What’s Screening: January 12 – 18

Hitchcock thrills, Bogart on wheels, slapstick pratfalls, reefer madness, and some very classy French people light up Bay Area screens this week. But no film festivals.

New films opening

A- Intent to Destroy, Roxie, opens Friday

The Armenian genocide of 1915-16 is to Turkey what climate change is to America; a clearly documented truth that the government officially rejects. Joe Berlinger’s disturbing documentary shows and explains both the genocide and the century (so far) of denial. But Intent to Destroy is also a making-of movie, documenting the production of an upcoming Indiewood epic about the slaughter called The Promise. That seems like a strange mix of documentary genres, but it works, thanks largely to the knowledge and dedication of the people making The Promise.

See it in 70mm!

A- Murder on the Orient Express, Castro, Monday & Tuesday

Much better than the stagey 1974 version. Director and star Kenneth Branagh turns Hercule Poirot into something of an action hero, lean and capable in a foot chase, despite being weighed down by the world’s most bizarre mustache. The all-star cast includes Michelle Pfeiffer, Penélope Cruz, Derek Jacobi, Judi Dench, and Johnny Depp. Branagh shot most of the film in 70mm (technically 65mm), but it was not shown that way in the Bay Area…until now.

Promising events

They Drive by Night, Pacific Film Archive, Saturday, 8:00

I’ve yet to see this Warner Brothers pre-war classic starring Humphrey Bogart, George Raft, and Ida Lupino. I suppose I should see it one of these days. Directed by Raoul Walsh. Opening film for the series Ida Lupino: Hard, Fast, and Beautiful.

Reefer Madness, New Parkway, Saturday, 2:50

When I was in college, this unintentional comedy was extremely popular amongst stoned moviegoers. According to the movie, one puff of this deadly drug (“worse than heroin”) turns you into a hopeless addict with no morals or inhibitions. I saw it several times before a friend pointed out that no money was being exchanged and that the evil pushers were just giving their pot away.

A Life for a Life, Pacific Film Archive, Wednesday, 3:10

I’ve never seen a pre-Revolution Russian film. This one follows the family of a wealthy matriarch as they deal with love, finances, and other important parts of life. Bruce Loeb will provide the piano accompaniment.

Recommended revivals

A- Hitchcock double bill: The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956 version), & To Catch a Thief, Castro, Wednesday and Thursday

The A- goes to Alfred Hitchcock’s only remake, the Man Who Knew too Much. The story throws an ordinary American couple (James Stewart and Doris Day) into the middle of international espionage when evil foreign spies kidnap their son. Thrilling and fun in that Hitchcock-patented way. To Catch a Thief feels more like a vacation on the Riviera than a tight and scary thriller. But it nevertheless provides a few good scenes and sufficient fun. I give it a B-.

B+ Comedy Shorts Night, Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, Saturday, 7:30

Two of the four shorts on the program are truly A material. The first is Charlie Chaplin’s The Rink, where the Little Fellow proves to be a very bad waiter, a remarkable skater, and a phony count. The other is Buster Keaton’s Neighbors, which is basically Romeo and Juliet amongst the working class. I haven’t seen What Price Goofy? (starring Charley Chase) nor Bacon Grabbers (Laurel and Hardy), but considering the stars, I’d be very surprised if they weren’t funny. Bruce Loeb will again provide the piano accompaniment.

C+ The Rules of the Game, Pacific Film Archive, Sunday, 4:00

I know; everyone else considers this one of cinema’s great masterpieces–an immensely important influence on many filmmakers (one can hardly imagine Robert Altman’s career without it). And yes, I’ve read all about its deep and important commentary on the class system and the institution of marriage. But all I see is a modest comedy of manners without much comedy and nothing exceptional to say about our manners. I’m recommending it anyway because so many consider it a great film.

Lebowskies (frequently-revived classics)