What’s Screening: March 20 – 26

We’ve got three festivals this week:

A Matt Shepard is a Friend of Mine, Elmwood, opens Friday. If a film makes me cry, it gets an A. This documentary about the imagehorrific, homophobic murder of a young gay man had me all but audibly sobbing. In 1998, Matthew Shepard was savagely beaten, tortured, tied to a fence, and left to die. In telling his story, Director Michele Josue wisely focuses on his friends and–more importantly–his parents. The result is deeply sad, but also inspiring, because you meet so many decent, loving human beings. Read my full review.

C+ Living is Easy with Eyes Closed, Rafael, Roxie, opens Friday. This is a very pleasant picture. For almost two hours, you get to hang out with three very likeable imagepeople who, in their travels together, meet other likeable people (and some who aren’t that nice). The scenery is lovely. In 1966 Spain, a middle-aged Beatles fanatic sets out by car to meet John Lennon, who’s in Spain shooting a movie. On the way, the fan picks up one young teenager and then another, and they become something of a temporary family. The movie is sweet, upbeat, and touching. But that’s about it. Read my full review.

The Great Nickelodeon Show, Vogue, Thursday, 8:00. In the early 20th century, the imagenickelodeons were the first theaters to specialize is showing motion pictures. They screened one-reel shorts and slideshows, added sing-a-longs and live vaudeville, and charged only five cents admission. This recreation of the experience will have shorts from Melies and Griffith, a contortionist, illustrated songs, and Frederick Hodges accompanying the movies on piano. But no, they can’t afford to let you in for five cents. Admission is $12.

A- The Great Dictator, Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, Sunday, 4:00. Charlie Chaplin made his one good talkie on his first attempt, playing dual roles as a Jewish barber (basically the tramp with a voice and an imageethnicity), and Der Fooey, Adenoid Hynkel, Dictator of Tomania. Slapstick and dark satire seldom work well together, but they do here. Many people criticize the final scene, where Chaplin faces the camera and pleas for peace, tolerance, and democracy, but I’ve seen audiences burst into applause as it concludes. I have to admit that I’ve burst into applause myself. With Paulette Goddard (his wife at the time) as the barber’s romantic interest and Jack Oakie as the Mussolini-like Napaloni – Dictator of Bacteria.

A Leonard Nimoy Tribute Star Trek Double Bill: The Wrath of Khan & The Search for Spock, Balboa, Wednesday, 7:00. The A goes to The Wrath of Khan, the most-imageloved Star Trek movie ever. It’s an exciting 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. The sequel, The Search for Spock, is only a moderately entertaining actioner, with some interesting scenes of the crew off-duty on Earth. Nimoy is hardly in this one, but it’s his debut as a director. I’d give it a C+.

B+ Beyond Clueless, Burlingame Hall, Thursday, 3:15. Charlie Lyne’s documentary examines the thrills, terrors, and transitions of teenage life through the looking glass of high schoolimage movies. Just about every feature film focusing on adolescents from the last 20 years makes at least a cameo appearance, from American Pie,  Election, Spider Man, Mean Girls, Pleasantville, Donnie Darko, and, of course, Clueless. The uncredited narrator goes into detail with a few movies–including Bubble Boy, Disturbing Behavior, and The Faculty–to examine issues like peer pressure, sexuality, and moving on with your life. Not particularly deep, but useful if you are, recently were, or have a teenager. And certainly entertaining. Part of the Sonoma International Film Festival.

B+ Aliens, UA Berkeley,Thursday, 9:00. Like most sequels, James Cameron’s first big-budget movie isn’t as good as the original Alien, but it comes close.. Less of a imagehorror film and more of an action picture (or, arguably, a war movie), it strands a platoon of marines on a barely hospitable planet infested with the big, egg-laying predators. Sigourney Weaver stars again. Unfortunately, the UA will screen the original, 137-minute cut. Cameron’s 154-minute director’s cut, which to my knowledge has never been shown theatrically. That one goes into more character detail and is a much better film. I’d give that version an A.

A The Maltese Falcon, Alameda, Tuesday and Wednesday. Dashiell Hammett’s novel had been filmed twice maltesefalconbefore, but screenwriter and first-time director John Huston did it right with the perfect cast and a screenplay (by Huston) that sticks almost word-for-word to the book. The ultimate Hammett motion picture, the second-best directorial debut of 1941 (after Citizen Kane), an important precursor to film noir, and perhaps the most entertaining detective movie ever made. This movie is truly the stuff that dreams are made of.

A+ Some Like It Hot, Castro, Sunday; Balboa, Thursday, 7:30. The urge to sleep with Marilyn Monroe comes head to head with the urge to keep breathing in Billy Wilder’s comic imagemasterpiece. After witnessing a prohibition-era gangland massacre, two struggling musicians (Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon) hide from the mob by dressing in drag and joining an all-girl orchestra. But can they stay away from Ms. Monroe and her ukulele? There are comedies with higher laugh-to-minute ratios, and others that have more to say about the human condition. But you won’t find a better example of perfect comic construction, brilliantly funny dialog, and spot-on timing. Read my Blu-ray review. The Castro screening is a double-bill with the only other Wilder/Monroe collaboration, The Seven Year Itch.

A+ Rear Window, various CineMark Theaters, Sunday, 2:00; Wednesday, 2:00 & 7:00. Alfred Hitchcock at his absolute best. James Stewart is riveting as a news photographer temporarily confined to his apartment imageand 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.

A Blade Runner, Oakland Paramount, Friday, 8:00. Based on Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, Blade Runner remains surprisingly thoughtful for ’80’s sci-fi–especially of the big budget imagevariety. It ponders questions about the nature of humanity and our ability to objectify people when it suits our needs. Yet it never preaches. The script’s hazy at times; I never did figure out some of the connections, and a couple of important things happen at ridiculously convenient times. But art direction and music alone would make it a masterpiece. Read my longer essay.

B The Man Who Fell to Earth, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Saturday, 7:30. Movies were pretty weird in the ‘70s, but they didn’t get much weirder than this—at least with a major director and stars. David Bowie plays an alien who comes to Earth in search of water, but imageinstead discovers capitalism, TV, alcohol, and human sex. Yet it’s not entirely clear what the film is about. Nicolas Roeg directed it, so you know that the movie won’t be about story. But the images are intriguing, the central characters are puzzles that cry out to be solved, and it has some very sexy scenes for your enjoyment. If for no other reason, see it to remind yourself what science fiction films could be like in the years between 2001 and Star Wars. Part of the series Cracked Actor: David Bowie On Screen.