SCREEN GRABS The Big Kahuna of Bay Area film events is back, a little earlier than usual this year: The San Francisco International Film Festival lands at numerous venues in SF and the East Bay, this Wednesday, April 4 through the 17th. The opening night film will be Silas Howard’s A Kid Like Jake, an adaptation of Daniel Pearle’s acclaimed play, with Claire Danes and Jim Parisons as a Manhattan couple who face some unexpected choices when they realize their young child may be transgender.
Also at the Castro, the official closing night selection (which is actually on Sun/15, not final-fest-day Tues/17) is Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot, Gus Van Sant’s most lauded film in some time, with Joaquin Phoenix as late quadriplegic Portland cartoonist John Callahan. The Centerpiece selection on April 12 (at both the Castro and Grand Lake) is local hiphop artist Boots Riley’s Sorry to Bother You, a spinoff of The Coup’s acclaimed album. It’s a reputedly outrageous satire of race relations that could be this year’s Get Out.
Other special events include tributes to Charlize Theron, Wayne Wang, documentary masters Rob Epstein & Jeffrey Friedman, experimentalist Nathaniel Dorksky, and the recently deceased Stephen Parr of SF’s unique Oddall Cinema; a State of the Cinema address by Canadian iconoclast Guy Maddin; Blonde Redhead performing a live score to Ozu’s late-silent classic, I Was Born, But…; a multimedia evening (Deep Astronomy and the Romantic Sciences) that brings back to the city Cory McAbee of The American Astronautand The Billy Nayer Show; A Thousand Thoughts, Sam Green’s “live documentary” collaboration with the Kronos Quartet.
Plus, of course, a hefty array of new (and a few archival) films from around the world, including some world premieres and numerous films of particular local interest. For the full skinny, go to www.sffilm.org
For many cinephiles it may seem like life grinds to a halt to make room for SFIFF these next two weeks. But in fact, life does go on, and in fact foolish mortals continue showing other movies. Here are a few highlights, all opening Friday:
Some movies don’t get the love they deserve simply because they’re too good—in a non-flashy, non-star-driven way that you know won’t incite the kind of word-of-mouth or gushing reviews needed for smaller movies to stick around long enough to find their audience. That seems the likely fate of Journey’s End, already a fair candidate for the best movie of 2018 that no one will remember come awards-time. This British movie by Bullet Boy director Saul Dibb is an adaptation of an already oft-filmed 1928 play by R.C. Sherriff—the first and most famous prior edition was a 1930 film debut for the great James Whale, who had directed it on stage (giving young Laurence Olivier an early triumph), and who would direct Frankenstein the following year.
Even though its action is almost entirely confined to a WW1 dugout for Allied troops on the French border, there’s nothing stagy or even very claustrophobic about Dibbs’ film. But then, neither has has he “modernized” the material in any forced way beyond lending it a grittier, dirtier look and feel. The basic story is simple: British officers receive orders for a raid that they realize will constitute a further blood sacrifice of troops for the sake of larger strategic gain. It’s 1918, and the war now finally chugging toward an end has been long and cruel, beyond anything hitherto imagined.
Contrasting with the all-action overload of Christopher Nolan’s recent Dunkirk, in which it was difficult to distinguish characters, Journey’s End is all about the individuality of both officers and grunts. There’s affection and poignancy as well as psychological insight in the portrayal of various figures played by Sam Clafin, Paul Bethany, Asa Butterfield, Toby Jones and others. Their relationships—with all the intricacies of the British class system—are flawed but primarily supportive, and it is perhaps the revelation of this moving film how kindly, even politely the soldiers treat each other. This is war without macho posturing, which only underlines that war is primarily tragedy, not action-adventure.
There is action here, eventually. But this engrossing story about sacrifice doesn’t see such heroism as good guy vs. bad guy “glory,” but as a prizing of power-wrangling amongst ruling institutions over human life. Finely acted, produced, and scored, this Journey’s End is a skilled enough to make an air of pervasive melancholy and loss artful rather than depressing. But its excellence is self-effacing—you’d better hustle off to the theater soon, because without wanting to be too Debbie Downer about this, it probably won’t linger there long. Vogue Theatre, SF. More info here.
LEAN ON PETE
A first US film for Andrew Haigh, who directed the excellent 2011 gay drama Weekend, is adaptation of Willy Vlautin’s novel is a rather serious story about a boy and his horse. Charlie Plummer plays an unhappy teen in the Pacific Northwest whose miserable living conditions force him to seek work at a horse farm. This isn’t My Friend Flicka—it’s a tough story about poverty and loss. Adding further grit are such always-welcome faces as Chloe Sevigny and my two favorite Steves, Buscemi and Zahn. Opens Friday at Landmark Theaters. More info here.
A QUIET PLACE
“They seem nice” is not something one is frequently moved to say about celebrity couples these days, but it seems to apply to John Krasinski and Emily Blunt. They star in this new horror thriller about a family trapped in a home where they are at risk of grievous harm from “creatures” that find their prey via sound. Thus the need to be (insert Elmer Fudd voice here) vewy, vewy quiet. Apparently the original script had only one line of dialogue. That sounds interesting, and Krasinski’s two prior directorial features were also interesting, though rather little-seen: One (Brief Interviews With Hideous Men) was a nasty portrait of misogyny adapted from stories by David Foster Wallace, while The Hollars was an offbeat family seriocomedy. At Bay Area theaters.
BEAUTY AND THE DOGS
It is a depressing reality of our era that people still need to be informed that rape is a bad thing, “no” means “no,” and women don’t “deserve what they get.” The rare feature from Tunisia to get US release indicts that country’s institutions for callous sexism and worse, as a woman (Miriam Al Ferjani) is thwarted at every step in her attempts to prosecute police officers for rape after they seize her for no good reason walking home from a party. Director Kaouther Ben Hania stages his story as a series of long single takes, which no doubt only intensify the cruel injustice of the story. Sigh: Who imagined that in the 21st century, there would still be so many places where women are called (and treated as) “a whore” because they wear a dress they like? Arrrrrgh. Landmark Theatres. More info here.
If you really can’t stomach some rape drama this week, you will be in safe hands with Alison Chernick’s feel-good documentary about the great violinist Itzhak Perlman. An Israeli child prodigy turned global phenomenon, he makes for very good company in this appealing portrait, which is less a career overview than a chance to hang out with a nice man (and his wonderfully garrulous wife Toby), as in his 70s he still maintains a full schedule that includes making lunch for Alan Alda and jamming with Billy Joel. You want “charming”? This movie is charming. Landmark Theaters. More info here.