Dennis Harvey

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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 »

Splitting heirs

The SF Silent Film Festival's winter event brings the spinal chills
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SILENT FILMS Horror movies have never been more plentiful or popular than they are now — which says more about the times we live in than there's room to discuss here — yet in film's first decades they barely made an appearance. The early 20th-century rush to modernity, particularly in the U.S., made anything that smacked of superstition seem childish, silly, even distasteful; the simple life of yore, with all its greater hardships, was still too fresh to invite nostalgia. Read more »

Hot pink

IndieFest takes a peek inside Japanese sex cinema
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Filmmakers like Jonathan Demme who worked for Roger Corman in the early 1970s were delighted by their freedom to include just about anything — radical political issues, wild tonal shifts, etc. — as long as the basic drive-in requirements of gratuitous T&A and violence were shoehorned in. That moment was brief. Read more »

'Dance party

Smile 'Til It Hurts: The Up With People Story and other Sundance flicks
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PARK CITY REPORT A degree of relative tranquility settled on Sundance this year, as budget cutbacks among media outlets and distributors meant the customary frenzy was dialed down a notch or three. Of course most screenings were packed, but fewer people than usual got turned away; lodgings remained available during the festival, whereas normally they'd be booked months in advance. Still, what was onscreen remained as usual — a more or less even mix of good, bad, and indifferent. Read more »

The Pope's Toilet

Melo prepares for the anticipated 1988 visit of Pope John Paul II
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REVIEW In the Uruguayan hamlet Melo, poor residents like Beto (César Troncoso) squeak by smuggling consumer goods over the border from nearby Brazil — despite being frequently stopped, harassed, and robbed by corrupt, mean-spirited customs guard Meleyo (Nelson Lence). When Pope John Paul II's 1988 visit encompasses a stop in Melo, the villagers enthusiastically prepare for an anticipated huge tourist influx, hoping their makeshift food stands and other services can reap life-changing profits from the visiting faithful. Read more »

"Three on a Match"

64 hurtling minutes, packed with pre-Code incident
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REVIEW This 1932 pre-Code gem is a fine example of the era's snappy Warner Bros. style and economical storytelling. Three women are reunited by chance years after being Manhattan grade-school classmates: goodhearted "bad girl" Mary (Joan Blondell) became a Broadway baby via reform school. Smart but poor valedictorian Ruth (Bette Davis, whose screen prospects were considered pretty wan at this point) became a humble stenographer. Product of privilege Vivian (Ann Dvorak) married childhood sweetheart Robert (Warren William) and is now the consummate socialite wife and mother. Read more »