What’s Screening: January 23 – 29

We’ve got film festivals:

And we’ve got movies:

A- Two Days, One Night, opens Friday at the Shattuck and other theaters. 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. Read my full review. Error correction: This capsule was left out of the original version of this newsletter.

Excelsior Moveable Movie Palace, Comedy Cookie Jar #1, Art House Gallery in Berkeley, Sunday, 7:30. Excelsior does more than just present silent films. It also attempts to take you back to the days when these moves were new. In their first public presentation, they’ll screen six short comedies that might have been shown in 1929 (although the earliest was actually released in 1923). The stars of the movies include Laurel & Hardy, Charlie Chase, Harry Langdon, and Rudolph Valentino. Yes, I said Rudolph Valentino. Ellen Hoffman will accompany everything on piano. See my article.

Shouting at the Screen with Wyatt Cenac and Donwill with "That Man Bolt", Roxie, imageFriday, 11:00pm. This sounds like something fun for Mystery Science Theater 3000 fans. Rapper Donwill and Daily Show veteran Wyatt Cenac with crack wise at a screening of a largely-forgotten 1973 blaxploitation flick called That Man Bolt. If it wasn’t so late in the evening, I’d probably be there. Part of SF Sketchfest.

B How the West Was Won, various CineMark Theaters, Sunday (matinee only) and Wednesday. Cinerama, a three-lens, three-strip process that projected a huge image onto a deeply-curved screen, was the Imax of the 1950s. Although deeply flawed, its imageimmersive effect was greater than Imax’s. The last and best three-strip Cinerama film tells a multigenerational story that’s simple, hokey fun (and even simpler history). But the real pleasure is in the spectacle, whether it’s a buffalo stampede, a train wreck, or a tracking shot through an old river town. I don’t know if the movie will be screened locally on one of CineMark’s XD screens, but if it is, it will be well worth catching. Otherwise, not so much. I discussed the film in this PC World slideshow.

A Fort Apache, Alameda, Tuesday and Wednesday. Even though it’s told entirely from the white man’s point of view, the first and best film in John Ford’s cavalry trilogy leaves no doubt who the victims were in the western conquest. Very loosely inspired by the Battle of Little Bighorn, it tells the story of a regiment doomed by an incompetent and bigoted commanding officer (Henry Fonda In one of his few unsympathetic parts). This arrogant, by-the-book colonel’s contempt for the Apaches leads to war, and then to disaster. (He doesn’t like the Irish–Ford’s own ethnic group–much, either)., John Wayne plays the open-minded man of reason. Co-starring Monument Valley.

A Alfred Hitchcock double bill: Shadow of a Doubt & Under Capricorn, Stanford, Thursday through next Sunday. The A goes to Hitchcock’s first great American film, Shadow of a Doubt. A serial killer (Joseph Cotton at his most charming) returns to his small-town roots. When his favorite niece (Teresa Wright) begins to suspect that all is not right with her beloved Uncle Charlie, her own life is in danger. Under Capricorn is a reasonably entertaining but unexceptional romantic melodrama set in 19th century Australia. Hitchcock didn’t make many period pieces, and this one shows you why. On its own, I’d give it a B-.

B+ The Imitation Game, Balboa, opens Friday. This very British biopic takes considerable liberties in dramatizing the life of Alan Turing. For instance, he appears to have severe Asperger, when the real Turning had nothing of the sort. But the result imageis an effective, entertaining, and sympathetic tragedy about a man who played important roles in both winning World War II and laying the groundwork for computers, but was hounded to suicide by an intolerant society. Like so many English period pieces, The Imitation Game works primarily as a showcase for actors. Cumberbatch does a variation on his Sherlock Holmes, but he digs deeper here. His emotional struggles are more real. Keira Knightley plays the only woman on his team. See my longer article.

A- Battleship Potemkin, Pacific Film Archive, Wednesday, 3:10. Make no mistake; this ground-breaking movie is brilliant but simplistic Communist propaganda. The workers and sailors are all good comrades working together for a better world. The officers, aristocrats, and Cossacks are vile filth who deserve to die. A couple of them are so evil they actually twirl their mustaches. And yet, the story of mutiny, celebration, attack, and escape stirs your blood. And it does this primarily through editing techniques that were revolutionary in 1925 and still impressive today. More than 85 years after it was shot, the Odessa Steps massacre is still one of the greatest, if not the greatest, action sequence ever edited. Read my essay. Accompanied by Judith Rosenberg on piano. Part of the series and college class, Film 50: History of Cinema.

B+ This is Spinal Tap, New Parkway, Friday, 10:30. The mockumentary to end all rockumentaries. Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, imageand Harry Shearer play the subject of this fake documentary–an English heavy metal band of questionable talent on a disastrous American tour. Director Rob Reiner plays, appropriately enough, the documentary’s director. Uneven, but often brilliantly hilarious, although you need a good grounding in rock music and concert movies to get most of the jokes. On a scale of one to ten, the best scenes rate an eleven.

C+ Interstellar, New Parkway, opens Friday. Christopher Nolan’s space epic tries hard to be another 2001: A Space Odyssey–plot points, individual shots, and at least one character imagecomes straight from Kubrick’s work. But whereas Kubrick explained very little, Nolan fills his picture with badly-written expository dialog. And yet, the movie still confuses audiences. And when it’s not confusing, it’s often dumb. On the other hand, it’s visually stunning, and deserves to be seen on the biggest screen available. It’s often exciting and suspenseful. And for most of its runtime, it carries a strong sense of doom for both the main characters and the human race as a whole.

C But I’m A Cheerleader, Castro, Tuesday, 7:30. This very broad satire of homophobia and gayimage conversion therapy has its heart in the right place, but heavy-handed direction ensures that more jokes miss than hit the funny bone. Even the usually hilarious Cathy Moriarty can seldom provoke laughter here. And when the heroine finally gets a chance to use her cheerleading skills, it’s obvious that star Natasha Lyonne didn’t train enough for the part. Lyonne will be in attendance for the screening, which SF Sketchfest is presenting as a Peaches Christ Experience.

C- Gone with the Wind, Balboa, Thursday, 7:30. I love big historical epics, but the biggest of them all just leaves me flat. First, there’s that blatant white supremacy. I’m used to racism in old movies, and generally just wince. But Gone with the Wind goes beyond that, basing its entire story on the assumption that white masters and black slaves are just the natural order (you can read my in-depth comments). Leaving racial issues aside, the first part is pretty good, but boredom sets in after the intermission. The picture has one thing going for it: It used color far more creatively and effectively than any previous movie. Even if you like GWTW, it’s a very long movie to start at 7:30 on a weeknight.

B+ Alfred Hitchcock double bill: Dial M for Murder & Young and Innocent,Stanford, through Sunday. The B+ goes to Dial M for Murder. Despite the gimmick of 3D, this imageadaptation of a Broadway play feels stagy. But it was a good play, and Hitchcock handled it well.  For more on the film, see Rethinking Dial M for Murder. The Stanford will not be screening the movie in 3D. Alfred Hitchcock made Young and Innocent just before The Lady Vanishes, but aside from one great tracking shot, it feels like the new Master of Suspense was just going through the motions.