What’s Screening: September 15 – 21

Bogart goes for the gold, Curtis and Poitier flee for freedom, and James Dean wants to know his mother. All that and a lot of Wes Anderson in Bay Area movies this week.


Rare and Worth Catching

B Serenade for Haiti, Pacific Film Archive, Friday, 7:30

Judging from this documentary, the Sainte Trinité Music School in Port-au-Prince brings hope and harmony to the children of one of the world’s poorest nations. At first, director Owsley Brown shows us the benefit of a musical education, interspersed with brief lessons in Haitian history. Than the massive 2010 earthquake hits, and it becomes a very different movie. Despite the hardships, the film manages to be upbeat and inspirational. But I couldn’t help wondering which children are allowed in, and how the school is financed. Owsley Brown in Person. Part of the series Owsley Brown, A Filmmaker’s Journey.

Festival Screenings

A- A Date for Mad Mary, SF Irish Film Festival, Delancey Street Theater, Thursday, 7:00

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.

A- Moonrise Kingdom, Wes Ander-Thon Weekend, Roxie, Friday, 9:30

Wes Anderson at his most playful. Also at his sweetest and funniest. Two pre-teens in love run away–disrupting everything on the small New England island where the story is set. While the fantasy of young love makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, the adult reaction keeps you laughing–in large part because major stars play the main adult characters, and they’re clearly enjoying a chance to clown. They include Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Bruce Willis, and, best of all, Tilda Swinton as “Social Services.”

B Fantastic Mr. Fox, Wes Ander-Thon Weekend, Roxie, Saturday, 4:15

There’s a cartoon-like quality to a lot of Wes Anderson’s work, so it isn’t surprising that he would eventually make a real cartoon. Based on a story by Roald Dahl, Fantastic follows the adventures of a very sophisticated but not altogether competent fox (voiced by George Clooney) as he tries to outwit a farmer and keep his marriage together. Children and adults will find different reasons to enjoy this frantically-paced comic adventure.

Recommended revivals

Warner double bill: Treasure of the Sierra Madre & The Searchers, Stanford, Saturday through Monday

The A goes to John Huston’s Treasure of the Sierra Madre. When three down-on-their-luck Yankees (Humphrey Bogart, Tim Holt, and the director’s father, Walter Huston) prospect for gold in Mexico, they soon realize that they don’t trust each other. A rousing adventure story and a meditation on the corruption of greed. Most John Ford fans consider The Searchers his masterpiece. I disagree. It looks splendid and has many great moments, but it suffers from a rambling, occasionally absurd plot, and a very unlikable protagonist. I give it a B. Part of David Thomson’s massive Warner Brothers series.

A- The Fugitive Kind, Pacific Film Archive, Sunday, 7:00

Marlon Brando plays a drifter trying to turn over a new leaf in a small southern town. He’s tired of uneven work, police trouble, and women throwing themselves at him. Anna Magnini plays one of those women. She hires him to work in her store – not entirely for mercantile reasons. But the store is owned by her vile, vengeful, and invalid husband. Read my longer report. Part of the appropriately-titled series, Marlon Brando: The Fugitive Kind.

A- Office Space, New Parkway, Friday, 10:30

Work…there’s a reason they have to pay you to show up. In this broad and funny satire by Mike Judge, three young men struggle with their jobs in a soul-killing tech company. They conspire to fool the computers and skim enough money off the top to allow for early retirement; hopefully, the amount will go unnoticed. Jennifer Aniston plays the waitress whose job is as soul-killing as theirs, but pays considerably less. Stephen Root steals the movie as the employee whose soul was crushed long ago.

B+ East of Eden, Stanford, Thursday through next Friday

James Dean electrifies the screen and becomes a star and a legend in this John Steinbeck adaptation. He plays an alienated teenager at odds with his strict and religious father and his ever-so-upright younger brother. An updating of the Cain and Abel story set in early 20th-century rural California, Eden occasionally steers towards the over-dramatic, but for the most part it’s an effective story about a generation gap, made a decade before that term was coined. On a double bill with The Fountainhead, which I saw ages ago and found unintentionally hilarious. Another part of David Thomson’s Warner Brothers series.

C- The Defiant Ones, Pacific Film Archive, Thursday, 7:00

I’m recommending this Stanley Kramer message movie from 1958, despite the fact that it’s not very good, because it’s historically fascinating. Two convicts, chained together at the wrists, escape, and run for freedom. The problem is that one is white (Tony Curtis) and the other black (Sidney Poitier). As a suspense thriller, it’s weak and poorly timed. As a message movie, its points are obvious and laid on thick. But at least you get to see Poitier play someone who isn’t perfect. Part of the series Reflection and Resistance: James Baldwin and Cinema.

Continuing Revivals

Lebowskies (frequently-revived classics)