Film Features

Basehead of the class

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Low-key yet brutal, Half Nelson is exactly the kind of movie Hollywood will never make. Notably, it's entirely cliché free. There's no deliverance for Dan Dunne (Ryan Gosling), an eighth-grade teacher whose raging crack habit is steadily taking over his life. There's no real turnaround for 13-year-old Drey (Shareeka Epps), one of Dan's students who's being eyeballed for drug-delivery service by the neighborhood dealer, Frank (Anthony Mackie). Read more »

Pedro's progress

An incomplete retrospective charts Almodóvar's shift from outrage to profundity
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Poor Generalissimo Franco, not yet dead a decade before the Spanish film industry he'd so carefully censored gained its new leading tastemaker: a plump, girly homo fond of gender blur, anticlericalism, and nuclear-family meltdowns. Twenty-two years have passed since What Have I Done to Deserve This? Read more »

VIDIOT'S DELIGHT

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With the simultaneous advent of personal computers and video games on a massive scale in the early ’80s, it was unsurprising that Hollywood tried to fit all things virtual into the exploitable framework of cheesy teen comedies. The latest Midnites for Maniacs triple bill reprises three of the era's daffier such efforts.
The eccentric Heartbeeps, a major flop released in 1981, puts Andy Kaufman and Bernadette Peters in constrictingly ingenious makeup as two servant robots who run away from their factory warehouse in the brave new world of 1995. Read more »

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 »