This week in Bay Area cinema: A serious drama that turns into a slasher flick. You can see My Fair Lady or But I’m a Cheerleader Inside real movie theaters – but not as a double bill. And at the drive-in, we’ve got everything from The Night of The Hunter to Coco. And also two festivals running through the week.
New films opening
B Censor, Shattuck, opens Friday
Is this a horror movie, or a serious drama about horror movies? Enid (Niamh Algar), a government film censor, is possibly going unhinged by the constant splatter movies she must examine. She’s clearly scared as she walks through a tunnel to the London subway. The loud sound effects (footsteps and so-on) make the movie sound like a horror flick. Unfortunately, Censor eventually goes over the deep end. Read my full review
B+ My Fair Lady (1964), Regal Berkeley 7, AMC Bay Street 16, Walnut Creek 14; Sunday and Wednesday, 1:00 & 6:00
George Bernard Shaw’s 1912 play Pygmalion brilliantly examined issues of class, culture, and gender roles in an intimate story deftly balanced between drama and comedy. The musical version adds spectacle, which is completely unnecessary but doesn’t hurt the movie. Rex Harrison makes a wonderful Henry Higgins–tyrannical, cruel, and yet slowly falling in love without understanding why. But as Eliza Doolittle, Audrey Hepburn is miscast. Stanley Holloway steals the movie as Eliza’s happily slothful father; his two songs are the movie’s musical highlights. Read my essay.
C But I’m a Cheerleader (1999), Balboa, Wednesday, 7:30
This very broad satire of homophobia and gay conversion therapy has its heart in the right place, but heavy-handed direction ensures that most jokes miss the funny bone. Even the usually hilarious Cathy Moriarty can seldom provoke laughter. And when the heroine finally gets a chance to use her cheerleading skills, it’s obvious that star Natasha Lyonne didn’t train enough for the part. The dramatic version, The Miseducation of Cameron Post, is a much better film. Screening on VHS, which someone seem to think is a good idea.
A The Night of The Hunter (1955), Fort Mason Flix, Thursday, 6:00
Widow and mother Shelley Winters makes a very bad choice for her second husband – a cruel, sanctimonious, violent, and criminally insane preacher (or fake preacher) played by Robert Mitchum. Told mostly through the eyes of two children who must survive their new stepfather, the story is grim, atmospheric, frightening, and haunting. Then, in the last act, Lillian Gish shows up as a practical, down-to-earth savior of lost children. I think it’s some sort of Christian allegory, although I’m not sure about what. Charles Laughton’s only film as a director, it makes you wish he made more.
A Coco (2017), Lark Drive-in, Saturday, 9:00
This beautiful journey into Mexican traditions of the afterlife (via big-budget Hollywood, of course) manages to be serious, emotional, and fun. Young Miguel (voiced by Anthony Gonzalez) belongs to a family of shoemakers who hate music. But music runs deep in the boy’s soul. On the Day of the Dead, he accidentally goes to the other side, even though he’s still alive. To come back, he must learn a lot about life in general and his family in particular. And, since Pixar made this movie, his journey is also funny, suspenseful, exciting, and visually stunning.
A- Dazed and Confused (1993), Lark Drive-in, Friday, 9:00
Think American Graffiti set in the stoned ’70s. As the school year ends in a small Texas town, students and recent alumni head out looking for pot, parties, and sex. Some of them find it. But Richard Linklater isn’t George Lucas (thank God), so Dazed and Confused finds greater depths in the many characters. The young, largely-unknown cast includes such future stars as Milla Jovovich, Ben Affleck, Parker Posey, and Matthew McConaughey.
B The Fifth Element (1997), Fort Mason Flix, Thursday, 9:00
This big, fun, special effects-laden science-fantasy adventure refuses to take itself seriously. It never manages to be particularly exciting, but it succeeds in being rousing and intentionally funny eye candy. It’s also one of the few futuristic movies that’s neither utopian nor dystopian, making it feel–for all the silliness of the plot–relatively realistic.
B Extra Ordinary (2019), New Mission
This low-budget, Irish version of Ghostbusters starts slow with only occasional giggles, but builds up to something hilarious. A lonely driving instructor (Maeve Higgins) has a knack for seeing and connecting with ghosts. A widower (Barry Ward) must deal with his jealous, domineering, and very much dead wife. A once famous rock musician (Will Forte) plans to sacrifice a virgin to Satan so he can be successful again – but it’s not easy to find a virgin in modern Ireland. In the first half, Extra Ordinary is a mildly funny comedy–enjoyable but not exceptional. But as it moves towards the climax, the movie becomes hysterically funny.