What’s Screening: April 24 – 30

The San Francisco International Film Festival continues through the week. I’ve grouped festival screenings at the bottom of the post.

Metropolis, Clay, Friday, midnight. Wow! A silent film as a midnight movie! How often do you get that? The first important science fiction feature film still strikes a considerable visual punch. The images–workers in a hellish underground factory, the wealthy at play, a robot brought to life in the form of a beautiful woman–are a permanent part of our collective memory. Even people who haven’t seen Metropolis know it through the countless films it has influenced. But the beautiful imagery only makes the melodramatic plot and characters seem all the more trite. Live accompaniment by “electronic silent score expert” BonJon.

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.

Wendy and Lucy, Red Vic, Sunday through Tuesday. Wendy (Michelle Williams) hopes she can find work in Alaska, but first she has to get to Alaska. Traveling with her dog Lucy, she sleeps in her car and watches every penny. In other words, she can’t afford disaster. And when her car breaks down in a small Oregon town, one disaster leads to another. A sobering film for economic hard times. Read my full review.

Slumdog Millionaire, Castro, Friday. Am I the only person in the universe who didn’t love this mess? Sure, there are some good scenes and funny moments, but the whole story is so ridiculously contrived I couldn’t suspend disbelief. Not only did this poor kid learn the exact pieces of trivia he would need through his mean street experiences, but he learned them in the order he would later be asked them. I can swallow a lot, but not that.

Persepolis, Pacific Film Archive, Wednesday, 3:00. 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. Part of the Film 50: History of Cinema series and class, with a lecture by Marilyn Fabe.

San Francisco International Film Festival

Adoration, Kabuki, Saturday, 6:15, Pacific Film Archive, Monday, 6:30. Canadian auteur Atom Egoyan outdoes himself in this story of a teenage boy of half Anglo, half Arabic decent who creates a fiction of his late father as a terrorist, and posts it on the Internet. Yet Adoration is not about a scandal on the Internet. Egoyan has a more intriguing and touching story to tell. It’s about the people left behind after a couple suddenly die, and how they react to and avoid each others’ grief, even years after the event. Not to be missed.

Battle for Terra, Kabuki; Saturday, 12 noon; Wednesday, 6:45. This animated adventure adds a new twist to the alien invasion genre–we’re the invaders. For a family-friendly, PG animated feature, Battle for Terra brings some complex moral issues to the table. Not only are the bad guys the human race, but they’re the last of the human race and facing extinction. To survive, they must kill off every living thing on the planet, including the heroine and all of her friends. This movie will not only entertain children; it will make them think. It’s also fun just as an explosion movie, and deserves to be seen in 3D, which is not how the festival is showing it. In other words, I recommend the movie, but I also recommend you want for its regular theatrical release, which is only a week away.

Soul Power, Kabuki, Sunday, 5:45. In 1974, many of the greatest African and African-American musicians alive came together in Zaire for a big all-star concert. We finally get the film version 35 years later, and it’s worth the wait. After a boring first half hour, American stars like James Brown and B.B. King play their best, excited to be home in their ancestral continent. And African stars little known in this country include the amazing Miriam Makeba, who does things with her voice I didn’t know were possible. I wish this movie was longer.

Bluebeard, Kabuki; Friday, April 24, 7:15; Saturday, April 25, 9:30; Wednesday, April 29, 4:15. To put Catherine Breillat’s name on a film with no sex or nudity almost constitutes false advertising. But that’
s not the problem. Despite two very stylized bloody scenes near the end (the only moments that might keep Bluebeard from getting the softest of PG ratings), Breillat’s latest remains bloodless, lacking the passion and excitement that make her other efforts watchable even when their stories get ridiculous. In addition to being dull and lifeless, Bluebeard looks cheap. Set in the 17th century, the film’s few straggling extras appear to be recruited from a local Renaissance Faire. The one saving grace is a modern framing story involving two little girls in an attic, with one reading the story of Bluebeard to the other. They’re adorable, and very funny when they discuss things they clearly no nothing about.