We always enjoyed seeing Movies at the Bridge. With its seating capacity of 350, it had the feel of a neighborhood theater. Around twenty years ago, we went to see The Station Agent one afternoon. While waiting to buy popcorn, we saw my brother-in-law and his daughter were there for the same showing. Love that small-town feel.
It closed in 2012, having operated as a movie house since it was built in 1939. Now the former auditorium offers baseball batting cages. Landmark was the last company to operate the Bridge as a movie theater, just as it was the last to operate the Clay Theater.
Enjoy this thriller as a typical heist movie with plenty of well-choreographed, MIssion-Impossible-style action sequences. The heist is pulled off (pulled off twice, in fact) by a crew of specialists played by A-list stars, headed by Robert Redford. There's plenty of straight-up entertainment value.
It's described as a "comedy caper," and perhaps it was in 1992, but nearly thirty years later some of it is not so funny. The Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, so the movie contains references to an ambiguous relationship between Russia and the USA. The plot is complicated by conflicts among the FBI, CIA, and NSA.
Most of all, it's chilling how the film sees digital networks controlling the globe. As one character says, wars are no longer fought with bullets and bombs, but rather with ones and zeroes.
The movie was made before graphical user interfaces turned the Internet into the World Wide Web. The technology in the film looks primitive today, but the theme could not be more current. Recent events have turned this romp into a dark story. It has improved with age.
Yesterday the internet was full of photos of the ominous red sky over San Francisco at day break. I snapped a few but couldn't improve on the ones I'd seen.
Around mid-day, I ventured downtown and saw all the street lights on. This is what Market Street usually looks like around 6:00 pm in winter, not in the middle of a summer day.
The red sky at dawn and darkness at noon were caused by high-altitude layers of smoke from California's wildfires. No fires are near the city, but their smoke covers the state. Throughout the day, ash and soot rained down on everything.
Of the ten largest wildfires in California history, seven have occurred in the past five years. Why? 1. People living further away from cities and demanding, 2. suppression of small wildfires, which clean up "fuel" that accumulates in forests. 3. Climate change making the air warmer and therefore drier.
In Hitchcock/Truffaut, the first question Francois Truffaut asks Alfred Hitchcock is whether "the incident at the police station" is true.
Hitchcock: Yes, it is. I must have been about four or five years old. My father sent me to the police station with a note. The chief of police read it and locked me in a cell for five or ten minutes, saying, "This is what we do to naughty boys."
Truffaut: Why were you being punished?
Hitchcock: I haven't the faintest idea.
They begin Chapter Two by discussing The Lodger, which the master himself calls "the first true 'Hitchcock movie.'" It is about a man mistakenly suspected of being Jack the Ripper. Truffaut identifies this as "the theme recurs in almost all of your later works: a man accused of a crime of which he's innocent."
The psychology is obvious. As a boy, Hitchcock was put in jail, a punishment he did not deserve. He spent his career mostly making movies about characters falsely accused, chased and punished.
But he did not seem to be repeating himself. Although this theme is present in The Thirty-Nine Steps, North by Northwest, Vertigo, Frenzy and many more, each film has its own personality. I never noticed how consistent this theme is, until I read about it in the Hitchcock/Truffaut interviews.
On the right, you can see people sitting at outdoor tables inside a blue fence with lights strung over head. Across the street you can see people seated in a similar enclosure. Each of these occupies two or three parking spaces at the curb in front of a restaurant.
The City of San Francisco began issuing permits for these temporary outdoor dining rooms in June. Restaurants had been closed since March, along with retail stores and most everything else. The idea was to give the owners a way to pay the rent and keep a few employees on the payroll.
San Franciscans are as eager as anyone to pay someone to prepare a meal. These have proven very popular, despite the climate here, which is . . . let's just say it's not like Southern California. Most afternoons there's a chilly wind off the ocean. As you can see both of these outdoor dining rooms have tall heaters.
We took a walk in Dogpatch yesterday. It's a neighborhood on the east side of the city, facing the bay. Recently it was an industrial area with a neighborhood of little houses and some dive bars. Now, the factory buildings are lofts for small shops and apartments.
There are also new apartment buildings, and, as in the rest of San Francisco, there are no bargains. Let's just say incomes of less than six figures need not apply. This is one of those newish apartment buildings. As you can see, it cozies up to a ramp.
As my co-pilot pointed out, it's not a freeway ramp, but rather a connector of a surface street in Dogpatch to a surface street on Potrero Hill. So the traffic and noise may not be too intense. Still, the rule applies: no bargains.
I'll admit I didn't call the rental/sales office to check. At a certain point, one stops checking. I suppose the units whose windows look directly at the edge of the ramp may cost less than those facing the street but not by much, I'll bet.
Season One of Search Party surveys the silliness of creative twenty-somethings in Manhattan and deftly turns the corner from social satire to noir suspense. Season Two turns that development into full-blown noir with our now-not-so-funny (but still entertaining) group of friends living with the horror of what they've done and struggling to keep it secret.
In Season Three, the secret is out and we turn from observing our anti-heroes under a microscope to looking at the world they live in with a wide-angle lens. That world of people who do not have secrets to keep is no less freakish than our heroes. And yet, like our heroes, those people are hilariously unaware of their own monstrous qualities.
This series has a lot in common with Dead to Me with a world view like something imagined by David Lynch.
If you want suspense, this movie delivers it like few I've seen lately. It's not a murder mystery, nor a thriller, nor a crime film. It's not a "disaster" movie or an "action" film. It's about the loneliness of a man who sees things no one else sees.
Michael Shannon plays an average guy whose nightmares and waking hallucinations tell him a storm is coming, a storm unlike anything anyone has seen. That simple premise plays out in his marriage, his work, his health, and his life in a rural Ohio community.
The suspense comes from watching the effect of this premise on him and the people around him. They are people whose lives are about paying the mortgage and keeping their health insurance, and caring for their children. The stakes could not be any higher.
Take Shelter is worth watching if only for the towering performance by Michael Shannon as an everyman as complex and self-aware as Hamlet. His chemistry with Jessica Chastain as his wife is volatile.
The ending may momentarily disappoint you. There is no high-speed chase, no special effects, no heroic triumph over adversity. But, if you pause a moment, you will see that it answers every question the movie raises.
Alfred Hitchcock never won an Oscar for Best Director. The closest he came was a Best Picture Oscar for Rebecca in 1940. Though his films made between 1954 and 1964 are now considered his greatest, at that time he was considered a popular entertainer but not a serious artist.
Fortunately for us, some young film-makers in France recognized his genius at the time. One of them, Francois Truffaut, befriended him, and in 1962 they spent a week discussing each of Hitchcock's films with the help of Helen G. Scott as translator. Transcriptions were published in 1966; Truffaut published an updated version in 1983 when Hitchcock died.
This book is a course in film history and in film-making. It is also an artist's memoir. But for me it's a book about story-telling. As Hitchcock discusses all those famous sequences---the crop-duster scene in North by Northwest; the shower scene in Psycho; the glass floor in The Lodger; and so many more---he explains they were all invented to convey the right information to the audience at the right moment. And he has a lot to say about the writing of each film: the story, the treatment, and the dialogue.
In 2015, director Kent Jones followed in Truffaut's footsteps by making a documentary which pairs audio clips from the Hitchcock-Truffaut conversations with commentary by contemporary directors including Wes Anderson, Martin Scorcese, Paul Shrader, Richard Linklater and others. All of them acknowledge Hitchcock as a role model and this book as a textbook for directors film-makers.
He sneaks out of a diner without paying for his lunch. She follows him out and takes him on a thrill ride. He's a corporate executive ready for a walk on the wild side, and she's his tour guide. It feels a bit noirish because along the way they are victimizing working people, and we know it's going to get darker because Ray Liotta is in the cast list.
We've seen wilder walks than this since 1986, but still this one ain't bad. The scene in the motel room, the car chases, the petty larceny---Melanie Griffith and Jeff Daniels make it all believable.
But the real thrill is keeping up with who's conning whom as the action unfolds. In the end it comes down to a battle between Daniels and Liotta. They outsmart and overpower one another. But along the way there are those delicious moments when we sense that all is not as it seems.
The inscription reads: "Mary Ellen Pleasant Memorial Park, 1814 1904. Mother of Civil Rights in California. She supported the Western Terminus of the Underground Railway for fugitive Slaves, 1850---1865. This legendary pioneer once lived on this street and planted these six trees. Placed by the San Francisco African American Historical and Cultural Society."
The circumstances of her birth are unclear, but while still a girl she became a bonded servant to a Quaker family in Nantucket, Massachusetts. Through them she became involved in the abolitionist movement. Able to pass as white, she worked for the Underground Railway in the South, and came to San Francisco in 1850 to extend its reach.
She made her living managing restaurants in men's clubs and used information she overheard to invest and become a multi-millionaire. She built a house on this location. It no longer stands, but the six trees referred to in the inscription are still alive on Octavia Street. They are eucalyptus, now as tall as the four-story apartment building across the street.
This memorial is the smallest park in San Francisco, consisting of this marker and the six trees.
,It would have been so easy to make a comic crime caper based on this true story. Four students at a small, private university in Kentucky are bored and decide to steal books from the the library's rare book collection, including a first edition of Audubon's The Birds of America. None has any experience in crime. Planning the heist includes watching Hollywood movies.
But writer and director Bart Layton does much more. He dramatizes the robbery using actors in their twenties and inserts clips from interviews with the actual criminals, who are in their late thirties at the time of filming. Their reflections on their younger selves are sobering.
There's plenty of time to laugh at the cluelessness of the would-be crooks, especially since no one gets killed or seriously injured, and the books are returned intact. But there is lasting damage to their families, the community, and to four men who spend years of their young lives in prison. It's worth watching as an unusually truthful true-crime film.
o-Season Two of Search Party gets darker. One could say, it goes full Jim Thompson. Or full Patricia Highsmith. Or one could compare it to the second half of Hitchcock's Psycho, when we find ourselves hoping Norman Bates doesn't get caught.
I'm trying to give you an idea of what kind of story this is without giving away any important plot twists. Let's just say at the conclusion of Season One, our kooky band of friends concludes their search for Chantal by doing something they would rather not have to answer questions about. And in Season Two, to keep that secret, they do things that could get them in a lot of trouble. And we wind up rooting for the villain.
But they're such lovable villains. Drew is so predictably clueless. Elliott never fails to exaggerate his own importance. Portia feels everything so deeply, even when she gets it wrong. And Dory, at the center of it all, is quiet, intuitive and decisive. We wonder why she puts up with them. These are the character types of comedy, and they are playing out some deadly business.
Update: see also Search Party (2016) and Search Party (2020).
I don't often read memoirs, but this one hooked me right from the start. Greene was not allowed to apply for employment as a state trooper because "it's not a job for a woman" (this was in the 1960s). She follows the path of wife and mother, but becomes an investigator by volunteering for search-and-rescue teams.
Her struggle to have a personal life runs through the book and adds a moving dimension to her effort to achieve expertise in her chosen specialty, finding missing persons. As she progresses from volunteer to assistant to licensed private investigator, we learn along with her about this surprisingly quirky field.
For instance, there appears not to be a legal definition of "missing." Therefore law officers will not spring into action just because you say your spouse/child/friend is missing. Whether it's a wilderness rescue, a custody dispute, or an unexplained disappearance, there are patterns in these kinds of cases. Missing children are usually found downhill from where they were last seen. Suicides are usually found uphill.
Read it for the introduction to a peculiar profession. Read it for the story of a strong woman who insisted on having a career spanning the 1970s and 1980s. For either or both, it's a good read, much thanks to co-author Gary Provost,
Back in June, as boarded-up windows became normal in San Francisco, I posted about artists using the new blank plywood to create casual works of art, including these mousey characters who say peculiar things.
This pair has been in place for weeks, and now local folks have pulled out their markers and engaged in conversation with them, mostly taking exception to the original sentiments. As arguments go in this contentious era, this one isn't especially nasty. In fact, it's practically civil, though not always correctly spelled.
From what I read, we're probably at least six months away from a vaccine that will begin to let us all go back to living normal lives. That should give the local artists and art-appreciators plenty of time to generate further modes of discourse. Since we're stuck here, we may as well enjoy watching it play out.