Author Archives: John Seal
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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
I wrote a brief capsule review for Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten: Cambodia’s Lost Rock and Roll when it played CAAMFest earlier this year. Generously received at the festival, the film now gets a general release, opening at Rialto Cinemas Elmwood on Friday, May 8.
Understandably, a mournful air hangs over filmmaker John Pirozzi’s nine-year labor of love. Cambodia suffered two doses of massive slaughter in the late 20th century: first courtesy the United States Air Force, which dropped almost 3 million tons of bombs on the tiny Southeast Asian nation, displacing 30% of the population and killing around half a million Cambodians; secondly, in the period following the 1975 ascension to power of the Khmer Rouge.
At first, many Cambodians considered the Khmer Rouge an improvement on the corrupt Lon Nol government that had preceded it. Things changed quickly, however, when Pol Pot, Ieng Sary and company implemented a massive program of social leveling designed to teach the educated classes the value (if not the dignity) of labor. … Continue reading »
Is it better to live a life of quiet desperation and stifling stability, or roll the dice and risk coming up snake eyes in the ‘life’s a gamble’ sweepstakes? That’s the big question posed by Félix and Meira, a well-acted if underdeveloped Canadian drama opening at Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas on Friday, May 1.
Malka (Hadas Yaron) is married to observant Hasid Shulem (Luzer Twersky); together they live in Montreal with their infant daughter Elisheva. To date, she’s only given her husband the one child – an oversight that hasn’t gone unnoticed by the other women in the city’s tightly knit Hasidic community.
That’s not the only piece of evidence suggesting our heroine is less than happy with her lot in life: Malka openly voices her disgust when the lights inconveniently turn off during Shabbat, and when Shulem leaves the house for morning prayers one day her first instinct is to put the baby down for a nap and play a forbidden record (Wendy Rene’s maudlin deep soul ballad, ‘After Laughter Comes Tears‘). … Continue reading »