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Thread: San Francisco International Film Festival 2016

  1. #16
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    FRANK & LOLA (Matthew Ross 2016)

    MATTHEW ROSS: FRANK & LOLA (2016)


    MICHAEL SHANNON AND IMOGEN POOTS IN FRANK & LOLA

    Psychosexual darkness swirls in Las Vegas and Paris

    Is Frank (Michael Shannon) "pretty cool," as Lola (Imogen Poots) thinks, or pretty desperate? He is an American chef who dropped out of high school and saved up money making pizzas in Queens to go and learn cuisine in France. Matthew Ross's feature debut is pretty desirous of being bold and intense. It achieves that and a measure of oddity too. It piles on the emotions, using the age difference between this hotshot Las Vegas restauranteur played by the 41-year-old, worn-out looking Shannon and the aspiring fashion designer (Poots is 26) as the starting point for a plot focused on crazed jealousy and revelations of a twisted past. Its flirtation with neo-noir style leads to some questionable taste and there is some overly-tricky editing. The screenplay tips its hand a bit prematurely to Lola's background in sexual "games" and Frank's tendency to hate any man who even talks to her. But the important thing is that Shannon gets to be not just intense, neurotic, obsessive-compulsive, but sexy as well for a change this time, and Poots, after a succession of secondary roles, gets to chew scenery in a central one. Ross, who has a number of other filmmaking credits already, now may bear watching as a director.

    Frank & Lola, 88 mins., debuted at Sundance, Jan. 2016. It was screened for this review at San Francisco, where it shows 3 and 5 May 2016. Universal bought it for $2 million and so it awaits distribution. This is a preview and an expanded review awaits release day.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-18-2016 at 09:38 AM.

  2. #17
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    OPERATOR (Logan Kibens 2016)

    LOGAN KIBENS: OPERATOR (2016)


    MAE WHITMAN AND MARTIN STARR IN OPERATOR

    Transcending cyber-dependency through Chicago improv

    With a debt to Chicago improv, Logan Kibens' touching little film deals with much the same material as Spike Jonze's Her: A guy starts to care more about a commercial computerized version of a woman than his wife, whose voice has been adapted by him and a team he leads as the cyber-operated "operator" of a health insurance program. Jonze's version is more high-concept, futuristic, and above all more designed in its self-conscious "look" (though the makers of Operator, somewhat naively, pride themselves on their movie's highly tailored imagery and color schemes too). But while Her merely seems annoyingly pleased with its cleverness, Operator is a touching story that strikes home. It's a relationship movie of the old fashioned kind, but one that focuses on how people, especially the young, are now more and more often estranged from each other - "alone together" - because of their dependence on computerized handheld devices. Unlike Her, Operator asserts that we're still human beings with human needs and can recover from our dependency, because we have to. Let's hope that's true!

    Operator, 87 mins, debuted at SXSW Mar. 2016, showing also at San Francisco (SFIFF) in May, where it was screened for this review. This is a preview and a fuller discussion will come at time of its putative theatrical release.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-18-2016 at 09:30 AM.

  3. #18
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    PHANTOM BOY (Jean-Loup Felicioli, Alain Gagnol 2015)

    JEAN-LOUP FELICIOLI, ALAIN GAGNOL: PHANTOM BOY (2015)


    LÉO'S PHANTOM PREPARES TO REENTER HIS BODY

    A super-powered boy helps a wheelchair-bound policeman bring down a mad mobster in this French-talking animation set in NYC

    After finding success in America (and an Oscar nomination), the creative duo behind A Cat in Paris/Une vie de chat have adapted their hand-drawn 2D animated style to a New York-set supernatural detective story. While Cat followed a gang of night burglars, this time the focus is on a boy hero, who develops out-of-body skills while in hospital with a mysterious disease and helps a new found friend, a cop with a broken leg, pursue an evil computer hacker with a "broken" face bent on assuming power over the city. Phantom Boy is frankly less ingenious in plot line than its predecessor, but it's cute and touching and geared to appeal more to kids. The hand-drawn images are brighter, and have gorgeous moments, such as the panorama of Times Square by night and an explosion and fire, arguably the best executed fire ever presented in an animated film. The colors have a lyrical complexity almost worthy of Matisse.

    In hi June 2015 Variety review written at Annecy, the premier animation festival, Peter Debruge found some shortcomings, and exclaimed at the presentation of a Big Apple where everybody speaks French. But I found this film utterly charming, touching, and a visual delight. A top-level French voice casting includes the fabulous Jean-Pierre Marielle as the evil disfigured man, plus Édouard Baer as Alex, the policeman, Audrey Tautou as the journalist Mary Delaunay, and Gaspard Gagnol as the boy, Léo.

    Phantom Boy, 84 mins., debuted at Toronto Sept. 2015, other festivals. Released in other countries and France (well received, AlloCiné press 3.5, public 4.0). Bought by Gkids (who also acquired April and the Extraordinary World) for US release. Screened for this preview as part of the San Francisco Film Festival (24 Apr. 2016).


    TIMES SQUARE SCREENS SHOW THE FACE OF THE VILLAIN, "L'HOMME AU VISAGE CASSÉ"


    PHANTOM BOY FLIES TO A NEW DESTINATION IN A STYLIZED NYC
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-20-2016 at 02:07 AM.

  4. #19
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    AND WHEN I DIE, I WON'T STAY DEAD (Billy Woodberry 2015)

    BILLY WOODBERRY: AND WHEN I DIE, I WON'T STAY DEAD (2015)


    BOB KAUFMAN RECITING HIS POETRY

    A marginalized Beat talent brought back to the light on film

    Sometimes watching a documentary leads to a discovery, and this one offers Bob Kaufman, a figure in the San Francisco Poetry Renaissance of the 1950's you may never have heard of. (I had not). Kaufman was black and Jewish and a Beat poet, his work surreal, improvisational, and jazz inspired. He was born into a large family in New Orleans, served in the Merchant Marine, and spent years in San Francisco in cheap North Beach hotels. Though not as famous as Ginsberg, Kerouac, Burroughs or even Corso, whom he once proclaimed to his face "major minor," Bob Kaufman has a large following in France, and some of his books of poetry published by New Directions and City Lights are still in print. Titles are Solitudes Crowded with Loneliness (1965, New Directions), Golden Sardine (1967, City Lights), and The Ancient Rain: Poems 1956–1978 (1981, New Directions). There is also the posthumous Cranial Guitar: Selected Poems by Bob Kaufman (1995, Coffee House Press). We hear enough excerpts to suggest Kaufman's prose-poetry vies with Ginsberg's for visionary hipness.

    Neil Young's review of this documentary for Hollywood Reporter helps us to understand the context of this film, which is rich in archival footage, atmosphere, and jazz music, with interviews with City Lights editor and Beat chronicler Raymond Foye and denizens of North Beach cafes and academics. There is layering to this film. It is significant that black Beats were initially excluded from Beat anthologies. Billy Woodberry is himself a long-unseen African-American filmmaker who has been teaching at CalArts since 1989. He is part of a loose Seventies Southern California community of UCLA renegade filmmakers called L.A. Rebellion. It's 31 years since his feature film, Bless Their Little Hearts, a neo-realist study of a cash-strapped Watts family; he has been a collaborator of Charles Burnett of Killer of Sheep. His feature was plugged by his CalArts colleague Thom Andersen in the latter's epic film on the role of local locations in Hollywood movies, Los Angeles Plays Itself (2003 & 2014). Now Woodberry is helping retrieve a forgotten black artist from obscurity.

    Woodberry's film is a little weighed down by its droning talking heads toward the end, as so many documentaries are. But for a long time it remains wonderfully atmospheric and alive as the evocation of a time and place with its blend of jazz and old footage of San Francisco streets and North Beach cafes.

    When I Die is historically and politically savvy, filling in where its subject fits. It seems Bob was a victim of stereotyping on several counts. In the Merchant Marine he joined a leftist seamen's union that was later outlawed, and the FBI followed him around. He remained an activist, and led the Beats in this role. During a time in New York in 1961 (in the Village, when the folk scene was taking off) he was sent to jail for a trivial offense and that led to Bellevue and Bellevue led to shock treatments. He returned to San Francisco a shell of his former self. After Kennedy's assassination he took a vow of silence that lasted ten years. The shattered man remained in North Beach, a doper and drinker and a wild dresser who abandoned his child to be raised by his wife. He was outrageous, jumping on cars, reciting his poetry, so often in the news, it's said, it was for him that columnist Herb Caen coined the term "beatnik." But the poetry went on and was admired by inner circles. Hanging in cafes, Kaufman or admirers might be reciting lines such as these by him evoking black life in deep irony (from "Bagel Shop Jazz"):

    Coffee-faced Ivy Leaguers, in Cambridge jackets,
    Whose personal Harvard was a Fillmore district step,
    Weighted down with conga drums,
    The ancestral cross, the Othello-laid curse,
    Talking of Bird and Diz and Miles,
    The secret terrible hurts,
    Wrapped in cool hipster smiles,
    Telling themselves, under the talk,
    This shot must be the end,
    Hoping the beat is really the truth.

    Young notes the succinct, astute coverage of the political repression that came in at the end of the Forties, the mistreatment Kaufman suffered, but also some carelessness, uneven sound levels, typos in onscreen captions. And also the nice, resonant readings from Kaufman's lines by the likes of Roscoe Lee Browne, often with period-appropriate bongo-drum backup. Some collaborators compare Kaufman with Rimbaud and Lorca; one says he's more poetic than Ginsberg. Raymond Foye, who has become a chronicler of and authority on the Beats, tells how he (Foye) quit the Art Institute of Chicago (where he'd been studying avant-garde filmmaking with Stan Brakhage) in a bad Seventies winter, took his money out of the bank and went to North Beach. Checking into a cheap hotel he met this film's subject and said "Are you Bob Kaufman?" and he said "Sometimes," and, Foye says, "I knew I was home." Later he told Foye, unhelpfully, "My ambition is to be forgotten." This film will counter that aim a bit.

    And When I Die, I Won't Stay Dead, 89 mins., debuted at Vienna, also Doclisboa, in Oct. 2015; US theatrical premiere in Los Angeles 11 Jan. 2016. Also Rotterdam. Screened for this review as part of the San Francisco International Film Festival, where it shows 1 May 2016.

    You can learn more about Bob Kaufman from a two-part program about him on Radio Free Amsterdam. A many-voiced audio portrait.

    When I heard Anne Waldman performing Kaufman's poetry at the San Francisco Public Library with a saxophone and drum accompaniment I finally really started to get it, and laughed.


    KAUFMAN (RIGHT) AND GINSBERG (LEFT) AT A NORTH BEACH CAFE
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-23-2016 at 02:49 AM.

  5. #20
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    A YOUNG PATRIOT/SHAO NIAN, XIAO ZHAO (Du Haibin 2015)

    DU HAIBIN: A YOUNG PATRIOT/SHAO NIAN, XIAO ZHAO (2015)


    ZHAO CHANTONG, STILL IN HIGH SCHOOL, IN A YOUNG PATRIOT

    Star of his own spiraling show

    A Young Patriot is a picture of ideological growing pains in the new China, told by closely following the life of student Zhao Chantong for five years, from high school into university and from naive jingoism into disenchantment. It's a bit like an intense and extended version of one of Michael Apted's celebrated "Up" series, only with particularly strong national implications, and it's so good one wishes that, like Apted's subjects, Zhao could be followed throughout his life. There is also something here that often happens in the best documentaries: the filmmaker sticks tirelessly with his subject wherever it takes him, and unexpected things occur, in this case, the disenchantment. The title for what was to have been a straightforward study of extreme patriotism takes on, by film's end, a rueful, ironic meaning. Engaging, touching, and enlightening, A Young Patriot is a wonderful documentary.

    Young Zhao is an attractive, personable young man, articulate, with a big smile; he also seems at first, at 19, in the last year of high school, to be a bit of a fool. By the end of the film, when these tumultuous years in his life have passed, it's all different. Zhao doesn't seem foolish anymore: in fact his friends are joking that he's become a cynic. Consistently from the start, which isn't a bad thing, he's rather a showoff, performing for the camera. In fact he has a camera himself, and wants, among other things, to become a photographer, doing propaganda for the army. The idea of "fly-on-the-wall" documentary filmmaking doesn't fit here. Isn't Maoist zealotry a performance anyway? Zhao is often intoning patriotic slogans and singing patriotic songs - he has a nice voice.

    The signal early moment, of course, is Zhao in an old military uniform - he dreams of becoming a soldier - walking down a busy little street of his home northern city of Pingyao shouting complaints about another country's disrespect toward China and waving a big Chinese flag on a long pole. When he speaks in private, Zhao blathers excitedly about his love of the country and eagerness to serve it. He believes the slogans. He's ignorant. He thinks there was some sort of democratic movement in the country in 1989 and when he mentions Tiananmen Square, is unaware there was a massacre there. He has no Chinese "cultural literacy" - though in his post-1990 demographic such wisdom may be hard to come by.

    There seems to be one tumultuous event after another and Du Haibin captures them splendidly. University entrance exams, for instance, seem a massive happening. And Zhao doesn't pass! He tells the camera he won't even report his scores. He decides to take another year of high school, despite the extra cost to his family, and he passes: another happening: a big celebration with much drunkenness where Zhao declares his ambitions and enthusiasms again. But he's not all enthusiasm: he says he hates Mahjong - a big thing in Chengdu, Sichuan, where he's going to study. He says it's ruined his father. And while working as a hotel doorman, he has had occasion to note how the civility of the Japanese businessmen contrasts with the boorishness of the uncouth new Chinese capitalists.

    We follow Zhao to university, and into a couple of classrooms, an example of the seamless access Du achieves throughout. They are propaganda too, but we see that while Zhao says nothing is different except for his having a girlfriend, he's in a more sophisticated world now. Thus the big Mao-themed restaurant with a floor show, exploring a kind of kitsch appeal to the national leader's cult that may be tongue-in-cheek. We realize that even if Zhao's naive patriotism has been a form of stupidity, it's also a form of thinking, and he's thinking all the time, and putting it all into words. But there's still a moment when he simply expresses his sheer joy at being a university student.

    One of the two most memorable sequences in this eye-popping, fascinating film is a summer trip of ten students up to a rural, mountainous region of Sichuan, Zhao the apparent leader, his girlfriend, and eight others, to teach young kids for 15 days. These Yi tribe people are dirt poor (literally, covered with dirt), conditions are rough, Zao and his comrades' enthusiasm remains unbroken. Du Haibin and his photographer's seamless coverage was never so impressive. And the smiling, eager kids, struggling to understand Mandarin, with a Yi dialect interpreter standing by, one little boy designated as a leader, are almost unbearably cute. This is a powerful entry into the bildingsroman that is A Young Patriot.

    Is there a subconscious link, though, for Zhao, between these isolated, left-out Yi tribe people and himself? Because the second powerful and significant sequence is that of the demolition of his family house, and his grandparents'. It was obvious at the start that where they lived wasn't a part of the brand new pre-fab China. It's shabby but has a kind of funky charm. Everything has a patina. They say it took years to build, and minutes to take down. There is compensation, but Zhao's uncle tries to hold out and protest demolition of the grandparents' place. It doesn't work, and Zhao, looking very pale, the adolescent bloom faded, declares ruefully that they got exactly the compensation for this that the local administrator originally proposed, not a penny more. Later we see Zhao's grandfather, moved to his uncle's house, who was immobile before, can now no longer even speak. And he dies. Zhao is deeply hurt by the brutality of this, which is typical of today's China.

    Finally we see Zhao the cynic, in a room at university. He sits smoking a cigarette. His head is shaved, making him appear older - and different. He has a coat draped over his shoulders, giving him a sophisticated, blasé, intellectual look. The young Maoist who wanted to be a propaganda photographer for the army has flown away. Maybe he'll join Du Haibin's team and make revelatory, vérité-style documentaries like this one.

    This film was reviewed at the Hong Kong festival for Hollywood Reporter by Clarence Tsui, who comments that "Despite the predictability of its narrative arc, Du's documentary remains captivating viewing from start to end." Nothing could be more true. In its own way, this is as exciting and brilliant a new Chinese film as Bi Gan's feature Kaili Blues.

    A Young Patriot/Shao nian, xiao zhao, 105 mins., debuted at Hong Kong and has shown at at least 10 other international festivals, including Toronto and San Francisco; it was screened at the latter for this review. (It shows at the SFIFF 4 Apr. 2016 at 2pm at BAMPFA; 2 May at 9:30pm at Alamo Drafthouse New Mission.)


    ZHAO CHANTONG TEACHING AT THE RURAL SCHOOL IN A YOUNG PATRIOT
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-23-2016 at 12:11 PM.

  6. #21
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    DEAD SLOW AHEAD (Mauro Herce 2015)

    MAURO HERCE: DEAD SLOW AHEAD (2015)



    preview

    [SFIFF festival blurb]
    Dead Slow Ahead begins as a soothing and hypnotic nautical journey, leaving the soft Gulf port lights of New Orleans behind in the deep blackness of night. Filmmaker Mauro Herce embeds himself with the mostly Filipino crew of the cargo freighter Fair Lady as it crosses the vast and empty Atlantic ocean at a snail’s pace. His camera is a quiet and non-judgmental observer, with a child-like sense of wonder at the ship’s maritime technology, and a poet’s eye for the mystical beauty of the sea. The trip unfolds as an ambient marine odyssey, like Brian Eno lost at sea. Quiet, barely discernible music complements the meditative mechanical sounds of the freighter and the haunting noise of the sea and wind. Unexpected drama ensues when water rushes into one of the vast cargo holds, ruining the wheat shipment. A hallucinatory scene of the crew partying hard to karaoke also shatters the calm. But the massive ship heaves ever forward in its rhythm, and calculated shots of its imposing machinery are juxtaposed with the sad and disjointed conversations of crew members, calling their far-off loved ones who are celebrating the holidays once more without them. —Gustavus Kundahl
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-24-2016 at 10:16 AM.

  7. #22
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    REVIEW OF REVIEWS: a roundup of SFIFF 2016 (what I saw of it)



    REVIEW OF REVIEWS

    Here's a roundup of the best of SFIFF 2016 (what I saw of it).

    Of all the SFIFF 2016 films I've seen, counting the 20 I'd watched at earlier festivals last year, here are my favorites. Of course a number of the other I also liked. But these are the standouts, for me.

    MOST EXCITING DEBUTS
    At the top of the list, the new ones that greatly impressed (and disturbed) me are: The Demons/Les Démons (Philippe Lesage 2015) and From Afar/Desde allá (Lorenzo Vigas 3025) - both very powerful debuts. Of the new ones I saw this time these stand out the most. Both Philippe Lesage and Lorenzo Vigas are new directorial talents whose future work must be watched for with great interest. In addition the documentary by Du Haibin, A Young Patriot, an amazing, moving, breathtaking film that fills your senses with the new China.

    ALSO EXCELLENT
    Happy Hour (Ryűnsuke Hamaguchi 2015) - wonderful - for the first 3/ 1/2 hours, anyway! Things went south after that.
    High Rise (Ben Wheatley 2015) is "a brilliant failure" as Stephen Dalton of Hollywood Reporter. said. And I like Wheatley a lot and I found much to admire here even if it it lacks some of the edge of his earlier, all different, films.
    The Innocents/Les innocentes (Anne Fontaine 2016) - a good film if conventional.
    Leaf Blower (Alejandro Iglesias Mendizábal 2015), Microbe and Gasoline (Michel Gondry 2015), and Phantom Boy (Jean-Loup Felicioli, Alain Gagnol 2015) are all three very cute kids' or kid-oriented movies. The Gondry is the best. But all three are charming.
    Neon Bull (Gabriel Mascaro 2015) is an unusual semi-documentary feature; this amazed me and seemed almost real.
    Right Now, Wrong Then (Hong Sang-soo 2015) - I love Hong Sang-soo. He can do no wrong with me, but this is a particularly good one.
    Suite Armoricaine (Pascale Breton 2015) - this had an interesting, complex, layered quality. And I saw her previous one - at SFIFF 2005!
    Thirst/Jajda (Svetlana Tsotsorkova 2015) - is a well-made, atmospheric, classic-feeling little debut film.
    Thithi (Raami Redy 2015) is a very entertaining, atmospheric film set in India, one of the standouts of New Directors/New Films.

    TO WATCH FOR
    I also look forward to, but wasn't able to see, SFIFF films by Whit Stillman and Ira Sachs, and the directorial debut by James Schamus, Indignation. I'm sure they will be of a lot of interest.

    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-24-2016 at 10:26 AM.

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