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MoviesScreen GrabsScreen Grabs: Kenny Scharf doc explores irrepressible art star's...

Screen Grabs: Kenny Scharf doc explores irrepressible art star’s colorful ride

Plus: A Macedonian-Belgian-Slovenian-Croatian-French women's empowerment tale, the farcical howls of 'Werewolves Within,' more

Theaters continue to re-open, though not all are returning to something approximating a pre-COVID status quo: Reduced showtimes (or even days of the week) are a new norm at some venues, while others have changed up their programming. Given that SF’s one remaining dedicated repertory house (the Castro Theatre) still hasn’t announced any return to regular operations, it’s good news that the two-screen Balboa seems to be stepping into the breach with at least some rep-style scheduling.

This Fri/25 there will be several days of Pride Month-themed bills, starting with Gus Van Sant’s My Own Private Idaho and classic voguing doc Paris Is Burning; followed on the 26th by double-trouble Gregg Araki (The Living End, The Doom Generation); on Sun/27 a Brokeback Mountain matinee, then trans drama Tomboy and more recent Sapphic period piece Portrait of a Lady on Fire, both from France.

Next Tuesday that motif will extend, kinda-sorta, to great, closeted Hollywood Golden Age director James Whale’s delicious 1935 The Bride of Frankenstein. It’s part of an ongoing Balboa series of classics shown in 16mm and 35mm prints; other titles coming up include Bogart/Hepburn adventure The African Queen (July 6), 1972 eco-horror Frogs (July 27) and Terry Gilliam’s phantasmagoria Brazil (August 3). All this in addition to regular new-release runs, plus midnight faves like Rocky Horror and The Room. For full schedule and more info, go to www.cinemasf.com.

Meanwhile, new movies do continue to come out, and this weekend brings some particularly good ones, half of them playing local theaters, the other half going straight to streaming:

WEREWOLVES WITHIN

A couple years ago I was somewhat baffled by the joyous reception for Knives Out, a farcical sendup of Agatha Christie/Clue-type murder mysteries that wasn’t half so clever as most of the movies it was spoofing. A much funnier satire of that genre, to my mind, is this sharp comedy by director Josh Ruben (Scare Me) and writer Mishna Wolff, which also has fun with horror-movie conventions.

Finn (Sam Richardson) is the new forest ranger in a postcard-perfect rural hamlet where USPS deliverer Cecily (Milana Vayntrub) is also a recent arrival. But they quickly find the residents are engaged in a bitter culture war over a proposed pipeline project. Then everybody discovers that someone, or something, is hellbent on killing them all off. With claws. Is one of them an actual werewolf?

If the material were just a little more inspired, this might be up there with Shaun of the Dead as a world-class comedians’ riff on trashy genre cinema. It falls a little short of that lofty status, but Within is so smartly directed and performed that you’ll have great fun anyway. It’s certainly one of the less brain-dead screen translations of a video game ever, and not half bad as a satirical political microcosm of all-American “divisiveness” at present, too. IFC Films is opening the feature at the Embarcadero Cinemas Fri/25; it will be available for rental on streaming platforms July 2.

GOD EXISTS, HER NAME IS PETRUNYA

Not finding small-town life very restful either is the titular heroine in this (take a breath) Macedonian-Belgian-Slovenian-Croatian-French coproduction. Petrunya (Zorica Nusheva) is 32, jobless, unmarried, heavy-set, still lives with her parents, and if she didn’t already feel like a complete failure, her mother would surely remind her to. Pushed by Ma into yet another pointless interview for a job wholly irrelevant to her university degree in history, she isn’t even surprised by the level of humiliation doled out—the sweatshop owner who won’t deign to hire her can’t resist the parting wisdom “I wouldn’t even fuck you.”
On the walk home, she stumbles upon a crazy annual running-with-the-bulls-type tradition in which half-naked young men plunge into freezing river waters to retrieve a cross dropped from a bridge by a priest. Fully clothed, she impulsively jumps in—and is the first to seize that prize. But the reaction to her momentary triumph only underlines the sexism and general loutishness she’s dealt with her whole life. Soon she’s in police custody, with a howling mob of angry men outside, and an ambitious TV reporter (Labrina Mitevska) anxious to turn this “controversy” into a career-maker.

This is an empowerment tale not so far from the likes of Brittany Runs a Marathon and the like, though with a dark, caustic streak of Eastern European pessimism in even the lightest moments. Teona Strugar Mitevska’s film prefers quiet notes over big inspirational ones. But it’s still impossible not to feel some glee as Petrunya stubbornly refuses to be belittled any further—or to stop others from exposing their weakness of character in attacking her. God Exists… is currently playing virtual cinemas, including that of the Lark in Larkspur.

KENNY SCHARF: WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE

If color and joy seem to have been denied Petrunya her whole life, those things are abundant, almost overwhelming, in this documentary portrait of an artist. A Southern Californian who moved to NYC to study in the late 1970s, Scharf became identified with the next decade’s boom in commercially anointed new “art stars” like Julian Schnabel and Jeff Koons—though he was particularly identified with the so-called East Village Art Scene, and co-conspirator friends Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat.

Like them, he was an excited player in the newly “discovered” worlds of graffiti and street art, his early signatures including incorporation of pop images from The Jetsons and The Flintstones. But his “kooky/sinister” work also encompassed video, performance, sculpture, music, and eventually animation. It was fun and accessible, which helped ignite a too-brief vogue amongst galleries and collectors. He blames himself now for not “riding out” the ensuing slough in NYC, instead running away with his family to less pressurized environs. But perhaps as a result, he’s retained his irrepressible energy and inventiveness.

One hopes this documentary, directed by his daughter Maria with Max Basch, will trigger renewed appreciation for the complexity and remarkable technique that people failed to appreciate in his imagery the first time around. When Worlds Collide features interviews with friends/colleagues like Ed Ruscha, Fab 5 Freddy, and Ann Magnuson, plus archival footage of Andy Warhol, Yoko Ono, Dennis Hopper, etc. It’s playing the Roxie Fri/25 (and the Roxie Virtual Cinema thereafter), as well as Rafael Film Center’s Rafael@Home streaming program.

CHASING CHILDHOOD

The sense of childlike playfulness Kenny Scharf still possesses at age 62 might never even sprout in the actual children Eden Wurmfeld and Margaret Munzer Loeb’s documentary worries over. They and numerous experts in the field fear too many kids today are under such pressure to “succeed,” from such an early age, that they aren’t developing the social skills and independence childhood used to encourage—but are suffering classic symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression instead.

Grade-schoolers interviewed confess they never simply “go outside and play,” because they’re scheduled to the teeth with organized extracurricular activities. Some have never crossed a street by themselves, they’re so overprotected. But statistics quoted here claim the likelihood of an American child being abducted by a stranger—every parent’s obsessive nightmare—is about 1 in 300,000. That’s a risk far smaller than getting struck by lightning. As one observer here notes, “All the fear in the world doesn’t prevent death, it prevents life.” Pushed towards academic achievement too early, with too much make-or-break value placed on getting into elite universities, these kids often reach adulthood with serious issues that more unstructured free time might’ve let them avoid or work out for themselves.

Admittedly, all this sort of falls into the realm of rich people’s problems, and it’s a tad irritating that Chasing Childhood doesn’t admit it—the film doesn’t even seem aware that people lower on the economic scale can’t overschedule their kids, or often even send them to college, because those aren’t affordable options.

Still, for the middle-class-and-up audience it’s most likely to be seen by, this is an important insight into how many well-intentioned modern educational and parenting trends are actually bad ideas. So bad, in fact, that there is now actually something called a “free play movement” gaining momentum nationally, simply to encourage families to let their kids just be kids for a few hours every day. Or at least every week. Abramorama is releasing the feature to home viewing platforms on Fri/25, with California viewers’ access through Laemmle Virtual Cinema.

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