What’s Screening: July 12 – 18

A lot of comedy in Bay Area movie theaters this week. We get laughs from Laurel and Hardy, Billy Wilder, Wallace and Gromit, François Truffaut, Lulu Wang, and even Gregory Peck. But you can also get unintended laughs from Roger Corman and deep pretentiousness from Alain Resnais.

Also, three film festivals open this week.


Preview screenings of upcoming movies

B+ The Farewell, Embarcadero Center, Monday

Lulu Wang’s comedy confrontation between the Chinese and Chinese-American sides of the same family provides a lot of laughs, held up by a serious structure built around mortality. Billi, a New Yorker of Chinese descent (Awkwafina), travels to China, along with the rest of her family, for a final goodbye to her dying, beloved grandmother. But following Chinese custom, no one tells Grandma that she’s dying. Only Billi disapproves of the deception. The family goes as far as to create a sham wedding as an excuse for everyone coming to town. Funny and touching.

Promising events

Laurel & Hardy Talkie Matinee, Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, Sunday, 4:00

Actually, only two of the four shorts in this program have Laurel and Hardy, and these two – Them Thar Hills and Tit for Tat – kind of go together. I haven’t seen Them Thar Hills in quite a while, but I’ve seen Tit for Tat (a title that would fit almost every Laurel and Hardy movie) recently and it’s pretty damn funny. I haven’t seen the Our Gang short, Hook & Ladder, nor Charley Chase’s Midsummer Mush.

Another chance to see

C+ The Fall of The American Empire, Lark, Monday, 8:30; Tuesday, 2:30; Thursday, 10:00am

The setup suggests a thriller. A young man with financial troubles witnesses an armed robbery gone wrong and takes two duffle bags stuffed with large bills. But no, this isn’t a thriller. Nor is it the witty satire that the marketing suggests. What is it? An emotionally flat movie with a few good scenes. Writer/director Denys Arcand tries to make a point about how the wealthy screw us all, but he doesn’t get his message across. He also indulges in some troubling stereotypes. Read my full review.

Recommended revivals

A+ Some Like it Hot, New Parkway, Saturday, 2:55

I’m not sure if this gender-bending farce is the best American film comedy of all time. It certainly belongs in the top 10. There are comedies with a higher laugh-to-minute ratio, and others that have more to say about the human condition. But I doubt you could find a more perfect example of comic construction, brilliantly funny dialog, and spot-on timing. There are no random gags here; every laugh comes from the characters and the tightly-built situation. Read my latest Blu-ray review.

A Wallace and Gromit: The Were-Rabbit, New Mission, Wednesday, 12:05 (just after noon)

An eccentric inventor, his long-suffering dog, snooty aristocrats, cute bunnies, and whole lot of clay make up the funniest movie of 2005. I wish someone would put this G-rated, claymation extravaganza on a double-bill with that other hilarious British comedy with a killer rabbit, Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

B+ Bed and Board, BAMPFA, Wednesday, 7:00

For the fourth time, François Truffaut directs Jean-Pierre Léaud in the role of Antoine Doinel. No longer a child, Antoine now lives in Paris with his lovely wife…but not lovely enough to keep him from straying. Basically a comedy (both Truffaut and Léaud have come a long way from The 400 Blows), we see Antoine as a young man who can do nothing right – except his absurd job dyeing flowers. Look closely for the Jacque Tati homage. Part of the series Jean-Pierre Léaud at 75.

B Roman Holiday, Stanford, Friday through Sunday

Gregory Peck and “introducing” Audrey Hepburn fall in love through an extremely contrived plot in this entertaining romantic comedy. She’s a runaway princess, and he’s a reporter hoping for a scoop. But the real star is Rome; shooting Hollywood films in overseas locations was a new thing in the early 1950s. Directed by William Wyler, from a story by blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo. On a double bill with an Italian movie I never heard of called Bread, Love and Dreams.

B- Snow White (1916 version), Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, Saturday, 7:30

Possibly the first feature version of the famous fairy tale, this vehicle for actress Marguerite Clark suffers from much of the stage-bound theatricality that cinema was just growing out of in 1916. But it offers some significant pleasures, including Clark’s winning performance, some nice gags involving the witch, and some real character development for the sympathetic huntsman who spares Snow White’s life (surely that wasn’t a spoiler, was it?). Last I checked, there was a significant amount of missing footage, but not enough to really hurt the film. Preceded by the shorts Modeling and the Voice of the Nightingale. With musical accompaniment by Leslie McMichael on harp and Barbara McMichael on viola.

Historically interesting

C Piranha, Balboa, Wednesday, 7:30

I can’t really recommend Roger Corman’s low-budget Jaws rip-off. It has little wit, not much suspense, and a handful of modest but slightly effective action scenes. But it’s John Sayles’ first produced screenplay, which makes it historically interesting. Presented in 16mm, or as the Balboa describes it, 16 MilliMurder.

C- Last Year at Marienbad, Castro, Sunday

Many consider it a masterpiece; but I don’t. Slow and pretentious, Alain Resnais’ Very Important European Art Film gives you almost no information about the people onscreen (I hesitate to call them characters) and no reason whatsoever to care if they live or die. But the film is visually striking and technically dazzling, and if you’re willing to meet it halfway, it has a certain hypnotic charm. Too bad it refuses to meet you halfway. See my essay. New 4K restoration! On a double bill with this year’s Chinese art film, Long Day’s Journey Into Night, which I’m sorry to admit, I have not yet seen.

Continuing engagements

Frequently-revived classics