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.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Not Necessarily Noir II

In November, the Roxie brougt Elliott Lavine and Johnny Legend back to program Not Necessarily Noir II.

The film I most wanted to see was The Killers (1964) with Lee Marvin, Angie Dickinson, John Cassavetes and Ronald Reagan in his last role. Based on a Hemingway story and a remake of the classic Burt Lancaster/Ava Gardner film (1946), this was a made for TV film which was deemed too violent and released in the theaters. It was paired with Clint Eastwood's directorial debut Play Misty For Me (1971) which I had seen before. Unfortunately, I was more tempted by a Jeanne Moreau double feature at the PFA.

Actually, I had seen a number of the films at Not Necessarily Noir II before including Blow Out and Johnny Guitar.

I ended up seeing four films.

Brainstorm starring Jeffrey Hunter, Anne Francis and Dana Andrews; with Strother Martin; directed by William Conrad; (1965)
Female on the Beach starring Joan Crawford & Jeffrey Chandler; (1955)
Girl Gang; (1954)
Teenage Gang Debs; (1966)

The series closed with three Ed Wood film (Jail Bait, Glen or Glenda? & Plan 9 From Outer Space) and Johnny Legend's Woodworld, a documentary on Ed Wood. I didn't think I was up for four hours of Ed Wood so I passed on the final evening's program.


None of these films were what you would call masterpieces. Each of them had some serious flaws.

Brainstorm (directed by the actor William Conrad) was about a man (Jeffrey Hunter) who pretends to be crazy to justify a murder but then actual becomes insane with a little help from roundheel Anne Francis. The setup was solid but the film lost my interest midway.

Female on the Beach star Joan Crawford as a vulnerable widow living in a beach house next to some cardsharks and beach bum Jeffrey Hunter. I've noted before that Crawford plays the weakling or the bitch. In this one, she tried go half and half but the film had B picture written all over. A predictable script with Jan Sterling looking beautiful and future Gilligan's Island co-star Natalie Schaefer looking out of place. Girl Gang was notable for its explicit depiction of heroin use; I would even say it was a tutorial on how to mainline coke.

That leaves Teenage Gang Debs which was by far my favorite. Even at a modest 75 minutes, the film had a lot of filler in the form shots of motorcyclist riding around and dance sequences. The plot was essentially Lady MacBeth Joins a Motorcycle Gang. Actually, she (Diane Conti) is just the girlfriend of the gang leader but she is one pulling the strings and acting Machiavellian. Conti shines in the film. I'm surprised she didn't go on to bigger and better things.

Teenage Gang Debs is an unusually rough-edged, juvenile delinquency film featuring not one but two gang rape scenes, multiple murders and a biker gang that dresses like they're in a college fraternity.

Although the film was clearly padded out to get to 75 minutes, one dance sequence deserves a mention because the tune was great. Lee Dowell's The Black Belt had me tapping my feet and smiling.

Teenage Gang Debs deserves cult film status.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Sumo Wrestlers and Katharine Hepburn

I drove down to Palo Alto twice in November.

I had my maiden encounter with the Silicon Valley Jewish Film Festival when I saw A Matter of Size.

A Matter of Size starring Itzik Cohen, Irit Kaplan & Togo Igawa; Hebrew and some Japaense with subtitles; (2009) - Official Website

A Matter of Size is a relatively old film. I believe it's scored the hat trick of Bay Area Jewish Film Festivals. It played at the 2009 San Francisco Jewish Film Festival and the 2010 East Bay International Jewish Film Festival but I missed the film both time. Not only that but A Matter of Size screened at the 2010 SVJFF. It was with some surprise I saw it on the program for the 2011 Silicon Valley Jewish Film Festival. Typically, a film festival won't screen a film it screened the previous year nor at two other local festivals in the past two years. I was eager to see the film at previous screenings but my schedule wouldn't cooperate so I marked my calendar early for the November 17th screening.

The venue was the theater at the Cubberley Community Center on Middlefied. Cubberley is a massive facility including Foothill College, extensive sports facilities, a library, a day care center, etc. The theater looked state of the art and was suitable for stage productions. That's appropriate because A Matter of Size was preceded by a sumo wrestling demonstration. Prior to the event, I was not aware that there was organized sumo wrestling outside of Japan. It turns out there is a US Sumo Wrestling Championship. The demonstration at Cubberley featured the first and second place finishers in the 2011 Men's Heavyweight Division. Did you know there were weight classes or a women's division? US Champion Byambajav Ulambayar (known as Byamba) and runner-up Siosifa Isamau (known as Big Joe) showed some moves. There was an emcee who looked as though he could be a sumo wrestler because he was very knowledgeable and large but I cannot recall his name.

After the entertaining demonstration and photo op, the film started. A Matter of Size deals with a group of obese men and women who gather at a dysfunctional Weight Watchers type group in Israel. The group facilitator is belitting Herzl (Itzik Cohen) for his weight gains. Having lost his job and leaving the obesity help group in huff, Herzl gets a job a Japanese restaurant. He discovers that the Japanese employees at the restaurant are fanatical about sumo wrestling and look upon Herzl as having the ideal physique for the sport. Not only that but the restaurant manager, Kitano (Togo Igawa), is a former sumo trainer. Herzl convinces his overweight friends to form a sumo wrestling group and have Kitano train them. The group includes a closeted gay man, a TV news cameraman, a plumber who suspects his wife is cheating and Zehava, the lone woman, who is counselor in women's prison and is sweet on Herzl.

I won't give away to many of the plot twists but the laughs come fast and furious as A Matter of Size mines for fat jokes, relationship jokes, gay jokes and fish out of water jokes. At one point, Kitano tells Herzl he is too small to be a sumo wrestler which is the first time anyone has ever told him that.

Cohen as Herzl is pretty much the straight man as his fellow heavyweights and typically Jewish mother get most of the funny lines. I thought the relationship between Herzl and Zehava (a surprisingly sexy Irit Kaplan) elevated the film to something more than a one trick pony. Kaplan was awarded Best Actress by the Israeli Film Academy for her performance. The interplay between Herzl and Zehava made me care about them whereas the directors could have gone for cheap laughs.

Togo Igawa, who appeared in the French language The Hedgehog appears here and speaks Hebrew. His performance in The Hedgehog leads me to believe he speaks French. I'm not so sure about Hebrew based on A Matter of Size. However, his role is fairly small.

I greatly enjoyed A Matter of Size although it was a bit lowbrow at times but if you burn off all the fat, it's a heartwarming romantic comedy. Big, fat guys wrestling while 98% naked is just a bonus.


I went to the Stanford Theater earlier this week to see a Katharine Hepburn double feature.

A Bill of Divorcement starring Katharine Hepburn, John Barrymore & Billie Burke; directed by George Cukor; (1932)
Morning Glory starring Katharine Hepburn, Adolphe Menjou & Douglas Fairbanks Jr.; directed by Lowell Sherman; (1933)

I've never seen the word "divorcement" before. It means the same thing as divorce. Perhaps in the 1930s, divorcement was the common term and as the years progressed, so many people ended their marriage that they shortened it, colloquially, to divorce.

A Bill of Divorcement was clearly based on a play because the entire film takes place in a large, English manor. Two rooms are used extensively. In addition, the dialog sounds like some parody of theater speak; like Jon Lovitz's Master Thespian. Hepburn as the headstrong daughter and Barrymore as the crazy-but-cured father deliver their lines in affected manner. Billie Burke, who I am appreciating more and more as I see her in non-Wizard of Oz roles, is the only one who delivers a performance which doesn't look archaic. Although her performance is not archaic, her character's motivation is.

In nutshell, Sydney Fairfield (Hepburn) is a unruly, young woman who is madly in love. Her mother (Burke) has divorced her father (Barrymore) and is engaged to be married in a few days. Sydney has never met her father as he has spent her entire life in an insane assylum. Out of the blue, Hilary (you know it is a British play if a male character is named Leslie, Hilary, Carol, etc.) shows up at the manor and unaware of his divorcement, expects to resume his marital relations. The rest of the film shows how the family deal with the Hilary's return.

A Bill of Divorcement was Hepburn's screen debut. She was 25 years old and coming off a hit Broadway play (The Warrior's Husband). Hepburn already had "the voice" but she looks impossibly young. Seeing her in the later films (even e Philadelphia Story), one forget how sexy she was as a younger woman. She's tall, lithe, has angular features and a natural confidence which is incredibly sexy. Then she speaks in that much imitated voice and it ruins the appeal. How wonderful it would have been to be introduced to Hepburn on screen for the first...before she became a legend.


For her role as Eva Lovelace in Morning Glory, Hepburn won her first Academy Award. Morning Glory looks like it originated as a screenplay but it is set in the world of Broadway theaters. It is essentially a three act play. Act 1 - Lovelace arrives in New York, naive but full of confidence. Act 2 - Lovelace has some of the air knocked from her sails as she experiences the hardships of being a working actor and swimming with the sharks but remains confident in her skills. Act 3 - Lovelace gets her breaks and makes the most of it although the ending is left ambiguous as to whether or not success will spoil Eva Lovelace.

Morning Glory is a prototypical Broadway story. In it, you see traces of future films like All About Eve and The Producers. Although Hepburn is the star of the film, she is helped immeasurably by her supporting actors. Adophe Menjou plays the cynical Broadway producer, C. Aubrey Smith plays the veteran actor who takes Lovelace under his wing and Mary Duncan (in her final film credit) plays the Broadway superstar with just the right combination of vanity, arrogance, insecurity and bitchiness. After seeing Duncan, I wondered what else she has been in. I was disappointed so see she stopped making films in 1993 after marrying a wealthy, polo-playing industrialist.

Hepburn thought the role of Lovelace was a perfect match for her. Her acting looks contrived 80 years later but the plot is so strong that it makes up for it. At one point, she recites the soliloquy William Shakespeare's Hamlet (To be or not to be...). The characters in the film thought her performance to be stupendous but it left me unimpressed. Also, for some reason, Hepburn seemed to be doing a Betty Boop impersonation in the first act. Later in the film, Hepburn's lilting but gravelly voice makes it familiar and expected appearance.


When I left the Stanford Theater, I got lost trying to get onto El Camino Real. It took me three tries to correctly navigate that Caltrain station underpass on University Ave. On one pass, I drove down Emerson Street and saw the Landmark Aquarius. It's just around the corner from the Stanford which is on University between Emerson and Ramona. I never knew it was so close. When the Varsity Theater (most recently a Borders Books) was in operation, there were a lot of rep house/art house choices in the downtown Palo Alto area. It's highly ironic that a bookstore moved into a failed single screen movie theater. Maybe the site was a buggy whip factory before the Varsity opened.

As I mentioned, the Balboa will be having a fundraiser on December 13. The tickets start at $35 per person. Starting at the $75 level, the tickets include a copy of Theaters of San Francisco by Jack Tillmany. I remember seeing Tillmany's Theaters of the San Francisco Peninsula on sale at the Stanford when Dennis James performed there a few months ago.

I remember reading a San Francisco Chronicle article many years ago about all the movie theaters on Mission Street. They were all closed or repurposed. The article had this great photo of several marquees which showed how densely located the theaters were. I drove Mission St. out to Daly City of few weeks afterwards and was amazed by how many theater were on that street. At the time, I didn't see as many movies as I do now. I regret not seeing a film at the Alhambra, the Royal or other old time movie houses.

Since then, I'm always attuned to movie marquees while driving, riding or walking down a street. Books like Theaters of... provide history and context for a neighborhood. Looking narrowly through the prism of old movie theaters, I satisfy my wide ranging natural curiosity and indulge in my hobby.

I think I'm going to go with a $75 VIP ticket for the Balboa benefit. I can buy the Theaters of San Francisco for $21.99 at Arcadia Publishing but I feel like I should help the Balboa out. I'm usually too pragmatic to do something like that. I like my charitable donation backed up by written acknowledgement so I can deduct them from my income taxes.

In addition to the December 13 event, the San Francisco Neighborhood Theater Foundation has announced a Sponsor A Seat and a Second Century Capital Campaign fundraising drives for the Balboa and Vogue Theaters.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

2012 is 38 Days Away

The first quarter of the year has long been the busiest for me in terms of film festivals. The 2012 festival schedule has already been lined-up.

German Gems - January 14 at the Castro Theater and January 15 in Point Arenas
Noir City - January 20 to 29 at the Castro Theater
SF IndieFest - February 9 to 23 primarily at the Roxie
Cinequest - February 28 to March 11 primarily at the Camera 12 in San Jose
San Francisco Asian American Film Festival - March 8 to 18 in San Francisco, Berkeley and San Jose

If the Mostly British Film Festival stays on schedule, it should be held in early February at the Vogue Theater.

German Gems has cut back to one day at the Castro. Festival Founder Ingrid Eggers received a Goldies Lifetime Achievement Award from the San Francisco Bay Guardian. In the profile, the SFBG states "Her current film festival project — the smaller-scale German Gems — is set to screen for a third year in January 2012. After that, Eggers is not so sure. 'It's incredibly expensive to put on even such a small festival,' she admits ruefully..." To paraphrase Churchill, "Now this may not be the end. It may not even be the beginning of the end. But it is, most assuredly, the end of the beginning."

Noir City's December 14 kick-off double feature has been announced: Lady on a Train (1945) and Christmas Holiday (1944). Deanna Durbin is the common thread.

Also, there is a series currently at the PFA called Southern (Dis)comfort.

The South has never shaken its past. It sits like mist on the land, seeping into the drawl of the everyday. Secession, the cotton gin, a God-fearin’ people, slavery, pecans and poke salad, moonshine, hounds and possums, a big Rebel yell—there’s enough cultural ammo here to fight the Civil War all over again. Those munitions will never run dry as long as Southern artists (and a few carpetbaggers) plow the fertile fields of Dixie mythology, milling it into a genre all its own, the Southern Gothic. This genre wallows in the grotesque, prefers the randy to the restrained, knows Jim Crow isn’t the national bird, considers blood for an old debt paid, plunders the plantation, and imagines it all residing inside a delirious melodrama like one big corn mash-up.

I've seen a few of the films in the series at the PFA. Curator Steve Seid said that there were so many films that he and fellow curator Peter Conheim wanted to include in the series that they couldn't fit them all in at the PFA. A dozen of the overflow films will be screened at the Roxie in December. Neither PFA or the Roxie have announced the Roxie titles although Seid said they saved the more sleazy ones for the Roxie's run. I think he mentioned the Southern Fried exploitation classic, Two Thousand Maniacs! would get a screening at the Roxie.


Since I haven't reported it in awhile, I have seen 371 films or film programs year-to-date. The cost is $3,144 but that's a little inaccurate. Some of the money was in the form of charitable donations which are tax deductible. On this date in 2010, I had seen 359 films so I'm running ahead of last year's pace.


Another digression is that I've noticed that AMC has been showing John Wayne films on Saturdays. I've always been a fan of Wayne and having watched so many portions of his films the past few months, I can see why. In the 1950s and 1960s, Wayne didn't so much play an icon as poke fun at the icon he had become.

In particular, his Western films show Wayne blending his heroic persona with a fair amount of humor (occasionally at his own expense). Among the films of the era I enjoy are Rio Bravo, El Dorado, The Cowboys, The War Wagon, The Sons of Katie Elder and True Grit. In these films, Wayne toyed with his own film persona which was firmly established by the time. I also note that Wayne certainly wasn't worried about being shadowed by his co-stars who include Dean Martin, Robert Mitchum & Kirk Douglas. There were also two outstanding films from his final decade and a half in which Wayne played his parts without much humor creeping into his performances: John Ford's classic, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence and Wayne's final, elegiac film, The Shootist.

All in all, the Duke made some entertaining films as he was winding down his career. I read that Quentin Tarantino asks his dates what they think of Rio Bravo. If they don't love it, he assumes they are not a good match. If I were a woman, I'd pass Tarantino's test which is appropriate because I have a man-crush on Tarantino based on his films.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Less than 4 Stars

For the past several years, I have gone to the Chinese American Film Festival at the 4 Star. At least twice (maybe three years running), the film I go to is not subtitled. I recall sitting through Ip Man and Shanghai Red without subtitles. So it was no surprise that I when I arrived at the 4 Star at Saturday to see Humble Soul and read a sign at the cashier's windows that stated Humble Soul was not subtitled. Actually, that's an improvement because in past years, I paid my admission and they didn't mention it. Perhaps they thought I spoke Mandarin.

The lineup for the 2011 Chinese American Film Festival didn't appeal to me. Humble Soul was the only one I planned to see. Since it was unsubtitled, I looked for an alternate. I tentatively set my sights on If You Are the One 2; mainly because Qi Shu starred in it. However, I couldn't get over to the 4 Star tonight so I missed the film and tonight is the final day of the festival.


I did go the 4 Star a few weeks ago to see the latest Ip Man film.

The Legend Is Born: Ip Man starring Yu-Hang To; with Sammo Hung; Cantonese with subtitles; (2010)

For the second time in my life (that I can remember), I saw a film in the theater by myself. It was the 8 PM or 8:30 PM show on a Tuesday night. The Legend Is Born: Ip Man (aka Ip Man 3) played in the big theater at the 4 Star. That's an awfully large theater to sell one ticket for but that's what happened.

As for the film, Ip Man 3 is not officially affiliated with the Donnie Yen series. Neither Donnie Yen or director Wilson Yip was involved in the production of Ip Man 3. Sammo Hung who co-starred and choreographed Ip Man 2 returns, in a different role, in Ip Man 3. Suet Lam, who frequently appears Johnny To films, makes an appearance in Ip Man 3. Finally, Ip Man's actual son, 87 year old Ip Chun, appears as one of Ip Man's masters.

Recently, I've seen a number of Chinese films where the Japanese are the villains. That's been a staple of Chinese cinema for years but Ip Man 3 takes it to ridiculous extremes. A prequel set in early part of the 20th century, Ip Man 3 posits that the Japanese were placing sleeper agents in China in the form of kidnapped Japanese boys, smuggled into China, placed as orphans in prominent Chinese families and called to action as adults. If the movie is to be believed, Ip Man's "brother" is one of these Japanese sleeper agents.

Sammo plays Ip Man's Wing Chung master. He dies from natural causes fairly early in the film. Ip goes off to Hong Kong for university studies. While there, he encounters the ancient Leung Bik (Ip Chun) who teaches him a nonstandard (even sacrilegious) form of Wing Chung. When Ip Man returns to the Wing Chung school where his brother, Ip Tin-Chi (Fan Siu-wong), is now a respected master. Ip Man's deviant Wing Chung puts him at odds with his brother but by the end of the film, it's clear that Ip Tin-Chi is a tool of Japanese operatives.

Like any good kung fu film, Ip Man 3 goes through some motion to set up its fight scenes. Kenya Sawada and Bernice Liu play the Japanese father-daughter duo who look to take down Ip Man. They get in some of the best fight scenes (especially Liu).

Dennis Yu-Hang To plays Ip Man. He bears some resemblance to Donnie Yen and acquits himself satisfactorily. Having seen all the Ip Man films, I think the second one was my favorite; in no small part due to Sammo's choreography. Ip Man 3 is my least favorite but it's still not half bad. I've certainly seen worse Chinese kung fu flicks.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The German Ulysses and Biberkopf Fever

When I was in high school, my English Lit teacher announced to the class that she had never read James Joyce Ulysses. However, she promised herself and the class that she would do so before she died. I never followed up to see if she kept her promise. My encounters with Ulysses have left me empathetic. Joyce's steam-of-consciousness style leaves me bewildered. So it is with some trepidation that I checked out Alfred Döblin's Berlin Alexanderplatz (1929). Referred to as the German Ulysses, I have not yet started the book. I am finishing up Don DeLillo's Running Dog about a fictitious search for a porno film with Hitler made in Berlin bunker as WWII ended.

My interest in the novel is spurred by recently seeing the film at PFA.

Berlin Alexanderplatz starring Günter Lamprecht; directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder; German with subtitles; (1980)

At 15½ hours long, Berlin Alexanderplatz was screened in four installments.

I'm not sure what to write about Berlin Alexanderplatz. It's so epic (in length and ambition) that a blog post seems particularly inadequate. The film follows its protagonist (Franz Bieberkopf) as he endures tribulations of biblical proportions. By the end of the film, Bieberkopf loses his true love, his kindred spirit, his right arm, his mind, etc.

Giving the briefest of synopses, Franz Biberkopf is released from prison in 1927 and reintegrates himself into his old neighborhood (the Alexanderplatz district of Berlin). In fact, Franz moves into his old flat...the same flat where he killed his lover/prostitute for which he was imprisoned. For the next 15 hours, a rogues gallery comes through the flat - whores, killers, deviants and the morally bankrupt. By comparison, Biberkopf is a saint although he does rape a woman in the first episode. Slowly but surely, Biberkopf is drawn into the moral quicksand.

Berlin Alexanderplatz focuses on the ups and downs of Biberkopf's life. Given the length of the film Fassbinder is able to show Biberkopf in many different moods. Günter Lamprecht as Franz Biberkopf gives an incredible performance if for nothing else sustaining Biberkopf for so long. The key relationship in Berlin Alexanderplatz is not between Franz and one of the number of women who share his bed but rather between Biberkopf and the stuttering Reinhold Hoffmann. Gottfried John's performance as Reinhold is stupendous. A truly pathetic character, Reinhold is more weak and cowardly than evil although the end results are the same. Despite bedding a steady stream of women, Reinhold is vaguely homosexual which is confirmed in the epilogue. This shades the Biberkopf/Reinhold relationship with a homo-eroticism which left me wondering if I was imagining it or it was deliberately included by Fassbinder.

There were 13 episodes and a dreamlike epilogue. Most of the episodes were 60 minutes long. I enjoyed all of it although the epilogue veered into the surreal as we see Franz's madness brought to screen. Fassbinder did a nice job recreating Weimar Germany. Fassbinder skills are on full display as he keeps the plot moving while accretively building a masterpiece. Scene by scene, Fassbinder and
Lamprecht flesh out Biberkopf and add nuance and insight into the character. At 15 hours, it is easy to say that Fassbinder could not help but develop a complex character. However, Fassbinder takes the audience for a roller coaster ride as we rise and fall with Franz Biberkopf. I cared for Franz, was frustrated with him, disappointed with him, et al.

At 15½ hours, many people will find Berlin Alexanderplatz plodding. There were time where I felt that way. If one commits to the film, I think it will be a rewarding experience.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Haight Sex and Hate Sex

I am so far behind in detailing the films I've seen. I've seen at least 30 films that I have not mentioned.


I mentioned in the last post that Noir City is having a kick off event on December 14 at the Castro Theater. The Balboa Theater is hosting "a fundraising event on Tuesday, December 13... We will show photos of San Francisco theaters 'then and now,' expanding on Peter Hartlaub’s recent study. We’ll preview the holiday movies and their awards chances. And have a great auction of movie goodies and more."

"Peter Hartlaub's recent study" is an interesting series on SF Gate showing photos of old San Francisco movie theaters. I recall two installments on November 3 and November 10 in his SF Gate blog, The Big Event.

My favorite photo is this one. The caption reads "HAIGHT THEATRE (Aug. 8, 1964): The theater in the Haight/Ashbury District showed first-run movies for decades, then became a counter-culture haven. The protest in this photo was during a brief attempt as a gay cinema house. (John McBride / The Chronicle)"

I particularly like the dark haired boy holding a sign that reads "Down with the 'ladies' We want Walt Disney!!!!" Whereas as the other boys look vaguely amused, this boy looks despondent; not to mention androgynous. Nothing invokes old fashioned American values than children picketing while holding anti-gay signs and demanding movies from an reputed anti-Semite. Another interesting aspect of this photo is that I don't see any adults encouraging the boys. Nowadays you see children at protests but they seem to be there at the behest of their parents or for publicity reasons. This trio of boys seem self-motivated.


After seeing Rita Moreno's performance last weekend, I walked a few blocks to the Landmark Shattuck Cinemas to see The Skin I Live In.

The Skin I Live In starring Antonio Banderas & Elena Anaya; directed by Pedro Almodóvar; Spanish with subtitles; 2011 - Official Website

I came away from the Castro Theater's August retrospective of Pedro Almodóvar's films with a greater appreciation for his work. Nothing I've seen prepared me for The Skin I Live In. Nominally a horror film, Almodóvar brings his considerable directorial skills to the genre. It progresses at its own pace and is told in non-linear fashion. It has the pacing and feel of Almodóvar best films but he brings a mad scientist to the plot this time. Antonio Banderas as Dr. Robert Legard (a plastic surgeon) suffers several tragedies as the film progresses and puts his medical skills to use.

I don't want to give away the plot twist but you don't realize until two thirds into the film how deranged the good doctor has become. The film implies that cloning of human cells is the extent of Legard's misbehavior but it goes much further than that. I guess the shapely woman, in the bodysuit, locked in a bedroom and constantly watched via close circuit television is an indication of Legard's insanity. The film kept me guessing about which twist was coming next. The only hint, I'll give is that in the end, Almodóvar remains true to his cinematic (and personal) roots. Actually, the blog title alludes to surprise also.

Antonio Banderas is getting old - he is 51. I'm not sure if he is aging gracefully but he is developing this craggy face which is well suited for the role. Banderas looks like he has been to hell and back which his character has been. He still retains a certain rugged handsomeness that masks (but not completely) the ugliness of Legard. Banderas seems much more capable an actor in Spanish than he did in any of his American films although I am a huge fan of Robert Rodriguez' Desperado.

Elena Anaya plays the woman in bodysuit. The character's name is Vera Cruz which provides insight into the plot. It is noted that Vera bears a resemblance to Legard's late wife and Almodóvar has fun developing that plot thread. Anaya played the pregnant wife in Point Blank. Vera Cruz is a bigger role. It's not a flashy role (until the end) but Anaya handles it satisfactorily.

Jan Cornet as Vincente has the best part in my opinion. He shows a wide range of emotions. As the film progresses Vincente's character is shaped into many dimensions and Cornet plays them all well. His is the pivotal role in the film but I won't say more.

Marisa Paredes, who has appeared in many of Almodóvar's film, shows up as the housekeeper in a small role but quietly impressive performance.

The Skin I Live In is not deeply satisfying but it is highly entertaining which can be said for many of Almodóvar's films. It feels a bit lightweight for Almodóvar who imbues his melodramas with a little bit extra. Still, The Skin I Live In is a film I can recommend without reservation.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Hart & Kaufman, Mamet & Muller, Moreno & Mom

In this post, I mentioned three stage performances I wanted to see. I was only able to see two out of three.

Once in a Lifetime was a comedy by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman; the first of their eight collaborations. It was showing at the American Conservatory Theater (ACT) on Geary. Premiering in 1930, Once in a Lifetime is partially set in Hollywood during the dawn of the talkie era. They screened clips of old-timey films between scenes. I recall one of Al Jolson singing. I was mild about Once in a Lifetime. It looked every bit of its 81 years and some of the plot devices have become tropes (assuming they were fresh in 1930).

I was more enthusiastic about David Mamet's Race which just closed at the ACT - I have a season subscription at ACT. Race premiered on Broadway in 2009 with James Spader, David Alan Grier, Kerry Washington and Richard Thomas which is outstanding casting in my opinion. Spader seems perfect for the role of Jack Lawson.

Race tells the story of two partners at a law firm (one white and one black) and their African American associate attorney who become involved in the case of a wealthy white man accused of raping a black woman in a hotel room. Over the course of the 90 minute play, the four of them examine their attitudes towards race through their interactions. Lawson views the associate (Susan) through the prism of being attracted to the younger woman. Susan is more adept at navigating through the world The Man controls. Not militant but with just-under-the-surface black pride and white bigotry. Henry Brown, the African American partner, is the cynical one. Strickland, the accused, has a serious case of jungle fever but seems to be the least racist of them all despite his decades old derogatory comparison of tropical humidity and a black woman's genitalia.

If I had to give a thumbnail description of Race, I'd call it a sophisticated and racially charged Glengarry Glen Ross transplanted to the legal arena. The ACT production featured strong performances by Anthony Fusco and Chris Butler as Lawson and Brown, respectively.


The Thrillpeddlers' production of Eddie Muller's three plays, collectively called Fear Over Frisco, closes this weekend. The final shows are sold out so I will not be able to see the production.

Speaking of Eddie Muller, Noir City has announced that Noir City 10 will be held January 20 to 29, 2012 at the Castro Theater. The film line-up will be announced December 14 at the Castro. If it's like last year, the December 14 announcement will be accompanied by a double feature.


On the day before her show closed, I caught Rita Moreno's one woman show at Berkeley Rep. Titled Rita Moreno: Life Without Makeup, the "play" featured Ms. Moreno reminiscing, singing and dancing along photos and with clips from her films and television appearances. Actually, she claimed an injury so two male dancers did most of the dancing while she moved around a little. A month shy of 80 years old, Ms. Moreno looks incredible. From my seat in the audience, she could easily pass for 30 years younger.

The audience ate up every word that she said but I was largely familiar with he life story. I recall several of the details from a San Francisco Chronicle story earlier this year and one from (amazingly) seven years ago (I recall the portable CD incident).

For a woman who dated Brando for eight years and ended the relationship with her suicide attempt, Life Without Makeup is largely devoid of any hint of the churning emotions which must have played such a major role in her youth. I was left wondering how someone survived Brando could look and sound so good (in every sense of the word) 50 years later. I suspect Ms. Moreno was holding back some of the more intense memories and emotions. Her relationship with Brando merited less than three minutes of monologue. She sums up the relationship with a joke at Brando's expense. Indeed, she used humor exclusively. I thought the show could have benefited from some more raw emotions from Ms. Moreno. From the program notes, I suspect getting her to open up as much as she did was an accomplishment for director David Galligan and writer Tony Taccone.

However, Rita Moreno didn't win an Oscar, an Tony, two Emmys and a Grammy for no reason. If not a natural, she is a skilled raconteur. She has a knack for accents. Her comedic talents were on display for all to see so it was an enjoyable two and half hours.


I've long been a fan of Rita Moreno but I couldn't point to a specific performance(s) that justified my outsized admiration. During Life Without Makeup, I had a eureka moment. Seeing her old photos and seeing her up on stage, it dawned on me that she bears a resemblance to my late mother. Born two years after my mother, both were petite and dark skinned. For the last 30 years of her life, my mother kept her hair short like Ms. Moreno wears it now. In fact, there is a famous Life magazine cover photo of Ms. Moreno that looks like photos of my mother from the era. I think Ms. Moreno looks a bit silly in it and I've never seen my mother in such a pose but the haircut reminds me of old photos of my mother.

It also struck me while watching a clip from The Electric Company that I watched the show as a child and still associate it with my childhood. Given the resemblance to my mother and her association with The Electric Company, I must unconsciously have transferred maternal (hopefully not oedipal) feelings towards her. They did show a clip from The Lieutenant Wore Skirts (1956) with her in a swimsuit, doing a Marilyn Monroe impersonation, which resulted in decidedly non-maternal feelings towards her.

I miss my mother but without her around anymore, I guess Rita Moreno is the next best thing.

Rita Moreno


This Saturday (November 19), the El Rey Theater celebrates its 80th Anniversary. It has been operating as a church for several years. I recall that the church at the El Rey was the subject of Audience of One, a documentary I saw at Indiefest a few years ago. They are screening The Smiling Lieutenant starring Maurice Chevalier on Saturday. That film was the first one screened at the El Rey in 1931.

The El Rey is located at 1970 Ocean Avenue in San Francisco. The one night event is limited to 400 seats. All proceeds go to the Geneva Car Barn and Power House. Buy tickets through the event website. There was also a recent SF Chronicle article on the event.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

2011 San Francisco DocFest

I caught 10 programs at this year's DocFest. I bought a festival pass but Berlin Alexaderplatz, Taiwan Film Days and a bad cough kept me away from Doc Fest. It would have been more cost effective to get a 10 film voucher but I don't mind too much. I try to support the scrappy Jeff Ross and his crew as they put on three film festivals or six weeks of independent cinema programming every year.

DocFest screened some films at the Landmark Shattuck Cinemas in Berkeley but I went exclusively to the Roxie and Little Roxie. The festival ran from October 14 to 27.

The 10 feature documentary films I saw were:

Dirty Pictures; (2010) - Official Website
With Great Power: The Stan Lee Story; (2011) - Official Website
The After Party; (2010) - Official Website
Back to the Garden; (2010) - Official Website
Ecstasy of Order: The Tetris Masters; (2011) - Official Website
Holy Rollers; (2010) - Official Website
Left By the Ship; (2010) - Official Website
Peep Culture; (2011) - Official Website
Scenes of a Crime; (2011) - Official Website
Scrapper; (2010) - Official Website

In addition, I saw three short film documentaries.

The Love Police: Social Controls - YouTube
Pot Country; (2011) - Official Website
The Yodel Within; (2011)

I couldn't find an Official Website for The Yodel Within but I did find the YouTube video which inspired the film. Franzl Lang's performance in the video was the best part of The Yodel Within. I particularly like the hip-shaking action Franzl gives towards the middle of the video. You have to love the Germans. Where else to could a big, beefy, orthodontically-challenged, Fred Flintstone look-alike, yodeler make a video and be crowned the king of anything?

I didn't see as many films as I hoped for. I watched approximately a fourth of the programs screened. I was not too impressed although I don't think I saw enough films to have a valid sample size. However, this isn't a random draw. The films were selected by a programming committee so they should have represented the cream of the crop. As it was, I can only recommend two of the feature films.

Ecstasy of Order: The Tetris Masters drew comparisons to The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, a 2007 documentary about some master Donkey Kong players. At first glance, Ecstasy of Order seems to be to Tetris what The King of Kong is to Donkey Kong...right down to the designated bad guy and the use of a colon in the title. I enjoyed The King of Kong and looked forward to Ecstasy of Order. I was surprised by the sportsmanship exhibited by the Tetris players. Apparently there is more camaraderie between elite Tetris gamers than DK.

Ecstasy of Order follows a group of skilled Tetris players in the months before the 1st Annual World Tetris Championships in 2010. Somehow all the players know about each other despite never having met. They know each other by reputation like gunfighters in the Old West. The one that invokes the most awe is Thor Aackerlund who at the age of 13 won the 1990 Nintendo World Championships. Robin Mihara, who placed third in the 1990 NWC, is organizer of the World Tetris Championships and spends much of the film visiting elite Tetris players for the documentary (which largely doubles as a promotional video for the 2010 tournament). Throughout the first half of the film, Thor is presented as this mythical figure - unbeatable, mysterious and master of the "vibrating thumb" which is a technique used on the controller to move the Tetriminos faster than they could otherwise be moved.

However, when Thor shows up, he appears to be a man humbled by life. It turns out that Thor's video game earnings from tournaments and appearance engagements were his family's only earnings in some years. I believe his mother was seriously ill during his youth and the family had no health insurance. That's a lot of for a 13 year old to handle. Later, Thor had a car accident which seriously injured him. Thor's behavior leading up the 2010 tourney appear to be less mysterious and more reclusive. Indeed, Thor's presence among his fellow Tetris players seems to buoy his spirits.

Although Thor plays a pivotal role in the film, the spirit of the film lies with the effervescence of the gamers and their serious intonations of Level 30 and Kill Screens. These gamers are serious about Tetris but yet they seem to understand it's kind of silly or at least, they are viewed as kind of silly. They all are dead serious about winning the tournament though. Ecstasy of Order has a joie de vivre that I found very appealing.

A step below Ecstasy of Order is Holy Rollers. Not to be confused with the 2010 Jesse Eisenberg film by the same name, Indiefest's Holy Rollers is closer to 21. It's about a blackjack team made up of churchgoing folk. The subtitle to Holy Rollers is The True Story of Card Counting Christians. Several of the team members are pastors.

It may seem difficult to reconcile gambling and Christian morality...and it was. The team members seem to go to great lengths to rationalize their behavior. For example, they keep their winnings or working capital in cash - in the icebox, under the mattress, in a safe in the bedroom closet, etc. They hide the cash when they go through airport security on their way to a casino destination. They present it as part and parcel of their "business." I don't understand why they didn't deposit the money in a bank and withdraw it at their destination city instead of carrying it around in cash. One explanation could be that the "team" and/or "investors" weren't reporting the winnings on their income tax forms.

Like everyone else, the team is happy when winning but as they go through multiple losing steaks, they begin to turn on each other in unchristian ways. First, the team managers question if the team members are following the betting algorithms, so they test the team members. Later, one of the team members accuses another team member (conveniently the atheist on the team) of stealing money. The team operates on a lot of trust giving the team members significant quantities of cash and taking their word that they a) played blackjack and b) won or lost the amounts they claim. The accusation has divine providence though; the accuser claims God told him that his teammate was stealing.

Ultimately, the whole thing appears to crash around the two managers who are the de facto team captains. After a particularly disastrous trip to Southern California, you think the two have sworn off gambling for good. The next scene is the two of them essentially holding a blackjack team seminar. Frankly, Ben Crawford (one of the two team managers) seemed more like a internet salesman than a devout Christian; more of a huckster than a churchgoer. He seems like the type of guy that spends all his time trying to hit on something big instead of getting a steady job. Nothing wrong with that but it just doesn't jibe with being a devout Christian. There must be more to being a Christian than going to church and praying.

The two team managers, Crawford and Colin Jones, have Executive Producer credits on Holy Rollers which initially bothered me. I thought the film was biased because of their, presumably financial, involvement. After thinking about it, I thought the film portrayed them in a morally ambiguous light. Of course, the audience doesn't know what was left on the cutting room floor (that's figurative since the "film" was digital) which may have tipped the scales against Crawford and Jones. Leaving their characters' true nature inconclusive made for a better film. I left Holy Rollers with a confused case of spiteful glee. Them self-righteous Christians got what they deserved...except they weren't that self-righteous and they didn't quite get what they deserved.


Other films which I can't completely dismiss include:

With Great Power: The Stan Lee Story - almost a complete hagiography. I particularly liked the part where Stan Lee Media declares bankruptcy. The filmmakers completely absolve Lee of any wrongdoing (indeed he wasn't prosecuted by the SEC like some executives). To show that Lee is a such a great man, the film played an audio excerpt where Lee calls a fired employee and leaves a message on his answering machine telling him how sad he is that the guy has lost his job. Oddly, With Great Power is silent about he legal troubles Lee has subsequently had related Stan Lee Media. Still, it's tough to not like or admire Lee.

Scrappers - meth addicts and paranoid schizophrenics trespass on a US government bombing range to collect scrap metal from spent and unexploded ordnance. The only other people willing to risk their lives on the bombing range are coyotes smuggling people and drug runners. Categorize this as strange people doing strange things but not strange enough to hold my undivided interest.

Left By the Ship - surprisingly unaffecting documentary about orphans in the Philippines. Specifically, these people are the children of African American servicemen and Filipinas (in one case, a bar girl/prostitute). There was some law denying the kids US citizenship. As I recollect, this is not the case elsewhere but there was a specific law withholding citizenship for the children of US servicemen at Subic Bay and Clark Air Field. I recall reading somewhere that in every culture, the lighter skinned people are held up as the standard of beauty or that lighter skin is more desirable than darker skin. I wasn't expecting Left By the Ship to address the reasons but I will say that its odd that children of African Americans are discriminated against given how dark some native Filipinos are.

Back to the Garden - a bit of a bait and switch. The filmmaker filmed some isolated hippies in Washington state in the 1980s. He returns to interview them 20+ years later. The copy on the Indiefest program implied that the hippies had sold out or had dissension amongst themselves but with few exceptions the old guard were still fighting the good fight. The most notable exception was the woman who went from hippie to Microsoft employee. The second generation or the children of the hippies were more varied and interesting. My takeaway was that even if you could create heaven on earth, you still need to some interaction with the outside world and the kids born into this utopia will be anxious to see what lies beyond.

The other feature films left me bored or underwhelmed. The three short films I watched were interesting enough but, even the great Franzl Lang's performance in The Yodel Within is not enough to give it more than mild recommendation.