Volume 43 Number 14

Prophet sees

0

› kimberly@sfbg.com

SONIC REDUCER "I’m going to start smoking again. I’m going to start eating bad and quit working out."

Here, have a few determinedly daft new year’s resolutions from an old hand at San Francisco music-making from Chuck Prophet, who happens to be headlining the old year out at Starry Plough Dec. 31. Don’t say he never gave you anything. But seriously, our Prophet?

Actually ’09 vows are the last thing Prophet wants to be burdened with. "I’m just lazy," the singer-songwriter confesses from his South of Market mini-HQ. "Why would I put any more assignments on myself?"

You know what he means. New Year’s resolutions — what better way to hang an albatross round the old oak tree and set yourself up for FAILblog? Still, ’tis the season, and I have a few ideas on how to institute change in this recession-wracked music scene, inspired by the last time the pink slips flew round the turn of the century, post-tech boom. Call these my "Keep the Scene Strong Goals for ’09," all related to stamping out the scourge of many a creative milieu: passive consumption. Though, hell, who even has the time and cash to consume very much these days?

— Engagement. It’s as simple as talking to the performer after the show. And no, I don’t mean hit on the band. Instead, start a dialogue — of either the positive or constructively critical ilk — with your friendly neighborhood musicmaker. Who wants to play into a void, to a passive, glazed-look blank generation? Feedback ain’t just a whole lotta noise. If the spirit moves you, feel free to buy those hard-working musicians and DJs a round of drinks. The Hemlock’s $1 bag of hot peanuts is a nice gesture.

— Dance. OK, the early ’00s saw a rock crew shook it up at shows, but San Francisco is slipping, regaining that bad reputation of resembling zombie-like, arms-folded slabs of tofu. Hold up your end of the bargain and get a move on.

— Stretch. Yes, stretching before dancing helps with muscle aches. But I mean listen to new sounds. If you’re a metal dude, lend an ear to weird new America-style folk — think about Zep’s connections betwixt loud and languorous. If you’re an indie rock chippie check into Fania salsa reissues; a gangster rap head, a bit of death metal or a dab of indie-literati-pop.

— Prepare yourself for the worst — and possibly the best. Everyone’s wondering if they’re going to be laid off or face a work drought in ’09. Instead resolve to put that anxious energy and restless imagination to good use. Come up with some nice, meaty, beaty post-layoff projects. Take up an instrument, even if it is simply a shareware synthesizer. Switch up your recorded listening by swapping records or MP3s with pals — or dive into an affair like KUSF-FM’s Rock ‘n’ Swap on Jan. 11 (www.kusf.org/rocknswap.shtml). Throw a show at your abode, or better yet, put on a free music happening in a public space (i.e., the Toxic Beach throw-downs, mobile Flag Day jamboree).

Sure, everyone knows resolutions are made to be broken. Even Prophet spurned his faux resolutions after we spoke, via e-mail: "So last night after eating cereal for dinner, passing out watching the Food channel, I’ve decided my NY resolution is to cook more often. Taking up smoking is a bit daft, I have to admit." Tasty words — and food — for thought.

CHUCK PROPHET

Wed/31, 9:30 p.m., $26.50

Starry Plough

3101 Shattuck, Berk.

www.starryploughpub.com

For more from Chuck Prophet, go to Noise blog at sfbg.com.

THE MOST INTRIGUING READER TOP 10: MITCH CARDWELL

"Budget Rock-er, zine scribe, lover, drunkard"

1. Hank IV, Refuge in Genre (Siltbreeze) They’ve made SF home to Earth’s greatest punk band once again.

2. Nothing People, Anonymous (S-S) They only play great shows, release great records, etc.

3. The Hospitals, Hairdryer Peace (Stonehouse) Ear-splitter of the year, without question.

4. Buzzer, Disco Kiddz EP (Douche Master) Glam, proto, pub — it’s all here.

5. Nobunny, Love Visions (Bubbledumb) Punk parody is always a winning concept.

6. Colossal Yes, Charlemagne’s Big Thaw (Ba Da Bing) Piano pop-psych crafted in a totally winning fashion.

7. Wounded Lion, "Pony People" 7-inch (S-S) Pop that is both brainy and fun.

8. Mayyors, both 7-inches (self-released) Mayyors wow with sheer force of volume.

9. Scarecrow and the Shuckers at the Stork Club

10. Thee Oh Sees, The Hounds of Foggy Notion CD/DVD (Castle Face) I’ll take this over their recent hit LP.

PRESSURE TO PERFORM: A FEW MORE NYE OPTIONS

LES CLAYPOOL


The Bay Area original makes the leap from his longtime NYE venue at the Fillmore. With Zappa Plays Zappa and Tim Fite. Wed/31, 8 p.m., $69–<\d>$126. War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness, SF. www.goldenvoice.com

BORTS MINORTS AND THIS BIKE IS A PIPE BOMB


NYE Hemlock reg This Bike is joined by the SF troupe Kelley Stoltz describes as "fun SF weirdness without the Burning Man remorse." Wed/31, 9 p.m., $10. Hemlock Tavern, 1131 Polk, SF. www.hemlocktavern.com

MOS DEF


Most definitely "Sneakers Required" with DJs like Apollo and Sake One. Wed/31, 9 p.m., call for price. Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 701 Mission, SF. (415) 978-2787.

LAUGHTER AGAINST THE MACHINE


Funny fellahs W. Kamau Bell, Bucky Sinister, and Nato Green issue their response to all the ‘WHOOOOOOHOOOOO!’ that typically goes down on NYE. Wed/31, 7:30 and 10 p.m., $30 (friendofkamau discount code for $10 off). Phoenix Theatre, 414 Mason, SF. www.brownpapertickets.com/event/50525

BFFFs!

0

› cheryl@sfbg.com

Ah, bromance: an idea so mainstream that by the time you read this, the first episode of MTV’s Bromance will have aired. The concept? Paris Hilton’s My New BFF, but for dudes, as erstwhile Hills himbo Brody Jenner seeks what the homeboys of Pineapple Express would call his new BFFF — "best fuckin’ friend forever." According to MTV, "a bromance is an intense brotherly bond that makes two buddies become virtually inseparable." The prize? "The chance of a lifetime — to become best buds with Brody Jenner and live a life right out of the pages of Maxim magazine."

See how they did that? The Bromance description also dangles the possibility that contenders will get to mingle with Playboy babes. So, you know, all that male bonding is carefully balanced out with some seriously hetero skirt-chasing. Bros before hos, always — but hos are still in the equation, and are indeed a key component of any bromantic relationship. Returning to Pineapple Express: the subplot about Seth Rogen’s high school girlfriend was the film’s weakest link, in kind of the same way Step Brothers was only funny when Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly were together onscreen, and it was pretty clear that no chick at the end of any road trip could match the BFFF bond in Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay. (Also key: a fair amount of overly homoerotic and/or ever-so-homophobic humor, a factor in the Bromance TV show, where contestant eliminations take place in Jenner’s hot tub.)

Before you accuse me of hating on the bromance, though, I’ll admit that I enjoyed all of the above films, along with 2007’s Superbad and various other outputs of Judd Apatow’s brainpan (even 2007’s Knocked Up, which star Katherine Heigl famously branded "a little sexist.") And I’m a chick! Pineapple Express, in particular, delivered some of 2008’s funniest moments, in scenes between average-Joe type Dale (Rogen) and his pot dealer, Saul (James Franco). Just two dudes, talkin’ ’bout cross-shaped joints and weed so rare and dazzling it’s like smoking a unicorn.

Of course, the bromance has kinda been around forever. Throwback Western Appaloosa served as a reminder that oaters, along with sports films, war movies (see: Tropic Thunder), and other XY-centric genres, are crucially dependent on the concept of male bonding. The new-millennium idea is more like dude-bonding, though, and it seems to appear only in a comedic framework. The year’s big comic-book movies — The Dark Knight, Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk — were macho, and straightforwardly so; ain’t nobody trying to feminize Tony Stark’s emotions, or be Batman’s BFFF.

In the bromance, masculinity is tied into the fact that men are sensitive. Totally sensitive. But their sensitivity either goes to obnoxious extremes (see: Ferrell and Reilly’s stunted-emotional-growth manchildren weeping at the dinner table when their parents announce their impending divorce) or manifests only when the situation itself is extreme — you think Dale and Saul would’ve gotten so tight were they not on the run from that angry drug kingpin? The taboos the bromance exposes, mocks, and embraces are extremely straight-male in nature — yeah, problematic, but kind of necessary to make the films as funny as they are. Everything’s amped up to ridiculous highs, allowing heartfelt connections to occur among dudes under cover of goofy desperation.

This trend appears likely to flop down on your couch, put up its dirty feet, and hog your remote awhile — Apatow can basically print his own money at this point, and he’s got the Adam Sandler-Seth Rogen bro-down Funny People set to roll out in 2009. Also on tap: Jack Black and Michael Cera as slacker hunter-gatherers in The Year One — the first-ever prehistoric bromance?

CHERYL EDDY’S TOP 10

1. Milk (Gus Van Sant, USA)

2. The Wrestler (Darren Aronofsky, USA)

3. Happy-Go-Lucky (Mike Leigh, UK)

4. Wendy and Lucy (Kelly Reichardt, USA)

5. Let the Right One In (Tomas Alfredson, Sweden)

6. Trouble the Water (Carl Deal and Tia Lessin, USA)

7. Frost/Nixon (Ron Howard, USA/UK/France)

8. Viva (Anna Biller, USA)

9. Rachel Getting Married (Jonathan Demme, USA)

10. The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan, USA)


>>More Year in Film 2008

Don’t look back

0

› a&eletters@sfbg.com

Cinephilia is a malady that affects the imagination above all. As 2008’s year-end pieces roll across the blogosphere, one encounters the alluring titles and stills of films which won’t reach the Bay Area for months. Against this tempting tide, I turn to the faint echoes of those undistributed movies which lingered in mind long enough after their festival screenings to become pliable to memory. To take one powerful example, the earthiness of John Gianvito’s still frames of the monuments and graves marking American radicalism’s many resting places inflected my own perception of Obama’s soaring rhetoric. Months after seeing it, Profit motive and the whispering wind‘s contemplative chronology kept returning to me as a visual counterpoint to the "long march" of the campaign season. Abel Ferrara’s Go Go Tales, on the other hand, provided the punch lines to the economic meltdown before the fact. The two films have nothing in common except for prescience, but then prescience is no small thing in a year in which the news outpaced the dream factory for twists-of-fate.

An elegiac documentary like Profit motive is a tough sell in any climate, but I fully expected Go Go Tales to score theatrical distribution after catching it at the San Francisco International Film Festival. Asia Argento slobbering a Rottweiler, Sylvia Miles rasping poetic about Bed Bath and Beyond, miles of dialogue, and a depth of staging which rewards concentration and intoxication in equal kind: Ferrara’s nightlife ballad is ripe for a cult following. At the center of film’s enclosed universe is Ray (Willem Dafoe), a small-time dreamer who runs his Manhattan club on less than a shoestring. The strippers are threatening a work stoppage, the landlady (Miles) is waving her pocketbook around about turning the lease over, and Ray’s brother — a hairstylist from Staten Island known at Ray’s Paradise Lounge as the "king of coiffeuse" — is pulling his financial support from the club. Drawing together all his business acumen, Ray invests in a crooked lotto racket.

After-hours in a threadbare nightclub is an ideal stage for waning fortunes, and it does seem that Ferrara was after a certain timeliness with Go Go Tales: gadfly Danny Cash (Joseph Cortese) spins a Jersey-size yarn about a pastrami projectile hitting "Hillary ‘I Might Be Your Next President’ Clinton," a headstrong cook hawks free-range hot dogs, and the staff grouses over the new Chinese customer base. But there’s no way the director could have known what Go Go Tales augured: Lehman Brothers shareholders left holding their own equivalent of "Ray Ray Dollars," budget cuts, drunk real estate agents, Ponzi schemes, and murmurs of the sinking ship.

A comedy of teetotaling fortunes, a musical with a touch of Beckett, Go Go Tales is every bit a Depression movie. Ferrara’s style is steeped in ’70s playbacks — Robert Altman’s wandering long takes, Woody Allen’s softness for showbiz, and John Cassevetes’ own strip-club serenade, The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976) — but as long as we’re talking about filmmakers who love talkers, let’s not overlook the original screwball savants. The Ray’s crowd bubbles over with the same provincial clamor as Preston Sturges’ stock company in Hail the Conquering Hero (1944). In Go Go Tales‘ climactic scene, Ray uncorks a brilliantly obfuscating speech before finding the winning lottery ticket in his front pocket. It’s delirium on the edge of despair and a worthy successor to Sturges’ Christmas in July (1940). Thinking about what Sturges would have done with a world in which "bailout" is Merriam Webster’s "word of the year" makes me want to cry laughing — but there I go imagining things again.

MAX GOLDBERG’S TOP 10 (IN ALPHABETICAL ORDER):

Actresses (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, France, 2007)

Flight of the Red Balloon (Hou Hsiao-hsien, France, 2007)

Foster Child (Brillante Mendoza, Philippines, 2007)

Go Go Tales (Abel Ferrara, Italy/USA, 2007)

The Last Mistress (Catherine Breillat, France/Italy, 2007)

Let the Right One In (Tomas Alfredson, Sweden)

Myth Labs (Martha Colburn, USA)

Profit motive and the whispering wind (John Gianvito, USA, 2007)

Still Life (Jia Zhangke, China/Hong Kong, 2006)

The Witnesses (André Téchiné, France, 2007)

>>More Year in Film 2008

Top tendencies

0

› johnny@sfbg.com

1. Sarabande (Nathaniel Dorsky, USA, 2008)

A masterful film was made in San Francisco by someone who doesn’t just live for the city, but does the city know it? Dorsky’s latest (along with the superb companion piece Winter) screened at the Toronto International Film Festival and was part of a retrospective at New York’s Anthology Film Archive, but as far as I know it has yet to have a public screening in his hometown, where he resides on the avenues that separate the filmmakers and film lovers of SF’s streets, and the Film Society in the Presidio. This summer, along with kino21’s Konrad Steiner, I put together a program devoted to Dorsky’s one-time peer and brother filmmaker of sorts, the late Warren Sonbert, whose revelatory explorations of editing and direct vision lead up — in far more frenetic and sprawling sense — to what Dorsky is doing today. Sarabande is the time and place where Dorsky’s devotional cinema reaches the sublime. This country priest of a film critic may be misreading the signs, once again, in making such a claim — but so be it.

2. The Exiles restoration (Kent MacKenzie, USA, 1961)

This night in the life of urban American Indians occupies a one-of-a-kind place and time. The title renders any description superfluous — what form of exile is stronger than the one discovered while drifting through a stolen home? MacKenzie’s movie, with the life-and-death tunnel vision of its gorgeous Weegee-inflected vérité cinematography, revealed a lost United States. Today it’s a haunting marker of a moment before this country’s commercial independent cinema went in countless stupid and phony directions, and of an area of Los Angeles that has vanished. People are rendered disposable. Lonely spirits continue to gather.

3. Wimbledon Men’s Final 2008: Rafael Nadal def. Roger Federer, 6-4, 6-4, 6-7 (5-7), 6-7 (8-10), 9-7

If you believe what you read and what you see, Raise the Red Lantern and Hero director Zhang Yimou’s production of the Beijing Olympics’ opening ceremony was the spectacle of the year — so dazzling it erased the torch’s troubled travels from what’s left of a collective memory. Television networks have it on rerun, art publications like Artforum can’t stop parsing and usually praising it. (It also garnered an excellent lengthy "movie review" in the magazine Cinema Scope.) Yet Zhang’s endlessly-rehearsed and prefabricated festivities paled in comparison to the marathon drama and dazzling finale of this year’s last match at Wimbledon. The spine-tingling aspect came from fate, not machination, as night crept into a stadium that doesn’t use lights, and the victor’s triumph gave way to an outrageous spontaneous ovation of flashbulbs. It didn’t hurt that Rafael Nadal is the sport’s version of his idol, Zinedine Zidane. Lil Wayne said it best: "I love his motivation and his heart is so big. He leaves it on the court."

4. The Juche Idea (Jim Finn, USA, 2008) and Light is Waiting (Michael Robinson, USA 2007)

Convulsive cinema is radical cinema, one of the reasons the gut-busting aspects of these two movies are vital. Finn’s look at Kim Jong-Il’s film theories (yes, "Dear Leader" is a film theorist with publications to his name) is uncannily timely, from its clips of North Korean stadium parades — shades of Zhang Yimou’s Beijing bombast — to its satirical insight that little separates dreaded (and oft-ridiculous) socialism from the broken-down ghost of late capitalism. Also, best use of ski jumps, rodents, and fly-face sculptures this year. Robinson finds a Satanic kaleidoscope within the fractured pixels of an episode of Full House, making the discovery roughly around the time one of the Olsen twins re-manifested as an angel of death. His statement for the movie still might be the definitive one: "Tropes of video art and family entertainment face off in a luminous orgy neither can survive." Dying of laughter has rarely felt better.

5. Let the Right One In (Tomas Alfredson, Sweden, 2008)

The growing wave of top 10 raves and critic’s awards for Alfredson’s deeply subversive eternal preteen romance is a rare heartening aspect of this year’s feature film malaise.

6. California Company Town (Lee Ann Schmitt, USA, 2008), Viva (Anna Biller, USA, 2007), Wendy and Lucy (Kelly Reichardt, USA, 2008), and When It Was Blue (Jennifer Reeves, USA, 2008)


The heart of American cinema in 2008 is as wild and strong as these directors’ visions. Schmitt’s scorched-earth exploration of California’s abandoned past, closing with a final chapter on Silicon Valley that refreshingly breaks its own rules and throws down the gauntlet, is the timeliest movie in a year of ever-accumuutf8g economic disaster. Biller’s tribute to the bodaciously vivid soft-core fantasies of Russ Meyer and Radley Metzger couples enthusiasm with smarts with kinky results. It also features a character whose incessant cackling laughter practically becomes hallucinogenic. Reichardt starts off what could have been just another shaggy dog story by paying tribute to the Polaroid Kidd (she’s also sussed out the new depression), and allows her lead actress’s offscreen back story to silently color in a thousand shades of loss. In sync with Skuli Sverrisson’s incandescent score, Reeves’ movie makes love to nature. The past-tense in the title proves she’s looking ahead.

7. Wild Combination (Matt Wolf, USA, 2008)

In his feature debut, the talented 25-year-old Wolf chooses a documentary subject he has an affinity for, and Russell’s still-blooming musical legacy automatically gives the film a unique soulful beauty. While the pastoral and waterfront imagery is expected, Wolf’s humane insight as an interviewer is a wonder to behold. It results in one of the year’s most emotionally powerful films, when following the reticent Russell could have been futile. The final 10 minutes are a complete rebuke to all the idiotic discourse that rails against (and perhaps even for?) gay marriage.

8. Hunger (Steve McQueen, UK/Ireland, 2008) and Milk (Gus Van Sant, USA, 2008)


Is hunger sated by milk? Can milk alone get rid of hunger? Steve McQueen is the last art star with film director aspirations, and Gus Van Sant is a movieland auteur who always seems to look longingly at the art world’s white cubes. Both have made bio-dramas about political icons: McQueen speculates about the life and death of IRA leader Bobby Sands, while Van Sant, in case you haven’t heard, has realized his fascination with a certain trailblazing gay San Franciscan. Funny, then, that McQueen makes a riveting experimental work that devolves into a standard heroic final passage, while Van Sant crafts a traditional film in drag. In interview, McQueen told me that he thought of Hunger‘s standout confrontational scene as a bit like the 1982 Wimbledon final. (See, tennis is uniquely cinematic.) But his visceral perspective is most effective early on, when scarcely any words are spoken, and his oblique references to everyone from Jean Genet to Van Sant’s old love Alfred Hitchcock don’t seem merely precocious.

9. The Wrestler (Darren Aronofsky, USA, 2008)

I may have enjoyed this movie because I know next to nothing about (and don’t give a damn about) Mickey Rourke’s misadventures. He arrived in my frame of vision as a modern-day American version of Jean Cocteau’s Beast, blinking out some perfectly round tears when he isn’t pulling staples out of his leathery salon-tanned hide. Look no further than the corrupt endgame of Hulk Hogan — better yet, try to avoid looking at it — for proof that such a figure suits the late-Bush era, though of course Rourke’s brawler has true working-class heart. A working class hero is something to be.

10. Manny Farber, 1917-2008

A lot of critics, ranging from musty well-off bores to young upstarts, wrote tributes to Farber upon his passing. But I have to wonder, who in the current era’s echo chamber of Web-bound opinion has actually learned from him? Ten years ago, there were at least a few voices (Chuck Stephens, Edward E. Crouse) whose writing carried traces of Farber’s spiky structures and wonderfully disorienting shifts in point-of-view. Now, I don’t see hear anyone with a voice like his, but more troubling, I don’t see newer generations of film critics picking up on the fact that he approached the medium as something other than a passive "entertain me" observer. Farber’s vision of film was anything but literal. He was, and is, an artist.

>>More Year in Film 2008

Pop hope

0

› kimberly@sfbg.com

The "shoe-in" for my moving-image man of the year: Barack Obama or Iraqi journalist and footwear hurler Muntadhar al-Zaidi? Both have been well-lubed by YouTube and have been given a good, hard-soft spin from multiple angles by every news outlet, citizen blogger, and self-starter with iMovie. The vid that jump-cuts between Obama’s high school hoop shots and latter-day pickup games, the proliferating replays of George W. Bush’s duck-and-cover face-save (and the swelling parade of shoe-throwing online games) — all were duly devoured and disseminated. Al-Zaidi’s act of protest — captured with Rashomon-like variation, though the marks that might substantiate allegations of torture in his post-incident detention remain conveniently invisible and off-camera — was the perfect kicker to a year in which politics on film and video were given prime 24/7 eyeball time by viewers more accustomed to rolling their peepers or averting them in disgust from the White House and the evening news.

Oh, ’08 — the year that welcomed the ‘Tubing of the president-elect via the outpouring of readily replayable speeches, endorsements, and "Yes We Can" and Obama Girl clips as guilty-pleasure eye-candy respite from the workday grind. And oh, the withdrawal — assuaged only by grainy images of a shirtless Obama on Hawaiian holiday. Hollywood may have prepped America for a black president in the form of Dennis Haysbert on 24 and Morgan Freeman in Deep Impact (1998) — but this year the president elect’s cinematic corollary really seemed to be Milk, an adept, accessible, and inspirational bon mot that put its trust in viewers’ intelligence and ability to fix their attention on city supervisor meetings and California state politics.

Through a viewfinder, the parallels between Barack Obama and Harvey Milk were numerous: the change-centered career trajectory of a community activist, the against-all-odds and unique but tough-sell narrative, the bridge-building wherewithal, and the gotta-have-it charisma. Even the Milk trailer tagline, "You gotta give ’em hope," read like a direct pull from an Obama war-room session. Yet the differences also glared with the passing of Proposition 8 in ’08. Add to that the strange fact that likely more couch potatoes of every political persuasion around the country have glimpsed the lengthy Obama infomercial — and even the Obama commemorative coin or plate TV ads — than have seen Milk.

If Obama and Milk succored with romantic promise and possibility, the stumbling close of the Bush years and his party’s latest last-ditch follies provided the bitterest laughs, with doses of unexpected sympathy for the devil. The handful of movies that critiqued the overseas skullduggery committed in the name of the US of A — including the grim-faced Body of Lies and black-humored Burn After Reading — resembled the mutant brethren of Dubya, taking subtle and slapstick aim at the politics hatched by someone’s CIA-head pater familias. Also injecting considerable comedy into the country’s sad plight was, you betcha, the vice presidential candidate drummed up to succeed such-a-Dick Cheney. The tabloid-friendly talker from the Dubya school of gab first and let God sort it out later, Sarah Palin lent herself beautifully to self-skewering by way of Katie Couric and the genius sendup that followed by Tina Fey on Saturday Night Live.

The politically liberal Oliver Stone’s treatment of the sitting prez himself in W. was almost kind-hearted in contrast, with Josh Brolin adding a measure of nuanced oedipal angst to the now-beyond-tiresome good-old-boy facade. You had to love the way the young W. is lensed: his mouth perpetually open and his fists full of brewskis and/or a barbecue throughout the first part of the movie. Stone’s prez is as innocent as an identity-free frat boy — even though the filmmaker does conclude with a recurring dream sequence that ends up referencing traditional horror tropes. It’s not over till the monster screams. Or is hit by a shoe.

The year closed with the ticket-clinching bookend to W., ideal for every disgraced presidential library: Frost/Nixon. Its bracing, sexy blend of meta-Medium Cool media savvy and humanizing Milk-y goodness and characterization managed to slightly sweeten the sour old manipulator, the worst US leader since our latest. Bringing more than an ounce of the creepiness cloaking his noted disco-sleaze turn in Dracula (1979), Frank Langella transformed Nixon into the most menacing and identifiable blood-sucker entangled with an all-too-human dissembler/interrogator amid this year’s Twilight and True Blood vamps. As divulged in the dark of the movie house, Frost/Nixon‘s and W.‘s rogue presidents were united in at least one thing, besides the fact that their real-life counterparts made us embarrassed to be Americans. Their backstory — their real, pathetic will to power — had little to do with public service or serving anything but their damaged, mysterious, played-out egos.

KIMBERLY CHUN’S FIVE FOR FLESH, FANTASY, AND FIGHTING:

Best use of Google Earth-cam: Burn After Reading (Ethan and Joel Coen, USA/UK/France)

Best post-Planet of the Apes Statue of Liberty desecration: Cloverfield (Matt Reeves, USA)

Most phun without pharmaceuticals: Happy-Go-Lucky (Mike Leigh, UK)

Best vampire-human love story: Let the Right One In (Tomas Alfredson, Sweden)

Best mix of mudflaps, hair bands, and mystery flab: The Wrestler (Darren Aronofsky, USA)

>>More Year in Film 2008

Reel leaders

0

MIDNITES FOR MANIACS CURATOR JESSE HAWTHORNE FICKS’ TOP TEN (AND THEN SOME):

1 Downloading Nancy (Johan Renck, USA) People were literally running out of the Sundance screening of this brutally honest exploration of a couple’s complacent relationship. Maria Bello and Rufus Sewell bare all, while Christopher Doyle’s camera traps them in the year’s coldest blue harshness.

2 Vicky Cristina Barcelona (Woody Allen, Spain/USA) After 2007’s Cassandra’s Dream, another tiny gem from the greatest living filmmaker.

3 Wendy and Lucy (Kelly Reichardt, USA) Quiet and haunting, this follow-up to Reichardt’s wonderful Old Joy (2006) is a perfect antithesis to Sean Penn’s overly romanticized Into the Wild (2007).

4 Summer Hours (Olivier Assayas, France) I cried throughout this unique family drama and immediately called my parents as soon as it was over. Yasujiro Ozu’s Tokyo Story (1953) is the closest thing I can think of.

5 JCVD. (Mabrouk El Mechri, Belgium/Luxembourg/France) Jean-Claude Van Damme is a genuine genre actor and this deconstructive meta-film lovingly proves it.

6 CJ7 (Stephen Chow, Hong Kong) Overlooked by adults and kids alike, this little Furby comedy is insanity at its most brilliant!

7 Happy-Go-Lucky (Mike Leigh, UK) Leigh’s loving tribute to teachers is a dark and lonely place. En-Ra-Ha.

8 Redbelt (David Mamet, USA) Mamet does martial arts: the metaphors are limitless.

9 Funny Games (Michael Haneke (USA/France/UK/Austria/Germany/Italy) Mean, lean and totally gene!

10 Rambo (Sylvester Stallone, USA/Germany) Sly captures American destruction and cynicism in half the time as PT Anderson’s meandering There Will Be Blood (2007).

Favorite actor: Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler (Darren Aronfsky, USA) Ignore Aronfsky’s overly sentimental tendencies and Rourke will blow your mind. Then go watch Tsui Hark’s Double Team (1998) for the ultimate ’90s rumble: Rourke vs. Van Damme!

Favorite actress: Emmanuelle Béart, Vinyan (Fabrice Du Welz, France/Belgium/UK) Wealthy white tourists will stop at nothing to colonize every corner of this planet. Watch Béart and husband Rufus Sewell (see Downloading Nancy) go absolutely nuts as they battle each other and creepy jungle kids in this hypnotic hybrid of The African Queen (1951) and Don’t Look Now (1973).

Favorite animated movie: Wall*E (Andrew Stanton, USA) This unofficial remake of Silent Running (1972) should win the Oscar for Best Picture.

Favorite mumblecore film: Baghead (Duplass Brothers, USA) The brothers continue to nail their jokes hilariously and earnestly.

Favorite trailer: The Class (Laurent Cantet, France) Tears well up every time I see the trailer for this Cannes Golden Palm winner (due in early 2009). Can’t wait.

MICHELLE DEVEREAUX’S "ANTIDOTES TO BROMANCE" LIST

Best pluck: Sally Hawkins, Happy-Go-Lucky (Mike Leigh, UK)

Worst pluck: Angelina Jolie, Changeling (Clint Eastwood, USA)

Best train wreck: Anne Hathaway, Rachel Getting Married (Jonathan Demme, USA)

Worst train wreck: Marianna Palka, Good Dick (Marianna Palka, USA)

Best tween vampiress: Lina Leandersson, Let the Right One In (Tomas Alfredson, Norway)

Worst teen vampire groupie: Kristen Stewart, Twilight (Catherine Hardwicke, USA)

Worst mother in an awful movie: Julianne Moore, Savage Grace (Tom Kalin, Spain/USA/France)

Worst mother in a good movie: Debra Winger, Rachel Getting Married

Best outlaw: Anamaria Marinca, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (Cristian Mungiu, Romania, 2007)

Worst outlaw: Angelina Jolie, Wanted (Timur Bekmambetov, USA/Germany)

Best Princess Diana impression: Keira Knightly, The Duchess (Saul Dibb, UK/France/Italy)

Better than a Princess Diana impression: Marisa Tomei, The Wrestler (Darren Aronofsky, USA)

ERIK MORSE’S TOP TEN:

1 My Winnipeg (Guy Maddin, Canada)

2 Let the Right One In (Tomas Alfredson, Sweden)

3 The long-awaited DVD release of Stranded in Canton (William Eggleston, USA, 1974)

4 The Man From London (Béla Tarr, France/Germany/Hungary)

5 Man on Wire (James Marsh, UK/USA)

6 Tell No One (Guillaume Canet, France)

7 The Bank Job (Roger Donaldson, UK)

8 Alexandra (Alexander Sokurov, Russia/France)

9 In Bruges (Martin McDonagh, UK/USA)

10 The Wrestler (Darren Aronofsky, USA)

HEIDI ATWAL’S TOP TEN:

1 Towelhead (Alan Ball, USA)

2 The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan, USA)

3 Milk (Gus Van Sant, USA)

4 Slumdog Millionaire (Danny Boyle, UK/India)

5 Pineapple Express (David Gordon Green, USA)

6 Encounters at the End of the World (Werner Herzog, USA, 2007)

7 Rachel Getting Married (Jonathan Demme, USA)

8 Reprise (Joachim Trier, Norway, 2006)

9 Gomorra (Matteo Garrone, Italy)

10 Vicky Cristina Barcelona (Woody Allen, Spain/USA)

JIM FINN’S TOP 10 MOVIES LOVED AT 2008 FILM FESTIVALS AROUND PLANET EARTH

1 The Headless Woman (Lucrecia Martel, Argentina)

2 Liverpool (Lisandro Alonso, Argentina)

3 Lion’s Den (Pablo Trapero, Argentina)

4 Gomorrah (Matteo Garrone, Italy)

5 On the Assassination of the President (Adam Keker, USA)

6 United Red Army (Koji Wakamatsu, Japan, 2007)

7 Fengming: A Chinese Memoir (Wang Bing, China, 2007)

8 Observando el Cielo (Jeanne Liotta, USA, 2007)

9 Brilliant Noise (Semiconductor, USA, 2006)

10 Outer Space (Peter Tscherkassky, Austria, 1999)

Jim Finn’s films include The Juche Idea, La Trinchera Luminosa del Presidente Gonzalo, and Interkosmos.

ROSS LIPMAN’S TOP 10

As I’m usually absorbed in restoration and production, my film viewing is erratic, and I’m hopelessly unable to keep up with all the films I’d like to see. Thus this list is not so much a critical 10 "best" list as it is a list of new works which, having somehow cut through the clutter and pulled me to the theater, struck me as excellent — each one in a unique way. I’ve allowed it to include "film events" of 2008, enabling notable restorations and experimental works to stand alongside conventional releases.

In alphabetical order:

Absurdistan (Veit Heimer, Germany/Azerbaijan)

Four Nights with Anna (Jerzy Skolimowki, Poland/France)

Happy-Go-Lucky (Mike Leigh, UK)

Man on Wire (James Marsh, UK/USA)

Once Upon a Time in the West restoration (Sergio Leone, Italy/US, 1968)

The Orphanage (Juan Antonio Bayona, Mexico/Spain, 2007)

Quiet Chaos (Antonio Luigi Grimaldi, Italy/UK)

Song of Sparrows (Majid Majidi, Iran)

Think of Me First as a Person restoration (George Ingmire, USA, 1975)

Untitled film projector performance (Sandra Gibson, Luis Recoder, and Olivia Block, USA)

Ross Lipman’s recent film restorations include Killer of Sheep, The Exiles, and Kenneth Anger’s Magick Lantern Cycle.

MICHAEL ROBINSON’S TOP 10

1 Silent Light (Carlos Reygadas, Mexico/France/Netherlands/Germany, 2007)

2 Body ÷ Mind + 7 = Spirit (Shana Moulton, USA, 2007)

3 Happy-Go-Lucky (Mike Leigh, UK)

4 Origin of the Species, (Ben Rivers, UK)

5 La France, (Serge Bozon, France, 2007)

6 False Aging (Lewis Klahr, USA)

7 Paranoid Park and Milk (Gus Van Sant, USA, 2007 and 2008)

8 Lost, season four (Jack Bender and others, USA)

9 Singing Biscotts (Luther Price, USA)

10 The Fall (Tarsem Singh, India/UK/USA)

Michael Robinson’s films include Light Is Waiting and The General Returns From One Place to Another.

MATT WOLF’S TOP 10

1 Milk (Gus Van Sant, USA)

For the fake political ephemera; the meticulous reconstruction of Harvey’s camera shop; DP Harris Savides’ recurring visions of San Francisco; and Sean Penn’s queer, Jew-y affectation.

2 RR (James Benning, USA, 2007)

A hypnotic structural film about railroads and the romantic landscapes they traverse, devoid of signs from contemporary life.

3 The Order of Myths (Margaret Brown, USA)

A lovingly crafted documentary about Mardi Gras traditions and race in Mobile, Alabama.

4 Happy Go-Lucky (Mike Leigh, UK)

For Sally Hawkins’ stellar performance as a recklessly childlike schoolteacher, who transforms into a fearless adult.

5 Maggie in Wonderland (Mark Hammarberg, Ester Martin Bergsmark, and Beatrice Maggie Andersson, Sweden)

Swedish documentary about an African immigrant, Maggie, which mixes her poignant video diary with savvy reenactments. A fertile cross between Lukas Moodysson and Spencer Nakasako.

6 Tearoom (William E. Jones, USA, 1962/2007)

An evocative resurrection of archival police footage from the 1960s of public sex crackdowns in the Midwest.

7 Derek (Isaac Julien, UK)

Tilda Swinton’s absorbing monologue about queer-punk filmmaker Derek Jarman thrusts his radical work into the present.

8 Reprise (Joachim Trier, Norway, 2006)

A bombastic film about the literary ambitions of a group of post-punk boys in Oslo.

9 Wendy and Lucy (Kelly Reichardt, USA)

The sobering alternative to the pre-recession revelry of Sex and the City: The Movie.

10 A Mother’s Promise: Barack Obama Bio Film (David Guggenheim, USA)

Romantic Barack-oganda screened during the DNC.

Matt Wolf is the director of Wild Combination: A Portrait of Arthur Russell.

BARRY JENKINS’ TOP 10

1 Still Walking (Hirokazu Kore’eda, Japan)

Perfection.

2 Synecdoche, New York (Charlie Kaufman, USA)

One of the most unbridled films ever funded by Hollywood coffers. Thank you, Sidney Kimmel.

3 Useless (Jia Zhangke, China, 2007)

Yerba Buena Center. You know, they show films there. And usually, they’re pretty fuckin’ crucial.

4 Flight of The Red Balloon (Hou Hsiao-hsien, France, 2007)

A dream.

5 Phone Banking for Obama @ Four Barrel Coffee

Not cinema, but visual storytelling nonetheless: when Jeremy Tooker brought ironing boards and voter rolls into his glittering café for a few exemplary weeks, we glimpsed a version of San Francisco where shiny new things brought us together rather than separated us.

6 The Website Is Down: Sales Guy vs. Web Dude (Josh Weinberg, USA)

My favorite short of the year. Truly independent "cinema."

7 Waltz With Bashir (Ari Folman, Gemany/France/Israel/USA)

Animation is the ideal medium for the recollection of memories. This film proves it.

8 Che (Steven Soderbergh, Spain/France/USA)

Someday, we’ll look upon Soderbergh’s effort for the sum of its parts: RED.

9 Craig Baldwin interview with SF360 Movie Scene

The most exciting four minutes of local film-speak in all of ’08.

10 There Will Be Bud (P.O.T. Anderson, USA)

Old-school spoofing done right.

Barry Jenkins is the director of Medicine for Melancholy.


>>More Year in Film 2008

Tuneless, yet tempting

0

› a&eletters@sfbg.com

Mamma Mia! was nominated for Best Picture. I’ll let that sink in for a moment. OK, yes, the category in question is limited to comedies and musicals, and sure, the Golden Globes aren’t the most significant annual awards, but still. This is the best you could come up with, Hollywood Foreign Press Association? Meryl Streep unabashedly flailing on a rooftop? Pierce Brosnan’s nasal tones bringing new lows to the ABBA oeuvre? Best musical of the year, my ass.

Except, well, it kind of was. And I think that’s the real problem here: 2008 sucked for movie musicals. While 2007 offered Hairspray, Sweeney Todd, and Across the Universe, 2008 gave us Mamma Mia!, High School Musical 3: Senior Year, and Repo: The Genetic Opera. Is it too late for re-gifting? In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll admit that I enjoyed two of those three films. Mamma Mia! and HSM 3 both have their merits, and I won’t deny getting in on the toe-tapping fun. As movies, though, they’re pretty weak; as musicals, even worse. Don’t get me started on Repo — you know something’s wrong when Paris Hilton is the high point.

Mamma Mia! was lousy from the get-go, despite what endless lines in New York would have you believe. The flimsy story is more of a placeholder for the tunes, which you could hear performed better on ABBA Gold. (You haven’t known true horror until you’ve seen Brosnan in all-singing action — "S.O.S." is right.) Then there’s HSM 3, the guiltiest of my pleasures. Sure, I liked it, because as a fan, I can look past the overproduced songs, mediocre acting, and half-assed plot. Objectively, it’s just not an instant classic.

Finally, we come to Repo, a truly embarrassing, wannabe-cult disaster of a film. If this represents the future of the movie musical, I’ll opt for the film’s dystopian vision instead. Repossess any organs you like, just as long as I don’t have to hear Bill Moseley sing again.

LOUIS PEITZMAN’S TOP TEN GUILTY PLEASURES

1. High School Musical 3 (Kenny Ortega, USA)

2. Twilight (Catherine Hardwicke, USA)

3. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (Steven Spielberg, USA)

4. Mamma Mia! (Phyllida Lloyd, USA)

5. Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay (Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg, USA)

6. The X-Files: I Want to Believe (Chris Carter, USA)

7. The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (Rob Cohen, USA)

8. Four Christmases (Seth Gordon, USA)

9. Beverly Hills Chihuahua (Raja Gosnell, USA)
10. The Clique (Michael Lembeck, USA)

>>More Year in Film 2008

Play it again

0

› a&eletters@sfbg.com

Why spend your New Year’s Eve blowing a lot of money to get drunk with douchey strangers when you can curl up with a bottle of Cook’s and some good movies? Here’s my short list of movies I was glad to see receive the DVD treatment in ’08:

<\!s>White Dog (Criterion) If you missed the Castro’s revival screening of Sam Fuller’s 1982 animal drama, here’s another chance to watch Paul Winfield attempt to retrain a German shepherd that attacks black people. One of the strangest and most profound antiracist films ever made. For a double bill, you can also check out Winfield’s Academy Award–winning turn with a much kinder pooch in 1972’s Sounder (Koch Vision) — but that film is totally Cicely Tyson’s show.

<\!s>Goodbye Uncle Tom (Blue Underground) Speaking of race, Gualtiero Jacopetti and Franco Prosperi’s infamous 1971 "doc" (the duo kicked off the shockumentary craze with 1962’s Mondo Cane) about the horrors of America’s original sin may indeed be, in the words of Roger Ebert, "the most disgusting, contemptuous insult to decency ever to masquerade as a documentary." But the film’s hideousness is only matched by its hubris — you really have to see it to believe it.

<\!s>The Last Laugh (Kino International) If Cristi Puiu’s Mr. Lazarescu had a forefather, it would be Emil Jannings’ sad-sack hotel porter in F.W. Murnau’s 1924 classic of German silent cinema. Watching a man lose his last shred of dignity has never looked so good, thanks to Murnau’s innovative camerawork and Kino International’s loving scrub-job.

<\!s>Sleeping Beauty (Disney DVD) I totally wanted to be Maleficent as a child, and her devilish hauteur and magenta and black robes have never looked better thanks to Disney’s Blu-ray edition of the studio’s last hand-inked feature film (1959). Watch it on mute and get lost in the Sirk-ian palette.

Honorable mentions: Criterion’s reissues of notable Max Ophüls works, Wes Anderson’s Bottle Rocket (1996), and Paul Schrader’s Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (1985); Paramount Home Entertainment’s The Godfather: The Coppola Restoration (original film, 1972); Fox Film Noir’s release of Jean Negulesco’s Road House (1948); and Lionsgate’s Sophia Loren and Catherine Deneuve box sets.

MATT SUSSMAN’S TOP TEN LEADING LADIES (IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER)

Julianne Moore in Savage Grace (Tom Kalin, Spain/USA/France, 2007)

Juliette Binoche in Flight of the Red Balloon (Hou Hsiao-hsien, France, 2007)

Sylvia Miles in Go Go Tales (Abel Ferrara, Italy/USA, 2007)

Meryl Streep in Mamma Mia! (Phyllida Lloyd, USA)

Lina Leandersson in Let the Right One In (Tomas Alfredson, Sweden)

Ann Savage in My Winnipeg (Guy Maddin, Canada, 2007)

Asia Argento in The Last Mistress (Catherine Breillat, France/Italy, 2007)

Tilda Swinton in Burn After Reading (Joel and Ethan Coen, USA/UK/France)

Jun Ichikawa (as the Harajuku witch) in Mother of Tears (Dario Argento, Italy/USA, 2007)

All the women of In the City of Sylvia (José Luis Guerín, Spain, 2007)

Horrible! Overlooked! Best!

0

DENNIS HARVEY’S 16 HORRIBLE EXPERIENCES AT THE MOVIES:

1. Over Her Dead Body (Jeff Lowell, USA) Paul Rudd can redeem anything. Or so I thought.

2. Be Kind Rewind (Michel Gondry, USA) When the cause of whimsy and movie-love requires making every character onscreen a grating comedy ‘tard, you gotta wonder: what made this Gondry joint better than Rob Schneider?

3. American Teen (Nanette Burstein, USA) Manipulated à la reality TV trash, Burstein’s "documentary" pushed the envelope in terms of stage-managing alleged truth. That envelope would’ve best stayed sealed.

4. The Hottie and the Nottie (Tom Putnam, USA) A Pygmalion comedy so atrocious that Paris Hilton wasn’t the worst thing about it.

5. Six Sex Scenes and a Murder (Julie Rubio, USA) Local enterprise to be applauded. Lame sub-Skinemax results, not so much.

6. Hell Ride (Larry Bishop, USA) The Tarantino-produced missing third panel of Grindhouse (2007), this retro biker flick unfortunately forgot to be satirical. Or fun.

7. Filth and Wisdom (Madonna, UK) Madge’s directorial debut — so loutish and inept Guy Ritchie could use it as custody-battle evidence.

8. Diary of the Dead (George A. Romero, USA) The worst movie by the sole great director on this list. It was Friday the 13th (1980) meets The Blair Witch Project (1999) — which is just so tired, not to mention beneath him.

9. The Fall (Tarsem Singh, India/UK/USA, 2006) Or, Around the World in 80 Pretentious Ways. A luxury coffee-table photography tome morphed into pointless faux-narrative cinema.

10. Chapter 27 (JP Schaefer, USA/Canada) John Lennon’s assassin, Mark David Chapman, was a disconnected, unattractive, incoherent mutterer. Jared Leto gained 67 pounds to faithfully reproduce this profoundly boring slob. In the movie, Lindsay Lohan befriends him. No wonder she’s a lesbian now.

11. The Happening (M. Night Shyamalan, USA/India) Not the worst Shyamalan. But then again, everything he’s done since 1999’s The Sixth Sense has rated among its year’s worst, no?

12. Surfer, Dude (SR Bindler, USA) This laugh-free comedy proved it’s possible to render 90 minutes of Matthew McConaughey in board shorts into a hard-off.

13. Synecdoche, NY (Charlie Kaufman, USA) What’s like a prostate exam minus the health benefits? The extent to which writer-director Kaufman rams head up ass in this neurotic, pseudo-intellectual wankfest. Its stellar cast walked the plank into elaborate meaninglessness.

14. Australia (Baz Luhrmann, Australia/USA) Possibly the most expensive insufferable movie ever made. Can a continent sue for defamation?

15. Valkyrie (Bryan Singer, USA/Germany) Not even surprisingly decent talk-show Elvis impressions can save you this time, Tom Cruise.

16. The Spirit (Frank Miller, USA) The Dork Knight. Least super hero ever. Frank Miller: stand in the corner!

DENNIS HARVEY’S BEST PERFORMANCES MOST LIKELY TO BE OVERLOOKED:

Elio Germano in My Brother Is an Only Child (Daniele Luchetti, Italy/France, 2007)

Shane Jacobson in Kenny (Clayton Jacobson, Australia, 2006)

Emma Thompson in Brideshead Revisited (Julian Jarrold, UK)

Mathieu Amalric in A Christmas Tale (Arnaud Desplechin, France)

Jane Lynch in Role Models (David Wain, USA/Germany)

Stephen Rea, Mena Suvari, and Russell Hornsby in Stuck (Stuart Gordon, Canada/USA/UK/Germany)

Naomi Watts and Tim Roth in Funny Games (Michael Haneke, USA/France/UK/Austria/Germany/Italy)

Haaz Sleiman in The Visitor (Thomas McCarthy, USA)

Asia Argento in Boarding Gate (Olivier Assayas, France/Luxembourg) and The Last Mistress (Catherine Breillat, France/Italy, 2007)

Norma Khouri in Forbidden Lie$ (Anna Broinowski, Australia, 2007)

Russell Brand in Forgetting Sarah Marshall (Nicholas Stoller, USA)

Brad Pitt in Burn After Reading (Ethan and Joel Coen, USA/UK/France)

Thandie Newton in W. (Oliver Stone, USA/Hong Kong/Germany/UK/Australia)

James Franco in Pineapple Express (David Gordon Green, USA) and Milk (Gus Van Sant, USA)

Amy Adams in Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (Bharat Nalluri, UK/USA)

Thomas Haden Church in Smart People (Noam Murro, USA)

Emily Mortimer in Transsiberian (Brad Anderson, UK/Germany/Spain/Lithuania)

Judith Light in Save Me (Robert Cary, USA, 2007)

Kathy Bates in Revolutionary Road (Sam Mendes, USA/UK)

Anna Biller in Viva (Anna Biller, USA)

Taraji P. Henson in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (David Fincher, USA)

Anna Faris in The House Bunny (Fred Wolf, USA)

DENNIS HARVEY’S TOP 25 (IN ALPHABETICAL ORDER):

1. Battle for Haditha (Nick Broomfield, UK, 2007)

2. Bigger Stronger Faster (Chris Bell, US)

3. Brideshead Revisited (Julian Jerrold, UK)

4. A Christmas Tale (Arnaud Desplechin, France)

5. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (David Fincher, USA)

6. Doubt (John Patrick Shanley, USA)

7. Encounters at the End of the World (Werner Herzog, USA, 2007)

8. Forbidden Lie$ (Anna Broinowski, Australia, 2007)

9. Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson (Alex Gibney,

USA)

10. Happy-Go-Lucky (Mike Leigh, UK)

11. I Served the King of England (Jirí Menzel, Czech Republic/Slovakia, 2006)

12. Kenny (Clayton Jacobsen, Australia, 2006)

13. Milk (Gus Van Sant, USA)

14. Monks: The Transatlantic Feedback (Lucia Palacios and Dietmar Post,

Spain/Germany/USA, 2006)

15. My Brother Is an Only Child (Daniele Luchetti, Italy/France, 2007)

16. Planet B-Boy (Benson Lee, US, 2007)

17. Paranoid Park (Gus Van Sant, France/USA, 2007)

18. Reprise (Joachim Trier, Norway, 2006)

19. Revolutionary Road (Sam Mendes, USA/UK)

20. A Secret (Claude Miller, France, 2007)

21. The Signal (David Bruckner, Dan Bush, and Jacob Gentry, USA, 2007)

22. Trouble the Water (Carl Deal and Tia Lessin, USA)

23. The Violin (Francisco Vargas, Mexico, 2005)

24. Viva (Anna Biller, USA)

25. Waltz with Bashir (Ari Folman, Israel/Germany/France/USA)

Is that your final answer?

0

› a&eletters@gmail.com

In Slumdog Millionaire, the contrast between wealth and impoverishment is sustained but never entertained in direct terms. Danny Boyle’s fairy-tale foray into Mumbai’s underbelly juxtaposes the frenetic desperation of the slums with the cool affluence of the Who Wants to Be a Millionaire set, and compares its affable protagonist, Jamal, with the sleek and callous men who run the show. The popular game itself can be seen as a mockery of working-class aspirations, since it dangles huge sums of cash above the heads of participants. The tension of the film stems from the fact that the truly disenfranchised are believed — by the upper class — to be incapable of success. Jamal elicits incredulousness, then suspicion, then scorn as he continues jumping the trivia obstacles placed before him.

The flashbacks that illustrate Jamal’s explanation of how he came to know each question’s answer require a considerable amount of suspended disbelief. Boyle uses a fantastical story of underdog triumph that relies heavily on cross-cultural intrigue and romantic clichés to indict classist condescension and to promote a more fair-minded definition of intelligence and dignity. The game’s host becomes a despicable character for his attempts to preclude Jamal’s success despite his own origins in the slums of Mumbai. There is a glint of grotesquerie in the ways copious amounts of money and power are shown to corrupt and enervate one’s empathy. This devolution also applies to Jamal’s brother, who morphs into an unctuous beast of violence and indulgence once he becomes a gangster’s soldier. These character types and arcs are not new by any stretch of the imagination, but it is quite rewarding, amidst all the pleasure of rich visuals and suspense, to witness the victory of a dignified, perspicacious member of the underclass.

KEVIN LANGSON’S TOP TEN:

1. The Edge of Heaven (Fatih Akin, Germany, 2007)

2. Milk (Gus Van Sant, USA)

3. Megalopolis (Francesco Conversano and Nene Grignaffini, Italy)

4. The Visitor (Thomas McCarthy, USA)

5. Vicky Cristina Barcelona (Woody Allen, Spain/USA)

6. Standard Operating Procedure (Errol Morris, USA)

7. Savage Grace (Tom Kalin, Spain/USA/France, 2007)

8. Slumdog Millionaire (Danny Boyle, UK/India)

9. Still Life (Jia Zhangke, China/Hong Kong, 2006)

10. Meadowlark (Taylor Greeson, USA)

Anchor and Hope

0

› paulr@sfbg.com

If there are more architecturally compelling restaurants in the city than the troika assembled by the troika consisting of the Rosenthal brothers and Doug Washington, I don’t know of them. The Rosenthal brothers are, Steven and Mitchell, who ran the kitchen at Postrio for years before leaving to open Town Hall, while Washington (who’s worked at Postrio and Jardinière, among other places) has long been their front-of-the-house presence.

Town Hall was launched in 2003 on the ground floor of a handsome and historic brick building at the corner of Howard and Fremont streets. In 2006 the trio opened their second spot, Salt House, just a few blocks away, on Mission near First, in an old printing plant. And in April came Anchor and Hope, in a gorgeously made-over brick warehouse on Minna Street, more or less wedged between its older siblings.

Restaurant architecture is always relevant, but it’s particularly relevant in SoMa in these days of massive construction projects: gigantic residential towers, buildings of bare concrete, plate glass, and squiggly rooflines, with planes of mesh at odd angles, like giant mosquito screens half-toppled by the wind — all of it suggestive, somehow, of exhibitionism (by architects and occupants alike), an obsession with industrial materials instead of craft and technique, and a blithe attitude toward ugliness.

Too many of these buildings look garish and disposable, as if an artisanal human hand has never touched them, and I suspect they will look dated and cheap before it becomes necessary to tear them down and recycle them into lawn chairs or bidets. When they do come down, it might be that Anchor and Hope will still be standing, its patrons eating oysters and other delicacies from the sea while demolition dust swirls outside.

If there is something almost European in the troika’s architectural sense — an instinct to preserve old buildings and their memory of the past by polishing and refitting them to modern standards — the Rosenthals’ food continues to transcend categories. Town Hall serves a full-throated menu the brothers might have put together at Postrio, Salt House adds a hip-tavern note, and now Anchor and Hope gives us a version of that SF classic, the seafood house.

Step through the enormous plate-glass portal — your first big clue that this isn’t a rehash of Tadich Grill or Sam’s — and you find yourself in a huge open dining room under a peaked ceiling of exposed rafters. The chapel-of-industry effect is similar to that at Acquerello or Chez Spencer but much more imposing. A long bar occupies much of the east wall. Despite the hard flooring material, the noise level is well-managed. The high ceiling must help, while the brushed-steel chairs surprisingly don’t hurt. They can be a little chilly, though, on wintry nights, and you might need a little something to warm your hands over.

How about a bowl of fabulous crab chowder ($10), thickened with parsnips (a flavorful relative of the potato) and some black-pepper cream and heavy with crab meat? Crab doesn’t need much tinkering, in my experience, but in this simplest of soups, the crab flavor shone clearly.

We warmed our hands over a big bowl of clams ($10.50), steamed in a basil-wine broth that gave a teasing whiff of summer. Batter-fried smelts ($9) — "fries with eyes" — didn’t give off any restorative steam, but they were crisp and tasty, and the rémoulade served on the side for dipping the little fish had a serious pepper kick. My only complaint about tiger prawns ($12.50) simmered Thai-style in coconut red curry (with a side of jasmine rice) was that one has seen versions of this dish before, not infrequently.

I was surprised, and perhaps slightly disappointed, to find the menu devoid of sustainability information. Dungeness crab is presumptively local, as is petrale sole (roasted whole here), but the salmon was from Australasia, and the lobster (in a pot pie and on a roll) couldn’t have been local. When in doubt: throw caution to the wind. While I generally steer clear of cioppino, I was drawn to the server’s description of a special, cacciucco ($24), which means "little pond" in Italian. The dish (whose roots are traceable to the Tuscan port city of Livorno) turned out to be something like bouillabaise, a mix of salmon and cod cubes, shrimp, and mussels (of astounding, pillow-like plumpness) in a simple broth of white wine, garlic, and tomato paste that somehow managed to be smoky. The smokiness might have come from the chunks of grilled bread adrift like charred ice floes in the middle of the bowl.

Landlubbers turn up everywhere, even at seafood houses, and at Anchor and Hope they are not slighted. The kitchen even turns out a creditable cassoulet ($24) with duck confit, duck sausage, and pomegranate seeds scattered over the top like rubies. The pomegranate seeds did not sit well with the orderer of the cassoulet, a connoisseur of sorts, but I found they brought not only visual interest but a subtle fruity sharpness that helped cut the fat richness of the meat.

The dessert menu is terse, and the connoisseur thought the prices, which mainly hover between $8 and $9, were moderate. This is possible; today’s real cash cow is the $12 cocktail, which may have relieved some pressure on dessert prices. A rectangle of dense chocolate blackout cake ($8.50) was tinctured with espresso and adorned with a caramel-like brittle of sea salt and pistachio — an elegant and composed treat and plenty for three, if rather modest in the architectural flourishes that seem to define so many of today’s desserts. Still: in modesty, hope. Could this be an aegis for a new year, newer than most?

ANCHOR AND HOPE

Dinner: Sun.– Wed., 5:30–10 p.m.; Thurs.–Sat., 5:30–11 p.m.

Lunch: Mon.–Fri., 11:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m.

83 Minna, SF

(415) 501-9100

www.anchorandhopesf.com

Beer and wine

AE/MC/V

Well-modulated noise

Wheelchair accessible

The Year in Film 2008

0

Starring: the bromance. With: the political biopic, economic-crisis cinema, guilty-pleasure musicals, superheroes, Swedish vampires, and more! Plus: local critics’ and filmmakers’ top flicks picks.

>>BFFFs!
2008: the year of living dude-tastically
By Cheryl Eddy

>>Don’t look back
Movies that saw hard times coming
By Max Goldberg


>>Top tendencies
Signs of life (and a death) in American cinema
By Johnny Ray Huston

>>Pop hope
Politics as entertainment –shot by shot, shoe, or screen
By Kimberly Chun

>>Tuneless, yet tempting
Assessing the year’s mu-suck-als
By Louis Peitzman

>>Play it again
Notable releases kept our Blu-Rays less than blue
By Matt Sussman

>>Is that your final answer?
Slumdog Millionaire explores class and corruption
By Kevin Langson

>>Horrible! Overlooked! Best!
A Guardian cinemaniac counts down his 2008 hours in the dark
By Dennis Harvey

>>Reel leaders
Top flick picks from critics and filmmakers
Lists, lists, lists

Volume 43 Number 14 Flip-through Edition

0

Leftovers

0

› le.chicken.farmer@gmail.com

CHEAP EATS Rack of lamb. Smoked turkey. Smoked salmon. Seared tuna. Scallops in a saffron cream sauce. Roasted beets. Couscous. These things are in my refrigerator. They are leftovers from a holiday party I helped cater. Two, four, five, six people I called. None could come, so that leaves me, one person, your chicken farmer truly, to knock it all over, all by my lonely lonesome.

[Insert sound of chomping and chewing, tearing, lip-smacking, the gulping of bottles of cheap red wine, the grunting of 5,000 pigs, the burping and farting of four fat football players, a symphony of jackhammers, chainsaws, and meat grinders … and one small sweet-and-greasy chicken-farmerly sigh.]

Thus endeth a pretty weird year. Politics, the economy, my personal life … I’m not going to montage you, don’t worry. I’m going to sentence you. One sentence: Near the beginning of 2008 I left a sexy city boy to find me someone closer to home, and what I found was a woodsy, wonky couple watching slasher movies over barbecue, a couple of local married men, a foot fetishist, and a guy with lots of bondage gear and a rifle leaning against his bedroom wall who wanted to tie me up and I let him.

This is another sentence, agreed, but there was also the neighbor whose young son came out as bisexual while we were dating and probably could have used a little fatherly camaraderie (just a guess) … but dad couldn’t bring himself to tell the boy that, hey, he was sleeping with a tranny.

When, near the end of the year, I finally did fall in love, it was not with a Californian. Dude lived a couple thousand miles away and across an international border. Ah, and he was a wonderful man, but by the time the article came out and everyone started congratuutf8g me on my feat of Sir Reality, it was over.

I have a feat fetish. I like to take on absurd challenges, try to find innovative ways around them (usually involving rubber bands, duct tape, and wax paper wings) … and then invariably crash my latest weirdo flying contraption into the first tree stump I see, or get all tangled in hammocks and chicken wire.

You try to learn a little bit along the way. Like all great and not-so-great inventors, I keep records and take notes … hey! That’s what Cheap Eats is. Has become. But I have to confess (because I always do) that there is a small, strange thought buried deep in my inner bucket of bacon grease, which sometimes gurgles to the surface and astounds the crap out of me. It’s that twisted — a hankering to write actual restaurant reviews.

Don’t get your hopes up. I’m just saying.

I tried to squeeze in one more Mr. Yeah, Right before the end of oh eight. There wasn’t a lot of time left, so things moved way faster than usual. Coffee turned into dinner turned into a walk in the rain turned into his arm around me turned into me pressed against a brick wall, his hands on my breasts and his tongue down my throat. The sex was terrible. He accused me of being a good Catholic girl, which hurt, even though he admitted I was a bad Catholic girl too.

I dressed in the dark, at the foot of his gigantic bed. He got up too, put his clothes on, and then offered to walk me to my car, which was how I knew I wouldn’t see him again. I said, "Nah. Thanks. That’s all right."

And drove home in tears, as usual.

I’m thinking of an Alanis Morissette song. I ask too many questions, I learn. I leap, I learn. I cling, I learn. I’m needy, I learn. Bad in bed, I learn. Beat myself up, I learn. I expect, I learn. I’m neurotic. I lack motivation. I can’t sing for shit or remember the words. I’m demanding, fickle, and a dangerous driver. When I need a friend, I withdraw.

My New Year’s resolution is to get an egg poacher.

But Christmas Day morning, driving home to the woods, scenic route, I saw a coffee cup on the top of a car in a driveway where there weren’t any people. I thought this was the most beautiful thing I’d ever see, until moments later I crested the big hill on Walker Road and there were the greenest fields spooning the bluest sky ever, and, on both sides of me, cows and cows and cows.

L.E. Leone’s new book is Big Bend (Sparkle Street Books), a collection of short fiction.

New news, old year

0

› andrea@altsexcolumn.com

Dear Readers:

It’s been a crappy but interesting year in sex news, which, when you really think about it, could describe just about any year you care to look at. One of these stories is probably my favorite sex/science news ever, at least since we found out that female ejaculate comes from the bladder, not the tiny Skene’s glands along the urethra. Oh, and there was the study that showed that that men who identified as bisexual were not actually aroused by images of men having sex, and the correlation of lesbianism with finger-length ratios…

My first story is actually an old one (most of the datelines for it on the Web are from 2003), but it did just land on my desk again, so I thought I’d take this opportunity to report that performing fellatio does not reduce the risk of breast cancer by up to 40 percent in women who swallow at least twice a week. As Snopes.com points out, the presence of experts such as "Dr. Len Lictopeen" on the "CNN Health" page that makes the rounds ought to serve as a hint that the page was spoofed. Sorry, fellas.

So what else do we have? Medscape published a rundown of penis news titled "Penile Size and Penile Enlargement Surgery: A Review," which was mostly unstartling (urologists think surgeons should have a good reason before performing penis enlargement procedures, many men are dissatisfied with the results, etc.), but my favorite take-away was this one: after linear regression analysis, there was no statistical correlation between stretched penile length and shoe size. So now you know.

New Scientist published an article I wish I’d read back when I was answering phones at San Francisco Sex information, where questions about sex, calories, and weight loss (or gain, in the case of fellatio-performers who worried about calorie content) were common. "Nope, sorry," I’d assure them, "You’re not going to lose weight that way (300 calories an hour is an optimistic but common estimate), but it’s good for your general health, so off you go." But now it appears that prolactin, the hormone that not only induces lactation but promotes maternal feelings and rises after orgasms achieved during intercourse — although (apparently) not through other acts — may also play a role in maternal and paternal weight gain. And since prolactin levels rise after sex, some researchers are investigating the obvious conclusion: sex makes you fat. And while they don’t ask this question, I will: is "fat and happy" really such a bad thing, given the alternative?

Meanwhile, there actually is evidence that sex, especially morning sex, really is good for what ails you. Among many other and better-known benefits, it has been shown to raise levels of Immunoglobulin A,(IgA), the microbe-slaying antibody, and thus might help you fight infections.

All of this is well and good, but I’ve been remiss in not reporting sooner the headline that really captured my attention: "G-Spot Caught on Ultrasound! Elusive Organ’s Existence No Longer In Question!"

Not that I questioned it. I was (and still am) continually irritated, however, by the constant references in the media to the G-spot’s possible apocryphal-ocity. While merely insisting that something is there cannot make it so (I am, for instance, still an atheist), this denial of the lived and reported experience of millions of women (and many of their partners) is and was uniquely galling. But now we have this story, reported as a bit of a yay/boo/yay by our friend, New Scientist:

Yay: Emmanuele Jannini at the University of L’Aquila in Italy discovered clear anatomical differences between women who claim to have vaginal orgasms — triggered by stimulation of the front vaginal wall without any simultaneous stimulation of the clitoris — and those who don’t.

Boo: Apparently, the key is that women who orgasm during penetrative sex have a thicker area of tissue in the region between the vagina and urethra, meaning that a simple scan could separate the lucky "haves" from the "have-nots."

Yay: Even better, Jannini now has evidence that women who have this thicker tissue can be "taught" to have vaginal orgasms. Ultrasound scans on 30 women uncovered G-spots in just eight of them and when these women were asked if they had vaginal orgasms during sex, only five of them said yes. However, when the remaining three were shown their G-spots on the scan and given advice on how to stimulate it, two of them subsequently "discovered" the joy of vaginal orgasms. "This demonstrated, although in a small sample, the use of [vaginal ultrasound] in teaching the vaginal orgasm," Jannini says.

I knew it! I’ve been teaching for years and years that internal sensitivity is, or at least can be, a learned response. I don’t expect that ultrasound, which is expensive and literally invasive — if also harmless and painless — is going to become part of Everywoman’s sexual fulfillment tool-kit, but how cheering is it to have proof at last? Good news in a bad year, right?

Love,

Andrea

Andrea is teaching Sex After Parenthood at Day One Center (www.dayonecenter.com), Recess (info@recessurbanrecreation.com), and privately. Contact her at andrea@altsexcolumn.com for more info.

Mayor Newsom’s YouTube hypocrisy

0

OPINION Mayor Gavin Newsom’s "State of the City" YouTube fiasco — in which city SFGTV employees helped create 7.5 hours of non-mandated programming — is complete hypocrisy.

While the mayor touts technology and transparency of his efforts, he has opposed using available technology to broaden access to public meetings in City Hall, even though that is now mandated under the Sunshine Ordinance. Why are we getting Internet speechifying, rather than transparent access to City Hall meetings?

If you’ve ever wanted to listen in on what are now essentially secret, backroom policy discussions and decisions being made in San Francisco’s City Hall, you’re not alone.

If you’ve ever imagined being able to hear those conversations — while you’re sitting at home or in your office, during your drive to work, while on Muni/BART, enjoying a java in your favorite café, or really anywhere — the technology is already in place. You could use your iPod or MP3 player, or listen to a podcast, similar to using Books on Tape.

Right now only about 30 of the 80-plus regular City Hall meetings are televised and posted online for on-demand or downloaded viewing. Some of the remaining 50-plus meetings are at least audiotaped, but they require awkward and costly procedures to obtain them.

In an effort to increase transparency of San Francisco’s government, Sup. Ross Mirkarimi introduced legislation earlier this year to expand the recording mandate and require online posting within 72 hours after a meeting. Currently only policy bodies must audiotape their meetings, but Mirkarimi’s mandate extended the recording requirement to other City Hall agency and departmental hearings, and to lesser-known passive meeting bodies. It was such an obvious and popular idea that the Board of Supervisors overwhelmingly supported it and subsequently overrode Newsom’s veto.

Newsom continues to claim the enhanced transparency mandate would be too costly, but simple research has shown that the city has all the equipment, contracts, and staff in place to implement Mirkarimi’s transparency mandate today. In fact, any laptop or $40 digital recorder can make the recording, and posting online is similar to the few steps needed to upload a YouTube video.

It appears the mayor just doesn’t want anyone to see the sausage he’s making, unless he can script and control it. Other City Hall bureaucrats blocking this include Jack Chin, head of SFGTV; Angela Calvillo, clerk of the board; and Frank Darby, Calvillo’s administrator of the Sunshine Task Force. They all raise spurious complaints, pass the buck, and refuse to discuss reasonable accommodations, apparently following mayoral prohibitions despite the board’s veto override.

The Sunshine Ordinance requires all civil servants to prioritize compliance over any other duties when there is a conflict, and failure to obey the law is official misconduct.

It’s sad that Newsom, city employees, and City Attorney Dennis Herrera are doing everything they can (by action or by ignoring these daily violations) to prevent the ability of the media and the public to have this transparency. Needless to say, with the looming city budget deficit, our interest in following these detailed machinations is at an all-time high.

We should demand that City Hall’s foot-dragging cease, by implementing Mirkarimi’s legislation immediately.

Kimo Crossman is a government watchdog and a member of San Francisco’s Sunshine Posse. Crossman can be reached at kimo@webnetic.net. Open government advocates Joe Lynn and Patrick Monette-Shaw contributed to this report.

Reinventing journalism

0

› news@sfbg.com

Journalism, the critics say, is dying. The model of news reporting that has dominated the United States for most of the past century — big, well-funded outfits paying reporters and editors to choose and produce what the public reads or views — is crumbling. The main culprits are media consolidation and corporate cutbacks, but the downward spiral is also being fed by declining readership, competition from the Internet, investor expectations, demographic shifts, self-inflicted wounds, and myriad other factors.

This years-long trend is hardly even news anymore, but there were some troubling developments in 2008. Some of the problems facing newspapers and broadcast outlets are the result of a bad economy, but everyone agrees the issues run deeper.

At the same time, however, countervailing forces are gathering momentum, many of them based in California and some in the Bay Area. People who believe in the indispensable role that reporters and editors play in this society are developing news models, ideas for reinventing journalism that could blossom in 2009.

From the Huffington Post and its 8 million monthly visitors to journalism experiments such as Spot.us and the San Francisco Public Press being hatched right here in San Francisco, the media landscape is shifting. As traditional newspapers contract and wrestle with relevance in the online age, Internet-based news organizations are filling the void and seeking to change the rules along the way.

Nowhere was this new reality more on display than last summer at the Democratic National Convention in Denver, where Bay Area new media powerhouses that included MoveOn.org, the Daily Kos, and Digg.com created the Big Tent, which played host to everyone from small-time bloggers to the most powerful politicians and big time political thinkers.

Among them was Arianna Huffington, the HuffPo founder who has become a leading voice for media reform and reinvention. The vision for journalism she espoused from the stage is a familiar one to Guardian readers but apostasy to believers in journalistic objectivity: writing from a progressive perspective to hold the powerful accountable to the public.

“Our highest responsibility is to the truth,” Huffington told us in a recent interview. “The truth is not about splitting the difference between one side and the other. Sometimes one side is speaking the truth … The central mission of journalism is the search for the truth.”

But the HuffPo has come under some criticism for not paying its legions of bloggers and for occasionally lifting content from media outlets that do pay their people. Searching for truth may be the central mission of journalism, but news organizations still have to find ways to fairly compensate the people who do so. Citizen journalism and blogging may be wonderful additions to the landscape, but in the end, democracy require reporters. You can’t properly cover City Hall or monitor the White House unless it’s a full-time job. And that seems to be the big challenge in this era of overextended resources.

 

TOO MANY MERGERS

The mainstream media landscape is bleak. Nearly every major newspaper in the country laid off significant numbers of reporters in the past year. The Tribune Company, which owns the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times, among other properties, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in December, and it’s entirely possible that several other big media companies will follow the same path in 2009.

It’s not that these papers aren’t making money — the LA Times, for example, remains profitable. But in the past decade, waves of mergers and consolidations led the giant conglomerates that own many US newspapers to take on huge debt. And private investors are demanding returns that may have been possible in the boom years of a decade ago but are only possible today if costs are cut so deeply that the basic journalistic mission of the nation’s great newspapers is in danger.

The alternative press isn’t exempt. The past decade has seen a wave of increased consolidation in the weekly industry, and at least one chain is now in serious financial trouble. Creative Loafing, which has its flagship paper in the big and growing Atlanta market, filed for bankruptcy this year. The company borrowed millions to buy Chicago Reader and Washington City Paper. Although all three papers were making money, when advertising slowed down, debt payments overwhelmed revenue.

Westword, a paper owned by Village Voice Media, a heavily leveraged chain, reported Dec. 18 on rumors that its parent company was facing financial problems. The conclusion of media critic Michael Roberts: the chain is doing fine. (Full disclosure: The Guardian won a lawsuit against VVM this year; the $18 million verdict is on appeal.)

So the scene is wide open for new approaches.

Among the San Franciscans who have taken a lead role in creating a new model for print journalism is Michael Stoll, the former San Francisco Examiner city editor who for the last few years has been spearheading creation of Public Press (www.public-press.org), which aims to create a non-commercial daily newspaper supported by readers and foundation grants.

The project (which Steven T. Jones has been involved with supporting) has a working business plan, began offering limited content during the last election, and recently received a grant from the San Francisco Foundation. Stoll said the time has come for a new newspaper model.

“It seems like the existing commercial models of journalism were always problematic, but their faults only became apparent when the economy started to fail. And we’re now faced with an abandonment of the core principles that media companies said they would never stray from,” Stoll said, listing basic government and corporate accountability among those core principles.

“The daily, routine coverage of public policy is now performed very selectively, even as the optional, more entertaining coverage is beefed up. There comes a point when the public’s patience with those priorities wears very thin and it increasingly demands straight talk,” Stoll said.

 

SHOW ME THE MONEY

The problem is how to fund it. News Web sites like ProPublica.org and journalism collectives such as the Center for Investigative Reporting have relied on large foundation grants to fund investigative and other public interest journalism. That’s fine for some things — but foundations often have their own political agendas, and the influence of foundation agendas on grant recipients can be pernicious (see “Pulling strings,” 10/8/1997). Foundation funding isn’t reliable, and a news outlet that became critical of the pet causes of a major funder could quickly find its income cut off.

Another model is being developed by Spot.Us (with the help of a two-year, $340,000 grant from the Knight Foundation).

Spot.us founder David Cohn wrote for Wired and the Columbia Journalism Review before going on to work as both a freelance journalist and technical consultant to news organizations. That unique combination, during a time of industry decline, got him thinking about how to fund good, public interest journalism.

Cohn developed the idea of creating a Web site where writers could pitch news stories and solicit funding for them directly from the public, a concept that drew from bloggers such as Christopher Allbritton and his Back-to-Iraq blog, as well as innovative charity sites such as DonorsChoose.org.

Stories published by Spot.us are then licensed under the Creative Commons, allowing anyone to use them for free and spread the work. News organizations can also buy the rights to an article by repaying Spot.us, or they can get the site to help fund their freelancers by paying for half up front and letting donors cover the rest.

“Everyone can benefit: the news organizations, the writers, and the public. But the market needs to be rethought,” Cohn told us, noting that the success of his venture will be up to the users. “It depends on whether people will see journalism as a public good and want to fund good stories.”

Media outlets that aim to have a full-time news-gathering staff need to tap into more stable funding sources — or they have to start slow and hope their new ideas catch on.

“With the extremely limited funding we’re starting out with, we’re planning to start a hybrid freelancer/volunteer news operation, and that’s not terribly sustainable in the long run,” Stoll said. “But we hope to increase our financial wherewithal on pace with increasing our news operations.”

Although finding resources for his new model is a difficult task in the current fiscal climate, the need becomes stronger all the time. “When talk centers on how long the commercial press will be able to operate in our community, it’s never too soon to talk about long-range alternatives,” Stoll said.

Stoll left the Examiner in November 2002 after clashing with the owners, the Fang family, about how to cover the city. After that, Stoll joined the media watchdog group Grade the News and taught journalism at San Jose State University, where he still works.

“The readers probably guessed that public interest coverage was not the Examiner‘s top priority, and they voted with their quarters not to support the paper long enough to see it survive in that incarnation,” Stoll said, referring to how the Examiner was sold to Denver billionaire Philip Anschutz after the Fang’s court-ordered subsidy ended. “And I see the same thing happening with the Chronicle.”

 

WHO GETS PAID?

Still, there are some new journalism experiments that have shown they can be moneymakers, most notably HuffPo, which has translated its enormous popularity into a substantial revenue stream from its online ads, a dynamic it has parlayed into increasing venture capital funding to expand its operations.

But HuffPo is still struggling to find a business model that allows it to expand its original reporting and pay journalists a living wage, a problem highlighted recently by a controversy about HuffPo stealing content without permission.

In an interview with the Guardian, Huffington admitted that HuffPo did inadvertently steal content from newspapers including Chicago Reader, which highlighted the issue on its blog, triggering a lively online discussion.

“With regards to the Chicago Reader, that was completely our editor’s fault, and it completely violated our guidelines, so I sent a letter to them wholeheartedly apologizing,” she told us.

Huffington said it’s important to honestly admit mistakes and use integrity to win the public trust. “We want to be very transparent about what we’re doing,” she said.

As for the larger issue of not paying for content, she makes a distinction between journalism and blogging, citing the mantra, “Facts are sacred, opinion is free.”

That means HuffPo bloggers benefit from a large audience for their work and from a team of moderators who filter out the flames and personal attacks that constitute so much of the online commenting. But they don’t get paid.

“We pay our reporters, we pay our editors, we pay anyone who works to report the news. But we don’t pay anyone who blogs their opinions,” she said.

In this media transition period, original reporting is being done on blogs (such as the politics blog at sfbg.com), that line isn’t so clear. But it does single out the important role that professional, full-time journalists play in the media landscape.

She said HuffPo now has six editors and writers on the payroll in Washington, DC, on top of the 50 employees (which includes technical, administrative, and advertising staff) in New York. And the outfit is in the process of launching an investigative reporting fund and story funding service, with models similar to Spot.us and Propublica.org. As Huffington said, “We’re all basically trying to reinvent journalism.”

But HuffPo’s model of journalism isn’t really that radical. The notion that reporters are allowed to have opinions, that news outlets can take on causes, push issues and represent the public interest, has been a part of the nation’s media landscape since before the American Revolution. The technology that allows almost anyone to publish a blog, and allows the public to comment on and challenge what’s written, is only a modern version of a long tradition. Small printing presses and small publishers with influential pamphlets date back to before Thomas Paine helped spark the revolution with Common Sense. And before the news media got huge, reporters and editors were part of the communities they covered and heard from their readers every day.

In many ways, the media pioneers these days are looking at reestablishing the best roots of the American press. The only thing missing at this point is the business model that, in 2009, works well enough to pay for it.

Unsteady ground

0

› sarah@sfbg.com

If you’ve been tracking Lennar Corp.’s massive redevelopment project at Hunters Point Shipyard in San Francisco, then you probably know that several years ago, after the Florida-based megadeveloper won an exclusive negotiating agreement with the city, it formed a limited liability company, Lennar-BVHP, LLC, to handle operations on Parcel A of the former naval shipyard.

Parcel A is the only parcel of the shipyard that the Navy has released to the city as cleaned up and ready for development. And since "Lennar-BVHP" pops up in court filings related to the developer’s failures to properly monitor asbestos at Parcel A — failures that led Lennar to enter into a half-million dollar settlement with the local air district in July — that entity has been central to activists’ efforts to uncover the giant developer’s local business secrets.

So we noted with interest the fact that that "Lennar-BVHP" has now sold its development rights at Candlestick and the Shipyard to "HPS Development Co., LLC" — just as an environmental review is being prepared of the entire shipyard, including some of its most toxic and radiologically impaired hot spots.

The transaction took place quietly in August, but was mentioned at a Dec. 16 meeting of the San Francisco Redevelopment Commission, during which the Agency authorized a reimbursement-related amendment to the "Lennar-BVHP-HPS Development Co." acquisition agreement.

During this same Dec. 16 meeting, the SFRC also amended a contract with environmental consultants PBS&J/EIP Associates to add tasks and increase the budget so as to complete the long-awaited environmental review of the combined Hunters Point Shipyard/Candlestick development project. Until the EIR is complete and certified, nothing can move forward.

But before we get to the implications of the environmental review for Lennar’s proposed Candlestick Point/Shipyard development, it’s worth rewinding the tape to early 2008 to clarify just how, why, and when Lennar-BVHP became HPS Development — and what that transfer means.

BIG-SPENDING DEVELOPER


In the first six months of 2008 (see "Promises and reality," 04/23/08), Lennar spent more than $5 million to help ensure the victory of Proposition G, which folded the Shipyard and Candlestick Point into one huge redevelopment project, one that could include a new stadium for the 49ers.

And just as urban planners were beginning to wonder if Lennar really would be able to sell proposed luxury condominium complexes on heavily polluted Shipyard land — in the face of a nationwide real estate nosedive — the Irvine-based investment and development company Scala Real Estate Partners announced, in February 2008, that it had signed a multimillion-dollar letter of intent related to Lennar-BVHP’s development.

Founded by former executives of the Perot Group’s real estate division, Scala said it planned to invest up to $200 million — and have equal ownership interests — in the project.

The investment fulfilled a city-issued mandate that Lennar find a financial backer to guarantee its proposed multibillion-dollar project, regardless of market conditions.

Then this fall, Lennar demanded and got approval from the Redevelopment Commission for an additional 500 homes and a 7.5 percent increase in its profit margins (see "Bait and Switch," 11/05/08), as part of an Oct. 27 draft financing plan for the Candlestick Point/Shipyard proposal.

But at the time that this financing plan was negotiated, Lennar-BVHP had, in fact, already sold all of its title and interest in the project land and assigned all its rights and obligations under the related financing documents to HPS Development Co., LP, which filed a business license with the state on Aug. 28.

Records filed with the California Secretary of State show that HPS Development Co., LP, lists yet another limited liability company, CP/HPS Development Co., GP, LLC, which filed a license with the state on Dec. 11, as its general partner. Lennar Urban’s Kofi Bonner is listed as the authorized person for CP/HPS development. And HPS Development Co., LP’s office address is listed as being c/o Lennar Urban’s 49 Stevenson Street, Suite 600 address.

Land-use lawyer Sue Hestor told the Guardian that the move to form HPS Development Co., LP suggests that Lennar ran out of money.

"Forming a limited liability company means that people are just putting their money into that project," Hestor said. "It’s a way to segregate it from other projects."

TOXIC MELTDOWN


The Redevelopment Agency also renegotiated the terms of its contract with consultants PBS&J for an environmental review of the combined Hunters Point Shipyard/Candlestick Development Project Dec. 16th — and the results of that study could shed light on some very scary prospects.

According to Redevelopment Commission documents, the Agency and Planning Department staff, working with the Mayor’s Office, have dentified a number of additional tasks that are necessary to adequately complete this review.

These include the addition of an "analysis of windsurfing off Candlestick Point and evaluations of greenhouse gases and sea-level rise."

The most interesting part of the study, however, may be the analysis of geology and soils, to be prepared by Geotechnical Consultants, Inc. That report will look at the phenomenon known as liquefaction — the tendency of landfill to melt into liquid during a major earthquake.

The development zone is situated on a heavily polluted Superfund site, within a stone’s throw from an existing residential community.

As the executive summary in the Redevelopment Commission’s Dec. 16 agenda, notes: "The Project Areas are underlain predominantly by historic artificial fill with moderate to high liquefaction potential, followed by tidal flats and bay mud deposits that are typically soft, weak, and highly compressible…. These include temporary soil/slope instability caused by grading; erosion potential and increased hazards produced by potential failure of foundation support; and strong seismic groundshaking."

Just what kind of liquefaction risks are involved?

According to a February 2005 memo from Navy environmental coordinator Keith Forman to the Hunters Point Shipyard Restoration Advisory Board, the USGS Hazard Zone Map, which represents potential liquefaction risks, is intended for planning purposes and is not intended to be site specific.

"It depicts the general risk within neighborhoods and the relative risk from community to community," stated Forman.

But that report concluded that during a 7.9 earthquake, Parcel E-2, which is the landfill site where an underground fire burned for months in 2000, may have a lateral shift of 4 to 5 feet and a settlement of about 10 inches.

"This amount of lateral shift and settling could cause some small breaches in a containment remedy, but would be quickly and easily repairable," Forman added.

But the Navy and the city are proposing to cap Parcel E-2, rather than excavate and remove contaminants, which are thought to include PCBs and radionuclides — and there’s some fear that Hunters Point could be the next Hurricane Katrina when the inevitable major earthquake hits.

Members of the Health and Environment/Education Committee of the Bayview Hunters Point Project Area Committee invited Thomas L. Holzer of the US Geological Survey in Menlo Park to give a Dec. 5 beginner’s course in liquefaction — and his remarks were grounds for some serious concern.

Dressed in a gray and white tweed jacket with suede elbow patches, Holzer described how "sand becomes like liquid, capable of flowing" during an earthquake.

"More importantly, where you have groundwater contamination, fluids are discharged to the surface of the contaminated water, from a depth of 40 to 50 feet," Holzer said.

Noting that according to the USGS, a 6.7 earthquake has a 62 percent chance of hitting the region in the next 30 years, Holzer told the crowd, "If it is close enough to Hunters Point, then it’s probably enough to trigger liquefaction in susceptible materials."

In theory, then, the toxic material that the city buried under a cap could become a major hazard. "The soil liquefies, the ground gets to slosh around, and because movement isn’t always uniform, you can get cracks," he said.

As Holzer told the Guardian after the meeting, "Different people and different entities will issue different levels of risk. For some, everything has to do with profitability. So, San Francisco has some soul searching to do. Is it worth it to fast-track a project that has the potential to impact the whole city, should a major earthquake hit? Because then it would no longer be just about Bayview–Hunters Point."

Wise words, given the reality that Lennar continues to hurt financially.

"In 2009, cash generation will continue to be our top priority," Lennar president and CEO Stuart Miller said Dec. 18, as Lennar’s fourth quarter revenues showed a 41 percent decrease.

"We will convert inventory to cash and reduce both our land purchases and homebuilding starts," Miller promised, blaming falling home prices, increased foreclosures, tighter credit, and volatile equity markets for eroding consumer confidence, depressing home sales, and furthering the decline of the housing market.

Waning wildlife

0

› amanda@sfbg.com

GREEN CITY Changes to ocean and air temperatures, rising sea levels, loss of habitat, scarcity of food, altered precipitation patterns, environmental asynchronicity — these are the concerns of wildlife biologists who are watching the increased effects of climate change on the thousands of plant and animal species that share the earth with people. Overall, global warming threatens a third of existing species, with 50 percent now in general decline due to a variety of human activities.

Bay Area wildlife is already being negatively affected by a warmer world, one that locally manifests in nesting birds roasting to death during heat waves, plummeting fish populations, and starving whales. Those stories were part of "Irreplaceable: Wildlife in a warming world," a recent seminar held at the San Francisco Public Library by the Endangered Species Coalition. Maria Brown, superintendent of Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary — one of the most biologically diverse regions in the world, shared a grim account of the Cassin’s auklet.

"This little seabird you maybe never heard of may predict the future of climate change in San Francisco," said Brown.

The auklet spends most of its life far out at sea, and flies inland to breed in burrows on remote islands and coastlines. Invasive grasses have choked many of the prime burrowing spots along the coast, so wildlife biologists have installed bird boxes as an alternative. April, the height of the annual nesting season, was an unusually warm month, with thermometers on the Farallones Islands clocking 90-degree temperatures. The bird boxes turned into ovens. "They literally cooked," said Brown of the breeding auklets. "This is a prediction of what’s to come."

The auklet’s story also shows how species have already been negatively impacted by human activity, even before dramatic climate change was factored into the equation. That’s a point all the speakers drove home.

"We’re dealing with these threats that already exist. Now with climate change we superimpose all these unknowns," said Tamara Williams, a hydrologist for the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, a 60-mile swath of incredibly diverse land spanning from Tomales Bay to San Mateo that is home to 34 threatened or endangered species — more than any other national park in continental North America. "Those listed species were listed without considering impacts of climate change. We’re dealing with species that were in trouble already."

And how will it affect other species that aren’t listed? Williams gave an example of the coast redwood, which relies on a foggy environment to stave off drought during summer months. Will the coast continue to be as foggy as it’s been in the past? "We wish we could predict what’s going to happen, but we can’t," she said.

Mike Lynes of Golden Gate Audubon said the Bay Area has global significance for birds, but there’s already been a 90 percent loss of its historic wetlands — one of the primary habitats for shorebirds, which are already in a 50 percent decline. Climate change is only going to make the world harder for them, he said as he flashed maps of altered land masses in the event of a one-meter sea level rise — the modest prediction for what will happen by 2100. The maps showed that such a rise will cause wetlands in Richmond, along the Petaluma River, and in Silicon Valley to disappear. Lynes pointed out that the reconfigured coast doesn’t allow room for new wetlands — the coastlines will butt up against already heavily developed urban enclaves for people.

But, he said, expanding and preserving wetlands would benefit birds and humans — wetlands mitigate flooding and are a high-quality CO2 trap.

Zeke Grader, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, didn’t sound optimistic about preserving one critical wetland — the Sacramento-San Joaquin delta — when he spoke about the collapsed Pacific salmon population.

"We know pretty much what the problems are for the Central Valley salmon. It doesn’t take a blue-ribbon panel like the governor would like to appoint," he said. "We’ve affected most all of its lifestyle, its lifecycle, by blocking off the places where these salmon spawn," rattling off the names of dams and rivers — Shasta, Bryant, American, Feather — that are no longer easily passable for fish returning to lay eggs where they were born.

On top of that, eggs that are successfully laid hatch into fish that then migrate downstream where they encounter the delta, an "estuary beginning to die." There, agricultural runoff, limited freshwater, and powerful pumps all threaten fish survival.

The few salmon that make it out to sea are faced with altered currents, fewer cool water upwellings, lower quantities of food, and literal dead zones where pollution has obliterated the natural diversity of the water.

"We know what has to be done to fix it. What has been done? Absolutely nothing. Now comes global warming. How well are we going to respond now that we have global warming?" asked Grader. "This year there was no fishing for the first time since 1848," bringing the issue back to the basic human need for food, as well.

He urged people to start demanding more from elected leaders, including a stronger Endangered Species Act with a well-funded mandate, and to begin "raising a much higher bar if we expect to have salmon on the planet, humans on the planet, in the future."

At the start of the evening’s presentation, Representative Nancy Pelosi’s aide, Melanie Nutter, delivered a short message from the Speaker of the House calling global warming a moral challenge. Nutter didn’t stay for the presentation, however, and wasn’t there to hear speaker after speaker call out the government for lack of action and, in some cases, inappropriate action.

Tom Dey, a water policy analyst who was seated in the audience, commented that change might come from the top of Barack Obama’s administration, but local officials need to be lobbied. "We have Senator [Dianne] Feinstein and Governor [Arnold] Schwarzenegger, who have written off the delta," he said, bringing up their support for a $9 billion bond to build more dams.

All the speakers urged individual action as well, and Williams said the Interior Department was "committed to doing what we can to reduce our own carbon footprint."

So far, that has been an analysis of carbon emissions throughout the national park system. GGNRA recently approved its climate action plan and is just beginning implementation of three major phases: emissions reduction, education, and adaptation, according to Laura Castellini, an environmental protection specialist. So far, that has meant an energy reduction partnership with Pacific Gas and Electric Co., an integration of climate change into interpretations, and beginning a more focused look at how sea level rise will affect GGNRA lands.

There have been hurdles, too. Castellini said most of the park’s emissions actually come from visitors, so the organization is looking at ways to enhance shuttles to and through parks as well as encouraging alternative transportation to arrive there in the first place. When asked how GGNRA was changing its own driving patterns, she said the agency was having problems getting more fuel-efficient cars. "Right now we get all of our vehicles from the General Services Administration. They have been a little slow in getting us vehicles that get us closer to our goal." Specifically, GSA only offers flex-fuel automobiles that run on ethanol, a plant-based fuel that many environmentalists are criticizing as unsustainable. Furthermore, Castellini said there are no ethanol stations in San Francisco.

Even given the concrete actions the park system is taking, there are still a lot of big unanswered questions, said Castellini. What if Glacier National Park no longer has any glaciers? "What does it mean if our protected areas no longer protect what they were established to?" she asked.

The Irreplaceable campaign, which includes a photo exhibit (closing Dec. 31 at the Main Branch of the SFPL), is traveling the country, ending in Washington, DC, as part of a push for Congress to recognize the gravity of the problem. Mark Rockwell, director of the program, closed the seminar by saying, "The only constant in nature is change. Change is what we’re going to have to become more comfortable with."

That includes human change.

The next board president

0

EDITORIAL We’ve had our fights with Aaron Peskin. He’s been on the wrong side of some key votes and issues, and he’s had a penchant for political games. But on balance, he’s been a good Board of Supervisors president. He made sure that progressives controlled the Budget Committee; he kept legislation on track; he helped put together the votes for good bills (and made sure that bad ones died) — and perhaps most important, he established himself as the leader of the loyal opposition, the person who took the front role in fighting the worst ideas of Mayor Gavin Newsom.

That’s a crucial role at a time when the mayor’s office is foundering, when the chief executive is thinking more about his political future than the city’s present problems, and when the center of policy leadership in San Francisco has shifted from the mayor to the board. It’s a job that requires experience and political acumen. And since the progressives fought mightily to keep a majority on the board, the top job simply must go to one of the six solid progressives who will be sworn into office Jan. 8.

Our clear choice is Sup. Ross Mirkarimi. He’s compiled an excellent record in his first term, crafting environmental legislation (like the ban on plastic bags), leading the community choice aggregation (CCA) effort, and pushing effective, progressive approaches to crime. He has a long, distinguished record as an activist and organizer, running campaigns for sunshine and public power and for Terence Hallinan for district attorney and Matt Gonzalez for mayor. He devoted most of his first term to district and a few citywide issues and hasn’t done as much as some other supervisors to build his own political constituency on the board, so as president, he’d have to make an effort to help his colleagues promote their own legislation. He’s made no secret of his interest in running for mayor in three years, and he would have to make sure that his ambitions didn’t overwhelm his ability to keep good working relations with potential opponents on the board.

But he’s shown in his dealings with the police, the community, and the mayor’s office around crime in the Western Addition that he can be a forceful advocate and work toward effective consensus at the same time. And he’s well situated to lead the progressive coalition in developing its own agenda.

Mirkarimi would appoint good committees, make sure that the Local Agency Formation Commission (the center of public power efforts and the only agency focusing on the city’s alarming lack of an energy policy) remains in place (with strong leadership), and have no trouble standing up to the mayor. The progressives on the board should support him.

However, that’s not as simple a prospect as it ought to be. Sup. Chris Daly, who claims he is still angry at Mirkarimi for one vote on one bill several years ago, has told us he wants to see someone else elected board president. That’s foolish, and Daly ought to back off and support the most experienced progressive for the job. Splitting the left like this, and damaging a potential mayoral candidate, would do no good for the progressive movement. And those who argue that Mirkarimi, as a Green Party member, would be less effective are making matters worse — there’s no reason for the Greens and progressive Democrats to be fighting each other. But several of the newly elected supervisors — particularly John Avalos, a former Daly aide — have thrown their hats into the ring. That’s led several supervisors to suggest that a compromise candidate from the more moderate bloc ought to be seriously considered — possibly Sophie Maxwell or Bevan Dufty.

We understand Mirkarimi’s frustration with Daly’s ploy and his disdain for the prospect of putting a Daly ally in the top board position. And we agree with both Mirkarimi and Sup. Sean Elsbernd, who have argued that, with the nearly cataclysmic budget crisis and all the other issues facing the board, it would be risky to put a newcomer in the presidency.

But in the end, the board president ought to be someone we can count on to appoint progressives to key committees and fight the mayor’s regressive policies. And with all due respect to Maxwell and Dufty, we don’t see either of them in that role. So if the balloting drags on and it’s clear Mirkarimi can’t get six votes, he ought to be a statesman, put the progressive agenda first, and vote for another progressive.

Editor’s Notes

0

› tredmond@sfbg.com

I was going to do New Year’s resolutions this week. I got started: turn the cell phone volume down when the kids are in the car and Aaron Peskin is on the line. ("That man sure does like to use the f-word when he talks about PG&E," my nine-year old noted this fall.) Stop shouting "Yo, asshole!" when cars come too close to my bicycle. (I know I can be way more creative and foul-mouthed than that.) Return Gavin Newsom’s phone calls. (Hey, the poor guy must be lonely.)

But really, it’s not all about me.

So instead, in honor of the end of the Bush Years and in the hope of a 2009 we can all be proud of, here are some things I would like to see other people do:

I would like to see the California Legislature and US Congress raise the gas tax enough to bring the price to about $3 a gallon, making sure SUVs remain unattractive forever.

I would like to see the new progressives on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors make open government a real priority; I would like to stop having to fight to get even routine information out of City Hall. I would like everyone in public office to read Bob Herbert’s column in Dec. 27’s The New York Times and understand that one reason FDR was successful with the New Deal was that he understood the importance of restoring faith in government; transparency, accountability, and oversight were a central part of the package.

I would like Anchor Steam to start making a light beer.

I would like someone to get Wi-fi installed at City Hall.

I would like Gavin Newsom to stop hiding behind Nathan Ballard.

I would like the right lane of the stretch of I-80 near Lake Tahoe repaved so those of us with small cars don’t get bounced up and down like ping pong balls.

I would like the federal drinking age lowered to 18.

I would like everyone to stop talking about the death of newspapers and stop pretending that blogs and citizen journalism can ever replace full-time trained reporters.

I would like the San Francisco police to stop turning immigrants over to the feds.

I would like the executive editor of Village Voice Media to shave his head, move to Tibet, become a monk, and accept the karmic implications of the way he’s lived his life.

I would like the state to tax the millionaires instead of the college students.

I would like some really rich person to die and leave $20 million for a public power campaign so that for once we could match Pacific Gas and Electric Co.’s money and have a fair fight.

I would like Barack Obama to appoint Arnold Schwarzenegger ambassador to some meaningless country so we can have a new governor.

I would like Newsom to liquidate his personal fortune and use the money to pay rent and grocery bills for the front-line city workers he’s laying off.

I would like the Catholic archbishop of San Francisco to quit the gay-hating.

I would like all my fellow dog owners to clean up the poo on the sidewalk.

I would like to be able to ride high-speed rail to Los Angeles before I start collecting Social Security. Happy New Year.

Short and sweet

0

PREVIEW Leave it to Joe Goode to come up at the end of the year with something as untried as a series of pieces, some as short as 30 seconds. Having enlisted the collaboration of Portland, Ore., singer-songwriter Holcombe Waller, Goode modestly calls the program small experiments in song and dance. The idea is to create works that, as Goode describes it, have music and dance "collide."

It’s another step in the choreographer’s ongoing search for new theatrical forms in which the aural and visual feed off each other, hopefully in surprising ways. On a practical level, this means Goode’s dancers will sing while Waller, whose voice has been described as "soft as white velvet," will dance. Waller, who arrives with two instrumentalists, is bringing to the performance his experience of stretching the concert format into more theatrical frameworks. Additionally, he has worked with dancers in past. But more than that, small experiments looks like it might be a meeting of two kindred spirits. There’s a wistfulness and poignant tenderness to much of Waller’s music that surely must have resonated with Goode. The opening night will be a special New Year’s Eve celebration and includes a pre-performance champagne reception and post-performance party.

JOE GOODE PERFORMANCE GROUP’S SMALL EXPERIMENTS IN SONG AND DANCE Wed/31, 9:30 p.m., $25–$125; Fri/2 and Sat/3, 8 p.m., $20–$25. Brava Theater Center, 2781 24th St., SF.

(415) 561-6565, (415) 647-2822, www.brava.org, www.joegoode.org

Orgone

0

PREVIEW Los Angeles’ Orgone chose its name well: if you have a couple hours to kill, you could do worse than riding the Wikipedia reference trail in the direction of Wilhelm Reich’s concept and its ambitious attempt to link observable events with libidinal energy. What the idea lacks in scientific standing, it makes up for in its ability to st(r)oke the imagination. Orgone’s abbreviated Afrobeat-soul-funk jams might even make a good alternate soundtrack to the orgy of styles, stories, and moods on display in Dušan Makavejev’s W.R.: Mysteries of the Organism (1971). Even though Orgone has nine core members, there’s nothing flabby or random about the ensemble’s sound: Fela Kuti’s fusion of Ghanaian highlife and American funk sets the rules and agenda for the group on tracks like "It’s What You Do," and the playing is tight enough to put accusations of "genre exercise" to bed while brimming with the kind of coherence that might even make something as anarchic as W.R. make sense.

But even when dipping their toe in Afrobeat, Orgone’s overriding ambition clearly points to the soul/funk axis of Otis Redding and the Meters. Next to Antibalas’ jazzy flow, Orgone’s horns seem unable to content themselves with Afrobeat’s long-form, percoutf8g build, eager instead to burst out of the song’s frame. Romantic longing is the locus of this Angeleno nonet’s music, a point that’s unmistakable when vocalist Fanny Franklin steps up to the mic on tracks like "Who Knows Who." In submitting to its influences rather than vying for the romantic notion of the original artist, Orgone humbly hits all the pleasure points strewn across the genres the band venerates. It feels as bright and welcoming as it sounds.

ORGONE With DJ K-OS. Sat/3, 9:30 p.m., $15. Boom Boom Room, 1601 Fillmore, SF. (415) 673-8000, www.boomboomblues.com