What’s Screening: January 9 – 15

Still no film festivals, but that will change next week.

B+ Agnes Varda: From Here To There, Roxie, Friday through Sunday. The concept is simple: Legendary filmmaker Agnès Varda travels the world, visiting old friends imageand making new ones. But this is more than just a five-part, 225-minute home movie. The friends she visits are brilliant artists, and she introduces us to them and their work. And all the while, her impish curiosity and joyful personality shine through. The Roxie will screen different episodes at different times; check the schedule to see how you can see all of them.

A Timbuktu, Rafael, Sunday, 1:00. An armed group of Muslim fanatics have taken over the fabled city and the nearby countryside, banning music, smoking, soccer, and almost everything imageelse. The new rulers at first seem calm and friendly, and reluctant to actually enforce all of these rules. But as the film progresses, the fanatics become less of a joke and more of a mortal threat. Meanwhile, cow herder and loving family man Kidane must face the consequences of his own acts, made worse by the pitiless people running the new government. A beautiful, atmospheric look at a town newly captured by totalitarianism. Part of the series For Your Consideration.

A Sunset Blvd., Pacific Film Archive, Thursday, 7:30. Billy Wilder’s meditation on Hollywood’s  seedy underbelly is the flip side of Singin’ in the Rain (now that would imagemake a great double bill). Norma Desmond is very much Lena Lamont after twenty-two years of denial and depression. And in the role of Norma, Gloria Swanson gives one of the great over-the-top performances in Hollywood history. This is both the PFA’s first screening of 2015, and the opening for the archive’s new series, Ready for His Close-Up: The Films of Billy Wilder.

A+ Rear Window, Castro, Saturday. Alfred Hitchcock at his absolute best. James Stewart is riveting as a news photographer temporarily confined to his apartment and a wheelchair, amusing himself by spying on his neighbors (none of whom he knows) and guessing at the details of their lives. Then he begins to suspect that one of them committed murder. As he and his girlfriend (Grace Kelly) investigate, it slowly dawns on us (but not them) that they’re getting into some pretty dangerous territory. Hitchcock uses this story to examine voyeurism, urban alienation, and the institution of marriage, as well as to treat his audience to a great entertainment. On a double bill with Road Games.

A- Force Majeure, Lark, Sunday, 5:50; Tuesday, 1:00; Wednesday, 12:30. The carefully controlled, not-quite-natural outdoor experience of a fancy ski resort becomes a metaphor for the veneer imageof a troubled marriage in this Swedish drama set in the French alps. When an avalanche threatens his family, Tomas fails to protect them as he should. Soon his wife loses all respect for her husband, and Tomas losses all respect for himself. All this is set within a resort that appears to be just a bit more realistic than Disneyland.  Force Majeure studies courage and fear, and the destructive behavior that can destroy a marriage. But it’s also about the artificial worlds we create for our own enjoyment. See my full review.

A- Two Days, One Night, Rafael, Friday, 7:30. The boss gives his employees a choice: Either Sandra (Marion Cotillard) keeps her job, or everyone else receives a large bonus. Over the weekend, Sandra must visit 16 workers and convince a majority to sacrifice €1,000 for her sake. To make matters worse, Sandra is recovering from severe depression and has become dependent on pills. This latest film from the Dardenne brothers gives us modern capitalism in a nutshell. Workers, who would naturally be allies, are forced to fight over the limited resources available to pay non-management employees. Rather than becoming a political tract, this film feels like a very real situation, where everyone must make a difficult decision that will inevitably result in moral compromise. Another part of the series For Your Consideration.

B Citizenfour, Lark, opens Friday. Laura Poitras’ camera puts us in  the Hong Kong hotel room while imageEdward Snowden tells Glenn Greenwald about the NSA’s horrendous destruction of our privacy. Those four days of interviews make up the film’s centerpiece. Snowden comes off mostly as a self-effacing nerd who understands right from wrong. But the long discussions in the hotel room become visually boring, despite the important and fascinating story at their core. Read my longer essay.

A+ The Godfather, Davies Symphony Hall, Friday and Saturday, 8:00. With live accompaniment of Nino Rota’s score by the  Francisco Symphony Orchestra. 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 reluctantly and inevitably 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. I should mention that I have never seen The Godfather (or any other talkie) with live music accompaniment, and I’m not really sure of the point.

B+ The Shining, Castro, Friday. Stanley Kubrick turned a brilliant novel into a very good movie, and imagesomehow got credited for making a masterpiece. When you come right down to it, The Shining is a basic haunted house story, except instead of a house, the setting is a large resort hotel, closed for the winter, and populated only with the caretaker and his wife and son. Jack Nicholson plays the father, not so much as a man slowly going insane, but as someone halfway there already–a major mistake that hurts the story considerably. Shelley Duvall plays his very suffering wife. Read my Book vs. Movie report. On a double bill with Ingmar Bergman’s Hour of the Wolf, which I haven’t seen.

B+ The Wizard of Oz, various CineMark theaters, Sunday and Wednesday. I don’t really have to tell you about this one, do I? Well, perhaps I have to explain why I’m only giving it 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.

A Boyhood, New Parkway, Sunday, 12:20. The best new film I saw in 2014. 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 and older. It isn’t an easy childhood. His parents are divorced, neither of them has 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 it. 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.

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.