Film Review

The slither king

Snakes on a Plane wrangler Jules Sylvester sssspeaks!
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cheryl@sfbg.com
Meet the individual who just may be the coolest cat in America right now — snake handler Jules Sylvester, the guy responsible for charming winning performances out of Samuel L. Jackson's fork-tongue costars in Snakes on a Plane. Read more »

LIFE IS SHORT

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In its almost 27 minutes, Samantha Reynolds's Back to Life doesn't break down the history of taxidermy, but it does prod, stumble, and finesse its way into some memorably off-kilter portraiture, not to mention insight about mortality. Her decision to be on camera initially might seem amateurish (especially after the movie's opening animation), but as a surrogate viewer, she achieves an uncomfortable intimacy with her subjects. And her subjects are something else. Read more »

Fifteen, minute

Quinceañera celebrates details that summer blockbusters miss
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The sweet 16 has nothing on your average quinceañera, a celebration of reaching womanhood at age 15 that has roots in ancient Aztec civilization and is a tradition still very much alive throughout the Americas. Read more »

Found in translation

John Byrum revisits The Razor's Edge and Bill Murray's dramatic debut
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In early ’80s Hollywood, director John Byrum set about making a film set in ’20s Paris. Coming down from the nouveau bohemian high of filming 1980's Heart Beat, a film based on Carolyn Cassidy's accounts of Jack Kerouac, Byrum was fully prepared to tickle the underbelly of the poetic avant-garde. He aimed to do so through a film version of W. Somerset Maugham's The Razor's Edge.
The Razor's Edge tells the story of Larry Darrell, a young American who has just returned from war and decided to loaf around Paris to find the meaning of his life. Read more »

To hell with the world

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One question that has swirled around Oliver Stone's World Trade Center is whether it is too soon to make a film about the WTC attacks. Survivors have compared their experiences to Bruce Willis movies, The Planet of the Apes, and The Towering Inferno, and the rest of us only ever experienced the event as representation anyway — is it too soon to turn a disaster film into a disaster film? Read more »

Stone's throw

Should a movie called World Trade Center have a happy ending?
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cheryl@sfbg.com
Still several entries short of being its own disaster-movie subgenre, the miniwave of Sept. 11 cinema continues with Oliver Stone's World Trade Center. Scrubbed of any JFK-style theorizing, Stone's respectful take on the tragedy focuses on a pair of Port Authority Police Department officers who were pulled alive from the Twin Towers rubble 12 hours after the buildings collapsed.
The film's tagline promises "a true story of courage and survival," and indeed World Trade Center goes for the uplift-amid-tragedy jugular. Read more »

Swordplay time

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The tug in the 2003 girl samurai flick Azumi between that J-cult of kawaii, cute — as embodied by the button-nosed, bee-stung-lipped assassin Aya Ueto, who resembles a pert Japanese version of Jessica Alba — and the particularly cutthroat scenario fueling the manga-based, CGI-ridden film make it the perfect pop vehicle for director Ryuhei Kitamura. His mission: drag the Japanese swordplay genre into the 21st century if it kills him — and leaves him choking on his own blood in the most mangled yet decorative way possible. Read more »

A flickering light

Frank Borzage: modest master of melodrama and more
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Acclaim is often decreed as much by fashion as by accomplishment. While Frank Borzage spent four decades as a well-paid Hollywood director and was honored with two Oscars, his talent wasn't — and still isn't — fashionable. In his hundred or so features, he routinely elevated or rescued contrived material. Typed as a director of romances and melodramas, he made myriad movies that were phony in concept — but never in their treatment.
Indeed, purity was often his subject, transcendence a running theme. Read more »

Royal Fleischer

The journeyman director makes a killing at 10 Rillington Place
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Ever since somebody figured out that movies were, indeed, an art form, directors have been viewed as lone authors, or at least queen bees imperially orchestrating the efforts of mostly faceless subordinate collaborators. This is a flattering view, and sometimes a fairly accurate one. But they don't call it the film industry — as opposed to, say, the film canvas — for nothing. Most employable directors are worker drones who just get the job done. Any job. Read more »

SEE YOU TOMORROW, GOD WILLING

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Last year I put the Uruguayan movie Whisky on my top-10 list and voted for it and its lead actress, Mirella Pascual, in many film polls, including Film Comment's and the Village Voice's. With impeccable precision, Juan Pablo Rebella and Pablo Stoll's sophomore feature sets a dedicated romantic next to a depressive's withered and miserly soul (in understated yet glossy color — so many gorgeous royal blues). Read more »