What’s Screening: April 17 – 23

The San Fran International Film Festival opens Thursday night at the Castro, with La Mission. Most screenings after that will be at the Kabuki, with plenty at other locations around the Bay Area. Click here for my continuing festival reports.

John Wayne Double-bill: Red River & Angel and the Badman, Stanford, Wednesday, 7:30. John Wayne gives one of his best performances in Red River, showing us the villain in the hero and the hero in the villain as the Captain Bligh character in this western variation on Mutiny on the Bounty. As usual, he plays a strong, stubborn man of his word who’s quick with a gun, but these traits prove his moral undoing as he leads others on a dangerous cattle drive. To make matters worse, it’s his adopted son (Montgomery Clift in his first major role) who leads the rebellion. One of the best. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen the low-budget Angel and the Badman (the first film that Wayne personally produced), but I recall a curiously anti-violent western about a gunman who’s taken in and changed by Quakers. Not the sort of theme one associates with Wayne.

Big Night, Lark, Saturday, 7:00. It’s been many years since I’ve seen Stanley Tucci’s touching and funny little film about two brothers running an Italian restaurant. I remember liking it. The Lark is offering more than just the movie. The $20 ticket also includes an Italian dinner, with wine or a soft drink.

Milk, Castro, Monday. Yep, I’m always a sucker for a historical epic, especially one set in a time and place that I can remember. Sprawling without ever being boring, and inspiring without getting preachy. I’ve always known that Sean Penn was a great actor; it’s nice to know that he can do “happy” as well as less pleasant emotions. James Franco is also very good as the main man in his life. And for obvious reasons, the Castro is the appropriate venue.

Days of Heaven, Castro, Wednesday. I was blown away by this movie when it first opened–Nestor Almendros’ atmospheric cinematography turned the simple story of lovers posing as siblings into something approaching a masterpiece. But that was nearly 30 years ago and I don’t know if I would have the same reaction today. Besides, back then, the spectacular photography was enhanced by 70mm presentation. On a double bill with The New World.

San Francisco, Castro, Saturday (April 18, of course). A big, silly, melodramatic special effects vehicle made before people thought of movies as special effects vehicles, San Francisco is a classic example of code-era Hollywood trying to have it both ways. It celebrates the non-conformist, hedonistic, open-minded joy that, at least to the screenwriters, symbolized the Barbary Coast. But it covers itself in a thick layer of Christian moralizing that’s as annoying as it is laughable. Still, San Francisco has considerable pleasures, especially in the last half hour when the earth shakes and the fires break out. And let’s not forget the title song–the best ever written about a city. The 2:00 bargain matinee is just the movie, but the evening show, beginning at 7:15, includes a live concert by Blackie Norton’s Paradise Club Band.

Persepolis, dubbed version. Red Vic, Tuesday. Note: I have not seen the dubbed version of Persepolis. However, I gave an A to the original, French-language version, and wrote what follows about that. Can one call a 95-minute, low-budget, animated film an epic? I think this one qualifies. It may also qualify as a masterpiece. It’s certainly an excellent and an important movie. Iranian/French cartoonist Marjane Satrapi based Persepolis on her own autobiographical graphic novels (Vincent Paronnaud shares screenwriting and directing credits). Through the eyes of young Marjane (I’m calling the artist by her last name, the onscreen character by her first), we see Iran go through oppression, revolution, hope, worse oppression, war, and even worse oppression. The story covers the war with Iraq, a late adolescence in Vienna, a return to an Iran now at peace but still under the clergy’s thumb, and a romantic life made difficult by pressures internal and external. If you’re still not convinced, read my full review.

Pulp Fiction, UA Berkeley, Thursday, 8:00. Quentin Tarantino achieved cult status by writing and directing this witty mesh of interrelated stories involving talkative killers, a crooked boxer, romantic armed robbers, and a former POW who hid a watch in a very uncomfortable place. Tarantino entertainingly plays with dialog, story-telling techniques, non-linear time, and any sense the audience may have of right and wrong.

Wizard of Oz, Lark, Sunday, 3:30. I don’t really have to tell you about this one, do I? Well, perhaps I have to explain why I’m only giving it a B. Despite its clever songs, lush Technicolor photography, and one great performance (Bert Lahr’s Cowardly Lion), The Wizard of Oz never struck me as the masterpiece that everyone else sees. It’s a good, fun movie, but not quite fun enough to earn an A.

The Big Lebowski, Red Vic, Friday through Monday. Critics originally panned this Coen Brothers gem as a disappointing follow-up to the Coen’s previous endeavor, Fargo. Well, it isn’t as good as Fargo, but it’s still one hell of a funny movie. It’s also
built quite a cult following; The Big Lebowski has probably played more Bay Area one-night stands in the years I’ve been maintaining this site than than any three other movies put together.