Cel mates


MILL VALLEY FILM FESTIVAL One of the Mill Valley Film Festival’s signature if under-celebrated programs is its long-running Children’s FilmFest, which lets families enculturate their offspring with an annual sidebar of movies from around the world — non-English-language ones given live translation for those viewers not yet up to reading text at the speed of subtitles. There’s always some animation in the mix, and this year, in addition to several shorts and the French-Belgian 3D feature Minuscule: Valley of the Lost Ants (which was unavailable for preview), two titles measure the form’s state-of-the-art across a span of nearly 75 years.

The golden oldie, offered in a free outdoor screening at Old Mill Park Oct. 10, is 1941’s Hoppity Goes to Town — the second and last feature from Fleischer brothers Max and Dave, still best known for their cartoons starring Betty Boop, Popeye, and Superman. (The beautifully designed latter remain the movies’ most faithful representation of the original comic books.) Despite those successful series, the siblings were increasingly dogged by bad luck, internal friction, studio inference, corrupt accounting, and other factors. After Walt Disney waded into feature animation with 1937’s spectacularly successful Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the duo followed suit, uprooting their entire organization — and nearly quadrupling its size — to make 1939’s Gulliver’s Travels in the cheaper environs of southern Florida. Nonetheless, that film cost a fortune, ultimately losing money despite its healthy box-office performance. No friendly competitor, Disney purportedly snapped after seeing it, “We can do better than that with our second-string animators.”

Their precarious financial position made worse by a deteriorating personal dynamic, the brothers nonetheless moved forward with Hoppity (originally called Mr. Bug Goes to Town), an original story penned after they failed to win the screen rights to Maurice Maeterlinck’s The Life of the Bee. Its hero is a happy-go-lucky grasshopper who tries his best to relocate the insect residents of “the Lowlands” when their community is threatened by rising foot traffic — a broken fence has made this tiny patch of urban green a destructive shortcut for oblivious human beings. He also battles villainous Mr. Beetle for the hand of bee ingénue Honey.

Partway through production, debt forced the Fleischers to sell their studio whole to distributor Paramount, which kept them on under humiliating circumstances — they could be fired from finishing their own film at any moment. Its release delayed to avoid competing with Disney’s Dumbo (1941), the film finally opened on Dec. 5, 1941, exactly two days before Pearl Harbor threw the nation in a state of shock.

Hoppity never recovered from that ill fortune, falling into the public domain after its copyright was allowed to expire. As a result, it was seen for years mostly in low-quality copies by budget distributors. It’s not a great movie. The Fleischers’ antic strengths were best suited to the short format; the sentimentality and melodrama then required for a family feature came much more naturally to Disney. But it still merits the cult love gradually earned over subsequent decades, notably for then-innovative multiplane “3D” backgrounds that add a vertiginous depth to the contrasts in bug-vs.-human perspective.

One wonders what the Fleischers might have wrought if given the artistic and commercial freedom apparently enjoyed by Brazilian Alê Abreu on The Boy and the World — one of those extremely rare animated features these days that feels entirely handcrafted and personal, no matter how many umpteen illustrators and technicians get credited in the final credit crawl. This dialogue-free adventure finds a stick-figure tot wandering from his rural home in pursuit of the father forced to look for work in the distant city. The closer our wee protagonist gets to “civilization,” the more dehumanizing and nightmarish what he witnesses becomes.

One wonders what the average under-12-year-old would make of a movie that scarcely shrinks from blunt sociopolitical indictment: Its innocent’s journey encompasses militaristic fascism, garbage-foraging poor vs. infinitely privileged rich, empty consumerist distraction, and the death of traditional indigenous life. Nonetheless, this parabolic parade of injustices never feels too didactic because of the dazzlingly varied execution. Alê draws on everything from modernist painting masters to collage and (briefly) live action footage in a visual presentation that grows ever more complex and intoxicating. (Fans of Brazilian roots music will find the soundtrack by Ruben Feffer and Gustavo Kurlat equally thrilling.) The term “masterpiece” gets thrown around a little too easily, but it’s hard to think of a recent animated feature more deserving of the term than this imaginatively ambitious yet refreshingly intimate one. *


Oct 2-12, $8-14

Various North Bay venues


Sound sneak preview: Ai WeiWei Alcatraz exhibition


Here’s a taste from @Large, the exhibition by internationally renowned Chinese artist Ai WeiWei, which will open to the public on Alcatraz Sat/27.

This recording is from Illumination, one of the sound installations, which makes use of the prison hospital – an Alcatraz site not normally open to daytime visitors. 

To hear it, visitors must enter psychiatric observation cells, small tiled chambers with a chilling history: Inmates who had psychotic breaks were held there for observation while in their most acute states.

Step into one of the tiny cells and you are enveloped in sound from a Buddhist ceremony at the Namgyal Monastery, in Dharamsala, India, where monks from Tibetan lineages perform rituals associated with the Dalai Lama.

The musical chanting piped into the observation cell next door is Eagle Dance, a traditional song of the Hopi tribe, recorded in 1964. That has historic significance, too, because Hopi prisoners were held at Alcatraz in 1895 for refusing to send their children to boarding schools set up by the US Government.

The @Large exhibition on Alcatraz Island is the product of a collaboration between the FOR-SITE Foundation, the National Park Service and the Golden Gate Parks Conservancy. The seven sound, sculpture and mixed-media works center on the themes of freedom of expression and the social implications of incarceration.

“The major tenets of this exhibition are the need for basic human rights, freedom of expression, our individual responsibility and the role that we play in helping create a just society,” said FOR-SITE Foundation executive director and @Large curator Cheryl Haines.

“Also, the importance of communication – there’s an interesting parallel in this exhibition about how a prison populace is controlled, and they’re not allowed to communicate with their community, and there are some cases here on Alcatraz, when it was a federal penitentiary, where that was the case. It was a silent prison for a number of years, and some of the works relate to that.”

Your official Hardly Strictly Bluegrass lineup is here


Ah, fall in San Francisco. The kids go back to school, the pumpkin beers and lattes make their first appearances, the leaves…um, mostly stay the same color, and the weather usually gets a little warmer.

OK, so maybe we don’t really do fall the way most of the country does fall. You know which part we do really well, though? Music. Art. Festivals. Excuses to drink pumpkin beers outside while taking in a live performance. Pick up this week’s big Fall Arts preview issue (on stands now!) for a guide to the best the Bay Area has to offer these next few months in music, theater, film, dance, visual art, and more.

If you want an easy tip, though? The jewel in the Pumpkin IPA Excuse crown is Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, now in its 14th year and free as ever, thanks to the legacy of one mister Warren Hellman. After a month of teaser medleys, the folks from the Slim’s/Great American Music Hall family (who book HSB) announced the full lineup today for this year’s party in Golden Gate Park, which runs Friday, Oct. 3 through Sunday, Oct. 5.

At first glance we’re seeing a lot of big-name veterans (Emmylou, of course, plus the irreplaceable Chris Isaak, Mavis Staples, and more) alongside a number of unexpected but very welcome newcomers, like Sun Kil Moon and LA punk legends X. Other top-shelf indie-folk young’uns adding fresh blood to the scene: Dawes, The Apache Relay, Sharon Van Etten, Waxahatchee. And we’ll never complain about seeing Ryan Adams, Lucinda Williams, Yo La Tengo, or Deltron for free.

We’ll have more to come in the weeks leading up to the fest, but for now — make sure you know where that cooler is. We’re gonna put on some Lucinda Williams. See you in the park.


Emmylou Harris

Sister Sparrow & The Dirty Birds

The Apache Relay

The Time Jumpers Featuring Vince Gill

Kenny Sears

Dawn Sears and Ranger Doug Green

Blackie and The Rodeo Kings

Nitty Gritty Dirt Band

X Acoustic

Mavis Staples

Thao & The Get Down Stay Down


Jessica Hernandez & The Deltas

Reckless Kelly

Willie Watso

Joe Russo’s Almost Dead

Carlene Carter

The Go To Hell Man Clan

Kevin Welch

Kieran Kane & Fats Kaplin

Sarah Jarosz

Dave Alvin & Phil Alvin with The Guilty Ones

Chris Smither

Justin Townes Earle

Lake Street Dive

Dave Rawlings Machine

Buddy Miller’s Cavalcade of Stars: Kate York

Striking Matches

Nikki Lane

Shawn Colvin

Tony Joe White

Buddy Miller & Friends

Poor Man’s Whiskey (Friday morning middle school program)

Chris Isaak

Robert Earl Keen

Ralph Stanley & The Clinch Mountain Boys

Holler Down The Hollow: A Hardly Strictly Salute To the Masters (Dickens, Hellman, Reed, Scruggs, Seeger, Watson & Winchester)

Built To Spill

John Prine

Ryan Adams

Buckwheat Zydeco

Dry Branch Fire Squad

The McCrary Sisters



Hot Rize Featuring Red Knuckles & The Trailblazers

Jerry Douglas Presents Earls of Leicester

The Flatlanders Featuring Joe Ely

Jimmie Dale Gilmore & Butch Hancock

Rising Appalachia

The Mastersons

Peter Rowan’s Twang An’ Groove

Dwight Yoakam

Red Baraat

Bad Luck Jonathan

Lukas Nelson & Promise of The Real

St. Paul & The Broken Bones

Chuck Prophet & The Mission Express ‘Strings In The Temple’

Jesse DeNatale

The Waybacks

The Felice Brothers

Caitlin Rose

Shelly Colvin

Bruce Cockburn

Alison Brown Quintet

Hurray For The Riff Raff

Béla Fleck & Abigail Washburn, Blue Rodeo

Lucinda Williams

The Lone Bellow

Steve Earle & The Dukes

Bill Kirchen & Too Much Fun

Malawi Mouse Boys

Parker Millsap

Rosanne Cash

Deltron 3030 with The 3030 Orchestra

Conor Brings Friends For Friday Featuring: Waxahatchee

The Good Life

Jonathan Wilson

Sharon Van Etten


Conor Oberst

Sun Kil Moon

Chuck Cannon


Rose’s Pawn Shop

The Sam Chase

T Bone Burnett

Social Distortion

The High Bar Gang

The Aquabats! (Friday morning middle school program)

Laurie Lewis & The Right Hands

Cibo Matto

Jason Isbell

Robbie Fulks

Yo La Tengo

Evolfo Doofeht


Events: Fall fairs and festivals


Click here for our guide to fall fairs and festivals as part of this week’s Fall Arts Preview issue 

Locals only: Outside Lands edition


LEFT OF THE DIAL Can you smell it in the air? It’s that late-summer, chilled pinot grigio-tipsy, organic ice cream-sticky scent of Outside Lands, just around the corner.

Yes, it’s that time in our fair city’s annual trip around the sun when we get the chance to show Austin and Indio and those warm summer New York nights exactly what we here in San Francisco are made of when it comes to music festivals: Namely, expensive, gourmet food, wine, and beer stands, a commitment to slapping the word “green” in front of everything; and a beautiful, natural outdoor venue in which, should you forget to bring three extra layers in an oversized bag, you will absolutely freeze your ass off by nightfall.

All snark aside, one thing I’ve always appreciated about OSL in its six short summers is that, nestled amongst the sometimes overwhelmingly corporate feel of the thing — something that was maybe inevitable, as Another Planet Entertainment grew from little-promoter-offshoot-that-could into perhaps the most influential promotions company in the Bay Area music biz — is a commitment to bringing local bands along for the ride whenever possible.

Sure, everyone’s excited to see Kanye. I’m excited to see Kanye. Anyone who’s going to see Kanye and tries to say anything more intellectual about it than “I’m really fucking amused in advance and very excited to see Kanye” is lying. But nothing fills me with more hometown pride than watching a band I’ve been rooting for since they were playing living rooms or parklets take the stage in Golden Gate Park in front of thousands of paying, attentive potential new fans.

With that in mind, here’s your guide to a few of our favorite local folks representing the Bay Area at this year’s fest. Show up for ’em. In most cases, they’ve been working toward this for a long time. And if you don’t have the funds to make it to this year’s OSL? Lucky for us — unlike Kanye — these kids play around the Bay all year round.

Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers

The unofficial queen of Bay Area alt-folk has had a good year since August 2013, when her band’s debut LP took to the airwaves and then to the national stage, with Bluhm’s killer vocals and long, tall mishmash of Stevie/Janis appeal at the helm. Fri/8 at 4pm, Sutro Stage


SF’s own Scott Hansen has also been riding high this year, since the release of Awake in March propelled him from bedroom artist to something else entirely with its lush, ambitious landscapes of color and sound. We still think we prefer him in headphones to outdoor festival-style, but we’ll take it. Sat/9 at 3:40pm, Twin Peaks Stage

Mikal Cronin

If you don’t know his solo stuff (and you should; last year’s MCII was one of the best local records of the year), you probably know him as Ty Segall’s right-hand man. Either way, Cronin is one of the most authentic voices in the Bay Area’s indie scene right now, with just enough power-pop sweetness and strings coloring even his scratchiest garage-punk anthems. Fri/8 at 4:30pm, Panhandle Stage

Christopher Owens

Did you love Girls (the SF indie powerhouse, RIP, not the HBO show)? Of course you did. Did you love Christopher Owens’ solo debut, Lysandre? We did too. He’s giving us another one in September; now’s your chance for a sneak preview of some likely highly emotional and lushly orchestrated songs. Sat/9 at 2:30, Sutro Stage


This 27-year-old rapper and SF University High School graduate has been gaining attention with his whiplash-inducing flow, which he honed in his teens as a slam poetry champion. His most recent album, June’s All You Can Do, is poised to take him from Internet and Ellen-famous to just famous-famous. Sun/10, 2pm, Twin Peaks Stage

Trails & Ways

Bossa nova dream pop, Brazilian shoegaze, whatever you call it: This Oakland quartet (and Bay Guardian Band on the Rise from 2012) draws inspiration from all over the globe for its undeniably catchy, never predictable, harmony-drenched melodies. Sat/9 at 12:40pm, Twin Peaks Stage

Beso Negro

“This is not your father’s gypsy jazz,” warns Beso Negro’s bio, which — while we’re pretty sure our dad doesn’t have a kind of gypsy jazz — does a pretty good job of explaining the modern sounds infused into this Fairfax five-piece’s musical vocabulary. Hell Brew Revue Stage, all three days, check the website for details

Tumbleweed Wanderers

As if we didn’t have a big enough soft spot for this East Bay alt-soul-folk outfit already, there’s the fact that they got their start busking outside of festivals for their first few years — including Outside Lands. Seeing them on the inside will be sweet. Sat/9 at noon, Sutro Stage

El Radio Fantastique

With horns, theremin, and just about every kind of percussion you can think of, this Point Reyes-based eight-piece is a mish-mash of everything dark and dancey and nerdy and weird, describing themselves as “part rumba band in purgatory, part cinematic chamber group, part shipwrecked serenade.” Serious cult following here. Hell Brew Revue Stage, all three days

Slim Jenkins

Sultry, jazzy, rootsy — we’re excited to see what this mainstay of “voodoo blues” nights at small rooms like Amnesia can do on a bigger stage. Hell Brew Revue Stage, all three days

Marty O’Reilly & the Old Soul Orchestra

O’Reilly, a singer-songwriter who’s clearly done his Delta roots, gospel, and traditional folk homework, played OSL last year — well before putting out a debut studio album, the aptly titled Pray For Rain, in March of this year. This is a three-piece with arrangements that make the band seem much bigger. Hell Brew Revue Stage, all three days

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Madame Tussauds San Francisco

Open daily at 10am, $16-$26

145 Jefferson, SF

Enter if you dare! Spirited local actors highlight Jefferson Street’s ghoulish new attraction


A new attraction is coming to Fisherman’s Wharf June 26, and it’s pretty surreal. The San Francisco Dungeon, the eighth in a series by Merlin Entertainments and the first stateside (most of the other dungeons focus on medieval history and are scattered throughout Western Europe), is a subterranean labyrinth where actors lead patrons on a hodgepodge tour of creepy SF-inspired historical haunts. 

There’s obviously a lot to be skeptical of here. For one, Merlin, which is centered in the UK, is a gargantuan enterprise second only to Disney in the themed tourist trap world — other assets include Madame Tussauds, Legoland, and a bevy of contrived wildlife safaris. San Franciscans already talk a ton of smack about the half-assed efforts by huge corporate attractions on Jefferson St. to appear “local” — the one or two scattered Californian sports figures or cultural icons in Tussauds, for example, don’t conceal the sterility of the whole operation. 

My visit to the Dungeon didn’t run entirely contrary to these concerns.

The stories that the actors tell occasionally slip into generalities that have little to do with the city, some of the rooms are similarly vague, and the exclusion of the 1906 Earthquake (despite the Dungeon’s focus on 1857-1907), while explained away by artistic director Kieron Smith as too large-scale of an event to cover, feels wrong. There’s also a random water ride that, while impressive from an engineering perspective in that a boat and mini-canal was placed in a very contained space, distracts from any legitimate exchange of history or theatrics. We didn’t get to ride it though, so I’m really in no place to judge. 

Despite its adherence to certain stereotypes, the Dungeon transcends a lot of the more toxic elements that drag down other Jeffersonian locales. Smith, an extremely charming Brit who wrote the entire script for the 50-odd minute tour and has done so at all other Dungeon locations, seems genuinely passionate about the city’s more macabre lore and clearly did his research. Most of the actors’ ghoulish tales of drunken Barbary Coasters and mining ghosts are subtle and relatively specific. I can imagine the full show being nominally educational. 

The preview we received included a scary 1850s Alcatraz ghost tale that packed a legitimate punch. The barred Alcatraz Room, one of nine themed areas, provided a chilling backdrop for a crazed young woman’s recounting of her military prisoner father’s murder and subsequent haunting of the Rock. When the lights flickered and the dead father appeared, complete with gory makeup, the entire room shrieked deliriously. 

Another room, a facsimile of the headquarters of the San Francisco Hounds, a sinister crime organization that flourished in the city after the Gold Rush, was less compelling. An actor playing real-life Hounds leader Sam Roberts mimicked torture tools (including a gag penis-cutter that elicited a few half-hearted laughs) and nervously beckoned the group out of the room when the sounds of a police raid interrupted his demonstration. 

Despite the inconsistency in humor and scares, the actors themselves were all enthusiastic and believable. Since beginning rehearsal a month ago, they have learned to play every part in the tour and will alternate roles when the Dungeon opens. Many of the performers have real chops, and while they likely don’t see two-minute frenetic monologues to scared tourists as their career zeniths, the Dungeon, unlike many of the other less interactive wharf traps, is employing burgeoning artists. 

In addition to hiring local actors, the Dungeon has also worked with several area businesses. Wee Scotty, the prolific costumers headed by Lynne Gallagher, provide all of the period clothes, which look authentic and have an effectively drab and dusty aesthetic. Daniel’s Wood Land scavenged wood from the ruins of a Japanese internment camp in Arizona to panel the walls of many of the rooms — the fact that the rooms looked like they feasibly could have been from over 100 years ago as opposed to cheap plastic imitations makes the experience feel slightly more real. 

The Dungeon isn’t revolutionary — it still belongs in the gimmicky world of Fisherman’s Wharf. The artistic enthusiasm and local involvement, however, lends the entertainment a realness and grittiness that elevates it above most other overpriced diversions. 


Opens June 26, $19-$26

San Francisco Dungeon 

145 Jefferson, SF

Rolling along


THEATER Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II’s groundbreaking 1927 musical, Show Boat, transformed one of Broadway’s major theatrical forms from a light and episodic operetta-style divertissement into a red-blooded American art form. Wedding spectacular entertainment (its producer was none other than super-showman Florenz Ziegfeld) with a full-fledged drama, Show Boat‘s expanded canvas came nearer the realm of classical opera, as all elements of the production, beginning with the music, orbited tightly around the story — which in addition to humor and hijinx sported complex characters and serious social content.

Since 1927, opera and musical theater have continued to grow closer at various points — most famously in the work of crossover composers like George Gershwin and Leonard Bernstein. San Francisco Opera’s co-production of Show Boat, the first time the company has essayed the legendary musical, turns out to be a wonderfully successful case in point: a crowd-pleasing hybrid of musical-theater style, sharply delineated drama, rousing choreography (from Michele Lynch), and full operatic glory (including an appropriately-sized orchestra and chorus). It’s a muscular production with a light step and buoyant spirit that shows off the best in a story that not only affirmed a common humanity among those up and down the ladder of social status, but also registered the injustice and violence of the American racial caste system in tones boldly progressive for the time.

Of course Show Boat, for all its socially and artistically progressive aspects, was still a product of the 1920s. And while it has been revived many times, the dialogue and other details have also undergone revisions to keep pace with social attitudes, conventions, and sensitivities, especially with regard to race. The SF Opera production under Maestro John DeMain follows DeMain and General Director David Gockley’s former collaboration on the historic 1982 revival for the Houston Grand Opera, which restored for the first time since 1927 significant sections of the original dialogue and score. The opera opens on a beautiful riverside quay awash with Technicolor hues (in perhaps indirect homage to the 1951 MGM film version), while the backside of the ship rises from the stage at the War Memorial Opera House like a delicate three-layer cake in the first of set designer Peter J. Davison and lighting designer Mark McCullough’s consistently atmospheric scenic environments.

Based on the 1926 novel by celebrated author and Algonquin wit Edna Ferber (who with frequent collaborator George S. Kaufman brought The Royal Family to Broadway the same week that the musical version of Show Boat set sail), the story spans the 1880s to the 1920s and revolves around the crew and passengers of the Cotton Blossom, a Mississippi show boat plying the river’s shoreline inhabitants with melodrama and comic fare. The boat’s operator is the warm-hearted Cap’n Andy Hawks (played by Broadway and local legend Bill Irwin in a memorable SF Opera debut) and his wife, the pants-wearing disciplinarian Parthy Ann (a comically fierce and ultimately redeeming Harriet Harris). Their innocent daughter and the story’s heroine, Magnolia (played with affecting pluck by a radiant Heidi Stober, the fine American soprano), falls for a rakish riverboat gambler named Gaylord Ravenal (baritone Michael Todd Simpson in a suave and graceful performance), whom she weds and follows to Chicago.

Magnolia and Gaylord’s doomed marriage, but enduring romance, makes up the central storyline, while a significant secondary plot involves the downward career of the talented actress and singer Julie La Verne (given a sultry and wrenching interpretation by soprano, and esteemed SF Opera regular, Patricia Racette). In an early scene, Julie’s husband, Steve (Patrick Cummings), fights with his wife’s spurned suitor (James Asher) and the latter takes revenge by tipping off the local sheriff (Kevin Blackton) to the illegality of their marriage under the state’s anti-miscegenation law. In this way we learn that Julie is of mixed-race ancestry. A bickering but loving African American couple among the Cotton Blossom‘s crewmembers, Queenie (the regal soprano Angela Renée Simpson) and Joe (bass Morris Robinson in a robust, beautifully measured performance), are also significant supporting characters. Indeed, the most of the show’s great songs are associated with these secondary characters, not least “Ol’ Man River” and “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man.”

The show itself strikes a knowing stance with respect to narrative, making good fun of the stilted melodramas put on by Cap’n Andy while reveling in the backstage intrigue and the characters’ own double-playing onstage (a situation that nicely serves the woo-pitching in the number “Make Believe”). Even the fight that breaks out on the dock between Steve and Pete at the outset of the play gets co-opted by Cap’n Andy, who in a hasty bit of diplomacy tells the crowd it was just a preview of the night’s entertainment onboard. This covering is also an uncovering, however, since it hints at the complex relationship between the stories onstage and real life in all its messiness.

Of course, what “real life” the musical expresses is still very much idealized as well as stylized. But the SF Opera production proves there’s still a pulse to the 1927 narrative, and it’s as vital as the enduring score with which it’s intimately bound. With panache but also keen sensitivity, the show conveys Ferber’s original emphasis on the shared humanity of rich and poor, white and black, and the compassion a bird’s eye perspective on it all can breed. In Show Boat, absurd melodramas and life’s everyday triumphs and failures play out alongside each other as so many ripples on the surface of a deep and indifferent river — a dark and mysterious universe that, in the image of the show’s great recurring theme, just keeps rollin’ along. *


Through July 2, $24-$379

War Memorial Opera House

301 Van Ness, SF


Peculiar thrills


FILM Documentaries are often the best section of any given film festival. But even die-hard fans admit to occasional Social Issue Fatigue — that feeling you get when you’ve just seen too many all-too-convincing portraits of real life injustices, reasons why the planet is dying, etc. “It was great — I’ll just go kill myself now” is a reaction few want to experience, you know, three times in one day. Yet it’s a typical plaint heard on queue at events like Toronto’s Hot Docs, let alone the touring United Nations Association Film Festival (a virtual global wrist-slitting orgy).

You’d be hard-pressed to have such a hard time at our own SF DocFest, however. For 13 years it’s managed to emphasize the entertaining and eccentric over grim reportage. To be sure, the latest edition, opening Thu/5 (with programs primarily at the Roxie and Oakland School for the Arts) has its share of films on topically important subject themes. Centerpiece presentation The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz poignantly recalls the short history of the brilliant young programmer-activist whose fate is especially chilling given the potential imminent death of net neutrality. Of Kites and Borders examines the harsh lives of children in the Tijuana area; Goodbye Gauley Mountain has Bay Area “eco-sexuals” Annie Sprinkle and Beth Stephens uniquely protesting the mountaintop removal industry in the Appalachians. But among 2014 SF DocFest’s 40 or so features, only Ivory Tower — about the increasingly high cost of higher U.S. education — offers straight-up journalistic overview of an urgent social issue.

More typical of DocFest’s sensibility are its numerous portraits of peculiar individuals and even more peculiar obsessions. In the jobs-make-the-man department, there’s An Honest Liar, whose magician subject The Amazing Randi has made it his personal mission to expose those who’d use his profession’s tricks to defraud the vulnerable; The Engineer, profiling the sole criminologist working in gang crime-ridden El Salvador; Bronx Obama, in which one man’s uncanny resemblance to the POTUS sets him on a lucrative but discomfiting career of impersonation for (mostly) audiences of hooting conservatives; and Vessel, whose protagonist Dr. Rebecca Gomperts sails the world trying to make abortions available to women whose countries ban the procedure.

There are no less than three features about people trying to succeed among the professionally tough: Fake It So Real (the South’s independent pro wrestling circuit), Bending Steel (a Coney Island performing strongman) and Glena (struggling mother hopes to hit paydirt as a cage fighter).

On the obsessive side, Wicker Kittens examines the world of competitive jigsaw puzzling. Jingle Bell Rocks! examines the netherworld of serious Christmas-music aficionados; Vannin’ observes the 1970s customized-van culture still alive today. Magical Universe is Jeremy Workman’s very first-person account of his friendship with an elderly Maine widower who turns out to have secretly created epic quantities of bizarre Barbie-related art. Hairy Who and the Imagists recalls the somewhat less “outsider”-ish achievements of Chicago’s ’60s avant-garde art scene, while Amos Poe’s 1976 The Blank Generation, DocFest 13’s sole archival feature, flashes back to punk’s birth throes at CBGB’s.

Another legendary moment is remembered in Led Zeppelin Played Here, about an extremely early, ill-received 1969 Zep show at a Maryland youth center that few attended, but many claim to have. Portraits of artists expanding their forms in the present tense include Trash Dance (a choreographer collaborates with truckers and their big rigs) and When My Sorrow Died (theremin!).

Exerting a somewhat wacked fascination is the cast of We Always Lie to Strangers, which is somewhat spotty and unfocused as an overall picture of tourist mecca Branson, Mo. — Vegas for people who don’t sin — but intriguing as a study of showboy/girl types stuck in a milieu where gays remain closeted and Broadway-style divas need to keep that bitching hole shut 24/7. Further insight into your entertainment options is provided by Doc of the Dead (on zombiemania) and self-explanatory Video Games: The Movie.

One pastime nearly everyone pursues — looking for love — gets sobering treatment in Love Me, one of several recent documentaries probing the boom in Internet “mail order brides” from former Soviet nations. Its various middle-aged sad sacks pursuing much younger Eastern bombshells mostly find themselves simply ripped off for their troubles. Those looking for quicker, cheaper gratification may identify with Back Issues: The Hustler Magazine Story.

Of particular local interest is the premiere of Rick Prelinger’s No More Road Trips, culled from his collection of nearly 10,000 vintage home movies. A preview screening of First Friday offers a first peek at this forthcoming documentary about tragic violence at the monthly arts festival in Oakland last year. True Son follows 22-year-old Michael Tubbs’ attempt to win a City Council seat and reverse the fortunes of his beleaguered native Stockton. The “Don’t Call It Frisco!” program encompasses shorts about the Bay Bridge troll, a Santa Rosa animal “retirement home,” and a salute to South Bay hardcore veterans Sad Boy Sinister.

DocFest ends June 19 with that rare thing, a documentary about downbeat, hard-to-encapsulate material that’s won considerable attention simply because it’s so beautifully crafted and affecting. Andrew Droz Palermo and Tracy Droz Tragos’ Rich Hill focuses on three kids in worse-than-average circumstances in a generally depressed Missouri town of 1,400 souls. Harley is an alarmingly temperamental teen housed on thin ice with his grandmother while his mother sits in prison for reasons that explain a great deal about him. Potty-mouthed Appachey is a little hellion perpetually setting off his exasperated, multi-job-juggling single mother, living in near-squalor.

Still, both are at least superficially better off than Andrew, an almost painfully resilient and hopeful boy constantly uprooted by an obscurely damaged mother and a father who can’t hold a job to save his life. “We’re not trash, we’re good people,” he tells us early on, later rationalizing his continuing dire straits with “God must be busy with everyone else.” He’s the heartbreaking face of a hardworking, religious, white American underclass that is being betrayed into desperation by the politicians who claim to share its values.


June 5-19

Check website for venues, times, and prices


This Week’s Picks: May 14 – 20, 2014




KQED Presents an Evening With Ken Burns

Remember slowly drifting off while watching documentaries during history class on a warm afternoon? Well, if there’s anyone who can make a historical documentary interesting, it’s the great Ken Burns. If you’ve ever used iPhoto, iMovie, or Final Cut Pro, you’re familiar with “The Ken Burns Effect.” Known for bringing life to still photographs, the Ken Burns Effect is back with The Roosevelts: An Intimate History. Burns will present a sneak preview of his seven-part, 14-hour documentary after an onstage conversation about the film, which will premiere on PBS in September. The film takes the unique perspective of weaving together the lives of Theodore, Franklin, and Eleanor Roosevelt, illuminating the influential stories of how two presidents and a first lady played integral roles in shaping American history — from human and civil rights battles to the creation of National Parks to the defeat of Hitler. (Laura B. Childs)

7:30pm, $25

Castro Theatre

429 Castro, SF

(415) 621-6350




Rocking the robots

If you’ve never seen Sleepbomb do its thing at the band members’ main stomping ground, you’re in for a rare treat. This postindustrial improvisational band, made up mostly of Zeitgeist employees and regulars, will play a live soundtrack to Metropolis, the cult-classic silent film by German Expressionist filmmaker Fritz Lang. Sleepbomb has done live soundtracks to Metropolis and Nosferatu before in the Zeitgeist beer garden, and it’s always an eerie, artsy, urban, robotic, drunken good time. (Steven T. Jones)

8pm, donation-based


199 Valencia, SF




Anti-Nowhere League

British hardcore punk stalwarts the Anti-Nowhere League have made a name for themselves over the past three decades with an unabashedly aggressive and in-your-face approach, as evidenced by their signature songs “I Hate People” and the profanity-laced “So What” — the latter was even notoriously covered by Metallica. In a perfect pairing, Southern California punk icons T.S.O.L (True Sounds of Liberty), who became infamous for the police riots that would break out at their shows, and the tune “Code Blue,” an ode to the joys of necrophilia, join the bill for what promises to be one hell of show. (Sean McCourt)

With The Riverboat Gamblers and Dime Runner

9pm, $18-$20

DNA Lounge

375 11th St, SF

(415) 626-1409




Fou Fou fabulous

Fou Fou Ha, our favorite cartoon performance troupe, makes a big leap forward as it returns to its roots for its latest original show, In Living Colors. This psychedelic dance journey through an exotic world is described as “Alice in Wonderland meets the Forbidden Zone,” combining elaborate 3D pop-up sets and projections by Obscura Digital. It’s a new twist on the lively choreographed comedy that is classic Fou, but on an occasion that’s a little bittersweet for Mama Fou (aka Maya Lane) and the rest of Family Fou. The troupe got its start in this location back when it was CELLspace, the players kept it as their home during its evolution into Inner Mission, and now this looks like it will be Fou Fou Ha’s final performance in a space that is being shut down this fall and converted into condos. So come laugh, cry, dance, and laugh some more. (Jones)

9pm, DJ dancing until 1:30am

$25 advance, $30 door

Inner Mission

2035 Bryant, SF




Zion I

Last time Zion I was at the Independent was for a guest appearance during the venue’s 10th anniversary celebration. Tonight, the Bay Area indie hip-hop duo is back. Baba Zumbi and AmpLive of Zion I have been making music together for over 15 years. AmpLive brings the electronic dance beats that vacillate between reggae and drum ‘n’ bass, Zumbi carries the vocals with socially conscious lyrics. Originally formed in Atlanta, the Berkeley-based duo creates a relatable sound that’s difficult to define. Neither West Coast hip-hop, nor East Coast rap, the band’s musical influences remains deeply engrained in songs that deliver messages of unity and hope. (Childs)

9pm, $25

The Independent

628 Divisadero, SF

(415) 771-1421





Black Market SF Presents ‘Rendezvous’

Secrets, truths and lies…Black Market SF is hosting one of its legendary events tonight for the curious: Rendezvous. They say, curiosity killed the cat, but in this case, let your curiosity run wild. This clandestine discovery market will carry an assortment of local craft and food vendors as well as many secret activities to be discovered on the night of. Explore one of SF’s best-kept secrets in the intimate setting of the Folsom Street Foundry. If the city’s best craft artisans and food purveyors don’t pique your interest, an exclusive live set of up-and-coming acts will spearhead the dance party. This mysterious night will be one for the books. (Childs)

6pm-11pm, $8

Folsom Street Foundry

1425 Folsom Street

(415) 795-3644



‘Nomad: The Blue Road’

Many tribal people living on parched lands engage in ritualistic dances to encourage the falling of precious rain. Since water is the world’s most important and most endangered natural resource, we might as well try dancing. It just could help. For this weekend the bi-national Dance Monks, an interdisciplinary ensemble that works both in the Bay Area and Mexico, has enlisted local artists — Dohee Lee, NAKA Dance among them — to help out drought-stricken California. NOMAD: The Blue Road, takes audiences along the path of Strawberry Creek, Berkeley’s beloved small stream that still burbles and runs under the urban asphalt of downtown Berkley. The piece starts on the UC campus and winds its way along the creek’s trajectory with performances along the path. (Rita Felciano)

May 17-18, 11am, free

UC Berkeley Campus

Oxford and Center St, Berk.





Bay to Breakers people-watching

If you have friends participating in the race but, like so many of us, you also feel a local’s urge to get the hell out of town during Bay to Breakers weekend — or at least as far away from the costumed, beer-soaked debauchery as possible — get the best of both worlds by hitting one of the rival Hayes Street house parties along the course, with DJs, more than you could ever want to drink, and probably very little pressure to be athletic in any way. Alternatively, hit Alamo Square for an amazing view of some 30,000 people all making their way up the Hayes Street Hill. Just remember: The cops have pledged a zero-tolerance policy for public drunkenness this year. We’ll see how that all shakes out. (Emma Silvers)

All day, free

Throughout SF

Check for the official route and other events




Iggy Azalea

First things first, she’s the realest. The Australian beauty and hip-hop performer, Iggy Azalea, has been making waves in this hemisphere since her Clueless-inspired music video for her hit single “Fancy.” With sassy raps and catchy hooks about the glam life, Azalea’s sound is reminiscent of the “it” girls of the early 2000’s. Think Gwen Stefani’s vocals and Lil’ Kim’s beats, but this former model adds personal flair with her zero-fucks-given charisma and unabashed obsession with America. She’s opened for household names such as Beyoncé and Rita Ora, but since the release of her debut album, The New Classic, Azalea is on the prowl with her Monster Energy Outbreak Tour. (Childs)

8pm, $35

The Fillmore

1805 Geary, SF

(415) 346-6000


Ben Folds with the San Francisco Symphony

In the 17 years since his old band, Ben Folds Five, burst onto the national scene with “Brick” — likely the catchiest, most radio-friendly song ever penned about an abortion at Christmastime — pianist-singer-songwriter-storyteller Ben Folds has proven to be so much more than a flash in the pan. On this tour, he’s been performing solo with orchestras and symphonies around the world; if you’re not quite sure how his songwriting would stand up to such elaborate instrumentation, search for videos online of his performances with the Western Australian Symphony Orchestra. This one-off show should be a treat for devotees of the singer’s nearly three-decade career as well as symphony fans — nothing like a little pop-rock-classical synergy on a Monday night. (Silvers)

7:30pm, prices vary, see website for details

Davies Symphony Hall

Grove between Van Ness and Franklin, SF



Write Club SF

Who says writing isn’t a contact sport? The monthly Write Club, which bills itself with the motto “literature as bloodsport,” pits local lit figures against each other in a competitive readings series, with writers arguing such topics as “snow vs. fire,” “ham vs. turkey,” and “Santa vs. Jesus.” This month’s will see six writers, including Caitlin Gill, Rachel Bublitz, and founders Steven Westdahl and Casey Childers arguing over topics such as “beginning” vs. “end.” The audience picks the winner, and proceeds go to a charity of the winner’s choice. Reading, arguing, a full bar — what’s not to like? (Silvers)

8pm, $10

Make-Out Room

322522nd St, SF

Damien Jurado

Serious Damien Jurado fans — and the folksy indie-rocker does seem to inspire a certain (well-deserved) fervor amongst a certain set — know the songwriter’s gift for storytelling owes as much to a willingness to get weird as it does to playing with narrative. Jurado’s latest release, January’s Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son, is the third piece in a three-part collaboration with producer Richard Swift, and it shies away from neither the religious overtones nor the heady, spaced-out hero’s journey type of tale 2012’s Maraqopa laid out; it’s more stripped-down, if anything, so those themes are laid bare. Live, he’s known for making even large rooms feel intimate; this show shouldn’t disappoint. (Silvers)

8pm, $15

The Independent

628 Divisadero, SF


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Rep Clock: May 14 – 20, 2014


Schedules are for Wed/14-Tue/20 except where noted. Director and year are given when available. Double and triple features marked with a •. All times pm unless otherwise specified.

ARTISTS’ TELEVISION ACCESS 992 Valencia, SF; $6-10. Films by SF State University’s experimental documentary class, Thu, 7:30. “Other Cinema,” contemporary sound and video art works by Derek G, Tommy Becker, and others, Sat, 8:30.

BALBOA THEATRE 3630 Balboa, SF; $7.50-10. “Popcorn Palace:” Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (Box and Park, 2005), Sat, 10am. Matinee for kids.

CASTRO 429 Castro, SF; (415) 621-6120, $8.50-11. “KQED presents: An Evening with Ken Burns:” The Roosevelts: An Intimate History (Burns, 2014), Wed, 7:30. Sneak preview of new miniseries to air in September on PBS; this event, $20-25 at •Drugstore Cowboy (Van Sant, 1989), Thu, 7, and Trainspotting (Boyle, 1996), Thu, 8:55. “Epidemic Film Festival,” works by Academy of Art University students, with a speech by cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto, Fri, 4-8. •Raiders of the Lost Ark (Spielberg, 1981), Sat, 2:30, 7, and Romancing the Stone (Zemeckis, 1984), Sat, 4:45, 9:15. •A Streetcar Named Desire (Kazan, 1951), Sun, 2:15, 7, and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (Nichols, 1966), Sun, 4:35, 9:15.

CHRISTOPHER B. SMITH RAFAEL FILM CENTER 1118 Fourth St, San Rafael; (415) 454-1222, $6.50-$10.75. Palo Alto (Coppola, 2013), May 16-22, call for times. “Mark Cantor Presents Jazz at the Movies,” Sun, 6. This event, $15-25.

CITY COLLEGE OF SAN FRANCISCO Diego Rivera Theatre, 50 Phelan, SF; Free. “CCSF City Shorts Student Film Festival,” Thu, 7.

CLAY 2261 Fillmore, SF; $10. “Midnight Movies:” Dirty Harry (Siegel, 1971), Sat, midnight.

“HIMALAYAN FILM FESTIVAL” Ninth Street Independent Film Center, 145 Ninth St, Suite 250, SF; and Himalayan Fair Grounds, Live Oak Theater, 1301 Shattuck, Berk; $10-20 (festival pass, $40). Documentary and narrative films from Nepal, Bhutan, and Tibet. Fri-Sat.

MECHANICS’ INSTITUTE 57 Post, SF; $10. “CinemaLit Film Series: Comedy Tonight:” Stir Crazy (Poitier, 1980), Fri, 6.

ROXIE 3117 and 3125 16th St, SF; (415) 863-1087, $6.50-11. Documented: A Film By An Undocumented American (Vargas, 2013), May 15-21, 7, 9. Director Jose Vargas in person at Thu-Fri shows. NOW: In the Wings on the World Stage (Whelehan, 2014), Wed-Thu, 7, 9. “I Wake Up Dreaming 2014: Dark Treasures from the Warner Archive:” •Stranger on the Third Floor (Ingster, 1940), Fri, 6:30, 9:30, and The Unsuspected (Curtiz, 1947), Fri, 8; •Love is a Racket (Wellman, 1932), Sat, 2, and Ladies They Talk About (Bretherton and Keighley, 1933), Sat, 3:30; •Nora Prentiss (Sherman, 1947), Sat, 7:30, and The Unfaithful (Sherman, 1947), Sat, 5:15, 9:45; •Angels in Disguise (Yarbrough, 1948), Sun, 2, and Fall Guy (Le Borg, 1947), Sun, 3:15, and When Strangers Marry (Castle, 1944), Sun, 4:30; •The Window (Tetzlaff, 1949), Sun, 6:30, 9:45, and The Locket (Brahm, 1946), Sun, 8; •Two Seconds (Le Roy, 1932), Mon, 6:30, 9:40, and 20,000 Years in Sing Sing (Curtiz, 1932), Mon, 8; •A Woman’s Secret (Ray, 1949), Tue, 6:15, 9:45, and Tomorrow is Another Day (Feist, 1951), Tue, 8.

YERBA BUENA CENTER FOR THE ARTS 701 Mission, SF; $8-10. “Astonishing Animation: The Films of Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli:” Pom Poko (Takahata, 1994), Thu, 7:30 and Sat, 5; Castle in the Sky (Miyazaki, 1986), Sat, 7:30 and Sun, 3; My Neighbor Totoro (Miyazaki, 1988), Sun, 1. *


Mozart meets Method Man


By Micah Dubreuil

Sitting cross-legged on a pillow on the hardwood floor of a bare room in East Oakland, Korean-born, conservatory-trained composer JooWan Kim is doing two things that aren’t usually paired together: Conducting an elaborate, traditional tea ceremony and expressing his passion for N.W.A. Kim thrives on unexpected combinations: The composer, who spent seven years in Berkeley studying Zen meditation and Taoist internal alchemy (breathing exercises, he explains), has just finished his second of three arrangements of songs from Enter the 36 Chambers, the Wu-Tang Clan‘s seminal 1993 debut.

Kim leads Ensemble Mik Nawooj (his name backwards), a composer’s ensemble that could be termed a hip-hop orchestra, a chamber rap group, or maybe just the oddest band west of the Mississippi. Kim simply says: “We play pop music.” Of course, most people don’t imagine a pop group consisting of flute, clarinet, violin, cello, piano, a Soprano opera singer, upright bass, drums, and two MCs.

Most people are not JooWan Kim.

The result is a sound that juxtaposes the rapid-fire staccato of rap with the bombastic percussiveness and dramatic tension of western classical music. It’s unapologetic and truly like nothing else.

Kim, who moved to the US from Korea at age 20, had a somewhat different upbringing from your average hip-hop enthusiast. “My parents listened to classical music, and just like all Asian kids, I had the choice of playing piano or violin,” he says. ” I liked the piano.” He emigrated to study at Boston’s prestigious Berklee College of Music, then followed it up with a masters in composition from the SF Conservatory of Music. It was while at the Conservatory that Kim first began experimenting with a classical/hip-hop hybrid, presenting the first live piece “as a joke” in 2005. He began to consider doing it seriously when the performance received some unexpected attention from local press and musicians.

His first experience as a hip-hop listener, however, was less encouraging. “I hated them. I hated them so much, with a passion,” Kim says of the first songs he heard. Not a native to the language, he struggled to interpret the music. As his English began improving, however, his attitude towards hip-hop changed. “Once I realized the social context and the kind of things that they were saying, it blew me away. I could understand the necessity in the music — it’s a very sincere and powerful expression,” he says. “If you listen to concert music, it doesn’t have the same urgency,” says Kim, who has decided to prioritize making music for a broad audience (what he calls “pop”).

A broad audience is indeed front and center for EMN. The orchestra is returning to Yoshi’s Oakland on April 17 to preview the Wu-Tang arrangements, in addition to an upcoming residency at the Red Poppy Art House. The group has been performing in rooms normally considered rock clubs — Milk Bar, Brick & Mortar Music Hall, The New Parish — and are raising funds for their debut EP.

Kim’s hardly alone in his embrace of cross-cultural pollination. To celebrate their 21st anniversary, the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts commissioned the orchestra to arrange a total of six pieces for a November show called Clas/Sick Hip Hop II: 93 Til’ (a nod to local hip-hop legends Souls of Mischief, and the significance of the year 1993 in hip-hop). YBCA Director of Performance Marc Bamuthi Joseph affirms: “It is part of my gig to authentically recognize hip-hop as a great canonical American form.”

Joseph picked Kim as an arranger for his project in part because of his fresh perspective, coming from Korea and the conservatory — “there’s a playfulness that’s possible,” not being weighed down by certain historical precedents, he says. Though Joseph recognizes the s substantial history of both hip-hop and classical music in the Bay Area, he says he wasn’t entirely surprised that it took an outsider to fuse the two.

“When I came here, I realized it was very different in the sense that pop music was deeply associated with subcultures,” explains Kim. “Koreans don’t have that. Europeans don’t even have that either, in terms pop music. I thought that was weird, so I continued to listen to whatever I wanted to.” What marks EMN as unique is the marriage of classical techniques to this omnivorous disregard for cultural authority (a definitively hip-hop attitude).

mik nawooj

Indeed, JooWan Kim has a bit of a rebellious streak. “I decided to add drums and MCs to make people pissed off, and certainly I did,” Kim says of his first performance with the Ensemble. As he walks over to a grand piano to play selections of Wu-Tang’s “Shame on a Nigga,” there is a striking contrast between Kim’s clear delight in ruffling feathers and his calm, controlled demeanor, maintained through two to three hours of meditation each morning — a practice Kim began after studying with Taoist master Hyonoong Sunim at the Zen Center in Berkeley.

Kim believes meditating has transformed both him and his music. “It’s the most valuable thing I’ve ever done,” he says. “I don’t feel angry or depressed that often anymore. I’m at a point where I can let things pass.”

He reflects on the artistic potential that has opened up as he finishes his tea. “A lot of times people have it backward in terms of understanding art or music — that you’re learning all these techniques and then you’ll somehow write this great music,” he says. “It’s actually the other way around. All these qualities that you have, anger or depression or love: they come out in the music. That’s why people who didn’t learn anything about music can write great music, because they somehow overcame themselves.”

Ensemble Mik Nawooj

Thu/17, 10pm, $15
Yoshi’s Oakland
510 Embarcadero West, Oak.
(510) 238-9200

Film Listings: March 26 – April 1, 2014


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.


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) (Chun)

Cheap Thrills Craig (Pat Healy) is having the worst day of his life — but it’s going to get a lot worse before a new day dawns. Already in dire financial need supporting his loving wife (Amanda Fuller) and baby, he discovers they’re about to be evicted from their apartment. And far from getting a hoped-for raise at his job, he’s being laid off. Amidst this bitter news he runs into party-hearty, slightly gamey old high school bud Vince (Ethan Embry), who convinces him that the best immediate medicine is a drink or three. At the bar they are aggressively befriended by a deep pocketed couple consisting of overly palsy Colin (David Koechner) and his frigidly cool — but hawt — younger wife Violet (Sara Paxton). On the pretext that it’s in pursuit of fun on her birthday, these strangers propose a series of dares to be performed (and competed over) by the two reunited classmates. The cash-money stakes rise as the “dares” escalate in antisocial behavior, humiliation, harm to others, and harm to oneself; milquetoast Craig’s desperate circumstances make him a reluctant but willing participant dismayed to discover that Vince is a greedy competitor whose empathy vanishes at the sight of a greenback. This cheerfully mean black comedy, written by Trent Haaga and David Chirchirillo, is a first directorial feature for E.L. Katz, who’d previously contributed as a scenarist to some interesting early features by indie horror regulars Adam Wingard and Adam Gierasch. This kind of exercise in can-we-top-this-yes-we-can bad taste has been done better on occasion — and less well on many more. Cheap Thrills ultimately balances the cynical, clever, and exploitative to degrees that give good guilty pleasure, particularly if you’re not the guilt-inclined type. (1:25) Roxie. (Harvey)

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, Shattuck. (Harvey)

“I Wake Up Dreaming 2014 Preview Night” Elliot Lavine’s latest Roxie film noir series, which starts May 16, gets an advance jump-start with this special fundraiser evening Wed/26. The program will include live music, intoxicating libations, the auctioning of relevant memorabilia, and more. Plus, of course, there are movies. The big attraction is The Argyle Secrets, an extremely rare 1948 mystery-thriller (even Lavine hadn’t seen it until this 16mm print surfaced just recently) written and directed by the intriguing Cy Endfield, a Yalie whose idiosyncratic screen career spanned from novelty MGM shorts to programmers (1949’s Joe Palooka in the Big Fight, 1952’s Tarzan’s Savage Fury) to big-budget adventures (Mysterious Island, Zulu) and 1969’s Fellini-esque kinkfest misfire DeSade. Based on his own radio drama, Secrets revolves around a sheath of incriminating papers (we never really find out more about them) sought by a variety of shady types. Caught up in their midst is a William Gargan’s exceptionally loutish “hero,” a newspaper reporter not at all shy about misleading police or manhandling (even punching out) women in pursuit of a good story. (The two ladies he plays rough with here had very wholesome futures: Barbara Billingsley later essayed Mrs. Clever on Leave It to Beaver, while San Francisco-born Marjorie Lord likewise played mom on the even longer-running sitcom Make Room for Daddy.) It’s a dirt-cheap independent production with a rather seedy atmosphere, colorfully broad character types and one very convoluted, possibly senseless plot. The festivities will also include Rudolph Mate’s classic original 1950 D.O.A., with Edmund O’Brien as an accountant whose San Francisco vacation turns into a desperate race to discover who has fatally poisoned him, and why. Roxie. (Harvey)

Jodorowsky’s Dune See “Lost in Space.” (1:30) Embarcadero.

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)

Noah Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, and Emma Watson star in Darren Aronofsky’s take on the Bible tale. (2:07) Presidio, Shattuck.

Sabotage Arnold Schwarzenegger plays the head of a DEA task force that runs afoul of a drug cartel. (1:49)


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, 1000 Van Ness, Piedmont, Shattuck. (Harvey)

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

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

Child’s Pose The Romanian New Wave that began making waves internationally about a decade ago is as far from guilty pleasure genre terrain as possible, being heavy on the very long takes, cryptic narratives, and bleak realism of a particular, stratifying form of high art cinema. At last, however, it has its very own terrifying monster movie of sorts — since nothing has been quite as skin-crawling a filmic experience in a while as watching Luminita Gheorghiu as a Bucharest grande dame practicing her particular form of Machiavellian maternal concern in Child’s Pose. Gheorghiu’s Cornelia is introduced kvetching about her son’s girlfriend; you sense right away she wouldn’t approve of anyone who complicated her successful apron-string strangulation of said only child. When she gets an emergency call with some bad news — her thirtysomething “boy,” driving recklessly on a country road, has hit and killed an actual boy — she immediately sets about intimidating the local police. This might be a heartrending tale of sacrifice and love under tragic circumstances, if it weren’t for the fact that Cornelia is palpably a horrible, horrible person, and her son — who shows no signs of being much better — hates her guts. This Golden Bear winner by Calin Peter Netzer, who co-wrote it with Razvan Radulescu, is a bit over infatuated with hand-held jerky-cam at first, a distracting aesthetic choice that does not heighten the immediacy of its mostly cold, conversational scenes. But Netzer settles down after a while, his film’s impact gathering as the camera grows more and more still. When Cornelia meets with the parents of the dead child, she tries every trick in the book to manipulate them. It’s a bravura performance of grief, empathy, and desperation, such that Cornelia might even believe it herself. Like her peroxided hair, the emotions she expresses have been inauthentic for so long she can no longer tell the difference. (1:52) Opera Plaza. (Harvey)

Dallas Buyers Club Dallas Buyers Club is the first all-US feature from Jean-Marc Vallée. He first made a splash in 2005 with C.R.A.Z.Y., which seemed an archetype of the flashy, coming-of-age themed debut feature. Vallée has evolved beyond flashiness, or maybe since C.R.A.Z.Y. he just hasn’t had a subject that seemed to call for it. Which is not to say Dallas is entirely sober — its characters partake from the gamut of altering substances, over-the-counter and otherwise. But this is a movie about AIDS, so the purely recreational good times must eventually crash to an end. Which they do pretty quickly. We first meet Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey) in 1986, a Texas good ol’ boy endlessly chasing skirts and partying nonstop. Not feeling quite right, he visits a doctor, who informs him that he is HIV-positive. His response is “I ain’t no faggot, motherfucker” — and increased partying that he barely survives. Afterward, he pulls himself together enough to research his options, and bribes a hospital attendant into raiding its trial supply of AZT for him. But Ron also discovers the hard way what many first-generation AIDS patients did — that AZT is itself toxic. He ends up in a Mexican clinic run by a disgraced American physician (Griffin Dunne) who recommends a regime consisting mostly of vitamins and herbal treatments. Ron realizes a commercial opportunity, and finds a business partner in willowy cross-dresser Rayon (Jared Leto). When the authorities keep cracking down on their trade, savvy Ron takes a cue from gay activists in Manhattan and creates a law evading “buyers club” in which members pay monthly dues rather than paying directly for pharmaceutical goods. It’s a tale that the scenarists (Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack) and director steep in deep Texan atmospherics, and while it takes itself seriously when and where it ought, Dallas Buyers Club is a movie whose frequent, entertaining jauntiness is based in that most American value: get-rich-quick entrepreneurship. (1:58) Sundance Kabuki. (Harvey)

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

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) California, 1000 Van Ness, Piedmont, 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) Four Star, Opera Plaza. (Harvey)

Her Morose and lonely after a failed marriage, Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) drifts through an appealingly futuristic Los Angeles (more skyscrapers, less smog) to his job at a place so hipster-twee it probably will exist someday:, where he dictates flowery missives to a computer program that scrawls them onto paper for paying customers. Theodore’s scripting of dialogue between happy couples, as most of his clients seem to be, only enhances his sadness, though he’s got friends who care about him (in particular, Amy Adams as Amy, a frumpy college chum) and he appears to have zero money woes, since his letter-writing gig funds a fancy apartment equipped with a sweet video-game system. Anyway, women are what gives Theodore trouble — and maybe by extension, writer-director Spike Jonze? — so he seeks out the ultimate gal pal: Samantha, an operating system voiced by Scarlett Johansson in the year’s best disembodied performance. Thus begins a most unusual relationship, but not so unusual; Theodore’s friends don’t take any issue with the fact that his new love is a machine. Hey, in Her‘s world, everyone’s deeply involved with their chatty, helpful, caring, always-available OS — why wouldn’t Theo take it to the next level? Inevitably, of course, complications arise. If Her‘s romantic arc feels rather predictable, the film acquits itself in other ways, including boundlessly clever production-design touches that imagine a world with technology that’s (mostly) believably evolved from what exists today. Also, the pants they wear in the future? Must be seen to be believed. (2:00) Sundance Kabuki. (Eddy)

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

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) Albany, Clay. (Vizcarrondo)

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, Metreon, Piedmont. (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) Four Star, 1000 Van Ness, Presidio, SF Center. (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, Presidio, SF Center, Shattuck. (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)

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) 1000 Van Ness, SF Center. (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, Shattuck, 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) Embarcadero, Shattuck. (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)

Shirin in Love This blandly TV-ready romantic comedy stars Nazanin Boniadi as a ditzy child of privilege in Beverly Hills’ Iranian-American community. Sent by her aggressively shallow magazine-editor mother (Anita Khalatbari) to find an elusive best-selling novelist for an interview, she not only stumbles upon that author (Amy Madigan) but discovers she’s already had a meet-cute with the latter’s hunky son (Riley Smith) under embarrassing circumstances. Will Shirin be able to shrug off the future her family has planned for her (including Maz Jobrani as a plastic-surgeon fiancé ) in order to, y’know, find herself? The very obvious answer takes its sweet time arriving in writer-director Ramin Niami’s innocuous film, which hews to a stale lineup of formulaic genre conventions even when relying on whopping coincidences to advance its predictable plot. The novelty of its particular social milieu goes unexplored in a movie that reveals even less about assimilated modern US Persian culture than My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002) did about Greek Americans. (1:45) AMC Bay Street 16. (Harvey)

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, Sundance Kabuki. (Chun)

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

Veronica Mars Since the cult fave TV show Veronica Mars went off the air in 2007, fans of the series, about a smart, cynical teenager who solves mysteries and battles her high school’s 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, 1000 Van Ness. (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) Albany, Embarcadero, Smith Rafael, 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) California, Embarcadero, Sundance Kabuki. (Eddy) *


This Week’s Picks: March 12 -18, 2014



Freddie Rainbow Presents “Gender Night”

It’s no secret that comedy is a male-dominated business. For years, there’s been this stereotype that women aren’t funny. Honestly, how often do you see a comedy with a female lead? While movies like Bridesmaids and Ghost World are few and far between, over the past couple of years, women in entertainment have been speaking out against this double standard. “Gender Night” is the most recent development. Comedian and ardent supporter of gender equality Freddie Rainbow presents an encore presentation of comedy from California’s finest comediennes. Expect jokes about shopping and love as well as fart jokes. Girls fart too, get over it. “The only reason to miss this show is if you hate women,” says the comedy club website. “Please don’t hate women.” (Laura B. Childs)

8pm, $15

Punch Line Comedy Club

444 Battery, SF

(415) 397-7573




For more than 15 years, English DJ and producer Simon Posford and Australian flutist Raja Ram have collaborated to produce expansive, mind-bending, psychedelic music. Fans are still raving about how Shpongle rocked Oakland’s Fox Theatre just before Halloween 2011, when Posford and Ram played with a live band and an ensemble of colorful dancers. Posford, who takes to the decks for this show in support of the duo’s latest album Museum of Consciousness (Twisted Records), was a major contributor to the frenetic psy-trance scene that blossomed in Britain in the early ’90s. Those early musical influences shine through in the track “How the Jellyfish Jumped the Mountain,” an intricate, mid-tempo, 10-minute journey through filtered melodies, distorted vocal samples and catchy basslines. (Kevin Lee)

With Desert Dwellers, Vokab Kompany

8 pm, $27.50 presale, $30 at the door

The Regency Ballroom

1300 Van Ness, SF

(415) 673-5716


IDEO’s David Kelley

IDEO founder David Kelley and his brother Tom Kelley believe that we are watered-down versions of what we could be. On the heels of their bestselling The Art of Innovation, the businessmen brothers have written Creative Confidence, a book that challenges the idea that only some people are creative, suggesting that creativity is not innate but rather a skill. At this JCC event, the IDEO founder and Stanford University professor will speak about unlocking our creative potential; the night will also include a guest lecture by the pioneer for modern journalism and story-telling, Douglas McGray, editor-in-chief of Pop-Up Magazine and the brand new California Sunday Magazine. (Childs)

7pm, $25

Jewish Community Center of San Francisco

3200 California, SF

(415) 292-1200



Little Minsky’s Burlesque Cabaret

Boasting what some have called both the best pizza and jazz in the city (can you really beat that combination?), Club Deluxe is bringing back Little Minsky’s Burlesque Cabaret every second Thursday of the month. If you like your cocktails stiff and your burlesque dancers flexible, this is the night for you. Take a trip back in time with a lovely lineup of vintage cabaret performers and Prohibition-era jazz musicians. The night is sure to get hot and heavy, but in the classiest of ways, of course. (Childs)

10pm, $5

Club Deluxe

1511 Haight, SF

(415) 552-6949



Screen Printing for Newbies – Late Night Edition

Remember the good old days, when your parents signed you up for various art classes or random activities just so they didn’t have to deal with you on the weekends or school breaks? Workshop SF is oddly reminiscent of summer camp. With Jameson lamps, metallic saws, and only the necessary amount of clutter, the NoPa studio offers awesome classes from Sewing 101 to Hair Bootcamp to Pickling 101. Tonight, they offer a special late night edition of “Screen Printing for Newbies.” Learn the basics of silkscreen printing with an hour-long, hands-on tutorial and two hours of time to print. Bring your own printing supplies or come empty-handed — either way you’ll walk out with some cool designs printed on paper, T-shirts, and even beer koozies. (Childs)

8pm, $42


1789 McAllister, SF

(415) 874-9186


Stephen Petronio

It’s been a while since we have seen Stephen Petronio’s dancers fill a local stage with the interlocking complexities of choreography so fiercely layered — and performed at such speed — that the mind sometimes had difficulties in absorbing it all. Apparently, given the newest work’s name, we can expect some slower passages. In Like Lazarus Did, Petronio and his 10 dancers are dancing about death and resurrection, not exactly a hot topic on the traveling dance circuit. But perhaps the subject makes sense for a dancer-choreographer who is close to 60, who was the first male dancer with Trisha Brown — whose troupe is currently on life support — and whose own company is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. So happy birthday and many more to come. (Rita Felciano)

March 14-15, 7:30pm, $35-50

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

700 Howard St. SF

(415) 978-2787



Magic, Color, Flair: The World of Mary Blair

With a keenly creative outlook and modernist style mixed with bold, beautiful colors, artist Mary Blair helped inspire and design some of the most beloved films and attractions made by Walt Disney Studios during the 1940s and ’50s, including Peter Pan, Cinderella, and Alice In Wonderland. This new exhibit features 200 works that examine not only her seminal time and iconic output with Disney but also her early years, as well as her later work as an illustrator for advertising, theatrical sets, clothing, children’s books, and much more. (Sean McCourt)

Through Sept. 7, 2014

10am-6pm, Wed-Mon, $10 for Blair exhibit only, museum combo ticket $17-$25

The Walt Disney Family Museum

104 Montgomery, SF



Sureando: Rambling through the South

There is a difference between listening through your ears and listening through your heart. For the latter, there’s nothing better than the voice of Chilean cellist Mochi Parra. This performance will see Parra teaming up with Peruvian native bass virtuoso and Berkeley Jazz School teacher David Pinto to present a concert of South American musical jewels that will undoubtedly set a precedent for the possibilities of these two instruments. There’s nothing sparse about this: Pinto’s six-stringed bass seems to dialogue with Mochi commanding interpretations, and the duo’s original arrangements combine to create an exquisite orchestration right at the edges of the unpredictable nueva canción styles. (Fernando A. Torres)

7pm, $15

Red Poppy Art House

2698 Folsom, SF

(415) 826-2402


The San Francisco International Chocolate Salon

In the market for a sugar rush? Now in its 8th year, this annual smorgasbord of all things cocoa-based promises “55,000 square feet of chocolate,” in the form of tastings, demonstrations, new product launches, author talks, wine pairings, a “Chocolate Art Gallery,” and more. Artisan chocolatiers, confectioners, and self-proclaimed chocolate aficionados from all over the globe will converge at the Fort Mason Center to hear from locals like John Scharffenberger, chocolate maker at, yes, Scharffen Berger Chocolate, as well as chocolate-obsessed celebrities from the cooking show world. Let’s get real: It’s been a month since we had any heart-shaped truffles and there are still a few weeks to go until Cadbury Creme Eggs. Our sweet tooth needs this. (Emma Silvers)

10am, $20 -$30, discounts for kids

Fort Mason Center

2 Marina Blvd, SF



Portland Cello Project

Compelling mysteries arise whenever the Portland Cello Project is slated to perform. What sort of ensemble will participate? Will they go all cellists, or will they incorporate some combination of vocals, horns, winds, and percussion? Moreover, what sort of music will they play? Known as an “indie music orchestra,” PCP (an affectionate nickname from fans) unabashedly reappropriates rap, rock, and pop artists, from Kanye West’s upbeat “All of the Lights” to Radiohead’s melancholic “Karma Police,” into provocative covers that defy easy genre classification. The Project’s most stirring renditions seem to come from slowing down a track and teaming up with a powerful voice, which seems to naturally emphasize the emotional power of the cello. Accompanied by vocalist Chanticleer Tru, the Project’s take on Beck’s “Don’t Act Like Your Heart Isn’t Hard” is a particularly devastating, soul-laden heartbreaker. (Lee)

8pm, $22 presale, $26 at the door

Yoshi’s San Francisco

1330 Fillmore, SF

(415) 655-5600


Sunday Sampler at the Berkeley Rep School of Theatre

If you’ve spent more time practicing your Oscar acceptance speech than you’d perhaps like to admit, come out of hiding: Three times a year, the professional thespians at the Berkeley Repertory’s School of Theatre hold an afternoon of free acting workshops that are entirely open to the public, to serve as a preview of the school’s upcoming programming. Classes for youth, teens, and adults are available, from Beginning Acting and Musical Theatre to Playwriting and “Acting Violence” — aka how to stage a swordfight without actually injuring your coworkers or yourself. Even if you never go pro, you never know when that last one could come in handy. (Silvers)

1pm, free

Berkeley Repertory School of Theatre

2071 Addison, Berkeley

(510) 647–2972


Crossroads Irish-American Festival with Katherine Hastings

For those whose ideal St. Patrick’s Day celebration is a little more literary, a little less passing-out-in-your-own-green-puke, this evening honoring the legacy of Irish-American poetry, featuring Sonoma County Poet Laureate Katherine Hastings, should be just the ticket. With her recently published Nighthawks, Hastings has established herself as a poet unafraid to tackle controversial current events in her work, but there’s a constant undercurrent of appreciation for nature — she previously edited What Redwoods Know: Poems from California State Parks as a benefit for the struggling California State Parks Foundation. And because poets do know how to have fun: Irish soda bread and other Irish treats will be served. (Silvers)

7pm, free

BookShop West Portal

80 West Portal, SF



Free to Play advance screening

This feature-length documentary, produced by video game developer Valve, takes viewers inside the world of competitive gaming — sorry, e-sports — as three professional gamers travel the world, competing for a $1 million prize in the first Dota 2 International Tournament. What was once considered a niche interest is now serious business, with trading and politics that mirror professional sports; Dota 2, a five-person team sport, is especially big in China, where one wealthy man recently bought an entire team for $6 million. This premiere will feature a live Q&A with the film’s creators and other special guests. (Silvers)

8pm, $25

Castro Theatre

429 Castro, SF


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Mann up


FILM Anthony Mann was one of those directors only really appreciated in retrospect — during his life he was considered a solid journeyman rather than an artist. It didn’t help that when he finally graduated to big-budget “prestige” films at the dawn of the 1960s, he was unlucky. He left 1960’s Spartacus after clashing with producer-star Kirk Douglas. (Stanley Kubrick famously replaced him.) He left the 1960 Western epic Cimarron mid-shoot after an argument with its producer, though its poor result was still credited to him, as was A Dandy in Aspic, a 1968 spy drama completed by star Laurence Harvey after Mann died of a heart attack very early on.

He had done very well indeed with 1961’s El Cid, a smash considered one of the few truly good movies resulting from Hollywood’s then-obsession with lavish historical spectaculars. The same judgment is now granted 1964’s The Fall of the Roman Empire, to a more qualified degree. But that film was so titanically expensive it would have stood as the decade’s monument to money-losing excess had 1963’s Cleopatra not already claimed that crown.

Today Mann is probably best regarded for the series of Westerns he made in the 1950s, many starring a more tormented, less aw-shucksy James Stewart. They’ve tended to overshadow the film noirs that in turn preceded them. The Pacific Film Archive is doing its bit to correct that imbalance with “Against the Law: The Crime Films of Anthony Mann,” a three-week retrospective spanning a brief but busy period from 1946 to 1950.

Surprisingly for a talent associated more with action than talk, the San Diego-born Mann first made a modest name for himself as a New York stage director and actor. In 1938 he was invited by Gone With the Wind (1939) producer David O. Selznick to come to Hollywood as a casting scout, then moved up to assistant directing at Paramount (including for Preston Sturges). He was soon deemed fit to direct low-budget features, starting in 1942 — cranking out cheap musicals like Moonlight in Havana (1942) and melodramas like Strangers in the Night (1944) for the bottom half of double bills. His craftsmanship was already strong even if the scripts were weak. To compensate, he began early to concentrate on evocative visual storytelling whose impact could cover the flaws of corny dialogue and situations.

Strangers and first PFA title Strange Impersonation (1946) were proto-noirs that allowed him to up his game. But what really altered his career course was the founding of a new company, Eagle-Lion, that he started working for the following year. There, budgets remained “Poverty Row” low, but more creative freedom was allowed — and he gained a key collaborator in now-revered cinematographer John Alton, who famously said “It’s not what you light, it’s what you don’t light.”

Alton’s often highly stylized, chiaroscuro images lent rich atmosphere and suspense to what were then considered “semi-documentary” shoot-’em-ups. Their first collaboration, 1947’s T-Men, was a highly influential sleeper hit that took its realism seriously enough to start with an audience address from an actual former Treasury Department law enforcement official. The “composite case” ensuing has Dennis O’Keefe and Alfred Ryder as undercover feds who infiltrate a counterfeiting ring in Detroit — one losing his life in the process.

O’Keefe returned on the other side of the law for the following year’s Raw Deal, playing an escaped con determined to avenge himself on the crime boss (future Ironside Raymond Burr) who betrayed him. He travels with two women, one adoring (Claire Trevor), one unwilling (Marsha Hunt) … at least at first she is. This is the rare noir narrated by a moll, as Trevor’s faithful doormat comes to terms with losing the man she’s always loved to the “nice girl” he’s taken hostage. There’s a bitter romantic fatalism to her perspective that’s as masochistic as it is hard-boiled.

The PFA offers two features from 1949. Even more “documentary” in its procedural focus than T-Men, He Walked by Night (officially credited to Alfred Werker, though Mann directed most of it) “stars” the LAPD as its personnel hunt a sociopath clever enough to disguise his tracks as he goes on a murder spree. Focusing on the minutiae of investigative procedure (“Police work is not all glamour and excitement and glory!” our narrator gushes), yet full of visual atmosphere, it was widely considered the uncredited inspiration for the subsequent radio and TV serial Dragnet. (Jack Webb even plays a forensics expert.) The then-inventive location work culminates in a deadly chase through LA storm drain tunnels. Border Incident, unavailable for preview, anticipated the Native American rights-centered Devil’s Doorway (1950) in its forward-thinking treatment of racial minorities — here Mexicans caught between smugglers, bandits, and US immigration agents. It was originally entitled Wetbacks, a moniker that would have ensured lasting notoriety, albeit at the cost of obscuring the film’s anti-discriminatory theme.

Director and DP soon parted ways, alas. Their third 1949 collaboration (the next year’s Doorway would be their last) is not in the PFA retrospective, although it ought to be: Reign of Terror, aka The Black Book, is set during the French Revolution, yet it’s as thoroughly, baroquely noir as any movie involving powdered wigs could possibly manage. *


Feb. 7-28, $5.50-$9.50

Pacific Film Archive

2575 Bancroft, Berk.


…And horror for all


CULTURE Like a mad scientist who has decided to open up his secret laboratory and show off his work to select guests, Metallica guitarist Kirk Hammett hosts “Fear FestEvil,” a convention bringing together the worlds of horror and heavy metal. Hammett has long been a horror film aficionado, and has amassed an extensive movie memorabilia collection of original props, costumes, posters, toys, and more over the years — an obsession that dates back to his childhood growing up in San Francisco.

“I first got into horror movies as a young kid — I think I was five years old when I saw my first horror movie, The Day of the Triffids, and totally loved it,” remembers Hammett. “I used to go to San Francisco Comic Book Company, which was one of the very first comic book stores in the country, at 23rd and Mission, and that was my repository for buying comic books and magazines. I just got into it and never got out of it.”

The idea for the festival — er, festevil — grew out of Hammett’s desire to share his extensive horror-movie collection with fans; it’s the same urge that first inspired his 2012 book, Too Much Horror Business, stuffed with color photos of his creepy cache. Following the success of that tome, he set up “Kirk’s Crypt,” an exhibit at Metallica’s Orion festival in 2012 and 2013 where fans could catch a glimpse of his collection in person. The next logical step, as Hammett saw it, was to create a mini-convention in his hometown.

“It was so fun, and such a big hit at the festival, I thought, why can’t I keep on doing this, but do it here in the Bay Area, and make it bigger and better, with more stuff, more guests, and with some bands that would fit in music-wise,” says Hammett.

“It’s my way of taking my collection and sharing it and turning it into a more giving process, because for years and years I collected — and collectors to a certain extent are selfish, you know, they collect things for themselves. After a while, I got tired of that feeling, so I decided that I would share it with like-minded people.”

Scheduled guests include several luminaries in the horror and sci-fi genres, such as makeup and special effects innovator Tom Savini, Night of the Living Dead (1968) co-writer John A. Russo, and A Nightmare on Elm Street series star Heather Langenkamp. There will also be some actors whose faces might not be familiar to the public, but are fan-beloved for portraying iconic movie monsters: Kane Hodder, who slaughtered countless camp counselors as Jason Voorhees in four of the Friday The 13th films, and Haruo Nakajima, aka the man who donned Godzilla’s iconic rubber suit in 12 movies, including the original 1954 classic.

“I’ve known Tom Savini for a while now, but for the most part, I don’t really know these people, and for me to be able to have them appear at the festival, and for me to get to meet them, is fantastic. That’s another reason this festival is happening — so I can meet these people for myself! It means as much to me as it does to the person who buys a ticket and comes to the convention.”

The descendents of three of horror’s high royalty — Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, and Lon Chaney — will also be in the (haunted) house. “It’s incredible that I have a relationship with the Karloff, Lugosi, and Chaney families,” Hammett enthuses. “It’s a really, really big thrill.”

Adding a dimension to the event that hasn’t been widely seen before in the world of conventions, Hammett wanted to add metal music to the horror genre mix. “To me, it’s such an obvious thing. One of the reasons I embraced heavy metal was because of the imagery, and because the feelings I felt when I listened to heavy metal were very similar to those when I was watching horror movies.”

In addition to bands performing on Friday and Saturday nights — including Carcass, Exodus, and Death Angel — the fest also features music-minded guests who have ventured into horror-film production, such as Scott Ian and Slash, and those who have had a long history of using horror imagery in their artwork and lyrics, like guitar player Doyle of the Misfits. Hammett hero Count Dracula, noted fan of music made by “children of the night,” would surely approve. *



Thu/6, 7pm-midnight (preview); Fri/7, noon-midnight; Sat/8 11am-midnight, $37.50–$175

Regency Ballroom

1300 Van Ness, SF



I remember the dead lawns, 90-second timed showers, empty fountains and pools, and water cops issuing tickets for washing one’s dirty car. “If it’s yellow let it mellow, if it’s brown flush it down,” went the toilet edict they taught us in school. Water was too precious to just wantonly flush away.

I was 8 years old in 1976-77 during California’s last severe drought, but I retain vivid, visceral memories of that time. Water was an ever-present concern. I learned how dependent we are on the natural world and the role that individual responsibility plays in collective action, particularly in times of turmoil.

Everyone’s yards were brown; nobody’s cars were clean. We were in it together.

But even deeply implanted memories and learned behaviors fade. I may still feel subtle emotional pangs when I watch the water running down the drain when I shave or wash the dishes, yet I’d content myself with the knowledge that water is a renewable resource and we were no longer in a severe drought.

Or at least I was able to do that until this season. California experienced its driest year in recorded history in 2013, and it’s still not raining as we go to press. Yes, there are welcome predictions of finally getting some rain this week, but not the sustained precipitation we need to make a difference.

If current long-range weather forecasts hold true, this winter could be even drier than last winter, causing by far the most severe drought in state history, worse than ’76-’77, even worse than 1923-24, the driest winter ever and the beginning of a seven-year drought.

“We’re facing the worst drought California has ever seen,” Gov. Jerry Brown told reporters on Jan. 17 as he proclaimed a state of emergency, invoking powers to redirect water resources and asking Californians to reduce their consumption by 20 percent.

Yet as dire as this situation may be — and we’ll have a better idea by the end of March, when more stringent water restrictions will be enacted if we don’t get some serious rainfall by then — one of the scariest aspects to this drought is that it may be just a preview of things to come.

This could be the new normal by the end the century. Most reputable climate change models predict California’s average temperature will increase 3-8 degrees by 2100. That’s enough to radically change our climate, causing shorter winters with less precipitation, and more of it coming in the form of rain than snow, undermining the elegant system of storing water within the Sierra snowpack.

That also translates into more extreme conditions, from more flooding in the winter and spring to more dangerous heat waves and wildfires in the summer and fall — and more frequent and severe droughts.

“People should reflect on how dependent we are on rain, nature, and other another,” Brown said at the end of his news conference. “This is Mother Nature. At some point we have to decide to live with nature and get on nature’s side and not abuse the resources we have.”

That theme of interdependence was one he returned to several times during that 14-minute event. Brown was governor during that last big drought in ’76-’77, and when a reporter asked what lessons he took from that experience, he said, “We’re dependent on rain, we’re dependent on one another.”

He expressed confidence that Californians will find their way through even the most severe drought, although he acknowledged it will exacerbate existing conflicts between cities and rural areas, farmers and environmentalists, and Northern and Southern California as each fights for its interests.

“This takes a coming together of all the people of California to deal with this serious and prolonged event of nature,” Brown said. “This is going to take a lot of support and a lot of collaboration on the part of everybody.”



California is on a collision course with reality. Whether or not it’s this drought that wakes us up, at some point we’ll awaken to the fact that a growing population can’t survive on dwindling water resources without a major shift in how we operate.

“California does not today live within its means. We want more water than nature is naturally providing, even in normal years,” said Dr. Peter Gleick, president of the Oakland-based Pacific Institute and a world-renowned expert on water issues whose research has fueled United Nations studies as well as his own books. “Some of the most serious impacts of climate change are going to be on water.”

That’s particularly true for California, whose large population and huge agricultural and other water-dependent industries belie a Mediterranean climate that is actually quite fragile and susceptible to droughts and the impacts of climate change.

“You’ve got 30 million people perched on the edge of a physical impossibility, unless we act with huge speed,” said Bill McKibben, an author and researcher who founded, one of the leading advocacy organizations for addressing climate change.

Gleick and McKibben are leading voices on the related issues of water policy and climate change, respectively, and they both told the Guardian that this drought should finally get people serious about conservation, efficiency, reducing our carbon output, and generally living in greater harmony with the natural world.

“The current drought ought to be a wake-up call to tell us we have to start thinking about our water resources differently,” Gleick told us, calling for far greater efficiency in how we use water, particularly in cities and the agriculture industry. “California has made great progress over the last several decades, but we’re nowhere near where we could be or should be.”

From low-flow toilets and shower heads to smarter irrigation techniques and recycled wastewater, California has made tremendous advances in its water efficiency since the last big drought. But Gleick and McKibben both say California needs a seismic shift in its thinking to grapple how a growing population can function within a changing climate.

“The assumption has always been that as we get larger populations, we’ll figure out their resource needs,” Gleick said, pointing out that climate change challenges that assumption and calls for more proactive thinking. “We need to do a better job at planning for future resource needs.”

Times of crisis can trigger that kind of shift in thinking. Gleick said Australia’s “Millennium drought” from 1995 to 2009 began with basic conservation measures and eventually led to a complete overhaul of water rights, “policies that we haven’t even contemplated” in California.

But Californians may soon be forced into such contemplations.

“It’s physics in action. This is what happens when you start to change the way the world has worked throughout human history,” McKibben told us. “Some people will be empowered to act, and some will have to go into denial. A truly interesting test will be Jerry Brown — he ‘gets it’ on climate, but he’d love to frack as well apparently. He’s like a Rorschach for the state.”

Brown’s call to work with nature and one another is encouraging, but neither Gleick nor McKibben were willing to wager that Brown is ready to lead the big discussion Californians need to have about our long-term needs.

Yet Gleick says something will have to start that conversation before too long: “It’s either going to take a more severe drought or better political leadership.”



California is a tinderbox right now, with a high risk of wildfires that could get unimaginably worse by this summer.

“We’re experiencing conditions in California that we typically see in August,” CalFire spokesperson Daniel Berlant told us. “We never really moved out of fire season in Southern California.”

And that will only get worse as global warming changes California’s climate.

“As summers get longer, it extends the window for fires,” Berlant said. “It’s a clear sign that this generation is seeing more and bigger fires.”

Farmers are also worried, facing the prospect of fields going fallow.

“There is considerable anxiety on farms and ranches throughout California,” Dave Kranz, spokesperson for the California Farm Bureau, told the Guardian. “We know it’s going to be bad, we just don’t know how bad.”

He described ranchers selling their animals before they reach market weight and farmers considering whether to plant field crops and how to keep trees and vines alive if things get bad.

“You have people irrigating crops in January, which is a very unusual occurrence,” Kranz said. And if the rains don’t come this winter, “hundreds of thousands of acres of land would be left unplanted.”

Kranz said that “farmers have become significantly more efficient in their water use,” citing stats that crop production doubled in California between 1967 and 2005 while the water used by the industry dropped 13 percent. “We talk about more crop per drop.”

But Gleick also said the fact that agriculture accounts for 80 percent of water use in California must be addressed, something that Kranz acknowledges. For example, he said Central Valley fields that once grew cotton, which takes a lot of water, have mostly switched to almonds. Pistachios are also big now, partially because they can be grown with saltier water.

“Farmers adapt, that’s what they’ve done historically in response to weather trends and market demands,” he said.

“There’s only so much water and much of it is spoken for for the environment,” Kranz said, acknowledging species needs but also complaining about much of the last big rains, in November and December of 2012, were released to protect the Delta smelt. “We should have saved some of that water.”

While the 1927-28 winter was the driest on record in the state, dropping just 17.1 inches of rain, this winter already looks worse, with just 3.5 inches falling so far as of Jan. 27. That could change quickly — indeed, a chance of rain was finally in the forecast for Jan. 30 and Feb. 2 — but it doesn’t seem likely that we’ll get enough to end this drought.

“Right now, we are saying the odds do not indicate a Miracle March, which is not good,” a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center told the San Jose Mercury News on Jan. 16 following release of its three-month forecast.

The worse it gets, the more heated the political battles will become over how to address it.

“You’re going to hear a lot of talk about additional water storage,” Kranz said. “We’re paying now for not creating more storage 10-15 years ago. Droughts happen in California.”

But even Kranz and his generally conservative constituency is talking about tweaks to existing reservoirs — such as increasing Shasta Lake’s capacity and expanding the Sykes Reservoir in Colusa County — rather than big new dam projects.

Gleick agrees that the era of building big dams in California is over. “You can’t build a new dam in California, with their enormous political, economic, and environmental costs.”

And that makes the challenges this state faces all the more vexing.



California has dealt with drought many times before, including several that lasted for a few years. The last sustained drought was in 1987-1992, but it wasn’t nearly as dry as earlier droughts, such the 1928-1934 drought, the worst one on record.

Officials try to learn from each drought, studying what happened and trying to develop long-term solutions, such as the water banking and distribution systems established during the 1976-77 drought. Yet a study by the Department of Water Resources in 1978 also concluded that we’re essentially at the mercy of nature.

“The 1976-77 drought has again shown that finite nature of our resources and our limited ability to control nature,” read the introduction to the report “The 1976-77 California Drought: A Review.”

DWR’s then-Director Ronald Robie warned at the time that there was no way to predict when or how severe the next drought might be. “We can be assured, however, that drought will return,” he wrote, “and, considering the greater needs of that future time, its impact, unless prepared for, will be much greater.”

Those words could carry a special resonance now, but it’s even scarier given long-range climate change forecasts that Robie wasn’t taking into account when he wrote those words. California estimates it will add more than 15 million people between 2010 and 2060, crossing the 50 million people mark in 2049.

“California could lead the nation into renewable energy. You’ve got the sun. But it would take a 21st century statesman. I guess we’ll find out whether Brown’s that guy — he could be, freed from the need for political popularity after this next election,” McKibben said, calling Brown “a true visionary in many ways, but also a politician. What a fascinating gut check!”

Gleick said that he sometimes gets asked whether climate change is causing the current California drought or other specific weather incidents, and he said that question misses the crucial point: “All of our weather today is influenced by climate change.”

As the climate changes and the world warms, that becomes the new normal for California and other regions, affecting all of its weather patterns. “As goes our climate,” Gleick said, “so goes our water, and we’re not ready.”

Death and life


FILM This week, the African Film Festival National Traveling Series touches down at the Pacific Film Archive, bearing seven features and a number of shorts. The only film to have previous local distribution is Andrew Dosunmu’s Mother of George, about a Nigerian couple living in Brooklyn whose marriage is tested when the wife — played by Walking Dead badass Danai Gurira; her husband is Jim Jarmusch muse Isaach De Bankolé — fails to become pregnant with the son her in-laws demand. The gorgeous photography earned Bradford Young (who also lensed Ain’t Them Bodies Saints) a cinematography prize at last year’s Sundance Film Festival, and, appealing cast aside, his work is the main reason to catch George on the big screen.

The strongest film in the festival is the one that closes it: David Tosh Gitonga’s crime drama Nairobi Half Life, submitted by Kenya as its first Best Foreign Language Film contender last year. Though it didn’t make the Oscar shortlist (frankly, it was a tough year for foreign films, with Amour claiming all major accolades), it’s easy to see why it made the cut. It’s the not-unfamiliar tale of a rural dreamer named Mwas (the charismatic Joseph Wairimu) who sets out to pursue an acting career in the big city (“where the devil lives,” according to his mother). His improv skills are on point, but he is completely gullible, which makes him a prime target as soon as he arrives in “Nairobbery.”

Urban life offers many hard lessons, whether it’s Mwas finding his place in the gang he joins as a means of survival, or overcoming the snooty dismissals of the professional actors he enounters at theatrical auditions. In both realms, he gets in over his head, but he’s a quick thinker and a talented hustler, which gives him an edge his opponents tend to underestimate. If Nairobi Half Life‘s script leans a little heavily on Mwas being caught between two worlds (alternate title suggestion: Nairobi Double Life), its energy is infectious and its presentation is polished — props to producer Tom Twyker (1998’s Run Lola Run, 2012’s Cloud Atlas), whose One Fine Day Film Workshop guided its making.

Director Lonesome Solo’s more rough-hewn and downbeat Burn It Up Djassa also weaves a tale of desperation that culminates in violence, this time in Abidjan, the Ivory Coast’s largest metropolis. Again, there’s a conflicted young man at its center: Tony, or Dabagaou” (as he’s known in the ‘hood), whose rise from cigarette seller to killer on the run is shared via a streetwise narrator who lays down story beats like a hip-hop version of Shakespeare; his scenes are the most cinematic amid what feels like an otherwise largely improvised effort. And indeed, Burn It Up Djassa builds to a tragedy of Bardian proportions. You’ll see it coming, but it’s wrenching nonetheless.

Death is the main character in Alain Gomis’ Dakar-set Tey, or “today,” which takes place in a world that resembles ours but with one key supernatural difference: Those who are about to die are given 24-hour advance notice. One morning, seemingly healthy fortysomething Satché wakes up with the grim knowledge that this is his last day. By the same mysterious power, those closest to him — his family, friends, a bitter former lover, and his wife (though not, it seems, his young children) — are also made aware. Though there’s a certain amount of wailing from his older relatives, Satché accepts his fate, drifting through a day that begins with a sort of living funeral, in which both praise and criticism are lobbed at him, and leads into a raucous street parade and hang time with friends.

As the day grows longer, it turns more melancholy; he visits the man who’ll be preparing his corpse for burial, who reminds Satché he’s lucky to know when his time is up so he has a chance to say his good-byes. But Tey isn’t a total bummer of a movie — it has a dreamy quality and moments of humor, as when Satché shows up late to a ceremony held in his honor, but can’t find anything to eat or drink at the completely pillaged catering table. That this dead man walking is played by American slam poet Saul Williams (though Satché is Senegalese) adds to his inherent outsider vibe. The ticking clock breaks down any forced politeness in his encounters, particularly with his wife, which gives us an idea of what he like was before he knew he was about to die.

End-of-life issues also dominate Akosua Adoma Owusu’s Kwaku Ananse, one of three films composing “Between Cultures: Recent African Shorts” (the other two, Faisal Goes West and the Quvenzhané Wallis-starring Boneshaker, were not available for preview; among the features, Damien Ounouri’s documentary Fidaï, a portrait of his Algerian freedom-fighting great uncle, was also unfortunately unavailable). Kwaku Ananse casts the West African trickster character, Anansi (Americans know him from classic children’s book Anansi the Spider: A Tale from the Ashanti), as its main character’s recently-deceased father. The young woman has come to his Ghanan village for his funeral, and to confront the second family he was keeping on the side. The 25-minute work slowly becomes more fairy tale-like as it progresses, anchored by a solemn but fiery performance by lovely star Jojo Abot.

Elsewhere in the fest, a mockumentary from Cameroon (banned in Cameroon, not coincidentally) about what would happen if the president suddenly disappeared (Le Président) is paired with short Nigerian doc Fuelling Poverty; both examine deep-seated corruption in troubled, post-colonial economies. And for a completely different audience (ages seven and up) is Rémi Bezançon and Jean-Christophe Lie’s Zarafa, the animated story of a young boy who escapes slavery in Africa and becomes enmeshed in the remarkable, mostly true story of the first giraffe to take up residence in France. *


Jan. 25-Feb. 26, $5.50-$9.50

Pacific Film Archive

2575 Bancroft, Berk.


Local heroes


LIT Comics have grown a lot since their humble early days, when superheroes seemed confused as to whether their underwear belonged on the inside or the outside of their tights. Now anti-heroes and tales of personal tragedy guide the ink on the page as often as not, and Berkeley-based publisher Image Comics leads the pack in pushing comic stories to wonderfully dark places.

This year’s Image Expo is an opportunity to rub noses with comic authors whose work is still cool, dammit, even if their work is crossing into the mainstream. We’ll forgive Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman for letting his comics get turned into a TV show and videogames, if only because they expand the captivatingly complicated, zombie-infested universe he first created on paper.

Image publisher Eric Stephenson attributes the company’s success to its creator-owned model, which might explain why the Telltale-made Walking Dead video games are so good — Kirkman owns the rights to his Walking Dead, allowing all the creative control that entails. Though Kirkman may be one of the shiniest stars at the expo (he gets his own panel, by his lonesome!), he’ll be one of over a dozen comic creators to nerd out over.

Heavy-hitters like Jonathan Hickman (East of West and The Nightly News), Matt Fraction (Sex Criminals and Satellite Sam), Nick Dragotta (East of West), and Kelly Sue DeConnick (Pretty Deadly) will all be on hand. East of West in particular has garnered critical acclaim, and made the New York Times best seller list in October. It has much to love, but the setting is as interesting as any of its characters. It’s an alternate reality-history-dystopian future yarn pitting the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse against the president of the United States. What’s not to love?

The expo also offers a good opportunity to meet newer artists too, if only to say you knew them before they were a big deal. Ales Kot is one of those up and comers, and his series Zero is an espionage and war story in the near future with disturbing echoes of the present — from Manning’s leaks to our near constant state of war. It’s frank about its brutality, neither glorifying nor hiding it away.

Locals are making their mark with Image as well. Bay Area author Antony Johnston and artist Justin Greenwood’s Fuse concept is “what if a detective story was set on Battlestar Galactica?” (Thanks Johnston, you’ve got me frakkin’ excited now.) It won’t be out until February, but a preview of the comic had my sci-fi loving self drooling over a Babylon 5-like cylindrical space station — but the story is almost Sherlock-like, a genuine whodunit.

With WonderCon’s recent move to SoCal, Image Expo’s Bay Area foothold is more vital than ever. But though it will no doubt yield a handful of cosplayers and swag-hunting fans, Image’s event — now in its second year in its current format — tends to be a lot cozier than WonderCon (or the mightiest behemoth of them all, Comic-Con). With just 600 attendees in 2013, compared to Comic-Con’s 100,000-plus, the comic creators were able to chat with readers at length.

Image’s Stephenson will be my main reason for bum-rushing the expo. Taking time away from his duties as publisher, he penned the recently anthologized Nowhere Men, which rocked, hard. The story of a Beatles-like group of scientists (because science is the new rock ‘n’ roll), it tells a tale similar enough to Frankenstein’s monster — but watching the characters justify their choices is fascinating. Sure, they end up ruining the lives of their test subjects and turning them into twisted super powered monsters, but they meant well, right?

The series will continue through the year, but it can’t come soon enough. (Maybe new Nowhere Men developments will be revealed at the expo?) Though there are only a dozen comic-creator attendees listed on the event’s website, an email from Stephenson hinted that unannounced surprise guests would bring the count of artists and authors to over 20. The slated panels center around the comic artists, the “eccentric” lives of comic authors, and an “interrogation” whose purpose is to deduce where comic creators get their inspiration.

“We have a very ambitious year ahead of us in 2014, and I think some of what we reveal at Image Expo is going to surprise a lot of people,” Stephenson said. *


Thu/9, 9am, $20-$50

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

701 Mission, SF

Alerts: January 8 – 14



Mayor Art Agnos on Warriors development Upper Noe Recreation Center, 299 Day, SF. 7:30pm, free. Former San Francisco Mayor Art Agnos will discuss the Warriors proposal for Piers 30/32 (near the Bay Bridge) and the possible impacts it that it, as well as the associated condo development, would have on the City. The event is being sponsored by Upper Noe Neighbors and San Francisco Village.



Immersive video exhibit: “Lives in Transit” Folsom Street Foundry, 1425 Folsom, SF. 6-11pm, sliding scale. The Global Lives Project — a volunteer-based creative collaboration that curates an exponentially expanding collection of films documenting people from around the world, 24/7/365 — invites you to a celebration and a sneak preview of “Lives in Transit.” The film series followed 10 transit workers for 24 hours, faithfully documenting their experiences. In addition to the sneak peek, there will be music, appetizers and drinks. The Rent Is Too Damn High Park Branch Library Community Room, 1833 Page, SF. 7-9pm, free. The Haight-Ashbury Neighborhood Council (HANC) hosts “The Rent Is Too Damn High,” a meeting on the affordable housing crisis. In light of the lack of affordable housing as well as San Francisco’s alarming distinction as one of the most expensive places to live, HANC invites you to join with tenant advocacy leaders in discussing ways to respond.


Roy Zimmerman comedy concert Mount Tamalpais United Methodist Church, 410 Sycamore, Mill Valley. 7:30-9:30pm, $15–$18 (benefit for Health Care for All). “There’s a whole new political landscape,” Roy Zimmerman sang in 2012, “painted by Jackson Pollack.” The local satirical songwriter is playing a benefit show to benefit Health Care For All Marin, an organization dedicated to building support for publicly financed, single-payer health care. Head up north for an evening and watch Zimmerman rip on all things local and national, political and social, Socialism and Popeye. Tickets are $15 in advance, $18 at the door.


Castro Tenants Convention LGBT Center, 1800 Market, SF. Noon-2pm, free. This gathering of tenants from the Castro area will brainstorm strategies for fighting the evictions in their neighborhood and defending those who are being evicted. Participants in the convention will also come up with suggestions for a ballot initiative next November, and these suggestions will be presented to a citywide tenants convention in February. Other neighborhoods, including the Mission, Chinatown, Haight/Richmond/Western Addition and Tenderloin-SOMA are also holding or have held conventions. Free and open to all tenants. Organizers of the convention include the Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco, AIDS Housing Alliance, Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club and District 8 Democrats.