Real and fake Laurel and Hardy, dogs and cats of the deadly kind, a dying bureaucrat, a desperate cyclist, a hitchhiker with a twitchy trigger finger, musical POWs, and a boy named Apu. But no film festivals.
The Week’s Big Event
A The Apu Trilogy, Stanford, Friday through Sunday
The Stanford is starting a Satyajit Ray series with one of cinema’s greatest trilogies:
Pather Panchali: In the first chapter of the trilogy, we meet Apu as a curious and mischievous child who delights in the world around him despite his family’s desperate poverty. There’s a great deal of joy in this film, but also a greater deal of tragedy.
Aparajito: In the second chapter, Apu grows from late childhood into late adolescence. Through education he can rise above poverty. But there’s a heavy price to pay for advancement out of his class. The weakest film of the three, but still excellent.
The World of Apu: In the final chapter, the adult Apu leaves college, but seems reluctant to grow up. He marries, almost by accident, and finds happiness and true love. But tragedy is never far away in Apu’s world.
New films opening
B+ Destroyer, Embarcadero Center, Shattuck, opens Friday
Crime and grime penetrate the city in this very dark noir. Nicole Kidman (in a brilliant performance) plays Officer Bell, the hard-drinking, tough, unreliable police detective at the edge of her capabilities. Tired, weary, and constantly angry, she has seen every bad thing possible, and many of them were her fault. Her eyes sometimes look like the walking dead. Atmosphere and character help support the impenetrable plot…until that plot suddenly becomes clear in the last few minutes. Read my full review.
B- Stan & Ollie, Clay, opens Friday
This mostly sad biopic about the great comic duo in decline offers plenty of laughs, but it isn’t a comedy. It’s 1953, and Laurel and Hardy haven’t made a movie in years. To keep on working, they’re touring Britain with a sort of greatest-hits act. They’re old, and the extremely obese Hardy especially feels the weight of his age. The picture gives us a sense of how the real Laurel and Hardy may have worked, behaved, and related to each other. It’s touching, but as you watch the film, you can feel the strings manipulating your emotions. Read my full review.
Laurel & Hardy Talkie Matinee: Sounds of Silents, Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, Sunday, 4:00
During the talkie revolution, many basically silent films were released with recorded musical accompaniment – and sometimes a little dialog. This program contains four such comedy shorts from 1928 and ’29. I can vouch for Liberty, where Laurel and Hardy find themselves in Harold Lloyd territory – although I never heard it with the recorded score. I haven’t seen the other shorts on the program (Our Gang stars in Barnum & Ringling and Cat & Dog & Company, and Laurel and Hardy again in Bacon Grabbers), but considering the filmmakers, they’re probably very funny.
Another chance to see
A Roma In 70mm, New Mission, Friday through Monday
70mm presentation! Director Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity) returned to his native Mexico and created an amazing film – a loosely-plotted study of Mexico City, 1970-71, through the eyes of an indigenous maid who works for a comfortable middle-class family. And no, this is not entirely about class differences, although that always lurks in the background. Roma is a study of a time and a place, a culture, a people, women who trust untrustworthy men, and one special person, who happens to be a maid. Beautifully shot in black-and-white scope. Read my full review. Roma is playing in many theaters, but only the New Mission has it in 70mm this week.
A- The Silence of Others, Rafael, Sunday, 12:00 noon
Spain became a democracy when Franco died in 1975…but one without justice. An amnesty law blocked the ability to prosecute crimes against humanity. The result is a country that knows little about its horrible past. This epic and yet intimate documentary follows several survivors who lost parents and children, along with those who were tortured, in their quest to put the worst kind of criminals on trial. A sad but hopeful film about a horrible time that is in danger of being forgotten. Part of the series Oscars Spotlight: Documentaries.
B On Her Shoulders, Rafael, Saturday, 2:00
Nadia Murad lost her family and her way of life when ISIS attacked the Yazidi people. The Yazidi are not Muslims, and genocide was part of the conquerors’ plans. Raped by terrorists, she escaped and now lives in Canada, where she became a symbol of her people. Alexandria Bombach’s documentary follows her as she visits street demonstrations, the UN’s General Assembly, and a Greek refugee camp. We also see her trying to live a normal life despite both her trauma and the unwanted spotlight. I got the feeling that she didn’t really want to be in this documentary. Another part of the series Oscars Spotlight: Documentaries.
Great double bills
B+ The Hound of the Baskervilles & B+ Cat People, Balboa, Wednesday 7:30
The Hound of the Baskervilles: The best Sherlock Holmes novel gets a reasonably close and very effective adaptation in the first Holmes movie starring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce. Is the mythical beast still wandering on the fog-shrouded moors? One of the best Holmes movies.
Cat People: Val Lewton was at his best in this stylish, psychologically-themed, low-budget horror movie. A young woman (Simone Simon) believes that if she experiences strong feelings of anger, jealousy, or lust, she’ll turn into a panther and kill the object of her emotions. That’s not good for her new marriage.
A+ Ikiru, BAMPFA, Friday, 7:00
One of Akira Kurosawa’s best, and one of the greatest serious dramas ever put up on the screen. Takashi Shimura gives the performance of his lifetime as an aging government bureaucrat dying of cancer. Emotionally cut off from his family–including the son and daughter-in-law with whom he lives–he struggles to find some meaning in his life before he dies. A deep and moving meditation on mortality and what it means to be human, Ikiru manages to be deeply spiritual without ever mentioning God or religion. Read my Blu-ray Review. Part of the series Japanese Film Classics from the BAMPFA Collection.
A+ Bicycle Thief (AKA Bicycle Thieves), BAMPFA, Saturday, 6:00
If the point of cinema is to create empathy, both for the characters on the screen and for real people, Vittorio De Sica’s Bicycle Thief is the greatest film ever made. It’s about desperate poverty, and how the desperately poor feed on other desperately poor because they have no other options. When someone steals Antonio’s bicycle, it threatens the struggling man’s ability to feed his wife and children. So Antonio and his young son wander through Rome, searching desperately for the precious machine that will keep them from starving. Read my Blu-ray review. This is a Film to Table presentation.
A The Hitch-Hiker, New Mission, Wednesday, 7:30
This three-person tale, directed by Ida Lupino, grabs you by the gut. Two men on a fishing vacation pick up a hitchhiker, who turns out to be a psychotic killer wanted by the police. Holding them at gunpoint, he forces his prisoners to drive into Baja California, where he hopes to cover his tracks and be safe forever. They know quite well that he only intends to keep them alive until he no longer needs them. William Talman doesn’t bring nuance to the killer, but he brings a menace that could curdle water.
A- Harp of Burma, BAMPFA, Thursday, 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. Part of the series Japanese Film Classics from the BAMPFA Collection.
B+ The Bad and the Beautiful, Lark, Sunday, 3:30
The same year he made The Band Wagon, Vincente Minnelli used a Citizen Kane-like multiple flashback structure to tell the story of a talented, outwardly nice Hollywood producer (Kirk Douglas) who only seems evil to those who get close enough to know him . As realistic a look at how Hollywood changes and corrupts those who serve it as tinsel town has ever dared to make. Part of the series Classic Film Series: Great Scores.