As usual, I’m placing festival films at the end of the newsletter.
Balboa Birthday Bash, Balboa, Sunday, 7:00. To celebrate the theater’s 81st birthday, the theater will screen the 1922 Rudolph Valentino vehicle Moran of the Lady Letty, with Frederick Hodges accompanying the silent film on piano. The evening will also offer short subjects, live vaudeville, prizes, and birthday cake.
B Tarzan and His Mate, Rafael, Sunday, 7:00. The second and best of the Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan movies, while still juvenile entertainment, feels very different from the dumb sequels that followed. At this stage in their lives, Weissmuller and Maureen O’Sullivan made a very sexy Tarzan and Jane, and since the movie was pre-code, the sexuality didn’t have to be hidden. (Okay, the nude swimming scene was cut soon after the film’s release, but it has since been restored.) The stars’ chemistry and the story’s general outlandishness makes for an entertaining evening. The Rafael will screen Tarzan and His Mate as the first film in the two-movie series Hollywood & Vines: The Movie Magic of Tarzan, with visual effects supervisor Craig Barron and sound designer Ben Burtt on hand to discuss how the films were made. See my discussion of the series.
The Found Footage Festival, Red Vic, Friday and Saturday. Nick Prueher and Joe Pickett collect the garbage of our video-saturated culture–public access TV shows, home movies, outtakes, instructional videos, and other oddities–and put them together into an annual presentation that’s a combination of video montage and live standup comedy. I haven’t seen their current program, but I saw their first one on DVD, and loved it.
Black Orpheus, Pacific Film Archive, Wednesday, 3:10. It’s been decades since I saw Marcel Camus’ retelling of the Orpheus myth, set in Rio during Carnaval. I remember exciting music, eye-popping color, and a strange mixture of joyous celebration and tragedy. I also remember liking it very much.
A- Paris, Texas, Pacific Film Archive, Saturday, 7:15. Harry Dean Stanton gives a masterful, understated performance as an amnesiac who walks out of the desert and back into the lives of his family. Missing for years, he’s taken in by his brother’s family, which now includes his own son. As the man’s memory slowly returns, he becomes obsessed with earning his son’s love again, and finding out not the mystery of his own disappearance but that of his wife’s. Wim Wenders’ first American film. Part of the series Under the Skin: The Films of Claire Denis, even though Denis worked on Paris, Texas only as an assistant director.
A- Small Town Murder Songs, California Theatre, Friday, March 4, 9:30; Sunday, March 6, 4:30. I seldom wish that a film was longer, but I sure wanted to know more about the people in this Canadian character study disguised as a murder mystery. A newly born-again, small-town police chief (Peter Stormare) is trying to leave his once volatile temper and violent ways behind. But the discovery of a corpse (the town’s first-ever murder) brings him dangerously close to his old friends and old ways. Every person in this small, 75-minute gem seems to have a story all their own, and many of them will surprise you. I found myself wanting to hear all of them. In the end, I didn’t even hear enough about the protagonist, but I’m still very glad I met him.
Plan 9 From Outer Space, Saturday, 10:00. How do you grade a movie like this? Do you give it an F because it’s horrible, or an A because it’s highly entertaining (even if not in the way it was intended)? I call this type of movie an unintentional comedy–a flick so bad it’s funny (as opposed to so bad it’s irritating or so bad it’s boring). Ed Wood’s strange science fiction fable, which includes Bela Lugosi’s last performance, isn’t the best of them (or the worst, or the best at being the worst), but it certainly earns its cult following. Cinequest will screen this originally black and white, flat movie in color and 3D. I’m not sure what these enhancements add. Are they supposed to make the movie look better? Or worse?
C- A Little Help, Camera 12, Wednesday, 12:00 noon. By reminding me how hard it is to make a good low-key drama about ordinary, damaged human beings, and how there is no guarantee of success, this film really helped me appreciate Mike Leigh. A Little Help’s protagonist (Jenna Fischer) starts the movie with a miserable life. She drinks too much, smokes too much, her socially-awkward son hates her, her husband ignores her, and her sister and mother push her around. When her husband suddenly dies, things don’t get worse. They don’t get better, either. Or interesting. The cast all give fine performances, which is a considerable triumph considering writer/director Michael J. Weithorn’s lukewarm screenplay. Just about everything that happens is painfully obvious and painfully pointless, with too many underwritten, unbelievable characters spouting uninteresting dialog.
Great Global Shorts, Contra Costa Jewish Community Center, Wednesday, 11:00am. This collection of three short subjects includes a single episode from season 2 of Arab Labor. I don’t know if it’s one of the three I saw at last year’s San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, but those three were all worth catching. The further adventures of Arab-Israeli journalist Amjad Alian, trying desperately to fit into a society that rejects him, were as hilarious as the first season. (Did you know that dogs in Israel only bark at Arabs?)
C+ The Infidel, Cinearts In Pleasant Hill, Thursday, 4:30. This comedy about ethnic and religious identity in modern England only manages occasionally to rise above moderately amusing. An easy-going, middle-aged Muslim family man (Omid Djalili) discovers that he was adopted, and that his birth parents were Jewish. He tries to learn about and come to terms with his new identity, causing all sorts of intended-to-be-comic misunderstandings with his family. To make matters worse, his son’s happiness depends on his making a good impression on a high-profile fundamentalist imam. It’s the sort of comic plot that would evaporate if any of the characters spoke the truth to their loved ones. But it has its moments.