What’s Screening: January 18 – 24

Movie-going with the stiff upper lip: The Mostly British Film Festival continues through the week.

Berkeley’s Movie Theaters – the Lost and the Found, Berkeley Historical Society, Sunday, 2:00, free. Author Dave (It Came from Berkeley) Weinstein will discuss the history of Berkeley’s movie-going habits, including the birth of repertory cinema. Weinstein will also discuss old theaters and efforts to preserve them. The fact that I’ll be out of town Sunday has me kicking myself.

A- Beasts of the Southern Wild, Embarcadero, opens Friday. 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.

A Hitchcock Double Bill: Young and Innocent & The Lady Vanishes, Pacific Film Archive, Friday, 7:00. If you walked into The Lady Vanishes without knowing it was directed by Alfred Hitchcock, you’d spend The Lady Vanishes as Screwball Comedynearly half an hour thinking you were watching a very British screwball comedy. Then a nice old lady disappears on a moving train, and everyone denies that she was there. Now it feels like Hitchcock! Of his work, only North by Northwest is more entertaining. Read my Blu-ray review. Hitchcock made Young and Innocent just before The Lady Vanishes, but aside from one great tracking shot, it feels like the new Master of Suspense just going through the motions. Each film requires separate admission, although you’ll get a discount if you buy tickets for both. Part of the PFA’s big series, Alfred Hitchcock: The Shape of Suspense.

A- The Princess Bride, Clay, Saturday and Sunday, midnight. 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.

B+ The Law In These Parts, Roxie, opens Friday. Dense and filled with legalese  (which usually makes my eyes glaze over), this Israeli documentary isn’t easy to follow. But if you give it your all, it becomes impossible to the_law_in_these_partsturn away. Comprised entirely of interviews with retired military judges who once administered “justice” in the West Bank and Gaza, it examines the legal structure of a temporary military occupation that became permanent. The old men interviewed discuss their legal justifications (excuses, really) for holding people indefinitely without trial, handing Palestinian land over to Israeli settlers, and allowing those settlers to get away with pretty much anything. Director Ra’anan Alexandrowicz asks probing questions that reveal these men’s complicity in oppression. I discuss more on this film at May Day at the SFIFF: A Sobering Documentary and a Boring Swashbuckler.

A+ Singin’ in the Rain, Oakland Paramount, Friday, 8:00. In 1952, the late twenties looked like a fond memory of an innocent time, and nostalgia was a large part of Singin’ in the Rain’s original appeal. The nostalgia is gone now, so we can clearly see this movie for what it is: the greatest musical ever filmed, and perhaps the best work of pure escapist entertainment to ever come out of Hollywood. Consider this: Take out the songs, and you still have one of the best comedies of the 1950′s, and the funniest movie Hollywood ever made about itself. But if you take out the songs, and you take out the best part.

C Rosemary’s Baby, Castro, Sunday. Some things are rosemarysbaby_picscarier than Woody Allen–or Roman Polanski, but this may not be one of them, since Polanski’s first American film barely works. Mia Farrow looks fidgety and nervous as a pregnant wife who slowly begins to suspect that she’s carrying the devil’s spawn, and that everyone she thought she could trust is in on it. Slow enough to let you see what’s coming a mile off, it never quite builds the sense of dread that the material, and the director, were capable of bringing to it. On a Polanski double bill with Tess, which I saw about 30 years ago and–despite my love of long epics with intermissions–found immensely boring.

C+ To Catch a Thief, Kabuki and various CineMark Theaters, Wednesday. More like a vacation on the Riviera than the tight and scary thriller one expects from the master of suspense. Not one of his best work by a long shot, To Catch a Thief nevertheless provides a few good scenes and sufficient fun. Besides, 106 minutes of Cary Grant and Grace Kelly in Monaco, photographed in the beauty of VistaVision, can’t be all bad.