SFFILM Fest Preview, Part 1: Spaceships, a Savage family, Sex, & Satan

Here’s my first batch of films screening at the upcoming SFFILM Festival (also known as the San Francisco International Film Festival).


This slow, frightful, depressing space movie from Sweden carries a heavy charge. A spaceliner taking refugees to Mars (Earth has become unlivable) has an accident that sends them out to the edges of the solar system. The life support systems will go on indefinitely, but how long can you live in a tin can; even a luxurious one? You need to set aside your scientific knowledge to enjoy Aniara, but it’s worth it.

  • Dolby Cinema, Friday, April 12, 9:15 (this is the theater to see this movie!)
  • Roxie, Wednesday, April 17, 8:45

The Savages (Laura Linney Tribute)

Most of us will eventually experience the death of a parent. It’s never easy, but when the family isn’t a loving one, it becomes much worse. In this 2007 drama, Laura Linney and Phillip Seymour Hoffman play the middle-aged children of a hated father, now falling into deep dementia and with little time left. As you’d expect, Linney and Hoffman give excellent performances. Writer/director Tamara Jenkins doesn’t tell us much about their childhood, but she gives us enough clues to let us know that their upbringing wasn’t a happy one. Mom is entirely out of the picture. Read my full review.

This screening, preceded by a discussion with Linney, takes place on Thursday, April 11, 6:00, at SFMOMA.

B+ Ask Dr. Ruth

Dr. Ruth Westheimer is such a strong subject for a documentary that it’s surprising it took so long. There’s the drama of her Holocaust childhood, her warmth and humor, and she’s all about sex. Ryan White made a very good but conventional biographical documentary, using animation to illustrate her pre-fame life. Since she’s still alive and lucid (at 90), she mostly narrates her own story. If nothing else, the film is entertaining.

Ask Dr. Ruth screens at the Castro Sunday, April 21, at 3:00. After the Festival, the documentary will open on May 3 in San Francisco and Berkeley.

C+ Hail Satan?

Like the Satanic Temple itself, this documentary has a message to preach, and does so tongue in cheek. The message is a good one: We need to protect the separation of church and state in a government being taken over by fundamentalist Christians. But you get almost the whole point in the first 15 minutes. After that it’s mostly repetition.

This documentary will open in Bay Area theaters on April 26.