Wednesday, June 29, 2011

SFFS / New People Cinema: Michael Hawley Celebrates the Partnership

In what must surely be the most celebratory news of 2011 for Bay Area cinephiles, the San Francisco Film Society (SFFS) announced last week that it will be partnering with Japantown's chic subterranean movie house, the New People Cinema. What this means is that for the first time in its 54-year history, SFFS will finally have a year-round exhibition venue it can call home. The news comes nearly a year after Landmark Theaters declared its intention to shutter the Clay Theater, which sparked months of negotiations by the SFFS to purchase or lease it. Those negotiations broke down over a number of issues, including the landlord's insistence that condos be built on top of the nearly century-old cinema. (Interestingly, the Clay remains in operation as a Landmark Theater today).

Despite my fondness for the Clay—it was the first San Francisco movie theater I visited upon moving here in 1975 (and the film I saw was Lina Wertmüller's
Swept Away)—I'm thrilled that SFFS has landed the New People. As stated in the official SFFS press release, it's "San Francisco's most up-to-date and technically perfect film theater" featuring the "highest quality analog and digital equipment, great sight lines and immersive THX-certified surround sound." Also known as VIZ Cinema, the 143-seat facility is located in the basement of Japantown's New People Building at 1746 Post Street, itself a "cutting-edge four-story building devoted to contemporary Japanese art, fashion, food and design." I love that they sell Blue Bottle coffee in the café and I dig their futuristic toilets.

New People, SFFS and local cinephiles are anything but strangers to each other. The theater hosted the Film Society's Taiwan Film Days last autumn and served as an additional venue for the recent San Francisco International Film Festival. The SF International Asian American Film Festival has used the space for two years running and 3rd i's South Asian Film Fest had their 2010 opening night there. Since arriving on the Bay Area film scene in 2009, New People has also programmed its own regular line-up of Japanese repertory mixed with new releases (mostly genre and anime). In recent months, however, that programming has slowed considerably. Excepting benefit screenings for Japanese earthquake / tsunami victims and a few festival rentals, the theater has too often gone dark. Partnering with SFFS will clearly be a boon for New People as well.

The SFFS / New People Cinema is scheduled to debut in September, with initial offerings to be announced just before Labor Day. In addition to accommodating panels, classes and one-time events, the press release states that a "substantial portion" of the SFFS Fall Season will take place there. I'm wondering if that includes French Cinema Now, New Italian Cinema and the International Animation festivals, which are traditionally housed in the considerably larger, 272-seat Theater One of Landmark's Embarcadero Cinema?

By far, the most exciting aspect of the SFFS / New People partnership will be the re-emergence of the SFFS Screen. Launched in 2008 at the Sundance Kabuki Cinemas—home of the Film Society's SF International Film Festival and located just down the street from New People—the SFFS Kabuki Screen hosted week-long theatrical runs of foreign, indie and documentary films that had screened at local festivals. More importantly, it also premiered important works that had never been seen in the Bay Area, period, such as Pablo Larraín's Tony Manero, Nuri Bilge Ceylan's Three Monkeys and Elia Suleiman's The Time That Remains.

Unfortunately, during its roughly three-year existence the SFFS Screen spent more time "on hiatus" than it did being operational, due to the vagaries of screen availability at the Kabuki. Now that SFFS has its very own cinema to program, I anticipate seeing many of the limited-distribution titles I jealously notate opening in Manhattan cinemas each week (reviews of which get skillfully compiled on Fridays by David Hudson at MUBI Notebook). Here's my starter wishlist of recent films I'd love to see booked into the new SFFS / New People Cinema: Kôji Wakamatsu's
Caterpillar, Radu Muntean's Tuesday, After Christmas, Daniel and Diego Vega Vidal's October and Michael Rowe's Leap Year.

Cross-published on film-415 and Twitch.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

FRAMELINE35 2011—Jackson Scarlett Reviews the Punk Docs

The intersection of queer and punk is both broad and well-traveled and so it stands to reason that there are quite a few films representing same at this year's Frameline. I previewed a few of the more punk and punk-leaning docs appearing in the festival this year and a few selections stood above the rest.

The first of these, Miwa: A Japanese Icon, is certainly less "punk" per se but nonetheless guided by a spirit of resistance and irreverence that is punk's hallmark. The French-made doc candidly (and a bit cheekily) presents Akihiro Miwa (Miwa to his fans) as a sort of elder statesman of Japanese queerdom. In contrast to his frequent, often catty Japanese daytime TV persona, Miwa appears charming, subdued, and composed, recalling his life and successes from one of the ornate thrones that apparently populate his home. Japan during pre-modern periods held no stigma against homosexuality, according to Miwa and the film's historians; prevailing attitudes were introduced after the war when European interests began to hold sway in a Japan striving for modernization. Recognized nationally as the nation's only "out" homosexual in post-war Japan for some time, Miwa became a focal point for the country's gay community in exile.

Though the doc pays ample attention to fetching glossies of the actor and musician as a young man and duly covers the circumstances of his childhood, the film's focus lies with the evolution of the Japanese cinematic landscape throughout which Miwa's career is woven, beginning with his role in the rise of exploitation master Kinji Fukasaku, who directed an iconic turn in Black Lizard at Miwa's request. Edogawa Rampo's novel
Black Lizard was adapted for the screen by Japanese literary royalty Yukio Mishima, whose unfaltering—and unrequited—admiration jumpstarted Miwa's career. Miwa also made appearances in the radical protest films of Shūji Terayama during the 1970s, a spate of voice acting done for anime legend Hayao Miyazaki, and—in a somewhat less concrete moment—an affiliation with Takeshi Kitano from both his saloon days and the present. Miwa's ability to remain active in Japan's filmic culture for all these years coupled with his unwavering acceptance by modern Japanese as an icon of glamour and femininity can only lead one to wonder what the American landscape would look like if intolerance to homosexuality was a footnote in our culture, instead of a hallmark.

Hit So Hard is one of the better docs of the mid-90s grunge scene, framed by out lesbian Patty Schemel, long-suffering drummer of Hole and friend of Kurt Cobain. This kinetic doc captures the fever-dream rush of the band's massive success and the chaos following the death of Cobain, featuring the requisite footage of Courtney Love's unhinged personality and genuinely charming home videos that reveal better times. Despite her inevitable fall from favor around the release of the band's third album and the struggle with addiction that fills out the second half of the doc, Schemel appears older and wiser here, but no worse for wear. Those with an interest in the machinations of major-label music industry will find a good deal to chew on here.

Those who find
Hit So Hard a little too soft and cuddly will find the ante upped significantly in Lilly Scourtis Ayers' Last Fast Ride: The Life, Love and Death Of A Punk Goddess, which—although not exploitative—can't help but rough us up a little as it presents the life of Marian Anderson, front singer for Insaints and Thrill Killers, whose on-stage antics led to a trial for obscenity and off-stage antics eventually led to her death by heroin overdose in 2001. Though much of her life was spent elsewhere, Marian's life is inextricably wrapped in Bay Area lore—she grew up a troubled teen in Modesto, later moving to the city where she lived in squats, occasionally working as a dominatrix at Fantasy Makers (still a standby in the Berkeley S&M scene), and running through a series of local legends, including Tim Yohannan, founder of Berkeley posi-punk cornerstone 924 Gilman Street and punk mag Maximum RocknRoll, which published both the Insaints albums and J.D.s' notorious queercore provocation "Don't Be Gay", before settling into a tumultuous long term relationship with Danielle Bernal, a self-described "butch dyke" and one of Last Fast Ride's central personalities.

Alongside lengthy interviews with Marian, Danielle and family,
Last Fast Ride features interviews with punk luminaries ranging from Tim Armstrong of Rancid to SF scene stalwarts and boasts an even compassionate narration by punk touchstone and longtime LGBT advocate Henry Rollins. Even if none of these names sound familiar, the price of admission covers a great amount of titillating performance footage, nudity and all, though nothing on the order of the live excrement-and-blood bacchanals of GG Allin, who Marian acknowledges was an influence. To it's credit, Ayers avoids exploiting its very exploitable subject. Last Fast Ride is too even-handed in its presentation of Marian's lifestyle to pose as a cautionary tale. Instead, it's an engrossing look at a woman on and over the edge and the base desperation that pervaded the SF punk scene in the mid 90s.

Although it wasn't available for preview, a compendium of this year's more "punk" offerings would be incomplete without mention of Shut Up Little Man: An Audio Misadventure, the subject of which has inspired (and been sampled by) artists as far ranging as John Zorn, Nirvana and comic author Daniel Clowes. The classic taped rantings of an alcoholic odd couple have been touted by a variety of sources as visible as
Spin and as underground as your older sister's 'zine, since their appearance nearly 20 years ago, and only now are finally receiving the documentary treatment.

Cross-published on Twitch.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

HOLEHEAD 2011—Jackson Scarlett Wraps It Up

"No man knows what he will do when driven by hunger." Falsely attributed to Alexander Pearce—so called "cannibal convict" of Tasmania and subject of his own 2008 DTV shocker Dying Breed—this epigram could easily have been spoken of devoted fans of Another Hole In The Head ("Holehead"), San Francisco's annual indie horror / sci-fi / fantasy feast. Genre fans, driven, insatiable, and hungry for gore, consume any and all offerings shoveled their way—a casualty of their insatiable hunger being that, like the cannibal convict, they seldom remember the name of their last meal.

Doubtless the most complete film at HoleHead this year was Mike Flanagan's dread-centric character drama Absentia, singled out for a
Variety review by prolific SF critic Dennis Harvey (serving a much–needed role as the festival's unofficial cheerleader this year). Callie, an ex-addict in recovery from an unspecified drug, comes to visit her sister Tricia at her Glendale home, where she is preparing to finally declare her husband Daniel "dead in absentia" a long seven years after his disappearance. In Daniel's absence, Tricia's life has moved on, her bills have piled up, and she's become involved with the local detective charged with upkeep on her husband's case. What appears to be largely a clerical matter turns out to be much graver when Daniel begins to appear in horrifying visions and finally re-emerges in the real world, shocked into near-catatonia by his ordeal.

As details emerge we learn that Daniel has been kept by a creature in a world "underneath" our world, released not as a response to Tricia's declaration but as a consequence of a trade accidentally initiated by Callie at the mouth of the pedestrian underpass in which "it" resides. In the course of uncovering the history of the creature, Flanagan can't help but include a few trite shots of aging police reports and newspaper articles and a brief rant about the bible and the existence of other dimensions, but he quickly course corrects, and smartly wraps these in favor of a well-acted (and dismayingly believable) character drama.

What differentiates
Absentia from similar fare, apart from its low incidence of creature effects, is that it dares to dwell on the way real humans rationalize the supernatural—not by begrudgingly admitting its existence, but by rationalizing it as the most farfetched of a number of much more plausible possibilities. Ultimately, Absentia declares, there is no way we can ever assent to the truth of the supernatural, as admitting its existence would draw us into it—as it does Callie—and ultimately destroying our connection to reality. It's a complex idea, but not necessarily one that guarantees traction with the crowd who enjoy the genre for its more hoary, gory conventions. Absentia sits comfortably between character driven sci-fi like Donnie Darko and the more abstract, earthbound horrors of Japanese director Kiyoshi Kurosawa (Cure, Doppelganger). Taken together with his intriguing, one-bright-room horror short Oculus, Flanagan is emerging as a promising genre director with a unique vision of horror.

Having been introduced to both Borowczyk's
The Beast and John Boorman's Zardoz at HoleHead back in 2006, I anticipated the unearthing of at least one minor classic in 2011. The fest befuddled my expectations, screening The Book, a no-budget sci-fi puzzler appearing to be a cult discovery from the genre's boom times in the 70s, but actually completed only last year. The plot of The Book is a bit of an artifact in itself: seeking to spread their influence through a forged manuscript, aliens kidnap and replace a prominent author and his family. It's simple, but spacious enough to accommodate depthy (and faux-depthy) interior monologues about the nature of writing, fame, and the nature of being human—all added, according to its director, "Ø", after the filming was complete.

Somehow appearing to pre-date its influences,
The Book toasts the classics. In grand outdoor post-apocalyptic scenes, it glimpses Fellini's Satyricon, its denouement echoes the home invasion scenes of A Clockwork Orange (perhaps due in part to its cast of professional stage actors), Fassbinder's recently screened World On A Wire and a hundred others twinkle in its dated and glamorous futurism. The sets and effects are kitsch and charming—an apartment festooned with colored cellophane and tinfoil, baffling food stolen from the tables of Terry Gilliam's Brazil, and re-contextualized local color, most notably Frank Lloyd Wright's turquoise biomorph, the Marin Civic Center. The Book is goofy and endearing, but not quite dopey or camp enough to carry instant cult potential, which is a shame, as it's as enjoyable as anything in Ed Wood's canon, a bit more meaningful and much more intelligent.

Though not as strong as The Book, HoleHead deserves recognition for its broad selection of SF entries this year, the best of which was Red Ice, which manages to be very smart and very San Francisco, and by this I mean that it features a transsexual succubus, a crack-smoking flautist, and a campily sycophantic Asian demon-monger. The Craving echoes its SF setting similarly, toasting local foodie culture with the tale of a lesbian chef with a discerning palate for human flesh. Apocrypha, recasting the now-weathered vampire narrative as a personality conflict heavy with SF locales and refs and Breath of Hate, buoyed the savage charisma of longtime character-villain Ezra Buzzington and bizarrely watchable Jason Mewes, both perform well but fall outside the mark.

Cross-published on Twitch.

FRAMELINE35 2011—Michael Hawley's Documentary Capsule Reviews

As mentioned in my previous entry, the 35th anniversary edition of the Frameline SF International LGBT Film Festival launched Thursday, June 16 and runs right up through Gay Pride Day on Sunday, June 26. Along with the eight narrative features previously reviewed, in addition I've had the chance to preview six documentaries. All were seen on DVD screener and, where applicable, I've noted any special guests that are expected to attend the screenings.

Angel (France, dir. Sebastiano d'Ayala Valva)—A South American boxer turned Parisian transsexual prostitute makes a poignant journey home in this fascinating and affecting documentary that's among the best I've seen this year. We first meet the soft spoken, but physically imposing Angel in Paris, where he's lived and worked for five years. After receiving French residency papers that allow him to travel abroad, this strictly observational documentary follows Angel home to Guayaquil, Ecuador where he's anxious to see what's become of the hard-earned money he's been sending home.

Once the initial joy of the reunion wears off—his grateful family sings his praises and the women are fascinated by his breasts—a disillusioned Angel realizes that his largesse has largely been squandered. Only a brother he put through police academy has made good. He then travels to the seaside village of his father and is disappointed by another set of relatives he's supporting. The final straw comes when Angel inspects the house he's paying to have built for his retirement, only to find that construction has barely begun. Before returning to France, the film stops in the capital city of Quito, where Angel once lived and worked. Here we're shown another side of Angel: that of a courageous LGBT activist who was mightily feared by the police. A "one year later" epilogue finds him living in Marseilles, newly determined to consider his own wellbeing.

Hit So Hard (USA, dir. P. David Ebersole)—This fine doc about Patty Schemel is an absolute must-see for fans of Courtney Love's band Hole, and worthwhile for anyone with an interest in women rockers, queer rockers, grunge rockers or queer women grunge rockers. Schemel was one of the latter, playing drums during Hole's drug and alcohol-fueled heyday between 1992 and 1998. She famously came out to Rolling Stone in 1995. While this film doesn't emphasize her lesbianism, it doesn't soft-peddle it either.

Fortunately for us, Schemel was a prolific videographer and her footage documents an era. Most notable are delightful home movies of Love, Kurt Cobain and baby Frances Bean, with whom Schemel lived in 1992. We learn that she left a job at Microsoft to play rock and roll, prefers drumming while barefoot and her favorite movie is
The Man with the Golden Arm (starring Frank Sinatra as … a junkie drummer!). Hit So Hard's emotional highpoint is the heartbreaking story of how Schemel came not to play on Hole's 1998 album "Celebrity Skin," resulting in a tailspin she barely pulled herself out of. Schemel is fine today. She still plays music, owns a dog-walking business and will be at the Frameline screening with her partner Christina Soletti and director Ebersole.

Becoming Chaz (USA, dir. Fenton Bailey, Randy Barbato)—After spending 10 unhappy years as a painkiller-addicted, video-gaming recluse, celebrity offspring Chastity Bono began a brave one-year FTM metamorphosis. This transformation has been chronicled by Bailey and Barbato, the dynamic duo of LGBT-flavored bio-docs (The Eyes of Tammy Faye). It's a year marked by "top-surgery" (i.e., breast removal), dealing with the media and daily testosterone injections. The latter brings about changes not welcomed by Bono's lesbian partner Jennifer Elia, a recovering alcoholic who receives nearly equal screen time. The ups and downs of their loving, but contentious relationship occasionally drag the film into TMI territory.

The film's real value lies in the education on transgender and FTM issues it provides. One noteworthy segment focuses on Bono's heart-rending involvement with Transforming Family. We follow him to a transgender convention and learn why most FTMs opt not to have "bottom surgery." There's also plenty about his parentage, particularly the guarded reactions of a megastar mom. In one inspired sequence, a vintage clip of Sonny performing his 1965 hit "Laugh at Me," is edited with cruel shock-jock reactions to Chaz' transition. The film's only real low is its cheesy, "inspirational" music score, which no doubt pleased Oprah Channel viewers (where the film had its small-screen premiere last month). Bono, Elia and co-director Barbato will be in the house for this screening.

Tales of the Waria (Indonesia, dir. Kathy Huang)—In this intriguing documentary we're presented with four portraits of transgenders living on Indonesia's Sulawesi island. Waria is a combination of the words wanita (woman) and pria (man), and in pre-Muslim times they were trusted caretakers of the king. None desire sex-change operations, believing they were created as men and must ultimately return to God as men. The most compelling story is that of Mama Ria, a waria in her fifties who has been a policeman's second wife for 18 years. One memorable scene shows her strolling arm in arm with the first wife during a family outing at a water park. Over the course of the film we sadly watch her marriage come to an end, despite recent plastic surgery to improve her looks. The other warias are Suharni, a hairdresser who leaves her boyfriend to earn money in Bali; Agus, a husband and father who struggles with the desire to return to the waria way of life; and Tiara, an exuberant showgirl and beauty pageant trainer. (Seen and reviewed for the SF International Asian American Film Festival.)

The Advocate for Fagdom (France, dir. Angélique Bosio)—I've been a fan of Canadian provocateur Bruce La Bruce ever since No Skin Off My Ass singed my brain at Frameline almost 20 years ago. This new doc gave me a much needed refresher course. It'll also work well as a primer for newcomers to Mr. La B's cinema of queer punk aesthetics, revolutionary politics, hardcore sex and boredom. Things kick off with etymologic musings on the La Bruce name (a 1930's gay arsonist?!), moving on to his early years as a 'zine-ster and cable TV talk show hostess. All of his films get touched upon with judicious clips and weigh-ins from the likes of Gus Van Sant, Harmony Korine and ever eloquent John Waters. (Is it truly a documentary these days if Waters doesn't appear in it?) We're given peeks into La Bruce's personal life; a visit to his family's farm, an interview with his Cuban refugee husband. The doc ends with a stimulating discussion of his filmic use of hardcore sex—he was one of the first and is still one of the few. While not officially listed as an expected guest for this screening, La Bruce is scheduled to appear the following night for his latest outrage, L.A. Zombie. I'd be surprised if he didn't show up for this as well.

Cho Dependent (USA, dir. Lorene Machado)—The appeal of this straight-up, no frills concert film— miscategorized by Frameline as a narrative feature—will depend entirely on whether you think Margaret Cho is funny. More often than not, I do. Filmed in Atlanta, our SF homegirl riffs on her Dancing with the Stars stint ("I had the most pronounced camel toe"), Steven Slater ("the Nelson Mandela of flight attendants") and the supremacy of gaydom ("If you're a gay man, you're probably near the end of your reincarnation cycle"). Some routines about bodily functions drone on and on. The title comes from Cho's Grammy-nominated album of comic songs, several of which she performs here. A C&W number reveals an impressive singing voice and a rap ("My Puss") delivered with her mother's unmistakable inflection is a scream. Due to a scheduling conflict, Cho will not be at the screening to receive the Frameline Award being bestowed upon her this year. Director Lorene Machado, however, will be on hand.

Cross-published on film-415 and Twitch.

Monday, June 20, 2011

FRAMELINE35 2011—Michael Hawley's Narrative Feature Capsule Reviews

The 35th anniversary edition of the Frameline SF International LGBT Film Festival launched on Thursday, June 16 and continues right up through Gay Pride Day on Sunday, June 26. I've had the chance to preview 14 films from the line-up: the eight narrative features below and six documentaries I've placed in a separate entry. All were seen on DVD screener and where applicable I've noted any special guests that are expected to attend the screenings.

These 14 capsule reviews represent only a fraction of the 80 feature films Frameline will show this year, so if you haven't already done so, check out my extensive overview of the line-up. Films I look forward to seeing during the festival itself include
Absent, Old Cats, Madame X, The Mouth of the Wolf, Miwa: A Japanese Icon, Daniel Schmid—Le chat qui pense, Shut Up Little Man! An Audio Adventure and The Queen Has No Crown. Finally, in a year when the sheer number of transgender films warranted a special Transgender Film Focus in the festival, it was interesting to note that both my favorite narrative feature (Tomboy) and my favorite documentary (Angel) each explore transgender themes.

Tomboy (France, dir. Céline Sciamma)—It's the summer before 4th grade and Laure's family has moved to a new town. When a potential playmate mistakes her for a boy, athletic Laure plays along and becomes Mikael to all the neighborhood kids—a charade that's kept hidden from her parents until just before the start of school. This complex and intelligent tale about gender identity won a jury prize at this year's Berlin Film Festival and it's now one of my favorite films of the year. Writer/director Sciamma has fashioned a heartfelt, matter-of-fact look at a difficult subject without a single dramatic false note or emotional misstep. Her job was no doubt made easier by actress Zoé Héran, on whose young face we can already read the anxiety of being trapped in the wrong body and the exhilaration of being temporarily freed from it.

Weekend (UK, dir. Andrew Haigh)—Two British gay men hook up on a Friday night—one a reserved, semi-closeted lifeguard and the other an art gallery worker who pushes his sexuality in people's faces. Over the course of 48 hours fueled by alcohol, drugs, sex and a lot of talking, the pair forges the kind of accelerated intimacy that would seem the sole province of gay men. In this remarkable narrative feature debut, director Haigh conveys in small steps how it's possible for two different and imperfect people to move toward something better than themselves. And far from being the claustrophobic two-hander I expected, the film wisely takes time to open up and observe our protagonists interacting with the outside world. Haigh, whose hustler documentary Greek Pete was a highlight of Frameline33, is expected to be present at Weekend's screening.

Leave It on the Floor (USA, dir. Sheldon Larry)—The world of urban ballroom culture depicted in Jennie Livingston's 1991 documentary Paris is Burning—think voguing, throwing shade and schoolboy realness—is given the full-blown movie musical treatment in this ambitious contempo L.A. updating. Our enrée into this milieu is Brad, a gay teen who leaves home and finds acceptance and mucho d-r-a-m-a living in the House of Eminence, a commune of competitive drag queen castaways ruled by the no-nonsense Queef Latina. The songs, which range from hyper-choreographed production numbers (the show-stopping "Justin's Gonna Call") to aching ballads ("It's Just Black Love") mostly do what songs in a musical should do—amplify emotions and propel the story forward. I have a feeling this will be the uproarious screening of Frameline35, given its vibe and prime Friday night slot during Pride weekend. The film's director and four of its actors will be there as well.

L.A. Zombie (USA/France/Germany, dir. Bruce La Bruce)—Ghoul-ed out French porn star François Sagat wanders a desolate urban landscape and screws the marginalized dead back to life with his big, prosthetic zombie dick. The grand surprise is that all this is quite touching, silly and disgusting in equal measure. There's no dialogue to speak of—unusual for La Bruce, a director known for characters that rarely stop yammering. The resulting aural void gets filled by ambient sound and an effective electro/classical score. Working with longtime DP James Carman, this is La Bruce's most visually accomplished film to date and much of their color-heightened imagery is haunting and gorgeous. Still, I missed the politics, snotty humor and raggedness of the provocateur's previous work. Monsieur La Bruce, a longtime Frameline habitué, is scheduled to attend the screening.

A Few Days of Respite (Algeria/France, dir. Amor Hakkar)—Moshen and Hassan are cross-generational gay lovers fleeing Iran. En route to Paris they get waylaid in a French village where the older Moshen becomes fatefully entangled with a lonely widow. Oddly, the men are given no backstory and speak to each other in French instead of Farsi. Events which might have played out believably over the course of a week's time raise red flags of implausibility when crammed into the narrative's two-day time frame. Still, the story is not uninteresting and the film manages a quiet grace despite the clunkiness. And there's certainly no faulting its humanist intentions. Performances are solid, with Samir Guesmi, a French-Arab actor seen in recent films by Rachid Bouchareb and Arnaud Desplechin playing younger Hassan and director Hakkar taking on the role of Moshen.

Three (Germany, dir. Tom Tykwer)—A shaggy art engineer says farewell to his "deterministic understanding of biology" when he embarks on an affair with a rugged bisexual stem cell researcher in Tom Tykwer's (Run Lola Run) first German language film in 10 years. Complicating matters is the researcher's simultaneous fling with a tightly-wound talk show hostess who has been the engineer's romantic partner for 20 years. No one knows that the other two sides of the triangle are getting it on. Throw in multiple split-screens, graphic testicular surgery, metaphysical goings-on, interpretive dance and athletic camera movements and it all adds up to something fairly uneven and incohesive upon first viewing—especially on DVD screener. Tykwer, a multi-level operator and strong visualist, certainly deserves the big screen experience for which the Castro Theatre is so well suited.

Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same (USA dir. Madeleine Olinek)—Frameline35's best-titled flick is a potentially terrific short stretched into a feature-length film of modest appeal. At its heart is the relationship between a dowdy stationary store worker and an intergalactic gal who's been sent to earth to have her heart broken. Parallel stories of two fellow femme space travelers go underdeveloped and a painful subplot about private detectives repeatedly grinds the film to a halt. At its best, CLSASS possesses a sweet charm, nifty low-fi art direction and some genuine chuckles. Director Olinek and three of the film's actors plan to attend the screening.

Kawa (New Zealand, dir. Katie Wolfe)—A handsome, well-to-do Maori husband and father struggles with coming out just as he's about to assume leadership of the family clan in this adaptation of Witi Ihimaera's (Whale Rider) semi-autobiographical novel, "Nights in the Garden of Spain." While it features several effective performances, the rote direction and stiltedly earnest script are the stuff of low-end cable TV dramas. (The saintly wife reacts to news of her husband's homosexuality by running to the bathroom and throwing up). I can recommend this as having some cultural interest—but barely. Author Ihimaera is expected to attend the screening.

Cross-published on film-415 and Twitch.

Sunday, June 19, 2011



A Strandful at Frameline31 (06/08/07)


Cinemachismo, Sergio de la Mora (02/27/07)

A Flanders Reader (05/06/07)

Guillen's Top Five From Another Hole in the Head (05/25/07)

The Prodigy, The Roxie, Delirium, God (05/30/07)


Michael Arndt, Little Miss Sunshine (02/23/07)

Once Again—A Date With Carney, Hansard, and Irglova (06/01/07)

Dennis Nyback and Bad Bugs Bunny (06/06/07)

Michael Winterbottom's A Mighty Heart (06/18/07)

Marc Huestis on the Runway (07/30/07)

A Mighty Wurlitzer Player: Edward Millington Stout III (08/01/07)

Jeffrey Blitz and Reece Thompson on Rocket Science (08/08/07)

Alex Rivera, Sleep Dealer (05/14/08)

Ruby Yang on A Double Life (06/23/08)

Lance Hammer on Beauty and Ballast (10/17/08)

Sean Uyehara On the S.F. International Animation Festival (11/10/08)

The Sad Dance of Tony Manero: Pablo Larraín (09/09/09)

Michael House's Translation of Tati at YBCA (01/17/10)

Gifts My Mother Gave Me (05/08/11)

New Era Takes Hold at the Roxie: Christopher & Kate Statton (05/31/11)


Belatedly, though no less enthusiastically, I announce the SF360 publication of my conversation with Christopher and Kate Statton, the husband-and-wife co-directors of San Francisco's legendary Roxie Theater.

With one foot in Boise, and the other still in San Francisco, I'm especially grateful for the opportunity to continue working with Susie Gerhard and her team. To celebrate our ongoing collaboration, I'll take the opportunity of the publication of the Statton conversation to draft an index of my work with