Dennis Harvey

The trouble with hairy

The Werewolf of Washington: crude, sloppy, aesthetically ugly, deliberately ridiculous, and hilarious
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HALLOWEEN SCREENING What's most shocking about Oliver Stone's W. — beyond anything in the too-mild movie itself — is that it's simply dramatizing a still-seated US president. That still feels like a breach in our near-extinct public decorum, however much Shrub has degraded the office's dignity.

Yet there's precedent: one prior era brought a slew of movies about its Disaster-in-Chief. Once Watergate broke, filmmakers from late radical-left documentarian Emile de Antonio to future Roller Boogie (1979) director Mark L. Read more »

Deeper and deeper

Madonna's Filth and Wisdom another unlucky star
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Everybody has an unlucky-star arena in which they've serially flunked out. Madonna, long successful in so many media, has cinema. Can our hyper-ballsy Material Girl be intimidated by "real" acting, as opposed to music video personae she's done fine by? Maybe. But that doesn't explain why, after 30 years' experience behind cameras, she's made a directorial debut as poorly crafted as Filth and Wisdom, which looks cheap and ugly despite all gratuitous visual gimmicks.

That's not even the real problem. Read more »

New new wave

Dysfunctional families, Desplechin, and Deneuve: "French Cinema Now"
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Everything changes, civilizations collapse, end times approach and recede, but there are always good movies from France. How can this be so? Every film culture has its periods of pervasive suckingness. France perhaps had one: the 1950s, when the stagnation of vapid costume epics and such made bores of icons like Jean Gabin, provoking the nouvelle vague as creative protest. Read more »

Dirty deeds

With "The Superstars Next Door," San Francisco smut classics offer a look at homegrown sex cinema
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SIN-EMA Though he's lived in Denmark since 1993, time and distance have only drawn author-archivist Jack Stevenson closer to his erstwhile home's filmic arcana. Proof arrives via "The Superstars Next Door: A Celebration of San Francisco Amateur Sex Cinema." This Yerba Buena Center for the Arts–commissioned series flashes back to SF's smutty '60s, when the sexual revolution dragged "adults only" movies semi-overground. Read more »

Married in Massachusetts

The doc Saving Marriage captures the firestorm after same-sex wedlock was first allowed
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REVIEW Mike Roth and John Henning's engrossing documentary chronicles the public firestorm that ensued after the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex wedlock in 2003. A state constitutional amendment (loudly supported by Gov. Mitt Romney) was promptly drafted to ban it. When election time rolled around the next fall — after several months of marriage ceremonies — candidates' stance on the issue was make-or-break for many citizens. Read more »

Get rhythm

Music films highlight the 2008 Mill Valley Film Festival
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Perhaps because Marin County is the pasture to which many a semi-retired rock star got put out, the Mill Valley Film Festival has long emphasized music-related film and live performance. Now that the festival is officially over 30 (and hence untrustworthy according to ancient wisdom), MVFF '08 will wave its vintage freak flag even harder than usual.

We have seen the future of retro-rockumentary here, and it is groovy, man. Nothing dials the lysergic clock to quarter-past-wow faster than a dose of tribal-love rock. Read more »

Dirty young man

World class '70s sleaze and Nazisploitation from Italian director Tinto Brass
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The man himself would probably enjoy his artistic evolution being described as ass-backward. After a few years' absence, Italian director Tinto Brass re-emerged in the late 1970s with two world-class sleaze hits — Nazisploitation opus Salon Kitty (1976) and the notorious Penthouse-produced Caligula (1979), which he and scenarist Gore Vidal disowned (for different reasons). Thereafter he settled into glossy softcore romps whose fetish focus made him cinema's Trunk-Junk Laureate to Russ Meyer's Bard of Boob. Read more »

Black and white

A cop has rigid moral views about his neighbors in Lakeview Terrace
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REVIEW When Lisa (Kerry Washington) and Chris Mattson (Patrick Wilson) move into their "starter house" — since it has a three-car garage, sizable pool, sweeping hillside view, and god knows how many bedrooms, perhaps they ultimately plan to buy a castle — it seems a plus that their next-door neighbor is a policeman. Unfortunately, LAPD officer Abel Turner (Samuel L. Jackson) has a rather heavy-handed sense of justice both on and off-duty. A widower who keeps his two children on a tight disciplinary leash, he has very specific ideas about what's right and wrong. Read more »

The filth and the fury

Obscene chronicles one man's lifelong crusade against censorship
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Apologies to all Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville fans out there, but the American novel didn't get good until it shook off the last vestiges of Puritanism and risked a certain shock factor. It wasn't just the authors pushing potentially offensive social-realist (Stephen Crane, Theodore Dreiser, Upton Sinclair) or unflattering social-elite-portraiture boundaries (Edith Wharton, Henry James, etc.) who made the upstart nation's lit suddenly comparable to the Old World's new output. Read more »

"Riot on Sunset Strip" film series

Flash back to L.A. in the '60s
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PREVIEW Break out your go-go boots for this four-day flashback to Los Angeles' 1960s experience hosted by Dominic Priore, author of Riot on Sunset Strip: Rock 'n' Roll's Last Stand in Hollywood and Smile: The Story of Brian Wilson's Lost Masterpiece. Read more »