Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Puzzle Within the Castro Theater's May Calendar

After posting the answers to Castro's April calendar, I was anxiously awaiting the May calendar to see if I could "do it again."

On the day it was posted on-line, I was able to identify 3 out of the 4 actors without much trouble.

May 6 - I recognized Edmond O'Brien quickly but not immediately

May 13 - I immediately recognized Brian Dennehy

May 20 - I initially thought this was William Bendix but after settling on Edmond O'Brien, I realized this is Pat O'Brien.

May 28 - I didn't know who this is.  Finally, I went to IMDB and searched "Brian" under Names.  There were 200 results.  I visually inspected the list; excluding anyone with a credit past 1990 and anyone not listed as an "actor."  I saw a name with a credit for I Confess from 1953.  The name didn't ring a bell with me.  It was Brian Aherne and the face matched the Castro calendar.  I was lucky because his name could have been Bryan or O'Brien.  I don't think I have seen any of this actor's films (he was quite active in television during the 1950s).  I vaguely recall seeing Titanic (1953) but I would say it's been 25 years or more.

Whereas I identified the first three actors within 5 minutes, I didn't zero in on Brian Aherne until many hours after the calendar was posted and with the invaluable assistance of the internet.

It is clear that Brian or some derivation of that name is the clue.  Those names indicate Irish heritage.  I wasn't sure what the link to May was either.  What events to I associate with May?  Cinco de Mayo?  Memorial Day?  V-E Day?  Bay to Breakers?  May Day?  Seven Days in May?

The day after the calendar was posted, the answer came to me.  A famous San Francisco landmark is the SS Jeremiah O'Brien, one of the last remaining WWII Liberty ships.  It may be the last seaworthy Liberty ship in existence.  It made the voyage from San Francisco to Normandy for the 50th anniversary of D-Day in 1994.  What is significant about the O'Brien in May?  I could not find any significant ship milestones (can seacraft and aircraft have milestones?) or anniversaries in May.  Going to the ship's website, the answer hit me in the face.  On Saturday, May 18, the Jeremiah O'Brien is having Greatest Generation Memorial Cruise from noon to 4 PM.

As long as I was poking around the website, I was curious as to who Jeremiah O'Brien was such that he had a ship named after him.  All the Liberty ships were named after people...and fairly obscure people.  I only recognize a handful of eponyms.  By the way, Adolph Sutro (as in Sutro Baths) had a Liberty ship named after him.  The SS Jeremiah O'Brien was "named for the first American to capture a British naval vessel during the Revolutionary War."

Castro Theater Calendar - May 2013

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Downton Abbey

Earlier this week, I took a couple days off work.  I had a few tasks on my To Do list but for reasons I don't want to mention, I was not able to accomplish all of them.  Having some free time, I watched about 8.5 hours of Downton Abbey (not continuously).  I have now watched the series through Season 3 so I'm fully caught up.  Season 4 doesn't begin until...I don't know when it begins.  In the UK, it begins this fall but I don't know when it resumes on PBS.

I feel a little embarrassed to admit how much I like this television series.  I could claim it is the period costumes and references I like.  Or that it is fun to see the show treating historical events like an Independent Ireland or women's suffrage as nascent movements.  That would be a lie.  I like it for the reason most people like it - it is a well made soap opera.

With a huge cast, it is able to explore many facets of society.  In particular, it explores the class divide which was so much more relevant in the UK 100 years ago.  It also explores social attitudes towards gays, unwed mothers and other topics which were more shocking to mainstream society.  It primarily focuses on timeless issues such as love, jealousy and fear.

Set at Downton Abbey, the fictional estate of Lord Grantham, the show has many plot lines.  The time setting is between 1912 and 1921 (so far).  The two main story arcs in Downton Abbey are love stories.

The one which most people have latched onto is the May-December romance between Mr. Bates (Brendan Coyle), a valet, and Anna (Joanne Froggatt), a Lady's Maid.  Mr. Bates, notable for his use of a cane due to war injuries (that would be the Boer Wars), has to overcome the pity and/or resentment of the other servants who feel his disability will add to their workload.  Mr. Bates wins most of them over through his compassion, sense of honor and perseverance.  One of his earliest supporters was Anna Smith, maid to the Mary Crawley, eldest daughter of Lord Grantham.  Anna quickly sees Bates' best qualities and commendably (if unlikely) overlooks his marital status and their age difference.  There is a 17 year age difference between Coynes and Froggatt.  Anna is cheerful and strong woman and attractive...even under her maid's frock.

Mr. Bates was convicted for the murder of his wife whom he was trying to divorce to be with Anna.  Mr. Bates displays a temper and, while in prison, threatened to kill his cellmate.  He certainly has a dark side to him.  Anna, on the other hand, seems to have no character flaws which makes her somewhat bland except as Mr. Bates' true love.  I have to believe their relationship will be strained or tested during the upcoming season.

The other romance which is popular with the fans of the show is that of Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens) & Mary Crawley (Michelle Dockery).  In the first episode of the series, the first and second heirs to the title of Earl of Grantham and the estate of Downton Abbey are killed in the Titanic sinking.  The current Earl of Grantham, Robert Crawley, has three daughters and hence no suitable heirs.  The next in line of succession is a distant cousin named Matthew Crawley, who is a solicitor and stranger to the Downton Abbey Crawleys.

At the beginning of the series, Mary enjoyed toying with men's affections.  Her family thought Mary would marry her cousin (the younger Crawley who died on the Titanic).  You don't hear or read much of distant cousins marrying anymore.  Another of her paramours, a Turkish diplomat, died in her bed.  After initial attraction between Mary & Matthew, Mary's coquettish ways drove a wedge between them.  At one point, Mary & Matthew are simultaneously engaged to other people.  It was a very awkward situation as Matthew was the heir to Downton Abbey, cousin and spurned suitor.  However, a timely death (or untimely depending on one's viewpoint) and a broken engagement clear the way for the second chance at romance between the Crawley cousins.

Matthew & Mary's wedding was the finale of Episode 1 of Season 3.  Their marriage seemed to be one for the ages but let's just say they are not married to each other by the end of Season 3.  Matthew is honorable to a fault while Mary retains a fair amount of bitchiness which she puts aside for long stretches.  Also, Mary grew up at Downton Abbey with an army servants whereas Matthew grew up upper middle class (the son of a doctor) and looks upon the valets and footmen as superfluous.

Matthew and his independent-minded mother espouse ideas which are taken as self-evident today but met with skepticism and hostility by Lord Grantham and his family.  His "modern" views of society and social classes threaten the long-established traditions at Downton Abbey which is another source of conflict within the show.

Most of the fun happens downstairs at Downton Abbey which is where the servants congregate.  As Lord Grantham rules Downton Abbey, Mr. Carson (Jim Carter) rules the household staff as butler.  A stern taskmaster, Mr. Carson can show compassion at times but is largely aloof towards his staff with the exception of Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan), the housekeeper who he frequently takes into his confidence.  If Mr. Carson is the disciplinarian father figure, Mrs. Hughes is the kindly & maternal mother figure towards the staff.  Although Mr. Carson's conservative nature and sense of propriety are occasionally the source of humor, Mr. Carson & Mrs. Hughes are largely stay above the fray.  There is a hint of romantic feelings from Mr. Carson towards Mrs. Hughes but his sense of decorum would never allow it.

Thomas Barrow (Rob James-Collier) started the show as first footman.  Conniving and ambitious, Thomas (or Mr. Barrow) initially wanted the job as Lord Grantham's valet which Mr. Bates got.  That resulted in Thomas' enmity towards Mr. Bates.  Thomas is also a homosexual during an era when that was a criminal act.  He served in WWI as a medic but purposefully put his hand in the line of fire in order to be medically discharged from the army.  It was implied Thomas was a coward.  He's also been shown to be a thief, liar and would-be black marketeer.  He also sows discontent among the servants through lies & manipulation.  After the war, Thomas returned as a footman and during Mr. Bates' imprisonment, Lord Grantham's valet.  His continued employment at Downton Abbey beggars belief except that within the structure of the show, he is one of the characters you love to hate.  Towards the end of Season 3, he shows some humility and graciousness.  Dismissed from his job, Mr. Carson, Mrs. Hughes & even Mr. Bates conspire to at least get him a positive letter of reference.  To their displeasure, Lord Grantham goes one step further and hires him back as under-butler.

Miss O'Brien (Siobhan Finneran) is Lady Grantham's (Elizabeth McGovern) personal maid.  Initially tight with Thomas, the two have a falling out when her nephew comes to work at Downton Abbey and Thomas refuses to help him as it may impede his own promotion plans.  As conniving and manipulative as Thomas, Miss O'Brien has a long list of transgressions which is highlighted by her intentionally leaving a bar of soap on the floor which a pregnant Lady Grantham slipped on which in turned caused a miscarriage.

The undisputed breakout character in the show is Lady Violet Crawley (Maggie Smith), the dowager Countess of Grantham and Lord Grantham's mother.  The matriarch of the family and as manipulative as  Thomas or O'Brien, she is blessed with wealth and social status so her machinations seem more trivial.  The master of biting quips and deadpan displeasure, Lady Violet gets the best lines in the show and Maggie Smith seems to be having a ball with the role.


After watching nearly 25 hours of Downton Abbey, it is impossible to recount the plot.  Furthermore, the serial nature of the show does not allow one to just start watching in Season 4 and understand the backstory which adds much to the enjoyment of the show.  It's quite a time commitment to get up to speed on a show like Downton Abbey (or Game of Thrones).  I also don't feel like I'm watching anything profound.  It's like having a excellent piece of chocolate cake

Friday, April 26, 2013

Cinephilia is a Disease as Contagious as...

I often wonder how San Francisco can support so many film festivals.  More accurately, I often wonder why I feel compelled to attend so many film festivals in San Francisco.

The 56th San Francisco International Film Festival (SFIFF) started last night.  I skipped the opening night.  I typically skip the opening night film as it will likely get a distribution deal (if it doesn't already have one).  The SFIFF kicks off a busy three months of festivals I want to attend in the Bay Area and beyond.

April 25 - May 9:  SFIFF
May 9 - May 26:  Girls! Guns! Ghosts! The Sensational Films of Shintoho (YBCA)
May 10 - May 23:  I Wake Up Dreaming 2013 (Roxie)
June 6 - June 23:  DocFest (SF IndieFest)
June 14 - June 16:  Hitchcock 9 (San Francisco Silent Film Festival)
June 21 - June 30:  Sacramento French Film Festival
July 12 - July 14:  Sacramento Japanese Film Festival
July 18 - July 21:  San Francisco Silent Film Festival
July 27 - August 2:  San Francisco Japan Film Festival (New People)

I mentioned going to the movies on 60 of 73 days earlier this year.  It was exhausting.  The aforementioned lineup of film festivals looks equally daunting.  Approximately 67 days out of 100 are accounted for in the festival schedule.  That assumes I go every day which will likely not be the case.  However, it also assumes I attend no rep house/art house films which is  likely not be the case either.


Simon Killer, one of my favorite films from the 2013 Indiefest, opens at the Landmark Opera Plaza today.  Graceland, my favorite film from the 2013 CAAMFest, also opens today and resumes Monday (April 29) at the Roxie after the San Francisco Global Vietnamese Film Festival ends its two day run.  It was foolhardy of that festival to counterprogram the SFIFF on a weekend but I suppose they are targeting a different demographic than SFIFF.  I'd like to see Norwegian Wood on Saturday at 9:30 PM but am not sure if I will be able to get there by that time.

I have been a member of the Mechanics' Institute for several years.  When I joined, their Cinema Lit series was one of the selling points but I have yet to attend a single Friday night screening.  I am tentatively targeting the May 24 screening of Marty (1955).  Ernest Borgnine won an Academy Award for his performance in the film and I have long wanted to see it.  May is Paddy Chayefsky month for Cinema Lit.  In addition to Marty, Friday night screenings include The Americanization of Emily, The Catered Affair and The Goddess.  All four films were written by Chayefsky or based on one of his (tele)plays.

I am also anxious to see Blancanieves, a modern day silent film which sets Snow White among Spanish bullfighters.  It's playing at the Landmark Embarcadero Cinemas.

The title of this post refers to a memorable sequence in The Natural in which a motivational speaker compares the New York Knights losing streak to successively fatal diseases.  The Natural is one of those films I can and have watched over and over again.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

From Up on Poppy Hill

I've never been a big fan of Japanese anime.  I don't know why except at some irrational level, I associate anime with children's programming.  Growing up, I recall watching various anime.  My favorite was Battle of the Planets which was the American adaptation of the Japanese series Science Ninja Team Gatchaman.  BOTP used the Japanese anime from SNTG but dubbed over with the voices of Casey Kasem and Ronnie Schnell among other.  It was also heavily edited as explicit violence and even transgender elements were excised.

That was a nice trip down memory lane but doesn't fully explain why I'm mild about Japanese anime 30 years after watching BOTP.  At some level, it may also be that Japanese anime has become too popular for my liking.  When the poseurs arrive, I head for the exits.  I won't belabor the point because after watching From Up on Poppy Hill, I may have turned the corner on Japanese anime.

From Up on Poppy Hill; animation; directed by Gorō Miyazaki; Japanese with subtitles; (2011) - Official Website

I saw From Up on Poppy Hill at the Landmark Embarcadero Cinemas.  I saw the subtitled version but they are also screening the dubbed version.  Check listings for more information.

My late mother was Japanese.  Generations of her family have lived and still live in Yokohama.  We moved from Japan in 1971.  From Up on Poppy Hill (FUoPH) is set in 1963 Yokohama.  My parents were living in Yokohama at the time; I wasn't alive yet.  Based largely on this tenuous connection to the film (along with positive reviews), I decided to see FUoPH.

FUoPH is a Studio Ghibli film.  Studio Ghibli is the only Japanese animation studio I can name.  Studio Ghibli was co-founded by Hayao Miyazaki whose son, Gorō, directed FUoPH.


Umi is a teenage girl living in Yokohama.  Her family's house has been converted into a boarding house since her father is dead and her mother is studying in the US.  She is a very responsible teenager.  She cooks breakfast and generally is the surrogate mother for her two younger sisters and two boarders.

Every morning Umi runs signal flags up a flagpole in her yard.  She can see the ships and boats in Tokyo Bay from her house.  Her father was a sailor and the flags continue a tradition Umi had with her father despite the fact that he is dead and no one may be noticing the flags.  In fact, Shun a classmate of Umi sees the flags daily as he rides his father's tugboat to Yokohama.

At school, Umi becomes attracted to Shun, who is also the charismatic editor of the school's newspaper.  The cause célèbre is the closing of the Latin Quarter or an old building next to their high school which serves as the student union hall.  The dilapidated building is slated for demolition.  The Latin Quarter has become a boys club and the ramshackle appearance scares off girls.  Umi organizes the girls in the class to help clean and renovate the building to show the administrators that the building is useful and valued by the students.

In a parallel plot line, Umi & Shun's attraction becomes apparent to both.  While visiting her house, Umi shows an old photo of his father and two other sailors.  Shun, the adopted son of a tugboat captain, recognizes the photo because his parents have told him that one of the men in the photo is his biological father.  Unfortunately for Umi, it's her father who is identified as Shun's father.  Shun's awkwardly tries to avoid Umi but eventually tells her his reasons and Umi is devastated.  Not only is her first crush her half-brother but it calls into question the honor of her father's memory.

At this juncture, Umi's mother returns from the US.  When Umi asks about Shun's parentage, her mother reveals that Shun's father is another man in the photo who died shortly after Shun was born.  Shun's mother died during childbirth.  Umi's father did not want his friend's son to go to an orphanage so he claimed to be the boy's father and arranged for Shun to be placed with Shun's adoptive parents since Umi was close to being born.

The Shun, Umi & a third student visit the CEO of the company that is planning to develop the land the Latin Quarter sits.  The CEO is an alumni of the school and after taking a shine to Umi, agrees to visit the Latin Quarter.  Meanwhile, Umi still has doubts about her mother's account of Shun's birth.

The CEO's visit is a success.  He is so impressed with the Latin Quarter than he agrees to cancel the planned development.  Meanwhile, Umi & Shun get word that the third sailor in the photo is on a ship in Yokohama Bay and wants to meet with them.  He confirms Umi's mother's story & tells them about his youth with their respective fathers.


FUoPH is a gentle film about teenage life and the modernization of Japan in the lead up to the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.  The song Sukiyaki by Kyu Sakamoto is featured prominently in the soundtrack.  I remember that song among my parents' record collection.

There is a sequence at the beginning where Umi wakes up and begins her routine day which includes raising the flags and making breakfast.  Without dialogue, I found it fascinating and not least of why was that it reminded me of the way my mother used to wash the rice before cooking it.  Masami Nagasawa is the voice actress behind Umi but it was the animation which conveyed much of the loneliness and angst Umi was feeling as well as her attraction to Shun.

Having visited Yokohama, I recall the hilly, terraced plots of land, winding streets and other landmarks depicted in the film.  Although I usually like my films grittier, this film (very Japanese in its outlook on life) definitely touched me.  How much was due to my family's connection to the film's time and setting is debatable.  The innocence of youth is fertile ground for the Japanese with their school uniforms and class spirit.  It's a thin line dividing nostalgic memories of youth with the Japanese subculture fascinated with "kowaii."  FUoPH stayed on the "right" side of the line.  FUoPH was a heartwarming film.


The PFA is having a Studio Ghibli series this summer.  Titled Castles in the Sky: Masterful Anime from Studio Ghibli, the program runs from June 16 to August 25.  I hope to see some of the films in the series.

From Up on Poppy Hill
©2011 Chizuru Takahashi - Tetsuro Sayama - GNDHDDT

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Mafu Cage

During this year's Indiefest,  Kier-la Janisse programmed two film under sidebar program call House of Psychotic Women.  The program cross promoted Janisse's new book, House of Psychotic Women.  On April 11, the Roxie screened two more films featured in Janisse's book.  Janisse was not in attendance but recorded introduction for the two films (in a shaky cell phone cam which made my slightly nauseous).

I had a headache all day that day but I felt good enough to see the first film on program.

The Mafu Cage starring Lee Grant & Carol Kane; directed by Karen Arthur; (1978)

The second half of the double bill was The Witch Who Came From the Sea.  Although it looked interesting and my headache had passed, I chose to go home early to get some extra sleep.

Not having seen the two films in the Indiefest program (Born Innocent and Toys Are Not For Children), I was unsure what to expect with The Mafu Cage.  The 35 mm print which screened at the Roxie that evening was titled Deviation.  I guess some studio execs thought "Mafu" was too confusing.

Ellen (Lee Grant) and Cissy (Carol Kane) are two sisters who live in a mansion inherited from their late father who was Great White Hunter or some sort.  The women spent much of their youth in Africa.  Ellen, the older sister, works as an astronomer at the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles.  I recognized a few exterior shots as locations used in Rebel Without a Cause.  Cissy doesn't seem to have any marketable skills.  In fact, Cissy is downright certifiable.

Cissy has kept a series of primates caged up in the house for quite sometime.  They all meet untimely deaths as Cissy becomes enraged with the animals for reasons I do not recall.  She beats them to death on a routine basis.  In a classic case of co-dependency, Ellen keeps enabling Cissy's behavior by procuring more primates for her.  In the African language they grew up in ape or primates were called Mafu hence the title.

Instead of having her sister committed, Ellen keeps thinking she can handle the situation.  Ellen had promised their father she would look after Cissy but this is taking a promise to a ridiculous extreme.  One insight into Ellen's behavior is that the film strongly implies there was and is lesbian incest between the two sisters. You don't see same sex incest depicted in films very often.  Her sisterly love partially explains why Ellen is resisting the advances of male co-worker.  More likely, her bizarre home arrangement would be too problematic to explain to gentlemen callers.  How to explain the primate caged up in the downstairs bedroom?

With the help of her father's friend (Will Geer), Ellen is able to get an orangutan (credited as Budar).  Ellen promises this will be the last one and if Cissy harms it, she will commit her.  Given Cissy's track record, this seems to border on animal cruelty.  While Ellen slowly comes to admit that her sister is apeshit crazy, it awakens some sexual desires in her.  She realizes how much she has given up to indulge her sister's abnormalities and that guy at the observatory is looking is pretty good.

Cissy inevitable beats the orangutan to death which is quite unlikely since orangutans are stronger than the strongest men much less skinny Carol Kane.  Fortunately for Cissy, Ellen has begun asserting her independence and is away on a business trip when poor Mafu is killed.  Unfortunately for Ellen, her male colleague stops by her house when she out and Cissy, realizing that Ellen is considering starting a life without her kills the man.  Cissy is out of control now.

When Ellen returns, Cissy captures her using a net and locks her up in the mafu cage.  Hysterical and babbling, Cissy seems to realize she gone too far now and Ellen realizes she has lost control of her sister.  Cissy ends up poisoning her sister in the cage.  After she dies, drags Ellen's body out of the cage and props her up in a chair and then locks herself in the cage.  This makes it seems as though Ellen locked Cissy in the cage and committed suicide.  The film ends at this point, so it is a matter of debate whether someone finds Cissy before she dies of thirst & starvation.  I chose to think her death was likely which adds a layer of ex post facto premeditation to her actions.  Even if she is found alive, the situation hints that Ellen was the crazy one and Cissy the victim.  Cissy is crazy alright...crazy like a fox.

The Mafu Cage features a tour de force performance for Carol Kane whose voice can peel paint when she becomes agitated.  No one can play crazy like Carol Kane.  Lee Grant has the more subdued role but is able to hold her own against Kane.  Between the two of them, they create a memorable film.  Add in an African tribal music soundtrack and you have a unique film.  I won't say The Mafu Cage is a great film but it is memorable.  A little too artsy to be considered full-fledged horror, The Mafu Cage is kind of a hybrid exploitation/psychological thriller with art house sensibilities.

I'm glad I caught The Mafu Cage and wished I had felt good enough to see The Witch Who Came From the Sea.  I hope the Roxie programs some more films from Janisse's book.

In her recorded introduction, Janisse closed with an anecdote from the set of The Mafu Cage. Director Karen Arthur tried to staff the crew with as many women as possible since she was one of the few female film directors at the time.  Orangutans have a heightened sense of smell.  When women on the set were have their menstruation, the orangutan would go into a frenzy and the animal wrangler had difficulty controlling Budar.  Arthur had to assign someone on the crew to coordinate Budar's shooting schedule with the menstrual cycles of the female cast & crew members.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Cliff House & Sutro Heights

Tom Wyrsch has had a strong run of locally focused documentaries in the past few years.  First, he directed Watch Horror Films, Keep America Strong!  That documentary spotlighted the local television show Creature Features which ran for 14 years.  It was off the air by the time I moved to the Bay Area but I have heard about it from many viewers, particularly people who were teenagers during its run, 1971 to 1984, which is the same age demographic as me.  I have yet to see Watch Horror Films, Keep America Strong!

Wyrsch folowed that up with Remembering Playland at the Beach which I saw at the Balboa in 2010.  Again, I moved to the Bay Area long after Playland at the Beach closed but have heard stories about it.  The demographic is a little older since Playland closed in 1972.

I guess the success of Remembering Playland at the Beach inspired Wyrsch to move up the road to make his next film - Sutro's: The Palace at Lands End which is about Sutro Baths.  That establishment burned down before I was born and I have yet never heard anyone I know talk about going to the Baths.  I saw Sutro's: The Palace at Lands End at the Balboa in 2011.

Wyrsch's latest film is screening, not surprisingly, at the Balboa.  This time he has focused his lens on the Cliff House as can be gathered from the title of his latest film, The Cliff House & Sutro Heights.

The Cliff House & Sutro Heights; documentary; directed by Tom Wyrsch; (2013) - Official Website

The Cliff House is still in existence.  I've been there to dine, play the old time arcade games at the Musée Mécanique when it was there (it was relocated to Pier 45 in 2002) and see the Camera Obscura.  I think that makes The Cliff House different than the previous films I have seen by Wyrsch.

First, the Cliff House loses the nostalgia and for me, the shroud historical importance which comes from not having ever been there like Playland or Sutro Baths.  My memory of dining at the Cliff House 15+ years ago is that of a slightly overprice meal of mediocre quality with a view of a fogged in Pacific Ocean.  Not much to write home about.  Sutro Heights Park was, in my mind, the wooded and grassy area with statues around the corner from the Cliff House.

Putting aside my opinions of the Cliff House & Sutro Heights Park, The Cliff House feels like Wyrsch has gone to the well one too many times.  Many of the locals interviewed in The Cliff House appeared in Playland and Sutro's.  To a viewer who has seen all three documentaries, Wyrsch seems to be repeating himself.  Indeed, some of the interview subjects mentioned they would spend the day shuttling back & forth between Playland, Sutro Baths and the Cliff House.  It seems like a child's paradise.  I would likely have been doing it if I grew up in the area at the time.  The problem is that Wyrsch has covered this ground before and adds some background scenes regarding Playland and Sutro Baths which I recall from the previous films.

Not putting aside my opinions of the Cliff House & Sutro Heights Park  I wonder how much of nostalgia I would have agreed with if I had experienced Playland and Sutro Baths.  If Wyrsch can wax poetic about the current Cliff House, an establishment I am neutral about at best, what does it say about Playland and Sutro Baths.  Indeed, Wyrsch's documentary and conversations I have had indicate Playland was run down and somewhat seedy at the end.

Ultimately, who am I to challenge another man's nostalgia?  I'm the guy paying the admission price.  It was interesting to learn about the Victorian Chateau Cliff House which is the most grandiose of the four or five versions which have existed.  Gone for more than 100 years, that version only existed for 11 years before one of the many fires on the site destroyed it.  A freighter carrying gunpowder or some explosive ran aground nearby and exploded thus raining fiery debris on the Cliff House.  It was interesting the current Cliff House superimposed on the Victorian Chateau to get a sense of how much larger it was.

I don't know if I'm going to see anymore of Wyrsch's films if he continues documenting the Sunset District.  I say that but I'm always interested in San Francisco history.  Some of the interview subject mentioned the Merrie Way Stands which I was completely unaware of and sounds intriguing.  Also, I've always wanted to learn more about Fleishhacker Pool.

The Sutro Cliff House (aka Victorian Chateau, aka Gingerbread Palace)

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Sapphires & 2013 DocFest Venues

The Sapphires played at this year's Mostly British Film Festival and Cinequest.  At the time, I knew that Landmark Theaters would exhibit the film sometime in 2013 so I skipped the film festival screenings.  Casual conversations with festival goers revealed that it was well liked by the audiences.

A couple weeks ago, I drove to Palo Alto to see the film at the Landmark Aquarius.  The man in front of me at the box office was compelled to tell the cashier that he had seen the film the day before and liked it so much that he was bringing his wife & granddaughter.

The Sapphires is a film that would probably have screened at a Landmark screen in SF but since the closure of the Lumiere and Bridge, the chain has 30% fewer screens in SF.  I had to go to the East Bay or South Bay to see The Sapphires.  Given that it is on its 4th or 5th week at the Aquarius, it must be popular with the audiences.  There were probably 30 or 40 people at my screening.

The Sapphires starring Chris O'Dowd, Deborah Mailman, Jessica Mauboy, Shari Sebbens & Miranda Tapsell; directed by Wayne Blair; (2012) - Official Facebook


Speaking of the Aquarius, I noted that the upcoming DocFest (June 6 to 23) is venturing to the South Bay for the first time in my memory.  The Aquarius is hosting DocFest from June 9 to 11.  In addition, the New Parkway in Oakland is hosting DocFest from June 14-16 and the Rio Theater in Santa Cruz is playing host from June 21 to 23.  The main venue is the Roxie from June 6 to 20 but there are also San Francisco screenings at the Balboa from June 7 to 9.


The Sapphires is an Australian production which premiered at last year's Cannes Film Festival.  It was #1 at the box office when it opened in wide theatrical release in Australia last year.

Based on a true story involving the mother of one of the screenwriters, The Sapphires is set in 1968 Australia.  The film opens in the Outback where the three McCrae sisters sing country music.  There is the eldest sister Gail (Deborah Mailman) who is the leader of the group, both on and off the stage.  The second sister is Cynthia (Miranda Tapsell) whose character was least developed in the film.  Youngest sister is Julie (Jessica Mauboy) who has the best voice, is the most ambitious about her singing career and has a son born out of wedlock during a time when that was still scandalous.  It should be noted tha the three girls are Aboriginal Australians.

While competing in a local bar's amateur night contest (which they lose due to racism), they meet the drunken emcee/house pianist Dave Loveless (Chris O'Dowd).  He protests the decision with the bar manager and is fired for his troubles.  Loveless (who is an Irish immigrant) approaches Gail about teaming up with the girls as their manager/pianist/musical director.  The three girls have seen an advertisement looking for singing groups to play in front of US servicemen in Vietnam and are considering auditioning for the gig in Melbourne.  Loveless advises them to ditch the C&W music and become a R&B/Soul group as that will play better in front of the American.  In addition, Loveless may be pasty white on the outside but he is Motown black on the inside.

In Melbourne they pick up the fourth Sapphire, their cousin Kay (Shari Sebbens) who is light-skinned enough to pass for white.  Tired of passing herself off as something she is not, as well as the tedious Tupperware parties, Kay sees the trip to Vietnam as exciting and a way to reconnect with her cousins whom she has been separated from for many years.

Loveless whips them into shapes with matching costumes, synchronized choreography, rehearsed Motown standards and by forcing Gail to cede lead vocals to Julie.  Jessica Mauboy actually sang on the soundtrack whereas the other three were dubbed.  I still wasn't "wowed" by on-screen Sapphires but I like Motown music more than most.  Among the numbers I can recall them performing were I'll Take You There, I Heard It Through the Grapevine and Sugar Pie Honey Bunch.  Anyway, they get the job and go to Vietnam where long-simmering issues flare up between the girls.

First, Dave & Gail continue to bump heads over leadership of the group.  As any moviegoer knows, four times out of five, this means they are actually attracted to each other.  The Sapphires doesn't goes against the odds.  The two begin a relationship although Dave's drinking and the fact he is married puts some strain on the relationship.

Additionally, Gail & Kay have longstanding issues.  According to the film, the Australian government would take Aboriginal children from their parents and raise them "white."  I recall reading this somewhere before.  Anyway, this happened to Kay as a child.  Being the oldest, Gail was supposed to hide the children when the government agents came but on one such raid, Kay was taken.  Gail has felt guilt ever since and Kay has an identity crisis since she has been raised to disdain the Aboriginal ways and everyone assumes she is white.

Anyway, the five of them tour Vietnam as tensions and passions rise.  It culminates with the five of them having to cross a combat zone without military escort in order to play the biggest show of the tour.    By this point, The Sapphires has descended into melodrama but not to worry, there is a happy ending.  I won't recount the final part of the film except all the issues between the group members are resolved.

Although predictable, there is something winsome about The Sapphires.  Mailman and O'Dowd do have a chemistry and they don't look like typical Hollywood actors.  The film presents a new angle on a familiar plot.  How many films about Aboriginal girl bands have you seen?  Finally, the costumes they wear are 60's chic, at times reminding me of a Bob Hope USO show or a Supremes concert.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Witness For the Prosecution & Stage Fright

Although I only saw one film from the PFA's Hitchcock retrospective, I was able to see another of his films at Stanford last weekend.  The program was a double feature with works by Billy Wilder & Alfred Hitchcock.  Marlene Dietrich starred in both films.

Witness for the Prosecution starring Charles Laughton, Tyrone Power & Marlene Dietrich; directed by Billy Wilder; (1957)
Stage Fright starring Jane Wyman & Marlene Dietrich; directed by Alfred Hitchcock; (1950)

Witness for the Prosecution was based on an Agatha Christie play and short story of the same name (the short story added the article "The" to the title).

For the past few years, the Stanford has been showing films between 5 and 7 days per week with Mondays & Tuesdays typically dark.  I noticed in the current schedule, they are only screening films 4 days per week with Wednesday added to the dark days.  I guess business must be slow.  I went to the 7:30 PM screening of Witness for the Prosecution on Sunday, April 14.  Although there were a lot of empty seats, the Stanford had more people in it than I can remember at any of the screenings I have attended.

Stage Fright was not part of the PFA's three month Hitchcock program.


I'm not a big fan of Agatha Christie's works but mostly enjoyed Witness for the Prosecution in no small part due to Charles Laughton's performance.

On his first day back to work from an extended, Sir Wilfrid Robarts (Laughton) is approached by a potential client.  Robarts, a London barrister, is visited by a solicitor and his client, Leonard Vole (Tyrone Power).  I always have to look up the difference between a barrister & solicitor.  Barristers are the ones who wear the wigs and argue in court.

There is significant circumstantial evidence pointing to Vole having killed a wealthy widow.  Vole says his wife Christine (Marlene Dietrich) will provide his alibi.  Despite his ill health and the disapproval of his nurse (Elsa Lanchester, Laughton's wife), Robarts is intrigued by Voles and accepts his case.  Robarts is not dissuaded after Mrs. Voles provides a less than enthusiastic alibi.

As the title of the film indicates, Christine ends up testifying for the prosecution and backs away from the alibi.  I won't give away the ending but there is a double surprise.

Dietrich's famous gams (technically only the left leg is visible) make a memorable appearance in a makeshift German cabaret in a scene where she meets Voles.  Laughton provides a lot of comedic relief in his interactions with his nurse which is only enhanced by the knowledge that the actors are husband and wife.  Marlene Dietrich, on the north side of her 50s when the film was made, looks radiant.  When you see a star like Dietrich, properly lit and filmed, you understand how Hollywood make their stars shine.

Witness for the Prosecution was an entertaining film.  I was more interested in Laughton & Dietrich's performances than the twists and turns in the plot but I'm glad I finally saw the film.


Jane Wyman was 32 years old when she made Stage Fright.  She was a couple years removed from her marriage to Ronald Reagan and had had three children at the time of filming.  Despite this, she looked much younger in Stage Fright.  Once again, the magic of movies.  That's the long way of saying I found Wyman to be very attractive in Stage Fright.

Jonathan Cooper (Richard Todd) is on the run from the law as the film begins.  His friend Eve (Wyman) helps him escape London and stashes him at her father's seaside cottage (Alastair Sim in a great performance).  Cooper is suspected in the death of Charlotte Inwood's (Dietrich) husband.  Inwood is a celebrity singer/actress in London and Cooper is one of her chorus dancers.

The film leads the audience to believe Inwood murdered her husband but Hitchcock pulls, what I considered, a second-rate plot device in order to achieve a surprise ending.  Along the way, Eve takes an alias in order to be hired on temporarily as Eve's personal assistant.  She also begins a romance with the lead police detective (Michael Wilding) in order to get inside information about the investigation which she can feed to Cooper.  Eve starts the film as being in love (unrequitedly) with Cooper which explains her willingness to harbor a fugitive.  By the end of the film, Eve has feelings for the cop but is steadfast in her belief in Cooper's innocence.

Stage Fright is a delightful film full of Hitchcock's cheeky humor.  Not quite as dark as his classic suspense films, Stage Fright seems more like a comedy with some suspenseful elements.  Wyman gets to shine with disguises and accents and bantering with her father and the detective.  Dietrich gets to play herself or at least her stereotype - an aging diva with a voracious appetite for men which serves her well because she spits them out as soon as she is done with them.  She even gets to sing La Vie en Rose.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Alfred Hitchcock: The Shape of Suspense

2013 seems to be the Year of Hitchcock.  I don't know why as this year does not seem to be an anniversary of anything of significance in his life.  Hitchcock seems popular again since Hitchcock was released and The Girl aired on HBO in 2012.  Anthony Hopkins & Toby Jones portrayed The Master in those productions, respectively.  His Vertigo was named the Greatest Film of All Time in the 2012 critics' poll conducted by Sight and Sound.

The PFA is at the tail end of an ambitious program titled Alfred Hitchcock: The Shape of Suspense.  If my counting is correct, there are 28 film screenings in the program (January 11 through April 24).  The program still has two films left (Psycho and Frenzy) but I will not be able to attend either.

In addition, the San Francisco Silent Film Festival will be screening nine of his silent films from June 14 to 16 at the Castro. I will be attending that program.  I haven't decided how many of the screenings I will attend.  The films being screened (with accompaniment) will be:

Blackmail  (Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra)
Champagne  (Stephen Horne)
Downhill  (Stephen Horne)
The Ring  (Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra)
The Manxman  (Stephen Horne)
The Farmer's Wife  (Stephen Horne)
Easy Virtue  (accompaniment to be announced)
The Pleasure Garden  (Stephen Horne)
The Lodger  (Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra)

These films are collectively known as the "Hitchcock 9" and will play at the PFA from August 16 to 31.


Way back in January, I saw my one and only film in the PFA's The Shape of Suspense program.

The Man Who Knew Too Much starring Leslie Banks, Edna Best & Peter Lorre; directed by Alfred Hitchcock; (1934)

Hitchcock remade this film under the same title with James Stewart & Doris Day in 1956.  The film is famous because Day sang Que Sera, Sera (one of her biggest hits).

The 1934 version starts off in St. Moritz during winter, not Morocco during summer.  Leslie Banks and Edna Best play the Stewart & Day roles, respectively.  The 1934 film hits all the plot points as the 1956 version which I am familiar with but doesn't quite feel right.  I should be honest and say at the time I saw the film, I was unimpressed so my notes are sketchy at best.  As this paragraph alludes to, I spent a lot of mental energy synchronizing the two versions of the film.  The assassination at the Royal Albert Hall?  Check.  The scene at the church?  Check.  In the 1934 version, the boy is held in a working class/ghetto area near the London docks.  In the 1956 version, the boy is held at a posh embassy residence where Day gets to sing her song.

The scene that sticks in my mind the most after three months is the climax which involves an extended gun battle between an army of cops & the kidnappers.  I am likely conditioned by modern films with loud gun battles but I thought the final showdown had a tinny sound which reminded me of a gallery shooting arcade.

Peter Lorre was memorable in an early role (just a few years removed from Fritz Lang's M).  All things considered, I prefer the 1956 version of The Man Who Knew Too Much.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Master Ginger & Rosa On the Road

I saw three well regarded films during the last week of March.  I thought highly of all three.

The Master starring Joaquin Phoenix & Philip Seymour Hoffman; directed by Paul Thomas Anderson; (2012) - Official Website
Ginger & Rosa starring Elle Fanning, Alessandro Nivola & Alice Englert; with Christina Hendricks, Timothy Spall, Oliver Platt & Annette Benning; directed by Sally Potter; (2012) - Official Facebook
On the Road starring Sam Riley & Garrett Hedlund; with Kristen Stewart, Amy Adams & Kirsten Dunst; directed by Walter Salles; (2012) - Official Website

I saw The Master at the Castro in 70 mm.  I saw the other two films at the Landmark Embarcadero.  I have noticed that since Landmark closed the Lumiere, I have been going to the Embarcadero more than the Opera Plaza.  I have also noticed some films don't even open in San Francisco proper anymore.  The Sapphires opened at the Landmark Aquarius in Palo Alto without ever playing in SF.

Ginger & Rosa was the opening night film at the 2013 Cinequest.


What can I really add about The Master that has not already been written?  I could point out that Philip Seymour Hoffman has been in all of PT Anderson's feature films except There Will Be Blood.  Hoffman seems comfortable on screen under Anderson's direction; perhaps as a result of their long partnership.  However, Hoffman always seems comfortable on screen.  Although I may not always like his films, I always like his performances.  Chameleon-like in his ability to adapt to the needs of whatever role he is playing, I have always impressed with Hoffman...and then forget he was in the film.  I forgot his, albeit small, role in The Big Lebowski.  I forgot about his role as Ben Stiller's sidekick in Along Came Polly.  I had to be reminded he was Art Howe in Moneyball.  Hoffman has this odd ability to create memorable supporting characters who fade into the background after my memory of the film recedes.  I remember Steve Buscemi from Lebowski, Alec Baldwin from Polly and...not too much Moneyball but that's a different matter.

Anyway, I like the period costumes from The Master.  Joaquin Phoenix frequently mumbled his lines making them unintelligible; his character seemed to have a harelip.  There is a great set piece where Hoffman, Phoenix and Amy Adams are in a humongous, high-ceilinged office the size of a basketball court.  Actually, the film is full of memorable scenes.  Hoffman sings this toe-tapping bawdy song and either he and/or Phoenix imagine all the women in the room naked.  In another scene Hoffman rapid fires questions to Phoenix as part of the process of indoctrination.  To be honest, there is a fair amount of homoerotic undertones in the relationship between Hoffman's Lancaster Dodd & Phoenix's Freddie Quell.

Is The Master about a cult?  Yes.  Is it a thinly veiled jab at Scientology?  I don't enough about Scientology to answer.  At the core of the film is the relationship between Dodd & Quell which is open to multiple interpretations.


Ginger & Rosa is set during during the Cuban Missile Crisis in London.  Ginger (Elle Fanning) and Rosa (Alice Englert who is Jane Campion's daughter) are best friends and inseparable in the way 16 year old girls can be.  Ginger's home life is strained as her father (Alessandro Nivola) and mother (Christina Hendricks) separate and Ginger decides to live with her leftist father who politics are more in keeping with her own.  Ginger is one of those idealistic young women who thinks she can change the world or at least has a moral obligation to try to change the world. Rosa's interest are less political.  In fact, soon after the separation, Rosa's main interest is Ginger's father with whom she begins an affair.

Understandably, this puts a strain on Ginger which her best friend and father seem oblivious of.  Combined with the tension about the Cuban blockade, Ginger cracks under the strain.  That scene and lead up to it are showcases for Fanning's talents.  Fanning's performance in Ginger & Rosa is exceptional considering she was only 13 or 14 when the film was made.  Nivola as her father is quite effective as Ginger's selfish and self-rationalizing father.

Annette Bening, Oliver Platt & Timothy Spall show up as leftist colleagues of Ginger's father.


On the Road is based on Jack Kerouac's autobiographical novel of the same name.  It has been over 20 years since I read that book so I cannot recall how closely the film follows the novel.  Although I enjoyed the film, I am ultimately conflicted about it.  I feel compelled to compare the film to my memories of the book and my preconceived notions going into the film.  I guess when they tackle a literary icon like On the Road, expectations are unrealistically high.

Sal Paradise (Sam Riley) & Dean Moriarty (Garrett Hedlund) are pseudonyms for Jack Kerouac & Neal Cassady, respectively.  As the title implies, they hit the highways travelling from New York to Denver and San Francisco and Mexico.  Moriarty is quite the marrying man and his two wives have the juiciest roles in the film.  Kristen Stewart is Marylou, Moriarty's teenage first wife.  After getting an annulment, he marries Camille (Kristin Dunst) who is a thinly disguised Carolyn Cassady, Neal's long-time wife.  Viggo Mortensen shows up as William Burroughs with Amy Adams as his ill-fated wife.

Like Sal Paradise, I'm having writer's block on this film.  I can't quite figure out how I felt about it and writing about it is not clarifying my thoughts.  I liked it but there is more I want to say but I cannot articulate.  Actually, I'm not even sure I can conceptualize it.  I guess that is appropriate for a film based on a seminal work of the Beat Generation writers.  Maybe a road trip would help me find my voice.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Chronicle of My Mother and Zero Dark Thirty

I saw a double feature at the 4 Star in late February.  At least, I thought it was a double feature.  The movie listing wasn't clear and no one cleared the theater between screenings.  In fact, the turnaround time between the end of Chronicle of My Mother and Zero Dark Thirty was one of the quickest I can  recall.

Chronicle of My Mother starring Kôji Yakusho; directed by Masato Harada; Japanese with subtitles; (2011)  - Official Website
Zero Dark Thirty starring Jessica Chastain; directed by Kathryn Bigelow; (2012) - Official Website

Zero Dark Thirty was the fifth (and to date final) film I saw which was nominated for Best Picture at the 2013 Oscars.  The other nominated films I saw were Argo, Django Unchained, Lincoln & Beasts of the Southern Wild.  Of those five films, Zero Dark Thirty was my favorite.

Zero Dark Thirty tells the near decade long search for Osama bin Laden.  The main character is a CIA operative named Maya (Jessica Chastain).  After surviving an assassination attempt and the Islamabad Marriott Hotel bombing as well as having her close friend be killed at the Camp Chapman attack, Maya  becomes obsessed with finding bin Laden.  The highlight of the film is the storming of bin Laden compound Abbottabad by SEAL Team 6 which resulted in bin Laden death.  This operation is told in near real-time  and devoid of the pyrotechnics associated with modern action films.  Even though I knew how it would end, it was still very taut and lasted for 20 minutes or so.  I may be wrong as time seemed to stand still as I was watching the SEALs clear the house room by room.  The fact that Bigelow could maintain my interest when I knew the outcome says a lot about her skills as director.

Another aspect of the film which has received considerable media attention is the torture scenes.  Waterboarding and other forms of "enhanced interrogation" are depicted on screen with what I imagine is quite a bit of reality.  That they yield valuable and actionable intelligence is criticized by some as validating the use of these techniques.  I am of a different opinion because I see so many films.  Zero Dark Thirty is a movie and a fictionalized account of real events.  The use of torture in those scenes added to the dramatic effect of the film and as such I wholly support Bigelow incorporating them in the film.  That has nothing to do with real life.  As much as some would have the public believe that films drive real world actions, I am skeptical.  It certainly doesn't drive me actions.  I've seen countless murders and fights at the movies and I've never killed anyone and haven't been in a fight since I was 10 years old.  To paraphrase René Magritte's famous painting, this is not torture.


Chronicle of My Mother had the just the hint of an Ozu film.  The camera wasn't static but the film explored the dynamics between three generations of a family with a relatively minimal amount of sentimentality.

The film is based on Yasushi Inoue's autobiographical novel of the same name.  Set over 15 years between the late 1950s and early 1970s, Chronicle of My Mother follows the Igami family.  The patriarch is Kosaku (Kôji Yakusho).  Yakusho is familiar to me from such films as Hara-Kiri, 13 Assassins and Shall We Dance?  Kosaku is dealing with two troublesome women in his life.  He has a strained relationship with his mother (Kiki Kirin) who abandoned him or more accurately put him in the care of her father's mistress at the end or end stages of WWII.  This is still a sore spot for Kosaku whether he cares to admit it or not.  Kosaku is also at loggerheads with his headstrong daughter  Kotoko (Miyazaki Aoi).  Kosaku is an author and the publication of his books seems to be a cottage industry.  He enlists his four daughters to assemble the books and ship them although Kotoko frequently refuses.  Kotoko really resents her father self-centeredness although she has less inhibition about expressing her resentment towards her parent than Kosaku.

As the grandmother slides into dementia, she lives with her son and granddaughters.  Kotoko observes the strained relationship between mother and son as she grows into a young woman.  As the softens towards his aging mother, the daughter hardens towards her implacable father.  Kosaku has a protégé who shows interest in Kotoko to the objection of her father.

The plot meanders without announcing its final destination except the grandmother's death is inevitable.  The plot essentially takes the audience along this family's journey.  Several of the members (one of Kosaku's sisters is memorable) can try one's patience but there is a decency about them and genuine love between them as well as a Japanese sense of practicality.

Without being able to identify exactly what it is about the film which I found appealing (strong acting, period costumes, lush visuals, etc.), the totality of the film made the viewing experience worthwhile.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Who is Arch Hall Jr.?

In early February, the Roxie presented a triple feature of Arch Hall Jr. films.  I saw ⅔ of the program.

The Choppers starring Arch Hall Jr.; directed by Leigh Jason; (1961)
The Sadist starring Arch Hall Jr., Richard Alden, Marilyn Manning, Don Russell & Helen Hovey; directed by James Landis; (1963)

I missed Wild Guitars (1962).

The night was hosted by Johnny Legend and I learned from his introduction that Hall Jr. was a teenage singer & actor.  I use the past tense but Hall Jr. is still alive but after 1965 he gave up acting and became a cargo airline pilot.  If there is an Arch Hall Jr. then there must be a Arch Hall Sr.  There was and Sr. was instrumental in his namesake's acting career.  He served as producer, screenwriter and/or co-star on all of his sons films of which there were seven.

The films were B grade and frankly Jr. didn't seem to have much acting ability.  Of course, he was all of 17 years old in The Choppers and still hadn't turned 20 in The Sadist.  I thought he looked a little like a young John C. Reilly.

In The Choppers, he plays the leader of a teenage gang of car thieves.  Using live chickens on the back of a flatbed truck as cover, the boys strip or chop the abandoned cars on the side of the road in nothing flat.  Arch Hall Sr. newscaster narration explains the specifics.  They use walkie-talkies to communicate between Cruiser (Hall Jr.) who is the lookout and the crew.  They even used coded words like they are in a combat fighter squadron (which Hall Sr. was during WWII).  It was all kind of silly as far as juvenile delinquent (JD) films go.  The boys are selling the chopped parts to a junkyard owner who double crosses them after they get too big for their britches.  That leads to a shootout with the police which is fairly jarring given the lighter tone of the film up to that point.  Hall Jr. was adequate in a role which didn't require much acting range.

The Sadist is a more ambitious film.  Three school teachers (Richard Alden, Helen Hovey & Don Russell) drive to LA to see the Dodgers' Opening Day game.  The radio broadcast leading up to the game serves as a time marker for the day's events.  Their car breaks down but they make it a relatively remote road side garage.  Initially, they can't the proprietor so Alden starts to work on the car himself with the tools and parts on the premises.

After awhile, Charles Tibbs (Hall Jr.) and his near mute girlfriend (Marilyn Manning) show up.  Tibbs & his girl are based on Charles Starkweather & Caril Ann Fugate who also be portrayed in Terrence Malick's Badlands.  Before long, Tibbs is terrorizing the three teachers while forcing Alden to fix the car so he can use it for his getaway.  The owner of the garage & his family were killed by Tibbs and he was disposing of the bodies when the three arrived.

As you can imagine, the film will succeed or fail based on the performance of Hall as Tibbs.  Hall plays the character as a sneering, inbred psychopath who obviously has sadistic tendencies.  Imagine a less subtle version of the rednecks in Deliverance.  Rather than by indifferent to his victims' suffering, Tibbs enjoys it and seems nearly orgasmic when threatening or hurting one of the teachers.  Maybe if the film had been more stylized, the performance could have fit in but Alden, Hovey & Russell play their roles without a hint of exaggeration or irony.  Hall comes off as hammy

Whatever shortcomings I can point out about The Sadist, I will admit that it kept my interest throughout.    I wonder how the film would have turned out with a different director and cast.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

The Puzzle Within the Castro Theater's April Calendar

A long time ago, I was told that there were puzzles hidden in the Castro Theater's monthly calendar.  The clues were the actors shown on the dates the theater was closed.  I didn't give it much thought but a few months ago, I immediately noticed a number of Carols (or Carroll in the case of O'Connor) in a calendar.  I couldn't figure out all of the actors' names that month.  I believe it was the December calendar and the Carols were a reference to Christmas carols.

I mentioned this in passing to a co-worker and while perusing the April calendar, he recognized Anne Francis from Honey West, a mid-1960s television show I am unfamiliar with.  We confirmed it by the mole to the right of her lower lip.  After additional inspection, he claimed another actor was "that woman from Fargo."  I didn't recognize Frances McDormand because her photo from Crimewave was in black & white.  That was a very subtle but effective misdirect because by making the photo B&W, it made me think of actresses from the Golden Age of Hollywood.

With those two valuable assists, I am able (for the first time) to identify all the actors in one of the Castro's monthly calendars.

April 9 - Kay Francis
April 15 - Francis Albert Sinatra
April 23 - Frances Farmer
April 29 - Anne Francis
April 30 - Frances McDormand

What is the significance of Francis or Frances?  I suspect it is because on April 18, 1906, the city of St. Francis had its famous earthquake.

Castro Theater Calendar

Friday, April 12, 2013

The Vagaries of the Kabuki's Admission Prices

In keeping with the renewed focus, CAAMFest seemed to screen fewer films than past years.  At times, I was hard pressed to find a screening I really wanted to see.  I left some gaps in my schedule but can only think of two films I regret missing - Seeking Asian Female and Postcards from the Zoo.  SAF will be airing on PBS' Independent Lens on May 6.

With long stretches of downtime, I squeezed in three non-CAAMFest films during the run of that festival.

Stoker starring Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman & Matthew Goode; directed by Chan-wook Park; (2013) - Official Website
Strange Days starring Ralph Fiennes & Angela Bassett; with Juliette Lewis, Tom Sizemore & Vincent D'Onofrio; directed by Kathryn Bigelow; (1995)
Hitler's Children; documentary; directed by Chanoch Zeevi; German, Hebrew & English with subtitles; (2011) - Official Website

I saw Stoker at the Sundance Kabuki, Strange Days at the Castro and Hitler's Children at the YBCA.

Strange Days was the third film of a Midnites for Maniacs triple bill.  The other two films were Rocky III and Luc Besson's The Professional.  In hindsight, I wish I would have also seen The Professional on the Castro screen as opposed to Nice Girls Crew 2 at CAAMFest.


I can only recall having seen two films at the Sundance Kabuki which weren't film festival screenings.  Buying tickets through the film festivals' websites saved me the puzzling ordeal of deciphering the Kabuki's amenity fee chart.

My memory is hazy but I recall Sundance closed the Kabuki for an extended period and when it reopened, they instituted the assigned seating and amenity fee policies.  Assigned seating seems a little pretentious for a movie theater although some of my co-workers like it.  The assigned seating doesn't get my goat...the dreaded amenity fees do.  The Sundance Kabuki's admission price and amenity fee tables are a thing of beauty unless you are one paying them.  

Why We Have an Amenity Fee

NO ON SCREEN ADVERTISING.  No annoying television ads before the movies, a huge revenue source for all other theatre chains. 

RESERVED SEATING.  All of our seats are reserved for all shows. No waiting in line or running to get a good seat. Sit with your friends. Select your seats and print tickets at home on-line, or come to the theatre and select your seats at the box office or a kiosk. 

 ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY.  In an industry that notoriously ignores "green" ideas, we try to be an evolving conscientious citizen with our extensive building remodel and in our daily practices. 

SUPPORT FOR LOCAL ARTISTS.   Sundance Cinemas supports local artists in keeping with the philosophy of Robert Redford. 

So the amenity fee covers the lost revenue from those ads and previews before films, covers the cost of software & hardware allowing for reserved seating, covers added costs of being green and goes to support local artists.  I'm cynical but I'll accept those words at face value.

What I don't understand is why the fee is semi-hidden.  The posted admission price was $11.50 but they charged me $13.50 and to make it more confusing the receipt was in the amount of $11.50.  I had an inkling the difference was the amenity fee so I didn't challenge the discrepancy with the cashier.  

Also the sheer number of pricing combinations is amazing.  By my estimation, there are about a dozen different prices (admission price + amenity fee) I would be charged depending on the day and time of the film screening I attend.  When you take into account that Seniors and Children have different admission prices and that there are different admission prices for 3D films, there must be 50 or more pricing combinations.  Changing their prices must be a major software update.


Stoker was directed by Chan-wook Park, the South Korean director of Oldboy, Lady Vengeance and more.  As far as I am aware, Stoker is Park's first English language film.  I remembered stars Mia Wasikowska from That Evening Sun and Matthew Goode from Burning Man.  Curious to see what these actors (plus Nicole Kidman) could do under the helm of Park, I snuck away from CAAMFest long enough to view Stoker.  The title of the film refers to the surname of the family involved - teenager India Stoker (Wasikowska), her mother Evelyn (Kidman) and her paternal uncle Charlie (Goode).  India's father, Evelyn's husband and Charlie's older brother, Richard (Dermot Mulroney) has just passed away.  Long travelling around the world, Charlie returns home for Richard's funeral and promptly begins a cozy relationship with Evelyn who doesn't seem to be grieving much for her husband.

Stoker could also refer to Charlie whose appearance stokes passion in Evelyn and trepidation but eventually passion in India also. It could also refer to Bram Stoker, author of Dracula although vampires are not present in the film.  It's actually India's bloodlust which is really being stoked.

India is a little suspicious of her uncle whom her parents have never told of her about.  She is odd teenager on the verge of womanhood.  However, Kidman is already there and stakes a claim on the handsome Charlie. The sets off a twisted love triangle between mother, daughter & uncle.  Although Evelyn comes off as a cold bitch, she is the most well adjusted of the three.

Stoker picks up steam as India becomes more sexually curious and her passions commingle and converge with Charlie's secret.  I won't give away the secret but let's just say Charlie hasn't been globetrotting.  With some memorable cinematography (a scene where a spray of blood splashes against green grass is memorable), stylish sets and and great performances out of the lead three, Stoker never gets under you skin.  Instead you watch the fevered film with a rapt admiration for Park and the actor's skills.


Strange Days is a film I don't recall.  However, for the past year (at least), Jesse Hawthorne Ficks has been showing the trailer for the film at his periodic Midnites for Maniacs screenings.  It looked cool and has an impressive pedigree.  Kathryn Bigelow directed and James Cameron wrote the film.  Ralph Fiennes, two years after Schindler's List and one year before The English Patient is the lead actor.  Angela Bassett, two years removed from What's Love Got to Do With It, is the female lead.  Juliette Lewis, Tom Sizemore and Vincent D'Onofrio costar in the film.

The premise of Strange Days is a device called a SQUID (Superconducting Quantum Interference Device).  The SQUID device attaches to one's head and records the memories of the wearer.  The recording can be played back for another person.  Of course, if the user is doing something boring while wearing the device, his memories aren't worth much.  However, if s/he is doing something intense (like robbing a Chinese food restaurant or having sex), the memories are worth more.  SQUIDs are military devices and bootleg copies are illegal so you have to go to a black marketer like ex-LAPD cop Lenny Nero (Fiennes).

The film is set in the final days of 1999 (no mention of Y2K).  LA is a dystopian society which seems under siege.  Wealthy people hire bodyguards.  Lenny's friend Mace (Bassett) is one such bodyguard.  She disapproves of Lenny's SQUID dealing but forgives him because she has feelings of unrequited love towards him.  Lenny still has feelings for his ex (Juliette Lewis).

This synopsis is getting long.  There are two inspired scenes in the film.  In one scene, a rapist/murderer wears a SQUID device during an attack.  In a moment of true perversity, the attacker connects a second SQUID device to his own and puts the 2nd SQUID on the victim.  As the blindfolded victim is being attacked, she can "see" the attack from her assailant's point of view.

The second impressive scene is a massive crowd scene (I think this was pre-CGI).  A crowd is gathered for New Year's Eve and two dirty cops (D'Onofrio and William Fichtner) are chasing Mace in the crowd.  As they attack her, it starts a riot which is quite the spectacle.

Although the technology is hit and miss when compared to where we are at today, Bigelow's direction is exceptional.  I have noticed that she is able to ratchet up and sustain tension at fevered levels in The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty.  She does that again or more accurately, she did it before in Strange Days.


Hitler's Children is a documentary about the children, grandchildren, nieces & nephews of high ranking Nazi Party members.  Descendant's of Goering, Himmler and others appear on camera.  Although the premise sounded interesting, it appears that most of the subject are fairly well adjusted so there wasn't a lot of fertile ground to cover.  In all cases except one, the subject did not know or barely remembered their Nazi progenitor.  The exception was Niklas Frank, youngest child of Hans Frank, Governor-General of Poland.  The younger Frank was six years old when WWII ended and seven when his father was executed; old enough to recall the man who name is infamous.  Niklas largely repudiates his father's actions which seems like the only sensible thing to do when your father is a high-ranking Nazi.  Still, he recalls paternal moments with the man which humanizes both father & son.

Hermann Goering's daughter lives in New Mexico (near Santa Fe) and bears a strong resemblance.  I think Himmler kids chose to be sterilized and someone's descendants changed their name.

I'm light on details because I didn't learn much new from the film and it was a bit of a slog to get through.  The concept was more interesting than the execution of the film.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

2013 CAAMFest

The San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival has rebranded itself as CAAMFest.  What is behind the renaming?  It seems they want to expand the scope of the festival.  "Film. Music. Food" is their new tagline.  CAAM stands for the Center for Asian American Media.  I doubt the typical festival attendee is aware of that acronym.

As I mentioned before, CAAMFest rescheduled itself so as not to conflict with the final weekend of Cinequest.  In addition, CAAMFest dropped San Jose from the lineup.  Typically, the final 3 or 4 days of the festival were held at Camera Cinemas in San Jose.  There were no San Jose screenings this year.  Festival director Masashi Niwano mentioned they were going to have screenings in San Jose later in the year but did not say anything more specific.

I saw 18 programs - one at the Castro, three at the Great Star, six at the Viz and eight at the Kabuki.  The 2013 CAAMFest marked the first time I had been in the Great Star Theater on Jackson St.

The Cheer Ambassadors; documentary; directed by Luke Cassady-Dorion; Thai & English with subtitles; (2012) - Official Website
Graceland starring Arnold Reyes; directed by Ron Morales; Tagalog with subtitles; (2012) - Official Website
High Tech, Low Life; documentary; directed by Stephen Maing; Mandarin with subtitles; (2012) - Official Website
The Land of Hope starring Isao Natsuyagi, Naoko Ohtani, Jun Murakami & Megumi Kagurazaka; directed by Sion Sono; Japanese with subtitles; (2012) - Official Website
When Night Falls starring Nai An; directed by Ying Liang; Mandarin with subtitles; (2012)
Sunset Stories starring Monique Gabriela Curnen & Sung Kang; directed by Ernesto Foronda & Silas Howard; (2012) - Official Website
Abigail Harm starring Amanda Plummer & Tetsuo Kuramochi; with Will Patton & Burt Young; directed by Lee Issac Chung; (2012) - Official Website
Dead Dad starring Kyle Arrington, Jenni Melear & Lucas Kwan Peterson; directed by Ken J. Adachi; (2012) - Official Website
Jiseul starring Sung Min-chul & Yang Jung-Won; directed by Muel O.; Korean with subtitles; (2012) - Official Facebook
15 starring Melvin Chen, Erick Chun & Melvin Lee; directed by Royston Tan; Hokkien & Mandarin with subtitles; (2003) - Official Website
When the Bough Breaks; documentary; directed by Ji Dan; Mandarin with subtitles; (2011)
Nice Girls Crew 2 starring Lynn Chen, Michelle Krusiec & Sheetal Sheth; directed by Tanuj Chopra; (2013) - Official Facebook
Beijing Flickers starring Duan Bowen, Li Xinyun & Shi Shi; directed by Zhang Yuan; Mandarin with subtitles; (2012)
Someone I Used to Know starring West Liang, Brian Yang & Eddie Mui; directed by Nadine Truong; (2012) - Official Website
Comrade Kim Goes Flying starring Han Jong Sim; directed by Kim Gwang Hun, Nicholas Bonner & Anja Daelemans; Korean with subtitles; (2012) - Official Website
Xmas Without China; documentary; directed by Alicia Dwyer & Tom Xia; English & Mandarin with subtitles; (2013) - Official Website

Beijing Flickers was preceded by Shanghai Strangers.

Shanghai Strangers starring Yiyan Jiang; directed by Joan Chen; Mandarin with subtitles; (2012)

A program titled Beautiful 2012 consisted of three short films.

You Are More Than Beautiful starring Gong Hyo-jin & Lee Kang-Sheng; directed by Kim Tae-yong; Korean with subtitles; (2012)
Walker starring Yan Lianke; directed by Tsai Ming-Liang; (2012)
My Way starring Francis Ng; directed by Ann Hui; Cantonese with subtitles; (2012)

I saw one short films program titled A Wrench in the Works which consisted of:

The Anti-Versary starring Colin Foo, Greg Chan, Jasmine Dring & Phillip Tsui; directed by Aaron Au; Cantonese & English with subtitles; 6 minutes; (2011)
Banzai Rising; documentary; directed by Pedro Gomez; Mandarin & English with subtitles; 15 minutes; (2013)
Born to Dance This Way starring Russell Argenal; directed by Jerell Rosales; 12 minutes; (2012) - Official Website
Dawn starring Scott Manuel Johnson, Warren Burke & Jeff Manabat; directed by Leon Le; 11 minutes; (2012)
Footsteps starring Jinho Kim, Taek-Hyeon Jeong, Ji-sung Kim & Suk-Joon Hyun; directed by Thomas Hyungkyun Kim; Korean with subtitles; 23 minutes; (2012)
Little Mao starring Kevin Wang; directed by Allen Tong; 7 minutes; (2012)
Shaya starring Laikh Tewari; directed by Amir Noorani; Urdu & English with subtitles; 18 minutes; (2013) - Official Website


My favorite film of the festival was Graceland, a US/Filipino film, which is being released by Drafthouse Films.  According to the film's official website, it will play at the Roxie from April 26 to May 1.  Graceland reminded me of a film I saw at YBCA a couple years ago called Kinatay by the prolific Filipino director Brillante Mendoza.

Graceland features Arnold Reyes as Marlon, the driver to Changho (Menggie Cobarrubias) a pedophile politician.  Part of his duties include paying off the girls and driving them home.  It takes a heavy toll on Marlon but no more than the health of his wife who is in need of an organ transplant.  Marlon & Chango's daughters have become friends despite objections.  While driving the two girls home, Marlon is stopped by a police officer who kills the Changho girl and kidnaps Marlon's daughter. The two girls had switched school uniforms earlier in the day.  The Changho receive a ransom demand for their daughter but are unaware that the girl being held is Marlon's daughter.

This leads to a tense situation where Marlon must navigate between the kidnappers, the police & Changho.  Director Ron Morales skillfully navigates the plot while showing the desperation of Marlon's situation and Changho's corruption.  Dido De La Paz as the tough cop suspicious of Marlon, Leon Miguel as the vicious kidnapper and Ella Guevara as Marlon's daughter round out a strong cast.  Violence against children, depictions of slums and disturbing scene involving a child prostitute elevate Graceland to the grittiest of crime dramas.


With The Land of Hope, I have now seen three Sion Sono films.  The other two films being Love Exposure and Cold Fish.  Sono does not seem to edit his films to achieve a certain length.  Love Exposure was nearly 4 hours, Cold Fish almost 2.5 hours and The Land of Hope clocked in at 2 hours, 15 minutes.  I am beginning to see  that Sono can keep the audience's interest for extended periods.

Set in Japan in the near future with the aftermath of the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster mentioned multiple times throughout the film, The Land of Hope repeats a nuclear reactor leak with the focus on one family.  The Ono family are dairy farmers.  Yasuhiko (Isao Natsuyagi) is the patriarch.  Chieko (Naoko Ohtani) is his wife whose dementia or senility progresses throughout the film.  Their son Yoichi (Jun Murakami) and his wife Izumi (Megumi Kagurazaka) live with his parents and work on the farm.

When the nuclear reactor accident occurs, a 50 KM evacuation radius is established.  The boundary happens to fall between the Ono's farm and the rest of the town with the Ono's outside the evacuation zone.  Barricades are set up and the Onos find themselves isolated as everyone else evacuates.  The absurdity of the situation is apparent to all.

Yasuhiko urges his son and daughter-in-law to evacuate while he and his wife will stay.  Throughout the film, he stubbornly refuses to leave his home.  Reluctantly, the younger couple agree to leave on a temporary basis.  This sets up dual story lines as Yoichi and Izumi's temporary relocation appears to be permanent and Yasuhiko clings to his farm while his wife's condition worsens.  I'm not sure if The Land of Hope is a comedy with dramatic moments or a drama with comedic moments.

The four lead actors are excellent with Ohtani having the juciest role given her character's erratic behavior.  Izumi becomes obsessed with nuclear radiation and begins constantly wearing a full hazmat suit.  Chieko thinks she is young girl and dances in a kimono with the blighted and abandoned townscape behind her.  Sono has an eye for visually memorable scenes.  Unlike his other two films that I have seen, there are no religious cults, perverts and yakuza gangsters in Sono's latest offering.  The absurdity in The Land of Hope is rooted in the reality the Japanese government's response to Fukushima and the lingering psychological and societal responses to a nuclear disaster.  Funny, thought provoking and emotionally touching, The Land of Hope is a tremendous film.


Speaking of long films, When the Bough Breaks is a 2.5 hour Chinese documentary.  However, it kept my attention throughout.  The film follows a real family who live in a shanty in what appears to be a Beijing junkyard.  The father could very well be mentally unstable.  The two daughters, Xia & Ling, and a son, Gang, go to school on a scholarship or exemptions of sorts.  They don't have Beijing residency permits so are not allowed to go to public school.  I didn't the full details of their schooling but the daughters (particularly Xia) want desperately to educate themselves to live a better life.  The son is more lackadaisical about his studies.

As their enrollment becomes threatened, the two girls put all their efforts (and dreams) into Gang's education to both Gang & their father's disapproval.  Gang doesn't want to be the receptacle of all his sisters' hopes & dream.  He predicts they will come to resent him.  The father doesn't seem to concerned about his children's education and would prefer them all to live in the junkyard.  The film culminates in a tense & explosive New Year's Eve celebration in which acrimonious words are exchanged.

Inspiring, intense, raw, heartbreaking & infuriating are some words which come to mind when describing the film.  One of the CAAMFest programmers read a note from the director who mentioned her original intent was to document the fate of the third and eldest daughter who has gone missing and likely sold into sexual slavery.  Her absence and missing status casts a pall over the family even if it is only mentioned in passing.  Although a documentary, there is enough narrative lines to be worthy of Dickens novel.  The drunken father's self-delusions makes him and his family miserable.  The kindly benefactor offers to pay for the girls schooling except he wants to have sex with them.  The grinding poverty is destroying the family.  When the Bough Breaks is one of the most powerful documentaries I have seen in a long time.


Graceland, The Land of Hope & When the Bough Breaks are the only films from the festival I can enthusiastically recommend.  There were a number of other films which, while enjoyable, did not rise to the level those three films.

The Cheer Ambassadors - light hearted documentary about the Bangkok University cheerleading squad and their preparation for the 2011 World Cheerleading Championships.

Sunset Stories - Monique Gabriela Curnen is a Boston nurse visiting LA, her hometown, to courier a cooler with an organ transplant.  The cooler is stolen and she enlist her ex-boyfriend (Sung Kang) to help her get it back.  The two travel through LA and encounter many different people as they track down the cooler.  Nice ensemble cast.

Dead Dad - three estranged siblings gather for the funeral of their father.  The reunion and mourning bring up family tensions.  It's a modest film that exceeded my expectations.

15 - the 2013 CAAMFest had a 3 film Royston Tan retrospective.  I had seen Tan's 881 a few years ago so I was interested in seeming more.  My expectations were high since Tan was called the "bad boy of Singporean cinema" in the festival guide.  15 featured teenage nonactors playing, presumably, exaggerated versions of themselves.  It reminded me of low-budget, juvenile delinquent version of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.

Beijing Flickers - some down and out young people in Beijing from a friendship they navigate through life.  Han Wenwen turns in a nice performance as the band singer who is kicked out of the band when they get a recording contract.

Comrade Kim Goes Flying - I could not have imagined a film about a North Korean coal miner dreaming of being a trapeze artist would have been so enjoyable.  Han Jong Sim is appealing as the winsome heroine of the film.  Pyongyang never looked so beautiful.


I had much better luck with the short films.

Beautiful 2012, a Hong Kong International Film Festival production, consisted of three short films; each one approximately 30 minutes.

You Are More Than Beautiful was my favorite short film of the festival.  A man hires an actress (was she a porn actress?) to pretend to be his wife for his dying father's benefit.  It turns out the man is comatose when she arrives but she continues to pretend in case he can still understand.  The film is funny & touching with nice performances from the two lead actors (Gong Hyo-jin & Lee Kang-Sheng).

Ann Hui's My Way gives a complex portrait of a man (Francis Ng) about to undergo a sex change operation.

Tsai Ming-Liang's Walker features a monk navigating Hong Kong at a glacial pace.  It put me to sleep after 10 minutes.

A Wrench in the Works had two outstanding short films.

Born to Dance This Way follows Joo-Si (pronounced Juicy), an overweight dancer as he defies the odds and becomes the fourth member of an all-girl band.  This short film was on the program of SF Indiefest and had one of the best trailers.  Russell Argenal delivers an over-the-top performance in a hilarious short film.

Shaya is a Pakistani boy who immigrates to Los Angeles.  He discovers he has left one war zone for another as he, his mother and younger sister encounter culture shock, gangbangas & immigrants who still hold a grudge from the old country.

There three other short films which were quite good in the Wrench program.

Down - racial stereotypes of blacks and Asians are confirmed and refuted.

Footsteps - a simple minded North Korean peasant boy become a tragic pawn between the two countries when he ventures into the DMZ.

Little Mao - a ball to the head of Little Leaguer inspires him to apply Chairman Mao's principles to the baseball diamond.

Joan Chen's Shanghai Strangers preceded Beijing Flickers and seemed to be her love letter to her native Shanghai.  Some of the exterior shots of the Shanghai skyline and the old parts of the city were spectacular.  I wonder if they were stock footage?  The film tells two stories - a Chinese woman admitting to a marital affair to a complete stranger (and foreigner) at that and a flashback to the actual affair.  It was a well made film.  Chen took questions form the Great Star stage after both films had screened.  She looked fantastic.  I wish she would make more films (as an actress or director) in the US.  My impartiality may be questioned.  I have to admit that I had a huge Joan Chen crush when The Last Emperor came out in 1987 so she reminds me of my youth.


I wasn't a huge fan of Nice Girls Crew at last year's festival so I wasn't sure about Nice Girls Crew 2.  For the uninitated, NGC follows three "frenemies" who form a book club - Sophie (Lynn Chen), Geraldine (Michelle Krusiec) & Lina (Sheetal Sheth).  NGC consisted of five 10 minute episodes as does NGC2.  The book club plot device is dispensed with and the girls engage in more slapstick comedy in NGC2 as opposed to one-line zingers in NGC.  Although moderately amusing, I thought the actresses' talents were largely wasted.  Considering I chose this screening over Luc Besson's The Professional, I was doubly disappointed.

Xmas Without China was a documentary about the Jones family who accept the challenge of trying to not use or buy any products made in China during the month leading up to Christmas.  It's a contrived but intriguing idea.  Not only is the Caucasian Jones family documented but the Chinese family of the filmmaker also receives considerable screen time.  Co-director Tom Xia's family and his own ambivalence about his Chinese citizenship distracted from the more Spurlockesque aspects of the film.

I did not enjoy any of the other 2013 CAAMFest films I have not previously mentioned in this post.  Given the relentless pace and size of the blog entries so far this month, I see no reason to document the reasons why I didn't like them.