What’s Screening: March 4 – 10

This week’s film festivals: The on-going Cinequest continues through this week and beyond. CAAMfest opens Thursday.

B The Wave, Embarcadero Center, Shattuck, opens Friday

A horrifically deadly tsunami crashes into a popular tourist resort in this Norwegian disaster movie. It starts strong and slow, as the geologist hero (Kristoffer Joner) tries to convince his co-workers of impending catastrophe. The Wave hits its high point when the giant mass of water forces itself through the fiord with deadly power. But in the third act, the movie becomes a collection of disaster movie clichés. Read my full review.

A+ Ran, Castro, Sunday

New 4K Restoration
I doubt anyone else ever made a movie as sad, as tragic, as despairing of the human condition, and yet as beautiful as Kurosawa’s reworking of King Lear. To watch Ran is to experience, in your gut, that many people are capable of unspeakable evil. And while these people inevitably pay the price for their ambitions, so do countless innocents. Unlike Shakespeare, Kurosawa considers what his king did before he became old, and it isn’t pretty. The film, on the other hand, is as visually gorgeous as movies get. Read my Kurosawa Diary entry. On a double bill with A.K., a documentary on the making of Ran.

? Balboa 90th Birthday Bash & Tramp, Tramp, Tramp, Balboa, Sunday, 7:00

The little, old theater deep in the Richmond District celebrates the start of its tenth decade with Harry Langdon’s 1926 first feature, Tramp, Tramp, Tramp, with piano accompaniment by Kylan deGhetaldi. I saw the movie way back in the 1970s, and was disappointed. Also on the program: magician Walt Anthony, music by The Speakeasy Three and Kat Factor, champagne, and cake.

? The Great Nickelodeon Show, Pacific Film Archive, Sunday, 3:00

Going to the movies was very different when the big special effect was “It’s a photograph…and it moves.” Short movies and live vaudeville acts came on one after another, all accompanied by piano and a rowdy audience. This recreation will include films by Georges Méliès, Edwin S. Porter, and D.W. Griffith, with musical accompaniment by Frederick Hodges.

B+ The Revenant, Piedmont, opens Friday

In terms of photography and non-fantasy special effects, this based-on-a-true-story outdoor adventure feels like a masterpiece. But the screenplay by Mark L. Smith and director Alejandro González Iñárritu (Birdman, Babel) has serious problems. It over-emphasizes revenge. It’s repetitive. The final fight with the main bad guy (Tom Hardy) goes on too long. And yet, it’s a magnificent story that, for the most part, is very well made. Read my full report.

A The World of Apu, Pacific Film Archive, Wednesday, 3:10

In the final chapter of Satyajit Ray’s great trilogy, the adult Apu leaves college, but seems reluctant to grow up. Like his father, he’s a dreamer, and assumes that good things will come his way. His best friend from college does much better, but then, he came from a rich family. One good thing does come his way: He marries, almost by accident, and finds happiness and true love. But tragedy is never far away in Apu’s world. See my discussion of the entire trilogy.

B Shanghai Express, Castro, Wednesday

“It took more than one man to change my name to Shanghai Lily,” Marlene Dietrich explains in Josef von Sternberg’s exotic pre-code adventure. The story follows multiple Europeans stuck in the political turmoil of a China that could only exist on a Hollywood soundstage. The result comes perilously close to dull melodrama, but it’s raised almost to a fine art by glorious camerawork and art direction, some clever dialog, and entertaining performances by Dietrich and Anna May Wong. On a double bill with Safe in Hell. Part of the pre-code series I Wake Up Dreaming.

? Batman: The Movie, New Mission, Saturday and Sunday, 12:00 noon

Not all Batman movies are dark. This 1966 entry–a theatrical feature spin-off of a hit TV series–is as light as an action movie can get, with pop-out colors, campy dialog, and comic book-style written sound effects on the screen (POW!). I haven’t seen this very silly movie in ages, but I remember it fondly. Call it the Bright Knight. A Kid Camp matinee.

B+ Dial M for Murder, Balboa, Thursday, 7:30

Good Hitchcock but not great Hitchcock, with several overly-talkie sequences make it feel like the stage play it was based on. But it was a good play, and Hitchcock knew how to enliven it. One man blackmails another into committing murder, with results that I can’t possibly discuss. Hitchcock shot Dial M in 3D, and pretty much ignored the obvious depth effects popular at the time. But when he finally throws something at the camera, he knows exactly what to throw and when to throw it. Read my re-evaluation. Unfortunately, the Balboa will screen the movie flat.

A To Kill a Mockingbird, various CineMark Theaters, Sunday (matinee only) and Wednesday

The film version of Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel manages to be both a nostalgic reverie of depression-era small town Southern life and a condemnation of that life’s dark and ugly underbelly. Gregory Peck’s Atticus Finch is the ultimate decent and moral father, a character so virtuous he’s only believable because the story is told through the eyes of his six-year-old daughter. (It’s worth noting that in the recent sequel to the novel, the now-grown daughter discovers her father’s flaws.)

Dark double feature: Sunset Blvd & Psycho, Stanford, through Sunday

can think of Sunset Blvd, Billy Wilder’s meditation on Hollywood’s seedy underbelly, as the flip side of Singin’ in the Rain. Norma Desmond, the has-been silent movie star who will not age gracefully, is very much Lena Lamont after twenty-two years of denial and depression. And in the role of Norma, Gloria Swanson gives one of the great over-the-top performances in Hollywood history. William Holden plays the doomed (no, that’s not a spoiler) screenwriter she turns into her boy toy. Darkly scary and oddly funny. See below for my comments on Psycho.

A Psycho, Stanford, through Sunday; New Parkway, Tuesday, 8:55

You may never want to take a shower again. In his last great movie, Alfred Hitchcock pulls the rug out from under us several times, leaving the audience unsure who we’re supposed to be rooting for or what could constitute a happy ending. In roles that defined their careers, Janet Leigh stars as a secretary turned thief, and Anthony Perkins as a momma’s boy with a lot to hide. I’ll always regret that I knew too much about Psycho before I saw it; I wish I could erase all memory of this movie and watch it with fresh eyes.

A The Big Lebowski, Cerrito, Thursday, 9:30

This is one exceptional comedy–a Raymond Chandler story where Philip Marlowe has been replaced with a happily unemployed, perpetually stoned, thoroughly inept slacker who calls himself “the Dude” (Jeff Bridges). Behind the laughs, you can find a thin, barely grasped sense of Zen–as if you could throw yourself to the universe and everything will come out okay…unless it doesn’t. The wonderful supporting cast includes Sam Elliott, John Turturro, Julianne Moore. Philip Seymour Hoffman, and John Goodman as the funniest Vietnam vet ever to suffer from PTSD. (Actually, his friends do most of the suffering.) Read my full report.

A The Big Short, Castro, Tuesday; Lark, 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 and let celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain explain CDOs with a cooking metaphor. 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. The Castro screens The Big Short on an appropriate double bill with Wall Street.

A Spotlight, Castro, Monday

A quartet of dogged and determined journalists at the Boston Globe blows open the Catholic Church’s sex abuse scandal. Most of the characters are nominally Catholic, complicating their feelings about the work. Based on a true story, Spotlight celebrates real investigative journalism, backed up by an editor and publisher who are willing to take chances. An excellent cast–headed by Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, and Liev Schrieber–brings drama to a story whose ending we already know. On a very appropriate double bill with All the President’s Men.

B+ Hitchcock/Truffaut, New Parkway, Tuesday, 7:00

In the early 60s, François Truffaut interviewed Alfred Hitchcock and together they created one of the great books on filmmaking. Now documentarian Kent Jones has turned that book into a film. He rightly focuses on cinematic technique as he explains the creation of the book and what it taught filmmakers. Top directors, including Wes Anderson, Richard Linklater, and Martin Scorsese, talk onscreen about Hitchcock’s work–how he used camera placement, editing, and other tools of the filmmaker’s art. I enjoyed the movie very much, but I’m biased. Read my full review.

B+ Mad Max: Fury Road, Alamo Drafthouse New Mission, Friday through Sunday

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 New Mission will screen it flat. Read my longer essay.

B+ Brooklyn, New Parkway, opens Saturday

In this essentially American tale, a young woman immigrates from a small village in Ireland to the Big Apple, where she finds work, friendship, glamorous clothing, and romance. About halfway through the nearly two-hour runtime, things were going so well for her that I found myself wondering how the filmmakers could sustain the story. Then tragedy forces her to return to Ireland, and her home town becomes the collective villain, trying to keep her “where she belongs.” The film is set in the early 1950s.

B- 45 Years, Albany, opens Friday

Not much happens in Andrew Haigh’s chamber drama about a married couple approaching their 45th anniversary. The wife (Charlotte Rampling) discovers that her husband (Tom Courtenay) almost married someone else years before they met. They talk calmly to each other, and only once does one of them seem to be on the verge of maybe getting a bit warm under the collar. The film’s calm and even tone is both its strength and its weakness. We can’t help but sympathize with them and consider the inevitable problems of a long marriage, but the film gets dull and the conflict seems silly. Read my full review.