What’s Screening: March 14 – 20

What’s going on in Bay Area film festivals? Cinequest ends its 2014 run on Sunday. And CAMMFest (formerly the Asian-American Film Festival) continues through the week and beyond.

Here are some interesting films screening around the bay.

B+ Eat Drink Man Woman, New People Cinema, Monday, 6:20. Ang Lee’s third feature and second art house hit examines how a loving family turns into an empty imagenest as the children spread their wings. The widowed family patriarch, a master professional chef, expresses his love for his three daughters by cooking elaborate and delicious meals. But his daughters have their own careers and romantic entanglements, and they’re slowly pulling away from their father. A poignant, funny, and loving look at how one particular family goes through a transition that all experience. Part of CAMMFest.

A+ Grapes of Wrath, various CineMark theaters, Sunday (2:00 matinee only) and Wednesday. No one associates serious social criticism with classic, studio-era  Hollywood. Yet this 20th Century-Fox production of John imageSteinbeck’s flip side of the California dream pulls few punches. As the desperately-poor Joad family moves from Oklahoma to California in their rickety truck, only to find poverty, bigotry, and exploitation, the picture shows us an America where mere survival is a victory and revolution a logical reaction. John Ford directed producer Nunnally Johnson’s screenplay, but a lot of credit must go to studio head Darryl Zanuck for the courage to make a film that exposes the ugly underbelly of American capitalism.

A Shrek, New Parkway, Friday, 4:00; Saturday, 12:20, Sunday, 12:30. Enough bad sequels can make us forget how much we loved the original, and in the case of Shrek, the original was imagevery lovable indeed. This story of an ogre on a reluctant quest to save a princess turns both traditional fairy tales and their Disneyfied adaptations inside out. The evil prince’s castle looks like Disneyland, familiar characters make odd cameos, and that old song “Have You Seen the Muffin Man” gets turned into a scene from Gitmo. But it isn’t all just for laughs. In the third act, it rips apart one of the worst lessons that children can pick from these old stories, providing a happy ending that neither Grimm nor Disney could have imagined. The computer animation–ahead of the curve in 2001–still impresses today.

A Mary Poppins, Oakland Paramount, Friday, 8:00.The best live-action movie Walt marypoppinsDisney ever made is, not surprisingly, one of the great all-time children’s pictures. Julie Andrews may have won the Oscar through a sympathy vote, but she really lights up the screen in her first movie appearance, managing to upstage Dick Van Dyke and some wonderful special effects. So what if it takes liberties with the books?

B The Fifth Element, New Parkway, Tuesday, 9:00. This big, fun, special effects-laden science  fantasy adventure refuses to take itself seriously. It never manages to fifthelementbe 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. Chris Noessel of Make It So will be on hand to introduce the movie.

A+ Classic 40s double bill: Double Indemnity & Casablanca, Stanford, Friday through Thursday. The A+ goes Casablanca. No one who worked on this movie thoughtcasablanca they were making a masterpiece; it was just another sausage coming off the Warner assembly line. But somehow, this time, everything came together perfectly. For more details, see Casablanca: The Accidental Masterpiece. On its own, Double Indemnity would still receive an A. Rich and evil housewife Barbara Stanwyck leads insurance salesman Fred MacMurray from adultery to murder. Not that she has much trouble doing it; this is not the wholesome MacMurray of “My Three Sons”. A good, gritty thriller about sex (or the code-era equivalent) and betrayal.

A+ Rear Window, UA Berkeley, Thursday, 9:00. Alfred Hitchcock at his absolute best. James Stewart is riveting as a news photographer temporarily confined to his apartment and a wheelchair, amusing himself by spying on his neighbors (none of whom he knows) and guessing at the details of their lives. Then he begins to suspect that one of them committed murder. As he and his girlfriend (Grace Kelly) begin to investigate, it slowly dawns on us (but not them) that they’re getting into some pretty dangerous territory. Hitchcock uses this story to examine voyeurism, urban alienation, and the institution of marriage, as well as to treat his audience to a great entertainment.

 A- Science fiction double bill: Gravity in 3D and Silent Running, Castro, Monday, 7:00. In 1968, 2001: A Space Odyssey made me want to be an astronaut. In 2013, Gravity (which wins this double bill its A-) cleared any such desire that still lingered. Easily the most imagetechnically realistic view of space travel ever created on Earth, Gravity not only makes you feel like you’re there; it makes you desperately want to return home. On its own, I’d give Silent Running a B. I loved this movie when it was new (my stepfather worked on it), but today it feels somewhat preachy and heavy-handed. On the good side, the special effects make nice eye candy, the robots clearly influenced R2D2, Bruce Dern gives a good performance in a nearly one-man show, and it’s heart is in the right place.

A The Wolf of Wall Street, New Parkway, opens Friday. In this based-on-a-true-story epic, his best film since Goodfellas,Martin Scorsese takes us into a glamorous world and makes it look ugly and imagedegenerate. Leonardo DiCaprio brings energy, charisma, recklessness, and charming evil to the lead role of a crooked stockbroker swimming in very profitable larceny. He’s also swimming in drugs and whores. Funny and grotesque, Wolf occasionally tricks you into rooting for DiCaprio’s Jordan Belfort, but not for long. Everything in this fast-paced, three-hour film just fits perfectly. People will talk about the Popeye sequence for years to come.

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.