Tag Archives: Big Screen Berkeley

Arts

Big Screen Berkeley: Sold

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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 »

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Big Screen Berkeley: Academy Award-nominated shorts

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Call it a rite of mid-winter: it’s time once again for my annual (and usually futile) effort to guess which short subjects will win gongs at the forthcoming Academy Awards ceremony. And you can play, too, as all the films – Animated and Live Action – will be screening at Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas beginning on Friday, Jan. 29.

The Animated category is almost always dominated by whichever short Disney/Pixar has produced during the preceding twelve months, and I suspect this will continue to be the case on Feb. 28. This year’s likely shoo-in is a warm-hearted ‘toon entitled Sanjay’s Super Team, in which a young lad repurposes his action figures as Hindu gods and goddesses doing battle with a multi-headed, multi-armed purple demon. Featuring rich, deep colors bathing in an almost psychedelic atmosphere, it’s a beautiful film book-ended by a nice personal note from director Sanjay Patel. … Continue reading »

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Big Screen Berkeley: ‘Aferim!’ is highly recommended

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The Romanian New Wave peaked a decade ago with such gritty, neo-realist films as The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (2005) and 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (2007). Grim commentary on Romania’s changed circumstances post-communism, these films reflected the cultural and political shocks reverberating throughout the country at the turn of the 21st century.

The Death of Mr. Lazarescu provided an opportunity for a recent film school graduate named Radu Jude to work second unit for director Cristi Puiu. Now Jude has graduated to making his own features films, and the latest, Aferim!, opens at Landmark’s Opera Plaza Cinema in San Francisco on Friday, Jan. 22. As with last week’s Flowers, no East Bay play dates are currently scheduled.

Lazarescu was the sort of film that once would have been described as ‘torn from today’s headlines’. Aferim!, on the other hand, is an historical drama set in the 1830s, when the Ottoman Empire’s grip on the Balkans was ever so slowly beginning to weaken — not least in the province of Wallachia, where the story is set. … Continue reading »

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Big Screen: The understated, elegant ‘Flowers’

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It’s January, and the release schedule — overflowing with goodness only a few short weeks ago — has transformed into a vast winter wasteland of terrible films. During the long holiday season, folks flock to the movies – then promptly abandon them in January and February. Meanwhile, the studios have to put something into cinemas — and it’s almost always barrel scrapings, misfires and duds.

Things aren’t quite as bleak here in Berkeley: for one thing, we have the Jan. 31 opening of the new Pacific Film Archive to look forward to, a very special occasion indeed. And if you don’t mind taking a trip across the bridge, there’s also a really wonderful little picture entitled Loreak (Flowers) opening at Landmark’s Opera Plaza in San Francisco on Friday, Jan. 15. (No East Bay play-dates are currently scheduled.)

Made in Spain but shot in the Basque language (according to IMDb, one of only 35 films ever shot in Basque), Flowers is an ensemble piece about a series of relationships that barely exist in the accepted sense of the word. Nonetheless, these nascent semi-relationships change the lives of all involved. … Continue reading »

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Big Screen Berkeley: Favorite films of 2015

Duke of Burgundy: one of Berkeleyside film critic John Seal's favorite films of 2015
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I estimate I watched between 500 and 600 films in 2015, but every year I miss a ton of new movies, so this article needs to include an appropriate disclaimer: this is NOT a comprehensive list of the year’s ‘best films’. It’s a short list of those new or revived films I saw for the first time in 2015, and enjoyed (and/or appreciated) the most, so please don’t be upset if I omitted your favorite – I probably haven’t seen it yet!

1. The Duke of Burgundy: From the moment this film began, I knew it would feature prominently on this year’s list — and here it is, right at the top. The Duke of Burgundy was the most classically ‘cinematic’ film I saw all year; a true work of art encompassing an intriguing story, superb acting, intelligent writing, and incredible music (the score deserves an Academy Award nomination) – all while reflecting director Peter Strickland’s deep appreciation for film history. … Continue reading »

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Big Screen Berkeley: Experimenter; Amazing Nina Simone

The Experimenter
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Long time readers are familiar with my biopic rant by now. Regardless of the occasional exception (I’m still looking at you, Hannah Arendt), Seal’s First Law of Cinema states emphatically that biopics turn the lives of the most remarkable people into the most unremarkable films.

At first, that seems the path likely to be taken by Michael Almereyda’s Experimenter, opening on Friday at Landmark’s Shattuck Cinema – until an elephant, quite literally, walks into the room. You’ve been put on notice that this is no ordinary biopic. … Continue reading »

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Big Screen Berkeley: ‘Trash’ and ‘Shout Gladi Gladi’

Trash, a film by Stephen Daldry
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Over the years, Brazil has given us several neorealist dramas about youngsters trying to survive in the poverty-stricken favelas of Rio de Janeiro (City of God, 2002) and São Paulo (Pixote, 1981). The Rio-set Trash (opening at Rialto Cinemas Elmwood on Friday Oct. 9), proves there’s some life in the old genre yet – and suggests that little to nothing has been done of late to address the problems of Brazil’s stark inequality.

14-year olds Raphael (Rickson Tevez) and Gardo (Eduardo Luis) spend their days scavenging for recyclables on the massive dumping ground that abuts their favela. When the two friends discover a wallet stuffed with cash, it appears things are looking up for the lads – but this, of course, is no ordinary wallet.

Tossed into a passing garbage truck by a man subsequently arrested and tortured by the police, the wallet holds the secrets of a corrupt politician in the form of a lottery card, a key, a flip-book, a letter, and – least importantly – the aforementioned reals. The politician needs the wallet back, or his campaign for Mayor will likely come to naught. … Continue reading »

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Big Screen Berkeley: ‘The Black Panthers’

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Next year marks the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Black Panther Party in Oakland, and it’s probably safe to say the party is as contentious today as it was in 1966. Were the Panthers revolutionaries or reformists? Insurrectionists, or social workers working within the system to improve the lot of African-Americans? Focused primarily on self-defense, or intent on overthrowing the government of the United States?

These questions are confronted from the off in The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution (opening at Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas on Friday, Oct. 2). The parable of the three blind men – and how each of their impressions of an elephant differ radically – is related by former Panther Ericka Huggins, who states “It wasn’t nice and clean. It wasn’t easy. It was…complex.” … Continue reading »

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Big Screen Berkeley: ‘The Second Mother’

Second Mother
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In real life, the well-to-do have servants to help them count their money, weigh gold bullion, and keep the other servants in line. In the movies, the rich also have domestic help – but in films like The Servant (1963) and La Nana (The Maid, 2009), the ‘help’ quite often turns out to as much hindrance as anything else. Such is also the case in Que Horas Ela Volta? (The Second Mother), a Brazilian drama (albeit, with faint comedic overtones) opening at Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas on Friday, Sept. 4.

Val (Regina Casé) serves as the live-in maid for trend-setting São Paulo stylist Bárbara (Karine Teles). While Bárbara is the one getting the television interviews and magazine spreads, her low-key husband Dr. Carlos (Lourenço Mutarelli) is the real power behind the throne, having inherited an impressive sum from his late father. What Carlos wants, he gets – sometimes much to Bárbara’s chagrin. … Continue reading »

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Story of Berkeley’s Moe’s Books comes to big screen

Siciliano Trevino held a screening Aug. 27 of her new documentary at the Elmwood Theater. Photo: Ted Friedman
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The film that was found at the Berkeley dump of the 1965 opening night party for Moe’s Books on Telegraph Avenue now has a film of its own.

Thursday night was the premiere of New Mo’ Cut: David Peoples’ Lost Film of Moe’s Books, produced and directed by Siciliana Trevino. Dozens of people who had backed the film on Kickstarter, worked on it, or supported it in other ways, crowded into the Rialto Cinemas Elmwood for a screening. The general public got to see it at 8 p.m. … Continue reading »

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Big Screen Berkeley: ‘We Come as Friends’

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Hubert Sauper, apparently, is a man of many talents. First, he spent two years building his own ultra-light aircraft, which he then flew from France to Libya (hardly a pillar of stability, even prior to the overthrow of the Gaddafi government). Then he winged his way towards an even more dangerous destination – the nascent Republic of South Sudan.

And only then did he get around to shooting We Come as Friends, a documentary opening at Rialto Cinemas Elmwood on Friday, Aug. 28. Though his aircraft hasn’t been granted any special recognition by the International Council of the Aeronautical Sciences, his film has since gone on to win prizes at the Berlin International Film Festival, the Jihlava International Documentary Film Festival, and Sundance. … Continue reading »

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Big Screen Berkeley: ‘3 1/2 Minutes 10 Bullets’

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For a brief period in late 2012, it was front page news from coast to coast: on ‘Black Friday’, the biggest shopping day of the year, a white man had fired ten shots at four African-American teenagers in a Florida parking lot. Before long, of course, the story was eclipsed by other tales of America’s festering racism problem – but for a little while it was unavoidable.

Now the case is reexamined in 3 ½ Minutes, 10 Bullets, a new documentary opening at Rialto Cinemas Elmwood on Friday, July 24. Directed by Marc Silver and featuring extensive courtroom footage, it’s a wrenching examination of perception, truth, and a culture steeped in frequently invisible but unavoidable discrimination and a nation awash in guns, guns, guns. … Continue reading »

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Big Screen Berkeley: ‘They Live by Night’

They Live by Night
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Cinema is knee deep in films about star-crossed lovers on the run from the law. From Bonnie and Clyde to Badlands to Natural Born Killers and beyond, ‘bad kids in love’ has been a reliable Hollywood trope for decades — and it all began with They Live by Night (1948), screening at Pacific Film Archive at 8:45 p.m. on Friday, July 17 as part of the series ‘The Cinema According to Victor Erice’.

Farley Granger and Cathy O’Donnell star as Bowie and Keechie, two youngsters brought together by fate after convicted killer Bowie breaks out of prison with Chickamaw (Howard DaSilva) and T-Dub (the magnificently monickered Jay C. Flippen). Keechie is the daughter of Mobley (Will Wright), T-Dub’s alcoholic brother, who’s arranged for the purchase of a getaway car for the three escaped felons. … Continue reading »

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