Film

Sundance and Slamdance 2013: powerful docs

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Scroll on up Pixel Vision for Jesse Hawthorne Ficks' previous Utah festival reports.

In recent years, Sundance has become well-known for its strong documentary offerings — to the point of overshadowing its dramatic films. And with good reason, when docs like Martha Shane and Lana Wilson's After Tiller are among the selections.

The film follows the four remaining doctors in the United States who continue to perform third-trimester abortions; it's a decidedly direct character study that uncovers the complex and difficult choices these physicians go through on a daily basis. (Not to mention the element of danger they face, as the title's reference to the murder of Dr. George Tiller suggests. With that in mind, there was a protective police presence at all of After Tiller's Sundance screenings.) The doc's impact didn't end when the lights came up; for days after the screening, I found myself drawn into fascinating conversations with folks who were eager to discuss their feelings about the film and the issues it explores. Read more »

No talking

Vintage stars shine at Silent Winter

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arts@sfbg.com

FILM The 2013 San Francisco Silent Film Festival isn't until July, but the fest's Silent Winter offshoot offers a day packed full of classic delights to tide over its legions of fans until summer. The Castro Theatre plays host to four features and one shorts program, all of which boast live musical accompaniment.Read more »

Heat of the moment

Local retrospectives spotlight Japan's innovative Art Theater Guild

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Silents are golden

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The 2013 San Francisco Silent Film Festival isn't until July, but the fest's Silent Winter offshoot offers a day packed full of classic delights to tide over its legions of fans until summer. Sat/16, Castro Theatre plays host to four features and one shorts program, all of which boast live musical accompaniment.

Silent Winter's earliest (1916) and latest films (1927) are both buoyed by charismatic leading ladies: Marguerite Clark, in J. Searle Dawley's Snow White, and Mary Pickford in Sam Taylor's My Best Girl. Clark, who found early fame as a Broadway star, was already in her 30s by the time film acting became a viable career option. No matter — she's believably girlish as the princess with "skin white as snow," hated by her jealous stepmother, whose own beauty comes courtesy of witchcraft. (Dig the proto-Witchiepoo who helps the conniving queen in her various evil schemes, and her giant kitty helper, too.) A teenage Walt Disney saw the film in 1917 and made animation history with the same story 20 years later — though his version of the fairy-tale heroine lacks Clark's easy effervescence.

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Sundance 2013: championing Campion

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For more Sundance 2013 reports, go here, here, here, and here.

Easily the greatest screening event at this year's Sundance Film Festival was Jane Campion's multi-part miniseries Top of the Lake, a co-production of the Sundance Channel, BBC Two, and UKTV in Australia and New Zealand.

Though it was made for TV, this 353-minute, Twin Peaks (1990) meets Silence of the Lambs (1991) extravaganza was shown on the big screen, which gave it even more impact. Not that it needed much help: when intermission came at the end of the third episode, audience members filed out for lunch with similar (stunned, shocked, obliterated) expressions on their faces.

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Sundance 2013: what's NEXT?

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Earlier fest reports here, here, and here.

At Sundance 2013, no other category could compete with the NEXT programming. NEXT was initiated in 2010; its aim is to highlight "pure, bold works distinguished by an innovative, forward-thinking approach to storytelling. Digital technology paired with unfettered creativity proves the films selected in this section will inform a 'greater' next wave in American cinema."

Matthew Porterfield's I Used to Be Darker showcases Ned Oldham (brother of indie fave Will Oldham) as a father-husband-musician whose teenage daughter starts to drift away as his marriage dissolves. Wonderfully awkward and trying moments arise from every suburban-hipster angle, making Darker not only a disturbing blueprint of divorce among the indie-rock generation, but — with three fully performed songs — a reminder of why so much music from this time period remains utterly relatable. (Clearly, not everyone agrees; I overheard a group of SLC locals calling Darker their "least favorite movie of all time.")

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SF IndieFest, and a whole lot more: new movies!

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First things first: the San Francisco Independent Film Festival kicked off last night and runs through Feb. 21 at various venues (mostly the Roxie). Check out my interviews with local shorts directors here, and some top picks throughout the festival here.

Also this week: cult director Don Coscarelli's John Dies at the End (my chat with Mr. Bubba Ho-Tep here), Amy Berg's West Memphis Three doc, West of Memphis (check out Nicole Gluckstern's review here), and the Vortex Room's love-ly new series (Dennis Harvey's take here).

What's more, 1986 action classic Top Gun gets the 3D IMAX re-release treatment (because any list of things that are better when they're bigger, louder, and more in-yo-face include Soviet MiGs, Tom Cruise's teeth, and Kenny Loggins jams). Reviews of comedies Identity Thief and Shanghai Calling, plus Steven Soderbergh's maybe-swan song Side Effects, below the jump.

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Sundance 2013: the way of the gun

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Festival veteran Jesse Hawthorne Ficks files his third report from the 2013 Sundance and Slamdance Film Festivals. Read his first two reports here and here.

British filmmaker Sean Ellis' Philippines-set Metro Manila took home the Audience Award: World Cinema Dramatic at Sundance. It's a gritty, neo-realist journey into Manila's Catch 22'd slums that's every bit as shocking as it is hypnotic. When I saw it, the entire audience (myself included) was left gasping for air while wiping their tears — it's ruthlessly realistic, insanely inspired, and a taut thriller to boot.

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Sundance (and Slamdance) 2013: 'Dirties' talk

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Festival veteran Jesse Hawthorne Ficks files his second report from the 2013 Sundance and Slamdance Film Festivals. Check out his first report here.

The most controversial and inspired film amid this year's Utah fests actually screened at the Slamdance Film Festival, where it won the Grand Jury Sparky Award for a Narrative Feature. The Dirties, by 28-year-old Canadian writer-director-star Matthew Johnson, is an utterly brilliant, unstoppably hilarious found footage entry that follows two high school cinephiles as they try and make a documentary about "bullying," while they themselves continue to get uncomfortably bullied at their own school.

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My campy Valentine

Fall in love with vampires, acid, severed hands, and interplanetary war at the Vortex Room

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FILM Love is the drug, or so sang somebody once. Yet violent conflict has always been a more predominatingly addicting factor in movies — which is why it seems both natural and despairing that the Vortex Room's "For Your Vortex Only" celebration of "Love...Vortex Style" (please guys, only one title per series), every Thursday in February, features eight vintage movies in which "love" is less a matter of romantic fulfillment than a titular selling point.Read more »