Author Archives: John Seal

Big Screen Berkeley: ‘The Second Mother’

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In real life, the well-to-do have servants to help them count their money, weigh gold bullion, and keep the other servants in line. In the movies, the rich also have domestic help – but in films like The Servant (1963) and La Nana (The Maid, 2009), the ‘help’ quite often turns out to as much hindrance as anything else. Such is also the case in Que Horas Ela Volta? (The Second Mother), a Brazilian drama (albeit, with faint comedic overtones) opening at Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas on Friday, Sept. 4.

Val (Regina Casé) serves as the live-in maid for trend-setting São Paulo stylist Bárbara (Karine Teles). While Bárbara is the one getting the television interviews and magazine spreads, her low-key husband Dr. Carlos (Lourenço Mutarelli) is the real power behind the throne, having inherited an impressive sum from his late father. What Carlos wants, he gets – sometimes much to Bárbara’s chagrin. … Continue reading »

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Big Screen Berkeley: ‘We Come as Friends’

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Hubert Sauper, apparently, is a man of many talents. First, he spent two years building his own ultra-light aircraft, which he then flew from France to Libya (hardly a pillar of stability, even prior to the overthrow of the Gaddafi government). Then he winged his way towards an even more dangerous destination – the nascent Republic of South Sudan.

And only then did he get around to shooting We Come as Friends, a documentary opening at Rialto Cinemas Elmwood on Friday, Aug. 28. Though his aircraft hasn’t been granted any special recognition by the International Council of the Aeronautical Sciences, his film has since gone on to win prizes at the Berlin International Film Festival, the Jihlava International Documentary Film Festival, and Sundance. … Continue reading »

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San Francisco Jewish Film Festival reaches into East Bay

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It’s time for the 35th San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, and this year the festival extends for a full two weeks in venues throughout the greater Bay Area, including Berkeley. Screenings at Landmark’s California Theatre run from Friday, July 31 through Thursday, Aug. 6 and offer a wide variety of viewing choices catering to all tastes — but particularly noteworthy are the festival’s documentary selections, which include two hugely enjoyable films and another that, though flawed, offers important perspectives on a critical issue.

First up is The Go Go Boys: The Inside Story of Cannon Films, screening at 6:30 p.m. on Sunday, Aug.2. For anyone who spent much time watching Showtime and Cinemax during the 1990s — or attending matinees at downmarket movie houses — the Cannon name will trigger happy memories of youth misspent. … Continue reading »

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Big Screen Berkeley: ‘3 1/2 Minutes 10 Bullets’

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For a brief period in late 2012, it was front page news from coast to coast: on ‘Black Friday’, the biggest shopping day of the year, a white man had fired ten shots at four African-American teenagers in a Florida parking lot. Before long, of course, the story was eclipsed by other tales of America’s festering racism problem – but for a little while it was unavoidable.

Now the case is reexamined in 3 ½ Minutes, 10 Bullets, a new documentary opening at Rialto Cinemas Elmwood on Friday, July 24. Directed by Marc Silver and featuring extensive courtroom footage, it’s a wrenching examination of perception, truth, and a culture steeped in frequently invisible but unavoidable discrimination and a nation awash in guns, guns, guns. … Continue reading »

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Big Screen Berkeley: ‘They Live by Night’

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Cinema is knee deep in films about star-crossed lovers on the run from the law. From Bonnie and Clyde to Badlands to Natural Born Killers and beyond, ‘bad kids in love’ has been a reliable Hollywood trope for decades — and it all began with They Live by Night (1948), screening at Pacific Film Archive at 8:45 p.m. on Friday, July 17 as part of the series ‘The Cinema According to Victor Erice’.

Farley Granger and Cathy O’Donnell star as Bowie and Keechie, two youngsters brought together by fate after convicted killer Bowie breaks out of prison with Chickamaw (Howard DaSilva) and T-Dub (the magnificently monickered Jay C. Flippen). Keechie is the daughter of Mobley (Will Wright), T-Dub’s alcoholic brother, who’s arranged for the purchase of a getaway car for the three escaped felons. … Continue reading »

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‘Cartel Land’ plunges into world of drug cartels, vigilantes

#3 - Dr. Jose Mireles (center), in CARTEL LAND, a film by Matthew Heineman
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When my son was in middle school his class took a weeklong field trip to Michoacan State, Mexico. I didn’t think twice about it at the time: after all, they weren’t going to Ciudad Juarez, the noughties hotspot for drug cartel activity and mass murder —  so what could possibly go wrong?

Nothing, as it happened — but these days, my son’s old school no longer spends time in Michoacan. The cartels have since extended their grasp throughout rural Mexico, and Michoacan in particular is no longer considered safe for nice middle-class Americans: in January alone, more than two dozen people were killed there in clashes between drug smugglers, federal police, and local vigilantes known as autodefensas.

Enter Cartel Land (opening at Sundance Cinemas Kabuki in San Francisco on Friday, July 10 — East Bay playdates are unlikely to follow). After a brief introduction to Michoacan’s top meth cooks, the film (directed by Matthew Heineman and produced by Kathryn Bigelow) plunges us into the world of the autodefensas and – in what ultimately serves as an unnecessary diversion – that of the ‘patriots’ who patrol the Arizona side of the border. … Continue reading »

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Big Screen Berkeley: ‘The Third Man’ — The perfect film?

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There are very, very few films I consider ‘perfect’ —  if perfection can ever truly be achieved in the field of cinema. Any discussion of ‘perfect films’, however, surely must include The Third Man (1949), a suspense classic coming to Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas for a short run beginning Friday, July 3 in a newly remastered print.

Directed by Carol Reed, The Third Man stars Joseph Cotten as Holly Martins, an American traveling to Austria for a job offered him by old friend Harry Lime. Arriving in Vienna, Martins is told that Lime has been killed in a horrific traffic accident — but the truth of the matter is that Lime has staged his own ‘death’ in order to escape responsibility for selling deadly black-market penicillin.

Reed’s film magnificently blends suspense and noir sensibilities, as Holly pursues Harry’s ghost until a third act ‘reveal’ in which Lime finally steps into the spotlight. That he’s played by Orson Welles somehow seems oh so appropriate: scarred, rejected, and hated by the studio system, Welles’ was about to embark upon a life in the cinema shadows. His demeanor in The Third Man suggests he was well aware of the fact. … Continue reading »

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Big Screen Berkeley: ‘Rebels of the Neon God’

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From its very first shot – the interior of a phone booth amid a torrential downpour – it’s clear that Tsai Ming-Liang’s Qing shao nian nuo zha (Rebels of the Neon God, which opened at Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas on Friday, June 26) is going to be a damp affair. Produced in 1992, the film is only now getting a general release in the United States, serving as a prime (if extremely moist) example of Taiwanese New Wave Cinema.

Ah Ping (Chang-bin Jen) and Ah Tze (Chao-jung Chen) are a pair of early twenties ne’e’r do wells who make a living prying open cash boxes and stealing electronic equipment. When they’re not engaging in dirty deeds, the lads are either riding around on motorcycles or spending time in their dingy (and in Ah Tze’s case, frequently flooded) apartments. … Continue reading »

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Preview: San Francisco International LGBTQ Film Festival

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It’s time once again for the San Francisco International LGBTQ Film Festival, which – in addition to screenings in Berkeley – expands its East Bay presence into Oakland this year. The festival (produced, as in years past, by Frameline) comes to both Rialto Cinemas Elmwood and Landmark Theatres Piedmont, bringing with it a wide assortment of programming – including a number of films made by local artists.

Screening at the Elmwood at 9:30 p.m. on Wed. June 24, director Laura Bispuri’s Vergine giurata (Sworn Virgin) is an Italian feature about young Albanian Hana/Mark (Alba Rohrwacher), born and raised female but now living as male. Despite taking a traditional vow of chastity that ‘allows’ the locals to recognize her as a man, Hana/Mark still finds the ultra-conservative climes of her homeland stifling and decides to up sticks for liberal Italy, where stepsister Lila (Flonja Kodheli) now lives. … Continue reading »

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Big Screen Berkeley: Amazing documentary ‘The Wolfpack’

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What happens when you sequester yourself in a Lower East Side apartment for the better part of 20 years and raise your family of seven (six sons, one daughter) on a steady diet of home schooling, movies and rock music? Why, you get The Wolfpack, of course, an amazing documentary opening at Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas on Friday, June 19.

Brought up by parents who found themselves living in a Manhattan housing project when they probably would have preferred a commune or a kibbutz, the Angulo siblings spent their formative years indoors. Some years, they might leave home once or twice – under strict supervision, of course. Some years, they never left at all.

So what did they do when Mom Susanne wasn’t teaching them reading, writing, and arithmetic? Why, spent their time watching lots and lots of movies — and, later on, spent copious time recreating those movies. So intense was their love affair with film that the boys would literally write down every word of dialogue, memorize this unofficial ‘script’, and reenact the story (complete with costumes and props), all within the narrow confines of their apartment. … Continue reading »

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Big Screen Berkeley: ‘Results’ with Kevin Corrigan

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Chiseled dude bros (or is that ‘dudebros’? The Oxford English Dictionary demurs on this point). Traditionally beautiful women. Meet cutes at the gym. People working out (though thankfully sans legwarmers). Taken together, these sound like the ingredients for a cinematic disaster. So what’s the actual result for Results (opening at Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas on Friday, June 5)?

Nominated for prizes at SXSW and Sundance 2015, Results is a low on ambition, not very funny, but ultimately harmless romantic comedy-drama with a decent cast. It’s the sort of film destined to fill out the program at your local independent film festival and then go into rotation on cable for a few years.  … Continue reading »

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Big Screen Berkeley: Breathtaking ‘Sunshine Superman’

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With a title like Sunshine Superman, you might be expecting a biopic or full documentary retrospective of the career of the hurdy gurdy man himself, Donovan Philips Leitch. If that’s what you’re anticipating when you amble into Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas during the week beginning Friday, May 29, however, you’re going to be in for a shock: there’s nary a hint of mellow yellow anywhere in this film, though the titular song does make a last minute appearance during the final credit crawl.

Instead, Sunshine Superman introduces viewers to Carl Boenish, the father of the BASE jumping movement. If you’re like me, you probably hadn’t even heard of this movement before the recent deaths of several BASE practitioners in extremely unfortunate but not terribly surprising circumstances.

So what is BASE? The acronym stands for ‘building, antenna, span, and Earth’, and its adherents are fearless thrill-seekers who enjoy leaping off extremely tall structures (either natural or manmade). If you’ve ever jumped off the sofa, you’ve probably experienced an inkling of what these folks experience. Maybe. … Continue reading »

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Big Screen Berkeley: ‘I Am Big Bird’; ‘100 Year Old Man’

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Fancy feeling warm, fuzzy, and feathery next time you go to the movies? Then make plans to see I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story, a delightful piece of cinematic iconography opening at Rialto Cinemas Elmwood on Friday, May 15.

Public television’s “Sesame Street” first aired in 1969, and (with apologies to Kermit the Frog and Elmo) Big Bird soon became the show’s most popular character. Ever since, he (or is Big Bird a she?) has been played by puppeteer Caroll Spinney, who also created the eight-foot, two-inch tall vertebrate.

Now 81 years of age, Spinney remains active and continues to appear on “Sesame Street” whenever Big Bird’s presence is required, though his apprentice takes over for some of the trickier and more physically demanding scenes. When not treading the boards in his super-sized costume, Spinney also provides Oscar the Grouch with his grumpy, trash-talking persona. … Continue reading »

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