If you’re getting tired of horror movies, don’t despair; Halloween will soon be over. This week, Bay Area theaters will show non-scary gems from Peter Bogdanovich, Mira Nair, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Hayao Miyazaki, and Vincente Minnelli. But if you’re still looking for a fright, there are works from Jordan Peele, Alfred Hitchcock, Roman Polanski, Victor Seastrom, and John Carpenter.
Festivals & Series
A Spirited Away (2001), various theaters, check locations, times, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, along with dubbed or subtitled.
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 Get Out (2017), Lark Drive-In, Saturday, 7:30pm
Writer/director Jordan Peele took the concept of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and turned it into a comic horror movie. When a young, successful, and Black photographer (Daniel Kaluuya) meets his white girlfriend’s parents, he finds something very strange about every African American he encounters. Soon trapped, he must find a way to escape from the privileged folks who want to turn him into yet another zombie slave. Funny, scary, and with a very sharp point. On a double bill with Us.
A Psycho (1960), Rafael, Sunday, 1:00pm & Monday, 7:00pm
You may never want to take a shower again. In his last masterpiece, Alfred Hitchcock pulls the rug out from under us several times, leaving the audience unsure who we’re supposed to be rooting for or what could constitute a happy ending. In roles that defined their careers, Janet Leigh stars as a secretary turned thief, and Anthony Perkins as a momma’s boy with a lot to hide. I’ll always regret that I knew too much about Psycho before I saw it; I wish I could erase all memory of this movie and watch it with fresh eyes. 4K restoration.
A- What’s Up, Doc? (1972), Vogue, Wednesday, 7:30pm
How did I miss this laugh fest back in 1972? I remember it being in theaters. Maybe I was too caught up in “serious cinema” to notice that Peter Bogdanovich had made one of the funniest movies in years. It’s like a Howard Hawks screwball comedy with physical slapstick reminiscent of Buster Keaton (but with stunt doubles). The plot isn’t probably: Four people go to the same hotel, on the same day, with identical bags. Two of these bags contain things that powerful and ruthless people want. Barbra Streisand plays the crazy dame to perfection and Madeline Kahn as the luckless fiancée. Even Ryan O’Neal is actually funny. Written by Buck Henry, David Newman, and Robert Benton – the screenwriters of The Graduate and Bonnie and Clyde.
A- Mississippi Masala (1991), Balboa, Wednesday, 7:30pm
Here’s a rare thing: A mixed-race romance where neither of the lovers are white. The woman in the relationship is ethnically Indian, although she, and her parents, were born and grew up in Uganda. Now they’re in Mississippi, where she (Sarita Choudhury) falls in love with a local African American (Denzel Washington). And suddenly, people who have been hurt by racism all their lives become bigots. Written by Sooni Taraporevala, and directed by the brilliant Mira Nair.
B+ The Gospel According to St. Matthew (1964), BAMPFA, Sunday, 4:00pm
This must be the most low-key, matter-of-fact, and inexpensive life-of-Jesus movie ever made; and it was made by an Atheist. Pier Paolo Pasolini used non-actors, vaguely Biblical costumes, and the Italian countryside to simply recount the first Gospel. It’s as if Pasolini is daring the audience to follow Jesus’ words. But like all life-of-Jesus movies, it ultimately suffers from a protagonist who is too perfect to be dramatically effective. Read my longer comments. Part of the series Pier Paolo Pasolini.
B+ He Who Gets Slapped (1924), Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, Saturday, 7:30pm
Lon Chaney gives another great performance, this time as a once-brilliant scientist, destroyed by the people he loved, and now working as a circus clown. Even worse, his act in the show is to get slapped over and over again. Director Victor Seastrom provides a style that manages to be both expressionist and realistic. You pretty much know how everything is going to turn out, but how that happens is very much worth watching.
B+ An American in Paris (1951), Stanford, Friday & Saturday, 5:25 & 9:35
35mm! I wouldn’t put this in my list of my favorite MGM musicals, but it’s very worth watching. Alan Jay Lerner’s story and screenplay fails to provide neither an interesting story nor a lot of laughs. And yet, the movie brings all those great Gershwin songs to life through Gene Kelly’s magnificent talent both as the star and the choreographer. Oscar Levant provides most of the laughs. The movie closes with a 17-minute ballet that’s magic in and of itself. Directed by the great Vincente Minnelli. On a double bill with Gigi, which I saw very long ago and barely remember.
B+ Halloween (1978), Alameda, Friday through Monday, check times. Also at the New Mission, Saturday, 10:00pm
John Carpenter made a very good low-budget thriller that started a very bad genre: the slasher movie – also known as the dead teenager flick. An escaped psycho racks up several kills on the scariest night of the year. Yes, the story is absurd – the guy seems capable of getting into any place and sneaking up on anyone. Carpenter and co-screenwriter Debra Hill take the time to let us know these teenagers, and that makes all the difference. By the time the killer goes after the mature, responsible girl (Jamie Lee Curtis), you’re really scared. On a double bill with Halloween Ends.
B+ The Lost Boys (1987), Lark, Friday, 8:45pm; Saturday, 9:00pm
This clever and funny teenage vampire movie was shot in Santa Cruz, and is clearly set there (even though they give the town another name). So, you have the undead partying in the summer nights on the beach and the boardwalk, all dealing with teenage angst. But then, what do you do when peer pressure tells you to become an immortal bloodsucker? Hey, all the cool kids are doing it! A lot of fun in a horror movie that refuses to take itself seriously. It’s even occasionally scary.
B The Exorcist (1973), New Parkway, Monday, 8:30pm
This famous horror flick has a serious statement: convert to Catholicism. But for a Jewish agnostic like myself, the message doesn’t carry much of a bite. (When I first saw the movie, in a big, crowded theater, sitting next to two ex-Catholic friends, it packed a big wallop). The film is clearly trying to say that real evil is in modern medicine, while religion can save the day. But whatever it’s saying, it’s a well-made and entertaining movie.
B- The Birds (1963), Lark
* Wednesday, 10:00am
Alfred Hitchcock’s only out-and-out fantasy has some great sequences. The scene where Tippi Hedren calmly sits and smokes while crows gather on playground equipment behind her, and the following attack on the children, are classics. The lovely Bodega Bay location adds atmosphere and local color, and many of the special effects were way ahead of their time. But the story is weak, the ending unsatisfactory, and lovely scenery plays side-by-side with obvious soundstage mockups. Worse yet, newcomer Hedren doesn’t provide a single believable moment. She’s beautiful, but utterly lacking in acting talent or charisma.
C+ Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), various theaters, check locations and times
NOT in 3D! Set in a previously-unexplored tributary of the Amazon that looks suspiciously like the Universal back lot, a 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. On a double bill with the 1943, Claude Rains, version of Phantom of the Opera.
C Rosemary’s Baby (1968), Balboa, Friday, 9:30pm
Roman Polanski’s first American film barely works. Mia Farrow looks fidgety and nervous as a pregnant wife who slowly begins to suspect that she’s carrying the devil’s spawn, and that everyone she thought she could trust is in a conspiracy against her. Slow enough to let you see what’s coming a mile off, it never quite builds the sense of dread that the material, and the director, could bring to it.