Russian revolutionaries, sexy Indians, mixed-race couples, Japanese writers, French samurais, an Iranian vampire, and a whole lot of silent movies grace Bay Area screens this week.
- The San Francisco Silent Film Festival continues through Sunday
- DocFest continues through this week and beyond
Bringing a black boyfriend home double bill: Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner & Get Out, Castro, Tuesday, 6:00
Two very different movies, made 50 years apart, make a strange but compelling double bill. Both have a young white woman bringing her black boyfriend home to Mom and Dad. Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, one of the major movies of 1967, seems hopelessly out of date. In some ways, it was out of date then. A liberal San Francisco couple (Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy in his last film) get thrown for a loop when their daughter comes home with a black fiancé (Sidney Poitier). Interesting today primarily as a relic of the past, I give it a C. This year’s Get Out turns the same setup into a comic horror movie. The nice, liberal, white family has sinister designs on their daughter’s new stud, as well as every other African American that crosses their path. One of the best new movies I’ve seen this year, I easily give it an A. (You can also catch Get Out at the New Parkway.)
A- Battleship Potemkin, Castro, Saturday, 7:15
Make no mistake: This ground-breaking movie is simplistic Communist propaganda. The workers and sailors are all good comrades working together for a better world. The officers, aristocrats, and Cossacks are vile filth who deserve to die. And yet, the story of mutiny, celebration, attack, and escape stirs your blood. And it does this primarily through editing techniques that were revolutionary in 1925 and still impressive today. More than 90 years after it was shot, the Odessa Steps massacre is still one of the greatest, if not the greatest, action sequence ever edited. Read my essay. The San Francisco Silent Film Festival will screen the movie with live accompaniment by the Matti Bye Ensemble.
A- Le Samouraï, Pacific Film Archive, Thursday, 7:00
Jean-Pierre Melville’s 1967 crime thriller never asks the audience to sympathize with the protagonist, a professional killer, and yet you find yourself occasionally rooting for him. It helps that he’s played by the magnetic Alain Delon, whose face goes from hard-edged to terrified over the course of the story. A job goes slightly wrong – he kills the right man, but he becomes a suspect in the case. So now the people who paid him to commit murder want to take him out as well. This is more than just an enjoyable thriller; it’s a meditation on solitude. Delon’s character lives alone and can’t get close to anyone; the man with no emotional connections has no support. A few unbelievable plot points mar an otherwise film. Part of the series Melville 100.
A- Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters, Pacific Film Archive, Saturday, 8:30
If this isn’t a great film, it’s close. I’m tempted to call it several great short films that kind of hang together. By the end it works as a single piece. A sort of impressionistic biopic of novelist and fascist hero Yukio Mishima, the film cuts back and forth between the last day of his life (in color), flashbacks to his past (black and white), and dramatizations of three of his novels (hyper-color on stylized sets). The impression is of a brilliant lunatic, motivated by fears of aging, fantasies of a heroic death, and unease over his own homosexuality. See my Mishima at MVFF post. Part of the series Auteur, Author: Film & Literature.
A- Monsoon Wedding, Lark, Tuesday through Thursday
Not quite comedy, not quite drama, and not quite Bollywood. Mira Nair puts together several narrative strands as families come together for a arranged Indian marriage where old and new collide. The bride and groom have never met, but the bride has a good career and a married lover. Things go bad for almost everyone, usually in a comedic way, although one strand of the story veers into very serious territory. A very entertaining movie.
B+ A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, Alamo Drafthouse New Mission, Wednesday, 10:15
A vampire is haunting Tehran. But it’s okay; she’s a nice vampire, and rarely attacks people who don’t deserve it. She travels on foot – or sometimes on a skateboard. Ana Lily Amirpour’s debut feature, filmed in black and white, has an atmosphere all its own. Strange cinematic and musical riffs and a very loose story makes a unique but entertaining experience. And no, this isn’t really an Iranian movie; it was made in California. Amirpour will be at the screening.
B Hugo, Alamo Drafthouse New Mission, Monday & Thursday, 11:15AM; Wednesday, 12:00 noon
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 the man who invented special effects. That man is George Melies, now 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. As far as I can tell, the New Mission will not be presenting Hugo in 3D. Read my Thoughts on Hugo.
B- The Lost World, Castro, Sunday, 4:00
More than 90 years old, Hollywood’s first big man vs. dinosaur epic isn’t that different from today’s blockbusters. Like them, it uses special effects to prop up what’s otherwise an extremely silly movie. Of course, the silliness is of the 1920s variety–overacting and fake-looking facial hair, and the FX are technically crude by today’s standards. But model animator Willis O’Brien (who would later make King King) infused his dinosaurs with weight and thought, which sells them to the viewer. See my earlier report on The Lost World & Dengue Fever. Accompanied by the Alloy Orchestra. Another part of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival.