Wednesday, August 17, 2005
It's been some time since we've heard from Aimee Bender. After a dazzling debut with 1999's book of short stories The Girl in the Flammable Skirt, followed by her 2001 novel An Invisible Sign of My Own, she returns with a collection of fantastical stories written in a deceptively crisp, clear style. Willful Creatures contains near-fables, with characters such as a family of pumpkinheads, potato children, and a Lilliputian man, and more than one appearance by God. "Death Watch," in particular, recalls the work of Donald Barthelme: a fairy tale about 10 men who have only weeks to live. ("Five men cry. Three men rage. One man smiles. The last man is silent, meditative. Okay, he says.") Like the old metafiction master, Bender hides something dark and desperate beneath a slick surface. She reads at 7 p.m. at the Booksmith, 1644 Haight (at Cole), S.F. Admission is free; call 863-8688 or visit www.booksmith.com.

Thursday, August 18, 2005
A dramatic tale of motherly misdeeds and shifting loyalties among the modern urban elite, with intimate moments played out in the public eye: It sounds like the plot of Sean Wilsey's novel Oh the Glory of It All, which caused such a ruckus around here a few months back by airing the dirty laundry of San Francisco high society. Stuart Bousel's play Speak to Me was written long before, but eerily, this No Nude Men production also features an upper-crust love story with some really inappropriate moments. We're not sure if the main character's decision to "embrace the life of ease and wealth he's spent most of his adult career avoiding and compensating for," as Bousel describes it, is parallel to Wilsey's life or not, but the "dramatic study of what's wrong and what's right with the American aristocracy" sure is. The show begins at 8 p.m. (and continues through Sept. 3) at the Off-Market Theater, 965 Mission (at Fifth Street), S.F. Admission is $10; call 621-1503 or visit www.horrorunspeakable.com.

Friday, August 19, 2005
Special guests on Chappelle's Showproduced some of its finest moments, from Charlie Murphy's Rick James tales to Wayne Brady's pimping and killing (containing the deadpan line of the year: "Is Wayne Brady gonna have to choke a bitch?"). One of the best guests was Donnell "Ashy Larry" Rawlingsin the "World Series of Dice" sketch. He shows up wearing white boxers, holding a bag of trash he's supposed to be taking out. He also has a bit of a skin condition. "Larry, get upstairs and put on some lotion!" says Dave Chappelle's Silky Johnson. Poor Larry loses big, gets dragged out of the game, then gets robbed. He's hilarious. We have no idea what he can do beyond this, but now that Chappelle's Show looks unlikely to return, Rawlings can provide a fix. Mike E. Winfield opens at 9 and 11 p.m. (the show runs Aug. 17-20) at the Punch Line, 444 Battery (at Clay), S.F. Admission is $12-20; call 397-4337 or visit www.punchlinecomedyclub.com.

Saturday, August 20, 2005
Robert Steven Rhine's latest compendium of deviltry, Satan's 3-Ring Circus of Hell, follows hot on the heels of his crowd-pleasers like Chicken Soup for Satan and Satan Gone Wild, and looks set to satisfy readers' need for freakish comic-strip art of the sick, twisted, and funny variety. Rhine wrote the stories here but got 40-some artists to draw the Christianity-defying sequences; the lineup includes talent associated with Family Guy, Ren & Stimpy, even Disney. The overall effect is goofball gore at its most tumescent; the book is full of sexy girls, decaying guys, and God does not know what-all else. The Grin Creeper, as Rhine calls himself, appears at 3 p.m. at Borderlands Books, 866 Valencia (at 19th Street), S.F. Admission is free; call 824-8203 or visit www.borderlands-books.com.

Sunday, August 21, 2005
Gothy psych-folk? 1960s-induced airy-fairy pop? Fire Wrecks the Forest's music is fun to try to describe. In more concrete terms, the quartet's slightly jangly guitar, floaty organ, and male/female vocal harmonies are on the sweet side of rock, and said to be Velvet Underground-inspired. They make us think of Penelope Houston's efforts on the Twiggy-era-style Pale Green Girl, especially since both acts make something old sound new again, but FWTF's product is sleeker and fuller -- uh-oh, there we go into indulgent figurative language again. Remedy 'n Wren and Dear Nora open at 9 p.m. at the Hotel Utah, 500 Fourth St. (at Bryant), S.F. Admission is $6; call 546-6300 or visit www.thehotelutahsaloon.com.

Monday, August 22, 2005
From the super-creepy Eyes Without a Face to the noirish The Third Man to Alfred Hitchcock's The Paradine Case, the Alida Valli film retrospective has some amazing examples of work drawn from this Italian actress' long career. Ms. Valli dodged Fascists, survived murder-sex-drug-scandal rumors, and married the man who wrote "All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth" in real life, so just imagine what the movies are like. From the mid-1930s up through 2002, she worked with everyone from Dario Argento to Frank Sinatra, and this series features a good cross section of her filmography, including, of course, the beloved Senso, directed by Luchino Visconti. Curator Sirietta Simoncini introduces each screening, starting at 6 tonight (and continuing through Aug. 26) at the Istituto Italiano di Cultura, 425 Washington (at Battery), S.F. Admission is free; call 788-7142.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005
The very odd Scout Niblett is getting a lot of attention these days; her impudent face graces the covers of indie rock magazines, good reviews are popping up, and she's played a bunch of shows in the Bay Area lately. Her recent CD, Kidnapped by Neptune, takes wild chances within her girl-with-a-guitar aesthetic: Online music mag Pitchfork notes that one song finds her asking, "C'mon honey, what are you doing to me?" 28 times. Sharp, pared-down arrangements show off the matter-of-factual delivery of a girlish voice; Niblett's sometimes compared to Chan Marshall or Björk gone nu-folk, but she makes us think someone took sandpaper to Mirah. Tonight, she opens for Shellac at 9 p.m. at the Great American Music Hall, 859 O'Farrell (at Polk), S.F. Admission is $15; call 885-0750 or visit www.gamh.com.


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