No festivals open this week. But DocFest continues through Sunday, while Frameline runs through the week and a bit beyond. I put my Frameline recommendations and warnings at the end of this newsletter.
A A Hijacking, Elmwood, Embarcadero, Rafael, opens Friday. This isn’t your typical, fun, swashbuckling pirate movie. One truly harrowing thriller, A Hijacking puts you on a Danish cargo ship captured and held for ransom by Somali pirates. You experience most of the story through the eyes of the ship’s cook (Pilou Asbæk), a decent fellow and happily-married man who finds himself an expendable pawn in high-level negotiations. The film cuts between the ship and the offices of the company that owns it, where the CEO (Søren Malling) unwisely decides to do the negotiating himself. A work of fiction, A Hijacking feels like the real thing.
A Schindler’s List, various CineMark Theaters, Sunday (matinee only) and Wednesday. Oskar Schindler didn’t come to Nazi-occupied Poland to save Jews, but to exploit them as cheap labor. The story of his slow transition from slaver to hero provides the narrative and moral backbone to Steven Spielberg’s Holocaust epic. Running over three hours, violent, horrifying, and horrified, this is nevertheless a story of redemption, There are moments, especially near the end, that verge on sentimentality, but the overall effect is harrowing and powerful. The proceeds from these screenings will go to the USC Shoah Foundation.
A The Mill and the Cross, Pacific Film Archive, Saturday, June 22. Painting with the wide palette that 21st century cinema allows, Lech Majewski creates a masterwork about Bruegel creating another masterwork, The Way to Calvary. True to Bruegel’s style, the film starts with the day-to-day lives of ordinary, 16th-century peasants. But life isn’t a rustic paradise for these commoners. Flanders is part of the Spanish Empire, and the Inquisition is enforcing Catholicism on the populace. Using nature, paint, and digital effects, Majewski creates not a realistic biopic but a visual feast that moves from the world of Bruegel’s experience into the world of his imagination. Bruegel made his statement about religious intolerance. Majewski made his about Bruegel. Both are worth examination. Read my full review.
B The Graduate, Oakland Paramount, Friday, 8:00. Maybe it’s no longer the breakthrough movie it was in 1967, but The Graduate is still a well-made romantic comedy with serious overtones. And, of course, it gets Bay Area geography all wrong.
B The Fifth Element, New Parkway, Sunday, 9:00. This big, fun, special effects-laden science fantasy adventure refuses to take itself seriously. It never manages to be particularly exciting, but it succeeds in being rousing and funny – intentionally funny – eye candy. It’s also one of the few futuristic movies that’s neither utopian nor dystopian, making it, for all the silliness of the plot, relatively realistic. A Party at the Parkway for patron Karen Cheever’s birthday.
B Donnie Darko, New Parkway, Friday and Saturday, 10:30. How many alienated-teenager-in-suburbia-time-travel-science-fantasy comedies can you name? Okay, there’s Back to the Future and its sequels, but add the adjectives horrific and surreal to that description, and Donnie Darko stands alone. And how many alienated movie teenagers have to deal with a slick self-help guru and a six-foot rabbit named Frank (think Harvey, only vicious). It’s not entirely clear what’s going on in this strange movie, but that just adds to the fun.
B The Campaign, Castro, Sunday, 1:00. By following a handful of organizers and volunteers, this documentary provides a close and intimate look at the unsuccessful campaign to defeat Proposition 8. But aside from some brief historical context, The Campaign avoids looking at the big picture–there’s little discussion of campaign advertising and none about the Pro-8 Mormon and Catholic churches. Yet The Campaign succeeds in involving you in the emotional realities of a political campaign on the ground level.
B- Breaking the Girls, Castro, Saturday, 6:30. This lesbian (or arguably bi-sexual) thriller serves up more plot twists than three good Simpson episodes. Struggling student Sara meets rich, spoiled Alex, and the two become an item. Then, as in Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train, Alex suggests that they "swap murders." The motivations hardly seem credible, and the result is only mildly entertaining. But the story becomes a lot more fun as double and triple crosses enliven in the last act.
D+ Big Gay Love, Victoria Theatre, Saturday, 6:30. This romantic comedy rarely succeeds in being funny. And when it’s not trying to be funny, it succeeds only in heavy-handedly preaching about the need to accept yourself for what you are–overweight, insecure, and socially awkward. It starts well, as Bobby (Jonathan Lisecki) considers buying a house, only to be snubbed by a pair of gay fathers horrified that a single man might move into their quiet suburban neighborhood. But Lisecki way overplays the loser character to the point where he becomes annoying to everyone on screen and off. He dresses poorly, complains constantly, and annoys everyone around him. When smart, sensitive, gorgeous Andy (Nicholas Brendon) falls in love with him, he can’t believe it. (I couldn’t believe it, either.) His insecurities drive the story’s weak plotline. Big Gay Love has two or three good scenes, but the rest of it is painful to watch.