What’s Screening: October 23 – 29

We’re still in a film festival glut–six of them this week. Not that I’m complaining.

And whether they’re in festivals or not, here are some good movies (and not so good) movies:

A- Experimenter, Embarcadero Center, Shattuck, Rafael, starts Friday

In the early ’60s, Stanley Milgram (Peter Sarsgaard) ran tests that tricked subjects into thinking they were torturing another person. He wanted to see how many would stop when ordered to keep going. His methods were extremely controversial. Writer/director Michael Almereyda, who clearly sides with Milgram in the controversy, finds unique and entertaining ways to tell the story; Sarsgaard frequently talks directly to the camera, and occasional scenes use intentionally fake backgrounds. The acting is mostly excellent, and the subject matter is just plain fascinating. Winona Ryder plays Milgram’s wife. Read my full review.

B Truth, Kabuki, opens Friday

As the 2004 presidential election came to its climax, CBS’ 60 Minutes news program covered a story that should have ruined George W. Bush’s chance of re-election. But an important piece of evidence proved to be fake, turning the exposé into a media scandal that helped Bush and destroyed several journalism careers, including Dan Rather’s. Writer/director James Vanderbilt gives us a slick, entertaining, but unexceptional movie about TV journalism in the early 21st century. It has one very big casting flaw: Robert Redford as Rather. But it tells a story that we should all know and remember. Read my full review.

? Republican Presidential Debate #3, New Parkway, Wednesday, 5:00
Why suffer–or laugh–alone?

A Chimes at Midnight (Falstaff), Rafael, Sunday

New digital restoration
Duty to country conflicts with loyalty to friends in one of the best and most unusual Shakespeare adaptations in the cinema. As adapter and director, Orson Welles combined the best parts of Henry IV Part I (my favorite Shakespeare play), Henry IV Part II (a weak sequel with a few great scenes), and Merry Wives of Windsor to create a whole greater than its parts–funny, rousing, and ultimately tragic. And if anyone was ever born to play Falstaff, it was Orson Welles. Part of the Rafael’s ongoing Orson Welles retrospective.

A- Dheepan, New People Cinema, Friday, 9:15

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. Part of the 3rd i South Asian Film Festival.

B The Man Who Laughs, Coastside Housing Center, Half Moon Bay, Friday, 7:30

Lon Chaney had already moved to MGM, so Universal cast Conrad Veidt as The Man Who Laughs. Not that the character is happy; as a child his face was intentionally disfigured, leaving it stuck in a huge grin. Between Veidt’s reputation (he usually played villains) and the sinister look of his makeup (which later inspired the creation of Batman’s Joker), you’d expect him to be an evil genius who must be defeated. But this time, Veidt gets to play a disfigured hero. Set in 17th Century England and dealing with circus acts, evil monarchs, and lecherous aristocrats, The Man Who Laughs entertains in that big, fun Hollywood way. Piano accompaniment by Shauna Pickett-Gordon.

B The Cat and The Canary, Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, Saturday, 7:30

Americans in the 1920s just couldn’t take haunted houses seriously. But they sure enjoyed laughing at them. Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, and Charley Bowers all made very funny short subjects set in spooky old mansions. This feature-length haunted house comedy, centered on the reading of an eccentric millionaire’s will, provides plenty of good laughs as well. Also on the bill: Koko Squeals and Buster Keaton’s wonderful short The Haunted House. With piano accompaniment by Bruce Loeb.

A+ The Godfather, Castro, Sunday

Francis Coppola, taking the job simply because he needed the money, turned Mario Puzo’s potboiler into the Great American Crime Epic. Marlon Brando may have top billing, but Al Pacino owns the film (and became a star) as Michael Corleone, the respectable youngest son reluctantly and inevitably pulled into a life of crime he doesn’t want but for which he proves exceptionally well-suited. A masterpiece of character, atmosphere, and heart-stopping violence. On a double bill with Serpico, which I haven’t seen in decades.

A Young Frankenstein, New Parkway, Thursday, 9:30

Once upon a time, Mel Brooks had talent. And he showed it off beautifully in this sweet-natured, 1974 parody and tribute to the Universal horror films of the 1930′s (specifically the first three Frankenstein movies). Gene Wilder wrote the screenplay and stars as the latest doctor to be stuck with the famous name (which he insists on pronouncing “Fronkenshteen). But blood is fate, and he’s destined to create his own monster. Wilder is supported by some of the funniest actors of the era, including Marty Feldman, Madeline Kahn, Cloris Leachman, and Peter Boyle as the lovable but clumsy creature.

B+ Ghostbusters, New Parkway, Thursday, 9:00

Comedy rarely gets this scary or this visually spectacular. Or perhaps I should say that special-effects action fantasies rarely get this funny (at least intentionally so). Harold Ramis, Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, and Sigourney Weaver appear to be having a great time as they try to control the phantasm and monsters suddenly attacking New York City. Not a bad way to pass an evening.

C+ Dracula, Alameda, Tuesday and Wednesday; various CineMark theaters, Sunday (matinee only) & Wednesday

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. The CineMark theaters will screen a double bill of the Lugosi classic and the separately cast and shot Spanish language version made at the same time.