What’s Screening: September 14 – 20

The Brainwash Movie Festival opens Saturday night, then closes until next weekend. And the Third I South Asian Film Festival opens Wednesday. And although I’m not really counting it as a festival, the Studio Ghibli Collection moves to Berkeley’s California Theatre.

A Samsara, Camera 7 Pruneyard, Guild, opening 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. The filmmakers have stated that Samsara is best seen in 4K digital projection, and I know that the Pruneyard has 4K projectors. However, I do not know if they’ll be projecting this movie this way. The Guild will screen it in 35mm. See my full review as well as More on Samsara, 70mm, and 4K Digital Projection.

A- Moonrise Kingdom, Castro, Monday and Tuesday; Cerrito, opens Friday. Wes Anderson at his most playful. Also at his sweetest and funniest. Two pre-teens in love run away–disrupting everything on the small New England island where the story is set. While the fantasy of young love makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, the adult reaction keeps you laughing–in large part because the main adults are played by major stars clearly enjoying a chance to clown around. They include Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Bruce Willis, and, best of all, Tilda Swinton as "Social Services."

B+ The Iron Giant, Castro, Friday. The young hero of Brad (The Incredibles) Bird’s first feature befriends a massively-huge robot from outer space. Hey, Steven Spielberg’s Elliot only had to hide the diminutive ET. The robot seems friendly enough, but there’s good reason to believe he was built as a weapon of mass destruction. Using old-fashioned, hand-drawn animation with plenty of sharp angles, Bird creates a stylized view of small-town American life circa 1958 that straddles satire and nostalgia, and treats most of its inhabitants with warmth and affection. A good movie for all but the youngest kids. On a MiDNiTES for MANiACS triple bill with Labyrinth, which I liked when I saw it very long ago, and Phenomena, which I’ve never seen.

B Secretary, Castro, Thursday. Now here is something you don’t see every day–a kinky, S&M-tinged story that is utterly and enthusiastically romantic. Maggie Gyllenhaal plays the title character, a troubled young lady who gets a job working for a strangely withdrawn lawyer (James Spader). This lawyer has trouble keeping secretaries, probably because when they make a mistake, he wants to spank them. But this new secretary seems to enjoy the spankings. Clearly it’s love at first wallop. On a double bill with Office Space, which I haven’t seen in a long time but liked a whole lot when I saw it.

B+ The Bridge on the River Kwai, Kabuki & various CineMark Theaters, Thursday. The longer it’s been since you’ve seen David Lean’s World War II adventure, the better it gets in your  memory. That’s because the brilliant story of an over-proud British bridgeriverkwaiPOW (Alec Guinness) sticks in the mind. But to see the actual movie again is to be reminded that Guinness’ tale is just a subplot (the actor only received third billing). The bulk of Kwai is a very well made but conventional action movie with some uncomfortably Hollywoodish elements. Remember the Burmese porters who all just happen to all be beautiful young women? In one way, Kwai is like sex: When it’s good, it’s fantastic, and when it’s bad, it’s at least entertaining. Read my Blu-ray review.

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.

B Kill Bill, Parts 1 & 2, Castro, Saturday, 7:00. Quentin Tarantino creates a whole new universe for his two-part martial arts epic about revenge. In a sense, it’s the ultimate Tarantino flick, since this time around, even Tarantino himself knows that it’s set in an alternate universe. Part 1 drags a bit with fight after fight, even though some of them are beautifully choreographed. And there are a great many clever and funny moments throughout. But Tarantino’s shallow ultraviolence doesn’t quite hold up for a three-hour story.

A Spirited Away, California Theatre (Berkeley), Thursday (and the following 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 two week-long series The Studio Ghibli Collection, 1984 – 2009. New 35mm print, with the original Japanese soundtrack and English subtitles.

It Came From Beneath the Sea, Vogue, Thursday, 8:00. Have you ever looked at the Golden Gate Bridge and thought "That really needs to be destroyed by a giant octopus," this is the movie for you. I haven’t seen it in decades, but I remember it fondly. It’s not Ray Harryhausen at his best, but it is Ray Harryhausen. Preceded by The Brothers Comatose in a live concert.

A- The Princess Bride, Camera 3 Cinema, Saturday. 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 swashbuckler. 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.