Dennis Harvey

In a Dream

Zagar's feature has a subject that's not just close to home, it's in his home
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REVIEW Jeremiah Zagar's feature has a subject that's not just close to home, it's in his home: father Isaiah is an eccentric artist who's created extraordinary mosaics covering myriad walls, rooms, and several entire buildings in Philadelphia. Julia, his wife of 43 years, views herself as the necessary "reality base" to his "crazy, self-absorbed but amiable ... rare flower." Isaiah is a bit of an exhibitionist, his art a "journal of my life" that might easily embarrass family members less accustomed to his idiosyncracies. Read more »

Diamond in the rough

Sugar defies baseball-movie cliches -- and builds, almost unnoticeably, to exhilarating effect
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Co-writer-directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck made their feature debut in 2006 with Half Nelson, a movie with an iffy concept — an at-risk Brooklyn middle school student discovers her teacher is a part-time crackhead but they become best buds anyway — somehow rendered utterly plausible. That same keen sense of atmospheric and character detail, as well as resistance to sensationalism or cliché, is on display again in their new film, Sugar. Read more »

Visceral reality

Art and horror converge in Brit director Steve McQueen's uncompromising Hunger
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Already a veteran Irish Republican Army volunteer serving his second penitentiary term at age 27, Bobby Sands was leader of Republican prisoners at HM Prison Maze, a.k.a. Long Kesh, outside Belfast in 1981. Early that year he commenced a hunger strike joined by numerous other inmates, an action intended to define IRA incarcerates as political rather than criminal prisoners while boosting international attention for the independence cause.

After 66 days, he was the first of 10 participants to die. Read more »

Kennedy, compounded

A new film imagines Vietnam if Kennedy had lived
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HYPOTHETICALLY SPEAKING It's chaos theory's maxim that the mere brush of a butterfly's wings might produce a ripple effect sufficient to changes history. But let's face it: it's more interesting to muse upon the big what-ifs, like assassination attempts. What if Lincoln or Archduke Ferdinand had survived? What if Reagan hadn't?

Are such speculations actually useful, or just a glorified party game? Clearly Koji Masutani thinks it's the former, since he's gone to the trouble of making Virtual JFK: Vietnam If Kennedy Had Lived. Read more »

Sunshine Cleaning

Trying to get a break in the ever-expanding, hanging-by-a-thread sector of the working class
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REVIEW The minimum wage that Albuquerque single mom Rose (Amy Adams) earns as a housecleaner isn't enough to pay for the private school her eight-year-old son needs after his weird behavior exhausts the public one's resources. And aimless-party-girl younger sis Norah (Emily Blunt) just got fired from her own last crap job. Read more »

Pineapple express?

SFIAFF: Diamond Head offers a perfect read of old Hollywood's racial mixed messages
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In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Hollywood's hitherto stereotypical or simply indifferent portrayal of Asians progressed, albeit in one-step-forward-two-steps-back fashion. (Notably horrifying was Mickey Rooney's 1961 yellowface caricature as Holly Golightly's "Japanese" neighbor Mr. Read more »

Indie notes

SFIAAFF: Colma: The Musical's Richard Wong returns with Fruit Fly
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A D.I.Y. movie musical made for all of $15,000, indie popster-turned-scenarist/actor H.P. Mendoza and local cinematographer-turned-feature-director Richard Wong's Colma: The Musical proved to be the little movie that could after its 2006 San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival debut. It won a limited theatrical release and critical praise, including a flattering New York Times review. Read more »

Lupino Noir

Taut little black-and-white "B's" with a penchant for taking on sensational themes in a no-nonsense manner
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REVIEW A Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts-trained Londoner born to Brit vaudeville parents, Ida Lupino improbably wound up one of hardboiled studio Warner Bros.' favorite tough all-American dames in the 1940s. Albeit not quite favored enough: WB already had Bette Davis and Ann Sheridan, and then acquired Joan Crawford, so Lupino didn't get the pick of parts despite some stellar work. When they let her go in 1947, she continued to act but proved her mettle by becoming something extremely rare: a director, writer, and occasional producer. Read more »

Lunch-drunk love

Lydia Lunch's Kiss Napoleon Goodbye now available on DVD
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AVANT TO BE PUNK If any artist ever self-classified as trash, it was (is?) Lydia Lunch, original '70s New York City No Wave princess (Teenage Jesus and the Jerks), '80s underground film star (for Richard Kern, Scott and Beth B., Nick Zedd, etc.), and subsequent spoken-word performer and print autobiographer. In each medium her voice bottled the societally incriminating sarcasm of self-defined detritus, costume-partied as yesteryear's bullet-bra'd sex object. By 1990, who beyond first-generation punk nostalgists gave a fuck? Read more »

Beautiful nightmare

A filmmaker and her subject chronicle an epic immigrant experience
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If the U.S. really is entering a new period of transparency and team-playing, that might take a while to swallow for some nations that have known us best as an unreliable fair-weather ally. One of the Vietnam War's lesser-heralded tragedies was what happened to neighboring Laos. Early in Ellen Kuras' The Betrayal, we see JFK in 1961 saying of Laos, "All we want is peace, not war. Read more »