What’s Screening: September 5-11

The Godfather Parts I & II, Castro, Friday through next friday. Francis Coppola, taking the job simply because he needed the money, turned Mario Puzo’s potboiler into the Great American Crime Epic. Marlon Brando may have top billing, but Al Pacino owns the film (and became a star) as Michael Corleone, the respectable son inevitably and reluctantly pulled into a life of crime he doesn’t want but seems most suited for. A masterpiece. And yet the sequel (which is also a prequel) tops it. By juxtaposing the rise of Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando in the first film, a young Robert De Niro here) with the moral fall of his son Michael (Al Pacino again), Puzo and Coppola show us how the decision a seemingly good man makes to care for his family will eventually destroy the very people he loves. Both films have recently undergone a major restoration by the master of the craft, Robert A. Harris.

The Firemen’s Ball, Pacific Film Archive, Sunday, 5:45. Milos Forman skewers Communism like only someone living under it can–with an understanding of how it works and the slyness to get around the censors. (Admittedly, the Czech censors were kind of loose in 1967; one of the reasons Soviet tanks rolled in in 1968.) The bureaucrats putting on the titular party want everyone to be happy; they just don’t seem to understand that their orders are having the opposite effect. Funny and wise. Part of the PFA series Czeching Out: The Early Films of Milos Forman (http://www.bampfa.berkeley.edu/filmseries/milos_forman2008).

The Grocer’s Son, Embarcadero, Shattuck, and Lark; opens Friday. A young man, emotionally alienated from his family, must take over the family business when his father can no longer run it. The experience allows him to discover who he really is. Although the plot sounds comic, director/co-writer Eric Guirado chose not to play The Grocer’s Son for laughs. Acting and atmosphere hold the picture together, which is fortunate because the plot is embarrassingly predictable. It all works reasonably well. Special praise must go to Clotilde Hesme as the warm and wonderful friend on her way to becoming something more. Read my full review.

The Celluloid Era: Early Filmmaking in San Francisco, Jewish Community Center of San Francisco, Tuesday, 7:30. We all know that Bullitt, Harold and Maude, and Vertigo were shot in the Bay Area. So were a lot of silent films. Silent Film Festival Artistic Director Stephen Salmons will discuss locally-shot silent films from Eadweard Muybridge’s early experiments through the Essanay Film Company, Chaplin’s Niles’ year, and Erich von Stroheim’s Greed. Bruce Loeb will accompany the clips on piano. David Kiehn, manager of the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, will also speak.

Ping Pong Playa, Shattuck, opens Friday. This sports comedy doesn’t add much to the overworked formula, and much of what it adds isn’t an improvement. For instance, the loser protagonist isn’t lovable; he’s just a jerk. Some of the jokes hit home, but just as many fall flat. To make matters worse, the two white villains are played as broad gay male stereotypes–and not even funny gay male stereotypes. Read my full review.

I Served the King of England, Rafael, opens Friday. For more than half of its runtime, Jiríh Menzel’s clever and entertaining comedy celebrates the joys of serving the filthy rich. We accept this empty and amoral theme because the movie is funny and visually pleasing, but even more because Ivan Barnev is engaging and likeable as the story’s ambitious waiter protagonist. But just as the fun and games begin to tire us, the Nazis arrive. Jan falls in love with a German girl, collaborates with the enemy, and shows us just how low he can go. Told mostly in flashbacks, I Served the King of England maintains its light tone throughout; even when events get very dark. Read my full review.