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