Saturday, December 10, 2016

Castro Theater's December 2016 Calendar

The reason I started posting the Castro Theater's monthly calendars was because there was a puzzle within them.  However, the Castro Theater has not put the puzzles in their calendars for quite a some time.  I'm not sure if I will continue posting the calendar in 2017.

Of course, I'm not posting much at all.  I track my film viewing and 2016 is on pace to be slightly behind 2015.  I didn't watch many film in the final 3 months of 2015 because of my father's death.  I saw 336 films in 2015 and I'll have to have an extremely busy December to match that number in 2016.  There is no way to put it except to say I'm watching fewer films than before although 300+ films in a year is quite a bit compared to "normal" people.

If the Castro is screening films I have already seen, there are only two rep house cinemas remaining for me to choose from:  the Roxie & the PFA.  For reasons I have not determined, I am less inclined to take BART to Berkeley since the PFA reopened.  Before the closure I would have imagined the opposite since the new PFA location is much closer to the Berkeley BART station than the old location on Bancroft Avenue.  If I'm not going to the PFA or the Castro, that leaves the Roxie which has the additional benefit of "free" admission via my membership.  The explanations for my reduced film consumption are programming choices and an unexplained indifference towards PFA.

If I'm not spending my time at the movie theater, where am I spending my time?  I used to read movie blogs and review sites.  Now I read personal finance blogs and websites.  My father had an extremely conservative investment portfolio at the time of his death (conservative even for a 91 year old) which I have converted to serve my purposes.  I had my own investment portfolio before his death and I could have done more of the same but I decided to have a little fun with my father's portfolio.  I've kept some of his better yielding investments but I've converted most of it to higher yielding investments.  Higher yields come with increased risks.  Finally, I've taken a small portion of his portfolio and converted it to extremely risky investments hoping to hit the idiomatic home run.  I have found this exercise to be educational and entertaining.


As for December at the Castro Theater, I have seen most of the films being screened.  This seems to be happening quite often.  I don't have my film log on me but the number of films viewed at the Castro is down from previous years.  The Castro has been my leading film viewing venue for three consecutive years but the streak will not make it to four years.

December 14 - the annual Noir City kickoff event screens two films I have not seen - Cash on Demand (1961) and The Ice Harvest (2005).  Noir City will be held from January 20 to 29 at the Castro Theater.

December 17 - The Mosquito Coast (1986); I saw this on television many years ago.  In my late teens, I was mildly impressed with the film.  I'm more anxious to see it as a 40something year old.  The cast is quite impressive in retrospect - Harrison Ford, Helen Mirren, River Phoenix & Martha Plimpton.

The Roxie has had some intriguing programming as of late and December promises more of the same.  Among films being screened at the Roxie in December are:  Drop Dead Gorgeous, Being John Malkovich, and Anna Biller's The Love Witch.  All three films will be screened in 35 mm.

Being John Malkovich is part of a Midnites for Maniacs triple feature of Spike Jonze films.  Midnites for Maniacs returns with a week later with a Jason Statham double bill - Crank and Crank High Voltage.

The Roxie closes out the year with a set of Pedro Almodovar films.

I'm also looking forward to Krzysztof Kieslowski's Three Colors trilogy at the PFA.  White (1993) screens December 11 & 17.  Red (1994) screens December 14 & 18.  Blue (1993) screens December 17.


Castro Theater Calendar - December 2016

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Castro Theater's November 2016 Calendar

The November 2016 calendar at the Castro Theater has some appealing entries.

November 1 - The Birth of a Nation is Nate Parker's directorial debut and feature him in the lead role as Nat Turner (of the slave rebellion fame).  The film has mixed reviews and was a box office disappointment.  Despite its title and similar historical setting, the film is not a remake of D.W. Griffith's epic.

November 3 - Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds is the opening night film of the San Francisco Film Society's DocStories program.  I already have my ticket.

November 18 - Donnie Darko and Prisoners form a Jake Gyllenhaal double feature.  It's been a few years since I last watched Donnie Darko.  The synopsis states the "Original cut" will be screened which I interpret to mean the version with the Echo and the Bunnymen score which is my preferred version.

November 20 - Mississippi Mermaid and Rear Window is a pairing of the renowned mutual admirers Alfred Hitchcock and François Truffaut.  Mississipi is spelled with only one "p" in the French title and stars two icons of French cinema: Jean-Paul Belmondo and Catherine Deneuve.

November 23 - The Ice Storm is an early (1997) English language Ang Lee film with a eye-popping cast:  Kevin Kline, Joan Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Tobey Maguire, Christina Ricci & Elijah Wood.

Among the non-Castro Theater screenings which I have put on my November calendar are:

November 3 to 7 - The French Had a Name For It 3 at the Roxie.

November 10 to 13 - Third I San Francisco International South Asian Film Festival with screenings at the Castro Theater and the New People World Cinema.  There is a one-day South Bay session on November 19 at Bluelight Cinemas in Cupertino.

November 19 - 2016 Sacramento Mini French Film Festival at the Crest Theater.

October 27 to November 20 - 2016 Silicon Valley Jewish Film Festival at various venues.  The two films which appeal most to me are Rabin, The Last Day (November 19) and Sabena Hijacking: My Version (November 17).

October 27 to November 9 - 2016 Another Hole in the Head Film Festival at New People World Cinema.  Horror films don't appeal much to me anymore but I feel like I should support the IndieFest team by attending a few screenings.

November 23 - Blind Woman's Curse at the Roxie as part of their Nippon Nights series.  BWC is a 1970 tale of revenge starring Meiko Kaji (Lady Snowblood and Female Convict Scorpion series) as a female Yakuza.


Castro Theater Calendar - November 2016

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Castro Theater's October 2016 Calendar

I've noticed the Castro has stopped showing new releases.  They used to show films after they ended their first run.  It's been several months since they screened a film released in 2016.  The Castro is largely a rep house/revival film theater now.  They show mostly American/Hollywood films and host film festivals with live events often featured.

On the October calendar, a few films catch my eye.

October 13 - De Palma paired with Vertigo.  This is part of a 4 day series with Vertigo screening each night and paired with a Brian De Palma film.  On October 16, they screen Body Double which is my favorite De Palma film.  Unfortunately, October 13 to 16 conflicts with the 2016 Mill Valley Film Festival (October 6 to 16).

October 19 - Jim Jarmusch double feature:  Dead Man and Ghost Dog.  Dead Man is my favorite Jarmusch film and Ghost Dog is the film by Jarmusch I most want to see.  The full title of the film is Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai.

October 23 - a Marlon Brando double feature.  One-Eye Jacks (1961) is the only film for which he received a director's credit.  I have not seen the film or at least, I don't remember seeing it.  The Missouri Breaks (1976) was directed by Arthur Penn and pairs Mulholland Drive neighbors Jack Nicholson & Marlon Brando.  A critical & commercial flop upon its release, I recall seeing the film 25 years ago and not being impressed.  However, the film has received a reevaluation in intervening years and is viewed favorably by some.


I hope to attend the following film festivals before the end of the year.

Mill Valley Film Festival - Oct. 6 to 16
Silicon Valley Jewish Film Festival - Oct. 27 to Nov. 20
Another Hole in the Head Film Festival - Oct. 27 to Nov. 6
The French Had a Name For It 3 - Nov. 3 to 7
San Francisco International South Asian Film Festival (Third I) - Nov. 10 to 13
Sacramento French Film Festival (Fall Mini-Fest) - Nov. 19
A Day of Silents (San Francisco Silent Film Festival) - Dec. 3


Castro Theater Calendar - October 2016

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Camera 12 Cinema Closes - They (Don't) Live

It was with sadness that I read that Camera 12 Cinemas in Downtown San Jose closed last week.  Camera Cinemas announced "the staggering costs of maintaining a large, aging, poorly designed building has led us to this decision to close."  I've noticed that vacancies in the area around Camera 12 have been increasing and long standing.  The space that held the Blackbird Tavern (on the same block as Camera 12) has been vacant for two years.

I did not visit Camera 12 often.  Excluding Cinequest screenings, I have seen more films at Camera 3 than Camera 12.

Speaking of Cinequest, I wonder what they will do now.  Cinequest has become my favorite film festival largely because of the close proximity of venues.  They simultaneously screen six films at three venues within a two square block area.  Four of the six films typically screen at Camera 12.  If you have a festival pass, the proximity of venues makes it easy to change your viewing schedule to take advantage of word-of-mouth film recommendations.  With Camera 12's closure, I wonder how Cinequest will maintain their screening schedule much less keep everything within walking distance.  Cinequest assures everyone that they are up to the least w.r.t. venue capacity.

I actually learned of Camera 12's closing via an email from Cinequest.  Cinequest CEO Halfdan Hussey sent an email on September 8 stating that Cinequest has "been working successfully to insure that your next Cinequest Film & VR Festival has expanded (not decreased) venue capacity to meet the excitement of the burgeoning live event. We will announce venues along with our finest, biggest and most electrifying lineup on Jan. 26th.  Cinequest Film & VR Festival occurs February 28 - March 12, 2017."


Last night/this morning, I went to the Landmark Clay to see the midnight screening of They Live.

They Live starring Roddy Piper, Keith David & Meg Foster; directed by John Carpenter, (1988) - Official Website

I didn't count during the film but as I was leaving, I counted 8 people in the theater.

I'm still not sure why there have been so many San Francisco screenings of John Carpenter films this year.

I saw They Live when it came out in 1988.  I thought then (as I do now) that WWE wrestler Roddy Piper is an odd choice for the lead role.  "Rowdy" Roddy was at the height of his WWE popularity (he was a heel so maybe notoriety is more appropriate) so it may have been a marketing issue.  The role feels like one tailor-made for Kurt Russell who worked extensively with Carpenter.

Piper is flat in his role but he ad-libbed a classic line - "I have come here to chew bubble gum and kick ass...and I'm all out of bubble gum."

They Live is not the kind of film where you quibble over the performance of the lead actor.  The plot involves a covert alien invasion of earth whereby the aliens communicate with each other via messages that are invisible to humans except those who wear the special sunglasses.  Heavy and heavy-handed on social commentary about class warfare and consumerism, the film nicely posits that the aliens are responsible for most of the social ills that bedevil us.  As an added bonus for modern times, in the film the LAPD are aliens who practice old-fashioned "shoot first, ask questions later" form of policing.  Actually, watching their tactics in the film, I was surprised when contrasting it to the response such tactics would elicit today.

Piper plays an unnamed construction worker/drifter who falls in with a homeless encampment.  It's denizens are fed by a soup kitchen run out of a church across the street.  The church is just a front.  It's actually the headquarters of the human revolutionaries who have uncovered the alien plot.  They transmit signals to jam the subliminal messages sent over television.  They also mass produce the aforementioned sunglasses.  After the cops raze the homeless camp in order to capture the insurgents, Piper and a fellow homeless construction worker (Keith David) take up the fight.

Meg Foster is an actress who is always memorable because of her piercing blue eyes; her eyes are hypnotic to me.  As a quick aside, there is a film called Stepfather II with Terry O'Quinn and Foster that I recall enjoying in the late 1980s.  I would love to see that film get a revival screening.  In They Live, Foster portrays the ersatz love interest for Piper's character.

Carpenter's direction of They Live is somewhat plodding but he peppers it with a lot of cheeky humor and frequent gunfights.  He switches from color to black-and-white when the protagonists put on the sunglasses.  He also gives the aliens a 1950s look.  Late 1980s make-up techniques could have made more elaborate aliens but Carpenter decides to keep the aliens just on this side of humorous.

There is no way I can call They Live a great film but it is very entertaining and richly deserves its cult film status.  It is certainly several cuts above the typical 1980s horror film.

Alien disguised as LAPD officer from They Live

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Castro Theater's September 2016 Calendar

As I mentioned before, the Castro Theatre has seemingly done away with their puzzles within their calendars.  For the second month, it appears they are taking stills from the films they are showing and displaying them as a drawing on the days they are closed.

September 6 - depicts the beginning and ending of Sunset Boulevard (Sept. 7).  That's William Holden's character laying face down in the pool.

September 12-13 - Marilyn Monroe in the bathtub with Victor Moore as the plumber from The Seven Year Itch (Sept. 14).

September 19 - Kirk Douglas from Ace in the Hole (Sept. 18).

September 26 - 27 - Tony Curtis in drag and Jack Lemmon also in drag behind him.  That image is from Some Like it Hot (Sept. 28).

I've seen most of the films on the calendar.  Among the highlights are:

September 11 - Howards End - an early Merchant Ivory production which I do not recall seeing with Vanessa Redgrave, Helena Bonham Carter, Emma Thompson and Anthony Hopkins.

September 16 - Multiple Maniacs (John Waters' second film) and Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, the Russ Myers directed "sequel" to Valley of the Dolls

September 24 - an Anna Magnani four film series presented by Cinema Italia San Francisco.  The line up consists of Rome Open City (1 PM), Bellissima (3 PM), The Rose Tattoo (6 PM) and The Passionate Thief (10 PM).  Of those four films, I have seen all except The Passionate Thief.


Castro Theater Calendar - September 2016

Monday, September 5, 2016

Castro Theater's August 2016 Calendar

This blog is really limping along.  I'm not posting at all and I'm watching fewer films than at any time in the last decade.  I don't know what I'm going to do with this blog.  My life is still in transition since my father's death last year.

Wednesday nights at the Castro in August were I Wake Up Dreaming by Elliot Lavine - allegedly his final noir series program.  I had seen several of the films on the program but still it was unfortunate I couldn't catch any of the programs.

I only saw two films at the Castro in August.  It was a double bill on August 12 that looked a lot a Midnites for Maniacs program but it wasn't.  Speaking of which, Midnites for Maniacs launched a new website in July.  It also appears that the Maniac's new home base is at the Roxie.  They haven't held an event at the Castro since May.

The Goonies starring Sean Astin & Corey Feldman; with Josh Brolin, Robert Davi & Joe Pantoliano; directed by Richard Donner; (1985)
The Lost Boys starring Jason Patric & Corey Haim; with Kiefer Sutherland, Jami Gertz, Corey Feldman & Dianne Wiest; directed by Joel Schumacher; (1987)

I had never seen The Goonies.  It's a cult classic but I'm about 5 to 10 years too old to have appreciated it as a child.  I've seen portions of it on television many times but I never really got into it.  I decided to watch it once through on the big screen to see if I could appreciate the film.  The short answer is no.  I always thought Steven Spielberg directed the film but to my surprise Richard Donner helmed the film.  Donner would make Lethal Weapon (a film I still admire) two years after The GooniesGoonies is filled with too much slapstick and silliness for my taste.  It's difficult for this 40something year old to embrace his inner child via The Goonies.

I saw The Lost Boys when it came out in the theaters in 1987.  The film was directed by Joel Schumacher who would go on to make some of the less admired Batman films of the Tim Burton era.  Scanning Schumacher's filmography, I think The Lost Boys ranks among his best.

Jason Patric plays the new kid in town who falls for the beautiful motorcycle chick (Jami Gertz).  What he doesn't know is that the gang she rides with aren't just Goth bikers but vampires.  Led by the charismatic David (Kiefer Sutherland in a flashy performance), the gang initiates Michael into their gang/coven. 

Fortunately for Michael the initiation is a two step process:  first he gets bitten by a vampire and second he must feast on the blood a victim.  Michael steadfastly resists the second part.  Serendipitously, Michael's younger brother Sam (Corey Haim) has become acquainted with the Frog brothers - two comic book store workers who are vampire hunters as a side gig.  These two are memorably portrayed by Corey Feldman and Jamison Newlander. 

Patric & Sutherland provide the angst & menace (which works equally wells as teenage rebellion or vampiric tendencies).  Feldman & Newlander provide the comedy.  Haim provides the most outlandish 80s fashion.  If you throw in memorable rock-n-roll soundtrack & a particularly effective climax battle, The Lost Boys ranks as one of the 80s classics; it was as enjoyable as I recalled.  I think I enjoyed it more in my forties than my late teens.


Castro Theater Calendar - August 2016

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Castro Theater's July 2016 Calendar

A little late this month but there are still a number of films playing at the Castro Theater in July which appeal to me. I have already seen four films at the Castro this month:

When We Were Kings and The Greatest on July 6 and American Psycho and Less Than Zero on July 8.

The 2016 San Francisco Jewish Film Festival is at the Castro for the final 8 days in July.  I haven't really studied the program.  Before the SFJFF starts, two films interest me.

Mulholland Drive (July 13) - as Lynchian a film as David Lynch film has made to date.  I was a little befuddled by it when it came out in 2001 but I'm in the mood to reexamine the film.

Blow Out and Phantom of the Paradise (July 20) - for some reason I thought Brian De Palma recently died so I also thought this was a tribute double feature.  However, De Palma is still with us.  I confused De Palma with Michael Cimino.  I hope the Castro will program some Cimino films in August in tribute.  The Deer Hunter is the obvious choice and I would like to see it on the big screen.  I recall being impressed with Year of the Dragon (1985) when it came out but I was still in high school then.  I'm curious about Heaven's Gate which I have never seen.  It bombed at the box office and with critics and derailed Cimino's career.

Back to De Palma - I saw Blow Out at the Castro not so long ago.  Many consider it De Palma's best film (I'm still partial to Body Double but everyone has their favorite - Scarface, Carrie, The Untouchables, Dressed to Kill, etc.).  A couple days ago, I watched a little of Casualties of War on television.  It was strange to see a young John C. Reilly.  Otherwise, I was more impressed with the film than I was when it was released in 1989.  Blow Out beckons but it's the backhalf of the double bill which is the main draw for me.  I think the Castro has screened Phantom of Paradise 3 or 4 times in the past 2 years.  I keep missing the screenings.  I remember seeing Phantom as six or seven years old.  It had a PG rating but gave me horrible nightmares.  I can vaguely remember the the record pressing machine crushing Paul Williams face.

I should also note that the 2016 Japan Film Festival of San Francisco (JFFSF as opposed to SFJFF) is screening from June 23 to 31 at the Viz (I'm probably the one person who still calls it the Viz).  The Sacramento Japanese Film Festival is playing at the Crest Theatre next week (July 15-17).  I've seen three of the seven films on the schedule so I'm not sure if I'll make the trip.


Castro Theater Calendar - July 2016

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Castro Theater's June 2016 Calendar

I did not go to the Castro Theater in May.  It's unusual for me not to attend a single screening there for an entire calendar month.

The highlight for the June calendar is the 2016 San Francisco Silent Film Festival from June 2 to 5.  Frameline also occupies the Castro for 11 days in June.  The theater is closed or booked for private events for 8 days during the month.

I'm also planning a trip to the Sacramento French Film Festival in June.  The program has not been announced but the festival dates will be June 17 to 19 and 24 to 26.  For the first time, the festival is screening films at a second venue.  The primary venue remains the Crest Theater but on June 19, the festival moves a few blocks down K Street to the Esquire IMAX Theater.

I should also note that the 2016 San Francisco Documentary Film Festival (DocFest) is running from June 2 to 16 which means it conflicts with the Silent Film Festival.  The DocFest venues are the Roxie, the Vogue and the Great Star.

Looking at the Castro's programming, the highlights are:

June 8 - Sugarland Express (1974) which was Steven Spielberg's feature film directorial debut.  It's paired with Midnight Special with Michael Shannon & Joel Edgerton.

June 9 - Under the Cherry Moon, a 1986 film starring & directed by Prince which I barely recall from its original release.  A commercial & critical flop, it seems to be alternative programming in response to multiple screenings of Purple Rain since Prince's death.  It is paired with Absolute Beginners which I enjoyed.

June 10 - Jesse Hawthorne Ficks continues his months long tribute to John Carpenter with a Midnites for Maniacs double bill of In the Mouth of Madness and Prince of Darkness.  Speaking of which, Ficks is at the Roxie tonight screening Carpenter's The Thing and Bone Tomahawk (San Francisco theatrical premiere).


Castro Theater Calendar - June 2016

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Castro Theater's May 2016 Calendar

I haven't been writing much.  I'm still dealing with my father's estate and I was in a minor car accident in March which has taken up an outsized portion of my time & attention.  I've also been seeing quite a few movies and seeing a film always takes precedence over writing about a film.

The Castro Theater's May 2016 calendar is underwhelming for me.

I'd like to catch the double feature of Mommie Dearest and Gypsy on May 4 but that is the penultimate night of the 2016 San Francisco International Film Festival and I have purchased tickets to 2 films that evening.

Similarly, I have never seen Valley of the Dolls which screens May 10 with The Miracle Worker as part of a Patty Duke tribute.  Unfortunately, I have other plans that evening.

Dario Argento's The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (May 14) caught my attention.  From May 13 to 16, the Roxie in conjunction with Midcentury Eclectic! (Elliot Lavine, Don Malcolm, et al.) is screening 12 films under the series title Archaeology of Arthouse.  I've bought a pass and plan to see several films in the series.  I'm not sure if I'll be able to get away to the Castro to see Argento's film.

I have yet to visit the new PFA.  There are three film series beginning in May which will likely lure me to Berkeley:  Mexican Film Noir (May 7 to June 11), The Films of Seijun Suzuki (May 7 to June 30) and the UCLA Festival of Preservation (May 15 to June 26).

Not shown on the Castro's May calendar is the 2016 San Francisco Silent Film Festival which runs from June 2 to 5 at the Castro.

Many years ago (the early 1990s), one of my first visits to the Roxie was to see a Pedro Almodovar film.  I think I caught a double bill or a couple films over a few night.  I recall one film distinctly as Tie Me Up!  Tie Me Down!  The other film was Pepi, Luci, Bom and Other Girls like Mom which I thought was unbelievably outré at the time.  I subsequently seen films which renders Pepi, Luci, passé.  Almodovar has a special place in my cinematic pantheon as I relate those films with my early days in SF.  I mention this because the Roxie is screening six of his early films as part of a retrospective from May 20 to 26.


Castro Theater Calendar - May 2016

Monday, March 28, 2016

Castro Theater's April 2016 Calendar

Since it appears that there is no longer a puzzle within the Castro Theater's monthly calendar, I will modify my title lines appropriately.

Among the films on the April calendar which caught my attention are:

April 11 - Hail, Caesar! paired with Anomalisa. The latest Coen Brothers film is a flop at the box office but I read an interesting article about the film in Film Comment.  The film has a number of thinly veiled references to actual Hollywood figures which makes it more interesting for me.

April 15 - Midnites for Maniacs is presenting Big Trouble in Little China and Never Too Young to Die.  CAAMFest showed Big Trouble in Little China a few years ago.  I missed that screening and have not seen this film since the 1990s.  I remember enjoying this film quite a bit as a teenager & young man so I'm anxious to see how it stands up to my current sensibilities.

The San Francisco International Film Festival is at the Castro for six days between April 21 & 30 including the opening night film Love & Friendship.

I would like to see Mustang (April 5) & Breathless (April 6) but I have other plans on both evenings.


Castro Theater Calendar - April 2016

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Maggie Cheung Double Feature at the Roxie

Last week, I stopped by the Roxie to see a Maggie Cheung double feature.  It was presented as part of a Staff Picks series where Roxie staff members choose a film(s).  I cannot recall which staff member chose the films but Executive Director David Cowen introduced the films.

Irma Vep starring Maggie Cheung; directed by Olivier Assayas; French & English with subtitles; (1996)
The Heroic Trio starring Anita Mui, Michelle Yeoh & Maggie Cheung; directed by Johnny To; Cantonese with subtitles; (1992)

I believe the choice was Irma Vep but Cowen augmented the choice with The Heroic Trio because the latter film is referenced in the former.

A few observations:

I'm surprised how many people don't know what a double feature is.  I heard both people in front of me in line ask if they could buy a ticket for only one film and cashier explained what a double feature is.

A few years after filming Irma Vep, Maggie Cheung married Irma Vep director Olivier Assayas.

Irma Vep was the first time I have heard Maggie Cheung speak English.  Surprisingly she spoke with an English accent which I later learned was due to her having lived in England between the ages of 8 and 18.

Irma Vep is an anagram for vampire.  The slender plot of the film has Maggie Cheung playing herself - a Hong Kong actor named Maggie Cheung who is in Paris to film a remake of Louis Feuillade's silent serial Les Vampires.  Why would they cast a Chinese woman (with limited language skills) to play a French vampire?  In the film, it is because the director (Jean-Pierre Léaud) is infatuated with Cheung based on her performance in The Heroic Trio.

Anything beyond this plot description is superfluous.  The production of Irma Vep (the film within the film) is chaotic and dysfunctional.  There is sniping, backstabbing, the director goes missing and Cheung seems to fall under the spell of vampire on the set.

 Irma Vep is one of these films that kind of meanders and is punctuated with memorable scenes (many with Cheung wearing a latex bodysuit modeled on Michelle Pfeiffer's Catwoman costume).  There is a amusing interview where a journalist interviews Cheung.  He launches into a diatribe of state sponsored films which are targeted towards the intelligentsia before singing the praises of Schwarzenegger and Van Damme.

Assayas positions the camera intrusively as if we are eavesdropping on the conversations.  I'm not sure how much of Cheung's performance is improvised or revealing of her true personality but Irma Vep's Maggie Cheung is a winsome & appealing woman as she tries to navigate the bizarre situation she has found herself in.

I have a suspicion that Irma Vep is a film that would benefit from repeat viewings.  It's likely littered with French film references that I didn't catch.  For example, I suspect that criticism of Léaud's character's films is really criticism of Jean-Luc Godard's work.  I'm sure the film must have seemed like a welcome change of pace for Cheung who was cranking out HK action and wuxia films at a prodigious pace in the first half of the 1990s.

Even without an intimate knowledge of the French film industry or the source material, Assayas' skill & vision as a director come through clearly in Irma Vep.

Maggie Cheung in Irma Vep

The Heroic Trio was directed by Johnny To and features an impressive cast of Chinese actresses - the late Anita Mui, Michelle Yeoh & Maggie Cheung.  Mui who died at the age of 40 in 2003, is largely forgotten today.  In The Heroic Trio, she was the best known of the three lead actresses and her character was first among equals.  That Yeoh and particularly Cheung are heralded among their cohort of Chinese actresses make one wonder what Mui would have accomplished.  She was cast in Zhang Yimou's hit film House of the Flying Daggers (2004) but dropped out due to her failing health.

In the pantheon of great HK action films, The Heroic Trio is pretty far down the list.  It did well enough to merit a sequel but it felt more like a gimmick to get three attractive actresses on screen together.  Mui plays a police inspector's wife who has undergone rigorous training in martial arts.  When needed, she dons a mask and fights crime under the sobriquet of Wonder Woman.

Michelle Yeoh begins the film as the villain (Invisible Girl), the chief lieutenant of an evil master.  She uses an invisible cloak to kidnap male babies because her master has some plan to install the child as the next emperor of China.  In a subplot, Invisible Girl is Wonder Woman's younger sister who didn't make the cut with sifu who trained Wonder Woman.  They are estranged when the film begins.

Maggie Cheung plays the roguish Thief Catcher, a shotgun wielding, dynamite throwing, motorcycle riding, booty shorts wearing bounty hunter.  In another subplot, Invisible Girl & Thief Catcher trained together under the evil master but Thief Catcher has escaped his evil reach to make her living cashing in bounties.

The three converge when a high ranking police officer hires Thief Catcher to recover his kidnapped son.

The film is a series of fight scenes separated by flashbacks.  The action choreography isn't quite up to To's best work.  There are a few scenes that appear silly (typically at Thief Catcher's expense) but the film holds together as well as can be expected.  Eventually, Invisible Girl is convinced to join the other two in their battle against the evil master.

Watching The Heroic Trio is closer to an amusing check off on my cinematic bucket list than a rewarding film experience.

Maggie Cheung in The Heroic Trio

Monday, February 29, 2016

The Puzzle Within the Castro Theater's March 2016 Calendar

For the third consecutive month, there is not a puzzle in the Castro calendar.  As the saying goes, once means nothing and twice is a coincidence but thrice is a pattern.

Cinequest runs from March 1 to March 13 and CAAMFest runs from March 10 to March 20 so I won't have much time to drop by the Castro until the final part of the month.

Among the Castro highligts:

Elliot Lavine is back with Pre-Code films on Wednesday nights. 

Akira Kurosawa's Ran is paired with A.K. a documentary biopic on March 6.

A Sean Connery & Pierce Brosnan series from March 17 to 22 with an emphasis on their James Bond films.


The March series I am most excited about is not a Cinequest or at the Castro but instead at the Roxie.  From March 21 to 31, the Roxie is presenting Greenaway Week with screenings of The Belly of an Architect, Drowning by Number, The Baby of Macon and The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover.  Greenway's latest film Eisenstein in Guanajuato plays from March 25 to 31. 

It was The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover (which I saw in a Los Angeles theater in the summer of 1989) that turned me on to art house films.


Castro Theater Calendar - March 2016

Sunday, February 28, 2016

The Puzzle Within the Castro Theater's February 2016 Calendar

Nothing like posting the February calendar on the second to last day of the month. I'm lucky it's a leap year.

I saw three films at the Castro this month.

Bridge of Spies starring Tom Hanks & Mark Rylance; directed by Steven Spielberg; (2015) - Official Website
Lady Sings the Blues starring Diana Ross; with Billy Dee Williams & Richard Pryor; directed by Sidney J. Furie; (1972)
Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life is Calling starring and directed by Richard Pryor; (1986)


With Bridge of Spies I have seen six of the eight films nomination for the Oscar in the Best Picture category.  The two I am missing are Brooklyn & The Revenant.

What to say about Bridge of Spies?  It's another solid outing by Spielberg and Hanks.  I've never been a particular fan of either although they both have strong filmographies.  My favorite Spielberg film is Jaws which is over 40 years old.  My favorite Tom Hanks performance is Big which was almost 30 years ago.  Spielberg and Hanks have collaborated at least four time as director and actor (other titles are Saving Private Ryan, Catch Me If You Can and The Terminal) so they must have a simpatico.

Like many of their films (including their three previous collaborations), I'm mild about Bridge of Spies and I can't really say why.  Based on a true story, Hanks plays James Donovan, a NYC lawyer in the 1950s & 60s.  Donovan defends Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance) who was a Soviet spy.  Donovan defends him to the best of his ability but is ultimately unsuccessful.  While Abel languishes in prison, Donovan is contacted Allen Dulles (Director of the CIA) to negotiate a prisoner exchange.  Not officially sanctioned by the US government, Dulles asks Donovan to negotiate a exchange as a private citizen - Abel for captured U-2 pilot Gary Francis Powers.

The film is divided into two parts - the arrest and trial of Abel and Donovan's negotiations with Soviet & East German quasi-officials in East Berlin soon after the Berlin Wall went up.  Tense, occasionally humorous and focusing on the basic perseverance, decency & humanity of Donovan, Spielberg & Hanks do what they do best; which is to create a empathetic character for the audience to root for.

I can't fault the performance or direction but like many of their films, Bridge of Spies lacks that ineffable quality that elevates a film to greatness or even memorable.  The Martian and Mad Max have a certain cinematic swagger about them which instantly registers with me and I know that I will recall certain scenes & dialogue years in the future.  Bridge of Spies lacks that.


Lady Sings the Blues is a biopic with Diana Ross as Billie Holiday.  Putting aside that the film is Ross' first major acting role, she gives a powerful performance as Holiday.  Ross was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar for her performance (she lost to Liza Minnelli in Cabaret).  BTW, two of the five Best Actress nominees and one of the five Best Actor nominees were African American that year.

Anyway Lady Sings the Blues is showcase for Ross (it was produced by Berry Gordy, her record producer, lover and mentor).  Ross shows considerable acting range playing the tragic singer Holiday.  Confident despite being raped, discriminated against and addicted to heroin, Holiday's downward trajectory is impressively performed by Ross...and Ross does a great job singing Holiday's songs.  Richard Pryor holds his own as Holiday's unnamed but steadfast accompanist credited as Piano Man.


Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life is Calling is a film I remember from the summer I graduated high school.  I didn't see it but I do recall it.  Reminding me of All That Jazz, Jo Jo Dancer (Richard Pryor) is a thinly disguised autobiographical character who begins the film by nearly burning himself to death while freebasing crack cocaine.  In fact, the film devotes quite a bit of screen time about the process which is not surprising given that Richard Pryor directed the film and almost burned himself to death freebasing crack cocaine a few years before making Jo Jo Dancer.

Pryor turns a critical eye on himself (technically Jo Jo Dancer, fictitious stand-up comedian) and the results are impressive; both Pryor performance as an actor and director.  Largely a confessional, Jo Jo Dancer appears to expose Pryor's shortcomings for all too see - born and raised in his grandmother's whorehouse, failed marriages, drug use and the fateful freebasing incident which is portrayed as a suicide attempt in the film.  Jo Jo Dancer is very dark film which is balanced by Dancer/Pryor's stand-up routines.  Pryor uses the alter ego or disembodied spirit of Dancer as the guide for the audience.  Constantly providing commentary on the events, Dancer serves as both narrator and anti-hero.

Paula Kelly (Sweet Charity) as the stripper who takes young Jo Jo under her wing and Barbara Williams & Debbie Allen as wives #2 and #3 are memorable.

I was moved by the film and felt almost a kinship to Pryor which I had never felt before.  That's my measuring stick - after the viewing I went from being mostly disinterested to sympathetic towards Pryor.


Castro Theater Calendar - February 2016

Monday, January 4, 2016

Black Mass

Last month, I saw Black Mass at the Castro Theater.

Black Mass starring Johnny Depp & Joel Edgerton; directed by Scott Cooper; (2015) - Official Website

A stylish 1970s period piece about Boston gangster Whitey Bulger (Johnny Depp), Black Mass reminded me of Donnie Brasco, American Hustle & American Gangster.  Based on the true story of Bulger's co-opting his FBI handler into his accomplice.

South Boston gangster Whitey Bulger is surviving in the early 1970s until childhood acquaintance John Connolly (Joel Edgerton) returns to town.  Connolly is now an FBI agent and he proposes that Whitey become an FBI informant.  Whitey can feed Connolly information about the Patricia Crime Family, a rival criminal gang.  Connolly can bust the organized crime family while Whitey benefits from having his main rival gang busted up as well as from having FBI protection.

From the start, Connolly seems more eager to be Whitey's confidante and friend than his FBI handler.  Bulger is suspicious of the arrangement and loathes the prospect of being an informant even if he would benefit from it.  Ultimately, Whitey reluctantly accepts the arrangement but quickly turns Connolly's hero worship to his advantage.  When Whitey's son dies of Reye's Syndrome,  the already violence prone gangster loses much of his sense of self-control and Connolly willingly abets him at every turn.

While Connolly is covering up Bulger's criminal activities and harassing the Italian Mob, Bulger consolidates his power in Boston and gets involved in a money laundering scheme involving a professional jai alai league.  At times, it sounds too outlandish to be true but as far as my research shows, Black Mass gets the major facts correct.  Ultimately, Connolly's superiors become suspicious of his association with Bulger while Bulger's homicidal tendencies create plenty of enemies who are willing to turn state's evidence.

As usual, Depp disappears into the role with his balding pate and 1970s clothing.  However, Australian Joel Edgerton (The Square and Animal Kingdom) truly transforms himself physically and verbally by successfully affecting the Boston accent.  Benedict Cumberbatch has a nice turn as Whitey's younger brother & politician Billy Bulger.  Jesse Plemons is also memorable as a hardscrabble soldier in Whitey's Winter Hill Gang.

Black Mass is a solid film but now that it's been a month since seeing it, I have to admit that it wasn't particularly memorable or remarkable.