What’s Screening: April 20 -26

Both the San Francisco International Film Festival and the Tiburon International. Film Festival opened last night. I’ve placed festival entries at the bottom of this newsletter.

B Attenberg, Elmwood and one of the Lee Theaters, opens Friday. You have to adjust yourself to the slow pace here. Writer/director Athina Rachel Tsangari examines the life and character of a young woman simultaneously facing her late-blooming sexuality and her father’s mortality. The static and low-key opening scene of two women kissing in the most awkward way possible sets the tone: Be patient, and you’ll be rewarded with some unique yet believable individuals, as well as some genuine and human laughs. And with the funniest sex scene i have ever seen (at least the best that was intended to be funny). Read my full review.

James Bond 50th Anniversary, Castro, Friday through Sunday. In honor of Dr. No’s original 1962 release, the Castro will screen eight early Bond movies. For my thoughts on the individual films (hint: From Russia With Love is the only must-see), click here.

The Dark Side of Oz, Roxie, Friday, 8:00. You’ve probably heard the story about watching The Wizard of Oz–visuals only–while listening to Pink Floyd’s album The Dark Side of the Moon. You may even have tried it at home. Tonight, you can see it on the big screen with an audience.

A- Scarface (1932 version), Stanford, Friday through Sunday. 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. On a double bill with Twentieth Century, opening the Stanford’s Howard Hawks series.

A To Kill A Mockingbird, Alameda, Wednesday and Thursday. 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.)

A+ Casablanca, various theaters, Thursday. What can I casablancasay? 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 encore digital presentation, done in first-run theaters not accustomed to screening classics, will include an introduction by TCM’s Robert Osborne. For more details, see Watching Casablanca, Digitally Projected, at a Big Multiplex and Casablanca: The Accidental Masterpiece.

San Francisco International Film Festival

A- Bonsái, Kabuki, Friday, 9:30 and Sunday, 12:45; Pacific Film Archive, Tuesday, 6:30. Right at the start, a narrator tells us that Emilia will die before the end of the film, but that Julio will live. Cutting back and forth between two timeframes, placed eight years apart, writer/director Cristián Jiménez presents two romances in the life of one young man. In the first, the ill-fated Emilia meets Julio in college. They read to each other in bed, discuss great literature (mostly Proust), go to punk-rock concerts, and enjoy each other’s bodies with the hot single-mindedness of youth. In the later romance, Julio tells his lover Emilia that he’s helping an established author write a new novel. But to keep up the hoax, the young man must become a novelist himself. Jiménez uses a deadpan, matter-of-fact approach of early Jim Jarmusch, to very good effect.

Master Class: Malcolm Turvey: Tati, Chaplin and the Democratization of Comedy, Kabuki, Sunday, 1:00. Professor Turvey examines the comedy of Jacques Tati and the American silent film comedians who influenced him.

B+ Women with Cows, Kabuki, Saturday, 3:30 and Thursday, 1:00; Pacific Film Archive, Monday, 8:45.  Britt, now in her late 70s, never married and has always worked on the family dairy farm. She no longer sells the women_with_cowsproduct of her milking labors, but keeps her cows and bulls as pets. She bends over so badly that when she stands, her face almost touches her knees. Her younger and more practical sister Inger comes by as often as she can and helps with the chores, but she realizes that the current situation can’t last. This touching, atmospheric, and beautifully-shot documentary could have been significantly shorter, but it’s still a moving story of family conflicts and bonds. And unless you’re a dairy farmer yourself, you may never get this intimate with cows.

Barbara Kopple & Harlan County, USA, Kabuki, Sunday, 3:30. The award-winning documentarian comes by to pick up another trophy–the Festival’s Persistence of Vision Award. It’s been too long since I’ve seen Harlan County, so I’m not giving it a grade. But I suspect it would be a very high one.

Merrill Garbus (tUnE-yArDs) with Buster Keaton Shorts, Castro, Monday, 8:00. Four Buster Keaton short comedies—two he made with Fatty Arbuckle, and two of his own. I haven’t seen the two Arbuckle movies: “Good Night, Nurse!” and “The Cook.” But the others, “One Week” and “The Haunted House,” are two of his best. See Blu-ray Review: Buster Keaton, The Short Films Collection for my thoughts on these. I have no idea whether the musical accompaniment by Merrill Garbus of tUnE-yArDs, along with guitarist Ava Mendoza, will be any good. I’m looking forward to finding out.

B Tommy, Kabuki, Saturday, 11:00. Ken Russell’s over-the-top film version of Pete Townsend’s and The Who’s rock opera hits you over the head with all the subtlety of Beach Blanket Babylon, turning a parable of spiritual quest into a carnival satire of materialism and cults. Oliver Reed proves he can’t sing as he plays a male version of the stereotypical evil stepmother. He’s not the only embarrassment in the all-star cast. But his co-stars, Roger Daltrey and Ann-Margaret, sing, dance, and give great performances, as do Eric Clapton, Tina Turner, and Elton John in smaller roles. Townsend’s music is still brilliant, and if this isn’t the best version of Tommy, it’s certainly the most fun. Peaches Christ will host this special presentation.

D+ Darling Companion, Kabuki, Monday, 6:45, Tuesday, 12:00 noon. I hate watching good actors struggle through a bad script. This particular bad script concerns a long-married couple (Diane Keaton and Kevin Kline) and several relatives searching for a missing dog. It’s supposed to turn into a search for self-discovery, but the people are too shallow and contrived to be worth discovering. The result is a character-driven comedy almost entirely lacking in believable characters or laughs. If it were not for the inspired cast, which also includes Dianne Wiest and Mad Men’s Elisabeth Moss, the movie would be an entire loss.

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