Thu & Fri, June 15&16, (7pm only).
The phrase “a valentine to the theatre” is as overused as any other reviewing cliché. However, anyone who has ever worked in the theatre, whether they feel like sending love letters or bomb threats, will recognize at least some of their experiences in director/writer Mike Leigh’s new opus TOPSY-TURVY. True, the film is set in 19th-century London, specifically examining the world of William Schwenk Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan, but some dynamics are eternal. Leigh, whose style of filmmaking is in its way as unique as a Gilbert & Sullivan opera, captures the timeless insanity of theatrical egos and the rehearsal process in a remarkably lifelike manner… Although it is not in any way a send-up nor remotely modern, it is curiously reminiscent of THIS IS SPINAL TAP, hilarious because it is so utterly true to life. Jim Broadbent, a marvelously versatile actor who has worked with Leigh several times before, is perfect as the dour, rigid Gilbert, who saves every glimmer of humor within him for his work. Allan Corduner is equally terrific as Sullivan, so confident and in charge when holding the conductor’s baton that we’d swear he’d spent his career in charge of an orchestra. (Excerpt by Abbie Bernstein, IF MAGAZINE) Nominated for four Oscars (winning Best Makeup and Best Costume Design).
UK, 1999. Color, in English, 160 mins.,35mm. Not rated.
Sat, June 17 (7&9pm), Sun, June 18 (3 & 7pm).
In 1969 the British filmmaker Nicolas Roeg went to Australia to make ``Walkabout,'' a strange, vivid tale of two British schoolchildren stranded in the deserts of the outback. A meditation on the corruption of civilization and the terrifying purity of wildness, ``Walkabout'' opens with a 14-year-old girl, played by a very mature Jenny Agutter, and her 6-year-old brother, played by Roeg's son Lucien John, motoring through the desert with their addled father. Inexplicably, Daddy goes berserk, shoots himself, burns the car and leaves the kids to fend for themselves. Roeg, who had already co-directed ``Performance'' with Donald Cammell but had yet to create ``Don't Look Now'' and ``The Man Who Fell to Earth,'' exults in the awesomeness of the outback and builds a film that's part anthem to the primitive world and part rebuke to the dull, overinsulated selfishness of contemporary man. As John Boorman later did in several films and as Godfrey Reggio accomplished so majestically in ``Koyaanisqatsi,'' Roeg intercuts images of modern life with the lushness of nature -- offering a stunning fable about the impor tance of respecting the earth. (Excerpt by Edward Guthmann, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE)
Australia, 1971 (re-issue print / 1997). Color, in English, 100 mins., 35mm. Rated PG.
Thu & Fri, June 22 & 23, (7 & 9:15pm)
A grey, autumn day in October 1993. Two apparent strangers start a fight on a double-decker bus and are thrown off. One is a Serb, the other a Croat and they're fighting their own mini Bosnian war in the heart of London. This is the starting point for the epic Beautiful People, a human comedy with even more characters and plot-lines than Altman's Short Cuts. Jasmin Dizdar, who was born in Bosnia and studied film at the FAMU school in Prague, acknowledges that the sheer logistics of a film with 25 leading characters and 30 principal locations was daunting. "But I wouldn't compare the film to Short Cuts at all." On the face of it, Beautiful People may appear like a naturalistic, character-driven drama in the Mike Leigh or Ken Loach vein. Dizdar, however, throws in various semi-surreal scenes, none more startling than the one in which a drunken, drugged-up English football fan (Danny Nussbaum), weaving his way across the airport tarmac in Amsterdam, collapses, falls asleep, and ends up being parachuted into the Bosnian war zone with a consignment of humanitarian supplies. Here, his stash of heroin proves invaluable to UN medics without proper supplies. "When I write, I just let my imagination go," says Dizdar, "but when I direct, everything has to be done in strictly realistic terms. That combination - realism chasing imagination - has always been part of my work." (Excerpt by Geoffrey Macnab, MOVING PICTURES)
UK, 2000. Color, in English, 107 mins., 35mm. Rated R.
AGUIRRE: THE WRATH OF GOD
Sat, June 24 (7&9pm), Sun, June 25 (3&7pm).
Werner Herzog's ``Aguirre, the Wrath of God'' (1973) is one of the great haunting visions of the cinema. It tells the story of the doomed expedition of the conquistador Gonzalo Pizarro, who in 1560 and 1561 led a body of men into the Peruvian rain forest, lured by stories of the lost city. The opening shot is a striking image: A long line of men snakes its way down a steep path to a valley far below, while clouds of mist obscure the peaks. These men wear steel helmets and breastplates, and carry their women in enclosed sedan-chairs. They are dressed for a court pageant, not for the jungle…. What Herzog sees in the story, I think, is what he finds in many of his films: Men haunted by a vision of great achievement, who commit the sin of pride by daring to reach for it, and are crushed by an implacable universe... Of modern filmmakers, Werner Herzog is the most visionary and the most obsessed with great themes. Little wonder that he has directed many operas. He does not want to tell a plotted story or record amusing dialog; he wants to lift us up into realms of wonder. Only a handful of modern films share the audacity of his vision; I think of ``2001'' and ``Apocalypse Now.'' (Excerpt by Roger Ebert)
Germany, 1972. Color, in German with English subtitles. 90 mins., 35mm. Not rated.
Thursday & Friday, June 29 & 30 (7 pm only).
Dismayed about the nature of violence, stage director Julie Taymor has decided to put on a moving picture show. "Titus" is her first movie, and it's visually stunning, as you'd expect from the woman who brought folkloric Africa to Broadway with her staging of Disney's "Lion King," and who recast the Cocteau/Stravinsky opera "Oedipus Rex" as a volcanic multiethnic pastiche. "Titus" is a platform for Taymor's agitprop zeal; every scene is caught like a Mercury Theater actor in downstage floodlights. Based on one of Shakespeare's early plays ("Titus Andronicus"), it's a Grand Guignol tragedy in which Taymor thinks she's found dizzying parallels to everything from the Columbine shootings and "The Jerry Springer Show" to the scapegoating of black males. One of Taymor's tools as a social critic and storyteller is the collapse of cultures and the condensation of time into a single, multifaceted space where she can throw "meaning" around like confetti. This time, Taymor has turned her cultural hunch into a therapy session that's brutal not just for its graphic horrors. The director bludgeons us dumb with her genius. (Excerpt by Wesley Morris, San FranciscoExaminer)
US, 1999. Color, in English. 162 minutes., 35mm. Rated R.
July 1 (7pm only), July 2 (3&7pm).
Based on the novel by Lothar-Gunther Buchheim, Das Boot follows one U-Boat mission, that begins with the clean-shaven and eager young men reporting for duty under the command of the war-weary Captain (Jurgen Prochnow) who openly criticizes the wisdom of the Third Reich. Among the men reporting for duty are a mentally unstable Chief Engineer (Klaus Wenneman), a party-line spouting First Lieutenant (Hubertus Bengsch), and a news correspondent (Herbert Groenemeyer), who serves as the eyes and ears of the audience. As they carry out their mission, we come to know some of the crew members, we watch them wait in fear as the vessel reaches depths which strain the hull's integrity, and suffocate alongside with them as the air begins to slowly run out. Das Boot humanizes the enemy, putting a face on the Nazi Germany war machine, and also drives home the point that regardless of what side you are on, in a war, we are all victims… One of the great things about the Director's Cut is that it adds back about an hour of footage cut out from the original theatrical release, bumping up the running time to three-and-a-half hours. This extra footage fleshes out some of the secondary characters, making the tribulations that they endure and the tragic ending that more poignant. (Excerpt by Anthony Leong)
Germany, 1981. B&W, in German with English subtitles. 210 mins., 35mm. Not rated.
ALL ABOUT MY MOTHER
Thu & Fri, July 6 & 7 (7&9:15pm)
Following the momentum of 1995’s The Flower of My Secret and 1997’s Live Flesh, All About My Mother confirms Pedro Almodovar’s increasing maturity as a filmmaker of great visual and emotional gifts (a pity the 1999 Cannes jury didn’t think so, giving Almodovar the Best Director award instead of the Palm d’Or everybody else thought the movie deserved). The complex and rewarding saga of a mother who travels from Madrid to Barcelona after her son dies tragically, the film makes pointed structural references to the Bette Davis picture All About Eve and Tennessee Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire” in its story of show business, sexual ambiguity and support. Drawing from the circle of actresses that have appeared in many of his films, Almodovar elicits rich performances from Cecilia Roth as the grieving mother, Marisa Paredes as a vulnerable actress, and Penelope Cruz as a pregnant nun (what would an Almodovar movie be without a pregnant nun?). Thoughtful and heartfelt, All About My Mother is a melodrama for moviegoers wary of the genre. (Excerpt by Eddie Cockrell, NITRATE ONLINE)
Winner of the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. Spain, 1999. Color, in Spanish with English subtitles, 105 mins., 35mm. Rated R.
RAISE THE RED LANTERN
Sat, July 8 (7&9:30pm), Sun, July 9 (3&7pm).
Color isn't just important to Zhang Yimou. It's his leading lady. In "Raise the Red Lantern," the Chinese director selects from a stirring palette of glowing reds, subtle yellows and twilight grays. There isn't an arbitrary hue in the movie. In purely aesthetic terms, "Raise the Red Lantern" is breathtaking. Whether color -- and other aesthetics -- can carry an entire picture has been raised before in connection with Zhang's work (which includes "Red Sorghum" and "Ju Dou"). In "Lantern" he comes close to pulling it off. Passion for the spectrum (particularly the redder end) suffuses -- and completely informs -- this tale of a power struggle in 1920s China. Chief among things vermilion are the titular lanterns. In this movie, they represent the pinnacle of power. When Gong Li (Zhang's other regular leading lady) becomes the fourth bride of an aging, wealthy patriarch, she enters a forbidding, repressive world. Cloistered in her own quarters with a personal servant, she undergoes a series of daily rituals. She's also forced into bitter rivalry with the three other wives. (Excerpt by Desson Howe, WASHINGTON POST)
China, 1991. Color, in Mandarin with English subtitles, 125 mins., 35mm. Not rated.
REAR WINDOW (restored
Thu & Fri, July 13&14 (7&9:15pm).
"We've become a race of peeping Toms," says Stella (Thelma Ritter), the nurse who comes to take care of injured photographer L.B. "Jeff" Jeffries (James Stewart) and finds him spying on his neighbors. Not only is Hitchcock's most overtly voyeuristic film even more timely today, in an age where people's private lives are aired on television and the Internet every hour, but it's been given a fresh restoration by Robert A. Harris and James C. Katz, the same team that saved the master's Vertigo from fading into celluloid oblivion. The result is a color-saturated new print of 1954's Rear Window that only highlights its complex and thoroughly unsettling themes. Jeffries, confined to a wheelchair with a broken leg, has nothing to do while his leg heals but watch little snippets of life through his neighbors' windows and begins to suspect that one of them, a salesman named Thorwald (Raymond Burr), has murdered his ailing wife. He soon drags Stella into his obsession, as well as girlfriend Lisa (Grace Kelly, ravishing and electrifyingly erotic), although a detective friend (Wendell Corey) does his best to come up with an alternate explanation for Thorwald's suspicious actions. (Excerpt by Don Kave, ROUGH CUT)
USA, 1954. Color, in English, 112 mins., 35mm. Rated PG.
LIKE WATER FOR CHOCOLATE
Sat, July 15 (7&9:15), Sun, July 16 (3&7pm).
An enchantingly cinematic expression of magic realism, this irresistible Mexican movie is based on a popular Mexican novel in which each chapter begins with a recipe. Like Babette's Feast, it's a celebration not only of food but its life-enriching qualities. The meals are prepared with love as well as grief, as the central character, an unmarried woman named Tita, is forced by circumstance to make the kitchen the center of her life. Those who share in the dishes she prepares must also share, sometimes quite literally, her joy and tears… The title, Like Water For Chocolate, which refers to the agitated state of water boiled with cocoa, is a metaphor for Tita and Pedro's frustrated passion, which becomes all-consuming precisely because they've been restrained from expressing themselves. A veteran actor-filmmaker who has appeared in several Hollywood Westerns, Alfonso Arau has been directing Mexican films for 25 years. He's been loaded down with prizes for his meticulous direction of this film, which quite faithfully and imaginatively follows his wife's novel. (Excerpt by John Hartl, FILM.COM)
Mexico, 1992. Color, in Spanish with English subtitles, 113 mins., 35mm. Rated R.
Thu & Fri, July 20 & 21. (7&9:30pm).
One minute lost in the intoxication of religious ecstasy, the next grappling in a battle of ideologically clashing wills, the tension suddenly shattered in a bizarre slapstick aside before it all starts building again, Jane Campion’s film keeps the audience dancing like a fish on the line. It’s frustrating and even a little distracting, but it’s a damnably compelling mix of emotional color. Campion, who wrote the script with her sister Anna, keeps her audience on its toes with sudden changes of mood, defying expectations at almost every turn. If the resulting work is a little hard to define, to bring together into a single sense of wholeness, maybe that’s less a problem with the film than our need to define and the methods we bring to creating closure. Maybe there is method to Campion’s madness… Ruth (Kate Winslet) is staying in India as a part of a religious commune led by a charismatic guru. Ruth’s family, gathered for a powwow in their ticky tacky Sydney suburban home, plot to extricate her from her cult and put her into the hands of a deprogrammer (Harvey Keitel). But first they have to get her back home. (Excerpt by Sean Axmaker, NITRATE ONLINE)
USA, 1999. Color, in English, 114 mins., 35mm. Rated R.
Sat, July 22 (7&9pm), Sun, July 23 (3&7pm).
In "Blue," the Polish filmmaker Krzysztof Kieslowski's penetrating, hypnotic meditation on liberty and loss, the title refers not only to the visual palette of the film but also to its dominant mood. The filmmaker plunges into his story without even the hint of foreplay. The first image we see is a candy wrapper, shining silver-blue in the pre-dawn light as a little girl holds it outside her car window. The next is a leaky pipe underneath the car, foretelling what comes next -- a car crash in which the film's protagonist, Julie (Juliette Binoche) loses both her husband and her young daughter. Initially, the details of the story come out in slivers, mirroring the perceptions of the character as she struggles to regain consciousness in the hospital after the wreck. Julie's fragmented impressions begin to make sense. Her husband, we learn, was a celebrated composer. Also, there were rumors that he had run out of ideas and that Julie had for years served as his ghostwriter. But Julie fights off these memories, as if the simple act of remembering causes great suffering. (Excerpt by Hal Hinsen, WASHINGTON POST)
France/Poland/Switzerland, 1993. Color, in French with English subtitles, 100 mins., 35mm. Rated R.
Thu & Fri, July 27 & 28 (7 & 9:30pm).
Unmistakably his most accessible film in his 19-year career, the director of such films as "Stranger Than Paradise" (winner of the Camera D’Or in 1984), "Mystery Train," "Down by Law," and "Dead Man" (in competition in 1994) succeeds by intersecting three disparate worlds: the Mafia, the ancient Japanese samurai, and hip-hop. Ghost Dog (Forest Whitaker) spends his nights living clandestinely among his pigeon friends atop an apartment building and spends his days as a for-hire assassin for the mob in New York. He adheres to the strict code and writings found in an ancient Samurai text. No one knows much about him -- who he is, where he lives, or his modus operandi -- with the exception of mob capo Louie (John Tormey), who once saved his life. He's never forgotten the kindness bestowed upon him by Louie, and thus becomes an adroit, loyal hitman for the Mafia. Louie hires Ghost Dog for a routine hit: to kill Handsome Frank (Richard Portnow), who's sleeping with the boss' daughter, Louise (Tricia Vessey). The hit goes well, and he puts Louise on a bus to get her out of town. Alas, she comes back, and mob boss Vargo (Henry Silva) pins the blame squarely on Ghost Dog. The word is out that a hit is ordered on Ghost Dog -- who often spouts words of wisdom from an ancient Samurai text -- but he remains adamant in his respect and protection for Louie; he goes after every other member of the family, though. This film -- while not as original and haunting as "Dead Man" -- is also Jarmusch's funniest to date. The world of rap and Sinatra are humorously fused during one scene when the mob has a sit-down. They're questioning Ghost Dog's name -- claiming it's similar to many names of rap stars. One capo, Sonny Valerio (Cliff Gorman), claims his favorite rapper is Flavor Flav, from Public Enemy, and quotes rap lyrics from one of their songs. Other scenes of Mafia ineptitude and one scene in particular (of a way in which Ghost Dog offs a capo) are amusing and fresh comedic territory for the director who nearly single-handedly defined independent cinema.
A US/European co-production, 1999. Color, in English, 115 mins., 35mm. Rated R.
Sat, July 29 (7&9pm), Sun, July 30 (3&7pm).
White is the second episode in Kieslowski's Blue-White-Red trilogy analyzing liberty, equality and fraternity in modern Europe - but never mind, the film works fine on its own. The director, who earned world-class status in the mid-'80s with The Decalogue (a 10-part Polish TV series of modern fables, each illustrating one of the Commandments), is in an impish mood here. He finds hairpin turns and deadpan delight in the sexual and political intrigue devised by screenwriter Krzysztof Piesiewicz. And Zamachowski, who has some of Dustin Hoffman's molelike ingenuity, plays Karol Karol (Charlie Charlie in Polish) as a Chaplin figure hatching a Kafka plot. At its heart, White is a Polish joke played on the French. For Kieslowski it can be seen as a declaration of both love and disdain for a foreign country and a language in which he works but which he does not quite understand. In White Karol could be Kieslowski: resourceful, isolated, powerless, homesick. And Dominique could be France: beautiful, haughty, unforgiving, irresistible. "After all she did," Karol says, "I still love her." (Excerpt by Richard Corliss, TIME)
France/Poland/Switzerland, 1994. Color, in French & Polish with English subtitles, 91 mins., 35mm. Rated R.
THE EMPEROR AND THE ASSASSIN
Thu & Fri, Aug 3 & 4, (7 pm only).
Chen Kaige to the rescue! China's longest-reigning angry young filmmaker has an eye for rapturous compositions on a huge and telling tapestry. His new film mixes DeMille and Dostoyevsky: the cast-of-thousands splendor of a biblical epic and the gnarled psychology of Chen's own Farewell My Concubine. And all in less time than a Stephen King prison drama. The Emperor and the Assassin, set in the 3rd century B.C., relates the struggle of Ying Zheng (Li Xuejian) to unify China and become its first emperor. His aims are honorable, his methods increasingly brutal; he might be the prototype for Lenin or Mao. Ying sends his lover Lady Zhao (Gong Li) to her Han homeland. Her mission is to find a professional killer (Zhang Fengyi, in a potent turn) to fake an assassination attempt, whose "failure" will make Ying seem invincible to his adversaries. But Ying grows more ruthless, and the lady and the killer fall in love. Now they will try to put an end to the emperor's dynasty before it begins. The film may confuse those unfamiliar with Chinese history, but never mind. Just pay heed to the glorious moviemaking. (Excerpt by Richard Corliss, TIME)
Japan/China, 1999. Color, in Mandarin with English subtitles, 160 mins., 35mm. Rated R.
Sat, Aug 5 (7&9pm), Sun, Aug 6 (3&7pm).
``Red'' is the best of the lot: warmer, more accessible, unusually generous toward its characters. A mystical tale of chance encounters and unexpected connections, ``Red'' uses a traffic accident as a springboard to discovery… The most spiritual of contemporary film makers, Kieslowski seems to watch over his characters with kind, paternal regard -- waiting for them to connect, capturing their reactions with his slow, patient camera. There's a father-daughter quality to the relationship (between the characters played by Irene Jacob and Jean-Louis Trintignant), but also the suggestion that had Valentine only been born 40 years earlier, the two of them might have had a long and happy marriage. Whereas ``The Double Life of Veronique'' suggested that each of us has a spiritual twin somewhere in the world, who sees and experiences the world exactly as we do, ``Red'' believes that our perfect partner exists, although often in a physical form we can't recognize. Kieslowski builds toward a surprise ending and reinforces his philosophy of connectedness: that things happen for a reason, that we are not alone. (Excerpt by Edward Guthmann, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE)
France/Poland/Switzerland, 1994. Color, in French with English subtitles, 96 mins., 35mm. Rated R.
Thu & Fri, Aug 10 & 11 (7 & 9pm).
"Buddy Boy" is the story of a stuttering, tormented geek who rarely leaves his stepmother's apartment and it creates and sustains its own distinctive mood, larded with flashes of black humor. That mood is a lot closer to the dream state, or perhaps schizophrenia, than to the supposedly edgy, this-is-how-it-is naturalism favored by almost all first-time filmmakers these days… Numerous films have of course been constructed around the idea of voyeurism -- chief among them Alfred Hitchcock's "Rear Window" and Michael Powell's "Peeping Tom" -- and by now it's Film Criticism 101 to claim that spying on someone is some kind of metaphor for the act of watching a movie. Even if (first time director Mark) Hanlon is mining this dubious psychological territory one more time, it isn't his main concern. "Buddy Boy" owes its allegiance to a far more obscure, even symbolist school of cinema, one that's drastically out of fashion at the moment. Besides early Lynch, Hanlon has an obvious affinity for the Roman Polanski of "Repulsion," the Nicolas Roeg of "Don't Look Now" and maybe the Martin Scorsese of "Taxi Driver" (but not "Mean Streets"). In other words, if you're one of those viewers who like to have an hour long, double-cappuccino-fueled discussion right after the movie, you've found a kindred spirit. (Excerpt by Andrew O'Hehir, SALON.COM)
USA, 1999. Color, in English, 105 mins., 35mm. Rated R.
Sat, Aug 12 (7&9pm) and Sunday, Aug 13 (3&7)
At first glance, MICROCOSMOS looks like just another nature film. Super close-ups of screen-size insects reveal a grasshopper licking a leaf, the last stages of the metamorphosis of a butterfly, and the plight of a lone beetle as it trudges across a terrain that looks like a John Ford Western landscape. But with a sensibility that recalls the awe of 19th-century evolutionists, coupled with advanced technology that allows for remarkable access, this documentary is anything but standard. Biologists-turned-filmmakers Claude Nuridsany and Marie Pérennou set out some six years ago to make the film; it required developing new equipment and it took many, long hours of patient shooting while waiting, like the famed still photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson, for "the moment." And these moments are beautifully captured: a ladybug does a back-flip when a raindrop hits the leaf it is gingerly perched on; a grisly battle between spindly-legged bugs puts the creatures of NAKED LUNCHto shame. And then there is the beetle. It struggles with a piece of dirt twice its size, up and over tiny bumps our own bare toes could not detect, until a small twig snags the orb. Suddenly, it becomes all too apparent this black arthropod has an engineering mind - and its deft triumph inspires cheers. It's clear the filmmakers are devoted to their creatures, but it doesn't stop them from making good fun of the insects. (Excerpt by Pamela Cuthbert, EYENET)
France / Switzerland / Italy, 1996. Color, no dialogue, 80 mins., 35mm.