SCREEN GRABS While the SF Greek and Arab Film Festivals continue for their second, final weekends (see last week’s column for more details), it’s otherwise a pretty uneventful week at the movies. There are various Halloween-related one-offs at local theaters, plus of course the new Halloween, which reboots that now-40-year-old franchise for the 90th time, complete with a returned Jamie Lee Curtis.
There’s horror of a different type in An Evening With Beverly Luff Linn, which opens exclusively at the Alamo Drafthouse on Friday. Writer-director Jim Hosking made of a splash with his 2016 debut feature The Greasy Strangler, an awesomely annoying exercise in juvenile scatology that acquired a cult following among those it didn’t simply repel. This latest comedy of childish geek humor, over-the-top mugging and bad 70s clothes is a little easier to take, thanks in large part to a cast of slumming quality professionals (Aubrey Plaza, Emile Hirsch, Jermaine Clement, Craig Robinson). But if you hated Greasy, you won’t like this one, either.
Elsewhere (all opening Friday unless otherwise noted):
There have been and will be better movies this year, but there’s unlikely to be a mainstream film that more precisely taps the sociopolitical zeitgeist than former MadTV cast member Ike Barinholtz’s feature debut as writer-director. It’s that by now hoary conceit of “Holiday family reunion that goes dysfunctionally awry.” Except here interracial couple Chris (Barinholtz) and Kai (Tiffany Haddish) are reeling from a fictive near-future event quite plausible in Trumpish times: The POTUS has asked every American to sign an oath of loyalty specifically to him, promising no harm will come to those who refuse.
That’s a promise already broken by the time Thanksgiving rolls around, and Chris’ brother Pat (Jon Barinholtz) brings his rabidly right-wing, nationalist girlfriend Abby (Meredith Hagner) to the family celebration. Things don’t truly get out of hand, however, until two agents (John Cho, Billy Magnussen) of the “Citizens’ Protection Unit”—a suspiciously Gestapo-like civilian “division of Homeland Security” with murky legal/policing powers—show up. This farcical black comedy is uneven, its energy and invention sometimes flagging. But it works for the most part, and captures the tenor of an era when “divisive” politics have grown bad enough to break up friendships, families, and quite possibly our status as a democratic republic. At area theaters.
This is one of two awards-bait movies this season about affluent families coping with a drug-addicted son, and much the better among them. (Ben Is Back, with Julia Roberts and Lucas Hedges, will hit theaters in a few weeks.)
Based on Bay Area writer David Sheff’s same-titled memoir, it has Steve Carell as the Marin-based journalist horrified as his child by a first marriage, Nic (Timothee Chalamet), descends into a seemingly hopeless revolving door of expensive rehab treatments and bottom-hitting relapses. Nic will take anything, though crystal meth proves perhaps his particular downfall. When in the grip of it, he’ll do anything, including stealing from his own increasingly wary family.
Belgian director Felix Van Groeningen’s home-turf hits The Broken Circle Breakdown and Belgica didn’t do much for me. But this English-language debut is very strong, handling the addiction issues sans excess melodrama or hand-wringing. Carrell is excellent, while Chalamet here truly earns the acclaim that was thrown a little too easily his way for last year’s overrated Call Me By Your Name. At area theaters.
Asger (Jakob Cedergren) is a cocky beat cop who doesn’t take this night’s duty manning the 911 phone bank very seriously. Indeed, he seems a bit of a flippant jerk—until he gets a call from a woman who manages to communicate that she’s been abducted. She’s in a car driven by her apparently angry, possibly violent spouse. The situation only grows more grave the more details Asger manages to glean from her. Soon it becomes obvious that there’s a life-or-death crisis going on here, dependent on his ability to figure her whereabouts before it’s too late.
Danish writer-director Gustav Moller’s first feature never leaves the couple rooms where Asger works his shift—we don’t catch even a glimpse of the events he’s desperately trying to suss out long-distance. But that seeming recipe for stagey claustrophobia doesn’t stop this from being a gripping thriller. There are some startling yet credible twists, and Cedergren’s performance gradually reveals complex layers in a character who at first seems anything but complicated, or sympathetic. Opera Plaza. More info here.
FACINE25: THE FILIPINO INTERNATIONAL CINE FESTIVAL
Though the Bay Area-originating Cinematografo fest is still a couple weeks off, fans of Filipino cinema can begin engorging now, thanks to the 25th edition of this traveling showcase. The nine acclaimed recent features on tap at the Roxie this weekend run a gamut from fact-inspired tales of indigenous ways ground under by military and environmental plunder (Tu Pug Imatuy) to romantic comedy (Meet Me in St. Gallen) to teen drama (2 Cool 2 Be 4gotten). Fri/19-Sun/21, Roxie. More info here.
Meanwhile, the San Francisco International Festival of Short Films is marking its 13th year with an overlapping three days at the Roxie. Six distinct, thematically curated programs collect shorts from 25 countries, including Serbia, South Korea, Poland, New Zealand, Russia, Brazil, United Arab Emirates and of course the U.S. They’ll encompass documentary, animation, comedy, social commentary and much more, with each bill guaranteeing a diverse full meal of art and entertainment. Thurs/18-Sat/20, Roxie. More info here.
PSYCHO-GEO3: MARGINS OF THE MAP
This week’s Other Cinema program features two brand-new films by longtime Mission-based SF filmmaker Greta Snider, plus a revival of her 1998 B&W personal documentary Portland, in which she and some friends go “riding the rails” retro-hobo style to that northern city—or at least try to. Continuing a geographic theme will be additional works by Lana Caplan, Brea Weinreb, Matt McCormick, while Alex Coppola DJ’s accompaniment for a selection of mid-20th century travelogue clips. Sat/20, Artists Television Access.
THE GRATEFUL DEAD MOVIE
You might think the San Francisco in which Deadheads were ubiquitous is long gone—unless you go to the Hardly Strictly Festival, which last month once again proved that Jerry-atrics of all ages aren’t gone, they (and their T-shirts) simply hibernate most of the year. Still, it used to be that this 1977 concert film was on every rep-house calendar ever (it probably paid a healthy section of the late Red Vic Movie House’s rent), yet the Balboa’s revival this week probably represents its biggest local exposure in aeons.
J. Garcia aka “God” himself spent two years editing hundreds of hours of footage shot by his and co-director Leon Gast’s crew during a five-day 1974 run at SF’s Winterland. Those gigs were originally expected to be the band’s swan song, although of course things didn’t turn out that way. Instead, the film helped sustain and expand their audience, aided by the appeal of Gary Guiterrez’s psychedelic animations featuring their mascot “Uncle Sam skeleton.” The Movie also provides a gander at the unique fan culture they fostered, a decade before “Touch of Grey” incongruously brought fraternity bros and other squares (at least briefly) into the fold. Tues/16, Thurs/18, Fri/19, Balboa. More info here.