Davy rekindles a relationship with Sarah (a previous one-night stand). Although Sarah is anxious to advance the relationship, Davy can't quite free himself from the fantasy and specter of Nicole. Eventually Davy and Nicole meet in a most memorable fashion.

The heart of Easier with Practice lays with Geraghty's portrayal of the emotionally timid Davy and his inability to form meaningful relationships. The film handled the material with liberal doses of humor but it was utlimately painful to see Davy waste his opportunity with Sarah and meet Nicole.

I enjoyed the stylish Blood of Rebirth from Japanese director Toshiaki Toyoda. I've seen two films from Toyoda at previous Indiefest - the dysfunctional family drama Hanging Garden (2005) and the brassy jailbreak film 9 Souls (2003). Having enjoyed both films, I was looking forward to Blood of Rebirth.

The plot is a little thin - "in a time when gods and demons ruled the earth," a traveling masseur finds himself entangled with a warlord (most likely suffering from gonorrhea). He is killed by the warlord but returns to "life" in his pre-death form. With the help of one of the warlord's concubines, he is reanimated and confronts the warlord for a final duel (in a memorable and surreal finale).

That's not much to hang a film on but Toyoda has a few tricks up his sleeve. First he commissioned a driving, percussion heavy soundtrack that sounded a lot like Led Zeppelin. Next, he makes us of beautiful earth tones in his cinematography. Finally, he lets the story develop at leisurely pace with the seeming intent to show off his directorial flourishes and give the lead actors free reign. The end effect is quite stylish and eminently entertaining. Clearly Toyoda is a film director of the highest degree.

Finally Point Traverse was a minimalist film about two friends in their early 20's. The more grounded one if Adwin, the manager of fast food restaurant. Cael is a drifter, roaming from town to town, looking for something he can't quite define and engaging in petty crimes along the way. Their lives converge and diverge as we see them interact with other people. Did I mention that Adwin was likely a serial killer? Actually, that wasn't major plot point of the film. In fact, there wasn't any major plot points. They went through life with a vague sense of ennui and resignation. A summary of the film can't adequately express the existential mood conveyed by the film. My favorite scene was when Adwin inched his hand closer to a circular blade saw (presumably to feel something). The entire audience (myself included) was squirming in their seats.


A few films surprised me at how much I enjoyed them. Limbo Lounge is a Twilight Zone inspired film about Silas, a con man that is killed in a car accident. Sent to limbo (nicely represented as an endless backup on the Bay Bridge), Silas is given the "opportunity" to work in hell and reap all the benefits. To earn this job, he must corrupt one innocent soul - an advertising executive (how realistic is that). Armed with an afterlife Blackberry, he sets about his task with efficiency and gusto. As the moment approaches he begins having second thoughts.

As I watching the film, I thought it was predictable but as it progressed, I became drawn into the story by the performances of the cast. I still predicted the ending but the performances by the three female leads lifted an otherwise mediocre film up a notch. The three lead actresses were Robyn Cohen, Tamara Braun and Stephanie Lemelin.

Limbo Lounge was also aided by it being filmed locally. It's always nice to see locations you are familiar with. My Movie Girl was also filmed in San Francisco. The film struck a delicate balancing act. Adam is a movie buff and pines away for his artist friend Kate. They shared one drunken night together. Kate has moved on but Adam can't accept it for what it was. Adam's idea of closure is to make film about the night. Ostensibly to come to terms with Kate, the line between reality and fantasy gets blurred in the film within the film. First Adam casts himself as Adam and Kate as Kate. When Kate refuses to portray the night as Adam remembers it, her role is recast. A succession of Kate look-alikes audition for the role.

Eventually Adam puts the film aside for a weekend to serve as the videographer for the wedding of a friend. While there, he spies Vivian (nice performance by Mackenzie Firgens). Reading into her actions and behavior what he wants, he engages in an intense (for him) sexual/emotional relationship with Vivian. Eventually, he discovers that Vivian isn't her real name and that she is largely unsympathetic (even mocking) of his relationship with Kate.

I won't continue the plot summary because the main problem with the film is that I felt the same as Vivian. Adam Bronstein's portrayal of Adam in My Movie Girl irritated me no end. Adam is a schmuck and he drones on and on about his night with Kate and how he wants a life like in the movies. I came to dislike Adam although I still laughed at times.

My ultimate verdict My Movie Girl is a flawed film but good for more than few laughs.

A+D is an emotionally raw film about the life of a romantic relationship between Alice and Dan. Much of the footage appears as though it were a mocumentary. The premise in the film is that Alice and Dan (more Alice) videotape each other at unguarded moments. The audience sees the relationship start, crescendo and ultimately break apart. While watching the film, I thought when Alice introduced the video diary concept, the relationship was doom. The idea has failure written all over it and it seemed more like something that a performance artist would do than a woman in a relationship. Actually, Alice may have been performance artist. With some time since I viewed the film, I've cooled on it slightly but still think the two leads (actually the only two actors) delivered fine performances that made the film better than it had any right to be. The two leads were Amber Sealey and Anton Saunders.


My favorite documentary was The Art of the Steal, a fascinating documentary about the Barnes Foundation. The Barnes Foundation is an art educational institution founded by Albert Barnes in the 1920s. Barnes (the man) accumulated an art collection of unfathomable proportions - 181 paintings by Renoir, 69 by Cézanne and 59 Matisse and many more. The current estimated value of his works are $25B.

Barnes left very specific instructions in the Foundation trust documents about how often the public could be allowed in to view the works and that the works were never to be lent out or toured. In the 1990's, a steady erosion (a conspiracy if you believe the film makers) of the Foundation's intent began which has culminated in the Barnes Foundation moving to a downtown Philadelphia location and operating as a traditonal art museum. This is exactly what Albert Barnes did not want to happen to his art.

I've left out many of the details but the combination of iconic art works (I recognized several and am far from a connoisseur of fine art), high society rivalries, greed and old-fashioned mystery make The Art of the Steal a very compelling documentary.

Not nearly as well made was Last Son, clearly a labor of love. Last Son tells the story of the men who created Superman. I'm not a comic book fan but was fascinated by how much of the Superman mythology was taken from the lives of Jerry Siegel (writer) and Jon Shuster (illustrator). Particularly intriguing was Siegel's life - murdered father and Jewish based name of Jor-El. Also, Shuster was an amateur bodybuilder and he borrowed images from that world to give Superman his physique, various poses and costume. For anyone that is mildly a fan of Superman, I think this film would be of great interest.

René is a Czech documentary that follows ~20 years in the life of a career petty criminal who has become a published author (and minor celebrity?) in his homeland. I could never feel empathy much less sympathy for the eponymous convict nor was I very surprised at how his life became a revolving door in and out of prison. However, the film has the benefit of 20 years of footage as you watch the relatively clean cut boy transform into a tattooed career criminal.


The short films were more hit or miss. I fell asleep for several of the film in An Animated World. Also, The One Last Time did not screen due to technical difficulties.

A grab bag of my favorites:

Unbelievable 4 - animated versions Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Rice save the world and rock out to Europe's The Final Countdown. The animator nicely captured Cheney's scowl and Bush's hangdog expression of confusion and/or contempt.

Backwards - an alien plot to takeover the world is foiled by a sexual encounter with transgender woman; story is told in reverse chronological order.

True Beauty This Night - a purse snatcher thinks he has found true love...with one of his victims.

Second Nature - an Ari Marcopoulos short about some guys skating down a steep hill at incredible speeds.

Lollipop Man - chilling story about an ominous crossing guard (dressed in a yellow rain slicker hence the title) who begins to observe more than just the traffic patterns on his route.

Penance - my favorite of the festival. This film cover a several week period where an ex-con who runs a landscaping business befriends a man with Asperger's Syndrome. Their relationship eventually bottoms out but not before someone gets a weedwacker to the mouth.

Me, You, A Bag, & Bamboo - a love story; I can't remember the details. The plot was nonsensical - a robot boy and adopted girl or something. The soundtrack was very memorable - Sexy Robot Man.

The Gynecologist - my second favorite short. A female gynecologist finds it strange that a man comes to her office for an examination and even more strange that her supervisors, the man's father and media insist she treat him like any other patient.

Medicine Man - a black kid from Harlem goes upstate looking for ancient Indian herbs to cure his father's paralysis.

The Last Page - a writer with a serious case of writer's block goes through serious hell to find his inspiration

In Quiet - a slowly paced Thai film about a young man who becomes a Buddhist monk after his grandmother dies.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Hong Kong Double Feature at the 4 Star

"In celebration of Chinese New Year," the 4-Star Theater is offering a double feature of Hong Kong films.

All's Well, Ends Well Too 2010 is a comedy "of mistaken identity." The synopsis was so long and confusing that I gave up on it. Official Site

72 Tenants of Prosperity looks more interesting to me. It is a comedy set in 1970 with references to the Shaw Brothers film The House of 72 Tenants (1973). In 1970s Hong Kong rapacious landlords try to evict 72 tenants but sworn brothers Ha Kung (Eric Tsang) and Shek Kin (Jacky Cheung) help the group of 72 defeat the landlord (Lam Ka Tung) and landlady (Charmaine Sheh) and coincidentally rescue Pinky (Anita Yuen) from a planned forced marriage. When both sworn brothers fall for Pinky and propose to her she flips a coin “heads or tails” and Ha wins her hand in marriage.

The films open on February 12. I'm crossing my fingers that they are subtitled.

By the way, Chinese New Year is on Valentine's Day this year and Valentine's Day is part of Presidents Day Weekend.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Jacques Tati - Sublime Comedian

Fake Paris Skyline used in Playtime

Several weeks ago, I was watching Unfaithful (2002) on television. I enjoy that film, particularly Diane Lane's performance. There was a scene where Richard Gere was viewing photos of Lane (his wife) and her lover (Olivier Martinez) around Manhattan. One of the photos showed Lane and Martinez in front of a theater marquee. The name on the marquee was Jacques Tati.

Prior to January, I had never seen a Tati film. In fact, before December, I was not familiar with Tati. The PFA recently concluded a Tati retrospective. I was able to watch three films in the series. A fourth film from the series also screened at the Red Vic where I was able to view it.

Playtime; (1967)
Jour de fête; (1949)
Mon Oncle; (1958)
M. Hulot’s Holiday; (1953)

Playtime was followed by Night Class (1966), a 30 minute short film.

Jour de fête was preceded by The School for Postmen (1947), a 18 minute short film.

I watched M. Hulot’s Holiday at the Red Vic.

All the films were directed by Tati and starred Tati. Playtime, Mon oncle and M. Hulot’s Holiday featured extensive English dialogue (dubbed I believe). Jour de fête and the short films were French with English subtitles.


Discovering Playtime justified a full year of PFA membership in my opinion. Playtime was an uproarious comedy with minimal dialogue and amazing sets including an über-cube farm, a chic restaurant and modernist architecture which only existed in the film. Tati also used heightened sound effects (such as the footsteps echoing on a stone floor) to comedic effect.

The plot is quite sparse. It's more a series of vignettes - the airport, the cube farm, the restaurant and the drugstore/automobile carousel. Tati's comedy is more physical. The best gag came when a glass door was shattered. The doorman continued to hold the door handle, swinging his arm as if to open the non-existent door. Tati's misadventures in the office building also amused me greatly.

The strength of the film comes from Tati's keen and unerring eye for the fashionable architectural aesthetics of the era and their incongruity with people in general and Tati's Hulot in particular.

Hulot was Tati's primary role for 20 years. Of the four films I watched, Hulot was the main character in three of them - the exception being Jour de fête. Even that film may have featured Hulot's cinematic progenitor. I recall his character was named François in Jour de fête and Mon Oncle.

I can't really add much to the tremendous amount of written work on Tati and Hulot. Tati's films are quite accessible given that they are 40 to 60 years old and French. I saw a number of children at the screenings and they laughed at the same things I did.

Writing about Tati can never approach watching Tati so I recommend everyone watch a Hulot film and see for themselves what I (and countless others) are talking about.

Jacque Tati (facing away from the camera) in Playtime

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Mine - You Can Keep It

I mentioned when I saw White on Rice that I was the only person in the audience for the screening I attended. That was down at the Camera Cinemas in San Jose.

It happened to me again in January. This time, the film was Mine and the venue was the Roxie Theater in San Francisco. I'm sure that this must be indicative of fewer people attending films although film revenues were up in 2010 weren't they?

Anyway, Mine was the audience award winner at the 2009 DocFest. I saw 10 films at that festival and was impressed by the high quality of the films at that festival. I did not see Mine but was looking forward to seeing it since it beat out so many other worthy candidates for the Audience Award.

Mine is the story of a number of "abandoned" pets in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. I put abandoned in quotes because one subject took exception to that categorization in the film. The circumstances surrounding the subject of the film were fairly uniform - the pet owners couldn't take their pets for various reasons when they evacuated New Orleans. In each case, the owner was elderly or poor. Government run evacuation buses and shelters did not accept pets and most evacuees thought they would be back in a few days. The damage caused by Hurricane Katrina and the precautions taken in advance of Hurricane Rita meant that residents could not return for weeks or months.

Into the breach stepped some do-gooder from Hollywood. She slapped an animal rescue sign on her truck, drove to New Orleans, got past the checkpoints and proceeded to rescue pets by breaking into houses when she heard dogs barking. Most of the rescued animals were dogs since cats don't make such loud noises. As a results of delays and disorganization, the records linking the pets to their owners were lost. Subsequently, many of the pets were adopted by people in different parts of the country. In many cases, the new owners were let to believe the original owners abandoned the pets and would not want them back.

The movie focuses on the hard-core owners who worked for years to regain custody of their dogs. This is where I will inject my opinion. I feel badly for the owners but have to wonder why they continued their efforts in the aftermath of New Orleans. With all the troubles they had, why didn't they simply move on and get another dog? I can also surmise that dog loving audiences in San Francisco bestowed this film with the audience award because people in the Bay Area (and San Francisco in particular) are dog crazy...and I mean that in a pejorative way.

Several years ago, I recall the case of a woman who was killed by mountain lion. I believe she lived near Sacramento. She left behind at least two children. The mountain lion was hunted and killed. The female lion left behind a cub. Two charitable funds were established - one for the kids and one for the cub. The fund for the care of the cub drew more donations that they one for the kids until that fact made the news and some radio personalities took up the cause.

That's not directly related to the audience at DocFest or the pet owners in New Orleans except that kind of thinking is so prevalent as to be acceptable - animals are frequently given equal, if not greater, status than people.

Getting back to the film: while we see the story unfold over several years, I kept wondering if someone in the film would ask the $64,000 question - why don't you just get a new dog? They danced around the topic a little but the answer was obvious that these owners didn't want a new dog. They wanted their old dog back. In one case, the new owners took legal action to retain the dog.

Bottom line - I found myself largely unsympathetic to the dog owners (original and new). I could sympathize with their plight but failed to understand why they didn't move on with their lives or why their story really needed to be told.

One myth was partially dispelled though. Several pit bulls were abandoned or even killed prior to their owners leaving New Orleans. This gave the impression that many dog owners in New Orleans were neglectful (even criminal). This film showed that not to be the case although I still wouldn't be surprised if New Orleans was dog fighting capital of the US.

I guess I'm just too cynical to be moved by a film such as Mine which seemed to make the outlandish claims that poor people got the shaft during Hurricane Katrina, that there are dog fanatics in the US that will travel thousands of miles and spent countless hours and money to save a dog, that some dog owners can't move on and that there is significant dog fighting activity in the Big Easy.

Mine (2009) was directed by Geralyn Rae Pezanoski - official website.



I keep forgetting to post my 2009 film count. I saw 348 films or programs in the movie theaters in 2009. The average admission price was $6.87. That adds up to $2,390.76 spent on movie admission. I'm not sure if I should be embarrassed by that number or please that I got over 500 hours (conservative estimate) of entertainment for that cost. Regardless, it was what it was...

Friday, February 5, 2010

2010 Noir City

The Noir City Film Festival ran from January 22 to 31 at the Castro Theater.

I caught 18 of the 24 film which they screened.

Pitfall starring Dick Powell & Lizabeth Scott, directed by André De Toth; (1948)
Larceny starring John Payne & Dan Duryea; (1948)
Fly-By-Night directed by Robert Siodmak; (1942)
Cry Danger starring Dick Powell & Rhonda Fleming, directed by Robert Parrish; (1951)
The Mob starring Broderick Crawford, directed by Robert Parrish; (1951)
Niagara starring Joseph Cotten, Jean Peters & Marilyn Monroe; (1953)
The Asphalt Jungle starring Sterling Hayden, directed by John Huston; (1950)
The Gangster starring Barry Sullivan and Belita; (1947)
He Ran All The Way starring John Garfield and Shelley Winter; (1951)
One Girls' Confession starring Cleo Moore & Hugo Haas, directed by Hugo Haas; (1953)
Women's Prison starring Ida Lupino, Cleo Moore & Howard Duff; (1955)
Red Light starring George Raft, Virginia Mayo & Raymond Burr; (1949)
Walk A Crooked Mile starring Dennis O’Keefe & Louis Hayward; (1948)
Slattery's Hurricane starring Richard Widmark, Linda Darnell & Veronica Lake, directed by André De Toth; (1949)
Inside Job starring Preston Foster, Ann Rutherford & Alan Curtis; (1946)
Armored Car Robbery starring Charles McGraw & William Talman; (1950)
Escape In The Fog starring Nina Foch; (1945)
A Place In The Sun starring Montgomery Clift, Elizabeth Taylor & Shelley Winter; (1951)


Of the six films I missed, I have seen five of them on the big screen in recent years. These films were Suspense, The Postman Always Rings Twice, Pickup On South Street, Human Desire and Odds Against Tomorrow.

In addition, I've seen Pitfall and Cry Danger at previous Noir City festivals.

The film I missed but have not previously seen is Deported - a thinly disguised story about Lucky Luciano directed by Richard Siodmak.


They a short film several times. It's called The Endless Night: A Valentine to Film Noir. It is a montage of noir films set to music. It was created by Serena Bramble, a 20-year-old Santa Rose Junior College student. It was well received by all the audiences that I was part of and festival founder Eddie Muller praised it. It was fun to see how many films and actors I could identify. Actually, I was impressed with the editing and choice of music as well.

The film is on YouTube.


On stage, Eddie said this year's festival was "special." He indicated there was a certain excitement in the air. Personally, with the number of repeat screenings, I was a little disappointed in the festival. Of the new films I did watch, there were any found treasures.

My favorite film of the festival was A Place In The Sun. It's hard not to like any film with Elizabeth Taylor in a swimsuit. Last year, I saw Josef von Sternberg's An American Tragedy (1931) at the PFA. I recall enjoying the film. A Place In The Sun is a remake of An American Tragedy. It's a little too slick to be noir but it definitely has elements of noir. Shelley Winters is tremendous as the mousy girlfriend of ambitious Montgomery Clift. Clift is the poor cousin of a wealthy family. They give him a job on the assembly line where he falls for Winters. Unfortunately for everyone involved, Clift meets and hits it off with beautiful socialite Elizabeth Taylor. A love triangle develops but when Winters gets pregnant and ultimately indignant, Clift has a solution which involves a rowboat and Winter's inability to swim. Clift turns in a fine performance as a man desperately in love with Taylor and equally desperate to rise above his circumstances. Taylor's performance was a less admirable. I couldn't quite see what she saw in Clift's character. Also, her character's maturity level was all over the place but she was radiantly beautiful.

Armored Car Robbery is a film I've heard about for awhile. It's a straight forward caper film that showcases Charles McGraw and William Talman as the no nonsense cop and as the cold-blooded criminal mastermind. Actually Adele Jergens as the cuckolding stripper filled out her part nicely.

Women's Prison is another film that delivered what I was expecting - women in prison and Ida Lupino setting her bitch dial to 11. No one ever played the conniving, vicious, insecure bitch better than Ms. Lupino. Unfortunately, there was no diesel dyke to prey on the fish; all the inmates in this women's prison got along surprisingly well.

The Mob was a vehicle for Broderick Crawford to play a tough guy cop that infiltrates the mob. I wish had Broderick Crawford's voice. It's entertaining enough with Ernest Borgnine playing one of the mobsters. It's also notable for a bit part by Charles Bronson.

Slattery's Hurricane merits attention for the performance by Widmark. He plays a selfish pilot that restarts an affair with his friend's wife (Linda Darnell). Throughout the film, Widmark is flying drugs into the country for his employer while his girlfriend (Lake) is hooked on blow. Widmark played morally bankrupt characters quite well - Night and the City, Pickup on South Street, etc.

Cry Danger feature Dick Powell as a one-man army looking to figure out who framed him for murder & robbery. Richard Erdman steals all his scenes as the drunken ex-Marine who provides Powell with a phony alibi in hopes of splitting the hidden loot. Dick Powell knew how to play the lone wolf, tough guy and snazzy dialogue by William Bowers carry the film.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Pregnant Teen, South African Rugby, Southern Fried Tramp, the Hermitage and Silent Era Porn

I'm in the middle of PFA's Tati and Capra series and 2010 Noir City just wrapped but I've several other films in January. The Tati series has been a pleasant surprise but I'll write about that a future date.

Five films/programs I've seen in January are:

Precious starring Gabourey Sidibe and Mo'Nique; (2009) Official Site
Invictus starring Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon; directed by Clint Eastwood; (2009) - Official site
Shanty Tramp; (1967)
Russian Ark directed by Aleksandr Sokurov; (2002)
The Good Old Naughty Days; compilation of silent short films; (2002)


Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire has been well reviewed and received. I was mightily impressed by the film. It was an emotional punch to the gut. The story is about an obese, illiterate, pregnant, teenager in 1980's Harlem. I'm not sure why they set the film in that time period except that the novel was set in that time period. Regardless, there wasn't much specific to the period which came into play during the film. The litany of misfortunes I described is not the end of Precious' troubles. Her mother is abusive, she is a runaway and she has HIV. Now that would destroy most people but Precious has a very dedicated teacher (Paula Patton in an excellent performance) and a very dedicated social worker (Mariah Carey who seems to have received more praise than I thought she deserved). The film follows Precious as she lurches from one calamity to another. At its core is the fractured and tortured relationship between Precious (Sidibe) and her mother (Mo'Nique). Although Sidibe has most of the screen time, it is Mo'Nique who commands attention portraying the abusive and ultimately pathetic mother.

This is the kind of film where I'm at a loss for words. Do people like Precious & her mother exist? It's hard for me to imagine much less empathize with their situation but I'm certain they exist due to the constant barrage of shocking stories in the news. Seeing it portrayed on the screen left me numb. Mo'Nique's character has not only rationalized her behavior (enabling her daughter's incest) but come to deeply resent her daughter (dating to the time she was an infant) for "stealing her man."


Invictus is also a film that has been well reviewed if not quite as widely well received as Precious. Clint Eastwood has been a good director. "Good" maybe a mild compliment but by that term I mean that Eastwood makes enjoyable and well-crafted movies. I would classify his films as "high art" or brilliant but Million Dollar Baby, Letters from Iwo Jima and Gran Torino are solid films that I can watch repeatedly. Like a master carpenter making a functional and aesthetically-pleasing piece of furniture, Eastwood cranks out these films that entertain and manipulate your emotions (which is a compliment in my lexicon).

Morgan Freeman and Eastwood have now collaborated on at least three film -
Invictus, Million Dollar Baby and The Unforgiven (my favorite film of Eastwood's directorial efforts). Freeman as an actor is like Eastwood as a director. Freeman always gives solid performances; usually of men who have a quiet dignity despite their circumstances. That's exactly what is called for in portraying Nelson Mandela who instituted a policy of forgiveness and inclusion after spending more than 20 years in prison.

The interaction among Nelson's mixed race security detail were the scenes I enjoyed the most. Julian Lewis Jones as the menacing Afrikaaner was a delight to watch. With a crew cut, sharp angular facial features and vaguely racist demeanor, Jones brought out the most in his character's limited screen time. A thorough security professional, his Feyder looks on with caution as his President tries to heal a country and always stays one step away from insubordination while dealing with his boss, a black man (Adjoa Andoh who gives a fine performance in is own right).


Shanty Tramp was a Thrillville production at the 4-Star. The film was preceded by a burlesque revue called the Hubba Hubba Revue. Three girls performed their routines. The emcee was a raspy voiced guy named Kingfish who sounded a lot like Penn Jillette. The opening act was a guy billed as the Vicar of Liquor who spoke with a Southern drawl and wore a Catholic priest's collar with a leather suit. He gave a sermon about how God returned on the 8th day to make women (i.e. Men 2.0). There was also some guy dressed up like Alice the Goon or something similar that walked around.

As for the film, Shanty Tramp looked like it had a budget of about $20. They even had a original song called "Shanty Tramp" but the music I remember was a sultry cover of "When the Saints Go Marching In." Actually, that was probably the best part of the film. Most of the film involves horse-face Lee Holland sashaying around town and the woods in a tight white evening dress. The plot can be summarized as The Downfall of the Shanty Tramp. She gets involved with an oily, tent-revival preacher, a biker who almost rapes her, a black man who saves her from being raped only to have her accuse him of rape when caught in flagrante delicto and eventually kills her drunkard father. Best scene - there is a dance scene in a dive bar/roadhouse where the man looks like he is having a seizure. Everyone in the film comes off looking sleazy except perhaps the black man. Even he could have avoided his fate if he had listened to his mother and stayed away from the Shanty Tramp. As it turned, he had sex with a white women, then falsely accused of rape and eventually dies in a car accident while fleeing the police. How is that for a moral? It's like the KKK After School Special.


Russian Ark was quite an ambitious film. Screened at the Phyllis Wattis Theater in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the film is one continuous shot filmed at the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia. The film used a guide who spoke directly to the camera as if the audience was a part of the action. Much of the Russian history references were lost on me. My knowledge of Catherine the Great, Peter the Great and Ivan the Terrible is limited. I only caught one reference to the Siege of Leningrad and another reference to Nicholas II and his daughter Anastasia.

The film was interesting as a curio piece but the Russian history references, constant camera movement, large cast and what I considered pretensions left me luke warm towards the film.


The Good Old Naughty Days screened at the Red Vic. The program was a compilation of pornographic short films from the 1920s. Most of the films were French intertitled and according to the introduction, shown to customers at French bordellos while awaiting their service.

It was interesting how the pornographic tropes were present 90 years ago. My favorite was a cartoon featuring Eveready Harton, a well-endowed, mustachioed man whose penis not only had mind of its own but could also detach itself and had to be chased after. According to lore, Max Fleischer of Popeye fame was involved in the animation.

The live action films were interesting just to see the grooming practices of men and women back then. The women were rather flabby by today's standards; likewise the men did not measure up to their modern counterparts (Eveready Harton notwithstanding).

I honestly find pornography boring and even silent era porn became a little tedious. I will say that I was surprised by the presence of acts of homosexual and bisexual behavior. Obviously, that behavior has been going on since the beginning of mankind but I would have thought that it carried to great a stigma to get "actors" to perform. In hindsight, I guess the incremental shame between porn and gay porn was rather small during that time. These men and women were probably marginalized before they made porn or else they wouldn't have risked so much to make the films. Besides, they were French...