Spock and Kirk Ready to Kick Some Ass

If you have seen the Quantum of Solace, you probably have seen the new Star Trek trailer in the theatres.  Also, by now the trailer should be on TV commercials nationwide.  Let me just say that the JJ Abrams reboot of the franchise is exactly what it needed.  You know it’s going to be awsome when non-Trek fans are excited about watching this film!  Go check it for yourself.  It’s awesome.

Are you one of those people that can’t wait for the San Francisco International Film Festival every year?  Well wait no longer.  Do you wish there was a way to see films from previous festivals again?  Well your wish has come true.  The San Francisco Film Society will start showing weekly films from its film programs year round at a screen at the Sundance Kabuki Cinemas.  The first screening will be a film that was shown at the 2007 Film Festival titled Times and Winds (Bes vakit, Turkey 2006) starting on Friday, June 13th.  Check out the SFFS Events page for information on future weekly screenings.

Oh! I didn’t know there would be goodies! Nugget and I MUNI’d over to the Castro Theatre at 7pm for what we thought was just going to be an really good movie (the title of tonight’s film is extremely intriguing, no?), and maybe a little bit of exuberance from the witty and charming film festival director, Graham Leggat, who has waited ALL YEAR for this night. But finding a giveaway bag on our seat (and on every other seat in the house) suddenly changes the way one feels about such things. Well, it did for me, being a person who does not receive such goodie bags on a regular basis. Instantly, my feeling changed from, “Hey, it’s great we’re out of the house and doing something cultural” to ” WOW! Opening night is a BIG DEAL!” I’m a cheap whore for gifts, what can I say.

On every seat in the house of the Castro Theatre lay a lovely turquoise reusable shopping bag (you know, that nylon square shaped bag, like the kind you buy at Whole Foods), filled with “stuff.” What kind of stuff? Who cares?! It’s a gift bag! OK, here’s the basic contents: little packages of locally made biscotti cookies, a notepad from DHL, a souvenir item from Cathay Pacific (the evening’s sponsor – Nugget got a Hot Wheels’ sized miniature airplane; I got a few magnets with corporate logos on them), a pen from a local insurance company, a few pieces of literature about something or other that immediately went into the recycling bin. The excitement about the gift bag almost was enough of an evening for me. I could have walked out without seeing the movie, and maybe would have been happy. (This girl likes the gifts, what can I say?)

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During the next two weeks, 177 films will screen from more than 50 countries. It’s the largest film event in Northern California, and more than 10 percent of all movie tickets sold in San Francisco this year will be to a movie in this festival (kind of mind-blowing when you think about it – wow, SF really likes independent films!) Aw yeah, Nug readers – the SF International Film Festival is on. It’s the oldest film festival of its kind in the United States, and considered to be one of the Top-10 film festivals in the world. Sure, it’s a venerated, lauded institution and this is their main event, with a ton of notable world premieres, North American premieres and West Coast premieres scheduled — like the scheduled world premiere of Andy Garcia’s documentary on Cachao.  Andy Garcia not only directs and acts as a lead in the documentary, but he is rumored to appear at the opening of the film.

But why we love it: because even in a post-Netflix world, occasionally movies are a once-in-a-lifetime event. In 2003, we watched a screening of Oliver Stone’s movie about Fidel Castro, “Comandante.” It was scheduled to air on HBO three months after the film festival – big whoop. It was presumed that if you missed it at the film festival, it seemed certain that you would be able to watch it a few months. But what happened next sealed the movie’s fate: just a few weeks after the screening, Castro went on a rampage and executed a few people without proper trials. The international climate changed and for some reason, Stone was forbidden to screen the movie ever, anywhere, ever again. Stone, the only American film director ever granted permission by Castro to make a documentary about him, with exclusive months-long access to the reclusive revolutionary – all to be shelved like the McGruder film, and will need something like Freedom-of-Information-Act request to ever see the light of day. Who knew that one of Nugget’s early posts to this blog would be one of the few things ever to be written about it?

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The Last Mistress

Asia Argento as The Last Mistress

We have finally made our film selections for this year’s festival.  As always, we will try and bring you a special report about the opening night excitement.

The opening night film this year will be The Last Mistress (France 2007), directed by Catherine Breillat.  The film is based on a controversial novel by 19th century author Jules-Amédée Barbey d’Aurevilly.  The story centers on a Frenchman on the verge of marrying an innocent aristocratic young French socialite.  But before doing so, he confesses to an affair with a Spanish mistress to the bride’s grandmother. A surprisingly open-minded old woman, the grandmother seems to delight in every sordid detail of the young man’s relationship with his mistress.

The other films that we will be watching during this year’s festival are as follows:

Just Like Home (Denmark, 2007)
Black Belt (Japan, 2007)
Mataharis (Spain, 2007)
Water Lilies (France 2007)
Solitary Fragments (Spain 2007)
Shadows in the Palace (South Korea 2007)
Big Man Japan (Japan 2007)
Under the Bombs (France/Lebanon/England/Belgium 2007)
Secrecy (United States 2007)
Timecrimes (Spain 2007)
The 51st Annual San Francisco International Film Festival starts on Thursday, April 24th and runs through Thursday, May 8th.  Tickets are available on the film festival website or you may also order by phone by calling (925) 866-9559.  We look forward to seeing you all there!

The 51st San Francisco International Film Festival, which will be held from April 24, 2008 to May 8, 2008, will open at the Castro Theatre this year with The Last Mistress (France), the latest film from acclaimed director Catherine Breillat. The Last Mistress will screen at 7:00 pm with Catherine Breillat in attendance, followed by the gala Opening Night party at 9:30 pm in the scenic settings of City View at Metreon, located on the penthouse level of 101 Fourth Street at Mission.

Admission for the Opening Night film and party is $85 for general public/$70 for San Francisco Film Society members; VIP tickets are $135. Tickets should be going on sale at the SF Film Society website soon.

The Heavenly Kings Arriving on the Red Carpet
CALL THEM THE HOMECOMING KINGS, the stars of the movie The Heavenly Kings, on the red carpet in front of the San Francisco Castro Theatre. From left to right, Cal grad Andrew Lin, Berkeley native and director Daniel Wu, Aussie-raised Hong Kong supermodel Conroy Chan, and the only real singer in the group, Hong Kong heartthrob Terence Yin.

Q: What do you get when you mix the Village People with the Backstreet Boys and add some Chinese four-spice?

A: Alive – the Hong Kong Boy Band.

The Heavenly Kings, the title of the movie that we saw on Friday night at the Castro Theatre, was our first of 12 scheduled movies – and I have to say, the evening was a home run. Having an excuse the schlep over to the gorgeous Castro Theatre is always a treat, but when you get the “full film festival experience” in addition…well, let’s just I’ll enthusiastically jump over a few more crack bums on the way. (C’est la vie en San Francisco!)

By “full film festival experience” and why we just love, love, love the SF Film Fest: Filmmakers often show up for their films and stay around to discuss the films after, either formally, on stage, in front of the audience, or can be found just milling about the lobby and informally chatting it up with movie-going peeps afterwards. Two years ago, we sat about 10 feet away from Metallica—aw yeah!, and three years ago, we were about 20 feet from Kevin Spacey. (So I just name dropped–so what?)

For the red carpet entrance, the Daily Nug photog (Nugget) said there were at least 20 or 30 women in the front who were screaming at the arrival of the film’s stars. Daniel Wu, who acted in several hit Hong Kong movies before making his directorial debut is a familiar face, as were the film’s other main characters in the film. Conroy Chan, a former Hong Kong male “supermodel”, Andrew Lin, a Hong Kong B-level actor and Cal grad, and Terence Yin, also a famous actor who had previously recorded an album. By the way, Daniel Wu, a Berkeley native, just won a Hong Kong academy award for this film for Best First Time Director.

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Castro Sign Friday Night

The 50th Annual San Francisco International Film Festival is finally here! This is the third year that the Daily Nugget was invited to cover the festival as press. Due to our busy schedules however, Mama and I did not attend the opening night film, The Golden Door, on Thursday night. However, we went to the Castro Theater last night to see a screening of the Hong Kong film,the Heavenly Kings. Mama will be writing a review of the film and I do not want to steal her thunder, so I’ll let her tell you about the film herself in her review post.

The atmosphere at the Castro Theatre was electric. Daniel Wu and his friends are pretty famous actors in Hong Kong, even if most American audiences have no idea who they are. There were several Chinese and Chinese-American girls that knew exactly who these guys were, as evidence by their screams and agitation when they came down the red carpet. Roger Garcia was on hand at the red carpet to welcome the director and actors to the screening.

Castro Marquee

Screaming fans, flashing lightbulbs, a little bit of mayhem on the side of the ropes–it was what I always had pictured red carpets to be, but in a much smaller scale. It wasn’t the Academy Awards or the Grammys, but it was fun to watch and take a few pictures. I had a tiny Canon point-and-shoot camera and was standing behind the “real” photographers from the Chronicle, WireImage, and other event photographers.

I was okay standing a few feet behind and taking in the whole scene–it was a bit surreal. If this night was any indication of the level of excitement at this year’s festival, then we are really excited about the 12 films that we will be watching this year!

The festival runs through May 10th. For tickets, venue information and a complete schedule, go to www.sffs.org or call (925) 866-9559.

In reading a recent interview with Quentin Tarentino for his new movie Grindhouse, he refers to the Carson Twin Cinema theatres in Carson as a place he used to watch movies when he was a kid. This sparked a bit of nostalgia in me, as I used to also go to the Carson Twin almost every weekend to watch movies from 1984 to 1986. Granted, this was about eight years or so after Tarantino, but surely the theatre had not changed in that time, it wasn’t even remodeled!

My mom used to drop me off at the Carson Twin on her way to the Samerika Bingo parlor that was located just down the street, at Avalon Blvd. and 223rd Street. The theatre was located on Avalon Blvd. at the North end of a dilapidated strip mall called the Scottsdale Shopping Center that was located at the intersection of Scottsdale Drive. The theatre itself was a separate box shaped building adjacent to this sleezy Ranchero Mexican Bar that was located at the end of the strip mall. I remember seeing the scantily clad “bar ladies” getting dropped off in the early evening by their “boyfriends” or pimps, I’m not sure which.

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50th Annual San Francisco International Film Festival

The 50th Annual San Francisco International Film Festival will be held April 26 through May 10, 2007. The festival is the oldest in the western hemisphere and its half century mark is a historic event. The SF Film Society is currently calling for film entries to show in this landmark event and the SF film community is abuzz with anticipation.

In related news, the Kabuki Theatre, which has been the main venue for the film festival in recent years, was unceremoniously sold by AMC to the new Sundance Cinemas in August. This brings speculation that Robert Redford and high profile supporters of the Sundance Film Festival will show up in San Francisco. It would be interesting to find out what Graham Leggat, Executive Director of the SF Film Society, thinks of the Kabuki Theater’s change in ownership. On one hand, Sundance’s loose involvement can be seen as a positive development that will increase the profile of the festival. On the other, it can be seen as Sundance attempting to hijack the San Francisco festival by controlling its main venue, but I doubt it. It’s a good thing.

For tickets, venue information and a complete festival schedule once finalized please visit www.sffs.org. Be sure to mark your calendars, April 26th through May 10th, and see you all there!

On Friday we saw Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey, our first screening of the festival. On Saturday, we were at the film festival all day and saw a total of four films. Well, actually we saw three and a half films. Because of the parking situation caused by the Cherry Blossom Festival, we arrived late to the screening of Domestic Dramas, a program of narrative shorts from all over the world. We missed the first two of the shorts in the program titled “The Light,” and “Kitchen.” We were particularly bummed to have missed “The Light,” since it is a local entry from San Francisco.

The other shorts were interesting, particularly “Remain Upright!!” and “The Pretty Boy Project.” The “Pretty Boy Project” was about urban kids settling their disputes not with guns and knives, but with a double dutch jump rope competition. It was pretty damn funny. The producers, director, and cast for “The Pretty Boy Project” were on hand for the Q&A after the program.

The Pretty Boy Project
An actor from “The Pretty Boy Project” shows his lack of double dutch skills to the audience.

After Domestic Dramas, we retired to the press hospitality suite to check out another movie, Al Franken: God Spoke. We used the Kaleidescape kiosks to check this one out. It was an interesting film that followed the political pundit for two years, from the late 2003 of his bestselling book “Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right” to his recent announcement that he is considering a run for the U.S. Senate representing the state of Minnesota in 2008.

We then left the suite and made our way to the screening of Perpetual Motion, a charming Chinese film by a female director that explores feminist themes. A woman invites her best friends to her home during the Spring Festival celebrations to figure out which one of them is sleeping with her husband. Witty dialogue and a mesmerizing meal scene involving chicken feet made for an entertaining look at the lives of Beijing upper-middle-class women.

Immediately following the screening of Perpetual Motion, we waited at the same theatre to watch Factotum. Starring Matt Dillon, the film is an adaptation of Charles Bukowski’s 1975 book by the same name. Although we weren’t fans of Bukowski’s work, we decided to see the film because Matt Dillon would be around for the Q&A. The film was very well made and interesting, sometimes funny, sometimes sad, and sometimes brutal. The film is a semi-autobiographical account of Bukowski’s own life, which included a lot of drinking, screwing and writing, usually in that order. Again, not our favorite, but well made.

Graham Leggat and Matt Dillon
Graham Leggat and Matt Dillon at the Factotum Q&A session.

At the factotum screening we met Jason Wiener, a consummate film fan that has been to three festivals and seen over 148 films this year, and it’s only April! It was such an amazing feat that I just had to take a picture with him. We had seen him the night before at the “Metal” screening and finally got a chance to talk to him for a few minutes. Immediately after the Factotum screening, he skipped before the Q&A with Matt Dillon to see another film, The Glamorous Life of Sachiko Hanai. Jason is a true fan of film and not of celebrity and a really interesting guy. I hope to get a chance to interview him at length before the festival is over.

One interesting item of note is that during the Factotum film screening, which was being cycled through two projectors in adjoining theatres, the film jammed and the projector lamp burned through the film print in two places. I had seen this happen in films, but never in a live screening. The burn-through caused a 15 minute delay as the film was re-spliced together about two thirds of the way into the film and quite the discussion amongst those in the theatre. That was cool.

Please go to my Flickr 2006 SF Film Festival set for more photos from the festival.

We have been attending the film festival for many years and have seen our share of good and bad at the festival. However, you get the feeling that this year is a special year for the festival and that there is the proper leadership to lead the festival into next year’s big 50th Anniversary celebration. Here are some thoughts from walking around the festival last night.

The parking lot at the Japan Center Parking lot was almost full. This was a good sign since we were getting there at 9:00PM to see the Late Show at 10:30PM. We will be able to better guage the turnout at the festival today since the first weekend is the busiest.

Will Call and Volunteers
When we arrived to the festival, we went to the will call desk and picked up our tickets. This was rather uneventful which is exactly what you want. It was nice to see that our order for 26 tickets, 13 pairs, was filled without any errors and the volunteers were cordial and helpful.

Press Hospitality Suite
The press hospitality suite is amazing this year. They basically turned one of the smaller theatres on the bottom floor of the Kabuki Theatres into a lounge for press to sit and file their stories. It hase food and beverages. And it even has WiFi for realtime blog updates and a movie kiosk screening system. The system is made by a company called Kaleidescape and works like a TiVo that lets you screen over sixty of the festival entries in one of four kiosks using 26″ LCD panels and headphones. We plan to take advantage of these when we have more than a two hour wait between films. In fact, I am posting this from the festival right now!

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Although opening night was last night, the SF Film Festival starts for us tonight with the first of fifteen films.

We’ve finally purchased tickets for the films that we plan to screen this year during the 49th Annual San Francisco Film Festival. We will attempt to watch a record 15 films, up from the 12 of 14 we saw in 2003. This is a lot of films to watch in the first 10 days of the festival, but somebody’s got to do it. Anyway, here’s our list of films (in screening order):

Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey (Canada, 2005)
Domestic Dramas (Shorts from Several Countries, 2005)
Perpetual Motion (China, 2005)
Factotum (Norway/USA, 2005)
A Perfect Couple (France/Japan, 2005)
Cock Byte: Masters of Machinima (USA, 2000)
The House of Himiko (Japan, 2005)
Viva Cuba (Cuba/France, 2005)
Obaba (Spain/Germany, 2005)
The Life I Want (Italy, 2005)
American Blackout (USA, 2005)
Runner’s High (USA, 2006)
The Bridge (USA, 2005)

We are also trying to obtain press passes for the following sold out films:

Jonestown: The Life and Death of the Peoples Temple (USA, 2006)
Romance & Cigarettes (USA, 2005)

It’s fitting that the last film we will screen at the festival is The Bridge. It is an exploration of the mythic beauty of the Golden Gate Bridge, which also happens to be the most popular suicide destination in the world. Eric Steel and his crew filmed the bridge during daylight hours from two locations for all of 2004, recording most of the two dozen deaths that year and preventing several others. They also taped over 100 hours of footage with friends, families, and witnesses that recount tales of struggles with depression, substance abuse, and mental illness. In related news, a $2 million study into erecting a suicide barrier on the bridge received final funding this week.

The San Francisco Film Society (SFFS) held the opening press conference for the 49th Annual San Francisco Film Festival yesterday morning at the Westin St. Francis Hotel in Union Square. About 300 press corps members, part of the local and international press corps attended the event. Due to the film festival’s Hong Kong entries, there was even a news crew from World Channel International, the local Chinese language station.

Graham Leggat, the SFFS’s new executive director, spoke articulately with a slight Irish accent. Although he has been on the job for only the last five months, he exhibited very intimate knowledge about the festival and its entries. Unlike Roxanne Messina Captor, who was not very articulate, often would fumble film titles, and didn’t seem to be as as intimate with the festival’s programming. The primary message to his speech was simple: putting together a film festival is a social endeavor.

Leggat stated that the film festival has gone out of their way to create a citizen press corps by recruiting Bay Area bloggers, like myself, to attend the film festival as press. This is my second year covering the festival, even though I have been writing about the festival in the form of film reviews for the last four years. So far my experience with the festival this year yields a sense that the festival is a lot more organized, surely due in part to Leggat’s new leadership.

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The San Francisco Film Society’s flamboyant executive director, Roxanne Messina Captor, departed amid confusion from her post just one week after this year’s festival. A move that startled some members of the Board of Directors but was “made mutually” according to Melanie Blum, the Board President. Today, the San Francisco Film Society issued an official press release seeking a replacement. Hopefully they’ll get someone in time for next year’s festival. Stay tuned.

I was contacted by the San Francisco Film Festival last week. This in itself wasn’t out of the ordinary since I am a member of the San Francisco Film Society. However, this was different. I received an email from the publicist of the festival because in the past I have posted information and reviews of the festival on The Daily Nugget. She apparently searched for online press in Google and found my past blog posts and reviews. Due to my previous “coverage,” she offered me press credentials to cover the event officially this year.

This is proof positive that bloggers are being recognized as valid news sources by many industries, including the entertainment industry. I assume that my blog isn’t the only blog invited to attend the event. However, needless to say, being recognized as a news organizaton is very flattering and exciting. As official press for the event I will be able to schedule one-on-one interviews with film directors that will be attending the festival, see advanced screenings of the films, and obtain full-access to opening night and closing night ceremonies. Look for official SF Film Festival coverage soon.

I had the opportunity to view Comandante at the San Francisco Film Festival earlier this month (see entry). In response to HBO’s choice not to air the film, Oliver Stone has recently flown back to Havana to obtain additional interview footage from Castro regarding the most recent incidents. These new scenes will now be incorporated into the documentary and the new film will air on HBO at a later date. Having already seen the original film, it will be interesting to hear Castro’s thoughts on the recent executions and the brutal repression of Cuba’s dissidents by his regime. If you are even remotely interested in global politics, you must watch this incredible film when it is released.

5 Stars

Comandante, an Oliver Stone film, is an amazing and an incredibly intimate portrait of Fidel Castro that portrays him as a revolutionary, a dictator, and a beloved leader. Castro definitely let his guard down for this film and had a “whatever happens, happens” attitude regarding the filming. Although the rules for the shooting stated that Castro or Stone could call “cut” at any time, neither of them used this privilege throughout the filming.

It was very interesting to hear Castro’s views of the United States and his explanation of what was happening behind the scenes during the Bay of Pigs invasion and the Cuban Missile Crisis. Castro portrays Cuba as a country that was caught between two superpowers, the Soviet Union and the United States. A country that has always done things its own way–Castro’s way.

Castro also expresses sadness towards the American people because of the actions of its government, citing the secret creation of the CIA. He refers to the years that the world knew of the Agency’s existence while the American people were in the dark about both the Agency and its practices in the global stage. Castro is also critical of the United States’ quick invocation of “National Security” and its use of these “sacred words” to instill its will onto the rest of the world and declare wars or conflict.

Stone does a great job of mixing documentary news footage from the past five decades with the present to make his own commentary about the dictator. He even shows Castro and his revolutionary forces executing opposing factions near a mass grave. However, it is clear that this is a biopic view of Castro’s life that focuses more on his successes than his mistakes.

Comandante is a controversial film that has been banned from the New York Tribeca Film Festival this week. Additionally, HBO has chosen not to air the film because of Cuba’s execution of ferry hijackers last month. HBO feels that current events now make the film “incomplete.” It is a shame that the Comandante wasn’t interviewed after this event, it would have been interesting to hear his thoughts on how the situation was handled.

Ultimately, you will have to watch the documentary and come up with your own ideas about Castro, the complex dictator. Cuba, a country that refuses to play by the rules of the United States and now abandoned by the fall of Mother Russia, is now in a very precarious position. It will be very interesting to see what the future brings for Castro, his country, his heirs, and his people.

We’ve finally purchased tickets for the movies that we will watch during the 46th Annual San Francisco Film Festival. We will be watching a record of 14 films this year, up from 9 last year. This is a lot of films to watch in a two-week period, but somebody’s got to do it. Anyway, here’s our list of films (in chronological order):

Angela (Italy, 2002)
So Close (Hong Kong, 2002)
Cabin Fever (USA, 2002)
All Hell Let Loose (Sweden, 2002)
Last Scene (Japan/South Korea, 2003)
Nada + (Cuba/Spain/France/Italy, 2001)
Nothing to Lose (Hong Kong/Thailand/Singapore, 2002)
Double Vision (Taiwan, 2002)
Piedras (Spain, 2002)
The Eye (Hong Kong/Thailand/UK, 2002)
The Sea Watches (Japan, 2002)
We Are The Music (Cuba, 1964)
Respiro (Italy/France, 2002)
Comandante (USA/Spain, 2003)

It is only fitting that Comandante be the last movie on our list, like icing on the cake. Comandante is Oliver Stone’s intimate portrait about Fidel Castro. Stone shot over thirty hours of documentary footage over three days and condensed it down to 90 amazing minutes. I can’t wait–this should be very interesting.