What’s Screening: September 8 – 14

Gangsters, bad marriages, Marlon Brando, a Communist teacher, and the last days of a Japanese film festival hit Bay Area movie screens this week.


New films opening

A Dolores, Opera Plaza, Shattuck, Rafael, opens Friday

While Cesar Chavez became famous while creating the United Farm Workers union, Dolores Huerta did much of the work. She was a part of the union from the start. She gave up her chance to have a normal life, became an absentee mother, ignored her love of music, and became a leader in the labor struggle, the Chicano movement, and inevitably the women’s movement. This music-filled documentary shows Huerta’s vitality, both young and old, and lets you discover an important figure that history seems to have skipped. Read my full review.

B The Teacher, Roxie, opens Friday

The new teacher expects her students, and their parents, to clean her home, do her errands, even smuggle a cake into another country – all for good grades. How does she get away with it? The Teacher is set in Czechoslovakia, 1982, and the title character ranks high in the local Communist Party. Outwardly, she’s as sweet as pie, but when a student or parent refuses her requests, she turns into a monster. The back-and-forth story structure doesn’t help the movie; a straightforward approach would have been more effective. Read my full review.

Promising events

The Awful Truth, Cerrito, Thursday, 6:30

I haven’t seen this 1937 screwball comedy in at least 15 years, but I remember enjoying it. Cary Grant and Irene Dunne play a married couple who divorce because each suspect that the other is cheating. Grant was one of the masters of the form, and Dunne knew her way around funny dialog almost as well. Directed by Leo McCarey, whose other works include Duck Soup.

Recommended revivals

A Stalker, Pacific Film Archive, Saturday, 7:00

This slow, strange, allegorical fantasy from the great Andrei Tarkovsky gets under your skin. A guide, called a Stalker, takes two other men on a journey into a strange place called The Zone. We never find out exactly what it is, and it looks pretty much like the world they already live in – except that The Zone is in color and their home is tinted black and white. But we learn that The Zone is dangerous, is constantly changing, and that those changes are caused by the emotions of the people who dare enter it.

A The Roaring Twenties, Stanford, Tuesday and Wednesday

Interesting how the best gangster movie of the 1930s arrived years after the genre quieted down. Perhaps historical perspective helped. James Cagney returns home from WWI, discovers that he can’t get an honest job, and then finds work in a new, emerging industry–bootlegging. He rises to the top of the racket, only to discover that it won’t bring him happiness, a nice girl, or security. Humphrey Bogart, on the edge of stardom, plays a much less sympathetic hoodlum. On a Cagney double bill with The Strawberry Blonde. Part of the massive Warner Brothers series.

A Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Alameda, Wednesday

The best film starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton examines a dysfunctional marriage held together by mutual denial. This was the first big-screen adaptation of an Edward Albee play, director Mike Nichols’ first film (his second would be The Graduate), one of the last black-and-white films made before they all but disappeared, and–with its age restriction–an important precursor to the rating system. Aside from being a record breaker, it’s also a very good film.

A I Am Not Your Negro, Pacific Film Archive, Thursday, 7:00

The African-American experience, summed up in the words of James Baldwin, read by Samuel L. Jackson, while director Raoul Peck provides visual context from old news footage, talk shows, and scenes shot for this powerful documentary. Every American should see I Am Not Your Negro. Unfortunately, only those already sympathetic to its message will likely catch it. Read my full review. The opening screening in the series Reflection and Resistance: James Baldwin and Cinema.

Key Largo, Thursday and next Friday

In the 1930’s, movie stars like Edward G. Robinson got to kill punk character actors like Humphrey Bogart. But by 1948, Bogey was the top star and Robinson the supporting player (and a great one). Set in a lonely Florida hotel during a hurricane, most of the movie is talk, but when Richard Brooks and John Huston adopt a Maxwell Anderson stage play, and Huston directs a solid and charismatic cast, who needs more than talk? On a double bill with White Heat; I haven’t seen this one in a long time, but I suspect I’d give this one an A, as well. Part of David Thomson’s Warner Brothers series.

A- Paris, Texas, Castro, Tuesday

Harry Dean Stanton gives a masterful, understated performance as an amnesiac who walks out of the desert and back into the lives of his family. Missing for years, he’s taken in by his brother’s family, which now includes his own son. As the man’s memory slowly returns, he becomes obsessed with earning his son’s love again, and finding out, not the mystery of his own disappearance, but that of his wife’s. Wenders’ first American film. On a double bill with Fool for Love.

A- Jules and Jim, Castro, Thursday

Two men, best of friends, fall in love with the same wild woman, yet swear they will remain friends. Over a couple of decades, they mostly succeed–even though they fight on opposite sides during World War I. Oskar Werner and Henri Serre play the title roles, but the movie really belongs to Jeanne Moreau, who plays the beautiful, impulsive, and unpredictable siren who captures their hearts and isn’t sure of her own. François Truffaut’s third feature washes the audience with a sense of romantic fatalism. On a double bill with Bay of Angels.

B+ Il Boom, Pacific Film Archive, Sunday, 7:00

Vittorio De Sica directed this satire of conspicuous consumption and the need to keep up appearances. It’s pointed, at times cruel, and often hilarious. Giovanni (a very funny Alberto Sordi) desperately tries to borrow money to help pay off his already substantial debts, all so that he and his wife can keep up their extravagant lifestyle. Then the plot takes a very strange, funny, scary, and unexpected twist that speaks volumes about how the wealthy treat the desperate. Read my report.

B+ One-Eyed Jacks, Pacific Film Archive, Friday, 7:00

Marlon Brando directed this complex western, and never directed again. He plays an outlaw abandoned by his buddy (Karl Malden), who didn’t really have a choice. Out for revenge, he tracks down his old friend and discovers he’s the town sheriff. Both characters are sympathetic, and both kind of still like each other, but they know there will be blood. One of the last films shot in Paramount’s large VistaVision format, which captures the central California coast locations beautifully – especially in the new, beautiful, 4K digital restoration. Part of the series Marlon Brando: The Fugitive Kind.

B To Have and Have Not, Stanford, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday

This production ignited the Bogart-Bacall romance, which itself ignites the screen. Aside from the considerable charisma and sexual sparks of its stars, it’s an entertaining tale of war-time intrigue, but not really an exceptional one. A good movie with a couple of great scenes. On a double bill with The Big Sleep, which I haven’t seen recently enough to comment on. Part of David Thomson’s massive Warner Brothers series.

Continuing Revivals

Lebowskies (frequently-revived classics)