What’s Screening: July 11 – 17

The Matatu Film Festival opens Wednesday, ending the Bay Area’s mid-summer film festival draught.

A- Ealing Studios/Alec Guinness double bill: The Ladykillers & The Lavender Hill Mob, Castro, Sunday. In the early 1950s, Britain’s Ealing Studios made several droll but wonderful comedies starring Alec Guinness, often about crime. In The Ladykillers,The Lavender Hill Mob probably the darkest Ealing comedy, Guinness leads a gang on a complex heist. But when their sweet, old landlady finds out what they’re doing, it’s either her or them. In The Lavender Hill Mob, Guinness has no experience in crime, yet he gathers a gang together to smuggle gold out of England. Not as dark as The Lady Killers, but funnier. EAch movie would earn an A- on its own.

B+ The Wizard of Oz, Castro, Saturday. No one under 13 admitted. I don’t really have to tell you about this one, do I? Well, perhaps I have to explain why I only give 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 loves. It’s a good, fun movie, but not quite fun enough to earn an A. Preceded by a live parody, The Wizard of Odd,  starring Sharon Needles and Peaches Christ.

B+ François Ozon double bill: Young & Beautiful & Swimming Pool, Castro, Thursday. The B+ goes to Swimming Pool, a stylish and very erotic thriller starring Charlotte Rampling as a mystery writer trying to cure herself of writer’s block by Young & Beautifulspending time at a French villa. But the arrival of a younger woman (Ludivine Sagnier) who just might have committed murder gives her more to write about than she expected. Young & Beautiful earns a straight B, which is pretty impressive considering that the first half–where the 17-year-old protagonist goes from virgin to whore–is almost unwatchable. But the film gets better when her mother finds out, conflicts arise, and we begin to understand what’s really going on. It actually turns into a pretty good film. Read my full review.

A Manhattan, Castro, Tuesday. Made two years after Annie Hall, Manhattan doesn’t quite measure up to Woody Allen’s masterpiece, but it’s still one of his best. A group of New Yorkers fall in and out of love, cheat on their significant others, and try to justify their actions–all in glorious widescreen black and white and accompanied by Gershwin tunes. Read my Blu-ray review. On a double bill with Klute, which I haven’t seen since it was new.

A+ The Godfather, Castro, Wednesday. 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 proves exceptionally well-suited. A masterpiece of character, atmosphere, and heart-stopping violence.

A+ Singin’ in the Rain, Lark, Thursday, 6:00 (also the following Sunday). In 1952, the late twenties seemed like a fond memory of an innocent time, and nostalgia was aimage large part of Singin’ in the Rain’s original appeal. The nostalgia is long gone, so we can clearly see this movie for what it is: the greatest musical ever filmed, and perhaps the best work of pure escapist entertainment to ever come out of Hollywood. Take out the songs, and you still have one of the best comedies of the 1950′s, and the funniest movie Hollywood ever made about itself. But take out the songs, and you take out the best part.

Watership Down, Balboa, Saturday, 10:00am. I haven’t seen this animated parable imagesince it was new in 1978. I don’t remember it very well, but I do remember being very very impressed with this story of wild rabbits setting off to find a new home. I also remember that, for a PG-rated cartoon with fuzzy, talking animals, it really isn’t appropriate for young children.

A Shrek, Lark, Friday through Sunday. 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 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.

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 Big Lebowski, Pacific Film Archive, Wednesday, 7:00. 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. Part of the series Rude Awakening: American Comedy, 1990–2010.