What’s Screening: November 28 – December 4

No festivals this week. But we do have some movies.

B+ The Cranes Are Flying, Pacific Film Archive, Friday, 5:30. War has a nasty way to interfering with true love. This sweet Russian story of young lovers separated by The imageGreat Patriotic War (AKA World War II) never comes off as Soviet propaganda (it was made during Khrushchev’s “thaw”), but as a clear-eyed look at the realities of romance in difficult times. This was one of the first post-Stalin Soviet films to get wide play in the West, where it helped remind at least some moviegoers that the Cold War enemies were just human beings. Part of the PFA’s series, Discovering Georgian Cinema.

B+ Holiday double bill: Christmas in July & Holiday Inn, Stanford, Saturday and Sunday. “If you can’t sleep at night, it’s not the coffee, it’s the bunk.” The B+ goes to Preston Sturges’ Christmas in July, a Christmas in Julycharming yet bitter comedy about the American Dream. Dick Powell stars as a lowly clerk who thinks he has the makings of a brilliant adman. Curiously, Sturges appears to have borrowed some plot points and themes from King Vidor’s very serious masterpiece, The Crowd. On its own, the musical Holiday Inn earns only a C for putting the talents of Fred Astaire, Bing Crosby, and Irving Berlin to only modest use. It has one song that became a standard ("White Christmas"), and a very racist tribute to Abraham Lincoln.

A- A Christmas Story, Alameda, Tuesday and Wednesday. Sweet, sentimental Christmas movies–at least those not authored by Charles Dickens or Frank Capra–make me want to throw up. But writer Jean Shepherd’s look back at the Indiana Christmases of his youth comes with enough laughs and cynicism to make the nostalgia go down easy. A holiday gem for people who love, or hate, the holidays.

B- The Lost World, Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, Saturday, 7:30. Even though it’s over 85 years old, Hollywood’s first big man vs. dinosaur epic isn’t that different from today’s blockbusters. Like them, it uses amazing special effects to prop up what’s otherwise an extremely silly movie. Of course, the silliness is of the 1920s variety–overacting and fake-looking facial hair, and the FX are technically crude by today’s standards. But model animator Willis O’Brien (who would make King King eight years later) infused his dinosaurs with weight and thought, which sells them to the viewer. With Frederick Hodges on the piano. See my earlier report on The Lost World & Dengue Fever.

A Fruitvale Station, New Parkway, Friday, 9:10. Free. The experience of seeing this imageindependent feature is very much like waiting for a time bomb. You watch Oscar Grant (Michael B. Jordan) go through the last day of 2008, knowing that he will be fatally shot by a BART cop in the early hours of the new year. Writer/director Ryan Coogler wisely avoids turning Grant into a saint, but makes us care very much for him. The last moments of the film–not including some documentary footage and the closing credits–will break your heart. Read my longer report.

A Spirited Away, New Parkway, Thursday, 9:30. Hayao Miyazaki’s masterpiece is a beautiful, complex, and occasionally scary tale of a young girl cast into a strange and magical world. The intriguing and imaginative creatures, not to mention the moral dilemmas, are beyond anything that Dorothy ever had to deal with in Oz.. A truly amazing work of animation. I don’t know whether the film will be presented in the original Japanese with subtitles, or if it will be the English dubbed version.

Harold and Maude, Balboa, Tuesday, 7:30. After imageWoodstock, this comedy about a young man and a much older woman is the ultimate cinematic statement of the hippie generation. At least that’s how I remember it. I loved it passionately in the 1970s. But I haven’t seen it in a long time and I’m not sure how well it’s aged.

C Sound of Music, Lark, Friday and Sunday, 1:00; Castro, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Tuesday. Many people love it, but I find the biggest money maker of the 1960s lumbering, slow, and dull. Not funny or romantic enough to be light entertainment, yet lacking the substance to be 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 kind of way. The Castro presentation will be the Sing-Along version, which I have never seen.