What’s Screening: August 8-14

I haven’t had much time for Bayflicks this week–or for movie-going. You probably guessed. But here’s what I can tell you:

The San Francisco Jewish Film Festival plays through Monday, but not, for the most part, in San Francisco. Since the Castro is free from that festival, it’s running one of its own this week: ANALOG ADVENTURES: Pre-CGI Fantasy Films of the ’80s. Neverending StoryFrom Saturday through Thursday, the Castro will screen five double-bills from the days when blockbuster special effects didn’t come out of a computer. I saw most of these films when they were new, and haven’t seen any of them since. My fondest memories go to Saturday’s opening double bill, Labyrinth (Jim Henson directing a script by Monty Python’sTerry Jones–how could it not be good?) and The Neverending Story. Speaking of Pythons, the two best fantasies of that decade, both by Terry Gilliam, are missing from the line-up–Time Bandits and The Adventures of Baron Münchhausen. That’s a pity.

And I have only one other listing this week that’s not connected with the Jewish Film Festival:

DOUBLE BILL: Horsefeathers & Charlie Chan at the Opera, Stanford, Wednesday through next Friday. Horsefeathers brings the Marx Brothers 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. Charlie Chan at the Opera is a pretty standard B picture mystery of the sort they cranked out in the 30s and 40s (although fans of the series say it’s the best). But it’s historically fascinating in the way it’s both shockingly racist by modern standards (the Chinese-American hero is played by a white man in heavy makeup) and way ahead of its time (the hero is, after all, Chinese-American).

San Francisco Jewish Film Festival

Emotional Arithmetic, Rafael, Monday, 8:45 (the Festival’s closing night film). In the best performance of an excellent career, Susan Sarandon plays an American-born Holocaust survivor (the story is set in 1985) trying to hold onto her family and her sanity. She’s overjoyed by the arrival of two old friends and fellow survivors, but their presence complicates her tricky relationship with her remote, sarcastic husband and their grown son–who appears to be devoting his life to caring for his messed-up parents. Beautifully written, designed, shot, acted, and edited, the Bergmanesque Emotional Arithmetic is simply the best new movie I’ve seen so far this year. Screenwriter Jefferson Lewis wisely avoids heavy exposition, giving us space to wonder how these people became the damaged humans they are. The near all-star cast includes Christopher Plummer, Gabriel Byrne, and Max Von Sydow. Read my full review.

In the Family, Roda Theatre, Saturday, 5:45; Rafael, Sunday, 2:00. Some people very close to me carry the BRCA genetic mutation. So does Joanna Rudnick, who made this haunting and troubling film to document her own emotional struggles with the news and its inevitable decisions. One in 40 Ashkenazi Jews carry the mutation, and for women it means almost certain ovarian or breast cancer–unless the dangerous body parts are removed before the cancer strikes. For Rudnick, only 31 and looking forward to having children, that’s a very difficult decision. She trains her camera on her boyfriend, her family, and herself, and lets everyone speak candidly. She also goes beyond her problem and interviews others who have, or might have, BRCA, including some who found out about it or acted upon it too late. She also speaks with the scientist who discovered it and the inventor who got rich off the very expensive diagnostic test. This one stays with you.

The Strangers, Roda Theatre, Saturday, 8:15; Rafael, Sunday, 7:30. A Israeli man and a Palestinian woman, both young, meet in Berlin, fall in love/lust, have great sex, then must figure out the rest of their lives. To make matters more complicated, it’s the summer of 2006, war is raging in Lebanon, and each blames the other side for the resulting carnage. This sort of movie depends on the leads’ chemistry, and stars Liron Levbo and Lubna Azabal have it in Bogart/Bacall levels. Writers/directors Guy Nattiv and Erez Tadmor deserve praise for avoiding easy political or emotional solutions. But the film’s overly grainy, handheld photography–made worse by the scope aspect ratio and some distracting photographic clichés–hurt the storytelling.

Sixty Six, Rafael, Saturday, 8:50. Twelve-year-old Bernie (Gregg Sulkin) sees his upcoming bar mitzvah, with its chance for him to be the center of all attention, as the salvation from his near-invisible life. But then everything that can go wrong with the family’s finances does, making a lavish party impossible, and the big event’s date conflicts with soccer’s Super Bowl–the World Cup. That’s a bad conflict in 1966 England, when Great Britain’s team was winning game after game. It doesn’t help that his father is a loser and his older brother (who got a big party for his bar mitzvah) is a sadist. Director Paul Weiland and his writers paint a bittersweet, funny story of a boy becoming a man under very stressful conditions. Sixty Six might receive theatrical distribution in the future.

Stalags – Holocaust and Pornography In Israel, JCCSF, Saturday, 8:45; Rafael, Sunday, 5:00. In the early ’60’s, Israelis couldn’t get enough of the Stalags–brief novels about British and American airmen in German prison camps, where they’re tortured by beautiful female SS officers who could barely fit into their uniforms (”Who’d want to escape?” one aging former fan admits on camera). The craze was short-lived; the books were banned as pornography scarcely two years after they first appeared. Writer/director Ari Libsker explores this perverse yet fascinating way that a people came to terms with their own recent victimization. More surprisingly, he suggests a link between the Stalags and more respectable Holocaust literature. Only 62 minutes long, the Festival will screen Stalags with It Kinda Scares Me, a 60-minute documentary about a Tel Aviv drama coach that I have not seen.

Loves Comes Lately, Rafael, Saturday, 6:45. A grand-niece of Isaac Bashevis Singer once told me that the great writer never really accepted the fact that women threw themselves at him because he was famous. He thought he was irresistible. Such confused thinking permeates Jan Schütte’s clumsy adaptation of three Singer stories. Love Comes Lately follows the adventures of a short-story writer who’s an obvious Singer alter-ego, and dramatizes two short stories whose protagonists are obvious alter-egos of the alter-ego. Otto Tausig plays all three characters, and yes, they’re all irresistible to women. Schütte manages a few good scenes, but the movie goes nowhere and leads to nothing. For some strange reason, this film will also get a regular release after the festival.