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Arty Horror Films, Spiders From Mars, & Other Offbeat Movies Coming to the Bay

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August may be the month of summer’s dog days.  Lazing in the sun may seem preferable to being in a darkened theater.  But some of the offbeat films coming in the next few weeks might very well inspire re-thinking of that position.  The coming weeks sees a drag queen pageant from 1967, a chance to relive the joys of a roadshow movie screening, a really bloody revenge tale, and a cinematic antidote to anti-Iranian poison.

July 25

For A Winter: Remembering Jonathan Schwartz–SF Cinematheque and Canyon Cinema pays tribute to an avant garde filmmaker who passed away far too soon.  Using 16mm and digital video, Jonathan Schwartz created emotionally insightful portraits of friends and family drawing on everything from travelogues to literary allusions.  This memorial presentation of Schwartz’ work sees the late artist reflect on such topics as his personal life as well as his concerns about aging and mortality. (Yerba Buena Center For The Arts)

July 27

The Harder They Come–Your cinematic gateway drug to the joys of reggae music.  Such fantastic reggae songs as “You Can Get It If You Really Want,” “Sitting In Limbo,” and “The Harder They Come” pepper the soundtrack.  The plot may be the classic “country boy comes to big city to try becoming a star in the corrupt music business.” But let’s just say the path to fame for aspiring musician Ivan (played by reggae star Jimmy Cliff) won’t get him invited to any Blue Lives Matter parties ever.  (Pacific Film Archive)

Queen Of Diamonds–Radical feminist director Nina Menkes’ second film gets a 4K restoration.   Las Vegas blackjack croupier Firdaus lives an alienated life. Between shifts, she wanders the city’s outskirts, which are far from the usual Las Vegas neon images of excess sold to tourists.  Her next door neighbor beats his wife. Strange men treat her solitude as an invitation to try to eventually get into her panties. Helping the croupier survive her generally silent life is her diamond-like emotional core. (Roxie Theater)  

July 28

From The Neon Slime Mixtape

The Neon Slime Mixtape–Neon! Slime!  Do you feel putting these things together in a movie is like a cinematic PB&J sandwich?  Then you retro gorehounds are covered by this cinematic compilation! Primarily drawing from 1980s-1990s direct to video schlock, this film brings you killer dolls, gore-soaked demons, and weird colored lighting.  (Alamo Drafthouse)

Overwhelm The Sky–Remember when movie theaters had roadshow presentations?  Director Daniel Kremer does, and this screening of his acclaimed locally set neo-noir epic evokes that long-ago period with printed programs and musical audience cues.  Kremer’s film moves to the present day the 1799 novel Edgar Huntly, or Memoirs of a Sleepwalker.  Here, talk radio host Eddie Huntly moves from the East Coast to San Francisco to marry Thea, his best friend Neil’s sister.  But before Eddie arrives, someone has murdered Neil in Golden Gate Park, presumably during a mugging gone south. Eddie may suspect something more is involved in Neil’s death.  But how can the radio host explain waking up with bruises or weird marks on his body? The film may appear slow-going at first to some viewers, but once it gets its creative feet, watch out.  (Roxie Theatre)

July 30

Tenderness Of The Wolves–Peter Lorre’s killer character in Fritz Lang’s “M” was partly inspired by real-life serial killer Fritz Haarmann.  Ulli Lommell made his feature directorial debut dramatizing the story of Haarmann, aka the Vampire of Hanover. This serial killer used his police informant status to procure and murder two dozen boys and men in 1920s and 1930s Germany.  The “meat is murder” crowd might not appreciate being proven literally right once they see how Haarmann disposed of his victims’ corpses. (Alamo Drafthouse)

Walk All Night: A Drum Beat Journey–Chicago social worker Elilta Tewelde becomes fascinated by South Side street bucket drummers.  Her fascination leads her to come up with an ambitious plan to connect these teen drummers to their African heritage.  Crowdfunding these teens’ trip to Senegal, she would hook them up with drumming workshops from a master percussionist and his family.  Cultural differences and other problems may threaten to sink the project, but Tewelde and the teens eventually rise to the occasion. (The New Parkway)

August 2

Luz— Amazingly, this German genre (of sorts) film was done as a film studies thesis project.  Titular foul-mouthed cabdriver Luz is stuck in a German police station. Barfly Nora puts the moves on the drunken Dr. Rossini.  A mysterious criminal activity which took place in the back of Luz’s cab will bring these two storylines together. But what really links these two long separated women is an old boarding school incident.  The duo jointly conjured a demon but never sent it back. Now the supernatural creature is searching for true love by hopping from body to body. If you enjoyed being disturbed by certain films by Andrzej Zulawski or Lucio Fulci, then you’ll like this too.  (Roxie Theatre)

From The Queen

The Queen–Before “Pose,” before even “Paris Is Burning,” there was this iconic 1968 drag documentary.  In 1967 New York City, drag activist Flawless Sabrina decided to hold the Miss All-America Camp Beauty Pageant to raise money for muscular dystrophy.  Judging the participating drag queens would be a panel including Andy Warhol and Warhol actress Edie Sedgwick. The resulting chronicle of the event was shown at Cannes 1968, but it’s rarely been theatrically screened.  Now Kino Lorber aims to fix that with this 4K restoration. (Clay Theatre or Opera Plaza Cinemas)

Weekend–Loathe bourgeois culture and “comfortable” art?  Filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard has what you need with this legendary savage satire.  A Parisian couple head off on a weekend trip to the countryside in their car. Unfortunately for them, dozens of other bourgeois also having the same idea clog the roads.  When the inevitable happens, shallow upper middle-class comfort (the wife continually complains about losing an expensive handbag) winds up colliding with the richness of art and politics.  (Pacific Film Archive)

August 2 – December 21

Abbas Kiarostami: Life As Art (Pacific Film Archive)–Abbas Kiarostami is a director you should become familiar with, if you haven’t already.  The first major influential Iranian director of the post-Revolution era, his films embody the aesthetics of simplicity.  In Kiarostami’s films, a viewer can find improvisation, visual minimalism, fiction, and even an occasional documentary technique.  Yet dig beneath these films’ simple surfaces and you’ll find tremendous emotional insights. Kiarostami’s aesthetic is not easy to appreciate at first, especially if you’re accustomed to more showy ways of cinematic storytelling (i.e. Hollywood).  Guilty admission: I fell asleep watching Through The Olive Trees the first time I saw it…but then it was my first Kiarostami film and I hadn’t seen Where Is The Friend’s Home or And Life Goes On…, the preceding films in what’s known as the Koker trilogy.  Anyhow, this near-comprehensive retrospective features a mix of films already familiar to world cinema audiences (The Wind Will Carry Us, Taste Of Cherry) and unexpected rarities (A Wedding Suit, Homework).  Watching and appreciating Kiarostami’s films will be especially timely given the Trump Administration’s current efforts to demonize Iran as a country whose people need to be bombed out of existence.

August 3

From Wattstax

Wattstax–In 1972, Stax Records director Al Bell held a concert commemorating seven years since the Watts uprising.  That seven hour long concert at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum would feature such Stax talent as Carla Thomas, Johnnie Taylor, and Isaac Hayes.  Mel Stuart’s film captures the concert’s highlights and adds into the mix warm portraits of the black community. Comedian Richard Pryor provides ruefully funny commentary on such black community subjects as white police officers shooting black men.  (Pacific Film Archive)

August 3, 11, and 17

Tribute To Abbas Kiarostami (Roxie)–For viewers hesitant about making regular trips to Berkeley to catch the bigger and longer Kiarostami retrospective at the Pacific Film Archive, this shorter retrospective offers viewers a cinematic testing of the Kiarostami waters.  Included here are Kiarostami’s first feature (The Traveler), two-thirds of the Koker trilogy (Where Is The Friend’s Home?, Through The Olive Trees), and his great film about a man who impersonates a famed director (Close Up).  

August 4

Conan The Barbarian with Live Musical Accompaniment By Sleepbomb–Arnold Schwarzenegger’s sword and sorcery film gets new life breathed into it by a live soundtrack provided by drone/doom collective Sleepbomb.  The band has for years thrilled San Francisco audiences with its live film soundtracks. Now it’s Oakland’s turn to get its mind blown by a music score that the film’s original musicians probably couldn’t imagine. (The New Parkway)

August 7

Mr. Fish: Cartooning From The Deep End–If you’ve ever read the L.A. Weekly, The Nation, or truthdig.com, you’ve probably seen the cartoons of Mr. Fish.  His editorial cartoons display a satirical savagery that would cause lesser people to go pale. He characterizes his uncompromising work as a disease introducing unpopular and perverted ideas that will activate the public’s moral immune system…or not.  But now the number of media outlets willing to carry Mr. Fish’s cartoons have started shrinking. How can this cartoonist stay true to his artistic vision and raise a family at the same time? Director Pablo Bryant and subject Mr. Fish appear at the screening.  (Smith Rafael Film Center)

August 8

From Jimi Plays Berkeley

Monterey Pop/Jimi Plays Berkeley–Your Broke-Ass free screening in this round-up is this double feature showcasing the musical genius of legendary rock guitarist Jimi Hendrix.  “Monterey Pop” is the movie famed rock critic Greil Marcus called “the first great festival film.” Besides Hendrix, this amazing concert film features performances by such artists as The Who, Otis Redding, Jefferson Airplane, and Janis Joplin.  The posthumous “Jimi Plays Berkeley” came out of two May 1970 concerts Hendrix did at the Berkeley Community Theater. The late guitarist performs such classics as “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” and “Purple Haze.” (Pacific Film Archive)

Still Dreaming: Remembering Phil Solomon–The SF Cinematheque and Canyon Cinema pay tribute to avant-garde filmmaker Phil Solomon, who passed away this past April.  Solomon’s specialty was creating innovative special effects with already filmed celluloid. In his hands, everything from home movies to excerpts from 1950s “Twilight Zone” episodes got imbued with deep messages about the brevity of life.  This program will include such Solomon classics as “The Exquisite Hour” and “Twilight Psalms I & II.” (Yerba Buena Center For The Arts)

August 9

The Nightingale–Remember The Babadook?  Director Jennifer Kent’s long-awaited follow-up is finally here.  In the wilderness of 1825 Tasmania, young Irish convict Clare is serving out the last of her penal colony sentence doing menial work for the abusive Lieutenant Hawkins and his men.  One evening, a bit of bad news causes Hawkins and his troops to destroy Clare’s family before fleeing north. When colony authorities refuse to take any action, Clare hires Aborigine Billy to guide her through the wilderness and find Hawkins and his men so she can kill them.  If you have problems watching cinematic depictions of intense brutality, this film might not be for you. Everybody else, come on in. (Embarcadero Center Cinemas)

August 11

Once Upon A Time In America: Director’s Cut–Get ready to see a version of Sergio Leone’s last epic closer to what he intended.  Yes, the film’s close to 4 ¼ hours long. But it’s a Leone epic, so deal. The skinny:  Robert De Niro and James Woods start out as lifelong pals rising through the underworld ranks.  But as they become crime kingpins, their friendship unravels in death and corruption. The 22 minutes of new (if lower visual quality) footage give cast members Elizabeth Mc Govern, Treat Williams, and Louise Fletcher opportunities to shine.  (Alamo Drafthouse)

August 13

From Caged Heat

Caged Heat–Jonathan Demme made his feature directing debut with his take on that old pulp fiction standby, the women in prison melodrama.  The plot may check a number of genre boxes: petty criminal, sadistic warden (played by Barbara Steele), fights with female inmates (of course), and really nasty staff.  But the fun comes from learning that ex-Velvet Underground member John Cale composed the blues-like score, that the cinematographer is Demme’s eventual repeat collaborator Tak Fujimoto, and that the story’s plot throws in a few curve balls. (Alamo Drafthouse)

August 15

A Reflection Of Fear–Apparently paranoiac teenager Marguerite lives in an isolated Eastern Canadian mansion with her mother and maternal grandmother.  The girl’s desire to reconnect with her estranged writer father Michael gets supported by him. However signs soon arise that Michael and Marguerite’s father-daughter relationship has a strong carnal and incestuous element to it.  And then the teen girl starts enjoying letting her violent freak flag fly… (SFMOMA)

Microcosmic Cinema: A Benefit For Canyon Cinema–For over 50 years, Canyon Cinema has distributed and promoted avant-garde and experimental cinema to everything from film festivals to micro-cinemas.  However, this Bay Area treasure needs money to pursue such efforts as making digitizing and preservation resources available to their filmmakers as well as helping people research the films in their collection.  Help this good local cause. (Balboa Theatre)

August 16

Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars–Showcasing a film featuring the late David Bowie is always the right answer.  This 1971 concert film captures Bowie at a point where his music career has been revived after his adoption of the rock star persona of Ziggy Stardust.  For the final performance of the Spiders, Bowie and band got D.A. Pennebaker to record the concert. The results would be the mirror opposite of “Monterey Pop”’s optimistic ethos.  (Pacific Film Archive

August 17

beDevil— Acclaimed Australian aboriginal artist Tracey Moffatt offers three short stories about spirits bound to the places of their deaths.  “Mr. Chuck” involves an indigenous boy haunted by the ghost of an American GI who drowned in the local swamp. Now a bunch of white settlers are trying to build a movie theater on top of the swamp.  In “Choo Choo Choo Choo,” Ruby’s Queensland family is haunted by the sounds of invisible trains running on the track beside their house. The ghostly presence of a girl killed by a train drives the family away.  But years later, Ruby returns to Queensland to find the spectral girl. The ghosts in “Lovin’ The Spin I’m In” were a pair of lovers who fled to a north Queensland town to escape a community that opposed their marriage.  However, when the lovers die, their spirits refuse to leave the condemned warehouse they constantly dance on. Moffatt’s storytelling style draws from several creative sources including the films of Nicholas Roeg and Masaki Kobayashi’s Kwaidan.  (SFMOMA)

August 18

From I Will Buy You

I Will Buy You–Director Masaki Kobayashi shows that even in a culturally revered sport, corruption and ruthlessness can be easily found.   Kishimoto is a ruthless baseball team scout for whom nothing is off limits. His newest target is up-and-coming college baseball player Kurita.  He hopes to sign the lad up to major-league team the Toyo Flowers. But this film rejects nobility of sport tropes to focus on the incredibly aggressive efforts of people like Kishimoto to get what they want.  (Pacific Film Archive)

Longing for a dream: Black Surrealism And Terrors—Roxie staffer Semaj curated this collection of three rare short films looking at black life through a lens of oppressiveness and eeriness.  In Zeinabu Irene Davis’ “Cycles,” a woman awaiting her overdue period performs African-based rites of purification. Garrett Bradley’s “ America” challenges the idea of black cinema as either a wave or a slow moment in time.  Finally, a dream grown out of the television image of Angela Davis in handcuffs led director Hallie Gerayma to create “Child Of Resistance.” The film follows in abstract terms the dreams and fears of a woman imprisoned for her social justice work. (Roxie Theatre)

August 20

Evil Dead 2: The 4K Restoration–Sam Raimi created one of the great horror films with the first “Evil Dead.”  For the sequel, he decided to go utterly gonzo with this film by both parodying its predecessor and serving as a sequel.  Bruce Campbell returns as Ash. There is also a possessed cabin in the woods. But Raimi and co-writer Scott Spiegel add into the mix chainsaws as hands, rooms filling up with blood, and the spirits of both “Looney Tunes” and “The Three Stooges.”  (Alamo Drafthouse)

August 21

Sun Ra: Space Is The Place–Get a dose of 1970s-style Afro-futurism with this film starring the Bay Area free jazz legends Sun Ra and his Arkestra.  After disappearing for several years, Ra returns to Earth to use his music to help resettle black people in a utopian colony on another planet.  However, he has to fight community cynicism from the local black youth. Also complicating Ra’s mission are the evil designs of the overlord known as The Overseer and nasty NASA scientists who want Ra’s space travel secrets. (Alamo Drafthouse)     

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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.