Category Archives: Film

Films I watched, December 2015

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Last Shift 2015 Directed by Anthony DiBlasi
As others have said, predictable in places, but a great example of doing a lot with very little: one location, bright lighting, very small amount of cast members. Great to have in rookie cop Jessica a female protagonist who is strong and police trained, yet also unnerved as the night goes on. Less interesting are jump scares set up for us, not for the character, like when Jessica leaves an empty room, not noticing there are ghosts there for a few moments. Makes less sense the more you think about it, but smart enough.

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Love and Mercy 2015 Directed by Bill Pohlad
The scenes recreating the recording sessions for Pet Sounds are spine-tingling, and for music fans seeing the recreation of the Wrecking Crew and their discussions with the boy genius Wilson…well, you leave the movie wishing there was more, more, more of that. But this is a bio-pic after all, albeit a better one than most, and so we get a living, breathing Wilson from Paul Dano and a touching and wounded older Wilson from the actor who looks nothing like him, John Cusack. Paul Giamatti plays yet another soul- and profit-sucking manager, twice in one year it happens. Terrific sound design from Atticus Ross, who creates an ambient bed of Wilsonics. Good but not great, and frustratingly truncated in its final act.

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Room 2015 Directed by Lenny Abrahamson
A tough adaptation by the author Emma Donoghue of her own book, mostly ditching the voice of the five-year-old Jack, who has been raised to only know captivity in a small room. Like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, what remains is the survival narrative, first within the room and then SPOILER outside the room, where there are rooms upon rooms and more emotional minefields to traverse. It cries out for a more impressionist, stranger film, one that would tease more out of the metaphors (philosophical, political, psychological) that the Room sets up. Lenny Abramson, who directed the wonderful Frank instead works to get strong performances out of Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay. I was disappointed that the music takes the edge off what are the film’s most suspenseful section, opting for major key, piano tinklings. Though impressive, this is a room that I don’t need to revisit.

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A Very Murray Christmas 2015 Directed by Sofia Coppola
Holiday piffle directed by Sofia Coppola, once again back in a hotel room overlooking city lights with a sad sack Bill Murray. Wants to have its critique and eat it too, it’s neither too meta, nor too entertaining. But you want to like it because it’s Bill Murray. Take-aways: Miley Cyrus and Maya Rudolph have an impressive set of pipes each.

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Phoenix 2014 Directed by Christian Petzold
A slow burner with hints of Vertigo and Teshigahara’s Face of Another, Christian Petzold’s Phoenix is about a woman (Nina Hoss) returning from the concentration camps with a new face and determined to discover if her husband sold her out to the Nazis. Her husband Johnny (Ronald Zehrfeld) believes that this “new” woman Esther looks close enough to Nelly that she could help him get her inheritance, never suspecting that they are one and the same. Though we see a gun early on in the film, it’s a song that returns in the third act to do the most damage. A film about rebuilding identity after war and trauma, it’s also about memory and how we see each other, and the battle in a post-war environment to write and rewrite history.

And on television:

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Marvel’s Jessica Jones 2015 Created by Melissa Rosenberg
While the current Marvel films are bloated punch-’em-ups, Marvel’s television experiments have been more grounded in reality and actual character development. The closest that a film has got to replicating in the viewer the after effects and lingering paranoia of sexual trauma, Jessica Jones gets quite nailbiting as it nears its middle section. It’s also a movie of its time in a culture that still has “problems” with the subject of rape. Krysten Ritter balances strength and vulnerability and David Tennant uses all his charm to counterbalance his villainy. Overlong by about two episodes, its climactic scene just misses the mark.

Movies, fame and Jane: SBIFF honors Jane Fonda at annual fundraiser

Jane Fonda received the Kirk Douglas Award from the Santa Barbara International Film Festival on Saturday at the Bacara Resort & Spa. KENNETH SONG/NEWS-PRESS PHOTO
Jane Fonda received the Kirk Douglas Award from the Santa Barbara International Film Festival on Saturday at the Bacara Resort & Spa.
KENNETH SONG/NEWS-PRESS PHOTO

The Santa Barbara International Film Festival honored movie star, writer, activist and feminist icon Jane Fonda at its annual fundraiser Saturday with the 10th annual Kirk Douglas Award for Excellence in Film.

The black-tie gala at the Bacara Resort & Spa recognized the iconic movie star in much the same way as the honors and tribute evenings that make up the February festival’s week-plus schedule.

Continue reading Movies, fame and Jane: SBIFF honors Jane Fonda at annual fundraiser

White Horse, running: New documentary tells the story of ‘free runner’ Caballo Blanco

"Run Free: The True Story of Caballo Blanco" is feature-length documentary about ultra-running legend Micah True. Better known as Caballo Blanco - the White Horse - Mr. True was the focal character of Christopher McDougall's 2009 best-selling book "Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen" about the Tarahumara Indians of northern Mexico.
“Run Free: The True Story of Caballo Blanco” is feature-length documentary about ultra-running legend Micah True. Better known as Caballo Blanco – the White Horse – Mr. True was the focal character of Christopher McDougall’s 2009 best-selling book “Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen” about the Tarahumara Indians of northern Mexico.

“Micah would throw a fit if he knew we were doing this.”

So says photographer and Orcutt resident Luis Escobar, one of the many people who knew the mysterious man known as Caballo Blanco, the White Horse.

Better known as Micah True, this vagabond “free runner” became the focus of a best-selling book about the sport of free running by Christopher McDougall, called “Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen.” The documentary that follows in its wake, “Run Free” is directed by Sterling Noren and screens Tuesday at Marjorie Luke Theatre.

Continue reading White Horse, running: New documentary tells the story of ‘free runner’ Caballo Blanco

Gotta sing, gotta dance: UCSB’s summer film series showcases the musical

Debbie Reynolds and Gene Kelly in "Singin' in the Rain" UCSB Arts & Lectures photo
Debbie Reynolds and Gene Kelly in “Singin’ in the Rain”
UCSB Arts & Lectures photo

In its sixth installment of the popular summer film series, UCSB Arts & Lectures turns to another staple of Hollywood: The Musical. “Over the Rainbow: Great American Movie Musicals” runs from July 8 through Aug. 21 and features free screenings of seven musical movie classics.

Previous years have focused on a director like Alfred Hitchcock, or on silent comedies or classic Universal Studios horror or sci-fi. But this is the first time such a wide-ranging genre over such a long period has been chosen, with a nod to audience favorites and less to a comprehensive overview.

Continue reading Gotta sing, gotta dance: UCSB’s summer film series showcases the musical

17-year-old Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai draws sellout crowd

 The Arlington Theatre was sold out Saturday for a talk by Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teen who was shot by the Taliban for advocating education for girls. NIK BLASKOVICH/NEWS-PRESS

The Arlington Theatre was sold out Saturday for a talk by Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teen who was shot by the Taliban for advocating education for girls.
NIK BLASKOVICH/NEWS-PRESS

“I didn’t want to be known as the girl who got shot by the Taliban. I want to be known as the girl who fought the Taliban and who fought for children’s’ right to education.”

At 17, children’s rights activist Malala Yousafzai speaks with the force and authority of someone twice her age. She stood up to the Taliban in her home country of Pakistan when she insisted girls be given a chance to go to school.

Continue reading 17-year-old Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai draws sellout crowd

Film Three-Quarterly: The King of Marvin Gardens (1972)

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I watched King of Marvin Gardens many, many years ago, when it was a VHS rental from a video store (remember those?) I had very little memory of the film, apart from Jack Nicholson’s opening monolog and the one he records later in the bathroom, which I used for a mixtape (remember those too?)

So it was a delight to watch this again and see the film for the “first” time. Bob Rafelson had made several films with Nicholson up to this point, most famously two years before, Five Easy Pieces, which, similarly, many can’t remember save the diner scene.

Continue reading Film Three-Quarterly: The King of Marvin Gardens (1972)

Timmy Curran headlines benefit show and screening for cancer non-profit

Locally based surfer and musician Timmy Curran performs music with a few good friends in a benefit for the Young and Brave Foundation, an organization that helps kids diagnosed with cancer. Courtesy photo
Locally based surfer and musician Timmy Curran performs music with a few good friends in a benefit for the Young and Brave Foundation, an organization that helps kids diagnosed with cancer.
Courtesy photo

On Saturday night, The Young and Brave Foundation, a non-profit that helps children with cancer, will throw a benefit evening at Carpinteria’s Plaza Playhouse Theater, offering both an evening of music and a Santa Barbara/Carpinteria premiere screening of a special surf documentary.

The evening is being put on by Steve and Polly Hoganson, former owners of Zoey’s in Ventura, who have been friends with Timmy Curran for years, having hosted several of his gigs. And so it is Timmy Curran, and his friends, are headlining the concert part of the evening that also hosts a raffle and a photography exhibit, both curated by the retired surfer and musician. Mr. Curran will perform with Jesse Taylor and Jesse Carmichael, his former backing band that went on to become Wildcat! Wildcat! Mr. Curran has two young kids, so he can’t tour like those two can.

Continue reading Timmy Curran headlines benefit show and screening for cancer non-profit

Film Three-Quarterly: Stranger by the Lake (2013)

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Stranger by the Lake, Alain Guiraudie’s hypnotic, dreamlike thriller set at a cruising spot for gays sometime vaguely in the early ‘90s, made many best-of lists for 2014, including Film Comment. It’s now on Netflix, where I watched it one lunchtime (not the best time to watch a mysterious thriller, I admit).

Anyway, the question for us is: does a French, experimental, gay serial killer film follow the three-quarters rule of structure? Oui bien sûr! Continue reading Film Three-Quarterly: Stranger by the Lake (2013)

Film Three-Quarterly: Fargo (1996)

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Before Picasso went Cubist, he knew the techniques of the old masters. Before the Coen Brothers became one of the more adventurous commercial filmmakers out there, they knew their genre and structure. Blood Simple is tight as a drum when it comes to plotting. But as they got more confident, they began to experiment with form, character, and structure.

Let’s take their Oscar-winning Fargo from 1996. Like their first film, it’s a crime story where a plan goes terribly awry. But in terms of structure, we are a long way from classic noir. This is the first film we’ve looked at that refutes the three quarter structure that so many films follow. How and why it does that is what we’ll get into.
Continue reading Film Three-Quarterly: Fargo (1996)