Dennis Harvey

Plastique fantastique

Offbeat animation -- and a sprightly horse -- rules A Town Called Panic
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FILM The 2009 Toronto Film Festival encompassed, as usual, much

of what would turn out to be the year's major award bait: Up in the Air, Precious: Based On the Novel Push By Sapphire, A Serious Man, new ones by Herzog, Almodóvar, Haneke, etc. But probably the best, and certainly most enjoyable, movie seen there was well off the official radar of must-sees. Perhaps because it centered on the adventures of plastic toys?Read more »

Year of the yahoo

Cult flick Shanty Tramp clings to its own personal celluloid Dark Ages
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CULT FILM The year of cinematic enlightenment was 1967, with movies as disparate as Bonnie and Clyde, The Graduate, I Am Curious (Yellow), The President's Analyst, and Week End all proclaiming the dawn of a truly adult era. Of course, not everybody was on that page. Some quite possibly couldn't make out the text if they tried.Read more »

Woodyland

YEAR IN FILM: Harrelson marks a banner year in a banner career

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YEAR IN FILM The defining adjective for Woody Harrelson is hard to pin, but I'd nominate ... limber. Not just because he's a deft physical comedian — in The Late Henry Moss, a star-encrusted but not very good Sam Shepard play that premiered in San Francisco in 2000, he stole the show from the likes of Sean Penn, Nick Nolte, and Cheech Marin with a 20-minute bit as a cabbie stuck in a front door. But also because he undergoes gymnastic changes from one screen role to another without ever seeming to break a sweat, or lose

his essential congeniality.Read more »

Bridges abides

Will Crazy Heart earn the Hollywood vet a long-deserved Oscar?
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FILM "Oh, I love Jeff Bridges!" is the usual response when his name comes up every few years for Best Actor consideration, usually via some underdog movie no one saw, and the realization occurs that he's never won an Oscar. (Unlike, say, Roberto Benigni.) It is often said with a guilty-sigh undertone otherwise reserved for neglected relatives or loyal but inconvenient friends — people you know you shouldn't keep forgetting about.Read more »

Life out of balance

Robin Wright Penn shines in The Private Lives of Pippa Lee
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arts@sfbg.com

FILM At the start of The Private Lives of Pippa Lee, its titular character is toasted as a perfect enigma-cum-hostess, "the very icon of an artist's wife." She accepts this with public graciousness and private dismay. Because now, with two kids grown (but still whiny) and a famous publisher spouse retired yet self-absorbed as ever, the praise only underlines a sense that she's always served others' needs while never quite figuring out her own.

Ergo Rebecca Miller's latest is that seldom-produced thing, the female midlife crisis movie. Read more »

Triumph of the underdog

In praise of local indie flick Everything Strange and New
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In Frazer Bradshaw's Everything Strange and New, Wayne (Jerry McDaniel), wears overalls too large and a look of pained, dazed acquiescence. It's as if not just his clothes but his life were given to the wrong person — and there's a no-exchange policy. He loves wife Reneé (the writer Beth Lisick) and their kids. Read more »

Valley of the dolls

Black Devil Doll From Hell and its scary iterations
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CULT HORROR Many babysitters had the bejesus scared out of them by the 1975 TV movie classic Trilogy of Terror, in which Karen Black is attacked by a "Zuni fetish doll" come to malevolent life. Yet among key 1970s horror films, this one inspired relatively little imitation, unless Chucky and myriad Gremlins knockoffs count. One exception, however, remains among those subterranean titles so improbable people don't quite believe it exists until they see it — then they can't believe what they're seeing. Read more »

Pray tell

Oh My God?'s hollow spiritualism
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arts@sfbg.com

FILM Oh My God? took the words right outta my mouth about 10 minutes in. It was then clear this "multicultural spiritual quest" about religion worldwide illustrated the three worst trends in contemporary nonfiction filmmaking: the gratuitously first person vanity project; the Koyaanisqatsi (1982) school of globetrotting coffee-table pictorialism; and the "These are important questions. Read more »

What's hate got to do with it?

Yoav Shamir's controversial new doc, Defamation, takes on anti-Semitism
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arts@sfbg.com

FILM Like so many recent it's-true-if-we-say-so slogans, "A Republican is a Democrat who's been mugged" is smugly, fundamentally misguided on more levels than can be addressed here, suggesting that only conservatives have the horse sense to grasp that it's a big, scary world out there. Interpreted another way, however, this catchphrase contains a grain of truth: the sense of victimization can be blindsiding. Read more »

Hell yeah!

Hail horror homage House of the Devil, a delicious Satanic panic flick
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arts@sfbg.com

FILM Before the Halloween and Friday the 13th series made slasher cinema's top instruments of unstoppable evil, and after Frankenstein, Dracula, and Werewolf pretty much had their day, there was a brief sunny window of opportunity for Satan. Or rather, Satan and his Satanists — sounds like a garage band, yes? — who dominated horror for a few years highlighted by Rosemary's Baby (1968), The Exorcist (1973), and The Omen (1976). Read more »