Archive for February, 2009

Film: "Absurdistan" opens tonight at Opera Plaza Cinema


[The sexes face off, with the lovely Aya (Kristyna Malerova) leading the ladies. Courtesy First Run Features.]

Men will do anything for sex; anything, that is, except what their wives want them to do. On the other hand, an unmarried man will really do anything — anything at all, just name it! — to win over the love of his life, no matter how outrageous his lover’s demands may be. These ancient facts get a delightful spin in Absurdistan, a takeoff on the classical Greek comedy Lysistrata that has nothing whatsoever to do with the best-selling novel.

It’s set in a remote mountain village “located on no map,” although with its Russian provenance and shooting location in Azerbaijan, the smart money is on some vowel-poor corner of the Caucasus. The narrator explains the village’s political situation at the outset: “for a long time now, nobody has felt responsible for us.” So when their water pipeline finally rusts through and a severe water shortage begins, it’s up to the men to fix it.

Only, they’re just too damn lazy to do anything about it: they’d rather spend their afternoons hanging out in the village tea house, playing cards and talking big. The women don’t know what to do.

That is, until Aya (Kristyna Malerova) shows them the way. Her fiancee, Temelko (Maximilian Mauff, no kidding), is a bright young man, freshly returned to the village from his studies in the city. He’s also been waiting longer than four years to sleep with his sweetheart for the first time, the propritious date having been astrologically ordained. When he arrives, he’s raring to go; but Aya insists on having a bath first. (Women! I mean, really.) So Temelko goes to some trouble to get together enough water for a bath. I don’t want to spoil the sequence — one of the best in the film — so I’ll just say that he gets her to the bath in the most imaginatively romantic way. But after she’s gotten over her delighted surprise, she notices the dusty, dry village around them, thinks of the others, and folds her arms. They have six days until the stars move on, she points out, and bath or no bath, until everybody has water, she’s keeping her clothes on, thank you very much.

“Did you hear about Aya and Temelko?” soon becomes the topic of whispering all over the village. In this, the women see a way forward, and the plan becomes clear: No water? No sex. They throw down their empty pails in challenge.

Of course, middle-aged men are generally more tolerant of sexual frustration than young men; plus, they have their pride. And these guys, frankly, have little else. So they dig in. Battle lines are drawn. The women arm themselves with rifles and guard the perimeter to prevent anybody leaving, and they cut the phone line (yes, singular) to prevent any contact with the outside world. The village is split down the middle with a barbed-wire fence. The men send in a spy, in wig and stuffed bra, who promptly forgets his allegiances and begins fraternizing with the (incredibly unobservant) enemy. Things only get wilder from there.

But the pipeline? Still broken. Temelko is on his own. So he sets forth for the mountain with a little red wagon-ful of tools, determined to bring water to the village and sleep with his bride to be, or die trying.

It’s a cliche to describe a film as a “delightful romp,” but it seems to suit this movie perfectly, what with its high energy, sexual hijinks, slapstick humor, and the touch of surrealism that director Veit Helmer brings to every moment. Highly recommended.

[Absurdistan screens at the Opera Plaza Cinema daily at 7:15 and 9:55, matinees at 1:50 and 4:40.]

SFBG on David Chiu

I was pleasantly surprised at some great journalism, and great writing, in the SF Bay Guardian this week. Sarah Phelan wrote about the meetings that Newsom isn’t taking. Well, that’s been written about everywhere, but she gets responses from the folks at the table, including union leaders, and sitting supervisors. Check it out. It was a treat: The wheels come off: Chiu leads efforts to build a budget consensus in Newsom’s absence.

Bocock ready to swing his bat

Brian_BocockBrian Bocock, a young infielder for the San Francisco Giants whose loud debut early last year was followed by a quick decline, is back this spring with what San Jose Mercury News sportswriter Andrew Baggerly calls “a stimulating tale.” Seems his problem last year was related to a circulatory condition that affected his fingers, so doctors prescribed a low dose of Viagra. Evidently it helps circulatory problems all over, not just down there. Well aware of the ironic ring of Bocock’s last name in this instance, Baggerly quotes the 24-year-old Bocock — pictured here in 2006 in his minor-league guise — endorsing the product, even though he was taking only a quarter of the normal dose. “Let’s put it this way,” Bocock says. “I can’t imagine what 100 milligrams does to you.”

What of the other members of last year’s Rookie B’s — middle infielder Emmanuel Burris, first baseman John Bowker, and second baseman Eugenio Velez? (Well, “V” is almost like “B.”) Bowker and Bocock are likely to start the year at Triple-A, and Burris and Velez have to compete with the likes of newly signed veteran infielder Edgar Renteria as well as newly healthy Kevin Frandsen, who missed all of last year. In fact, the Giants have almost too much talent — much of it somewhat inexperienced and little of it able to hit consistently above .285. That’s why they’re still looking for a bat.

Rain in the City, Snow in Tahoe

Driving home
Just sayin’. Booked my stay this morning- very excited.

New Year’s Pageant

Chinatown’s Buddha’s Universal Church puts on an assemblage cast performance of Buddhist Virtues- taking apart the most tense moments, your daughter’s independence and disobedience, a simple shoplifting moment- and solving them in simple moral principles of Buddhist virtue. Also, very cute little monkeys – some of the cast are 2 1/2- scamper across the stage or engage in lion and dragon fights.

It’s been going on for 40 years, in a melodically bilingual (yes, that’s possible) script written by the cast each year.

A plastic bag will do in a pinch


I saw this woman zipping up Mission St. this afternoon during a steady rain, plastic bags protecting both her laundry and her head.

Things to do in San Francisco


Someone on Open Salon asks what to do in San Francisco during a visit next month. Loads of people commented with suggestions, me among them.

A friend of a friend has been visiting during this exact rainy spell. It’s due to stop raining on Tuesday and that’s when he’s leaving. Sorry about the rain, dude. But if you’re getting cabin fever on this very rainy day, here’s what I’d do: go out to the Palace of Legion of Honor (pictured). The art is great, the cafeteria is nice, and the view is fantastic, whether it’s a rainy day or not. In fact it might even be better on a rainy day.

IndieFest: "Abraham Obama" at the Roxie (Quick Notice)

Today at 12:30, San Francisco IndieFest presents the world premiere of Abraham Obama. It’s a film about Ron English, who created the image of the same name, and the nationwide tour he and a bunch of other artists took in the run up to the Denver convention and beyond, to lend their support to the Obama campaign. Jet Set Graffiti went along on the tour to capture all the shenanigans, and this hour-long film is the resulting product. If you’re interested, you can check out my interview with Ron English over here at Juxtapoz Magazine.

For further reading, check out Jet Set Graffiti and see all the other cool stuff the filmmakers have been up to.

Wetter and wetter

That’s the weather radar at 6:50 this morning, and the storm is moving pretty much south-to-north, so we were about to get hammered with that orange stuff. I wonder how many Valentine’s Day first flings are waking up this morning and wondering how, in this rain, to tactfully get the hell out of the apartment of the person whose name they don’t remember.

IndieFest: "Circus Rosaire" at the Roxie, Sun 2/15 at 2:45


[Image courtesy Progressive Productions.]

For nine generations, the Rosaire family has been training animals to perform in the circus. At the height of their fame they were a headline act, performing before royalty and at the White House. But times have changed for the circus, and the Rosaires have had to change with it. It’s no longer a glamorous profession, and attendance is down so much that the three-ring circus is largely a thing of the past. And animal acts in particular are less popular than they used to be, largely because of charges of cruelty levelled against trainers as a whole.

However, such charges could never stick to the Rosaires, who treat their animals with enormous respect and love, and who have made a large collective commitment to their animals: they keep them for life, often for decades beyond their performing years, on the family’s extensive property in Sarasota, Florida. And they even take in animals that other trainers can no longer support.

As a result, the Rosaires are getting squeezed financially, between running a sanctuary for exotic animals on the one hand, and the increasing difficulty of booking shows on the other. Circus Rosaire chronicles five years in the family’s life from an intimate perspective. That’s because the director, Robyn Bliley, and her mother, Sheila Segerson (who served as producer), have been friends of the family for decades, and the Rosaires granted the filmmakers unprecedented access to their lives.

It was a labor of love for Bliley and her husband (and DP) Chad Wilson, whose production company, Progressive Productions, is best known for broadband music videos. “Whenever we had some extra nickels and dimes, we’d go shoot,” Bliley said in an interview this morning, held jointly with Wilson and Segerson. Wilson added: “It was a small budget, but we raised it ourselves, through hard work.” This approach required them to shoot the film in sporadic intervals of several days at a time. In this way, from September 2002 through late 2007, Bliley and Wilson accumulated 350 hours of footage.

During all that time, the Rosaires allowed Bliley and Wilson to chronicle their struggles, something of their private lives, and even some moments of raw grief. They even captured what turned out to be the family patriarch’s last performance after a lifetime in show business. It’s really a remarkable glimpse into a world you’d probably never otherwise see.

And I guarantee that you’ve never before seen a chimpanzee barbecuing vegetarian shish-kabobs and steak — the former for himself, the latter for his human family. “Newton would cook for me,” Segerson said, referring to the same chimp. “He’d make tea, he’d make sandwiches,” on the mere suggestion of his human mother, Pam. “She’d say, ‘Newton, why don’t you make her a sandwich?’ And he’d go to the fridge, get the bread, cheese and ham, put it all together, and bring it to me!” Segerson beamed. “It was the coolest thing.”

Circus Rosaire ends with the family performing together on their property for the first time in fifty years, leaving the viewer wondering how things are going for them now. As it turns out, they have performed together every year since that show, and they are slowly making a transition away from travelling performances to giving educational shows right there on their sanctuary. Because in the end it’s not really about the performances for the Rosaires — it’s really about the well-being of the animals in their care. “They are not regular circus-animal trainers,” Bliley emphasized. “They live, breathe, and even drink their animals — they are family to them, even kids.”

Circus Rosaire plays at the Roxie tomorrow, February 15th, at 2:45 PM. Trailer here.

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