Movies for the Week of November 17, 2006

It’s a busy week for me, so I’ll just point out that the 4Star is running a 8 Films To Die For Horror Fest today through Tuesday, just in case you’re in the mood for the gruesome side of independent cinema.

And now, on to this week’s recommendations:

Recommended: City Lights, Davies Symphony Hall, Wednesday and the following Friday and Saturday, 8:00. In Charlie Chaplin’s most perfect comedy, the little tramp falls in love with a blind flower girl and befriends a suicidal, alcoholic millionaire. The first doesn’t know Charlie is poor; the second doesn’t know Charlie at all when sober. Sound came to movies as Chaplin was shooting City Lights, resulting in an essentially silent film with a recorded musical score composed by Chaplin himself. But for these special showings, David Robertson will conduct the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra in a live performance of Chaplin’s score.

Recommended: Fuck, Lumiere and Shattuck, opens Friday for one-week run. What is it about that word? Steve Anderson tries to find out in the funniest documentary since The Aristocrats. In his search for an answer, he interviews linguists, porn stars, standup comedians, and moral crusaders who want the word banned. His respect for those with whom he clearly disagrees puts Fuck (or whatever it’s called on your local theater’s marquee) considerably above the similarly themed (and equally raunchy) This Film is Not Yet Rated. Interview subjects include Miss Manners, Bill Maher, Kevin Smith, and Pat Boone; Bill Plympton provides the animation.

Recommended: Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, Presidio, ongoing. Don’t expect the reported insights into American bigotry; only a couple of scenes show unknowing local folk spouting bile (including the frat boys now suing the studio). Instead, 90% of Borat’s jokes attack writer/star Sacha Baron Cohen’s sexist, homophobic, anti-Semitic, and completely idiotic Kazakhstani journalist. Most of the remaining 10% take pot shots at the ludicrous customs of the utterly fictitious society that Cohen and his collaborators have named after the real country of Kazakhstan. The movie is offensive, grotesque, cringe-inducing, and completely lacking in any sense of decency. It’s also side-achingly funny.

Recommended: To Kill a Mockingbird, Castro, Sunday. The film version of Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel manages to be both a nostalgic reverie of depression-era small town Southern life and a condemnation of that life’s dark and ugly underbelly. Gregory Peck’s Atticus Finch is the ultimate decent and moral father, a character so virtuous he’d be unbelievable if the story wasn’t told through the eyes of his young daughter. (Had a sequel been set when the girl was a teenager, Atticus would probably have been an idiotic tyrant.) The Castro will celebrate the movie all day, with a simple screening at noon and a big event screening, complete with a personal appearance by star Mary Badham, at 6:30.

Recommended: Horse Feathers, Pacific Film Archive, Saturday, 2:00. The Marx Brothers go to college, where they major in puns, pranks, and chasing Thelma Todd. One of their best films, and the only one where all four get to perform their own variation of the same song–each sillier than the last. Part of the Archive’s Movie Matinees For All Ages series.

Recommended: Fight Club, Aquarius, Friday and Saturday, midnight. Strange flick. Edward Norton wants to be Brad Pitt. Who wouldn’t? Pitt’s not only shagging Helena Bonham Carter, he’s also a free-spirited kind of guy and a real man. Or maybe he’s just a fascist? Or maybe…better not give away the strangest plot twist this side of Psycho and Bambi, 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 line in Hollywood history.

Recommended: Blackmail, Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, Friday, 8:00. Hitchcock’s last silent film was also his first talkie; making two versions wasn’t unusual when some but not all theaters had sound. Either way, Blackmail is vintage early Hitchcock. A young woman kills an obnoxious artist in self defense, then fears the repercussions (including those of her police detective boyfriend). And there’s a witness willing to take advantage of the situation. The sound version is very good, making clever use of the new medium, but smarter pacing makes Blackmail work best as a silent. The Museum will show it that way for the second week in a row, this time with piano accompaniment by Bruce Loeb.

Recommended: Catch a Fire, Rafael, opening Friday. Police arrest and torture an innocent man suspected of terrorist activity, and thus produce a militant. No, it’s not ripped from today’s headlines, but set in apartheid South Africa. Director Phillip Noyce turns the story of actual ANC freedom fighter Patrick Chamusso (Derek Luke) into both a morality play and an effective thriller, all without sacrificing the complexity of the situation. Six years ago, this movie would hardly have been controversial; today, it’s courageous.