Volume 41 Number 13

December 27, 2006 – January 2, 2007

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Jan. 2


The Painted Veil

Flapperish English socialite Kitty (Naomi Watts) marries bacteriologist Walter (Edward Norton) because – well, he asked her, following a brief but fervent courtship. Once Kitty settles into the reality of being a workaholic medical researcher’s wife – based in China – she looks for diversion, as so many bored expatriate wives often do in English literature of the early 20th century: she cheats with another cheater (Liev Schreiber). Hell hath no fury like a workaholic medical researcher who discovers his wife between the sheets with a hairy American diplomat. As revenge, he drags her along on a dangerous mission of mercy: tending a cholera outbreak in a remote area far from the amenities and infidelities available in Shanghai. Based on a 1925 W. Somerset Maugham novel, John Curran’s film takes a while to warm up to. But the beautifully mounted and photographed movie opens up emotionally just like its characters do. (Dennis Harvey)

In San Francisco theaters



Don’t bother knockin’, because the yacht-rockin’ good times are sure to be had when Portland, Ore., one-man party machine Yacht meets Oakland one-man party machine Hawnay Troof.

With High Places
9:30 p.m., $6
Hemlock Tavern
1131 Polk, SF
(415) 923-0923

The P-U-litzer prizes


Competition has been fierce for the fifteenth annual P.U.-litzer Prizes. Many can plausibly lay claim to stinky media performances, but only a few can win a P.U.-litzer. As the judges for this un-coveted award, Jeff Cohen and I have deliberated with due care. (Jeff is the founder of the media watch group FAIR and author of the superb new book “Cable News Confidential: My Misadventures in Corporate Media.”)

And now, the winners of the P.U.-litzer Prizes for 2006:

“FACT-FREE TRADE” AWARD — New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman

In a press corps prone to cheer on corporate-drafted trade agreements as the key to peace and plenty in the world, no cheerleader is more fervent than Tom Friedman. During a CNBC interview with Tim Russert in July, Friedman confessed: “I was speaking out in Minnesota — my hometown, in fact — and a guy stood up in the audience, said, ‘Mr. Friedman, is there any free trade agreement you’d oppose?’ I said, ‘No, absolutely not.’ I said, ‘You know what, sir? I wrote a column supporting the CAFTA,
the Caribbean Free Trade initiative. I didn’t even know what was in it. I just knew two words: free trade.’”

(Friedman may not have read even the pact’s title; CAFTA actually stands for the Central America Free Trade Agreement.)


Soon after being hired as a CNN pundit, Bennett went on his radio talk show and offered his views on freedom of the press — and on reporters who broke stories about warrantless wiretapping and secret CIA detention sites “against the wishes of the president, against the request of the president and others.” Bennett fumed: “Are they embarrassed, are they arrested? No, they win Pulitzer Prizes. I don’t think what they did was worthy of an award — I think what they did was worthy of jail, and I think this investigation needs to go forward.”


As the movie “Brokeback Mountain” (about a relationship between two cowboys) was gaining attention and audience in January, Chris Matthews appeared on the Imus show to hail “the wonderful Michael Savage” and the talk-show host’s nickname for the movie: “Bareback Mounting.” Matthews and Savage had been MSNBC colleagues until “the wonderful” Savage was fired — after referring to an apparently gay caller as a “sodomite” and telling him to “get AIDS and die.” Now that’s hardball.


Echoing an Iraq war talking-point heard regularly on Fox News, owner Murdoch said on the eve of the November election: “The death toll, certainly of Americans there, by the terms of any previous war are quite minute.” As FAIR noted, U.S. deaths in Iraq exceed those in the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War and the Spanish-American War, not to mention the combined U.S. deaths of all this country’s other military actions since Vietnam — including Lebanon, Grenada, Panama, the first Gulf War, Somalia, Haiti, Kosovo and Afghanistan.

FRONT-PAGE PUNDIT AWARD — Reporter Michael Gordon and The New York Times

With many voters telling pollsters that they want U.S. troops to leave Iraq, the Times front-paged a post-election analysis by Michael Gordon — headlined “Get Out of Iraq Now? Not So Fast, Experts Say” — quoting three hand-picked “experts” who decried the possibility of troop withdrawal. Gordon didn’t tell readers that one of his “experts,” former CIA analyst Ken Pollack, had relentlessly promoted an Iraq invasion based on wildly false claims about an Iraqi threat. Gordon took off his reporter’s hat that night on CNN to become an unabashed advocate for his view that withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq would lead to “civil war” (as though civil war weren’t already underway).


In November, Beck — an Islamophobic host on CNN Headline News — launched into his interview with Congressman-elect Keith Ellison, a Muslim American, this way: “I have been nervous about this interview with you, because what I feel like saying is, ‘Sir, prove to me that you are not working with our enemies.’” Beck then added: “And I know you’re not. I’m not accusing you of being an enemy, but that’s the way I feel, and I think a lot of Americans will feel that way.” Is it possible that primetime bigots like CNN’s Beck have something to do with the prejudices “that a lot of Americans feel”?


One role of journalism should be to help the public learn from past government policy disasters in hopes of preventing future ones. But in a New York Times column on Oct. 2, former ABC News star Koppel wrote that Washington should tell Iran it is free to develop an atomic bomb — with a Mafia-like warning: “If a dirty bomb explodes in Milwaukee, or some other nuclear device detonates in Baltimore or Wichita, if Israel or Egypt or Saudi Arabia should fall victim to a nuclear ‘accident,’ Iran should understand that the United States government will not search around for the perpetrator. The return address will be predetermined, and it will be somewhere in Iran.” In other words, no matter what the evidence, Koppel urged our government to attack a predetermined foe, Iran. Didn’t that happen in 2003 with Iraq?

Hold your nose and prepare yourself for 2007.

Norman Solomon’s book “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death” is out in paperback. For more information, go to: www.normansolomon.com



Dec. 28


Violent Femmes

There are few bands from the last 20 years more iconic than the Violent Femmes. Their brand of acoustic punk, played with equal parts smirk and sneer, has been a staple of modern rock radio since they released their first album way back in 1983. Their songs, such as “Blister in the Sun” and “Add It Up,” are instantly recognizable. True West, a reunited 1980s psych-rock mainstay, serve as a perfect counterpoint to the Femmes, who should be glad they took that name before it was snatched up by a women’s Roller Derby team. (Aaron Sankin)

With True West
8 p.m., $27
1805 Geary, SF
(415) 346-6000


Free Moral Agents

In the game of six degrees of rock ’n’ roll separation, who would have thought there would be a connection between punk-spirited prog rockers Mars Volta and chilled-out bong loaders Long Beach Dub Allstars? Such is the case with the trip-hop jazz of Free Moral Agents, the musical brainchild of Long Beach musician Isaiah “Ikey” Owens, who is most notably the pianist with both the Mars Volta and Long Beach Dub Allstars. A far cry from the rock of the former and the jamminess of the latter, Free Moral Agents’ sound is rooted in vintage soul and experimental music of bands like Can and Neu. (Hayley Elisabeth Kaufman)

With Triclops!, Anavan, and Attractive and Popular
8:30 p.m., $10
Bottom of the Hill
1233 17th St., SF
(415) 621-4455



Dec. 27


“Collect My Thoughts”

From vibrant primaries to muted sepias, the color here is brazen, uncomfortable, and somehow impolite. Anne Faith Nicholls manages to harness the best of the worst of her pathologies into a coherent interpretation of pop art. In addition to working in acrylic on canvas, the artist alters old photographs, smearing the faces of proper Victorians with careful strokes. (K. Tighe)

Through Jan. 6, 2007
Tues.–Sat., noon–7 p.m.
Shooting Gallery
839 Larkin, SF
(415) 931-8035, www.shootinggallerysf.com


RedWine Social

DJ — and XLR8R columnist — TophOne spins jazz breaks, ’80s grooves, and electro with a host of guests and pals. (Kimberly Chun)

10 p.m.-2 a.m.
3121 16th St., SF
(415) 252-7740

New Year’s Eve ill


› kimberly@sfbg.com

SONIC REDUCER You gotta love the Bay Area, which so often sweeps in the new year with the wet, wild kiss of stormy weather. Blecch — too much tongue. Still, I succumb to the call of fun: I can’t count how many times I’ve vaulted over gushing gutters, minced down streets that have morphed into streams, danced between the raindrops, hopped between soggy cardboard sheets in backyards that have turned into miasmas of mud, and jabbed firework gawkers with the bad end of an umbrella. Outta-hand winter waterworks seem somewhat fitting for our kooky, multitentacled, many-flavored assortment of New Year’s Eve entertainment offerings. So here’s a selected guide to live sounds for all persuasions, preferences, sizes, and sicknesses (we’re not even going to go into the sans pants warehouse show) — let’s see what’s out there on the blessed night all those in the so-called biz dub "amateur night," the evening when most everyone feels compelled to get out and brave the puddles pooling around their doorsteps.


Don’t bother knockin’, because the yacht-rockin’ good times are sure to be had when Portland, Ore., one-man party machine Yacht meets Oakland one-man party machine Hawnay Troof at 21 Grand; Blevin Blectum, High Places, and Bronze tan it up too. Kid606 will be swinging from there to Rx Gallery, where he performs with French beat blurters DAT Politics, delay-pedal ditherers Lemonade, and Kontrol with Dirtybird. It’s not plus tard, ‘tards! After catching the LA band eves ago at the Make-Out Room and dancing our Khmers off, we’ve got a Dengue Fever for the flava of Cambodian garage rock — this year it’s at Rickshaw Stop (www.rickshawstop.com). The Lovemakers get busy with Honeycut at Great American Music Hall. At the Fillmore (www.ticketmaster.com), My Morning Jacket stoke the flames of Southern rock. Breakout ska punk critters the Aggrolites open for Hepcat at Slim’s (www.slims-sf.com). Harold Ray Live in Concert do unspeakable — and delightful — things to an organ at Annie’s Social Club (www.anniessocialclub.com). Balazo Gallery (www.balazogallery.com) finds Goldie faves Trainwreck Riders living it up with La Plebe. Birdmonster scare up the good times along with art-punk Boyskout at Bottom of the Hill (www.bottomofthehill.com). Crane your necks at the Stork Club (www.storkcluboakland.com) as bits of the Bobby Teens and Gravy Train!!!! come together and costume-ize for the customized Dinky Bits and the Lil Guys. Rube Waddell revamp their "Live at Leeds" — or shall we say "Sexy at Sketchers" — show at a wanton belly dancing, cabaret, and brass happening going down at Amnesia (www.amnesiathebar.com). And for those with hair that needs a band, there are LA Guns (playing with the curiosity-piquing Infamous Choke Chain) at Roosters Roadhouse, Alameda (groups.msn.com/roostersroadhouse). And why Y and T at Avalon, Santa Clara (www.nightclubavalon.com)? Y not?


Zion I, Lyrics Born, and Crown City Rockers put together the rap show to beat at the Independent (www.theindependentsf.com), striking trepidation in the hearts of bouncers with no-holds-barred rhymes and an all-night open bar (line up the Henny, honey). But don’t count the Coup out: so soon after the group’s recent bus crash, in which they lost all their belongings and several members and tourmates were injured, the Bay Area band gets back onstage alongside Les Claypool and the New Orleans Social Club at Claypool’s New Year’s Eve Hatter’s Ball at Grace Pavilion, Sonoma County Fairgrounds, Santa Rosa (www.harmonyfestival.com/nye/nye.html). Also, booty, bass, and all the b’s will be bumpin’ back when Spank Rock boomerangs to 280 Seventh Street (upcoming.org/event/134159).


Piano legend McCoy Tyner is the monster headliner at Yoshi’s (www.yoshis.com). Washing up on Anna’s Jazz Island, Berkeley (www.annasjazzisland.com), Yoruban priestess and Afro-Cuban soul stirrer Bobi Cespedes and her trio work their magic. Soul and funk trumpeter Oscar Myers blows out 2006 with Steppin’ at the Boom Boom Room (www.boomboomblues.com). Bimbo’s 365 Club (www.bimbos365club.com) wink-winks, nudge-nudges with the New Morty Show and Steve Lucky and the Rhumba Bums. Vocalist Kim McNalley urges you to party like it’s 1929 at her Jazz at Pearl’s (www.jazzatpearls.com); Jesus Diaz and his Bay Area Cuban All Stars light a fire under La Peña Cultural Center (www.lapena.org). And OK, everyone dug Eddie Murphy more in Dreamgirls — don’t x out Jamie Foxx; he attempts to fill Oracle Arena, Oakland, accompanied by Fantasia Barrino (www.ticketmaster.com).


Our favorite unfunny funnyman, Neil Hamburger (and former SF storage container dweller, or so he says), throws pop culture on the grill, sweats profusely, and jubilantly rolls around in a trough of bad taste for two shows at the Hemlock Tavern (www.hemlocktavern.com); astrology nut Harvey Sid Fisher ushers in the ‘Burger meister. Patton Oswalt blew that whiny David Cross off the stage when he opened for him at Cobb’s way back when — now the prince of King of Queens headlines two rounds on New Year’s Eve (www.cobbscomedyclub.com).

Just remember, ya can’t stop the rain. Don’t fear the reaper. Stay metal, and be sure to strap yourself in for 2007 — because judging from the way we roll, it could be a bumpy ride. *

Hi-yo Silver!


Although I would love to sit on Santa’s lap a year hence and give assurances that I had spent the previous 12 months being good — all right, being nice — I am fundamentally a realist. This means, among other things, that I no longer believe in Santa, and so there will be no lap sittings and no wish lists and probably not much nice either. Still, there are a few things I wouldn’t mind seeing in the new year.

How about more split or half-size main courses? Too many big-bruiser plates seem to be huge mainly to justify their prices or to look imposing. But nobody needs a week’s worth of calories in one course. In the same vein, I would like to see more half bottles of wine on wine lists, along with half pours of wines by the glass. Less is more!

I would like to know that the fish and other seafood on restaurant menus have been taken from sustainable wild populations in an ecologically responsible manner or farmed in such a manner. Change will come if we all start asking questions and declining to order items, such as orange roughy and shark, we know to be threatened. Saving the seas is one of the worthier causes I can think of, and since we are most of us implicated in the problem, it will take a lot of us, pulling on the same rope, to bring change. Consult the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch (www.mbayaq.org/cr/seafoodwatch.asp) and make it clear, if you see a no-no like skate or Chilean sea bass on some menu, why you won’t order it. It is possible to be respectful but firm about this, as about many other matters.

Prices. Here we have an enduring headache. Naturally, I would like them to drift down a little or at least not jump up, or at least not quite so steeply up. While New York’s $40 main course still seems a way off, the rising water hereabouts has reached the $30 level in a lot of places. It’s 1999 all over again, as Yogi Berra might say if he stood in my shoes — 1999, plus interest. The truth is that this always well-to-do little city has become a stinking rich little city; we have worshipped money and been rewarded with it, a lot of it, 30 pieces of silver and then some. Will that cover the dinner tab?

Paul Reidinger

› paulr@sfbg.com

Dine listings


Welcome to our dining listings, a detailed guide by neighborhood of some great places to grab a bite, hang out with friends, or impress the ones you love with thorough knowledge of this delectable city. Restaurants are reviewed by Paul Reidinger (PR) or staff. All area codes are 415, and all restaurants are wheelchair accessible, except where noted.

B Breakfast

BR Saturday and/or Sunday brunch

L Lunch

D Dinner

AE American Express

DC Diners Club

DISC Discover

MC MasterCard

V Visa

¢ less than $7 per entrée

$ $7–$12

$$ $13–$20

$$$ more than $20


Acme Chophouse brings Traci des Jardins’s high-end meat-and-potatoes menu right into the confines of Pac Bell Park. Good enough to be a destination, though stranguutf8g traffic is an issue on game days. (Staff) 24 Willie Mays Plaza, SF. 644-0240. American, L/D, $$, AE/DC/MC/V.

Café Claude is a hidden treasure of the city center. There is an excellent menu of traditional, discreetly citified French dishes, a youthful energy, and a romantic setting on a narrow, car-free lane reminiscent of the Marais. (PR, 10/06) 7 Claude Lane, SF. 392-3515. French, L/D, $$, AE/DC/DISC/MC/V.

Fleur de Lys gives its haute French cuisine a certain California whimsy in a setting that could be the world’s most luxurious tent. There is a vegetarian tasting menu and an extensive, remarkably pricey wine list. (PR, 2/05) 777 Sutter, SF. 673-7779. French, D, $$$, AE/DC/DISC/MC/V.

Mandarin, though a Gen Xer by birth and a longtime resident of touristy Ghirardelli Square, still offers a matchlessly elegant experience in Chinese fine dining: a surprising number of genuinely spicy dishes, superior service, and wine emphasized over beer. (PR, 9/04) 900 North Point (in Ghirardelli Square), SF. Chinese, L/D, $$, AE/DC/DISC/MC/V.

*Mijita shows that Traci des Jardins can go down-market with the best of them. The Mexican street food is convincingly lusty, but in keeping with the Ferry Building setting, it’s also made mostly with organic, high-quality ingredients. (PR, 4/05) 1 Ferry Bldg, Suite 44, SF. 399-0814. Mexican, B/L/D, ¢, AE/MC/V.

Tlaloc rises like a multistory loft on its Financial District lane, the better to accommodate the hordes of suits crowding in for a noontime burrito-and-salsa fix. They serve a mean pipián burrito and decent fish tacos. (Staff) 525 Commercial, SF. 981-7800. Mexican, L/D, ¢, AE/MC/V.

Tommy Toy’s Haute Cuisine Chinois is a cross between a steak house and The Last Emperor. The food is rich and fatty and only occasionally good. (Staff) 655 Montgomery, SF. 397-4888. Chinese, L/D, $$$, AE/DC/DISC/MC/V.


Gondola captures the varied flavors of Venice and the Veneto in charmingly low-key style. The main theme is the classic one of simplicity, while service strikes just the right balance between efficiency and warmth. (Staff) 15 Columbus, SF. 956-5528. Italian, L/D, $, MC/V.

House of Nanking never fails to garner raves from restaurant reviewers and Guardian readers alike. Chinatown ambience, great food, good prices. (Best Ofs, 1994) 919 Kearny, SF. 421-1429. Chinese, L/D, ¢.

Maykadeh Persian Cuisine is a great date restaurant, classy but not too pricey, and there are lots of veggie options both for appetizers and entrées. Khoresht bademjan was a delectable, deep red stew of tomato and eggplant with a rich, sweet, almost chocolatey undertone. (Staff) 470 Green, SF. 362-8286. Persian, L/D, $, MC/V.

Moose’s is famous for the Mooseburger, but the rest of the menu is comfortably sophisticated. The crowd is moneyed but not showy and definitely not nouveau. (Staff) 1652 Stockton, SF. 989-7800. American, BR/L/D, $$, AE/DC/MC/V.

Rose Pistola cooks it up in the style of Liguria, and that means lots of seafood, olive oil, and lemons — along with a wealth of first-rate flat breads (pizzas, focaccias, farinatas) baked in the wood-burning oven. (PR, 7/05) 532 Columbus, SF. 399-0499. Italian, L/D, $$, AE/DC/MC/V.

Washington Square Bar and Grill offers stylish Cal-Ital food at reasonable prices in a storied setting. (Staff) 1707 Powell, SF. 982-8123. Italian, $$, L/D, MC/V.


Bacar means "wine goblet," and its wine menu is extensive — and affordable. Chef Arnold Wong’s eclectic American-global food plays along nicely. (Staff) 448 Brannan, SF. 904-4100. American, D, $$, AE/MC/V.

Big Nate’s Barbecue is pretty stark inside — mostly linoleum arranged around a pair of massive brick ovens. But the hot sauce will make you sneeze. (Staff) 1665 Folsom, SF. 861-4242. Barbecue, L/D, $, MC/V.

Fly Trap Restaurant captures a bit of that old-time San Francisco feel, from the intricate plaster ceiling to the straightforward menu: celery Victor, grilled salmon filet with beurre blanc. A good lunchtime spot. (Staff) 606 Folsom, SF. 243-0580. American, L/D, $$, AE/DC/MC/V.

*Fringale still satisfies the urge to eat in true French bistro style, with Basque flourishes. The paella roll is a small masterpiece of food narrative; the frites are superior. (PR, 7/04) 570 Fourth St, SF. 543-0573. French/Basque, L/D, $$, AE/MC/V.

Hawthorne Lane remains at the top of the city’s restaurant heap after more than a decade. Bridget Batson’s modern California cuisine is first-rate, the ambience a perfection of understated elegance, and the service knowledgeable, friendly, and smooth. It is not possible to ask more from any restaurant. (PR, 9/06) 22 Hawthorne, SF. 777-9779. California, L/D, $$$, AE/DC/DISC/MC/V.

Oola gives Ola Fendert his own platform at last, and the result is a modern, golden SoMa restaurant with a menu that mixes playful opulence with local standards. (PR, 10/04) 860 Folsom, SF. 995-2061. California, D, $$, AE/MC/V.

Town Hall offers the lusty American cooking of the Rosenthal brothers in an elegantly spare New England-ish setting. There is a large communal table for seat-of-the-pants types and those who like their conviviality to have a faintly medieval air. (Staff) 342 Howard, SF. 908-3900. American, L/D, $$, AE/MC/V.


Ah Lin offers Mandarin-style Chinese cooking in an easy-to-take storefront setting on Cathedral Hill. The dishes are well behaved and tasty, with only an occasional flare-up of chile heat. The roast duck is one of the best deals in town. (PR, 10/06) 1634 Bush, SF. 922-5279. Chinese, L/D, $, AE/MC/V.

Alborz looks more like a hotel restaurant than a den of Persian cuisine, but there are flavors here — of barberry and dried lime, among others — you won’t easily find elsewhere. (Staff) 1245 Van Ness, SF. 440-4321. Persian, L/D, $, MC/V.

East Coast West Delicatessen doesn’t look like a New York deli (too much space, air, light), but the huge, fattily satisfying Reubens, platters of meat loaf, black-and-white cookies, and all the other standards compare commendably to their East Coast cousins. (Staff) 1725 Polk, SF. 563-3542. Deli, BR/L/D, $, MC/V.

La Folie could be a neighborhood spot or a destination or both, but either way or both ways it is sensational: an exercise in haute cuisine leavened with a West Coast sense of informality and playfulness. There is a full vegetarian menu and an ample selection of wines by the half bottle. (PR, 2/06) 2316 Polk, SF. 776-5577. French, D, $$$, AE/DC/DISC/MC/V.

O’Reilly’s Holy Grail, a redo of the old Maye’s Oyster House that strikes harmonious notes of chapel and lounge, serves a sophisticated and contemporary Cal-Irish menu. (PR, 10/05) 1233 Polk, SF. 928-1233. California/Irish, BR/L/D, $$, AE/DISC/MC/V.


Ananda Fuara serves a distinctly Indian-influenced vegetarian menu in the sort of calm surroundings that are increasingly the exception to the rule. (Staff) 1298 Market, SF. 621-1994. Vegetarian, L/D, ¢, cash only.

*Bodega Bistro has a certain colonial formality — much of the menu is given in French — and it does attract a tony expat crowd. The food is elegant but not fancy (lobster, rack of lamb, both simply presented); if even those are too much, look to the "Hanoi Street Cuisine" items. (PR, 11/05) 607 Larkin, SF. 921-1218. Vietnamese, L/D, $$, DC/DISC/MC/V.

Mangosteen radiates lime green good cheer from its corner perch in the Tenderloin. Inexpensive Vietnamese standards are rendered with thoughtful little touches and an emphasis on the freshest ingredients. (PR, 11/05) 601 Larkin, SF. 776-3999. Vietnamese, L/D, $, cash only.

*Saha serves "Arabic fusion cuisine" — a blend of the Middle East and California — in a cool, spare setting behind the concierge’s desk at the Hotel Carlton. One senses the imminence of young rock stars, drawn perhaps by the lovely chocolate fondue. (PR, 9/04) 1075 Sutter, SF. 345-9547. Arabic/fusion, B/BR/D, $$, AE/DISC/MC/V.


Arlequin offers light Provençal and Mediterranean food for takeout, but the best place to take your stuff is to the sunny, tranquil garden in the rear. (Staff) 384B Hayes, SF. 863-0926. Mediterranean, B/L/D, ¢, MC/V.

Canto do Brasil The draw here is lusty yeoman cooking, Brazilian style, at beguilingly low prices. The tropically cerulean interior design enhances the illusion of sitting at a beach café. (Staff) 41 Franklin, SF. 626-8727. Brazilian, L/D, $, MC/V.

Destino reweaves traditional Peruvian flavors into a tapestry of extraordinary vividness and style, and the storefront interior has been given a golden glow that would have satisfied the most restless conquistador. (Staff) 1815 Market, SF. 552-4451. Peruvian, D, $$, MC/V.

Hayes Street Grill started more than a quarter century ago as an emulation of the city’s old seafood houses, and now it’s an institution itself. The original formula — immaculate seafood simply prepared, with choice of sauce and French fries — still beats vibrantly at the heart of the menu. Service is impeccable, the setting one of relaxed grace. (PR, 7/06) 816 Folsom, SF. 863-5545. Seafood, L/D, $$$, AE/DISC/MC/V.

Sauce enjoys the services of chef Ben Paula, whose uninhibited California cooking is as easy to like as a good pop song. (PR, 5/05) 131 Gough, SF. 252-1369. California, D, $$, AE/DISC/MC/V.


Ararat Mediterranean Tapas affords the view-minded a good setting from which to scope the foot traffic at 18th Street and Castro, along with a Turkish-scented Mediterranean menu rich in small plates and some bigger ones too. The menu’s smash hits include coins of lavash-wrapped beef (a kind of Middle Eastern beef Wellington), an enslavingly good shrimp casserole, and a coil of baklava with lavender honey. (PR, 8/06) 4072 18th St, SF. 252-9325. Mediterranean/Turkish, BR/D, $, AE/MC/V.

Blue dishes up home cooking as good as any mom’s, in a downtown New York environment — of mirrors, gray-blue walls, and spotlights — that would blow most moms away. (Staff) 2337 Market, SF. 863-2583. American, BR/L/D, $, MC/V.

*Firefly remains an exemplar of the neighborhood restaurant in San Francisco: it is homey and classy, hip and friendly, serving an American menu — deftly inflected with ethnic and vegetarian touches — that’s the match of any in the city. (PR, 9/04) 4288 24th St, SF. 821-7652. American, D, $$, AE/MC/V.

Los Flamingos mingles Cuban and Mexican specialties in a relaxed, leafy, walk-oriented neighborhood setting. Lots of pink on the walls; even more starch on the plates. (PR, 11/04) 151 Noe, SF. 252-7450. Cuban/Mexican, BR/D, $, AE/DC/DISC/MC/V.

2223 could easily be a happening queer bar, what with all that male energy. But the American menu joins familiarity with high style, and the ambience is that of a great party where you’re bound to meet somebody hot. (Staff) 2223 Market, SF. 431-0692. American, BR/D, $$, AE/DC/MC/V.


*Frankie’s Bohemian Cafe has Pilsner Urquell, a Bohemian beer, on tap for a touch of Czech authenticity, but the crowd is young, exuberant, Pacific Heights, het. Follow the crowd and stick with the burgers. (PR, 2/05) 1682 Divisadero, SF. 921-4725. Czech/American, L/D, $, AE/MC/V.

Grandeho’s Kamekyo Sushi Bar Always packed, Grandeho serves up excellent sushi along with a full Japanese menu. (Staff) 943 Cole, SF. 759-5693. Japanese, L/D, $$, AE/MC/V.

Hukilau brings a dash of Big Island conviviality — and Big Island (i.e., big) portions — to a wind- and traffic-swept corner of the big city. Spam too, if you want it. (Staff) 5 Masonic, SF. 921-6242. Hawaiian/American, BR/L/D, $, MC/V.

Kate’s Kitchen dishes up the best scallion-cheese biscuits out west. The lines on the weekends can be long. (Staff) 471 Haight, SF. 626-3984. American, B/L, ¢.

Metro Cafe brings the earthy chic of Paris’s 11th arrondissement to the Lower Haight, prix fixe and all. (Staff) 311 Divisadero, SF. 552-0903. French, B/BR/L/D, $, MC/V.

New Ganges Restaurant is short on style — it is as if the upmarket revolution in vegetarian restaurants never happened — but there is a homemade freshness to the food you won’t find at many other places. (Staff) 775 Frederick, SF. 681-4355. Vegetarian/Indian, L/D, $, MC/V.

Tsunami Sushi and Sake Bar brings hip Japanese-style seafood to the already hip Café Abir complex. Skull-capped sushi chefs, hefty and innovative rolls. (Staff) 1306 Fulton, SF. 567-7664. Japanese/sushi, D, $$, AE/DC/DISC/MC/V.

Zoya takes some finding — it is in the little turret of the Days Inn Motor Lodge at Grove and Gough — but the view over the street’s treetops is bucolic, and the cooking is simple, seasonal, direct, and ingredient driven. (PR, 12/05) 465 Grove, SF. 626-9692. California, L/D, $$, AE/DC/DISC/MC/V.


Aslam’s Rasoi reinvents a gently fading curry house as a high-powered rival to Dosa, in the next block. The food is fiery and elegant, and the menu strikes a fine balance between fleshly and fleshless choices. Desserts are not bad, particularly kulfi, a house-made cardamom ice cream presented like a frozen sliced banana. (PR, 8/06) 1037 Valencia, SF. 695-0599. Indian/Pakistani, D, $$, MC/V.

Baobab Bar and Grill serves great-tasting West African specialties like couscous, fried plantains, and savory rice dishes for a reasonable price. (Staff) 3388 19th St, SF. 643-3558. African, BR/D, ¢.

Baraka takes the French-Spanish tapas concept, gives it a beguiling Moroccan accent — harissa, preserved lemons, merguez sausage — and the result is astonishingly good food. (Staff) 288 Connecticut, SF. 255-0370. Moroccan/Mediterranean, L/D, $$, AE/MC/V.

Blowfish glows red and inviting on an otherwise industrial and residential stretch of Bryant Street. Sushi — in pristine fingers of nigiri or in a half dozen inventive hand rolls — is a marvel. (Staff) 2170 Bryant, SF. 285-3848. Sushi, L/D, $, AE/DC/DISC/MC/V.

Blue Plate has a diner aura — bustle, clatter — but the Mediterranean food is stylishly flavorful. A great value. (Staff) 3218 Mission, SF. 282-6777. Mediterranean, D, $$, AE/MC/V.

Bombay Ice Cream and Chaat Stop in for some Indian chaat — cheap, delicious fast food such as samosas and curries. (Staff) 552 Valencia, SF. 431-1103. Indian takeout, L/D, ¢.

Caffe d’Melanio is the place to go if you want your pound of coffee beans roasted while you enjoy an Argentine-Italian dinner of pasta, milanesa, and chimichurri sauce. During the day the café offers a more typically Cal-American menu of better-than-average quality. First-rate coffee beans. (PR, 10/04) 1314 Ocean, SF. 333-3665. Italian/Argentine, B/L/D, $, MC/V.

Chez Papa Bistrot sits like a beret atop Potrero Hill. The food is good, the staff’s French accents authentic, the crowd a lively cross section, but the place needs a few more scuffs and quirks before it can start feeling real. (Staff) 1401 18th St, SF. 824-8210. French, BR/L/D, $$, AE/MC/V.

*Delfina has grown from a neighborhood restaurant to an event, but an expanded dining room has brought the noise under control, and as always, the food — intense variations on a theme of Tuscany — could not be better. (PR, 2/04) 3621 18th St, SF. 552-4055. California, D, $$, MC/V.

Dosa serves dosas, the south Indian crepes, along with a wealth of other, and generally quite spicy, dishes from the south of the subcontinent. The cooking tends toward a natural meatlessness; the crowds are intense, like hordes of passengers inquiring about a delayed international flight. (PR, 1/06) 995 Valencia, SF. 642-3672. South Indian, BR/D, $, AE/MC/V.

Front Porch mixes a cheerfully homey setting (with a front porch of sorts), a hipster crowd, and a Caribbean-inflected comfort menu into a distinctive urban cocktail. The best dishes, such as a white polenta porridge with crab, are Range-worthy, and nothing on the menu is much more than $10. (PR, 10/06) 65A 29th St, SF. 695-7800. American/Caribbean, BR/D, $, MC/V.

*Little Nepal assembles a wealth of sensory cues (sauna-style blond wood, brass table services) and an Indian-influenced Himalayan cuisine into a singular experience that appeals to all of Bernal Heights and beyond, including tots in their strollers. (Staff) 925 Cortland, SF. 643-3881. Nepalese, L/D, $$, AE/DC/DISC/MC/V.

Lombardo’s Fine Foods is the little café that could, in Mission Terrace. The menu is heavy on pastas and casseroles, many made from owner-chef John Lombardo’s family recipes. The orzo salad is particularly good. (PR, 9/06) 1818 San Jose, SF. 337-9741. Italian/American, BR/L/D, $, MC/V

Maharaja offers romantically half-lit pastels and great spicy food, including a fine chicken tikka masala and a dish of lamb chunks in dal. Lunch forswears the usual steam-table buffet in favor of set specials, as in a Chinese place. (Staff) 525 Valencia, SF. 552-7901. Indian, L/D, $, MC/V.

Maverick holds several winning cards, including a menu of first-rate New American food, a clutch of interesting wines by the glass and half glass, and a handsome, spare Mission District setting discreetly cushioned for sound control. (PR, 9/05) 3316 17th St, SF. 863-3061. American, L/D, $$, AE/DISC/MC/V.

Medjool doesn’t offer much by way of its namesake date, food of the ancient pharaohs, but the pan-Mediterranean menu (which emphasizes small plates) is mostly tasty, and the setting is appealingly layered, from a sidewalk terrace to a moody dining room behind a set of big carved-wood doors. (PR, 11/04) 2522 Mission, SF. 550-9055. Mediterranean, B/L/D, $$, AE/DISC/MC/V.

Mi Lindo Yucatán looks a bit tatty inside, but the regional Mexican cooking is cheap and full of pleasant surprises. (PR, 3/04) 401 Valencia, SF. 861-4935. Mexican, L/D, ¢, cash only.

Moki’s Sushi and Pacific Grill serves imaginative specialty makis along with items from a pan-Asian grill in a small, bustling neighborhood spot. (Staff) 615 Cortland, SF. 970-9336. Japanese, D, $$, AE/DC/MC/V.

Pakwan has a little secret: a secluded garden out back. It’s the perfect place to enjoy the fiery foods of India and Pakistan. (Staff) 3180 16th St, SF. 255-2440. Indian/Pakistani, L/D, ¢, cash only.

Papalote Mexican Grill relieves our Mexican favorites of much of their fat and calories without sacrificing flavor. Surprisingly excellent soyrizo and aguas frescas; sexily varied crowd. (Staff) 3409 24th St, SF. 970-8815. Mexican, L/D, $, AE/MC/V.


L’Amour dans le Four gives a nice local boho twist to classic French bistro style. Many dishes from the oven. Tiny, noisy, intimate. (Staff) 1602 Lombard, SF. 775-2134. French, D, $, AE/MC/V.

Betelnut Peiju Wu is a pan-Asian version of a tapas bar, drawing a sleek postcollegiate crowd with its wide assortment of dumplings, noodles, soups, and snacks. (Staff) 2030 Union, SF. 929-8855. Asian, L/D, $$, MC/V.

Dragon Well looks like an annex of the cavernous Pottery Barn down the street, but its traditional Chinese menu is radiant with fresh ingredients and careful preparation. Prices are modest, the service swift and professional. (Staff) 2142 Chestnut, SF. 474-6888. Chinese, L/D, ¢, MC/V.

Rigolo combines the best of Pascal Rigo’s boulangeries — including the spectacular breads — with some of the simpler elements (such as roast chicken) of his higher-end places. The result is excellent value in a bustling setting. (PR, 1/05) 3465 California, SF. 876-7777. California/Mediterranean, B/L/D, $, MC/V.

Sushi Groove is easily as cool as its name. Behind wasabi green velvet curtains, salads can be inconsistent, but the sushi is impeccable, especially the silky salmon and special white tuna nigiri. (Staff) 1916 Hyde, SF. 440-1905. Japanese, D, $, AE/DC/DISC/MC/V.

Taste of the Himalayas is primarily Nepalese, but the Indian influences on the food are many, and there are a few Tibetan items. Spicing is vivid, value excellent. (PR, 10/04) 2420 Lombard, SF. 674-9898. Nepalese/Tibetan, L/D, $, AE/DC/DISC/MC/V.

Tortilla Heights brings the Pac Heights, blond-het-frat vibe into the Western Addition and nourishes it with surprisingly good Mexican food. The menu is familiar, but the dishes are executed with care and panache, and there are some regional specialties. Open late. (PR, 9/06) 1750 Divisadero, SF. 346-4531. Mexican, L/D, $, AE/DC/DISC/MC/V.


Le Charm might be in San Francisco, but it has a bistro authenticity even Parisians could love, from a wealth of golden wood trim to an enduring loyalty au prix fixe. The chicken liver salad is matchless, the succinct wine list distinctly Californian. Ponder it in the idyllic, trellised garden. (PR, 9/06) 315 Fifth St, SF. 546-6128. French, L/D, $$, AE/MC/V.

*Dragonfly serves the best contemporary Vietnamese food in town, in a calmer environment and at a fraction of the cost of better-known places. (PR, 8/05) 420 Judah, SF. 661-7755. Vietnamese, L/D, $$, AE/MC/V.

KL Restaurant is a Hong Kong-style seafood house that presents its wide array of creatures from the deep in an equally wide array of guises. Particularly good: the sampan-style dishes. If you’re not in an oceanic mood, the land-based stuff is good too. (PR/ 11/06) 4401 Balboa, SF. 666-9928. Chinese/seafood, L/D, $$, MC/V.

Pisces California Cuisine brings a touch of SoMa sophistication to an Outer Sunset neighborhood in need of paint. (You can’t miss the restaurant’s black facade.) The kitchen turns out a variety of seafood preparations — the clam chowder is terrific — and offers an appealing prix fixe option at both lunch and dinner. (PR, 8/06) 3414-3416 Judah, SF. 564-2233. Seafood, L/D, $$, AE/DISC/MC/V.

So Restaurant brings the heat, in the form of huge soup and noodle — and soupy noodle — dishes, many of them liberally laced with hot peppers and chiles. The pot stickers are homemade and exceptional, the crowd young and noisy. Cheap. (PR, 10/06) 2240 Irving, SF. 731-3143. Chinese/noodles, L/D, ¢, MC/V.


*Aziza shimmers with Moroccan grace, from the pewter ewer and basin that circulate for the washing of hands to the profusion of preserved Meyer lemons in the splendid cooking. (Staff) 5800 Geary, SF. 752-2222. Moroccan, D, $$, AE/MC/V.

Be My Guest Thai Bistro offers tasty vegetarian-friendly food in a campy-hip setting reminiscent of an old Woody Allen movie. Tofu larb is surprisingly successful. (PR, 9/06) 951 Clement, SF. 386-1942. Thai, L/D, $, AE/MC/V.

*Chapeau! serves some of the best food in the city — at shockingly reasonable prices. The French cooking reflects as much style and imagination as any California menu. (Staff) 1408 Clement, SF. 750-9787. French, D, $$, AE/DC/MC/V.

Spices! has an exclamation point for a reason: its Chinese food, mainly Szechuan and Taiwanese, with an oasis of Shanghai-style dishes, is fabulously hot. Big young crowds, pulsing house music, a shocking orange and yellow paint scheme. Go prepared, leave happy. (Staff) 294 Eighth Ave, SF. 752-8884. Szechuan/Chinese, L/D, $, MC/V.

Sutro’s at Cliff House has a Miami-to-Malibu feel and offers a "California coastal" menu that appeals to tourists and locals alike. You can get everything from gumbo to seafood red curry to falafel while resting assured that the kitchen is honoring the local-seasonal-sustainable imperative. The setting — a glass house perched at the foamy edge of the Pacific — is timelessly spectacular. (PR, 7/06) 1090 Point Lobos, SF. 386-3330. Eclectic, L/D, $$$, AE/DISC/MC/V.


Cliff’s Bar-B-Q and Seafood Some things Cliff’s got going for him: excellent mustard greens, just drenched in flavorfulness, and barbecued you name it. Brisket. Rib tips. Hot links. Pork ribs. Beef ribs. Baby backs. And then there are fried chickens and, by way of health food, fried fishes. (Staff) 2177 Bayshore, SF. 330-0736. Barbecue, L/D, ¢, AE/DC/MC/V.

Old Clam House really is old — it’s been in the same location since the Civil War — but the seafood preparations are fresh, in an old-fashioned way. Matchless cioppino. Sports types cluster at the bar, under the shadow of a halved, mounted Jaguar E-type. (Staff) 299 Bayshore, SF. 826-4880. Seafood, L/D, $$, MC/V.

Taqueria el Potrillo serves one of the best chicken burritos in town, if not the best. You can get your bird grilled or barbecued or have steak instead or tacos. Excellent salsas and aguas frescas, and warmer weather than practically anywhere else in town. (Staff) 300A Bayshore Blvd, SF. 642-1612. Mexican, B/L/D, ¢, cash only.


Breads of India and Gourmet Curries The menu changes every day, so nothing is refrigerated overnight, and the curries benefit from obvious loving care. (Staff) 2448 Sacramento, Berk. (510) 848-7684. Indian, L/D, ¢, MC/V.

Café de la Paz Specialties include African-Brazilian "xim xim" curries, Venezuelan corn pancakes, and heavenly blackened seacakes served with orange-onion yogurt. (Staff) 1600 Shattuck, Berk. (510) 843-0662. Latin American, BR/L/D, $, AE/MC/V.

Locanda Olmo Fine versions of risotto, gnocchi, and soft polenta pie, terrific thin-crust pizzas, and good traditional desserts have made Locanda Olmo a reliable anchor in the burgeoning Elmwood neighborhood. (Staff) 2985 College, Berk. (510) 848-5544. Italian, D, $, MC/V.


Le Cheval Shrimp rolls and peanut sauce, the fried Dungeness crab, the marinated "orange flavor" beef, the buttery lemongrass prawns — it’s all fabulous. (Staff) 1007 Clay, Oakl. (510) 763-8495. Vietnamese, L/D, ¢, MC/V.

Connie’s Cantina fashions unique variations on standard Mexican fare — enchiladas, tamales, fajitas, rellenos. (Staff) 3340 Grand, Oakl. (510) 839-4986. Mexican, L/D, ¢, MC/V.

Rockridge Café offers bountiful breakfasts, a savory meat-loaf special, and hearty cassoulet. But the burgers, wide-cut fries, and straw-clogging milkshakes remain the cornerstones of the menu. (Staff) 5492 College, Oakl. (510) 653-1567. American, B/L/D, $, MC/V. *

Super visions: the year in film


› johnny@sfbg.com

The end of each year brings a blitz of polls tabuutf8g the best movies and music of the past 12 months. These monster projects spit up a ton of fun lists, but in terms of science or revelatory truth, they range from suspect to useless. In contrast, the Guardian‘s annual end of the year film issue gives ideas and opinions precedence over bogus math. Antiauthoritarian up through the last second of every December, we’ve discovered that if you collect commentary from a varied group of imaginative people, certain patterns of creative resistance emerge that are a lot more revealing than any number one spot.

This year, for example, it’s apparent that (perhaps spurred by the YouTube boom?) television is on the upswing. Critic Chuck Stephens, Brick writer-director Rian Johnson, and "Midnites for Maniacs" programmer Jesse Ficks all sing its praises, while A Sore for Sighted Eyes, by TV Carnage mastermind Derrick Beckles, a.k.a. Pinky, takes found-footage montage to areas of derangement Sergey Eisenstein, let alone today’s Hollywood directors, couldn’t conceive. Speaking of great derangement: Jason Shamai contributes a pirated-DVD diary that’s one of the best pieces of movie writing I’ve read this year.

The varied new currents of Mexican cinema, surveyed here by Sergio de la Mora, show up on a number of people’s lists of faves. Over the next few years more and more people will be recognizing the visionary talents of a tight-knit community of young filmmakers in the Philippines, including Raya Martin, who contributes to this issue. Alexis A. Tioseco, whose excellent Web site Criticine is in perfect sync with the movement, has written a sharply observant and keenly sympathetic manifesto about it, also included here.

In the United States troubled dudes (analyzed in these pages by Cheryl Eddy and Max Goldberg), bad mamas (well rendered by Kimberly Chun), and fucked-up families (pinpointed by Dennis Harvey) ruled the best low-budget features and worst moneymaking hits. That is, when a visiting journalist named Borat wasn’t giving new meaning to the phrase high grosses by lampooning the ugliest American behavior in the last days of the Bush era.

Locally, some of my favorite films were made by this issue’s cover stars, David Enos and Sarah Enid Hagey, who frequently collaborate and star in each other’s work. Enos has drawn a comic for the issue; it gives readers a hint of the perceptive scrawls and deadpan hilarity that characterize the one-of-a-kind male portraiture in his animated shorts, which often focus on musical figures (The Dennis Wilson Story, Leonard Cohen in Alberta, Light My Fire). Hagey’s movie The Great Unknown features a funny performance by Enos as an undersung auteur. In her Lovelorn Domestic, she lights each scene to create an eerie glow and portrays a silent wife with a giant, beaked head who mercilessly pecks her protesting beloved’s eyes out. If Hagey’s recent movies and Enos’s self-published comics and books (Pock Mark, On the Grain Teams) are any indication, they — along with their Edinburgh Castle Film Night cohorts Cathy Begien and Jose Rodriguez — are just beginning to tap into big talents. Look for them in the future.

Super visions: The Guardian year in film

Cinema 2006: Top 10s, rants, raves and gushes

Johnny Ray Huston’s top 10 viewing experiences

Kimberly Chun on monster moms

Dennis Harvey on fucked up families

Chuck Stephens: cinematic patriot acts

Sergio De La Mora on the further reaches of Mexican cinema

Jason Shimai’s Mexico City pirate diary

Alexis A Tioseco surveys the New Phillipine Cinema

Max Goldberg: A great year for boy-men!

Cheryl Eddy: An awful year for boy-men!

Filmmaker Raya Martin’s Twin cinematic peaks

Johnny Ray Huston’s top 10 viewing experiences of 2006


(1) Syndromes and a Century (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Thailand) on Oct. 3 at the Vancouver International Film Festival. Yes, it dug deeper into male-male romance than any hopelessly blinkered creation made and marketed as "gay," but I wasn’t as amazed by Apichatpong’s Cannes coronation creation Tropical Malady as I’d expected to be, especially given the hypnotism of Blissfully Yours. This time, though, he’s created a masterpiece — I get misty just thinking of the mysterious shot at its very center.

(2) Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait (Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno, France/Iceland). I spend spare time in a world where nicknames like Guga and Rafa and Momo and Chucho reign. I think Venus Williams’s 2005 Wimbledon final victory was opera of a kind no one has seen or heard since Maria Callas sang La Traviata at Covent Garden (not Lisbon). Sports is today’s ultimate live theater, Zidane was its most compelling star in 2006, and Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno’s portrait of him is a doc even better than William Klein’s look at Muhammad Ali. A big thanks to the Balboa Theater’s Gary Meyer for helping me even get a look at Zidane — knowing that Apichatpong loves Parreno’s The Boy from Mars makes me want to rocket to that planet if I have to in order to see it.

(3) The Descent (Neil Marshall, UK) at an April 29 midnight screening at the SF International Film Festival. Nothing is more fun than sharing extreme claustrophobia with a theater full of screaming horror fans.

(4) The Host (Bong Joon-ho, South Korea) and Bongmania at the Sept. 30 screening at the Vancouver International Film Festival. Nothing tops my Descent experience except watching a great monster movie with a theater full of fans who mobbed the director afterward.

(5) San Francisco moviemaking: Call Waiting (Cathy Begien); The Dennis Wilson Story and Leonard Cohen in Alberta (David Enos); Lot 63, Grave C (Sam Green); Lovelorn Domestic (Sarah Enid Hagey); Rumsfeld Rules (Bryan Boyce); Song and Solitude (Nathaniel Dorsky).

(6) dünya dinlemiyor video installation by Phil Collins, still on view at the SF Museum of Modern Art. A Smiths fan’s dream come true, indeed.

(7) TV Carnage’s A Sore for Sighted Eyes DVD. Long before Donald Trump foolishly challenged Rosie O’Donnell to a caged wrestling match, TV Carnage revealed just what she was capable of in this, one of the funniest and scariest things I’ve seen in my life, a video mashup that somehow makes Girl Talk’s Night Ripper seem puny and eager to please.

(8) Doomed pilgrimages: Battle in Heaven (Carlos Reygadas, Mexico/Belgium/France/Germany) and The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (Cristi Puiu, Romania). My favorite scene in 2006 is the subway sequence in Reygadas’s second film. The title character in Puiu’s movie never quite completes a marathon journey to the heart of the medical profession — a place called death.

(9) A Short Film about the Indio Nacional (or the Prolonged Sorrow of Filipinos) (Raya Martin, Philippines) on May 1 at the SF International Film Festival and Colossal Youth (Pedro Costa, Portugal/France/Switzerland ) on Oct. 2 at the Vancouver International Film Festival. When Khavn de la Cruz’s piano score for Martin’s film broke down, the director reappeared and put on different music, and the movie took on yet another life. Costa’s film is entirely lit by mirrors and natural rays and beams — what else do you need to know?

(10) Somnambucinema. No one likes to admit that some of the best cinema being made today lulls you to or near to sleep. Why? There should be no shame in shifting states of consciousness and drifting into dreams during this panic-stricken age. Somnambucinema deserves an essay, but for now I’ll just mention a recent fave example of the form — Paz Encina’s Hamaca Paraguaya, which spends 90 minutes or so showing a hammock in sun and shade while a couple bickers about it, their son, and their country. There you have it: a critical, two-way filmic window into many people’s awareness of Paraguay and its history, if they even have one.

Cinema 2006



Ever wonder why there’s an Automotive section in the newspaper every week … and perhaps consider that the Film section might also be driven by the same industry forces?

And so commercial cinema, dinosaurlike as it is, does continue to lumber along. ‘Tis built on the model of the automobile industry, and hey neighbor, why don’t you get yourself a moped (or an electric bike)?

For me, what’s most interesting in the motion picture arts and sciences is the move to molecularize — smaller, more intimate, even itinerant salons, installations, and interventions, bolstered not by (master-)narrative architectures of the cinema experience but by the satisfaction that the truly curious take in its dismantling, to analyze its history and process, and hell yeah, to repurpose its tropes for the contemporary moment.

Against this year’s model, this molecular filmwork acknowledges rather than erases what is resonant in film history, remediating the genre motifs as Menippean satire and inspired human-scale critical agency.

Speaking of scale, it was the six-inch-small twin girls named the Peanuts who paradoxically topped my list of ’06 epiphanies. While we were ensconced in the veritable bowels of the Artists’ Television Access basement for its life-saving fundraiser, David Cox’s nuanced, obsessively detailed three-hour deconstruction of kaiju — the Japanese rubber-monster idiom — demonstrated oh-so-marvelously how personal (and political) meaning can blossom from the Other-worldly visions of fantasy and exploitation film just like the aforementioned fairies, sprouting from the ferns of a lush jungle tableau. In Cox’s essay-cum-homage, here are dinosaurs (and giant moths, dragons, and smog monsters!) that we can use for allegory and imaginative play, not those that consume us in a vicious cycle of oil addiction and predatory foreign wars.

The Peanuts rhapsodize:

Mothra oh Mothra

The people have forgotten kindness

Their spirit falls to ruin

We shall pray for the people as we sing

This song of love

Craig Baldwin programs "Other Cinema" at the ATA and is the director of Spectres of the Spectrum, Sonic Outlaws, Tribulation 99: Alien Anomalies under America, and other movies.


(1) Family Ties (Kim Tae-yong, South Korea)

(2) In Between Days (Kim So-yong, US/Canada/South Korea)

(3) Pan’s Labyrinth (Guillermo del Toro, Mexico/Spain/US)

(4) The Science of Sleep (Michel Gondry, France/Italy)

(5) The Departed (Martin Scorsese, US)

(6) Volver (Pedro Almodóvar, Spain)

(7) Woman on the Beach (Hong Sang-soo, South Korea)

(8) Yureru (Miwa Nishikawa, Japan)

Bong Joon-ho is the director of The Host, Memories of Murder, and Barking Dogs Never Bite.


Au Bonheur des Dames (Julien Duvivier, France, 1930) at the SF Silent Film Festival on July 15.

The sauerkraut western Rancho Notorious (Fritz Lang, US, 1952).

Guy "King of the Q&A" Maddin presenting a program of his short films at the SF International Film Festival on April 25.

Rest in peace Shelley Winters, peerless in Larceny (George Sherman, US, 1948), at the Noir City Film Festival on Jan. 15.

Portrait #2: Trojan (Vanessa Renwick, US).

Sword of Doom (Kihachi Okamoto, Japan, 1966).

Not bad for a work-in-progress: Miranda July’s Things We Don’t Understand and Definitely Are Not Going to Talk About at SF Cinematheque on Oct. 23.

Stephen Colbert, White House Correspondents’ Dinner on April 29.

Il Posto (Ermanno Olmi, Italy, 1961).

Crispin Glover’s 1987 Late Night with David Letterman platform shoe karate kick demonstration, on YouTube.

Bryan Boyce is the director of America’s Biggest Dick, Rumsfeld Rules, and other movies.


Best walkies: Helen Mirren, black labs, and corgis, The Queen (Stephen Frears, UK/France/Italy)

Best 1/8th mighty Choctaw: John Michael Higgins, For Your Consideration (Christopher Guest, US)

Best German whore: Cate Blanchett, The Good German (Steven Soderbergh, US)

Best Russian whore: Vera Farmiga, Breaking and Entering (Anthony Minghella, UK/US)

Best ex-junkie whore: Amy Sedaris, Strangers with Candy (Paul Dinello, US)

Best bloodsucking: Stockard Channing, 3 Needles (Thom Fitzgerald, Canada)

Best unnecessary invention: 3-D glasses for real life, The Science of Sleep (Michel Gondry, France/Italy)

Best western: The Proposition (John Hillcoat, Australia/UK)

Best meltdown: Frances McDormand, Friends with Money (Nicole Holofcener, US)

Best performance by the artist formerly known as Marky Mark: Mark Wahlberg, The Departed (Martin Scorsese, US)

Worst performance by the artist formerly known as Marky Mark: Mark Wahlberg, Invincible (Ericson Core, US)

Worst meltdown: polar ice caps, An Inconvenient Truth (Davis Guggenheim, US)

Worst nudity: Ken Davitian, Borat (Larry Charles, US)

Worst role model for Britney Spears (excluding Paris Hilton): Rinko Kikuchi, Babel (Alejandro González Iñárritu, US/Mexico)

Worst date movie: United 93 (Paul Greenglass, US/UK/France)

Worst love interest for Tom Cruise since Katie Holmes: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Mission: Impossible III (J.J. Abrams, US/Germany)

Worst stand-in for Margot Kidder: Kate Bosworth, Superman Returns (Bryan Singer, US/Australia)

Worst reason to become a vegetarian: Barnyard (Steve Oedekerk, US/Germany)

Worst emoter (someone give this man a lozenge): Djimon Hounsou, Blood Diamond (Edward Zwick, US)

Worst excuse for two upcoming sequels: Goal! The Dream Begins (Danny Cannon, US)

Michelle Devereaux is a Guardian contributing writer.


Here is my prediction for the coming year of film. I know I may sound like a new age mumbo-jumboist, but I sense a return to mysticism and spirituality. The age of nihilism is really just some shortchange bullshit. The postmodern, amoral, canned reality period has proved its point and has been nothing more than a carbuncle. What, then, is my prescription? The surreal, detached from reality, psychedelic, hallucinogenic, optimistic fantasy film. In the words of my dear friend Chad Peterson, "Fantasy intoxicates only the strong mind. It is horror and humor, the twin children of their mother imagination, which open a sea chest of all memories, hanging above the heart an anchor and above the plow a star." Fantasy embraces the nostalgia and hope that we’ve spent our angsty years repressing. When you think all hope is lost but then that Giorgio Moroder track starts, you just weep like a very small child.

Sarah Enid Hagey’s short films include The Great Unknown and Lovelorn Domestic.


(1) Old Joy (Kelly Reichardt, US).

(2) The New World (Terrence Malick, US).

(3) L’Enfant (Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, Belgium/France). Be patient with this quiet cinematic poem — along with my first two picks, it will completely break your heart.

(4) Battlestar Galactica (created by Michael Rymer, US). I know, I know, it’s on the SciFi Channel. But seriously, this show is more thought-provoking than most feature films.

(5) A Scanner Darkly (Richard Linklater, US). Creatively hypnotizing and terrifyingly relevant.

(6) The Departed (Martin Scorsese, US). Best performance of the year, easily: Marky Mark.

(7) District B13 (Pierre Morel, France). The Transporter + John Carpenter’s politics = sheer bliss.

(8) Mutual Appreciation (Andrew Bujalski, US). It’s embarrassing to connect so strongly to these awkward hipsters attempting to figure themselves out.

(9) Hostel (Eli Roth, US). How satisfying is it to watch a bunch of sexist, homophobic, xenophobic Americans get horrifically sliced and diced? Try multiple viewings.

(10) BloodRayne (Uwe Bol, US/Germany). Another supersleazy, terrifically pathetic video game adaptation by the master of contemporary B-movies.

* Though he hasn’t seen David Lynch’s Inland Empire yet.

Jesse Hawthorne Ficks teaches film history at the Academy of Art University and programs "Midnites for Maniacs" at the Castro Theatre.


(1) "The Tailenders," P.O.V. (Adele Horne, US)

(2) John and Jane (Ashim Ahluwalia, India)

(3) Portrait #2: Trojan (Vanessa Renwick, US)

(4) Old Joy (Kelly Reichardt, US)

(5) Reporter Zero (Carrie Lozano, US)

(6) Rap Dreams (Kevin Epps, US)

(7) "Lampoons and Eye-tunes," an evening of Bryan Boyce’s short films at the ATA on Oct. 7

(8) Workingman’s Death (Michael Glawogger, Austria/Germany)

(9) "War-Gaming in the New World Order," presentation by film critic Ed Halter at the ATA on Oct. 21

(10) American Blackout (Ian Inaba, US)

Sam Green is the director of The Weather Underground and Lot 63, Grave C.


Bareback Twink Squat

Hole Sweet Hole

Dirt Pipe Milkshakes

I Dig ‘Em in Pigtails 2

Boob Exam Scam 3

CSI: Cum Swappers Incorporated

Gorgeous Chloroformed Women!

A Little Cumster in the Dumpster

What Happens Between My Tits Stays Between My Tits

Ass Jazz 2

Dennis Harvey is a Guardian contributing writer and a reviewer for Variety.


I resisted for a long while. Even as the rising tide of TiVo-wielding friends and coworkers lapped at my doorstep, I stiff-armed them with the dismissive battle cry "I don’t really watch TV." I’m not sure what happened in the past year, but the levee has broken. Big-time. I have no shame. I pimp Lost like no one’s business. I spread box sets of 24 like some modern-day Johnny Appleseed. The scales have fallen from my eyes: any given episode of South Park contains more hilarious and incisive satire than American cinema has offered in decades. Freaks and Geeks is the most painfully true window into adolescence since the glory days of John Hughes. And the new Battlestar Galactica (I swear to God) stands shoulder to shoulder with the best cinematic sci-fi of the past century. So drop your burdens by the coaxial river, all ye high-cultured unbelievers, and join us. The water’s fine.

Rian Johnson is the writer-director of Brick.


(1) The return of Big Edie and Little Edie, plus the Marble Faun (a.k.a. Jerry Torre), who accompanied the screenings of Grey Gardens (Albert and David Maysles, US, 1975) and The Beales of Grey Gardens (Albert and David Maysles, US) at the Castro on Nov. 22.

(2) The Up series: 49 Up (Michael Apted, UK) may not have been the most eventful chapter, but a new installment is always welcome.

(3) The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (Jacques Demy, France) at the Castro Theatre

(4) Scott Walker in the video for "Jesse" (Graham Wood, UK) plus various clips on YouTube.

(5) The Criterion Collection DVD of Young Mr. Lincoln (John Ford, US, 1939), a film that equals any of the director’s beloved westerns.

(6) The Wayward Cloud (Tsai Ming-liang, Taiwan), SF International Film Fest screening at the Castro Theatre on April 23.

(7) The Host (Bong Joon-ho, South Korea), opening night SF Animation Festival screening at the SF Museum of Modern Art on Oct. 12.

(8) Brick (Rian Johnson, US).

(9) The Descent (Neil Marshall, UK).

(10) Old Joy (Kelly Reichardt, US).

Jonathan L. Knapp is a Guardian contributing writer.


On Dec. 9 I saw John Ford’s The Searchers in the same theater where I had seen it for the first time when I was 15. It was a Saturday evening; 25 years ago, it had been a Thursday evening. Back then, I had never thought a western could be as moving as a Robert Bresson film.

This time the projectionist oddly forgot to put the VistaVision mask in the film projector, and I (and everybody else that was in the audience, even if nobody complained) saw a film "around" the film that continuously took me out of the tale of revenge happening below. Things that shouldn’t be seen, that usually remain hidden were revealed. I saw the lights, the microphones, the sets. I was outside the drama, but it was as if the film turned inside out in front of me.

How new can an old film be?

João Pedro Rodrigues is the director of Two Drifters and O Fantasma.


(1) I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone (Tsai Ming-liang, Taiwan/France/Austria).

(2) Saw III (Darren Lynn Bousman, US).

(3) Syndromes and a Century (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Thailand/France/Austria).

(4) "The Dundies" and "A Benihana Christmas," The Office.

(5) Miami Vice (Michael Mann, US/Germany). Except for the lame part where they go to Cuba.

(6) Mutual Appreciation (Andrew Bujalski, US).

(7) The Departed (Martin Scorsese, US).

(8) Woman on the Beach (Hong Sang-soo, South Korea).

(9) United 93 (Paul Greengrass, US/UK/France).

(10) "A Time for Love" segment of Three Times (Hou Hsiao-hsien, France/Taiwan).

(11) Jackass Number Two (Jeff Tremaine, US).


Shadowboxer (Lee Daniels, US). What? Helen Mirren as a female assassin, Cuba Gooding Jr. as her lover, and lots of nudity and graphic sex? I am in awe of its stupidity.

Instructions for a Light and Sound Machine (Peter Tscherkassky, Austria).

The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (Cristi Puiu, Romania).

Same Day Nice Biscotts (Luther Price, US). Price takes 13 identical, abandoned 16mm film prints and turns them into one of the most emotionally wrenching shorts I’ve ever seen.

www.sexandsubmission.com. Um, isn’t this illegal?

Jack Smith and the Destruction of Atlantis (Mary Jordan, US).

The Great Ecstasy of Robert Carmichael (Thomas Clay, UK). Offensive, mean, juvenile garbage, and I’ve never seen a more pissed-off audience reaction at the Rotterdam Film Festival — no small feat against the unshockable Dutch.

For Your Consideration (Christopher Guest, US).

Sitting alone in a decrepit theater watching a triple feature of generic "pink" films in Beppu, Japan, feeling boredom and pain so intensely that I began to travel through time and space.

"The Last Wild Tigers," 60 Minutes, Nov. 19.

Gravedancers (Mike Mendez, US). Delightful old-fashioned horror, from "After Dark Horrorfest: Eight Films to Die For."

"Evelyn Lin," sigh.

Joel Shepard is film and video curator at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.


(10) My pet is cute.

(9) To me, "experimental" means playing the same thing 412 times in a row. Crazy, huh?

(8) This old person is kind and sage. Listen to him/her. Or: these old people are kind and sage. Listen to them.

(7) Things are happening to these 10 people. Wait, they all know each other in different ways. Weird.

(6) Someone is following me. I know it because I can hear their echoey footsteps.

(5) I am a struggling writer/director/actor/painter/chef/mime/dancer/sculptor/other, and I smoke cigarettes, and I won’t compromise.

(4) There is a woman. She’s just like you and me, except that she is a prostitute/stripper — and she is so hot. Just watch her.

(4a) It’s hard out here for a pimp.

(3) Strange things keep happening to me. Additionally, I am somewhere where I don’t know where I am.

(2) God talks to me.

(1) You thought this was real? No way, this is a "mockumentary"!

Sean Uyehara is a programming associate at the San Francisco Film Society.


(1) The Boy from Mars, film installation by Philippe Parreno.

(2) Hamaca Paraguaya (Paz Encina, Argentina/Paraguay/Netherlands/Austria/France/Germany).

(3) Los Angeles–based Festival Management no longer works for the Bangkok International Film Festival.

(4) Woman on the Beach (Hong Sang-soo, South Korea).

(5) www.brucebaillie.net.

(6) Quay Brothers — the Short Films 1979–2003 DVD (BFI).

(7) Tokyo Filmex.

(8) Nintendo Wii. It’s sort of new cinema.

(9) The Wave (Kumar Shahani, India, 1984).

(10) Instructions for a Light and Sound Machine (Peter Tscherkassky, Austria).

Apichatpong Weerasethakul is the director of Blissfully Yours, Tropical Malady, Syndromes and a Century, and other films.


For us, 2006 was the year of the entertainment lawyer. It’s not a year recognized by the Chinese calendar yet, probably because being born during the year of the entertainment lawyer would be the worst thing in the fucking world.

Our year in TV and film was made love to by the word vetting — the process by which people’s thoughts and ideas are raked over, much like hot hands raking over unsuspecting pubes. (Trust me on that one.) When lawyers start examining your phrases and intentions, existence enters another dimension. It’s beyond psychedelic; it’s an assault by litigious wizards on a naive concept of freedom of speech. No matter what your intentions are, they will be examined and altered to a level of incompetence that makes you embarrassed for even having parents who engaged in the intercourse that made you.

Lawyers make work for lawyers. No one is oblivious to this, but the times spent waiting for their responses are the golden moments or the reeking turds of life, depending on the situation.

In the case of a recent situation I was privy to, we waited in real time as lawyers in another city examined the use and placement of words in a sentence to such a horrific degree it was obscene. The problem is these guys and gals (I’m so open-minded I even realize women can be lawyers) are zingless word calculators. They have the comedic timing of a court stenographer reading back testimony. So when they finally rewrite something, it feels like you’re reading an autopsy report. They ruin everything with a fear of being sued that they use to make everyone paranoid so they can get as much money from your fear-induced wallet as they can.

TV Carnage’s videos include A Sore for Sighted Eyes and When Television Attacks.

Monster dearest


› kimberly@sfbg.com

Move over, matchy-matchy Faye Dunaway of Mommie Dearest and much too armed and dangerous to hug Shelley Winters of Bloody Mama (possibly the lousy dowager emeritus, thanks to Lolita). Mamma mia, was there ever a year crammed with more bad mothering run stealthily amok, far from most of the multiplexes and the real-life broodies dragging their spawn to the latest animated feature?

If you weren’t busily entertaining your offspring in the big theater, you could easily slip into a small screening room to feel either much better about your parenting skills — or much worse. No, 2006 was not kind to materfamilias — anxiety was high over nurturing yet meddling, muddling, and sometimes castrating bitches with often loved but also neglected litters. The not-quite-model matrons who stood out were flagrantly flawed hard-luck ladies, straight outta the clink, outta rehab, outta options. They were both abusers and abused, working lousy jobs, distrusted, and desperate for a second chance — Norma Raes and Erin Brockoviches sans a speck of political consciousness. Mother’s Day 2006 in the movie houses was all about evil as well as Eve’s plight: succumbing to temptation and, of course, seeking redemption. Call this gaggle of generally downbeat, self-absorbed, Dumpster-realism gals the prodigal (single) mothers.

Homemakers or home wreckers? Welfare queens or queen me’s? In Running with Scissors, Annette Bening’s med-damaged, mad housewife-poet of a mumsy was all of the above, with alimony. Meryl Streep’s cunning Lioness D’Wintour fashion editor piss-take in The Devil Wears Prada juggled career and family nastily, taking a smooth stab at working matriarchs both biological and mentor-ological. And the small-town girls and comeback kids–turned–semimythic maternal figures of Penélope Cruz and Carmen Maura in Pedro Almodóvar’s latest women’s film, Volver, take a dreamily innocent, genre-specific, less-realistic gaze at motherhood. The women in Almodóville are decent, vivid, communal, and inadvertently, invariably deadly — these bleeder-brooders with bloody "women’s troubles" live in a world almost completely free of men (the few who do pop up are incestuously abusive), somewhere on the matrilineal border of Two Women and Juliet of the Spirits.

Like Volver‘s Cruz and Maura, two other rhyming cinematic mothers — played by two Maggies, Cheung and Gyllenhaal, in Clean and Sherrybaby, respectively — believe there’s life after a loss of innocence and even death. Birthing best-actress awards and considerations, Cheung’s Emily Wang and Gyllenhaal’s Sherry Swanson are hardened but not broken junkie wild children, needle thin and barely clinging to the cracked-out, earthly pavement as they stomp through Paris and malled-over America, regretfully scraping their way back from prison after dropping their offspring like puppies and drifting off into good nods. Physically, the two cut through their landscapes like blades, antimaternal babes who happen to have had babies.

Braless, tank-topped, and jiggling through the hood, Gyllenhaal’s Sherry has a physical presence that hybridizes the inhibition-free but inappropriately hot mama and the gawky, sunken-chested teen. Slouching through motels and institutions, suburbs and ghettos alike, she’s always the riveting center, despite her love for and hunger to be loved by her daughter. Since she kicked in prison, love has become Sherry’s drug — she wants to work with kids, she’s desperate to take up mothering — and she slyly seduces her daughter with toys, praise, and her alarming, sexualized, chaotic presence from the brother and sister-in-law who raised the girl in safety and warmth. With her discomfitingly sensual singing routine and ravenous desire for attention, Sherry is every parent’s worst nightmare, yet Gyllenhaal’s emotionally and physically naked performance and Laurie Collyer’s empathetic direction etch her into reality. You want to take care of this sad, sexy mum.

On another continent and aeons away in awareness, Cheung’s Emily is also a junkie who landed in jail — after her rock star boyfriend, Lee Hauser, OD’d — but she’s now working her way back into the good graces of her child and family. Resembling a razor-sharp noirish Q-Tip with a shock of black fro, music biz hanger-on Emily evokes obvious predecessors (the derided Asian-other and band destroyer Yoko Ono, the stoned-in-love partner in crime Marianne Faithfull) and less-expected women (delicate beauty with a battery-acid rasp Hope Sandoval). The archetypal snide rock bitch at the start, Emily waxes selfish, proud, mouthy, brawling, irresponsible, bad tempered, only reflexively working her power over Lee — her real hunger is for the next fix. Cheung, however, gives Emily a heart — when her mouth twists into a dreadful pyramid upon hearing that the court has given custody of her son to Lee’s parents.

Still, throughout the process of getting clean, growing humble, and peeling away the layers of posturing, Emily exudes a resigned intelligence that the fearless but somewhat unconscious Sherry lacks. Tearful with loneliness, Emily confesses to her friend Elena (France’s favorite wild woman, Beatrice Dalle), "I don’t know if I can take care of a child." Almost everyone in Clean is smarter than they appear at first glance, even if they are embroiled in the "romantic myth of music," as director Olivier Assayas puts it in a DVD interview. Emily’s race complicates matters further, raising questions similar to those aimed at world-trawling Western adoptive parents. Are the white middle-class Hausers more entitled to raise Cheung’s son than she is? Must she become trustworthy — or assimilate — in order to be with her child?

Both Cheung’s and Gyllenhaal’s performances make one wonder why these women’s struggles are reaching the screen at this time. We continue to grapple with the question of whether single parenting translates to less-than-optimal parenting. Perhaps, as the war pigs and an archetypally male principle run rampant elsewhere, we wonder how we’re supposed to keep the home fires burning. Where are the mothers, and how does one nurture after all the high times? Can we, perpetual adolescents, ever really settle down? Who raised all these people? *


Ivana Baquero in Pan’s Labyrinth (Guillermo del Toro, Spain) and Ko Ah-sung Ko in The Host (Bong Joon-ho, South Korea).

Clean (Olivier Assayas, France) and Sherrybaby (Laurie Collyer, US).

The Descent (Neil Marshall, UK). A postfeminist love song to spelunking and Carrie.

Linda Linda Linda (Nobuhiro Yamashita, Japan). The Ramones would be proud.

The Queen (Stephen Frears, UK/France/Italy), with lady-in-waiting Marie Antoinette (Sofia Coppola, US/France/Japan). Feeling those royal pains.

The Science of Sleep (Michel Gondry, France/Italy). Charlotte Gainsbourg makes spectacles, sweater dresses, and felt-mation look trés belle.

Lady Vengeance (Park Chan-wook, South Korea). Red eyeliner, exploitation glam, and that scene with the grieving, vengeful parents …

Volver (Pedro Almodóvar, Spain). Making us love Sophia Loren, Anna Magnani, eyeliner, and push-up bras again.

F stands for family …


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

It is not — finally — a good moment to be a social conservative, as the Republicans have finally failed enough on so many fronts that their failure is being acknowledged. Evidence increasingly suggests large segments of the population don’t really care that much about the terrifying threat of gay marriage, don’t want to turn the clock way back on abortion rights, and prefer keeping church and state as they’re supposed to be: separate. Whatever happened to "family values"?

Maybe folks outside such crazy-liberal enclaves as our own have at last realized that the old mom–dad–2.5 children under one roof equation is an outdated ideal simply because so few people are living it anymore. (Statistics recently confirmed that two-parent households are now indeed in the minority nationally.)

If the movies generally reflect how the public wants to see itself, then 2006 suggested to a large extent that few viewers see the point of happy traditional-family portraiture, even as fantasy material. It used to be that conflict often arose when external circumstances yanked characters from their snug, supposedly normal domestic setup. Now things are usually unstable from the get-go: parents (if both are present) at each other’s throats, kids in alienated crisis, any contented people likely to be delusional (and probably well medicated).

Thus it shouldn’t have been such a surprise, maybe, that the year’s big sleeper was Little Miss Sunshine — a family road trip movie in which everybody who’s old enough to have an opinion loathes everyone else, mostly for good reason. Saddling each relationship with maximum dysfunction, winking at attempted suicide and the appearance of pederasty, the smugly clever script allowed audiences to feel superior to the hapless Hoover clan even as they bought into caring about them. (I didn’t dislike the movie, but it seemed more cynically manipulative than was acknowledged.) Maybe medium-black comedy is the new warm-and-fuzzy comedy for jaded urbanites. If so, it was a surprise that the film adaptation of Augusten Burroughs’s memoir Running with Scissors didn’t do better, since it offered more spectacular bad parenting, growing pains appallingly handled, mockery of basic room and board issues, terrible sexual initiations — and was based on a purportedly true story.

Less-farcical treatment of multihousehold toxicity drives the excellent Little Children, which not only sports the year’s strongest treatment of a pederast (apart from the documentary Deliver Us from Evil) but sees nearly every parent-child and spousal relationship in it unravel in a humid miasma of discontent. Ditto the little-seen but admirable 12 and Holding, whose juvenile protagonists act out in all the wrong ways after one of their friends is accidentally killed. Still, they’re in better mental health than the adults supposedly minding them. Then there are those House of Windsor inbreds who stick together through The Queen. Not that they have any alternatives: in contrast to normal folk, they seem as odd, unnerving, and extinction-bound as a herd of dodoes.

Just about the only nuclear family units onscreen in 2006 were in full-on peril: a mutant clan laying siege to the suburban one (whose members only stop arguing once they start getting killed) in The Hills Have Eyes; Gael García Bernal as a malicious usurper avenging himself on deadbeat dad William Hurt’s new, improved family in The King; Judi Dench acting as a flying wedge to drive apart school colleague Cate Blanchett’s home in Notes on a Scandal; Babel seeing danger everywhere for reckless children and the grown-ups who fail to protect them. Even without kids to worry about, the couples in antiromantic comedy The Break-Up, current upscale drama The Painted Veil, and French marital fry-up Gabrielle can hardly get away from each other fast enough.

What little sentimentality there was to be found in these areas came in suspect packages. Aaron Eckhart’s divorced tobacco industry public relations whiz in Thank You for Smoking may be a slimebag and a tool (and know it), but hey, he still wants his kid to look up to him. It’s the one plot point this movie doesn’t treat with total sarcasm — which only makes the ersatz heartwarmingness queasier. Fairly straight-up family values could be found in movies as diverse as World Trade Center, Apocalypto, The Fountain, and Rocky Balboa — but the one thing uniting those titles is that in important ways they’re all psychologically bogus.

Things look a lot better in the realm of alternative family setups, which this year encompassed such genuinely adventuresome movies as Quinceañera and Shortbus. In less politically correct realms, substitute dads were where you found them — in the mob boss (The Departed), crackhead teacher (Half Nelson), or suicidal gay uncle (Little Miss Sunshine) — but despite their flaws, they were still better than the real, biological item. On the other hand, sometimes the replacement parent is bad enough to make a child’s mind disappear into CGI fantasyland (see Pan’s Labyrinth). As far as the ’60s and ’70s went, institutionalized alternative families don’t look so hot in retrospect: check out the documentaries Commune and Finding Sean. Not to mention the one about a little place called Jonestown.

Children are the future, natch, and no movie made that future look scarier than Jesus Camp — whose little Christian soldiers are being homeschooled into a rigidity of science denial, social intolerance, and street-hassling recruitment. It was also the film, fictive or documentary, that saw narrow-gauge family values in their most aggressive practice. When and if these kids start questioning their parents’ judgment, we may see nuclear family meltdowns of hitherto unknown toxicity. Or worse, if they don’t: god help the rest of us when these know-nothings with a programmed agenda reach voting age. *


(1) Quinceañera (Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland, US)

(2) Shortbus (John Cameron Mitchell, US)

(3) Little Children (Todd Field, US)

(4) Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (Larry Charles, US)

(5) The Queen (Stephen Frears, UK/France/Italy)

(6) Ondskan (Evil) (Mikael Hafström, Sweden)

(7) El Cielo Dividido (Broken Sky) (Julián Hernández, Mexico)

(8) United 93 (Paul Greengrass, US/UK/France)

(9) The Puffy Chair (Jay Duplass, US)

(10) Evil Aliens (Jake West, UK)

Eleven patriot acts


(1) Syndromes and a Century (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Thailand). It isn’t just the laugh-out-loud third-act arrival of a typically grin-struck and beehive-hairdoed MD who keeps a pint of Mekong whiskey in her prosthetic leg that’ll leave you convinced that Syndromes is Apichatpong’s funniest film to date. A blissfully bonkers daydream about intoxicating orchids, unrelieved erections, the possible meanings of the acronym DDT, and the smoke-snarfling blowhorn in the bowels of a Bangkok hospital, Syndromes — commissioned as part of the Mozart-celebrating New Crowned Hope series — is so stuffed with surrealist comedy that it might serve as an ultracryptic gloss on Sigmund Freud’s Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious. While Tony Jaa heads the world over turning most of what might have become a truly modern Thai cinema into some sort of throwback kickboxing hall of shame and even the brightest of contemporary Thai filmmakers seem increasingly content to play catch-up with their own shadows (Wisit Sasanatieng’s politely nostalgic ghost story, The Unseeable; Pen-Ek Ratanaruang’s short treatise on air travel and irrational longing, "Twelve Twenty," in Digital Sam in Sam Saek 2006: Talk to Her), Apichatpong’s unattenuated ability to keep bending time’s arrows to his own cinematic desires seems almost as remarkable as his always Cupid-like inclination to keep firing them straight into our hearts.

(2) I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone (Tsai Ming-liang, Taiwan/Malaysia). Diehard Tsai aficionados will no doubt recall that this leading light of modern Taiwanese cinema is actually a native Malaysian — but who could have anticipated a sex-comedy-slash-love-hate-letter to old Kuala Lumpur as sweaty, scrungy, narratively schizoid, and violently scrubbed and scoured as this? Fans of the foot-stompin’ fellatio follies of Tsai’s last film, The Wayward Cloud, that’s who. Splitting his constant muse, Lee Kang-sheng, into two separate but similarly catatonic parts, each of them oblivious to the admirers who covet and caress his mostly supine form, Tsai burrows beneath and brazenly overenlarges the seediest sounds, side streets, and half-finished architectural skeletons of the country’s monsoon-moist first city in ways that even Malaysia’s brave new breed of cine indies rarely dare. As bizarre and visual gorgeous as it is brutally suspicious of Kuala Lumpur’s racially polyglot society, I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone shifts the director’s patented mannerisms and love-blossoms-in-the-ruins paradigm only slightly — but just enough to remind viewers that even the moldiest mansions can prove breeding grounds for desire and that scratching an itch only makes it worse when the bedbugs start to bite.

(3) and (4) The Host (Bong Joon-ho, Korea) and The Departed (Martin Scorsese, US). Two mass-market blockbusters from opposite if equally cinephilic corners of the multiplex world, relative newcomer Bong’s politically loaded sci-fi spectacular and past master Scorsese’s performance-driven, pretzel-logic policier both made buckets of ducats at box offices across the planet, even as they were winning the most fickle of film critic’s hearts and minds. That The Host would immediately be optioned for a Hollywood remake surprised no one; that The Departed would manage to reinvigorate and at times even overshadow its already quite vibrant Hong Kong source material surprised almost everyone. (Christopher Doyle, eat your hat.) OK, so Martin Sheen’s no Anthony Wong — how about the mouth on Mark Wahlberg? Or the riotously rat-infested payoff of the movie’s final shot? And as for the blend of blighted familial relations, bitter anti-Americana, and run-Run-RUN! hyperkineticism that fuels The Host — to say nothing of the exquisite Zen archery of Bae Doo-na — well, when faced with the task of trying to improve upon the effortless zap and zeal of Bong’s filmmaking, the chopshop chumps in Hollywood haven’t got a chance.

(5) and (6) Old Joy (Kelly Reichardt, US) and A Scanner Darkly (Richard Linklater, US). I’ve loved Kelly Reichardt’s deliberately lo-fi reconsiderations of many of the early 1970s’ most cherished genre-memes since her Badlands-on-a-lunch-money-budget first feature, River of Grass. My feelings about almost every Richard Linklater film I’ve suffered through since Slacker have run entirely to the opposite extreme. So while the inclusion of Old Joy — Reichardt’s gorgeously drifty riff on modern American malaise and misfit male bonding — seems an entirely natural inclusion on this list, the appearance of Linklater’s fear-soaked and ferociously rotoscopic incarnation of Philip K. Dick’s most harrowing and heartbreaking book surprises no one more than me. But from the first volley to the film’s inescapably haunting final thought — "I saw death growing up from the earth" — A Scanner Darkly‘s inescapably despairing analysis of lives sucked hollow by addiction had me hooked.

(7) through (11) The Wire, The Sopranos, The Shield, Deadwood, Dexter (various directors, US). I may have already perilously and uncharacteristically overburdened this list with Americana, but the ways in which so much of modern American television, now some five or six years into its latest and most glorious golden age, has risen to the occasion provided by modern American cinema’s almost wholesale evasion of politically progressive and powerfully open-ended storytelling is a phenomenon no one can afford to ignore. From the battle of the Wills (Shakespeare versus Burroughs) that underscores the sixth season of The Sopranos and the seriously fucked-up bad cop–bad cop antiheroics of The Shield to the symposium on the failure of social systems borrowed from the poetics of the ancient Greeks by The Wire and the McCabe and Mrs. Miller–meets–Berlin Alexanderplatz frontier profanities of Deadwood, today’s American television is as much a source of constant pleasure as an unprecedentedly complex nexus of narrative sophistication and moral-vacuum despair. That the "hero" of this season’s best new program, Showtime’s Dexter, isn’t just a lovably humanized sociopath (à la Tony Soprano), a homicidal policeman (à la Vic Mackey), or a basket case forensics specialist (à la the entire cast of CSI: Miami) but a huggable (and strangely pink-lipsticked) combination of all three delivers ineluctable proof positive that where once lay a vast wasteland populated by Gilligans and Gidgets now blossoms the promise of a brave new world. (Chuck Stephens)

A pirate diary


When I got to Mexico City’s main ceremonial drag, where national parades and military marches are flanked by the art nouveau–style Palacio de Bellas Artes and the most striking Sears department store building you will ever see, it had transformed into a full-on tent city: blue tarp, camping tents, and thousands of political cartoons flowed east for half a mile and filled the Zócalo, the city’s vast central plaza. Just a few days before, Mexico’s highest electoral court had confirmed National Action Party (PAN) candidate Felipe Calderón as the country’s next president. His opponent Andreas Manuel López Obrador, who challenged the cleanliness of the election that had him losing by a little more than half a percentage point, had asked that his camped-out supporters stay where they were until they could force a vote-by-vote recount. The recount had been denied, and Calderón was now certain to replace outgoing president Vicente Fox, but López Obrador’s supporters were still there in their virtual city within a city.

And then it was gone. The annual military march on Mexican Independence Day saw to that. In its absence, on other streets all over the capital, another tent city continued to function, one that had been there long before the political mess and will be there long after. It shows up in the morning and gets taken down in the evening nearly every day, and it’s a hugely significant part of Mexico’s economy. In his novel Hombre al Agua, Fabrizio Mejía Madrid describes the miles of blue tarp that are the skin of Mexico City street commerce as the closest thing a landlocked resident can hope for in the way of waterfront property. Pirated movies, albums, and software are absolutely everywhere — you could drown.

According to a study conducted by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), the star of the recent movie This Film Is Not Yet Rated, and cited by the Los Angeles Times, in 2005 major studios lost more revenue to Mexican street vendors, $483 million, than to those of any other country on this thieving little planet. You can mark me down as responsible for about $200 of that. In my seven months in Mexico, I went to a grand total of one museum, one cathedral, and zero ancient pyramids. Mostly, I just watched movies. And since — as we all secretly believe or at least suspect — watching movies is better than real life anyway, I ended up doing a lot of it on my return visit, with the friends I somehow found the time and opportunity to meet.

Michelangelo Antonioni’s The Passenger was my first recruit in the great battle between art and intellectual property law. In it Jack Nicholson plays a journalist who switches identities with the black-market arms dealer who’s died in his hotel, kicking off one Sunday drive of a thriller. Surely, there’s no sleepier suspense film. (Antonioni’s Blow-Up doesn’t count, since it’s an artsy fuck you to suspense films, just as Brian De Palma’s Blow Out is a fuck you to artsy fuck yous to suspense films.) Amazingly, though, the pace never dissolves the tension, despite Antonioni’s gallant attempts to try our patience, like introducing love interest Maria Schneider after a full hour of film. A much less successful test of our patience is Nicholson’s bewildered commentary, which does little more than narrate a movie you couldn’t get lost in if you were blindfolded and spun around really fast. I sat through half of it and was rewarded with one semiprecious jewel: Nicholson’s character was wearing the first digital watch ever made, by Tiffany.

After that humble start, the next day I went on a Mexican film–buying binge. Well, I tried to. You’d think the one thing you’d be certain to find in Mexico is Mexican film. You’d be right about half the time, but those are odds I don’t particularly care for. I found Carlos Reygadas’s Battle in Heaven (everywhere, in fact) but not his Japón. I found Alejandro Jodorowsky’s riot-causing Fando y Lis and El Topo (not available on DVD in the United States) but not La Montaña Sagrada. I found Los Olvidados and La Jóven but nothing else by Luis Buñuel, and he was a hard worker in Mexico. Rogelio A. González’s El Esqueleto de la Señora Morales, yes. Carlos Velo’s Cinco de Chocolate y Uno de Fresa, no. And so on. But if you like Vicente Fernández or the masked wrestler Santo, which I’m vaguely ashamed to say I do, god help you if you only have one suitcase.

I also had overwhelming success finding Tin Tan, a Mexican comedian and singer who could be described as sort of like Danny Kaye in a zoot suit. His devotees are as wide-ranging as me and the Beatles. (I recently read that he was supposed to be part of the Sergeant Pepper album cover but suggested that Ringo replace him with a Mexican tree.) By the end of the seven months I spent in Mexico City, the most Spanish I’d learned was a sort of raised-by-wolves level of communication that, though I hoped it came off as charming, made it hard for me to fully understand a movie unless I concentrated like an air traffic controller. Tin Tan was always a comfort because his movies are funny even without translation. My favorite of his movies is El Rey del Barrio, about a man in Mexico City who leads a double life as a poor sweet nobody and a ruthless, flamenco-singing street boss. It costars his brother Ramón Valdéz, from the bafflingly adored El Chavo del Ocho, a ’70s Mexican sitcom in which the titular character is a little kid played by an adult.

Which is lot less annoying and creepy than an adult played by a little kid, as Dakota Fanning’s career has demonstrated. Sadistic revenge fantasies like the Mexico City–set Man on Fire have their place in this world and are hard for me to empirically condemn, but the idea that an already irritable man would take 45 minutes of a movie to avenge Fanning’s death is something I’m just not willing to accept. I can almost never sit through her performances, but we watched this movie at the tail end of a long and drunken night, when civic pride had long since overpowered any vestiges of personal pride. (When Denzel Washington buys a Linda Ronstadt album just blocks away from the spot where we’d bought this very movie, we practically cheered.) The commentary track was sprinkled liberally with Fanning annoyingly and creepily naming people on the set who were great to work with. Why doesn’t the MPAA take a stand against mixing children and commentary tracks?

With Denzel and Dakota out of the way, we moved on to happier territory (at least I did; everyone else had fallen asleep). The Barkleys of Broadway was Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers’s Technicolor comeback after a 10-year split, and it was the last film they made together. Ira Gershwin’s lyrics are as winning as ever, but his brother was sorely missed. In other sad news, the proud tradition of the fruity character actor had been abandoned with the exclusion of Eric Blore and Eric Blore’s teeth. Oscar Levant’s piano-playing playboy was more than compensation, though (sorry, Blore). The observation, traced to a Frank and Ernest comic strip, that Rogers had to do everything Astaire had to do but backward and in high heels (Backwards in High Heels, a musical about Rogers, comes out next year) might not even be as important as the fact that she could also act circles around the guy, who always delivered his lines like he was about to sneeze.

A couple of days later, in accidental coincidence with Mexican Independence Day, we celebrated with two classics of civil disobedience. The first, The Wild One, was just as unpleasant to watch this time around as the previous time I saw it. No movie has ever given me more desire to smack Marlon Brando’s pouty little face and send him to his room without supper. Ironically, Rambo: First Blood was the perfect complement to the fireworks exploding around us, reminding us that no tyrant, be it the Spanish crown or Brian Dennehy, stands a chance against an organized and pissed-off society — or Rambo. The next morning we watched Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Fascist fuckfest, Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom, to break our spirits just enough to keep us showing up for work. I was sad to discover the copy I’d bought on Calle Arcos de Belen for 15 pesos didn’t offer English subtitles — luckily, Pasolini’s nod to the Marquis de Sade speaks the international language of eating human feces.

Next up was Lemon Popsicle, which sounds like a hentai film but turned out to be an Israeli Porky’s with dubbed English dialogue such as "I’d say the brunette’s cherry’s been well busted, for sure." Ignoring their parents’ advice not to get involved with shiksas, the horny heroes spend the whole movie trying to gain comprehensive sexual experience with the pretty girls who don’t go too far, the not-so-pretty girls who go farther, and the crabs-ridden prostitute who’ll take ’em to the moon and back. And somewhere along the way they preside over a monumentally homoerotic penis-measuring contest in the locker room. It’s all so Porky’s I was shocked to discover that it came out a full five years earlier, in 1978, spawning eight sequels and the American remake The Last American Virgin. According to Robert O’Keefe from Wales on imdb.com, Lemon Popsicle is "ONE OF THE BEST FILMS EVER MADE." Considering the emphatic use of caps and that seven out of seven people found his review useful, I have no choice but to defer to him on the matter.

The last thing I saw in Mexico was Woody Allen’s Scoop, which I watched while flying over the northern part of the country. Allen has to work harder for his jokes these days, so it was rough to see the movie’s occasional bull’s-eye apocalyptically mistranslated. Best example: the character originally says, "I was born into the Hebrew persuasion, but when I got older I converted to narcissism." This is so quintessentially him that even a translator who spoke no English at all could’ve assembled a more faithful subtitle than "I had Hindu beliefs, but I converted to Christianity." Of the two lines, though, the latter certainly got the bigger laugh out of me — I even woke up the lady in the next seat. In fact, maybe the translator did it on purpose, to give Allen and his movie the little extra push they needed. After all, that’s what the pirated movie industry is all about. People helping people. It’s beautiful, really. Please don’t turn me in. (Jason Shamai)


(1) Battle in Heaven (Carlos Reygadas, Mexico)

(2) The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (Cristi Puiu, Romania)

(3) Half Nelson (Ryan Fleck, US)

(4) Brick (Rian Johnson, US)

(5) Mongolian Ping Pong (Hao Ning, China)

(6) The Science of Sleep (Michel Gondry, France/Italy)

(7) Lunacy (Jan Svankmajer, Czech Republic/Slovakia)

(8) United 93 (Paul Greengrass, US/UK/France)

(9) Adam’s Apples (Anders Thomas Jensen, Germany/Denmark)

(10) Duck Season (Fernando Eimbcke, Mexico)

For a longer version of this article, go to the Pixel Vision blog at www.sfbg.com/pixel_vision.

Heavenly battles and broken skies


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In 2006 the global media blitz continued to focus on the three Mexican directors — Alfonso Cuarón, Guillermo del Toro, and Alejandro González Iñárritu — who’ve been lured by Hollywood. But a new generation of auteurs, whose approaches to filmmaking range from minimalistic to baroque, are redefining and reinvigorating film and generating debate about a genuinely new Mexican cinema.

Broken Sky (El Cielo Dividido, 2006) proves the Cooperativa Morelos filmmaking team, composed primarily of writer-director Julián Hernández and producer Roberto Fiesco (also a remarkable director of shorts), remains utterly faithful to its contemplative and pictorial film language. The filmmakers are equally dedicated to their die-hard romantic vision of the precipitous highs and lows of young mestizo men in love and lust amid the urban textures of Mexico City. Like their previous projects, Broken Sky — exquisitely shot in color by Alejandro Cantú — works against dominant representations of gay men in Mexican cinema, not to mention the banal, plastic boy-toy tales that dominate many US queer films.

If you can get past bad-boy provocateur Carlos Reygadas’s unsettling sexism and class politics, there is much to appreciate in his just-short-of-astounding urban epic, Battle in Heaven (Batalla en el Cielo, 2005). This audacious second film explores the calvary-like spiritual journey and ultimately futile quest for redemption of an ordinary plump mestizo chauffeur. A maverick, Reygadas again (as in his debut, 2002’s Japón) uses nonprofessional actors and a somewhat grotesque, naturalistic approach to eroticism. He is matched in the sheer irreverence of his perspective on Mexican national icons (from a pilgrimage to the Basilica of Guadalupe to the unfurling of a gigantic Mexican flag in the Zócalo of the National Palace) only by the likes of Arturo Ripstein and Alejandro Jodorowsky.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, in terms of both its bare-bones visual style — mostly static, head-on takes — and its simple narrative, is the deadpan black comedy Sangre (2005). The debut feature by Amat Escalante, assistant director to Reygadas on Battle in Heaven, Sangre is an absurdist tragicomedy about family ties.

Fernando Eimbcke’s multiaward-winning first film, Duck Season (Temporada de Patos, 2004), is also unexpectedly quirky. A self-conscious black-and-white homage to Jim Jarmusch’s Stranger Than Paradise, it is set in the historically charged (and massive) Tlatelolco housing complex, near downtown Mexico City. Favoring a minimalistic aesthetic, the film perfectly captures the rhythms of a Sunday afternoon in the lives of two 14-year-old boys, nicknamed Flama and Moko. Left alone by their divorced parents and armed with Nintendo, an extralarge pizza, and plenty of Coke, Flama and Moko are ready to play — until a power shortage and a sudden visitor derail their plans.

Both Duck Seasons‘s tight eight-hour narrative span and its confined space — all but three short sequences take place inside an apartment — remind me of Red Dawn (1989), the independently produced film that boldly inaugurated the current new Mexican cinema by taking on the notorious military massacre of student and civilian demonstrators on the eve of the 1968 summer Olympic Games. Duck Season is otherwise void of obvious political references, but Moko’s homo fantasy of his buddy Flama is endearing. Moko spells his nickname with a k, not a c, since the latter spelling means booger (bugger?). No matter how you spell it, the word still has the connotation of bodily secretions, sexual and otherwise — as does the pato of the original title.

Some other favorites:

Pink Punch (Puños Rosas, 2004). Beto Gómez’s campy Mexploitation flick packs plenty of fruity juice in a US-Mexico-border action-comedy involving gangsters, boxers, and prison. The delights include always fierce, don’t-fuck-with-me Isela Vega and a knockout performance by Roberto Espejo, again doing drag, as in Gómez’s Caiman’s Dream (El Sueño del Caimán, 2005).

A Wonderful World (Un Mundo Maravilloso, 2005). Luis Estrada’s excellent follow-up to his polemical Herod’s Law (La Ley de Herodes, 1999) arrived just in time to assess how well the National Action Party fared in bridging the abyss between rich and poor after 71 years of uninterrupted, ironfisted Institutional Revolutionary Party political rule.

The Citrillo’s Turns (Las Vueltas del Citrillo, 2005). Veteran Felipe Cazals returns to the abuse of power, this time with a tone of picaresque black comedy. Featuring stellar performances by the ever versatile Damián Alcázar, José María Yazpik, and Vanessa Bauche, it’s set circa 1903 and focuses on characters who indulge in alcoholic libations from a pulquería, which gives the film its title.

In the Pit (En el Hoyo, 2005). Director Juan Carlos Rulfo finally lets his famous father rest in peace while dynamically exploring his own voice. This documentary brings together on-site conversations with workers who constructed the second level of the highway where three million cars circulate daily through Mexico City.

Despite a significant increase in the annual number of feature-length works produced in Mexico since figures plummeted to unprecedented depths in the 1990s, it remains difficult to see Mexican films outside film festivals. Within Mexico, national film protection legislation mandating 10 percent of screen time be allocated to local work remains, to no one’s surprise, unenforced. In the United States, given the interest in Mexican movies since at least as far back as 1992’s Like Water for Chocolate (Como Agua para Chocolate, Alfonso Arau), it is perplexing why more films don’t get a commercial run — especially since French films get theatrical time even though they rarely earn much at the box office. Do I have an ax to grind about this? Hell yeah! *

Revolutions happen like refrains in a song …


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The term independent once meant something in Philippine cinema. It was reserved for such luminaries as Rox Lee (the great animator), Raymond Red (the great short-film maker), and in recent years, Lav Diaz (the great stubborn filmmaker). These were artists who had earned their stripes and garnered accolades but refused to sell out or cater to commercial demands, preferring to maintain control over their work rather than cash in and see their names in lights.

Today independent — and its many synonyms — has become a hot buzzword in the Philippines. Young filmmakers, students, festivals, even commercial studios are beginning to use the word, defiling the purity that was once associated with it.

When parties from the commercial industry, from the mainstream or establishment, begin to infiltrate and claim the underground for themselves, what is left for the true independent filmmaker to do? Stan Brakhage put it best:

So the money vendors have begun it again. To the catacombs then, or rather plant this seed deeper in the underground beyond false nourishing of sewage waters. Let it draw nourishment from hidden uprising springs channeled by gods … forget ideology, for film unborn as it is has no language and speaks like an aborigine — monotonous rhetoric…. Abandon aesthetics…. Negate techniques, for film, like America, has not been discovered yet, and mechanization, in the deepest possible sense of the word, traps both beyond measuring even chances…. Let film be. It is something … becoming.

It is in this spirit that the New Philippine Cinema, conceived in 2004, birthed in 2005, and now beginning to mature in 2006, is being forged. While it does encompass this false new independence, most of its best and brightest moments have been strong reactions against it.

To speak of ambition in regard to Raya Martin’s A Short Film about the Indio Nacional (or the Prolonged Sorrow of Filipinos) would be to speak of the obvious — the director was a 21-year-old college senior undertaking a feature film, silent with title cards, shot on 35mm, in black-and-white, set in the 1890s Spanish-era Philippines. The movie starts with a frustratingly slow 22-minute piece, shot in color, on digital video, with sound, that’s devoid of action for the first 17 minutes (before settling into a moving tale of nationalism). Martin’s A Short Film is an intensely personal work projecting the young director’s emotional impressions of the bygone era into the beginnings of the uprising, the stirrings of Philippine nationalism. Is Martin’s film accurate in its depiction? Does it represent a work evincing deep historical research that may be used as a text for young students to study in order to know more about the era? No — and that is both its strength and its weakness.

A Short Film focuses on minor and intimate moments, creating images that would otherwise be left out of major historical films (and were left out of the films shot at the time by the colonizers). How relevant is the film in the cultural geography of the Philippines? I daresay it is a very, very important work, one that will be looked at with as much perplexity now as admiration in the future. But the reasons for its importance, for its significance, will be (a) its audacity, (b) its aesthetic, and (c) the emotional impact it will have on maybe not an entire generation of average viewers, but at the very least this generation of filmmakers. A Short Film throws down the gauntlet — and with rude authority — for the heights of sophistication and beauty the Philippine aesthetic may reach.

John Torres is as personal a filmmaker as you can possibly meet. His short films and one feature (Todo Todo Teros) — all made for not more than the cost of a few mini-DV tapes and the opportunity cost of accepting other work (he runs a small editing house) — are heartbreaking works. They combine found and organized footage with text in a way that hasn’t been seen before in Philippine cinema. I go to Torres’s films for what I can learn from them. But I learn nothing a proper academic setting would find valuable, nothing of history, politics, or economics; not even anything about contemporary Philippine cinema. I learn something much, much more valuable to me in my life: I learn about the inner working of the heart. Torres’s films, the ideas behind them, the struggle to make them, teach me something I need to learn: humility, benevolence. They illustrate the beauty found in self-effacement, in touching your pain, admitting your faults, and at the same time learning to sacrifice face in the name of trust, in the name of solidarity with humanity and sharing everything that is close to you with the world in the hope that it will understand and sympathize with you as much as you are trying your hardest to understand and sympathize with it. Ultimately, they are tone poems, films that both espouse and offer compassion.

Lav Diaz’s works stand so off tangent that Evolution of a Filipino Family has had only six screenings in the Philippines. His Heremias, a labor of love and the first half of the last part of his Philippine trilogy, following Evolution and Batang West Side, was written, directed, produced, and edited by Diaz himself. The astonishing thing about his Philippine trilogy is how, while the films are radical in themselves, they’re also all so different — in time, space, and aesthetic. The five-hour West Side, about the Filipino experience abroad, is a 35mm color work shot and set in contemporary New Jersey. The 11-hour Evolution, a mix of 16mm and various forms of digital, is in black-and-white and is set just before, during, and after the martial law period in the Philippines. Mixing scenes of urban and rural life, it is astonishingly sophisticated in its use of both mise-en-scène and (intellectual) montage, a remarkable feat given its duration. The nine-hour Heremias, shot entirely on digital, is set in the present-day rural Philippines. It is the only film in the trilogy that is told linearly and focuses on a single character. This trilogy, when completed, should tower over contemporary Philippine cinema, over aspiring independent filmmakers as a paradigm of what it means to be uncompromising.

The new Philippine filmmaker does not fear experimentation but embraces it, knowing that, as Brakhage declared, film — or perhaps better put, cinema — is still something … becoming. While aboveground the death of Philippine cinema (or the industry) is proclaimed, in the deep underground lie the real artists, replenishing the soil with seeds of a new cinema. *

Alexis A. Tioseco is editor in chief at Criticine. A longer version of this piece can be found at www.criticine.com.

For Tioseco’s top five Southeast Asian features, short works, and older films seen for the first time, go to Pixel Vision at www.sfbg.com/blogs/pixel_vision.

New generation, old joy


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Once upon a time movie men were expected to be all action — confidence, whether in the form of a swagger or saunter, being the mark of the leading man. Such virility was served up uncooked by method actors such as Marlon Brando and James Dean, but it wasn’t until the baby boom generation ushered in unlikely stars such as Dustin Hoffman and Jack Nicholson that the archetype really turned over. Realism was the new fantasy, and these actors went to great lengths to convey hurt. This tendency reached a peak during the indie cinema boom of the ’90s, with male leads wearing their wounds with newfound openness, flailing — or as writer-director Noah Baumbach would have it, kicking and screaming — at posteverything angst and political correctness. Several of this year’s most indelible male characters were racked with similar inaction but were also fleshed out with an altogether tougher skin than were their ’90s predecessors. They still struggled to come to terms with the present tense but in a more reserved, reflective kind of way.

Even with the Zach Braff vehicle The Last Kiss failing to stir Garden State fans, 2006 was a good year for boy-men. The fact that Keanu Reeves (A Scanner Darkly) continues to win parts is surely proof enough, but there were three American indies — Ryan Fleck’s Half Nelson, Andrew Bujalski’s Mutual Appreciation, and Kelly Reichardt’s Old Joy — that most poignantly located ambiguity (and cultural malaise) in the troubled expressions of their male leads. Is it telling that women had a major hand in making two of these films, with director Reichardt adapting Jon Raymond’s story for Old Joy and Anna Boden teaming with director Fleck to pen the script for Half Nelson? Probably so, especially when you consider that it’s the male-helmed Mutual Appreciation (written, directed, and costarring Bujalski) that most resembles the talky Generation X pictures made 10 years ago, albeit realized with a formal tact and thematic subtlety largely missing in those now-dated chronicles of ennui.

The fact that each of these films frames its character studies in a different way — Half Nelson is a social drama, Mutual Appreciation a relationship movie, and Old Joy the closest thing to lyric poetry we’re likely to get from American narrative cinema — makes their overlaps all the more striking. All the central characters are, to be sure, of the same milieu (Half Nelson and Mutual Appreciation even share a Brooklyn setting), and one imagines they would get along fine at the right party — a conclusion we can draw from their record collections. It’s clear enough from Half Nelson‘s Broken Social Scene soundtrack and Old Joy‘s Yo La Tengo score but even more embedded in the casting of Will Oldham in Old Joy and as-yet-unknown rocker Justin Rice in Mutual Appreciation: a nod to ’70s cinema, when art directors like Monte Hellman found muses in musician-actors like Kris Kristofferson, Warren Oates, and yup, James Taylor.

These singer-songwriters are known for suggesting emotion without resorting to histrionic literalism, so it’s natural that filmmakers aiming for opaque characterizations took an interest in them. If casting provides clay to mold (even Half Nelson‘s Ryan Gosling — an established actor — is enough of a blank slate for these purposes), it’s the filmmakers who supply the films’ crucial senses of diffusion and displacement. All these films are, at base, about characters fundamentally unsure of their place in the world, so it makes sense that they share a common focus on environment and mise-en-scène. Old Joy ‘s overcast Oregon woods function in much the same way as Mutual Appreciation‘s crummy, minimalist flats and protagonist Dan Dunne’s shut-in apartment in Half Nelson. The two estranged friends in Old Joy take a camping trip to get away from their lives but end up considerably more cloistered, with the trash-strewn, damp woods hanging over their heads as much as their past-tense relationship does. One especially lyrical shot shows the woods’ reflection rotating in their car’s window as they U-turn, lost in more than one sense. Meanwhile, in several of Mutual Appreciation‘s key scenes, the figures involved in the central ménage à trois listlessly rock back and forth, the thrift furniture and frameless mattresses an extension of their essential fear of commitment. And then there’s Half Nelson‘s Dan, an anguished hero split between a passion for teaching and a drug addiction, his shuttered, bookish flat betraying self-entrapment and lapsed idealism.

Lapses are another common denominator here — many of these films’ most affecting images are the silent beats in which we see the actors registering a sense of loss, be it nostalgia (the pause in Old Joy following Mark and Kurt’s conversation about a favorite record store going out of business) or regret (Dan’s hollowed expression when caught smoking crack by a knowing student). Mutual Appreciation‘s characters have hardly started their adult lives, but when rocker Alan looks at himself in the mirror, in drag after a drunken odyssey, the seed is already there; 10 years down the line, his problems will be Mark’s and Kurt’s. Politics hang in the air like weather (Mark listens to Air America with a blank expression; Dan is distant while his parents discuss their bygone activism) as if preemptively remembering the present. Kicking and screaming, no: instead, as Kurt’s Old Joy tag goes, "Sorrow is nothing but worn-out joy." It’s hardly a sentiment to stake a straightforward portrait of a generation on, but while these films probably lose something in box office terms for not having the cachet of Reality Bites or, for that matter, The Graduate, they more than make up for it with their uncloying characterizations. Even Brando might find the roles opaque, but for these films it would be a mistake to confuse ambiguity with aimlessness. *


Old Joy (Kelly Reichardt, US)

L’Enfant (Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, Belgium/France)

Mutual Appreciation (Andrew Bujalski, US)

The Intruder (Claire Denis, France)

Iraq in Fragments (James Longley, US/Iraq)

Flags of Our Fathers/Letters from Iwo Jima (Clint Eastwood, US)

Half Nelson (Ryan Fleck, US)

The Proposition (John Hillcoat, Australia/UK)

Three Times (Hou Hsiao-hsien, France/Taiwan)

A Scanner Darkly (Richard Linklater, US)

Revenge of the sloth


› cheryl@sfbg.com

Male malaise sure had a banner year in 2006 — at least as far as Hollywood was concerned. How many more times are we gonna have to sit through the same story about some supposedly endearing dude in his 20s or 30s whose quest to figure shit out exasperates everyone around him? And when I say "we," I’m implicating all y’all: The Break-Up made $114 million, and I’m guessing Vaughniston looky-loos shouldered only part of the blame.

While this brand of coming-of-age tale is nothing new — even when the age in question is decidedly postcollegiate — it’s never been so pervasive. Just rake your eyes over 2006’s top moneymakers: Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby; Failure to Launch; You, Me and Dupree; and thinly disguised variations on the theme like Cars — animated, sure, but fronted by man-child extraordinaire Owen Wilson. Even Superman Returns featured an emotionally stunted hero on the verge of a quarter-life crisis. (As did 2005’s top earner, Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. Noooo!)

Needless to say, none of the above really resemble similarly themed works of years past — say, The Graduate. These days, menfolk in the cinematic mainstream cultivate an I-don’t-wanna-grow-up attitude that’s less existential, more slothful. It’s a perfect match for a target audience that couldn’t care less about the war in Iraq but is willing to kill for a PlayStation 3. And while romantic comedies such as The Break-Up, Failure to Launch, and You, Me and Dupree are traditionally aimed at women, these particular films hit big because the male leads (Vince Vaughn, Matthew McConaughey, and Wilson again) were calcuutf8gly cast — they’re the kind of dudes that dudes can enjoy. The masculine ideal has definitely shifted. Why be suave when you can be a slob?

Naturally, these films all feature a buzzkill chick (Jennifer Aniston, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kate Hudson, etc.) who marches in and snatches away the remote control. Parker’s Failure to Launch character has actually made a career out of tricking ne’er-do-wells to move out of their parents’ homes. (The only time a male-female relationship isn’t a central component in these films is when you move into Jackass: Number Two territory, which focuses on dude-dude relationships amid 2006’s other chic craze: good old-fashioned torture.) Notably, in You, Me and Dupree, Matt Dillon’s character — newlywed, homeowner, tryin’ to get ahead at the office — is majorly emasculated at every turn by both his father-in-law boss and, of course, best bud Wilson.

There are ways to make this arrested-development story line fresh and interesting: Shaun of the Dead did it with zombies; The 40-Year-Old Virgin did it with the genius of Steve Carell (and his man-o’-lantern). And there’s hope on the other end of the spectrum: comedies may be populated by 35-year-old juveniles, but a film like The Departed proves that men grappling with maturity isn’t a topic forever bound to fart jokes. But then, of course, there’s 2006’s most freakish exploration of the trend: Little Man, the tale of a guy who literally inhabits a baby’s body. A more succinct (or crasser or more stupidly funny) deconstruction of contemporary male-centric romantic comedies would be near impossible to find. *


(1) Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (Larry Charles, US). Even if the whole movie were composed of that moment when Borat throws down his suitcase and the chicken lurking within gives out a sudden squawk, it would still be the funniest cinematic release of 2006. Possibly ever.

(2) The Host (Bong Joon-ho, South Korea). A politically conscious monster movie with bite, humor, quietly intense performances, and a lot of tentacles.

(3) The Descent (Neil Marshall, UK). A major leap forward for a young horror director who’s also a huge horror movie fan, this cave-set chiller with an outstanding (nearly all-female) cast melds Alien, The Shining, The Thing, Apocalypse Now, and Carrie.

(4) Half Nelson (Ryan Fleck, US). Proof that the American indie is still able to flourish without stooping to any clichés. Ryan Gosling’s heartbreaking lead performance is among the year’s standouts.

(5) Brick (Rian Johnson, US). High school hasn’t been this dark — or exquisitely vernaculared — since Heathers.

(6) Exiled (Johnny To, Hong Kong). Johnny To’s Sergio Leone–by–way–of–the–triads spectacular wields gun fu, spaghetti western ‘tude, and a never-better Anthony Wong.

(7) Red Road (Andrea Arnold, UK/Denmark). If you caught Andrea Arnold’s Oscar-winning short, Wasp, you knew she was headed for greatness; the stark, stunning Red Road bears this out.

(8) Lady Vengeance (Park Chan-wook, South Korea). Yeah, I had this on my list last year. But since it finally emerged in San Francisco in 2006, it’s back — and well worth a second mention.

(9) The Departed (Martin Scorsese, US). Sure, it’s got stars — Leo’s great, Matt’s good, Jack’s a wee bit self-indulgent — but the supporting players (Alec Baldwin, Martin Sheen, Vera Farmiga, and especially Mark Wahlberg) are what really buoy Scorsese’s stylish triumph.

(10) Naisu no Mori: The First Contact (Katsuhito Ishii, Hajime Ishimine, and Shunichiro Miki, Japan). I quote an imdb.com user: "This movie melted my mind!" Show me your dancing!

Raya Martin’s twin cinema peaks of 2006


1. Costa in Cannes Cinema Scope editor Mark Peranson warned me about what was to come: Pedro Costa’s Colossal Youth was reportedly still being edited a few days before its screening in the Official Competition at Cannes, and its nonactors from the Lisbon slums were gracing the red carpet premiere.

Costa’s latest film, in all its pure cinematic glory, only had one early afternoon premiere screening, while the festival put on pregala shows prioritizing its star-laden crowd pleasers (e.g., the ridiculously horrible Babel by Alejandro González Iñárritu). Half an hour into Colossal Youth, half of the Lumiere audience had already run out of the theater. Only loyal and curious audience members, including Costa first-timers like me, were there to witness a momentous standing ovation lasting nearly 10 minutes.

It felt like a rebirth of new cinema, one that might have been coincidental — out of place — and that probably might not happen again for a long time.

2. (Re)Discovering Garrel In Philippe Garrel’s Regular Lovers, one finds not just adamant aesthetics (the film’s 16mm screenings around Paris proved to be a true limited release) but a sense of achievement in the cinema of personal-is-political, shown in both Garrel’s narrative and the casting of his son, actor Louis Garrel.

Following my first viewing of Garrel’s most recent, phenomenal, and overlooked film, the timely screening of two others at the Rotterdam Film Festival this January (thanks to White Light programmer Gertjan Zuilhof) gave me a chance to correct my image of him as a newcomer to that of a long-established cinema master.

I Don’t Hear the Guitar Anymore (1991), a painful dedication to his ex-partner, the late Velvet Underground crooner Nico, is like a haunting dream. My personal favorite, Wild Innocence (2001), is an excellent look into Garrel’s cinema and persona, both crossing favorably and fluidly.

While all of his films pretty much deal with the same subject matter — drugs, addiction, relationships, all pointing to a generally public past — Garrel’s cinema basks within a uniquely exquisite atmosphere. One that haunts me as a desperate filmmaker and lonely shadow.

Raya Martin is the director of A Short Film about the Indio Nacional (or the Prolonged Sorrow of Filipinos).

Identity politics


› le_chicken_farmer@yahoo.com

CHEAP EATS Where were we?

Oh yeah, I was a menace to society — unintentionally, to my credit — and lots of innocent people were going to die or go blind on account of my lack of window-opening prowess. Or did I dream this? It sounds like a dream. Except I couldn’t have dreamed it because everyone’s shirts stayed on and there weren’t any Day-Glo chickens running around or big yellow onions with legs.

I’m so confused. Sometimes I have to go read last week’s column just to find out where I’m at in the world. So this was real. I know because I read it in the paper: the chicken farmer broke a window and spear-shaped shards of glass were raining down on the sidewalk all over Mod the Pod who, being superheroic, managed to escape without a scratch. I still don’t see how.

No one else got hurt either! Just me, and the damage was all to the head. I was traumatized. I haven’t been the same since. I’m twitchy, touchy, and even weirder than my weird cat Weirdo the Cat. I jump at the sound of a leaf landing on the roof. I have to drink out of sippy cups. Every little thing is the crack of glass to me: voices, footsteps. And all I can think about without screaming is Jane Austen novels and soup.

Speaking of which, I scored a scrap pile ham bone from Yard Sale’s holiday party last week at the Rite Spot (thank you, Denise!), and I gotta go stir the pot of split-pea heaven gurgling on top of the wood stove.

Man, it smells good in here for a change.

So anyway … the Pod superheroically came up with a bag and a broom, cleaned my mess, threw a blanket over my shell-shocked shoulders, and led me very slowly to my new favorite restaurant, Just Won Ton. I’ll never understand how we got there because it’s way the hell out in the Sunset on Vicente, and the glass storm happened in Laurel Heights. But isn’t that just like a superhero?

Maybe we drove.

Whatever the case, it happened. Soup happened, and I was on the road to recovery. We had a bowl of wonton noodle soup and another bowl with dumplings, and we passed them back and forth, and both ones were wonderful, but I forget which had fish balls and which had chickens.

I remember a big plate of roast duck on the table between us, and roast duck is another thing that just makes life entirely livable and loveable, no matter what: You’re sick. You suck. You just broke windows over your best friend’s head…. Roast duck!

"Pod," I said, in a small shaky way, between slurps and slobbers, "what do people mean when they talk about ‘identity politics’?"

Mod is a recent escapee from academia. I’m a chicken farmer.

"Who’s talking about identity politics?" she said.

"It was on that radio show you sent me the link to. KPFA? Something about something, Suzy Vacuum Cleaner?"

"We’ll talk about it later," she said. Good superhero. "Eat your soup. ‘Suzy Vacuum Cleaner’?"

"Something like that. And some other people," I said, sinking into my soup, which was delicious, in case I didn’t already say so. So we didn’t talk about identity politics. But later, days later, between wontons and ham bones, when I was feeling a lot better about almost having killed one of my favorite people ever, I called one of my other favorite people ever, my old pal Moonpie, and I said, "Identity politics. Start talking." And she did.

She’s a teacher. I’m a chicken farmer.

These are words, and I still don’t know what anything means. I mean, there are eggs, and there are all the words we use to describe an egg. Like egg. I’m trying, but even though I’m a writer in addition to a chicken farmer, words fall short for me. They don’t do justice to reality, which I find to be almost infinitely complex, tasty, and entirely unpoliticable.

Just Won Ton, for example, serves more than just wontons. A lot more. Duck. Chinese tamales.

It’s a simple, calmingly out-of-the-way place, and it’s a great name for a restaurant. But it both is and isn’t what it is.

Again it comes spiraling to this! And I almost get it, again, and am full of soupy amazement. The ham bone is connected to the ham bone. It wouldn’t fit in any of my pots, so I had to saw it in half with a hack saw. *


Tues.–Sun., 11 a.m.–10 p.m.

1241 Vicente, SF

(415) 681-2999

Takeout available




Wheelchair accessible


Don’t mess with it


› andrea@altsexcolumn.com

Dear Andrea:

In last week’s response to "Pill or No Pill," I’m glad that you mentioned that playing around with endocrine systems can be harmful. When I was diagnosed with anorexia, the doctors told me that if I kept missing periods, I would be at risk for things like low bone density and osteoporosis. It seems suspect that doctors and pharmaceutical companies are now advocating pills that limit a woman’s period to four times a year. What can you tell me about it?


Keeping My Period

PS In regard to "Pill or No Pill," why can’t they have sex during her period?

Dear Period:

I don’t get a chance to say this very often, but your doctors misspoke. There’s no doubt that your endocrine system was messed up good while you were anorexic, but it wasn’t the missing periods that were doing the damage. Both the amenorrhea (lack of periods) and the potential bone loss were symptoms of messing with your endocrine system. When one hormone gets knocked out, the entire chain is broken, and all sorts of havoc potentially ensues. You weren’t menstruating because you weren’t ovuutf8g because your ovaries weren’t getting the right hormonal cues because your pituitary gland wasn’t sending them because your hypothalamus wasn’t sending them because you were starving. It’s actually a good idea, if you’re an ovum, to avoid getting ovulated and fertilized while there’s no good material with which to build a baby.

Somewhere in there your ovaries also failed to get the hint to produce lots of estrogen, which is required for the absorption of calcium, and there go your bones. So yes, of course it’s potentially dangerous to mess around with your endocrine system, but we should remember that millions of women do just that every day when they take their pill, and they’re just fine. Better, even, since they’re not having to squeeze out another baby every year or so for the entire span of their reproductive years, the way our "ansisters" did and as women still do wherever reliable birth control is unavailable or forbidden. And speaking of our ancestors …

We (the Western, industrialized, supermarket-shopping we) are the freaks in a long line of normal people. As any number of evolutionary biologists and other researchers have pointed out recently, it is not at all the natural state of women to menstruate every damn month for 45 (damn) years. Contemporary hunter-gatherer (mostly gatherer) women start late, have a bunch of babies, breast-feed them forever, and die young, totaling about 100 or 150 periods in a lifetime. By contrast, supermarket women reach for the tampon box approximately 450 times. No wonder we’re crabby.

So is menstruation natural? Well, obviously, but an argument can be made that not menstruating is even more so. What seems a brute biological fact ("women bleed every month") turns out to be in part a social construct. Isn’t that cool? This sort of thinking isn’t really new — the developers of the original pill built in the bleedy part, the placebos at the end of the cycle, because they thought not menstruating would freak women out, not because it was medically necessary — but it’s not the sort of thing people tend to talk about. It will be, though, by necessity, and soon. As new products make four periods a year or no periods a year (seriously, this one has been extensively studied and so far so good for safety) increasingly popular, menstruation will become a lifestyle choice like any other. This will disgust the more moon-goddessy type feminists and please the "it’s all about choice" ones. For everyone else, after a while, it will just seem, well, natural.

You also asked, very reasonably, why the couple in the original letter (she wanted to take something to suppress her periods so they could have romantic weekends) couldn’t just have sex, blood or no blood. The answer is they could, of course. I’m willing to bet that they hadn’t even discussed and dismissed that option, as "no sex when the painters are in" is just one of those things everybody takes on faith until they don’t. If a woman’s "monthlies" turn out to be at least partly a social invention, the menstrual taboo is entirely one. Barring the presence of something nasty, blood-borne, and contagious, there’s no reason on earth (or the moon, for that matter, and aren’t we going back soon?) why a couple can’t have a threesome with him, her, and Aunt Flo.

Speaking of the moon: women down here have connected their sexuality and fertility with the phases and pull of our satellite for so long that I have to wonder what happens to all that lunar blood magic when we’re living in bubbles on the moon. Nothing takes the mystery out of a hunk of rock and dust like having to dig holes in it to build a privy.



Andrea Nemerson has spent the last 14 years as a sex educator and an instructor of sex educators. In her previous life she was a prop designer. And she just gave birth to twins, so she’s one bad mother of a sex adviser. Visit www.altsexcolumn.com to view her previous columns.

The Boulevardiers


› paulr@sfbg.com

There are certain doors one steps through only every quarter-century or so, and for me one such door is located in the heart of the heart of the Castro, at 4063 18th St. I’ve been up and down that hyperkinetic block many times across the intervening years, but the last time I actually set foot in the door, it belonged to a restaurant called the Neon Chicken, which served some of the better food in the Castro. Here I am making what in some circles is called a "left-handed compliment."

At the Neon Chicken, lo these many years ago, I think I actually had chicken — coq au vin, maybe — and it was pretty good, probably. But I was young and in the company of august people and quite goggle-eyed at the whole experience. Someone else paid, and this too was quite nice. But … times change. Once-goggly eyes take on a more watchful cast. One picks up the check now and then. And restaurants come and go.

Before Eureka Restaurant and Lounge opened in the Neon Chicken’s old haunt toward the end of October, the most recent inhabitant at the address was the Red Grill (on the main floor), with the Whisky Lounge upstairs. I meant to go but never quite made it. Before that it was Castro Hibachi, and I never meant to go; before that, something else. Yes, we seem to be talking about one of those spaces, and the Neon Chicken’s long run looks, in retrospect, most impressive.

If Eureka comes up with a winning alchemy, it will involve the fusing of the Neon Chicken legacy with the 21st-century-savvy of the Chenery Park people — John Bedard and Joseph Kowal, along with chefs Richard Rosen and Gaines Dobbins — whose new baby Eureka is. And Chenery Park, we should recall, has Boulevard bloodlines; its chefs both cooked at that Nancy Oakes–run institution on the Embarcadero, as well as at her earlier L’Avenue, in the avenues.

The Boulevard style, of full-blooded American cooking, is very much on display at Eureka. The grilled T-bone pork chop ($24) alone tells us this. The piece of meat turned out to be as big as my hand and twice as thick, and it was plated with halves of baked apple, a small pool of jus, and a handful of potato galettes protruding from a pat of mashed potatoes like pins from a pin cushion. Although I find the pairing of pork with fruit to be in the neighborhood of cliché, pork and apples is a classic American combination of autumn, for autumn means apples and, historically, hog slaughtering — too costly to keep the animals fed through the winter.

Although the menu does not emphasize little plates and starters, there is no lack of them. They tend to be standards rather than exercises in innovation, but they are ably executed. French onion soup ($9) has the sweetness of slow-cooked onions and the heft of beef broth; it’s topped with a raft of country bread and melted cheese. Tomato crostini ($8) take a bit of a sharp twist from dabs of sheep’s milk ricotta. A salad of roasted red and gold beets ($10) is assembled around a crottin of goat cheese crusted with walnuts — an old friend from the ’80s. Among the best of the small choices is the plate of house-made boudin blanc ($12), lengths of white sausage fragrant with caraway seed (as in rye bread) and arranged atop slivers of roasted red bell and poblano peppers.

The prices might lead you to think that these small plates are on the large size, verging on small-main-course status. But that is not the case. They are ordinary in scale, not in cost. If you want a big plate of food, you will want one of the main courses, and you will pay accordingly — more than $20 for all of them. The one exception we found on our visits was a loose-leaf lasagna, stuffed with mascarpone and sauced with wild mushroom, for $16, or $9 for an appetizer portion.

I liked the pork chop — it was cooked medium rare and so remained juicy — and was awed at its Neanderthal-worthy proportions, but I did think it cost about $10 too much. I was more impressed with a petrale sole roulade ($26) in which the filets were wrapped, California roll–style, around a core of Dungeness crab meat and asparagus spears. The excellent fries on the side, presented with tarragon mayonnaise for dipping, were an added value, but even without them I would have thought the fish was pricey but probably worth it.

For a fledgling restaurant, service has already been polished to a high gloss. The host radiates the warmth of someone giving a private party, and table staff are both efficient and unobtrusive about replenishing water and bread (slices of simple baguette, still warm) and replacing used flatware. You can watch them come and go in the wall mirrors that girdle the small dining room in the rear, and have I ever been in a restaurant in a gay neighborhood that didn’t have some mirror action? I have been in plenty of restaurants, in all sorts of neighborhoods, that don’t offer Voss ($7), the Norwegian sparkling water (with sublimely fine bubbles and presented in a spectacular, tall cylinder of clear glass) said to be favored by Madonna. I did not catch a glimpse of her in the mirrors nor in the lounge upstairs, but as Eureka’s vogue grows, she is bound to find it sooner or later. *


Dinner: Tues.–Thurs., 6–10 p.m.; Fri.–Sat., 6–11 p.m.; Sun., 5–9 p.m.

4063 18th St., SF

(415) 431-6000


Full bar



First floor wheelchair accessible


Wifi wars


› sarah@sfbg.com

Representatives of Google and EarthLink showed up at the Glen Park Recreation Center on Dec. 7 to push their plan to blanket the city with a wireless network they claim will provide free Internet for all. It was one of a dozen such dog and pony shows around the city this fall as the proposal heads for a decision by the Board of Supervisors, which will also consider municipally controlled alternatives to this public-private partnership.

Google’s Dan Zweifach kicked off the presentation by describing a world in which "you can make an international call for free, download music in Golden Gate Park, or check the Muni schedule from a bus station."

It’s an intriguing concept that faces challenges unique to San Francisco’s hilly, fog-prone, and built-out topography, which could interfere with wi-fi signals. To address these challenges, EarthLink’s Stephen Salinger told the audience of a dozen, his company plans to affix 40 wi-fi nodes (boxes that exchange signals with computers and other wi-fi devices) per square mile atop 1,500 light poles citywide.

At least that’s the idea. "If the poles aren’t city-owned resources, we have to negotiate with the private owner," Salinger explained, noting that the city owns about half the light poles and Pacific Gas and Electric owns the rest.

The proposed wi-fi blanket is projected to cost $8 million to $10 million to build and millions more to manage, with EarthLink in charge of the nodes and Google buying bandwidth from EarthLink so it can offer free wi-fi access throughout San Francisco’s almost 50-square-mile service area.

But what exactly does free wi-fi access mean? According to Zweifach and Salinger, access will be "completely free to the city and to taxpayers," just as Mayor Gavin Newsom promised in 2004. Unless, that is, people want faster access, in which case they can shell out $20 a month for EarthLink’s premium service.

"At 300 kbps, the basic service should be fast enough to download music or videos, but it could be a little slower, which is why we have the premium service," Salinger said. "The more people connect, the more speed and quality decreases."

Whether the free service will actually be a bait and switch is just one of many concerns critics of the proposal have raised. Some don’t trust the profit-driven corporations, some don’t like the wi-fi technology, and others criticize the sometimes-secretive process that led to the selection of Google and EarthLink. The supervisors have meanwhile ordered studies for a municipal broadband system and a municipal wi-fi system, both due back early in 2007, about the time when the Google-EarthLink system is expected to come to the board for approval.

The community meetings were designed to address myriad concerns, such as whether the wi-fi system will come with enough training and support so all residents will be able to use it. "We’ll partner with local businesses and individuals who want to get involved," Zweifach said. "We have 109 languages that people will be able to access. We’ll provide multilingual training."

That said, Zweifach noted that Google is only pledging online tech support, meaning those wanting phone support will have to sign up for EarthLink’s premium service.

Grilled about privacy concerns, Zweifach claimed, "We don’t track or look at Web sites that anyone visits, but we do look at the number of computers accessing a node. But there’s not much personal information needed to access the service. Just an e-mail address, a user name, and a password, so it’s more anonymous than most."

"But if you’re using our premium service, we’ll have your billing information," Salinger interjected, adding that with 5.3 million customers, "EarthLink is at the forefront of protecting privacy."

When a self-professed cancer survivor in the Glen Canyon audience accused Zweifach and Salinger of "discussing everything except health effects of blanketing SF with electromagnetic radiation," Zweifach countered that "wi-fi nodes are low-power devices, much like garage door monitors, which, if you were at the same level at a distance of 10 feet, would have 100 times less radiation than a cell phone. At streetlamp level, and therefore not on the same level as people, they have 1,000 times less radiation."

Reached by phone the following week, Ron Vinzon, head of the city’s Department of Telecommunications and Information Services, waxed enthusiastic about free wi-fi, a concept Newsom has promoted since his October 2004 State of the City speech.

"DTIS’s goal is to make sure we have ubiquitous service 24-7, whether you’re on the top of Twin Peaks or over at Cayuga Park," Vinzon told the Guardian. "We’re going to do the necessary testing to make sure it works well in all areas of San Francisco and that the entire city has reliable service. The only issue will be speed, not access."

But while Google-EarthLink hopes to secure a four-year contract with an option to renew three times, Vinzon said the city wants a flexible deal, "so that in four years we can do another needs assessment and the city would have the option to buy out EarthLink’s network at a fair market rate."

Asked about the possibility of an alternative digital universe in which the city would deliver free Internet access via municipally owned fiber-optic lines, Vinzon sounded slightly nonplussed. Specuutf8g that a wi-fi network could be up and running in 12 to 18 months while the municipal fiber route could take four years to roll out, Vinzon asked, "How many generations of kids do we want to see left out? When I talk to teachers, it’s clear who has a computer and Internet access at home. Those without are not doing as well. So we don’t want to address this in four years. We want to address it now. Doing municipal on the back of those who don’t have access right now is unfortunate."

Acknowledging that for wi-fi access to be truly meaningful, residents will need training and hardware — "If you don’t know how to use or even have a computer, obviously you won’t be able to bridge the digital divide," — Vinzon added that the city will release plans in the next couple of weeks to address digital inclusion concerns.

But with an officially commissioned report on municipal fiber set to thud onto the supervisors’ desks in January 2007, questions clearly remain as to whether the city would be better off rushing into a private partnership to put a wireless and not entirely free cloud over the city or taking its time to explore a system that could prove more reliable and ultimately less expensive in the long run. *

A geek’s new year


TECHSPLOITATION I’m going to spend New Year’s Eve in Berlin with a large group of hackers gathered by the venerable Chaos Computer Club. Something about the idea of going to a foreign country to celebrate the new year has made me want to do the traditional thing and make a list of resolutions. Just to be sure I follow through on them, I’m presenting to you the unexpurgated list of my top eight geeky resolutions for 2007.

Relearn French. I took French classes from eighth grade all the way through graduate school, and at one (triumphant) point I was actually able to read André Gide’s L’Immoraliste entirely in French. It probably helped that the novel was full of gay sex, which has always been one of my favorite topics. But sadly, my French has withered away — much to the chagrin of my sweetie, who speaks with an enviable accent. Next year I will relearn and go to Paris. J’ai envie de manger le brie et les baguettes à côté de la Seine! Plus, every geek should be fluent in at least two natural languages.

Share more media. I’ve got a terabyte RAID array full of music. I’ve got DVDs full of TV shows I’ve downloaded from the Interwebs. I’ve got movies and games and a disgustingly huge book collection. Next year, I’m going to create more opportunities to share them with friends, acquaintances, colleagues, neighbors, whatever. Set the media free, I say.

Watch out for videomining. Now that Google owns YouTube and everybody is freaking out over video archives, I’m looking out for the ultimate videomining software. Ideally, I’d like a program that could find items in a video archive by genre (e.g., "look up all horror films") or search through them for sequences of images (e.g., "find scenes featuring dragons"). I’d also like a program that could search an individual movie for a scene or phrase (e.g., "find me a scene where Captain Kirk says, ‘Boo!’ ").

Protest the Schumer-McCain privacy-reaming bill. Senators Charles Schumer and John McCain have promised to introduce legislation next year aimed at stopping child porn and sex offenders from traipsing online. It would involve the creation of an "e-mail registry" for sex offenders and would force online service providers to police content on their sites, looking for the aliases of sex offenders and images of child porn. Not only is there a potential here for squelching free speech but also for invading privacy. Keep an eye on this one.

Laugh more frequently at the comments on my blogs. I get bizarrely bent out of shape when people make stupid comments about blog posts I’ve written. Despite the fact that blog comments as a genre are characterized by assholishness and snark, I continue to feel inexplicably wronged by them. This has got to stop. It’s time to view blog comments for what they are: comedies of the human condition.

Install Ubuntu on my desktop. I miss Linux. It just so happens that the two computers I use most are both running Windows XP, and neither is suitable for a Vista upgrade. My cute Vaio laptop has a laughable sticker that says "Vista capable," which roughly translated means "Screw you, hippie." When a friend of mine asked some of the Vista geeks at Microsoft if they’d tried the new OS on my laptop model, they apparently giggled uncontrollably. So it’s back to Linux for me, and I welcome the return of my open-source overlord.

Kill people in Halo. In my living room, nestled beneath my 50-inch plasma screen TV, are an Xbox and an Xbox 360. And yet I rarely use them to kill people. What the hell is wrong with me? Am I insane? The entire purpose of these devices is to turn myself into a cyberkiller and shoot the crap out of 13-year-olds in Singapore or Texas or some other exotic locale. Next year I will spend at least one weekend doing nothing but sitting in front of the TV and practicing my death moves. Watch out for me on Xbox Live — I’m going to hunt you down and blow your guts out. Then I’ll share some of my media collection with you to make up for it. But I will not buy a Wii. Do not try to make me buy one.

Hang out with mechanical engineers. Unlike electrical engineers and computer scientists, mechanical engineers know how to do useful postapocalyptic stuff like build bridges and generators and engines. They study extremely concrete things like, well, concrete. But they also study the way concrete shatters when hit by bombs. I want to know more about the mysterious ways of physical objects. Take me to your mechanical engineering lab. *

Annalee Newitz is a surly media nerd who wishes all the geeks and nerds and dorks and weirdos a happy new year.