Tag Archives: Big Screen Berkeley

Big Screen Berkeley: The Kill Team

The Kill Team (promo still)
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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 »

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Big Screen Berkeley: Office Space

Gary Cole in Office Space
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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 »

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Big Screen Berkeley: Siddharth

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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 »

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‘Code Black’: behind the scenes in L.A. emergency room

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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 »

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Big Screen Berkeley: ‘Borgman’, SF Int’l LGBT Film Festival

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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 »

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Big Screen Berkeley: 57th SF International Film Festival

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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 »

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Big Screen Berkeley: ‘Alan Partridge,’ ‘Teenage,’ ‘Trap City’

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It was my fourth favorite film of 2013. Now, thanks to the miracle of modern technology – okay, more likely thanks to the erratic release pattern afforded British comedies in the U.S. these days — Alan Partridge (originally titled, somewhat cryptically, Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa) finally appears stateside, opening on Friday, April 18 at Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas.

For those unfamiliar with the character, Alan Partridge is a massively egotistical radio and television personality plowing a rather small furrow in the backwaters of BBC Norfolk. The subject of several wildly popular UK mockumentary series (including ’Knowing Me, Knowing You with Alan Partridge’ and ‘I’m Alan Partridge’) that somehow never made it to the States, Partridge went into semi-retirement in 2002, but his rabid fan base clamored for a comeback. This is it. … Continue reading »

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Big Screen Berkeley: The Missing Picture

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And still they come: it’s already April, and last season’s Best Foreign Language Film Oscar nominees continue to saunter lackadaisically into Berkeley. This week’s tardy contestant is L’image manquante (The Missing Picture), a Cambodian-French co-production opening at Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas on Friday, April 4.

Written and directed by Rithy Panh – best known in these parts for his grueling 2003 documentary S21: The Khmer Rouge Killing MachineThe Missing Picture is a genuinely unique feature. Part fictional, part semi-autobiographical, the film blends clay recreations of pre- and post-revolutionary Cambodian life with rare archival footage of the aftermath of Democratic Kampuchea’s ‘Year Zero’. You really haven’t seen anything else quite like it. … Continue reading »

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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: ‘The Rocket,’ good bet for Oscars ’15

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We’ve barely had time to digest this year’s Academy Awards, but surely it’s not too soon to start prognosticating about next year’s nominees. By peering into the deepest recesses of my crystal ball, I see that The Rocket – an Australian-Laotian co-production, the first Laotian film I’ve ever seen, and one of only 66 films listed by IMDb to be at least partly of Laotian origin – will feature prominently in 2014’s Best Foreign Language Film competition.

Opening at Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas on Friday, March 7, The Rocket is the at times surreal, at other times mytho-poetic tale of young Ahlo’s against-all-odds effort to shrug off the effects of the curse placed upon him by (of all people) his grandmother Taitok (Bunsri Yindi). Little Ahlo is the surviving sibling of a stillborn twin – and his tribe considers twins very bad news indeed. … Continue reading »

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Big Screen Berkeley: ‘Side Street,’ one nasty noir

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The American film industry was born on the Atlantic Seaboard. From Biograph’s lower Manhattan studio to the film factory that was Fort Lee, New Jersey (a city now infamous, of course, for an entirely different reason), the first American movies were primarily an East Coast affair.

That changed in 1911 when the advantages offered by the sunshine and vast open spaces of Southern California convinced New Jersey’s Nestor Studios (later to merge with Universal) to relocate to Hollywood. The secret was out: land and good weather were plentiful out west, and the industry moved en masse. By the 1920s, the East Coast film boom had quickly turned to bust.

And so it would remain for the next few decades: during the ‘20s and ‘30s, New York City locations were recreated hundreds of times on the Hollywood back lot, and no one complained. In the post-war years, however, audiences wanted something a little less artificial and a bit more realistic, and studios realized they needed to offer something to counter the growing threat of television. Second units began to pop up around The Big Apple — especially for crime pictures.

One of those pictures was MGM’s Side Street, an above average noir screening at 7:00 p.m. on Friday Feb. 28 at Pacific Film Archive as part of the series ‘Against the Law: The Crime Films of Anthony Mann’. … 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: The Trials of Muhammad Ali

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We’ve been awash recently in reminders that 2014 marks the 50th anniversary of The Beatles’ momentous first trip to the United States. As a confirmed Beatlemaniac of long standing, I have no quarrel with celebrating the Fabs – does anyone have a black and gold-label first pressing of Please, Please Me they’d like to sell? — but let’s not forget that February 2014 is also the 50th anniversary of another significant event, the first Cassius Clay vs. Sonny Liston bout in Miami Beach.

By 1964, Clay — soon to change his name to Muhammad Ali — was already an African-American hero: the smooth-moving, fast-talking Kentuckian had rocketed to fame at the 1960 Rome Olympics, where he clobbered his way to the light heavyweight gold medal. His Miami Beach opponent, on the other hand, was a strong silent type with deep connections to organized crime. Despite his criminal past, Sonny Liston most definitely wasn’t Muhammad Ali — which meant he had most of white America in his corner. … Continue reading »

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