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No No Is a Good Thing: Your Guide to Navigating This Year's San Francisco International Film Festival 

Wednesday, Apr 23 2014

All That Jazz

Bob Fosse has been somewhat forgotten these days, largely because his preferred form, the musical, was already out of favor by the time this film was originally released in 1979. Hopefully, this new restoration of his equally glittery and damning self-portrait (starring Roy Scheider as faux-Fosse) will return him to the spotlight. (4/27, Sundance Kabuki Cinema; 5/2, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive)


Sci-fi doesn't require a big budget or flashy CGI; indeed, it's often at its best when it focuses on compelling characters in strange situations. In James Byrkit's small-scale story, a dinner party on the night a comet passes by the Earth takes a turn for the weird. (4/25 & 4/29, Kabuki)

Heaven Adores You

Legions of sad guys with guitars lost their patron saint when Elliot Smith died under mysterious circumstances in 2003. Nickolas Rossi's documentary examines Smith's legacy through a mix of concert footage, interviews with loved ones, and stark, lonely landscapes that channel his music. And there's lots of his music-music, too. (5/5 & 5/7, Kabuki; 5/8, New People Cinema)


No festival is complete without a film about a screenwriter, and Noh Young-seok's horror-comedy fits that bill. Hoping to finish his latest script in a South Korean mountain cabin, our hero (Jun Suk-ho) finds his peace broken by bad people around him, and rumblings of war from the North. (5/2, 5/7-8, Kabuki)

No No: A Dockumentary

Dock Ellis of the Pittsburgh Pirates is legendary for allegedly pitching a no-hitter (a "no no") while tripping balls on LSD, but Jeffrey Radice's documentary demonstrates that Ellis deserves to be remembered for much more, including fighting baseball's institutional racism and counseling addicts and convicts later in his too-short life. (4/25-26 & 5/4, New People)

Obvious Child

Gillian Robespierre's romantic comedy concerns Donna (Jenny Slate), a stand-up comedian in Brooklyn whose life spirals in multiple directions when she meets charming WASP Max (Jake Lacy). After a drunken night of revelry set to Paul Simon music, Donna has to make a choice that isn't so obvious. (5/4 & 5/6, Kabuki)

Ping Pong Summer

Michael Tully's coming-of-age tale is set in a seaside town in 1985, when the video game industry was crashing, and hip-hop was on the rise. It's also an affectionate tribute to the era's teen films, especially The Karate Kid, with Susan Sarandon as a mentor in the esteem-building game of table tennis. (5/4, Kabuki; 5/7, New People)

Standing Aside, Watching

The flip side of Ping Pong Summer's beachfront reveries, Yorgos Servatas' dark tale follows a young Greek woman (Marina Symeou) who, fed up with Athens, relocates to a small seaside town to start anew — only to discover that the violent cultural malaise of modern-day Greece is at its worst there. (4/26 & 4/30, Kabuki; 5/3, New People)

20,000 Days on Earth

Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard's experimental biopic/documentary hybrid travels with musician/writer/poet Nick Cave through the course of a given day, journeying through his past and in and out of his psyche, all set to an appropriately haunting score by Cave and the Dirty Three's Warren Ellis. (4/28, Kabuki; 5/1, New People)

We Are the Best!

A sort of Swedish updating of Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains (though set in the same era), Lukas Moodysson's joyous film follows three teenage girls in Stockholm who decide to start a punk band, not letting a lack of talent or an overabundance of disdain from others get in their way. (5/5 & 5/7, Kabuki)

Palo Alto

Gia Coppola is the granddaughter of Francis, and also the guest designer of the new issue of his Zoetrope: All-Story magazine. Palo Alto is the festival centerpiece, and Gia's feature debut as a writer and director. It features James Franco, whose short story collection it adapts, among some troubled teens. How can you resist? You can't, which is why this one's already sold out. (5/3, Kabuki)

Mary Is Happy, Mary Is Happy

Like films involving James Franco, films sourced from Tweets seem unavoidable now, a sort of cultural cross to bear and possibly something you'll want to see if only for an early terrified glimpse of the world your kids will inherit. But this one's from Thailand, where narrative cinematic experiments tend to shimmer like balmy magic jungle dreams — even, we hope, when they're made from a tweeted year in one angsty high school senior's life. (5/2 & 5/4, New People; 5/6, Kabuki)

Agnès Varda: From Here to There

Like a film made of Tweets, a five-part French documentary miniseries about the global art world might not sound inherently inviting. But this one's from Agnès Varda. Here, the impish French New Wave matriarch purposefully wanders the globe exploring art and cinema, hanging out with (famous) creative friends, and exuding her usual life-hungry, anti-pompous, artful humanity. (4/26, 4/28-5/2, New People)

Stray Dogs

This latest and possibly last film from Taiwanese art-house titan Tsai Ming-liang is said to concern the poverty and pervasive sadness of a modern Taipei family, and to contain the poetic austerity of long shots and non-plots that really thrives at film festivals such as SFIFF, where audiences either go gaga for it or get bored and make a point of walking out. (4/28, Kabuki; 4/29, New People)

Stand Up Planet

Of course we all enjoy depressingly humorless documentaries about the developing world and its many many overwhelmingly horrible problems, but what if such a documentary actually had some funniness in it? What if it was about funniness — in the form of that great leveler, nay, great elevator, stand-up comedy? As San Francisco filmmakers David Munro and Xandra Castleton remind us, sometimes being seriously fucked up makes people funny, and maybe that's true of planets too. (4/28, Kabuki)

Of Horses and Men

Although mildly hesitant to Google this title for fear of NSFW search results, we determined it to be the debut feature from Iceland's Benedikt Erlingsson, officially synopsized as "A country romance about the human streak in the horse and the horse in the human. Love and death become interlaced and with immense consequences. The fortunes of the people in the country through the horses' perception." H'yah! (5/2-3 & 5/5, Kabuki)

David Thomson getting the Mel Novikoff Award

This pedigreed event involves Thomson, the impossibly prolific and film-literate local critic, in conversation with Geoff Dyer, a fellow film-buff Brit of writerly brilliance, and introducing Preston Sturges' grifter-romance-screwball classic The Lady Eve. Things could not get any classier. (5/4, Kabuki)

About The Authors

Sherilyn Connelly

Jonathan Kiefer

SF Weekly movie critic Jonathan Kiefer is on Twitter: @kieferama and of course @sfweeklyfilm.


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