Film Features

Sweet and lowdown

The timeless tenderness of Charles Burnett's Killer of Sheep
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Scattered throughout Charles Burnett's Killer of Sheep are shots in which the camera recedes from the street action — kids throwing rocks, blundering thugs stealing a television — to the yearning treble of the blues-spiritual soundtrack. Read more »

Magic stars

A journey through the looking glass with Lawrence Jordan
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"When we use magical in a positive sense," filmmaker Lawrence Jordan explains, parsing an adjective that is frequently brought up in discussions of his work, "it really means my eye is fresh at this moment and what I'm seeing is a discovery." Jordan's films — in particular, the animated collages composed of Victorian magazine illustrations, Gustave Doré engravings, and flashing stars and orbs for which he is most famous — are the visual records of such moments of discovery.

The more than 40 experimental short (as Read more »

Watered down

The Carver-carving Jindabyne comes close, but it's no Lantana
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I've read more than once that Raymond Carver stories are short and laconic by artistic necessity. Some critics are invoking this dogma in writing of Ray Lawrence's new movie, Jindabyne, and the story it's based on, "So Much Water So Close to Home" (also used as a thread in Robert Altman's Carver buffet Short Cuts). This is, at least where "So Much Water" is concerned, horse puckey. Read more »

It's a mad, mad about Mads world

Hunky actor helps Adam's Apples
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Mads Mikkelsen has excessively high cheekbones on very long, flat facial planes, making him the kind of handsome actor suited for morally untrustworthy roles. Hence his casting as a charismatic antihero in the violent Pusher series (sort of Denmark's big-screen Sopranos) and as the villain who inflicts improbably impermanent damage to chairbound James Bond's weenus in 2006's Casino Royale. Read more »

Stalk tips

Andrea Arnold's stellar film "Red Road" scrutinizes grief and reconciliation
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Nothing is what it seems in Red Road, a wonderfully restrained thriller that marks the feature debut of British writer-director Andrea Arnold. Jackie (a fierce Kate Dickie) works as a surveillance camera operator, studying closed-circuit feeds streaming from Glasgow's streets. Her life is mysterious without being spectacular; for one thing, she lives alone but wears a wedding ring. Clearly, she's had a tragic past, and her present is haunted by the specter of unfinished business - but what, exactly? Read more »

Cerebral vortex

The Guy Maddin brand always guaranteed to be demented
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Guy Maddin, that demented dealer in antiquities responsible for such cinematic curiosities as The Saddest Music in the World and the much-loved short The Heart of the World, has a new film showing at the Castro Theatre as part of the San Francisco International Film Festival. The semiautobiographical Brand upon the Brain! - a silent quasi-horror film about an orphanage that harvests life-giving brain juice from its wards - will be accompanied by a live orchestra, Foley artists, a castrato, and narration by local star Joan Chen. Read more »

Full of Zizek

"The Pervert's Guide to Cinema" -- an appreciation
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Despite Sigmund Freud's strong distrust of cinema ("I do not consider it possible to represent our abstractions graphically in any respectable manner," he firmly wrote in a letter to an inquiring film producer), Freudian psychoanalytic theory - primarily as reread by the French analyst Jacques Lacan - has come to form the bedrock of much academic film criticism and theory since the 1960s. Read more »

Ponder or ignore? Enjoy

Choice words about image culture as the SF International Film Festival hits 50
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The oldest film festival in the United States and Canada, the San Francisco International Film Festival reaches its golden anniversary this year. That's half a century of bringing movies from all over the world to one area of America that doesn't assume America is the world.

At this moment a solo videomaker has to kill at least a few dozen people to storm the multinational media palace. Yeah, this thought crashes the SFIFF's party. But it adds context to the fest's contents. Read more »

Cinema brut

Better than sex, worse than violence: a critical survey of new French extremism at the 50th SF film fest
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Early on in A Parting Shot, Isild Le Besco's character curls up at a bar, crowded by two leering men ordering her the hard liquor with which she courts abnegation. Read more »

Otar, Otar, how does your "Garden" grow?

A rare cinematic treat
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The San Francisco International Film Festival is offering a rare treat this year with its presentation of Otar Iosseliani's latest film, Gardens in Autumn, and Julie Bertuccelli's documentary about Iosseliani, Otar Iosseliani, The Whistling Blackbird. Read more »