date night movies

We’ve had a run of really lovely date nights lately, mostly because Jeremy has been letting me pick the films.

Medicine for Melancholy

Oh how I loved this little film, shot in bleached-out near-black-and-white and set in my own dear darling San Francisco. Not tourist San Francisco, where stchoopid things like Monk and Robyn Williams movies are set in Rice-a-Roni cable cars. The real place. The main characters wake up after a party in Glen Park and hike over Billy Goat Hill to Cafe XO, three blocks from my house. After a day of wandering and biking the city, from the Marina to a downtown gallery near my office, to the Museum of the African Diaspora and the carousel in Yerba Buena, they go out drinking at the Knockout, my local bar. Then they get a burrito from the taco truck.

Oh, and there’s a talky interlude at a Housing Rights Committee meeting which arguably doesn’t work, except that Jeremy and I were utterly charmed to see a cameo from our sexy and righteous Alabama Street neighbour Ondine. (Our old neighbours were awesome: Ondine on one side and Parents for Public Schools powerhouse Eos de Feminis on the other. Of course, our new neighbours rock the known universe also. I love this town.)

Would it work for someone less hopelessly infatuated with the city than I am? I’m not sure. It’s a tender, abrasive film, a love story that doesn’t gloss over the basic difficulties of real life – race, money, class, gentrification, change, geopolitics, injustice, identity. Wyatt Cenac gives a brave and accurate performance. Tracey Heggins, as his foil, has a less fleshed-out character and is a bit of a cipher, but the camera loves her and so do I. It’s been months since we saw this and I still think of it, and of the atmosphere it evoked: clear-eyed, intelligent cynics still risking themselves for their ideals. Home.

Lost in the Fog

Another ultra-local film, this one a documentary. I’d walked past Harry Aleo’s Noe Valley storefront dozens of times when I was pregnant with Claire and our birth prep class was around the corner on Castro Street. Harry, the owner of Twin Peaks Properties and a die-hard Republican, advertised himself with hand-written signs as “an island of tradtional values in a sea of liberal loonies.” He owned racehorses – of course he did. Northern California is a racing backwater, down to one working-class track from two, but Harry did well enough, until he bought the aptly-named Lost in the Fog.

Every now and then in racing there’s a horse that transcends. Secretariat, who won the 1973 Belmont Stakes by a gobsmacking 31 lengths. You watch the race now and you still can’t believe it. Ruffian, the black filly that won every start in 1974 and 1975 until the match race with Kentucky Derby winner Foolish Pleasure that claimed her life. Barbaro, Smarty Jones, and – racing right now – two extraordinary fillies, Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra.

Lost in the Fog was one of these. From November 2004 to October 2005 he won every race. Local filmmaker and liberal loonie John Corey got interested and ended up quitting his job to make a movie about the crusty Aleo and his fabulous horse. And then the great Fog lost a race. He was given a break, and came back for a second and a win, and then he lost again, badly. He was trucked up to the great vet school at the University of California, Davis (where Ann Bowling, the brilliant geneticist, rewrote horse coat colour and Arabian and Mongolian horse genetics). Surgery revealed that Fog had a huge, rare and inoperable cancer. He had been carrying it for months. He had carried it when he won his last race. Corey got Aleo’s reaction to the news on film. It’s an amazing documentary.

Aleo himself died of cancer last year, and is much mourned by his liberal loonie neighbours.


Okay, Jeremy chose this one. I was very skeptical. It looked like there might be guns; it also looked like it might overlap with Leonard’s terrific “The Eyes of Ceres.” There are no guns, which, yay! (I have had it with movies with guns in them. They are mean and boring and rarely pass the Bechdel Test. See especially: all action films, everything by Michael Bay, In Bruges.) There’s some thematic overlap with The Eyes of Ceres but it works to the advantage of both. And Sam Rockwell hits it out of the park. It’s an incredibly sympathetic and authentic set of performances.

A gorgeous film to look at, too. There are a few nerdy oopses – gravity inside the base, but not outside it? Oh well. The plot is nonsense. And I have some problems with the use of the two female characters, who of course do not pass Bechdel and who are close to being In Refrigerators. But for beautiful, character-driven, cerebral hard SF, I will forgive a lot.

Easy Virtue

Jeremy picked this as well, mostly because I’d been feeling down and he wanted to cheer me up. This film was made for demographic: Rach. It has the divine Kristin Scott Thomas as a disapproving aristocratic mother-in-law. It gives great house and horse and frock. There are Mitford and Dorothy L. Sayers echoes galore, and the director is Stephan Elliott, whose Priscilla: Queen of the Desert remains a happy memory.

Unfortunately the film doesn’t quite hang together; is in fact, extremely silly. The foolish young man is too foolish, the American vamp too blonde and the increasingly insufferable Colin Firth is too schmoopy for words. Nevertheless I enjoyed every minute. And if I had to pick a favourite minute it would be the sight of Jessica Biel’s world-class ass tangoing in an ivory brocade sheath.

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