What’s Screening: August 12 – 18

A lot of vintage fantasy and sci-fi plays on the big screen in the Bay Area this week. There’s also that Mark Zuckerberg biopic, along with two movies by Samuel Fuller. You can find MGM at its most sparkling (if not of the best), and a dance directed by Jean-Luc Godard.

Festivals & Series

The Week’s Big Event

RiffTrax Live: The Return of Swamp Thing, Thursday, 8:00pm at several theaters

I’ve never seen The Return of the Swamp Thing. In fact, I never saw Swamp Thing. But with RiffTrax Live adding comic commentary, it should be pretty funny.

Theatrical revivals

A Spirited Away (2001), Balboa, 7:30pm

Dubbed. Hayao Miyazaki’s masterpiece is a beautiful, complex, and occasionally scary tale of a young girl cast into a strange and magical world. The intriguing and imaginative creatures, not to mention the moral dilemmas, are beyond anything that Dorothy ever had to deal with in Oz. A truly amazing work of animation.

A Blade Runner: The Final Cut (1982), New Mission:
*Sunday, 7:00pm
*Monday, 3:00pm
*Tuesday, 7:00

Based on Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, Blade Runner remains surprisingly thoughtful for ’80’s sci-fi – especially of the big budget variety. It ponders questions about the nature of humanity and our ability to objectify people when it suits our needs. The art direction and the music alone would make it a masterpiece. Read my longer essay.

A- The Social Network (2010), Balboa, Tuesday, 9:15pm

This is clearly the biopic of our times (until The Donald Trump Story comes out). I don’t know much about the real Mark Zuckerberg, but the movie version makes for great drama. In the fictitious movie, a young man with a serious social disorder betrays friends and business partners, has sex with groupies, and almost inadvertently becomes filthy wealthy (Jesse Eisenberg).

A- Ratatouille (2007), Rafael, Saturday, 1:00pm; Monday, 7:00pm

There’s nothing original about animated, sympathetic, anthropomorphic rodents. Disney has been doing it for nearly a century. But writer/director Brad Bird does something completely different. He plays with the unsettling image of rats in a restaurant kitchen, letting your skin crawl at the spectacle. Yet he still makes us root for the little 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. You don’t really notice the wonderful animation; you’re too caught up in the story. Part of the series Pixar Family Film Series

A- The Thing (1982 version), Balboa, Monday, 7:00pm

35mm! 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 no women) in a science station in Antarctica. Communication or transportation is shut down. Worse, an intelligent, evil, and ravenous alien is killing everything it can. What’s more, it’s a shapeshifter, so you don’t know if you’re talking to your friend or a monster intent of eating you. But with all the grisly effects, the most horrible makeup in the film is Kurt Russell’s eyeliner.

B+ Forty Guns (1957), BAMPFA, 7:00pm

Samuel Fuller’s Cinemascope western is best remembered for its shocking ending (which isn’t anywhere near as shocking as what Fuller intended). But it has a lot more than that going for it, especially with the female leads. Barbara Stanwyck plays a wealthy rancher who usually gets what she wants (the title refers to her army of gunfighters). You’re never quite sure what side she’ll land on. Lesser-known Eve Brent plays a beautiful gunsmith who’s a wonderful person yet not at all a proper lady. A lot of fun. Part of the series From the Front Page to the Front Lines: The Essential Sam Fuller.

B The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari (1920), New Parkway, Sunday, 2:30pm

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. Live music by Sleepbomb.

B Dinner at Eight (1933), Stanford, Saturday & Sunday, 3:25 & 7:30

Considering all of the talent involved – George Cukor directing a screenplay by Frances Marion and Herman J. Mankiewicz, from a stage play by George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber, and with a cast including Marie Dressler, Wallace Beery, Jean Harlow, and two Barrymores – the movie comes out rather disappointing. The comic moments are very well done (one bit at the end is classic), but the serious scenes, which is most of the film, are badly staged and overwrought. And yet this story about the depression threatening the wealthy hits an emotional target. On a double bill with The Philadelphia Story, which I haven’t seen in decades.

B Band of Outsiders (1964), BAMPFA, Tuesday, 7:00pm

Free outdoor screening! I don’t think this Jean-Luc Godard picture would work at all without Anna Karina. She’s not only beautiful, but she has a youthful innocence that overcomes her less-interesting two male co-stars (Sami Frey and Claude Brasseur). The film is at its best when they’re just fooling around with the energy of youth; the dance scene in the restaurant is a great moment in cinema. But we all know from the start that Band will eventually become a crime story, and then evolve into another type of movie altogether. Part of the series From the Front Page to the Front Lines: The Essential Sam Fuller.

B- The Crimson Kimono (1959), BAMPFA, Wednesday, 7:00pm

Archival 35mm Print!
Two police detectives, roommates and best friends, must find a killer while they both fall for the same beautiful woman. The film’s big shock (at least it was a shock in 1959) is that one of the two detectives is a Japanese American. As a murder mystery, Samuel Fuller’s racial message movie is dreadfully weak. As usual with Fuller, the message hits you with the subtlety of a sledgehammer. On the other hand, you can easily enjoy the snappy but unlikely dialog. Victoria Shaw, Glenn Corbett, and James Shigeta make up the triangle. Another part of the series From the Front Page to the Front Lines: The Essential Sam Fuller.

Films of historical interest

? The Last Unicorn (1982), New Mission, Sunday, 11:45am

I haven’t seen this animated feature since it was new some 40 years ago, and I didn’t care for it then. But I’d like to to praise Peter S. Beagle’s novel. One of the greatest fantasy books of the 20th century, it combines sympathetic characters (including the villains), a sense of wonder, and a razor-sharp comic touch. And the movie? It proves that following a great book closely (Beagle wrote the screenplay) doesn’t promise a great film.

Continuing engagements

Frequently-revived classics