What’s Screening: January 15 – 21

In festival action, both SF Sketchfest and Berlin & Beyond continue through this week.

A+ The Adventures of Robin Hood, Balboa, Thursday, 7:30

Not every masterpiece needs to provide a deep understanding of the human condition; some are just plain fun. And none more so than this 1938 Errol Flynn swashbuckler. For 102 minutes, you get to live in a world where virtue–graceful, witty, rebellious, good-looking, and wholeheartedly romantic virtue–triumphs completely over grim-faced tyranny. Flynn was no actor, but no one could match him for handling a sword, a beautiful woman, or a witty line, all while wearing tights. The great supporting cast includes Olivia de Havilland, Basil Rathbone, and Technicolor–a name that really meant something special in 1938. Read my A+ essay.

B+ The Man Who Fell to Earth, Elmwood, Friday through Thursday

Movies were pretty weird in the ’70s, but they didn’t get much weirder than this—at least with a major director and stars. David Bowie plays an alien who comes to Earth in search of water, but instead discovers capitalism, TV, alcohol, and human sex. Yet it’s not entirely clear what the film is about. Nicolas Roeg directed it, so you know that the movie won’t be about story. But the images are intriguing, the central characters are puzzles that cry out to be solved, and it has some very sexy scenes for your enjoyment. If for no other reason, see it to remind yourself what science fiction films could be like in the years between 2001 andStar Wars. A David Bowie celebration.

A Chimes at Midnight, Castro, Tuesday

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 great final act), 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. On a double bill with Welles’ last completed movie, F for Fake.

? The Mads are Back, Brava Theater Center, Friday, 7:30

Yet another Mystery Science Theater 3000
spinoff. Trace Beaulieu (best remembered as mad scientist Clayton Forrester) and Frank Conniff (best remembered as Forrester’s sidekick, TV’s Frank), will riff live on whatever movies they plan to show. Part of SF Sketchfest.

A Fruitvale Station, Roxie, opens Friday

The experience of seeing this independent feature is very much like waiting for a time bomb. You watch Oscar Grant (Michael B. Jordan) go through the last day of 2008, knowing that he will be fatally shot by a BART cop in the early hours of the new year. Writer/director Ryan Coogler wisely avoids turning Grant into a saint, but makes us care very much for him. The last moments of the film–not including some documentary footage and the closing credits–will break your heart. Read my longer report.

? Found Footage Festival meets Everything Is Terrible!, Castro, Wednesday, 8:00

Joe Pickett and Nick Prueher collect videos of all types from garage sales, thrift shops, and even dumpsters. Then they put together the worst of these and present them with MST3K-like commentary. Judging from my reviews of past editions (2007 and 2012), this one will probably be very funny. Another part of SF Sketchfest.

B Lost In Translation, Roxie, Saturday, 7:00

Sophia Coppola introduced us to Scarlett Johansson and gave Bill Murray his best performance since Groundhog Day in this film in which nothing of note actually happens. Murray plays an American movie star in Tokyo to shoot a whiskey commercial. Johansson plays the bored wife of a photographer. They sense a bond, but what you expect to happen never does. But that’s okay because it probably wouldn’t happen in real life, either. Coppola allows us to enjoy these people’s company, and their reaction to a foreign culture, for 104 minutes. On a double bill with The Virgin Suicides.

B+ Mad Max: Fury Road, Elmwood, opening Friday

You have to understand three things about this movie: 1) It’s basically one long motor vehicle chase broken up with short dialog scenes. 2) It’s surprisingly feminist for this sort of movie; the plot involves a woman warrior rescuing a tyrant’s enslaved harem. 3) The title character is basically a sidekick. The movie is filled with crashes, weapons, hand-to-hand combat, acts of courage, close calls, and fatal errors. It’s fast, brutal, and for the most part very well-choreographed. The film makes effective use of 3D, and should be seen that way. Unfortunately, the Elmwood will screen it flat. Read my longer essay.

A The Big Short, Vogue, opens Friday

Who could expect that an absurd comedy would provide such a clear explanation of the 2007-08 economic meltdown? This is a movie willing to cut away from the story so celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain can use a cooking metaphor to explain CDOs. The movie, based on a true story, follows several traders who foresaw the housing meltdown and made fortunes betting on the collapse. Some of them felt guilty, but they couldn’t stop the meltdown, so they might as well have profited from it. You cheer for all of them, and are horrified by what happens to the rest of us.

D- Hard To Be a God, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Saturday, 7:00; Sunday, 2:00

Imagine the filthy, gory, and ugly medieval world that Monty Python parodied in Holy Grail, but played for gruesome shock and taken seriously. And not much of a story either. Or any real characters. That’s pretty much what you get with Aleksei German’s last film (finished after his death by his wife and son). While costumes, sets, and people’s attitudes reflect Europe’s middle ages, the movie is supposedly set on another planet. Little is made of that. The film, thankfully shot in black and white, succeeds in creating an atmosphere, but that’s not enough for a three-hour movie.