Outta Suckas 

Spike Lee takes on SF

SAT 2/12

Sucker Free City owes more than a little debt to Straight Outta Hunters Point. The Showtime-produced film, directed by Spike Lee, plays like a more sophisticated and stylized fictional version of Kevin Epps' 2001 documentary. SFC's script, written by Alex Tse, adds multiracial characters and a multilayered plot involving not only HP, but also the Mission and Chinatown. But the basic theme remains the same -- they don't call it the Sucka-Free City 'cause it's soft. Living in the city is a serious task, and if you don't know, you better ask somebody. The storyline revolves around three youthful protagonists: K-Luv (Anthony Mackie), a member of the V-Dub gang, with more heart, and smarts, than your typical gangbanger; Nick (Ben Crowley), a rap-music-lovin' white boy who works in the mail room of a corporate office and scams credit-card numbers from his co-workers when he isn't selling them coke; and Lincoln (Ken Leung), a baby-faced Chinese gangster with a yen for his boss' daughter and a cold-blooded streak. Supporting roles are played by John Savage, Jim Brown, Shay Roundtree, and local rap star JT tha Bigga Figga -- who brings undeniable authenticity to the part of Killa Ski -- while subplots involve gentrification, CD bootlegging, blackmail, robbery and, of course, murder.

While it stands on its own as an urban crime drama, with the added appeal of familiar locations for Bay Area viewers, SFC feels unfinished, probably because it is. It was originally intended to be a miniseries, but for some inexplicable reason Showtime decided to air the pilot as a one-shot deal Saturday night at 8:00 PT. That's too bad, because Tse's script oozes with gritty realism, making SFC easily comparable to HBO's The Wire, but with a somewhat less complex story, plus a strong Asian male lead. It's compelling enough to make you wonder what the suits at Showtime were thinking when they passed on it -- it's far more hyphy than any original programming currently airing on the cable channel. -- Eric K. Arnold

2/8-2/15

Lit Happens

From the Bo tree to best-sellers: An all-day conference on Buddhism and the media features Prisoners of Shangri-La author Donald Lopez, Smile of the Buddha author Jacquelyn Baas, and other writers in the Lipman Room of UC Berkeley's Barrows Hall (Wed., 1:30 p.m.). ... Say aloha to old Hawaiian family rivalries in When Strange Gods Call, the second novel set in her native state by Pam Chun, who traded one island for another and now lives in Alameda. She's at Spellbinding Tales (Wed., 7 p.m.). ... Prison bars come between a young couple in Kalisha Buckhanon's thoughtful novel Upstate. Inspired to write it after learning that more African-American males are in jail than in college, she signs copies at Barnes & Noble Oakland (Thu., 7 p.m.). ... You can't say "sex" in the Bay Area without bumping into Susie Bright, who reads at Diesel from Best American Erotica 2005, which she edited and which includes salty bits by Jane Smiley, Steve Almond, Mary Gaitskill, and more. Prepare to be provoked (Thu., 7:30 p.m.). ... Yes, the city of Pleasanton has its own official poet laureate: Kirk Ridgeway's talk on the merits of poesy precedes an open mic at Barnes & Noble Dublin (Thu., 7:45 p.m.). ... Ring in African-American History Month with San Francisco interior designer and etiquette expert Antoinette Broussard, who discusses her book African American Holiday Celebrations and Traditions at Oakland's African-American Museum and Library (659 14th St.; call 510-637-0200 to reserve a space) (Fri., 6 p.m.). ... Don't stop; please don't stop: Nearly fifty bards spend twelve hours jamming at the Third Annual Poetry Marathon at Vallejo's Listen & Be Heard Cafe (818 Marin St.; for details, call 707-643-3597) (Sat., noon). ... At age five, Brian Greene was a prodigy, able to multiply thirty-digit numbers. Now he's a physicist, describing relativity, quantum mechanics, and his favorite topic, string theory, in the context of his new book The Fabric of the Cosmos at Cody's Telegraph (Tue., 7:30 p.m.). -- Anneli Rufus

SAT 2/12

Cocky-Locky

The Year of the Rooster officially begins Wednesday. It's year 4702 in the Chinese calendar, and according to Chinavoc.com, "everything will be precariously balanced" during the Wood Cock's reign. In other words: "Be cautious. Do not aim too high. One is liable to get shot down." You have at least two choices of Rooster celebrations today. First, try the Lunar New Year Festival Celebration of Youth, noon to 4 p.m. at the Oakland Asian Cultural Center in Oakland Chinatown (388 9th St.) -- complete with lion dancing, martial arts demos, Northern and Southern Chinese traditional music, a special Rooster Chinese Folk Dance, plus Vietnamese dancers and Korean drum dancing. Then at 4 p.m., author Rosemary Gong drops into Eastwind Books in Berkeley (2066 University Ave., 510-548-2350) to discuss her book, Good Luck Life: The Essential Guide to Chinese-American Celebrations and Culture. Both events are free. Gongxi facai! -- Kelly Vance

SAT 2/12

Whichever

Good music makes the giving easy

Whether you drive a Beemer or a biodiesel, there's an East Bay way for you to give to tsunami victims this weekend. (Volvo owners can take their pick.) Over at the stately Chapel of the Chimes (4499 Piedmont Ave., Oakland), East Bay flute teacher Carol Alban has organized a classically oriented Tsunami Benefit Relief Concert featuring the talents of herself and others like her -- including violinist Patti Weiss, soprano Katya Roemer, pianist Miles Graber, shakuhachi master Philip Gelb, the Daniel Hoffman Klezmer Trio, and many others -- playing classical, jazz, and world music to benefit the Red Cross (7 p.m., $20-$30, 510-333-0474). And in Berkeley, Studio Rasa (933 Parker St.) celebrates its first birthday with Open Hearts, a fund-raiser for the Seva Foundation's South Asia Emergency Fund, with music by Ancient Future, Sasha Butterfly, Soulsalaam, and DJ Louis Park, plus a performance by the SF Mime Troupe, opening invocation by Lama Thupten Tulku Rinpoche, dance and prayer ritual with Heather Munro Pierce, and more. 7 p.m., $15-and-up donation, 510-843-2787. -- Stefanie Kalem

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