What’s Screening: June 16 – 22

Danny Kaye, Batman, Toshiro Mifune, and a silent Dracula hit Bay Area movie screens this week. Also, three new films and two on-going film festivals.


New films opening

B The Women’s Balcony, Clay, opens Friday

A section of a small, Jerusalem synagogue collapses, and war breaks out amongst Orthodox Jews over just how Orthodox they will be. Not surprisingly, it becomes a war of the sexes in this light comedy. The movie has a great villain in a young, handsome, charismatic, and dangerously fanatical rabbi (Aviv Alush). In a light and entertaining way, it attacks some of religious fundamentalism’s worst extremes. Read my full review.

B The Transfiguration, Roxie, opens Friday

Michael O’Shea found a new twist to the vampire genre: avoiding the supernatural. The Transfiguration is a vampire story that could, in theory, happen. Milo (Eric Ruffin), a young teenager living in a New York project, is not a conventional vampire. He can’t turn into a bat or crawl up a wall. Neither daylight nor crucifixes bother him. He uses a small knife in place of fangs. But he’s obsessed with vampires and addicted to blood. His life changes when another troubled soul, Sophie (Chloe Levine), moves into his building. A moody, effective thriller with some disturbingly racist undertones. Read my full review.

C+ The Hero, Embarcadero, Rafael, opens Friday

Without the saving grace of Sam Elliott in the leading role, The Hero would feel like the hopelessly clichéd old man drama that it is. Elliott saves it as an aging western star reduced to doing radio commercials. He’s also just discovered that he has a particularly lethal type of cancer. He hides the diagnosis from his best friend (who’s also his pot dealer), his ex-wife, and the daughter who clearly can’t stand him. Then (surprise, surprise) he meets a much younger woman and the two fall in love. Elliott has a great face and a great voice, and his acting chops are superb, but The Hero is way too predictable.

Festival Screenings

A- A Date for Mad Mary, Frameline, Victoria Theatre, Sunday, 6:30

The story is as old as romantic comedy, and yet, this Irish charmer doesn’t fit neatly into any genre. Mary (Seána Kerslake) goes directly from jail to preparing for her best friend’s wedding (the friend has turned into Bridezilla). Mary’s to be maid of honor, and that means she needs a date. But who would want her? She’s angry, alcoholic, acerbic, judgmental, immature, and occasionally violent. Not surprisingly, she’s also deeply sad and lonely. Warning: Screening this movie in a LGBTQ festival is already a spoiler.

C- Discreet, Frameline, Victoria Theatre, Monday, 9:15

A young man living in his van returns to his home town. His mother provides him with news that he finds shocking; even though it’s completely oblique to the audience. But then, everything this movie is oblique to the audience. The protagonist is obsessed with a woman who apparently lives entirely online. He has sex with anonymous men (I think it’s for the money) while watching straight porn. The soundtrack suggests that composer Mark Degli Antoni thought he was scoring a horror flick. Maybe he was.

Promising events

The Court Jester, Stanford, Friday through Sunday

The best Danny Kaye vehicle to ever come out of Hollywood – or so my memory recalls. Kaye plays a carnival performer caught up in palace intrigue in what appears to be a very clean version of the middle ages. All of it, of course, is an excuse for puns, wordplay, patter songs, slapstick, and Kaye’s ability to change character at a finger snap. With Basil Rathbone as the chief villain (who else?). “An unemployed jester is nobody’s fool.” Shot in beautiful VistaVision. On a Kaye double bill with The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.

Arab Love, San Francisco LGBT Community Center, Thursday, 6:00
The Arab Film and Media Institute, which puts on The Arab Film Festival, “will present a collection of short films that highlight the various experiences of Arab queer communities.” That’s about all I know about it.

Batman: The Movie, Alamo Drafthouse New Mission, Monday through Thursday

Not all Batman movies are dark. This 1966 entry–a theatrical feature spin-off of a hit TV series–is as light as an action movie can get, with pop-out colors, campy dialog, and comic book-style written sound effects on the screen (POW!). I haven’t seen this very silly movie in ages, but I remember it fondly. Call it the Bright Knight. This Kid Camp matinee series is a fitting memorial to the Batman himself – Adam West.

Recommended revivals

A Nosferatu, New Parkway, Tuesday, 6:30

You best forget about sexy vampires before you go see the first film version of Dracula (an unauthorized rip-off that got the filmmakers into legal trouble). Max Schreck plays Count “Orlok” as a reptilian predator in vaguely human form. This isn’t the scariest monster movie ever made, but it’s probably the creepiest. Not to be confused with Werner Herzog’s 1979 remake. Read my Blu-ray review. Live accompaniment by The Invincible Czars.

A Drunken Angel, Pacific Film Archive, Saturday, 8:30

The title refers to a gruff, short-tempered, and alcoholic doctor (Takashi Shimura) who runs a small slum clinic next to a filthy sump. He’s trying desperately to keep people alive, and one of those people is a tubercular gangster played by Toshiro Mifune in his first collaboration with Kurosawa. Strutting, macho, and confused, the gangster is torn between fighting the disease and keeping up his high-living lifestyle. Easily Kurosawa’s best pre-Rashomon work. Read my Kurosawa Diary entry. Part of the series Samurai Rebellion: Toshiro Mifune, Screen Icon.

A The Hidden Fortress, Pacific Film Archive, Sunday, 4:00

Akira Kurosawa showed astonishing range within the samurai genre (as well as outside of it). Seven Samurai is an epic drama with fully-developed characters and realistically unpredictable violence; Yojimbo is a black comedy; Throne of Blood is stylized Shakespeare. But The Hidden Fortress is just plain fun–a rousing, suspenseful, and entertaining romp. It was also his first widescreen film, and contains two comic peasants (Minoru Chiaki and Kamatari Fujiwara) who were the inspiration for R2D2 and C3PO. See my Kurosawa Diary entry and my Blu-ray review. Another part of the series Samurai Rebellion: Toshiro Mifune, Screen Icon.

A- Le Samouraï, Pacific Film Archive, Friday, 8:30

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 and he’s identified as a suspect. So now the people who hired him want to kill him 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 excellent film. Part of the series Melville 100.

B+ Stray Dog, Pacific Film Archive, Wednesday, 7:00

This 1949 police procedural follows a young, rookie detective (Toshiro Mifune) who loses his gun to a pickpocket. Tortured by guilt, he becomes obsessed with finding the stolen Colt. Stray Dog works best as a straight-up thriller, and doesn’t work at all when it tries to say something meaningful about the relationship between the police and the criminals they chase. See my Kurosawa Diaries entry. Yet another part of the series Samurai Rebellion: Toshiro Mifune, Screen Icon.

Lebowskies (frequently-revived classics)