What’s Screening: July 20 – 26

Silent comedians, weird cartoons, French noir, military musicians, mediocre musicians, and four film festivals. This and more on Bay Area movie screens this week. Wild parrots couldn’t drag me away!


New films opening

A- Don’t Worry He Won’t Get Far on Foot, Embarcadero Center, Rafael, Shattuck, opens Friday

John Callahan (Joaquin Phoenix) was little more than a drunk before an alcohol-fueled accident left him without the use of his legs. In Gus Van Sant’s sympathetic and entertaining biopic, the accident becomes his salvation, bringing him to Alcoholics Anonymous and inspiring him to use his deep sense of dark humor to become a successful cartoonist. I don’t think I’ve seen a film that so clearly showed the agonies and triumphs of overcoming addiction. Read my full review.

Promising events

Funny Bones: The Comedy of Charlie Chaplin, Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, Friday, 7:30

Dan Kamin – the man who taught Robert Downey Jr. to play Chaplin – will discuss the comedian’s work and working methods. The show promises to be “an entertaining multimedia program featuring film, live performance, and…audience participation.”

Cult Cartoon Classics, Roxie, Thursday, 7:00

Through the mid-20th century, a short cartoon (six or seven minutes) preceded most movies in theaters. Considering that anything can happen in animation, a lot of them were pretty weird. The Roxie’s website promises some of the weirdest. The Roxie will screen these shorts in 16mm, which the website claims is the way they were “meant to be seen!” Don’t believe that; they were meant to be seen in 35mm.

Another chance to see

A The Rider, Lark, opens Friday

Brady, barely an adult, has already seen his once-bright rodeo career destroyed from 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 knows that he can’t do what he was born to do. One of the best films I’ve seen this year. Read my full review.

Great double bills

A- Devil’s Daughter & B- The Back Streets of Paris, Roxie, Thursday, 7:15

Few Americans know about French movie star Andrée Clément, who played both good girls and bad girls in post-war film noir. She plays both types in this double bill.
Devil’s Daughter: This one starts with a bang: A notorious criminal spectacularly escapes from a dragnet. He takes on the identity of the dead man, and becomes a generous, philanthropic member of a small town’s community – for his own purposes, of course. Cléments plays a teenage thug – tough, mean, and prone to hero-worshiping criminals. No one is any good in this noir.
The Back Streets of Paris:
Clément plays the innocent daughter of a tough and occasionally homicidal owner of a small, back-alley hotel. This upright daughter falls for a “sailor” who may be more than he appears. The movie climaxes with an entertaining and totally unrealistic fight.

B Roman Holiday & B- Queen Christina, Stanford, Friday through Sunday

Roman Holiday: Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn fall in love through an extremely contrived plot. She’s a runaway princess, and he’s a reporter hoping for a scoop. But the real star is Rome; shooting overseas locations was a new thing in the early 1950s.
Queen Christina:
This 1933 MGM spectacular reunites Greta Garbo and John Gilbert – one of the great romantic teams of the 1920’s (on and off camera). It’s also a good example of just how American movies could handle sex before the production code came in and cleaned them up.

Recommended revivals

A Laurel & Hardy Silent Matinee Laugh Challenge, Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, Sunday, 4:00

Need a Laurel and Hardy fix? Here are four of their best silent shorts: You’re Darn Tootin’, Big Business, Liberty, and the recently-restored The Battle of the Century. Why is it a “Laugh Challenge?” If you get through all four shorts without laughing, you get a ticket refund, a bag of popcorn, and some “movie memorabilia.” On the other hand, if you sit through these movies without laughing, you’re probably dead. Bruce Loeb will provide piano accompaniment.

A- Harp of Burma, BAMPFA (formerly Pacific Film Archive), Wednesday, 7:00

A story about loss, redemption, music, and the beauty of good people. As World War II comes to an end in Burma, a platoon of Japanese soldiers must accept their new status as POWs, but they also feel relieved that they survived. The captain was a musician in civilian life and trained his men into a beautiful male chorus. One private has a very special musical gift, and that will put him on a very unusual path. The movie has a near perfect, very moving ending…then goes on for another 14 worthless minutes.

B+ This is Spinal Tap, Oakland Paramount, Thursday, 8:00

The mockumentary to end all rockumentaries. Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, and Harry Shearer play the subject of this fake documentary–an English heavy metal band of questionable talent on a disastrous American tour. Director Rob Reiner plays, appropriately enough, the documentary’s director. Uneven, but often brilliantly hilarious, although you need a good grounding in rock music and concert movies to get most of the jokes. On a scale of one to ten, the best scenes rate an eleven.

B The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, BAMPFA (formerly Pacific Film Archive), Saturday, 4:00

This utterly charming documentary follows a good-natured San Francisco slacker who devotes his life to caring for a flock of once-domesticated, now feral parrots in the titular neighborhood. Loose and pleasant, the movie opens a window into the life of an unusual human being, his charges, and even filmmaker Judy Irving, but it never gets very deep. On the other hand, the story catches much of what is wonderful about the Bay Area, and leaves you feeling good all over. Part of the ongoing series Movie Matinees for All Ages.

Continuing Engagements

  • Yellow Submarine, Elmwood, opens Friday; Clay, Friday & Saturday, 11:55pm (just before midnight); sing along version: Rafael, Sunday; 3:45

Lebowskies (frequently-revived classics)