It was, people said, Connecticut's version of the In Cold Blood murders. In July 2007, Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her two daughters, 11-year-old Michaela and 17-year-old Hayley, were murdered by a pair of strangers — Steven Hayes and Joshua Komisarjevsky, who'd picked the family at random — while patriarch William Petit lay bound and beaten in the basement of their suburban home. He survived; the women perished either at the hands of their attackers or in the fire the men set to cover their tracks.
Clearly, the bare facts of the case — which took place in Cheshire, Conn., a bedroom community near New York City — are horrific enough, without considering any of its other elements. But The Cheshire Murders, created for HBO's Summer Documentary Series by married filmmaking team Kate Davis and David Heilbroner (2010's Stonewall Uprising), reveals that the deaths may have been preventable if only police had intervened; a frantic bank teller dialed 911 after observing a frightened Jennifer Petit withdrawing a large sum of money for the waiting Hayes. Or, perhaps the family would have been spared if Komisarjevsky and Hayes, men with long rap sheets, had been more closely monitored by their parole officers and drug counselors — or had received better mental-health care during their respective troubled childhoods.
But all the "what if" scenarios in the world can't restore three lives — or fill the void felt by those they left behind. Using revealing interviews that explore the many facets of the case, deft editing, and a sensitive yet questioning tone, The Cheshire Murders is a both thought-provoking and disturbing viewing experience. I spoke with Davis and Heilbroner ahead of the film's Mon/22 HBO debut. Read more »
FILM The 18th San Francisco Silent Film Festival opens with Augusto Genino's 1930 Prix de Beauté, literally translated as "beauty prize" but more often referred to in English as Miss Europe. Memo to all wannabe pageant queens: you might as well shuffle off the stage when Louise Brooks — flawless features, perfect hair, sparkling smile, star quality oozing from every pore — shows up to compete.Read more »
This week marks the opening of Ryan Coogler's Fruitvale Station, a moving look at Oscar Grant's final hours; it's an especially important film for Bay Area residents, but will likely have nationwide impact. Check out my interview with rookie writer-director Ryan Coogler here.
And, as always, there's more. SO MUCH MORE. Emily Savage writes about Peaches Christ's campy, vampy, celeb-filled tribute (Sat/13 at the Castro!) to 1996 cult classic The Crafthere.
FILM By now you've heard of Fruitvale Station, the debut feature from Oakland-born filmmaker Ryan Coogler. With a cast that includes Academy Award winner Octavia Spencer and rising star Michael B. Jordan (The Wire, Friday Night Lights), the film premiered at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, winning both the Audience Award and the Grand Jury Prize en route to being scooped up for distribition by the Weinstein Company. A few months later, Coogler, a USC film school grad who just turned 27, won Best First Film at Cannes.Read more »
FILM Pop-culture historians who study 2005's top movies will remember Mr. & Mrs. Smith, the so-so action flick that birthed Brangelina; Batman Begins, which ushered in a moodier flavor of superhero; and Tim Burton's shrill Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.Read more »
This week: two musicdocs, a buddy-cop movie starring Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy, and America's Sweetmeat Channing Tatum saves the White House and, ergo, the world. Plus, more! Read on for takes from our critics.
FILM/LIT A few weeks before our scheduled interview, Laura Albert mails me copies of 2000's Sarah and 2001's The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things. Inscribed on Heart's title page is a note: "Thanks for being available to revelation." The volumes are signed "Yours, LA and JT" — the latter, of course, referring to JT LeRoy, the identity under which Albert penned both books.Read more »
FILM Ah, the mid-1990s: a time when two big-budget movies on the same subject were regularly released within months of each other (1997's Volcano and Dante's Peak; 1998's Armageddon and Deep Impact). When a director named Roland Emmerich ascended into the blockbuster pantheon with Independence Day (1996), a film that's best-remembered for transforming Will Smith into an action star — and for that iconic shot of the White House exploding under alien death rays.Read more »
Don't panic, art-house fans: you can still get your subtitle fix at Landmark's other San Francisco theaters (the Clay, the Opera Plaza) or at any of the chain's East Bay outposts (the Shattuck has the most screens, and it shows mainstream Hollywood stuff, too).
The 18-year-old Embarcadero is one of Landmark's busiest and most-profitable theaters, according to the chain. It will close starting June 28, with a targeted return of "early November" — so it'll be dark during much of the summer movie craze, but ready to receive any and all Oscar-type movies in the fall.