What’s Screening: July 8 – 14

Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dance back onto the big screen as the Stanford Theatre finally opens. And that also means the return of double features! Also works by Jacques Tati, Studio Ghibli, Monty Python, and the brilliant but sadly short-lived Barbara Loden.

Festivals & Series

Preview screenings of upcoming movies

B+ Fire of Love (2022), New Mission, Tuesday, 6:45pm

How often do you see a documentary on volcanoes that’s also a romantic love story? Katia and Maurice Krafft – a very happily married couple – spent their lives studying the bubbling and dangerous powers that occasionally break through the earth’s crust. They also had one of those rare perfect marriages; they worked together and loved it. Their work was extremely dangerous – but also very important and beautiful. Lava flows and unique rocks are stunning. But throughout the film, you’re constantly reminded that the film will not end well. They speak mostly in French with subtitles, with English narration by Miranda July.

Double bills

A+ Top Hat (1935) & B- The Gay Divorcee (1934), Saturday & Sunday, double bills start at 3:45; 5:40, & 7:30

Top Hat: If escapism is a valid artistic goal, Top Hat is a great work of art. From the perfect clothes to the absurd mistaken-identity plot to the art deco sets, everything about Top Hat screams “Don’t take this seriously!” But you don’t need realism when Fred Astaire dances his way into Ginger Rogers’ heart with those Irving Berlin songs. Read my A+ appreciation.
The Gay Divorcee: This Astaire/Rogers flick feels like a lukewarm rip-off of Top Hat, but it was actually made and released first. Arguably the first true Astaire-Rogers movie, it’s a flawed entertainment with one great dance number, a few funny lines, and some historical interest.

Theatrical revivals

A Mon Oncle (1958), Vogue, Thursday, 7:30pm

This may be the funniest visual comedy made since the death of silent film. The slight story finds filmmaker Jacques Tati’s onscreen persona, Monsieur Hulot, dealing with relatives. While his mischievous little nephew falls for his unconventional uncle, the boy’s wealthy and image-conscious parents are none too happy with the unemployable Hulot. It’s just an excuse for wonderful, loopy comedy of that quiet Tati style. Elaborate sets parody modern architecture and furniture.

A Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975), Balboa, Tuesday, 7:30pm

Bump your coconuts and prepare the Holy Hand Grenade, but watch out for the Killer Rabbit (not to mention the Trojan one). The humor is silly and often in very bad taste, and the picture has nothing of substance to say beyond ridiculing the romantic view of medieval Europe. But the Pythons’ first feature with an actual story (well, sort of) keeps you laughing from beginning to end. Arguably the funniest film of the 1970s, and certainly the funniest of the 1370s.

A- Wanda (1970), BAMPFA, Wednesday, 7:00pm

This extremely low-budget, independent crime thriller turns cheap production values and ugly, poverty-wrecked locations into virtues. Writer/director Barbara Loden plays the title character, a drifter who goes where people take her. It’s no surprise that she falls in with a cheap crook. The movie was shot in 16mm, with bad lighting and echo-filled sound recording, and has no background music. But that lack of polish forces you to accept the people and places as they are. Part of the series Film Preservation: Celebrating The Film Foundation.

B+ Princess Mononoke (1997), Balboa:
*Dubbed, Sunday, 11:am
*Subtitled, Monday, 7:30pm

For much of its runtime, this Japanese, animated, action fantasy takes you on a wild and exciting ride. The hand-drawn characters, the strange animals, and the amazing moments of fear, struggle, and love are surprisingly powerful. But the climactic battle between animals and people drags on too long, seemingly just for the point of making things big. The environmental message is both obvious and shallow. Too extreme for young children.

Frequently-revived classics