Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 By the Numbers

Refreshing a post from early 2010, I summarize my 2011 theater going experiences below.

I saw 406 "films" on a theater screen in 2011. This compares to 382 "films" in 2010. For these purposes, a film is not just a feature length film but also includes programs (typically from film festivals) which consist of multiple short films. If it was categorized as a single program in a festival guide, it counts as one film entry on my list. Conversely, I saw several programs which consisted of a short film and a feature length film. For my counting purposes, those are counted a single film entry.


The top 10 venues in which I saw films in 2011 were:

1) Castro Theater (102 films) - 19 films at the 2011 Noir City and 12 films at the 2011 San Francisco Silent Film Festival. While these numbers are comparable to their 2010 coutnerparts, I went to the Castro for their regular or house programming more frequently in 2011 than 2010. I was frequently in attendance at the Cary Grant and Pedro Almodóvar retrospectives.

2) Roxie Theater (78 films) - 23 films as part of their 2011 I Wake Up Dreaming series, 11 films at 2011 Another Hole in the Head and 10 films at the 2011 Docfest.

3) Pacific Film Archive (58 films) - 11 films from the Japanese Divas series, 7 films from the Jeanne Moreau series, 7 films from the 1970s Cinema series and 7 films from the Southern Discomfort series.

4) New People/Viz/SFFS Cinema (27 films) - 6 films at French Cinema Now, 5 films at the Classic Summer Weekends Japanese film series, 4 films at the Hong Kong Cinema Series and 4 films at Taiwan Film Days.

5) Camera Cinemas (24 films) - 22 films at the Camera 12 and 2 films at the Camera 3. Of the 22 films at the Camera 12, 14 films were part of 2011 Cinequest and 8 films were part of the 2011 San Francisco International Asian American Films Fesatival (SFIAAFF).

6) Landmark Theaters (23 films) - six films at Embarcadero Center Cinemas, four at the Clay (all from the 2011 SFIAAFF), four at the Bridge, three at Berkeley Shattuck and the remainders at the Lumiere, Opera Plaza, Berkeley California and Palo Alto Aquarius.

7) Kabuki Cinemas (21 films) - 16 films were part of the 2011 SFIAAFF and five films were part of the 2011 San Francisco International Film Festival.

8) 4 Star (13 films) - six films at the Asian Movie Madness series. Not included in the 13 is the film (Rise of the Planet of the Apes) I saw at the Presidio which is affiliated with the 4 Star.

9) Vogue and Balboa (9 films each) - all nine films at the Vogue were part of the 2011 Mostly British Film Series. All the Balboa films were programmed by the Balboa staff. It's appropriate I saw an equal number of films at these two theaters since the Balboa came under the San Francisco Neighborhood Theater Foundation (SFNTF) aegis this year. SFNTF owns and operates the Vogue.

Tied for the 11th place were Stanford and the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts with 8 films each.


The top three venues (Castro, Roxie & PFA) remained the same from 2010 although the order was rearranged in 2011.

The 4th place venue (Viz) remained the same as 2010.

Camera Cinemas vaulted into the top 10 (at #5) in 2011 as a result of my going to Cinequest and the San Jose screenings of SFIAAFF.

Camera Cinemas pushed the Landmark Theaters down one spot to #6 in 2011.

The Kabuki and 4 Star swapped relative positions. They came in at #7 and #8 in 2011 vs. #7 and #6 in 2010, respectively.

The Red Vic dropped off the list in 2011. I saw three films there in 2011 before it closed in July

The Vogue cracked the top ten (#9) in 2011 as a result of my attending the Mostly British Film Festival.

The YBCA and Stanford tied for 9th in 2010 and coincidentally tied for 11th in 2011.

The Balboa moved from #11 in 2010 to #9 in 2010.


On 246 days in 2011, I saw at least one film.

My maximum was four films during a single day. I did that eight times in 2011. The first time was in February when I saw three films at the Silent Film Festival's Winter Event and then caught a midnight screening (Nude Nuns With Big Guns) at Indiefest. Five of the eight days were in March when I went to quadruple bills at Cienquest (2 days) and SFIAAFF (3 days). In July, I went to four films on the Saturday and Sunday of the SF Silent Film Festival.

On 16 days, I saw three films. On 100 days, I saw two films. On 122 days, I saw one film.


I still track how much I spend on admission but it's getting difficult to boil everything into one number. Charitable donations and prepayments mean that I paid for some 2011 films in 2010 and incurred costs in 2011 for films I plan to see in 2012.

The cumulative 2010 and 2011 average is $8.49 per admission but that is almost certainly overstated as I have not accounted for the tax deductions I enjoyed and am sitting on a modest stockpile of Landmark Theater Gold Books which will yield savings in 2012 and perhaps beyond.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Gold Arbitrage and I'm Getting Tired of Writing About This

Little did I know that a passing comment about how many cinema discount cards I have could be mined for so many posts...

On Christmas Day, I decided to drive down to San Jose to see Christmas in the Park. What is Christmas in the Park? According to their FAQ, "Each year, the two-acre Plaza De Cesar Chavez is transformed into a holiday fantasy with over 60 musical and animated exhibits, glittering lights and the 60-foot Community Giving Tree. Some of the original displays housed in one of the largest exhibits, the Lima Train, include a melting snowman, caroling mice and elf woodcrafters."

I've long wanted to see what the hullabaloo was all about. It's kind of interesting but I'm getting too old (in chronological age and spirit) to enjoy Xmas extravaganzas like Christmas in the Park. Still, I'm glad I checked it off my To Do list.

Aware that Christmas in the Park is within walking distance of the Camera Cinemas, I took the opportunity to see Sholem Aleichem. Further attempting to make the most of my drive, I timed it so I could swing by the Landmark Aquarius in Palo Alto to see The Descendants on the drive back.

Since discovering the Aquarius is around the corner from the Stanford, I've wanted to stop in to see what the theater is like. Not sure when a theater will close its doors permanently, I'm inclined to see a film in a new theater to see it while I can. The Aquarius has a ocean motif although the name was probably influenced by the hippies. Built in 1969, the Aquarius may be referring to the era or Age of Aquarius. Unlike the Stanford (44 years its senior), the Aquarius has about as much character as the twin screen theaters that would be built in the 1970s. It does have the underwater murals but beyond that, the design is less than utilitarian.

The theater (I was in the #2 auditorium, I believe) is long and narrow. There is a central aisle with three or four seats on the left and right. There are about 70 or 80 rows of seats. The theater seems to have been built to fit the space of the lot. The floor is raked so for me the best spot was about halfway down. Beyond that, the theater didn't have much going for it.

Looking to buy another Gold Book, I asked to purchase one. The cashier charged me $181.25 or $7.25 per admission. I was a surprised by the price since they sell for $193.75 or $7.75 per admission at the San Francisco Landmark Theaters. After the film, I confirmed they were valid at all the Bay Area Landmark Theaters and purchased another Gold Book. So if you are ever in Palo Alto, you may want to buy your discount books down there. I'm not sure if they sell at the same price at the nearby Guild Theater in Menlo Park.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Gold (Book) Rush

In my last post, I mentioned Landmark Theaters Gold Books. As if on cue, I was informed today of an upcoming change in the Landmark Theaters admission policy.

When I went to see Shame earlier today, I redeemed a Gold Book ticket for admission. The cashier told me that the Gold Books are being discontinued soon. They will be replaced by "Platinum Books" and will cost more. The cashier was a light on hard information such as when the Gold Books will be discontinued or how much the Platinum Books will cost but I was able to pin him down on one salient fact. The Gold Books will continue to be honored even after they stop selling them. With that nugget of information, I purchased an additional Gold Book at $193.75 even though I had more than 15 redemptions left on my Gold Book. I may go back and get myself a few more.


Long, long ago, I received a pass for one admission from the Chistopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center in San Rafael. I've only gone there for the Mill Valley Film Festival. The regular film programming at the Smith Rafael largely mirrors that which is available in the City. Given the $5 Golden Gate Bridge toll, I've been reluctant to drive up there to see something I could see in the City. However, this week, the Smith Rafael is screening a restored version of Charlie Chaplin's The Gold Rush (1925) which I don't see screening anywhere else. Given that the pass expires on January 31, 2012, I'll probably make my way up to San Rafael to see The Gold Rush which serendipitously is a film I have not seen before. It's fallen through the cracks of two Chaplin retrospectives in the Bay Area in the past few years.

The Gold Rush plays at 4:30 PM and 6:30 PM daily until Thursday, December 29. On Xmas day, there is only a 4:30 screening.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Gift of Discounted Admission

As a service and in response to a few conversations, I decided to list film theater admission price discounts in the Bay Area.

The 4 Star sells six film discount cards for $40 which works out to $6.67 per admission. That compares to their regular admission price of $10 and $8 for bargain matinees, seniors and children. The discount card can only be used for one admission at a time. Also, it is supposed to be used only once per day but I've used mine twice in a day. I cannot recall if the card expires and I don't have it near me. The card is good for all shows. The 4 Star discount card cannot be used at the Marina or Presidio theaters which are also owned by the Lee family. I know the Presidio has its own discount card (5 films for $40). I've never been to the Marina Theater and cannot tell from the website if there is a Marina discount card. I'm certain the 4 Star is cash only; not sure about the Presidio or Marina.


The Balboa sells a five film discount card for $37.50 which is $7.50 per admission. That compares to their regular admission price of $10 regular admission and $7.50 for bargain matinees, seniors and children. The discount card can be used for two admissions at a time. The card is good for all showings. The discount cards can also be used for the ballets and operas the Balboa broadcasts. However, the ballet & opera admission requires two punches on the discount card which is a $5 saving to the $20 admission price. Also, the Balboa allows free admission on your birthday. The discount card expires six months after purchase. The Balboa is cash only.


The Camera Cinemas in San Jose and Los Gatos sells a ten film discount card for $60.00 which is $6 per admission. That compares to a regular admission price of $10.50 (Camera 12/Camera 7) or $10 (Camera 3/Los Gatos), student/senior/children/matinee admission price of $7.50 (Camera 12/Camera 7) or $7 (Camera 3/Los Gatos) and a bargain matinee price of $5 (all locations). The discount card is good for all Camera locations and all showings except after 6 PM on Saturdays. The discount card can be used for two admissions at a time. There is no expiration date on the discount card. The Camera Cinemas accept credit cards so if you have a cashback credit card, you can get further savings.


The Roxie Theater does not sell a discount card. It used to but does not anymore (presumably after the Stattons took over management). On Mondays, the admission price is $6.50 which compares to their admission price of $10 regular admission, $7 for bargain matinee and $6.50 for seniors and children. The Roxie is cash only although you can buy tickets on-line through their website with a credit card for a $2 service fee.


The Stanford Theater sells a 4 film discount card for $24.00 which is $6 per admission. There is no expiration date on the discount card. That compares to their regular admission price of $7 regular admission and $5 for seniors and children. The Stanford is cash only.


The New People (Viz)/San Francisco Film Society (SFFS) Screen does not sell a discount card. You can purchases an annual SFFS membership for as little as $60 (not tax deductible). At higher membership levels, SFFS membership is partially tax deductible. Membership entitles you to a $2 discount on admission. The general admission price is $11 vs. the member admission price of $9. Seniors/Students/Disabled are charged $10 admission. SFFS membership also gives discounts for tickets to the San Francisco International Film Festival and the SFFS Fall Season Film Series. The discount varies depending on the screening; most are a $2 discount vs. general admission but the discount is larger for opening night and special screenings which cost more.

The SFFS also sells a 10 film Cinevoucher which is can be redeemed for tickets to most festival screenings and regular screenings at the SFFS Screen at New People. The general price for a Cinevoucher is $125; the member price is $105. At first look that doesn't make sense for SFFS screenings. If the member admission is $9; why use a Cinevoucher if the effective cost is $10.50 per admission? The answer is service fees. If you buy on-line, you are assessed a service fee or ticketing fee of $1.50 per ticket. The member on-line purchase price is $9 + $1.50 = $10.50. The Cinevoucher redemptions are exempt from service fees. The Cinevouchers do not expire. SFFS accepts credit cards.

My strategy for SFFS is to flash my membership card at the box office to get the discount when I go to their regular screenings which rarely sell out. I redeem Cinevouchers on-line for the applicable festival screenings (which frequently sell out or go to rush). If you are hard core about optimizing your costs, I recommend loading up on Cinevouchers as your membership expires. You can buy up to 10 Cinevouchers (100 admission vouchers) per transaction. Let the membership lapse and remain inactive until you run out of Cinevouchers at which time you renew your membership.


The PFA does not sell discount cards. You can buy a $50 annual membership which entitles you to a $4 discount on one screening per day. The regular price is $9.50 and the member price is $5.50. There are a bunch of other discounts for Cal students, Cal staff & faculty, seniors, disabled, non-Cal students, etc. If you buy a ticket, you can buy another ticket to the second half of the double feature (if it is a double feature) for $4. Everyone pays $4 for the 2nd film so there is no discount or benefit for being a member w.r.t the 2nd film admission price. The PFA accepts credit cards.

The $50 membership is tax deductible. In addition, the membership entitles one to free admission at the Berkeley Art Museum, discounts at the museum store and free admission at a number of reciprocal university art museums including the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford. Recently, members began receiving discounts through the PFA's East Bay Discount Club. All the participating retailers are located in the East Bay.

Last year, PFA had a membership sale where they allowed members to extend their membership for $40 per year. I took them up on that so my two year membership which expires in July 2012 was $90. I wish I would have bought two or three additional years because they didn't repeat that promotion this year.


The YBCA does not sell discount cards, per se. They sell annual membership for as little as $65 (fully tax deductible). General admission is $8 and the member price is $6. YBCA membership also includes discounts to gallery admission and other performances. The YBCA accepts credit cards.

The YBCA does have what they call "discount cards" which is more like a rewards card. At no cost, you can ask for a discount card (no expiration date) which you present each time you purchase a ticket. They punch a hole in the card for each ticket purchase. After six punches, your next purchase is free. I'm not sure if they punch the card when you buy on-line. On several occasions, they were out of the cards at the box office.


I previously mentioned the Landmark Theaters' discounted tickets. Summarizing the two types of discounted tickets:

1) Gold Book or Gold Cards which are sold in increments of 25 admissions for $193.75 or $7.75 per admission. There are no restrictions on time of use or expiration date. They can be used in any increment; i.e. one to 25 admissions at the time of redemption.

2) Discount Cards which are sold in increments of 5 admissions for $40 or $8 per admission. The Landmark Discount Cards are on good all day on Sundays through Thursdays and before 6 PM on Fridays & Saturdays. The Discount Card can only be redeemed at one or two admissions at a time. In other words, if there were three people, you would need two Discount Cards to cover the three people. Also, the Discount Cards expire six months after purchase.

The Gold Book and Discount Cards compare to a regular admission price of $10.50 general admission and $8 for matinees, seniors, children and students. The student discount is only good for Monday through Thursday. Landmark Theaters accept credit cards. The Gold Book and Discount Cards are redeemable at all Bay Area Landmark Theaters. I don't think they are valid nationwide as Landmark ticket prices vary among different markets.

Separate from this discount system, Landmark Theaters offers a free Film Club Rewards Card. You present the card prior to ticket purchase or Gold Book/Discount Card redemption. The cashier scans it and your account is credited with the number of admissions you purchased or redeemed. For every nine admissions credited to your Film Club Rewards account, you receive a free admission which is equivalent to a 10% discount. Combined with the Gold Book, if you are diligent about presenting your Film Club Rewards Card, you receive at least 27 admissions for $193.75 or $7.18 per admission. You have to spread it out over 9 Gold Books to realize the full 10% discount.

The nice part of Landmark Theaters Film Club Rewards Card is that if you forget to or cannot give the cashier the card at the time of purchase, you go on-line to credit your account. Each ticket issued by Landmark has a unique ID code which you enter to credit your account if needed. Each month there is a concession reward as well which entitles the card holder to discounted or free concessions.

Similar to the Gold Book and Discount Cards, the Landmark Theaters Film Club Rewards Card is not accepted at all locations nationwide.


That only leaves the major chains such as AMC, Cinemark and Regal which are the three largest. All of them sell discounted tickets and have rewards clubs. I've never availed myself to them because I go so infrequently. I do have a Regal Crown Club Reward Card because the nearest movie theater to my father's house is a Regal. However, on recent visits we've been going to a Century Cinema which I haven't bothered to get a rewards card for. Having never reached a rewards level at Regal, I cannot recall what the rewards are. The first few rewards levels are for concessions; it's not until later that a free admission is part of the reward.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Balboa Theater Fundraiser

I dropped by the fundraiser for the Balboa Theater last night.

A few tidbits I learned were:

The Balboa's facade is being refurbished starting today. The scaffolding should be up by the end of the day. The Balboa received a grant from the City to do the work but had to supplement it with donated funds.

Eddie Muller was there and announced that Angie Dickinson would be a guest at the upcoming Noir City (January 20 to 29). Tonight is the Noir City kickoff at the Castro featuring a Deanna Durbin double feature, the unveiling of the full film lineup and more.

The Balboa, stealing a page from the Stanford playbook, will screen It's a Wonderful Life on December 23 and 24.

It was confirmed that The Mostly British Film Festival will take place at the Vogue in February.

Gary Meyer confirmed that the annual Oscar telecast and Balboa birthday party will take place as usual. He even announced the silent film for the birthday party but I cannot recall it.

There are newly installed space heaters at the Balboa.

At the end of the evening, Gary praised the Roxie Theater for the courageousness of their film programming.


As for the fundraiser, I would deem it a success. My estimate would put the total attendance at approximately 100 people. The fundraiser consisted of a $35 admission fee and the auctioning of several cinema and Sutro Baths related items. Most of the items were auctioned via silent auction but some of the big ticket items were auctioned Storage Wars style although no one was a boisterous as Dave Hester. The competition for a few items was intense. The live auction generated at least $4,000 as quadruple digit bids were accepted on a SF Giants tickets & autographed memorabilia package and private screenings at the Balboa or Vogue. For my part, I was the winner for three autographed books by Emily W. Leider - biographies of Myrna Loy, Mae West and Rudolph Valentino.

In addition, they screened a 12 minute documentary called "Then and Now" about old movie houses in SF. Gary emceed most of the evening but was assisted by some SF Neighborhood Theater Foundation Board members. After an intermission, Gary screened a short film which he thought would get a Academy Award nomination. I can't recall the name and walked in halfway through.

The evening ended with Gary Meyer discussing films and actors which he thought had strong chances to get Academy Award nominations. The Descendants, The Artist, My Week With Marilyn, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, We Need to Talk About Kevin and others were discussed and/or their trailer was shown. Meryl Streep's turn as Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady was among the strong field of potential Best Actress nominees.

Gary also talked up two soon-to-be-released features, The Flower of War, a Yimou Zhang film starring Christian Bale and A Separation, an Iranian film.

Although schedule for 7 to 9 PM, I didn't get out of there until after 9:45. I didn't realize how tired I was until I woke this morning. Jostling with the crowds in the lobby during the silent auction and trying to get to the open bar/buffet table was exhausting.

The crowd was a little different. It definitely didn't seem like a film festival crowd. A man sitting behind me had no idea what "film noir" meant. The crowd was largely white and older although the $1,000+ bids were submitted by younger looking audience members.

The audience treated Gary Meyer with a mixture of adulation and reverence. From the way Gary spoke, it seems like he is going to continue playing a significant role at the Balboa for the foreseeable future. I left the Balboa unclear as to how or if the Vogue and Balboa's operations would be combined or coordinated. The Balboa seemed very much like it was still Gary's baby except it is being operated under a nonprofit umbrella now. My guess is that fundraisers will become a routine event at the Balboa.

At the silent auction, there were three original Sutro Baths signs which I coveted. Quickly, bidding escalated to the point which I was hesitant to trump the bid. When they closed the silent auction, I was trying to work up enough courage to snipe the Grand Opening sign. I have a bit of remorse today that I didn't "pull the trigger."

Among the local cinematic luminaries in the crowd were Eddie Muller, Judy Wyler Sheldon and John Stanley. When I paid for my auction items, John Stanley was standing behind me in line so he could pay for his merchandise. The young lady processing the payments had no idea who John Stanley was; she even made him spell his name. It reminds me of the time I was at the Muni Museum on Spear. Some tourists came in and asked the cashier who Herb Caen is. The young man was befuddled by the question. After fumbling for an answer, he responded "Does he play for the 49ers?" I think Caen would have liked that story maybe even included it in the three dot lounge...

Monday, December 5, 2011

Whofore Art Thou and The Time of Your Life

I stopped by the 4 Star to catch a double feature yesterday.

Anonymous starring Rhys Ifans, Vanessa Redgrave & Joely Richardson; directed by Roland Emmerich; (2011) - Official Website
In Time starring Justin Timberlake & Amanda Seyfried; directed by Andrew Niccol; (2011) - Official Website


Anonymous tells the oft debated "authorship question" with respect to William Shakespeare's works. I was familiar with the suspicions surrounding Shakespeare from an ACT production of The Beard of Avon from 2002. In a nutshell, there are many pieces of circumstantial evidence which would indicate that Shakespeare was not the author of the works attributed to him. These include his education, the mundane language used in his self-written will and his daughters' illiteracy. Speculation about the true authorship of Shakespeare's works focuses on Sir Francis Bacon, Christopher Marlowe & Edward de Vere. Anonymous goes with the theory that de Vere was the true author.

The political intrigue around Queen Elizabeth I serves as the backdrop for de Vere's nom de plume. Although a fan of conspiracy theories as well as this specific one, I found Anonymous surprisingly uncompelling. The political maneuvering of the Elizabethan court left me uninterested. The film also used a flashback device which I found confusing at times.

The performances were impressive at times including Vanessa Redgrave as Queen Elizabeth, Sebastian Armesto as Ben Johnson, Rhys Ifans as de Vere and Jamie Campbell Bower as young de Vere.


In Time is a nice science fiction film. The premise is that human have been genetically engineered to stop aging at age 25. At that point, they must earn time in order to live which is the currency of the land. They are given one year at age 25 but everything such as groceries, bus fare, etc. costs time. Poor people are working day to day literally. If they run out of time, they die or "time out." Time remaining is conveniently displayed on an implant on one's forearm.

As you can imagine, this sets up many potential plot lines. Wealthy people have centuries on their forearm. It is easy to steal time (one simply grabs another's forearm and flip it over to take the other person's time). Also, since people stop aging, it is impossible to tell someone's age by appearance. Justin Timberlake plays Will Salas, a poor but hard working & honest guy from the "wrong time zone." Olivia Wilde, 3 years younger than Timbelake, plays his mother in a small role. It is her death combined with a chance encounter with a wealthy but suicidal man that sends on his journey.

That journey is ill defined at the start but moving several time zone to the ritzy New Greenwich puts Will in the big leagues. He encounters Philippe Weis at a Texas Hold'em match and takes him for millennium pot. Weis is an über-wealthy time lender with a rebllious and beautiful daughter, Sylvia (Amanda Seyfried). Quickly, Will & Sylvia become attracted to each other. Raymond Leon(Cillian Murphy), a timekeeper (aka cop) investigating the death of the 100 year old man Will encountered to get his first century, arrests Will on suspicion of murder. Will kidnaps Sylvia to make his escape.

Although initially hostile, when the rich girl sees how the other side lives, she quickly buys into Will's evolving plan which seems to be Bonnie & Clyde meets Robin Hood. The two start robbing time banks and distributing the time to the poor. Will has gone up against the world's financial system. Wealthy and powerful people need the poor to always be short on time to exploit them for their own profit and immortality. Using spectacularly monopolistic price fixing, the powerful simply increase interest rates and the price of goods and service such that the time Will has given for free is devalued. How's that for a New World Order?

Eventually, Will and Sylvia decide to steal a 1,000,000 years (also called an epoch) from Sylvia's father to destroy the financial system. This is where the wheels fall off for In Time. The film does a good job developing this dystopian world (not unlike Metropolis) where power is concentrated in the hands of the few. As Salas inches towards socialism, the film seems to decide that it can't quite utter the words or cross the threshold. At any time, I expected Salas to yell "Workers of the world, unite!" Rather than socialism, the ending veers towards anarchy as Will and Sylvia go on to rob bigger time banks, presumably to distribute the time free to the poor. It's like Jesus Christ and Joan of Arc in science fiction.

The selfless nature of Will Salas, a hardscrabble kid from the ghetto, is the chief complaint I have about In Time. That a rich girl would fall for him is not unusual. In fact, it's common enough to be a trope. Salas' behavior defies logic and convention and takes the film to the boundaries of socialist propaganda (right down to the Jewish cabal led by Weis). A more ambiguous hero and ending would have served the film much better. A little more exploration of a society where everyone is 25 years old on the outside but some unknown age on the inside would have also helped the film.

Still, I couldn't help but enjoy In Time. Its time premise was thought provoking and held up throughout the film. Timberlake has become a decent actor. Cilian Murphy as Timekeeper Leon and Vincent Kartheiser as Philippe Weis stood out. Kartheiser could play a young Steve Buscemi.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Eames: The Architect and the Painter

With some unexpected free time on Friday night, I stopped by the Balboa to see Eames: The Architect and the Painter. I considered stopping by the Roxie to see the Midnite for Maniacs tribute to Greydon Clark but recall the last time I tried to see Midnite for Maniacs at the Roxie, it was sold out. The prospect of the Roxie being packed or even my not being to get a ticket was enough to send me home on a Friday night. Restless after a few hours, I looked online and saw Eames playing at the Roxie and recalled a recent San Francisco Chronicle article on the film.

Eames: The Architect and the Painter; directed by Jason Cohn & Bill Jersey; narrated by James Franco; documentary; (2011)

Going into the film, I wasn't sure if I had ever seen an Eames product or at least, knew it was an Eames when I saw it. As the film progressed, I realized I had seen many Eames designs. Charles and Ray Eames (husband and wife, not brothers), were influential furniture designers but as their fame grew, they branched out into films and exhibits for museums and world fairs. Although Charles and Ray were interesting people, their works are the true focus of the film.

Let's start with the Eames chair. Not a single design or model, Eames had a long and fruitful business relationship with Herman Miller which is the only chair company I can name off the top of my head. At work, I sit on perhaps the most famous chair design ever made - the Aeron by Herman Miller. The Aeron is not an Eames design but it was Eames' earlier collaborations with Herman Miller which established it as the most prominent chair manufacturer.

What about the Eames chairs? Well, I can't name them like the Aeron but recall seeing them ubiquitously in the 1970s and 80s. The following are Eames chairs which I recall distinctly from my youth. I still see the swivel chair in use but the molded plastic/plywood chair with armrests seems very 1970s to me now. The third chair, the wood finished one without armrests has a classic look but definitely feels like a Mad Men era piece.

The most memorable Eames work was a film. Eames and IBM had a long relationship where Eames produced short films advertising IBM. Many of the films were conceptual rather than selling a specific product. The Powers of Ten (1977) is perhaps the most famous film that resulted from the Eames/IBM partnership.

Unexpectedly and enjoyably, Eames (whose name I was unfamiliar with) was a nostalgic trip to my youth when these designs and films were all around me. At the time, I wasn't impressed but in hindsight, their works were special and memorable. Memory is a strange thing. You don't think about something as simple as a chair for many years. You see a photo and you recall these chairs from your school or a friend's house or when your father took you into his workplace. Charles and particularly, Ray Eames had interesting lives which shouldn't be overlooked but it's hard not to when their work is so iconic.

Eames: The Architect and the Painter, will be telecast on PBS on December 19 under their American Masters series.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Le Havre

I was able to see Le Havre on the last evening it played at the Landmark Bridge. As I mentioned, I slept through a good portion of Le Havre when I "saw" it at the French Cinema Now series by the San Francisco Film Society. Le Havre is currently screening at the Landmark Opera Plaza.

I'm glad to say that I stayed awake through every second of Le Havre this time. I wish I had stayed awake the first time because the film wasn't worthy of a second viewing. It was middling fairy tale by noted director Aki Kaurismäki. The plot involved a Bohemian Frenchman in Le Havre who stumbles on an African boy (from Liberia?) who is in the country illegally. Intending to be smuggled into the UK in a shipping container, the container gets lost in paperwork and stranded in Le Havre. The boy runs from the police/immigration authorities when Marcel Marx (André Wilms) meets him. Quickly deciding to hide the boy, Marx takes him to his home. Marx's wife is in the hospital with late stage cancer.

As I watched the film, I though Marx's wife would succumb to her disease and Marx and the boy would form a family unit but Le Havre operates in a mystical realm. The sets look artificial, the dialog is delivered in stilted tones and the plot is idyllic. The "villain" are nameless and faceless people who report the whereabouts of the boy. Tracking the boy is Police Inspector Monet (Jean-Pierre Darroussin) who reluctantly follows up leads regarding the boy's whereabouts.

At times, looking and feeling like a French WWII movie with collaborators turning in Jews to the Gestapo, Le Havre is clearly a pro-immigrant rights film. That aspect is fairly easy to ignore that because of the sentimentality throughout the film.

Wilms, Darroussin and Kati Outinen as Marx's better half head a cast with a number of solid supporting actors. The performances perfectly matched the tone of the film. There was an incongruent sequence featuring a rock-n-roller called Little Bob which looked like 1980's music video but the song wasn't half bad.

By the time the film ended, I was extremely mild about Le Havre. It was a well made film with nice performances which wasn't my cup of tea.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Southern (Dis)Comfort (Part 1 of 2)

On Veterans Day, the PFA kicked off a series called Southern (Dis)comfort: The American South in Cinema.

As I mentioned, the Roxie picks up the series on December 10 and continues it until the 15rh. The Roxie's 12 films are Reflections in a Golden Eye, The Strange One, Two Thousand Maniacs!, God's Little Acre*, Moonrise, Swamp Water, Hurry Sundown*, Poor White Trash, Wild River, Spring Night, Summer Night, The Beguiled* and Shy People.

Films followed by an asterisk are also screened at the PFA. Elliot Lavine screened The Strange One last year at Not Necessarily Noir.

Unfortunately, the Roxie run of the series overlaps with the Noir City kickoff and the Balboa fundraiser. I'm not sure how many of the Roxie screening I will attend.

I saw three films in the series at the PFA in November.

House By the River starring Louis Hayward; directed by Fritz Lang; (1950)
The Fugitive Kind starring Marlon Brando, Anna Magnani & Joanne Woodward; directed by Sidney Lumet; (1960)
The Story of Temple Drake starring Mirian Hopkins; directed Stephen Roberts; (1933)

I can't say I'm overly impressed with the series so far. Of the three, House By the River stands out. It's the story of a writer (Louis Hayward) who kills his maid. I liked the scene where he hears water in a drainpipe which indicates his maid is taking bath upstairs. This sends him into a sexual frisson. The writer convinces his reluctant brother to help dispose of the body. Eventually, the body is discovered and attention focused on the writer's brother as the murderer. All this excitement inspires the writer's creativity and he begins to write the best work of his career...loosely based on actual events.

There was nothing particular impressive about the film. Hayward, Lee Bowman as the brother and Jane Wyatt as the writer's wife give decent performances and the plot is serviceable but the film was incredibly mediocre in my opinion.


The Fugitive Kind is one of those weird films based on a Tennessee Williams play. The production code eviscerated Williams' film adaptations leaving the audience to look for "codes" and "hints" as to the film's true intent like some cinematic Where's Waldo. I don't know if that was the case with The Fugitive Kind which is based on pair of Williams plays. In the film, people behave in peculiar ways and speak in allegorical terms. Lumet seems to want to make a film that tells a story without actually telling the story.

At times, the film seems like a showcase for Brando's masculinity and smoldering sexuality. Joanne Woodward shows up looking like she stepped out of Lil Abner cartoon. Anna Magnani has the largest female part as the shop keeper, married to a bedridden Klansman who takes on Brando as an employee and to bed in the little storeroom in the back. For his part, Brando's character is tired of being treated like a prize bull by the women he meets.

I'm sure there was something beneath the surface of this film but I didn't find it. I will say that Brando was the female Marilyn Monroe. When he was on screen, you couldn't take your eyes off him. However, Magnani holds her own in her scenes with Brando.


The Story of Temple Drake was based on a novel by William Faulkner. Steve Seid introduced the film and mentioned the film was pre-Code but so scandalous that it is partially credited with introduction of the Hays Code. The poster for the film is particularly artistic.

The film version portrays Temple Drake (Miriam Hopkins) as a coquette who falls in with some rough characters who don't understand what it means when a girl says no. Some may argue that Drake "got what she deserved" which would have made for a fine ending but they tacked on a feel good ending which soured me. I guess we are fortunate because Seid mentioned the producers considered tacking an epilogue that stated after her ordeal, Temple Drake devoted herself to missionary work in China.

Movie Poster for The Story of Temple Drake


I will write about the rest of the films I see in this series at the PFA and Roxie.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Richard the Lionhearted, Sleeping Beauty, J. Edgar Hoover and Marilyn Monroe

After posting 10 consecutive days and 13 or of the past 14, I'm mostly caught up.

There were a few films here and there which I watched.

The Crusades starring Henry Wilcoxon & Loretta Young; directed by Cecil B. DeMille; (1935)
The Sleeping Beauty starring Julia Artamonov; directed by Catherine Breillat; French with subtitles; (2010)
J. Edgar starring Leonardo DiCaprio; directed by Clint Eastwood; (2011) -
My Week With Marilyn starring Michelle Williams & Eddie Redmayne; with Kenneth Branagh & Judi Dench; directed by Simon Curtis; (2011) - Official Website

The Crusades was part of the UCLA Festival of Preservation at the PFA. The Sleeping Beauty was screened by SFFS at the Viz. I saw J. Edgar and My Week With Marilyn while visiting my father over the Thanksgiving week.


Of those four films, My Week With Marilyn is head and shoulders about the others. It features a stunning transformation by Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe during the filming of The Prince and the Showgirl. Williams whom I mentally picture as rail thin and with a pixie haircut gained weight grew her out and curled it to look quite a bit like Monroe. Williams also found the babydoll voice but those are superficial items which 1000s of impersonators and imitators have mastered. Ammazingly, Williams captures some of Marilyn's on-screen sex appeal and a large part of her vulnerability.

The plot is well known and based on the memoirs of Colin Clark, who as young man was the 3rd Assistant Director on The Prince and the Showgirl. Clark's association with Monroe became a prodigious source of literary output which in turn became the source material for My Week With Marilyn.

My Week With Marilyn is filled with these big, audacious performances beyond Williams' turn as Monroe. Kenneth Branagh seems to be delighted to depict Sir Lawrence Olivier as a bully. In smaller roles, Dougray Scott is spot on as Arthur Miller and Dominic Cooper, Zoë Wanamaker and Judi Dench command attention as Milton Greene (Marilyn's partner in her production company), Paula Strasberg (Marilyn's acting coach) and Dame Sybil Thorndike (a respected theater actress who had a supporting role in The Prince and the Showgirl).

Eddie Redmayne as Colin Clark fades into the background as it he was meant represent the audience's point of view. Frequently, I found myself viewing the film as if I was Clark in the film. Indeed, I cannot recall a scene where we don't see Monroe from Clark's point-of-view. It's a thankless role.

Emma Watson of the Harry Potter series shows up as the wardrobe girl and Clark's erstwhile love interest. She looks a bit like Natalie Portman. In fact, she gets off one of the best lines. After everyone warns Clark to not fall in love with Marilyn because it will end badly, Watson asks him, "Did she break your heart?" Clark responds in the affirmative and Watson rejoins, "Good. It needed a little breaking."

How exhilirating it must have been to Clark. It must have seemed like he was touched by the hand of God. At age 23, out of absolute obscurity, Clark becomes a close confidante to Monroe and sees her at her most unguarded moments. It must have overwhelming like he being consumed by the fires of passion. How I envy Clark and admire this film for conveying that feeling.

I read that Michelle Williams is a strong contender for an Oscar for this performance and I can't disagree.


Clint Eastwood was self-indulgent with J. Edgar. He employed repeated flashbacks to Hoover's early life but didn't really cast much light on what motivated the man. Fussy and quick to be offended, Hoover was strongly motivated by his mother to succeed but he willingness to not just violate people's constitutional right but act in monstrous ways remain unexplained.

Eastwood does a subtle pas de deux. As Hoover ages, his relationship Clyde Tolson emerges. Eastwood would have us believe Tolson and Hoover had fight while vacationing together when Hoover mentioned the possibility of his marrying actress Dorothy Lamour. After a knock down, drag out fight, Tolsom plants a wet one on Hoover's bloodied lips. Poetic license indeed. This portends the future as Hoover and Tolson become partners in their professional and private lives. Hoover's conflicted acceptance of his own sexuality and the unfulfilled (perhaps unconsummated) love towards Tolson gives the film a tragic quality which overwhelms the other aspects of Hoover's life.

DiCaprio is an earnest actor which suits the role of Hoover. It's costar Armie Hammer, last seen as the Winklevoss twins in Social Network, as Tolson who has the break out performance. Dedicated, debonair & selfless, Tolson is Hoover alter ego and Hammer conveys all this with verve and panache.

Also noteworthy is Christopher Shyer as Richard Nixon. Between his makeup and vocal intonations, he evokes Nixon but more strongly evokes a malevolence which Nixon has come to be associated with.

J. Edgar is not a great film. It is well made but not particularly inspired.


The last memory I have from viewing The Crusades in early September is that of the raven haired Katerine DeMille. Cecil B. DeMille's (adopted) daughter and long-time wife of Anthony Quinn, Ms. DeMille has a scheming and dangerous look about her for her limited scenes in The Crusades. She definitely seems to be Berengaria's (Loretta Young) rival for King Richard's (Henry Wilcoxon) affection without every saying word. Her gaze is intimidating.

I was surprised at how accurate The Crusades was. I'm no expert on the Third Crusade but the film hits a few points I recall. As for the performances, Ian Keith as Saladin stood out. I was surprised at how positively Saladin and the Saracens (Muslins) were depicted in The Crusades.


The Sleeping Beauty is the second time director Catherine Breillat has used a fairy tale as the source material. The first was Blue Beard. Allegedly working from the original stories, Breillat presents the more dark and seedy aspects of these stories which are now considered children's stories. For example, I don't recall Sleeping Beauty having a lesbian encounter.

I can't say I fully enjoyed The Sleeping Beauty (or Blue Beard) but it's kind of interesting what Breillat. She deconstructs the fairy tale and returns the story to its origins. Noting the differences between Breillat's version and the one we are familiar with through Disney movies and children's books is an enjoyable pursuit.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

2011 French Cinema Now

The last festival of the San Francisco Film Society's 2011 Fall Season was French Cinema Now. At least it was the last festival for me. Cinema By the Bay, the San Francisco International Animation Festival and New Italian Cinema followed French Cinema Now but I didn't go to any the screenings.

Running from October 27 to November 2, French Cinema Now screened 11 films. I attended six of the films. I didn't feel well during one and dozed off. I seem to write that a lot, don't I. If I doze off for 10 or 15 minutes I'm bored. If I doze for an hour I'm ill. Fortunately, the film was Le Havre which is currently playing at the Landmark Bridge and at the Opera Plaza next week. I recall falling asleep on Muni on the way to the screening when I took the bus out to Japantown which is very unusual for me. I liked the parts I could stay awake for so I plan on seeing Le Havre at one of the Landmark theaters. I save discussion of it for another post.

All the films I saw were screened at the Viz but the opening of the festival was at the Landmark Embarcadero.

Angèle and Tony starring Clotilde Hesme & Grégory Gadebois; directed by Alix Delaporte; French with subtitles; (2010)
Beautiful Lies starring Audrey Tautou, Nathalie Baye & Sami Bouajila; directed by Pierre Salvadori; French with subtitles; (2010) - Official Website
Le Havre starring André Wilms; directed by Aki Kaurismäki; French with subtitles; (2011) - Official Website
Goodbye First Love starring Lola Créton & Sebastian Urzendowsky; directed by Mia Hansen-Løve; French, Danish & German with subtitles; (2011)
Bachelor Days Are Over starring Benjamin Biolay; directed by Katia Lewcowicz; French with subtitles; (2011)
The Long Falling starring Yolande Moreau; directed by Martin Provost; French with subtitles; (2011)


Despite receiving criticism in many quarters, my favorite film from the series was Beautiful Lies. The situations are contrived, the plot is predictable and Audrey Tautou and Nathalie Baye, as the daughter and mother respectively, give oversized performances as they struggle with their dysfunctions but I still laughted repeatedly.

The premise is a staple of television sitcoms. Jean (Sami Bouajila who is the straight man in the film) plays a handyman at a hair salon owned by Émilie (Tautou). Jean yearns passionately for Émilie who seems disinterested if not hostile. Jean decides to write Émilie an anonymous love letter which Émilie promptly throws in the trash to Jean's disappointment.

Later Émilie meets her mother Maddy (Baye) for lunch. Maddy is a wreck having never gotten over her separation from Émilie's father. Feeling that Maddy needs some romance in her life, Émilie decides to readdress and transcribe the love letter she received and send it to Maddy anonymously. Maddy is initially overjoyed and shows marked improvement until time passes and she becomes depressed that her secret has stopped sending her letters. Émilie had not counted on her letters being an ongoing affair but trying to be a good daughter, she writes another love note to her mother. Maddy is even more disappointed upon reading the letter and tells Émilie that the latest letter shows her admirer has no passion left.

Accepting the challenge, Émilie decides the only way to write a passionate, anonymous love letter to her mother is for her get drunk. The result is one of the best comedic lines I've seen this year. Émilie's letter begins with "Your proud and arrogant breasts..." That still makes me chuckle.

Émilie sends Jean to the post office to mail a bunch of letters including the one to her mother. Jean stamps all the letters at the post office but runs one stamp short. You can guess which letter doesn't get stamped. He decides to drop the letter off since the address is so near. Maddy is now extra vigilant for letters and pounces on the letter as soon as it drops from the mail slot . Maddy quickly realizes what it is and runs to the street to see Jean walking away.

Maddy follows Jean to Émilie's salon and you can imagine the rest. Maddy think Jean is her secret lover, Jean loves Émilie and for reasons not recounted here, Émilie begins to feel hostile towards Jean but needs him to pretend to be interested in Maddy.

The French seem to like raucous and farcical comedies with broad brushstrokes and over-the-top performances. Tautou and Baye are too good as actors to stray too far off the reservations but they both seem to enjoy themselves playing these flawed and neurotic women. Their performances are what buoy the film which is otherwise clichéd.


Bachelor Days Are Over is about a nervous and restless groom (Benjamin Biolay) in the days leading up to his wedding. Qui Qui (a childhood nickname) has a serious case of cold feet which is exacerbated by the stress of selling his place, overseeing the remodeling of the flat they are moving into, meeting the large contingent of non-French speaking inlaws-to-be, his brides unexplained disappearance and not least, the passionate affair he embarks on with a stripper from the club where his bachelor party is held. Constantly holding his feet to the fire are his sister (Emmanuelle Devos in a nice performance) and best friend who feel it is time for him to settle down.

There is a comedic element as Qui Qui juggles all these activites which goes wrong at every turn but as the film progresses, his internal conflict comes to the forefront. Qui Qui isn't a cad and doesn't want to hurt anyone but he is coming to the realization that the woman he is marrying may not be right for him...or maybe she is. He vacillates, it's agonizing and it struck as real as a heart attack. As a confession, I've been in a similar situation and these churning emotions can break you down. I didn't have sex with stripper to break up my relationship but this film struck a resonance with me.

The ending was particulary poignant. Did he make the right decision? Was the ending a tragedy or a triumph? The film leaves this purposefully ambiguous which is one more reason I liked this film.


Angèle and Tony was an offbeat romance. Tony is a squat fisherman; salt ot he earth type. Angèle is a hustler. The audience's introduction to her is while she is having sex with a Chinese man in exchange for an action figure which he assure her is the hottest toy in Shanghai. That scene establishes Angèle's self-worth, motivation and desperation. Angèle wants the toy as a gift for her son who lives with his paternal grandparents. Angèle wants a husband to regain custody of her son. That's where Tony comes in. Angèle thinks she can seduce Tony into marrying her but Tony is not so dumb or self-deluded into buying what Angèle is selling.

The majority of the film is the two coming to terms with each other and gaining some mutual trust. Angèle could easily have been written to be more feral and Tony more willing to take Angèle's interest in him at face value but director Alix Delaporte created a more complex film which look under the surface of both characters. The film meanders in some unexpected ways as their relationship progresses. I was still a little disbeleiving that Angèle would have a change of heart and that Tony would trust her but they both had a certain sense that they both needed to find someone before it got too late. I would have preferred a more "mutual compromised" ending but I can overlook the conclusion of the film.

Clotilde Hesme & Grégory Gadebois are outstanding in the the title roles, respectively.


Goodbye First Love reminded me in mood and tone to a film I saw at the 2011 SF Internation Film Festival, Living on Love Alone. They both followed young women in love who travel to the French countryside for passionate affairs.

Goodbye First Love features Lola Créton & Sebastian Urzendowsky, as Camille and Sullivan - two young people in love. Sullivan is little restless and immature. He decides to take a hiking trip to South America without Camille. At first, he writes frequently but as months pass, the communication goes silent. A great scene signifying the end of the relationship, or precisely the mending of Camille's broken heart, is when she pulls the pins out of the South American map which tracked Sullivan's travels.

Several years go by and we watch Camille become an architect. The film focuses on Camille so Sullivan is missing from her life and the film. When they finally reconnect, by chance, they quickly resume their passions despite Camille's existing romantic relationship. I won't give away the ending but will say Sullivan stays consistent to his character.

Goodbye First Love features a nice performance by Créton whom I saw in Catherine Breillat's Blue Beard.


The Long Falling was my least favorite film of the series. The story of a battered wife who kills her husband and flees to the big city to live with her gay son.

After a strong start, the film lost my interest; enough said.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Not Sucking in the Seventies

The PFA had a program in September and October called The Outsiders: New Hollywood Cinema in the Seventies. In a simultaneous but separate series, the UCLA Festival of Preservation, a few films from the 70s were screened. I list films from both series here under the banner of 1970s films screened at the PFA recently.

The Heartbreak Kid starring Charles Grodin, Cybil Shepherd & Eddie Albert; directed by Elaine May; (1972)
The Landlord starring Beau Bridges, Pearl Bailey & Lee Grant; directed by Hal Ashby (1970)
Hickey & Boggs starring Bill Cosby and Robert Culp; directed by Robert Culp; (1972)
Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song starring and directed by Melvin Van Peebles; (1971)
Mean Streets starring Harvey Keitel, Robert De Niro & Amy Robinson; directed by Martin Scorsese; (1973)
The Last Picture Show starring Timothy Bottoms, Jeff Bridges, Cybil Shepherd, Cloris Leachman & Ben Johnson; directed by Peter Bogdanovich; (1971)
The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover starring Broderick Crawford, Michael Prks and Rip Torn; directed by Larry Cohen; (1978)
Wanda starring and directed by Barbara Loden; (1970)
Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean starring Sandy Dennis, Cher, Karen Black & Kathy Bates; directed by Robert Altman; (1982)

I know that Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean was released in 1982 but it feels like a 1970s film with its 1950 nostalgia. Besides, the source material (a play) premiered in 1976.

Some of these films are much celebrated. The Last Picture Show was nominated for 10 Academy Awards; Cloris Leachman & Ben Johnson won Best Supporting Awards in their gender categories (beating out co-stars Ellen Burstyn and Jeff Bridges, respectively. Mean Streets established Martin Scorsese's career. Sweet Sweeback's Baadasssss Song is credited with launching the Blaxploitation film craze in the 1970s.

Although I was anxious to see those films, the lesser known works proved to be a revelation to me. I have long had a wariness towards films from the 1970s. Selecting from programs at local rep houses over the past few years has improved my attitude towards 1970s films. This PFA program was impressive by showcasing a varied sample of films which kept my interest with one exception.


Let's get the obligatory plaudits for the two classics out of the way.

I had never seen Mean Streets before. IMDB and the PFA notes listed Robert De Niro first in the credits so I was expecting him to have the largest role. However, it was Harvey Keitel who had the biggest role and whose performance shined the brightest. If anything, De Niro's Johnny Boy seemed out of place which indicates to me that De Niro has played these strong, silent, violent types for so often that I forgot he had any acting range. Johnny Boy is a flake, a small-time hustler looking skip out on his debts and get one over. You think of a guy like that and you think of Steve Buscemi type, not De Niro. Mean Streets was pre-Godfather II and pre-Taxi Driver.

De Niro had not yet performed the roles and sculpted the screen persona which the public would remember him for. So strong is De Niro's screen presence that I can recall two classic parodies. Of course, De Niro parodied himself in Analyze This (was there a sequel?). More entertaining was a Saturday Night Live skit with Alec Baldwin doing a De Niro impersonation on the fictitious Joe Pesci Show. That skit was over 15 years ago and I recall vividly.

The budget looked miniscule for Mean Streets but Keitel and De Niro make up for it. Charlie (Keitel) is a small time hood who seems destined to work in his uncle's business - his uncle just happens to be the neighborhood mafioso. Charlie isn't so keen on tht. A religious man, Charlie is consumed with Catholic guilt and that's before he even officially joins his uncle's crew. Johnny Boy (De Niro) is at the other end of spectrum. Charlie's best friend, Johnny is weaselly, violent and ultimately psychotic. There is a subplot involving Johnny's epileptic sisters and Charlie which makes 1973 seem a lot longer than 38 years ago.

Charlie wants to get off the mean streets of New York but his family, girlfriend and friendship with Johnny Boy work against him. Compared to some of Scorsese's later works, Mean Streets seems toned down and ineffective but clearly Scorsese had a notion of what he would later accomplish in films such as Taxi Driver, Raging Bull and Goodfellas. Mean Streets is an interesting look at De Niro and Scorsese early in the career and the New York state-of-mind in the early 70s.


I won't waste space recounting the plot of The Last Picture Show which was based on a novel by Larry McMurtry. The Last Picture Show is a tremendous film. The large cast gives uniformly tremendous performance. I mentioned Leachman, Burstyn, Bridges and Johnson were nominated for their performances. I thought Timothy Bottoms and, in particular, Cybil Shepherd, gave outstanding performances also. What was most striking about the film is the look. Bogdanovich and Cinematographer Robert Surtees shot it in black and white and recreated the flat look of films from the 1950s which is the era
Last Picture Show show was set it.


Akin to a guilty pleasure, my favorite film of the series was The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover. Made a scant five years after J. Edgar Hoover's death, the film never received a full release. I'm amazed a film like this could be made so soon after Hoover's death. Broderick Crawford plays Hoover and he seems to be having a great time. Michael Parks, who would go on to be staple of Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino films, revels in his role as Robert Kennedy. Full of "ums" and "ahs" and serving up a Boston accent thicker then any clam chowder, Parks just chews up the scenery every moment he is on screen. The two men square off against each other and they are evenly matched. If anything, Parks' RFK seems to be more a mischievious boy pestering an old man.

Having seen (but not blogged) about Clint Eastwood's J. Edgar, The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover covers much of the same ground with the sanctimony, heavy handed references to Bush's War on Terror or explicit scenes to Hoover's sexuality. The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover aimed for something lower than Eastwood but achieved something greater.

By the way, my favorite cinematic depiction of J. Edgar Hoover was his portrayal by Richard Dysart in a television movie called Marilyn & Bobby: Her Final Affair. In the film, Hoover's righ-hand man and FBI Associate Director Clyde Tolson receives a late night call which wakes him up. While never leaving his bed, he answer the phone on the nightstand. After listening for a moment, he hands the phone to the person next to him in bed...none other than J. Edgar Hoover.


The Heartbreak Kid was a discovery. I had never heard of the film which was made by Elaine May, the director of Ishtar. Charles Grodin plays a self-absorbed and self-deluded man who begins cheating on his wife while they are on their hooneymoon. The temptress is none other than Cybil Shepherd who I'm discovering had a number interesting film parts in the 1970s. Shepherd is in Florida on vacation with her parents, played by Eddie Albert and Audra Lindley (who is best known as Mrs. Roper from Three's Company). When the family goes back to Minnesota, Grodin follows them with the goal of winning Shepherd's hand in marriage. The Heartbreak Kid is a hilarious comedy with dark overtones. Grodin's character is particularly dispicable although he has a certain tenacity that you can't help but admire and ridicule simultaneously.

May cast her daughter, Jeannie Berlin, as Grodin's irksome wife who nonetheless engenders sympathy from the audience. There is a love scene where Berlin is nude. Maybe the problem is with me but I found it peculiar that an actress would agree to a nude love scene in a film her mother is directing, but it was the 1970s afterall.


The Landlord was an interesting film featuring Beau Bridges (who I thought looked a little like Brad Pitt) as wealthy WASP who buys a tenement building in Park Slope, Brooklyn. Park Slope is as ritzy as gets in NYC outside of Manhattan but in 1970, it was the ghetto. The literal setup is a preppy white guy, in a lavender shirt, driving up in convertible VW Beetle. His intention is to evict the tenants and remodel the building. However, the tenants (who include Pearl Bailey and Louis Gossett, Jr.) refuse to cooperate. In addition, Elgar's (Bridges) family is aghast at the thought of Elgar living in the slums.

Slowly, Elgar involves himself with the tenants' lives; even going so far to have light-skinned African American girlfriend and a one-night stand with another, albeit darker skinned, African American. Elgar may have gone native but he is still Whitey as far as most of the tenants are concerned. The film has a couple twists before it is over.

The Landlord was Hal Ashby's first film. Best known for Harold and Maude, Ashby starts The Landlord as comedy and moves into some serious race issues. Along the way, Ashby adds some dreamlike sequences which gives the movie a film school feel. I'd grade it an A but Ashby could have benefited from a little more experience in making films.


Speaking of film school projects, both Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song and Wanda gave me the same feel although neither was a polished as The Landlord.

Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song was an independent, micro-budget film whose box office success led studios to capture the same audience with what became known as Blaxploitation films. All the elements of Blaxploitation are present in Sweetback: prodigiously endowed black man (I liked the sex off showdone with the female motorcycle gang leader), evil white cops, oddball cast of ghetto characters, blatant misogyny, etc. Director Melvin Van Peebles changed the rules with Sweetback. Evoking images of slaves chased down by their white masters, Van Peebles has Sweetback running all over Los Angeles, encountering outlandish situations along the way. The ending has Sweetback coated in white dust and sand trying to make his way to Mexico (how ironic is that?). The coda states clearly that Sweetback will come back and kick ass on The Man.

Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song wasn't a great film but it was entertaining within its context. If it wasn't one of the first film of its genre, I may not be so charitable but I think Van Peebles skills and vision would win out regardless. The biggest impediment Sweetback faced as a miniscule budget and compressed shooting schedule.

Wanda was directed by Barbara Loden who was the wife of Elia Kazan and passed away at the early age of 48 in 1980. Wanda was Loden's only feature film as a director. She borrows from Italian Neorealism and uses the depressed Pennsylvania coal country to convey the world weariness of postwar Italy. Loden plays the eponymous character who divorces, abandones her children and falls in with an abusive armed robber. A little dim witted or perhaps unwittingly nihilist, bad decisions keep Wanda wanding around the country and through her life with no apparent meaning or goal.

Wanda is one of these films (which seem prevalent in the 1970s) where there is no moral or lesson to be learned. Wanda seemed lost and aimless at the beginning of the film and the ending sheds little insight into how the events that have transpired will effect.

Wanda was a bit of a slog for me although Loden and Michael Higgins (who plays the bank robber) shine in the scenes they have together.


Hickey & Boggs reunited Bill Cosby & Robert Culp who costarred in the television series, I Spy. The film was also Culp's sole feature film director credit. The film reminded me a bit of Robert Altman's The Long Goodbye except it was a bit more stylish. I'm surprised Hickey & Boggs isn't better known.

Hickey & Boggs (I can't remember which one is which & I'm too lazy to look it up) are two low rent LA detectives hired to track down a missing woman. The trail leads to large sums of cash and dead bodies. Unwilling to drop the case, Hickey & Boggs run afoul of gangsters, black militants and the cops. Hickey & Boggs are two sad sack, world weary private dicks in the 70s who won't drop a case even if their lives are at risk. In that sense they are cut from the Phillip Marlowe mold.

In the middle of the film is one of the most visually impressive scenes I can recall. Film at the LA Coliseum, Hickey & Boggs are money drop or maybe surveilling a money drop. Culp and DP Bill Butler use the open space and grandeur of the Colesium to incredible effect. They use the geometric patterns made by the seats as the backdrop and the steps to the lip of stadium as the gauntlet. The shootout is exciting and makes full use of the framing shots. The shots make the people look tiny which is also the way Hickey & Boggs feel about themselves as they slowly discover what they are up against.

Hickey & Boggs is a very good film. Since it is largely unknown, it's one of those films you recommend to people and it impress them after viewing it that you knew about the film.


Finally, Altman's Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean...this is the kind of film which makes Altman inaccessible to the pubic at large. Like a bad Tennessee Williams play, Five and Dime is a lot of talk about secrets that I just couldn't care about. There is a plot twist which is surprising but not enough to salvage the film. Completely set within a diner/drugstore, Five and Dime could have benefited from some addition locations and camera angles.

Monday, November 28, 2011

2011 Taiwan Film Days

In October, the San Francisco Film Society continued their fall season with Taiwan Film Days. The three day festival consisted of eight films. I was able to watch four of them.

Formosa Mambo; Mandarin with subtitles; (2011)
Pinoy Sunday; directed by Ho Wi-ding; Tagalog and Mandarin with subtitles; (2009) - Official Website
Ranger; Mandarin with subtitles; (2010)
You Are the Apple of My Eye; Mandarin with subtitles; (2011) - Official Website

All films screened at the Viz which is now officially referred to as SF Film Society/New People Cinema.

By the way, even though SF Film Society exhibits at New People, there are apparently opportunities for New People too independently show films at the venue. The SFFS calendar shows December 17 to be empty. However, the New People website shows a triple bill on that date consisting of Eatrip, a documentary on AKB48 and Gantz II: Perfect Answer.


Unlike the Hong Kong series, the quartet of Taiwanese films I were uniformly stronger entries.

My favorite film was You Are the Apple of My Eye, a quirky coming-of-age comedy set among classmates in high school and follows them for the next decade. Featuring a few Porky like momemnts including a masturbation contest in a classroom during instruction and character with a perpetual erection whose nickname is "Boner," Apple the spirit of youthful energy including the arrogance, innoncence, naïveté and highs & lows of first love.

Capturing just the right amount of oddness to feel plausible, Apple follows the love/hate relationship between the mischievous and underachieving Ko-Teng (Ko Chen-Tung) and the studious but popular Shen Chia-Yi (Michelle Chen). The evolution of their relationship would be ordinary enough if not for the pecularities of Ko-Teng and their classmates. Besides the aforementioned masturbation contest, Ko-Teng likes to walk around naked at home and there is the frequent minor dramas of any high school. Ko-teng's male cohorts are highly attracted to Shen Chia-Yi to the quiet exasperation of her best friend. The scenes set in high school were my favorite.

In the second half of the film, the classmates go their own way as they are accepted to different universities. Ko-teng & Shen Chia-Yi maintain a long-distance relationship until she discovers his passion for Fight Club style bouts. They have a contrived argument which was the low point of the film. After that point, I thought they would reconcile at some point in the future. The entire film is told in flashback as the opening scene is of an adult Ko-teng dressing for a wedding. The audience (me) assumed it was Ko-teng's wedding. I won't completely give away the ending but I was pleased by it.

The performances by the two leads were outstanding. The script was strong and based on director Giddens Ko's semi-autobiographical novel of the same name. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed You Are the Apple of My Eye.


I also enjoyed Pinoy Sunday, a comedy about Filipino immigrant workers in Taiwan. Bayani Agbayani and Jeffrey Quizon play Dado and Manuel, a pair of Filipinos who live in their employer's dormitory for foreign workers. Dado is the mature one - married with kids at home, he needs the job because the pay is better. He dutifully sends a portion of his paycheck home and regularly sends gift boxes to his daughter. He's not so dutiful that he doesn't have a relationship with a Filipina maid but of the two, Dado is the even-keeled one. Manuel yearns for a Filipina karaoke queen who is little more than a bar girl. Although she shows no interest, Manuel is too much of a romantic and optimist to let her disinterest discourage him.

After their romantic prospect diminish, the two use their day off from work (Sunday) to wander the city which I assume was Taipei. They spot a wealthy, nouveau riche, Taiwanese couple having an argument in front of their fashionable flat which they are moving into. The couple abandons the moving crew who in turn respond by abandoning a couch. The couch is a red, leather, low back number which looks like it came out of French whorehouse. My taste in furniture is not as sophisticated as Manuel's as he think it would look perfect on the roof of the dorm. Unfortunately, they are all the way across town without a motor vehicle. If they want the couch in their dorm, they are going to have to carry across Taipei.

The best part of the film is this journey as the two pinoys seem to encounter every small-minded and bigoted Chinese person in Taipei. Although focused on the two men, the films pivots to become more representative of the immigrant labor experiences of Filipinos in Taiwan. We become aware of the obstacles and indignities faced by Dado & Manuel and their Quest for the Holy Couch becomes an allegory for the spirit of perserverance longed for by "guest workers" everywhere.

The film firmly remains in comedic territory until the end when it takes a flight of fancy. Rather than being preachy, the film shows the pettiness of the foreigners and natives with good-natured sense of humor. Pinoy Sunday is an outstanding comedy about an issue that I had never even considered. At the risk of trading in stereotypes, I have heard Filipinos called the Mexicans of the Orient so it's not surprising this film easily be transplanted to the US with Dado & Manuel replaced by a pair of Mexicans.


Formosa Mambo is one of those films (which the Chinese seems to make in abundance) where a series of coincidences, interdependencies and contrivances occur to bring various story lines together. I didn't enjoy Formosa Mambo as much as You Are the Apple of My Eye and Pinoy Sunday...and it has been six weeks. If I recall correctly, there was a trio of kidnappers who hold a bespectacled boy for ransom. Sadly (and humorously), the ransom demand is misidentified by the boy's mother as a telephone phishing scam. Later, when she realizes her son is missing, she gets a real phishing call which she assumes to be the kidnappers. The paths of the two criminal gangs crisscross and the fraudsters recruit a new member who conscience bothers him.

Formosa Mambo is a dark comedy which detours into tragedy on occasion. Formosa Mambo was an ok film but as you can read, not very memorable.


Ranger was my least favorite film about a gangster who gets out of prison after 20 years or so. Upon release, he immediately,if not reluctantly, falls in with his old gang buddy who is now a mob boss. Wu Pong-fong gives a quiet performance as man who has spent his entire adult life in prison but retains some compassion (or perhaps he rediscovered it in prison). His performance won him the Best Actor Award at the Taipei Film Festival. At the other end of the specturm, Huang Jian-wei goes all out to portray a frightening brute of a man, the mob boss whose child unwittingly becomes the catalyst for violence. Ranger had a plot twist that I thought was unnecessary. In fact, I suspected it before it was revealed based on the child's wailing. Otherwise, Ranger was a solid drama.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Spanish Maids, French Priests and Crazy Siblings

In October and November, I saw two films at the YBCA.

Diary of a Country Priest starring Claude Laydu; directed by Robert Bresson; French with subtitles; (1951)
Love Streams starring Gena Rowlands & John Cassavetes; directed by John Cassavetes; (1984)

Diary of a Country Priest is a celebrated film. It lost the Golden Lion Award at the 1951 Venice Film Festival to Kurosawa's Rashōmon.

Country Priest is a lean and spartan film. Set in Ambricourt, a small town in the French countryside, the new parish priest (Claude Laydu) encounters apathy, hostility and disinterest from his parishoners. Determined if not enthusiastic, the priest attempts to overcome their detachment, his own physical ailments and spiritual doubts to minister to their secular needs. He is unable to overcome these obstacles. Indeed, his limited diet of bread soaked in wine gives rise to rumors of alcoholism. Laydu, who was devoutly Catholic, fasted during the filming to achieve the pallid appearance of the dying priest.

The priest suffers quietly through the indignities and calamities until the end when faced with his mortality. This gives the film a somber and introspective mood which can be difficult to sustain. I'm Bresson was up to the task but I wasn't. My attention flagged towards the end although the films finale was memorable and heart-rending.


My attention also flagged during John Cassavetes's Love Stream. The loosely plotted film features a tremendous performance by Gena Rowlands as Sarah, a woman with some type of attachment disorder. She goes around visiting sick & dying relatives with her young daughter in tow. She is prone to fainting when faced with separation from her family and loved ones.

After her divorce, she goes to stay with her brother Robert (John Cassevetes). Robert, a fiction writer, favors gay bars, is a staggering alcoholic and incapable of accepting responsibiity. The two develop a quick codependency. It's interesting to see the interaction between Robert and Sarah, brother and sister in the film but husband and wife in reality.

A few scenes are quite funny such as Robert driving drunk and Sarah buying two minature horses, a goat, a dog and some fowl. For most of the 2 hour, 20 minute duration, there was a lot dialog without much in the way of plot development. That's a hallmark of Cassavetes' films so I wasn't surprised.


I also saw The Women on the 6th Floor at the Landmark Opera Plaza.

The Women on the 6th Floor starring Fabrice Luchini & Natalia Verbeke; directed by Philippe Le Guay; French & Spanish with subtitles; (2010)

Also titled Service Entrance, the film is set in Paris in the early 1960s. Jean-Louis Joubert (Fabrice Luchini) is a wealthy stockbroker who owns a six story apartment building. The concierge is on the ground floor; he, his family and other wealthy tenants occupy the other floors. That is except the sixth floor which is more like an attic. That floor has been subdivided into small bedrooms for maids in the building and neighborhood.

At the beginning of the film, the long-time Joubert family maid leaves due to personal conflict with Mrs. Joubert (Sandrine Kiberlain). Noting a trend towards Spanish maids, the Jouberts hire Maria (Natalia Verbeke), a beautiful and intelligent new arrival with a built-in support network since her aunt has been a domestic in Paris for many years. Maria quickly wins over the fussy Jean-Louis who likes his morning boiled for precisely 3½ minutes. Mrs. Joubert appears more formidable but is more interested in her bourgeois pursuits.

As it turns out, Maria's the most well adjusted of what becomes an unrequited love triangle. As Jean-Louis becomes attracted to Maria, his behavior and attitude change to the point where his wife believes him to be having an affair with a wealthy divorcée who is a client of his. Rather than deny the accusation, Jean-Louis takes the opportunity to break free from his regimented life. He moves up to the sixth floor and lives among the maids. The social barriers are so entrenched that his wife isn't even aware he has moved up there.

I won't give away the ending but will say I found the film delightful. It required some disbelief as Maria is presented as a stunningly attractive, poised and well adjusted young woman. Also, the fastidious Jean-Louis undergoes a startling personality change. Putting that aside, The Women on the 6th Floor is a well made romantic comedy which comments on serious issues of attitudes towards immigrants and class warfare. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Watching Woody Allen's Films Can Be Really Kafkaesque

In November, the Castro Theater had a Wednesday night series called Woody Wednesdays. For three consecutive Wednesdays, they had a Woody Allen double feature. I caught the first two Wednesdays when they screened:

Annie Hall starring Woody Allen & Diane Keaton; directed by Woody Allen; (1977)
Hannah and Her Sisters starring Mia Farrow, Barbara Hershey, Dianne Wiest, Michael Caine; with Max von Sydow, Sam Waterston, Woody Allen, Maureen O'Sullivan and Lloyd Nolan; directed by Woody Allen; (1986)
Crimes and Misdemeanors starring Woody Allen, Martin Landau, Mia Farrow & Anjelica Huston; with Alan Alda, Sam Waterston, Jerry Orbach & Joanna Gleason; directed by Woody Allen; (1989)
Deconstructing Harry starring Woody Allen; with Kirstie Alley, Billy Crystal, Elisabeth Shue, Tobey Maguire, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Demi Moore, Stanley Tucci, etc.; directed by Woody Allen; (1997)

I missed the final Wednesday night of the series where they screened Stardust Memories and Vicky Christina Barcelona.

I suspect the series was programmed to coincide with the two part Woody Allen documentary on PBS on November 20 and 21. I caught the first night of the documentary which ended with criticism of and backlash from Stardust Memories.

I run hot and cold for Allen's films. The four films I saw as part of Woody Wednesdays encapsulates my attitudes towards his films. I loved Hannah and Her Sisters and Crimes and Misdemeanors. I liked Annie Hall. I dozed off during Deconstructing Harry.


Annie Hall was the transitional film in Allen career as a director. Prior to it, Allen was known for broad comedies and Annie Hall is romantic comedy. At times, Allen applies a deft touch in showing the slow and inevitable disintegration of the relationship between Allen's Alvy and Diane Keaton's Annie. Annie Hall won an Academy Award for Best Picture, Diane Keaton won an Academy Award for Best Actress and Woody Allen won an Academy Award for Best Director. Obviously, Annie Hall was a well received film. My only nitpick is that Allen fell into rapid fire joke mode too often. Sometimes he delivered; sometimes the jokes fell flat. At times, it threw off the pacing of the film.

Still there were portions that made me laugh out loud. Christopher Walken shows up as Annie's younger brother who has dreams of crashing his car and creating a fireball - cut to a scene where Walken is driving, Keaton is in the middle and Allen is white knucked in passenger seat. A little overkill as Waken's soliloquy was enough.

Shelley Duvall shows up long enough for Alvy to bed her after which she announces, "Sex with you is really a Kafka-esque experience."

Annie requires some marijuana before having sex. It is unclear if it is before sex with anyone or just Alvy. Annie claims the grass relaxes her before having sex. Alvy rejoins, "Well, I'll give you a shot of sodium pentathol. You can sleep through it."

I will say that the film is very good on its own merits. Compared to some of his later works, I thought it didn't measure up. Annie Hall is often considered the seminal moment in Allen's directorial career but to me it seems like the end of his run of farcical comedy films. In some ways, I would think more of Annie Hall if it were directed by someone else. Annie Hall suffers in retroactive comparison to Allen's future films. That's unfair to Allen as he must have been growing by leaps and bounds as director in the 1970s and 80s.


Annie Hall was Allen's 7th feature film as a director. Many people consider it their favorite film by Allen. Hannah and Her Sisters was Allen 15th film. He filmed several acclaimed films between the two including Manhattan, Stardust Memories, Broadway Danny Rose and The Purple Rose of Cairo. Having seen all those films, Hannah and Her Sisters seems like the seminal film in his career.

His previous films (excluding Interiors) were clearly comedies but Hannah is a drama with out any of the gags from his previous films. The comedy in Hannah derives from the situations which were very realistic. Allen does yuck it up some when he is faced with the possibility of a fatal illness but even he tones it down some.

The main story is about Hannah's (Mia Farrow) husband, Elliot (Michael Caine) and the affair he has with Hannah's sister Lee (Barbara Hershey). The affair, which Hannah is unaware of, has an theraputic effect on Lee who uses it end one dysfunctional relationship and start another, presumably more stable, relationship by the end of the film. The effect on Elliot is more debatable. Elliot is not such a bad guy as he shows definite signs of guilt resulting from sleeping with his sister-in-law. All told, the entire family is dysfunctional (Hannah is exception although she enables bad behavior in others).

Hannah and Her Sisters is a wonderfully made film about flawed people living flawed lives; not unlike most of us.

For those who didn't know or forgot, Maureen O'Sullivan plays Mia Farrow's mother in Hannah and Her Sisters and was her mother in real life. Soon-Yi Previn, Farrow's adopted daughter, is in the film as one of the extras during Thanksgiving scenes. Allen would gain notoriety for his relationship with Previn, 35 years his junior. The relationship allegedly began five years after Hannah was released.


Crimes and Misdemeanors is a much darker film. It's actually two films. One story deals with Judah Rosenthal (Martin Landau), a successful ophthalmologist and respected member of the Jewish community. A pillar of the community, Judah has a secret. He's having an affair with Anjelica Huston's character. She threatens to expose the relationship; he has promised to leave his wife. Judah can't stand the thought of the shame that would result so he engages his ne'er-do-well brother (Jerry Orbach) to set up a hit. That's right; the pillar of the community decides the best way to deal with the situation is to kill his mistress.

The other half of the film deals with Clifford Stern (Woody Allen), a struggling documentary filmmaker. Cliff's wife (Joanna Gleason) arranges for Cliff to get a paying gig filming a documentary of her brother Lester (Alan Alda), a successful and insufferable television producer. This requires Cliff to follow Lester to get candid shots and interviews. While filming, he meets Halley (Mia Farrow), a staffer for Lester. Alda hits a home run with his part. His pompous behavior irritate Cliff no end and the result is a first cut of the documentary which compares Lester to Mussolini and Francis The Talking Mule.

It's not until the end that Judah & Cliff meet and share a scene. By that point, Judah has "made peace" with what he's done and Cliff is hit rock bottom. The journey the two men take to get that point is entertaining and enlightening. Crimes and Misdemeanors is a very dark film which is fitting since it is based on Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment. Strong performances from the entire cast, the anguish which Judah feels and the humiliation which Cliff endures makes this dramedy one of Woody Allen's best.


Deconstructing Harry has an interesting hook. The scenes keep shifting from Harry's (Woody Allen) life to Harry's novels. Harry uses his own life experiences to inspire his novels. It's kind of fun see these coarse, vulgar and embarrassing events transpire in the "fictional" realities of Deconstructing Harry and then see the "real-life" consequences of Harry writing thinly veiled accounts. At various points, Richard Benjamin, Tobey Maguire and Stanley Tucci play Harry's alter ego. At times, the film was funny and enjoyable.

Over 90 minutes, the plot device begins to wear thin and by the end, Allen is mixing the two universes in confused mélange. My main complaints with Deconstructing Harry is that it is much more crass than his typical films. Second, he becomes two literal and obvious in his humor. Thus we get Harry descending to hell a la Dante's Inferno. We are treated to Woody Allen and Billy Crystal (as Old Nick) trading flat quips, in deadpan style. I lost interest before that point but lost consciousness during that scene.

Deconstructing Harry is saying something serious and insightful about Allen's misanthropy and self-loathing but he tells the story with such literal interpretations that it is lost on me or more accurately, I could not sustain my interest long enough to grasp what he is saying. Woody Allen's comedy has a tendency towards the obvious as shown in his depiction of hell in Deconstructing Harry, his rabbi garb in Annie Hall or his caricatures of Lost Generation expats in Midnight in Paris. For my taste, it's a fine line that he crossed over by too much in Deconstructing Harry.