What’s Screening: December 18 – 24

We’re in the traditional no-film-festival season. But there’s a series going on at the Roxie, Far, Far Away and Yet So Close: Science Fiction In San Francisco, that feels very much like a festival to me, so I’m treating it as one.

B+ Time After Time, Roxie, Saturday, 2:30; Sunday, 3:30 & 9:30, Tuesday, 9:30

I can’t imagine a higher concept: Jack the Ripper (David Warner) steals a time machine invented by H.G. Wells (Malcolm McDowell), who must then chase him through 1979 San Francisco. Amazingly, it works, as a fish-out-of-water comedy, a romantic comedy, and–when it has to–a thriller. Novelist and screenwriter Nicholas Meyer keeps the whole thing together in his directorial debut. With Mary Steenburgen as the modern, feminist love interest. Part of Far, Far Away and Yet So Close: Science Fiction In San Francisco.

A+ Brazil, Castro, Sunday

One of the best black comedies ever filmed, and the best dystopian fantasy on celluloid. In a bizarre, repressive, anally bureaucratic, and thoroughly dysfunctional society, one government worker (Jonathan Pryce) tries to escape into his own romantically heroic imagination. But when he finds a real woman who looks like the girl of his dreams (Kim Greist), everything starts to fall apart. With Robert De Niro as a heroic plumber. This is the second and best of Gilliam’s three great fantasies of the 1980’s, and the only one clearly intended for adults. Read my Blu-ray review. On a double bill with Stanley Kubrick’s last film, Eyes Wide Shut (I haven’t seen it).

A Comedy Shorts Night, Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, Saturday, 7:30

I can vouch for three of the four short movies on this program. Charlie Chaplin’s The Pawnshop comes out of his near-perfect Mutual period, with one sparkling routine after another. Buster Keaton’s Neighbors contains some of the funniest and most impressive stunts ever filmed (warning: it contains some racist humor). The Christmas-themed Big Business is generally considered Laurel and Hardy’s best silent, and I can’t argue against that. I haven’t seen the Charley Chase vehicle, There Ain’t No Santa Claus, but I’ve yet to see a Charlie Chase silent I didn’t like. Accompanied by Greg Pane on piano.

B+ The Shining, Castro, Saturday

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. On a double bill with The Innocents, which I’ve never seen.

A- The Princess Bride, New Parkway, Opens Saturday

William Goldman’s enchanting and funny fairy tale dances magically along that thin line between parody and the real thing. Cary Elwes and Robin Wright , back when they were young and gorgeous, make a wonderful set of star-crossed lovers. And Mandy Patinkin has a lot of fun as a revenge-filled swashbuckler. There’s no funnier swordfight anywhere, and who can forget cinema’s greatest acronym, ROUSes (rodents of unusual size). On the other hand, some of the big-name cameos can grate on your nerves.

A+ It’s a Wonderful Life, Castro, Tuesday

There’s a rarely-acknowledged dark side to Frank Capra’s feel-good fable. George Bailey (James Stewart) saves his town and earns the love of his neighbors, but only at the expense of his own dreams and desires. Trapped, frustrated, and deeply disappointed, George needs only one more disaster to turn his thoughts to suicide. The extremely happy (some would say excessively sappy) ending works because George, whose main problems remain unsolved, has suffered so much to earn it. Read my A+ appreciation.

A Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, Roxie, Friday, 6:00; Sunday, 1:00; Monday, 9:30, Tuesday, 9:30

The best big-screen chapter in the Star Trek franchise (yes, I even prefer it, just barely, to Wrath of Khan) has the original cast time travel to 1986 San Francisco so they can save the whales, who were hunted to extinction in the late 20th century. Played largely for laughs (with a plot like that, how else could you play it), it finds plenty of fish-out-of-water humor–from Scotty’s struggles with a Macintosh to McCoy’s horror at the “medieval” medical procedures. Leonard Nimoy directed and played Spock, who is still recovering from his recent death. Part of Far, Far Away and Yet So Close: Science Fiction In San Francisco.

B Truth, New Parkway, opens Sunday

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.