Film

Sundance, part four: indie heroes and genre flicks

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Missed yesterday's Sundance installment? Right this way!

In Ira Sachs' Love Is Strange (US), Ben (John Lithgow) and George (Alfred Molina) — together for 39 years — are finally married, and suddenly find themselves having to deal with the fallout from an ill-considered world. Both actors are pitch-perfect at portraying longtime lovers, and Marisa Tomei has an intelligent supporting role as a relative of the couple. 

Sundance favorite Sachs (2012's Keep the Lights On), who debuted with the shockingly memorable The Delta in 1996, treats the material with finesse, and the end result is genuinely earned heartache (and, likely, will yield serious crossover potential). It's a cliche, but true: at the screening I attended, there was not a dry eye in the house. 

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Sundance, part three: diamonds in the rough

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Missed out on last week's Sundance glee? Part one here; part two here

Malik Vittal's Imperial Dreams (US) won the Audience Award in the NEXT category, created for films that stretch limited resources to create impactful art. John Boyega (from 2011's Attack the Block) delivers another complicated and hypnotic performance as a young father trying to make good in the 'hood. In this spot-on throwback to powerful, low-budget urban films — think the Hughes Brothers' Menace II Society (1991) and Spike Lee's Clockers (1995), and even back to Ulu Grosbard's Straight Time (1978) — director Vittal coaxes some spectacular acting moments, not just from Boyega but also his forlorn friends, played by De'aundre Bonds and R&B singer Rotimi. You don't want to miss this little treasure.

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Sundance, part two: Linklater love

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My second year of attending the Sundance Film Festival was at the age of 15; it was 1991 and I took a chance on a film called Slacker by Richard Linklater. 

This is the ticket stub that started my film journals. It's still taped into a spiral ring notebook that cradles my coming of age, and I have treasured every film of Linklater's since: his mainstream breakthrough, cult classic Dazed and Confused (1993); his hilarious remake of The Bad News Bears (2005); his underrated adaptation of Fast Food Nation (2006); his overlooked staging of Tape (2001); his pioneering, existentialist, rotoscoped duet Waking Life (2001) and A Scanner Darkly (2006). And, of course, his soul-searching Before trilogy.

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Sundance, part one: crowd-pleasers and dino heists

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Check out Jesse's intro to his Sundance Film Festival series here.

This year, there were few films that stood out as across-the-board crowd pleasers. Gareth Evans' violent, 148-minute The Raid 2: Berandal (UK/Indonesia) — a sequel to his 2011 cult hit — is an absolute must-see, as is the latest from Wet Hot American Summer (2001) director David Wain, They Came Together (US); it's a comedy spoof that pitches Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler into a slew of rom-com tropes and clichés (delivering some huge laughs in the process).

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I Was a Teenage Sundancer

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I grew up at the Sundance Film Festival — beginning in 1990, when my father took my 14-year-old self to an archival screening of Melvin Van Peebles' X-rated Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song (1971), and my best friend Grayson Jenson's parents introduced us to Richard Lester's A Hard Day's Night (1963). 

These two films have polar-opposite subject matter, but they do share some odd similarities; they both make aggressive statements about counterculture, and both are cut together with hyperkinetic, French New Wave-esque editing. But back then, all I knew was that my life was maniacally changed ... forever. 

This transformative experience was enhanced by accidentally sitting next to only movie critic I had ever heard of: Mr. Roger Ebert. As it happens, a documentary about the late writer's career, Steve James' Life Itself, was one of the 2014 festival's biggest hits. Friendly and engaging, Ebert explained to me (at 14) that he personally enjoyed watching the Beatles' "best film" on 16mm as opposed to 35mm. The conversation we shared ("What are your favorite films?" Me: "Hellraiser II, Aliens, Evil Dead 2, and Phantasm II") left a long and deep impression on me.

That was my first memorable Sundance moment. But this year's Sundance and Slamdance Film Festivals — celebrating their 30th and 20th anniversaries, respectively — were (on the occasion of my own 24th Sundance anniversary) maybe the best I've ever experienced, overall.

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Mumble, mumble, murder

A photographer shoots fake crime scenes in Joe Swanberg's meta-thriller '24 Exposures'

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cheryl@sfbg.com

FILM Joe Swanberg's latest film to play the Roxie, 24 Exposures, isn't actually his newest. That'd be family drama Happy Christmas, which just premiered at Sundance. Going by festival reviews, Christmas sounds like it's in the vein of Swanberg's Drinking Buddies — last year's Olivia Wilde-starring tiptoe into the mainstream, a departure for the indie writer-director-actor — with a marquee cast that includes Buddies' Anna Kendrick and hipster queen Lena Dunham.Read more »

Death and life

Archetypal tales and vibrant cinematic voices reign at the African Film Festival

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Gods and mom-sters: the week's new films

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This week: August: Osage County (bumped from its previously-scheduled opening last week) unleashes 2014's first bolt of LOOK AT ME I'M ACTING! Other choices you have while you count down to the Golden Globes (Sunday night) and the Oscar nominations (next Thursday) include Ralph Fiennes' latest actor-director turn in Charles Dickens tale The Invisible Woman; Mark Wahlberg's Navy SEALs drama Lone Survivor; and Renny Harlin's CG'd-up action-tacular The Legend of Hercules.

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Cage heat: salute the screen icon's 50th bday!

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Oscar-winning actor (for 1995's Leaving Las Vegas), cultural curiosity (for his Superman and Elvis obsessions, tax troubles, hair, etc.), Coppola family member (Francis Ford is his uncle), meme generator, and cult icon Nicolas Cage is about to become a half-century man. And what better way to celebrate the 50th birthday of one of the most predictably unpredictable movie stars of all time than by checking out a pair of his movies?

Tomorrow (NC's actual bday: Jan. 7), Midnites for Maniacs unspools a pair of Cage classics, starting with his breakout role as a totally tripandicular Hollywood punk mooning after the title character in 1983's Valley Girl. This movie has it all: a killer soundtrack, terrible-amazing hair and fashions, the immortal EG Daily, and maybe the best prom scene in the 1980s teen-movie canon. We melt with you, Nic.

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Breaking points

New films from China teem with 21st century angst

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