Iraq

Project Censored 2014

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joe@sfbg.com

Our oceans are acidifying — even if the nightly news hasn’t told you yet.

As humanity continues to fill the atmosphere with harmful gases, the planet is becoming less hospitable to life as we know it. The vast oceans absorb much of the carbon dioxide we have produced, from the industrial revolution through the rise of global capitalism. Earth’s self-sacrifice spared the atmosphere nearly 25 percent of humanity’s CO2 emissions, slowing the onslaught of many severe weather consequences.

Although the news media have increasingly covered the climate weirding of global warming — hurricane superstorms, fierce tornado clusters, overwhelming snowstorms, and record-setting global high temperatures — our ocean’s peril has largely stayed submerged below the biggest news stories.

The rising carbon dioxide in our oceans burns up and deforms the smallest, most abundant food at the bottom of the deep blue food chain. One vulnerable population is the tiny shelled swimmers known as the sea butterfly. In only a few short decades, the death and deformation of this fragile and translucent species could endanger predators all along the oceanic food web, scientists warn.

This “butterfly effect,” once unleashed, potentially threatens fisheries that feed over 1 billion people worldwide.

Since ancient times, humans fished the oceans for food. Now, we’re frying ocean life before we even catch it, starving future generations in the process. Largely left out of national news coverage, this dire report was brought to light by a handful of independent-minded journalists: Craig Welch from the Seattle Times, Julia Whitty of Mother Jones, and Eli Kintisch of ScienceNOW.

It is also the top story of Project Censored, an annual book and reporting project that features the year’s most underreported news stories, striving to unmask censorship, self-censorship, and propaganda in corporate-controlled media outlets. The book is set for release in late October.

“Information is the currency of democracy,” Ralph Nader, the prominent consumer advocate and many-time presidential candidate, wrote in his foreword to this year’s Project Censored 2015. But with most mass media owned by narrow corporate interests, “the general public remains uninformed.”

Whereas the mainstream media poke and peck at noteworthy events at single points in time, often devoid of historical context or analysis, Project Censored seeks to clarify understanding of real world issues and focus on what’s important. Context is key, and many of its “top censored” stories highlight deeply entrenched policy issues that require more explanation than a simple sound bite can provide.

Campus and faculty from over two dozen colleges and universities join in this ongoing effort, headquartered at Sonoma State University. Some 260 students and 49 faculty vet thousands of news stories on select criteria: importance, timeliness, quality of sources, and the level of corporate news coverage.

The top 25 finalists are sent to Project Censored’s panel of judges, who then rank the entries, with ocean acidification topping this year’s list.

“There are outlets, regular daily papers, who are independent and they’re out there,” Andy Lee Roth, associate director of Project Censored, told us. Too many news outlets are beholden to corporate interests, but Welch of the Seattle Times bucked the trend, Roth said, by writing some of the deepest coverage yet on ocean acidification.

“There are reporters doing the highest quality of work, as evidenced by being included in our list,” Roth said. “But the challenge is reaching as big an audience as [the story] should.”

Indeed, though Welch’s story was reported in the Seattle Times, a mid-sized daily newspaper, this warning is relevant to the entire world. To understand the impact of ocean acidification, Welch asks readers to “imagine every person on earth tossing a hunk of CO2 as heavy as a bowling ball into the sea. That’s what we do to the oceans every day.”

Computer modeler Isaac Kaplan, at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration office in Seattle, told Welch that his early work predicts significant declines in sharks, skates and rays, some types of flounder and sole, and Pacific whiting, the most frequently caught commercial fish off the coast of Washington, Oregon, and California.

Acidification may also harm fisheries in the farthest corners of the earth: A study by the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme outlines acidification’s threat to the arctic food chain.

“Decreases in seawater pH of about 0.02 per decade have been observed since the late 1960s in the Iceland and Barents Seas,” the study’s authors wrote in the executive summary. And destroying fisheries means wiping out the livelihoods of the native peoples of the Antarctic.

Acidification can even rewire the brains of fish, Welch’s story demonstrated. Studies found rising CO2 levels cause clown fish to gain athleticism, but have their sense of smell redirected. This transforms them into “dumb jocks,” scientists said, swimming faster and more vigorously straight into the mouths of their predators.

These Frankenstein fish were found to be five times more likely to die in the natural world. What a fitting metaphor for humanity, as our outsized consumption propels us towards an equally dangerous fate.

“It’s not as dramatic as say, an asteroid is hitting us from outer space,” Roth said of this slowly unfolding disaster, which is likely why such a looming threat to our food chain escapes much mainstream news coverage.

Journalism tends to be more “action focused,” Roth said, looking to define conflict in everything it sees. A recently top-featured story on CNN focused on President Barack Obama’s “awkward coffee cup salute” to a Marine, which ranks only slightly below around-the-clock coverage of the president’s ugly tan suit as a low point in mainstream media’s focus on the trivial.

As Nader noted, “‘important stories’ are often viewed as dull by reporters and therefore unworthy of coverage.” But mainstream media do cover some serious topics with weight, as it did in the wake of the police officer shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. So what’s the deciding factor?

As Roth tells it, corporate news focuses on “drama, and the most dramatic action is of course violence.”

But the changes caused by ocean acidification are gradual. Sea butterflies are among the most abundant creatures in our oceans, and are increasingly born with shells that look like cauliflower or sandpaper, making this and similar species more susceptible to infection and predators.

“Ocean acidification is changing the chemistry of the world’s water faster than ever before, and faster than the world’s leading scientists predicted,” Welch said, but it’s not getting the attention is deserves. “Combined nationwide spending on acidification research for eight federal agencies, including grants to university scientists by the National Science Foundation, totals about $30 million a year — less than the annual budget for the coastal Washington city of Hoquiam, population 10,000.”

Our oceans may slowly cook our food chain into new forms with potentially catastrophic consequences. Certainly 20 years from now, when communities around the world lose their main source of sustenance, the news will catch on. But will the problem make the front page tomorrow, while there’s still time to act?

Probably not, and that’s why we have Project Censored and its annual list:

 

2. TOP 10 US AID RECIPIENTS PRACTICE TORTURE

Sexual abuse, children kept in cages, extra-judicial murder. While these sound like horrors the United States would stand against, the reverse is true: This country is funding these practices.

The US is a signatory of the United Nations’ Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, but the top 10 international recipients of US foreign assistance in 2014 all practice torture, according to human rights groups, as reported by Daniel Wickham of online outlet Left Foot Forward.

Israel received over $3 billion in US aid for fiscal year 2013-14, according to a Congressional Research Service report. Israel was criticized by the country’s own Public Defender’s Office for torturing children suspected of minor crimes.

“During our visit, held during a fierce storm that hit the state, attorneys met detainees who described to them a shocking picture: in the middle of the night dozens of detainees were transferred to the external iron cages built outside the IPS transition facility in Ramla,” the PDO wrote, according to The Independent.

The next top recipients of US foreign aid were Afghanistan, Egypt, Pakistan, Nigeria, Jordan, Iraq, Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda. All countries were accused of torture by human rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

Kenyan police in Nairobi tortured, raped, or otherwise abused more than 1,000 refugees from 2012 to 2013, Human Rights Watch found. The Kenyan government received $564 million from the United States in 2013-14.

When the US funds a highway or other project that it’s proud of, it plants a huge sign proclaiming “your tax dollars at work.” When the US funds torturers, the corporate media bury the story, or worse, don’t report it at all.

 

3. TRANS-PACIFIC PARTNERSHIP, A SECRET DEAL TO HELP CORPORATIONS

The Trans-Pacific Partnership is like the Stop Online Piracy Act on steroids, yet few have heard of it, let alone enough people to start an Internet campaign to topple it. Despite details revealed by Wikileaks, the nascent agreement has been largely ignored by the corporate media.

Even the world’s elite are out of the loop: Only three officials in each of the 12 signatory countries have access to this developing trade agreement that potentially impacts over 800 million people.

The agreement touches on intellectual property rights and the regulation of private enterprise between nations, and is open to negotiation and viewing by 600 “corporate advisors” from big oil, pharmaceutical, to entertainment companies.

Meanwhile, more than 150 House Democrats signed a letter urging President Obama to halt his efforts to fast-track negotiations, and to allow Congress the ability to weigh in now on an agreement only the White House has seen.

Many criticized the secrecy surrounding the TPP, arguing the real world consequences may be grave. Doctors Without Borders wrote, “If harmful provisions in the US proposals for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement are not removed before it is finalized, this trade deal will have a real cost in human lives.”

 

4. CORPORATE INTERNET PROVIDERS THREATEN NET NEUTRALITY

This entry demonstrates the nuance in Project Censored’s media critique. Verizon v. FCC may weaken Internet regulation, which Electronic Frontier Foundation and other digital freedom advocates allege would create a two-tiered Internet system. Under the FCC’s proposed new rules, corporate behemoths such as Comcast or Verizon could charge entities to use faster bandwidth, which advocates say would create financial barriers to free speech and encourage censorship.

Project Censored alleges corporate outlets such as The New York Times and Forbes “tend to highlight the business aspects of the case, skimming over vital particulars affecting the public and the Internet’s future.”

Yet this is a case where corporate media were circumvented by power of the viral web. John Oliver, comedian and host of Last Week Tonight on HBO, recently gave a stirring 13-minute treatise on the importance of stopping the FCC’s new rules, resulting in a flood of comments to the FCC defending a more open Internet. The particulars of net neutrality have since been thoroughly reported in the corporate media.

But, as Project Censored notes, mass media coverage only came after the FCC’s rule change was proposed, giving activists little time to right any wrongs. It’s a subtle but important distinction.

 

5. BANKERS REMAIN ON WALL STREET DESPITE MAJOR CRIMES

Bankers responsible for rigging municipal bonds and bilking billions of dollars from American cities have largely escaped criminal charges. Every day in the US, low-level drug dealers get more prison time than these scheming bankers who, while working for GE Capital, allegedly skimmed money from public schools, hospitals, libraries, and nursing homes, according to Rolling Stone.

Dominick Carollo, Steven Goldberg, and Peter Grimm were dubbed a part of the “modern American mafia,” by the magazine’s Matt Taibbi, one of the few journalists to consistently cover their trial. Meanwhile, disturbingly uninformed cable media “journalists” defended the bankers, saying they shouldn’t be prosecuted for “failure,” as if cheating vulnerable Americans were a bad business deal.

“Had the US authorities decided to press criminal charges,” Assistant US Attorney General Lanny Breuer told Taibbi. “HSBC (a British bank) would almost certainly have lost its banking license in the US, the future of the institution would have been under threat, and the entire banking system would have been destabilized.”

Over the course of decades, the nation’s bankers transformed into the modern mafioso. Unfortunately, our modern media changed as well, and are no longer equipped to tackle systemic, complex stories.

 

6. THE “DEEP STATE” OF PLUTOCRATIC CONTROL

What’s frightening about the puppeteers who pull the strings of our national government is not how hidden they are, but how hidden they are not.

From defense contractors to multinational corporations, a wealthy elite using an estimated $32 trillion in tax-exempt offshore havens are the masters of our publicly elected officials. In an essay written for Moyer and Company by Mike Lofgren, a congressional staffer of 28 years focused on national security, this cabal of wealthy interests comprise our nation’s “Deep State.”

As Lofgren writes for Moyers, “The Deep State is the big story of our time. It is the red thread that runs through the war on terrorism, the financialization and deindustrialization of the American economy, the rise of a plutocratic social structure and political dysfunction.”

This is a story that truly challenges the mass media, which do report on the power of wealth, in bits and pieces. But although the cabal’s disparate threads are occasionally pulled, the spider’s web of corruption largely escapes corporate media’s larger narrative.

The myopic view censors the full story as surely as outright silence would. The problem deepens every year.

“There are now 854,000 contract personnel with top-secret clearances — a number greater than that of top-secret-cleared civilian employees of the government,” Lofgren wrote, of a group that together would “occupy the floor space of almost three Pentagons — about 17 million square feet.”

 

7. FBI DISMISSES PLOT AGAINST OCCUPY AS NSA CRACKS DOWN ON DISSENT

Nationally, law enforcement worked in the background to monitor and suppress the Occupy Wall Street movement, a story the mainstream press has shown little interest in covering.

A document obtained in FOIA request by David Lindorff of Who, What WHY from the FBI office in Houston,, Texas revealed an alleged assassination plot targeting a Occupy group, which the FBI allegedly did not warn the movement about.

From the redacted document: “An identified [DELETED] as of October planned to engage in sniper attacks against protestors (sic) in Houston, Texas if deemed necessary. An identified [DELETED] had received intelligence that indicated the protesters in New York and Seattle planned similar protests in Houston, Dallas, San Antonio and Austin, Texas. [DELETED] planned to gather intelligence against the leaders of the protest groups and obtain photographs, then formulate a plan to kill the leadership via suppressed sniper rifles.”

Lindorff confirmed the document’s veracity with the FBI. When contacted by Lindorff, Houston Police were uninterested, and seemingly (according to Lindorff), uninformed.

In Arizona, law enforcement exchanged information of possible Occupy efforts with JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, according to a report by the Center for Media and Democracy titled Dissent on Terror. The CEO meant to evade possible protests, and local law enforcement was happy to help.

Law enforcement’s all-seeing eyes broadened through the national rise of “fusion centers” over the past decade, hubs through which state agencies exchange tracking data on groups exercising free speech. And as we share, “like,” and “check-in” online with ever-more frequency, that data becomes more robust by the day.

 

8. IGNORING EXTREME WEATHER CONNECTION TO GLOBAL WARMING

In what can only be responded to with a resounding “duh,” news analyses have found mainstream media frequently report on severe weather changes without referring to global warming as the context or cause, even as a question.

As Project Censored notes, a study by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting found extreme weather events in 2013 spurred 450 broadcast news segments, only 16 of which even mentioned climate change. National news outlets have fallen on the job as well, as The New York Times recently shuttered its environmental desk and its Green blog, reducing the number of reporters exclusively chasing down climate change stories.

Unlike many journalists, ordinary people often recognize the threat of our warming planet. Just as this story on Project Censored went to press, over 400,000 protested in the People’s Climate March in New York City alone, while simultaneous protests erupted across the globe, calling for government, corporate, and media leaders to address the problem.

“There is a huge mismatch between the magnitude of the challenge and the response we heard here today,” Graca Machel, the widow of former South African President Nelson Mandela, told the United Nations conference on climate change. “The scale is much more than we have achieved.”

 

9. US MEDIA HYPOCRISY IN COVERING UKRAINE CRISIS

The US battle with Russia over Ukraine’s independence is actually an energy pipeline squabble, a narrative lost by mainstream media coverage, Project Censored alleges.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has drawn fire from the media as a tyrant, without complex analyses of his country’s socio-economic interests, according to Project Censored. As the media often do, they have turned the conflict into a cult of personality, talking up Putin’s shirtless horseback riding and his hard-line style with deftness missing from their political analysis.

As The Guardian UK’s Nafeez Ahmed reported, a recent US State Department-sponsored report noted “Ukraine’s strategic location between the main energy producers (Russia and the Caspian Sea area) and consumers in the Eurasian region, its large transit network, and its available underground gas storage capacities,” highlighting its economic importance to the US and its allies.

 

10. WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION SUPPRESSES REPORT ON IRAQ IMPACTS

The United States’ legacy in Iraq possibly goes beyond death to a living nightmare of cancer and birth defects, due to the military’s use of depleted uranium weapons, a World Health Organization study found. Iraq is poisoned. Much of the report’s contents were leaked to the BBC during its creation. But the release of the report, completed in 2012 by WHO, has stalled. Critics allege the US is deliberately blocking its release, masking a damning Middle East legacy rivaling the horrors of Agent Orange in Vietnam. But Iraq will never forget the US intervention, as mothers cradle babies bearing scars obtained in the womb, the continuing gifts of our invasion.

Anti-war groups take to the streets of SF to protest US bombing campaign UPDATED

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With the US military now bombing targets in both Syria and Iraq, and the Islamic State that we’re targeting threatening to retaliate against US citizens, the Bay Area’s anti-war movement is taking the streets today [Wed/24] and in the coming days (although the SF Chronicle apparently didn’t get the memo).

Two of the Bay Area biggest anti-war groups, the San Francisco chapters of ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) Coalition and The World Can’t Wait, have called for a march and protest today at 5:30pm starting at Market and Powell streets.

“[President Barack] Obama owns this immoral and illegal action, the ultimate war crime — invasion of a sovereign nation that poses no imminent threat to the aggressor. “We” did not ask for or approve this war. NOTHING good can come from U.S. bombing, and we need to say so immediately and widely,” The World Can’t Wait said in a statement calling for people to show up with sign and something to say.

Brian Becker, national coordinator of the ANSWER Coalition, put out a statement that included this: “Let’s tell the fundamental truth that the Obama Administration conceals from the people. The so-called Islamic State or ISIS wouldn’t exist today as a major force either in Syria or Iraq except for the U.S. military aggression that smashed the secular, nationalist governments in Iraq in 2003 and Libya in 2011 followed by its catastrophic support for the armed opposition against the similarly organized government in Syria.”

But hey, nothing solves problems created by US militarism like the US military, right? No? Yeah, probably not, so get out there and be counted as a voice for peace.

[UPDATE Thu/25]: The turnout and energy level at yesterday’s anti-war rallies seemed a little lackluster, which was probably more of an indicator of the disempowerment people feel and their grim resignation toward our state of neverending war than actual support for the current military operations. I reflected on this phenomenon in 2008, five years after our military invaded Iraq, in an award-winning piece called “Resistance is Futile — or is it?” and I think it’s work another read in light of current events.  

Gearing up for war

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joe@sfbg.com

A tear gas canister explodes as citizens flee from the gun-toting warriors, safely guarded behind their armored vehicles. Dressed in patterned camo and body armor, they form a skirmish line as they fire projectiles into the crowd. Flash bang explosions echo down the city’s streets.

Such clashes between police and protesters have been common in Ferguson, Mo., in the past few weeks since the death of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager killed by a police officer. But it’s also a scene familiar to anyone from Occupy Oakland, where Iraq veteran Scott Olsen suffered permanent brain damage after police shot a less-than-lethal weapon into his head, or similar standoffs in other cities.

police embed 1As the country watched Ferguson police mobilize against its citizens while donning military fatigues and body armor and driving in armored vehicles, many began drawing comparisons to soldiers in Iraq or Afghanistan — indeed, viral photos featuring side-by-side comparisons made it difficult to distinguish peace officers from wartime soldiers.

So how did law enforcement officers in police departments across the country come to resemble the military? And what impact is that escalation of armaments having on otherwise peaceful demonstrations? Some experts say the militarization of police actually encourages violence.

Since the ’90s, the federal Department of Defense has served as a gun-running Santa Claus for the country’s local police departments. Military surplus left over from wars in the Middle East are now hand-me-downs for local police across the country, including here in the Bay Area.

A grenade launcher, armored command vehicles, camera-mounted SWAT robots, mounted helicopter weapons, and military grade body armor — these are just some of the weapons and equipment obtained by San Francisco law enforcement agencies since the ’90s. They come from two main sources: the Department of Defense Excess Property Program, also known as the 1033 loan program, and a multitude of federal grants used to purchase military equipment and vehicles.

A recent report from the American Civil Liberties Union, “The War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Policing,” slammed the practice of arming local police with military gear. ACLU spokesperson Will Matthews told us the problem is stark in the Bay Area.

“There was no more profound example of this than [the response to] Occupy,” he told the Guardian. He said that military gear “serves usually only to escalate tensions, where the real goal of police is to de-escalate tension.”

The ACLU, National Lawyers Guild, and others are calling for less provocative weaponry in response to peaceful demonstrations, as well as more data to track the activities of SWAT teams that regularly use weaponry from the military.

The call for change comes as a growing body of research shows the cycle of police violence often begins not with a raised baton, but with the military-style armor and vehicles that police confront their communities with.

 

PREPARING FOR BATTLE

What motivation does the federal government have to arm local police? Ex-Los Angeles Police Department Deputy Chief Stephen Downing told the Guardian, “I put this at the feet of the drug war.”

The initial round of funding in the ’90s was spurred by the federal government’s so-called War on Drugs, he said, and the argument that police needed weaponry to match well-armed gangs trafficking in narcotics. That justification was referenced in the ACLU’s report.

After 9/11, the desire to protect against unknown terrorist threats also spurred the militarization of police, providing a rationale for the change, whether or not it was ever justified. But a problem arises when local police start to use the tactics and gear the military uses, Downing told us.

When the LAPD officials first formed military-like SWAT teams, he said, “they always kept uppermost in their mind the police mission versus the military mission. The military has an enemy. A police officer, who is a peace officer, has no enemies.”

“The military aims to kill,” he said, “and the police officer aims to preserve life.”

And when police departments have lots of cool new toys, there is a tendency to want to use them.

When we contacted the SFPD for this story, spokesperson Albie Esparza told us, “Chief [Greg Suhr] will be the only one to speak in regards to this. He is not available for the next week or two. You may try afterwards.”

 

“CRAIGSLIST OF MILITARY EQUIPMENT”

Local law enforcement agencies looking to gear up have two ways to do it: One is free and the other is low-cost. The first of those methods has been heavily covered by national news outlets following the Ferguson protests: the Department of Defense’s 1033 loan program.

The program permanently loans gear from the federal government, with strings attached. For instance, local police can’t resell any weapons they’re given.

To get the gear, first an agency must apply for it through the national Defense Logistics Agency in Fort Belvoir, Va. In California, the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services is the go-between when local police file grant applications to the DLA.

The bar to apply is low. A New Hampshire law enforcement agency applied for an armored vehicle by citing that community’s Pumpkin Festival as a possible terrorism target, according to the ACLU’s report. But the report shows such gear is more likely to be used against protestors or drug dealers than festival-targeting terrorists.

“It’s like the Craigslist of military equipment, only the people getting this stuff are law enforcement agencies,” Kelly Huston, a spokesperson of OEMS, told the Guardian. “They don’t have to pay for this equipment, they just have to come get it.”

Troublingly, where and why the gear goes to local law enforcement is not tracked in a database at the state level. The Guardian made a public records requests of the SFPD and the OEMS, which have yet to be fulfilled. Huston told us the OEMS is slammed with records requests for this information.

“The majority of the documents we have are paper in boxes,” Huston told us, describing the agency’s problem with a rapid response. “This is not an automated system.”

The Guardian obtained federal grant data through 2011 from the OEMS, but with a caveat: Some of the grants only describe San Francisco County, and not the specific agency that requested equipment.

Some data of police gear requested under the 1033 loan program up to 2011 is available thanks to records requests from California Watch. The New York Times obtained more recent 1033 loan requests for the entire country, but it does not delineate specific agencies, only states.

Available data shows equipment requested by local law enforcement, which gravitates from the benign to the frightening.

 

TOYS FOR COPS

An Armament Subsystem is one of the first weapons listed in the 1033 data, ordered by the SFPD in 1996. This can describe mounted machine guns for helicopters (though the SFPD informed us it has since disbanded its aero-unit). From 1995 to 1997, the SFPD ordered over 100 sets of fragmentation body armor valued at $45,000, all obtained for free. In 1996, the SFPD also ordered one grenade launcher, valued at $2,007.

Why would the SFPD need a grenade launcher in an urban setting? Chief Suhr wouldn’t answer that question, but Downing told us it was troubling.

“It’s a pretty serious piece of military hardware,” he said. “I’ll tell you a tiny, quick story. One of the first big deployments of SWAT (in Los Angeles) was the Black Panthers in the ’60s. They were holed up in a building, well armed and we knew they had a lot of weapons in there,” he said. “They barricaded the place with sandbags. Several people were wounded in the shooting, as I recall. The officers with military experience said the only way we’ll breach those sandbags and doors is with a grenade launcher.”

In those days, they didn’t have a grenade launcher at the ready, and had to go through a maze of official channels to get one.

“They had to go through the Governor’s Office to the Pentagon, and then to Camp Pendleton to get the grenade launcher,” Downing told us. “[The acting LAPD chief] said at the time, ‘Let’s go ahead and ask for it.’ It was a tough decision, because it was using military equipment against our citizens.”

But the chief never had to use the grenade launcher, Downing said. “They resolved the situation before needing it, and we said ‘thank god.'”

The grenade launcher was the most extreme of the equipment procured by local law enforcement, but there were also helicopter parts, gun sights, and multitudes of armored vehicles, like those seen in Ferguson.

By contrast, the grants programs are harder to track specifically to the SFPD, but instead encompass funds given to the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, the Sheriff’s Department, and even some schools. That’s because the grants cover not only allow the purchase of military surplus vehicles and riot gear, but also chemical protective suits and disaster-related supplies.

But much of the requested gear and training has more to do with active police work than emergency response.

San Francisco County agencies used federal loans to purchase $113,000 “command vehicles” (which are often armored). In 2010, the SFPD purchased a $5,000 SWAT robot (which often comes equipped with cameras and a remote control), as well as $15,000 in Battle Dress Uniforms, and $48,000 for a Mobile Communications Command Vehicle.

In 2008, the SFPD ordered a Bearcat Military Counterattack Vehicle for $306,000.

The Lenco website, which manufactures Bearcats, says it “may also be equipped with our optional Mechanical Rotating Turret with Cupola (Tub) and Weapon Ready Mounting System, suitable for the M60, 240B and Mark 19 weapons system.”

Its essentially an armored Humvee that can be mounted with rotating gun turrets.

police embed 2

Department of Homeland Security grants were used to purchase Type 2 Mobile Field Training, which Department of Homeland Security documentation describes as involving eight grenadiers, two counter-snipers, two prisoner transportation vans, and 14 patrol vehicles.

All told, the Bay Area’s many agencies were awarded more than $386 million in federal grants between 2008 and 2011, with San Francisco netting $48 million of those rewards. Through the 1033 loan program, San Francisco obtained over $1.4 million in federal surplus gear from 1995 to 2011.

But much of that was received under the radar, and with little oversight.

“Anytime they’re going to file for this equipment, we think the police should hold a public hearing,” Matthews, the ACLU spokesperson, told us.

In San Francisco, there is a public hearing for the procurement of military weapons, at the Police Commission. But a Guardian analysis of agenda documents from the commission shows these hearings are often held after the equipment has already been ordered.

Squeezed between a “status report” and “routine administrative business,” a March 2010 agenda from the commission shows a request to “retroactively accept and expend a grant in the amount of $1,000,000.00 from the U.S. Department of Justice.”

This is not a new trend. In 2007, the Police Commission retroactively approved three separate grants totaling over $2 million in funding from the federal government through the OEMS, which was then called the Emergency Management Agency.

Police Commission President Anthony Mazzucco did not respond to the Guardian’s emails requesting an interview before our press time, but one thing is clear: The SFPD requests federal grants for military surplus, then sometimes asks the Police Commission to approve the funding after the fact.

Many are already critiquing this call to arms, saying violent gear begets violent behavior.

 

PROVOCATIVE GEAR

A UC Berkeley sociologist, with his small but driven team and an army of automatic computer programs, are now combing more than 8,000 news articles on the Occupy movement in search of a pattern: What causes police violence against protesters, and protester violence against police?

Nicholas Adams and his team, Deciding Force, already have a number of findings.

“The police have an incredible ability to set the tone for reactions,” Adams told us. “Showing up in riot gear drastically increases the chances of violence from protesters. The use of skirmish lines also increases chances of violence.”

Adams’s research uses what he calls a “buffet of information” provided by the Occupy movement, allowing him to study over 200 cities’ police responses to protesters. Often, as in Ferguson, protesters were met by police donned in equipment and gear resembling wartime soldiers.

Rachel Lederman is a warrior in her own right. An attorney in San Francisco litigating against police for over 20 years, and now the president of the National Lawyers Guild Bay Area chapter, she’s long waged legal war against police violence.

Lederman is quick to note that the SFPD in recent years has been much less aggressive than the Oakland Police Department, which injured her client, Scott Olsen, in an Occupy protest three years ago.

“If you compare OPD with the San Francisco Police on the other side of the bay,” she told us, “the SFPD do have some impact munitions they bring at demonstrations, but they’ve never used them.”

Much of this is due to the SFPD’s vast experience in ensuring free speech, an SFPD spokesperson told us. San Francisco is a town that knows protests, so the SFPD understands how to peacefully negotiate with different parties beforehand to ensure a minimum of hassle, hence the more peaceful reaction to Occupy San Francisco.

Conversely, in Oakland, the Occupy movement was met by a hellfire of tear gas and flash bang grenades. Protesters vomited into the sidewalk from the fumes as others bled from rubber bullet wounds.

But some protesters the Guardian talked to noted that the night SFPD officers marched on Occupy San Francisco, members of the city’s Board of Supervisors and other prominent allies stood between Occupiers and police, calling for peace. We may never know what tactics the SFPD would have used to oust the protesters without that intervention.

As Lederman pointed out, the SFPD has used reactive tactics in other protests since.

“We’ve had some problems with SFPD recently, so I’m reluctant to totally praise them,” she said, recalling a recent incident where SFPD and City College police pepper-sprayed one student protester, and allegedly broke the wrists and concussed another. Photos of this student, Otto Pippenger, show a black eye and many bruises.

In San Francisco, a city where protesting is as common as the pigeons, that is especially distressing.

“It’s an essential part of democracy for people to be able to demonstrate in the street,” Lederman said. “If police have access to tanks, and tear gas and dogs, it threatens the essential fabric of democracy.”

Anti-war protesters rally against Gaza invasion and rising Palestinian death toll

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As the West Bank erupted today in a “day of rage” against Israel’s ongoing invasion of Gaza and its lopsided death toll during 18 days of combat with Palestinians, anti-war activists in the Bay Area have been holding daily protests outside the Israeli consulate in downtown San Francisco and preparing for what they hope will be a big demonstration tomorrow [Sat/26].

Anti-war activists will gather tomorrow at 1pm in Justin Herman Plaza (Market and Embarcadero) for a rally and march organized by the ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) Coalition and other groups, including Arab Resource Organizing Center, Arab Youth Organization, and American Muslims for Palestine. The march will go up Market Street and circle around Union Square before returning to the starting point. 

“Israel receives $4 billion in ‘aid’ from the United States each year. This money is being used to commit war crimes against the Palestinian people in Gaza. We are demanding that all U.S aid to Israel be ended now! More than 200 people in Gaza have been killed and more than 1,500 have been wounded from Israeli bombs and missiles. This has to end!” ANSWER wrote in its call-to-protest, although The New York Times reports the Palestinian death toll is now at least 800, compared to 38 Israeli deaths.

During yesterday’s daily protest outside the Israeli consulate, from 4-5pm at 456 Montgomery Street, a Palestinian woman named Jaclyn told the Guardian that the US media is to blame for the relatively small number of protesters on the streets. Recent protests have been small compared to massive demonstrations lduring the buildup to the US invasion of Iraq in 2003.

“The problem is the media, they don’t’ have the correct information. People are being brainwashed, frankly,” she told us.

Protester Russell Bates, who was holding a Palestinian flag that he says he’s been flying for the last 10 year in solidarity with Palestinians under Israeli occupation, noted that Gaza has been invaded by Israel three times in the last seven years, with lopsided death tolls in each conflict and yet continuing US financial aid.

“The US government Israel-occupied territory, for sure,” he said. “It’s unimaginable to me how people can remain quiet.”

Citizens United measure challenged — does it matter what Californians think about corporate personhood?

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Recently, the California Legislature approved a nonbinding question that would allow California voters to show their thoughts – mainly, their disdain – for the 2010 US Supreme Court ruling in the Citizens United case that allowed corporations to make unlimited campaign contributions.

But on Tuesday, opponents filed a lawsuit seeking to remove the question from the November ballot. They say the ballot should be reserved for laws, not the measurement of non-binding feelings. Meanwhile, advocates say putting the question on the ballot provides California voters with the very voice often quieted and underfunded compared to the corporations that the court decision empowered.

The advisory measure, which would appear as Proposition 49, is threatened by a lawsuit filed by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, an advocacy group for taxpayers’ rights. Gov. Jerry Brown isn’t a massive cheerleader for the advisory measure, either. He opted not to sign it, pointing out that the Legislature had already approved a resolution asking Congress to convene a constitutional convention to overturn the decision.

He added that the state should not “make it a habit to clutter our ballots with non-binding measures as citizens rightfully assume that their votes are meant to have legal effect.” The HJTA claim the measure is an attempt to increase voter participation in a a mostly mundane statewide election.

“It is very disappointing that the majority in the Legislature views the elections process as their personal plaything,” HJTA President Jon Coupal wrote in a biting statement.

Similarly, the Sacramento Bee wrote that the proposed ballot measure is “designed to lure more Democrats to the polls when legislators are trying to keep their seats.”

But the initiative’s supporters argue that it’s important to bring voters to the polls because citizens could use more of a voice. This argument is not so different than those who think political protests matter because they help voice public opposition and attract political attention. This measure just has a more legislative flavor than the typical street protest, and involves more taxpayers’ cash. But according to Michael Sutter, volunteer organizer for The Money Out Voters In Coalition, it would only cost voters two pennies at most.

“This is one of those issues where Californians know that this is wrong, want to do something about it, and feel that this is a very good way to have the national conversational in an unavoidable way,” Sutter said. “We can make big noise here in California.”

Since the Citizens United decision, cities around California have found comfort in voicing their disapproval through non-binding resolutions at the local level. In 2010, Richmond voted unanimously to support a resolution calling for a constitutional amendment to abolish corporate personhood, and two years later, San Franciscans followed suite, passing Proposition G with 81 percent of the vote.

Yet the Citizens United decision still stands, and the usefulness of such non-binding resolutions remains to be seen.

John Bonifaz, co-founder and president of Free Speech for the People, launched a national campaign opposing Citizens United right after the decision was made. Since then, 11 states have passed some kind of resolution announcing their support for overturning Citizens United.

“It was not a waste to have Montana voters vote on this kind of measure in 2012, nor to have Colorado voters vote on this measure in 2012,” Bonifaz told the Guardian. “This is a critically important measure for the future of our democracy. Are we going to become a nation where only the big money interests and corporations are able to be heard, or are we in fact going to reclaim a basic fundamental promise of government by and for the people?”

Non-binding measures rarely make an appearance on the California ballot. According to Sutter, the last time to come close was in 2007 when the State Senate passed a non-binding ballot measure asking voters if they supported withdrawal of troops in Iraq. “We only use these kinds of measures when national policy is directly at odds with the will of the California people,” Sutter said.

The Iraq ballot measure was promptly vetoed by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Critics condemned its usefulness; after all, how could California opposition bring the troops home? And now, how can opposition in California to outrageous campaign contribution help level the political playing field?

The truth is that maybe it won’t.

“By allowing SB 1272 to become law without my signature, it is my intention to signal that I am not inclined to repeat this practice of seeking advisory opinions from the voters,” Brown stated.

But Sutter thinks his attitude is the problem, and that maybe political figures should consider seeking voter feedback more often. “Jerry Brown has a problem with the concept of the people advising their representatives, and that’s an attitude I have a problem with,” she said.

Prop. 49 might not change the Citizens United Decision, but — if it survives the lawsuit — it will make it apparent that a whole lot of California voters want the court decision overturned. The question is whether or not those in power care what people think.

Framing fame

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arts@sfbg.com

SFJFF Given the seemingly endless one-step-forward, two-steps-back nature of peace negotiations in the Middle East, it seems a fair bet that the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival (July 24-Aug. 10) will never stop being among the most politically charged among umpteen annual Bay Area film festivals. But considerably older than the state of Israel — and all attendant controversies — is an aspect of Jewish history that reliably provides a counterbalance to the inevitable heavyweight documentaries and dramas. That would be the ubiquity of Jewish talent in popular entertainment, as performers, presenters, and in every other necessary role.

An old saw that never exactly went away but nonetheless has come back with a vengeance in our alleged post-racial era is that perpetual complaint of the envious, paranoid, and prejudiced that “the Jews run Hollywood.” While it’s true that the movie biz has always has employed a large number of Jewish people, anti-Semites have only themselves to blame for originating this state of affairs. It was the entertainment industry’s lack of respectability in its fledgling years that created an opening for an industrious and imaginative minority who were frequently discouraged from sullying more prestigious art forms with their participation. For decades (arguably even now) many stars, studio moguls, and others tried to downplay or entirely hide their ethnic identity; the silent era, in particular, was a hotbed of biographical revisionism among Hollywood players. Nonetheless, Jewish business, tech, design, and acting talents established deep roots in moviemaking well before Hollywood as idea or physical entity existed, precisely because flickers were initially viewed as a lowbrow novelty unfit for the higher working castes. A very sad microcosm of that semi-hidden Jewish industry presence’s early heights and depths is offered offered by David Cairns and Paul Duane’s multinational documentary Natan, about a hugely important yet lamentably overlooked figure in French cinema. Romanian-born Bernard Natan went from projectionist to cinematographer, producer, film laboratory owner, and more in the medium’s early days. An innovator in the use of sound, color, wide screen, and other techniques, he helped rebuild French film production whole in the aftermath of World War I (in which he volunteered for military service, despite not yet being a legal French citizen).

His extraordinary, tireless enterprise made him an ideal candidate to take over pioneering and powerful, but financially teetering, Pathé Studios in 1929. He virtually rescued it from ruin, while steering it successfully into the talkie era. But despite his efforts, Pathé went bankrupt at the height of the Depression in 1935. Natan was the designated fall guy because he’d used legally questionable means in an attempt to cover losses created largely by people and institutions outside his control. There was a strong whiff of then-increasingly-fashionable anti-Semitism to his pillory: He was accused not only of fraud, but of hiding his Jewish heritage, and of being a pornographer.

The latter charge was accepted with remarkable gullibility by historians until quite recently. But as this doc suggests, painting Natan as a predatory perv making potentially career-ending stag reels makes as little sense realistically as it makes great sense propagandically. (We also see how vague the resemblance is between him and the dude or dudes in “smokers” he’d said to have performed in.) That taint helped usher him to prison in Nazi-occupied France, then to an unrecorded demise at Auschwitz. Shamefully, as late as 1948 his estate was still being sued by an invigorated Pathé. Natan is a belated reclamation of a forgotten cultural giant’s abused reputation.

Whether or not he ever actually had anything to do with filmed erotica, Natan would have been amazed by the career of another cosmopolitan Jew launched just a few years after his life’s end. Wiktor Ericsson’s A Life in Dirty Movies pays bemused biographical homage to what Annie Sprinkle calls “the Ingmar Bergman of porn.” Joe Sarno’s micro-budgeted features targeting “the raincoat crowd” from 1962 onward were exceptionally moody, complex and tortured psychodramas focused on being “as hot as you could without showing anything.” He met his soul mate in aspiring off-off-Broadway actress Peggy, who “could discuss John Ford and Truffaut and Renoir” while juggling all the logistical and fiscal details he was naturally oblivious to as a genu-wine artist.

It’s hard now to imagine the mixed excitement and bewilderment that must have been experienced by 42nd Street grindhouse patrons as they witnessed the likes of 1962’s horrors-of-swingerdom melodrama Sin in the Suburbs, or 1967’s claustrophobic self-portrait-of-a-neurotic-artist All the Sins of Sodom. Strangely not glimpsed in this documentary is the artistic apex of Sarno’s color softcore career, 1972’s Pirandello-esque Young Playthings.

The marketplace soon muscled him into hardcore. He was unhappy enough chronicling graphic XXX action to seriously risk financial ruin — and Peggy, still very much the histrionic type, is seen here swanning about as protector of his legacy. It’s lovely when his unexpectedly big 2010 New York Times obit affirms at last to her that he’s “famous like everybody else,” just as he’d always hoped, and as her scandalized Establishment parents figured he’d never be.

Other features in this year’s SFJFF area focus less on impresarios than on performers. The festival’s Freedom of Expression Award goes to the subject of Theodore Bikel: In the Shoes of Sholem Aleichem. This is one of those occasional, simultaneously valuable and dubious documentaries that enlarge upon a well-traveled celebrity solo stage showcase (Sholem Aleichem: Laughter Through Tears). The 90-year-old Bikel has done Aleichem’s characters (especially Tevye the Dairyman) so much that the excerpts here feel worn into a groove that congratulates both veteran performer and veteran viewers who recognize bits they’ve already seen. Who can object? He’s like a tabby grooming itself, essential adorability undeniable.

But he never allows himself an unrehearsed moment in what comes off first as an awfully self-congratulatory self-portrait, and secondly as a workmanlike salute to the single greatest shaper of all American Jewish cultural tropes. Shoes is the kind of proud, way-back machine tribute that makes you feel like you’re watching its 12th pledge week replay. Why are the likes of Gilbert Gottfried and Dr. Ruth the principal interviewees here? Because everybody else has moved on, maybe. Aleichem will always be classic, but to what extent do contemporary US Jews recognize themselves in his worldview?

Other entertainers showcased in SFJFF 2014 include The Secret Life of Uri Geller: Psychic Spy?, about the Tel Aviv-born “spoonbender” phenomenon. This UK documentary assumes a campy, skeptical stance re: his paranormal fame, while actually providing evidence that he’s far from a fraud. Go figure. An even more swinging figure of the era is the subject of Quality Balls: The David Steinberg Story. The dapper latter epitomized smart, improv-based standup comedy on a national stage once he’d left Chicago’s Second City for TV — surviving the 1969 cancellation his edgily political material purportedly forced upon the hugely popular The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. Those looking for an additional peek behind the comedic curtain might also check out documentary feature Comedy Warriors, about disabled Iraq and Afghanistan veterans taking the standup stage; Little Horribles: An Evening With Amy York Rubin, drawn from the popular online series; and thematic program “Jews in Shorts.”

Then there’s this year’s major excavation from the treasure-trove of forgotten US Yiddish cinema: 1938’s Mamele, in which late pixie queen Molly Picon plays a cheerfully suffering yenta Cinderella awaiting justice for her many sacrifices to a selfish family. She cooks, she cleans, she sings — what more do you want? Of course there’s a happy ending. 2

SAN FRANCISCO JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL

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

Various Bay Area venues

www.sfjff.org

Moving pictures

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cheryl@sfbg.com

FILM As one of the Bay Area’s largest film festivals prepares for its opening (that’d be the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, which runs July 24-Aug. 10), this weekend heralds several smaller fests with unique approaches to programming, including the San Francisco Frozen Film Festival at the Roxie, and Oakland’s outdoor Brainwash Drive-In/Bike-In/Walk-In Movie Festival. Also in Oakland: the second annual Matatu Film Festival, which takes its name from colorfully decorated mini-buses found in Kenya and other East African countries.

The reference suggests a focus on films from that region of the world. But while it is an international festival, it’s more interested in “matatu” as metaphor, presenting films as a way to transport the viewer to new places or points of view. Amid an overall strong program, one of the most timely entries is Mala Mala, a gritty yet joyful exploration of Puerto Rico’s trans community that makes great use of neon-lit streetscapes, a retro-synth score, and the oversized personalities of its subjects. Among them are drag queens, including recent RuPaul’s Drag Race contestant April Carrión, and transgender activists like Ivana Fred, who cuts a striking figure whether she’s raising awareness on TV talk shows, handing out condoms to sex workers, patiently enduring the opinions of a homophobic priest, or modeling her carefully sculpted assets (“I was born in Puerto Rico, but I was made in Ecuador,” she jokes).

The less-glamorous figures are also compelling, including prostitute Sandy, who’s refreshingly candid about all aspects of her life, and Paxx, the sole transman interviewed, who faces what he sees as a “harder transition than trans girls,” since his hormone therapy is far less accessible, and his social support system is far more limited. With trans issues in the spotlight more than ever — see: TV actress Laverne Cox’s Time magazine cover and Emmy nomination — Mala Mala directors Antonio Santini and Dan Sickles do an admirable job showing how diverse the community is, and how complex each individual’s struggles and triumphs can be. Speaking of triumphs, once the dance moves of future drag superstar Queen Bee Ho command the screen, it’s pretty clear who should star in the filmmakers’ next project — or at least season seven of Drag Race.

Elsewhere among Matatu’s docs is Evolution of a Criminal, Darius Clark Moore’s deeply personal film about his detour from standout Houston, Texas, high school student to bank robber, and from prisoner back to school — this time, at NYU’s esteemed film school. Criminal benefits from the sheen of executive producer Spike Lee, but Moore’s story would be gripping even with less polished production. He frames the film as a series of interviews with family members — mom, step dad, grandma, assorted aunts and uncles, etc. — and others (former teachers, the district attorney who prosecuted him) who reflect on the family history and financial circumstances that nudged Moore down the wrong path.

He was a bright kid from a close-knit, hardworking family that couldn’t seem to dig its way out of debt. One night, he was watching America’s Most Wanted and got the bright idea to plan a crime so flawless there’d be no way he’d get caught. He and his fellow teenage accomplices even had the perfect alibi: They’d show up at school, fake illness so they could slip out for the heist, do the deed, and then return to class several thousand dollars richer.

It did work — we watch the crime unfold in re-enactments far more tasteful than anything ever seen on America’s Most Wanted — until it went sideways, as recounted in interviews with Moore’s now-grown, now-regretful friends, and Moore himself, who brims with genuine emotion and yearns for closure, even going so far as to track down, and apologize to, bank workers and patrons who witnessed the robbery. After awhile, this feels like we’re witnessing a 12-step program in progress, but one of the men, a born-again pastor, is an effective mouthpiece for Criminal‘s themes of forgiveness. On the other hand, the DA is far more skeptical, wishing Moore well with his film career, but suggesting she won’t believe he’s really turned a corner until his prison stint is more than 10 years in the past.

Also among Matatu’s doc fare is Evaporating Borders, Iva Radivojevic’s poetic take on the current immigration crisis in Cyprus, an island ruled by both Turkey and Greece (with an “open wound” of a border between). “Its story is multi-layered and complex,” the filmmaker explains in voice-over. “It’s sordid and manipulated.” She has personal insight — she immigrated there herself during the war in her home country, the former Yugoslavia — but also offers of-the-moment perspective via firsthand accounts from recent arrivals. Many arrive fleeing war, as Radivojevic did, though now most come from Iraq, a situation that inflames the island’s considerable anti-Muslim bias. (The filmmaker interviews one Cypriot politician whose anti-immigration rhetoric sounds awfully Tea Party, a reminder that sweeping intolerance isn’t a uniquely American trait after all.)

Other Matatu docs include Virunga, about park rangers fighting to protect the dwindling population of mountain gorillas in Congo’s Virunga National Park; 12 O’Clock Boys, about a scrappy pack of young Baltimore dirt-bike riders (it had a Roxie run earlier this year, though here it’s paired with dreamy sci-fi short Afronauts as an added incentive); and Kehinde Wiley: An Economy of Grace, which follows the famed NYC-based painter as he shifts his focus from male to female subjects for the first time.

Clocking in at under 40 minutes, Kehinde Wiley is paired with a film of similar running time, if not subject matter: Unogumbe, a refashioning of the Benjamin Britten opera Noye’s Fludde. Set in South Africa, sung in Xhosa, and orchestrated with African instruments, it also recasts the Noah character as a woman (the wonderful Paulina Malefane) who gets a heads-up from the guy upstairs that she needs to gather her family and build an ark, pronto. The other two narrative films in the festival are Of Good Report, a contemporary film noir that also hails from South Africa, and the African folklore-inspired Oya: Rise of the Orisha.

But the best companion piece for Unogumbe is Matatu’s opening-night film, The Great Flood, which pairs archival footage shot during and after the devastating 1927 Mississippi River flood (curated by filmmaker-multimedia artist Bill Morrison) with a jazzy, bluesy score (by guitarist-composer Bill Frisell). It’s a memorable, haunting collection of images: slow pans across small towns with just rooftops visible; residents paddling whatever few belongings they’ve salvaged to higher ground; a makeshift tent city for the displaced, with an open-air piano providing much-needed entertainment; and starched politicians, including future POTUS Herbert Hoover, surveying the damage while skirting the mud as much as possible. *

MATATU FILM FESTIVAL

Wed/16-Sat/19, $12

Most screenings at Flight Deck

1540 Broadway, Oakl

www.matatufestival.org

 

Alerts: July 16 – 22, 2014

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THURSDAY 17

 

Comedy and music fundraiser for David Campos

El Rio, 3158 Mission, SF. davidcampossf.com/elrio. 7-9pm, $7 minimum donation requested. This is a fundraising event for California Assembly candidate David Campos, featuring comedians Yayne Abeba, Frankie Quinones, Steve Lee and Lisa Geduldig; and music by Candace Roberts (and Larisa Migachyov); and Dr Loco y Sus Cuates (featuring The Pena Goveas, Tomas Montoya and Francisco Herrera). El Rio will match and donate $7 for the first 75 tickets.

 

 

Laborfest: FilmWorks United International Working Class Film Festival

518 Valencia, SF. laborfest.net. 7-9pm, free. LaborFest was established to institutionalize the history and culture of working people in an annual cultural, film and arts festival. This screening will feature four short films. The Plundering, by Oliver Ressler, documents extreme privatization during the transformation of the former Soviet republic Georgia towards independence and capitalism. Made In The USA, Tom Hudak’s Plan to Cut Your Wages, by Bill Gillespie, exposes the ideology of “open shop” states that seek to prevent unionization. Judith: Portrait of a Street Vendor, by Zahidi Pirana, tells the story of one of the thousands of immigrant workers in major U.S. cities who make their living as street vendors. High Power, by Pradeep Indulkar, offers a glimpse into the lives of workers at India’s Tarapur nuclear power plant, built 50 years ago in a poor rural community.

 

FRIDAY 18

 

Fourth Annual San Francisco Living Wage Awards Dinner

SEIU 1021 Hall, 350 Rhode Island, SF. livingwage-sf.org. 6:30pm, $35 in advance; $50 at the door. In addition to dinner and cultural performances, this event will honor activist and San Francisco Labor Council board member Maria Guillen as Labor Woman of the Year, and Allan Fisher, activist with AFT Local 2121 and delegate to the San Francisco Labor Council, as Labor Man of the Year.

 

SUNDAY 20

Meeting: Mayhem in Iraq and the U.S. Role

New Valencia Hall, 747 Polk, SF. globalexchange.org/events. 1pm, free. $8 donation requested for brunch, served at 12:15pm. Hosted by the Bay Area Freedom Socialist Party, this forum will explore questions on the latest turn of events in Iraq. What are the factors behind the new crisis? What responsibility does the U.S. bear, given the interests of oil and armament industries in the Middle East? Does the massive damage from the first Gulf War impact the current situation? What can we do to help? Bring your ideas and participate in this lively discussion.

Proud of the whistleblowers

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rebecca@sfbg.com

A lot has happened since June 2013, when famed Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, then 82, donned a pink feather boa to lead an energized San Francisco Pride Parade contingent on behalf of US Army private Bradley Manning, who couldn’t attend due to being held in federal custody.

Manning, a whistleblower who stood accused of leaking classified US documents, was celebrated as a queer hero by the more than 1,000 parade participants. They hailed the young private’s courageous decision to share US military secrets with WikiLeaks in a bid to expose human rights atrocities committed during the Iraq War.

The Bradley Manning Contingent had been ignited by the drama following Manning’s nomination as a grand marshal for Pride, then crowned grand marshal in an erroneous public statement, an announcement that was then emphatically revoked by the San Francisco Pride Board of Directors.

The messy, embarrassing incident made international headlines and sent a torrent of criticism raining down upon Pride. Progressives sharply condemned the board as spineless for being afraid to stand with a celebrated queer whistleblower whose act of self-sacrifice could alter the course of history.

In late August 2013, Manning announced that she identified as female and would be known as Chelsea Manning from that day forward. The announcement was concurrent with her sentencing to 35 years in prison for leaking classified US government documents.

The whistleblower’s name and gender identity aren’t the only things to change since last year: Chelsea Manning has been named an honorary grand marshal for the 2014 Pride celebration.

“The 2013 SF Pride Board’s controversial decision to revoke her status as Grand Marshal fueled an international controversy and created intense strife within the local LGBT and progressive communities,” a statement on Pride’s website explains. “In January, in the spirit of community healing, and at the behest of SF Pride’s membership, the newly elected SF Pride Board of Directors reinstated Manning’s status as an honorary Grand Marshal for the 2014 Celebration and Parade.”

The other game-changing subplot of this continuing whistleblower saga, of course, began to unfold just weeks before the 2013 Pride celebration, when former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden came forward to explain that he’d leaked secret NSA documents to expose a sweeping dragnet surveillance program intercepting millions of Americans’ digital communications, because he believed it posed a threat to democracy and personal freedom.

Snowden first unmasked himself as an NSA whistleblower in a statement filmed in a hotel room in Hong Kong; he’s now in Russia, where he’s been temporarily granted asylum. Ellsberg recently joined an advisory board to the newly formed, Berlin-based Courage Foundation, which has set up a legal defense fund for Snowden. Manning continues to serve out her prison sentence, while Julian Assange, founder and publisher of WikiLeaks (which exposed Manning’s leaks to a global audience) marked his second anniversary of being confined within the walls of the Ecuadoran Embassy in London on June 19.

Meanwhile Glenn Greenwald, whom Snowden selected as the recipient of his revelatory NSA files, has just embarked on a US book tour.

“The last year has been a bit intense,” Greenwald told a sold-out audience at San Francisco’s Nourse Theater on June 18, shortly after his arrival onstage was greeted with a standing ovation. His newly released book, No Place To Hide, provides an overview of what’s transpired in the movement against government surveillance since Snowden first approached him with leaked NSA documents.

“The surveillance state is aimed not at terrorists,” Greenwald said, “but at entire citizenries, without any shred of evidence of wrongdoing. The debate that has been triggered is about more than just surveillance,” he added, spurring dialogue on several overarching issues, “including the value of privacy.”

Greenwald named two troubling outcomes to emerge from the exposure of government secrets: First, the whistleblowers had been tarnished in the press as freakish or crazy as a way to diminish the gravity of the information they’ve revealed; secondly, the government’s practice of conducting massive electronic surveillance raises questions about how far press freedom can possibly extend in the digital age.

The author and constitutional lawyer then engaged in some myth-busting against the narratives that had been put forward concerning Snowden — claims that the security analyst is “a fame-seeking narcissist” or a spy.

“When I asked him over and over again why [he did it] … He told me it was the pain of having to live the rest of his life knowing he’d done nothing about this,” Greenwald said.

He added that he found the actions of those who sought to condemn Snowden to be very telling. “It is not simply a bunch of hacks or loyalists. The people who have decided that there must be some hidden secret motive … are doing that because they really can’t believe that a person can take an action … out of political conviction,” he said. “There’s a belief by the people who are soulless and have no convictions that everyone else is playing by the same rules.”

Nor was this treatment of being raked over the coals unique to Snowden. Manning was maligned in the press as suffering from a “gender disorder,” Greenwald pointed out, rather than being accepted as a transgender person.

And in the case of Assange, Greenwald shared an illuminating anecdote: “The Iraq War logs showed extreme atrocities,” he pointed out, but The New York Times granted this story just as prominent front-page treatment as “a profile of the quirky personality attributes of Julian Assange.” This article painted the WikiLeaks founder as bizarre and freakish, Greenwald explained, containing the “shocking revelation that Julian Assange’s socks were actually dirty.”

Meanwhile, on the morning of Greenwald’s San Francisco speech, Assange made a virtual public appearance in his own right. In a conference call with the Bay Guardian and other media outlets held from within the walls of the Ecuadorian embassy in London, the WikiLeaks publisher discussed his bizarre situation and took questions from the press.

Assange has been granted asylum in Ecuador and is staying in an apartment inside the Ecuadoran Embassy in London, but if he sets foot outside the building, he will be immediately taken into custody by British security forces. More than $10 million has reportedly been spent on having officers stand guard outside the embassy, where they harass his guests as they come and go — but the British security apparatus is only one of several complicated problems facing Assange. His other adversaries include the governments of Sweden and the United States, both of which want to put him on trial.

In Sweden, prosecutors are waiting to try him on allegations of sexual misconduct — but “If he goes to Sweden, it will more than likely mean a one-way ticket to the United States,” his attorney Michael Ratner made plain in the press call.

In the US, WikiLeaks continues to be the subject of a criminal investigation by the Justice Department, which Assange described as the longest ever directed against a publisher.

“It is against the stated principles of the US, and I believe the values of its people, to have a four-year criminal investigation against a publisher,” Assange said. He added that the government’s targeting of WikiLeaks for publishing classified documents could have ramifications for any members of the press who seek to dig deeper than just reporting “the contents of a press conference,” as he put it. And with the rise of digital media, “All publishers will shortly be Internet-based publishers,” he added.

Journalists peppered Assange with questions, and evidently some couldn’t resist the temptation of infotainment. Had he been tuning into the World Cup? One wanted to know.

“I have been watching the World Cup,” Assange replied, “although the reception in this building is quite difficult.”

And who, pray tell, is he rooting for? “Ecuador undoubtedly deserves to win,” Assange said. “But I think there’s such prestige riding on the issue for Brazil that they are the most likely victors.”

Reel pride

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The Case Against 8 (Ben Cotner and Ryan White, US) This documentary follows the successful fight to have Proposition 8 overturned as unconstitutional and restore legality to gay marriage in California. There’s way too much time spent on the couples chosen as plaintiffs, a Berkeley lesbian pair and two Los Angeles male partners — we get it, they’re nice people — and the decisions to disallow broadcast of the eventual court proceedings means we get laborious recitations of what people have already said on record. Frameline has shown so many documentaries about gay marriage already that festival regulars may find this one covers too much familiar ground at excessive length. (It also doesn’t bother giving much screentime to the anti-gay forces, which might have livened things up a bit.) Still, it’s a duly inspirational tale, with real entertainment value whenever the focus turns to the case’s very unlikely chief lawyers: mild-mannered Ted Olson and boisterous David Boies, the latter a longtime leading conservative attorney who’d argued the other side against Olson in the Bush v. Gore presidential election decision. Nonetheless, he’s all for marriage equality, and these otherwise widely separated figures are great fun to watch as they work, taking considerable pleasure in each other’s company. Thu/19, 7pm, Castro. (Dennis Harvey)

Bad Hair (Mariana Rondón, Venezuela, US) Living in a Caracas tenement, Marta (Samantha Castillo) has no husband, no romance in her life, and now no job after she’s fired from a security company. She turns her frustrations on the older of her two fatherless children, 10-year-old Junior (Samuel Lange Zambrano), whose insistence on straightening his hair like the people he sees on TV strikes her as incipiently gay — and that is something she is not willing to tolerate. Mariana Rondón’s prize-winning feature is a small, subtle drama about the poisoning effects of economic pressure and homophobia within the family unit. It’s also quietly devastating about something you don’t often see in movies: The real-world truth that, sometimes, deep down, parents really don’t love their children. Sat/21, 1:30pm, Roxie. (Harvey)

Floating Skyscrapers (Tomasz Wasilewski, Poland, 2013) Competitive swimmer Kuba (Mateusz Banasiuk) has moved girlfriend Sylwia (Marta Nieradkiewicz) into the Warsaw apartment he shares with his possessive divorced mother (Katarzyna Herman), but the two women don’t get along and Kuba doesn’t seem very committed to the relationship anyway. So Sylwia immediately worries her days are numbered when Kuba — who already indulges in the occasional furtive public gay sex — shows unusual interest in out Michal (Bartosz Gelner). As the two young men grow closer, it becomes clear that this is something neither of the women in Kuba’s life will stand for. Tomasz Wasilewski’s Polish drama has a crisp widescreen look and a minimalist air, with little dialogue articulating emotions the characters are wrestling with. Though its protagonist isn’t particularly likable, the film’s simultaneous confidence and ambivalence lends its eventually depressing progress real punch. Sat/21, 9:30pm, Victoria; June 26, 9:30pm, Roxie. (Harvey)

I Am Happiness On Earth (Julián Hernández, Mexico, 2013) When young dancer Octavio is picked up by well-known filmmaker Emiliano, he’s instantly smitten — not realizing yet that the latter is the kind of serial seducer allergic to fidelity. Rich, famous, and gorgeous, he can have anyone he wants, and he does. That’s about it for story in Julián Hernández’s latest, which features some of his characteristically lush camerawork and poetical romanticism. But it’s one of his weaker efforts, basically turning into one sex scene after another with even less attention to character and plot development than usual. This sexy, aesthetically sensual eye candy sports the odd enchanting moment, as when two men after a quickie are suddenly transfixed by the TV and begin singing a pop ballad along with it, to each other. But Hernández (2006’s Broken Sky, 2003’s A Thousand Peace Clouds Encircle the Sky) is a highly talented filmmaker who here seems to be running out of ideas. Sat/21, 9:30pm, Castro. (Harvey)

The Foxy Merkins (Madeleine Olnek, US, 2013) Writer-director Madeleine Olnek of Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same (2011) hits a bit of a sophomore slump with this similarly loopy but less inspired absurdist comedy. Lisa Haas returns as Margaret, a sad-sack new arrival to Manhattan who — apparently like most holders of Women’s Studies degrees — ends up homeless and prostituting herself to a large available client base of better bankrolled lesbians. She gets schooled in the ways of the street and kink-for-pay by veteran Jo (Jackie Monahan), who’s a good business partner if also a somewhat unreliable ally. After a hilarious first half hour or so, the movie runs out of steam but keeps plodding on to diminishing returns, despite scattered moments when Olnek and cast hit the comedic bull’s-eye. She’s got a unique sensibility, at once deadpan and utterly nonsensical, but it’s fragile enough to need a stronger narrative structure to sustain than it gets here to sustain feature length. Sun/22, 9:15pm, Castro. (Harvey)

Winter Journey (Sergei Taramaev and Luba Lvova, Russia, 2013) This stylish Russian drama depicts the paths-crossing and eventual unlikely friendship of two extremely different young men in Moscow. Keanu-looking Eric (Aleksey Frandetti) is a bratty, lieder-singing voice student who escapes pressures at home and school by getting drunk and hanging out with a circle of older gay artistic types. Lyokha (Evgeniy Tkachuk) is homeless and unstable, inclined toward picking fights and stealing stuff. Their not-quite-romance — a bit like a below-zero My Own Private Idaho (1991) with lots of Schubert — isn’t particularly credible, but it’s directed with confident panache by Sergei Taramaev and Luba Lvova, to ultimately quite poignant effect. Mon/23, 9:15pm, Victoria. (Harvey)

Violette (Martin Provost, France, 2013) Taking on another “difficult” woman artist after the excellent 2008 Séraphine (about the folk-art painter), Martin Provost here portrays the unhappy life of Violette Leduc (Emmanuelle Devos), whose fiction and autobiographical writings eventually made her a significant figure in postwar French literature. We first meet her waiting out the war with gay author Maurice Sachs (Olivier Py), one of many unrequited loves, then surviving via the black market trade before she’s “discovered” by such groundbreaking, already-established talents as Jean Genet (Jacques Bonnaffé) and Simone de Beauvoir (Sandrine Kiberlain). It is the latter, a loyal supporter who nonetheless retains a chilly emotional distance, who becomes bisexual Violette’s principal obsession over the coming 20 years or so. Devos does her best to portray “a neurotic crazy washed-up old bag” with an “ugly mug” — hardly! — who is perpetually broke, depressed, and awkward, thanks no doubt in part to her mean witch of a mother (Catherine Hiegel). “Screaming and sobbing won’t get you anywhere,” Simone at one point tells her, and indeed Leduc is a bit of a pill. For the most part lacking the visual splendors of Séraphine (this character’s environs weren’t so pastoral), Violette is finely acted and crafted but, like its heroine, hard to love. Note: Frameline is also showing Violette Leduc: In Pursuit of Love, a documentary on the same subject. Mon/23, 9:15pm, Castro. (Harvey)

To Be Takei (Jennifer Kroot, US) The erstwhile and forever Mr. Sulu’s surprisingly high public profile these days no doubt sparked this documentary portrait by SF’s own Jennifer Kroot (2009’s It Came From Kuchar). But she gives it dramatic heft by highlighting the subject’s formative years in World War II Japanese-American internment camps, and finds plenty of verite humor in the everyday byplay between fairly recently “out” gay celebrity George and his longtime life and business partner Brad Altman — the detail-oriented, pessimistic worrywart to his eternally upbeat (if sometimes tactlessly critical) star personality. We get glimpses of them in the fan nerdsphere, on The Howard Stern Show, at Takei’s frequent speaking engagements (on internment and gay rights), and in his latter-day acting career both as perpetual TV guest and a performer in a hopefully Broadway-bound new musical (about internment). Then of course there’s the Star Trek universe, with all surviving major participants heard from, including ebullient Nichelle Nichols, sad-sack Walter Koenig, thoughtfully distanced Leonard Nimoy, and natch, the Shat (who acts like a total asshat, dismissing Takei as somebody he sorta kinda knew professionally 50 years ago.) We also hear from younger Asian American actors who view the subject as a role model, even if some of his actual roles weren’t so trailblazing (like a couple “funny Chinaman” parts in Jerry Lewis movies, and in John Wayne’s 1968 pro-Vietnam War film The Green Berets). Even if you’ve tired of Takei’s ubiquity online and onscreen, this campy but fond tribute is great fun. Tue/24, 6:30pm, Castro. (Harvey)

Back on Board: Greg Louganis (Cheryl Furjanic, US) For most Americans, the words “famous diver” conjure up only one name: Greg Louganis, the charismatic, record-breaking Olympian who dominated the sport in the 1980s. But as Cheryl Furjanic’s doc reveals, athletic perfection did not spell easy livin’ for Louganis. Though he hid the fact that he was gay (and HIV positive) from the public for years, his sexuality was an open secret in the diving world, and likely cost him lucrative endorsement deals. Louganis’ tale is not being shared for the first time (see also: the best-selling autobiography, which became a made-for-TV biopic), but Furjanic goes in deep, revealing Louganis’ considerable financial woes even as he finally finds personal happiness — and recharges his sports career when he’s asked to mentor 2012 Olympians. He’s clearly a good-hearted guy, and it’s hard not to root for him, particularly when we’re treated to so much footage of “the consummate diver” in his prime. He made it look easy, when clearly (in so many ways) it was not. June 25, 4pm, Castro. (Cheryl Eddy)

Regarding Susan Sontag (Nancy Kates, US) This excellent documentary by Nancy D. Kates (2003’s Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin) places more emphasis on the subject’s life — particularly her lesbian relationships — than on the ideas expressed in her work as a novelist, essayist, filmmaker, and cultural theorist. But it’s still a fine overview of a fascinating, often divisive figure. Extremely precocious (she began college at 15), she abandoned an early marriage for freedom in late 1950s Paris, then became a charismatic cultural theorist at the center of all 60s avant-gardisms. Her lovers included playwright Maria Irene Fornes, painter Jasper Johns, choreographer Lucinda Childs, and finally photographer Annie Liebovitz. A terrific diversity of archival footage and contemporary interviewees contribute to this portrait of a very complicated, difficult (both personally and as an artist/intellect) woman perpetually “interested in everything.” June 25, 7pm, Victoria; June 26, 7pm, Elmwood. (Harvey)

Lady Valor: The Kristin Beck Story (Sandrine Orabona and Mark Herzog, US) “I don’t do anything halfway,” admits Kristin Beck, a 20-year, highly-decorated veteran of the Navy SEALs. During her time in the military, she was known as Christopher — and she admits now, as a trans woman “trying to be the real person that I always knew I was, and always wished I could be,” that her willingness to embrace danger was a coping mechanism as she struggled to realize her true identity. In this moving, well-crafted doc, we follow along as Kristin travels to visit with family (some more accepting than others, and some, like her aging dad, making a heartfelt effort even as they stumble over pronouns and still call her “Chris”) and former Navy colleagues and fellow veterans, many of whom have put aside their initial confusion and embrace Kristin as she is. And who is she? A badass who survived multiple tours of Iraq and Afghanistan, with a wry sense of humor and an easygoing, thoughtful personality, Beck is also an inspiration — an American hero on multiple levels. June 27, 1:30pm, Castro. (Eddy)

Appropriate Behavior (Desiree Akhavan, US) First seen packing her belongings under the malevolent eye of her newly ex–girlfriend, then walking unabashedly down the street with a harness and dildo in hand, Brooklyn-dwelling twentysomething Shirin (played by writer-director Desiree Akhavan) doesn’t seem like a person who has trouble owning her sexuality. And indeed, in the parts of her life that don’t require interacting with her close-knit Iranian American family, Shirin is an out, and outspoken, bisexual. Brash, witty, self-involved, and professionally unmoored, she has a streak of poor impulse control that leads her into situations variously hilarious, awkward, painful, and disastrous. Through a series of flashbacks, Akhavan walks us back through the medium highs and major lows of Shirin’s defunct relationship, while tracking her floundering present-day attempts to wobble back to standing. Akhavan’s first feature, Appropriate Behavior has a comic looseness that occasionally verges on shapelessness, but the stray bits are entertaining too. June 27, 7pm, Castro. (Lynn Rapoport)

Of Girls and Horses (Monika Treut, Germany) A semi-delinquent teenager named Alex (Ceci Chuh) is sent away to work on a horse farm as a sort of last-ditch effort to shift her onto a more salutary path. Under the care of thirtysomething Nina (Vanida Karun), who is taking time apart from urban life in Hamburg, where her girlfriend lives, Alex comes to fall under the quiet spell of the horses, and when another young girl, Kathy (Alissa Wilms), shows up to vacation at the farm with her horse, Alex falls for her as well. Director Monika Treut (1999’s Gendernauts) favors long, lyrical shots of horses grazing or gazing soulfully into the lens, of Nina and Kathy cantering over flat green expanses of countryside, and of Alex forking hay into the stalls. A few small dramas take place, but Of Girls and Horses is more of a sketch than a story, and whether it holds your interest may depend on how many Marguerite Henry horse stories you consumed in your youth. June 27, 9:15pm, Roxie. (Rapoport)

Futuro Beach (Karim Ainouz, Brazil) When two German men globe-trotting on their motorcycles go for a dip off the Brazilian coast, they’re pulled under by the current — only Konrad (Clemens Schick) is saved by local lifeguard Donato (Wagner Moura), his companion lost. The two men console one another with sex. Then in the first of several disorienting jumps forward in time here, suddenly Donato has moved to Europe in order to continue their relationship, leaving his old life (including a dependent mother and younger brother) behind. There are further narrative leaps ahead — director Karim Ainouz (2002’s Madame Satã) is all about bold gestures here, but his visual and sonic assertiveness don’t necessarily fill the blanks in narrative and character development. The resulting exercise in style will leave you either dazzled or emotionally untouched. June 27, 9:30pm, Castro. (Harvey)

Cupcakes (Eytan Fox, Israel, 2013) After a run of politically tinged features, Eytan Fox (2002’s Yossi & Jagger, 2004’s Walk on Water) goes the Almodóvar-lite route with this flyweight comedy about a Eurovision-style song contest. Gay Ofer (Ofer Shechter) and various girlfriends who all live in the same Tel Aviv apartment building decide to enter the Universong competition, becoming Israel’s official entry with improbable ease despite never having performed publicly before. Their mild travails (fighting the creative inference of professional handlers, Ofer’s attempts to drag his boyfriend out of the closet) fill time pleasantly enough before the inevitable triumphant telecast climax. This candy-colored fluff, its mainstreamed camp sensibility predictably reflected in corny vintage hits (“Love Will Keep Us Together,” “You Light Up My Life”), is aptly named — it’s as colorful, easily digested, and about as nutritious as a tray of cupcakes. June 28, 8:30pm, Castro. (Harvey)

I Feel Like Disco (Axel Ranisch, Germany, 2013) When housewife Monika (Christina Grobe) suffers a stroke and falls into a coma she may never come out of, her chubby teenage son Flori (Frithjof Gawenda) and junior high swim coach husband Hanno (Heiko Pinkowski) are forced to depend on each other without mom as a buffer. Things tentatively look up when Flori develops an unlikely friendship — and possibly something more — with dad’s star diver, Romanian émigré Radu (Robert Alexander Baer). Axel Ranisch’s gentle seriocomedy doesn’t make much of an impression for a while, springing few surprises (despite occasional deadpan fantasy sequences) along its moderately amusing path. But as father and son struggle to rise to the occasion of their shared crisis, we grow to like them more — and likewise this ultimately quite disarming feature. June 29, 7pm, Castro. (Harvey) *

Frameline 38, the San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival, runs June 19-29 at the Castro Theatre, 429 Castro, SF; Roxie Theater, 3117 16th St, SF; Victoria Theatre, 2961 16th St, SF; and Rialto Cinemas Elmwood, 2966 College, Berk. For tickets (most shows $10-15) and schedule, visit www.frameline.org. For even more Frameline 38 short takes, visit www.sfbg.com.

Guardian endorsements

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OUR CLEAN SLATE VOTERS GUIDE TO TAKE TO THE POLLS IS HERE.

 

Editor’s Note: Election endorsements have been a long and proud part of the Guardian’s 48-year history of covering politics in San Francisco, the greater Bay Area, and at the state level. In low-turnout elections like the one we’re expecting in June, your vote counts more than usual, and we hope our endorsements and explanations help you make the best decisions.

 

GOVERNOR: JERRY BROWN

There is much for progressives to criticize in Jerry Brown’s latest stint as governor of California. He has stubbornly resisted complying with federal court orders to substantially reduce the state’s prison population, as well as shielding the system from needed journalistic scrutiny and reforms of solitary confinement policies that amount to torture. Brown has also refused to ban or limit fracking in California, despite the danger it poses to groundwater and climate change, irritating environmentalists and fellow Democrats. Even Brown’s great accomplishment of winning passage for the Prop. 30 tax package, which eased the state back from financial collapse, sunsets too early and shouldn’t have included a regressive sales tax increase. Much more needs to be done to address growing wealth disparities and restore economic and educational opportunity for all Californians.

For these reasons and others, it’s tempting to endorse one of Brown’s progressive challenges: Green Party candidate Luis Rodriguez or Peace and Freedom Party candidate Cindy Sheehan (see “Left out,” April 23). We were particularly impressed by Rodriguez, an inspiring leader who is seeking to bring more Latinos and other marginalized constituencies into the progressive fold, a goal we share and want to support however we can.

But on balance, we decided to give Brown our endorsement in recognition of his role in quickly turning around this troubled state after the disastrous administration of Arnold Schwarzenegger — and in the hope that his strong leadership will lead to even greater improvement over his next term. While we don’t agree with all of his stands, we admire the courage, independence, and vision that Brown brings to this important office. Whether he is supporting the California High-Speed Rail Project against various attacks, calling for state residents to live in greater harmony with the natural world during the current drought, or refusing to shrink from the challenges posed by global warming, Jerry Brown is the leader that California needs at this critical time.

 

LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR: GAVIN NEWSOM

Gavin Newsom was mayor of San Francisco before he ascended to the position of Lieutenant Governor, and we at the Bay Guardian had a strained relationship with his administration, to put it mildly. We disagreed with his fiscally conservative policies and tendency to align himself with corporate power brokers over neighborhood coalitions. As lieutenant governor, Newsom is tasked with little — besides stepping into the role of governor, should he be called upon to do so — but has nevertheless made some worthwhile contributions.

Consider his stance on drug policy reform: “Once and for all, it’s time we realize that the war on drugs is nothing more than a war on communities of color and on the poor,” he recently told a crowd at the Democratic Party convention in Los Angeles. “It is fundamentally time for drug policies that recognize and respect the full dignity of human beings. We can’t wait.” In his capacity as a member of the UC Board of Regents, Newsom recently voted against a higher executive compensation package for a top-level administrator, breaking from the pack to align with financially pinched university students. In Sacramento, Newsom seems to come off as more “San Francisco” than in his mayoral days, and we’re endorsing him against a weak field of challengers.

 

SECRETARY OF STATE: DEREK CRESSMAN

Although the latest Field Poll shows that he has only single-digit support and is unlikely to make the November runoff, we’re endorsing Derek Cressman for Secretary of State. As a longtime advocate for removing the corrupting influence of money from politics through his work with Common Cause, Cressman has identified campaign finance reform as the important first step toward making the political system more responsive to people’s needs. As Secretary of State, Cressman would be in a position to ensure greater transparency in our political system.

We also like Alex Padilla, a liberal Democrat who has been an effective member of the California Senate. We’ll be happy to endorse Padilla in November if he ends up in a runoff with Republican Pete Peterson, as the current polling seems to indicate is likely. But for now, we’re endorsing Cressman — and the idea that campaign finance reform needs to be a top issue in a state and country that are letting wealthy individuals and corporations have disproportionate influence over what is supposed to be a democracy.

 

CONTROLLER: BETTY YEE

The pay-to-play politics of Leland Yee and two other California Democrats has smeared the Assembly. Amid the growls of impropriety, a report by the Center for Investigative Reporting has painted Speaker of the Assembly John Perez, a leading candidate for Controller, with a similar brush. CIR revealed Perez raised money from special interest groups to charities his lover favored, a lover later sued for racketeering and fraud.

Betty Yee represents an opportunity for a fresh start. On the state’s Board of Equalization she turned down campaign donations from tobacco interests, a possible conflict of interest. She also fought for tax equity between same-sex couples. The Controller is tasked with keeping watch on and disbursing state funds, a position we trust much more to Yee’s careful approach than Perez’s questionable history. Vote for Yee.

 

TREASURER: JOHN CHIANG

While serving as California’s elected Controller, John Chiang displayed his courage and independence by refusing to sign off on budgetary tricks used by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and some legislative leaders, insisting on a level of honesty that protected current and future Californians. During those difficult years — as California teetered on the brink of bankruptcy, paralyzed by partisan brinksmanship each budget season, written off as a failed state by the national media — Chiang and retiring Treasurer Bill Lockyer were somehow able to keep the state functioning and paying its bills.

While many politicians claim they’ll help balance the budget by identifying waste and corruption, Chiang actually did so, identifying $6 billion by his estimate that was made available for more productive purposes. Now, Chiang wants to continue bringing fiscal stability to this volatile state and he has our support.

 

ATTORNEY GENERAL: KAMALA HARRIS

Kamala Harris has kept the promise she made four years ago to bring San Francisco values into the Attorney General’s Office, focusing on the interests of everyday Californians over powerful vested interests. That includes strengthening consumer and privacy protections, pushing social programs to reduce criminal recidivism rather than the tough-on-crime approach that has ballooned our prison population, reaching an $18 billion settlement with the big banks and mortgage lenders to help keep people in their homes, and helping to implement the Affordable Care Act and the legalization of same-sex marriage in the state.

Harris has maintained her opposition to the death penalty even though that has hurt her in the statewide race, and she brings to the office an important perspective as the first woman and first African American ever to serve as the state’s top law enforcement officer. While there is much more work to be done in countering the power of wealthy individuals and corporations and giving the average Californian a stronger voice in our legal system, Harris has our support.

 

INSURANCE COMMISSIONER: DAVE JONES

We’ve been following Dave Jones’s legislative career since his days on the Sacramento City Council and through his terms in the California Legislature, and we’ve always appreciated his autonomy and progressive values. He launched into his role as Insurance Commissioner four years ago with an emergency regulation requiring health insurance companies to use no more than 20 percent of premiums on profits and administrative costs, and he has continued to do what he can to hold down health insurance rates, including implementing the various components of the Affordable Care Act.

More recently, Jones held hearings looking at whether Uber, Lyft, and other transportation network companies are adequately insured to protect both their drivers and the general public, concluding that these companies need to self-insure or otherwise expand the coverage over their business. It was a bold and important move to regulate a wealthy and prosperous new industry. Jones deserves credit for taking on the issue and he has earned our endorsement.

 

SUPERINTENDENT OF SCHOOLS: TOM TORLAKSON

This race is a critical one, as incumbent Tom Torlakson faces a strong challenge from the charter school cheerleader Marshall Tuck. An investment banker and Harvard alum, Tuck is backed by well-heeled business and technology interests pushing for the privatization of our schools. Tech and entertainment companies are pushing charter schools heavily as they wait in the wings for lucrative education supply contracts, for which charter schools may open the doors. And don’t let Waiting for Superman fool you, charter schools’ successful test score numbers are often achieved by pushing out underperforming special needs and economically disadvantaged students.

As national education advocate Diane Ravitch wrote in her blog, “If Tuck wins, the privatization movement will gain a major stronghold.” California ranks 48th in the nation in education spending, a situation we can thank Prop. 13 for. We’d like to see Torlakson advocate for more K-12 school dollars, but for now, he’s the best choice.

 

BOARD OF EQUALIZATION: FIONA MA

Fiona Ma was never our favorite member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, and in the California Legislature, she has seemed more interested in party politics and leadership than moving legislation that is important to San Francisco. There are a few exceptions, such as her attempts last year to require more employers to offer paid sick days and to limit prescription drug co-payments. But she also notoriously tried to ban raves at public venues in 2010, a reactionary bill that was rejected as overly broad.

But the California Board of Equalization might just be a better fit for Ma than the Legislature. She’s a certified public accountant and would bring that financial expertise to the state’s main taxing body, and we hope she continues in the tradition of her BOE predecessor Betty Yee in ensuring the state remains fair but tough in how it collects taxes.

 

ASSEMBLY, DISTRICT 17: DAVID CAMPOS

The race to replace progressive hero Tom Ammiano in the California Assembly is helping to define this important political moment in San Francisco. It’s a contest between the pragmatic neoliberal politics of Board of Supervisors President David Chiu and the populist progressive politics of Sup. David Campos, whom Ammiano endorsed to succeed him.

It’s a fight for the soul of San Francisco, a struggle to define the values we want to project into the world, and, for us at the Bay Guardian, the choice is clear. David Campos is the candidate that we trust to uphold San Francisco’s progressive values in a state that desperately needs that principled influence.

Chiu emphasizes how the two candidates have agreed on about 98 percent of their votes, and he argues that his effectiveness at moving big legislation and forging compromises makes him the most qualified to represent us in Sacramento. Indeed, Chiu is a skilled legislator with a sharp mind, and if “getting things done” — the prime directive espoused by both Chiu and Mayor Ed Lee — was our main criterion, he would probably get our endorsement.

But when you look at the agenda that Chiu and his allies at City Hall have pursued since he came to power — elected as a progressive before pivoting to become a pro-business moderate — we wish that he had been a little less effective. The landlords, tech titans, Realtors, and Chamber of Commerce have been calling the shots in this city, overheating the local economy in a way that has caused rapid displacement and gentrification.

“Effective for whom? That’s what’s important,” Campos told us during his endorsement interview, noting that, “Most people in San Francisco have been left behind and out of that prosperity.”

Campos has been a clear and consistent supporter of tenants, workers, immigrants, small businesses, environmentalists — the vast majority of San Franciscans, despite their lack of power in City Hall. Chiu will sometimes do right by these groups, but usually only after being pushed to do so by grassroots organizing and lobbying efforts.

Campos correctly points out that such lobbying is more difficult in Sacramento, with its higher stakes and wider range of competing interests, than it is on the local level. Chiu’s focus on always trying to find a compromise often plays into the hands of wealthy interests, who sometimes just need to be fought and stopped.

We have faith in Campos and his progressive values, and we believe he will skillfully carry on the work of Ammiano — who is both an uncompromising progressive and an effective legislator — in representing San Francisco’s values in Sacramento.

 

ASSEMBLY, DISTRICT 19: PHIL TING

Incumbent Phil Ting doesn’t have any challengers in this election, but he probably would have won our support anyway. After proving himself as San Francisco’s Assessor, taking a strong stance against corporate landowners and even the Catholic Church on property assessments, Ting won a tough race against conservative businessman Michael Breyer to win his Assembly seat.

Since then, he’s been a reliable vote for legislation supported by most San Franciscans, and he’s sponsoring some good bills that break new ground, including his current AB 1193, which would make it easier to build cycletracks, or bike lanes physically separated from cars, all over the state. He also called a much-needed Assembly committee hearing in November calling out BART for its lax safety culture, and we hope he continues to push for reforms at that agency.

 

PROPOSITION 41: YES

Over a decade ago, Californians voted to use hundreds of millions of our dollars to create the CalVet Home and Farm Loan Program to help veterans purchase housing. But a reduction in federal home loan dollars, the housing crisis, and a plummeting economy hurt the program.

Prop. 41 would repurpose $600 million of those bond funds and raise new money to create affordable housing rental units for some of California’s 15,000 homeless veterans. This would cost Californians $50 million a year, which, as proponents remind us, is one-tenth of 1 percent of the state budget. Why let hundreds of millions of dollars languish unused? We need to reprioritize this money to make good on our unfulfilled promises to homeless veterans.

 

PROPOSITION 42: YES

This one’s important. Last year, Gov. Jerry Brown sought to gut the California Public Records Act by making it optional for government agencies to comply with many of the requirements built into this important transparency law. The CPRA and the Ralph M. Brown Act require government agencies to make records of their activities available for public scrutiny, and to provide for adequate notice of public meetings. Had the bill weakening these laws not been defeated, it would have removed an important defense against shadowy government dealings, leaving ordinary citizens and journalists in the dark.

Prop. 42 is a bid to eliminate any future threats against California’s important government transparency laws, by expressly requiring local government agencies — including cities, counties, and school districts — to comply with all aspects of the CPRA and the Brown Act. It also seeks to prevent local agencies from denying public records requests based on cost, by eliminating the state’s responsibility to reimburse local agencies for cost compliance (the state has repeatedly failed to do so, and local bureaucracies have used this as an excuse not to comply).

 

SF’S PROPOSITION A: YES

Prop. A is a $400 million general obligation bond measure that would cover seismic retrofits and improvements to the city’s emergency infrastructure, including upgrades to the city’s Emergency Firefighting Water System, neighborhood police and fire stations, a new facility for the Medical Examiner, and seismically secure new structures to house the police crime lab and motorcycle unit.

The Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to place Prop. A on the ballot, and a two-thirds majority vote is needed for it to pass. Given that San Franciscans can expect to be hit by a major earthquake in the years to come, upgrading emergency infrastructure, especially the high-pressure water system that will aid the Fire Department in the event of a major blaze, is a high priority.

 

SF’S PROPOSITION B: YES

As we report in this issue (see “Two views of the waterfront”), San Francisco’s waterfront is a valuable place targeted by some ambitious development schemes. That’s a good thing, particularly given the need that the Port of San Francisco has for money to renovate or remove crumbling piers, but it needs to be carefully regulated to maximize public benefits and minimize private profit-taking.

Unfortunately, the Mayor’s Office and its appointees at the Port of San Francisco have proven themselves unwilling to be tough negotiators on behalf of the people. That has caused deep-pocketed, politically connected developers to ignore the Waterfront Land Use Plan and propose projects that are out-of-scale for the waterfront, property that San Francisco is entrusted to manage for the benefit of all Californians.

All Prop. B does is require voter approval when projects exceed existing height limits. It doesn’t kill those projects, it just forces developers to justify new towers on the waterfront by providing ample public benefits, restoring a balance that has been lost. San Francisco’s waterfront is prime real estate, and there are only a few big parcels left that can be leveraged to meet the needs of the Port and the city. Requiring the biggest ones to be approved by voters is the best way to ensure the city — all its residents, not just the politicians and power brokers — is getting the best deals possible.

 

SF SUPERIOR COURT JUDGE: DANIEL FLORES

Daniel Flores has an impressive list of endorsers, including the Democratic, Republican, and Green parties of San Francisco — a rare trifecta of political party support. But don’t hold the GOP nod against Flores, who was raised in the Excelsior by parents who immigrated from El Salvador and who interned with La Raza Centro Legal while going to McGeorge School of Law. And he did serve in the Marines for six years, which could explain the broad range of support for him.

Flores is a courtroom litigator with experience in big firms and his own practice, representing clients ranging from business people to tenants fighting against their landlords. Flores told us that he wants to ensure those without much money are treated fairly in court, an important goal we support. We also liked Kimberly Williams and hope she ends up on the bench someday, but in this race, Flores is the clear choice.

 

CONGRESS, DISTRICT 12: NANCY PELOSI

This was a hard decision for us this year. Everyone knows that Pelosi will win this race handily, but in past races we’ve endorsed third party challengers or even refused to endorse anyone more often than we’ve given Pelosi our support. While Pelosi gets vilified by conservatives as the quintessential San Francisco liberal, she’s actually way too moderate for our tastes.

Over her 21 years in Congress, she has presided over economic policies that have consolidated wealth in ever fewer hands and dismantled the social safety net, environmental policies that have ignored global warming and fed our over-reliance on the private automobile, and military policies that expanded the war machine and overreaching surveillance state, despite her insider’s role on the House Intelligence Committee.

Three of her opponents — Democrat David Peterson, Green Barry Hermanson, and fiery local progressive activist Frank Lara of the Peace and Freedom Party — are all much better on the issues that we care about, and we urge our readers to consider voting for one of them if they just can’t stomach casting a ballot for Pelosi. In particular, Hermanson has raised important criticisms of just how out of whack our federal budget priorities are. We also respect the work Lara has done on antiwar and transit justice issues in San Francisco, and we think he could have a bright political future.

But we’ve decided to endorse Pelosi in this election for one main reason: We want the Democrats to retake the House of Representatives this year and for Pelosi to once again become Speaker of the House. The Republican Party in this country, particularly the Tea Party loyalists in the House, is practicing a dangerous and disgusting brand of political extremism that needs to be stopped and repudiated. They would rather shut the government down or keep it hopelessly hobbled by low tax rates than help it become an effective tool for helping us address the urgent problems that our country faces. Pelosi and the Democrats aren’t perfect, but at least they’re reasonable grown-ups and we’d love to see what they’d do if they were returned to power. So Nancy Pelosi has our support in 2014.

 

CONGRESS, DISTRICT 13: BARBARA LEE

Barbara Lee has been one of our heroes since 2001, when she was the only member of Congress to vote against the Authorization for the Use of Military Force Against Terrorists, braving the flag-waving nationalism that followed the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon to warn that such an overly broad declaration of war was dangerous to our national interests. She endured death threats and harsh condemnation for that principled stand, but she was both courageous and correct, with our military overreach still causing problems for this country, both practical and moral.

Lee has been a clear and consistent voice for progressive values in the Congress for 16 years, chairing both the Congressional Black Caucus and Congressional Progressive Caucus, taking stands against capital punishment and the Iraq War, supporting access to abortions and tougher regulation of Wall Street, and generally representing Oakland and the greater Bay Area well in Washington DC. She has our enthusiastic support.

 

CONGRESS, DISTRICT 14: JACKIE SPEIER

Jackie Speier has given her life to public service — almost literally in 1978 when she was an aide to then-Rep. Leo Ryan and survived the airstrip shootings that triggered the massacre at Jonestown — and she has earned our ongoing support. Speier has continued the consumer protection work she started in the California Legislature, sponsoring bills in Congress aimed at protecting online privacy. She has also been a strong advocate for increasing federal funding to public transit in the Bay Area, particularly to Muni and for the electricification of Caltrain, an important prelude to the California High-Speed Rail Project. In the wake of the deadly natural gas explosion in San Bruno, Speier has pushed for tough penalties on Pacific Gas & Electric and expanded pipeline safety programs. She has been a strong advocate of women’s issues, including highlighting the epidemic of sexual assault on college campuses and in the military, seeking greater protections, institutional accountability, and recourse for victims. More recently, Speier has become a key ally in the fight to save City College of San Francisco, taking on the federal accreditation process and seeking reforms. Speier is a courageous public servant who deserves your vote.

Left out

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steve@sfbg.com

It’s never been easy for progressives to mount a serious campaign for the California governor’s office. The high water mark was in 1934 when famous author/activist Upton Sinclair ran on his End Poverty In California platform and got nearly 38 percent of the vote despite being shut out by the major newspapers at the time.

That campaign was cited by both of this year’s leading leftist challengers to Gov. Jerry Brown — Green Party candidate Luis Rodriguez and Peace and Freedom Party candidate Cindy Sheehan — who say the goal of ending poverty is more important than ever, but who are also having a hard time getting media coverage for that message.

The latest Field Poll from April 9 shows Brown with a 40-point lead on his closest challenger, conservative Republican Tim Donnelly (57 to 17 percent, with 20 percent undecided). Republicans Andrew Blount and Neel Kashkari were at 3 and 2 percent, respectively, while Rodriguez and Sheehan are among the 11 also-rans who shared the support of 1 percent of the California electorate.

Perhaps that’s to be expected given that Brown is a Democrat who pulled the state back from the edge of the fiscal abyss largely by backing the Prop. 30 tax package in 2012, with most of the new revenue coming from increased income taxes on the rich. But to hear Rodriguez and Sheehan tell it, Brown is just another agent of the status quo at a time when the growing gap between rich and poor is the state’s most pressing problem.

“We have to put all our resources into ending poverty,” Rodriguez told us.

The campaigns that Rodriguez and Sheehan are running seem indicative of the state of progressive politics in California these days, with good work being done on individual issues by an array of groups, but little coordination among them or serious work on the kind of organizing and coalition-building needed to win statewide office.

There is still hope, particularly given California’s open primary system, where all Rodriguez or Sheehan need to do is beat the top Republican challenger in June in order to face Brown in a two-person race in November — an outcome that would definitely elevate their progressive message.

“One of our sayings is ‘second place wins the race,'” Sheehan told the Guardian.

But at this point, that seems unlikely, a longshot that points to the need for progressive-minded Californians to rebuild the movement and win over new generations of voters, particularly the young people disconnected from electoral politics and largely behind by the economic system.

 

REACHING VOTERS

When we asked Sheehan how her campaign was going, she replied, “It’s going.” When we pushed for a bit more, she told us, “It’s very, very grassroots and we’ve been trying to get the word out.”

And by “very, very grassroots,” Sheehan seems to mean that it’s not going very well, in terms of fundraising, volunteer support, media exposure, or any of the things a campaign needs to be successful. It’s been a disappointment for a woman who started her public political life as a media darling.

The year after Sheehan’s son Casey died fighting the Iraq War in 2004, she set up an encampment outside then-President George W. Bush’s ranch in Crawford, Texas, instantly becoming a high-profile anti-war activist just as public opinion was turning strongly against the war.

Sheehan parlayed that fame into international activism for peace and other progressive causes, writing a pair of autobiographical/political books, and mounting a primary challenge against then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi in 2008, finishing in second place with about 16 percent of the vote. Sheehan was also the running mate of presidential candidate Roseanne Barr in 2012, although their Peace and Freedom Party ticket didn’t appear on the ballot in most states.

But these days, Sheehan has found it tougher to recapture the media spotlight she once enjoyed, causing her to sometimes bristle with frustration and a sense of entitlement, as she did with us at the Guardian for failing to help her amplify her message before now.

“Who came in 2nd against Pelosi? Who received well into ‘double digits?’ The campaign can’t get steam if ‘lefties’ put the same criteria as the [San Francisco] Chronicle for example for coverage. If I were truly in this for my ‘ego’ I would have quit a long time ago. You write, I campaign all over the world for the things I care about,” Sheehan wrote in a testy April 3 email exchange with me after a supporter seeking our coverage sent her a message in which I questioned the prospects of her campaign.

But getting progressive support in a race against Pelosi in San Francisco clearly isn’t the same thing as having a progressive campaign gain traction with a statewide audience, particularly because Sheehan doesn’t have many prominent endorsers or organizational allies.

By contrast, Rodriguez seems to be outhustling Sheehan, racing up and the down the state to promote his candidacy and work on rebuilding the progressive movement, with an emphasis on reaching communities of color who feel estranged from politics.

“People like me and others on the left need to step up if we’re not going to just accept the control of the two-party system. We have to fight for that democratic reality, we have to make it real,” Rodriguez told us. “You can’t just say vote, vote, vote. You have to give them something to vote for.”

 

ON THE ISSUES

Rodriguez is the author of 15 books, including poetry, journalism, novels, and a controversial memoir on gang life, Always Running, winning major writing awards for his work. He lives in the Los Angeles area, where he’s been active in community-building in both the arts and political realms.

Rodriguez is running on a platform that brings together environmental, social justice, and anti-poverty issues, areas addressed separately by progressive groups who have made only halting progress on each, “which is why we need to make them inseparable.”

While he said Brown has improved the “terrible situation he inherited from Schwarzenegger,” Rodriguez said that the fortunes of the average Californian haven’t turned around.

“People are hurting in the state of California. I think Brown has to answer for that,” Rodriguez said, noting that people are frustrated with the economic system and looking for solutions. “I don’t think Gov. Brown has a plan for it. In fact, I think he’s making it worse.”

Sheehan is critical of Brown for his opposition to full marijuana legalization, his resistance to prison reform, for allowing fracking, and for doing little to challenge the consolidation of wealth.

“My main issue is always, of course, peace and justice. But a corollary of that is for the resources of this state to be more fairly distributed to help people’s lives,” Sheehan said, calling that economic justice stand an outgrowth of her anti-war activism. “Since my son was killed, I’ve been starting to connect the dots about the empire we live under.”

When she studied California history at UCLA, Sheehan said, “I was inspired by Upton Sinclair and his End Poverty In California campaign in the ’30s.” She reminisces about the California of her childhood, when college education was free and the social safety net was intact, keeping people from economic desperation.

“It’s been done before and we can do it again,” Sheehan said. “I love this state, I love its potential, and I miss the way it was when I was growing up.”

 

OBSTACLES TO OVERCOME

Money is a challenge for statewide candidates given the size of California, which has at least a half-dozen major media markets that all need to be tapped repeatedly to reach voters throughout the state.

“I won’t take any corporate dollars and only people with money get heard,” Rodriguez told us.

But he says California has a large and growing number of voters who don’t identify with either major party, as well as a huge number of Latino voters who have yet to really make their voices heard at election time.

“I’m really banking on the people that nobody is counting,” Rodriguez said. “This is the time when people need to come together. We have to unite on these central things.”

That’s always a tough task for third-party candidates. Sheehan has a paltry list of endorsers, owing partly to the left-leaning organizations like labor unions staying with Brown, even though Sheehan claims many of their members support her.

“The rank and file is supportive of our message, but the leadership is still tied in with the Democratic Party,” Sheehan told us. “This state is deeply controlled by the Democratic Party, even more than it was a few years ago.”

But Sheehan considers herself a strong and seasoned candidate. “I’ve run for Congress, I’ve run for vice president, and I think that politics should be local,” Sheehan told us, saying her main strength would be, “I would work with people to create a better state, not against people.”

It was a theme she returned to a few times in our conversation, her main selling point. “It’s about inspiring a movement,” Sheehan said. “My biggest gift is getting out there and talking to people.” But if her strengths are indeed inspiring a movement, working with allies, and building coalitions, then why isn’t her campaign doing those things? Sheehan admits that it’s been difficult, telling us, “I found it easier in San Francisco to get the word out.”

Film Listings: April 9 – 15, 2014

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Film listings are edited by Cheryl Eddy. Reviewers are Kimberly Chun, Dennis Harvey, Lynn Rapoport, and Sara Maria Vizcarrondo. For rep house showtimes, see Rep Clock.

OPENING

Cuban Fury Nick Frost, Rashida Jones, and Chris O’Dowd star in this 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) Elmwood. (Harvey)

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

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) Clay, Shattuck. (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) Embarcadero, Shattuck. (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 judgment 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 plate load 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 grind house 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) (Harvey)

The New Black The Human Rights Watch Film Festival (April 10-27 at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts) kicks off with Yoruba Richen’s look at uneasy tensions between African American Christians and marriage-equality activists. Though Richen is careful to give voice to both sides, The New Black‘s most charismatic figure is Sharon Lettman-Hicks of the National Black Justice Coalition, who’s straight and a churchgoer, but is tirelessly dedicated to LGBT rights both professionally and personally — as in a scene in which a backyard barbecue at her home turns into a friendly but assertive education session for her less open-minded relatives. Elsewhere, we meet an African American church leader who’s against same-sex marriage but isn’t portrayed as a one-note villain; a group of young LGBT political volunteers, many of whom are estranged from intolerant parents; an adorable two-mom family hoping to make their partnership legal; and the gospel singer formerly known as Tonéx, whose decision to come out greatly affected his burgeoning Christian music career. Maryland’s same-sex marriage referendum, decided during the 2012 election, is the film’s focal point, but it also boldly digs into deeper issues, exploring why a community that fought so hard for its own civil rights a generation ago has such trouble supporting the LGBT cause. (1:22) Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. (Eddy)

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) (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) Four Star, Presidio.

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

ONGOING

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) Opera Plaza. (Rapoport)

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) 1000 Van Ness, SF Center, Sundance Kabuki. (Harvey)

Breathe In In Drake Doremus’s lyrical tale of a man in midlife crisis, Guy Pearce plays Keith Reynolds, a high school music teacher living in upstate New York with his wife, Megan (Amy Ryan), and teenage daughter, Lauren (Mackenzie David). Quietly harboring his discontent, Keith spends solitary moments wistfully sifting through glory-days photographs of his former band and memories of the undomesticated life he and Megan led two decades ago in New York City, which the two revisit in a low-toned call-and-response that doesn’t need to erupt into a blistering argument to clarify their incompatible positions. The melancholy calm is disrupted by the arrival of a British exchange student named Sophie (Felicity Jones, who also starred in Doremus’s 2011 film, Like Crazy). Evading a scene of loss and heartbreak at home, 18-year-old Sophie has come to spend a semester at Lauren’s high school, a juxtaposition that presents us with two wildly distinct species of teenager. Lauren is a brittle, popular party girl whom we watch making poor choices with a predatory classmate; Sophie is a soulful, reserved young woman whose prodigious talent at the piano first jars Keith out of his malaise into an uncomfortable awareness. A scene before Sophie’s arrival in which the family plays Jenga and Keith pulls out the wrong piece, toppling the tower, perhaps presses its ominous visual message too hard. Meanwhile, similarities to 2012’s Nobody Walks underscore the argument that this subject matter is an old, tired tale. But for the most part, the intimacy that develops between Keith and Sophie is constructed with delicate restraint, and Doremus and writing partner Ben York Jones have crafted a textured portrait of a man trying to repossess the past. (1:37) Metreon. (Rapoport)

Captain America: The Winter Soldier Marvel’s most wholesome hero returns in this latest film in the Avengers series, and while it doesn’t deviate from the expected formula (it’s not a spoiler to say that yes, the world is saved yet again), it manages to incorporate a surprisingly timely plot about the dangers of government surveillance. Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), hunkiest 95-year-old ever, is still figuring out his place in the 21st century after his post-World War II deep freeze. Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) has him running random rescue missions with the help of Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), but SHIELD is working on a top-secret project that will allow it to predict crimes before they occur. It isn’t long before Cap’s distrust of the weapon — he may be old-fashioned, but he ain’t stupid — uncovers a sinister plot led by a familiar enemy, with Steve’s former BFF Bucky doing its bidding as the science-experiment-turned-assassin Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan). Anthony Mackie, Robert Redford, and series regular Cobie Smulders are fine in supporting roles, and Johansson finally gets more to do than punch and pose, but the likable Evans ably carries the movie — he may not have the charisma of Robert Downey Jr., but he brings wit and depth to a role that would otherwise be defined mainly by biceps and CG-heavy fights. Oh, and you know the drill by now: superfans will want to stick around for two additional scenes tucked into the end credits. (2:16) Balboa, Marina, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Sundance Kabuki. (Eddy)

Cesar Chavez “You always have a choice,” Cesar Chavez (Michael Peña) tells his bullied son when advising him to turn the other cheek. Likewise, actor-turned-director Diego Luna had a choice when it came to tackling his first English-language film; he could have selected a less complicated, sprawling story. So he gets props for that simple act — especially at a time when workers’ rights and union power have been so dramatically eroded — and for his attempts to impact some complicated nuance to Chavez’s fully evident heroism. Painting his moving pictures in dusty earth tones and burnt sunlight with the help of cinematographer Enrique Chediak, Luna vaults straight into Chavez’s work with the grape pickers that would come to join the United Farm Workers — with just a brief voiceover about Chavez’s roots as the native-born son of a farm owner turned worker, post-Depression. Uprooting wife Helen (America Ferrera) and his family and moving to Delano as a sign of activist commitment, Chavez is seemingly quickly drawn into the 1965 strike by the Mexican workers’ sometime rivals: Filipino pickers (see the recent CAAMFest short documentary Delano Manongs for some of their side of the story). From there, the focus hones in on Chavez, speaking out against violence and “chicken shit macho ideals,” hunger striking, and activating unions overseas, though Luna does give voice to cohorts like Dolores Huerta (Rosario Dawson), growers like Bogdanovitch (John Malkovich), and the many nameless strikers — some of whom lost their lives during the astonishingly lengthy, taxing five-year strike. Luna’s win would be a blue-collar epic on par with 1979’s Norma Rae, and on some levels, he succeeds; scanning the faces of the weathered, hopeful extras in crowd scenes, you can’t help but feel the solidarity. The people have the power, as a poet once put it, and tellingly, his choice of Peña, stolidly opaque when charismatic warmth is called for, might be the key weakness here. One suspects the director or his frequent costar Gael García Bernal would make a more riveting Chavez. (1:38) Elmwood, Metreon. (Chun)

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) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Sundance Kabuki. (Rapoport)

Ernest & Celestine Belgian animators Vincent Patar and Stéphane Aubier are best known for the stop-motion shorts series (and priceless 2009 subsequent feature) A Town Called Panic, an anarchic, absurdist, and hilarious creation suitable for all ages. Their latest (co-directed with Benjamin Renner) is … not like that at all. Instead, it’s a sweet, generally guileless children’s cartoon that takes its gentle, watercolor-type visual style from late writer-illustrator Gabrielle Vincent’s same-named books. Celestine (voiced by Pauline Brunner) is an orphaned girl mouse that befriends gruff bear Ernest (the excellent Lambert Wilson), though their improbable kinship invites social disapproval and scrapes with the law. There are some clever satirical touches, but mostly this is a softhearted charmer that will primarily appeal to younger kids. Adults will find it pleasant enough — but don’t expect any Panic-style craziness. (1:20) Elmwood, Opera Plaza. (Harvey)

Non-Stop You don’t want to get between Liam Neeson and his human shield duties. The Taken franchise has restyled the once-gentle acting giant into the type of weather-beaten, all-business action hero that Harrison Ford once had a lock on. Throw in a bit of the flying-while-addled antihero high jinks last seen in Flight (2012) and that pressured, packed-sardine anxiety that we all suffer during long-distance air travel, and we have a somewhat ludicrous but nonetheless entertaining hybrid that may have you believing that those salty snacks and the seat-kicking kids are the least of your troubles. Neeson’s Bill Marks signals the level of his freestyle alcoholism by giving his booze a stir with a toothbrush shortly before putting on his big-boy air marshal pants and boarding his fateful flight. Marks is soon contacted by a psycho who promises, via text, to kill one person at a time on the flight unless $150 million is deposited into a bank account that — surprise — is under the bad-good air marshal’s name. The twists and turns — and questions of who to trust, whether it’s Marks’ vaguely likeable seatmate (Julianne Moore) or his business class flight attendant (Michelle Dockery) — keep the audience on edge and busily guessing, though director Jaume Collet-Serra doesn’t quite dispel all the questions that arise as the diabolical scheme plays out and ultimately taxes believability. The fun is all in the getting there, even if the denouement on the tarmac deflates. (1:50) Four Star. (Chun)

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 extraordinaire 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) Balboa, 1000 Van Ness, Presidio, SF Center, Sundance Kabuki, Vogue. (Eddy)

Gravity “Life in space is impossible,” begins Gravity, the latest from Alfonso Cuarón (2006’s Children of Men). Egghead Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is well aware of her precarious situation after a mangled satellite slams into her ship, then proceeds to demolition-derby everything (including the International Space Station) in its path. It’s not long before she’s utterly, terrifyingly alone, and forced to unearth near-superhuman reserves of physical and mental strength to survive. Bullock’s performance would be enough to recommend Gravity, but there’s more to praise, like the film’s tense pacing, spare-yet-layered script (Cuarón co-wrote with his son, Jonás), and spectacular 3D photography — not to mention George Clooney’s warm supporting turn as a career astronaut who loves country music almost as much as he loves telling stories about his misadventures. (1:31) Metreon. (Eddy)

The Great Beauty The latest from Paolo Sorrentino (2008’s Il Divo) arrives as a high-profile contender for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, already annointed a masterpiece in some quarters, and duly announcing itself as such in nearly every grandiose, aesthetically engorged moment. Yes, it seems to say, you are in the presence of this auteur’s masterpiece. But it’s somebody else’s, too. The problem isn’t just that Fellini got there first, but that there’s room for doubt whether Sorrentino’s homage actually builds on or simply imitates its model. La Dolce Vita (1960) and 8 1/2 (1963) are themselves swaying, jerry-built monuments, exhileratingly messy and debatably profound. But nothing quite like them had been seen before, and they did define a time of cultural upheaval — when traditional ways of life were being plowed under by a loud, moneyed, heedless modernity that for a while chose Rome as its global capital. Sorrentino announces his intention to out-Fellini Fellini in an opening sequence so strenuously flamboyant it’s like a never-ending pirouette performed by a prima dancer with a hernia. There’s statuary, a women’s choral ensemble, an on-screen audience applauding the director’s baffled muse Toni Servillo, standing in for Marcello Mastroianni — all this and more in manic tracking shots and frantic intercutting, as if sheer speed alone could supply contemporary relevancy. Eventually The Great Beauty calms down a bit, but still its reason for being remains vague behind the heavy curtain of “style.” (2:22) Opera Plaza. (Harvey)

It Felt Like Love Set on the outer edges of Brooklyn and Queens, writer-director Eliza Hittman’s debut feature tracks the summertime wanderings and missteps of 14-year-old Lila (Gina Piersanti), whose days mainly consist of trailing in the wake of her more sexually experienced and perpetually coupled-off best friend, Chiara (Giovanna Salimeni). The camera repeatedly finds Lila in voyeur mode, as Chiara and her boyfriend, Patrick (Jesse Cordasco), negotiate their physical relationship and redefine the limits of PDA, unfazed by Lila’s silent, watchful presence. It’s clear she wants some part of this, though her motivations are a murky compound of envy, loneliness, and longing for a sense of place among her peers. A brief encounter with an older boy, Sammy (Ronen Rubinstein), whom Chiara knows — more of a sighting, really — provides the tiniest of openings, and Lila forces her way through it with an awkward insistence that is uncomfortable and sometimes painful to witness. Lila lacks Chiara’s fluid verbal and physical vernacular, and her attempts at mimicry in the cause of attracting Sammy’s attention only underline how unready and out of her depth she is. As Lila pushes into his seedy, sleazy world — a typical night is spent getting wasted and watching porn with his friends — their encounters don’t look like they feel like love, though Piersanti poignantly signals her character’s physical desire in the face of Sammy’s bemused ambivalence. Hittman unflinchingly leads her hapless protagonist through scenes that hover uneasily between dark comedy and menace without ever quite landing, and this uncertainty generates an emotional force that isn’t dispelled by the drifting, episodic plot. (1:22) Roxie. (Rapoport)

Jinn (1:37) Metreon.

Jodorowsky’s Dune A Chilean émigré to Paris, Alejandro Jodorowsky had avant-garde interests that led him from theater and comic book art to film, making his feature debut with 1968’s Fando y Lis. Undaunted by its poor reception, he created El Topo (1970), a blood-soaked mix of spaghetti western, mysticism, and Buñuellian parabolic grotesquerie that became the very first “midnight movie.” After that success, he was given nearly a million dollars to “do what he wanted” with 1973’s similarly out-there The Holy Mountain, which became a big hit in Europe. French producer Michel Seydoux asked Jodorowsky what he’d like to do next. Dune, he said. In many ways it seemed a perfect match of director and material. Yet Dune would be an enormous undertaking in terms of scale, expense, and technical challenges. What moneymen in their right mind would entrust this flamboyant genius/nut job with it? They wouldn’t, as it turned out. So doc Jodorowsky’s Dune is the story of “the greatest film never made,” one that’s brain-exploding enough in description alone. But there’s more than description to go on here, since in 1975 the director and his collaborators created a beautifully detailed volume of storyboards and other preproduction minutiae they hoped would lure Hollywood studios aboard this space phantasmagoria. From this goldmine of material, as well as input from the surviving participants, Pavich is able to reconstruct not just the film’s making and unmaking, but to an extent the film itself — there are animated storyboard sequences here that offer just a partial yet still breathtaking glimpse of what might have been. (1:30) Embarcadero. (Harvey)

The Lego Movie (1:41) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness.

The Lunchbox Ila (Nimrat Kaur) is a self-possessed housewife and a great cook, whose husband confuses her for another piece of furniture. She tries to arouse his affections with elaborate lunches she makes and sends through the city’s lunchbox delivery service. Like marriage in India, lunchbox delivery has a failure rate of zero, which is what makes aberrations seem like magical occurrences. So when widow Saajan (Irrfan Khan) receives her adoring food, he humbly receives the magical lunches like a revival of the senses. Once Ila realizes her lunchbox is feeding the wrong man she writes a note and Saajan replies — tersely, like a man who hasn’t held a conversation in a decade — and the impossible circumstances lend their exchanges a romance that challenges her emotional fidelity and his retreat from society. She confides her husband is cheating. He confides his sympathy for men of lower castes. It’s a May/December affair if it’s an affair at all — but the chemistry we expect the actors to have in the same room is what fuels our urge to see it; that’s a rare and haunting dynamic. Newcomer Kaur is perfect as Ila, a beauty unmarked by her rigorous distaff; her soft features and exhausted expression lend a richness to the troubles she can’t share with her similarly stoic mother (Lillete Dubey). Everyone is sacrificing something and poverty seeps into every crack, every life, without exception — their inner lives are their richness. (1:44) Embarcadero. (Vizcarrondo)

Mistaken for Strangers Tom Berninger, brother to the National vocalist Matt Berninger, is the maker of this doc — ostensibly about the band but a really about brotherly love, competition, and creation. It spins off a somewhat genius conceit of brother vs. brother, since the combo is composed of two sets of siblings: twins Aaron and Bryce Dessner on guitars and Scott and Bryan Devendorf on bass and drums respectively. The obvious question — what of singer Matt and his missing broheim? Turns out little bro Tom is one of those rock fans — of metal and not, it seems, the National — more interested in living the life and drinking the brewskis than making the music. So when Matt reaches out to Tom, adrift in their hometown of Cincinnati, to work as a roadie for the outfit, it’s a handout, sure, but also a way for the two to spend time together and bond. A not-quite-realized moviemaker who’s tried to make his own Z-budget scary flicks but never seems to finish much, Tom decides to document, and in the process gently poke fun at, the band (aka his authority-figures-slash-employers), which turns out to be much more interesting than gathering their deli platters and Toblerone. The National’s aesthetic isn’t quite his cup of tea: they prefer to wrap themselves in slinky black suits like Nick Cave’s pickup band, and the soft-spoken Matt tends to perpetually stroll about with a glass of white wine or bubbly in hand when he isn’t bursting into fourth-wall-busting high jinks on stage. Proud of his sib yet also intimidated by the National’s fame and not a little envious of the photo shoots, the Obama meetings, and the like, Tom is all about having fun. But it’s not a case of us vs. them, Tom vs. Matt, he discovers; it’s a matter of connecting with family and oneself. In a Michael Moore-ian sense, the sweet-tempered Mistaken for Strangers is as much, if not more so, about the filmmaker and the journey to make the movie than the supposed subject. (1:15) Roxie. (Chun)

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) Four Star. (Eddy)

Mr. Peabody and Sherman Mr. P. (voiced by Ty Burrell) is a Nobel Prize-winning genius dog, Sherman (Max Charles) his adopted human son. When the latter attends his first day of school, his extremely precocious knowledge of history attracts jealous interest from bratty classmate Penny (Ariel Winter), with the eventual result that all three end up being transported in Peabody’s WABAC time machine to various fabled moments — involving Marie Antoinette, King Tut, the Trojan Horse, etc. — where Penny invariably gets them in deep trouble. Rob Minkoff’s first all-animation feature since The Lion King 20 years ago is spun off from the same-named segments in Jay Ward’s TV Rocky and Bullwinkle Show some decades earlier. It’s a very busy (sometimes to the brink of clutter), often witty, imaginatively constructed, visually impressive, and for the most part highly enjoyable comic adventure. The only minuses are some perfunctory “It’s about family”-type sentimentality — and scenarist Craig Wright’s determination to draw from history the “lesson” that nearly all women are pains in the ass who create problems they must then be rescued from. (1:30) 1000 Van Ness. (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) 1000 Van Ness, SF Center. (Eddy)

Need for Speed Speed kills, in quite a different way than it might in Breaking Bad, in Aaron Paul’s big-screen Need for Speed. “Big” nonetheless signals “B” here, in this stunt-filled challenge to the Fast and the Furious franchise, though there’s no shame in that — the drive-in is paved with standouts and stinkers alike. Tobey (Paul) is an ace driver who’s in danger of losing his auto shop, also the hangout for his pals (Scott Mescudi, Rami Malek, Ramon Rodriguez) and young sidekick Pete (Harrison Gilbertson), when archrival Dino (Dominic Cooper) arrives with a historic Mustang in need of restoration. Tragedy strikes, and Tobey must hook up with that fateful auto once more to win a mysterious winner-takes-all race, staged by eccentric, rich racing-fiend Monarch (Michael Keaton). Along for the ride are the (big) eyes and ears for the Mustang’s new owner — gearhead Julia (Imogen Poots). All beside the point, since the racing stunts, including a showy helicopter canyon save, are the real stars of Speed, while the touchstone for stuntman-turned-director Scott Waugh — considering the car and the final SF and Northern California race settings — is, of course, Bullitt (1968), which is given an overt nod in the opening drive-in scene. The overall larky effect, however, tends toward Smokey and the Bandit (1977), especially with Keaton’s camp efforts at Wolfman Jack verbiage-slanging roaring in the background. And despite the efforts of the multicultural gallery of wisecracking side guys, this script-challenged popcorn-er tends to blur what little chemistry these characters have with each other, skip the residual car culture insights of the more specific, more urban Fast series, and leave character development, in particular Tobey’s, in the dust in its haste to get from point A to B. (2:10) Metreon. (Chun)

Noah Darren Aronofsky’s Biblical epic begins with a brief recap of prior Genesis events — creation is detailed a bit more in clever fashion later on — leading up to mankind’s messing up such that God wants to wipe the slate clean and start over. That means getting Noah (Russell Crowe), wife Naameh (Jennifer Connelly), and their three sons and one adopted daughter (Emma Watson) to build an ark that can save them and two of every animal species from the imminent slate-wiping Great Flood. (The rest of humanity, having sinned too much, can just feed the fishes.) They get some help from fallen angels turned into Ray Harryhausen-type giant rock creatures voiced by Nick Nolte and others. There’s an admirable brute force and some startling imagery to this uneven, somber, Iceland-shot tale “inspired” by the Good Book (which, needless to say, has endured more than its share of revisions over the centuries). Purists may quibble over some choices, including the device of turning minor Biblical figure Tubal-Cain (Ray Winstone) into a royal-stowaway villain, and political conservatives have already squawked a bit over Aronofsky’s not-so-subtle message of eco-consciousness, with Noah being bade to “replenish the Earth” that man has hitherto rendered barren. But for the most part this is a respectable, forceful interpretation that should stir useful discussion amongst believers and non believers alike. Its biggest problem is that after the impressively harrowing flood itself, we’re trapped on the ark dealing with the lesser crises of a pregnancy, a discontented middle son (Logan Lerman), and that stowaway’s plotting — ponderous intrigues that might have been leavened if the director had allowed us to hang out with the animals a little, rather than sedating the whole menagerie for the entire voyage. (2:07) Marina, 1000 Van Ness, SF Center, Sundance Kabuki. (Harvey)

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 (see review below) of a movie that, in fairness, was never really intended to be split up like this. (1:50) Opera Plaza, Smith Rafael. (Harvey)

Nymphomaniac, Volume II The second half of Lars von Trier’s anecdotal epic begins with Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) recalling the quasi-religious experience of her spontaneous first orgasm at age 12. Then she continues to tell bookish good Samaritan Seligman (Stellan Skarsgard) — who reveals he’s an asexual 60-something virgin — the story of her sexually compulsive life to date. Despite finding domestic stability at last with Jerome (Shia LeBeouf), she proves to have no talent for motherhood, and hits a tormenting period of frigidity eventually relieved only by the brutal ministrations of sadist K (Jamie Bell, burying Billy Elliott for good). She finds a suitable professional outlet for her peculiarly antisocial personality, working as a sometimes ruthless debt collector under the tutelage of L (Willem Dafoe), and he in turn encourages her to develop her own protégé in the form of needy teenager P (Mia Goth). If Vol. I raised the question “Will all this have a point?,” Vol. II provides the answer, and it’s (as expected) “Not really.” Still, there’s no room for boredom in the filmmaker’s most playfully arbitrary, entertaining, and least misanthropic (very relatively speaking) effort since his last four-hour-plus project 20 years ago, TV miniseries The Kingdom. Never mind that von Trier (in one of many moments when he uses Joe or Seligman as his mouthpiece) protests against the tyranny of political correctitude that renders a word like “Negro” unsayable — you’re still free to feel offended when his camera spends more time ogling two African men’s variably erect dicks in one brief scene that it does all the white actors’ cocks combined. But then there’s considerably more graphic content all around in this windup, which ends on a predictable note of cheap, melodramatic irony. But that’s part of the charm of the whole enterprise: Reeling heedlessly from the pedantic to the shocking to the trivial, like a spoiled child it manages to be kinda cute even when it’s deliberately pissing you off. (2:10) Embarcadero, Smith Rafael. (Harvey)

On My Way Not for nothing too does the title On My Way evoke Going Places (1974): director Emmanuelle Bercot is less interested in exploring Catherine Deneuve’s at-times-chilled hauteur than roughing up, grounding, and blowing fresh country air through that still intimidatingly gorgeous image. Deneuve’s Bettie lost her way long ago — the former beauty queen, who never rose beyond her Miss Brittany status, is in a state of stagnation, working at her seafood restaurant, having affairs with married men, living with her mother, and still sleeping in her girlhood room. One workday mid-lunch hour, she gets in her car and drives, ignoring all her ordinary responsibilities and disappearing down the wormhole of dive bars and back roads. She seems destined to drift until her enraged, equally lost daughter Muriel (Camille) calls in a favor: give her son Charly (Nemo Schiffman) a ride to his paternal grandfather’s. It’s chance to reconnect and correct course, even after Bettie’s money is spent, her restaurant appears doomed, and the adorable, infuriating Charly acts out. The way is clear, however: what could have been a musty, predictable affair, in the style of so many boomer tales in the movie houses these days, is given a crucial infusion of humanity and life, as Bercot keeps an affectionate eye trained on the unglamorous everyday attractions of a French backwater and Deneuve works that ineffable charm that draws all eyes to her onscreen. Her Bettie may have kicked her cigarette habit long ago, but she’s still smokin’ — in every way. (1:53) Embarcadero. (Chun)

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) Opera Plaza. (Eddy)

The Raid 2 One need not have seen 2011’s The Raid: Redemption to appreciate this latest collaboration between Welsh director Gareth Evans and Indonesian actor, martial artist, and fight choreographer Iko Uwais — it’s recommended, of course, but the sequel stands alone on its own merits. Overstuffed with gloriously brutal, cleverly choreographed fight scenes, The Raid 2 — sometimes written with the subtitle “Berendal,” which means “thugs” — picks up immediately after the events of the first film. Quick recap of part one: a special-forces team invades an apartment tower controlled by gangsters. Among the cops is idealistic Rama (Uwais). Seemingly bulletproof and fleet of fists and feet, Rama battles his way floor-by-floor, encountering machete-toting heavies and wild-eyed maniacs; he also soon realizes he’s working for a police department that’s as corrupt as the gangster crew. The Raid‘s gritty, unadorned approach resonated with thrillseeking audiences weary of CG overload. A second Raid film was inevitable, especially since Evans — who became interested in Indonesian martial arts, or pencak silat, while working on 2007 doc The Mystic Art of Indonesia — already had its story in mind: Rama goes undercover within a criminal organization, a ploy that necessitates he do a prison stint to gain the trust of a local kingpin. Naturally, not much goes according to plan, and much blood is shed along the way, as multiple power-crazed villains set their sinister plans into motion. With expanded locations and ever-more daring (yet bone-breakingly realistic) fight scenes aplenty — including a brawl inside a moving vehicle, and a muddy, bloody prison-yard riot — The Raid 2 more than delivers. Easily the action film of the year so far, with no contenders likely to topple it in the coming months. (2:19) Metreon. (Eddy)

Rob the Mob Based on a stranger-than-fiction actual case, this rambunctious crime comedy stars Michael Pitt and Nina Arianda as Tommy and Rosie, a coupla crazy kids in early 1990s Queens — crazy in love, both before and after their strung-out robbery antics win them both a stint in the pen. When Tommy gets out 18 months later, he finds Rosie has managed to stay clean, even getting a legit job as a debt collector for positive-thinking nut and regular employer of strays Dave (a delightful Griffin Dunne). She wants Tommy to do likewise, but the high visibility trial of mob kingpin John Gotti gives him an idea: With the mafia trying to keep an especially low profile at present, why not go around sticking up the neighborhood “social clubs” where wise guys hang out, laden with gold chains and greenbacks but (it’s a rule) unarmed? Whatta they gonna do, call the police? This plan is so reckless it just might work, and indeed it does, for a while. But these endearingly stupid lovebirds can’t be counted on to stay under the radar, magnetizing attention from the press (Ray Romano as a newspaper columnist), the FBI, and of course the “organization” — particularly one “family” led by Big Al (Andy Garcia). Written by Jonathan Fernandez, this first narrative feature from director Raymond DeFitta since his terrific 2009 sleeper hit City Island is less like that screwball fare and more like a scaled down, economically downscaled American Hustle (2013), another brashly comedic period piece inspired by tabloid-worthy fact. Inspiration doesn’t fully hold up to the end, but the film has verve and style to spare, and the performances (also including notable turns from Cathy Moriarty, Frank Whaley, Burt Young, Michael Rispoli, Yul Vazquez and others) are sterling. (1:42) Embarcadero. (Harvey)

Sabotage Puzzle over the bad Photoshop job on the Sabotage poster. The hard-to-make-out Arnold Schwarzenegger in the foreground could be just about any weathered, sinewy body — telling, in gory action effort that wears its grit like a big black sleeve tattoo on its bicep and reads like an attempt at governator reinvention. Yet this blood-drenched twister, front-loaded with acting talent and directed by David Ayer (2012’s End of Watch), can’t quite make up its mind where it stands. Is it a truth-to-life cop drama about a particularly thuggy DEA team, an old-fashioned murder mystery-meets-heist-exercise, or just another crowd-pleasing Pumping Arnie flick? Schwarzenegger is Breacher, the leader of a team of undercover DEA agents who like to caper on the far reaches of bad lieutenant behavior: wild-eyed coke snorting (a scene-chomping Mireille Enos); sorry facial hair (Sam Worthington, as out of his element as the bead at the end of his goatee); unfortunate cornrows (Joe Manganiello); trash-talking (Josh Holloway); and acting like a suspiciously colorless man of color (Terrence Howard). We know these are bad apples from the start — the question is just how bad they are. Also, how fast can the vanilla homicide cops (Olivia Williams, Harold Perrineau) lock them down, as team members are handily, eh, dismembered and begin to turn on each other and Schwarzenegger gets in at least one semi-zinger concerning an opponent with 48 percent body fat? Still, the sutured-on archetypal-Arnie climax comes as a bit of a shock in its broad-stroke comic-book violence, as the superstar pulls rank, sabotages any residual pretense to realism, and dons a cowboy hat to tell his legions of shooting victims, “I’m different!” Get to the choppers, indeed. (1:49) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness. (Chun)

300: Rise of An Empire We pick up the 300 franchise right where director Zack Snyder left off in 2006, with this prequel-sequel, which spins off an as-yet-unreleased Frank Miller graphic novel. In the hands of director Noam Murro, with Snyder still in the house as writer, 300: Rise of an Empire contorts itself, flipping back and forth in time, in an attempt to explain the making of Persian evil prince stereotype Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) —all purring androgyny, fashionable piercings, and Iran-baiting, Bush-era malevolence — before following through on avenging 300‘s romantically outnumbered, chesty Spartans. As told by the angry, mourning Spartan Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey of Game of Thrones), the whole mess apparently began during the Battle of Marathon, when Athenian General Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton) killed Xerxes’s royal father with a well-aimed miracle arrow. That act ushers in Xerxes’s transformation into a “God King” bent on vengeance, aided and encouraged by his equally vengeful, elegantly mega-goth naval commander Artemisia (Eva Green), a Greek-hating Greek who likes to up the perversity quotient by making out with decapitated heads. In case you didn’t get it: know that vengeance is a prime mover for almost all the parties (except perhaps high-minded hottie Themistokles). Very loosely tethered to history and supplied with plenty of shirtless Greeks, taut thighs, wildly splintering ships, and even proto-suicide bombers, Rise skews toward a more naturalistic, less digitally waxy look than 300, as dust motes and fire sparks perpetually telegraph depth of field, shrieking, “See your 3D dollars hard at work!” Also working hard and making all that wrath look diabolically effortless is Green, who as the pitch-black counterpart to Gorga, turns out to be the real hero of the franchise, saving it from being yet another by-the-book sword-and-sandal war-game exercise populated by wholesome-looking, buff, blond jock-soldiers. Green’s feline line readings and languid camp attitude have a way of cutting through the sausage fest of the Greek pec-ing order, even during the Battle of, seriously, Salamis. (1:43) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness. (Chun)

The Unknown Known After winning an Oscar for 2003’s The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamera, Errol Morris revisits the extended-interview documentary format with another Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld. The film delves into Rumsfeld’s lengthy political career — from Congress to the Nixon, Ford, and George W. Bush administrations — drawing insights from the man himself and his extensive archive of memos (“there have to be millions”) on Vietnam, 9/11, Osama bin Laden, the “chain of command,” torture, the Iraq War, etc., as well as archival footage that suggests the glib Rumsfeld’s preferred spin on certain events is not always factually accurate (see: Saddam Hussein and WMDs). Morris participates from behind the camera, lobbing questions that we can hear and therefore gauge Rumsfeld’s immediate reaction to them. (The man is 100 percent unafraid of prolonging an awkward pause.) A gorgeous Danny Elfman score soothes some of the anger you’ll feel digesting Rumsfeld’s rhetoric, but you still may find yourself wanting to shriek at the screen. In other words, another Morris success. (1:42) Elmwood, Presidio. (Eddy)

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) Embarcadero. (Harvey)

The Wind Rises Hayao Miyazaki announced that Oscar nominee The Wind Rises would be his final film before retiring — though he later amended that declaration, as he’s fond of doing, so who knows. At any rate, it’d be a shame if this was the Japanese animation master’s final film before retirement; not only does it lack the whimsy of his signature efforts (2001’s Spirited Away, 1997’s Princess Mononoke), it’s been overshadowed by controversy — not entirely surprising, since it’s about the life of Jiro Horikoshi, who designed war planes (built by slave labor) in World War II-era Japan. Surprisingly, a pacifist message is established early on; as a young boy, his mother tells him, “Fighting is never justified,” and in a dream, Italian engineer Giovanni Caproni assures him “Airplanes are not tools for war.” But that statement doesn’t last long; Caproni visits Jiro in his dreams as his career takes him from Japan to Germany, where he warns the owlish young designer that “aircraft are destined to become tools for slaughter and destruction.” You don’t say. A melodramatic romantic subplot injects itself into all the plane-talk on occasion, but — despite all that political hullabaloo — The Wind Rises is more tedious than anything else. (2:06) Sundance Kabuki. (Eddy) *

 

Film Listings: April 2 – 8, 2014

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Film listings are edited by Cheryl Eddy. Reviewers are Kimberly Chun, Dennis Harvey, Lynn Rapoport, Sam Stander, and Sara Maria Vizcarrondo. For rep house showtimes, see Rep Clock.

OPENING

Breathe In In Drake Doremus’s lyrical tale of a man in midlife crisis, Guy Pearce plays Keith Reynolds, a high school music teacher living in upstate New York with his wife, Megan (Amy Ryan), and teenage daughter, Lauren (Mackenzie David). Quietly harboring his discontent, Keith spends solitary moments wistfully sifting through glory-days photographs of his former band and memories of the undomesticated life he and Megan led two decades ago in New York City, which the two revisit in a low-toned call-and-response that doesn’t need to erupt into a blistering argument to clarify their incompatible positions. The melancholy calm is disrupted by the arrival of a British exchange student named Sophie (Felicity Jones, who also starred in Doremus’s 2011 film, Like Crazy). Evading a scene of loss and heartbreak at home, 18-year-old Sophie has come to spend a semester at Lauren’s high school, a juxtaposition that presents us with two wildly distinct species of teenager. Lauren is a brittle, popular party girl whom we watch making poor choices with a predatory classmate; Sophie is a soulful, reserved young woman whose prodigious talent at the piano first jars Keith out of his malaise into an uncomfortable awareness. A scene before Sophie’s arrival in which the family plays Jenga and Keith pulls out the wrong piece, toppling the tower, perhaps presses its ominous visual message too hard. Meanwhile, similarities to 2012’s Nobody Walks underscore the argument that this subject matter is an old, tired tale. But for the most part, the intimacy that develops between Keith and Sophie is constructed with delicate restraint, and Doremus and writing partner Ben York Jones have crafted a textured portrait of a man trying to repossess the past. (1:37) Sundance Kabuki. (Rapoport)

Captain America: The Winter Soldier Marvel’s most wholesome hero returns in this latest film in the Avengers series, and while it doesn’t deviate from the expected formula (it’s not a spoiler to say that yes, the world is saved yet again), it manages to incorporate a surprisingly timely plot about the dangers of government surveillance. Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), hunkiest 95-year-old ever, is still figuring out his place in the 21st century after his post-World War II deep freeze. Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) has him running random rescue missions with the help of Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), but SHIELD is working on a top-secret project that will allow it to predict crimes before they occur. It isn’t long before Cap’s distrust of the weapon — he may be old-fashioned, but he ain’t stupid — uncovers a sinister plot led by a familiar enemy, with Steve’s former BFF Bucky doing its bidding as the science-experiment-turned-assassin Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan). Anthony Mackie, Robert Redford, and series regular Colbie Smulders are fine in supporting roles, and Johansson finally gets more to do than punch and pose, but the likable Evans ably carries the movie — he may not have the charisma of Robert Downey Jr., but he brings wit and depth to a role that would otherwise be defined mainly by biceps and CG-heavy fights. Oh, and you know the drill by now: superfans will want to stick around for two additional scenes tucked into the end credits. (2:16) (Eddy)

Frankie & Alice Halle Berry plays a go-go dancer with dissociative identity disorder. (1:42)

Goodbye World The end begins with a text — “Goodbye world,” sent to every cell phone. Once the computer virus-spawned anarchy really gets rolling (internet and power outages, violence and chaos), a group with nerdy-tech past connections descends on the survivalist-chic homestead of responsible James (Adrian Grenier) and “zany” Lily (Kerry Bishé): uptight Becky (Caroline Dhavernas) and unhappy Nick (Ben McKenzie); Lev (Scott Mescudi, aka musician Kid Cudi), who may have accidentally unleashed the virus; Laura (Gaby Hoffman), haunted by a recent political scandal; and ex-con Benji (Marc Webber) with his nubile tagalong (Remy Nozik). Most of these folks — even the ones married to each other — are frenemies at best, and their relationships disintegrate as civilization crumbles from afar. Physical menace enters this Big Chill-off-the-grid reunion when surly National Guardsmen emerge from the woods, but the main dramas take place ‘twixt the members of the angsty ensemble — all of whom are actually in desperate need of a fresh start. Among a cast composed mostly of TV veterans, Hoffman (last seen scene-stealing on Girls) is the standout performer, not to mention the MVP of this particular apocalypse. (1:41) Four Star. (Eddy)

Island of Lemurs: Madagascar Morgan Freeman narrates this 3D IMAX look at lemurs. (:39)

It Felt Like Love Set on the outer edges of Brooklyn and Queens, writer-director Eliza Hittman’s debut feature tracks the summertime wanderings and missteps of 14-year-old Lila (Gina Piersanti), whose days mainly consist of trailing in the wake of her more sexually experienced and perpetually coupled-off best friend, Chiara (Giovanna Salimeni). The camera repeatedly finds Lila in voyeur mode, as Chiara and her boyfriend, Patrick (Jesse Cordasco), negotiate their physical relationship and redefine the limits of PDA, unfazed by Lila’s silent, watchful presence. It’s clear she wants some part of this, though her motivations are a murky compound of envy, loneliness, and longing for a sense of place among her peers. A brief encounter with an older boy, Sammy (Ronen Rubinstein), whom Chiara knows — more of a sighting, really — provides the tiniest of openings, and Lila forces her way through it with an awkward insistence that is uncomfortable and sometimes painful to witness. Lila lacks Chiara’s fluid verbal and physical vernacular, and her attempts at mimicry in the cause of attracting Sammy’s attention only underline how unready and out of her depth she is. As Lila pushes into his seedy, sleazy world — a typical night is spent getting wasted and watching porn with his friends — their encounters don’t look like they feel like love, though Piersanti poignantly signals her character’s physical desire in the face of Sammy’s bemused ambivalence. Hittman unflinchingly leads her hapless protagonist through scenes that hover uneasily between dark comedy and menace without ever quite landing, and this uncertainty generates an emotional force that isn’t dispelled by the drifting, episodic plot. (1:22) Roxie. (Rapoport)

Jinn Horror movie based on the mythical creature from Arabic folklore. (1:37)

The Missing Picture Rithy Panh’s latest film about the homeland he fled as a teenager is atypically, directly autobiographical, and most unusually crafted. He re-creates his once comfortable Phnom Penh family’s grim fate after Pol Pot and company seized control of Cambodia in 1975 — as all fell prey to the starvation, forced labor, and other privations suffered by perceived “enemies” of the new regime — not by any conventional means but via elaborate dioramas of handmade clay figures depicted in prison camp life (and death). There’s also ample surviving propagandic footage of the Khmer Rouge trumpeting its “model society” that was in reality little more than an experiment in mass execution and torture. The result is a unique and powerful take on one of the 20th century’s worst crimes against humanity. (1:36) Opera Plaza. (Harvey)

Nymphomaniac, Volume II The second half of Lars von Trier’s anecdotal epic begins with Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) recalling the quasi-religious experience of her spontaneous first orgasm at age 12. Then she continues to tell bookish good Samaritan Seligman (Stellan Skarsgard) — who reveals he’s an asexual 60-something virgin — the story of her sexually compulsive life to date. Despite finding domestic stability at last with Jerome (Shia LeBeouf), she proves to have no talent for motherhood, and hits a tormenting period of frigidity eventually relieved only by the brutal ministrations of sadist K (Jamie Bell, burying Billy Elliott for good). She finds a suitable professional outlet for her peculiarly antisocial personality, working as a sometimes ruthless debt collector under the tutelage of L (Willem Dafoe), and he in turn encourages her to develop her own protégé in the form of needy teenager P (Mia Goth). If Vol. I raised the question “Will all this have a point?,” Vol. II provides the answer, and it’s (as expected) “Not really.” Still, there’s no room for boredom in the filmmaker’s most playfully arbitrary, entertaining, and least misanthropic (very relatively speaking) effort since his last four-hour-plus project 20 years ago, TV miniseries The Kingdom. Never mind that von Trier (in one of many moments when he uses Joe or Seligman as his mouthpiece) protests against the tyranny of political correctitude that renders a word like “Negro” unsayable — you’re still free to feel offended when his camera spends more time ogling two African men’s variably erect dicks in one brief scene that it does all the white actors’ cocks combined. But then there’s considerably more graphic content all around in this windup, which ends on a predictable note of cheap, melodramatic irony. But that’s part of the charm of the whole enterprise: Reeling heedlessly from the pedantic to the shocking to the trivial, like a spoiled child it manages to be kinda cute even when it’s deliberately pissing you off. (2:10) Embarcadero, Smith Rafael. (Harvey)

On My Way Not for nothing too does the title On My Way evoke Going Places (1974): director Emmanuelle Bercot is less interested in exploring Catherine Deneuve’s at-times-chilled hauteur than roughing up, grounding, and blowing fresh country air through that still intimidatingly gorgeous image. Deneuve’s Bettie lost her way long ago — the former beauty queen, who never rose beyond her Miss Brittany status, is in a state of stagnation, working at her seafood restaurant, having affairs with married men, living with her mother, and still sleeping in her girlhood room. One workday mid-lunch hour, she gets in her car and drives, ignoring all her ordinary responsibilities and disappearing down the wormhole of dive bars and back roads. She seems destined to drift until her enraged, equally lost daughter Muriel (Camille) calls in a favor: give her son Charly (Nemo Schiffman) a ride to his paternal grandfather’s. It’s chance to reconnect and correct course, even after Bettie’s money is spent, her restaurant appears doomed, and the adorable, infuriating Charly acts out. The way is clear, however: what could have been a musty, predictable affair, in the style of so many boomer tales in the movie houses these days, is given a crucial infusion of humanity and life, as Bercot keeps an affectionate eye trained on the unglamorous everyday attractions of a French backwater and Deneuve works that ineffable charm that draws all eyes to her onscreen. Her Bettie may have kicked her cigarette habit long ago, but she’s still smokin’ — in every way. (1:53) Clay. (Chun)

The Raid 2 See “Brawl Opera.” (2:19) Metreon, Sundance Kabuki, Shattuck.

Rob the Mob Based on a stranger-than-fiction actual case, this rambunctious crime comedy stars Michael Pitt and Nina Arianda as Tommy and Rosie, a coupla crazy kids in early 1990s Queens — crazy in love, both before and after their strung-out robbery antics win them both a stint in the pen. When Tommy gets out 18 months later, he finds Rosie has managed to stay clean, even getting a legit job as a debt collector for positive-thinking nut and regular employer of strays Dave (a delightful Griffin Dunne). She wants Tommy to do likewise, but the high visibility trial of mob kingpin John Gotti gives him an idea: With the mafia trying to keep an especially low profile at present, why not go around sticking up the neighborhood “social clubs” where wise guys hang out, laden with gold chains and greenbacks but (it’s a rule) unarmed? Whatta they gonna do, call the police? This plan is so reckless it just might work, and indeed it does, for a while. But these endearingly stupid lovebirds can’t be counted on to stay under the radar, magnetizing attention from the press (Ray Romano as a newspaper columnist), the FBI, and of course the “organization” — particularly one “family” led by Big Al (Andy Garcia). Written by Jonathan Fernandez, this first narrative feature from director Raymond DeFitta since his terrific 2009 sleeper hit City Island is less like that screwball fare and more like a scaled down, economically downscaled American Hustle (2013), another brashly comedic period piece inspired by tabloid-worthy fact. Inspiration doesn’t fully hold up to the end, but the film has verve and style to spare, and the performances (also including notable turns from Cathy Moriarty, Frank Whaley, Burt Young, Michael Rispoli, Yul Vazquez and others) are sterling. (1:42) Embarcadero. (Harvey)

The Unknown Known After winning an Oscar for 2003’s The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamera, Errol Morris revisits the extended-interview documentary format with another Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld. The film delves into Rumsfeld’s lengthy political career — from Congress to the Nixon, Ford, and George W. Bush administrations — drawing insights from the man himself and his extensive archive of memos (“there have to be millions”) on Vietnam, 9/11, Osama bin Laden, the “chain of command,” torture, the Iraq War, etc., as well as archival footage that suggests the glib Rumsfeld’s preferred spin on certain events is not always factually accurate (see: Saddam Hussein and WMDs). Morris participates from behind the camera, lobbing questions that we can hear and therefore gauge Rumsfeld’s immediate reaction to them. (The man is 100 percent unafraid of prolonging an awkward pause.) A gorgeous Danny Elfman score soothes some of the anger you’ll feel digesting Rumsfeld’s rhetoric, but you still may find yourself wanting to shriek at the screen. In other words, another Morris success. (1:42) Elmwood, Presidio. (Eddy)

ONGOING

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) Opera Plaza. (Rapoport)

American Hustle David O. Russell’s American Hustle is like a lot of things you’ve seen before — put in a blender, so the results are too smooth to feel blatantly derivative, though here and there you taste a little Boogie Nights (1997), Goodfellas (1990), or whatever. Loosely based on the Abscam FBI sting-scandal of the late 1970s and early ’80s (an opening title snarks “Some of this actually happened”), Hustle is a screwball crime caper almost entirely populated by petty schemers with big ideas almost certain to blow up in their faces. It’s love, or something, at first sight for Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) and Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), who meet at a Long Island party circa 1977 and instantly fall for each other — or rather for the idealized selves they’ve both strained to concoct. He’s a none-too-classy but savvy operator who’s built up a mini-empire of variably legal businesses; she’s a nobody from nowhere who crawled upward and gave herself a bombshell makeover. The hiccup in this slightly tacky yet perfect match is Irving’s neglected, crazy wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence), who’s not about to let him go. She’s their main problem until they meet Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper), an ambitious FBI agent who entraps the two while posing as a client. Their only way out of a long prison haul, he says, is to cooperate in an elaborate Atlantic City redevelopment scheme he’s concocted to bring down a slew of Mafioso and presumably corrupt politicians, hustling a beloved Jersey mayor (Jeremy Renner) in the process. Russell’s filmmaking is at a peak of populist confidence it would have been hard to imagine before 2010’s The Fighter, and the casting here is perfect down to the smallest roles. But beyond all clever plotting, amusing period trappings, and general high energy, the film’s ace is its four leads, who ingeniously juggle the caricatured surfaces and pathetic depths of self-identified “winners” primarily driven by profound insecurity. (2:17) Metreon. (Harvey)

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) Marina, 1000 Van Ness, SF Center, Sundance Kabuki. (Harvey)

Boys of Abu Ghraib First-time feature director-writer Luke Moran stars as Jack, an all-American lad who signs on for an Army stint in the wake of 9/11, and finds himself posted to the titular Iraqi prison turned U.S. military detainee camp 20 miles outside Baghdad. Despite the occasional bombing, however, life is mostly underutilized tedium for he and his fellow grunts. With nothing else to do, Jack volunteers for MP duty as a guard in the cell blocks — where his initial shock at the torture and abuse of prisoners is exacerbated by his friendship with the well educated, friendly, convincingly innocent captive Ghazi (Omid Abtahi). Shot at an abandoned New Mexico penitentiary, this drama is effective as far as it goes in exploring one fictive soldier’s rocky road under the influence of stress, isolation, and boredom. But as it ultimately encompasses the real-life international Abu Ghraib scandal of 2004 — in which leaked photos revealed widespread humiliation and abuse of prisoners for no evident purpose save enlistees’ loutish amusement — Boys falls well short in illuminating just how that kind of systemic breakdown can occur amongst seemingly normal, disciplined military personnel. Moran and company do raise the issue, but it turns out to be a weightier, more disturbing issue than this modestly ambitious feature is equipped to handle. (1:42) Metreon. (Harvey)

Cesar Chavez “You always have a choice,” Cesar Chavez (Michael Peña) tells his bullied son when advising him to turn the other cheek. Likewise, actor-turned-director Diego Luna had a choice when it came to tackling his first English-language film; he could have selected a less complicated, sprawling story. So he gets props for that simple act — especially at a time when workers’ rights and union power have been so dramatically eroded — and for his attempts to impact some complicated nuance to Chavez’s fully evident heroism. Painting his moving pictures in dusty earth tones and burnt sunlight with the help of cinematographer Enrique Chediak, Luna vaults straight into Chavez’s work with the grape pickers that would come to join the United Farm Workers — with just a brief voiceover about Chavez’s roots as the native-born son of a farm owner turned worker, post-Depression. Uprooting wife Helen (America Ferrera) and his family and moving to Delano as a sign of activist commitment, Chavez is seemingly quickly drawn into the 1965 strike by the Mexican workers’ sometime rivals: Filipino pickers (see the recent CAAMFest short documentary Delano Manongs for some of their side of the story). From there, the focus hones in on Chavez, speaking out against violence and “chicken shit macho ideals,” hunger striking, and activating unions overseas, though Luna does give voice to cohorts like Dolores Huerta (Rosario Dawson), growers like Bogdanovitch (John Malkovich), and the many nameless strikers — some of whom lost their lives during the astonishingly lengthy, taxing five-year strike. Luna’s win would be a blue-collar epic on par with 1979’s Norma Rae, and on some levels, he succeeds; scanning the faces of the weathered, hopeful extras in crowd scenes, you can’t help but feel the solidarity. The people have the power, as a poet once put it, and tellingly, his choice of Peña, stolidly opaque when charismatic warmth is called for, might be the key weakness here. One suspects the director or his frequent costar Gael García Bernal would make a more riveting Chavez. (1:38) Metreon. (Chun)

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) Balboa, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Sundance Kabuki. (Rapoport)

Ernest & Celestine Belgian animators Vincent Patar and Stéphane Aubier are best known for the stop-motion shorts series (and priceless 2009 subsequent feature) A Town Called Panic, an anarchic, absurdist, and hilarious creation suitable for all ages. Their latest (co-directed with Benjamin Renner) is … not like that at all. Instead, it’s a sweet, generally guileless children’s cartoon that takes its gentle, watercolor-type visual style from late writer-illustrator Gabrielle Vincent’s same-named books. Celestine (voiced by Pauline Brunner) is an orphaned girl mouse that befriends gruff bear Ernest (the excellent Lambert Wilson), though their improbable kinship invites social disapproval and scrapes with the law. There are some clever satirical touches, but mostly this is a softhearted charmer that will primarily appeal to younger kids. Adults will find it pleasant enough — but don’t expect any Panic-style craziness. (1:20) Embarcadero. (Harvey)

Frozen (1:48) Metreon.

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 extraordinaire 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) 1000 Van Ness, SF Center, Sundance Kabuki, Vogue. (Eddy)

Gravity “Life in space is impossible,” begins Gravity, the latest from Alfonso Cuarón (2006’s Children of Men). Egghead Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is well aware of her precarious situation after a mangled satellite slams into her ship, then proceeds to demolition-derby everything (including the International Space Station) in its path. It’s not long before she’s utterly, terrifyingly alone, and forced to unearth near-superhuman reserves of physical and mental strength to survive. Bullock’s performance would be enough to recommend Gravity, but there’s more to praise, like the film’s tense pacing, spare-yet-layered script (Cuarón co-wrote with his son, Jonás), and spectacular 3D photography — not to mention George Clooney’s warm supporting turn as a career astronaut who loves country music almost as much as he loves telling stories about his misadventures. (1:31) Metreon. (Eddy)

The Great Beauty The latest from Paolo Sorrentino (2008’s Il Divo) arrives as a high-profile contender for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, already annointed a masterpiece in some quarters, and duly announcing itself as such in nearly every grandiose, aesthetically engorged moment. Yes, it seems to say, you are in the presence of this auteur’s masterpiece. But it’s somebody else’s, too. The problem isn’t just that Fellini got there first, but that there’s room for doubt whether Sorrentino’s homage actually builds on or simply imitates its model. La Dolce Vita (1960) and 8 1/2 (1963) are themselves swaying, jerry-built monuments, exhileratingly messy and debatably profound. But nothing quite like them had been seen before, and they did define a time of cultural upheaval — when traditional ways of life were being plowed under by a loud, moneyed, heedless modernity that for a while chose Rome as its global capital. Sorrentino announces his intention to out-Fellini Fellini in an opening sequence so strenuously flamboyant it’s like a never-ending pirouette performed by a prima dancer with a hernia. There’s statuary, a women’s choral ensemble, an on-screen audience applauding the director’s baffled muse Toni Servillo, standing in for Marcello Mastroianni — all this and more in manic tracking shots and frantic intercutting, as if sheer speed alone could supply contemporary relevancy. Eventually The Great Beauty calms down a bit, but still its reason for being remains vague behind the heavy curtain of “style.” (2:22) Opera Plaza. (Harvey)

Jodorowsky’s Dune A Chilean émigré to Paris, Alejandro Jodorowsky had avant-garde interests that led him from theater and comic book art to film, making his feature debut with 1968’s Fando y Lis. Undaunted by its poor reception, he created El Topo (1970), a blood-soaked mix of spaghetti western, mysticism, and Buñuellian parabolic grotesquerie that became the very first “midnight movie.” After that success, he was given nearly a million dollars to “do what he wanted” with 1973’s similarly out-there The Holy Mountain, which became a big hit in Europe. French producer Michel Seydoux asked Jodorowsky what he’d like to do next. Dune, he said. In many ways it seemed a perfect match of director and material. Yet Dune would be an enormous undertaking in terms of scale, expense, and technical challenges. What moneymen in their right mind would entrust this flamboyant genius/nut job with it? They wouldn’t, as it turned out. So doc Jodorowsky’s Dune is the story of “the greatest film never made,” one that’s brain-exploding enough in description alone. But there’s more than description to go on here, since in 1975 the director and his collaborators created a beautifully detailed volume of storyboards and other preproduction minutiae they hoped would lure Hollywood studios aboard this space phantasmagoria. From this goldmine of material, as well as input from the surviving participants, Pavich is able to reconstruct not just the film’s making and unmaking, but to an extent the film itself — there are animated storyboard sequences here that offer just a partial yet still breathtaking glimpse of what might have been. (1:30) Embarcadero. (Harvey)

The Lego Movie (1:41) Metroen, 1000 Van Ness.

The Lunchbox Ila (Nimrat Kaur) is a self-possessed housewife and a great cook, whose husband confuses her for another piece of furniture. She tries to arouse his affections with elaborate lunches she makes and sends through the city’s lunchbox delivery service. Like marriage in India, lunchbox delivery has a failure rate of zero, which is what makes aberrations seem like magical occurrences. So when widow Saajan (Irrfan Khan) receives her adoring food, he humbly receives the magical lunches like a revival of the senses. Once Ila realizes her lunchbox is feeding the wrong man she writes a note and Saajan replies — tersely, like a man who hasn’t held a conversation in a decade — and the impossible circumstances lend their exchanges a romance that challenges her emotional fidelity and his retreat from society. She confides her husband is cheating. He confides his sympathy for men of lower castes. It’s a May/December affair if it’s an affair at all — but the chemistry we expect the actors to have in the same room is what fuels our urge to see it; that’s a rare and haunting dynamic. Newcomer Kaur is perfect as Ila, a beauty unmarked by her rigorous distaff; her soft features and exhausted expression lend a richness to the troubles she can’t share with her similarly stoic mother (Lillete Dubey). Everyone is sacrificing something and poverty seeps into every crack, every life, without exception — their inner lives are their richness. (1:44) Embarcadero. (Vizcarrondo)

Mistaken for Strangers Tom Berninger, brother to the National vocalist Matt Berninger, is the maker of this doc — ostensibly about the band but a really about brotherly love, competition, and creation. It spins off a somewhat genius conceit of brother vs. brother, since the combo is composed of two sets of siblings: twins Aaron and Bryce Dessner on guitars and Scott and Bryan Devendorf on bass and drums respectively. The obvious question — what of singer Matt and his missing broheim? Turns out little bro Tom is one of those rock fans — of metal and not, it seems, the National — more interested in living the life and drinking the brewskis than making the music. So when Matt reaches out to Tom, adrift in their hometown of Cincinnati, to work as a roadie for the outfit, it’s a handout, sure, but also a way for the two to spend time together and bond. A not-quite-realized moviemaker who’s tried to make his own Z-budget scary flicks but never seems to finish much, Tom decides to document, and in the process gently poke fun at, the band (aka his authority-figures-slash-employers), which turns out to be much more interesting than gathering their deli platters and Toblerone. The National’s aesthetic isn’t quite his cup of tea: they prefer to wrap themselves in slinky black suits like Nick Cave’s pickup band, and the soft-spoken Matt tends to perpetually stroll about with a glass of white wine or bubbly in hand when he isn’t bursting into fourth-wall-busting high jinks on stage. Proud of his sib yet also intimidated by the National’s fame and not a little envious of the photo shoots, the Obama meetings, and the like, Tom is all about having fun. But it’s not a case of us vs. them, Tom vs. Matt, he discovers; it’s a matter of connecting with family and oneself. In a Michael Moore-ian sense, the sweet-tempered Mistaken for Strangers is as much, if not more so, about the filmmaker and the journey to make the movie than the supposed subject. (1:15) Roxie. (Chun)

Mr. Peabody and Sherman Mr. P. (voiced by Ty Burrell) is a Nobel Prize-winning genius dog, Sherman (Max Charles) his adopted human son. When the latter attends his first day of school, his extremely precocious knowledge of history attracts jealous interest from bratty classmate Penny (Ariel Winter), with the eventual result that all three end up being transported in Peabody’s WABAC time machine to various fabled moments — involving Marie Antoinette, King Tut, the Trojan Horse, etc. — where Penny invariably gets them in deep trouble. Rob Minkoff’s first all-animation feature since The Lion King 20 years ago is spun off from the same-named segments in Jay Ward’s TV Rocky and Bullwinkle Show some decades earlier. It’s a very busy (sometimes to the brink of clutter), often witty, imaginatively constructed, visually impressive, and for the most part highly enjoyable comic adventure. The only minuses are some perfunctory “It’s about family”-type sentimentality — and scenarist Craig Wright’s determination to draw from history the “lesson” that nearly all women are pains in the ass who create problems they must then be rescued from. (1:30) 1000 Van Ness. (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) Balboa, 1000 Van Ness, SF Center. (Eddy)

Need for Speed Speed kills, in quite a different way than it might in Breaking Bad, in Aaron Paul’s big-screen Need for Speed. “Big” nonetheless signals “B” here, in this stunt-filled challenge to the Fast and the Furious franchise, though there’s no shame in that — the drive-in is paved with standouts and stinkers alike. Tobey (Paul) is an ace driver who’s in danger of losing his auto shop, also the hangout for his pals (Scott Mescudi, Rami Malek, Ramon Rodriguez) and young sidekick Pete (Harrison Gilbertson), when archrival Dino (Dominic Cooper) arrives with a historic Mustang in need of restoration. Tragedy strikes, and Tobey must hook up with that fateful auto once more to win a mysterious winner-takes-all race, staged by eccentric, rich racing-fiend Monarch (Michael Keaton). Along for the ride are the (big) eyes and ears for the Mustang’s new owner — gearhead Julia (Imogen Poots). All beside the point, since the racing stunts, including a showy helicopter canyon save, are the real stars of Speed, while the touchstone for stuntman-turned-director Scott Waugh — considering the car and the final SF and Northern California race settings — is, of course, Bullitt (1968), which is given an overt nod in the opening drive-in scene. The overall larky effect, however, tends toward Smokey and the Bandit (1977), especially with Keaton’s camp efforts at Wolfman Jack verbiage-slanging roaring in the background. And despite the efforts of the multicultural gallery of wisecracking side guys, this script-challenged popcorn-er tends to blur what little chemistry these characters have with each other, skip the residual car culture insights of the more specific, more urban Fast series, and leave character development, in particular Tobey’s, in the dust in its haste to get from point A to B. (2:10) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness. (Chun)

Noah Darren Aronofsky’s Biblical epic begins with a brief recap of prior Genesis events — creation is detailed a bit more in clever fashion later on — leading up to mankind’s messing up such that God wants to wipe the slate clean and start over. That means getting Noah (Russell Crowe), wife Naameh (Jennifer Connelly), and their three sons and one adopted daughter (Emma Watson) to build an ark that can save them and two of every animal species from the imminent slate-wiping Great Flood. (The rest of humanity, having sinned too much, can just feed the fishes.) They get some help from fallen angels turned into Ray Harryhausen-type giant rock creatures voiced by Nick Nolte and others. There’s an admirable brute force and some startling imagery to this uneven, somber, Iceland-shot tale “inspired” by the Good Book (which, needless to say, has endured more than its share of revisions over the centuries). Purists may quibble over some choices, including the device of turning minor Biblical figure Tubal-Cain (Ray Winstone) into a royal-stowaway villain, and political conservatives have already squawked a bit over Aronofsky’s not-so-subtle message of eco-consciousness, with Noah being bade to “replenish the Earth” that man has hitherto rendered barren. But for the most part this is a respectable, forceful interpretation that should stir useful discussion amongst believers and non believers alike. Its biggest problem is that after the impressively harrowing flood itself, we’re trapped on the ark dealing with the lesser crises of a pregnancy, a discontented middle son (Logan Lerman), and that stowaway’s plotting — ponderous intrigues that might have been leavened if the director had allowed us to hang out with the animals a little, rather than sedating the whole menagerie for the entire voyage. (2:07) 1000 Van Ness, SF Center, Shattuck, Sundance Kabuki. (Harvey)

Non-Stop You don’t want to get between Liam Neeson and his human shield duties. The Taken franchise has restyled the once-gentle acting giant into the type of weather-beaten, all-business action hero that Harrison Ford once had a lock on. Throw in a bit of the flying-while-addled antihero high jinks last seen in Flight (2012) and that pressured, packed-sardine anxiety that we all suffer during long-distance air travel, and we have a somewhat ludicrous but nonetheless entertaining hybrid that may have you believing that those salty snacks and the seat-kicking kids are the least of your troubles. Neeson’s Bill Marks signals the level of his freestyle alcoholism by giving his booze a stir with a toothbrush shortly before putting on his big-boy air marshal pants and boarding his fateful flight. Marks is soon contacted by a psycho who promises, via text, to kill one person at a time on the flight unless $150 million is deposited into a bank account that — surprise — is under the bad-good air marshal’s name. The twists and turns — and questions of who to trust, whether it’s Marks’ vaguely likeable seatmate (Julianne Moore) or his business class flight attendant (Michelle Dockery) — keep the audience on edge and busily guessing, though director Jaume Collet-Serra doesn’t quite dispel all the questions that arise as the diabolical scheme plays out and ultimately taxes believability. The fun is all in the getting there, even if the denouement on the tarmac deflates. (1:50) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness. (Chun)

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) Embarcadero, Smith Rafael. (Harvey)

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) Opera Plaza. (Eddy)

RoboCop Truly, there was no need to remake 1987’s RoboCop, Paul Verhoeven’s smart, biting sci-fi classic that deploys heaps of stealth satire beneath its ultraviolent imagery. But the inevitable do-over is here, and while it doesn’t improve on what came before, it’s not a total lost cause, either. Thank Brazilian filmmaker José Padilha, whose thrilling Elite Squad films touch on similar themes of corruption (within police, political, and media realms), and some inspired casting, including Samuel L. Jackson as the uber-conservative host of a futuristic talk show. Though the suit that restores life to fallen Detroit cop Alex Murphy is, naturally, a CG wonder, the guy inside the armor — played by The Killing‘s Joel Kinnaman — is less dynamic. In fact, none of the characters, even those portrayed by actors far more lively than Kinnaman (Michael Keaton, Gary Oldman, Jackie Earle Haley), are developed beyond the bare minimum required to serve RoboCop‘s plot, a mixed-message glob of dirty cops, money-grubbing corporations, the military-industrial complex, and a few too many “Is he a man…or a machine?” moments. But in its favor: Though it’s PG-13 (boo), it’s also shot in 2D (yay). (1:50) Metreon. (Eddy)

Sabotage Puzzle over the bad Photoshop job on the Sabotage poster. The hard-to-make-out Arnold Schwarzenegger in the foreground could be just about any weathered, sinewy body — telling, in gory action effort that wears its grit like a big black sleeve tattoo on its bicep and reads like an attempt at governator reinvention. Yet this blood-drenched twister, front-loaded with acting talent and directed by David Ayer (2012’s End of Watch), can’t quite make up its mind where it stands. Is it a truth-to-life cop drama about a particularly thuggy DEA team, an old-fashioned murder mystery-meets-heist-exercise, or just another crowd-pleasing Pumping Arnie flick? Schwarzenegger is Breacher, the leader of a team of undercover DEA agents who like to caper on the far reaches of bad lieutenant behavior: wild-eyed coke snorting (a scene-chomping Mireille Enos); sorry facial hair (Sam Worthington, as out of his element as the bead at the end of his goatee); unfortunate cornrows (Joe Manganiello); trash-talking (Josh Holloway); and acting like a suspiciously colorless man of color (Terrence Howard). We know these are bad apples from the start — the question is just how bad they are. Also, how fast can the vanilla homicide cops (Olivia Williams, Harold Perrineau) lock them down, as team members are handily, eh, dismembered and begin to turn on each other and Schwarzenegger gets in at least one semi-zinger concerning an opponent with 48 percent body fat? Still, the sutured-on archetypal-Arnie climax comes as a bit of a shock in its broad-stroke comic-book violence, as the superstar pulls rank, sabotages any residual pretense to realism, and dons a cowboy hat to tell his legions of shooting victims, “I’m different!” Get to the choppers, indeed. (1:49) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness. (Chun)

300: Rise of An Empire We pick up the 300 franchise right where director Zack Snyder left off in 2006, with this prequel-sequel, which spins off an as-yet-unreleased Frank Miller graphic novel. In the hands of director Noam Murro, with Snyder still in the house as writer, 300: Rise of an Empire contorts itself, flipping back and forth in time, in an attempt to explain the making of Persian evil prince stereotype Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) —all purring androgyny, fashionable piercings, and Iran-baiting, Bush-era malevolence — before following through on avenging 300‘s romantically outnumbered, chesty Spartans. As told by the angry, mourning Spartan Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey of Game of Thrones), the whole mess apparently began during the Battle of Marathon, when Athenian General Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton) killed Xerxes’s royal father with a well-aimed miracle arrow. That act ushers in Xerxes’s transformation into a “God King” bent on vengeance, aided and encouraged by his equally vengeful, elegantly mega-goth naval commander Artemisia (Eva Green), a Greek-hating Greek who likes to up the perversity quotient by making out with decapitated heads. In case you didn’t get it: know that vengeance is a prime mover for almost all the parties (except perhaps high-minded hottie Themistokles). Very loosely tethered to history and supplied with plenty of shirtless Greeks, taut thighs, wildly splintering ships, and even proto-suicide bombers, Rise skews toward a more naturalistic, less digitally waxy look than 300, as dust motes and fire sparks perpetually telegraph depth of field, shrieking, “See your 3D dollars hard at work!” Also working hard and making all that wrath look diabolically effortless is Green, who as the pitch-black counterpart to Gorga, turns out to be the real hero of the franchise, saving it from being yet another by-the-book sword-and-sandal war-game exercise populated by wholesome-looking, buff, blond jock-soldiers. Green’s feline line readings and languid camp attitude have a way of cutting through the sausage fest of the Greek pec-ing order, even during the Battle of, seriously, Salamis. (1:43) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness. (Chun)

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 1 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) Metreon. (Rapoport)

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) Embarcadero, Sundance Kabuki. (Harvey)

The Wind Rises Hayao Miyazaki announced that Oscar nominee The Wind Rises would be his final film before retiring — though he later amended that declaration, as he’s fond of doing, so who knows. At any rate, it’d be a shame if this was the Japanese animation master’s final film before retirement; not only does it lack the whimsy of his signature efforts (2001’s Spirited Away, 1997’s Princess Mononoke), it’s been overshadowed by controversy — not entirely surprising, since it’s about the life of Jiro Horikoshi, who designed war planes (built by slave labor) in World War II-era Japan. Surprisingly, a pacifist message is established early on; as a young boy, his mother tells him, “Fighting is never justified,” and in a dream, Italian engineer Giovanni Caproni assures him “Airplanes are not tools for war.” But that statement doesn’t last long; Caproni visits Jiro in his dreams as his career takes him from Japan to Germany, where he warns the owlish young designer that “aircraft are destined to become tools for slaughter and destruction.” You don’t say. A melodramatic romantic subplot injects itself into all the plane-talk on occasion, but — despite all that political hullabaloo — The Wind Rises is more tedious than anything else. (2:06) Sundance Kabuki. (Eddy) *

 

Unanswered question on SF housing

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Nobody has a good answer to San Francisco’s most basic housing problem: How do we build the housing that existing city residents need? It was a question the Guardian has been posing for many years, and one that I again asked a panel of journalists and housing advocates on March 14, again getting no good answers.

The question is an important one given Mayor Ed Lee’s so-called "affordability agenda" and pledge to build 30,000 new housing units, a third of them somehow affordable, by 2020. And it’s a question that led to the founding 30 years ago of Bridge Housing, the builder of affordable and supportive housing that assembled this media roundtable.

"There really isn’t one thing, there needs to be a lot of changes in a lot of areas to make it happen," was the closest that Bridge CEO Cynthia Parker came to answering the question.

One of those things is a general obligation bond measure this fall to fund affordable housing and transportation projects around the Bay Area, which Bridge and a large coalition of other partners are pushing. That would help channel some of the booming Bay Area’s wealth into its severely underfunded affordable housing and transit needs.

When I brought up other ideas from our March 12 Guardian editorial ("Lee must pay for his promises") for capturing more of the city’s wealth — such as new taxes on tech companies, a congestion pricing charge, and downtown transit assessment districts — Parker replied, "We’d be in favor of a lot of that."

Yet it’s going to take far more proactive, aggressive, and creative actions to really bridge the gap between the San Francisco Housing Element’s analysis that 60 percent of new housing should be below-market-rate and affordable to those earning 120 percent or less of the area median income, and the less than 20 percent that San Francisco is actually building and promoting through its policies. (Steven T. Jones)


No charges in CCSF protest

The two formerly jailed City College student protesters can now breathe a sigh of relief, as they learned March 19 that the District Attorney’s Office won’t be filing criminal charges against them.

Otto Pippenger, 20, and Dimitrios Philliou, 21, were detained by SFPD following a violent clash during a City College protest on March 13. Their ideological and physical fight for democracy at their school is also the subject of one of our print articles in this week’s Guardian ("Democracy for none," March 18). Philliou’s attorney confirmed to the Guardian that charges were not pursued by the District Attorney’s Office.

"The charges have been dropped for now, in terms of the criminal case," said Rachel Lederman, president of the San Francisco chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, which is representing Philliou.

But, she noted, they’re not out of the fire yet.

"The fight is not over for them," she said, "as it’s possible they’ll face school discipline."

Heidi Alletzhauser, Pippenger’s mother, told the Guardian that Vice Chancellor Faye Naples indicated the two would face some sort of disciplinary hearing, though Naples told Alletzhauser that Pippenger would not be expelled. (Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez)


Activists cross the border

Last November, the Guardian profiled Alex Aldana, a queer immigration activist who was born in Mexico but came to Pomona, California with his mother and sister on a visa at the age of 16 ("Undocumented and unafraid," 11/12/14).

On March 18, Aldana joined a group of undocumented immigrants in a protest at the US border crossing at Otay Mesa in San Diego. Chanting together as a group, they marched over the border and presented themselves to U.S. Immigration and Customs and Border protection agents, whom they asked for asylum.

Among the immigrants who surrendered to immigration agents were women, children, and teens. Some are separated from their husbands, children, and families in the US and, like my own mother (see "They deported my mom," March 11), wish to be reunited.

The youth protesters were brought to the US earlier in childhood, but deported to Mexico after being taken into custody and detained by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Some would have qualified to remain under the Dream Act, but were forced to leave the country before it was signed into law.

The protesters marched toward the turnstiles that separate Mexico and the US, chanting "Yes we can," and "No human is illegal."

A few feet from the gates, the group paused to listen to a final pep talk from Aldana.

The action was captured and recorded in real time on U-Stream. About 16 minutes into the video, he can be seen addressing the crowd, fist raised. "We have nothing to lose but our chains," Aldana told the group. Then, in Spanish, he said, "Without papers," to which his fellow protesters responded, "without fear."

They made their way to the turnstiles and one by one they walked through, straight into custody of US border guards. As they crossed the border, they told a cameraperson where they hoped to go. They named cities, such as Phoenix and Tucson, and states, such as Alabama, Oregon, and North Carolina. But each one said, in English or Spanish, "we’re going home."

It was part of a series of organized border crossings by the National Immigrant Youth Alliance, to highlight the experiences of young people who lived for years in the United States but were deported due to their immigration status. In Aldana’s case, he traveled to Mexico voluntarily, due to a family emergency. (Francisco Alvarado)


Oakland settles with injured Occupier

Iraq War veteran and injured Occupy Oakland protester Scott Olsen, 26, won a settlement of $4.5 million from the city of Oakland in a federal lawsuit, his attorneys announced March 21.

At the tail end of a thousands-strong 2011 Occupy Oakland protest, an Oakland Police Department officer fired a beanbag directly into Olsen’s head, causing serious and lasting brain injury. His attorney, Rachel Lederman, said that was why the payout was so high.

"His bones were shattered, part of his brain was destroyed," she told the Guardian. "He’d been working as a computer system network administrator. He’s not going back to that kind of work, and it compensates him for his wage loss for his lifetime."

But in the end, she said, "No amount of money can put his head back together." (Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez)


Guardian seeks columnists

The Bay Guardian is looking for a pair of new freelance writers to do separate monthly columns covering the technology industry and economic/social justice issues. The two new columns would go into a rotation we’re tentatively calling Soul of the City, along with Jason Henderson’s Street Fight column and a new environmental column by News Editor Rebecca Bowe that we’ll debut in our Earth Day issue.

For the technology column, we want someone with a deep understanding of this industry, its economic and personality drivers, and the role it could and should play in the civic life of San Francisco and nearby communities. We aren’t looking for gadget reviews or TechCrunch-style evangelizing or fetishizing of the tech sector, but someone with an illuminating, populist perspective that appeals to a broad base of Guardian readers.

The other column, on economic and social justice issues, would cover everything from housing rights to labor to police accountability issues, with an eye toward how San Francisco can maintain its diversity and cultural vibrancy. We want someone steeped in Bay Area political activism and advocacy, but with an independent streak and fearless desire to speak truth to power.

We strongly encourage candidates of color, young people, and those representing communities that need a stronger voice in the local political discourse to apply.

If you’re interested, please sent your qualifications and concepts, along with one sample column and ideas for future columns, to Editor-in-Chief Steven T. Jones at steve@sfbg.com. Help us escalate this fight for the soul of the city by adding your voice to the Guardian’s mix.

Injured Occupy Oakland protester and veteran Scott Olsen wins $4.5 million settlement

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Iraq war veteran and injured Occupy Oakland protester Scott Olsen, 26, won a settlement of $4.5 million from the city of Oakland in a federal lawsuit, his attorneys announced today. 

At the tail end of a thousands strong 2011 Occupy Oakland protest, an Oakland Police Department officer fired a beanbag directly into Olsen’s head, causing serious and lasting brain injury. His attorney, Rachel Lederman, said that was why the payout was so high.

“His bones were shattered, part of his brain was destroyed,” she told the Guardian. “He’d been working as a computer system network administrator. He’s not going back to that kind of work, and it compensates him for his wage loss for his lifetime.”

But in the end, she said, “No amount of money can put his head back together.”

Video of the Occupy Oakland protest in 2011, including video shortly after Olsen was injured.

The “beanbag” is more accurately described as a flexible baton round, a press release from the Oakland City Attorney’s office wrote. A flexible baton is a cloth-enclosed, lead-filled round fired from a shotgun.

In an interview with the Political Fail blog shortly after the lawsuit was announced in 2012, Olsen said the lawsuit was about more than himself. 

“We want to hold the police department accountable so we can hopefully prevent police brutality in the future,” he said, speaking slowly. 

Olsen is not the OPD’s only worry. OPD is currently under federal oversight over its questionable actions in incidents like the Riders case, and the mishandling of the Occupy protests. As then-Guardian reporter Yael Chanoff reported in 2012, the OPD’s own Incident Statistics document the extensive use of force the night Scott Olsen was injured.

She wrote “The document describes several types of UOF. On Oct. 25, these included baton (26 uses), chemical agent (21 total uses), non-striking use of baton (19 times), control hold (five), four uses of ‘weaponless defense technique’ and five uses of ‘weaponless defense technique to vulnerable area.’ In four reported instances, police ‘attempted impact weapon strike but missed.’”

Ultimately the City of Oakland will pay only $1.5 million of the $4.5 million settlement, city spokesperson Alex Katz wrote in a press release. The city’s insurance will pay the rest.

City Attorney Barbara Parker said the payout was about justice, but is also about saving Oakland money in the long run.

“This settlement will save the City the far greater costs of a trial and potentially much higher judgment,” she said. “This is a fair settlement given the facts of the case and the significant injuries Mr. Olsen sustained.”

Solomon: Why the Washington Post’s new ties to the CIA are so ominous

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American journalism has entered highly dangerous terrain.

A tip-off is that the Washington Post refuses to face up to a conflict of interest involving Jeff Bezos — who’s now the sole owner of the powerful newspaper at the same time he remains Amazon’s CEO and main stakeholder.

The Post is supposed to expose CIA secrets. But Amazon is under contract to keep them. Amazon has a new $600 million “cloud” computing deal with the CIA.

The situation is unprecedented. But in an email exchange early this month, Washington Post executive editor Martin Baron told me that the newspaper doesn’t need to routinely inform readers of the CIA-Amazon-Bezos ties when reporting on the CIA. He wrote that such in-story acknowledgment would be “far outside the norm of disclosures about potential conflicts of interest at media organizations.”

But there isn’t anything normal about the new situation. As I wrote to Baron, “few journalists could have anticipated ownership of the paper by a multibillionaire whose outside company would be so closely tied to the CIA.”<–break->

The Washington Post’s refusal to provide readers with minimal disclosure in coverage of the CIA is important on its own. But it’s also a marker for an ominous pattern — combining denial with accommodation to raw financial and governmental power — a synergy of media leverage, corporate digital muscle and secretive agencies implementing policies of mass surveillance, covert action and ongoing warfare.

Digital prowess at collecting global data and keeping secrets is crucial to the missions of Amazon and the CIA. The two institutions have only begun to explore how to work together more effectively.

For the CIA, the emerging newspaper role of Mr. Amazon is value added to any working relationship with him. The CIA’s zeal to increase its leverage over major American media outlets is longstanding.  

After creation of the CIA in 1947, it enjoyed direct collaboration with many U.S. news organizations. But the agency faced a major challenge in October 1977, when — soon after leaving the Washington Post — famed Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein provided an extensive expose in Rolling Stone.

Citing CIA documents, Bernstein wrote that during the previous 25 years “more than 400 American journalists … have secretly carried out assignments for the Central Intelligence Agency.” He added: “The history of the CIA’s involvement with the American press continues to be shrouded by an official policy of obfuscation and deception.”

Bernstein’s story tarnished the reputations of many journalists and media institutions, including the Washington Post and New York Times. While the CIA’s mission was widely assumed to involve “obfuscation and deception,” the mission of the nation’s finest newspapers was ostensibly the opposite.

During the last few decades, as far as we know, the extent of extreme media cohabitation with the CIA has declined sharply. At the same time, as the run-up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq attests, many prominent U.S. journalists and media outlets have continued to regurgitate, for public consumption, what’s fed to them by the CIA and other official “national security” sources.

The recent purchase of the Washington Post by Jeff Bezos has poured some high-finance concrete for a new structural bridge between the media industry and the surveillance/warfare state. The development puts the CIA in closer institutionalized proximity to the Post, arguably the most important political media outlet in the United States.

At this point, about 30,000 people have signed a petition (launched by RootsAction.org) with a minimal request: “The Washington Post’s coverage of the CIA should include full disclosure that the sole owner of the Post is also the main owner of Amazon — and Amazon is now gaining huge profits directly from the CIA.” On behalf of the petition’s signers, I’m scheduled to deliver it to the Washington Post headquarters on January 15. The petition is an opening salvo in a long-term battle.

By its own account, Amazon — which has yielded Jeff Bezos personal wealth of around $25 billion so far — is eager to widen its services to the CIA beyond the initial $600 million deal. “We look forward to a successful relationship with the CIA,” a statement from Amazon said two months ago. As Bezos continues to gain even more wealth from Amazon, how likely is that goal to affect his newspaper’s coverage of the CIA?

________________________________________

Norman Solomon is co-founder of RootsAction.org and founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. His books include “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.” Information about the documentary based on the book is at www.WarMadeEasyTheMovie.org. 

(The Bruce blog is written and edited by Bruce B. Brugmann, editor at large of the Bay Guardian.  Bruce is the former editor and co-publisher of the Bay Guardian with his wife Jean from 1966-2013.) 

This Week’s Picks: January 8 – 14, 2014

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WEDNESDAY 8

Major Barbara

Should a charity that relies on donations to fund its good works be picky about the source of its cash flow? It’s a conundrum as relevant today as it was in 1905, when George Bernard Shaw first scripted it into Major Barbara, about a Salvation Army officer who happens to be the estranged daughter of a wealthy munitions magnate. When Pops puts up the dough to fund her church — matching donations already given by a booze manufacturer — Barbara is beyond flummoxed. What’s a morally upstanding woman, deeply devoted to her cause, to do? Described as “a devilishly funny satire exploring themes of business, faith, family, and philanthropy,” this production teams American Conservatory Theater with Theatre Calgary, and features a cast of both Canadian and American actors. (Cheryl Eddy)

Through Feb. 2

Previews tonight through Sat/11, 8pm; Sun/12, 7pm

Opens Jan. 15, 8pm; runs Tue-Sat, 8pm; Sun, 2pm, $20-$140

ACT’s Geary Theater

415 Geary, SF

www.act-sf.org

 

THURSDAY 9

King Creole

If Elvis Presley had survived his doctor-enabled substance abuse problem, he would have turned 79 yesterday (and if he is still alive, as the conspiracy theory suggests, he probably had one hell of a party). Celebrate the rock ‘n’ roll legend in royal style by taking in 1958’s King Creole, often cited by fans and critics as his best big-screen effort. It casts the singer-actor as a New Orleans ne’er-do-well who happens to have the voice of an angel, showcased in tunes like the title track, “Trouble,” and “Hard Headed Woman.” Yeah, the Big E starred in a lot of stinkers, but King Creole isn’t one of them, with a supporting cast that includes Vic Morrow, Walter Matthau, and Carolyn “Morticia Addams” Jones — plus sure-handed, noirish direction by Michael Curtiz (1942’s Casablanca, 1945’s Mildred Pierce). Diehard King devotees Will Viharo and Monica Cortés Viharo TCB as hosts of this birthday-themed “Thrillville Theater” screening. (Eddy)

9:15pm, $8

New Parkway

474 24th St, Oakl.

www.thenewparkway.com

 

After the Light

On a page written long ago by Virginia Woolf lies an abstraction of feelings: passion, defeat, nostalgia, anxiety. Though Woolf chose words to express these emotions, she believed that “love had a thousand shapes.” In After the Light, choreographer Liss Fain uses the human body and Woolf’s words in a dance installation to add to the thousands of shapes of the human heart. Threading together music by Dan Wool, a set by Matthew Antaky, and costumes by Mary Domenico, this performance constantly shifts, ebbing like the ocean tide that once led Woolf to the lighthouse. After the Light gives the public a brief understanding of “miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark,” which we continue to carry, even when the darkness closes in again. (Kaylen Baker)

Thu/9-Sat/11, 8pm; Sun/12, 2pm, $15-$35

Z Space

450 Florida, SF

www.lissfaindance.org

 

FRIDAY 10

San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival auditions

It’s that time of the year when cash, even for non-indulging shoppers, seems to have evaporated. There is no better remedy to beat those post-holiday blues than with a great show, at a good price, in a superb location with comfortable seats where you can watch dance for six hours or more — should you be so inclined. The yearly auditions for the San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival are a love feast of world dance. What you get is a taste of what these artists are all about: five minutes for soloists and duets; 10 minutes for groups. To see some of them, perhaps for the first time, in a magnificent professional theater is its own reward. You can also engage in a guessing game of who might (and who might not) make it into June’s 36th annual SF Ethnic Dance Festival. (Rita Felciano)

Today, 3:20-9pm; Sat/11, 11am-6:30pm; Sun/12, 11am-7pm, $10 (children under 12, free)

Zellerbach Hall

UC Berkeley, Berk.

www.worldartswest.org

 

Chop Tops

Tearing up stages for nearly two decades now, Santa Cruz rockers the Chop Tops take traditional rockabilly and chuck the owner’s manual, boosting the power, streamlining the chassis, and hot rodding it into something that’s all the band’s own. Perennial favorites at the Viva Las Vegas festival, the trio has toured across the country and performed as far away as Australia — but local fans can check out the action tonight at the Elbo Room, where Sinner, Shelby, and Brett are guaranteed to blow the roof off the joint with their always incendiary set of what they call “revved-up rockabilly.” With South Bay psychobilly icons Hayride To Hell. (Sean McCourt)

With Hard Fall Hearts, Blacktop Tragedy

9pm, $12

Elbo Room

647 Valencia, SF

www.elbo.com

 

“For Your Consideration: A Selection of Oscar Submissions from Around the World”

So you spent your entire holiday posted up in a movie theater, consuming America’s potential Oscar fodder (American Hustle, The Wolf of Wall Street, etc.) Time to cross some cinematic borders, film fans, and sample contenders in the Foreign Language Film category. Sure, the shortlist has already been announced, but the Smith Rafael Film Center is screening a wide swath of submissions; even if they didn’t all make the Academy’s final cut (one that did: World War II spy tale Two Lives, from Germany), they’re all worthy of attention. Others in the series include In Bloom, about two teen girls in post-Soviet Georgia; Swiss bee documentary More Than Honey; New Zealand’s White Lies, about three generations of Maori women; Argentina’s The German Doctor, about Nazi Josef Mengele’s post-war life in South America; and Polish director Andrzej Wajda’s biopic Walesa, Man of Hope. And that ain’t even all of it: there are also films from Canada, Czech Republic, Sweden, Afghanistan, Australia, Japan, Austria, and Romania — no passport required. (Eddy)

Through Jan. 16, $6.50-$10.75

Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center

1118 Fourth St, San Rafael

www.cafilm.org

 

“Prom Night: Redux”

I skipped my prom. There, I said it. I failed at being a teenager and I’m not ashamed to admit it. But I really don’t think I missed out, since I “went to the prom” about 10,000 times by watching just about every high school movie ever made. There’s no guarantee of pig’s blood or a muttered apology from Blane or a Mean Girls-style symbolically broken crown, but there will be slow dancing, strapless gowns, corsages, terrible suits, and probably some crimped hair at “Prom Night: Redux,” a benefit for SF IndieFest, which turns Sweet 16 this year. By the time you read this, the full schedule for this year’s fest (coming up in early February) will be posted on www.sfindie.com, but no need to wait for juicy moviegoing, since the Roxie is also kicking off the brilliantly-titled “I Was a Teenage Teenager” series (all teen flicks, all the time), tonight through Jan. 14. DJs Shindog (New Wave City) and Junkyard (Litterbox) rock the tunes, and yes, a king and queen will be crowned. They’re all gonna laugh at you! (Eddy)

8pm, $5-$10

Women’s Building

3543 18th St, SF

http://tinyurl.com/lmrczfy

 

SATURDAY 11

“Bowie and Elvis Birthday Bash”

For those keeping score at home, that makes two Elvis birthday events (and two DJ Shindog events) in a single Selector spread. But while the King’s b-day is indeed an occasion worthy of multiple peanut butter and banana (and bacon) sandwiches, we cannot forget that Mr. Presley shares a birthday with David Bowie. And when the music, videos, and film performances of these legends collide, it’ll be a magic night of sequins, scarves, and platforms in the Tenderloin. For the fourth year, the “Bowie and Elvis Birthday Bash,” with DJs Shindog, Cammy, Moonshine, and Andy T, promises jams “from ‘Hound Dog’ to ‘Diamond Dogs'” — and don’t be cruel, Ziggy, do your part by outfitting yourself in homage to one (or both at once!) of these well-dressed twin stars. (Eddy)

9pm-2am, $5

Edinburgh Castle

950 Geary, SF

www.castlenews.com

 

SUNDAY 12

Shapeshifters Cinema

Last April, the San Francisco Cinematheque devoted one of its “Crossroads 2013” programs to local experimental filmmaker Scott Stark and his dazzling, haunting mannequin epic The Realist. Stark returns with brand-new work in Shapeshifters Cinema’s first program of 2014, both collaborations with Allison Leigh Holt: dual projector performance Nocturnal Symmetries, which delves into “dreamlike urban and natural landscapes;” and Treasures of the Big House, “a playful, yet manic interaction between two performers using toys, household objects, and toiletries out of control.” Watch where you’re aiming those golf tees! Also on the bill are a pair of older Stark works, Right (2008), a 13-minute exploration of right-wing ideology in the context of the 2003 Iraq invasion; and the 20-minute More Than Meets the Eye: Remaking Jane Fonda (2001/2006), an homage to the actor and cultural icon via a re-creation of one of her workout videos. (Eddy)

8pm, free

Temescal Art Center

511 48th St, Oakl.

www.shapeshifterscinema.com