What’s Screening: May 16 – 22

If you’re looking for dark and depressing entertainment, you might want to visit the Roxie this week. Their noir festival, I Wake Up Dreaming, opens tonight and plays through the week. That’s it for festivals this week.

But here’s what else is going on.

B+ Palo Alto, Kabuki, Embarcadero, California, Guild, Rafael, opens Friday. Based on a collection of short stories by James Franco (who also acts in the film), Palo Alto exams a handful of teenagers reaching an imageemotional boiling point.  Fueled by booze, pot, and raging hormones, they deal poorly with the choices they’re making on their way to adulthood. Drunk driving, random vandalism, inappropriate student-teacher relationships, and other serious mistakes mar these kid’s lives. Yet you really hope they get their acts together. A slick yet compassionate and well-acted drama. Read my full review. Check theater listings to see when director Gia Coppola will be appearing in person.

A Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Castro, Sunday. There’s so much historical importance bound up in this marital drama that you can easily overlook how imagegood it is. Told in almost real time, the picture examines a dysfunctional marriage in crisis, held together by mutual denial. This was the first big-screen adaptation of an Edward Albee play, director Mike Nichols’ first film (his second would be The Graduate), the only good film to come out of the Elizabeth Taylor/Richard Burton marriage, and the first Hollywood film to come out with an age restriction—more than two years before the rating system was established. The film would probably be rated PG-13 today. On a double bill with A Streetcar Named Desire, which I haven’t seen in a very long time.

A+ Sunrise, Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, Saturday, 7:30. Special Museum Fundraising Show. Haunting, romantic, and impressionistic, F. W. Murnau’s first American feature sunriseturns the mundane into the fantastic and the world into a work of art. The plot is simple: A marriage, almost destroyed by another woman, is healed by a day of reconciliation and romance in the big city. But the execution, with its stylized sets, beautiful photography, and talented performers, makes it both touchingly personal and abstractly mythological. Basically a silent film, the 1927 Sunrise was one of the first films released with a soundtrack (music and effects, only).

A Spartacus, various CineMark Theaters, Sunday at 2:00; Wednesday at 2:00 and 7:00.  This very fictionalized version of the famous Roman slave revolt is simply the most powerful, intelligent, and coherent toga epic from the golden age of imagetoga epics And yes, I know that sounds like weak praise, but it isn’t. Stanley Kubrick’s only work as a director-for-hire doesn’t give us the glory of Rome, concentrating instead on the horror, cruelty, and exploitation of an empire. Star and Executive Producer Kirk Douglas gave Dalton Trumbo a well-deserved screen credit, which helped end the blacklist. For more, see Cemeteries and Gladiators and On the Moral Dilemma of Gladiator Movies.

A+ Raiders of the Lost Ark, Castro, Saturday. Steven Spielberg directed it, and the bad guys are Nazis, but it’s as far from Schindler’s List as a great movie can get. But then, it’s great in an entirely different way. imageThere’s absolutely nothing to take seriously in Raiders of the Lost Ark; just entertainment at its purist. The story is fundamentally preposterous, and the hero (Harrison Ford) is no more an archeologist than I am a butterfly. But the energy is so high, the action scenes so brilliantly choreographed and edited, and the whole story told with such enthusiasm and wit, that everything else just doesn’t matter. If you object to mindless, escapist action flicks on principle, don’t see it; otherwise, you probably already love it. On a double bill with Romancing the Stone, which I haven’t seen in decades.

A Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, Balboa, Saturday, 10:00am. An imageeccentric inventor, his long-suffering dog, snooty aristocrats, cute bunnies, and whole lot of clay make up the funniest movie of 2005. I vote for putting this G-rated, claymation extravaganza on a double-bill with that other hilarious British comedy with a killer rabbit, Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

The Bicycle Thief, New Parkway, Thursday, 9:30. imageI haven’t seen Vittorio DeSica’s neo-realism masterpiece in at least 20 years, so I’m officially unqualified to recommend it. But I remember something stunning and moving, and probably relevant to our economically uncertain times. This screening is in honor of National Bike Month; your bike helmet gets you a dollar off admission.

A Milk, Castro, Wednesday. Yep, I’m always a sucker for a historical epic, and it’s such a rare treat to see one set in a time and place where I actually lived. Sprawling but never boring, and inspiring without preaching, Milk tells the story of America’s first openly gay elected official, from his closeted time in New York to his Castro activism, his all-to-brief service in City Hall, and his tragic assassination. I’ve always known that Sean Penn was a great actor; it’s nice to know that he can do “happy” as well as more downbeat emotions. James Franco is also very good in what is basically the "chick" part.

B Young & Beautiful, Magick Lantern, Friday, 5:00 & Saturday, 2:00. François Ozon’s almost unwatchable drama about a 17-year-old girl takes a major turn at the halfway imagepoint, suddenly becoming a good film. In the first half, she goes from virgin to whore without explanation or visible motivation. We watch her have sex with old men and older men, but we can’t figure out why (she doesn’t seem to enjoy it and she doesn’t need the money). Then her mother finds out, conflicts arise, and we begin to understand what’s really going on. It’s a close call, but I’d say that getting to the second half is worth sitting through the first. Read my full review.

C+ Le Week-End, Lark, opens Friday. 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.

B The Big Lebowski, New Parkway, Friday, 10:30. Critics originally panned thisimage Coen Brothers gem as a disappointing follow-up to their previous endeavor,Fargo. Well, it isn’t as good as Fargo, but it’s still one hell of a funny movie. It’s also built quite a cult following;The Big Lebowski has probably played more Bay Area one-night stands in the years I’ve maintained this site than than any other three movies put together.