Dennis Harvey

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 »

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 »