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Friday, May 15, 2015

New on Video: Total Testosteronation in Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man

Posted By on Fri, May 15, 2015 at 2:00 PM

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There's no small amount of debate among the sort of people who debate these things as to when the "1980s Action Movie" genre ended. Most point to Tango & Cash, which was released in December 1989 and thus certainly fits with a strict calendar-based definition, but I gotta go with Simon Wincer's 1991 Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man which Shout! Factory is releasing on a mostly bare-bones Blu-ray on May 19 — as the genre's true gasp. Mind you, would I never go with Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man, because it's one of those kinds of movies where you just know all the characters smell like boy-sweat and beer farts. And that does appeal to some people. You know who you are.

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Wednesday, May 13, 2015

New on Video: Apoidea Adventures in Maya the Bee Movie

Posted By on Wed, May 13, 2015 at 9:00 AM

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Hooray for definite articles! Well, for us schlubs who only speak English, hooray for our only definite article: the. Perhaps owing to its provenance from German children's literature, Alexs Stadermann's Maya the Bee Movie — which, hot on the heels of a limited theatrical run, Shout! Factory is releasing in a Blu-ray / DVD combo pack on May 19 — is one definite article short.

I'm sure there was a good reason that they landed on simply Maya the Bee Movie as the English title, rather than The Maya the Bee Movie or Maya the Bee: The Movie, but I haven't the foggiest idea what it might be. I don't speak German, but it looks to me like its original title, Die Biene Maja - Der Kinofilm, has the proper number of definite articles. Talk about making your grammatical trains run on time, huh?

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Tuesday, May 12, 2015

New on Video: Manic Midler in The Rose

Posted By on Tue, May 12, 2015 at 8:00 AM

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I've never been quite sure what "melodrama" is, particularly compared to drama-drama. I've noticed that it's mostly used as a pejorative, a way to insult a person or piece of art which shows genuine feelings, to dismiss them as melodramatic. Big emotions are scary, and as a whole, we'd rather not deal with them, preferring instead to shame them into submission.

There are some pretty damn big emotions in Bette Midler's first starring role, Mark Rydell's 1979 The Rose, which the Criterion Collection is releasing on Blu-ray May 19. And they don't shy away from the m-word, calling it "a sensitively drawn and emotionally overwhelming melodrama."

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Tuesday, May 5, 2015

New on Video: All-Too-Familiar Aliens in Extraterrestrial

Posted By on Tue, May 5, 2015 at 5:32 PM

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Sibling pairs are all the rage in director's chair(s) these days, but I automatically distrust those teams that use badass-sounding adjectives rather than their actual surnames. For example, Jen and Sylvia Soska, directors of American Mary, bill themselves as the Twisted Twins, and they are in fact twin sisters, so they have that going for them.

On the other hand, the Vicious Brothers, directors of Extraterrestrial — which Shout! Factory is releasing on Blu-ray on May 12 — are not brothers. They're a couple of guys named Stuart Ortiz and Colin Minihan, which I'm sure we all agree is less evocative-sounding than the Vicious Brothers. But does their work live up to their name?

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Monday, May 4, 2015

Best of SFIFF: Douglas Trumbull's State of Cinema Address

Posted By on Mon, May 4, 2015 at 4:00 PM

click image SAN FRANCISCO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL.
  • San Francisco International Film Festival.


On Sunday, May 3, Douglas Trumbull gave the mostly-annual State of Cinema Address at this year's San Francisco International Film Festival. I say "mostly" because there wasn't one last year, for whatever reason; perhaps it's because everyone was still recovering from Steven Soderbergh's now-legendary 2013 speech in which he solidly eviscerated the studio system. Trumbull played a couple clips from Soderbergh's speech (the entirety of which you can read or watch at your leisure, and you should), but this year's speech went in a different, more gloriously gear-headed direction.

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Thursday, April 30, 2015

Nerding Out With Star Wars: Armada

Posted By on Thu, Apr 30, 2015 at 4:00 PM

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The Star Wars Episode VII trailer that had us all mesmerized the other day showed — among many other things — how technology has given the space opera its connective tissue. In the both trilogies, there are battles among starships in deep space and there are scenes set on the ground, at human scale, but there comparatively few dogfights over a planet’s surface. (The AT-AT scene in The Empire Strikes Back is a notable exception.)

But the shots of the Millennium Falcon over Tattooine, in both of the trailers released so far, reflect a nimbleness and intensity to the battle scenes that simply wasn’t possible when Industrial Light & Magic was forced to rely on scale models alone. There are risks to this liberating approach, of course. One major weakness of Star Trek Into Darkness was how the Enterprise became much, much larger than it had ever been depicted (and could go below the surface of a planet’s ocean without breaking apart).

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Monday, April 27, 2015

New on Video: Motorized Mayhem in Mad Max

Posted By on Mon, Apr 27, 2015 at 4:01 PM

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Let's get this out of the way: Mel Gibson is a horrible person. Nobody's disputing that. (Okay, Federale might.) Heaven knows Gibson doesn't like my people, judging from his vision of Satan in The Passion of the Christ.

During the height of the Gibson meltdown a few years back, a lefty-blowhard acquaintance of mine declared that he would never watch a Mel Gibson movie again, and more important, that nobody else should, either. I've always resented being told what I should and should not watch, which is why I eventually scheduled a Mel Gibson month at Bad Movie Night at The Dark Room. It's also not fair to hold his inherent horribleness against the movies he was in, particularly super-early films like George Miller's 1979 Mad Max, which Shout! Factory is releasing on Blu-ray on May 5.


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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

New on Video: Sun-Drenched Psychopathy in Miami Blues

Posted By on Wed, Apr 22, 2015 at 2:00 PM

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Although I never got very good grades in their classes, I always became friends with my English teachers, especially one Mr. Roesch in my sophomore and junior years in the late 1980s. I still can't diagram a sentence to save my life, but even then I could compose them well enough, and he respected me on that level. We were also both big fans of The Who, and he lent me his vinyl copy of Keith Moon's solo album Two Sides of the Moon, though he made me promise to keep it hidden from the other students because of the rather rude picture on the back. He trusted me in a way that he didn't trust any of the other students. (I was hella popular, as you can imagine.)

Mr. Roesch also turned me on to the work of the then-recently deceased novelist Charles Willeford, especially his personal favorite, Miami Blues. I loved it, and I also greatly dug the movie version, directed by George Armitage, that came out around the same time, and which Shout! Factory is releasing on Blu-ray on April 28. But it's good stuff even if you don't associate it with your few pleasant memories of high school.


In the film, Junior (Alec Baldwin) is a psychopath who moves to Miami and begins impersonating a cop as a means of continuing his criminal shenanigans. He develops a relationship with a dim-but-sweet prostitute Susie (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who dreams of going straight, all while being pursued by Hoke Moseley (Fred Ward), a denture wearer and real cop.

Though Hoke is officially the protagonist, and he would go on to be the hero of three more of Willeford's books, the heart of the film is the relationship between Junior and Susie. It helps that Baldwin and Leigh are both at the top of their game, and judging from their reflections on the film in the bonus features, they both look back on it fondly. It should be noted that Baldwin, shot in his New York home, appears to have just rolled out of bed, and gives approximately zero fucks about his appearance. (He does acknowledge how much prettier he was back in the day.)

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Leigh, meanwhile, is looking wonderful as always, and is sitting in front of her movie shelf. Sadly, she does not take on a tour of her collection.

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Baldwin speaks glowingly of Leigh as an actress, and says that at the time the film was made, she was respected on a level similar to that of Julianne Moore now. Which raises a question that's bothered me for years: Why the hell isn't Jennifer Jason Leigh a bigger star, or at least a more praised one? She's never stopped working, and she should be far more in-demand than she is. Seriously, Hollywood, get it together. The Moore comparison especially stings, considering that Leigh is two years younger.

Baldwin also makes an interesting observation about the placement of Miami Blues in the Jonathan Demme firmament. Demme produced it, and it had essentially the same production team as his films from around that same period — including the overpraised and transphobic Silence of the Lambs — and Baldwin ruminates on how Junior is one of the many "deviant heterosexual men" in Demme's films, where the women are the often the strongest characters.

It's especially interesting to revisit Miami Blues now that Justified, based on the work of Elmore Leonard, has completed its six-season run. Leonard wrote an introduction for the 2004 reprint Willeford's novel, and while Hoke Moseley and Leonard's Raylan Givens are very different kinds of characters, they do both exist in a world of excellent, Miami-centered crime fiction. Both Leonard and Willeford have passed away, and I neither read nor write fan fiction, but if someone were to bring Hoke and Raylan together, I'd be all over it.
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Thursday, April 16, 2015

New on Video: Garage-Sale Gremlins in Ghoulies and Ghoulies II

Posted By on Thu, Apr 16, 2015 at 4:00 PM

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Oh, the Ghoulies franchise, such as it is. I'm not going to say that it's gone down the memory hole — especially because that would make it sound like I'm referencing the toilets featured prominently on the posters and I'm really not doing that at all — but it isn't spoken of fondly these days, either. Indeed, as tiny-creatures-on-the-loose movies go, I would argue that the cult around Troll 2 has largely overshadowed whatever impact Ghoulies might have had. Heck, the Critters franchise managed to pump out four movies, and Hobgoblins went on to become one of the best episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000.

The fact that Shout! Factory is releasing both films on a single-disc Blu-ray on April 21 may revive the fortunes of Ghoulies, but let's face it, it probably won't.

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Watch This: Don Hertzfeldt's Heartbreaking Short Film World of Tomorrow

Posted By on Thu, Apr 16, 2015 at 2:00 PM

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It's been racking up the accolades at Sundance, SXSW, and other film festivals of lesser juice, and for good reason: now available for a 30-day rental on Vimeo, Don Hertzfeldt's animated short World of Tomorrow is the best 16 minutes, and $3.99, you're going to spend this week.



You've probably seen Hertzfeldt's work without realizing it, and if you've spent any time on the internet over the past decade, this image from his short film Rejected may look familiar:

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World of Tomorrow, Hertzfeldt's first digital work, operates on a far subtler level in spite of its sci-fi premise: a four year-old named Emily (Winona Mae) is visited by a third-generation clone of herself from the future (Julia Pott), who explains to her toddler-ancestor what the future holds for herself and humanity.

I can't really explain more without giving the surprises away, but suffice to say in a quarter of an hour, Hertzfeldt's says more about aging, memory, and the meaning of life than most movies can accomplish in two or three. It also features some of the biggest emotional gut-punches I've felt from a movie in recent memory.

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If $3.99 seems like a lot for 16-minute cartoon, keep in mind that it's directly benefiting the artist, it's a 30-day rental that you'll probably watch more than once (I certainly have), and quite frankly, it's a bargain compared to some other streaming video prices out there: $2.99 for the 1927 Jazz Singer on YouTube? I mean, seriously, Warner VOD? I don't deny that it's a historically significant film, but even as 88-year-old movies go, it's just not very good — Kino Lorber charging the same amount for that same year's Metropolis is far more valid — and Al Jolson's ego sure as heck ain't worth three bucks in 2015, especially when it's available for free at libraries all over the world. But I digress.

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With its dynamic between two women of very different ages, World of Tomorrow would actually make a swell companion piece with this week's best live-action film, Clouds of Sils Maria. And if Tomorrow doesn't get nominated for Best Animated Short Film, I hope that the same people who got so up in arms about the perceived snub of The Lego Movie this year to will get similarly worked up, but they probably wouldn't feel a similar sense of outrage; many of them may not even bother to watch it, because this is just heartfelt girls' stuff. If so, it's their loss. And if you're hankering it to see World of Tomorrow on the big screen as well, and you ought to be, it's also playing in the Shorts 3: Animation program at the San Francisco International Film Festival on Saturday, April 25 and Sunday, May 3.


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  • clipping at Brava Theater Sept. 11
    Sub Pop recording artists 'clipping.' brought their brand of noise-driven experimental hip hop to the closing night of 2016's San Francisco Electronic Music Fest this past Sunday. The packed Brava Theater hosted an initially seated crowd that ended the night jumping and dancing against the front of the stage. The trio performed a set focused on their recently released Sci-Fi Horror concept album, 'Splendor & Misery', then delved into their dancier and more aggressive back catalogue, and recent single 'Wriggle'. Opening performances included local experimental electronic duo 'Tujurikkuja' and computer music artist 'Madalyn Merkey.'"