Friday, March 30, 2018


SFFILM Festival 2018

This is the second year in which the longest running film festival in America, the San Francisco International Film Festival, is operating under its new name SFFILM Festival. For 61 years, this beloved festival has been an iconic fixture in the city's film culture. It continues to thrive and attract the best talent around the world. It embraces, enriches, and celebrates the creativity and excellence in cinema art both in the Bay Area and around the globe.

From April 4-17, 2018, the festival will showcase 183 films, including 57 narrative features, 37 documentary features, and 83 shorts, in 46 languages representing 45 countries and regions.

The 61st San Francisco International Film Festival

This edition of the festival opens on Wednesday, April 4 with director Silas Howard's timely drama "A Kid Like Jake" (USA 2018 | 92 min.), about a family's dilemma on their young son Jack's school choice when Jack starts to express transgender tendencies.

A week into the festival, on Thursday, April 12, the festival's centerpiece presentation features Bay Area filmmaker Boots Riley's social critique comedy "Sorry to Bother You" (USA 2018 | 105 min.), about a telemarketer's story in a socially unjust environment.

Although the festival runs through April 17, its closing night presentation, writer-director Gus Van Sant's new film "Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot" (USA 2018 | 113 min.) is scheduled for Sunday, April 15. It tells the extraordinary story of the quadriplegic cartoonist John Callahan (Joaquin Phoenix).

Opening Night: A Kid Like Jake Centerpiece: Sorry to Bother You Closing Night: Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot

Accompanied by the screening of director Jason Reitman's "Tully" (USA 2018 | 96 min.), the festival pays tribute to the Academy-award winner actress Charlize Theron who plays an exhausted mother welcoming a nanny home.

Renowned Asian-American writer-director Wayne Wong is the other tribute recipient at the festival with the screening of "Smoke" (USA 1995 | 112 min.), about happenings centering at a cigar shop in Brooklyn.

A Tribute to Charlize Theron A Tribute to Wayne Wang

Besides these Big Nights, the festival classifies its films into the following sections:

  • Marquee Presentations includes 14 narratives and 8 documentaries that have recently captured the headlines or populated the social media sphere of independent filmmaking.

    Chloé Zhao's award winning drama "The Rider" (USA 2017 | 104 min.) beautifully portrays a cowboy who continues to pursue his rodeo dream after a terrible accident, terrifically played by local residents.

    The documentary "RBJ" (USA 2018 | 97 min.) takes a look at the fascinating Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

    Aneesh Chaganty's feature directorial debut "Searching" (USA 2018 | 101 min.) unfolds a father's search of his missing daughter entirely on a computer screen.

    The Rider RBJ Searching

  • Masters consists of 7 narratives from a few influential filmmakers around the world.

    Unlike his usual feel-good and life-affirming family drama, the renowned Japanese auteur Hirokazu Koreeda (是枝 裕和) tells a much darker tale in his latest gripping crime drama "The Third Murder" (三度目の殺人 | Japan 2017 | in Japanese | 125 min.). It shakes the moral authority of justice while unfolding its twisted plot.

    Like it or not, the prolific festival darling writer-director Hong Sang-soo (홍상수) comes back with yet another talking soap "Claire's Camera" (클레어의 카메라 | France/South Korea 2018 | in Korean/English | 69 min.). This time it's set in Cannes where his characters constantly run into each other on the streets and then they sit down to talk about art, career, or nothing significant.

    The Hong Kong director John Woo (吳宇森) also returns to the festival with his latest action thriller "Manhunt" (追捕 | Hong Kong/China 2017 | in Mandarin/English/Japanese | 111 min.). It's a remake of the Japanese movie "Manhunt" (君よ憤怒の河を渉れ | Japan 1976) that made Ken Takakura (高倉 健) a household name in China decades ago.

    The Third Murder Claire's Camera Manhunt

  • Global Visions assembles 14 narratives and 14 documentaries that give us a taste of the most contemporary world cinema.

    In light of the recent revelation about data harvesting from Facebook, it can't be more timely for directors Hans Block and Moritz Riesewieck's insightful documentary "The Cleaners" (Germany/Brazil/Netherlands/Italy/USA 2018 | in English/Tagalog 88 min.), which investigates how the social media companies hire workers in the Philippines as the content police. It is mind boggling to witness the devastating global impact these social media platforms fail to foresee.

    Iranian director Vahid Jalilvand's (وحید جلیلوند ‎‎) sophomore feature "No Date, No Signature" (بدون تاریخ بدون امضا | Iran 2017 | in Persian | 104 min.) constructs a captivating drama centered on a doctor's moral consciousness.

    Chinese writer-director Vivian Qu (文晏) comes back to this year's festival with her arresting and poignant drama "Angels Wear White" (嘉年华 | China/France 2017 | in Mandarin | 107 min.) about an undocumented motel employee who witnesses the government corruption and abuse of school girls. Her confident work earned her the Golden Horse Award for best director.

    The Cleaners No Date, No Signature Angels Wear White

  • Golden Gate Award (GGA) Competition nominates 10 narratives and 10 documentary features, as well as a handful of short films in six shorts programs for the generous cash prizes totaling nearly $40,000. Many emerging filmmakers around the world tell compelling stories in this category.

    Arun Bhattarai and Dorottya Zurbó's documentary "The Next Guardian" (ཤུལ་ལས་བདག་འཛིན་འབད་མི། | Hungary/Netherlands 2017 | in Dzongkha | 74 min.) intimately observes the generational conflicts in the digital age in Bhutan. While the father hopes that his son will carry on the family tradition as the care-taker of a family monastery, the teenaged boy is more interested in connecting to the Internet, playing soccer with his tomboy sister, and checking out girls.

    The Russian director Elizaveta Stishova's (Елизавета Стишова) impressive feature directorial debut "Suleiman Mountain" (Сулейман гора | Kyrgyzstan/Russia 2017 | in Kyrgyz | 103 min.) unfolds a captivating story in the titular UNESCO World Heritage Site about a boy who is taken out of the orphanage abruptly as the long-lost child of a couple of con-artists.

    Danish director Simon Lereng Wilmont's poignant documentary "The Distant Barking of Dogs" (Denmark/Sweden/Finland 2017 | in Ukrainian | 90 min.) depicts life near the front line of the Russia-Ukraine conflicts. Through the eyes of a 10-year-old boy Oleg who lives with his grandmother and his cousin, the film reveals the dire reality and the devastating trauma caused by the war.

    The Next Guardian Suleiman Mountain The Distant Barking of Dogs

  • Dark Wave has 4 films that continue to feed the appetite of midnight horror and sick pleasure seekers.
  • Vanguard shows 4 experimental films and one shorts program that break the norm in watching a film and challenge your brain either in connecting the dots in the filmmakers' storytelling, or in finding those dots in some cases.

Throughout the festival, besides film screenings, there are also awards presentations, live & on stage performances, as well as three Master Classes.

The SFFILM Festival takes place April 4 - April 17, 2018 in San Francisco (at the Castro Theater in the Castro; the Dolby Cinema, SFMOMA's Phyllis Wattis Theater, the YBCA Screening Room, and the Theater at Children's Creativity Museum around the downtown area; the Roxie Theater, and the Victoria Theatre in the Mission neighborhood), Berkeley (at Pacific Film Archive), Oakland (at Grand Lake Theater), and other locations around the Bay Area.

Thursday, March 29, 2018


Ready Player One

Ready Player One official site The legendary writer-director Steven Spielberg has made many films in the past which became significant fixtures in American pop culture. From "Jaws" (1975) to "E.T." (1982), from "Schindler's List" (1993) to "The Post" (2017), his films range from delightful entertainments to thought-provoking intellectuals pieces. With virtual reality (VR) gaining popularity in recent years, he dives into the fun of VR games through the bulky eye-wear in "Ready Player One" (USA 2018 | 140 min.). He playfully takes us into a colorful virtual reality world while nodding to various pop-culture icons in the '70s and '80s, including many characters in his own films.

The film is set in a dystopian Columbus, Ohio in 2045. Giving up their lives in reality, almost everyone is wearing a VR eye-wear and appears to be an avatar in a virtual reality world called OASIS, created by the late gifted game-creator James Halliday (Mark Rylance). Although he is already dead, his legacy lives on in OASIS. Before his death, he hid an Easter Egg in OASIS and the gamers need to find three keys in order to find the egg. Whoever gets the egg will also inherit Halliday's fortune. The game of egg is on.

One of the egg-hunting contenders is a teenager Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) who sleeps on top of a washing machine and slides in between piles of junk cars to get out of his trailer into a van. Once he gets into the van and puts on his VR wear, he becomes an aviator Parzival in OASIS, driving a DeLorean from "Back to the Future" (1985). During an exhilarating car racing scene involving King Kong and dinosaurs from Jurassic Park (1993), he befriends an aviator on motorcycle Art3mis (Olivia Cooke) whose real-life name is Samantha. With the help from another giant iron-man aviator Aech (Lena Waithe), they make some progress in searching for those mysterious keys, and they are joined later by Daito (Win Morisaki) and 11-year-old Sho (Philip Zhao).

But of course, they are not the only ones in the pursuit of the egg. The villain in the game is Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), the head of a gaming corporation called Innovative Online Industries (IOI) who wants to control OASIS. The VR game battle among the rivals is intensely played out on the giant IMAX screen in 3D, while the human drama in real life unfolds as a side plot monitored by drones.

Ready Player One Official Site

Even if you are not a big computer gamer, you will appreciate the immersive experience that Steven Spielberg creates in the film. You might gain some understanding about why so many people are addicted to the computer games, especially when they are played in a VR environment. You can truly be anyone you want in a fantasy world and completely escape from reality.

Obviously, Steven Spielberg is having as much fun as the viewers watching the film. Among the numerous pop culture references in to music and cinema, the most amusing moment takes place when the aviators revisit the sets in Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining" (1980), including the haunted Room 237. You definitely should get a refresher on "The Shining" before watching this film.

Compared to some other films by Steven Spielberg, "Ready Player One" is a much lighter-weight project without compromising its dazzling visuals. The storyline may be easily forgotten, but its appeal of drawing more youngsters to a gaming world might linger much longer.

"Ready Player One," opens on Thursday, March 29, 2018.

Friday, March 23, 2018


Isle of Dogs

Isle of Dogs official site Over a year ago, when the National Park Service proposed a new rule to restrict dog access to some parts of the beaches in San Francisco, it ignited an uproar of oppositions from dog owners which ended up killing the proposal. But that's nothing compared to the scenario in the acclaimed writer-director Wes Anderson's ninth feature "Isle of Dogs" (Germany/USA 2018 | 101 min.), a stop-motion animation film set in Japan where dogs are banned and exiled to a trash island to be exterminated. Luckily, this imaginative and entertaining puppet show renders a similar result that delights dog lovers.

Set in 20 years in the future in (fictional) Megasaki City of Japan, the spread of dog flu triggers the action by Mayor Kobayashi (Kunichi Nomura) to ban all dogs, domestic or stray. Announced at a campaign rally by a live-interpreter (Frances McDormand), the mayor exiles all dogs to Trash Island, including his own pet Spots (Liev Schreiber), adored by his 12-year-old nephew Atari (Koyu Rankin).

The action is fiercely opposed by a team of scientists led by Professor Watanabe (Akira Ito) and an American exchange student and activist Tracy Walker (Greta Gerwig) who have developed a drug to cure the disease. But they don't seem to be winning.

Although the Japanese characters don't speak English in the film, the dogs do, which makes this film perfect for children. On uninhabitable Trash Island, five colorful dogs with distinctive personalities take the center stage: the decisive Rex (Edward Norton), former mascot of a baseball team Boss (Bill Murray), former spokes-dog King (Bob Balaban), gossiper Duke (Jeff Goldblum), and stray dog Chief (Bryan Cranston).

Their daily survival routine is disrupted when Atari crash lands on Trash Island to look for Spots. They team up with the brave young boy on a mission to find Spots and return to Megasaki City.

Isle of Dogs Official Site

Fans of eccentric Wes Anderson will most certainly be delighted by this terrific looking film. The impeccable details of each frame deserve to be printed into a comic book to be fully appreciated. The filmmakers' imagination is both impressive and charming. Those lovely dogs vividly come to life and make you shake off any remaining doubt that they are men's (and women's) best friends.

By making the film a children's fairy tale, Wes Anderson clearly is not interested in making everything in the film convincing or logical. Unlike films such as "Inside Out" (2015), this film is a light weight in terms of carrying any message. But it serves as an excellent and entertaining bedtime story.

Why does the movie have to go through the trouble of being set in Japan and creating an extra language barrier even though it allows dogs to speak in English? That's because Wes Anderson wants to pay tribute to Japanese filmmakers such as Yasujirō Ozu (小津 安二郎), Akira Kurosawa (黒沢 明), and Seijun Suzuki (鈴木 清順). Therefore, it's fair to say that this film is a personal homage to Japanese cinema for him. Otherwise he might have set the location in the dog friendly San Francisco where tail-wagers might speak a different language to rise against the National Park Service.

"Isle of Dogs," opens on Friday, March 23, 2018 in San Francisco Bay Area.

Friday, March 16, 2018


Foxtrot (פוֹקְסטְרוֹט)

Foxtrot official site Regarding the conflict between Israel and its surrounding nations, one of the most despairing films I have seen in recent years is an insightful documentary "The Gatekeepers" (שומרי הסף | Israel 2012). It paints a dire picture of the devastating reality in that region based on interviews from former heads of the Israeli internal security service. Now equally pessimistic and heart-wrenching to watch is the Israeli writer-director Samuel Maoz's sophomore feature "Foxtrot" (פוֹקְסטְרוֹט | Israel/Germany/France/Switzerland 2017 | in Hebrew | 113 min.). On a personal level, it intimately tells a story of a grieving family that is devastated by the never-ending war and the anxiety living through it.

In a three-segment structure, the film proceeds in a steady pace with a few surprises. The first jolt to the viewers is the startling door buzz immediately following the opening scene of a quiet drive on a dirt road—which ostensibly foreshadows the story to come. As soon as Daphna Feldman (Sarah Adler) opens the front door, she passes out because she knows what it means when three uniformed Israeli soldiers appear at your door. Her husband Michael Feldmann (Lior Ashkenazi) stands frozen while the soldiers put Daphna into bed and deliver to him the devastating news that their teenage son Jonathan (Yonaton Shiray) has been killed. The family is overwhelmed by grief yet the military personnel deal with it like a routine operation and provide Michael tips about attending the funeral.

Then the movie cuts into its second segment at a desolate roadblock where Jonathan (Yonaton Shiray) and a few fellow soldiers are stationed. Most of the time, they are bored out of their minds and entertain themselves in a sinking shipping container which they use as a shelter. However, whenever a vehicle pulls up at the checkpoint, the tension sets off the alarm for all of these young soldiers. They are constantly on edge when a non-Israeli person shows up. That is a perfect atmosphere for brewing tragedies.

In its final segment, the film goes back to the apartment where Michael and Daphna try to cope with the aftermath, with the help of a joint. But the fact is that the family is forever damaged by the war they live with day by day, even far away from where the guns are fired.

Foxtrot Official Site

Even though the filmmaker Samuel Maoz didn't explicitly let his characters criticize the war and the status quo in Israel, it's quite clear that the pain caused by the war is unbearable for ordinary people like Michael and Dephna, and no one is sure about what exactly these young people are sacrificing for. If it's for Israel's security or its citizens' safety, the end results are quite the opposite. What's worse, as the documentary "The Gatekeepers" explains, there is no end in sight.

The write-director Samuel Maoz skillfully captures the grief of his characters and he pours their sorrow towards the audience without any reservation. Despite a few comic moments in the film, the film is a piece of heavy stone dumped on you no matter you like it or not. The helplessness is also true for the characters—every young man must serve in the military no matter if he knows what and whom he is fighting for, and he must also suffer its consequences.

Can Israel and its neighbors ever get along? Based on the people who are in the government and the bloody history, it seems impossible. The routine of grieving parents is likely to continue with no end in sight.

"Foxtrot," opens on Friday, March 16, 2018 in San Francisco Bay Area.

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