What’s Screening: May 12 – 18

Musicians, comedians, painters, documentaries and dogs appear on Bay Area movie screens this week.


Doclands continues through Sunday. Here are two movies screening at the festival:

A Long Strange Trip, Sunday, 2:00, AT RUSH. Tickets may be made available at showtime

The Grateful Dead played great music for nearly 30 years, building up the most devoted fanbase in rock history. Their concerts kept the counterculture alive through the years of Nixon, Reagan, and Bush 1. Amir Bar-Lev’s epic, four-hour documentary covers their story from Jerry Garcia’s first musical experiments to his fatal heart attack at the age of 53 (which surprised no one). Extensive interviews with the surviving band members, friends, and family tell the story, illustrated with archival images, both still and moving. Even clips from old Frankenstein movies pop up. The effect is both informative and appropriately hallucinogenic.

C Abacus: Small Enough to Jail, Rafael, Friday, 6:30

In the aftermath of 2008’s economic meltdown, only one American bank was brought to court on felony charges. Abacus, a small, family-owned institution serving New York’s Chinatown, was clearly not too big to fail…or jail. Steve James’ lackluster documentary barely mentions the big banks, and sticks to the little guy’s story. Chairman Thomas Sung views himself as George Bailey (of It’s a Wonderful Life), while the government wants to take his bank down. James made the excellent Hoop Dreams and Life Itself, but he couldn’t find comparable drama in a rather dull story about bank loans and legalese.

New films opening

B Folk Hero & Funny Guy, Roxie, opens Friday

This pleasant road trip comedy compares those who easily find success and those who struggle for it. A successful folk rock musician (Wyatt Russell of Everybody Wants Some) takes his best friend, a struggling standup comic (Alex Karpovsky of Girls), on tour as his opening act. The idea is to recharge the comic’s creative energy. But the trip only emphasizes how mismatched they’ve become over the years. Fame, money, and easy sex just fall into the musician’s lap, while the comic is awkward, both on stage and off. An enjoyable film but not exceptional.

Promising events

Frida, New Parkway, Sunday, 5:30

it’s been a long time since I’ve seen Julie Taymor’s biopic of artist Frida Kahlo. I remember liking it. Paintings turn into real life and life turns into paintings. Salma Hayek gives a great performance as Kahlo, who painted the pain she felt from her damaged body. Alfred Molina also stands out as her husband, the much more famous (at that time) Diego Rivera. One thing bothered me: Kahlo was severely crippled. But Hayek, who also produced, seemed intent on showing off her gorgeous body in tangos and nude scenes. (Okay, it didn’t bother me all that much.)

Recommended revivals

B+ Clash of the Wolves, Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, Saturday, 7:30

Rin Tin Tin was the best non-human movie star the medium ever produced. This German shepherd could emote, follow the action, and do his own stunts. And he was charismatic as all hell. In many ways, Clash of the Wolves was a typical, silly, B western from 1925; you really must put yourself into the mindset of an eight-year-old boy to enjoy it. But like the best of movie stars, Rin Tin Tin gives a performance that turns a mediocre movie into a fun piece of entertainment. Frederick Hodges will accompany the feature as well as two comic shorts (Harold Lloyd in Why Pick on Me and Harry Langdon in His Marriage Wow).

Audrey Hepburn double bill: Roman Holiday & Sabrina, Stanford

The B goes to Roman Holiday, where Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn fall in love through an extremely contrived plot. She’s a runaway princess, and he’s a reporter hoping for a scoop. But the real star is Rome; shooting overseas locations was a new thing in the early 1950s. But I can only give Billy Wilder’s Sabrina, where Hepburn romances a miscast Humphrey Bogart, a B-. The movie floats along, nice and friendly, occasionally funny, never challenging, and moving towards a resolution as predictable as a full moon.

Lebowskies (frequently-revived classics)