What’s Screening: April 12 – 18

The SFFILM Festival pretty much takes over Bay Area art house theaters this week, but not entirely. We also have movies by William Wellman, Lon Chaney, Alfred Hitchock, Hirokazu Kore-eda, and Monty Python.


The Week’s Big Event

A Aniara, Dolby Cinema, Friday, April 12, 9:15

This slow, frightful, depressing space movie from Sweden carries a heavy charge. A spaceliner taking refugees to Mars (Earth has become unlivable) experiences an accident that sends them out to the edges of the solar system. The life support systems will go on indefinitely, but how long can you live in a tin can; even a luxurious one? You need to set aside your scientific knowledge to enjoy Aniara, but it’s worth it. This is one of two Aniara screenings at SFFILM, and the movie will play in Landmark theaters in May, but seeing this movie at the Dolby Cinema is an experience you don’t want to miss.

Promising events

William Wellman Tribute with original Star is Born, Playhouse Theater (Tiburon), Sunday, 6:00

The Tiburon International Film Festival celebrates one of the great Hollywood directors of the mid-20th century. His war movie, Wings, won the very first Best Picture Oscar. His films also include Beggars of Life, The Public Enemy, Wild Boys of the Road, and Nothing Sacred. The event will include a screening of Wellman’s most remade movie, the 1937 original A Star is Born. William Wellman Jr. will be on hand to discuss his father and sign copies of his new book, Wild Bill Wellman: Hollywood Rebel.

The Penalty and other earthquake movies, Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, Saturday, 7:30

Lon Chaney does another “How did he do it?” performance as a legless criminal in this melodrama. I saw it years ago, and I remember liking it. Like so many San Francisco-set silents, it climaxes with the big earthquake. The three shorts, all what were once called actualities, are of the real 1906 catastrophy. Frederick Hodges will accompany all the movies on piano.

Another chance to see

B+ Shoplifters, BAMPFA, Wednesday, 3:10

A seemingly happy and loving family live on the edges of Japanese society. We’re not sure to what extent they really are family; early on they acquire a little girl and make her they’re new daughter. As the title suggests, the father teaches the children shoplifting – the only skill he knows. The film meanders for the first 90 minutes or so, but if you pay attention, you’ll find strong familial love, mixed with something deeply wrong. The last act changes everything. Young Jyo Kairi steals the film as the boy who knows nothing except stealing. Part of the series In Focus: Hirokazu Kore-eda. With a lecture by Marilyn Fabe.

Recommended revivals

A Monty Python’s Life of Brian, Cerrito, Embarcadero Center, Rafael, Shattuck, Thursday, 7:00

Not quite as funny as Holy Grail (but still hilarious)the Pythons’ second (and last) narrative feature digs a little deeper than its predecessor. The story, about a hapless citizen of Roman-occupied Judea who is mistaken for the messiah, satirizes faith, fanaticism (both religious and political), and the human tendency to blindly follow leaders. The religious right attacked it viciously when it came out, which is kind of funny since the movie’s strongest satire is aimed at left-wing radicals.

A Terminator 2, Balboa, Tuesday, 7:30

In James Cameron’s sequel to the movie that put him on the map, another killer robot (Arnold Schwarzenegger) returns from the future. But this time, he’s here to help the good guys, stop a worse killer robot, and prevent nuclear war. Linda Hamilton returns as the original’s intended victim, now a hard-as-nails and probably insane heroine. A wonderful mix of action, special effects, and character development.

A Airplane!, Sebastiani, Monday, 7:00

They’re flying on instruments, blowing the autopilot, and translating English into Jive. So, win one for the Zipper, but whatever you do, don’t call him ShirleyAirplane! throws jokes like confetti – carelessly tossing them in all directions in hopes that some might hit their target. Surprisingly enough, most of them do. There’s no logical reason a movie this silly can be so satisfying, but logic never was part of the Airplane! formula. I’d be hard-pressed to name another post-silent feature-length comedy with such a high laugh-to-minute ratio.

A Psycho, Stanford, Friday through Sunday

You may never want to take a shower again. In his last great movie, Alfred Hitchcock pulls the rug out from under us several times, leaving the audience unsure who we’re supposed to be rooting for or what could constitute a happy ending. In roles that defined their careers, Janet Leigh stars as a secretary turned thief, and Anthony Perkins as a momma’s boy with a lot to hide. I’ll always regret that I knew too much about Psycho before I saw it; I wish I could erase all memory of this movie and watch it with fresh eyes. On a Hitchcock double bill with The Trouble with Harry, which is just sort of so-so.

Frequently-revived classics