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Showing posts from 2013

The Punk Singer: a film about Kathleen Hanna

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By Moira Sullivan

Kathleen Hanna’s message written on Kurt Cobain’s wall "Smells Like Teen Spirit" became the actual title of his successful album in the 90s. He was definitely a fan of hers and his song gained him entrance into the MTV world. Whereas Kathleen Hanna, founder of Riot Grrrl admitted in the new doc "The Punk Singer: a film about Kathleen Hanna" by Sini Anderson that her band used to have to spend the night on the floor, on the road, and that their van was a gasket away from ruin. "Bikini Kill" was big in the eight years they existed. Their hectic band life prevented personal time and it was a factor to the breakup. Sounds like what happens in any relationship. But Hanna kept going with a new band "Le Tigre"  whose members included filmmaker Sadie Benning and currently "Julie Ruin", which was completely sold out at Slims in September.

Sini Anderson has made a brilliant film that follows the trajectory of Hanna’s career …

12 Years a Slave

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By Moira Sullivan



Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave is one of the most brutal narratives on slavery that has been made to date. The 44-year-old British filmmaker has been turning out exceptional provocative films such as Shame on sex additionand Hunger onthe IRA leader Bobby Sands who conducted a hunger strike and died in prison.
12 Years a Slave stars Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon Northup, a free black man who is abducted in Washington DC in 1841 on a short trip from his home in Saratoga Springs New York. The purpose isto accompany musicians on his violin but he is kidnapped and sold into slavery in the south leaving behind his wife and children. During these long hard years, this educated man who was an engineer has to endure the worst kind of treatment where he is beaten for being too clever and is forced to dumb down to prevent further abuse. This film makes you realize how racism continues and today’s modern atrocities mirror the early history of slavery.
Solomon is first sold to the…

Fun and Games at " The Institute"'

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By Moira Sullivan


The Institute is a feature-length documentary directed by Spencer McCall featured at the 2012 Mill Valley Film Festival about the Games of Nonchalance, the San Francisco-based alternate reality game known as the The Jejune Institute which existed from 2008 to 2011 and closed due to lack of funds.

The film consists of interviews with the players who wind up following the trail of posters around the city to a downtown office on 580 California Street. Here is the headquarters for Nonchalance, a Situational Design Agency. The game as a whole is actually an emergent new art form where everyday messages in the real world have unforeseen consequences, some of which make absolutely no sense according to some of the participants and others which lead to enlightenment.

At first the recruits feel like the moonie devotees to the Unification Church created by Sun Myung Moon, or the Scientologist devotees to Dianetics and L Ron Hubbard. And there is a bizarre creator with a weir…

Wadjda

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By Moira Sullivan
Wadjda by Haifaa Al-Mansour has the distinction of being the first feature film by a woman from Saudi Arabia and one of the Kingdoms most celebrated filmmakers. The film has won multiple international awards such as Scandinavia and Rotterdam and special awards at the Venice Film Festival. Haifaa Al-Mansour was selected as the president of the Opera Prima jury at the 70th Venice Film Festival in September. The jury chooses the best debut film for the the Lion of the Future Award. It is surprising how much liberty Al Mansour takes with her subject about a young girl who is bound by strict devotion to Muslim practice. All the young Wadjda dreams of is owning a green bicycle and to earn the money for it she enters a contest at school in which she has to memorize and recite parts of the Koran in the traditional fashion. This is not an easy task, and to study for it she buys an interactive video game on the Koran with money she earns by selling her own hand made crafts and…

You Will Be My Son

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It has taken two years for You Will Be My Son (Tu seras mon fils, France 2011) by Gilles Legrand to find its way to San Francisco and the film opens on Sept 20 at Landmark Theatre. The film stars Niels Arestrup as Paul de Marseul, the head of a winery in France who wants to leave his estate to Phillipe Amelot the son of his manager Francois (Patrick Chesnais) who is dying of cancer. This does not set well with his own son Martin (Lorànt Deutsch) who wants to take over some day. Nicolas Bridet as Philippe was nominated for an acting award at the French national awards, the César, for his portrayal of a young man with ambition and questionable morals. This film is on the order of a Greek tragedy with a power struggle that contrasts father and son as abuser and abused.

You Are My Son is technically proficient with many intriguing layers including dream states. You grow to hate Paul,  and that is to the credit of the French Danish veteran actor Nils Arestrup. But you also grow to dislik…

White Material - Claire Denis

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By Moira Sullivan


In Claire Denis White Material set in an unknown period in an unknown country we could believe that it is Cameroun in the midst of winning its independence with a long war that dragged out for 10 more years of civil strife. Rebel soldiers roam the lands of the French and steal their possessions. The French are leaving, and those remaining are unprotected. Marie Duval (Isabelle Hubert) insists on staying. She is oblivious to the dangers, and puts her family and her workers and servants at risk for refusing to leave. A local DJ gives news to the rebels in veiled language, and everywhere in the film , a transistor radio updates the ongoing strife. In general, the news of everything frommarriage, to weather conditions is transmitted by radio. White Material is told in a smooth fragmented narrative style . Its chronology is inverted with the present at the apex of the film and frequent flashbacks to the days when the colonial presence was intact and secure. Among the se…

Still - Book Report

By Monica Sullivan
David Shields’ new book “Still” looks at the past as if it were a fresh, undiscovered country.  His viewpoint is that a pristine still is more evocative of its era than a scratchy dupey print of the same period.  By that logic, a remark I once heard about Theda Bara (“She works better in stills”) would eliminate most of her work from scholarly consideration.  So…the pictures in “Stills” are breathtakingly gorgeous but try to see the movies anyway, flawed though they may be. 

After seeing a still of Elsie Ferguson from her heyday, I finally was able to watch “Scarlet Pages” from 1930, which was not her heyday, but well worth a look.  For a very long time I waited for 1929’s Jeanne Eagles “The Letter” to crop up sometime, anytime, somewhere, anywhere.  When it finally did, it was worth waiting for.  The print quality was not the best, but to see and hear 1929’s best performance (sorry Miss Pickford, but “Coquette' wasn’t it) was unforgettable.  Eagles played a w…

Chocolat - Claire Denis

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By Moira Sullivan


The League of Nations mandated 91% of Cameroun to France after World War 1. It was not until 1960 that it became independent. Clair Denis' film Chocolat concerns a young French girl’s upbringing in Cameroun during the mandate. She lives on a manor where her father Marc Dalens (François Cluzet) is a captain in a colonial outpost and her mother Aimée Dalens(Giulia Boschi) is head of the household. Assisting her are black servants, and the most prominent and dutiful one is Protée (Isaach De Bankolé). His upbringing in the Christian church and his pride as a black man have contributed to his impeccable sense of morality, and according to de Bankolé who plays him, the hope for the future of Africa.
The grown France (Mireille Perrier) in many ways like Claire Denis who grew up in Dijbouti, returns in the beginning of the film to Cameroun. She is alone and observes a father and his son swimming on the beach. Later the father, Mungo, insists that he give her a ride to …

The Attack

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By Moira Sullivan
The Attack is an unexpectedly shocking film about a Palestinian and Israeli national whose wife turns out to be a suicide bomber.  In the opening scenes of the film Amin Jaafari (Ali Suliman) receives a prize for his distinguished service as a surgeon at an Israeli hospital, the first Arab  to be honored. In his acceptance speech he thanks his adopted country for making his career possible. During the ceremony he receives a phone call that he doesn’t take and we learn of the consequences of that aborted call later. 
Amin is soon visited the Israeli secret police who accuse him of being involved in the bombing attack, something that he hears from his balcony at the hospital a few hours earlier. Nearly 20 Israelis are killed and the injured are admitted for emergency treatment, most of them children, who he attends to. To his astonishment his wife is implicated and his home is searched for evidence.
The film is adapted from the international best seller by Yasmina Kh…

Danish thriller 'A Hijacking' by Tobias Lindholm

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"A Hijacking" (Kapringen, Denmark 2012) )  is a film about a Danish cargo ship that is hijacked by Somalian pirates in the middle of the Indian ocean, directed by Tobias Lindholm. On board are seven men who are held captive. Three of the men are allowed on deck: the cook, the captain and the mechanic.

Most of the film concerns the negotiations made by the owner of the ship, a Danish multimillion-dollar concern. The CEO Peter C. Ludvigsen  (Søren Malling) is a very rigid and controlled Danish man in his 50’s. We learn about his emotionless negotiation power in a deal selling with Japanese businessman at the beginning of the film. He’s a hard bargainer and maybe that makes sense when you are dealing with another corporate entity, but not with the lives of seven men. These men are onboard a ship with sordid and unsanitary conditions for almost 4 months.  The Somalian negotiations are conducted through an interpreter named Omar. All negotiations are done by telephone or fax mac…

Agnès Godard at the Pacific Film Archives

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By Moira Sullivan

Agnès Godard has been a cinematographer since the 1970s when she started out as first assistant cameraperson for Wim Wenders in Paris Texas (1984). She worked alongside the assistant director Claire Denis, a woman that Godard would later be working with for more than two decades years. She is the special guest of the Pacific Film Archives program "Dancing with Light: The Cinematography of Agnès Godard". 

In the special interview with Godard that follows for Movie Magazine, Godard reveals some of her thoughts that she presented in a special lecture on June 13 about her work as a cinematographer – especially the process in finding the right image. Six of her films as cinematographer were selected for the program and all directed by Denis except one. Beau Travail from 1999 is a homoerotic narrative about French legionnaires. Trouble Every Day from 2001 is about two men who keep their woman captive in the throes of sex addiction; one of them is the controversia…

Frameline 37 Highlights

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By Moira Sullivan

The Frameline LGBT film festival, the largest in the world.  will be held June 20 to 30 in San Francisco at the Castro, Victoria and Roxie Theaters and also in the Elmwood in Berkeley.

After the triumph of two gay films at the Cannes film Festival in May,  Frameline will screen romances, coming out stories, documentaries on the LGBT scene and films on the different LGBT populations, predominately gay men, lesbians, bisexual and transgender populations. This means that the film categories are divided into sexual preferences. 
There is a first feature and best documentary competition, to entice filmmakers; this is not only an audience award based public festival The best first feature brings with a cash prize of 7500. Two films have debuted at other festivals –Concussion at Berlin and Beyond the Walls at Cannes last year, a candidate for the Queer Palm Award.

Films that screen here are shown all around the world and this several films are from 2013. But, there is a…

Cannes Report 2 - 66th Festival de Cannes

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By Moira Sullivan


The least important aspect of the Cannes Film Festival for me is the parade of stars up the red carpet, and the parties in the beach tents at night. These events are however what pays for Cannes, in order to offer to film critics the very best of the year’s best films for review.It takes some time to avoid all of this, but if you really try you can wind up sitting in one of the coveted seats of a new screening. This is because there is a division of badges for seating according to the quality of the venue you represent. This quality is measured in number of readers of your venue, and most important, corporate media status. The critics can make or break a film and the outreach of the corporate dailies attract readers. But I know how to be selective, and listen to the opinions of colleagues standing in line. Their opinions certainly steered me away from some films I had planned on attending.
There are 4,000 journalists and 12,000 buyers , who fill the coffers of this lu…

Cannes Report 3 - 66th Festival de Cannes

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By Moira Sullivan


For the 50th anniversary of the death of Jean Cocteau, who was twice the president of the festival, a newly restored digitalization of Cocteau's beloved La Belle et Le Bête was screened as part of the Cannes Classics sidebar of the festival, followed by a dramatization of a party of his life. It is difficult to make a biopic about a legend such as Jean Cocteau who spent time in Côte d’Azur and painted frescos in a museum in nearby Villefranche sur Mer. To their credit, the ensemble cast tried to breathe life into a short history of the film poet in a creative assemblage of Cocteau’s life and words when he was an opium addict. The title of the film is therefore to the point: Opium. The film is directed by Arielle Dombasle with an excellent Grégoire Colin as Cocteau.
“Opium” focuses on Cocteau’s short relationship with the French author Raymond Radiguet (Sam Mercer), a young bon vivant with Arthur Rimbaud like behavior: wild, playful and promiscuous. The film sugges…

Cannes Report 2013 - The Hunt

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By Moira Sullivan  Denmark has certainly become a conservative country of late with required language tests for foreigners and an ultra nationalist party in the parliament. Worse yet is the provincialism in the smaller islands, and The Hunt (Jagten in Danish) directed by Thomas Vinterberg is one of those areas.  Maads Mikelsson plays Lucas, a man who has lost his job and who takes a position as a preschool teacher. In Sweden, male employees are not allowed with children, but in this Danish childcare center, they are.  In a complicated set of circumstances involving Lucas’ school  and hunting buddies he finds himself the hero of a young preschooler who makes up the story that he has touched her improperly. Almost no one wants to believe him, especially his old friends. His relationship with his son is strained as a result. He becomes involved with Nadja, a woman of Polish descent (Alexandra Rappaport), before he is fired and although she believes his innocence there is still doubt.  The fi…

Cannes Report 1 - 66th Festival de Cannes

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By Moira Sullivan 
Nearly 4,000 accredited journalists descend upon the city of Cannes for a week and a half of cinema magic and what looks like heavy rain for the first few days. The opening festivities for the 66thCannes Film Festival revolved around the out of competitionThe Great Gatsby.
On May 20, the independent film company Troma, the oldest in the US with over 40 years of “reel experience”, proposes a manifestation outside the Carlton Hotel for the “Occupy Cannes team” to fight for the rights of independent filmmakers. Then, on May 21 there will be a mass demonstration in front of the Palais at 5.30 pm.
According to founder Lloyd Kaufman: “Troma’s goal is to spotlight the opportunity disparity between independent artists and mega-media corporations as it plays out at the Cannes Film Festival”.  Today Troma sponsored a lesbian wedding on the beach as a gesture of celebrating marriage equality, an important issue for Occupy Cannes. Two actresses from “Return to Nuke ‘em High”- Cath…

Baz Luhrmann's 'The Great Gatsby'

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By Moira Sullivan



The Great Gatsby belongs to America’s folklore. Is it any wonder that we are protective of it when it is recreated on film? Baz Luhrmann’s production is shot in Sydney all the way through and most of the actors are Australian, but it doesn’t matter, really, since most of the film is the result of elaborate special effects and the dialogue coaches did a great job. Fortunately Ziegfeld Follies in Times Square is spelled right in the film, though not in the trailer.
There is one aerial shot of New York, but mostly it’s a Sydney set.  In the beginning and even middle of the film, the cardboard city works, but towards the end it feels confining to be so far away from home. The ingenuity recreating this classic story by F. Scott Fitzgerald is enchanting – the mansions, New York and Long Island.  But the journey from Long Island to NYC and back is two black roads with a make believe Big Apple in the background. The artifice is heavy and faithfulness to the plot means that t…