2016 has, thankfully, almost run its course, which means that it’s time for film critics coast-to-coast to compile their end-of-the-year lists. Unlike others, however, I can’t profess to know what the year’s ‘best films’ were, because I haven’t seen enough of the contenders. With time to take in only 500 or so films a year — many being older films I’m catching up on (or revisiting, such as The Battle of Algiers) — it would be an insult to my readers’ intelligence to suggest I really know what’s best.
Over the last few decades the term ‘film noir’ has been increasingly misused. Where once it represented a distinct type of story – one in which the central character finds him or herself trapped in a predicament not entirely of their own making – it’s since been applied to routine police procedurals, gothic thrillers, and any film (especially those filmed in black and white!) with a suspenseful and tricksy plot.
Wildlife documentaries used to be fun and educational diversions: while watching cute animals frolic in the wilderness, you also got to learn about the magical ‘circle of life’ that made all that frolicking possible. Well, unless it was a Werner Herzog wildlife documentary — then you got to see the food chain in action, up to and including human beings. But I digress.
Last week’s feature The Love Witch was the sort of fluffy distraction we could use right now, but alas – all I can offer you this week is an ice cold cinematic shower entitled National Bird (opening at San Francisco’s Roxie Theatre on Friday, Nov. 18th; no East Bay playdates are currently scheduled). A timely and depressing reminder of the powers soon to be vested in the man some call Cheeto Jesus and others call names that aren’t quite so nice, it’s one of the best documentaries of 2016.
In a recent Guardian interview, director Quentin Tarantino claimed he’d be retiring after completing two more films, his legacy as ‘one of the greatest filmmakers of all time’ likely assured. About the kindest thing one can say about this Trumpian piece of self-regard is that Mr. Tarantino, whose career has largely consisted of the wholesale theft of dialogue, scenarios, and music from other films (as well as depressingly liberal use of the ‘n’ word), is sadly deluded.
Do you like rock music – especially the grungy, punky, minimalist kind that blossomed during the 1970s? Then hightail it this weekend to Gimme Danger, a fantastic rockumentary opening at Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas on Friday, Nov. 4.
If you’re familiar with South Korean filmmaker Chan-Woo Park you know his reputation. The creator of such outrageous, over-the-top features as Lady Vengeance and Oldboy (remade by Spike Lee in 2013), Park specializes in pushing the cinematic envelope and making audiences uncomfortable.
I first saw Gillo Pontecorvo’s 1965 feature La Battaglia di Algeri (The Battle of Algiers) at Berkeley’s UC Theatre sometime in the mid 1980s. To say it was an eye opener would be an understatement: here was a ‘war movie’ that told its story from the perspectives of both sides. Who was I supposed to root for?
If you’ve yet to read Eric Schlossel’s 2014 book Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety, allow me to proffer a strong recommendation — but be warned. If you’re at all nervous about the possibilities of a nuclear apocalypse, it won’t put your mind at rest or help you sleep at night.
In the days and weeks ahead you’ll probably be reading a great deal about Birth of a Nation. No, we haven’t travelled back in time to 1915 (that will have to wait until after President Trump’s inauguration) – this Birth of a Nation (opening at Landmark’s California Theatre on Friday, Oct. 7) is entirely unrelated, though it’s also likely to provoke controversy.
Summer is all but over, and it’s not quite Oscar season yet. New releases are thinner on the ground than autumn leaves in May, but fear not film fans: Pacific Film Archive has two very different but equally worthwhile motion pictures with which to tempt you this weekend.
Before the Second World War, heavily Catholic Poland was also home to most of the world’s Jewish population. That changed, of course, during the war, when at least 90% of Poland’s 3 million Jews were killed by the Nazi extermination machine, leaving only a few thousand survivors behind.
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