What’s Screening: May 1 – 7

Are you staying home from the movies because of the swine flu? I hope not, especially with the San Francisco International Film Festival in full swing through the end of the week. I’ve grouped festival screenings at the bottom of this newsletter.

Mary Pickford Celebration, Lark, Friday and Saturday. 2009 marks the centenary of Mary Pickford’s film career, and the Lark celebrates it with two days of films–none of which I’ve seen. Friday, at 7:00, they’ll present the West Coast premiere of Nicholas Eliopoulos’ documentary Mary Pickford: The Muse of the Movies. Eliopoulos will be there for Q&A after the film. On Saturday they’ll screen two of her films, the silent Romance and the talkie Secrets. The accompaniment, will be recorded.

Raiders of the Lost Ark, Cerrito, Sunday, 2:00. Steven Spielberg directed it, and the bad guys are Nazis, but it’s as far from Schindler’s List as a great movie can get. What else can I say? If you object to mindless, escapist action flicks on principle, you won’t see it anyway. If you don’t, you probably already love it. A benefit for Harding Elementary School.

Goldfinger, Cerrito, Thursday, 9:15. I didn’t care for the third James Bond goldfinger movie (and the one that really started the phenomenon) when I saw it 30 years ago on an unfortunate date. Everyone else considers it one of the best. Maybe I’ll give it another chance. After all, the Thrillville atmosphere may do a lot for the movie. Besides, they’re showing an archival 35mm print, and we’ll also get the Diamond Daggers live on stage.

San Francisco International Film Festival

Ford Coppola Tribute, Castro, Friday, 7:30. The Godfather auteur wins this year’s Founder’s Director Award (AKA, the Award Formerly Named for Akira Kurosawa). Rather than the usual one-on-one interview, the event in his honor will have Carroll Ballard, George Lucas, Walter Murch and Matthew Robbins onstage with him, talking about old times. The evening will be capped with a screening of his early work, The Rain People.

My Suicide, Kabuki; Friday, 6:00, Tuesday, 1:00, Wednesday, 9:00. A video- and movie-obsessed teenage boy announces in his film class that for his final project–the ultimate self-obsessed student film. My Suicide is not so much a film about Archie’s project as Archie’s project, made to look like it was shot and edited by a talented teenager. But it’s more than a stylistic stunt. This film looks at teenage alienation, anger, and flirtations with death with such clear eyes that other teenage suicide movies, such as Harold and Maude and Heathers look shallow by comparison. Yet My Suicide is as much a film of its time, and as entertaining a one, as either of those. As far as I know, My Suicide will not be released after the festival. Read my full review.

The Lost World, Castro, Tuesday, 8:00. This is the 1925, silent version of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s science fiction novel of man and dinosaur–the first feature film to use the stop-motion animation of Willis (King Kong) O’Brien. Accompanied by Dengue Fever. I’m not familiar with this Cambodian/American band, but according to a Festival press release, “Bollywood glitz, psychedelic rock, spaghetti Western twang, klezmer, ska, funk and Ethiopian jazz all contribute to the band’s unique sound.”

For the Love of Movies: The Story of American Film Criticism, Kabuki, Sunday, May 3, 3:45 and Monday, May 4, 6:15; Pacific Film Archive, Thursday, May 7, 8:40. The very idea of reviewing a history of film criticism sounds like a journalistic conflict of interest. It doesn’t help when the documentary begins and ends with the warning that film criticism is a dying profession, and that bloggers who work for free are a large part of the problem. So let me add my disclaimer: I review all sorts of things professionally, but when it comes to movies, I’m another unpaid blogger. For the Love of Movies celebrates the people who have defined our film culture for the last century, telling us what’s worth seeing and defining greatness both in films and filmmakers. It introduces us to great critics living and dead, and gives plenty of time to the multi-decade Pauline Kael/Andrew Sarris feud. It’s informative and entertaining, but unless you’re a real fanatic, it’s hardly essential.

Bullet in the Head, Kabuki, 2:00. I like a movie that forces the audience to meet it halfway, but this Spanish non-thriller doesn’t even make a step in the audience’s direction. For the bulk of the film’s 84-minute running time (it seemed longer), you watch a middle-aged man go through a pretty boring life. He eats a midnight snack. He argues with his wife. He goes into a house while a companion parks the car. He engages in many conversations, none of which we hear because the soundtrack contains only background noises–mostly traffic. Everything is shot badly with very long lenses, and edited to enhance the boredom. The violent act implicit in the title finally occurs about 15 minutes before the end. Why? Presumably because, after proving that he could make daily life boring,writer/director Jaime Rosales wanted to prove he could make a car chase boring, too. This is as pointless as cinema gets.