What’s Screening: June 9 – 15

Jane Fonda, Charles Dickens, Toshiro Mifune, Janis Joplin, and four film festivals grace Bay Area screens this week.

Also, I’m adding another theater to the Bayflicks listings: The Sebastiani in Sonoma. I guess that’s still the Bay Area. This non-profit primarily screens new movies, but I’ll be covering their monthly Vintage Film Series.


New films opening

C Abacus: Small Enough to Jail, Opera Plaza, Shattuck, opens Friday

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. Special appearances by filmmakers and the Sung family Friday & Saturday.

Festival Screenings

C The Last Dalai Lama?, Rafael, Friday, 7:30

Don’t expect an objective examination of the 14th Dalai Lama or Tibetan Buddhism; director Mickey Lemle clearly adores both. That’s not entirely bad; the current Dalai Lama has some wise lessons for us all, and while just about everyone in the movie treats him like a living god, the he comes off as a humble mortal (although not humble enough to stop people from calling him “Your Holiness”). %h3 movie that drags on with praise from all sorts of people, including George W. Bush. Opening night movie for the International Buddhist Film Festival.

Promising events

Barbarella, New Parkway, Sunday, 4:55

It’s been ages since I’ve seen Roger Vadim’s 1968 sci-fi sex camp comedy, arguably an exploitation of his then-wife, Jane Fonda. I remember enjoying it. If nothing else, Barbarella shows just how far a movie could go in the last months of the Production Code. Fonda, who at one time attacked the movie as sexist, said in a 2005 interview that “I can look at it now and laugh at it, and find it very charming.” Curiously, this screening is one of the New Parkway’s Bechdel test Movie Nights, with a post-film discussion.

Great Expectations, Sebastiani, Monday, 7:00

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen David Lean’s adaptation of my favorite Dickens novel. Loaded with mid-Victorian atmosphere, it tells the story of young Pip (Tony Wager as a child, John Mills as a young man), thrust from rural poverty to urban comfort from an unknown benefactor. But I do remember a disappointingly romantic ending.

Loving, Cerrito, Saturday, 10:00, FREE

If you missed last year’s film about the court case that legalized mixed-race marriages, here’s your chance to see it on the big screen for free. Who’s paying the bill? The El Cerrito Human Relations Commission. I liked the movie quite a bit, but I couldn’t call it exceptional. I give it a B+.

Recommended revivals

A+ Rashomon, Pacific Film Archive, Thursday, 7:00

In medieval Japan, a notorious bandit waylays a high-born couple in the woods, and a horrible crime was committed. But what crime and by who? Four witnesses give entirely different testimonies. Director Akira Kurosawa reminds us that we can never know real truth in this visually beautiful, deeply atmospheric, eight-character chamber piece. One of Cinema’s great masterpieces. See my Kurosawa Diary entry and my Blu-ray review. Opening night of the series Samurai Rebellion: Toshiro Mifune, Screen Icon.

A- Army of Shadows, Pacific Film Archive, Saturday, 6:00

Resistance is a dirty and almost inevitably deadly job, but in Nazi-occupied France, someone had to do it. Jean-Pierre Melville’s dark, semi-autobiographical, 1969 adventure can occasionally confuse those who don’t know the history (or the geography), but the rewards are well worth the effort. The suspense set pieces, including a night-time novice parachute jump and a rescue attempt by ambulance, are nerve-wracking, but not nearly so much as the protagonists’ constant fear and horrendous moral dilemmas. Nothing gets romanticized in this spy story. Part of the series Melville 100.

A- Monterey Pop, Alamo Drafthouse New Mission, Thursday, 7:30

In 1967, promoter Lou Adler and John Phillips of The Mamas & the Papas put together a popular music response to the annual Monterey Jazz Festival, and music history was made. Over the course of a June weekend, The Who and Jimi Hendrix cracked the American market, and Janis Joplin became a star. Documentarian D. A. Pennebaker got it all on 16mm film, and created one of the first memorable concert documentaries. A moment frozen in time, and a lot of great rock and roll.

B Meek’s Cutoff, Pacific Film Archive, Saturday, 8:45; Wednesday, 7:00

This may be the most historically accurate western ever made…and it’s a work of fiction. A wagon train travels west to Oregon, but they’ve made a wrong turn and are in real danger of dying of thirst. Director Kelly Reichardt keeps her camera focused on the women. The ending really disappoints.

B- The Silence of the Sea, Pacific Film Archive, Sunday, 7:00

During the occupation, a German officer is stationed in a French country home. He tries to be polite, but the civilians living there, an uncle and niece, won’t talk to him. (The uncle provides the film’s first-person narration.) So the Nazi is trying to be nice, and protagonists treat him with a cold shoulder. But as he talks, we realize that he’s not much of a Nazi by heart. The movie is slow at times, and depends too much on narration and monologs, but finds an excellent ending. Based on an underground novel. Another part of Melville 100.

Lebowskies (frequently-revived classics)