Author Archives: John Seal
We’re often told that no one actually wants to see how sausage is made…but what about toilet paper? If you think you might be interested in a film examining that particular industrial process, you may want to consider taking a trip to the West Bay to check out Wedding Doll (Hatuna MeNiyar), an Israeli drama opening at San Francisco’s Roxie Theatre on Friday, July 1st (no East Bay play dates are currently scheduled).
A slight disclaimer is in order: despite its setting, Wedding Doll isn’t entirely focused upon the production of bath tissue. In actuality, it’s the story of a developmentally disabled young woman named Hagit (Moran Rosenblatt, who bears more than a slight resemblance to Amelie-period Audrey Tautou) employed as a packager in a down-at-heel TP manufactory.
Our twenty-something heroine may still live at home with overprotective mother Sara (Assi Levy), but her job has given her a measure of independence – and she’s ready for more. Hagit envisions marrying factory owner’s son Omri (Roy Assaf), who’s pushing the old man to modernize the plant in order to keep it open and competitive. … Continue reading »
Since Nosferatu first chilled filmgoers in 1922 (sparking a lawsuit in the process), almost every conceivable variation of vampire has stalked victims across screens big and small. In addition to the traditional ‘cape and fangs’ bloodsucker, we’ve seen funny vampires, mod vampires, hopping vampires, African vampires, even X-rated vampires – but until now I don’t think there’s been a movie depiction of a vampire undergoing psychotherapy.
That particular cinematic gimmick is the selling point of Therapy for a Vampire (Der Vampir auf der Couch), a darkly comic German chiller opening at Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas on Friday. Despite its title, however, the film is more than just a ninety minute My Dinner with Andre style confessional for hemovores.
Writer-director David Rühm immediately signals his intent: opening in a spooky graveyard, the film is a tribute to classic gothic cinema, right down to its mittel-european setting ‘somewhere near Vienna’ circa 1932. For admirers of classic Universal and Hammer horrors, this mise en scène is the big screen equivalent of comfort food. … Continue reading »
It’s time once again for the annual San Francisco International LGBTQ Film Festival (more succinctly known as Frameline40). This year the Festival further expands in the East Bay, offering five days of programming at Rialto Cinemas Elmwood.
I’ve always had a soft spot for biker movies, so when I read the précis for Ovarian Psycos (screening at 9:30 p.m. on Monday, June 20) my interest was immediately piqued. Could the film possibly be a distaff version of 1971’s legendary gay biker epic, The Pink Angels?
Alas no, but Ovarian Psycos still largely succeeds on its own terms. While the Psycos might be considered a ‘gang’ by some, they ride pedal bikes as opposed to Harleys, and are actually more of a community organization cum bicycle club serving women of color living in or near East L.A.’s Boyle Heights neighborhood.
Primarily (though not exclusively) young and Latina, the Psycos organize large-scale rides through the streets — sometimes dubbed ‘Clitoral Mass’ — in an ongoing effort to reclaim the streets for women. Their meetings also serve as open-ended opportunities to discuss issues that affect members’ daily lives — particularly male violence against women. … Continue reading »
In case you missed it, here’s a link to a fascinating Guardian story about how perceptions of masculinity differ between American and British men. As a man (and I do use the term advisedly) who’s lived in both countries, I can attest that the story’s conclusion — that American men feel ‘completely masculine’ at a rate considerably higher than do their UK counterparts — is broadly accurate.
Of course, the story does make one wonder how men in other countries would rate themselves on the ‘0-6’ scale utilized by YouGov’s study – and, judging from the male characters in Chevalier (opening at Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas on Friday, June 10), Greek men would likely rate themselves as even more testosterone-laden than their American co-genderists. Sorry, dudes.
Set aboard a yacht somewhere in the Aegean, Chevalier tells the story of six guys (presumably six quite well-off guys, as there’s no hint of Greece’s ongoing slow-motion financial crisis) enjoying an extended at-sea stag party. Their days are occupied with fishing, scuba diving and jet-skiing; their nights with gourmet meals and mind games. … Continue reading »
Well, I may as well go for the hat trick. Having written about both The Third Man (1949) and Our Man in Havana (1959) in the past year, I really should take advantage of an opportunity (or an excuse!) to review 1948’s The Fallen Idol, the first of writer Graham Greene and filmmaker Carol Reed’s three cinematic collaborations.
Despite its two Academy Award nominations (one for Greene’s screenplay, another for Reed’s direction), The Fallen Idol is arguably the least remembered of the trio — at least in the United States (it continues to enjoy a higher profile in the UK). A newly restored print screens at Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas beginning Friday, June 3.
Set primarily in a late Georgian townhouse in deepest Belgravia (one of London’s most expensive neighborhoods and home to many of the capital’s foreign embassies), The Fallen Idol tells the story of an unusual relationship between the son of a diplomat and the loyal family retainer. French-born, English-raised 9 year-old Bobby Henrey plays the youngster Phillipe; Ralph Richardson, Baines the butler (whose first name remains, appropriately, unspoken). … Continue reading »
Chances are that if you’re an adult living within the borders of the United States, you’ve probably scared your children and/or your foreign friends with terrifying tales of the iniquities of the American healthcare ‘system’. Billing errors, denial of service, drugs mysteriously excluded from your insurance company’s formulary, illogical co-pays… there are oh so many things that can and do go wrong in our wonderful laissez faire world of non-universal medical care.
Color me surprised, then, to learn that getting care can be a struggle in other industrialized nations, too. A Monster with a Thousand Heads (Un monstruo de mil cabezas, opening at Rialto Cinemas Elmwood on Friday, May 27) details the extreme measures one Mexican woman takes to circumvent bureaucracy and get urgent treatment for a critically ill family member.
First, a little background: Mexico has provided its citizens with universal healthcare since 2012. Private health insurance, however, remains an option for those who prefer it and can afford it. … Continue reading »
A huge star in Mexico, Arturo de Cordova never made much of an impression elsewhere. Though he spent the mid-1940s in Hollywood (more often than not cast as a Frenchman!), de Cordova couldn’t match the Tinsel Town success of fellow ex-pats Pedro Armendáriz and Dolores del Rio, and soon returned home. Ironically, he’s probably best known today by American cinéastes for his performance as an unhinged husband in Luis Luis Buñuel’s brilliant shot-in-Mexico parable El (1953).
Pacific Film Archive’s ongoing series ‘Mexican Film Noir’ provides a rare opportunity to appreciate some of this fine actor’s less familiar work, much of which was never released in the United States. Screening at 8:30 p.m. on Saturday, May 21, director Roberto Gavaldón’s En la palma de tu mano (In the Palm of Your Hand, 1951) features the star in top form as a fortune-telling grifter who gets himself in too deep with a wealthy widow. … Continue reading »
It’s not always easy to find interesting films to review or write about, but this week is different. Call it a picture show potpourri, or perhaps a cinematic smôrgasbôrd: this weekend, Berkeley filmgoers have plenty to choose from.
On the new release front, consider L’Attesa (The Wait), opening at Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas on Friday, May 6). Directed by Piero Messina, the film is a lovely-to-look-at chamber piece about two women and the man who’s brought them together.
Jeanne, Giuseppe’s French girlfriend, has been invited by her beau to meet the family at their Sicilian villa. Arriving from the airport, however, she discovers her visit has come at a rather awkward time – coincident with the mourning period for Giuseppe’s recently deceased uncle, who (we presume) has died on extremely short notice.
Giuseppe’s mother Anna (Juliette Binoche) tries to be a gracious host under trying circumstances, and as the days pass the two women begin to develop an understanding, if not a close relationship. But as the wait continues – and as Giuseppe stubbornly refuses to make an appearance – Jeanne begins to wonder if there’s more to the story than she’s been told. … Continue reading »
One of the doughtiest of British film genres is the ‘eccentric Brit’ comedy-drama. From The Full Monty to Kinky Boots, UK filmmakers have long been drawn to tales featuring starchy, conservative Britons trapped in uncomfortable or awkward situations that force them to, well, become a little less starchy and conservative.
Dough (opening at Landmark Theatres Albany Twin Cinema on Friday, April 29) is the latest example of the style. Directed by television veteran John Goldschmidt, the film stars Jonathan Pryce as Nat Dayan, an orthodox Jewish baker clinging to an ailing family business in London’s rapidly gentrifying East End.
The awkward situation comes in the form of Sudanese immigrant Ayyash (Jerome Holder). A Muslim refugee from Darfur, young Ayyash is employed by big time pot dealer Victor (Ian Hart) to sell wacky tobacky – but only if he has a ‘cover job’ to serve as a front. … Continue reading »
I don’t much care for country music – particularly what’s passed for it since ‘The Nashville Sound’ developed during the anti-rock ‘n’ roll backlash of the 1950s. Slick and overproduced (and now barely distinguishable from mainstream pop rock), country has long since lost its ability to reflect the hopes and fears of the dirt-poor white working-class that gave it life.
Of course, prior to the arrival of rock ‘n’ roll (itself a misbegotten but marvelous stew of country, western swing, blues, and gospel music), country music was more than just a marketing niche — which brings me to The Winding Stream: The Carters, The Cashes, and the Course of Country Music, a documentary opening at Rialto Cinemas Elmwood on Friday, April 22.
Maces Springs, Virginia may be a tiny dot on the map, but its impact on the development of American popular music is immeasurable. It was here that the young A.P. (Alvin Pleasant) Carter was born in 1891, and where he worked the land during the 1910s and ’20s. … Continue reading »
Slavery, most of us will agree, is a bad thing. Based on a novel by Patricia McCormick, Sold (opening at Rialto Cinemas Elmwood on Friday, April 15) casts light on the crisis of child slavery – a significant issue worldwide, according to the International Labour Organization – and does a decent job of it, despite some unfortunate casting.
Beginning in Nepal — which appears to all intents and purposes to be as idyllic (if much wetter) than the fictional Shangri-La of Lost Horizon fame — Sold focuses on the travails of 12-year old Lakshmi (Niyar Saikia). The daughter of an unemployed lay-about who prefers a bottle to a pay check, the youngster is determined to contribute towards a tin replacement for the family’s leaky straw roof.
Opportunity arises when a visiting “auntie” promises to take the girl to the land of milk and honey (otherwise known as India), where she will soon earn enough money to buy a new roof. The fact that her job will involve selling her body while being held captive in a big city brothel, however, is a secret auntie chooses not to share with either Lakshmi or her parents. … Continue reading »
Do the French have an obsession with talking cats? Back in 2011 I reviewed The Rabbi’s Cat, a charming animated feature about a feline taking lessons in Jewish mysticism. Now comes Avril et le monde truqué (April and the Extraordinary World – though the print I previewed substituted the word ‘twisted’ for ‘extraordinary’), in which a particularly erudite kitty plays a most prominent role.
Opening at Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas on Friday, April 8, April and the Extraordinary World offers an alternate steampunk version of French history (with particular emphasis on the steam). Beginning in 1870, the film imagines that the Franco-Prussian War has been avoided thanks to the deft intervention of Emperor Napoleon IV, whose efforts on behalf of peace involve government control over all scientific research — and the arrest of uncooperative scientists such as Gustave Franklin (Jean Rochefort), who’s been developing something called the ‘ultimate serum.’ … Continue reading »
The steady drip of films attempting to make sense of our apparently never-ending ‘War on Terror’ continues. Some, of course, are better than others, but almost all tell their stories entirely from the perspective of Western protagonists struggling with questions of morality and personal conscience.
Eye in the Sky (currently playing at Landmark’s California Theatre and opening at Landmark’s Piedmont Theatre in Oakland on Friday, April 1) is the latest such film, but does a better job than many of its cinematic predecessors. Despite focusing on the anguish experienced by several of its characters, its blunt appraisal of others is a welcome and refreshing change.
Prefaced by Aeschylus’ famous quote “In war, truth is the first casualty” (later adapted by author Phillip Knightley, who entitled his groundbreaking history of war propaganda ‘The First Casualty‘), Eye in the Sky travels back and forth between four locations: a British military base, a government office in London, a US Air Force station in Nevada, and Kenya, where we see a Muslim family going about their daily business selling bread and repairing bicycles. … Continue reading »