What’s Screening: June 12 – 18

I have a confession to make. Years ago, the San Francisco Black Film Festival fell off my radar, and I haven’t been promoting it since. That’s why I didn’t note its opening night last week. I won’t let that happen again. It runs through Sunday.

Here are this week’s other festivals. There are a lot of them:

The Apu Trilogy, Opera Plaza, Shattuck, opens Friday

It’s been way too long since I’ve seen Satyajit Ray’s trilogy about a young boy growing into a man, which is why I’m giving it a question mark rather than the obvious A or A+. All three films will be screened throughout the week from new 4K restorations (although they will be screened in 2K). Sorry, but you have to pay a separate admission for each film. On Sunday, in Berkeley, at the 7:15 show, San Francisco Film Society Programmer Rod Armstrong will introduce the first film, Pather Panchali.

Laurel & Hardy Shorts, Pacific Film Archive, Sunday, 3:30. FREE

The East Bay will actually host two separate series of Laurel and Hardy shorts on Sunday, almost simultaneously. But the three shorts screening at the PFA–Busy Bodies, County Hospital, and the one that won them their only Oscar, The Music Box–represent the comedy team at their best. The other screening is at the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum.

The Magnificent Ambersons, Rafael, Sunday

It’s been a very long time since I’ve seen Orson Welles’ second film–or at least what’s left of it after RKO severely recut it between previews and premiere. I remember it being warm and nostalgic, with a strong sense of loss for a way of life that is no more. Film historian Joseph McBride will discuss the studio-mandated changes.

B+ Himalaya, Rafael, Monday, 2:00

This narrative feature, that feels very much like a documentary, takes you to one of the most remote places human beings call home–Nepal’s harsh, high-altitude Dolpo region. Members of a small tribe must move over treacherous mountains to sell the salt they have gathered–a trip that would be dangerous enough without internal strife. But the chief’s son and heir apparent has just died, and the aging leader won’t give his blessing to the man most competent to lead the journey. Set against breathtaking scenery, Himalaya brings us into a culture most of us will never experience first-hand. Part of a one-day event benefitting Nepalese earthquake recovery.

A- Leave Her to Heaven, Pacific Film Archive, Thursday, 7:30

Gene Tierney’s “woman who loves too much” isn’t the typical film noir femme fatale, seducing men to their doom in her quest for material ends. She doesn’t need material things, but she needs her man (Cornel Wilde) so desperately she can’t bear the thought of sharing him with friends or family. And she’s willing to do anything to keep him to herself. Tierney gets top billing, but the real star of Leave Her to Heaven is Technicolor–a rarity for 40s noir–that helps capture the many scenic locations.

The Terminator, various CineMark theaters, Sunday, 2:00; Wednesday, 2:00 & 7:00

James Cameron’s first hit provides non-stop thrills that keep you on the edge of a heart attack. Arnold Schwarzenegger plays the title character–a heartless machine sent back in time to murder the future mother of the man who will save humanity. Simple, straightforward, and modestly budgeted (three things you can’t say about recent Cameron pictures), The Terminator maintains an internal logic rare in time travel stories. Besides, it offers a now-rare view of our ex-governor’s naked butt. With Linda Hamilton as the killing machine’s intended victim, and Michael Biehn as the man sent back in time to save her.

A+ Alfred Hitchcock/Ernest Lehman double bill: North By Northwest & Family Plot, Castro, Wednesday

The A+ goes to Hitchcock’s light masterpiece, North by Northwest. Cary Grant plays an unusually suave and witty everyman in trouble with evil foreign spies (who think he’s a crack American agent), and by the police (who think he’s a murderer). And so he must escape almost certain death again and again while spending quality time with a very glamorous Eva Marie Saint. I can only give Family Plot, Hitchcock’s last film, a C. It has its moments, but not many of them, and it overdoes the suave, gentlemanly villain to the point where he isn’t scary. These are the only collaborations between Hitchcock and screenwriter Ernest Lehman.

A+ Raiders of the Lost Ark, Balboa, Saturday, 10:00am

Steven Spielberg directed it, and the bad guys are Nazis, but it’s as far from Schindler’s List as a great movie can get. But then, it’s great in an entirely different way. There’s absolutely nothing to take seriously in Raiders of the Lost Ark; just entertainment at its purist. The story is fundamentally preposterous, and the hero (Harrison Ford) is no more an archeologist than I am a butterfly. But the energy is so high, the action scenes so brilliantly choreographed and edited, and the whole story told with such enthusiasm and wit, that everything else just doesn’t matter.

A+ Die Hard, New Parkway, Thursday, 9:30

The 1980s was a great decade for big, loud action movies, and this just may be the best. It starts out as a relationship drama about a New York cop (Bruce Willis) in LA for Christmas, hoping to win back his estranged wife and kids. About half an hour into the movie, a group of Not Very Nice People take over the office building, interrupt a holiday party, and hold everyone hostage. Well, everyone except Willis, who spends the rest of the movie playing cat-and-mouse with the bad guys, bonding with an LA cop over a walkie-talkie, and mumbling about his rotten luck. The result is top-notch entertainment–even if its politics lean a bit to the right. See my appreciation.

A- Iris, Opera Plaza, 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+ Casablanca, Clay, Friday and Saturday, 11:55PM (just before midnight)

You’ve either already seen the best film to come out of the classic Hollywood studio system, or you know you should. Let me just add that no one who worked on Casablanca thought they were making a masterpiece; it was just another sausage coming off the Warner assembly line. But somehow, just this once, everything came together perfectly. For more details, see Casablanca: The Accidental Masterpiece.

Mystery Science Theater 3000New 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.

Sing-a-Long Sound of Music, Castro, Saturday

Friday through Sunday. Many people love it, but I find the biggest money maker of the 1960s lumbering, slow, and dull. Not funny or romantic enough to be light entertainment, yet lacking the substance to be anything else. And most of the songs give the impression that, by their last collaboration, Roger and Hammerstein had run out of steam. On the other hand, the Todd-AO photography of Alpine landscapes makes this one of the most visually beautiful of Hollywood movies–in a picture postcard kind of way. I have not actually experienced the sing-a-long version.

C- Vertigo, UA Berkeley, Thursday, 9:00

I know. For many cinephiles, this isn’t just Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece, but one of the greatest films ever made. But I just don’t get it. Neither the story nor most of the characters make any sense, and I don’t believe anyone’s motivations. The film contains one wonderful, believable, and likeable character, Barbara Bel Geddes’ Midge, but we don’t see enough of her to offset everything else. Yes, the film is very atmospheric, but that’s just not enough. I don’t need to stare at a screen to experience San Francisco’s fog.

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