Arts and Culture

Silents, Spliffs, Satan, And A Shadow, Film Fests in the Bay!

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Admittedly, the weekend’s opening of “Avengers: Endgame” has sucked up lots of the local filmgoing oxygen.  But for Broke-Ass readers whose cinematic tastes go beyond just big-budget superhero movies, here are some upcoming movie showings that won’t necessarily be found in your average multiplex:

April 25

L’Important C’est D’Aimer (That Most Important Thing: Love)–Polish film director Andrzej Zulawski’s films were considered too weirdly grotesque for normal art house audiences and too arty for grindhouse audiences.  Legendary actress Romy Schneider gives a Cesar Award-winning performance as Nadine, a former great actress now reduced to doing trashy B movies. Semi-scummy photographer Servais discovers how low Nadine has fallen.  Obsessed with the actress, the photographer tries to help her career by getting her to star in his production of “Richard III.” Klaus Kinski also appears to perform Shakespeare in his own unique way. (Plays at the Castro Theatre with its original French soundtrack)


April 26

Hail Satan?–Penny Lane’s newest dive into weird Americana takes viewers through the history of the Satanic Temple.  Are the members real card-carrying devil worshippers? Are they a group who mock laws supporting religious fundamentalism?  Or are they somewhere in-between? Lane follows the group as they do everything from using pitchforks to pick up litter from an adopted highway to having a performance piece that draws the Secret Service’s baleful eye.  (Plays at the Embarcadero Center Cinemas)

Tent Of Miracles–This drama/comedy will send the nearest racist jerk into a screaming fit.  That’s because central character sociologist Pedro Archanjo had a radical method for making Brazilian society more democratic.  More sexual relations between black and white Brazilians would eventually result in a Brazil free of racial divisions. Respectable Brazilians ignored Archanjo and his work until a visiting Nobel Prize winner publicly praises the forgotten scholar.  The elites hunt for a way to publicly pay lip service to the ignored sociologist while avoiding discussing his ideas. Meanwhile, poet and film director Fausto wants to crank out a biopic about Archanjo. Part of the Pacific Film Archive’s tribute to influential Brazilian director Nelson Pereira dos Santos.  

April 30

Nekromantik II–The German government condemned this horror film as too sick for public consumption.  Who could be offended by a love triangle where one of the participants is a necrophiliac and another is a recently disinterred corpse?  Beautiful Monika is sexually attracted to newly buried corpses. But when sex movie voiceover guy Mark falls in love with Monika and vice versa, the necrophiliac must choose between the living guy and the dead one (who was a character in the original “Nekromantik”).  Brought to you by those sickos at the Alamo Drafthouse.


May 1


The Visitor–Will the universe be destroyed by a demonic eight-year-old girl and her pet hawk?  Not if an intergalactic warrior and a cosmic Christ figure have anything to say about it!  The Alamo Drafthouse brings S.F. audiences the “Mount Everest Of Insane ‘70s Italian Movies,” an effort that’s “creatively inspired” by such films as “Rosemary’s Baby” and “Star Wars” (although “The Visitor” goes in its own WTF direction).  

May 1-5

San Francisco Silent Film Festival–Was the silent film with live musical accompaniment one of your favorite parts of the SFFILM Festival?  Then this annual festival of preserved silent films from around the world will be a particular treat. Among the offerings screening this year at the Castro Theatre:


L’Inferno:  This adaptation of the first part of Dante’s The Divine Comedy was the first full-length Italian silent feature film.  An early blockbuster film, its images and tableaux inspired other viewers around the world to try making their own stunning epics.


Japanese Girls At The Harbor:  In the Japanese port city of Yokohama, two childhood friends grow up and follow completely different life paths.  This film spoke to a generation of Japanese youth trying to deal with such pressures as tradition vs. modernity and respectability vs. happiness.


Opium:  Professor Gesellius scientifically studies opium and its effects on humans.  But when the professor’s own life starts going south, personal recreational studies of the drug suddenly seem like a good idea.  The film’s stunning sets may tempt some viewers to bring their own hallucinogens to, um, enhance their aesthetic appreciation.


The Oyster Princess:  The excesses of the rich are always worth laughing at, and director Ernst Lubitsch spectacularly goes for it in this slapstick satire.  The titular character is the bratty daughter and heiress of the Oyster King Of America. When the Shoe Cream King’s daughter marries a count, the Oyster Princess demands her father find her a royal husband too.


Tonka Of The Gallows:  The festival must-see is this rarity from the Czech Republic, a fable about the cruelty of the small-minded (or what we call today MAGA hat wearers).  When a prostitute spends a night with a condemned man, her generous act winds up making her a pariah in all of Prague.


May 2


The River And The Wall–Five friends take a 1,200 mile journey along the Rio Grande from El Paso to the Gulf of Mexico.  During their trip, they talk to landowners, politicians on both sides of the aisle, border patrol agents, and even ordinary citizens to get an idea of where Trump’s physical border wall would go…and what its presence would do to life along the Rio Grande.  Unsurprisingly, the impact of setting up a physical border wall has consequences Trump has lied about or ignored. Winner of the SXSW 2019 Louis Black “Lone Star” Award. The only theatrical screenings in the S.F. Bay Area are at the AMC Bay Street 16 in Emeryville, the AMC Saratoga 14 in San Jose and the AMC Mercado 20 in Santa Clara.  

May 2-18


Hirokazu Kore-eda Reprise Screenings–Hirokazu Kore-eda has shown himself to be one of Japan’s best living directors.  For those who want to know what this director has done before the Academy Award-nominated “Shoplifters,” this Pacific Film Archive series answers that question.  Besides “Shoplifters,” this series also shows such classics as “Maborosi” and “Like Father Like Son.”

May 3


Long Day’s Journey Into Night–Bi Gan’s neo-noir film may very well be the most oddly atmospheric film of the year.  After many years, Luo Hongwu returns to his hometown of Kaili to attend his father’s funeral.  While there, he decides to find out what happened to Wan Qiwen, a woman he once loved. But that search turns out to be less important than the film’s loving portrait of Kaili.  The film boasts an amazing 3-D tracking shot that runs nearly 60 minutes. Before you ask, the title has nothing to do with the famed Eugene O’Neill play of the same name. (Screens at the Embarcadero Center Cinemas)


May 3-4


Spliff Film Fest–Dan Savage brings his traveling festival of short films about stoner themes to S.F.’s Victoria Theatre.  This collection of about two dozen shorts deal with such subjects as stoned Australians trying to order pizza with their minds, a Dada-like collage of disembodied heads and ominous eyes, and a fake instructional video on blunt rolling.  


May 4


Merce Cunningham At 100–The San Francisco Dance Film Festival celebrates the centenary of legendary dance choreographer Merce Cunningham.  At the Delancey Street Screening Room, the festival will show two films celebrating Cunningham’s past and present. “Assemblage” captures Cunningham’s dance troupe performing throughout Ghirardelli Square in 1968.  “If The Dancer Dances” follows three former Cunningham troupe dancers teaching the late choreographer’s “RainForest” to the Stephen Petronio Company.


May 9-19

CAAMFest 37–The annual celebration of Asian and Asian-American film, food, and music returns to Japantown’s Kabuki Theatre and New People Cinema.  Opening with a documentary about political activism in San Francisco’s Chinatown and closing with a look at international adoptions of Korean children, the festival also offers live performances by up and coming bands, an art exhibit, and even a tribute to the late Public Defender Jeff Adachi.  Here’s a sampling of some of the films being offered at the festival:


Babysplitters: Could ideas from the sharing economy work for handling parenting duties?  Two couples hatch a plan to raise one baby together, as some of them have mixed feelings about becoming parents.  But the plan runs into such problems as jealousy and personal neuroses.


Ms. Purple: Justin Chon, who wowed audiences with “Gook,” returns with the story of two siblings stuck in Los Angeles’ Koreatown.  Kasie and Carey were raised solely by their father after their mother abandoned them. But the father’s parenting left the brother and sister with deep emotional scars affecting their ability to live in the present.  Now the father is dying. Can these damaged siblings repair their familial bond?


Our Time Machine:  “Papa’s Time Machine” is an autobiographical play created  by artist Ma Liang to honor a father slowly succumbing to Alzheimer’s Disease.  Using life-sized puppets, the play revisits the father and son’s shared experiences.  But will the play be finished before the older man’s memories are lost forever?


Ten Year Thailand:  Inspired by the dystopian Hong Kong anthology film “Ten Years,” four Thai filmmakers take a look at dystopian Thai life in the year 2028.  Among the contributors are Apichatpong Weerasethakul (“Uncle Boonmee Who Can Remember His Past Lives”) and Wisit Sasanatieng (“Tears of the Black Tiger”).  


The Widowed Witch:  Disaster strikes Er Hou when an explosion at the family-owned fireworks factory destroys her home and kills her husband.  As this is the third time Er Hou’s been widowed, the gullible locals think she’s cursed. Rather than give in to despair, though, the young widow obtains food and shelter by re-inventing herself as a shaman who provides life advice and quick supernatural fixes.


May 10


Shadow–Zhang Yimou returns to historical action form with this tale of intrigue, deception, and conquest set in medieval China.  After invaders capture the important city of Jingzhou, the King of Pei (think a less psychotic Joffrey Baratheon) prefers to sue for peace.  But the badly injured Commander Yu of the Pei forces has a plan to retake the city. Key to that plan is the lowborn Jing, who was secretly trained to be Yu’s shadow, or double.  The maneuverings inside and outside the Pei court prove just as important as the martial arts sequences.


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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.