What’s Screening: June 20 – 26

Frameline, San Francisco’s LGBT film festival, continues through the week. I’ve placed two Frameline screenings at the bottom of this newsletter.

C+ Manakamana, Lark, Friday, 3:30; Sunday, 6:00. The setting: a cable car that transports people to a Hindu temple high in the Nepalese mountains. Filmmakers Stephanie Spray and Pacho Velez set their camera in one seat and film the people across from them, as well as the passing scenery. The camera doesn’t move and each 8-minute ride is shown without cuts. The scenery is beautiful at first, but loses its luster as it’s repeated. The passengers, who clearly were told not to look at or acknowledge the camera and filmmakers, are sometimes boring and sometimes interesting. Despite the bright spots, I soon found myself disappointed as each new trip began; it meant the movie wasn’t over. Read my full review.

B Walking the Camino, Lark, Friday, Sunday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. For centuries, religious Christians have walked the Camino de Santiago–a 800km imagepilgrimage across northern Spain. Today, spiritual seekers of all kinds, as well as those just looking for adventure, take the arduous route. This documentary follows a handful of walkers, each going for their own reasons and finding, if not what they were looking for, than at least something worth knowing. The film is pleasant, and provides a sense of what the journey might be like (obviously, no film can recreate the actual experience). Warning: You’re likely to come out of the theater ready to make the journey yourself.

A+ The Godfather, various CineMark Theaters, Sunday and Wednesday, 2:00. Francis Coppola, taking the job simply because he needed the money, turned imageMario Puzo’s potboiler into the Great American Crime Epic. Marlon Brando may have top billing, but Al Pacino owns the film (and became a star) as Michael Corleone, the respectable youngest son inevitably and reluctantly pulled into a life of crime he doesn’t want but for which he seems exceptionally well-suited. A masterpiece of character, atmosphere, and heart-stopping violence, recently restored by the master of the craft, Robert A. Harris. Separate admission for Godfather I & II.

A+ The Godfather, Part IIvarious CineMark Theaters, Sunday and Wednesday, 7:00. By juxtaposing the material rise of Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando in the first film, imagea young Robert De Niro here) with the moral fall of his son Michael (Al Pacino again), Mario Puzo and Francis Coppola show us the long-term effects of what seemed like a good idea at the time. De Niro plays young Vito as a loving family man who cares only for his wife and children, and turns to crime to better support them. But in Michael–consolidating his empire some thirty years later–we see the ultimate disastrous effects of that decision. Pacino plays him as a tragic monster who senses his own emptiness.

B+ The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Lark, opens Friday. This big, splashy, fun, CGI-heavy action flick has a small, character-driven independent art film hidden inside. Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) is a teenager in imagecrisis. His parents deserted him when he was young.  His girlfriend is about to desert him. A now-powerful old friend is putting him in a moral dilemma . The widowed aunt who’s raising him (Sally Field) can barely make ends meet. And because he has superpowers, he feels responsible for stopping all the crime in New York City. The personal story and the big action set pieces merge easily into a single whole. Not as good as the first Spider-Man 2 (yeah, I know that sounds weird), but worth catching. I’ve written more on this one.

A- The Princess Bride, Balboa, Saturday, 10:00am. William Goldman’s enchanting imageand funny fairy tale dances magically along that thin line between parody and the real thing. The then-young and gorgeous Cary Elwes and Robin Wright make a wonderful set of star-crossed lovers, and Mandy Patinkin has a lot of fun as a revenge-filled swashbuckler. There’s no funnier swordfight anywhere, and who can forget cinema’s greatest acronym, ROUS (rodents of unusual size). On the other hand, some of the big-name cameos really grate on your nerves.

B+ Palo Alto, Lark, Sunday and Tuesday, 8:30. Based on a collection of short stories by James Franco (who also imageacts in the film), Palo Alto exams a handful of teenagers reaching an emotional 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.

C+ Serenity, New Parkway, Friday, 10:30. Ever hear of a science fiction TV series called Firefly? Like many superb, original shows imagethat somehow made it onto a weekly network schedule, Firefly failed to find an audience and soon died. This big-screen spin-off is a gift from the series’ creators to the handful of people who saw the show and wanted more. And while it’s nice to see all of the characters again, its attempt to close the story is a bit of a let-down. So if you haven’t seen Firefly, skip the movie and see the show; it’s streaming on Netflix.

C- Last Year at Marienbad, Pacific Film Archive, Friday, 8:50. Slow and pretentious, Alain Resnais’  Very Important European Art Film of the early 1960s gives you almost no information about the people onscreen (I hesitate to call them characters) and no reason whatsoever to care if they live or die. But the film is visually striking and technically dazzling, and if you’re willing to meet it halfway, it has a certain hypnotic charm. Too bad it refuses to meet you halfway. See my essay.

A+ Casablanca,Lark, Sunday, 3:30. What can I say? You’ve either already casablancaseen the best film to come out of the classic Hollywood studio system, or you know you should. Let me just add that no one who worked on Casablanca thought they were making a masterpiece; it was just another sausage coming off the Warner assembly line. But somehow, just this once, everything came together perfectly. For more details, see Casablanca: The Accidental Masterpiece.


A- Bad Hair, Roxie, Saturday, 1:30. Ten-year-old Junior (Samuel Lange) bewilders, confuses, and worries his widowed mother (Samantha Castillo). Not only is he imagemischievous and occasionally thoughtless–hardly surprising for a boy that age. He obsessively hates his curly hair, does everything he can to straighten it, and behaves in ways that don’t measure up to his mother’s ideas about masculinity. Meanwhile, Mom–horrified that she may have a gay son–struggles to get her job back and make ends meet with little or no money. Both Lange and Castillo give great performances in this unique drama about poverty, race, and homophobia.

Boys Don’t Cry, Castro, Thursday, 11:00am. I haven’t seen Kimberly Peirce’s ripped-from-the-headlines tragedy since it was new, so I’m not going to give it an official imagegrade. But if I did, it would almost certainly be an A. Hilary Swank, in a breakout role, plays a transgender man who comes to a small town hiding the fact that he was born–and is still biologically–a woman. He finds romance with a beautiful blonde (Chloë Sevigny), but as his secret seeps out, his life and the lives of those near him become endangered. I do remember this: Boys Don’t Cry has the most suspenseful sex scene I’ve ever seen; and the suspense made it all the more erotic.