SCREEN GRABS This week brings a whole lot of mini-festivals to various Bay Area screens. The Roxie has the Hola Mexico, a three-day touring edition of the annual LA festival showcasing the best in new Mexican cinema. (More info here.) Doing the same for the land of the rising sun, albeit for a considerably more expansive 10 days, is the 6th Japan Film Festival of SF at New People Cinema. Ranging from historical dramas to anime to J-pop documentaries, it will feature several filmmakers in person (More info here.). Fans of Asian cinema in general will face a scheduling quandary, as SFFilm’s latest Hong Kong Cinema series also occupies this immediate weekend. (More info here.) The program encompasses four first features, as well as the horror-action-comedy Vampire Cleanup Department and boy band biopic House of the Rising Sons.
Placing emphasis on genre rather than geography is Alamo Drafthouse’s hosting this weekend of some highlights from Austin’s latest Fantastic Fest. They will include the new movie An Evening With Beverly Luff Linn from the director of divisive recent cult item The Greasy Strangler, plus horror movies and miscellaneous weirdness from Brazil, Norway, Belgium, Denmark and Oakland (via a revival of Sarah Jacobsen’s twenty-year old indie Mary Jane’s Not a Virgin Anymore). More info here.
Finally, a flashback of a different kind launches this Friday at the Pacific Film Archive, as choreographer Mark Morris presents a film series inspired by his Beatles-tribute dance Pepperland, which is being performed this weekend at Zellerbach Hall, via Cal Performances. In the Age of Pepperland highlights particularly influential titles from the exciting cinematic culture of half a century ago, including Antonioni’s Blow-Up, Mel Brooks’ The Producers, Kubrick’s 2001, Frederick Wiseman’s High School, and of course the Fab Four in A Hard Day’s Night. (More info here.)
Noted in brief: Bisbee ’17, an interesting if too trickily schematic meditation on a century-old US labor dispute eerily relevant to our current “immigrant” debate (at the Alamo Drafthouse); and Science Fair, a likable documentary following nine students from the US (as well as Germany and Brazil) as they prepare to compete against some 1700 other teens in the world’s most prestigious annual international high school science competition. Unavailable for preview was Wash Westmoreland’s Colette, which has garnered admiring reviews so far, particularly for Keira Knightley as the titular great French author.
This excellent documentary celebrates the career of Joan Jett, a trailblazing female rocker who’s still keeping that fire going at an eternally youthful 60. Veteran music video director Kevin Kerslake chronicles the turbulent ’70s teenage “all-girl” outfit The Runaways, which was widely ridiculed at the time but has proved hugely influential since; and Jett’s dogged quest for the respect she deserved fronting her band The Blackhearts.
The latter’s wavering commercial fortunes, her close affiliations with original punk bands (notably Germs) and the Riot Grrl movement (esp. via Bikini Kill), her political activism and surprising history of performing for military personnel (despite a pacifist stance) are all entertainingly detailed here. But perhaps most unexpected is the portrait of her longtime “odd couple” kinship with producer-manager Kenny Laguna, an erstwhile writer of numerous 1960s bubblegum hits turned unlikely ally for the leather-jacketed rock queen. It’s a very weird “marriage without the sex” that has nonetheless kept these seeming opposites going in tandem for nearly four decades now. The film is playing short runs (including two days at the Roxie, Wed/26-Thrus/27) at theaters nationwide. More info here.
Another product of the ’70s—though without the staying power—was Hal Ashby, who graduated from being a celebrated editor to one of the greatest directors of the Me Decade. His first feature The Landlord was in 1970, his last great one Being There in 1979. Afterward it was a steep downward slide both cinematically and health-wise, ending in a premature death from cancer in 1988. But during that short run, he managed one classic after another: Harold and Maude, The Last Detail, Shampoo, Bound for Glory, Coming Home.
Ashby defined the shaggy, adult, more “personal” tenor of Hollywood filmmaking in that era, not just in his films but in his off-screen excesses (including five marriages). Amy Scott’s documentary charts all the highs and lows in a singular career, with input from such collaborators as Jane Fonda, Jon Voight, Bruce Dern and Lee Grant (four among the many actors he directed to Oscar nominations), as well as filmmakers he influenced from Judd Apatow to Lisa Cholodenko. If there’s someone you know who can’t answer the question “What was so special about movies in the 70s?,” this film is a great place to start their education. Opera Plaza. More info here.
OTTOMATICAKE AND JADED
Two special one-night events at the Roxie: Punk rocker, cheesecake maestro, occasional “Hedvig” performer, Honolulu neighborhood activist, rollercoaster and rollerskating enthusiast Otto—would you ask Cher or Charo for a last name?—is the subject of Ottomaticake. This hour-long documentary by SF filmmaker Gemma Cubero del Barrio screens with director and subject in person. Will there be cheesecake? We don’t know, but we will be bitterly disappointed if there isn’t.
Also, JD Scalzo and Brian Emerick will be present with cast and crew to present the first two episodes of Jaded, an original Vimeo series about the state of gay dating in San Francisco, A.D. 2018. It promises a perspective “though the eyes of a man lost inside the hookup culture, while on a relentless pursuit for a way out.” There will be an “exclusive after party” at the Amory Club, at which you can perhaps relentlessly pursue a hookup or two yourself. Ottomaticake: Sat/29, 5pm. More info here. Jaded: Wed/3, 6 pm. More info here.
KAL SPELLETICH BENEFIT
It’s ironic that the Bay Area tech bubble is forcing out technologically forward artists like Spelletich, who makes audience-interactive robots and other machines in his Dogpatch studio—well, he did, until that hitherto inexpensive SF neighborhood’s fall to the development craze got him evicted. This Other Cinema program will benefit his moving and storage costs. There will be documentaries about his work, as well as a raft of excerpts from vintage sci-fi films, J. Reiss’ 1988 Survival Research Labs short A Bitter Message of Hopeless Grief, and more. Sat/29, Artists Television Access. www.othercinema.com
THE SISTERS BROTHERS
Patrick DeWitt’s 2011 novel is faithfully adapted in this first English-language feature by French director Jacques Audiard (Dheepan, Rust and Bone, A Prophet). John C. Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix play the titular siblings, hired gunmen who travel from Oregon to San Francisco and beyond during the mid-1800s in search of a chemist (Riz Ahmed) whose apparent breakthrough in locating gold deposits is of great interest to their wealthy employer. Jake Gyllenhaal is cast as another emissary of that rich man, albeit one who switches allegiances mid-journey.
Full of amusing period details (our protagonists are gobsmacked by their first encounters with such modern wonders as a “toothbrush” and “flush toilet”), this seriocomic adventure retains the book’s leisurely, anecdotal air. A different director might’ve lent it more narrative momentum and excitement. Though there’s quite enough gunplay here, the film seems rather disinterested in action or suspense, emphasizing idiosyncratic character instead. While one suspects this good movie narrowly missed being a great one, it does draw on strong performances that ultimately prove more poignant than one might expect from the often waggish tenor. At area theaters.