Beasts of No Nation coming to Film Lovers Club

[Note to Film Club participants: I am rehearsing for A Cajun Midsummer Night's Dream which opens January 29th, 2016 at The Novato Theatre. So, the next film club will be March 19th]

In Beasts of No Nation, Director Cary Fukunaga (Sin Nombre) refuses to whitewash the violent reality of children conscripted into war. I believe that this film is as important today as Frances Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now was in its day. And, so, I plan to show it next time at Film Lovers Club.

Agu (Abraham Attah) and The Commandant (Idris Elba) in Beasts of No Nation

It is tough to watch, yes. But, it is a necessary film to watch. Although there is real life horror, the truly gripping through-line is about a boy, Agu, coming of age in the midst of terrible personal and national tragedy…something we see in the news every day, but to which we either don’t have a personal connection and/or to which we blithely turn a blind eye. The delicate and touching moments between Agu and his “rag tag” army of brothers and the dysfunctional relationship in which he is truly a captive of the father figure (the Commandant) in his new life are so heart-breakingly deep that one walks away from a film like this with a clear sense of how children and young people are both enrolled into these ISIS-style situations and why they find it virtually impossible to leave them. Beasts of No Nation is an important film because it shows us exactly why and how this happens. And we need to understand this.Strika and Agu in Beasts of No NationUnfortunately, Anthony Lane of The New Yorker Magazine magazine suggested that Cary Fukunaga’s filmmaking style was gratuitously violent. You do have to prepare yourself for violence. But, I swear, just the sound track alone, if you were to listen to the film with your eyes closed, transports you into another world. And, it is a feat that Director Fukunaga was able to choreograph such a film where it was shot––Ghana, Africa.

As in-your-face as the violence is, the film is equally heartwarming––a perfect pitch of unbearable sadness and of the compelling bonds of love that only war can fuse into a child’s soul. In my humble opinion, Beasts of No Nation will stand out as a masterstroke of both immediate and breathtaking filmmaking and compelling storytelling.

My last point: Could it be that any unfavorable review of this film is simply because Fukunaga won’t play by the rules? The film, ten years in development and in the making, was funded by Netflix, their first feature film. And Netflix did not go along with the typical 90-Day clause that gives large theatres an exclusive first opportunity to show it; They released the film immediately after the festival circuit. As a result, sadly, it is not in many theatres. It is definitely a film that should be seen on a large screen. It crossed my mind that there might even be a concerted effort to force young directors into line…its own kind of not-so-subtle war on Art…something we can stomach observing, but distasteful none-the-less.

Please join me in viewing the upcoming film Beasts of No Nation the third weekend of March on Saturday, the 19th. Stay tuned for upcoming information about it.

The Coen Brothers’ TRUE GRIT September 26

I’ve been running into Film Lovers Club members on the street and everyone’s been asking me: When’s Film Club starting up again, Sam? Drumroll…. SEPTEMBER 26!

See you at the Firehouse/Mythos Art Gallery for FILM LOVERS CLUB on September 26! (last Saturday in September) at 7 pm.

And… the reason I didn’t start in late August, as usual, is because this past summer, I sang with Lamplighters Opera Company. The run was Gilbert and Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore. I was a sailor in the men’s chorus and had a ball. (See me third from left with my shipmates.)     We sang all over the Bay Area, from San Francisco’s Yuerba Buena’s Center for Performing Arts to Mountain View’s TheatreWorks, Walnut Creek’s Lesher Theater, to Livermore’s Bankhead Theater.


And, now the Fall is upon us and I’m ready to roll out Film Lover’s Club again…with one caveat: this season, I have a lot of bookings as an actor, including flying to Florida in October to shoot as a lead for a pilot for a TV show, doing a radio play for a children’s book in SF, and acting in an upcoming play at Novato Theatre Company with Director Clay David who is also the Artistic Director at Altarena Playhouse in Alameda.

So, I will be showing only one film per month until my schedule is less hectic. And, to make it more confusing, the Saturdays won’t be consistent. I’m sorry, guys! (Halloween is on the last Saturday of October, so I can’t get a rhythm of doing Film Lovers Club on the last Saturday of the month, but I’ll try to stick as close to that as I can.) But, let’s get together and get it started. I’ve got some exciting films planned.

To open, I’ll be starting with The Coen Brother’s “True Grit,” an American Western. It is the second adaptation of Charles Portis‘ 1968 novel of the same name, which was previously filmed in 1969 starring John Wayne.

I love this film. It is about a very strong-willed 14-year-old farm girl named Mattie Ross (played by Hailee Steinfeld) whose father has been murdered by a man named Tom Chaney (played by Josh Brolin). Mattie hires Rooster Cogburn (played by Jeff Bridges), a boozing, trigger-happy lawman, to help her find Chaney and avenge her father’s death. But, they bicker relentlessly throughout their search as Rooster doesn’t want a girl along for the ride. Meanwhile, a Texas Ranger named LaBoeuf (played by Matt Damon) is also tracking Chaney for reasons of his own.

Last note, I took a course on the Coen Brothers at Stanford Continuing Education last Spring. It was really fun and interesting. I immersed myself in the films that the professor< James Tyree, recommended. I won’t be doing all Coen Brothers for Film Lovers Club, but just thought you’d like to know that I have a particular interest in them. I think that True Grit is one of their more deliciously fun films. And, it doesn’t hit you over the head with violence.

Oh, and one more thing. I’ve changed my mailing system to MailChimp. Hopefully, I won’t have too many hiccups in learning the system.

See you at the Firehouse/Mythos Art Gallery for FILM LOVERS CLUB on September 26! (last Saturday in September) at 7 pm.

 

 

Run Lola Run is Relentless

This weekend’s feature was the 1998 German film: RUN LOLA RUN by Director Tom Tykwer. RUN LOLA RUN is relentless. It just doesn’t let up from the first frame to the last.

The main characters are Lola (starring Franka Potente) and her boyfriend, Manni (played by Moritz Bliebtreu), who is a small-time criminal. The set-up is that Manni has accidentally left 100,000 marks of money that he was taking to his boss on the train and he has twenty minutes to deliver it to the boss or he will be killed. The film follows Lola as she attempts to help Manni come up with the money.

3 different versions of reality unfold as Lola runs to her father’s bank to get some money for Manni. Each run recreates the same scene, but with a chance variable which leads to a different outcome. (Run 1) (Run 2) (Run 3)

The film explores the themes of: Chance, Fate, and Love. It also illustrates the idea of the Butterfly Effect. The butterfly effect is a theory that something small and seemingly inconsequential (like a chance meeting) can blossom into a radically and significantly different outcome. And the film also explores the themes of chaos and consciousness.

The director was heavily influenced by Krystof Kieslowski, particularly by Kieslowski’s film BLIND CHANCE which also played out in 3 different scenarios. Blind Chance shows a man who is affected by the corrupt politics of Communist Poland during the 1980′s, and he’s working out issues of loyalty with regard to his home country.

Here is a review from the New York Times that you might like about RUN LOLA RUN…and one from SLANT magazine. Both are good reads.

Next up at FILM LOVERS CLUB is Amores Perros, directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu who recently won the Oscar for Birdman. FILM LOVERS CLUB will next meet on April 18 @ Firehouse Art Collective on 1790 Shattuck Ave. in Berkeley.

Kagero-za…

KAGERO-ZA…

Not well-attended…

Which words scared people off? Surrealistic, Japanese, Seijun Suzuki? Is it about reading subtitles?

Seriously, I’d like to know…

To me, Suzuki is genius. You just don’t know what’s going to happen in the next scene….

The following review from SLANT MAGAZINE pretty much sums up Kagero-za. I’m reposting it here, unedited.

Kageroza
Kageroza 3 out of 4

By Fernando F. Croce ON Go to Comments (0)

Kageroza’s alternate title, Heat-Haze Theater, perfectly illustrates the ineffable sensuality and perverse randomness of Seijun Suzuki’s late-period arabesque. The middle entry in the director’s Taisho Trilogy, the wantonly eccentric narrative is set in 1926 Tokyo, though, given Suzuki’s contempt for coherence, it might as well take place in another planet. Playwright Matsuzaki (Yusaku Matsuda) has a series of encounters with Shinako (Michiyo Ookusu), a strange woman who materializes one day on her way to the hospital, and who may or may not be the late wife of Tamawaki (Katsuo Nakamura), Matsuzaki’s shotgun-toting patron. Just as the plot seems to be solidifying into a parody of Japanese ghost tragedies, however, Suzuki tosses in Eriko Kusuda as Tamawaki’s wife, a geisha who resembles Shinako except for her habit of turning blond and blue-eyed with the moonlight. Suzuki whips nutty yet genuine eroticism around an exposed ankle or soaking-wet hair, but it is the countless, casually inexplicable details—characters dropped into deadpan tableaux via jump cuts, boldly gratuitous changes of angle, raucous Jazz Age parties, and crushed bladder cherries—that assure us that the movie will be impossible to predict from shot to shot, let alone from scene to scene. Willfully obscure as it might be, Kageroza nevertheless sheds considerable light on the arc of Suzuki’s career: Where the filmmaker’s more famous ’60s yakuza thrillers, made under studio contract, charge regular situations with a surplus of masculinity toppling over into hysteria, the Taisho films, shot with complete freedom, are oddly feminine, absurdist yet filmed with tranquil assurance. That such alleged assignments as Gate of Flesh or Story of a Prostitute remain in the end much more emotionally satisfying than the thoroughly personal Taisho Trilogy attests to the way an artist can often benefit from outside control, though there’s no denying Suzuki’s knack for ravishing disorientation even if you take one character’s description of “a too complicated game to enjoy” to apply for the film.

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I’ve shown three Japanese films since Film Lovers Club began––Shinobi-no-mono, a samuri film, by Director Tomoyoshi Murayama; Tokyo Drifter, a crime thriller about a maverick gangster, also by Seijun Suzuki; and now, Kagero-za. But, none of them were well-attended. I have some more selections from Japanese theatre in my line-up, but now am concerned about showing them.

As for next Film Lovers Club… I had planned to show Run Lola Run. But, I may choose something without subtitles. Let me think on it.

 

 

Io Sono Amore

Our crowd this evening, March 7th, did not appreciate Io Sono Amore the way that I do. The reaction came as a surprise for me. As a result, I perused reviews and found that they fell into two camps.

Those who loved the film appreciated it for its cinematic qualities and also, particularly, the acting of Tilda Swinton. This excellent review by Yorik Le Saux, the cinematographer, for I Am Love (Io Sono Amore) is, I think, particularly informative about what the director (Luca Guadagnino), cinematographer, and Swinton were out to capture, visually, to support the story.

Le Saux says this: “From the beginning, we talked about the two worlds. The world of the Recchis is strict, with more contrast, wide angles and a colder feel in the characters’ relationships. For the countryside, Luca (the director) wanted natural light, longer lenses, more close-ups and no depth-of-field, and we strove to be open to catching everything that happened on set.”

I, for one, was particularly captivated by the cinematography and the contrasts: In the Recchi home, the Ozu still and architectural angles through with the action traversed––and with the outdoor natural scenes in San Remo.

But, one scene stands out above all that was outside the house and that was when Emma Recchi traipses across the top of the Milan Cathedral, when she has discovered that her daughter, Betta, has taken a different direction with love. It is the portending of her own deep yearnings…to find love that frees her from her current entrapment.

Which leads me to the second group of observers of the film, those who didn’t really like it. They were in the Lady Chatterly’s Lover camp. And, although I can *see* what they see, I think that reducing the film to this simple scope eclipses the power of it.

Read both reviews that I’ve included.

The short was called FOOD, a hilarious “Creature Comforts” style animated piece by Siqi Song: https://vimeo.com/95342512

And, the cartoon starred Bugs Bunny in Wackiki Rabbit.

Next Film Lovers Club is on March 21 @ 7 pm. I will show one of my favorite films by Director Seijun Suzuki, entitled Kagero-Za.

Jodorowsky’s DUNE

Jodorowsky’s “DUNE” drew a big crowd at Film Lovers Club last night. Thank you to all who came. I am particularly drawn to this documentary about Alejandro Jodorowsky and his attempt to make Frank Herbert’s epic science fiction novel DUNE because of Jodorofsky’s undying enthusiasm.

Alejandro Jodorowsky is a most fascinating person. In his autobiography Dance of Reality (and there is a new film out by him by the same name), he describes himself as the sensitive son of a tough guy. His father, a former trapeze artist, was a Russian immigrant to Chile where Alejandro was born. [Note: If you go to the Amazon link I've provided about this book and click on First Pages, I suggest that you read p. 9 through the top of p. 11 for some insight into an event that shaped his thinking as a child.]

Jodorowsky is a poet, film director, writer, therapist, and mystic. He is deeply steeped in the Tarot and even has his own deck. As a film director, he created and directed the outrageous film El Topo, The Holy Mountain, and more recently Dance of Reality, which showed at the Cannes Film Festival in 2013.

He currently has a Kickstarter campaign for his new film “Endless Poetry.” Here is a link to that, if you are interested in contributing to it. Please consider giving a few dollars towards his project, if you are so inclined: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/276667448/jodorowskys-new-film-endless-poetrypoesia-sin-fin

The short we watched was called “Channeling” by the music group Elysium Fields. It’s a surrealistic cat adventure.

 

 

The cartoon was “Mad as a Mars Hare,” starring our favorite… Bugs Bunny and Marvin the Martian.

 

 

We will meet again on March 7th. I will show Io Sono Amore, starring Tilda Swinton. It’s a beautifully shot film. Tilda Swinton also collaborated with Director Luca Guadagnino in the development of the film which took place over 11 years. It is one of the most beautifully shot films I’ve ever seen. I hope you can make it. Here is the trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TZBrWVvn9xA

 

“Dance! Dance! Otherwise, We Are Lost.” ~ Pina Bausch

“Dance! Dance! Otherwise, we are lost.” This is what the famous German dance choreographer, Pina Bausch, said.

I knew nothing about Pina Bausch until I saw the film about her work by director, Wim Wenders. I had been exposed to exacting dance by a theater director who had studied with Bob Fosse. And when I danced with Artship in The Burning of the Great Library at Alexandria (see image to right), Slobodon Dan Paich taught in a way that made you find your relationship with the materials––a rope, a basket, a hoop, a parachute, leaves, someone else’s hands….

But, Pina’s work brought for me a new understanding to my concept of what dance can be and is. What did I learn from watching PINA? In short, I caught a glimpse of the immense power of gesture. The dancers took a movement and distilled it to its essence or a short series of related movements and brought them down to their most essential relationship.

One example that stood out for me was the woman being pulled on the rope. We could not see who or what was holding the rope. What holds her back?  I think we can all relate to that question in our own ways. Even if we don’t dance in a formal way, we all need to learn to dance with life. When we hold back, we are not in the dance.

The cartoon was from 1953 by Walt Disney, starring Goofy, a dog, playing a character named George. It was entitled “How to Dance.” In this cartoon, Goofy learns how to ballroom dance with the help of a mannequin and a narrator.

The short was Octopodi, about two octopi in a love relationship. It’s a really fun animated short by directors Julien Bocabeille, Francois-Xavier Chanioux, Olivier Delabarre, Thierry Marchand, Quentin Marmier, & Edmund Mokhberi. Here is a fun little video about how Octopodi was modeled.

Next time at Film Lovers Club, on February 21st, I will be showing Jodorowsky’s “DUNE.” For aspiring filmmakers, there is nothing like Alejandro Jodorowsky’s enthusiasm and what he went through to develop his unrealized version of Frank Herbert’s epic science fiction novel, Dune. Check out the trailer below.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4WWu1kclNDA#t

In the Company of Lev Nicholayevich Tolstoy

We kicked off Film Lover’s Club 2015 last night in the company of Lev Nicholayevich Tolstoy, the well-known Russian author (War and Peace, Anna Karenina, among other works) of the early Twentieth Century. For a completely fascinating chronology of Tolstoy’s life and the time period, go to the first pages in his three volume set of War and Peace.

Seriously, Christopher Plumber’s characterization of Leo Tolstoy in The Last Station was so excellent that you felt as if you were literally in the company of the great writer himself and those who were part of his world.

Whatever else there is to say about this film, the themes expressed are as relevant today as they were a century ago: among them…Love, Religion, Government, Ideology.

What I learned from my preparation for the presentation of this film to Film Lover’s Club is that Mohandas Gandhi was influenced by Leo Tolstoy for his Satyagraha––passive resistance––movement in South Africa. Satyagraha literally translates to “insistence on the truth.”

And Christopher Plummer was just one of the many fine actors who played in this film. To me, it is always so gratifying to watch extremely seasoned actors together. The emotional range of Helen Mirren, who played Sofya Tolstoy, was electrifying, powerful. Paul Giamatti, James McAvoy, Kerry Condon, and other amazing actors created a very believable world and distilled a distinctly unique moment in time.

Tolstoy reached a certain level of enlightenment, but fell short when he sold out to his editor and protege Vladimir Chertov’s insistence on changing Tolstoy’s Will to give the copyright of his work to the Russian people; thereby, abandoning his wife of 54 years with the stroke of a pen. In the film, when Tolstoy signs the document in secret in a wooded glen, he says, “I am a just conspirator.” Chertov wanted to make Tolstoy into a demi-god. But, Valentin (Tolstoy’s secretary) knew that being a “god” ran counter to Tolstoy’s purest sensibilities. Still, Chertov played up to Tolstoy, appealing to his ideals about lack of ownership.

The film addressed many complexities related to family life as it intersected with the Tolstoyian utopian ideal. I highly recommend viewing this film––The Last Station.

The cartoon was Friz Freleng’s “All a Bir-r-rd,” starring Tweety Bird and Sylvester. It paralleled The Last Station in that part of it took place at a train station and there was conflict.

And, the short was part of a BBC documentary about Tolstoy’s excommunication from the Russian Orthodox Church. In his book, The Kingdom of God is Within You, which was the culmination of Tolstoy’s thinking and was the basis for the Tolstoyan movement.

Our next Film Lovers Club will be on February 7th. I will present Film Lovers Club favorite, Win Wenders’ film PINA, about the life of the dancer Pina Bausch.

MY LEFT FOOT FILM a hit at Film Lovers Club

“THE GREATEST ART IS THE ART OF LIVING.

THE GREATEST ARTIST, THE LIVER OF LIFE.”~ Christy Brown

Tonight, at Film Lovers Club, I showed My Left Foot, starring Daniel Day-Lewis, about a famous writer from Ireland named Christy Brown.

Christy Brown’s story is incredible because he was born with cerebral palsy, a neurological condition that impacted his physical body, made him spastic and unable to coordinate much of his body. But, he demonstrated incredible dexterity with his one ambulatory foot.

Born into a poor, but loving Irish Catholic family, Christie Brown’s mother never gave up on him. He became a painter, a poet, and a celebrated writer.

Brown’s greatest work was entitled Down All the Days was compared to James Joyce’s great masterpiece Ulysses. It became a best-seller in Ireland. The Irish Times claimed the book was the most important Irish novel since James Joyce’s Ulysses.

Because of having gone through autism and finding my way out of it through art-related pursuits (acting, filmmaking, singing, and writing), I related to My Left Foot. There were moments that were particularly poignant for me in watching this film. For example, Christy was brilliant, but couldn’t get the words out. Having lost language for a period of time in my life, I relate to this frustration.

The short this evening was about Lou Boland, an accomplished musician with de Morsier Syndrome. I met Lou’s parents last year in New York City at the Sprout Film Festival which is a film festival that features people with disabilities either by filming them or showing films made by them. I hope you’ll take a few moments to watch this beautiful film by Lou’s father Luc Boland. (For more information about Lou, you can check out http://fondationlou.com/)

And, the cartoon was Porky Pig’s “Wearing of the Grin” which is a play on words for the Irish ballad entitled: The Wearing of the Green, which sadly remembers the repression of supporters of the Irish Rebellion of 1798. The Irish Rebellion was an uprising in Ireland against British rule, influenced by the ideas of the American and French Revolutions. The words to the song include “they are hanging men and women for wearing the green.”

In this cartoon, Porky Pig ends up wearing green shoes, and the theme is borrowed from the Hans Christian Anderson fable The Red Shoes (<–click link for story), about a pair of ballet shoes that never let the wearer stop dancing.

The next FILM LOVERS CLUB will be on November 15th. I will be showing Coriolanus, a modern adaptation of Shakespeare’s tragedy by the same name. Coriolanus is directed by and stars, Ralph Feinnes with out standing performances by Gerard Butler and Vanessa Redgrave.

 

THE GHOST WRITER

Welcome back this season to Sam Rubin‘s Film Lovers Club! We opened with Director Roman Polanski’s THE GHOST WRITER, based on the novel The Ghost, by Robert Harris, a former colleague of England’s Prime Minister Tony Blair. Harris and Blair had a falling out over the Iraq War and his novel is a result of that.

I’ve seen this film four times and, this time, the concept and metaphor of “the ghost” was more apparent to me. There were a lot of ghosts in this film. For example: the previous ghost-writer, the son of one of the protestors, and all the people who were killed in Adam Lange’s war. Even Roman Polanski, himself, as director was somewhat of a ghost as he was incarcerated in Zurich during part of the editing of the film for a decades-old arrest in the USA.

Check out these two excellent reviews about THE GHOST WRITER: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/william-bradley/the-ghosts-of-tony-blair_b_509269.html & http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/19/movies/19ghost.html

In the discussion after the film, one thing that no one could agree on, was what exactly was going on, in the beginning of the film, when Lange’s lawyer gave the ghostwriter a manuscript that was supposedly from someone else. Then, the ghostwriter was mugged and the manuscript stolen. If you have any thoughts to share about that, I’d love to hear it in the response section of this blog.

For the short, I played DOT, the world’s smallest stop-motion animation, shot on a Nokia N8 phone with a portable medical microscope built by University of California Berkeley professor Daniel Fletcher (check out his bio!) And check out the DOT film here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CD7eagLl5c4

Also, I showed the Making of DOT, because it was so interesting…maybe even more interesting than the DOT film itself. Check it out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XTbzSiwbRfg

Our next Film Lovers Club will take place the first Saturday in November. I plan to show MY LEFT FOOT by Director Jim Sheridan, starring the amazing Daniel Day-Lewis and Brenda Fricker|.

The story centers on Christy Brown, a young Irish man with Cerebral Palsy, who learns to paint with his left foot. But, the story is way more than just a triumph over a physical disability. And Daniel Day-Lewis’ performance is not to be missed! COME JOIN US ON NOVEMBER 1st AT THE FIREHOUSE ART COLLECTIVE ON 1790 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley, CA 94709

Also, if you think that someone you know would be interested in coming to Film Lovers Club, please invite them to come.

See you then… Sam