Cinequest runs through Sunday, and the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival continues through the week. The San Francisco Dance Film Festival opens Friday.
A Children of Paradise, Castro, Saturday. Shot while the Nazi occupation of Paris fell apart, Children of Paradise may be the most ecstatically French film ever made. A three-hour epic set in the theater scene of early 19th-century Paris, it follows the life of a beautiful woman (Arletty) and four men who fall under her spell—each in his own unique way. But the one who loves her most ardently, but can never really have her, is the great mime of his time, Baptiste (played by Jean-Louis Barrault, one of the great mimes of his time). The story is rich, romantic, and deeply in love with theatrical traditions. In this version of Paris, even the violent thugs see their lives as works of art. Written by Jacques Prévert and directed by Marcel Carné. Newly restored, the Castro will be screening Children of Paradise in DCP.
B+ My Week With Marilyn, Castro, Tuesday. According to Norman Mailer’s autobiography, his famous movie star wife could turn on “Marilyn” at will, and suddenly be worshipped by crowds that didn’t recognize her a moment before. You see that happen in My Week With Marilyn, a movie owned entirely by Michelle Williams’ beat-perfect performance as Marilyn Monroe. Set during the filming of The Princess and the Showgirl (not a memorable movie), it studies Monroe as her success was peaking and the insecurities that would destroy her were beginning to do real damage. The picture brings empathy both for the frightened girl inside the woman, and for the people who had to work with this most difficult of stars.
B+ Faust, California Theatre (San Jose), Friday, 7:00. F.W. Murnau’s last German film before coming to America and making Sunrise, Faust doesn’t quite measure up to his best work. But the story has always been a strong one, and Murnau’s mastery of images and special effects are as amazing as ever. And Emil Jannings makes one heck of a fascinating devil. Accompanied live by the Filmharmonica Duo, which is comprised of Dennis James on the Wurlitzer Theatre Organ and the Theremin, and Mark Goldstein on Buchla Lightning Wands. Is James moving away from his purist views on silent film accompaniment? Part of Cinequest.
A Chinatown, Alameda, Wednesday & Thursday. Roman Polanski may be a rapist, but you can’t deny his talent as a filmmaker. (Not that that in any excuses his actions as a human being.) And that talent was never shown better than in this neo-noir tale of intrigue and double-crosses set in Los Angeles in the 1930s. Writer Robert Towne fictionalized an actual scandal involving southern California water rights, mixing a few personal scandals in, as well, and handed it over to Polanski, who turned it into the perfect LA period piece.
B The Fifth Element, UA Berkeley, Thursday, 8:00. This big, fun, special effects-laden science fantasy adventure refuses to take itself seriously. It never manages to be particularly exciting, but it succeeds in being rousing and funny – intentionally funny – eye candy. It’s also one of the few futuristic movies that’s neither utopian nor dystopian, making it, for all the silliness of the plot, relatively realistic.
C+ Way Out West, Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, Sunday, 4:00. Many consider Way Out West one of Laurel and Hardy’s best features, but I respectfully disagree. Burdened by plot, its moments of true, transcendent comedy are few and far between. On the other hand, the short subject “The Music Box,” also part of this show, is one of their best, and their only Oscar winner. You might want to make the screening just for that. Interesting trivia: When the Marx Brothers made their western comedy in 1940, they stole the plot from Way Out West and the title, Go West, from Buster Keaton’s 1925 entry into this minor genre.
D Vertigo, Oakland Paramount, Friday, 8:00; Pacific Film Archive, Wednesday, 3:10. What? I’m not recommending Vertigo? 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. The PFA screening is part of the class and series Film 50: History of Cinema, Film and the Other Arts.