What’s Screening: July 26 – August 1

The San Francisco Jewish Film Festival continues through the week. The Brainwash Movie Festival reopens for tonight and Saturday night. And the Japan Film Festival opens Saturday and runs through to next week.

As usual, I’ve placed festival events at the bottom of the newsletter. But first, a re-evaluation of a film that I returned to and decided I like a whole lot better than I remembered:

B+ Dial M for Murder, Rafael, Sunday, 4:15 & 7:00.  Presented in 3D. Yes, I used to give this a C+, but I revisited it last night and just upped the grade. Dial M isn’t great Hitchcock; several overly-imagetalkie sequences make it feel like the stage play it was based on. But it was a good play, and Hitchcock knew how to enliven it. One man blackmails another into committing murder, with results that I can’t possibly discuss. This is the only 3D movie of the 1950s by a major auteur. Forced by the studio 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. I’ll post a longer discussion about the film later today.

B- Computer Chess, Opera Plaza, Shattuck, opens Friday. This reasonably funny mockumentary follows a computer chess tournament in 1980.imageAssorted geeks and nerds (including one “lady”) show up at a hotel to test their hardware and software’s chess skills. The winning algorithm will then face an actual human chess master. To add color, a bizarre new-age group has its own gathering at the same hotel. The whole thing is shot in standard-def black-and-white; it looks awful but that’s the point. The jokes range from the clever to the obvious, and I have to admit that most of the audience I saw it with laughed more than I did.

B The Black Pirate, Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, Saturday, 7:30. Not Douglas Fairbanks best swashbuckler by a long shot, but still fun. In his only pirate movie, Fairbanks plays a nobleman who joins a band of scurvy buccaneers in order to to take them down in revenge for his father’s death. People mainly remember The Black Pirate for two things. First, there’s one spectacular stunt where Fairbanks slides down a sail with a knife (it was ineptly  recreated in the second Pirates of the Caribbean movie). Second, tis was Fairbank’s only color movie. It’s also one of the first features, and the first really big one, shot entirely in color (specifically two-color Technicolor). With accompaniment by Jon Mirsalis on the Kurzweil.

Behind the Scenes: Film Critics Dave Kehr & Michael Fox in Conversation, followed by Wild Girl, Pacific Film Archive, Thursday, 7:00. Kehr and Fox will discuss writing about classic films for a wide audience. The talk will be followed by a screening of Raoul Walsh’s 1932 Wild Girl, which I’m not familiar with. Part of the series A Call to Action: The Films of Raoul Walsh.

B+ The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Pacific Film Archive, Saturday, 8:30. When we think French New Wave, we imagine gritty, black-and-white stories filled with angst and alienation. Yet Jacques Demy, shooting a completely believable story in real locations, created a lush, colorful and sublimely romantic musical. A movie like few others, with an astonishingly young and beautiful Catherine Deneuve (as opposed to the astonishingly well-aged and beautiful Catherine Deneuve of today). Part of the series Tales of Love: The Enchanted World of Jacques Demy.

B+ Fight Club, New Parkway, Thursday, 9:15. 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.

B+ American Graffiti, various CineMark Theaters, Sunday, 2:00, Wednesday, 2:00 & 7:00; Kabuki, Wednesday. . A long time ago, in a Bayimage Area that feels very far away, George Lucas made an entertaining (and extremely profitable) movie without action, a big budget, or special effects. Talk about nostalgia. You can also talk about old-time rock ‘n’ roll–American Graffiti makes great use of early 60s music in one of the most effective and creative sound mixes of the ’70s.

A+ Taxi Driver, UA Berkeley, Thursday, 9:00. When I think of the 1970s astaxidriver1 a golden age of Hollywood-financed serious cinema, I think of Robert De Niro walking the dark, mean streets of New York, slowly turning into a psychopath. Writer Paul Schrader and director Martin Scorsese put together this near-perfect study of loneliness as a disease. It isn’t that De Niro’s character hasn’t found the right companion, or society has failed him, or that he doesn’t understand intimacy. His problems stem from the fact that he’s mentally incapable of relating to other human beings. This is a sad and pathetic man, with a rage that will inevitably turn violent. For more about Taxi Driver, see my Blu-ray reviewNote: I corrected this blurb, changing a typo that left this masterpiece with a C+ grade.

San Francisco Jewish Film Festival

B+ The Trials of Muhammad Ali, Castro, Sunday, 7:15. A well-made documentary about a great subject, The Trials of Muhammad Ali looks at a man who is arguably the most important athlete of the last 50 years. At the age of 22, with very little experience, Cassius Clay became the heavyweight champion of imagethe world. A devout member of the Nation of Islam, he changed his name to Muhammad Ali, took on controversy, and risked both jail and a destroyed career for resisting the draft (“No Viet Cong ever called me a nigger”). Eventually, he would return to the ring and more triumphs. Director Bill Siegel (whose name is the only Jewish thing about the movie) has made a competent and conventional documentary, but Ali’s story and charisma makes it a very moving and exciting tale.

Arab Labor: Season 4, Castro, Saturday, 5:05. What does it mean to be an Israeli citizen and an Arab–not particularly political or religious–just an average guy trying to arablaborget on in the country of his birth, where he’s treated as an alien? This Israeli sitcom explores that question in ways both insightful and hilarious. I loved Season 1 (the only season the Festival has shown in its entirety). I also loved what I saw of Season 2. But the three episodes from Season 3 shown last year disappointed me. I haven’t seen the Season 4 episodes screening this week.