The Found Footage Festival

Something very funny is coming to the Bay Area the first weekend in October. If you’re a fan of Mystery Science Theater 3000 (and regular readers know I’m one), you’re going to love The Found Footage Festival.

Nick Prueher and Joe Pickett collect the garbage of our video-saturated culture. Rummaging through garage sales, dumpsters, and other not-so-unlikely places, they’ve built up a collection of public access TV shows, home movies, outtakes, instructional videos, and other oddities. But instead of going through this stuff seriously as archaeologists (or perhaps in addition to this; I certainly hope someone is doing the serious research), Prueher and Pickett turn their findings into a comedy routine of video montage and live standup.

They’re currently on tour with their second show, which I watched last night on a review DVD. The show includes the foul-mouthed outtakes from RV dealer commercials, two very different preachers, an “instructional” video on “How to Seduce Women Through Hypnosis” that would seem evil if it wasn’t so ludicrous, and the no-talent contestants on a defunct show called “Stairway to Stardom.”

Like anything this episodic, it’s uneven. But even the weakest moments (Harvey Sid Fisher singing about the signs of the zodiac) produce a reasonable stream of giggles. And the best sequences, such as the exercise video montage, had me laughing so hard I could barely breath. Between a young Arnold Schwarzenegger explaining why he feels like he’s cumming all the time, exercise routines by Marky Mark (Wahlberg) and Pat Boone, something called Disrobics, and a pre-scandal O. J. Simpson recommending exercises for controlling your anger, I was utterly helpless.

The The Found Footage Festival plays at the Red Vic Friday, October 5 and Saturday, October 6. Then it moves across the Bay to the Parkway for a Sunday screening on October 7. This is strictly adult entertainment.

Lebowski of Arabia

Lawrence of Arabia, Castro, Saturday and Sunday. Lawrence isn’t just the best big historical epic of the 70mm roadshow era, it’s one of the greatest films ever made. Stunning to look at and terrific as pure spectacle, it’s also an intelligent study of a fascinatingly complex and enigmatic war hero. T. E. Lawrence–at least in this film–both loved and hated violence, and tried liberating Arabia by turning it over to the British. This masterpiece isn’t worth seeing on DVD and barely worthwhile in 35mm. Shot in Super Panavision 70, it takes 70mm to reach it’s potential. Part of the Castro’s 70mm Festival series

3:10 To Yuma, Presidio, opens Friday, Balboa, ongoing. Good news: The western is very much alive! The second film version of Elmore Leonard’s short story doesn’t feel like a neo-western, an anti-western, or a western parody. It feels like a great, classic western, and stands a good chance of achieving classic status in future decades. Like all great westerns, it offers plenty of action and suspense, but is really about men, how they relate to each other, and the difficult moral choices that the frontier forces on them. Russell Crowe, as a notorious criminal, and Christian Bale, as a rancher desperate enough to take a very dangerous job, both bring to the film the right look, talent, charisma, and American accent (has anyone else noticed that this very American story stars an Aussie and a Welshman). Despite a third act filled with implausible motivations, 3:10 To Yuma is thoughtful, intelligent, testosterone-pumping entertainment.

Strange Culture, Rafael and Roxie, opens Friday. Like American Splendor, Strange Culture mixes scripted drama performed by professional actors with documentary footage and interviews of the real-life, still-living people those actors are playing. And while Steve Kurtz lacks Harvey Pekar’s fascinating personality, his story is both compelling and frightening. Kurtz woke up one morning to find his wife dead. Then he was arrested as a bioterrorist. The terrorism charges have been dropped, but he’s still awaiting trial for mail fraud (although no one was defrauded). It’s hard to go wrong with so powerful a story, and writer/director Lynn Hershman Leeson makes an effective piece of agitprop.

Spartacus, Stanford, Saturday through Tuesday. When we think of toga movies from the late ’50s and early ’60s, the adjective “great” doesn’t come to mind (unless we mean size rather than quality). Sure, Spartacus has everything we look for in the old roadshow epics: stirring music, thousands of extras, an intermission. But it moves you to triumph and tragedy instead of laughter and boredom, while making important points about the exploitation of human beings and the ease with which a morally compromised republic can slide into dictatorship. The first Hollywood film to credit a blacklisted screenwriter (Dalton Trumbo) and the only movie directed by Stanley Kubrick that isn’t a Stanley Kubrick film, Spartacus is so good you can almost forgive it Tony Curtis’ performance. (Hey, it’s a toga movie; there has to be something laughable.)

2001: A Space Odyssey, Castro, Tuesday and Wednesday. I used to worship Stanley Kubrick’s visualization of Arthur C. Clarke’s imagination. But it hasn’t aged all that well; we’ve all seen the actual year, and know that Clarke and Kubrick got almost everything wrong. Yet there’s no denying the pull of 2001’s unorthodox storytelling and visual splendor–if you can see it in the right theater. 2001 was shot for 70mm projection on a giant, curved, Cinerama screen–an experience that’s simply not available in the Bay Area today. It’s still worth catching on a really big screen, even a flat one, especially if it’s from a 70mm print. Another attraction in the Castro’s 70mm Festival series.

Fight Club, Parkway, Tuesday, 9:15. Strange flick. Edward Norton wants to be Brad Pitt. Who wouldn’t? Pitt’s not only shagging Helena Bonham Carter, he’s also a free-spirited kind of guy and a real man. Or maybe he’s just a fascist? Or maybe…better not give away the strangest plot twist this side of Psycho and Bambi, even if it strains credibility more than a speech by George W. Bush. And Bonham Carter gets to say the most shocking and hilariously obscene line in Hollywood history.A benefit for Heroes.

Double Indemnity, Cerrito, Saturday and Sunday. Rich but unhappy (and evil) housewife Barbara Stanwyck leads insurance salesman Fred MacMurray from adultery to murder in Billy Wilder’s noir thriller. Not that she has much trouble doing it (this is not how we who grew up on “My Three Sons” remember MacMurray). A good, gritty thriller about sex (or the code-era equivalent) and betrayal. Another Cerrito Classic.

No End in Sight, 4Star, and Elmwood, opens Friday. You may think you know how badly the administration bungled the war in Iraq, but Charles Ferguson‘s documentary tells the story so carefully, so dispassionately, and so authoritatively that you’re awed by the enormity of these people’s incompetence and the tragedy of its results. And you feel in your gut not only that today’s situation is hopeless, but that it didn’t have to be this way. Most Iraq war documentaries focus on the regular folks caught in the war, but Ferguson tells most of the story through the people who ran the occupation during its first few months, such as Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and former Ambassador-to-Iraq Barbara Bodine. No End in Sight is easily be the best documentary of the year so far, as well as the most depressing. Click here for a full review.

Once, Balboa, opens Friday; continuing at the Parkway. The most romantic picture since Before Sunrise, Once charms you with winning characters, an odd kind of low-key suspense, and terrific music. The music comes out of the story, which concerns two talented but unprofessional musicians (Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová) becoming close friends and collaborators. There’s clearly a romantic attraction, but you’re never quite clear where it’s going to go. Wherever it goes, it gets there musically; if the film isn’t a hit, the singer/songwriter-style soundtrack will be. Sorry, but I have to say it: You’ll want to see Once twice. The Balboa will screen Once on a double-bill with Waitress.

Little Miss Sunshine, Creek Park, San Anselmo, Friday, 8:30. I’m glad this movie is a comedy; a drama with these characters would be unbearably depressing. Little Miss Sunshine puts a supremely dysfunctional family on the road in a broken down VW bus, with the goal of entering their prepubescent daughter into a beauty contest for girls too young to have any business in a beauty contest. The result opens a window into the souls of four damaged adults and two youths destined for damaged adulthood, while delivering a steady stream of strong, deep, and sustained laughs. Not a simple feat for a first-time screenwriter (Michael Arndt) and two directors experienced only in music videos (Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris). Like all Film Night in the Park presentations, this one is just from a DVD.

Cars, Creek Park, San Anselmo, Saturday, 8:30. So much for the animation studio that could do no wrong. Pixar’s first bad movie suffers from two inexcusable faults. First, the protagonist is neither likeable nor interesting, despite being voiced by Owen Wilson, who is quite capable of being both. And second, the 116-minute picture is too long for its few laughs and predicable characters. Cars lets the mind wander, and mine wandered towards some very basic problems with the premise that wouldn’t have bothered me in an entertaining movie. Another Film Night in the Park DVD presentation.

The Big Lebowski, Aquarius, Friday and Saturday, midnight. Critics originally panned this Coen Brothers gem as a disappointing follow-up to the Coen’s previous endeavor, Fargo. Well, it isn’t as good as Fargo, but it’s still one hell of a funny movie. It’s also built quite a cult following;The Big Lebowski has probably played more Bay Area one-night stands in the last two years than than any three other movies put together.

Ongoing Engagements

Taking Less Time

I started Bayflicks.net almost three years ago when my business was in a slump. Now business is doing pretty well. That’s good, but it’s giving me less time to maintain this site. Since I can’t afford to turn down paying work, Bayflicks has been eating into my recreational time. In other words, it’s keeping me from seeing movies. And what’s the point of that?

Rather than give up Bayflicks, I’m looking for ways to streamline the work. To that end, I’m phasing out posting the times for every movie listed in my weekly schedules. If it’s convenient to do so, I’ll list the times. Otherwise, I won’t. If you see a movie listed here that you want to see, you’ll have to go to the theater’s web site to get the times. Expect to see the changes in the schedule for the week of September 30.

And I won’t list every film for as many festivals. I’m listing all of the films for DocFest, because I set them up before making this decision. But I won’t be listing the program for Berkeley Video & Film Festival like I did last year. I haven’t yet decided for the Mill Valley Film Festival.

Interesting Events–Not In Mill Valley

Some interesting events coming up, none connected to the Mill Valley Film Festival.

First, in honor of its 90th birthday, Oakland’s Piedmont Theater will celebrate its 90th birthday with a week of classic cinema. The movies include Lawrence of Arabia, Safety Last, His Girl Friday, and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. All films will be in 35mm. The celebration runs from Friday, September 28 through Thursday, October 4.

As soon as that’s over, the Berkeley Video & Film Festival opens its annual three-day run, this time at the California (which, like the Piedmont, is a Landmark Theater). BVFF has a very unique ticketing structure. You don’t buy a ticket for a single feature or collection of shorts, but for an entire day’s marathon screening. For instance, if you shell out $11 for a Saturday ticket, you could start out at 1:00 with the three-minute “Rufus’ Adventure” and stay through the 88-minute Johnny Was, which won’t start until 9:40. According to the schedule, there will be only one 13-minute intermission.

I’ve yet to attend this event, although last year I was able to screen a couple of films beforehand.

Finally, there’s the 2007 edition of the Found Footage Festival. This touring show puts together live comedy and videos found at garage sales, thrift stores, dumpsters and other such unlikely places. According to the press release, this year’s show includes “exercise videos featuring Marky Mark Wahlberg, O.J. Simpson and a group of rapping pregnant ladies” and “An instructional video for a cosmetic device so frightening that it will forever haunt you.” It will play the Red Vic October 5 and 6, and the Parkway October 7.

This Week’s Recommendations

Sorry I’m a bit late with the newsletter this week. Rosh Hashanah.

I’ve also changed my weekly newsletter (what you’re reading). I now list ongoing engagements of reviewed films at the bottom, without repeating the reviews.

Delirious, Lumiere and Shattuck, opens Friday for one-week run. It’s official: Low-budget independent films can be as slick and lightweight as Hollywood entertainment–and as entertaining. Tom DiCillo’s comedy about paparazzi and the celebrities they prey upon lightly satirizes our obsession with the rich and famous, but still falls for the glamour of its supposed target. Basically a buddy movie only marginally more realistic than Blades of Glory, it offers nothing in the way of any real insight. On the other hand, it offers likeable characters, a touch of cynicism, a bit of suspense, Gina Gershon in very tight pants, and plenty of laughs built organically into the story. For those not interested in Gina Gershon, you also see plenty of Michael Pitt. But it’s Steve Buscemi who steals the picture (and gives it indie cred) as a self-hating paparazzi–excuse me, “licensed professional.”

Shadow of a Doubt, Stanford, Friday through Tuesday. In Alfred Hitchcock’s first great American film, a serial killer (Joseph Cotton at his most charming) returns to his small-town roots. When his favorite niece (Teresa Wright) begins to suspect that all is not right with her beloved Uncle Charlie, her own life is in danger. The locations were shot in Santa Rosa. On a double feature with Laura.

Brokeback Mountain, Castro, Sunday. Ang Lee’s gay love story may one day seem as dated as Kramer vs. Kramer and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, but today it looks like a masterpiece. Heath Ledger turns the stereotype of the strong, silent cowboy on its head, playing a man so beaten down and closed off from the world that every word is a struggle. (I sometimes wonder how many people caught the richness of this film’s use of classic Hollywood western iconography.) Jake Gyllenhaal and Michelle Williams are also brilliant as his lover and wife. And, of course, screenwriters Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana, working from a short story by E. Annie Proulx, deserve considerable credit.

All My Loving & The Pink Floyd and Syd Barret Story, Roxie, Monday, 9:00. For one night only, the Roxie presents two documentaries, each just under an hour, about ’60s British rock ‘n’ roll. The Pink Floyd and Syd Barret Story is the better of the two, and it’s not a must-see by a long shot. John Edginton has fashioned a workable and reasonably interesting documentary about Syd Barret, a major force in Pink Floyd in the group’s early years, before nsanity, possibly brought on by too much acid, destroyed his career. All My Loving is a “classic” BBC doc from 1968 that hasn’t aged well, at all. Rock stars pontificate. People who hate rock pontificate. The narrator speaks with such formality you think he’s introducing the queen. The choices of songs and performance clips are almost always poor, and the footage from Vietnam and the Holocaust just seemed tacked on for attempted relevance. Click here for a slightly longer review.

Once, Lark, opens Friday. The most romantic picture since Before Sunrise, Once charms you with winning characters, an odd kind of low-key suspense, and terrific music. The music comes out of the story, which concerns two talented but unprofessional musicians (Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová) becoming close friends and collaborators. There’s clearly a romantic attraction, but you’re never quite clear where it’s going to go. Wherever it goes, it gets there musically; if the film isn’t a hit, the singer/songwriter-style soundtrack will be. Sorry, but I have to say it: You’ll want to see Once twice. Also continuing at the Parkway.

Stardust, Cerrito, opens Friday. Magic. Every positive implication of that word applies to Matthew Vaughn’s adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s fantasy novel. No attempt to describe the plot can do it justice, so let me just say it concerns a callow youth (Charlie Cox), a fallen star (Claire Danes), an evil witch temporarily restored to her youthful beauty (Michelle Pfeiffer), seven evil princes, and a flamingly gay pirate (Robert De Niro). Like Princess Bride, Stardust manages to mix silly humor with likable (I wouldn’t go so far as to call them realistic) characters and thrilling fantasy swashbuckling. Easily the best action film I’ve seen this year. Also continuing at the Parkway.

La Vie En Rose, Balboa, opens Friday. Early in this Edith Piaf biopic, a hunched, aged-before-her-time Piaf walks up to a recording studio microphone. She looks bored and mildly annoyed. When she starts singing in that incredible voice, she still looks bored and annoyed, her facial expression contrasting sharply with her soaring vocals. I knew then that La Vie En Rose wasn’t going to be a happy film about the redemption of art. Marion Cotillard gives one of cinema’s great performances as Piaf, whose short life–at least in writer/director Olivier Dahan’s view–was about as miserable as a life can get. Horrendous childhood, bad luck, and her own selfish and unpleasant personality hurt her at every turn. This isn’t an easy film to watch, but it is also impossible to ignore. Great songs, too. On a Double Feature with Paris, je t’aime. Also continuing at the Elmwood.

Hairspray, 4Star, opens Friday. In the early 1960’s, Americans died horrible, violent deaths over issues of racial equality. And now it’s a musical! Well, why not? The Hollywood version of the Broadway musical based upon John Water’s original independent film celebrates the spirit of the civil rights movement by turning it into one big, happy dance contest on local daytime TV. The result is charming, upbeat, and very funny, with pleasant musical numbers, joyous dancing, political themes that would have been radically dangerous 45 years ago, and John Travolta in a fat suit and a dress. What’s not to like? Also continuing at the Lark.

The Big Lebowski, Piedmont, Friday and Saturday, midnight. Critics originally panned this Coen Brothers gem as a disappointing follow-up to the Coen’s previous endeavor, Fargo. Well, it isn’t as good as Fargo, but it’s still one hell of a funny movie. It’s also built quite a cult following;The Big Lebowski has probably played more Bay Area one-night stands in the last two years than than any three other movies put together.

Ongoing Engagements

Mill Valley Turns 30

1977 must have been some year from Marin County cinemaphiles. First, a film made by one of their own broke box office records and redefined the Hollywood blockbuster. Then the Mill Valley Film Festival debuted–fated to become the other big festival in the Bay Area.
The Mill Valley Film Festival turns 30 this year, and will run from October 4 through October 14 in San Rafael as well as Mill Valley.

Note: As I post this, the festival’s schedule isn’t yet online (I have a hard copy). I can therefore not post to film descriptions. I’ll fix that when I can.
Because of its early fall setting, the MVFF generally provides Bay Area moviegoers with our first glimpse the year’s Oscar bait–Hollywood and indiewood “prestige” pictures that glut the high-brow market in November and December, hoping to score a few Academy Awards. This year is no exception. The festival opens with Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution, which just won the Golden Lion Award at the Venice Film Festival, and with The Savages, featuring excellent performances by indiewood megastars Laura Linney and Phillip Seymour Hoffman. It closes with the film version of Khaled Hosseini’s best-seller, The Kite Runner. Other high-profile screenings include The Darjeeling Limited, The Orphanage, Main in a Chair, and Todd Haynes’ bizarre-sounding Bob Dylan biopic, I’m Not There. They even have Woody Allen’s latest, Cassandra’s Dream.

Among the lesser-known films that sound promising (I have yet to see any of these) are an animated version of the Chicago 10 trial (yeah, I thought it was the Chicago 8, too), several films from Romania, Djanta–about a young, educated African woman in for a shock when she returns to the village of her birth, and Kenny–an Australian mockumentary about man who cleans toilets. And there’s also something called Autism: The Musical.

Speaking of music, the festival will also present a screening of Sergei Eisenstein’s 1925 agitprop masterpiece, Battleship Potemkin, accompanied by the Marin Symphony performing Shostakovich’s score.

The festival includes tributes to Ang Lee, Terry George, and Jennifer Jason Leigh.

All My Loving & The Pink Floyd and Syd Barret Story

Seems like a good deal. Two documentaries about ’60s British rock ‘n’ roll for the price of one. But since the two movies combined only run 101 minutes, it’s more like one movie for the price of one. And since only one of the two is even remotely worth seeing, it’s more like half a movie.

All My Loving
This BBC look at the current state of popular music makes you thankful that the ’60s are history. Rock stars pontificate. People who hate rock pontificate. The narrator speaks with such formality you think he’s introducing the queen. The choices of songs and performance clips are almost always poor, and the footage from Vietnam and the Holocaust just seemed tacked on for attempted relevance. Take it from a baby boomer who loves the Beatles and Stones and almost worships The Who: All My Loving is the perfect cure for ’60’s nostalgia.
The Pink Floyd and Syd Barret Story
It’s very strange to watch a documentary about an important rock figure who self-destructed at an early age, and whose band mates talk about him in the past tense, and then realize at the end that he’s still  alive (or was on this movie was made in 2003; he died last year). Syd Barret was a major force in Pink Floyd in the group’s early years, before Dark Side of the Moon and The Wall. But insanity, possibly brought on by too much acid, destroyed his career. John Edginton has fashioned a workable and reasonably interesting documentary for Barret’s story, but nothing really exceptional.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 61 other followers