Tag Archives: Pacific Film Archive

Review: Lee Marvin stars in ‘Shack Out on 101’

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Summer is almost over (well, in most of the country; here in California it’s just getting started), but there’s one more seasonal treat in store before the leaves start turning vaguely less green: Pacific Film Archive’s annual free outdoor screening in the BAM/PFA Sculpture Garden. Unreeling at 8:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 27, this year’s feature is a ripe slice of ‘50s paranoia with Red Scare overtones and a terrific performance from Lee Marvin.

Directed in 1955 by Edward Dein (Curse of the Undead, The Leech Woman), the independently produced Shack Out on 101 is a zippy 80-minute programmer starring Marvin as Slob, short order cook at a seedy California burger bar owned and operated by gruff World War II vet George (Keenan Wynn). George doesn’t like Slob, but he’s the only cook he could find to work at his dive, located in a remote, nameless coastal section of Southern California. … 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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‘The Saragossa Manuscript’: Jerry Garcia’s favorite film?

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Word on the street for many years has been that Wojciech Has’s 1965 feature Rekopis znaleziony w Saragossie (The Saragossa Manuscript) was musician Jerry Garcia’s favorite film. Rumor also has it that Garcia loved the film so much that he purchased a print and donated it to Pacific Film Archive, stipulating only that he could screen it there any time he liked.

Is any of this true? I’m far from sure, but I’ve always held Garcia’s perhaps apocryphal passion for the film against it, as there are few things in life I enjoy less than listening to The Grateful Dead. However, with the film screening at the Archive at 7:00 p.m. on Saturday, June 14 as part of the series ‘Martin Scorsese Presents Masterpieces of Polish Cinema’, it’s time for a reassessment. Presumably Jerry will not be in attendance. … 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 Bicycle Thief’

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We know it as neo-realism, but in India it was called Parallel Cinema – a movement to provide an alternative to the musicals and romantic comedies that have long been the staple of the Indian film industry. Parallel Cinema’s leading light (and the sub-continent’s most famous filmmaker) was Satyajit Ray, an artist belatedly recognized by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences with an honorary Oscar only weeks before his death in 1992.

Trained in the fine arts, Ray began his journey into film-making in London, where a viewing of Vittorio de Sica’s Ladri di biciclette (The Bicycle Thief) inspired him to pick up a camera and make his first film, 1955’s award-winning Pather Panchali. De Sica’s hugely influential neo-realist classic helps kick off Pacific Film Archive’s series ‘The Brilliance of Satyajit Ray’ at 7:00 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 23. The extensive retrospective continues through August. … 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: Invasion of the Body Snatchers

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Which big screen version of Jack Finney’s classic novel ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ is your favorite – the original 1956 black and white adaptation, 1978’s full color remake, or Abel Ferrara’s 1993 iteration? You’re probably expecting me to say that the first-out-of-the-gate Don Siegel-helmed feature is the best, and I won’t lie – it’s definitely close to the top of my list of fave sci-fi films.

Ever eager to confound expectations, however, I must admit to enjoying all three – and I have a special fondness for the San Francisco-set ’78 version, screening outdoors on the Crescent Lawn at Oxford Street (between Center and Addison) at 7:30 pm on Friday, Sept. 27 as part the Endless Summer Cinema program that being hosted by Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive and the Downtown Berkeley Association. Admission is free.

Directed by Philip Kaufman (The Wanderers, The Right Stuff) and written by W. D. Richter (Brubaker), 1978’s Body Snatchers naturally reflects the times in which it was made. Whereas Siegel’s original (adapted for the screen by Oakland-born Daniel Mainwaring!) focused on timely ‘50s issues such as small-town social conformity and Red Scare paranoia (or, one might argue, clear-eyed realism), Kaufman’s is more interested in the changing nature of personal relationships in the wake of the sexual revolution. … 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: 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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Road to nowhere in Marcel Carné’s ‘Port of Shadows’

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Apparently, there’s something about Le Havre. In 2011, I reviewed Aki Kaurismaki’s Le Havre, a quirky and colorful drama set in the aforementioned French port city, and last year I wrote about Jean Renoir’s La Bête Humaine, a tragedy in which murder is committed on a train bound for the very same burg.

Now it’s 2013, and – entirely by coincidence – it’s time once again to pay a cinematic visit to this foggy coastal town. Our tour guides this time are director Marcel Carné and screenwriter (and poet) Jacques Prévert; the vehicle, their 1938 feature Port of Shadows (Le Quai des Brumes), screening at Pacific Film Archive at 6:30 p.m. on Sat., July 6 as part of the current series “A Theater Near You.” … Continue reading »

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Big Screen Berkeley: Marketa Lazarová

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Thomas Hobbes famously described man’s lot in life as “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” That seems like an apt way to describe Frantisek Vlácil’s Marketa Lazarová, a Czech historical epic screening at 12:30 p.m. on Sunday, April 28 at Pacific Film Archive as part of the 56th San Francisco International Film Festival – though I’d be inclined to add a few adjectives of my own, including ‘cold’, ‘dark’, and ‘claustrophobic.’

Though produced at the height of the Czechoslovak New Wave, 1967’s Marketa Lazarová shares little in common with such brash and bright contemporary features as Horí, má panenko (The Fireman’s Ball, 1967) and Sedmikrásky (Daisies, 1966). Eschewing social commentary and 60s trappings, it’s a black-and-white love letter to the grim, depressing (two more adjectives!) Middle Ages. You can safely leave your popcorn at home for this one (which is just as well, as I don’t believe PFA allows food or drink in their auditorium). … Continue reading »

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Big Screen Berkeley: The Wrong Man, Hitchcock’s gem

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Though auteur theory was still little more than a glimmer in François Truffaut’s eye, the American public was quite familiar with Alfred Hitchcock by 1956. Perhaps the most recognizable filmmaker since Chaplin, Hitch was a weekly presence in homes from coast to coast via his CBS series Alfred Hitchcock Presents, while theatergoers had made his color remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much a huge commercial success. His career still in the ascendancy, Hitch could choose any project he desired – which perhaps explains why his next project was one of the least Hitchcockian films of them all.

Released on New Year’s Day 1957, The Wrong Man (screening at Pacific Film Archive at 7:00 p.m. on Friday, April 5 as part of the continuing series Alfred Hitchcock: The Shape of Suspense) begins on a deceptive note. In a nod to his small-screen persona, our host introduces the proceedings — but this time the mordant wit and outrageous set pieces are absent. Instead, he tells us quite seriously, what we’re about to see “is a true story – every word of it.” … Continue reading »

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