More Festivals

If you were independently wealthy and had no friends, you could spend all of your time at Bay Area film festivals. Of course, if you did that, you probably wouldn’t stay friendless for long; you can meet some great people at these events.

No sooner is the San Francisco International Film Festival over then Docfest rears its non-fiction head. Now Docfest is gone for another year and what do we get? Another Hole in the Head (a horror and sci-fi festival put on by SF Indie) and Frameline30 (AKA, The San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival), almost on top of each other. Someone needs to find a really gruesome gay horror movie to let these two festivals merge.

Time constraints have kept me from previewing any of the films in either festival, but a number of selections have caught my eye. Among Hole in the Head’s promising-sounding titles are The Last Eve, a “unclassifiable genre-bending, time-traveling, religious epic,– and The Hamiltons, about a nice family adjusting to a new community, some of which are chained in their basement. Among the revivals are The Beast, from 1975 France, and described tongue-and-cheek in the program as “one of the greatest sexploitation monster movies ever made.–

As I skimmed Frameline’s lineup, the most interesting titles were all documentaries. These include Wrestling With Angels, about playwright (and Munich screenwriter) Tony Kushner, and God & Gays: Bridging the Gap. Among the more promising fiction choices are Love Life, about a seemly conventional married couple (i.e., a man and a woman), both closeted gays. There’s also a kids’ showing of The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh.

On a very different note, the Parkway is dipping its toe into the revival business for a week-long series of cult favorites called the Parkway Pizza Party. If you want a chance to see Fight Club or Donnie Darko on the big screen, this is the time.

We’re also coming into the Bay Area’s Silent Movie Season, and schedules for The Broncho Billy Silent Film Festival (June 23-25) and The San Francisco Silent Film Festival (July 14-16) are now up. If you like live music with your movies, check them out.

And put some of these on your schedule for this week:

Recommended: Lawrence of Arabia, California Theatre, San Jose, through Saturday. To call Lawrence the best big historical epic of the 70mm roadshow era would be damning it with faint praise, so let me be more precise: It’s one of the greatest films ever made. Stunning to look at and entertaining as pure spectacle, it’s also intelligent, exploring the career of a fascinatingly complex and enigmatic war hero. T. E. Lawrence–at least in this film–both loved and hated violence, and tried liberating Arabia by turning it over to the British Empire. This masterpiece isn’t worth seeing on DVD and barely worthwhile in 35mm. Shot in Super Panavision 70, Lawrence should be experienced in 70mm. And yes, the California is showing it that way.

Recommended: Over the Hedge, Presidio, now playing. Like any good, child-oriented, computer-animated feature, Over the Hedge keeps you laughing at the jokes and dazzled at the visuals. It even makes you care a bit about the characters. But it goes beyond those commercial requirements, saying something real and important about the damage that our consumer-oriented culture does both to us and to the natural world on the outskirts of our civilization. Besides, you’ve got to love a kids’ movie that undercuts the obligatory “families stick together– speech.

Recommended: United 93, Elmwood, opening Friday. We can enjoy the vicarious thrill of movie theater fear because glamorous but familiar faces, Hollywood sheen, witty dialog, and genre conventions all conspire to remind us that it’s only a movie, and that it will end in triumph and redemption. Paul Greengrass’ harrowing 911 retelling gives us no such reassurance. There is no glamour in this cast of unknowns. The grainy, up-close, handheld camerawork doesn’t glow. No one is especially witty. And we know going in that something very close to this really happened and that no one came get out of it alive. The result is the most nerve-wracking experience I’ve ever had in a movie theater. It isn’t fun, but it leaves you with greater appreciation of what those people went through.

Recommended: Fight Club, Parkway, Friday and Saturday. Strange flick. Edward Norton wants to be Brad Pitt (who wouldn’t?), not only because he’s shagging Helena Bonham Carter, but also because he’s a free-spirited kind of guy and a real man. Or maybe he’s just a fascist? Or maybe…better not give away one of the strangest plot twists ever written, even if it strains credibility more than a speech by George W. Bush. And Bonham Carter gets to say the most shocking and hilariously obscene laugh line in Hollywood history. A Parkway Pizza Party presentation.

Not Recommended: Lady Windemere’s Fan (1925), Stanford, Saturday and Sunday. Ernst Lubitsch adapting Oscar Wilde? How could that miss? Here’s how: Even Lubitsch couldn’t find a way to transfer Wilde’s wit into silent film (there was a conscious decision to avoid Wilde’s dialog in the title cards). The result is lifeless and uninteresting. As part of its Ronald Colman series, the Stanford is presenting Lady Windemere’s Fan accompanied by Jim Riggs on the Wurlitzer pipe organ. On Saturday, it’s on a double-bill with Bulldog Drummond Strikes Back.

Recommended, with Reservations: Sir! No Sir!, Lark, opens Saturday. Today’s mythology vilifies Vietnam-era protesters for mistreating returning veterans. David Zeiger attempts to set the record straight, using old footage and new interviews to remind us that it was the soldiers fighting that war and the veterans coming home who started the anti-war movement. There’s nothing exceptional here as filmmaking, and the picture never really hooks you on an emotional level. Still, we’d do a lot of good if we could get people to see Sir! No Sir! who don’t already agree with it’s message.

Recommended, with Reservations: CSA: The Confederate States of America, Red Vic, Sunday and Tuesday. Kevin Willmott’s mockumentary starts with a quote of George Bernard Shaw’s: “If you are going to tell people the truth, you’d better make them laugh. Otherwise they’ll kill you.” Willmott better watch his back, because his alternative history of the South winning the civil war hits painfully close to the bone as it examines our country’s cultural and institutional racism, but it just isn’t all that funny. It tries, with mock commercials for slave security devices and fake clips from imaginary movies, but only occasionally succeeds (the Home Shopping Network parody is priceless). Still, it’s nice to see someone do a mockumentary about something more important than dog shows and musicians.

Noteworthy: Oklahoma!, California Theatre, San Jose, Sunday through Thursday. Few films as mediocre as Oklahoma! are as historically or technically significant. Based on the stage play that revolutionized the Broadway musical, it was the first movie shot in 65mm and the first released in 70mm with six-track magnetic stereo sound–a format that dominated big Hollywood releases for the next 40 years. What’s more, the image was improved further by shooting and projecting the extra-wide film at 30 frames per second; 25% faster than the standard 24fps (a 24fps Cinemascope version was shot for wide release). The California is screening a 70mm, 30fps print, which is, according to one Bayflicks reader who has attended it, in very good condition. Note: This listing has been altered since I first posted it.

Not Recommended: Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas, Parkway, Tuesday and Wednesday. Oh, how Terry Gilliam has fallen! Monty Python’s token Yank made three of the best movies of the 1980’s, then his career collapsed and took his talent with it. Fear & Loathing In Las Vegas reeks; a confused, ugly, and meaningless exercise–which would be forgivable, if it also wasn’t boring and witless. A Parkway Pizza Party presentation.

Video in Theaters, Part 2

Last week, I discussed art house theaters showing movies–especially old ones–on video rather than film, and whether I should warn readers when this happens. I forwarded the newsletter to theater managers in hope of getting some interesting replies. Their reaction was underwhelming. Only two responded. Tellingly, neither response came from a theater about which I’ve heard this complaint.

Both responders reassured me of their own pro-film policies. Brian Collette, Office Manager and Film Shipper for the Castro, told me that that theater “does not screen any repertory films digitally as part of its own programming.” When a film festival rents the Castro, of course, this decision is out of their hands. Aside from that, “The only films we’ve ran digitally have been…first-run independent films…when the distributor did not strike a 35mm print.” Joel Shepard, Film and Video Curator of the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, told me that it’s their policy to “NEVER [emphasis his] show something off of video that is intended to be shown on film.” But Shepard admitted that “We’ve had to do it a couple of times because of shipping mistakes, etc.”

“Some theaters are getting really bad about this,” Shepard commented. But he brought up the very real problems with showing repertoire titles in 35mm. “First, the studios are making fewer and fewer 35mm prints of older titles available for theatrical exhibition, because there’s little financial incentive for them to do so.” The prints are often in poor condition. Then there’s the rental fee, which can be as high as $500, plus shipping.

The money issue is an important one, and perhaps I should have brought it up last week. I doubt there’s an art house in the country–business or non-profit–that’s operating on a comfortable margin. We almost lost the Roxie last year, and Landmark closed the Act I & II a few weeks ago. It’s perfectly reasonable to give them some slack and not complain too much when they cut corners.

On the other hand, if they cut too many corners, people will stop buying tickets and popcorn, and the theaters’ financial problems will only get worse. As Shepard put it, “the situation out there sucks for everyone.”

But the situation will suck a bit less if you turn off that computer (no, wait! Finish reading this, first!) and go out to a movie. You’ve got a Jazz/Noir Film Festival at the Balboa, Anne Francis in person at the Castro, Harold Lloyd in Niles with live accompaniment by Molly Axtmann, and plenty of other good movies showing this week.

Noteworthy: Sweet Smell of Success, Balboa, Friday. ItIt’s been too long since I’ve seen Burt Lancaster’s Broadway noire for me to trust my memory with a wholehearted recommendation. But not by much. Lancaster risked his career by producing this exploration of the seamy side of fame and by playing a truly despicable character. The result, if I recall correctly, is fantastic. With Tony Curtis. Written by Ernest (North by Northwest) Lehman. On a double-bill with Anatomy of a Murder as part of the Jazz/Noir Film Festival.

Recommended: Bad Day at Black Rock, Castro, Friday, 7:00. While everyone else was working hard to fill the giant Cinemascope screen, director John Sturges and cinematographer William C. Mellor saw how effective it was to keep it empty. Spencer Tracy stars as a one-armed stranger who comes to a small desert town after World War II and discovers how far people will go to keep a secret. One of the few post-war films to deal with anti-Japanese bigotry. Part of a very big Evening with Anne Francis, which includes Q&A with the star herself, and two other movies, but not, sad to say, Forbidden Planet.

Recommended: Kung Fu Hustle, Clay, Friday and Saturday, midnight. Stephen Chow’s big-budget action comedy is totally bizarre, thoroughly ridiculous, but absolutely entertaining. The occasional attempts at serious storytelling are as jarring as an orphan’s death in a Road Runner cartoon, but the laughs overwhelm the poor attempts at making you cry. The knife-throwing scene is among the funniest new sequences I’ve seen this decade.

Recommended, with Reservations: Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont, Balboa and Rafael, opening Friday. When a British film starring an aging and respected thespian has neither laughs nor explosions, it is, by definition, a serious work of art. At least that’s the theory. The reality is that this tale of bonding between an old lady and a young man is neither serious nor artful, and only mildly entertaining. On the plus side, the performances are excellent and the pretending-to-be-someone-you’re-not story doesn’t move to the obvious resolution. On the negative, the main characters are too good to be true and everyone else is a caricature.

Recommended: Beethoven’s Hair, The Woman’s Building, Saturday, 3:00. Part forensic mystery and part history lesson, Beethoven’s Hair gets a lot of fascinating stories into its 84-minute running time. There’s an Arizona urologist with the unlikely name of Che Guevara, the Holocaust in Denmark, a particle accelerator, an Australian suffering from lead poisoning, the 19th century composer Ferdinand Hiller, and, of course, Ludwig himself, dying a horribly slow and painful death. A grand and epic story, all true, told clearly and concisely, and supported with some of the greatest music ever written. Warning: It contains a fair amount of grisly medical talk. Part of Docfest.

Noteworthy: A Sailor-Made Man, Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, Saturday, 7:30. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen this early Harold Lloyd feature; I don’t remember the details. But any opportunity to see Lloyd with live accompaniment and an audience is not to be missed. This time, the accompaniment will be by Molly Axtmann.

CANCELLED: Best In Show, Dolores Park, San Francisco, 8:30. Christopher Guest’s dog-show mockumentary has more than its share of hilarious moments. The rest of it is pretty funny, too. The season-opener for Film Night in the Park, it will, unfortunately, be presented on DVD.

Recommended: Deeper Than Y, The Woman’s Building, Sunday, 1:00. A gay couple approaching their 36th anniversary. An actress who never became a star but always worked. A Republican author of erotic novels. Director Ilona Siller listens to seven elderly New Yorkers (aged like fine wine) as they talk about love, work, politics, the miseries of aging, and the YMCA swimming class that they all attend. Very different people, but they all feel they’ve lived their lives to the fullest and plan to continue doing so. Watching Deeper than Y leaves you wanting to live your life that way, too; it may even help you do so. Starts the last day of Docfest.

Recommended: Touch of Evil, Balboa, Sunday. Orson Welles’ film noir classic, and one of his few Hollywood studio features. He lacked the freedom he found in Europe, but the bigger budget–and perhaps even the studio oversight–resulted in one of his best. As a corrupt border-town sheriff, Welles makes a bloated, scary, yet strangely sympathetic villain. Janet Leigh is a lovely and effective damsel in distress (although Psycho apparently didn’t teach her to stay away from seedy motels). As the hero, a brilliant Mexican detective, Charlton Heston is…well, he’s miscast, but not as badly as some people say. On a Jazz/Noir Film Festival double-bill with Odds Against Tomorrow.

Recommended: Lawrence of Arabia, California Theatre, San Jose, Tuesday through next Saturday. To call Lawrence the best big historical epic of the 70mm roadshow era would be damning it with faint praise, so let me be more precise: It’s one of the greatest films ever made. Stunning to look at and entertaining as pure spectacle, it’s also intelligent, exploring the career of a fascinatingly complex and enigmatic war hero. T. E. Lawrence–at least according to this film–both loved and hated violence, and tried liberating Arabia by turning it over to the British Empire. This masterpiece isn’t worth seeing on DVD and barely worthwhile in 35mm. Shot in Super Panavision 70, Lawrence should be experienced in 70mm. And the California is showing it in 70mm.

Video in Theaters

I received an interesting email from a reader who, for professional reasons, wishes to remain anonymous. “It’s becoming more common,” he began, “for theaters to hold video screenings of movies (that are meant to be shown on film) without noting this in any of their publicity. Twice recently, I’ve commuted into S.F. to watch a film only to find there was no [actual, physical] film (Fingers at the Roxie and The Poseidon Adventure at the Clay).” He then suggested that I include an icon for video presentations. (For the complete text of the letter, see my Reader Letters page.)

It’s good suggestion. When we travel distances and shell out money to see a movie theatrically, especially one that’s available on video, we expect to see more than we could get at home. Not just a bigger screen, but a bigger screen filled with more than 480 lines of resolution. Of course, there’s more to the theatrical experience than image quality. Movies are best experienced in the dark, surrounded by strangers. Nevertheless, it’s a big disappointment to pay for a movie and get a DVD.

But adding a “Warning: Video” icon has its problems.

The big one is accuracy. As my anonymous reader pointed out, the theaters rarely mention this in their publicity. And while I enjoy a bit of a journalist’s inside track with the theaters I cover, it’s not always easy to get them to reveal potentially embarrassing information.

Occasionally they do, and with that I must make a confession. I knew weeks ago that the Clay’s midnight movie presentation of the original Poseidon Adventure would be celluloid free. Their press release touted digital projection, but I doubted that Twentieth Century Fox had done a theatrical-quality digital transfer. So I asked my press contact, and was told that they were projecting it off of a DVD. Perhaps I should have said something; if I had written a capsule about the movie, I would have.

Theatrical-quality digital presentations bring up another problem: Where do I draw the line? I consider 2K digital projection an acceptable substitute for film. But what about 1.3K digital projection? Or HDTV?

And what if a movie was shot on video? Is it okay to show it that way? Gary Meyer openly stated that the Balboa was showing the shot-on-video I am a Sex Addict that way.

I’m sending an extra copy of this newsletter to several theater owners and managers. If I get any interesting responses, I’ll do a follow-up next week. And even if you don’t run a movie theater, I’d love to read your opinions on this subject.

And, I hope, you will love to read the following opinions. Two of the films listed here are from Docfest, which opens tonight (Friday night). I suspect that most of this festival’s “films” were shot in video, and will be presented that way.

Recommended: The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Castro, Friday. When we think French New Wave, we imagine gritty, black-and-white stories filled with angst and alienation. Yet Jacques Demy, shooting a completely believable story in real locations, created a lush, colorful and sublimely romantic musical. A movie like few others. The opening film of the Castro’s Jacques Demy series.

Recommended: Brokeback Mountain, Red Vic, Friday and Saturday. Ang Lee’s gay love story may one day seem as dated as Kramer vs. Kramer and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, but today it looks like a masterpiece. Heath Ledger turns the stereotype of the strong, silent cowboy on its head, playing a man so beaten down and closed off from the world that every word is a struggle. Jake Gyllenhaal and Michelle Williams are also brilliant as his lover and wife. And, of course, screenwriters Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana, working from a short story by E. Annie Proulx, also deserve considerable credit.

Recommended: Class Act, Roxie, Friday, 5:00 and Monday, 7:00. DISCLAIMER: I’m married to a public school music teacher, and am therefore inclined towards the message of this movie. Everyone had at least one teacher who changed their life, and as often as not, that teacher taught a performing art. Class Act introduces us to Jay W. Jensen, a now-retired (but still quite active) Miami Beach drama teacher. Likable and enthusiastic, Jensen apparently inspired countless students, including Andy Garcia and Brett Ratner. More than a portrait of an engaging personality, this documentary explores the sorry state of arts funding in American schools today, and how, without drama and music offerings, children get left behind. Executive produced by Morgan (Supersize Me) Spurlock. Friday night’s showing is Docfest‘s opening presentation.

Recommended, with Reservations: Yang Ban Xi: The 8 Model Works, Balboa, opening Friday. China’s Cultural Revolution was a bleak time of horrible oppression, but at least it was colorful. Or so it seems in Yan-Ting Yuen’s documentary on the stage-and-screen musical extravaganzas that met Madame Mao’s cultural and political requirements. To modern American eyes, the clips from actual Yang Ban Xi movies walk a strange line between stunning choreography and unintentional hilarity; it’s like Agnes DeMille meets her Uncle Cecil. But the modern interview sequences are hit and miss, and a couple of modern dance sequences shot for the movie seem forced. Most of all, I found myself wanting more information. When did the government start making these shows? When did they stop? Why were only eight shows produced? I also wanted more of those old clips.

Recommended: Inside Man, Also continuing at the Presidio. Looks more like Spike Lee than Match Point looks like Woody Allen, but not by much. Going slick and commercial, Lee and screenwriter Russell Gewirtz fashioned an effective and entertaining puzzle thriller. The game here is guessing what a character will do next, and the story offers enough surprises to keep you guessing and usually guessing wrong. I suspect Lee took this relatively apolitical Hollywood assignment because he needed a hit; and he’s earned it. It’s nice to know he can do light entertainment. The Balboa is showing Inside Man on a double bill with The Sentinel.

Recommended: United 93, Parkway, opening Friday. Also continuing at the Presidio. We can enjoy the vicarious thrill of movie theater fear because the star faces, Hollywood sheen, witty dialog, and genre conventions all conspire to remind us that it’s only a movie, and that will all end in triumph and redemption. Paul Greengrass’ harrowing 911 retelling gives us no such reassurance. There is no glamour in this cast of unknowns. The grainy, up-close, handheld camerawork isn’t pretty. No one is especially witty. And we know going in that something very close to this really happened and that no one will get out of it alive. The result is the most nerve-wracking experience I’ve ever had in a movie theater. It isn’t fun, but it leaves you with greater appreciation of what those people went through.

Noteworthy: Earthdance: short-attention-span environmental film festival, Roxie, Saturday. Every year I tell myself I’m going to make the EarthDance festival; one of these years I will. Aimed at environmentalists who like their agitprop short and light, EarthDance presents a collection of short films, many of them whimsical in nature, about our planet’s precarious condition.

Recommended: Cabaret, Castro, Tuesday. Liza dances while the Weimar Republic burns. Bob Fosse’s musical drama about the Nazi’s rise to power interweaves production numbers performed in a decadent nightclub with the personal life of the club’s equally decadent star. But a life of carefree sensuality can’t last forever when the brownshirts are gathering strength. The songs and dances, light-years away from the light escapism of traditional movie musicals, are among the best. What’s the good of sitting alone in your room when you can see Cabaret on the big screen with an audience? Shown with New York, New York on the first of two Liza Minnelli double bills.

Recommended: Deeper Than Y, Roxie, Wednesday, 7:00. A gay couple approaching their 36th anniversary. An actress who never became a star but always worked. A Republican author of erotic novels. Director Ilona Siller listens to seven elderly New Yorkers (aged like fine wine) as they talk about love, work, politics, the miseries of aging, and the YMCA swimming class that they all attend. Very different people, but they all feel they’ve lived their lives to the fullest and plan to continue doing so. Watching Deeper than Y leaves you wanting to live your life that way, too; it may even help you do so. Part of Docfest.

Recommended: The Big Lebowski, Parkway, Thursday, 9:15. Critics originally panned this Coen Brothers gem as a disappointing follow-up to the Coen’s previous endeavor, Fargo. Well, it isn’t as good as Fargo, but it’s still one hell of a funny movie.

More from the San Francisco International Film Festival

I spent Saturday with Jean-Claude Carrière, Tilda Swinton, and John Turturro. Good company. (If you don’t recognize Carrière’s name, that just shows how badly we actor-and-director obsessed film fans disrespect screenwriters.)

Yes, I’m talking about the San Francisco International Film Festival, where I devoted my day to big events with big names rather than actually watching movies (although I caught a couple of those, too).

Carrière received this year’s Kanbar Award for Excellence In Screenwriting. With a 128-title filmography that includes Diary of a Chambermaid, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, The Tin Drum, and The Unbearable Lightness of Being, he deserves it.

Film critic David D’Arcy interviewed the extremely amiable and talkative Carrière before a festival audience. The issue of authorship came up; it always does with screenwriters. “We have to reach another dimension,” Carrière argued. “It’s not the writer’s film. It’s not the director’s film. It’s the film.” He added that “When a writer becomes a screenwriter, he must know he’s part of a team.”

D’Arcy asked him about adapting other writers’ works–“novels and stage plays”–to the screen. “The main difference is [adapting the works of] writers who are alive versus writers who are dead. Living writers are easier because you can talk to them.– That surprised me; I would have assumed that dead writers are easier because they can’t complain.

After the interview, D’Arcy opened the floor for Q&A with the audience. I asked about writing in foreign languages (he’s written English- and German-language films as well as those in his native French). After saying he could talk to me for hours on that subject (I’m game), he explained that he calls in a writer of the appropriate nationality to be the final judge. He also discussed the importance of vernacular; for instance, you can’t use American slang in an American, English-language movie where the characters would realistically be speaking Czech. (That example wasn’t pulled from thin air. Phillip Kaufman, for whom he wrote The Unbearable Lightness of Being, was in the second row.)

After the discussion, the Festival screened Belle de Jour, which I haven’t seen in over 30 years. It’s still a very good film. The Pacific Film Archive is following the Festival with a Tribute To Jean-Claude Carrière series.

Later that afternoon, actor Tilda Swinton delivered the State of the Cinema address in the form of a letter to her 8-year-old son, attempting to answer a question he had recently asked her: “What did dreams look like before there was cinema?”

She didn’t offer anything like a concrete answer (not as if we expected one), but she spoke elegantly, rhapsodizing about her love of the art form, about “What cinema is and why we need it. [And] why it’s worth the fight.” She proclaimed herself “hopeful to my boots that it’s never going away.-“

She admitted that that she feels like “a fraud” because she knows nothing about the skill of acting. She discussed how DVDs have educated everyone about the art, so that the fishermen in her remote Scottish village request their rentals by director. And she offered her theory as to why independent films are generally superior to Hollywood product: The big-budget movies, because they have the money to be perfect, take their time and lose their spontaneity.

I closed the night with Romance and Cigarettes (the movie, not the actual commodities), a musical tragi-comedy about a marriage threatened by adultery. It’s a strange sort of musical, written and directed by John Turturro. The songs are familiar hits, and for the most part the cast lip-synchs the original recordings. The dancing looks more exuberant than professional. The cast is outstanding, including James Gandolfini, Susan Sarandon, Kate Winslet, Steve Buscemi, Christopher Walken, and Mandy Moore.

With its corny songs and dances, raunchy humor, and entirely loopy logic, the first half of Romance and Cigarettes is gut-bustingly funny. And yet there’s something real underneath it. We’ve all been in shaky relationships, and we’ve all wanted to break into song and dance on the street (at least I hope it’s not just me). But as Romance and Cigarettes turns serious in the second half, it finds itself on less secure ground. Turturro can’t quite manage the tricky transition from tomfoolery to tragedy.

After the movie, Turturro came on stage for a little Q&A. He had had the idea of characters lip-synching familiar songs before seeing anything by Dennis (The Singing Detective) Potter, who, he admits, “thought of it first.”  He described the set as one where “We laughed a lot,-” a spirit that carried over into the final film. And he limited his use of professional choreographers because he wanted the dancing to “look like [something you’d do] in the privacy of your bedroom.”

There are lots of fun things you can do in the privacy of your bedroom, but the movies below are best viewed in a crowded theater.

Recommended: Tsotsi, 4Star, opening Friday. Tsotsi is so good it’s difficult to watch. Writer/director Gavin Hood asks for no sympathy for the violent young thug at the film’s center (Presley Chweneyagae), even as he shows you the dire poverty that created this scary young man. Early in the film, the title character highjacks a car, shooting a woman in the stomach. Then he discovers a baby in the back seat. The thug has no idea what to do, so he finds himself caring for the child, and he slowly begins to soften. This is a tense, scary, vicious, yet ultimately beautiful film about humanity and redemption.

Recommended, with Reservations: Ice Age: The Meltdown, Elmwood, opens Friday. Not in the same class as Shrek or The Incredibles, or even of the first Ice Age movie, but still an entertaining diversion for an afternoon with the kids. The best scenes (which have nothing to do with the rest of the movie) involve a sort of proto-squirrel who may be computer animation’s answer to Wile Coyote.

Noteworthy: The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, Pacific Film Archive, Saturday, 6:30. It’s been entirely too long since I’ve seen what I remember as my favorite Luis Buñuel film. An extremely pointed comedy where fantasy and reality merge (hey, this is Buñuel), Discreet Charm tells the tale of a small group of wealthy friends whose bad luck continually thwarts their attempts to eat dinner. Part of the PFA’s tribute to screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrière, although it’s more like a tribute to Carrière and Buñuel, as they are showing nothing the former wrote for another director.

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