Cheryl Eddy

Past ain’t past


“What is the international camp language? It’s beating.” In an instant, a guide at the former concentration camp just outside of Mauthausen, Austria, transforms a group of high schoolers from giggly to terrified. From the looks of the parking lot, Mauthausen is like any other historical attraction. Sightseers roll up in enormous motor coaches, clutching digital cameras loaded only with fun-time Euro-vacation shots — until now.
There’s no narration in KZ, Rex Bloomfield’s layered doc about the Mauthausen camp’s post–World War II transformation into an exceedingly unsettling tourist destination. (KZ is short for the German word Konzentrationslager, or concentration camp.) The film is largely composed of interviews with visitors, guides (“I’ve been taking antidepressants for years,” one remarks woefully), and Mauthausen residents — many too young to remember the camp’s horrors and some too old to realize that Hitler Youth nostalgia isn’t something most folks would want caught on tape. The disconnect between town and camp, past and present, can be breathtaking. “McDonald’s” and “Mauthausen” are painted on the same billboard; a young couple shrug off the fact that their comfy home once belonged to an SS officer; and the local tavern features lederhosen, suds, and a folkie strummer whose sunny lyrics praise “the cider tavern up by the KZ.”
Though Bloomfield doesn’t shape his film with archival footage, talking-head academics, or voice-overs, the way KZ is edited makes it pretty clear he’s just as stunned as we are by the juxtapositions his film uncovers. An elderly Mauthausener remarks that during the war she wasn’t sure what was going on in the camp, just that it was “nothing good”; moments later the camera cuts to a group nervously shuffling into the KZ’s gas chamber, where they hear incredibly graphic descriptions of deaths that happened where they now stand.
For its San Francisco Jewish Film Festival engagement, KZ screens with the short The Holocaust Tourist: Whatever Happened to Never Again?, which examines the off-kilter rebirth of Jewish culture (think faux-Hebrew signage and “Jewish-style” restaurants that serve pork) in Krakow, Poland, owing to the popularity of Schindler’s List. What visitors to Mauthausen or Krakow (the closest big city to Auschwitz) actually get out of their experiences is unclear; some seem deeply moved, while others are simply checking off another stop on, say, their “Highlights of Poland” itinerary. As both films point out, being a tourist is perhaps all most people can — or should — be in places where such evil still lingers.
Meanwhile, in Tel Aviv, Israel, folks with zero interest in confronting horror head-on can’t avoid it when a suicide bomber targets their hangout, a laid-back watering hole called Mike’s Place. Amazingly, filming for the documentary Blues by the Beach — intended as a feel-good look at “real life in Israel” beyond headline-grabbing violence — had begun before the April 2003 attack. After the project’s primary catalyst, American producer Jack Baxter, was seriously injured in the blast, Joshua Faudem (an Israeli American with a filmmaking background who happened to be a Mike’s Place bartender) carried on with help from his then-girlfriend, Pavla Fleischer, also a filmmaker.
Despite this stunning chain of coincidences, Blues by the Beach unfortunately suffers from lack of focus, shifting from Baxter’s search for a doc subject to Mike’s Place to Faudem’s failing relationship with Fleischer. Though the filmmakers’ post-traumatic stress is well earned, it can get tedious. Far more inspiring is the resilience of Mike’s Place itself. Visit the bar’s Web site (www. for a striking illustration of how recent tragedy offers just as much opportunity for off-the-wall juxtaposition as anything left over from World War II: a page memorializing the victims of the bombing and another page proudly displaying pics from the bar’s annual “Pimp-n-Ho” costume bash. SFBG
July 20–Aug. 7
See Film listings for showtimes
and venues
(925) 275-9490

Mortality play


Meryl (Justine Clarke) is basically the human incarnation of The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook, except without the “survival” part. As she rides the train home after her father’s funeral, animated thoughts of fiery collisions and strangle-happy strangers zip into her head as abruptly as they cut into Look Both Ways’ otherwise live-action proceedings. That Meryl’s nightmares are adorably hand drawn doesn’t make them any less dreadful or persistent; later she imagines being eaten by a shark (while in a swimming pool) and the ickiest possible consequences after she sleeps with photographer Nick (William McInnes) soon after they meet.
The fact that they first cross paths at the site of a tragic train accident — and that Nick (who also struggles with visions of doom) has just found out he has cancer — is a typically morbid spoke in Look Both Ways’ death-obsessed machinery. Fickle fate pulls the strings of the Meryl-Nick pairing, and of those around them, including Nick’s exceedingly angry coworker Andy (Anthony Hayes) and his reluctantly pregnant ex-girlfriend Anna (Lisa Flanagan). A pair of nearly wordless performances anchor Look Both Ways’ emotional core, as a train driver who’s run over a pedestrian and the pedestrian’s widow struggle with their grief — and eventually connect over a sympathy card featuring a seascape painted by Meryl, appropriately enough.
A festival sensation by Australian writer-director and animator Sarah Watt, Look Both Ways isn’t actually the feel-bad movie of the year. It’s probably the sunniest movie about death you’ll ever see, and one that captures the awkwardness of life with unusual accuracy. Its unglamorous characters react to disasters like real people would, tempering their shock with distractions such as kids’ birthday parties or impulsive physical intimacy. Watt’s visually inventive style keeps Look Both Ways from being too sentimental, to a point. As the film winds down, it seems overly eager for closure, resulting in pop song–montage overload and a mawkish group cry that just happens to transpire during the film’s single rainstorm. Like the double meaning of the film’s title — look before you leap, but remember it’s OK to leap! — it feels a bit shallow and glossy after all that inspired gloom. (Cheryl Eddy)
Opens Fri/14
Roxie Film Center
3117 16th St., SF
(415) 863-1087
Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center
1118 Fourth St., San Rafael
(415) 454-1222
See Rep Clock for showtimes

“Come into my parlor, said the spider…etc.”


By Cheryl Eddy

Kudos to Peaches Christ and the Midnight Mass gang for, like, totally freaking us out with this past weekend’s excellently trashy Beyond the Valley of the Dolls event. (Read our breathless pre-show coverage here.)

The Whoa Nellies kicked off the show with Carrie Nations covers, including a smokin’ “Sweet Talkin’ Candy Man,” and Peaches’ Z-Man ensemble was to die for (and maybe even cut heads off for). In attendance: the quite well-preserved trio of Marcia “Petronella” McBroom, Erica “Roxanne” Gavin, and the original Z-Man himself, John La Zar (a San Francisco native, as it turns out).

The Friday night crowd was awesome, as Midnight Mass crowds always are…the film looked spectacular on the big screen, as it always does.

P.S. In case you were wondering (and you know you were), the most famous boobs ever to appear in a Russ Meyer movie — yep, Z-Man’s! — are now framed and hanging on McBroom’s NYC living room wall.

Strap it on


CULT MOVIE It’s finally here. Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (Fox Home Entertainment), a top contender in my sordid little mind for the greatest movie ever made (next time you see me in a bar and have two or three hours to kill, I can give you the complete list) has arrived in splendid, special-edition DVD form. Has Hollywood ever been so satirically skewered? Has a single film ever crammed in so many genres — musical, comedy, melodrama, youth-gone-wild, slasher? Has the Bentley vs. Rolls sex question ever been so definitively answered?
From its opening, mind-blowing tease to its hilariously somber coda, Russ Meyer’s brilliantly colored, brilliantly bizarre 1970 classic (scripted by Roger Ebert, it was Meyer’s first major-studio release) stands well enough on its own. But in this two-disc package you also get commentaries (one by Ebert, one by cast members); a giddy making-of doc; featurettes spotlighting the film’s rockin’ tunes, groovy dialogue, and more; and screen tests featuring future Carrie Nation members Cynthia Meyers (Casey) and Marcia McBroom (Pet).
But it gets better, superwoman. This week, pry your sweaty claws off your BVD DVD and look on up at Peaches Christ, who’ll be hosting a reunion of stars McBroom, Erica Gavin (Roxanne), and John La Zar (Ronnie “Z-Man” Barzell). Midnight Mass unspools two nights of gentle people and mayonnaise on the big screen, and the cast — currently on a mini–promo tour that also includes stops in Austin, Los Angeles, and Phoenix — will descend on Amoeba with Peaches for a DVD signing.
“This is gonna be so much fun for me,” La Zar enthuses over the phone from LA. “San Francisco is my hometown — I was raised in the Richmond District, 36th Avenue right off Fulton. This will be the first time I’ve worked in San Francisco since [I performed with] American Conservatory Theater in 1967.”
Cast as the Phil Spector–ish, flowery-tongued Z-Man after he was spotted by 20th Century Fox scouts doing a play in Hawaii (“They needed a young man who could do kind of a weird classical thing”), La Zar isn’t surprised BVD has enthralled a new generation of fans. “It’s a youth film, isn’t it — there’s still a rebelliousness to it.”
La Zar reveals he wasn’t initially fond of the film’s most memorable line — “This is my happening, and it freaks me out!” — later aped in the Ghost World comic and by Austin Powers, among others. “I thought the line sucked, but Russ Meyer shamed me into it. He said, ‘You’re an actor, aren’t you?’ And lo and behold, that’s what I’m most famous for in the film!”
Prior to BVD, Hollywood native Gavin starred in Meyer’s 1968 smash, Vixen! “I was much smaller than most of his women, but he figured maybe women could relate to me better,” Gavin says, speaking from her SoCal home about the famously breast-obsessed director, whom she recalls with great fondness. “He was a big teddy bear — tough on the outside and mushy on the inside.”
Gavin, who’s thrilled that BVD is receiving such grand DVD treatment, remembers how excited Meyer was while making the film. “The budget was huge for him. He was like a babe in toyland — he had all these resources at his fingertips.”
The film has endured, she thinks, because of its humor. “It’s almost like, no matter what generation, it’s so silly — almost like The Rocky Horror Picture Show or Spinal Tap. It’s not a comment on today, or life as it is. It’s really life as it isn’t. It’s cuckoo!” (Cheryl Eddy)
Beyond the Valley of the Dolls reunion show
With Erica Gavin, John La Zar, and Marcia McBroom
Fri/7–Sat/8, 11:59 p.m.
Bridge Theatre
3010 Geary, SF
(415) 751-3213
Sat/8, 2 p.m.
Amoeba Music
1855 Haight, SF
(415) 831-1200

Johnny bravo


Just a few summers ago, we were all snickering into our popcorn tubs: a Pirates of the Caribbean movie? Yo-ho-no! But what could’ve sucked harder than The Haunted Mansion turned into a monster 2003 hit, buoyed by ghostly buccaneers, showy effects, and Johnny Depp’s impeccably bizarre turn as Captain Jack Sparrow, surely the most inventive character yet to emerge from a 21st-century blockbuster. Long before Depp’s Oscar nomination, plans were afoot to increase Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl’s bootylicious haul with a pair of sequels filmed back-to-back. So, how can you love a series based on a rather sedate Disneyland attraction — films accompanied by a merch deluge not seen since fanboys were still jazzed about gettin’ to know Darth Maul?
Pretty much, it’s the pirates. Peg legs, cannon battles, talking parrots, mutiny on the high seas, rum chugging — pirate shit is damn near irresistible, especially when Depp’s riding the mast. Within the first reel of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, a chorus of arrrs is raised, a mangy bird plucks out some poor soul’s rotting eyeball, and a crew member remarks that Captain Sparrow is acting “strange … er” than usual. Chest’s plot is more convoluted than Pearl’s, but every character — including Sparrow, feisty Elizabeth (Keira Knightley), heroic Will (Orlando Bloom), and prissy Lord Beckett (Tom Hollander) — is searching for someone, or something, with single-minded determination. Chest also shares Pearl’s ticking-clock pacing, with lives and relationships and eternal souls hanging perilously in the balance. Naturally, all these quests become interwoven and complicated by distractions, including a detour to a Skull Island–meets–Joe Versus the Volcano atoll, a gung ho swordfight, a beast bearing giant and aggressive tentacles, and the salty whims of Davy Jones (Bill Nighy), whose ghostly Flying Dutchman operates like a kelp-strewn variation on the Philadelphia Experiment.
Unlike, say, flicks based on beloved comic books, Chest has no touchstones to hit or homages to pay, other than dropping in a few references to the first film. This allows director Gore Verbinski and scripters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio (like sultan-of-slick producer Jerry Bruckheimer, all back from Pearl) the freedom to toss whatever they want into their Chest, which runs almost as long as Superman Returns but is infinitely more jolly, Roger. For a big-budget studio confection, there’s actually a lot of imagination at play; Nighy’s sneering performance, coupled with the special effects used to create Davy “Fishface” Jones’s slimy visage, allows for a character who’s equal parts Phantom of the Opera and Sigmund and the Sea Monsters.
Of course the main reason the Pirates movies are so fun is Depp, without whom we’d be talking about a few hours of flashy CG and a couple of pretty faces (Bloom, you’re still on notice for Elizabethtown). Sparrow prances, turns tail, delivers flowery double-talk, and cares only about saving his own skin (and, of course, his precious hat) — yes, he’s a showboaty clown, but Depp manages to make him likable where others (Jim Carrey?) would simply come up annoying. I’m still not sold on Depp’s Willy Wonka interpretation. But it’s with good reason that Sparrow’s the only film character he’s played more than once.
And he’ll play him again, to be sure. It’s not spoiling anything to say that Chest ends with classic middle-film-of-a-trilogy ambiguity; fates and loyalties wind up shakier than the points on Sparrow’s discombobulated compass. The third Pirates is due next summer, so you won’t have long to wait to see what happens. In the meantime, Chest is a solid adventure with a sense of adventure — cinematic currency that’s as good as gold these days, ye scurvy dog. SFBG
Opens Fri/7
See Movie Clock at for theaters and showtimes

Steel crazy


Imagine that Supermans III and IV never happened, and that in Superman II Lois Lane never realized that Clark Kent was really the Man of Steel disguised in a pair of dorky glasses. (The part about Lois and Superman knocking boots, however, still stands). Now you’re up to speed on Superman Returns, whose title reflects the film’s story — after a five-year outer space sojourn, Superman (Brandon Routh) heads back to Metropolis, to the consternation of ex-sweetie Lois (Kate Bosworth) and supervillain Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey) — as well as the film itself, which like Batman Begins heralds a return to cinematic form for its title character. The result may not be as giddily triumphant as Spider-Man 2, but all told, the 21st century is officially a damn good time to be a superhero.
Director Bryan Singer (X-Men) is clearly a huge Superman fan; Superman Returns takes its subject very seriously. With two and a half hours to fill, all the cool super-shit you want to see (X-ray vision, bulletproof body parts, swooping around with one fist extended, etc.) is in there, plus plenty of iconic moments. (Marlon Brando’s Jor-El makes multiple from-beyond-the-grave appearances — and has the cry of “Great Caesar’s ghost!” ever before inspired audience applause?) Needless to say, Superman Returns’ superbudget ( estimates it at $260 million) spells jaw-dropping special effects. Sure, you’ll believe a man can fly, but you’ll also believe a man can stop a fiery airplane from smashing into a baseball stadium.
The effects can get out of control, though — the climax, which takes place partially underwater, drags a bit despite looking great. At least by the time we get there, all of Superman Returns’ hard work building sympathetic characters pretty much pays off. The film’s intertwining story lines follow Superman as he dons Clark Kent garb at the Daily Planet and wistfully yearns for Lois, who’s semi-happily settled down with nice guy Richard (perennial third wheel James Marsden). Oh yeah, and she has a scraggly-haired five-year-old who may or may not be half-Kryptonian. Meanwhile, bald baddie Luthor is out of jail, ridiculously well funded, and as set on world domination as he is on knocking Superman out of the sky.
The Luthor stuff inevitably supplies the film’s comic relief, thanks to Spacey’s manic performance and certain weird touches (like sidekick Parker Posey’s time-warp wardrobe and a running gag about a Pomeranian). And if you’re looking for correlations between Superman Returns and current events, try Luthor’s plan to destroy the United States — eagerly reported on by Metropolis’s version of cable news. (In the 21st century, the Daily Planet stays afloat thanks to this editorial mission: “There are three things that sell papers: tragedy, sex, and Superman.”)
Of course, the main conflict in Superman Returns doesn’t even involve Luthor: It’s whether or not Lois will forgive her super soulmate for abruptly skipping town. (You know how all that tension between Spider-Man and Mary Jane kind of overshadowed the Doctor Octopus shenanigans? Yeah, it’s like that.) The film’s overriding theme, though, is of fathers and sons. Not for nothing does Brando keep popping up, reinforcing the idea that Superman (Jor-El’s “only son”) was sent to Earth to save humankind — a concept that everyone on earth pretty much buys, including, eventually, the bitter Lois (author of a Pulitzer-winning editorial titled “Why the World Doesn’t Need Superman”). But even if you ignore the religious metaphors and check your watch during the mushy relationship bits, it’s hard not to get summer movie thrill-chills when John Williams’s familiar theme (recycled here as part of John Ottman’s score) plays under the swooshing title credits. Absolute perfection, maybe not — but super’ll do. SFBG
Opens Wed/28 in Bay Area theaters
See Movie Clock at for theaters and showtimes

Angel of death



“It has to be pretty. Everything should be pretty,” explains Geum-ja (Lee Young-ae), who throughout Lady Vengeance is variously referred to as “a real live angel,” “Geum-ja the kindhearted,” and “the witch.” The fact that what has to be pretty is a gun should surprise no one who’s seen Korean director Park Chanwook’s gruesome Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance or his staggering Oldboy. His latest is the glorious female-revenge film Quentin Tarantino wished he could make, ending up with two so-so Kill Bills instead.
And Lady Vengeance has similarities with Kill Bill: a very bad man, a stolen child, and an agonizingly long period of inactivity preceding a fevered, focused pursuit of payback. But Geum-ja doesn’t fall into a coma; at the start of Lady Vengeance she’s exiting jail after serving 13 years for a crime it’s pretty obvious she didn’t commit. Behind bars, she’s been plotting, sweetly luring fellow inmates into her debt so that they have no choice but to help her on the outside. As the film’s intricate story line slowly reveals, she’s most intent on punishing the man responsible for her confinement (a children’s teacher with sinister tendencies, played by Oldboy’s Choi Min-sik), but there are other considerations — including a reunion with her long-lost daughter, now an English-speaking adolescent being raised by a square Australian couple.
Park’s previous revenge films drew some ire for their vicious violence, but they also earned the director a passionate following among genre fans. Lady Vengeance is no less cleverly brutal — granted, nobody cuts off their own tongue with a pair of scissors in this one — but it’s also Park’s most elegant effort, starting with graceful opening titles that introduce a classical, harpsichord-laden score. Overall, the film has a more feminine quality than Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance or Oldboy — obviously a result of the casting, but it’s a twist that also permeates Park’s visual and tonal style. The film’s obligatory moments of over-the-top nastiness are tempered by an overall mood of delicate, lusciously colored restraint.
A big part of Lady Vengeance’s success is owed to Lee, perfectly cast as a woman caught between the conflicting forces of maternal instinct and the need for sweet, sweet revenge. Her years-ago arrest is chronicled for us by a breathless newscast; it seems Geum-ja became a media sensation not just for her confessed terrible crime (kidnapping and killing a child), but also for her refined beauty (the TV says, “tabloids compared her to Olivia Hussey”). And indeed, Lee is an exquisite actor, slipping between perfectly telegraphed emotions with often-wordless ease.
After prison, Geum-ja reenters society with relative ease, partially because of her skills as a baker (no accident, a stereotypically feminine talent), and her cool good looks. Her transformation into the lady of the title is achieved by applying crimson eye shadow (“People are always saying I look kindhearted”), a kind of superhero disguise that foreshadows the blood she’s hell-bent on spilling.
To fully explain Geum-ja’s motivation would deprive the viewer the pleasure of following Park through Lady Vengeance’s brambly maze of a plot. However, the statement “the kidnapper had kidnapped a kidnapper’s kid” (delivered in complete seriousness, though the film’s not without plenty of gallows humor) sums things up pretty well. Lady Vengeance falters only in its final quarter, when Lee steps back from the action for a few key scenes. Her quest for revenge is what drives the film, and without her red-rimmed gaze front and center, things meander a bit.
By the end, thankfully, she’s back in focus; her mission may be completed, but there’s no Kill Bill–style sense of triumph. “He made a sinner out of me,” Geum-ja says about the man she desperately wants to punish. And he will die, of course, but will Geum-ja ever find atonement? Lady Vengeance ends on that question — as pretty as ever. SFBG
Opens Fri/23
Lumiere Theatre
1572 California, SF
Shattuck Cinemas
2230 Shattuck, Berk.
See Movie Clock at for showtimes

Gnaw on this



There’s always room for another film festival in this town, especially when said fest is drowning in blood, guts, and supernatural shenanigans. The San Francisco Independent Film Festival’s festering youngest child, Another Hole in the Head, returns this week for its third year of ghouls gone wild.

Standouts include The Hamiltons (think Party of Five meets Martin), directed by a local duo whose enticing nom de screen is "the Butcher Brothers,” and, from Greece, Yorgos Noussias’s excellent To Kako (Evil), which cribs from Romero and 28 Days Later in its tale of a ragtag band of urban survivors scrambling to evade the marauding undead. And yes, it does incorporate the dreaded fast-moving breed of zombies, but even genre purists turned off by that factoid will forgive the film once things start going apeshit; I’m thinking in particular of a scene in a deserted restaurant that unleashes 2006’s most satisfying head-squashing to date. The film also has enough of a sense of humor to include the line "If you don’t trust me, trust this!" (cut to: a giant rifle) and a last shot of near-genius proportions.

Per usual, HoleHead brings in several Asian horror flicks, including Shinya Tsukamoto’s enduringly creepy Haze and Yudai Yamaguchi (Battlefield Baseball) and Junichi Yamamoto’s disappointing Meatball Machine. There are also a handful of classics, like Bruce Kessler’s 1971 psych-out Simon: King of the Witches and — in perhaps the festival’s most inspired move — John Boorman’s 1973 Zardoz. Sean Connery’s spectacular loincloth is but the first of many, many reasons to view this neglected masterpiece on the big screen.

Also well worth catching (either at the fest or during their June 29–July 2 run at CELLspace): splat-happy theater troupe the Primitive Screwheads (Evil Dead: Live!, Re-Animator of the Dead), who return with their latest, The Chainsaw Massacres, which boasts a rumored 60 gallons of stage blood poised to rain down on the audience. Plus: disco!


June 8–15

See Film listings for venue and ticket information

San Francisco Black Film Festival


REVIEW Other local fests may grab more attention, but the ever-growing San Francisco Black Film Festival, now in its eighth year, is well worth seeking out for its consistently strong and diverse programming. The opening night film, Son of Man, sets the story of Jesus Christ in modern South Africa; other narratives (features and shorts) in the fest explore family ties, romance, and social issues. However, SFBFF’s most fascinating entries come in the form of its many documentaries, which take on everything from the origins of AIDS to maverick filmmaker Melvin Van Peebles whose cinematic portrait bears the fest’s wittiest title, How to Eat Your Watermelon in White Company (And Enjoy It). Micah Schaffer’s moving, insightful Death of Two Sons explores the eerily parallel lives of Amadou Diallo the unarmed Guinean immigrant gunned down in 1999 by trigger-happy NYPD officers while innocently reaching for his wallet and a white American Peace Corps volunteer stationed in Diallo’s home village. The aftermaths of both men’s deaths (Diallo’s killers were acquitted; the African cabdriver who caused the fatal crash served jail time) speak troubling volumes about race-relations-as-international-relations. Another well-made doc that spins an often infuriating tale is The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till, which mixes vintage footage with contemporary interviews in its detailed look at the 1955 murder that’s credited with launching the modern civil rights movement. (Cheryl Eddy)


See Film Listings (below) for additional information

Love bites


As any George Romero fan knows, it’s utterly impossible to contain a zombie invasion. No San Francisco–set discussion of reanimated corpses should go without mentioning Bad Date, a work-in-progress by locals Sadie Shaw and Alison Childs.

A photographer who also plays guitar with the Husbands (yep, that’s a zombie on the cover of their latest Swami Records release, There’s Nothing I’d Like More Than to See You Dead), Shaw is also known for Charm, the 2003 feature she made with fellow Husband Sarah Reed. Visually, she’s inspired by Cindy Sherman and Weegee; filmically, she’s a fan of campy horror — and gore.

Psychological thriller Charm was shot on Super 8 film, with all of the dialogue and music added in postproduction. The popular soundtrack features songs tailored to specific scenes by artists like the Aislers Set and Deerhoof. For Bad Date, which runs modern romance through a meat grinder, Shaw and Childs turned to digital video to realize their zombie dreams.

“I just really love that the technology is available to people without money,” says Shaw. “I don’t think that people should have to go to film school to make movies.”

Graphic designer Childs also plays the lead in Bad Date, which she sums up thusly: “A couple goes on a date, and it goes really poorly.” (The tagline of the film is “When you think it’s gotten bad, it can only get worse.”) Turns out the couple are surrounded by partyers sipping on tainted beer; zombies ensue. Though Shaw describes Bad Date (shot in Port Costa, a small town on the Contra Costa inlet with such ideal locations as a decaying former brothel) as “lighthearted,” the special effects are serious business. The film features work by Ross Sewage and Pie Ironside, both of whom earn high praise from the directors.

Despite busy lives aside from filmmaking, both women view Bad Date (projected total cost: $7,000) as an essential creative outlet. After its completion next year, they plan to tour the country with it, rock ’n’ roll style. The bond the two directors have forged over the project in the past year is echoed by their collaborators, some of whom have embraced the concept that romance is, in fact, undead: “We’ve actually made some good dates happen out of Bad Date,” Shaw says with a laugh. (Cheryl Eddy)

Charm is available at

Blood brothers



It’s Easter weekend in the Mission District, and despite the rabbit snuffling around Rick Popko’s backyard, Cadbury eggs are the last thing on anyone’s mind. "I think we’ve killed everyone we know," Popko explains grimly, grabbing his cell phone to try and recruit one more zombie for the final day of filming on the horror comedy RetarDEAD. Moments later, Popko and RetarDEAD codirector Dan West survey the scene in Popko’s basement. To put it mildly, it’s a bloodbath: The ceiling, walls, and carpet are dripping with cherry red splatters. A smoke machine sits primed for action near a table loaded with gore-flecked prop firearms.

Waste not

Several weeks later (plus several coats of paint, though a faint pinkness lingers), what had been a gruesome morgue has now reverted to its natural domestic state, save an editing station assembled at one end. A framed poster commemorating Popko and West’s first feature, 2003’s Monsturd, hangs on a nearby wall.

Monsturd is a true B-movie. Thanks to some seriously weird science, a serial killer morphs into a giant hunk of raging poop. Drawn into this sordid small-town tale are an evil doctor, a down-and-out sheriff, and an intense FBI agent, plus Popko and West as a pair of screwball deputies. Toilet jokes abound. After a three-day premiere at San Francisco’s Victoria Theatre, Monsturd found some success on video, most triumphantly surfacing in Blockbuster after the chain purchased 4,000 DVD copies.

Popko and West hope Monsturd‘s cult notoriety will aid RetarDEAD, which happens to be its direct sequel. It starts exactly where Monsturd ended. "Dr. Stern [the mad scientist played by Popko-West pal Dan Burr] rises from the sewer," West explains. "He gets a job at an institute for special education and starts a test group on these special ed students. They become remarkably intelligent, and then the side effect is they become zombies."

"In a nutshell, we kind of liken it to Flowers for Algernon meets Night of the Living Dead," Popko interjects.

"It’s a background gag to get the whole premise of the joke title. People go, ‘Well, why is it RetarDEAD?’ It’s because we needed a gimmick," says West, adding that the title came before the film (and was settled upon after an early choice, Special Dead, was snatched up by another production).

Best friends since bonding over a shared love of Tom Savini, circa 1984, at Napa’s St. Helena High School, Popko and West are so well matched creatively that Burr describes them as "like the left hand and the right hand" on the same body. Both are keen on beguiling titles. Monsturd‘s original moniker (Number Two, Part One) was dropped after being deemed too esoteric; Monsturd, they figured, would solicit more interest in video stores.

"We knew it’s such a stupid title that you would have to rent it just to see if it was as dumb as you thought it was," West explains. And for self-financed filmmakers like West and Popko (who both have full-time jobs and estimate they spent $3,000 on Monsturd and $12,000 to $14,000 so far on RetarDEAD), clever marketing strategies are essential.

"We have to think, when we’re making these movies, what can we sell, what can we get out there, what can we make a name for ourselves with?" Popko says.

"On this level, you go to the exploitation rule, which is give ’em what Hollywood cannot or will not make," West adds. "And they’re not gonna make Monsturd."

Dirty deeds . . .

Monsturd took years to complete and taught the duo scores about the capriciousness of the DVD distribution biz. Though one review dubbed it "the greatest movie that Troma never made," Popko and West actually turned down a deal with the famed schlock house, unwilling to sign over the rights to their film for 25 years. After hooking up with another distributor, they didn’t see any money from their Blockbuster coup. Still, they remain proud of Monsturd and its success.

"We tried to make it the best movie we possibly could, but we had nothing," West explains. "We didn’t piss it out in a weekend. It took a year to shoot it, then it took a year to put the thing together."

"We didn’t just shit out a crappy movie, pardon the pun," Popko says.

Neither filmmaker seems concerned that their trash-tastic subject matter might prevent them from being taken seriously as artists. And it doesn’t bother them that Monsturd‘s joke tends to overshadow the film itself not just for viewers, but for critics, who were by and large polarized by the killer shit-man tale.

Popko also recalls unsuccessfully submitting Monsturd to a half dozen film festivals intended to showcase DV and underground flicks. Quickly pointing out that the film got picked up anyway, he blames image-conscious programmers: "It’s like, how can you have a respectable film festival when you’ve got a shit monster movie playing in it?"

Though Popko and West live in San Francisco and filmed both Monsturd and RetarDEAD in Northern California, they say they don’t feel like part of the San Francisco filmmaking scene. Again, they suspect the whiff of poo might have something to do with it.

"We’ve kind of been ignored," West says. "We’re not bitter about it, but it would be nice to be acknowledged for what we’re doing we’re making exploitation films, and we don’t really have any guilt about what we’re doing. It’d be nice for somebody to develop a sense of humor and acknowledge it once in a while."

. . . done dirt cheap

As with Monsturd, RetarDEAD is a nearly all-volunteer effort, pieced together when the responsibilities of real life permit. Despite the obstacles say, a sudden insurance crisis involving a rented cop car unpredictability is clearly part of the thrill.

"When you undertake this shit, it’s an adventure: ‘What did you do this weekend?’ ‘Well, I was chased by 42 zombies, and the weekend before that, a bunch of burlesque dancers ripped our villain apart and ripped his face off,’” West explains. "It’s like, how else would you spend your free time?"

This sentiment extends to the film’s cast, several of whom have known Popko and West for years and reprise their Monsturd roles in its sequel. Coming aboard for RetarDEAD were members of San Francisco’s Blue Blanket Improv group, as well as the Living Dead Girlz, a zombie-flavored local dance troupe.

Beth West, who jokingly calls herself a "fake actor," stars in both films as the X-Files-ish FBI agent (Dan West’s former wife, she was roped into the first production after the original lead dropped out). Despite both films’ bare-bones shoots and other concerns, like trying (and failing) to keep continuity with her hairstyle over multiple years of filming she remains upbeat about the experience: "I loved being part of such a big creative effort."

Though his character is torn to shreds in RetarDEAD, Burr agrees. "This film is going to be 100 times better than the last one, as far as direction, camera shots everyone was more serious this time," he says. He hopes that RetarDEAD will help Popko and West expand their audience. "Someone’s gonna notice the talent there. Maybe not in the acting, but this is these guys’ lives. It’s never been my whole dream, but it’s always been their whole dream."

Splatter-day saints

For RetarDEAD, technical improvements over Monsturd, including the introduction of tracking shots, were important considerations. However, first things first: "We knew we wanted this to be gory as fuck," West says. An ardent fan of Herschell Gordon Lewis notorious for stomach turners like 1963’s Blood Feast West once hoped to lens a biopic of Lewis and his producing partner, David Friedman. Though it was never completed, he did get the Godfather of Gore’s permission to use a snippet of dialogue from the project in RetarDEAD.

"This whole thing begins with his intro it’s like that Charlton Heston thing for Armageddon, where it’s like the voice of God but it’s Herschell Gordon Lewis talking about gore," West says. "It was the one way I could go to my grave saying I finally figured out a way to work with Herschell Gordon Lewis."

Appropriately enough, RetarDEAD pays homage to Lewis’s signature style. "Monsturd had a couple of bloody scenes in it, but it was pretty tame," Popko says. "This here, we’re planning on passing out barf bags at the premiere because, I mean, it’s gross. We’ve got intestines and chain saws and blood all over the place."

Overseeing the splatter was director of special effects Ed Martinez, one of the few additional crew members (and one of few who were paid). A late addition to the production, he "made the movie what it is," according to West.

"A zombie film in this day and age, you can’t do amateur-quality makeup and get away with it it’ll be a flop," says Martinez, who teaches special effects makeup at San Francisco’s Academy of Art University and is a veteran of films like The Dead Pit. "And [Popko and West] know that."

Though Martinez is used to working on bigger projects, he stuck with RetarDEAD dreaming up such elaborate moments as a Day of the Deadinspired man-ripped-in-half sequence because, as he says, "In a way, I’m a coconspirator now." He also appreciates the directors’ sheer enthusiasm and appreciation. After a killer take, they were "literally high-fiving me. Most low-budget filmmakers are so egocentric they would rarely do anything like that. Good effects are important, but they’re not the only things that are important."

Dawn of RetarDEAD

Though a third movie in the Popko-West canon is already in the planning stages (Satanists!), it’s looking like several months before RetarDEAD still being edited from 30-plus hours of raw footage has its world premiere.

"We only get one to two nights a week to do this," Popko explains. Making movies for a living is the ultimate dream, but for now, both men view their films as being in the tradition of early John Waters: made outside the system and laden with as much bad taste as they please. Potential distributors have already advised the pair to adjust RetarDEAD‘s divisive title, a notion they considered "for about five minutes," according to West.

Popko and West’s films may be throwbacks to the drive-in era, but their outlook on the movie biz is actually quite forward-looking. Popko "the carnival barker" to West’s "guy behind the curtain pulling levers and switching things," according to Burr anticipates a day when tangling with queasy distributors won’t even be necessary, because many films will simply be released directly over the Internet. Both directors are also very interested in high-definition technology; they plan to upgrade from their old DV camera to a new HD model for their next effort, for reasons beyond a desire for better visual quality.

"What HD has done is bring grind house back," West says. "Now you can make stuff on a level that can compete, aesthetically, with what Hollywood’s doing almost. As far as your talent, you’ll be able to compete realistically with other movies. Now people can make good horror movies on their own terms."

"If you really want to make a movie, you can," Popko notes, stressing the importance of production values. Though the cutthroat nature of the indie film world is always on their minds, they welcome the new wave of B-movies that HD may herald.

"Now, there aren’t movies like Shriek of the Mutilated that were done in the 1970s, which could compete [with Hollywood]. These movies can now come back into the fold as long as they’re shot on HD and there will be a shit fest like none other," West predicts, adding that he’s looking forward to the deluge. "The world’s a better place with shitty movies in it." SFBG

The Guardian presents Monsturd

Mon/5, 9 p.m.

12 Galaxies

2565 Mission, SF


(415) 970-9777

Doing the Cannes-Cannes, Part Two


Gary Meyer of the Balboa is at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. Here is the second of his reports.

What a day! They’ve moved things around. Problems with my accreditation badge mean I can’t get into the movies. Offices that used to be in the Palais are at the other end of the Croisette, a 20 minute walk. The lines are huge and don’t seem to move. Finally I get my problems cleared up but every screening is full. Even my friends connected with some movies can’t get me in. The day is almost over and I haven’t seen one film yet. BUZZZZ. “Good morning. This is your 7am wake up call. Have a nice day.” Anxiety dreams are the worst here. I am feeling guilty that I only saw four films yesterday, but that was all there was worth seeing.

The morning started promisingly. Ken Loach’s newest, The Wind that Shakes the Barley , is generally well-received. Cillian Murphy proves that his acting turns in Breakfast on Pluto and Red Eye were not flukes. He stars as a young doctor faced with an offer to practice medicine in London — or stay in his village and become increasingly involved in forming a guerilla army to fight the “Black and Tan” army from England, sent to squash Irish independence. Set in the 1920s, the film has contemporary relevance. The first half is exciting, playing like a grand adventure with a political conscience, just as we have come to expect from Loach. The second half slows a bit but still worked for me.

Continuing in the history vein, with sociology and myth thrown in, is Rolf de Heer’s Ten Canoes. This Dutch director has developed a small but faithful following with his diverse filmography of under-distributed movies including The Quiet Room, Dance Me to My Song, and Alexandra’s Project. Ten Canoes was developed with actor David Gulpilil (most known for starring in Walkabout) who was interested in the stories of his own tribe, the Ramingining people. Gulpilil narrates (in English) simultaneous stories related to forbidden love but separated in time by many generations. There is a certain irreverence in his storytelling that is surprising: What is a flatulence reference doing in a story set hundreds of years ago? But then one realizes people have passed wind as long as they have existed. The guilty warrior is moved to the back of the line as they go through the forest — and more bawdy humor reminds us that dirty jokes aren’t new.

Ten Canoes is an impressive accomplishment on many levels. Though its austerity may be off-putting for some audiences, the fascinating stories, stunning visual delights, and truly unique experiences make it worthy of distribution.

The next two films shouldn’t be watched on a full stomach … but a viewer might not want to eat afterwards either. Taxidermia is the second feature from Hungarian director György Pálfi, after his astonishing Hukkle. Like Ten Canoes — another film dealing with several generations in a family — Taxidermia opens with a story of an orderly masturbating while observing his master’s young daughters, and servicing the man’s rather large wife on a monthly basis. The accidental offspring grows up to become a champion eater, winning contests while becoming a national, very fat, hero. Just as the sexual escapades of his father were graphically portrayed, we are shown huge amounts of vomit following the son’s competitions. The absurdity of it generates nervous laughter from those who haven’t turned away from the screen. He grows older, and becomes so large he cannot move. When he explodes, his son, a taxidermist, does what you might expect — and then what you won’t expect.

In some ways Taxidermia is a brilliant piece, with incredible cinematography, black humor, and a couple of visual treats. A brief sequence in a pop-up storybook and one exploring the myriad of uses for a bathtub are moments I should like to see again. But this is a hard movie to recommend to most; the gross outs just keep coming, each topping the previous one. Obviously, it’s only for those who can stomach it.

If one hasn’t lost his or her appetite after Taxidermia, the fiction film adapted from Eric Schlosser’s non-fiction book Fast Food Nation could move anyone in that direction. The author developed the screenplay with director Richard Linklater (whose animated science fiction film, A Scanner Darkly, screens here next week). The story centers around an executive at a thinly disguised hamburger chain — “Mickey’s” — who is sent to Colorado to investigate reports concerning fecal matter in beef. Along the way he encounters a number of characters working at the slaughterhouse and at the chain’s local burger joint.

In trying to cover as many controversial bases as he can, Schlosser may have taken on too many issues (the treatment of illegal aliens, sexual harassment, America’s poor dietary habits, the lack of sanitary conditions in both the meat-processing plant and the retail outlets, corporate neglect for bigger profits, etc). But the over-ambitious narrative rarely makes the impact these issues deserve. Following Upton Sinclair’s 1906 novel, The Jungle, Schlosser’s investigative book confirmed that things aren’t much better in the 21st century. Though trying to reach a wider audience with a narrative film is a noble idea, it doesn’t succeed as either entertainment or piece of muckraking. The French seemed to generally like Fast Food Nation, probably because it makes for an easy anti-American target. But they also eat fast-food burgers in huge numbers.

High concept

The Marche is a massive film market that happens simultaneously with the film festival. More junk that you ever imagined is produced all over the world, and thousands of films are being sold here. Some are finished and others are in development. Many will never be finished.

We can always expect ripoffs of Hollywood blockbusters. There is no description for Sacrament Code or Stealing the Mona Lisa in the ads because the makers are probably hoping for some down and dirty direct-to-international video and cable sales. I’ve seen ads for at least three pirate movies, each looking very much like the upcoming Pirates of the Caribbean II, with supernatural elements floating through the art work and featuring casts of total unknowns who look a lot like Johnny Depp and Keira Knightley.

One of my favorite things at Cannes is seeking out the most ridiculous titles for movies selling in Marche. Are you ready for a horror film about “hair extensions that attack the women that wear them?” Japan’s Toei is selling it here. Exte will star Chiaki Kuriyama, the crazy chain-swinging schoolgirl in Kill Bill.

And how about Motor Home Massacre? No description offered and none is needed.


The masses gathered at Cannes rarely refer to upcoming Festival movies by their title. We are asked, “Are you going to see the new Almodovar?” or “Did you see the Turkish movie?”

We say: “I liked the first feature from the director of that short Wasp,” and “Don’t miss the Indonesian documentary about the tsunami aftermath.”

This puts the film in a context that is easier to explain than “Are you going to see Volver? Iklimler? Red Road? Serambi?”

What do those titles mean? Until enough people have seen or heard about them, they are merely strange words or odd phrases. Volver is the new film from Pedro Almodovar; it’s a bit more subdued than some of his over-the-top recent entertainments. Penelope Cruz, who returns to her roots in Spanish cinema, plays a mother dealing with a teenaged daughter, a lonely sister, and an aging aunt. When the aunt dies, her dead mother appears, first as what the women assume is a ghost — but, maybe she never died in the fire that took their father? Initially the filmmaker continues his homage to Hitchcock with a surprise murder (and Bernard Herrmann-like music) before moving more to melodrama. While not a great film, Volver is wonderfully entertaining, full of surprises, and features a performance by Cruz that made me an instant fan. The buzz is great.

Iklimler has an English title of Climates, an appropriate description of the hot and cold relationship between a man and a woman who break up during a beach vacation and meet again in the snow. Like director Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s previous film Uzak (Distant), the Cannes Grand Prix winner in 2003, this film could be best described as contemplative. On the surface it is a simple story of a relationship, but the emotions and motivations dig much deeper. The characters are believable, the emotions real, and the performances powerful. With virtually no camera movement, the filmmaker beautifully composes each shot; so impressed with his work, the camera stays in that one position for long sequences. Some raved about this “work of art,” but gorgeously composed images don’t make a movie. For me, this slowed too much midway. I stayed with it and appreciated the ending, but as with so much at the festival, Iklimler is an acquired taste. No doubt I will be damned for my comments.

Red Road is another story. Scottish director Andrea Arnold’s first feature is a tense and original thriller. Working from a concept proposed by Lars Von Trier’s team, three different filmmakers set out to create original stories based on the same main characters. Each were given notes; the same two actors will star. Red Road is the first to be made. A woman works for a security company watching various video monitors for possible troublemakers in a rough neighborhood. She concentrates on a man recently released from prison for a crime obviously committed against someone close to her. This variation on Hitchcock’s Rear Window grows increasing more tense as details are carefully revealed. Despite a few missteps, the film works well and Arnold is a talent to watch (her Oscar-winning short, Wasp, was a knockout).

In a given day there will rarely be a logical pattern to the order of film-watching — and the segue from one to the next can be very strange. Following Red Road with Serambi was such a radical shift. This documentary explores the aftermath of the tsunami, following children, young adults, and adults who search for their friends and relatives while coming to the realization they must rebuild their lives and city.

Another documentary, Boffo! Tinsletown’s Bombs and Blockbusters proved a good way to end a day that also included a program of shorts and a long Korean film about young soldiers that left me cold (The Unforgiven). Boffo! is by onetime Bay Area director Bill Couturie. Packed with film clips and great interviews, it tries to help us figure out why a movie is a hit or flop — even if people from filmmakers to studio heads come back to writer William Goldman’s quote: “Nobody knows nothing.”

Girls afraid



As far as Lindsay Lohan goes these days, the title of a recent New York Times essay on her vida loca offers a succinct, if not entirely flattering, summation: "Lindsay Lohan: Portrait of the Party Girl as a Young Artist." The freckled former Disneyite has lately been on the verge though whether it’s the verge of a grown-up career breakout or a total Britney Spearsstyle image meltdown seems unclear.

Just My Luck, LiLo’s latest, doesn’t bode well for her aspirations to being a movie star in the Scarlett Johansson mode. Donald Petrie, director of Miss Congeniality and How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days, manages to meet both flicks halfway with Luck, which features a lead character as klutzy as Sandra Bullock’s FBI agent but as Big Apple fabulous as Kate Hudson’s scheming magazine writer. Lohan’s Ashley Albright is the luckiest girl in NYC, which is to say luckiest measured by Sex and the City standards: Cabs screech to the curb the instant they are hailed, elevators are stocked with cute single guys, and Sarah Jessica Parker’s totally chic cocktail dress is accidentally returned with the dry cleaning. Isn’t life frikkin’ delicious?

Naturally, Ashley’s luck and her outlook on her superficial-yet-cutely-shod lifestyle totally changes after she spontaneously kisses, yes, the unluckiest guy in NYC, a sweet schlub named Jake (Chris Pine) with rock ’n’ roll dreams. As you can see, the plot is as thin as one of Lohan’s upper arms; 13 Going on 30 is high art by comparison. By the end (and this is not a spoiler, because there’s no way you wouldn’t see it coming unless you recently arrived from a distant galaxy), the finally fortunate-again Ashley’s moment of truth hinges on whether or not she’ll pass the kiss of luck back to Jake, who needs it more than her, because he’s, like, nice to little kids and stuff.

Fortunately, there’s a movie like Somersault around to dig a little deeper into the confusion that arises when innocence takes a dive. Shot two years ago in Australia but just now being released here, Somersault raked in 13 Australian Film Institute awards (if the AFIs are down under’s Oscar equivalent, that would make Somersault more golden than Titanic). Pretty impressive for a film that seems so effortless; 24-year-old star Abbie Cornish (totally convincing as a 16-year-old, and just cast in Boys Don’t Cry director Kimberly Peirce’s next project) is four years older than Lohan, but her character, Heidi, exudes a far more fresh-scrubbed naïveté.

As angelically fair and danger-prone as Goldilocks, Heidi flees her home in Canberra after she’s discovered making an advance (eagerly reciprocated) on her mother’s mullet-bearing boyfriend. Attracting men isn’t Heidi’s problem; even in a crowded, raucous bar, she practically glows, a quality which no doubt aids her in her fumbling quest to put down new roots. A kindly hotel owner allows her a cheap room, a job as a cashier gets her free meals, and a popular local boy named Joe (Sam Worthington) takes an interest in her.

Rest assured, this ain’t Where the Heart Is. (Recap: Preggers teen Natalie Portman blows into a tiny Oklahoma town and is wholly embraced with homespun heartlandiness.) Heidi is childlike enough to playact in anticipation of her next meeting with Joe, but she’s also sexually precocious to a fault; her judgment is impaired not just by her drinking habits but also by her young age and her desperate need to be loved by anyone who’ll have her. Unfortunately for her, she’s not living in a universe that pinpoints her well-being as its focus (unlike, say, Just My Luck‘s Ashley). Somersault‘s portrayal of real life is harsh, especially for a too-immature-to-be-so-mature girl scraping by completely on her own. Writer-director Cate Shortland deftly conveys the precariousness of Heidi’s situation with restrained symbolism, as when the girl plucks a pair of discarded ski goggles from a junk heap and tries them on allowing her to glimpse an unyielding world, if only for an instant, through rose-colored glasses. SFBG

Just My Luck

Now playing at Bay Area theaters

For showtimes go to


Opens Fri/19

Lumiere Theatre

1572 California, SF

For showtimes go to

That’s amore



There are some serious-minded films on the program of this year’s San Francisco Documentary Film Festival, like Cracked Not Broken, about a stockbroker turned crack addict, and The Chances of the World Changing, about one man’s crusade to save endangered turtles. But when there’s an option in life to sample something called Pizza! The Movie, there’s really no way around it. You have to go for the pie.

Director Michael Dorian is good-natured enough to include a clip from "the other" Pizza: The Movie a low-budget 2004 comedy about a lovelorn delivery dude in his doc; he’s also clever enough to wrap his film around the theme that pizza is, by nature, a competitive sport. Rivalries lurk in all aspects of the business. The simple question of whose pizza tastes the best is paramount; dozens of parlors, from New York to Los Angeles to an Ohio spot famed for its meat-laden "butcher shop" special, are visited, and many friendly opinions are shared. But other points of contention run deeper than Chicago-style crust, including which trade magazine can claim superiority (bad blood runs twixt upstart PMQ and old-school Pizza Today); mass-market (i.e., Pizza Hut) versus artisan-style pies; and who invented which new twist when, exemplified by a chef who claims he created all of California Pizza Kitchen’s original recipes.

So, clearly, the pizza industry attracts strong personalities. But the absolute highlight of Pizza! The Movie is the Bay Area’s own Tony Gemignani, a champion acrobatic pizza tosser whose skill with dough is as awe-inspiring as his deadly serious approach to his craft. Frankly, I can’t believe Ben Stiller or Will Ferrell hasn’t starred in a feature film based on this guy; the entire 90 minutes of Pizza! The Movie are worth watching just to see Tony’s take on The Matrix, complete with bullet-time dough-throwing. Good thing DocFest goes down in the Mission, where pizza is plentiful after the movie, there’s no way you won’t be in the mood for a slice.

Another DocFest film with a tempting title is Muskrat Lovely, Amy Nicholson’s affectionate study of a small-town Maryland beauty pageant. The specter of Corky St. Clair looms over the proceedings, which transpire during a festival with twin highlights: the crowning of Miss Outdoors, of course, and a muskrat-skinning contest. (In a tidy display of synergy, one of the pageant girls skins a muskrat as her talent.) The importance of glamour even when one is a teenager living in an isolated Chesapeake Bay community is addressed, as is the importance of removing the muskrat’s musk gland before you cook it.

A less triumphant tale unfolds in The Future of Pinball, local filmmaker Greg Maletic’s ironically titled work-in-progress doc about pinball’s painful decline. He focuses on a 1999 invention optimistically dubbed Pinball 2000, a wondrous machine dreamed up by the industry’s most talented (and increasingly desperate) pinball designers, a dedicated group whose job titles were made nearly extinct by the video game boom. Despite a groovy lounge music soundtrack, Pinball weaves a sad tale of creativity being stamped out by big business; also, as it turns out, the eventual fate of the Pinball 2000 happens to be one more thing we can blame on Jar Jar Binks.

The hour-long Pinball plays with Natasha Schull’s 30-minute ode to gluttony, Buffet: All You Can Eat Las Vegas. Drawn in by such gimmicks as the $2.99 shrimp cocktail, self-proclaimed buffet connoisseurs arrange incredible and unlikely food combinations on enormous plates; casino employees, used to dealing with gob-smacking amounts of consumption, ponder how a horseshoe-shaped restaurant really allows for "more flow." Meanwhile, Sin City pigs grunt on a farm outside town, eagerly awaiting the leftovers. After all, as the farmer’s wife points out, humans and pigs have nearly identical digestive tracts. SFBG


Fri/12–May 21

Roxie Film Center

3117 16th St., SF


Also Women’s Building

3543 18th St., SF

Tragic replay




Filmed for the most part outside London, and shot by Brit Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Supremacy), United 93 is nonetheless a wholly American tale one that still reverberates with enough unsettling intensity that it’s questionable whether or not audiences will want to see it on the big screen. In 50 years, perhaps, United 93 won’t sting so much; it’ll be easier to view it in the context of other Hollywood docudramas mined from national tragedies (and, fortunately, United 93 is directed with far better taste and skill than, say, Pearl Harbor; we’ll see how Oliver Stone’s World Trade Center fares when it opens later in ’06).

As you’d expect, a palpable sense of inevitability haunts United 93‘s every frame. As the minutes of Sept. 11 tick by, we don’t really get to know the film’s characters as individuals. Instead, United 93 switches between the doomed flight’s crew and passengers (all of whom, including the four jumpy hijackers, are represented by actors chosen for their physical resemblance to the actual people) and the increasingly frantic folks on the ground (several air traffic controllers and military types play themselves). Greengrass’s trademark handheld camera is well suited to capturing chaos; one of his few overtly cinematic concessions is the film’s score, which floats in occasionally to heighten tension that’s already running into the red.

Though it focuses on the horror, and heroism, wrought by Sept. 11, United 93 also highlights the day’s ill-managed official response. Without pointing fingers at anyone in particular (except the prez, who’s mentioned as being unreachable, and the MIA veep), the initial disbelief, waves of conflicting information, and general confusion are made achingly clear: Even after WTC-bound American Airlines flight 11 becomes a confirmed hijack, flight 93 idles on the tarmac, eagerly awaiting takeoff. SFBG


Opens Fri/28

Select Bay Area theaters

See Movie Clock at for showtimes.

Headbanger’s a ball


 Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey reaches far beyond the black T-shirt crowd, offering a fan’s-eye view of heavy metal music from a fan, Sam Dunn, who also happens to be an anthropologist. Dunn who codirected, along with Scot McFadyen and Jessica Joy Wise narrates this witty, educational ride through metal’s history. Rockin’ topics include the technical aspects of the music (“What makes metal sound … evil?”), fiercely devoted fans, and issues swirling around gender and religion. In one of Metal‘s most fascinating chapters, the filmmakers travel to Norway to investigate the genre’s extreme, church-burning contingent. The doc’s many famous faces include Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson, Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi, and the singular Ronnie James Dio, who discusses at length his invention of the devil-horns hand gesture, as well as his friendly rivalry with Gene Simmons.

 On the phone from Toronto, Dunn who relayed a tale about the film inspiring a man to buy his first Black Sabbath album, and noted “That’s the kind of evangelical conversion we’re totally looking for!” and McFadyen shared their Metal mania.

SFBG What was the most difficult part of making the film? Were there memorable moments that didn’t make it into the final cut?

SCOT MCFADYEN We drank a lot of Jägermeister [laughs]. A lot of ridiculous stuff that didn’t make it into the film will be on the DVD. And the section on Norway and black metal was a really difficult part to edit down, so on the DVD we’ll have another documentary all about Norwegian black metal.

SAM DUNN It’s a fascinating subject: Arguably the most extreme music ever produced comes out of one of the wealthiest, safest, most progressive countries in the world. From an anthropology perspective, especially, looking at the relationship between music and culture.

SFBG So are those guys really evil, or what? It seems like Dio has a sense of humor, but I’m not so sure about those Norwegians.


SM In the case of Mayhem [who come across as particularly hostile in the film], they were just really drunk. But they were generally friendly guys.


SFBG Were people in the music biz pretty open to being included in the film? Anyone you wish you could have talked to?


SM People were initially a bit apprehensive. Most things that have been made about heavy metal were like, mockumentaries, not taking it seriously. But once we got through to the artists, they were really excited. We wanted to talk to Gene Simmons, Rob Halford Sharon Osbourne shut us down from day one. She didn’t want to be part of the film. We had to go around her to get to Tony Iommi.


SD We definitely had our battles. But we just recently got an e-mail from Rob [Halford], and he really loved the film he called it the best thing that’s been done about heavy metal. SFBG



(Sam Dunn, Scot McFadyen, and Jessica Joy Wise, Canada, 2005)


Fri/21, 10:30 p.m., Kabuki


Mon/24, 1:30 p.m., Kabuki


Mapping The Descent



What’s worse than being trapped underground? How about being trapped underground with creepy cave dwellers — creepy, hungry cave dwellers? And maybe, just maybe, losing your mind at the same time? Believe the hype: British import The Descent is the scariest movie since The Blair Witch Project, thanks to a killer premise, flawless pacing and casting, and writer-director Neil Marshall’s unconcealed love for the horror genre. Here we present a flowchart of The Descent‘s predecessors and influences.

THE SHINING Any Kubrick fan worth their Grady girls impersonation will recognize The Descent‘s visual — and thematic — nods to the classic. Let’s just say that anytime a car is creeping along a mountain road and shot from above, whatever’s at the end of that road can’t be good.


DELIVERANCE The greatest of all outdoor-adventure-gone-awry films is duly honored here, right down to one character’s Burt Reynolds–<style wet suit. However, The Descent focuses on female friendships, not male bonding — and the unfriendly natives ain’t playing no banjos.


ALIEN Two miles underground, as in space, no one can hear you scream — except monsters and your fellow explorers, who may or may not have your back, no matter what you thought at the beginning of the journey.


DOG SOLDIERS Marshall’s 2002 chiller is also about a group of people caught off guard by unfriendly freaks of nature: army blokes who encounter a pack of werewolves deep in the Scottish woods.


THE CAVE This 2005 also-ran is included here only because it’s a vastly inferior, PG-13 version of the same basic story: spelunkers on a downward spiral. Despite its smaller budget and unknown British cast, The Descent is far more memorable, not to mention way gorier.

AND THE REST Unless you’re too terrified, claustrophobic, or grossed out to pay close attention while you’re watching, keep your peepers peeled for homages to Apocalypse Now, Carrie, The Thing, Night of the Living Dead, the Lord of the Rings films, and Nosferatu.<\!s><z5><h110>SFBG<h$><z$>


(Neil Marshall, England, 2005)

April 29, 11:30 p.m., Kabuki

May 1, 4 p.m., Kabuki


The politically correct term is “Caucasian debris”


Album review: Toby Keith, White Trash With Money (Show Dog Nashville)

Country star Toby Keith came to mainstream attention after his musical response to 9/11, “Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue (The Angry American).” The tune, which spawned a public feud with those pinko Dixie Chicks, pleased fist-pumping patriots from sea to shining sea with its jingoistic lyrics: “You’ll be sorry that you messed with the U.S. of A./Cause we’ll put a boot in your ass, it’s the American way.”

Weirdly enough, Keith later admitted he was a Democrat, albeit a conservative one who may or may not have voted for George W. Bush’s re-election. At any rate, there’s no doubt that he supports the troops (exhibit A: the liner notes of his new CD, White Trash With Money), though he hasn’t lately sounded off on other political issues. Most of the tracks on White Trash concern women (good, bad, and mocked-for-being-overweight, as in the boorish “Runnin’ Block”), workin’ hard, and drinkin’, plus a song that muses — in the grand tradition of country-music wordplay — “There ain’t no right way to do the wrong thing.”

Clearly, Keith spends most of his waking hours writing new material; he’s released over a dozen, mostly hit-spawning albums since his 1993 debut. VH-1 Country had scarcely pulled the video for “I Ain’t As Good As I Once Was” (from 2005’s Honkytonk University, his final release on DreamWorks Nashville before the launch of his own label, Show Dog Nashville) from heavy rotation before his latest good-time clip, “Get Drunk and Be Somebody,” made its first appearance. (My favorite Keith video remains his “Beer for My Horses” duet with Willie Nelson, which plays out like CSI: Urban Cowboy).

So how’s the new album? Does it even matter? Isn’t Keith critic-proof by now? On White Trash, he basically operates on three speeds: raucous rocker (“Get Drunk,” “Grain of Salt”); reflective, mid-tempo crooner (“A Little Too Late,” “Can’t Buy You Money”); and earnest balladeer (“Crash Here Tonight,” “Too Far This Time”). Still, despite his assorted shortcomings, I’ll take this bar-brawlin’ Keith over country’s other Keith — the paralyzingly dull, Nicole Kidman-betrothed Keith Urban — any time.

Un certain regard


Like Bresson and Renoir did before them, the Dardenne brothers tend to inspire reviews using vaguely Christian words like transcendence from critics trying to describe the way a transparent film style can result in such fully formed, singular movies. At least one such reviewer has already referred to their newest masterpiece, L’Enfant, as a miracle, but, alas, it is not so. Like the Dardennes’ previous pinnacles La Promesse, Rosetta, and The Son L’Enfant handles weighty themes like guilt and redemption with awesome grace. But to liken the film to an act of God surely takes something from the technical precision and artistic concentration that so informs cinema Dardenne.

While their breakthrough may have come on the stage at Cannes, Luc and his brother Jean-Pierre cut their teeth on a decade of vérité-style documentary work before making their first fiction film, 1987’s Falsch. Much has been made of the way the fly-on-the-wall documentary technique has informed the Dardennes’ fiction work, and, indeed, it’s hard to think of anyone exploring the tension between realism and reality as fruitfully. L’Enfant‘s camera isn’t as doggedly shaky as in the earlier films, but the general long-take style is still present: Conversations and characterizations are mediated by constant reframing instead of by cuts. The Dardennes’ ability to narrate with single takes, conveying information and drama via performance, framing, and an impeccable, Bressonian use of sound, means the brothers belong in any discussion of cinema’s long-take masters (a table that many, including Gus Van Sant and Richard Linklater, wish to eat at). Had he been alive to see L’Enfant, celebrated French critic and letting-the-camera-run aficionado André Bazin would surely have turned in a sparkling review.

Described as a sketch, L’Enfant‘s story is the stuff of melodrama. A penniless teenage mother (Déborah Francois) wanders with her baby in search of the father. Played by a ravaged Jérémie Renier (La Promesse), père Bruno is a decidedly small-time crook. Always looking for a score, he sells the newborn to back-alley adoption agents when mother Sonia isn’t around. As with all Dardenne stories, though, there is redemption: The baby is recovered, and Bruno ends up assuming responsibility for an unrelated theft to spare an underage accomplice.

If this sounds like a nail-biting character study, though, the story plays more mutedly than one might expect. Like much art cinema, the Dardennes use an oblique film style to distance us from characters and de-emphasize narrative spectacle. For the brothers, this strategy isn’t used for the sake of vague artiness but rather to convey their filmed stories as moral parables. One of the key sequences of L’Enfant is the one in which Bruno sells his baby. There is a sort of tension that builds as he rides the bus toward a rendezvous point in a single long take, but it’s of an infinitely quieter and more reflective sort than the kind produced by a comparable scene in Oscar-winner Tsotsi. A couple of cuts and a few rings of Bruno’s cell phone later, our protagonist is waiting in a barren apartment while the baby’s “adopter” operates next door a climax narrated entirely by offscreen sound. The scene conveys an outrageous misdeed, but any judgment or repulsion has been sucked out by the Dardennes’ removed perspective; as such, Bruno’s betrayal seems less a crime against humanity than an action, an inevitable result of his role as the thief.

In the end, the Dardennes aren’t concerned with why their characters do what they do (the thing that occupies the vast majority of narrative filmmakers) but rather are taken with charting the moral implications and consequences of their characters’ actions. Someday a wise DVD distributor is going to package the Dardennes’ fiction films as a set, and the result will rival Kafka’s collected short stories in its parabolic riches. L’Enfant‘s protagonist thief may spend much of the film running to stand still, but the Dardenne brothers are nothing if not directed toward greatness, that is.


Opens Fri/7 in Bay Area theaters.

For showtimes go to

Whither Slither?


What, you don’t already have plans to see Slither? A glistening new horror comedy is certainly reason to break out the Sno-Caps and take the missus to the picture show. Slither heralds the feature directing debut of James Gunn, a screenwriter with Sgt. Kabukiman on his résumé (Troma overlord Lloyd Kaufman cameos in Slither as "Sad Drunk"), as well as both Scooby-Doo movies (boo!) and the recent Dawn of the Dead remake (yeah!). The cast includes Elizabeth Banks (Wet Hot American Summer), Nathan Fillion (Serenity), and Michael Rooker (Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer); the R-rated plot involves sluglike alien critters who infiltrate a small town — guess they’re waiting for the sequel before they take Manhattan.

If Slither gets you hooked on slime-encrusted giggles and shivers, kill time until Snakes on a Plane (Aug. 18: enough is enough!) with gold standards of the genre. Of course, there’s The Blob; consider a double feature to incorporate both Steve McQueen (original 1958 version) and Kevin "Drama" Dillon (1988 remake) into a single evening. And in 1976 writer-director Jeff Lieberman (the auteur behind that same year’s Blue Sunshine) unleashed the magnificent Squirm, which pits rednecks against flesh-chomping earthworms.

The mid-1970s also spawned They Came from Within, a.k.a. Shivers and Orgy of the Blood Parasites. Creepy critters! Sex maniacs! The most disturbing bathing scene since Psycho! Calm your anger over writer-director David Cronenberg’s not getting an Oscar nom for A History of Violence — seriously, WTF? — by revisiting this early, deliciously depraved effort.

Then, of course, there’s 1986’s Night of the Creeps, a grade-A B-movie that proves once and for all that oops-I-accidentally-unthawed-a-corpse-infected-by-aliens is the ultimate party foul. Spanish import Slugs: The Movie (1988) and 1957’s Salton Sea snail-terror flick The Monster That Challenged the World are also worth a mention, as well as 1959’s Attack of the Giant Leeches (directed by Bernard L. Kowalski, who also did 1973’s SSSSSSS — for all of you who wish Anaconda were a trilogy).

Maybe the best postirony critter-horror film is Tremors. Giant underground "graboids" terrorize an armpit Nevada town filled with such characters as a cowboy named Valentine (Kevin Bacon, never better) and a pair of survivalists (the dad from Family Ties and, uh, Reba McEntire) wielding cannons and elephant guns. This 1990 miniclassic spawned a TV series and no less than three straight-to-video sequels. OK, technically, one was a prequel (Tremors 4: The Legend Begins), but you were kinda curious about that origin story, right? (Cheryl Eddy)


Opens Fri/31 in Bay Area theaters

Go to for showtimes.

Big skies, broken hearts


In the not-so-Wild West, where assistant directors on Segways roam, washed-up matinee idol Howard Spence (Sam Shepard) gallops right off the set of his latest picture, appropriately dubbed Phantom of the West. Where Howard’s headed at the start of Don’t Come Knocking

Little girls lost


FREQUENT VIEWERS OF the Lifetime Movie Network know it, as do the producers of Nancy Grace’s eponymous “debate” show: Barring the availability of a convenient serial killer (or killer storm), nothing draws viewers like missing children. Sure, war violence is scary, but kidnappings, which are seemingly more frequent and inevitable than ever, are in many ways far scarier. You can almost feel the parental paranoia spike with every new AMBER Alert.

In Flightplan Jodie Foster plays Kyle Pratt, a jacked-up Lifetime mom who faces not just stranger danger but also terrorism when her six-year-old daughter, Julia (Marlene Lawston), implausibly vanishes aboard a jumbo jet. The small family is traveling from Berlin to New York with a tragic mission: to bury Dad, whose coffin is loaded into the plane’s belly as Julia solemnly watches. Director Robert Schwentke, working from a script by Billy Ray (Shattered Glass) and Peter A. Dowling, foreshadows gleefully, playing off travel fears in the manner of another recent in-flight thriller, Red Eye. Not only is there a group of Arab men aboard (who will later be harassed by a frantic Kyle, who declares she doesn’t care about being politically incorrect), but the plane takes off amid icy, unsettling weather conditions. Above and beyond all that, Schwentke establishes a general air of danger that cloaks Kyle from the start