What’s Screening: August 24 – 30

No festivals this week.

B Alps, Roxie, opens Friday for one-week run.  I’m not exactly sure what to make of Alps. It has just enough continuity to make you try and follow the story, but there’s no story to follow. Many of the characters (primarily the female ones) seem sympathetic, yet their motivations and actions are often entirely opaque. There’s absolutely no mention of politics or government, yet I think it’s about totalitarianism. It’s often boring, yet more often its utterly compelling and strangely funny. Read my full review.

C+ Robot & Frank, Embarcadero, Albany, opens Friday. This moderately entertaining comedy, set in an easily-recognizable near future, stars Frank Langella as an aging cat burglar robot_and_franksinking into dementia. His worried son brings him a servant robot to care for him. That he will grow to like the robot is obvious–this is a movie, after all. The twist is what makes Frank like his robot:  the realization that this machine has no scruples about burglary. The result is entertaining and reasonably (but not exceptionally) funny. Both Frank and the audience tend to anthropomorphize the robot, which is to be expected. But it’s nice that the robot occasionally reminds Frank that, although he sometimes appears to have emotions, he really doesn’t have any. Not bad, but inconsequential and forgettable. Read my full review.

A The Band Wagon, Stanford, Saturday through Tuesday. 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 You Were Never Lovelier, which I have never seen.

A High Noon, Kabuki & various CineMark Theaters, Thursday. Gary Cooper discovers who his real friends are (just about no one) in Carl Foreman and Fred Zinnemann’s simple fablehigh_noon of courage under fire in the old west. On the day of his wedding and his resignation, the town’s sheriff (Cooper) finds out that hardened criminals are on their way, presumably for vengeance. But when he tries to form a posse, the people he thought he could count on turn their backs on him. Foreman’s last produced screenplay before getting blacklisted, High Noon can be interpreted as a parable to a Hollywood gripped in McCarthyite fear.

A+ Silent comedy double bill: City Lights & Sherlock Jr., Castro, Thursday. The A+ goes to City Lights, where Charlie Chaplin’s little tramp falls in love with a blind flower citylightsgirl and befriends a suicidal, alcoholic millionaire. The result is funny and touching, with one of the great tear-jerking endings. Cinema has rarely achieved such perfection. Released a year after everyone else had stopped making silents, City Lights has always had a recorded score (composed by Chaplin) and needs no live accompaniment. There’s nothing new about special effects, and in Sherlock Jr., Buster Keaton used them to comment on the nature of film itself, entering the movie screen and finding the scenes change around him. Since it’s Keaton, Sherlock Jr.is also filled with impressive stunts and very funny gags.  I have no idea what music will accompany the second feature. Update: On 9/23/12, I corrected an error in this microreview.

Pandemic Double Bill: Contagion & Panic in the Streets, SF Film Society Cinema, Tuesday. Two thrillers, both by major directors, about germs threatening everyone–and the films were made more than 60 years apart. I haven’t seen them, so I won’t say anymore.

A Chinatown, Castro, Tuesday. Roman Polanski may be a rapist,chinatown 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. On a John Huston double-bill with Prizzi’s Honor, even though Huston merely acts in Chinatown.

B 2001: A Space Odyssey, Castro, Sunday and Monday. I used to worship Stanley Kubrick’s visualization of Arthur C. Clarke’s imagination, but it hasn’t aged all that well. We’ve all2001 seen the actual year, and know that Clarke and Kubrick got almost everything wrong. Yet there’s no denying the pull of 2001’s unorthodox storytelling and visual splendor–if you can see it properly presented. 2001 was shot for 70mm projection on a giant, curved, Cinerama screen–an experience that’s simply not available in the Bay Area today. The Castro can and has presented it in 70mm (although on a flat screen), as well as in 35mm. But this time, they’re presenting it in DCP, which I suspect will be better than 35mm but not as good as 70mm (if they had a 4K digital projector, I’d probably feel differently). Sunday it will play with two shorts, including George Méliès’  “A Trip to the Moon.” On Monday, it will be shown by itself.

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