What’s Screening: October 30 – November 5

It’s autumn, so things are cooling down a bit festival-wise. Only three this week.

D Othello, Rafael, Sunday

Orson Welles and William Shakespeare often made a great team, but not this time. That’s a real pity, because the making of Othello was in itself an epic, multi-year struggle against bad financing. Welles would raise money, shoot a little, then put the picture on hold as he tried to raise more money. Unfortunately, the tight budget and off-and-on shooting schedule shows. Bad sound, obvious dubbing, and unmatched locations makes it impossible to suspend your disbelief and jump into Shakespeare’s tragic love story. Orson Welles in blackface doesn’t help. Part of the series Welles 100: The Maverick.

C- South Pacific, Stanford, Friday through Sunday

There’s a fair amount of historical interest in the film version of this Rodger and Hammerstein musical, but not much good filmmaking. It was only the third film shot in Todd-AO, and the first after a major format alteration. It has a big song about the evils of racism (risky at the time). But in the end, this tale of American sailors stationed in a paradise that’s about to become a war zone is just plain bland. Neither the songs, the story, the actors, or even the scenery rises above so-so. See my article on big roadshow musicals of the 50s and 60s.

A Night of the Living Dead, Castro, Saturday, 3:30

This is fear without compromise. The slow, nearly unstoppable ghouls (sequels and imitations would later rename them zombies) were shockingly gruesome in 1968. Decades later, the shock is gone. But the dread and fear remain, made less spectacular but more emotionally gripping by the black and white photography. Night of the Living Dead is scary, effective, occasionally funny, and at times quite gross. It can be viewed as a satire of capitalism, a commentary on American racial issues, or simply as one of the scariest horror films ever made. Read my essay. On a triple bill with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Evil Dead.

A- Grandma, Castro, Wednesday; New Parkway, opens Friday

Here’s a star vehicle in every sense of the word–a movie that’s based entirely on showing off Lilly Tomlin’s talent. Fortunately, Tomlin’s talent could easily fill eight movies. As an aging poet trying to raise money to help her granddaughter pay for an abortion, Tomlin is acerbic, touching, unpredictable, outrageous, angry, concerned, and–of course–very funny, The story and the supporting players, especially Julia Garner as the granddaughter, are really there for Tomlin to have people to talk to. But her poet character is such a wonderfully unique, real, and funny person (if not always a very nice one) that it makes the movie more than just worthwhile. The Castro will screen Grandma on a double bill with Woody Allen’s Irrational Man.

B Truth, Albany, Piedmont, Aquarius, 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.

C+ Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, Oakland Paramount, Friday, 8:00

I’m not entirely sure why Universal’s 1948 genre mash-up remains so popular. Yes, it combines the studio’s massively successful comedians with the three most popular monsters on the back lot. But I’ve never been a huge Abbott and Costello fan, and the monsters were definitely running out of steam by the late 40′s. But it has enough laughs to make it worth the time.

A Tangerine, Roxie, Sunday, 9:00; Tuesday, 7:00

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.

? Mystery Science Theater 3000 – The Halloween Edition, New Parkway, Saturday, 10:00.

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 experience? Because I’m too old to see movies that start at 10:00.) I hope this will be a good episode; no one is telling us which one will be screened.