What’s Screening: September 21 – 27

The Third I South Asian Film Festival continues through Sunday (and will resurrect for one day next week). If you’re looking for a strange, out-door movie-going experience, the Brainwash Movie Festival returns tonight and plays through Sunday. Berlin & Beyond, the Palo Alto Int’l Film Festival and Hong Kong Cinema all open Thursday night.

B- Somewhere Between, Opera Plaza, Shattuck, opens Friday. Linda Goldstein Knowlton, somewhere_betweenherself the new mother of an adopted Chinese daughter, follows the lives of four now-teenage adoptees to discover how their split Chinese and American identities work out. Somewhere Between just glides along for the first half of its 88-minute runtime, then takes off in the second half, when it latches onto two amazing stories. One concerns a teenage girl’s relationship to a baby suffering from cerebral palsy; the other a girl who successfully tracks down her birth family. But the film is essentially shallow, skipping over many issues that adopted children and their parents have to deal with. Read my full review. Filmmaker Linda Goldstein Knowlton and subject Fang Lee In Person Friday & Saturday.

C+ Dial M For Murder, Festival Village, Thursday, 9:00. Presented in 3D; free. John Ford never made a 3D movie. Neither did Akira Kurosawa, Orson Welles, or Charlie Chaplin. But Alfred Hitchcock did–the only major auteur to try the stereoscopic medium before the 21st century. Dial M isn’t great Hitchcock–it’s pretty much a straightforward adaptation of a stage play–but it’s a good play and Hitchcock knew what to do with it. Forced against his will to use the new-fangled double-lens camera, Hitchcock pretty much ignored the obvious 3D effects popular at the time. But when he finally throws something at the camera, he knows exactly what to throw and when to throw it. Note: I haven’t seen this film in 3D in about 30 years. I might give it a higher score if I did. Opening night of the Palo Alto Int’l Film Festival.

A Double Bill: Inglourious Basterds & There Will Be Blood, Castro, Sunday. The A goes to There Will Be Blood. Paul Thomas Anderson’s small, character-driven films always felt like epics, so there’s no surprise how well he manages the real thing. Based on a Upton Sinclair novel called Oil! (the name change makes no sense), There Will be Blood is big, sprawling, and spectacular, and captures not just a moment in history but a 30-year transition in the life of a man with frightful ambitions and even more frightful inner demons. Read my full review. I don’t have anywhere near as high a regard for Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds (Tarantini’s spelling, not mine), but I can’t deny the modest pleasures of this Holocaust revenge fantasy. Even as I thought of the plot’s inherent absurdity (Why would these Jewish American soldiers do better than the French resistance?), I enjoyed the clever dialog, some good performances, the movie references, and the sheer audacity. Part of the Castro’sTrajectory of the Titans series of Tarantino/Anderson double bills.

B The Cat and the Canary, Stanford, Friday, 7:30. Americans in the 1920s just couldn’t take haunted houses seriously. But they sure enjoyed laughing at them. Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, and Charley Bowers all made very funny short subjects set in spooky, old mansions. And this feature, never intended to be taken seriously, provides plenty of good laughs as well. The plot involves, of course, the reading of an eccentric millionaire’s will. Dennis James will accompany this silent movie on the Wurlitzer pipe organ. Part of the Stanford’s massive celebration of Universal Picture’s 100th anniversary.

A Spirited Away, California Theatre (Berkeley), 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.

A The Manchurian Candidate (1962 version), Alameda, Tuesday and Wednesday. 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.

C+ Dracula (1931 version), Stanford, Saturday and Sunday. The film that started Universal’s famed horror series, and the first to star Bela Lugosi in the role that made him famous, really doesn’t deserve its classic status. The picture suffers from stilted blocking and too much mediocre dialog–common faults in early talkies, especially those based on stage plays. But it has a few wonderful moments, most of which are wordless. On a double bill with The Old Dark House, which I’ve never seen but should, as it was directed by the great James (Bride of Frankenstein) Whales.

A The African Queen, Kabuki & various CineMark Theaters, Thursday. Humphrey Bogart, Katharine Hepburn, Africa, and Technicolor all make for splendid entertainment in John Huston’s romantic comedy action adventure. The start of World War I traps an earthy working-class mechanic (Bogart) and a prim and proper missionary (Hepburn) behind enemy lines and hundreds of miles of jungle. It’s a bum and a nun on the run, facing rapids, insects, alcohol (he’s for it; she’s against it), German guns, and an unusual (for Hollywood) romance between two moderately-attractive middle-aged people in filthy clothes. Beautifully restored.