What’s Screening: March 15 – 21

What’s on Bay Area screens this week? Dangerous dinosaurs. Dangerous French women. Swiss women so dangerous they insist on getting the vote! And if that’s not scary enough, we’ve got two Hitchcock double bills. Also two film festivals and Laurel and Hardy.

Festivals

New films opening

A- Ash Is Purest White, Embarcadero Center, California (Berkeley), Rafael, opens Friday

At first you think this is going to be a gangster movie. Or maybe a revenge flick. Slowly, you realize it’s something very different; something much more subtle. A young woman saves her gangster boyfriend and gets five years in prison for doing so. When finally freed, she discovers that the boyfriend has moved on. The bulk of the film follows her after-prison journey, and the film becomes as much about modern China as it is about one woman’s search for the lover who dropped her. But it could not have worked at all without Tao Zhao’s subtle and complex performance. Read my full review.

Promising events

Amelie, New Mission, Saturday, 11:25

I haven’t seen this strange little romantic comedy from France since it was new in 2001. I loved it. So did my wife. It’s entirely ridiculous, but if I remember it correctly, it’s immensely entertaining.

Jurassic Park, New Mission, Monday, 7:00

I remember 1993’s biggest hit as a moderately entertaining fantasy thriller with what at the time were cutting-edge special effects. Beyond being a major step in CGI, I don’t remember anything exceptional about this movie. If I remembered it well enough to grade it, that grade would probably be a B-. This is a Big Screen Science presentation with Kishore Hari and Jeffrey Silverman to explain the science behind the fantasy.

Another chance to see

B+ The Divine Order, The Magick Lantern, (Point Richmond), Friday, 7:30

Swiss women didn’t get to vote until 1971. This feel-good drama about that struggle places the fight not in metropolitan Zurich, but in a very conservative small town. The year is 1970, but the culture seems stuck in the 19th century. A bored housewife who can’t get a job without her husband’s permission (Marie Leuenberger) teams up with a few other women to turn the town upside down for their cause. The Divine Order is a feel-good crowd pleaser, and for a political film, that’s not always a bad thing. Read my full review. BCC Arts & Cultural Studies Professor Ann Weedon will lead a discussion about the film and the history that inspired it.

Great double bills

A Shadow of a Doubt & A Strangers on a Train, Stanford, Friday through Sunday

Shadow of a Doubt: A small-town girl (Teresa Wright) begins to suspect that her beloved Uncle Charlie is a notorious serial killer (Joseph Cotton at his most charming). Things get worse when he suspects that she suspects.
Strangers on a Train: A rich, spoiled psychopath convinces himself that a moderately-famous athlete has agreed to exchange murders. Before long, the police think the athlete murdered his wife, while the psycho insists that the athlete owes him a murder. Part of the series Hitchcock, Master of Suspense.

A Sons of the Desert & B- Stan & Ollie, Castro, Monday and Tuesday

Sons of the Desert: Feature films weren’t Laurel and Hardy’s strong point; their best works were short. But Sons of the Desert is an exception. This simple tale of two married men trying to have a good time away from their wives is loose, absurd, and very, very funny.
Stan & Ollie:
This mostly sad biopic about the great comic duo in decline offers plenty of laughs, but it isn’t a comedy. They haven’t made a movie in years, and they’re touring Britain with a sort of greatest-hits act. They’re old, and the extremely obese Hardy especially feels his age. Read my full review.

Recommended revivals

B Rope & B- Lifeboat, Stanford, Wednesday and Thursday

Neither of these Hitchcocks are good enough to make a great double bill, but they are worth mentioning.
Rope: Not Hitchcock’s worst film, but easily his most frustrating. The terrific screenplay can’t hold up to James Stewart in a role still outside his acting range (it wouldn’t be for long). To make things worse, he attempted to make a one-shot film (impossible with 1948 technology) and it just turns out to be just a bad gimmick. You can read more about it in Great Movie; Too Bad It Sucks.
Lifeboat: Hitchcock set this entire World War II drama in a lifeboat and shot it in a studio tank. There he created a microcosm of society in extremely close quarters where they must cooperate to survive. Lifeboat doesn’t quite work as well as it should, often feeling contrived and talky, but it’s an interesting experiment.

Disappointment

C- Work and Play: Three Charlie Chaplin Shorts, BAMPFA, Saturday, 3:00

Charlie Chaplin created many of the greatest short comedies ever made. And yet, for this Movie Matinee for All Ages, BAMPFA picked three of his worst late shorts – Sunnyside, A Day’s Pleasure, and Pay Day – movies so bad you can’t help wondering if he was trying get out of a contract. For details on the specific films, see my Chaplin Diary Part 8 and Part 10. The musical accompaniment will not be live.

Continuing engagements

Frequently-revived classics

 

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