What’s Screening: October 21 – 27

Harry Potter, Nightmare on Elm Street, My Fair Lady, and six film festivals in this week’s Bay Area screenings.


Promising events

The Battle of Algiers, Opera Plaza, Shattuck, opens Friday

I haven’t seen Gillo Pontecorvo’s powerful story of oppression and resistance–a narrative feature designed to look like a documentary–in decades, so I’m not going to give it a grade. But if memory serves, I’d probably give it an A. The film has just received a 4K restoration, so it should look better than ever. But I don’t understand why Rialto Pictures, which is distributing the rerelease, is advertising the film with a still that makes it look like West Side Story.

Carnival of Souls, Friday, 8:30, Phyllis Wattis Theater at SFMOMA

I haven’t yet seen this low-budget horror film from 1962. It’s acquired quite a reputation. Unfortunately, I have other plans for Friday night. Part of Modern Cinema‘s Haunted Cinema.

All Eight Harry Potter Movies, New Mission, Friday through Sunday

The eight Harry Potter movies don’t quite come up to the quality of the books. How could they? The books’ success pretty much forced the filmmakers to stay as close to the originals as possible, which is never a good way to adapt a novel. But they’re still a lot of fun. But be warned: You must buy a separate ticket for each film.

Nightmare on Elm Street Marathon, New Mission, Sunday, noon

Believe it or not, I’ve never seen any of the Nightmare on Elm Street movies. I was never that big on slasher flicks. Anyway, if you don’t share my opinion, you can see all seven of them in one long day and night. Unlike the Potter films above, one $35 ticket buys you entrance to the whole marathon.

Recommended revivals

A Shadow of a Doubt, Stanford, Thursday and next Friday

In Alfred Hitchcock’s first great American film, a small-town girl begins to suspect that her beloved, newly-arrived Uncle Charlie is a notorious serial killer (Joseph Cotton at his most charming). Then he begins to suspect that she suspects. Cotton’s performance makes the movie; most of the time he’s warm, friendly, and relaxed, but he can quickly turn dark and say something frightening. Written in part by Our Town playwright Thorton Wilder. The locations were shot in Santa Rosa. On a double bill with Waltzes from Vienna, which Hitchcock considered amongst his worst.

B+ Halloween, Clay, Friday and Saturday, 11:55 PM (just before midnight)

John Carpenter made a very good low-budget thriller that started a very bad genre: the slasher movie–also known as the dead teenager flick. In the original Halloween, an escaped psycho racks up a number of victims on the scariest night of the year. Yes, the story is absurd–the guy seems capable of getting into any place and sneaking up on anyone–but Carpenter and co-screenwriter Debra Hill take the time to let us know these particular teenagers, and that makes all the difference. By the time he goes after the mature, responsible one (Jamie Lee Curtis), you’re really scared.

B+ My Fair Lady, Vogue, Sunday, 7:00

George Bernard Shaw’s 1912 play Pygmalion brilliantly examined issues of class, culture, and gender roles in an intimate story deftly balanced between drama and comedy. The musical version adds spectacle, which is completely unnecessary but doesn’t really hurt the story. Rex Harrison makes a wonderful Henry Higgins–tyrannical, cruel, and yet slowly falling in love and not understanding why. Audrey Hepburn is miscast. Stanley Holloway steals the movie as Eliza’s happily slothful father; his two songs are the movie’s musical highlights. Read my essay. Part of the Vogue’s Audrey Hepburn Weekend.

Lebowskies (frequently-revived classics)

Mill Valley Film Festival and Oscar Predictions

If past is prologue, hundreds of Mill Valley Film Festival attendants have now seen this year’s Best Picture Oscar winner. In every year since 2010, that coveted award went to a film that had its Bay Area premiere at Marin’s big festival.

Whatever it will be, I haven’t yet seen this year’s winner. Although I’ve seen 17 feature films shown at the Festival, I was not able to catch any of the big titles. I didn’t see Loving, La La Land, or Arrival. American Pastoral eluded me. And I failed to catch Bleed for This.

On the other hand, there’s a good chance that I’ve seen the Best Foreign Language winner. My pick of what I’ve seen would be Asghar Farhadi’s The Salesman. But Farhadi’s A Separation won four years ago, so he might not get it this time. But I’d be happy to see Julieta, Toni Erdmann, or A Man Called Ove win the subtitled Oscar.

A Separation

Despite my not having seen it, I’m now going to predict this year’s Best Picture winner: It will be Mill Valley’s closing film, Loving.

Since I haven’t yet seen the movie, I can’t say that it should win. I want to see it, and I want it to be good enough to earn the statue I believe it will get. Here’s why I think it will win:

Remember @OscarSoWhite? Last year, the Academy embarrassed the whole industry by its overwhelmingly Euro-American selection of nominees. So this year, they’ll go for something that will tell the world that Hollywood isn’t racist (which, of course, it is).


But which African-American film should they celebrate? Birth of a Nation? There’s that rape controversy. Moonlight? I loved it, but everyone in it is black and the lead character is gay. That’s a little too tolerant for the Academy.

But Loving is perfect. It has white and black leads. It’s about the horrors of segregation. It’s set in the 1960s, which is just barely far enough away for us to feel superior. And we know going in that it has a feel-good, we’re-no-longer-a-racist-country happy ending.

So Loving will win the Oscar. Unless, of course, I’m wrong.

Along time in the making: Boyhood on Blu-ray

Richard Linklater’s Boyhood is such a unique and important experience that I had to make an exception. I usually limit my Blu-ray reviews to classic films. But when I discovered that Criterion was releasing a two-disc, supplement-filled Blu-ray release of Richard Linklater’s epic story of everyday life, I had to give it a good, long look.

We’ve watched movie series where the characters–and the actors playing them–aged from film to film, as in the Harry Potter series and Linklater’s own Before trilogy. And we’ve seen films, set over many years, with different actors playing the same person at different points of their life, such as Little Big Man and A Man Called Ove.

But Boyhood is different. Linklater shot the film, with an unchanging cast, in short increments, over a 12-year period. The central character, Mason, and the actor who played him, Ellar Coltrane, were both six when they started shooting; character and actor were both 18 when they finished. This gives the story a reality that’s rare in a film set in a span of years.

It also required a considerable gamble for the investors. You can’t contractually lock a six-year-old child into a twelve-year-old commitment. Luckily, everyone stuck to it and the movie got made.

Something else unique: The film has no conventional conflict-based plot. The things that happen to Mason and his family are, for the most part, things that happen all the time. With one exception, there’s no real drama of the sort we have come to expect as moviegoers. For the most part, the film avoids life’s big moments (first kiss, graduation, and so on), concentrating on everyday experiences.

But everyday experiences can be difficult. Mason’s parents, who became parents much too early, have already broken up when the story begins. Mason’s mother (Patricia Arquette) struggles to make ends meet as she raises Mason and his older sister, Samatha (played by the director’s daughter, Lorelei Linklater). Mom tends to make poor choices in men. Their father (Ethan Hawke) has some growing up to do himself.

As I watched Boyhood for the third time, I became more impressed with the risks Linklater made in creating this work. Would a 2014 audience remember Sarah Palin’s daughter–discussed in a scene shot in 2008? How could he know that the six-year-old Coltrane would grow into such a good-looking teenager? I don’t know if Apple helped finance the film, but if you watch the props, you’ll see an evolution in the company’s consumer products.

As much as Boyhood captures Texas in the early 21st century, its story is universal. I saw a lot of my own youth (in LA in the 1960s and early 70s) in this story.

I reviewed Boyhood when it came out in 2014. You’ll find more about this exceptional film in that review.

How It Looks

Boyhood will probably be Linklater’s last film shot in 35mm. When he started shooting Boyhood in 2002, digital cameras couldn’t compete with physical film. He went digital with Bernie and Before Midnight, in between Boyhood shoots,
but for the sake of visual consistency, he stuck with film on the 12-year project.

Criterion’s Blu-ray, presents these film-based images in 1080p, with a very small letterbox to achieve the theatrical 1.85×1 aspect ratio. It was scanned at 2K from the original negative; I assume it’s the same scan used for the DCP-based theatrical release.

The results look great for the most part. Just one party scene, shot as a night exterior, showed too much contrast; I don’t remember noticing that when I saw it theatrically.

How It Sounds

The original 5.1 soundtrack is presented here in DTS-HD Master Audio. No complaints.

And the Extras

  • The package comes with a printed booklet, most of which is taken up by Jonathan Lathem’s essay, The Moment Seizes You. The booklet also includes credits for the film and the disc. (One interesting tidbit: The original title was 12 Years. The release of 12 Years a Slave forced them to pick a new title.)
  • Like all Criterion Blu-rays, the movie has a timeline where you can store bookmarks. It also remembers where you were when you last removed the disc, and offers to bring you back there when you reinsert it.
  • Commentary: Linklater and members of the cast and crew discuss the film. I was surprised to discover how much the film reflects Linklater’s own childhood. Occasionally dull be usually interesting.

The rest of the extras are on the second disc.

  • Twelve years: 1080i; 49 minutes. Like Boyhood itself, this making-of documentary was 12 years in the making. Linklater and major cast members talk during the long filming.
  • Memories of the Present: 1080p; 58 minutes. Conversation with Linklater, Arquette, and Contrane. Moderated by Variety’s John Pierson. They cover a lot of topics. Sometimes interesting, sometimes boring.
  • Always Now: 1080p; 30 minutes. Conversation with Ethan Hawke and Ellar Coltrane. They talk about the experience of making and promoting the film. It gives you a sense of who these people are.
  • Time of Your Life: 1080p; 12 minutes. Video essay by Michael Koresky, narrated by Ellar Coltrane. Concentrates on Linklater’s use of time in his films.s Just okay.
  • Though the Years: 1080p. 24 minutes. Members of the cast and crew narrate their own experiences, accompanied by production photos by Matt Lankes. Partially promotion for Lankes’ book, this short shows the emotional experience of an off-and-on, 12-year movie shoot.

What’s missing? The trailer.

Closing the Mill Valley Film Festival with 3D and Disney Animation

Yes, I know. This year’s Mill Valley Film Festival closes with several screenings of Loving. But I’m not able to attend any of them. So I finished my Mill Valley Film Festival with two special presentations at the Rafael.

Both events were family friendly, and had quite a few children present.

The 3D Sideshow

As he did two years ago, Robert Bloomberg presented a collection of 3D shorts and (and a couple of trailers) from the early days of steroscopic movies to the present.

Here are some of my favorites:

  • The documentary Hidden Worlds starts with a history of recording and presenting images stereoscopically. Then it went on to show us some very beautiful images.
  • Hidden Stereo Treasures claims to be an old, educational film about rare 3D cameras. But you soon realize that its intentions are comical.
  • One short film, whose name I didn’t get (probably because it was in Russian), showed a remarkable juggling act. Juggling works really well in 3D. I saw this same film five years ago when Serge Bromberg received his Mel Novikoff Award.
  • If you’ve seen Finding Dory, you’ve seen Piper, the Pixar short that preceded it. It’s funny and adorable.


After the screenings, Pixar’s Alan Barillaro and Marc Sondheimer came on stage to answer questions. Some highlights, edited for clarity:

  • Does 3D make animation more difficult? It’s a two-step process. You create it in 2D, then do it again in 3D. There are slight differences.
  • A film is never finished. It’s done when a producer tells you it’s done.
  • Short films are meant to test the technology.
  • Animators are actors who don’t want to go on stage.

PANEL: Disney Animation Technistas

What does it take to create the fantasy worlds of computer animation? And are women welcome on the technical side of the equation? This panel discussion was meant to answer those questions.

Five women, all doing technical work at Disney Animation, discussed how they created ways to animate fur, clothing, and water for Zootropia and the upcoming Moana. The women were Sara Drakeley (general technical director), Heather Pritchett (also general technical director), Erin Ramos (effects animator), Michelle Robinson (character look supervisor), and Maryann Simmons (senior software engineer).

Variety’s Steven Gaydos moderated the talk.

I wasn’t allowed to take notes for this discussion, so there’s not much more I can say about it. But I can say one thing: The women talked about their work, and not about being women in a male-oriented business.

Near the end, Gaydos brought up the subject. He asked if the number of women in animation are growing. Pritchett said they very much are. She had always seen other women working in animation. But now, she sees teams that are about half and half.

Good to know there’s progress.

Diani and Devine Meet the Apocalypse at the Mill Valley Film Festival

Saturday afternoon, my wife and I drove across the Bay to the Lark for a Mill Valley Film Festival screening of the thoroughly outrageous comedy Diani and Devine Meet the Apocalypse.

We arrived at the Lark just as the rain started falling. People think that a rainy day is perfect for movie going, but that’s not the case when you have to wait outside in a line without cover. Luckily, a kindly festival volunteer moved us to the sidewalk, where we could stand beneath awnings. They also let us in about 10 minutes earlier than they originally promised.

Now then, about the movie:

Stand-up comedy duo and romantic couple Gabriel Diani and Etta Devine play themselves in this utterly absurd dark comedy that they also wrote and directed. After civilization collapses, they go off into the desert, carrying their pets, searching for food, drinkable water, and safety. It soon becomes clear that working nightclubs didn’t provide them with the right survival skills. It’s a very funny film, with cannibals, violent hippies, Mad Max types, and song and dance.

I give it an A-.

The movie screens one more time at the Festival–Sunday, October 16, 11:15AM, at the Sequoia. I hope you read this in time to catch it.

Gabriel Diani attended the screening, and did a Q&A. Etta Devine, who couldn’t be there, pitched in over the phone. Some highlights, edited for clarity:

  • On the difficulty of developing a project with your partner: It’s really easy. We had to make up stuff to have some conflict in the movie. [Note: He was joking.]
  • There’s so much that’s autobiographical in this apocalypse movie.
  • On finding locations: The desert is free production design. We did a lot of scouting in the Los Angeles area. You drive a bit and you’ll find something.
  • Scripted or improvised: The script was pretty much locked down. We didn’t have time to not know what we were doing. But there’s definitely some improvisation in there.
  • On the animals: They’re our pets. We wrote the parts to their strengths.
  • Any deleted scenes: There were some really terrible scenes that were cut out.

Mifune and The Handmaiden at the Mill Valley Film Festival

Quick notes on two films screening at the Mill Valley Film Festival. Both films have one more screening at the festival, and both will soon get a theatrical release.

Mifune: The Last Samurai

I caught this documentary at the Lark Friday night. Director Steven Okazaki introduced the film, describing his first Mifune experience: The Seven Samurai, projected off a 16mm print onto a bedsheet that was not secured at the bottom. When someone opened the door, wind fluttered the sheet, and everyone complained.

Fortunately, the screen at the Lark is properly mounted, and we had no such problems.

As the title suggests, this biography of Toshiro Mifune concentrates on his samurai films, especially those he made with Akira Kurosawa (arguably cinema’s greatest collaboration between auteur and actor). If you have any interest in Japanese films, you’re going to enjoy this movie. And you’ll probably learn a few things about them, as well–including information about the earliest sword-fighting silents. Interview subjects include Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg.

I give Mifune: The Last Samurai a B+.

After the film, Okazaki came back on stage for Q&A. Some highpoints, lightly edited for clarity:

  • I wanted to do a history of samurai movies, but my producer told me that that was impossible [because of rights issues].
  • On the breakup of the Kurosawa/Mifune relationship: People want one clear explanation, such as Mifune getting mad because the beard Kurosawa made him grow for Red Beard
    kept him from making other films. In reality, I don’t think there was ever a moment when Mifune didn’t want to work with Kurosawa.
  • He never stopped smoking.
  • Despite Mifune’s impressively athletic physique, he insisted he never worked out.

Mifune: The Last Samurai will screen again this Sunday, October 16, at 2:15, at the Century Larkspur. According to Okazaki, it will play at Bay Area theaters in November.

The Handmaiden

I saw this erotic noir recently at a press screening, not realizing that it was also playing at the Mill Valley Film Festival.

This atmospheric Korean thriller boils over with lies, double crosses, larceny, surprise plot twists, and a lot of sex–much of it quite kinky. At 90 minutes, it would be a great entertainment, but at its actual length of 144, it often drags. The handmaiden of the title works for a young Japanese lady she plans to rob. Things get messy. Overall, the good scenes in The Handmaiden are worth wading through the bad ones.

I give The Handmaiden a B-.

The film has one more Festival screening, tonight, at the Lark, at 8:15. It opens in Bay Area theaters on October 28.

What’s Screening: October 14 – 20

Five festivals, multiple Keatons, Trump vs. Clinton, and A Man Called Ove on Bay Area screens this week.


New films opening

A- A Man Called Ove, Embarcadero, Albany, opens Friday; Rafael, opens Monday

Here we have the cliché of the crotchety old man who hates everybody, and the good-hearted people who melt his resistance and bring him back to the human race. Writer/director Hannes Holm makes this worn-out plot new by adding a deep understanding of the inevitable tragedy of human life, without losing the humor of the situation. Filled with comic suicide attempts and flashbacks of love and loss, A Man Called Ove manages to be both dark and heartwarming. Read my full review.

Promising events

The Final Presidential Debate, New Parkway, 6:00.

What will Trump do next to prove his manhood? Yell louder? Threaten the moderator. Physically attack a member of the audience? The suspense is killing me. (Okay, yes, you can also watch this at home as well.)

Viridiana, Phyllis Wattis Theater at SFMOMA, Friday, 8:00

I haven’t seen Luis Buñuel’s satire on sex, religion, and capitalism (yes, that defines most of his work) in decades, but I recall liking it. Buñuel’s favorite actor, Fernando Rey, plays the aristocrat sexually obsessed with his niece, who’s about to become a nun (Silvia Pinal). The Vatican denounced the film when it opened in 1961. Part of Modern Cinema.

Film & Notfilm, Rafael, Monday through Thursday, 7:00

Samuel Beckett’s one motion picture, simply called Film, tends to confuse almost everyone who sees it. Running 20 extremely surreal minutes, with almost no sound, it stars Buster Keaton as a man who apparently doesn’t want to be seen–even by his pets. Notfilm, which I haven’t seen,
is a feature-length documentary about Film.

Comedy Shorts Night, Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, Saturday, 7:30

I can guarantee three of the four short comedies screening. Charlie Chaplin’s Easy Street comes from his excellent Mutual period, and is near perfect. The same goes for Buster Keaton’s The Playhouse, where he plays multiple roles (including an ape). In Should Married Men Go Home, Laurel and Hardy try to play golf and turn the course into a battlefield–very funny. I haven’t seen the Charlie Chase vehicle, No Father to Guide Him.

Recommended revivals

A- Dead Man, Castro, Wednesday

Here you have a western written and directed by Jim Jarmusch, which by definition makes it a very weird flick. The plot, concerning a timid accountant (Johnny Depp) who becomes a wanted outlaw within a day of getting off the train, sounds like a Bob Hope comedy. But despite some quirky humor, Dead Man is is mostly dead serious. It’s also, to my knowledge, the first black and white western since The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. The supporting cast includes John Hurt, Gabriel Byrne, and Robert Mitchum. On a double bill with Ghost Dog, which I liked long ago.

A Safety Last!, Pacific Film Archive, Saturday, 3:30

Even Alfred Hitchcock never mastered the delicate balance between comedy and suspense as well as Harold Lloyd, who made that balance perfect in Safety Last’s final act. The first two thirds of the feature, with Harold struggling with a lousy job and a girlfriend who thinks he’s a successful executive, makes an excellent piece of comic work, with more than enough laughs for a comedy twice as long. But the final third, where Harold climbs a skyscraper, tops any other comic sequence I’ve seen. Read my Blu-ray review. Musical accompaniment by Judith Rosenberg.

The River, Phyllis Wattis Theater at SFMOMA, Saturday, 1:00.

The clash of civilizations appears as a friendly melting pot in this coming of age story set in British India. A happy English family begins to get unglued when the two oldest daughters develop competing crushes on an American veteran. There’s tragedy and near-tragedy, and gentle comedy, and the warm envelope of people who love each other, even when they’re angry. Renoir paints, in beautiful three-strip Technicolor, an idealized version of British India, where everyone gets along, no one rejects a mixed-race girl, and western and eastern ways of life merge happily.

B The Day the Earth Stood Still, Alameda, Tuesday and Wednesday

They made a lot of science fiction movies in the 1950s, but few as good as this left-leaning, anti-McCarthyite Christian parable. An alien (Michael Rennie in his first major American role) comes to Earth with a message of peace, finds a populace unwilling to listen, and then becomes the target of a manhunt. A fine film, despite some overly-done symbolism. Not to be confused with the 2008 remake.

A Bringing Up Baby, Vogue, Friday, 5:00

How does one define a screwball comedy? You could say it’s a romantic comedy with glamorous movie stars behaving like broad, slapstick comedians. You could point out that screwballs are usually set amongst the excessively wealthy, and often explore class barriers. Or you could simply show Howard Hawks’ Bringing Up Baby, a frivolous and hilarious tale about a mild-mannered paleontologist (Cary Grant), a ditzy heiress (Katharine Hepburn), and a tame leopard (a tame leopard). Part of the Katharine Hepburn Weekend.

A The African Queen, Vogue, Friday, 7:30; Sunday, 2:30

Humphrey Bogart, Katharine Hepburn, Africa, and Technicolor all make for splendid entertainment in John Huston’s romantic comedy action adventure. The start of World War I traps an earthy working-class mechanic (Bogart) and a prim and proper missionary (Hepburn) behind enemy lines and hundreds of miles of jungle. It’s a bum and a nun on the run, facing rapids, insects, alcohol (he’s for it; she’s against it), German guns, and an unusual (for Hollywood) romance between two moderately-attractive middle-aged people in filthy clothes. See my Blu-ray review. Another part of the Katharine Hepburn Weekend.

Lebowskies (frequently-revived classics)