What’s Screening: February 8 – 14

In festival news, IndieFest continues through this week and beyond.

One other quick note: I haven’t yet visited the New Parkway, but I hope to. But I really wish they’d play classic films at a convenient hour for older cinephiles.

A+ Fantastic Double Bill: Samsara & Ikiru, Castro, Monday. The A+ goes to Ikiru, one of Akira Kurosawa’s best, and one of the greatest serious dramas ever put up on ikiruthe screen. Takashi Shimura gives his greatest performance as an aging government bureaucrat dying of cancer. Emotionally cut off from his family–including the son and daughter-in-law that live with him–he struggles to find some meaning for his life before he dies. A deep and moving meditation on mortality and what it means to be human, Ikiru manages to be deeply spiritual without ever mentioning God or religion. Kurosawa followed Ikiru with Seven Samurai, a very different and even better masterpiece, and one where Shimura got to play an action hero. Read my Kurosawa Diary entry. I discuss Samsara below.

A Samsara, Castro, Tuesday (also Monday with Ikiru). 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 with today’s digital cameras or with standard 35mm film. The filmmakers have stated that Samsara is best seen in 4K digital projection, a format that the Castro doesn’t support. See my full review as well as More on Samsara, 70mm, and 4K Digital Projection. On a double bill Monday with Ikiru (see above) and Tuesday with the 1984 version of The Razor’s Edge, which I haven’t seen.

A Stop Making Sense, New Parkway, Friday and Saturday, 11:55. Jonathan Demme and the Talking Heads realized that a concert film doesn’t have to be a documentary. They barely show us the audience and never the backstage in this lively film; just the performance (actually compiled from three different concerts). But what an amazing piece of rock and roll performance art they provide! Strange dance moves, great riffs, puzzling and possibly profound lyrics, and a very big suit, all backed by a beat that turns Stop Making Sense into the most danceable motion picture ever to receive a theatrical release.

B Saboteur, Pacific Film Archive, Friday, 9:00. Evil, foreign spies commit a horrible crime. An innocent man is blamed for the dastardly deed. Now he must run from the imagelaw while chasing (and sometimes running from) the villains. Hitchcock told that story three times, and while Saboteur is the weakest of the three, it’s still an entertaining thriller. Robert Cummings makes an acceptable for unexceptional victim/hero–a factory worker blamed for the sabotage that killed his best friend. Tight, effective, and entertaining, with patches of wonderful humor (Dorothy Parker worked on the screenplay), Saboteur is competent but not brilliant Hitchcock. And in case you ask, the other two movies with the same basic story are The 39 Steps and North by Northwest. Part of the series Alfred Hitchcock: The Shape of Suspense.

A- The Public Enemy, New Parkway, Friday and Saturday, 9:30. Not quite the best of imagethe early pre-code gangster epics (Scarface outdoes it), but the one with the best lead performance. James Cagney lights the screen on fire as a violent thug with a little bit of heart (a very little bit) and—because he’s Cagney—the grace of a tiger. Once Public Enemy hit theaters, neither Cagney’s career not grapefruit at breakfast would ever be the same.

A Hitchcock Double Bill: The Lady Vanishes & The 39 Steps, Stanford, Thursday (and continuing through next weekend). 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. Although The 39 Steps is the lesser of these two, it’s very well-made and an important step in Hitchcock’s transition to the Master of Suspense. The basic story, which he’d repeat twice again, involves an every man (Robert Donat) chased both by evil foreign spies and the police, who blame him for a crime committed by the spies.

B The Host, New Parkway, Sunday, 8:30; Monday, 10:00. A barely-functional family fights an uncaring government and a giant mutant carnivore, and it’s hard to say which is the scarier threat. I didn’t find this quite the masterpiece others saw–the political points are obvious, the third act gets confusing, and the big finale fails to satisfy. But director/co-writer Joon-ho Bong succeeds where it counts: He makes you care about the characters and scares you out of your seat. Much of the credit goes to the talented computer animators at San Francisco’s own The Orphanage, who brought the monster to life. These screenings launch Oppa Oakland Style, a series of Korean movies. Sunday’s event will include an opening night party at 8:30, followed by the movie at 10:00.

70’s Double Bill: Nashville & The Deer Hunter, Castro, Sunday. I haven’t seen either of these films recently imageenough to grade them, but I strongly suspect I would give Nashville an A. Smart, funny, realistic, and surprising, it set the standard for many other Robert Altman films that followed. Nashville follows multiple characters, all involved, in one way or another, with the country western music scene and the titular city. It’s been longer since I’ve seen The Deer Hunter, and I remember being impressed with the acting and cinematography, but not the script, which rang false.