This Week's Day-by-Day Picks

Wednesday, March 3, 2004
There's a lot to like about the movie Blind Shaft. It's been banned in its native China, for one. It's got violence, double-crossing, prostitutes, and men behaving badly. American audiences love these things, right? But before we make it sound like an R-rated feature-length version of elimiDATE, let's make it clear that Blind Shaft also has things not historically appreciated by viewers in this country: dirt, a morality-tale aspect, and men working. The film is said to be a sharp criticism of contemporary Chinese society and the way that society seems to have forced people into a desperate willingness to do just about anything for money. The plot bears that notion out, as protagonists Song and Tang dupe mineworkers into deadly traps and then collect the resulting insurance money. Director Li Yang, who also wrote the screenplay, produced the picture himself to avoid having to go through the official government film bureau. Today's screenings are at 2:40, 5:10, and 7:40 p.m. at the Opera Plaza Cinema, 601 Van Ness (at Turk), S.F. Admission is $6.75-9.25; call 267-4893 or visit www.landmarktheatres.com.

Thursday, March 4, 2004
Author, artist, professor, and ... jock? Headless creator Benjamin Weissman has many personas, and "compulsive truth-teller" might be another one. In an excerpt from this new collection of short stories available on his publisher's Web site (good frickin' idea!), Weissman drools over his comatose friend's boobs against his own will during a ski trip and later dyes his hair blue to please her, but she's still unconscious. Our hats are off to anyone this honest, even though we were persecuted by sporting types back in high school, and so many of these tales take obvious pleasure in athletic pursuits. Weissman, who also gave us Dear Dead Person, has a voice reminiscent of the great American regular guy: confused in the face of aggravation, ashamed of his own good heart, and in many ways inscrutable. The tone reminds us of the muscle-bound sensitivity of Michael Perry's great Population 485, another entry in the dude-lit canon. Headless is the second in a series called Little House on the Bowery, published by Dennis Cooper, who joins Weissman for this reading, starting at 7 p.m. at City Lights, 261 Columbus (at Broadway), S.F. Admission is free; call 362-8193 or visit www.citylights.com.

Friday, March 5, 2004
Even John Goodman's idiotic character in The Big Lebowski knew that "Chinaman' is not the preferred nomenclature." "Oriental" is also very several-centuries-ago. The actors in L.A.-based sketch comedy group OPM (who insist that the name stands for Open People's Minds) seem to be in full control of their stereotype-debunking brand of humor -- their show, I Can't Believe They're Not Oriental!, has been a hit at the S.F. Fringe Festival and at Fringe-like comedy gatherings around the nation. Cast members include a Malcolm in the Middle writer, many veterans of commercials, and a guy named Ewan Chung, who wishes us all to know that he is Chinese, not Scottish. The troupe's original sketches often elicit the phrase "pee-in-the-pants" from happy audiences, so if your trousers have been uncomfortably dry, check out OPM tonight and tomorrow night at 8 and 9:30 at the SomArts Cultural Center, 934 Brannan (at Eighth Street), S.F. Admission is $10-15; call 543-5738 or visit www.asianamericantheater.org.

Saturday, March 6, 2004
A rock opera built around the second-string Jewish holiday Purim, a celebration better known for its triangular hamantaschen cookies than its complicated back story, seems like an inappropriately off-the-wall idea. And that's just why we like it. Word has it that the production, created by golden-throated local singer/writer Amy Tobin, is sly, adult, and refreshingly irreverent, filled with references to Purim's seamier aspects: murderous backroom bargains, a double-dealing king, and some gruesome hangings. Now this is the kind of God-approved party we can get into. Arrive early for a cocktail and a dose of Israeli dance music, and don't forget to wear your Purim costume when Esther 5764 starts at 8 p.m. at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco, 3200 California (at Presidio), S.F. Admission is $15-18; call 292-1200 or visit www.jccsf.org.

Sunday, March 7, 2004
Blue Öyster Cult is, was, and will forever be worshipped by the long-hair-wearing, concert-T-shirt-and-denim-vest-sporting kids we once called "heshers" for the power and fury of its band members' mullets, for shredding guitarist Buck Dharma, and for classic classic-rock songs like "Don't Fear the Reaper." We feel another of the group's contributions to popular culture is of extreme importance: It must not be overlooked that Blue Öyster Cult is credited, by people who keep track of such things, with the invention of the heavy metal umlaut. Sure, the Long Island background and keen fashion sense of these guys have helped define a major rock genre, and yeah, they are true monsters of rock, but come on. It's all about the umlaut. The Substitutes open at 8 p.m. at Slim's, 333 11th St. (at Folsom), S.F. Admission is $22-25; call 255-0333 or visit www.slims-sf.com.

Monday, March 8, 2004
Some of the best movies make you incredibly hungry if you watch them on an empty stomach. All of the Godfathers, Big Night, Chocolat -- these are the usual suspects, but anything featuring a feast can sneak up on you and cause a tummy rumble. New York author and foodie Francine Segan proposes a solution: Think ahead. Her new cookbook, Movie Menus, provides recipe planning, inspiration, even table-setting suggestions for all your screening needs. Arranged by era, the book's chapters each end with a list of viewing ideas. "Knights and Kings," for example, pairs Individual Meat Pies and Pears in Berry-Wine Syrup with Braveheart or Camelot, while "The War Years" combines Victory Garden Salad and Creamy Shredded Beef With Almonds (which the author admits was once known as "shit on a shingle") with Biloxi Blues or Patton. Segan reads from her book at 7 p.m. at A Clean Well-Lighted Place for Books, 601 Van Ness (at Turk), S.F. Admission is free; call 441-6670 or visit www.bookstore.com.

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