What’s Screening: January 4 – 10

Still no festivals. But that sorry state of affairs ends next week.

Important note: I’m writing the newsletter early this week, and may not be able to update it later. Please excuse any errors.

A Performing arts double bill: A Late Quartet & Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present, Castro, Tuesday. The A goes to A Late Quartet, about the unraveling of a string quartet that’s been playing together for decades. imageWhen the cellist (Christopher Walken, for once not playing a psychopath) tells his partners that he has Parkinson’s disease, personal and creative differences that have long been simmering bubble to the top. People get hurt, they get angry, and they sleep with the wrong people. On its own, I’d give the documentary Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present a B+. We watch as Abramovic prepares and presents of a major show at MOMA, with sidelines into her past life and work. She’s a fascinating person, filled with life, devoted to her work, humane, empathetic, and sexy as all hell (at 63).  Read my SFIFF Report.

A- The Master, Rafael, opens Friday. As you probably know, Paul Thomas Anderson loosely based The Master on Scientology and it’s founder, L. Ron Hubbard. But this is no more a critique of Hubbard’s cult than Citizen Kane is an attack on Hearst newspapers. The story is really about an alcoholic drifter (Joaquin Phoenix) who finds himself in the circle of a charismatic cult leader (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Neither man is trustworthy; one steals from his hosts, the other runs what he may or may not consciously realize is a scam. Amy Adams gives The Master’s third great performance, as the "great" man’s wife–sweet on the outside but in reality hard as nails. The film suffers from a weak third act. This is one of two new films shot in the 70mm format. For more on the film and the format, see The Master, by a Master, in Masterly 70mm and When You Least Expect It: The Return of 70mm,

A Psycho, Cerrito, Thursday, 7:00. You may never want to take a shower again. In his last great movie, Alfred Hitchcock pulls the rug out from under us several times, imageleaving us unsure who we’re supposed to be rooting for or what could constitute a happy ending. In roles that defined their careers, Janet Leigh stars as a secretary turned thief, and Anthony Perkins as a momma’s boy with a lot to hide. I’ll always regret that I knew too much about Psycho before I saw it for the first time; I wish I could erase all memory of this movie and watch it with fresh eyes.

A Samsara, Castro, Wednesday and Thursday. Ron Fricke (Baraka) provides us with a succession of stunningly beautiful and occasionally shocking images,accompanied by a hypnotic musical score and almost no other sound. I sat, enraptured, my eyes and mouth open in astonishment. Although there’s no real story, Samsara is structured like one. Or if not a story, then at least a journey. Fricke shot Samsara in the 70mm format, providing a level of detail impossible to capture with today’s digital cameras or with standard 35mm film. The filmmakers have stated that Samsara is best seen in 4K digital projection, a format that the Castro doesn’t support. See my full review as well as More on Samsara, 70mm, and 4K Digital Projection.

B- Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Castro, through Sunday. The first American animated feature, and one of Walt Disney’s biggest triumphs, really does suffer from the sugary sweetness so often associated with Disney. But the picture is technically astounding and a visual delight. The dwarfs are funny and have distinct–if shallow–personalities. But Snow White herself and her Prince Charming are so dull that you might find yourself rooting for the evil stepmother (who’s actually pretty scary). Newly restored and projected off of a DCP, the engagement is in conjunction with The Walt Disney Family Museum’s current exhibition on the film.

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