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Pixel Vision

Aliens, haunted mirrors, photographic mysteries, and isolated islands: new movies!


It’s Friday, which means only one thing: new movies R herrre! Though Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier will probably keep body-slamming all the box-office competition, there are some not-to-be-missed flicks just arriving in theaters, including two fascinating docs and two eerie tales, including the remarkable Under the Skin. Read on! 


Cuban Fury Nick Frost, Rashida Jones, and Chris O’Dowd star in this romantic comedy about competitive salsa dancing. (1:37)

Dom Hemingway We first meet English safecracker Dom (Jude Law) as he delivers an extremely verbose and flowery ode to his penis, addressing no one in particular, while he’s getting blown in prison. Whether you find this opening a knockout or painfully faux will determine how you react to the rest of Richard Shepard’s new film, because it’s all in that same overwritten, pseudo-shocking, showoff vein,  Sprung after 12 years, Dom is reunited with his former henchman Dickie (Richard E. Grant), and the two go to the South of France to collect the reward owed for not ratting out crime kingpin Mr. Fontaine (Demian Bichir). This detour into the high life goes awry, however, sending the duo back to London, where Dom — who admits having “anger issues,” which is putting it mildly — tries to woo a new employer (Jumayn Hunter) and, offsetting his general loutishness with mawkish interludes, to re-ingratiate himself with his long-estranged daughter (Emilia Clarke). Moving into Guy Ritchie terrain with none of the deftness the same writer-director had brought to debunking James Bond territory in 2006’s similarly black-comedic crime tale The Matador, Dom Hemingway might bludgeon some viewers into sharing its air of waggish, self conscious merriment. But like Law’s performance, it labors so effortfully hard after that affect that you’re just as likely to find the whole enterprise overbearing. (1:33) (Dennis Harvey)

Draft Day Kevin Costner stars in this comedy-drama set behind the scenes of the NFL. (2:00) 

Finding Vivian Maier Much like In the Realms of the Unreal, the 2004 doc about Henry Darger, Finding Vivian Maier explores the lonely life of a gifted artist whose talents were discovered posthumously. In this case, however, the filmmaker — John Maloof, who co-directs with Charlie Siskel — is responsible for Maier’s rise to fame. A practiced flea-market hunter, he picked up a carton of negatives at a 2007 auction; they turned out to be striking examples of early street photography. He was so taken with the work (snapped by a woman so obscure she was un-Google-able) that he began posting images online. Unexpectedly, they became a viral sensation, and Maloof became determined to learn more about the camerawoman. Turns out Vivian Maier was a career nanny in the Chicago area, with plenty of former employers to share their memories. She was an intensely private person who some remembered as delightfully adventurous and others remembered as eccentric, mentally unstable, or even cruel; she was a hoarder who was distrustful of men, and she spoke with a maybe-fake French accent. And she was obsessed with taking photographs that she never showed to anyone; the hundreds of thousands now in Maloof’s collection (along with 8mm and 16mm films) offer the only insight into her creative mind. “She had a great eye, a sense of humor, and a sense of tragedy,” remarks acclaimed photographer Mary Ellen Mark. “But there’s a piece of the puzzle missing.” The film’s central question — why was Maier so secretive about her hobby? — may never be answered. But as the film also suggests, that mystery adds another layer of fascination to her keenly observed photos. (1:23) (Cheryl Eddy)

The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden Extensive archival footage and home movies (plus one short, narrative film) enhance this absorbing doc from San Francisco-based Dayna Goldfine and Dan Geller (2005’s Ballets Russes). It tells the tale of a double murder that occurred in the early 1930s on Floreana — the most remote of the already scarcely-populated Galapagos Islands. A top-notch cast (Cate Blanchett, Diane Kruger, Connie Nielsen, Josh Radnour) gives voice to the letters and diary entries of the players in this stranger-than-fiction story, which involved an array of Europeans who’d moved away from civilization in search of utopian simplicity — most intriguingly, a maybe-fake Baroness and her two young lovers — and realized too late that paradise isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Goldfine and Geller add further detail to the historic drama by visiting the present-day Galapagos, speaking with residents about the lingering mystery and offering a glimpse of what life on the isolated islands is like today. (2:00) (Cheryl Eddy)

Interior. Leather Bar. James Franco and Travis Mathews’ “docufilm” imagines and recreates footage cut from the 1980 film Cruising. (1:00) Roxie.

Joe “I know what keeps me alive is restraint,” says Nicolas Cage’s titular character, a hard-drinking, taciturn but honorable semi-loner who supervises a crew of laborers clearing undesirable trees in the Mississippi countryside. That aside, his business is mostly drinking, occasionally getting laid, and staying out of trouble — we glean he’s had more than enough of the latter in his past. Thus it’s against his better judgement that he helps out newly arrived transient teen Gary (the excellent Tye Sheridan, of 2012’s Mud and 2011’s The Tree of Life), who’s struggling to support his bedraggled mother and mute sister. Actually he takes a shine to the kid, and vice versa; the reason for caution is Gary’s father, whom he himself calls a “selfish old drunk.” And that’s a kind description of this vicious, violent, lazy, conscienceless boozehound, who has gotten his pitiful family thrown out of town many times before and no doubt will manage it once again in this new burg, where they’ve found an empty condemned house to squat in. David Gordon Green’s latest is based on a novel by the late Larry Brown, and like that writer’s prose, its considerable skill of execution manages to render serious and grimly palatable a steaming plateload of high white trash melodrama that might otherwise be undigestible. (Strip away the fine performances, staging and atmosphere, and there’s not much difference between Joe and the retro Southern grindhouse likes of 1969’s Shanty Tramp, 1974’s ‘Gator Bait or 1963’s Scum of the Earth.) Like Mud and 2011’s Killer Joe, this is a rural Gothic neither truly realistic or caricatured to the point of parody, but hanging between those two poles — to an effect that’s impressive and potent, though some may not enjoy wallowing in this particular depressing mire of grotesque nastiness en route to redemption. (1:57) (Dennis Harvey)

Oculus Tim (Brenton Thwaites) and Kaylie (Karen Gillan) are grown siblings with a horrible shared past: When they were children, their parents (Rory Cochrane, Katee Sankhoff) moved them all into a nice suburban house, decorating it with, among other things, a 300-year-old mirror. But that antique seemed to have an increasingly disturbing effect on dad, then mom too, to ultimately homicidal, offspring-orphaning effect. Over a decade later, Tim is released from a juvenile mental lockup, ready to live a normal life after years of therapy have cleaned him of the supernatural delusions he think landed him there in the first place. Imagine his dismay when Kaylie announces she has spent the meantime researching aforementioned “evil mirror” — which turns out to have had a very gruesome history of mysteriously connected deaths — and painstakingly re-acquiring it. She means to destroy it so it can never wreak havoc, and has set up an elaborate room of camcorders and other equipment in which to “prove” its malevolence first, with Tim her very reluctant helper. Needless to say, this experiment (which he initially goes along with only in order to debunk the whole thing for good) turns out to be a very, very bad idea. The mirror is clever — demonically clever. It can warp time and perspective so our protagonists don’t know whether what they’re experiencing is real or not. Expanding on his 2006 short film (which was made before his excellent, little-seen 2011 horror feature Absentia), Mike Flanagan’s tense, atmospheric movie isn’t quite as scary as you might wish, partly because the villain (the spirit behind the mirror) isn’t particularly well-imagined in generic look or murky motivation. But it is the rare new horror flick that is genuinely intricate and surprising plot-wise — no small thing in the current landscape of endless remakes and rehashes. (1:44) (Dennis Harvey)

Rio 2 More 3D tropical adventures with animated birds Blu (Jesse Eisenberg) and Jewel (Anne Hathaway) and their menagerie of pals, with additional voices by Andy Garcia, Leslie Mann, Bruno Mars, Jamie Foxx, and more. (1:41)

Under the Skin See “The Hunger.” (1:47)

Teen dystopian drama! Sex addicts! Muppets! Yep, it’s new movie time


So many new movies this week to choose from, film fans! Better just cancel all your plans, and also any notions you had about eating and sleeping. Read on for our takes on the latest in teen dystopia, the new Anita Hill doc, the latest Muppets caper, and part one of Lars von Trier’s sex-addiction saga. AND MORE!


Afternoon of a Faun: Tanaquil Le Clercq Writer-director Nancy Buirski’s documentary follows the short, brilliant career of a young dancer named Tanaquil Le Clercq, who came up in the New York City ballet world of the 1940s and ‘50s. Le Clercq was discovered by George Balanchine, married him (as three other dancers had done before her), sparked a paradigm shift in the ballet world regarding what was considered the quintessential dancer’s body, had numerous ballets set on her by Balanchine and Jerome Robbins, and then, at the peak of her career, at age 27, was stricken by polio and left paralyzed in both legs. The film takes its time moving toward this catastrophe, recounting Le Clercq’s early adult life through interviews with her contemporaries and tracking her professional progress through gorgeous archival footage of her performances. Equally moving archival material are the letters from a longtime correspondence between Le Clercq and Robbins that documented two very different periods of her life: the first, when Robbins was choreographing ballets for her, including Afternoon of a Faun, and professing his love; the second, after her paralysis, when she wrote him a series of poignant communications describing her impressions of her illness and her new, circumscribed world. The film has some trouble holding on to its center — as in life, Balanchine proves a magnetic force, and Afternoon of a Faun feels inexorably drawn to his professional and personal details. We don’t get enough of Le Clercq, which you could say is the tragedy of her story — nobody did. But the letters do provide a sense of someone resourceful and responsive to life’s richness and joys, someone who would get past this crisis and find a way to reshape her life. (1:31) (Lynn Rapoport)

Anita In 1991, Anita Hill found herself at the center of a political firestorm when she testified about being sexually harassed by US Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas. “The issue became my character as opposed to the character of the nominee,” she recalls in Anita, a revealing new documentary from Academy Award-winning filmmaker Freida Mock (1994’s Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision). Twenty years after she first made headlines, Hill recounts her story in the same eloquent voice familiar to anyone who watched her testimony; her first-person narrative, paired with accounts by her supporters, stresses the consequences many women suffer from daring to speak out. The documentary, which shows how one woman’s forthrightness about sexual harassment can upturn her life, also explores the ways in which Hill’s Bush-era notoriety laid the foundation for a prolific career dedicated to battling sexual harassment and women’s oppression. She became an unlikely icon, and a role model for women battling similar circumstances. On the other hand, Thomas still sits on the bench. (1:17) (Laura B. Childs)

Bad Words Settling a grudge score whose precise origin remains unclear until late in the game, world-class misanthrope Guy Trilby (Jason Bateman) is celebrating his 40th birthday by competing in a national spelling bee. Yes, spelling bees are generally for children, and so is this one. But Guy has found a legal loophole permitting his participation, and the general hate wending his way from contest staff (Allison Janney, Philip Baker Hall) — let alone the tiger-mom-and-dad parents ready to form a lynch mob — is just icing on the cake where he’s concerned. What’s more, as some sort of majorly underachieving near-genius, he’s in fact well equipped to whup the bejesus out of overachieving eight-year-olds when it comes to saying the right letters out loud. The only people on his side, sorta, are the online journalist (Kathryn Hahn) reporting on his perverse quest, and the insidiously cute Indian American competitor (Rohan Chand) who wants to be besties, or perhaps just to psych him out. (Note: The tyke’s admitted favorite word is “subjugate.”) Written by Andrew Dodge, this comedy in the tradition (a little too obviously) of 2003’s Bad Santa and such provides the always enjoyable Bateman with not only a tailor-made lead role, but a directorial debut as well. He does just fine by both. Yet as nicely crafted and frequently-pretty-funny Bad Words is, at core it’s a rather petty movie — small, derivative, and cynically mean-spirited without the courage of genuine biliousness. It’s at once not-half-bad, and not half as badass as it pretends to be. (1:29) (Dennis Harvey)

Child’s Pose See “Smotherly Love.” (1:52) 

Dark House Nick (Luke Kleintank) has the most depressing superpower since X-Men‘s Rogue: whenever he touches someone destined for a violent death, he has a vision of his or her terrible demise. On a rare visit to his institutionalized mother  (Lesley-Anne Down), amid her ravings about “things in the walls,” she confesses that Nick’s father is still alive. After she dies, he inherits a folder stuffed with wrinkled papers — including the deed to an old mansion that’s been haunting his dreams since childhood. With his best friend and pregnant girlfriend in tow, Nick sets out to find the apparently cursed dwelling (wide-eyed locals refer to it as “Wormwood”). What they find is best not revealed here, though it does involve Tobin “Jigsaw from the Saw movies” Bell. This latest from controversial director Victor Salva borrows multiple elements from his 2001 horror breakout Jeepers Creepers (backwoods locations and folklore, murderous fellows in duster coats, superstition vis-à-vis the number 23, etc.) but sprawls beyond that film’s taut road-trip-from-hell structure, and has far more characters prone to making stupid decisions. There’s also the issue of having a certain, uh, monster intone orders to its followers via any available furnace vent — it’s funny every time, and it sure ain’t intended to be. (1:42) (Cheryl Eddy)

Divergent Based on the blockbuster dystopian-future YA novel by Veronica Roth (the first in a trilogy), Divergent is set in a future city-state version of Chicago in which society is divided into five character-based, color-coded factions: Erudite, Amity, Candor, Abnegation, and Dauntless. Like her peers, Beatrice Prior (Shailene Woodley), the film’s Abnegation-born teenage heroine, must choose a permanent faction — with the help of a standardized aptitude test that forgoes penciling in bubbles in favor of virtual reality psychic manipulation. When the test fails to triangulate her sole innate personality trait, she learns that she belongs to a secret, endangered sixth category: Divergent, an astonishing set of people who are not only capable of, say, acts of selflessness but can also produce intelligent thought, or manifest bravery in the face of danger. Forced to hide her aberrant nature in a society whose leaders (Kate Winslet) are prone to statements like “The future belongs to those who know where they belong,” and seemingly bored among Abnegation’s hive of gray cardigan-wearing worker bees, Beatrice chooses Dauntless, a dashing gang of black-clad, alterna-rock music video extras who jump on and off moving trains and live in a warehouse-chic compound whose dining hall recalls the patio at Zeitgeist. Fittingly, a surly, tattooed young man named Four (Theo James) leads Beatrice, now Tris, and her fellow initiates through a harsh proving regimen that, if they fail, will cast them into an impoverished underclass. Director Neil Burger (2006’s The Illusionist, 2011’s Limitless) and the behemoth marketing force behind Divergent are clearly hoping to stir up the kind of madness stoked by the Twilight and Hunger Games series, but while there are bones a-plenty to pick with those franchises, Divergent may have them beat for pure daffiness of premise and diameter of plot holes — and that’s after screenwriters Evan Daugherty and Vanessa Taylor’s major suturing of the source material’s lacunae. The daffiness doesn’t translate into imaginative world-building, and while a couple of scenes convey the visceral thrills of life in Dauntless, the tension between Tris and Four is awkwardly ratcheted up, and the film’s shift into a mode of crisis is equally jolting without generating much heat. (2:20) (Lynn Rapoport)

Enemy Adam (Jake Gyllenhaal) is an associate history professor living the usual life of quiet desperation in a very smoggy, beige, vaguely dystopian Toronto when he makes a startling discovery: glimpsed in the background of an otherwise forgettable movie rental is someone who is his complete doppelganger. Intrigued, he discovers the identity of actor Anthony (Jake again), and pokes around in the latter’s life enough to discover that they both have blonde partners (Adam’s girlfriend Mélanie Laurent, the other dude’s pregnant wife Sarah Gadon), though beyond that and the eerie physical-vocal resemblances, they’re near-opposites — Anthony is more confident, successful, assertive, and belligerent by far. Their paths-crossing isn’t going to be a good thing. Just how bad it will get depends on how you read a mysterious, perverse opening sequence and some increasingly surreal imagery scattered throughout. The second of director Denis Villeneuve’s back-to-back Gyllenhaal collaborations is very different from last year’s long, intricate, real-world thriller Prisoners. Based on a José Saramago novel (The Double), it sports the same ominous, metaphorical fantasticism that was previously translated to the screen in the widely disliked (but faithful) 2008 Blindness — another movie that played better if you know where its source material is coming from. This intriguing Kafkaesque paranoid puzzle is not to be confused with Richard Ayoade’s forthcoming Dostoevsky-derived The Double, starring Jesse Eisenberg. Actually, go ahead and confuse them — they’re stylistically distinct but otherwise practically the same fable-nightmare. (1:30) (Dennis Harvey)

Le Week-End Director Roger Michell and writer Hanif Kureishi first collaborated two decades ago on The Buddha of Suburbia, when the latter was still in the business of being Britain’s brashest multiculti hipster voice. But in the last 10 years they’ve made a habit of slowing down to sketching portraits of older lives — and providing great roles for the nation’s bottomless well of remarkable veteran actors. Here Lindsay Duncan and Jim Broadbent play a pair of English academics trying to re-create their long-ago honeymoon’s magic on an anniversary weekend in Paris. They love each other, but their relationship is thorny and complicated in ways that time has done nothing to smooth over. This beautifully observed duet goes way beyond the usual adorable-old-coot terrain of such stories on screen; it has charm and humor, but these are unpredictable, fully rounded characters, not comforting caricatures. Briefly turning this into a seriocomedy three-way is Most Valuable Berserker Jeff Goldblum as an old friend encountered by chance. It’s not his story, but damned if he doesn’t just about steal the movie anyway. (1:33) (Dennis Harvey)

Muppets Most Wanted Building on the success of The Muppets, Jim Henson’s beloved creations return to capitalize on their revitalized (and Disney-owned) fame. This follow-up from Muppets director James Tobin — technically, it’s the seventh sequel to the original 1979 Muppet Movie, as Dr. Bunsen Honeydew points out in one of the film’s many meta moments — improves upon the 2011 film, which had its charms but suffered by concentrating too much on the Jason Segal-Amy Adams romance, not to mention annoying new kid Walter. Here, human co-stars Ricky Gervais, Tina Fey, and others (there are more cameos than you can count) are relegated to supporting roles, with the central conflict revolving around the Muppets’ inability to notice that Constantine, “the world’s most dangerous frog,” has infiltrated their group, sending Kermit to Siberian prison in his place. Constantine and his accomplice (Gervais, whose character’s last name is “Badguy”) use the Muppets’ world tour as a front for their jewel-heist operation; meanwhile, his infatuated warden (Fey) forces Kermit to direct the annual gulag musical. Not helping matters are a bumbling Interpol agent (Ty Burrell) and his CIA counterpart (Sam the American Eagle, natch). Really, all that’s needed is a simple plot, catchy songs, and plenty of room to let the Muppets do their thing — Miss Piggy and Animal are particularly enjoyable here; Walter’s still around, but he’s way more tolerable now that he’s gotten past his “man or muppet” angst — and the film delivers. All the knowing winks to the grown-up fans in the audience are just an appreciated bonus. (1:46) (Cheryl Eddy)

Nymphomaniac: Volume I Found battered and unconscious in a back alley, Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) is taken in by good Samaritan Seligman (Stellan Skarsgaard), to whom she explains “It’s all my fault — I’m just a bad human being.” But he doesn’t believe there are such things. She seeks to enlighten him by narrating the story of her life so far, from carnally curious childhood to sexually voracious adulthood. Stacy Martin plays her younger self through a guided tour of excesses variously involving Christian Slater and Connie Nielsen as her parents; a buncha guys fucked on a train, on a teenage dare; Uma Thurman as one histrionically scorned woman; and Shai LaBeouf as a first love who’s a cipher either because he’s written that way, or because this particular actor can’t make sense out of him. For all its intended provocation, including some graphic but unsurprisingly (coming from this director) unerotic XXX action, von Trier’s latest is actually less offensive than much of his prior output: He’s regained his sense of humor here, and annoying as its “Look at me, I’m an unpredictable artist” crap can be (notably all the stuff about fly-fishing, cake forks, numerology, etc. that seems randomly drawn from some Great Big Book of Useless Trivia), the film’s episodic progress is divertingly colorful enough. But is Joe going to turn out to be more than a two-dimensional authorial device from a director who’s never exactly sussed women (or liked people in general)? Will Nymphomaniac arrive at some pointed whole greater than the sum of its naughty bits? The answer to both is probably “Nah.” But we won’t know for sure until the two-hour second half arrives (April 4) of a movie that, in fairness, was never really intended to be split up like this. (1:50) (Dennis Harvey)

Shirin in Love This blandly TV-ready romantic comedy stars Nazanin Boniadi as a ditzy child of privilege in Beverly Hills’ Iranian-American community. Sent by her aggressively shallow magazine-editor mother (Anita Khalatbari) to find an elusive best-selling novelist for an interview, she not only stumbles upon that author (Amy Madigan) but discovers she’s already had a meet-cute with the latter’s hunky son (Riley Smith) under embarrassing circumstances. Will Shirin be able to shrug off the future her family has planned for her (including Maz Jobrani as a plastic-surgeon fiancé ) in order to, y’know, find herself? The very obvious answer takes its sweet time arriving in writer-director Ramin Niami’s innocuous film, which hews to a stale lineup of formulaic genre conventions even when relying on whopping coincidences to advance its predictable plot. The novelty of its particular social milieu goes unexplored in a movie that reveals even less about assimilated modern US Persian culture than My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002) did about Greek Americans. (1:45) (Dennis Harvey)

Tiger and Bunny: The Rising Based on the Japanese anime series (and a 2012 film, Tiger and Bunny: The Beginning), this lighthearted look at superheroes with human problems imagines a world in which the blaring Hero TV channel tracks the movements of various caped crusaders, who compete against each other for points as they race to defeat random villains. All of the heroes, who we meet both in and out of costume, work for the same parent company, and each has a corporate sponsor whose logo is a prominent part of his or her ensemble. (Heroes are big business, after all.) In the first film, we met “Wild Tiger,” a bumbling single dad, who’s reluctantly paired with talented new kid “Bunny.” They clash at first, but eventually prove a powerful team. In The Rising, a douchey new boss relegates Tiger to the junior-varsity Second League, while Bunny gets an annoying new partner, “Golden Ryan.” Meanwhile, a mysterious trio of baddies menaces the city, forcing all of the heroes to work together whether they want to or not. The most surprising part of The Rising is its sensitive development of the “Fire Emblem” character. Presented as a mincing gay stereotype in the first film, here he’s given a sympathetic back story via dream sequences that detail his youthful exploration of cross-dressing and personal identity struggles. Encouraging, to say the least. (1:48) New People. (Cheryl Eddy)

“These stories are ours, too” — South Asian women’s collective celebrates a decade of ‘Yoni Ki Baat’


Growing up in San Francisco, I was never sheltered from sexuality. Whether it was the naked runners at Bay to Breakers or the same-sex lovebirds kissing on street corners, there has always been an honest dialogue about love, sex, and gender in my hometown. But that makes it easy to take for granted.

For over a decade, the South Asian Sisters, a Bay Area arts collective, has been cultivating a community of diverse and progressive women of South Asian origin who want to talk openly about sex. While to many outsiders India is the land of Kama Sutra and tantric sex, to those who grew up in South Asian communities, the openness just isn’t there. Talk of sexuality comes in the form of rumors, whispers, and shameful glances, explains Vandana Makker, a member of the South Asian Sisters.

In a grassroots effort to build a candid conversation about these taboo issues, South Asian Sisters has grown into a national movement inviting an open discussion of gender and sexuality — empowering women of South Asian descent across the country. Their efforts come to a head with the yearly rendition of Yoni Ki Baat, a live performance of Vagina Monologues-inspired sketches. The show is comprised of a dozen or so performances by South Asian Sisters, all aimed at bringing light to the silent oppression that’s been going on in South Asian culture for centuries.

This weekend’s shows, on March 22 and 23, will mark Yoni Ki Baat’s 10th Anniversary with three special performances at the iconic and historic Women’s Building in the Mission. Whether painful, funny, disturbing, or powerful, each performance furthers the honesty so vital to these women. I reached out to the diverse women from the South Asian Sisters collective to better understand what this project means to them. 

SF Bay Guardian Why is Yoni Ki Baat important to you?

Creatrix Tiara: Born and raised in Malaysia, I found it difficult to find a community of people who were willing to talk about issues like gender, sexuality, and race openly and freely — especially as a Bangladeshi, a much-maligned racial minority in Malaysia. Joining YKB was really refreshing and helpful in finding people who could relate to feeling liminal in those areas — having to navigate cultural norms versus wider societal taboos and stereotypes, never quite fitting in one world or another. People don’t tend to associate South Asians with a lot of issues around gender and sexuality. How can South Asians be kinky? Queer? Into masturbation in strange places? Unthinkable. YKB shows that hey, these stories are ours too, no matter what anyone says.

Micropixie: Growing up in London at the time that I did, and then later moving to Paris, and then back to the UK, I did not have a community of progressive, feminist, radical South Asian women around me. In fact I did not know such a type of woman even existed until I moved to San Francisco 10 years ago. It was wonderful to see my first Yoni Ki Baat 7 years ago and then later join the team of organizers. I love the stories and relate to all of them even those that do not pertain to my personal experience. But I especially love the women in the show, both the performers and the writers…talking about sex, sexuality, and actually so much more. It’s a brave thing we are doing, and for some of the girls it’s the first time they are on stage; personally, my own family was horrified!


Indira Chakrabarti: The show is especially important to me since I wrote for the first show a decade ago! Then, I wrote and performed for the second one. It is so meaningful to me to be back. I fell out of touch for a variety of reasons but have always believed in the importance of providing this space for women, especially South Asian Women, to have their true voices heard.

Anjali Verma Ruvalcaba: When I first auditioned for YKB I was a 20-year-old college student at UC Berkeley with a newly shaved head. I was already facing stigma and criticisms from both family and friends for wanting to experiment and “discover myself,” so to say that I was nervous going in to it is definitely putting it mildly. Once I got there I was welcomed by such open, kind, genuine, friendly, and loving faces that I knew I had found a very sacred place to call my own, finally, and I haven’t looked back since as this will be my 9th year performing. YKB gave me my first and only set of older sisters to look up to, who understood me, accepted me, inspired me, and kept challenging me to strive for my goals, and whether near or far now, they have all helped mold me into the stronger more honest and more grounded version of my self that I am today, for which I’ll be eternally grateful.

Amruta: There are not many spaces where we, as women, are free to speak within and from our cultural context—where we are best understood, especially if this context involves one or more terribly different cultures. Within this rich diversity, each of us represents an intersection of colors, cultures, places and languages. To have this opportunity, to be yourself amidst this diversity, and at the same time to once a year slip into another’s skin and extend our empathy, is rare. YKB is an invaluable space where we have this opportunity to present, from a woman’s perspective, the multiplicity of the South Asian diaspora.

Barnali Ghosh: The pieces in YKB challenged my assumptions of who South Asian women are as well as assumptions I had about myself and what I was capable of when it came to speaking about these taboo issues. I have met and become friends with so many brave women through being part of the production. Performers are both amateurs and professionals and often women for whom it is the first time doing any kind of performance. There is no director and the cast provides the feedback, support and guidance that allow all of us to find our voice. This kind of non-hierarchical process is not something most of us are used to. But if we trust in it, it works out most of the time and in the case of YKB, in mind-blowing ways.

Neha Shah: I was thrilled to discover YKB about five years ago. I was in Washington, D.C. then, brought my mom to the show where I performed someone else’s piece. Her attending the show was a turning point in our evolving relationship and her realization that I am being an independent young woman. I think it broke the awkward barriers that are typical of Indian parent-child relationships where you just don’t discuss dating and sex.


SFBG What are you most excited about for the 10th anniversary performance of Yoni Ki Baat?

Creatrix Tiara: The piece I’m performing [The Word of Violence] is one of the earliest pieces in YKB’s history, but the writer has never been able to see it performed live. She’ll be attending this show and will see it performed for the first time. It’s nerve-racking but I hope I am able to give her piece the love and justice it deserves!

Anjali Verma Ruvalcaba: I am excited to simply be celebrating this with everyone who’s written, performed, and witnessed the show. There’s a lot of heart, blood, sweat, and tears that goes into this year after year. It’s all 110 percent volunteer-driven and based, which I can’t even begin to express how thankful I am because without that drive, or passion, we cannot build the emotional space needed to support one another through this process and then convince folks of our stories, be they ours or someone else’s, on stage for the world to see.

Bernali Ghosh: For me personally, I am excited about reprising a funny piece I did 2 years ago. Before I performed it for YKB I didn’t know that I could do humor as a performer. Humor can be really important to healing and way to balance some of our more serious topics, so I am looking forward to sharing laughs with the audience again!

Vandana Makker: Each piece holds a special memory for me, and it’s like looking through an old family photo album and reminiscing about all the things we’ve been through. I’m so proud of the show and what it’s grown to become and can’t wait to give it a proper birthday party.

Amruta: Yoni Ki Baat is the simple message emerging from this dizzying diversity. I am excited to be part of this established tradition that has repeatedly brought to the fore an array of experiences with which we can all empathize

Indira Chakrabarti: I’m anxious and nervous to perform my piece after a decade-long hiatus but am so cozy in a warm hug of support and encouragement from my sisters.

Neha Shah: This an amazing milestone for the movement. Social change via the arts is a necessary and effective way to bridge disparate ideologies—the diversity of voices that YKB has brought together is not a small feat. It reminds me of my favorite quote: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Yoni Ki Baat 10th anniversary shows

Sat/22, 6:30pm; Sun/23, 12:30pm (this show open to those who self-identify as female) and 5pm
$15 advance, $20 at the door
Women’s Building
3543 18th St, SF
Yoni Ki Baat online


‘Budapest,’ ‘Mars,’ and more: CAAMFest + new movies!


Last night heralded the opening of the Center for Asian American Media’s CAAMFest; it runs through March 23 at the Castro Theatre, 429 Castro, SF; Great Star Theater, 636 Jackson, SF; New Parkway Theater, 474 24th St, Oakl; New People Cinema, 1746 Post, SF; Pacific Film Archive, 2575 Bancroft, Berk; and Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, 1881 Post, SF. For tickets (most shows $12) and complete schedule, visit www.caamedia.org. For commentary, see “The Art of Martial Arts,” “Telling Tales, ” and “Women With Movie Cameras.”

New movies after the jump.

Better Living Through Chemistry Sam Rockwell, Olivia Wilde, and Michelle Monaghan star in this dark comedy about a mild-mannered pharmacist whose life is upended when he meets a pill-addicted trophy wife. (1:31) 

Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me See “Shooting Straight.” (1:21)

The Face of Love Five years after her husband, Garrett (Ed Harris), drowns while on vacation for their 30th anniversary, Nikki (Annette Bening) chances upon his exact double, Tom (Harris again). She pretends to be a divorcée and hides all photographic evidence that would out her reason for pursing Tom, an easygoing art professor and painter who actually is divorced (he’s buddies with his ex, a low-key Amy Brennemen). To her delight, he reciprocates her interest — but as their relationship grows, it becomes harder to conceal the, uh, doppelgänger situation from Nikki’s adult daughter (Jess Weixler) and neighbor (Robin Williams), a widower who’s jealous of Nikki’s new love. Harris and especially Bening are great — and they’re great together — but The Face of Love, from director and co-writer Arie Posin (2005’s The Chumscrubber), is the romantic melodrama equivalent of a one-joke comedy (with at least one Vertigo-inspired scene, and a drippy score that underlines every emotional story beat). The end to Nikki’s agonizing charade, and the end of the movie, can’t come soon enough. (1:32) (Cheryl Eddy)

Generation War German import Generation War was originally called Our Mothers, Our Fathers, to underline the relevancy of the discussion it’s presumably trying to stir at home — even if for many viewers the war generation would have been their grandparents’. Directed by Philipp Kadelbach and written by Stefan Kolditz, it starts out in dismayingly hackneyed fashion as we’re introduced to our youthful protagonists. Celebrating a birthday in 1941 near the war’s start, when Axis victory seems assured, they pose for a photo you know damn well is going to be the heart-tugging emblem of innocence horribly lost for the next 270 minutes. Fast-paced yet never achieving the psychological depth of similarly scaled historical epics, Generation War grows most interesting in its late going, when for all practical purposes the Allies have already won the war, but Germany continues to self-destruct. Imminent peace provides no relief for protagonists who’ve survived only to find themselves fucked no matter what side they stay on, or surrender to. That moral and situational complexity is too often missing in a narrative that aims for sympathy via simplicity. The underrated recent film version of The Book Thief (2013) was criticized for soft-pedaling the era, but it was about (and from the viewpoint of) somewhat sheltered Aryan children living in a civilian wartime. Generation War’s characters are of exactly the age to be fully indoctrinated young zealots, yet none of them seems touched by National Socialist dogma. Of course such naiveté is designed to maximize their later disillusionment. But War doesn’t even try to approach the serious analysis of national character in something like Ursula Hegi’s great novel Stones from the River, in which we come to understand how time, propaganda, and preyed-upon weaknesses can turn a town of perfectly nice Germans into fascists capable of turning a blind eye toward the Final Solution. Note: longer review here(4:30) (Dennis Harvey)

The Grand Budapest Hotel Is this the first Wes Anderson movie to feature a shootout? It’s definitely the first Anderson flick to include a severed head. That’s not to say The Grand Budapest Hotel, “inspired by” the works of Austrian novelist Stefan Zweig, represents too much of a shift for the director — his intricate approach to art direction is still very much in place, as are the deadpan line deliveries and a cast stuffed with Anderson regulars. But there’s a slightly more serious vibe here, a welcome change from 2012’s tooth-achingly twee Moonrise Kingdom. Thank Ralph Fiennes’ performance as liberally perfumed concierge extraordinare M. Gustave, which mixes a shot of melancholy into the whimsy, and newcomer Tony Revolori as Zero, his loyal lobby boy, who provides gravitas despite only being a teenager. (Being played by F. Murray Abraham as an older adult probably helps in that department.) Hotel‘s early 20th century Europe setting proves an ideal canvas for Anderson’s love of detail — the titular creation rivals Stanley Kubrick’s rendering of the Overlook Hotel — and his supporting cast, as always, looks to be enjoying the hell out of being a part of Anderson’s universe, with Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, and Adrien Brody having particularly oversized fun. Is this the best Wes Anderson movie since 2001’s The Royal Tenenbaums? Yes. (1:40) (Cheryl Eddy)

Love and Demons A man (Chris Pfleuger) in the midst of a midlife crisis, a woman (Lucia Frangione) starting to realize she’s completely dissatisfied with her life — does this relationship have a chance? Enter each partner’s personal demon, eager to have a hand in shaping events in what turns into a not-so-friendly competition. At first, the intervention seems helpful; the male demon encourages the man, a wannabe screenwriter, to get a better job, clean up the apartment, and blurt out feel-good-isms like “I want to build something together.” But what’s this about murder? Meanwhile, the female demon (Arnica Skulstad Brown) appears to be the ultimate gal pal, stroking the woman’s ego by telling her she could do so much better, going on shopping sprees with her, and sharing her stay-skinny coke stash. Temptations ahoy! Written, directed by, and costarring local filmmaker JP Allen (as the male demon, he’s the cast’s cigarette-smoking, smirking high point) this intriguing look at modern love earns bonus points for its excellent use of SF locations — and creative editing that helps break up the film’s many voice-overs and fourth-wall-breaking moments. (1:24) (Cheryl Eddy)

Need for Speed Breaking Bad‘s Aaron Paul stars in this tale of a breakneck cross-country car race, an adaptation of the popular video game. (2:10)

Particle Fever “We are hearing nature talk to us,” a physicist remarks in awe near the end of Particle Fever, Mark Levinson’s intriguing doc about the 2012 discovery of the Higgs boson particle. Earlier, another scientist says, “I’ve never heard of a moment like this in [science] history, where an entire field is hinging on a single event.” The event, of course, is the launch of the Large Hardon Collider, the enormous machine that enabled the discovery. Though some interest in physics is probably necessary to enjoy Particle Fever, extensive knowledge of quarks and such is not, since the film uses elegant animation to refresh the basics for anyone whose eyes glazed over during high-school science. But though he offers plenty of context, Levinson wisely focuses his film on a handful of genial eggheads who are involved in the project, either hands-on at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), or watching from afar as the mighty LHC comes to life. Their excitement brings a welcome warmth to the proceedings — and their “fever” becomes contagious. (1:39) (Cheryl Eddy)

Veronica Mars Since the cult fave TV show Veronica Mars went off the air in 2007, fans of the series, about a smart, cynical teenager who solves mysteries and battles her high school’s one percenters — a sort of adolescent noir minus the ex nihilo patois of Rian Johnson’s 2005 Brick — have had their hopes raised and dashed several times regarding the possibility of a big-screen coda. While that sort of scenario usually involves a few of the five stages of grief, this one has a twist happy ending: a full-length film, directed by show creator Rob Thomas and cowritten by Thomas and show producer-writer Diane Ruggiero (with a budget aided by a crowdfunding campaign), that doesn’t suck. It’s been a decade since graduation, and Veronica Mars (Kristen Bell) has put a continent between herself and her creepy, class war–torn hometown of Neptune, Calif. — leaving behind her P.I. vocation and a track record of exposing lies, corruption, and the dark side of the human soul in favor of a Columbia law degree and a career of covering up same. But when Logan Echolls (Jason Dohring), her brooding, troubled ex, gets charged with the murder of his pop star girlfriend and asks Veronica for help, she can’t resist the pull of what she admits is a pathological impulse. Plus, it’s her 10-year reunion. And indeed, pretty much anyone who had a character arc during the show’s three seasons makes an appearance — plus (naturally) James Franco, Dax Shepard (Bell’s husband), and (oddly) Ira Glass. It could have been a cameo fusillade, but the writing here is as smart, tight, funny, and involving as it was on the TV series, and Thomas and Ruggiero for the most part manage to thread everyone in, taking pressure off a murder mystery that falls a little flat, updating the story to reflect current states of web surveillance and pop cultural mayhem, and keeping the focus on the joy of seeing Veronica back where she belongs. (1:43) (Lynn Rapoport)

Momofuku crack for Pi Day? Geometrelicious.


Drop that protractor and grab a fork — tomorrow is Pi Day (3/14, heh). And for a mere $3.14, you can get a slice of fantastic, and fantastically named, pie, 3:14pm-7pm at Dear Mom, courtesy of a startup pop-up.

Some of these pies on offer are pretty famous, and no I’m not going to make a Piethagorus joke here. Nerd! (Just Euclidding.)

Full crumbly-crusted release, with mouthwatering pieday rundown, after the jump.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – Goldbely, the popular gourmet food delivery startup, will celebrate PI Day this Friday, March 14, with a pop-up at Dear Mom (2700 16th St.) featuring a selection of thirteen pies freshly sourced from nine exceptional regional American bakeries, including three offerings from Christina Tosi’s Momofuku Milk Bar in New York and Twedes Cafe’s “Twin Peaks Cherry Pie,” a Washington state favorite made famous by David Lynch’s “Twin Peaks” TV series.

To celebrate the day’s mathematical roots, all slices will be sold for $3.14, and will come with one drink ticket redeemable for a complementary craft cocktail paired specifically to the chosen slice (limited to one drink per person, though multiple pie slices may be purchased). The pop-up begins at 3:14pm and ends at 7pm, or when supply runs out. In addition, Goldbely.com will also be running a day-long promotion: for every whole pie purchased online, customers will have the option to ship a second to a friend for $3.14.

The pies on offer include such highlights as: Momofuku Milk Bar’s “Crack Pie” (New York, NY) A deceptively simple concoction that features common pantry items, like vanilla and cream, in a delicious oat cookie crust for a rich and buttery experience that’s as addictive as its name suggests. Twedes Cafe’s “Twin Peaks Cherry Pie” (North Bend, WA) The pie that ABC’s “Twin Peaks” made famous. Its delicate and flakey crust holds a warm and jammy filling of Washington-sourced sweet cherries. As Special Agent Dale Cooper would say, it’s “one damn good cherry pie.” Mike’s Pies’ “Killer Key Lime Pie” (Tampa, FL) A true key lime pie from the Sunshine State. This four-time National Pie Championship winner has earned its place as one of the best, with a crunchy graham cracker crust and a tart, custard-smooth filling flavored with juice from Florida key limes.

Full menu:
Momofuku Milk Bar “Crack Pie” (New York, NY)
Momofuku Milk Bar “Grasshopper Pie” (New York, NY)
Momofuku Milk Bar “Candy Bar Pie” (New York, NY)
Achatz Handmade Pie Co. “Crumb Michigan 4-Berry Pie” (Chesterfield, MI)
Achatz Handmade Pie Co. “Caramel Nut Apple Pie” (Chesterfield, MI)
Twedes Cafe “Twin Peaks Cherry Pie” (North Bend, WA)
Nick’s Kitchen “Hoosier Sugar Cream Pie” (Huntington, IN)
Goode Co. “Brazos Bottom Pecan Pie” (Houston, TX)
Mike’s Pies “Killer Key Lime Pie” (Tampa, FL)
Mike’s Pies “REESE’S Peanut Butter Pie” (Tampa, FL)
Dutch Haven “ShooFly Pie” (Ronks, PA)
Kern’s Kitchen “Derby Pie” (Louisville, KY)
Nikki J’s “Sweet Potato Thang” (Rowlett, TX)

Goldbely pops up for PI Day

Friday, March 14, 2014


Dear Mom (2700 16th St, SF)

Cost: $3.14 per slice

Movers/Shakers: Two rare visits by European contemporary dance-makers this weekend


Here are two very special opportunities to see (and, in at least one case, join in on) the work of some leading European contemporary dance/performance makers passing through town this weekend…

My Own Bodies – a solo for many

Sweden-based Shake it Collaborations (SiC) is an internationally active company comprised of Tove Sahlin and Dag Andersson. A small crowd of friends and acquaintances was in attendance last Sunday, in the Tenderloin, for the couple’s highly social duet, Roses & Beans, which featured no roses (but a few flowers) and no beans (but one hell of a layer cake). Deploying exuberant as well as exasperated movement, popular song (sung a cappella and sometimes directly into each other’s mouths), and a shrewd sense of humor, the piece sparked and built upon spontaneous interactions with and among the audience — all the while exploring various frames for the conception, reception, transmission, rejection, and abeyance of love as an organizing principle.

It was a memorable encounter, and, fortunately, not the last: This Friday and Saturday at CounterPULSE, Tove Sahlin will perform her everybody-in-the-pool solo, My Own Bodies.

The piece, which premiered in Stockholm’s House of Dance in 2013, is a 40-minute shakeout in which the audience contributes to a “common shake action.” The piece explores shaking as movement, as metaphor, as empathetic medium, as emotional trigger and state, and whatever else ends up on the floor. Come ready to quake. It should be a Richter 9.

Fri/28–Sat/1, 8pm, free (RSVP at counterpulse.org)


1310 Mission, SF



An Evening of Contemporary Dance

Meanwhile, a few blocks away on Market, you can find ACT’s Costume Shop alive this Saturday night with two more contemporary dance pieces.

From Italy, well-known choreographer and dancer Caterina Basso presents Il Volume Com’era, her solo piece, which was selected for the Venice Biennale project Prima Danza in 2013.

“The project arises primarily from the desire to be alone in the room and to work on movement, movement that is not guided by the prompting of others,” reads Basso’s statement from the Biennale premiere. “The work takes shape on the basis of a body that moves invisible objects, in a kind of action composed of displacements and short paths through the spaces. A fragmented but natural pace that is transmitted by the activity of the hands to the entire body. A fragile body because it is blocked by clearly defined limits, it seeks a place but is an obstacle to itself, its parts do not collaborate, as if each of them were engaging in passive resistance. A body that cannot find a suitable place, the comfort of feeling welcomed in a detail of time and space, the relief of a relationship. A halting movement that becomes rhythm, which searches for the way out of paths and rules, without really finding them.”

Sharing the bill with Basso are San Francisco dancer-choreographers Liz Tenuto and Monique Jenkinson, who will reprise the excellent duet they premiered at last year’s West Wave festival: the witty, sensual, vital Am I Square?

Sat/1, 8pm, $10

ACT Costume Shop

1117 Market, SF 

RSVP to bbasso@act-sf.org

The spectacular docs of Sundance and Slamdance 2014


Hilla Medalia and Shosh Shlam’s Web Junkie (Israel-China-US) is an eye-opening investigation into China’s declared number-one threat against youth: internet addiction. The doc observes as kids are sent (often against their will) to video-game rehab — and the takeaway is that many generation-gapped parents are even more clueless about emotions than their sons.


On a similar note was Kate Logan’s Kidnapped For Christ (US/Dominican Republic), which screened at Slamdance. As the film shows, thousands of unmonitored rehabilitation schools have popped up over North America that are filled with kids who are sent (again, often against their will) by their parents. Logan, a young evangelical filmmaker, was granted unprecedented access inside one of these controversial “Christian behavior modification programs,” and finds that things are most definitely not what they are suppose to be. Haunting and extrememly upsetting, the film’s similarities to Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady’s Jesus Camp (2006) are inevitable. But Logan’s own safety being put on the line adds a more urgent note of danger as events unfold. 

Back at Sundance, Göran Olsson’s Concerning Violence (Sweden/Finland/Denmark/US) was easily the standout from the World Cinema Documentary category this year. Similarly structured to his 2011 film The Black Power Mixtape 1967–1975, this jawdropping “fly on the wall” archival journey lets the viewer piece together the struggles of African liberation of the 1960s and 1970s. Psychologist-philosopher Frantz Fanon’s seminal anticolonial text, The Wretched of the Earth, is the only narration for this visual narrative (read by Lauryn Hill). Watch this at all costs. 

Don’t let Tony Gerber and Maxim Pozdorovkin’s The Notorious Mr. Bout (Russia/US) fall in between the cracks of festival mania this year. Bout follows the man who inspired one of Nicolas Cage’s best dramatic turns in Andrew Niccol’s Lord of War (2005), and it will send tingles down your spine. 

But nothing can prepare you for the winner of this year’s US Documentary Grand Jury Prize winner: Tracy Droz Tragos and Andrew Droz Palermo’s Rich Hill (US). Following three struggling youths in a Missouri small town, the filmmakers have created the perfect allegory for our “United” States of America. Broken-down homes and families are housing complex and confused young kids whose futures are terrifyingly bleak. The filmmakers’ unobtrusive, Wiseman-esque camerwork allow the quietest of moments to suddenly turn on a dime. And we the audience are forced to confront a dilemma that does not just get fixed by placing a website at the end of the credits.

Favorite Narratives of 2014 Park City

1. Memphis (US) – Tim Sutton

2. Boyhood (US) – Richard Linklater

3. Ida (Poland) – Paweł Pawlikowski

4. The Guest (US) – Adam Wingard/Simon Barrett

5. The One I Love (US) – Charlie McDowell

6. Nymphomaniac: Part One (Denmark/Germany/France) – Lars Von Trier

7. White Shadow (Italy/Germany/Tanzania) – Noaz Deshe

8. Love Is Strange (US) – Ira Sachs

9. The Better Angels (US) – A.J. Edwards/Terence Malick

10. The Trip to Italy (UK/Italy) – Michael Winterbottom

11. Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter (US/Japan) – The Zellner Brothers

12. Cold In July (US) – Jim Mickle

13. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (US) – Ana Lily Amirpour

14. Listen Up Phillip (US) – Alex Ross Perry

Slamdance Film Festival 2014 report!


Twenty years ago, a few filmmakers — including Dan Mirvish, Peter Baxter, and Paul Rachman — rented out a room in a Prospector Square hotel, creating the first Slamdance Film Festival

Their motivation: “the other film festival in Park City” had perhaps lost some of its independent spirit. Over the years this “little festival that could” has continued to showcase emerging filmmakers. Some of those upstarts have achieved A-list status since their Slamdance debuts: Christopher Nolan (more on him below) and Marc Forster, for example. 

Nolan was given Slamdance’s inaugural Founder’s Award. The acclaimed director arrived with his entire family in tow to accept the award, including wife Emma Thomas, who has been his producing partner in crime since his 1998 debut, Following

“We’ve grown up together in every sense but particularly in filmmaking,” Nolan said. “We began making 16mm films together and that’s evolved into studio work. As a filmmaker the best thing you can possibly have is somebody close to you who can support you, but who also knows your weaknesses and your strengths and has no other agenda than to make the best film it can be and see you do the best work as a director. That’s what Emma’s been for me.” 

Nolan softly spoke about how this DIY film festival helped him and his ultra low-budget ($6,000) first feature. “What Slamdance teaches you is that while it’s wonderful to have a great community of filmmakers around you, you have to be prepared to do everything yourself. That’s something that never goes away. You have to be prepared to carry the flag for the film because if you’re not, nobody else is going to bother.”

This year’s Slamdance opener was Bill Plympton‘s Cheatin’ (US), which showcased 40,000 hand drawn pictures. Holding true to the imperfect beauty of his drawing style, Plympton used Kickstarter funds to create a genuinely surreal and delightful feature amongst a sea of VFX and CGI animated films that rule the cinematic schools these days. 

The nostalgic story of a couple’s relationship woes as they desperately groan and grumble through life’s complications has the possibility to be Plympton’s biggest crossover to date, particularly among Pixar-fan types who have recognized that cartoons aren’t just for kids. French audiences seem to already be celebrating Cheatin’ and you should do the same at your first opportunity.

Monja Art and Caroline Bobek’s Forever Not Alone (Austria) is an hypnotic ‘tween documentary that allows its subjects to speak for themselves. It throws the viewer into the thick of what it’s like to be a young girl today. While it explores the trials and tribulations of being young, fun, and hopelessly in love, it also captures youth’s melancholy side. The end result is not only a time capsule for its subjects, but also a haunting reminder of a time older audiences may have forgotten.

Slamdance’s Jury Prize Winner also screened at the recent SF IndieFest: Fernando Frias’ Rezeta (Mexico), a small, wonderful film. An Albanian (well, it’s complicated) woman named Rezeta finds herself in Mexico City, bouncing around from one modeling gig to the next. As she looks for love in all the wrong places she befriends metal dude Alex, who talks to her like a human being while sporting a Neurosis hoodie. The honest conversations, difficult egocentric dilemmas, and a memorably unsentimental structure make Frias’ debut feature a must-see.

But perhaps my favorite film at Slamdance this year was Paul Rachman’s six-minute Zoë Rising (US) which continues his exploration into the life and death of exploitation star Zoë Tamerlis Lund, this time interviewing her mother. Her claim to fame was starring in Abel Ferrara’s X-rated masterpiece Ms. 45 (1981) as well writing the original screenplay to his most critically acclaimed gem, the NC-17 Bad Lieutenant (1992). Rachman, who previously helmed the wonderful punk/no wave documentary American Hardcore (2005), has massive plans over the next couple of years to dive deeper into this character study, hoping to include interviews with Ferrara, Harvey Keitel, other of Lund’s close friends and family members. 

What’s so unique about both short films — the first film, Zoë XO (2006),  interviewed her ex-husband — is that Rachman allows the interviewees to be working on their own projects while they discuss Lund. It’s reminiscent of Penelope Spheeris’ interview technique in her Decline of Western Civilization films. He also experiments with sound and image, suggesting an aesthetic that feels like Richard Kern eating the montage pioneer Slavko Vorkapich. It is a rare kind of cinema and it has the possibility of blossoming into something truly special.

Speaking of short films, 2014’s “other film festival in Park City” is worth revisiting one last time for its true standouts. Sundance’s best short was Andre Hyland’s seven-minute screwball laugh-riot Funnel (US) which follows a guy on his cell phone. Bob Odenkirk has put his name on the film which will hopefully get Hyland an entire TV series, because I could watch this dude’s ramblings all day. 

Janicza Bravo’s Gregory Go Boom (US), starring a wheelchair-bound Michael Cera, rides a thin line towards a Todd Solondz/Harmony Korine-esque Americana, which may or may not hit the mark. Either way, this 17-minute trek most definitely is a great calling card for its young director. 

Todd Rohal’s Rat Pack Rat (US) won a Special Jury Prize at Sundance for its “unique vision.” Eddie Rouse delivers a memorable performance as a Sammy Davis Jr. impersonator — and let’s just say Eastbound and Down‘s scene-stealing Stevie (Steve Little) takes things to an oddly dark comedy zone. Like Gregory Go Boom, Rat Pack Rat may or may not hit the mark for some. But I have found myself thinking about this 18-minute short long after the festival.

Video: Behind the scenes at Goldies photoshoots


Behind the scenes on two photoshoots for the SF Bay Guardian’s 25th annual Guardian Outstanding Local Discovery arts awards. Winners Malic Amalya (film) and Brontez Purnell (performance/music) are featured in the video, with photographers Saul Bromberger and Sandra Hoover, who have been photographing Goldies winners for the past 18 years.

Music is from Brontez’s band, The Younger Lovers. The featured song is “Get Up, Get Up.”


Sundance, fin: more from the Native Forum


Running into Chris Eyre was easily one of the most exciting moments of this year’s festival. Following his 1998 Audience Award-winning debut, Smoke Signals, Eyre premiered Skins at Sundance 2002, just a few months after 9/11 — and it still ranks as one of the most memorable cinematic experiences I’ve ever had. 

After the film, which offers a harrowing look at a sheriff on the Pine Ridge reservation (which is still to this day the poorest in the nation), Park City audiences were dumbfounded as to how to respond. Producer Jon Kilik, who also helped Spike Lee with his ensemble masterpieces Do the Right Thing (1989) and Clockers (1995) was on hand with director Eyre as they plowed through us progressive pit fallers at Sundance. “We are all responsible.” Eyre’s words are still stuck in my head. 

Other than directing a couple of Friday Night Lights episodes and a few TV movies, Eyre has since had difficulty getting features financed. Make sure to track down his stunning 40-minute A Thousand Roads (2005), created for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian. It showcases a harrowing score by Dead Can Dance’s Lisa Gerrard. 

And so the baton seems to have been passed to 34-year-old Oklahoma-based Sterlin Harjo, who read a segment from Hal Ashby’s Bound To Glory (1976), an ode to folk pioneer Woody Guthrie, at the Native Forum anniversary celebration. It perfectly connected his regional stories to a larger context. 

Harjo’s third feature, documentary This May Be the Last Time (US) is a historian’s as well as musicologist’s dream, as Harjo attempts to uncover his grandfather’s disappearance in 1962. As he traces the origins of the Seminole songs that he grew up with, he learns that his tribe’s singing style is tied to traditions that originated in Scotland, Appalachia, and the experiences of enslaved African Americans.

With a film that plays out similarly to Malik Bendjelloul’s Searching For Sugar Man (2012), Harjo has constructed a deeply moving personal documentary that transcends the region, and can connect to anyone interested in our country’s complicated colonialism. 

I was able to track Sterlin Harjo down post-fest for a quick interview, and he’s as thoughtful and as passionate as his films suggest. Smoke Signals and Jim Jarmusch’s acid-western Dead Man (1995) both came out at the perfect time to open Harjo’s eyes to filmmaking as a possible career.

“Jarmusch did such a wonderful job with Dead Man, even better than some Native filmmakers. The language, the wardrobe, the regions, it was all so well researched. And the film isn’t about an Indian; it’s about a human who’s complicated, with a dark side and a lighter side,” he said. After graduating from the University of Oklahoma in 1998, Harjo found that he had to leave home to begin reflecting on his own part of the country. 

After completing the Sundance Lab and Native Forum through the Sundance Institute, Harjo made his debut feature, Four Sheets to the Wind (2007), a terrific hipster comedy about a twenty-something who takes a trip to visit his sister off the reservation. “The film is a reactionary Native film to the reactionary Native films that I grew up with. I wanted to contradict the newly formed stereotypes from within the community. No one was going to walk around talking about ‘being an Indian,’ because that didn’t happen in my world. There’s an integrated relationship with a white woman and no one was going to comment on it. Indians were going to drink beer and smoke pot and it wasn’t going to be an issue.”

Though star Tamara Podemski won an Independant Spirit Award nomination as well as a Special Jury Prize at Sundance for her “fully realized physical and emotional turn,” the film ran into categorical problems from distributors. “There were supposedly three-hour meetings about how the film was ‘too Indian’ as well as ‘not Native enough’,” he recalled. 

And here lies perhaps the biggest problem with second-generation Native/Indigenous cinema; Who wants to watch these films? Harjo’s follow-up, 2009’s Barking Water, which premiered at Sundance, spotlights a powerhouse performance by Richard Ray Whitman as a man dying of cancer trying to get back home. 

With shades of David Lynch’s The Straight Story (1999), this poignant piece engages the viewer thoroughly through the struggles of generation gaps in our contemporary culture. And all the while, it exposes Oklahoma’s quiet and even “magical” ambiance, according to Harjo. 

“It’s true, all of my films are centered around ‘Home’. That’s ‘Home’ with a capital H because growing up, displacement was a constant subject taught to us. The Trail of Tears seems to still be affecting us to this day. And so ‘Home’ is sacred and part of our mythology yet we are aware of it often feeling temporary. Funny enough, my next film Chief (which is a term used for homeless Natives) is centered around the loss of home when a man is forced to head to Tulsa, where he becomes homeless and finds himself in the middle of the city’s homeless population. You could call it a poetic thriller.” 

Harjo is exactly the type of filmmaker I hope to uncover at film festivals: his work is thought-provoking, passionate, and energized. It’s now up to us to seek out and watch his films so that we don’t read about him 30 years from now and ponder “it’s too bad those second-generation filmmakers didn’t make more cinema.”


Sundance, part 11: Celebrating the 20th annual Native Forum


The current second-generation movement of Native/Indigenous filmmakers took the spotlight at the Sundance Film Festival’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of its annual Native Forum. 

The event gathered some of the most important figures from around the world to not only screen their most recent films but to share artistic works that inspired them to become filmmakers themselves. Sundance favorite Taika Waitita — a self-proclaimed “Academy Award-losing filmmaker” for his 2005 short Two Cars, One Night, he’s best-known for his wonderfully quirky 2007 film Eagle vs. Shark — read a sequence from Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker (1979), while his vampire comedy What We Do in the Shadows (co-directed with Flight of the Conchords‘ Jermaine Clement) enraptured Midnight Movie audiences at the 2014 festival. 

Heather Rae, director of the powerful 2005 documentary Trudell, read a piece from Trinh T. Minh-ha’s remarkably eye-opening text Woman, Native, Other: Writing Postcoloniality and Feminism

And even though Smoke Signals (1998) helmer Chris Eyre (the defining first generation filmmaker) brought the house down by reading an entire Sherman Alexie short story (Alexie also wrote Signals), filmmaker Billy Luther — who directed the documentary Miss Navajo (2007)  — further took the edge off of things by reading a memorable scene from The Golden Girls. But I found myself most drawn to Sydney Freeland and Sterlin Harjo’s readings. Both filmmakers also had features in the festival.

Freeland wrote and directed her stunning debut, Drunktown’s Finest, which showcases lively performances by Jeremiah Bitsui (Victor from Breaking Bad) and newcomer Carmen Moore. The wonderfully entangled screenplay weaves together its Navajo characters, subjects, and themes with powerful precision, announcing Freeland as a voice to be taken seriously. 

In a post-fest interview I learned that ensemble films — as widely varied as Casablanca (1942) and Amores Perros (2000) — inspired her greatly, which led me and other viewers to retrace some of Drunktown‘s more compelling plot twists. The film’s complicated dealings with a MTF trans-woman are enlightened, as are the ways it explores the Navajo Nation’s beliefs about a third gender: nàdleehì, meaning “one who is transformed” or “one who changes.”

Ironically, the filmmaker explained, “I had to leave the reservation and move to San Francisco to learn about this.” Freeland’s own interests changed dramatically after finding photography and filmmaking in college. “Making movies just was not an option growing up. Other fine arts were being taught, like pottery and weaving, but not filmmaking.” 

When asked about the growing number of native filmmakers, she attributes much of it to technology’s increasing accessibility, via phones and digital cameras.nd Drunktown’s Finest has achieved what second-generation movements have the power to do: complicate matters. 

Part two coming tomorrow, with Sundance vet Sterlin Harjo (who screened his first documentary, This May Be the Last Time, at Sundance 2014) and Smoke Signals’ Chris Eyre.

Sundance part 10: Happy Valentine’s Day!


Four memorable movies about frisky females from the 2014 Sundance Film Festival

1) Desiree Akhavan wrote, directed, and stars (with deadpan aplomb) in Appropriate Behavior (US/UK), a tremendously personal story about growing up as a bisexual woman in a Persian family in New York. 

2) David Wnendt’s Wetlands (Germany) knocks the ball out of the park, adapting German author Charlotte Roche’s 2008 raunchfest. Lead actress Carla Juri immerses herself in the role of Helen as deeply as the character sticks her fingers into every orifice of her body. While perhaps attempting to attack too many issues from the original text, the film lives up to its scandalous reputation; it sent many audience members into fits of confusion for its graphic sexuality and obsessive behavior in regards to bodily fluids. 

3) Gillian Robespierre’s Obvious Child (US) gave comedian Jenny Slate more than enough material to chomp on when she’s dumped, fired, and impregnated all in time for Valentine’s Day. This classic indie ditty knows what it wants and grabs it with both hands. Buy advance tix when this comes your way: it’s clearly this year’s Juno (2007), but, you know, without the backlash. 

4) Gregg Araki’s White Bird in a Blizzard (US) stars Shailene Woodley — of The Spectacular Now (2013) and The Descendants (2011), and about to break huge in Divergent. Writer-director Araki (an indie legend for films like 1995’s The Doom Generation) returns to the contemplative maturity he explored in Mysterious Skin (2004). This time, he takes on a young woman dealing with the disappearance of her mother. 

The melancholy soundtrack by Harold Budd and Robin Guthrie gives the film a Twin Peaks ambiance (never a bad thing), plus there’s the added bonus of Gabourey Sidibe as the main character’s hilarious BFF. Araki hasn’t lost his unique clunkiness that keeps him at the level of festival favorite, but White Bird may be his breakthrough (again) at last. You could do a lot worse than this. 

Next week: a look at Sundance’s Native Forum, and reports from the 2014 Slamdance Film Festival!

Trunk show: Anchor launches its new IPA


Read Sam Devine’s story on Anchor’s planned waterfront brewery in this week’s paper.

Last week, Anchor Brewing and Distilling launched an IPA to much fanfare at their Mariposa Street brewery. Initially, one may be surprised that Anchor has joined the frenzy of hoppy West Coast beers. But this is not the first IPA it has released. Originally brewed in 1975, its Liberty Ale was the first IPA to be brewed on the West Coast after Prohibition.

So Anchor is not just hopping on the bandwagon. It’s getting back on the wagon that they hopped in the first place — with Cascade hops, and while experimenting with dry-hopping methods.

The new Anchor IPA has a rich copper color and a sweet, hoppy aroma. Mildy bitter to taste, it has a good burst of hop flavor and a grainy, malty back end. It finishes crisp-to-dry and does not have the lingering grapefruit that many an IPA offers. All in all, it’s a well-balanced, easy to drink beverage.

The release party was quite a shindig, cramming a happy throng amidst the copper kettles and in the tap room. “Passport Stations” were set up along the way as a sort of parlor game, educating the crowd on the beer’s rich history and explaining the use of the elephant on the new beer label.

The first kiosk asked party-goers to devise which statement was false: a) IPA stands for India Pale Ale, b) IPAs became popular in the 18th century, c) Production of IPAs expanded with exportation to India.

The answer is b)! India Pale Ales became popular in the 19th century through shipments to that faraway place where elephants roamed.

The next station featured bowls of the of six varieties of hops used in the new beer: cascade, Apollo, Citra, Nelson Sauvin, Haas, and Experimental No. 431. “It smells like weed,” said one party-goer holding a handful of little green buds. And it really does.

Another way-point described the antiquated phrase “See the Elephant,” which was a 19th century term for heading toward adventure: “Tom, I’m off to ‘see the elephant.’ Wish me luck.” “You’re a fool, Jones.” “Go fly a kite, Tom!” The phrase was supposedly bandied about quite a bit during the Gold Rush, tying the elephant label neatly in with Anchor’s late 19th century roots.

Last but not least was a station for the Performing Animal Welfare Society. This non-profit advocates against the use of animals for entertainment and maintains wildlife sanctuaries for “rescued performers.” We learned that, sadly — no matter how well an elephant is treated in captivity — controlling and training an animal of that size requires some unpleasant techniques, leaving the animal with an unhappy childhood.

Doin’ all that-there learnin’ was made easier by confections and freely pouring taps. Boccalone, makers of fine cured meats, sliced up “delicious pig parts,” and Three Twins Ice Cream handed out two specially-made ice creams. One was the flavor of IPA and the other tasted of Bock beer. In addition to those treats, the evening’s caterers, Melon’s, had a surprise hit with their grilled-cheese-and-apple sandwiches.

Much of the staff, from CEO, to brewer, to tour guide were on hand. Alas, no show from Fritz Maytag, but he is officially retired now and immersed in his many hobbies — too occupied to bother donning silly hats in a photo booth while imbibing ales… perhaps wisely so.

Sundance, part nine: Foodies! Vampires! Kill! Kill!


Miss any earlier Sundance coverage? Scroll down right here on Pixel Vision.

Blind (Norway/Netherlands) is the directorial debut of Eskil Vogt, screenwriter of Joachim Trier’s Reprise (2006) and Oslo, August 31st (2012). It does not disappoint, and — appropriately enough, considering its writer-director’s background — it won the World Cinema Prize for Screenwriting.

Blind follows three characters through their loneliness and internal obsessions. Pay attention, because things start to twist and turn in ways that left me wanting to immediately watch the film again as soon as it ended.


Michael Winterbottom’s The Trip to Italy (UK/Italy) picks up where 2010’s The Trip left off. Once again, traveling companions and frenemies Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon (playing exaggerated versions of themselves) hit the road — in Italy this time, as the title suggests — to taste fancy foods, fret over their mid-life crises, and launch into a variety of impressions, inevitably competing with each other. (The Michael Caine bit from the first film, culled like its sequel from a BBC miniseries, was a viral sensation). My fingers and toes are already crossed for a third entry. 

Ana Lily Amirpour’s A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (US/Iran) is the type of indie film that has the power to pop up on top 10 lists at the end of the year. This Iranian vampire western (yep) — shot in anamorphic ratio 2.40:1 — is blessed with a secret weapon: its director’s audacious style and aggressive risk-taking. During the Q&A, Amirpour sported a t-shirt depicting Bobby Peru — Willem Dafoe’s sleazy character in Wild at Heart (1991) — as well a giant bandage over her right eye. 

After shouting out her responses to audience comments about how A Girl reminded them of early Jim Jarmusch and David Lynch films, and spaghetti westerns, she concluded the event by explaining she had a concussion from smacking her head on her balcony the night before. She needed 35 stitches, she explained, and by the way, if any of us wanted to see photos of her gash, they could come up after the film. 

I genuinely hope her brain stays loose when making her next movie. Hers is a loud and refreshing voice that suggests more greatness to come.

Sole-searching: get to know local shoe designers Freda Salvador


Freda is mysterious and anonymous.

She walks the hills of San Francisco with purpose. Her style is classic, a bit androgynous, with flair for edginess. She’s always up for new adventures. She marches to the beat of her own drum. She’s fashion-forward but she values comfort, veering away from the misconception that beauty is pain. She loves rock ‘n’ roll. She’s a San Francisco chick through and through.

Freda Salvador is the creation of San Francisco residents Cristina Palomo-Nelson and Megan Papay. Combining their mutual obsession for Frida Kalho (“more like her badass persona than her folkloric art”) and Palomo-Nelson’s El Salvadorian origins, the duo created footwear brand Freda Salvador. They launched the company two years ago with the intention of bringing contemporary artisan shoes to Bay Area Fredas.

“We wanted to create a fictional character that’s bigger than us,” explains Palomo-Nelson in the company’s Union Street design studio and flagship store

The Freda Salvador store is a combination of the pair’s personal styles: Palomo-Nelson sticks to the classics with an edge, wearing an oversized blazer, a simple white blouse, ripped jeans and the line’s popular black “Star” Jodhpur ankle boots. She comes from a shoe-making family in Central America; her studies in fashion and footwear design brought her to Milan and then San Francisco, where she’s lived for 13 years.

Her blonde counterpart, Papay, veers toward a simple bohemian look with paint-stained jeans, a boxy sweater, a chunky statement necklace, and her favorite “Roam” lace-up combat boots with studded welt. Papay hails from the East Coast, via Delaware, Virginia, and New York City, where she began her fashion career in celebrity styling for Calvin Klein, then at top fashion public relations firms. Her husband’s job moved her to San Francisco, where she began working at a comfort footwear company. The soft-spoken designers met there, working together for a year.

“The chemistry was really great,” says Papay. “Our desire to create the same aesthetic of shoe was there so we decided to do our own thing and launch Freda.”

With Palomo-Nelson’s background in footwear construction and Papay’s experience in fashion trends, the footwear brand has become a household name in the industry. Seen on the heels of fashion bloggers, in magazine editorials, and on fashion must-have lists, Freda shoes balance high fashion aesthetics with no-fuss comfort.

“A big source of our inspiration comes from men’s shoes,” says Palomo-Nelson. “Easy, classic, concentration on lines and materials.”

“And wearable details,” adds Papay. “In ladies’ fashion, the details are a little bit bizarre to the point where they’re not wearable or understandable. In men’s shoes the flair is always wearable because no boy is going to sacrifice anything for style.”

The designers prefer to stick to classic shapes like Jodhpur boots, oxfords, and loafers and incorporate some sort of edgy detail: removable bracelets and harnesses, mixed leathers, haircalf accents, and studded soles. 

With San Francisco consumers in mind, the designs rely heavily on comfort. Each shoe is entirely made of leather with padded footbeds. “They’re made to be put on at 7 o’clock in the morning and taken off at 11 o’clock at night,” says Papay. “Our shoes are perfect for the city, walkable and urban.”

The beauty of the shoes also lies in the craftsmanship. Palomo-Nelson and Papay travel to Italy twice a year to pick out leathers for the next season. They then design the shoes in San Francisco based on trend watching and trips to New York Fashion Week. After that, they travel to Spain for production. The shoes are handmade in a small family-run factory in Elda, Spain.

“We truly are blessed. We live in one of the best cities in the world. We travel to New York for shows all the time and then Italy and Spain for our production,” says Palomo-Nelson.

The San Francisco flagship store is the company’s only retail location and doubles as the pair’s design studio. With wood paneling and staircase, the store mixes a rustic, comfort atmosphere with modern simplicity. The shoes are aligned on metal shelves and vintage bookcases in the first room. A small Dia de los Muertos-inspired shrine to Frida Khalo sits on a shelf in the corner. On the walls of the second room are framed old black and white photos. In the third room — the design studio — a giant mood board with color swatches, fashion editorials and a large painting of Frida Kahlo hangs above a large wooden table.

“It was in our five year plan,” says Palomo-Nelson about setting up a retail location. “But I think it’s the best thing we could have done. We really built a presence and a brand point with our physical location where people can experience not just the shoes but also the aesthetic of who we are and our designs.”

At the store, the designers will occasionally get phone calls asking for Freda. They also sell T-shirts with the question “Who is Freda Salvador” printed. But there is no answer: This mysterious woman was created so that women could build their own idea of Freda based on their personal style and inspirations.

“We’re like, ‘No, there actually is no Freda,’” says Papay. “But it’s good. It’s meant to be that way.”

Sundance, part eight: a quickie, for Leos Carax lovers


Tessa Louise-Salame’s ode to France’s punk-rock filmmaker Mr. leos caraX (France), or simply Mr. X,  traces his 30 year career while also showcasing Denis Lavant, who stars in all five of his feature films.

Carax seems to have affected more than a few around the world, most recently with his surreal romanticism in Holy Motors (2012).

This artful documentary will inspire you to head straight to your queue and add Mauvais Sang (1986),


Les Amants du Pont-Neuf (1991),


and Pola X (1999).

Sundance, part seven: What is a BABADOOK?


A quick tip for today’s entry: make sure not to miss Jennifer Kent’s hair-raising, toe-squinching, and all-around terrifying Australian horror film, The Babadook.

The first screening for the midnight crowd at Park City’s Egyptian Theatre had people shrieking and gasping throughout. Kent’s psychological terror film is steeped in silent-era imagery; she was clearly inspired by films like F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu (1922) and Tod Browning’s lost masterpiece London After Midnight (1927). 

Star Essie Davis’ performance is downright hypnotic. She plays a single mom doing what she can to protect her little boy — no thanks to the film’s sound design, which offers a masterful blend that ranges from nuanced manipulation to bone-shattering shocks. (I’m betting that upon multiple viewings, the soundtrack will prove even more disturbing due to Kent’s methodical madness.)

What’s all the more exciting about this low-budget creepfest is Kent’s insistence on using stop-motion special effects instead of CGI. In a post-film Q&A, she mentioned 1920s German animator Lotte Reiniger, whose pioneering “cutout” animated film The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926) is the oldest surviving animated feature in the world. (Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs didn’t come out until 1937.) 

The results are immensely refreshing and quite thought-provoking — in fact, I got into a few lively discussions (ok, arguments) with some other critics who were confused by some of the film’s philosophical choices. I think that’s exactly how IFC Midnight Distribution is hoping audiences will react, since they picked up the US theatrical rights halfway through the festival. Boo yeah!


New movies: Clooney, vampires, stellar imports, and more!


This week’s big release, George Clooney’s The Monuments Men, is a dud. So what else should you see instead? Options include a pair of well-received foreign imports (Gloria and Stranger by the Lake), as well as a tribute to a 1980s comedy classic courtesy of SF Sketchfest. Read on!

Gloria The titular figure in Sebastian Lelio’s film is a Santiago divorcee and white collar worker (Paulina Garcia) pushing 60, living alone in a condo apartment — well, almost alone, since like Inside Llewyn Davis, this movie involves the frequent, unwanted company of somebody else’s cat. (That somebody is an upstairs neighbor whose solo wailings against cruel fate disturb her sleep.) Her two children are grown up and preoccupied with their adult lives. Not quite ready for the glue factory yet, Gloria often goes to a disco for the “older crowd,” dancing by herself if she has to, but still hoping for some romantic prospects. She gets them in the form of Rodolfo (Sergio Hernandez), who’s more recently divorced but gratifyingly infatuated with her. Unfortunately, he’s also let his daughters and ex-wife remain ominously dependent on him, not just financially but in every emotional crisis that affects their apparently crisis-filled lives. The extent to which Gloria lets him into her life is not reciprocated, and she becomes increasingly aware how distant her second-place priority status is whenever Rodolfo’s other loved ones snap their fingers. There’s not a lot of plot but plenty of incident and insight to this character study, a portrait of a “spinster” that neither slathers on the sentimental uplift or piles on melodramatic victimizations. Instead, Gloria is memorably, satisfyingly just right. (1:50) (Dennis Harvey)

The Lego Movie The toy becomes a movie. Fun fact: Nick Offerman gives voice to a character named “Metalbeard,” a revenge-seeking pirate. So it’s got that going for it, which is nice. (1:41) 

The Monuments Men The phrase “never judge a book by its cover” goes both ways. On paper, The Monuments Men — inspired by the men who recovered art stolen by the Nazis during World War II, and directed by George Clooney, who co-wrote and stars alongside a sparkling ensemble cast (Cate Blanchett, Matt Damon, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Bob Balaban, Hugh “Earl of Grantham” Bonneville, and Bill Fucking Murray) — rules. Onscreen, not so much. After they’re recruited to join the cause, the characters fan out across France and Germany following various leads, a structural choice that results in the film’s number one problem: it can’t settle on a tone. Men can’t decide if it wants to be a sentimental war movie (as in an overlong sequence in which Murray’s character weeps at the sound of his daughter’s recorded voice singing “White Christmas”); a tragic war movie (some of those marquee names die, y’all); a suspenseful war movie (as the men sneak into dangerous territory with Michelangelo on their minds); or a slapstick war comedy (look out for that land mine!) The only consistent element is that the villains are all one-note — and didn’t Inglourious Basterds (2009) teach us that nothing elevates a 21st century-made World War II flick like an eccentric bad guy? There’s one perfectly executed scene, when reluctant partners Balaban and Murray discover a trove of priceless paintings hidden in plain sight. One scene, out of a two-hour movie, that really works. The rest is a stitched-together pile of earnest intentions that suggests a complete lack of coherent vision. Still love you, Clooney, but you can do better — and this incredible true story deserved way better. (1:58) (Cheryl Eddy)

Oscar Nominated Short Films 2014: DocumentaryThis year, the Oscar-nominated docs are presented in two separate feature-length programs. Program A contains The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life, about a Holocaust survivor; Karama Has No Walls, about protestors in Yemen during the Arab Spring; and Facing Fear, about a gay man who encounters the neo-Nazi who terrorized him 25 years prior. Program B contains Cavedigger, about environmental sculptor Ra Paulette; and Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall, about a dying prisoner being cared for by other prisoners.

Stranger by the Lake Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps) is an attractive young French guy spending his summer days hanging at the local gay beach, where he strikes up a platonic friendship with chunky older loner Henri (Patrick d’Assumcao). Still, the latter is obviously hurt when Franck practically gets whiplash neck swiveling at the sight of Michel (Christophe Paou), an old-school gay fantasy figure — think Sam Elliott in 1976’s Lifeguard, complete with Marlboro Man ‘stache and twinkling baby blues. No one else seems to be paying attention when Franck sees his lust object frolicking in the surf with an apparent boyfriend, one that doesn’t surface again after some playful “dunking” gets rather less playful. Eventually the police come around in the form of Inspector Damroder (Jerome Chappatte), but Franck stays mum — he isn’t sure what exactly he saw. Or maybe it’s that he’s quite sure he’s happy how things turned out, now that sex-on-wheels Michel is his sorta kinda boyfriend. You have to suspend considerable disbelief to accept that our protagonist would risk potentially serious danger for what seems pretty much a glorified fuck-buddy situation. But Alain Guiraudie’s meticulously schematic thriller- which limits all action to the terrain between parking lot and shore, keeping us almost wholly ignorant of the characters’ regular lives — repays that leap with an absorbing, ingenious structural rigor. Stranger is Hitchcockian, all right, even if the “Master of Suspense” might applaud its technique while blushing at its blunt homoeroticism. (1:37) (Dennis Harvey)

Top Secret! After the sleeper smash of 1980’s Airplane! (and the TV failure of 1982’s Police Squad! series, which nonetheless led directly to the later, successful Naked Gun movies), the Madison, Wisc.-spawned comedy trio of David Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and Jerry Zucker had one more exclamation point up their collective sleeves. That resulted in this hit 1984 parody of Cold War spy movies (and Elvis Presley musicals) starring Val Kilmer (in his perpetually open-mouthed film debut) as hip-swiveling American rock star Nick Rivers, who is dispatched to East Germany on a diplomatic entertainment mission. Instead, he gets yanked into major intrigue that includes kidnapped scientists, Omar Sharif, an elaborate Blue Lagoon (1980) spoof, and of course extremely realistic cow disguises. It also features this immortal exchange between Nazi-Commies, as they’re torturing captured Nick: “Do you vant me to bring out ze LeRoy Neiman paintings?” “No — ve cannot risk violating ze Geneva Convention!” Herrs Zucker, Abrahams, and Zucker will reunite on the Castro stage to screen and discuss their incisive political classic as it enters its fourth decade of cultdom. The 30th anniversary afternoon program Sat/8 is co-presented by SF Sketchfest (www.sfsketchfest.com), Midnites for Maniacs, Noise Pop, and the Jewish Film Festival. Castro. (Dennis Harvey)

Vampire Academy Bloodsuckers go to high school in this adaptation of the YA series directed by Mark Waters (2004’s Mean Girls). (1:45)

Sundance, part six: superlatives


More Sundance right here on Pixel Vision.

My biggest excitement of Sundance 2014 was the random email I received asking if I would be able to attend a “super-secret screening of a highly anticipated film by a major filmmaker.” (Answer: DUH.) The packed house at Park City’s defining Main Street theater, the Egyptian, had no clue what film was to be screened, though many thought it might be Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel.

In fact, turned out to be the premiere of Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac: Part One (Denmark/Germany/France) which is rated NC-17 (look for its theatrical release on March 21, or catch it On Demand starting March 6). Nymphomaniac: Part Two will follow shortly afterward, with a VOD debut on April 3 and a theatrical release on April 18.


As regular readers of my festival reports know, I am not here to spoil films. What I attempt to do is entice you to watch movies that are shaping our cinematic landscapes — and this is one you cannot miss. Avoid any and all plot overviews giving away any specific details about this two-part extravaganza exploring the taboo subject of nymphomania. Suffice to say Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stellan Skarsgård, Shia LaBeouf, and the other cast members go the distance for our generation’s most controversial auteur. For true von Trier-ites, the uncut, five-and-a-half-hour European version of Nymphomaniac (compared to the four-hour American version) is being shown at the Berlinale next month. 

My favorite film at this year’s Sundance was another controversial event: Tim Sutton’s polarizing Memphis (US). I’ve never needed to watch a film three times at Sundance before, but Sutton’s unique “observational journey” (a style he first executed, wondrously, with his 2011 debut Pavilion), which explores the “real” city of Memphis, and its frustrated main character’s own trek to find his own private transcendence kept me coming back for more and more and more. 

Musician Willis Earl Beal, signed to the independent UK label XL Recording, plays himself (he’s sort of a Kool Keith meets Woody Guthrie) on a search to not only find and create a mystical music, but — through sorcery — achieve the next level of existential bliss which may or may not be attainable by any means necessary. Director Sutton said at one post-film Q&A, “All you need to make a movie is a camera, Willis, and a broom.” 

I cannot prepare you for the intense experience you will have when watching this visionary film. At a press screening, 20 of the 30 audience members walked out. At the final public screening I was approached by a family who couldn’t believe I had been able to watch the film more than once. My response: Memphis is an audacious, poetic puzzle, and it requires audiences to put time and energy into finding the method to its madness. Like the path traveled by the lead character in the Coen Brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis, Beal’s journey is a long, dark, and winding one that many are rightfully terrified to take.

Sundance, part five: Swanberg + Ross Perry


Missed a previous Sundance post? Check out Pixel Vision for more.

Director and sometimes actor Joe Swanberg is a household name among South by Southwest fest-goers (and mumblecore fans everywhere), with such gems as Nights and Weekends (2009), Marriage Material (2012), All the Light in the Sky (2012), and his segment in V/H/S (2012) entitled “The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger.” 

More recently, he’s been embraced by the Sundance community with the hilariously sexual Uncle Kent (2011) and last year’s Drinking Buddies, the latter showcasing mainstream stars Olivia Wilde, Jake Johnson, and Anna Kendrick. But now that he has hit parenthood, it seems that Swanberg is maturing into crossover material, and Happy Christmas (US) will make you one happy cinematic camper. Giving Kendrick the most complicated character of her career — as well as memorable roles for Melanie Lynskey and Girls‘ Lena Dunham — Swanberg may be aligning himself with Noah Baumbach and Alex Ross Perry to grab the title of this generation’s Woody Allen. Note: the scenes with Swanberg’s two-year-old baby Jude are worth the admission alone.

Speaking of Alex Ross Perry, he also had a new film at Sundance, and it rivaled Swanberg’s for “most enjoyably unlikable characters:” Listen Up Philip (US). Jason Schwartzman gives a tour-de-force performance in this follow-up to Perry’s debut feature, 2011’s The Color Wheel, helping Philip fulfill the promise hinted at in that earlier film.

Philip explores three sides of an incorrigible coin, embodied by Schwartzman, Mad Men‘s Elisabeth Moss, and the greatest grumpy old man of the year (so far), Jonathan Pryce. The end result exposes the uncomfortable truths of New York neuroses to such a degree that you may feel dirty just to be a human as you leave the theater — it’s both excruciatingly hilarious and unstoppably ruthless. 

Sundance, part four: indie heroes and genre flicks


Missed yesterday’s Sundance installment? Right this way!

In Ira Sachs’ Love Is Strange (US), Ben (John Lithgow) and George (Alfred Molina) — together for 39 years — are finally married, and suddenly find themselves having to deal with the fallout from an ill-considered world. Both actors are pitch-perfect at portraying longtime lovers, and Marisa Tomei has an intelligent supporting role as a relative of the couple. 

Sundance favorite Sachs (2012’s Keep the Lights On), who debuted with the shockingly memorable The Delta in 1996, treats the material with finesse, and the end result is genuinely earned heartache (and, likely, will yield serious crossover potential). It’s a cliche, but true: at the screening I attended, there was not a dry eye in the house. 

Changing gears … the 1980s-style genre film is back, and both Jim Mickle’s Cold in July (US) and Adam Wingard’s The Guest (US) perfectly capture the necessary nuances (or lack thereof). 

Cold in July‘s Mickle follows his 2013 reimagining of Jorge Michel Grau’s cannibal tale We Are What We Are (2010) by dropping Dexter‘s Michael C. Hall into a web of Texan revenge alongside ruff n’ tuff alpha males Sam Shepard and Don Johnson. Jeff Grace’s synth score punctuates one of the most enjoyable films of Sundance.

Fresh off his horror hit You’re Next (2013); Adam Wingard has concocted 99 minutes of pure John Carpenter-esque euphoria. Incorporating modern politics, crisp cinematography, and shocking violence, Wingard has made his best film to date and proves he is a force to be reckoned with. It pays homage to the bodacious beauty and cool heaven of the 1980s stalker-slasher genre — Joseph Zito’s The Prowler (1981), William Fruet‘s Killer Party (1986), etc. — and boasts yet another glorious synth score, this time by Steve Moore of the band Zombi. Also worth noting: a memorable performance by erstwhile Downton Abbey heir Dan Stevens.

From cult favorites the Zellner Brothers, Kumiko: The Treasure Hunter (US/Japan) takes the unbelievably true story of young woman who becomes obsessed with the Coen Brothers’ Fargo (1996). So obsessed, and believing that it’s based on a true story, she travels to Fargo from Japan to find the forgotten treasure from the movie. Rinko Kikuchi — Oscar-nominated for Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Babel (2006), and last seen rocking robots in Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim (2013) — stars in this inspired tale of hopeless dreams. It mesmerized me from start to finish. And speaking of memorable music, Kumiko was awarded a Special Jury Prize for its score, as performed by the Octopus Project.

Coming tomorrow: the latest from JOE SWANBERG!

Sundance, part three: diamonds in the rough


Missed out on last week’s Sundance glee? Part one here; part two here

Malik Vittal’s Imperial Dreams (US) won the Audience Award in the NEXT category, created for films that stretch limited resources to create impactful art. John Boyega (from 2011’s Attack the Block) delivers another complicated and hypnotic performance as a young father trying to make good in the ‘hood. In this spot-on throwback to powerful, low-budget urban films — think the Hughes Brothers’ Menace II Society (1991) and Spike Lee’s Clockers (1995), and even back to Ulu Grosbard’s Straight Time (1978) — director Vittal coaxes some spectacular acting moments, not just from Boyega but also his forlorn friends, played by De’aundre Bonds and R&B singer Rotimi. You don’t want to miss this little treasure.

Pawel Pawlikowski’s Ida (Poland) — pronounced “Eeda”  — is rooted in a formalistic aesthetic, complete with a 1.37 aspect ratio and a profoundly striking black and white palette. While dreary in its location, this character study of a woman in search of her own identity within a nunnery during the 1960s is anything but colorless. As I’ve warned with other films in my Sundance diary — stay away from plot overviews of this film. Just know that Ida has the power to affect you. This is another quiet jewel that you do not want to miss in 2014.

Geetu Mohandas’ Liar’s Dice (India) is as haunting as it is mesmerizing. Hindi superstar Nawazuddin Siddiqui (Gangs of Wasseypur, 2013) helps a young woman, her daughter, and their pet goat on a grueling odyssey, first to the regional capital, Shimla, and eventually to Delhi, in search of the woman’s missing husband. Gripping, difficult, and effectively abstract, this 104-minute debut feature will hopefully open doors for Mohandas to make more alternative films in the future.

Another feature debut: God Help the Girl (UK), from Stuart Murdoch of the Brit-pop sensation Belle and Sebastian; it’s inspired by his 2009 album of the same name. It’s a mix of musical and magical realism, starring the phenomenal Emily Browning (from Zack Snyder’s unfairly dismissed 2011 Suckerpunch), and offers an affectionate, enjoyable coming-of-age story that has shades of Stephen Chbosky’s Perks of Being a Wallflower (2011). If you were 17, this might become your favorite film of all time, and could be the perfect way to get into works like Jacques Demy’s The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964). 

Coming tomorrow: indie heroes and genre picks!