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Quirky & Interesting Arthouse Films Coming to the Bay Area…Including Cat Videos

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Hey, cinema adventurers!  Feel like trying something that’s crunchier or more meaty for your film diet?  Some of the Bay Area’s repertory and art house theaters have you covered. Here are some of the intriguing things coming up over the next few weeks.

May 15

Bad Black–You may have heard of Bollywood, but odds are you’ve never heard of Wakaliwood!  They’re DIY action films made in Uganda, where scrap parts, really low budgets, and love of genre filmmaking rule the day.  The plot for the “most reckless brain blast ever” is simple: To regain a stolen family heirloom from the clutches of Uganda’s most notorious gang, a mild-mannered doctor must be trained in the arts of commando vengeance.  Fortunately, the doctor’s teacher is the tough ghetto kid known as Wesley Snipes. As narrator VJ Emmie explains, “[This film] is a love story…LOVE OF ACTION!” (Alamo Drafthouse)

May 16

General Magic–Back in 1989, Marc Porat had the idea for a personal handheld computing device that would play games, take messages and notes, and even allow a user to make phone calls.  Catching the interest of Apple, a separate company called General Magic was formed to bring Porat’s idea to reality But despite the amazing talent pulled together for what would have been a prototype of the smartphone, the company crashed and burned.  This is the story of what happened and why. Both May 16 post-screening Q&As will feature director Matt Maude, producer Mike Stern, and General Magic founder Marc Porat.  The May 16 7 PM screening is At Rush. Additional screenings have been added for May 17 and May 20. (Roxie Theatre)

May 17

Carmine Street Guitars— In the late 1970s, woodworker Rick Kelly opened the titular Greenwich Village store and workshop.  At Carmine Street Guitars, he could make a living building handcrafted electric guitars using wood reclaimed from old buildings.  Kelly’s handmade custom Telecasters soon became the stuff of rock legend thanks to the unique sound his guitars produced. Director Ron Mann captures five days in the life of Kelly’s store.  During that time, appearances are made by such folks as Bill Frisell, Jim Jarmusch, Eleanor Friedberger, and Lenny Kaye. (Opera Plaza Cinemas)

The Silence Of Others— How would you feel if your police torturer happened to openly live a few blocks away from you?  That’s one of the plights faced by victims of General Franco’s 40-year Spanish dictatorship. Whether it’s finding children who were stolen at birth or relatives killed and dumped in mass graves, Franco’s victims struggle to fight a societal “pact of forgetting” the past.  Pedro Almodovar executive produced this documentary about these victims’ fight for justice, a fight that’s an object lesson for Americans against letting authoritarians act without consequences for their actions. Director Robert Bahar will have a post-screening conversation with The Guernica Group co-founder Almudena Bernabeu. (Roxie Theatre)

The Host

May 21

The Host–Bong Joon-ho’s classic monster on the loose movie partly doubles as criticism of the American relationship with South Korea. When some dangerous biochemicals get dumped by American scientists into the Han River, a 20-foot tall kid-chomping fish monster is created.  It’s up to one dysfunctional Korean family to bring the monster’s attacks to an end. (Alamo Drafthouse)

May 22

Desperate Living–John Waters’ mix of bad taste and deliberately tacky design unleashed on the unwary world the twisted community of Mortville.  Here, cruel Queen Carlotta rules with her leather daddy servants. The residents of Mortville endure forced backward wearing of clothing, surprise genital surgery, and sewer rat cuisine.  (Alamo Drafthouse)

Hyenas–The restoration of Djibril Diop Mambety’s classic adaptation of the Friedrich Durrenmatt play “The Visit” gets a San Francisco screening.  A rich woman pays a visit to her poor desert hometown and offers her entire fortune to the town’s populace. Her price is simple: the death of the man who abandoned her when she was pregnant with his child.  Mambety’s film satirizes the corruption of Senegal’s post-colonialism dreams by Western materialism. (Roxie Theatre)

May 24

The Souvenir–One of Sundance 2019’s most-buzzed about films makes its theatrical debut.  Jonna Hogg wrote and directed this cinematic memoir about a shy but ambitious film student (Honor Swinton Byrne) whose mismatched relationship with a charismatic but untrustworthy man (Tom Burke) threatens to destroy her dreams.  Tilda Swinton plays the student’s overprotective mother. (Embarcadero Center Cinemas)

CatVideoFest 2019…obvi.

May 25

CatVideoFest 2019— Missed the earlier Roxie screening of this collection of silly cat videos assembled by the guy behind “Henri, Le Chat Noir?”  Then don’t sleep on the chance to catch this encore screening with a theater filled with other lovers of funny cat antics. Part of the proceeds from the screening benefits Give Me Shelter Cat Rescue.  (Roxie Theatre)

Frantz Fanon: Black Skin White Mask–Frantz Fanon wrote two seminal studies on the psychological effects of racism on both colonized and colonizer.  Isaac Julien’s unconventional film biography weaves together events from Fanon’s eventful life, dramatizations of his tortuous inner journey, and interviews with friends and cultural critics.  Both directors Mark Nash and Isaac Julien will appear in person for a post-film discussion. (Roxie Theatre)

War And Peace–Know somebody who’s been an utter pill complaining about the length of “Avengers: Endgame?”  Challenge them to sit through the entire one-day-only San Francisco premiere of this Russian Academy Award-winner.  It’s a dazzling epic adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s classic tale of the colliding fates of three souls (good hearted Pierre, tragic Prince Andrei, and tempestuous Natasha) during the Napoleonic Wars.  Hardy types can sit through all seven hours with intermissions at the Castro Theatre screening.  Alternately, interested viewers can spend two Saturdays at the Pacific Film Archive watching the entire epic in more manageable chunks.

May 28

Re-Animator–New Miskatonic University student Herbert West is secretly working on a formula to re-animate the dead.  Unfortunately for him, other people (including an evil scientist with his army of deadites) want to get their hands on West’s formula.  The film’s been likened to the marriage of H.P. Lovecraft and Lucio Fulci. But the Italian horror master probably didn’t have a chase scene involving a re-animated dead cat. (Alamo Drafthouse)

May 29

Problem Child 2–Isn’t the ad line “‘Salo,’ but you know, for kids!” enough to perk your interest?  Fine, let’s pass over the plot blah-blah and get to the good stuff: the one-upmanship competition between titular child Junior and his rival Trixie…which involves lots of colorful bodily fluids.  Also adding to the film’s grossness quota: an M-80 in a toilet and cockroaches in salad. (Alamo Drafthouse)

May 29 – June 15

17th San Francisco Documentary Film Festival –We’ll have more on this later.  For now, it can be said this festival put on by the folks behind the S.F. Independent Film Festival offers films that often step beyond the tame boundaries observed by theatrically released documentaries.  This year’s festival includes looks at the Church of the Subgenius, a lovingly kinky master-slave relationship between a black sex educator and the composer son of Nazis, and a Communist radical with a 70,000 VHS tape archive.  (Brava Theater, Roxie Theatre)

El Desencanto

May 30

El Desencanto–Leopoldo Panero was dubbed the Poet Laureate of Francisco Franco’s Spanish dictatorship. But 12 years after the poet patriarch’s death, his surviving family members have fallen on hard times.  Director Jaime Chavarri interviewed Panero’s widow and grown sons with results that evoke “Grey Gardens.”   Needless to say, the public airing of Panero family dirty laundry as well as the corruption of the Franco regime led to public scandal as well as turning Chavarri’s film into a cult classic.  Aaron Shulman, who wrote a book about the Panero clan and “El Desencanto,” will introduce the film. (Roxie Theatre)

May 31

Bezness As Usual–Filmmaker Alex Pitstra has a mixed parentage thanks to Dutch mother Anneke and Tunisian father Mohsen.  But Pitstra’s father abandoned him and Anneke after a few years. When Mohsen contacts Pitstra, the filmmaker decides to visit his father and get to know him better.  What Pitstra doesn’t expect to learn is that his father was one of those Tunisian men who hoped to eventually migrate to Europe after starting a love affair with an European woman.  In the local parlance, Anneke and Mohsen’s marriage was a “bezness” arrangement. (Goethe Institut San Francisco)      

Woodstock: Three Days That Defined A Generation–On the 50th anniversary of the Woodstock Music Festival, directors Barak Goodman and Jamila Ephron take a documentary look back at how the festival amazingly came together.  The musical acts who perform at Woodstock prove less important here than capturing the experiences of the ordinary people who came to the concert. What those 400,000 attendees to Woodstock simply wanted in the end was finding others who shared their desire for a gentler future.  (Opera Plaza Cinemas)

June 7

The Spy Behind Home Plate—Would you believe there was a Jewish man who graduated from Princeton, had a law degree from Columbia University, spoke at least half-a-dozen languages, played for five different baseball teams…and spied for the U.S. during World War II?  It’s all true. His name was Moe Berg, and director Aviva Kempner tells the story of his incredible life. Kempner appears in person for one of the June 7 screenings. (Opera Plaza Cinemas or Clay Theatre)

Those Were the Days, Señor Don Simon!

Those Were The Days, Senor Don Simon!–This film kicks off a tribute series to Julio Bracho, one of the great directors who worked during Mexican cinema’s mid-century golden age.  This musical comedy romance is set during Mexico’s Belle Epoque. Young dashing military officer Captain Miguel becomes fascinated by an attractive young widow with questionable displays of grief.  To Miguel’s dismay, the widow marries the scheming elderly politician Don Simon. Yet despite heading the “moral improvement society,” the old man seems more interested in frequently leering at showgirls’ legs. (Pacific Film Archive)

June 7-9

Crossroads 10–Think film is only good for telling stories?  Adventurous viewers will be shown otherwise at this three-day festival of avant-garde short films put on by S.F. Cinematheque.  In ten different programs, the viewer will see filmmakers use found sounds, live performances, and even re-purposed Hollywood film trailers in totally unexpected ways.  For those ready to utterly rock their preconceptions of what can be done with the cinematic medium, this festival fills the bill. (Phyllis Wattis Theater, S.F. Museum of Modern Art)

June 9

The Eyes Of Orson Welles–Do you associate the name Orson Welles solely with “Citizen Kane” or “The Lady From Shanghai?”  Mark Cousins’ eye-opening video essay uses Welles’ own paintings and sketches to ground his thoughts on the legendary director and his work.  This documentary opens the Pacific Film Archive film series “Looking Again At Orson Welles.” And yes, “Citizen Kane” and “The Lady From Shanghai” will be shown as part of the series. (Pacific Film Archive)

June 13

Stop Making Sense: Free Outdoor Screening!–The Pacific Film Archive kicks off its “It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll” film series with the best kind of Broke-Ass screening.  The greatest rock concert film ever made! A free outdoor screening! Subjects The Talking Heads performing such hits as “Psycho Killer,” “Burning Down The House,” and “Take Me To The River!”  (Pacific Film Archive)

June 14

The Dead Don’t Die–Really? Being told offbeat director Jim Jarmusch does a zombie apocalypse movie with tongue firmly in cheek doesn’t cut it for you?  A stellar cast which includes Bill Murray, Adam Driver, and Iggy Pop doesn’t pique your interest? Yes, the plot’s pretty simple: the town of Centerville gets hit by the zombie apocalypse when the dead start rising from their graves.  But what can you say to the moment a zombie asks for chardonnay? Or discovering seeing Tilda Swinton wielding a samurai sword like a natural badass was something you didn’t know you needed? (Embarcadero Center Cinemas)

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Peter Wong

Peter Wong

I've been reviewing films for quite a few years now, principally for the online publication Beyond Chron. My search for unique cinematic experiences and genre dips have taken me everywhere from old S.F. Chinatown movie theaters showing first-run Jackie Chan movies to the chilly slopes of Park City. Movies having cat pron instantly ping my radar.