What’s Screening: July 15 – 21

The San Francisco Silent Film Festival continues through Sunday. San Francisco Jewish Film Festival opens Thursday night.

Also, this is the Red Vic’s last full week of operation, and they’re going out with a big week. I’m grouping their programs at the end of the newsletter, as if they were a festival.

A Terri, Bridge, California (Berkeley), opens Friday. Terri (newcomer Jacob Wysocki) has problems well beyond those of your average adolescent. For one thing, he’s extremely overweight. He lives with a metally-ill uncle, forcing him into caregiver responsibilities. He dresses only in pajamas, and gets to school late almost every day. On the upside, the school’s guidance counselor (the always dependable and wonderful John C. Riley) has taken an interest in Terri. Maybe that’s not such an upside; this counselor didn’t strike me as particularly competent. Azazel Jacobs’ second feature walks a wonderfully fine line between comedy and drama, finding the humor in Terri’s situation—and the situations of other sufferers around him—without ever sacrificing empathy. The filmmakers show a keen and sympathetic eye for the reality of adolescence. Read my full review.

A I Was Born, But…, Castro, Friday, 4:15. Ozu’s late silent (1932) comedy/drama sees the world through the eyes of two bothers– sons of a man rising in the corporate world. They love and worship their father, and are shocked by his submissiveness to those above him in his job. Funny, touching, and very true. Musical accompaniment by Stephen Horne. Part of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival.

1900, Pacific Film Archive, Saturday, 6:00. I saw Bertolucci’s semi-Marxist historical epic many, many years ago, and was very impressed at the time. On the other hand, I saw the full cut, which ran over five hours. The PFA will screen the four-hour version originally released in this country. Whatever the length, the story follows the lives of two close friends, one an aristocrat, the other working class (Robert De Niro and Gérard Depardieu), both born at the beginning of the 20th century. Part of the series Bernardo Bertolucci: In Search of Mystery.

A- Buster Keaton Double Bill: Sherlock Jr. & Seven Chances, Stanford, Friday, 7:30. It takes guts for a theater other than the Castro to show silent films this weekend, but the Stanford is doing it. About the movies: There’s nothing new about special effects, and in Sherlock Jr., Buster Keaton used them to comment on the nature of film itself, entering the movie screen and finding the scenes change around him. Since it’s Keaton, Sherlock Jr. is also filled with impressive stunts and very funny gags. Seven Chances isn’t as well-respected, which is a shame, because it’s one of his funniest features, and IMHO superior to Sherlock Jr. Watch it with an audience, and you seldom get a chance not to laugh. But be warned: By today’s standards, Seven Chances is extremely racist and sexist. Accompanied by Dennis James on the Wurlitzer pipe organ.

A- Double bill: Billy Elliot & 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T, Castro, Monday, 7:00. Working-class boys in an English mining town—especially an English mining town in the grip of a horrific strike—are expected to grow up to be he-men. But Billy Elliot wants to be a ballet dancer in this story of father-son strife set against a greater class struggle. The only Dr. Seuss feature film made during his lifetime, 5,000 Fingers is as creative, visually daring, and funny as any kid’s fantasy ever to come out of Hollywood. At least that’s how I remember it, many years from my last screening. Even the sets, photographed in three-strip Technicolor, look as if Seuss had painted them himself. The cast of the current Billy Elliot stage musical will be in attendance before the movies.

B+ Mabul (The Flood), Castro, Thursday, 6:30. Jewish Film Festival opening night. The plot is similar to A Serious Man and Sixty Six, but Guy Nattiv’s drama about a Bar Mitzvah in a dysfunctional family couldn’t be more different. Bar Mitzvah boy Yoni sells completed MabulTheFloodhomework to other kids, can’t please the rabbi (you’d think a Bar Mitzvah would be easy for a  native Hebrew speaker), and deeply resents his parents—with good reason. His mother is having an affair and his father is an irresponsible pothead. To make matters worse, his extremely autistic brother, who really belongs in an institution, comes to live with them. Nattiv doesn’t leaven the story with humor, or even with much warmth, resulting in a harrowing, merciless look at a family coming apart at the seams. The last act, with a suspenseful climax and a somewhat upbeat ending, feels tacked on.

A+ The Godfather, UA Berkeley, Thursday, 8:00. Francis Coppola, taking the job simply because he needed the money, turned Mario Puzo’s potboiler into the Great American Crime Epic. Marlon Brando may have top billing, but Al Pacino owns the film (and became a star) as Michael Corleone, the respectable son inevitably and reluctantly pulled into a life of crime he doesn’t want but for which he seems exceptionally well-suited. A masterpiece, recently restored by the master of the craft, Robert A. Harris.

Variations on a Theme, Castro, Saturday, noon. For the second year in a row, the San Francisco Silent Film Festival will bring the various musicians performing this year on stage to talk about the craft of scoring a silent film. Last year it turned into a riveting argument between the traditionalists and the experimentalists. Let’s hope it’s as exciting and controversial this year.

A Hitchcock Double Bill: Vertigo and Psycho, Stanford, Saturday through next Friday. The A goes to Psycho. Contrary to urban myth, Alfred Hitchcock didn’t really want people to stop taking showers. He was, however, inspired by the television show he was then producing, and so decided to make a low-budget movie in black and white. On its own, Vertigo earns a D in my book. Everyone else thinks it’s a masterpiece, but it tops my short list of the Most Overrated Films of All Time.Vertigo isn’t like any other Alfred Hitchcock movie; it’s slow, uninvolving, and self-consciously arty.

    Red Vic

    A Touch of Evil, Red Vic, Sunday and Monday. Orson Welles’ film noir classic, and one of his few Hollywood studio features. He lacked the freedom he found in Europe,touchofevil but the bigger budget–and perhaps even the studio oversight–resulted in one of his best. As a corrupt border-town sheriff, Welles makes a bloated, scary, yet strangely sympathetic villain. Janet Leigh is a lovely and effective damsel in distress (although Psycho should have taught her to avoid seedy motels). As the hero, a brilliant Mexican detective, Charlton Heston is…well, he’s miscast, but not as badly as some people say.

    A+ The Last Waltz, Red Vic, Tuesday and Wednesday. On Thanksgiving night, 1976, The Band played their final concert at San Francisco’s legendary Winterland Ballroom. Among their performing guests were Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Muddy Waters, and Joni Mitchell. The filmmakers were just as talented, with great cinematographers like Michael Chapman and Vilmos Zsigmond handling the cameras and art director Boris Leven designing the set, all under the direction of Martin Scorsese. No wonder this was the greatest rock concert movie ever made. Scorsese and company ignored the audience and focused on the musicians, creating an intimate look at great artists who understood that this was a once-in-a-lifetime event.

    A Stop Making Sense, Red Vic, Friday and Saturday. Jonathan Demme and the Talking Heads realized that a concert film doesn’t have to be a documentary. They barely show us the audience and never the backstage; just the performance (actually compiled from three performances). But what an amazing piece of rock and roll performance art they provide! Strange dance moves, great riffs, puzzling and possibly profound lyrics, and a very big suit, all backed by a beat that makes you want to get up and dance.