What’s Screening: September 7 – 13

The Iranian Film Festival runs through the weekend. But a whole lot of festivals are coming near the end of the month.

A Samsara, Embarcadero, Shattuck, opens Friday. Ron Fricke (Baraka) provides us with a succession of stunningly beautiful, and occasionally shocking images, accompanied by a hypnotic musical score and almost no other sound. I sat, enraptured, my eyes and mouth open in astonishment. Although there’s no real story, Samsara is structured like one. Or if not a story, then at least a journey. Fricke shot Samsara in the 70mm format, providing a level of detail impossible to capture digitally or with standard 35mm film. Unfortunately, the current Bay Area engagements are showing it in 35mm. Not optimal, but it still looks better than any other 35mm print you’re likely to see. Read my full review. Fricke and producer Mark Magidson will appear in person Friday night in San Francisco.

B+ Kumare, Roxie, Elmwood, opens Friday. Can a religious hoax improve people’s lives?  New Jersey-born Vikram Gandhi grew out his hair and beard, moved to Phoenix, and assumed a new identity as an Indian holy man. And he soon found himself dispensing actual advice and, arguably improving people’s lives. Starting as a fake guru, and then becoming the real thing, made it all the more difficult to do what he had always planned: to tell his followers that he’s a fake. For a charlatan, Gandhi comes off very well in this documentary. But then, he directed it, so it’s reasonable to assume that he’s slanted the story in his own favor. Read my full review.

A Double bill: Pulp Fiction & Boogie Nights, Castro, Saturday night. Both of these movies would win an A on its own merits. Quentin Tarantino achieved cult status by writing and directing Pulp Fiction, a witty mesh of interrelated stories involving talkative killers, a crooked boxer, romantic armed robbers, and a former POW who hid a watch boogienightsin a very uncomfortable place. In Boogie Nights, Paul Thomas Anderson’s epic tale of the porn industry in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, we watch as cinema’s most disreputable genre transitions from gutter chic to soulless video. Mark Wahlberg became a star playing a nice, not-to-bright kid with a very large asset, but Julianne Moore won the Oscar for her role as a coke-snorting porn queen den mother. Part of the Castro’s Trajectory of the Titans series of Tarantino/Anderson double bills.

A Spirited Away, Bridge, Friday. Hayao Miyazaki’s masterpiece is a beautiful, complex, and occasionally scary tale of a young girl cast into a strange and magical world. The intriguing and imaginative creatures, not to mention the moral dilemmas, are beyond anything that Dorothy ever had to deal with in Oz.. Part of the weeklong series The Studio Ghibli Collection, 1984 – 2009, which will also run in Berkeley next week. New 35mm print, with the original Japanese soundtrack and English subtitles.

A Chinatown, Kabuki & various CineMark Theaters, Thursday. Roman Polanski may chinatownbe 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, mixed in a few personal scandals, and handed it over to Polanski, who turned the script into the perfect LA period piece.

A- The Princess Bride, Camera 3 Cinema, Thursday, 9:30. William Goldman’s enchanting and funny fairy tale, The Princess Bride, dances magically along that thin line between parody and the real thing. The then-young and gorgeous Cary Elwes and Robin Wright make a wonderful set of star-crossed lovers, and Mandy Patinkin has a lot of fun as a revenge-filled swordsman. There’s no funnier swordfight anywhere, and who can forget cinema’s greatest acronym, ROUS (rodents of unusual size). On the other hand, some of the big-name cameos really grate on your nerves.

Double bill: Jackie Brown & Magnolia, Castro, Sunday. I haven’t seen either of these in a very long time, so I’m not giving them a grade. However, I adored Magnolia when it was new and suspect I would still love Paul Thomas Anderson’s tribute to Robert Altman, Los Angeles, and arguably the book of Genesis. I wasn’t quite so enamored with Jackie Brown, but I liked it. Another part of the Castro’s Trajectory of the Titans series.

A Double bill: Bad Day at Black Rock & The Wild Bunch, Castro, Thursday. Bad Day at Black Rock earns this double bill’s A. While everyone else was working hard to fill the giant Cinemascope screen, director John Sturges and cinematographer William C. Mellor saw how effective it was to keep it empty. Spencer bad_day_black_rockTracy stars as a one-armed stranger who comes to a small desert town after World War II and discovers how far people will go to keep a secret. Sometimes I think I’m the only male, heterosexual cinephile who doesn’t love The Wild Bunch. I don’t object to violence in movies, but I have trouble with Peckinpah’s sentimental attitude towards all the killing. It’s one thing to vicariously enjoy fictional characters with few if any scruples–as is the case with The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. It’s another to get all weepy about them.

B The Graduate, Pacific Film Archive, Saturday, 8:20. Maybe it’s no longer the breakthrough movie it was in 1967, but The Graduate is still a well-made romantic comedy with serious overtones. And, of course, it gets Bay Area geography all wrong. Part of the series A Theater Near You (which is really the PFA’s way of grouping movies that don’t fit into any of their current series).

A The Manchurian Candidate (1962 version), Cerrito, Thursday, 7:00. Bad dreams keep bothering Korean War veterans Lawrence Harvey and Frank Sinatra. Were they brainwashed by Communists? And where do the rabid anti-Communists  fit in? Easily the best political thriller to come out of the cold war, The Manchurian Candidate finds villains on both political extremes. As the nominal hero, Sinatra proves he really was an actor, but Angela Lansbury steals the film as the screen’s most evil mother–a woman of outsized beliefs and a burning hatred of anyone who disagrees with her. Read my Blu-ray review.

Animal House, Castro, Wednesday. It’s been decades since I last saw this classic ’70s comedy (on my then-new VCR), so I’m not giving it a grade. But I remember liking it a whole lot. I also remember it being the reverse side of American Graffiti; both were set in 1962, but Lucas’ movie looked back, and was thus about the end of the 50s. Animal House looked forward, and suggested the birth of the 60s. Rebellious, impolite, and very funny, John Belushi and his gang of misfits refuse to let anyone stand in the way of their tasteless, outrageous, and antiauthoritarian fun. On a double-bill with The Breakfast Club, which I’ve never seen.