What’s Screening: July 31 – August 6

This weekend marks the end of Pacific Film Archive screenings in its 15-year-old “temporary” theater. The PFA will reopen early next at their new location near downtown Berkeley.

In festival news, the Brainwash Movie Festival reopens today and closes Saturday. As I write this, the programs have not yet been released. But the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival continues through this week and beyond. You’ll find my SFJFF micro-reviews at the bottom of this newsletter.

A Tokyo Story, Pacific Film Archive, Sunday, 8:15
This is the very last PFA screening in the current building

One of the great films about family in all of its troubling complexities. An elderly couple travel to Tokyo to visit their busy and overworked adult children. Everyone greets them with the proper respect, but only a widowed daughter-in-law offers real warmth. Soon the elderly couple are moved from one house to another like King Lear–except that this time the children feel guilty about it. Death hangs over the last part of the film. You don’t need to have experienced the life changes in Tokyo Story to appreciate it. And if you haven’t experienced them, you will. Read my Blu-ray review. Part of the series Cinema According to Víctor Erice.

A+ City Lights, Pacific Film Archive, Saturday, 4:00

In Charlie Chaplin’s most perfect comedy, the little tramp falls in love with a blind flower girl and befriends a suicidal, alcoholic millionaire, but neither of them know the real Charlie. The result is funny and touching, with one of cinema’s greatest endings. Sound came to the movies as Chaplin shot City Lights, resulting in an essentially silent film with a recorded musical score composed by Chaplin himself. Cinema has rarely achieved such perfection. Read my Blu-ray review. Part of the series Cinema According to Víctor Erice.

A+ Bicycle Thief, Pacific Film Archive, Saturday, 8:45

If you want to understand Italian neorealism, the desperation of poverty, or simply the power of cinema, you have to see Vittorio De Sica’s masterpiece. This film pits the desperately poor against the desperately poor, in a story that you know can’t possibly end well. And yet, there are many touches of beauty, human kindness, and humor. Unemployed Antonio finally gets a job–in part because he owns a bike. Then, on his first day on the job, his bike is stolen. Most of the film follows a desperate search through Rome, hoping against hope to find the bike. Read my longer appreciation. Part of the series Cinema According to Víctor Erice.

A The World of Apu, Rafael, Sunday

in the final chapter of Satyajit Ray’s Apu Trilogy, the adult Apu leaves college, but seems reluctant to grow up. Like his father, he’s a dreamer, and assumes that good things will come his way. His best friend from college does much better, but then, he came from a rich family. One good thing does come his way: He marries, almost by accident, and finds happiness and true love. But tragedy is never far away in Apu’s world. See my discussion of the entire trilogy.

A+ Ikiru, Stanford, Wednesday through next Friday

One of Akira Kurosawa’s best, and one of the greatest serious dramas ever put up on the screen. Takashi Shimura gives the performance of his lifetime as an aging government bureaucrat dying of cancer. Emotionally cut off from his family–including the son and daughter-in-law with whom he lives–he struggles to find some meaning in his life before he dies. A deep and moving meditation on mortality and what it means to be human, Ikiru manages to be deeply spiritual without ever mentioning God or religion. Kurosawa followed Ikiru with Seven Samurai, a very different and even better masterpiece, and one where Shimura got to play an action hero. Read my Kurosawa Diary entry.

A Wallace & Gromit: the Curse of the Were-Rabbit, New Parkway, matinees every day except Wednesday

An eccentric inventor, his long-suffering dog, snooty aristocrats, cute bunnies, and whole lot of clay make up the funniest movie of 2005. I vote for putting this G-rated, claymation extravaganza on a double-bill with that other hilarious British comedy with a killer rabbit, Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

A+ Seven Samurai, Stanford, Saturday through Tuesday

If you think all action movies are mindless escapism, you need to set aside 3½ hours for Kurosawa’s epic masterpiece. The basic story–a poor village hires warriors to defend them against bandits–has been retold many times since, but Kurosawa told it first and told it best. This is an action film with almost no action in the first two hours. But when the fighting finally arrives, you’re ready for it, knowing every detail of the people involved, the terrain to be fought over, and the class differences between the peasants and their hired swords. One of the greatest movies ever made. See my Kurosawa Diary entry.

A Sunset Boulevard, Balboa, Thursday, 7:30

Billy Wilder’s meditation on Hollywood’s seedy underbelly is the flip side of Singin’ in the Rain (now that would make a great double bill). Norma Desmond is very much Lena Lamont after twenty-two years of denial and depression. And in the role of Norma, Gloria Swanson gives one of the great over-the-top performances in Hollywood history.

B The Kid, Pacific Film Archive, Sunday, 3:0

Charlie Chaplin’s first feature, The Kid, isn’t among his best–there are times when you can feel him stretching to fill six reels, and others where the sentimentality overwhelms. But it has some wonderful routines, most built around his very young co-star, Jackie Coogan. This may be the only time Chaplin allowed someone else to steal one of his films, and it was the right decision. The future Uncle Fester imitates Chaplin perfectly as an abandoned child raised by the little tramp. The music, alas, will not be live.

A- Iris, Castro, Wednesday

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. On a double bill with Grey Gardens–which I really have to see one of these days.

B+ Mr. Holmes, Balboa, opens Friday

Ian McKellen plays Sherlock Holmes as an old man and as a very old man—mostly the later—in this entertaining but not too deep drama. Retired from solving crimes, Holmes is now a 90ish beekeeper (the film is set in 1947–about 20 years after Doyle wrote his last Holmes story), living with a widowed housekeeper and her young son. Holmes is in a race against time, trying to write down the true story of his last case—to correct Watson’s exaggerations—before senility sinks too deep. For Holmes fans, and I’m one of them, this is a wonderful gift. For everyone else, it’s still an enjoyable day at the movies. Read my full review.

San Francisco Jewish Film Festival

A- My Shortest Love Affair, California (Berkeley), Monday, 6:15

Funny, serious, sexy, and true to life, this French gem catches the struggles and futility of a bad romance. Months after a one-night stand resulted in pregnancy, Louisa (Karin Albou, who also wrote and directed) and Charles (Patrick Mimoun) move in together to raise their soon-to-be-born child. But they’re hopelessly incompatible. They like different music. He’s allergic to her cat. She takes her Jewish identity seriously; he doesn’t. But worst of all, they’re horrible together in bed. Attempts at sex continually turn into arguments. (Both stars are naked for much of the film, and you can clearly see that Albou was very pregnant while directing and acting with her clothes off.) The only misstep is the ending, which is too quick and convenient.

Dough, California (Berkeley), Wednesday, 6:30

This feel-good comedy succeeds in making you laugh and in making you feel good. Why not? The marijuana-laced challah makes the onscreen characters laugh and feel good. You have to suspend a lot of disbelief to accept the absurdities of the story and the conventional comic tropes, but if you do you can sit back and enjoy the movie. The story involves an orthodox kosher baker (Jonathan Pryce) who hires a Muslim, African refugee teenager (newcomer Jerome Holder) as his apprentice. And of course they bond while the bakery thrives. It’s a movie.

B The Go-Go Boys: The Inside Story of Cannon Films, California (Berkeley), Sunday, 6:30

Two cousins, Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, built a successful Israeli movie studio, then moved to Los Angeles, mass-produced action flicks, made huge amounts of money, became a power in Hollywood, and then saw their business empire collapse. Hilla Madalia’s documentary, filled with interviews and film clips, entertains and informs, but isn’t really exceptional. Both men, and especially the more artistic Golan, make good on-screen interview subjects, and their interviews carry the movie.

C- Mr. Kaplan, Castro, Sunday, 5:35

In Uruguay at the end of the 20th century, an old, senile Jewish man almost randomly decides that an equally old German man is a Nazi in hiding. So he teams up with an unemployed, alcoholic loser of an ex-cop to bring the mass murderer to justice. Writer/director Alvaro Brechner tries to mix broad comedy with sentimental drama, but he only moderately succeeds with either style, and never succeeds in bringing them satisfactorily together. I figured out the “surprise” ending less than half an hour into the movie.