Fond Farewell to the Bay Area

drinks with filmsYes, the time has come for me to take a hiatus from my beloved Bay Area and continue my job search somewhere less distracting…look out Boulder, CO!

Big thanks to my friends in the publicity biz who’ve been big supporters: Steve Indig at Landmark Theatres and Karen Larsen and staff at Larsen and Associates.  And to all the gals at Bay Area Women in Film and Media — thank you for your friendship and keep up the good work!

I’m really going to miss living in a city that has such a wealth of art-house and foreign films screening in so many theaters, often opening here right after New York and Los Angeles!  San Francisco has more film festivals than any other city–and I’ve attended or worked at most of them!!  I’ll miss all my dear film festival friends.   A big hug of gratitude to the staffs at Frameline and CAAMFest and SF Green Film Festival, cheers to Jeff Ross for his dedication to independent film and music in the Bay Area with Indiefest, Docfest and Another Hole in the Head and to my dear friends at the SF Film Society presenting fabulous programming and events while struggling with a lack of leadership.  Hurrah for fabulous film curation all around the Bay Area!  To all my festival gypsy friends traveling from festival to festival, I salute you!  I’m there in spirit even if I’m not working at your side!

Here’s what I’d recommend you see in San Francisco this weekend:

The World’s End–This is what I’m most excited to see because I’m a huge fan of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz and it looks like more of the same wackiness!

20 Feet From Stardom–Yes, it’s still playing (at Stonestown, but still…).  This is a great documentary about back-up singers that even non-musicians would enjoy.

Frances Ha–Again, yes, it’s still playing.  It’s at the Roxie (9pm) and is a must-see for fans of Indie films.  Written with Greta Gerwig, Noah Baumbach’s film is like a more-hip and funnier Woody Allen film!

Two coming of age films that I reviewed earlier: The Way Way Back and The Spectacular Now should also not be missed.   Both charming and with great performances; they are small films with big hearts!

Unknown Cutie and The Boxer–If there was one film that I’d encourage everyone to see, it’s this wonderful documentary!  A well-crafted first film by Zachary Heinzerling, this is an intimate portrait of an eccentric painter and sculptor, Ushio Shinohara and his supportive wife and fellow artist, Noriko Shinohara.   Ushio lives life large with a big presence and big work, while his wife, Noriko steps out of his shadow to present her own work and begins to finds her own voice.  As they struggle to find an audience (and buyers!) for their creations: towering papier mache motorcycles, paintings created by “boxing” the canvas and graphic novels depicting their own troubled relationship, we also see their struggles to be true to their art and each other.  It’s both tender and poignant.

Don’t let this one get out of town before you get to see it!!

And a quick update on this lovely film: http://www.indiewire.com/article/critics-picks-the-top-10-documentaries-released-in-2013-according-to-indiewires-film-critic

Until we meet again, I’ll be at the movies…let’s have a drink and you can tell me what YOU think!

Boys on the verge: young men in the making in “The Spectacular Now” and “The Way Way Back”

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In between the big tent pole movies featuring super heroes, comic book characters and action sequences, there were a number of sweet coming-of-age films this summer.  Smaller films about boys struggling with their troubled relationships with divorcing parents;  these charmers are worth seeking out.  Beginning with Mud (with a great performance by Matthew McConaughey), Tye Sheridan, in his second big-screen role, holds his own alongside such powerhouse actors as Sam Shepard, and it’s his character that provides the heart of this Southern Gothic tale.  This film is already available for rent or streaming.

The Way Way Back gives us another nuanced performance, this time from Liam James.  A  young man trying to find his place in the world–this film captures that turning point–from mouse to man–as Duncan learns to express himself.  A simple story of parents behaving like teenagers, a sweet girl next door played by the charming AnnaSophia Robb, and a life-changing job, Way Way Back doesn’t push the sentiment too hard and allows the slow moments to play out.  From a shy, withdrawn boy to a charming young man, James is able to let Duncan’s emotions glide across his features.  Sullen and withdrawn, hiding behind his hair to a big open smile and awkward attempts at conversation, James gives this teen a sense of promise.

There are a small group of characters that Duncan meets at the pool that quickly become a sort of surrogate family to him.  They are fully-realized even in their short time on screen and it’s fun to know that two of the roles are played by the director/writers, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash.  Sam Rockwell gives a solid endearing performance as the boy-man trying to earn Maya Randolph’s character’s love and Steve Carrell nails the role of self-involved wanna-be-stepdad.  It’s the young Liam James that holds the audience’s attention.   He worries about his Mom’s lack of courage but he answers his stepdad’s challenge to be more than a “3”.

specnowsuckaThe stakes are a little higher in The Spectacular Now.  This time the young man isn’t just worried about his Mom; he’s lost his girl, may not graduate high school, and has a drinking problem that masks his emotional neediness.    Miles Teller is the Ferris Bueller character skating through life on charm and a quick barb but suddenly he finds that is not enough.  Shailene Woodley plays the shy bookworm with dreams that may save his life or endanger her own.   The awkward moments the two share, as their romance progresses are tender and tentative and not romanticized.

In this film, it’s the divorced dad acting like an irresponsible teenager.  As the over-worked single Mom, Jennifer Jason Leigh is almost unrecognizable and is given too little screen-time to establish much depth.  But again, it’s the central character, played by Teller, that’s the focus and the heart of the film.  Sutter is a charmer with a big heart and Teller’s performance draws you in with its earnestness and makes you care about his future.   It’s his first lead role but he’s already turned in a solid body of work for someone so young (26) and with two more films completed and two more in production, we’ll be seeing more of his talent!

In a summer of big Hollywood films that under-performed, it’s important to celebrate the smaller-budget story-driven films that are solid winners!

Rating: 4 surreptitious sips from a concealed flask–but don’t drink and drive!

“Europa Report”

Europa Report

Directed by SEBASTIAN CORDERO and featuring an international cast portraying our astronauts and the space exploration corporate team (Sharlto Copley, Michael Nyqvist, Christian Camargo, Embeth Davidtz, Dan Fogler, Anamaria Marinca, Isiah Whitlock JR, Karolina Wydra, Daniel Wu) — Europa Report  manages to be both a sci-fi film based on actual science and a nice piece of entertainment.  The acting is top-notch, the sets feel very realistic and the scenarios faced by our endangered crew are gripping and dramatic without being over-the-top.

It’s a nice touch to have both the lead pilot (the superb Anamaria Marinca) and the main spokesperson for the Europa Ventures Corporation (Embeth Davidtz, warm and charming) be women.  Here we have a science fiction film that features science geeks that aren’t stereotypes wearing white lab coats.  Instead, Europa Report gives us actors (or like Neil deGrasse Tyson; actual scientists) expressing feelings and foibles that are easy to relate to and which draw the audience in as we share their passionate pursuit of space exploration!

Sadly, there are many repeated scenes that begin to wear-out suspended disbelief and the big reveal–whether there is life on Jupiter’s third largest moon, is answered in a climax that isn’t worthy of the the all the “science” that the film was earnestly built on.  The filmmakers have created characters that clearly believe their lives are nothing in comparison to this great mission but I guess the film can hardly end on a scene of celebration around a petri dish…

Europa Report is a worthy effort.  In a summer with a large number of science fiction releases, it’s great to have a few that aren’t tailored to teenagers and I look forward to the upcoming release Gravity.

To get you in the mood for more science fiction, watch The Top 5 Underrated Sci-Fi Movie Masterpieces:

http://www.time.com/time/video/player/0,32068,61313524001_1953100,00.html

Rating: 3 shots of Russian vodka (with no water back since it’s probably re-constituted human urine!)