What’s Screening: Sept 9 – 15

Want to see an old movie in a real theater? This week in the San Francisco Bay Area, you can see some of the best from Akira Kurosawa, Richard Linklater, Walt Disney, Luis Buñuel, two from Francis Coppola, Nicolas Roeg (directing David Bowie), Elaine May, and a whole day of watching works by Pier Paolo Pasolini.

The Week’s Big Event

Pasolini 100, Saturday, Castro, from 10:30am to probably about midnight

Pier Paolo Pasolini was one of Italy’s most beloved and hated auteurs. I’ve personally seen only one of his films – The Gospel According to St. Matthew – and it’s not even in this one-day festival celebrating his 100th birthday. The Castro will screen four of his films, along with the English-language documentary Pasolini, and a dinner from the C’era una Volta restaurant. The films to be shown are Mamma Roma, Accattone, Medea, and Salò or the 120 days of Sodom.

If you have other plans for Saturday, BAMPFA will screen a separate Pasolini series from late October to late November.

Theatrical revivals

A+ Before Sunrise (1995), Balboa, Monday, 7:30

If there’s a film in this world more romantic than Before Sunrise, I haven’t seen it. A young man and a young woman meet on a train, then spend an afternoon and night walking, talking, and flirting in darkening Vienna. The only suspense is whether they’ll have sex. Director Richard Linklater, along with his talented actors and writers, went farther, making two sequels in nine-year increments. Read my full article about the trilogy.

A+ Ran (1985), Stanford, Thursday, 7:30pm

William Shakespeare created his saddest, most hopeless tragedy in King Lear. Almost four centuries later, Akira Kurosawa loosely adapted it into his saddest, most hopeless catastrophe. It’s also one of his most visually striking. Kurosawa altered the story considerably, and not only by changing the three daughters into sons. Ran tells us that the sleepy, vain, senile king (Tatsuya Nakadai) was once a cruel and merciless warlord who built an empire on strict obedience and heartless violence. Fate punishes the wicked in Ran, although the virtuous suffer just as badly. Read my Kurosawa Diary entry and my Shakespeare adaptation article.

A+ The Godfather Part II (1974), New Mission, Saturday, 5:30pm

By juxtaposing the material rise of Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando in the first film, here a young Robert De Niro) with the moral fall of his son Michael (Al Pacino), Mario Puzo and Francis Coppola show us the long-term effects of what seemed like a good idea at the time. De Niro plays young Vito as a loving family man who turns to crime to better support his wife and children. But in Michael – consolidating his empire some thirty years later – we see the ultimate disastrous effects of that decision. Pacino plays him as a tragic monster who senses his own emptiness. Read my A+ appreciation.

A Fantasia (1940), Grand Lake
*Friday, 4:00pm, 7:00pm, 9:45pm
*Saturday, 1:00pm, 4:00pm, 7:00pm, 9:45pm
*Sunday, 1:00pm, 4:00pm, 7:00pm

Decades before rock videos and popular marijuana, Walt Disney and Leopold Stokowski turned music into funny, surreal, and frightening images. Countless visual artists took major works of classical music and created something very special. Of course, they had plenty of help from some famous composers, including Beethoven, Bach, Tchaikovsky, and Stravinsky (the only one who lived to see the movie). Not every piece is brilliant, although even the weakest parts are still worthwhile. A great achievement and an entertaining two hours.

A The Conversation (1974), New Mission, Tuesday, 6:15pm

Francis Coppola’s low-budget “personal” film, made between Godfathers I and II, is almost as good as the two epics that sandwich it. The Conversation concerns a professional snoop (Gene Hackman) who bugs peoples’ private conversations for a living. Remote and lonely, his emotional armor begins to crack when he suspects that his work could lead to murder. Walter Murch’s ground-breaking sound mix exposes us to layers of meaning within the titular recorded discussion as we hear it over and over again.

A- The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972), Roxie, check dates and times

Fantasy and reality merge in Luis Buñuel’s extremely pointed comedy. The movie follows the problems of several wealthy friends who seem to have very bad luck. How bad? It seems impossible for any of them to simply sit down at the dining table and eat a meal. This strange movie won the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.

A- My Neighbor Totoro (1988), New Mission, Friday, noon; Monday, 2:15pm

Dubbed. This Studio Ghibli feature may be one of the best cartoons ever for very young children. Adults can enjoy the beautiful animation and their children’s delightful reactions. Two children and their father (mother is in the hospital) move into a rural house that turns out to be haunted. But it’s not haunted in a bad way. The magical creatures, including the powerful Totoro, make friends with the new people in the neighborhood. Warning: You should tell your kids beforehand that it takes place before everyone had a phone in their pocket.

B+ The Man Who Fell To Earth (1976), New Mission, Monday, 7:00pm

Movies were pretty weird in the ’70s, and they didn’t get much weirder than this—at least with a major director (Nicolas Roeg) and stars. David Bowie plays an alien who comes to Earth in search of water. Instead he discovers capitalism, TV, alcohol, and human sex. It’s not entirely clear what the film is about, but the images are intriguing, the central characters are puzzles that cry out to be solved, and the sex scenes are hot. If for no other reason, see it to rediscover how strange science fiction films could be in the time between 2001 and Star Wars.

B+ My Fair Lady (1964), Stanford, Saturday & Sunday, 3:00pm & 7:30pm

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, and 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.

B A New Leaf (1971), BAMPFA, Sunday, 5:00pm

Elaine May’s directorial debut starts out as very funny broad farce, then the comedy slowly dries away as May’s screenplay turns kind of serious. Walter Matthau stars as an extremely wealthy man…until he is told that he’s broke. Knowing that he has no skills except spending money, his only choice is to marry a rich woman. May herself plays the very wealthy, very clumsy, naïve bride – who is also the only decent person in the film. Part of the series Elaine May: Age of Irony.

B The Fifth Element (1997), New Mission, Saturday, 9:10pm; Monday, 10:25pm

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.

C+ Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954), New Mission, Saturday, 12 noon

3D, and actually shot that way. Set in a previously-unexplored tributary of the Amazon that looks suspiciously like the Universal back lot, Creature follows a small group of scientists, a colorful local fisherman, and the obligatory beautiful woman, as they search for fossils and find something stranger–a sort of man-fish hybrid that doesn’t appear to be particularly well-adapted for anything. Perhaps that explains why he’s all alone; his species is well on the way to extinction.

Films of historical interest

? The Celluloid Closet (1995), New Parkway, Sunday, 2:55pm

I haven’t seen this documentary about gays in Hollywood since it was new. I remember clips from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, The Hunger, and Ben-Hur. It’s probably out of date by now, but I remember it was enjoyable to watch.

Drive-in revivals

A- Planes, Trains and Automobiles, (1987), Lark Drive-In, Saturday, 8:00pm

John Hughes mixes side-splitting slapstick comedy with sentimentality, and surprisingly, it works. Two badly matched men get thrown together as they desperately try to get from Manhattan to Chicago before Thanksgiving dinner. And, of course, everything goes wrong. Steve Martin plays the button-down executive, while John Candy plays the goofball who manages to make everything worse. Slowly, the two men warm to each other.

Continuing engagements

Frequently-revived classics