As we usher 2017 out the door and throw the welcome mat out for 2018, it’s an ideal time to take stock of where we are and where we want to go — both literally and figuratively.
For many of us that might mean spending more time with family and less time working late or throughout the weekend, a needed shakeup so we can become healthier, be it through the food we eat, the activities we participate, the amount of time we sleep and so on.
I love this time of year, when we seek ways and means to restore more balance in our lives. As a person who divides his time between being a NASM-certified personal trainer/group exercise instructor at Equinox and UC-Berekley and a film journalist, I realize the importance of maintaining balance.
That is what I hope I can help you do in 2018 by helping you stick to your fitness goals. At the same time, I might point you to some fine films.
This coming month, I am honored to be featured in Diablo Magazine, talking about what I love to talk about — transforming live/bodies and helping people turn possibilities into realities. Here’s a link to the article
I have a few more private personal training slots open now so if you’d like to reach out, please do so. Happy 2018 everyone.
“Murder on the Orient Express” supposedly goes off the rails and “Daddy’s Home 2” is getting slammed by critics.
So what should you see at the cineplex? I highly recommend “God’s Own Country.” It’s a deceptively simple story told with acuity and sensitivity. I also loved “Blade of the Immortal,” a gory samurai drama with a kick-ass girl heroine.
Anyway, here are my reviews of both. See them before they vanish from the big screens.
“God’s Own Country”: Francis Lee’s award-winning, feature-length debut makes you feel not only like you’re a part of the rugged Northern England terra firma but that you’re rolling around in earthy passion. His rich drama about two men — a farmer (Josh O’Connor) and a Romanian ranchhand (Alec Secareanu) — and an undeniable attraction is not only wildy sexy but elemental and real. I love this film and have seen it three times and will gladly see it three more.
“Blade of the Immortal”: Takashi Miike has made a staggering number of films, including the harrowing nightmare “Audition” and the crazy-good “13 Assassins.” His latest is epic in length, but ever-so satisfying, a mashup of a supernatural fantasy with a samurai drama. It’s entirely gonzo as a young girl and a die-hard samurai take on the bad and the seemingly good but actually bad guys. One of the most satisfying action films of the year.
The Mill Valley Film Festival is well underway and while numerous offerings in the lineup are already receiving national and international attention there are other gems worth seeing that aren’t as highly visible but are just as deserving of your time.
Two under-the-radar films I recommend are “The Divine Order” (5:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 7 at the Rafael Film Center) and “The Corridor” (8:45 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 7 at the Lark).
Here are capsule reviews of both.
“The Divine Order” is a thoroughly entertaining dramatization of the drive to allow women the right to vote in a small town in Switzerland, a right shockingly not granted until 1971! Director Petra Volpe adopts the right touch and tone, injecting humor amid the escalating drama in a film that elegantly captures the period and its attitudes. It helps that the cast, led strongly by Marie Leuenberger as the housewife Nora — who undergoes a liberation transformation and becomes the unofficial community leader for the movement — plays off each other so gracefully. (Screens again 6 p.m. Oct. 8 at the Lark Theater). Opens Nov. 24 in the the Bay Area.
“The Corridor” is a riveting, fully immersive Bay Area-set documentary that illuminates an innovative program launched by the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department that requires inmates without high school diplomas attend school while they’re behind bars so they can earn GEDs. Filmmakers Richard O’Connell and Annelise Wunderlich have done a comprehensive yet intimate job of exploring the program, particularly in presenting the stories and journeys of the inmates profiled. Don’t miss this one. (Screens again 10 a.m., Oct. 12, Rafael Film Center)
For tickets and additional information, visit mvff.com.
Anyone who endured high school rather than enjoyed it well knows what a soul-damaging experience the teen years can be. That more hellish ordeal has been a popular topic plumbed — sometimes successfully, other times mundanely — in numerous coming-of-age stories.
Rarely do these explorations — be it on screen or on the page – have depicted the painful, awkward period with such raw truthfulness like “Some Freaks,” a head-turner of an indie feature that deserves a wider release than it is getting. (You can see it in one theater in S.F this week or rent it on Amazon Prime and other streaming platforms).
Directed and written with unsentimental compassion and intense understanding by newcomer Ian MacAllister-McDonald, “Some Freaks” is a no-nonsense romantic comedy/drama with sharp edges aplenty.
Actor Thomas Mann (“Me and Earl and the Dying Girl”) effortlessly taps into the beaten-down, hunch-shouldered, anxiety-riddled reality of Matt, a depressed high school kid with an eye patch. Matt is insufferably picked on by obnoxious Rhode Island high school brats. His life at home isn’t much more inviting since he’s living with his bossy sister (Marin Ireland) and her baby. Even his best friend Elmo (a well-cast Ely Henry) — who is gay and crushing hard on a straight, out-of-his-league athlete — demands a lot.
Matt meets and falls for the acerbic and unpredictable Jill (Lily Mae Harrington, giving the film its most radiant performance). She’s relentlessly bullied due to her plus size but maintains a sassy, no-guff demeanor. Suddenly, a seismic emotional shift happens, leading Matt to experience joy, likely for the first time in his life.
What makes “Some Freaks” stand out from other dramas dealing with teens lingering on the high school fringes is that MacAllister-McDonald and his leads don’t make the characters saints. These young people are flawed. They react poorly at times, and that genuineness gives the film an honest soul.
Jill eventually relocates Southern California where she adjust how she looks and attracts the attention of Patrick (Lachlan Buchanan, so perfect here), a golden boy from her former high school. What motivates Patrick to pursue Jill? Where will this lead?
Answers come, but the resolutions are never black-and white and pat.
What is an absolute is that “Some Freaks” announces the arrival of an exciting and original new filmmaking voice. Seek it out. Recommend others see it. It is that good.
3. 5 out of 4 stars
Rating: Starring: Thomas Mann, Lily Mae Harrington, Ely Henry, Lachlan Buchanan, Marin Ireland
Director and screenwriter: Ian MacAllister McDonald
After suffering through the insufferable “Assassin’s Creed” (made redeemable for its flashes of Michael Fassbender’s shirtless upper torso), I had abandoned hope there would be a half-way decent, even mediocre, cinematic — or TV — adaptation of a video game.
Some have gotten close (“Silent Hill” happens to be my favorite), but most attempts are downright awful.
Netflix defies this curse. The streaming giant’s new and way too short four-part series “Castlevania” works.
It’s a gory Gothic experience, a visually arresting production made all the mightier by punchy right hooks of dark humor from writer Warren (“Red”) Ellis, an icon in the adult comic world.
The premise is intriguing: Count Vlad Dracula goes on a rampage in the 15th century after his smart, scientific-focused wife is branded and then burned at the “witch” stake by Catholic detractors.
That all happens in the prologue. In ensuing episodes we meet the sexy but fallen-from-favor Trevor Belmont (voiced by “The Hobbit’s” Richard Armitage), a demon-buster who is a reluctant hero, but a hero nevertheless. He decides to help out.
His fighting skills are much needed since Vlad has gone cuckoo, summoning devilish huge bats to level villages and exterminate everyone. Will the peasants and innocents survive?
The final episode sets the stage for an uprising, and then just ends. But that’s OK.
Why “Castlevina” works while many other adaptations failed is because it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Ellis’s irreverence ensures that the carnage (bloody indeed) is balanced with wit. Ellis’s influence makes even the most tried-and-true horror tropes — which are summoned forth here — appear original, even daring.
From the raves garnered by this series, I’m hardly a lone wolf on liking it. Netflix too realizes that it has a hit on its hands, and has already ordered another eight episodes.