What’s Screening: January 15-21

This is a good week if you want to laugh. Nothing on the list of comedies…and good ones.

A Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Castro, Thursday, 7:00. Terry Jones in person. Bump your coconuts together and prepare the Holy Hand Grenade, but watch out formontygrail the Killer Rabbit (not to mention the Trojan one). The humor is silly and often in very bad taste, and the picture has nothing of substance to say beyond ridiculing the romantic view of medieval Europe. But the Pythons’ first feature with an actual story (well, sort of) keeps you laughing from beginning to end. The funniest film of the 1970s—and of the 1070s. The $20 admission fee doesn’t seem so high when you know that co-writer/co-director/co-star Terry Jones will be on hand to answer questions. Part of SF Sketchfest.

A Playtime, Pacific Film Archive, Friday, 7:00. An American tourist, Monsieur Hulot, and assorted other specimens of humanity adrift and befuddled in a very modern playtime[1] Paris. That’s all there is of plot in Jacques Tati’s masterpiece, and that’s all that’s needed. On one level, Tati is commenting on modern architecture. On another, he’s just making us laugh in his odd, almost meditative way. And even when you’re not laughing, you’re fascinated by the little details of Tati’s city-sized universe. Tati spent (and lost) a fortune on Playtime, building a giant set and shooting the movie in 65mm for 70mm release, and the result is ours to enjoy…immensely. Part of the series, Playtime: The Modern Comedy of Jacques Tati.

B+ The Strong Man, Pacific Film Archive, Sunday, 2:00. Frank Capra’s first feature a a director is also my favorite silent comedy not starring Chaplin, Keaton, or Lloyd. It stars Harry Langdon, who for a very brief time came close to toppling Chaplin off his imagethrone. Langdon plays the Belgian assistant to a German strong man touring the US, hoping to find his beautiful war-time pen pal. The ultimate innocent child-like man, Langdon makes a mess of Ellis Island, has a shocking (to him, not to the audience) sexual encounter, fights off a cold to the annoyance of everyone around him, and cleans up a small town at the mercy of bootleggers. Charming, extremely funny, and occasionally preachy, The Strong Man shows Capra’s already-considerable talents at the start of his career. Although I own The Strong Man on Laserdisc, I’ve never seen it on the big screen. I hope to do so on Sunday. Part of the series Before “Capraesque”: Early Frank Capra. Piano accompaniment by Judith Rosenberg.

A Monty Python’s Life of Brian, Castro, Thursday, 10:00. Terry Jones in person. Not quite as funny as Holy Grail (but still hilarious), the Pythons’ second (and last) narrative feature digs a little deeper than its predecessor. Its story of a hapless citizen of Roman-occupied Judea, mistaken for the messiah, satirizes faith, fanaticism (both religious and political), and the human tendency to blindly follow leaders. The religious right attacked it viciously when it came out, which is kind of funny since the movie’s strongest satire is aimed at left-wing radicals. Director Terry Jones will introduce the film. Another part of SF Sketchfest.

B+ Mr. Hulot’s Holiday, Rafael, opens Friday for a one-week run. Jacques Tati’s hulotholiday_thumb[1]second feature, and his first as the hapless Mr. Hulot, is odd, plotless, nearly dialog-free, and in its own quiet and reserved way, pretty damn funny. The pipe-smoking Hulot takes a vacation at a seaside resort, and while anarchy doesn’t exactly break out, it pops up a bit from just below the surface.