Film Review

Girls and monsters

Pan's Labyrinth is almost as fantastic as it is fantastical
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johnny@sfbg.com

Impish skittering insect fairies, horned Jean Cocteau–<\d>spawned romantic beasts, lascivious frogs that make Jabba the Hutt seem schooled by Jenny Craig, and murderous monsters with hands on their eyes — no doubt about it, the baroque and neo-Raphaelite splendor (or Splenda, since it's largely CGI-based) of Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth leaves the majority of 2006's unimpressive prestige movies looking drab and mechanical. Read more »

HUDSON RIVER

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Do you know where you're going to — have you ever seen Mahogany? What am I showing you? Well, for a start, that the facsimile of the Motown story presented by Dreamgirls is phony with a capital P. By the time Berry Gordy and Diana Ross reached their particular shared impasse on the road from Motown to Hollywood fantasyland, she was almost fatally eager to fold a twiglike body into the two-dimensional shallowness of fashion. Read more »

The Architect

Well-built, but hollow
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REVIEW Writer-director Matt Tauber has clearly taken his debut movie's title to heart. Each streamlined scene has been carefully laid out to maximize character and plot development, seemingly creating the beginnings of a rich, thoughtful film. The strong cast — led by Anthony LaPaglia, Isabella Rossellini, and Viola Davis — provides ample reason to remain hopeful. Tauber, with playwright and coscreenwriter David Greig, gives us a movie full of multifaceted characters, but as the plot progresses, these characters seem increasingly stereotypical and each facet feels calculated. Read more »

Yule be sorry!

Snoozing through The Holiday
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There's a reason Kate Winslet has four Oscar nominations. Even in a film as fake-snow fluffy as The Holiday, she's able to imbue her character, lovesick Londoner Iris, with pathos and dignity. Read more »

Songs of devotion

Nathaniel Dorsky finds alchemy in the dark during the light age
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Accessible to anyone who might be interested in a deeper understanding of his or her own senses, Nathaniel Dorsky’s book, Devotional Cinema (Tuumba Press), explores the physical properties we share with the film medium. Within the book, Dorsky draws upon films by Roberto Rossellini, Carl Theodor Dreyer, Yasujuro Ozu, and others to illustrate his insights on filmic language. Read more »

IN THE RED

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It's being released to coincide with World AIDS Day, but Thom Fitzgerald's 3 Needles isn't so much about AIDS as it is blood — human hemoglobin seems to pour from every frame. Part Holy Communion, part arsenic-laced Syrah, it's constantly being wielded by the film’s characters as a weapon in their desperate struggles to survive both the disease and its political and social ramifications.
The movie's sweeping triptych of stories spans three continents. Read more »

Mexico City, mi amor

Julián Hernández charts a broken sky — and the streets below it
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johnny@sfbg.com
If you live in the city and you've been blessed, you've had the experience of meeting a lover on a favorite street corner, in an open square, or by a favorite vista or shadowy and partially hidden place. The opening scenes of Julián Hernández's Broken Sky tap precisely into this hide-and-seek game for grown-ups — and the heightened expectations and disappointments it can create. Plaintive college student Gerardo (Miguel Ángel Hoppe) has the rare type of exaggeratedly masculine-feminine features — eyes wide and almost crossed — that are made for melodrama. Read more »

Fast Food Nation

Spit on your burger's the least of your worries
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Book lovers always lament movie adaptations: they rarely deliver. But Fast Food Nation, like a swift injection of growth hormone, adds flesh and character to the very real problems of where America's food comes from and the different ways it's absolutely mishandled. Read more »

For Your Consideration

For your critical devastation
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People like Christopher Guest's improv-based comedies — This Is Spinal Tap, Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show, A Mighty Wind — in a peculiarly self-satisfied way, confident that enjoying them means they’re in on a sophisticated joke that the ordinary Adam Sandler–liking rabble don’t get. Yet for all their small joys, Guest's films make me wish they had big ones — bigger laughs, sharper satire, more narrative drive. The actors automatically raise a smile because we've loved them so many times before. But are they the best judges of their material? Read more »