What’s Screening: April 27 – May 3

Islamic justice, Communist romance, the western as myth, and a brief history of time. All that and three film festivals on Bay Area screens this week.


New films opening

B+ The Judge, Cerrito, Roxie, opens Friday

Kholoud Al-Faqih, the first woman appointed judge in a Middle Eastern Shari’a court (in this case, in Palestine), is a likeable and charismatic person. Erika Cohn’s camera follows her as she works mostly in divorce courts, trying to find the fairest solution to various problems. We also see her with her husband and children, and on a visit to her very proud parents. The filmmakers also interviewed disapproving conservatives out to destroy her career.

Promising events

Loves of a Blonde, Roxie, Saturday, 5:00

I have yet to see Milos Forman’s second feature, a bittersweet romantic comedy about love and Communism (or so I’ve been told). I’ve liked every Forman film I’ve seen, and I suspect I’d like this one, too. Presumably a worthwhile tribute to the recently-deceased filmmaker.

Once Upon a Time in the West, Castro, Sunday

Sergio Leone’s follow-up to The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is another epic western, with Charles Bronson playing the Clint Eastward role and Henry Fonda finding a more complex version of the Lee Van Cleef villain. I haven’t seen it in decades, but I remember it fondly.

Locomotion Picture Days, Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, Saturday and Sunday

Niles is known for two things: trains and silent movies. So it’s appropriate that the Museum will show movies about trains over the weekend. The festivities start Saturday at 3:00 with a collection of silent shorts, including Griffith’s Lonedale Operator and an episode of the feminist and stunt-heavy serial, the Hazards of Helen. The feature, The Great K & A Train Robbery, starts at 7:30 – after two shorts, including the historically important Great Train Robbery. Sound documentaries will screen Sunday at 3:00.

Riffers Delight: What Women Want, New Mission, Monday, 9:00

I don’t think I could come up with a more stupid idea for a romantic comedy: Mel Gibson survives an accident and gains the ability to read women’s minds. The only way I would even consider watching drek like this would be with standup comedians adding their own commentary. And that’s what Riffer’s Delight is all about.

Great double bills

B+ The 39 StepsB Foreign Correspondent, Friday through Sunday

The 39 Steps, one of the movies that made Hitchcock the Master of Suspense, involves a regular guy (Robert Donat) chased both by the police and evil foreign spies – a plot twist he would use twice again. Not his best, but an important step towards who he would become. Hitchcock’s second American film, Foreign Correspondent was an entertaining anti-Nazi movie made when his native England was fighting for its life.

Recommended revivals

A- Reds, Lark, Tuesday through Thursday

At the beginning of the Reagan era, Warren Beatty made an expensive, tragically romantic, three-hour-plus epic about early American Communists. With a story moving from America to Russia, Reds tracks the turbulent relationship between journalists John Reed (Beatty, who also directed and co-wrote) and Louise Bryant (Diane Keaton), while catching both the idealistic promises and the failed realities of Bolshevism. With Jack Nicholson as Eugene O’Neill and Maureen Stapleton as Emma Goldman.

B A Brief History of Time, Pacific Film Archive, Friday, 5:30

Errol Morris’s documentary isn’t really an adaptation of Stephen Hawking’s best-selling book. It spends at least as much time on Hawking’s life as it does on his discoveries. Friends, family, and co-workers talk directly to the camera in that patented Morris way. Those biographical pieces aren’t a problem, since Hawking had an exceptionally interesting life. But when Morris turns his camera to Hawking’s hypotheses and discoveries, you can’t help realizing that a 27-year-old science documentary – especially one involving the very edge of the known – is inevitably out of date.

Lebowskies (frequently-revived classics)