Dennis Harvey

Material world

David Mamet's Hollywood soul search
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The year 1988 marked the apex of David Mamet's celebrity. He'd won a Pulitzer Prize for Glengarry Glen Ross, and American Buffalo was being produced by every little theater on the planet. He'd scripted several mostly admired films and had just directed his first, the coldly ingenious House of Games.

It must have been a heady time. One doesn't get the impression that Mamet is the type to enjoy simply being celebrated. Read more »

Year in Film: Things we lost in the theater

Score one for escapism, zero for political reality
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The economy: Apocalypse Now — or at least soon. Iraq: No End in Sight. Israel: "Putting Out Fire with Gasoline (Theme from Cat People)." China, in its role as the principal backer of our colossal national debt: I Spit on Your Grave. Read more »

Barber of gore

Tim Burton's inspired Sweeney Todd is black and red all over
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Tim Burton's Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street works so well you might not notice that it's based on a Broadway musical, and one that's close to opera. Which is the idea, of course. Read more »

Legends of the follicle

"Three mustache rides with Burt Reynolds"
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TRIPLE FEATURE It may be hard to fathom now, but Burt Reynolds was probably the biggest movie star of the 1970s. Other actors of his generation have gained more prestige, made fewer flops, or carried above-the-title status to the grave or today (like Robert Redford, who arguably has zero marquee value left). Reynolds put up a feeble fight as his career ebbed into TV shows, supporting roles, and self-parody. But he had many hits, both high- and lowbrow. He was the first since Bing Crosby to be the top box office star five years in a row. Read more »

Purple penetrator

Guy Ritchie reaches -- and reaches -- for his Revolver
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Being rich and famous dupes so many into thinking they have profound life wisdom that must be shared. Is it simple narcissism? Is it that when material desires are fulfilled too easily, spirituality becomes the top high-end item left to acquire?

Guy Ritchie may do stupid things, like remaking Lina Wertmüller's reactionary-in-1974 Swept Away as a 2002 vehicle for his wife, Madonna, whose acting kills entire movies on contact. But he's also clever, at least regarding surfaces. Read more »

Uncuddly Leigh

Margot at the Wedding and Jennifer Jason Leigh in the movies
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Jennifer Jason Leigh is nearly 50 years old. She looks about 15 years younger, yet without that plastic appearance redolent of cosmetic surgery. For a while she was a real movie star, if not quite a popular one, sustaining widely seen films through performances such as her homicidal nut in Single White Female (1992) and tightly wound abuse victim in Dolores Clairborne (1995). Read more »

Romania dreamin'

Cinematically speaking, Bucharest is best
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Programmers in the film festival, cinematheque, and rep-house exhibition worlds are forever hunting for undiscovered cinematic flavors. They are like truffle-sniffing pigs. No offense intended — after all, truffles are valuable for their rarity. Read more »

Fellini in Arkansas

Seeing "Red-State Cinema"
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"Ahm tired uh yer uppity, citified ways!" leering slob Odis (Gene Ross) tells houseguest Helen (Norma Moore) in S.F. Brownrigg's Poor White Trash II, a 1974 movie also known by the equally savory title Scum of the Earth. Read more »

Silencers, please

Dean Martin is propped up for a Bond imitation
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The James Bond movies had a cultural impact like no other film series in the 1960s, spawning umpteen imitations, from cheap Europudding productions (the ones directed by Mario Bava and Jess Franco are quite delightful) to Hollywood spectaculars. There were rival series too. The most popular — and critically loathed — starred Dean Martin as Matt Helm. In Donald Hamilton's original books Helm is a tough customer involved in relatively realistic adventures. Read more »

Rat with wings

Jonathan Livingston Seagull flaps again
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SEVENTIES FLASHBACK The '60s were all about changing society. When that didn't pan out, the '70s went all inwardly focused, pursuing pleasure and spirituality. Both goals frequently commingled as fads, cults, and pop religio-psych fixes. The Age of Aquarius dawned no more: Planet Self-Help was rising, and exotic waves washed across the shore of American consciousness.

Perhaps nothing in that era's landscape of seekerdom spread its populist wings farther — or became a more dated Me Decade punch line — than Jonathan Livingston Seagull. Read more »