What’s Screening: February 10 – 16

Bay Area movie theaters celebrate valentine’s day week with Harold and Maude, Brokeback Mountain, Punch-Drunk Love, and The Bride of Frankenstein.

Also, the Balboa is now selling beer.


Promising events

Sembene!, Sunday, 4:15

Often called the father of African cinema, Ousmane Sembene told stories that weren’t being told before – at least not in the cinema. His works include the classic Black Girl and the wonderful Moolaadé. Sembene died in 2007, and now Samba Gadjigo and Jason Silverman have created a documentary on him. Gadjigo will be present to discuss the film and the filmmaker.

Valentine’s Day at the New Parkway, Tuesday

On valentine’s day, the New Parkway offers dinner and a choice of four classic – if somewhat odd – romantic comedies. You can eat a four-course meal with Stanley Kramer’s 1967 lesson on inter-racial love, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. For December/June romances, there’s Harold and Maude (read my article). For British romance, there’s Four Weddings and a Funeral. But Amelie, with an all-you-can-eat pasta bar, is sold out.

Punch-Drunk Love, New Mission, Monday, 10:00

I vaguely recall this Paul Thomas Anderson drama, which shocked the world by proving that Adam Sandler could act. His supporting cast, which included Emily Watson and Philip Seymour Hoffman, may have coaxed him into working hard. Aside from Funny People, he hasn’t done much acting since.

Recommended revivals

A The Bride of Frankenstein, New Mission, Tuesday, 10:30

You spend more time scared for the monster than of it in James Whales’ masterpiece. Boris Karloff plays the nameless creature as a child in a too-large body, the ultimate outcast torn between his need for love and his anger at the society that rejects him. With Colin Clive as the mad scientist, Ernest Thesiger as a delightfully over-the-top madder scientist, and Elsa Lanchester as both Mary Shelley and the monster’s mate (although, technically speaking, Valerie Hobson plays the real Bride of Frankenstein).

A Brokeback Mountain, Castro, Wednesday

Heath Ledger turns the stereotype of the strong, silent cowboy on its head, playing a man so beaten down and closed off from the world that every word is a struggle. Unable to come out of the closet, he can’t openly acknowledge who he really is without rejecting another, equally important part of his identity–the strong, manly cowpoke. Jake Gyllenhaal and Michelle Williams are also brilliant as his lover and his wife. One of only a handful of films that significantly changed society for the better. On a double bill with My Beautiful Launderette.

A- Sullivan’s Travels, Castro, Tuesday

Preston Sturges bit the hand that fed him caviar with this satire of Hollywood itself. Joel McCrea stars as a successful director tired of making light-hearted comedies like Ants in Your Pants of 1939. To prepare himself for making a serious drama about the depression, he disguises himself as a hobo and rides the rails. The movie turns surprisingly dark in the last act, and ends with a stirring speech proclaiming Sturges’ message: “Movies shouldn’t have messages.” On a double bill with It Happened One Night.

A- Johnny Guitar, Pacific Film Archive, Saturday, 6:15; Sunday, 4:30

Nicolas Ray’s 1954 low-budget tale has to be the weirdest western made before Blazing Saddles. Stagy and talkie, it’s filled with outrageous dialog and fanciful names (Johnny Guitar, the Dancin’ Kid). The women behave like conventional western men, and the men act kind of like traditional women. You can’t help noticing the cheap production methods, including obviously painted exterior backgrounds and shots that don’t match. Johnny Guitar is about as realistic as an opera. But like an opera, the stylization is part of the art. Read my Blu-ray review. Part of the series On Dangerous Ground: the Cinema of Nicholas Ray

B+ The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Castro, Thursday

When we think French New Wave, we imagine grainy, black-and-white stories filled with angst and alienation. Yet Jacques Demy, shooting a believable story in real locations, created a lush, colorful and sublimely romantic musical. A movie like few others, with an astonishingly young and beautiful Catherine Deneuve (as opposed to the astonishingly well-aged and beautiful Catherine Deneuve of today). On a double bill with The Young Girls of Rochefort.

B Medium Cool, Pacific Film Archive, Saturday, 8:30; Sunday, 7

New 35mm Print. When this movie was new and I was 15, I thought it was fantastic. Almost 50 years later, it looks more like an occasionally brilliant mess. Writer/director Haskell Wexler puts his fictitious characters, and the actors who play them, right into the middle of actual events. The climatic sequence – not just set in the middle of the 1968 Chicago riots – but actually shot there, is like nothing else you’ve ever seen on film. But the leading actor is dull and the central story uninteresting. Read my full report. Part of the series Hippie Modernism: Cinema and Counterculture, 1964–1974.

Lebowskies (frequently-revived classics)