If you have any fondness for life’s oddballs, I think you’ll share my affection for the latest film from the writing/directing team of Robert Pulcini and Shari Springer Berman, who brought us American Splendor. The Extra Man, based on a novel by Jonathan Ames, focuses on two men who exist out of their time: Henry Harrison, a pompous, world-class eccentric who gets by as an escort, or “extra man,” for aging Manhattan society women, and Louis Ives, an unworldly academic with a propensity for cross-dressing.
Harrison is vividly brought to life by Kevin Kline, who seems to revel in his character’s peculiarities. He’s proudly, gloriously strange, a creature of his own invention. This is one of the best parts Kline has ever had, a golden opportunity for him to draw on his gift for—
To celebrate the 15th year of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, its directors decided to extend the event by an extra day, kicking off Thursday night and screening all day Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The results were exhausting but exhilarating. As in years past, near-capacity crowds turned out at every show, with several shows, like the newly-restored Metropolis, turning customers away.
There are other vintage film festivals around the country but none is as elaborate, ambitious, or masterfully mounted as this one, a genuine cultural event in San Francisco. It has a perfect home in The Castro, a glorious 1927 movie palace, and its programmers and board of directors create a first-class experience. There are signings with authors of film-related books between showings, along with the sale of books and DVDs, and informative slide shows that set the stage for each screening. What’s more, the audience is treated to the widest possible variety of live music. This year, Dennis James kicked off the proceedings by accompanying John Ford’s The Iron Horse (1924) on the Castro’s Mighty Wurlitzer organ, the three-man Alloy Orchestra played for—
Salt moves like a bullet, and almost never stops to take a breath; as a result, neither do we. I can’t think of a recent film that’s maintained such a breakneck pace or made me so unaware of time flying by. This is beneficial, because the story doesn’t always make sense…but when a film is this energetic and entertaining, it would be a shame to spoil the fun by demanding too much of it.
Angelina Jolie is well cast as a CIA operative who has survived torture and imprisonment in North Korea and wound up at a desk job in Washington, D.C. Then an unexpected turn of events impels her to (literally) run for her life.
Jolie’s athleticism is put to especially good use here. She’s one of the few actresses around who can—
I vividly recall the year Todd Solondz’s Happiness debuted at the Telluride Film Festival. His deadpan treatment of such sensitive subjects as pederasty and masturbation polarized the assembled moviegoers; some walked out in disgust, others stayed and were full of praise. Only a filmmaker as iconoclastic as Solondz would create a sequel twelve years later—and recast all the leading characters. Many of his films in that intervening period have been disappointing and downright strange, but Life During Wartime is exceptional…just as good as Happiness, and possibly even better.
Once again, the movie opens on a note of black comedy, as we meet the mousy character with awful taste in men played by Shirley Henderson (one of cinema’s most gifted chameleons, best known to mass audiences as—
The term “film noir” didn’t exist in the 1940s and early 1950s. The late Larry Gelbart, who wrote the noir-inspired stage musical City of Angels, once told me that back then “film” was something you got if you didn’t brush your teeth. People went to “the movies.” But ever since the term was taken up by American film buffs and scholars in the 1970s it has created a special allure for those dark, hard-boiled melodramas that studios ground out so effortlessly in the post-War era. What’s more, since today’s audiences have no trouble digesting cynicism, these films seem positively modern as opposed to the apple-pie wholesomeness of other Hollywood product from the period.
The ongoing popularity of noir has impelled studios and distributors to dig deep into their vaults and inspired some exceptional writing and scholarship. Editors Alain Silver, Elizabeth Ward, James Ursini and Robert Porfirio have expanded and updated their landmark 1979 volume The Film Noir Encyclopedia (Overlook Press). There are many new entries, overview essays, and a section on—
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