Movies to See Right Now

ZERO DAYS

ZERO DAYS

My running list of Best Movies of 2016 – So Far is out. For movies in theaters right now:

  • Our Kind of Traitor is a robust espionage thriller with a funny yet powerful performance by Stellan Skarsgård.
  • Free State of Jones effectively combines the elements of political drama, romance and war movies into an absorbing Civil War drama, one which connects the dots between the 19th Century and the 20th and beyond. With a sizzling Matthew McConaughey.
  • Zero Days is a documentary on a jaw-dropping hacker mystery – who and how was able to get Iranian military computers to destroy the hardware for their own nuclear weapons program.
  • All the Way is a thrilling political docudrama with a stellar performance. It’s the story of President Lyndon Baines Johnson, warts and all, ending official racial segregation in America with the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Bryan Cranston brings LBJ alive as no actor has before. All the Way is still playing on HBO.
  • Finding Dory doesn’t have the breakthrough animation or the depth of story that we expect from Pixar, but it won’t be painful to watch a zillion times with your kids.
  • I’m not writing about Ghostbusters, but I’ve seen it, and it’s not terrible.  Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy are brilliant talents, and they produce some laughs in Ghostbusters.

Here are my top picks at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival (SFJFF36), underway right now throughout the Bay Area.

My DVD/Stream for the next two weeks is one of my Best Movies of 2016 – So Far. San Jose native Matt Sobel’s impressive directorial debut Take Me To the River is entirely fresh. Not one thing happens in Take Me to the River that you can predict, and it keeps the audience off-balance and completely engaged. You can stream Take Me to the River on Amazon Instant, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube and Google Play or rent the DVD from Netflix.

On July 26, Turner Classic Movies presents the still-powerful 1943 The Ox-Bow Incident, a parable about mobs acting rashly on the basis of fear and prejudice (which certainly resonates in today’s political environment).  Henry Fonda and Harry Morgan lead an excellent period cast with Dana Andrews, Anthony Quinn and Jane Darwell, along with  Frank Conroy and Harry Davenport, whose performances are perfect little gems.  Which character most resembles Donald Trump?

On July 27, TCM airs Heaven’s Gate, a movie that I reviled when I saw it in a theater in 1980 and again in 2013 when it garnered some wholly undeserved revisionist praise.   The second time around, I still found Heaven’s Gate to be a brutal, if occasionally unintentionally humorous, viewing experience.  Its director, Michael Cimino, died last week, and it’s a good time to honor him by watching his masterpiece The Deer Hunter.

Henry Fonda and Harry Morgan in THE OX-BOW INCIDENT

Henry Fonda and Harry Morgan in THE OX-BOW INCIDENT

THE OX-BOW INCIDENT

THE OX-BOW INCIDENT

Share
Posted in Weekly Movie Recommendations | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

San Francisco Jewish Film Festival – the top picks

sfjff36 bannerHere’s a preview of the 36th annual San Francisco Jewish Film Festival (SFJFF36), which opens tomorrow, July 21, and runs through August 7 at five locations throughout the Bay Area. The festival offers a broad range of film experiences:

  • 51 features (33 Documentaries, 18 Narratives) from 13 countries (but mostly from the US and Israel).
  • 2 programs of short films (Jews in Shorts), a web series and first two episodes of the miniseries False Flag.
  • 14 world, North American or US premieres.
  • celebrity appearances by Norman Lear, Robert Klein, Adam (s0n of Leonard) Nimoy and a passel of filmmakers.

Here are my four top recommendations:

  • The documentary The Last Laugh explores humor and the Holocaust. Is there anything funny about Nazis or about the Holocaust itself? When is humor acceptable, therapeutic, transgressive or even taboo? How has the passage of time affected what is funny? And does it matter who tells the joke?  We hear from Mel Brooks, Sarah Silverman, Rob and Carl Reiner, Joan Rivers, concentration camp survivor and Hogan’s Heroes star Robert Clary and, most unforgettably, Holocaust survivor Renee Firestone.
  • An addictive taste of the Israeli miniseries False Flag, a character-driven thriller with elements of the whodunit, the paranoid thriller, the perfect crime movie and the espionage procedural.
  • The world premiere of Wrestling Jerusalem, an imaginative examination of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through the perspectives of seventeen distinct characters, both Jew and Arab, in a one-man play.
  • Fever at Dawn – an epic romance with both an exploration of identity and a moral choice.

One of the most appealing features of the SFJFF is that, wherever you live in the Bay Area,  the fest comes to you.  SFJFF will present 27-51 films at each of the main venues – the Castro in San Francisco,  CineArts in Palo Alto and the Roda Theater at the Berkeley Rep.   The festival will also screen at least 14 movies at both the Rafael in San Rafael and the Piedmont in Oakland.

Of my top picks, False Flag and Wrestling Jerusalem will screen in San Francisco, Berkeley, Palo Alto and San Rafael.  The Last Laugh will be playing at the Castro and the Roda.  Fever at Dawn will screen in San Francisco, Berkeley and Palo Alto.

You can peruse the entire program and buy tickets and passes at San Francisco Jewish Film Festival. The fest also offers a handy iPhone app available from the App Store: sjff36. You can follow the Festival on Twitter at @SFJewish Film; and, of course, you can follow my coverage at @themoviegourmet.

Share
Posted in Upcoming Movies | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

WRESTLING JERUSALEM: it’s complicated

WRESTLING JERUSALEM

WRESTLING JERUSALEM

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has inspired both documentary and narrative movies, but none is more imaginative than Wrestling Jerusalem. This year’s San Francisco Jewish Film Festival (SJFF36) will host Wrestling Jerusalem’s world premiere.

Wrestling Jerusalem is a one-man play written and performed by Aaron Davidman, who creates seventeen different characters, both Jews and Arabs, who each relate their own experiences of the conflict. Davidman portrays his characters without benefit of costume; he varies the accents, but mostly we can tell the characters apart from the content of their stories. Davidman’s performance is vivid and startlingly personal.

Davidman launches Wrestling Jerusalem with a montage of his characters explaining “It’s complicated” – a defining truth that most would accept. Then the characters continue by disagreeing about the conflict’s start (1946, 1947, 1967, 1973, the Hebron massacre – both of the massacres) and who is to blame for its continuation (Abbas, the settlers, the Orthodox, the terror attacks, Bibi, etc.). Then each character unspools his or her own perspective. Over a crisp 90 minutes, it’s absorbing stuff.

Thankfully, with one just guy on-screen for the entire film, the filmmakers keep Wrestling Jerusalem from being too stagey.  They place Davidman in two locations, a solitary theatrical stage and in the desert (looks like Israel/Palestine, but it’s the California Mojave).  It’s an impressive job by director Dylan Kussman, editor Erik C. Andersen and cinematographer Nicole Hirsch Whitaker.

Davidman has a point of view, but was careful not to make Wrestling Jerusalem into a screed. Instead, he’s careful to let his audience connect the dots in our own minds. Near the end, one of his characters says, “You are Israel, for you have struggled with God and with men” from Genesis 32:28, but does not does not finish the quote with “and have prevailed”.

You can experience Wrestling Jerusalem at its world premiere at this year’s San Francisco Jewish Film Festival (SJFF36), where you can see it at San Francisco’s Castro on July 27, at the Berkeley Rep’s Roda Theater on July 30, at CineArts in Palo Alto on July 28 and at the Rafael in San Rafael on August 7

Share
Posted in Movies | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

FALSE FLAG: holy moley, what a page-turner!

FALSE FLAG

FALSE FLAG

False Flag is an absolutely riveting Israeli miniseries that we’ll get to see in the US at some point.  The miniseries has 8 episodes (each a taut 45 minutes).  The first two episodes are playing together as one ninety-minute program at this year’s San Francisco Jewish Film Festival (SJFF36).

As False Flag opens,  Israeli television news reports that five Israeli citizens were responsible for the kidnapping of an Iranian diplomat out of his Moscow hotel.  We see four of the five – each appearing totally shocked by the revelation and denying any involvement to their families and friends.  They don’t seem to know each other, and  the only connection seems to be that they each have dual citizenship and a second passport.  We first question whether this was a covert operation by Israeli intelligence forces for which they were framed? But we soon learn that the Mossad wasn’t involved either, and Israeli security forces are soon hunting down the five to find out what really happened.

But then we start to learn that some of the five may be connected.  Their alibis have holes.  And some of the five are not what they seem.  Are they involved?  Who commissioned the kidnapping?  Who is going to find out and how?  And what is going to happen to each of the five?  False Flag evolves into a superb thriller that spans, at once, the genres of the whodunit, the paranoid thriller, the perfect crime movie and the espionage procedural.

The five protagonists have very different personalities, which makes False Flag a successful character-driven thriller.  The three women are a tough cookie, a party girl and a low-self esteemed shoulder-slumper.  The two men are a bewildered regular guy and an international man of mystery.  The acting from  Ishai Golan, Magi Azarzar, Orna Salinger, Ania Bukstein, and Angel Bonnani is first-rate.

False Flag (titled Kfulim in Hebrew) was broadcast last fall in Israel, and was the first non-English language series to be acquired by Fox International Channels.  It’s expected sometime in the next year on American TV.  The release of the first two episodes at SFJFF36 will help build buzz for the US release.

The Joke was on The Movie Gourmet.  When I was going through my screeners for the SFJFF36, I neglected to read anything about False Flag except for “thriller”, so I was expecting that the entire story was contained in the 90 minutes. When what is really Episode 2 ended, I was on the edge of my seat braying, “Oh no! What happens next?”.

You can get your own addicting taste of False Flag at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, where you can see it at CineArts in Palo Alto on July 23, at San Francisco’s Castro on July 30, at the Berkeley Rep’s Roda Theater on July 31, and the Rafael in San Rafael on August 6.

Share
Posted in Movies | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

I, DALIO: the Jewish star of two French masterpieces

I, DALIO, OR THE RULES OF THE GAME

I, DALIO – OR THE RULES OF THE GAME

There are two programs of short films (Jews in Shorts) at this year’s San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, and one of them features the documentary short I, Dalio – Or the Rules of the Game.  Covering the career of French Jewish actor Marcel Dalio, I, Dalio reflects on how Dalio’s Jewishness informed his life and film career.  It’s a documentary of special interest to cinephiles because of Dalio’s roles in three of the all-time greatest films.   One of those films is Casablanca, and Dalio  gets one of that film classic’s biggest laughs when his croupier says “Your winnings, sir” to Claude Raines’ Captain Renault.

Born in Paris as Israel Moshe Blauschild and adopting the stage name of Marcel Dalio, he became a prolific character actor in French cinema, specializing in weaselly, conniving and otherwise malevolent roles, often playing the foil to his real-life friend Jean Gabin. I, Dalio notes that the only two Dalio roles that were explicitly Jewish were his starring turns in the Jean Renoir masterpieces La Grande Illusion and The Rules of the Game.

Then, within a year of The Rules of the Game’s Paris premiere, the Nazis invaded Paris, and Dalio took his talent to Hollywood.  After the war, Dalio continued to work, producing over a hundred more screen credits in international cinema and television.

I, Dalio – Or the Rules of the Game will appeal to audiences interested in both cinema history and Jewish identity.  Running for 33 minutes, I Dalio anchors one of the two programs of short films (Jews in Shorts) at this years San Francisco Jewish Film Festival (SJFF36), where you can see it at San Francisco’s Castro on July 27 and at the Piedmont in Oakland on August 6.

Share
Posted in Movies | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

FEVER AT DAWN: romance, identity and a moral choice

FEVER AT DAWN

FEVER AT DAWN

The Hungarian drama Fever at Dawn is a little movie with an epic romance. Set just after the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps, Hungarian invalids who survived the camps have been sent to convalesce in hospital camps in Sweden. A young patient, Miklos, gets a dire diagnosis and determines to find love once more before he dies. A half century before internet dating, he concocts a scheme to get himself in front of every sick Hungarian woman in Sweden. When he meets his potential soulmate Lili, a moral question rises to the surface – should he share his diagnosis with the woman he is courting?

Some Holocaust survivors experienced ambivalence about the very Jewish identity that led to yellow stars on their clothes and, essentially, targets on their backs. This ambivalence becomes a significant thread of Fever at Dawn and is addressed more explicitly than is common for Holocaust (or post-Holocaust) movies.

Don’t read too much about this movie before seeing it. There’s an unexpected nugget at the end.

I saw Fever at Dawn earlier this year at its US premiere at Cinequest.  It’s being featured at this years San Francisco Jewish Film Festival (SJFF36), where you can see it at San Francisco’s Castro on July 26, at the Berkeley Rep’s Roda Theater on July 28, and at CineArts in Palo Alto on July 29.

Share
Posted in Movies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

DVD/Stream of the Week: TAKE ME TO THE RIVER – fresh, unpredictable and gripping

TAKE ME TO THE RIVER

TAKE ME TO THE RIVER

For the second week in a row, I’m featuring one of my Best Movies of 2016 – So Far. San Jose native Matt Sobel’s impressive directorial debut Take Me to the River is entirely fresh. Not one thing happens in Take Me to the River that you can predict, and it keeps the audience off-balance and completely engaged.  Here are some notes from an interview with Sobel.

A California couple and their teenage son drive to an annual family reunion in rural Nebraska. The son is gay and out, but that’s not going to be the drama here. There’s almost immediately an unexpected development that rocks the extended family. Then we settle in for over an hour of simmering unease and tense dread until something REALLY disturbing happens.

The story may be told from the teen’s point of view, but the real story turns out to be in the highly-charged relationship between his mom (Robin Weigert) and her brother Keith (Josh Hamilton). Keith, the boy’s uncle, is not a redneck rube, but very angry and very manipulative. By the end of the movie, we understand why. It’s an excellent performance by Hamilton, and whenever he’s on-screen, we fidget and wait for him to explode.

Weigert (Calamity Jane in Deadwood, Ally in Sons of Anarchy) is also excellent – her character is a Los Angeles physician who hasn’t lost the Nebraskan gift of never referring to the elephant in the room, no matter how huge. She embraces the Nebraskan imperative of avoidance with persistent geniality, covering up any unpleasantness with with niceties. My family is from rural Nebraska, which I have visited many times, so I know of what I speak.

The child actress Ursula Parker (the youngest daughter in Louie) is also especially outstanding here. Take Me to the River contains some sexual behavior by a child which is very uncomfortable for the audience, but central to the story and non-exploitative.

Take Me to the River played at Sundance in 2015, was finally released in the Bay Area in Spring 2016. Before its release, I viewed it at the Camera Cinema Club. You can stream Take Me to the River on Amazon Instant, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube and Google Play or rent the DVD from Netflix.

Share
Posted in Weekly Movie Recommendations | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Movies to See Right Now

Ewen McGregor and Stellan Skarsgaard in OUR KIND OF TRAITOR

Ewen McGregor and Stellan Skarsgård in OUR KIND OF TRAITOR

My running list of Best Movies of 2016 – So Far is out. For movies in theaters right now:

  • Our Kind of Traitor is a robust espionage thriller with a funny yet powerful performance by Stellan Skarsgård.
  • Free State of Jones effectively combines the elements of political drama, romance and war movies into an absorbing Civil War drama, one which connects the dots between the 19th Century and the 20th and beyond. With a sizzling Matthew McConaughey.
  • NUTS! is the persistently hilarious (and finally poignant) documentary about the rise and fall of a medical and radio empire – all built on goat testicle “implantation” surgery in gullible humans.
  • Zero Days is a documentary on a jaw-dropping hacker mystery – who and how was able to get Iranian military computers to destroy the hardware for their own nuclear weapons program.
  • All the Way is a thrilling political docudrama with a stellar performance. It’s the story of President Lyndon Baines Johnson, warts and all, ending official racial segregation in America with the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Bryan Cranston brings LBJ alive as no actor has before. All the Way is still playing on HBO.
  • Finding Dory doesn’t have the breakthrough animation or the depth of story that we expect from Pixar, but it won’t be painful to watch a zillion times with your kids.

Here’s my early peek at next week’s San Francisco Jewish Film Festival.

My DVD/Stream for the next two weeks is one of my Best Movies of 2016 – So Far.  San Jose native Matt Sobel’s impressive directorial debut Take Me To the River is entirely fresh. Not one thing happens in Take Me to the River that you can predict, and it keeps the audience off-balance and completely engaged. You can stream Take Me to the River on Amazon Instant, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube and Google Play or rent the DVD from Netflix.

On July 16 Turner Classic Movies presents the grievously underrated Don Siegel thriller  Charley Varrick.  Siegel was a master of crime movies (and was the primary filmmaking mentor to Clint Eastwood).  I particularly love Siegel’s San Francisco noir The Lineup, the guilty pleasure Two Mules for Sister Sara and John Wayne’s goodbye: The Shootist.  The 1973 neo-noir Charley Varrick is right up there with Siegel’s best.  Walter Matthau stars as the title character, an expert heist man who sets up a “perfect crime” bank robbery which, of course, goes awry.  Worst of all, it turns out that Varrick has stolen a secret Mob fortune being laundered by the bank, and now the underworld organization is after him.  Only his wits can save him.  I’ve rewatched Charley Varrick a couple times recently, and it still holds up for me.

Faithful readers know that I revere the Sergio Leone/Clint Eastwood/Ennio Morricone spaghetti westerns.  On July 19, TCM brings us A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More and, of course, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

Walter Matthau in CHARLEY VARRICK

Walter Matthau in CHARLEY VARRICK

 

Share
Posted in Weekly Movie Recommendations | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

just around the corner: SFJFF36

sfjff36 banner

It’s time to get ready for one of the Bay Area’s top cinema events: the 36th annual San Francisco Jewish Film Festival (SFJFF36), which opens July 21, and runs through August 7 at five locations throughout the Bay Area. Here’s an early peek at the fest:

  • 51 features (33 Documentaries, 18 Narratives) from 13 countries (but mostly from the US and Israel).
  • 2 programs of short films (Jews in Shorts), a web series and first two episodes of a thrilling television miniseries.
  • 14 world, North American or US premieres.
  • celebrity appearances by Norman Lear, Robert Klein, Adam (s0n of Leonard) Nimoy and a passel of filmmakers.

I’ll return with my my four top recommendations from the festival on July 20.  Here’s a tease:

  • A both funny and thought-provoking documentary about what would seem to be the most unfunny subject possible.
  • An addictive taste of an upcoming television miniseries that has the elements of the whodunit, the paranoid thriller, the perfect crime movie and the espionage procedural.
  • The world premiere of an entirely fresh and imaginative examination of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict .
  • An epic romance with both an exploration of identity and a moral choice.

One of the most appealing features of the SFJFF36 is that, wherever you live in the Bay Area, the fest comes to you. SFJFF36 will present 27-51 films at each of the main venues – the Castro in San Francisco, CineArts in Palo Alto and the Roda Theater at the Berkeley Rep. The festival will also screen at least 14 movies at both the Rafael in San Rafael and the Piedmont in Oakland.

You can peruse the entire program and buy tickets and passes at San Francisco Jewish Film Festival. The fest also offers a handy iPhone app available from the App Store: sjff36. You can follow the Festival on Twitter at @SFJewish Film; and, of course, you can follow my coverage at @themoviegourmet.

Share
Posted in Upcoming Movies | Leave a comment

TAKE ME TO THE RIVER: notes from a San Jose filmmaker Matt Sobel

TAKE ME TO THE RIVER

TAKE ME TO THE RIVER

I attended a pre-release screening of Take Me to the River  at the Camera Cinema Club, followed by a Skype interview by Tim Sika with writer-director Matt Sobel.  Here are some nuggets from that interview.

Like me, Sobel is a San Jose guy who has often visited family in rural Nebraska.  Sobel actually likes Nebraska, and pointed out the cultural differences are more complicated than “we Californians are open minded and right”.  That being said, he acknowledged that Take Me to the River is about that Midwestern resistance to talking about anything unpleasant, which can lead to “a conspiracy of silence”.

Sobel described Take Me to the River as a “movie about suspicion and fear” and pointed out the shame that adults put on kids for innocent behavior that can lead to later tragedy.

As a filmmaker, Sobel is comfortable with the Big Action happening outside the frame so the audience must figure it out most of it and live with some ambiguity.

SPOILER ALERT:  Sobel says that, in Take Me to the River , Keith has taught his daughter the “chicken fighting” game that made his own mother think that he was a pervert.

SPOILER ALERT:  Take Me to the River contains some sexual behavior by a child which is very uncomfortable for the audience.  Sobel was careful to work with the child actress Ursula Parker to make her acting experience on the set be a non-sexual game.  This scene is central to the story and, thanks to Sobel, non-exploitative.  Ursula Parker plays the youngest daughter on Louie.

You can stream Take Me to the River on Amazon Instant, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube and Google Play or rent the DVD from Netflix.

Share
Posted in Movies | Tagged , , | Leave a comment