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“I Origins”: a pseudo-science fiction film that actually gets how scientists operate
Film Reviews / Recommended

“I Origins”: a pseudo-science fiction film that actually gets how scientists operate

Most films that tackle something somewhat scientific take on scientific advisors to make sure they get things right. It’s often a job reserved for prestigious scientists: Carolyn Porco, for instance, who runs the JPL lab, was the advisor for J.J. Abraams’s first “Star Trek” film. Given the absence of good science in most movies, including that one, I can only assume that filmmakers don’t listen too much to their scientific advisors. On the other hand, we rarely see characters who act and talk like scientists – David Auburn’s “Proof”, about mathematicians, is one of the rare exceptions – in part, I would guess, because most filmmakers don’t start out by getting a STEM degree, like Shane Carruth (“Primer”) did.

Then there’s Mike Cahill. His sophomore film, “I Origins,” about a PhD student and biologist, Ian (Michael Pitt), who studies the evolution of the human eye, is constantly engaging with the scientific method. It also accurately depicts how scientists behave in their natural habitat. These are not the lab-coat wearing cliches you’re used to, but people who play with words (naming their specimens “P for Pneumonia”), discuss their experiments, and move around a science lab the way scientists do. You know Cahill’s onto something when Ian explains to Karen (Brit Marling), the new rotating first year PhD student in his lab, that her duties involve doing “very boring, very repetitive experiments. Your job is to be a glorified notetaker and not ask me why every five minutes.” When she says something clever, he does a double take, in response to which she quips, “I know, as a first year, it’s shocking I can even put together a sentence.” Yeah, this is how the hierarchy works in academic labs. Continue reading

Review of “Into The Woods” at the SF Playhouse: the company outgrew its old home but hasn’t quite grown into its new one
Bay Area / Recommended / Theatre

Review of “Into The Woods” at the SF Playhouse: the company outgrew its old home but hasn’t quite grown into its new one

After almost a decade of selling out shows in their very intimate hole-in-the-wall theatre on Sutter Street, the San Francisco Playhouse moved to bigger and better digs on Post St two years ago. It’s allowed them to expand their audience and scope of production, but they’re also going through some growing pains. When they mounted … Continue reading

The RSC’s “Henry IV Part 1 and 2″ perfectly capture Prince Hal’s coming-of-age
Film Reviews / Theatre

The RSC’s “Henry IV Part 1 and 2″ perfectly capture Prince Hal’s coming-of-age

Taking a page out of the National Theatre Live’s playbook, the Royal Shakespeare Company has finally started broadcasting their productions to cinemas around the world, and then, unlike NTLive, making them available on DVD. Following the broadcast of Gregory Doran’s “Richard II”, the RSC has just broadcasted Doran’s productions of the next two Henriad plays. … Continue reading

“Life Itself”: After a life at the movies, Roger Ebert lives on in the movie of his life
Documentary / Film Reviews / Highly Recommended

“Life Itself”: After a life at the movies, Roger Ebert lives on in the movie of his life

I grew up watching “Siskel and Ebert and The Movies.” It was a weekly ritual in my house, helping us decide what to see that weekend. The show struck something deep, and inspired me to start writing film reviews at a very young age: I was in grade 6 and I started my own magazine. It was through their television show that Siskel and Ebert became the world’s most powerful and influential film critics.
Ebert had been working at the Chicago Sun Times part time while he pursued a PhD in English, when its film critic retired and he was appointed his successor. At the time, critics were often interchangeable: at the Chicago Tribune, they wrote under the nom de plume “Mae Tinee” (matinee). Of course, he was one of the people that changed all that, following in the footsteps of Pauline Kael: unfortunately, the debt he owes her and the degree to which he was influenced by her is not handled well in the film. Continue reading

“Obvious Child”: a sweet and funny (abortion) romantic comedy for the 21st century
Film Reviews / Highly Recommended

“Obvious Child”: a sweet and funny (abortion) romantic comedy for the 21st century

Gillian Robespierre’s very funny and sweet new comedy, “Obvious Child”, opens with Donna (Jenny Slate, real-life stand-up comic and SNL alum) doing a stand-up routine about the comic reality of having a human vagina. Among other things, she talks about what this will do to a pair of underwear over the course of the day: … Continue reading

An intriguing stranger is bad news in the entirely original “Borgman”
Film Festivals / Film Reviews / Foreign film / Highly Recommended

An intriguing stranger is bad news in the entirely original “Borgman”

A hobo and a charmer, Camiel Borgman (a restrained and compelling Jan Bijvoet) may seem sympathetic at the start of writer-director Alex van Warmerdam’s bizarre but compelling “Borgman”, but then again, Ruth Gordon seemed too lovable to be in the business of buying babies for the devil. Although “Borgman” can accurately be described as part … Continue reading

In “Ivory Tower”, Andrew Rossi delves into why the US system for financing college education is broken, but not quite deeply enough
Bay Area / Documentary / Film Reviews / Recommended

In “Ivory Tower”, Andrew Rossi delves into why the US system for financing college education is broken, but not quite deeply enough

Like its Sundance competitor “Fed Up”, which tackled rising obesity rates, Andrew Rossi’s documentary, “Ivory Tower”, takes on another major problem in American society: the rising cost of college tuition and whether it’s even worth what we’re paying for it. Both docs do a thorough job of illuminating many facets of a complex and important problem, but … Continue reading

Reviews of “Cold in July” and “Test”: an excellent pulp thriller and a disappointing historical LGBT story
Bay Area / Film Reviews / Highly Recommended / Recommended

Reviews of “Cold in July” and “Test”: an excellent pulp thriller and a disappointing historical LGBT story

Every city has a cinema where movies go to die. In San Francisco, Landmark’s Opera Plaza Cinemas takes that honour: with five tiny screens and sound so tinny your iPod earbuds would probably be an improvement, the cinema plays hosts to movies that have worn out their welcome at Landmark’s bigger screens or that were … Continue reading

Review of “We Are The Best!”: a winning and funny film about gutsy, punk-loving teenage girls
Bay Area / Film Festivals / Film Reviews / Foreign film / Highly Recommended

Review of “We Are The Best!”: a winning and funny film about gutsy, punk-loving teenage girls

The trio of girls that form a punk rock band in the uproariously funny and buoyant “We Are The Best!” are not your average movie teenagers, but they are exactly what real-life teenagers are like. They’re smart, gutsy, opinionated, and witty, and they have the ups-and-downs of real friendships. More than any other film I’ve … Continue reading