Saturday, April 21, 2012

No Man is an Island...Although These Two Try

I'm watching movies faster than I can write...

Last week, I saw films on consecutive nights at the Landmark Embarcadero.

Jiro Dreams of Sushi; directed by Dave Gelb; documentary; Japanese with subtitles; (2011) - Official Website
The Island President; directed by Jon Shenk; documentary; mostly English & some Maldivian with subtitles; (2011) - Official Website

The Island President is one of five 2012 Cinequest films in general release. The others being The Lady (Opening Night film), Deep Blue Sea (Closing Night film), Bully and L!fe Happens.

Jiro Dreams of Sushi is part hagiography and part food porn. A profile of 85 year old Jiro Ono, sushi chef and owner of Sukiyabashi Jiro, a tiny restaurant in a Tokyo subway station which was awarded a prestigious 3 star Michelin review.

By objective standards, Jiro Ono is a workaholic and likely suffers from OCD. Jiro's life goals and the thrust of the film is simple: Jiro lives to make sushi. The title of the film is literal as Jiro recounts some of his past dreams.

In most other professions, Jiro would be an object of pity or derision. Can you imagine Jiro Dreams of Selling Insurance or Jiro Dreams of Database Queries? With director Dave Gelb's providing the visuals and Japanese restaurant critic Masuhiro Yamamoto providing reverential commentary, Jiro Dreams of Sushi holds Jiro up as the Michelangelo of sushi. Gelb has many slow motion shots of Jiro slicing through a piece of fatty tuna or of him delicately molding the sushi with his hands. Interspersed throughout are interviews with Yamamoto singing the praises of Jiro. Yamamoto's Greek chorus culminates at a dinner at the restaurant. As Jiro serves the sushi individually to each guest, Yamamoto narrates the preparation and expected enjoyment of the food.

It all seems outlandish...almost like a satire in the vein of A Mighty Wind or Best in Show. The aged Jiro stands stone-faced and impassive as he scrutinizes the diners for their subtlest reactions so he can improve his sushi. As one of his sons mentions, it can be quite intimidating to dine at Sukiyabashi Jiro - reservations must be made months in advance, only a prix fixe menu, minimum price is several hundred dollars, seating is assigned...and all the while, Jiro watches you intently with a stoic look on his face.

Still, Jiro is not a sushi-making cyborg. He has two sons and presumably a wife (or late wife) whom we never see and nary a mention. Indeed, the secondary focus of the film is on Yoshikazu Ono, Jiro's eldest son who serves as adjutant to his father and heir apparent Sukiyabashi Jiro. A miserable fate if ever there was one. As commented upon in the film, when Jiro finally steps down, Yoshikazu will have to make sushi twice as good to be considered equal to his father.

The scenes where Yoshikazu prowls the fish markets and shares his thoughts give a fleeting glimpse of his father in reflection. Wanting to be a jet pilot or race car driver, Yoshikazu (and his brother) were pressed into service for the family business immediately after high school. Food critic Yamamoto makes a startling revelation when he mentions that it was Yoshikazu who prepared the sushi when Michelin reviewed the restaurant. Later, Jiro admits that 90% of the sushi quality is completed when he serves the food. His son has already selected the choicest cuts of fish, his staff has already cooked the rice under high pressure and massaged the octopus for 50 minutes (and no, that's not a euphemism) and most importantly, Jiro's reputation has already preceded him.

Whatever excesses Gelb & Yamamoto apply to Jiro is in contrast to the man. His son drives a BMW but Jiro is only seen walking. Jiro is least the character presented on screen. As a former protégé alludes to, Jiro can be a tough man to work for...even more so if he is your father. This relationship between Jiro and his sons would have fleshed out the man but it wasn't a very Japanese thing to discuss and would have shifted attention away from the sushi master towards a flawed man.

Ultimately, the film is successful but oddly, I was left with neither a desire to make the pilgrimage to Sukiyabashi Jiro nor much empathy for the man.


The Island President is a film with startling access to the Mohamed Nasheed, the President of the Maldives, an island nation consisting of over 1,100 islands in the Indian Ocean. Nasheed had been a political activist who opposed the policies of President Gayoom, the president who preceded him and had won six consecutive presidential elections. Despite being imprisoned and tortured, upon displacing the president who had ruled for 30 years, Nasheed decided the most urgent issue facing his nation was the threat of global warming and the catastrophic impacts rising sea levels would have on his nation which average 1.5 meters above sea level.

Most of the film follows Nasheed as he prepares for and attends the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. With remarkable access to a head of state, the filmmakers document Nasheed's preparations and negotiations with his own staff and world leaders as he tries to insert language into the conference resolution establishing CO2 emissions and temperature increase limits. Along the way, Nasheed becomes something of a media sensation. Fluent in English, educated in Europe and media saavy, Nasheed makes global warming a cause célèbre by framing the issue as a matter of life and death for his nation.

With surprising but limited success at COP15, Nasheed seems poised to usher in a new era for the Maldives. Unfortunately, we learn in the epilogue that Nasheed resigned from office in February 2012 to avoid conflict with a military faction sympathetic to former President Gayoom. Not exactly surprising given some of the chilling stories told by Nasheed and his colleagues about their imprisonment.

The Island President is a fascinating look at the life of a Third World leader as he navigates the tricky waters of international politics. The film is even more poignant as it appears that Nasheed focused on international policies to the detriment of shoring up domestic security and the rule of law in the Maldives.

Friday, April 20, 2012

House of Pleasures

On the last day in March, I saw House of Pleasures at the Viz.

House of Pleasures; directed by Bertrand Bonello; French with subtitles; (2011)

The film appears to have the French title L'Apollonide which is the name of the eponymous brothel as well as an alternate English title House of Tolerance.

Set in a 1890s French bordello, House of Pleasures is a grim treatise on the lives of the prostitutes set to an oddly evocative blues soundtrack. The film is far from exploitative. House of Pleasures is almost clinical in its observations of the dozen or so women. Although the film explores the relationship between the women, the main focus is on the physical and emotional impact of "the job." Disfigured, diseased and drug addicted, the women suffer greatly as a result of their interactions with clients.

Most of the film takes place in L'Apollonide where the women are cloistered like nuns. The women come there of of their own free will and are treated well as far as prostitutes are concerned. Their madam is a benevolent dictator but like another film (Japanese I believe) I cannot recall at the moment, the women are obligated to stay at their jobs due to their debts for room and board.

Two girl's stories stand out. Madeleine (Alice Barnole) has dreams that semen oozes out of her eyes; not much subtlety there although I particularly liked the visual depiction of the dream. She is later disfigured by a client cuts her mouth into a permanent smile a la The Joker or Conrad Veidt in The Man Who Laughs. She is left to wander the house for the rest of the film, trying to make herself useful in a place where the coin of the realm beautiful women. I never really decided if it was more compassionate to keep her in the house where her friends lived or alternatively, let her leave to world where she would only be known as the disfigured whore.

Céline Sallette as Clotilde's is first among equals in terms of character development. Old at age 28 Clotilde is concerned about her future but grimly soldiers on...with the help of an opium pipe. A sympathetic character, Clotilde's fate is summarized by the final scene which flashes to the same Parisian street in present day. Sallette plays a streetwalker symbolizing the repetitive fate of these women. It's not called "the world's oldest profession" for nothing.

Despite the film's detached view of the women and their gilded cage environment, the film was emotionally draining for me.

Thursday, April 19, 2012


On April 1, I attended what I have heard called "the cinematic event of a lifetime." I am referring to the long anticipated screening of Napoléon at the Paramount Theatre in Oakland.

Napoléon starring Albert Dieudonné; directed by Abel Gance; silent with intertitles; accompanied by the Oakland East Bay Symphony conducted by Carl Davis; (1927)

There are many published accounts of the film and the making of the film. The version screened in Oakland was the result of a lifetime's work by noted film historian Kevin Brownlow. In preparation for the screening, I read Brownlow's Napoleon: Abel Gance's Classic Film (1983). I recommend the book to anyone with an interest in the making of the film, Brownlow's association with Gance and Bronwlow's reconstruction of the film. Subsequent to publication, Brownlow edited a version of the film with approximately 20 more minutes of material which was screened in Oakland.

Originally, Gance was going to make a hexalogy on Napoleon Bonaparte's life. He spent all the money on the first film and never made the other five. In many ways, the first film is like three films in one. Presented with three intermissions, Napoléon consisted four acts of 2:00, 1:00, 1:50 and 0:45 in length, totaling to 5 hours, 35 minutes in runtime. The intermissions totaled 2 hours, 35 minutes. The entire event took over 8 hours.

Napoléon was epic if ever there was an epic film. Armed with the knowledge glommed from Brownlow's book, I was on the lookout for many of the innovations pioneered by Gance. There was the snowball fight when Napoleon was a boy which caused the children so many discomforts during filming. Apparently, Gance filmed or was prepared to film a shot from the perspective of the snowball which has been lost. There was a scene above the assembly during which Gance mounted the camera to a swing or trapeze to get the camera motion to match the swells on the ocean which Napoleon was floundering upon. There was a scene where the camera is in front of Napoleon as he gallops on a horse. I assume the camera was mounted to a truck bed but I didn't seen any dust being kicked up by it. Of course, there is the finale in Polyvision where three projectors are use to show synchronized images on three full size screens. At the Paramount, the left & right screens appeared as curtains opened to the cheers of the audience. It was supremely impressive.

Napoléon was a supremely impressive film. Even if I had not read the book, the technical advances in filmmaking techniques by Gance would be obvious. Gance and/or his assistant director had a talent in managing crowd scene. On the battlefield, schoolyard, assembly hall, military camp, etc. the chaos through which Napoleon found clarity is richly presented.

The film assumed the audience had a knowledge of the French Revolution and Napoleon's life which was beyond me. I probably lost some of the meaning of certain events. More knowledge on Robespierre's life would have been helpful. For the most part, Napoléon was historically accurate. The only character who I'm certain was fictionalized was Violine (Annabella), an innkeeper's daughter and house servant who becomes obsessed with Napoleon.

My admiration for the film is not blind though. Gance was terribly self-indulgent in making the film. Some scenes drag on for too long as if Gance wanted the audience to see his genius on display. In particular, the Siege of Toulon could have been edited.

During the dinner break, the hordes of filmgoers (the Paramount can seat 3,000 and it was sold out) descended onto Broadway. I wasn't sure if we could be seated, dine and return in time for Act 3. We decided on Mua which was staffed for the crowd. At the foot of Webster St. where Webster, Broadway & 25th St converge, Mua was quite a find. The large space has a warehouse feel and was playing Beatles songs in the background. The owner even looked a little like John Lennon. Scanning the crowd of diners, I spotted Czar of Noir Eddie Muller three tables away.

While walking back to the Paramount, I noticed Mua it is close to the proposed location of the New Parkway Theater on 24th between Broadway and Telegraph. With any luck, I'll be returning to Mua when I go to the New Parkway which I think they are calling the Uptown Parkway now.

I appreciated the grandeur of Napoléon and feel fortunate to have seen the film with full orchestral accompaniment, with Carl Davis conducting and full Polyvision projection. Given the size of the audience, several other people took advantage of the opportunity.

Napoléon has crossed into the realm of myth and legend. Gance's first version of the film ran over 9 hours (not including intermissions if there were any). Even when the film was being made, it seems to have been destined for greatness. How much of my (or the 2012 audience's) reaction to the film was conditioned by what I've heard and read vs. what I actually saw? I suspect a fair amount.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

I'm On Thin Ice

While visiting my father in Las Vegas two weeks ago, we saw Thin Ice. Las Vegas is truly the land of the metroplexes - 300 screens in the metropolitan area showing the same dozen or so films. I have noticed that there is always in Indian film screening on one screen in the newspaper listing. That indicates there is a sizable Indian immigrant population in Las Vegas which I haven't seen.

Also, we were driving on Spring Mountain Road which is called Las Vegas' Chinatown. That means the strip malls have Chinatown style tiled roofs with upturned corners. I was surprised that "Chinatown" went on for miles along Spring Mountain. I didn't think there was enough of an Asian community to support that many businesses. The "Chinatown" is Pan Asian as we stopped in a Korean supermarket next to a Filipino restaurant with Vietnamese, Thai and Japanese businesses within short distance.

Thin Ice starring Greg Kinnear, Alan Arkin & Billy Crudup; directed by Jill Sprecher; (2011) - Official Website

Thin Ice is a great film...until the last 10 minutes. Greg Kinnear plays a shady insurance agent looking to steal a valuable violin from an elderly client (Alan Arkin). At each step along the way, Kinnear's character encounter setbacks including getting involved in a murder. Thin Ice is a black comedy which cashes in on Kinnear's greed, Arkin absent mindedness and Billy Crudup's manic energy as the small time hood who blackmails Kinnear.

The film reminded me of the Coen's Brothers' Fargo until Thin Ice pulls a switcheroo which essentially invalidates everything up until that point. I thought the film was great without the surprise ending and felt resentful afterwards. The San Francisco Chronicle review does not mention this surprise ending.

Sisters Jill and Karen Sprecher wrote and directed the film which was called The Convincer on the festival circuit which included the 2011 Sundance Film Festival. The film was edited without the Sprecher's involvement and re-titled Thin Ice. The Convincer received generally positive reviews; Thin Ice's reviews are mixed.

Greg Kinnear is great as a small time con man suddenly in over his head with no way to escape. I laughed out loud several times at his discomfort in certain situations. Billy Crudup also holds his own as the squirrelly murderer who drags Kinnear down with him.

If you like black comedies, the first 85 minutes of Thin Ice are definitely worthwhile. Even when it was The Convincer, Thin Ice had the aforementioned surprise, so I wonder if my distaste is with the surprise or the way that specific plot point was presented.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012


In late February, I saw Margaret at the Viz. Fewer people know what the Viz is anymore. It feel strange to call it the FSC or Film Society Cinema. I don't know how many times I've been to a screening and hear someone in the audience say "I never knew this existed." For the record, I still prefer the all-Japanese programming the venue had before the San Francisco Film Society took it over.

I've noticed the SFFS has screened a number of films from the 2011 San Francisco International Film Festival (SFIFF) at the FSC. In addition, on May 4 (immediately after the 2012 SFIFF closes), they are screening The Day He Arrives which is in the 2012 SFIFF program. SFFS is stocking their regular programming with their film festival choices which devalues both commodities. I would understand if there is great demand for these films but every regular SFFS screening I've been to has been sparsely attended.

Margaret has had a most interesting film distribution history. Filmed in 2005, but stuck in post-production purgatory for six years, Margaret was released last September. After a brief theatrical run, the film would be expected to fade into DVD/VOD afterlife. Instead, film critics began singing its praises and asking for screeners during the period when critics create "Best of" and "Top Ten" lists. This resulted in a second theatrical run which is how I saw it in February.

As D'Angelo's column summarizes, Margaret is about Lisa Cohen (Anna Paquin), an upper middle class teenager in Manhattan. She inadvertently contributes to a bus accident and death which sends her into existential chaos with a bit of teenage angst/selfishness thrown in.

The 150 minutes, the film meanders into different plot lines as Lisa attempts to make amends for what she considers false & misleading statements to the police at the time of the accident investigation. Along the way, we see Lisa's divorced mother (J. Smith-Cameron) deal with her insecurities and begin dating. We also see Lisa's bond with her father (who lives in California) erode. Lisa loses her virginity to a teenage drug dealer Kieran Culkin and later seduce her teacher (Matt Damon).

Recounting the plot doesn't add much. There is Point A and Point B and multiple paths between the two are explored. Once we get to Point B, Lisa hasn't been transformed but rather evolved. With plenty of personal shortcomings, Lisa is not the hero nor is she the anti-hero. She is like the non-hero, protagonist.

Whatever Lisa is, Margaret is an incredibly compelling film. I got sucked into the stories and experienced the full spectrum of emotions.

The title of the film comes from a poem Lisa's English class reads - Spring and Fall: to a Young Child by Gerald Manley.

Margaret starring Anna Paquin; with Mark Ruffalo, Matt Damon & Jeannie Berlin; directed by Kenneth Lonergan; (2011) - Official Website

Monday, April 16, 2012

Four More at Various Theaters

I have been posting non-stop for two weeks and I'm still not caught up...

I saw four films in late March which have little to do with each other but I'll post them together:

Delicacy starring Audrey Tautou & François Damiens; directed by David Foenkinos & Stéphane Foenkinos; French with subtitles; (2011)
Centaur starring & directed by J.P. Allen; (2011) - Official Website
Pretty Poison starring Anthony Perkins & Tuesday Weld; directed by Noel Black; (1968)
Remember My Name starring Anthony Perkins, Geraldine Chaplin & Berry Berenson; directed by Alan Rudolph; (1978)

I saw Delicacy at the Landmark Embarcadero, Centaur at the Landmark Lumiere and the other two were a double feature at the Castro.


I don't think I've mentioned it but I have a serious crush on Audrey Tautou. Amélie was ok but as she has aged, she has acquired that je ne sais quoi - sexy, funny, appealing, genial, etc. I fully recognized it when I saw Beautiful Lies last fall. In Delicacy, she continues to establish her romantic comedy credentials as the successful businesswoman who begins a romance with a schlub. Schlub is a little harsh because Markus (François Damiens) isn't such a bad guy. He's not as successful or handsome as Nathalie's (Tautou) late husband but he's thoughtful and funny...and nearby when Nathalie emerges from her long but functional period of mourning. Much of their romance was attributed to fate as Nathalie seemed to kiss the first man she encountered. She later denied recalling the incident to Markus.

Delicacy is not a film to be dissected line by line to see what motivates the characters. Delicacy is fun, lightweight romantic comedy about finding love in unexpected places. Nathalie is finally ready to live a full life again and for whatever reason (and there are some), she chooses Markus. Markus is being paid attention to by a successful and attractive executive...who happens to be his boss. There is one joke where Nathalie chides Markus for making such a big deal of the at an American company.

I found Delicacy to be delightful.


J.P. Allen is not a name I was familiar with before seeing Centaur. When I saw his face, I immediately recognized him from his 2004 film Gambling which played at the 2006 SF Indiefest. That film was a character study of a mna with a gambling addiction. A little to wordy for my tastes. Good dialogue is welcomed, but Gambling was filled with long, elliptical monologues.

Allen's latest film is similar although the premise is a little more compelling. Allen plays an unnamed man who videotapes his thoughts as he plans to kill the man who killed his wife in a drunk driving accident and escaped legal punishment. As the film is structured, Allen speaks into the camera extensively but the dialogue is more literal than I recall in Gambling. There are some passages about flying with his pilot father and him and late wife on Lake Tahoe during a storm, but Centaur builds up suspense nicely towards its conclusion. The man has give himself 30 days to complete the task and is quite thorough in his preparation so suspense builds as each day passes in the video log.

I won't reveal the ending because I was little confused about it. That didn't change my tepid response to the film. Not bad, not great but something in between. Centaur was filmed in San Francisco so many of the locations were familiar. Allen has a silky voice which can be used to connote many emotions but in some ways I think he relies on it too much in his films.


In Pretty Poison, Anthony Perkins plays a man fresh out of the psychiatric hospital for the criminally insane. Convicted of arson while a teenager which resulted in the death of his aunt, Dennis Pitts is released into society with instruction to contact his parole officer/psychiatrist regularly. Pitts immediately leaves town, ignore those instructions and gets a job a wood processing factory. Eyeing 17 year old Sue Ann (Tuesday Weld), Pitts scams her into thinking he is a spy! Or does he? Sue Ann proves to be more mature than her age and excels in manipulating Pitts. Two murders later and Pitts is taking the rap for Sue Ann's crimes.

Darkly humorous and highlighting Weld's sexiness, Pretty Poison reminded me of a Hitchcock film. It was very enjoyable with strong chemistry between Perkins and Weld.

I had seen Remember My Name at the Castro in May 2009 as part of its Women on the Verge series. I didn't realize that until the first scene which like the rest of the film, use blues music as the soundtrack. Geraldine Chaplin (Charlie's daughter) is an ex-con who begins to stalk her ex-husband (Perkins) and his wife (Berry Berenson, Perkins' wife at the time of filming and future 9/11 victim).

As the film progresses, the audience begins to see Chaplin's character go from initially mousy and strange to vindictive and strange. There is a scene where Chaplin is hiding in the house while Berenson is moving about unaware of her uninvited guest. It was a very tense scene. Chaplin really nailed the angry, scorned female character type. Jeff Goldbeck, Dennis Franz and Alfre Woodward have small roles. Remember My Name is nice piece of 1970s cinema. Modestly budgeted and shot on locations around LA, the film a distinctly 1970s look which dates it but gives the film a lot of its appeal as well.

The theme for the double feature seemed to be "Anthony Perkins is played for the fool by sexy women."

Sunday, April 15, 2012

An Iranian Pair

I have seen two Iranian films in the past month.

A Separation starring Peyman Moadi; directed by Asghar Farhadi; Persian with subtitles; (2011) - Official Website
The Hunter starring and directed by Rafi Pitts; Persian with subtitles; (2010)

A Separation won the 2012 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. I caught it on Encore Sunday of Cinequest. With a long break between films I wanted to see at Cinequest, I squeezed in A Separation which was playing at the Camera 3.

The Hunter was showing at the Roxie.


A Separation is a "he said, she said" mystery. Peyman Moaadi is Nader, taxi driver who is trying to balance the needs of caring for his father who suffers Alzheimer's disease, teach his 11 year old daughter proper Muslim values and reconcile with his wife (Leila Hatami) who has moved out of the home because of Moaadi's refusal to move abroad. That seems like enough to build a movie around but it's only the set up.

With his wife out of the house, Moaadi must hire a caregiver for his father. He hires Razieh, a deeply religious young mother from a poor suburb. Within a few days, the two are in conflict. Moaadi is a hard guy to work for while Razieh is overwhelmed by the tasks she was hired to do. Moaadi returns home early one day to find his father tied to the bed and Razieh nowhere to be found. She eventually returns with a vague explanation as to where she has been. Moaadi, angry about her absence and the treatment of his father, fires her. For good measure, he accuses her of stealing money from the home as well. She returns a few minutes later. The pious Razieh can accept the criticism of his father's care but cannot let stand the false charges of theft and she demands her daily wage. Still upset, Moaadi pushes her out the door.

Later, Moaadi discover Razieh is in the hospital and miscarried. He claims to have not known she was pregnant. She claims his final push out the door forced to stumble on the stairwell and cause the miscarriage. Eventually the police are called and Moaadi faces murder charges for the death of the unborn fetus.

This is the part where the film really shines. At a measured pace, the film reveals the lies and half-truths both Moaadi and Razieh have told. It is ambiguous as the cause of Razieh's miscarriage and her husband is shown to be the most vocal victim. Like many countries, in Iranian culture and law, a crime victim can receive a settlement from the alleged perpetrator in exchange from withdrawing the charges which causes authorities to stop prosecution. Despite his fervent belief that he is innocent, Moaadi's wife and daughter convince him to make a payment to Razieh and her husband. Crafty Moaadi uses Razieh's piousness one last time in a clever scene.

Perhaps that gave away too much of the plot but I was aware of the ambiguous nature of the story so I think that is part of the appeal.

A Separation is a very interesting film which showed the hypocrisy and ethical shortcomings of people. Moaadi's daughter is particularly affected by her father's behavior which is in conflict with his lessons and lectures to her. Moaadi, shamefully, manipulates her daughter's emotions to rationalize and continue his defence of his actions. The film ends with Moaadi's divorce being final and his daughter in a courtroom telling the judge which parent she chooses to live with. The audience is left to wonder which one she will choose as the credits roll.

A Separation is an excellent film. Strong performances from the entire cast.


The Hunter is about a man who loses everything and goes off the deep end. The titular character Ali (played by director Rafi Pitts) loses his wife and daughter tragically. He blames the police for their deaths and retaliates by killing two cops with his hunting rifle.

Although the investigation is never revealed, the viewers can feel the police closing in on Ali. Everything is told from Ali's point of view until he caught by two cops in the woods. Ali, an experience hunter, remains ominously silent but the cops bicker endlessly while lost in the woods with their prisoner.

The three men wander the woods for the last third of the film. The two cops are polar opposites and don't care for each other. The ranking cop (I don't think they are given names in the film) wants to execute Ali on the spot. The younger cop intervenes. I think Iranians may read more metaphors into the cops behavior but from my perspective, the two served to symbolize two sides of the same coin. Ali, who blames the police for his predicament, encounters one cop who is openly hostile and one who still arrests him but tries to empathize with him. The final scene is open to several interpretations.

Pitts has a haggard look to him which fits Ali perfectly. Walking in the rain, hands tied behind his back, soaked to the bone, Pitts' Ali is pitiful sight but his silence adds considerable strength to his character. Ali Nicksaulat and Hassan Ghalenoi as the two cops are memorable.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Four at the Roxie and I Wake Up Dreaming Again

In March, I saw four films at the Roxie which is really programming the most eclectic lineups in the Bay Area.

The four films I saw were:

Fake It So Real; directed by Robert Greene; documentary; (2012) - Official Website
The FP starring Brandon Trost & Lee Valmassy; directed by Brandon and Jason Trost; (2011) - Official Website
Secret Honor starring Philip Baker Hall; directed by Robert Altman; (1984)
Pudhupettai starring Dhanush; directed by K. Selvaraghavan; Tamil with subtitles; (2006)

The FP was on the program for the 2012 SF Indiefest. It looked interesting but I missed the one screening at Indiefest with the knowledge I could see it when the Roxie ran it for a week in March.

The opening night film of this year's Indiefest was 4:44 Last Day On Earth. I skipped it to see The Killing of a Chinese Bookie at the YBCA. I see that 4:44 is opening on April 20 at the Balboa.

Coincidentally, Indiefest is sponsoring a different kind of 4-20 celebration on that date at Roxie. The two are co-presenting Dark Side of Oz which is The Wizard of Oz set to Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon album. Someone discovered that the music on Dark Side of the Moon synchronizes perfectly with the scenes from The Wizard of Oz. Typically, the sound including the dialogue from the film is muted completely while the soundtrack plays. Close captioning makes it easier to follow the film although most people in the audience are usually under the influence of the devil's cabbage.

Speaking of the Roxie's programming. They are bringing Elliot Lavine back again for another I Wake Up Dreaming noir series. The 30 film series runs from May 11 to 24.

Pudhupettai played at the 2011 Third I South Asian Film Festival in November which I completely missed.


Fake It So Real is an appealing documentary about professional wrestlers. We're not talking about big time WWE matches in arenas but guys who wrestle in the MWF in North Carolina venues which look like a school cafeterias with linoleum floors and an audience sitting on folding metal chairs.

The most interesting character is Gabriel Croft, a rookie who gets a lot of razzing from the other wrestlers for being young, inexperienced and in their opinion of questionable sexual orientation. Earnest and eager to please, Gabriel is developing a wrestling persona modelled after Gabriel the Archangel. The highlight of the film is wrestling match between Gabriel and the league champ which surprised me for its athleticism.

Fake It So Real captures "the little train that could" feeling for both itself and its subjects. I can't say I was inspired by the wrestlers but I was entertained.


The FP, which stands for Frazier Park, takes place in an alternate reality. Reminding me a little of Streets of Fire (dir. Walter Hill, 1984), FP takes place in the current time and location except rival street gangs solve their disputes by having competitions on Dance Dance Revolution which is called Beat Beat Revolution; most likely to avoid copyright infringement lawsuits. I think that says enough. The recurring theme throughout the film is every female character seems to perform fellatio at least once.

Co-director Jason Trost plays J-Tro, the hero who looks like Snake Pliskin and actor Lee Valmassy plays El Double E, the villain who looks like a white Mr. T. For some reason, co-director Brandon Trost did not play B-Tro.

So the film had a few laughs. The final scene which would be a passionate kiss in most genre films is turned upside down and becomes a blowjob complete with soaring musical score and a pan out camera shot. That pretty much describes the film. Funny at times; not as consistently funny as I was hoping for.


Secret Honor was a one man film with Philip Baker Hall as Richard M. Nixon. Made in 1984, the film is also an alternate reality where Nixon, oiled up with liquor and in possession of a handgun, wants the set the record straight. Set in his office within his compound with closed circuit TV and film and audio recording equipment, Hall as Nixon launches into a boozy confession blaming the Bohemian Club, the Kennedy family, Kissinger and other for his downfall. I can't recall his explanation of Watergate.

One of the toughest performances is the solo act. Within anyone to react or react to, Hall delivers these extended monologues and diatribes which can beome tedious. Secret Honor clearly looks like a one-man stage show that Altman adapted for film. I don't think Altman and Hall were completely successful but they were on to something. Not to equate The FP to Secret Honor but to paraphrase, Secret Honor was engrossing at times, but not as consistently engrossing as I was hoping for out of an Altman film.


Pudhupettai was described as "operatic" in the Roxie program guide. Director K. Selvaraghavan made great use of color and lighting in several of the scenes. It reminded me of some of the productions at the San Francisco Opera although that comparison may have been liminally suggested by reading the program. At nearly three hours, the film was certainly operatic in length.

The story of the rise and fall of a gangster, Pudhupettai is an unremarkable and oft-told story with adequate performances and a few scenes of eye-popping cinematography.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Howard Hawks: The Measure of Man

On Tuesday, April 17, the PFA closes out a three month long Howard Hawks series. With all the film festivals in January through March, I was not able to see very many of the 25 films in the series. Fortunately, I had seen several of them before. AMC seems to air Rio Bravo and El Dorado on a weekly basis. I have previously seen well over half of the films in the series; many at the Castro, Stanford or PFA in the past few years.

As they did with the Akira Kurosawa Centennial, the PFA and Stanford Theater seem to have programmed essentially the same series but without any overlap or competition. The PFA series ends on April 17 and the Stanford series begins on April 20 with many of the same titles except the Stanford series totals 36 films.

I only caught three Hawks films at the PFA in January before festivals took over. I had opportunities in March and April but I have already seen most of the titles screened during the last month of the PFA series. The three films I saw were:

The Crowd Roars starring James Cagney, Joan Blondell & Ann Dvorak; (1932)
Tiger Shark starring Edward G. Robinson, Richard Arlen & Zita Johann; (1932)
Fig Leaves starring George O’Brien; silent with intertitles; live accompaniment by Judith Rosenberg on piano; (1926)


At 70 minutes, The Crowd Roars looked like a B picture, but it was made in 1932 when Jimmy Cagney was well established as "You dirty rat" and the grapefruit masher. When I watched it, I thought there were coded messages in the in the Hays Code. However, 1932 was pre-Code. I was left scratching my head about the plot. Joe Greer (Cagney) is a successful race car driver. Ann Dvorak plays his girlfriend. Joe returns to his hometown to visit his family. Despite having a gal of his own, Joe feels the need to protect his younger brother Eddie (Eric Linden) from women. Sending Dvorak's character out of town on the train and keeping mum on her existence, Joe's misogynistic efforts run up against Eddie's girlfriend (Joan Blondell) and causes a rift between the brother. Eddie makes it onto the pro racing circuit and the Brothers Greer head in opposite directions - Eddie starts winning races and Joe starts losing.

Already, the synopsis has grown to nearly the length of the film. I thought the film was a minor chapter in Hawks and Cagney's filmographies. There were some exciting race car scenes but otherwise I didn't find much to hold my attention.

Tiger Shark, from the same year as The Crowd Roars, was much better. It was amusing to see Edward G. Robinson with a Portuguese accent but the classic love triangle was almost enough to derail it. Along with Spencer Tracy in Captains Courageous (1937), I can't think of two actors of the era who were better suited to play Portuguese fishermen. Actually it was Robinson's loud & boisterous Mike, the tuna boat captain, who provides much of the entertainment. Sporting a hook for an arm and an earring, Robinson seems to embrace this character as much as any gangster he every played.

After one disastrous cruise, Captain Mike goes to inform Quita (Zita Johann) that his father (one of the crew) has died. Not exactly ebullient before the news, Quita falls into a depression which only serves to stir Mike's ardor towards her. Unlucky with women, Mike proposes to Quita. After professing her lack of love towards Mike, Quita accepts the proposal with as much excitement as going to the dentist. Out of gratitude, compassion and self-indifference, Quita marries Mike. She immediately regrets it as Mike's handsome fisrt mate (Richard Arlen from Wings) shows up. From there, the film follows the standard love triangle plot. No need to cover that ground again.

Robinson's portrayal of the Portuguese fisherman is the primary reason to see the film. Whether he is waxing philosophical about the sea in Romanian accented English while trying to affect a Portuguese accent or acting declasse at his own wedding reception which he treats like another excuse to get drunk. Zita Johann's Quita has a detached apathy which is an interesting interpretation. Her performance was evocative of many of Marlene Dietrich's roles. Richard Arlen had the thankless role of playing a decent guy in love with his best friend's wife.

Japanese actress Toshia Mori appears as barber/manicurist in the film. Her role was minor (perhaps non-speaking) but her appearance striking for being the only Asian in the cast. The year after Tiger Shark, Mori would land her only notable role - the third lead in The Bitter Tea of General Yen.

Fig Leaves is a silent comedy which switches between prehistoric times and the contemporary period. The film mixes dinosaurs and the Garden of Eden for comedic if not accurate palaeontological effect. George O'Brien plays Adam in both eras and he has to deal with headstrong wife Eve (Olive Borden). I don't recall all the Flinstones like gags in the prehistoric setting. In modern times, Eve wanted a job which Adam adamantly opposes. With the "help" of her duplicitous neighbor (Phyllis Haver), Eve gets a job as a model.

Reminding me of Buster Keaton's Three Ages, Fig Leaves posits that the relationship between men and women has not changed since time began. There is also a strong paternalistic streak throughout the film...husband knows best. Without the dinosaur and cave man gags, the film seems unremarkable. Phyllis Haver, who broke into the business as one of Mack Sennett's Bathing Beauties, commanded my attention with her appearance and conniving actions. When the third billed actor delivers the most memorable performance...


These three early Hawks films suffer in comparison to Hawks' later classics. Looking at his filmography, it seems like Hawks hit his stride with 1938's Bringing Up Baby with Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn. I'm not sure if I can divine Hawks' later mastery from the three films seen. Each had some interesting moments but I was looking for more evidence of of Hawks' later greatness.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

I Will Remain Silent

With the 2012 Oscar Award for Best Picture, The Artist has been credited with introducing a new generation to silent films. In the Bay Area, we are fortunate to have several venues to see silent films on a regular basis.

During the first four months of 2012, the Stanford Theater has teamed with Dennis James to perform silent films (mostly on Fridays). Already in 2012, James has performed the Mighty Wurlitzer six times at the Stanford and a seventh time at the California Theater during Cinequest.

One James performance remains on the current Stanford calendar is The Mark of Zorro (1920) on Sunday, April 15. Additonally, the Stanford has posted their April through June schedule and James performs four films on May 2 and 3.

Not counting Faust at Cinequest, I saw two of James' performances so far this year:

Wings starring Buddy Rogers & Clara Bow; with Gary Cooper; directed by William A. Wellman; silent with intertitles; (1927)
Beau Geste starring Ronald Colman; with Noah Beery & William Powell; directed by Herbert Brenon; silent with intertitles; (1926)

Wings will be the opening night film at the 2012 San Francisco Silent Film Festival on July 12.

Wings won the equivalent of Academy Award Best Picture in 1928. I wonder how much of the award can be attributed to the spectacular aerial combat scenes. Although still thrilling, the footage has lost some of its effectiveness over the past 84 years.

What hasn't lost any effectiveness is the magnetism of the It Girl. Clara Bow shines white hot in this film. Whether coquettishly swinging her legs while watching Buddy Rogers work on his hot rod, dressed in uniform as an ambulance driver or shockingly topless while MPs arrest her for a mistaken case of prostitution, Clara Bow has It in spades. I can't fathom why Rogers pines after Jobyna Ralston's character when Clara Bow is giving come hither eyes. I can't get over the It Girl.

Gary Cooper has a scene as doomed pilot which is more curiosity than anything. Coop had It too. The camera loved him and he was impossibly handsome as a young man. His character has fatalistic ease which I've seen him project in other films. Gary Cooper without the flat voice seems at a handicap. I think Cooper was able show more emotion without volume or pitch modulation than any actor.

Dennis James toured with Buddy Rogers and Wings in the late 1970s. He shared some stories before the screening. Rogers learned to fly for the film and many of the aerial shots were just him and the mounted camera. Filmed in Texas, Rogers and co-star Richard Arlen were like pilot. Director William Wellman knew the aerial scenes looked better against a cloudy background. Whenever they would get weather reports of cloudy weather, Roger and Arlen would scramble to get the planes up and the shot completed before the film ran out.


When I was kid watching the Family Film Festival on KTLA, the Gary Cooper version of Beau Geste (1939) was one of my favorites. Coincidentally, William Wellman directed that version of Beau Geste.

I wasn't even aware there was a silent version of Beau Geste. When I saw the film on the Stanford calendar, I was anxious to see the silent version(March 30) as well as the 1939 version which screened March 31 to April 2. Unfortunately, I could only make it down to Palo Alto for the silent film.

After seeing the silent version, I can say I prefer the talkie. I have not seen the 1939 film for 15 or 20 years so my preference may be based on nostalgia. One thing recall is the role of the Sergeant who was named Markoff and played by Brian Donlevy in the 1939 version vs. Lejaune (Noah Beery) in the 1926 film. In both films, the actors gave striking performances. Donlevy was nominated for a Supporting Actor Oscar his portrayal. Berry's turn came before the Academy Awards were handed out. The sadistic drill instructor is apparently a flashy role as R. Lee Ermey, Louis Gossett Jr., Richard Widmark, Clint Eastwood, Warren Oates, Lon Chaney, Jack Webb and Eileen Brennan have discovered.

William Powell has a small role as a cowardly thief. With a goatee, he looks more like a beatnik than Nick Charles.

There is no need for me to recount the plot Beau Geste. Apparently, there was a French Foreign Legion craze in the US during the early part of the 20th century which resulted in numerous fiction and films such as von Sternberg's Morocco (again Gary Cooper turns up), Under Two Flags which was on the double bill with Beau Geste at the Stanford and other. "Beau" and "Morocco" show up frequently in the titles of the films of this subgenre.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Four at the 4 Star

In February, I saw four films at the 4 Star Theater.

Elite Squad 2: Enemy Within starring Wagner Moura; directed by José Padilha; Portuguese with subtitles; (2010) - Official Website
Hugo starring Ben Kingsley & Asa Butterfield; with Chloë Grace Moretz & Sacha Baron Cohen; directed by Martin Scorsese; (2011) -Official Website
I Am Bruce Lee; directed by Pete McCormack; documentary; (2011) - Official Website
The Viral Factor starring Jay Chou & Nicholas Tse; directed by Dante Lam; Cantonese with subtitles; (2012) - Official Website

With Hugo, I have seen six out of the nine films nominated for the 2012 Oscar in the Best Picture category. The three I am missing are Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, The Tree of Life & War Horse.

Hugo was very entertaining mix of the standard street urchin story with historical events such as the Gare Montparnasse train wreck and Georges Méliès' life & films. Based on the novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Hugo is veritable paean to Méliès who the typical audience member was likely unaware of. The film shifts from children's adventure to Méliès tribute which is probably what attracted Scorsese, a dedicated film preservationist. Several clips from Méliès films were included in Hugo. I had been fortunate enough to see several of them at the 2010 San Francisco Silent Film Festival.

Asa Butterfield is adequate as the 12 year old Hugo but Chloë Grace Moretz was most impressive. Last seen by me as Nicholas Cage's daughter in Kick-Ass (2010), Moretz's Isabelle seemed too mature for Hugo. Moretz seems poised to make the jump from child actor to roles more suitable for young adults. Her performance reminded me of Elle Fanning in Super 8. The roles were completely different but physical maturity and perceived emotional maturity imbued their performances with something extra.

Sacha Baron Cohen was unrecognizable to me as the tyrannical train station gendarmerie. As expected Ben Kingsley gives a solid performance as Méliès.

Hugo was released in 3-D, but I saw the 2-D version at the 4 Star.


At times, I Am Bruce Lee seemed like a promotional video for UFC. Ostensibly a biography of Bruce Lee, the filmmakers felt it was important to trace UFC and Mixed Martial Arts to Bruce Lee. Being a very casual fan of MMA, I don't know how valid the claim is but the repetition of the claim was the worst part of I Am Bruce Lee.

I've seen several documentaries on Lee's life and this one covers much of the same ground. It seems like Linda Lee and Dan Inosanto are always willing to be interviewed for these films. This film also had ample interview footage with Lee after his failed attempt star in Kung Fu and as he begin to rebuild his career in Hong Kong.

In the film, much is made of Lee's physical prowess and Inosanto's daughter waxes poetic about how sexy her "uncle" was. I Am Bruce Lee doesn't add any insights to Bruce Lee's life and I'm only moderately interested in Lee's life. Feeling more like a television program, I was not surprised when I saw I Am Bruce Lee on Spike TV less than a month after seeing it at the 4 Star. Lee's life is fascinating enough that even a mediocre rehash of his life (with a generous side serving of UFC) is satisfying.

I Am Bruce Lee
Spike Full EpisodesSpike Video ClipsSpike on Facebook


Elite Squad 2: Enemy Within and The Viral Factor are big budget action films from Brazil and Hong Kong, respectively. Full of special effects and fight scenes, both films had overly complicated plots full of twists and turns. One thing I notice is that a lot of foreign action films are a little too cute for their own good. They put in these plot twists too often which results in frustrating the audience.

I can't recall much to recommend in either film. The Viral Factor was directed by Dante Lam who made one of my favorite action films - The Beast Stalker which also starred Nicholas Tse. The Lam and Tse pairing seemed like a harbinger for good things in The Viral Factor but I was sadly disappointed.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Henri-Georges Clouzot: The Cinema of Disenchantment

The PFA presented a series called Henri-Georges Clouzot: The Cinema of Disenchantment in January and February. The series looked interesting but ran up against Noir City, Mostly British and SF Indiefest. I was only able to see four of the films in the series.

The Murderer Lives at Number 21 starring Pierre Fresnay & Suzy Delair; French with subtitles; (1942)
Quai des Orfèvres starring Louis Jouvet & Suzy Delair; French with subtitles; (1947)
Le corbeau starring Pierre Fresnay & Ginette Leclerc; French with subtitles; (1943)
Manon starring Cécile Aubry & Michel Auclair; French with subtitles; (1949)

All films were directed to Clouzot.

I become aware of Clouzot a little over a year ago when the Roxie screened Henri-Georges Clouzot's Inferno, a documentary (co-directed by Serge Bromberg) about the making of L'Enfer (English translation Inferno). Directed by Clouzot but beset by his indecisions and obsessive behavior, Inferno had an unlimited budget financed by Columbia Pictures. Made in 1964 but never released, Inferno remains the stuff of legend. Clouzot's widow told Bromberg that she had 185 reels of the film in storage which would be approximately 40 hours of raw footage. The clips of Inferno which were shown in the documentary were stunning and made me yearn for a finished product.

When I saw the Clouzot series on the PFA calendar, I resolved to see as many of the films as I could.

The Murderer Lives at Number 21 was notable for being made while France was under Nazi occupation. The film was a mystery-comedy hybrid involving a serial killer, the police detective trying to identify him and the cop's girlfriend - a scatterbrained actress who helps by going under cover at the boardinghouse where the killer is staying.

Number 21 had a large budget by occupation era standards. Intended to replace the big budget Hollywood films which were banned by the Nazis, I would guess that Number 21 was trying to achieve something between screwball comedy and The Thin Man. It didn't achieve it. Suzy Delair, who was Cluouzot's girlfriend at the time of filming, was very attracting and at times funny, but overall the comedy seemed forced and too contrived.

Quai des Orfèvres was a more traditional mystery/noir. Delair plays an aspiring actress with a jealous husband (for good reason) and a wealthy "benefactor." When said benefactor turns up murdered, the husband becomes the prime suspect. The motivations of Delair's character and some vivid characterizations of the supporting characters elevates Quai des Orfèvres beyond the standard pulp.

Le corbeau was my favorite of the four films. French for "the raven," Le corbeau is bleak film about a series of anonymous letters which sets a small town against itself. Based on true events from the 1920s, Le corbeau masterfully balances the mystery aspects of the author's identity against the observations of human behavior. All the characters have dirty secrets and behave disgracefully at times. Truly a cynical view of humanity (which likely mirrored Clouzot's own outlook), Le corbeau was later condemned by post-WWII French authorities seditious. Clouzot was blackballed for several years as a result of the film.

Another cynical tale, Manon is the story of Manon Lescaut (Cécile Aubry), a young woman about to be lynched for collaborating with the Nazis. Robert Dégrieux (Michel Auclair), a French Resistance hero is charged with guarding. They fall madly in love despite her likely collaboration and ample evidence of deceit in other areas. Convinced he has found his true love, Dégrieux helps Manon escape to Paris where the seek the help of her brother, a black marketeer. Quickly adapting to her brother's lavish lifestyle, Manon supplements her income by working in a high-end brothel. Seeing an opportunity to marry an American Army officer, Manon's brother detains Dégrieux so that Manon can sneak away. Enraged by her deception, Dégrieux kills the man. This is the point the film begins; like all good noir films, the story is told in flashbacks.

Manon, like Le corbeau, allows Clouzot to fully express his low opinion of least, the French variation which he felt had mistreated him after misinterpreting Le corbeau. Based on the novel Manon Lescaut by Abbé Prévost, the film reminded me of another French classic - Madame Bovary. Ruining his own life for the love/lust of a woman, which is a very noir theme, Dégrieux is like so many other noir protagonists. Aubry, only 20 at the time of filming, shines as Manon. Retiring from film before age 32 and having acted in nine films, Manon only whetted my appetite to see more of Aubry which is unfortunately a severely limited endeavor.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Red Desert and The Killing of a Chinese Bookie

The most recent films I have seen at the YBCA are:

Red Desert starring Monica Vitti & Richard Harris; directed by Michelangelo Antonioni; Italian with subtitles; (1964)
The Killing of a Chinese Bookie starring Ben Gazzara; directed by John Cassavetes; (1976)

The YBCA listing for The Killing of a Chinese Bookie was incorrect. They advertised the 135 minute version of the film but screened the 108 minute version. I skipped the opening night of SF Indiefest to see Chinese Bookie but the even if the correct runtime was posted, it would not have affected my decision.

Red Desert was Antonioni's first color film and he certainly showed no hesitancy in using the spectrum of colors. With cinematographer Carlo Di Palma, Antonioni makes Red Desert a visually spectacular film. Contrasting vivid colors with the bleak industrial landscape of Ravenna, Italy, Red Desert is stunning to look at. Like an impossibly beautiful woman, Red Desert didn't so much appeal to me as rather awed me with its brillance. Three months later I can recall the scenes outside the polluted factory or of the young girl swimming in the clear ocean.

The story focuses on Giuliana (Monica Vitti), a young wife and mother who is off kilter mentally due to a car accident. Richard Harris (does he speak Italian?) plays Corrado Zeller, a businessman visiting Giuliana's husband's factory. In short order, Giuliana and Corrado begin an extramarital affair which is distinguished by their lack of passion.

The plot seems metaphorical. Giuliana may be attuned to the environment and her depression and ennui a reaction to the pollution spewing from the industrialization of the region. I took her behavior to be metaphorical for the environment. Beautiful but damaged, Giuliana is suffering an existential crisis which no one seems recognize. Slow paced but hypnotic, Red Desert was a little too "film school" for me but nonetheless a worthwhile viewing experience.

The Killing of a Chinese Bookie also deals with the main character's existential crisis. Cosmo Vitelli (Ben Gazzara) runs a strip club cum burlesque house. In debt to the mob for gambling markers, Vitelli is pressured into killing the titular oddsmaker to settle the bill. Led to believe the bookie is a low level target, Vitelli discovers he is the head of Chinese mafia. Completing the assignment despite heavy security and being wounded himself, Vitelli has to fend for himself against his handlers who never expected him to survive and would rather see him out of the way.

The Killing of a Chinese Bookie spends a lot screen time showing the cheesy acts in Vitelli's club which drags the film to a halt. Apparently, the 135 minute version had even more club scenes. Vitelli is a performer just like the girls in his club except Vitelli is performing for a different audience inside and outside the club. Wanting to be a big man or perhaps, trying to convince everyone (including himself) that he is a big man, Vitelli sinks deeper into debt which leads to even bigger trouble. Vitelli's pride is on display and is his undoing. Not without skill and mettle, Vitelli doesn't know when to quit - at the club, at the poker table, etc. In other words, he is a loser; not a total loser but he has a fatal flaw which nets out to loser.

Ben Gazzara gives this big, broad performance as Vitelli. Complex and multi-faceted like the film, Gazzara shows more range than the few other films I have seen him in - The Strange One, Anatomy of a Murder, Road House... Gazzara best feature is that voice which you could cut copper pipe with. It's grating and harsh and easy to project false bravado even when his character really believes the bravado.

Like Red Desert, there was a lot to criticize in The Killing of a Chinese Bookie but there was also a lot to appreciate in the film. These two films did not impress me as much as their reputations (or their directors' reputations) but I'm glad I saw them anyway.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Mano a Mano

Way, way back in January when 2012 had barely begun, I saw an accidental double feature at the Castro. I had intended to drive over to the Smith Rafael to see their program of foreign films submitted for Oscar consideration. That Sunday, I intended to watch the Peruvian October and the Norwegian Happy, Happy entries but for reasons I cannot recall now, I went to the Castro and watched:

Sweet Smell of Success starring Burt Lancaster & Tony Curtis; directed by Alexander Mackendrick; (1957)
The Duellists starring Keith Carradine & Harvey Keitel; directed by Ridley Scott; (1977)

I've seen Sweet Smell of Success many times. I recall in the late 1980s, HBO heavily advertised the film on that channel. That was the first time I saw it; perhaps for its 30th anniversary. I recall being fascinated by Lancaster's performance - clipped speech & horn-rimmed eyeglasses. At the time, I didn't know he was doing a Walter Winchell impersonation. Today, I wonder if he was throwing in a little J. Edgar Hoover.

Sweet Smell of Success is an all-time classic and deserves whatever accolades it receives. Lancaster's J.J. Hunsecker and Curtis' Sidney Falco are like two dogs sniffing each other with Hunsecker clearly the alpha male. In the interest of time, I won't go into much detail about the film.

I considered skipping the film but couldn't resist it. As I watch more films, I become aware of how great performances need a strong supporting cast to contrast against. Hunsecker's megalomania and invective needs to have a whipping boy to elevate himself and Falco's self-loathsome sycophancy provides it in spades. Lancaster received great reviews for his performance and it has caught my attention since my first viewing of Sweet Smell of Success but the more I watch, the more I appreciate Curtis' turn as Falco.


On that Sunday, I was more interested in The Duellists which has the distinction of being Ridley Scott's directorial debut as well as casting Harvey Keitel as a 19th century French Army officer. Thankfully, he did not attempt a French accent.

In The Duellists, Keitel plays Gabriel Feraud, a French military officer quick to settle disputes the old fashioned way - a duel. Running afoul of him is fellow Army officer Armand d'Hubert (Keith Carradine). Set during Napoleonic Wars, Feraud and d'Hubert continue their duel over the course of a decade as various obstacles prevent them from fighting to the death. D'Hubert is relatively reluctant to continue the feud but Feraud is adamant and d'Hubert is equally adamant to not back down from the challenges.

The film follows the two officers around Europe as they chance upon each other. Lacking modern day parallels, Feraud's enthusiasm for dueling is hard to fathom but seems rooted in his resentments. The only way to give voice and meaning to perceived insults is to fight to the death. More than a point of honor, Feraud's duel are a point of existence. Based on a Joseph Conrad short story which was in turn based on actual events, The Duellists captures a time and mindset which seem foreign but yet innate.

The plot is much more richly textured than as I summarized it but much of the richness is expressed in nuanced and subtle plot points and dialogue. This isn't a film with quotable dialogue or memorable scenes but through episodic visits to the two duellist, we see the accretional effects the conflicts (both the duels and the Napoleonic Wars) have on them.

Keitel shines as the almost feral Feraud while Carradine gives a more measured performance as the rational d'Hubert. Although some consider The Duellists to be Ridley Scott's best work, I am more partial to his later particular, Blade Runner.

The Duellists is a fine film in its own right but is most impressive as a debut feature. Scott was nearly 40 years old when he filmed The Duellists which likely contributed to its critical success.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

2012 San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival

The 2012 San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival (SFIAAFF) ran from March 8 to 18.

Last year I saw 31½ programs at SFIAAFF and 20 programs at Cinequest. 51½ programs between the two festivals which overlapped one weekend. I essentially reversed the numbers this year. I saw 14 programs at SFIAAFF and 36 programs at Cinequest or 50 programs between the two festivals which again coincided for one weekend.

Of the 14 programs, I saw 3 at the Kabuki, 2 at the Viz, 2 at the PFA and 7 at the Camera 3.

The feature programs I saw:

Always starring So Ji-Sub and Han Hyo-Joo; directed by Song Il-Gon; Korean with subtitles; (2011) - Official Website
Bang Bang starring Thai Ngo & David Huynh; directed by Byron Q; (2010) - Official Website
Night Market Hero starring Blue Lan; directed by Yeh Tien-Lun; Mandarin with subtitles; (2011)
The Catch; directed by Rithy Panh; English & Khmer with subtitles; (2011)
The Crumbles starring Katie Hipol & Teresa Michelle Lee; directed by Akira Boch; (2012) - Official Website
Ryang-Kang-Do: Merry Christmas, North! starring Kim Whan-Young & Joo Hae-Ri; directed by Kim Sung-Hoon; Korean with subtitles; (2011)
11 Flowers starring Lu Wenqing, Wang Jingchun & Yan Ni; directed by Wang Xiaoshuai; Mandarin with subtitles; (2011)
My Wedding and Other Secrets starring Michelle Ang & Matt Whelan; directed by Roseanne Liang; (2011) - Official Website
Surrogate Valentine 2 starring Goh Nakamura & Yea-Ming Chen; with Michael Aki & Lynn Chen; directed by Dave Boyle; (2012) - Official Website
Yes, We're Open starring Perry Shen & Lynn Chen; with Sheetal Sheth & Kerry McCrohan; directed by Richard Wong; (2012) - Official Website
Give Up Tomorrow; documentary; directed by Michael Collins; English, Tagalog & Spanish with subtitles; (2011) - Official Website
Viette starring Mye Hoang; directed by Mye Hoang; English & Vietnamese with subtitles; (2012) - Official Website
The Front Line starring Shin Ha-Kyun & Ko Soo; directed by Jang Hoon; Korean with subtitles; (2011) - Official Website

Nice Girls Crew consisted of five, stand alone, ~10 minute episodes starring the same trio

Nice Girls Crew starring Lynn Chen, Michelle Krusiec & Sheetal Sheth; directed by Tanuj Chopra; (2012)


Surrogate Valentine 2 has the alternate title of Daylight Savings.

The Catch is listed on IMDB as Gibier d'élevage

I counted no less than four programs with Lynn Chen credited. In addition to the three listed above, the festival had a Joan Chen retrospective. They screened Saving Face (2004) in which Lynn Chen played the lesbian love interest of Michelle Krusiec's character...two of the co-stars in Nice Girls Crew.

Many films had cross pollination with SFIAAFF serving the role of the bumblebee.

Director Dave Boyle and actor/singer Goh Nakamura(Surrogate Valentine 2) appeared in small roles in Yes, We're Open. Boyle was also credited by director Mye Hoang for helping to edit her film (Viette). Long-time SFIAAFF collaborators Richard Wong (Colma) and H.P. Mendoza (Fruit Fly) directed and wrote Yes, We're Open, respectively. Yes, We're Open and Nice Girls Crew were both funded by SFIAAFF or its parent organization CAAM.


Over the past few years, two SFIAAFF traditions appeared to have been phased out.

The festival used to screen one from the archives - an older, classic film. Past films include The Housemaid (1960) and Diamond Head (1963). I looked forward to those screenings because they were usually held in the Castro Theater and I have a fondness for old films. I haven't seen a film which fits that description on the lineup for a couple of years now.

SFIAAFF also screened a big Bollywood musical at the Castro. At first on the first Saturday night, later on Sunday night, this year not at all.

I wish both of these programs will return in future years.


I thought the 2012 festival had fewer programs than 2011. I didn't count so that is just my impression from perusing the program. I also found fewer film synopses which interested me. I could have seen another four or five films at this year's festival but fatigue from Cinequest and lack of appealing choices dissuaded me.

Two similar films about boys growing up under a repressive government top my list of 2012 SFIAAFF films.

11 Flowers was about a boy growing up in China during the Cultural Revolution. Wang Han (Liu Wenqing) is 11 years old and has been selected for the prestigious post of school exercise leader. He is the boy that gets up on the platform and leads the students through their daily calisthenics set to the patriotic music of the Great Revolution. The school administrators brow beat him and his mother into getting a new white shirt to wear during calisthenics which is quite an expense for the family.

Wang and his three school friends go swimming by the river one day. As young boys are apt to do, he bends at the waist and peers through his legs at his friends. This awkward position causes him to lose consciousness but his friends pull him from the river. When he comes to, his prized shirt is missing. The shirt is seen on the river, caught against some low hanging tree branches. Having alienated his friends with accusations of theft and carelessness, Wang is left to wade into the river to retrieve his shirt. Then, he has to strip and hang the clothes to allow them to dry.

While waiting alone for his clothes to dry, Wang hears a commotion in the woods above him. Jueqiang (Wang Ziyi), the older brother of one of Wang's classmates, runs by with a stomach wound. Jueqiang grabs Wang's white shirt off the branch and runs into the woods. Knowing the trouble he'll be in if his mother discovers his shirt is missing, Wang follows him into the woods. Eventually, he finds the wounded man who has used the shirt as a bandage. Jueqiang threatens Wang and his family with death if Wang reveals his whereabouts. He forces Wang to return home with the promise of keeping his location and the fate of the white shirt a secret. In return Jueqiang promises to send Wang a white shirt in the future.

Jueqiang has killed the man who raped and impregnated his younger sister and is wanted for murder. His wound is the result of having escaped from police custody. The incident is on everyone's tongues in the small town. Predictably, Wang keeps Jueqiang's secret and his mother is furious. Ostracized by his friends for his behavior at the river, Wang tries to make amends by sharing his secret...which of course, results in one of the boys going to the authorities. This eventually leads to Jueqiang's capture.

The film reminded me a little of Stand By Me and various other films where children are forced to keep a secret. 11 Flowers has the added benefit of the Chinese Cultural Revolution as its backdrop. Wang and Jueqiang are educated men who have been sent to this industrial backwater for re-education. Bored and chafing at their imposed restriction, the men share a common bond but Jueqiang's crime and her sister's pregnancy create an awkwardness which cannot be bridged even when Wang and his father take shelter in Jueqiang's father's house during a rainstorm.

11 Flowers has a poignancy which grows throughout the film and mirrors Wang's maturation. A young boy whining about a shirt at the beginning of the film, he is deeply affected by Jueqiang's plight and ultimate fate.

True to his word, Jueqiang has his family procure a white shirt for him which he mails to Wang. Wang's parents, concerned that a convicted murderer is in contact with their son, visit the prison to speak to the officials. They assure the couple and Wang that there is no danger. In a brillant scene, they are informed that Jueqiang's father & sister are outside waiting to see the prisoner. Wang's father, embarrassed to see the family, asks if he and his family can exit though an alternate door. Wang sees the pair through the window and feels sympathy for them.

The story of a boy growing up and losing his innocence is a staple of cinema. It's interesting to see the genre through the lens of filmmakers from different societies.

Similar to 11 Flowers, Ryang-Kang-Do: Merry Christmas, North! follow Jong-Soo a young boy living in a small village in North Korea. Undersized and unpopular, Jong-Soo has to endure the indignities of life such as being excluded from a school trip to Pyongyang due to his size. However, Jong-Soo's biggest concern is the illness of his younger brother which is mother cannot afford to properly treat. Despondent over his lot in life, Jong-Soo happens upon a Christmas gift sent via hot air balloon by children in South Korea. The present he happens upon is a remote controlled robot.

Returning with the toy, Jong-Soo becomes the most popular boy in town as he rations time with the robot to the other children. This brings about the envy of the son of the local Communist Party boss which shows that privileged children can be brats under any sociopolitical structure.

The rest of the film deals with Jong-Soo's downfall. His brother's conditions worsens and some of the children covet the robot. The final scene is a sad, dysfunctional take on Santa coming down the chimney in the middle of summer for the benefit of Jong-Soo's fatally ill younger brother.

Both 11 Flowers and Ryang-Kang-Do skillfully mixed bittersweet comedy and childhood perspectives with pointed commentary about the government regimes in their respective countries and stood out from the pack.


Two other films also covered similar ground to each other although in this case, it was Asian parents with traditional views of not allowing their Westernized daughters to date white guys. Artificial barriers preventing Asian girls and white guys from dating doesn't seem prevalent enough to merit a film (much less two in the same festival) but both films were well made and captivating.

My Wedding and Other Secrets was a New Zealand comedy about Emily Chu (Michelle Ang), a film geek whose strict parents demand she study medicine at university. She takes a film class as an elective where she gets the opportunity to make her dream film - a vampire flick full of martial arts and special effect.

Meanwhle, Emily meets James at her intramural fencing club. They hit it off immediately but mindful of her father's ban on non-Chinese boyfriends for her older sisters, Emily keeps her relationship with James on the down low.

Unable to fund the film she wants to make, Emily marries James to get the married student stipend which she funnels to her film project. Eric, Emily's pretentious and pompous classmate from the film course, becomes aware of Emily personal life and is convinced it would make a great documentary which he takes on as his semester project.

The stress of living a lie and apart from his wife is too much for James who starts taking Chinese language classes so he can formally ask for Emily's father for his daughter's hand in marriage...despite the fact that the two are already secretly married. When he finally asks Mr. Chu, it turns out that Mrs. Chu has stronger feelings about the ethncity of her daughter's husband. This lead to tremendous conflict for Emily which is captured by Eric for his documentary.

Eventually, Emily becomes estranged from her mother and divorces James, while Eric's film about her life is accepted for and acclaimed at a prestigious film festival. Predictably, Emily personal nadir occurs simultaneous with her professional zenith but it leads her to reassess what is important in her life. A rapprochement with her mother and ex-husband culminates in the feel-good ending.

Sweet natured and quirky, My Wedding rides Michelle Ang's solid comedic performance to success with solid support from prolific HK verteran Kenneth Tsang and 1960s HK martial arts film legend Pei Pei Cheng as Emily's father and mother. Crowd pleasing, cheefful and spirited, My Wedding and Other Secrets is a satisfying comedy.

Given the plot, I wonder how much of My Wedding and Other Secrets was based on director & screenwriter Roseanne Liang's life.

Tellling a similar story but with tragic overtones, Viette follows the title character (Mye Hoang) over several years of her life. Starting while she is in high school, Vietnamese American Vi starts dating Caucasian Matt (Sean McBride). In this case, I believe her parents were against her dating anyone but especially a white guy.

Attending a high performing school with classmates who aspire to major universities, Vi decides to attend the local college to comply with her parents demand that she stay nearby. She does get them to agree for her to stay in a dorm during the week which serves as a hideaway and love nest for her and Matt.

For at least five years, Vi and Matt keep their relationship a secret from her family. The strain of the secret as well as Matt's increasingly frequent bi-polar outbursts push the relationship to the breaking point. Matt confronts Vi's parents which results in the police escorting Vi from the house and begins her cohabitation with Matt.

Matt's illness, Vi's estrangement from her family and sudden diagnosis an ovarian cyst or something to that affect, piles onto Vi's troubles. I thought the film would have benefitted from dialing down Vi's troubles.

During the Q&A, director, screenwriter & star, Mye Hoang revealed much of the story was based on her life and that the original version ran much longer.

Viette is one of these instances which can only occur at a film festival. Viewed objectively, Viette suffers from a plot that is too jam packed and some nudity and sexuality which did not seem integral to the story. When Hoang started answering questions, it was clear the film was deeply personal; even more personal than the typical film festival director because of its autobiographical content. Its making was likely a catharsis for her. Additionally, Hoang seemed to have sacrificed so much to live the life which she depicted and again to make the film. Mye Hoang seems like the hard luck kid because she revealed she had been laid off from her job recently.

Is my opinion of Viette colored by Hoang's personal backstory? Perhaps but I can only write about the film within the context of how I saw it. I was aware that the story was based on Hoang's life prior to the screening. I was suitably impressed with the film before Hoang's Q&A session. Afterwards, I felt I had seen a person reveal her inner self to a courageous (or embarrassing) extent. The reader can factor that into my opinion of Viette.

Chi Pham's performance as Vi's father deserves mention for its frightening intensity.


Always was a Korean romance film between a MMA figher and a blind woman. Unrepentantly melodramatic, the crowd pleasing, tear jerking, hearstring tugging film was well crafted to touch all the bases - handsome leading man looking for redemption, upbeat and beautiful blind woman, cute puppy, lecherous boss, treacherous gangsters, Thai steel cage death matches and contrived coincidences galore. With a plot reminiscent of Chaplin's City Lights (1931), Always was halfway home before they ever cast the roles. So Ji-Sub and Han Hyo-Joo as the couple are adequate. So Ji-Sub's role as the subdued boxer limits his range but that provides more room for Han Hyo-Joo to shine as the blind woman.

The Crumbles won the audience award for best feature narrative. Katie Hipol and Teresa Michelle Lee play an odd couple who start rock-n-roll band. Darla (Hipol) is the more responsible one while Elisa (Lee) is always short of money and roaming from friend to friend to sleep on their couches.

The pair are part of a larger group of friends. I think they went to college together but that's not important. The film captures the modern day slacker vibe in LA but it is set apart by a nice soundtrack of original songs; most notably Everyday Girl.

Surrogate Valentine was one of my favorite films the 2011 SFIAAFF. The same creative team (director Dave Boyle and actor/singer Goh Nakamura) returns for Surrogate Valentine 2 but they don't quite recapture the fire. A lot of the energy from the first film came from Nakamura's interaction with costars Lynn Chen and Chadd Stoops. There is only one major scene between Chen & Nakamura which sort establishes her character as Goh's unattainable woman. Circumstances will not allow Goh and Rachel (Chen) to get together. The first Surrogate Valentine had a buddy film/road vibe between Nakamura and Stoops who is completely absent from Daylight Savings.

Subbing for them is fellow musician Yea-Ming Chen as the object Goh's romantic intentions and Michael Aki as his cousin and road trip partner. The second film covers much of the same ground as the first one except Goh seems subdued and in need of some lithium.

As crafted by Boyle and Nakumura, the film version of Goh Nakamura cannot achieve contentment as it would fundamentally undermine the concept of the films they are making. Keeping poor Goh down on his luck requires more creativity than having him repeat the same set of circumstances, each time a little less energetic than before.

Still, there is a certain appeal to this Goh Nakamura character who keeps plugging away in life and romance. At the end of the film, the credit read something like "the journey continues." I hope Boyle & Nakamura can come up with something new for SV3.


Give Up Tomorrow is a fascinating exploration of the seemingly false conviction of Paco Larrañaga. By many accounts, Larrañaga was on a different island in the Philippines when the Chong sisters went missing. Suspicious criminal ties to the young women's father, bizarre behavior (and later alleged suicide) of the criminal court judge, the dubious testimony of a man whom Larrañaga claims to have never met and more facts cast doubt as to whether Larrañaga is guilty.

The film exposes, what would appear to be, a monumental miscarriage of justice. Still imprisoned, although transferred to Spanish custody, Larrañaga is scheduled to be released in 2038.


The Catch is retelling of Kenzaburo Oe's story which Nagisa Oshima adapted for the screen in 1961. Rithy Panh's adaption moves the events from WWII Japan to Vietnam War era Cambodia. A bigger change to the story is to leave the capture and detention of the prisoner in the hands of children as a result of the Khmer Rouge use of child warriors and/or their decimation of adults. This backstory of the rise of the Khmer Rouge gives the "American" pilot's plight a politcal aspect which I don't recall from Oshima's version. The African American pilot spoke with a French accent which also was distracting.

All things considered, I preferred Oshima's version of The Catch.


Yes, We're Open and Nice Girls Crew fell short in my opinion.

The basic premise of Yes, We're Open is that there are "modern" couples who feel the need to adhere to certain principles to show bona fides. One of these a casual attitude towards sex or fidelity. Perry Shen and Lynn Chen play a self-congratulating couple who has their beliefs called into question when fall into the orbit of swingin' couple. Their respective infidelities affect them more deeply than they would have believed.

I found premise a bit of stretch or contrived so the humor never really registered with me. Dave Boyle as the taciturn third wheel and Sheetal Sheth as the female half of the wife swapping couple stood out.

I fully embraced the concept behind Nice Girls Crew. Three women (Lynn Chen, Sheetal Sheth & Michelle Krusiec) form a book club which is just an excuse to rag on each other and act raunchy. The concept and execution was fine. Each 10 minute episode was largely self-contained although there was some cumulative plot development. My only complaint was that I wish the humor had more of a bite to it...less silliness and more bitchiness would have better suited my tastes.

My least favorite films were Bang Bang and Night Market Hero. Bang Bang was a tedious and confusing tale of some Aian gangbangers. Night Market Hero was an interminable comedy about the efforts to close a food market made up of small restaurants and stores.

The Front Line disappointed me as well but had some interesting moments. Set amidst South Korean soldier during the Korean War, the explores the horrors of war through an interesting plot device. A hill is taken and retaken repeatedly by both sides. Each time, the temporary occupants leave some items in a bunker which the other side digs up. The items are alcohol, food, cigarettes and personal correspondence. A North Korean female sniper and South Korean infantry officer even have a king of epistolary romance. At 2 hours, 15 minutes, the film dragged a little. I'm not recommending it but the film had its moments.

Friday, April 6, 2012

2012 Cinequest (Part 4)

This is the last post on the 2012 Cinequest. I'm running a month behind in posting and I still have to post about the 2012 San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival and the non-festival films I saw during the first quarter of 2012.


The Good Doctor was a engaging film about a young doctor doing his residency at a Los Angeles hospital. Concerned that he is being overshadowed by the other residents, Dr. Blake (Orlando Bloom) goes to great lengths to create an interesting case to gain the attention of his superiors. He resorts to Münchausen by Proxy Syndrome on an attractive, young female patient (Riley Keough). To muddle the psychology, he appears to be sexually attracted to his patient as well.

Eventually, his malpractice is discovered by a hospital orderly (the alawys dependable Michael Peña) and Dr. Blake is blackmailed into providing oxycontin. However, you underestimate the good doctor at your own risk...

Part thriller, part psychological drama, The Good Doctor's centerpiece is Orlando Bloom's outstanding performance. Nuanced and never obvious, his Dr. Blake is seriously flawed before the stress of medical residency and extortion push him over the edge. Rob Morrow as the attending physician also eye catching. He makes great use out of a pair eyeglasses that detach in the nose bridge.

I remember seeing an interview with Jimmy Stewart where the conversation turned to noted character actor Strother Martin. Martin wanted a few innocuous sounding props for his scene. I think a piece of string was one of them. Stewart objected as he knew Martin's movements and gesticulations with the string would fascinate the audience to the detriment of his screen presence. That's what I feel like with Rob Morrow in The Good Doctor. When he unsnaps those glasses in the middle, I couldn't help but think how great those eyeglasses. Morrow does it multiple times throughout the film such that I was anticipating the movement.

That digression shouldn't lower one's opinion of The Good Doctor. The film is taut and completely engrossing notwithstanding Morrow's eyewear.


A few documentaries were audience favorites but left me luke warm.

Dave is the story of Dave Sterling, a young man diagnosed as mentally retarded. Dave struggles with school and life until he meet Adam Donyes, a hardworking assistant basketball coach at his high school. Through Adam's tireless efforts, Dave becomes a star basketball player, reunites with his father and even attends college part time.

The story was uplifting but I wondered how many Daves are out there and nearly all of them do not have a guardian angel as selfless as Adam. I thought the film should be called Adam because whatever motivated and sustained him in his efforts to help Dave Sterling deserved more attention. Dave was unbelievably lucky to meet Adam which left me sad for all the Daves who never get the help they need.

Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet is the story of guitar prodigy Jason Becker from Richmond. Poised for rock-n-roll stardom in the early 1990s as David Lee Roth's lead guitarist, Becker's career was cut short by ALS or Lou Gehrig's Disease. Becker is still alive and making music despite being a paraplegic. Using music composition software that tracks his eye movements, Becker still makes music.

Becker's story is inspring but again, I was left to ponder the societal view. Why do some people like Becker and physicist Stephen Hawking survive for years with ALS when the prognosis is so much shorter for the vast majority of ALS victims?

On a more prurient and trivial note, it seemed as though Becker dated several of his female caregivers which I wish would have been explored at more length. Apparently, Becker's personality shines through his paralysis and muteness.

Becker's video chronicling of his own life seemed to foreshadowed Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet. There was a treasure trove of home videos of Becker which showed him as a healthy boy and young man. These early videos made the film much richer.

A more sobering documentary was The Bully Project which is getting a general release as Bully. The film documents, with amazingly candid scenes, the bullying which goes on in the lives of the subjects for reasons such sexuality and appearance. Although only a handful of cases were documented in the film, the filmmakers contend the problem is widespread and I'm not inclined to dispute that.

The most depressing aspect of Bully was the seeming indifference of school administrators and police. In one infuriating scene, a principal admonishes the victim for not accepting the aggresor's disingenuous apology. This brought about an audible response from the audience.

Although the stories are heartrending, the film left me wondering what could be done. I likened it to drunk driving and wife beating. When I was a kid, those crimes were tacitly accepted and frequently unpunished. Now, those crimes are universally condemned and mandatory punishment is required. I think that one day, bullying will be seen as a serious problem and precursor to more serious crimes. I wonder how many children will have to be victimized until then.

From a production standpoint, I wonder why the schools allowed filming on their campuses and school buses. If a documentary film maker approached a school district and stated their true purpose, what incentive or upside is there for a school to agree to granting access? If no bullying occurs, the footage will be edited out. If any bullying occurs, it will be highlighted in the film.

A less emotional documentary was Code 2600 which is bit of a scattershot history of hacking. 2600 refers to the baud rate hackers used emulate to hack into the old Ma Bell systems aka phone phreaking.

Never more than skimming the surface of the problem, Code 2600 was a lightweight introduction to a serious problem. One takeaway which was ominous is that the expert claimed hacking will always occur. The very properties that make the internet a free flowing exchange of ideas and data is what allows hacking to occur.


Play, How I Was Stolen by the Germans, Beat Down, The Hunting Season, Sunflower Hour and Mixed Kebab receive tepid or neutral recommendations from me.

If I had it to do over again, I would pass on Play, Cheap Fun, The King, Let the Bullets Fly, The Harsh Light of Day and Five Hours South.


This year, I purchased the Film Lover Pass for $145 and the Express Line Access Pass for $100. It's the first year I bought the Express Line Access Pass. Although it helped a few times, I was usually rushing into a screening after they let in the Express Line pass holders. If I can get my tax planning in order next year, I'll probably donate to Cinequest at the $300 level to get a tax writeoff in addition to the Film Lover and Express Line Access Pesses.

This year, Cinequest validated parking after all the shows (except daytime Sunday when parking was free). Last year, I think San Jose Public Garages were free all day Saturday and Sunday and I don't recall validation. This year, the problem was that the validation was one use only and only good for 2 hours 40 minutes or something like that. You couldn't just collect two or three validations to cover the whole time. You had to go to the garage with the validation, exit the garage and re-enter. If there was enough time between shows, I would do that but sometimes I was pressed for time between screenings.

Before each screening, the staff or volunteers at Cinequest would push the Diner's Circle on page 34 of the festival program and the evening's meetup which is essentially a no-host bar starting at 9:30 PM and ending "whenever."

I was always in a hurry to get home so I skipped all the meetups but did try several of the Diner's Circle restaurants several of which were offering discounts to Cinequest Pass Holders. I frequented Pita Pit the most often. The tzatziki sauce was great on everything.

I did not see any street walkers this year...and believe me, I drove around for hours looking for them.