Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Fab Four and Changes

I mentioned the Landmark Film Rewards Club in a December post.  I recently received an email informing me that "Due to limited interest, Landmark is eliminating the program at this time."  Rewards Club cardholders were offered a free single-admission pass by returning their card at a Landmark Theater box office.  That's too bad as I was certainly using my Film Rewards Club card.  The elimination of the Rewards program essentially increases my Landmark admission costs by 10%.

In other Landmark admission news, the Embarcadero Cinemas was offering the 25 pass Gold Book for $200 which is an increase of $7.25 from the price at the time of the December post.  I bought a few additional Gold Books in December which I'm still working through.


June has traditionally been the month when SF Indiefest hosts Another Hole in the Head - a "festival of horror, sci-fi, and dark fantasy that defies convention to bring you the most outrageous genre films from both emerging and established filmmakers." The timing of this festival gave Indiefest a certain symmetry - three festival held four months apart: Indiefest in February, Hole in the Head in June and DocFest in October.

Now Indiefest has moved Hole in the Head to late November/early December (November 29 to December 5). I see it has been cut from two weeks to one week also. DocFest has been moved to November 8 to 21. This is odd scheduling indeed. DocFest ends the day before Thanksgiving which means many people will be out of town during the last 3 to 5 days of the festival.  If I can get away from work, I try to leave town the Saturday before Thanksgiving and return the Monday after Thanksgiving.  At least DocFest doesn't conflict with the Mill Valley Film Festival (October 4-12) anymore.  The schedule must be brutal for the staff at Indiefest.  Between November 8, 2012 and February 21, 2013 (end of Indiefest), Indiefest will produce five weeks of film festival programming in 15 weeks.  However, those 15 weeks include Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years.

One other festival scheduling change:  I notice that Third I moves from early November to September 19-23.


Earlier this month, I went to the Castro to see Yellow Submarine.  Actually, I'm not sure if the title is Yellow Submarine or The Beatles Yellow Submarine.  It's been screening at several theaters in the Bay Area for past couple months including the 4 Star.  I think it is a newly restored print that is making the rounds.

Yellow Submarine starring The Beatles; directed by George Dunning; animated; (1968)

Although The Beatles (or their animated images) are the stars of the films, their voices were actually that of other people.  Voice actors were hired for the speaking parts.  I thought the actors did a nice job imitating the Fab Four.

I recall seeing this film on television as a boy but could not recall the film very well.  Two weeks after seeing the film, I cannot recall the film very well.  There are some Blue Meanies who turn a music loving, underwater society to stone.  The sole survivor takes his yellow submarine to the surface to find John, Paul, George and Ringo.  He enlists their help to return to Pepperland and overthrow the Blue Meanies.  The Fab Four don the costumes of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band for the final showdown with the Blue Meanies.

Frankly, it was all a little boring to me.  I found myself waiting in anticipation for the next song...which sounded terrific on the Castro Theatre's sound system ("Nowhere Man" in particular stood out).  The animation was distinct when compared to Disney or Warner Brothers animation but not particularly impressive.  At least, 44 years later the animation didn't impress me.

Yellow Submarine is a vehicle to showcase The Beatles' impressive musical numbers.  I could have simply listened to a "Best of" CD except the sound system of the Castro enhanced the auditory experience.

The Beatles do make a non-animated appearance at the end of the film.  They seem oddly hyperactive (were they on drugs?) as they banter and tell jokes.  Reportedly filmed to fulfill the contractual obligation that they "appear" in the film, the sequence adds little to the film.

Monday, June 18, 2012

The American Battle Royale and the Japanese Hunger Games

Back in April, a few weeks after The Hunger Games was released, Jesse Hawthorne Ficks hosted the highly anticipated screening of Battle Royale as part of his Midnites for Maniacs series.  The Japanese themed triple-feature (officially subtitled "Growing Up Too Fast") included Lost in Translation and House.  I stayed for for Battle Royale and Lost in Translation, having seen House before.  The screenings were at the Castro.

Lost in Translation starring Bill Murray & Scarlett Johansson; directed by Sofia Coppola; English & Japanese with subtitles; (2003) - Official Website
Battle Royale starring Chiaki Kuriyama & Takeshi Kitano; directed by Kinji Fukasaku; Japanese with subtitles; (2000)

Never having seen a Sofia Coppola film (although I have heard much about Marie Antoinette), I was anxious to see her most celebrated film.  Lost in Translation won an Oscar in 2004 for Best Original Screenplay and was nominated for Best Picture; Coppola was nominated for Best Director and Murray for Best Actor.

Lost in Translation has the look and feel of a Jim Jarmusch film which is shorthand for saying the film has a minimalist and contemplative tone.  Two years after Lost in Translation, Murray would essentially duplicate his performance in Jarmusch's Broken Flowers.

Murray plays Bob Harris, an American movie star in Japan to film a Suntory Whiskey commercial.  Scarlett Johansson plays Charlotte, the wife of a photographer (Giovanni Ribisi) on assignment in Japan. Both are staying at a luxury Tokyo hotel.  When Charlotte's husband takes a short assignment outside Tokyo, Charlotte is left to herself for several days.  Bob & Charlotte quickly strike up a friendship.  Initially based on their shared nationality, Lost in Translation veers towards a May-December romance but never quite gets there.  Disoriented in a foreign culture, the two cling to each other emotionally but they have issues (large and small) which impede the romance.

Part romance/part comedy/part drama, Coppola does her best Jarmusch impersonation.  In fact, I think her screenplay is better than any Jarmusch film I've seen.  Bill Murray shines as the soft-spoken Harris.  Murray infuses his character with poignancy and coaxes relatively subtle humor from his fish-out-of water circumstances.


If I had only seen Lost in Translation that evening, I would have considered the night to be supremely satisfying.  However, Lost in Translation was only the first course.  "Growing Up Too Fast" is too encompassing to be of much thematic guide.  The character arc of Scarlett Johansson's Charlotte is about as far away from Chiaki Kuriyama's character in Battle Royale as can be.  Kuriyama, best known as Gogo from Tarantino's Kill Bill: Vol. 1, filmed Battle Royale three years earlier.

Ficks referred to Battle Royale as the Japanese Hunger Games but noted that author Suzanne Collins claimed she had not seen Battle Royale prior to writing The Hunger Games. There are similarities though. Battle Royale is set in a future where societal order has broken down.  Adolescents are out of control (it's a variation of the old JD exploitation films).  Each year, the worst behaved class is chosen for Battle Royale which is a televised fight-to-the-death match.  The students are pitted against each other and must kill to survive.  They have collars which will explode if there are more than one person alive on the small island where the competition takes place.  Each student is given a bag with unknown contents.  The contents may be weapons, surveillance equipment or a pot lid.  To spice things up, they throw in a a few ringers - winners from past Battles Royale.  Sounds vaguely familiar, doesn't it?

Battle Royale has a few wrinkles which set it apart from The Hunger Games. Since most of the contestants have gone to school together, they bring long-established alliances and rivalries to the battle. Battle Royale focuses on human nature and the breakdown of civilized behavior as one confronts a kill-or-be-killed situation. The Hunger Games seemed to focus on larger issues of totalitarianism and the subjugation of people. The simple analogy I would make is Battle Royale:Lord of the Flies :: The Hunger Games:1984.

Battle Royale is extremely graphic and would likely earn a R rating in the US.  More gleeful in depicting the carnage, Battle Royale seems to owe much to J-Horror black comedies.  It doesn't seem to inspire to more than what is shown on the screen; whereas The Hunger Games has higher aspirations.

As they might say in the UK, Battle Royale was a bloody good time.  The standout scenes was a sequence where five or six girls have holed up in a lighthouse.  They turn on each other but not before touching on every stereotypical feeling of teenage angst and frustration.


It was my intention to see The Hunger Games quickly after Battle Royale to make a comparison. Film festivals got in the way and The Hunger Games' continued box office success enabled my procrastination.  I didn't see The Hunger Games until nearly two months after seeing Battle Royale.

The Hunger Games starring Jennifer Lawrence & Josh Hutcherson; with Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland & Elizabeth Banks; directed by Gary Ross; (2012) - Official Website

I saw The Hunger Games at the Century Tanforan.  It was my first time in that theater.  The theater looks like any other Century venue with the familiar murals.  The Tanforan had some interesting old-time movie poster in the main corridor to set it apart slightly.  During the previews, they advertised a bunch of classic films screened digitally at Century Theaters including Citizen Kane.

Jennifer Lawrence looked nothing like her Winter's Bone character.  I wasn't quite sure how I felt about her taking the lead role in The Hunger Games.  I was very impressed with her performance in Winter's Bone.  Lawrence shows quite a bit of range from Ree Doll to Katniss Everdeen.  The Hunger Games is about as good as you can expect from a big budget Hollywood film.  I'm a little surprised when I hear about schools organizing trips to screenings of the film but have to admit that the film offers many teaching opportunities for young people.  I wonder how many kids (and parents) recognize the universal themes in the film and how many were fascinated by the gladiatorial aspects.

Not quite living up to the hype, I read the novel after seeing the film and as usual, preferred the novel.  Told solely from the perspective of Katniss, the novel offers an intimacy of Katniss which is diluted in the film (which presents a multi-perspective).  Katniss has a vulnerability and at the same time, a strength of character which is revealed through her inner thoughts.  This is lacking in the film which focuses more on the decadence of the Capitol and the barely concealed socio-economic commentary.

Did I prefer Battle Royale to The Hunger Games?  I can't answer that because the two films were different enough to appeal to different people or in my case, different moods.  Both were well made and entertaining films.  If forced to choose, I'd recommend seeing Battle Royale and reading The Hunger Games.  Then again, I hear there is a manga version of Battle Royale...

Monday, June 11, 2012

The (Not) Fantastic Four

I was sorely tempted to walk out on a few films I've seen over the past two months.

The Raid: Redemption starring Iko Uwais; directed by Gareth Evans; Indonesian with subtitles; (2011) - Official Website
The Philly Kid starring Wes Chatham; directed by Jason Connery; (2012) 
MIS Human Secret Weapon; directed by Junichi Suzuki; English & Japanese with subtitles; (2012) - Official Website
The Avengers starring Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson & Jeremy Renner; with Samuel L. Jackson; directed by Joss Whedon; (2012) - Official Website


I saw The Raid at the Century Daly City, Philly Kid & The Avengers at the Balboa and MIS at the Castro.

The Raid: Redemption was billed as a gritty action film about a SWAT team that try to take down a criminal kingpin.  To make the arrest, they have to work their way up an apartment building to the penthouse.  Most of the residents of the building are vicious criminals in the employ of the kingpin.  So they have to fight their way floor by floor.  Sounds like a decent plot but it gets a little tedious.  After most of the team is killed, it's up to Rama (Iko Uwais) to make the arrest.  It's one of those deals where the only way out is to capture the bad guy and use him as a shield to make his escape.  There was one fight scene between the enforcer of the gang vs. Rama and his brother which dragged for so long that I grew numb.  A little less action and a little more character development would have elevated this film tremendously.

The Philly Kid was a film about an NCAA championship wrestler (Wes Chatham) who is mistakenly convicted as part of an armed robbery that goes sideways.  When he gets out, he is forced to fight MMA matches to save his best friend who is in debt to the local gangster (who also runs the Friday night MMA bouts).  There are some crooked cops and love interest and you can probably guess the rest.

The Philly Kid was part of a five film marathon from After Dark Films which screened at the Balboa for 4 or 5 days.  The other films included Transit (with Jim Caviezel), Dragon Eyes (with Jean-Claude Van Damme), Stash House (with Dolph Lundgren) and El Gringo (with Christian Slater).  In a different era, these films would likely have been straight to DVD.  I chose The Philly Kid because I needed to use up the remaining films on my Balboa Discount Card.

Predictable to a fault, The Philly Kid at least kept a brisk pace at 94 minutes.  Neal McDonough, a character actor with a familiar face, shines as the Philly Kid's MMA trainer, LA Jim.  I'm not sure if his performance was really that good or it just shined in comparison to the plodding acting of his co-stars.

From the director of 442: Live with Honor, Die with Dignity (2010) and Toyo's Camera (2009), MIS Human Secret Weapon follows yet another story of Japanese Americans during WWII.  Junichi Suzuki has made a cottage industry by exploring the Japanese American experience.  With each successive film, he seems to lose some of his perspective.  Whereas Toyo's Camera was about one man in a Japanese American internment camp and 442 was about one combat regiment in the European Theater, MIS strays into areas far afield from its nominal topic.  MIS stands for Military Intelligence Service which decoded Japanese military material.  Separate from the famed Magic Project which deciphered coded Japanese messages and helped give the US the edge at the Battle of Midway, MIS translated military and personal material captured on the battlefield and provided translation services during interrogation of Japanese POWs.

That would have been a fine film.  For example, they explained how the Japanese Army published an officer listing which showed name, rank and unit.  That information by itself doesn't seem tremendously valuable, but consider how it was used by the US.  If a prisoner was captured, he would be asked to name his unit & commanding officer which would be cross-referenced against the officer list.  If confirmed, it gave the US valuable information about troop locations.

MIS went astray as a result of undisciplined editing.  Actress Tamlyn Tomita shows up for one talking head shot.  What she has to do with MIS is still a mystery to me.  In another interview, Senator Daniel Inoye discusses why he didn't join MIS.  Then the final portion of the film dealt with post-WWII use of MIS to fight communism in Japan.  To much expository narration and an annoying soundtrack doomed MIS.  That's too bad because the topic was more compelling than 442 and Toyo's Camera, in my opinion.

442 and Toyo's Camera, played at the Viz before it became the San Francisco Film Society Cinema.  That modest sized theater would have been a better venue.  The cavernous Castro only accentuated the sparse audience at the screening I attended.

There isn't much to be said about The Avengers, one of the highest grossing films of all time.  My favorite parts of the film occurred when the superheroes bicker with each other which is another way of saying Robert Downey Jr's snarky Tony Stark is the best thing about the film.  The fight scenes were in desperate need of editing.  The finale where half of Manhattan gets destroyed dragged on and on...and on.  I grew bored and distracted and went to the bathroom.

The Avengers showed everything that is wrong with action films - obvious and predictable characterizations, extended fight sequences and reliance on CGI.  At an interminable 143 minutes, I was glad for it to be over.  I stayed until the bitter end knowing there were two Easter eggs in the final credits.  The very final one where the superheroes share a falafel (or was it a gyro?) hint at what could have been.  Six superheroes in costume eating falafels in silence was the one of the best scenes in the film.  That pretty much summarizes my opinion of The Avengers. 

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Whores, Morticians, Granville's Hammer and Talmudic Scholars

I've procrastinated in posting so I have a tremendous backlog of films which I want to catalog.

In the past week, I saw four films at Landmark Theaters.

Whore's Glory; directed by Michael Glawogger; documentary; Thai, Bengali & Spanish with subtitles; (2011) - Official Website
Bernie starring Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine & Matthew McConaughey; directed by Richard Linklater; (2011) - Official Website
Hysteria starring Hugh Dancy & Maggie Gyllenhall; with Jonathan Pryce, Felicity Jones & Rupert Everett; directed by Tanya Wexler; (2011) - Official Website
Footnote starring Shlomo Bar-Aba & Lior Ashkenazi; directed by Joseph Cedar; Hebrew with subtitles; (2011) - Official Website

I saw Whore's Glory at the Lumiere, Footnote at the Opera Plaza and Bernie Hysteria at the Embarcadero.  Hysteria was one of the films I had tickets for but skipped at the 2012 San Francisco International Film Festival (SFIFF).  One of the other films I missed at the festival, Where Do We Go Now?, has already come and gone from local Landmark Theaters without my having seen it so I was anxious to see Hysteria.


Whore's Glory was directed by noted documentarian Michael Glawogger.  I had never seen a Glawogger film before.  Although I read the SF Chronicle review, I wasn't quite ready for what I saw.  Many years ago, I saw Sex: The Annabel Chong Story, a documentary about a porn actress who set "a world record by having sex 251 times with 70 men in 10 hours."  That was truly a depressing film as Chong's (real name Grace Quek) family discovered her day job and she seemed deluded in convincing herself that her behavior was an example of female sexual empowerment.  After seeing that film, I thought I was prepared to see to Whore's Glory.

I was mistaken as Whore's Glory is a profoundly depressing film.  Although female sexuality is nominally the subject of the film, the degradation of a legions of women across the world is the overarching theme.  Starting in Bangkok, Thailand, which is a place I consider notorious for prostitution, Glawogger focuses on a bar/bordello which would seem quaint when compared to what would follow.

Young Thai women work as prostitutes at this club.  They sit passively in a glass enclosed room as a salesman tries to sell their services to members of the audience.  Identified by a number on a pin they wear, the girls wait to be chosen.  The effect is like a aquarium.  Men press up against the glass and debate with each other the perceived merits of #253 vs. #187.  Although Thai men were present, the majority seemed to be foreigners as I heard Chinese, Japanese and English spoken by the patrons.  So this vignette confirmed what I had previously read which is that foreigners go to Thailand for sex tours.  However, this was a little antiseptic as there was no interaction between customer and provider prior to the selection.  In addition, the women seemed relatively well adjusted.  Some even prayed that they would get a lot of customers.  The women seemed free to come and go as they pleased and one woman even had enough money to go clubbing and seemingly procure the services of male prostitutes.

The next stop was a city in Bangladesh which reminded me of Born into Brothels which I saw on a rainy Saturday at the Lumiere 6 or 7 years ago.  Covering some of the same ground, Glawogger's second vignette follows a madam in a red light district.  I was amazed at the economics.  Some of the men said they pay for the ladies' services 2 or 3 times a day!  The volume of men these women have to service is mind boggling.  The men were impoverished so I could only imagine what the women were getting paid.  Several of the "women" were teenagers.  Whereas the Thai prostitutes looked like women, the Indian prostitutes looked like girls playing dress up and applying make up for the first time.  It seemed clear these women would be used up and discarded.  There was one older prostitute who looked in her forties to me.  She looked out of place amongst the teenagers.  The luckiest ones will becomes madams and perpetuate the cycle.  

One moment left me a little suspicious.  A teenage prostitute asks rhetorically why women's lives should be so difficult.  I recognized that as a quote by Sita from the Ramayana.  It makes sense that the girl would be familiar with the quote but it made the moment artificial as if it may have been scripted.

After Bangladesh, I didn't think it could get any worse but Glawogger found the truly hellish La Zona of Reynoso, Mexico, a border town across from Hidalgo, Texas.  Having grown up in El Paso, I now about the wretched conditions along the border.  El Paso's border counterpart is Ciudad Juárez which was pretty damn seedy when I was living in the area 25 years ago.  The drug wars have turned Juárez into a lawless frontier town like something out of Desperado.  Nothing I saw in Juárez prepared me for La Zona.

La Zona is an area of Reynoso comprised of one story dormitory style housing.  Women will stand outside their room hawking their bodies to men who drive by.  Whereas the Thai women were reasonably attractive and the Indian women looked underage, the Mexican women looked like used up whores.  Many were addicted to drugs and/or seemed to have a screw loose.  That any man would even consider having sex with these women was beyond my comprehension.  Glawogger seemed to have no problem getting men to discuss their exploits in La Zona.  One man even gave a critique of the girls as he drove by  and in the next sentence mentioned his wife.

Amazingly, Glawogger even filmed one session which couldn't have been scripted better.  The woman seems disinterested and even contemptuous of her john.  Rather than be dissuaded, the young man proceeds with a curious interest in the woman's name.  La Zona is so dehumanized that the women don't even bother with noms de guerre...a name is not necessary to complete the transaction.  The young man, despite the thorough if not enthusiastic ministrations of the woman, is unable to achieve climax.  Unfortunately for him, the time limit is strict.  Despite full tumescence, he is informed that his time is up and that he must leave.  I would think most men would express some frustration and dissatisfaction.  This young man dutifully puts on his pants but can't help but ask one last time for the woman's name.  To me it appeared to be an encounter that would be best forgotten but this young man seems to want the woman's name as a keepsake.  Almost comic in its multiple dysfunctions, the scene perfectly captured the sad and pathetic lives of the prostitutes and johns.  A trip to La Zona is about as erotic as an encounter with a surly DMV clerk.

At nearly two hours, the film could probably have been edited down without losing any of the impact.  One scene in Bangkok, where Glawogger trains his camera on dogs having sex in front of the club went on for too long and seemed unnecessary.  It was indicative of the film which was a tad self-indulgent on Glawogger's part.


Bernie was a late addition to this year's SFIFF.  Based on a true story, the eponymous Bernie (Jack Black) is a mortician or more officially an Assistant Funeral Director in Carthage, Texas.  Unusually skilled in his job which entails treatment of the body, sales of the coffins, organizing funeral services and comfort to the bereaved, Bernie become quite popular in the small town.  He becomes active in local civic and religious circles.  Bernie's life is forever altered when he comes into contact with the widow Nugent (Shirley MacLaine).  The wealthiest (and meanest) woman in town, Nugent quickly succumbs to Bernie's gentle ways and kind demeanor.  Over time, their friendship grows to a point which is left undefined in the film.  Were they lovers?  I don't know as it is hinted that Bernie is gay (he does like Broadway musicals).  Whatever they were, Nugent was an insecure harpy who actively worked to isolate Bernie from others.  I won't completely ruin the surprise which I already knew but the second half of the film covers Bernie's trouble with the law in the form of District Attorney Danny Buck (Matthew McConaughey).

Bernie is a satire on small town attitudes.  McConaughey's turn as the big-fish-in-a-little-pond DA is inspired.  His character mangles the pronunciation of Les Misérables in open court and I wasn't sure if it was intentional or not.  MacLaine dominates every scene.  So the two of them buoy the film which I thought was a role a little beyond the range of Black.  Black mugs for the camera a little bit but his performance is as subtle as the character and Black can be.  


I saw Hysteria about 20 minutes after Bernie ended.  Being mild about Bernie, I wanted to see if Hysteria was more satisfying.  The premise of Hysteria is amazing but true.  In Victorian England, a whole range of female maladies were attributed to the catch-all diagnosis of hysteria.  Anxiety, listlessness, insomnia, weight fluctuations, depression, et al. were diagnosed as hysteria.  One character estimates 50% of the women in London at the time suffer from the disease.  The treatment, for women who could afford it, was manual stimulation of their the clitoris.  The treatment was successful if the patient she had one or even multiple "paroxysms."  The doctor would ask the patient how she felt afterwards.  If she felt better, the treatment was obviously effective and recurring, weekly appointments were scheduled.

This all seems silly but is purported to be true.  Hysteria follows Mortimer Granville (Hugh Dancy), a young doctor who treats hysteria under the auspices of  Dr. Robert Dalrymple (Jonathan Pryce), the undisputed expert in the field.  Dr. Granville's technique is extremely effective and his appointment book fills up.  However, the treatments are taxing on the doctor's right arm and he eventually develops a repetitive stress injury not unlike carpal tunnel syndrome.  This injury reduces the efficacy of his treatments to the severe disappointment of his patients.  Fortunately, Granville's best friend is the wealthy Lord Edmund St. John-Smythe (Rupert Everett).  Not weighed down by pecuniary concerns, St. John-Smythe spends his days experimenting with electricity.  While holding  St. John-Smythe's prototype for an electric feather duster, Granville has his Eureka! moment.

Soon Granville and St. John-Smythe are marketing their device as a tool to treat hysteria.  Clinical trials indicate that the device (which in real life was known as Granville's Hammer) was much more effective in treating hysteria than Dalrymple's manual techniques.

For the premise, Hysteria seemed to underperform.  The writers & actors should have been able to milk more laughs out of script.  Maggie Gyllenhall appears as Dalrymple's eldest daughter who is the black sheep of the family due to her outrageous ideas about feminism.  Felicity Jones is Dalrymple's younger daughter whose musical skills and expertise in phrenology make her the ideal English lady in the Victorian age.  Granville wrestles with his attraction to both sisters.  Gyllenhall delivered an appealing performance and Everett seemed gleeful as the droll St. John-Smythe.


Footnote is about two Talmudic scholars.  Eliezer Shkolnik (Shlomo Bar-Aba) is the father and less heralded scholar.  Uriel Shkolnik (Lior Ashkenazi) is his more acclaimed son.  Eliezer receives a phone call that he is receiving the prestigious Israel Prize for his work.  Later, Uriel is called to the Ministry of Education offices to discuss his father's award.  It turns out that Uriel was the intended recipient but human error resulted in Eliezer being mistakenly contacted and told he was the winner.  The award committee wants Uriel's help in breaking the news to Eliezar.  This is difficult on many levels as the two men are barely on speaking terms.  Eliezar is resentful for a lifetime of professional slights and jealous of the attention his son has received for what he considers inferior and trivial research.  Uriel, for his part is pompous, has little commitment to his research and harbors anger towards his father for the time spent on his research during his youth.

These two flawed men are put in a difficult position.  Wanting to appear as the good son, Uriel convinces the committee to let Eliezer keep the award.  However, the committee chair (a rival or Eliezar) has two conditions.  First, Uriel must write the commendation and second, Uriel must never submit his name for consideration Israel prizes.  The second condition is difficult for Uriel to swallow as he is an ambitious man but he agrees to it.

Soon after Eliezar's award is officially announced, he is interviewed by a journalist.  After some prodding, Eliezar dismisses Uriel's work as lacking in academic worth.  Uriel is initially crushed by his father's criticism when it is published.  Soon, his emotions turn to revenge and in the most damning scene, Uriel reveals to his mother that Eliezar's award was a mistake.  To put your mother and your father's wife in such a position is despicable.

Without any explicit clues from his wife, Eliezar recognizes a phrase from the commendation as identical to a phrase Uriel had used in a previously published work.  Recollecting the phone conversation when he was (mistaken) informed he had won the prize, Eliezar realizes that he was addressed as Dr. Shkolnik.  Combined with his son's direct quote in the commendation (which was supposed to be written the award committee), Eliezar begins to deduce the circumstances of his award.

The film ends with Eliezar waiting in an auditorium to receive his award.  The film gives no clue as to whether he will accept the award or reveal the error and decline the award.  Regardless, the already troubled relationship with his son has been dealt an irreparable blow.

Footnote is a complex film about two unlikable characters who are forced together by their familial relationship.  I though Uriel was the more distasteful but many of his negative qualities could be traced to the father who spent more time with his research than his son.

I was very impressed with the film.

Friday, June 8, 2012

I Wake Up Dreaming 2012 - The French Have a Name For It!

The Roxie ran I Wake Up Dreaming 2012 - The French Have a Name For It! from May 11 to 24.  Programmed by Elliot Lavine (with assistance from Johnny Legend and Paul Meienberg), the series featured 30 films; most of them 65 to 75 minute B films.  Despite having already seen 8 or 9 of the films, I still caught 22 films in the series.

This series was the first since I received my Roxie membership card.  For the cost of $23 per month, I receive admission to most Roxie programs.  Film festivals screenings are excluded.  Since Lavine was programming the series under the auspices of the Roxie, my membership card granted me access to all the I Wake Up Dreaming screenings.

The 22 films I saw were:

The Big Combo starring Cornel Wilde & Richard Conte; with Brian Donlevy, Lee Van Cleef & Earl Holliman; directed by Joseph H. Lewis; (1955)
Hollow Triumph starring Paul Henreid & Joan Bennett; directed by Steve Sekely; (1948)
Edge of Doom starring Dana Andrews & Farley Granger; directed by Mark Robson; (1950)
Such A Pretty Little Beach starring Gerard Phillipe; directed by Yves Allegret; French with subtitles; (1949)
The Strange Mr. Gregory starring Edmond Lowe; directed by Phil Rosen; (1945)
Return of the Whistler starring Michael Duane; directed by D. Ross Lederman; (1948)
Highway 13 starring Robert Lowery; directed by William Berke; (1948)
The Devil's Henchman starring Warner Baxter; with Mary Beth Hughes, Mike Mazurki & Regis Toomey; directed by Seymour Friedman; (1949)
Storm over Lisbon starring Vera Ralston, Erich von Stroheim & Richard Arlen; directed by George Sherman; (1944)
Shadow of Terror starring Richard Fraser; directed by Lew Landers; (1945)
I Wouldn't Be In Your Shoes starring Don Castle; Elyse Knox & Regis Toomey; directed by William Nigh; (1948)
When Strangers Marry starring Kim Hunter, Robert Mitchum & Dean Jagger; directed by William Castle; (1944)
Female Jungle starring  Lawrence Tierney, Jayne Mansfield & John Carradine; directed by Bruno VeSota; (1956)
Killer's Kiss starring Frank Silvera & Jamie Smith; directed by Stanley Kubrick; (1955)
The Scarf starring John Ireland & Mercedes McCambridge; directed by Ewald Andre Dupont; (1951)
Chinatown at Midnight starring Hurd Hatfield; directed by Seymour Friedman; (1949)
Bluebeard starring John Carradine; directed by Edgar G. Ulmer; (1944)
Shoot to Kill; directed by William Berke; (1947)
Deadline for Murder; directed by James Tinling; (1946)
He Walked by Night starring Richard Basehart; directed by Alfred Werker and (uncredited) Anthony Mann; (1948)
Guns, Girls and Gangsters starring Mamie Van Doren; with Gerald Mohr, Lee Van Cleef & Grant Richards; directed by  Edward L. Cahn; (1959)
Inside Detroit starring Dennis O'Keefe & Pat O'Brien; directed by Fred F. Sears; (1956)

The sound quality for Shoot to Kill and Deadline for Murder was very poor.  I unable to make out all the dialog which hampered my ability to follow the considerable twists and turns of the respective plots.  Deadline for Murder looked like a decent whodunit if not for the sound issues.


I think noir genre exhibition has become a little frothy to borrow from Alan Greenspan.  I don't know how many noir themed film festivals are regularly being held.  Elliot Lavine has programmed two per year at the Roxie for a few years.  Eddie Muller hosts his Noir City for two weeks every January at the Castro.  I know that Eddie takes his festivals on the road.  Palm Springs has a well regarded film noir festival as well.  The PFA frequently screens noir themed series. With all these festivals, you would think there is a vast library of noir flims for exhibition.  However, I get the sense Lavine was sacrificing quality to feed the exhibition beast. Several of the films in series left me luke warm...and the ones I enjoyed to most seemed not quite noir.

My favorite film of the series was He Walked by Night which was more of a procedural than film noir.  Richard Basehart plays a murderer whose underlying motives or sociopathy is never explained.  He steals electronic equipment for the parts which he reassembles into new pieces of his own design.  Rather than take a legitimate job designing electronics, he sells his own pieces which is comprised of stolen components.  Confronted by a police officer while robbing an electronics store, Basehart shoots and kills the cop which sets off a citywide manhunt.

Cinematographer John Alton gives the film his signature look with several scenes where he plays with light and shadow.  The film also reminded of The Third Man as the final chase takes places in the storm drains beneath Los Angeles.  Throughout the film, I kept expecting a scene with expository dialogue to explain Basehart's character's behavior but none was forthcoming.  The directors (Anthony Mann was uncredited) did a nice job escalating the tension as the police investigation close in on its pray.  A scene where the police position themselves for a raid on Basehart's bungalow was notable for its extended silence.  Told with the dispassion of a documentary (the plot was based on a true story), He Walked by Night dispensed with some of the more showy elements of film noir.  Jack Webb plays a police lab technician.  Apparently, it was on this film which Webb developed contacts with LAPD personnel which he would later use in developing Dragnet.

In a similar vein was Chinatown at Midnight.  Not as detached as He Walked by Night, this film told the story of a murderer who steals rare Asian art.  During one such robbery, he kills a young Chinese couple which unleashes the full investigative might of the SFPD.  Again, Chinatown does not shed much light on the reasons why the villain (Hurd Hatfield) murders but Hatfield does so with more evil flourish than Basehart in He Walked by Night.  Chinatown focuses more on the police investigation and more obvious in ratcheting up the tension.  Whereas He Walked by Night had a distinct look and feel, Chinatown feels like an overachieving B-film.

The Big Combo was also quite good although I saw it at Noir City a few years ago.  Richard Conte delivers a flashy performance while Lee Van Cleef and Earl Holliman play a pair of gay hit men.  In fact, there is a remarkable scene where Holliman says, in response to being offered a sandwich, "I couldn't swallow any more salami."  Then he later talks about living in a closet or something.  Beyond the scenes hinting at the sexuality of Messrs. Mingo and Fante,  The Big Combo is buoyed by the prolific John Alton's cinematography.  Standout sequences include a scene in total silence where the deaf McClure (Brian Donlevy) meets his demise and the finale set in dark airplane hangar featuring a spotlight on Conte.

I also saw Edge of Doom at Noir City a few years ago. The film features an outstanding performance by Farley Granger as a troubled youth who kills a priest.  Dana Andrews gives an understated performance as the patient priest who ministers to his impoverished congregation.  The film is as much a social commentary as a film noir.

Killer's Kiss was an early Stanley Kubrick film about a glass jawed prize fighter, a world weary taxi dancer and their difficult romance.  The climax featured an extended fight sequence in a mannequin warehouse which reminded of another film that I can't quite identify.  The film also has some great shots of old Penn Station in New York.  One of Kubrick's lesser works, Killer's Kiss is more valuable for what it portends for Kubrick later films.

Such A Pretty Little Beach was a French film that felt like an Albert Camus novel.  Bleak and elliptical, this existential noir was quintessentially French.

Guns, Girls and Gangsters is a caper film featuring Mamie Van Doren.  I had never seen her in a film.  She was a passable singer (perhaps her singing voice was dubbed).  Her voice and physique reminded of Jane Russell.  Most of the film follows the meticulous planning of an armored car robbery which is jeopardized by the appearance of Van Doren's psychotic husband, Lee Van Cleef.  Mainly a vehicle to showcase Van Doren's various talents, Guns, Girls and Gangsters was a mediocre film which more or less formed the cut line of films I enjoyed at the series.

The Devil's Henchman, Hollow Triumph, Storm over Lisbon, When Strangers Marry and Inside Detroit held some of my interest but I could easily have skipped them in hindsight.  I had seen Hollow Triumph before and remembered enjoying it more.  I guess it's one of those films which doesn't hold up well to a multiple viewings.

My favorite noir films usually feature normal guys who are placed in difficult positions due to their own greed and a beautiful woman.  None of the films in the series really met that criteria.