What’s Screening: May 10 – 16

This week on Bay Area movie screens: Satan and Adam, Herzog and Gorbachev, James Dean and Paul Thomas Anderson, and the biggest of them all: King Kong and Godzilla. Also two film festivals.


  • CAAMFest (The Center for Asian American Media) continues through this week and beyond
  • A The French Had a Name for It, a celebration of French noir, opens Friday and runs through Monday

New films opening

C+ Meeting Gorbachev, Clay, Shattuck, Rafael, opens Friday

Mikhail Gorbachev is unquestionably one of the most important figures of the late 20th century. And yet, Werner Herzog’s latest document isn’t anywhere near as interesting as it should be. Much of the newsreel footage is the same old same old. When interviewing Gorbachev, who seems to be outward and honest, Herzog rarely tries to ask difficult questions. He even apologizes for being German. Read my full review.

Another chance to see

B+ Satan & Adam, Rafael, Wednesday 7:00

In 1986, a chance meeting of blues musicians created magic. Sterling Magee (aka Mr. Satan), black and old, had had a good career as a session musician, but was now playing on the street. Adam Gussow, white and young, had no real career at all. Teaming up as Satan & Adam, they had a good ten-year run before life intervened. Director V. Scott Balcerek tells the story so seamlessly and so entertainingly that I sometimes suspected it was a hoax (it’s not). Flowing with joy and music, and with a full sense of the racial issues involved, Satan & Adam tells a story so strong you might suspect, as I did, that it’s fiction.

Great double bills

A Giant & A There Will be Blood, Castro, Sunday

Giant: James Dean plays only a supporting role in George Steven’s sprawling Texas epic. The picture really belongs to Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor as a married couple who must find common ground over the decades through a world war, changing attitudes about race and gender, and a cattle economy transitioning to oil.
There Will be Blood:
Paul Thomas Anderson makes his own epic about the bubbling crude. Based on an Upton Sinclair novel called Oil! (the name change makes no sense), There Will be Blood is big, sprawling, and spectacular, and captures not just a moment in history but a 30-year transition. Read my full review.

A King Kong & B+ Godzilla, Castro, Saturday

King Kong: The first effects-laden adventure film of the sound era still holds up, thanks to Willis O’Brien’s breathtaking special effects, Ruth Rose’s intelligent screenplay, and Max Steiner’s music. But most of all, there’s Kong himself–the stuff of nightmares, but also confused, loving, majestic, and ultimately doomed.
Made in a country with recent memories of horrific bombings and destroyed cities, the original Godzilla presents the emotions of mass terror far more vividly than any of Hollywood’s giant monster movies of the same decade. The cast includes Kurosawa regular Takashi Shimura.
King Kong Vs. Godzilla:
This is actually a triple bill, but I haven’t seen this movie in a very long time and doubt I would give it much praise if I had.

Recommended revivals

A Chinatown, Lark, Sunday, 3:30

Roman Polanski was at his best when he made this neo-noir tale of intrigue and double-crosses set in the Los Angeles of the 1930s. Writer Robert Towne fictionalized an actual scandal involving southern California water rights, mixed in a few personal scandals, and handed the whole story over to Polanski, who turned the script into the perfect LA period piece. Yes, Polanski is a rapist, and you must make up your own mind about whether you would watch one of his films. Part of the series Great Scores.

A The Wrath of Khan, Marin Veterans’ Memorial Auditorium San Rafael, Thursday, 7:30071318_1548_WhatsScreen6.jpgWilliam Shatner live after the movie! The most-loved Star Trek movie gives us everything that its predecessor failed to deliver: an exciting and entertaining adventure starring the seven actors and characters that we learned to love from the original TV show, along with a chance for several of those actors to shine. This has almost everything you would want in a Star Trek movie.

A- Julie, Stanford, Wednesday & Thursday

What a fun thriller, and not at all what you’d expect from Doris Day. Julie (Day) has serious marital problems. She’s married to a psychopath (Louis Jourdan), and she’s clearly in line to be his next victim. She leaves home, he follows, and the chase is on. The climax puts her into a dangerous situation that I’ve seen in a handful of other movies, but outside of one comedy that played it for laughs, I’ve never seen it done so well. On a double bill with something called April in Paris. Part of the Stanford’s ongoing Doris Day Festival (which is really a series).

B+ American Graffiti, Rafael, Saturday, 2:00

A long time ago, in a Bay Area that feels very far away, George Lucas made an entertaining (and extremely profitable) comedy without a body count, a big budget, or special effects. Talk about nostalgia. You can also talk about old-time rock ‘n’ roll–American Graffiti makes great use of early 60s music in one of the most effective and creative sound mixes of the ’70s.

B+ The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Castro, Friday

Note: The Castro is asking for a non-interactive screening. This is in no way, shape, or form a great movie. It’s cheaply shot. The songs, while catchy, are hardly great rock. The characters are broad clichés and the plot almost non-existent. But it’s a crazy, funny, absurd celebration of everything sexual, with Tim Curry carrying the movie as a cross-dressing mad scientist. Also starring a very young Susan Sarandon. Read my report. On a double bill with the 1986, musical version of Little Shop of Horrors, which I saw on VHS ages ago.

B The Big Sleep, Castro, Wednesday, 7:00

This is probably the most complicated murder mystery ever made. Humphrey Bogart plays Raymond Chandler’s hard-boiled detective, Phillip Marlowe, and Lauren Bacall plays his client’s daughter. That’s pretty much all you need to know. The movie runs entirely on their star wattage and the clever dialog by William Faulkner, Leigh Brackett, and Jules Furthman. The story is so convoluted that you shouldn’t even try to follow it. On a double bill with The Drowning Pool, which I never saw.

Frequently-revived classics

Note: I made a few corrections, mostly in the links, hours after I posted this article.