Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015 By the Numbers

I saw 336 "films" on a theater screen in 2015. For these purposes, a film is not just a feature length film but also includes programs (typically from film festivals) which consist of multiple short films. If it was categorized as a single program in a festival guide, it counts as one film entry on my list. Conversely, I saw several programs which consisted of a short film and a feature length film. For my counting purposes, those are counted as a single film entry.

My annual film totals for the past few years are:

2010 - 385 films
2011 - 406 films
2012 - 436 films
2013 - 397 films
2014 - 388 films
2015 - 336 films

For the six years listed, 2015 had the largest year-on-year change of 52 films.  2015 was the first year since 2010 that I did not average one film per day.


The top 10 venues in which I saw films in 2015 were:

1) Castro Theater (88 films) - primarily the result of Noir City (19 films) and the SF Silent Film Festival (21 films over two festivals).  The Castro Theater has been my #1 film-going destination for three years in a row and four of the past five years.

2) Roxie Theater (55 films) - 11 films from A Rare Noir is Good to Find programmed by Elliot Lavine and 21 films between IndieFest & DocFest.  I'm counting the Roxie and Little Roxie as the same for these purposes.  The Roxie Theater has been my #2 film-going destination three years in a row and four of the past five years.

3) Vogue & Balboa (42 films) - 37 films at the Vogue and 5 at the Balboa.  The Vogue count was mainly due to the Mostly British Film Festival (17 films), the San Francisco Film Society's (SFFS) Hong Kong Cinema (6 films), SFFS' French Cinema Now (4 films) and SFFS' New Italian Cinema (4 films).  The Vogue & Balboa are owned and operated by the same people.

4) Camera Cinemas (29 films) - 25 films at the Camera 12, 3 films at the Camera 3 and 1 film at the Camera 7 Pruneyard.  I watched 24 films at the Camera 12 as part of Cinequest.

5) Landmark Theaters (18 films) - 9 films at the Opera Plaza, 8 films at the Clay and 1 film at the Aquarius.  I saw four films at the Clay as part of the 2015 San Francisco International Film Festival.

6) Four Star (15 films) - Mostly foreign films that weren't playing anywhere else or films late in their distribution run.

7) Kabuki Cinemas (14 films) - 9 films from SF International Film Festival (SFIFF) & 4 films at CAAMFest.

8) Crest Theater (11 films) - all films from the Sacramento French Film Festival.

9) California Theater in San Jose (10 films) - all films from Cinequest.

10) Stanford Theater and Viz (9 films each) - at the Viz I saw 8 films from the Japan Film Festival of San Francisco and 1 film at CAAMFest.  The Stanford was all rep house programs from their regular schedule.

The top 10 venues accounted for 89% of the films I saw this year.

Honorable Mentions:  YBCA (6 films) and the Sequoia Theater in Mill Valley (5 films).

I visited the Camera 7 and Alamo Drafthouse for first time in 2015.


On 208 days in 2015, I saw at least one film. The 2015 breakdown is:

On 157 days, I saw zero films.
On 118 days, I saw one film.
On 67 days, I saw two films.
On 11 days, I saw three films.
On 9 days, I saw four films.
On 3 days, I saw five films.

On both February 27 (Friday) and February 28 (Saturday), I saw five films at Cinequest.  On May 30 (Saturday), I saw five films at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival.

Breaking down the number of films by month:

January - 33 films
February - 46 films
March - 43 films
April - 28 films
May - 35 films
June - 35 films
July - 21 films
August - 29 films
September - 8 films
October - 19 films
November 27 films
December - 12 films

Comparing 2014 vs. 2015 to see when the large decrease occurred:

January (2015 minus 2014):  +1
February:  +5
March:  -11
April:  +2
May:  -10
June:  +10
July:  +1
August:  -1
September:  -13
October:  -7
November:  -11
December:  -17

I was three films behind my 2014 pace as of August 31, 2015.  In addition to being busy at work, September was the month when I decided my father's living situation could not continue and started taking actions to have him put in an assisted living facility.  My father passed away in October and during the last two months of the year, I traveled frequently to Las Vegas to settle his estate.

Breaking down the number of films by day of the week:

Sunday - 67 films
Monday - 41 films
Tuesday - 36 films
Wednesday - 41 films
Thursday - 32 films
Friday - 45 films
Saturday - 74 films


The PFA closed on August 2, 2015.  I only saw one film at the PFA in 2015.  The PFA reopens at their new location on February 3 with Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal.  The new location is 2155 Center Street in Berkeley.

After a long delay, the Alamo Drafthouse New Mission opened in December 2015.  Only one auditorium has been in use but starting tomorrow the other four auditoriums become operational.

2015 is the first year I missed all screenings of Another Hole in the Head.  It coincided with one of my trips to Las Vegas.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Puzzle Within the Castro Theater's January 2016 Calendar

The Castro Theater's January calendar has been posted.  There is no puzzle this month.  The theater is closed January 4 and the program for January 18 (Martin Luther King Jr. Day is still TBA).

The schedule is dominated by 10 days of Noir City, 6 days of Sketchfest and 4 days of Berlin and Beyond.  Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo makes up half of a double bill for the first three days of January.

Other highlights include Spectre (January 5), The Martian (January 11 & 12) and the seemingly bi-monthly screening of Blade Runner (January 13).

Among the non-festival films which I am considering seeing are:

Trouble in Mind (January 13), F for Fake (January 19) and a double bill on February 4 - Lady Sings the Blues and Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life is Calling.


Castro Theater Calendar - January 2016

Monday, December 28, 2015

January & February 2016 Film Festivals

As 2015 winds down, the first part of 2016's film festival schedule becomes finalized.

From January 1 to 7, the Smith Rafael Film Center presents For Your Consideration - films from 15 countries which have been submitted to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for consideration in the Best Foreign Language Film category.

The 20th Berlin & Beyond Film Festival will be held from January 14 to 17 at the Castro Theater and January 18 to 20 at the Goethe-Institut.  The schedule of films has not yet been posted.

Noir City will be held at the Castro Theater from January 22 to 31.  The schedule has been posted and includes quite a few films I have already seen including Rear Window, Humoresque, In a Lonely Place, Young Man With a Horn, Mickey One, Scarlet Street and The Red Shoes.

In it inaugural year, the Crest Theater in Sacramento is presenting the Noir Nights Film Festival on January 15 & 16.  The program consists of five noir classics - A Touch of Evil, Mildred Pierce, The Killing, Out of the Past and Leave Her to Heaven.  The program makes a point of stating that Mildred Pierce and Leave Her to Heave will be screened in 35 mm.  I didn't know the Crest had that capability.

The Mostly British Film Festival is screening from February 18 to 25 at the Vogue Theater.  The program has been posted and includes such classics as Night and the City, Rebecca, The French Lieutenant's Woman & The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.

The San Francisco Independent Film Festival (SF IndieFest) is screening from February 11 to 25.  If past years are any indication, the primary venue will be the Roxie Theater.  IndieFest is expanding their merchandise line.  They are selling a series of T-shirts made to look like the San Francisco Giants uniforms.  The name on the back is chosen from 10 famous film directors and the number is the two digit year in which they made their first feature film.  Coppola 62 refers to Tonight for Sure which Francis Ford Coppola directed in 1962.  The 10 directors whose names grace the shirts are Coppola, George Kuchar, David Lynch, John Cassavetes, Jim Jarmusch, Warner Herzog, Ava DuVernay, Richard Linklater, Gus Van Sant & Quentin Tarantino.  Shirts can be purchased on the SF IndieFest website.

The film schedule for IndieFest has not been announced yet.

On February 3, the PFA reopens for regular film programming.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

I ventured back to the Alamo Drafthouse on Christmas Eve to see Star Wars:  The Force Awakens.  I saw the 2D version.

Star Wars:  The Force Awakens starring Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, John Boyega & Harrison Ford; with Carrie Fisher, Oscar Isaac & Mark Hamill; directed by J.J. Abrams; (2015) - Official Website

Before I write about the film, I should mention I have mixed feeling about the food.  Having the chips & queso at the Drafthouse recently was more significant than I could have imagined.  The flavor of the queso brought back memories of my hindsight it was almost subconscious.  I found myself craving the queso in the days after having it.  I ordered the chips & queso during the Star Wars screening.  It tasted better than it had the previous week.  I'm not sure if they modified the recipe or if my craving was the reason behind the improved taste but the queso was more flavorful.  My only complaint is that there are too many small chips or crumbs served with the queso.  You need larger chips so you can scoop out the queso without it touching your fingers.  I also ordered a sausage & fennel pizza which exceeded my expectations.

The auditorium was near sellout.  Service was slow which is to be expected.  It seemed as though the people around me got their food much sooner than me and the pizza was closer to lukewarm than piping hot which indicates it might have sat on the kitchen counter for awhile.  I had to ask three times to get ice water.  Also with a full house and more food/drink orders, the servers were more conspicuous.  On more than one occasion, they distracted me with their movement.

It's unfair to judge a restaurant on their service and food during its opening weeks so I'll extend that courtesy to the Alamo Drafthouse and reserve final judgment until a future visit.


I guess I should state my Star Wars bona fides upfront.  I prefer, without hesitation, Star Trek to Star Wars.  I was less than month shy of 9 years old when Star Wars came out.  I remember the long lines and the hype.  My parents bought me a Star Wars T-shirt and I remember having playground conversations about the film.  Long before Star Wars came out, reruns of Star Trek were being played on television.  My parents didn't buy a VCR until 1982 or 1983 - five or six years after Star Wars came out.  The original fanboys cut their teeth on repeated viewings of Star Wars on VHS tapes which was largely unavailable to me.  In fact, I don't recall being friends with any hardcore Star Wars (or Star Trek) fans.  All through that period and extending to present day, I watched Star Trek (Saturday nights at 9 PM MeTV) and Star Trek The Next Generation (no set schedule but shown frequently on BBC America) episodes when they come on TV.  I rarely see Star Wars on television.

I guess that serves as an apologia for what I'm about to say - I wasn't that impressed with The Force Awakens.  The plot borrow liberally (or pays homage) to the original 1977 film.  Of the new cast, there are three main characters - Rey (Daisy Ridley), Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and Fin (John Boyega).  Kylo Ren (the most prominent villain) is by far the most interesting character and without giving away too much of the plot, he is the anti-Luke Skywalker.  Rey is a scavenger on a desert planet; her backstory is deliberately kept vague but she has an abiding sense of justice and is Force-sensitive as they say.  Fin is a stormtrooper-cum-rebel who starts the film as war weary and even frightened but becomes quite fierce by the end.

Of the original cast, only Han Solo (Harrison Ford) has significant screen time.  Princess Leia now known as General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) only has a few scenes and Luke (Mark Hamill) only shows up in the final scene with no dialogue.  Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) is attached to Han's side throughout although I read that Mayhew had to have a stunt double for much of the film because of his bad knees.  C3PO has a few scenes while R2D2 is inactive until the close to the end.

Beyond a few too many similarities between the plotw of the 1977 and 2015 films, what were my issues?  I found Rey & Fin to be overly contrived.  Even Kylo Ren borrowed heavily from Darth Vader.  Their characters seemed to fit a blueprint than being realistic & organic characters.  The film seemed to need the characters to behave in certain ways to advance the plot and it became predictable.  Perhaps that is the gist of the matter - the film was too predictable once you picked up on the parallels to the original film.

The older Han Solo is the most interesting character in the film which doesn't bode well since this trilogy is about a new generation.  Imagine if Ben Obi-Wan Kenobi had been the most interesting character in Star Wars.  Maybe I felt that way because I know Han Solo's backstory and have had 35+ years to revisit the film and its characters.

Actually, the plot is a little problematic.  The Rebel Alliance won the war in Return of the Jedi but in The Force Awakens, they are referred to as the Resistance and the military power is controlled by the First Order which has tapped into the Dark Side of the Force.  How the winners of the war came to be the insurgents 30 years later was not explained.

I could nitpick the film but the ultimate litmus test is that I became bored with the film at various points.  I won't go so far as to say that I didn't like the film.  If nothing else, the scenes with Harrison Ford and Adam Driver make the film worthwhile but it seemed a bloated at 2 hours, 15 minutes.  I wonder if the film could stand on its own merits if it was the first entry in the Star War series and not the seventh.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Alamo Drafthouse is Open

On Thursday (December 17), the Alamo Drafthouse in San Francisco officially opened.  It is located at 2550 Mission Street (22nd Street) on the site of the former New Mission Theater.  I can't find the citation but I believe I read that the New Mission opened in 1916.  Vacant for several years, the site was most recently a furniture store.

It appears that only the main auditorium is open at this time.  They are screening Star Wars:  The Force Awakens in 2D and 3D.   All the screenings are sold out until December 24.  Their website indicates that The Big Short opens on December 23.  Joy, The Look of Silence and The World of Kanako (which I saw at the San Francisco International Film Festival and can recommend) open on Christmas Day while Star Wars is carried over for several weeks.  The Drafthouse will have five auditoriums - the main one on the ground floor and four smaller ones on the second floor in the converted balcony.

There is also a bar in the lobby called Bear vs. Bull.  That doesn't refer to the stock market but back to the days of Spanish California when there was a tradition of pitting bulls vs. bears in fights-to-the-death (the bear usually won if I remember correctly).  Apparently these fights took place in the Mission District of SF hence the name of the bar.

The Drafthouse had a soft opening starting on Saturday.  Admission was $5 and food & non-alcoholic beverages were 50% off.  I believe the regular evening ticket price will be $13.25.

I went on Sunday night to see Steve Jobs.  The bar was not open and large sections of main auditorium were empty even though all the seats were reserved on the Drafthouse website.  I should note that the Drafthouse is one of these theaters where you select your seats at the time of ticket purchase.  I assume they didn't want to pack the house for the soft opening because the primary purpose was to train the kitchen and wait staffs.

I ordered the Deviled Eggs and Chips & Queso.  They serve the food in metal reusable trays.  Chips & queso are not so popular here but it's a staple in Austin (the Drafthouse's hometown) where I visited many times in 1980s.  Not merely nachos with cheese whiz, the queso is melted cheese with diced tomatoes and roasted chile peppers.  Sometimes it gets more fancy but that's the holy trinity - cheese, tomatoes & chile.  The classic is Velveeta and canned Rotel tomatoes & chile.  The queso I had on Sunday was not as good as I recall but I am 30 years removed from the last time I had authentic queso.  At $10 (regular price), it's also a lot more expensive than I recall.

For those unfamiliar with the Drafthouse, they serve food & beverages (including alcohol) in the theater.  I liken it to the New Parkway in Oakland but more upscale.  The Drafthouse has a strict no cellphone policy as well.  I didn't see anyone being escorted from the theater for using their cell phone on Sunday but am looking forward to witnessing my first exfiltration.

The main auditorium can seat over 300.  The interior design is a little too wide for the screen.  If you are sitting on the edge, the angle is too wide for my taste.  There is ample legroom in the aisles as the servers need to pass by.  I was afraid that the servers moving about would be distracting but it wasn't although some of them got down on the floor and crawled to avoid blocking audience members views.  I found that a little too over-the-top but appreciate the sentiment.  My only complaint I was sitting in the back and could hear the servers talking about the orders.  However, if given a choice, I would sit closer to the screen than I typically would for an auditorium of that size.


As anxious as I was to see the interior and as much as I appreciated the $5 admission (with an additional $1.25 convenience fee), I would not have gone unless the film was compelling.  I've been reading for months that Steve Jobs was the best film no one saw in 2015.

Steve Jobs starring Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen & Jeff Daniels, directed by Danny Boyle, (2015) - Official Website

The film is divided into three acts.  The first act takes place in the Flint Center in Cupertino in 1984 on the day of the launch or unveiling of the Apple Macintosh.  The middle act is at the Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco in 1988 for the launch of the NeXT computer.  The final act is at the San Francisco Opera House for the launch of iMac in 1998.

The scenes are hectic as the last minute preparations are being made before letting the press & public into the buildings.  As Jobs prepares for his presentations, he is interrupted by various individuals and technical glitches.  The constants are Kate Winslet as Joanna Hoffman, Job's loyal marketing VP who serves as his gatekeeper, chief of staff & conscience, Seth Rogen as Steve Wozniack, co-founder of Apple and yin to Job's yang, Jeff Daniels as John Sculley, Apple's CEO, Jobs mentor cum adversary and Katherine Waterston as Chrisann Brennan, Job's flighty ex-girlfriend and mother to his child (whose paternity Jobs publicly denies).  A trio of actresses play Lisa, Jobs' daughter whom he supports financially if not emotionally.

Based on Walter Isaacson's best selling biography and with dialog by Aaron Sorkin, Steve Jobs is a fascinating films.  Feeling a bit like The West Wing (I was a big fan), the film has Sorkin's trademark "walk and talk" dialog.  Fassbender (as Jobs) says (paraphrasing), "Before every product launch, everyone I know gets drunk and decides to tell me what they really think about me."

The scenes are contrived.  I suspect the events of several years are condensed into the 45 minute acts.  Sorkin almost pulls it off but at times I could tell he is taking Isaacson's narrative prose and forcing the characters to speak expository dialog.  Ultimately it doesn't matter because because Jobs (the man and character) are so fascinating.

The prototypical flawed hero, Jobs (as portrayed in the film) is remote except for the times he acts like a jerk.  Filled with self-confidence to the point of hubris, Jobs first two launches were business failures in the traditional sense.  However, both were necessary in creating the myth of Steve Jobs.  Tellingly, he wears suits and neckties (one is a bow tie) in the 1984 and 1988 scenes.  It's not until the final act that he dons his now famous black mock turtleneck and Levi's blue jeans.

The failure of the Macintosh exiled the prince from the kingdom of Apple and put him in conflict with his surrogate father figure (Sculley) and spiritual brother (Wozniak).  Accompanied by his loyal servant (Hoffman), Jobs wanders the wilderness before ultimately settling at NeXT.  Again, the NeXT computer is a failure but Jobs has learned some of the lessons of life.  The movie would have the audience believe that the NeXT computer was developed only for its operating system.  Jobs knew that Apple's OS was quickly becoming obsolete so he positioned NeXT as a takeover target to facilitate his return to Apple.  The iMac represents Jobs' first (but certainly not final) triumph.

Those old enough to remember may recall that Apple's most successful product for the first 20 years of its existence was the Apple II or one of its variations.  The film sets up a dynamic that the Apple II was Wozniack's achievement even though Jobs received the lion's share of the credit.  However, Jobs knew and resented Woz's role and wanted to create something successful without Woz.  This sets up the key dynamic of the film which is the Lennon-and-McCartneyesque quality of Jobs & Woz's relationship.  Despite a deep and enduring friendship, each resented the other's skills and successes.  If the film is accurate, Wozniack was obsessed for 14 years in getting Jobs to acknowledge the Apple II's engineering and design teams.  Much like Lennon & McCartney (Woz compares himself to Ringo in the film) in the 1960s, your preference of Jobs vs. Woz speaks volumes about your values and personality.

In each act, Jobs is confronted by Woz, Sculley, his daughter and Michael Stuhlbarg as Andy Hertzfeld (an original Macintosh engineer) while Hoffman serves as his confidante and majordomo.  Steve Jobs is a well written and nicely structured film which can easily be adapted to the live theater.  Uniformly strong performances by the cast only buoy the film.  Fassbender and Rogen really captured the mannerism of Jobs & Woz.  Fassbender's Jobs comes off as disagreeable which is consistent with what I have read but he could inspire strong loyalty.  The film makes one wonder why anyone would want to work with Jobs.  Jobs' brilliance and genius are on full display in the film but his charisma seems lacking.

Steve Jobs isn't a great film but it is tremendously enjoyable to watch.  It helps if you have some knowledge of Apple's early history.  The teaming of director Danny Boyle and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin is particularly intriguing.  I hope they collaborate on more films.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Pedophile Priests, James Bond & Rocky Balboa

I was in Las Vegas around Thanksgiving.  There are 20 or 30 multiplexes in Las Vegas and they all seem to show the films.  Mockingjay, Spectre and Creed were well screened.  I've run out of steam w.r.t. The Hunger Games series so I'll probably skip the latest installment.  On three consecutive nights, I watched:

Spotlight starring Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams & Liev Schreiber; directed by Tom McCarthy; (2015) - Official Website
Spectre starring Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz & Léa Seydoux; directed by Sam Mendes; (2015) - Official Website
Creed starring Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone & Tessa Thompson; directed by Ryan Coogler; (2015) - Official Website

All three of these films have been well reviewed.

Spotlight has been receiving Oscar buzz.  It's well made and well acted but somehow it doesn't seem to be an Oscar caliber film to me.  To bastardize a phrase better suited to Creed, Spotlight "punches below its weight."  The film begins with the Boston Globe investigating pedophile priests in 2001 and quickly expands to uncover the Boston Archdiocese's enabling and cover-up of the incidents.  Michael Keaton plays the editor of Spotlight, the Globe's publication specializing in investigative reporting.  A lifelong Bostonian, Keaton's Walter "Robby" Robinson leads a three reporter squad played by Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams & Brian d'Arcy James.  As they start to ask questions, they encounter institutional resistance from the Catholic Church, it's attorney & other civic institutions.  If there was one take away from the film, it is that although the Boston Archdiocese shoulders much of the blame, many people & organizations (including the Globe) were complicit either by their actions or lack thereof.  Stanley Tucci has a nice turn as the eccentric lawyer representing many of the victims.  Liev Schreiber is also memorable as the Jewish, new-to-Boston editor of the Globe.  With the exception of an outburst by Ruffalo's character, Spotlight shows restraint in not giving the audience's outrage an onscreen outlet.  It makes the story more powerful.

Spectre may be Daniel Craig's last turn as James Bond.  I could nitpick some of the more contrived plot points and that this film tried too hard to tie together the last three Bond films (all starring Craig) but this is 007 afterall.  Bond films have always been (and should always be) judged on their stunts and action sequences.  Spectre doesn't disappoint.  I can recall three outstanding sequences with no trouble.  The opening is set in Mexico City on the Day of the Dead.  Bond assassinates a few people, avoids a falling building and gets into a fight while in a helicopter...and that's in the cold opening.  Wrestler Dave Bautista plays the evil henchman quite well.  He and Bond engage in a thrilling car chase in Rome.  Finally, Bautista & Craig have a hellacious fight scene in a moving train.

Christoph Waltz plays Blofeld the head of SPECTRE (Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion), a criminal organization which has put into motion all the troubles Bond has had in the past three films.  He also happens to an old friend of Bond.  I'm a big fan of Waltz and he's not quite a flamboyant as past villains (I'm thinking of Javier Bardem in particular) but does quite well in the role.  By giving a subtler performance (relatively), Waltz gives Blofeld more nuance and even seemingly genuine congeniality at times.

To best enjoy Spectre, it helps to be familiar with the James Bond franchise and in particular, the last three films of the series.  I would characterize myself as a modest fan of Bond films but enjoyed Spectre quite a bit.  Of the four Daniel Craig films, Casino Royale is still my favorite (primarily because of Mads Mikkelsen & Eva Green) but Spectre is a solid entry.  Sean Connery is still my favorite Bond with Daniel Craig being my second favorite by a large margin.  He played Bond a tad too sullen and self-pitying for my tastes but his portrayal was fascinating at times.  His relationship with M (Judi Dench) was particularly interesting.

People are raving about Sylvester Stallone's performance in Creed.  I have to admit that Stallone's Rocky Balboa is the best part of Creed which is otherwise a rehash of the original Rocky with Michael B. Jordan as the young boxer and Stallone as the wise boxing trainer.  The story has come full circle.  Jordan plays Adonis Creed, the illegitimate son of Rocky's opponent and close friend, Apollo Creed.  Angry & resentful at having been abandoned by his father, the younger Creed takes his frustrations out on his opponents in the ring.  Self-taught and raised by his father's widow (Phylicia Rashād) in a mansion, "Donny" Creed quits his white collar job in LA and moves to Philadelphia to train under his father's greatest opponent.  Unfortunately, he forgot to ask Rocky if he would train him.  Being a Rocky film, you know they have to get together and overcome some adversity before Creed (improbably) gets a shot at the title.  Real life British boxer Tony Bellew is effective as the champ "Pretty" Ricky Conlan.  Creed reunites director Ryan Coogler and Jordan who previously worked together in Fruitvale.  Jordan is adequate in the role but never quite convinces me he could be a professional boxer.  Of course, the fight scenes in the Rocky films were outlandish but there was something about Stallone that suggested a broken down pug.  Burgess Meredith conveyed that sense also.  Coogler deftly intersperses some homage scenes to the previous Rocky films.  I surprised myself by catching a reference to a third Balboa-Creed fight which is the fade out scene in Rocky III (the action freezes and transforms into a painting by noted painter Leroy Neiman).

My viewing of Creed is noteworthy because it was the first time I saw a film at a drive-in movie theater in over 37 years.  I was driving in a part of Las Vegas I typically don't go to and saw a drive-in theater.  I went back to see it just to experience the drive-in theater experience.  The sound is now transmitted via a short range FM signal so you listen to the film on the car radio.  By scanning, I was able to listen to the other films at the six screen complex.

Rocky vs. Apollo by Leroy Neiman

Monday, November 30, 2015

Japanese Horror Week at the Roxie

In the week leading up to Halloween, the Roxie had a five film Japanese horror series.  I saw four out of the five films in the series.  I missed Kairo (Pulse) by Kiyoshi Kurosawa.  A few weeks later, the Roxie showed another of Sion Sono's films - Tokyo Tribe.

Audition starring Ryo Ishibashi & Eihi Shiina; directed by Takashi Miike; Japanese with subtitles; (1999)
Ju-on:  The Grudge starring Megumi Okina & Misaki Ito; directed by Takashi Shimizu; Japanese with subtitles; (2002)
Noriko's Dinner Table starring Kazue Fukiishi, Ken Mitsuishi, Yuriko Yoshitaka & Tsugumi; directed by Sion Sono; Japanese with subtitles; (2006)
Tetsuo: The Iron Man starring Tomorowo Taguchi & Kei Fujiwara; directed by Shinya Tsukamoto; Japanese with subtitles; (1989)
Tokyo Tribe starring Akihiro Kitamura, Shôta Sometani & Ryôhei Suzuki; directed by Sion Sono; Japanese with subtitles; (2014)

Audition was my favorite.  Shigeharu (Ryo Ishibashi) is a widower who is urged by his teenage son to begin dating again.  A film producer friend of his devises a plan.  They put out a casting call for a part as the new girlfriend of a widower and Shigeharu will use the pretext of the audition to choose a new girlfriend.

Shigeharu is immediately taken with Asami Yamazaki (Eihi Shiina), a quiet woman whose résumé & audition hint that still waters run deep.  Takashi Miike's films tend to be bizarre but he helms Audition on a more traditional course.  The film allows the relationship to develop in parallel with the sense that Asami is a murderous psychopath.  Actually, the audience becomes aware of Asami's true nature long before Shigeharu but Miike toys with the audience as if he were Alfred Hitchcock.

This all leads up to a memorable torture scene which is punctuated by piano wire and Asami's incongruous laughter.  Eihi Shiina (Tokyo Gore Police and Outrage) shines in the film.  Ranging from shy & repressed to maniacal, Shiina makes a memorable impression.  Audition is one of the more accessible Miike films and makes me wonder what he could do if he dialed back the weirdness factor on many of his films.

Ju-on:  The Grudge was the third film in the Ju-on series but the first released in the US.  The premise is that a ghost or evil spirit resides at a house in Tokyo.  The origin of the ghost is the murder of a woman by her jealous husband.  The spirit resides in the house and as people come in contact with the house the spirit eventually kills them.  The film juggles half a dozen storylines as residents of the house, a social worker, a former police officer and others are stalked by the spirit.  There were a few creepy moments but overall, I was mild about  Ju-on:  The Grudge.

Since seeing Sion Sono's Love Exposure in 2011 (at the Roxie), I've made it a point to see his films if they screen in the Bay Area.  Noriko's Dinner Table is a prequel to one of Sono's most well known films - Suicide Circle which I haven't seen.  Noriko's Dinner Table is a strong entry in Sono's filmography.

The titular Noriko (Kazue Fukiishi) is a teenager in a small town.  She feels stifled by her environment and yearns to go to university in Tokyo.  Her father Tetsuzo (Ken Mitsuishi) is against this since a neighbor's daughter went to Tokyo and got pregnant.  Noriko becomes despondent over her situation and takes refuge in an internet chat room where teenagers share their problems.  Inspired by Ueno54, Noriko's runs away to Tokyo.  Meeting Ueno54 IRL, Noriko discovers her real name is Kumiko (Tsugumi).  Kumiko works as an actress for I.C. Corp. which provides role playing scenarios for its clients.  Noriko quickly joins I.C. Corp. whose scenarios range from mundane to erotic to bizarre.

Meanwhile, Noriko's younger sister Yuka (Yuriko Yoshitaka) feels some of the same ennui as Noriko and active in the same chat room as well.  Yuka decides to run away to Tokyo to join I.C. Corp but she leaves behind a story & other clues for Tetsuzo to find.  Yuka's disappearance leads to the girls' mother's suicide.  Obsessed with discovering what happened to his daughters, Tetsuzo (a newspaper reported) follows the clues left by Yuka and through an intermediary, schedules a role playing appointment with I.C. Corp.  He arranges for Kumiko to play his wife and Noriko & Yuka (now using pseudonyms) to play his daughters.  He rents a house in Tokyo which is similar to the one the girls grew up in and moves the furniture from his house to the rented house.  This sets up the finale which is both bloody & poignant.

With NDT, Sono is in his element.  He excels when he mashes up genres and takes small stories and gives them epic treatment.  In NDT, Sono throws in a non-linear plot which puts the audience in a disjointed mood that parallels the feeling of the characters on screen.  Nominally a horror film, NDT mixes in trenchant social commentary with limited blood and gore.  There is a reference to 54 school girls jumping in front of a subway train in an act of mass suicide.  This was the central plot device in Suicide Circle.

Not entirely satisfying, Noriko's Dinner Table is nonetheless a worthwhile film in its own right and particularly so for fans of Sono as the audience is able to glimpse effective & successful scenes of his cinematic ambition.  Sono direction is tremendous at times through his ability to infuse scenes with tension...and humor...and more tension.

I don't think words can adequately describe Tetsuo: The Iron Man.  The works of David Cronenberg come to mind but Iron Man almost completely dispenses with dialog and the plot is minimal.  The scenes are mostly chase scenes and almost stop motion in appearance.  A man slowly transforms into a metal clad entity while he is chased, raped and otherwise attacked.  Set to a soundtrack of industrial noises and a "heavy metal" soundtrack, I was glad that it clocked in at 67 minutes.

Sion Sono's Tokyo Tribe is unlike anything else I have seen from him.  By my count, Tokyo Tribe is the 8th Sono film I have seen (all in a theater).  First off, Tokyo Tribe is a musical which limits it and makes the audience less able to suspend disbelief.  However, the plot is such that setting it to song doesn't really make it less believable.  Delirious is a word I would use to describe the film.  In a not-too-distant Tokyo, anarchy rules and the criminal gangs (or tribes) co-exist in a tense detente.  I can't even remember why the truce is broken but the tribes rise up against the preeminent tribe and march en masse to their stronghold.  All this is set to techno and rap songs.  Along the way, there is a whole host of characters who are memorable for a day or two.  I recall a lot of scantily clad females.  I remember one of the villains seemed to be motivated by his insecurity about the size of his penis.  There was a Bruce Lee/Kill Bill homage.  Riki Takeuchi as Buppa, the flamboyant Yakuza boss of the most powerful tribe, is the most memorable of the bunch.  I can't recommend Tokyo Tribe and at 2 hours it dragged at times.  It's one of those films that leaves your scratching your head at what you just saw and how the film ever got made in the first place.  It was mildly satisfying immediately after seeing it but two weeks later I have little memory of long stretches of the film.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

The Martian

The number of posts I make on this blog has dwindled in the past two years.  I attribute that to my attention and energy being focused elsewhere.  My posting here is inversely proportional to the concern I had for my father who was a nonagenerian and suffering from advancing dementia.  He passed away a few months ago so when I finish closing out his estate, my time & attention should be freed up to focus on this blog.  We'll see if I find as much satisfaction with writing on this blog as I did before.

The Martian holds the distinction of being the first film I saw in Las Vegas after my father's death.  I saw it in 3D as well.

The Martian
starring Matt Damon; with Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Michael Peña, Kate Mara, Sean Bean & Chiwetel Ejiofor; directed by Ridley Scott; (2015) - Official Website

I loved The Martian.  The premise is that in the near future, an astronaut (Matt Damon) is left for dead on a manned mission to Mars.  In fact, he was wounded but survived.  The rest of the mission crew are on their way back to earth and Mark Watney (Damon) has no way to communicate with the crew or NASA on Earth.  The film meticulously shows how Watney survives.  He grows potatoes, communicates his existence to Earth and eventually formulates a plan for rescue.  The plot spans a year or more and Damon undergoes a remarkable physical transformation although I wonder much was CGI.

Based on Andy Weir's novel of the same name, The Martian appealed to my inner geek.  I'm not an astronaut or a botanist (like Watney) nor have I ever worked for NASA but I have engineering degrees.  The Martian tapped into a basic fear - abandonment, isolation, loneliness & the will to survive.  The film emphasizes the science and logistics more than the existential angst but it's a film about an astronaut not a philosopher.  In fact, by leaving the inner turmoil of Watney largely unexplored, The Martian is like those old-school films where those types of emotions are not addressed directly.  Noir films did this a lot.  Films like The Killing and The Asphalt Jungle focused on the planning & execution of the heist not the neuroses of the characters.  Modern films have a tendency to overplay the emotional aspects vis-à-vis "real life" or at least my real life.

As I get older, I find that I enjoy songs which I didn't enjoy originally.  I'm old enough to recall the disco era and I did not like those songs at the time but now when I hear certain songs, I go crazy for them.  One of the plot devices in The Martian is that Watney has access to the other astronauts' computer files.  The only music available are the disco songs the mission commander selected.  Sprinkled throughout the film are these disco era anthems including Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive," Donna Summers' "Hot Stuff" and others.  Although the musical selection is played for laughs in the film, I was thinking "I'd like to have this soundtrack."

The Martian has an impressive supporting cast which are too numerous to expand on.  I was impressed by Jeff Daniels as the NASA director and Chiwetel Ejiofor as Mars program director.

This autumn boasts a larger than usual batch of general release films which I want to see.  In addition to The Martian, I'm anxious to see Spectre, Spotlight, Creed, Star Wars and The Hateful Eight.  I hope they are all as entertaining as The Martian.

I saw The Martian at a Century Theater on a Tuesday night.  Films were $5 all day at that location.  I recall that being the case at another theater in Las Vegas.  Is that true of all Century/Cinemark Theaters in the US or more specifically the Bay Area?  It's kind of amazing to think I have never gone to a Century Theater on a Tuesday in over 20 years of living in the Bay Area.

Friday, November 27, 2015

The Puzzle Within the Castro Theater's December 2015 Calendar

The clues in the Castro Theater's December calendar is inconclusive.

December 7 - Mickey Rooney is instantaneously recognizable.

December 15 - I didn't recognize this woman.  I searched her image and discovered it is Minnie Riperton, a singer whose two claims to fame are her song "Lovin' You" from the mid-1970s and being the mother of comedienne Maya Rudolph.

Deccember 21 - although I have seen several of his films, I did not recognize Donald Pleasence and had to search on his image.

Initially, I thought the clues might be Christmas themed.  Mickey Rooney birth name was Joseph Yule, Jr. and Minnie Riperton went by the name Minnie Riperton-Rudolph after she married.  Yule and Rudolph are definitely Christmas themed but what about Pleasence?  Donald Pleasence used his birth name as his stage name.  Even if one makes the assumption that Pleasence is a homonym of pleasant, it's not very holiday themed.

On second inspection, I suspect the names refer to Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse and Donald Duck.  There are no films with those three characters on the December calendar.  I only see one film which I recognize as being a Disney production - Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas.

I'm at an impasse.

For the record, I immediately recognized the photo on Christmas Day.  It's from Trading Places.  The man in the background is Eddie Murphy and Denholm Elliott is the man in the foreground.  I had to look up his name because to me he will forever be Dr. Marcus Brody from the Indiana Jones' films.


I did not see any films at the Castro Theater in November but I'm certain I will see a few there in December.

December 5 - the San Francisco Silent Film Festival's winter event is called A Day of Silents and features five films starring Douglas Fairbanks, Harry Houdini & Anna May Wong.  I have already purchased my pass.

December 16 - Noir City holds its annual Xmas kickoff with a double bill consisting of Max Ophüls The Reckless Moment and Richard Widmark in his screen debut as Tommy Udo in Kiss of Death.  Noir City will be held from January 22 to 31.  I've never seen the Udo performance which launched Widmark to stardom and is most memorable for a scene where he pushes a wheelchair bound woman down a flight of stairs.

December 17 - two concert films make up the program Stop Making Sense was directed by Jonathan Demme and features performances by Talking Heads whose music I am fond of.  Home of the Brave was directed by and features performance by Laurie Anderson.


The long anticipated opening of the Alamo Drafthouse in San Francisco comes to fruition on December 17.  I first wrote about Alamo's plan to renovate the New Mission Theater in early 2012.  It took almost four years and at times I was skeptical it would ever open but it is happening.

Their calendar is up and all that is listed are 2D and 3D screenings of Star Wars:  The Force Awakens.  Not only that but all the screenings from December 17 to 20 are already sold out.  I believe the Alamo will have 5 screens and their calendar gives the impression that one screen will be dedicated to screening Star Wars.  I'm curious what will screen in the other, smaller auditoriums.

The Alamo is located at 2550 Mission Street (between 21st and 22nd Streets).  It's a few storefronts away from Foreign Cinema.

In a bit of counter-programming, the Roxie is presenting Far, Far Away and Yet So Close: Science Fiction in San Francisco.  I'm not sure if they are counter-programming Star Wars or the Alamo Drafthouse's first week in operation.  From December 18 to 23, the Roxie will be screening Star Trek IV, Innerspace, Cloud Atlas, Time After Time and THX 1138.

I've long wanted to see THX 1138 which was George Lucas' feature length directorial debut.  Some of the scenes were filmed in BART tunnels which were being excavated at the time of the filming.  My only disappointment is that all four screenings are scheduled to be in the Little Roxie.

Time After Time was supposed to be screened during the 2015 Mostly British Film Festival as part of their tribute to Malcolm McDowell.  Audio difficulties forced the cancellation of that screening so this will be an opportunity to see it.


Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The Puzzle Within the Castro Theater's November 2015 Calendar

The faces on the Castro Theater's November calendar weren't too tough but I'm still not sure what they are pointing to.

November 17 - Initially, I thought this was Richard Widmark but after looking at it for a few minutes, I settled on Frank Sinatra.

November 24 - I was confident November 17 was Frank Sinatra because November 24 looked a lot like Nancy Sinatra.  I've had a crush on her since I first saw the music video for These Boots Are Made For Walking and I saw an HBO special on Frank Sinatra earlier this year.

November 26 - I thought this was Barbara Sinatra (who was previously married to Zeppo Marx).  I looked at several photos of Barbara Sinatra and I just couldn't see the match.  Eventually I cheated and used the Google search function to determine it was "Glorious" Gloria Parker a singer from the Big Band era whose sole film credit is the Water Glass Virtuoso in Broadway Danny Rose.

Broadway Danny Rose is playing on November 25 at the Castro with Hannah and Her Sisters.  Frank Sinatra's 3rd wife was Mia Farrow who starred in Hannah and Her Sisters.  I'm not sure how Nancy Sinatra fit's in.


It's a strong lineup of films at the Castro in November but I've seen most of the films on the calendar - Hitchcock, De Palma (twice), Linklater, Coppola, Malick, Akerman, Kurosawa, Bergman, Scorsese, Woody Allen, etc.

There is a Wim Wenders double feature every Monday in November.  Most of the films I have not seen.

I'd like to see Fantasia on November 8 but I have prior commitments that day.

Complicating matters, the San Francisco Film Society is screening its Fall Season films 16 days in November.


Castro Theater Calendar - November 2015

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Being Evel & People Places Things

I caught two films at the Little Roxie in late August.

Being Evel; documentary; directed by Daniel Junge; (2015) - Official Website
People Places Things starring Jemaine Clement; directed by James C. Strouse; (2015) - Official Website

Daniel Junge is an Oscar wining documentarian.  When the subject of a documentary is 1970s daredevil icon Evel Knievel, the story kind of tells itself but Junge's touch can be seen in this endlessly fascinating film.  I guess it is only endlessly fascinating for people who remember Knievel.  For people of a certain age like Junge, Johnny Knoxville (the film's producer) and myself, Knievel's name brings back memories of our youth in the 1970s.

For those of a younger age or those who found his stunts uninteresting, Knievel was the foremost practitioner of an occupation which barely exists anymore.  Knievel performed live stunts (mainly jumping his motorcycle over objects) which risked his life and limb.  He jumped (or tried to jump) buses, cars, trucks, the fountains at Caesars Palace, the Snake River and live sharks.  In hindsight, it seems ridiculous although Knoxville has made a career out of doing the same thing on a smaller scale.

Just the preparation for the jumps and resulting footage was fascinating for me but Junge delves into Evel's personal.  As a boy under the age of 10, I could certainly sense that Evel was a hellraiser but his transgression go much worse than that.  Unfaithful & a wife beater, uncontrolled violent outbursts, convicted for felony assault & shady business practices, Knievel didn't seem like a person I would like to have associated with.

However, in the 1970s Knievel's image was everywhere a boy could look - lunchboxes, T-shirts, toys, pinball machines, bicycles, etc.  So it was definitely through the lens of nostalgia that I watched this film.  Junge deconstructs Knievel's image in a way I never thought of.  Not so much because it was too sophisticated for me to originate or grasp but because Knievel has faded from my memory (and likely the American public's collective memory).  Knievel is like disco music, bell bottom jeans & pet rocks - unabashedly 1970s.  Junge posits that Knievel represented a weary American spirit that was in tune with the times.  Battered by 1960s social unrest, Vietnam & Watergate, the American public identified with Knievel because he embodied the brash sense of American ambitions.  For a country that had defeated the Nazi, was at the height of its global power & sent men to the moon, Knievel's stunts harkened back to better days when we dreamed large & achieved large.  His failures reminded the viewers of America's current troubles but his repeated comebacks from crashes gave the viewers a sense that America could come back as well.

When I hear theories like this, there are times I believe it and times when it seems like academic sophistry.  This theory seems to fall somewhere in the middle.  During the period, I was too young to be aware of Vietnam, Kent State, etc. so Knievel's exploits must have struck a more basic even primal chord with me.  Knievel called himself the Last Gladiator & I think that gets more to gist of the matter.  Much like today's NASCAR races, people wanted to see the spectacle and the specter of a fatal crash.  Knievel gave the public what they wanted and parlayed it into lucrative merchandising and enhanced his own brand with flashy clothes and even flashier behavior.  In these ways, Knievel's hypermasculinity may have subconsciously struck a nerve with American tired of quiche eaters to borrow from a popular book a few years after Knievel's heyday.

Powered by a terrific soundtrack of rock & rockabilly (my favorite was If You're Gonna Be Dumb You Gotta Be Tough), Being Evel was very satisfying film for me.


People Places Things was an indie film which seemed like mumblecore but may not have been.  It was a favorite of the jury at Sundance.  I'm typically mild about these films and People Places Things was no exceptions.  By these type of films, I mean artsy Brooklynites having life issues.  In this case, Will (Jemaine Clement) finds that his girlfriend and mother of his twin daughters having an affair in flagrante delicto.  The rest of the film is set one year later as Will juggles his teaching job, sharing custody of his daughters, his ex girlfriend's exasperating behavior and his attraction to one of his student's mother.  It has some funny moments as Clement is able to deadpan a one-liner but I can't remember how it ended.

People Places Things is the type of film which was mildly entertaining while I watched it but quickly forgotten.  That's not to say it was bad but just wasn't able to distinguish itself in my memory.


Evel Knievel performing in San Francisco in November 1967
Herbst Theater on the left & Asian Art Museum
(then San Francisco Public Library) on the right

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Maysles Brothers Redux

Noted documentarian Albert Maysles passed away in March of this year.  The Vogue Theater had a retrospective of his work in May. I saw three films in that series.  In August, the Castro Theater showed a double bill of his work.

Iris; documentary; directed by Albert Maysles; (2014) - Official Website
Grey Gardens; documentary; directed by Ellen Hovde, Albert Maysles, David Maysles & Muffie Meyer; (1975)

The subject of Iris is Iris Apfel, a fashion icon who resides in New York City.  The film was made by an octogenarian (Maysles) about a nonagenerian (Apfel) and her centenarian husband.  Apfel's husband Carl Apfel passed away a few months ago at the age of 100.

I had never heard of Iris Apfel before this film.  Apfel & her husband ran an influential interior decorating consultancy.  Well known in NYC social circles for her singular sense of fashion and her legendarily large wardrobe, Apfel's profile was raised considerably when the Metropolitan Museum of Art needed a last-minute substitute exhibit in 2005.  MOMA asked Apfel to allow them to exhibit some of her clothes and the exhibit was a smash.

On its surface, Iris is a biographical documentary on Apfel.  However, Maysles admiration for her sense of style, hard work & common sense are apparent.  The film celebrates Iris Apfel's life which is largely defined by her marriage to Carl Apfel.  Seemingly being led. by the nose by his wife, Carl Apfel must have been quite a man in his younger days.  There is a treasure trove of home movies and photos of their marriage because Carl was diligent in documenting their travels.  A partner in their interior decorating firm, Carl Apfel perfectly complimented his flamboyant wife and the two of them thrived (professionally & personally) because of it.  Make no mistake, the film makes clear that Iris is and was the alpha in the relationship.

Iris could have been made by a different (i.e. younger) filmmaker but because it was Maysles and now he and Carl Apfel have died, the film occasionally has an elegiac quality that may have been consciously designed by Maysles.  The viewer gets the sense that Maysles knew Iris would be his swan song and he chose a kindred spirit to close out his career.l

Ultimately, Iris (the film & the person) are life-affirming and not because of some philosophy which Apfel chooses to adhere to but rather because it is the most sensible course of action.

In its tone and subject matter, Grey Gardens could not be different than Iris.  Grey Gardens focuses on Big Edie Beale and her daughter Little Edie Beale.  Big Edie was Jacqueline Kennedy's paternal aunt and Little Edie was her first cousin.  Although not estranged, the Beales did not socialize with the former First Lady.  I believe Little Edie said she was not invited to her cousin's marriage to JFK.

The two women (both have subsequently died) lived in dilapidated beach mansion in East Hampton, New York.  The squalor was documented by various publications and the property was facing condemnation by local authorities.  Although not mentioned in the film, Kennedy & her younger sister provided funds for the upkeep of Grey Gardens as the estate was known.  I can only imagine what the property looked like before because the film makes it look extremely rundown.

The Maysles Brothers allow the women to share their own life stories in their own words.  As I recall, Big Edie claimed her brother (Jackie's father) cheated her out of her share of the family inheritance.  Her husband left her for another woman.  The state of Grey Gardens is a result of the financial deprivations Big Edie suffered after her divorce.

For her part, Little Edie had dreams of being a singing star.  She sings on film.  Her past includes an extramarital affair with Harry S. Truman's Secretary of the Interior.  In the 1950s Big Edie begged thirtysomething Little Edie to move from Manhattan back to Grey Gardens to care for her.  Little Edie claims she was on the cusp of stardom and seemingly resented her mother for the imposition.

By the time the Maysles Brothers show up, the two women are like Crawford & Davis in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?  Isolated, dysfunctional, impoverished, resentful towards each other but tied together by maternal bonds, the women are comic and tragic.  Big Edie seems resigned to her lot in life and tries to make the best of the situation.  Her major complaint seems to be the aggravation her daughter causes her.  Little Edie seems delusional and still dreams of being a cabaret singer.

Their backstory and living conditions are too good to be true for skilled documentary filmmakers like the Maysles.  With little coaxing (or at least editing out the coaxing), the Maysles Brother get the Beale women to share their stories in conversational style.  For their part, the Beales show no self-consciousness of their living conditions.  It's just another day in the life of Big & Little Edie.

Gimme Shelter made me a fan of the Maysles' films but Iris & Grey Gardens cement it for me.  I'm going to take every opportunity to see more of their films.

Monday, October 5, 2015

That's the Nectar of the Gods, Baby

In August, the Vogue Theater had a three day Frank Sinatra Film Festival.  I had seen several of the films on the program.  I decided not to rewatch such classics as From Here to Eternity & Anchors Aweigh even though I enjoyed them greatly.  Instead, I saw two films on the program which I had not previously seen.

The Joker is Wild starring Frank Sinatra, Mitzi Gaynor, Jeanne Crain & Eddie Albert; directed by Charles Vidor; (1957)
Suddenly starring Frank Sinatra & Sterling Hayden; directed by Lewis Allen; (1954)

The festival was sponsored by Jack Daniels which was introducing Sinatra Select or was it Sinatra Century?  I don't know.  I didn't attend the opening night where they were reportedly pouring small samples of some Sinatra-branded Tennessee Whiskey.  The occasion is that 2015 is the centennial of Sinatra's birth.  The title of this post is the tagline from a Jack Daniels commercial I used to see fairly often on television.  I thought there were FCC regulations which prohibited the advertising of hard alcohol or distilled spirits on television.  According to the commercials, Sinatra was buried with a bottle of Jack Daniels and regularly drank it while on stage performing.  The disembodied but satisfied voice of Sinatra utters the tagline in the commercial; presumably after having a sip of said liquor.

Speaking of drinking on stage, The Joker is Wild is a biopic of Joe E. Lewis, a popular singer & comedian who was a close friend of Sinatra before the making of the film.  As a young man, Lewis was a popular club singer in 1920s Chicago.  He ran afoul of one of Al Capone's associates.  In retaliation, the mobster had Lewis' throat and tongue cut so that he couldn't sing.  This incident & the events leading up to it are depicted in the film with Sinatra as Lewis and Eddie Albert as his best friend and pianist Austin Mack.

Once an up-and-comer, Lewis is unable to sing and now reduced to working as a comedian in a shabby burlesque house in NYC.  This is where Mack finds him several years after the incident.  He arranges for Lewis to perform at a charity benefit hosted by Sophie Tucker (who plays herself in the film).  Although he is unable to sing, his comic ad-libs launch a career revival for Lewis as well as capture the romantic interests of wealthy socialite Letty Page (Jeanne Crain) and later showgirl/actress Martha Stewart (Mitzi Gaynor).

Riding high on career success, Lewis' hard drinking & self-loathing drive away everyone who cares about him.  The film ends on a bleak note considering that Lewis was still alive at the time & that he and Sinatra were such good friends.

Sinatra skillfully captures Lewis' self-destructive tendencies.  I have to wonder how much of Sinatra's personal life infused his performance.  At times, it seemed as though Sinatra was playing a version of himself which may not have been so well-known in 1957 - mob ties, hard drinking, sarcastic, failed relationships, etc..

The relative obscurity of The Joker is Wild is a surprise to me.  I thought this was one of Sinatra's better & more memorable performances.  The film paints a complex and at times unflattering portrait of Lewis.

Suddenly has the look & feel of a B film but I'm not sure of its development & production history.  The title refers to the fictitious town of Suddenly, California.  It's the town where the President of the United States will be making a hastily planned & unannounced stop.  Only Sheriff Tod Shaw (Sterling Hayden) & his deputies are aware the plans.

As Shaw and the visiting Secret Service agents secure the town, a trio of strangers arrive claiming to be federal agents.  We quickly learn that the three are assassins paid to kill the President.  The leader of the three is John Baron (Sinatra).  Baron & his associates kill the Secret Service Agent-in-Charge and hold several people hostage in a house overlooking the train depot where the President will transfer to a waiting car.  The hostages include the house owner Pop Benson (a retired Secret Service agent), his widowed daughter-in-law (Nancy Gates), her son Pidge, Shaw and a TV repairman.

There is a romantic subplot involving Shaw & Ellen (Gates).  Ellen can't get over the death of her husband during WWII.  However, most of the story is set during the hostage crisis as the hostages surreptitiously attempt to foil the assassination while the assassins try to keep the hostages in line while preparing for the President's arrival.  Ostensibly a paid assassin, Baron has what would now be called PTSD.  A decorated sniper during the war, Baron was discharged because he liked to kill too much.  Shaw picks up on this and continually pushes Baron's buttons while the TV repairmen secretly hooks up electrical wire to the metal table that the sniper's rifle is clamped to.

The film is very tense at times.  Hayden is a bit wooden in his delivery of some dialog but he finds his groove in scenes when he is playing opposite Sinatra who is a tightly coiled sociopath.  Suddenly features another strong performance by Sinatra.

Both The Joker is Wild & Suddenly are worthwhile films.  I recommend both films.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

2015 CAAMFest San Jose

On September 19 & 20, I went down to see the 2015 CAAMFest San Jose at the Camera 3 Cinema.

I saw three films:

Hollow starring Nguyen Hong An, Son Bao Tran & Lam Thanh My; directed by Ham Tran; Vietnamese with subtitles; (2014) -  Official Facebook
Someone Else starring Aaron Yoo, Leonardo Nam & Jackie Chung; directed by Nelson Kim; (2015) - Official Facebook
Queen starring Kangana Ranaut, Lisa Haydon, Mish Boyko, Jeffrey Ho, Joseph Guitobh & Rajkummar Rao; directed by Vikas Bahl; Hindi, French, Dutch & English with subtitles; (2014) - Official Website

CAAM announced that "over 2,000" people attended CAAMFest San Jose festivities.  Most of the 2,000 did not attend the three films I did.  Attendance was meager.


Hollow was on the CAAMFest program in March.  I remember being interested in seeing it then but couldn't fit it in my schedule.  Hollow was directed by Ham Tran who also directed How to Fight in Six Inch Heels.

Hollow is ostensibly a ghost story but it weaves in some social commentary on child prostitution.  Ai (Lam Thanh My) is a happy, young girl from a wealthy family.  She adores her older stepsister Chi (Nguyen Hong An).  Chi has the goth/punk thing going.  She is a rebel but what is she rebelling against?  It is most likely her stepfather Huy (Son Bao Tran) whom she has never gotten along with although she can't quite articulate why.  Chi also has a secret; she is pregnant.  While looking after Ai, Chi experiences nausea.  This allows Ai to wander off and is pulled into the river.  Hollow plays it both ways - sometimes the film has supernatural elements but much of it is rooted in real world criminal activities which could explain much of the plot.

Ai is lost and turns up at the morgue but miraculously & disturbingly comes back to life.  From there, strange things happen.  The audience (with Chi as the guide) slowly learns that Huy's fortune comes child trafficking and although he is trying to go legit, he still has ties to the criminals that run the child prostitution rackets.  Ai's disappearance could be signal from the mob that they don't like Huy trying to put his past behind him but the film puts a definite supernatural slant on things.  I found myself wishing that the film was a little more ambiguous about the source of these ominous events.

Anyway, Chi with the help of her cop uncle & a shaman priestess slowly unravels Huy's mysterious past and have to deal with the evil they uncover (both paranormal & man-made).

Hollow was decent horror film as far as I am concerned.  It had some visual panache & by looping in the child prostitution (which was more disturbing than the spiritual possession), it gave Hollow a gritty/scary vibe which was quite effective at times.


Someone Else was a mindbender.  Aaron Yoo plays Jamie, a shy law student from Virginia who comes to NYC for the summer to intern at a prestigious law firm.  He stays at his extroverted cousin Will's (Leonardo Nam) apartment.  Hungry for new experiences, Jamie quickly starts dating the sexy Kat (Jackie Chung), breaks off his engagement to plain-jane Yoo Jin (Chung in a dual role; I didn't realize it was her until close the end of the film), gets addicted to cocaine and has a meteoric rise & fall at the law firm.  Or did he?

About 75% of the way in, Someone Else reverses course and the audience sees a different depiction of the events of that summer.  Which is the truth?  Director Nelson Kim said the 2nd version was but I don't think it really matters.  The film is about the troubled psyche of Jaime.  Interestingly enough, by the end of the 2nd version, Jaime ends up at the same place.  In fact, I interpreted the final scene as meaning Will was Jaime alter ego.

Someone Else gets high marks for effort.  The acting of the three leads was fabulous.  I think the plot could have used another draft.  At times it was confusing and at other times it was awkward in its attempts to explain all the loose endings.  It was a solid even exemplary low-budget independent film.


Queen was a feel-good story about Rani Mehra (Kangana Ranaut), a shy young woman a few days away from her wedding.  Sheltered by her family and strong belief in traditional behavior, Rani is devastated when her fiancé Vijay (Rajkummar Rao) breaks off the engagement.

Eventually, she decides to take the honeymoon trip alone because she has always wanted to see Paris.  While there she makes friends with the hotel maid Vijayalakshmi, who also goes by Vijay (the stunningly beautiful Lisa Haydon).  Free spirited, Westernized, sexually active & a single mother, Vijay is everything Rani is not and everything Rani has been taught to avoid.  Armed with a kind soul & non-judgmental attitude, Rani forms a strong friendship with Vijay as she explores Paris.

Paris was Rani's choice for the honeymoon but the second half is in Amsterdam, her ex-fiancé favorite city in Europe.  Speaking of Vijay, an accidental text from Rani revives his interest in her and he flies to Amsterdam to reconcile with her.

If Paris was an eye-opener, Amsterdam is life-changing for Rani.  I don't know why she didn't stay at the hotel she presumably had her honeymoon reservations at.  Instead, she settles for a youth hostel and lucky to have that since every room in town is booked for unstated reasons.  It's a coed arrangement though.  Do those really exist?  Rani's roommates are the artist Oleksander Mish Boyko) from Russia, the rambunctious Taka (Jeffrey Ho) from Japan and the non-descript Tim (Joseph Guitobh) from France.

Rani is horrified at the thought of sharing a room (two bunk beds) with strange men but their thoughtfulness & congeniality win her over eventually.  Traipsing all over Amsterdam, the four become a tight knit group and Rani begins to gain her self-confidence.  Eventually, Vijay tracks her down and begs for forgiveness while being disdainful of the friends and choices she has made.  Rani sends him home without an answer but in a film like this, I knew what the answer would be.  Rani tells Vijay to pound salt upon her return to India.

Queen is a multicultural coming of age story.  It's decidedly dismissive of traditional Indian gender roles.  I wonder if those roles still exist.  Telling, the Indian protagonist had to go to Europe to find her self-worth.  Bollywood dance music is India's most relevant cultural export according to Queen.   Indian attitudes towards female sexuality also takes a beating.  In addition to Vijayalakshmi, Rani meets self-assured & unapologetic Rukhsar (aka Roxette), an Indian woman working in Amsterdam's red light district.

Although a little saccharine at times, Queen was largely satisfying based on the performance of Kangana Ranaut as Rani.  She convincingly makes the transformation from the meek jilted virgin to the self-confident (although still virginal) would-be entrepreneur.  I guess Queen still adheres to some cultural limitations.  I would think that the female protagonist would have to experience the joys of sex to have made the transformation in some countries.


All told, it was a satisfying trio of films at the 2015 CAAMFest San Jose.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

The Puzzle Within the Castro Theater's October 2015 Calendar

I identified the individuals in the Castro Theater's October 2015 calendar without relying on the internet.

October 5 - the image is a little small but I'm certain that is the recently deceased Christopher Lee in one of the Dracula films made by Hammer Films.  If I had to guess which film, I would venture Dracula AD 1972.

October 12 - I did not initially recognize this photo but as I stared at it, I recalled a vampire film I saw at the Castro last year.  The film was Daughters of Darkness & the actress is Delphine Seyrig.  I searched on those parameters to confirm the photo is of Seyrig.

October 19 - no need to search.  I immediately recognized Max Schreck as Count Orlok in F.W. Murnau's Nosferatu.  I didn't have to look up the image but did have to look up the spelling of Schreck's name.

Three actors playing vampires.  I do not see a vampire film on the calendar although the horror genre is well represented in October.  I'll just say the clues are pointing to Halloween.


Castro Theater Calendar - October 2015


As for the films, I have seen most of the films on the calendar.  Among the films I have not seen which interest me are:

October 13 - The Rose; I saw this film on HBO in the early 1980s.  I'm not sure why this film was talked about among my adolescent friends.  Reading the synopsis, it seems unusually depressing for 13 year old boys to discuss.  I have a feeling I would appreciate this film more today.

October 15 - Margaret Cho; not a film but a live stand-up performance on her tour.  Over 20 years ago, I saw Cho & George Lopez do a show at The Punchline.  This was before All-American Girl.  I thought she was hilarious that night and have always wanted to see her perform again.  Having recently read an interview with her, I think the time is right to see her again.

October 17 - Carnival of Souls; a well known horror film which I have never seen.

October 20 - The Devils; a film I had not heard of before reading the calendar.  Directed by Ken Russell and starring Oliver Reed & Vanessa Redgrave, the 1971 film received an X rating upon its release.  Given its pedigree, infamy & relative unavailability, I think I will be at the Castro on the 20th.

October 25 - Serpico; from 1971 to 1983, Al Pacino had a remarkable run of film roles - Godfather, Scarecrow, Serpico, Godfather:  Part II, Bobby Deerfield, ...And Justice for All, Cruising,  Author! Author! & Scarface.  Cruising was famously controversial for its depiction of homosexuals.  Author! Author! was a commercial & critical flop (Pacino's first).  Many people think Pacino jumped the shark in Scarface.  Regardless, I haven't seen Serpico in decades and the film was made before Pacino was Pacino.

Sunday, September 27, 2015


Last month, I saw Dope at the New Parkway in Oakland.

Dope starring Shameik Moore, Tony Revolori & Kiersey Clemons; directed by Rick Famuyiwa; (2015) - Official Website

I guess this is a appropriate time to say that J. Moses Ceaser has stepped down as the General Manager of the New Parkway as of September 20.  The new general manager is Diane Tadano.  Ceaser emerged as the driving force in bringing the Parkway back into existence.  It's hard to believe that it has been nearly three years since the New Parkway reopened.  My recollection was that his background was not in film exhibition nor was it his career aspiration.  In his valedictory email, Ceaser states he will remain involved with programming the New Parkway & his ambitions don't stop at the Oakland border.  He states "One of the things that we’ll be exploring in 2016 is the possibility of taking the New Parkway to other Bay Area communities.  And we want to hear from you.  If you know of communities that would love a New Parkway, properties that we should look at, and/or people with whom we should speak, please let us know."  Having never been to an Alamo Drafthouse location, I have been under the impression that the New Parkway is the shabby chic cousin of the Alamo Drafthouse.  With the opening of the New Mission Theater imminent, I will be interested in comparing the two.

I also noted that the furniture has changed in one of the theaters.  Before the smaller auditorium had restaurant style tables on the main floor.  Now it has rows of seating with long tables for food & drink.  The chairs are on casters which make it hard to lean back and not move the entire chair.

Dope was my second trip to the New Parkway in 2015.  The food at the theater has improved since my last visit.  I had the daily special which on this day was meatloaf with string beans & mashed potatoes.  It exceeded my expectations.

Dope also exceeded my expectations.  It's the story of three high school seniors in Inglewood - Malcolm (Shameik Moore), Jib (Tony Revolori) & Diggy (Kiersey Clemons).  I've never been to Inglewood.  The only thing I know about it is that the Forum (the Los Angeles Lakers former home arena) is there.  If Dope is to be believed, there is a gang problem in Inglewood.  Malcolm, Jib & Diggy form the geek squad at their school.  It's the type of school where the kids have to go through metal detectors but the cop/security guard waves Malcolm & his friends through because of their reputation.

The plot is fairly intricate but essentially, Malcolm & his friends go to a club party where they shouldn't be.  A botched drug deal at the club ends with a brick of ecstasy in Malcolm's backpack.  Eventually, gangbangers & drug dealers are after Malcolm for the drugs.  The drug kingpin Malcolm eventually throws in with turns out to be the Harvard alumni Malcolm is meeting with for a letter of recommendation.  Forced to sell the drugs, Malcolm & his cohorts use the dark net & bitcoins to move some serious Molly.

It's all a little too contrived if you think about it too much but I mostly enjoyed the film.  It's kind of like Porky's meets Revenge of the Nerds meets Boyz n the Hood.  At times, Malcolm runs into some scary characters which makes the film uneven but I admire director Rick Famuyiwa for trying it and often pulling it off.  Some of the characters reminded me of Joe Pesci in Goodfellas.  They're funny because they are so deranged but when the violence explodes they're pretty damn scary.

Shameik Moore is solid as Malcolm which is a character that reacts to the craziness around; essentially playing the straight man.  Zoë Kravitz has a small role as the object of Malcolm's desires.

Dope trades on the stereotypes of inner city black youths.  It sets up Malcolm & his friends as the antithesis of those stereotypes and mines the humor in the interactions of Malcolm (presumably the audience's point of view) with these stereotypes.  Dope does this very effectively and to fine comic effect.

Saturday, September 26, 2015


Although Tangerine played at the Castro Theater on Tuesday, I saw it last Friday at the Roxie.  To be specific, I saw it at the Little Roxie which seems a more appropriate venue than the cavernous Castro for a small independent film like Tangerine.

Tangerine starring Kitana Kiki Rodriguez & Mya Taylor; directed by Sean Baker; (2015) - Official Website

Tangerine premiered at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival.  It has received quite a bit of press because it was filmed on iPhones using an $8 app.  It also screened at this year's San Francisco International Film Festival.

The film is a screwball comedy set among the tranny streetwalkers in Hollywood.  The protagonist is Sin Dee Rella (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) who is just out of a 30 day lockup.  She meets up with her friend and fellow tranny hooker Alexandra (Mya Taylor).  Alexandra lets slip that Sin Dee's boyfriend & pimp has been cheating on her with a woman as in "born with a vagina" woman.  These transgender terms are always hard for me to convey.

This propels Sin Dee to search the back alleys and sleazy motels for the elusive Dinah.  Along the way, we get a glimpse into the lives of Alexandra (who wants to be a singer) and an Armenian cab driver Razmik (Karren Karagulian) who likes to pick up the trans streetwalkers and go down on them.

This all sounds sordid.  There is a scene where Sin Dee finds Dinah in a cheap motel giving a blowjob in the shower which is outrageous enough to give one pause.  For some reason, there is a light-heartedness to the film which belies its seedy environs.

Alexandra spends most of the film giving out flyers to her performance at a club.  No one shows up except Sin Dee with Dinah forcibly in tow.  It turns out Alexandra has to pay the club to perform.  It's sad and funny which describes many of the scenes in Tangerine.

The finale is set in a donut shop where Razmik, his mother-in-law, wife, infant child, Dinah, Sin Dee, Alexandra, Sin Dee's pimp Chester (James Ransone) and the Asian proprietor of the shop converge.  It reminded me of one of those Golden Age comedies where the characters converge in the end and their secrets are exposed.  Actually, while watching Tangerine, it felt vaguely familiar because it was a pastiche of genres & influences.  It was a screwball comedy, a road trip except Sin Dee walked or took the bus everywhere and at times reminded me of the works of John Cassavetes and Abel Ferrara.  Tangerine carves out something unique though.  Any film that can have not one but two comic scenes of failed fellatio by streetwalkers gets my nod of approval.

If I recall correctly, actors Kitana Kiki Rodriguez & Mya Taylor are long-time friends and tight-lipped about their past & present lives.  They had input in the character development.  The relationship between Sin Dee & Alexandra is the bedrock of the film.  Repeatedly, the depth of their friendship becomes apparent in their actions.  That gives the film an emotional foundation and makes these strange (for me) characters seems not so strange.

Tangerine is a niche film.  Certainly some people will be offended by it but ultimately it is a film about friendship & self-discovery.