What’s Screening: September 11 – 17

No festival-free days this week. The California Independent Film Festival continues through Wednesday. And the day after that, the San Francisco Irish Film Festival opens.

A Nashville, Castro, Thursday

For an all-too-brief time in the 1970s, the Hollywood studios financed and released serious art, including Robert Altman’s Nashville. It follows a whole lot of people–all with some overlapping connection to each other–as they go about their business in country music’s home town. Watching its long running time (160 minutes), we get to know famous singers, obscure singers, one horrible singer, businessmen, groupies, hangers-on, and even a politician whom we never actually see. Altman put together one of the most impressive casts in movie history, and gave everyone a chance to their acting and singing chops. Read my Blu-ray review.

? Republican Debate Watch Party, Roxie, Wednesday, 5:30
In case you don’t want to boo alone.

A Pandora’s Box, Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, Saturday, 7:30

Nearly 70 years after her last film, cinephiles still debate whether Louise Brooks was a first-class talent or just a beautiful woman in the hands of a great director. Either way, her oddly innocent femme fatale wins our sympathy and our lust as she sends men to their destruction without, apparently, understanding what she’s doing. A great example of what the silent drama could do in the hands of a master; in this case, G.W. Pabst. With two short subjects, and Judy Rosenberg accompanying the movies on piano.

B+ The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Castro, Sunday

When we think French New Wave, we imagine grainy, black-and-white stories filled with angst and alienation. Yet Jacques Demy, shooting a believable story in real locations, created a lush, colorful and sublimely romantic musical. A movie like few others, with an astonishingly young and beautiful Catherine Deneuve (as opposed to the astonishingly well-aged and beautiful Catherine Deneuve of today). On a double bill with An American in Paris, which I haven’t seen in a long time and only moderately liked then.

B Lost in Translation, UA Berkeley, Thursday, 9:00

Sophia Coppola introduced us to Scarlett Johansson and gave Bill Murray his best performance since Groundhog Day in this film in which nothing of note actually happens. Murray plays an American movie star in Tokyo to shoot a whiskey commercial. Johansson plays the bored wife of a photographer. They sense a bond. And what you expect to happen never does. But that’s okay because it probably wouldn’t happen in real life, either. Coppola allows us to enjoy these people’s company, and their reaction to a foreign culture, for 104 minutes.

B+ 2001: A Space Odyssey, Balboa, Thursday, 7:30

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 in the prediction department. Although I’ve lost my love of Stanley Kubrick, there’s no denying the pull of 2001‘s unorthodox storytelling and visual splendor–especially if you can see it properly presented. 2001 was shot for 70mm projection on a giant, curved, Cinerama screen. Neither of the Balboa’s screens come anything close to that.

A Airplane!, New Parkway, Thursday, 9:30

They’re flying on instruments, blowing the autopilot, and translating English into Jive. So win one for the Zipper, but whatever you do, don’t call him “Shirley.” Airplane! throws jokes like confetti–carelessly tossing them in all directions in hopes that some might hit their target. Surprisingly enough, most of them do. There’s no logical reason why a movie this silly can be so satisfying, but then logic never was part of the Airplane! formula. I’d be hard-pressed to name another post-silent feature-length comedy with such a high laugh-to-minute ratio.

A Tangerine, New Parkway, Roxie, opens Friday

Sometimes a new movie blows apart every concept you had about what a motion picture can be. Sean Baker’s tale of a transgender prostitute out for justice creates just that sort of magic. Fast, frenetic, funny, and sad, Tangerine looks like no other movie I’ve ever seen, probably because it was shot entirely on iPhones. And yes, that works, allowing the filmmakers to capture the tarnished glamour of today’s Hollywood (the neighborhood, not the industry). The most exciting and original new film I’ve seen this year. Did I tell you it’s a Christmas movie? Read my full review.

A Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine, Aquarius, opens Friday

Director Alex Gibney starts this multifaceted documentary with a difficult question: Why did so many people who never met Steve Jobs mourn his death so deeply? Jobs was brilliant, mercurial, and charismatic. He made technology friendly for the average person, and significantly changed the world. But he was also a jerk that cheated friends, let his daughter grow up on welfare while he became incredibly wealthy, and parked his sports car in handicap spaces. Gibney offers us an excellent, no-holds-barred, yet empathetic biography of a man utterly lacking in empathy. Read my full review.

A Inside Out, Lark, opens Friday

Pixar appears to have regained its magic touch in creating family-friendly animated features that are funny, technically dazzling, and completely adult-friendly. When a young girl gets uprooted from the Midwest to San Francisco, her brain must deal with loss, fear, confusion, and hope. And Inside Out is set almost entirely within that brain, where anthropomorphized emotions–Joy, Fear, Anger, Disgust and Sadness–become the film’s main characters. A lot of research into the human mind went into this film, making it all the more thoughtful and all the more entertaining.

B+ Mr. Holmes, Elmwood, 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.

? Mystery Science Theater 3000, New 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. (Why haven’t I experienced this big-screen version? Because I’m too old to see movies that start at 10:30.) I hope this will be a good episode; no one is telling us which one will be screened.