SFIFF Spotlights #1: Ping Pong Summer/Last Weekend/Burt’s Buzz/Cesar’s Last Fast

by Carrie Kahn on April 21, 2014

Film Fest

Spinning Platters highlights some films from the 57th San Francisco International Film Festival (SFIFF), which opens this Thursday, April 24th, and runs through May 8th at various theaters in San Francisco and Berkeley. Program notes and tickets available here.

We’ll be continuing our coverage this week and throughout the Festival. To get you started, here are brief looks at two Festival features and two documentaries.

Ping Pong Summer
(USA, 2014, 92 min )

Looking cool in summer, 1985.

Looking cool in summer, 1985.

Ping Pong Summer is the poor cousin of last year’s SFIFF coming-of-age hit The Way Way Back. Set in Ocean City, MD in 1985, Michael Tully’s picture lacks TWWB’s nuance and depth, but has enough charm to recommend it. Seeing Lea Thompson, herself the it girl of 1980s teen films, now playing the mother of a 9th grader in an ‘80s period film is a bit disconcerting, but go with it. She’s terrific, as is Susan Sarandon as the Mr. Miyagi of ping pong. A rockin’ ‘80s soundtrack (Mister Mister, anyone?) balances genre clichés (bullying rich townies; troubled popular girl; final showdown), and the track suits, parachute pants, and giant boom boxes can’t help but delight.

Screenings:

• Sunday, May 4th, 6:30pm, Kabuki

• Wednesday, May 7th, 8:45pm, New People Cinema

Tickets available here.

Last Weekend
(USA 2014, 94 min)

Patricia Clarkson and Zachary Booth as mother and son share a rare tender moment.

Patricia Clarkson and Zachary Booth as mother and son share a rare tender moment.

Patricia Clarkson stars in Tom Dolby’s writing/directing debut about a wealthy San Francisco couple hosting their two sons and various guests at their Tahoe lake house. Filmed in and around Tahoe City, the cinematography is breathtaking. The movie comes perilously close to soapy melodrama at times, but is saved by Clarkson’s compelling performance, as well as fine acting by the supporting players, including Zachary Booth and Joseph Cross as the sons, each struggling with perceived parental pressures. Jayma Mays and Devon Graye bring complexity to smaller, key roles as the sons’ guests. With its subtle exploration of class differences, the picture is both timely and thoughtful.

Screenings:

• Friday, May 2nd, 6:30pm, Kabuki

• Monday, May 5th, 1:00pm, New People Cinema

Tickets available here.

Burt’s Buzz
(Canada 2014, 88 min)

Burt of Burt's Bees hanging out in his favorite place- at home in Maine.

Burt of Burt’s Bees hanging out in his favorite place- his home in Maine.

Burt’s Bees products are ubiquitous here in the eco-conscious Bay Area, yet consumers may not know the story behind company (and few may realize that Oakland’s Clorox Corp. now owns the once tiny Maine-based one-man shop). Jody Shapiro’s documentary introduces us to Burt Shavitz, the company’s eccentric founder and face of the brand. Through interviews with Shavitz and his friends and colleagues, we learn the history of a fascinating man. Shavitz personifies the sympathetic hero, as we both admire his passionate pursuit of a pure, simple life, yet also marvel at his more naive business choices. Shapiro’s exploration of Shavitz’s relationship with ambitious co-founder Roxanne Quimby is the riveting heart of the narrative.

Screenings:

• Saturday, May 3rd, 4:30pm, Kabuki

• Tuesday, May 6th, 1:15pm, Kabuki

Tickets available here.

Cesar’s Last Fast
(USA 2013, 100 min)

Cesar Chavez breaking his fast after 36 days of only water.

Cesar Chavez breaking his fast after 36 days of only water.

If you missed the recent feature film about the United Farm Workers leader, you may be better served by this documentary from Richard Ray Perez and the late Lorena Parlee, Cesar Chavez’s former press secretary. Using Chavez’s 1988 36-day fast protesting pesticides as a framing device, Parlee and Perez juxtapose footage of that period with Chavez’s earlier biography. We see the struggles of the farm workers throughout the past forty-plus years, and gain an understanding of a complex man devoted to his fellow workers. A portrait of a complicated leader whose deep commitment to social justice never wavered, the picture is a must see for anyone interested in California or labor history.

Screenings:

• Saturday, April 26th, 1:30pm, Kabuki

• Tuesday, April 29th, 6:45pm, Kabuki

Tickets available here.

 

Carrie Kahn

Moving from the arthouse to the multiplex with grace, ease, and only the occasional eye roll.

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