Author Archives: John Seal
In 1995, Danish filmmakers Lars Von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg released their infamous Dogme Manifesto, an artistic ‘vow of chastity’ designed (it was claimed) to cut away the layers of artifice they believed had grown, barnacle-like, upon the body of cinema. As if to prove their point, the very first Dogme film, Vinterberg’s The Celebration (Festen), subsequently won the Jury Prize at the 1998 Cannes Film Festival.
Fifteen years and several dozen films later, the Manifesto has, by and large, gone by the wayside. Neither Von Trier nor Vinterberg attach the Dogme label to their work; indeed, Von Trier seems now to be more interested in exploring the artificiality of cinema (see, for example, 2011’s Melancholia) than in abiding by the extremely strict and somewhat puckish rules (‘the film must not contain superficial action’) he and Vinterberg cooked up one long ago afternoon. … Continue reading »
Quick — name an Akira Kurosawa film. Chances are one of the great director’s samurai epics will pop into your head, but Kurosawa was no one-trick pony. His kidnapping caper “High and Low” remains one of my all time favorites, and the crime drama “Stray Dog (Nora Inu),” screening at the Pacific Film Archive at 8:30 p.m. on Saturday, July 13 as part of the series “Dark Nights: Simenon and the Cinema” is, despite considerably less in the way of polish, almost as good.
Intended as homage to author Georges Simenon’s detective character Inspector Maigret, “Stray Dog” began life as — believe it or not — a Kurosawa-penned novel. The novel never saw the light of day, but Kurosawa eventually turned it into a screenplay with the help of collaborator Ryûzô Kikushima. While the onscreen result didn’t satisfy the director, who considered it an abject failure, film critics and cineastes tend to disagree with his assessment. … Continue reading »
Apparently, there’s something about Le Havre. In 2011, I reviewed Aki Kaurismaki’s Le Havre, a quirky and colorful drama set in the aforementioned French port city, and last year I wrote about Jean Renoir’s La Bête Humaine, a tragedy in which murder is committed on a train bound for the very same burg.
Now it’s 2013, and – entirely by coincidence – it’s time once again to pay a cinematic visit to this foggy coastal town. Our tour guides this time are director Marcel Carné and screenwriter (and poet) Jacques Prévert; the vehicle, their 1938 feature Port of Shadows (Le Quai des Brumes), screening at Pacific Film Archive at 6:30 p.m. on Sat., July 6 as part of the current series “A Theater Near You.” … Continue reading »
If the traditional Hollywood playbook is to be believed, piracy was once one of the most glamorous and lucrative career choices available to the average Joe. All it took was a ship, a few scurvy knaves, and a twinkle in your eye, and you — along with Douglas Fairbanks, Errol Flynn, Burt Lancaster and a host of other handsome hunks — would be set for life. And as a bonus, there were wenches and grog aplenty!
Trust the Danish to suck all the fun out of high seas misbehavior. In A Hijacking (Kapringen, opening at Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas on Friday, June 21), there’s a distinct lack of swashbuckling, and (bar one “What Shall We Do with a Drunken Sailor?” sing-a-long sequence) none of the film’s characters seem to be having a particularly good time. 21st century piracy, it seems, is a very serious business indeed. … Continue reading »
Over the years I’ve reviewed more than my fair share of ‘right-on’ left-wing documentaries, so it’s only fair that every now and then I spend a little time with one from across the tracks. Of course, Pandora’s Promise (opening at Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas on Friday, June 14) relies almost exclusively on liberal talking heads to make its conservative point—so perhaps I’m cheating ever so slightly.
It takes some major cojones to make a pro-nuclear power film only two years after the Fukushima Daiichi disaster, but that’s precisely what director Robert Stone (whose excellent Radio Bikini earned an Oscar nomination in 1988) has done. A love letter to atomic energy, Pandora’s Promise will provoke considerable controversy in tree-hugging circles. … Continue reading »
My fellow westerners: If you’ve ever been tempted to take a trip to an exotic locale in a far away land, don’t. Though foreign resorts want your tourist dollars, you’re still likely to offend the locals with your strange foreign ways, refusal to learn their language, penchant for hard drinking and ridiculous dancing, ostentatious camera equipment, and hideous Bermuda shorts. We’re simply more trouble than we’re worth.
If you insist on going, though, you’re likely to come a cropper – and you won’t recognize your mistake until it’s much, much too late. How do I know? I’ve been to the movies. Time and again, world travelers out for a little fun in the tropical sun get into big trouble as soon as they pass through Hollywood’s customs and immigration checkpoints. … Continue reading »
Middle-class Americans have the luxurious Winnebago. The English, of course, must make do with something a little smaller, but just as representative of their economic aspirations – the humble caravan. Hauled from campsite to campsite by a fleet of Austin Montegos and Vauxhall Vectras, these cramped homes away from home are as common a summer sight on Britain’s motorways and B roads as flattened badgers.
Behind the laced curtains, however, lurks something much more sinister than a quilted duvet or Union Jack tea cosy. “I’ve known a lot of people who’ve had very bad experiences in caravans,” presciently observes a character in Sightseers, a British comedy of darkest hue opening at Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas today. And so it shall prove to be. … Continue reading »
It seems I’ve become obsessed with French animation. Over the last few years I’ve reviewed The Rabbi’s Cat, A Cat in Paris, The Illusionist, and A Town Called Panic, which is actually Belgian but (with apologies to my Flemish and Walloon readers) may as well be French. Admittedly, there was that time I raved about Toy Story 3, but surely that’s the exception that proves the rule, right?
Opening at Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas on Friday, May 24, The Painting (Le Tableau) is the latest in this lengthening list of Francophone features. Written and directed by Jean-François Laguionie, it’s a little less droll and a wee bit darker than the aforementioned films, but will still appeal to inquisitive youngsters and parents desperate to avoid another fart-joke-infested kids’ movie. … Continue reading »
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 »