San Jose International Short Film Festival

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San Jose International Short Film Festival

Before he rallied Groot, Gamora, Rocket Racoon and Peter Quill, Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn was an independent filmmaker working at the bare-bones level-as per the streety, funny Super. Gunn, attending this year's San Jose International Short Film Festival, is having an award named after him. Raised in St. Louis, Gunn had his first breakthrough working with the famed low-budget auteur, New Jersey's Lloyd Kaufman. Gunn said he learned about every aspect of filmmaking, from scripting, to choreographing sex scenes, to designing the poster, when working on Tromeo and Juliet (1996) which recently screened at MoMA. » Read More

UNAFF Brings News of the World

Travelling from location to location in the South Bay, this 10-day fest is proudly feminist. Sara Nesson's Poster Girl tells of Robynn Murray, a volunteer who joined the Army and ended up on the cover of the Army Times. Eventual PTSD from her service prompts her to return to Iraq in the hopes of seeking closure. Apache 8 is the story of the Apache fire women who fight the blazes in the Arizona hills. Janine di Giovanni is a war correspondent—profiled in Robert Rippberger's 7 Days in Syria; she practices a dangerous profession that killed a colleague of hers. Feminism Inshallah: A History of Arab Feminism is Feriel Ben Mahmoud's look at the traditions that fundamentalists are trying to suppress. Nefertiti's Daughter by Racha Najdi and » Read More

Review: 'Denial'

Who doesn't wish that Auschwitz was just a bad dream? The middling yet entertaining movie Denial concerns David Irving, one of the world's most unappealing contrarians, and the Emory University professor Deborah Lipstadt, whom Irving sued for libel in the British high courts. Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz) is a renowned expert on the Holocaust at Emory University. In one of her books, the professor dismissed the work of the self-taught British historian and Holocaust denier David Irving (Timothy Spall). In the 1990s, Irving got a sympathetic audience for his Holocaust theories because of his embrace of Fred Leuchter's faulty research-see Errol Morris' excellent documentary Mr. Death about that deluded engineer, and how Leuchter vandalized » Read More

Review: 'The Accountant'

Flashbacks show how this super-accountant acquired his skills, from being beaten up by a bulky Asian martial arts instructor to training to become a world-class sniper in the military. In the present tense, he's hunted by Treasury agents, both old dog J.K. Simmons, and his new recruit (Cynthia Addai-Robinson). Meanwhile a mysterious bulky enforcer (Jon Bernthal of The Punisher) is hunting down friends of Wolf's clients. It's all connected to some sketchy accounting going on at a robotics firm run by a grandfatherly CEO (John Lithgow). While auditing the books, Christian meets a friendly young pixie named Dana (Anna Kendrick) who is one of the firm's accountants. Kendrick gives a lot of her usual nervous displays of ivory teeth, while » Read More

Review: 'Birth Of A Nation'

Filmmakers who serve as director, writer and actor are usually more talented in one aspect of their hyphenate than the others. The Birth of a Nation, by the much-hyped hyphenate Nate Parker, is best in one aspect: Parker has an actorly presence that makes this film immediate and powerful. It's the story of Nat Turner's slave rebellion in the early 1830s, which terrified the South. When Turner and his band were broken up, about 60 white civilians were dead. Turner grows from a houseboy on the estate that gave him his name. When there's a reversal of fortune on the plantation, Nat (played in adulthood by Parker) is sent into the fields to have his hands torn by the sharp cotton thorns. » Read More

Review: 'Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children'

Discovering this little time bubble, Abe is accepted as one of the children. Almost immediately he falls for the lighter-than-air, 16-year-old Emma (Ella Purnell). From Emma and Miss Peregrine, Jake learns of villains called "wights," led by a man named Barron (Samuel L. Jackson). Barron and his "hollowgasts"-eyeless spidery monsters, invisible to all but the likes of Jake-consume the eyes of children. We see the devils gathered around their feast, fresh eyeballs stacked on a fancy cake platter as if they were petits fours. The grossness is satisfying; it's like a wild tale heard on a school playground. One of Miss Peregrine's children has an interesting talent: with the help of a special monocle, he can beam a visual representation of his » Read More

Review: 'Deepwater Horizon'

Before declining into standard uplifting moments of waving flags, prayer and action movie super-feats, Deepwater Horizon is a thrilling procedural about the worst oil rig disaster in history. Director Peter Berg (Lone Survivor) approaches these roughnecks from the opposite angle that Michael Bay would have taken: they're more soft spoken and less profane than you'd expect. The exploratory well that the floating Deepwater Horizon was trying to tap was nicknamed "the well from hell"-the drilling project was 43 days and $50 million over budget, and British Petroleum is accused here of cutting corners on safety and maintenance. Berg stresses the human price of the disaster; the ecological disaster to come is signaled only by one startling » Read More

Review: 'Snowden'

Oliver Stone's over-emphatic style can be alienating, particularly when he's over-explaining things that don't need explaining, while glossing over the more interesting details. Whether it was fair or not, W. had juice. Snowden is more of a generic hero's struggle that ends upbeat, with the title whistleblower (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) receiving hugs and applause. Edward Snowden was an employee of the CIA and the NSA (one good anti-joke here: it stands for "No Such Agency"). At these organizations, and later as a private contractor serving them, Snowden discovered that the government's data collection program was far more universal than the Obama administration claimed. Snowden finally went public with documents explaining how the massive » Read More

Review: 'Magnificent Seven'

Oversized without being big-hearted, The Magnificent Seven has an acceptably interesting gun battle finale. But it removes the element of desperation from the story of the hired defenders of a small Western frontier town. In the latest iteration of this story, they're reduced to a band of fun-loving, wise-cracking mercenaries, just here to have a good time. The hamlet of Rose Creek is ravaged by the Sacramento land baron Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard, thwarted, glum and just plain weird). Chisholm (Denzel Washington) a warrant officer-read: bounty hunter-is recruited by a frontier lady Emma (Haley Bennett) to round up a gang of gunmen. The warriors include Byung-Hun Lee in the James Coburn part as a knife-man, and the First Nation actor Martin » Read More

Review: 'Sully'

Giving the audience what they want-a fantastic aerial disaster in which no one gets hurt-Clint Eastwood's often-pretty-good Sully is highlighted by the self-effacing underacting of Tom Hanks as Chesley Sullenberger. This time, Eastwood is certainly lionizing a higher grade of person than American Sniper's Chris Kyle. Appropriately, Hanks plays the Diablo Valley-based pilot as a dream movie hero-soft-spoken, reluctant to accept praise. Nerveless, in the cockpit, the fear only strikes him later when he's alone, in the bath, or outrunning the anxiety in jogging sessions late at night. Winging to Charlotte from LaGuardia, US Airways Flight 1549 encountered a flock of Canada geese. The birds exploded both engines on the Airbus A320. Eastwood's » Read More

Review: 'Max Rose'

Decades after his heyday, Jerry Lewis is still a dreadful and awesome figure overshadowing comedy. Lewis has a vast wavelength: sometimes he's great, and when he's bad, he's even greater. Daniel Noah's 2013 indie movie Max Rose-was it released or did it escape?-gives Lewis a well-deserved part. If the movie is tripe, Lewis fills a lot of ruminative closeups. It gives him a chance to dwell in a favorite realm, the world of hurt, betrayal and rancor. As his son, San Jose-raised actor Kevin Pollak stands up to verbal abuse by standing up to Lewis's obscene wrath. I don't know if I've ever seen him better. The elderly Max Rose (Lewis) just buried his wife of 65 years-the funeral is shot from a POV of about 100 yards back, deliberately robbing » Read More

Review: 'Indignation'

What's a nice Jewish boy doing in a movie like this? The answer is that the often squirm-inducing Indignation is adapted from a novel by Philip Roth, in whose work nice Jewish boys are often cast far out of their comfort zones and into the wide, treacherous world. Roth published the book in 2008, but the story looks back in anguish at the bad old days of social repression and paranoia in 1951. The movie was written and directed by James Schamus, a veteran screenwriter and producer making his feature directing debut. Schamus is absolutely meticulous in recreating the stifling miasma of conformity closing in on the young protagonist, who leaves his hometown of Newark, New Jersey, for a fearsomely staid and homogenous Midwestern college. » Read More

Review: 'Intolerance'

Nate Parker's Birth of a Nation, opening in October but already a cinch for the Oscars, will draw attendees who certainly won't decode the title's reference. Parker's story of the American avenger Nat Turner appropriates the title of D.W. Griffith's 1915 Civil War epic. Birth of a Nation was cinema's first blockbuster. Even in 1915, there were those who objected to Griffith's vile racism, his use of a rape threat in a scene between an actor wearing blackface and a white Southern belle. If crowds mobbed this epic, there were sizable public protests, and cities that banned it outright. Birth of a Nation celebrated the Ku Klux Klan. The film's success legitimized those Christian conservative terrorists, who came to political ascendency in the » Read More

Review: 'Morgan'

In essence, Morgan is a heinously overproduced student film, complete with a scad of actors who are too good for it, and a twist ending you'd guess even if director Luke Scott weren't the offspring of Blade Runner's Ridley Scott. A generous person could call Morgan as a prequel to that vaunted, cult sci-fi film from 1982. It's about the creation of genetically altered replicants by the Evil Corporation. The praiseworthy underactress Kate Mara gives her first boring performance as a "risk management" specialist from EvilCo. Power-coiffed and business-suited, Mara imitates Lindsay Crouse's own numbness as she drives up to a remote forest lab in her Mercedes. While driving, she takes an info-dumping call from her boss (Brian Cox): "We don't » Read More

Review: 'Kubo And The Two Strings'

Fans are startings to look forward to a new Laika film the same way we used to look forward to a new Pixar. Kubo and the Two Strings is the newest 3-D stop-motion animation from the Portland-based studio responsible for Coraline, Paranorman and The Boxtrolls. One scene has a backdrop of what looks like the famed Rashomon gate next to sequoia-sized trees; this ravishing, delicate story nods back to Kurosawa's Rashomon, a film about the untrustworthiness of tale-tellers and what they conceal. Kubo is a story of interlocked fictions, sometimes very sad, sometimes cryptic-not bad qualities in a cartoon. The act of storytelling is the titular character's literal weapon against death, of preservation of lives otherwise forgotten. During a fight » Read More

Review: 'Lo and Behold'

Technologies shape us before we even halfway sense their presence. Werner Herzog examines the internet itself in Lo and Behold: Reveries of a Connected World, a documentary in 10 chapters, with commentary by local engineers such as Elon Musk and Stanford's Sebastian Thrun. The foreboding words, "What hath God wrought?" were the first ever transmitted via telegraph; the first message delivered over the nascent internet was a single word: "Lo." It sounds Biblical. But this message, sent between labs at UCLA and Stanford, was little more than a glitch. The message supposed to read, "Log In." But the system crashed just two characters in. » Read More

Review: 'Hell or High Water'

Toby (Chris Pine) is just a good, desperate man, but his ex-con brother Tanner (Ben Foster) enjoys the thrill, and is growing more vicious with every heist. Meanwhile, aging Texas ranger Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges), in his last month before retirement, picks up the case. In the same way that soundtrack artist Nick Cave strains to be Johnny Cash, scripter Taylor Sheridan (Sicario) strains to get the good ol' boy voice. The characters tend to mythologize themselves, as in a scene where Tanner gets into a stare-down and argument with a massive Native American gambler at an Oklahoma casino. Everyone keeps going on about the banks and the land grabs they've made, so that the movie will stay on message. The racist gibes exchanged between » Read More

Review: 'Florence Foster Jenkins'

Something that's really perfectly awkward is, in essence, perfect. Florence Foster Jenkins is Stephen Frears' biopic of a show-business legend who deserves her place next to The Shaggs and Ed Wood. Meryl Streep certainly sentimentalizes this deluded woman's life, but she also honors it. Frears is crafty, not letting the cat out of the bag until the right time. It was fun to watch FFJ in a theater full of people not acquainted with the legend of Jenkins, an opera singer whose reach truly exceeded her grasp. And as per the Browning verse, Frears sends this provocative singer to heaven. We open at the Verdi Club in Manhattan in 1944, where the well-off Ms. Jenkins is entertaining the big city culture vultures. Her husband, St. Clair Bayfield » Read More

Review: 'Sausage Party'

Wrong on so many levels, the R-rated Sausage Party is a parody of Toy Story; one abject bath salts-abuser drives around with a "Pixar" bumper sticker on the back of his beater car. In a supermarket, the joyous pack of hotdogs can't wait to get between the vertical lips of the waiting buns who are saving themselves for when they're purchased. That day will come soon, since the store has bunting hung for "Red White and Blue" day when weiners get snatched up and bought. What these happy, pious products don't know is what actually happens to food when it arrives in a kitchen-that there will be peeling, roasting, wailing and an apocalypse of gnashing teeth. Tipped off by a jar of mustard that's been returned to the store, these food items learn » Read More

Review: 'Jason Bourne'

Bereft of humor or sex, the Bourne series gives audiences a choice of brands. If James Bond is Fodor's, Bourne (Matt Damon) is Lonely Planet. But is it really fair to call this series grittier or more mature than 007? The last Bourne introduced super-soldier pills: "chems," they were called. This fifth movie based on the adventures of Robert Ludlum's assassin, gives us a morose Damon in front of barely seen cities, identified with captions, such as "London, United Kingdom." It's clipped into snippets of graffitied walls, trains, trams, stomped gearshift pedals and startled crowds. As a former documentarian, director Paul Greengrass is a great believer in the swiftness with which violence occurs. He might agree with Mao's principle: "The » Read More

Review: 'Suicide Squad'

In Suicide Squad, a group of super-villains is harnessed by a covert government organization to fight superhuman threats-to begin with, a pair of brother and sister Elder Gods trying to kick-start the apocalypse. David Ayer, the talented director of the WWII film Fury, has to mix styles and flavors. In an atmosphere-free cocktail lounge, loud music is used to set the mood. Needle drops plague the beginning: "House of the Rising Sun" by The Animals for rainy exteriors of a super-ultra-supermax prison in the Louisiana swamps. Then comes "You Don't Own Me" for our first view of the caged and dangerous Harley Quinn (the overexposed model Margot Robbie). Killer Croc-Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, playing the man-reptile as Mike Tyson with » Read More

Review: 'Star Trek: Beyond'

Seeing such a reassuring message about plurality seems fitting and timely, especially after last week's atrocity in Cleveland. Among other things, the starship Enterprise is our own leaky American ship as we love to envision her, stuffed with benign, theatrically accented foreigners all pulling together. "My wee Scottish gran said, 'You can't break a stick in a bundle,'" says Scotty (co-scriptwriter Simon Pegg) in Star Trek: Beyond. Mr. Spock (Zachary Quinto) is feeling the pull toward traditionalism, which is causing a rift with Uhura (Zoe Saldana). He's wondering if he hadn't better get back to New Vulcan and help raise some logical kids. Spock is counselled, sort of, by the peremptory Dr. McCoy, aka "Bones" (Karl Urban). » Read More

Review: 'Cafe Society'

Narratively speaking, Cafe Society is the film version of a Grandpa Abe Simpson anecdote. Famous names are dropped, pointlessly. Trivial matters about the past are flaunted without much context. Director, writer and producer Woody Allen narrates, announcing the qualities of his characters, even as we're trying to watch them and figure them out. There's no comedic understatement, or irony-what we see is what we get. During the Depression, a kid from New York named Bobby (Jesse Eisenberg) is trying to make it in Hollywood when he falls for his married uncle's mistress, Vonnie (Kristen Stewart). Neither uncle Phil (Steve Carell), a brittle, high-powered agent, nor Vonnie, who is his Phil's secretary, clues the young man. Heartbroken, Bobby » Read More

Review: 'Ghostbusters'

Wielding an electronic ghost detector that resembles a little rotating neon vulva, a triumphant Melissa McCarthy leads this female-powered Ghostbusters reboot. The remake clearly has a chip on its shoulder over fanboi venom. It acknowledges the "raped childhood" posts all splattered over the internet. Learning that the Ghostbusters would feature an all-women cast, thousands of male fans whimpered about PC Hollywood. At the risk of validating the online declarations of fools, director Paul Feig includes scenes of the heroines having their ghost-hunting business dragged through the comments sections of popular websites. One troll's unimaginative jab reads: "ain't no bitch gonna hunt no ghosts". » Read More

Review: 'Captain Fantastic'

Berkeley-raised director Matt Ross stays true to his roots with Captain Fantastic-which will surely seem a deep movie in that city, thanks to its spirit of political grievance, its mottos, and its fantasy of chucking it all to head for the redwoods. (It's firs and pines, actually; set in Washington state, the film is shot in Canada.) In the film's opening scene we see a many-pronged buck peeking through a thicket-so peaceful and serene that you know it's all over for the deer. Hiding, face painted with camouflage, young Bo (short for Bodevan, and played by George MacKay) pops out and stabs it in the throat. Butchering the out of season deer, Bo's father Ben (Viggo Mortensen) solemnly anoints his eldest son's forehead with the blood, giving » Read More

Albert Brooks: A Netflix Retrospective

Known as the neurotic fish in the Finding Nemo movies, or as the soothing knife-wielder in Drive, Albert Brooks has been a talented supporting actor ever since Taxi Driver. His seven directorial efforts-now available as a kind of cloud-based film festival on Netflix, from 1979's Real Life to 2006's Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World-demonstrates Brooks as something else: a uniquely uncompromising and unpredictable director. Often playing a lovelorn whiner with a clenched forehead, Brooks has been eclipsed by the thematically similar Woody Allen. But if Allen's 1979 Manhattan ends with the upbeat thought, "Sometimes, you have to have a little faith in people," Modern Romance (1981) ends with the kind of ordeal the Geneva Convention was » Read More

Review: 'Hunt For The Wilderpeople'

A joke that you can tell anyone-that's rare. So is a movie that can be recommended with pleasure to anyone, of any age. In Hunt for the Wilderpeople by Taika Waititi, lush landscapes of the rainforest of New Zealand counter a sense of humor so toast-dry that it makes the British Ealing comedies of the 1950s seem overripe. Co-star Sam Neill is both touching and funny—Oscar-worthy, if you like-as an old, illiterate tramp-turned-farmer. He's called Hec Faulkner. It's short for Hector, and the Faulkner part fits as well, particularly per William Faulkner's The Reivers. This noble, never-vainglorious actor conveys the irresistible movie appeal of a solitary elder forced into the role of uncle against his will. » Read More

Review: 'Legend of Tarzan'

The trademark symbol is proudly displayed on the title card of the latest high-flying action epic from Warner Bros.-The Legend of Tarzan—. Let's be sure include that mark whenever mentioning the film, lest our hero fall into the public domain ... like he should have 50 years ago. In the mid-1880s, Lord Greystoke (Alexander Skarsgard) is in a snit, sulking about unwanted fame and all the dime-novel pulp fiction about his deeds in the jungle. He's asked by a Yankee diplomat (Samuel L. Jackson, in an unfortunate toupee) and Prime Minister Gladstone (the ever-witty Jim Broadbent) to return to Africa to investigate King Leopold's colony in the Congo. » Read More

Review: 'Eat That Question'

ike most cranks, Frank Zappa was pissed off by a rainbow of things. The passivity of his fellow American citizens upset him just as much as the invention of expensive designer jeans. Thorsten Schutte's documentary, Eat That Question: Frank Zappa in His Own Words, is a collage of Zappa (1940-92) enduring his least-favorite activity-being interviewed. Zappa called interviews "the most abnormal thing you can do to a person." He's prickly, occasionally seething, as yet another journalist butters Zappa up for the camera with comments about how loved and hated he is. Ostensibly trying to charm the musician responsible for some 60 albums, one newsman reads a description from Time magazine calling Zappa "bearded and gross and filthy." » Read More

Review: 'Our Kind of Traitor'

After the Brexit vote-the single stupidest British political decision since the reign of King Lear-a fantasy of English intrepidness is welcome. It arrives in Our Kind of Traitor, Susanna White's adaptation of John Le Carre. We begin with betrayal. "The Prince" (Grigoriy Dobrygin), the new head of the vor, the Russian mafia, is going legit; part of the public effort to get respectable involves signing over his murky accounts into a bank being considered for the London exchanges. The ink isn't dry when the Prince's former associate is ambushed in the snow by machine gunners. Cut, Bond-movie style, from the snows to the sands. In Marrakech, a bored lit professor named Perry Makepeace (Ewan McGregor) is trying to patch things up on a vacation » Read More

Review: 'Diary of a Chambermaid'

Insolence versus injustice is the theme of Octave Mirbeau's novel, Diary of a Chambermaid. As adapted by director and co-writer Benoit Jacquot, it's a bracingly nasty piece of work, contrasting brutishness at the bottom and condescension from the top. Jacquot previously directed star Lea Seydoux in somewhat similar material, Farewell My Queen. She's the movie's real raison d'etre. Seydoux has impressed in films as different as Spectre and Blue is the Warmest Color, but Jacquot was one of the first to understand Seydoux's fascinating sullenness, and to appreciate those gunfighter eyes: when Seydoux glares at someone, you think of Lee Van Cleef in a spaghetti western. And Jacquot has the budget to make this version authentic to the 1890s, » Read More

Review: 'Gurukulam'

If a documentary is worth anything, it will display mixed feelings about its subject. That being the case, I'm not completely sure how totally beguiled the directors of Gurukulam might be by their tour of an ashram in the mountains of Tamil Nadu, in rural southern India. The presiding guru Dayananda Saraswati is elderly, requiring the support of a pair of acolytes when he gets around. Co-producers and directors Neil Dalal and Jillian Elizabeth had fine access; Saraswati pays no attention to the camera, or anything but his reading, as he's having his saffron-colored socks changed by a helper. On a trip to purify a temple, the guru meets with farmers whose fields are being invaded by elephants, beasts they've been trying to pray away. » Read More

Review: 'The Fits'

Anna Rose Holmer's directorial debut, The Fits, feels a lot like Creed-a.k.a. Rocky VII-with all the nonsensical commercial movie parts stripped out. This avant garde, long-take, wide-screen view of a young girl training to be part of a dance team avoids the well-trodden path; it's not "empowering" in the athletic shoe-commercial sense. Toni is an undersized, 11-year-old girl who wants to join the "Lincoln Lionesses," a local dance team. She's played by the remarkable, young and richly named Royalty Hightower, while the Lionesses are portrayed by the Q-Kidz, a step group from Cincinnati's West End. Little and silent, Hightower doesn't weigh 90 pounds, and yet she has tremendous gravity. Almost all synopses of The Fits refer to Toni as a » Read More

Review: 'Finding Dory'

As its opening act, this Finding Nemo sequel features a Pixar short called "Piper." The film is about a baby sandpiper coping with incoming tide. It's so small and perfect that it makes what follows look sprawling. Otherwise, Finding Dory is a better film than its predecessor, with more narrative sophistication. It's an aquatic Memento, as the memory-challenged blue tang Dory (Ellen Degeneres does the addled fish's voice) retrieves forgotten images of her childhood. She seeks her long-lost parents off the coast of Morro Bay with an ever-worried Nemo and Marlon (voiced by Albert Brooks) in pursuit. Brooks' job is to give the movie some salt, and maybe his best line comes with his frustration at the dithering Dory in a tank full of identical » Read More

Review: 'Now You See Me 2'

Jon M. Chu, the son of the restaurateur who runs Chef Chu's in Los Altos, sped to the top of his profession as a director. Following the auditorium-filling Step Up series and a Justin Bieber concert movie, Chu's new film Now You See Me 2 has the moviemaker in cahoots with a couple of other Valley-bred talents. The film's scriptwriter is Saratoga's own Ed Solomon (Levity, Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure); and Now You See Me 2's co-star is Palo Alto's Dave Franco. "I didn't know him back then, but I had mutual friends with his brother," Chu says from Los Angeles by phone. Magic on film may seem a weird sell in an age when you can vanish anything with digital technology; it's as bemusing as the days when a ventriloquist named Edgar Bergen » Read More

Review: 'Sunset Song'

Terence Davies is a clear-eyed nostalgia artist specializing in the retrieval of the mood and the color of the past. Sunset Song, an adaptation of the Lewis Grassic Gibbon novel set a century ago in Scotland's Kincardineshire, seems like the culmination of his work. It functions both as a dreamy eclogue about farm living and as a war memorial. The lean, tall Agyness Deyn stars as Chris, the daughter of a viciously dour father (Peter Mullan, excellent). Though the ardors of childbearing send Chris's mother to her grave at an early age, the place is a kind of paradise. There is dialogue about the struggle with the soil, but the soil doesn't look like it's putting up much of a fight. It's almost always golden harvest time, and the weather » Read More

Review: 'Alice Through the Looking Glass'

Glibsters say a book can never be ruined by a movie-"There it is, still up on the shelf." This rule doesn't apply to James Bobin's Alice Through the Looking Glass. It's so misbegotten that it must-somehow-poison its source. Kids who somehow have a good time at this soulless film are never going to get the same pleasure out of the Lewis Carroll original, expecting it to have the same relentlessness, Bad-television-Christmas-special plotting, and Transformers-like robots. It is a special book. Here is an introduction to linguistics, to talking insects decades before Kafka, and to other bizarre fauna-sometimes, 'very unpleasant characters' as Alice describes The Walrus and The Carpenter. » Read More

Review: 'The Lobster'

As a morbid satire of how individuals are pressured to become couples, Yorgos Lanthimos' fable, The Lobster, has merit. The Greek director, previously of Dogtooth, certainly has made an answer film to My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Anyone who comes from a traditional family, who endured ceaseless nagging to get married and produce some kids, would find this savory... for a while. But to use an old word, The Lobster is crabbed. The dialogue is executed in a toneless existential style, like a David Mamet adaptation-complete with foreign language training tape stilted narration. We can utter some hollow laughter watching the slow crushing of the forlorn main character, David (Colin Farrell). » Read More

Review: 'X-Men: Apocalypse'

When the undertone about the struggle for gay rights is taken out of the X-Men franchise, nothing seems to be left but the fight scenes, the makeup and the costumes. With its emphasis on boarding school life, it seems X-Men: Apocalypse is trying to assume the vacuum left by the end of the Harry Potter movies. The nth-excuse me, ninth-film in the series tells of the world's first mutant, the immortal Apocalypse, known as En Sabah Nur (Oscar Isaac), a hulking blue entity who's been sleeping the eons away in an art-deco, black-and-gold pyramid buried deep below Cairo. Reborn in 1983, Apocalypse seeks four heralds to help him with his mission to purge the world. They will include the embittered Magneto (Michael Fassbender) who has been hiding » Read More

Review: 'Margarita With A Straw'

Let's hear it for Wolfe Video's new release, Shonali Bose's Margarita with a Straw, finally getting a theatrical run in San Jose. The New Almaden-based indie film distributor has been around since 1985, before the beginning of the indie film wave. But this may be the best movie they've released in 31 years. Margarita with a Straw is a bright, ingratiating film with an unlikely star: Laila (Kalki Koechlin) a college girl with cerebral palsy. Though navigating life in a wheelchair and with severely affected speech, she doesn't let her troubles keep her from looking for romance in all directions. Living in a financially untroubled household near Delhi, Laila is accepted well enough at school, stealing a first kiss and then dropping the boy » Read More

Review: 'Captain America: Civil War'

Playing the noblest American of them all, Chris Evans is easy to underrate. As in previous installments, Captain America: Civil War shows the World War II hero, frozen and revived for our complex times, as a touching and skeptical immortal. Our Captain could also be seen as a symbol of the U.S. government's unilateral actions in foreign affairs. But the Russo brothers' terrific action opus addresses directly what Batman v. Superman hinted at. It's the most expensive, entertaining movie anyone's made about blowback. A squad of The Avengers are in Lagos, Nigeria, preventing the theft of a vial of ebola-like serum. During the ensuing, epic shootout, the powerful telepath Wanda (a hypnotically pretty Elizabeth Olsen) saves Captain America's » Read More

Review: 'High Rise'

What turned a fussy London docto-slim, white-clad, and, as they used to say, uptight-into a filthy barbarian, whom we meet spit-roasting a haunch of dead cat over an open fire? We find out in Ben Wheatley's adaptation of J. G. Ballard's 1975 novel High-Rise-immaculately visualized with Kubrick-like attention to detail and art direction, and accompanied by a thundering score. Wheatley keeps the book's 1970s setting, lampooning England's descent into humiliation during a decade of strikes, shortages and power-outages. On the edge of London is a 45-story residential complex made of brutal concrete. Brand new, it's already showing signs of rot. The new tenant is the reticent Dr. Laing (Tom Hiddleston). He's a brain specialist, much of whose » Read More

Review: 'Keanu'

In Quentin Tarantino's version of That Darn Cat, Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele make a sublime comedy team in their new film, Keanu. The poster doesn't lie: it's centered around a little mewling kitten, a 'gangsta pet' sought by horrible and dangerous men. The two comedians play cousins. Key is Clarence, an anxious suburban family man in a madras shirt. At first glance, he's like Dwayne Johnson's frailer little brother. Upon further examination, he's a beige Chevy Chase. The word protean describes Key; he's facially bland enough that he can pose as hundreds of characters, as he has over the five seasons of the duo's hit Comedy Central show, Key and Peele. » Read More

Preview: 'Olivia de Havilland Festival'

Olivia de Havilland, who will be 100 years old July 1, is being honored at the Stanford Theatre with a 15-film retrospective, celebrating her long acting career. Raised in Saratoga, she showed an unstoppable streak at an early age, moving out of her home even before she graduated from Los Gatos High. Her stepfather-the manager of a since-defunct San Jose department store-had threatened to kick her out if she didn't stop performing. De Havilland was discovered by an agent of the impresario Max Reinhardt while she was playing Shakespeare in a local theater. She was signed to a Warner Brothers contract, and starred as Hermia in the 1935 film of A Midsummer Night's Dream. At 5-foot-3, she embodied the Shakespeare-ism: 'Though she be but » Read More

Review: 'Green Room'

Writer-director Jeremy Saulnier's indie thriller Green Room is about one of those scenes that never changes even as the years go by, like prison, the military or academia. Still, the new film by the director of the expert noir Blue Ruin seems as if it should have been set 1987 or so. There is still enough of a punk music scene in 2016 to permit a trad punk rock band to drive an Econoline van from gig to gig. And likely, there's still a quantum of racist skinheads still fouling what's left of that scene. There are excuses in Green Room's script made for why the musician protagonists don't have an online social media presence. There is also a lot of extraneous business about cell phones that get broken or don't work and don't figure into the » Read More

Review: 'Purple Rain'

A week ago, Purple Rain was just another bad '80s movie. Prince's untimely death at age 57 changed that, bringing downloads and revival bookings at everywhere from the AMC Theaters nationwide to San Francisco's Castro Theater. Time hasn't been kind to this vehicle for its star, which was a monster hit when it was released-earning back it's cost eightfold at the box office in 1984. It's infrequent that a rock movie shows off talent at their best advantage, but it was Prince's own idea to make himself into a James Dean-like rebel, zipping around on an underpowered motorcycle, suffering through his parents' violent fights at home. (They're tearing him apart, just like in Rebel Without a Cause.) » Read More

Review: 'A Hologram for the King'

The slightly off-kilter quality of A Hologram for the King is explained in the credits; it's international filmmaking that doesn't have a definite style or a center. Having avoided the candied nostalgia and thumpingly nationalistic conclusions of Dave Eggers' source bestseller, director Tom Tykwer transforms this story into a slightly abstract study of a middle-aged man's inexorable slide into obsolescence. Stories like these-of American businessmen getting blindsided by new and unsympathetic markets-used to be all the rage. Second-hand bookstores were packed with knockoffs of The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit and Death of a Salesman. These tales, as tired as they may be, are greatly aided by the warmth and trustworthiness of Tom Hanks. » Read More

Review: 'The Jungle Book'

Some critics complained that Rudyard Kipling wouldn't have recognized Disney's 1968 animated Jungle Book, the story of a feral boy's adventures with animals. Jon Favreau's remarkable computer-animated and live-action version has at least a sprig of Kipling's verse in it. Raised by wolves, under the supervision of the black panther Bagheera (Ben Kingsley), Mowgli (newcomer Neel Sethi) is taught the wolf's code: 'The strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack.' Like the original, this version waits on the arrival of the bear Baloo (Bill Murray) and his corny but earworm-hatching song about the bare necessities of life. Baloo has a different take on the code: 'That's not a song. That's propaganda.' This » Read More

Review: 'Miles Ahead'

Unleashed from directors reigning them in, actors often go nuts when making their directorial debut. With Miles Ahead, Don Cheadle uses his first turn in the director's chair to craft an indie film full of whiplash flashbacks and playful, expressionistic storytelling. Cheadle's approach might have been called Miles Davis, Private Eye. In the fictional storyline, Cheadle plays Davis playing the part of defective detective. On various powders and in various alleys, Davis seeks a stolen reel of tape containing his first recording in five years. The artist's quarry is a thuggish record exec named Harper Hamilton (Michael Stuhlbarg); accompanying Davis during this quest through the night is the scruffy, self-described Rolling Stone reporter » Read More

Review: 'Windrider Film Forum'

The Windrider Film Forum returns to Atherton this weekend. The seventh annual gathering of filmmakers and fans will include feature length and short films covering a variety of subjects, as well as Q&A panels with directors, actors and others involved in the process of producing movies. The ultimate aim of the forum is to address troubles in the world and encourage meaningful dialog. Here are some of the gathering's highlights. Frogman, a short documentary by Stanford's Tyler Trumbo, tells the family history of a Navy SEAL turned spy. This unnamed sailor was stationed behind the lines after the Iranian Hostage Crisis ended. Irradiated in an accident, wracked with PTSD and dead at 47, the serviceman remains a mystery to his family. His son, » Read More

Review: 'Demolition'

Thought you'd escape the wanton devastation in Batman v. Superman by going to the allegedly mature drama Demolition? The joke's on you. Jean-Marc Vallee's follow-up to his excellent Wild and his middling Dallas Buyer's Club concerns a man who seeks catharsis through smashing things. Like Bruce Wayne, Davis (Jake Gyllenhaal) is an affluent, muscular executive, driving around in an expensive car, traumatized by the death of a loved one. The real Batman never had to describe the worst day of his life as Davis does at the dinner table, when he displays a stiff upper lip over the death of his wife Julia (Heather Lind): 'Massive head trauma in a car accident. Can you pass the salt?'
Davis has been cracking up ever since his wife was killed, and » Read More

Review: 'City of Gold'

Clearly a person needs to eat before they see City of Gold, the lovingly-made documentary about LA Weekly and LA Times food critic Jonathan Gold—the scenes of the simmering black Oaxacan sauces, flaming Thai curries and gourmet taco trucks are food porn of the rarest order. But even indifferent foodies can enjoy this profile of an erudite yet funky writer. With large brow, larger girth and a Ben Franklin haircut, Gold could be a model for Dutch master Frans Hals, or anyone's picture of Falstaff. But during ride-alongs in the Dodge truck of this eminent critic, we get more than just profiles of restaurants high and low, and supporting commentary by the likes of Calvin Trillin. » Read More

Review: 'Batman vs Superman'

It's 18 months since a Kryptonean war party all but demolished Metropolis and killed thousands-"Man is introduced to the Superman" says a Nietzschean title in Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Our blue-clad hero (Henry Cavill) is beleaguered by a senate investigation led by a firm yet sympathetic southern senator (Holly Hunter). Behind the scenes, the wealthy Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) is pestering the government to get his hands on a Kryptonian weapon that will protect the Earth from further attack. He has no faith in Superman's goodness: "We don't have to depend on the kindness of monsters," Luthor says. When Batman (Ben Affleck) interferes with Luthor's schemes, the plutocrat uses kidnapping and extortion to send Superman after » Read More

Review: 'Take Me to the River'

Rural Nebraska is the setting of Matt Sobel's semi-autobiographical, mostly imagined feature film debut Take Me to the River. That's 1,500 miles from the Willow Glen suburb he grew up in. It's notable that a drive from Milan to Madrid is shorter by 500 miles. In Sobel's film, that kind of geographical distance informs the cultural differences between his hometown in California and the Nebraskan farmland where his annual family reunions used to take place. Take Me to the River, which premiered at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, captures an adolescent's sense of estrangement as he attempts to navigate two very different worlds: one that is safe and familiar, and another that is disorienting. » Read More

Reeling in the Years

Considering 30 years of cinema history in the Valley, it's clear now that we acted more than we were acted upon. Though there aren't as many films set here as there are in New York or San Francisco, Silicon Valley changed the face of the movies in every field—from digital imagery to online distribution. One of my first cover stories for Metro back in 1986 involved the rise of the VHS tape, and its potential threat to the movie theaters. Now VHS is dead, and the problems of waning ticket sales and monotonous blockbusters are still affecting the industry. Cinema as cinema is just one small part of the bandwidth, pressed by more interactive mediums, by serial dramas, and, eventually by VR technology being developed by Oculus, Jaunt and » Read More

Review: 'Eye in the Sky'

South African director Gavin Hood's military thriller Eye in the Sky is frequently exciting, sporadically dull and ultimately invaluable. The big names, Helen Mirren and the late Alan Rickman, deliver their goods-unselfconscious power on her side, and bilious melancholy on his. It's a wider film than the similarly themed Good Kill. Hood shows us the war on terror as a literal world war, being strategized everywhere from the dust to the heavens. Yet Eye in the Sky truly belongs to Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips). Abdi is the anti-terrorist coalition's point man, Jama, who keeps surveillance on a heavily guarded compound on the outskirts of Nairobi. » Read More

Review: 'Doris'

Mortality shades director Michael Showalter's comedy Hello, My Name is Doris. The slight but endearing plot has an armature-a significant mention of The Glass Menagerie sets the stage. Like poor Laura, Doris (Sally Fields) has been walled-up tending her aged mother, and is gradually turning a trash-picker and a cat-pamperer. Her brother is even named Tom (Stephen Root), as per the Tennessee Williams' play. Doris still works a 9-5, rocking her batty personal style at a chic clothing manufacturer in Manhattan; she's bedecked with bows and found objects, and a double pair of glasses. Doris has these excellent vintage mother of pearl-encrusted cat's spectacles that she can't give up, even if she can't read with them on. Still, her eyesight is » Read More

Review: 'Creative Control'

Once people lived lives of quiet desperation, as per the Thoreau quote. Now they're noisy and desperate-trapped in a gabble of voices, advertising and text messages, working 90 hours a week and masturbating to electronic phantoms for the other 10 hours. Director, star and co-writer (with Micah Bloomberg) Benjamin Dickinson's Creative Control, a hilarious black and white, widescreen comic fable of a marketer's crack up, hits its mark every time. » Read More

Review: 'Trapped'

In June, the Supreme Court may consider the legality of Texas HB2, the model of restrictive abortion laws being implemented all over the South and elsewhere. One is reminded of the anarchist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon's famous quote-because if ever there was a case of laws being chains for the poor and cobwebs for the rich, here it is. The well-off can pick a facility in a large city. The less affluent have to bus in from hundreds of miles away and stay for a couple of days, while enduring politically mandated waiting periods engineered to make securing a safe and legal abortion all but impossible. » Read More

Review: 'Zootopia'

Prejudice is the theme of Disney's marvelous animated comedy, Zootopia. The higher the concept, the more writers end up credited, but this much rewritten Zootopia doesn't play that way. The sting and spice is visible in a clue in the title-it's indeed a utopian fantasy of the lion laying down with the lamb, at least for political reasons. Far out in the sticks, the appealing bunny, Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin), wants to grow up to be a police officer, instead of a carrot farmer like her hundreds of brothers and sisters. After a bruising stint in the police academy, she joins Zootopia's police force. But thanks to the scorn of Chief Bogo (a Cape Buffalo voiced by Idris Elba), Judy is busted down to meter maid duty-relegated to roaming the » Read More

Review: 'The Daughter'

Cinequest closes with The Daughter, director and writer Simon Stone's variation on the themes in Ibsen's The Wild Duck. The title is deceptive. Even if Stone includes Ibsen's wounded duck, the movie is not about ducks, it's about chickens-the kind that come home to roost. To his credit, Simon isn't merely reiterating the plot of the play. In a New South Wales company town, in the blue-misted mountains, a century-old family lumber mill is closing. The patriarch of the place is Henry (Geoffrey Rush), about to marry his much younger fiancee, who used to be his housekeeper. Henry's dissolute and angry son, Christian (Paul Schneider), has just returned from many years in America: he's been two months on the wagon and is hoping to change his » Read More

Review: 'Embrace the Serpent'

The Oscar-nominated Embrace of the Serpent is the biggest European guilt-whip since Jim Jarmusch's Dead Man, during which Johnny Depp got called "Stupid white man" half a dozen times. The Colombian film contrasts two incidents in the life of the Amazonian shaman Karamakate, the last of his nation. He encounters two explorers, some 40 years apart, in the first half of the 20th century. Karamakate (played in youth by Nilbio Torres) is a noble, scornful warrior-physically splendid, with a look of James Woods-worthy disdain on his face. Braced against his seven-foot blowgun, he wears his thong like Superman's trunks. » Read More