Dennis Harvey

Senseless violence

The Strangers is refreshingly creative ... until the end
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REVIEW Returning from a wedding reception in a glum mood — apparently Kristen (Liv Tyler) did not respond to a marriage proposal from James (Scott Speedman) as hoped or expected — the pair retreat to his family's isolated vacation home, where they find their evening getting worse, fast. A most unexpected 4 a.m. knock at the door and a strange interaction with a seemingly lost girl is followed by more knocks, then vandalism, then disturbing signs that the house has already been or is being entered — until it's not a knock at the door but an ax crashing through it. Read more »

Rich and useless

The Fall and the flights of Tarsem
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Some kinds of artistic ostentation possess a breadth of scale and insularity of purpose that have everything to do with privilege. Matthew Barney is responsible for some enormously pretentious cinematic objects, but even he hasn't dreamt as self-indulgently big as the mono-monikered Tarsem (birth name: Tarsem Singh) does with The Fall. Shot in 20 countries — from Chile to Fiji to Namibia to Romania to all over his native India, plus plain old Hollywood — it's perhaps the ultimate "Why? Read more »

She sang, he filmed

Meet Philippe Garrel and Nico on the desert shore
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Perhaps you'd like a dark date with Mary Wollstonecraft and Percy Bysshe Shelley. If not, you can always opt for a purple romp with Rimbaud and Verlaine, or Gertrude and Alice, or Paul and Jane Bowles. Maybe you have an ear for rock, in which case you can hit the bed or hit a vein with John and Yoko, or Sid and Nancy, or Kurt and Courtney. Really, what doesn't fascinate us about legendary bohemian couples of various eras? Read more »

Bad war, good film

Battle for Haditha is Iraq fiction worth seeing
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REVIEW Okay, here's another Iraq War fictive feature people won't go see, although this may be the first one where it would be a real shame (as opposed to the many very good documentaries everyone ought to have seen). It delivers sweeping, multicharacter, wide-canvas drama à la 2006's Babel within a docudrama style that's as convincing and effective as Brian DePalma's thematically overlapping 2007 Redacted was — let's put this delicately — phony, crass, and just plain shitty. Read more »

Go Daddy-o

Cinematic ass-kickin' runs in the Thrillsville family
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CULT FILM STAR Veteran actor Robert Viharo apparently doesn't like talking about the shlockier stuff in his résumé. Read more »

Sci-fi campsterpiece

"The Starslyderz Experience"
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PREVIEW OK, so 2007's Transformers was Michael Bay's best movie — which is sort of like saying "best strep throat experience," but let it go. Still, he will never, ever equal the achievement of Starslyderz (2005), an intergalactic adventure made with about 1/7,500th of Transformers's budget (yes, I used a calculator) and several megatons the awesomeness. Premiered here two years ago at the Another Hole in the Head film festival, Garrin Vincent and Mike Budde's homemade epic is the poignant tale of Capt. Read more »

SFIFF: Explosive stuff!

Craig Baldwin turns space junk into magickal treasure with Mock Up on Mu
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SFIFF The pop detritus of today is the archaeological evidence of tomorrow, to be pieced together by future generations — should there be any — who will no doubt want to know what the hell we were thinking. Their conclusions may be bizarre. Read more »

Sibling rivalry

Sandro Petraglia and Stefano Rulli's My Brother Is an Only Child
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REVIEW This week most San Francisco cineastes will be focused on the International Film Festival — but please don't let this Italian import, one of the best in years, leave town before you catch it. Cowritten (with director Daniele Luchetti) by Sandro Petraglia and Stefano Rulli of the fantastic Best of Youth (2003), the film shares that four-hour epic's ability to pare decades of roiling postwar Italian political history into an absorbing personal drama. Accio (Elio Germano) is the youngest child, perpetually at odds with everyone in his poor family. Read more »

Offbeat direction

The Visitor charms but overstays its welcome
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When successful actors turn to directing, you can often gauge how long they've been immersed in fiction by the degrees of condescension and cliché in their movies. Ethan Hawke is an unfortunate recent example. I'd say John Cassavetes is the classic one ... but then people would hunt me down and kill me.

Of course, some actors can think outside themselves behind the camera: George Clooney, Sarah Polley, and Ben Affleck (who knew?) provide recent testimony. Even Mel Gibson might qualify. Read more »

Fun but no Dice Man

Chaos Theory gets giddy, then retreats
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Though early paperback editions brandished a "Soon to Be a Major Motion Picture" tag, there's never been a movie of the 1971 cult novel The Dice Man. That's a pity, because this tale of a psychiatrist who ditches his too-orderly life — by beginning to roll dice to make decisions — is a screen natural. I bet screenwriter Daniel Taplitz has read the Luke Rhinehart (a.k.a. George Cockcroft) book. His and director Marcos Siega's Chaos Theory is a Dice Man update, softened and family values–sweetened for our counter-counterculture age. Read more »