Monday, July 15, 2013


Many years ago, I saw Maniac (1980) directed by William Lustig.  I recall it being particularly grisly for the horror/exploitation genre.  When I saw that the Roxie was screening a remake of Maniac, I decided to check it out.  I'm not a horror fan.  I have said that numerous times.  The exploitation genre is a subtle distinction from the horror genre.  I'm like Potter Stewart and pornography, I can't describe the difference between horror & exploitation but I know it when I see it.  Maniac, both the original and the remake, are exploitation.

Maniac starring Elijah Wood; directed by Franck Khalfoun; (2012) - Official Website

Either my taste for exploitation has changed or Maniac just wasn't that great.  Maniac follows Frank Zito (Elijah Wood), a mannequin repairman/salesman/collector.  Zito is a serial killer and schizophrenic.  He stalks women, murders them, scalps them (not always in that order) and dresses his mannequins with the scalps.  All this stems from Frank's dysfunctional relationship with his prostitute mother.  It's not until Frank meets a photographer who wants to take photos of his mannequins as art piece that Frank's life is turned upside down.  When Frank develops genuine emotions for the woman, he is brought back to reality which is that he is nebbish, serial killer.

Zito kills quite a few women.  I don't recall a shotgun blast like the original Maniac but director Franck Khalfoun keeps the bodies coming and Wood keeps scalping them.  However, Maniac (2012) lacks some of the grindhouse je ne sais quoi that Maniac (1980) had despite the soundtrack which is evocative of the "golden era" of slasher films.  I can't really put my finger on it. Maniac goes through the motions admirably but as the acting cliché goes, "it was good but once more with feeling."

As I mentioned, maybe it is just that my tastes have changed - too many Japanese & Korean exploitation films such as Oldboy.

Next month (August 15), the Roxie is screening Angel & Vice Squad.  Those are two films I've vividly recall from my teenage years.  It'll be interesting to see how I respond to those films.  If I still enjoy them, I suspect Maniac (2012) was not up to snuff.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Ones that Got Away and The Ones That Are Coming Up

I will note that I completely skipped this year's DocFest (June 6 to 23) and Frameline (June 20 to 30) film festivals.  I saw 28 film screenings in June so it's not as though I had a lot of time to squeeze those two festivals into my itinerary.

I considered buying a six pack for DocFest but never pulled the trigger.  This is the first year that DocFest is in June so I'll have to work on making time to see it.  I have long supported Jeff Ross and the Indiefest team.

I plan on seeing several films at the 2013 San Francisco Silent Film Festival starting on Thursday and running through Sunday, July 21.  I'm also eyeing a few screenings at the 2013 San Francisco Jewish Film Festival (July 25 to August 12).  I just purchased tickets to some of the screenings at the Japan Film Festival (July 27 to August 4) at the Viz.

I also read there was a shooting on the same block as the Roxie Theater.  I have written before about how that area of the Mission is becoming more dangerous.  The latest shooting occurred outside the Double Dutch bar, an establishment that Indiefest has had events at before.  I've never been there but I have been to Doctor Bombay's (Bewitched reference) the previous bar in that location.

Saturday, July 13, 2013


On June 29, I went to the PFA to see Clockers.  The film's editor, Sam Pollard, was there to discuss the film before & after the screening.  I skipped the post film discussion.

Clockers starring Mekhi Phifer, Harvey Keitel & Delroy Lindo; directed by Spike Lee; (1995)

Originally slated to be a Martin Scorsese film, Spike Lee took over on the basis of Scorsese's recommendation.  The film seems more suited to Lee's oeuvre.  Mekhi Phifer is Strike, a "clocker" or small-time drug dealer.  Technically, he is the head clocker or he has a crew of drug dealers.  Strike is the liaison between the street dealers and Rodney Little (Delroy Lindo), a barber or general store owner who is the drug lord of the neighborhood.

Strike is rotting away as a drug dealer; both literally and figuratively.  He has an ulcer but he's also lost his sense of morality.  When Rodney suggests he kill another drug dealer, Strike opportunistically dupes his brother (who has a legitimate job) into doing the killing.  Harvey Keitel and Nicholas Tuturro are the police detective who investigate the murder.  Strike's brother quickly admits to the murder but Keitel has his suspicions.  As he focuses on Strike, the tension rises.  There is a number conflicts Strike has to deal with - Keitel thinks he is the real murderer, Rodney thinks he will rat him out to save his own skin, the mother of a boy Strike has taken under his wing is pressuring Strike to leave her son alone and finally, Strike is self-conflicted as the confronts the man he has become vs. the man he wants to be.

There wasn't too much violence but Delroy Lindo is one bad MF as Shaft would say.  Actors in smaller roles stand out:  Tom Byrd as Rodney's drug-addled, psychopathic parter, David Keith as a neighborhood beat cop and Regina Taylor as the mother of the boy who admires Strike.

Clockers lacks some of the passion of other Spike Lee films.  It feels a little mechanical and the performances are more subdued.  I'm thinking of a Lee film like Inside Man.  Essentially a caper film, Lee's direction infuses the film with a vigor and swagger that are largely missing from Clockers.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Two at the Four Star

I saw two films in April & May at the 4 Star Theater.

42 starring Chadwick Boseman & Harrison Ford; directed by Brian Helgeland; (2013) - Official Website
The Place Beyond the Pines starring Ryan Gosling & Bradley Cooper; with Eva Mendes & Ray Liotta; directed by Derek Cianfrance; (2013) - Official Website

42 refers to the Jackie Robinson's uniform number.  The city of Schenectady (New York) is derived from the Mohawk word which means "the place beyond the pines."  General Electric was founded in Schenectady and having done business with GE, I know the zip code for their facility in Schenectady is 12345.

42 was a biopic of baseball player Jackie Robinson.  Robinson, of course, from Major League Baseball color barrier in 1947 with the Brooklyn Dodgers.  He had to endure blatant racism from the fans, his opponents and even his own teammates.  Robinson was selected by Dodgers GM Branch Rickey because he felt Robinson could hold his temper.  If Robinson lashed out, Rickey felt it would set the cause of integration of baseball back by several years.  Robinson was given strict order not to retaliate or complain.

All this I knew before seeing 42 and I didn't gain any new knowledge from watching 42.  Honestly, Chadwick Boseman's by-the-numbers portrayal of Robinson didn't really add much to my knowledge or the film.  As far as biopics go, 42 was plain vanilla with very little "value added."  Unimaginative and plodding, I find the film to be a bore which is a shame given that Robinson's story is so interesting. Christopher Meloni as Leo Durocher and Alan Tudyk as Phillies' manager Ben Chapman added some flashy scenes.  Durocher was suspended before Robinson's inaugural season for associating with known gamblers.  Durocher lived a colorful life.  He was having an open affair with actress Laraine Day who was married at the time.  Chapman was blatant racist and shouted taunts at Robinson when the Phillies played the Dodgers.  His vitriol was so severe that he was forced to apologize to Robinson.  Tudkyk's scenes were among the most powerful in the film.

The Place Beyond the Pines has been much discussed.  I'm feeling a little fatigued after so many consecutive days of posting to this site.  Gosling plays a bank robber, Cooper plays the cop who shoots him and the film follows their lives as well as their two sons a decade and a half after the shooting.

Gosling is getting a lot of praise for his performance.  His character reminds me of the role he played in Drive.  Nice performances all around.  Ray Liotta shows up again. He's been in a number of films recently - The Place Beyond the Pines, The Iceman and Killing Them Softly.  He's become the "go to" guy when casting directors need an older, shady cop/gangster.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Five at the Castro

In April & May, I saw five films at the Castro Theater.

Blood Simple starring John Getz & Frances McDormand; with Dan Hedaya & M. Emmet Walsh; directed by Joel Coen; (1984)
Happy Together starring Leslie Cheung & Tony Leung Chiu Wai; directed by Kar Wai Wong; Cantonese & Mandarin with subtitles; (1997)
Fallen Angels starring Leon Lai, Michelle Reis & Takeshi Kaneshiro; directed by Kar Wai Wong; Cantonese with subtitles; (1995)
Spring Breakers starring James Franco, Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson & Rachel Korine; directed by Harmony Korine; (2012) - Official Website
Enter the Void starring Paz de la Huerta; with Nathaniel Brown & Cyril Roy; directed by Gaspar Noé;  English & some Japanese with subtitles; (2009) - Official Website

Happy Together and Fallen Angels were double features as were Spring Breakers and Enter the Void.


Way back in early April, I saw Blood Simple at the Castro.  Blood Simple is notable because it is the first Coen Brothers film.  I always get them confused.  Joel Coen is usually credited as the director, Ethan Coen is usually credited as the producer and both are usually credited as the screenwriters.  For the past few films they have worked on, both are sharing credits as director and producer.  Joel is married to actress Frances McDormand although during production, they were likely not married.  They were married on April 1, 1984 but I'm not sure when the film was in production.  It premiered in September 1984.  Blood Simple was remade by Chinese director Zhang Yimou (Raise the Red Lantern) under the title A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop.

Bar owner Julian Marty (Dan Hedaya) suspects his wife Abby (McDormand) of having an affair with Ray, one of his bartenders.  His suspicions are justified because they are having an affair but Marty is a controlling, manipulative jerk so it's not surprising his wife would stray.  Marty hires private investigator Loren Visser (M. Emmet Walsh) to surveil the two.  When Visser returns with photographic evidence of the affair, Julian ups the ante by hiring Visser to kill the couple.

Visser is one sleazy "sonbitch" as they say in Texas where the film is set.  He doctors photos of Ray & Abby to make it appear they are murdered.  He presents the photos and collects his fee, but then double crosses Marty and kills him with Abby's gun which he has stolen during the course of his "investigation."  He inadvertently leaves behind his distinctive cigarette lighter and later realizes Marty locked one of the photos in the floor safe.

Ray arrives at the bar to collect his last paycheck only to discover Julian is dead.  Seeing Abby's gun and remembering a warning from Julian to not trust Abby, Ray assumes Abby killed her husband.  The becomes an after-the-fact accomplice by cleaning the office of the blood and disposing of Marty's body.  Actually, Marty isn't quite dead as Ray discovers when he starts to bury him in a cornfield.  No need to split hairs, Ray keeps on shoveling dirt over the barely conscious Julian.

Ray & Abby have some cryptic conversations where Ray attempts to explain he has taken care of Abby's mess but unaware her husband is dead, Abby doesn't get the drift.  Roy is put off because he thinks Abby is playing coy.

Abby goes to the bar and finds the office looking fine...except someone has attempted to break into the safe.  It was actually Visser trying to retrieve the doctored photo but Abby assumes it was Ray since he was upset over his last paycheck.  Combined with Ray's odd comments from before, Abby assumes Ray killed Marty.

When they later meet at Abby's apartment, Abby is leery of Ray thinking him a killer.  Ray has noticed someone following him and instructs Abby to turn off the light.  Fearful that Ray wants the lights off so he can kill her too, Abby refuses.  Visser has indeed been following Ray and is positioned on the roof across the street with a high powered rifle.  He shoots and kills Ray which causes Abby to knock out the light & hide in the bathroom.  Visser is quick to enter the apartment but when he goes into the bathroom, it is empty.  Realizing Abby must have exited the bathroom window and into the window of the next door unit, Visser reaches his arm out to open the next door unit's window. Abby slams with  window shut on his hand and drives a kitchen knife through his hand.  Visser shoots through the wall thus weakening it.  He eventually punches through the wall to remove the knife.  As he enter the unit to kill Abby, she shoot him through the door.  Her comments indicate she thought it was her husband who had come to kill her.

That was a long write up because the film had a lot of plot twists.  Everyone was suspicious of everyone it should be in noir.  Both Abby & Ray thought the other capable of murder which makes for a healthy extramarital relationship.  M. Emmet Walsh, two years removed from Blade Runner, shines as the depraved PI.  Dan Hedaya also stands out as Marty.  The Coen Brothers have made some really good films and this is one of them.


Ho (Leslie Cheung) and Lai (Tony Leung Chiu-Wai) are a dysfunctional gay couple at the center of Happy Together.  Lai is the more stable one while Ho is prone to promiscuity and mental abuse.  The two seem to have gone through several cycles of breakup, reconciliation and abuse.  For a change of pace, the film is set in Argentina.  At the beginning, I thought the film was going to be black & white but color is gradually added to the scenes.

After Ho & Lai breakup, Lai gets a job a nightclub where Ho comes in with other men.  This upset Lai greatly.  One day Ho shows up at Lai's apartment after being beaten.  Lai takes him in to care for him but eventually the rekindle their relationship and the destructive cycle begins anew.  Ho torments Lai until he leaves him once again.  Lai begins a friendship with Chang (Chen Chang) a co-worker at the Chinese restaurant he works at.  It is implied Chang is gay but their relationship is platonic.

However, when Chang leaves for an extended trip to the southernmost lighthouse in South America, Lai flounders and begins to exhibit behavior similar to Ho's...who coincidentally shows up at this juncture. Lai has matured in the intervening time.  He recognizes the cycle of abuse and refuses to see Ho.  In addition, Lai has stolen money from a business associate of his father.  He writes a letter attempting to reconcile and promising to return to Taiwan to face the consequences.  Before he returns, he visits the lighthouse Chang went to.  According to legend, you can drop your sorrow into the sea at this location.  Afterwards, Lai returns to Taiwan where he goes to the night market food stall which Chang's parents own.  Although Chang is not there, Lai glimpses a photo of him tacked the support beam and steals it.

Happy Together reminded me a lot of director Kar Wai Wong later 1960s trilogy.  The themes of destructive relationships and unfulfilled desires are present in Happy Together although it is played out among gay men.  As always, Tony Leung Chiu-Wai delivers a subtle performance as Lai.  In the later trilogy, Leung displays characteristics of both Ho & Lai in his performance.

I saw Fallen Angels at the Red Vic in January 2009.  I remember the cinematography.  Much of the film was shot at night among neon lit streets of Hong Kong.  The loose plot involves a hitman (Leon Lai) and his handler (Michelle Reis).  The two never meet but they exchange messages about jobs at a ramshackle, industrial space that serves as their apartment.  The woman is sexually attracted to the man; even using the scent of his clothing as masturbatory aids.

The other main character is odd mute (Takeshi Kaneshiro) who essentially breaks into businesses at night and either sells their products or insists on being paid to leave.  For example, he breaks into an food truck and forces people to buy the food out the window.  Some people don't know anything is amiss but if you try to leave without buying anything, he harasses them.

I glimpsed a plot but it's not important.  The three lead actors plus Karen Mok as a pink haired punk with a voice that couple peel paint just power through the scenes.  Some scenes are humorous such as the killer showing a classmate a photo of his "wife" who is a black woman he paid to have his photo taken with.  Other scenes have a kind of violent elegance more associated John Woo.  Still other scenes are headscratchingly weird.  The effect is cumulative; you'll either grow to love it or grow hate it - I was the former.  The film also has a distinct soundtrack which I liked.

Happy Together and Fallen Angels was a very successful double feature in my opinion.


Spring Breakers was advertised as not your typical spring break film.  Right at the beginning, there is a skillfully edited montage scene which makes spring break appear grotesque.  Actually, when thought of rationally, the debauchery is grotesque in a libertine sort of way but for generations, young people have rationalized their annual week of bacchanalia as a necessary stress reliever.  Also, there is a "what happens in Ft. Lauderdale stays in Ft. Lauderdale" mentality and code of silence.

Four college girls (Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson & Rachel Korine) go to Florida on spring break.  Actually, three of them robbed a restaurant to get the money so they could go.  This film is already going in directions other spring break films don't go.

After the requisite party scenes, the film swerves into uncharted territory.  The four girls are arrested for public drunkenness or disturbing the peace.  Arraigned while still in their bikinis, the four believe they will spend the rest of spring break in lockup because they can't pay their bail.  Witnessing the proceeding is a corn-rowed wigga called Alien (Jame Franco).  Rapper, gangsta, playa and owner of an outrageous gun collection, Alien bails out the four women.

The five are out to party but the action gets increasingly disturbing.  At one point, two of the women point a gun at Alien during (what the audiences thinks is) foreplay for ménage à trois.  Initially hesitant, Alien embraces the new spin, even going so far as to suck on the pistol barrel à la fellatio.

As the action heats up and gets weird, the girls peel off.  First to go is Selena Gomez whose character goes prayer group and was not part of the robbery.  Next to go is Rachel Korine (the director's daughter) who was the getaway driver during the robbery.  She is shot during a drive by shooting by some rival gangstas of Alien.  I guess getting a flesh wound in the arm puts a damper on the thug life.

The two girls who are left (Hudgens & Benson) are the wildest of the quartet.  The two actresses go for broke in their performances.  The scene where they enter the diner to rob it is chilling and there is a shocking disconnect between their petite bikini clad appearance and their behavior.

After a threesome in the pool, Alien and the two girls go to get some payback for the driveby.  Rocking tiny bikinis, wearing pink ski masts and toting assault rifles, the two girls contribute to a memorable shootout.

Although Spring Breakers has some disturbing imagery, it's played as a dark comedy.  Franco chews up the scenery.  Some of the scenes are patently ridiculous.  Director Harmony Korine has a vision of where to take the film and she gets there in stylish fashion.  I thought Spring Breakers was tremendous.

I was on the fence about sticking around after Spring Breakers.  The next film (Enter the Void) was more than 2.5 hours long and the film was starting at 8:45 PM.  I'm glad I did because the opening title sequence was almost worth the price of admission.

What followed was equally imaginative and exhausting.  Oscar (Nathaniel Brown) is American drug dealer in Tokyo.  His sister Linda (Paz de la Huerta) is a stripper, also in Tokyo.  Oscar is shot by the police (in the Japanese style public toilet of all places).  His spirit or soul rises from his body and the rest of the film is told from this disembodied viewpoint as the action skips back and forth in time to tell Oscar and Linda's story.

This sounds like a gimmick film but director Gaspar Noé is almost able to pull it off.  I say almost because I'm not sure if the movie was received by the audience as the director intended.  The story is told in mind-numbing detail as layer upon layer and character upon character is given screen time.  This may have been Noé intention so as to show the state of Oscar's spirit.  The effect on the audience was excruciating at time.  Although my concentration flagged occasionally, I never fell asleep and my interest was maintained through the end.  What an ending!  Linda and another character go to a love hotel.  After a dizzying array of overhead shots featuring several characters performing various sex acts, Linda engages in sex.  In some ways, it's as if Oscar is having sex with her sister but if that isn't creepy enough, Noé switches visual perspectives midway through the act.  The audience gets a shot of the penis inside Linda's vagina during and we  are treated to the proverbial money shot.  Boring and obligatory in pornographic films, in Enter the Void it signaled Oscar's rebirth or reincarnation as well a signpost to the audience that film was almost over.

Enter the Void was self-indulgent but Noé's vision for the film proved engrossing.

Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson & Rachel Korine (pick two) in masks and James Franco (back to camera) in Spring Breakers

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Snow White, Wikileaks, Hitmen, Nuclear Energy & Disco Music at Landmark Theaters

From April through June, I saw five films at Landmark Theaters.

Blancanieves starring Macarena García & Maribel Verdú; directed by Pablo Berger; silent with intertitles; (2012) - Official Website
The Iceman starring Michael Shannon; with Winona Ryder, Chris Evans, Ray Liotta, David Schwimmer & Robert Davi; directed by Ariel Vromen; (2012) - Official Website
We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks; documentary; directed by Alex Gibney; (2013) - Official Facebook
Pandora's Promise; documentary; directed by Robert Stone; (2013) - Official Website
The Secret Disco Revolution; documentary; directed by Jamie Kastner; (2012) - Official Website

I saw Blancanieves, The Iceman and We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks at the now (temporarily) closed Embarcadero Cinema.  I saw Pandora's Promise & The Secret Disco Revolution at the Opera Plaza.


Blancanieves was the Snow White story set in 1920s Spain among bullfighters.  That was an inspired choice - Snow White & the seven dwarfs are bullfighters, silent B&W film consistent with the period the film is set, Hemingway and The Sun Also Rises and heralded as the next The ArtistBlancanieves never quite reached those lofty heights.  It was a nice film (Maribel Verdú was quite good as the Wicked Stepmother) I felt like I was watching a finely crafted film instead of losing myself within the story.

The Iceman felt like Donnie Brasco or one of those Scorsese films set in the 1970s.  Michael Shannon plays Richard Kuklinski (a real-life Mafia hitman).  Even before he becomes an assassin, Kuklinski is tightly wound.  Early in the film, he kills a man for suggesting his girlfriend is not a virgin. Of course Kuklinski fails to tell his girlfriend and future wife (Winona Ryder) that he works as a film editor for porno film.  He has to keep his profession a secret when he switches from porn to paid assassin for the mob.  Ray Liotta is his mafia handler, David Schwimmer is Liotta's Jewish lieutenant and Chris Evans is a fellow hitman that Kuklinski frequently partners with on jobs.

The Iceman had a lot of style with Shannon playing Kuklinski as the type just barely controlling his rage.  Liotta is sociopathic, Schwimmer has this big mustache and is self-loathing wannabe Guido and Evans is just plain weird as the hitman.  The Iceman is pretty predictable - it's the rise and fall of Kuklinski but all these character make the ride fun even if you know where its going to end.  It was a very enjoyable film.

At over 2 hours, We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks felt a little bloated.  The film starts by implying that Julian Assange hacked into NASA during space shuttle mission.  It was a nice tidbit of information but the film never really reveals what makes the WikiLeaks founder tick.  Parallel to Assange's profile, the film spends a lot of time interviewing people who knew Bradley Manning, the Army specialist who leaked the US diplomatic cables to WikiLeaks.

Their stories are fascinating but We Steal Secrets never adds value beyond informing me of particulars of the case which could have been expounded upon more.  For example, Assange was accused by two women of rape in Sweden.  According to one of the women, the condom broke and she wanted Assange to prove he was free of sexually transmitted disease.  Assange blew her off and it was only then (by her own admission) that she went to the police.  That is not rape.  I'm not sure why the authorities would charge rape if that is all there is to the story.  Assange may be a selfish and paranoid ass but the story recounted in We Steal Secrets did not amount to least for the woman who appeared in the film.

Similarly, Manning was suffering from gender dysphoria at the time he was leaking the documents.  Although that doesn't explain his actions, it puts them in a different context.  While he is the under stress of gender confusion, he is leaking classified documents.  What state of mind was he in?  Prior to be arrested for leaking the documents, Manning assaulted his superior officer.

How did Manning download all those documents and then upload them to the WikiLeaks site from a secure computer at an overseas military base?  The volume of data he leaked is mind boggling.  Where was the oversight such that a Army PFC could access such sensitive material and then upload to a non-secure website?  These are questions that are only broached in the film.

We Steal Secrets' reach exceeded its grasp.

I was familiar with much of the information presented in Pandora's Promise.  In fact, I'll go so far as to say I'm pro-nuclear energy.  Nuclear energy is free of greenhouse gas emission and dispatchable which means the operator can specify the output unlike photovoltaic panels and windmills whose output depends on ambient sunlight and windspeed, respectively.  The film does a good job showing that many people are anti-nuclear without knowing the fact.  They have been conditioned to equate nuclear energy with evil and so the debate over nuclear becomes one of good vs. evil.  I doubt Pandora's Promise will change the minds of hardcore anti-nuclear activists but I do hope open-minded people will listen.

The film is divided into two parts.  The first part covers the Fukushima nuclear accident and the second part is a history of nuclear energy in the West.  I was surprised at how far nuclear radiation readings in the area have dropped since their peak levels.  I learned that the volume of spent nuclear fuel would fill a football field from endzone to endzone and 3 feet high.

The Secret Disco Revolution was more of a faux documentary.  Ostensibly about the disco era, the film posits that disco's popularity was the result a secret conspiracy by s shadow group with reenactments by three actors representing a gay man, a woman and an African American - 3 demographics who benefited from disco's success.  I could take or leave the conspiracy subplot because the film had tons of interviews with people such as Gloria Gaynor & the Village People.

I did learn quite a bit about the circumstances surrounding disco's rise.  For example, before and since the disco era, popular music has largely followed an established pattern.  Record companies and radio stations work together to play certain songs which the audience enjoys and subsequently purchases the record, CD, iTune, etc.  Disco music started in the club scene of NYC.  Club DJs would play song they would like and the club patrons would go to the record stores to by those songs.  At one point, the #1 selling record in NYC had not received an commercial airplay.

I found the The Secret Disco Revolution to be fascinating because of the "inside baseball" look at the circumstances that led to the music.  Another example is that the film criticizes Studio 54 for leading to disco's downfall.  The club

As I ventured around the City on Gay Pride weekend, I was struck by the 1970s imagery and disco music blaring from the speakers at various locations.  It made me wonder why disco still resonates with certain subgroups today.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Paradise Trilogy

The YBCA screened Ulrich Seidl's Paradise Trilogy in June.

Paradise: Love starring Margarete Teisel; directed by Ulrich Seidel; German with subtitles; (2012)
Paradise: Faith starring Maria Hofstatter; directed by Ulrich Seidel; German with subtitles; (2012)
Paradise: Hope starring Melanie Lenz; directed by Ulrich Seidel; German with subtitles; (2013)

The Paradise trilogy is a loosely connected set of stories.  It involves two generations of women - two sisters and one of their daughters.  Each installment works as a stand-alone film but seen as a series, some interesting parallels in the women's lives show up.

I saw the film on three consecutive Thursdays.

Paradise: Love focuses on Teresa (Margarete Teisel) an overweight, middle aged, Austrian woman who goes to Kenya for vacation.  Kenya may seem like an odd place for a mature woman to go alone for vacation but apparently, there is flourishing sex trade in Kenya.  European women go to Kenya to have sex with younger Kenyan men.  Teresa has a teenage daughter (the focus of Paradise: Hope) who is surly.  She leaves her daughter with her sister (Paradise: Faith) and heads off for Kenyan with no explanation why this woman would travel 3,500 miles for sex.

Teresa seems to have convinced herself that she will have a traditional vacation but her friend is already there and enthusiastically participates in the sexual market for Kenyan men.  After some hesitancy, Teresa takes the plunge and gets in over head.  At first shy and reserved, Teresa convinces herself she has found true love until the man's wife shows up at his door.  From there Teresa looses most of her inhibition.  She readily accepts the offers from a couple pros but in the denouement, Teresa sets her sights on a bartender at the resort she is staying at.  He returns to her room with the intention of servicing her but he draws the line a cunnilingus which Teresa demands.  She angrily kicks the man out of her room (without paying) and is left sobbing as the film closes.

The most impressive aspect of Paradise: Love is Margarete Teisel courageous performance.  Frequently nude for her sex scenes, she captures Teresa's descent into self-loathing.  A painfully lonely woman, Teresa came to Kenyan looking for love (or at least a human connection) instead of sex.  By the end of the film, she has de-personalized the act to a monetary transaction with interchangeable young men.  I would expect this kind of story with a male protagonist but it seems more effective with a female lead character.  Paradise: Love was my favorite of the trilogy and one of the better films I've seen in 2013.

Paradise: Faith was my least favorite entry in the trilogy.  Teresa's sister Anna Maria (Maria Hofstatter) is a X-ray technician who spends her vacation time going door-to-door with a statue of the Virgin Mary and urging poor immigrants to pray.  She also practices self-flagellation which is a Catholic form of penance.  I went to school in New Mexico and there is a lay brotherhood order knows as the Penitente Brotherhood who practices self-flagellation.

Into Anna Maria's pious life comes her estranged, wheelchair bound, Muslim husband.  How did a devout Catholic and Muslim ever get married?  The film doesn't explain.  Whereas Teresa is desperate for love, her sister is determined that she and her husband will have no carnal knowledge.  There is room for only one man in Anna Marie's bed and that man is Jesus.

As Anna Maria goes about her Christian duty to care for her husband, his frustration at not sharing their conjugal grows.  A sort of holy war ensues as each attacks the other emotionally, spiritually and physically.  By the end of the film, Anna Maria seems to renounce her faith.

A somewhat surreal film which is played straight by Hofstatter, Paradise: Faith seemed out of step to me.  I wasn't quite sure if what I was seeing was drama or comedy.  However, the order in which I saw the films may have played a role.  I saw Paradise: Love first, Paradise: Faith a week later and Paradise: Hope on the third week.  Paradise: Hope had some dark humor which I was better able to appreciate.  Perhaps if I had seen Faith last, I would have been better conditioned to appreciate the surrealism in the film.

Teresa's daughter Melanie (Melanie Lenz) is the dysfunctional one in Paradise: Hope.  Overweight like her mother, Melanie goes a fat camp for children.  There is a stern exercise trainer who takes a sadistic pleasure in tormenting the children.  There is also a silent, blonde female trainer whose presence must make the children (especially the girls) feel self-conscience.  However, the key staff member in Hope is the doctor (Joseph Lorenz) who is part predator, part prey.

Becoming aware of her sexuality through contact with an older, more sexually experienced roommate at the camp, Melanie awkwardly attracts the attention of the doctor who reciprocate at times.  Unable to fully understand or act on her sexual impulses, Melanie is stuck in a sexual limbo.  She and her roommate sneak into town and get drunk.  It appears that Melanie will be the victim of a date rape except the owner of the bar intervenes.  He doesn't mind underage girls in his bar but he draws the line a rape.  Assuming Melanie is part of the fat camp, the bar owner contacts the doctor who puts the unconscious Melanie in her car, drives out to the woods, lays her on the ground and lays next to her.  I think he sniffed her too.  The doctor was kind of creepy.  Coming to his senses, the film ends with him telling Melanie that she can longer contact him.

The film ends with hope that Melanie can have a more healthy attitude towards sex than her mother and aunt.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Girls! Guns! Ghosts! The Sensational Films Of Shintoho

The YBCA had an interesting sounding program called Girls! Guns! Ghosts! The Sensational Films Of Shintoho.  The program ran from May 9 to 26.

Specializing in noir, horror, and risqué oddities, Japan’s Shintoho studio produced more than 500 films in 14 years. The company went bankrupt in 1961, and few of their films have been seen in the West—until now. Though they produced works by masters like Kurosawa and Ozu, they are best remembered in Japan for their low-budget, high-concept genre films. Shintoho is comparable to American International Pictures, who, along with producer/director Roger Corman, flooded American drive-ins in the 1960s with tales of rebellious teenagers, vampires, werewolves, and curvy girls in bikinis. 

I saw four of the eight films on the program.

Flesh Pier starring Hiroshi Asami, Seiji Hara  & Yôko Mihara; directed by Teruo Ishii; Japanese with subtitles; (1958)
Death Row Woman starring Miyuki Takakura & Yôichi Numata; directed Nobuo Nakagawa; Japanese with subtitles; (1960)
Yellow Line starring Shigeru Amachi, Teruko Amano & Seiji Hara; directed by Teruo Ishii; Japanese with subtitles; (1960)
Revenge of the Pearl Queen starring Michiko Maeda; directed Toshio Shimura; Japanese with subtitles; (1956)

The description was fairly accurate but the films themselves were not that well made.  A film about a prostitution ring in 1958 may have had shock value but in 2013, we are more jaded and the shortcomings of the films were more apparent.

To be honest, I don't remember some of the films very well.  That is an indictment of the films as they did not register in my memory.

Flesh Pier was about a prostitution ring.  More accurately, it was what we would call "white slavery" in this country.  I wonder if that term exists in Japan.  The film was imminently forgettable.

Yellow Line was about an stripper who is kidnapped by a hitman running from the law.  This film is slightly less forgettable than Flesh Pier...primarily because a striptease/burlesque number.

Death Row Woman wasn't quite as exploitative as the other films.  A woman is convicted for the murder of her father and facing the death sentence (hence the title).  She makes a prison and with the help of her fiancé.  However, she is unaware that her mother & fiancé are having an affair and killed the old man.  I kind of liked Death Row Woman but the performances were a little wooden.

Revenge of the Pearl Queen was the most memorable of the bunch.  Michiko Maeda plays the secretary of the CEO of some big company.  The CEO has conspired to kill the chairman of the board and frame the secretary's boyfriend for the murder.  In the meantime, the CEO needs Maeda to accompany him on an overseas business trip via passenger ship.  The CEO tries to rape Maeda and she falls overboard.

She washes up on a small island.  The island is uninhabited except for some Japanese WWII soldiers who've been abandoned there for 15 years.  The presence of a woman (and a rather attractive woman at that) sends the men into a killing and raping frenzy.  Fortunately for Maeda, the only honorable man among the bunch saves her.

While on the island, Maeda develops some skills such as the ability to dive for pearls.  She also loses much of her clothing and modesty.  Eventually, the two are saved by a passing ship.  Maeda returns to Japan with alias, a fortune in pearls and a desire for revenge.  She has also never regained her comfort in restrictive clothing so she continues to walk around her spacious hotel suite with little clothing.  Hey, it's an artistic statement!

I can't even remember how she exacts her revenge.  Plot and Maeda's thespian skills were not the main selling points of Revenge of the Pearl Queen.  If only all the films in the series had a Michiko Maeda type actress to elevate their artistic content.

Michiko Maeda (right) in Revenge of the Pearl Queen

Sunday, July 7, 2013

2013 Sacramento French Film Festival

I returned to Sacramento in June to see the 2013 Sacramento French Film Festival (SFFF).  I attended the 2012 SFFF.  As in 2012, this year's SFFF was held at the Crest Theater in downtown Sacramento.  As an aside, the Crest stopped daily movie screenings earlier this year but its main auditorium remains available for "one off" film & live events as well as most of Sacramento's film festival screenings.

Three Worlds starring Raphaël Personnaz, Clotilde Hesme & Arta Dobroshi; directed by Catherine Corsini; French with subtitles; (2010) - Official Facebook
Adieu Berthe starring Denis Podalydès, Valérie Lemercier & Isabelle Candelier; directed by Bruno Podalydès; French with subtitles; (2012) - Official Facebook
Going Places starring Gérard Depardieu, Patrick Dewaere & Miou-Miou; directed by Bertrand Blier; French with subtitles; (1974)
Starbuck starring Patrick Huard; directed by Ken Scott; French with subtitles; (2011) - Official Website

Each feature film I saw was preceded by a short film.

Les Meutes; directed by Manuel Schapira; French with subtitles;  14 minutes; (2012)
Les Lézards; directed by Vincent Mariette; French with subtitles; 14 minutes;  (2012)
Tram; animation; directed by Michaela Pavlatova; 7 minutes; (2011)
Bad Gones; directed by Stéphane Demoustier; French with subtitles; 13 minutes; (2011)

Les Meutes (The Hounds) preceded Three Worlds.  Les Lézards (The Lizards) preceded Adieu Berthe.  Tram, which had no dialogue, preceded Going Places.  Bad Gones precedes Starbuck.


Before I forget, the Sacramento Japanese Film Festival (SJFF) is running from July 12 to 14 at the Crest Theater.  For as long as I have known of its existence, the SJFF has conflicted with the San Francisco Silent Film Festival (SFSFF).  However, this year the SFSFF is one week after the SJFF.  The SFSFF will be from July 18 to 21 at the Castro Theater.

To the best of my knowledge, Sacramento has four film festivals.  I've already mentioned SFFF and SJFF.  There is also the Sacramento International Film Festival which was held April 20 to 28 and the Sacramento Jewish Film Festival which was held March 9 and 10.

In addition to those Sacramento film festivals, there is an organization called Trash Film Orgy which holds midnight screenings during the summer with live stage shows before their screenings.  They kick off their season on July 13 at the Crest (same venue & weekend as the SJFF).


Back to the SFFF.

Three Worlds is the story about three people whose worlds would typically not intersect.  Al (Raphaël Personnaz) is a manager at a car dealership who is out partying with two of his friends from work.  Driving while drunk, Al hits and kills a man. The man who is a Moldavian immigrant leaves behind a widow named Vera (Arta Dobroshi).  The third person is a medical student named Juliette (Clotilde Hesme) who witnesses the hit & run and can identify the driver.

When Al discovers the man has died, he feels guilt but his friends from work tell him to keep quiet.  Al is marrying the owner's daughter in a few days and a DUI hit and run death might put the kibosh the wedding.    Al is marrying above his social station as his mother used to be his boss' maid.  Unwilling to risk everything he has worked for, Al decides to keep the "accident" from his fiancée and future father-in-law.

Meanwhile, Vera's relatives are investigating the accident.  The police are largely (if not completely) absent from the film.  I assumed the death of (illegal?) immigrant doesn't rate high.  Juliette is contacted by Vera's relatives and she takes an unusual interest in the victim who survives the accident for a few days.  Actually, now that I think about it Juliette goes to considerable lengths to find the identity of the victim and contact his employer and family.

Al visits the hospital to check on the victim and is spotted by Juliette.  Juliette keeps the fact that she saw the driver of the car which hit Vera's husband from Vera and her family.  Later, she tracks down Al and shows up at his car dealership which puts him at unease.  The stress of the man's death, his upcoming nuptials and a desire to pay some money to Vera is causing Al to behave erratically.

I won't continue recounting the plot because the film is not quite up to snuff.  Although the plot sets everything up and the actors dutiful perform their roles, something feels flat in Three Worlds.


If Three Worlds felt flat, Adieu Berthe (aka Granny's Funeral) felt hyper energetic.  Denis Podalydès (the brother of the film's director) plays Armand.  Adieu Berthe is a comedy centered around the death and funeral of Armand's grandmother.  Armand and his wife Hélène (Isabelle Candelier) are pharmacists who run a small drugstore.  Armand also has a mistress, Alix (Valérie Lemercier).  Both wife & mistress of the other but Armand seems to have settled into his dual very French.

Anyway, we get some gags as he makes funeral arrangements.  One funeral parlor is New Age ridiculous.  Another seems to specialize in animal funerals.  His father has Alzenheimer's Disease.

A lot of gags and contrived situations does not a comedy make.


Going Places was scheduled to start at 11:20 PM.  It started a little late but there was an introduction from festival director Cécile Mouette Downs, then the festival trailer and finally the short film.  The point I am making is that the film didn't start until close to 11:45.  I think I feel asleep around 1:15 AM. At nearly 2 hours, Going Places kept on going.  I recall the bars across the street from the Crest were closing down as I exited the theater.  I completely missed 20 year old Isabelle Huppert's appearance

A young Gérard Depardieu and Patrick Dewaere (who would commit suicide in 1982) play two roguish drifters.  "Drifters" is not the right word.  Punks, thugs, rapists, killers, nihilists, bisexuals, ne'er-do-wells, etc.  They seem to drift through life looking for sex, crime and trouble.  For example, they end up having a menage-a-trois with Jeanne Moreau who ends up killing herself in the next room by shooting herself in the vagina.

If you had to classify the film, you would call it a comedy but it has a misanthropic streak to it.  Imagine if Jean-Luc Godard had made Natural Born Killers and you get some sense of type of film Going Places is.  Despite that less than stellar commentary, I cannot say I disliked the film.  There was certainly some artistic vision at play.  I'm just not sure if I agree with the direction or scenery.


With three near misses on Saturday, was hoping Sunday would be better.  I only had time to see one film before driving back to the Bay Area.

Starbuck is the story of David Wozniak (Patrick Huard) who lives French Canada (Montreal?).  Twenty years earlier, David made money by providing samples to sperm bank.  Through a procedural error, the sperm bank used his sample to impregnate many women resulting in his "fathering" 533 children.  About 100 of them have sued the sperm bank to learn their father's identity.  David signed a confidentiality agreement so his identity is protected.

However, he receives the biographical background of the plaintiffs and can't help himself.  He begins to meet some of his children but does not divulge his identity to them.  They just think he is a nice guy.  When his interactions with them become to coincidental he explains his presence by saying he is the step-father of one of the plaintiffs...the one who has Lou Gehrig's disease and therefore cannot communicate.

This proxy paternalism plays out against David's life which consists of his cop girlfriend being pregnant and he has shown no desire to assume parenting responsibilities to date.  As his friend and lawyer (outstanding performance by Antoine Bertrand) battles on his behalf in court and he clandestinely contacts his kids, David keeps the paternity suit secret from his friends and family even as the case become newspaper fodder.

As the bonds between David and his children deepen, David finds he is the one benefiting from knowing his children.

The title refers to the nom de guerre  David assumed at the sperm bank.  Also, Starbuck is being remade into Hollywood film with Vince Vaughn in the role of David.


Although the features were not completely satisfying, the short films were particularly strong.

Les Meutes was about a party and some guys trying to crash it.  There is a fight and this was my least favorite short film.

Les Lézards is about two men hanging out in a Turkish bath while one waits for his blind date.  They talk about love & life.  It was very funny.

Tram is an animated film about a zaftig female trolley driver who likes her job quite a bit.  The vibrations of the ride excite her and the in-and-out motion of ticket punch becomes a metaphor for the sexual act.  By the end, she is fantasizing about the male commuters while driving & masturbating.  I thought it was laugh out loud funny.

Bad Gones - not sure what the title means or if it is a bad translation.  The short reminded me a little of The Bicycle Thieves.  A boy and his father go to a professional soccer match but the man hasn't pre-purchased the tickets.  All that are left are the most expensive seats which he cannot afford.  When he informs the boy, his son starts sulking.  Eventually, the man compromises with his own conscience and steals some tickets from a distracted person.  The boy is unaware or doesn't care about the provenance of the tickets.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Hitchcock 9

The San Francisco Silent Film Festival (SFSFF) presented the Hitchcock 9 at the Castro Theater from June 14 to 16.  I saw six of the nine films on the program.  The Hitchcock 9 is project by the British Film Institute to digitally restore all of Alfred Hitchcock’s surviving silent films.

Blackmail starring Anny Ondra, John Longden & Cyril Ritchard; directed by Alfred Hitchcock; silent with intertitles; live accompaniment by the Mont Alo Motion Picture Orchestra; (1929)
The Ring starring Carl Brisson, Lilian Hall-Davis & Ian Hunter; directed by Alfred Hitchcock; silent with intertitles; live accompaniment by the Mont Alo Motion Picture Orchestra; (1927)
The Manxman starring Carl Brisson, Malcolm Keen & Amy Ondra; directed by Alfred Hitchcock; silent with intertitles; live accompaniment by Stephen Horne & Diana Rowan; (1929)
Easy Virtue starring Isabel Jeans, Robin Irvine & Franklin Dyall; directed by Alfred Hitchcock; silent with intertitles; live accompaniment by Judith Rosenberg; (1927)
The Pleasure Garden starring Virginia Valli, Camelita Geraghty, Miles Mander & John Stuart; directed by Alfred Hitchcock; silent with intertitles; live accompaniment by Stephen Horne; (1926)
The Lodger starring Ivor Novello, Malcolm Keen & June Tripp; directed by Alfred Hitchcock; silent with intertitles; live accompaniment by the Mont Alo Motion Picture Orchestra; (1926)

The same nine films are screening at the PFA from August 16 to 31.  Judith Rosenberg is scheduled to accompany all nine films.  I plan on seeing the three films I missed at the PFA screenings.

It was little odd for SFSFF to have a program so close to their annual festival.  The crowds were a little lighter than the festival proper but still quite strong.  It was also the first time I recall Judith Rosenberg performing at a SFSFF event.  She performs regularly at PFA and Niles Essanay.

Most of the films were not "Hitchcockian" - few murders and the humor wasn't quite so cheeky.


The festival opened with Blackmail which was Hitchcock's final silent film and it portended his best talkies.  Frank (John Longden) is police detective. He and his girlfriend Alice (Anny Ondra) have an argument over dinner.  It's unclear if Alice is having an affair or goes off with an artist in response to the argument with Frank.  I think the latter but regardless, she goes to his studio where he eventually tries to rape her.  She defends herself with a pair of scissors which ends in the artist death.

Frank is assigned the case the next day and recognizes Alice's glove at the murder scene as well as the victim who he glimpsed leaving the restaurant with Alice.  He tries to steer the investigation away from Alice but she is being blackmailed by someone who saw her enter the artist's studio.  Frank and Alice conspire to handle the blackmailer but he flees leading to climactic chase on the roof of the British Museum Reading Room.

This film felt just like one of the Master's more well known films - sex, blackmail, murder, etc.  Hitchcock shoots a great visual scene where the camera elevates as Alice and the artist ascend the stairs.

Michael Powell of Powell & Pressburger fame worked on Blackmail as a still photographer.


The Ring wasn't bad although it didn't feel like a Hitchcock film.  "One Round" Jack (Carl Brisson) is a carnival boxer who takes on all comers.  Bob Corby (Ian Hunter) is the boxing champ who steps into the carnival ring against Jack.  Jack doesn't know who his opponent is and suffers a rare defeat at his hands.  Corby was there looking for a sparring partner.

Jack's girlfriend, and eventual wife, (Lilian Hall-Davis credited as "The Girl") is fickle.  She was attracted to Jack because of his boxing prowess but seeing Corby beat him and the following Corby's boxing career, she eventually takes up with the champ.  In fact, Jack must rise up the ranks in order to get a championship fight against Corby in order to win the girl back.  Ironically, it is while Jack is training for the fight that Corby and the girl become an item.  If the old boxing superstition is to be believed, it was because Corby consorted with women that he eventually loses the match to Jack.

The film was a little too pat.  The Ring is Hitchcock's only screenwriting credit and shows a maudlin streak.  I thought it would have worked better if Jack had lost the fight (or the girl) but there is no use in talking about the film that wasn't made.  The final fight scene was nicely done although the two actors did not move like fighters.


The Manxman was also a love triangle but I enjoyed it more than The Ring.  The title refers to people from the Isle of Man.  Shouldn't they be called Manman or Manmen (plural)?  Hitchcock makes great use of the coastal scenery but Cornwall stood in for the Isle of Man, a small island off the northwest coast of England,

Pete (Carl Brisson) , a poor fisherman and Philip (Malcolm Keen), a lawyer from a prominent family are best friends.  Pete is in love Kate (Anny Ondra) but her father refuses to allow her daughter to marry Pete due to his low station in life.  Pete goes to Africa to make his fortune.  Africa?  Anyway, before he leaves he ask Philip to "take care" of Kate until he returns and can marry her.  You know were this is going.

In Pete's absence, Kate & Philip develop attraction towards each other but it isn't until news of Pete's death reaches them that their passion can be fully expressed.  Philip is being groomed for a judgeship on the island (which is called a Deemster).  Additionally, Philip's family objects to his consorting with people like Kate (a tavern keeper's daughter) and Pete.

News of Pete's death was inaccurate as he arrives back on Isle of Man healthy and wealthy.  Although she has stronger feelings from Philip, Kate marries Pete so as not to break his heart and not to mention Philip has kept their relationship on the QT.  There is a great scene where the wedding reception is held at a grain mill, the same spot of many of Philip and Kate's trysts.  Kate's father (the stern looking Randie Ayrton) delivers a wedding toast about something being ground up like the grain under the millstone.

Kate & Pete settle into married life while Philip is appointed Deemster.  If Kate could just let go of Philip, everything would be alright.  Kate gives birth (the father is open question) and the stress of being a new mother and being married to a man she doesn't truly love is too much.  She goes to Philip to rekindle their affair but he has a career and reputation to protect.  Distraught, Kate attempts suicide but is unsuccessful.  Attempted suicide is a crime on the Isle of Man and Kate is prosecuted in Philip's courtroom.

Despite his wife's erratic and hurtful behavior, Pete is still in love with her and pleads with Philip to free her to his custody.  Pete still doesn't know about Philip and Kate's relationship.  Philip agrees to let Kate go in the custody of her husband but she refuses.  While watching the proceedings, Kate's father begins to realize that Kate is in love with another man...and that man is Philip.  He publicly accuses Philip of betraying Pete and impregnating his daughter.  Philip admits to this and leaves the bench.

The final scene is Kate & Philip leaving the Isle of Man to jeers of a mob.  That seemed a little overdone but according the program notes, it would have been consistent with the prevailing attitude of the time.

The Manxman was very good and I liked it quite a bit.  I was going to say that I liked it quite a bit for a love triangle story but decided there was no need to qualify statement.  The three lead actors gave strong performances.


Easy Virtue was adapted from a Noel Coward play which seems like odd source material for both Hitchcock and a silent film.  I thought I saw the stage version of Easy Virtue at ACT a few years back, but I was mistaken.  ACT has never performed Easy Virtue.  I'm wondering where I saw it.  Since seeing the film, I realized it had been remade a few years ago with Jessica Biel, Colin Firth & Kristin Scott Thomas.  I still can't figure out where I saw the stage version.

Anyway, the Hitchcock version is a film I like better today than when I saw it.  I won't say I liked it but I've gone form mild dislike to neutrality.  As the film opens, Larita (Isabel Jeans) is married to a drunken wife beater.  Accused of adultery, she accepts divorce to get away from him.  The divorce brands her an adulterer or woman of "easy virtue" so she leaves for the French Rivera where she meets John Whittaker (Robin Irvine), a rich young man.  Afraid to reveal her divorce or more specifically the grounds for her divorce, she keeps her first marriage a secret.  John falls in love and asks her to marry him and she accepts.

John takes Larita back to England to meet his family where his mother shows an antipathy towards her. News of her first marriage and particulars of its dissolution come to light.  Larita eventually decides to end her second marriage for different reason that her first.  Tired of the hostility and realizing another woman loves John, Larita gets divorced for a second time.

Condensed to 70 minutes, the film didn't leave much room for character development.  Moreover, it looked like a play that had been filmed.  I'm also sure that some of Coward's biting dialogue was lost on the intertitle cards.


The Pleasure Garden was kind of ham-handed in some of its characterizations.  Jill (Carmelita Geraghty) arrives in London with a letter of introduction addressed to the proprietor of the Pleasure Garden Theater - a dance and variety revue.  Jill apparently comes from a small town and is immediately the victim of a pickpocket.  Jill promptly loses her letter and her money.  Patsy (Virginia Valli), a kind-hearted chorus girl at the Pleasure Garden takes pity of Jill and invites her to stay at her place.

Jill's boyfriend Hugh (John Stuart) shows up in London with Levet (Miles Mander) Levet, slight acquaintance.  Whatever her background, Jill is self-confident to the point of arrogance.  She gets a lead role on the basis of her talent and quickly gets high-handed with Jill and to a lesser extent Hugh.  In the meantime, Patsy & Levet being a romance despite signs of Levet's misogyny and other character flaws.

Hugh is sent overseas for work and Levet is soon to join him although he first marries Patsy.  Jill begins to carry on an affair with a prince which Hugh is unaware of.  After their honeymoon, Levet goes Africa although it looked more like a South Seas/Pacific island where he meets Hugh, keeps secret Jill's affair and takes up with local girl.  Patsy becomes concerned after not hearing from her husband for a long period.  Shacked up and not thinking much of his wife, Levet makes up an excuse by saying he has been ill.

Concerned for his health, Patsy immediately sets out to join him so she can nurse him back to health.  When she arrives unannounced, she discovers Levet has been carrying on with the native girl.  This sends Levet into a tizzy.  He forces the girl from his hut she refuses.  He settles the matter by drowning the girl.  Determined to get his wife back, he looks for her and find her tending to Hugh (who really is ill).  Levet forces Patsy to return to the hut where his guilt over killing the woman drives him crazy.  Actually, I wondered if his behavior was the result of untreated syphilis.  I don't know why that popped into my mind.

Hugh has warned his boss that Levet is acting erratically.  The boss arrives at Levet's house to find him trying to kill Patsy.  He shoots & kills Levet.  In the meantime, Hugh has read in a newspaper that Patsy brought that Jill is marrying the prince.  As Patsy arrives, the two find consolation with each other - one  a fevered man who has just learned he has been jilted and the other woman just barely survived attempted murder.  I'm sure that's a happily-ever-after relationship.

Miles Mander seems to be enjoying himself playing the dastardly Levet.   Carmelita Geraghty also seems to embrace the "success has gone to her head" Jill.  Virginia Valli & John Stuart seem a little flat in their roles.  A little melodrama goes a long way and this film had too much for my taste.


The full title of The Lodger was The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog.  A serial killer called "The Avernger" is terrorizing London.  His MO is to kill young blonde women.  He even kills them on Tuesday night every week.  Joe (Malcolm Keen), a policeman is assigned to case.  His blonde girlfriend Daisy (June Tripp) lives & works at her parents boarding house.  Joe has determined that the Avenger's murders are working their way across London and if the pattern holds, next week his hunting ground will be in the vicinity of Daisy's boarding house.

Mr. Drew (Ivor Novello) arrives at the boarding house and rents a room.  A peculiar man, Drew is secretive and has the paintings of beautiful blonde nudes removed from his room.  Drew & Daisy become friendly during his stay which leaves Joe resentful.  In addition, Daisy's mother hears Drew entering the house late one night...only to discover the Avenger has struck again and right around the corner from her house.

Daisy's parents and Joe come to believe Drew is the Avenger but Daisy is unconvinced.  She even goes out with him the Tuesday night.  Joe arrests the lodger and finds a gun, a map with the Avenger's murders marked on it, newspaper clippings and a photo of an attractive blonde woman.  Joe thinks he has caught the Avenger despite Daisy's protest.  Drew escapes custody and hides out with Daisy's help.  Drew explains that the woman in the photo is his sister and one of the Avenger's victims.  Drew had promised his dying mother that he would catch the Avenger and he has been hunting him ever since which explains his suspicious behavior.

With a manhunt on for the Avenger/Drew, a crowd becomes suspicious of Drew and Daisy.   It appears as though a lynching is inevitable but at the crucial moment, a paperboy, hawking his newspapers, loudly announces that the Avenger has been caught and the mob disperses.

Not quite a MacGuffin but definitely a red herring, Hitchcock keeps the deception up for the entire film.  I don't think the Avenger's face was shown in the film.  The lodger's true intentions remained hidden throughout the film which allowed for a "surprise" ending.  The Lodger felt like a Hitchcock film and a good one at that.  Ivor Novello is particularly creepy as the eponymous character.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Six from the 50s at the Stanford

In June, I saw six films at the Stanford Theater in Palo Alto.  All six were made in the 1950s.  I didn't have to look up the film release dates before writing the previous sentence.  The spring film program was titled Films from the 1950s.

Brigadoon starring Gene Kelly, Van Johnson & Cyd Charisse; directed by Vincente Minnelli; (1954)
Bus Stop starring Marilyn Monroe & Don Murray; directed by Joshua Logan; (1956)
Some Came Running starring Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Shirley MacLaine & Martha Hyer; directed by Vincente Minnelli; (1958)
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers starring Howard Keel & Jane Powell; with Julie Newmar; directed by Stanley Donen; (1954)
Calamity Jane starring Doris Day, Howard Keel, Allyn Ann McLerie & Philip Carey; directed by David Butler; (1953)
Roman Holiday starring Gregory Peck & Audrey Hepburn; directed by William Wyler; (1953)

Technically, Roman Holiday is part of the Stanford's summer program but I knew it was made in the 1950s.


Musicals are typically not at the top my "To See" list.  I find them to be formulaic and times tedious; not to mention unfulfilling.  Breaking out in song and dance at the crucial moment is disappointing for a guy like me who is conditioned to expect a bang or clever rejoinder.

Brigadoon is one of these musicals I have heard about for years but have never seen.  It was playing with another Gene Kelly musical, Singin' in the Rain which I enjoyed very much.  Brigadoon also had the advantage of being a Lerner and Loewe collaboration.  Lerner & Loewe shared credit for one of my favorite musicals (Gigi).

Brigadoon was not Gigi.  The story of a Scottish village in which a century to the rest of the world passes in one day in Brigadoon.  American Gene Kelly & Van Johnson stumble into the town on that one day.   With musicals, plot is not a major selling point.  Apart from one dance number soon after Kelly & Johnson arrive, I found the musical numbers to be a hard slog.  Cyd Charisse looked beautiful and was the best part of the film.

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (7B47B) is another of those musicals I have long heard of but have never seen.  7B47B had a raucous energy and Howard Keel & Jane Powell to interject some humor into the story.  The barn raising number was stupendous and Keel seemed inspired in his role as the eldest of the seven brothers.

Similarly Doris Day seemed to be extra enthusiastic as eponymous Calamity Jane.  Swaggering like the cock of the walk and talking like Foghorn Leghorn to boot, Day plays Calamity like a tomboy until Allyn Ann McLerie shows up and makes eyes for Calamity's calvaryman.  Keel shows up as Jane's best friend.

Of the three musicals, 7B47B was my favorite.


My two favorite films by Jean-Luc Godard are Breathless and Contempt.  They are very different films and I would be hard pressed to pick one over the other.  The latter film features Michael Piccoli as French screenwriter adapting Homer's Ulysses for the big screen.  Fritz Lang plays himself as the director of the "film within a film."  Jack Palance plays the American producer of the film and Brigitte Bardot plays Piccoli's wife.  The contempt referenced titled could be from Palance towards Piccoli and Bardot but it could also refer to the feelings of Bardot and Piccoli towards each other.

In a memorable scene, Bardot & Piccoli argue whether he should take the job with Palance.  The argument takes place in their flat.  Bardot and then Piccoli (I think that is the order) take baths while the conversation flows from topic to topic and room to room.  Piccoli wears his hat while taking a bath and when Bardot tells him he looks ridiculous, Piccoli mentions he looks like Dean Martin in Some Came Running.  Since seeing Contempt for the first time, I have wanted to see Some Came Running to compare Martin's character to Piccoli's character in Contempt.

When I saw Some Came Running on the Stanford calendar, I knew I would have to see it.  I don't recall it being screened anywhere else in the Bay Area for the past decade or so.  I wasn't disappointed.

Some Came Running (based on a James Jones novel).  Dave Hirsh (Frank Sinatra) is US Army veteran and published author returning to his small hometown.  He was drunk the night before and doesn't getting on the bus into town.  He also doesn't remember hooking up with Ginny Moorehead (Shirley MacLaine).  If the author James Ellroy is to be believed, Ginny was a roundheel in the vernacular of the day.  Nowadays, she would just be called poor, white trash.  Looking to dump Ginny and settle some scores, Dave checks into a hotel and looks to settle the score with his older brother who sent him off to a boarding school as a boy.  I'm not quite sure what Dave's beef is with his brother but regardless it is there.

Frank Hirsh has married well and runs his wife's family business (a jewel store).  Embarrassed by Dave's behavior, Frank & his wife try to play matchmaker by pairing Dave with Gwen (Martha Hyer), a schoolteacher and daughter of a college professor.  Dave is looking for some action but Gwen is more interested in his fiction.  Not getting what he wants in the respectable part of town, Dave falls in with his pals from the wrong side of the tracks - professional gambler Bama (Dean Martin), his gal Rosalie and Ginny Moorehead who sticks around town because she is stuck on Dave.

And so it goes, Dave is pulled between the two poles.  As the film progresses, we see that the respectable people aren't really so respectable.  Frank starts an affair with his secretary.  Frank's teenage daughter runs with a fast crowd.  Gwen seems to be sexually repressed for unstated reason (I suspect the book hinted at incest).  At the other end of the spectrum, gambling, drinking and fights are the order of the day.

Disillusioned by everyone's hypocrisy, Dave is fed up and decides to ask Ginny to marry him...much to the dismay of Bama who refers to Ginny as a pig and refuses to attend the ceremony.  After the wedding ceremony, Dave & Ginny are walking hand in hand appearing as though Dave will be miserable for the rest of the marriage as Ginny is not his intellectual equal.  There has been a jilted lover/gangster stalking Ginny since the beginning.  Looking to kill Dave, he shoots but Ginny jumps in front and takes the bullet proving that the least sophisticated amongst them all was the most earnest in her love.

Some Came Running is one of those films that can't be made anymore.  The production code sapped the piss and vinegar from the story so we have to look for signs of what is really going on.  I interpreted the film to be a condemnation of suburban morals and lifestyles.  The hypocrisy of their lives hid the moral rots of their lives.  Dave recognizes this and doesn't bother with the hypocrisy but only finds the unvarnished truth is worse than the hypocrisy.  There is no escape for him except to marry a woman he doesn't love or respect.  He would have ended up as bad or worse than what he was trying escape except Ginny gave him redemption through her death.

Shirley MacLaine received an Oscar nomination for her performance.  Dean Martin's Bama was very cool - gambling, drinking himself to death and always wearing that hat.  The one time he takes it off, he gets knifed.


Bus Stop was Marilyn Monroe's first dramatic role.  Monroe plays Chérie, a woman of questionable background who hustles drinks in a cowboy bar in Phoenix.  Beau (Don Murray) and Virgil (Arthur O'Connell) are in town for the rodeo.  I cannot recall the circumstances of Beau's life.  Virgil appears to have raised him on an Idaho ranch.  Beau owns the ranch but Virgil still serves as his advisor.  I do recall that Beau has had little to no contact with women.

Beau falls hard for Chérie despite Virgil's warning.  Chérie had hustled a few drinks from Virgil before Beau arrived.

I'll digress for a moment at this point.  When I was a boy, my father switched careers.  He became an accountant.  He sold his services to small businesses.  For reasons I do not know, he had quite a few bars as clients.  I think it had to do with the high volume of cash transactions in bars.  Anyway, I remember him telling me (or complaining) about how some of his clients had bar girls on payroll but off the books.  I didn't know what a bar girl was.  He explained that a bar owner would get a nice looking woman or two to hang out in the bar.  She would get guys to buy her drinks.  She would order whiskey but the bartender would serve her room temperature tea.  You could do the same thing with vodka and water.  Anyway, the guy would be paying full price for her drink.  A good bartender would keep track of how many "whiskeys" a bar girl had ordered and know that he could sell that quantity of real whiskey without having to record the transaction.  Essentially they could same sell the shot of whiskey twice with the revenue from the second shot completely off the books.  The bar would have to kick back some of the that revenue to the bar girl.  In the movies, the bar girl would get the guy drunk (matching him shot for shot) and then she and/or her accomplices would roll the guy for his wallet.  I don't think this happens often.  If more too many guys complains to the police about this kind of behavior, it draws unwanted attention from the police.  More common is that the bar girl is also a prostitute and makes some money off the guy the old-fashioned way.

Back to Bus Stop - despite Virgil's warning, Beau pursues Chérie relentlessly.  Chérie is from the Ozarks and Monroe lays on a thick Southern accent.  She is making her way from Arkansas to Hollywood to become a movie star and the Phoenix bar is just a way station.  Monroe memorable rendition of "That Old Black Magic" (both comical and sexy) is from Bus Stop.  Beau unilaterally decides that he and Chérie are getting married.  Chérie declines his "proposal" and attempts to skip town but Beau essentially kidnaps Chérie and drags her onto the bus back to Idaho.

Beau is quite a character  - loud, raucous, uncouth and a bully.  Actually, he has known only success on his ranch so maybe "bully" is not the right word.  Success on the ranch was measured in how fast he rope a calf or how long he can ride a bull.  Using that same mentality, he decides to snag a wife and he won't let anyone (including Chérie) stop him.  At a diner/bus stop, the other passengers realize that Chérie is being forced to go to Idaho against her will.  The bus driver (Robert Bray) steps in at Virgil's urging and fight Beau.  The bus driver resoundingly beats Beau and Virgil demands that Beau apologize to Chérie and allow her to return to Phoenix.  Humiliated by the defeat, Beau drags his feet in apologizing.  When he finally does, it leads to tender moment between the two which ends in Chérie agreeing to go to Idaho with Beau.

Bus Stop stretched the limits of credibility.  Could a character like Beau really exist?  Probably not but within the context of the film, Beau was too rambunctious.  Until the end of the film, there were no gradations or subtleties to Beau.  He was like a bull in a china shop.  I know Bus Stop was Monroe's vehicle but the film would have been better if they had toned down Murray's performance.  Monroe's Southern accent seemed more of an affectation than anything.  Chérie's backstory could have easily been set in a part of the country where her natural speaking voice (not her breathy Marilyn voice) could have been used.


Roman Holiday is all-time classic.  It's been many years since I last saw it and I had never seen it before on the movie screen.

Audrey Hepburn plays a princess who tires of the regimented nature of her life.  She sneaks out of her country's embassy in Rome one night as an act of rebellion.  Unfortunately, she had been given a sedative before she sneaked out.  After a late night poker game, American journalist Joe Bradley (Gregory Peck) encounters her sleeping on a public bench.  Taking pity, Bradley takes her back to his place so she can sleep there.

The next day, Bradley realizes that the woman he took home the previous night is the princess who has "taken ill" according to official government announcement.  Realizing he has a big story, Bradley enlists his photojournalist friend (Eddie Albert) to photograph the princess.  Upon returning to the apartment, the princess continues to pretend she is someone else.  Realizing that she would like experience a normal life, Bradley offers to show her around town along with his buddy (Albert).  There are the iconic scenes of Hepburn & Peck on a Vespa.  

Later, the three go to a dance and get into a fight with the security personnel hired to track down the princess.  She hits someone over the head with guitar which Albert photographs and then they jump in the river to escape the police. 

Bradley has developed feelings for the princess and decides against using photos or writing the story.  Despite her reciprocal feelings towards Bradley, the princess realizes she must return to her duties.  They have an emotional farewell with neither admitting their deception to the other.

The next day, the princess (in her official capacity) has a press conference which Peck & Albert attend.    Seeing them, she realizes what has happened.  During a public exchange with considerable subtext, Bradley assures the princess her secret will remain so and the princess expresses her gratitude to Bradley.  Newly self-assured, the princess decides to meet with some of the journalists at which time Albert hands over the photos and Bradley & the princess share a meaningful glance.

When the press conference ends, Bradley lingers wondering if the princess will send for him.  Realizing this won't happen, he is the last to leave the room with the bittersweet memories of his time with the princess.

Hepburn shines in her role.  It was Roman Holiday that made her a star and won her an Academy Award.  Displaying comic abilities and an appealing vulnerability, Hepburn's star power was on full display.  I also liked that the film didn't sell out at the end and have the two leads live happily ever after.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

2013 San Francisco International Film Festival (3 of 2)

In the 2 months since the 2013 San Francisco International Film Festival (SFIFF) wrapped, a number of its film selection have been generally or limited released.  I was aware that several of the films were getting theatrical releases so I skipped a number of films figuring I would catch them when played elsewhere.  The "3 of 2" in the title refers to realization that I've watched so many of the SFIFF films in the two months since the festival closed that is almost like another 3 or 4 days of the festival.

Among the 2013 SFIFF films that I have seen since the festival:

Frances Ha starring Greta Gerwig; directed by Noah Baumbach; (2012) - Official Website
Venus and Serena; documentary; directed by Maiken Baird & Michelle Major; (2012) - Official Website
The East starring Brit Marling, Alexander Skarsgård, Toby Kebbell & Ellen Page; with Julia Ormond & Patricia Clarkson; directed by Zal Batmanglij; (2013) - Official Website
What Maisie Knew starring Julianne Moore, Steve Coogan & Onata Aprile; with Alexander Skarsgård & Joanna Vanderham; directed by Scott McGehee & David Siegel; (2012) - Official Website
A Hijacking starring Søren Malling, Pilou Asbæk & Abdihakin Asgar; directed by Tobias Lindholm; Danish, Swedish & English with subtitles; (2012) - Official Website
Much Ado About Nothing starring Amy Acker & Alexis Denisof; with Clark Gregg, Reed Diamond, Jillian Morgese & Fran Kranz; directed by Joss Whedon; (2012) - Official Website

I saw Frances Ha, The East and A Hijacking at the Landmark Embarcadero.  I saw Venus and Serena and What Maisie Knew at the Landmark Opera Plaza.  I saw Much Ado About Nothing at the Stonestown Cinema.  I saw A Hijacking on Wednesday, June 26, the day before the Embarcadero Cinema closed for renovations.  The Embarcadero Center Cinema will be closed until early November if all goes according to plan.  I had really started to see quite a few films at the Embarcadero this year.  It's the closest movie theater to my workplace.

On Tuesday afternoons, Rubio's sells their delicious Original Fish Tacos® for $1.50.  I can attest to their tastiness.  On many Tuesdays, I have gone to Rubio's (Four Embarcadero Center, Street Level) after work for an early dinner consisting of three (sometimes four) Original Fish Tacos® and then to Embarcadero Cinema (One Embarcadero Center, Promenade Level) to catch a movie during the 7 O'clock hour.  I'll miss the Embaradero CInema because I won't have an excuse to go to Rubio's.

I will likely see more films at the Landmark Opera Plaza while the Embarcadero Cinema is closed.  I don't like the Opera Plaza theater very much.  There are some sketchy characters on the walk from Civic Center BART/Muni to Opera Plaza.  I have to add time to account for Muni and the walk from the station to the theater.  One nice thing is the theater is close A Clean Well Lighted Bookstore (Hemingway reference) or whatever the place is called now.  I also recall reading that the McDonald's across the street designed their building differently to get the local permits.  It certainly doesn't look like the standard McDonald's building design.


Frances Ha has been likened to Annie Hall.  Greta Gerwig plays the titular character whose full name is Frances Halladay.  At 27 years old, Frances is having trouble adjusting to post-collegiate life.  Now that seems a little late in life to be encountering these issues but Frances is an "artist" and lives in NYC.  Having never lived in NYC, I don't know how it "really" is but in the movies it seems as though artistic types can scrape by because there are so many outlets for arts and entertainment.  I'm reminded of quote from Indiefest where a director said (paraphrasing) that Mumblecore started with a bunch of overeducated, underemployed people in New York.  In Frances' case, she is a dancer and graduate of Vassar College.

Technically, Frances is not a professional dancer.  She is part of the auxiliary or some non-paid position.  Frances' life consists of quirky confusion about the trajectory of her life and money troubles.  In fact, it's unclear how Frances makes money.  What is clear is that she and her best friend from college are drifting apart.  As the film starts, they are living together (they even sleep in the same bed sometimes) but Sophie (Mickey Sumner) soon moves out to live with her boyfriend which hits Frances hard.  This seemed very true to life as I have known women who develop intense friendships which are strained when one becomes serious with her boyfriend or gets married.

In addition to the unraveling of her most valued friendship, Frances is beginning to realize that a dancing career is not in the cards for her.  In fact, the director of her dancing troupe urges her to take a job as a secretary in the company.  Finally, Frances must deal with friends and family who are moving on with their lives and achieving traditional signs of success.  An awkward dinner party makes clear how out-of-step Frances is with some of her peers.

There is a bittersweet undercurrent running throughout Frances Ha which I interpreted as the end of her youth.  As portrayed by Gerwig, Frances has an ebullient nature which makes you want to root for her despite (or perhaps because of) her insecurities.  A running gag throughout the film is Frances' numerous changes of address.  Each chapter of the film is titled by her address.  In the final section, Frances is writing her name on the slip of paper for her mailbox and can't fit it in.  So she folds the paper so it will fit and hence "Frances Ha."

Frances Ha was also filmed in black & white which gives it a unique look and style.  I very much enjoyed Frances Ha.


Venus and Serena is not a hagiography but fails to ask the really tough questions of its subjects.  I have a passing knowledge of the Williams sisters so much of the film was not new to me.  In fact, I wonder if the best subject of a documentary would be Richard Williams - Venus and Serena's controversial father.  At one point, Serena is informed that a young man accompanying her father is, in fact, Richard's son or her half-brother.  She seems unaware that she has a half-brother and frankly, it doesn't really seem phase her much.

Of the two sisters, Serena is the better subject for a documentary.  The documentary was filmed well before Serena's comments in Rolling Stone about a teenage girl being raped and a competitor's boyfriend.  Acknowledging her mercurial nature and occasional temper tantrums, Serena doesn't seem to feel the need to control her behavior.  Being the top ranked player in the world has certain privileges.  At one point, John McEnroe urges Serena to apologize for her outburst at the US Open; Serena declines.  What does it say when John McEnroe is the voice of reason?

It's also clear that the two sisters have a very tight bond.  They share a house in Florida although they train separately.  It's understandable that the two would bond since the professional tennis tour can be stressful.  It also seems to point to something dysfunctional in the Williams family that they are still that close.


The East is a tense thriller about eco-terrorists.  Brit Marling (who co-wrote the script) is Sarah, a former FBI agent who is now working for a private security firm.  Her boss (Patricia Clarkson) sends her undercover to infiltrate the East, a shadowy anarchist group who is targetting the CEOs of companies they judge to have committed environmental crimes.  By infiltrating the group, Sarah's company can better sell their services since they will have advance intelligence on the targets.

With surprising ease, Sarah does indeed join the East.  The main members are Benji (Alexander Skarsgård) who is the leader, Doc (Toby Kebbell) and Izzy (Ellen Page) the most militant.  As Sarah begins to develop feelings for Benji, she becomes more sympathetic to the cause and the members of the East.  Izzy for example is the daugher of an industrialist.  They target his company because it regularly (as in 3 AM every morning) dumps industrial waste into a lake.  Izzy's commitment to the cause seems to be a cry for attention from her father.

Ultimately, Benji & Sarah have to confront each other and their true agendas.  There is more to Benji than meets the eye.


What Maisie Knew was the opening night film at the 2013 SFIFF.  Based on a Henry James novel, What Maisie Knew focuses on a young girl (Onata Aprile) whose parents (Julianne Moore & Steve Coogan) are getting divorced.  Becoming a pawn in her parents increasingly antagonistic relationship, Maisie is shuttled back and forth between the parents.  Moore plays a hot headed rock & roller who wants to recapture her past glory.  Coogan is an art dealer who constant travels and self-absorption pushes everyone away.  Coogan ends up marrying the nanny (Joanna Vanderham) and Moore marries a young bartender (Alexander Skarsgård looking much different than he did in The East).

The new spouses are drawn into Maisie's life and troubles as Moore & Coogan make clear that their marriages had to do with gaining custody of Maisie and not actually providing a good home for her.  As the film progresses, Maisie becomes attached to her step-parents and realizes the collateral damage that her parents' acrimony have inflicted on her and her new step-parents.  

The film was a heartbreaking exploration of how a little girl's life is thrown into turmoil by her parents' divorce.  The ending stretched credibility but is a) consistent with James' novel and b) heartwarming.  The cast was excellent; Onata Aprile (6 years old at the time of filming) delivered a performance that seemed well beyond her years.


A Hijacking was a tremendous film.  The plot is simple - a Danish cargo ship is captured by pirates and its crew held for ransom.  The film focuses on a few of the characters.  Mikkel (Pilou Asbæk) is the ship's cook and becomes the go-between for the pirates because he speaks English as does the pirates.  Søren Malling is Peter, the CEO of the shipping company.  Abdihakin Asgar is Omar, the pirates' negotiator.

The film establishes early that Peter is supremely confident in his own negotiating skills.  Against the advice of his hijacking response consultant, Peter decides to negotiate with the pirates himself.  Several of the cast members are non-actors and have experience with ship hijackings.  This leads to palpable authenticity in the film.

These three men will be stressed in different ways the film proceeds.  Mikkel is obviously held captive but is subjected to death threats and other deprivations and humiliations.  Peter who begins the film as self-confident, has bitten off more than he can choose.  He must stay at the office around the clock to take the phone calls from the pirates.  In addition, to the personal sense of responsibility he has towards his employees on the ship, he also is getting pressure from his board of directors as the negotiations drag on for months.  Omar is presented not as a pirate but as a negotiator who is negotiating with both the pirates and Peter.

The stress of the situation takes it toll on all three which makes resolution of the problem slower to materialize.  To give some sense of the distance need to be bridged, the pirates initially demand $15 million and Peter's initial counteroffer is $250,000.  The consultant's suggestions have the effect of prolonging the negotiations and the crisis in an attempt to wear down the pirates but it also has the effect of wearing down Peter.  The scenes where Peter & the consultant strategize has an "inside baseball" feel to it which is understandable because the consultant was played by Gary Skjoldmose Porter, an actual hijacking response expert.

A Hijacking is one of my favorite films on the year.


Much Ado About Nothing marks my return to the Stonestown Cinema which is operated by Regal Entertainment.  I had not been there since 2011 despite it being the second closest movie theater to my residence.  I went to the 9:45 PM screening on June 28 and there were only 10 or so people in the cavernous auditorium (seating capacity equals 452 if I recall the placard correctly).

Much Ado About Nothing is a modern retelling of Shakespeare's play of the same name.  The actors recite the exact lines as Shakespeare wrote with little modification.  Despite its modern setting and modern costumes, the actors are reciting 15th century dialogue.  One problem I always have with Shakespeare is understanding the dialogue.  The phrasing and cadence is foreign to my modern experience.  I have to concentrate very intently to follow the plot of a Shakespeare play.  Such was the case with this film.  Fortunately, I have seen the play before and read a summary of it before attending this screening.

With that said, I thought the film could have used a little more retooling. There are curious plot points which are incongruous with modern day Southern California.  Putting that aside, I never lost myself in the film.  It felt like a chore to get in school when I had to read a book I didn't enjoy.

Much Ado About Nothing had a very nice soundtrack; it reminded me a little of Norah Jones at times.