Back in 2003, on a visit to San Francisco, we saw School of Rock at the Alexandria. I enjoyed it. A lot of the scenes had a real heartbeat, even though overall it was the familiar story of the eccentric teacher/coach/captain who leads his students/team/crew to victory or at least personal growth.
The Alexandria is NOT a victim of the pandemic. It has been closed since 2004 after operating since 1923. A year ago, the city's Planning Commission approved a plan to turn it into a center for after-school programs, including a swimming pool. No action so far.
The twenty-five years during which I have visited and lived in San Francisco have coincided with the decline of movie theaters. I'm photographing those that are left.
If you've been frustrated by travel restrictions and desperate to get on an airplane and go somewhere, viewing Red Eye might make you content to stay home. The opening sequences follow Lisa Reisert (Rachel MacAdams) into an airport where she gets delayed by one cancelled flight after another and winds up on a red-eye flight to Miami. The depiction of the crowded airport and more crowded airplane bring back the horror that is air travel.
It gets worse for Lisa when her seat-mate Jackson Rippner (Cillian Murphy) turns out to be a very bad man prepared to force her into aiding his evil plot by making one, seemingly innocent phone call from the plane while in flight. Too bad for Jackson he has picked a fight with a woman who has vowed never again to be a victim.
Red Eye was a critical and commercial success for director Wes Craven, the highly influential director of horror films. Fifteen years after its release, the viewer still marvels at the section of the film where the two stars are mostly confined to their seats on the airplane. Somehow Craven makes it feel dynamic.
At 85 minutes, it's a perfect length for a suspense thriller. It ticks like a stop watch and offers substantial thrills, relieved by Craven's signature grim humor.
Painting houses black is recommended by realtors and house-flippers as a way of making a quick sale. The architecture critic for the San Francisco Chronicle hates it, and it has called it a sign of gentrification.
Three weeks ago, I posted a photo of a row of Victorian houses in which all but one are painted in in traditional light colors with contrasting trim. One of them is painted black . . . almost.
A closer look reveals it is really dark gray with black trim and some silver and gold highlights. These variations give the house a sense of proportion, but the overall effect is still black. As a long-time friend remarked, it looks like the Addams' Family's home.
Two weeks ago, I wrote about Boarded-up Windows, San Francisco, and featured some of the murals that have appeared on the plywood used to cover the windows of stores and restaurants since the State of California ordered them closed. Some of these are casual, painted by uncredited artists. Others were commissioned and the artists have signed them.
Since that post, this mural has appeared on the corner store shown at the top of that blog post. It is now on the plywood facing the bus-stop in that picture. Apparently it was work for hire, because the inscription on the lower right says "copyright Friends Liquor," the store pictured.
The humor and the pathos are universal but especially apt for San Francisco where the average apartment size is 747 sq. ft. and the average rent is $3629 according to rentcafe.com. Rents are dropping as people are leave the city due to job-losses, but no one expects this to bring rent on a decent apartment within range of an individual who works for a living.
It has horses and six-shooters, and it happens in broad daylight, but this story is as noir as they come. Like suspense classics by Cornell Woolrich, Patricia Highsmith, Jim Thompson, and Charles Williams, this movie has a simple plot, and characters with dark motivations.
Our hero, Paul (Ethan Hawke), is trying to get to Mexico to escape memories of evil deeds in his past. His adversary, the Sheriff of Denton (John Travolta), knows right from wrong but is losing his grip on power.
When Gilly, the sheriff's son (James Ransone), picks a fight with Paul, and follows up with an act of cruelty, Paul decides to stay in town an extra day to settle the score. WARNING: the bad guys do not die quickly or easily. There is blood. ALSO: When the sheriff repeatedly tells you, "Get away from the window," pay attention!
The morality play is made more profound by two sisters (Taissa Farmiga and Karen Gillan). One is a soulmate for Gilly; the other has her sights set on better things.
Credit for pitch perfect story-telling goes to writer and director, Ti West, best known for horror films.
From the beginning, you know this is an homage to Sergio Leone's westerns from the 1960s that starred Clint Eastwood (Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly). The lonely man on horseback in a desert landscape and the music featuring twangy guitars and a chorus of baritone voices tell you what to expect.
As the movie goes on, the filmmaker winks at you with references to these earlier westerns, and this is not the only source of humor in the movie. As in Alfred Hitchcock's films, these flashes of comedy only make the tragedy darker.
It's always delightful to reach the northern end of Van Ness Avenue, turn right, walk through Acquatic Park, and see these historic vessels tied up at the Hyde Street Pier. The tall ship on the left is the Balaclutha, a steel-hulled cargo ship built in 1886. The three-masted ship on the right is the C. A. Thayer, a lumber schooner, built in 1895. There are four other vessels, including a paddle-wheel steamer for passengers and a rare paddle-wheel tug built in England.
Delightful as it is to see them, it's even more fun to go aboard. The National Park Service (NPS) does its usual excellent job of making them accessible and providing all the information you need to understand what you're seeing. There is also a visitor center, an indoor museum, and a library.
In years past, I have seen announcements that the Balaclutha goes out for a sail around San Francisco Bay and that the interpretive rangers lead passengers in singing sea-chanteys. Truly they are among the greatest teachers we have.
Andy Goldsworthy's sculpture, Wood Line, stretches 1200 feet through a grove of eucalyptus trees in the Presidio, San Francisco's national park. It consists of curved eucalyptus branches, laid end to end so as to create a meandering line. At the upper end they are about three feet in diameter, and they gradually taper to about one foot at the far end.
As usual with Goldsworthy's sculptures, the place is as important as the piece. Like most of the trees in the Presidio, these eucalyptus were planted by the U. S. Army in the 1880s. In military fashion, they were planted in ranks and files to cover a hillside.
Rows of Monterey cypress trees were alternated with the eucalyptus, and over the years a peculiar thing happened in this grove. The eucalyptus grew faster and overshadowed the cypress. The cypress eventually died out, and, where they did, they left this unnaturally long, straight corridor because the trees had been planted in rows.
The place was already a remarkable example of humans leaving a mark upon the landscape when Goldsworthy chose to draw attention to it by drawing a line with eucalyptus branches.
The fiftieth anniversary of Clint Eastwood's directorial debut is right around the corner. Play Misty for Me was released in 1971.
Eastwood had been acting for fifteen years, and had already played his iconic cowboy in A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, and The Good the Bad and the Ugly, as well as Harry Callahan in Dirty Harry. Yet he cast himself as an exceptionally vulnerable character, a D. J. at a jazz station who is manipulated by an obsessive fan.
In the role of the fan, Jessica Walter left an indelible image as a homicidal maniac. Recently she left an equally indelible image as a boozey matriarch on Arrested Developement. In between, she performed constantly in film, television and theater, and is still performing.
Eastwood's debut as a director was successful partly because of his informal apprenticeship with Don Siegel for whom he acted. Also, the scenes of violence owe a lot to Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho released in 1960. We see a shadowy figure with a knife; we see the knife flashing through the air; the shadowy figures dashes away; the victim discovers a wound.
Some sequences such as close ups on the eyes are asked to carry too much and the lyrical love interlude goes on too long, but Play Misty for Me is still an effective psychological thriller.
Plywood started appearing on store-fronts and restaurants as soon as the shelter-in-place order was announced. That was scary. Was there really reason to think people would start breaking in and taking things? Early on there were a few burglaries, mostly wine and liquor taken from bars.
In this dark moment, artists came to the rescue. Even though they were declared "non-essential" they made our lives a bit brighter and more bearable. For instance, these mousies started popping up around town, saying and doing different things each time.
Some stores have let art happen. Others have hired an artist to make the streetscape more bearable:
I thank the health-care workers. I thank the governors. I thank my neighbors who wear masks. I thank the artists.
Nels Coxman (Liam Neesen) is the solidest of solid citizens in Kehoe, a (fictional) ski-resort town in the Colorado Rockies. He's the contractor who drives the enormous snow plow that keeps the highways clear in winter, when snow drifts to over ten feet.
When he sets out to avenge his son's murder, his method is as powerful and uncomplicated as snowplowing: force a local criminal to give him a name, kill him, find the next man, and repeat the process.
Eventually this gets complicated because his son's murder was ordered by a psychopathic drug lord, who assumes a rival drug lord is killing his men. No one suspects Nels, the snow-plow guy. Chaos ensues.
This grim situation is played for laughs by Hans Peter Moland, the Norwegian director who made In Order of Disappearance (2014) on which this film is based. His sense of humor recalls John Huston's in Prizzi's Honor (1985).
If you don't mind lots of killing, it's an enjoyable, off-beat action film.
Anyone familiar with Patricia Highsmith's two most famous novels, Strangers on a Train and The Talented Mr. Ripley, will recognize the premise of The Cry of the Owl: two men engage in mortal combat and the woman (or women) in the their lives don't seem to know what's happening.
The Cry of the Owl begins with Robert, recently divorced and moved from Manhattan to a small town in Pennsylvania, stopping along a road near a house to look through the kitchen window and watch Jenny washing dishes and doing other chores.
I won't give away the plot developments that lead to Robert's conflict with Greg, who has been dating Jenny. I will say that what could play out as a conventional romantic triangle turns into something more ambiguous. Each of the relationships---Robert-Jenny, Jenny-Greg, and Robert-Greg---is strange yet plausible, just as they are in Highsmith's more famous novels.
The ambiguity of the relationships no doubt stems from Highsmith's situation. She was gay, and she published most of her work in the 1950s and 1960s. Although she wrote one novel about a lesbian relationship (The Price of Salt, 1952), for most of her career she wrote about relationships between men and women. But she let her truth shine through them.
San Francisco's Victorian houses are usually painted in color schemes that emphasize their ornamental woodwork. When a house is being painted, you usually see a sign for the color consultant along with a sign for the painting contractor.
Recently some home owners have taken the opposite approach and painted the whole house black---walls, windows, trim, everything. Usually, there is just one of these on a block, as you can see here.
There is a certain appeal to this look, but our local architecture critic, John King, has started sounding the alarm. In a recent column, he writes, "I can now state emphatically, without reservation, that the black house craze has gone too far." He particularly objects to other architectural styles being painted black: bungalows, Spanish revival. mid-century modern.
When I walk by one of these, I enjoy the surprise and the dramatic impact. But I agree with Mr. King when he warns against taking this too far. Two or three of these in a row or a whole block of them would be overwhelming.
Two brothers (Chris Pine and Ben Foster) rob banks to save the family farm.
Two Texas rangers (Jeff Bridges and Gil Birmingham) track down the bank robbers.
While the plot stays focused on catching the bad guys, the movie develops a larger theme with simple lines of dialogue. When the ranger (Bridges) asks the local cowboys hanging out at a diner whether they saw who robbed the bank, one of them says, "That bank's been robbing me for years."
Every scene has a momentary reference to the world within which the cops and robbers operate. The injustice of that world mocks the simplistic morality of good-guys and bad-guys.
There's only one speech about the world they live in. The other ranger (Birmingham), who is part-Comanche, describes how his ancestors lost the land to white men and now the white men have lost the land to "them" (he points to the bank). Simple. Eloquent.
We learn how the "good" brother (Pine) ruined his marriage when he tells his teen-age son not to make the same mistakes he made. The son says, "You hand me a beer and then tell me not to be like you. Which is it?" There's the whole story in one line.
The "bad" brother (Foster) mostly rides the adrenaline rush of the robberies, but, in the end, without saying anything, he redeems himself with one snap decision. No words needed.
I don't usually go for stories about cops-and-robbers. This movie is an exception because it is so nearly perfect and because in the end you can hardly tell the cop and the robber apart. I mean that literally. Watch for the way Chris Pine and Jeff Bridges are costumed in the last scene.
The Suspects by Katherine Johnson is one of the more inventive thrillers I've read for a while. She starts with an unusual situation: Five twenty-somethings, just out of college (since this is in England, they say, "uni"), meet in a training program for business journalists. Daunted by the market for rentals, they band together to purchase a house.
As twenty-somethings do, they throw a party for friends and friends of friends. Several days after the party, one of them finds a body in the basement. They do not call the police or set about trying to figure out whodunnit. They don't even know who it is. Instead, for entirely understandable reasons, they set about getting rid of the body.
The author is at her best getting her characters into tight spots that get tighter by the moment. Her complications are as inventive as the overall situation, and Johnson keeps us in touch with the thoughts and feelings of her characters. They seem real.
In addition to the five housemates, there are boyfriends and girlfriends to keep track of. A few characters get fairly long biographical speeches. The final chapters play out over years. But the core of the story is a gripping read.
These two Victorian houses are the last of their generation on this block. They sit hemmed-in by more recent apartment buildings.
As you can see, the one on the right is freshly painted---blue, with white trim. The pair of front doors indicates it was built with separate first- and second-floor apartments. Not all Victorians were built as grand, single-family homes. The four electric meters suggest that the ground level has been remodeled to make two studio apartments.
The house on the left could use a coat of paint. Someone painted the first story in a shade of blue that does not match its neighbor. The plywood on the front door and the drawn shades, except for the upstairs room with no shades, suggest the house sits empty.
It's not unusual to see run-down empty houses in San Francisco, despite the astronomical price of real estate. Sometimes we see one repainted and remodeled after years of neglect. Who knows why?