Tuesday, May 19, 2009

“The Boys: The Sherman Brothers’ Story”

(Article published today at Hell On Frisco Bay)

Although Robert and Richard Sherman might not be household names today, chances are it would only take a fraction of a second for someone listening to one of their songs to instantly recognize it and immediately be transported back to their youth, all while singing along to every word.

For 50 years now, the Sherman Brothers have been writing some of the most well-known and beloved music ever produced for film, television, stage and even amusement parks. Ranging from “Mary Poppins” and “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” to “Winnie The Pooh” and “It’s A Small World,” the output of the two musically gifted siblings has been absolutely astonishing—and because of the fact that they have produced so much work together over the years, and the tunes are almost universally upbeat and inspiring for children, the true story behind their tumultuous personal relationship with one another is doubly fascinating.

“The Boys: The Sherman Brothers’ Story” is a new documentary looking at the lives of these two award-winning men, produced and directed by their two sons, cousins Jeffrey and Gregory Sherman, who didn’t know each other growing up even though they only lived a few blocks away from one another.

The world premiere screening of the deeply moving film took place in San Francisco on April 25th at the theater in the Letterman Digital Arts Complex, George Lucas’ new high-tech headquarters in the Presidio, the former army base that will also be home to the new Disney Family Museum later this year.

The packed event, part of the 52nd annual San Francisco International Film Festival, brought out all sorts of film-goers, ranging from small children to grandparents, including a sizable group from Disney that filled the middle section of the seating area.

Composed of several different types of cleverly woven together footage, including current interviews, clips from films, vintage behind the scenes home movies, personal family photos and more, “The Boys” starts out by giving some background on Robert and Richard Sherman’s family, particularly their father, the famous Tin Pan Alley songwriter Al Sherman.

Providing a backdrop for some of the brothers’ early influences, the documentary makes it clear that the two always had different personalities and interests, which were only widened when the elder Robert went off to fight in World War II and was wounded in combat. His physical injuries and the emotional scars from his time in the European portion of the conflict are slowly brought up over the course of the film, shedding light on his outlook on life, particularly when it is revealed that he was among the first Americans to liberate the Dachau concentration camp near the end of the war. He is clearly still haunted by what he saw, and he talks about how creating joyful art helped "make the horror go away."

Robert and Richard Sherman, now 83 and 80, respectively, are interviewed separately throughout the film, with Robert now living in London, while Richard still resides in Southern California. Many of the sequences segue from current interview footage to nicely rendered, almost three-dimensional restored photos from the past, while the interviews continue as voice-overs.

In addition to interviews with the Sherman Brothers and their sons, the film features words and thoughts from other family members and several people who have worked with them or admired their songs over the years, including Dick Van Dyke, Julie Andrews, John Landis, Angela Lansbury and Ben Stiller, who served as an Executive Producer on the project.

Tracing the story of their music career back to when they were getting ready for college, the film details how Robert had already made up his mind to major in writing, while Richard wasn’t sure what he wanted to do until one day while walking down the street he found himself with a tune running through his mind that he didn’t know where it had come from. Running home to the family piano to figure out how to play the melody he heard in his head, his father walked in on him, asked what he was doing, and when he was told, he immediately suggested to his son that he should become a music major.

After the two graduated and moved back to southern California, they shared an apartment, living together out of economic necessity, with both concentrating on their own muses—Robert on writing a novel and poems, while Dick wrote and played music. One day their father suggested they work together on something, which they did; their first published song was "Gold Can Buy You Anything But Love," recorded by the legendary Gene Autry.

The documentary shows how this was the impetus for their continued teamwork, and then details The Sherman Brothers’ first big break with Disney, when they wrote "Tall Paul" for Annette Funicello in 1959.

Both brothers obviously still love Walt Disney and appreciate the opportunity that he gave them; as they talk about their first meeting with him, and how they got their job, they start to choke back tears a bit, and later on in the film they do the same when recalling the last time they saw Disney before he passed away in 1966. They relate the story of going to a movie premiere with him, and that at the end of the night, he came up to them and said, “Keep up the good work, boys”—something that he had never done before.

In a further touching tribute to Disney, the documentary then shows a still photo of him, with the camera panning towards the sky where a drawing of Mickey Mouse is crying. The scene then shifts to home movies of Disney throwing seeds to a flock of birds, all while the song “Feed The Birds” from “Mary Poppins” is played. Richard Sherman explains that Disney always asked them to play that particular song if they were in his office at the end of the week, that it was one of his favorites.

Among the interesting background stories and insider’s looks into how the some of the songs they wrote were originally created is one about how Jeff Sherman came home one day from school to find his father struggling to work on a new song for “Mary Poppins.” Robert Sherman looked up from his work, and asked how his son’s day had been, who related that he and the other students had to have a vaccination. Robert then asked if it was given through a shot, to which Jeff replied that they had “just taken a spoon and poured the medicine over a sugar cube” for them to eat. A current shot of Jeff imitating his father is then shown, nodding his head in thought, and then saying, “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down…”

Many, many other clips from movies and songs are used throughout the lively 100 minute film, including “Charlotte’s Web,” “Bedknobs and Broomsticks,” “Snoopy Come Home,” “The Jungle Book,” and “The Tiki Tiki Tiki Room.”

Interwoven into these wonderful snippets of their work is a gradual attempt at explaining the story behind the Sherman Brothers’ eventual personal estrangement—the case for one reason in particular is not made, but rather it seems that years and years of little things building up led to their current situation, among the factors being marital problems, financial considerations, and the general outward personalities of the two—who continue to work together across a long distance, thanks to advances in technology—but they just can’t seem to reconnect on a personal level for themselves, or for their families.

At the end of the documentary, the two filmmaker cousins show their trip to the recent premiere of “Mary Poppins The Musical,” and in voice-overs discuss how they had hoped that through the making of this film, they could convince their fathers to reconcile and re-form their personal relationship. A sequence of the two brothers greeting each other cordially on the red carpet is shown, but then one of the sons comes back on to finish the narration, saying “unlike a Sherman Brothers song, not all stories have a happy ending.”

After the screening, Richard, Jeff and Greg Sherman appeared in person for a question and answer session, walking to the front of the theater to a standing ovation.

One of the questions posed for Richard Sherman asked about how he felt when he was riding “It’s A Small World,” or was in a place where one of their songs was being played, and people were enjoying it, but didn’t know that he was one of the people who had created it. He said he a good answer for that, that he would share a story from his childhood—when he went to a big football game with his father, during halftime the marching bands came out and played "You Gotta Be A Football Hero," a song that his father had co-written. The crowd was all cheering along and clapping to the song, and as a kid he asked his dad how he felt, to which his father replied “It feels good, kiddo.”

Richard Sherman then looked around at the audience at the Letterman Theater, smiled, and said, “That's how I feel, it's feels good!”

Another question asked of the two filmmakers was what they had learned while making the documentary. Jeff Sherman, Robert’s son, began talking about how he really started to get to know his father, but he started getting a little overwhelmed, and had to choke back tears. Richard chimed in, saying, “See, we Sherman’s are an emotional bunch!” which drew supportive applause.

Shortly thereafter, the three were talking about all of the people that helped them with the film, and Richard mentioned that two of the people in the picture had recently passed away after filming their interviews—he then started choking up himself, and he said, “See?”

Jeff Sherman then looked at his cousin, and said, “You’re next!” Greg looked over at him, back at the audience, and then grinned a little, pointing at his head, quietly staying, “Sports scores…sports scores,” giving away the fact that he was trying to think of other things to stop the flow of tears coming.

Overall, “The Boys” is a very well made documentary, and is a must see for anyone who grew up listening to the Sherman Brothers’ unforgettable songs, though it may not be entirely suitable for young children due to some of it’s highly emotional scenes.

“The Boys: The Sherman Brothers’ Story” opens May 22nd at the AMC Metreon in San Francisco.

Monday, May 18, 2009

The English Surgeon

(Article published today in the San Francisco Bay Guardian)

In the medical world, there are serious risks associated with any kind of surgery. If a mistake is made during a procedure on a leg or arm, there might be some loss of movement or ease of mobility, but the patient can still generally go about their lives, perhaps with a slight physical handicap. If something goes wrong during a brain surgery, however, a person can lose their memory, their control of motor skills, even the ability to think.

This is the challenge that faces British neurosurgeon Dr. Henry Walsh every time he operates on somebody, and is one of the personal revelations about his work that he shares in the film “The English Surgeon,” which has its San Francisco theatrical premiere at the Red Vic from May 17-20.

Director Geoffrey Smith tells the story of how Marsh has been traveling to the former Soviet republic of Ukraine since 1992, volunteering on his own time to help in a region of the world that has a medical system that lags many decades behind those in the industrialized west—and where many cases of brain tumors and other illnesses go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed for so long that what would have been easily taken care of with a routine operation or procedure at Marsh’s hospital in London have now progressed to the point that there is little doctors can do to save the patient’s life.

“The English Surgeon,” which is slowly making its way to theaters around the world for regular engagements, was shown at last year’s San Francisco International Film Festival, where during the screening audience members alternated between quietly sniffling and dabbing their eyes during the more heart-wrenching scenes, and then bursting out in collective laughter (and relief) during some of the film’s more light-hearted moments. That emotional dynamic and natural flow to the piece was of significant importance to the director of the film.

“The only model one has [when making a film like this] is what you see out there. When I first went out with Henry, that’s really what happened, it was funny, farcical, surreal, tragic, moving, and then it would just start over again. Life in many ways is like that in the Ukraine, so it gave me a model to structure the film, and also to pace it emotionally, because just when you think you’re safe, you get another wake up call, and then you have another piece of humor. It feels good though, it feels real, because that’s how reality is there,” says Smith.

“I think the thing about these situations is that people in extremes, people in difficulty, of course it’s dramatic, but it also allows us in to see how people cope, and how other people treat them, what those dynamics are. Ultimately it’s a great metaphor, a barometer, for how good or otherwise, society is. It challenges all of us to do something. So, if you can encapsulate those forces into a human story, and medicine is very useful for that, I mean, it also has a beginning, a middle and an end, it’s a useful technique.”

“I love sort of the difficult stuff; the ethics and the dilemmas, because, life, it seems to me, is more about that, it’s not simplistic and clear cut. You and I can’t save lives with our hands, we can do all sorts of small things, and it’s the choice we make or don’t make, and it’s the decisions about those things, that’s where it resonates with each audience member, as it gets closer towards the end, it starts to grab you by the throat and ask the same questions.”

Both Smith and Marsh have long been interested in Ukraine, each having their own reasons for initially making their visits.

“The first thing about the Ukraine for me was meeting people on the Trans-Siberian Express back in ’83. I corresponded with people, and I had a chance to go after the wall went down properly—I fell in love with the city and those people, I really, really did,” says Smith.

“There’s something that you can’t put into words—back in the early ‘90s, the place was absolutely dire, the whole bottom had fallen out of it, and we have seen literally, this country transform in some ways, and not all of them good, but it’s intoxicating to be there because of the rate of change, and amount of possibility is like you could never have in the west.”

Marsh had been interested in Russia and Russian cultures since he read Tolstoy at the age of 16; he later attended Oxford University, studying politics and economics, with a specialization on the Soviet Union.

As he puts it, he then “strayed into brain surgery, in that way one does, and I never thought I’d be able to combine Kremlinology and brain surgery. By chance in 1992, a local businessman in my part of London was looking for some neurosurgeons to take out to Ukraine, which had just become independent, to give sort of good will lectures—to maybe help him sell British medical equipment—it was rather na├»ve in retrospect, because the Ukraine was totally bankrupt at the time.”

Marsh says that his initial introduction and first visit to a place he had learned so much about from afar was a jarring one, but he found himself thoroughly intrigued.
“It was a totally extraordinary, intoxicating, terrifying time—if you had a hundred dollars in your pocket you were a millionaire, it was like sort of being in a dream world. It was horrifying actually, it was very deeply depressing. I remember getting back to my hotel room with one of my colleagues and opening a bottle of duty-free whiskey and drinking most of it in a state of sheer shock at seeing such rough medical conditions.”

After returning to London, Marsh heard nothing for a year, but then got a Christmas card from one of the doctors he had met on the visit, Igor Kurilets, who had gotten approval to ask about coming to London to work with the esteemed surgeon, and learn from him. Marsh accepted, and during the three months that the two worked together, they developed a strong bond, and once Igor went back to the Ukraine, Marsh began taking trips to visit him, bringing him used medical equipment from London so that the poorly provided for clinic in Kiev where he practiced could have a better chance of helping people.

Smith, who has made a variety of documentaries over the past 20 years, first heard about Marsh while making a BBC program about surgeons, and was immediately drawn to him as a subject.

“What I like about him is that he’s able to articulate these things, he’s able to let you in, to be vulnerable, and fragile maybe, even to be flawed, and ultimately wrong, perhaps, or at least admit the possibility of that. But within all of that there’s this wonderful ‘Nobility of Failure,’ as he calls it, which immediately makes us feel like we can relate to him. He’s not putting on a show, he’s not perfect, he’s not contrived, he’s not pretentious nor arrogant; he’s one of us at that level. Mixed in with great humor and compassion, he’s a hero, and that world loves a good hero.”

During his visits to Ukraine and Kurilets’ office, Marsh learns of the case of a young man named Marian from a small village who has a brain tumor that has been deemed inoperable or too tricky for native Ukrainian surgeons to deal with. The film features the parallel journeys of the patient and the doctor to the city, with the final outcome being that Marsh decides that the procedure is possible to do in the Ukraine—but in a manner different than what would be done in the west. Due to a lack of needed equipment and properly trained staff, Marian will have to be awake during the operation—a local anesthetic will be used as opposed to a general one, so he will have to hear and somewhat feel what is going on.

Intermingled with this part of the narrative are scenes of Marsh helping Igor with consultations of other prospective patients, sifting through lines of people that stretch down entire hospital hallways, some people being told what they should do for their treatment, others being told that nothing can be done.

Also mixed into the film is the story of a young patient named Tanya that Marsh tried to help several years ago, bringing her to London for a surgery that ended up not going as planned, resulting in the girl’s eventual death a couple of years later. During his visit to the Ukraine when accompanied by the filmmakers, Marsh decides to visit Tanya’s mother, Katya, enveloping viewers into an even more personal emotional journey.

“It was the first time I had seen her since she and Tanya had left London. [She lives in] a very remote part of the Ukraine, and I didn’t really have any reason to visit her before. I’m very busy when I’m there, and Igor would see no point to it, ‘what’s the point, it’s sentimental.’ But he could see the film was a good idea, it wasn’t going to do him harm, it was easier to say, ‘let’s go and see Katya.’ Igor is a nice guy, but he’s not sentimental,” says Marsh.

“Going to see Katya was nice for me, not that I felt guilty or bad about what I did—I tried, and I failed. When I was walking in the cemetery, I felt all the dead faces on the tombstones saying, ‘well, you tried, that’s something, at least you tried.’ But it was nice to see Katya, because although we don’t have a common language, we were very close; she had been to my home [in London] many times, and it was good to see her again.”

“The English Surgeon” features a soundtrack composed by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, which adds to film’s tone, but never attempts to take it over; it us is used very sparingly, which Smith says worked perfectly in the end result.

“I think the thing that’s important to realize about Nick is that he is enormously cine-literate; he watches more films than anyone I know. He’s a softie, but in a way that he responded exactly to Henry, because what he saw in the paper proposal and in the rushes, is someone who is utterly unsentimental, and yet through the almost melancholic idea of the failure of things, in the failure, there’s all the love and goodness and trying and the redemption that Nick writes about.”

During many of the most dramatic scenes, such as when Marsh and Kurilets have to tell a grandmother that there is nothing they can do for her grandchild, there is no music—the enormity of the real-life situation is enough on its own, which Smith says that they were all very conscious of during the making of the film.

“Nick is very strong on the complete idiocy of using music to manipulate the story, and so am I. It’s the power of what’s going on, and there’s no music under any of those emotional scenes, because that would be really silly.”

“The English Surgeon” presents a very moving and powerful story about what a couple of strong-willed individuals are attempting to do to help their fellow man—but both the director and subject want to steer clear of any perceptions that this could be a ‘feel good’ or ‘self-congratulating pat on the back’ type of project—and they know that the film wouldn’t be as effective without the contributions of Kurilets.

“My very close friendship with Igor is an incredibly critical element. I really like seeing him, he really likes seeing me. Our idea of socializing is work, you know, my idea of a holiday is to go and operate in the Ukraine—I’m not interested in beaches and things like that,” says Marsh. “[But we] have to be very wary of ethnic voyeurism, you know, these wealthy, comfortable, well-fed westerners nip into a bit of hardship overseas, and then say, ‘Gosh, wow, this is reality,’ and then nip back home again. I hate that. But there is a certain nobility—with suffering and poverty people have to surmount problems we don’t. They are in some ways finer people than we are, because they’ve been tried. If they survive, if they transcend their terrible difficulties, as Katya in a sense has, maintaining her dignity, I’m filled with awe, and God knows how would cope if I had to cope with what they cope with.”

“There’s a great quote by the Hungarian poet Faludy, who said that Soviet communism is like acid poured over metal—people made of base metals were destroyed, but people made of gold shone all the brighter. When I see people like Igor or Katya, that’s what I feel. But how I would be if I had the acid poured over me? None of us knows until it happens; all one can do is see that some people have come through that, and it’s very humbling.”

“The English Surgeon” screens through Wednesday, May 20, at the Red Vic Movie House, 1727 Haight St., San Francisco. $6-$9. (415) 668-3994, www.redvicmoviehouse.com.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

In The Footsteps of Sam Spade: The Dashiell Hammett Tour

(This is an article that was written for the San Francisco print edition of the Onion, just before it was announced that this local edition would cease publication last week. An abbreviated version of this article was published today on Decider, the Onion's San Francisco and Bay Area entertainment website)

Stepping off a grimy sidewalk in an area of downtown San Francisco known for its dark and mean streets, a man wearing a trench coat and fedora briskly walks down a dead-end alleyway, keenly glancing over his shoulder at the group of people following him, watching his every move. While starting to address his companions, the bearded man suddenly spins in mid-sentence, pulls a pistol from his coat, aims at the nearest person, and pulls the trigger, leading to gasps from the flock of people gathered nearby.

While this could very well be a description of a crime scene from a classic noir thriller, it is in fact part of Don Herron’s Dashiell Hammett Tour, a journey across downtown San Francisco that enthusiastically explores many of the places that Hammett lived at, wrote about, or held an important place in his literary world.

Revered amongst fans as one of the greatest detective novelists of all time, Hammett (1894-1961) briefly worked at Pinkerton’s Detective Agency before plying his trade as an author, so he came to the writing game with more real life experience and background knowledge than many of other literary counterparts. Living in San Francisco during the 1920s, Hammett perfected his hard-boiled prose while renting apartments in the city’s Tenderloin district and writing his soon to be classic work, including “The Maltese Falcon” and his “Continental Op” series, most of which are set in the city itself.

In 1977, Hammett aficionado Don Herron started taking people on an informal walking tour as part of a college project—three decades later, he still leads the tour, which has drawn acclaim from participants the world over, and now a new 30th anniversary edition of his Dashiell Hammett Tour Guidebook (Vince Emery Productions) has just been released.

“I never expected to last thirty years, it wasn’t in my mind anywhere along the way,” laughs Herron, who clearly loves his subject matter. “I’ve never really done it for money; I don’t think this is a good way to get rich. The reason I started is because I really like the stories—if I didn’t like the stories, I wouldn’t bother.”

Starting outside the Main branch of the San Francisco Public Library, the tour combines Herron’s encyclopedic knowledge of the writer and his work with a rapid-fire dispensation of history, anecdotes and passages from the books, all delivered in a tone and manner of speaking that would befit a classic pulp story by Hammett himself.

Sites along the way include the alleyway at Burritt Street where Miles Archer was done in by Brigid O’Shaughnessy, the Geary Theater, where Joel Cairo had tickets to see a play, and the apartment building on Post Street where Hammett actually wrote “The Maltese Falcon”—and was used as the model for Sam Spade’s apartment in the novel.

The new guidebook, which is full of even more background information, detailed maps, and a collection of vintage photographs, also features a great concise biography of Hammett written by Herron, who admires the writer not only for his work, but also his character; during the early 1950s, Hammett was sent to prison for refusing to cooperate with authorities during the communist witch hunts of the time period.

“The idea that appeals to me about Hammett in the McCarthy era is that he was proving that the code presented in his pulp fiction actually meant something to him. He was a stand-up guy, like his detectives. In the stories he wasn’t just saying something he didn’t believe in—I think this gives the fiction that much more credibility.”

The tour ends at John’s Grill, the restaurant where Sam Spade ate dinner in “The Maltese Falcon,” and now serves as an unofficial Hammett museum. Tour participants can relax over a “Bloody Brigid,” and discuss what they saw during the day’s adventure—and as Herron points out, people of all ages come on the tour, dispelling any notion that Hammett is a relic of a bygone era, an author that nobody reads anymore.

“Every now and then I’ll get some people who say that Hammett only appeals to an older generation, and I say ‘Give me a break!’ I have older people, yes, but I have young people coming out constantly who are just discovering the stuff. Hammett is one of these writers who just keeps hitting it with new generations.”

Info Box:

Don Herron’s Dashiell Hammett Tour
Sundays in May and September
(Check for other special dates on website)
Meet at Noon outside the Northwest Corner of the Public Library, 100 Larkin St., San Francisco. (Closest to intersection of Larkin and Fulton).
$10. www.donherron.com

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

San Francisco Cocktail Week

(This is an article that was written for the San Francisco print edition of the Onion, just before it was announced that this local edition would cease publication last week. An abbreviated version of this article was published today on Decider, the Onion's San Francisco and Bay Area entertainment website)

San Franciscans have long enjoyed a romance with alcohol—from the debauchery of the Barbary Coast era, when miners flush with gold would spend their riches at waterfront saloons, to the rebellious Beats that weaved their North Beach drinking escapades into poetry and novels, to the modern renaissance of the artisan cocktail, the city by the bay knows how to knock 'em back. In fact, according to a 2003 federal study, residents of San Francisco spend more per capita on alcohol than any other city in the country.

Celebrating this high-proof history with a multitude of events is San Francisco Cocktail Week (May 11-18), a fete that includes a variety of parties, classes, workshops and competitions lauding a myriad of mixed drinks, ranging from classics like the Sazerac and the Martini (which according to legend was invented in nearby Martinez, California) to more modern creations by a new generation of mixologists.

Jeff Hollinger, co-founder of The Barbary Coast Conservancy of the American Cocktail, the group that is promoting the event, points to the city’s colorful and booze-infused past as something that is deserving of proper recognition by today's cocktail enthusiast.

“You’ve got some of the most legendary, historic bartenders having played a part in San Francisco’s cocktail history—Jerry Thomas bartended here in the Barbary Coast area for a good chunk of his career, you’ve got people like “Cocktail Bill” Boothby who was just kind of larger than life and played a part in politics, and you had Duncan Nichols popularizing the Pico Punch here. There’s a lot of different things that have happened here, so we decided that it was really up to us to start celebrating that."

A historical bar crawl through the North Beach area will provide participants with the opportunity to imbibe in locations that have been around since before prohibition, and in some cases, since the gold rush itself, such as the Old Ship Saloon. Originally situated in an abandoned sailing ship along the old city waterfront, it was eventually landlocked as the area was filled in—the current brick building sits atop the wooden hull that lies below street level.

Hollinger, who is a manager at Absinthe Brasserie and Bar and the co-author of the 2006 book "The Art of the Bar," is also emphasizing the focus on education at this year's Cocktail Week, noting that a host of classes will be taught where people from all walks of life can learn about a variety of subjects, including the basics of bartending, how to create their own home-made ingredients, and how the process of distillation works.

“Sure, there’s going to be some celebrations where it’s just going to be kind of a big party, but at the same time the idea is give people the tools to be able to learn about the history of cocktails and spirits, and to broaden the knowledge about cocktails as they are today.”

The United States Bartender’s Guild National Championship is another part of this year's event, pitting finalists from around the country head to head as they attempt to woo judges with drinks of their own invention, the winners of which will head to international competition.

Overall, Hollinger hopes that people will learn a thing or two about the cocktail's place in history, along with having a great time. He cites a certain sense of nostalgia for another time and era when explaining his love for mixology and the culture that surrounds it today.

"In the couple of generations before ours, there was the idea of the cocktail—you would have your cocktail parties before you went out to dinner and there was something to me that was kind of romantic about that. When I was a kid, my grandfather had a little two-seat bar at his house, and my brothers and I would play behind that bar. He had all kinds of great glassware and really cool bar artifacts—as I got older and joined the drinking world, there was always an element of me that looked back fondly on that.”

Info Box:
Prices vary with events, ranging from free to $45.

Red Elvises Return To San Francisco

(Preview published in today's San Francisco Bay Guardian)

Red Elvises aren't just about rock 'n' roll. The group's eclectic mix of sounds and influences ranges from rockabilly and the blues to traditional Russian wedding music, klezmer, polka, and swing. Led by Ukrainian native Igor Yuzov, the band has been featured in films such as Six String Samurai (1998) and is touring behind its latest release, Drinking With Jesus (Shoobah-Doobah, 2008), a collection of infectious tunes with titles like "Twist Like Uma Thurman," "Better Than Cocaine," and the title track, which details some late night antics with the revered religious figure doing shots of Jose Cuervo. (Sean McCourt)

With the Pyronauts
9 p.m., $15
333 11th St., SF.
(415) 255-0333

God Save The Sin: Mad Sin Plays San Francisco

(Preview published in today's San Francisco Bay Guardian)

German psychobilly stalwarts Mad Sin have been honing a muscular and intense brand of music since the late 1980s, releasing classic slabs of rock 'n' roll like "God Save The Sin" to fans around the world. With every new visit, the group shows American fans that when it comes to psychobilly, the originals still do it better than any Hot Topic-outfitted kids. With his large size and intense demeanor, singer Koefte De Ville is an imposing figure on stage, even before his snarling vocals bring tales of delirium, Russian roulette, riots in paradise, and a neverending battle to dislodge a naughty little devil from his head. (Sean McCourt)

With Rezurex, Thee Merry Widows
8 p.m., $16
333 11th St., SF
(415) 255-0333

Monday, May 4, 2009

Cheer long and prosper! Star Trek Movie Night with the San Francisco Giants

The San Francisco Giants have added a variety of special events to their home schedule over the past few years, incorporating team reunions, national heritage days, law enforcement tributes, dog-friendly games, and even a night to honor Crazy Crab, the much maligned, but now loved mascot from the dismal 1984 campaign.

This season, however, brought a whole new event that attracted a slightly different kind of audience than usual—“Star Trek Movie Night" at the ballpark, which took place last week on April 27. Monday night's contest against the G-men’s longtime rivals the Los Angeles Dodgers featured a pre-game event that included a Star Trek Costume contest, where participants gathered in the plaza behind the scoreboard to show off their creations and enjoy a couple pints of Romulan ale.

The usual chill of a San Francisco night mixed with a bracing wind coming off of the bay to make for less than ideal conditions for a party, but the Trekkies did their best impersonations of Captain Kirk, a green-skinned Orion woman, and various other characters from the Roddenberry universe.

Why a “Star Trek” fete at a San Francisco Giants game? Starfleet Command was based here in the city of course! And don’t forget “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home,” where the cast was sent back in time to 1980s San Francisco—who can forget Kirk and crew parking their ship in Golden Gate Park, yelling obscenities at passing drivers on the street, or taking care of an obnoxious punk on a MUNI bus? Special local recognition should have been given to the man wearing the U.S.S Enterprise aircraft carrier hat, in a nod to this classic 1986 Leonard Nimoy-directed film.

To top it all off, everyone who bought a ticket for the special Star Trek section received what could be one of the best stadium giveaways ever—a take-off on the classic foam finger (i.e. 'we're #1') that was redone in the shape of the classic Vulcan hand greeting—live long and prosper!