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The 30th Cinequest, “Coup 53,” And The Stardust Brothers All Arrive

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Along with spring, March brings several cinematic delights.  Four film festivals big and small play this month, including one celebrating its 30th edition.  A noted American independent director and a renowned Malian filmmaker make in-person appearances.  Fans of old films can see an incredible Soviet anti-war classic or the late Kirk Douglas in one of his greatest “sticking it to The Man” roles.  The more adventurous can try the Japanese answer to “Phantom Of The Paradise” or a short film mixing Ayn Rand and Derek Jarman. So go out and get weird at the movies!  

March 3-15

Nail In The Coffin: The Fall And Rise Of Vampiro

30th Cinequest Film And Creativity Festival–The South Bay’s premiere film (and other media) event turns the big 3-0!  For newbies, Cinequest’s programming is often tamer than what you’d find at S.F. Indie Fest or the S.F. International Film Festival.  Then again, this festival can occasionally surprise you. The Noomi Rapace version of “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” screened at Cinequest, as did Zhang Yimou’s recent mix of intrigue and martial arts “Shadow.”  Some of the reasons to come attend this year’s Cinequest include: “Doctor Who: The Runaway” (An animated virtual reality adventure where you help The Doctor get Volta, a teenage living ball of energy, home to his parents before he explodes inside the TARDIS), “Uncle Peckerhead” (a punk band on their first road tour discover their friendly roadie is a cannibal), “Owners” (a meeting of a group of co-op apartment owners comically degenerates into petty displays of ego), “The Quicksilver Chronicles” (Kate and Kemp Woods have no problems being the only residents of New Idria, a former mercury mining town turned Superfund site), and “Nail In The Coffin: The Fall & Rise Of Vampiro” (how did a Canadian punk rock fan eventually become director of Mexico City’s biggest wrestling event).  (Various venues)

March 4 – May 8

African Film Festival 2020–The Pacific Film Archive presents a series of films spotlighting new films from Africa and its diaspora.  In this festival, you’ll witness images and viewpoints of Africa and Africans not seen in Western cinema. The new films being shown include Chez Jolie Coiffure (warm-hearted portrait of a Brussels hair salon that provides its patrons a place to develop ties to fellow immigrants and remember the home continent), The Mercy Of The Jungle (during 1998’s Second Congo War, two Rwandan soldiers must cross miles of jungle wilderness and avoid Congolese patrols to reach safety), and Fatwa (Tunisian expatriate seeking answers about the death of his college-age son learns the deceased had joined a radical Islamic cult).  In addition, legendary Malian filmmaker Souleyman Cisse will appear in person during the festival. Three of Cisse’s films will be screened, including the highly acclaimed Brightness (a 13th century-set re-imagining of old Mande empire creation myths pits a warrior/seer against his all-powerful father for the knowledge of the ancients).  (Pacific Film Archive)

March 6

Come And See–Elem Klimov’s anti-war classic arrives in a searing new restoration.  Belarus teen Flyora joins the WWII Soviet resistance as the invading Nazis target his home village.  But instead of finding adventure and glory fighting the fascists, all Flyora discovers is carnage and various shades of horror.  What might be called “the Nazi selfe” moment is disturbing as is a sequence where Flyora is deafened. An unforgettable film that’ll make you despise those who harp on the alleged glories of war. (Roxie Theater)  

March 7

Amarcord

Fellini At 100–Want to celebrate the centenary of film director Federico Fellini’s birth yet are not able to make regular trips to the Pacific Film Archive?  The folks at Cinema Italia San Francisco have your one-stop answer. This one-day celebration of the great Italian film director and his work offers screenings of the Fellini classics “La Strada,” “Juliet Of The Spirits,” “Amarcord,” and “I Vitelloni.”  In addition, there’ll be a couple of parties featuring everything from a giant cake from Emporio Rulli to an exhibition of Fellini’s food drawings. (Castro Theatre)    

March 7, 13 and 29

Coup 53–Missed previous showings of this powerful documentary about the Anglo-American-sponsored Iranian coup d’etat undertaken “in the national interest?”  Don’t sleep on these return screenings! Previously buried decades-old footage shows how the US & the UK ousted Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mossaddegh in favor of re-installing Mohammad Reza Pahlavi as Shah.  The story that unfolds shows how the Middle East’s biggest potential democracy turned into a despotic monarchy. (Pacific Film Archive)

March 10

The Slumber Party Massacre–A slasher film written by feminist icon Rita Mae Brown???  Yes, really. Brown, though, handles this most sexist of movie genres straight.  This approach sets the film up as an inside joke where viewers laugh at the genre’s trashiness.  See penis substitute castration and pizza used as a major plot point! (Alamo Drafthouse)

March 11

Alice–Legendary Czech animator Jan Svankmajer mixes live action and object animation to present his own unique take on Lewis Carroll’s absurdist classic “Alice In Wonderland.”   (Alamo Drafthouse)

Guy Maddin On Federico Fellini–As part of its still ongoing celebration of what would have been Fellini’s centenary, the Pacific Film Archive commissioned offbeat Canadian filmmaker Guy Maddin (and associates Evan and Galen Johnson) to make a short film celebrating Fellini’s aesthetic.  Maddin will also appear in person at the screening. (Pacific Film Archive)  

March 12

“The Invisible World” from “I Hate The Internet”

I Hate The Internet–SF Cinematheque presents a collection of short avant-garde films dealing with the disconnect between humanity and Internet-age technology.  Included are “Contra-Internet Jubilee 2033,” which re-imagines scenes from Derek Jarman’s “Jubilee” as a bad acid trip undergone by Ayn Rand, and “Instructions For Robots,” which imagines Cuban film school student robots dealing with their interior lives and sexualities.  (Yerba Buena Center For The Arts)   

March 12-15 

17th International Ocean Film Festival–Once again, independent ocean-related films from around the world are brought together to teach viewers how to be better ocean stewards.  This year’s offerings include “Diving Deep: The Life And Times Of Mike deGruy,” “One Breath Around The World” (winner of a 2020 Adventure/Ocean Sports Award), “Tahiry Honko – a community mangrove garden project,” and “Our Atoll Speaks, Ko Talatala Mai To Matou Wenua.” (Various venues including Cowell Theater and Roxie Theater)

March 13

The Color Out Of Space & Mandy–Get a double dose of full Nicolas Cage madness.  In “Mandy,” after lumberjack Red Miller’s (Cage) idyllic forest existence with artist Mandy Bloom gets savagely destroyed by Jeremiah Sand’s religious cult, the lumberjack vows violent vengeance.  “The Color Out Of Space,” based on an H.P. Lovecraft story, sees the isolated family life of alpaca breeder Nathan Gardner (Cage) invaded by the landing of a meteor. The mysterious Color released by the meteor starts warping the land around the Gardner farm. (Castro Theatre)

Sorry We Missed You

Sorry We Missed You–Ken Loach’s powerful swipe at the ills of the gig economy gets its Bay Area theatrical release.  Financially struggling ex-construction worker Ricky thinks he’s found economic salvation by becoming a van driver for a big delivery company.  But Ricky’s quasi-freelance employment status translates to working long exhausting hours with no bathroom break time whatsoever. The other members of Ricky’s family, particularly rebellious teen son Seb, are wrapped in their own problems.  The company’s hidden penalties, though, may be what pushes Ricky into a far deeper financial hole. (Opera Plaza Cinemas)    

Viral: Anti-Semitism In Four Mutations–Andrew Goldberg’s disturbing documentary shows how anti-Semitism has worsened in the US and Europe in ways not seen since the 1930s.  In studying recent cases of public anti-Semitism in the US, Hungary, and France, the film captures how nowadays such hatred adapts, changes, and spreads in terrifying ways.  (Roxie Theater)

March 14

Certain Women With Kelly Reichardt In Person–The Roxie caps a small film series dedicated to one of American independent cinema’s most important directors with this highly acclaimed triptych.  Kelly Reichardt adapts three stories by Maile Meloy in this film. Set in the American Northwest, these three interlocking stories concern: a lawyer (Laura Dern) whose troublesome client alternates between treating her as an adviser and an emotional crutch; a wife and mother (MIchelle Williams) whose efforts to build a dream home hint at the estrangement between her and her family; and a lonely rancher (Lily Gladstone) whose accidental visit to a night school legal class brings out barely understood feelings towards the class teacher (Kristen Stewart).  Reichardt appears in person for a post-screening Q&A. (Roxie Theater

March 19

Made In Hong Kong–Fruit Chan’s searing independent Hong Kong film has never received an official U.S. release…until now.  It’s the first indie film released after the Hong Kong territory was handed back to China.  In this character study of alienated youth, high school dropout and Triad wannabe Autumn Moon regards Hong Kong’s becoming a Chinese Special Administrative Region with hopelessness for himself and his future. (Roxie Theater)

March 20

System K–Welcome to Kinshasha, the capital of the Democratic Republic Of The Congo.  This city of 12 million has a privatized water system and spotty electrical service.  It also has an amazing creative, irreverent, and shocking street performance scene.  Using such thrown away materials as computer parts and machetes plus even blood, these artists create performances critiquing everything from government corruption to Western exploitation.  Renaud Barret’s documentary takes viewers into this unique political performance art scene. (Roxie Theater)

March 22

Despacito: A Quick Survey Of Latin-American Animation–Award-winning animation director Simon Wilches-Castillos presents a lecture on the history of Latin-American animation.  American animation favors technical innovations and licensed intellectual properties. By contrast, Latin-American creators treat animation as a medium for expressing the thoughts and feelings of the politically oppressed.  Screens as part of the GLAS Animation Festival At BAMPFA 2020 film series.  (Pacific Film Archive)   

The Legend Of The Stardust Brothers

The Legend Of The Stardust Brothers–What do you get when you combine the “soundtrack” for a non-existent film, the son of God Emperor of Manga Osamu Tezuka, future director Kiyoshi Kurosawa, and “Lupin III” creator Monkey Punch?  The answer is this Japanese cult musical from three decades ago, which is unknown even in Japan. It claims to be inspired by “Phantom Of The Paradise” and “Rocky Horror Picture Show,” but take that claim with a grain of salt. (Alamo Drafthouse)  

Simenon 2020: The All-Saints Day Traveler & Temptation Harbor–Midcentury Productions continues its monthly film series dedicated to films based on the work of Georges Simenon, the French writer who was the father of film noir.  This month’s double bill features adaptations of two Simenon roman durs, psychological tales of characters whose personal flaws wind up seriously complicating their lives.  In “The All-Saints Day Traveler,” a young man goes to a small town to collect a sizable inheritance but encounters peril. “Temptation Harbor” is the story of a barge captain who stumbles upon a large wad of cash…only to find the cash is more trouble than it’s worth.  (Roxie Theater)

Waging Change–Think it’s no big deal to screw your restaurant waiter out of a tip?  Local filmmaker Abby Ginzberg’s documentary will show you otherwise. It follows over three years the efforts of members of the One Fair Wage movement to eliminate the federal tipped minimum wage of $2.13 an hour for restaurant workers and bartenders.  If you think it’s easy to have a decent life living on people’s tips, this film will show you otherwise. (Castro Theatre)  

March 26

The Witness–The PFA kicks off a series of Eastern European films of the absurd with this acerbic Hungarian classic.  After getting imprisoned for attempting to illegally butcher a pig, simple Joszef Pelikan’s life becomes a revolving door.  He’s released from prison, entrusted with a task by The Party, intends to follow the party line with a grand scheme, and winds up back in prison when the scheme fails.  Can Joszef’s naivete help him once he learns what’s really going on? (Pacific Film Archive

March 27

Bacurau

Bacurau–Kleber Mendoca Filho (“Aquarius”) and Juliano Dornelles direct this genre-mixing ensemble drama that won the Cannes Grand Jury Prize.  The title is the name of a village located in the Brazilian sertao. When the village literally disappears from maps, the villagers find they have bigger problems than corrupt local politicos.  Somebody’s trying to permanently force them out of their homes. The worst kind of sport hunters come to the village. Fortunately, the villagers of Bacarau aren’t exactly helpless… (Opera Plaza Cinemas)

PJ Harvey: A Dog Called Money–You have never seen a “making of” music documentary like this one.  The PJ Harvey album “The Hope Six Demolition Project” grew out of Harvey’s travels with acclaimed photojournalist Seamus Murphy through Kabul, Kosovo, and Washington, DC.  Not only does the film follow the writing of the album’s songs, but Harvey recorded her performance of the songs as a live sound-sculpture.  Basically, members of the public went to a specially constructed room in Somerset House, London and watched through one-way glass the five weeks that Harvey took to record what would eventually be praised as a powerful protest album. (Roxie Theater)

March 28

Tiny Dance Film Festival–This international collection of dance films running 10 minutes or less brings films from Romania, Finland, France, and the US among others.  In two programs, the festival’s shorts show artists who figuratively dance with the camera and also expands on the relationship between body and lens.  Presented by Detour Dance. (Roxie Theater)

March 29

Evil Spawn–Guilty pleasure props for the month goes to this film which mixes Hollywood ageism with insectozoid action.  When Hollywood actress Lynn Roman gets one too many “you’re too old” rejections from casting directors, she injects herself with an extraterrestrial drug that transforms her into a murderous insectozoid.  Where else will you see a man’s face get eaten by a mutant rat? (Alamo Drafthouse)

Spartacus & Lust For Life–Remember the late Kirk Douglas by catching two films about doomed men.  “Spartacus” is a Roman gladiator (Douglas) leading a growing slave revolt against their Roman oppressors..  See why the cry “I Am Spartacus” is a classic “up yours” to authority figures. In “Lust For Life,” painter Vincent Van Gogh (Douglas) lives a life constantly haunted by poverty and his fears about the inadequacy of his painting skills.   (Castro Theatre)  

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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.