This Week’s Movies

Ten Canoes, Lumiere, Shattuck, and Rafael, opening Friday. Don’t expect a conventional narrative made exotic by a pre-contact, aboriginal Australian setting. Ten Canoes feels more like a piece of native oral tradition recorded on film. While a heavily-accented, English-speaking off-screen narrator explains the people, actions, and motivations, we watch ten men build canoes and use them for an annual goose hunt. As the hunt stretches over days, an old man tells a young one an ancient story of a great hunter and his family. It’s this tale of jealousy, fear of other tribes (often justified), and human nature that drives this sad, poignant, yet often wryly funny movie. Few motion pictures put you into another world (one of cinema’s primary functions as an art) so completely as this one.

Steamboat Bill, Jr., Rafael, 7:00. One of Buster Keaton’s best, both as a performer and as the auteur responsible for the entire picture (it’s the last film in which he would enjoy such control). Steamboat Bill (Ernest Torrence) already has his hands full, struggling to maintain his small business in the wake of a better-financed competitor. Then his long-lost son turns up, not as the he-man the very-macho Bill imagined, but as a urbane and somewhat effete Keaton. You can look at Steamboat Bill, Jr. as a riff on masculinity or a study of small-town life as an endangered species. But it’s really just a lot of laughs seamlessly integrated into a very good story–“and you really can’t ask for more than that. The spectacular, climatic hurricane sequence contains what’s probably the most thrilling and dangerous stunt ever performed by a major star. Also on the bill is the very funny Charley Chase short comedy, Mighty Like a Moose. The Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra, fresh from their weekend performances at the Castro, will accompany both movies.

The Valley of Giants (1927), Castro, Saturday, 1:15. This story of good loggers vs. evil loggers is simple, lurid, yet well-done melodrama, and highly out-of-date by today’s more environmentally-enlightened standards. (Someone must have liked it, though; this is one of three film versions.) But never mind the story; the action sequences are as thrilling and suspenseful as any you’re likely to see. The location photography, shot near Eureka before that area was, well, ruined by loggers, makes The Valley of the Giants terrific eye candy. The San Francisco Silent Film Festival will screen a 35mm print accompanied on piano by Stephen Horne.

Double Indemnity, Castro, Tuesday. Rich but unhappy (and evil) housewife Barbara Stanwyck leads insurance salesman Fred MacMurray from adultery to murder in Billy Wilder’s noir thriller. Not that she has much trouble doing it (this is not how we who grew up on “My Three Sons– remember MacMurray). A good, gritty thriller about sex (or the code-era equivalent) and betrayal. On a double bill with a new 35mm print of Clash by Night as part of the PFA at the Castro: Barbara Stanwyck series.

The Band Wagon, Stanford, Saturday. Singin’ in the Rain‘s producer and writers teamed up with director Vincente Minnelli to make the one great post-Ginger Fred Astaire vehicle. Their trick? They blended a small dose of reality into the otherwise frivolous mix. For instance, Astaire’s character, an aging movie star nervously returning to the Broadway stage he abandoned years before, is clearly based on Astaire himself. The result is a sly satire of Broadway’s intellectual aspirations, lightened up with exceptional songs and dances including “That’s Entertainment– and “I Love Louisa.– On a double bill with Funny Face.

The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, Cerrito, Saturday at 6:00, Sunday at 5:00. The first and best of Ray Harryhausen’s three Sinbad movies. In fact, of all his movies, only Jason and the Argonauts is better. The stop-motion animation is splendid, and the story, while trivial, is fun. Not a must-see like Jason, but still an entertaining escape into a fantasy past. Another Cerrito Classic.

Monkey Business (1952), Stanford, Monday through next Friday. I can’t say that this screwball comedy, about a middle-aged but still glamorous couple who drink a youth potion and start acting like teenagers, lacks laughs. But considering all the talent here–“Howard Hawks directing Cary Grant and Ginger Rogers through a Ben Hecht screenplay–“it should have been a whole lot funnier. By the way, today Twentieth Century-Fox markets Monkey Business as a Marilyn Monroe movie, although the then-unknown actress has only a small, supporting part.`

Knocked Up, Parkway, opening Friday. 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 a full-length review, click here.