What’s Screening: August 5 – 11

A lot of vintage movies will play on Bay Area big screens this week. The Stanford is playing a Gary Cooper double bill. The Roxie screens Taxi Driver. The Rafael continues its Pixar series. The Thing stays at the New Mission for several days. BAMPFA continues its Sam Fuller series, while the New Parkway has so many classics I stopped listing them.

Festivals & Series

New films opening streaming

B+ Cocoon, available streaming as of Tuesday

This coming-of-age drama starts out weak, as three teenage girls run around Berlin, act wild, and look for a party. But soon the film focuses on Nora, the younger of the three, and the film gets much more interesting. Her alcoholic mother provides neither support nor a role model. Nora’s older sister does what she can to help her, but she’s still a teenager, herself. Meanwhile, Nora’s lesbian desires are budding.

Double bills

Gary Cooper double bill: A High Noon (1952) & C+ Morocco, Thursday & Friday, double bills start at 5:20pm & 7:30pm

High Noon: Gary Cooper discovers he has only fair-weather friends in this simple fable of courage under fire. On the day of his wedding and his resignation, the sheriff of a remote, western town discovers that no one will help him as hardened criminals are coming after him. Read my Blu-ray review. 35mm!
Josef Von Sternberg was a director who created his own form of cinematic eroticism – especially around Marlene Dietrich. The film’s plot, such as it is, circles around Dietrich’s choice between a millionaire (Adolphe Menjou) and a tall, handsome légionnaire (Cooper). 35mm!

Theatrical revivals

A+ Taxi Driver (1976), Roxie, check times and dates

When I think of the 1970s as a golden age of Hollywood-financed serious cinema, I think of Robert De Niro walking the dark, mean streets of New York, slowly turning into a psychopath. Writer Paul Schrader and director Martin Scorsese put together this near-perfect study of loneliness as a disease. It isn’t that De Niro’s character hasn’t found the right companion, or society has failed him, or that he doesn’t understand intimacy. His problems stem from the fact that he’s mentally incapable of relating to other human beings. This is a sad and pathetic man, with a rage that will inevitably turn violent. Read my Blu-ray review.

A The Incredibles (2004), Rafael, Saturday, 1:00pm; Monday, 7:00pm

The first decade of this century was the golden era of superhero movies, and Brad Bird’s first film for Pixar was one of the best. Not based on an actual comic book series (although you can’t ignore similarities to The Fantastic Four), it follows a married couple of retired superheroes. But circumstances force them to pull out the spandex and save the world once again. And this time, with their kids. A rousing and utterly enjoyable entertainment, The Incredibles also brings up issues of conformity, adolescence, and the dangers of wearing a cape. A part of the Pixar Family Film Series.

A Aliens (1986), New Parkway, Friday, 9:15pm

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 protecting their babies), and a condemnation of capitalism. Sigourney Weaver, made famous by the original film, stars again.

A- The Thing (1982), New Mission, check dates & times

John Carpenter created a remake that’s better than Howard Hawks’ 1951 original – even if it’s much more gruesome. Things get dangerous for a group of men in a science station in Antarctica. There’s no communication or transportation. Worse, an intelligent, evil, and ravenous alien is killing everything it can. What’s more, it’s a shape changer, so you don’t know if you’re talking with your friend or a monster that could destroy the human race. But with all the grisly effects, the most horrible makeup in the film is Kurt Russell’s eyeliner.

A- Dazed and Confused (1993), New Parkway, Saturday, 7:30pm

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.

A- Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), New Parkway, Saturday, 5:00pm

The first Indiana Jones movie doesn’t have much of a story. The plot is just an excuse to take us from one action sequence to another. But these action sequences are amongst the best filmed. They’re brilliantly choreographed, exciting, and despite the fast cutting, completely clear. A vein of comedy runs through it all, reminding the audience not to take the story seriously. Warning: There’s a thin vein of unthinking racism. Also known as Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. Read my full essay.

B+ House of Bamboo (1955), BAMPFA, Wednesday, 7:00pm

Archival 35mm print! Here’s an early Technicolor/CinemaScope noir from Sam Fuller. Robert Stack stars as an American who comes to Japan with possibly illegal motives. He gets involved with a gang of well-dressed Yankee crooks led by Robert Ryan (who steals the picture). It’s an entertaining story, with great location footage that captures a Japan that’s both exotic and grimy – only ten years after Hiroshima. Part of the series From the Front Page to the Front Lines: The Essential Sam Fuller.

B+ The Wizard of Oz (1939), Stanford, Saturday and Sunday night, 5:35 & 9:35

I don’t really have to tell you about this one, do I? Well, perhaps I must explain why I’m only giving it a B+. Despite its clever songs, lush Technicolor photography, and one great performance (Bert Lahr’s Cowardly Lion), The Wizard of Oz never struck me as the masterpiece that everyone else sees. It’s a good, fun movie, but not quite fun enough to earn an A. On a 35mm double bill with Meet Me in St. Louis, which I haven’t seen recently enough for me write about it.

D Park Row, (1952), BAMPFA, Friday, 7:00

35mm! Here’s Samuel Fuller at his didactic worst. This ode to the gallant men of the 19th century newspaper business is mawkish and preachy. While improving printing press technology, the brave reporters of The Globe set out to raise money for a pedestal for the Statue of Liberty. Much of the dialogue is laughable. Another part of the series From the Front Page to the Front Lines: The Essential Sam Fuller.

Drive-in revivals

A Shrek (2001), Lark Drive-In, Saturday, 8:45pm

Enough bad sequels can make us forget how much we loved the original, and in the case of Shrek, the original is very lovable indeed. This story of an ogre on a reluctant quest to save a princess turns both traditional fairy tales and their Disneyfied adaptations inside out. The evil prince’s castle looks like Disneyland, familiar characters make odd cameos, and that old song “Have You Seen the Muffin Man” turns gruesome in a very funny way. In the third act, Shrek rips apart one of the worst lessons that children learn from these old stories, providing a happy ending that neither Grimm nor Disney could have imagined.

A- Ratatouille (2007), Lark Drive-In, Friday, 8:45pm

There’s nothing original about animated, sympathetic, anthropomorphic rodents. Disney has been doing it for nearly a century. But Brad Bird does something completely different. He plays with the unsettling image of rats in a restaurant kitchen, and he even lets our skin crawl at the spectacle. Yet he still gets us rooting for the varmints, along with the hapless human chef-in-training who intentionally sneaks a rat into a gourmet diner. The animation is, as you’d expect from Pixar, technically perfect, but you don’t really notice it except as an afterthought. You’re too caught up in the story to think about how it was made.

Continuing engagements

Frequently-revived classics