This Week’s Films

I’m back in form. I wrote four posts this week. On Friday, in Getting Back in Touch, I apologized for not writing (and a few other things), and recommended a couple of excellent films that are playing around but not in my weekly schedules. Then, on Sunday I wrote a full-length review of Knocked Up. On Monday, I wrote about the two upcoming silent film festivals on the way. Finally, on Wednesday, I told you about the Jewish Film Festival that opens next month.And here are some movies worth catching, and worth skipping, this week:

Knocked Up, Balboa, Presidio, and Cerrito, continuing. Writer/Director Judd Apatow tops his The 40 Year Old Virgin (no small feat) in another raunchy-yet-sweet comedy about the complexities and problems of heterosexual romance. This time around, a rising television personality with career ambitions (the stunningly gorgeous Katherine Heigl) shares a drunken one-night stand with a slacker stoner (the stunningly dumpy Seth Rogen), then eight weeks later discovers she’s pregnant. As the two leads, their friends, and their families react to this life-changing accident, Apatow explores how people fall in and out of love, the way parenthood changes people, and the need for both men and women to get away from each other and bond with those of their own gender”“all while providing plenty of laughs. For my full-length review, click here.

Vengeance Is Mine, Pacific Film Archive, Saturday, 6:30. Director Shohei Imamura takes us into the mind of a psychopath as he tracks the life of and manhunt for one of Japan’s most notorious serial killers. The result isn’t pretty. Imamura and screenwriter Masaru Baba treat Iwao Enokizu (Ken Ogata) analytically, neither asking for nor receiving any sympathy for a man incapable of feeling sympathy towards others. Yet the film itself is far from cold. For while Enokizu himself fascinates and repels us, Imamura makes us care deeply for the imperfect people whose lives Enokizu touches, ruins, and in some cases cuts short. A great film. A repeat screening in the Archive’s Shohei Imamura series.

Flanders, Lumiere and Shattuck, opening Friday. Judging from Bruno Dumont’s film, you don’t want to spend your vacation in the bleak Flemish winter. On the other hand, it’s a lot better than a war of attrition in an unnamed Middle Eastern country. Dumont puts us in both environments in this atmospheric study of how war affects those who go and those that stay behind. The film suffers a bit early on from the dull nature of the leading characters (who take part in some of the most depressing sex I’ve ever seen), but stick around; it improves.

The Lady Eve and Ladies They Talk About, Castro, Wednesday. Screwball comedy reached its peak with Preston Sturges’ The Lady Eve, starring Barbara Stanwyck as a con artist who falls in love with her latest mark–Henry Fonda. On the other hand, most of the laughs in Ladies They ‘Talk About appear to be unintentional. Still, a great movie and a marginally good one make for a very entertaining double bill. Click the and icons for my micro reviews.

Dreaming Lhasa, Rafael and Roxie, opening Friday. A small wonder of a film about Tibetan refuges. The principle setting is Dharamsala, a “little Tibet” in the Indian Himalayas; a place for refugees from China’s oppressive policies. The plot, concerning a Tibetan-American documentary filmmaker helping an ex-monk return a charm box to its original owner, is little more than an excuse to explore a culture in exile. The Tibetan world explored here is one of contrasts, of soothsayers and hermit monks, torture victims, and rock “˜n’ roll. Warning: This film contains positive references to the CIA.

Ball of Fire, Castro, Tuesday. Can you possibly go wrong with Howard Hawks directing a screwball comedy from a script by Billy Wilder (one of Wilder’s last before making the leap to writer/director)? It’s been too many years since I’ve seen Ball of Fire for me to say with absolute certainty that you can’t go wrong, but from what I remember, this one isn’t up to Hawks’ or Wilder’s best work, but it’s still a worthy entertainment. On a double feature with Forty Guns (which I’ve never seen) as the opening bill of the PFA at the Castro Barbara Stanwyck series.

American Cannibal, Red Vic, Friday through Thursday. A documentary about reality television feels a bit like inbreeding”“one camera crew filming another camera crew filming people without a script. And indeed, one of American Cannibal’s primary subjects, TV writer Gil Ripley, unintentionally sums up this picture’s modest appeal when he explains reality TV’s popularity: “People want to see really horrible things happen because, unfortunately, you can’t take your eyes off them.” The movie follows Ripley and his partner, Dave Roberts, as they shed their artistic integrity to launch the next big television event, only to have everything come crashing down on them through bad planning and worse luck. The picture doesn’t say much that’s really new, but a few of the interview subjects make interesting points, and the train-wreck feel of Ripley and Roberts’ disaster keeps the second half moderately entertaining.

Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Creek Park, San Anselmo, Saturday, 8:30. Three down-on-their-luck Yankees (Humphrey Bogart, Tim Holt, and the director’s father, Walter Huston) prospect for gold in Mexico. They find and stake out a profitable mine before discovering that they don’t really trust each other. Writer/director John Huston, working from B. Traven’s novel, turned a rousing adventure story into a morality play about the corruption of greed. One of the all-time greats. Unfortunately, like all Film Night in the Park presentations, this one is free, but is off of a DVD.

King of Hearts, Creek Park, San Anselmo, Friday, 8:30. Philippe de Broca’s fantasy parable about war and insanity lost some of its magic over the decades, but not all of it. The picture still provides laughs as it illustrates the merits of creating your own reality when the one forced upon us by the world’s leaders is just too horrible. Today that theme seems shallow, immature, and quaint, but it’s still fun to escape into that vision for 102 minutes. Another free (good) but DVD rather than film (bad) Film Night in the Park presentation.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, UA Berkeley, Thursday, 8:00. 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.