Almodovar, Von Sternberg, Kazan, and a talking pig grace Bay Area screens this week. Also, the first film festivals of 2017.
New films opening
A Julieta, Clay, opens Friday; Rafael, Saturday, 7:30
Middle-aged Julieta (Emma Suárez) runs into an old friend of the daughter that disappeared from her life ages ago. And so she starts writing a long letter to her missing daughter. That letter, and the film, will reveal the deep, dark secrets of her past in Pedro Almodovar’s sad yet sexy tale of love, lust, and loss; of having what you want and losing what you care about most. Read my full review. The Rafael screening is part of For Your Consideration.
A Babe, New Parkway, Sunday, 12:30
At least among narrative features, Babe is easily the greatest work of vegetarian propaganda in the history of cinema. It’s also a sweet, funny, and charming fairy tale about a pig who wants to become a sheep dog. This Australian import helped audiences and critics recognize and appreciate character actor James Cromwell, and technically broke considerable ground in the category of live-action talking-animal movies. Warning: If you take your young children to this G-rated movie, you may have trouble getting them to eat bacon. A benefit for Montclair Community Play Center.
A- The Docks of New York, Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, Saturday, 7:30
Josef Von Sternberg’s strength has always been his visual style, but in silents, that style soars with a freedom that talkies couldn’t match. Docks feels like the seamy underbelly of On the Town. A stoker on shore leave saves a suicidal prostitute and then marries her on a whim. Full of atmosphere, eroticism, and a lead character whose motivations are never clear, but whose surprising actions are always believable. With the short subjects Over the Top and The Best Man. Frederick Hodges accompanies on piano.
A- On the Waterfront, Davies Symphony Hall, Saturday, 8:00
Special screening with San Francisco Symphony Orchestra playing Leonard Bernstein’s original score live
A thug-run union and conflicted loyalties drive this revered drama, shot on location in New York. Marlon Brando stands out amongst a brilliant cast as a half-bright dock worker struggling between loyalty to family and to society as a whole. Yet some plot twists are just too convenient. A bigger problem: Both writer Budd Schulberg and director Elia Kazan named names to get off the anti-Communist blacklist, then made this film to justify their acts of cowardice.
B+ The Man Who Fell to Earth, Castro, Sunday
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. It’s not entirely clear what the film is about, but the images are intriguing, the central characters are puzzles that cry out to be solved, and the sex scenes are very sexy. If for no other reason, see it to rediscover what science fiction films could be like in the years between 2001 and Star Wars. On a double bill with Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence.
B Easy Rider, Balboa, Thursday, 7:30
This iconic film changed Hollywood immensely, and at least temporarily, for the better. Weird, low-budget, and breaking every rule, it nevertheless became a big hit, opening studio doors to young directors and serious art. The two anti-heroes (played by producer Peter Fonda and director Dennis Hopper) seem totally counterculture on the outside, yet they’re irredeemably materialistic at their core. Easy Rider hasn’t aged well, but it’s still worth seeing as a bug in amber from a lost age. For more on Easy Rider, see America Lost & Found: The BBS Story.
B Kill Bill Part 1, New Parkway, Sunday, 5:00
Quentin Tarantino creates a whole new universe in his two-part martial arts revenge epic. In a sense, it’s the ultimate Tarantino flick, since this time around, even Tarantino himself knows that it’s set in an alternate universe. Part 1 drags a bit with fight after fight, even though some of them are beautifully choreographed. And there are a great many clever and funny moments throughout. A Bechdel Test Movie Night with a post-film discussion.