What’s Screening: September 22 – 28

Overly-protective parents, exceptionally dumb teenagers, Jerry Lewis, French mimes, Buster Keaton, and a whole lot of Lina Wertmüller lights up Bay Area screens this week.

Also, Sunday is Art House Theater Day. Bay Area theaters involved include the Elmwood, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Rafael, Lark, and the Roxie. Check each theater to see what they’re showing.


Homage to Lina Wertmüller

If you were too young in the 70s to watch R-rated, subtitled films, you may not realize just how important Lina Wertmüller was. Women directors were almost unheard of. Then came Wertmüller, an Italian auteur turning out some of the most powerful and provocative films seen in years.

This one-day festival will screen the four films that made her famous, along with a feature-length documentary on the filmmaker. The two below are the ones I’ve seen recently enough to comment on.

The entire festival happens Saturday, at the Castro.

A Seven Beauties, 6:30

Wertmüller’s 1975 masterpiece is a Holocaust film, an examination of Italian machismo, and a witheringly sad and disturbing drama. It’s also a very funny slapstick comedy. Wertmüller’s muse, Giancarlo Giannini, stars as a charming but somewhat dense egomaniac. We learn about his pre-war life in flashbacks, where he dresses smart and guards the virtue of his seven sisters. But during World War II, he deserts from the Italian army and ends up in a concentration camp. Here he discovers something much more important than honor: survival. Read my Blu-ray review.

B+ Love and Anarchy, 11:00am

The political is personal in this moving tragicomedy about a country bumpkin who comes to Rome to assassinate Mussolini, and finds love in an upscale whorehouse. Once again, Giannini stars, but this time, massive freckles and bad hair hide his good looks. The story starts out funny, becomes surprisingly romantic, but never strays from an intense sadness. Read my Blu-ray review.

Foreign Film Week

The New Parkway runs its first Foreign Film Week – your chance to see a lot of good old and new films with subtitles. Here are the ones I can recommend:

A Dogtooth, Saturday, 4:15; Monday, 7:00

This very dark satire of over-protective parents – and arguably totalitarianism – examines an upper-middleclass nuclear family so insular it borders on incest. The parents homeschool and brazenly lie to their three teenagers, none of whom have ever stepped out of the home. But with puberty bubbling up, things may have to change. Dogtooth contains horrifying outbursts of violence, explicit sex (none of it the least bit erotic), and a lot of deadpan humor. Read my full article.

B+ A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, Friday, 8:05; Wednesday, 7:00

A vampire is haunting Tehran. But it’s okay; she’s a nice vampire, and rarely attacks people who don’t deserve it. She travels on foot – or sometimes on a skateboard. Ana Lily Amirpour’s debut feature, filmed in black and white, has an atmosphere all its own. Strange cinematic and musical riffs, along with a very loose story, makes for a unique but entertaining experience. And no, this isn’t really an Iranian movie; it was made in California.

Promising events

Dick, Alamo Drafthouse New Mission, Tuesday, 7:25

Get your mind out of the gutter; the title refers to Richard Nixon. Two teenage girls living in early-1970s Washington DC (future stars Kirstin Dunst and Michelle Williams) accidentally set off the alarm at the Watergate, and then find themselves at every major turn of the unfolding scandal – usually to the detriment of the President. 1999 was an excellent year for American screen comedy (Galaxy Quest, Analyze This), but this little gem went unnoticed, possibly because its target audience was 90’s teenagers who knew about Watergate.

Jerry Lewis double bill: The Nutty Professor & The King of Comedy, Castro

I loved Jerry Lewis when I was very young, but I outgrew him. Many consider The Nutty Professor his masterpiece, and the basic concept – a very clever twist of Jekyll and Hyde – is audacious and thought-provoking. But the execution is so clumsy it makes me cringe. On the other hand, I have very fond memories of Martin Scorsese’s King of Comedy. Robert De Niro plays a frustrated, delusional, and hopelessly-inexperienced comic who kidnaps a popular TV talk show host (Lewis). I haven’t seen it in a very long time, but I suspect I’d give it an A.

Recommended revivals

A+ Children of Paradise, Lark, Tuesday through Thursday

Shot while the Nazi occupation fell apart, Children of Paradise may be the most ecstatically French film ever made. A three-hour epic set in the theater scene of early 19th-century Paris, it follows the life of a beautiful woman (Arletty) and four men who fall under her spell—each in his own unique way. The story is rich, romantic, and deeply in love with theatrical traditions. In this version of Paris, even the thugs see their violence as art. Written by Jacques Prévert and directed by Marcel Carné. Read my appreciation and my Blu-ray review.

A The Purple Rose of Cairo, Rafael, Sunday

Hollywood illusions of the 1930’s mesh and collide with the real Great Depression in Woody Allen’s funny and sad fantasy. Mia Farrow plays an unhappily married waitress whose only solace is the movies. She watches one favorite picture so many times that a character (Jeff Daniels) walks off the screen and enters her real life. This isn’t just her fantasy; the incident makes headlines and throws Hollywood into chaos.

A Bringing Up Baby, Alameda, Wednesday

How does one define a screwball comedy? You could say it’s a romantic comedy with glamorous movie stars behaving like broad, slapstick comedians. You could point out that screwballs are usually set amongst the excessively wealthy, and often explore class barriers. Or you could simply show Howard Hawks’ Bringing Up Baby, a frivolous and hilarious tale about a mild-mannered paleontologist (Cary Grant), a ditzy heiress (Katharine Hepburn), and a tame leopard (a tame leopard).

A Steamboat Bill, Jr., Pacific Film Archive, Saturday, 4:00

One of Buster Keaton’s best, both as a performer and an auteur. Keaton plays the urbane and somewhat effete son of the very macho Steamboat Bill (Ernest Torrence). A shipload of laughs and amazing stunts, seamlessly integrated into a very good story. Judith Rosenberg on Piano. Part of the series Movie Matinees for All Ages, although I should warn you that there’s a single racist joke you’ll have to discuss with your children.

A- The Grand Budapest Hotel, Roxie, Monday, 9:00

Wes Anderson is playing with us, and what fun it is to be played. In this story within a story within a story, the concierge of a magnificent European hotel (Ralph Fiennes) takes a young bellhop under his wing and teaches him about hostelry and life, while also trying to save his own skin from some very well-connected thugs. All quite silly, except that I think there’s a message about the rise of Fascism in there somewhere (the innermost story is set in the early ’30s). The hotel, which sits on a high mountain’s peak, is one of those places that you want to visit but could only exist in a movie.

B Le bonheur, Pacific Film Archive, Friday, 4:00

This is the worst Agnès Varda film I’ve seen – but that’s hardly a condemnation. A young family man falls in love with another woman–but he still loves his wife. It’s the best of both worlds…but only for the man, and it can’t last forever. Despite the bright colors and Mozart on the soundtrack, little things such as signage (unfortunately, not all of it subtitled) suggests something sinister lurking below all this happiness. The movie is, at times, very sexy. But the ending is both exceedingly happy and horrifyingly grotesque.

Continuing Revivals

Lebowskies (frequently-revived classics)