What’s Screening: October 27 – November 2

Chimps, rats, kids, vampires, a wronged man, a wronged samurai, a psychopathic preacher, big aliens, and a lot of Halloween movies this week in Bay Area movie screens.

Also four film festivals.


New films opening

A- Wonderstruck, Shattuck, opens Friday

Writer Brian Selznick and director Todd Haynes create a very special kind of magic in this story about two deaf kids – living 50 years apart, who run away to New York City and gravitate to the Museum of Natural History. In 1977, the newly-deaf Ben (Oakes Fegley) sets out to discover the father he never knew. In 1927, born-deaf Rose (Millicent Simmonds) searches for her missing mother. Each will find something important in the museum. Haynes uses color and black and white, muted sounds, and even puppets to tell this enchanting double story. Read my full review.

B Jane, Elmwood, Rafael, opens Friday

You probably already know about chimpanzee expert Jane Goodall. She went to Africa in 1960 to study our closest evolutionary cousins and astounded the world. Brett Morgen’s documentary allows Goodall to tell her own story – about her work, her marriage, her son, and the fascinating creatures to which she has devoted her life. The footage, much of which hasn’t been seen publicly before, is astounding. But it could have used other people’s points of view. Read my full review.

C+ Rat Film, Roxie, opens Friday

Human beings and rats have lived together, seldom harmoniously, since the invention of agriculture. Theo Anthony’s documentary examines the eternal battle, focusing on Baltimore. But it doesn’t go very deep into the antagonist relationship, and goes off on a couple of detours that fail to help the main story (although one of these is important enough to be the theme of another documentary). But the movie introduced me to one interesting person and provided a little bit of useful information. Read my full review.

Festival Screenings

A The Wrong ManModern CinemaSFMOMA, Friday, 6:00

Although it uses one of Hitchcock’s favorite plots–the innocent citizen wrongly accused – this is unlike anything else he ever made. Based on a true story and apparently following it quite closely, The Wrong Man realistically shows you the horror of being an innocent accused. This is the film he made before Vertigo, and like Vertigo, it was a critical and commercial flop. But unlike Vertigo, it has yet to be properly rediscovered. See my longer report.

A The Night of the Hunter, Modern Cinema, SFMOMA, Sunday, 5:00

Widow and mother Shelley Winters makes a very bad choice for a second husband–a cruel, sanctimonious, violent, and criminally insane preacher (or fake preacher) played by Robert Mitchum. Told mostly through the eyes of the two children who must survive their new stepfather, the story is grim, atmospheric, frightening, and haunting. Then, in the last act, Lillian Gish shows up as a practical, down-to-earth savior of lost children. It’s some sort of Christian parallel, although I’m not exactly sure how. Charles Laughton’s only film as a director, it makes you wish he made more.

B+ Fantastic Planet, Another Hole in the Head Film Festival, New People Cinema, Monday, 7:00

As a story, this French animated sci-fi mortality tale comes off as a very obvious allegory. Human beings, imported from Earth, struggle to survive on a planet populated by blue giants who view us as either pets or vermin. But it’s the imaginative visuals, not the story or the message, that makes Fantastic Planet worth watching. The filmmakers could only afford very cheap, limited animation, so they made up for it with striking and original designs. Creatures, plants, devices all look like something never seen before.

B+ Halloween, Another Hole in the Head Film Festival, New People Cinema, Tuesday, 7:00

Yes, I normally put this movie in the Lebowski section below (at least in October), but this screening is something different. It’s the same movie, but in black and white. I might even give it a better grade that way. The festival will also screen Halloween II in black and white at 9:00.

Promising events

The Old Dark House, Lark, Friday through Sunday

In the first half of the 1930s, director James Whale was Universal’s King of Horror (his co-workers called him the Queen of Horror, but that’s another story). His works include Frankenstein, The Invisible Man, and one of my all-time favorite horror films, The Bride of Frankenstein. I haven’t seen The Old Dark House, but I sure am curious. New 4K restoration.

AGFA Presents: Dismember the Alamo, Alamo Drafthouse New Mission, Sunday, 6:00

The New Mission will screen four horror films in one night. But what movies? Damned if I know. The theater’s website promises a “mystery horror movie marathon that delivers 1001% fun directly to your degenerate soul. Just like a blood pact with Satan…BUT BETTER.”

Recommended revivals

A Harakiri, Roxie, Thursday, 7:00

Absolutely the best samurai film not made by Akira Kurosawa. A samurai (Kurosawa regular Tatsuya Nakadai) comes to a fort and asks permission to kill himself, then tells a harrowing tale of poverty made unbearable by the strict samurai code. Director Masaki Kobayashi had no love for feudal Japan’s social structure, which he shows as cruel, arrogant, and hypocritical. And yes, it ends with an awesome fight.

A Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, New Parkway, Friday through Monday

An eccentric inventor, his long-suffering dog, snooty aristocrats, cute bunnies, and whole lot of clay make up the funniest movie of 2005. I vote for putting this G-rated, claymation extravaganza on a double-bill with that other hilarious British comedy with a killer rabbit, Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

Great cold war thriller double bill: The Manchurian Candidate & Invasion of the Body Snatchers
(the original versions), Castro, Monday

The A goes to The Manchurian Candidate, where bad dreams keep bothering Korean War veterans Lawrence Harvey and Frank Sinatra. Were they brainwashed by Communists? And where do the rabid anti-Communists fit in? One of the best political thrillers of the cold war. Read my Blu-ray review. Invasion of the Body Snatchers is noir, sci-fi, and political allegory. Of course, whether this tale of aliens taking over people’s identities is anti-Communist or anti-McCarthy depends more on your politics than on the filmmakers’. I give this film a B+.

A Nosferatu, New Parkway, Sunday, 3:00; Vogue, Tuesday, 7:00

Forget about sexy vampires; the first film version of Dracula (an unauthorized rip-off that got the filmmakers into legal trouble) doesn’t have one. Max Schreck plays Count “Orlok” as a reptilian predator in vaguely human form. This isn’t the scariest monster movie ever made, but it’s probably the creepiest. Not to be confused with Werner Herzog’s 1979 remake. Read my Blu-ray review. No live accompaniment at the New Parkway, and probably none at the Vogue.

B+ Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse, Pacific Film Archive, Saturday, 6:00

Making-of documentaries are seldom worth a trip to a movie theater, but this record of how Francis Coppola shot Apocalypse Now is an exception to the rule. But then, the making of Apocalypse Now is one of the great stories of cinema history. One star had a heart attack. Another arrived grossly overweight. A typhoon destroyed the set. The director didn’t know how he would end the picture…or whether the picture would end him. Coppola’s wife Eleanor filmed the whole expedition, and that footage made this fascinating documentary possible. The last film in the series Marlon Brando: The Fugitive Kind.

Continuing Engagements

Lebowskies (frequently-revived classics)