What’s Screening: July 3 – 9

No festivals this week. And unless I’ve missed something, it will be almost three weeks before the next one.

A+ The Third Man, Opera Plaza, Shattuck, opens Friday

New 4K restoration. Classic film noir with an international flavor. An American pulp novelist (Joseph Cotten) arrives in impoverished, divided post-war Vienna to meet up with an old friend who has promised him a much-needed job. But he soon discovers that the friend is both newly dead and a wanted criminal. Writer Graham Greene and director Carol Reed place an intriguing mystery inside a world so dark and disillusioned that American noir seems tame by comparison. Then, when the movie is two thirds over, Orson Welles comes onscreen to steal everything but the sprocket holes. See my longer discussion on Noir City Opening Night.

C+In Stereo, Roxie, opens Friday

This story of former lovers who may or may not get back together has its own rewards, but also some serious flaws. Not funny enough to be a comedy nor deep enough to be a drama, it merely glides along on the charisma of the two leads, never really bringing us into their souls. In Stereo comes most alive in the second half, when the couple dance around the possibility of getting back together. Micah Hauptman and Beau Garrett have a nice chemistry together, and it’s easy to root for them falling back into love. Read my full review.

Andrei Rublev, Pacific Film Archive, Saturday, 7:00

How can a film that’s plotless, episodic, slow, and runs 205 minutes be so good? Andrei Rublev tells us multiple stories in the life of the title character–a famous 15th-century religious painter. Sometimes an active participant and sometimes a passive observer, Rublev observes is a world of poverty, faith, political and religious conflict, and horrifying, seemingly random violence. Andrei Tarkovsky’s great medieval epic questions the meaning of faith in a hostile universe, while emphasizing its immense importance. Truly magnificent. Part of the series The Poetry of Time: Andrei Tarkovsky.

A- Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, New Parkway, Thursday, 9:30

Ang Lee and James Schamus turn the period kung fu epic into a character study of warriors who must choose between love and duty. The action scenes are among the most amazing ever filmed—complete with the gravity-defying leaps found only in Hong Kong cinema—but with a very human story at its core.

B+ V For Vendetta, New Parkway, Friday, 10:00

Stunningly subversive for a big-budget Hollywood explosion movie, V For Vendetta celebrates rebellion against an oppressive, ultra-Christian government that feeds on hatred of Muslims and homosexuals. It works as an escapist fantasy action flick and as a call to arms, but when its hero crosses the line (and he does), it forces you to wonder just what is justified in the fight against tyranny.

A+ Hungry fish double bill: Jaws & Piranha, Castro, Sunday

The A+ goes to Jaws, which starts as a suspenseful, witty variation of Henrik Ibsen’s classic play, An Enemy of the People, and ends as a hair-raising variation on Moby Dick. Its huge success made Steven Spielberg famous. See my Blu-ray review and Book vs. Movie article. Roger Corman’s low-budget Jaws rip-off, Piranha, has little wit, not much suspense, and a handful of modest but effective action scenes. But it’s John Sayles’ first produced screenplay, which makes it historically interesting. I give it a C.

A+ Casablanca, Balboa, Thursday, 7:30

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, the sausage came out perfectly. For more details, see Casablanca: The Accidental Masterpiece.

A- The Princess Bride, Clay, Friday & Saturday, 1:55PM (just before midnight)

William Goldman’s enchanting and funny fairy tale dances magically along that thin line between parody and the real thing. Cary Elwes and Robin Wright , back when they were young and gorgeous, make a wonderful set of star-crossed lovers. And Mandy Patinkin has a lot of fun as a revenge-filled swashbuckler. There’s no funnier swordfight anywhere, and who can forget cinema’s greatest acronym, ROUS (rodents of unusual size). On the other hand, some of the big-name cameos can grate on your nerves.

A- Ex Machina, Castro, Tuesday; New Parkway, 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. The Castro will screen Ex Machina on a double bill with Under the Skin.

C+ Dracula (1931 version)Stanford, through Friday

The film that started Universal’s famed horror series, and the first to star Bela Lugosi in the role that made him famous, really doesn’t deserve its classic status. The picture suffers from stilted blocking and too much mediocre dialog–common faults in early talkies, especially those based on stage plays. But it has a few wonderful moments, most of which are wordless. On a double bill with This Old Dark House.