What’s Screening: November 12 – 18

The San Francisco International Animation Festival continues through the weekend. New Italian Cinema opens Sunday. The Chinese American Film Festival starts Wednesday. And the Napa Valley Film Festival run Friday through Sunday.

And on Sunday, the Club Foot Orchestra returns to the Castro, accompanying four silent movie screenings. I discuss specific movies at the end of this newsletter.

B+ Wendy and Lucy, Pacific Film Archive, Saturday, 8:30. 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. Part of the series Afterimage: Filmmakers and Critics in Conversation: Kelly Reichardt with B. Ruby Rich; Reichardt and Rich will be in attendance.

Piedmont Theatre Open House, Piedmont, Tuesday, 6:30. Landmark has just completed renovating its Oakland tripleplex, and the celebration is Tuesday night. New additions include a new concession stand, a custom-designed rug, and faux leather seats. To celebrate, expect a short presentation, followed by the Three Stooges comedy Have Rocket, Will Travel.

A Blockheads, Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum Sunday, 4:00. Laurel & Hardy made many of the funniest two- and three-reel shorts ever shot, but their features suffered from the need to provide a real plot. The exception: Blockheads. The boys made one of their few good features by simply ignoring that silly rule about plots. True, laughs are scarce for the first 15 minutes as the movie sets up its basic situation (they haven’t seen each other in 20 years). Then we’re treated to 45 minutes of Stan and Ollie simply trying to get home, cook a meal, and clean an apartment. There’s very little in the world funnier than that. This is my favorite L&H feature, and I’ve never seen it on the big screen. And yes, it’s a talkie. With the Three Stooges short, "Malice in the Palace."

A- RoboCop & The Terminator, Castro, Saturday. Two of the best sci-fi action films of the 1980s, and both about cyborgs. RoboCop, which I haven’t seen in many years, mixes extremely violent action with smart and funny social/political satire. The Terminator lacks RoboCop’s wit, but its non-stop thrills (I know that’s a cliché, but it’s appropriate, here) keep you on the edge of a heart attack. And it maintains an internal logic rare in time travel stories. Besides, it offers a now-rare view of our soon-to-be-ex Governor’s naked butt. These two movies are less than half an all-day, five-feature marathon of robot movies. Also on the bill are Westworld, a 1986 Transformers flick, and an unannounced surprise.

B+ Diary of a Lost Girl: From Book to Film, San Francisco Public Library, Koret Auditorium, Sunday, 1:00. Diary of a Lost Girl wouldn’t be well-Diary of a Lost Girl (Germany 1929)   aka  Das Tagebuch einer Verlorenen 
Directed by Georg Wilhelm Pabst
Shown center: Louise Brooksremembered today if the previous collaboration between director G.W. Pabst and star Louise Brooks hadn’t been the great Pandora’s Box. Brooks as a victim and reluctant prostitute just doesn’t have the emotional impact of Brooks as a femme fatale. But the wonderful Pabst imagery is still there, as is Brooks’ unparalleled sensuality. The film was based on a once-popular but now forgotten novel. Thomas Gladysz, Director of the Louise Brooks Society, will be on hand to discuss the book’s relation to the film, and to sign copies of a new edition of the book that he edited.

A The King’s Speech, Napa Valley Opera House, Sunday, 2:00. George VI (the Duke kingsspeechof York through much of the film, and Bertie to his family) doesn’t want to live in the limelight. But fate forces that job onto the shy, reluctant man with a very bad stammer. Terrified, he turns to Australian immigrant Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush at his most impish) for help with his speech impediment. The relationship doesn’t start well. Logue begins with asking him personal questions, telling him not to smoke, and insisting they be on a first-name basis. For a man raised to believe in the importance of formal ceremonies meant to elevate his family above everyone else, this commoner’s disregard for tradition and class structure is shocking and confusing.  Part of the Napa Valley Film Festival.

Re-Animator & Surprise Second Feature, Balboa, Tuesday, 7:00. More than two weeks after Halloween, the Balboa brings you an uncensored 35mm print of Stuart Gordon’s 1985 gore-fest cult hit. (I’ve never seen it.) On a double bill with another Gordon bloodbath, the title of which will be announced Tuesday night. Gordon will be there in person for Q&A.

Club Foot Orchestra at the Castro

A Nosferatu, Castro, Sunday, 8:00. You best forget about sexy vampires before you go see the first  film version of Dracula (an unauthorized version that got the filmmakers sued by Bram Stoker’s widow). Max Schreck plays Count Orlok (the name change didn’t fool the court) as a reptilian predator in vaguely human form. This isn’t the scariest monster movie ever made, but it’s probably the creepiest. Not be confused with Werner Herzog’s 1979 remake. The 9-piece Club Foot Orchestra returns to the Castro after an absence of…I don’t know how many years for this and three other performances.

B+ Sherlock Jr, Castro, Sunday, 1:00, 4:00. There’s nothing new about special effects. Buster Keaton used them extensively, in part to comment on the nature of film itself, in this story of a projectionist who dreams he’s a great detective.The sequence where he enters the movie screen and finds the scenes changing around him would be impressive if it were made today; for 1924, when the effects had to be done in the camera, it’s mind-boggling. Since it’s Keaton, Sherlock Jr. is also filled with impressive stunts and very funny gags. This is an extremely short “feature,” running only about 45 minutes (depending on the projection speed). Accompaniment by the 9-piece Club Foot Orchestra, who also perform on the soon-to-be-released Blu-ray version (see my review).

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