What’s Screening: June 5 – 11

Ain’t we lucky? We’ve got four film festivals running this week in the Bay Area:

Hatari!, Castro, Thursday, 7:00

Archival dye-transfer Technicolor print!
This wild-animals-in-Africa adventure is the only Howard Hawks movie I saw when it was new (I was pretty new myself in 1962), and I loved it. I saw it again maybe 12 to 15 years ago, and wasn’t as impressed. (And no, I don’t remember it well enough to give it a grade.) But whether or not the movie is any good, it’s a dye-transfer Technicolor print, and that makes it tempting in itself. On a double bill with Roar, which I’ve never seen, but was apparently a disaster in every way possible.

Memento, New Parkway, Thursday, 9:30

Only this exceptional thriller by Christopher Nolan. And how many tell the story backwards, putting you into the mind of someone who can’t remember what just happened? Okay, but how many give that man a mental disability that guarantees failure and makes him dangerous to himself and others? Too many to name. How many thrillers center on a hero bent on identifying, and then killing, the man who murdered his wife? (If you didn’t understand the sentences above, see Memento, and then figure out how to read it)

B+ The Stranger, Rafael, Sunday

Probably Orson Welles’ most conventional movie, this 1946 noir stars Edward G. Robinson has a war crimes investigator looking for an important Nazi now living peacefully in an American small town. Welles himself plays the villain (no spoilers in this) who will do anything to protect himself and resurrect his beloved Reich. With Loretta Young as the beautiful ingénue who doesn’t suspect that she’s engaged to a monster. Part of the series Welles 100 Part One: 1941-1948.

Femme fatale noir double bill: Double Indemnity & Body Heat, Castro, Wednesday

A rich housewife will do anything to be an even richer widow, so she seduces a chump–one who thinks with his libido–into doing her dirty work. That tried and true plot works well for both of these movies. The A goes to Double Indemnity. Made by Billy Wilder in the days of heavy censorship, it has to manage seduction without really saying that anyone is having sex. But it has Barbara Stanwyck as the wicked wife, Fred MacMurray as the chump, and Edward G. Robinson as the co-worker and close friend that MacMurray must deceive. Body Heat, made in a very different and freer era,
has William Hurt, Kathleen Turner, and a lot of hard R sex. On its own, I’d give it I’d give it an A-.

A- Modern Times, Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, Saturday, 7:30

A mostly silent picture made years after everyone else had started talking (seven years earlier, it would have been called a “part talkie”), Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times laughs at assembly lines, mechanization, and the depression, with Chaplin’s tramp moving from job to job and jail to jail. With Paulette Goddard, the best leading lady of his career. Part of Charlie Chaplin Days.

B- Goldfinger, various CineMark theaters, Sunday, 2:00; Wednesday, 2:00 & 7:00

I’ve been a James Bond fan, on and off, for much of my life. But I never understood the appeal of the series’ third outing–and the one that really popularized Bond in the United States. True, Sean Connery was wonderful in the role he created. But Gert Frobe’s title character is a dull and unappealing villain. Even worse, Bond spends way too much of the story as a prisoner, and does very little to help save the day.

Henri Langlois Centennial Tribute: Opening Program, Pacific Film Archive, Thursday, 7:30

As the co-founder of La Cinémathèque française, Henri Langlois helped start the tradition of taking cinema seriously as an art, and doing what he could to find, preserve, and make available classic films. To open this series, Thanks to Henri Langlois: A Centennial Tribute, the PFA will screen La Tosca, a one-reel short from 1918 discovered by Langlois, and three documentaries about the man.

A+ The General, Balboa, Thursday, 7:30

Buster Keaton pushed film comedy like no one else when he made this one. He meticulously recreated the Civil War setting. He mixed slapstick comedy with battlefield death. He hired thousands of extras and filmed what may be the single most expensive shot of the silent era (then used that shot as the setup for a gag whose punch line is a simple close-up). The result was a critical and commercial flop in 1926, but today it’s rightly considered one of the greatest comedies ever made. The theater mentions nothing about musical accompaniment, so I’m guessing they will screen the Blu-ray with one of the three scores on the disc; probably the excellent one by Carl Davis.

A+ Taxi Driver, UA Berkeley, Thursday, 9:00

When I think of the 1970s as a golden age of Hollywood-financed serious cinema, I think of Robert De Niro walking the dark, mean streets of New York, slowly turning into a psychopath. Writer Paul Schrader and director Martin Scorsese put together this near-perfect study of loneliness as a disease. It isn’t that De Niro’s character hasn’t found the right companion, or society has failed him, or that he doesn’t understand intimacy. His problems stem from the fact that he’s mentally incapable of relating to other human beings. This is a sad and pathetic man, with a rage that will inevitably turn violent. Read my Blu-ray review.

Dr. Strangelove, Clay, Friday and Saturday, 11:55 (just before midnight)

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 (three 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 more about this film in 2013.

B+ Ghostbusters, New Parkway, Friday, 10:30

Comedy rarely gets this scary or this visually spectacular. Or perhaps I should say that special-effects action fantasies rarely get this funny (at least intentionally so). Harold Ramis, Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, and Sigourney Weaver appear to be having a great time as they try to control the phantasm and monsters suddenly attacking New York City. Not a bad way to pass an afternoon or evening.

A- Iris, New Parkway, opens Friday

Iris Apfel, a fixture in the New York fashion scene well in her 90s, dresses herself in loud, bright, and absurd clothes, augmented with even crazier accessories. And yet she looks great. Apfel still embraces her work with enthusiasm, and thus embraces life. Maysles follows her as she attends shows, shops in specialty stores in Harlem, shows off all of the absurd toys in her apartment, and treats her husband of more than 60 years to his 100th birthday party. And she’s almost always smiling. Read my full review.

A- Ex Machina, Balboa, opens Friday

This surprisingly intelligent film about artificial intelligence follows two men–one of whom is clearly insane–as they go beyond the Turing test to determine if a “female” robot is truly sentient. The story is basically Frankenstein, and like that classic, it’s not all-together believable, but still manages to bring up important questions. Can you be human without sexuality? Can the titans of tech do whatever they want with our private deeds and thoughts? Do you have a right to replace a sentient machine with version 2.0? And how does the sexual objectification of women fit in here? Read my full review.