What’s Screening: December 23 – 29

It’s a wonderful life for a reincarnated artist who will melt with you while singin’ in the rain. All playing this week in San Francisco Bay Area Theaters.

Still no December festivals, but you can read about the January ones. On the other hand, the Castro will screen four musical double bills, which between them include three of my all-time favorites.

B+ My Reincarnation, Rafael, opens Friday. Sometimes, the fruit does fall far from the tree. Chögyal Namkhai Norbu My Reincarnation: Generational conflict among Tibetan Buddhiststravels the world, teaching others the wisdom of Tibetan Buddhism. But his Italian-raised son, Yeshi Silvano Namkhai, rebelled life. This is a story as old as The Jazz Singer—or older. Jennifer Fox’s observant documentary follows both men over a 20-year period, as Yeshi comes to embrace his heritage and his father’s desires. This is a story of diaspora, generational clashes, and returning to one’s roots. More than that, it’s a story of two individuals who love each other but can’t see eye to eye. Read my full review.

D I Melt With You, Lumiere, opens Friday. The plot sounds like an updated, male-oriented version of The Big Chill or TheThe four buddies of Return of the Secaucus Seven: Four 44-year-old college buddies rent a house by the beach so they can party and remember the good old days. But this was meant to be a much darker picture than those 30-year-old classics, and presumably more profound. But it gives us little reason to care about these guys, and provides no insight into them. It doesn’t even succeed in making us believe that anyone would act like these improbable characters. Read my full review.

A The Gold Rush, Rafael, opens Friday. One of the most beloved comedies of the silent era is finally becoming readily available in its original form. In this epic comic adventure, Chaplin’s tramp travels Chaplin_GoldRush[1]through the frozen Yukon of the Alaskan gold rush, gets marooned in a cabin with two much larger men, nearly starves to death, nearly becomes dinner, and falls in love with a dancehall girl who scarcely knows he’s alive. Within this story you’ll find some of Chaplin’s funniest set pieces, including the Thanksgiving dinner of boiled shoe and the dance of the rolls. But my favorite is the scene where his cabin mates wrestle over possession of a rifle that always manages to point to Chaplin. Long available only in a truncated and narrated version created by Chaplin in 1941, we can now view a new restoration of the 1925 original. The music, alas, will not be live. For more on The Gold Rush, see The Altered Charlie Chaplin Problem and The Gold Rush and the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra.

A+ It’s a Wonderful Life, Balboa, Friday and Saturday; Stanford, Saturday; Film Society/New People Cinema, Sunday. There’s a rarely-acknowledged dark side to Frank Capra’s feel-good fable. wonderfullifeGeorge Bailey (James Stewart) saves his town and earns the love of his neighbors, but only at the expense of his own happiness. Trapped, frustrated, and deeply disappointed, Bailey needs only one new disaster to turn his thoughts to suicide. The extremely happy (some would say excessively sappy) ending works because Bailey, whose main problems remain unsolved, has suffered so much to earn it. The Balboa will screen a Blu-ray disc, which based on my experience, should be just fine on their screen. The Stanford screening is sold out.

A+ Gene Kelly Double Bill: Singin’ In the Rain & On the Town, Castro, Wednesday. The A+ goes to Singin’ in the Rain. There’s nothing meaningful, insightful, or didactic about the greatest of all Hollywood musicals, which happens to be about the birth of Hollywood musicals. But I’d be hard pressed to find another movie that’s more fun. Take out the songs, and you still have one of the best comedies of the 1950′s, and the funniest movie Hollywood ever made about itself. But take out the songs, and you take out the best part. The second feature, On the Town, earns a full A in its own right. Three sailors, in New York for a 24-hour leave, look for girls and find true love. What makes this special–aside from great songs, terrific choreography, and a witty script–is the prevailing sense of friendship and camaraderie. Also, for a 1949 Hollywood feature, it takes a surprisingly positive view of sex.

A The Artist, Kabuki, California, opens Friday. Michel Hazanavicius just made a silent movie about the death of silent movies. Even more amazing than that, he pulls it off, creating a warm, funny, heartfelt, and occasionally sad story of a Hollywood star’s fall from grace as talkies ruin his career. Meanwhile, a struggling actress who loves him becomes a star in the new medium of talkies. Hazanavicius fills the picture with funny bits that illuminate the characters; for instance, the star’s unhappy wife spends her time drawing bad teeth and devil horns on photos of her husband. A black-and-white, narrow-screen, silent film is a hard sell in today’s market, and I don’t know if The Artist will find its audience. Catch it before it disappears. Or at least read my full review.

Georges Méliès and Other Movie Magic: A Festive Grab Bag, Oddball Films, Friday, 8:00. With Hugo in theaters, someone had to put together this program. The evening will include three Méliès shorts (not including his most famous, “A Trip to the Moon”) plus assorted other selections. These include a Fritz Freleng cartoon and outtakes from The Monkees. Seating is limited; RSVP at 415-558-8117 or programming@oddballfilm.com.

A The Band Wagon, Castro, Monday. Singin’ in the Rain’s producer and writers teamed up with director Vincente Minnelli to make the one great Fred Astaire vehicle without Ginger Rogers. Their trick? They blended a small dose of reality into the otherwise frivolous mix. For instance, Astaire’s character, an aging movie star nervously returning to the Broadway stage he abandoned years before, is clearly based on Astaire himself. The result is a sly satire of Broadway’s intellectual aspirations, lightened up with exceptional songs and dances including “That’s Entertainment” and “I Love Louisa.” On a double bill with Meet Me In St. Louis, which I haven’t seen in a very long time and never really liked all that much.

B+ The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Castro, Thursday. When we think French New Wave, we imagine gritty, black-and-white stories filled with angst and alienation. Yet Jacques Demy, shooting a completely believable story in real locations, created a lush, colorful and sublimely romantic musical. A movie like few others, with an astonishingly young and beautiful Catherine Deneuve (as opposed to the astonishingly well-aged and beautiful Catherine Deneuve of today). On a double bill with A Woman Is a Woman, which I haven’t seen.