What’s Screening: March 3 – 9

Is this Jim Henson Week? Labyrinth is screening in four different Bay Area cinemas. And that’s not the only movie screening starring David Bowie. There’s also Peter O’Toole playing Errol Flynn. Among directors, there’s Wim Wenders, Martha Coolidge, Nicolas Roeg, and two noirs directed by Ida Lupino – made at a time when woman directors were rare.

Festivals & Series

Promising events

The Buster Keaton Follies, Roxie, Tuesday, 7:00pm

When we talk about Buster Keaton, we usually think of his great, silent comedies. But he was generating laughs in front of cameras for 45 years after he made movies that talked. Here’s a selection of TV appearances, commercials, and probably movie clips. I don’t really know; I’m looking forward to finding out.

Labyrinth (1986)

I saw this Jim Henson Muppets fantasy far too long ago to write a review. I do know that the film stars David Bowie, Jennifer Connelly, and a lot of puppets. And it’s showing in a lot of cinemas this week:

  • Balboa, Saturday, 11:00am & 5:00pm
  • Balboa, Sunday, 11:00am & 4:00pm
  • Cerrito, Saturday & Sunday, 10:00am; Free at box office
  • Sebastopol, Saturday & Sunday, 11:00am; Free at box office
  • Elmwood, Saturday & Sunday, 10:00am; Free at box office

Theatrical revivals

A+ Casablanca (1942), Sunday & Wednesday, check theaters & times

You’ve either already seen the best movie to come out of Hollywood’s studio-era sausage factory, or you know you should. Let me just add that no one who worked on Casablanca thought they were making a masterpiece. They thought it was just another moderately budgeted flick coming out of Warner’s assembly line. Yet this time, the machine turned out a masterpiece. Perhaps it’s the million monkeys on a million typewriters theory. Somehow, just this once, the sausage came out perfect. For more details, see Casablanca: The Accidental Masterpiece.

A The Hitch-Hiker (1953), 4-Star
֍ Wednesday, 7:30pm
֍ Thursday, 6:00pm

Ida Lupino’s three-person tale grabs you by the gut. Two men on a fishing vacation pick up a hitchhiker, who turns out to be a psychotic killer wanted by the police. Holding them at gunpoint, he forces his prisoners to drive to Baja California, where he hopes to cover his tracks and be safe forever. The victims know quite well that their captor only intends to keep them alive until he no longer needs them. William Talman doesn’t bring nuance to the killer, but he brings a menace that could curdle water. Read my Blu-ray review.

A My Favorite Year (1982), Sebastopol, Cerrito, Elmwood, Thursday, 1:00pm [I added the Elmwood soon after this article was posted]

Free at the box office! Movie star Alan Swann couldn’t have been much of a stretch for Peter O’Toole. He’s an egotistical, alcoholic has-been matinee idol doing a guest stint on a variety comedy show. This is probably O’Toole’s best comic performance. Set in the world of live TV in 1954, it provides an exhilarating story and a steady stream of belly laughs. Mark Linn-Baker is the young writer who must keep the old actor out of trouble. And there’s plenty of trouble when people still recognize you.

A Frozen (2013), 4-Star
֍ Friday, 11:00am
֍ Sunday, 11:00am
֍ Sunday, 1:30pm

By the time this Disney animated feature came out, my kids could go to the movies by themselves, and therefore, I missed a real treat. Yes, it follows the conventional formula for Disney animated features – with a fairyland princess, a handsome hunk, songs, and adorable animals. This time, you’ve got two princesses, only one becoming queen, both basically good but with a sibling rivalry that could destroy the kingdom. And you don’t know which handsome hunk will marry the ingenue we really care about. It’s also beautiful to look at.

A- Valley Girl (1983), Balboa
֍ Monday, 5:30pm
֍ Tuesday, 7:30pm

35mm! The investors just wanted another teenage sexploitation comedy. Instead, director Martha Coolidge turned Valley Girl into a semi-classic – a very funny update of Romeo and Juliette. It may also be the first movie to show hippies as conscientious and loving parents. The film stars Nicolas Cage in his first major role (before he got weird) and makes some of the best use of rock ‘n’ roll ever in a movie that isn’t about music.

B+ Wings of Desire (1987), Roxie, check for dates and times

35mm! Wim Wenders’ fantasy about angels in Berlin offers a view of the city as a land of interior monologues. Two angels (Bruno Ganz and Otto Sander) watch over the people, listen to their thoughts, and comfort them in their pain. Then one of them falls in love with a living trapeze artist and finds himself longing for mortality. Wenders couldn’t have known it when he made the film in 1988, but he was capturing the last months of a divided city; the wall seen in the film would soon come down. With Peter Falk as a strange version of himself.

B+ The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976), Balboa
֍ Saturday, 1:30pm
֍ Saturday, 7:30pm
֍ Sunday, 1:30pm
֍ Sunday, 6:30pm

Movies were pretty weird in the ’70s, and they didn’t get much weirder than this—at least with a major director (Nicolas Roeg). David Bowie plays an alien who comes to Earth in search for water. Instead, he discovers capitalism, TV, alcohol, and human sex. It’s not entirely clear what the film is about, although 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 The Bigamist (1953), 4-Star
֍ Wednesday, 6:00pm
֍ Thursday, 7:30pm

Edmond O’Brien plays the title character, although he only receives fourth billing. He’s married to Joan Fontaine in San Francisco, where they run a business together and are hoping to adopt a child. In Los Angeles, he’s married to Ida Lupino (who also directed), and they already have a baby. Most of the movie is a flashback narrated by O’Brien, explaining how this happened. It’s a fun little pot-boiler, where everyone tries to do the right thing, but that proves impossible.

B The Matrix (1999), New Mission
֍ Saturday, 9:15pm
֍ Sunday, 9:30pm

If you don’t know the concept behind the Matrix movies, here’s how it works: Machines have taken over the world. Only a few people know anything about that. Almost everyone spend their lives lying down, with a cable connected to their brains, not knowing that every experience they have is part of a computer simulation. And that’s a reason to do a lot of impossible Kung Fu fighting. I enjoyed the fighting… up to a point. If you’re interested, you can read my longer essay.

C But I’m A Cheerleader (1999), 4-Star
֍ Friday, 7:30pm
֍ Saturday, 2:30pm
֍ Sunday, 7:00pm

This very broad satire of homophobia and gay conversion therapy has its heart in the right place. That’s not enough. Jamie Babbit’s heavy-handed direction ensures that most jokes miss the funny bone. Even the usually hilarious Cathy Moriarty can only seldom provoke laughter. And when the heroine finally gets a chance to save the day with her cheerleading skills, it’s obvious that star Natasha Lyonne didn’t train enough for the part.

Continuing engagements

Frequently-revived classics

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