Film Review

O victory forget your underwear

Howl gives a glimpse of tumultuous times -- but is it fair to Ginsberg? Plus, an interview with actor James Franco about his leading role

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Peruvian twist

Undertow takes a modern, moving look at bisexuality
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arts@sfbg.com

FILM At first glance Undertow doesn't really seem a bona fide "great"
movie — time will tell. But it manages so many qualities seldom found together, or pulled off at all, that respect is due. It's sensuous and erotic without becoming puerile fantasy; renders remote, beach-y locations alluring without pandering postcard exoticism or turning the people who live there peasant-quaint. More impressive still, it seamlessly folds magic realism — that very literary quality — into an already well-in-progress narrative Read more »

The break-up artist

French import Heartbreaker is a not-so-guilty pleasure
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arts@sfbg.com

FILM Most countries crank out commercial features just as pandering as (if less expensively produced than) the majority of mainstream Hollywood product. Even sacrosanct art house supplier France manufactures plentiful dumb-and-dumber hits that attract little interest (unless it's remake interest) beyond nations where Frog is spoken. Read more »

Life on the "A" list

Emma Stone's easy A star turn
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FILM Take the sex out of a teen sex comedy and hone in on the heard-it-yesterday info overload of the highly social-networked '00s, and you get Easy A, a whip-smart striver looking to give a whole new definition to fast fiction. Read more »

Agony uncle

A new doc explores the spectrum of Spector

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arts@sfbg.com

FILM Alternately slavish and critical, simultaneously buying into and subtly resisting the hype, The Agony and the Ecstasy of Phil Spector is a bit like the renowned producer himself, who said this to biographer Mick Brown in 2007's Tearing Down the Wall of Sound: the Rise and Fall of Phil Spector: "I have a bipolar personality ... I have devils inside that fight me. And I'm my own worst enemy ... I would say I'm probably relatively insane."Read more »

Mellow noir

Mademoiselle Chambon offers a measured sense of scandal

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FILM Every nation's cinema has its share of memorable contributions to the narrative category of amour fou. But since the French came up with that term in the first place, we might as well grant them a certain supremacy. They definitely tend to arrive at the madness of a self-destructive love with less high melodrama (let alone misogyny) than is the U.S. norm. Read more »

Notes on a scandal

The Tillman Story traces a family's urgent search for the truth

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arts@sfbg.com

FILM To what extent is our government prepared to lie to us? Not just on a policy level, but a personal level, perverting actual instances of heroic self-sacrifice into propagandistic pablum? The answer during our prior White House administration was clearly: as far as possible, until caught.Read more »

Father knows best?

Greek import Dogtooth's freaky family values

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FILM A man, his wife, and their three children live in a country house with a swimming pool and a huge yard enclosed by a high fence. So far, so good. But the kids, who don't have names, appear to be in their 20s. They've never left the property, and they won't, Dad (Christos Stergioglou) says, until they lose a "dogtooth," at which time they'll be mature enough to deal with the terrors of the outside world. In the meantime, they're trapped in the only world they've ever known, carefully constructed by their domineering father.Read more »

Bunny business

Bustin' out and bustin' boundaries in Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist, and Rebel

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arts@sfbg.com

FILM The overlapping causes of liberating women and liberating sexuality have long been frenemies. There is no reconciling how the sexual revolution forwarded both women's independence and their exploitation as sexual objects by industries overwhelmingly focused on male desire and purchasing power. Read more »

Triad quartet

Johnnie To's gangsters add a French twist

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cheryl@sfbg.com

FILM In 2008, the Pacific Film Archive did a retrospective on prolific Hong Kong director Johnnie To, highlighted by his two best films to date: 1999's The Mission and its sorta-sequel, 2006's Exiled. Both are about hired killers going about their business — a favored To plot that allows him to explore his fascination with male bonding, particularly amid crooks who fiercely adhere to the underworld's sticky loyalty codes.Read more »