What’s Screening: April 20 – 26

Three great new films, two beautiful old fantasies, plus Mr. and Mrs. Frankenstein. Also a superhero marathon, a murderous preacher, and Russians taking over our government. And all that’s available on Bay Area movie screens this week.

Also, in honor of 420, three theaters screen The Big Lebowski today. Just remember to not light up in the theater.


New films opening

A 1945, Clay, Albany Twin, Rafael, opens Friday

August 1945. Two Orthodox Jews get off the train in a small Hungarian town. Who are they and what do they want? But this movie isn’t about them. It’s about the town, a problematic wedding, fears, guilt, and the locals’ reaction to the strange and oddly terrifying visitors. After all, the townspeople haven’t seen a Jew in years, and some of them profited their neighbors’ disappearances. This beautifully-shot black-and-white film, set in one day, brings to life a community ravaged by war, hate, and guilt, first occupied by the Germans and then the Russians. Read my full review.

A The Rider, Embarcadero Center, opens Friday

Brady, barely an adult, has already seen his once-bright career on the rodeo circuit destroyed. An accident in the ring left him with brain damage and another bad fall will probably kill him. Yet he wants desperately to get back in the saddle. Performed entirely with non-actors, this beautifully-shot film puts you in the place of a young man who desperately wants to keep doing what he loves but knows he can’t. Read my full review.

A- Kodachrome, Embarcadero Center, opens Friday

No, it’s not really about film vs. digital photography. Kodachrome is a road movie, and an excellent one. Jason Sudeikis must drive his horrible but ailing father (Ed Harris) 2,000 miles to one particular photo lab before both the father and the ability to develop Kodachrome film stock die. Elizabeth Olsen plays the father’s nurse. These characters deepen with the story, doing and saying things that are surprising and unexpected, and yet never out of character. You know how the story will turn out from the start; but you learn a lot on the way. Read my full review.

Promising events

The Fabulous Baron Münchausen, Pacific Film Archive, Thursday, 7:00

No, this isn’t Terry Gilliam’s big-budget fantasy from 1988, but Karel Zeman’s 1961 version from Czechoslovakia, which combines live action and various types of animation (along with occasional slapstick). I saw this rare work twice in the 1970s and loved it. I don’t know if I would love it again. Part of the series Auteur, Author: Films and Literature 2018.

The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T., Pacific Film Archive, Saturday, 4:00

The only Dr. Seuss feature film made during his lifetime, and as creative, visually daring, and funny as any kid’s fantasy to come out of Hollywood. At least that’s how I remember it, many years after my last screening. Even the sets, photographed in three-strip Technicolor, look as if Seuss had painted them himself. Part of the ongoing series, Movie Matinees for All Ages.

Hot Shots! Part Deux, New Mission, Friday, 4:20

Not as funny as the original Hot Shots, but this parody of muscle-bound action flicks in general and Rambo in particular can still generate laughs – if I recall correctly. Charlie Sheen plays the ripped hero, forced to leave his Buddhist monastery to rescue those who failed to rescue the previous set of rescuers (“You’re the best of who we have left”). Supporting players include Valeria Golino, Lloyd Bridges, Richard Crenna, and Rowan Atkinson. Archive 35mm print.

Great double bills

B+ Frankenstein & Bride of Frankenstein, Stanford, Friday through Sunday

No one played Dr. Frankenstein’s nameless creation like Boris Karloff, who interpreted the monster as a child in a too-large body – an outcast torn between his need for love and his anger at the society that rejected him. James Whales’ original Frankenstein is atmospheric and beautiful. But Whale’s first and only sequel, Bride of Frankenstein, is the masterpiece – the film that opens up the monster’s poetic soul. With Colin Clive as the mad scientist, Ernest Thesiger as a delightfully over-the-top madder scientist, and Elsa Lanchester as both Mary Shelley and the monster’s mate. Part of the series Hitchcock and Other Masters of Suspense.

Recommended revivals

A+ The GeneralLark, Thursday, 7:30
The General.jpg
New digital restoration. Buster Keaton pushed film comedy like no one else in this masterpiece. He meticulously recreated the Civil War setting. He mixed slapstick comedy with battlefield death. He hired thousands of extras and filmed what may be the single most expensive shot of the silent era. The movie flopped in 1926, but today it’s rightly considered one of the greatest comedies ever made. Warning: This Civil War comedy takes the side of the Confederates. Read my A+ essay. Frederick Hodges will accompany on piano.  [I found out about this screening, and added it to this newsletter, on Sunday, April 22.]

A The Manchurian Candidate, Pacific Film Archive, Wednesday, April 25

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? Easily the best political thriller to come out of the cold war, The Manchurian Candidate finds villains on both political extremes. As the nominal hero, Sinatra proves he really was an actor, but Angela Lansbury steals the film as cinema’s most evil mother – a woman of outsized beliefs and a burning hatred of anyone who disagrees with her. Read my Blu-ray review. Another part of the series Auteur, Author: Films and Literature 2018.

A Stalker, Castro, Wednesday

This slow, strange, allegorical fantasy from the great Andrei Tarkovsky gets under your skin. A guide, called a Stalker, takes two other men on a journey into a strange place called The Zone. We never find out exactly what it is, and it looks pretty much like the world they already live in – except that The Zone is in color and their home is tinted black and white. But we learn that The Zone is dangerous, is constantly changing, and that those changes are caused by the emotions of the people who dare enter it. On a double bill with Annihilation.

A The Night of the Hunter, Stanford, Wednesday and Thursday

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 of what. Charles Laughton’s only film as a director, it makes you wish he made more. On a double bill with The Window. Another part of the series Hitchcock and Other Masters of Suspense.

A- Dead Man, Friday, 7:00

A western written and directed by Jim Jarmusch is by definition a very weird flick. The plot, concerning a timid accountant (Johnny Depp) who becomes a wanted outlaw within a day of getting off the train, sounds like a Bob Hope comedy. But despite some quirky humor, Dead Man is mostly dead serious. It’s also, to my knowledge, the first black and white western since The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. The supporting cast includes John Hurt, Gabriel Byrne, and Robert Mitchum. New digital restoration.

A- The Long Goodbye, New Mission, Monday, 7:00

Screenwriter Leigh Brackett and director Robert Altman updated Raymond Chandler’s novel and put Philip Marlowe into the 1970s. Marlowe (Elliott Gould) still lives in a crummy apartment, but now he has a bunch of hippie chicks next door, constantly offering him brownies. The movie starts as a comedy, with Marlow trying to find the only cat food his feline will eat, but turns into a labyrinth of fear and violence. A not-yet-famous Arnold Schwarzenegger shows up briefly.

Continuing Engagements

Lebowskies (frequently-revived classics)