What’s Screening: October 19 – 25

The Mill Valley Film Festival is over, but both the Petaluma Int’l Film Festival and Not Necessarily Noir open tonight. I only just found out about the Silicon Valley Jewish Film Festival, which opens Saturday. And French Cinema Now opens its brief run on Thursday.

B The House I Live In, Kabuki, Shattuck, opens Friday. In Eugene Jarecki’s sobering and extremely opinionated documentary about the War on Drugs, we hear from dealers, addicts, prisoners, cops, historians,and prison guards. They’re all sick and tired of this self-perpetuating status quo. Cops are judged by how many arrests they make. Mandatory sentencing laws force judges to put people away for decades. Ex-cons can’t get legal work. And no politician would dare open themselves up to charges of being soft on crime. In traditional agitprop fashion, Jarecki takes a clear stand and lines up his interviews and images to support that stand (which I agree with, by the way). But there’s nothing cinematically exceptional about this doc, which also leaves a lot of questions unanswered. Read my full review. Filmmaker Q&A Friday at the Kabuki and Saturday at the Shattuck.

A The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, Rafael, Friday & Tuesday, 7:00; Sunday, 2:30. Here’s a rare treat: a great Michael Powell/Emeric Pressburger epic from 1943 that life_death_colonel_blimpseldom screens in the Bay Area. It follows the career of a British army officer through three wars and the peaces in between. We meet the women in his life, all curiously played by Deborah Kerr, and watch his close friendship with a German officer who is sometimes his enemy. Powell and Pressburger tell the tale in flashback, allowing us to meet the protagonist as a fat, pompous, and rather silly old man before we see the dashing young soldier he once was. Shot in three-strip Technicolor when that was still something special. The film has been recently restored

A- Beasts of the Southern Wild, Castro, Tuesday. How often does this happen. An unknown American director makes his first feature, with a cast of non-actors, imageand it turns out to be magical, joyful, frightening, thoughtful, and unlike any other movie ever made–and it gets wide distribution. Quvenzhané Wallis stars as Hushpuppy, a young girl living on a tiny, poverty-stricken island off the coast of Louisiana. She has no mother to speak of, her father’s health is deteriorating, and global warming is destroying the island, called The Bathtub. And let’s not forget the strange and scary creatures, released from a melting glacier, who are swimming south to confront her. The whole film unfolds like a dream, sometimes wonderful and sometimes nightmarish, with the real world occasionally peaking through. On a double bill with the Neil Young doc Journeys.

A Psycho (1960 version), United Artists Berkeley, Thursday, 9:00. Contrary to urban myth, Alfred Hitchcock didn’t really want people to stop taking showers. He was, however, inspired by the television show he was then producing to make a low-budget movie in black and white.

A Double Feature: Frankenstein & The Bride of Frankenstein, a great many theaters, Wednesday. Dr. Frankenstein did more than create a monster. He turned James Whale into a top director and Boris Karloff into a major star (no mean feat since Karloff neither spoke in the film nor received screen credit). Several individual scenes are masterpieces of mood, horror, and crossed sympathies, but there’s very little story in Frankenstein. On the other hand, the first sequel, Bride of Frankenstein, is a full work of art and the movie that earns this double bill an A. You spend more time scared for the monster than of it in Whales’masterpiece. Karloff plays the creature as a child in a too-large body, the ultimate outcast torn between his need for love and his anger at the society that’s rejected him. In addition to this double bill,  Frankenstein  will screen on its own at the Oakland Paramount, Friday, 8:00.

B+ Under African Skies, Boulevard Cinemas, Petaluma, Saturday, 10:10. You can find plenty of political music documentaries, but few that examine both sides of a difficult controversy. This doc, which covers the making of Paul Simon’s hit album Graceland and the controversy over Simon’s breaking Under_African_Skiesthe South African cultural boycott of the time, is the exception. Structured around a friendly 2011 chat between Simon and Artists Against Apartheid Founder Dali Tambo, it asks whether it was right for Simon to have recorded music in South Africa when he did, and doesn’t come down with an easy answer. It mixes the politics vs. art issues with more conventional making-of footage–jam sessions, mixing, and so on. But it left me, like so many other such documentaries do, wishing they had included more concert footage; you seldom get to hear a song from beginning to end. Part of the Petaluma Int’l Film Festival.

B+ Fight Club, Castro, Wednesday. This is one strange and disturbing flick. Edward Norton wants to be Brad Pitt. Who wouldn’t? Pitt’s a free-spirited kind of guyfight_club and a real man. Besides, he’s shagging Helena Bonham Carter (who plays an American, and would therefore never use the verb shag). On the other hand, he just might be a fascist. Or maybe…better not give away the strangest plot twist this side of Psycho and Bambi, even if it strains more credibility than a Fox News commentary. And Bonham Carter gets to say the most shocking and hilariously obscene line in Hollywood history. On a double bill with Cosmopolis.

Reservoir Dogs, Roxie, Friday. It’s been way too long since I’ve seen Quentin Tarantino’s directorial debut, so I won’t give it grade. I remember being shocked, grossed out, and disgusted, as well as thoroughly entertained. On a double bill with Day of the Wolves, as part of the Not Necessarily Noir festival.

C+ The Day I Saw Your Heart, Camera 12, Sunday, 5:00. Justine, an X-Ray technician and aspiring artist, doesn’t much care for her sixtyish father. He’s critical, cruel, and so emotionally distant that he can’t get excited by hisThe Day I Saw Your Heart much younger third wife’s pregnancy. Neither can Justine, who doesn’t want another child raised by that monster. He also has a habit of befriending her ex-boyfriends as soon as she breaks up with them. Then, in the course of her work, she discovers that he’s got a heart condition.The Day I Saw Your Heart starts as comedy and ends as drama, but works only moderately well as either. Justine herself is a reasonably interesting character, and well played by Mélanie Laurent, but everyone else seems only a foil for her reactions. Part of the Silicon Valley Jewish Film Festival.

C Side By Side, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Saturday, 7:30; Sunday, 2:00. How do today’s leading filmmakers feel about the seemingly inevitable transition from a photochemical, film-based cinema to a digital one? Short answer: Many have enthusiastically embraced digital cinema, and the rest accept that physical film’s days are numbered. For most of this doc’s runtime, narrator/producer Keanu Reeves interviews high-profile directors and cinematographers, along with a few editors, timers, and technicians, as they discuss the current revolution. The film gives room to people on both sides of controversy (in other words, George Lucas and Christopher Nolan), but the picture seems weighted in favor of going digital. Concentrating almost entirely on the issue of how movies are shot,  it completely ignores the many problems and controversies arising from the move to digital projection. Read my full review.