The Tiburon International Film Festival officially opens Thursday, although the first movie screening will be the following Friday.
But here are a few movies actually playing this week:
B+ Girlhood, Elmwood, opens Friday. Considering Marieme’s family situation, it’s no surprise she’s doing badly in school. Her mother works long hours and is rarely home. There’s no mention of a father. Her older brother is abusive and violent. French society is pushing her towards a future of menial labor. So she joins up with three girls who wear cool clothing, strut with confidence, and take what they want–often with the threat of violence. Writer/Director Céline Sciamma (Water Lilies) tells her story with an unblinking but sympathetic eye, showing what makes this new life attractive while revealing the rot beneath.
The Man I Killed (also known as Broken Lullaby), Stanford, Wednesday and Thursday. Soon after the end of World War I, a young French veteran (Phillips Holmes), deeply guilty about killing a German soldier on the battlefield, seeks out the man’s family to apologize. But once there, his courage fails him and he lies about his connection to their son. He also falls in love with his victim’s fiancé. Unfortunately, the star’s acting chops weren’t up to the part; he overplayed to the point of deep annoyance. The rest of the cast is excellent. A surprisingly serious work by Ernst Lubitsch. For more on this film, see Rare Lubitsch in New York. On a double bill with Love Me Tonight.
D- The Passion of the Christ, various CineMark Theaters, Sunday (matinee only) & Wednesday. Mel Gibson’s religious mess can best be described as ultra-reverent, self-righteous torture porn. For the bulk of its 127 minutes, it shows you nothing but a healthy, good-looking man being beaten, tortured, and killed in the most graphic way possible. The picture had a few good moments, almost all of them in the all-too-short flashbacks, but for the most part the film is just gross. Is the movie anti-Semitic? That’s a question that requires more context than I can put into this brief paragraph. I suggest you read My Thoughts on The Passion of the Christ.
B Seven Years Bad Luck, Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, Saturday, 7:30. This Max Linder vehicle hits its comic peak early, when Max’s servants conspire to keep him ignorant of a broken mirror. One servant, who vaguely resembles Linder, stands on the other side of the empty mirror frame and imitates his master’s every move while shaving. It’s the old mirror routine (Groucho and Harpo did it in Duck Soup), but I’ve never seen it done as well as here. The rest of the film plays fine, but never again reaches that level. Max keeps expecting to have a lot of bad luck. That sort of thing tends to be self-fulfilling. With Felix the Cat and Mary Astor shorts. Bruce Loeb will provide piano accompaniment.
A Dr. Strangelove, Balboa, Thursday, 7:30; UA Berkeley, Thursday, 9:00. General Jack D. Ripper (Sterling Hayden) orders his men to bomb the USSR and start World War III. But have no fear! The men responsible for avoiding Armageddon (several of them played by Peter Sellers) are almost as competent as the Three Stooges. We like to look back at earlier decades as simpler, less fearful times, but Stanley Kubrick’s “nightmare comedy” reminds you just how scary things were back then. I wrote about it more detail in 2013.
A Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan, Clay, Friday & Saturday, 11:55pm. The most-loved Star Trek movie gives us everything that its predecessor failed to deliver: an exciting and entertaining adventure starring the seven actors and characters that we learned to love from the original TV show.–and a chance for several of those actors to shine. Ricardo Montalban reprises his supervillain Khan from one first-season episode. This has almost everything you would want in a Star Trek movie.
A Shadow of a Doubt, Cerrito, Thursday, 8:00. In Alfred Hitchcock’s first great American film, 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. Cotton’s performance makes the movie. Most of the time he’s warm, friendly, and relaxed. But he can turn brooding and dark, and say things that no well-adjusted person could possibly say. Written in part by Our Town playwright Thorton Wilder. The locations were shot in Santa Rosa.
A Only Angels Have Wings, Stanford, Friday through Sunday. Cary Grant heads a team of mail plane pilots in a remote corner of South America. There’s little plot here, just a study of men who routinely fly under very dangerous conditions, and how they cope with death as an every-day part of life. The only non-comedy out of the five films that Grant made for director Howard Hawks. On a double bill with something called Gambling Ship.
B+ 2001: A Space Odyssey, New Parkway, Thursday, 9;00. I used to worship Stanley Kubrick’s visualization of Arthur C. Clarke’s imagination, but it hasn’t aged all that well. We’ve seen the actual year, and know that Clarke and Kubrick got almost everything wrong. Although I’ve lost my love of Stanley Kubrick, there’s no denying the pull of 2001’s unorthodox storytelling and visual splendor–if you can see it properly presented. 2001 was shot for 70mm projection on a giant, curved, Cinerama screen–and you’re not going to get anything near that experience at the New Parkway.
B+ Magician: The life and times of Citizen Welles, Roxie, opens Friday. Every cinephile must contemplate the strange phenomenon of Orson Welles. His first film, Citizen Kane, has frequently been called the "greatest film ever made." And yet he spent most of his life a failure, scrambling to raise money to make films, few of which made any money back. Chuck Workman’s documentary wisely replaces the usual voice-of-god narration with interviews–both archival and original–with friends, co-workers, admirers, lovers, and, of course, Welles, himself. Magician suffers from an ignore-the-warts perspective, but it’s still an informative and entertaining look at a sometimes great artist. Read my full review.
B- What We Do in the Shadows, Guild, starts Friday. This vampire mockumentary’s basic idea is funny and promising: An unseen documentary camera crew follow the afterlives of four vampires who share a house in a modern city. They argue about household chores, go out looking for victims, and talk directly into the camera about their undead but still active existences. But the basic idea begins to wear out around the half-way point. The jokes are still funny, but they come farther apart. From the creators of HBO’s Flight of the Conchords. Read my full review.