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Showing posts from 2017

Saoirse Ronan as Lady Bird from Sacramento, California

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By Moira Sullivan


Saoirse Ronan gives an unforgettable performance as a young Sacramento woman from valley Catholic high school about to graduate and go on to college. The film directed and written by Greta Gerwig is nominated for best picture and screenplay at the Golden Globes next month. Lady Bird film has inventive and realistic dialogue with an engaging plot development. Credit must be given to the outstanding ensemble cast of the principle character Saoirse Ronan as Christine 'Lady Bird' McPherson, and Laurie Metcalf as Marion McPherson and Tracy Letts as Larry McPherson, Lady Bird’s parents. Both Ronan and Metcalf have received Golden Globe nominations for their acting roles. It is their relationship that provides a dramatic tension that gives the film its luster.

The opening scene shows Lady Bird and Marion on the way home from a trip where they were scouting colleges which demonstrates growing tension in their relationship. Pushed to the edge by her mother’s comment…

'Molly's Game' Jessica Chastain as high stakes captain

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By Moira Sullivan
Based on the memoirs of by Molly Bloom and screenplay written by director Aaron Sorskin, Molly’s Game is one the best films of 2017 with two nominations for the Golden Globes next month as, best adapted screenplay, and best actress Jessica Chastain. Incidentally along with the report on Lady Bird set in California’s capital on this week's show - Chastain is from Sacramento California. Although she has recently been playing films as a woman in the midst of powerful men that can hold her own as in Zero Dark Thirty (2012) and Miss Sloan from last year, Molly’s Game is her most virtuous effort.

When Molly Bloom took a serious tumble in competitive skiing, her career as a professional athlete came to an end. With her name and reputation, she went on to create a high stakes poker game under her own rules and conditions. We discover this at the beginning of the film when she has been arrested and is being prosecuted by the FBI for illegal gambling. Acquiring a good l…

French yuletide noir at San Francisco Roxie

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By Moira Sullivan

In Italy, December 13 is the day St. Lucia is celebrated who was murdered in 304 AD for refusing to be married. Her death on the Julian calendar was closer to the Winter Solstice on the darkest day of the year, but the Nordic countries kept the date when the Gregorian calendar was later adopted and solstice fell on the 20th of December. Lucia has long been celebrated in Sweden with a tradition of selecting a woman with candles in her hair to lead a procession of maidens, star boys and gingerbread children who bring forth the light.

In San Francisco, a French noir Yuletide double feature is being shown at the Roxie Theatre on December 13– L’ASSASSINAT DU PÈRE NOEL (Who Killed Santa Claus - 1941) by Christian-Jaque and LE MONTE-CHARGE by Marcel Bluwal (1962). Both films could hardly be claimed to be light entertainment and as crime fiction are associated with noir. The films do not evoke warm fuzzy feelings for Christmas but are dark and brooding plots involving intri…

'I Love You Daddy' will not be released in a theater near you

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By Moira Sullivan

I Love You Daddy is a film by Louis CK that unless you saw it in Toronto at the festival in September or are traveling to Denmark in January, you probably won’t see it. The film’s popularity has plummeted in a downward spinning spiral since allegations were waged by actresses against Louis CK for sexual harassment and distribution has been scrapped.

There is an ongoing discussion about if it is possible to separate the artist from the art, the filmmaker from the film, as in the case of Woody Allen and Roman Polanski, two directors criticized for sexual misconduct. How to enjoy the art, not the artist predator? Is all that art lost, tainted? Ironically, it is Woody Allen, Ronan Farrow's father and Roman Polanski, the director of his mother Mia Farrow in Rosemary's Baby that have dodged accountability for the questions that are now acutely relevant  Ronan Farrow’s exposé in the New Yorker on November 6, compels us to put the artist in front of the "art&…

Grass: Untold Stories -- the background to 1926 Iranian documentary

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By Moira Sullivan

Dr Bahman Maghsoudlou, an Iranian American who is a film scholar film critic and filmmaker wrote Grass: Untold Stories published in 2008 on the making of Grass: A Nation’s Battle for Life, a silent documentary filmed by Merian Cooper, Ernest Schoedsack and Marguerite Harrison in Iran in 1924. The documentary is about the Bakhtiari migration in search of grass from Angora to their lands in Persia. The Bakhtiari migration in search of Grass is an arduous trek that took place in Persia. The filmmakers followed the trip in particular the young Lufta and his father Haidar Khan – with 50,000 of his people and animals that crossed the Karun River – some on blown up goatskins, others on rafts, particularly the goats

Grass: Untold Stories
is an extraordinary document about Merian Cooper, Ernest Schoedsack and Marguerite Harrison and how their lives intersect. Cooper was a combat pilot in France who was shot down and captured in a Russian prison. He reached out for help to…

"The French Had a Name for It" celebrates 4th edition in San Francisco

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By Moira Sullivan



Beginning right after Halloween is the continuation of the by now legendary series in San Francisco
at the Roxie Theatre: The French Had a Name for It - 4,  with 13 examples of film noir from France.The series is presented by Midcentury Productions and curated by programmer Don Malcolm. That is 4 days of Noir from November 3-6, 2017.

Malcolm is interviewed later in the show for the noir series he has brought to life lauding the laurels of forgotten French films – films that were absorbed and cast aside when the French new wave came along with film critics turned filmmakers, such as Jean Luc Godard and François Truffaut.

Malcolm tells us about how this was a hybrid period where the noir predecessors influenced the new wave who used some of their style – their mise en scène – lighting, setting, characters, sound and camera angles. France did not have a blacklist period as in America so a director like Joseph Losey associated with the American film noir made films on…

Razor’s Edge: the Legacy of Iranian Actresses at Iranian Film Festival in San Francisco

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By Moira Sullivan

Dr Bahman Maghsoudlou is an Iranian historian, filmmaker, scholar film critic and producer. His most recent film Razor’s Edge: the Legacy of Iranian Actresses, (2016) is about the role of women in the Iranian film industry before the Islamic revolution (1979) The film was shown at the recent Iranian Film Festival in San Francisco in September ( Bahman, who lives in New York,  was able to take questions from the public via Skype.)

Magsoudlou's films have been selected for more than 100 major film festivals. The documentary begins with information about the history of the Iranian film industry which employed 10, 000 workers including 100 actresses before the revolution. After this, the government banned 90% of pre-revolutionary actors – especially women. The devastation to the film industry and to the actors was far-reaching including loss of employment benefits and housing. Were it not for this important film by Bahman Maghsoudlou, these actresses would v…

'Swept Away' and other films by Lina Wertmüller at the Castro Sept 23

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By Moira Sullivan
Mariangela Melato and Giancarlo Giannini
In the annals of women and film history, Italian director Lina Wertmüller was the first woman to ever be nominated for an Academy Award for Seven Beauties made in 1975. Four of her films and a documentary made about her will be screened at the Castro Theater on Sept 23, sponsored by the Italian Cultural Institute– in a tribute to this prolific director who made over 20 feature films. The films to be screened are the ones most known outside of Italy - “Love and Anarchy” (1973), “Swept Away” (1974) "Seven Beauties” (1975) and "The Seduction of Mimi” (1972).

All feature Giancarlo Giannini who today appears in the James Bond films Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace as a rogue cop –and as Inspector Pazzi in Hannibal.

“Behind the White Glasses”, made in 2015, will also be screened in the program, a documentary by Valerio Ruiz featuring interviews on Wertmüller with Martin Scorsese, Sophia Loren, Nastassja Kinski, Rutger …

Orrizonti (Horizons) Awards at 74th Venice Film Festival

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By Moira Sullivan The special jury prize in the Orrizonti section of the 74th Venice Film Festival (Aug 30 -  Sept 9) was awarded to Caniba directed by Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel.  The filmmakers allege that they employ “a decentered, nonanthropocentric approach to the visual practice of the moving image" and that "their camera does not focus on humans as privileged actors”. Though this sounds impressive, their subject matter is one that has been medialized and fetishized since the 1980’s in numerous films and interviews, and hundreds of photographs, articles and publications. In 1981, a Japanese graduate student was rejected by a Dutch woman who was his colleague. He then murdered and cannibalized her body. After a brief incarceration, Issei Sagawa signed himself out of the mental ward of a French hospital and returned home to Japan where he supported himself by writing manga and acting in cooking shows and pornographic films.  The filmmakers approach involves an…

Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water wins Golden Lion at 74th Venice Film Festival

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By Moira Sullivan


Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Wateris not one of his best films but it is a story that includes many of his themes. Tyranny over nature , inventions and technology that represent the future of man, and mutants that defy these standards. The Shape of Water is a time capsule of the American/Russian cold war government laboratory much like the setting of Hellboy(2004) and Hellboy: The Golden Army(2008). The sadistic, predatory and racist head of operations at the facility, Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon) has control of a mutant that he captured in South America, resembling The Creature from the Black Lagoon(1954). He is called “Amphibian Man” (Doug Jones) and is not able to speak nor is as benevolent as Abe Sapien in both Hellboys (played also by Doug Jones) and is known to attack when pushed too far. The Russian scientist Dimitri is the only official at the plant looking out for Amphibian man. Later one of the cleaning ladies (Sally Hawkins) at the plant takes …

Romance in the Cold War, against insurmountable odds - The Shape of Water

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By Moira Sullivan

Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water is not one of his best films but it is a story that includes many of his themes. Tyranny over nature , inventions and technology that represent the future of man, and mutants that defy these standards. The Shape of Water is a time capsule from the American/Russian Cold War set in a US government laboratory much like the setting of Hellboy (2004) and Hellboy:The Golden Army (2008). The sadistic, predatory, misogynist and racist head of operations at the facility, Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon), has control of a mutant that he captured in South America, resembling The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954). He is called “Amphibian Man” (Doug Jones) and is not able to speak nor is as benevolent as Abe Sapien in both 'Hellboys' (played also by Doug Jones) and attacks in self-defense. The Russian scientist Dimitri is the only official at the plant looking out for Amphibian man. Later one of the cleaning ladies at the l…

“Dead on Arrival” - modern noir set in the Bayou to the tune of Bach.

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By Moira Sullivan

“Everyone’s got a transgender story around these parts”.
“Dead on Arrival” (US 2017)  is a neo-noir thriller by Stephen C.Sepher. The opening scene is ripe with irritating events you should never have to experience– listening to bad news on your cell phone voice mail on a deserted Louisiana road, crippling stomach pains, and a “by the book” local sheriff that arrives on the scene who would rather see proof of identity than call an ambulance. Traveling sales executive Sam Collins (Billy Flynn) may have to wait before he makes it to the ER,  however, there are degrees of local law enforcement incompetence as is later shown with wayward cop Deputy Walker, played by Tyson Sullivan.
After this intriguing introduction, director Stephen C. Sepher launches into a “12-hour earlier”flashback, the scene of a lavish New Year’s Eve party at a private mansion with single white women hired for the event to fraternize with the guests. We learn a couple of details in the flashback. The…

Golden Lifetime achievement award to Jane Fonda and Robert Redford at 74th Venice Film Festival

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By Moira Sullivan

Jane Fonda and Robert Redford have not acted together since they made Barefoot in the Park in 1967—that is until this year when the two side by side worked on Our Souls at Night directed by Ritesh Batra.The film was presented out of competition at the Venice Film Festival in September and both actors received a Golden Lion Lifetime Achievement Award. The president of the film festival Alberto Barbera presented their awards and Fonda had not been in Venice she said for over 50 years. Not only are the two veteran actors but they have contributed to the film industry with their activism – Redford for the wonderful Sundance Festival and Institute and Fonda for her activism as a feminist and politically aware figure. 
In Barefoot in the Park written by Neil Simon, Paul played by Redford marries Corrie, Fonda. Actually their characters are somewhat similar in Our Souls at Night. Like Paul, Redford as Louis in  is fussy and standoffish, whereas Fonda as Addie like her charac…

74th Venice Film Festival 2017 Report 1

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By Moira Sullivan

The 74th Venice International Film Festival ran from Aug 31 through Sept 9th. Jury president Annette Bening, the first woman to be the honored in over a decade as the head of the jury spoke about the underrepresentation of women at the festival with only one film in the 21 films of the official competition directed by a woman. 
Jane Fonda and Robert Redford were the recipients of  the Golden Lion Lifetime Achievement Award. The two actors were honored on September 1st who both star in Our Souls at Night by Ritesh Batra.  Based on the novel written by Kent Haruf , the Netflix film produced by Redford is set in Colorado. Jane Fonda plays Addie Moore (Jane Fonda) who pays her neighbor, Louis Waters (Robert Redford) a visit. Both lost their spouses and have had little contact over the years. The film will be released later this year. Fonda and Redford have not starred opposite each other since Barefoot in the Park, made in 1967. Director Alberto Barbera stated that Jane Fon…

Hired Gun- new documentary by Fran Strine opens in San Francisco June 29

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By Moira Sullivan

Fran Strine worked on his documentary “Hired Gun” for three years, where he interviewed 55 backup musicians to major artists such such as Alice Cooper Metallica and Pink. They are referred to as "Hired Guns" - assassins - and are the best around that go on music tours with major artists. According to one artist there are about 20 musicians - hired guns - on every single record that everyone ones. The reality of their lives and the ups and downs of their careers are captured by the filmmaker. It was Strine’s ambition to make a different documentary with profiles of the inner lives of these excellent musicians. Two of the interviewees are the drummer Liberty DeVitto and guitarist Russell Javors. Both of them worked for and were replaced by other musicians by Billy Joel –De Vitto had worked for him for 30 years. Nita Strauss, one of the hired Guns featured in the film, has played for Alice Cooper, Jermaine Jackson, Femme Fatale Critical Hit and the The Iron…