Tag Archives: Movies

Big Screen Berkeley: Happy People

Happy People
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German filmmaker Werner Herzog’s career can be neatly and conveniently divided into two distinct segments. Beginning with 1970’s Auch Zwerge haben klein angefangen (Even Dwarfs Started Small) and continuing through 2009’s Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, the iconoclastic director created a remarkable series of frequently brilliant (and never boring) character studies about obsessed loners and outsiders kicking against the pricks of both nature and society.

Parallel to his work in dramatic features, the tireless Herzog has also somehow found time to direct numerous documentaries. As intrigued with real-life loners and outsiders as he is with fictional ones, his non-fiction films have examined such unique characters as bizarre televangelist Gene Scott (Glaube und Währung – Dr. Gene Scott, Fernsehprediger, 1981), borderline psychopath and frequent collaborator Klaus Kinski (My Best Fiend, 1997), and loopy but lovable bear enthusiast Timothy Treadwell (Grizzly Man, 2005). … Continue reading »

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Big Screen Berkeley: John Dies at the End

John Dies at the End
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When is a doorknob not a doorknob? If that variation on the classic Freudian aphorism confuses you, you can probably skip the rest of this review — but if you find yourself intrigued, you may be the target audience for Don Coscarelli’s new horror comedy, John Dies at the End, opening at Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas on Friday, Feb. 8.

Best known for creating the Phantasm series, Coscarelli has been plowing the independent horror fields since the mid 1970s. Despite the success of the first Phantasm feature in 1979, however, Coscarelli was never able to emulate the big studio success of his contemporaries John Carpenter and Tobe Hooper. Perhaps as much by choice as by fate, he’s spent the last few decades developing his unique and warped vision on limited budgets and with marginal financial reward. … Continue reading »

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Big Screen Berkeley: Oscar-nominated short subjects

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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 »

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Movies in Berkeley: Free screening of “As Goes Janesville”

As goes Janesville
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You’re no doubt familiar by now with Vice-Presidential candidate Paul Ryan, but do you know from which town he hails? The answer is Janesville, Wisconsin, the small downstate city that’s also the focus of As Goes Janesville, a new documentary that is screening — for free —  at 7:00 pm this Wednesday, October 10th at Rialto Cinemas Elmwood.

For decades, the city’s fortunes were inextricably linked with those of General Motors, Janesville’s largest employer. GM operated an assembly plant from the early 1920s until late 2008, when the financial crisis dealt a fatal blow to consumer spending. After the final sport utility vehicle rolled off the line two days before Christmas, union jobs that had allowed generations of residents to buy homes, send their children to college, and (of course) purchase their own Chevys literally disappeared overnight.

In a community of 63,000, the loss of 11,000 well-paid jobs was a stunning blow. Hundreds of other Janesville residents were forced to relocate to Indiana or Texas, home foreclosures skyrocketed, and, in the space of only a few months, Paul Ryan’s hometown went from boom to bust. Atlas, of course, merely shrugged. … Continue reading »

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Mill Valley Film Festival highlights Berkeley director

Nels Cline
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Berkeley filmmaker Steven Okazaki won an Academy Award in 1991 for Days of Waiting, a short film about Estelle Ishigo, a Caucasian artist who went with her Japanese-American husband to a World War II internment camp for Japanese Americans. Three of his other films, focusing on the  legacy of the World War II era on Japanese Americans, have also been nominated for Oscars.

Now Okazaki has turned his attention to the music of Nels Cline, one of the country’s most accomplished guitarists and a member of the band Wilco.

Shot entirely inside Fantasy Studios in Berkeley, Approximately Nels Cline is an examination of every aspect of the guitarist. The short documentary shows Cline playing electric and acoustical guitar, improvising, and performing traditional and experimental music. The film — Okazaki’s first music documentary — explores Cline’s genius and sense of adventure and showcases his “fearless experimental spirit.”

“It’s not your typical music documentary,” said Okazaki. “It’s about musicianship and the collaborative hard work of playing great music.” … Continue reading »

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Berkeleyan explores identity in China adoption film

Berkeley High graduate Fang Lee in a market in China. Photo: Courtesy of Linda Goldstein-Knowlton
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By Peggy Lee Scott

Personal identity has been discussed since philosophy began, and for most of us, the answer evolves as we grow. How did I get to be who I am, and what am I doing here? Nature versus nurture? We ponder these questions ourselves, and for those of us with children, the wild ride of watching them become their own persons is an adventure all its own. We get myriad clues that we cannot control much, and it makes us wonder even more how the heck we ended up who, and where, we are.

Such are the questions raised by four teenagers in Linda Goldstein Knowlton‘s thoughtful, sometimes heart-wrenching documentary “Somewhere Between,” opening for a one-week run at Berkeley’s Shattuck Landmark Theatre (and at the Opera Plaza in San Francisco) on Friday, Sept. 21. … Continue reading »

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Review: “Kumaré” explores religion, real and made-up

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Don’t believe everything you’ve heard about Arizona. Despite being stereotyped as the land of border-patrolling Minutemen, gun nuts, Birchers, and birthers, it turns out that the Grand Canyon State is just like Berkeley, only with more pools. All this and much more is revealed in Kumaré, a new documentary opening at Rialto Cinemas Elmwood on Friday, September 7th.

A second generation Indian-American from New Jersey, Kumaré director Vikram Gandhi was immersed in Hindu philosophy and ritual from an early age by his deeply religious parents, who – like many first-generation immigrants – were desperate to ensure their offspring didn’t stray too far from his roots. Gandhi predictably rebelled, and, despite studying religion in college, became increasingly skeptical as he grew older.

Even a skeptic, however, has questions he can’t answer. In Gandhi’s case those questions centered on his grandmother, whose ability to achieve profound calm through prayer had puzzled him since childhood. Determined to find the source of her calm, the aspiring filmmaker began the spiritual journey documented in Kumaré. … Continue reading »

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Free Summer Movie Saturday on Center Street

donovan's brain
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The second screening in this  year’s Summer Cinema on Center Street, a free outdoor movie series, takes place on Saturday August 11, at 7:30pm.

The theme of this year’s series is “cerebral cinema” and Saturday’s classic is B-movie film Donovan’s Brain (1953) which features a young Nancy Davis (aka Mrs Ronald Reagan). In the film a crazed surgeon has been extracting the brains of monkeys, keeping them alive outside their bodies. When a plane crashes nearby, the police rush the survivor to the surgeon’s lab for emergency care. Despite their best efforts, terrible tycoon Walter Donovan dies, so the scientist liberates his lobes, keeping them alive in a jar. Soon the megalomaniacal brain asserts its influence over the doctor, who must do its evil bidding. Watch the Donovan’s Brain trailer.

The movie will be projected onto the wall of the future Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive.

The Summer Movie series takes place over three weekends in August and is organized jointly by Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive and the Downtown Berkeley Association.  … Continue reading »

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Chez Panisse contingent head to Cuba, public welcome

A Cuban farmer talks about growing greens with a visitor. Photo: Varun Mehra
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In the last year, Chez Panisse chefs, staff, and alum have embarked on gourmet global diplomacy trips to Japan (in an informal expedition under the auspices of a group known as OPENrestaurant) and China (in a formal affair the restaurant’s owner, Alice Waters,  presided over herself.) Now comes word that a contingent from the acclaimed restaurant are headed to Cuba to plant seeds of change on the food and farming front — and learn a thing or two about Cuban cuisine and growing greens from this Carribbean island country.

What’s more the trip, scheduled for December 4-12, coincides with the Havana Film Festival, and is open to the public. The delegation includes Chez Panisse downstairs chef Jerome Waag, former Chez Panisse pizzaiolo Charlie Hallowell, Steve Sullivan from Acme Bread (a former Chez Panisse chef), and Cuban-American line cook Danielle Alvarez, who will set foot on Cuban soil for the first time. … Continue reading »

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Edy Boone: A life spent inspiring others captured on film

Edy Boone
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If you have lived in Berkeley for a while, you have probably crossed paths with Edythe Boone. A spry 74-year old with a quick laugh, Boone has worked as a counsellor and as a health activist, and taught art at several local schools, including currently at Berkwood Hedge and West Oakland Middle School. With her warm personality, she imbues the very young, as well as the very old, with the spirit of creativity. She also transforms lives.

The results of her work can be seen on our cities’ walls. She collaborated on the “Let a Thousand Parks Bloom” mural at People’s Park, and, in conjunction with Berkeley’s Youth Spirit Artworks, the “Music on our Minds” mural at the corner of Ellis and Alcatraz. She also worked on the well-known “Maestrapeace” which graces the façade of the San Francisco Women’s Building, and on the “We Remember” AIDS mural in San Francisco’s Balmy Alley. … Continue reading »

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Big Screen Berkeley: A Cat in Paris

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Which is the real Paris — the one seen in last week’s grimy child abuse epic Polisse, or the one depicted in A Cat in Paris (Une vie de chat), a delightful Academy Award-nominated animated feature opening this coming Friday, June 1, at Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas? My money’s on the former, but the latter is definitely the City of Light as we imagine — or hope — it might be.

Directed by Jean-Loup Felicioli and Alain Gagnol, A Cat in Paris relates the tale of Dino, a pampered pet who lives a double life. By day, Dino is the loyal companion of mute youngster Zoe, who collects the dead lizards he brings her in an old sardine can. At night, however, Dino lets his hair down and accompanies Nico (Matthew Modine), a cat burglar who specializes in stealing valuable jewelry from under the sleeping (and sleepwalking) noses of wealthy Parisians. … Continue reading »

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Big Screen Berkeley: Polisse, a gritty focus on abuse

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The stories depicted in the French drama Polisse are, the film’s prologue assures us, based on real-life cases handled by the Paris Sûreté’s Child Protection Unit. I’ve no reason to doubt that claim, but, despite its factual provenance and shelf load of awards (including the Grand Jury Prize at last year’s Cannes Film Festival), Polisse (opening at Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas on Friday, May 25) is more grindhouse exploitation flick than hard-hitting arthouse exposé.

Written and directed by Maïwenn (born Maïwenn Le Besco) , the film is an episodic ensemble piece in which a group of morally compromised, manipulative, and incredibly grumpy police officers humiliate people, abuse suspects, and generally get on each other’s nerves. This is probably not surprising, as their job basically consists of separating parents from their children. … Continue reading »

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Big Screen Berkeley: The Fairy

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Apparently, there’s something about Le Havre. Previously the star of Aki Kaurismaki’s eponymous shaggy dog tale, the spotlight is once again on this French port town in The Fairy (La fée), a delightfully absurd comedy opening Friday, May 4 at Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas.

Dom (writer-director Dominique Abel, a scrawny string-bean who could easily pass for the love child of Steve Buscemi and Roberto Benigni) is night manager at a slightly seedy harborside hotel. He commutes to work on a rickety old bike, wears plastic bags to protect himself from the rain, and spends his shift camped in front of the telly with a tasty snack. Dom enjoys the simple things and evenings, apparently, are not very busy.

This evening, however, will prove to be different. Tourist John L’anglais (John Cleese lookalike Philippe Martz), a typically clueless Englishman who communicates via phrase book, wishes to stay the night with his pooch pal Mimi. When Dom informs him that dogs aren’t allowed in the hotel, John stashes Mimi in his plaid Gladstone bag — and, this being an absurdist comedy, Dom doesn’t cotton on to the ruse. The wily John checks in successfully and his remarkably mobile luggage walks itself upstairs. … Continue reading »

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