The San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, although no longer in San Francisco, continues to play elsewhere in the Bay Area through Monday. And the day after it closes, the Turkish Film Festival starts its three-day run.
As usual, festival screenings are at the bottom of this newsletter.
B+ Prince Avalanche, Opera Plaza, Shattuck, opens Friday. This meandering, character-driven comedy follows two men painting lines in the middle of a seldom-used country road. Alvin (Paul Rudd) loves the outdoors and solitude, and sees himself as wise and in touch with nature. He also sees his younger partner, Lance (Emile Hirsch), as a hopeless idiot who only wants to party and get laid. They’re sort of related– Lance is Alvin’s girlfriend’s kid brother. The two argue, fight, meet an old trucker, get drunk, and bond. That’s pretty much it. But the scenery, the humor, and the warmth make that enough for a very pleasing entertainment. For more on the film, see SFIFF: A Hijacking and a Working-Class Prince.
A Fritz Lang Double Bill: M & Metropolis, Castro, Sunday. Both of these features deserves an A grade. In the early talkie M, Fritz Lang gives us a Germany sinking into corruption, depression, and paranoia. The paranoia is understandable; someone is murdering little girls and successfully eluding the police. Eventually the underworld must do what the authorities cannot and stop the killer. Peter Lorre became famous as the oddly sympathetic child molester, driven by inner demons to kill again and again. I’m not sure film noir would have ever happened without M. Newly restored. Metropolis, the first important science fiction feature film, still strikes a considerable visual punch. And with the latest restoration, tells a compelling story, as well. For more on the film, read my longer report and my Blu-ray review. This screening will use the recorded score rather than live accompaniment..
White Heat, Pacific Film Archive, Saturday, 8:30. James Cagney returned to the studio that made him famous for one last gangster movie. But this time, instead of a basically decent guy who has made a few mistakes, he got to play a psycho. But at least he loves his mother. Come to think of it, maybe he loves her a little too much. I’m not giving White Heat a grade because it has been years since I saw it. But I remember liking it very, very much. Part of the series A Call to Action: The Films of Raoul Walsh.
A- Apocalypse Now, Castro, Saturday. You can see Francis Coppola’s talent melt away in his Vietnam War epic. Most of Apocalypse Now achieves a powerful, hypnotic, surreal brilliance. A modern updating of Heart of Darkness, it follows an army operative (Martin Sheen) assigned to terminate the command of a rogue officer ("terminate, with extreme prejudice"). He travels with four sailors upriver in a small boat, and the river itself becomes a metaphor for the insanity of this particular war. Then, in the last act, they arrive at their destination, meet Marlon Brando, and the whole movie collapses under its own (and Brando’s) weight. The Castro will screen a new digital restoration of the original cut, which is way better than the longer Apocalypse Now Redux, which I’d probably give only a B-.
A Hava Nagila (The Movie), Rafael, Wednesday & Thursday. This fun and joyful documentary about a fun and joyful song still manages to be informative. The tune was born in Chasidic Eastern Europe, and the happy lyrics were added by an early Zionist–although which early Zionist is a matter of debate. Hava Nagila never lost its Jewish identity, even as it became a major hit for Harry Belafonte and a tune known all around the world. This rare documentary will have you laughing, clapping, and tapping your feet, and give you new appreciation of a tune you’ve heard all of your life. Read my full report.
B+ This is Spinal Tap, Castro, Friday. The mockumentary that put all rockumentaries in their place. Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, and Harry Shearer play the subject of this fake documentary–an English heavy metal band of questionable talent on a disastrous American tour. Director Rob Reiner plays, appropriately enough, the documentary’s director. Uneven, but often brilliantly hilarious, although you need a good grounding in rock music and concert movies to get most of the jokes. On a scale of one to ten, the best scenes rate an eleven. On a double bill with Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which I saw and hated in 1978.
A Much Ado About Nothing,New Parkway, opens Friday. Most of us don’t associate Joss Whedon with Shakespeare, yet he’s done wonders with one of the Bard’s most popular comedies. Set in modern Italy and shot (in black and white) in Whedon’s own LA mansion, it makes the Elizabethan language sound natural as the characters talk about love, marriage, and jealousy. Much Ado has always been a tricky play to stage–screamingly funny in the first half, it glides near the edge of Othello-like tragedy in the second. Whedon finesses these problems in ways that feel effortless, resulting in an exceptional entertainment. Read my full review.
A Double bill: Raging Bull & The King of Marven Gardens, Castro, Wednesday. The A is for Raging Bill. This study of boxer Jake La Motta isn’t an easy film to watch; the experience is not unlike a fierce pummeling, but it’s absolutely worth it. Robert De Niro gives a great physical performance, changing from a taut athlete to a out-of-shape slob, and at no point does he ask for our sympathy–which is primarily reserved for the other people in his life. In brilliant black and white. The King of Marvin Gardens isn’t nearly as impressive, but it’s still pretty good. Jack Nicholson and Bruce Dern play mismatched brothers trying to build a life for themselves in Atlantic City. For more on the film, see America Lost & Found: The BBS Story.
Mystery Science Theater 3000, New Parkway, Friday, 10:30. Regular readers know that I’m a fan of the classic bad-movie-with-commentary TV show, Mystery Science Theater 3000. I have never seen an episode on the big screen with a full audience, but I suspect I’d enjoy it–especially if it’s a really good episode. I hope this will be a good episode, no one is telling us which one will be screened.
B+ The Trials of Muhammad Ali, Rafael, Saturday, 6:00; Grand Lake Theater, Sunday, 4:35. 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 the 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 has made a competent and conventional documentary, but Ali’s story and charisma makes it a very moving and exciting tale. But I don’t see why it’s in a Jewish film festival, since the only thing Jewish about this movie is the director’s name..
Arab Labor: Season 4, Rafael, Saturday, 4:05. What does it mean to be an Israeli citizen and an Arab–not particularly political or religious–just an average guy trying to get 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.
C The Zigzag Kid, Rafael, Monday, 6:10. Days before his bar mitzvah, the son of a great detective and a long-dead mother finds himself on a journey of adventure and personal discovery. His main companion just might be a master criminal. The story is not quite rousing enough to be fine escapist entertainment, and only rarely thoughtful enough to be anything else. A few clever plot twists keep it from being entirely predictable. Innocuous, and mildly charming,a modestly entertaining, The Zigzag Kid is safe for any child old enough to read subtitles.