The Good, the Bad, and the Sequels

Sequel. The very word conjures up images of Hollywood at its most crass and commercial. Indeed, the term art house sequel sounds like an oxymoron. Yet in less than two years, we’ve had The Barbarian Invasions (Denys Arcand’s follow-up to his 1989 Decline of the American Empire) and Richard Linklater’s Before Sunset. And now we’re about to get Ingmar Bergman’s Saraband, about the characters from his classic Scenes from a Marriage.

The only one of these sequels I’ve seen is Before Sunset. I had some misgivings about this movie when I first heard about it, and seeing the final product didn’t help. I love Before Sunrise, easily the most romantic film of the 1990s. Over the years I’ve wondered if Jesse and Celine ever got back together, but that didn’t mean I wanted to be told. I liked wondering. Besides, the way Before Sunset unfolded in real time felt contrived, the ending was abrupt, and we’d already seen the two of them wandering a romantic European city, talking about everything under the sun while they (and we) wondered if they would get around to actual sex.

What other art house sequels are in our future? Will we see More Usual Suspects? Memento 2 (or perhaps Memento 0)? Ei8ht? My Dinner with Andre II: Just Desserts?

Seriously, I’d love to see a sequel to Return of the Secaucus 7. Where are those young idealists now? How have advancing age and ever more reactionary presidents affected them? John Sayles, are you listening?

Sequels or not, there are a lot of films I can recommend this week, and a fair number of others that look promising.

Recommended: March of the Penguins, Rafael, ongoing engagement. Yes, emperor penguins are very cute and extremely funny, Luc Jacquet offers plenty of footage to make you laugh and sigh, but he goes beyond that, showing the tremendous hardships these birds endure to raise their young. No living creatures are as adorable as penguin chicks, and Morgan Freeman is the best celebrity narrator since Orson Welles.

Noteworthy: The Unsinkable Molly Brown, Castro, Friday night. I have only vague memories of seeing this picture as a kid, but this event isn’t about the movie. It’s about Debbie Reynolds, live on stage, interviewed by Carol Lynley. A benefit for Project Open Hand.

Recommended: Yellow Submarine, Film Night in the Park, Creek Park, San Anselmo, Friday night. We used to take drugs and watch this movie; now we take our kids. Either way, it’s fun. Warning: This is a DVD presentation.

Recommended: Millions, Red Vic, Friday and Saturday. Okay, I confess: My kids weren’t too impressed with this kids’ film–but I loved it. When a bag of stolen cash seemingly drops from the sky into the life of a sweetly spiritual and religious young boy, everyone’s life turns upside down. This was directed by Danny Boyle; think Trainspotting for children.

Recommended: Batman Begins, Parkway, ongoing engagement starts Friday. Early on, Batman Begins veers towards an offensive, fascistic attitude towards crime and vengeance, but writer/director Christopher Nolan (of Memento fame) has some tricks up his sleeve, resulting in what’s easily the best Batman movie ever. Christian Bale stars as an extremely disturbed yet basically decent Bruce Wayne, supported by Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Katie Holmes and an astonishingly futuristic, appallingly corrupt Gotham.

Noteworthy: Wall, Castro, Saturday afternoon. This documentary about the controversial wall going up between Israel and the occupied territories won a World Cinema Documentary Jury Prize this year at Sundance. Part of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival.

Noteworthy: The Talent Given Us, Castro, Saturday evening. Andrew Wagner made a comedy about an eccentric family starring his own family, presumably playing themselves. I haven’t seen it, but Roger Ebert liked it. Part of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival.

Recommended: Forbidden Planet, Lark, different times Saturday, Sunday, and Wednesday. Sure, the dialog is stilted, the acting is wooden, and the world view is hopelessly out-of-date, but this 1956 science fiction gem is always entertaining. And the basic premise can actually provoke thought. Besides, who doesn’t adore Robbie the Robot? Part of the Lark’s Sci Fi Week series.

Noteworthy: 2001: A Space Odyssey, Lark, different times Saturday, Monday, and Wednesday. I went back and forth about recommending this one. I used to worship Stanley Kubrick’s space epic, and while it hasn’t aged well, it’s still worth seeing. But Kubrick shot 2001 for 70mm projection on a giant, curved, Cinerama screen. It’s coming soon, in 70mm, to the Castro (albeit, on a large but not huge, flat screen), so you may as well wait and catch it there. Part of the Lark’s Sci Fi Week series.

Recommended: Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, Bridge Theater, Saturday, midnight. You need a high tolerance for silliness to enjoy Tim Burton’s first feature, but if you surrender to its absurdity, this love story between a man (well, sort of a man) and a bicycle will reward you with plenty of laughs. The final sequence, showing the movie reimagined as a slick Hollywood adventure, is terrific. Part of the Midnight Mass with Peaches Christ series.

Noteworthy: Odessa…Odessa!, Castro, Sunday morning. To film lovers, the town Odessa means The Battleship Potemkin. But this Black Sea port town once had a thriving Jewish community. Michale Boganim’s documentary goes looking for its remnants. Part of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival.

Recommended: Clash of the Wolves, Rafael, Sunday afternoon. When I discovered this 1925 B picture on DVD a few months ago, I fell instantly in love with Rin Tin Tin, absolutely the best non-human movie star to ever shed fur. In my January 2 Lincoln Log entry, I said that “I’d love to see Clash of the Wolves in a real theater, with live music, and an audience of enthusiastic children.” Sunday, I get my chance. With live piano accompaniment by Jon Mirsalis. Part of the Rafael’s Unleashed: Classic and Cult Canine Flicks series.

Noteworthy: The Front, Castro, Sunday afternoon. I haven’t seen Martin Ritt’s blacklist drama (staring Woody Allen in his first dramatic role) in 30 years, but I liked it when it was new. Ritt was one of many blacklist victims who worked on the film; others include writer Walter Bernstein and co-star Zero Mostel. A panel discussion on the blacklist will follow. Part of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival‘s series of films by blacklisted writers.

Recommended: The Day the Earth Stood Still, Lark, different times Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday. Perhaps the best science fiction film of the 50’s, and one of the few that criticized, rather than fed, our paranoia. It’s a little heavy-handed in the message department, but the Jesus symbolism is reasonably subtle. Part of the Lark’s Sci Fi Week series.

Recommended: Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956 version), Lark, different times Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday. Some see this noir sci-fi thriller as cold war anti-Communist paranoia; others interpret it as an attack on the cold war. I think it’s a satire on conformity and peer pressure. But almost everyone agrees that it’s the best alien invasion movie from a decade that specialized in them, and one hell of a fun, scary ride. Part of the Lark’s Sci Fi Week series.

Recommended: The Freshman, Pacific Film Archive, Sunday afternoon. This very human and extremely funny tale of a young man who desperately craves popularity is Harold Lloyd’s best-known film after Safety Last. It’s by far the better of the two, and one of the great masterpieces of silent comedy. Unfortunately, this presentation will use recorded, not live, accompaniment. Part of the Archive’s Welcome Danger: Harold Lloyd Silent Comedies series.

Recommended: Employees’ Entrance, Pacific Film Archive, Sunday afternoon. Like a good department store, this little-known pre-code gem serves up a little of everything–comedy, drama, ruthless capitalism, sexual harassment, and a lead character who’s both hero and villain. Two years later, a movie this honest about staying employed in the depression could not have been made. Part of the Archive’s Trouble In Paradise: Pre-Code Hollywood series.

Noteworthy: The Search, Castro, Tuesday afternoon, free. GI Montgomery Clift befriends a boy in a UN refugee camp while Jarmila Novotna searches for her son in Fred Zinneman’s 1948 exploration of post-war Europe. This may be the first Hollywood feature to address the issue of the Holocaust. Part of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival‘s series of films by blacklisted writers.

Noteworthy: Massacre, Castro, Tuesday evening. Over three days in 1982, Lebanese Christian militias slaughtered over 1000 unarmed Palestinian refugees under the not-so-watchful eyes of the Israeli army. Rather than concentrating on the victims, the directors of Massacre examine the perpetrators, asking who would commit such atrocities. Part of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival.

Noteworthy: 48 Hour Film Project, Roxie, Wednesday and Thursday evenings. Now this sounds like fun. Local filmmakers have two days to complete a short film on a subject they don’t know in advance. Come see the results.

Noteworthy: Isn’t This a Time!, Castro, Thursday evening. Stars and former stars of the American folk music scene gather at Carnegie Hall for a memorial concert to honor a beloved manager. No, this isn’t A Mighty Wind, but a real documentary. Part of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, although this movie is expected to receive a regular theatrical release after the festival.