Sunday, April 4, 2021
SFFILM Festival 2021
The 64th edition of the festival presents 107 films, including 26 narrative features, 20 documentary features, 56 short films, and 5 mid-length films (30-50 minutes in running time). These films represent 41 countries and regions in 28 languages. Compared to previous years, this year's festival is at an almost 50% reduction in terms of the number of films shown. Also, perhaps because of the pandemic, this year's awards and attributes are cut down dramatically both in numbers and the monetary amount.
(You may click on each still image for the corresponding screening or event's show time and ticketing information.)
On Friday, April 9, both online and at the drive-in, the festival opens with the world premiere of Chase Palmer's feature directorial debut "Naked Singularity" (USA 2021 | 93 min.). It tells the story of a New York City public defender who deals with drug cartels and corrupt cops in his chaotic world.
On Saturday, April 10, the festival presents this year's centerpiece "Socks on Fire" (USA | 93 min. | Documentary). The film's director Bo McGuire tells his personal family story involving his homophobic aunt and his drag queen uncle. The film will be shown both online and at drive-in, with the in-person event being accompanied by a live performance featuring local artists Rock M. Sakura and FREDDIE, and emceed by the director Bo McGuire.
On Sunday, April 18, the festival closes with Marilyn Agrelo's documentary "Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street" (USA | 107 min. | Documentary). It tells a fascinating story about the creation of the beloved children's television series in the '60s.
This year, the festival simplifies the categorization of its selections, basing simply on feature vs. shorts, domestic vs. international, and narrative vs. documentary. In addition, for the first time, the festival creates a new category called mid-length films in which a film runs 30-50 minutes.
- Narratives: International
There are 16 international narrative features selected in this year's festival, including three flashback titles from last year's canceled lineup.
One of last year's selections is Nicolás Rincón Gille's neorealism drama "Valley of Souls" (Tantas Almas | Colombia/Brazil/Belgium/France 2019 | in Spanish | 137 min.). It unfolds a devastating story of a grieving father's journey searching for the bodies of his two sons who are killed by the right-wing militia in Colombia.
The only film from Asia at this year's festival is South Korean director Lee Ran-hee's feature directorial debut "A Leave" (휴가 | South Korea 2020 | in Korean | 81 min.). It depicts a mid-aged workers' struggle to fight for worker's rights while raising two children.
The winner of the 2020 GdA Director's Award of Venice's Giornate degli Autori, Russian writer-director Philipp Yuryev's feature directorial debut "The Whaler Boy" (Китобой | Russia/Poland/Belgium 2020 | in Russian/English | 93 min.) is not to be missed. It terrifically tells a captivating story of a 15-year-old boy in a remote fishing village who falls in love with a webcam girl from the United States, and he takes on an incredible journey to meet his love.
There are 10 documentaries in this section covering a wide range of subjects around the world through compelling storytelling.
The Oslo-based Turkish-Norwegian director Nefise Özkal Lorentzen tells an extraordinary story of the first female imams in Europe in her new documentary "Seyran Ateş: Sex, Revolution and Islam" (Norway 2021 | in Turkish/English/German/Chinese/Norwegian | 81 min. | Documentary). The Turkish-German lawyer Seyran Ateş takes on her personal and ideological fight against radical Islam's sexual oppression by creating a modernized Islam environment at her liberal mosque where there is no gender segregation and individuals of all sexual orientations are welcome, but with heavy police protection.
Taking more than five years, the director Roberto Salinas follows a Cuban teenager Alexis from Havana's Cuban National Ballet School to Florida, and unwraps Alexis's coming-of-age story in "Cuban Dancer" (Italy/Canada/Chile 2021 | in Spanish/English | 90 min. | Documentary), with many elegant and delightful dance sequences.
The winner of the Audience Award and the Impact for Change Special Jury Award in the World Documentary category at this year's virtual Sundance Film Festival, the empowering and inspiring "Writing with Fire" (India 2021 | in Hindi | 92 min. | Documentary) covers the only online newspaper run by women in Indian reporting on the lowest class Dalits, also known as the Untouchables. The co-directors Sushmit Ghosh and Rintu Thomas follow the newspaper's reporter Meera and show us how Meera and her team make a powerful impact with their smartphones.
- The Rest
Meet Lily Hevesh, the only female domino artist in her field who designs many fantastic domino projects. She is the subject of the director Jeremy Workman's crowd pleasing documentary "Lily Topples the World" (USA 2021 | 91 min. | Documentary). The film follows Lily, as well as her dreams and passion, for three years and showcases some of her amazing work.
"Homeroom" (USA 2021 | 90 min. | Documentary), the third chapter of documentarian Peter Nicks's Oakland trilogy, zooms in on Oakland's public high school. The film captures the challenges the Class of 2020 faced last year and the resilience that these students exhibited during the pandemic.
Renowned contemporary artist Trevor Paglen travels in the Nevada desert, and the director Yaara Bou Melham tags along and listens to him talking about his new project—launching a satellite. The result is an intriguing documentary "Unseen Skies" (USA 2021 | 98 min. | Documentary) that reflects Paglen's stunning body of work.
Monday, October 5, 2020
The 43rd Mill Valley Film Festival
Given the circumstances, it's not a surprise that the 43rd MVFF has slimmed down quite a bit compared to other years. It presents only 44 feature length narratives and 20 feature length documentaries, as well as 54 shorts. Nine films will be shown in the Drive-in Cinema. In addition, the DocLands presents 15 feature length documentaries and 12 shorts.
(You may click on each still image for ticketing information.)
Unlike usually opening the festival with two films, the 43rd MVFF opens with five(!) movies plus one that opens the DocLands. They include
- "Blithe Spirit" (UK 2020 | 95 min.), a Noël Coward adaptation starring Judi Dench
- "The Heist of the Century" (El robo del siglo | Argentina/Spain 2020 | in Spanish | 114 min.), a wild ride through one of the greatest bank heists in Argentinian history
- "Sweet Thing" (USA 2020 | 91 min.), a bittersweet portrait about two young sisters' struggle and their runaway from their troubled family
- "Veins of the World" (Die Adern der Welt | Germany/Mongolia | in Mongolian | 96 min.), a young Mongolian boy's coming-of-age story
- "The Boys Who Said NO!" (USA 2020 | 90 min. | Documentary), a documentary looking back at the draft resistance during the Vietnam War
- "Public Trust" (USA 2020 | 96 min. | Documentary), the opening film for DocLands which examines the American public lands under threat
This year's festival shines spotlights on Clare Dunne with her new film "Herself" (Ireland/UK 2020 | 97 min.) in which she plays a young mother who escapes her abusive husband. The centerpiece presentation is Regina King's highly anticipated film "One Night in Miami" (USA 2020 | 114 min.), a fictional account of four iconic figures discussing civil rights movements during a night out in 1964.
Perhaps due to the pandemic which derailed a few major film festivals earlier this year, the World Cinema section only has 25 feature narratives and Asian films are almost completely absent. Even though it's a bit disappointing, there are still a few films that promise to entertain the audience in addition to the opening films:
- "The Father" (UK/France 2020 | 97 min.) examines the dynamic relationship between a daughter and her aging father, played by Oscar winners Olivia Colman and Anthony Hopkins.
- "Master Cheng" (Mestari Cheng | Finland/China 2019 | in English/Finnish/Mandarin | 114 min.) tells a story of a Chinese chef's visit to a remote village in Finland.
- "Spring Blossom" (Seize printemps | France 2020 | in French | 73 min.) tells a 16-year-old's affair with an older man.
- "Three Summers" (Três Verões | Brazil/France 2019 | in Portuguese | 94 min.) follows a housekeeper's three eventful summers at her scandal filled employer's luxury home.
If you are tired of reading subtitles, then don't miss these two films in the US Cinema section:
- "Nomadland" (USA 2020 | 108 min.) follows a woman's journey through the American's west in her RV, directed by Chloé Zhao and starring Frances McDormand. Having already won the Golden Lion at this year's Venice Film Festival, this may well be a front runner in the upcoming Oscar race, whenever that might take place.
- "Shithouse" (USA 2020 | 100 min.) unfolds a homesick freshman's shitty night which is turned around after meeting a girl at a party house. The SXSW Grand Jury Award winner, this comedy is a welcomed antidote for the depressing reality.
With cinema and art for the soul, with science and medicine for the body, with kindness and humanity for each other, we will get over this difficult time. We will prevail, together.
Friday, June 26, 2020
2020 Pride Streaming
In random order:
(USA 2011 | 93 min. | Documentary | My
capsule review | Available on Kanopy
- Baby Steps (滿月酒
| Taiwan/USA 2015 | in Mandarin/English | 103
min. | My
review | Available free on IMDB TV)
Is the Warmest Colour (La vie d'Adèle |
France 2013 | in French | 179
min. | My
capsule review | Available
(Ireland/UK/USA 2018 | 114 min. | Available
- Stranger by the Lake
(L'inconnu du lac | France 2013 | in French | 97 min. |
Available on Kanopy)
- The Half of It (USA 2020 |
104 min. | Available on Netflix)
Way He Looks (Hoje Eu Quero Voltar Sozinho |
Brazil 2014 | in Portuguese | 95
min. | My
review | Available on Kanopy)
Single Man (USA 2009 | 99 min. | My
review | Available on Netflix)
(Canada 2011 | 94 min. | My My
capsule review | Available on Kanopy)
(USA 2016 | 110 min. | My
capsule review | Available on Kanopy
- I Killed My Mother
(J'ai tué ma mère | Canada 2009 | in
French | 96 min. | Available
- Dear Ex
Taiwan 2018 | in Mandarin | 100 min. | Available
(Argentina/Spain/France 2007 | in Spanish | 91
min. | Available on Kanopy)
(UK/France 2016 | in French/English | 109 min. | Available free
Friday, March 13, 2020
Just think about the following scenario for a second. In order to find an outlet to release the anger and frustration, a bunch of elite liberals come up with a scheme to kill a dozen of people from the right part of the political spectrum, for fun. They round up a few gun-toting, immigrate-hating, global-warming-denying, Trump-supporting, redneck-talking individuals to a secret location and then hunt them for sport. It sounds absurd, doesn't it? But the film remarkably pulls this plot off, while having a lot of fun in the mindset of these liberals who think their targets are a basket of deplorables who deserve to be eliminated.
Gagged like attending the Folsom Street Fair, a group of people showed up at an unknown location. Before they know where they are and why they are here, they get shot, stabbed, blown up, and chased after.
But Crystal (Betty Gilpin) is smarter and tougher than the rest. She outplays her hunters and closes in on the ring leader Athena (Hilary Swank). Once they face each other with Beethoven's music in the background, they finish off the game by a brutal physical fight without sorting off their ideological differences.
The director Craig Zobel keeps the killing spree on the screen lean and efficient. Just a few minutes into the movie, you will lose count of how many of these "deplorables" have been killed. And many of these deaths are quite messy. In fact, some killings are so violent that they appear to be comical. Fans of Japanese gore genre will definitely have a good time watching the hunt in this movie.
Obviously the film isn't providing a feasible solution to the deep division in politics. Rather, it pokes fun at both sides. While it stereotypes people from the right, it also sharply pokes fun at the left. It's hilarious to hear the NPR-listening hunters talking about the need for kidnapping a black victim for the sake of diversity among their victims. That kind of comical tone nicely matches the over the top gore and provides ample amusement.
So, how to resolve the political divide if the hunting game in the film should not be the path for us to take? The coronavirus might offer a clue.
Friday, February 7, 2020
Birds of Prey
Before the poker-faced Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) even appears on the screen, her rapid-fired voice-over already takes over the house explaining her psychologist background and her recent break up with Joker, accompanied by animation. She needs to release her grievance by going out in Gotham City and making some destruction.
Other characters are introduced one by one with their names and grievances written across the screen. They include a cop Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez), a revenger Helena Bertinelli (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a night club singer Dinah Lance (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), a pick-pocket Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco), and a nightclub owner Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor). After Cassandra steals a diamond from Roman, these characters run around the city, even raid the police station, to get the diamond back. In almost every scene, women kick asses and defeat every male villain in their way, no matter how mean these men look and how big they appear. Speaking of girl-power.
Despite being hailed as the first Asian woman to direct a major studio-backed superhero film, the director Cathy Yan ((阎羽茜) should have made a better choice for her second feature to be a real cinema project. Her award-winning first feature "Dead Pigs" (海上浮城 | China 2018) is a terrific film that crafts a few mesmerizing and lovely characters and tells an engrossing story. But that vision and style in her first feature is nowhere to be found in this loud and ridiculous superhero installment.
Even serving as an action flick, the fighting sequences in the film are repetitive and last too long. They kick, flip, then kick and flip, and on and on. I am not sure why this is labeled as a superhero movie, because besides winning every fight, there is nothing super about these women. But they are surely all angry as hell. Harley's voice-over hardly stops throughout the film and you just want her to shut up. Who cares if she has a Ph.D. in psychology, she rarely has anything meaningful to say anyway.
Judging from Cathy Yan's two features films, you cannot help but to agree with Martin Scorsese's opinion wholeheartedly. Let's hope Cathy Yan will show her immense talent in her next feature like she did in her first feature, by making cinema instead of comic books.