Film

The Performant: Cinéma contradictoire

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While I spent a good deal of time out of doors last weekend taking in, among other things, an obligatory pilgrimage to Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, a jaunt on the historic schooner Alma with the WE Players, the 30-year anniversary of the Sea Chantey Sing, and Chicken John’s book release party, it was the introspective medium of the cinema that captured my attentions most of all. From the Star of Tyche at ATA, to The Umbrellas of Cherbourg at Lost Weekend’s “Offline In-Store” Film Festival, I devoured a sumptuous visual feast the satiating effects of which still linger days after. Read more »

28 films in six days: Jesse Hawthorne Ficks at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival (part three)

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Check out parts one (here) and two (here).

21) Wuthering Heights (Andrea Arnold, UK) Adapting Emily Brontë's novel from 1847 is a perfect project for the stark realist Andrea Arnold. Her previous films Fish Tank (2009) and Red Road (2006) have captured audiences with their brutal honesty and inspired storytelling. With perhaps the most visually poetic atmosphere since Lynne Ramsey and Claire Denis, Arnold manages to emphasize every snowflake in this austere tale of lost love without a single lazy hint of narration. Do not miss this for the world.

22) The Kid with a Bike (Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne, Belgium/France/Italy) Can these Belgian brothers make a bad film? Seriously? Like their Rosetta (1999), The Son (2002), and L'enfant (2005), this is yet another hypnotic neo-realist journey portraying modern-day youth like no other in cinema. Every character makes unexpected and inevitable decisions. No moment is false. The Dardennes create movies that make life feel more real.

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28 films in six days: Jesse Hawthorne Ficks at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival (part two)

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Check out part one here and part three here. More from the man who slept nary a wink at TIFF 2011 (or so it seems!) follows.

11) Twenty Cigarettes (James Benning, USA) Following the basic concept of 20 different people smoking an entire cigarette gives each segment its own time frame. It allows the viewer to get into a rhythm that becomes as addictive as smoking itself. Being a non-smoker, I found myself hypnotized by each person's physical stance and style as well as what each participant must have been thinking about during the five to eight minute process. Museum cinema at its finest.

12) La folie Almayer (Chantal Akerman, Belgium/France) Adapting Joseph Conrad doesn't sound that exciting, even for fans of Chantal Akerman (Jeanne Dielman, 1975). But there is something absolutely alluring about this experimental mood piece. Feeling abandoned and lost in the jungle becomes a state of mind here; the film sincerely builds towards two of the most beautiful shots Akerman has ever created. With an audacity that can infuriate even the most weathered cinephile, this 65-year-old French auteur has created a new work that is crisp, inventive, and quite alive. For anyone who was also ignited by Godard's most recent abstraction, 2010's Film socialisme — here's another from an innovator who we too often take for granted.

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28 films in six days: Jesse Hawthorne Ficks at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival (part one!)

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Check out parts two (here) and three (here).

1) Oslo, August 31st (Joachim Trier, Norway) This bleaker-than-bleak exploration of drug addiction hypnotically deconstructs the genre, exposing previous entries like 2000's Requiem for a Dream as oddly glorified and even romanticized. As with his surprise hit Reprise (2008), the soundtrack for Trier's film (Chromatics, White Birch) seals the colder-than-cold universe that lead character Øystein (played brilliantly by Anders Borchgrevink) inhabits. Not for folks who can't handle needles dangling out of arms.

2) This Is Not a Film (Jafar Panahi, Iran) As immediate as a heart attack, this 75 minute documentary by prison-bound Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi (who is serving a six-year sentence with a 20-year ban on directing films or even talking to the media), truly is not a film. What is it actually? How about a terrifying cry for expression from one of the most daring and political filmmakers alive. While the world waits for his hopeful release, go watch The White Balloon (1995), The Mirror (1997), The Circle (2000), Crimson Gold (2003), and Offside (2006) as soon as possible.

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Other Cinema remembers Helen Hill with "The Florestine Collection"

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Other Cinema kicks off its fall 2011 season Sat/24 with a bittersweet program: the local premiere of Helen Hill's The Florestine Collection — her last film, left unfinished after her 2007 death, completed thanks to the dedicated efforts of her husband, Paul Gailiunas. Hill was only 36 when she was shot to death by an intruder (still unidentified) who broke into her New Orleans, LA home; her husband was injured but survived, and the couple's toddler thankfully escaped unharmed.

South Carolina-born Hill made her first film at age 11, attended Harvard for undergrad, and received her MFA from California Institute of the Arts. Her unique animation techniques (including cut-out puppets) drew from the fairy-tale works of groundbreaking German animator Lotte Reiniger (whose remarkable filmography stretched from the 19-teens up through the 1970s) as well as DIY methods like hand-processing. She was continually inspired by her adopted hometown of New Orleans, as well as her chosen activist causes, including Food Not Bombs and animal rights. She also created the 2001 reference tome Recipes for Disaster: a Handcrafted Film Cookbooklet.

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A grunge-era classic comes to DVD

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Time to retire your janky old VHS — Dave Markey's concert doc 1991: The Year Punk Broke is finally out on DVD, with remastered footage and re-synced audio to boot. The film captures Sonic Youth's 1991 European festival tour, two weeks of fuzzed-out mayhem with supporting and/or festival-associated acts Dinosaur Jr., Babes in Toyland, Gumball, the Ramones, and a just-before they-got-really-huge Nirvana.

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What's next for San Francisco's small theaters? The Roxie has an idea...

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The Red Vic closed this week, and a recent SFgate.com article reported that Balboa Theater owner Gary Meyer will be leaving the Richmond District landmark at the end of the summer. What's a small, independent movie theater to do in these troubled times?

The Roxie, San Francisco's oldest continually operating theater (it's had a few different monikers, but the Mission District space opened in 1909; it became a non-profit in 2008), has a plan, according to a press release that landed in my inbox this morning. It boils down to a four-letter word: BEER.

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Short takes on the 2011 San Francisco Jewish Film Festival

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Eichmann's End: Love, Betrayal, Death (Raymond Lay, Germany/Israel, 2010) Many documentaries rely heavily on historical reenactments to flesh out real-life events not caught on camera. Sometimes this effect can be corny, but in Eichmann's End, the powerful reenactments make the film. Interviews with actual eyewitnesses guide the acted-out tale of Nazi Adolph Eichmann's post-World War II life; despite his grim contributions to the Holocaust, he managed to escape to Buenos Aires, eventually settling down to a normal-seeming life with his wife and sons. Though he lived under an assumed name, his true identity was known by many, including a Dutch journalist who conducted a series of interviews with Eichmann in the late 1950s.

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Sad day for San Francisco film fans

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Two big bummers today, my fellow cinemaniacs.

The first bit of news is that it's official, according to collective member Claudia Lehan: beloved Haight Street landmark the Red Vic Movie House will officially be closing its doors July 25, the theater's 31st birthday (read my story about the Red Vic's 30th birthday year here.) The last film to grace its screen will be perennial Red Vic favorite (and annual Red Vic birthday flick), Harold and Maude (1971). Stay tuned for more on this story.

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What goes around Hong Sang-soo disassembles the love triangle in "Oki’s Movie"

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The drab realism of Hong Sang-soo’s films is more testing apparatus than window. His romantic narratives foreground structural operations (doublings, loops, intersections) in a gamely way; a set template of characters and situations also contributes to the impression of his films as moral prisms.

Oki’s Movie, one of only three movies the South Korean auteur has released in the last two years, is split into four sections of perplexing relation, but which together establish a lucid distance from a conventional love triangle. Doubters look upon Hong’s prodigious output as evidence of artistic complacency, while admirers point to the centrality of revision in his work (it’s the process by which he peels the onion of art in life and life in art). What sometimes gets lost in the discussion is that Hong’s narratives still have a delightful capacity to surprise. Oki’s Movie looks like it was shot fast and cheap, but its fluid shifts in perspective and rueful examination of the storytelling impulse are very fine indeed.

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