Film

Saint Gravy

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There is a certain faction of society -- I think it's pretty large, if you judge by NorCal standards -- that regards Wavy Gravy as some sort of mystical deity from their parents' generation. We're not sure what he did, but you should probably address him as Mr. Gravy 'til he tells you not to.

This is a perception that is left unquibbled-with by director Michelle Esrick's ten year labor of docu-love, Saint Misbehavin': The Wavy Gravy Movie (opening Fri/3 in Bay Area theaters), and further untouched by my interview with Esrick and the man himself. Read more »

Rites of nude math professors and Berkeley

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“Frankly, I'm a bit baffled by all this,” Frenkel told us in an email follow-up to a phone interview conducted later this week. The UC Berkeley math professor was referring to the fact that the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute, who had announced they would sponsor today (Wed/1)'s US premiere of his sensual math film, Rites of Love and Math, decided to pull their support earlier this week.

They had us at "sensual math film."

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Whip your hair back: Disney's "Tangled" stars speak

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Walt Disney was right all along: dreams do come true. That is, if you’re Zachary Levi and Mandy Moore, and your dream is to be in an animated Disney movie. Levi and Moore star as Flynn and Rapunzel in Tangled, a fresh adaptation of the fairy tale about the princess with way too much hair. While Levi admits an affinity for Aladdin, Moore was always an Ariel fan.

“For our generation, I feel like that’s what every girl wanted to be,” Moore says. “What little girl doesn’t dream of being a Disney princess?” Both actors were also thrilled to be working with noted (and Academy Award-winning) Disney composer Alan Menken. Levi expressed a lifelong devotion to 1992's Newsies, though he’s a fan of Menken’s other work as well.

“[Working with Alan Menken] is bucket list,” Levi says. “It’s crazy, crazy bucket list. We both grew up knowing and singing all the songs to Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin.”

Moore continues, “I just found out he did Little Shop of Horrors last night, and I about lost it.”

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Alex Cox goes "Straight to Hell" (and to the Roxie)

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If you’re looking for a Halloween film fix outside of the usual slasher movies and traditional fright night fare, the Roxie’s got you covered.

Starting Fri/29 and running all weekend, the theater has a series of cult picks lined up. Friday night brings old-school sci-fi flicksThe Creature with the Atom Brain (1955) and The Man From Planet X (1951) to the screen in 35mm archival prints. Sat/30, check out the UK gore-fest Corruption (1968) or The Brood (1979), one of David Cronenberg’s first films. And on Sun/31, there will be a double Halloween dose of director Alex Cox, with Straight to Hell Returns (2010) and Searchers 2.0 (2007), complete with an appearance from Cox himself. Read more »

French Cinema Now! Two to see -- and one to avoid

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The San Francisco Film Society's "French Cinema Now" kicks off Thurs/28 with a week of spankin' new Gallic films. Not sure which flick to choose, budding Cahiers du Cinéma contributor? Read on for a batch of brief reviews.

Copacabana (dir. Marc Fitoussi) It feels strange to call Copacabana subtle, especially when the film’s main character Babou (Isabelle Huppert) is consistently over-the-top. But this is a slight comedy, a character study to showcase Huppert’s considerable talent. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Copacabana depends on its strong lead, and there are few stronger than Huppert, one of the most dynamic and adaptive French actors working today. Read more »

The Western is back! Final thoughts on TIFF '10

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When I interviewed director Kelly Reichardt at the 2008 Toronto Film Festival about her gut-wrenching masterpiece Wendy & Lucy (2008), she spoke of watching many old Westerns in preparation for her next project. She delivered the exquisite Meek's Cutoff at the 2010 Toronto Film Festival. The film follows three families as they make their trek along the Oregon Trail circa 1845. As they follow their hired mountain man through the Cascade Mountains they start to question if their leader really knows where he is leading them. And when they come across a Cayuse American Indian, the emigrants are forced to question who to trust. While Wendy & Lucy seemed inspired by the Italian Neo-Realists Vittorio De Sica and Roberto Rossellini, Meek's Cutoff draws upon cinema's earliest documentaries, like Robert Flaherty's Nanook of the North (1922).

Collaborator Jon Raymond, who also wrote Reichardt's Old Joy (2006) and Wendy & Lucy, uncovered the infamous story of Meek's Cutoff while doing local research in Oregon. The tale seems perfect for Reichardt's distinctive visual storytelling by exploring humble characters who are confronting everyday troubles while taking a journey outside of their natural habitat. The striking style strips down her character's actions and allows the viewer to feel the weight of each procedure. Since Reichardt emphasizes her camera over dialogue, the solitary result can culminate in a truly transcendental experience for a viewer, while for others (like at the press screening in Toronto) a long nap. Somehow the fact that a film can evoke such extreme yet internal reactions conjures up the cinema of Yasujiro Ozu and most recently, Claire Denis. Read more »

Oscar-winning director Davis Guggenheim talks "Waiting for 'Superman'"

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Where do you go from global warming?

Director Davis Guggenheim won an Academy Award for 2006’s An Inconvenient Truth. His latest film, Waiting for “Superman”, takes on the United States’ failing public education system. In some ways, the documentary represents a return to Guggenheim’s first subject. “The very first documentary I made followed first-year teachers, because I believed that teachers were the answer to our schools,” he says. “And I still believe that. Now I wanted to talk about the kids and their families, and what’s at stake for them.”

The kids and families in question are the subjects of Waiting for “Superman”, which follows five young people in search of a better education. While the scope of the film is large — covering the history and bureaucracy that has created this national epidemic — Guggenheim is careful never to stray far from the victims of the crisis.

“The really hard part about it is how complicated this issue is, and it’s hard to simplify it,” he explains. “And I wanted it to be understandable to everybody. Whenever I got lost, I would always bring it back to the kids. It’s a very simple story: five kids, all they want is to go to a great school.”

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Getting our rocks off: a historical perspective

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San Francisco is waiting for its Boogie Nights. Unbeknownst to Hollywood, our fair berg was the infant creche of hardcore pornography, spawning a subculture of porn theaters that thrived despite police harassment and political pressure.

We were number one! Luckily, a few brave men are resurrecting our porn golden age money shot – read on for a first look at documentary The Smut Capital of America and an interview with the director himself, Michael Stabile.

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Matt Reeves on vampires, remakes, and "Let Me In"

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When Let Me In — the film which dares an Americanized do-over of 2008 Swedish import Let the Right One In — was first announced, fans of the original film let rip synchronized screeches of "Whyyyyy?", shortly followed by angry, ten-point arguments as to why Hollywood is really sucking balls lately. Consensus was that Let the Right One In, which picked up armloads of festival and critical awards (including the San Francisco Film Critics' Circle's Best Foreign Language Film honors), was not a film that deserved to be put through the remake machine. Sure, it only made a couple of million bucks stateside, but maybe it wasn't the kind of film (unlike 2008's similarly vampire-themed Twilight) that the masses were supposed to gobble up. After all, it had subtitles. Such a drag.

Matt Reeves, he of Cloverfield (2008) and Felicity fame, is aware of the fanboy-hater contingent that awaits his latest release. His Let Me In is a largely faithful retread, with some recognizable kid actors — Kodi Smit-McPhee (stronger here than he was in last year's The Road) and tween It Girl Chloë Grace Moretz (Kick Ass) — and the lure of legendary British horror house Hammer (back in the producing biz after decades) helping him attract audiences. I suspect many people who'll go see Let Me In may not have seen Let the Right One In — either because the original's release wasn't wide or lengthy enough, or because of that whole foreign-film bias. (Also, diehard fans of the first film may boycott the new version, just on principle. Hey, I did it with the recent A Nightmare on Elm Street, which in my mind NEVER HAPPENED).

Gotta say, though, Let Me In could have been worse than "faithful," which is way better than "redundant" or "totally offensive." Reeves, who penned the script from John Ajvide Lingqvist's novel (Lindqvist himself wrote the script for the 2008 film) stays true to the material, shifting the action to the snowy New Mexico mountains and injecting some Cold War and new wave flair into the 80s setting. I spoke with him recently, just after the film's screening at Austin, TX's Fantastic Fest — coincidentally the very festival where Let the Right One In won the Jury Prize for Best Horror Feature in 2008. He kindly put up with my many remake-themed queries.

San Francisco Bay Guardian: How was Fantastic Fest? Read more »

Allen town: Toronto International Film Festival 2010

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Every time a new Woody Allen film arrives (a near-annual event since 1969) the same old, lazy complaints (“It’s not one of his best”) arrive faster than you can say “pontificate.”  Yet 10 or 20 years later it seems that somehow many of those uncelebrated films seem to become “one of his best.” See Broadway Danny Rose (1984), Husbands and Wives (1992), or Sweet and Lowdown (1999).

With his latest entry, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (opening locally Fri/1), Allen delivers another pitch-perfect mini-guide to the hilarious horrors of growing old … something Allen (according to the director himself, speaking at his Toronto International Film Festival press conference) wouldn’t wish on anyone. What looks and feels like a whimsical rom-com about aging is, in fact, a sobering and even paralyzing blueprint of what exists in most relationships or marriages. Don’t let the fun and breezy vibe of quirky narration deter you. Not only is there more of a bittersweet edge to Allen’s familiar archetypes, but the UK-produced film works as a perfect counterpart to Mike Leigh’s latest monument Another Year (2010). I wouldn't be surprised if Stranger's Gemma Jones earns an Oscar nomination for her performance in what will surely be one of the year's most truthful films.

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