What’s Screening: November 13 – 19

We’ve still got a lot of film festivals going on. Six of them.

Trumbo, Kabuki, opens Friday

Jay Roach turns the story of blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo into a lively, entertaining, and important drama. Bryan Cranston of Breaking Bad makes a lively, funny, and complex Trumbo, and the rest of the cast—almost all of them playing real people—all do a fine job, with Helen Mirren’s Hedda Hopper standing out. As with all biopics, there’s a lot of fiction here, but it gets to the heart of the true story-a dark but important era in the history of Hollywood and America.

B+ What Our Fathers Did: A Nazi Legacy, Opera Plaza, Shattuck, opens Friday

How do you go through life with the knowledge that your father was a mass murderer? This unsettling documentary offers two reactions: Niklas Frank grew to hate his high-ranking Nazi father. On the other hand, Horst von Wächter insists his father was innocent despite massive evidence otherwise. These days, it’s hard to find a fresh documentary approach to the Holocaust. But in the stories of Niklas Frank and Horst von Wächter, filmmakers Philippe Sands and David Evans found a strong one. Read my full review.

? Hands Up!, Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, Saturday, 7:30

Buster Keaton’s wasn’t the only feature-length Civil War comedy to come out of the 1920s. I haven’t seen this Raymond Griffith vehicle in decades, but I recall it as being very funny, in a weirder and more off-the-wall vein then Keaton’s masterpiece. I suspect that if I saw it again, I’d give it a B+ or maybe even an A-. I discuss the movie in more length in my EatDrinkFilm article on The Silent Clowns. The show includes two shorts: The Last Drop of Water and The Taking of Luke McVane. Bruce Loeb will accompany the films on piano.

A+ 80’s dystopian double feature: Brazil & Blade Runner, Sunday, 7:00

The A+ goes to Brazil; but Blade Runner earns an A on its own. I’ve thought for years that these would make a great double bill. True, one is a big-budget blockbuster, and the other an “art film.” But they’re both set in disturbing, dystopian, near futures (which are now in the past). They were made within three years of each other. And both had trouble with studio executives and thus now exist in multiple versions. Read my Blade Runner’s final cut.

A- Paris, Texas, Castro, Monday

Harry Dean Stanton gives a masterful, understated performance as an amnesiac who walks out of the desert and back into the lives of his family. Missing for years, he’s taken in by his brother’s family, which now includes his own son. As the man’s memory slowly returns, he becomes obsessed with earning his son’s love again, and finding out, not the mystery of his own disappearance, but that of his wife’s. Wenders’ first American film. On a Wim Wenders double bill with The State of Things.

D- Archive Talkie Matinee: Monsieur Verdoux, Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, Sunday, 4:00

I feel like a cad attacking Charlie Chaplin’s second talkie and penultimate American film. It took courage in the Hollywood of 1947 to make a movie with a serial killer as the protagonist, and to use that murderer to attack greed, industrialization, and war. But let’s face it: The movie is slow, preachy beyond human tolerance (even if you agree with Chaplin’s sentiments), and almost totally devoid of humor.

A+ Masterpiece double bill in alphabetical order: Seven Samurai & The Seventh Seal, Castro, Sunday

The A+ goes to Seven Samurai. If you think all action movies are mindless escapism, you need to set aside 3½ hours for Kurosawa’s epic masterpiece. The basic story–a poor village hires warriors to defend them against bandits–has been retold many times since, but Kurosawa told it first and told it best. See my Kurosawa Diary entry. In Bergman’s The Seventh Seal (almost the cliché art film), a knight returning from the Crusades plays chess with death while the plague ravages the land. Filled with wonderful characters, religious allegory, and sly humor, it bursts with a love of humanity and a fear for our place in the universe. I give it an A.

A Beauty and the Beast(1946 version), Balboa, Wednesday, 8:00

I’d be hard-pressed to think of another film that’s anything like Jean Cocteau’s post-war fantasy. It’s a fairy tale, told with a charming and often naïve innocence, and contains absolutely no objectionable-for-children content. It’s also a supremely atmospheric motion picture, and one that takes its magical story seriously. Its slow pace and quiet magic never panders to unsophisticated viewers–and yet, I once saw a very young audience sit enraptured by it. See my Blu-ray review.

B The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, New People Cinema, Saturday, 9:00

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is an easier film to admire than to like. The story is very conventional–at least until the end. But visually speaking, this has to be one of the weirdest commercial films ever made. It’s expressionistic visuals and way over-the-top acting keeps the audience at an arms-length. The constant intensity can be exhausting. But the atmosphere can also have a powerful hold. I discuss it at more length in this article. A group called Its Own Infinite Flower will provide the musical accompaniment. Part of Another Hole on the Head Film Festival.

A- Apocalypse Now, Castro, Saturday

New 4K Restoration, original cut
You can see Francis Coppola’s talent melt away in his Vietnam War epic. Most of Apocalypse Now achieves a powerful, hypnotic, surreal brilliance. A modern updating of Heart of Darkness, it follows an army operative (Martin Sheen) assigned to terminate the command of a rogue officer (“terminate, with extreme prejudice”). He travels with four sailors upriver in a small boat, and the river itself becomes a metaphor for the insanity of this particular war. Then, in the last act, they arrive at their destination, meet Marlon Brando, and the whole movie collapses under its own (and Brando’s) weight. On a double bill with The Thin Red Line.

B Sacred Blood, New People Cinema, Friday, 9:00

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. Another part of Another Hole on the Head Film Festival.

A Steve Jobs: Man in the Machine, Lark, Sunday, 8:20; Tuesday, 7:45

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.

A Fantasia, various Cinemark theaters, Sunday (matinee only) and Wednesday; Embarcadero Center, Sunday through Wednesday

I have a sneaking feeling that I don’t really have to tell you about this movie. Decades before MTV, Walt Disney, Leopold Stokowski, and countless other artists took classical music and added animated visuals. Not every piece is brilliant, but several of them are and none of them are truly bad. A great achievement and an entertaining two hours.

? 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.