What’s Screening: July 21 – 27

Sexy scientists, beautiful criminals, pampered dogs, adorable pigs, and four film festivals light up Bay Area screens this week.


New films opening

B+ Harold and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story, Elmwood, Rafael, opens Friday

Harold Michelson was one of Hollywood’s top storyboard artists. His wife, Lillian Michelson, ran a research library for filmmakers. Between them, they influenced Ben-Hur, The Birds, Scarface, The Graduate and many other classics. They rarely got their names in the credits, but Daniel Raim’s entertaining documentary helps fix that oversight. The movie celebrates a long and mostly happy marriage while providing a compelling argument against the auteur theory. Read my full review.

B- Marie Curie. The Courage of Knowledge, Opera Plaza, Shattuck, Rafael, opens Friday

Director Marie Noëlle seems more interested in the great scientist’s sex life than her groundbreaking work. In the film’s first few minutes, Marie and Pierre are so involved in marital pleasures that I wondered when they found time to research radioactivity. Much of the film’s runtime is spend on the widowed Marie’s affair with a married colleague. The film is at its best when Curie is struggling with sexism and xenophobia (she was a Polish woman living and working in early 20th-century France), but I wanted more science out of a biopic about the first person to win two Nobel Prizes.

Festival Screenings

A The Killing, SFMOMA, Modern Cinema, Sunday, 5:00

Stanley Kubrick started his Hollywood career with this crackerjack noir heist thriller. A career criminal (Sterling Hayden) orchestrates a complex racetrack robbery likely to net two million 1956 dollars. But he needs collaborators, and that means human frailty will get in the way. Hayden’s rat-a-tat-tat delivery does wonders for snappy, pulp-heavy dialog like “You’d be killing a horse – that’s not first-degree murder. In fact, it’s not murder at all. In fact, I don’t know what it is.” Read my longer report.

A- Bound, SFMOMA, Modern Cinema, Friday, 8:30

Before The Matrix, the Wachowski brothers created a stylish and fun crime thriller about a lesbian couple that go up against the mob. Jennifer Tilly hooks up with Gina Gershon, both sexually and in crime,to steal from her gangster husband (Joe Pantoliano). A very sexy, violent, and suspenseful thriller which adds new meaning to the phrase “money laundering.”

Promising events

U2 3D, Rafael, Thursday

The big superband of the 1980s and 90s, captured in 3D from several concerts on their 2007 Vertigo tour. Might be fun.

Diva, Roxie, Friday, 9:15

I haven’t seen this 1982 French thriller since, well, 1982. I remember liking it. A fanatical opera enthusiast uses state-of-the-art technology to create the best possible bootleg recording of a famous singer who resists allowing anyone to record her voice. When the existence of his recording gets out, things get complicated. Criminals go after him. He and the diva become lovers. There’s a motorcycle chase in the Paris subway. A lot of fun.

Recommended revivals

A Yojimbo, Pacific Film Archive, Saturday, 8:15

A masterless samurai (Toshiro Mifune) wanders into a small town torn apart by two gangs fighting a brutal turf war. Disgusted by the situation, our hero uses his wits and amazing swordsmanship to play the sides against each other. In the hands of Akira Kurosawa, the result is an entertaining action flick, a parody of westerns, and a nihilistic black comedy all rolled into one. Read my Kurosawa Diary entry. Introduced by Steven Okazaki as part of the series Samurai Rebellion: Toshiro Mifune, Screen Icon.

A Babe, Alamo Drafthouse New Mission, Monday through Wednesday (matinees, only)

This Australian fantasy just might be cinema’s greatest work of vegetarian propaganda. It’s also a sweet, funny, and charming fairy tale about a pig who wants to be a sheep dog. This was the film that made audiences and critics recognize and appreciate character actor James Cromwell. It also broke considerable ground technically in the category of live-action talking-animal movies. Warning: If you take your young children to this G-rated movie, you may have trouble getting them to eat bacon. A Kids Camp presentation.

A High and Low, Pacific Film Archive, Wednesday, 7:00

Between his samurai movies and historical epics, Akira Kurosawa made one of the best crime thrillers of the 1960’s. A kidnapper snatches the wrong boy. He wanted the son of a successful businessman (Toshiro Mifune), but accidentally grabbed the chauffer’s son, instead. The kidnapper still insists on the tremendous ransom – large enough to wipe out the businessman. Can he let another man’s son die to save his career? Much of High and Low takes place in a single living room, and Kurosawa uses the wide, Tohoscope frame brilliantly in the confined space. See my Kurosawa Diary entry and Blu-ray review. Another part of the series Samurai Rebellion: Toshiro Mifune, Screen Icon.

A- Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, Pacific Film Archive, Thursday, 7:00

Men are jerks and women are crazy. At least that’s the view of Pedro Almodovar’s comedy of infidelity. The picture starts like a reasonably serious comedy, sprinkling a few laughs in with the character development. Yet several touches (consider the décor and the detergent commercial) suggest something wilder. By the half-way point, the movie is as wacky as classic American screwball comedy–and considerably bawdier. Carmen Maura stars as the primary woman wronged, with an impossibly young Antonio Banderas playing the son of the man who wronged her. The opening film of the series Women’s Troubles: The Films of Pedro Almodóvar.

A- The Public Enemy, Stanford, Saturday through Monday

James Cagney lights the screen on fire as a violent thug with a little bit of heart (very little) and—because he’s Cagney—the grace of a tiger. Once Public Enemy hit theaters, neither Cagney’s career nor grapefruit at breakfast would ever be the same. Not quite the best of the early pre-code gangster epics (that would be Scarface), but the one with the best lead performance. On a double bill with Little Caesar, which did for Edward G. Robinson what Public Enemy did for Cagney. Part of the Stanford’s massive Warner Bros series.

B+ Best in Show, New Parkway, Saturday, 8:00

Christopher Guest’s dog-show mockumentary has more than its share of hilarious moments. The rest of it is also pretty funny. Second City veterans Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara steal the show as a dog-obsessed couple. An Outdoor Movie Night.

B Wild Boys of the Road, Stanford, Tuesday and Wednesday

Not all Hollywood movies of the 1930s were designed to helped people forget about the depression. In this short, punchy drama, directed by William Wellman, two teenage boys run away from home because their parents can no longer afford to feed them. Riding the rails, they find community as well as tragedy. A powerful story that reflects the society that made it. On a Warner Bros series double bill with 20,000 Years in Sing Sing.

Continuing Revivals

Lebowskies (frequently-revived classics)