Showing posts from 2021

Rita Moreno breathes life into new West Side Story

Photo ©Moira Jean Sullivan, Castro Theater, December 12, 2021 San Francisco Steven Spielberg decided to make an updated version of West Side Story several years ago and due to the pandemic, the film was not released until December 10th. There are no real differences as far as quality of the films considering the 50-year time difference from 1961 to 2021, and I shared this first impression with Rita Moreno who sat next to me towards the end of the screening at the Castro Theater on Dec 12. Both films are excellent but there are differences as far as the representation of people of color, specifically the Puerto Ricans and the transgender character Anybody’s played by Iris Menas--- who does not want to be a girl but a boy. Moreno explained how this part of the film is subject to censor in China. Rita Moreno attended the screening in full regalia in an outstanding outfit of crimson and yellow and she was jubilant, a charismatic actress who celebrated her 90-year birthday and we wer

Looking back at Detroit in Time Now

By Moira Jean Sullivan Time Now is a new independent film starring Jenny (Eleanor Lambert, the daughter of Diane Lane and Christopher Lambert), written and directed by Spencer King. Lambert as Jenny, who looks more like her father than mother, is investigating the death of her brother Gonzo (Sebastian Beacon) accompanied by her five-year-old son. Lambert returns to her hometown of Detroit with Rolling Stones t-shirt, once the center of the auto industry with palatial gas guzzling sedans still roaming the streets. One of the local joints Gonzo hung out is an African American nightclub with live music where her friend Tanja (Paige Kendrick)works. It is frequented by Kash, (Xxavier Polk) a rap recording artist who keeps his producer up all night in the studio. These scenes are some of the best in the film and the contrast with a dying city from the industrial age provide a great context. Kash used to know Gonzo and tells Jenny they pushed each other as artists. Gonzo also had his

The Velvet Underground and the World Around Them

By Moira Jean Sullivan The Velvet Underground by Todd Haynes was presented out of competition at the Cannes Film Festival in July, a documentary on the experimental music group who did live shows and put out four albums in the 60’s. They were New Yorkers and hated the west coast scene: flower power, the hippies and Phil Graham , according to drummer Moe Tucker actress and Mary Woronov. Founded in 1964 by singer guitarist Lou Reed, Welsh multi-musician John Kale, guitarist Sterling Morrison and drummer Angus MacLise - later replaced by Moe Tucker, you can hear Moe’s beat in the bands famous "Venus in Fur". Andy Warhol was misidentified as the leader of the band but his brief association is confirmed in the documentary, also that he was fired by Lou Reed. German singer Nico was also in the band who is often referred to for her beauty rather than her music. According to John Cale, Nico was indifferent to the superficiality of the scene especially Warhol and spe

PTSD: THE WALKING WOUNDED - veterans find community

By Moira Jean Sullivan PTSD: THE WALKING WOUNDED directed and written by Ash Patino is a new ON DEMAND film that opened October 1, by David Lionheart , founder of ‘Play for Your Freedom’ , a nonprofit charitable organization that helps veterans and their families transition from military life to civilian life through fitness and sports and build community. PTSD: THE WALKING WOUNDED shows the efforts of David Lionheart, a civilian in helping his community while healing his own wounds. A victim of sexual abuse he came from a broken home. The story of a friend in the military and his experiences of trauma were instrumental in Lionheart’s creation of wellness camps for veterans and victims of abuse. Lionheart says that the bridge for veterans to get re-integrated after military service is not enough especially events where veterans meet other veterans. In fact, 20% of veterans suffering from PTSD veterans commit suicide. One of the interviewees, Jillian Nadiak, has raised over 25

Cecilia Mangini documentary at 78th Venice Film Festival

Moira Jean Sullivan Cecilia Mangini has been filming and photographing nearly her entire life and was the first female documentary filmmaker in Italy. In the documentary presented at Venice. In The World in Shots she collaborates with Paola Pisanelli who provides some movement to her stills and puts together her life with old passports, photographs, programs and artefacts from her spacious apartment in Rome. In fact, it is a living archive, with Cecilia telling us the background, her thoughts instead of a voice over after her death. She is in Iran at an Italian Retrospective of Documentary Film l in 2018, and that year she is also at Créteil Films De Femmes in a public meeting with festival director Jackie Buet. The filmmaker is in Vietnam, with photographs she intended to use for a film with her husband Lino Del Fra Lwhich Pisanelli animates with sound effects of gunfire. She is at art galleries looking at great works of art. There are clips from her films such as "To

The 78th Venice Film Festival Report 2

By Moira Jean Sullivan Three top awards went to women behind the camera at the 78th Venice Film Festival that ended Sept 11. The Golden Lion went to Audrey Diwan’s abortion drama “Happening” in what jury president Bong Joon Ho deemed a “unanimous decision". The film is about a student in provincial France, Anamaria Vartolome, who realizes she is pregnant during the countdown to her final examinations. The film comes at a time when abortion rights are being hotly debated in the US. After a 12 year absence from feature filmmaking Jane Campion does it again with a Silver Lion for The Power of the Dog at Venice based on a 1967 novel by Thomas Savage. At the press conference with cast and Campion said that the “climate has changed” for female driven films. As for The Power of a Dog she remarked that she “doesn’t calculate in terms of gender but thought it was an amazing piece of literature”. Venice does not have the same criteria for films as Cannes that a film must first

Fauci - Movie Review

By Monica Sullivan In the 1980's AIDS hit San Francisco like a bomb.  You lost friends and relatives you thought would be part of your life forever.  In some ways I still think of them that way.  Some of the top writers in the city were lost to us forever.  We mostly focused on people in San Francisco in the war against AIDS, but there were other people fighting just as hard in the rest of the country.  One doctor, many miles away, was Anthony Fauci, whom I did not become really aware of until a tourist ship arrived in San Francisco in early 2020 with passengers who caught a new disease called Covid 19. Another epidemic had started in San Francisco.  Frantic people searched desperately for a vaccine and learned about the disease from Dr. Fauci, who was the voice of sanity in an insane time.  We got conflicting information from conflicting government agencies.  Yes, it was a terrible nightmare.  Many persisted in cooperating with Dr. Fauci's recommendations, but not everybody.

The Seer and the Unseen in Iceland

The Vikings spoke with the elves on arrival to Iceland according to the introduction to this documentary Seer and the Unseen by Sara Dosa . So does an Icelandic seer and Lorax – elf spokesperson - grandmother Ragnhildur “Ragga” Jónsdóttir. She has seen how they live, their homes and their restaurants and an Elf Church and there are other believers who have not seen but believe. While we don’t get to see the elves, some helped in the making of the film. We hear the testimony of Icelanders and breathtaking shots of the Icelandic peninsula. More than 50% of Icelandic citizens believe in the elves so the environmental movement is active and important in the preservation of lava rock, the homeland of the elves, and through seers they communicate about what parts of the land it is important to preserve. The film opens with footage of Icelandic volcanoes and it is the formation of lava rock that became the home of elves. The elves are part of Icelandic folklore and old Norse poems

The 78th Venice Film Festival Report 1

By Moira Jean Sullivan The 78th Venice Film Festival is being held 1-11 September with three main competitions – the Venice (Venezia) official Competition, Horizons (Orizzonti) or visionary film, and Lion of the Future (Luigi De Laurentiis) for a feature debut. President of the official competition jury is Bong Joon Ho for the official competition (South Korea). Jane Campion will debut her latest film The Power of the Dog and her first completed feature film in 12 years. The film is set in Montana in the 1920's and stars Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons, and Benedict Cumberbatch. "The Power of the Dog" is an adaptation from a 1967 novel by Thomas Savage. Dunst plays a widow who moves to Montana with her son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) to be with her husband George (Jesse Plemons) on his family ranch. His brother (Cumberbatch) is not happy with his new in-laws. The film was meant to debut at Cannes but the festival has a policy to only screen films that will debut in theatres

Dune opens at 78th Venice Film Festival

By Moira Jean Sullivan The opening moments of DUNE are about a planet whose spices have been mined for a greedy mercenary foreign power. The invaders of Arrakis or Dune can't help but evoke the might of the present Russian territorial invasion. The spices allow people to see into the future with their deep blue eyes and communicate with their mind. Humans have extraordinary powers of slow motion and the patriarchal tribe Fremens learn to survive in the desert full of huge sandworms. Dune directed and co-written by French-Canadian helmer Denis Villeneuve premiered at the Venice Film Festival. Villeneuve's films are mythic, bold and cathartic. He made Sicario (2015) and Arrival (2016) and brought his production designer Patrice Vermette, to Dune . Dune is set in the future of 10,191 AG with gargantuan halls and mammoth spacecraft and water craft, made of impenetrable materials with legions of soldiers. The architectural landscape looks part Blade Runner Tyrell C


When was the last time you experienced something truly strange ? Take a hero's story arc, delivered with amazing artwork, and throw in a touch of tarot card wisdom and you have the recipe for one of the most mind altering films of the year. Cryptozoo a film that opens Friday at Landmarks Embarcadero and Berkeley cinemas, unlocks some fresh wonderful weirdness that opens your inner heart like the mental triple bypass we all need. Cryptozoo is an adult tale of a hero trying to protect and rescue the magical beasts of the world. An open mind and some patience pays off with a wild and refreshingly different story that shakes up your senses.  And while I appreciate that we live in a time when full on animation armies deliver big budget entertainment at a fevered pace, it also feels good to set all that corporate polish aside and enjoy something that takes you out of the mainstream into bold new creative territories the bigger studios aren't ever likely to explore.  Cryptozoo is the

James Garner - Tribute

By Monica Sullivan What is it about James Garner that everyone loved so much?  He was good-looking, sure, but so are a lot of other actors who come and go without eliciting a fraction of the affection everyone felt for Garner.   Early in his career at Warner Brothers, executives would complain because Garner wasn’t in every single episode of “Maverick”.  The producers explained that Brett and Bart were brothers, so James Garner would turn up some weeks and Jack Kelly would appear in the other episodes.  The executives seemed to feel it was okay if Jack Kelly was around, but why couldn’t Brett be front and center all the time?  In every frame, even? I felt (and still feel) the same way.  Whenever I see a Bart only episode listing, I wince and watch something else.  But if James Garner is listed, there’s no way I’m switching the channel.  In “Support Your Local Sheriff” and “Support Your Local Gunfighter”, Garner plays a guy who’s on his way to some other place, Australia or something.

Drive My Car at 74th Cannes Film Festival

Moira Jean Sullivan Drive my Car is a Japanese film directed by Ryûsuke Hamaguchi based on a short story by Haruki Murakami "Men Without Women", which won the best screenplay award at Cannes in July.  Yûsuke Kafuku plays Hidetoshi Nishijima, a stage director asked to put up a play outside Hiroshima in a theater company  - Anton Chekhov's  Uncle Vanya .  Yûsuke Kafuku takes the assignment in Hiroshima although he is in grief.  Misaki played by Tôko Miura is commissioned by the theatre company as his driver as he is not allowed to drive his car due to  insurance regulations. Yûsuke Kafuku is meticulous in his direction and the actors hardworking. But although Murakami's short story  is about  "Men without Women"   Drive My Car   is about a husband who learns to tolerate his sexually permissive who suddenly dies and then, he is never without women. I saw the film in one of the Cannes theatres outside of the city in a spacious brand new cinema - Cineum th

Awards to women at 74th Festival de Cannes

By Moira Jean Sullivan This year the 74th film festival seemed to move Cannes in the direction that has been discussed since 2015. That year Anna Serner, CEO of the Swedish Film Institute, presented a seminar on "50/50" – achieving gender parity in the film industry with 50% men and women. It certainly is not going to happen in the US but it did happen in Sweden that achieved this 50-50 gender parity quite quickly and also in the UK. There was a resounding applause when Jodie Foster lifetime achievement award came out and said you really missed this – watching films in public in front of a large screen such as the venues at this years festival with a wide variety of high quality films from all over the world that will not be coming soon to a theater near you. Cannes was really special this year. Awards night at the 74th Cannes Film Festival was special with so many of the top prizes going to women. Women constituted the majority of the feature film competition jury -

Udo Kier going strong in "Swan Song"

Swan Song directed by Todd Stephens debuted at the 45th Frameline Film Festival in San Francisco that ran from June 17-27. Stephens has made several films about gay relationships that have been presented at LGBTQ film festivals through the years, such as Gypsy 83 about two young Goths from Ohio that travel to an annual festival that honors Stevie Nicks. Swan Song is Stephens latest and stars German actor Udo Kier as Pat Pitzenbarger, a retired hairdresser now living in assisted living. As Gypsy 83 , Swan Song is set in Todd Stephens home state Ohio. His first Ohio tale directed by David Moreton and written by Moreton and Stephens is a coming out story of young closeted gay men - Edge of Seventeen made in 1998. Pat learns from the lawyer of his former client at his beauty salon, Rita Parker Sloan, that her final wish was to have him do her hair up after her death. For this role, Stephens brings to the screen veteran actor Linda Evans from the 1960’s Tv series smash hit Big Val

Cannes Film Festival Report 4

Moira Jean Sullivan © Photo Moira Jean Sullivan The Cannes Film Festival ran from July 6 – 17. On of the sections is the Cannes Classic series. Friendship's Death (UK 1987) directed by Peter Wollen and produced by the BFI was restored and screened in a 4K print. It stars Tilda Swinton as an alien named "Friendship" who was on hand to introduce the film and sad she hadn't seen it on a big screen since 1986 and "can't wait". Everytime she has seen it since then , Swinton conveyed that it feels "so modern and so fresh" even though there are "anachronisms in it like finding a sushi bar in Gaza but in terms of its political clarity is right on the moment". She said it was her second film made six months after making Derek Jarman's Caravaggio (1986). Producer Rebecca O'Brien (shown above with Tilda Swinton) explained that it was incredibly fun to make this science fiction cult film with Swinton and Bill Paterson, the acto

74th Cannes Film Festival, Report 3

By Moira Sullivan Lamb by Icelandic director Valdimar Jóhannsson was in competition for the Camera d ‘Or a prize for a director’s first feature in the section Un certain regard headed by jury president and director Andrea Arnold. Arnold presented out of competition the documentary Cow on the birthing process of a dairy cow. Here’s too the inclusion of animals in films and Lamb is one of the best with a mythical story of walking "Ram Men" who impregnate domesticated sheep. Noomi Rapace plays Maria who is married to Ingvar, a sheep herder in Iceland (Hilmir Snær Guðnason). They have no children. One day a newborn sheep needs extra care and they take Ada home and raise him as their own. It’s amazing cinematography and an ambitious effort worthy of the special mention it received on awards night. Rapace gave an exceptional acting performance in the film. Memoria is a film of exceptional quality directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul from Thailand starring Tilda Swin

"Mandibles" - kooky comedy from France

By Moira Jean Sullivan Quentin Dupieux’s Mandibiles (fr. Mandibules) premiered out of competition last year at the Venice Film Festival. It has taken nearly a year for Mandibles to come out in the US and it opens July 23 in San Francisco. The premise of the film is a large fly that is discovered in the trunk of an abandoned car that is being hotwired to deliver a suitcase for a client named Michel Michel (Philippe Dusseau). The fly is domesticated , almost like a pet dog or cat but very freaky and quite ugly, drab grey with a huge spikey head. Two characters, Manu and Jean Gab played by Grégoire Ludig and David Marsais bungle their way throughout the film in a series of absurd situations. Manu wants to train the fly to make money which in itself is super bizarre. They kidnap a man in his motor home and take over the kitchen. Jean Gab decides to cook and asks if Manu is allergic to anything. It is oil and the frying pan goes up in flames, the motor home catches on fire and is d

74th Cannes Film Festival Report 2

By Moira Jean Sullivan © 2021 - Moira Jean Sullivan For the first time ever in the history of the festival Spike Lee became the first black man to serve as president of the feature film jury. Also unprecedented was that a majority of womenwere on the jury Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jessica Hausne, Mati Diop, Mélanie Laurent , and singer songwriter Mylène Farmer. Léa Seydoux was in four films in the official competition at this year's festival but di not travel to Cannes to promote them following her positive Covid-19 test while working on a film. One was Wes Anderson's The French Dispatch with each frame magnificently executed and a cast of thousands, but the spectator is the polite sitting one, and as was the audience at Cannes. Léa Seydoux plays a prison guard who poses nude for an inmate considered a genius played by Benicio Del Toro. Seydoux also is in ldiko Enyedi’s A feleségem története (The Story Of My Wife), a film in seven acts based on a 1942 novel by the Hu

74th Cannes Film Festival Report 1

Moira Jean Sullivan At the opening ceremony of the 74th Festival de Cannes, Jodie Foster and wife, actress and photographer Alexandra Hedison, arrived on the Red Carpet along with President Spike Lee and members of the jury, and the ensemble for Leos Carax’ opening film Annette. They were greeted by Cannes festival director Thierry Frémaux and French Minister of Culture Roselyne Bachelot. After the screening Foster gave a concise and moving speech and thanked her wife and festival in the presence of invited guests at the beautiful Salle Lumière. Foster’s long career from a child star to two Academy Awards for Best Actress and a Golden Globe for Lifetime Achievement is followed by this special honor that has been awarded to filmmakers such as Agnès Varda. Foster was in great form and gave a seminar the following day in Salle Bunuel. 82 year old Paul Verhoeven’s latest film is Benedetta the true story of a 17th century nun that falls in love with Bartolomea. The nuns are pl

Midnight Swan wins from Japan wins Golden Mulberry at Far East Film Festival 23

By Moira Jean Sullivan Midnight Swan took home the top prize from Japan the Golden Mulberry, at the Far East Film Festival (FEFF) now in its 23 year , that ended on July 2 a beautifully made, excellently crafted film written and directed by Eiji Uchida. Nagisa from Hiroshima (Tsuyoshi Kusanagi and former SMAP boyband musician) moves to Tokyo to work in the Shinjuku district as a nightclub entertainer with other MTF transgenders. When asked to take care of her niece Ichiko (14 year old ballet dancer Misaki Hattori) whose mother Saori (Asami Misukawa) has a substance abuse problem, she agrees to take her in and enrolls her in a Tokyo middle school. Through a classmate, Rin (Rinka Ueno), Ichiko tries out for lessons at a ballet studio. At first she is cautious of her "aunt" Nagisa but eventually their bond grows strong and Ichiko's ballet talents develop and deepen with meticulous skill. Rin and Ichiko secretly work for studio photographers to pay for Ichiko's

The 23:e Far East Film Festival, Udine Italy

By Moira Sullivan The Far East Film Festival is now in its 23 year (Feb 11 - 19) and for 2021 offers a physical festival and online festival with European, Italian and World streaming titles. Last year the festival was fully online due to the pandemic and this year there are five screens accommodating 400 spectators. The Far East festival is brilliantly organized by the Center for Cinematographic Expression in Udine Italy headed by festival President Sabrina Baracetti with a crew of consultants located in Asian countries who recommend the best films for the current year. The festival features press conferences, daily meetings with directors and film experts in Asian cinema and panel discussions about new trends in Asian Cinema from Japan, Mainland China, Hong Kong, Macao, Malaysia, Taiwan, South Korea, the Philippines, Indonesia, Myanmar and Thailand. The festival screens new popular films from Asia and directors attend or are available in video conferencing making Udine the next

Undergods: Chino Moya's visionary film of post-apocalyptic Europe

By Moira Sullivan Undergods directed by Spanish helmer Chino Moya is a new film produced by Scott Free Productions, Ridley Scott's company and opens on VOD platforms and theatres May 10 . The film puts together an exceptional cast: Kate Dickie who we’ve seen in (The Witch, Game of Thrones), Ned Dennehy from (Mandy, Peaky Blinders), Geza Rohrig (Resistance, Son of Saul), Burn Gorman (Pacific Rim, Enola Holmes) and Tanya Reynolds (Emma, Sex Education). This film is set in a dystopian future and post-apocalyptic Europe. It opens with two men driving around in an old truck picking up corpses. There is nothing friendly or warm about the people that we meet in the film and their motivations for life are the opposite of moral justice. There is no hope either where what was once a functional and prosperous economy is now self-imploding. Couples cheat on their partners, neighbors steal from each other and kill each other. The edifices of what was once a monolithic culture remain

Enfant Terrible: captivating film about Rainer Werner Fassbinder

By Moira Jean Sullivan Enfant Terrible (Germany, 2020) is a biographical film artistically made about the German director Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Directed by Oskar ROEHLER, it was in the official competition at Cannes in 2020. Oliver MASUCCI plays Fassbinder who doesn’t really look like him but you get used to it. The film is in German and chronicles Fassbinder’s early films, his film crew and his actors that he tormented on the set and his rise to fame. He is shown at Cannes, and Berlin where he wins a Golden Bear. His films were statements against the postwar German state, and we hear the news in the background about the politically violent revolutionary group - Baader Meinhof. Fassbinder worked as a "revolutionary" in film – his working methods were bizarre and crude, and although he had an empathy with the downtrodden such as transgenders, he still treated them badly. He is so strung out on coke and hard liquor during most of the film it is hard to believe that

Roy Andersson's "About Endlessness"

By Moira Jean Sullivan I have seen many Roy Andersson films through the years. His latest About Endlessness (2019) which won the best director award in Venice that year, is a good term to describe all of his previous films of the last years. Though they are different in themes, they are always the same, a still mise en scene - composition of the frame. There is no camera action but one long take and Andersson has been working this way since 2000. You are forced to concentrate on what is within the scene, and because of the stillness, the endlessness, you have the opportunity to focus on every detail. This is different from nearly all films, and there is probably only one filmmaker in the world that does this: Roy Andersson. He perfected this style by making commercials for years, which were usually one take scenes, and he took this style to feature film. The first one he made won the Palme d’Or in 2000 – Songs from the Second Floor. The colors in his films are drab, the dec