What’s Screening: July 18 – 24

Plenty of film festivals in the air–and two of them are in Oakland. The Matatu Film Festival continues through Saturday. The Brainwash Drive-In/Bike-In/Walk-In Movie festival plays Friday and Saturday and again next weekend. The Japan Film Festival of San Francisco opens Saturday and plays through this weekend and beyond. And the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival opens Thursday.

And now this:

A Boyhood, Embarcadero, Kabuki, opens Friday. Fifty years from now, people will still watch Richard Linklater’s intimate epic. Shot off and on over a period of 12 years, Boyhood imageallows us to watch young Mason and his family grow up. It isn’t an easy childhood. His parents are divorced, neither of them have much money, Dad is immature and Mom has bad taste in men. But Boyhood avoids the sort of horrible situations that drive most narrative films, and it’s all the better for that. By using the same actors over such a long period of time, Linklater creates a far more realistic picture than could be done with aging makeup or switching from a child actor to an adult one. Read my full review. Writer/director Richard Linklater in person at the Friday, 7:00 show.

B+ Godzilla (original 1954 version), Pacific Film Archive, Friday, 8:55. We associate the name Godzilla with trash, so it’s surprising to realize that the original imageJapanese monster movie–before English dubbing and Raymond Burr–was actually a pretty good picture. Made in a country with recent memories of horrific bombings and destroyed cities, it presents the emotions of mass terror more vividly than Hollywood’s giant monster movies of the same decade. The cast includes Kurosawa regular Takashi Shimura.

B- The Landlord, Castro, Tuesday. Beau Bridges plays a spoiled rich kid who buys an apartment house in a Brooklyn ghetto with the intention of evicting the residents. imageInstead, he becomes involved with their lives. The scenes with Bridges’ rich family play as broad, exaggerated farce, while Pearl Bailey does another stereotype as the wise, ethnic mother figure.  In the end, you get a lot of good scenes and a few near great ones, but it never jells into a single work. First-time director Hal Ashby had greater work ahead of him. On a double bill with Pennies from Heaven, which I’ve never seen.

A Galaxy Quest, Pacific Film Archive, Sunday, 6:00. There’s no better way to parody a well-known genre than to write characters who are familiar with the genre and find themselves living what imagethey thought was fiction. And few movies do this better than Galaxy Quest. The cast of a long-cancelled sci-fi TV show with a fanatical following (think Star Trek) find themselves on a real space adventure with good and bad aliens. Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, and Alan Rickman star. The funniest film of 1999–one of the best years for comedy in recent decades. Part of the series Rude Awakening: American Comedy, 1990–2010.

A- Life Itself, Guild Theatre, opens Friday. This totally biased, yet entertaining and informative documentary Siskel and Ebert in the early daysexamines the life and death of Roger Ebert–the brilliant writer, passionate cinephile, and overweight alcoholic who became the first film critic to win a Pulitzer Prize, and then the most influential film critic of all time. But be prepared. This film spends a lot of time looking at a man without a jaw. It’s pretty disturbing at first, but Ebert’s upbeat and joking personality helps you adjust. And, of course, there’s a lot about movies, as well. Read my full review.

A Double Indemnity, Castro, Wednesday. Rich but unhappy (and evil) housewife Barbara Stanwyck leads insurance salesman Fred MacMurray by the nose from adultery to murder in Billy Wilder’s near-perfect imagethriller. Not that she has any trouble leading him (this is not the wholesome MacMurray we remember from My Three Sons).  Edward G. Robinson is in fine form as the co-worker and close friend that MacMurray must deceive. A good, gritty thriller about sex (or the code-era equivalent) and betrayal, Double Indemnity can reasonably be called the first true film noir. On a double bill with The Postman Always Rings Twice, which I haven’t seen in a very long time but remember fondly.

C The Wild Bunch, Castro, Sunday. Sometimes I think I’m the only male, heterosexual cinephile who doesn’t love The Wild Bunch. I don’t object to violence in imagemovies. I even love The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, which also presents violent, amoral protagonists and asks us to root for them. But unlike Sergio Leone’s masterpiece, The Wild Bunch takes itself seriously and even indulges in sentimentality. It’s one thing to vicariously enjoy fictional characters with few if any scruples; it’s another to get all weepy about them. On a double bill with The Long Riders, a film about Jesse James and his family that I saw long ago and remember liking reasonably well.

B Belle, Lark, opens Friday. Yes, it feels very much like a Jane Austen movie, except that it’s based on a true story rather than a novel, is set a couple ofimage generations earlier, and deals with race. Dido Elizabeth Belle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) is the daughter of a 18th-century British nobleman and an African slave. She’s raised by her loving uncle and aunt (the always wonderful Tom Wilkinson and Emily Watson), almost as an equal. Most of the film concerns itself with the question of how to marry off a proper young lady of wealth and high birth who lacks the right skin color. As you’d expect, it’s all very well acted against beautiful backgrounds.

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 The Sound of Music, Stanford, Friday and Saturday. Many people love it, but I find the biggest money maker of the 1960s lumbering, slow, and dull. Not funny or romantic enough for light entertainment, yet lacking the substance necessary for anything else. And most of the songs give the impression that, by their last collaboration, Roger and Hammerstein had run out of steam. On the other hand, the Todd-AO photography of Alpine landscapes makes this one of the most visually beautiful of Hollywood movies–in a picture-postcard sort of way.

A+ Singin’ in the Rain, Lark, Sunday, 3:30 & Wednesday, 1:00. In 1952, the late twenties seemed like a fond memory of an innocent time, and nostalgia was a imagelarge 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.