Monday, October 24, 2011

Existential Cool, Chinese Revolution, Jean Harlow's Pair and Myrna Loy is the One

I went to the 4 Star on two consecutive nights. I saw:

Drive starring Ryan Gosling; with Carey Mulligan, Ron Perlman, Bryan Cranston, Christina Hendricks & Albert Brooks; directed by Nicolas Winding Refn; (2011) - Official Website
1911 starring Jackie Chan & Winston Chao; with Bingbing Li, Joan Chen & Jaycee Chan; directed by Jackie Chan & Zhang Li; Mandarin with subtitles; (2011) - Official Website


I've read Ryan Gosling's performance in Drive described as "existential cool." After seeing his performance, I'm not sure if it was his performance or the film which was "existential cool." Clint Eastwood's Man With No Name or Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Terminator was "cool." Gosling's unnamed character is more somber than cool. I guess at some level, he is cool as in ice water in his veins. Even while stomping someone's face in or slapping around Christina Hendricks, the Kid doesn't lose his temper. Gosling gives a measured performance which is a little too measured for my taste. It gives the film an austere feel which may not have served the film the best possible way.

The premise is that Gosling plays a stunt driver/mechanic who moonlights by driving getaway cars. He is extremely disciplined in this endeavor - 5 minutes (no more, no less), never work with the same person twice, etc. The Kid, as he is referred to by some, falls into the most obvious trap. He gets involved with his next door neighbor (Carey Mulligan). She is a single mother who husband soon is paroled from prison. To ingratiate himself with Mulligan, the Kid agrees to drive the getaway car for a job the husband has to pull off to square it with some gang members. However, a double cross is pulled and the Kid finds his life is at risk.

At the screening I was at, three young ladies were in the audience. After the showing, I passed them on the sidewalk outside the theater. I overheard them saying that the film was "profoundly disturbing." I just shook my head. Today, I read that a Michigan woman has filed a lawsuit against Drive's distributors for misleading trailers. She was expecting something akin to Fast and the Furious. According to the suit, Drive exhibited "Extreme gratuitous defamatory dehumanizing racism directed against members of the Jewish faith, and thereby promoted criminal violence against members of the Jewish faith." I didn't sense any anti-semitism in the film. I guess the biggest jerk in the film was Ron Perlman's character who was Jewish and ripped off the East Coast mob "for calling [him] a Kike to [his] face." Honestly, I thought that was just a self-serving statemen on his character's part although he did exhibit signs of Italophilia.

I don't think that is what the three ladies in my audience were referring to. The film has, apparently, been marketed as a fast paced action film. Instead, it's more of a character study with the aesthetics of film noir and Michael Mann films. However, the Kid doesn't have much in the way of character so he is blank slate for other more volatile character to react to. Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman take turns outdoing each other in the violence department. Bryan Cranston is a desperate mechanic looking to score as the Kid's sponsor on the racecar circuit.

The best scene was in an elevator. A hitman has been sent to kill the Kid. In slow motion, the Kid is aware of the hitman's identity while Carey Mulligan is not. The Kid lays a extended and passionate kiss on Mulligan. Upon releasing her from his embrace, he stomps the killer's face in. Mulligan looks on in shock.

I thought Drive was a remake of Walter Hill's The Driver (1978) but found out it was based on a James Sallis novel by the same name. Frank Lee described Drive as the best film of the year in his weekly newsletter. I'm not sure if I agree with that but I was impressed by the film and its style.


1911 was timed to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Xinhai Revolution in China. I can't recall the films I've seen before which depict the revolution but I was familiar with several of the plot points (perhaps I read something). 1911 reminded me of another Chinese film The Founding of a Republic (2009). The latter film told the story of the founding of the People's Republic of China upon its 60th anniversary. Both films featured large casts with a perfunctory and superficial exploration of important events and people. Anyone not familiar with the actual events quickly became lost among the abridged scenes and numerous characters. I did not enjoy 1911 for these reasons.


Earlier in October, the Castro screened a Jean Harlow double bill.

Dinner at Eight starring Marie Dressler, John Barrymore, Wallace Beery, Jean Harlow & Lionel Barrymore; directed by George Cukor; (1933)
Libeled Lady starring Spencer Tracy, Myrna Loy, William Powell and Jean Harlow; directed by Jack Conway; (1936)

Jean Harlow, The Blonde Bombshell, is part of Hollywood lore. The first bad girl of the talkies era, Harlow consorted with gangsters, posed for nude photographs, slept in the nude, believed underwear to be unnecessary and died young at age 26.

I've never been an admirer of Harlow's beauty. There is something crass about her on screen but that is probably the roles I've seen her in. Her face has an indifference about it which suggests casual cruelty. Lauren Bacall had the same look but I'm drawn to Bacall like a moth to a flame whereas Harlow is constantly overshadowed by her co-stars. Some women get in my head and some don't.

Dinner at Eight was one of those MGM star vehicles. Released during the lowest depths of the Great Depression, Dinner at Eight is set among the moneyed class in New York. If I may digress for a moment, during the Great Depression, these stories about the wealthy and glamorous were quite popular among the masses. MGM made a cottage industry filming them and F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote about them during the 1930s. During the Great Recession, the masses are protesting them with Occupy protests. Putting aside the politics of the current situation, I find it extremely interesting how the wealthy are portrayed and judged by the rest of society.

Back to Dinner at Eight...I found the whole affair to be a bore. Some people are losing money & prestige, others are gaining them (with the same savoir-faire), love affairs, death, etc. I thought I would enjoy the film based on the synopsis but I just couldn't get into the film. I fell asleep for an extended period of the film - that means the film was not to my liking or I was becoming ill.

I think it was the former because the next film on the double bill, Libeled Lady, kept me awake despite having seen it before on television. Spencer Tracy plays Haggerty, the editor of a New York newspaper. The paper is slapped with a libel suit by Connie Allenbury (Myrna Loy), the heiress to a fortune. The best defense against libel is to the tell the truth. Haggerty's paper is being sued because it wrote that Allenbury was having an affair with a married man. Haggerty hires Bill Chandler, an unscrupulous newspaper reporter, to seduce Allenbury and deliver the scandal to Haggerty's rag. The problem is that Chandler isn't married. Not a problem; Haggerty is engaged to Gladys (Jean Harlow) but the wedding keeps falling through because of pressing newspaper business diverting Haggerty's attention. Haggerty coaxes Gladys into marrying Chandler. After they bring down Allenbury, she'll take an extended vacation in Reno to get a divorce at which time she'll become Mrs. Haggerty. They don't make screwball comedies like they used to...

As you can imagine, Allenbury falls for Chandler. Unfortunately, so does Gladys. Chandler (played with comic zeal by Powell) tries to find a middle ground but both women are pressing him along with Haggerty who suspects something is amiss. Not surprisingly, Powell and Loy shine in their roles. In the fifth on-screen pairing of Powell and Loy, they spar with each other throughout the film. Allenbury suspicious of Chandler's intentions and Chandler falling in love with his mark. Loy's beauty and radiance are stunning. To hell with Jean Harlow, give me Myrna Loy everyday of the week and twice on Sundays. In a juicy bit of on-set romance, Powell and Harlow were an item during the filming. Indeed, Harlow wanted Loy's role but mindful of the success of The Thin Man and other Powell-Loy pairing, the studio insisted Allenbury's role go to Loy.

The film ends on odd note. Instead of tidying up the loose ends, it gives closes with the somber note that someone has committed bigamy; no way to make a joke out of that! Not unusual as a lot of films in the 1930s ended abruptly with a head-scratching moments. Up until that point, the comedy in Libeled Lady was sparkling with Tracy and Harlow giving strong performances in secondary roles. Libeled Lady is the film that reminded me how much taken I am with Myrna Loy.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Japanese Summer: When a Woman Ascends the Stairs, The Flavor of Green Tea Over Rice & Good Morning

Still riffing on some of the Japanese films I saw this summer...

When a Woman Ascends the Stairs (1960) stars one of my favorite Japanese actors of the period - Tatsuya Nakadai. However, the star of When a Woman Ascends the Stairs is Hideko Takamine, the schoolteacher in Twenty-Four Eyes, in quite a different role. Here, she is Keiko, a Tokyo Ginza bar hostess who unlike her colleagues, keeps a professional distance from her clients. By professional distance, I mean she doesn't have sex with them. The memory of her late husband may be her motivation but regardless, her professionalism only adds to her allure in the eyes of her customers and bar manager (Nakdadai). It comes at a cost. It seems every bar hostess' dream is to own her own bar. Keiko could get bankrolled by one or more of her clients...if she'd just play the game. Her steadfast refusal establishes her character in a morally ambiguous environment.

Keiko has been saving her money so she can start her own place without any assistance. A former co-worker's failed attempt at starting her own place plants the seed but an illness and extended stay with her no-good brother, shrewish mother and sick nephew pushes her over the edge. Keiko spends her savings bailing out her brother and paying for her nephew's medical care. This defers her dream of opening her own bar...or does it.

In an about face, Keiko first accepts a marriage prosposal from a man who turns out to be fraud (and already married) and later sleeps with a businessman who agrees to bankroll her. He turns out to be a cad as he is being transferred away for work and partially reneges.

After Nakadai admits his lost desire for her and disappointment by her out-of-character actions, Naruse sets up one of the best moments of the film when Keiko goes to the train station to see the businessman off. The man is concerned by her unexpected appearance and worried his wife will find out what happened but Keiko takes the high road by giving him back his money disguised as a present. The film ends with Keiko seemingly back to her old self as she ascends the stairs to the bar she works at and serves as the perfect bar hostess again...just like the film started. However, the audience is more aware of the sadness and disappointment behind Keiko's smile, more impressed with her constantly polite demeanor and a little sad about the life lessons she has learned.

When a Woman Ascends the Stairs is a very effective film. It's very dark at its heart. Keiko's future is very uncertain and her hardened heart will only make it more difficult to change her attitude. Regardless of the inner turmoil, the audience is certain that Keiko will be able to regain the professional detachment she showed earlier in the film. If not for her husband's death, Keiko's life would be much different (presumably better). The film showcases an excellent performance by Takamine. It was an excellent by the acclaimed director Mikio Naruse.

Instead of subtitles on the print, PFA projected laser subtitles and there was a "malfunction." The subtitles became unsynchronized with the film and they had to stop the film. I didn't ruin the experience but it did lessen my enjoyment which was still considerable. That's the second or third time I've seen problem with the laser projector. PFA may want to explore other options with un-subtitled prints are the only ones available.


The Flavor of Green Tea Over Rice, a 1952 Ozu film, features a married couple for the cinematic hall of fame. Shin Saburi & Michiyo Kogure are Mokichi & Taeko Satake, respectively. Comfortably off, childless & settled in their way, the couple coexist. There doesn't seem to be much passion in their relationship; if there ever was. Taeko is a shrew and not above lying to her husband whom she considers a dullard. Mokichi is taciturn to the point of giving grunts instead of speaking and seems disinterested in his marriage or his wife. Of the two, I found Mokichi more sympathetic but they were quite a pair.

Green Tea Over Rice follows a particularly turbulent period in their lives including a Taeko lying to go on an overight trip to the spa, being tasked with finding a husband for their niece and Mokichi being transferred overseas for his job. Ozu trains his camera on the nuances of marriage or a weary couple. It's not so much a complacent marriage as it is two people living separate live but still married.

The key scene is at the end when Mokichi unexpectedly returns and they share a simple meal as the title indicates. Mokichi has simple tastes which his wife has mocked and criticized throughout the film so her sharing the meal is a pleasant surprise.

Ozu had his finger on the scale though. I think it's obvious his sympathies were with the husband. The only time the wife was a bitch or lying was at the end when she thought he had left for South America. The film may not appeal to everyone as the subject foreign or pedestrian but I thought it was one of the wonderfully narrowly focused films by Ozu. Ozu almost exclusively trained his eye on family dramas. Frequently, the conflicts were generational but in Green Tea it was gender and without the sensationalism of an affair or unrequited love.

Best suited for fans of Ozu or these kinds of films, The Flavor of Green Tea Over Rice was elegantly simple. I can't quite say it was satisfying because the focused on the couple whereas most Ozu films focus on an extended family & the dynamics at work. By focusing on the couple, Ozu invited the audience to take sides which is uncharacteristic for Ozu.


The Flavor of Green Tea Over Rice and Good Morning screened at Viz/New People over Independence Day weekend or two weeks before the 2011 San Francisco Silent Film Festival. I note the relative dates because the Silent Festival screening I Was Born But... Good Morning (1959) is a loose remake of I Was Born But... (1932). Both films were directed by Ozu. I had not seen either film before the July screenings but I was aware of the relationship between the films.

Having seen both films, I thought Good Morning also bore a strong resemblance to Ozu's Early Summer (1951). In Good Morning, the boys run away from home because their father won't buy a television; in Early Summer they run away because he won't buy more model train tracks.

Trains are a recurring theme in Ozu's later films. Scenes take place on traveling on trains, Ozu uses train stations as establishing and exit shots, people walk along train tracks, exterior shots with moving trains are frequently used, etc..

The television set or lack thereof is the central plot point in Good Morning. The Hayashi family (husband, wife, two sons and their aunt) live in a Tokyo suburb. Their son's primary wish in life is to have television. Their "alternative lifestyle" neighbors (he lounges in his pajamas, she is cabaret singer) have one the boys go over to watch sumo wrestling. The boys pester their parents for a television until the father loses patience with them. In response, the boys go on silent strike. They refuse to speak to anyone until they get a television. They claim that adults say meaningless things and they refuse to grow up into that kind of adult.

Eventually, they run away from home but are found by their English tutor who fancies the boys' aunt. Upon their petulant and forced return, they are delighted to see a television set their father has purchased. What they don't know is that small talk adults engage in is part of a larger set of social customs. It's this same set of customs which accounts for the television. A neighbor gets a new job as a salesman and taps their parents to make a purchase (kind of like being hit up for money at work for coworkers' children's school donation drives). The parents seeing an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone, buy a television from him.

Ozu stalwart Chishu Ryu plays the father. Only six years earlier, in Ozu most acclaimed work, Tokyo Story, Ryu portrayed Sugimara's father. Koji Shigaragi, 13 years old at the time, does a masterful job as the eldest child. His younger brother is played by Masahiko Shimazu. Another Ozu regular, Haruko Sugimura, plays the gossipy neighbor who stirs up trouble in the neighborhood.

Primarily a comedy, the film is a slight departure for Ozu in other ways as well. His films are usually internally focused on family dynamics but in Good Morning the attention is drawn to larger societal norms which I associate as secondary or external forces at work on the family. The silent strike sets off gossip in the neighborhood as Sugimura's character interprets the boys' silence as a having their root cause in a disagreement she with their mother. Despite the boys' insistence that small talk is meaningless, a simple "Good morning" serves as a password for social interaction. It's utterance may be reflexive but it's absence is noticeable. The boys' selfishness and youth hinder their understanding of this.

The second major plot point is the television. The father could easily afford a television but he is against it on principle. He considers it an idiot box. Like America a few years earlier, Japan was in the midst of television boom. 1959, the year Good Morning was released, was also the high point for ticket sales in Japan. The next year began a decline in film attendance which was largely attributed to television. The fact that Ryu's character eventually buys the television is a commentary on Japanese society as much ss a plot device. The penetraton of television sets into Japanese households was unstoppable. Regardless, of Ryu's opposition, the boys (like the rest of Japanese society) were clamoring for a television. To deny them would only cause continued strife so Ryu relented.

I have yet to encounter an Ozu film (talkies) that I didn't thoroughly enjoy. I'm not so enamored by his silent films. I notice that Ozu seemed to have a fascination with Western society in his silent films. He seems to have lost that in his films from the 1950s and beyond. In Good Morning, the jazz and TV loving couple next door exhibit signs of Western influence. Ozu portrays them as misfits and looked upon askance by Japanese society. I'm not sure if that reflects Ozu's view of them or if he is relating his own experience through them.

Anyway, Good Morning only burnished my high opinion of Ozu and his films.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Japanese Summer: Love Exposure, Cold Fish & Twenty-Four Eyes

As I mentioned, I saw quite a few Japanese films this summer.

Many of them were tremendous; others no so much.

One film which was a wild ride and guilty pleasure was Sion Sono's Love Exposure. At nearly four hours, I was skeptical going in but Sono's keeps the soap opera plot going without let. I'm certain one vignette lasted the entire length of Ravel's Bolero. Sono explores Christianity, organized religion in general, identity and sexuality but it's clear that those are secondary. Sono's first order is to get the massive plot in motion. That includes a widower cum Catholic priest having an affair with a parishoner, his son Yu who becomes the king of upskirt photos and the parishoner's daughter Yoko who falls in love with a woman who helps her fight off some punks. It turns out the woman is actually Yu in drag (he lost a bet). Actually Sono must be paying homage to Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion, a manga and film from the early 1970s starring Meiko Kaji. Yu's drag get up is a spot on match for Kaji's costume in Scorpion.

Yoko questions her sexuality and falls in love with the mysterious woman in black while simultaneously living at home with her step-brother who is frustrated by that Yoko dislikes him but can't stop talking about his alter ego. At this point, a mysterious, tennis dress wearing Aya appears to wreak havoc in their lives. The film goes on for about another 2 hours after this point. The film is trashy fun (although it does have some interesting things to say about Catholicism) although it loses steam about three hours in. I loved Love Exposure and considered seeing it a second time but the time commitment was too great.

Mekio Kaji in Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion (1972)

Takahiro Nishijima in Love Exposure (2008)


A few weeks after the Roxie screened Love Exposure, they screened Sono's Cold Fish (2010). Whereas Love Exposure had a certain whimsical feel, Cold Fish was a very dark film. The movie poster reminded me of the poster for Straw Dogs. Cold Fish is about a tropical fish store owned who falls in with serial killers. A lot of thing happen up to that point but the film really gets going once he becomes an accomplice. Sono even allows the unassertive man to find his courage and self-respect (in a perverted way) through the repetitive dismemberment. Nice performance by Denden as the rival fish store owner and killer.


Those two Sono films were the only Japanese films I saw from this century. All the other films were "classic" Japanese films mostly from the 1950s and 1960s.

At the top of the "classic" list is Twenty-Four Eyes which is a beloved film in Japan. The 1954 film directed by Keisuke Kinoshita frequently makes the top 10 all-time list of greatest Japanese films. It screened ae the PFA.

Set in the years leading up to WWII, Twenty-Four Eyes refers to the 12 children in a small village. Hideko Takamine plays the teacher who watches them as they grow up. Most of the film revolves around the children's lives and Kinoshita plucks our heartstrings like a violin. One girl is so poor she can't go on the school trip and has to moves away. Another girl is forced to leave school so she can work at her father's restaurant. Several of the boys go off to war and most do not return; the one who does is blinded. The teacher goes through her own travails. The local villagers think she is a sophisticated and rich city girl because she rides a bicycle. In fact, she had to borrow to get the bike and it's the only way she can travel the distance between her home and the school.

Describing the plot lessens the film. This film is really about the harsh realities of life made even more cruel by war. The sweet kids at the beginning are in for rough ride and Kinoshita doesn't pull any punches. It's a tearjerker and unabashedly so. Every so often, he induces a little smile as when a couple is in love or in the simple joys of childhood.

Friday, October 7, 2011

MMA and Pythagorean's Theorem Perverted

While visiting my father recently, I saw two films with him.

Warrior starring Joel Edgerton & Tom Hardy; with Nick Nolte; directed by Gavin O'Connor; (2011) - Official Website

Moneyball starring Brad Pitt; with Jonah Hill & Philip Seymour Hoffman; directed by Bennett Miller; (2011) - Official Website

My father wanted to see Warrior. Neither of us were keen on Moneyball but it fit our schedule.


Warrior was surprisingly enjoyable for me. The story is about two brothers from Pittsburgh, PA. Interestingly, Australian Joel Edgerton (Animal Kingdom) and Irishman Tom Hardy (didn't he write Tess of the d'Urbervilles?) are cast as Brendan and his younger brother Tommy, respectively.

The two brothers enter a $5 million, winner-take-all, MMA tournament. When I was chatting about this film at work, I mentioned MMA to two of my colleagues. They were not familiar with the term. MMA stands for Mixed Martial Arts. The most well known organization is UFC or Ultimate Fighting. I'm not sure if my familiarity with MMA puts me in a certain demographic or marketing category. Subsequent conversations with friends and coworkers lead me to believe I associate with people who don't appreciate (or are even aware of) MMA.

MMA combines boxing, wrestling and martial arts into a competition. The fighters compete in a boxing ring with some modifications - a chain link fence instead of ropes and the shape is closer to a circle than a square. As a result MMA fighters are sometimes called cage fighters or are said to compete in the octagon.

The tagline gives the impression that one fights for country and one fights for family. That's not entirely true. Brendan fights for money. He's a UFC fighter turned school teacher. His Philadelphia house mortgage is upside down. His wife works as a cocktail waitress in a sketchy club. Brendan moonlights as a bouncer; at least that's what he tells his wife. In reality, he competes in "smokers" which are basically unsanctioned MMA bouts in the parking lots of bars and strip clubs.

When his MMA activities are discovered by school administrators, he is suspended for the semester. That gives him the opportuniuty to train full time and travel around to smokers with larger prizes. The only problem is he promised his wife he would quit the fight game when he got into teaching. She's not too happy about the situation but their choices are limited. Brendan is quite adamant about not losing the house.

Back in Pittsburgh, Tommy returns from Iraq and looks up his father Paddy (Nolte). Paddy was a drunk and a terror during his sons' youth. Tommy's amazed to see the old man is on the wagon and listening to motivational tapes (with an old school Walkman too!). Tommy is the more interesting brother by far. Tommy & his mother ran away from Paddy and kept their location a secret. Brendan (the older brother) stayed in Pittsburgh with his father. By appearance, he stayed to be with his girlfriend (now wife) but he later admits he was jealous of Tommy because he thought Tommy was Paddy's favorite.

I'm not sure why Tommy looks up Paddy. He's still angry and resentful and has no desire for reconcilliation. Tommy makes no attempt to look up his brother in Philly as he is still angry towards him for not going with him and their mother. There's a lot of anger and resentment in this film. Both sons refuse to forgive their father; Brendan only allows telephone and letter contact between him and his father. Tommy is angry at Brendan although the feeling is not reciprocated.

Tommy begins to train at a gym when he gets into it with a top MMA contender who also trains there. Tommy knocks him out and the sparring session is caught on a cell phone camera. It goes viral and Tommy's KO becomes an internet sensation. Lured by Sparta, a $5 million, winner-take-all, MMA tournament, Tommy begins to train in earnest and solicits the help of his father who trained him as a champion wreslter as a boy. Paddy hopes that training his son will lead to a rapprochement between the two but Tommy is having none of it.

The top rated figher at the gym Brendan trains at goes down with an injury. He was scheduled to compete in Sparta. Brendan begs the trainer (who trained Brendan when he was in UFC) to get him into Sparta as the last minute replacment. He reluctantly agrees and the stage is set for brother vs. brother. No one knows their brothers because Tommy is using their mother's maiden name.

Tommy turns out to be a war hero. While in the Corps, he saved some drowning marines. Also, he keeps tabs on his best friend's widow (in my hometown of El Paso). If he wins, he pledges the $5 M prize to the widow. It appears he is fighting for altruistic reasons but in reality is fighting because it is the only release for his rage and guilt. He has rage towards his family for abandoning him. He has survivor's guilt because his brother-in-arms was killed. Not only that but Tommy's gone AWOL which is the real reason for using an alias.

Hardy's performance and appearance are striking. At one point, a fighter mocks him by asking "Yo! Where's Paulie and Mick?" Hardy looks a little like Stallone (more like Michael Paré in my opinion). Hardy must have lifted weights like a fiend for the role. He has massive trapezius muscles which give him this hunched over, no-neck thuggish look which matches his ring performance. Despite being a champion wrestler, Tommy is a one-punch, knockout artist. He channels his rage into his fists and the onslaught is terrifying.

Brendan's matches are closer to Rocky. Brendan absorbs massive punishment but can take a punch and refuses to tapout. Eventually, he finds a way to win using a submission move such as getting an arm or leg in position to bend it in painful and injurious ways.

That synopsis wasn't very brief. I must have liked the film and action more than I initially thought. As I mentioed, Tom Hardy shines. Joel Edgerton's character is more well adjusted so he suffers in comparison. Nolte does well as the repentant father. Frank Grillo as Brendan's charismatic, Beethoven preaching trainer also captures attention. Kevin Dunn, one of the most prolific character actors today, shows up as Brendan's principal. Strong performances all around.

The acting was strong, the plot was somewhat predictable and lacking explanation as to what causes all this anger. The fight scenes were hyper-realized but not so much as to be distractng. Hardy, a serviceable plot and some well choreographed fight scenes make for a worthwhile film.


Moneyball was well reported in the Bay Area. Many of scenes were shot in Oakland. I recognized many of shots filmed at the Oakland Alameda County Coliseum (or whatever it's called now). Brad Pitt's comings and going were also reported. I'm a casual baseball fan to boot. My father doesn't like baseball and has never been to the Coliseum. He told me at after the film that he was quite bored by it.

I found the film a little more interesting although living in the Bay Area and enjoying baseball probably helped. The premise of Moneyball (based on a nonfiction book by Michael Lewis) is that the Oakland A's could not compete because their financial resources were so limited. They were being outbid for the best players. General Manager Billy Beane (Pitt) hires Paul DePodesta (Jonah Hill and his surname was changed to Brandt in the film) to revolutionize the way baseball players are evaluated. Paul has a degree in economics from Yale and use statistic analysis and computer modeling to evluate players in more sophisticated ways than traditional baseball scouts. One entertaining session involved A's scouts discussing a prospect. They agreed that the "ugly girlfriend method" was sound. If a prospect had an ugly girlfriend, it meant he lacked self-confidence.

I knew where the film ended - the A's win 20 in a row setting an American League, they lose in the playoffs and Beane's approach is copied by the Boston Red Sox who break an 86 year title drought. Putting aside the facts of the situation, Moneyball was a limp film. Brad Pitt tried to portray Beane as this driven man frustrated by the ignorance of his underlings. If Beane was so smart, why did he not put a manager in place to optimize the talent he assembled. Brandt's methods uncovered undervalued players which Oakland could sign but manager Art Howe looked to play traditional players who played traditional baseball.

From a purely logical perspective, the film was frustratingly inconsistent. Beane & Brandt were the smartest guys in the room but couldn't convince the manager and players of their method. Cinematically, drawing a walk is not that exciting even they did put a slow motion scene in where David Justice takes four balls.

The film also seemed to have severely edited. Beane has a wife (he wears a wedding band) but she is never seen or mentioned. The scenes with Beane's teenage daughter from his first marriage (whom he has joint custody or extended visitation rights). Her character seemed superfluous. The ballplayers only get cursory character development. Instead, we get a bit of buddy flick/mentor film between Pitt and Hill. The third most screen time goes to Philip Seymour Hoffman who plays Art Howe as dyspeptic foil for Beane. The real Art Howe has criticized the depiction of him in the film. I'm sure that liberties were taken but Hoffman's performance is about the best thing in the film. He wears a perpetual look of shock, disgust and disdain and he speaks in measured tones like a man who doesn't like his boss but figures it's more professional & better for his future employment in baseball to keep a lid on his frustrations.

Moneyball has a few smile inducing scenes but otherwise only A's fans or hardcore baseball/Brad Pitt fans should go see it.


Before it became a fad, I was a member of SABR (Society of American Baseball Research), which is the organization that pioneered the statistical analysis featured in Moneyball. Their periodic publications were like mathematical journals. There was a whole bunch of formulas and I always wondered if it was valid to divide by a number or add two numbers together. "Sabermetricians" are like alchemists adding a little of this and subtracting a little of that to come up with golden numbers.

Bill James who is lionized in Moneyball, invented the Pythagorean expectation or Pythagorean winning percentage. When compared to actual wins, the Pythagorean expectation measures how lucky or unlucky a team is. The formula is

Pythagorean expectation = (Runs Scored)^2/[((Runs Scored)^2)+({Runs Allowed)^2)]

Why square the runs scored or the runs allowed? It doesn't make sense. However, James basically backed into the formula. He analyzed the data and observed the relationship through statistical tools. If the numbers needed to be cubed to make the correlation higher, the formula would have been different.

Sabermetrics is kind of fun. I had a professor who would have called sabermetrics "mathematical masturbation" - you play with the numbers because it's fun, you keep playing with the numbers because it feels good and eventually you have to stop playing with the numbers because you have other things to do. I admit I like to play with numbers. Eventually, I had to move on because I got playing with baseball numbers; especially when the coefficients and exponents don't have real world meaning; when you're finished you haven't accomplished anything but you feel better. Now I watch films..

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Bertolucci and The Meatrack

In July and August, the PFA had a series called Bernardo Bertolucci: In Search of Mystery. They screened 13 Bertolucci films including his well known films such as 1900 and The Last Emperor.

I was more interested in his earlier works and the infamous Last Tango in Paris. I saw four Bertolucci films in July. I was considering some of the August screenings but wasn't able to make it over to Berkeley.

Before the Revolution starring Francesco Barilli & Adriana Asti; directed by Bertolucci; Italian with subtitles; (1964)
The Grim Reaper; directed by Bertolucci; Italian with subtitles; (1962)
The Spider’s Stratagem starring Giulio Brogi; directed by Bertolucci; Italian with subtitles; (1970)
Last Tango in Paris starring Marlon Brando & Maria Schneider; directed by Bertolucci; some French with subtitles; (1972)

According the PFA program notes, Bertolucci was an Assistant Director on Pier Paolo Pasolini's Accattone which I saw in December 2010 at PFA. Pasolini was co-wrote and was to direct The Grim Reaper but chose to direct Mamma Roma (which I saw in June at the YBCA) instead. Bertolucci inherited the project with Pasolini's blessing and made his directorial debut with The Grim Reaper. That's quite a cinematic pedigree and I'm always looking for coincidences like the trifecta. When I saw Accattone, I didn't know Mamma Roma would be screened six months later. Although I knew the The Grim Reaper would be screening a month after Mamma Roma, I didn't know that Pasolini's involvement with the film. Those kinds of scheduling coincidences happen to me frequently enough that I think it must the provenance of astute film programmers. How many people see as many films as me? Are programmers screening films for the handful of people that would see such a connection?

Accattone, Mamma Roma & The Grim Reaper - I see a pattern developing. All three films are about prostitutes and depict their lives in realistic (although sympathetic) terms. Accattone & Mamma Roma portray the pimps in a bad light. The Grim Reaper is about a john who robs and kills his whore. Men come off poorly in the three films.

Accattone had a gritty feel to it, Mamma Roma had Anna Magnani and a lyrical feel and The Grim Reaper feels like a gimmick. Evoking Kurosawa's Rashōmon, The Grim Reaper tells the story of a prostitutes's murder. Told from multiple viewpoints, the film closes in the killer's identity and climaxes with his capture at a dance. By making the murderer's identity known, The Grim Reaper moves away from weighty issues such as the meaning of "truth" towards a crime story with some interesting ways of moving the plot - like a Hitchcock or De Palma film (Blowout comes to mind). I guess it is unfair to expect a 21 year old Bertolucci to top, arguably, the greatest director of all-time.

Judged on a curve, The Grim Reaper is an auspicious debut for Bertolucci. It's an entertaining whodunit. The reenacted murder scene was notable for the indifference shown by the killer.

Bertolucci's second film, Before the Revolution, was more satisfying for me. In that film, a young man (Francesco Barilli) embarks on a torrid love affair with his aunt (outstanding performance by Adriana Asti). This forbidden love plays against the backdrop of Marxism, class warfare and Italian political unrest in 1960s. The turmoil and passion Fabrizio (Barilli) feels towards his aunt is mirrored by the turmoil and passion he encounters in Italian society.

Before the Revolution has an latent energy which must have seemed vital if you lived in Italy in the 1960s or are a political student of the era. Being neither, I was more fascinated by the relationship between aunt & newphew. Asti dresses and slightly resembles Audrey Hepburn but her performance hints at inner demons in ways I cannot recall from any Hepburn performance. Asti and Barilli careem from scene to scene with subtle and obvious desperation as their affair waxes and wanes. The end shot at Fabrizio's wedding is a classic as it appears the woman has moved on her younger newphew.

Before the Revolution has a French New Wave and the early 1960s vitality when Italian directors were all the rage. Allegedly semi-autobiographical, Before the Revolution was not Bertolucci's debut but it must have heralded his potential as a film director.

In The Spider’s Stratagem, Bertolucci achieved something closer to Rashōmon. Released the same year as his more celebrated The Conformist, The Spider’s Stratagem tells the story of Athos Magnani, Jr. (Giulio Brogi). Magnani returns to the town of his father's death. Magnani Sr. was killed before Jr. as born and his murder remains unsolved. Invited town to by Senior's mistress, Junior returns to the town where his father is revered by street names & statues and spoken about with reverence by all who knew him.

Bertolucci does something interesting though. Frist off, he has Brogi play both Jr. and Sr. but more interesting is that he blurs the line for the audience. The audience becomes increasing less certain whether the character is father or son. The actors who are elderly (almost everyone in the town is elderly) play their characters at a younger age when they are in scenes with Sr. Bertolucci plays with time and identity. The revealed circumstances of Senior's death are secondary. Bertolucci seems to excel in telling a story in innovative ways as opposed to telling great stories.

For any criticisms I have about Before the Revolution, The Grim Reaper & The Spider’s Stratagem, I'm gland I saw the films. Last Tango in Paris is a horse of a different color.

The infamous film is one I've heard about for years and long wanted to see...if for no other reason than to cross it off my cinematic bucket list. In Paris, Paul (Marlon Brando) and Jeanne (Maria Schneider) meet while looking at the same apartment. Paul may have followed Jeanne; it's not clear. After their encounter, they inexplicably embark on an anonymous sexual relationship. It's anonymous in the sense that they don't details about their personal life. They meet weekly at the apartment (which Paul has rented but remains unlived in) and have kinky sex. Jeanne has a boyfriend (I think they may be engaged) but is fairly unsatisfied by the relationship.

The exact root of Jeanne's motivation is unclear. Paul, on the other hand, is still mourning his wife's suicide. If taken literally, he keeps her corpse in their bedroom with an abundance of flowers. Presumably to mask the odor but visually, Bertolucci makes the most of the scene. There was a later scene at a tango competition where Paul reveals his personal life to Jeanne which was masterfully shot. As for the controversial sex scenes, they were surprisingly lacking of eroticism. In fact, they were at time comical. I'm thinking of one scene regarding a finger nail clippers and Brando.

Brando's performance was uneven but I guess that's consistent his character. Schneider showed a some range in the portrayal her character and I'm surprised she didn't go on to bigger and better. Schneider portrayed herself in the media as wild child of 70s but in later years she was critical of Bertolucci, Brando and her experience on the set of Last Tango.

Perhaps if I had seen this film earlier in my life, I would have thought different. However, given the 40 years since it was released and my own life experience, I find the film to be passé. Unlike the other three Bertolucci films I saw, it seemed that Bertolucci's attempts at being overtly sexual lessened the film. The world changed drastically from 1962 to 1972 and I can imagine how filmmakers were trying to keep pace with the changes. Last Tango has the look and feel of a director in transition or perhaps more accurately, a world in transition and a director trying to find his way in that world. A lot of films from 1970s have that same feel. That's probably one reason I've fully appreciated films from that decade.


The YBCA had a series in July and August called Smut Capital of America.

According to YBCA Film Curator Joel Shepard, Though [Smut Capital of America] has a lurid title, and some lurid films, this is not a porn series. Only two of the films in the eight-part program could accurately be called “porno movies,” and they are radically different than contemporary pornography. The last thing I wanted to do was screen hours of close-ups of grinding genitals. It doesn’t get much more tedious.

This is a look back at a specific place (San Francisco) and time (1969 to around 1974) and the truly unbelievable explosion of sex culture here. Though many similar things were happening in Copenhagen, San Francisco was the center of the sexual revolution in America. And it wasn’t just about the exhibition of sexually explicit film. Strip clubs, live sex shows (there were dozens of them at one time), nude encounter groups, erotic restaurants, adult bookstores, and more, all played huge roles.

For some reason, my blog gets of hits for search keywords such as "Japanese hot sex," "hot roman women," "adult video," etc. I write about a few pinku eiga films, stalag fiction or penis dismemberment and I get labeled a porno site. Although Smut Capital looked kind of interesting (including an Alex de Renzy film), I largely stayed away. I only saw one film.

The Meatrack directed by Richard Stockton; (1968)

I can't remember who introduced The Meatrack. He gave the most scholarly and extended lecture on gay porn in San Francisco which made me wonder if he actually got paid to research the stuff. It was if he was lecturing on European Royalty. He explained the relationships between the key, local porn figures of era. I was transfixed by talk in which he did seem to use notecards. All this spoken extemporaneously!

To be honest, I don't know why I went to see The Meatrack. The program referred to it as follow, Shot mostly on the mean streets of San Francisco, this is a gritty, brooding tale of a bisexual hustler who’ll go to bed with any man or woman who offers him enough money and sexual kicks. Using both sexploitation and art film aesthetics, The Meatrack is an essential and compelling artifact of pre-hardcore adult cinema.

No matter how much it is dressed up, The Meatrack was essentially soft-core porn. Richard Stockton was an alias the director used so that's a good indication of how the film was intended. When Shepard wrote of close-ups of grinding genitals, "it doesn’t get much more tedious," he clearly saw something I missed. At 65 minutes, The Meatrack bored me to slumber. I don't mean catnapping either. I slept without interruptions for the last 40 minutes of the film.

The protagonist had two or three sex partners in the first 25 minutes and the film was just not sexy or even very interesting. It reminds of Last Tango except at least Bertolucci put a few interesting interlues between the sex scenes. It as kind of interesting to see the Tenderloin from 40 years ago but otherwise, it bored me senseless.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

It's a Mixed Up, Muddled Up, Shook Up World Except for My Lola

The title refers to a line from The Kinks' famous song. It took me a decade or more before I listened to the lyrics closely enough to understand what the song was about.

Lola also means grandmother in Tagalog and is the title of Brillante Mendoza's latest film which screened at the YBCA last week.

Lola starring Anita Linda & Rustica Carpio; directed by Brillante Mendoza; Tagalog with subtitles; (2009)

The films of Brillante Mendoza have received quite a bit of screen time in the Bay Area over the past few years. I've seen Slingshot, Service and Kinatay in Bay Area theaters in past few years. Those three films and Lola were released consecutively between 2007 and 2009. Mendoza's latest film, Captured (with Isabelle Huppert), was released last month in France.

Lola is a simple film. The premise is that one young man robs and kills another young man. The audience doesn't see the crime but instead, sees the aftermath. Specifically, we see how it affects the two men's grandmothers. Lola Sepa (Anita Linda) is grieving her grandson's death but doesn't have enough money to pay for the burial. Lola Puring (Rustica Carpio) is beside herself worrying about her grandson who has been arrested for the crime.

The two Lolas do not know each other although their circumstances are similar - they both are matriarchs of extended families, appear to be widows and live in abject poverty. Sepa seems to live in a swamp although it might be an area flooded by torrential rainstorms. In some ways, her neighborhood resembles a Venice ghetto as people travel via boats between locations. Puring lives with her disabled son and another grandson who sells fruits and vegetables (without a license) from a makeshift cart outside their house.

The most interesting aspect of the film for me was the Philippine criminal justice system. The film implies that if the defendant and the victim (or family of the victim in cases of murder) can reach a settlement, criminal prosecution will be declined. In practice, that means the accused settles with the victim by monetary means. The film also implies this is a common practice in the Philippines.

The four Mendoza films I've seen are set in the slums of Manila or some other Philippine city. One thing Mendoza drives home repeatedly is that the poor cannot afford to have principles. So it is for our lolas. Sepa won't meet with Puring because she is too upset about her grandson's death and wants the accused to be prosecuted. At first, Puring doesn't have enough money to offer a settlement. Slowly, the two women change in reaction to the stress of their situation.

Puring embarks on a money making expeditions - hocking her grandson's prized television, begging neighbors, shortchanging customers at the vegetable stand and seemingly taking out a loan against her family's farm in the countryside where her younger sister's family lives. Sepa is literally living with her dead grandson as the coffin takes up significant space in their shanty. She is encouraged to consider a settlement by her daughter and the constant presence of the coffin reminds her that she must somehow find a way to pay for the burial.

Eventually, the two lolas reach a settlement which they've both become resigned to. Far from being happy, they seem relieved that the ordeal is over.

What I also found interesting about the film is the way the crime was secondary to the plot. The actual guilt of Puring's grandson is never explored nor the relationship between the two men. It's implied the crime was a drug deal gone bad. Puring's other grandson seems to seethe at his grandmother's efforts to help his cousin as though they had been through this before (addicts will keep relying on their families to bail them out of trouble).

Mendoza tells the story with a detached, almost documentarian style. For the most part, he doesn't favor one side over the other. There was a seen where Lola Sepa had to use the restroom at the courthouse. The restroom was closed for repairs and unable to hold her bladder, she urinated in the hallway. I thought that scene was gratuitous. Lola Puring comes off worse because we see her lying about her grandson's circumstances and behaving dishonestly but her unconditional support for her grandson is touching if not slightly frustrating.

With Lola, Mendoza adds to his noteworthy filmography. Not as graphic as Kinatay or as sleazy as Service, Lola show yet another side of the Filipino underclass and the poverty in which they reside. Whereas previous films called into question the characters' moral poverty to varying degrees, Lola nearly rationalizes their actions and puts aside the notions of right and wrong.

Lola is a grim film. It's worth seeing if you're a fan of Mendoza. It's like he's channeling Italian Neorealism across 60 years and 6,000 miles.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Japanese Summer

There were two significant film series focusing on Japanese films this past summer and a few other screenings. All told, I saw 19 Japanese language films in less than four months at three different venues between June and September.


At the PFA, they had a two month series titled Japanese Divas. There were 23 films (by my count) in the series but I had seen several of them before. In fact, I saw many of them in the Summer of 2010 at New People/Viz. The only film I missed which I had not previously seen was Immortal Love (1961; directed by Keisuke Kinoshita).

I ended up seeing 11 films.

Odd Obsession starring Machiko Kyo & Tatsuya Nakadai; directed by Kon Ichikawa; Japanese with subtitles; (1959)
Dragnet Girl starring Kinuyo Tanaka; directed by Yasujirō Ozu; silent with intertitles; live piano accompaniment by Judith Rosenberg; (1933)
Twenty-Four Eyes starring Hideko Takamine; directed by Keisuke Kinoshita; Japanese with subtitles; (1954)
Carmen Comes Home starring Hideko Takamine; directed by Keisuke Kinoshita; Japanese with subtitles; (1951)
When a Woman Ascends the Stairs starring Hideko Takamine & Tatsuya Nakadai; directed by Mikio Naruse; Japanese with subtitles; (1960)
Woman of Tokyo starring Yoshiko Okada; directed by Yasujirō Ozu; silent with intertitles; live piano accompaniment by Judith Rosenberg; (1933)
A Hen in the Wind starring Kinuyo Tanaka; directed by Yasujirō Ozu; Japanese with subtitles; (1948)
The Face of Another starring Machiko Kyo & Tatsuya Nakadai; directed by Hiroshi Teshigahara; Japanese with subtitles; (1966)
Equinox Flower starring Kinuyo Tanaka; directed by Yasujirō Ozu; Japanese with subtitles; (1958)
A Wife Confesses starring Ayako Wakao; directed by Yasuzo Masumura; Japanese with subtitles; (1961)
Seisaku’s Wife starring Ayako Wakao; directed by Yasuzo Masumura; Japanese with subtitles; (1965)


Over at New People/Viz, the reprised the Summer 2010 success and had a Japanse Classics series. From late June through August, they screened ten films. Again, I had seen some of the films in the series so I skipped those and saw five films for the first time. Actually, I forgot that I had seen Vengeance is Mine in late 2008 at the PFA's Cinema Japan series.

The Woman in the Dunes starring Kiyoko Kishida; directed by Hiroshi Teshigawara; Japanese with subtitles; (1964)
The Flavor of Green Tea Over Rice starring Shin Saburi & Michiyo Kogure; directed by Yasujirō Ozu; Japanese with subtitles; (1952)
Good Morning with Chishû Ryû; directed by Yasujirō Ozu; Japanese with subtitles; (1959)
Vengeance is Mine starring Ken Ogata; directed Shôhei Imamura; Japanese with subtitles; (1979)
The Pornographers; directed Shôhei Imamura; Japanese with subtitles; (1966)


Although not officially part of the Japanese Divas series, PFA screened The Makioka Sisters twice during the series.

The Makioka Sisters starring Keiko Kishi, Yoshiko Sakuma, Sayuri Yoshinaga & Yuko Kotegawa; directed by Kon Ichikwawa; Japanese with subtitles; (1983)


Finally, the Roxie screened two newer flms by Sion Sono in September.

Love Exposure starring Takahiro Nishijima, Hikari Mitsushima and Sakura Ando; directed by Sion Sono; Japanese with subtitles; (2008) - Official Website
Cold Fish starring Mitsuru Fukikoshi, Denden & Asuka Kurosawa; directed by Sion Sono; Japanese with subtitles; (2010) - Official Website


I know I should say a few words on at least some of the films but I'll postpone that to a later date. My procrastination has gotten the better of me again...

Monday, October 3, 2011

Trodding the Boards in October

There are three stage performances I want to see in October.

I am a season ticket subscriber to American Conservatory Theater. Their first production of the season is Once in a Lifetime by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman. The play, which premiered in 1930, is a comedy about the transition from silent films to talkies. ACT has partnered with the San Francisco Silent Film Festival to present screenings of short silent films before select Friday night performances (October 7 and 14). The performances are at the Geary Theater at 415 Geary Street in San Francisco.


Across town, a more modest theater company is presenting works by the Czar of Noir, Eddie Muller. Thrillpeddlers is presenting their annual Shocktoberfest production for the 12th year in a row. This year's theme is "Fear Over Frisco." Muller penned the three short plays being performed and directs two of them.

If you are unfamiliar with Thrillpeddlers, it is a troupe which performs Grand Guignol plays. What is Grand Guignol? This website should help.

As used today, the term 'Grand Guignol' (pronounced Grahn Geen-yol') refers to any dramatic entertainment that deals with macabre subject matter and features “over-the-top” graphic violence. It is derived from Le Theatre du Grand Guignol, the name of the Parisian theatre that horrified audiences for over sixty years.

The three plays being performed are:

The Grand Inquisitor - an odd young woman with a cache of used books comes calling on an elderly recluse that she believes is the widow of San Francisco’s most notorious serial killer. Twenty real-time minutes culminate in an unexpected and shocking climax.

An Obvious Explanation - a daring heist goes awry when the crook who stashed the loot suffers amnesia. An ambitious doctor intends to solve the problem with her untested “memory” serum. The results are more dramatic than she expected – which is not a good thing.

The Drug - a promising young deputy DA’s efforts to crack the case of a celebrated artist’s disfigurement are thwarted – by the prosecutor’s own desire for the prime suspect. René Berton’s classic two-act Grand Guignol, originally set in Saigon, is transposed and adapted by Muller to 1929 San Francisco.

The Grand Inquisitor is based on a short film Muller made in 2008 with Marsha Hunt. He premiered it at the 2009 Noir City, I believe.

The performances will be Thursday, Friday ans Saturdays at 8 PM through November 19. Thrillpeddlers perform at the Hypnodrome at 575 10th Street in San Francisco. Tickets can be purchased on Brown Paper Tickets.


Across the bay at the Berkeley Rep, Rita Moreno is performing a one-woman show where she "recounts her improbable life in an irreverent and entertaining new show that features a lively band and two expert dancers." If I haven't mentioned it, I'm a Rita Moreno fan. The show is titled Rita Moreno: Life Without Makeup.

Most weeks (but not this week) until November 6, the performances are Tuesday through Sunday. Tickets can be purchased on the Berkeley Rep website.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Irish Cops and Portuguese Lovers

For reasons which are not clear to me, I've been going to Landmark Cinemas quite a bit in 2011 compared to previous years. In many ways, Landmark is old school regarding tickets. It's owned by Mark Cuban who put it up for sale earlier this year. I don't know the status of the sale but I know the Landmark website looks a little dated.

I have been using Discount Cards which are five admissions for $40. The cards cannot be used on Friday and Saturday nights. The cards are a piece of thick paper with perforations. Each time you use the card, the box office employee tears off one of the perforations. The system worked fine for me although there were times I wanted to see something on Friday or Saturday night. Regular prices for evening screenings are $10.50 and matinees are $8.25. Frequently, I'd use the discount cards for evening screenings only to get a bigger savings. If I went to a matinee, I'd pay full price ($8.25). The Discount Cards expire six months after they are sold. Sometimes, as I approached the six month mark, I'd use the card to see a matinee or a film I didn't really want to see.

On a visit to the Embaracdero Center Cinemas a couple months ago, they had a handwritten sign at the box office advertising their Gold Tickets, Gold Book or Gold Cards. These Gold Tickets were sold in increments of 25 at $7.75 per admission or $193.75 for 25. I chatted with the box office employee and he said the Gold Tickets could be used for all performances including Friday and Saturday nights. Also, they had no expiration dates. The Discount Cards could only be used for two admissions per screening whereas the Gold Tickets could be used in any increment. He pointed to a group milling about the lobby and said they just bought one and used it for 17 or 18 admissions for a screening about to start. The only restriction was an occasional film which did not allow discount cards. He said the only film he could remember in the past year or so which was restricted in that manner was Terrence Malick's Tree of Life.

Based on this information, my increased patronage and the knowledge I could get 1% cash back on my credit card purchases ($7.67 per screening!), I purchased a Gold Book recently. It's old school too - 25 small piece of paper stapled together with perforations at the top of each page. Tear off a page or ticket and submit it to the box office for admission.

The reason I mention all this is because I can't find either mentioned on the Landmark Theater website - no mention of the $40 discount cards or the $193.75 Gold Books.


In the past month, I saw two films at the Embardero Center Cinemas:

The Guard starring Brendan Gleeson & Don Cheadle; (2011) - Official Website
Mysteries of Lisbon; Portuguese & French with subtitles; (2010) - Official Website

The Guard is a comedy about a small town Irish cop (Garda
for those familiar with Irish law enforcment). Brendan Gleeson plays Sergeant Gerry Boyle. Sgt. Boyle enjoys a pint of ale, pharmaceuticals and the services of prostitutes. He sees no reason to keep his recreational habits a secret...I guess there are no secrets in small towns. Don Cheadle plays FBI agent Wendell Everett, an American heading up an international drug task force which has indications that a major drug shipment is coming ashore in the small town Boyle polices.

The film is set up as a cop buddy movie as well as stranger in a strange land. Everett is a straight-laced, by-the-book cop who is in disbelief of some of Boyle's behavior. The film also makes clear that small town folks in Ireland don't like outsiders, particularly English speakers and Yanks. Everett could benefit from a little more blarney whereas Boyle probably committed career suicide by adhering to his picaresque lifestyle.

On the other side of the ledger are a trio of ruthless, Nietzsche quoting, introspective drug dealers (Mark Strong, Liam Cunningham & David Wilmot). One is weary of the job, on is more committed and other is a sociopath. The film sounds very dark and it broaches some serious subject - Boyle's mother is dying and a fellow cop is killed leaving Boyle to deal with the widow. However, the film is a comedy through and through. Anti-Irish, anti-American and gallows humor permeate the film. Several scenes stand out in my memory - Boyle drinking a milkshake while declining a bribe, Boyle mistaking the cop's widow for a prostitute and Boyle's initial meeting with Everett. I thoroughly enjoyed The Guard.


Mysteries of Lisbon allows me to digress some more. When I was in high school (a public school, mind you), I recall my English teacher giving some context to the works of Charles Dickens before we embarked on Oliver Twist. She said that Dickens published his works serially in newspapers or literary anthologies. As a result, he was paid by the word or chapter length. As such, he frequently had to pad out the chapters or the entire novel to 1) fulfill his contractual obligations and/or 2) maximize his income. It took more than two years to publish Oliver Twist. This fact explains a lot about Dickens' writing style.

The reason I mentioned this is because Mysteries of Lisbon is described as a cross between Dickens and Victor Hugo. I doubt Mysteries of Lisbon was required to be a certain length but I'm not sure how else to explain the 4 hours and 40 minutes of runtime (including a 10 minute intermission). An employee of the theater introduced the film before it started and mentioned the length. Several audience members let out audible signs of disbelief and surprise. At the intermission, several people left and did not return. I saw the 7:30 PM screening and around midnight more people left before the film was complete. I suspect they were worried about missing the last East Bay BART train. The film let out around 12:15 AM and I strolled to the Embarcadero BART station (knowing Peninsula bound trains run until nearly 1 AM). Not more than 5 minutes after I got to the platform, the last East Bay train was pulling into the station.

I'm not going to go over the plot of Mysteries of Lisbon. It's a bit of a roundelay as each character experiences love (or unrequited love), jealousy and death. Let's see if I can name all the characters this happens to - a beautiful Countess, her true love, her husband (not her true love), the priest who gives her shelter, the monk at the monastery where she becomes a nun, an assassin who killed her love and took pity on her infant son, her son and the assassin's lover. I may have missed a few. As a young man, the monk cuckolded an aristocrat who sounded like Sean Connery speaking Portuguese.

There was a definite similarity to each story. As each character launched into their story, the audience responded with knowing laughter. Many of the scenes appeared to be on the same set - doors at the right and left of the room and the action taking place in the middle. As each character made the same or similar mistake as one of the others, the point was driven home. Also, even though each character had a secret, there were no secrets as there was always someone outside the door listening. Many times, the camera angle made the theater audience the eavesdropper. The film moved backward and forward in time as flashback scenes unfolded - plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

At two hours, the film was kind of fun; at three hours, it was pretentious; at four hours, it was arduous. I stuck it out because I wondered how they were going to wrap things up.

I can think of better ways to spend 4.5 hours than Mysteries of Lisbon but the film is not completely without merit. The performances of Adriano Luz as the priest, Ricardo Pereira as the assassin and Clotilde Hesme as his lover were colorful and multifaceted. Like a "good" trashy novel, I became engrossed in the liaisons and revenge plots. Although anathema to admit, Mysteries of Lisbon is one of those films that is better on a DVD or streaming so that one can digest it in serial format (like Dickens).


The recently departed Red Vic Movie House is holding a "final" poster sale on Saturday, October 8 from 1 PM to 5 PM.