What’s Screening: January 17 – 23

What’s in Bay Area outarthouse cinemas this week? A hilarious disaster. A real and tragic disaster. And movies by Spielberg, Forman, Fellini, Lumet, Keaton, and Varda. But no film festivals. <Sorry about that. I was running  a fever when I wrote that.>

The Week’s Big Event

A Airplane! 40th anniversary, Castro, Sunday, 3:00

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.

As part of SF Sketch Fest, this is more than just a movie. After the screening, Mystery Science Theater 3000 veteran Kevin Murphy will moderate a discussion with the three directors (Jim Abrahams, David Zucker and Jerry Zucker) along with stars Robert Hays and Julie Hagerty.

Another chance to see

A The Cave (2019), Roxie, opens Friday

This fly-on-the-wall documentary about the Syrian war left me shaken and disturbed. That’s appropriate. You can’t watch screaming, terrified children, cared for by hassled and exhausted adults, and not be changed – and it’s all real. In the besieged Syrian city of Eastern Al Ghouta, Dr. Amani Ballour does everything she can in an underground hospital while bombs and poison gas rain down from above. If this film has a flaw, it’s that it is just too much to bear. Read my full review.

Recommended revivals

A+ Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), New Parkway, Sunday, 3:00

By adding more humor, less racism, a smidgen of character development, and some of the best action scenes in the series, the third Indiana Jones flick outdoes even the original Raiders of the Lost Ark. Add to that a wonderful Sean Connery as the hero’s bookworm father, and a prologue with River Phoenix as the teenage Indy, and it gets even better. The plot, which is simply an excuse to insert jokes and action sequences, has the Joneses trying to find the Holy Grail before the Nazis get it. You can read my A+ appreciation.

A One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1985), New Parkway, Thursday, 9:15

Ken Kesey’s novel offered a perfect opportunity for Milos Forman to explore his favorite topics: totalitarianism and rebellion. What’s Nurse Rachet’s insane asylum ward but a dictatorship in miniature? While the movie belongs to Jack Nicholson (one of many Oscar winners), the entire cast is letter perfect. In fact, supporting players like Danny De Vito and Christopher Lloyd hardly seem the unknowns they were in 1975.

A- La dolce vita (1960), BAMPFA, Saturday, 7:00

Yes, this story of a gossip journalist (Marcello Mastroianni) living on the outskirts of the rich and decadent has many great moments. Consider the opening shot of Jesus flying through the air via helicopter, or the climactic out-of-control party. The famous fountain scene is absolutely stunning. The entire film makes brilliant use of the Cinemascope frame. But the story doesn’t really go anywhere, and there are long, dull areas between the brilliance. I can’t quite call it a masterpiece. Part of the series Federico Fellini at 100.

A 12 Angry Men (1957), Sebastiani, Monday, 7:00

Sidney Lumet made a great one-set movie in his very first leap from the small to the big screen. The 12 men of the title comprise the jury in a just-completed first-degree murder trial; a guilty verdict would mean execution. Most of them just want to condemn the kid and get on with their lives, but one juror (Henry Fonda) insists on taking his responsibilities seriously. This is basic 1950’s liberalism – the system is rigged against the downtrodden, but a few good citizens can right society’s wrongs. Read my Blu-ray review.

B+ Sherlock, Jr. (1924), Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, Saturday, 7:30

There’s nothing new about special effects. Buster Keaton used them extensively, in part to comment on the nature of film itself, in this story of a projectionist who dreams he’s a great detective. The sequence where he enters the movie screen and finds the scenes changing around him would be impressive today. Since it’s Keaton, Sherlock Jr. is also filled with impressive stunts and very funny gags. This is an extremely short “feature” running only about 45 minutes – depending on the projection speed. To fill out the night, the show will include a discussion by locations expert John Bengtson and two shorts: Versus Sledge Hammers and my favorite Keaton short, The Goat. Jon Mirsalis will provide the musical accompaniment.

B+ Faces Places (2017), BAMPFA, January 17, 7:00

Elderly filmmaker Agnès Varda and young photographer/muralist JR travel across France, photographing people (mostly blue collar), talking to them, and putting up photo murals on the sides of buildings and other structures. JR has a real knack for turning existing structures into art; he places his giant photos so that they work with the shape of the existing buildings, windows, and staircases. The two make an interesting pair; the athletic JR leaps from one structure to another while Varda, in her late 80s, walks with a cane. Matthieu Chedid’s slow but joyful music brings it all together. Part of the series Agnès Varda: An Irresistible Force.

B+ Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988), Clay, Friday and Saturday, 11:55pm

This exceptionally clever 1988 comic fantasy puts animated characters and flesh-and-blood people living side by side in late 1940’s Hollywood. Mere mortal Bob Hoskins must deal with Bugs Bunny, Mickey Mouse, Betty Boop, and other famous pen-and-ink characters who, unlike him, can be hit over the head with an anvil and just shake it off. Funny, outrageous, and delightful for anyone who loves old cartoons. The special effects – based on pencil, ink, and an optical printer – were cutting edge for their day and still impress.

B+ Amarcord (1973), BAMPFA, Thursday, 7:00

Federico Fellini’s nostalgic, autobiographical, yet decidedly weird comedy about village life in the late 1930’s, celebrates horny teenagers, confused adults, and distracted clergy, while treating fascists as comic opera buffoons. Amarcord succeeds frequently but not consistently, and it succeeds best when it’s just trying to be funny. Read my full review. Part of the series Federico Fellini at 100.

B Le bonheur (1965), BAMPFA, Saturday, 4:00

35mm print! Not one of Agnès Varda’s best, but that’s hardly a condemnation. A young family man falls in love with another woman–but he still loves his wife. It’s the best of both worlds…but only for the man, and it can’t last forever. Despite the bright colors and Mozart on the soundtrack, little things such as signage (unfortunately, not all of it subtitled) suggests something sinister lurking below all this happiness. The movie is, at times, very sexy. But the ending is both exceedingly happy and horrifyingly grotesque. Part of the series Agnès Varda: An Irresistible Force.

Continuing engagements

Frequently-revived classics