San Francisco International Film Festival 52
23 April to 7 May
films of 1 to 3 May


A really busy 15 days… besides the Festival, The American Institute of Architects National Convention was in San Francisco – I volunteered there three days – and we had tickets to a Giants game. I volunteered for two days of the Festival, but didn’t have enough time to cash in my freebie tickets. We took a different approach this year. Carol and I picked films and bought tickets using CineVouchers. We covered every day of the Festival except opening night which included a party and cost $60.

We saw more films than ever – 20 for me, 16 for Carol, including 14 together. Eric was in town for a week in the middle and joined us for 4 films. All in all, together we saw 22 different films. Good times, and we never really felt burned out. Carol bagged two films, but I sold her tickets to the Rush Line for a profit.

Reviews and ratings – I copied the film descriptions from the online Film Guide or the Daily Scoop – shown below in block quotes – and appended “my take.” Stills are from the Film Guide, pictures from my camera. I rated the films * to ***** mainly for my own reference. Films that have distribution are noted. Enjoy.

Mexico 5/1
Distributed by Sony Classic
West Coast Premiere.
dir Carlos Cuarón
cast Diego Luna, Gael García Bernal, Guillermo Fracella


Longtime friends and Y Tu Mamá También costars Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna suit up for this much-anticipated Mexican soccer comedy from the Cha Cha Cha Films producing dream-team of Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth; Hellboy), Alejandro González Iñárritu (Amores Perros; Babel) and Alfonso Cuarón (Y Tu Mamá También).
Bernal and Luna are two unruly hick stepbrothers in rural Mexico, united by a mother with questionable taste in men and their shared love for beer, fútbol and outdoing one another. When a fast-talking agent discovers their talents on the soccer field, but insists he can only make one of them a star, a new path for their rivalry suddenly emerges, taking them from their dusty banana plantation to the big stadiums—and bigger temptations—of Mexico City. Surprisingly, it’s the quieter, more artistic Tato (Bernal) who’s chosen to be the star, but that won’t stop the aggressive, hot-tempered Beto (Luna) from succeeding too (even if he has to become a goalie to do it). Soon it’s not life on the field that’s the problem, but the nights off it: If they survive the gambling, floozies, drugs and gangsters, they’ve still got to survive one another. Assisted by a sly script from director Carlos Cuarón (who wrote Y Tu Mamá También and is Alfonso’s brother) and by the polished Hollywood/Mexico talents of the Cha Cha Cha group, the charismatic Bernal and Luna turn this made-in-Mexico concoction of love, brotherhood and fútbol into a rousing comedy of truly universal appeal.

my take ****I attended this film with Eric on Friday afternoon. It was good and funny, well acted and scripted. But the story was fairly predictable; it had less scope and emotional breadth than Y Tu Mamma Tambien.
Though it fails the comparison test, I can still highly recommend it, and it will come to a theater near you.

USA    5/1


Coppola and Cohorts_Perhaps the most intriguing and unpredictable item offered in this year’s Festival catalog was An Evening with Francis Ford Coppola & Friends. At the request of the fabled filmmaker accepting the Founder’s Directing Award, the program would center not on the usual one-on-one onstage interview, but instead on a “moderated discussion” with FFC and various “esteemed friends and collaborators” To Be Announced. Who would show up? Would they stick to Topic A (Coppola and his career) or digress? Would they offer genuine insight, or would it turn into a sort of testimonial dinner?


As it turned out, Friday’s Castro Theatre “evening” was problematic only in that it provided too little of a very, very good thing. The friends and collaborators turned out to be four of Coppola’s oldest and most enduring—editing/sound design genius Walter Murch, director Carroll Ballard, scenarist-turned-director Matthew Robbins and George Lucas, whose name might ring a bell. All were involved in the earliest days of American Zoetrope, Coppola’s S.F.–based production company.
Ergo, the Castro event was like being a fly on the wall at a dinner chez Coppola (complete with spouses and various children present if not heard from) in which old friends waxed nostalgic about their crazy youthful days of collective risk-taking. Which exploits it just happens we already know a thing or two about, as it encompasses movies like Lucas’s now-revered 1971 directorial debut THX-1138, The Godfather, American Graffiti and Apocalypse Now. Eavesdropping on such reminiscences, one could sense a fair share of the audience felt it had died and gone to heaven. —DH


After the on stage discussion, The Rain People, Cappola’s 1969 film made just before he took on The Godfather, was screened.

my take ***** – The interview was as wonderful as described above. All of those on stage – and especially Cappola – were at ease and seemed that swapping stories for us was the only thing they wanted to do this night. Since the film was not announced, there was no Film Guide description.


The Rain People I had not seen or heard of. It was extraordinary. Featuring a young James Caan and Robert Duval, it is the story of a newly pregnant Connecticut woman, played by Shirley Knight, who leaves her house and just starts driving west in her station wagon. Along the way she meets up with Caan, a mentally deranged ex-football star and Duval, a wacky cop who pulls her over for speeding and goes on to invite her to his pad. It’s a road movie of sorts that plays on the emotions and is so pure that it could have been made last year. All in all, it was by far the best Founder’s Directing Award evening I have attended.

USA 5/2
Distributed by Sony Classic

James Toback, recipient of this year’s Kanbar Award for Screenwriting, was honored onstage at the Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, Saturday, May 2, and interviewed by author and critic David Thomson before a screening of Toback’s brilliant new documentary Tyson.


Told largely in the words of Mike Tyson, the film is not an apology or an apologia, but a piercing insight into how society creates its villains and then despises them for behaving badly.

Mike Tyson was a boxer raised on the streets and trained by Cus D’Amato, but he was a character who might have been dreamed up by Norman Mailer or Dostoyevsky. In the bloated and fraudulent world of professional boxing, he made “the most frightening man on earth” seem reliable yet modest as a label. After the charms and poems of Muhammad Ali, Tyson was Black Vengeance Returns. And in the entire history of boxers on film, he is perhaps the most tragic and enlightening. But how can the ear-biter, the man who squandered $300 million and the convicted rapist be the central figure in a poignant, thoughtful entertainment? The answer to that is the astonishing chemistry made between Tyson the lifelong fighter and James Toback, the relentless pursuer of heroes caught in their own existential chaos. And how does it work? Tyson talks. The film Tyson is a documentary-with clips from the many fights-but it is a heart song, too, as Tyson talks about a life of near constant abuse and humiliation. And as he talks, so his innate violence becomes clearer. Tyson is not an apology or an apologia, but a piercing insight into how our society creates its villains and then despises them for behaving badly. Whatever you think of Mike Tyson now (before you see this film), we guarantee your mind will be changed. —David Thomson

my take ***** – For openers, Tobak told some great stories of living with Jim Brown for two years including orgies, and other happenings in his life in the pre-AIDS world. Fascinating guy.
As for Tyson, I never liked him – who could – but didn’t hate him either. This brilliant documentary allowed me to see him as a human being. He’s 40 now, has earned and lost millions, and is primarily occupied by raising his five kids. He asked James Tobak to do this film – Tyson was not paid and will not share in any profits – just so he could tell his story. In a clip of an interview after his last fight – a loss to Buster Douglas – he was asked if he would fight again. No, he said… I trained, I was in good shape, but I don’t have that fire in the belly… I did this for the payday. That, to me, was a man who finally knew himself and seemed comfortable in his skin.

USA 5/2
Director – Marc Webb
Cast – Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Zooey Deschanel, Geoffrey Arend, Matthew Gray Gubler, Chloe Moretz



Tom is an architect by training, a romantic by nature and a “perfectly adequate” greeting-card writer by trade (“Today you’re a man. Mazel tov on your Bar Mitzvah!”). He meets Summer—the sexy, quirky dream girl who doesn’t believe in love—when she takes a job in his office. This is Day 1 of their 500 days together, and if the set up sounds predictable, veteran music-video director Marc Webb does much to turn this tale on its head. For starters, Webb tells the story out of linear sequence, with Summer dumping Tom over pancakes in the first ten minutes. The rest of the film reveals how they got to that point, and its aftermath, each segment beginning with the number of the day the couple is on—a delicious clue as to whether what follows will involve awkward courtship, playful flirtation, shower sex or the breaking of common household objects. With a soundtrack that includes the Smiths, Belle and Sebastian and current punks Black Lips, there’s a lot to love here: crisp dialogue, drunken karaoke, a bar fight, ironic voiceover, a split-screen fantasy sequence and a dance number set to Hall and Oates that’s nothing short of glorious. Leads Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel sizzle onscreen, with fine support from Geoffrey Arend and Matthew Gray Gubler as Tom’s well-intentioned, inept-at-love friends and Chloe Moretz as his wise-beyond-her-years sister. 500 Days of Summer is a slickly made anti-romantic comedy that happens to have plenty of romance and lots of comedy.—Benjamin Friedland

my take **** – This was the perfect break from “Films with a capital F.” Lighthearted but well crafted, it made me laugh. At the same time, Summer manipulated Tom like a Rubik’s cube – just what his state of mind wanted. When she dumped him, after crying over the fall, he woke up, quit the greeting card game, pursued his architecture, and met a beautiful girl architect named… Autumn. Cute. Fun.

Iran 5/3
Director – Majid Majidi

The Members Screening happens at 10am on the last Sunday of the festival. It’s a surprise and often – as this one – one of the best films shown during the festival. The Boss of it All by Lars von Trier, Syrian Bride, and the Scottish film Mister Foe have shown the past three years. Since it’s a surprise, there was no Film Guide description. I got the still from IMDB.


The Song of Sparrows is no exception to the Members Screening rule-of-goodness. Majidi simply follows Karim, who is working on an ostrich firm in rural Iran. When an ostrich escapes his charge, Karim is fired and jobless.
On a trip to Tehran to find a hearing aid for his deaf daughter, a businessman talking on a cell phone jumps on the back of Karim’s motorcycle and says “Take me to the Post Office,” or some such. Thus, Karim discovers a new way to make a buck. Soon he is regularly taxing folks around Tehran, and when there, scavenges everything he can carry on his motorcycle back home.
Karim and his family are easy to like and the camera brings romance and life to rural Iran and even the gritty city. The shots of ostriches from the neck up is a dance not soon forgotten.

The Song of Sparrows will open in San Francisco in July, I think.


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