Film Features

Year in Film: Beauty lies

A look beneath the surface splendor of 2007's most haunting documentaries
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Unsettling subjects such as fatality by bestiality and landscapes ravaged by industry might conjure coarse, sensationalist images — straightforward visions of debauchery and exploitation. 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 »

Heaven knows

Is Carlos Reygadas's Silent Light a holy light?
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johnny@sfbg.com

In the virtuoso first and last shots of Silent Light, director Carlos Reygadas has the audience seeing stars. At first it's difficult to tell that you're staring at the nighttime sky: those glimmering lights could be electric. But once the camera completes its initial 180-degree acrobat maneuver and begins to creep over a rural landscape, it's apparent that Reygadas's vision is stratospheric. Read more »

Birth of a sensation

Ellen Page and Juno
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Unplanned pregnancy is so stylish these days. As Waitress, Knocked Up, and now Juno have demonstrated, we've come a long way since a downtrodden Madonna informed Danny Aiello of her delicate condition in the "Papa Don't Preach" video (1986). Of course, Juno is the only film among 2007's baby-on-board crew to seriously consider abortion and settle on adoption; it's also the most sympathetic to its female protagonist, who is thankfully more relatable than Keri Russell's small-town pie chef or Katherine Heigl's impossibly hot TV reporter. Read more »

Cinema critiques sinophilia

The videos of Ellen Zweig
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Just as the serious-minded traveler to a foreign land sacrifices certainty and ease of understanding to derive fresh insight, viewers of Ellen Zweig's video works must jettison their expectation of narrative in order to embrace Zweig's fragmentation — its disorientation and truthfulness. Her interwoven snippets of interview, performance, and language are decontextualized in a way that is apropos of her thematic consideration of how Westerners construct, imagine, and experience China and Chinese-ness from a distance. 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 »

Eaux d'Anger

A kinder, gentler DVD magus leads a magic-lantern tour
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johnny@sfbg.com

Whither Kenneth Anger? Has his signature hot temper withered into kind, grandfatherly wisdom? If the commentary tracks of the marvelous Films of Kenneth Anger Volume One and Films of Kenneth Anger Volume Two (Fantoma) are to be trusted, this is the case. But one can't be faulted for suspecting that Anger has consciously decided to favor restraint over verbal fireworks when discussing his films. Read more »

Talk talk

Beneath the mumbling lies the roiling core of Hannah Takes the Stairs
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"I don't like things that are about what they are."

The title character of Hannah Takes the Stairs says this to a coworker. The quip, though, constitutes something of a wink from the film's director, Joe Swanberg, a leading light of a group of loose-knit DIY filmmakers regrettably known by the mumblecore moniker. 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 »

All about Bob

Todd Haynes dives deep into Dylan with I'm Not There
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cheryl@sfbg.com

It's not that I'm anti–Bob Dylan. I've just never been a fan in particular. I'm too young or too fond of metal or too shallow or some combination of the three. But I found I'm Not There — Todd Haynes's sorta biopic of the icon — entirely fascinating. By now you've heard the pitch: six actors (Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Marcus Carl Franklin, Richard Gere, Heath Ledger, and Ben Whishaw) play facets of Dylan without actually playing Dylan, though Bale and Blanchett come dangerously close. Read more »