What’s Screening: November 3 – 9

Guillermo del Toro, Orson Welles, Billy Wilder, Sergei Eisenstein, Harry Belafonte, and nine (yes, nine) film festivals in the Bay Area this week.


Festival Screenings

A The Shape of Water, Napa Valley Film Festival, Uptown Theatre, Thursday, 1:30

Only Guillermo del Toro could make a grand, romantic, suspenseful, and horrifying sequel to The Creature from the Black Lagoon. Sally Hawkins stars as a mute cleaning woman in a huge, highly secure research center (this is in 1960). When a strange fish/man arrives for dissection, she senses its pain and sets out to free it. Octavia Spencer and Richard Jenkins play her eventual partners in crime, while Michael Shannon makes a wonderfully despicable villain. The creature looks very much like the one from the fifties movies, but far more expressive. Your heart goes out to him from the start.

B Gigolo, The French Had a Name For It, Roxie, Sunday, 9:00

This pretty good melodrama follows a poverty-stricken young man whose only real advantage is good looks (Georges Marchal). After losing a job because of the boss’s daughter, he meets up with a much-older woman (Arletty) who basically becomes his pimp, farming him out to wealthy matrons. Of course, he’s going to meet a beautiful, innocent young girl and fall in love, and there will be problems.

B- In the Heat of the Night, Alameda International Film Festival, Alameda City Hall, Friday, 8:00

The 1967 Best Picture Oscar winner still works moderately well as a murder mystery, but it comes from a time when white Americans north of the Mason-Dixon line could still pat themselves on the back and be glad they weren’t like those bigoted Southerners. This story of a black police detective from Philadelphia investigating a murder in a small, Mississippi town has a few good scenes and one great one, but that’s about it.

C+ After the War, New Italian Cinema, Vogue, Thursday, 9:00

A political assassination forces a former radical leftwing terrorist (Giuseppe Battiston) to go on the lam, and he takes his reluctant, teenaged daughter (Charlotte Cétaire) with him. Unlike most teenagers, she has good reasons to believe her dad is a creep. He’s selfish, alcoholic, and still justifies a murder he committed ages ago. After the War works when it stays with these two people, but other members of the family aren’t as interesting. And the ending is just too convenient.

C+ This Man is Dangerous, The French Had a Name For It, Roxie, Friday, 6:00

Eddie Constantine, an American actor working in France, plays a ruthless thug who has to outfight and outsmart other, better-organized ruthless thugs. Constantine’s acting range is small, and it’s hard to like him (early on, he murders an unarmed man pointblank). The plot is almost impossible to follow, but several sequences are fun in their own right. A big surprise changes the whole movie, allowing you to (sort of) root for the protagonist.

Promising events

The Magnificent Ambersons, Alameda, Wednesday

It’s been a very long time since I’ve seen Orson Welles’ second film–or at least what’s left of it after RKO severely recut it between previews and premiere. I remember it being warm and nostalgic, with a strong sense of loss for a way of life that is no more. Welles himself doesn’t appear onscreen in this film, but his beautiful voice provides a lovely narration.

Recommended revivals

A Sunset Boulevard, Alamo Drafthouse New Mission, Sunday, 11:00AM; Monday, 12:10

Billy Wilder’s meditation on Hollywood’s seedy underbelly is the flip side of Singin’ in the Rain (now that would make a great double bill). Norma Desmond is very much Lena Lamont after twenty-two years of denial and depression. And in the role of Norma, Gloria Swanson gives one of the great over-the-top performances in Hollywood history.

A- The Shawshank Redemption, New Parkway, Thursday, 9:00

An accountant ( Tim Robbins), convicted for a murder he didn’t commit, receives a life sentence. In the stir, he discovers that at least some of his skills have their benefits even inside. Taking place over decades, this surprisingly optimistic prison movie makes a satisfying tale of winning over impossible odds.

A- Battleship Potemkin, Pacific Film Archive, Sunday, 2:00

Make no mistake: This ground-breaking movie is simplistic Communist propaganda. The workers and sailors are all good comrades working together for a better world. The officers, aristocrats, and Cossacks are vile filth who deserve to die. And yet, the story of mutiny, celebration, attack, and escape stirs your blood. And it does this primarily through editing techniques that were revolutionary in 1925 and still impressive today. More than 90 years after it was shot, the Odessa Steps massacre is still one of the greatest, if not the greatest, action sequence ever edited. Read my essay. With a recorded musical score. Part of the series The Art of Cinematography.

B Sing Your Song, Lark, Tuesday, 12:00 noon

Harry Belafonte is a great performer and a dedicated activist. This reverential documentary emphasizes the activism, from his high-profile importance to the civil rights movement to his current work reforming gang members. Director Susanne Rostock’s picture encourages you to burn with anger at the world’s injustices, and admire those who worked and sacrificed to end those injustices. But if you come into the theater because you love Belafonte’s music, you’ll be disappointed. You’ll hear bits and pieces of many a great song, but you won’t hear a single one from beginning to end. Read my full review.

B- The End of the Ottoman Empire, Pacific Film Archive, Saturday, 5:00

This isn’t really a movie; it’s a two-part French TV documentary. As historical documentaries go, it’s not bad; unexceptional for PBS but way better than the History Channel. But little thought was put into making a good English-speaking version. For instance, when a British or American historian talks to the camera, we hear them speaking English, but their words are drowned out by the verbal French translation, and the English subtitles don’t match the difficult-to-hear spoken English. But it’s an important piece of history, and one that’s made a mess of the world we live in.

Continuing Engagements

Lebowskies (frequently-revived classics)