Archive for the ‘Hayes Valley’ Category

Festival Report: Quebec Film Week, Dec 10-14


[Image courtesy of the SFFS and Seville Pictures.]

From this Wednesday night through Sunday, the San Francisco Film Society and SODEC present the inaugural Québec Film Week at Landmark’s Opera Plaza Cinema. Consisting of eight films, all but one of which were recently released, the series focuses mainly on debut films and presents three features by veteran directors. The one older film is an almost obligatory screening of that touchstone of Québécois film history: Claude Jutra’s 1971 classic, Mon Oncle Antoine.

Opening night starts off with one of these fine debuts. Sophie Deraspe’s prior work was in short documentaries, and she brought all that experience to her first feature, a fiction in documentary form entitled Missing Victor Pellerin, about an artist who disappeared fifteen years earlier — that is, if he existed in the first place. It was well-reviewed upon its US release in 2007.

The second film that night is Mommy Is at the Hairdresser’s (pictured above) by the accomplished director Léa Pool. Of the six films I had a chance to preview, this was one of the best. The story plays out in late 1960s suburban Montréal over a tumultuous summer in the life of an adolescent girl, Elise, and her family, which breaks up over the father’s clandestine involvements with other men. After the mother finds out about them — in a powerful, shocking scene, Elise outs him — the mother soon leaves the family, and the rest of the film explores the struggles the family faces without the mother, and the entanglements, romantic and otherwise, among the kids. 

My favorite film by far was Stephane Lafleur’s dry, droll debut Continental, a Film Without Guns, which won the Prix Jutra this year. The title, which still puzzles me, is just the first enigma of many in the story. The description from the festival page — “a meditation on modern loneliness and loss [that] follows a collection of tragic characters and depicts their aimless attempts at connection” — is accurate enough, but it doesn’t even begin to convey how hilarious and touching the film really is. There are many serious turns, many moments that expose the deepest kind of loss and loneliness, but there is a subtle absurdity throughout in the situations the characters find themselves in, and create for themselves, that kept me constantly laughing, and in the end I couldn’t get them out of my head. Definitely don’t miss this one if you have a taste for this kind of thing — and we’ll be hoping for more from Lafleur in the future.

If I had to give an award to the most beautifully-shot film in the series, that would go to The Last Continent, most of which consists of lengthy shots of the Antarctic landscape, illuminated by the brightest, bluest skies on the planet, and accompanied by Donald Sutherland’s soothing voice-over. Directed by Jean Lemire, a scientist and director of three previous films, this film purports to be a documentary about the effects of climate change in Antarctica. In fact, it touches so lightly on the science that it left me a little frustrated, and I often found myself wondering what precisely they were tracking and measuring. But it was interesting all the same: in addition to the incredible photography, it deftly captures life at one of the strangest and most dangerous frontiers on Earth. Plus it entertainingly exposes the social stresses that inevitably develop when a small handful of people is confined to a tiny boat in the middle of a frozen wasteland for several months on end. With four hours of sunlight per day.

The Fight (which is given a much better name, In The Ring, by the subtitles) is another debut feature. It’s highly effective but almost unrelentingly depressing: the ending features the male lead riding his bicycle and smiling, and you can tell that this was supposed to make us feel hopeful, but unfortunately — given what had gone before — that smile was just about the most dispiriting thing I’ve seen all year. And it’s December. That sounds like a bad review, but in fact I thought it was quite a compelling film, put together with an expert sense of pacing and character development. Above all, the best thing about The Fight was the incredible performances given by the male lead, Maxime Desjardins-Tremblay (who also appears in a supporting role in Mommy Is at the Hairdresser’s) and Julianne Cote, who plays the sister. A huge number of the shots are tightly focused close-ups on the actor’s faces, potentially a risky move with adolescents, but here it really works well.

Films not previewed were The Age of Ignorance by Denys Arcand and Borderline by Lyne Charlebois.

Quebec Film Week screens Wednesday, December 10 through Sunday, December 14, 2008 at Landmark’s Opera Plaza Cinema. Tickets on opening night include complimentary reception at Shima Sushi. Visit here to get more information, check out the festival schedule, and buy advance tickets.

Protest Prop 8 on Market Street this Friday

Last night some 2,000 people came out to City Hall to hold a candlelight vigil and protest the passage of Proposition 8. Susie Cagle at Curbed predicts this is just the beginning, and she’s right. You can take part in the next major protest this Friday. Word here. The plan is to meet above the Civic Center BART station (Market and 7th) at 5:30 PM, then march down Market street to Castro Street, down to 18th, and then back along 18th to Mission Dolores Park. The bigger the turnout, the better.

Asian Art Museum Matcha Event: Afghanistan!


It’s tonight, and the exclamation point is mandatory. It’s the last event until next year for the Asian Art Museum’s Matcha series, and I think you can probably guess what the focus will be: “the food, music, and dance of Afghanistan.” The AAM continues:

[This grand finale is] In celebration of the highly anticipated, critically acclaimed special exhibition, Afghanistan: Hidden Treasures from the National Museum, Kabul. See what the press is saying about this “at once revelatory and heart-rending” show (New York Times).

The Bay Area’s own Ballet Afsaneh, a dynamic ensemble whose repertory focuses on Silk Road regions in Central Asia, will perform colorful, kinetic traditional dance. See Afghanistan, go on a guided tour, make jewelry inspired by the ancient Bactrian gold on view, nibble on tasty bites, mingle with friends over cocktails from the cash bar, and much more.

The museum is on Larkin, next door to Main Library. As always, the event runs from 5-9 PM and admission to it is $5. Plus, for that awesome wallet-friendly price, you can check out any exhibit you like. The full evening schedule is here on the event page.

Asian Art Museum Matcha Event: Japanese Tattoo

Japanese Tattoo

It’s Matcha time! The Asian Art Museum hosts their Matcha event series on the first Thursday of every month, from 5 to 9 in the evening, and tomorrow, October 2nd, is that special day. The theme for tomorrow’s event is Japanese Tattoo:

There’s more to getting inked than you think. Takahiro Kitamura — aka “HORITAKA,” apprentice to the revered master Horiyoshi III — is an author, prolific tattoo artist, and owner of San Jose’s State of Grace. He will deliver a talk on the time-honored art of Japanese tattoos, a rich culture of beauty, commitment, and history.

See LIVE demonstrations of employing both traditional (no electric needles!) and modern techniques. Joining Horitaka’s diverse, talented crew of tattooists are special guests from Japan — Shige, a powerhouse tat artist who’s showcased all over the world; Mutsuo, who’s designed for Bathing Ape and Hysteric Glamour; and Kazunobu Nagashima, a client of Shige who will proudly display his backpiece, which won a 2007 Milano Tattoo Convention award.

In addition, dip into the world of Zen among ancient Samurai warriors through a guided tour of the galleries, learn about Japanese altars, sample teas by Ito En, soak up DJ Saiman’s aural offerings, enjoy a cocktail with friends, and much more.

The museum is on Larkin next door to Main Library. Admission is $5 after 5 PM, and as they imply up there, for that awesome price you get the run of the museum. Their special exhibition at the moment is Arts of the Islamic World from Turkey to Indonesia, featuring artifacts from the museum’s collection. (They’re tooling up for a big show about Afghanistan that won’t open for three weeks. But we’ll talk about that next month.)

Books: Rally for Banned Books

Tomorrow, October 1st, there will be a free event on the Main Library steps from noon until 1:30: the Rally for Banned Books. The event features local authors reading from their favorite banned books. I guess it’s a kind of warm up for Litquake, which starts Friday.

Readers tomorrow will include Tamim Ansary, Justin Chin, Jane Ganahl, Leah Garchik, Kathi Kamen Goldmark, Jewelle Gomez, Kemble Scott, April Sinclair (April Sinclair!), Kevin Smokler, K.M. Soehnlein, and it will be moderated by Jack Hirschman. What a lineup!

It turns out that the last week of September is Banned Book Week. (Amusingly, the press release from the library refers to it once as BBW; somebody should tell them the acronym is spoken for.) Observance of Banned Book Week, which is sponsored by every national book- and library-related organization, is meant to “remind Americans not to take this precious democratic freedom [the freedom to read] for granted,” according to the press release. It goes on: “Banned Books Week celebrates the freedom to choose or the freedom to express one’s opinion even if that opinion might be considered unorthodox or unpopular and stresses the importance of ensuring the availability of those unorthodox or unpopular viewpoints to all who wish to read them. Intellectual freedom can exist only where these two essential conditions are met.”

Books: Paul Auster, Junot Diaz at the Herbst Theater

Paul AusterJunot Diaz
[Photo of Paul Auster, left, by André Meunier; photo of Junot Diaz, right, by WBUR Boston.]

Normally I like to confine my recommendations to wallet-friendly events, but next week there are two events close together at the Herbst Theater that I can’t resist mentioning: Paul Auster in conversation with Michelle Richmond on Tuesday the 16th, and Junot Diaz in conversation with Paul Lancour on Thursday the 18th. Tickets are a pricey $20 for the hour-long live interview, but as far as I know, all proceeds go to benefit the 826 College Scholarship program. So when you spend that money, just think of the great kids you’ll be helping to send to college.

Listen to Paul Auster here, reading the first chapter of his latest novel, Man in the Dark, on the KQED Writers’ Block Podcast; and here’s an interesting 5-minute audio interview with Junot Diaz, done before he won the Pulitzer Prize for The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. (There’s lots of great audio over on the right-hand side of that page, too: don’t miss it!) Also you can check out my review of his novel here.


An Israeli teacher on a year-long posting to a Hebrew school in San Francisco finds Pier 39 “filled with beliefs and life” and the Golden Gate Bridge “a magnificent architectural structure.” Another ball of fire writes that he “spent the summer living in San Francisco, doing exactly what I’d hoped: working in VC, reading business plans, meeting with entrepreneurs, doing due diligence and generally learning the business;” in his spare time he rode a motorcycle.

A Swedish woman now living in Hayes Valley wonders: “Can somebody please explain to me why staff in the Golden Gate Park always leave the engines running while they load and un-load their trucks in the park? While clearing shrubs, cleaning up flower-beds and so on. The engines are always on. It doesn’t make any sense.”

Idle NY theater critic visits, finds our scene wanting
Visitor finds SF “too hilly to be dull

Rapid Restaurant Revew: Zuni Café

I must admit that Zuni Café is an old stand-by for me. It is my go-to restaurant for late-ish dining, for entertaining out-of-town guests, for enjoying a meal with hard-to-impress friends, and it seems, for constructing sentences with lots of hyphenated phrases.

I’m hardly breaking new ground by reviewing Zuni, but more and more, I’ve run into people who’ve lived in San Francisco for at least a couple of years and have never eaten there. My advice: invite some out-of-town guests to visit and take them to Zuni.


Opium’s Literary Death Match; Issue 6 Release Party

Periodically, Opium Magazine hosts their signature event, the Literary Death Match, and from time to time it doubles as a release party for their latest issue. Such will be the case tonight at 7:00 PM, at the Rickshaw Stop (located at Fell St & Van Ness).

What is a Literary Death Match? It works like this: there are four contenders and a panel of judges. Two contenders are allotted ten minutes each to stun, enchant, and delight the judges and audience with their deathless prose. Subsequently, the judges have an open panel on these readings, and judge them on literary merit, as performance, and on “intangibles” — then they vote to choose the winner of the first round. Repeat with the other two.

In the final round, the two survivors face off. Not with further readings, but rather in some kind of gladiatorial combat: the Death Match Challenge!

Like, for instance, a miniature basketball contest.

Usually by then, audience and contestants alike are somewhere between “kind of tipsy” and “probably-if-not-definitely drunk,” which of course just makes everyone funnier, smarter, and better-looking.

Doors open at 6:00; admission $10, but you get a free copy of Opium 6: Go Green once you’re in there. If past performance is indicative of future results, the show will be great entertainment: you’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll order one drink too many. Don’t miss it!

Rapid Restaurant Review: Bar Jules

Welcome to the first of (hopefully) many Rapid Restaurant Reviews.

You won’t find star ratings here. You won’t find a lot of flowery descriptions of food or snarky comments about service. And you especially won’t find any charming back story about how the chef’s first job was cleaning the deep fryers at McDonald’s before securing the financing to open a wildly successful San Francisco bistro.

Instead, you’ll find the answer to ten questions that, to me, encapsulate the San Francisco dining experience:


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