What’s Screening: March 28 – April 3

Yet another identity film festival, Czech That Film (yes, that’s really the festival’s name), runs Sunday through Wednesday. On that same Wednesday, the Sonoma Film Festival opens its own five-day run. And then, on Thursday, the Food & Farm Film Fest opens.

And if you’re not going to a festival, you can check out any of these:

A- La Pointe Courte, Pacific Film Archive, Wednesday, 3:10. Ever admire an artist for their daring, original work, and then discover who they stole it from? I experienced that revelation over and over again while watching Agnès Varda’s first feature–arguably imagethe first film of the French New Wave. Set in a small, somewhat impoverished fishing village, it introduces us to fishermen worried about government health inspectors, a family with the very sick child, a teenage girl with an over-protective father, and young lovers visiting the man’s childhood home. Varda shows an instinct for camera setup that rivals John Ford’s. Read more at Friday Night at the PFA. Part of the class and series Film 50: History of Cinema.

A Sweet Smell of Success, New Parkway, Thursday, 9:15. Burt Lancaster risked his career to produce this exploration of the seamy side of fame. He plays New York gossip columnist J. J. Hunsecker–a truly repellent and imagedespicable person who happily bathes in the adulation and fear of the people around him. Tonight’s main victim: a whinny Broadway press agent  desperate to get his client into Hunsecker’s column(Tony Curtis in a great performance). In addition to everything else, Hunsecker–who’s based loosely on the actual Walter Winchell–has a rather too-close relationship with his kid sister. From a script by Clifford Odets and Ernest (North by Northwest) Lehman.

A+ Some Like It Hot, New Parkway, Sunday, 3:00. The urge to sleep with Marilyn Monroe comes head to head with the urge to keep breathing in Billy Wilder’s comic masterpiece. After witnessing a prohibition-era gangland massacre, two struggling musicians (Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon) hide from the mob by dressing in drag and joining an all-girl orchestra. But can they stay away from Ms. Monroe and her ukulele? There are comedies with higher laugh-to-minute ratios, and others that have more to say about the human condition. But you won’t find a better example of perfect comic construction, brilliantly funny dialog, and spot-on timing. Read my Blu-ray review.

A+ The Third Man, Alameda, Tuesday and Wednesday. Classic film noir with an international flavor. An American pulp novelist (Joseph Cotten) arrives in thirdmanimpoverished, divided post-war Vienna to meet up with an old friend who has promised him a much-needed job. But he soon discovers that the friend is both newly dead and a wanted criminal. Writer Graham Greene and director Carol Reed place an intriguing mystery inside a world so dark and disillusioned that American noir seems tame by comparison. Then, when the movie is two thirds over, Orson Welles comes onscreen to steal everything but the sprocket holes.

A Young Frankenstein, Pacific Film Archive, Friday, 8:50. Once upon a time, Mel Brooks hadyoungfrank talent. And he showed it off beautifully in this sweet-natured, 1974 parody and tribute to the Universal horror films of the 1930′s (specifically the first three Frankenstein movies). Gene Wilder wrote the screenplay and stars as the latest doctor to be stuck with the famous name (which he insists on pronouncing “Fronkenshteen). But blood is fate, and he’s destined to create his own monster. Wilder is supported by some of the funniest actors of the era, including Marty Feldman, Madeline Kahn, Cloris Leachman, and Peter Boyle as the lovable but clumsy creature. Part of the series Jokers Wild: American Comedy, 1960–1989.

B+ The Wizard of Oz, Balboa, Saturday, 10:00am. I don’t really have to tell you about this one, do I? Well, perhaps I have to explain why I’m only giving Oz a B+.Despite its clever songs, lush Technicolor photography, and one great performance (Bert Lahr’s Cowardly Lion), The Wizard of Oz never struck me as the masterpiece that everyone else sees. It’s a good, fun movie, but not quite fun enough to earn an A.

C+ Le Week-End, Magick Lantern, Friday through Sunday. On their 30th anniversary, a very unhappy English couple go to Paris for a weekend. Whether they even hope it will rekindle something seems unlikely.This dark and depressing imagedrama about a marriage in horrible decline has several very good scenes (even some funny ones) and one fully-realized, interesting, and sympathetic lead character. But it suffers from an overly manipulated story and another lead character so despicable as to be unbelievable. The result provides sadness without insight. A lot of talent went into Le Week-End. Very little of it shows. Read my full review.