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Film

Reviews and Times

Film, Times & Events: Week of Sept. 27th

Film, Times & Events: Week of Sept. 27th

Films This Week
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Reviews and Times

Soul Food

Soul Food

'Chicken With Plums' is a luscious, imaginative love story

First there was Persepolis, a gorgeously rendered black-and-white animated film about growing up female in Iran based on the graphic novel memoir by Marjane Satrapi. Now, Satrapi and her filmmaking partner Vincent Paronnaud are back with a splendid sophomore effort, Chicken With Plums.

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Reviews and Times

Film, Times & Events: Week of Sept. 20th

Film, Times & Events: Week of Sept. 20th

Films This Week
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Spin Cycle

Spin Cycle

Awesome visual tone poem 'Samsara' tries too hard for profundity

Starting out as a cinematographer on Koyannisqatsi, the original trippy head movie, Ron Fricke has devoted his career to plotless, dialogue-free visual meditations on Nature and Life. Twenty years ago, he made his feature directing debut with Baraka, an uneven, if at times breathtaking, visual tone poem on who we are and how we live in the world.

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Reviews and Times

Film, Times & Events: Week of Sept. 13th

Film, Times & Events: Week of Sept. 13th

Films This Week
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Sorry, Wrong Number

Sorry, Wrong Number

Phone-prank cautionary tale ‘Compliance’ loses touch with reality 

Is it a tough, but important and timely drama on the “only following orders” mentality, or a gratuitous wallow in abasement and abuse? Audiences at Sundance this year were split over Compliance, the sophomore feature from Craig Zobel; half of them walked out early, the rest stayed to the end and cheered. But the truth of this film’s effectiveness lies somewhere in between these extremes—just as the facts of the case histories on which the story is supposedly based (“INSPIRED BY TRUE EVENTS” scream the opening credits) no doubt lie somewhat to windward of the way they are presented onscreen.

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Reviews and Times

Film, Times & Events: Week of Sep. 6th

Film, Times & Events: Week of Sep. 6th

Films This Week
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Friend Chip

Friend Chip

Man and machine bond in sly, poignant 'Robot & Frank'

From the review trailer, you'd think Robot & Frank was a madcap comedy about an aging ex-jewel thief and his new robotic accomplice in crime. Yes, these elements do figure into the plot, but that's not all there is to the story. Beneath the laughs—and there are plenty of them, thanks to yet another knockout performance from Frank Langella in the central role—this sly debut feature from director Jake Schreier is a surprisingly poignant meditation on age, friendship, family, and the role of memory in defining who we are.

Scripted by Christopher D. Ford, the film revolves around Frank (Langella), a cantankerous old git rambling around his empty nest of a family home in upstate New York, sometime in "the near future." He's long since divorced; his son, Hunter (James Marsden), busy with his own life and family, can only get up to see him once a week, and his globe-trotting daughter, Madison (Liv Tyler), is always calling from some exotic locale via Skype (or its futuristic equivalent).

All that breaks up his days are trips to the village library, whose librarian, Jennifer (Susan Sarandon) greets him as her "one and only patron," and tries to find him titles he hasn't already read a dozen times from the dwindling supply of non-digitized stock.

Frank has started to forget things; he can never remember his favorite village cafe is long gone, or that his son has been out of Princeton for 15 years. Concerned, Hunter brings him a "health care aid" in the form of a personal robot. About 4 feet tall (it looks like a mini storm trooper made of white metal with an empty black visor for a "face") the robot is programmed to cook healthy meals, and engage Frank in projects that will keep his mind active. Frank is having none of it, of course, but Hunter warns ominously if he doesn't go along with the plan, "you'll wind up in the Memory Center."

Frank hates the food and resents the intrusion into his life, yet finds he doesn't mind having someone to talk to, or at least listen to his own rants. (Robot's patient, if not quite emotional, voice is provided by Peter Sarsgaard.) For his part, Robot reveals that if he fails at his job, he'll have his memory circuits wiped clean and reprogrammed—a fate with which Frank can sympathize all too well. When Frank also discovers that Robot has no automatic moral override when it comes to unethical tasks—like picking locks and stealing—he comes up with a project the two of them can do together.

Frank's targets are the rich and trendy young couples moving in to gentrify the neighborhood—beginning with his beloved library. Director Schreier (ex-keyboardist for indie rockers Francis and the Lights) has fun satirizing the pop culture of tomorrow; the incoming library honchos think books are cool, in a retro-hip kind of way, although they question the previous generation's "quaint relationship to printed media." As actual books disappear from the shelves, Jennifer explains, "It's all about augmented reality now." (Still in an ironic nod to the classics of yore, her robotic boss is called "Mr. Darcy.")

But the underlying story of family relations and friendship are just as quietly compelling. When anti-machine activist Madison comes to stay with her dad for a few days, and de-activates Robot, Frank blurts out in protest, "But he's my friend!" As the law closes in, Frank doesn't have the heart to take Robot's advice and erase his memory circuits to destroy the evidence against himself; he can't bear to lose the connection between them. And there's a lovely little epiphany toward the end that brings the family story full circle.

Langella is as marvelous as ever, which is saying a lot. His Frank is gruff, caustic and funny, yet often eloquent in his unspoken vulnerability. He's not only interesting to spend time with, it's extremely smart of the filmmakers to unfold the story entirely from Frank's not-always-reliable viewpoint, which makes for some very touching and surprising revelations along the way. And stick around for the closing credits, where a montage of real-life robotic droids in action reminds us that the future is just around the corner.


ROBOT & FRANK

★★★ (out of four)

With Frank Langella, James Marsden, Liv Tyler and Susan Sarandon. Written by Christopher D. Ford. Directed by Jake Schreier. A Samuel Goldwyn Films release. Rated PG-13. 90 minutes.

Reviews and Times

Film, Times & Events: Week of Aug. 30

Film, Times & Events: Week of Aug. 30

Films This Week
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French Knot

French Knot

Romance vs family in funny Franco-American '2 Days In New York'

French actress/auteur Julie Delpy is a one-woman art film industry. A cult favorite after collaborating with director Richard Linklater and co-star Ethan Hawke on the improv romances Before Sunset and Before Sunrise, she's since branched out to write and direct her own indie films. The most successful was the cross-cultural romantic comedy, 2 Days In Paris, from 2007, in which Delpy played a transplanted Frenchwoman bringing her New Yorker boyfriend home to Paris to meet her wacky family. As a filmmaker, Delpy displayed wit and style, but the film was ruined by a club-footed performance by Adam Goldberg as her obnoxious boyfriend.

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Gate Openers

Up-and-coming artists like Ryan Bingham are a great reason to show up early to the Santa Cruz American Music Festival

 

Gemini Sun, Pentecost, Shavuot—Enlightenment and Gladness

As the sun enters Gemini on Sunday, sign of speaking, communication, thinking, inter-relations, writing and understanding languages, the feast days of Pentecost & Shavuot (Catholic and Jewish festivals) occur. During Pentecost’s 50 days after Easter, tongues of fire appear above the heads of the disciples, providing them with the ability to understand all languages and all feelings hidden in the minds and hearts of humanity. It’s recorded that Pentecost began with a loud noise, which happened in an upper room (signifying the mind). The Christ (World Teacher) told his disciples (after his ascension) when encountering a man at a well carrying a water pot (signs for Age of Aquarius) to follow him to an upper room. There, the Holy Spirit (Ray 3 of Divine Intelligence) would overshadow them, expand their minds, give them courage and enable them to teach throughout the world, speaking all languages and thus able to minister to the true needs of a “seeking” humanity. Pentecost (50 days, pentagram, Ray 5, Venus, concrete and scientific knowledge, the Ray of Aquarius) sounds dramatic, impressive and scary: The loud noise, a thunderous rush of wind and then “tongues of fire” above the heads of each disciple (men and women). Fire has purpose. It purifies, disintegrates, purges, transforms and liberates (frees) us from the past. This was the Holy Spirit (Ray 3, love and wisdom) being received by the disciples, so they would teach in the world and inform humanity of the Messiah (Christ), who initiated the new age (Pisces) and gave humanity the new law (adding to the 10 Commandments of the Aries Age) to Love (Ray 2) one another. Note: Gemini is also Ray 2. Shavuot is the Jewish Festival of Gladness, the First Fruits Festival celebrating the giving of the 10 Commandments to Moses as the Aries Age was initiated. Thus, we have two developmental stages here, Jewish festival of the Old Testament. Pentecost of the New Testament. We have gladness, integrating both.

 

The New Tech Nexus

Community leaders in science and technology unite to form web-based networking program

 

Off Her Meds

Kristin Wiig runs wild—and transcends her sketch comedy roots—as a truly strange character ‘Welcome to Me’
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Soquel Vineyards

If Soquel Vineyards partners Peter and Paul Bargetto and Jon Morgan were walking down the street wearing their winning wine competition medals, you’d hear them coming from a mile away. This year was particularly rewarding for the Bargettos and Morgan—they won two Double Gold Medals and five Gold Medals at January’s San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.

 

Enlightened Flavors

Squash & Blossom’s artisanal alternative-flour delights, beet kvass from Cafe Ivéta, and the Santa Cruz Baroque Festival