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American landscapes: a review of SF native Sean Wilsey’s essay collection, ‘More Curious’


Midway through the introduction to More Curious (McSweeney’s Books, 342 pp., $22), his recently-published collection of essays from the last 15 years, Sean Wilsey (who appears at the Booksmith Thu/21) reveals his quest to combine the styles of Thomas Pynchon and New Yorker legend Joseph Mitchell — paranoia and precision, respectively.

The introduction itself is a joyfully meta attempt at this very task. The 20-odd pages of often non-sequitorial rumination about the aforementioned authors, the triviality of the 1990s, and the first Obama election can be mistaken as “formless while still astonishingly informative” or “so intricately constructed and fact-filled that the form is too complex to be instantly identified.” The happy reality of all of Wilsey’s essays is somewhere between these two perceptions.

The author, a San Francisco native who now lives in Texas, never entirely abandons the expository air of classic feature writing, but he injects his work with enough personal and manic energy to identify it as decidedly 21st century. While Wilsey recognizes (very humorously) the bombast of comparing oneself to two of the greatest writers of the modern era, his writing does occupy the rarefied territory between Mitchell’s organization and Pynchon’s stream-of-consciousness and is the perfect tone for the frenetic and absurd subjects that make up his collection. 

The primary symptom of Wilsey’s ability to be both informative and emotionally kinetic is how seamlessly he intertwines personal narrative with reference. Never in the collection did I feel jolted when Wilsey inserted a block quote of an email correspondence with a NASA engineer or a quote from Beowulf. To the contrary, Wilsey’s deft research and allusion bolsters his personality — his rabid search for answers would feel anti-climactic without the primary source of his findings.

In this layered memoir about a surreal, Travels With Charley-inspired road trip across the US, WIlsey invokes the social science of George Trow’s “Within the Context of No Context” to discuss America’s obsession with celebrity culture. This graceful quote (which includes the biting “Television is dangerous because it operates according to an attention span that is childish but cold”) is the proverbial Mitchell, a disciplined and timely revelation of a concept that makes a point about the collective. But after Wilsey realizes that the backups he causes in his impossibly slow 1960 Chevy Apache pickup have halted the transport of military and retail goods, he brings the Trow allusion into the paranoid — he is the free spirit holding back the movement of inanimate celebrity, the Pynchonian radical wrench in the machine.

In the majority of Wilsey’s 15 essays he creates a similar dichotomy between colorful reporting and intense feeling. In “Some of Them Can Read,” Wilsey throws together dozens of facts about New York’s rat population (with the titular affirmation only half as disturbing as the most grotesque truisms about the beasts) while waxing philosophical about the special place of paranoia that rats inhabit for new fathers. In his ode to skateboarding, “Using So Little,” Wilsey gives a detailed cultural history of the art (or sport, though he rejects this branding) while discussing the personal escape it allowed for him in the topsy-turvy world of the 1980s San Francisco urban haute bourgeoisie. And in “The Objects of My Obsession,” he breaks down Craigslist culture while revealing his increasingly pagan and obsessive relationship with the site and the epic journeys its resultant acquisitions afford. 

It’s often difficult to tell how Wilsey avoids a simple deductive pattern of conceptual to personal — this tendency plagues an overwhelming majority of confessional and “new” (if we’re in 1968) journalists, though is perfectly reasonable given the desire to adequately prove to the reader that the article has educational value before the author unleashes his idiosyncrasies onto the page. The constant back-and-forth between personal experience and cultural analysis keeps the writing from becoming predictable or repetitive. I got to know Wilsey, assuredly, but he was always capable of surprising me.

Near the end of “The World I Want to Live In,” a dialectic on the quirkiness of World Cup soccer that, unlike almost anything else in the book, feels vaguely dated (it was originally published in 2006) after the recent explosion in domestic popularity of the event, Wilsey digresses into a several-page breakdown of the most memorable aspects of the 1970 World Cup. The shift is so within the narrative but also just so damn trivial — that Wilsey includes it in full (and it is one surprisingly complete digression of many, I assure you) helps him carve out a space beyond Mitchell and Pynchon, where the voracious Wikipedians among us are sated without even having to ask. 

Wilsey’s tendency to elevate his Mitchell-influenced addenda to levels of specificity only possible in the Internet age allows his work, when taken in full, to feel generation-defining. Wilsey, now almost 45, has grown through the advent of the second millennium from being identified as the son of controversial socialites to an ubiquitous magazine contributor to a recognized literary voice. The paranoias that have seemingly driven his modern humanist journey are just as intense as those of any other time — fatherhood, vocation, separation from parents, guilt are pretty timeless fuels.

In fact, in the post-9/11 world they may even be elevated — Wilsey lived near the World Trade Center and constantly invokes his personal fear of the attacks throughout the collection, even including an essay about his attempts to help grieving relatives in the immediate aftermath. Access to anecdotes, minutiae, and statistics, however, is an emotional comfort and storytelling tactic that is far more complete now than it was in the heydays of Wilsey’s literary idols. It is this timeliness of style, alongside self-awareness and acknowledgement of the past, that makes Wilsey’s collection feel unified and a welcome chronicle of our age.  

Check back for an interview with author Sean Wilsey, coming soon!

Sean Wilsey

Thu/21, 7:30pm, free


1644 Haight, SF


Live Shots: SF Street Food Fest fills us up quickly


The weather was gorgeous, the lines weren’t too long, and the people were friendly — and hungry — at the sixth annual SF Street Food Festival last Saturday.

About those shorter lines, though — that meant we had access to pretty much any food we wanted in less than 10 minutes! (Except for the ever-popular ramenburger from Nombe, the line for which stretched almost the length of a block.) Uh oh, we were faced with unlimited choices, too many for our stomachs to bear, try as we might. And we might!

Highlights for us included the octo okono from Stones Throw (basically a fried octopus popsicle), excellent and tender turkey momos (Nepalese dumplings) from Bini’s Kitchen, Thai iced tea gelato from Secret Scoop, thickly wrapped beef pho rolls from Rice Paper Scissors (with awesome Vietnamese coffee), sharply spiced ahi tuna kitfo (a kind of tartare mixture) from Radio Africa Kitchen, and aquavit-cured salmon crostinis from Chef Pelle Nordic.

Things causing a general sensation: a huge portion of Berber-spiced lamb from The Whole Beast, Hella Vegan Eats‘ potsticker burrito, schnitzel sliders from Little Red Riding Truck, and a smoked salmon rueben from Fine & Rare.

This is supposedly the festival’s last year (at least in the Mission), partly due to neighbor complaints about parking (sigh), but I have a feeling we won’t see the last of it. Although you did just see the last of that schnitzel slider you left unattended on your plate, yoink.  


Old guys, touchy-feely teens, and rep-house picks you don’t wanna miss: weekend movies!


Outside of the multiplex this week, don’t miss Midnites for Maniacs curator (and Guardian contributor) Jesse Hawthorne Ficks’ very special tribute to William Lustig at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. Exploitation icon Lustig will appear in person to chat about his films, and they’re screening the entire Maniac Cop trilogy … so why haven’t you gotten tickets yet?

Also, check out the Turkish Film Festival, which runs August 19-21 at the Embarcadero and screens new films from Turkey for free! You can reserve seats here.

Meanwhile, Hollywood would like to remind you that age ain’t nothing but a number (The Expendables 3), that feelings are important (The Giver), and that not all cops are evil (Let’s Be Cops, which technically is about fake cops). Reviews, trailers, and more below!


The Expendables 3 Patrick Hughes — the guy tapped to helm the remake of 2011’s The Raid — directs a cast of thousands (more or less) in this third installment of Sylvester Stallone’s retro action franchise. By now, the Expendables movies have their formula down, not that it was particularly original to begin with, and all the marks are duly hit in part three: sinister bad guy (Mel Gibson — a solid choice, since who doesn’t love to hate him?) angers mercenary Barney (Stallone) and his team of graying, gun-wielding, shit-talking badasses (Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, and Terry Crews). Revenge is sought, bullets fly, buildings explode, a government operative sticks his nose in (here, it’s Harrison Ford), and Arnold Schwarzenegger shows up to save the day. Fortunately, Expendables business as usual also happens to be stupidly enjoyable, especially with the addition of a just-out-of-prison (onscreen and off) Wesley Snipes. There are also fun roles for Antonio Banderas, Kelsey Grammar, and Robert Davi, but the crew’s next-generation recruits (rebel Kellen Lutz, hacker Glen Powell, weapons master Victor Ortiz, and ladybro Ronda Rousey) seem rather unnecessary. Isn’t the point of these movies to remind us that old guys still rule? (2:07) (Cheryl Eddy)

Finding Fela Having taken on Enron, WikiLeaks, Hunter S. Thompson, Ken Kesey, Eliot Spitzer, and Lance Armstrong, documentarian Alex Gibney (an Oscar winner for for 2007 torture exposé Taxi to the Dark Side) turns his attentions to yet another fascinating figure: Afrobeat pioneer and political activist Fela Kuti. Finding Fela incorporates the making of Bill T. Jones’ Tony-winning musical Fela! into its tale of the late lightning rod, but footage of the real Kuti is more compelling than any staged recreation; his performances at Lagos nightclub the Shrine are legendary, and rightfully so, as we see here. But despite its dynamic, complicated subject — being a musical visionary would be doc-worthy enough, but he was also regularly persecuted by the Nigerian government, and was both free-living polygamist (with some regressive views on women’s rights) and spiritual explorer — Finding Fela is disappointingly conventional, presenting the expected mix of vintage clips and contemporary interviews (with Kuti’s children and fellow musicians, among others). Enlightening, but not essential. (2:00) (Cheryl Eddy)

The Giver Lois Lowry’s classic YA novel gets a veteran helmer for its big-screen adaptation, but Philip Noyce’s ability to attract top adult talent (Meryl Streep, Jeff Bridges) can’t outweigh his heavy-handed interpretation of what was never a subtle work to begin with. In a vaguely post-apocalyptic society so regulated and dulled that nobody has emotions or empathy, a young man named Jonas (Maleficent‘s Brenton Thwaites, bumped up in age from the book’s 11-year-old) is tasked with becoming the “receiver of memories.” Basically this means that he gets to hang out with Bridges’ character and learn things about the world and human history in the form of Koyaanisqatsi-meets-National Geographic montages (music — it’s a thing! Also: war is hell, etc.) This is life-changing stuff, but part of the deal is that he must never, ever tell anyone else about it, at least until he’s as grizzled as Bridges and has his own successor in need of a thorough mind-blowing. Of course, he immediately loops in pretty BFF Fiona (Odeya Rush), who he’s been seeing in a new light since catching wind of a concept called “love.” Soon, his awakening draws the ire of his mother-esque guardian (Katie Holmes), as well as the community’s leader (Streep). If you’re looking for suspense, or any curve balls (duuuude … once Jonas’ mind starts expanding, he starts seeing the black-and-white world in color!), best backtrack to one of Noyce’s 1990s thrillers (1992’s Patriot Games, perhaps). About the only surprise in The Giver is that Taylor Swift’s much-hyped role is smaller than expected, and not nearly as distracting. (1:40) (Cheryl Eddy)

Kink Itching for more than the run-of-the-mill tour behind the forbidding doors of the Armory? Kink.com may seem like old news to Missionites, but fewer still have, ah, penetrated the actual sanctum sanctorums of BDSM videos in production. Director Christina Voros teams up here with producer James Franco, for whom she served as cinematographer on As I Lay Dying, to look in on the process and some of the issues and personalities behind Kink’s brand of porn, and attempts to make her way through the tangled complex of desire that seems to parallel both the Armory’s fortress and the city’s labyrinthine counterculture. Ever wonder how to step on a penis without eliciting a scream — be it from pleasure or pain? We learn that and look in on former farm boy turned porn star and director Van Darkholme in action, teaching his dom how to pummel his sub hard enough to deliver a satisfying thump but not hurt. Meanwhile, other filmmakers go to town in ways that should press more than a few buttons when it comes to, say, rape fantasies. Pungent stuff, complete with full frontal male and female nudity and explicit acts with sanders and the like, although Kink would have only been better with a more honed focus on the humans behind the mechanical phalluses. Voros is obviously on Team Kink, though the multiple on-camera quasi-apologies regarding BDSM culture in general give the appearance of players and pornographers protesting a smidge too much. (1:19) Roxie. (Kimberly Chun)

Let’s Be Cops Another buddy cop comedy — except this time, the cops (Jake Johnson and Marlon Wayans Jr.) are faking it. (1:44)

Tornadoes vs. turtles: this week’s new movies


Will ninja turtles or killer tornadoes reign supreme in this week’s battle of the CG-heavy box office? Read on for our reviews of new movies, plus trailers!


Alive Inside See “Rise Up Singing.” (1:13) 

Calvary See “Ye Of Little Faith.” (1:45) 

A Five Star Life Does the world need a Euro-femme counterpart to 2009’s Up in the Air? This warm look at a so-called “mystery guest”-cum-hotel inspector, who spends more time working in transit than in her own home (where she’d be in danger of allowing her personal life to unfold), doesn’t have quite the same torn-from-the-headlines, corporate-hatchet-man edge. Nevertheless, A Five Star Life‘s subject — centered on a 40-ish single career-woman, still such a demographic rarity these days for films — is subtly subversive, in a molto well-heeled way, while offering guilty pleasure peeps at posh concierge services and scented beige corridors. Irene (Margherita Buy) is a workaholic, but can you blame her when her job is critiquing luxe lodgings around the world? The downside of such a passion for order and perfection is that she has no one to otherwise share her high-thread-count linens. A chance encounter turns this professional traveler around and leads her question everything, though mercifully director Maria Sole Tognazzi doesn’t end up reaching for easy, Eat, Pray, Love-style responses. Self-love or acceptance, it seems, is the answer. (1:25) (Kimberly Chun)

Heli Spanish-born Mexican writer-director Amat Escalante’s latest feature is a striking drama that’s harshly minimalist in terms of explication, and harrowingly cruel in upfront content. Schoolgirl Estela (Andrea Vergara), who looks all of eight years old, lives with her father, her 17-year-old factory-worker brother Heli (Armando Espita), his wife, and their baby. But she already dreams of escaping their bleak economic circumstances by running off with police cadet boyfriend Beto (Juan Eduardo Palacios), who’s Heli’s age. It’s the latter’s idea that they steal a cache of drugs seized and hidden by corrupt cops. Needless to say, this plan goes south in the worst ways, as soon as possible. A controversial winner of the Best Director prize at Cannes last year, this portrait of pervasive corruption is as superbly crafted as it is undeniably unpleasant. But there’s nothing gratuitous here. If you’re looking for feel-good pabulum with an art house gloss, go see The Hundred-Foot Journey. This movie is art, and that ain’t always pretty — Lorenzo Hagerman’s very handsome cinematography notwithstanding. (1:45) Roxie. (Dennis Harvey)


The Hundred-Foot Journey Yep, it’s another chef-centric flick. This one stars Helen Mirren as a snooty French restaurateur who clashes with the Indian family who sets up shop across the street. (2:02) 

Into the Storm This disaster movie can’t be discussed without bringing up 1996’s Twister, probably the biggest cinematic showplace for tornadoes since 1939’s The Wizard of Oz. And while Into the Storm spectacularly improves upon Twister’s special effects and makes timely references to climate change’s fiercest consequences — the 2011 Joplin outbreak gets a nod in dialogue and via the inclusion of a scary high-school graduation scene — it’s also a far more shallow exercise. Twister was silly, but its ragtag storm chasers (including a then-unknown Philip Seymour Hoffman) were likable; Cary Elwes’ bad-guy meteorologist was fun to jeer; and the broken-marriage tension between Helen Hunt (pre-Oscar) and Bill Paxton (endearingly wooden) had at least a few script pages’ worth of depth. No such luck in Into the Storm, in which every character seems to have been crafted based on his or her ability to perpetuate Into the Storm’s “found-footage” aesthetic, be they filmmakers, tech-obsessed teens, or comic-relief adrenaline junkies dreaming of YouTube stardom. Sarah Wayne Callies (Walking Dead) does her best to bring gravitas as the scientist member of a documentary crew led by a tank-driving tornado hunter (Veep‘s Matt Walsh) — and Richard “Thorin Oakenshield” Armitage tries on an American accent to play the tough-love dad of two high-school boys — but no human here has as much charisma as those CG funnels. (1:29) (Cheryl Eddy)

Step Up All In Dancers from various films in the Step Up series join forces for this Vegas-set tale, which promises little in the way of a coherent plot, but plenty of fancy footwork. (1:52) 


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Years from now, film scholars will look back at these creatively bankrupt (if box office-rich) times and blame Michael Bay for many evils, including a garish Transformers series that won’t die. He also produces this theatrical reboot of a kiddie action series (currently enjoying a TV cartoon renaissance on Nickelodeon) that probably should’ve been left in the sewer after 2007’s TMNT — star Chris Evans thanks you for forgetting that even existed — or, even better, after revealing the secret of the ooze in the 1990s. But Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is here to stomp all over nostalgic goodwill, not to mention take advantage of CG advancements that render its heroes as “real” as pumped-up reptiles with weapons can be, with a 3D coating that does allegedly human but suspiciously plastic co-star Megan Fox no favors. If you can get past that eeriness, you won’t be rewarded for your efforts; the jokes are either unfunny or pointless (are we really still referencing the Lost finale?), and the plot is so insultingly predictable William Fichtner’s character might as well be named “Sinister Rich Guy.” May also contain: fart jokes, butt jokes, pizza. (2:00) (Cheryl Eddy)

What If A med-school dropout (Daniel Radcliffe) meets his dream girl (Zoe Kazan), and must struggle with the fact that she has a long-term boyfriend. (1:45)

Eff you, gravity! Watch this skater fly over a fence at the new SoMa West skatepark


The Guardian recently covered the unveiling of the SoMa West skatepark, a new skate spot giving a glint of hope to the city’s skate scene. And despite the crowing of the fist-shakers at the Chronicle (quit that damn noise, you hooligans!), our trip to the new skatepark found folks having a grind-happy grand ol’ time.

Now a new video from Thrasher Magazine shows a badass jump from a skater, who flies over the new skatepark’s fence and onto the streets. I mean, shoot, this guy flies. This skater essentially just flipped the bird to gravity, and landed his board straight onto Duboce.

Check it out below, and check out our photo gallery of the SoMa West skatepark here. Kudos to Julia Chan at CIR for spotting the video.

All the buzz: a report from CoffeeCon San Francisco


Whether your caffeinated allegiances lie with Blue Bottle, Four Barrel, or a non-coffee drink, CoffeeCon San Francisco offered something to appeal to everyone’s cravings on July 26. Venturing out of Chicago for the first time, the consumer coffee festival boasted a multitude of roasters — many of them local and therefore well-acquainted with using glorious Hetch Hetchy water in the brewing process — and a wide variety of presentations to intrigue both casual coffee drinkers and connoisseurs. Plus, unlimited coffee samples!

One of CoffeeCon’s immediate strengths was its venue. A far cry from a sterilized, gray environment, the event took place at Terra Gallery & Event Venue, a SOMA art gallery. Paintings and coffee naturally complement each other, and within minutes, it felt like a laid-back Saturday morning, where I admired colorful, contemporary paintings while sipping rich, appropriately bitter coffee. The only way for the event organizers to improve future venues is to recreate the feelings of a cozy coffee shop, which it seems like they made a crack at with the abundant comfy couches. However, I was a little disappointed to see that the live music, which was promised on CoffeeCon’s website to “add atmosphere,” was absent, although I suppose that gives it something to improve on next year.

While I was impressed by the roundup of some of SF’s more recognizable coffee brands and enjoyed their samples, I gravitated more toward more unconventional participants — ones that technically didn’t even sell coffee. Drawn in by the wafels and the company’s clever name, my first stop was Rip van Wafels. Stroopwafels are heavenly, although I’ve always been too impatient and scarfed them down before I could pair them with coffee. There are two main strategies to tackle the combo: you can either one, place the wafel on the edge of the coffee cup, let the steam from the drink infuse the wafel’s caramel flavor, and eat it once the wafel droops or two, say “fuck it” and just dunk the wafel in the coffee. 

In addition to Rip van Wafels, I was a big fan of Project Juice and Torani — all three of which are local companies. I did a double take when I walked past Project Juice’s booth; it seemed just a little out of place at a coffee festival. My hesitation quickly waned. The company sells organic, cold-pressed drinks, including a tasty, healthy coffee alternative: Get Up and Go-Go (claiming to be 67 percent less acidic than normal coffee), which is incidentally made with another one of its drinks, Almond Mylk. The other drinks were just as delicious, although I didn’t expect the ginger to pack such a punch. Torani was a breath of fresh air on the unusually hot SF summer day. The booth served iced coffee with liberal additions of its flavored syrups — vanilla is a popular, traditional favorite, but the s’mores syrup is a tempting flavor that recalls childhood summers.

Though the upper level of the gallery was a perfect setup for the booths, the lower level was much less suited to handle the presentations. Essentially, the lower level is divided into two rooms of similar size. A handful of presentations simultaneously went on in the first room, which was divided into curtained subsections. It was a cacophony; I’d strain to hear my speaker over the presentations happening mere feet away and the louder speaker in the other room, who had the privilege of using a microphone. 

Still, I managed to clearly hear one poignant comment Helen Russell, co-founder and CEO of Equator Coffee & Teas, made: “It’s more than just what’s in the bag.” Russell spoke about social and economic responsibility, telling a heartwarming story about a little girl with a debilitating leg infection she met on a Panama coffee farm. She invested in the girl’s medical treatment and education, and even bought her a horse named Barista (because why not?) Maybe there’s more to coffee than just being a life-restoring elixir in the morning.

Flaming Lotus Girls bring SOMA to Pier 14


Following in the tradition of Burning Man artworks returning to San Francisco for temporary public installations, my beloved Flaming Lotus Girls have installed their colossal steel and light sculpture SOMA at Pier 14. And this Friday, Aug. 1, they’ll be hosting a dance party reception from 5-9pm to celebrate the occasion.

Longtime Guardian readers may remember the 2005 immersion journalism project when I worked for with the Flaming Lotus Girls for nine months documenting the creation of a large-scale art project and what motivates people to volunteer their time and energy for such an undertaking (The reporting for that article, “Angels of the Apocalypse,” helped form the basis of my 2011 book, The Tribes of Burning Man: How an Experimental City in the Desert is Shaping the New American Counterculture).

Since then, the Flaming Lotus Girls have gone on to create even more impossibly epic creations for Burning Man and other festivals around the world, from Robodoc in Europe to the Electric Daisy Festival in Las Vegas. But this is the first time that one of their massive artistic creations has ended up back in a prominent spot in San Francisco, where they work out of the Box Shop on Hunters Point.

So go check out SOMA and stop by this Friday to mix and mingle with the Flaming Lotus Girls.  

“How to Cook a Frog” at CounterPulse


What’s cooking?

You may well ask, as towering gourmand Julia Child (Annie Danger) appears at Counterpulse tonight and tomorrow, walking her studio audience through a classic recipe with a decidedly contemporary flavor.

If frog doesn’t sound like your thing, consider that we don’t always know we like something until we try it. Or consider the way this surveillance state being forced down your throat goes right to your ass. Or consider that Dalton Trumbo (following Emile Zola) once referred to his time (the time of McCarthy and other manifestations of totalitarian creep) as the Time of the Toad — an era in which maintaining indifference to the injustice and horror around you was tantamount to learning how to swallow a whole wet one each and every day.

The dough and the rolling pin! Julia is breaking it down. And Annie Danger — one of the city’s most fearless and unusual leavening agents — is cooking up a storm.

“How To Cook a Frog”

Fri/25-Sat/26, 8pm, free-$10 (sliding scale)

CounterPulse (new location!)

80 Turk, SF 

Counterpulse.org; tickets here

The Rock gets mythological, ScarJo turns scary-smart, Woody’s tepid latest, PSH’s final role, and more: new movies!


In case you missed the cover of this week’s paper, the 34th San Francisco Jewish Film Festival kicked off last night and runs through Aug. 10 at an array of Bay Area venues. Get the whole schedule and info on tickets here; check out our commentary here and here

From the glittering (and otherwise) land of Hollywood, a raft of new releases also await. Read on for reviews of Hercules, Lucy, Magic in the Moonlight, A Most Wanted Man, and more!


And So It Goes It’s not hard to scope out what the draw might be here for gray foxes like Diane Keaton and Michael Douglas when it comes to this Rob Reiner effort. The woman who so winningly wrapped her vocal cords around “Seems Like Old Times” in Annie Hall (1977) was obviously diverted from her Pinterest duties by the opportunity to sing her heart out on screen again (accompanied on piano by Reiner, a sad comic side dish). Meanwhile, Douglas gets to play a self-absorbed boomer who’s making up for neglecting the next generation — namely his son, an incarcerated addict — in a role that gives off a strong whiff of autobiography. Douglas’s Oren is doing his half-assed penance by caring for his stranger of a granddaughter Sarah (Sterling Jerins), a chore that he not-so-nicely foists onto the Keaton’s Leah. His character and turnaround of sorts, burnished by the triumph of a successful real estate transaction, is as mundane and unconvincing as a half-hour sitcom pivot. The colorless characterization and lame dialogue can probably be primarily attributed to As Good as It Gets (1997) writer Mark Andrus, who seems to be recycling bits of the latter’s title as well as stale chunks from sundry romantic comedies — though considering the missed opportunities and overall weak soup of And So It Goes, Reiner also appears to be chipping away at whatever reputation he has acquired. Is this really the same Reiner who made This Is Spinal Tap back in 1984? (1:35) (Kimberly Chun)

The Fluffy Movie Concert movie starring stand-up sensation Gabriel Iglesias. (1:41)


Hercules Dwayne Johnson is imposingly large indeed as the demigod of fabled strength. Going the Lone Ranger (2013) route of being winky-wink cynical about “the legend” while eventually buying into it anyway, here Herc is really just a 4th-century BC mercenary probably fathered by some random dude (as opposed to god-of-gods Zeus), and who with his merry band of sidekicks goes around fighting against pirates, pillagers, and such. These gigs are taken “for the gold,” but you know this Hercules wouldn’t be down fighting good people on behalf of bad people. When he’s hired to lead the citizens of Lord Cotys (John Hurt) against marauding hordes of alleged centaurs and extreme-wrestling-type beardos with green makeup led by Rhesus (Tobias Santelmann), the plot advances toward the expected training montages and battle sequences. But the plot thickens only when our don’t-call-us-heroes heroes begin to suspect they might have been misled into playing for the wrong team. Relegating a mythology-based tale’s magical aspects to dream sequences and trickery (spoiler: those aren’t real centaurs!), this adaptation of Steve Moore’s graphic novel is way less Clash of the Titans (1981/2010) and much more in the straightforward action realm of Troy (2004) and 300 (2006). It’s big and handsome, like its star, though not so debonair — the pedestrian screenplay doesn’t let him have much fun, while the supporting players allowed to smirk and deliver generally lame quips aren’t much compensation. Directed by Brett Ratner, Hercules is not the campfest of unintentional hilarity some may have hoped for. Neither does it have the content originality or stylistic personality to be memorable. Instead, it’s just pretty decent late-summer entertainment: Probably worth it if you’re craving 98 painless air-conditioned minutes, possibly not if you could really use those 12 bucks or so elsewhere in your life. (1:39) (Dennis Harvey)

I Origins Sci-fi film about a heartbroken biologist (Michael Pitt) whose research leads him to some deeply metaphysical places. (1:53)

Land Ho! “Ex-brothers-in-law set off on a road trip through Iceland, hoping to reclaim their youth” — that’s the studio-supplied elevator description that does accurately describe Land Ho!, but the film is about so much more than that. Jocular Mitch (Earl Lynn Nelson) is fond of inappropriate jokes, smoking weed, and pushing boundaries, while more reserved Colin (Paul Eenhoorn of 2013’s This is Martin Bonner) is dealing with a recent divorce after enduring the death of his first wife. A spontaneous trip to Iceland, funded by Mitch (who’s going through a senior-life crisis of sorts), takes the pair to Reykjavik dance clubs, spectacular geysers, hot springs, and lonely rolling moors, all the while bantering about life and love (and getting into more than one stupid argument, as old friends do). Without really innovating on the road-movie genre, writer-directors Martha Stephens and Aaron Katz manage to avoid any cute-geezer clichés (for those interested, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel 2 comes out next year) in this low-key, personality-driven tale, which aims to please with vintage American-indie charm. (1:35) (Cheryl Eddy)


Lucy Eurotrash auteur Luc Besson’s latest is a mostly fun action fantasy about a party girl (Scarlett Johansson) who runs afoul of gangsters in Taipei and ends up with a leaking packet of futuristic drugs sewn into her shapely stomach. Side effects include super strength and supernatural intelligence — insert pseudo-science mumbo-jumbo about tapping into 100 percent of one’s woefully underused brainpower, etc. etc. — which leads to some satisfying scenes in which Johansson’s Lucy flattens a hallway of cops with a single gesture, or filters through every phone conversation in the Paris metro area to find the one guy she needs to eavesdrop on. She’s also able to beam herself into electronic devices, a nifty trick that convinces kindly scientist Morgan Freeman to help download her magnificently advanced intelligence into a kind of living computer (shades of 2013’s Her and Under the Skin, except this time ScarJo’s wearing a really great dress). South Korean weirdo/superstar Choi Min-sik (2003’s Oldboy; 2010’s I Saw the Devil) is an inspired choice to play the vengeful kingpin intent on tracking down his runaway mule, and Besson adds some arty flair via nature-show footage and Cosmos-esque clips from beyond the infinite — though the film’s Big Ideas wobble precariously amid its other, mostly silly elements. (1:29) (Cheryl Eddy)

Magic in the Moonlight Woody Allen’s latest — after last year’s vodka-drenched Cate Blanchett showcase Blue Jasmine — offers a return to period romance á la 2011 smash Midnight in Paris. Instead of Owen Wilson time-traveling through the artsy 1920s, we get winsome 1920s clairvoyant Sophie (Emma Stone, 25 years old) falling for the skeptic who’s sent to debunk her, played by Colin Firth (who’s 53). Firth’s performance is easily the best part of Magic in the Moonlight; his Stanley Crawford is a theatrical conjurer famed for his yellowface act, in which he solemnly makes elephants disappear. Off-stage, he’s a self-proclaimed genius regarded by most who meet him as a pompous jerkface. When he’s summoned to the South of France to help a longtime friend and fellow magician (Simon McBurney) prove that Sophie — from humble origins, she’s grown fond of high-society living — is hoodwinking the fancy American family that’s taken her in, nothing unfolds as he expects. The whole exercise is lighter than meringue; it’d be passable as lesser Allen except for that obvious, comically huge age gap between the leads. He knows we disapprove, and he does not care. Are you trolling us, Woody? (1:40) (Cheryl Eddy)


A Most Wanted Man Director Anton Corbijn’s film may not be the greatest John le Carré adaptation in recent years (see: 2011’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), but it’s still a solid thriller, anchored by Philip Seymour Hoffman’s turn as Günther Bachmann, the once-bitten-but-not-yet-shy head of an top-secret branch of Germany’s FBI/CIA equivalent. Its task: spying on Hamburg’s Islamic groups, where the 9/11 attacks were planned, though the enemies that Bachmann faces come mostly from within the greater intelligence community, including his superiors. Never before has the phrase “the Americans have taken an interest” been so chilling, especially to a guy who is just trying to do his job, if only everyone else (including Robin Wright as one of those meddling Americans) would keep their sticky mitts off his delicately planned surveillance operations. There’s a forward-moving plot, of course, about a Chechen-Russian illegal immigrant with a huge inheritance who might be a terrorist (Rachel McAdams plays his human-rights lawyer), but could also serve a greater purpose by helping bring down an even bigger target. And while A Most Wanted Man‘s twists and turns, involving Willem Dafoe as a banker who becomes a reluctant player in Bachmann’s scheme, are suspenseful, Hoffman’s portrayal of a man trapped in a constant maze of frustration — good intentions cut off at every turn, dumping booze into his morning coffee, breaking up a bar fight, ruefully admitting “I am a cave dweller,” visibly haunted by past errors — is the total package, a worthy final entry in a career that ended way too early. (2:02) (Cheryl Eddy)

More reviews from the SF Jewish Film Festival


If Instagram is anything to go by (read: it’s not), anyone can make a short film — just slap a filter on it and call it a day! Thankfully, the protagonists in Anywhere Else and Swim Little Fish Swim, two films featured in the 38th annual San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, work on creative projects that can pull their own weight — sans filters — even if the length exceeds 15 seconds from the sidelines. Short DIY clips, not integral to the plotlines, are interspersed throughout of each film and are a breath of fresh air, even if the overall film itself is a hit or a miss.


If you’re lucky enough to call yourself multilingual, you may have noticed that your personality seems to change when you speak in a different language (level of inebriation aside). With all these factors in mind, the odds of being misunderstood by others increase. This very notion permeates Anywhere Else, Ester Amrami’s first film — literally, as Noa (Neta Riskin), an Israeli graduate student in Berlin, gets her video project (documenting explanations of rich, untranslatable words in foreign languages) shot down by her advisor. 

Viewers, intrigued by linguistics or not, will have no trouble following the intricacies that accompany dialogue in the film, whether it’s in German, Hebrew, Yiddish, or English. At the same time, Noa unsuccessfully yearns for the security of “home” in both Germany and Israel. An impromptu trip back to Israel doesn’t help much, especially when her boyfriend Jörg (Golo Euler) visits. The film also tackles weighty issues such as disapproval of Noa and Jörg’s relationship (Noa’s grandmother lost her entire family in the Holocaust) and Noa’s brother’s unease about being a member of the Israeli army. 

Contrary to what Noa’s advisor thinks, untranslatable words are perfectly fine — who’s to say that the simple word “home” is sufficient enough to express the complex feeling of belonging? Anywhere Else ultimately and sentimentally proves that complicated problems don’t need complicated solutions.

At first glance, it’s a bit comforting to see that neither Swim Little Fish Swim‘s Leeward (Dustin Guy Defa) nor Lilas (Lola Bessis) have been hardened by the cynical realities of adult life. Leeward is a stay-at-home dad who entertains himself by jamming out on his toddler’s toys, while Lilas is a budding French artist on the brink of her twenties who crashes on Leeward’s couch in the dwindling days before her visa expires. While it initially seems as though Leeward still looks at the world in childlike wonder, the rose-colored glasses quickly shatter, and he becomes a hopelessly useless, naïve man and by far, the most annoying character in the film. The only thing his wife Mary (Brooke Bloom) can count on him to do is shirk his financial responsibilities. 

All in all, the sickeningly saccharine film is far too twee, distracting the viewer when Leeward and Lilas finally encounter adult life’s setbacks head-on. It’s stereotypically cute: The film is set in New York, Leeward insists on the hipster kid name “Rainbow” for his daughter instead of “Maggie,” Lilas totes around an old film camera that must be twice her age to record her new friends’ seemingly profound confessions, and Leeward struggles to avoid selling out as a musician. However, if you can muster through all of that, the Swim‘s ending is moderately satisfying, even if it is somewhat predictable.


July 24-Aug. 10, most shows $10-$14

Various Bay Area venues


Photo Gallery: Graffiti artists tagging in the sunshine at Precita Park


Normally the sound of 20 or so artists rattling and spraying aerosol cans would be quickly followed by the sound of sirens. But Sat/19 the fades went up with gusto. 

Artists tagged free standing art boards at Precita Park for the Urban Youth Arts Festival, an event that brings the ultimate underground art into a safe space. Attendees munched on burgers and listened to some good tunes at the festival, which is now in its 18th year.

Many of the street style murals paid homage to the Bay Area, from SF to Oakland. “We’re showing our love to the aesthetic of the community,” Xavier Schmidt, a 25-year-old organizer of the event and SF native, told us. One muralist hand painted a robot adorned in SF Giants and 49ers gear punching out a Google Glass-wearing Godzilla. 

“We’ve been doing this since 1987,” Schmidt said, speaking to the event’s roots. Even the event’s hosts, the Precita Eyes Muralists Association, have deep SF bonafides: they’ve been around since 1977.

“This is for solidarity, for community,” he said. “It’s a family event.”

Kids sprayed paint and played, adults kicked back and kvetched about youngsters, SF natives complained about tech employees, and many chowed down on burgers, hot dogs, and veggies donated by the local YMCA. Local musicians A-1 and Hazel Rose came out to play too, adding the head-banging element to the day. We’ve embedded one of A-1’s tracks below. Consider it your photo gallery soundtrack.

Names of the artists have been withheld because callin’ them out on the internet would be wack. All photos by Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez. 




This dude’s head was bangin’ as he sprayed. We’re not sure how he managed to make it look so good.


This kid was super into it, which was hilarious.



A San Francisco robot takes down a Google Glass wearing tech-zilla.


Hazel Rose performed a bombastic set that the crowd, below, felt all sorts of love for. 

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Oakland got plenty of love too.


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Xavier Schmidt, one of the event’s organizers, said this high schooler is a real up and comer in the graffiti scene.




Some of the art boards were for everyone to paint, leading to some dooby-ous results. (Get it? Ha!)


Mmmm, donuts. 


Scare and scare alike: zombies, maggots, and more at ‘BAASICS.5: Monsters’


“We stopped checking for monsters under our beds when we realized they were inside us,” reads a quote often misattributed to the Joker in 2008’s The Dark Knight. The presenters at July 14’s “BAASICS.5: Monsters” event at ODC Theater capitalized on this concept, examining both modern monsters (though not “cars and corn syrup,” as one emcee mentioned at the beginning of the event) and monsters of yore. 

In past years, the organization has explored provocative topics such as the future (more weighted toward a possible uprising of robots rather than the nagging question “What am I going to do with my life?”) and psychiatric and neurologic disorders by juxtaposing science and art. It’s easy to find the right balance between the two for these past themes, but I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from this year’s event. 

It ended up being a lot less grisly than I’d imagined — with the exception of a video clip depicting maggots violating a honeybee. (I can never unsee that.) I felt as though I were in a college lecture hall, viewing PowerPoints — which were much more aesthetically pleasing than the Papyrus-laden slides my freshman year history professor used — and listening to professors, each with an exceptionally dry sense of humor. 

Presenters, ranging from shark conservationists to artists, shared their definitions of a monster, often turning the tables on common misconceptions. David McGuire revealed that more people die from vending machines than from shark attacks, emphasizing how it’s truly a man-eat-shark world out there today. (Ahem, shark fin soup…) Closing presenter Brynda Glazier tackled societal expectations of beauty and normalness, drawing inspiration from her personal life as her brother is disabled, expressing this through seemingly ugly and monstrous sculptures. 

BAASICS’ associate content producer Georgeann Sack — described in the program as a “neuroscientist by day and science communicator by night” — also performed low-key acoustic songs as a segue between presentations. In fact, her music was so low-key that I often had trouble hearing and understanding her, although I’m sure the lyrics to her song “Vampire Love Song” were clever. Sack’s standout performance was her rendition of the Creepshow’s “Zombies Ate Her Brain,” which sounded a little like a singer-songwriter’s DIY GarageBand-recorded music. 

However, the biggest letdown of the event were the short videos. With topics such as malaria research and glowing plants, the videos had potential but ultimately came off as too sterile. The two video shorts seemed as though they were filmed with a cheap digital camera — that highlighted distracting background noise while researchers spoke — and edited in iMovie. Other audience members were just as unimpressed as my friend and I were — I heard some people in the row behind us begin a slow clap after the second video. 

Art and science weren’t exactly joined in holy matrimony at this event. To me, BAASICS.5 was more like an evening well spent in your friend’s apartment — you know, the friend with a great appreciation for art who’s basically a living, breathing encyclopedia of weird shit — and can talk endlessly about it. Bring up Bigfoot and they’ll mention how the highest number of reported Bigfoot sightings originate from Humboldt County and slyly attribute this to the inhabitants’ altered perceptions. And did they mention how there’s a pseudo-porno titled Bigfoot’s Wild Weekend? (Here’s looking at you, Jill Miller!) Maybe zombies are more up your friend’s alley and they created an amazingly detailed zombie survey for people to fill out. (Your hard work definitely paid off, George Pfau.)

As for me, I checked off “Zombies are Vaudeville performers,” “The apocalypse is ‘the big one,’” and “After death, you take harp lessons” as my answers to Pfau’s zombie survey, which I picked up in the lobby afterwards. The real highlight of the event was being exposed to modern takes on tales as old as time, if the outside of the survey brochure, a Where’s Waldo-inspired scene even featuring Michael Jackson from his “Thriller” days, is anything to go by. 

Purr-suit of happiness: SF SPCA aims to save more lives with its new adoption center


Last year, the SF SPCA assisted with 5,084 cat and dog adoptions. With its new adoption center near Bryant and 16th Streets, which opened June 13, it aims to increase capacity by 20 percent — saving 1,000 more furry lives in the process.

“When our old adoption center opened in 1998, it was the first shelter in the country to house animals in condominium-style rooms instead of cages,” SF SPCA co-president Jason Walthall said in a June press release. The upgraded shelter continues this tradition — and continues to offer dog training classes, volunteer programs for youth, and other community-service activities — but with even more enhancements for the animals. Each glassed-in enclosure features a touch screen pad that provides more information about the pet inside, with an emphasis on personality type (“social butterfly,” “busy bee,” “delicate flower”) over breed — a more efficient way of linking animals with potential new families. 

For dogs, there’s a small indoor park that’s used to make introductions (especially important if the potential new owner already owns a dog — gotta make sure the new pooch gets along with the pack), while the cats, housed in a separate section of the building, get to scamper across SF-themed cat condos. (So far, there’s a Golden Gate Bridge, a Transamerica Pyramid, a cable car, the Sutro Tower, and the SF Giants logo; a Castro Theatre design is in the works.) These improvements make the shelter life more comfortable for the animals — though most dogs only stay two weeks; cats, just slightly longer — but they also help entice visitors.

“We want to make it a fun, happy experience,” says SF SPCA media relations associate Krista Maloney, pointing out that the shelter — which was founded in 1868, has an attached vet hospital (providing free and sliding-scale spay-neuter procedures, among other services), and is a nonprofit funded by donations — competes with pet stores and breeders to place animals in homes. Earlier this year, it joined forces with fellow nonprofit Pets Unlimited, which is located in Pacific Heights, to further its mission: “to save and protect animals, provide care and treatment, advocate for their welfare and enhance the human-animal bond.”

But wait! You’re a San Francisco renter! The words “NO PETS ALLOWED” haunt your nightmares! How can visiting an animal shelter be anything but depressing? SF SPCA’s website has an entire section offering advice for landlords and tenants (one tip: create a “pet resume” to include with your rental application) on the subject of pet-friendly housing. And if the landlord won’t consent to a dog, the SF SPCA just might be able to help out anyway. Coming soon to the new facility: adoptable small mammals, including rabbits, hamsters, and guinea pigs.

Frameline leftovers: Audience Award-winning Barney Frank doc ‘Compared to What’


Pride’s Pink Saturday offered a dynamic final morning of the massive 38th annual Frameline, the world’s largest film festival devoted to LGBT films. Compared to What: The Improbable Journey of Barney Frank, a doc that gives an intimate look into the private and political life of the recently retired iconic Congressman, screened to a packed and cheering crowd at the Castro Theater.

The film (trailer here) eschews direct chronology for a thematic look at Frank’s development, from his days as a Harvard political wunderkind to his immensely powerful tenure as a US congressman, during which time he headed the House Financial Services Committee and crafted the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. The film, while a love letter to the idiosyncratic and clever Frank, does not shy away from his his tortured time as a closeted public figure and his late-80s prostitution scandal.

Co-directors Sheila Canavan and Michael Chandler received thunderous applause before Frank and husband Jim Ready, who also features prominently in the film, took the stage and fielded questions from the audience. Ready told a hilarious story about how 60 Minutes quasi-outed him to his ex-girlfriend while Frank delivered a rousing declaration of support for equal workplace rights. 

Compared to What picked up Frameline’s Audience Award for Best Documentary. DVDs can be pre-ordered here.

Inspiring doc ‘Keeper of the Beat: A Woman’s Journey into the Heart of Drumming’ airs on KQED


“I would get the comment ‘Gosh, you play really good for a girl,’” Barbara Borden admits in the introduction of Keeper of the Beat, which chronicles her lifelong passion for drumming. The documentary, by San Francisco’s David L. Brown, airs Sun/6 on KQED

The Always brand’s empowering #LikeAGirl ad campaign made the rounds on the internet this week, but Borden’s musical sojourn, discouraged for a female at the time, is decidedly more inspiring (especially since it’s delivered by a badass drummer and not a corporation). 


Borden is aptly described in the film as a “drumbeat diplomat” — she bypasses the language barrier (cultural, too, as the film highlights the universality of music during the Yugoslavia Civil War and in a remote part of Siberia) between her and people she meets by quickly finding a way to communicate in the language of drums and punchy beats.

Clips from her past performances are cleanly weaved between interviews, showcasing both Borden and director Brown’s strengths: her story and his storytelling. Lavish camerawork and breathtaking shots are noticeably absent from the film; they’d really only detract from the unadulterated music and dialogue. It’s a shame the documentary only clocks in at a little under an hour long, as the poignant montage of vignettes whizzes right by you. 

Grimm but not grim: SF Playhouse’s winning fairy tale ‘Into the Woods’


Given all traditional parameters of critical experience, SF Playhouse’s production of Into the Woods (now playing through Sept 6) should be at least somewhat irksome. The vocal talent can be inconsistent, the accents are ambiguous, the set looks busy, and the musical is high-strung enough that it can be insufferable without expert work on all fronts. Shockingly, despite the surface-level issues, the Playhouse production is an unqualified technical success and a complete joy to take in.

The watchability may result from the impeccable staging and verbal interplay between the actors, or the reliable and often gorgeous small orchestra that accompanies the singing. Or perhaps the musical’s hilarity comes from the Robert Goulet-esque swagger of the dual princes and the coy and satirically sexualized awakening of Little Red Ridinghood. Or maybe the show is so good because, in addition to his expert instrumental direction, music director Dave Dobrusky helps his cast find their vocal strengths — the entire ensemble navigates the passaggio-shredding score with astonishing tact. All these positives combine to make Into the Woods an atmospheric journey more than worth taking.

Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s 1986 work has aged majestically. The book avoids any hint of contemporary cultural referentiality, giving the work a timelessness and broad humor that seems just as applicable in the millennial age as it was 30 years ago. Gender expectation, the limitations of heroics, and the predictability of children’s stories are all over the 2014 liberal zeitgeist and all play big thematic roles in the production.

Sondheim and Lapine manage to boil down these issues to atomic levels — Ridinghood’s titillation at the lascivious Wolf’s advances, Jack’s clueless but powerful desire to traverse the world of the giants, and the witch’s overprotectiveness over Rapunzel all explore basic yearnings and are remarkably Freudian in scope. It’s no wonder that Disney is releasing a blockbuster version of the musical this December.

The plot is a flimsy excuse to combine the stories of Cinderella (Monique Hafen), Rapunzel (Noelani Neal), Jack and the Beanstock (Tim Homsley), and Little Red Ridinghood (Corinne Proctor) into a single entity. A Baker (Tim Pinto) and his Wife (El Beh) are victims of an infertility curse at the hands of a vengeful witch (Safiya Fredericks) and the very convenient antidote is to steal items from each of the other Brothers Grimm icons.

Despite the storyline’s more contrived elements, Sondheim and Lapine, in typically sophisticated fashion, fill the show with fast-talking, convoluted numbers and twists that require actors capable of sudden and realistic emotional shits as well as deft pronunciation. Not one of the lines in the show was garbled or dropped, nor did any of the sudden shifts cause interruptions in the emotional momentum of the piece. For a Sondheim piece, this is an impressive achievement — I hate to think how many run-throughs some of the more word-heavy interchanges took. Whether to credit this more to Dobrusky or director (and Playhouse co-founder) Susi Damilano is unclear, but they both deserve extensive kudos for the verbal and emotional clarity of the play.

Chiefly responsible for this are Hafen’s Cinderella and the Pinto and Beh’s Baker couple, who have the least flashy parts in the production and need to act as its emotional center. Hafen is the stand-out, with a beautiful coloratura voice that floats up effortlessly to the higher notes in her melancholic “Cinderella at the Grave” and the conflicted “On the Steps of the Palace.” She moves with authenticity and humbleness — she never eats scenery or overdoes anything, which allows the other actors to be more flamboyant. Her evasion of the Baker’s Wife’s questions about her courtship with the Prince is a revelatory moment.

Pinto’s Baker is equally full of humanity. He has to deal with the most opposition and tragedy throughout the narrative and retain the full sympathy of the audience —any garish showboating and nobody cares about his trials anymore. Pinto utilizes his creamy baritone voice and telling body language to field an incredibly likable performance.

El Beh is more dynamic than Pinto, but also less consistent. Her decidedly clipped and modern delivery clashes with his more Victorian dictation and some of her more tender moments come off a bit contrived. At her best though, she delivers powerhouse belting and charged emotive complexity that nicely counters Pinto’s down-to-earth style.

Fredericks is another vocal star as the witch. She has both the fastest (her part during the “Prologue”) and slowest (“The Last Midnight”) songs and manages to carry both — her diction is crisp without sounding contrived, her pitch is accurate without sounding clinical, and her intensity is undeniable.

Cinderella’s Prince and Rapunzel almost steal the show and don’t seem like supporting cast members at all despite their slightly briefer stage time. The Prince (Jeffrey Brian Adams) is a delightful archetype; a square-jawed, Jon Hamm look-alike who charms his way into the heart of Cinderella before realizing that he is addicted to “the rescue” of princesses. He hams it up to an extreme degree, but does so with a charming degree of self-referentiality. His vocals and timing in “Agony,” in which he bemoans the elusiveness of the princesses with Rapunzel’s Prince (Ryan McCrary, who is also solid) were perfection and his seduction of the Baker’s Wife in “Any Moment” is truly inspired Space Age Bachelor Pad-esque sexual panache.

Noelani Neal’s Rapunzel has a gorgeous tone, which she shows off during a tongue-in-cheek reoccurring vocalise that could easily have been shrill. Sadly, she fades into the woodwork a bit as the play goes on. When she’s on stage, however, she owns it, and I’m sure she will be in lead roles at the Playhouse and elsewhere before long.

The ensemble enthusiasm, also increased by the every-fiery local theater legend Maureen McVerry as Jack’s Mother and Homsley’s doe-eyed but mostly relatable Jack, carries through the play’s almost three-hour running time. Even as the unnecessarily trite and sappy ending begins to take shape (no fault of the production, just a rare miscue by Sondheim and Lapine), the chemistry and focus onstage is still palpable. All of the detractions alluded to earlier are still detractions — the set could use more space, there could have been a more unified dialect, and the frenetic action of the play is sometimes overwhelming in the weaker moments. The heart of the production, however, makes it irresistible and sure to fill seats throughout its lengthy run. 


Through Sept. 6

Tue-Thu, 7pm; Fri-Sat, 8pm (also Sat, 3pm); Sun, 2pm, $20-$120

San Francisco Playhouse

450 Post, SF


Wax on: a journey into the new Madame Tussauds San Francisco


You probably won’t win any staring contests inside the new Madame Tussauds that opened June 26 at Fisherman’s Wharf. (Besides, I wouldn’t recommend holding prolonged eye contact with any of the wax figures, especially the Nicolas Cage one.) Like the youngest sibling in the shadow of brothers and sisters who have already established themselves, the SF branch — the fifth North American branch — tries to make a name for itself by flaunting its individuality whenever it’s convenient. Its attempt showcases eerily lifelike figures of well-known San Franciscans in themed rooms.

The museum’s main selling point is the Harvey Milk figure, which successfully presents itself as a thoughtful tribute. His nephew Stuart Milk had the privilege of unveiling his uncle’s wax figure to press less than an hour before the museum’s opening. The moment the red curtain fell — days before this year’s Pride Weekend — we stepped into a scene from 1978’s SF Pride, where Harvey parks himself on the roof of a car, clutching a handmade sign proclaiming “I’m from Woodmere, N.Y.” Stuart himself lauded the authenticity of the wax figure down to the shabby state of the shoes, as he said Harvey was quite frugal then. 

Later during the tour, I learned that Madame Tussauds’ team painstakingly pays attention to every possible detail. Apparently, the artists place the wax figures’ hair in place one strand at a time (!) and strive for complete accuracy — I was assured that if someone had a wrinkle on their face, it’d reappear in the exact same spot on their doppelgänger’s face. After examining the stubble on a baseball player’s face (even though it seemed to give him a slightly ashen complexion), I was convinced of the employee’s claims.

Madame Tussauds stresses how visitors can get up close and personal with the figures. Even the wallpaper of Harvey Milk’s room underscores this point, as it depicts a crowd of participants banding together with Harvey in his fight for gay rights. Props sit on the sidelines so you don’t have to. Grab a bullhorn or a sign that reads “Free to be” in big block letters and join Harvey.

Admittedly, it’s clear the museum tries to capitalize on its location — isn’t that how you stay in business at Fisherman’s Wharf? Yes, there’s a room to commemorate 1967’s Summer of Love, complete with Janis Joplin beside a psychedelic Volkswagen van and Jerry Garcia. But it quickly gets cramped. The room also includes a replication of the famous Haight Street fishnet stocking legs (just if you forgot you were in the middle of tourist territory), and interestingly enough, a Chinese New Year parade commemoration that feels out of place. Here, it begins to get a little gimmicky. The Spirit of San Francisco room slightly redeems itself by featuring the Golden Gate Bridge at two moments in its history — its current likeness and the construction process (complete with engineer Joseph Strauss).

Mark Zuckerberg didn’t quite make the cut for the Spirit of San Francisco room. He’s relegated to the same floor, however. In his trademark hoodie, he sits cross-legged and barefoot in a chair, enjoying some downtime even though he’s almost rubbing elbows with wax figure Barack Obama and his Oval Office reproduction. The iconic Apple logo is noticeably absent from what must be Zuck’s Macbook Pro. (Curiously enough, his sandals still sport the Adidas logo. Go figure.) 

“He’s been very popular with selfies,” said Adrea Gibbs, general manager of Madame Tussauds San Francisco. Our press preview ran a little overtime and members of the public had already entered by the middle of our tour, getting cozy with the wax figures. And to accommodate visitors who have qualms about awkwardly-angled photos taken at arm’s length, employees are quick to offer assistance. I saw only one visitor attempt to take a selfie, but it wasn’t too crowded yet. Give it some time.

The appeal of the remainder of the museum, however, quickly dwindled for me. Madame Tussauds San Francisco — the youngest sibling again — falls short of differentiating itself. It’s likely that most of the wax figures, including Lady Gaga, George Clooney, Audrey Hepburn, and E.T., will feel right at home in another branch somewhere across the world from San Francisco. (Although it did feel like I was supposed to be in Lincoln Park when the Golden Gate Bridge, as part of the wallpaper behind Tiger Woods, caught my eye.)

Apart from the Spirit of San Francisco room, there’s nothing that feels quite as put together elsewhere in the museum. Sure, Madame Tussauds does a fine job of creating interactive props to accompany the other wax figures and to entertain visitors. And marketing-wise, I suppose it only makes sense to include a variety of figures to appeal to a broad audience. Adult admission stands at a somewhat steep price and in this economy, attendees want to get enough bang for their buck. A visit to the new Madame Tussauds, however, is best saved for those who don’t think twice about wearing shorts to Fisherman’s Wharf in the middle of a San Franciscan summer.

Madame Tussauds San Francisco

Open daily at 10am, $16-$26

145 Jefferson, SF


A great week for (indie) sci-fi and docs: new movies!


This week, Frameline continues (our coverage here!), plus offbeat sci-fi winners Coherence and Snowpiercer are well worth seeking out … especially if you’re not in the mood for more giant robot smash-ups from the Michael Bay factory. Plus: new docs and more! Read on.

Breathing Earth: Susumu Shingu’s Dream Japanese artist Susumu Shingu has built his career through his concerted engagement with the natural world. The wise and eternally smiling 75-year-old creates angular and often gargantuan mobiles that harness the power of wind and water to gyrate in ever-changing directions. In Breathing Earth, German director Thomas Riedelsheimer crafts a deliberately paced rumination on Shingu’s life philosophy that, while devoid of the frenetic facts, figures, and trite biographical rehashes that punctuate hyper-informative pop-docs, uses a beautifully simplistic narrative arc to illuminates Shingu’s attempt to create a hilly, open-air collection of windmills. The sculptor’s impassioned narration and charming conversations with potential landlords and investors (who usually entirely miss the point of his mission to raise environmental consciousness through aesthetic beauty) make Shingu impossible not to fall in love with — he is laid-back, funny, and astonishingly youthful. Riedelsheimer’s camera is similarly relaxed, gliding sumptuously over the green and wild landscapes on which Shingu installs his works. Despite his meditative tempo, Riedelsheimer manages to explore a remarkably wide scope; Shingu’s late-life marriage to a fellow sculptor, his appeals to both Japanese and German schoolchildren to care for the earth and help to avoid environmental disasters, and his intricate technical processes all receive intimate and inspiring sections. (1:37) (David Kurlander)

Citizen Koch After quietly influencing conservative ideology, legislation, and elections for decades, the billionaire industrialist Koch brothers have found themselves becoming high-profile figures — much to their dismay, no doubt. The relative invisibility they hitherto enjoyed greatly abetted their impact in myriad arenas of public policy and “popular” conservative movements. Look behind any number of recent red-vs.-blue flashpoint issues and you can find their fingerprints: Notably state-level union busting; “smaller government” (i.e. incredible shrinking social services); seeding allegedly grassroots organizations like the Tea Party; furthering the Corporations = People thing (see: Citizens United); and generally helping the rich like themselves get richer while fostering working-class outrage at everybody else. This documentary by Trouble the Water (2008) co-directors Carl Deal and Tia Lessen touches on all those matters, while also focusing on Wisconsin as a test laboratory for the brothers’ Machiavellian think-tank maneuvers, following a Lousiana GOP candidate on the campaign trail (one he’s marginalized on for opposing corporate influence peddling), and more. Any one of these topics could support a feature of their own (and most already have). Citizen Koch’s problem is that it tries to encompass too much of its subjects’ long reach, while (despite the title) leaving those subjects themselves underexplored. (It also suffers from being a movie completed at least 18 months ago, a lifetime in current US political terms.) For the reasonably well-informed this documentary will cover a lot of familiar ground—which is not to say that ground isn’t still interesting, or that the added human interest elements don’t compel. But the film covers so much ground it ends up feeling overstuffed and unfocused. (1:26) (Dennis Harvey) 

Coherence See “Vortex Room.” (1:29)

Korengal This companion piece to 2010’s Oscar-nominated Restrepo — one of the best docs about modern-day warfare to date, offering unfiltered access to an Army platoon stationed in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley — uses previously unseen footage shot during the year filmmakers Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington spent shadowing their subjects. Korengal is structured as a more introspective work, with musings on what it feels like to be a soldier in the Korengal, surrounded by rough (yet strikingly beautiful) terrain populated by farmers who may or may not be Taliban sympathizers, not to mention unpredictable, heavily armed opponents referred to simply as “the enemy.” Interviews reveal sadness, boredom, a deep sense of brotherhood, and the frustrating feeling of going from “100 miles an hour to a dead halt” after the surreal exhilaration of a firefight. Korengal also functions as a tribute to Hetherington, who was killed in 2011 while on assignment in Libya. Not only does his death add a layer of poignant subtext, it also suggests why Junger felt moved to revisit this story. That said, though Korengal‘s footage is several years old, its themes remain distressingly timely. (1:24) (Cheryl Eddy)

Snowpiercer Eighteen years after an attempt to reverse global warming has gone wildly awry — freezing all life into extinction — the only known survivors are on a one-of-a-kind perpetual-motion train that circles the Earth annually, has its own self-contained ecosystem, and can smash through whatever ice buildup has blocked its tracks since the last go-round. It’s also a microcosm of civilization’s worst class-economic-racial patterns over history, with the much-abused “tail” passengers living in squalor under the thumb of brutal military police. Unseen at the train’s front is its mysterious inventor, Wilford, whose minions enforce “Eternal Order Prescribed by the Sacred Engine.” Curtis (Chris Evans) is default leader of the proletariat’s latest revolt, in which they attempt to force their way forward though the prison section (where they free Song Kang-ho and Go Ah-sung as the train’s original lock designer and his psychic daughter) on to the wonders of the first class compartments, and beyond. This first (mostly) English-language feature by South Korean Bong Joon-ho (2006’s The Host, 2009’s Mother), based on a 1982 French graphic novel, starts out as a sort of locomotive, claustrophobic Mad Max (1979) variation. But it gets wilder and more satirical as it goes along, goosed by Tilda Swinton’s grotesquely comic Minister Mason, and Alison Pill as a teacher propagandist in a particularly hilarious setpiece. In case the metaphor hasn’t already hit you on the head, one character explains “The train is the world, we the humanity.” But Snowpiercer’s sociopolitical critique is as effective as it is blunt, because Bong handles everything here — visceral action, absurdist humor, narrative left-turns, neatly etched character archetypes, et al. — with style, confidence, and wit. Some of the FX may not be quite as seamless as it would have been in a $200 million Hollywood studio production, and fanboys will no doubt nitpick like nitwits at various “credibility gaps.” (As if this movie ever asks to be taken literally.) But by current, or any, sci-fi action blockbuster standards, this is a giddily unpredictable, risk-taking joy. (2:07) (Dennis Harvey)

Third Person A screenwriter, Paul Haggis, pens a script in which a novelist (Liam Neeson) sits alone in a smoke-filled hotel room in Paris struggling over a manuscript about a novelist who can only feel emotions through his characters. What that psychic state would actually look like remains unclear — when the woman (Olivia Wilde) he’s left his wife (Kim Basinger) for shows up, their playful, painful, fraught interactions reveal a man with above-average emotional reserves. Meanwhile, in another hotel in another city, Rome, a sleazy fashion industry spy (Adrien Brody) finds his life turned sideways by a seemingly chance encounter in a bar with a beautiful Romanian woman (Moran Atias) in dire need of money. And in a third hotel, in Manhattan, a young woman (Mila Kunis) cleans up the suites she used to stay in when she was married to a renowned painter (James Franco), with whom she has a son she may or may not have harmed in some terrible way. The film broadly hints at connections between these three sets of lives — in each, the loss or endangerment of a child produces an unrelenting ripple effect; speaking of which, objects unnaturally submerged in water present an ominous visual motif. If the movie poster doesn’t give the game away as you’re walking into the theater, the signposts erected by Haggis ensure that you won’t be in the dark for long. Learning how these characters relate to one another, however, puts considerable drag on the fabric of the plot, exposing the threadbare places, and where Haggis offers his tortured characters redemption, it comes at the cost of good storytelling. (2:17) (Lynn Rapoport)

Transformers: Age of Extinction In Michael Bay’s fourth Transformers installment a villainous Black Ops leader (Kelsey Grammer) allies with a snarky Steve-Jobs-alike (Stanley Tucci) to build Transformers de coeur: designer impostor robot-cars they hope will reinvent the face of war. In IMAX 3D, “TransFOURmers” is packed with relentless rock-‘em-sock-‘em action, spectacular property destruction, and about as much sense as a bucket of worms. After 60 minutes, you think you’re getting more than your money’s worth. At 90 minutes, you’re tired. At two hours, confusion sets in: If Autobots get stronger together how could Optimus be in so much trouble? Who is the bounty hunting Terminator lookalike? HOW MUCH MORE COULD THERE BE? And then … the action shifts to China, Optimus rides a Dinobot, and chaos reigns. I’ve always liked the working-class poetry of the Transformers themselves — the leader is a trucker and the cast is stacked with ambulances, tanks, and the metal workforce that preserves American lives. If that’s not traditional hero worship, I don’t know what is. But Age of Extinction is the soulless designer imposter it lampoons — the whole sequel-snarking ordeal makes you long for Buzz Lightyear, who saw a thousand Buzz Lightyears on a store shelf and survived that existential crisis heroically — while also riding a dinosaur and fighting Frasier. This Transformers movie (sadly, it won’t be the final one) starts with a thesis: Mark Wahlberg walks through an abandoned movie theater and a Wilford Brimley twin (Ron Shedd) bellows: “Movies today! Sequels! Remakes! Crap!” Age of Extinction follows that moment with nearly three hours of evidence that the cause of extinction is redundancy. (2:30) (Sara Maria Vizcarrondo)

Under the Electric Sky Hey, raver! This 3D concert film enables you to experience the Electric Daisy Carnival without punching any holes in your brain. Or, y’know, dying. (1:25)

Violette Taking on another “difficult” woman artist after the excellent 2008 Séraphine (about the folk-art painter), Martin Provost here portrays the unhappy life of Violette Leduc (Emmanuelle Devos), whose fiction and autobiographical writings eventually made her a significant figure in postwar French literature. We first meet her waiting out the war with gay author Maurice Sachs (Olivier Py), one of many unrequited loves, then surviving via the black market trade before she’s “discovered” by such groundbreaking, already-established talents as Jean Genet (Jacques Bonnaffé) and Simone de Beauvoir (Sandrine Kiberlain). It is the latter, a loyal supporter who nonetheless retains a chilly emotional distance, who becomes bisexual Violette’s principal obsession over the coming 20 years or so. Devos does her best to portray “a neurotic crazy washed-up old bag” with an “ugly mug” — hardly! — who is perpetually broke, depressed, and awkward, thanks no doubt in part to her mean witch of a mother (Catherine Hiegel). “Screaming and sobbing won’t get you anywhere,” Simone at one point tells her, and indeed Leduc is a bit of a pill. For the most part lacking the visual splendors of Séraphine (this character’s environs weren’t so pastoral), Violette is finely acted and crafted but, like its heroine, hard to love. (2:18) (Dennis Harvey)

A benefit series aims to keep the unique Meridian Gallery afloat


In 2001, interns at Powell Street’s Meridian Gallery planned and painted a 13×48 foot mural on the wall of the SRO Hartland Hotel, a few blocks away in the Tenderloin. The mural, a colorful and sunny street scene showcasing the multiculturalism of the neighborhood, was revered by residents and and left untouched for 10 years until it was vandalized by graffiti. In response, former interns who had worked on the project came back together and, alongside the current kids in the program, repainted the piece. The artists’ lasting willingness to help Meridian in times of need reemerges in a broader sense this week, which marks the climax of the gallery’s June Benefit Series (tonight’s entry: “16 Years of Meridian Music,” a diverse program of new music). 

Meridian Gallery, whose name comes from its mission to focus on hemispheric and cross-cultural interactions, is facing eviction. As rent around Union Square has skyrocketed, from $400 per square foot in 2007 to up to $3,000 today (according to retail consultant Helen Bulwik, quoted in a KQED report), many galleries have been forced to close their doors. The stately Perine Mansion, the three-story French Second Empire brick building where Meridian makes its home, is an especially attractive and lucrative piece of property. Instead of throwing in the towel, Anne Brodzsky, the dynamic co-founder of the gallery who has overseen its operations for over 25 years, has reached out to her friends. 

The original eviction notice was handed down in April. Some close to the gallery are convinced that despite any efforts, the rent will be impossible to pay. Others, Brodzky chief among them, think that the response to the bad news suggests a potential long-term rally from Meridian. Her optimism is fueled by two forces. First, on May 13, the SF Board of Supervisors beefed up affordability programs, including supplemental displacement funds and health benefits, for struggling art non-profits in the city. “I’m amazed by how they’ve managed to come together to help arts programs,” Brodzky exclaimed. 

More effective and instantly helpful than any bureaucratic assistance, however, have been the programs put together by artists affiliated with Meridian. Around the time of the Supervisors’ decision, Brodzky asked her gallery-mates if they were willing to stage an auction. The response was staggering; over 60 artists put up works. More astonishing to Brodzky, though, was the kind of excitement many of the participants exhibited for further events. “Bob Marsh, among many others, approached me and asked if they could stage fundraisers.” 

 Tonight, Marsh is one of the main attractions at the “16 Years of Meridian Music” showcase. An avant-garde visual artist and musician, Marsh discovered Meridian shortly after his arrival in San Francisco 14 years ago. “I started visiting galleries and found that Meridian had a wonderful monthly music series,” he says.

Marsh was inspired by the political sharpness of the organization. “I thought early on, ‘They’re not purveyors of bourgeois wallpaper,’ like so many galleries can be.” For Marsh’s offering, “The Visitor,” he’ll don his Sonic Suit #9, a wearable sculpture made from empty water bottles and other modern detritus, and engage in narrative movement to a musical accompaniment.

“He’s a visitor from another dimension,” Marsh says. “He arrives here, looks around, and has different reactions to the confusing environment that is our world.” Marsh debuted the ever-changing character at the Meridian and feels that its a fitting tribute to the openness and experimentation that the gallery fosters. 

Despite his excitement about the benefit, Marsh turns somber when discussing its necessity. “They have given so much with such passion,” he says. “It’s sad to see them persecuted by blind greed … I don’t think its personal, but everyone just wants a lot of money. Everybody thinks that’s some kind of virtue.”

Neither Brodzky, Marsh, nor other performers and Meridian affiliates with whom I talked  were quick to link the gallery’s financial troubles to a larger ill in San Francisco. They seemingly eschew that brand of macrocosmic victimhood and instead zoom in on what they can do to stay open, one step at a time. Their optimism may be healthier, but it does not mask the sad fact that rising rents are making grassroots galleries a thing of the past. If the artists continue to come together with the intensity of the mural renovation, auction, and benefit series, however, Meridian may just buck the trend.  


16 Years of Meridian Music: Composers in Performance

With Bob Marsh, Andrea Williams, Bryan Day, Phillip Greenlief and Jon Raskin’s 1+1, David Samas, Tom Bickley, and the Cornelius Cardew Choir

Thu/26, 7-10pm, $35

Meridian Gallery

535 Powell, SF


Comedy without limits means ‘No Happy Endings’ for SF’s Granny Cart Gangstas


Sexy granny panties? Up-and-coming San Francisco comedy troupe Granny Cart Gangstas recently proved this isn’t an oxymoron. Taking a cue from the Kids in the Hall — one of member Ava Tong’s biggest inspirations — who were once photographed wearing bras over suits, the troupe decided to do something similar (one member flaunted a pair of leopard-print granny panties) for a photo shoot ahead of its Sat/28 show, “No Happy Endings,” at SF’s Little Boxes Theater. 

Founding members Tong and Aureen Almario dreamed about creating their own comedy troupe since 2006. The two met at San Francisco State University, where Tong was Almario’s teaching assistant in an Asian American studies class. “Then she ended up being one of my friends’ girlfriends and I was like ‘Oh … hey!’ and I saw her at Bindlestiff [Studio] and it was like … ‘Can’t get away from you, Aureen!’” The two finally created the troupe in 2011, with five total members, and continued to expand by inviting women associated with Bindlestiff that they worked well with. 

The name of the comedy troupe, Granny Cart Gangstas, juxtaposes two contrasting concepts. Tong said Almario, who came up with the name, was inspired by the pedestrian lifestyle of granny-cart owners in the midst of the hustle and bustle of certain SF neighborhoods. “That’s like, ‘I don’t care. I’m going to do my thing and I don’t care what anyone else thinks,’” Tong explained. 

Lauren Garcia, who joined the troupe last October, expanded on the name’s connotations. “If you have a granny cart, you know, you can’t politely, say, go through the bus or the street, and go ‘Excuse me, excuse me.’” (Tong interjected, “You’re just unapologetic.”) Garcia continued, “You just run over those people’s feet.”

When it comes to the troupe’s material, this mindset is always relevant. Its material is solely comprised of things that make its own members laugh. And even though members grapple with worries that no one else will find certain things funny, they’ll keep them in anyway.

“No Happy Endings” opens with a piece that pays homage to grannies — one of the first pieces where the members assume the role of grannies. “You’ve got to respect grannies,” Garcia said. “They’re grannies — they’ve been through shit.” In the sketch, the troupe members are nursing home residents (sans granny carts, unfortunately), comatose as a nurse administers their daily medicine. Before the nurse leaves, she switches on a radio, which starts playing classical music. But one of the grannies won’t have that and slowly trudges to the radio — with the assistance of her walker — and changes the music to something more modern: Beyoncé’s “Grown Woman.” Instantly rejuvenated, the grannies begin to dance. 

The troupe returns to this scene later to close the show. “Grown Woman” is still playing. “We actually bust out into our younger selves and we do a short synchronized dance,” Tong said, “kind of saying that every granny is young inside them. They have that young person that lived there before.” Combined with the young souls’ dance, Beyoncé’s lyrics “I’m a grown woman / I can do whatever I want” only serve to further drive this message home.

“I feel like so many people forget that older people were young once and they are people — they’re not the sacks that people treat them as,” Garcia said. As a nurse, she said she constantly witnesses incidents of verbal elder abuse where nurses and other people in the hospital condescendingly speak to elderly patients. 

Besides the geriatric piece, the group likes to write about womanhood. For their first show, “Rise of the Red Dawn,” the group performed a sketch titled “Look At This Betch.” “We’re making fun of the idea that women sometimes … have this competition with each other,” Garcia said. “They’re cutthroat and catty and will cut other women to get ahead when they should be helping other women. They know what it’s like to be a woman in this world.”

However, Tong said the group noticed that much of the last show focused on the negative aspects of womanhood. To depict women in a more positive light, it included a sketch titled “Vag Save” in the upcoming show, which also includes films and stand-up. Garcia introduced “Vag Save” to me through a mock movie trailer voiceover: “Save your best friend’s vagina. Coming soon, this Saturday, June 28, we will be saving … your vaginas.”

The sketch follows a group of women at a club banding together to protect each other from the unwelcome advances of creepy men. “Not everybody sees that world,” Tong said. “Guys definitely don’t know when other guys are being creepy — or when they’re being creepy — and this is how women see it.”

The troupe is entirely comprised of women of color. Members write cultural references sparingly — one of the lines in sketch “Spanx” plays with how similar the word “backpack” and the Tagalog word for “vagina” (pekpek) sound: “Reach into my pekpek” — because they don’t want to alienate any audience members. Sometimes they’ll include references if a character has an accent (the references are usually improv ad libs), but they stray from writing references that aren’t obvious or explained. 

At the same time, Tong and Garcia appreciate San Francisco’s diversity and open-mindedness. “I think we take advantage of that,” Tong said. “We almost take it for granted. We don’t think about having to be sensitive.” The two joked that they might have things thrown at them on stage or their citizenship papers checked in more conservative states. Most of the members are Bay Area natives, but live in cities as spread apart as Walnut Creek, San Francisco, and Hayward, which Tong admitted makes getting together for rehearsal tough.

Inspiration can hit the troupe at any time — sources range from people, such as Beyoncé, or the minutiae of daily life, such as putting in a Diva Cup. (A Diva Cup is an eco-friendly alternative to a tampon. Garcia shared some tips from a YouTube how-to video she watched, where an upside-down wine glass served as a model vagina: improper nail length can quickly make the experience unpleasant and one of the tricky things is “getting it into a little ball and making sure it goes in before it pops open … because then that’s painful and you don’t want to do that, let me tell you.” Tong was a little hesitant about this sketch idea.) Throughout the interview, Tong and Garcia effortlessly bounced new ideas off each other, assuring me they could even parody the interview we were having. “You’ll be in this,” Garcia told me. “Come watch our stuff; you’ll see yourself.”

Six days before the show, at least one troupe member’s grandmother was confirmed to attend “No Happy Endings.” Garcia’s mother purchased tickets for several family members — before her daughter explained that the not-so-family-friendly show was “mature, sexual, and raunchy.” Garcia complained that her grandmother would simply have to sit through performances such as “Octopussy,” where she sings “I’ve tried everything / You could possibly do / When you’re in bed with two / Wheelbarrow, doggy style / Missionary, 69 / It feels so fine / But he can’t make me cum.”

“We’ll apologize later if you need us to,” Tong reassured Garcia. 

Emphasis on “need.” After all, a true granny cart gangsta is never apologetic if they can help it. 

Granny Cart Gangstas’ “No Happy Endings”

Sat/28, 8pm, $15

Little Boxes Theater

1661 Tennessee, SF

(415) 603-0061


Amour Vert brings its eco-friendly designs to Hayes Valley


“Paris Chic, Cali Cool.” That’s the tagline behind the eco-friendly clothing brand Amour Vert. Usually, the people who refer to California as “Cali” are non-natives. The term implies a certain unfamiliarity with the golden state and a desire to be more ~CaLiFoRnIaN~. Yet, the slogan is fitting. Founded out of a need for clothing that doesn’t sacrifice style for sustainability, Amour Vert’s garments are created by a French designer and made within a 20 mile radius.

Until now, the Palo Alto-based brand was only available in department stores and small boutiques but Amour Vert opens its first retail store today. Nestled in the heart of Hayes Valley, at 437 Hayes, the boutique neighbors the french confectioner Chantal Guillon Macarons and clothing store Steven Alan.

Across the street is Alternative Apparel, a company with a similar commitment to sustainable fashion. But owner Linda Balti maintains that Amour Vert is very different from its neighbor. In an equally sustainable way, Alternative Apparel outsources its garments to socially-responsible factories in Peru, Vietnam, Indonesia, China and other countries around the world. Amour Vert keeps everything local, from its design studio in the Dogpatch, to the exceptional garment factories in the Bay Area, to its beautiful living wall in the Hayes Valley store.

French-German couple Balti and Christoph Frehsee conceptualized Amour Vert after reading a Newsweek article a couple years ago that named the fashion industry as the second polluter in the world.

“I was in the middle of writing a paper for my master’s,” Frehsee said at the store’s opening reception last night. (He studied environmental resources at Stanford.) Balti began researching sustainable alternatives but found that they were either unflattering (think hippie hemp dresses) or expensive, such as John Patrick and Stella McCartney. 

The Parisian designer wanted simple and elegant options to fill her wardrobe at an affordable cost, she says. At the opening reception, Balti wore an Amour Vert sleeveless green palm leaf printed jumpsuit and crisp white hightop sneakers, the epitome of French elegance. With ruffled straps and a cinched waist, the Crystal Jumpsuit is a highlight of the summer collection. This easy and feminine silhouette made of washable silk is indicative of the brand’s casual luxury. Using the finest materials available in the Bay, each garment is handmade from bamboo, silk, organic cotton, recycled polyester, linen, or wood pulp.

Amour Vert’s “Plant a T(r)ee” collection is probably its most impressive. Continuing their dedication to a cleaner environment, Balti and Frehsee have created a small line of garments made from wood pulp, where with each T-shirt purchase (ranging from $75-$135), American Forests will plant a tree in the United States. “It’s our way of directly giving back to the environment what we take from it,” said Balti. So far, they’ve planted 15,000 trees.

In the store, vibrant green and coral pieces with palm tree prints line the walls. Simple, neutral basics are also available. The “Plant a T(r)ee” is mostly comprised of marinières—the quintessentially French navy and white striped boating shirts. With muses such as Charlotte Gainsbourg and Clémence Poésy, the brand maintains a prominently French style. But the Cali vibe is not lost. A lace crop top hangs in the corner embracing the West Coast flair.

The focal point of the store however is a heart-shaped living wall — a nod to Amour Vert’s French name, which translates to “green love.” Designed by SF native, model, and philanthropist Lily Kwong, the installation is composed of small potted plants (for sale for $20) that create a big green heart in the back of the store. The local support continues with two “Made in California” chairs produced by Russell Pritchard, owner of the interior design store Zonal down the street, and board member of the Hayes Valley Neighborhood Association.

“Everyone has been very welcoming,” Frehsee said. At last night’s reception, Kwong made an appearance, and delicious snacks by Chantal Guillon Macarons and the Melt food truck were on hand for hungry partygoers. There was also Amour Vert’s signature photo booth, where a tree will be planted for every photo taken. 

The decision to open a store in Hayes Valley was very natural, Balti said. After several pop-ups in the area, the couple decided to open a permanent location in the neighborhood. The store is a lab project to them, says Frehsee — the couple got their beginnings in science, they met at a defense trade show in Abu Dhabi.

“The store is our opportunity to interact with our customers on a personal level and hear what they love most about Amour Vert,” Frehsee said. “We’re looking forward to having that direct dialogue with them.”