American Teen, Roxie, opens Friday. I can’t think of another documentary that felt so much like narrative fiction. American Teen, which follows four kids in their last year in a Warsaw, Indiana high school, is structured very much like a Hollywood movie, with struggles, lessons, and triumphs all in the right order. On one hand, this makes you wonder how much writer/director Nanette Burstein manipulated reality and the cinéma vérité tradition to get what she wanted. On the other , it makes for good story-telling. Read my full review.
Blockheads, Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum Sunday, 4:30. Talkies at the Silent Movie Museum? The rule: Laurel & Hardy made many of the funniest two- and three-reel shorts ever shot, but their features suffered from the need to provide a real plot. The exception: Blockheads. The boys made one of their few good features by simply ignoring that silly rule about plots. True, laughs are scarce for the first 15 minutes as the basic situation (they haven’t seen each other in 20 years) is set up. Then we’re treated to 45 minutes of Stan and Ollie simply trying to get home, cook a meal, and clean an apartment. And that’s funny. With two Our Gang shorts.
Loves Comes Lately, Opera Plaza, opens Friday. 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. Read my full review.
Obama’s Acceptance Speech, Parkway & Cerrito, Thursday. Doors open 5:15 at the Cerrito and 6:15 at the Parkway. Why watch it at home when you can still in the middle of a crowd of cheering lefties? Both screens at both Speakeasy theaters will project Barak Obama’s nomination speech live, free of charge.
Killer of Sheep, Red Vic, Sunday & Monday. Yes, Virginia, people made great low-budget films before digital video. Shot in 16mm in 1977, Charles Burnett’s neorealistic non-story lets us examine the day-to-day life of an African-American slaughterhouse employee struggling with poverty, family problems, and his own depression. Hauntingly made with a mostly amateur cast, Killer of Sheep takes us into a world most of us know about but have never actually experienced.
Forbidden Planet, Cerrito, Saturday, 6:00 & Sunday, 5:00. Nothing dates faster than futuristic fiction, and with its corny dialog and spaceship crewed entirely by white males, Forbidden Planet is very dated. But MGM’s 1956 sci-fi extravaganza still holds considerable pleasures. The Cinemascope/Eastmancolor art direction pleases to the eye, Robby the Robot wins your heart, and the story—involving a long-dead mystery race of super-beings—still packs some genuine thrills. It’s also an interesting precursor to Star Trek.
2001: A Space Odyssey, Pacific Film Archive, Friday, 8:40. I used to worship Stanley Kubrick’s visualization of Arthur C. Clarke’s imagination, but it hasn’t aged all that well. We’ve all seen the actual year, and know that Clarke and Kubrick got almost everything wrong. Yet there’s no denying the pull of 2001’s unorthodox storytelling and visual splendor–if you can see it in the right theater. 2001 was shot for 70mm projection on a giant, curved, Cinerama screen–an experience that’s simply not available in the Bay Area today. In 35mm on the PFA’s flat, modest screen, it rates only a C. (OTOH, if you can get down to LA in a couple of weeks, it will screen exactly the way it was meant to be screened at the Cinerama Dome on September 5. Part of the PFA’s The Long View: A Celebration of Widescreen series.