Erik Morse

Pure war

YEAR IN FILM: The year hyperreal cinema of the combat zone replaced pedestrian politicking

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YEAR IN FILM As the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq nears its second decade, the question of its influence on modern American cinema has been redoubled by this year's sampling of seminal combat films. Not only were Quentin Tarantino's epical Inglourious Basterds and Kathryn Bigelow's anti-epic The Hurt Locker two of the best releases of 2009, they represented a startling mutation in the zeitgeist's popular narratives of geopolitics, absenting the requisite leitmotifs of nationalism, ethic, and archive. Read more »

Peeping Tomás

Pedro Almodóvar turns himself inside out with Broken Embraces
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Pedro Almodóvar has always dabbled in the Hitchcockian tropes of uxoricide, betrayal, and double-identity, but with Broken Embraces he has attained a polyglot, if slightly mimicking, fluency with the language of Hollywood noir. A story within a story and a movie within a movie, Embraces begins in the present day with middle-aged Catalan Harry Caine (Lluís Homar), a blind screenwriter who takes time between his successful writing career to seduce and bed young women sympathetic to his disability. Read more »

Clean freak

Good help is hard to find (and keep) in The Maid
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Chilean writer-director Sebastián Silva's newest "house" film, The Maid, swaps customary debates of bedroom politics for the upstairs/downstairs relations of domestic labor. In an upper-middle class subdivision of Santiago, 40-year-old maid Raquel (Catalina Saavedra), perpetually stony and indignant, operates a rigorous dawn-to-dusk routine for the Valdez family, her employers for 20 years. Although Raquel rarely behaves as an intimate of her longtime hosts, she remains convinced that love, not labor, bonds them. Read more »

Domestic disturbances

Mill Valley Film Festival picks uncover mysteries of the home front
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arts@sfbg.com

FILM "Some of our most exquisite murders have been domestic, performed with tenderness in simple, homey places like the kitchen table," Alfred Hitchcock observed.

While Hitch was the doyen of everyday suspense — capturing the foreboding whistle of a boiling kettle or the pendulous noose formed by a necktie — his vision of the violent-domestic was hardly singular. Read more »

Next-door horror

Catherine Deneuve holds the line with a re-release of Polanski's Repulsion
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CULT DVD As the first, and likely most underrated, film in Roman Polanski's so-called apartment trilogy, Repulsion (1965) has often been judged by critics as a nascent work of distaff psychodrama that would achieve greater heights in the satanic majesty of Rosemary's Baby (1968). Read more »

Bare life

Downloading Nancy interrogates sacrifice in the hyperdigital zeitgeist
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a&eletters@sfbg.com

In one of the many oblique exchanges between potential suicide Nancy Stockwell (Maria Bello) and her killer-cum-suitor Louis Farley (Jason Patric), the sadist asks his victim how she imagines death. Staring at a nearby aquarium teeming with wandering fish, Stockwell gleefully responds that death is a release — like one of them, you can breathe underwater. Read more »

Revanche

Transforming from an urban neo-noir to a village morality play and a bedroom character study
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REVIEW In the sex industry of Vienna, small-time criminal Alex (Johannes Krisch) has dreams of escape for himself and his Ukrainian prostitute girlfriend, Tamara (Irina Potapenko). With a ski mask and an unloaded pistol, the miscreant schlemiel allows Tamara to accompany him during the commission of a robbery, and disastrous consequences ultimately transpire. After Alex and Tamara cross paths with young policeman Robert (Andreas Lust), his seemingly idyllic small-town life is also upended by the confrontation. Read more »

The accidental tourist

Jim Jarmusch journeys through The Limits of Control
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a&eletters@sfbg.com

Using dystopian prophet William Burroughs' landmark essay The Limits of Control as his titular and narrative starting point, auteur Jim Jarmusch meditates on language and travel in his latest cinematic offering. Read more »

The life aquatic

A bevy of seaworthy DVDs bubble up
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SEAWORTHY DVDS If France's Georges Méliès is known as the first astronomer of cinema, then overlooked director Jean Painlevé might be considered its first aquanaut. The son of French prime minister and mathematician Paul Painlevé, Jean grew up amid the progressive decadence of the Parisian Belle Époque and sowed his anarchist seeds in the bloody aftermath of the Great War of 1914. Read more »

Everyday wisdom

Examined Life brings theory to the streets
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Taking her cue from the oft-cited Socratic proscription that "the unexamined life is not worth living," Winnipeg-born director Astra Taylor returns from the success of her 2005 documentary Žižek! to offer a Lyceum of pontificating sophists. Read more »