Author Archives: John Seal
I’ve always been a little ambivalent about Stanley Kubrick. I never grokked the appeal of his science fiction epic 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), found much of A Clockwork Orange (1971) offensive (which was probably the point, but still), and — as much as the word ‘bravura’ could have been invented to describe the filmmaking displayed within it – The Shining (1980) has always left me cold.
On the other hand, there’s the enduring black comic brilliance of Dr. Strangelove or: How I Stopped Worrying and Loved the Bomb (1964), the first-half perfection of Full Metal Jacket (1987), and the quiet, literate triumph that is Barry Lyndon (1975). Based on those three films alone, I consider myself a pretty big Kubrick fan.
The director’s early films, however, also offer rich rewards. Pacific Film Archive’s forthcoming series, ‘Eyes Wide: The Films of Stanley Kubrick’, provides film fans an opportunity to view the director’s complete works (thirteen features over a period of five decades) in (almost) chronological order. … Continue reading »
Summer is almost over (well, in most of the country; here in California it’s just getting started), but there’s one more seasonal treat in store before the leaves start turning vaguely less green: Pacific Film Archive’s annual free outdoor screening in the BAM/PFA Sculpture Garden. Unreeling at 8:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 27, this year’s feature is a ripe slice of ‘50s paranoia with Red Scare overtones and a terrific performance from Lee Marvin.
Directed in 1955 by Edward Dein (Curse of the Undead, The Leech Woman), the independently produced Shack Out on 101 is a zippy 80-minute programmer starring Marvin as Slob, short order cook at a seedy California burger bar owned and operated by gruff World War II vet George (Keenan Wynn). George doesn’t like Slob, but he’s the only cook he could find to work at his dive, located in a remote, nameless coastal section of Southern California. … Continue reading »
We all knew it wouldn’t last. My dalliance with popular comedy was truly an aberration — and as the song goes, after laughter comes tears. This week, we return to our regularly scheduled programming with The Kill Team, a grim new documentary opening at Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas on Friday, Aug. 1.
Directed by Dan Krauss (who previously shot the Paul Krugman-focused doc Inequality for All), The Kill Team examines the moral rot affecting a platoon of American infantrymen engaged in combat in Afghanistan. Uncomfortable playing the role of school builders and well diggers, the platoon lost its collective moral compass and began indulging in a deadly sport involving the murder of innocent Afghanis. … Continue reading »
It’s summer time, so I’m sure you’ll forgive me for writing about something other than my usual assortment of depressing foreign dramas, grim documentaries, and art-house snoozers. How does a comedy sound this week – and an American one at that?
Despite being one of the country’s most respected repositories of film history, Pacific Film Archive isn’t averse to having a little fun from time to time. How else to explain their decision to host ‘Rude Awakening: American Comedy, 1990-2010’, a series incorporating such decidedly lowbrow fare as Borat and Knocked Up? … Continue reading »
The tradition continues with Siddharth, a new drama from India opening at Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas on Friday, July 18. Directed by Richie Mehta, the film brings the theme to the sub-continent, where a bereft and guilt-ridden father searches desperately for his missing 12-year-old son. … Continue reading »
Two years ago I penned an all too brief single paragraph recommendation for The Waiting Room, an outstanding documentary about the emergency room at Oakland’s Highland Hospital, the East Bay’s primary trauma center and public health care facility. The film deservedly ended up being shortlisted in 2013 by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for Best Documentary, but ultimately didn’t make the final cut.
If you were as impressed as I was by The Waiting Room, you’ll get similar mileage from Code Black, a new medical documentary opening at Rialto Cinema’s Elmwood next week, on Friday, July 18. Shot in and around Los Angeles County Hospital – like Highland, a publicly funded facility — the film details the work done by doctors, nurses and interns in one of the country’s busiest emergency rooms. … Continue reading »
It seems like only yesterday that I was bemoaning the recent dearth of nun movies. And yet here I am a mere month later, once again writing about the Brides of Christ – this time of the genus a dæmonio vexatus– thanks to the recent digital restoration of Matka Joanna od aniolów (Mother Joan of the Angels), screening at 7:00 p.m. at Pacific Film Archive on Wed. June 25 as part of the series ‘Martin Scorsese Presents Masterpieces of Polish Cinema’.
Based on Aldous Huxley’s semi-fictional novel ‘The Devils of Loudon,’ Mother Joan of the Angels depicts an extraordinary popular delusion breaking out in Poland during the 17th century. A grim existentialist examination of repressed desire and madness, the film has previously only been available on a grainy and rather scratchy British DVD. Hopefully the restoration will be a revelation. … Continue reading »
Most major studio productions -– heck, most films period — cleave to a formula. Though you may not be able to predict each specific plot development before it occurs, nine times out of ten you’ll be able to guess with some precision how the story will unfold: hero/heroine meets boy/girl, hero/heroine loses boy/girl, hero/heroine learns valuable lesson and regains boy/girl’s undying love (or, alternatively, monster emerges from ocean, monster stomps major metropolis, monster succumbs to best efforts of military-industrial complex).
Such, however, is not the case with Borgman (opening at Landmark’s Opera Plaza Cinema on Friday, June 20 – no East Bay play dates are currently scheduled), Dutch filmmaker Alex van Warderman’s challenging and discomfiting new feature. Preceded by the cryptic (and unattributed) quote, “And they descended upon Earth to strengthen their ranks”, and cut from cloth similar to that used in Michael Haneke’s Funny Games, it’s unpredictable from start to finish. … Continue reading »
Word on the street for many years has been that Wojciech Has’s 1965 feature Rekopis znaleziony w Saragossie (The Saragossa Manuscript) was musician Jerry Garcia’s favorite film. Rumor also has it that Garcia loved the film so much that he purchased a print and donated it to Pacific Film Archive, stipulating only that he could screen it there any time he liked.
Is any of this true? I’m far from sure, but I’ve always held Garcia’s perhaps apocryphal passion for the film against it, as there are few things in life I enjoy less than listening to The Grateful Dead. However, with the film screening at the Archive at 7:00 p.m. on Saturday, June 14 as part of the series ‘Martin Scorsese Presents Masterpieces of Polish Cinema’, it’s time for a reassessment. Presumably Jerry will not be in attendance. … Continue reading »
Before viewing his new film La danza de la realidad (The Dance of Reality, opening at Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas on Friday, May 30), I didn’t know a great deal about the legendary filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky. Oh sure, I’d enjoyed his bizarre, over-the-top classics El Topo, Holy Mountain, and Santa Sangre, but were those films weird for weirdness’ sake or deeply personal statements? Who was this crazy Chilean with the bushy hair, Christ-like beard, and penetrating gaze?
The curtain has at least been slightly parted by the semi-autobiographical The Dance of Reality, Jodorowsky’s first film in almost a quarter century. Finally earning a stateside release after premiering to a rapturous reception at Cannes last year, the film stars the director as himself, a living octogenarian ghost stalking the fading memories of his own South American childhood. … Continue reading »
‘Ida:’ Beautifully shot, slow burner of a movie
From the dramatic (The Nun’s Story) to the comedic (Bedazzled), from the sacred (Black Narcissus) to the profane (any movie made in the 1970s with the word ‘nun’ in the title), Brides of Christ was a reliable cinema staple for decades. Alas, it has fallen on hard times recently, with 2008’s Doubt being the last really good nun movie we’ve had – until now!
Directed by Pawel Pawlikowski (My Summer of Love), Ida (opening at Landmark’s Albany Twin on Friday, May 23) is a gorgeously shot black-and-white tone poem about the travails of a Polish novitiate nun during the 1960s. It’s the first time expatriate Pawlikowski — who’s primarily worked in Britain since his student days at Oxford – has shot a film in his native land, and the result is impressive. … Continue reading »
I’m no literary critic (heck, I barely qualify as a film critic), but director Richard Ayoade’s new Dostoevsky adaptation The Double (opening at Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas on Friday, May 16) reminded me of another mid-19th century tale of alienation and anomie, Herman Melville’s 1852 short story ‘Bartleby, the Scrivener’.
I would prefer not to believe that Melville was influenced by Dostoevsky, but had ‘The Double’ (published in 1846) been translated into English by the time Melville wrote ‘Bartleby’? Alternatively, did Melville read Russian, or were both writers independently reflecting the cultural zeitgeist of their time? I don’t know (and neither, it seems, does the Internet), but there are two things of which I’m certain: The Double will appear near the top of my 2014 favorites list, and I won’t be writing lit criticism for the London Review of Books any time soon. … Continue reading »
Ever wondered what a horror film directed by Terrence Malick might look like? The 57th San Francisco International Film Festival (continuing through May 8 at Pacific Film Archive) is here to help. Screening at the Archive at 8:45 p.m. next Wednesday, May 7, Historia del miedo (History of Fear) blends the brooding naturalism of Malick with the existential dread of Michael Haneke, the end-result a grimly fascinating examination of the discreet discomfort of the bourgeoisie.
Set during a hot Argentinian summer plagued with power outages, History of Fear introduces viewers to an extended upper middle-class family living on a large estate in Buenos Aires’ Moreno district. It’s not only the constant blinking on and off of electricity that has the family on edge, however, but a multitude of other disturbances: holes cut in the estate fence by unseen intruders, fires left burning unattended, violent reality television, and – of course – naked men at the local toll booth. … Continue reading »