Dennis Harvey

Space is the race

Sputnik Mania is a hot look at the Cold War
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When conservatives wax nostalgic for a family-values America that liberals are hell bent on destroying forever, they're basically talking about the 1950s — that last oasis of prosperity for guiltless acquisitiveness, formulaic gender roles, and general agreement not to discuss any round peg not fitting into a square hole. Read more »

"Kenny"

Eating shit while charming pants off in this Brit mockumentary
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REVIEW This first feature by the Jacobson brothers — director Clayton and leading actor Shane, also coscenarists — is about a beleaguered working-class stiff. His disgraceful (to everyone but him) job is delivering and maintaining rental portaloos (read: portable toilets) to various public events, many attracting patrons who can't keep their aim straight or food down. Kenny has a bratty son, a vicious ex-wife, unreliable coworkers, an endlessly criticizing father, and myriad other woes. Read more »

Testimonies

The SF Jewish Film Festival takes on fascism in Italy
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Italy seldom figures much in Holocaust studies, as its Jewish population was relatively small (just under 50,000) and only about one-fifth failed to survive the war — even after far more anti-Semitic German occupiers and policies wrested power from Benito Mussolini in 1943.

But statistically limited evil is still evil. Italian (even papal) complicity in crimes against Jewry has weighed more heavily on the national conscience lately, if a recent spate of meditations on the subject in various media is any indication. Read more »

Orphan storm

The SF Silent Film Fest takes on the motherless and fatherless child
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The orphan was a staple figure in silent cinema. She or he evoked the pathos required in sentimental melodramas, and also highlighted a prevalent social problem. The predicament wasn't that orphans existed so much as that orphanages did. Dickensian clichés of wicked minders profiting from the ill-keeping of abused and undernourished charges were often not far from the truth.

The notion that flowers of pure innocence might spring from this kind of environmental mire was a popular dramatic conceit. Read more »

Gore gone global

At last -- a Pakistani horror film that rocks
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(SHOULD BE A) CULT FILM Pakistan: land of the Markhor goat (a twisty-horned national animal), major software industry, ancient civilizations, field hockey, purported terrorist training cells, and extremely good-looking people of both sexes. The latter, at least, was suggested by those who went to my midwestern university a couple decades back: they were terribly urbane, funny, and cool. Admittedly, they were the next-generation cream of the country's privileged-liberal economic elite. Read more »

Sour sixteen

Tom Kalin's Savage Grace is shallow and graceless
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Tom Kalin's 1992 Swoon was a signature feature from the New Queer Cinema movement. Its dramatization of the 1920s Leopold and Loeb case seemed arresting for both its crisp black-and-white photography and flagrant disregard for still-prevalent sentiments that gay screen imagery need always be case-pleadingly positive. Read more »

Mr. Miserabilism

Michael Haneke puts the tragedy in TV
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Some of Michael Haneke's early made-for-TV movies are showcased in the aptly titled mini-retrospective "Bitter Pills" at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. In them, Haneke's now-characteristic austerity — long static takes, cryptic narrative omissions — is yet undeveloped. But his nihilistic take on society is already present.

The four-hour 1979 Austrian miniseries Lemmings maps out disillusions among the embittered, hypocritical generation of Austrians who "lost" World War II and their suffocated teen offspring. Parent-child relations are toxic. Read more »

Incredible hulks

Bigger, Stronger, Faster is smarter and deeper than it looks
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Competition is seemingly bred into Americans, along with an obsessive-compulsive desire to win that neighbors around the world find variably admirable, amusing, and bewildering. We aren't team players — we're capable of finding logic and necessity in the phrase "US out of UN." Not so coincidentally, recent US cultural attitudes toward sport and sportsmanship have caused even team athletics to become focused on arrogant and overpaid lone superstars. Read more »

Comedy of the grotesque

Stuart Gordon's Stuck cuts both ways
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REVIEW Always looking like the potato famine's desperately drunk survivor, Stephen Rea is that rare screen actor masochistically gifted at communicating physical as well as psychic pain. No one could possibly have struck more notes on the scale from pathos to giddy gallows humor than he does in Stuck, cult horror director Stuart Gordon's brutally tart black comedy. Read more »

I against I

Can Hieronymus Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness?
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CULT FILM Nothing exerts quite the same simultaneous attraction-repulsion magnetism like a really world-class vanity project. Read more »