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Thread: SFFILM: San Francisco Film Festival 2019

  1. #16
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    NILES DAVIS: BIRTH OF THE COOL (Stanley Nelson 2018)

    MILES DAVIS: BIRTH OF THE COOL (2018)


    MILES DAVIS IN THE 1960'S

    Sketches of Miles

    Miles Davis deserves many documentaries. Here is one. That's something. See also Don Cheadle's 2015 feature film recreation Miles Ahead, not a great film maybe, but in the right obnoxious spirit. This one starts off on the wrong foot for me by using a narration of "quotes" from Miles spoken in a fake Miles-gravelly voice by somebody else, leaving one with the distinct initial impression that if the man may have written these words of pedestrian autobiography, he'd never have spoken them. His spoken words had an element of surprise lacking here. Anyway, this is fakery, "simulation."

    Nonetheless, when this PBS "Masters" film merely delivers snaps of Miles or clips of the life and the art, they can't be ruined. Simply watch the opening few seconds of a rush of stills of the changing face and variegated styles of the jazz master with "Kind of Blue" playing in the foreground, black and white and sizzling cool, and you're awed. So never mind: this material is golden.

    What I didn't know: Miles seems to slide from The Juilliard School into playing with the top jazz artists of Fifth-Second Street without any real stepping stones. Collaborations with Gil Evans begin. He goes to post-liberation Paris in 1949, meets Juliette Greco, and falls madly in love, meeting people like Jean-Paul Sartre through her. Sartre says, "Why don't you marry Juliette Greco?" and Miles replies, "Because I love her." The love lasted a lifetime but failed in the racist USA.

    When he returns to New York from the look at another life in Paris, he's so depressed coming "back to the bullshit white people put a black person through in this country" he got addicted to heroin. It's in 1955, age 29, that by failing to stay silent for two weeks after an operation on a polyp on his larynx he got the permanent hoarse gravelly voice everybody identifies with him. His affair with Frances Taylor.

    Recounting these things, interesting to know, doesn't convey the electric excitement for a fan of jazz of our glimpses here, stolen moments, if you will, of the great years of Bebop and beyond when "America's classical music" was in flower and Miles Davis was at the heart of it. Listen to how Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock, interviewed, describe Miles's sound.

    There is a nice account by the pianist (René Urtreger) of the making of Miles' memorable 1957 soundtrack for Louis Malle's Ascenceur pour l'échafaud ("Elevator to the Scaffold"), one of the unique creative jazz sound scores, like the MJQ's stunning score for Roger Vadim's No Sun in Venice from earlier in the same year. The story of the making of the all-time most famous and biggest selling jazz album, the 1959 Kind of Blue. His style: "being cool, and hip, and angry, and sophisticated, and ultra-clean. . . I was all those things." Then, late Sixties, to overcome the dominance of rock, crossover, percussion, new clothes, Bitches Brew "cosmic jungle music." Picasso Miles's continual self-reinvention from then on.

    Interlude: 1975-1980 Miles' dark years (referenced in Cheadle's movie) when he did nothing but do drugs and didn't pick up his horn. Rescued by Cicely Tyson. His extraordinary funk rebirth and new personality and constant touring, never looking back, playing only new music, reinvented again, new hip wild look. Then at 65, in 1991, sudden rapid decline.

    Miles was a leader in at least five major phases of jazz style, bebop, cool jazz, hard bop, modal jazz, and jazz fusion and three labels, Prestige, Columbia, and Warner Brothers. This film can't begin to cover the many musicians he introduced to the public through new bands. You need a miniseries. There are some good talking heads including Greg Tate, Quincy Jones, Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, George Wein, Frances Taylor, Carlos Santana, Miles 1980's manager Mark Rothbaum, and others, all have interesting things to say. You can never give this subject justice in a couple of hours, but this seems like a fairly good try and the main outlines of the remarkable life and extraordinary art are there.

    Birth of the Cool, 115 mins., debuted at Sundance; also Miami, Cleveland and Montclair, as well as San Francisco, where it was screened for this review.

    SFFILM showtimes:
    Fri, Apr 12 at 5:00 pm BAMPFA
    Sun, Apr 14 at 4:00 pm Victoria Theatre



    MILES IN HIS SXTIES
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-17-2019 at 12:34 AM.

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    MIDNIGHT FAMILY (Luke Lorentzen 2019)

    LUKE LORENTZEN: MIDNIGHT FAMILY (2019)

    (Originally published for New Directors/New Films)


    FERNANDO, JOSOÉ AND JUAN ALEXIS OCHOA IN MIDNIGHT FAMILY

    Breaking the rules to help people in Mexico City

    Partly inspired, Lorentzen says by Harvard’s Sensory Ethnography Lab (Sweetgrass, Foreign Parts, Leviathan, Manakamana), this documentary is an observational and humanistic up close and personal glimpse at people coping with a health care system far worse than that of the US. The place is Mexico City:. The population is nine-million-plus. To serve them the city provides only forty-five ambulances. Private, for profit seat-of-the-pants ambulance services now work competitively to try to fill the gap. Director Luke Lorentzen discovered documentary gold by following one of these. Midnight Family is the prizewinning result.

    Lorentzen moved to Mexico City after college with an idea for a film and shifted to this one when he met the Ochoas and they let him ride with them for one night. He spent nearly eighty days filming from two in the afternoon to six or eight in the morning embedded night after night in the private ambulance run by the Ochoa family. He speaks Spanish and worked as a one-man crew using two two Sony FS cameras, one mounted on the roof focusing on the crew in the front window, the other hand held by himself. He shot over a three year period, out with them for a hundred days, though he says that seventy percent of the best material came in the last few days of the shooting.

    Lorentzen respects the patients' privacy, but hangs closely with the Ochoas, gaining their confidence for intimate moments. Little, chubby Josoé is lazy and makes excuses not to go to school. Juan is only seventeen, but he drives the vehicle and in all ways is the grownup (though he sleeps in the vehicle curled up with a big fluffy doll). Fer, their father, has a heart condition and sometimes cannot cope. Along with them is Manuel Hernández. There are long waits with nothing happening. There are frantic races to accident sites, speeding through the night streets and crazy Mexico City traffic not only to save the injured but also to beat other private ambulances to the job and the money. But there is not always money even when they get the job. Sometimes their clients are too poor to pay, or just refuse to, and they wind up with an evening's work and no profits, only losses. It's hard at times to see how the Ochoas can even do this job, or afford the equipment. And then there are the cops, who harass them and demand constant bribes, and paperwork, "protocols," a joke since it's all outside the law.

    But for Juan, who's muscular and sharp but still wears braces on his teeth, and who enjoys playing to the camera and mouths off with a warm sense of humor, this work is the pleasure of doing good and helping people but also the adrenaline rush of the excitement and struggle to succeed.

    This is a human document, but like other good observational films, also a visual treat. Lorenten makes excellent use of the striking night light of the city, the neon glare, the blur, the flashing signals that can make what be drab in daytime into magic. When Midnight Family is operating full-tilt, it's intoxicating to the senses, with the blur and rush of the vehicle, the scream of sirens, and Fer's amplified voice as he uses a loudspeaker to urge people to get out of the way so the ambulance can push through. This is where the Sony cameras pay off with their exceptional capacity to capture in low light. Everything comes together for the filmmaker when he gets dramatic (and beautiful) coverage when the Ochoas rush a girl with a traumatic brain injury and her mother to a private hospital knowing every minute counts to save her, and he captures Juan pacing around and talking to his girlfriend Jessica on the phone later about how this turned out.

    The film, which Lorentzen edited as well as shot as a one-man crew, ends beautifully with Fer and Juan picking up Josoé at the schoolyard in the afternoon, then heading out together in the ambulance into the maelstrom of Mexico City traffic at twilight, with the cars' taillights just beginning to glow.

    At an appearance in the Guadalajara Festival, Lorentzen said he wanted to show how a good family is forced eventually into corrupt practices because of a broken system and "the corruption is gradually playing with the lives of people, and the Ochoa family is hostage to the police and the health system." But it's a fun watch too - as Lorry Kikta of Film Threat says, "a very exciting, sad, yet extremely funny film."

    Midnight Family, 91 mins., debuted at Sundance Jan. 2019 where it won the documentary Special Jury Award for Cinematography. Four other festivals, including the 2019 MoMA-Film Society of Lincoln Center New Directors/New Films series, where it was screened for this review. Many reviews: Metacritic (Metascore 85%), including Nich Schager for Variety. See also a Mexican article about this film.

    Midnight Family is also being shown at the 2019 San Francisco Film Festival.

    SFFILM showtimes:
    Sun, Apr 14 at 2:00 pm Dolby Cinema
    Mon, Apr 15 at 3:00 pm SFMOMA Phyllis Wattis Theater
    Thu, Apr 18 at 6:00 pm The Theater at Children's Creativity Museum





    JUAN ALEXIS OCHOA IN MIDNIGHT FAMILY
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-15-2019 at 06:38 AM.

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    MONOS (Alejandro Landes 2018)

    ALEJANDRO LANDES: MONOS (2018)

    (Originally published for New Directors/New Films)


    MOISÉS ARIAS (LEFT) IN MONOS

    Teen guerrillas run amok

    The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw raved, understandably, about Brazilian-born Alejandro Landes' explosive, enveloping film about teenage soldiers run wild. He called it "the best thing I have seen at Berlin this year: something between Apocalypse Now, Lord of the Flies and Embrace of the Serpent," and that's a good place to start. It also reminded me strongly of Carlos Reygadas, and Lisandro Alonso's 2004 film Los Muertos. This is a Latin American Heart of Darkness inhabited by adolescents.

    It's a gang of teenage fighters, boys and some girls, with an American woman hostage. They're ostensibly commanded by a small, muscular Indio type called Mesajero (Messenger, Wilson Castro)who holds them in a military formation and gives them instructions. But let's make clear right away that it's not particularly what is going to happen in this movie that you will take away with you but it's palpable sense of humans gone feral. These kids go wild like in Lord of the Flies but it's different, because they start out as part of a guerrilla organization somewhere else, with which they are in radio contact.

    Mesajero assembles them in military ranks and gives them instructions. He puts Wolf (Lobo, Julián Giraldo) in charge. They have gang nicknames. There is Perro (Dog, Paul Cubides); little Pitufo (Smurf, Deibi Rueda); innocent-looking Boom Boom (Sneider Castro); three girls, Leidi (Lady, Karen Quintero), Sueca (Swede, Laura Castrillón), and the oddly named Rambo (Sofia Buenaventura). Then there is the wiry, dangerous Patagrande (Bigfoot, played by New York-born actor Moisés Arias)

    Their task is to take care of an American hostage, a woman engineer they call La Doctora, Sara Watson (Julianne Nicholson). They now have been entrusted a cow, for whose well-being Wolf is responsible. But they have a celebration, they get drunk and fire off their weapons, and Dog misfires and kills the cow. Wolf is held guilty and imprisoned, and he commits suicide, whereupon Bigfoot takes charge. So everything has gone very bad very quickly. Not to waste good meat, they skin and cut up and roast and eat all they can of the cow meat. We see all this.

    Where the cow lived and died they fall into its shit, and in it discover "fungitos", i.e, "'shrooms," magic mushrooms. There's more wildness.

    Hostilities and rivalries arise, but also sexual relationships, which are allowed if requested. They move from the mountains down into the jungle, and when La Doctora starts trying to escape the new leader goes into a rage and partly destroys the radio that is their link to 'The Organization,' a sign of disintegrating order that's plain to see - or hear, since thee raucous and powerful sound score by Mica Levi, is one of the mechanisms that drives the action and the scene into our consciousness most irresistibly; it's so good it continues to surprise us even during the closing credits, which in themselves are beautiful. Monos is an exhilarating experience. It really leaves you speechless. Some, however, such as Keith Urlich in his Hollywood Reporter review, have spoken up in disapproval of the film as "irresponsible." Of course it is! They killed a cow. And in some scenes they may have put the young actors in danger. But Alejandro Landes and everyone concerned have created for us a wonderfully vivid, intense, and memorable screen experience. Consider what Rory O'Connor said in CineVue: it's "nothing short of an aesthete’s dream, a film crammed with visual bravado that at various times echoes Kubrick, Malick, and Coppola’s Apocalypse Now." One may be tempted to bend the rules for such an experience and such a filmmaker.

    Monos TRAILER

    Monos, 108 mins., debuted at Sundance, winning its Special Jury Prize in the World Cinema Dramatic competition.Monos has received major reviews and has received a Metascore of 82. At its Berlinale debut, Peter Bradshaw reviewed Monos for the Guardian, giving it five out of five stars and writing a rave review: "This overpoweringly tense and deeply mad thriller from Colombian film-maker Alejandro Landes is the best thing I have seen at Berlin this year: something between Apocalypse Now, Lord of the Flies and Embrace of the Serpent." Screened for this review as part of the Film Society of Lincoln Center-Museum of Modern Art joint series New Directors/New Films, March 2019, which is the New York Premiere, and the Centerpiece Film of ND/NF.

    Previously reviewed by me: Alejandro Landes' 2011 Porfirio (ND/NF 2012). Landes was born in Brazil of a Colombian mother and Ecuadorian father, educated at Brown University and later employed as a writer for the Miami Herald. He is thirty-nine.




    WILSON CASTRO (LEFT) IN MONOS

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    MOTHER'S INSTINCT/DUELLES (Olivier Masset-Depasse 2018)

    OLIVER MASSET-DEPASSE: MOTHER'S INSTINCT/DUELLES (2018)


    JULES LEFEBVRES AND VEERIE BAETENS IN MOTHER'S INSTICT/DUELLES


    A Belgian period psychological thriller that's more successful in style than tone and action

    This campy early-Sixties-set Sirkian melodrama liberally flavored with murder has a touch of Hitchcock - and an gloss of the absurd from the beginning that it too little recognizes. It begins with two perfectly matched families. Living in a Tudor-style house divided down the middle (at twilight it could be a painting by Magritte), are a pair of immaculate housewives, their corresponding suited working men, and two smocked same-aged young schoolboys - living side by side in a double house, and spending much of their spare time happily together. Suspenseful, Bernard Hermann-esque music, however, hints that things aren't right from the start. (This score never allows the action a chance to be anything but doom-ridden.) Things will soon go very rapidly downhill in a way that's hard to take seriously. This is something that doesn't happen with HItchcock, nor would the almost total lack of contact with the outside world beyond house, hospital, church, and undertaker. Hitchcock sets his movies in the world; the Belgian filmmaker Olivier Masset-Depasse staes everything in a smug, semi-satirical bubble. This is a tongue-in-cheek kind of nostalgia.

    The opening sequence is a teasing fake-out, an allusion to Hitchcockian suspense sequences when we seem to be voyeuristically peering in on a murder - or an adultery, but it turns out to be only a surprise party. The nervous score begins, and never really stops thereafter.

    After the friendliness of the two families is made clear, peace is definitively destroyed when one boy, Maxime (Luan Adam) son of Céline (Anne Coesens) and Damien (Arieh Worthalter), falls from his bedroom window to his death while trying to retrieve their cat, Popeye, from a ledge. He doesn't know cats have nine lives and little boys don't. Alice (Veerle Baetens), wife of Simon (Mehdi Nebbou), happens to be in the yard next door and sees Maxime walking out dangerously on a ledge, but can't do anything to stop him from falling. It's soon evident that Céline, maybe in site of herself, holds Alice responsible for Maxime's demise. We may not be completely sure what happened either: the film is better at mood and melodrama than action, and this film, whose look is so well crafted (interiors, outfits) but may falter in lingo at times (I'm convinced nobody in French or English said "Have a nice day" back then anymore than, till VietNam, soldiers said "Sorry about that"), could have used sharper editing in some places.

    Anyway, as we get to funeral and burial and all that, Théo, Alice and Simon's little boy, now assumes center stage, and assumes a creepy role in relation to Maxime, protesting violently when his toy threatens to be buried with the dead boy. It's handy - er, dangerous - that the two families are so chummy they have access to each other's houses.

    Alice is ridden with guilt at first, but becomes hostile in the course of Céline's passive-aggressive tormenting. From now on Céline and Alice become, as Jordan Mintzer puts it in his Hollywoood Reporter review, "two of the most hostile neighbors to hit the screen since Michael Keaton moved into Pacific Heights or Jack Nicholson landed next door to Helen Hunt in As Good as It Gets." It's evident that only one of the ladies will survive this ongoing battle.

    It's starting to be evident that Alice wants to move away from this hostile environment. Not quite soon enough. (Warning: if you haven't seen this film yet and want to be surprised, don't read what follows.) What emerges is that Céline wants not to hurt Théo in revenge, but to have him all to herself as a replacement for Maxime, and get rid of the competition. Céline's husband Damien commits suicide (or does he? as I said, the physical action isn't well conveyed), and while Théo, who's having trouble sleeping, gets a dose of chloroform from Céline, she polishes off Théo's parents with gas. The idyllic final sequence when Céline and Théo, who has formally accepted her as his adoptive parent, walk off into the horizon on a beach, seems strangely out of key with the increasingly nightmarish events that have led up to it. This was a place where the score might have injected more overt irony. It must be noted that there was no gradual leading up to the rash of violence at the end - the kind of slow build one finds in a Claude Chabrol thriller, which this also somewhat imitates.

    This tale may invite comparison with other Sirkian nostalgia films, such as Todd Haynes' Far from Heaven and his even more beautiful film (thanks partly to the cinematography of Ed Lachman), Carol. But Masset-Depasse doesn't draw us in emotionally the way Haynes does. Nor, as noted, does he acknowledge or make use of the degree to which this film has the air of a "costumed dark comedy," as Mintzer notes, whether it knows it or not, while aspiring to the status of "nostalgic psychological thriller." In short, there are serious problems of tone here. There are problems with the narrative structure and the editing too. The actors do their best, and shine in individual scenes. What does succeed throughout are the set design, costumes and general look of things, and Hichame Alouie's handsome, highly colored cinematography.


    The film is based on a novel by Belgian writer Barbara Abel.

    Mother's Instinct/Duelles,] 97 mins., debuted at Toronto, showing also at Ghent, Chicago, Brussels, and a number of other festivals. It was screened for this review as part of the San Francisco Film Festival. It opens theatrically in France 1 May.

    SFFILM showtimes:
    Sun, Apr 21 at 7:30 pm - Victoria Theatre
    Tue, Apr 23 at 8:45 pm - Victoria Theatre



    AT TWILIGHT IT COULD BE A PAINTING BY MAGRITTE
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-17-2019 at 11:23 PM. Reason: H

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    RAMEN SHOP/家族のレシピ」 (Eric Khoo 2018)

    ERIC KHOO: RAMEN SHOP/情牽拉麵茶 (2018)



    Mark Schilling in Japan Times
    Deborah Young in Hollywood Reporter
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-17-2019 at 09:43 PM.

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    RED JOAN (Trevor Nunn 2018)

    TREVOR NUNN: RED JOAN (2018)


    JUDY DENCH IN RED JOAN

    The discovery of a retiree lady spy

    Judi Dench and Sophie Cookson portray the woman who passed the key to Britain’s atom bomb to the Soviet Union in Trevor Nunn’s drama, inspired by the true story of KGB spy Melita Norwood.

    The film starts with the elderly Joan who's finally been found out and engages in a series of lively flashbacks, her recollections, as she is questioned by authorities and talks to her son a barrister she hopes will defend her. Most of the action focuses on the young Joan who's involved in the exciting wartime business. She is played by Sophie Cookson, Roxy in the "Kingsman" series. I love the moment when her middle-aged son says, "Is anything you ever told me true?" And the elderly Joan replies, "Everything having to do with you."

    It's also a wonderful paradox that she didn't tell anything to her family because she had signed the Official Secrets Act, and, to honor her early leftist allegiances, prevent an imbalance of power in the world, and please her pro-Soviet, Russian Jewish boyfriend Leo (Tom Hughes), she has passed on the atomic bomb to the USSR. It made sense to her at the time! Eventually, her son comes around to her point of view and stands by her before the press.

    One thinks of the marvelous 1991 TV episode "A Question of Attribution" (really an unusually wonderful film, which I originally saw as part of the San Francisco Film Festival) written by Alan Bennett and directed by John Schlesinger, about that other Cambridge spy, Sir Anthony Blunt (played by James Fox). Why is that so much better than this? Obviously for one thing because it takes place in the present time, without flashbacks. It's excellent theater, not a TV episode at all. Red Joan, alas, is a movie that's, actually, a TV episode. The whole story is reduced to - violins strumming - a series of love disappointments for young wartime Joan.

    Yet this is a picture about "the danger of underestimating women," and shows they could spy as well as or better than men. A cop is embarrassed to open young Joan's Tampon box so doesn't find the Minox spy camera tucked inside.

    Tom Hughes is well known to some, but was a revelation to me as the sexy and somewhat slimy Leo, the German Jewish Cambridge student who young Joan is in love with. Hughes has panache, even if he lays it on a bit thick. Stephen Campbell Moore, whom I knew as the young teacher in The History Boys (2006), is reliably decent as Max, the head British scientist on the bomb project who's also in love with young Joan, probably more than Leo. And Judi Dench? Yes, she's fine as the the tweedy, frumpy, put-upon retiree spy lady. But her framing presence has a tendency to dampen down the drama of young Joan's story. Unfortunately, neither young Joan nor old Joan is interesting as a spy, never being in that much danger.

    In retrospect good English spy tales like A Question of Attribution and An Englishman Abroad, the two tales spun by Alan Bennett and filmed by John Schlesinger, are partly good because the motivations of their main characters remain inexplicable, and perhaps are so to themselves. Joan too much justifies, too much explains.

    The period aspects of the English production are low keyed and impeccable.

    Red Joan, 101 mins., debuted at Toronto, Sept. 2018, and showed at several other festivals, including San Francisco, where it was screened for this review. Theatrical release begins 19 April 2019.

    SFFILM showtime Sat, Apr 13 at 4:00 pm at the Castro Theatre
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-18-2019 at 08:34 AM.

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    RAISE HELL: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF MOLLY IVINS (Janice Engel 2018)

    JANICE ENGEL: RAISE HELL: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF MOLLY IVINS (2018)

    [SUMMARY ONLY]



    RAISE HELL: The Life & Times of Molly Ivins tells the story of media firebrand Molly Ivins, six feet of Texas trouble who took on the Good Old Boy corruption wherever she found it. Her razor sharp wit left both sides of the aisle laughing, and craving ink in her columns. She knew the Bill of Rights was in peril, and said "Polarizing people is a good way to win an election and a good way to wreck a country." Molly's words have proved prescient. Now it's up to us to raise hell!
    -IMDB
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-20-2019 at 05:17 PM.

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    SUBURBAN BIRDS 郊区 的 鸟 (Qiu Sheng 2018)

    QIU SHENG: SUBURBAN BIRDS/郊区的鸟/JIAO QU DE NIAO (2018)

    (Originally published for New Directors/New Films)


    STILL FROM SUBURBAN BIRDS; THEY WEAR RED COMMUNIST CHILDREN'S LEAGUE BANDANAS AT ALL TIMES

    Strange Chinese debut lodged in the suburbs mixes the dry and arty with the charming and nostalgic

    The frame tale of this directorial debut from China, if it can be seen as that, focuses on a group of young surveyors recording or investigating tall buildings that are sinking in a suburban area. They need information on the subsidence of the land in preparation for a subway construction project that is being held up till their report's completion. There are ample references to the waste and destruction and mass dislocation of modern China. Meanwhile, the larger, more rambling center section follows half a dozen school children, great pals, who wear red Communist Children's League of China bandanas (at all times!). They are cute and charming and play at various games, including a full-scale battle with toy automatic weapons. Some of them have nicknames like Foxy (Qian Xuanyi), Fatty (Chen Yihao), Old Timer (Xu Chenghui), Coal (Chen Zhihao) or Radish. There is an idyllic, nostalgic quality about these summertime pre-teen scenes.

    One character, Xiahao, seems to occur both as an adult surveyor (played by Mason Lee, son of Ang Lee) and one of the kids (played by Gong Zihan), though it's not a sure thing these aren't just two different Xihaos. Guy Lodge of Variety points out the two worlds are distinguished by two visual styles: "The adult story is heavy on choppy, discomfiting zooms, the children’s tale all serene, sun-slowed tracking and panning." Both make use of occasional fast zooms, somewhat in the manner of Hong Sang-soo.

    Among the surveyors, who are all staying in a soulless hotel, there is disagreement over the cause of the subsiding land, while Officer Jiang (Wang Xinyu) just represent's the party's interest in rushing through the survey so as to get the subway project under way fast no matter what. At the hotel Xiahao meets a loose young woman, Swallow (Huang Lu) and they have sex, introducing a messier, more sensual note into the otherwise cool, tidy story whose tone is set by the neat appearance of the young men and the orderliness of their activity involving leisurely calculations and measurements.

    In her review for Hollywood Reporter, Leslie Felperin points out the two sets of characters are unrelated, but are related. There are inexplicable rhymes, and the kids are playing in the same neighborhood where the surveying is going on. The narrative link and signal for the childhood recollections to begin is the finding of a student's diary by the adult Xiahao.

    Director Qiu has coaxed wonderfully natural and relaxed performances out of the child actors. To underline the kids' friendship, when they come home to relax, they lie all over each other in a friendly clump. Something like that is echoed between two of the adult guys in the final shot, when the children, who otherwise may have seemed to be many years earlier in time, are also present singing the Communist Youth song in the same woods.

    At the end among the kids, Fatty disappears, and the rest of the half dozen go looking for him, then one by one they each themselves disappear. The literal "suburban bird", which interests both Xiahaos, is the rare Sialia Suburbium, which Swallow tells the adult Xiahao does not exist. Then the focus returns to the surveyors, finally ending with another flashback, but to a more recent time.

    There is a review on EasternKicks.com where the writer, Andrew Heskins, points out the film is half "non-linear and experimental" and half a "heart-warming coming-of-age drama." A review by the knowledgeable but hard to please former Variety critic Derek Elley for Sino-Cinema disparagingly calls this film a "vague elegy for simpler times" (referring to the idyllic life of the young kids, no doubt) that's "an empty can, and too film schooly for its own good." Guy Lodge calls it "a seductively inscrutable puzzler," and that puts it well: it's both off-putting and fun to watch.

    Suburban Birds/郊区的鸟/Jiao qu de niao, 118 mins., debuted 24 Jul. 2018 at Xining First Film Festival, and in Europe at Locarno, showing also at three other festivals. It was screened for this review as part of The MoMA-Film Society of Lincoln Center series New Directors/New Films, Mar. 2019.

    Also showing at the San Francisco Film Festival. (There, it received Special Jury Mention, New Directors.)

    SFFILM showtime:s
    Thu, Apr 11 at 6:00 pm - Roxie Theater (EVENT HAS PASSED)
    Fri, Apr 19 at 9:00 pm - Roxie Theater


    It will also be showing at Roxie Theater starting May 10.

    TRAILER


    THEY LIE ALL OVER EACH OTHER IN A FRIENDLY CLUMP
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-22-2019 at 01:32 PM.

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    TEHRAN: CITY OF LOVE (Ali Jaberansari 2018)

    ALI JABERANSARI: TEHRAN: CITY OF LOVE (2018)


    FOROUGH GHAJABAGLI IN TEHRAN: CITY OF LOVE

    All the lonely people

    The three characters who wend their slow way through Ali Jaberansari's Tehran: City of Love are disenchanted and gloomy and glum, and their sad-sack aspirations are low. They interconnect with each other minimally. Hessam Fezli (Amir Hessam Bakhtiari) is a lonely champion body builder of a certain age. He won three championships. A giant tattooed man with a top knot, he works in a gym, physical trainer for ordinary guys and old men. He gets hired for a film which, teasingly, has something to do with Louis Garrel, but not really. The actual shoot is some time in the future.

    Then a handsome young bodybuilder, disenchanted with his previous trainer, takes on Hessam tentatively to train him for a competition. It is obvious this is a dream for the perhaps repressed Hessam, who isn't interested in women. We know that because he gives the brush off to Mina Shams (Forough Ghajabagli), the overweight receptionist at a beauty studio where he goes to get botoxed. When the body builder seems contented with Hessam, Hessam goes and resigns from the film, breaking his contract, to devote himself wholeheartedly to the young man.

    Mina has a second cell phone she uses to make suggestive calls to men, and she sets up dates using fake pictures of young babes, but it's just a silly, unhealthy game, born of hopelessness. Then she goes to a life class proposed to her by Niloufar (Behnaz Jafari). There Reza, already a student in the class, takes an interest in Mina, inviting her out, not caring that she's overweight and sharing her taste for ice cream. (She doesn't quite give up her unhealthy phone games, though.)

    Through Niloufar, Vahid (Mehdi Saki), attached to a mosque, working as a singer at funerals, gets to try a gig at a wedding, which is where she works. He gives it a try, but then through a keyboard player (if I understood this development) he gets in trouble for performing at an "unapproved activity," a joyous event that is not permitted by Iran's strict religious government. The mosque official takes him back, disapprovingly. He admits that loss of the wedding gig doesn't really matter, though he did seem to like being a happy instead of a sad performer for a while. All he really wanted, though, he tells Niloufar, was the opportunity to see her. Unfortunately, as Niloufar has already told Mina (they're chums), her lawyer has finally gotten her a visa, and she is soon going to be leaving for Australia.

    As for Mina, on one of their dates, Reza reveals that he is married with a young kid. He's getting divorced, but it "is taking such a long time." So he's not really as available as he had let her assume for a while. She orders a double deluxe ice cream; this time he abstains. Later, Reza sends Mina a giant teddy bear at work as a consolation prize.

    Poor, glum Hessam Fezli. Even when he's standing behind his handsome young body builder, guiding his arms in a hard workout, he never cracks a smile. Mina does smile and looks pretty when she's with Reza, and Vahid gets lively when he's performing at the parties. Maybe the young aspiring champion body builder feels uneasy with Hessam's attentions, especially after he's invited to Hessam's father's house. (Both Hessam and Vahid seem to live with their fathers.) The young body builder tells Hessam a lie to get out of their relationship, claiming that his travel schedule for work just doesn't allow him time to train and he must give up the idea of the competition (which isn't true).

    So Hessam, Mina, and Vahid wind up more or less back where they started. Director Jaberansari finds his perfect final image in Mina with the giant teddy bear, Vahid, and Hessam, all sitting far apart, alone together, on an empty bus riding home.

    This does seem a far cry from most other Iranian directors. Jaberansari, whose second feature this is, comes across here as an urban miniaturist, signaled by his ironic reference to Tehran in the title, by the tripartite structure, and by the reduced expectations. One might think of Aki Kaurismäki, or of Roy Anderssen, but with most of the whimsy and surrealism edited out. There is control here, and the film held my attention tight all the way through, while keeping my expectations to a minimum. The hopelessness and loneliness of some urban lives is painted here with painful precision. It seems to fit modern Iranian urban culture, with its intense restrictions on fun. Glum is in. How do you find your way around it? How do you find love in Tehran?

    Tehran: City of Love, 102 mins. debuted at London Oct. 2018, and played in at least ten other international festivals since, including the San Francisco Film Festival, where it was screened for this review.

    SFFILM showtimes:
    Tue, Apr 16 at 6:00 pm - Roxie Theater
    Wed, Apr 17 at 9:15 pm - SFMOMA Phyllis Wattis Theater
    Thu, Apr 18 at 6:00 pm - Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive


    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-19-2019 at 01:43 AM.

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    TONI MORRISON: THE PIECES I AM (Timothy Greenfield-Sanders 2019)



    TIMOTHY GREENFIELD-SANDERS: TONI MORRISON: THE PIECES I AM (2019)

    An "American Masters" film about her life and work mainly narrated directly into the camera by Morrison herself with lots of amazing photographs and film clips to illustrate and with talking heads including Hilton Als, Oprah Winfrey, Fran Lebowitz and various others. She is a formidable and engaging person, an insinuating, gentle, but utterly confident speaker. Amazingly, she is 88. Why does she laugh so much in recounting her life? A sense of fun perhaps. I can't really comment or evaluate because I have not read any of her work. I've always feared it would be too melodramatic, or just not for me. For somebody who has won so many awards, including the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993, this is probably blind of me. But this film didn't really change my opinion. Magnolia theatrical release coming Jun. 21. It debuted at Sundance. Watched on a screener Mar. 22-23-24, 2019.

    SFFILM showtimes:
    Sun, Apr 14 at 1:00 pm - Victoria Theatre - (EVENT HAS PASSED)
    Sat, Apr 20 at 7:30 pm - Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-15-2019 at 07:51 AM.

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    WALKING ON WATER (Andrey Paounov 2018)

    ANDREY PAOUNOV: WALKING ON WATER (2018)

    [PREVIEW ONLY]



    A lively Christo film (if not a beautiful one)

    Jeanne-Claude died in late 2009, putting an end to the earthly part of one of contemporary art's greatest and most visible working partnerships and longest-lasting romances. Born on the same day, Bulgarian Christo and French Jeanne-Claude were inseparable for half a century. This legendary artistic team created great temporary environmental works that have been a source of pleasure and astonishment to millions all over the world. Some of their most famous works were the wrapping of the Reichstag in Berlin and the Pont-Neuf in Paris; the 24-mile hill-scanning Running Fence in California's Sonoma and Marin counties (when this reviewer got involved), and - a special, long-delayed passion project, because close to home, The Gates in Central Park, New York - their home town for forty years. Floating Piers is Christo's first major project completed since his wife's passing.

    It still belongs to her too. In 1970 the couple together conceived a "floating pier" project. It was to allow the visiting public to walk out over the water over a special, temporary, lightweight, linked "pier." They tried to carry out this scheme in Rio de la Plata between Argentina and Uruguay, but failed to get approval; they tried again inTokyo Bay, and that plan also failed. This is not unusual for them. A lot of their projects have had to be jettisoned, due nearly always not to technical but to bureaucratic obstacles. Then in June 2016, Floating Piers came into being in Italy, on Lake Iseo, in Lombardy, near the cities of Brescia and Bergamo. This is a film about that project. see my article, "The Art of Christo & Jeanne-Claude and the Maysles Films" (24 Apr 2015).

    Walking on Water,105 mins., debuted at Locarno and was included in other festivals including Docudays UA International Human Rights Documentary Film Festivalm abd the San Francisco Film Festival, where it was screened for this review. For The Floating PIers, see the Christo & Jeanne-Claude website.

    SFFILM showtimes:
    Sat, Apr 13 at 1:30 pm - SFMOMA
    Fri, Apr 19 at 3:00 pm - Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-20-2019 at 11:09 PM.

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    WE BELIEVE IN DINOSAURS (Clayton Brown, Monica Long Ross 2018)

    CLAYTON BROWN, MONICA LONG ROSS: WE BELIEVE IN DINOSAURS (2018)


    David MacMillan at the Ark in We Believe in Dinosaurs

    A hotbed of Creationism in the deep South shows the strength of Christian fundamentalism

    This past summer in Williamstown, Kentucky, The Ark Encounter, a “life-size” reproduction of Noah’s Ark, opened to the public. . .Shot over the course of 3 years, “We Believe in Dinosaurs” follows the Ark Encounter from its groundbreaking to its opening day; from the designing and building of the Ark, to growing protests from scientists, Freethinkers, and even a Kentucky pastor. -Indiewire. Review in Hollywood Re;porter by Stephen Farber.

    38% of Americans believe that God created humans in their present form less than 10,000 years ago. This is a clear and present danger, not just in Kentucky. In Washington, the current Vice President is a fundamentalist Christian. These are people who believe the Bible is packed with scientific facts, that mainstream science, particularly evolution, is erroneous. Brown and Ross focus on Ken Ham, an Australian Christian fundamentalist and young Earth creationist and apologist who is behind the Creation Museum and the giant Ark "model" he raised money to build. You have to be pretty naive and ignorant to believe a great flood created by God wiped out most of the world's population of humans and animals because they were "wicked," but there is a whole population of people who believe this.

    It should be noted that "we believe in dinosaurs" doesn't refer to rationalists or pro-science people, because the Creation Museum is full of dinosaurs. The creationists believe there were dinosaurs on the Ark with the mammals. They'd have to be, if everything happened within six thousand years. And the creationists under Ken Ham make good use of the great popularity of dinosaurs among kids. Ham's complex is a place of entertainment - and instruction - primarily aimed at the young and innocent.

    In this film, we see the forces of creationism marshaled under the organization of Ken Ham working to indoctrinate people, especially children. We also see David MacMillan, a young former creationist who prided himself on being in the inner circle of Ken Ham's organization, who wises up and leaves Kentucky, and now works as a paralegal in Washington, DC. We also see Daniel Phelps, a paleontologist who remains in Kentucky campaigning against Ham's programs. Naturally, as one well aware of the age of the earth and the galaxy, he finds the "young earth" theory of fundamentalists abhorrent and obviously absurd. But the effort to withdraw tax benefits for the Ark and the Museum which he was active in, was first successful, but later reversed, and he feels frustrated.

    It seems that the little town near these things has failed to benefit economically by the tourism as had been hoped. But the Museum and the Ark are going great guns, and Ken Ham has plans for turning the remaining land they own into what sounds like a veritable Creationism Disneyland, a Creationland, if you will. This is an industry, and a growing movement.

    People with rational, pro-science outlooks discount this whole element in the population. It's just something you don't want to believe exists. And this is clearly a mistake.

    We Believe in Dinosaurs, 105 mins., debuted at San Francisco, where it was screened for this review.

    SFFILM showtimes:
    Sat, Apr 13 at 2:00 pm - Dolby Cinema (EVENT HAS PASSED)
    Mon, Apr 15 at 3:00 pm - Roxie Theater (EVENT HAS PASSED)
    Sun, Apr 21 at 2:00 pm - Grand Lake Theatre
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-21-2019 at 12:10 AM.

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    WINTER'S NIGHT/ 겨울밤에 (Jang Woo-jin 2018)

    JANG WOO-JIN: WINTER'S NIGHT/ 겨울밤에 (2018)


    SEO YOUNG-HWA AND LEE SANG-HEE IN WINTER'S NIGHT

    Young and old overnight in Chuncheon

    Jang Woo-jin's third feature works with similar material to his second, Autumn, Autumn (ND/NF 2017). The latter's original Korean title was Chuncheon, Chuncheon: it had the same offbeat tourist location, with the Cheongpyeong Temple there, and couples who miss the last ferry and get stuck overnight. This time there is more focus and delicacy of mood. As Jessica Kiang puts it in her appreciative review for Variety written at the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival in Estonia last year, this picture focuses on the "late-middle" of a relationship - and does so with delicacy, perception and humor surprising in a filmmaker who's only himself thirty-three. There is also an element of the surreal and the magical, making use of characters who rhyme and as Kiang puts it "capitalizing on the air of cut-off unreality that a fresh fall of clean snow can give — the upside-down-ness of the ground being brighter than the sky and the dampening of background sound until even banal exchanges take on a dramatic, stage-whisper quality." Besides, blue and red lights on the winter spaces highlight the unreality.

    Taxi rides bookend the film. The riders are the fifty-year-old couple Eun-ju (a very fine Seo Young-hwa) and her husband Heung-ju (Yang Heung-ju), who at the outset are headed home to Seoul after their first return to Chuncheon in thirty years. It wss there, and then, with a young woman visiting her young man stationed there in the military, that their romance bloomed and the couple decided to marry. But after getting rudely sideswiped by a small truck, Eun-ju says she has left her phone behind, and doggedly insists on their turning back, seeming so bereft it suggests a much bigger sense of loss. (Later she will tell a priest the phone is "All I have" though all she can say it contains is "pictures.")

    They go back, eventually miss the ferry, and settle in with a garrulous inn-keeper. Heung-ju has a "soju-soaked" evening during which they wander off in different directions. He sings a loud sentimental song at a deserted karaoke bar and meets an old girlfriend who laughs at him, while he cries. Eun-ju gets trapped on the edge of thin ice and is rescued by a young couple. They are the mirror image of Eun-ju and Heung-ju, a couple perhaps in love but not yet engaged, the beautiful long-haired young woman (Lee Sang-hee) come to see the soldier (Lee Sang-hee) who is stationed there, just the same. Maybe they are Eun-ju and Heung-ju; maybe the fifty-ish couple are visiting themselves at that time when all was hopeful. (Kiang refers to Kiarostami's Cerfified Copy. But first of all somewhere Hong Sang-soo must be seen as an influence.)

    The film is beautifully conceived in a series of scenes, separated from each other by shots of a succession of matching but different long horizontal paintings. This is slow cinema that accustoms us to its rhythms and teaches us to savor its stops and starts. The pauses - particularly Eun-ju's - are more beautiful than anything that happens. Seo Young-hwa is a continual surprise and delight to watch; she is a reserved but nonetheless very real figure, and in her one feels life is being caught on the wing, and yet something otherworldly too, beyond life, also being caught. Little details flow quietly by and are noticed, such as the forgotten pair of gloves on the ground; the small mound of prayer stones fallen over.

    There are long static wide shots and delicate, tentative conversations, some with laughter and delight, some with tears and the fear of falling through thin ice. There are some blunt exchanges between Eun-ju and Heung-ju when they sit down to drink. "I'm bored out of my mind," she tells him, and "Honestly, you’re not fun." She admits she stayed with him because he seemed to care so much about her, and then he seemed to stop caring. "This is the way the world ends. This is the wary the world ends. . . " But she is delighted with the young woman in love and hopeful for her. Perhaps she is having a grand crisis like Stefania Sandrelli in Muccino's L'ultimo bacio but in a more hushed, subtle, Asian way, with more irony and less drama - but plenty of drama for us.

    Winter's Night, 98 mins., debuted at Jeonju and showed at other festivals including Mar del Plata, Belfort, Rotterdam - and San Francisco, where it was screened for this review.

    SFFILM showtimes were:
    Fri, Apr 12 at 6:00 pm - Creativity Theater
    Sun, Apr 14 at 5:30 pm - Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive
    Mon, Apr 15 at 8:30 pm - The Theater at Children's Creativity Museum


    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-21-2019 at 11:40 PM.

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