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Flight of the Red Balloon
Juliette Binoche in Flight of the Red Balloon (Hou) (photo: Tsai cheng-tai)

Of the movies in theaters and newly available on DVD this weekend, here's what I like, with links to my reviews, if any.

Opening in Theaters

Alert alert alert:

  • Flight of the Red Balloon — The great Hou Hsiao-Hsien, probably one of my two or three favorite contemporary filmmakers, turns in one of the most accessible, most sublime films of his career, and it features a fantastic performance by Juliette Binoche to boot. (It's a pairing that made my head spin when I first heard about it, kind of like when I learned that Isabelle Huppert will be in the next Claire Denis film, but at least they're both French.) When Millennium Mambo, Hou's first film to be distributed in the US, received a cool reception in 2001, I worried that we'd have an even harder time seeing his films here. Mambo was far from his best work, but the easy dismissal of the film's beauty and mystery did not bode well for the American art house. Or so I thought. Café Lumière, Three Times, and now Flight of the Red Balloon have proven me wrong, each one finding a quiet corner of our messy distribution system. This latest one deserves an appreciative audience. [trailer, my comments about the film on our NYFF podcast, an in-depth discussion of his work on an earlier podcast, see also: my "Editor's Pick" review in the April issue of Paste]
  • The Ruins — OK, it's not Hou Hsiao-hsien. And if I were going to watch either of these new films again — once, twice, or twenty-thrice — I'd obviously choose Flight of the Red Balloon. But I'm surprised to say that this horror-thriller is pretty fun. A line we removed from my review at Paste's site: "It's Turistas, but it doesn't suck." [trailer, review]

Extremely Limited Release

The 90th anniversary of United Artists is cause for screening some lovely films from the archives. Here's a sampling from the schedule at New York's Film Forum and San Francisco's Castro. It's hard to pick one or two from this great list, but let me highlight a nice pair: Broken Blossoms (Griffith, 1919) on a double bill with Night of the Hunter (Laughton, 1955).

Alexandra, the latest film from Alexander Sokurov, is traveling slowly around the country. I enjoyed the film but found it less captivating than his previous film, The Sun, which was one of my favorites of 2005. Also, Godard's colorful Contempt (1963) is circulating, and I'm eager to revisit it when it stops here.

Shotgun Stories (2007) is playing in a couple of cities. With a production credit by David Gordon Green, it feels like a less accomplished, less peculiar film from the genre that Green is leaving behind. I like it best before it spirals into a swirl of vengeful fist fights, but until then it's a pleasant debut by Jeff Nichols, with little glimpses of life in a van by the lake and a good, strong forehead by Michael Shannon.

The new film I probably most want to see at the moment is Chop Shop (Bahrani, 2007) which has not yet played in San Francisco; I've heard good reports from numerous sources.

Continuing in Theaters

In preferential order:
  • 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days [trailer]
  • Paranoid Park — [trailer, my podcast comments from New York and J. Robert's from TIFF, see also: my chat with Van Sant in the March issue of Paste Magazine]
  • Persepolis [trailer, J. Robert's interview with the director on the podcast]
  • Be Kind Rewind [trailer, review]
  • Snow Angels — [trailer, listen to my chat with Green on the podcast, see also: my review in the March Paste]
  • Funny Games — [trailer, short review]

Minor Films and Amusements

No, Thanks

New on DVD

Where I'll Be This Week (Bay Area)

I'll be out of town for a few days this week, but here's the schedule I came up with before I realized I'd be gone.

  • April 4: The Trial (Welles) and La Chinoise (Godard) at the PFA. A curious pairing, one from the Welles retrospective and one from the Clash of '68 series. I've seen the former but not the latter.
  • April 5 (difficult choice): Youth Without Youth (Coppola, 2007) at the Castro and F for Fake (Welles) at the PFA. The Coppola film is a fave from last year that I'd love to see a second time to see how it holds up, and I dig the Welles film, too. (He speaks the truth for an entire hour.) Watching both is entirely possible, but each one is paired with another film that I would kinda like to see: The Battle of Algiers (Pontecorvo, 1966) at the PFA (I've seen it and like it but don't love it) and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Schnabel, 2007) which I didn't want to see until it entered the public dialogue — although I do like the lead actor who was also in Kings and Queen.
  • April 6: experimental shorts at the Yerba Buena, including films by Sylvia Schedelbauer, Mark Street, Jeanne Liotta, Abraham Ravett, Karen Johannesen, Peggy Ahwesh, Paul Bradley and Maile Colbert. I've seen the film by Ahwesh and don't really need to see it again, but the others sound worthwhile.
  • April 9: Eva (1962) and Secret Ceremony (1968) at the Castro by a filmmaker I don't know, Joseph Losey.
  • April 10: On the Beach (Kramer, 1959) at the Castro, a film from the United Artists series that I've never seen.
  • April 10 (toss-up): A Colt is My Passport (Nomura, 1967) at the Yerba Buena or 1973 (Isordia, 2005) and The Man Who Left His Will on Film (Oshima, 1970) at the PFA. The Nomura film kicks off the "No Borders, No Limits" series at the Yerba Buena, a celebration of the stylized gangster films produced by Japan's Nikkatsu studio in the 1960's. The programs at the PFA continue the Clash of '68 series, which has been outstanding, although these aren't two of my most anticipated films.

Update: I should add that Rivette's latest, The Duchess of Langeais, is still playing, I still haven't seen it, and I still want to. So that's a possibility, too.

Posted by davis | Link | Other Weekends
Reader Comments
April 5, 2008, 12:55 AM

Hey, check this out: on my way to The Trial, strolling up Bancroft past the UC Berkeley campus, I saw a crowd gathered just off the sidewalk, and guess who they were listening to? The Counting Crows had set up in Sproul Plaza and were playing a free show for whomever might gather, which looked like several hundred people on a Friday evening.

Cool. I listened for a minute, but then went to see the Welles flick.

April 5, 2008, 04:35 AM

I've seen about a half dozen films by Joseph Losey, but most of the time, he's a filmmaker I feel like I just don't get. And I don't mean that in a snarky way, just admitting my own 'misalignment' and inability to comprehend what his films are really up to...

The Resnais-lover in me likes Accident (1967); and The Boy with the Green Hair (1948) is a great and touching little parable about 'otherness' and intolerance with Dean Stockwell, as a child, playing the title role. (The subject is appropriate since Losey relocated to England at the height of McCarthyism in the '50s.)

But I remember not getting past the first hour of The Trout (with Isabelle Huppert, no less!), and I saw the strange Eva many years ago in a program of "Essential Cinema" programmed by James Quandt, so he must like it a lot. I've been meaning to re-visit it to see if time has 're-aligned' me to it (and Losey's films) any better.

I've always been curious to see his comic-strip derived movie about sixties mod fashion/culture, Modesty Blaise (tagline: "Nothing can faze Modesty Blaise, the world's deadliest and most dazzlingly female agent!"), with Monica Vitti (!) in the title role.

April 5, 2008, 07:27 AM

Hehe. I have to say one of the draws of this particular double feature that I'm going to try to check out are the actors: Jeanne Moreau, Elizabeth Taylor, Robert Mitchum. I've heard of Modesty Blaise, but I had no idea she was played by Monica Vitti.

Thanks for the info, Girish. Curious and intriguing.

April 5, 2008, 08:35 AM

The Rivette is quite lovely, Rob. You shouldn't miss it.

April 5, 2008, 09:38 AM

Cool. I intend to catch it. Likewise, I bet you'd enjoy The Ruins, since it presents such a full and varied look at Mayan culture. Ahem.

(I did get a kick out of it, trashy though it may be.)

April 5, 2008, 09:47 AM

Here's Hou Hsiao-hsien drinking a Pepsi and taking a photograph. Allegedly.

And here's Manohla Dargis on his latest film.

April 5, 2008, 12:50 PM

Man, the Trout is a weird film. Saw it at the PFA's Huppert retrospective a couple of years ago. Bowling alleys. stuffed fish, jaunts to Japan, never quite cohere but they're always interesting.

I've seen a half-dozen of Losey films too, though other than the Servant they're not the ones most other have seen. My favorite is his remake of M, which I saw at Noir City, and think I like even better than the original. Thom Anderson called it the film he most regretted not being able to track down clips for Los Angeles Plays Itself.

The Prowler is another one I saw at Noir City (they struck a great new print that premiered there this January), and it features a terrifically ironic title, some very uneven acting, and one of those great march-towards-doom character arcs. Time Without Pity is a good, available-on-DVD 1957 portrait of an alchoholic. And Peter Roleum and His Cousins is the oddest oddity of them all- a cute stop-motion animated short made to showcase the importance of oil at the 1939 World's Fair. The one I couldn't last through when I tried watching it on DVD was his version of the Mozart opera Don Giovanni. Maybe on the big screen it would work. I'm hoping to make it on Wednesday for this double-bill myself, but I'm not expecting to find more coherence to the man's career from the selections.

April 6, 2008, 08:22 AM

Nice Losey overview, Brian. Which is, of course, better than a lousey or lazy Losey overview.

The Ruins. Ah yes. One more film confirming the inherent wisdom of the devalued dollar; God's way of telling his children to stay home. Travel is just too dangerous, dontcha know? There was a 10:00PM press screening the other night at the Metreon that I was going to go to; but, when I opened my front door the winds were howling Mariah and my skin goosepimpled and I thought: "I . Just . Can't . Do . It ."

April 7, 2008, 07:55 AM

Yeah, thanks for the additional info on Losey, Brian. I sometimes circle films by Hollywood filmmakers that I'm not very familiar with, just because I want to know more about them, but I hadn't expected Losey to be such an interesting character. A remake of M? Curious.

And thanks for your thoughts about the Castro. It has weathered worrying changes before, as you mention, so I hope it'll make it through this one. I'd hate for it to lose its eclectic mix.

April 7, 2008, 10:39 AM

I'll second Michael's rec for the new Rivette. Mysterious, acidic, not quite lovely, and terribly impressive. Easily the best thing I saw last week.

April 7, 2008, 02:17 PM

Thanks, Ryland. I fully intend to see it. I've had so few opportunities to see "the latest Rivette film," whatever it may be at any given moment, that I won't let this one pass without taking advantage of it.

April 10, 2008, 09:22 PM

Having seen the Joseph Losey double bill mentioned above, let me emit a hearty WTF.

April 10, 2008, 10:36 PM

Oh, now I'm extra-sorry I missed it. A last-minute conflict cropped up.