What’s Screening: October 16 – 22

Believe it or not, seven film festivals will run start, finish, or keep running between now and Thursday. That has to be a record.

I’ve listed Mill Valley Film Festival screenings at the end of this newsletter. I haven’t had the time to screen films from other festivals.

A- Bridge of SpiesAlamedaBalboa, opens Friday

Steven Spielberg’s cerebral cold war espionage drama pits a New York lawyer (Tom Hanks) against a USA unwilling to give a Russian spy a fair trial. But when the USSR shoots down an American spy plane and captures the pilot, the lawyer finds himself learning new skills quickly as a top-secret negotiator arranging a spy swap. Bridge of Spies captures the fear and paranoia on both sides at the very moment when the Berlin Wall was going up. The Coen brothers worked on the screenplay, which shows flashes of what was probably their wit. Read my full review.

A- Army of Shadows, Roxie, Saturday & Sunday

Resistance is a dirty and almost inevitably deadly job, but in Nazi-occupied France, someone had to do it. Jean-Pierre Melville’s dark 1969 adventure can occasionally confuse those who don’t know the history (or the geography), but the rewards are well worth the effort. The suspense set pieces, including a night-time novice parachute jump and a rescue attempt by ambulance, are nerve-wracking, but not nearly so much as the protagonists’ constant fear and horrendous moral dilemmas. Nothing gets romanticized in this spy story.

A Nashville, Balboa, Thursday, 7:30

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 show off their acting and singing chops. Read my Blu-ray review.

A- Tremors, UA Berkeley, Thursday, 9:00

Few horror movies depend so much on wit, and so little on gore. The entire population of this small desert town could probably fit in a small bus. But that population–which includes good ol’ boys, eccentrics, gun nuts, and a visiting scientist–is about to get a whole lot smaller when giant predators come up from the ground and drag their meals down under the sand. The movie has its gruesome moments (it is a horror film), but it mostly balances on that fine line between comedy and suspense. I love the fact that the creatures are never explained.

? Free Family Movies, Cerrito, Saturday, 11:00AM

Free; presented by BAM/PFA
All I know about this presentation is that some filmmakers will be there in person, and it will include animated shorts and door prizes. And one of the films is something called The Dam Keeper.

A+ Notorious, Rafael, Tuesday, 7:15

One of Hitchcock’s best. In order to prove her patriotism, scandal-ridden Ingrid Bergman seduces, beds, and marries Claude Rains’ Nazi industrialist, while true love Cary Grant grimly watches. Grant sent her on this deadly and humiliating mission, and she literally sleeps with the enemy on his orders. He reacts with blind jealousy. The Nazi, on the other hand, appears to truly love her. Sexy, romantic, thought-provoking, and scary enough to shorten your fingernails. I discuss the film more deeply in my Blu-ray Review. Part of the Rafael’s Ingrid Bergman Retrospective.

B+ Inequality For All, Stanford University: Freeman Spogli Institute For International Studies, Encina Hall, Tuesday, 4:10

I suppose I should be raving about this wonderful documentary, if only because it speaks truth about one of the most important issues of our time. Well, it does speak truth, and I agree with just about everything that the film’s subject, economist Robert Reich, says here. But the simple fact that it confirms my existing beliefs doesn’t make it great art. And since very few people who don’t already agree with it will ever see it, its impact on society will be minimal. But Reich is an engaging person–funny and self-effacing, and very intelligent–resulting in an entertaining movie. Part of the United Nations Association Film Festival.

B The Phantom of the Opera (1925 version), Castro, Saturday, 8:00

Musical accompaniment by Bruce Loeb on the Castro’s temporary organ
The original, silent Phantom wallows in atmosphere and depends entirely on Lon Chaney’s iconic makeup and bravado performance. He makes the phantom tragic, frightening, psychopathic, and yet strangely romantic. The demasking scene will stick in your memory for life. The newly-restored print (which I assume the Castro is showing) recreates the original tints, 2-color Technicolor, and painted stencil colors of the original release. On a double bill with Carnival of the Souls, which I have to admit I’ve never seen.

B+ The Shining, New Parkway, Friday, 10:00

Stanley Kubrick turned a brilliant novel into a very good movie, and somehow got credited for making a masterpiece. When you come right down to it, The Shining is a basic haunted house story set in a large resort hotel, closed for the winter, and populated only with the caretaker and his wife and son. Jack Nicholson plays the father, not so much as a man slowly going insane, but as someone halfway there already–a major mistake that hurts the story considerably. Shelley Duvall plays his very suffering wife. Read my Book vs. Movie report.

B- Cleopatra, Castro, Saturday, 1:00

At 243 minutes, this widescreen epic clocks in as the longest single theatrical release by a major American studio. And at an estimated 40 million 1963 dollars, it’s probably the most expensive. It’s also very dependent on a large screen and a large format to work (it was shot in Todd-AO and originally screened in 70mm). In most theaters and with most projectors, the first half (Rex Harrison as Julius Caesar) is mildly entertaining, and the second half (Richard Burton as Mark Antony), unbearably boring. But in 4K at the Castro, the movie’s spectacle makes it much more fun. The first half becomes spectacular entertainment and the second…well, not quite as boring.

B+ The Lost Boys, Clay, Friday & Saturday, 11:55 (just before midnight); New Parkway, Thursday, 9:15 & 9:30

This clever and funny–and even occasionally scary–teenage vampire movie was shot in Santa Cruz and is clearly set there (even though they give the town another name). So you’ve got the undead dealing with summer on the beach, the boardwalk, and teenage angst. But then, what do you do when peer pressure tells you to become an immortal bloodsucker? Hey, all the cool kids are doing it. A lot of fun in a horror movie that refuses to take itself seriously.

A+ Casablanca, Rafael, Monday, 7:15

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. Another part of the Rafael’s Ingrid Bergman Retrospective.

A- Selma,New Parkway, Sunday, 3:00

I found it difficult at first to accept David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King and Tom Wilkinson as LBJ. They didn’t look or sound right. But as the film progressed, I accepted them and got lost in the powerful and (unfortunately) still timely story. I had no problem accepting Carmen Ejogo’s spot-on perfect performance as Coretta Scott King. The film’s biggest strength comes from its picture of King as a flawed human being filled with doubts, exhaustion, and guilt–a man who would lie to his wife, badly, about his infidelities–but who is also a great hero. The film’s biggest mistake was letting us meet this real person before showing us the great orator that he is his public image. A special showing commemorating the 50 anniversary of the Selma-to-Montgomery march.

A Steve Jobs: The Man In the Machine, Opera Plaza, 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? 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.

Mill Valley Film Festival

A- Dheepan, Rafael, Sunday, 5:30

This story of Sri Lankan refugees resettling in France feels like two excellent films that don’t quite fit together. The main film is a social drama about three strangers pretending to be family while adjusting to Western civilization. In addition to learning a new language and surviving financially at the very lowest rung of the economic ladder, they must fake or create real relationships. The other film, which dominates the final act, is a well-made, effective, and extremely violent crime thriller. I loved Dheepan; but I would have loved it more without the big action finish.

A Open Your Eyes, Lark, Saturday, 8:15

This is a 34-minute short. It will play with another film called A Children’s Song.
This moving and joyful documentary celebrates the Seva Foundation and the very idea of bettering the world. It follows an elderly couple in Nepal, both all-but-completely blind, as they travel to a clinic where Seva workers restore their eyesight. We see their travel, their six-minute operations (only one eye each; they’ll get the other eyes fixed months later), and the amazement when they can see again. Then they return home and see their grandchildren for the first time.

B+ Hitchcock/Truffaut, Rafael, Saturday, 3:15

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 Sacred Blood, Sequoia, Friday, 8:15, Throckmorton Theatre, Saturday, 5:00

Yet another hip vampire movie filled with punk music, stylish visuals, mortals who deserve to die, and bloodsucker angst. Circus manager Natia gets bitten by a vampire dog and joins the undead. She gets lessons from a more experienced vampire, befriends an innocent young man, and has no trouble cleaning human scum off the streets of San Francisco. The movie is quite often wonderful , especially when it goes way over the top. But the story is predictable and some of the acting is unpardonably bad.