DVD Spotlight

Reviewer: Craig Phillips
Rating (ouf of 5): *** 

In American: The Bill Hicks Story, British filmmakers Matt Harlock and Paul Thomas set out to tell the tale of the influential comedian who was underappreciated in his time and then taken from us too soon. The Texas-raised Hicks was a remarkable comic who dared tell truths in this country in a time (the 1980s and into the 90s) when a lot of Americans lived in a trance and didn't want to hear them told so bluntly--or at all. The film will probably be more of a revelation to the uninitiated than to longtime fans (such as myself), but fans of the cult comic will also find much to appreciate here.

Blog entry 06/28/2011 - 12:13pm

Reviewer: Jeffrey M. Anderson
Rating (ouf of 5): ***** 

Dashiell Hammett's hard-boiled detective The Continental Op made his fiction debut in 1929, and the more famous Sam Spade followed in 1930. Raymond Chandler followed in 1939 with the debut of Philip Marlowe. Movie versions of these were made throughout the 1940s. In 1947, another hard-boiled detective hit the scene, in a book called I, the Jury, by Mickey Spillane. Private eye Mike Hammer wasn't like the others; he was tougher, greedier, more lowdown, maybe not as bright... in a word, he was more primal. He struck a chord with readers and the Hammer books outsold their predecessors in huge amounts.

Blog entry 06/20/2011 - 4:47pm

Reviewer: Jeffrey M. Anderson
Despair  (Rating out of 5): **
I Only Want You to Love Me (Rating out of 5): ***

I love Rainer Werner Fassbinder because he lived cinema. He slept, breathed, ate, and excreted cinema. And he died for cinema. The math tells much of the story. He died at the age of 37 having completed over 40 movies and TV shows, including two lengthy mini-series and several short films. One can only guess that he was always working on something. The films I like best of his are the ones that reflect this speed and passion, the ones that feel somewhat reckless; although, in his defense, Fassbinder's films were usually quite beautifully and rigorously shot.

And thus we come to Despair, which is not one of his best. It comes from a Vladimir Nabokov novel, and the playful Tom Stoppard adapted it. That's an interesting combination, and it suggests a movie of twisted humor, but Fassbinder doesn't seem quite tuned into the structure or the precision or the absurdity of it all.

Blog entry 06/16/2011 - 1:57pm

Reviewer: James van Maanen
Rating (out of 5): * * * -1/2 (up it a half-star if you're already an Araki fan)

Be still my heart (and certain other appendages)! KABOOM is out on DVD, and a funnier, sexier, goofier, goosier good time I have not had since last year's delight, Women in Trouble. I wonder, in fact, if Kaboom's writer/director Gregg Araki sees, as do I, any similarities in the two films. Their styles are certainly different, and while Women's filmmaker Sebastian Gutierrez concentrates on the gals, the porn industry and some lesbian fun, Araki gives us gals and guys. Though he makes certain you know his main boy is at least accidentally ambi-sexual, this kid's fantasies always seem to go gay. 

What unites the two films is the state they put the viewer in by the end of the experience: a kind of joyful, giddy, beaming pleasure. Watching them is like taking a vacation, not just from life but from most other movies. They're not guilty pleasures because -- stylish, smart, and very well-written, directed and acted -- they're guilt-free. Araki is also quite transgressive.

Blog entry 05/31/2011 - 12:18pm

 Reviewer: Jeffrey M. Anderson 
Rating (out of 5): **1/2

The acclaimed Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu (Amores Perros21 GramsBabel) often outlines complex, multi-character stories with a heavy hand, and it could be argued that his serious, socially-aware tales are designed more for awards and accolades than they are for personal or artistic reasons. By contrast, Iñárritu's friends and colleagues Guillermo Del Toro and Alfonso Cuaron have tended to concentrate on more visual, personal, and intelligent genre pictures, and have received far less praise. Iñárritu's new Biutiful is dedicated to the filmmakers' father, but it doesn't feel personal so much as it feels calculated, as if the film were more concerned with the reactions of all the fathers in the audience rather than any genuine experience.

Blog entry 05/31/2011 - 11:20am

Reviewer: James Van Maanen
Rating (out of 5): ****

Back in the spring of 2002, a film from USSR-born Israeli writer/director Dover Kosashvili opened in New York City, later arriving on DVD and cable channels. Late Marriage (Hatuna Meuheret) -- an enormously sexual, smart and angry broadside against Israeli fundamentalism -- knocked the socks off a lot of us, though it may have appeared at the time that its strong and sexy leading man Lior Askenazi (Walk on Water) was the linchpin many of us remembered most. For his part, Kosashvili went on to make Matana MiShamayim (English title: Gift from Above) in 2003, which, though nominated for eleven Israeli Film Academy awards, was not much seen outside its home country.

Blog entry 05/23/2011 - 1:53pm

Reviewer: Steve Dollar
Rating (out of 5): ****

Always the sun...the torpor...endless day and endless night of salt and sea, eternity of heat, the land without succor, forever beneath the arid stars, the pyramids of salt stacked in the night without end, oh Araya...Araya.

Yes, I'm making some fun at the expense of Jose Ignacio Cabruja's somber narration of Araya. The rediscovered 1959 documentary about a desert archipelago in northeastern Venezuela, whose salt reserves have made it a hot spot for pirates, conquistadors and traders since the 16th century, draws much of its tone from this voice-over. Cabruja didn't write the script, with its hypnotic rhythms and poetic loops of language, but he definitely gives it a grave, grandiose magnetism that sounds practically self-parodic today. Yet it's also one thing that makes the film truly gripping to watch.

Blog entry 05/17/2011 - 1:21pm

Reviewer: Jeffrey M. Anderson
Rating (out of 5): ****

The documentary Henri-Georges Clouzot's Inferno made its U.S. premiere at the 2009 New York Film Festival, made some festival and arthouse rounds in 2010, and finally had a San Francisco opening in 2011. It began, ostensibly, when film archivist Serge Bromberg found himself stuck in an elevator with Henri-Georges Clouzot's widow, and she told him about the late director's ordeal shooting L'Enfer (Inferno, or Hell) in the mid-1960s. The new documentary unveils a great deal of amazing-looking footage for the first time, as well as interviewing some of the surviving players.

Blog entry 05/16/2011 - 12:19pm

 by Steve Dollar


When it was first released 25 years ago, Something Wild seemed very much a part of the zeitgeist. As "morning in America" drifted into the senile platitudes of Ronald Reagan's second term, and Top Gun and Back to the Future cleaned up at the box office, some filmmakers were reconsidering the national identity, in particular, the apple-pie verities of small towns in what might now be called Red States - aka, the Heartland.

Blog entry 05/13/2011 - 3:32pm

Reviewer: James Van Maanen
Rating (out of 5): **

Simon Rumley's Red White & Blue is a half-step up from this writer/director's earlier The Living and the Dead, a slight tale about a very odd dysfunctional family which the filmmaker buried under a bundle of repetitive visual tics and back-and-forth time trips. Rumley and his well-cast lead actor offer some interesting situations and characterization before the film's raison d'etre – a raft of unpleasant tortures/murders – begins. From what I can gather, Rumley's themes encompass everything from America's sex/drug/rock-and-roll mentality to its current mid-east wars, general state of health (pretty sick) and employment opportunities.

Blog entry 05/10/2011 - 11:23am

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