What’s Screening: May 24 – 30

This week in Bay Area movie theaters: Two very different opera movies, three silent films with live accompaniment (in three different theaters), lesbian love in Kenya, dancing about death, thrillers by Hitchcock and Malle, and the biggest epic of all time. Also, a documentary festival opens.


The Week’s Big Event

War and Peace, Castro, Saturday, 1:00pm

I haven’t yet seen this film, but I’m recommending it anyway. The 1950s and early ’60s were Hollywood’s golden age for historical epics, and the Soviet Union wanted to prove that they could make bigger films than ours. Unconcerned with budgets or profits, they made the greatest epic of them all (or so I’ve read). I’ve wanted to see this Oscar-winning, seven-hour movie for more than 50 years. I’ve already bought my ticket for the full-day experience. You can read more in this NYT article.

New films opening

B+ Rafiki, Shattuck, New Mission, New Parkway, opens Friday

Kena (Samantha Mugatsia) hangs out with the boys in her Kenyan town, but she’s not interested. In fact, she acts more like a boy than a girl. Then she meets the right girl, Ziki (Sheila Munyiva), and it’s love at first sight. But that doesn’t make life any easier; this is Kenya, an extremely Christian and homophobic country. And yet, for two-thirds of the runtime, the movie feels upbeat. The screen splashes with vibrant colors and upbeat music seems to saturate the town. But when the secret love is revealed, the friends and neighbors turn into a mob. Read my full review.

Promising events

All That Jazz, Roxie, Tuesday, 6:45

I haven’t seen Bob Fosse’s dark, autobiographical musical about show business and lung cancer since it was relatively new. I remember it being very disjointed. But I also remember some amazing scenes. I loved the moment when Roy Scheider – playing the Fosse surrogate – realizes that he’s smoking in the shower. On a larger scale, there’s Scheider and Ben Vereen singing and dancing about death to a reworded Paul Simon hit (“Bye, bye, life”).

Mystery Science Theater Gay Thousand, Balboa, Tuesday, 7:30

Comedians Dominique Gelin, Irene Tu, & Nori Reed of the East Bay’s Man Haters Comedy Show will crack wise over the campy action comedy D.E.B.S. That’s really all I can say about it.

Great double bills

A+ Rear Window A- The Man Who Knew Too Much, Stanford, Friday through Sunday

Rear Window: Alfred Hitchcock at his absolute best! James Stewart is riveting as a news photographer temporarily confined to his apartment and a wheelchair, amusing himself by spying on his neighbors and guessing at the details of their lives. Then he begins to suspect that one of them committed murder. With Grace Kelly as his girlfriend and Thelma Ritter as his nurse. Read my A+ Appreciation
The Man Who Knew Too Much:
 Hitchcock’s only remake throws an ordinary American couple (James Stewart and Doris Day) into international espionage when foreign spies kidnap their son. Thrilling and fun in that Hitchcock-patented way. The first double bill of the Stanford’s new James Stewart series.

Recommended revivals

A Nosferatu, Lark, Saturday, 8:00; New Parkway, Monday, 4:05

Forget about sexy vampires; the first film version of Dracula (an unauthorized rip-off that got the filmmakers into legal trouble) doesn’t have one. Max Schreck plays Count “Orlok” as a reptilian predator in vaguely human form. This 1922 silent isn’t the scariest monster movie ever made, but it just might be the creepiest. Not to be confused with Werner Herzog’s 1979 remake. Read my Blu-ray review. The Invincible Czars will provide live musical accompaniment in both theaters.

A- Elevator to the Gallows, Balboa, Sunday, 7:00 (live music), 8:00 (movie)

Louis Malle launched his directing career, and arguably the New Wave, with this noir tale of a perfect crime gone wrong. Laced with dark, ironic humor, the film cuts back and forth between a murderer trapped in an elevator (Maurice Ronet), the murderer’s lover wandering the streets searching for him (Jeanne Moreau in her breakout role), and two young lovers enjoying a crime spree in a car stolen from the murderer. And all of it set to a powerful jazz score by Miles Davis. Read my Blu-ray review. Part of a Miles Davis Birthday Bash.

B+ Best in Show, New Parkway, Saturday, 9:30

Christopher Guest’s dog-show mockumentary has more than its share of hilarious moments. The rest of it is pretty funny, too. Second City veterans Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara steal the show as a dog-obsessed couple.

B Phantom of the Opera, Lark, Saturday, 1:00; New Parkway, 2:00

The original, silent Phantom wallows in atmosphere and depends entirely on Lon Chaney’s iconic makeup and bravado performance. He makes the phantom tragic, frightening, psychopathic, and yet strangely romantic. The demasking scene will stick in your memory for life. The Invincible Czars will also accompany this silent film in both theaters. The Lark is offering a Double Feature bargain price for those who want to see both Nosferatu and Phantom.

B Tommy, Castro, 9:05 (double bill starts at 7:00)

Ken Russell’s over-the-top film version of The Who’s rock opera hits you over the head with all the subtlety of Pete Townsend smashing a guitar, while turning a parable of spiritual quest into a carnival satire of materialism and cults. Oliver Reed proves he can’t sing as he plays a male version of the stereotypical evil stepmother, but Roger Daltrey and Ann-Margaret sing, dance, and act like the professionals they are. So do Eric Clapton, Tina Turner, and Elton John in smaller roles. Townsend’s music is still brilliant, and if this isn’t the best version of Tommy, it’s certainly the most fun. Presented with the original 5-track ‘Quintophonic’ soundtrack. The first feature, Purple Rain, starts at 7:00.

B- Her Wild Oat, Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, Saturday, 7:30

I started out hating this Colleen Moore silent comedy. While everyone else in the audience laughed hysterically at the corny intertitles, I sat there quietly. There was nothing really funny in the visuals, and I found Moore’s onscreen persona annoying. But slowly, as the mistaken identity plot gained complexity in the second half, the movie grew on me. By the end, I was laughing with everybody else. Jon Mirsalis will accompany this movie on his Kurzweil keyboard.

Frequently-revived classics