Author Archives: John Seal
This time last year, I handicapped the Oscars. Not, of course, the ones that everyone actually cares about – no, I was concerned with the ones only a mother (or a film obsessive, or perhaps a film obsessive’s mother) could love: the short subjects. How’d I do, you ask? Well, so-so: in the animated category the film I suspected would win did, while in the live action category the film I considered the bottom of the barrel ended up at the top of the heap.
But this, of course, is a new year, so it’s time to play the guessing game once again – especially as the Animated and Live Action contenders will be screening at Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas beginning this Friday, Feb. 1. (2013’s nominated Documentaries will only be playing in San Francisco and San Rafael.) … Continue reading »
If you’ve been keeping score at home, it should be obvious by now that yours truly isn’t much of a western enthusiast. Since I began writing for Berkeleyside three years ago, I’ve penned precisely one column about this most American of film genres – and that concerned a rather non-traditional example of the style.
There’s one subset of the oater, however, that I’ve always found completely irresistible: the Eurowestern. During the 1960s and ‘70s, well over 500 Old West adventures were produced on the continent. Most of these films were Italian — hence the mildly pejorative descriptor ‘spaghetti western’ – but plenty of other countries also got into the act, including West Germany, Yugoslavia, Britain, and France.
Italy, however, was responsible for the vast majority of Eurowesterns, and it’s Italy that’s the focus of Pacific Film Archive’s current series, ‘The Hills Run Red: Italian Westerns, Leone, and Beyond’. As the series’ title suggests, director Sergio Leone remains the name most of us associate with the genre. Indeed, his reputation is well deserved — there are few films that equal The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly and Once Upon a Time in the West – but he was hardly alone. … Continue reading »
There are very, very few films featuring humorous depictions of early 20th-century pogroms. In fact, after considerable effort, I can think of only one: The Rabbi’s Cat, a witty, thoughtful French animated feature opening this Friday, Jan. 18 at Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas. [Update, 1:25 p.m.: The movie has been rescheduled since press time and is now due to open at the Embarcadero Center in San Francisco and the Rafael Film Center in San Rafael. Thank you reader Ed Erwin for the tip, and apologies for any inconvenience.]
Based on a series of graphic novels by writer-director Joann Sfar, The Rabbi’s Cat is set in 1930s Algiers, where Rabbi Abraham (a fictional representation of the filmmaker’s Sephardic ancestors) lives a quiet life with his daughter Zlabya, their annoying green parrot, and a grey tomcat who enjoys nothing quite so much as a freshly caught fish. … Continue reading »
According to the unattributed dictionary definition that prefaces Alfred Hitchcock’s Sabotage, the word sabotage means ‘wilful destruction of buildings or machinery with the object of alarming a group of persons or inspiring public uneasiness ‘. It’s an apt description of the effect the film must have had on 1936 cinemagoers, who surely weren’t prepared for Sabotage’s gut-wrenching denouement — a scene still likely to jar viewers today.
Based on Joseph Conrad’s novel ‘Secret Agent’, Sabotage (screening at Pacific Film Archive at 8:45 p.m. on Friday Jan. 11 as part of the series ‘Alfred Hitchcock: The Shape of Suspense’) is an overlooked highlight of the filmmaker’s career. Produced prior to Hitchcock’s arrival in Hollywood, it’s since been overshadowed by such US-made heavyweights as Rear Window, Vertigo and Psycho. Familiarity with those films, however, has long since leeched them of their ability to shock and surprise — something that can’t be said of Sabotage. … Continue reading »
Once again, it’s that most wonderful time of the year: the season of self-delusion, when critics the world over convince themselves that their readers want nothing more than lists of the best this, that, and the other. It’s the time when the critical hive mind begins the important task of sorting the best from the worst in anticipation of another exciting awards season — and who I am to go against the collective grain?
My go along to get along bona fides now firmly established, please enjoy my list of favorite (and least favorite) films of 2012 – bearing in mind that I’ve so far missed such notable releases as Amour, Argo, Life of Pi, The Hobbit, and that Batman movie that hated on Occupy. I did, however, find time to see The Expendables 2. Hey, priorities. … Continue reading »
Throughout the 1970s and ‘80s, New York City was the country’s Sodom and Gomorrah, a place shunned and feared by Middle America. Near bankrupt, its school system in a state of collapse, and riddled with crime, crack cocaine, and urban decay, the city had lost the sheen acquired during the glory days of Fiorello La Guardia and Robert Moses.
On April 19, 1989, a 28-year old investment banker was brutally attacked and left for dead in the northernmost reaches of Central Park. Within days, the New York Police Department claimed they’d found the monsters responsible: five African-American teenagers. The case, and the horrendous miscarriage of justice that followed, is examined in a new documentary, The Central Park Five, opening at Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas on Friday, December 14. … Continue reading »
Remember Billy Idol? The punk rocker turned ‘80s rock star projected an image of bad boy stupidity, but it seems there was more going on beneath the studded leather jackets and spiky blonde pompadour. An English Literature student at university, Idol apparently also spent time at the local art house, soaking up the inspiration of an obscure French film entitled Les yeux sans visage (Eyes Without a Face). The rest is Top Ten history.
Co-founder with Henri Langlois of the Cinémathèque Française in 1937, archivist Georges Franju began making documentary short subjects in the late 1940s, but moved into more fantastic realms a decade later. Eyes Without a Face (screening at Pacific Film Archive on Friday, Dec. 7 at 8:50 p.m. as part of the ongoing series “Grand Illusions: French Cinema Classics, 1928–1960″) was his second feature-length film and the one for which he’s best remembered. … Continue reading »
One of the most progressive lawmen of the early 20th century, Vollmer was instrumental in establishing the nation’s first motorized police units, encouraged the hiring of women and African-Americans into police ranks, eliminated use of the ‘third degree’, and considered drug prohibition a waste of police resources. He was, in sum, the answer to the question How Berkeley Can You Be? before the question was ever posed.
All this, of course, is no news to local history buffs, who are already well aware of Vollmer’s importance to both the city of Berkeley and to the development of modern law enforcement. Less, however, is known about his small but fascinating role in the motion picture industry. … Continue reading »
Advertising insults the intelligence of everyone exposed to it, but of course, the stuff works. Consider the gnashing of teeth and rending of hair that followed the recently reported demise of the Twinkie: if not for the anthropomorphic sponge cake we all grew up watching on Saturday mornings, would anyone care? Twinkies, after all, taste disgusting — but Hostess’ ad agency convinced us all that taste didn’t enter into the equation.
A business ripe for parody, advertising has been well skewered on the big screen in such films as Frank Tashlin’s Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (1957), Robert Downey’s Putney Swope (1969), and Bruce Robinson’s How to Get Ahead in Advertising (1989). As the decades have passed, the films have become grimmer and more acerbic — which brings me to perhaps the most disturbing of the lot, Generation P. Directed by former ad man Victor Ginzburg, this savage satire opens Friday, November 30 at an as yet undetermined Landmark cinema in San Francisco. (The film was originally booked to open at Berkeley’s Landmark Shattuck Cinemas on Friday, November 23.) … Continue reading »
In late 2004, the Elmwood Theatre — owned at the time by San Carlos Cinemas — closed. I passed the theatre on the way to and from work each day, and, despite the somewhat hopeful message on the marquee (“Closed for Remodel”) I was convinced that the last bucket of spilled popcorn had been swept up there.
Victims of America’s love affair with the multiplex, over 500 single-screen movie theatres around the country had been shuttered over the preceding five years. How could Berkeley’s little neighborhood cinema resist the inexorable market forces working against it? … Continue reading »
French director Jean Renoir is rightfully considered one of the greatest filmmakers of all time. He’s responsible, after all, for both 1937’s La Grande Illusion and 1939’s La Règle du Jeu (The Rules of the Game) – two films that have featured prominently on countless ‘best of’ lists for decades.
In between churning out those classics, Renoir also found time to direct two films in 1938: La Marseillaise, a re-enactment of the French Revolution that I’ve never seen, and La Bête Humaine. The latter feature, every bit the equal of Renoir’s acknowledged classics, screens at 2:00 PM on Sunday, November 4th at Pacific Film Archive as part of the series ‘Grand Illusions: French Cinema Classics, 1928–1960’.
Adapted from Emile Zola’s 1890 novel of the same name, La Bête Humaine stars French matinee idol Jean Gabin as Jacques Lantier, an engineer on the Paris-Le Havre railway. Stricken by a mysterious chronic illness and burdened by a family history of alcoholism, Lantier prefers the reliable company of his engine, La Lison, to that of fickle humans. … Continue reading »
Studies show that Australian beer consumption is in a death spiral. Recent research by the Japanese brewery Kirin indicates the land down under has slipped from 4th to 8th place in worldwide per capita ale imbibing since 2004 — in fact, it’s been nothing but bad news for Aussie brewers since the late 1970s, when the locals began switching to wine.
It was a much different story during the 1960s and early ‘70s, a Golden Age of Australian wrist raising during which suds consumption soared to all time highs. The era is captured in all its lager-soaked glory in 1970’s Wake in Fright, an existential drama beginning a revival run at Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas on Friday, October 26.
Set in remotest New South Wales during a sweltering mid-summer, Wake in Fright stars English actor Gary Bond as John Grant, a primary school teacher desperate for the Christmas holidays to arrive. Grant has six weeks’ leave (the Australian school year begins at the end of January and ends in mid-December), a sweetheart in Sydney, and just enough cash to have a good time. … Continue reading »
Have you ever woken up in the morning and thought ‘I wish I could go and see a good movie about public health tonight?’ Well, guess what — this week you have not one, but two, movies to choose from that satisfy that very desire. One’s fiction, the other a documentary, and both are highly recommended.
Elia Kazan’s 1950 problem picture Panic in the Streets (screening at Pacific Film Archive at 6:30 pm on Sunday, October 21) was produced in an era when most Americans believed government was the solution, not the problem. The problem in this case is pneumonic plague, introduced into the United States via a stowaway on a rat-infested merchant ship. … Continue reading »