Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 7 / 15 February 2018

Footloose & feckless


Two independent films, from here & abroad

Scene from Sorry, Thanks.
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Sorry, Thanks In this awkward, sweet, painfully accurate new comedy from the producer of Beeswax, our increasingly gentrified Mission District becomes "the Valley of exes" as ex-boyfriends and girlfriends, straight and gay, perform an elaborate ballet of avoidance and re-coupling. This clumsy dance for which no one quite seems to know the steps begins in bed, as a one-night-stand between Kira, recently evicted from a nearby bed and involved in a painful process of vocational downsizing, cuddles up to Max (Wiley Wiggins), owner of the bed, a playful cherub, this night cheating on his non-live-in girlfriend. In the morning, Kira (a complex and feisty portrayal from Kenya Miles) finds herself getting up way ahead of Max who, as it turns out, seldom hits his workplace before the crack of Noon.

"Hey, do you want to come and lock the door behind me?"

"Nah, it locks automatically."

Max and most of the other fiercely unpretentious denizens of Sorry, Thanks exist in a kind of self-assigned limbo, a place that sums up a great slice of youngish, blue state America almost a year into Obama. "What exactly did we vote for?"

Arriving at work, Max is office manager for a powerful Bay Area legislator. Max delivers what one day may be seen as one of the most sadly prophetic orientation speeches ever, to a couple of dewy-eyed young hires.

"Look, I don't want to rain on your parade or hurt your idealism, I think it's really noble that you guys are probably here for a good reason, I'm just giving it to you straight. The job in [three] easy parts, as I've come to know it: first step, I want you to admit that you're a person of compromised ideals. Second step, reconcile that with your inner idealist, let them shake hands. And then three, watch that inner idealist die."

That brilliantly enunciated slap in the face is the guiding mantra for the compromised private lives pursued by Max and his friends. A straight would-be poli

Scene from The Vanished Empire .
tical honcho admits that 90% of his e-mail involves ex-girlfriends; a gay card-playing buddy admits to sneaking back into his ex's bed the night his apartment was burglarized.

Shot across Mission landmarks like the Roxie Cinema and Dolores Park, Sorry, Thanks is a sublime exercise in how a 30something, post-slacker generation copes with the "is this all there is?" blahs. The film is informed by Wiggins' brilliantly intuitive take on Max, a boyishly plucky one-time idealist who, slipping in and out of human ties, finds it difficult even to earn the loyalty of a humane society-acquired stray cat.

Sorry, Thanks plays 9 p.m., Sat., Oct. 24, as part the San Francisco Film Society's Cinema by the Bay Festival at the Clay Theatre.

The Vanished Empire In Russian auteur Karen Shakhnazarov's funny/sad peek at a 70s generation of pop-besotted Russian youth, three pals start a rock band, trade stolen old books for American clothes and British rock, and generally drink away their college years. The proceedings reach their comic peak in a farcical fight over the right to play the bass in a bad cover band.

The piece gets its energy and attitude from Alexander Lyapin's snarky, sly turn as a wily black-market lover-boy. The theory that the old Soviet Union was pushed over by a pop invasion as much as by Reagan's rhetoric is breezily conveyed by director Shakhnazarov until a third-act change of pace, culminating in a bittersweet Putin-era coda.

The Vanished Empire opens on the San Francisco Film Society's screen at the Sundance Kabuki Cinemas on Fri., Oct. 24.

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