What’s Screening: September 30 – October 6

Tarantino, King Kong, Mozart, and some early Halloween treats this week in Bay Area screenings.

Also two new films and the opening of this year’s Mill Valley Film Festival.


New films opening

B Cameraperson, Opera Plaza, Shattuck, Rafael, opens Friday

Cinematographer Kirsten Johnson has been shooting documentaries for decades. The films she’s lensed include Citizenfour and Farenheit 911. Now she’s gathered much of what she shot, including home movies, into a montage of her career and–to a lesser extent–of her private life. The film’s best when it puts human faces into the far-too-many horrible atrocities of recent history. It also shines when it reminds us of the person behind the camera; there’s a great moment when Johnson sneezes and the camera shakes. Often fascinating and moving, but sometimes repetitive and dull. Johnson in person at Opera Plaza Friday, 7:00; Shattuck Saturday, 7:20; Rafael Saturday, 4:15.

B- The Lovers and The Despot, Clay, opens Friday

You can’t find a stranger story in the history of cinema. One of South Korea’s top filmmakers and his actress wife disappeared in 1978, and five years later turned up making movies in North Korea. Yes, Kim Jong-il was so intent on improving his country’s film industry that he took to kidnapping. I don’t think you could make a bad documentary out of this incredible story, but the makers if The Lovers and the Despot failed to make a really good one. While the narrative and interviews were always clear, I often found myself wondering what I was looking at and why it was being shown. Read my full review.

Promising events

Quentin Tarantino Weekend, Balboa, Saturday and Sunday

Five films from the weirdly talented writer/director. Saturday starts with his best work, Pulp Fiction. That’s followed by the excellent Jackie Brown and the kind of entertaining but shallow and offensive Inglorious Basterds. Sunday, you can catch the silly but fun Kill Bill Parts 1 & 2.

King Kong Tribute, BAL Theatre, Saturday, October 1, 6:00

The first effects-laden adventure film of the sound era still holds up, thanks to Willis O’Brien’s breathtaking special effects, an intelligent script by Ruth Rose, and the evocative score by Max Steiner. I give the original King Kong an A. In addition to the classic movie, this event will include the documentary Long Live the King, about the character of Kong. With various special guests.

Recommended revivals

A Amadeus, Pacific Film Archive, Thursday, 7:00

In this tale of two composers, the successful Salieri (F. Murray Abraham) works hard to achieve greatness. On the other hand, Mozart (Tom Hulce) composes easily, but struggles to sell his work. Only Salieri can see that Mozart is the better composer. A story of talent, jealousy, and the creative spark, accompanied by some of the best music ever written. This director’s cut is significantly longer than the version that won the 1984 Best Picture Oscar; I like both of them.

A Night of the Living Dead, Saturday, 10:00

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.

B+ Halloween, Tuesday, 10:15

John Carpenter made a very good low-budget thriller that started a very bad genre: the slasher movie–also known as the dead teenager flick. In the original Halloween, an escaped psycho racks up a number of victims on the scariest night of the year. Yes, the story is absurd–the guy seems capable of getting into any place and sneaking up on anyone–but Carpenter and co-screenwriter Debra Hill take the time to let us know these particular teenagers, and that makes all the difference. By the time he goes after the mature, responsible one (Jamie Lee Curtis), you’re really scared.

B Hugo, Balboa, Saturday, 10:00am

Martin Scorsese, in his only family film, uses the latest CGI and 3D technology to tell the story of the man who invented special effects. Well, actually, he tells a fictional story about a boy who befriends George Melies at the grumpy old man stage of his life. The story is slight and cliché-ridden, but it has the virtue of touching on early film history and ending with a message—integrated into the story—of the importance of film preservation. A family film for cinephilic families. The Balboa will not be presenting it in 3D. Read my Thoughts on Hugo.

Lebowskies (frequently-revived classics)