What’s Screening: January 13 – 19

Don’t worry about it being Friday the 13th. The movies playing around here this week seem to be generating good vibes. You can see Harold Lloyd, with the movie that made me fall in love with silent comedy. But if you prefer your slapstick with dialog, there’s a full weekend of Jackie Chan. Also, there are movies from Jane Campion, Stanley Kramer, Gillo Pontecorvo, Powell and Pressburger, John Carpenter, Studio Ghibli, and a collaboration between William Wyler and the blacklisted Dalton Trumbo. And all on big screens.

Festivals & Series

The Week’s Big Event

A+ The Kid Brother (1927), Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, Saturday, 7:30pm

This rural comedy has several of the funniest, most brilliantly designed, and extended comedy sequences ever filmed. It also makes you deeply want Harold to succeed (Lloyd’s characters were always named Harold). No one thinks much of him, since he’s the youngest, smallest, and weakest member of an all-male, very macho family. No one seems to notice that Harold is the smartest person in town. He builds contraptions to help him with his chores. He regularly outwits the large bully next door. And when dangerous thugs rob the town, you know who’s going to save the day. Read my Blu-ray review. With two shorts: Alice’s Tin Pony and No Father to Guide Him. Jon Mirsalis provides live musical accompaniment on the Kurzweil Keyboard Accompaniment. This is the film that made me a silent comedy fan.

Another chance to see (theatrically)

A- The Power of the Dog (2021), 4-Star, Monday, 7:20pm

It didn’t take me long to figure out how this movie would end, but I was wrong. I like that. In 1925 Montana, a non-functioning family runs a ranch. One brother is more businessman than cowboy (Jesse Plemons). His wife is an alcoholic (Kirsten Dunst). But the other brother (Benedict Cumberbatch) is the real problem – a piece of major macho, to the point of rarely bathing. No one likes him, and there’s a reason for it. Another worthy film from Jane Campion.

Theatrical revivals

A High Noon (1952), 4-Star, Monday, 7:30pm & Tuesday, 5:30pm

The sheriff of a remote, western town (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, he discovers that hardened criminals are on their way, presumably to kill him. But when he tries to form a posse, no one is willing to help him. Arguably a parable about Hollywood gripped in McCarthyite fear. Read my Blu-ray review.

A Tampopo (1985), Roxie
֍ Wednesday, 6:50pm
֍ Thursday, 9:10pm

Decades before movies about chefs and cooking became a thing (and my least-favorite arthouse genre), Tampopo put a comic twist on movies about food. In doing so, the movie also parodies westerns and material arts flicks. The title character, a young widow with a son to raise, struggles with her hole-in-the-wall ramen café until two truck drivers help her create the greatest ramen ever. The movie occasionally cuts away to comic scenes not connected to the story, except that they’re also about food. Very funny, extremely silly, and occasionally sexy.

A The Battle of Algiers (1966), BAMPFA, Thursday, 7:00pm

You could watch Gillo Pontecorvo’s masterpiece five or six times and still believe that it’s a documentary. And yet, every person on the screen was play-acting. Pontecorvo recreates Algeria’s long war to break away from France. The war didn’t have to happen, but the French government couldn’t stop fighting. A very powerful film. Part of the series The Algerian War of Independence: Cinema as History.

A- The Red Shoes (1948), New Mission
֍ Friday, 11:55pm
֍ Sunday, 12:00 noon
֍ Monday, 3:30pm
֍ Wednesday, 3:30pm

Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s extravaganza about the world of ballet dramatizes the sacrifices necessary to become a great artist. The story is sometimes weak – especially in the second half – yet often very strong. The 20-minute ballet sequence at the film’s center may be the best dance sequence in a narrative film. No other film used three-strip Technicolor so perfectly.

A- The Thing (1982 version), Balboa, Thursday, 7:30pm

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 on eating you. But with all the grisly effects, the most horrible makeup in the film is Kurt Russell’s eyeliner.

B+ Police Story (1985), 4-Star, Saturday, 4:00pm

Jackie’s part of an undercover team out to destroy an evil syndicate. In the course of his duty, Jackie drives a car down a hillside shanty town, hangs on a moving bus with his hands and an umbrella, and slides down several floors on an electric cable with lights blowing up in his face. Part of his job is to protect a beautiful witness, which upsets his girlfriend (the wonderful Maggie Cheung). Part of Jackie Chan Fest Days.

B+ Howl’s Moving Castle (2004), New Parkway
֍ Sunday, 2:20pm, dubbed
֍ Monday, 8:45pm, subtitled

I don’t know when Studio Ghibli started making animated movies particularly for the American and European market. This one, based on a novel by Diana Wynne Jones (certainly not a Japanese name), seems set at a fantasized Europe in the early 20th century. The story deals with a useless war, a handsome wizard with a very bad yellow streak, a courageous girl turned into an old woman, and, of course, the moving castle of the story. The design and hand-drawn animation are exceptional.

B+ Police Story 2 (1988), 4-Star, Saturday, 6:00pm

The first of three Police Story sequels is surprisingly light on slapstick, but still provides thrills. The plot is much more complicated, involving revenge, dynamite, a corporate extortion scheme, and Chan running a team of young detectives. The stunts are once again incredibly thrilling and exciting, though rarely funny. In fact, most of what little humor there is comes from a supporting character’s digestive problems. Another part of Jackie Chan Fest Days.

B Roman Holiday (1953), various theaters and times

Gregory Peck and a not-yet-famous Audrey Hepburn fall in love through an extremely contrived plot in this entertaining romantic comedy. She’s a runaway princess, and he’s a reporter hoping for a scoop. But the real star is Rome; shooting Hollywood films overseas was a new thing in the early 1950s. Directed by William Wyler, from a story by blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo.

B West Side Story (original 1961 version), Vogue, Wednesday, 7:30pm

The first film version of West Side Story swings erratically from glorious brilliance to astonishing ineptitude. The songs and dances – especially the Jerome Robbins-choreographed dances – create a world of violent intensity and eroticism that shine and carry the story. It also contains magnificent supporting performances by Russ Tamblyn, George Chakiris, and especially Rita Moreno (who also played in Spielberg’s remake). But the dialog is often stilted, and stage bound. Much worse, the romantic leads fall flat – a major problem in a love story. Natalie Wood was miscast, while juvenile lead Richard Beymer is so bad, he sinks every scene he’s in. Read my longer (and older) article.

B The Fifth Element (1997), New Parkway, Thursday, 9:35pm

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- Last Year at Marienbad (1961), Roxie
֍ Saturday, 4:30pm
֍ Tuesday, 6:35pm

4K restoration! Many consider this a masterpiece; I don’t. Slow and pretentious, Alain Resnais’ Very Important European Art Film gives you almost no information about the people onscreen (I hesitate to call them characters) and no reason whatsoever to care if they live or die. But the film is visually striking and technically dazzling, and if you’re willing to meet it halfway, it has a certain hypnotic charm. Too bad it refuses to meet you halfway. See my essay.

Continuing engagements

Frequently-revived classics