Weird-Ass Movies Playin’ in the Bay

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For cinema multiplex goers in Anywhereville, USA, the arrival of June means the coming of the newest summer superhero tentpole movies and animation franchises’ newest installments.  But for broad-minded San Francisco Bay Area filmgoers, June means a chance to see films that sometimes have few qualms cranking their wildness up to 11. In the next few weeks, viewers can see the woman who made the 1960s New York art underground happen, an anthropological experiment at sea that really went off the rails, cloned soccer players and giant puppies, and a horror tale that might make you swear off summer festivals.

June 14

5B–In 1983, Ward 5B of San Francisco General Hospital became the US’ first hospital ward dedicated to treating AIDS patients.  Surviving SFGH doctors, nurses, and staff recount the history of the ward’s creation and their daily struggles to serve their patients.  The film offers an often touching oral history of one aspect of the early days of the AIDS crisis in the SF Bay Area. (AMC Metreon 16 and CineArts Empire 3)

Barbara Rubin And The Exploding NY Underground–Never heard of Barbara Rubin?  You should, especially if you admired the 1960s New York City art scene.  Her groundbreaking art-porn short film “Christmas On Earth” (Original title: “Cocks And Cunts”) turned explicit sexual images into cinematic art.  She introduced Andy Warhol to the Velvet Underground and Bob Dylan to Kabbalah. This documentary draws from both Rubin’s own letters and films as well as footage of Rubin shot by legendary underground film champion Jonas Mekas.  “Christmas On Earth” will be screened after the documentary’s June 14 and 15 screenings. Fun fact: Rubin’s short was shot in the apartment where the Velvet Underground classic “All Tomorrow’s Parties” was first recorded. (Roxie Theatre)

Framing John Delorean–Fresh off its DocFest debut comes this film about the brilliant yet controversial automaker.  Was DeLorean a brilliantly inventive visionary? Was he a sleek con artist? Was he the world’s worst father?  Filmmakers Don Argott and Sheena M. Joyce confront these questions while also facing the difficulties of accurately capturing the life of a man whose existence seemed to defy biographical treatment. (Clay Theatre)

June 14-16

Hecho En Mexico–Need to see images of Mexican life that aren’t filtered through Trump’s racist lens?  Then make time for the second edition of this film series. These half-a-dozen new Mexican documentaries include: an award-winning portrait of famed Mexican rapper Tankeone, made by the rapper’s sister (M.); a quirky bromance between two fishermen who live on a solitary Baja California beach, a movie cited by Film Comment as one of 2018’s best undistributed films (A Wild Stream); and a Chiapas-based teacher whose educational practices emphasize curiosity and love of the outside world, also an award winner.  (The Sower).   (Roxie Theatre)

June 14-27

Asian Masters Double Feature Series–This two week film series brings together double features of films from five acclaimed Asian directors:  Hong Sang-soo, King Hu, Akira Kurosawa, Yasujiro Ozu, and Ryusuke Hamaguchi. Such familiar cinema classics as “Rashomon” and “A Touch Of Zen” will be in this series.  But the real draw is a chance to see new films from Hong (“Grass” and “Hotel By The River”) as well as Hamaguchi’s “Asako I & II,” a highlight of this year’s SFFILM Festival.  (4-Star Theatre)

June 18

A Return To Salem’s Lot–Call this a sequel-ish turn from recently passed horror director Larry Cohen.  Yes, this film also has a town called Salem’s Lot. Yes, the town’s also overrun with vampires.  But this film otherwise has nothing to do with Stephen King’s work in any shape or form. The fun comes from seeing Michael Moriarty’s cultural anthropologist butt heads with a cigar-chomping killer of evil things (played with scenery-chewing glee by legendary director Samuel Fuller).  (Alamo Drafthouse)

June 20

Viva 16!–Back in the 1990s, the Mission’s 16th Street corridor was a mecca for queer Latinx.  This film introduces viewers to both former bar workers and former bar patrons who frequented this corridor .  The SF Democratic Socialists of America host a screening of this cinematic trip to the Mission District’s pre-gentrification days, with directors Tina Valentin Aguirre and Augie Robles in attendance. (Artists’ Television Access)

June 20-30

Cine Manifest: A Radical 1970s Film Collective–Back in the 1970s, the Bay Area political film collective Cine Manifest immersed itself in “a social experiment” to make films that “might actually say something.”  Their credo was “People inspire people. Facts don’t.” The collective’s film projects focused on individual lives stuck at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder. This four-film series features: three short films about the life of North Dakota socialist labor organizer and poet Harry Martinson (The Prairie Trilogy), an acclaimed historical drama about North Dakota’s grassroots anti-corporate Nonpartisan League (Northern Lights), the slow unraveling of a steelworker who dreams of playing baseball for the major leagues (Over-Under, Sideways-Down), and a documentary about the history of Cine Manifest as told by the group’s former members (Cine Manifest).  Such former collective members as Rob Nilsson and Judy Irola will appear at several of the screenings.  (Pacific Film Archive)

Frameline 43–San Francisco’s premiere LGBTQ film festival returns to the Roxie Theatre, the Victoria Theatre, and the Castro Theatre among others to liven up Pride Month.  Featuring a glorious mix of powerful dramas, serious documentaries, witty comedies and even polyamorous fun, the festival has something for people looking for films where LGBT interests take center stage.  Whether it’s a modern day vampire tale starring “Supergirl”’s Nicole Maines (Bit) or an incredible gay icon as remembered by her third husband (Sid And Judy), the interested viewer is bound to find something they’ll like.  Here are ten suggestions to get you started:

*Brief Story From The Green Planet–Trans performer Tania lives in Buenos Aires with her childhood friends club kid Pedro and depressed waitress Daniela.  Their unsatisfying lives get upended when Tania’s Abuela entrusts her granddaughter with the job of returning the extraterrestrial creature who was Abuela’s companion to its home.  Tania brings her friends along on this journey through the Argentinian countryside, one that could help each of the trio find the inner strength they actually possess. Winner of the Berlin Film Festival’s Teddy Award.  

*The Daughters Of Fire–Any self-respecting LGBT film festival needs at least one film that really pushes the boundaries of sexual depiction.  Viole and Agustina are a long-term polyamorous couple who set off in their van on a road trip across Argentinian Patagonia.  At first, they’re joined by someone they meet in a bar fight. As the trio explore various sexual combinations along the way, they start picking up additional queer passengers.  Soon the van’s inhabitants are engaging in all types of kinky sex (think whips, chains, and Saran Wrap) while also putting the hurt on any awful men they encounter.

*The Garden Left Behind–Undocumented Latinx immigrant Tina scrapes by as a New York City cabdriver providing for herself and her abuela.  But Tina’s situation grows more stressful because she wants to transition, yet her doctor hasn’t signed off on the procedure.  On top of that, her romantic relationship is already on thin ice and she faces the expected legal problems associated with being undocumented.  With so many problems, how can Tina find happiness? Audience Award Winner, South By Southwest Film Festival’s Visions Section.

*The Infiltrators–In 2012, DREAMer activists Marco and Viri surrender themselves to the Florida Border Patrol, who send them to the Broward Transitional Center for eventual deportation.  But what the for-profit prison officials don’t know is that the activists wanted to be imprisoned. For Marco and Viri, with the help of outside activists including gay DREAMer Mohammad Abdollahi, plan to spring both themselves and their fellow detainees before they get deported.  But as the clock’s ticking down to deportation, the imprisoned activists find they may be in over their heads. A true story.

*Marc Huestis: Impresario Of Castro Street–Frameline co-founder Marc Huestis celebrates the release of his self-published memoir with this splashy multimedia presentation.  Over the past 45 years, Huestis’ life has been strongly tied to San Francisco’s gay history. This program features everything from his recollections of Frameline’s really early days to excerpts from his Castro Theatre celebrations of such stars as Debbie Reynolds, Rita Moreno, and John Waters.  In addition, dishy excerpts from Huestis’ book will be read by such figures as comedian/writer Bruce Vilanich and legendary local photographer Dan Nicoletta.

*Queering The Script–Meet the queer nerds.  They celebrate onscreen queer TV relationships through such things as fan conventions and fanfictions about romantic pairings real (e.g. WayHaught) and much-wished-for (e.g. Supercorp, Thasmin).  Yet these fans are more than just very active TV watchers. These fans’ very vocal presence has pushed TV shows to generate better representation of LGBTs instead of continuing to perpetuate such harmful tropes as Bury Your Gays.

*Self-Portrait In 23 Rounds: A Chapter In David Wojnarowicz’s Life 1989-1991–In the unfortunately brief time artist David Wojnarowicz was alive, he created a body of in-your-face work that celebrated unabashed queerness and cheerfully pissed on traditional respectability.  Needless to say, his unapologetically sexy video work triggered right-wing religious fundamentalists. Two friends and collaborators of the late artist put together this collection of interviews with Wojnarowicz plus glimpses of his art to create an indelible portrait of their late friend.  

*Socrates–Sao Paulo teen Socrates’ life has gone into the toilet following his mother’s sudden death.  Despite being hardworking and dependable, he faces both mounting debts and the threat of forced relocation to a youth home.  The teen’s being forced to grow up fast. But can he also juggle in the mix his steamy romance with an older boy? An electrifying debut that earned director Alexandre Moratto a Somebody To Watch Award at the Film Independent Spirit Awards.

*This Close: Season 2–Get a sneak preview of the first three episodes from the new season of this Sundance Now show.  This acclaimed queer dramedy is set in the Deaf and hard-of-hearing community. Michael and Kate are deaf friends who fall in love with, and sometimes fight over, incredibly cute boys.  But the duo also bond over their common struggle with casual discrimination against the hard-of-hearing and their desires for satisfying careers.

*This Is Not Berlin–Best friends Carlos and Gera are Mexico City teens bored with their middle-class existence.  Accompanying Gera’s feminist anarchist sister Rita to an underground gay club for her synth band’s newest performance changes the boys’ lives.  The duo soon become involved in everything from pansexual experimentation to naked art protests as they attempt to forge their own life paths in 1986 Mexico.

June 21

The Raft–In 1973, an international crew of six women and five men set out on a cross-Atlantic trip from Spain to Mexico.  Their means of transportation: a raft called the Acali, which put the crew members in very close quarters.  The voyage was the brainchild of a Mexican anthropologist named Santiago Genoves.  The crew would be the subjects of Genoves’ study into the origins and erotics of violent conflict.  Needless to say, over the 101 days that the Acali was afloat, Genoves’ study did not quite go as planned.  Now the surviving members of that trip talk about what happened and why. (Alamo Drafthouse)

June 22

Another Dawn–Part of the Pacific Film Archive’s Julio Bracho film series, this film puts a revolutionary spin on the film noir genre.  The great Pedro Armendariz plays a union organizer on the run from government goons. He’s being pursued through Mexico City’s back streets because he possesses papers which could bring down the government.  His situation worsens when he runs into an ex-flame unhappily married to an old chum. (Pacific Film Archive)

Be Natural: The Untold Story Of Alice Guy-Blache–French filmmaker Alice Guy-Blache set a number of early cinematic milestones.  She was the first female filmmaker. At age 23, Guy-Blache would make one of the first narrative films ever.  She can also be credited with making the earliest known surviving narrative film with an all-black cast. Over the course of her professional career, Guy-Blache would have a hand in creating 1,000 films, including 150 synchronized sound films during the so-called silent movie era.  This documentary recounts her amazing career. (Roxie Theatre)

June 25

Piranha–Joe Dante first showcased his ability to blend comedy with gore in this notorious piss-take on “Jaws.”  Jerkwads skinny-dipping in a pool near a secret government testing facility accidentally release a group of blood-thirsty mutoid fish.  The finny predators soon escape to a small town’s lake, where it’s up to a drunk-ass scientist and a go-getter detective to stop these underwater people chompers.  If your life’s been missing an adults-only “Jaws” parody made by a collaboration between “the creators of Mad Magazine…and Herschell Gordon Lewis,” look no further. (Alamo Drafthouse)

June 27

Remembering Barbara Hammer–San Francisco Cinematheque and Canyon Cinema collaborate on a special memorial screening in honor of the recently departed pioneering lesbian feminist experimental filmmaker Barbara Hammer.  Her film work used such culturally taboo subjects as female sexual pleasure and menstruation to create a new space for artistic representation of women’s sensibilities. Details on the screening TBA. (Yerba Buena Center For The Arts)

June 28

Diamantino–Tired of the staleness of summer’s superhero movies, action thrillers, animated pablum, and yet another romantic comedy?  Then you need to watch this demented 21st century fairy tale. Diamantino is a child-like soccer prodigy (with more than a passing resemblance to Cristiano Ronaldo) trying to bounce back from a devastating World Cup loss.  However, the Mozambican refugee he adopts turns out to be a Portuguese lesbian undercover agent looking into a money-laundering operation run by Diamantino’s evil twin sisters. Add to the mix a mad scientist who plans to create a clone soccer team of Diamantinos to “Make Portugal Great Again” and a litter of double-decker bus-sized Pekingnese puppies, and you’ve got just the basic set-up for a film that gets crazier from there.  (Opera Plaza Cinemas)  

Three By Kenneth Anger–Part of the “It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll” film series, this program brings together three short films by the legendary avant-garde filmmaker.  The Anger classic “Scorpio Rising” will be shown as well as “Rabbit’s Moon” and “Inauguration Of The Pleasure Dome.” See how the pairing of Anger’s images with music ranging from doo-wop to songs from the likes of Ricky Nelson and the Electric Light Orchestra cause you to look at this music differently.  We’ll let more knowledgeable people decide whether Anger’s films were the creative precursors to the music video.  (Pacific Film Archive)

Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am–Toni Morrison’s grandfather taught her that “words have power.”  She would gain hands-on experience with that lesson as both a writer and an editor.  Not only would Morrison eventually write such groundbreaking books as “Song Of Solomon” and “Beloved,” but she would help other female African-American writers learn to develop their own literary voices.  This cinematic biography of Morrison, centered by an extended interview with the writer, shows the incredible life and spirit of a woman who reshaped the American literary canon. (Albany Twin, AMC Kabuki 8, Embarcadero Center Cinemas)

June 29

Authentically Us–Ever wonder what it’s like to try to live free and equal as a transgender person?  Frameline presents this documentary series, which takes viewers into the lives of three transgender people from the Pacific Northwest fighting to make their communities safer for all.  What makes this series truly immersive is that it’s presented in virtual reality. Yes, this screening is admittedly part of the Frameline Film Festival. However, Broke-Ass readers might like this particular screening and entrance to the venue…because they’re both Free.  (De Young Museum)   

July 2

Midsommar–Loved getting freaked out by director Ari Aster’s “Hereditary?”  Then you need to see this follow-up film, which features the actor who plays “The Good Place”’s Chidi.  The director has alternately described the new film as “Scandinavian folk horror” and a “‘Wizard of Oz’ for perverts.”  The film’s setting is a mid-summer festival held in a rural Scandinavian town. A bear with exposed intestines happens to be one of the festival sights.  Other than that, no spoilers here. (Alamo Drafthouse)

July 3

You And Me–Part of the film series “Fritz Lang’s America,” this film shows that besides science fiction and crime dramas, director Fritz Lang could also do musical comedy.  Then again, the songs here are written by legendary Bertolt Brecht collaborator Kurt Weill, so the lyrics tend more towards socio-economic critique. George Raft and Sylvia Sidney play a married pair of ex-cons trying to go straight while working as department store clerks.  This familiar set-up leads to the unique denouement of Sidney mathematically proving to an audience of thugs that Crime Does Not Pay. (Pacific Film Archive)      

July 5

Paris Is Burning–Long before “Pose” and “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” there was Jennie Livingston’s classic drag documentary.  It follows over seven years a group of African and Latinx Americans navigating the ball and drag scenes of 1980s Manhattan.  Such colorful characters as Willi Ninja and Dorian Corey perform on homemade stages while dealing with everything from transphobia to the AIDS crisis.  Now Livingston’s film has been digitally restored to thrill new audiences. (Opera Plaza 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.