Author Archives: John Seal
I was too young to be aware of the political ferment of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Blissfully ignorant, I’d walk to school each morning in my English schoolboy’s uniform (cap, tie and shorts, regardless of the weather), and return home each afternoon to watch Blue Peter, Crackerjack (“It’s Friday! It’s 5 to 5! It’s CRACKERJACK!”), or Doctor Who. Why worry about Daniel Cohn-Bendit when Patrick Troughton and Jon Pertwee were being threatened by Cybermen and Daleks?
Meanwhile, on the other side of the English Channel, French students were on the verge of toppling their country’s government. The fallout of this fraught moment in history is the subject of Olivier Assayas’ new film Something in the Air (more appropriately titled Après mai in France, in reference to the fateful month when De Gaulle’s government almost fell), opening at Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas on Friday, May 17. … Continue reading »
I’m not speaking from experience, of course, but I have to believe that adapting a play for the big screen isn’t easy. Tough decisions must be made: are you going to film an Olivier-style Shakespearian adaptation, sticking to every jot or tittle of the original text, or are you going to trim a little fat from the edges? Is your adaptation going to be little more than a filmed version of the play (making for a dull and static — if faithful — representation of the original work), or are you going to open up the story and take it places it could never go on stage?
These haven’t proven to be particularly formidable challenges for the good folks at PlayGround and Dances With Light. Based in the Bay Area, PlayGround has produced over 100 short plays since 1994, while Dances With Light has been in the film biz since 1979. In one of the best synergistic developments since one teenager got his chocolate in another teenager’s peanut butter, the two have combined forces for the 2nd Annual Playground Film Festival, screening at Rialto Cinema’s Elmwood at 5:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, May 1 and at the Zaentz Media Center, 2600 10th St., Berkeley at 6:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. on Saturday, May 4. … Continue reading »
Thomas Hobbes famously described man’s lot in life as “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” That seems like an apt way to describe Frantisek Vlácil’s Marketa Lazarová, a Czech historical epic screening at 12:30 p.m. on Sunday, April 28 at Pacific Film Archive as part of the 56th San Francisco International Film Festival – though I’d be inclined to add a few adjectives of my own, including ‘cold’, ‘dark’, and ‘claustrophobic.’
Though produced at the height of the Czechoslovak New Wave, 1967’s Marketa Lazarová shares little in common with such brash and bright contemporary features as Horí, má panenko (The Fireman’s Ball, 1967) and Sedmikrásky (Daisies, 1966). Eschewing social commentary and 60s trappings, it’s a black-and-white love letter to the grim, depressing (two more adjectives!) Middle Ages. You can safely leave your popcorn at home for this one (which is just as well, as I don’t believe PFA allows food or drink in their auditorium). … Continue reading »
Would you believe me if I told you there’s a film opening this weekend about bullfighting dwarfs? Would you still believe me if I told you it wasn’t directed by Terry Gilliam? Now let’s up the ante even further: Assuming you’ve answered both questions in the affirmative, would you think I was being truthful if I also claimed it’s the best film I’ve seen so far in 2013?
Directed by Pablo Berger (whose previous feature, Torremolinos 73, dealt with Spain’s adult film industry during the Franco era), Blancanieves is a silent black-and-white adaptation of the Brothers Grimm fairy tale ‘Sneewittchen‘ (better known as ‘Snow White’). That, of course, is where the dwarfs come in, while the bullfighting reflects the film’s Spanish roots. Now playing at Landmark’s Embarcadero Center Cinemas in San Francisco, Blancanieves will open at Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas on Friday, April 26. … Continue reading »
Britain has changed a great deal in the last 50 years. Afternoon tea, colliery bands and swinging like a pendulum do are all relics of the past, while the sun set on the British Empire sometime after 1971, the year the UK withdrew most of its military forces from East of Suez. One thing, however, hasn’t changed: the primacy of the ‘kitchen sink drama’ in British filmmaking.
From Andrea Arnold to Ken Loach, British directors are as enamored today with cinematic representations of working-class life as they’ve ever been – and judging from newcomer Sally Al-Hoseini’s new film My Brother the Devil (opening at Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas on Friday, April 12) the kitchen sink isn’t about to be drained any time soon.
Set among the tower blocks of Hackney, My Brother the Devil tells the story of Mo (Fady Elsayed) and Rash (James Floyd), sons of first-generation Egyptian immigrants. Mo’s a studious young man looking ahead to university while Rash is a ‘jack-the-lad’ deeply involved with what he calls ‘big boy stuff’ – otherwise known as selling dope — as part of a local gang known as DMG (Drugs, Money, Guns). … Continue reading »
Though auteur theory was still little more than a glimmer in François Truffaut’s eye, the American public was quite familiar with Alfred Hitchcock by 1956. Perhaps the most recognizable filmmaker since Chaplin, Hitch was a weekly presence in homes from coast to coast via his CBS series Alfred Hitchcock Presents, while theatergoers had made his color remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much a huge commercial success. His career still in the ascendancy, Hitch could choose any project he desired – which perhaps explains why his next project was one of the least Hitchcockian films of them all.
Released on New Year’s Day 1957, The Wrong Man (screening at Pacific Film Archive at 7:00 p.m. on Friday, April 5 as part of the continuing series Alfred Hitchcock: The Shape of Suspense) begins on a deceptive note. In a nod to his small-screen persona, our host introduces the proceedings — but this time the mordant wit and outrageous set pieces are absent. Instead, he tells us quite seriously, what we’re about to see “is a true story – every word of it.” … Continue reading »
When someone gets around to making my biopic, it could well be entitled I Was a Teenage Movie Addict. While the rest of the kids spent summer vacation having fun in the sun, I spent mine basking in the soothing cathode glow of the family TV set, watching as many movies as possible. On a good day I might take in five, six, or sometimes even seven films — and (of course) I kept a list of them (which, of course, I still have).
Sadly, those youthful summers are long gone, and now I’m lucky if I take in two movies a day. More than likely I’m going to fall well short of my goal of seeing every film ever made (or at least, those that still exist), especially since they keep churning ‘em out with reckless abandon and I keep getting older.
The depressing truth is that I’m unlikely to have time for more than 40,000 or 50,000 full-length features in my all too brief lifespan. Consequently, no matter how hard I try I’m likely to go to my grave having missed some really, really good films – but at least (thanks to Pacific Film Archive’s new series, The Spanish Mirth) those lost opportunities won’t include the work of Luis Berlanga. … Continue reading »
An AC Transit bus ride is, on most days, a boring and predictable way to travel from point A to point B for $2.10. Regular passengers know, however, that every now and then they’re going to experience one of “those” rides – the ones where your seat mate is in need of some serious grooming, the person behind you is sharing the most intimate details of their sex life via cell phone, and a gaggle of hormonally out-of-control middle-schoolers are busy inventing amazing new insults for one another while decorating their seats with Sharpees.
Judging from the bus ride in Michel Gondry’s new film The We and the I (opening Friday, Mar. 22 at Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas), however, AC Transit ain’t got nothin’ on New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority. The kids of the MTA may not be any ruder or surlier than ours, but they certainly seem to have longer journeys to contend with. That’s not terribly good news for their fellow passengers. … Continue reading »
One of France’s most popular leading men of the post-war era, actor Jean-Louis Trintignant first achieved a measure of notoriety playing opposite Brigitte Bardot in Roger Vadim’s lowbrow Et Dieu… créa la femme (And God Created Woman, 1957), then skyrocketed to international fame via the massive box-office hit Un homme et une femme (A Man and a Woman, 1966).
More cerebral than Alain Delon, less earthy than Jean-Paul Belmondo, Trintignant blended Joseph Cotten earnestness with Anthony Perkins neurosis, his signature performance remaining (for me, at least) the nameless prosecutor delivering righteous justice to the fascist generals in Costa-Gavras’ Z (1969). For those interested in exploring the more obscure corners of his filmography, however, you can’t do better than Estate Violenta (Violent Summer, 1959), a romantic melodrama screening at Pacific Film Archive at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 9th as part of the series ‘And God Created Jean-Louis Trintignant’. … Continue reading »
The sins of the fathers are most definitely visited upon the children in Lore, a new World War II drama opening at Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas on Friday March 1. “Oh, no”, I hear you moan, “not another movie about World War II. Surely its admittedly significant cinematic possibilities have long since been exhausted?”, and on most days I might agree with you. This film, however, offers something genuinely different.
Taking its title not from the word meaning ‘a body of traditions and knowledge on a subject or held by a particular group’ but from the first name of its lead character, Lore is the story of five German refugee children traveling light from Bavaria to Hamburg. Their parents arrested by Allied troops (Vati has been a member of the Waffen SS, while Mutti simply appears to be a loyal Nazi), the children are under orders to seek refuge with their grandmother over five hundred miles to the north. … Continue reading »
German filmmaker Werner Herzog’s career can be neatly and conveniently divided into two distinct segments. Beginning with 1970’s Auch Zwerge haben klein angefangen (Even Dwarfs Started Small) and continuing through 2009’s Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, the iconoclastic director created a remarkable series of frequently brilliant (and never boring) character studies about obsessed loners and outsiders kicking against the pricks of both nature and society.
Parallel to his work in dramatic features, the tireless Herzog has also somehow found time to direct numerous documentaries. As intrigued with real-life loners and outsiders as he is with fictional ones, his non-fiction films have examined such unique characters as bizarre televangelist Gene Scott (Glaube und Währung – Dr. Gene Scott, Fernsehprediger, 1981), borderline psychopath and frequent collaborator Klaus Kinski (My Best Fiend, 1997), and loopy but lovable bear enthusiast Timothy Treadwell (Grizzly Man, 2005). … Continue reading »
“Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man.” This Jesuit motto was taken to heart by the producers of Granada Television’s 1964 documentary, Seven Up!, no doubt because its premise of predestination dovetailed so comfortably with their assumptions about Britain’s enduring class system.
Almost fifty years later, the premise has, in some respects, been borne out. The privileged children of the early sixties became lawyers; the working class children drive forklifts and taxis. But the Up series (continuing with 56 Up, opening this Friday, February 15th at Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas) also provides evidence that, while the class system may not have crumbled, its constraints have loosened somewhat over the last half century. … Continue reading »
When is a doorknob not a doorknob? If that variation on the classic Freudian aphorism confuses you, you can probably skip the rest of this review — but if you find yourself intrigued, you may be the target audience for Don Coscarelli’s new horror comedy, John Dies at the End, opening at Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas on Friday, Feb. 8.
Best known for creating the Phantasm series, Coscarelli has been plowing the independent horror fields since the mid 1970s. Despite the success of the first Phantasm feature in 1979, however, Coscarelli was never able to emulate the big studio success of his contemporaries John Carpenter and Tobe Hooper. Perhaps as much by choice as by fate, he’s spent the last few decades developing his unique and warped vision on limited budgets and with marginal financial reward. … Continue reading »