What’s Screening: October 9 – 15

The Mill Valley Film Festival runs throughout the week. And the United Nations Association Film Festival opens Thursday. I’ve included festival films at the bottom of this newsletter.

B Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon, Opera Plaza, Shattuck, opens Friday

The National Lampoon magazine was irreverent, offensive, bold, crazy, satirical, and often hilarious. It spawned, among other things, Saturday Night Live. If you’re old enough to remember it, Douglas Tirola’s fast-paced documentary will bring back fun memories while introducing you to the people who made the laughs. Zany graphics, interviews with very funny people, a 70s rock soundtrack, video clips from their live shows, and animated versions of the magazine’s cartoons keep it lively. But the film crams too much history into 93 minutes, making it occasionally hard to follow. And it never really confronts the extreme sexism of the Lampoon.

? Democratic Presidential debate, New Parkway, Tuesday, 6:00
In case you’d rather see the Clinton/Saunders slugfest with a crowd. Personally, I plan to be at a real movie that night.

A Chinatown, Balboa, Thursday, 7:30

Roman Polanski may be a rapist, but you can’t deny his talent as a filmmaker (which doesn’t excuse his actions as a human being). And that talent was never better than when he made this neo-noir tale of intrigue and double-crosses set in the Los Angeles of the 1930s. Writer Robert Towne fictionalized an actual scandal involving southern California water rights, mixed in a few personal scandals, and handed the whole story over to Polanski, who turned the script into the perfect LA period piece.

A Sing-along Mary Poppins, Castro, Saturday and Sunday

The comments below are based on the original, non-sing-along version.
The best live-action movie Walt Disney ever made is, not surprisingly, one of the great all-time children’s pictures. Julie Andrews may have won the Oscar through a sympathy vote, but she really lights up the screen in her first movie appearance, managing to upstage Dick Van Dyke and some wonderful special effects. So what if it takes liberties with the books?

A Monty Python and the Holy Grail (Quote-Along Edition), various CineMark theaters, Sunday (matinee only) and Wednesday

The comments below are based on the original, non-quote-along version.
Bump your coconuts and prepare the Holy Hand Grenade, but watch out for the Killer Rabbit (not to mention the Trojan one). The humor is silly and often in very bad taste, and the picture has nothing of substance to say beyond ridiculing the romantic view of medieval Europe. But the Pythons’ first feature with an actual story (well, sort of) keeps you laughing from beginning to end. After Airplane!, the funniest film of the 1970s—and the 1070s.

B+ (maybe A) Aliens, New Parkway, Sunday, 5:00

Featuring a post-film discussion with Cheryl Dunye (The Bechdel Test Movie Night)
Less of a horror film and more of an action flick (or, arguably, a war movie), Aliens strands a platoon of marines on a barely hospitable planet infested with the big, egg-laying predators. It works as a horror film, an action flick, a war movie, science fiction, a feminist work (the climatic fight is between two mothers of different species), and a condemnation of capitalism. Sigourney Weaver, made famous by the original film, stars again. The New Parkway’s website doesn’t give a running time, which makes it impossible for me to know if this is the 137-minute original cut, to which I give a B+, or the 154-minute director’s cut, which easily deserves an A.

? Jack Pierce, the Maker of Monsters, Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, Friday, 7:30

Makeup expert Jack Pierce played an central role in the monster movies that graced Universal’s bottom line in the 1930s. The most famous images we have of Frankenstein and the Wolf Man come from Pierce’s skill and imagination. I haven’t seen this documentary. On a double bill with White Zombie, a 1932 tale starring Bela Lugosi.

A Tangerine, 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, in part 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 Diary of a Teenage Girl, Roxie, opens Saturday

Minnie (Bel Powley in an amazing breakthrough performance) isn’t just any teenage girl. She’s an inspiring cartoonist with an irresponsible hippie mother in 1977 San Francisco–and she’s just lost her virginity to her mother’s boyfriend. The movie bursts with conflict, absurdities, and underground-comic-style animation as it captures San Francisco in the late 70s flawlessly (I was there). But even better, it captures the rocky emotions of a young woman overwhelmed with hormones and not sure what to do with them.

A Inside Out¸New Parkway, opens Friday

Pixar appears to have regained its magic touch in creating family-friendly animated features that are funny, technically dazzling, and suitable for adults. 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 her 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.

? 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.

Mill Valley Film Festival

A Here Is Harold, Rafael, Sunday, 1:00; Sequoia, Tuesday, 8:30; Rafael, Thursday, 12:15

This very dark Norwegian comedy touches on issues of age, senility, parent/child relationships, the effect of big box stores on local businesses, and whether it’s wise to kidnap a wealthy capitalist when you have no idea what you’re doing. Harold (Bjørn Sundquist) loses everything when IKEA opens a monstrosity across the street from his 40-year-old furniture store, so he sets out to kidnap IKEA founder Ingvar Kamprad (Björn Granath) and force him to confess that his products are badly-made junk. This is not a laugh-a-minute comedy, but the laughs that come are deep and satisfying, with a strong sense of the absurd. I may never listen to popping bubble wrap again without laughing. The big question: How did the filmmakers get IKEA and the real Kamprad to cooperate?

B+ Hitchcock/Truffaut, Lark, Thursday, 8:00

This is the movie version of a book about making movies. In the early 60s, François Truffaut interviewed Alfred Hitchcock and together they created one of the great books on filmmaking. Now documentarian Kent Jones has turned that book into a film. He rightly focuses on cinematic technique as he explains the creation of the book and what it taught filmmakers. Top directors, including Wes Anderson, Richard Linklater, and Martin Scorsese talk onscreen about Hitchcock’s work–how he used camera placement, editing, and other tools of the filmmaker’s art. I enjoyed the movie very much, but I’m biased.

B- 45 Years, Sequoia, Friday, 5:30, Rafael, Monday, 2:30

Andrew Haigh’s very British chamber drama about an aged married couple approaching their 45th anniversary sticks to a calm and even tone. That’s both its strength and its weakness. Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay give excellent performances, and we can’t help sympathizing with their characters. But the movie suffers from an emotional monotone that gets dull after a while. The conflict, about a girlfriend of the husband’s who died years before he met his wife, feels a bit like a tempest in a teapot. But perhaps the wife’s deep insecurity is the point.