Both the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival and the San Francisco Dance Film Festival continue through Sunday. The Bengali Film Fest opens today (Friday) and continues through Tuesday.
B- Peaches Christ presents Pam Grier as Coffy, Jackie Brown, and herself, Castro, Saturday, 8:00. The B- grade goes to Coffy, as I haven’t seen Jackie Brown recently enough to give it a grade. Back in 1973, Pam Grier made a name for herself by kicking a lot of ass, killing a lot of scumbags, and shedding a lot of clothing in Coffy. You can call this a feminist work—this is one of the first, and still one of the few Hollywood action films to center on a very strong female lead. On the other hand, the movie arguably exploits women, as it’s filled with a lot of gratuitous nudity. But however you view Coffy from a sociological point of view, it’s really just a low-budget, competently-made action movie with a talented, beautiful, sexy, and charismatic star, who also happens to be an African-American woman. And that woman will be live onstage Saturday night.
A The Descendants, Castro, Sunday. Alexander Payne’s drama about trouble in paradise was quite possibly the best film last year with spoken English dialog. George Clooney gives a near-perfect performance as a Hawaiian patriarch who discovers that his wife—now dying in a hospital bed—was cheating on him. Meanwhile, he must learn how to be more than “the backup parent” and decide what to do with some beautiful, untouched, and very valuable land that could make all of his relatives rich. Like everything Payne makes, this is an actors’ picture that gives everyone in front of the camera a chance to do their best. Much of the scenery is beautiful, too.
A+ Red River, Pacific Film Archive, Tuesday, 7:00. John Wayne gives one of his best performances, showing us the villain in the hero and the hero in the villain as the Captain Bligh character in this western variation on Mutiny on the Bounty. The character starts out as your classic Wayne hero—strong, stubborn, a man of his word who is quick with a gun. But these traits prove his moral undoing as he leads others on a dangerous cattle drive. To make matters worse, it’s his adopted son (Montgomery Clift in his first major role) who leads the rebellion. Part of the series Howard Hawks: The Measure of Man.
A To Kill a Mockingbird, Pacific Film Archive, Wednesday, 3:10. The film version of Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel manages to be both a nostalgic reverie of depression-era small town Southern life and a condemnation of that life’s dark and ugly underbelly. Gregory Peck’s Atticus Finch is the ultimate decent and moral father, a character so virtuous he’d be unbelievable if the story wasn’t told through the eyes of his six-year-old daughter. (Had there been a sequel set in her teen years, Atticus would have been an idiotic tyrant.) Part of the class and series Film 50: History of Cinema, Film and the Other Arts.
B The Bad and the Beautiful, Stanford, Friday through Monday.The same year he made The Band Wagon, Vincente Minnelli used a Citizen Kane-like multiple flashback structure to tell the story of a talented, outwardly nice Hollywood producer who only seems evil to those who get close enough to know him. As realistic a look at how Hollywood changes and corrupts those who serve it as tinsel town has ever dared to make. On a double bill with Laura, which I haven’t seen recently enough to comment on.
A+ Casablanca, various theaters, Wednesday, 7:00. What can I say? You’ve either already seen it or know you should. Let me just add that no one who worked on Casablanca thought they were making a masterpiece; it was just another movie coming off the Warner assembly line. But somehow, just this once, everything came together perfectly. This special, digital presentation, done in first-run theaters not accustomed to screening classics, will include an introduction by TCM’s Robert Osborne.
C+ Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, Castro, Tuesday. Okay, I confess it: I found this film completely impenetrable. Yes, it’s well made and exceptionally well acted. But it was also impossible to follow. Some confusing films manage to nevertheless be good, or even great—either because of wit, great characters, or some unusual vision. But Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy isn’t one of them. In the end, all you can do is admire the craftsmanship and hope that something will clarify the story (spoiler: nothing does).