Sunday, July 29, 2012

2012 San Francisco Silent Film Festival (Part 1 of 2)

I saw 13 films at the 2012 San Francisco Silent Film Festival from July 12 to 16 at the Castro Theater.  That's one more than I saw last year.  According to my notes, the festival screened 18 programs last year but only 17 this year.  Considering how much they slipped the schedule, that was a blessing in disguise.  More on that later.

The 13 films I watched were:

Wings starring Buddy Rogers & Clara Bow; with Gary Cooper; directed by William A. Wellman; silent with intertitles; live accompaniment by Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra; (1927)
Little Toys starring Ruan Lingyu; directed by Sun Yu; silent with intertitles; live accompaniment by Donald Sosin; (1933)
The Loves of Pharaoh starring Emil Jannings; directed by Ernst Lubitsch; silent with intertitles; live accompaniment by Dennis James; (1922)
Mantrap starring Clara Bow; directed by Victor Fleming; silent with intertitles; live accompaniment by Stephen Horne; (1926)
The Wonderful Lie of Nina Petrovna starring Brigitte Helm & Francis Lederer; directed by Hanns Schwarz; silent with intertitles; live accompaniment by Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra; (1929)
The Spanish Dancer starring Pola Negri & Antonio Moreno; with Wallace Beery & Adolphe Menjou; directed by Herbert Brenon; silent with intertitles; live accompaniment by Donald Sosin with Jim Washburn and Greg Smith on guitar; (1923)
The Canadian starring Thomas Meighan & Mona Palma; directed by William Beaudine; silent with intertitles; live accompaniment by Stephen Horne; (1926)
Pandora's Box starring Louise Brooks; with Francis Lederer; directed by G.W. Pabst; silent with intertitles; live accompaniment by Matti Bye Ensemble; (1929)
The Overcoat starring Andrei Kostrichkin; directed by Grigori Kozintsev & Leonid Trauberg; silent with intertitles; live accompaniment by Alloy Orchestra; (1926)
The Docks of New York starring George Bancroft & Betty Compson; with Olga Baclanova; directed by Josef von Sternberg; silent with intertitles; live accompaniment by Donald Sosin; (1928)
Erotikon starring Anders de Wahl; directed by Mauritz Stiller; silent with Swedish intertitles; live reading by Frank Buxton; live accompaniment by Matti Bye Ensemble; (1920)
Stella Dallas starring Belle Bennett & Alice Joyce; with Ronald Colman & Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.; directed by Henry King; silent with intertitles; live accompaniment by Stephen Horne; (1925)
The Cameraman starring Buster Keaton & Marceline Day; directed by Edward Sedgwick & Keaton; silent with intertitles; live accompaniment by Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra; (1928)

Wings was preceded by a portion of a Clara Bow short called Red Hair which was in color and showed off Bow's red hair.  Apparently, her hair was beyond titian; closer I Love Lucy.  Red Hair was a 1928 feature film but is considered lost.  The only known portion of the film to exist is the technicolor segment which was shown.  The entire clip last two minutes at most.

Prior to Mantrap, they screened Twin Peaks Tunnel (1917).  The film is a documentary of the excavation of the Twin Peaks Tunnel which opened to the public in 1918.  I cannot recall who narrated the film.

For those unfamiliar with the public transit system in San Francisco, the Twin Peaks are two prominent hills in San Francisco.  They form a natural barrier that divides the City.  In 1918, the MTA (or its predecessor) opened a railway tunnel under Twin Peaks.  The Forest Hill and West Portal Muni Metro Stations resulted from the Twin Peaks Tunnel.  Forest Hill Station was originally called Laguna Honda Station as can be seen from carved lettering on the facade of the station.

There was also a Eureka Valley Station near the present day Castro Station.  That station closed in the early 1970s as the Muni Metro Tunnel under Market St was constructed.  The Muni Metro Tunnel merged with the Twin Peaks Tunnel so that the tunnel entrance is no longer visible from the street level.  The main clues regarding the existence of the Twin Peaks Tunnel is that as you are going outbound from Castro Station, the tracks veer up and to the right.  The Eureka Valley Station platform is also visible from the train when you are in the tunnel although I've never been able to see it.  I don't take the Metro past Castro Station very often though.  Also, near Market and Eureka streets, one can see the remnants of the stairs leading from the sidewalk to the Eureka Valley Station.

In addition to my other interests, I'm a bit of a railroad history enthusiast.  Speaking of old railway tunnels, there will be a test of Muni's E-Line which will run from 4th St. & King in SoMa to Jones and Beach on August 26 and 27.  Muni is trying to put the line into service in time for next year's America's Cup,  However, the more exciting aspect of the project is a second phase which would make use of an abandoned railway tunnel and extend the E-Line to Ft. Mason Center.  If you keep taking Beach St. until it ends near Aquatic Park, you will see the railroad leads to a tunnel which is blocked by large metal door.  This railway was used in the construction and operation of the 1915 Pan Pacific International Exposition which developed the area from Ft. Mason to the Palace of Fine Arts.  Also used extensively during WWII when Ft. Mason was a military embarkation point, I believe the tunnel was in use until the 1970s.  In Dirty Harry, there is a scene where Harry is being run all over town to get to payphones in time to receive a kidnapper's call.  I believe he is running through the Ft. Mason Tunnel when he is confronted by two toughs looking to take the ransom money.

Back to the 2012 SFSFF.  Before The Cameraman, they screened a digitally restored version of Georges Méliès' A Trip to The Moon (1902).  It was narrated by Paul McGann.


Before I write about the films, I have severe criticism of the festival.  Pandora's Box was close to 90 minutes before starting.  I had seen noon & 2:30 PM screening that day (Saturday) which started more or less on time.  The SF Silent Film Festival must have the worst on-time record of any festival in the Bay Area...and that's before this year's issues.  I skipped the 5 PM screening (South) to have dinner with a friend whom I had invited to see Pandora's Box.  We arrived about 6:30 PM  for a 7 PM showtime.  The line already wrapped the corner to 17th Street and turned the corner again onto Hartford Street.  We took our place at the end of the line...and waited...and waited.  Eventually, a volunteer came out saying a "crashed soundboard" was the cause of the delay but had no estimate as to when the theater would open.

As the delay approached an hour, many in the crowd (including my companion) groused about the delay.  It didn't help matters that it was getting cold and windy.  There was no explanation as to why a "crashed soundboard" kept people outside.  Complaints arose as some people in line knew that there were people from the previous show in the theater.

In my opinion, Pandora's Box was a net failure despite being my favorite film of this year's festival.  Although the restoration looked great and the Matti Bye Ensemble's soundtrack was fantastic, the late start was more than most in the line could forgive.  To make matters worse, instead of cutting down the pre-film speeches; Anita Monga blithely shrugged off the delay and had the team behind the restoration speak.  Sometimes (frequently?) the festival planners and cineastes are too insular.  The average attendee wasn't interested in the restoration and was more anxious to see the film.  Although they appreciated the musical accompaniment, I don't think it made up for the 60+ minute delay.  If my companion was any indication, I think the average attendee will be leery of planning an evening around a silent film with live musical accompaniment in the future.

One of the major goals of the festival is to introduce people to the world of silent films and allow them to see the films as they were meant to be seen - in a theater with a live musicians.  I don't think delaying the showtime by 90 minutes was part of the original silent film experience.

Having gone to the festival for many years, I know that delays are part of the package.  I don't recall such a long delay in the past but could empathize.  This year, I lost empathy.  The day after Pandora's Box, I skipped the first screening at 10 AM and showed up for the noon screening of The Docks of New York. The festival had already slipped the schedule by about 30 minutes!

I don't know what the cause was on Sunday but I hunkered down for the whole day because I was afraid to leave the theater.  I later heard or read (I cannot recall or find the source) that the 10 AM screening (The Mark of Zorro) was run at a slower frame rate than originally intended.  Regardless of the reason, they never caught up with the schedule  The rest of the films on that Sunday started about 30 minutes late.

The SF Silent Film Festival needs to schedule more time between screenings so they can recover from the seemingly inevitable delays.  They cram in too many screenings per day. Given their history of late starts due to technical problems, I have to wonder if they are giving average patrons the impression that silent films screenings are fussy and prone to delays.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Even at $3.50...

The second closest movie theater to my residence (in terms of distance) is the Stonestown Cinema operated by  Regal Cinemas.  I rarely go to the twin screen theater.  Largely showing films I don't want to see or occasionally films I have already seen, the theater does not program to my taste.  I credit them for trying.  They try to appeal to the large Filipino population in nearby Daly City by programming new Filipino films every three or four weeks.

Hidden away behind Stonestown Galleria, closer to Lake Merced than 19th Avenue, the theater sits in a huge parking lot which is always empty when I drive by or see a film there.  The parking lot serves as a sad reminder of better days.  I recall reading that Star Wars opened there to sellout crowds and a long run.

Opened as a single screen in 1970 (as single screen theaters were becoming passé), the original theater could seat approximately 1,000. Split down the middle to make the twin screens, the two auditoriums are long and narrow...and in need of some refurbishing.  I was surprised that the theater converted to digital according to Fandango.  However, I was not completely surprised when I received an email last week stating the previously full-price Stonestown Cinema was changing its admission policy to $3.50 for all screenings.

For their first week under this pricing schedule, the theater is screening Battleship and Dark Shadows - two films which are in second run theaters elsewhere.  In essence, the Stonestown has turned into a dollar theater but since everything costs more in San Francisco, they are charging $3.50.

I don't know what to say about that.  It's not as if the price was keeping me from going there and I'll doubt I'll go more frequently at $3.50 per ticket.  To be frank, I'm surprised the theater is still open.  I cannot believe it was profitable before or will be profitable at the new admission price.  It's been over a decade since I read about development plans for the plot of land now occupied by the theater and its parking lot.  As much I love going to the movies, I wish someone could develop the land and put it to better use.  I doubt there would be much public outcry like there was with the Red Vic or attempts to close the Vogue and 4 Star.


Speaking of the Red Vic, I read an article last week in the Half Moon Bay Review on its reopening.  Apparently, building owners Betsy & Jack Rix live in the HMB area.  They have yet to get the space rezoned to accommodate a "food hub."  Although I venture to the Haight Ashbury infrequently, I've been curious as to how the Red Vic would be repurposed.

July 25 will mark the one year anniversary of the closing of the Red Vic.  According to the article, the Rix are not planning on reopening until the end of this year.  That's a long time for the property to sit vacant...but it is San Francisco after all.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

How My Father Watches Films and Eat a Bowl of Tea

As I mentioned yesterday, I was in Las Vegas over the week of Independence Day.  My father has retired there.  I hate going there in the summer because it is so hot but I could get time off work that week so I decided to visit.

My father is the only person I know with a functioning VCR.  Actually, he has three functioning VCRs.  He also has a stash of recordable VHS tapes.  He records television programs fervently.  He watches them on CRT televisions.  Occasionally, he shares with me the problems he has when a VCR breaks or a television goes bad.  It's getting harder and harder to find VCRs and CRTs.

I wonder if one day I'll be like my father.  Instead of looking for used CRTs, I'll be looking for movie theaters.

The average reader may not know or recall this but VHS tapes can be recorded at different speeds - SP, LP & EP which stands for Standard Play (fastest), Long Play & Extended Play (Slowest).  The slower the recording speed, the worse the picture quality.  The benefit is that slower speeds allow for longer recordings on the tape.  So a VHS tape can be between 4 and 6 hours depending on the speed which in my father's case depends on how many programs he is going to record while asleep.

I've watched some tapes where the picture quality is horrible.  My father doesn't seem to notice or care.  In general, I don't watch the VHS he records because of the picture quality of the tapes and the CRTs.  I guess I've become a bit selective.  I didn't get an LCD television until 2009 but I definitely notice the difference in picture quality when I watch television at my father's house.

My father saved a tape for me.  He had recorded Eat a Bowl of Tea from Turner Classics.  This film was based on a 1961 Louis Chu novel by the same name.  The quality of the recording wasn't too bad.  The thing I don't like about watching tapes or DVDs is the tendency to put the playback on pause while I do something else.  Sometimes, the pause continues for several minutes which breaks the rhythm of the film.  I did that quite a bit with Eat a Bowl of Tea.

What interested me about the film is that it was directed by Wayne Wang whose most noted film is The Joy Luck Club (1993).  Wang also made the seminal Asian American film Chan is Missing (1982).  A little internet research indicated Eat a Bowl of Tea (1989) is considered a landmark Asian American film as well.

The plot is intriguing.  Set in post-WWII New York City, a group of elderly Chinese men have formed a tight-knit community.  The Chinese Exclusion Act (can you imagine legislation with a name like that today?) made it impossible for Chinese men to bring their wives over.  Generations of men lived as bachelors in NYC while their wives stayed in China.  Chinese men who served in the US military during WWII were given the right to return to China & bring back a bride.

Two of these men are Ben Loy Wang, a WWII veteran, and Wah Gay Wang, his father.  The elder Wang plots with his best friend Gong Lee for Ben to return to China to marry Mei Oi Lee, Gong's daughter.  All goes according to plan although Mei Oi is surprisingly educated and fluent in English for living in a village without electricity or running water.

Ben had been a carefree young man before being pressured into marriage.  After returning to NYC with his bride, Ben finds the expectations have only been escalated.  He carries the burden of his parents and parents-in-law to produce a grandchild.  In addition, he is given a promotion to restaurant manager which requires quite a bit of time and effort.  The combination of the two plus the gossip around Chinatown give Ben a case of impotency which is only temporarily cured when he and Mei Oi take a vacation to Washington, DC.

Mei Oi is hurt and resentful of Ben's problems.  In the back of her mind, she thinks he only married her because he was forced to.  Initially experiencing culture shock, Mei Oi settles into a daily routine of housework, resentment and sexual frustration.  She quickly succumbs to the attention of the local cad (although the first encounter was ambiguous).  Her affair is not a secret in Chinatown and when she becomes pregnant, speculation about the parentage abounds.  The shame is enough to drive the couple to New Jersey.

I won't recount any more of the plot.  Based on book reviews, I think this is a case of the book being better than the film.  The film was too obvious and predictable.  The character of Mei Oi was softened quite a bit from the book.  Their eventual reconciliation came out left field.  I might try to find a copy of the book.

Ben Loy was portrayed by Russell Wong, Mei Oi by Cora Miao (Wayne Wang's wife) and Wah Gay by familiar character actor Victor Wong.  The title of the book & film refer to a Chinese cure for impotency.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Moonrise Kingdom & Monsieur Lazhar

While visiting my father in Las Vegas last week, we saw Moonrise Kingdom and Monsieur Lazhar.

Moonrise Kingdom starring Jared Gilman & Kara Hayward; with Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Tilda Swinton, Jason Schwartzman & Harvey Keitel; directed by Wes Anderson; (2012) - Official Website
Monsieur Lazhar starring Mohamed Saïd Fellag, Sophie Nélisse & Émilien Néron; directed by Philippe Falardeau; Frech with subtitles; (2011) - Official Website


Prior to Moonrise Kingdom, I had only seen one Wes Anderson film - The Royal Tenenbaums.  All the other films are missing from my viewing experience - Rushmore, Bottle Rocket, The Darjeeling Limited & The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.

Having seen Tenenbaums and read about his other works, I knew what to expect - large ensemble cast, detailed characterization, quirkiness, etc.  That describes Moonrise Kingdom.  I wasn't quite ready for the deadpan delivery which each character employs.  That wasn't the case in Tenenbaums

Whereas Tenenbaums gently showed adults and their many flaws, Moonrise Kingdom is about first love...between two strange kids...on an isolated New England island in 1965...with a hurricane bearing down on them.  The flawed adults are there - detached parents (Murray & McDormand), martinet Scout leader (Norton), coldly efficient Social Services (Swinton), etc. but the focus is on the young couple (Jared Gilman & Kara Hayward). 

Gilman is Sam, an orphan & rogue Khaki Scout who goes AWOL from his summer camp to runaway with his love.  Suzy is the eldest daughter of a passionless couple of lawyers who live in a lighthouse on the other end of New Penzance Island.  Prone to listening to Benjamin Britten records and stealing library books, Suzy has kept her epistolary relationship with Sam a secret.

Using Sam's wilderness survival skills, the couple elude the Scout troop and island police chief (Bruce Willis) who are tracking them as if they were fugitives.  Along the way, the adults learn more about themselves than the kids do.

Quirky in spades, Moonrise Kingdom has a gentleness about it.  It's also a bit surreal with its hyperidealized version of mid-1960s New England.  The entire cast is effective although one must look for subtle nuances over their affectations.  Kara Hayward, in particular, looks as though she could do well in adolescent roles.  She remind me a little of Amy Landecker although Hayward's eyes are not as piercing.

Hank Williams songs are frequently playing on the radio in the background throughout the film.  "Kaw-Liga", song instantly recognizable for its tom-tom beat and Williams' warbling, is repeatedly played.


Monsieur Lazhar also deals with children except they are coping with a beloved teacher's suicide.  Monsieur Lazhar is also an indictment of the Canadian public educational system although the Montreal school in the film would be the envy of most US public elementary schools.

The film opens with 5th or 6th grader Simon finding the body of his teacher, Martine Lachance, hanging in the classroom before school.  She has committed suicide.  Her entire class is traumatized by the event and the school reacts per policy - psychologists brought in, counseling available to the students, etc.. 

Unable to find a replacement teacher, the principal is approached by Bashir Lazhar, an Algerian immigrant who was a teacher in his homeland, to take over Lachance's class for the rest of the school year. 

Lazhar encounters cultural and emotional barriers with his class.  Lazhar has trouble adjusting to the highly regulated manner in which he must teach - no touching of students, no administering of medication such as aspirin or sunscreen, no Balzac, etc..  Oddly, he doesn't seem concerned with the students addressing him by his first name which seems to be the norm at his school.  First name usage seems indicative of the school which is fairly progressive.  Lazhar's requirement that the students' desks be aligned in straight rows is viewed as quaint by the other teachers.  His school is all about engaging the students on their terms.

The two main students Lazhar interacts with is Simon, a troublemaker who seems to be acting out as a coping mechanism for Lachance's death and Alice, who was Simon's best friend before the incident.  Alice appears to be the most well-adjusted of the kids, writing a mature essay expressing her feelings about her teacher's death.  Lazhar wants to use Alice's composition as the starting point for group discussion in the class.  He feels the by-the-book response by the school is not allowing the children to properly grieve.  His suggestion is dismissed out of hand by the principal.

Lazhar knows something about grieving.  Lazhar is seeking political asylum in Canada.  His wife wrote a book critical of the government and extremists in Algeria.  Lazhar moved to Canada ahead of his family to set things up.  The day before she was to leave for Canada, Lazhar's wife & children were killed when their apartment building burned down.  The Canadian government is challenging his immigration status on the grounds that it was his wife who was in danger and that Lazhar can be safely repatriated to Algeria without concern for his safety.

Lazhar keeps his immigration status a secret from the principal as it would have disqualified him from his job.  Not only that but Lazhar was not a teacher in Algeria.  His wife was a college instructor but he was a restaurant owner.  One of the frustrating aspects of the film is that Lazhar doesn't fully explain why he takes the risk of falsifying his credentials and risking deportation in order to get the teaching job.  It's implied that his empathy for the children dealing with a shocking death is his sole motivation but that isn't really explored.

As the school year progresses, most of the children in his class respond well to his methods with Alice becoming his favorite pupil.  Simon is the major exception.  He carries around a photo of Ms. Lachance but has drawn angel wings and a hangman's noose around her neck.  When discovered, Simon is given further counseling. 

Simon and Lachance had a troubled relationship.  It is revealed that Simon accused Lachance of inappropriate contact (a peck on the cheek which may or may not have happened).  Simon's accusation may have been the straw that broke Lachance's back.  Lazhar is dumbfounded as to why a teacher would in a classroom on Wednesday night.  Simon thinks the answer is that she knew he would be the first person to discover the body because he had milk delivery duty on Thursday morning.  So Simon is carrying around a lot of guilt and resentment towards Lachance which he can't cope with.  Lazhar, having trouble adjusting to life without his family and in a strange land recognizes a kindred spirit in Simon. 

Monsieur Lazhar was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film at this year's Academy Awards.  With Monsieur Lazhar, I have seen four of the five films nominated for this year's Best Foreign Language Film.  The other three films were Bullhead, Footnote & A Separation (winner).  The film I have not seen is In Darkness.

Évelyne de la Chenelière, the playwright who wrote Bashir Lahzar (the play which the film is based on), plays Alice's mother - an airline pilot who is frequently out of town due to her work. 

Sophie Nélisse & Émilien Néron are outstanding as Alice & Simon, respectively.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Wong Kar Wai's 1960s Trilogy

Way back in April, I saw Wong Kar Wai's loose trilogy as a triple feature at the Castro Theater.  I didn't forget about the films.  I was just unsure what to write as my opinion of the three films varies greatly.

Days of Being Wild starring Leslie Cheung, Maggie Cheung, Andy Lau & Carina Lau; cameo by Tony Leung Chiu-Wai; Cantonese with subtitles; (1990) - Official Website
In the Mood for Love starring Tony Leung Chiu-Wai & Maggie Cheung; Cantonese with subtitles; (2000) - Official Website
2046 starring Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Zhang Ziyi, Faye Wong, Carina Lau, Gong Li & Takuya Kimura; Cantonese and some Japanese with subtitles; (2004) - Official Website

All three films were directed by Wong Kar Wai.  Christopher Doyle was the cinematographer on all three films as well.


The films showed a career arc.  Days of Being Wild, Wong's second film as director, was interesting but hinted at Wong's potential.  In the Mood for Love was a masterpiece.  2046 was self-indulgent.

Days of Being Wild did not focus Chow Mo-wan (Tony Leung Chiu-Wai) as the other two films did.  Leung makes a cameo at the end of the film but the main character is Yuddy played by the late Leslie Cheung.  Yuddy is a "love 'em and leave 'em" type in 1960s Hong Kong.  At the beginning of the film, he romancing Su Li Zhen (Maggie Cheung, looking different somehow), a cashier in a concession stand.  Their's is an intense, lusty relationship which Yuddy breaks off.  That leave Li Zhen emotionally crushed although she eventually forms a friendship with Tide, a cop (Andy Lau). 

Yuddy's next conquest is Mimi (Carina Lau), a glamorous cabaret singer who suffers the same fate as Li Zhen.  Yuddy's friend Zeb (Jacky Cheung) is secretly in love with Mimi.  When Yuddy decides to go to the Philippines to search for his birth mother, Zeb gets his chance with Mimi.

In the Philippines, the wealthy Yuddy is living in a flophouse in the Chinatown section where he encounters Tide who has quit his police job.  At this point, the plot becomes a little fuzzy.  I'm not sure if it was my memory or Wong's unstructured style.  Yuddy does reunite with his Filipino mother with unsatisfactory results.  While taking a train with Tide, Yuddy is shot.  I can't the reason or if it was a random incident.  Although he survives for quite some time, the film ends with Yuddy dying as a result of his wounds.

There were a number of themes in Days of Being Wild that I caught.  One is the timing of romance.  Tide and Li Zhen may have been a couple if they had met before Li Zhen painful breakup with Yuddy.  Mimi & Zeb may turn out to be a couple because they had encountered Yuddy in the recent past.  So much of life is not quite fate but sequential for lack of a better word. 

Unrequited love is a major theme.  Much of Yuddy's behavior stems from his strained relationship with his aunt/foster mother (Rebecca Pan), a former prostitute.  They both want the love of the other but circumstances keep them emotionally separated.  What is more unrequited than a mother giving her son a prostitute no less!

Combined with Doyle's cinematography and the 1960s music, Days of Being Wild is a contemplative film which evokes a mood and specific time and place.


The trilogy was screened in chronological order.  After seeing Days of Being Wild, I was greatly anticipating In the Mood for Love, a critically acclaimed film I had long wanted to see.

A major character in In the Mood for Love is Mrs. Chan (Maggie Cheung).  I didn't realize until late in the film that Mrs. Chan is the same character as Su Li Zhen in Days of Being Wild.  Mrs. Chan is so different than the lovelorn Li Zhen of Days of Being Wild that it didn't register with me.  After the screening, while looking at the credits, I realized that Rebecca Pan was in both films (looking unrecognizable between the two films).  I don't believe Pan is playing the same character but it wouldn't surprise me. 

In the Mood for Love has a more structured plot than the other films in the trilogy.  Chow Mo-wan (Tony Leung Chiu-Wai) and his wife (who is never seen on screen) rent a room in a boardinghouse run by Mrs. Suen (Pan).  One of their neighbors is Mrs. Chan and her husband (who is never seen on screen).  Mr. Chow is a journalist while Mrs. Chan is a secretary.  I don't recall their spouses' jobs but the spouses are absent for long stretches of time.

Mr. Chow & Mrs. Chan begin to suspect their spouses are having an affair with each other.  Taking solace in each other's company, the two form a platonic friendship.  Chow wants to wrote a kung fu serial for his newspaper which Chan is a fan of.  They collaboration raised the suspicions of their neighbors as Mrs. Suen subtly warns Mrs. Chow.  In fact, the warning was not about having an affair but allowing neighbors to think you are having an affair.

Chow rents a (garishly painted) room far from the Suen boardinghouse for the two to work together away from wagging tongues.  Their relationship intensifies during this period as both are deeply dissatisfied by their lives.  It still remain platonic as their circumstances dictate.  Not only are they married to other people but after condemning their respective spouses, they would be hypocritical to engage in the same behavior.

As the serial nears completion, Chow announces that he is leaving Hong Kong for a new job in Singapore.  He asks Chan to go with him (what about his wife?).  After initial hesitancy and delay, Chang decides to take his offer but after rushing to the room, she finds Chow has already left.

A year later, Chan (what about her husband?) goes to Singapore and calls him on the phone but remains silent.  She even talks the landlady into letting her into his apartment but again doesn't wait for him. 

Several years later, Chan (apparently divorced or separated) returns to the Suen boardinghouse.  Mrs. Suen is about to move to the US.  Chan agrees to rent her apartment.  At yete a future point, Chow returns to the boardinghouse and asks the new owner about Mrs. Suen and is informed she has moved and that a woman and her son live in the unit.  Chow leaves, not knowing the woman in Suen's apartment is Chow.  The film ends with Chow in Angkor Wat with Chow whispering into a tree hole and covering the hole with mud which is a old custom Chow had recounted earlier about how secrets could be shared.

In the Mood for Love was riveting.  First of all, it was beautiful to look at.  Maggie Cheung wore a stunning and endless array of cheongsam.  My words can't do justice to the colors and designs of these dresses nor the flaterring effect they had on Maggie Cheung's form.  She must have worn at least 30 cheongsam in the film; each more attractive then the last.

Wong & Doyle, also made use of slow motion and the claustrophic HK neighborhoods.  Chan & Chow repeatedly go up and down these stairs leading to a noodle joint with steam rising up.  They miss each other by moments even though they dine at the same place.

Finally, the soundtrack featured Nat King Cole's "Quizás, Quizás, Quizás" as a leitmotif to great effect.

In the Mood for Love is a tremendous film - a great love story about a love that never was.  Poignant, elegiac and immensely engaging, I wanted the pair to find love with each other but Wong teasingly denied me that satisfaction.


As I settled in for 2046, I wasn't sure what to expect.  I noticed that Chow rented room 2046 in In the Mood for Love

2046 has multiple stories within it which make it hard to discern the common threads.  One story involves Chow's novel set in 2046 and a man who falls in love with an android on his train.  To give this story arc resonance, actors Tak Kimura (the man) and Faye Wong (the android) play a Japanese businessman and the landlord's daughter in the hotel where Chow lives.  In fact, all the character in the fictitious future world are played by actors who have other roles in the film.

To cope with his unconsummated relationship with Chan, Chow has transformed himself into a ladies man (like Yuddy in Days of Being Wild).  He even encounters Mimi/Lulu (Carina Lau) who lives in room 2046.  When Chow returns to the hotel a few days later, he inquires about renting 2046.  The landlord tells him it is not available because Mimi was stabbed in the room by a jealous boyfriend (Jacky Cheung as presumably Zeb). 

From this room, Chow observes the sequential residents of 2046.  First is a  Wang Jing Wen (Faye Wong) who forbidden relationship with a Japanese man causes a nervous breakdown.  Next is Bai Ling (Zhang Ziyi), the woman a nightclub owner and upscale prostitute who dresses like Mrs. Chan but is more overt and liberated in her sexuality.  I could go on but there are more threads in this film than Egyptian cotton.

Chow encounters another woman named Su Li Zhen (Gong Li) in Singapore.  These these women as well as Wang Jing Wen's younger sister provide a contrast in feminine sensuality for Chow to react to.  The effect of so many characters was overwhelming. 

Wong put his themes into overdrive in 2046 to the point that I couldn't really follow the film.  Worse, with so many characters, I couldn't empathize with any of them.  Chow as the playboy was much less compelling as Chow the forlorn lover.

So I wasn't so impressed with 2046 but I'd like to watch it again.  In fact, I'd like to see the entire trilogy again.  There are so many interconnected characters that I'm certain I missed many of the connections.  However, if I had to choose just one film of the three, I'd choose In the Mood for Love.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Date

I was reminded of this commercial recently.  It played before films and on television frequently earlier this year.  I haven't seen it for a few weeks or months.  This commercial for Heineken (called The Date) reminds me how thin the line is between art and commerce.  It's like a great, 90 second short film.  Given how many views this clip has on YouTube, many other people must agree.

In the interest of full disclosure, I do not have any financial interest in Heineken nor am I promoting Heineken or alcohol consumption by linking to this commercial.  Besides, I am a Guinness Stout man

The segment reminds of Ray Liotta and Lorraine Bracco walking through the nightclub in Goodfellas.  The ad has this whole 1960s HK or Macau feel with the music and wardrobe.  And the band!  That crazy lead singer and the drummer lays down a beat that's primal.  There is a bit of Bruce Lee/Kill Bill behind the screen as well.

They also got the whole white guy/Asian girl thing going on.  And a magician.  Plus the stern faced waiters.  There is more going on in 90 seconds than some films have in 90 minutes.

If that is not enough, Heineken made a 3.5 minute mocumentary called The Legendary Makng of The Date which is nearly as entertaining as the subject material.

If you are wondering about the song from the commercial, it is a Hindi  number called "Jaan Pahechan Ho" by Mohammed Rafi.  That song was featured in a Bollywood film called Gumnaam (1965).  The original number looks as hip and swinging as The Date.

There is a guitar riff starting at the 44 second mark of this video.  It sounds like a riff from The Zombies' "She's Not There" which came out the year before this film. 

For more information on The Date, visit the Heineken site devoted to the ad.  That's a real band in the commercial too.  I think they are lip synching in the commercial but on the Heineken website they perform.  The band is called Kiss and the Serenades

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

American Geeks and Russian (Black) Widows

I feel like I'm climbing Mt. Everest - 10 straight days of blogging and I still haven't caught up with all the films I've seen.

I saw two very different films which I'm grouping into a single post for expediency as well as the fact that greatly enjoyed both of them. 

In May, I saw Nightmare Alley at the Castro.  It was teamed on a double bill with Walter Hill's The Warriors which I skipped out on.

In June, I saw Elena at the Landmark Lumiere.

Nightmare Alley starring Tyrone Power; with Joan Blondell, Coleen Gray & Helen Walker; directed by Edmund Goulding; (1947)
Elena starring Nadezhda Markina & Andrey Smirnov; directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev; Russian with subtitles; (2011)


I wasn't familiar with Nightmare Alley prior to seeing it.  Tyrone Power plays Stan Carlisle, a man of dubious character who gets a job with a traveling carnival (carnies).  He quickly becomes the onstage assistant to Mademoiselle Zeena (Joan Blondell) who has a mind reading act with her offstage, alcoholic husband.  Zeena and her husband used to be a big time theater act until he started drinking.  Although the cause of his alcoholism is unspecified, Zeena makes clear she blames herself and as a result is loyal to her lush of a husband. 

Carlisle can't understand why Zeena would stick with a lush; especially when she knows the code used in their act to give appearnce of mind reading.  Many people have offered to buy the code from Zeena but is keeping the secret as a source of emergency money if needed.  Despite Carlisle's romantic interest, Zeena will not reveal the code. 

Carlisle also has a fascination with the circus geek which is a nice bit of foreshadowing.  For the uninitiated, a circus geek is a sideshow act where a guy bites the heads off live chickens.  Usually billed as a wildman or insane;  in Nightmare Alley, the unseen geek is a weird man who is avoided by the rest of the carnies.

While wooing Zeena for money, Carlisle also woos Molly (Coleen Gray), the daughter of the strongman (Mike Mazurki), for more reason more carnal.  Carlisle's life pivots on two accidents.  First, Carlisle accidentally poisons Zeena's husband by giving him wood alcohol to drink.  To continue the act, Zeena must teach Carlisle the code which goes down easier because Carlisle has continued to show romantic interest in her. 

Carlisle has also been making progress with Molly.  Unfortunately, after consummating their relationship, it is discovered by Molly's father and the rest of the circus who force the two into a shotgun marriage.  Carlisle is nothing if not ambitious.  He uses the marriage to his advantages; he and Molly leave the carnival for Chicago.  Carlisle teaches the code to Molly and they take Chicago by storm.

Not content to be a nightclub or theater act, Carlisle plans to use the code to convince wealthy people he can speak to the dead and scam them out of their fortunes.  Forming an uneasy alliance (and romance) with a shady psychiatrist (Helen Walker who has the best part in the film), a mark is targetted and all is set...except, Molly's conscience is getting the better of her.  Her part is to masquerade as the wealthy old man's long dead love.  Molly reveals the scam at a crucial moment which ruins the plan. 

The shrink quickly turns on Carlisle and he sends Molly back to the carnival.  Wanted by the police, Carlisle goes on the lam.  He hops the rails and pulls some small time scams but eventually turns to the bottle; much like Zeena's late husband.  Seeing a traveling carnival, Carlisle figures he can resurrect the act with another girl but the great man has fallen.  The carnival boss sees a drunk and offers Carlisle the only job fit for a drunk - the geek. 

I wish the film would have ended there but there is a contrived ending where Carlisle goes crazy after being the geek for awhile.  It turns out Molly works in the outfit and sees him.  Molly soothes him during one of his rampages and the film ends with a more ambiguous ending.  Has Carlisle turned the corner as a result of Molly's love and forgiveness or will Molly & Carlisle become Zeena and her husband?

Nightmare Alley sparkles with a highly entertaining plot featuring a particularly seedy depiction of the carnival subculture for its time.


Elena was entertaining in a different way.  Nadezhda Markina & Andrey Smirnov play Elena & Vladimir, a married couple.  Vladimir is a wealthy retiree; Elena is his second wife and about a decade or so younger.  Probably attractive in her youth, Elena is a few pounds overweight and decidely middle-aged.  Their marriage reflects their status at the time of their marriage.  Elena was a nurse caring for Vladimir when they met.  She still cares for him in a different.  They sleep in separate bedrooms (Vladimir in the master bedroom) and apart from a single sexual encounter, Elena is more of a housekeeper than wife.  Vladimir drives a luxury car to they gym, Elena takes a bus and transfers to a train to visit her son.

Both of them have children from their first marriage.  Elena's son is an unemployed ne'er-do-well with his son following in his own footsteps unless he turns to ganglife instead.  In the US, they'd be called poor white trash.  Elena supports his son's family by skimming off her household accounts.  Vlad keep tight control of the purse strings.

Vlad's daughter (nice performance by Elena Lyadova) is financially supported by her father and is a spoiled rich girl.  She is educated, estranged from her father and resentful of his wealth but not enough to reject the money.  Vlad's support of his daughter is a source of conflict between him & Elena because the two women do not like each other and Vlad refuses to give any money to Elena's son.  Vlad simply refuses to discuss the situation with his daughter and by extension draw any comparision to Elena's son.  He could simply say "it's my money"  but that expose the unequal status in their marriage to uncomfortable levels.  This conflict is more acute than usual because Elena's son is in need of immediate cash so that Elena's grandson can get into university and avoid compulsory military service (which seems to have negative connotations).

When Vlad has a heart attack and rewrites his will to leave most of his wealth to his daughter, Elena sees an opportunity right out of a noir film.  Familiar with the medication Vlad is taking, Elena can surreptitiously add another medication to Vlad's food/drink which is fatal in combination.  After some initial hesitancy due her conscience, Elena does the deed.

It is somewhat anticlimatic because Elena appears to be able to live with her actions which were done with her two grandson's future in mind.  Vlad's daughter will still receive a sizable inheritance so everything's fine...except for two things. 

What about Vlad?  Somewhat unlikeable, he still didn't deserved to be married.  Second, Elena's sacrifice probably won't make much of a difference.  Her eldest grandson looks to follow his father's unimpressive path which doesn't bode well for Elena's infant grandson.  In fact, I wonder how much Elena is to blame for her progenies' problem.  Blind to their faults and willing to commit murder to "help" them, the seemingly benevolent Elena hides the worst character flaws of all.

With long stretches of no dialog, Elena is a minimalist film lacking in the flourishes that noir would have had.  However, Elena covers the same psychological ground as the best noirs which is the malevolence present in all humans is barely contained beneath the surface.  In many ways, Elena is more effective and memorable for its minimalist approach.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Zorro and More

As I mentioned yesterday, I saw The Mark of Zorro at the Stanford earlier in the year (Sunday, April 15).  The fact that I waited three months to write about it makes it seem as though I knew the film would screening at the 2012 San Francisco Silent Film Festival (SFSFF) exactly 3 months later.  I did not know that and it is pure coincidence.

The Mark of Zorro starring Douglas Fairbanks and Noah Beery; directed by Fred Niblo; silent with intertitles; accompanied by Dennis James; (1920)

I guess I should say a few words about the SFSFF which runs from Thursday, July 12 to Sunday, July 15 at the Castro Theater.  The first thing I noticed is how many of the films at SFSFF were screened at the Stanford earlier this year.  Stella Dallas, Wings and The Mark of Zorro played at the Stanford on February 17, February 24 and April 15, respectively.  I was able to watch the latter two films.  Josef von Sternberg's Docks of New York played at a PFA retrospective in 2009 at which time I saw it with Judith Rosenberg on piano. 

Of the 16 paid admission programs at this year's SFSFF, I've already seen three and only missed a fourth because I was busy attending Indiefest which I later regretted.  I thought I had seen more but a fifth program consisting of Felix the Cat cartoons reminded me that I have seen Felix the Cat Woo Whoopee multiple times on two occasions - once in 2008 and again in 2010

SFSFF is also featuring Erotikon which was my favorite from the 2009 SFSFF.  That Erotikon was a 1929 Czech film directed by Gustav Machatý; this year's Erotikon is a 1920 Swedish film directed by Mauritz Stiller.  If I see it, it'll be the third Stiller film in 20 months for me following Blizzard (2011 SFFSF) and Sir Arne's Treasure (San Francisco Film Society; December 2010). 

Also, the description for South, sounds a lot like The Great White Silence which played at the 2011 SFSFF.  Great White Silence chronicled Robert Falcon Scott expedition to the South Pole while South appears to do the same for Ernest Shackleton’s more famous journey to the South Pole.

There is much that is familiar but not duplicative in this year's SFSFF.  Little Toys with Ruan Lingyu, Mantrap with Clara Bow, The Spanish Dancer with Pola Negri & Pandora's Box with Louise Brooks interest me the most.


Having seen a handful of Fairbanks action films, I didn't think The Mark of Zorro compared well.  I liked The Black Pirate and especially Gaucho better.  Fairbanks had a certain joie de vivre in those films which was not consistent in Zorro. 

Zorro was made in 1920 whereas Black Pirate and Gaucho were made in 1926 and 1927, respectively.  It could be that Fairbanks had not yet perfected his screen persona.   In Zorro, Fairbanks spends much of the screen time as Don Diego - a boorish fop, amateur magician and scion to his family's fortune.  Fairbanks shows quite a bit range between Zorro & Diego and a fair amount of talent for comedy.  However, nothing can compare with his acrobatics and roguish grin.  A little more Zorro and a little less Diego would have better suited my tastes.

Still, it is tough to criticize Fairbanks.  He gets off one of the best lines as Diego.  When Señorita Lolita Pulido and her family are accosted by the evil governor, Diego is livid.  Diego promises to give the governor a stern talking to...after he wakes from his siesta. 

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Mind Wanders, Eyes Close, Feet Walk

I've been posting like crazy for a week now and I've cut my backlog to single digits. 

Sometimes I see a film I don't like.  It happens less frequently than one would think given how many films I see.  When this happens, my mind usually wanders.  Sometimes I'll go to sleep.  On rare occasions, I walk out.  Since I paid admission, I usually feel I that I should stay for the entire screening.

Strange Illusions starring James Lydon; directed by Edgar G. Ulmer; (1945)
The Day He Arrives; directed by  Hong Sang-soo; Korean with subtitles; (2011) - Official Website
Khrustalyov, My Car!; directed by Aleksei Guerman; Russian with subtitles; (1998)

Strange Illusions was part of PFA series called Dark Past: Film Noir by German Emigrés which was an eight films series in March & April.  Cinequest and the SF Asian American Film Festival conflicted with several of the films.  I only saw one film in the series.  I had previously seen three of the other films in the series including one of my favorites noirs - Criss Cross with Burt Lancaster and Yvonne De Carlo. 

The film I most regret missing from the PFA series is Dark City which was Charlton Heston's debut film.  I chose to see the Mark of Zorro at the Stanford Theater that evening.  Dennis James (who is to the Stanford Wurlitzer what Judith Rosenberg is to the PFA piano) accompanied the film.  Although I don't regret seeing Mr. James accompaniment nor the film, if I had known James and Mark of Zorro would team up again at the 2012 San Francisco Silent Film Festival, I would have skipped the April screening at the Stanford.  Mark of Zorro screens at 10 AM on Sunday, July 15 at the Castro Theater.

The Day He Arrives played at the 2012 San Francisco International Film Festival and then opened for a one week run at the Viz/FSC.

Khrustalyov, My Car! played at the YBCA as part of a series of Aleksei Guerman films in May.  The PFA is hosting its own series of Guerman films from July 29 to August 23 and they're spelling his name Alexei (IMDB spells it Alexsey German).  Khrustalyov, My Car! screens at the PFA on August 18.


Strange Illusions is about Paul, a young man who comes home from college (or maybe prep school).  He finds his widowed mother has taken up with a debonair man and is hinting about marriage.  Paul is an amateur sleuth, picking up his late father's hobby.  Speaking of which, Paul's father died under suspicious circumstances.  For some reason I cannot recall, Paul suspects his mother's fiancé is involved in his father's death (i.e. murder).  Paul follows the trail to a charlatan psychiatrist and voluntarily commits himself to his mental asylum to solve the crime.  Too much plot by a half and actors not up to the task left me struggling to maintain interest and follow the story.  I stayed awake for the entire film but wasn't too impressed.

If Strange Illusions had too much plot by a half then The Day He Arrives had too much plot by 150%.  I'm not sure how much of my confusion was due to the plot, how much was lost in translation and how much was a result of my dozing off.  Director Hong Sang-soo repeats scenes with variations so that the story is not only non-linear but more of a decision tree.  The plot features a film director who is creatively blocked.  He returns to his university town and encounters various people from his past.  Beyond that, I cannot recall.  I think I slept through about 15% of the film; I don't know if that enhanced or detracted from the experience.

Khrustalyov, My Car! was indecipherable.  Nominally about the "Doctor's Plot" or a Soviet plan to persecute Jewish doctors, the film was beyond my comprehension.  It was like a Tolstoy novel - exceedingly long, full of details and characters that were hard to keep track of, difficult to understand what was taking place but lacking a CliffsNotes guide and without an instructor forcing me to finish it.  Running nearly 150 minutes, I bailed out after 80 to see a noir double feature at the Roxie.  I can't recall the last time I walked out of a film.  I'm not sure I would have if the I Wake Up Dreaming series wasn't running at the Roxie.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Women in Touch With Their Sexuality

In June, I caught three films about women embracing their sexuality despite considerable obstacles.

Turn Me On, Dammit! starring Helene Bergsholm; directed by Jannicke Systad Jacobsen; Norwegian with subtitles; (2011) - Official Website
Barbarella starring Jane Fonda; with Milo O'Shea, John Phillip Law, Marcel Marceau & Anita Pallenberg; directed by Roger Vadim; (1968)
Cherry 2000 starring Melanie Griffith & David Andrews; directed by Steve De Jarnatt; (1987)

I saw Turn Me On, Dammit! at the Landmark Embarcadero Center CinemaBarbarella and Cherry 2000 played together as a double feature at the Castro.  Perhaps it didn't register with me before but at some point the Castro Theater raised their regular admission price from $10 to $11.

I recall seeing the title Turn Me On, Dammit! at a film festival, but a check of the 2012 Cinequest and 2012 San Francisc International Film Festival websites revealed nothing.

I thought Turn Me On, Dammit! was a delightful comedy dealing with a teenage girl's (overactive) sexuality.  Helene Bergsholm plays Alma, a 15 year old girl with the sex drive of a 15 year old boy.  She masturbates during paid phone sex (in fact, she uses it so much, she frequent customer bonus calls), masturabates while fantasizing about various people (man or woman, young or old), masturbates so loudly that her mother has to wear earplugs, get the point.  At a party one night, Artur (a classmate & main object of Alma's desire) shows Alma his penis.  The film has numerous fantasy sequences so the audience is not sure if the incident actually occurred or was just another of Alma's fantasies.

Alma tells her best friend and her sister (who is keen for Artur).  So the news is all over school and rather than prosecuted for sexual assault (which would be the likely result in the US), Alma is ostracized for making up the incident.  Why would a teenage girl make up such a story?  The same reason an attractive, 15 year old, blonde would need to resort to phone sex.  It's a movie; more specifically a Scandinavian film whose humor and cinema I am liking more and more.

The remainder of the films shows how Alma deals with her ostracization.  Quirky and good natured, Turn Me On treads some potentially salacious ground to give a new wrinkle on the coming of age story. 


Barbarella is a very famous film.  I saw a restored version on HBO about 25 years ago and recall being sufficiently "impressed" with Jane Fonda.  Campy but undeniably sexy, Barbarella would be a career defining role for a less accomplished actress.  I enjoyed watching the film on the big screen at the Castro and am pleasantly surprised that I could enjoy the film from the perspective for a 40something.  In fact, I think I appreciated the film more this time.  Fonda delivered her lines with a dry, vapid cadence which nonetheless suggested something more meaningful in Fonda than the character.  Of course, I may be inferring more from her performance given what was to come in her life.  Even if true, Hanoi Jane playing Barbarella is more interesting than the 1968 version of her playing Barbarella.  Milo O'Shea's performance as Durand Durand stood out in this viewing.


Cherry 2000 is a film I don't recall ever hearing about much less seeing. In the mid-1980s, I was a big Melanie Griffith fan.  Two of my all-time favorite films are Brian De Palma's Body Double (1984) and Jonathan Demme's Something Wild (1986); both star Griffith and sadly, I haven't watched either in several years.  I suggested both film in passing to Elliot Lavine in May; I'm hoping he programs them soon.

Cherry 2000 is notable for its lengthy delay between production and release.  It was never released to US theaters.  Instead it was released on VHS which makes me wonder what format the Castro screened.  Although the picture quality was fine, the audio was hard to understand.  I attributed it to the low production standards but who knows...who cares?

The plot (which sounds like a pastiche of various Sci Fi films) is set in 2017.  In this timeline, there are Fembots not unlike Austin Powers.  These androids are sexy, attentive, take care of household chores and other needs that a man may have.  Sam Treadwell (David Andrews) has a Cherry 2000 model which he loves...literally.  When she short-circuits (I'm not sure if it resulted from the soapy water of the dishwasher or Sam's ardor), it's kaput for Cherry.  She can't be repaired and they don't sell her model anymore.  The repairman pops out her disk storing her memories and points Sam to Glory Hole, NV which is on the frontier of a post-apocalypitic wasteland.  Cherry 2000s can be found in Zone 9 or somewhere but Sam will need the help of E. Johnson, a tracker with a souped up muscle car and knowledge of the area.  E. Johnson turns out to be Melanie Griffith sporting a Raggedy Ann dye job and not looking half as good as she did in Body Double or Something Wild.

Edith Johnson is an ass-kicking machine who bemoans the fact that Sam is gaga for a robot.  How is a gun-toting, free-thinking mercenary like Edith Johnson supposed to compete against the ultimate Stepford wife?  Most of the rest of the film is predictable - Sam & Edith fight their way to Zone Whatever, Sam proves surprisingly adept with automatic weapons, they get some help for Edith's mentor Six-Fingered Jake (Ben Johnson) & their romance heats up.  The only original part of the story is the villain.  Instead of S&M bikers or zombies or talking apes, Cherry 2000's villains are a gang of surbanites who will kill to maintain their way of life...which mainly appears to be barbecuing in Bermuda shorts with their fembots.  They can't let anyone steal their fembots because that would leave less for them.  Tim Thomerson is memorable as the gang leader.

You can guess how it ends.  Cherry 2000 is just as good as any other film from the 1980s as long the other film has cheesy production values, silly dialogue, a predictable script and goes to great lengths to make a young Melanie Griffith look like a car mechanic. Griffith didn't show much in terms of sex appeal or screen presence.  On the other hand, Pamela Gidley was not just sexy but damn sexy as Cherry.  Harry Carey Jr. (unrecognizable from Red River) has a small role.  Laurence Fishburne had an even smaller role which made me wonder what he did between Apocalypse Now and The Matrix.  Ben Johnson always has screen presence and shines as much as he can in this film.

Cherry 2000 has a cult following and strangely I was drawn in at certain points of the film.  The best that can be said is that I didn't fall asleep during the screening.  Although I can understand why there could be a cult following, once was enough for me.  Let's hope its another quarter century before I see it again.

Friday, July 6, 2012

How I Watch Films and the Old One-Two

I always fall behind in chronicling the films I watch.  The primary reason for this blog is to provide (myself) a complete list of films I've watched.  Frequently, I search this blog for a film that I cannot remember the title of or to remind myself of the when and where of the viewing.  It's sort of an movie log with an enhanced narrative for most of the films. Some people (not very many according to Google Stats) come along for the ride.

I do not own a DVD player.  When I want to watch a DVD, I play it on my computer which I can (but usually do not) hook up to my television.  My new laptop doesn't even have a DVD player so I don't know what I'll do after I retire the old one.  I do have cable TV but each month when I receive the bill, I vow to look at other options.  I don't have premium channels such as HBO or Showtime.  A co-worker was recently telling me about Game of Thrones of which I was blissfully ignorant.

I don't even get the second tier premium channels such as TCM which I watch when I visit my father in Las Vegas.  I do watch AMC but not their original programming such as Mad Men and Breaking Bad.  I didn't start watching those shows at the beginning so I don't want to come in at the middle.  I always tell myself I'll watch the series of DVD after the original run.  However, I told myself that about Deadwood and The Sopranos but haven't done so.  The thought of holing up and watching 17 hours of DVD over a weekend just doesn't appeal to me.  Now that my new computer doesn't have a DVD player, I won't even be able to lie to myself about watching the DVDs.

As I ponder this, I realize my cinematic lifestyle could only be indulged in a handful of locations.  I visit Las Vegas frequently and there are no rep houses.  I was there last week and was surprised to see Monsieur Lazhar screening at one of the metroplexes.  As I mentioned last year, there isn't even a functioning 35 mm film projector in Las Vegas. 

So it is that I live this existence which is something out of the 1970s (pre-VHS).  I scour the dwindling rep house schedules (albeit on the internet) and plan my free time around these screenings.  I need the help of a spreadsheet to track what I will see and what I have seen.  I need to further document what I have seen on this website so I can recall it later.  Sometimes I am amazed at my recollection.  I recall specific movie scenes or dialog; typically when prompted by another movie scene or dialog. 

I think that's why I like The Family Guy because the cutaways frequently reference films which I immediately recognize.  For example, The Family Guy has a series of Road to... episodes which are spoofing the Hope-Crosby-Lamour series of films from the 1940s and 1950s.  When I mentioned this to someone recently, they were completely oblivious to the reference.  I wondered if they even knew who Hope, Crosby & Lamour were.


Rather than digressing into the walking anachronism I am, I'll knock out some film notes.

Following up on a 2009 seriesPFA had a series in June called One-Two Punch featuring films based on the works of Dorothy B. Hughes, Mickey Spillane & Elmore Leonard.  I caught half the films in the series.

Fallen Sparrow starring John Garfield & Maureen O'Hara; directed by Richard Wallace; (1943)
Stick starring Burt Reynolds; with Charles Durning, Candice Bergen & George Segal; directed by Reynolds; (1985)
Valdez is Coming starring Burt Lancaster; with Jon Cypher, Susan Clark, Richard Jordan & Barton Heyman; (1971)

Fallen Sparrow was adapted from a Dorothy B. Hughes novel of the same name while Stick & Valdez is Coming are Elmore Leonard works.

These films were probably a case of great novels being adapted into mediocre films.  Fallen Sparrow, in particular, hinted at something better.  PFA curator Steve Seid introduced all  three films (on two separate evenings) and mentioned something about a serial killer in Fallen Sparrow.  That would have livened up the film quite a bit.  Instead, I was confused byt the plot twists and what I did understand seemed ludicrous.  The whole plot revolved around John Garfield's character.  An American who likely fought on the Republican side of the Spanish Civil War.  Captured and tortured by the Nazis associated with the Spanish Nationalists, Garfield withholds "vital information" from his captors.  Although vague about the torture, I am guessing that photos of him in a naked dogpile or wearing a leash were not part of the Nazi bag of tricks.

Originally from New York City, Garfield recovers in New Mexico, I believe.  When he finds out that the NYPD cop who arranged his escape in Spain (using contact from "the old country") has died under suspicious circumstances, he returns to the Big Apple.  The NYPD brass are surprisingly permissive when Garfield implies his goal is to avenge his friend's death.  Maureen O'Hara shows up as a hat model and there is a slinky torch singer with a suspicious Eastern European pianist and then Garfield's ex-girlfriend has fallen in a European refugee with an academic in methods of torture.  There were a bunch of other characters.  I couldn't keep track of them; I needed a scorecard.

What could the son of a NY flatfoot know that has the Nazis in a tizzy?  Garfield's unit defeated a German unit in Spain.  Unfortunately, the unit was commanded by Hitler's favorite general so der Führer risk exposing his espionage network to track down Garfield in NYC to recover the battle standard which I gather is the ornamental headpiece of the pole used to carry a military unit's colors into battle.  I recall Napoleon used eagles and they were guarded closely.  However that was the early 19th century.  I wonder if anyone in the audience during the mid-20th century when this film came out thought it ridiculous that the Nazis would expend so much energy over an ornamental medallion?


Coming on the heels of Stoker Ace, Smokey and Bandit Part III, Canonball Run II and City Heat, Burt Reynolds attempted something more weighty in Stick.  Written by Elmore Leonard, whose better adapted works include Get Shorty & Jackie Brown, I'm not sure if the source material was lacking or if Reynolds (who was also director) messed it up.

At times Stick is so bad its funny but every once in awhile it flashes something resembling greatness.  In fact, Stick reminded me a little of Sharky's Machine (1981) which isn't surprising since Reynold directed both films.  Sharky's Machine, adapted from a William Diehl novel, had a dark and gritty edge to it.  I guess after five years of Stoker, Smokey & Cannonball, Reynolds wanted to have it both ways.  I can imagine Reynolds thinking he needed to get on the Miami bandwagon in the mid-1980s...kind of like Miami Vice but different.  So we're treated to the sight of Charles Durning wearing a ridiculous wig, George Segal wearing a thawb (yes I had to look that word up) and Reynolds wearing a pastel pink, Members Only jacket that looks like something Sonny Crockett gave to Goodwill.  That's just the wardrobe.  The dialog is painfully awkward at time. 

The plot is essentially Point Blank or Payback - tough guy feels a criminal owes him a nominal amount.  Nothing will dissuade said tough guy from collecting...not even the threat of a vicious criminal organization.  Candice Bergen plays the female lead although she doesn't get to do much.  Famed stuntman Dar Robinson memorably plays an albino hitman and even recreates his Sharky's stunt of free falling off a building.

After watching Stick, I recall why Reynold's career needed a comeback a decade later in Boogie Nights.  I do wonder what Reynolds could have done if he had had more discipline in his choice of films and self-direction.


Valdez is Coming was my favorite of the three films; most likely because of my fondness for Burt Lancaster.  Looking at Lancaster's filmography from the 1970s, it's pretty sparse pickings.  Between The Professionals (1966) and Atlantic City (1980), of the films in which Lancaster is one of the leads, only a handful look worthwhile.   Valdez is Coming and Ulzana's Raid (1972) are two of the most prominent films.  I would also like to see Go Tell the Spartans (1978) one day and rewatch Zulu Dawn (1979) sometime.  

Like Stick, the premise of Valdez is Coming is that Valdez, an aging tough guy (Lancaster), feels an Apache widow (married to a buffalo soldier nonetheless) is owed $200 as compensation for the death of her husband by Valdez and a mob organized by wealthy rancher Frank Tanner (Jon Cypher).  Tanner's response to Valdez's request that Tanner chip in $100 is to have his men literally crucify Valdez and send him off into the wilderness.

Tanner and everyone else thinks Valdez is just an old Mexican who somehow managed to get a job as town constable watching "over the Mexican side of town."  However, in his youth, Valdez was a US calvaryman, Indian fighter and expert marksman.  After getting loose of the cross (the scene appeared to have been partially missing from the print that was screened), Valdez dusts off the Army uniform and starts hunting Tanner, his men and the elusive $100.  He allows his first victim (Hector Elizondo) to live and return to Tanner's ranch to tell him "Valdez is coming."

Valdez almost gets the money except for the intervention of the number 2 man in Tanner's outfit, the aptly named El Segundo (Barton Heyman).  Valdez is forced to flee into the mountains with Tanner's "woman."  Gay Erin (Susan Clark) has a widow who is shacked up with Tanner (whom many believe killed her husband).  As El Segundo notes, she doesn't smile much.  In fact, the man killed at the beginning of the film was hunted by Tanner after being accused of killing Erin's husband.  As Tanner & El Segundo lead the gang in chase of Valdez, the slowly come to realize the skill and lethality of their prey.

Although disguised as a chase film, Valdez is Coming is very critical of racism, both overt and subtle.  I think it interesting that Tanner's right-hand man is Mexican.  Valdez and his old friend (Frank Silvera) have a memorable conversation where they mock/rue the white hegemony that keeps them as second class citizens.  That the Mexican Valdez is played by the Irish American Lancaster adds an irony to the film which was probably missing upon its original release.

Far from being a great film, Valdez is firmly entertaining.  Lancaster, Cypher, Heyman and Richard Jordan as a cowardly and racist hired gun play their parts with assurance.  Lancaster's star power or screen presence never failed him.  I sense that Leonard's book was better but the Valdez screening benefitted from following Stick.  The audio track on the print was very poor; there was static throughout the film.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Membership Has Its Privileges

As I mentioned, I bought a membership to the Roxie.  For $23 per month, I get "free" admission to Roxie programmed screenings.  This excludes festivals such as the recent Frameline or upcoming Frozen Film Festival or Indiefest series but does includes series such as I Wake Up Dreaming or Mick LaSalle's upcoming The Beauty of the Real: A Celebration of Contemporary French Actresses!

To best utilize my membership, I've been seeing films at the Roxie that I wouldn't necessarily have otherwise seen.

Jeff, Who Lives at Home starring Jason Segel, Ed Helms & Susan Sarandon; directed by Jay & Mark Duplass; (2011) - Official Website
Indie Game:  The Movie; directed by Lisanne Pajot & James Swirsky; documentary; (2012) - Official Website
The Connection starring Warren Finnerty & Carl Lee; directed by Shirley Clarke; (1962)


I've heard of the Duplass Brothers for awhile so I was anxious to see Jeff, Who Lives at Home.  The Duplass Brothers' latest film, The Do-Deca-Pentathalon, opens tomorrow.

The suddenly ubiquitous Jason Segel plays the eponymous Jeff, a 30something slacker who has no job, lives in his mother's basement and smokes dope.  His mother's (Susan Sarandon) insistence that he go out and buy some home supplies turns into an odyssey.  Jeff encounters dope smokers, gets robbed, encounters his brother (Ed Helms), gets involved with his brother's failing marriage and finally has a life defining moment on Lake Ponchatrain, I believe.

Jeff feels like a slacker comedy with mumblecore roots but the Duplass Brothers layer on contrivances to further the humor.  Due to  his stoner sensibilities, it's Jeff's brother, sister-in-law & mother who are the most unhappy and it is Jeff who cuts through the chaff of their problems.  The film may have had a deeper message than I took from it but I thought it an enjoyable little film.


Indie Game:  The Movie is a Doc Lite film.  Reminiscent of the Tetris documentary from Indiefest or The King of Kong; Indie Game follows a few independent game designers.  I've never played Wii, XBox or PlayStation so I went in knowing nothing.  I grew up in the age of quarter arcade games.  There is a laundromat near me that has a game I don't even know the name of.  You shoot colored balls to the top of the screen.  You can bounce the ball off the sides.  When you get three balls of the same color touching, the balls disappear.  Every so often the row of balls get pushed down one row.  The goal is to clear the balls from screen before they touch the bottom.  That game is about the extent of my videogame playing for the past the decade. 

So when the characters mention EA Games, I had to think for a moment.  Their description of hundreds programmers working on Halo sounded like the complaints independent filmmakers frequently state.

I can't recall the games.  There was a weird one about Meat Boy who has no skin or something.  There is one called Fez that in the film industry would be called "stuck in development hell."  Perhaps a more accurate analogy would be Clouzot trying to finish Inferno

So Indie Game just didn't interest me due to the subject.  The film was mildly interesting to me and the filmmakers did a nice job building suspense but ultimately, I couldn't identify with the subjects.  Why did they invest so much time into creating these games?  Why didn't they do something worthwhile with the energy and writing a movie blog.


The Connection is a famous mocumentary about some heroin addicts waiting around for their dealer to show up so they can score.  The film reminded me a lot of Waiting for Godot but instead of waiting for the dealer, they are really waiting for their next fix.  The junkies argue and banter and tell stories.  When dealer Cowboy (Carl Lee) finally show up a Salvation Army granny in tow, it is almost anti-climatic.  The addicts dutiful queue to score their fix in the bathroom and we see each one change their behavior (or not) as the smack kicks in.

The film looked like a play adapted for the screen which in fact it was.  I'm certain it was edgy in 1962 but it had lost some of its edge.  Four jazz musicians/junkies are holed up in the apartment waiting for Cowboy.  Heroin addicted, jazz musicians - stereotypical but they jam some nice tunes while before and after getting their fix.  Sounds real hep in the Village in 1959 but doesn't play in the Mission in 2012.  Warren Finnerty (predating Ratso Rizzo by almost a decade) stands out as Leach, the biggest addict of them all who almosts ODs because one fix doesn't get the job done.

Likened to Lionel Rogosin's On the Bowery (1956) since it showed the seedy side of mid-century society in the US, I much preferred the cinéma vérité style of Rogosin's film to the jazz-infused dialog of Clarke's film.


For all three of these films, I can't say I would have regretted skipping them.  They were fine films but not quite in my wheelhouse which I guess is the main benefit of a Roxie membership.  It allows me to see films that I would not otherwise spend the admission price on.

If someone asks me if I can recommend a slacker comedy or a documentary on video games or a stylized exploration of heroin addiction, I have some decent recommendations.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Groucho, Harpo, Chico and Most Assuredly Zeppo

A year ago, the Castro Theater showed a Marx Brothers double feature.  The two films were Duck Soup and A Night at the Opera.  The Castro upped the ante in May with a Marx Brothers triple feature.

Horse Feathers starring the Four Marx Brothers & Thelma Todd; directed by Norman Z. McLeod; (1932)
Animal Crackers starring the Four Marx Brothers and Margaret Dumont; directed by Victor Heerman; (1930)
Monkey Business starring the Four Marx Brothers & Thelma Todd; directed by Norman Z. McLeod; (1931)

Combined with the two from last July, the five films represent the bulk of the Marx Brothers' quality films.  Coconuts (1929) preceded Animal Crackers and A Day At the Races (1937) proceeded A Night at the Opera.  Those seven films represent the total output of the Marx Brothers at Paramount and at Irving Thalberg-controlled MGM.  After A Day At the Races, they bounced from RKO back to MGM to United.  In my opinion, they never regained their comic genius.  As I wrote last year, I think they lost a step when they lost Zeppo when they moved from Paramount to MGM.  Either Zeppo exerted an off screen presence or his departure coincided with the switch from films based their stage material to custom screenplays.

Animal Crackers is the one where Groucho plays Captain Spaulding, the noted explorer.  He delivers the "shot an elephant in my pajamas" joke. Most of the plot revolves around a counterfeit painting.

Monkey Business is set on a cruise liner with the brothers as stowaways.  There are two gangsters who each hire a differnt pair of brothers to be their bodyguards.  Thelma Todd (Hot Toddy), in her first collaboration with the Marx Brothers, plays the girlfriend of one of the gangsters.  Notable gags include each one singing You Brought a New Kind of Love to Me while doing a Maurice Chevalier impersonation.  There is also an extended scene with Groucho and Todd that has Groucho going into the closet repeatedly.

Horse Feathers is my favorite Marx Brothers film.  Groucho plays the college president and Zeppo is his son who has taken up with the "college widow" (Thelma Todd).  You'll have to look up that term.  Chico works at a speakeasy and Harpo is a dogcatcher.  Groucho goes to the speakeasy to hire some football ringers who he misidentifies as Chico & Harpo.  Notable gags include the extended sequence on the gridiron and Harpo's running feud with the guy that runs a lemonade cart.  The film also features their best musical number - Everyone Says I Love You; Groucho's rendition has him serenading Hot Toddy on a lake while she rows the boat.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Howard Hawks: The Second Measure of the Man

The Stanford Theater ended its Howard Hawks series in late June.  I saw six films in the series; all directed by Hawks with the exception of O. Henry's Full House which I explain later.

A Girl in Every Port starring Victor McLaglen, Robert Armstrong & Louise Brooks; silent with intertitles; live accompaniment by Dennis James; (1928)
Air Force starring John Garfield; (1943)
Red River starring John Wayne & Montgomery Clift; with Walter Brennan, Joanne Dru & John Ireland; (1948)
O. Henry's Full House; anthology; (1952)
I Was a Male War Bride starring Cary Grant & Ann Sheridan; (1949)
The Big Sky starring Kirk Douglas & Dewey Martin; (1952)

The Stanford series followed and mostly duplicated a similar PFA series of which I only saw three films.  The films I most regret missing were Paid to Love, Dawn Patrol, Viva Villa! and The Outlaw.  I have not seen the first three films and it must be 30 years since I saw The Outlaw.  Jane Russell had quite an effect on my adolescence.  I was a big fan of Paleface and Son of Paleface also (I used to know the words to Buttons and Bows).  Perhaps someone will put on a posthumous Jane Russell retrospective.

The Stanford series (called Movies to Dream By On a Desert Island) had the involvement of noted film critic and historian David Thomson (The New Biographical Dictionary of Film).  Thomson wrote the program guide included 10 pages of biographical information on Hawks as well as synopses of all of Hawks films (not just the ones screened by the Stanford).  In addition, Thomson introduced the 7:30 film on Saturday nights.


O. Henry's Full House consisted five short film based on O. Henry stories.  Each story was directed by a different person.  The author John Steinbeck introduced each segment.  I stayed through the fourth segment, The Ransom of Red Chief which starred Fred Allen & Oscar Levant and was directed by Hawks.  By then it was almost 11:30 PM and I was getting sleepy

The preceding segments were The Cop and the Anthem starring Charles Laughton and directed by Henry Koster; The Clarion Call starring Richard Widmark & Dale Robertson and directed by Henry Hathaway; and The Last Leaf starring Anne Baxter, Jean Peters & Gregory Ratoff and directed by Jean Negulesco.  The segment I skipped was The Gift of the Magi with Farley Granger & Jeanne Crain and directed by Henry King.  Marilyn Monroe makes a cameo appearance in The Cop and the Anthem.

The fact that three of the five directors of O. Henry's Full House were named Henry makes me wonder if Hawks & Negulesco were replacements or second choices.

Full House left me near empty.  It was kind of interesting to see Charles Laughton as a bum and Richard Widmark channel Tommy Udo again but their performances seemed ham handed.  The Last Leaf was my favorite.  Anne Baxter plays a woman ill with pneumonia.  She comes to believe that when the last leaf falls from the tree outside her bedroom window, she will die.  Jean Peters plays here sister and caregiver.  Russian born Gregory Ratoff plays the tempermental artist who lives upstairs of the sister who plays a crucial role in Baxter's recovery.

Hawks' The Ransom of Red Chief  had a lighter tone than the other segments despite the fact child kidnapping and ransom were at the heart of the story.  Fred Allen & the droll Oscar Levant play kidnappers whose victim (Lee Aaker) is a hellion and then some.  The boy makes such a nuisance of himself that the kidnappers agree to pay the boy's father to take him back.  Lacking in Hawks' typical flourishes, Red Chief  never elicited more than a smirk from me.


Air Force was a WWII propaganda film which played a loose and fast with the facts.  No need to recount the inaccuracies since there were so many.  The film follows a B-17 crew as they fly from California to Hawaii to the Philippines in the days around December 7, 1941.  John Garfield plays the hardnut side gunner who washed out of flight school.  There is another pilot named Tex who is fighter pilot but looks down on the bomber pilots.  If I recall correctly, the co-pilot (Gig Young) was dating the pilot's sister.  Frankly, Air Force wasn't worth the trip down to Palo Alto.

Similarly unimpressive was The Big Sky with Kirk Douglas and Dewey Martin as two frontiersmen making their way up the Missouri River on a keelboat.  They have a friendly rivlarly which I've seen depicted in countless films.  Arthur Hunnicutt (who would play Bull in El Dorado) plays the grizzled trapper who serves as a mentor to Douglas and Martin.  Half-Cherokee Elizabeth Threatt plays a Blackfoot princess in her lone (but memorable) film appearance.  Covering much of the same ground as Hawks' Westerns, The Big Sky never really hit its stride.


Red River is a film I've never seen all the way through before.  For 97% of the film, it was as good as any John Wayne film I've seen.  Wayne plays Thomas Dunson, a stubborn man who gave up his true love and is willing to kill in order to be successful as cattle rancher.  Along for the ride is Walter Brennan as his second banana and Montgomery Clift as Matt Garth, his ward.  Matt's parents were killed when he was a child on the wagon train out west.  Dunson and Groot (Brennan) take him in and form a de facto, tri-generational family unit.  Dunson owns the ranch, even though Matt's cow and Dunson's bull started the herd. 

15 years later, Matt is grown up and Dunson has a herd of 1,000 head.  He can't sell them in Texas so he has to drive the herd to Missouri.  Dunson sets out with a group hired cowpokes.  He makes them all pledge to see the drive through to the end which is hypocritical since he broke a similar pledge when he left the wagon train to set up his ranch.  Among the hired hands is Cherry Valence (John Ireland) who has a rivalry with Matt that borders on homoerotic.  They literally compare the size of their pistols.

Dunson is the harshest of trailbosses.  Nothing will dissuade him from his Missouri destination including unconfirmed reports of railroad stockyard in Abilene.  When Dunson attempts to lynch two deserters, Matt leads a rebellion against Dunson.  They oust Dunson from their camp and take the herd to Abilene.  Dunson vows to kill Matt and take back his herd.

The rest of the film shows Dunson (with a group of cowboys/gunslingers) tracking Matt and the herd to Abilene.  Joanne Dru shows up as a love interest for Matt who bizarrely offers to bear Dunson's child if he will give up his pursuit of Matt.  I must have missed some of the coded messages in that scene.  The film progresses nicely until the finale when Dunson catches up with Matt in Abilene.  They begin a furious fistfight which is interrupted when Dru starts shooting (she is a marksman) at them and demands they recognize the love they have for each other.  Turning on a dime, Dunson sees the error in his ways and makes peace with Matt...even encouraging him to marry Dru so as to avoid the regret he faced as a younger man.  Complete copout at the end which isn't surprising because the film is based on a Borden Chase story which was serialized in the Saturday Evening Post.  Do they still publish that?  Anyway, the film changed the ending of the story and it sticks out like a sore thumb.

For most of the way, Red River is a great film with John Wayne giving us a preview of Ethan Edwards from The Searchers.  The film is propped up by a strong supporting cast including Clift, Brennan, Ireland, Harry Carey Jr. as a cowboy with a sweet tooth who causes a stampede and Chief Yowlachie as a poker playing Indian who wins Groot's false teeth.

I recognized one of the songs as a downtempo version of a song from Rio Bravo.  It's clear that Hawks had a stock company of actors he used in his Westerns including Wayne, Brennan, Hunnicutt, Paul Fix, et al.


It's a bit sad to see Cary Grant dressed in drag in I Was a Male War Bride.  Fortunately, it only happens for a brief period towards the end of the film.  For the majority, Cary Grant is busy being Cary Grant.  Oddly enough, he is cast a French army officer who is assigned to find a German scientist in post-WWII Europe.  Ann Sheridan as an American WAC accompanies him on his mission for no apparent reason except so that he can have someone to banter with.  Actually, Sheridan plays a great "straight man" for Grant to bounce off of.  For most of the film, Grant is exasperated at Sheridan's actions as well as the indignities he must suffer as a man trying to marry an American military "serviceman."  The Army procedures assume an American male will marry a foreign female and Grant's situation sets this assumption on its madcap results.

A lightweight film which seems to waste Grant and Sheridan's talents, I was nonetheless amused by I Was a Male War Bride at vaious points throughout the film.  That's more a testimonial to Grant & Sheridan (I just picked up on the Civil War connection...if I only I could think of a pun) than the plot.


That leaves A Girl in Every Port with the incomparable Louise Brooks whose screen time is lamentably short in the film.  Victor McLaglen and Robert Armstrong are two sailors who go from port to port.  They have a not so friendly rivalry in trying to shack up with women in each port.  They bond over a couple of bar room fights and one saves the other from drowning and/or a night in jail.  Slapstick and broad emotional brushstrokes are the stock in trade until Louise Brooks shows up. 

What an first impression she makes!  With her trademark bob cut, she is a circus highdiver wearing a curve hugging swimsuit.  The camera follows her shimmying up a ladder to prepare for her high dive.  Brooks, Montgomery & McLaglen form a love triangle, although the audience & Montgomery know that Brooks is a gold digger as they shared a past in Coney Island or somehwere.  There is the obligatory split between the two men with Montgomery not wanting to destroy McLaglen's idealised view of the woman.  Montgomery leaves his mark on his conquests which is a small anchor & heart tattoo.  This proves crucial in tipping off McLaglen about Brook's past.

That's too much plot recounting.  The main reason to see A Girl in Every Port is to see Lulu - to admire her, to be smitten by her, to desire her and to plan to see Pandora's Box where her beauty and talents are on full display.  Pandora's Box plays at the 2012 San Francisco Silent Film Festival on Saturday, July 14 at 7:00 PM at the Castro Theater.