Tag Archives: Big Screen Berkeley

Big Screen Berkeley: Asian American Film Festival

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It’s almost spring time in the East Bay (and, not too surprisingly, the rest of the Northern Hemisphere as well), which means two things are about to happen: the Oakland Athletics will drop their Opening Day game (can the team extend its already impressive nine-season losing streak to an unprecedented tenth, setting a new Major League record?), and the Asian American Film Festival (officially known as CAAMFest 2014) is about to put in its annual appearance at Pacific Film Archive.

This year’s Berkeley component of the Festival kicks off at 7:00 p.m. on Friday, March 14 with Farah Goes Bang, a comedy about a young campaign volunteer desperately trying to lose her virginity while working tirelessly to get John Kerry elected President in 2004. Nikohl Boosheri stars as the title character, an Iranian-American lass spending her days criss-crossing the battleground state of Ohio in search of votes and love. Despite its less than promising premise – is there anything or anyone less exciting than John Kerry? – the film won the Nora Ephron Prize at last year’s Tribeca Film Festival. … Continue reading »

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Big Screen Berkeley: ‘Omar:’ A powerful Palestinian drama

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We’re just a couple of weeks away from this year’s Academy Awards, but one of the Best Foreign Language Film nominees is only now going on general release (to be eligible, films must screen publicly in Los Angeles County for a full week during the prior year but may open later elsewhere). That’s no reflection on the nominated film’s quality, however – and I’ll go out on a rather long limb and predict Oscar glory for Omar, a powerful Palestinian drama about life in the Occupied Territories opening at Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas on Friday, Feb. 21.

Omar (Adam Bakri) is a typical young West Bank resident. Having grown up under the occupation he’s adapted to it in innumerable ways, including making a daily climb over the 26 foot-tall ‘security wall’ in order to visit friends and get to work. Despite the best efforts of Israeli Defense Force patrols to prevent such breaches, Omar scales the wall on a regular basis, sometimes with a boost from kindly passers-by. … Continue reading »

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Big Screen Berkeley: Last Days on Mars

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Did you hear the one about the joint American-British-Chinese-Irish mission to Mars — the one that didn’t actually include any Chinese astronauts? No? Well, prepare to discover it in Last Days on Mars, a thoroughly average science fiction adventure opening at Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas on Friday, Dec. 13.

Directed by Ruairí Robinson, Last Days on Mars is headlined by Liev Schreiber, last heard in these parts narrating Federal Reserve documentary Money for Nothing. Schreiber plays Vince Campbell, one of an octet of astronauts who’ve spent the last six months conducting scientific research on the Red Planet: collecting soil samples, monitoring the weather, and trying to prove that Marvin the Martian really exists. Their tour of duty almost up, the group eagerly awaits the imminent arrival of space shuttle Aurora and a restful return trip to Earth. … Continue reading »

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Big Screen Berkeley: Fassbinder’s Favorites

Anna Karina in Vivre sa Vie
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Throughout his remarkably prolific but all too brief career, German auteur Rainer Werner Fassbinder directed numerous films focused on strong female characters. Features such as The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant, The Marriage of Maria Braun, Veronika Voss, and Lola displayed Fassbinder’s strong affinity for stories about women, so it comes as no surprise to learn the filmmaker was a big fan of two femme-themed nouvelle vague classics screening at Pacific Film Archive on Friday, Nov. 22 as part of the series Fassbinder’s Favorites.

First up at 7:00 p.m. is Jean-Luc Godard’s 1962 drama Vivre sa vie: Film en douze tableaux (My Life to Live: A Film in Twelve Scenes). Anchored by a mournful (if sparsely applied) Michel Legrand score, the film stars Anna Karina (then married to Godard; the couple would divorce in 1967) as Nana, a stylish young mademoiselle forced, by economic necessity, to take up the world’s oldest profession.  … Continue reading »

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Big Screen Berkeley: Great Expectations

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According to the Internet Movie Database, 1897’s Death of Nancy Sykes – a long lost production based on a single scene from Oliver Twist — was the first screen adaptation of Charles Dickens’ work. Since then, of course, the adaptations have flowed virtually non-stop, with well over 300 different Dickens features hitting screens big and small in the intervening century and a bit. And still they keep coming: IMDb lists four more features as currently “in development”.

The latest to hit cinemas, director Mike Newell’s take on Great Expectations, has some particularly big shoes to fill. Opening at Rialto Cinema’s Elmwood on Friday, Nov. 8, this Great Expectations will be endlessly (and perhaps unfairly) compared to David Lean’s near perfect 1946 version – and, sure enough, it does pale in comparison. That said, it’s far from a complete waste of your time.  … Continue reading »

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Big Screen Berkeley: Let the Fire Burn

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On May 17, 1974, my impressionable 11-year-old eyes watched an after-school special I would never forget: the live television broadcast of a police shootout. Hundreds of heavily armed officers were besieging a Los Angeles house occupied by a revolutionary group known, cryptically, as the Symbionese Liberation Army, and Eyewitness News was there to record every gunshot and explosion. By the time the siege was over, six members of the SLA were dead, the house was destroyed, and television’s vast wasteland had expanded into some disturbing new territory.

Eleven years later, an eerily similar incident took place in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, but with even grimmer results: 11 deaths and the destruction of four city blocks. The events leading up to this tragedy are examined in Let the Fire Burn, a remarkable new documentary opening at Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas on Friday, Nov. 1.  … Continue reading »

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Big Screen Berkeley: Torn, a terrorist plot set in East Bay

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What kind of person would detonate a bomb in the middle of a busy suburban mall – a Muslim teenager seeking revenge for the mistreatment of his father at the hands of the American government, or a non-Muslim teenager making good on a schoolyard threat? That’s the question posed by Torn, a locally produced drama opening at Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas on Friday, October 25.

Directed by Jeremiah Birnbaum and written by Michael Richter, Torn takes place in an inconspicuous and unnamed East Bay burg. Judging from a glimpsed Argus newspaper headline it’s probably Fremont, but wherever it may be, Anytown USA is home to Ali (Iron Man’s Faran Tarir) and Maryam Munsif (Mahnoor Baloch), Pakistani immigrants living the middle-class American dream with their high-school age son Walter. … Continue reading »

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Big Screen Berkeley: C.O.G.: a fine American indie film

C.O.G. stars Glee regular Jonathan Groff as a Yale graduate who’s abandoned his comfortable Connecticut home for an opportunity to get his hands dirty and experience a 'Grapes of Wrath'-style slice of working-class life.
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What is a C.O.G.? That question is at the heart of the unimaginatively titled C.O.G. (opening at Rialto Cinema’s Elmwood on Friday, September 20), director Kyle Patrick Alvarez’s (Easier with Practice) sophomore effort. The answer isn’t terribly surprising, but turns out to be one of the more predictable aspects of what is otherwise a fine example of character-driven, American indie filmmaking.

Set in Oregon, C.O.G. stars Glee regular Jonathan Groff as ‘Samuel’, a Yale graduate (legal name: David) who’s abandoned his cell phone and comfortable Connecticut home for an opportunity to get his hands dirty and experience a ‘Grapes of Wrath’-style slice of working-class life. Arriving in the middle of nowhere after a Greydog ride from Hell, Samuel anticipates being joined in a few days by girlfriend Jennifer (Troian Bellisario) for an idyllic summer spent picking apples and reading Willa Cather together.

Instead, Samuel finds himself hired by unforgiving apple magnate Hobbs (Dean Stockwell, making the most of a small but meaty role), who expects him to – shock! – work just as hard as the Mexican migrant workers he employs. Taking a break to enjoy ‘Walden’ is strictly verboten, and to make matters worse, when Jennifer arrives, her new boyfriend has come along for the ride. The summer is not going to be as idyllic as Samuel imagined. … Continue reading »

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Reviewed: ‘Rising from Ashes,’ ‘The Boys in the Band’

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I’ve never been much for bicycles, and now I know why: according to cycling legend Jonathan (Jock) Boyer, it’s an activity predicated upon suffering – an opinion borne out by personal experience, as I invariably topple off any bike I attempt to ride. Boyer, the first American to compete in the Tour de France, no doubt knows from suffering, and is central to the story told by Rising from Ashes, an uplifting documentary about the redemptive power of pedaling opening at Rialto’s Elmwood on Friday, September 13th.

Narrated laconically by executive producer Forest Whitaker, Rising from Ashes follows convicted felon Boyer as he works with a select group of amateur athletes to build a national cycling team in the central African republic of Rwanda. His work pays off when one of his protégés wins the 2006 Wooden Bike Classic, and the film follows the team’s exploits all the way to the London Olympics, where star Adrien Niyonshuti finished 39th (second from last) in the Mountain Biking event. … Continue reading »

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Big Screen Berkeley: Sorry, Wrong Number

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We’ve reached the telephonic point of no return: according to data collected by CTIA – the industry lobbying group supporting the wireless industry – there’s now more than one active cell phone for every man, woman and child in the United States. Unless (like me) you don’t own or carry a mobile, there’s simply no hiding from your annoying relatives or that disappointing political candidate to whom you donated $10 during the 2008 election cycle.

Back in 1948, things were different. Perhaps you had a phone at home or at work, but you didn’t have an answering machine, and you certainly had no way of reaching someone who was traveling. If you were home and a line was open, you’d probably pick up the phone if it rang. If you missed a call…well, such was life. Aunt Mildred or President Truman would simply have to call again later. … Continue reading »

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Big Screen Berkeley: ‘Hannah Arendt’ is a superior biopic

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Along with Jeanette McDonald-Nelson Eddy musicals and John Wayne westerns, biopics are, generally speaking, among my least favorite films. More often than not, they are boring recreations of historical (or, frequently, ahistorcial) events ripe for molehill-to-mountain criticism concerning the tiniest of factual errors. Biopics rarely entertain or enlighten, apparently existing only to generate buzz during awards season and annoy pedants.

Sometimes, however, the humble biopic puts the lie to my crude stereotyping and blunt-force pigeonholing. Consider Hannah Arendt (opening at Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas on Friday, August 2): Despite a title promising another predictable trawl through the life and times of a Very Important Person, it actually manages to deliver more than another dose of birth, school, work, death. … Continue reading »

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‘The Hunt:’ A remarkable, beautifully shot film

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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 »

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Big Screen Berkeley: Akira Kurosawa’s ‘Stray Dog’

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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 »

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