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Sep 02nd
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Film

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

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

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

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

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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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Film, Times & Events: Week of Aug. 23rd

Film, Times & Events: Week of Aug. 23rd

Films This Week
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You Are What You Post

Online personality algorithms put astrological profiles to shame, but UCSC psychologists are raising questions about sharing personal data

 

Venus Direct, Mercury Retro Soon, Honoring Our Labors

As Burning Man (nine days, Aug. 30-Sept. 7 in the sign of Virgo) burns in the hot white desert sands, a petal of the rose created by retrograde Venus and the twelve-petaled Sun in Virgo’s petals unfold. All of us are on the burning ground (Leo) in the womb (cave of the heart) of the mother (Virgo), gestating for humanity once again (each year) a new state of consciousness. Both Virgo and Cancer, feminine (receptive energies) signs, are from our last solar system (Pleiades). When humanity first appeared on Earth we were nurtured by the mother, a matriarchy of energies (on islands in the Pacific). Eve, Isis and Mary are part of the lineages of our ancient Mother. Overseen by the Pleiades, the Earth (matter, mater, the mother) in that last solar system was imbued with intelligence (Ray 3). As we move toward autumn, another mother, Ceres realizes she has mere weeks left with her beloved daughter, Persephone. Persimmon and pomegranate trees prepare for autumn, their colors signs of hope as the light each day continues to dim. Sunday, Venus in Leo turns stationary direct, yet continues in her shadow until Oct. 9 (when retrograde Mercury turns direct). Slowly our newly assessed values emerge from the Venus retrograde. We thought in Venus retro how to use our resources more effectively. Mercury retrogrades Sept. 17. Monday is Labor Day. Let us honor the labor of everyone, all life a “labor.” Let us honor Labor Day and all those who have “served” (labored for) us this past year. We honor their labors. We honor the labor of our parents, those who have loved us. We honor our own labors, too. We are all in service, we are all laboring. We are all valuable.

 

The New Tech Nexus

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

 

Girl Gone Wild

’70s SF recalled in raw, poignant ‘Diary of a Teenage Girl’
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