Archive for the ‘Film’ Category

Show me what you got, Nihilist. Dipshit.

Lebowski Fest returns to the Bay Area on July 24th with the Bowling Party at the Classic Bowling Center and the Movie Party on July 25th at The Fox Theater. Two parties, two tickets… $28 for Bowling (includes shoes) and $22.50 for movie showing. More info

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Launch of The Next Frame: Indie Film in SF (warning: blatant self-promotion)

Those of you who have enjoyed my posts on film here on SF Metblog over the past year or so are invited to check out the blog I launched this week about indie and festival film in San Francisco, called The Next Frame. For now, at least, it’s a component of my personal site, which will ultimately also feature a regular litblog and a blog about street art. Everything’s still a little beta, so please excuse the layout oddities for now: they should be ironed out in the next couple weeks.

My most recent post is a review of Anvil! The Story of Anvil!, a really great doc that’s opening tonight at the Bridge Theater over on Geary. The upcoming reviews and interviews include Enlighten Up! (the yoga doc), Tyson, and Tulpan; along with those, I’ll be reviewing a batch of upcoming Landmark films and other stuff showing at SFIFF52 in the next two weeks, so stay tuned if you’re interested in all that!

Okay, I’ll stop with the blatant self-promotion now; thanks for indulging me. And huge props to Metblogs for letting me obsess about film here for the past twelve months! I’ll be sticking around here for the foreseeable future, but posting quite a bit less about film, and more about stuff like Muni and the weather. You know, news!

Film: "In a Dream" at the Roxie

In a Dream, which screens at the Roxie starting Friday night, is a film about the mosaic artist Isaiah Zagar, who has become an icon in South Philadelphia due to his long, intensely local career and the massive scale and extent of the mosaics he has created there. They include, by his description, about “a hundred murals” and “seven buildings, top to bottom, inside and out.” His best-known work is Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens, which represents the transformation of two derelict buildings into a labyrinthine complex that covers half a city block with winding mosaic-covered passageways and sculptures.

Zagar’s mosaics are bright, colorful, and complex, rich with a celebratory spirit towards physicality and sensuality. But the surface cheerfulness of these mosaics belies the deeper obsession and the narcissism that makes such vast, intricate works possible in the first place, and Jeremiah Zagar — the director of the film and the artist’s younger son — uncovers that darkness here with unrelenting economy. All the father’s past secrets rapidly come out in the open, culminating when one of his most shameful episodes plays out right in front of the camera: his self-centered pursuit of “passion” with his assistant, which ends with a brief separation from his wife Julia, right when their oldest son is separated from his own wife and having drug problems.

Jeremiah describes the moment: “I went home to film my parents as they picked my brother up from rehab. The stress from the situation boiled over, and my father suddenly admitted [the affair] to my mother and me … that same night, my parents separated for the first time in 43 years.” Isaiah’s admission is made directly into the camera, and it’s a moment of remarkable drama. Amazingly, Jeremiah retains his composure — he coughs and the handheld camera shakes for an instant, but that is all — and he goes on to capture every instant of what ensues. “I shot 16 hours that day and hated myself for every minute of it,” he writes. What happens next is unsurprising but not predictable, and the film ends with a brief epilogue, highly effective in its simplicity, that shows how the family continues on into the next adventure.

For all the darkness that Jeremiah reveals, it’s an affectionate film. He shot his footage over the course of seven years, filming “whenever something significant happened,” and he describes the result like this: “what started as an exploration of my father’s life has exposed the secrets of our entire family. But I don’t think that’s a bad thing. … We know now how imperfect we really are, but also how much we need and love each other.”

The film is highly recommended. In a Dream screens at the Roxie starting Friday night. [This review was originally published, in somewhat different form, on October 25th, 2008.]

The Mysteries of Pittsburgh: The Movie

MOP014_Peter Sarsgaard as Cleveland Arning and Jon Foster as Art Bechstein stare up at the cloud factory

[Peter Sarsgaard & Jon Foster contemplate The Cloud Factory. Courtesy Peace Arch Films.]

Michael Chabon’s first novel, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, has been made into a feature film (website here) opening this Friday evening at the Embarcadero Center Cinema. It stars Jon Foster as Art Bechstein and Nick Nolte as his gangster dad, Sienna Miller as the love interest, and Peter Sarsgaard as the jealous semi-ex boyfriend. To quote the plot summary from the ticket page:

A coming-of-age story set in the faded glory of early 1980s-era Pittsburgh … the story opens with Art Bechstein (Foster) floundering in his new-found post-college freedom, opting to take the job with the least amount of responsibility he can find (at the appropriately titled Book Barn), while sleep walking through the Series Seven prep courses that will speed him into a job chosen for him by his father (Nolte), far away from the security of his childhood Pittsburgh. Art’s fortunes begin to change when a chance encounter with freshman roommate and part-time drug dealer Mohammed (Omid Abtahi) lands him at a swanky summer party where he falls for the beautifully tipsy Jane Bellwether (Miller). The two quickly connect over a late-night plate of pie, but Jane’s on-again off-again boyfriend Cleveland (Sarsgaard) has other plans for the pair. Taking Art hostage from the dreary Book Barn, Cleveland threatens to throw Art off the top of an abandoned steel mill, a hide-out that Cleveland romantically calls “The Cloud Factory.” Suspended high above Pittsburgh, Art realizes that his summer has finally begun, what would become the last true summer of his life.

Superfans of the book should know that the director and screenwriter, Rawson Marshall Thurber (Dodgeball) has substantially reworked the material to make it more cinematic; you may already have noticed that one major character is entirely gone from the summary above, and a lot of other stuff has been dropped, added, or otherwise changed. But in spite of all that, it really captures the essence of the book — which isn’t surprising, as Michael Chabon himself was intimately involved with the development of the film, giving a great deal of support to Thurber and feedback on his script, and he has approved of the final product.

Incidentally, last year I wrote about how Oakley Hall prompted Chabon to turn that dad into a gangster, so in a way, we have Oakley Hall to thank for this nice movie.

Tickets available here; engagement begins Friday night at the Embarcadero Center Cinema.

Our City Dreams: The Lives of Five Women in Art

Our City Dreams

[Above, Marina Abramovic and her posse dare the ocean to hit them with its best shot.]

Our City Dreams chronicles the careers and lives of five female artists, now based in New York City, who have been drawn there by everything the city represents — all its chaos, romance, and the advantages of being at the center of the art world. It opens with a view of the Brooklyn Bridge — from a car driving on it, presumably into Manhattan — a jazz soundtrack, and an apt epigraph from Susan Sontag, whose own career was inextricably bound up with the city: “I was not looking for my dreams to interpret my life, but rather for my life to interpret my dreams.” The words well suggest what is to follow: a documentary about five women who have each been able to realize their “dreams,” by which is meant both their ambitions and their artistic visions.

Director Chiara Clemente (herself the daughter of a famous painter, Franciso Clemente) followed each of these artists for a year, documenting some key moments in their lives. One artist opens her first solo show and another opens a 25–year retrospective. The women are profiled in order of age, so that in the course of the film you develop a sense of what an entire lifetime in art might mean for a woman. But since each artist started her career about a decade earlier than the one previously interviewed, we also get a brief history of contemporary art in reverse order, a series of personal views into some of the major currents in art over the past half-century, starting with street art and moving backwards through performance art, art explicitly informed by feminist criticism, and Expressionist art.

More than that, though, we get a clear insight into what it means to be a female artist in our society after the feminist movement — and something of what it meant to be one before. Near the end of the film, the painter Nancy Spero (born 1926) celebrates her eightieth birthday, and recalls, of the 1950s and early 1960s: “I was dying for people to ask me what I was working on,” as it didn’t happen much in those years. That memory makes for a sharp contrast with the first woman profiled, the street artist Swoon (born 1977; incidentally, you might have gone to this recent event) who seems to have the world before her: she says she feels lucky to be working “at a moment when women are being really encouraged” to be artists — and as if to prove the point, we’re shown footage of her first solo show, given when she was twenty-eight, at Deitch Projects. In between these two, we get studio visits and some time spent with Ghada Amer, Kiki Smith, and the self-described “grandmother of performance art” Marina Abramovic.

Altogether it’s a fascinating film and a good introduction to five of the most significant artists of our time.

The Yerba Buena Center for the Arts is presenting this film at 7:30 on four evenings starting on April 9th and continuing through the 12th. Tickets and trailer available here.

[Note: When originally published, this article incorrectly stated the opening night as April 8th.]

Godard at the Castro, and in beer spoof

Godard's 'Made in U.S.A.'Jean-Luc Godard’s 1966 film with Jane Fonda, Made in U.S.A., plays tonight at the Castro Theatre, 7:00 and 9:00 pm; Saturday and Sunday at 1, 3, 5, 7 and 9, and through April 7.

Meanwhile, the Belgian brewer Stella Artois launched a new ad campaign in which one ad spoofs Godard’s work circa Le Mépris and Pierrot le fou. It has that wonderful ability of European ads to be chic and tacky at the same time. 7.

SF Supes Approve New Film Rebate Schedule

In a bit of good news for filmmakers trying to shoot projects in San Francisco, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors today approved a major change to the rebate structure so that film projects can get up to $600,000 in tax rebates as opposed to the $100,000 maximum previously allowed (which Milk received). These sums represent taxes and fees that City Hall is forgoing. Here’s an article on Examiner.com that explains why this is a good idea despite the budget shortfall. The short version is that city rebates encourage filmmakers and TV producers to bring their productions to San Francisco, which stimulates the local economy. City Hall’s own Office of the Budget Analyst estimates that Milk — a $22 million production constrained to shoot on location for obvious reasons — brought $4.8 million in business to San Francisco.

Last summer, I talked to a number of independent filmmakers (and Graham Leggat, the executive director of the San Francisco Film Society) for an article that was never published about making films in San Francisco, and this was one issue that kept coming up in my interviews: the rebates just weren’t high enough to encourage production in the city. Perhaps this legislation will go some way towards helping that problem. As it happens, I have interviewed the creators of Harrison Montgomery (one of the films cited in the Examiner article), and while neither one mentioned rebates per se, I can assure you that an additional $12,000 in their production budget would have been a huge help to them.

All Things Ferlinghetti

Today is Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s 90th birthday. Give City Lights some love and buy a book from them today! In person or online, it’s a gift for him that you get to receive.

By the way, a film about Ferlinghetti’s life and works is going to premiere at the upcoming San Francisco International Film Festival on April 28. Film site here. Tickets are available now to SFFS members!

UPDATE: Streetsblog has this great article about Ferlinghetti’s proposal to create an Italian-style piazza on Vallejo Street (near Trieste).

UPDATE: SFist reports that it’s also Frank Chu’s birthday. Well, how about that?

The Black Rock: The African American Experience on Alcatraz

This Friday night the Red Vic hosts the San Francisco premiere of “The Black Rock”, a new film that explores the largely undocumented history of the African American prisoner experience on Alcatraz. Heralded local filmmaker Kevin Epps has shifted his documentary lens from previous subjects like life in Hunters Point, and the Bay’s Hip Hop underground, to life in SF’s notorious offshore federal lock up.
new Alcatraz film : The Black Rock
The film, presented in starkly haunting black & white, had it’s first public screening earlier this month in the actual Alcatraz mess hall for 300 lucky guests of Epps and The National Park Service. Now, having been released from it’s island prison exile, it can reach mainland audiences and will run at the Red Vic on Haight St this week through March 5th. The NPS has indicated it will soon use portions of the film in the permanent exhibits and tours of the historic prison.

Fascination with Alcatraz permeates pop culture and the crumbling prison ranks high amongst San Francisco’s most popular tourist attractions, attracting more visitors than the city’s total population each year. Epps’ new film approaches the prison from a very different socio-political angle than the usual Hollywood fare, and pulls together tales that are unique amongst the plethora of prison videos, books and memorabilia that already clutter local gift shops.

For More, Including A Peak At The Trailer, Read On… (more…)

Lawrence Lessig Chats with The Booksmith

Reader Alex Beckstead just left a comment on this announcement from last month about author Lawrence Lessig, who appeared at the Booksmith to talk about his book Remix. The comment points us to this 3–part video interview (there’s also a 1-minute trailer on the page) in which Lessig discusses the main arguments of his book, makes allusion to his appearance on the Colbert Report, and outlines his future work: he plans to move out of copyright law and begin a serious examination of institutional corruption. Total running time: 23 minutes.

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