What’s Screening: October 25 – 31

With Halloween around the corner, you can guess what kind of movies are showing up on specialty Bay Area screens this week. But we do have a few interesting films that don’t intend to scare you out of your seat.

Festivals

Preview screenings of upcoming movies

A- Marriage Story, Castro, Tuesday, 7:00

This funny, heartwarming, and yet deeply satirical film should be called Divorce Story. You know from the start the marriage is over. The only question left is who gets the kid. The wife (Scarlett Johansson playing an actress) wants to go home to LA and take the boy with her. The husband (Adam Driver) has an important career in New York and wants to raise his child. Soon both are burning a fortune on divorce lawyers – played by Laura Dern, Alan Alda, and Ray Liotta. And yet, they still have just a little bit of affection for their soon-to-be exes. Touching and very much like the real thing.

Promising events

After Halloween Horror Show, Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, Sunday, 4:00

If you lived in the Bay Area long enough to remember Bob Wilkins and Creature Features, this may give you a rush of frightful nostalgia. Expect a raffle, commercials, trailers, clicks of TV horror hosts, and a “surprise super rare feature-length horror film.”

Another chance to see

A Who Will Write Our History, Embarcadero Center, Tuesday, 7:00

I’ve seen a lot of films, narrative and documentary, about the Warsaw Ghetto, but I never felt the reality of life in that hellhole until I saw this one. Throughout the Ghetto period, a group of courageous Jews wrote down everything they could. If the Germans had found out what they were doing, they would have been killed and their writings destroyed. To tell this story, director Roberta Grossman broke a lot of rules – mixing narrative and documentary techniques – to create a stronger emotional punch. The effect was stunning. Q&A after the screening.

Great double bills

B+ Frankenstein & A Bride of Frankenstein, Castro, Monday

Frankenstein: No one played Dr. Frankenstein’s nameless creation like Boris Karloff, who interpreted the monster as a child in a too-large body – an outcast torn between his need for love and his anger at the society that rejected him. James Whales’ original Frankenstein is atmospheric and beautiful.
Bride of Frankenstein: Whale’s only sequel, Bride of Frankenstein, is his masterpiece – the film that opens up the monster’s poetic soul. With Colin Clive as the mad scientist, Ernest Thesiger as a delightfully over-the-top madder scientist, and Elsa Lanchester as both Mary Shelley and the monster’s mate.

A- The Thing From Another World & B+ Invasion of the Body Snatchers (original, 1956 version), Castro, Thursday

The Thing From Another World: Filmmakers Christian Nyby and Howard Hawks wisely kept the guy in the rubber suit off camera as much as possible in this tale of a predatory alien loose on an isolated, arctic army base. Once again, Hawks celebrates the camaraderie between professionals.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers:
 Noir, sci-fi, and political allegory in one package. You can argue if the movie is anti-Communist or anti-anti-Communist, but either way, it ratchets up the suspense.

Recommended revivals

A Nosferatu, New Parkway, Sunday, 2:00 & 4:00

Forget about sexy vampires; the first film version of Dracula doesn’t have one. In this unauthorized rip-off that got the filmmakers into legal trouble, 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. Live musical accompaniment by Sleepbomb.

A Playtime, BAMPFA, Friday, 7:00

Monsieur Hulot and assorted other specimens of humanity wander adrift and befuddled in a very modern Paris. That’s all there is of plot in Jacques Tati’s large-scale comedy, and that’s all that’s needed. On one level, Tati is commenting on modern architecture. On another, he’s just making us laugh in his odd, almost meditative way. And even when you’re not laughing, you’re fascinated by the little details of Tati’s city-sized universe. The writer/director/producer/star spent (and lost) a fortune on Playtime, building a giant set and shooting the movie in 65mm for 70mm release (BAMPFA will screen it in 35mm). The result is ours to enjoy…immensely. Opening night of the series Jacques Tati: Comedy as Choreography.

A Aliens, Balboa, Tuesday, 7:30

154-minute director’s cut! Alien had only one monster, but James Cameron’s sequel strands a platoon of marines on a barely hospitable planet infested with the big, egg-laying predators. It works as a horror film, an action flick, a war movie, science fiction, a feminist work (the climatic fight is between two mothers fighting for their babies), and a condemnation of capitalism. Sigourney Weaver, made famous by the original film, stars again.

A Young FrankensteinRoxie, Saturday, 9:15

Mel Brooks showed off his talent beautifully in this sweet-natured, 1974 parody and tribute to the Universal horror films of the 1930′s (specifically the first three Frankenstein movies). Gene Wilder wrote the screenplay and stars as the latest doctor to be stuck with the famous name. With Marty Feldman, Madeline Kahn, Cloris Leachman, and Peter Boyle as the lovable but clumsy creature.

B+ M. Hulot’s Holiday, BAMPFA, Sunday, 2:00

Jacques Tati’s second feature, and his first as the hapless Mr. Hulot, is odd, plotless, nearly dialog-free, and in its own quiet and reserved way, pretty damn funny. The pipe-smoking Hulot takes a vacation at a seaside resort, and while anarchy doesn’t exactly break out, it pops up a bit from just below the surface. Part of two separate series, Jacques Tati: Comedy as Choreography and Movie Matinees for All Ages.

B The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, 7:30

This important piece of German expressionism is an easier film to admire than to like. The story is very conventional–at least until the end. But visually speaking, this must be one of the weirdest commercial movies ever made. Its strange design and way over-the-top acting keeps the audience at arm’s length; the constant intensity can be exhausting. But the atmosphere can also have a powerful hold. On a Halloween double bill with the 2005 silent The Call of Cthulhu. Frederick Hodges will accompany the horrors on piano.

B- Fiddler On the Roof, Lark, Sunday, 6:30; Monday, 2:15

As a teenager, I loved the musical stage play and hated the movie (I saw both when they were relatively new). I felt that the film’s production values were too big, and the comic timing was off. Now I can appreciate what director Norman Jewison was trying to do. Rather than making a musical comedy with a period setting and a serious undertone, he turned it into a historical spectacle with songs. The result has its problems, but it also has its joys. The documentary about its making, Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracles, is a much better than the movie.

B- What We Do in the Shadows, New Parkway, Saturday, 9:30; Sunday, 4:00; Wednesday, 9:15

This vampire mockumentary’s basic idea is funny and promising: An unseen documentary camera crew follow the afterlives of four vampires who share a house in a modern city. They argue about household chores, go out looking for victims, and talk directly into the camera about their undead existence. But the basic idea begins to wear out around the half-way point. The jokes are still funny, but they come farther apart. Read my full review.

Frequently-revived classics