Saturday, December 29, 2012

Saul Bass, Woody Allen & Jasper Johns at Oddball

On Thursday, I went to Oddball Films for the first time.  Located in the Mission District, Oddball is located on Capp Street, a narrow street which runs parallel to Mission St. starting at 15th Street until it curves around to end on Mission around Army Street (aka Cesar Chavez St.).  Notorious for streetwalkers, I don't believe I've ever been on Capp St.  In fact, I rarely venture "East of Mission."

Not sure what I would encounter, Capp St. was a surprising mix of well tended residences and businesses included a car repair place and a business having an NFPA 704 placard.  Oddball shares its building with Sutter Furniture Manufacturing Company.  Oddball, a company specializing in offbeat films, looks like what you would expect a film archive to look like.  Housed on the top floor of an old warehouse space (with wooden beams in the middle of the floor space), Oddball has reels of film piled floor to ceiling.  The room was drafty and the well worn wood floor did not help acoustics.  The film projectors were in the middle of the audience with the whirring motor clearly audible to all.  The bathroom had a shower stall in it.  There was a makeshift bar in the corner and wall ornaments which made it looked like a cineaste's clubhouse.

A few years ago, I noted Saul Bass' distinctive title sequences from several Otto Preminger films.  When I read the title of Thursday's program (Saul Bass and the Creative Impulse), I decided to visit Oddball for the first time.  RSVP was required and I assumeed cash only payment at the door.  There were probably 20 to 25 people in the audience who took up 80% of the seats.

Four short films were screened.

Why Man Creates; directed by Saul Bass; animation and live action; 29 minutes; (1968)
Bass on Titles; directed & written by Saul Bass & Stan Hart; documentary; (1977)
Woody Allen: An American Comedy; directed by Harold Mantell; documentary; (1977)
USA Artists: Jasper Johns; documentary; (1966)

The screening  was scheduled for 8 PM, but didn't start until after 8:15 and the total program took just over two hours.  Guest curator Landon Bates operated the two projectors.  He cut short the ending credits as he switched from one film to the next.  The screening had a "vacation movie" feel; like I was a kid going to one of my parents' friends' house to watch their vacation film or slide projector photos.

Why Man Creates won an Oscar in 1969 for Best Documentary Short Film.  It looks very much like a film from the 1960s.  It reminded of some of the stuff I saw on PBS as a kid in the 1970s.  Comprised of several unrelated parts, my favorite segment from Why Man Creates was called The Edifice.  It was an animated history of civilization.  The animation reminded me of the comic strip B.C. and was clever at moments.

Bass on Titles consists of the complete title sequences from 10 films which Bass worked on.  The ten films were The Man with the Golden ArmThe Big CountryWest Side StoryWalk on the Wild SideNine Hours to RamaIt's a Mad Mad Mad Mad WorldThe VictorsIn Harm's WaySecondsGrand Prix.  In between title sequences, Bass talks about his approach and goal regarding each title sequence.  In a nutshell, Bass started off making logos for films.  Before, during and after his foray into film-making, Bass was a graphic designer who designed the logos for United Airlines, AT&T and many other companies.

Bass' first film job was to create the film poster for Preminger's Carmen Jones. Bass quickly realized film allowed his images to move so the rose consumed by flames was integrated into the title sequence.  These animated sequences (often using geometric shapes) are my favorites.  Their aesthetics match my preferences.  In addition to numerous Preminger films, Bass titled several Hitchcock classics (Vertigo, North by Northwest, Psycho).

As Bass described, these title sequences foreshadowed the film.  The burning rose represents the beauty and danger associated with Carmen Jones, the sharp points in The Man with the Golden Arm are the syringes Frank Sinatra's character uses to shoot heroin, the kaleidoscopic images in Vertigo show the jumbled state of Jimmy Stewart's mind & psyche.  Once Bass moved towards live action scenes which were essentially prologues to the film, my interest in them waned.  It's purely a matter of personal preference but those animated sequence appealed to something very deep within me.  Not emotionally but rather visually hypnotic, I could watch them over and over.

Woody Allen: An American Comedy was a talking head documentary featuring Woody Allen and clips from several of his early films.  I didn't really learn much.  I had seen an American Masters two parter on Allen last year so I was familiar with the material.  I am surprised at how little Allen has changed over the years.  Certainly he has aged but his dress and mannerisms have remained constant.

USA: Artists was a program on National Educational Television, the predecessor to PBS.  Apparently profiling American artists, Jasper Johns was the subject of this particular episode.  With halting speech as he changes course in mid-answer, Johns is not an ideal interviewee.  Whatever Johns lacks in polished oration, he makes up for with the earnestness of his commitment to art.  At times appearing ill at ease in front of the cameras, John's on-screen persona is hard to imagine in today's culture of media saturation.  A successful artist would be schooled in interview skills before being allowed in front of the cameras.  That a visual artifact like this footage even exists made the trip to Oddball worthwhile.

All said, the evening at Oddball was very satisfying if not somewhat physically uncomfortable.  Many people brought food and drink with them.  The cushioned seats were all occupied when I arrived so I will attempt to arrive earlier next time.  Cold on Thursday night, I imagine the space traps heat on warm days.  Still, if I see a program which interests me in the future, I will make it a point to attend.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Sessions

On an extremely rainy Christmas day, I went to the Landmark Opera Plaza to see The Sessions.

The Sessions starring John Hawkes & Helen Hunt; with William H. Macy; directed by Ben Lewin; (2012) - Official Website

Based on a true story of Berkeley poet & polio sufferer Mark O'Brien (John Hawkes), The Sessions tells the story of O'Brien's sessions with sexual surrogate Cheryl Cohen-Greene (Helen Hunt). Set in Berkeley in the late 1980s, I wonder if the events could have taken place anywhere else.  Based on Cohen-Greene's explanation, I'm still not sure how a sexual surrogate differs from a prostitute.  Much emphasis is placed on the fact that Cohen-Greene's policy is to limit each patient to six sessions.  That seems arbitrary if the aim is address sexual dysfunctions.

O'Brien is in his late 30s, spends most of his time in an iron lung, is devoutly Catholic which forbids sex before marriage.  That's a problem for O'Brien whose virginity causes extreme sexual frustration.  His paralysis does not allow for "self-gratification" although I wonder if O'Brien's Catholic conscience would allow him to practice onanism (I didn't have to look that word up).  Like Porky's and countless teenage sex farces, O'Brien decides to lose his virginity...although his goal is blessed by the Catholic church.  He could die if he doesn't.  Actually, he likely die soon regardless of sexual experiences or lack thereof. 

Fortunately, O'Brien's priest is Father Brendan (William H. Macy), a man who doesn't let his ordination interfere with his cigarette smoking & beer drinking.  Certainly vicarious and almost voyeuristic, Brendan grants O'Brien dispensation for premarital sex and then frequently discusses the details with him to see how the sessions are progressing.  Much of the humor in The Sessions involves Father Brendan hearing O'Brien's status updates in the church.

As O'Brien's sessions with his surrogate continue, he (and the audience) realize that although lack of sex is part of the issue, O'Brien really desires an emotional connection with a woman.  He wants a wife but his disease is more than most women can look past.  This premise has the potential to become schmaltzy but only occasionally crosses the line.  In fact, the character of O'Brien meets the same fate as the real Mark O''s not a happy ending but it seems appropriate.

Hawkes (Winter's Bone) is completely subsumed by the role.  He is very convincing as the upbeat polio victim.  Helen Hunt always seems infuse her characters with the same sense of articulate self-respect.  Her character seems to be completely at ease about her professions (even with her husband and teenage son).  It's only when undergoing a mikvah (I had to look that word up) that she expresses the slightest hesitation in proclaiming her job.  I've never really been a Helen Hunt fan and wonder what other actresses could have done in the role of Cheryl.  I will say the 48 year old Hunt was certainly game for nude scenes and The Sessions even gets off a doozy of a sight gag about oral sex.

Moon Bloodgood (looking a lot like Tia Carrere) stands out as O'Brien's assistant and caregiver.  Macy provides comedic relief.

At times The Sessions makes the audience uncomfortable but Hawkes affable performance keeps the film on a even keel.  I don't hold The Sessions in as high a regard as some critics but the film was certainly worthwhile.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Once Upon a Time in the West

Two weekends ago, I went to the Castro to see Once Upon a Time in the West.

Once Upon a Time in the West starring Henry Fonda & Charles Bronson; with Claudia Cardinale & Jason Robards; directed by Sergio Leone; (1968)

Dario Argento, Bernardo Bertolucci and Leone are credited with writing the story the screenplay is based on.

I've seen Once Upon a Time in the West (OUATITW) before and have always been partial to Leone's trilogy with Clint Eastwood (A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly).  OUATITW has too many long stretches of silence for my tastes.  It wasn't until recently that I learned that OUATITW is part of a loose Leone trilogy also comprising Duck, You Sucker and Once Upon a Time in AmericaDuck, You Sucker (1971) is playing at the PFA on January 10.  I'm not sure why Leone just didn't title the 1971 film Once Upon a Time in Mexico which was the title of Robert Rodriguez's third film in his Mariachi trilogy.

OUATITW has a plot which takes the long way around the barn.  Taking more than 2.75 hours to tell a revenge story, the version of OUATITW screened at the Castro was the "complete" version which includes Robards' death at the end.  We get a lot of close-ups of Henry Fonda's eyes and weathered face (which looks all of its 63 years despite the dark hair).  It's jarring to see Fonda play the villain and that's the best part of OUATITW.  Jason Robards shows up for no apparent reason.  Frankly, other than the parts involving Fonda and Bronson's characters, I thought the plot was superfluous.  There are a lot of stare downs and pregnant pauses and some sweaty guys looking menacing but otherwise it boils down to Bronson playing his harmonica and Fonda coldly going about.  Claudia Cardinale looks beautiful as always.

Having not seen the film in years, I was hoping for a greater appreciation of the film this time around but at best, was left mild about the film.

Monday, December 24, 2012

East Bay Express

Three time in three days, I trekked to the East Bay.  I went to the Niles Essanay in Fremont, Rialto Elmwood in Berkeley and the New Parkway in Oakland.  I had never been to the Elmwood or New Parkway (or the Old Parkway).

Ben-Hur starring Ramon Novarro & Francis X. Bushman; directed by Fred Niblo; silent with intertitles; live accompaniment by Jon Mirsalis; (1925)
Django starring Franco Nero; directed by Sergio Corbucci; Italian with subtitles; (1966)
Beasts of the Southern Wild starring Quvenzhané Wallis & Dwight Henry; directed by Benh Zeitlin; (2012) - Official Website

I saw Ben-Hur at Niles Essanay, Django at the Elmwood and Beasts of the Southern Wild at the New Parkway.


Since I've written so much about the New Parkway, I guess I should start with it.  Given a half day off from work on the 24th, I ventured over to Oakland for the 6:45 PM screening of Beasts of the Southern Wild. The theater is located on 24th Street between Telegraph and Broadway.  As I approached the theater, I thought the building had been tagged (i.e. graffiti).  There is no traditional signage for the New Parkway.  "The New Parkway" is spray painted on the outside wall.  There are some images of three guys (two with Oakland A's caps and one with a SF Giants cap) with dollar signs for left eyes that I thought was some leftover Occupy Oakland commentary.

The first thing I noticed when walking in is that the lobby was spacious and looked like a cafe.  If the food is good, it wouldn't surprise me if the cafe could be operated as a stand-alone business.  The only object to indicate that a movie theater is nearby is the old school film projector used as ornamentation.  The box office is at the concession bar which includes six (if I counted correctly) beers on tap.  The kitchen is semi-open so you can see the food staff preparing food.

I ordered a grilled cheese with tomatoes which was a little dry.  Honestly, I could have made a grilled cheese of similar quality and I'm an average cook at best.  I don't think they pressed the sandwich with oil or butter. My mother made great grilled cheese - the secret is too use butter but not too much!  On the day I went, a complimentary beverage was included with the price of admission.  Having driven, I passed on beer and selected an Italian soda.  The food is delivered via a wireless system.  I was given a plastic card.  When I sat down in the theater, each table had a wireless card reader.  I inserted the card into the reader which informed the staff where I was seated.  The food was delivered to my table.   There was a button on the card reader console which indicated I could order food from my seat.  I didn't try that feature.

The theater consisted of a floor space with mismatched couches, booths, love seats, chairs, coffee tables and various bric-à-brac.  Behind the floor were three levels of stadium style terraces with individual seats and love seats.  Next to each seat is a side table for one's food.  The entire effect of the interior is an industrial space with garage sale chic furniture and Oaklandish graffiti art on the walls.

There were only 8 or 10 people at my screening.  It was Christmas Eve but the turnout was still a little disappointing.

As for Beasts of the Southern Wild, it wasn't my cup of tea.  A fantasy involving a child's imagination, the film explores death and the circle of life while mixing in what appears to be Hurricane Katrina footage and the prehistoric beasts from the title.  There were a lot of shots of piles of crayfish and the bayou.  There was a particularly interesting scene where four young girls visit a floating brothel and begin dancing with the ladies.  Quvenzhané Wallis as Hushpuppy, the daughter and Dwight Henry as Wink, the father give strong (borderline crazy) performances.


The Elmwood is on a stretch of College Avenue I had never been to before.  A nondescript single screen theater which has now been divided into three screens, the Elmwood was most notable for the interesting looking neighborhood it resides on.

Django, undoubtedly re-released to take advantage of Tarantino's upcoming Django Unchained, left me underwhelmed.  Set in a fetid, muddy Southwest US town where the Mexican, ex-Confederates and ex-Union soldiers speak Italian, Django was long on violence and Franco Nero's steel blue eyes.  Much preferring Leone's Man With No Name trilogy, Django's extended scenes of violence and silence left me bored at times.  The beautiful Loredana Nusciak (born Loredana Cappelletti) is ridiculously cast as Django's Mexican love interest.


A healthy crowd turned out on Saturday, December 22 for the silent version of Ben-Hur (projected from a Blu Ray).  Hewing closely to the 1959 film's plot but clocking in at approximately an hour shorter, the silent version doesn't have the grandeur of the William Wyler/Charlton Heston classic.  The most expensive silent film ever made, Ben-Hur was a blockbuster hit when it was released.  I thought Francis X. Bushman's Messala overshadowed Ramon Novarro's Ben-Hur.  Ben-Hur looked to be no match for Messala whereas Heston and Stephen Boyd seemed more evenly matched (not to mention the homosexual undertones).  

The chariot race scene is still exciting although there weren't any blades on Messala's chariot but Ben-Hur's stallions were white.  The silent Ben-Hur is a significant film in its own right but I simply prefer the Charlton Heston version.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

2012 Noir City Xmas

Yesterday broke a streak of 34 consecutive days with a post on this blog.

On Wednesday, I went to the Castro to see Noir City Xmas.  I believe 2012 is the third year in which Noir City has held a December event to announce its upcoming schedule.  One year was a Deanna Durbin double feature and another year had Glenn Ford dressed as Santa Claus.

This year's double feature was:

Holiday Affair starring Robert Mitchum & Janet Leigh; directed by Don Hartman; (1949)
Lady in the Lake starring Robert Montgomery & Audrey Totter; directed by Montgomery; (1947)

The program also included a short film.

This is Christmas starring Colin R. Campbell & Maggie Saunders; directed by Alex Norris; (2009)

This is Christmas was an amusing film about a couple having a Christmas meal.  The wife is very adamant that her husband try the glazed parsnips.  For his part, the husband is a little insensitive towards his wife's efforts in preparing the meal.  The meal ends with a knife and a least, that's one potential ending.

As Czar of Noir Eddie Muller mentioned before the film, Holiday Affair is not noir at all.  It's a romantic comedy.  Janet Leigh (approximately age 22 and looking unrecognizable to me) is a widowed mother who makes her living as a comparison shopper.  Not familiar with the occupation, I did a little research and found that in the pre-internet days, retailers & market research firms would hire people to conduct research on prices, customer service and return policies.  If the film is to be believed, comparison shoppers could "outed" by department stores and subsequently be banned from all stores which would effectively end their career as a comparison shopper.  It's kind of like Las Vegas where casinos share information on suspected cheaters and card counters (not that I'm equating the two categories).

Any Janet Leigh's Connie buys a model train set from Bob Mitchum's Steve, a department store salesman.  Mitchum isn't very convincing as salesman but he puts on a game performance.  When Connie comes back to return the train set, Steve pegs her as a comparison shopper.  Rather than report her, he gives her a free pass...which results in him being fired from his job.

This leads to a series of encounters between Connie & Steve which doesn't sit well with Connie's lawyer boyfriend (Wendell Corey in a nice performance).  Although there is chemistry between Connie and Steve and Connie's young son Timmy (Gordon Gebert) openly favors Steve over Carl (Corey), Connie resists any notion of relationship.  Still recovering from the death of her husband, Connie as resisted Carl's marriage proposals for two years.  Only when her emotions are stirred to life by Steve does Connie accept Carl's marriage offer.

Full of contrived but amusing situations where the trio have to confront the awkwardness of their situation, Holiday Affair is a decent comedy.  Corey & Mitchum are noir stalwarts so the films seems miscast and off kilter but the lead actors do an adequate job with light comedy.

Lady in the Lake is memorable for its point-of-view camera angles.  With the exception of bookend shots of Robert Montgomery as Philip Marlowe, the entire film is told from Marlowe's point of view.  The actors face the camera as if the audience is Marlowe.  Occasionally, we see Montgomery in a mirror but otherwise, we only hear his voice.

Based on a Raymond Chandler story, the film is convoluted like many of his novels.  The ending left me scratching my head but Lady in the Lake is kept afloat by Audrey Totter's remarkable performance.  Looking more beautiful than I recall from previous films, Totter's Adrienne Fromsett runs the gamut from cold bitch to gold digger to femme fatale to adoring girlfriend.  She must have had a lot of fun with the character.

I won't even bother to recount the plot in detail - false identity, double murder and Marlowe gets beat up a lot.  If not for the POV camera angles, the film would be marginally memorable for Totter's performance.

Muller did mention there was a connection between the two films.  Lila Leeds who played the receptionist (giving Marlowe come hither looks throughout the film) was arrested with Bob Mitchum in 1948 for marijuana possession.  The arrest is infamous among Hollywood scandals.  The convictions were later overturned with the implication being the raid was a set up by LAPD.  Mitchum's career rebounded from the scandal but Leeds receded into obscurity.  Leeds would later make She Shoulda Said No!, a semi-biographical film based on Leeds' life including the marijuana bust.

Friday, December 21, 2012

The New Parkway Opens

So many theaters have closed in the past few years (Red Vic, Lumiere, the Bridge next week), that I cannot recall the last time a movie theater opened.  So it was with great interest that I followed the New Parkway's reopening closely. Skeptical at every step of the way, I'm amazed that it has actually occurred.

Sometime yesterday, the New Parkway updated their website.  Instead of documenting its efforts in reopening, the new website is designed for an operational movie theater.  Allegedly opened a week ago, I wonder how the first week went - showtimes and films were not listed on the website, blog, Facebook site or Twitter account.

Now the New Parkway is listing films and showtimes for December 22 to 27 (including being open on Christmas).  The three films listed are the ones they indicated (via email) would be playing for the week ending yesterday - Looper, Beasts of the Southern Wild and Pitch Perfect. What surprised me is admission price.   It will be $6 for most screenings (all screenings listed over the next week).  That's extremely inexpensive.  This is where I would typically opine that the New Parkway won't be able to stay in business charging those prices but I'm done nay-saying the New Parkway.

Their menu also looked impressive for a movie theater - pizzas, burgers and sandwiches, wine, sangria, Italian soda, smoothies, soups & salads.  The seating and theater interior looks interesting also.  You can see photos of the interior in this post.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Central Park Five

I saw The Central Park Five at the Landmark Embarcadero earlier this week.  The film screened at the 2012 Mill Valley Film Festival and it caught my attention.  It plays at the Roxie from December 22 to 27.

The Central Park Five; directed by Ken Burns, David McMahon & Sarah Burns; documentary; (2012)

The Central Park Five chronicles the Central Park Jogger case.  In April 1989, Trisha Meili, a 28 year old investment banker, was jogging in Central Park.  She was raped and beaten into a coma.  That same night, some neighborhood youths were roaming the park and getting into more than mischief.  By their own account, some in the group beat up a homeless man.  Responding to calls about the troublesome youths, police rounded up a number of them.  While in custody, Meili was found and police instantly tried to link the youths in custody to the rape/assault of Meili.  It was a classic "rush to judgment" if the movie is to be believed.

Five boys (Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana, Kharey Wise & Yusef Salaam) eventually confessed to the crime after intense interrogation.  The boys were African American or Hispanic, poor and between the ages of 14 and 16.  Told by detectives that they could go home if they confessed their part in the rape, the boys admitted to their roles in the crime.  As Ken Burns and his co-directors show, the confessions were false and obtained under duress.  In fact, it was a perfect storm of events.  Racial tensions and high crime rates were plaguing New York City at the time.  The police released the names of the minors (contrary to policy) and the newspapers published the names (contrary to policy).

Twelve years after being convicted, another person claimed responsibility for the crime and the five men's convictions were vacated.  Their story is sad and fascinating.

Four of the five boys confessed on videotape.  DNA evidence was collected but it didn't match any of the five boys.  The victim's blood was not found on them despite the woman receiving near fatal injuries and being beaten so bad she was unrecognizable by friends and family.  The DAs contended that there was a sixth rapist whose absence did not prove the other five were not complicit.  Their confessions made no mention of a sixth man but their confessions were full of other inconsistencies which the jury overlooked.

The oldest two boys were tried as adults and Kharey Wise served the longest at nearly 12 years.  It was Wise who met Matias Reyes, a serial rapist who was serving time.  Aware that Wise was convicted for the Central Park Jogger case, Reyes felt guilty that Wise and the other four had served time for a crime they didn't commit.  A serial rapist with a conscience!  Reyes confessed and his DNA matched the sample collected from Meili.

To his credit, New York District Attorney Robert Morgenthau investigated the claims and decided to recommend the five convictions be vacated.  Morgenthau was the DA at the time of the original prosecution.

Those two events are unusual in their own right.  Reyes had no incentive to tell the truth or claim responsibility.  It's odd that NYPD didn't run the DNA sample against their database but the case was full of odd and suspicious behaviors.  DAs don't like to admit they prosecuted the wrong people as it undermines confidence in the judicial system and demoralizes police and prosecutors alike.

Obviously this was a miscarriage of justice but I couldn't help but shake my head.  All five men appeared in the film (one only allowed his voice to be used).  They claimed that although their ranks swelled to 25 boys and young men that night, they personally took no part in the other crimes attributed to the rampaging mob (which the press dubbed "wilding").

I suspect the boys confessed to the rape because they were worried they would be implicated in the other less-serious crimes.  Maybe I have watched too many Law and Order episodes but everyone knows a) you don't speak to the police without a lawyer present and b) you never confess to anything, even if you are guilty but especially if you are not guilty.  As one of the lawyers said, the videotaped confessions trumped the lack of physical evidence.

This was 1989 (pre-Law and Order which is kind of incomprehensible to me).  The boys and their families were poor, uneducated and too trusting of the police.  As shown in Scenes of Crime (which I saw at the 2011 SF DocFest), people subjected to enough stress can be induced to confess to crimes they didn't commit.

I will give the reader my Criminal Defense 101 (which I hope to never use).  1) Never go to the police station.  Ask the police officer if you are under arrest.  If he says no or gives some weasel words, decline to go anywhere with the police.  Anything they have to speak about can be discussed at the present location.  If you are under arrest, they'll handcuff you and you'll have no choice about going to the police station.  2) If you are under arrest or feel uncomfortable about the way the questioning is going, state that you will not answer any more questions without your attorney present.  3) If police keep questioning you after you have invoked your right to an attorney, remain silent or keep repeating "I want to consult with my lawyer before saying anything more."

If the Central Park Five had followed this advice, they likely would not have been convicted.  I realize when cops are keeping you awake for hours at a time and screaming in your face, it's hard to retain your composure but just keep saying "I want to speak with my lawyer."

The Central Park Five is a damning indictment of our society.  There are all these safeguards in our legal system to prevent this from happening but racism, laziness, corruption, ambition and ignorance allowed five men to have their lives forever altered.

One thing I did note was that the five men came from poor families.  I wonder if they would have gone to college if they weren't convicted.  I think it unlikely.  Two of the boys couldn't make bail.  Several of them received college degrees while in prison.  That doesn't make up for wrongful imprisonment but I thought it ironic that the men went to prison to get degrees which they would have unlikely obtained otherwise.

The Central Park Five is a fascinating film which left me with a queasy feeling in my stomach.  I pitied those five boys (now men) but had a hard time feeling empathy for them.  I felt anger at the system and their families for not looking out for them but frustration with the five men for allowing themselves to be taken advantage of.  Would I have fared any better at age 14?  I don't know but age 14 is a lifetime ago for me.  I can barely remember what it's like to to be 14.  If there is one lesson from this, it's that it is never too early to teach your children lessons in civics and their constitutional rights under the law.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Pierre Étaix Lost and Found

This is my 500th post.  I'm surprised I have stuck with this blog for as long as I have.  That's all I have to say about the milestone.  I like to see blogs where the author stopped posting.  Frequently, the posts stop without notice.  I read through the posts to see if I can discern the author's growing disengagement but typically I cannot.  Abandoned blogs are the e-detritus of people's lives.


Last week, I went to the Smith Rafael Film Center to see the Pierre Étaix series.  As I mentioned, I saw Yoyo at the 2012 Mill Valley Film Festival.  Wanting to see more of Étaix's work, I ventured to San Rafael.  As I did last time, I stopped by Sol Food.  Due to traffic, I couldn't eat before the screenings so I had a very late dinner before driving home.  Fortunately, Sol Food is open until midnight most days (2 AM on Fridays & Saturdays).  This time I had the pork chop with pink onions and the revoltillo sandwich (scrambled eggs, tomato, onion and ham).  The food was a delicious as my first visit.  I have to go to the Smith Rafael Film Center more often.

As Long As You're Healthy starring & directed by Pierre Étaix; French with subtitles; (1966)
The Suitor starring & directed by Pierre Étaix; French with subtitles; (1963)

As Long As You're Healthy was preceded by Feeling Good which was originally a segment of As Long As You're Healthy.  The Suitor was preceded by Rupture.

Feeling Good starring & directed by Pierre Étaix; French with subtitles; (1966)
Rupture starring & directed by Pierre Étaix; French with subtitles; (1961)

As Long As You're Healthy was re-edited by Étaix five years after its original release.  The film consists of four stand-alone segments.  Like Yoyo, As Long As You’re Healthy has extended scenes without dialog.

The first segment has Étaix playing a man with insomnia reading a vampire story, the second has the hapless Étaix fruitlessly trying to get a seat in a crowded movie theater, the third segment features Étaix in a restaurant with the man sitting next to him inadvertently consuming his anti-anxiety pills and the final vignette consists of a hunter (Étaix), a farmer, a picnicking couple and a wire fence which keeps getting pulled down.  Somewhere in there (the second segment I believe), Étaix visits a married couple who have all the modern conveniences.

The comedy is broad and crosses over into physical comedy but never slapstick.  As Long As You’re Healthy reminded me of a good Laurel and Hardy film.  The film never provoked an emotion.  Étaix was likely criticizing modern lifestyles (in the third segment, the automobiles put out more exhaust than a steel mill) but his character remains a detached observer.

Feeling Good involved Étaix going camping in a location that more closely resembled a concentration camp than campgrounds.

The Suitor was my favorite Étaix to date.  He plays wealthy young man who is being pressured into marriage by his parents.  A remake of Buster Keaton's Seven Chances, it's not surprising that The Suitor is the only film which created any pathos.  Again, consisting largely of stand-alone segments, Étaix bounces from one woman to the next without ever noticing the Swedish exchange student living in his parents' house.  Fleeing from the attention of a tactless and frequently drunk brunette (who reminded me of Joan Collins), Étaix sets his sights on a chanteuse...until finding out she has a son about the same age as him.  Only noticing the Swede until she has gone off to the train station for her return to Scandinavia, Étaix rushes to the station to meet her.  A little offensive if you think about it enough, the film finally provoked an emotion from me.

Rupture has Étaix trying to write a letter to his ex-girlfriend but his desk, pen and stationery won't cooperate.

As I wrote before, I was expecting (hoping?) Étaix to be closer to Jacques Tati or Charlie Chaplin.  Instead, he is more like Jerry Lewis with comedic savoir faire.  All four films (and Yoyo) were very well made comedies and I laughed frequently & heartily.  I would recommend his works but will say that although I had the opportunity to see additional Étaix films the next two nights, I was not willing to fight the traffic and pay the bridge toll for the privilege.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Daly City: Growing Up in America

A couple weeks ago, I went to the Balboa to see Daly City: Growing Up in America.

Daly City: Growing Up in America; documentary; directed by Bryan Kingston; (2012)

Having lived in Daly City for quite some time, I knew that many people in the City and Peninsula are unaware of the history of Daly City.  Daly City was originally a ranch (I thought it was pig farm) owned by John Daly.  After the 1906 earthquake, he let San Franciscans stay on his property thinking it was a temporary situation.  The people decided to stay and Daly realized he could make more money selling the land than in agriculture and animal husbandry.  

Here's a piece of trivia not mentioned in the film.  In Daly City, there are numbered streets - 87th through 92nd Streets.  Those streets were numbered with the expectation that the numbered streets in San Francisco would be extended out to Daly City.  The numbered streets end at 30 and looking at the map, I have a hard time envisioning how they would join up, but those were the type of tidbits I was looking for.  

Instead the film didn't really do a "deep dive" into the history of Daly City and essentially devolved into a  Daly City Chamber of Commerce ad.  I did learn that San Francisco 49er Bob St. Clair served as mayor of Daly City while playing for the 49ers but otherwise I didn't learn much.  I already knew John Madden was a native of Daly City.  I'm still not sure what to call residents of Daly City - Daly Citians, DCers, Dalyans?

At less than an hour, the film was too short to really go into much detail.  Little more than a glorified municipal museum intro, the film left me wanting more.  I was more disappointed by it than disliked it.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Kung Fu Theater

Last week, I went to Kung Fu Theater at the Roxie.  Kung Fu Theater is a regularly scheduled series at the Hollywood Theater in Portland (Oregon).  "In 2009, Hollywood Theatre head programmer Dan Halsted unearthed the largest collection of 35mm martial arts films in the Western Hemisphere. We’ve dedicated ourselves to saving these films and presenting them to modern audiences."

Halsted takes some of the prints on tour including a visit to the Roxie earlier this year (which I missed).  This time Halsted brought two excellent kung fu flicks.

Snake in the Eagle's Shadow starring Jackie Chan; directed by Yuen Woo-ping; Cantonese with dubbing; (1978)
7 Grandmasters; directed by Joseph Kuo; Mandarin with subtitles; (1978)

Yuen Woo-ping is  mainly known for his fight choreography in films such as the Kill Bill series, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and the Matrix series.  Snake in the Eagle's Shadow was Yuen's directorial debut and he would follow it up with a better known Jackie Chan film - Drunken Master.  Far from being his first film, Snake in the Eagle's Shadow was Chan's first successful film as the lead actor.  It paved the way for his later successes in HK and internationally.

Kung fu films often seem to have nonsensical plots.  In Eagle's Shadow, the practitioners of Eagle style kung fu are hunting & killing the practitioners of Snake style kung fu.  Why?  I don't know but just accept it.  The Snake style master (played by Yuen Siu Tien, the director's father) is hiding in plain sight as a beggar.  He encounters Jackie Chan who plays a much abused janitor at a kung fu school.  He teaches Chan some snake moves but insists Chan only use the moves in life-and-death situations.  Chan ends up using the snake style kung fu to kick ass on an arrogant tournament winner but that attracts the attention of the Eagle assassin.  Chan later watches his housecat kill a cobra which inspires him to create Cat style kung fu.  Realizing Eagle style is better than Snake style, Jackie combines Snake and Cat styles in the final showdown.

The scene where the cat and cobra fight looked realistic.  I wonder how they achieved that shot.  Can a cat really defeat a cobra?  I don't know.  Snake in the Eagle's Shadow was entertaining throughout despite the predictability of the script.  It reminded me of sports.  When planning & execution is perfect, it doesn't matter if the opponent knows what play is coming, the play will still succeed.

Halsted introduced both films.  He claimed 7 Grandmasters was one of the five greatest kung fu films ever made.  Made in Taiwan on a small budget, 7 Grandmasters also follows a predictable script.  A kung fu tournament champion travels to each region to challenge the regional champions.  Each region has a different fighting style (monkey style was my favorite).  As the champ travels around with three students and his daughter, he picks up an eager prospective student who wants to learn kung fu to avenge his father's death.  Despite the inappropriateness of his motivation, the master accepts him as a student.

After defeating all the regional champs, the master is ready to retire but discovers his brother has planted the student so that he can learn the 9 strikes of Pai Mei.  There are twelve strikes but the brother stole the portion of the book that detailed the final three.  For 30 years, one brother knew 9 of the strikes and the other brother knew 3 of the strikes.  Frankly, this is all window dressing as the main point is the student goes from trying to kill his master to helping his master defeat the evil brother.  Each of the 12 strikes are "correlated."  I wondered what that meant when reading the subtitles.  It meant that one strike can be used to defend against another strike if the fighter is aware of the "correlation."  That's how the student (with the help of his teacher) defeats the villain.

These films didn't have much wire work which is more common today.  The athleticism of the actors is clear from the fight scenes.  Both were "old school" kung fu films which were skillfully made.  I've been bored silly by kung fu films in the past.  Snake in the Eagle's Shadow and 7 Grandmasters kept my attention throughout which means there must be something special about them.  I enjoyed myself and will likely attend a future screening if Ku Fung Theater returns to the Roxie.

Sunday, December 16, 2012


I mentioned that I missed one film at the 2012 Mill Valley Film Festival.  I ended up seeing that film at the Landmark Opera Plaza.

Starlet starring Dree Hemingway and Besedka Johnson; directed by Sean S. Baker; (2012) - Official Website

Interestingly, San Francisco Film Society Executive Director Ted Hope is one of the producers of Starlet.  I knew he was a film producer before taking the SFFS job but this was the first film where I noticed his name in the credits.

Although Starlet is set in the San Fernando porn industry, has one surprisingly explicit sex scene and features cameos by actual porn stars (even I have heard of Asa Akira), the film focuses on the relationship between young Jane (Dree Hemingway) and eldery Sadie (Besedka Johnson).  Jane makes her living as a porn actress.  It's a rather hardscrabble life as she has two roommates and drives an old car.  I take it Jane is new to the industry and a rising star.  She happens upon some money hidden in a thermos that she bought at a yard sale.  Unsure as to what to do, Jane attempts to return the money to the cantankerous Sadie.  Sadie's gruff demeanor and Jane's faltering ethics leave the issue of the money unstated.

Instead, Jane (who seems desperate for parental approval) gloms on to Sadie as a surrogate mother/grandmother.  She begins to drive her to the grocery store, the bingo parlor, etc.  Initially skeptical, Sadie eventually warms up to Jane.  As Jane's friendship with Sadie begins providing emotionally nourishing dividends, her relationship with her roommates take a turn for the worse.  Melissa (Stella Maeve in a nice performance) and Mikey (James Ransone) are also in the porn industry.  Melissa is an actress with a drug habit and questionable scruples.  Mikey is an actor/director/manager who seems to leech off the two women.

Increasingly aware of the toxic atmosphere at home and by extension, the porn industry in general, Jane clings to Sadie's companionship.  Indeed it appears the friendship means more to Jane than Sadie.  When Melissa reveals the found money to Sadie in a moment of pique, it appears that the relationship is kaput but it turns out that Sadie has her own secret.

The ending was a little bit of let down but the film thrives when Hemingway and Johnson appear together and any time Maeve is on screen.  Her Melissa is one sexy bitch in every sense of the phrase.  Jane's future is left vague and I had to wonder how long she will be able to count on the octogenrian's support but it certainly seems Jane benefits more from their friendship if only because she seems more damaged to start with.

Playing into many of the stereotypes of the porn industry, Jane has a vulnerability and loneliness which likely attracted her to porn.  Not a bad person as much as a confused person, Jane's uncertainty is common among young people.  Her particpation in porn gives it a certain tragic quality.  I believe Melissa is essentially similar to Jane but she copes with her vulnerability by taking drugs and having a loser boyfriend.  Jane recognizes this and strives to be something more than she is without necessarily giving up porn.  It's a tough row to hoe but the film doesn't show if she is successful.  It only shows the first step in the process.  Starlet is neutral to positive about the porn lifestyle.

Hemingway's Jane is very appealing in a "damsel in distress" sort of way.  Attractive, congenial and projecing a sense that she needs saving, she appeals to a large male demographic.  The titular starlet is actually Jane's male lap dog but the title also refers to Jane.

I enjoyed Starlet. It has many understated scenes between Jane & Sadie which are contrasted by the crass and outrageous scenes involving the porn world.  The film works best when it allows these two worlds to play out without a defined story arc being visible.  As the film moves to its conclusion, the scenes and drama seem forced until the conclusion which was out of step with what occurred before it.  Consdered as a whole, the film is very successful in telling the story at its own pace and allowing the three actresses to shine.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

2012 Another Hole in the Head

The 2012 Another Hole in the Head ran from November 28 to December 9 at various locations.  I saw seven programs at the Roxie.

I Didn't Come Here to Die starring Indiana Adams, Emmy Robbin, Niko Red Star & Kurt Cole; directed by Bradley Scott Sullivan; (2010) - Official Website
Play Dead starring Todd Robbins; directed by Shade Rupe & Teller; (2012) - Official Website
Among Friends starring Christopher Backus, Jennifer Blanc, AJ Bowen, Brianna Davis, Kamala Jones, Alyssa Lobit & Chris Meyer; directed by Danielle Harris; (2012) - Official Website
The Killing Games starring Kelly A.H. Bird; directed by Barry J. Gillis; (2012) - Official Website
Eurocrime! The Italian Cop & Gangster Films That Ruled the '70s; documentary; directed by Mike Malloy; English & Italian with subtitles; (2012) - Official Facebook
Nervo Craniano Zero starring Guenia Lemos, Uyara Torrente & Leonardo Daniel Colombo; directed by Paulo Biscaia Filho; Portuguese with subtitles; (2012) - Official Website
Saturday Morning Massacre starring Ashley Rae Spillers, Jonny Mars, Josephine Decker & Adam Tate; directed by Spencer Parsons; (2012) - Official Website

Odokuro, a six minute short film, preceded I Didn't Come Here to Die.

Odokuro; directed by Voltaire; narrated by Gary Numan; stop motion animation; (2011)


Every year, I am conflicted about Another Hole in the Head.  Decidedly not a fan of their brand of "horror, sci-fi, dark fantasy and exploitation cinema," I am left to wonder which films to choose and which to pass on.  Although I only saw seven, it was my intention to see 10.  I purchased a 10 film  voucher.

A film I regret missing was Mon Ami, but I was ill that evening.  The second film that evening was The G-String Horror, "a horror film in a 100 year old...and actually haunted...Sid Grauman built movie palace turned strip club in San Francisco."  There are so many things that can wrong with that script premise but I was interested as to which movie palace was built by Sid Grauman and had planned to stick around for the film.  According to Jason Wiener, "it [The G-String Horror] once again proves that boobs + blood does not a movie make."  That's actually quite a damning indictment from Jason.  I could replace "boobs + blood" with "zombies + guns" or any number of nouns but my genre film curmudgeonliness does not need to be restated.

According to Jason, the Grauman built movie place is the Market Street Cinema!  For as long as I've been in the Bay Area, the "Skinema" has been the skankiest strip club in the City.  I knew it had been a movie theater originally but I was not aware it was a Sid Grauman theater.  Opened as the Imperial Theater on December 22, 2012, I would have liked to have seen some of the behind the scenes footage.  According to Jason, The G-String Horror is "based on true stories of alleged hauntings at the Market Street Cinema. In fact, it is supposed to be featured on an upcoming (i.e., sometime next spring) episode of one of those ghost chasers show." I missed the film but I doubt it was as scary as some of the stuff I've seen in there. See the Beauty, Touch the Magic Indeed!

By the way, Jason failed to mention that The G-String Horror stars Natasha Talonz whom I last saw in Black Devil Doll at the 2009 Another Hole in the Head. Along with her role in Vagina Holocaust (how did that classic get past the Hole in the Head programmers?), she carving out quite a niche for herself.

The 10th film I had planned to see was Zero Killed, the closing night film at the Terra Gallery. "Since 1996 film director Michal Kosakowski has been asking people with different backgrounds about their murder fantasies. He offered them the chance to stage their fantasies as short films. The only condition was that they had to act in these films themselves, either as victims or perpetrators. More than a decade later, Kosakowski met these people again to ask them about their emotions during their acts of murder or victimization."

Having missed four days of the festival due to illness and other plans, I just didn't feeling like going.  Zero Killed is the film I most regret missing.


Before I continue, I wanted to mention a conversation I unavoidably eavesdropped on at the 2012 DocFest in November.  I broke away from a film in the Big Roxie to get a drink at the concessions stand.  In the lobby, Faye Dearborn, long-time programmer of IndieFest and DocFest, was chatting with a man whom I presume was a filmmaker.  Anyway, Faye was saying that over the years, the festival has come to understand its audience as reflected in the programming.  Then she mentioned Fight Life, documentary about MMA fighters.  She said the DocFest audience doesn't watch UFC and the film was programmed to attract a new (but small) audience with the hope they would see other DocFest films.  Indeed, the audience for that film was the smallest of the films I attended at DocFest. 

As Faye said that, I thought "I watch I not DocFest's core audience?"  The answer is no, I am not part of DocFest's core audience.  I am just a cinematic satyr; I'll watch anything they put up there.  I'm certain my politics run to the right of most of the DocFest audience and my interests are equally different.

The reason I mention this is because with DocFest, I'll just go to anything which suits my schedule although the passion is definitely lacking.  With Another Hole in the Head, I pre-selected 10 films and didn't have many qualms about missing 30 percent of the total.


My favorite film was Among Friends.  Needlessly set in the 1980s, the film follows a dinner party where the hostess (screenwriter Alyssa Lobit) has plans to confront her "friends" about their behavior.  I vaguely recall a film with a similar setup except instead of horror, it was drama.  Essentially the dinner party devolved into acrimony and stirred up long standing issues.  The friends left the party knowing they could never again pretend to like each other.  I wish I could remember the film.

Anyway, Lobit's character took issue with her acquaintance's sex lives.  Frankly, I didn't think their transgressions (except for the rapist) were particularly egregious.  Certainly not worth the torture they endured.  They did prove themselves petty people but who isn't.  Lobit's character could have used a little more development and backstory but the film mixed drama and violence nicely.

There was some guy in the audience who kept talking a la MST3K.  More than one person told him to shut up but he continued to the end.  He should have been kicked out but this Another Hole in the Head. He didn't ruin the viewing experience but did detract from it.

Saturday Morning Massacre was a live action Scooby Doo adaptation.  Thankfully, the Great Dane (cleverly named Hamlet as in Shakespeare's Danish tragedy) didn't talk.  The twist is the gang wasn't going up against fraudsters trying to scare people away but real people.  At first it was assumed they were ghosts, it became clear by the end that the gang had encountered some freaks akin to Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  The film deftly pivots from light comedy and conforming to the audience's expectations to a darker story.  That change-up made the film seem fresh and new.

Eurocrime! The Italian Cop & Gangster Films That Ruled the '70s was a long as its title.  Eurocrime refers to the poliziotteschi genre of Italian films.  Low budget, action packed and ultraviolent, poliziotteschi films were immensely popular in Italy in the 1970s.  Eventually, the movement collapsed under its own weight and devolved into self-parody which is easy given the excesses of the film.  Clocking in at over two hours, Eurocrime! would have benefitted form some editing and less gratuitous animation, but was a nice introduction into a film genre I was unaware of.

Nervo Craniano Zero (translation - Cranium Nerve Zero) was kind of interesting.  A doctor develops a microchip which can be attached to the brain (specifically Cranium Nerve Zero) to stimulate creativity.  The downside is it also regulates blood flow making the heart a dangerously redundant organ.  The solution is to remove the heart lest the patient's head explodes from pumping too much blood to the brain.  The two lead actresses (Guenia Lemos & Uyara Torrente) do a nice job.  A montage scene set to Bonnie Tyler's Total Eclipse of the Heart was the highlight of the film.

Russell Blackwood of Thrillpeddlers was at the Nervo Craniano Zero screening and mentioned the filmmakers run a Grand Guignol style theater in Brazil (Curitiba I believe) and that Thrillpeddlers will be going to visit and collaborate with them in 2013.

I Didn't Come Here to Die wasn't a bad story about some Peace Corp-type volunteers who start killing each other (and themselves).  It didn't really capture my interest.  The actress Indiana Adams stood out amongst the cast.

Play Dead was a stage show in Brooklyn which was filmed.  It had some magic trick, comedy and dark stories.  I thought the play looked more interesting than the film.  Produced by Teller of Penn and Teller fame, it had that same P&T sense of humor and showmanship.

That leaves The Killing Games which was pure crap and I should have walked out on it.  Amateurish in every facet, the film was supposed to be "so bad it is good" but it was just modern day schlock.  Boring and seemingly unending, the film had a bunch of characters who were disjointed and desultory.  The gangster who talked like a pirate was the crowd favorite but I thought the character Birdman (Kelly A.H. Bird) was the worst.  Bird is a wooden actor who reminded me of Joe Pesci on downers with a thick Canadian accent.  There was also an Indian who must have sang for 20 minutes total in the film.  Each time he started playing his guitar, the audience groaned with disapproval.

Friday, December 14, 2012

As One Leaves, Another One Enters

I wrote my post about The Perks of Being a Wallflower before knowing the Bridge Theater is closing. Technically, I read the news after finishing the post (but prior to posting it on-line) but was too lazy to rewrite the post.  Since I didn't know the news when seeing the film, it didn't affect my viewing experience or my opinion of the film so I didn't update the post.

My decision to see Wallflower was a last minute decision.  It was Saturday night and I was worried that the theater would be crowded and parking would be difficult but then I remembered it was the Bridge.  In other words, it hasn't been crowded there since Peaches Christ strutted her/his stuff.

I would estimate there were approximately 20 people there for a 9:30 PM screening.  I have noticed that the screen curtain at the Bridge has been torn for a few years.  It gives the theater a shabby appearance in addition to the forlorn feel generated by sparse crowds.  I recall wondering, during the previews for Wallflower, how long the Bridge would be in business.

Just as I began to appreciate the plentiful parking (I parked directly in front of the theater for Wallflower)  at the Bridge, they close it.  However, if ever there was a theater that needed to be put out of its misery, it is the Bridge.  Unlike the Lumiere which had funky but lively vibe, the Bridge seemed like it was on life support at every screening I went to.  The men's room had interesting old style urinals though.


On Wednesday night, I received an email from J. Moses Ceaser regarding The New Parkway.  The subject line was "We're Opening on Friday...Maybe!"

We’re getting down to the wire on all of our inspection stuff.  There’s a ton of things still to do in the next couple of days, but we’re hoping, hoping, hoping that we’ll be able to pass our inspections and get this place open on Friday.  But it’s no guarantee.  The place is far from perfect.  Our kitchen will not yet be ready to serve much food.  We’re still working out some of the kinks, but it’s looking possible that we’ll be showing a movie or three on Friday.

For the moment, assume that we’re not opening, and we’ll send out a short note on Facebook, Twitter, and via this email list to let you know if we are.  And if not, we’ll be open soon, hopefully within days, not weeks.

Talk about a "soft" opening...they're opening on Friday (today) unless they're not.

Their website doesn't list films or showtimes but the email listed Looper, Beasts of the Southern Wild and Pitch Perfect as the opening week films...if they indeed open.  Showtimes were not included in the email either.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

It's a Portmanteau

I've posted 26 days in a row and am still behind.  I've been so busy at work that I've fallen up to five months behind in my posts.  When I rank order the activities in life, it would be 1) work, 2) going to the movies, 3) going to the gym and 4) writing  about the movies I have watched.  I've been trying to change.  First, I have pledged to  always accept a social invitation above plans to go to the movies.  That may not sound like much but when some screenings are one time only, it's a sacrifice.  I left myself a loophole.  If I have pre-purchased tickets, I allow myself to go to the movies because there is a cost incurred.  Of course, that cost is sunk and basic economics teach that we should ignore sunk costs but I overlook that tenet.

This pledge will be put to the test during the first quarter of 2013.  The following festival dates have been finalized.

January 17 to January 24 - Mostly British Film Festival
January 25 to February 3 - Noir City
February 7 to February 21 - SF Indiefest
February 26 to March 10 - Cinequest
March 14 to March 24 - SF International Asian American Film Festival

I notice SFIAAFF has rescheduled their festival so that it does not overlap with Cinequest.  Previously the last weekend of Cinequest overlapped with the first weekend of SFIAAFF.  Also the Mostly British Film Festival moved their festival up several week.  It was scheduled during Indiefest for the past few years.

I've been attending those festival conscientiously for the past few years.  If I attend each day in 2013, it's 57 out of 67 days.  2013 might be the year where something has to give; i.e. I am contemplating skipping at least one of those festivals.


Recently, I was introduced to a woman and had the following exchange.  If you find it amusing, we probably share the same sense of humor...which when combined $2.75 will get a latte at my morning coffee place.  I will present the conversation in transcript format.  It is verbatim to the best of my recollection.

D = Dan
A = Anonymous Woman

A: I went to a small school.  You probably never heard of it.
D: What's the name?
A: I went to CalArts.
D: It has a well regarded film school.
A: Yes it does but typically for graduate work.  I went there for undergraduate.  Did you study film?
D: No, I studied engineering but I consider myself a cinephile.
A: What's that?
D: A cinephile?
A: Yes.
D: It's a portmanteau.
A: What's a portmanteau?
D: It's a word that is formed by combining two other words or parts of two other words such that the meaning of the portmanteau can be inferred if you know the meaning of the two root words.  An example is infomercial which combines information and commercial.
A: What are the root words for cinephile?
D: Cinema and pedophile.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

I saw The Perks of Being a Wallflower at the Landmark Bridge on Saturday night.

Before opining about the film, I wanted to comment on the Pittsburgh literary scene.  Although not explicitly stated, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is set in Pittsburgh (as in Pennsylvania; not Pittsburg, CA).  For a while in the late 1990s and 2000s, it seemed like Pittsburgh a rising literary metropolis.  I remember liking The Wonder Boys (2000) with Michael Douglas, Tobey Maguire & Robert Downey Jr.  That film was based on a 1995 Michael Chabon novel of the same title.  Chabon's debut novel was the well received The Mysteries of Pittsburgh (1988).  Although my memory may be in error, I seem to recall more film & novels set in Pittsburgh around a decade ago.  Although there are clues, it is left unstated that The Perks of Being a Wallflower was set in the early 1990s...not that removed from my own high school years.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower starring Logan Lerman, Emma Watson & Ezra Miller; directed by Stephen Chbosky; (2012) - Official Website

Director Stephen Chbosky wrote the novel which the film is based upon.

Wallflower was a deeply moving film for me.  Charlie (Logan Lerman) is an introverted high school freshman.  As he begins the school year, he is unable to make friends until he approaches Patrick (Ezra Miller), a flamboyant senior in his freshman shop class.  Patrick introduces him to his circle of friends - his stepsister Sam (Emma Watson) who suffers from low self-esteem due to child molestation, Mary Elizabeth (Mae Whitman) a Buddhist Punk and Alice a kleptomaniac.  Patrick is a not-so-closeted homosexual who is having an affair with the deeply closeted QB of the high school football team.

This group forms a tight-knit bond which is vert healthy for Charlie.  Part of Charlie's isolation stems from his best friend having committed suicide a few months earlier.  However, Charlie is repressing other memories which causes his social dysfunction.  Charlie is riding along nicely until Mary Elizabeth asks him to the Sadie Hawkins dance.  Clearly infatuated with Sam, Charlie accepts Mary Elizabeth's invitation.  The more dominant Mary Elizabeth quickly decides they are a couple and Charlie meekly goes along until a game of Truth or Dare makes clear his preference from Sam.

I don't want to reveal to much of the plot because what drew me into the film is the depiction of these teenagers with the fickleness, the cruelty of the school social caste system, the missed opportunities and general sense of teenage angst.  These issues resonated with me.  Although I was never molested or had closeted homosexual trysts, I could relate to these characters in ways which surprised me given the distance of time and experience.

Clearly, Chbosky is tapping into something universal.  Wallflower is not as dark as Donnie Darko but scaling back the humor of some of John Hughes' classic films while covering some of the same ground.  Obviously sexual abuse and orientation never entered the Hughes universe, but it never really registered in my teenage universe.  Probability and hindsight convinces me that some of my classmates suffered through these issues.  My only reservation about Wallflower is that it implied teenagers needed something traumatic in their youths to be misfit and lonely.

Lerman is clearly the lead character with Miller receiving the second most screen time.  Those two shine but it is Emma Watson as the vulnerable but winsome Sam who shines brightest.  Whitman in the flashiest role nails down the contradictory elements of an intelligent but socially awkward teenage girl.  Those four actors and characters elevate Wallflower to something special.

Also, Chbosky's script never pulls its punches.  The emotional impact of several situations (with the outsized importance that only teenagers can muster) rings true.  He follows "the formula" enough to be familiar but avoids the tropes which puts a fresh spin on the teenage coming-of-age film.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Brooklyn Castle

In late November, I saw the documentary Brooklyn Castle at the Landmark Opera Plaza.

Brooklyn Castle; directed by Katie Dellamaggiore; documentary; (2012) - Official Website

Brooklyn Castle tells the story of the IS 318 chess team.  New York City has always interested me with its large public school system.  Every school I went to was named after a person, religious icon or geographic entity.  New York with its PSs and ISs holds a certain fascination for me.  How much pride can you have for IS 318?  For one thing, I'd have a hard time keeping track of the numbers.  I still get cross streets mixed up in the numbered streets and avenues.  IS 318 (which seem roughly equivalent to Junior High in most school districts) is well renowned for its chess team.  As shown in the film, some students transfer to IS 318 for its chess program as other students may transfer to a school with a well regarded football or basketball program.

The driving force behind IS 318's chess program is Elizabeth Vicary who has subsequently gotten married is now Elizabeth Spiegel.  It was unclear what subject she taught since the film focused on her chess related activities.  IS 318 appears to have a classroom dedicated as a chess room.  I was on my high school chess team and we rolled out chess mats on lab tables in a chemistry lab.  The chess team faculty sponsor was the chemistry teacher. 

Anyway, what I'm trying to say is that IS 318 seems to devote considerable resources to its chess club including sending several students to Dallas and Minneapolis for tournaments.  Recent budget cuts have forced fundraising and belt-tightening for the club....much as it likely has for other extracurricular programs throughout the nation.

Brooklyn Castle is supposed to be a feel good film.  I forgot to mention that the majority of IS 318's students fall within federally defined poverty levels.  The team isn't just good but it is overcoming the odds in being good.  The film follows a handful of players over the course of a year or so.  We see their triumphs and failures...on and off the chess board but I never really connected with the players. 

I have my own  theories about chess.  I'm not so sure chess success translates to life success.  I recently met a (former) chess grandmaster and she was telling me about her life plans which didn't involve chess.  I wondered how much chess mastery helps in her current profession.  Chess is about practice, recognizing certain positions on the board and understanding/memorizing appropriate responses.   At the highest levels, all the players have this common foundation which takes considerable time & effort to build and maintain.

I recall a story about Emanuel Lasker, a long-time World Chess Champion and noted mathematician.  No less than Albert Einstein chided Lasker for the time he spent studying and playing chess.  Einstein felt chess was deleterious to Lasker's skills as a mathematician and that Lasker was wasting his mental talent on chess.  In Brooklyn Castle, it was noted that some of Vicary's students had chess ratings higher than Einstein's rating.  I didn't get the sense any of these kids were going to be the next Albert Einstein.

Chess is a very specialized skill set like baseball or football.  As has been seen repeatedly, success in one area does not necessarily translate to success in another area.  For me, chess is a pleasant diversion...a mental exercise which has positive benefits like physical exercise.  Too much chess is like too much exercise - your life begins to revolve around the activity to the detriment of your life as a whole...perhaps like seeing too many movies.

The most interesting person in the film was Elizabeth Vicary who received less screen time than her students.  I wanted to know more about her than was shown on the screen.  Fortunately, she has a blog where she shares some of her thoughts.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai

Last summer (I know it's a long time ago), I saw Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai at the 4 Star

Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai starring Eita; directed by Takashi Miike; Japanese with subtitles; (2011) - Official Facebook

Hara-Kiri is a remake of a Harakiri (1962), which I saw at the Balboa many Decembers ago when it was a rep house and they held a Samurai film series.  The 1962 film starred Tatsuya Nakadai and was directed by Masaki Kobayashi (The Human Condition trilogy).

Directed by the prolific Takashi Miike, Hara-Kiri is faithful to Harakiri as I recall.  The plot involves a ronin (or masterless samurai) in the 17th century.  The crucial element of the plot which may be lost on Western audiences is the samurai code of honor or bushido.  These ronin had lost their way of life and many fell into poverty.  According to the film, one "scam" involved a ronin going to the house of a Lord or head of a clan and asking to commit ritual suicide on the premises since they have fallen on such hard times and lost their honor.  Typically, the ronin would be given a small amount of money to go away.  No one wanted to be bothered with the grisly details of death and cleanup.  The ronin would happily accept the money since it was his original intention.  The downside is that word would spread and the house would receive a steady stream of ronin trying to get a handout.

This is what happens in Hara-Kiri except the majordomo (the master is away) takes the ronin up on his offer much to his surprise.  Determined to go through with the bluff in order to maintain his remaining honor, the samurai commits suicide with a bamboo sword (he has sold his real sword).  The majordomo and the other samurai cruelly watch as the suicide which should be quick, is agonizingly extended by the dull edge of bamboo.  We later learn the baclstory of that ronin which includes a newborn and ill wife which puts his actions in a different light.  The second half of the film involves the ronin's father-in-law (also a ronin) avenging his death by approaching the house with the same suicide request and expecting the same response.

The film is quite damning of the hyprocrisy of the samurai and their code of honor.  This is the same message as the original film.  Actually, I was hard pressed to see the difference between the two films.  In Miike's version, the father-in-law does battle with a bamboo sword which I don't recall from the older version.  Miike's version also spend more time on the backstory and showing the grinding poverty in which the ronin lived and the sumptuous luxury of the samurai and their master.  This results in Hara-Kiri feeling more melodramatic than the orginal which didn't cast the samurai as quite so sadistic. 

Mildly appreciative of Miike's work, Hara-Kiri is my favorite work of his so far.  His last several films have shifted to more traditional storytelling techniques and narrative structures.  Unlike 13 Assassins, he dispenses with special effects and large battle sceens.  This makes Hara-Kiri a more personal tale which the audience can more easily relate to with universal themes about honor, wealth disparity, love and revenge. 

Sunday, December 9, 2012

A Useful Life and Cinema Paradiso

In August, the Castro had a double feature about fictional movie theaters and the problems the theaters and their employees face.  I liked both films very much.

A Useful Life starring Jorge Jellinek; directed by Federico Veiroj; Spanish with subtitles; (2010)
Cinema Paradiso starring Salvatore Cascio, Marco Leonardi, Jacques Perrin & Philippe Noiret; directed by Giuseppe Tornatore; Italian with subtitles; (1988)

A Useful Life an Uruguayan film (the first I can recall seeing) set at a film archive.  There is, in real life, a Cinemateca Uruguaya and the main a characters are named after the actors who portray them.  Jorge Jellinek, a film critic, plays Jorge, the director of the cinemateca in the film.  Although a low key type of guy, Jorge is passionate about his job and the films archived and screened at his cinemateca.  The first part of the film is virtually a training video on how to run a cinematheque.  We see Jorge going through the minutia of tasks needed to keep the institution functioning.  His personality is such that we can't tell if it drudgery or eustacy for him; only hindsight does the audience realize what a gilded cage the cinemteca was for Jorge.

Budget woes force the cinemateca's closing and it has a profound effect on Jorge.  He doesn't so much having a breakdown as much he lets go of his inhibitions.  Long attracted to Paola, a law school professor, his uncertain status gives him a devil may care attitude; particularly w.r.t. wooing Paola.  In the most memorable scene, Jorge pretends to be a law school professor and gives the students an outrageous lecture which I have as being inspired by a Mark Twain essay.  If Jellinek is a film critic, he must have studied or learned acting through osmosis because Jorge's transformation is profound.

At just over 60 minutes, A Useful Life doesn't waste any time in laying out its story - a simple, personal story about a man facing a loss of identity and how he copes.  In the background is the loss of the cinemateca (which hit close to home given theater closings here in the Bay Area).  The choice of Twain was appropriate becuase viewing A Useful Life is like reading a very good short story.

Cinema Paradiso is modern day classic.  It's about a boy/young man who grows up in a small town and becomes friends with the movie theater's projectionist (Philippe Noiret).  His father having died dring the war, Salvatore latches of to Alfredo (Noiret) as a father figure but Alfredo sees something special in the young boy.  Intelligent and intrigued by movies, the two form a friendship as co-projectionists.  Most of the film takes place over 15 years or so.  Two different actors plays Salvatore - Salvatore Cascio as a boy and Marco Leonardi as a young man.  Most of the film is told in flashback so a third actor (Jacques Perrin) plays him as a successful, middle-aged film director.

The meat of the film (and the most satisfying part) involves the boy (and later young man) coming of age while Alfredo becomes a sagacious mentor after a nitrate fire blinds him.  As Salvatore begins experimenting with his own films, Alfredo counsels him to leave the small (and small-minded) town to fulfill his potential.  There is a love interest for Salvatore and some other subplots which I've skipped over.

The film is told in flashback. At the beginning of the film, middle-aged Salvatore is informed at Alfredo has died and returns to the town for his funeral.  The Castro screened the extended cut version of Cinema Paradiso which added much to the love story plotline and casts Alfredo in a different shade. We see that Alfredo urges the girl to let Salvatore go so he can achieve his greatness.  The bachelor Salvatore exhibits some misogynistic tendencies.  He hides a note from the girl so that Salvatore will not be able to contact her and will think she left him.  This misconception is corrected in the extended cut as middle-aged Salvatore meets the girl, now a mother of a teenager (whose resemblance to her younger self is how Salvatore track her down).  I thought this part was too contrived.  The most salient point in the extended was the Alfredo caused or contributed to Salvatore losing his first, and perhaps, only love.  This strains his love for Alfredo and makes their relationship more complicated.  Alfredo is responsible for this professional success and personal loss which must lead to conflicted feeling about the man which now Salvatore cannot resolve through direct conversation.

The most famous part of the film is a montage scene of kisses which have been censored out of the films which screen at Cinema Paradiso (the name of the theater in the film).  There is a priest who pre-screens every film in the town.  He rings a bell for objectionable parts which Alfredo and later Salvatore edit out.  Alfredo edited all the excised parts together and left the reel for Salvatore after his death.  This montage is made more powerful in the extended cut because they are visual representations of love which Alfredo conspired to deny him.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Cool World

In July & August, PFA presented a series called Cool World which was programmed as a result a poll held by PFA.  As the program notes state, "Cool World looks calmly at four decades of cool, trying to determine with indifference just who is chillin’ in American cinema."  The coolest actors were Paul Newman, River Phoenix, Pam Grier, Johnny Depp, Winona Ryder, Edward Norton, Dennis Hopper, Jane Fonda, Sidney Poitier, Clint Eastwood, Tuesday Weld & Matt Dillon.

I had seen most of the films in the series but was able to catch a few I hadn't seen in many years.

Foxy Brown starring Pam Grier; directed by Jack Hill; (1974)
Heathers starring Christian Slater & Winona Ryder; directed by Michael Lehmann; (1988)
Thunderbolt and Lightfoot starring  Clint Eastwood & Jeff Bridges; directed by Michael Cimino; (1974)
Klute Jane Fonda & Donald Sutherland; directed by Alan J. Pakula; (1971)

The series consisted of 12 films.  Of the eight I missed, I most regret missing two Gus Van Sant films - Drugstore Cowboy and My Own Private Idaho.

I had never seen Foxy Brown but its reputation proceeded it.  The film did not disappoint.  Wearing (and not wearing) an impressive array of hip 1970s fashion, Pam Grier kicks ass on a number white people throughout the film.  She even gets revenge on the the two white crackers get her high on junk and take turns raping her.  If Pam Grier met my expectation, Kathryn Loder exceeded them.  Playing the ruthless pimp/drug boss, Loder lets go of any sense of propriety in her performance which culminates in her identifying her dead boyfriend by his severed penis which Foxy presents to her before killing her.  If that's not cool, I don't know what is.

I hadn't seen Heathers since it first came out.  I recall comedians making fun of Christian Slater for essentially doing a Jack Nicholson impersonation but I never thought it was so obvious.  Now I understand.  Slater mugs it up as he given directions to impersonate Nicholson.  It was very distracting but his performance threw off the balance of the film which was nicely balanced between Winona Ryder and the three Heathers (Shannen Doherty, Lisanne Falk & Kim Walker).  Heathers is a fun black comedy as Slater's sociopathic character takes Ryder along a murderous teen adventure.  It's a silly film (with some harsh commentary at its core about the cliquish nature of high school) so it's tough to criticize Slater's performance as between too hammy.  I was more distracted by the Nicholson sounding voice.  I laughed at many parts so that must be some sort endorsement.

Thunderbolt and Lightfoot was a hybrid buddy film/caper film.  Lightfoot (Jeff Bridges) is the "cool" one here.  Laid back, a little goofy and good natured, Lightfoot may as well be called The Dude.  Thunderbolt (Eastwood) is more serious as an experienced bank robber whom Lightfoot looks up to.  They have some quirky adventures with women and a guy with a trunk full of rabbits who tries to gas them.  Eventually teaming up with the foul tempered George Kennedy and pea brained Geoffrey Lewis, they plan a bank robbery which takes up the last third of the film.  Bridges even dresses in drag.  Ending on a downbeat note, Thunderbolt and Lightfoot has a 1970s feel but is still an eminently watchable film in 2012.

Klute is flat out a great film.  John Klute (Donald Sutherland) is a Pennsylvania police officer who investigates the disappearance of a friend in New York City.  The evidence leads him to Bree Daniels (Jane Fonda won an Oscar for the role), a high end prostitute.  He begins by surveilling her movements and tapping her phone.  Klute becomes obsessed with the sexy Bree but he has to take because there is a killer stalking her.  As Klute & Bree investigate the disappearance of Klute's friend, they encounter the demimonde of New York including Bree's former pimp (Roy Scheider) and drug addicted prostitute.

There are a lot of scenes from the perspective of Klute or the stalker/killer which adds to Bree's sense of paranoia.  The final showdown in a garment district sweatshop is a classic.  Although Jane Fonda is the "cool" one, her Bree has a practiced nonchalance which she uses to keep men at a distance.  If Hanoi Jane is cool, Klute doesn't show it.  Maybe Barbarella or Barefoot in the Park would have been a better choices.  Cool or not, Fonda, Sutherland & director Alan J. Pakula created a tremendous film.

Friday, December 7, 2012

The Beauty of the Real

From August 17 to 23, the Roxie presented a 14 film series called "The Beauty of the Real: A Celebration of Contemporary French Actresses!"  The series was programmed by San Francisco Chronicle film critic Mick LaSalle.  Some of the films in the series also played at the Smith Rafael but I don't recall which ones or how many films.

I saw 12 of the 14 films; all at the Roxie.  The two films I missed were Empty Days and 5x2.  I saw Emtpy Days at the 2012 Sacramento French Film Festival which LaSalle partially programmed.  I had not seen any of the 12 films before.

Anthony Zimmer starring Yvan Attal & Sophie Marceau; directed by Jerome Salle; French with subtitles; (2005)
Le Prix à Payer starring Christian Claiver & Nathalie Baye; directed by Alexandra Leclère; French with subtitles; (2007)
Le Petit Lieutenant starring Nathalie Baye; directed by Xavier Beauvois; French with subtitles; (2005) - Official Website
Entres ses Mains starring Isabelle Carré & Benoit Poelvoorde; directed by Anne Fontaine; French with subtitles; (2005)
Le Role de sa vie starring Agnes Jaoui & Karin Viard; directed by François Favrat; French with subtitles; (2004)
Le Cérémonie starring Sandrine Bonnaire & Isabelle Hupert; with Jacqueline Bisset; directed by Claude Chabrol; French with subtitles; (1995)
Post Coitum Animal Triste starring & directed by Brigitte Rouan; French with subtitles; (1997)
A nos Amours starring Sandrinne Bonnaire; directed by Maurice Pialat; French with subtitles; (1983)
Les Ambitieux starring Karin Viard; directed by Catherine Corsini; French with subtitles; (2006)
Alias Betty starring Mathilde Seigner & Sandrine Kiberlain; starring Claude Miller; French with subtitles; (2001)
Didine starring Géraldine Pailhas & Julie Ferrier; directed by Vincent Dietschy; French with subtitles; (2008)
Intimate Strangers; starring Sandrine Bonnaire & Fabrice Luchini; directed by Patrice Leconte; French with subtitles; (2004)


The Beauty of the Real was one of the most satisfying film series/festivals I've attended.  Night after night, outstanding films were screened.  I was largely unfamiliar with the films although I was surprised at how many of the actresses I recognized.  There were healthy crowds too.  I predict there will be a follow up although the series was designed to promote LaSalle's (then) new book - The Beauty of the Real.  Towards the end of the series, I considered buying a copy of the book but they weren't selling them.  After the first or second day of the series, LaSalle was out of town.  He had prerecorded introductions to each film which would precede each film.

My favorite film was the last film I saw, Intimate Strangers.  Sandrine Bonnaire is Ana, an agitated housewife who goes to see a psychiatrist.  Taking a wrong turn on the floor, she enters the unmarked office of tax accountant William (Fabrice Luchini).  Assuming his secretary forgot to mark the appointment on his calendar, William invites Ana in to discuss her "problems."  Thinking he is a psychiatrist, she divulges intimate details of her marriage and sex life.  Stunned, William attempts to keep his composure but he is doesn't correct her mistaken assumption about his profession.

Attracted and intrigued by Ana, William allows the charade to continue over several sessions.  He even seeks advice from the psychiatrist down the hall who Ana was intending to see.  Some of the funniest scenes are between William and Dr. Monnier (Michel Duchaussoy) who begins to psychoanalyze Williams...and even bills him for it.

If the first half of the film is a comedy with romantic overtones, director Patrice Leconte mixes it up in second  half as Ana's life and motives are seen in a different light.  These plot twists (always with an undercurrent of black humor) are deliciously intriguing.  Intimate Strangers is the cleverest of films.  The audience never guesses the next step and is constantly entertained while Ana & William are peeled like an onion - remove one layer and there is another beneath until the end when I still wondered if there were more layers to them.

I'm becoming a big fan of Fabrice Luchini.  I had previously seen him in The Women on the 6th Floor.  A skilled comedian, Luchini is able to shift into dramatic scenes effortlessly.


Le Prix à Payer (The Price to Pay) was a showcase for Nathalie Baye, an actress I've previously enjoyed in Beautiful Lies.  Jean-Pierre (Christian Clavier) and Odile (Baye) are a wealthy married couple whose marriage has become strained.  When Odile refuses Jean-Pierre amorous advances one time too many, he retaliates by disabling her credit cards and bank account.  He is tired of being treated as human ATM without enjoying any of the carnal aspects of marriage.  He agrees to restore Odile's access to funds if she will resume marital relations.  Thus begins a delightful sex farce which draws the chauffeur (Gérard Lanvin) and his girlfriend (Géraldine Pailhas) who represent the proletarian view.  I could go on but writing fatigue and time force me to cut this capsule short.

Géraldine Pailhas appeared in Didine, another film from the series which I liked.  A contrived romantic comedy, I would typically eschew this type of film.  Like Beautiful Lies (another contrived romantic comedy), it appears that what I reject in Hollywood films, I will accept in French films.  Didine works for me because Pailhas and Julie Ferrier's performances.  The younger Didine and older Muriel (Ferrier) start at odds with each other but become friends with Muriel imparting some lessons on life along the way.  Even one sentence description sounds clichéd.  Sometimes the performances in a film (and one's latent Francophobia) can overcome a tired script.


So I enjoyed the comedies but most of the films were more serious.

Le Petit Lieutenant and Le Cérémonie were the most well known films in the series.  The eponymous Lt. is Jalil Lespert, a young police officer from Le Havre who transfer to Paris.  His commanding officer is Caroline Vaudieu (Nathalie Baye).  The first half of the film follows Antoine (Lespert) as he adjust to his new job in a the big city.  We sense there is tension between Antoine and his wife who remains in Le Havre.  The police in Antoine's precinct begin investigating a series of killings which bring Lespert into closer contact with Vaudieu.  The film slowly shift its focus to the relationship between these two.  Vaudieu is recovering alcoholic who son died at age 7 and she never fully recovered.  Antoine reminds her of her dead son and she begins to nurture the young police officer as his mentor and surrogate mother.  In the background, are these murders which will have tragic consequences for Antoine.  Not quite functioning as a taut thriller or policier, Le Petit Lieutenant hits it stride when it explores the lives of Antoine & Vaudieu.  It adds complexity to the characters as they go about their jobs which is 99% boredom and 1% terror.  Le Petit Lieutenant is worthy of whatever accolades and awards it has received.

Le Cérémonie was outstanding also.  Sandrine Bonnaire is Sophie an illiterate woman who comes to work for the Lelièvre family as a live-in maid in a small town.  Catherine (Jacqueline Bisset) and Georges (Jean-Pierre Cassel) are a well-to-do couple with two teenage children.  They treat Sophie well but their patronizing attitude towards her and affection towards each other create a distance between Sophie and her employers.  Her unwillingness to admit her illiteracy also causes misunderstandings.

Into this void steps Jeanne (Isabelle Huppert), the postmistress of the town.  Rebellious and resentful of people better off than her (such as the Lelièvres), Jeanne proves to be a bad influence on Sophie.  When Sophie discovers a secret about the Lelièvres' daughter, she threatens blackmail since the young woman knows about her illiteracy.  This results in Sophie being fired which in turn results in the violent finale.  Shocking in its brutality, Le Cérémonie ramps up the tension until Sophie breaks.


At the 2012 Sacramento French Film Festival, I saw Romantics Anonymous which also played at the Roxie in July.  That reminds me, for some reason "The Beauty of the Real" was delayed by about a month.  Originally scheduled for July 20 to 26, it was postponed to August 17 to 23.  On the Roxie printed calendar, Romantics Anonymous was scheduled for August 17 to 23 but actually played July 20 to 26 (it may have been held over for another week).  In a nutshell, "The Beauty of the Real" and Romantics Anonymous swapped places on the Roxie calendar.  No explanation was given.

Romantics Anonymous, a 2010 comedy, was successful because of the chemistry between its two lead actors - Isabelle Carré & Benoit Poelvoorde.  Perhaps their on-screen chemistry was due to the fact that Romantics Anonymous was their second film together.  They made Entres ses Mains in 2005.

Entres ses Mains is the story of woman (Carré) who falls in love with a serial killer (Poelvoorde).  She is initially unaware of his murderous predilections but it is the scenes after she begins to suspect his "hobby" which make the film memorable.    Carré & Poelvoorde show a palpable on screen chemistry which must have led to their being cast in Romantics Anonymous.  It was particularly interesting to see Poelvoorde go from a meek chocalatier to a psychopathic killer.

A nos Amours was Sandrine Bonnaire's film debut.  She plays Suzanne, a promiscuous 15 year old. (Bonnaire's actual age during filming).  Bored at home, she begins to sleep around to the consternation of her father (played by director Maurine Pialat).  When he abandons the family, Suzanne mother (Evelyne Ker) has a nervous breakdown.  Her brother (Dominique Besnehard) becomes head of the household and begins beating her (while simultaneously showing more than brotherly love).  It's a Eurotrash family portrait rendered in realist brushstrokes and unsentimental tones.  A nos Amours is powerful film and Bonnaire's performance is amazing considering her age and lack of acting experience.  LaSalle said it was Bonnaire's sister who auditioned for the role but Pialat was immediately drawn to Sandrine's look and attitude.


Three other films were not quite to the level enjoyments as the one I've summarized here.  I still liked them but just not as much.

Le Role de sa vie stars Karin Viard as a writer who becomes the personal assistant for a famous actress (Agnes Jaoui).  The film explores their relationship which evolves over the course of the film.

In Post Coitum Animal Triste, a 40something woman (Brigitte Rouan) begins a passionate but destructive relationship with a younger man.  It destroys her family (husband and two children) and nearly herself.

Les Ambitieux has a similar plot as Post Coitum, right down to the fact that both women are book editors.  In Les Ambitieux, Karin Viard plays an older woman having an affair with younger man (a writer) who begins secretly write a story about Viard's 1970's revolutionary father.  Les Ambitieux is a dark comedy whereas Post Coitum is drama.  In both films, I didn't find the lead character compelling.

Alias Betty felt like a Tarantino film at time.  There were a lot characters, many of the criminals, interacting with each and several plot threads that came together and then split apart and then came back together again.  Alias Betty tried to be too clever for its own good.


The only film I didn't like was Anthony Zimmer, the first film of the series.  Zimmer was original material from which The Tourist (Angelina Jolie & Johnny Depp) was drawn.  Recalling how LaSalle's felt The Tourist was inferior to Anthony Zimmer, I think my expectation were raised too high to be fulfilled.  Not nearly "nerve-racking" as LaSalle led me to believe and with an ending I found incredulous, "The Beauty of the Real" did not start well for me but I'm glad I stuck with for 6 out of its 7 day run.