Coming Soon

Let me start with an apology. I only this week found out that a Werner Herzog Retrospective has been running at SFMOMA since November. I’ll list the few remaining films as they come.

The Holy Mountain

In more up-to-date news, the Castro will screen Alejandro Jodorowsky’s 1970’s cult favorites El Topo and The Holy Mountain on January 19th through the 22nd. I haven’t seen either film in more than 30 years. I remember them both being very weird, very violent, very sexy, and filled with a lot of Catholic symbolism–with the emphasis on weird. El Topo was the better known of the two, but I remember preferring The Holy Mountain.

Also coming to the Castro is Noir City, opening January 26. As usual, Eddie Mueller offers ten double bills of mid-20th century pessimism, all while avoiding the movies you already know (unless you have Mueller’s encyclopedic knowledge of the genre). I won’t comment on what’s playing because, while a couple are vaguely familiar names, I’ve never seen any of them.

Two years ago, Mueller moved Noir City to the Balboa to protest the Castro’s firing of programmer Anita Monga, who also works for the festival. According to Mueller, “We went back [to] the Castro because as much as people enjoyed the festivities at the Palace of Fine Arts, we got the message that people wanted to…see vintage films in a vintage theatre while that experience was still possible. A blazing marquee, popcorn, the organ, a single huge screen — that’s how people want to experience these films, and I can’t argue with them.”

Moving north, the Rafael will not be screening Christopher Guest’s recent comedy For Your Consideration. I have to say that because the Rafael is running its annual For Your Consideration series of movies selected by their countries of origin for possible Best Foreign Language Film Oscar nominations. The only connection between this series and Guest’s movie is, of course, the Academy Awards. Home for Purim, apparently, doesn’t qualify.

I haven’t seen any of the films screening in that series, so I’ll tell you about these ones, instead:

Touch of Evil, Pacific Film Archive, Thursday, 7:30. Orson Welles made few Hollywood studio features, but as this noir proves, they represent his best work. True, he lacked the freedom in Hollywood he found in Europe, but the bigger budgets–and perhaps even the studio oversight–resulted in better films. Like this one. 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. The first movie in David Thomson’s A Thousand Decisions In the Dark series.

Ninotchka, Pacific Film Archive, Sunday, 3:00. Garbo’s first comedy and penultimate film is sweet, charming, romantic, and very funny. It also nails perfectly the absurdities of Communism–still well respected by many Americans in 1939. As Garbo’s character points out, “The last mass trials were a great success. There are going to be fewer but better Russians.” But what else would you expect when Ernst Lubitsch directs a screenplay by Billy Wilder? Part of the Archive’s series on The Lubitsch Touch.

Rear Window, Cerrito, Saturday, 6:00; Sunday, 5:00. Alfred Hitchcock at his absolute best. James Stewart stands out while sitting down as a news photographer temporarily confined to his apartment and a wheelchair, forced by boredom to amuse himself by spying on the neighbors. Then he begins to suspect that one of them committed murder. As he and his girlfriend (Grace Kelly) begin to investigate, it slowly dawns on us that they’re getting into some pretty dangerous territory (something they don’t realize until it’s almost too late). Hitchcock uses this story to examine voyeurism, urban alienation, and the institution of marriage, and to treat his audience to a great entertainment. Part of the Cerrito Classics Best of Alfred Hitchcock series.

Winter Journey, Castro, Friday, 3:30. Inspired by Schubert’s Winterreise song cycle, Hans Steinbichler’s film takes you into the mind, soul, and life of a dangerously depressed and out-of-control man. Josef Bierbichler stars as Franz Brenninger, a businessman swamped by debts, a wife who is going blind, and an addiction to prostitutes. As his destructive behavior and belligerent attitude alienates both his business partners and his family, he falls for a hoax so obvious it’s almost funny. But Steinbichler, working from a script he wrote with Martin Rauhaus, doesn’t let you laugh much; the journey he takes you on, like Brenninger’s mental state, is unrelentingly depressing. Part of the Berlin & Beyond festival.

Nathan the Wise, Castro, Tuesday, 6:30. Eleven years before Hitler came to power, Manfred Noa made this movie about a Jewish merchant who councils religious tolerance between Christians and Muslims at the time of the Crusades. I haven’t seen this silent film (or even heard of it before I saw the Berlin & Beyond schedule), but I’m looking forward to doing so. Based on a 1779 play by Gotthold Ephraim Lessing. As part of Berlin & Beyond, Dennis James will accompany this silent film on the Castro’s Wurlitzer organ.

RiffTrax Live!, Rafael, Tuesday, 7:30. I admit it–I’m a fan of Mystery Science Theater 3000, the long-running TV show that made fun of bad movies. Now three of the show’s creators come to the Rafael to perform their comic commentary before a live audience. What’s the movie? They’re not saying.

Valerie, Castro, Sunday, 6:30. Agata Buzek plays a once-successful model now penniless and down on her luck. To make matters worse, it’s Christmastime, she’s homeless, and she must keep up appearances. A story like this requires us to care about Valerie, or at least find her fascinating, but Buzek never manages to draw us in with anything stronger than mild curiosity. In fact, a security guard played by Devid Striesow brings more warmth to the story than does Buzek. Part of the Berlin & Beyond festival.

Lapislazuli, Castro, Friday, 1:00. Some plots just don’t work if you take them seriously. Count “Modern teenage girl befriends freshly-thawed Neanderthal” in that category. Yet director Wolfgang Murnberger and his co-authors want you to sincerely accept the idea that meeting a less-evolved boy is the cure for alienated adolescence. Come to think of it, considering the utterly unfunny comic relief villain, I doubt they could have pulled it off for laughs, either. Part of the Berlin & Beyond festival.

Lady Windermere’s Fan, Pacific Film Archive, Friday,7:00. What could be more promising than Ernst Lubitsch directing the film version of Oscar Wilde’s play? On the other hand, silent film isn’t the best medium for Wilde’s witty dialogue, especially when the intertitles avoid direct quotes from the script. The result is a witless, lifeless melodrama. Bruce Loeb accompanies, on piano, this disappointing selection in the Archive’s Lubitsch Touch series.

Moulin Rouge, Castro, Thursday, 7:00. Did this frenetic yet lifeless absurdity really resurrect the movie musical, or did it just happen to come out the year before Chicago? Okay, the whimsical, neo-Méliès art direction evokes a pleasant fantasy of Paris at the start of the 20th century, but the songs–all pop hits from the 1980’s and ’90’s–destroy that mood. The dance numbers are so heavily edited that we can’t tell if anyone in the cast can actually take a step. I don’t object to the lightweight plot (Top Hat is no War and Peace), but the ingénue’s fatal disease feels like a tacked-on attempt at depth. On a double-bill with To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar, as part of the Castro’s Big Gay Movie Night.

Charlotte’s Web, Elmwood, opening Friday. New rule: If a movie makes me cry, I have to give it an A. By the end of the latest version of E.B. White’s classic children’s tale, my tear ducts were in full spigot mode, despite such “hip” additions to the tale as fart jokes (hey, the film is set in a barn). The story, concerning a piglet destined for the slaughterhouse and a kindly spider who befriends him, deals honestly with issues seldom touched in big-budget Hollywood family fare, including our own mortality. The technology of computer animation makes us believe that a spider and pig can talk; the art of computer animation makes us care what they say.

Army of Shadows, Roxie, opening Friday. Resistance is a dirty and almost inevitably deadly job, but in Nazi-occupied France, someone had to do it. Jean-Pierre Melville’s dark 1969 adventure, recently restored and introduced for the first time to American screens, occasionally confuses those who don’t know the history (or the geography). But the rewards are well worth the effort. The suspense set pieces, including a night-time novice parachute jump and a rescue attempt by ambulance, are nerve-wracking, but not nearly so much as the protagonists’ constant moral dilemmas. Nothing gets romanticized in this spy story.

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