I don’t get paid to review movies, but I do get paid to review TV sets. And since PC World wants me to review a lot of them for the January issue, I won’t have much time for Bayflicks. I’ve got one review already written and scheduled to go live late this month, and I’ll try to keep this newsletter going, but aside from that, don’t expect anything until November.
The Arab Film Festival continues through this week. I’ve placed the two related capsule reviews at the bottom of the newsletter. And DocFest opens at the Roxie on Friday. Also opening this week, the United Nations Association Film Festival and various locations. This year’s theme is Blue Planet, Green Planet. I haven’t seen any of the films listed, but there are several I’m already feeling guilty I missed, including Taxi To the Dark Side, Flow, and All Together Now. The festival also includes three world premieres: Belonging, Immaculate Confession, and La Americana. Other films of note include Trouble the Water, Oscar winner Freeheld, and something called My Daughter the Terrorist.
Fanny and Alexander Part 1 and Part 2, Rafael, Sunday through Thursday. As with most of the movies in the Rafael’s Ingmar Bergman: Scenes From A Master series, I haven’t seen Fanny and Alexander in a great many years, but I loved it when I saw it. On the other hand, I’ve never really seen it. This will be the Bay Area’s first big-screen presentation of Bergman’s complete, five-hour, two-part cut. Check the times to make sure you see Part 1 first. This will be a high-definition digital screening rather than 35mm film. I don’t yet know if that constitutes an acceptable replacement.
Ballast, Kabuki, Rafael, Elmwood. Opens Friday. Vast, flat, cold, muddy landscapes make a perfect metaphor for the lonely human heart in Lance Hammer’s directorial debut. Set in a sparsely-populated piece of the Mississippi Delta, Ballast brings us into the lives of three troubled souls struggling with loss and a need for family. Hammer avoids professional actors, music, and artificial lighting, creating a reality that Hollywood could never match. Hollywood would have turned Ballast into an uplifting celebration of the human spirit (I can almost hear that line narrated in the trailer). That would have been a good movie, but Hammer made the story into a great one. Read my full review.
Home Movie Day, Pacific Film Archive, Saturday. I’ll just quote from the PFA website: “Don’t let your movies decay—don’t throw them away—help celebrate Home Movie Day! PFA wants to see your home movies on 8mm, Super-8mm, and 16mm formats. Submit them to us between now and October 3 and we will include as many as possible in a special program on October 18, as part of the international celebration of Home Movie Day. Admission is free to anyone who submits a movie for consideration.” There’s a 12:30 workshop on caring for and restoring your home movies; the screenings start at 4:00.
Happy-Go-Lucky, Embarcadero, already playing; Kabuki, Albany, opening Friday. There’s no excuse for Happy-Go-Lucky working as well as it does, and not only because the term “Mike Leigh comedy” sounds like an oxymoron. This movie has no real plot, no significant conflict, and not an overwhelming supply of laughs. But it has a bubbly, upbeat, outgoing, loving, caring and extremely happy protagonist named Poppy (Sally Hawkins in a glowing performance). Nothing truly horrible happens to her in the course of the entire film, aside from a few sessions with a truly obnoxious driving instructor (Eddie Marsan). Leigh’s films have always observed everyday life, and this one observes the everyday life of a very happy person. Read my full review.
The Cranes Are Flying, Pacific Film Archive, Saturday, 6:30. War has a nasty way to interfering with true love. This sweet Russian story of young lovers separated by the casualties of their time never comes off as Soviet propaganda (it was made during Khrushchev’s “thaw”), but as a clear-eyed look at the realities of romance in difficult times. Part of the PFA’s series, Envisioning Russia: A Century of Filmmaking.
Patti Smith: Dream of Life, Lumiere, Shattuck, opens Friday. Director Steven Sebring spent over a decade following Patti Smith around with a camera (okay, I’m not sure how much of that time he actually devoted to the project), trying to get to the core of the cutting-edge rocker, poet, and generally arty person. He succeeds–with a great deal of help from Smith herself–in introducing us to a very nice woman. But aside from an innate need to express herself and her strong political feelings, we know little about what motivates her to do what she does. Read my full review.
Dr. Zhivago, Castro, Sunday. The first time I mentioned David Lean’s follow-up to Lawrence of Arabia in Bayflicks, I said that it “lacks that masterpiece’s depth, and Omar Shariff is horribly miscast, but it’s still a spectacular epic. On the other hand, I’ve never seen it on the big screen, so it might be a better film than I recall.” Since then, I have seen it on the big screen (although not as big a screen as the Castro) and can now recommend it enthusiastically. This is one of the great romantic historical epics. I’m even willing to forgive the casting of Omar Sharif, who doesn’t look Russian but still gives a fine performance. For more on the big-screen Zhivago experience, see Dr. Zhivago at the Cerrito. Part of the Castro’s Epics of David Lean series.
Thrillville´s Halloween Hellabaloo, Cerrito, Thursday, 7:30. I attended last year’s Thrillville Halloween event, and it was a gas. This year, in the spirit of presidential debates, they’re presenting Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, from the tired last years of Universal’s monster series, plus a live act called The Hubba Hubba Revue.
American Teen, Red Vic, Tuesday and Wednesday. 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 hand, it makes for good story-telling. Read my full review.
Last Year At Marienbad, Red Vic, Sunday and Monday. I saw Last Year at Marienbad once, in college, a long time ago. The teachers didn’t tell us what to expect, they just gathered several classes together in the auditorium and screened this “important film.” I found it deathly boring. We all did. One friend said it needed a pie fight. The teachers were shocked at our response. Perhaps it’s time for me to give it a second chance.
The Dark Knight, Red Vic, Friday and Saturday. As far back as Memento, the Nolan brothers have seen evil as an influence very likely to corrupt those dedicated to fighting it. Here no one, including Bruce Wayne/Batman himself (Christian Bale) get away without moral compromises. But what can you expect when fighting the Joker, who is absolutely nuts in Heath Ledger’s final performance. For more details, see my full review.
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, UA Berkeley, Thursday, 8:00. The biggest and the best of Sergio Leone’s “spaghetti” westerns was the Pulp Fiction of its day, reveling in its own amorality and bringing you along to enjoy the ride. It’s violent, beautiful, iconic, and funny, with the best performance of Eli Wallach’s career and that incredible Ennio Morricone score.
Arab Film Festival
Captain Abu Raed, : Clay (San Francisco), Friday, 4:00; Camera 12 (San Jose), October 18, 4:00. This Jordanian tale of a wise and kindly airport janitor who befriends the neighborhood children occasionally steers towards the mawkish and sentimental, but usually skirts the danger zone. Nadim Sawalha is charming and likeable as the widowed protagonist whom the local kids mistake for a pilot (hence the Captain in the title). He begins by telling them stories, but gradually becomes involved in their lives. Although his intentions are good, his interference can have unintended consequences.
The Yellow House, Clay (San Francisco), Friday, October 17, 6:30; Camera 12 (San Jose), Saturday, October 18, 6:30. This Algerian story looks at an important and universal tragedy: the death of a child. Unfortunately, it doesn’t shed much light on the experience, and succeeds merely in being sad and vaguely heartwarming. Heartwarming? Yes, because love and community heal even the worst of wounds. The first half concerns a simple farmer’s journey to the big city to identify and collect his son’s body. In the second half, the man tries, with the help of his daughters, to ease his wife out of her resulting depression. All in all, only moderately effective.