What’s Screening: June 22 – 28

Fred and Ginger meet Preston Sturges. Ingmar Bergman makes us laugh about sex. Kurosawa takes on Shakespeare. Wes Anderson and Greta Garbo take you to two very grand hotels. And it all happens this week on Bay Area movie screens.


Promising events

Grand Hotel, Pacific Film Archive, Sunday, 7:00

It’s been years since I’ve seen this all-star Best Picture Oscar winner, and I remember enjoying it more in parts than as a whole. But that’s a likely problem when a film weaves several simultaneous stories. Archival Print!

Science on Screen: Operator
I missed Operator, a tech-oriented romantic comedy from 2016, despite its 100% reviewers score from Rotten Tomatoes. Martin Starr plays a programmer creating an interactive voice response phone system. Mae Whitman plays his wife, who provides the system’s voice. The programmer becomes caught between his real wife and the simulation. Robotics expert Ken Goldberg will discuss artificial intelligence and uncanny valley.

Independence Day, Oakland Paramount, Thursday, 8:00

I loved this brainless science fiction extravaganza when it opened in 1996, but that was too long ago for me to give it a grade now. Aside from the impressive explosions and other special effects, it was funny and didn’t take itself seriously. It made Will Smith, at least for a few years, the star you could depend on to save the world. Also, one of the three main heroes was Jewish (Jeff Goldblum); something you rarely get to see in action movies. Women, on the other hand, only got supporting roles.

Great double bills

A+ Rashomon & A- Throne of Blood, Lark, Tuesday through Wednesday

In Rashomon, a notorious bandit waylays a high-born couple in the woods, and a horrible crime is committed. But what crime and by who? One of Cinema’s great masterpieces. See my Kurosawa Diary entry and my Blu-ray review. Kurosawa deconstructs Macbeth in the noh-inspired Throne of Blood. Toshiro Mifune gives an over-the-top but still effective performance as the soldier who murders his king. The finale is one of the great action sequences in cinema. I have a Kurosawa Diary entry and a Blu-ray review for this one, too.

B+ Christmas in July & B- The Gay Divorcee, Stanford, Monday through Thursday

In Christmas in July, Preston Sturges creates a charming yet bitter comedy about the American Dream – with themes that come out of King Vidor’s much more serious masterpiece, The Crowd. Dick Powell stars as a lowly clerk who thinks he has the makings of a brilliant advertising executive. The Gay Divorcee feels like a lukewarm rip-off of Top Hat, but it was actually made first. Arguably the first true Astaire-Rogers movie, it’s a flawed entertainment with one great dance number, a few funny lines, and some historical interest.

Recommended revivals

A- Smiles of a Summer Night, Pacific Film Archive, Saturday, 6:00

This romantic sex comedy isn’t what comes to mind when you think of Ingmar Bergman, and yet this is one of the films that made him internationally famous. Very wealthy aristocrats are seen with people they shouldn’t be seen with, and yet one wife is still a virgin. The men are all stuffed-shirt idiots, wrapped around the fingers of their far wiser women. But only the lesser-born folk understand what it’s all about. Not a laugh-a-minute comedy, but moderately funny and very wise. Part of the series Bergman 100: A Summer Interlude.

A- The Grand Budapest Hotel, New Parkway, Sunday, 8:30

Wes Anderson is playing with us, and what fun it is to be played. In this story within a story within a story, the concierge of a magnificent European hotel (Ralph Fiennes) takes a young bellhop under his wing and teaches him about hostelry and life, while also trying to save his own skin from some very well-connected thugs. All quite silly, except that I think there’s a message about the rise of Fascism in there somewhere (the innermost story is set in the early ’30s). The hotel, which sits on a high mountain’s peak, is one of those places that you want to visit but could only exist in a movie.

B+ An American in Paris, Castro, Wednesday

I never considered this among my favorite MGM musicals. Alan Jay Lerner’s story and screenplay fails to provide an interesting story or a lot of laughs. And yet, it has all those great Gershwin songs come to life through Gene Kelly’s magnificent talent both in front of the camera as the star, and behind it as the choreographer. Oscar Levant provides most of the laughs. The movie closes with a 17-minute ballet that’s magic in and of itself. Directed by the great Vincente Minnelli. On a double bill with Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge, which I haven’t seen in many years and didn’t like.

B Valley of the Giants (original, 1927 version), Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, Saturday, 7:30

This story of good loggers vs. evil loggers is simple, lurid, yet well-done melodrama, and highly out-of-date by today’s more environmentally-enlightened standards. (Someone must have liked it, though; this is one of three film versions.) But never mind the story; the action sequences are as thrilling and suspenseful as any you’re likely to see. The location photography, shot near Eureka before that area was, well, ruined by loggers, makes The Valley of the Giants terrific eye candy. Preceded by the shorts The Big Swim and Vacation Waves. Accompanied by Judy Rosenberg at the piano.

Continuing Engagements

Lebowskies (frequently-revived classics)