What’s Screening: July 14 – 20

Talk about an embarrassment of riches. The Bay Area has an overwhelmingly large selection of cinematic treats this week.


New films opening

C+ Dawson City: Frozen Time, Roxie, opens Friday

In 1978, Michael Gates of Dawson City, Alaska stumbled on a huge collection of 35mm nitrate film, buried in a former swimming pool below a torn-down ice rink, less than 200 miles south of the Arctic Circle. Bill Morrison’s documentary tells two stories: One is about the discovery; the other about the town. They’re both good stories, but Morrison made two major mistakes that keep me from enthusiastically recommending the film. Alex Somers’ highly repetitive music score sounds like an exceptionally boring funeral dirge, while the use of superimposed intertitles in leu of vocal narration creates an emotional distance. Read my full review.

Festival Screenings

B+ Hairspray, New Parkway, Music Week, Saturday, 5:00; Sunday, 12:00 noon

The Hollywood version of the Broadway musical, based upon John Water’s independent film, celebrates the spirit of the early ’60s civil rights movement by turning it into a big, happy dance contest on local daytime TV. The result is charming, upbeat, and very funny, with pleasant musical numbers, joyous dancing, and political themes that suddenly seem relevant again. And how can you not love John Travolta in a fat suit and a dress?

B+ Stray Dog, SFMOMA, Modern Cinema, Thursday, 6:00

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.

Promising events

Funny Bones: The Comedy of Charlie Chaplin, Rafael, Thursday, 7:15

If I hadn’t already committed myself to the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival‘s opening night, this is where I would be Thursday. Chaplin expert and slapstick comedian Dan Kamin will deconstruct the great comedian’s two-reel movie, The Pawnshop. Karmin, who trained Robert Downey Jr. and Johnny Depp to imitate Chaplin, will use his own physical talents while explaining Chaplin’s work.

Alejandro Jodorowsky Retro, Roxie, Friday through Sunday

A lot of strange films were made in the late ’60s and early ’70s, but Alejandro Jodorowsky’s works were stranger still. Violent, graphically sexual, oddly spiritual, and totally wacked out, they were like nothing else you saw before or since. Two of them blew me away as a young adult. I don’t know how I’d react to them now. The Roxie will screen all four of his films over three days.

Don Juan, Stanford, Thursday and next Friday

I haven’t seen this 1926 John Barrymore swashbuckler since the early ’90s, and it didn’t make a major impression on me then. But it’s of considerable historical importance, being the first feature-length film with a soundtrack. It’s not a talkie, but a silent film with a recorded musical score.

Recommended revivals

A+ The Last Waltz, New Parkway, Sunday, 6:30

The Band played their final concert on Thanksgiving night, 1976. Among their performing guests were Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Muddy Waters, and Joni Mitchell. Martin Scorsese brought a crew of talented filmmakers to record the show, and created the greatest rock concert movie ever made. Scorsese and company ignored the audience and focused on the musicians, creating an intimate look at great artists who understood that this was a once-in-a-lifetime event. Read my A+ appreciation. Part of Music Week.

A The Bad Sleep Well, Pacific Film Archive, Thursday, 7:00

Few people know Kurosawa’s dark, contemporary, and suspenseful tale of corruption and revenge—and that’s a shame. The Bad Sleep Well concerns a large, successful, and thoroughly corrupt corporation, and a young man (Toshiro Mifune) out to destroy it from within. First, he marries the president’s crippled daughter—an act that everyone reads as blind ambition. His real motive is far darker. A bleak story that provides neither catharsis nor easy answers. See my Kurosawa Diaries entry. Part of the series Samurai Rebellion: Toshiro Mifune, Screen Icon.

A- Hot Fuzz, Balboa, Saturday, 10:00

Director/co-writer Edgar Wright fills every frame of Hot Fuzz with his love for mindless action movies. Even the scenes of quiet village life have the frantic style of Hollywood violence–all accompanied, of course, by overloud sound effects (he doesn’t overdo it). Hot Fuzz also contains a funny story, clever dialog, and charming performances, all of which help make this genre parody the funniest film in years, with one of the longest sustained laughs outside of silent movies. A Balboa Beer Movie.

Warner Brothers musical double bill: Gold Diggers of 1933 & 42nd Street, Stanford, Friday through Monday

Before A Hard Day’s Night, Singin’ in the Rain, and Astaire and Rogers (well, before Astaire), the Warner Brothers were putting out a whole different type of musical; smart, sassy, funny, definitely pre-code, and with Busby Berkeley production numbers that defy logic and physics. Gold Diggers of 1933 is the best early-thirties’ Warners musical; upbeat, sexy, and entertaining, but never really letting you forget that there’s a depression going on out there. 42nd Street comes in a close second. This is the movie where the chorus girl ingénue gets her big chance when the star breaks her ankle. Co-staring Ginger Rogers as Anytime Annie, who “only said no once, and then she didn’t hear the question.” The first program in the Stanford’s mammoth Warner Brother series.

B Wait Until Dark, Sebastiani, Monday, 7:00

Audrey Hepburn stars as a blind housewife stalked by drug dealers who are themselves stalked by a vicious killer (a surprisingly scary Alan Arkin). This effective thriller has one very original, very effective shock moment (I can’t give it away) that has since been ruined by overuse. But this, I believe, was the first time it was done.

B- Auntie Mame, Lark, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday

Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee’s stage play (based on Patrick Dennis’ novel) is a wonder – a comic celebration of a free spirit who lived life to the fullest. The movie version follows the play almost word for word, and preserves Rosalind Russell’s great performance. But Morton DaCosta’s stage-bound direction traps the story inside its theatrical roots. And the usually dependable screenwriters Betty Comden and Adolph Green (Singin’ in the Rain, The Bandwagon) failed to find clever ways around Hollywood’s stricter-than-Broadway censorship.

Lebowskies (frequently-revived classics)