Wednesday, January 7, 2015

25 Films I Saw at the Castro Theater in 2014

From February 27 to November 20, I saw the following 25 films at the Castro Theater.

Star 80 starring Eric Roberts & Muriel Hemingway; directed by Bob Fosse; (1983)
Je t’aime, je t’aime starring Claude Rich; directed by Alain Resnais; French with subtitles; (1968)
Sorcerer starring Roy Scheider; directed by William Friedkin; English, Spanish, French & German with subtitles; (1977)
The Getaway starring Steve McQueen & Ali MacGraw; directed by Sam Peckinpah; (1972)
Drugstore Cowboy starring Matt Dillon & Kelly Lynch; directed by Gus Van Sant; (1989)
Trainspotting starring Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller & Robert Carlyle; directed by Danny Boyle; (1996)
Othello starring & directed by Orson Welles; (1952)
The Servant starring James Fox & Dirk Bogarde; directed by Joseph Losey; (1963)
Accident starring Dirk Bogarde & Stanley Baker; with Jacqueline Sassard & Michael York; directed by Joseph Losey; (1967)
The Addiction starring Lili Taylor; with Christopher Walken, Annabella Sciorra & Edie Falco; directed by Abel Ferrara; (1995)
Swimming Pool starring Charlotte Rampling & Ludivine Sagnier; directed by François Ozon; French & English with subtitles; (2003)
Pennies From Heaven starring Steve Martin, Bernadette Peters & Christopher Walken; directed by Herbert Ross; (1981)
A Hard Day's Night starring John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison & Ringo Starr; directed by Richard Lester; (1964)
The Knack…and How To Get It starring Rita Tushingham, Ray Brooks, Michael Crawford & Donal Donnelly; directed by Richard Lester; (1965)
The Rover starring Guy Pearce & Robert Pattinson; directed by David Michôd; (2014) - Official Website
A Boy and His Dog starring Don Johnson; directed by L.Q. Jones; (1975)
Streets of Fire starring Michael Paré, Diane Lane, Rick Moranis & Willem Dafoe; directed by Walter Hill; (1984)
The Warriors starring Michael Beck & James Remar; directed by Walter Hill; (1975)
Sweet Charity starring Shirley MacLaine; directed by Bob Fosse; (1969)
All That Jazz starring Roy Scheider; directed by Bob Fosse; (1979)
Magic in the Moonlight starring Colin Firth & Emma Stone; directed by Woody Allen; (2014) - Official Website
Guardians of the Galaxy starring Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel & Bradley Cooper (voice only); directed by James Gunn; (2014) - Official Website
Rushmore starring Jason Schwartzman, Olivia Williams & Bill Murray; directed by Wes Anderson; (1998)
Don't Look Now starring Donald Sutherland & Julie Christie; directed by Nicolas Roeg; (1973)
Daughters of Darkness starring Delphine Seyrig, Danielle Ouimet, John Karlen & Andrea Rau; directed by Harry Kümel; (1972)

Drugstore Cowboy & Trainspotting was a double feature.  The Castro also screened Thanksgiving Prayer (directed by Gus Van Sant, 1991), a 3 minute short film of William S. Burroughs reciting his poem of the same title.  I think it played before Drugstore Cowboy in which Burroughs has a supporting role.  


2014 will go down as the year I didn't have enough time to write about the movies I saw.  I could list a few reasons why but it would sound pathetic.  Most of these films deserve much more than one paragraph from me but that is all I can spare.

Star 80 - I saw this as a teenager and it's still a powerful film 30+ years later.  It's the story of the life and death of Dorothy Stratten (Muriel Hemingway), a Playboy centerfold who was killed by her insecure husband (Eric Roberts).  The final murder/suicide scene is painful to watch.  Sidenote:  at the time of her death, Stratten was dating Peter Bogdanovich (Roger Rees played a fictionalized version of him in the film).  A few years later, Bogdanovich married Stratten's younger sister.

Je t’aime, je t’aime - I saw this Alain Resnais film to cross it off my list.  The film is a frustratingly fragmented story about a man (Claude Rich) who undergoes a time travel experiment.  Having just been released from a mental hospital due to a failed suicide attempt, the man's "time travel" is non-linear and could easily be the jumbled reconstruction of memories by a mental by a mentally ill person.

Sorcerer - the William Friedkin remake of Clouzot's The Wages of Fear.  It is a faithful remake although Friedkin tacked on a prologue which told the backstory of how the four protagonists ended up in South America.  Sorcerer is tremendous thriller highlighted by an incredible scene where a truck full of nitroglycerin drives over a rickety suspension bridge while a flooding river rages below.  I enjoyed The Wages of Fear but I think I prefer Friedkin's remake.

The Getaway - Steve McQueen (the actor not the director) was a cool customer.  McQueen was one of my mother's favorite actors and I have to admit, I have a serious man-crush on the King of Cool.  The Getaway is a confluence of legends:  Walter Hill wrote screenplay, Jim Thompson wrote the source novel, Sam Peckinpah directed, Steve McQueen starred and Bob Evan encouraged his wife (Ali MacGraw) to take a role in the film.  This is the film where McQueen met MacGraw who would divorce Evans and marry McQueen.  McQueen is in fine form as "Doc" McCoy (Star Trek reference?), a recent Texas parolee whose release was secretly predicated on two things.  First, he agreed to rob a bank and second, his wife (MacGraw) slept with a corrupt businessman who is bankrolling the bank robbery.  There is the obligatory double-cross which puts the McCoys on the run.  One thing I liked about The Getaway is that I recognize many of the locations.  The finale is in El Paso where I grew up about a decade after The Getaway was filmed there.  McQueen is the epitome of cool while working a pump-action shotgun in The Getaway.

Drugstore Cowboy - I cannot recall this Gus Van Sant film very well.  Matt Dillon and Kelly Lynch are two drug addicts who happened to be married to each other.  They drift along in Pacific Northwest with a younger couple (James Le Gros and a very young Heather Graham).  They steal from drugstores and their life is sliding into oblivion until Graham ODs.  Dillon tries to kick the habit and ends up in a fleabag hotel next door to a defrocked priest (William S. Burroughs).  I had the read the summary of the film to recall these plot points.  I now recall the interactions between Dillon & Burroughs.  From some reason, this well regarded film had not stayed in my conscious memory.  I recall Thanksgiving Prayer more than Drugstore Cowboy.

Trainspotting - this is the like the The Outsiders of Scotland; a cast who would go on to bigger and better things.  Obi-wan before he was Obi-wan (Ewan McGregor), Sherlock before he was Sherlock (Jonny Lee Miller), Robert Carlyle one year before The Full Monty and three years before he became a Bond villain.  Drugstore CowboyTrainspotting was a double feature about heroin addicts.  I would say that a full third of the dialogue in Trainspotting was unintelligible due to my inability to decipher the thick Scottish accents of the actors.  The film was still memorable.  There is a scene where McGregor had to reach down and retrieve his drugs out of the most horrific public toilet I can image.  This turns into a memorable hallucinogenic sequence.  There was also a powerful scene where the group our strung out in a shooting gallery and discover a dead infant killed by neglect.  The depiction of drug addiction and drug addicts was very sobering.  It had a great soundtrack which announces itself with Iggy Pop's Lust for Life.

Othello was shot over three years due to financing problems.  If I recall correctly, the Castro screened the "restored" version of Othello (supervised by Orson Welles' daughter).  Orson Welles looked a little strange in his make-up.  He reminded me of the Klingons from the original Star Trek.  Welles was fine as Othello but I detected a certain self-awareness in his performance.  Micheál MacLiammóir as Iago was stupendous.  I can't quite find the film adaptation of a Shakespeare which overcomes the issues related to listening to the dialogue in iambic pentameter but Othello was one of the best so far.

The Servant was half of a Joseph Losey/Harold Pinter double bill.  Losey directed this Harold Pinter screenplay.  The Servant stars James Fox & Dirk Bogarde in a psychological thriller about class issues.  Fox plays the wealthy young man who hires Bogarde to be his servant.  As the film progresses, the power shifts from the master to the servant (who has some secrets in his past).  There is a noticeable homoerotic undertone at work throughout the film.  Both men actively push away the females from the household.

Accident was the other half of  the Losey/Pinter double bill (paired with The Servant).  Same setup as The Servant:  Losey directed, Pinter wrote the screenplay.  Losey & Pinter collaborated a third time in 1970 with The Go-Between.  Dirk Bogarde & Stanley Baker are two Oxford professors who are attracted to a student (Jacqueline Sassard).  Michael York plays her boyfriend.  Again, Losey/Pinter explore social issues.  This time, their focus is on academia, relationship between students and their professors, the way men cope with aging.

The Addiction - a vampire film with heavy philosophical overtones; most of which went over my head.  Lili Taylor plays a NYC philosophy grad student who is turned into a vampire by Annabella Sciorra.  I was once told that everyone in France takes a philosophy class in order to graduate high school.  That seems to play to a stereotype but maybe it is true.  I never took a philosophy class and at times, I feel self-conscious about my lack of knowledge in that subject.  The title would make it seem obvious as what vampirism is being compared to but there seemed to be a lot discussion about the nature of evil.  I recall images of Pol Pot's victims being displayed.  By placing the vampire story in a university, Abel Ferrara was able to bring up several philosophical matters.  The Addiction was not one of my favorite Ferrara films.

Swimming Pool - Charlotte Rampling is an uptight English novelist with writer's block.  Her publisher offers his French villa to her for extended working vacation.  Unannounced, the publisher's daughter (Ludivine Sagnier) shows up and is a disruption.  She drinks, plays loud music and has one night stands.  The two women clash bu Rampling is not above listening & watching her housemate's conquests.  Eventually, there is a murder and a conspiracy to cover it up...or is there?   The final scene calls into question the events of the entire film but whether "real" or "imagined" Swimming Pool is a very good thriller with Rampling and the sexy Sagnier giving strong performances.

Pennies From Heaven - set during the Great Depression, Steve Martin plays a traveling salesman.  Bored in his marriage, he seduces a shy schoolteacher (Bernadette Peters).  He promises to leave his wife for her but Marin returns home and when his wife unexpectedly agrees to finance his dream of owning a record store, he freezes Peters out of his life.  Discovering she is pregnant, fired from her job and unable to contact Martin, Peters falls in with a flashy pimp (Christopher Walken).  After an abortion, she has transformed into a streetwalker when she meets Marin for the second time.  Resuming their affair and mutually unsatisfied with their lives, the couple run off together.  Before they can depart, Martin is picked up the murder of blind girl.  He is convicted on mistaken memories and circumstantial evidence.  The film ends with him going to the gallows but with a peppy dance number to insure a "happy ending."   I was only vaguely aware of the plot so the film was a surprise to me.  Although a musical reminiscent of the Busby Berkeley ones which kept the nation's collective mind of its troubles, Pennies From Heaven doesn't white wash anything.  Steve Martin's character is a selfish liar.  Peter's character is forced into prostitution and Walken's pimp is as hard as any mac daddy that graced the silver screen.  But because they are playing these roles in a musical, the contrast between the music and the plot take on added significance and the poignancy of the actor's performances is enhanced.  The song & dance numbers are top notch.  Once (possibly twice), Martin is watching a film and he steps into the dance scene without missing a beat.  The showstopper is Walken's striptease while singing "Let's Misbehave."  Pennies From Heaven was one of my best film experiences of 2014.

A Hard Day's Night - not much of a plot.  It's The Beatles going from one location to another; they crack jokes and then sing.  The Beatles on the train, Beatles at a casino, Paul's "grandfather" causing some trouble, etc.  Interestingly, Ringo seems to have the most screen time.  It's a fun movie; more so if you like the early Beatles' songs.

The Knack…and How To Get It - this film was the 2nd half of a double bill (with A Hard Day's Night).  The titular "knack" refers to having "a knack with women" which one of the characters (Ray Brooks) does.  Actually, the opening scene features these women lined up to sleep with him.  Allegedly, Charlotte Rampling & Jacqueline Bisset are two of the women.  Three men, a womanizer, a shy lad and "neutral" artist compete for the affections of Rita Tushingham.  I cannot recall which one "won."  The artist painted the interior completely white and Ray Brooks was super cool with his Ray-Bans.  They pushed a bed on casters down the street also.  I recall being mildly entertained after the film but four months after the viewing, I cannot recall too many specifics.

The Rover - post-apocalyptic action film from Australia except the apocalypse is a financial meltdown.  Guy Pearce plays a loner who gets his car stolen.  With single-minded determination, Pearce and the wounded Robert Pattinson track down the culprits.  It's a film filled with tense moments.  Not quite gonzo enough for me.

A Boy and His Dog - Don Johnson is in a more traditional post-apocalyptic world with his dog who can communicate with him telepathically; I guess the nuclear fallout turned the dog intelligence up to 11.  At some Johnson goes into an underworld and then I fell asleep.  I was bored silly with this film.  This film was double billed with The Rover which gives you a hint about one of the plot points of that film.

Streets of Fire - one of my favorite films from my teenage years.  I was worried I wouldn't like this film in my 40s but I really enjoyed this screening; great music, sexy Diane Lane, Rick Moranis playing a jerk named Billy Fish & Willem Dafoe with a Flock of Seagulls haircut dueling with Michael Paré in the streets with sledgehammers.  Dafoe is really memorable as the villain.

The Warriors Streets of Fire was double featured with this film.  I don't think I can write anything about The Warriors that hasn't already been written.  I've seen this film several times so I almost left after Streets of Fire but I felt so good after that film that I decided to stick around.  This film has achieved a cult following.  I'm not part of that cult but enjoy it as much as anyone with a penchant for genre films.  I know the plot better than I thought as I could predict which gangs the Warriors would encounter next.  Deborah Van Valkenburgh had small roles in both films.  Whatever happened to her?

Sweet Charity - perhaps my favorite musical of all-time.  I wrote more about it in 2009.  I loved this film when I saw it in 2009 and I loved it when I saw it in 2014.  I seem to recall that the Rich Man's Frug was cut short in the version which screened at the Castro in 2014.

All That Jazz - 2014 was the 35th anniversary of All That Jazz.  It was screened at the 2014 San Francisco International Film Festival.  Bob Fosse's semi-autobiographical musical about his manic efforts to finish editing Lenny while getting Chicago ready for Broadway.  Joe Gideon (Roy Scheider) runs at breakneck speed until he has a heart attack during a table read of his new Broadway production.  His morning ritual is to play Vivaldi's Concerto alla Rustica, take some eye drops, drop some Alka-Seltzer tablets and pop some Dexedrine.  When he is ready to go for the day, he looks in the mirror and announces "It's showtime."  We hear and see this over and over again.  Like Pennies From Heaven, All That Jazz is a very dark film.  For the first half of the film, we see that Gideon is a workaholic and a jerk.  After his heart attack, he stays in the hospital but he begins to have hallucinations.  This film is one of many tremendous performances that Roy Scheider provided in the 1970s.

Magic in the Moonlight - many critics disparaged this Woody Allen film but I found it mildly amusing.  Colin Firth is a magician and cynic who is asked by a friend to expose a clairvoyant (Emma Stone) as a fraud.  She is vacationing on the French Rivera with a wealthy family whose son is considering proposing marriage.  Not only can he not debunk her methods but he begins believe in her abilities and even fall in love with her.  Firth is in fine form as the depressed magician looking for something to believe in while Stone (whom I am a big fan of) gives him something.  Stone's performance has been criticized as too modern for a film set in the Age of the Flapper Girl but she brings flippant & insouciant charm which wins Firth (and me).  You know she is a scammer but can't help liking her (see The Music Man).  Magic in the Moonlight is not a masterpiece but I like it when Woody goes for the laughs.

Guardians of the Galaxy - adaptation of a Marvel Comics series which I had not read, Guardians' main character is Peter Quill  (Chris Pratt).  He is kidnapped from earth by aliens and taken to an unspecified time & location.  He works as an intergalactic thief and his theft of an orb but him in contact with the other "guardians" - Zoe Saldana as green skinned warrior, pro wrestler Dave Bautista as "man" seeking to avenge his family's murders, Vin Diesel as a talking tree who sole vocabulary is "groot" and the voice of Bradley Cooper as genetically engineered talking raccoon.  They are sent to galactic prison for stealing the orb...action & hijinks ensue.  The soundtrack was the highlight of the film for me.  The plot device is that Quill's only possession from his late mother is a great mix tape that he values above all else.

Rushmore - Wes Anderson's second film as a director and 18 year old Jason Schwartzman's screen debut.  Schwartzman plays an eccentric prep school student with an unending list of extracurricular activities but little academic performance.  He has a crush on a new teacher at his school (Olivia Williams).  The title of the film is taken from the fictional school's name:  Rushmore Academy.  The teenager has competition for her affections from Bill Murray who plays a wealthy parent and alumni of Rushmore.  The film operates in the stylized reality that Anderson is known for but not quite a stylized as many of his later works.  Anderson adroitly sidesteps issues which could derail the film but in his hands are presented with comic deftness - a teenage boy's crush on a teacher, claims of having sex with a friends' mother and Schwartzman & Murray's increasingly violent acts of revenge.  Rushmore is quirky and one of my favorite films by Anderson.  Actually, I've only seen four of Anderson's ten feature length films.

Don't Look Now - Donald Sutherland plays an architect who accepts a job in Venice to restore a church.  Julie Christie plays his wife.  Their daughter has recently died in a drowning accident.  Christie meets two sisters in Venice, one of whom claims to be a psychic and warns her that her husband is in danger in Venice.  Sutherland is skeptical even after nearly falling of a scaffold in the church.  Christie leaves for England after their son has had an accident at school  Sutherland thinks he sees his wife (and dead daughter) several times in Venice.  Don't Look Now deals with issues of precognition and mistaken identities.  Director Nicolas Roeg uses flashbacks and flashforwards to play with the audience's sense of reality vs. foreshadowing.  This was a very stylish film with a solid performance by Sutherland.  The ending was a bit of a surprise as Roeg has been placing false clues throughout the film.

Daughters of Darkness - surprisingly good vampire film.  Delphine Seyrig (looking and acting like Marlene Dietrich) is a countess and vampire .  Andrea Rau (with a Louise Brooks bob) is her secretary.  They are staying a beachside resort during off season.  The only other guests in the hotel are newlyweds (John Karlen & Valerie (Danielle Ouimet).  The countess eyes the couple as her next victims but the film delves into other issues.  The husband has anger issues and seems like rough sex.  There is strong element of lesbianism in the characters' interactions.  Also, the power dynamics shift between the newlyweds as they become caught the vampire orbit.  This must have been the height of Euro Gothic chic in the 1970s and it is still impressively stylish.

No comments: