The big event for cineastes this weekend is the 14th edition of San Francisco Cinematheque’s annual Crossroads festival—see 48 Hills’ preview of the event here. But if your taste doesn’t run so much towards experimental work, there are plenty of other worthy happenings around the city and beyond. One is the 20th anniversary of Bernal Heights Outdoor Cinema, whose three admission-free nights (Fri/8, Sat/9, Thurs/14) of separate programs in various neighborhood locations feature shorts (including many by local makers) curated by a half-dozen other local film organizations. More info on that here, read an interview with the founders here.
For the opposite of the al fresco celluloid experience, you can enjoy old-school movie palace splendor at the Castro Theatre with a “Genuine Tribute to James Cameron, Linda Hamilton & Sigourney Weaver” this Sat/9. Movies for Maniacs’ double header of female-driven futuristic action consists of Terminator 2: Judgment Day (at 6 pm) and Aliens (8:45 pm)—two of the best franchise sequels ever made. And even 40 years later (post-Titanic, not to mention Avatar), I’d say they’re still probably still Cameron’s best work. Both are being shown in good old 35mm. More info here.
Epic in an entirely different way is the Roxie’s revival of Patrizio Guzman’s The Battle of Chile in a new 2K restoration—all 4.5 hours of it, in three parts. In recent years, the now-elderly but still active director has made another remarkable trilogy of documentaries (Nostalgia for the Light, The Pearl Button, The Cordillera of Dreams) that likewise reflect on his native land’s tumultuous recent history, albeit through an exquisitely poetical, personal lens.
The Battle films, however, are more or less straight reportage, chronicling socialist President Allende’s brief rule, the coup that overthrew his democratically elected regime, and the beginning of Pinochet’s military junta, during which thousands of perceived opponents “disappeared.” Guzman himself had to flee, editing smuggled-out footage in European exile, the results winning international prizes—though they were not seen by Chileans for at least two decades. Any US sentiments of an “It can’t happen here” nature seem a little silly at this point in time, eh? Parts I & II begin screening this Fri/8, Part III as of Sat/16. More info here.
Another corner of the world that’s seen more than its share of conquests and power struggles is given a spotlight at BAMPFA for a week starting this Sun/10. Tbilisi-born filmmaker Salome Jashi will be visiting through Sun/17, screening her documentary films that prod the peculiarities of post-Soviet bloc reality in Georgia—another nation whose westward political leanings have stirred conflict with “Mother” Russia. We previously wrote about her latest, Taming the Garden, which saw a billionaire ex-Prime Minister assiduously exporting chunks of his native landscape to a private park abroad.
She’ll also show 2011’s Bakhmaro and 2016’s The Dazzling Light of Sunset, two humorous nonfiction looks at provincial life, as well as several shorts. BAMPFA draws on its own collection to include Nikoloz Shengelaia’s 1928 Eliso, a large-scale Soviet silent epic depicting 19th-century Tsarist “ethnic cleansing” in the region; it was released in the U.S. as Caucasian Love. For details on the whole series, go here.
Fear not, there are plenty of new options as usual for those who rather just stay home and stream:
Speaking of Russian military aggression…one of the best narrative films so far about the war in and on Ukraine is Maryna Er Gorbach’s striking drama, which played SFFilm last year. The very pregnant Irka (Oksana Cherkashyna) and husband Tolik (Serhi Shadrin) live in an inherited family home that has the misfortune to be located in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk region, near the Russian border. It is mid-2014, and already the neighboring superpower, local separatists, mercenaries and others are using their vicinity as a staging area for military incursions.
In the opening scene, the couple’s domestic banter is interrupted by a bomb that destroys one exterior wall to their house—and things only get worse from there. This is a sort of horror movie in which the everyday gets ever more brutal and degrading, while at the same time the utterly credible events grow more grotesque, even surreal. This Ukraine co-production with Turkey is being released to US digital/On Demand platforms by Samuel Goldwyn Films as of Fri/8.
Boy Meets Boy…Girl Meets Wolf-Girl…Man Bites Dog
Running a gamut in romantic frisson from the teenage same-sex to the interspecies (though still teen & same-sex) to WTF?!? are three new narrative features, all of some interest.
Based on the acclaimed 2012 YA novel by Benjamin Alire Saenz, Aitch Alberto’s Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is a nicely crafted, slow-burn juvenile romance set in El Paso’s Mexican-American community. Handsome high school loner Ari (Max Pelayo) finds his horizons widened by the arrival of new classmate Dante (Reese Gonzales), whose effusive manner, affectionate parents and assimilationist perspective contrast with Ari’s more muted existence. They become besties, their inseparability accompanied by a certain additional frisson neither has quite figured out yet at age 16. When Dante has to leave for a while (because his father gets a temporary work posting elsewhere), that ambiguity nudges long-distance towards greater definition.
Its story a bit uneventful for screen translation, this is nonetheless a pleasant film whose chaste, cautious approach to first love (let alone same-sex attraction) feels right for the target audience—even if it may seem rather bland to adult viewers. Until news reports of the AIDS epidemic arrive late in the going, the movie scarcely feels interested in its late-1980s setting, apart from soundtracking some New Wave oldies. Still, it’s a sweet-natured drama, opening in theaters (Bay Area-wise, mostly suburban ones) this Fri/8.
More tumultuous is the love that grows between teen girls in Jacqueline Castel’s Canadian My Animal, which opens this Fri/8 at the Alamo Drafthouse (and arrives 9/15 on digital platforms). At first glance, the dynamic is similar to Ari & Dante’s: Would-be hockey player Heather (Bobbi Salvor Menuez) is a loner coaxed from her shell by new kid Jonny (Amandla Stenberg), a competitive figure skater. But both have considerably darker home lives, with Heather chafing at her dysfunctional parents’ rules about going out during the full moon.
Yes, this is actually a werewolf movie, albeit very much in a YA mode of utilizing a supernatural “curse” as metaphor for various more pedestrian types of social alienation. It’s arguably too slowly paced, with mainstream horror fans likely to feel cheated by so little climactic “explosion” after a long buildup. But as a coming-out tale set amidst small-town small-mindedness, it’s perceptively directed and acted.
Entering the world of adult relationships in horribly cautionary fashion is writer-director Viljar Boe’s Norwegian Good Boy, which Saban Films releases to Digital and On Demand this Fri/8. Christian (Gard Lokke) is another loner type, a well-off bachelor whose rather fussy solo habits exude a faint Patrick Bateman vibe from the start. The only conspicuously weird thing about him, however, is his pet: A dog named Frank. Well, actually a grown man in a none-too-exacting furry suit that’s like a child’s costume for a school play, acting like a dog 24/7. Who duly woofs, eats from a bowl, and sleeps on the floor.
This idiosyncrasy comes as a considerable surprise to Sigrid (Katrine Lovise Opstad Fredriksen), the unpretentious young woman Christian meets online and has a successful first date with. Nonetheless, she overcomes her initial shock, because he’s such a “catch” (a wealthy celebrity’s son, it turns out), and because he says he tolerates this role-play entirely for the sake of his poor damaged friend Frank. Swallowing her “ick,” Sigrid gamely accepts an invitation for a weekend in the country, where it will be “just the three of them.” if you’re guessing this will turn out to be a terrible, terrible mistake…well, you’re not wrong.
A psychological thriller whose economy of incident only makes the eventual four-alarm-fire—after so much “nothing happening”—more alarming, Good Boy is an astute miniature that summons considerable power to disturb. I do wish its denouement hadn’t been marred by some basic credibility issues, but the overall effect is nonetheless creepy as hell.
Movies About Movies: Behind the Scenes With Fellini, Erotic Thrillers
Two documentaries just released to home formats offer considerable fun for film buffs, though both could have been better. Giuseppe Pedersoli’s The Truth About La Dolce Vita examines the creation of the 1960 film that would play a huge role in triggering the seismic changes in movie content and style that would occur throughout the 1960s. It was a grand creative leap for Federico Fellini and cinema in general—yet this flamboyant pulse-taking of the postwar Italian high life was expected to be an unmitigated disaster by many in the industry before it conquered the world. Abandoning his script to improvise, endlessly extending the production schedule, doubling the original budget, the director appeared to be heading towards anything but a career-defining triumph.
It was a fraught process this film (which feels like a TV project) provides some intriguing insight towards. Not enough, though, and it is dismaying that so much time is spent on dull re-enactment sequences. They aren’t even focused on Fellini, or the Vita shoot, but on the travails of late producer Giuseppe “Peppino” Amato. The whole experience was such “living hell” that he suffered a heart attack, dying outright just a few years later. There are interviews (some new, some archival) with Marcello Mastroianni, Sandra Milo, Dino De Laurentiis and Bernardo Bertoucci, all interesting, but Truth ends up feeling like a glorified Blu-ray extra that overemphasizes the least interesting aspects of the story it’s telling. It’s available via streaming platform Film Movement Plus.
More fun is We Kill for Love, which pays slavish tribute to the erotic thriller—that R-rated subgenre that flourished for a decade or so during the VHS rental boom. Of course everybody remembers the hits that ignited the trend (Dressed to Kill, Body Heat, 9 1/2 Weeks, Fatal Attraction, Basic Instinct)…but who remembers the umpteen cheap knockoffs they inspired? Well, quite a number of their regular participants—actors like Andrew Stevens and Monique Parent, directors like Fred Olin Ray and Jim Wynorski—are here to recall it, as evidenced by clips from such forgotten interchangeable titles as Carnal Crimes, Night Eyes, Improper Conduct, Animal Instinct, Secret Games, Naked Obsession, Dangerous Passion, Body Chemistry, Bare Witness, Deadly Embrace…you get the idea.
Seventy-four such films were released (mostly “direct-to-video”) in 1994 alone. Then they died off as quickly as they appeared, victims of market shifts, oversaturation, and rising cultural conservatism. These days, even a little nudity (or an R-rating) in a mainstream film like Oppenheimer is considered shocking enough to spur print think pieces. Hollywood content hasn’t been so puritanical since before the MPAA ratings were instituted in 1968.
We Kill duly enumerates the thematic and stylistic tropes that were standard in these movies, from AIDS-era sexual anxiety to femme fatales to shot looking down on beds from the POV of a slowly moving ceiling fan. It’s entertaining to glimpse so many forgotten lurid potboilers, and recall the careers (Zalman King, Shannon Tweed etc.) they almost single-handedly floated. But Anthony Penda’s documentary is almost three hours long, which is crazy. Crazier still is that it refuses to have much sense of humor about movies that were almost invariably terrible then, and best appreciated for their camp value now.
Was the director afraid of offending his interviewees? Most of them seem more amused by this tawdry, topless ouevre than the documentary allows itself to be. It takes an extraordinarily long amount of time to say very little that’s incisive about a genre that cries to be addressed as a guilty pleasure—or not addressed at all. We Kill For Love is now available On Demand from Yellow Veil Pictures.