What’s Screening: April 8 – 14

The Sonoma Film Festival and the Women’s Film Festival both run through Sunday. The Oakland and Tiburon International Film Festivals both continue through this week.

A- Play It Again Sam, Cerrito, Thursday. Five years before Annie Hall, Woody Allen proved that he could write, if not yet direct, a real story about real people, and still make it funny. He could also carry one as a star, playing a film historian newly separated from his wife and taking dating advice from Humphrey Bogart’s ghost. Diane Keaton (still his significant other when the film was shot) plays against him for the first time on film.

A Sons of the Desert, Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, Sunday, 4:00. Feature films weren’t Laurel & Hardy’s strong point; something about their humor worked best in the short form. But Sons of the Desert is one of only two exceptions that prove the rule (the other is Blockheads). This simple tale of two married men trying to have a good time away from their wives is loose, leisurely, and very funny.  With one of my favorite L&H shorts, "Busy Bodies," plus Our Gang in "Arbor Day."

A Alien, Pacific Film Archive, Wednesday, 3:10. In the wake of Jaws’ and Star Wars’ phenomenal success, It’s no surprise that someone would have made a big-budget movie about a large predator on a spaceship. But the obvious marketing value doesn’t explain how good this film actually is, and on so many levels. First you’ve got the extraordinary art direction, giving us a spaceship that feels like strange and unsettling high-tech haunted house, yet is absolutely believable. Then there’s the working-class astronauts complaining about the food and pay–easily the most realistic people Hollywood has ever shot into space. Don’t forget the star-making performance by Sigourney Weaver, or the overriding sense of loneliness, corporate exploitation, and–dare I say it–alienation. It’s also one hell of a fun, scary ride. As part of the Film 50: History of Cinema class and series, the PFA will screen Ridkey Scott’s director’s cut, which I have to admit I’ve never seen. Maybe I should.

B+ The King’s Speech (PG-13 version), Lumiere, Shattuck, Piedmont, starts clip_image001Friday;  Red Vic, Thursday (and continuing through next Saturday). Although I haven’t actually seen this version, I’m lowering my grade from my original A in protest of the recent censorship. Here we have a film with no sex, no violence, and no nudity that nevertheless received an R rating because of one scene where the main character says fuck several times as part of his speech therapy. I wouldn’t hesitate to show King’s Speech to a 10-year-old. But now the Weinstein Company (the film’s American distributors) have recut it to receive the PG-13 rating it should have had in the first place. I just hope that the DVD/Blu-ray edition will include the original cut. If you still need to learn something about the original version, read my full review. And for more on my thoughts on this film’s ratings, see Ratings, Censorship, and the Weinstein Company.

B- Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Castro, Friday. Howard Hawks’musical battle of the sexes contains a handful of wonderful dance numbers and some good comic moments, but there are too many weak scenes to wholeheartedly recommend it. The real surprise is in the leading ladies. Gentlemen helped turn Marilyn Monroe into a star, but co-star Jane Russell blows her out of the water. In this film, at least, Russell is funnier and sexier. On a double bill with The Outlaw, the famous Howard Hughes-produced Billy the Kid movie that made Russell a star by hiding her talent and emphasizing two other assets.

B+ True Grit (2010 version), Castro, Wednesday. The Coen brothers take on the most classic American genre and treat it with surprising reverence and respect. They allow only slices of their wry wit to invade the story, along with some barely PG-13 slices (literally) of their equally distinctive grotesque violence. Forget about Jeff Bridges as the alleged star. This movie belongs to 14-year-old Hailee Steinfeld, who’s in every scene as a determined youngster willing to undergo any hardship to avenge her father’s death.

A+ Seven Samurai, Castro, Sunday. If you think all action movies are mindless escapism, you need to set aside 3½ hours for7sam_thumb[1] Kurosawa’s epic masterpiece. The basic story–a poor village hires warriors to defend them against bandits–has been retold many times since, but Kurosawa told it first and told it best. This is an action film with almost no action in the first two hours. But when the fighting finally arrives, you’re ready for it, knowing every detail of the people involved, the terrain to be fought over, and the class differences between the peasants and their hired swords. One of the greatest movies ever made. See my Kurosawa Diary entry.

D Potiche, Aquarius, opens Friday. This alleged comedy wastes two of France’s great stars–Catherine Deneuve and Gérard Depardieu–in an unfunny feminist fantasy set in the late 1970′s. The period setting is played for laughs–but doesn’t actually earn any. The same goes for the politics and characters. Most of Potiche is predictable; the rest of it is so bad I never would have predicted it.  In her late 60s, Deneuve is still a remarkably attractive woman, but Depardieu has put on so much weight I worried about his health. Read my full review.