What’s Screening: January 27–February 2

We’re off to see Harry Belafonte, Captain Kirk, and two black birds. And if you find yourself reading this newsletter over and over again, that’s because it’s Groundhog Day.

In festival news, Noir City continues through Sunday. And the Mostly British Film Festival opens Thursday.

B Sing Your Song, Roxie, opens Friday. Harry Belafonte is a great performer and a dedicated activist. This reverential documentary Harry Belefonte Charming TV Audience in Sing Your Songemphasizes the activism, from his high-profile importance to the civil rights movement to his current work reforming gang members. Director Susanne Rostock has made a picture that encourages you to burn with anger at the world’s injustices, and admire those who worked and sacrificed to end those injustices. But if you come into the theater because you love Belafonte’s music, you’ll be disappointed. You’ll hear bits and pieces of many a great song, but you won’t hear a single one from beginning to end. Read my full review.

Science On Screen: What Captain Kirk Can Teach Us (AKA: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan), Rafael, Sunday, 7:00. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen the second Star Trek movie (and the first to get it right), but if I remember it correctly, it’s a fun one. Sure, the plot is silly, but the action snaps, the effects look great, and the screenplay seems to really understand the characters—something I can’t say for the first movie or even the original TV show. Buddha’s Brain author Rick Hanson will be on hand to discuss the brain’s relationship to the body, the power of positive thinking, and the "Kobayashi Maru" scenario (Star Trek fans know what that last one is).

Dashiell Hammett Marathon, Castro, Sunday. Hammett’s dark world view and direct writing style helped pave the way for film noir, and was a San Francisco original. So it’s appropriate for this year’s Noir City festival to end with six movies based on his novels. The only pictures here I’ve seen are the two versions of The Maltese Falcon. The 1931 original plays the story for laughs, and works reasonably well. But in the 1941 remake, John Huston did it right with the perfect cast and a screenplay that sticks almost word-for-word to the book. The ultimate Hammett picture, the second-best directorial debut of 1941 (after Citizen Kane), an important precursor to film noir, and perhaps the most entertaining detective movie ever made.

Live Jazz & A Great Day in Harlem, Balboa, Sunday, 5:30. Jazz and movies—two art forms that describe 20th century American entertainment. The evening’s festivities include a screening of Jean Bach’s jazz documentary, A Great Day in Harlem, and a live performance by the Jimmy Ryan Balboa Be Bop Band. As I have neither seen the movie nor heard the band, I can’t officially give this event a recommendation, but it sounds like fun.

C British Arrows Awards 2011, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Friday through Sunday. Why pay to see commercials that you would fast-forward through at home? Because these are the best of British commercials, and the British have earned arrowawardsreputations for great television and witty, off-the-wall humor. About 20 minutes of this hour-long presentation is very much worth watching—from a heroic tale of bakery delivery trucks to a small village where everyone’s a cider fanatic to a lesson in making low-budget Doritos commercials. But to get to these gems,  you have to sit through a lot of technical whiz-bang, supposedly heart-warming slices of life, and two poetic odes to Macdonalds. See my full review.

A Groundhog Day, Castro, Thursday (which is Groundhog Day). Is Groundhog Day a deep, spiritual meditation on the nature of human existence and the power of redemption? Or is it simply the best comedy (although not quite the funniest) of the 1990s? It’s hard to say, but as weatherman Phil Connors (Bill Murray) relives the same day over and over again, with no changes except the ones he makes himself, there appears to be something profound going on along with something profoundly entertaining. I have a rule against giving an A+ to to any film less than 20 years old; I strongly suspect that next year I will give one to Groundhog Day. On a double bill with Caddyshack, which I saw many years ago; I wasn’t impressed with it then.

B+ Scarface (1932 version), Pacific Film Archive, Tuesday, 7:00. The best of the three films that started the 1930’s gangster genre, Scarface tracks the rise and 5344_scarface_00_weblg[1]demise of Tony Camonte, a violent thug who becomes a big shot by virtue of his total lack of virtue (Paul Muni acting a little over the top for my taste). When he first sees a tommy gun, he joyfully cries out “Hey, a machine gun you can carry!” And that’s when one is shooting at him. Soon he’s using one to mow down his enemies and innocent bystanders alike. But he does love his kid sister. In fact, maybe he loves her too much. Written by Ben Hecht and directed by Howard Hawks, and you can’t find a better team than that. Part of the series Howard Hawks: The Measure of Man.

A- Midnight in Paris, Castro, Wednesday; Opera Plaza, opening Friday. I didn’t think Woody Allen still had it in him. He hasn’t made a film this funny, this wistful, and this heartfelt in decades. And I don’t think he’s ever made one this upbeat. Owen Wilson stars as your basic neurotic, romantic, witty, oversexed, and not quite intellectual Allen protagonist in a movie that slightly resembles Allen’s 1985 Purple Rose of Cairo. As with that film, the protagonist’s intense desire to escape into a fantasy world alters reality. But this is a much more optimistic movie, one where fantasy can help one handle reality. Read my full review. On a double bill with The Moderns.

B+ Sing-A-Long Wizard of Oz, Lark, Sunday, 3:00. I don’t really have to tell you about this one, do I? Well, perhaps I have to explain why I’m only giving it a B+.Despite its clever songs, lush Technicolor photography, and one great performance (Bert Lahr’s Cowardly Lion). The Wizard of Oz never struck me as the masterpiece that everyone else sees. It’s a good, fun movie, but not quite fun enough to earn an A. I haven’t experienced the sing-a-long version.