Interview: Daniel Clowes

The graphic novelist behind 'Wilson' talks adapting book for big screen Read More

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Interview: Daniel Clowes

In the first seven panels of his graphic novel Wilson, Daniel Clowes succinctly establishes the eponymous hero's character. Wilson first exclaims to no one in particular, "I love people!" When a woman walks by, he engages her in conversation. As she begins to complain about her life, he interrupts her: "For the love of Christ, don't you ever shut up?" WIlson's weak-kneed optimism doesn't last an entire page. His misanthropy is barely tempered by the pale yellow and blue backgrounds that highlight his pot belly and receding hairline. Words like "insufferable" and "crank" come to mind after an initial reading. As the drawn landscape changes from cheerful pastels to cheerless monotones, you continue turning the pages to find out what Wilson's » Read More

Review: 'Personal Shopper'

Very sexy and very scary, Personal Shopper is Oliver Assayas' follow-up to Clouds of Sils Maria, the film that proved a sharp and sensitive director could find a virtue in Kristen Stewart's air of neutrality. Assayas makes a display of this actress's humid eyes, firmly set mouth and smooth physique, but the ghost story isn't all about her vulnerability-it follows a few sidebars about the parapsychological activities of Victor Hugo, for instance, to get us ready for the point when Assayas starts playing the xylophone on the viewer's spinal cord. Maureen Cartwright (Stewart) is a personal shopper for a very mean and extremely wealthy Parisienne. She carries on a frayed relationship via Skype with her boyfriend, who is working a long-term » Read More

Review: 'My Scientology Film'

Here is a rollicking movie about the fate of all the planets in the universe. Former Metro writer Louis Theroux's comic yet frightening My Scientology Film-co-written by Theroux, directed by John Dower and released by the BBC-shows a similar approach to the work of Michael Moore, whom Theroux worked with for a while. Theroux is slightly rumpled, his shirt tails usually out, his hair a little untidy. The British accent sometimes disarms the wrathful Yankee. Trying to get an interview with the secretive leaders of the Church of Scientology, Theroux starts out in L.A. The church's strength in Hollywood isn't happenstance. Under "Project Celebrity," founder L. Ron Hubbard sought famous disciples such as Greta Garbo and James Stewart. Actors, » Read More

A Fragmented Cinequest

Cinequest closed Sunday with the audience awards, and even the Cinequest OD'd have to feel a bit sad to see the crowds go. The well-deserved winner of the best narrative feature award was Roland Vranik's Ken Loach-like The Citizen, starring Dr. Cake-Bali Marcelo as Wilson, an African refugee in Budapest. The amateur actor played a security guard pinioned between the requirements of his new government and his duty to a helpless and homeless Iranian mom (Arghavan Shekari). It's a warm drama, with Agnes Mahr outstanding as Wilson's native-born Hungarian lover. The parties were certainly lively, but the 27th annual Cinequest suffered from decentralization. » Read More

Review: 'Beauty and the Beast'

During the reign of Louis XVI or thereabouts, pilfering a rose from a cursed castle's garden is punishable by life imprisonment. The castle's owner is an ornery, hairy and horned monster (Dan Stevens). But he'll accept a substitute prisoner, like loyal daughter Belle (Emma Watson), who arrives to ransom her father (Kevin Kline) and take his place. One of the blandest, most nervous and most cluttered fairy tale movies that Disney has ever released-Bill Condon's redo is a rococo La La Fantasyland, complete with sort-of dancing and autotuned singing. It's stagebound, with the 3D providing depth of field at a cost of blurry color; on the bright side it recreates the format's original appeal by aiming a lot of projectiles at the audience's eyes. » Read More

Review: 'Kong: Skull Island'

In IMAX 3D, Kong: Skull Island is a battle of gigantic scowls between Samuel L. Jackson and a 10-story gorilla. It's an epic stare-down, rivalling the squint-offs of Lee Van Cleef and Clint Eastwood. Jackson shows maximum indomitability as a Vietnam era officer called Packard, bitter over the course of the war. In 1973, Packard escorts a scientific expedition helmed by Bill Randa (John Goodman) seeking to explore Skull Island and bomb it a little in the name of scientific tests. This cursed isle, ringed by storms, is shunned by all sane mariners. Helicoptering in, Jackson roars out the legend of Icarus over the thunder; his attack force of fresh-out-of-the-'Nam soldiers bring ammo, napalm and high caliber weapons. In their party is a » Read More

Review: 'Logan'

Let's assume that adamantium gives you heavy-metal poisoning, that it's as bad for your system as depleted uranium. Even the uncanny healing powers of Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) are breaking down from the things the government did to his skeleton. It's not lupus. It might as well be. Here we find Logan-a.k.a. Wolverine, one of the most iconic of the X-Men-moonlighting as a limo driver, taking high school kids to their proms. The passengers act like swine, sticking their heads through the sunroof, screaming "USA! USA!" at the Mexican migrants camped under a freeway offramp. » Read More

Review: 'Kedi'

Filming cats is likely tougher than herding cats, but Ceyda Torun's positively enchanting Kedi ("Cat") is an intimate portrait of a tribe of Istanbul cats-scads of calicos, gingers, even a few coon-cats escaped from Norse freighters. Kedi is also a look at what's left of an old city of twisty pedestrian streets, surrounded by an ever-narrowing ring of office towers and skyscrapers. From cat's eye camera to drone-view, Torun studies the city at all its levels. It's as if Istanbul were knitted together by the presence of unusually well-fed and well-tolerated municipal cats. They wander in and out at will, pilfering sardines from the waterfront fishmongers, or tangling with the rodents who have been a city problem since the reign of » Read More

Review: 'I Am Not Your Negro'

Raoul Peck's tremendous documentary I Am Not Your Negro shows great intelligence and relevance. Rather than a rehash of the 1960s struggle, it's a demonstration that the struggle never ended. The subject is James Baldwin, and an unfinished manuscript. Baldwin never got farther than 30 pages into his study of three lives in the civil rights movement. All three of the leaders were under the age of 40 when they were martyred: Martin Luther King Jr., Medgar Evers and Malcolm X. What's more, all three were Baldwin's friends. Which didn't mean that he agreed with their methods, any more than the three agreed with each other. » Read More

Review: 'Lego Batman Movie'

There's bound to be someone-mom?-who prefers a Batman movie in which our hero learns the importance of family life and sharing. How can such a sharing, caring Dark Knight resonate with the adolescent, who prefers brooding, hiding in solitude and watching everyone from a point of concealment? Fortunately, the makers of The Lego Batman Movie realize they are dealing with a figure who is a kaleidoscope of personas-a Batman for all seasons. This version of the Caped Crusader has had his head turned by success. He does victory laps in the Batmobile, and fires a T-shirt cannon of souvenir Batshirts at the orphanage. During a quick visit there, he acquires an adopted son, Dick Grayson (Michael Cera), in an absence of mind. » Read More

Keeping Up With Tradition

Abbas Kiarostami's piercing, observational eye helped revolutionize cinema. His 1998 A Taste of Cherry was a surprise winner at Cannes. His international masterpiece Certified Copy was both an Italian travelogue and an exploration of a mysterious relationship. And there's so much more. Kiarostami died July 4 in Paris. The loss wasn't just to his homeland Iran, but to the entire world. Iran is this week's enemy. It's been reported that Steve Bannon's computer password was "Sparta." One wonders if the man gets his news of Persia from the movie 300. Misinformation and prejudice makes "A Life in Film: Remembering Global Filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami" particularly important. » Read More

Review: '1984'

For some reason, George Orwell's 1984 is a current best-seller on Amazon. Something to do with the new administration and its forward-thinking views on the mutability of facts? I wouldn't want to speculate. Orwell's satire was based on the author's time working for the good guys-at the BBC, where he was a wartime propagandist. He even named his protagonist "Winston" as if to honor Churchill. The book is a hammer against those who looked the other way at the crimes of England's then-ally, the USSR. Details of the show trials, the paranoia, and the use of raw alcohol to cope are straight from the Communist regime. Supposedly, in Moscow once, there was a neon sign celebrating the year-early completion of a Five-Year Plan. » Read More

Review: 'The Salesman'

In The Salesman, we have a look at how Iranian artists are standing on crumbling ground. It was a winner at Cannes, for best actor and script, and now it's national news because of the Trump administration's ban on Iranians entering our nation. Academy Award winning director Asghar Farhadi (A Separation) has said he's not attending the Oscars this year, even if the ban is lifted. On the bright side, there's no publicity man for your film like the president of the United States. It's an indication of the way Iranian films are made-immersive, circumspect, slippery-that they start with circumstances so familiar to their core audience that they don't need much explanation. » Read More

Review: 'The Founder'

Director John Lee Hancock (The Alamo) has gone from Davy Crockett to Ray Kroc-arguably a lesser kind of American hero. Kroc was the burger baron who franchised McDonald's from the original owners, a pair of idealistic restaurateurs from San Bernardino. The McDonalds' "Spee-dee" assembly line method revolutionized the way Americans and a lot of the world eat. Making the Golden Arches an interstate phenomenon, Kroc created the fast food nation we live in today. Exuding gall and desperation, Michael Keaton plays Kroc with a Midwestern honk to his voice and a never-ending line of patter. Watching him get a series of doors slammed in his face, and seeing him taking solace with a hip flask, it's like Beetlejuice died and went to hell. » Read More

Review: 'Toni Erdmann'

Loveable if not ordinarily hilarious, Toni Erdmann explores both sides of a situation familiar to many. Winfried (Peter Simonischek) is "Dude" Lebowski's German cousin, a shaggy joker retired from something or other. After his elderly dog dies, he's at loose ends. So he decides to surprise his daughter Ines (Sandra Huller) at her job in Bucharest. She works as a consultant-which is to say, she's a hatchet-wielder looking for potential layoffs. Ines in the middle of some delicate business and has little time to haul her father around the capitol's sites. The two spat, and he heads home...or so it seems. When Ines is having dinner with some female colleagues, her zany father reappears, fright-wigged and posing as an important businessman » Read More

Review: '20th Century Women'

There is weight in the charming 20th Century Women-seriousness that keeps it from blowing away like a load of Styrofoam peanuts in the wind. That weight comes from the realization of how remote the seemingly near past actually is. Mike Mills' third and best film (after Beginners and Thumbsucker) is also the closest to his models in the French New Wave. This fictionalized memoir recalls Louis Malle, the least radical of that assemblage of 1960s French filmmakers, and the one who turned out to have the warmest and longest view of all of them. Mills' Beginners was a memorial to a father who came out of the closet in his 70s. 20th Century Women honors Mills' mother as a woman whose life was bounded by the last century. The title isn't too » Read More

Review: 'Julieta'

Living a long life means dwelling on a stage with numerous trapdoors. Players vanish or reappear, as part of some grand design that becomes all the more baffling as time passes. Three stories by the Nobel laureate Alice Munro, from her 2004 collection Runaway, were the source for Pedro Almodovar's latest film, the serious but never somber Julieta. Here the Spanish master presents a "tearless melodrama," in which a woman copes with the inexplicable vanishing of her daughter, Antia. Having no explanation for the rift, Julieta corrodes inside, living with the guilt of whatever it was that she did to cause her daughter to leave her. The loss essentially changes her into two separate people. The "before" picture is Julieta as a perky, » Read More

Review: 'Silence'

Martin Scorese's dream project, Silence, is done at last, and it's one large, dry hunk of crisis of faith. It's a less bloody but still torture-wracked remake of The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), complete with the temptation to a peaceful life. It's seemingly the longest and most pulse-free of Scorsese's primarily religious movies, including Kundun (1997) and Last Temptation (1988); in it we're taken on a tour of Scorsese's recollections of the classic studio era, when religious movie kitsch used to draw so heavily from the contents of European art museums. A pair of suitably dogged Jesuits (Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver) are sent from Portugal to find out what became of a long-lost priest (Liam Neeson) sent on a mission years before. » Read More

Review: 'Things to Come'

An acute portrait of a woman of a certain age, Things To Come towers over Isabelle Huppert's much-vaunted performance in Elle. Huppert plays Nathalie, an aging philosophy teacher who needs all the consolation her discipline can provide. Her neurotic mother (Edith Scob, of the horror classic Yeux Sans Visage) is prone to suicide threats and anxiety attacks. Nathalie's husband, Heinz (Andre Marcon), is a stout and humorless old pedant, who is secretly seeing someone on the side. And Nathalie's reputation as a scholar isn't enough to save her from the bottom-line obsessed executives at her publishing house. Though she's renowned in her field, her textbooks aren't selling. » Read More

Review: 'Hidden Figures'

It's clear that Hidden Figures is a story that demands to be told, and it's a pity it wasn't told better. It honors the essential work that three African-American number-crunchers did at Langley, Virginia, in 1961-62, shortly before NASA moved to Texas. Room-sized IBM 7090s were being used to figure out how to bring home Col. John Glenn (Glen Powell) after his orbit around the earth. In this version, it's unsung human calculators that save the mission. Taraji P. Henson is Kathryn Johnson, a mathlete with oversized spectacles that keep sliding down her nose. Janelle Monae is her colleague Mary Jackson; and Octavia Spencer plays Dorothy Vaughan, the supervisor in everything but job title in the Colored Computing Section. Director Theodore » Read More

Best & Worst Films of 2016

The problem of looking backwards at the year in film is that it involves looking backward at the year 2016, and who wants to do that? All the switches failed, all the canaries are gasping, all the sirens are sounding, and it's hard to keep one's eye on the screen in times of emergency. We've been through times like these before. As soon as someone can explain why we have to go through them again, it'll be easier to function. Times of fervor often spawn great films-which is why the end of year list includes a film that could be dismissible as a dumbass blockbuster, instead of, say, some glacial tidbits from the avant-garde freezer, such as Elle, Neon Demon, The Lobster or, shudder, Nocturnal Animals. » Read More

Review: 'Fences'

Troy Maxon is a 53-year-old Pittsburgh garbageman. In his earlier years, he was a Negro League player on the Homestead Grays. He'd hit seven homers off Satchel Paige himself. Roberto Clemente is starting to make a name for himself on the Bucks. But the desegregation of Major League Baseball is no consolation to the protagonist of August Wilson's Fences-directed with surpassing power and precision by the man playing Troy, Denzel Washington. This particularly acute study of a man whose life slips out of his hands isn't a one-thing-after-another melodrama. Wilson's script shows Maxson on a series of Friday nights, when the man is exulting, full of payday bluster and a little gin. » Read More

Review: 'La La Land'

Wide-eyed Emma Stone is the draw in La La Land, an emulation of 1950s widescreen era musicals. Stone plays Mia, a barista/actress from Boulder City riding the wheel of auditions in Hollywood. She's starting to lose hope when she has a meet-cute on a crowded freeway flyover with the similarly frustrated Sebastian (Ryan Gosling). He orders her car out of his way, she flips him the Driver's Salute, and they're off to the races. Sebastian is an aspiring jazz pianist, paying the rent while wearing parachute pants and playing A-ha covers in an '80s band. (La La Land, which has the spirit of a cover band, shouldn't have joked about this profession.) The two go to the movies at South Pasadena's moribund Rialto Theater for Rebel Without a Cause. » Read More

Review: 'Rogue One'

The stand-alone Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is a battle movie, heavy on the war, light on the stars. Many have heard that George Lucas once cut footage from WWII dogfights into the work-print of the first Star Wars film, to give previewers an idea of what the film would look like once the effects were done. Rogue One, then, comes full circle. It's a World War II movie in space. The finale is on the planet Scarif, a world of surf and tropical reefs; the attack wings shooting, bombing and crashing are like a futuristic version of the Pacific theater. It's set during the rise of Lord Vader and Grand Moff Tarkin. More about Vader momentarily, but the latter is yet Governor Tarkin, and played by Peter Cushing's digitized ghost. » Read More

Review: 'Jackie'

In some 2050s university class on "The Celebrity Interview as Literature," the film Jackie might get taught as an example of the push and pull between lofty subject and noodging journalist. Nothing as vulgar as spin goes on-just gentle, forceful pressure from above. The freshly widowed Jacqueline Kennedy (Natalie Portman) is hiding out in Hyannis Port, Mass., during the cold November of 1963. A fictional reporter (Billy Crudup) who seems to be a lot of T. H. White and a little bit of William Manchester, is inquiring after her, teasing her out to talk. Ms. Kennedy tries to keep her privacy while being available to the public, as she has during the short course of her term as First Lady. She checks the protocol for the state funeral to come. » Read More

Pixar Story: Steve Jobs' Animated Ambition

Palo Alto-based lawyer Lawrence Levy was in the room when his client Steve Jobs learned that he had just become a billionaire. It was Nov. 29, 1995, the day of Pixar's successful IPO. Only a few days previously, the box office reports had come in proving that Toy Story, the first feature length computer-animated film, had been a smash hit. In his new memoir, To Pixar and Beyond: My Unlikely Journey with Steve Jobs to Make Entertainment History, Levy describes how he helped Pixar find a focus, in the days when the fledgling studio was holed up in a relatively small building across from the Chevron refinery in Point Richmond. Back then, Pixar was a few desks, a screening room full of salvaged couches, and a workroom containing the world's » Read More

Review: 'Nocturnal Animals'

Watching Nocturnal Animals is essentially like watching a Charles Bronson retrospective in a plush, red velvet-wrapped salon during some minor European city's film festival. The trappings give aesthetic importance to what's going on up front, culturally validating something that isn't all that different from a Golan and Globus rape-revenge shocker. Celebrities turn up (including Michael Sheen and Laura Linney) to validate the significance of what we're watching. We're presumed to find the framing by photographer-turned-director-turned-back-to-photographer Tom Ford positively Lynchian; we're meant to be captives on rides on lost highways. But there's only one David Lynch, and imitating him is a sucker's game. » Read More