What’s Screening: September 5 – 11

The drought is over! At least, the film festival draught. CAAMFest San Jose opens today and runs through Sunday. And the California Independent Film Festival opens Thursday.

A Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan, New Parkway, Saturday, 3:00. The most-loved Star Trek movie gives us everything that its predecessor failed to deliver: an excitingimage and entertaining adventure starring the seven actors and characters that we learned to love from the original TV show.–and a chance to let several of those actors shine. Ricardo Montalban reprises his supervillian Khan from one first-season episode. This has almost everything you would want in a Star Trek movie.

A Dog Day Afternoon, Castro, Thursday. Two incompetent robbers (Al Pacino and John Cazale, both fresh from Godfather II) try to hold up a bank and find themselves in a hostage situation in one those rare comedies based on an actual news story. dogdayaftPacino’s character, the brains behind the plot, is a basically nice guy who wants to help everyone. That’s a real problem when you’re threatening to kill innocent bystanders. He only wants the money to pay for his boyfriend’s sex change operation. But Cazale’s character is slow, dumb, and potentially violent. The result is touching, tragic, and very funny. On a double bill with The Dog.

B+ East of Eden, Pacific Film Archive, Friday, 8:50. Most people remember this John Steinbeck adaptation as the movie that brought us James Dean. That seems imagereasonable. Dean electrifies the screen as an alienated teenager at odds with his strict and religious father and his ever-so-upright younger brother. An updating of the Cain and Abel story set in early 20th-century rural California, Eden occasionally steers towards the over-dramatic, but for the most part it’s an effective story of a generation gap made a decade before that term was coined. Dean became a star instantly after this film’s release. Five months later, with two other films in the can, he was dead. Part of the series James Dean, Restored Classics from Warner Bros.

A Bringing Up Baby, Cerrito, Thursday, 7:00. How does one define a screwball comedy? You could say it’s a romantic comedy with glamorous movie starsbringing_up_baby behaving like broad, slapstick comedians. You could point out that screwballs are usually set amongst the excessively wealthy, and often explore class barriers. Or you could simply show Howard Hawks’ Bringing Up Baby,a frivolous and hilarious tale about a mild-mannered paleontologist (Cary Grant), a ditzy heiress (Katharine Hepburn), and a tame leopard (a tame leopard).

B The Hundred-Foot Journey, Balboa, opens Friday. An Indian family in a small French town set up an eatery across the street from a famous and highly-regarded imageFrench restaurant, and the battle of cultures begins. The first half is a lot of fun, but the main conflict is settled–not very believably–way too soon. Then you spend too much time watching everyone be happy while waiting for two separate couples to realize that they’re in love. But I have to give kudos to cinematographer Linus Sandgren; this is the best photographed new film I’ve seen in a long time.

B+ Under African Skies, Balboa, Thursday, 7:30. You can find plenty of political music documentaries, but few that examine both sides of a difficult controversy. This doc, which covers the making of Paul Simon’s hit album Graceland and the controversy over Simon’s breaking Under_African_Skiesthe South African cultural boycott of the time, is the exception. Structured around a friendly 2011 chat between Simon and Artists Against Apartheid Founder Dali Tambo, it asks whether it was right for Simon to have recorded music in South Africa when he did, and doesn’t come down with an easy answer. Despite a few brief scenes of jam sessions, it left me wishing they had included more concert footage; you seldom get to hear a song from beginning to end.

B+ Bridge On the River Kwai, Rafael, Sunday. The longer it’s been since you’ve seen David Lean’s World War II adventure, the better it gets in your  memory. That’s because the brilliant story of an over-proud British bridgeriverkwaiPOW whose actions become arguably treasonable (Alec Guinness) sticks in the mind. But to see the actual movie again is to be reminded that Guinness’ tale is just a subplot (the actor received third billing). The bulk of Kwai is a very well made but conventional action movie with some uncomfortably Hollywoodish elements. Remember the Burmese porters who all just happen to all be beautiful young women? Read my Blu-ray review. Part of the series, Alec Guinness at 100.

B Fantastic Mr. Fox, Balboa, Saturday, 10:00am. There’s a cartoon-like quality to a lot of Wes Anderson’s work, so it isn’t surprising that imagehe would eventually try his hand at animation. Based on a story by Roald Dahl, Fantastic follows the adventures of a very sophisticated but not altogether competent fox (voiced by George Clooney) as he tries to outwit a farmer and keep his marriage together. Children and adults will find different reasons to enjoy this frantically-paced comic adventure.

A A Hard Day’s Night, New Parkway, Friday, 10:30. When United Artists agreed to finance a movie around a British rock group, they wanted something fast and cheap. After all, the band’s popularity was limited to England and Germany, andimage could likely die before the film got into theaters. We all know now that UA had nothing to worry about. The Beatles still have a following. And Richard Lester’s A Hard Day’s Night still burns with outrageous camerawork and editing, subversive humor, and a sense of joy in life and especially in rock and roll.

A Chinatown, UA Berkeley, Thursday, 9:00. Roman Polanski may be a rapist, but you chinatowncan’t deny his talent as a filmmaker (which doesn’t excuse his actions as a human being). And that talent was never better than when he made this neo-noir tale of intrigue and double-crosses set in Los Angeles in the 1930s. Writer Robert Towne fictionalized an actual scandal involving southern California water rights, mixed in a few personal scandals, and handed the whole story over to Polanski, who turned the script into the perfect LA period piece.

A+ Paths of Glory, Pacific Film Archive, Saturday, 6:30. It’s not enough to show that war is hell. A great war movie should also show that poor men go through that hell for the benefit of richer, more powerful men. Perhaps that’s why World War I, so obviouslyimage pointless, has inspired more great films than any other war. Stanley Kubrick’s addition to the cannon is one of the best. When an impossible mission inevitably fails, the officers who planned it arrange for three enlisted men to be tried for cowardice, convicted, and executed–it’s easier than admitting their mistake. Kirk Douglas–in the first performance by a major star in a Kubrick film–plays the honorable officer who tilts at the windmills of corrupted military justice. Another part of the series Eyes Wide: The Films of Stanley Kubrick.