SCREEN GRABS Hollywood has already loaded the multiplexes with both entertainment fluff and awards bait for your between-holidays viewing pleasure, so openings this week are very, very few. However, there are a handful of worthy repertory gigs (at those venues not actually shuttered until after NYE), plus one live event so special we couldn’t resist including it… at least during this really slow week.
Toward the bottom of this week’s column are two lists of my favorite films of the year — narrative and documentary. Enjoy.
A rival to Takashi Miike as the cultiest living Japanese director, Sion Sono has attracted a whole lot of fan attention over the last couple decades with such variably outré entries as Suicide Club, Noriko’s Dinner Table, Strange Circus, Exte: Hair Extensions, Love Exposure, Why Don’t You Play In Hell, Tokyo Tribe, and many more. One genre he’s dabbled in more reluctantly than others (unlike horror, action and teen drama) is sexploitation. Tasked with contributing to a reboot of Nikkatsu Studio’s “roman pornos”—stylish softcore opuses that flourished in the 1970s—he delivers this willfully perverse exercise in flashy aesthetics, surreal logic, and social critique.
A vainglorious pop celebrity (Ami Tomite) greets yet another day of tedious fame, taking out her frustrations on a readily humiliated assistant (Mariko Tsutsui). But fourth-wall-breakings, flashbacks, pure fantasy, and more soon twist their routine into a sexed-up (yet weirdly anti-erotic) female Groundhog Day. Whether there’s much meaning under all Sono’s toying with time, reality, and identity will be a matter of personal opinion. But few will deny the frequently knockout visual invention he manages to pack into 76 garishly colorful minutes. Opens Friday, Roxie. More info here.
TWO FROM AGNES VARDA
The 89-year-old French artist has topped many award lists this year with her latest film Faces Places, a charming collaboration with photographer JR, who is 55 years her junior. That documentary—which chronicles their travels around France meeting ordinary small-town folk to create giant art installations—plays the last of a short run at the Pacific Film Archive this Thursday.
The day prior, the PFA also shows one of Varda’s most famous early works. Cleo from 5 to 7 tells the tale (more or less in”“real time”) of a pop singer who anxiously wanders Parisian streets one afternoon as she awaits the results of a cancer biopsy. With a score by Michel Legrand and appearances by Godard and Anna Karina, this unique 1961 feature could hardly be more of a nouvelle vague snapshot. Faces Thurs/28, Cleo Wed/27, Pacific Film Archive. More info here.
SING-A-LONG SOUND OF MUSIC
The hills may not be alive, but the Castro definitely will be awash in the sounds of music from Julie Andrews—and you—as this popular participatory experience settles in for a week-long run. When it was released in 1965, Robert Wise’s adaptation of the Rogers & Hammerstein stage musical ran for a whole lot longer than that—for years, in fact, in some locations. (Its initial theatrical release alone lasted nearly five.) It was the highest-grossing film ever, stealing that crown from 1939’s Gone With the Wind, though much less time would elapse before The Godfather (then Jaws, then Star Wars, and so on) would yank it away again.
You can sing your little heart out to “My Favorite Things,” “Climb Ev’ry Mountain,” “Edelweiss,” “The Lonely Goatherd” et al., assuming your voice holds out for 174 minutes. Holding up very well these days is Andrews’ now-octogenarian costar Christopher Plummer, who frightened children as the stern Baron Von Trapp. He’s currently frightening moviegoers as imperious billionaire miser J. Paul Getty in All the Money in the World—the role he notoriously took over on short notice, re-shooting all the scenes already completed by Kevin Spacey after the latter’s sexual harassment Waterloo. But never mind: The Sound of Music is so wholesome you’ll forget sex (let alone sexual misconduct) even exists for three hours. Tues/26-Mon/1, Castro Theatre. More info here.
2017: Worst year ever? Let’s hope so. However, at least you can bid a happy adieu to that mess via one live albeit definitely film-related event on New Year’s Eve: Jeff Goldblum with the Mildred Snitzner Ochestra at cabaret-scaled Feinstein’s at the Nikko. Yes, this is a musical event. Did you know Goldblum plays (as one critic recently put it) “a mean jazz piano”? Neither did we. But then, is there anything the man who saved the world in Independence Day—and also memorably just about destroyed it in this year’s Thor: Ragnarok—can’t reasonably be expected to do? Surely not.
Reportedly he mixes plenty of audience participation and film trivia in with his Thelonious Monk and “Caravan” during these unpredictable live shows, of which there will be two Sunday evening. Frankly, Jeff Goldblum could play the kazoo and/or read the phone book for an hour and it would probably be gold. If 2018 sees the end of life as we know it, at least you can say you ended 2017 in the company of one of the entertainment world’s most entertaining personalities. Sun/31, Feinstein’s at the Nikko. More info here.
Not that you asked, but here are my movie top tens (in chronological rather than preferential order) for 2017:
God’s Own Country
Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer
The Lost City of Z
The Sense of an Ending
Runners-up: John Wick: Chapter 2, Get Out, The Belko Experiment, Free Fire, Logan, Logan Lucky, Ingrid Goes West, The Florida Project, The Other Side of Hope, Thor: Ragnarok, Life and Nothing More, Atomic Blonde.
Joshua: Teenager vs. Superpower
Long Strange Trip (first half)
Dawson City: Frozen in Time
Brimstone & Glory
Runners-up: Too many to mention. We are living in a golden age for non-fiction cinema.