What’s Screening: March 13 – 19

The Tiburon International Film Festival opens Thursday night and runs through the 27th.

Lust, Caution, Wheeler Auditorium, Berkeley, Tuesday, 7:00. Ang Lee in person! Ang Lee doesn’t alter the conventions of the Hitchcockian thriller much in Lust, Caution, but he deepens those conventions, turning the thriller into a study of a young woman (newcomer Wei Tang as Wang Jiazhi) who must turn herself into someone she is not in order to seduce a man and set him up for assassination. Her target (Tony Leung Chiu Wai) is a monster–a fascist collaborator who never appears to regret his actions. But he’s a human monster, and there’s a sense that his work is taking a psychic toll. He’s cold, remote, and emotionally cut off from those around him. No wonder he falls for the beautiful young woman who comes into his life. Yes, its rated NC-17 for graphic sex scenes, and yes, those scenes enhance the plot. but if you go to Lust, Caution looking for arousal, you’re going to be disappointed. Go looking for a compelling story, insightful characters, and masterful filmmaking. Click here for my full review.

Alien, Clay, Friday and Saturday, midnight. In 1975, Jaws broke box office records. Two years later, Star Wars jumped light-years over Jaws’ grosses . Is it any wonder that Hollywood would put a scary, carnivorous creature on a spaceship? No, the wonder is that screenwriter Dan O’Bannon and director Ridley Scot did such a good job. First, they created the most realistic space jockeys yet to grace movie science fiction: eight working-class astronauts who gripe about the pay and the food. Then they placed these unfortunates on a ship that somehow feels both believable and creepy. Finally, O’Bannon Scot added a difficult-to-see, constantly changing, and very hungry monster. And let us not forget Sigourney Weaver in the role that made her a star.

A Hard Day’s Night, Elmwood, Saturday and Sunday, noon. When United Artists agreed to finance a movie around a new British musical phenomenon, they wanted a picture fast and cheap. Reasonable demands, as The Beatles’ popularity was limited to England and Germany and could likely die before the film got into theaters. Turns out UA had nothing to worry about.

Short Subject Night, Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, Saturday, 7:30. I can vouch for the Chaplin film, “A Dog’s Life,” as one of his best shorts. Fatty Arbuckle’s “The Garage,” co-starring Buster Keaton, is also quite good. It’s also Arbuckle’s last short before he turned to features and Keaton’s last supporting role before becoming a star. I can’t vouch for the other films, but they’re by Harold Lloyd and Laurel and Hardy; how bad can they be?

Medicine For Melancholy, Shattuck, opens Friday for one-week engagement. One could describe this low-budget indi as the African-American version (and the Bay Area version) of Before Sunrise. We discover the two characters as they discover each other, maneuver around their mutual attraction, and talk about their very different attitudes about life and race. Wyatt Cenac (of the Daily Show) and Tracey Heggins make attractive and likable leads, and for the first hour they’re completely worth spending time with. But two-thirds of the way through the movie takes a wrong turn to nowhere. Beautifully shot with a color palette so desaturated it often looks like black and white. I saw Medicine for Melancholy at the 2008 San Francisco International Film Festival. Read my more in-depth report.

Sunset Boulevard, Cerrito, Saturday, 6:00, Sunday, 5:00. Billy Wilder’s meditation on Hollywood’s seedy underbelly is the flip side of Singin’ in the Rain (now that would make a great double bill). Norma Desmond is very much like Lena Lamont–after twenty-two years of denial and depression. And in the role of Norma, Gloria Swanson gives one of the great over-the-top performances in history. A Cerrito Classic.

Frost/Nixon, Castro, Thursday. I didn’t know Richard Nixon composed a piano concerto. That’s not the only thing writer Peter Morgan teaches us in the other Oscar bate movie set in the 1970s. Michael Sheen plays David Frost as insufferably upbeat, which is probably accurate, and Frank Langella creates a complex Nixon who’s almost charming in his willingness to admit his lack of charm. Of course, he admits a lot more before Frost is through with him. Has anyone else noticed that as he ages, Kevin Bacon is starting to look like Clint Eastwood?