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The 57th San Francisco International Film Festival (April 24-May 8, 2014)


/content/features/253/2.jpgNo one would say that the San Francisco Film Society has had an easy time of the last few years, but its Filmmaker360 program to support and fund independent film can (and does) boast successes like Beasts of the Southern Wild and Fruitvale Station, and with new Executive Director Noah Cowan in place, stability may well return to that position. And then, of course, it's that time of year for the SFFS to pull out the stops and celebrate world cinema. The San Francisco International Film Festival runs April 24—May 8, and it's once again loaded up with intriguing international titles, notable domestic pictures making their Bay Area premieres, tribute events, master classes, salons, and retrospectives.

This year's slate includes ninety-four feature films (including twenty-eight documentaries) and seven shorts programs, and it all kicks off with Hossein Amini's The Two Faces of January (review below), screening as the Opening Night film preceding a party at Public Works. The fest's Centerpiece Selection (May 3) is specially local in color: Palo Alto (review below), directed by yet another Coppola (Gia) from Palo Altan James Franco's book of short stories (party after at Roe). The fest wraps Closing Night with actor-director Chris Messina's comedy-drama Alex of Venice (party after at The Chapel).

But of course, there's also the glittery fundraising gala Film Society Awards Night May 1, with Richard Linklater accepting the Founder's Directing Award (and anchoring "An Evening with Richard Linklater" May 2 at the Castro), Jeremy Irons the Peter J. Owens Award for excellence in film acting ("An Evening with Jeremy Irons" takes place April 30 at the Sundance Kabuki Cinemas), and Stephen Gaghan (Syriana) the Kanbar Award for screenwriting (with his event on May 3 at the Kabuki). San Francisco's adopted son David Thomson has earned the Mel Novikoff Award, and the critic and author will take the stage May 4 at the Kabuki for a conversation before a screening of the Preston Sturges classic The Lady Eve, while film artist Isaac Julien will accept the Persistence of Vision Award, and will converse with B. Ruby Rich April 27 at the Kabuki.

Other events include a conversation with production designer K.K. Barrett (Her) on April 27 at the Kabuki, live stand-up/non-fiction storytelling (Stand Up Planet 4/28 at the Kabuki and Porchlight 5/5 at the Kabuki), live-music-to-film events (Thao and the Get Down Stay Down 4/29 and Stephin Merritt with the Unknown 5/6, both at the Castro), and SFIFF Master Classes with whizzes from Dolby Labs (4/26 at New People Cinema), Pixar (5/4 at Walt Disney Family Museum), and Funny or Die (May 2 at the Kabuki). There's something for every film lover, at any age, and any level of adventurousness.

To review a complete festival schedule, go to


/content/features/253/3.jpgHellion (4/25 and 4/29 at the Kabuki): This SFFS-supported production finds Kat Candler in territory similar to that of her earlier features Jumping Off Bridges and Cicadas: the growing pains of teenagers in depressed communities. In rural Texas, thirteen-year-old Jacob (Josh Wiggins) harbors anger at his father (Aaron Paul) over a period of abandonment, but with Mom out of the picture, the two will have to find a way to reconcile. Meanwhile, Jacob's aunt (Juliette Lewis) conspires with Child Protective Services to remove his younger brother Wes, perhaps for good. Hellion may not feel very fresh, but the heartfelt turns by Wiggins and Paul keep the film psychologically grounded, moment to moment. A toss-up.

Last Weekend (5/2 at the Kabuki and 5/5 at New People Cinema): Review coming soon.

Palo Alto (5/3 at the Sundance Kabuki): Shades of The Virgin Suicides: Gia Coppola makes her directing debut with this adaptation of James Franco's book Palo Alto Stories. A collage of upscale suburban teen disaffection, Palo Alto plies juvenile delinquency and fumbling mating rituals for insights about the numbness of privilege as managed by clueless adults. The storyline in which Franco's soccer coach pursues Emma Roberts' player hits close to home for the real-life Palo Alto, but what the film's best and most affecting at is skillfully, achingly conveying the impression that Roberts' April and shy DUI perp Teddy (Jack Kilmer, in his debut) would be good for each other if one would only get it together and make a move—so good, in fact, that they could perhaps save each other from their wayward paths. Recommended.

The Skeleton Twins (5/1 and 5/2 at the Kabuki): Craig Johnson's depression-themed dramedy stars SNL alums Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader as Maggie and Milo, twins with twin troubles when it comes to relationships and suicidal tendencies. No one understands them like each other, a fact they rediscover after ten years apart. The stars convincingly ride the story's high highs (including a nitrous-fueled hangout and an irresistible Starship lip sync) and its low lows: when not saving each other, this "gruesome twosome" provides ample evidence that no can hurt you more than a loved one. Luke Wilson and Ty Burrell provide sterling support as the men in the twins' lives (Hader's Milo self-describes as "another tragic gay cliche"). Recommended.

The Two Faces of January (4/24 at the Castro): Crack screenwriter Hossein Amini (The Wings of the Dove, Drive) adapts the novel by Patricia Highsmith (Strangers on a Train, The Talented Mr. Ripley) into a moody psychological thriller with the pleasing local color of Athens and Crete. Oscar Isaac stars as a small-time con artist who gets more than he bargained for when he insinuates himself with a husband (Viggo Mortensen) and wife (Kirsten Dunst) who aren't as innocent as they appear. Murder sends the awkward threesome on the run, where trouble escalates fast. Amini's assured script and direction, and fine work from the cast, add up more than the material itself does on screen, equalling the engaging enough equivalent of a paperback read. Recommended.

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