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Wednesday, December 7, 2022

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MoviesScreen GrabsScreen Grabs: Foxtrot, Mind Game, Drag Me to Hell...

Screen Grabs: Foxtrot, Mind Game, Drag Me to Hell ….

24 Frames, a trio of great whistleblower flicks, and more come to big screens this week.

SCREEN GRABS You know you’re getting old when you have lived long enough to witness the remake of the movie you didn’t see of the video game you never played. But enough about me—and Tomb Raider, which opens Friday with Alicia Vikander (who played the character I like to think of as Hooters HAL in Ex Machina) assuming Angelina Jolie’s clingy old… um, role. I’m all for women starring in action movies. But gender progress seems more convincing when it doesn’t look like they spend two hours in an especially eventful wet T-shirt contest.

Actually, perhaps one should not snark: This is the first American movie by Norwegian director Roar Uthaug, whose prior contributions to slasher cinema (Cold Prey) and the disaster-flick (The Wave) really invigorated those tired genres. But still, if you’re reading this, you probably won’t be heading off to Tomb Raider, and neither will I. We won’t be seeing each other either at 7 Days in Entebbe, though that docudrama about a famous 1976 hijacking and rescue is also from a good director: Brazilian Jose Padilha (Bus 174, Elite Squad), whose 2014 RoboCop remake deserved far more appreciation than it got. 

Still, either sounds better than the other variably-big openings this week. There’s Love, Simon, the latest big-screen effort to make being gay sitcomishly cute, from the director of 2000’s definitive “portrait of terminally shallow L.A. gay life that doesn’t realize it” rom-com The Broken Hearts Club. Let’s not even mention I Can Only Imagine, a “faith-based entertainment” that may not even be opening here because Heathens R Us. Still, it stars the priceless duo of Dennis Quaid and Cloris Leachman, which surely proves God works in miraculous ways. 

Here are some movies you might actually want to see this next week, all opening Friday unless otherwise noted:

More than any other single filmmaker, Abbas Kiarostami drove global awareness of a Iranian New Wave that flourished despite the repressive regime it sprang from—and government censure that often impacted him directly. (Though it had at least one arguably good development, in that he was forced into some adventuresome work abroad, including the fascinating 2010 enigma Certified Copy.) When he died in 2016 at age 76, cinema was much poorer for it. 

It’s taken a while for this posthumously premiered feature to reach the Bay Area. An Iran-France co-production, 24 Frames is rigorous, poetic, challenging—in short typical Kiarostami, although in his most overtly experimental mode. It’s comprised of two dozen shorts inspired by still images, reflecting his own lifelong twin passion for making “moving pictures” and taking photographs. The sources “re-animated” by digital and other means here include famous paintings as well as AK’s own shutterbuggery. Meditative, gorgeous, primarily attentive to landscapes, this is austere art demanding patience but casting a hypnotic spell. Fri/16-March 22. Roxie, more info here

A surprising omission from this year’s final five foreign-language Oscar nominees, Samuel Maoz’s drama won a Silver Lion at Venice—but a somewhat hostile reception at home, at least from politicians who took great offense at the depiction of an act of violence against unarmed Palestinians. (In condemning this artistic “incitement,” Minister of Culture Miri Regev also called Israeli Defense Forces “the most moral army in the world”…a statement in response to which the entire known history of eye-rolling may be insufficient.) 

Oh well: At least Israel’s artists are still making controversial statements, to our benefit. This long-in-coming sophomore feature from the writer-director of the acclaimed 2009 Lebanon—which was largely set inside a military tank—is a bold drama about the anguished reaction when two bourgeoise Tel Aviv parents (Lior Ashkenazi, Sarah Adler) are informed their son (Yonatan Shiray) has apparently been killed in compulsory-service line of duty. 

The Palestinian element is just one part of a tricky narrative that is occasionally over-hyperbolic. But it has one very random thing of giddy beauty you will never expect: The year’s most unlikely (and quite possibly best) dance number. Opens Fri/16 at Embarcadero Cinema, more info here

After suffering through the endless technical minutae of the Spider-Man trilogy—the original one, not the re-launch that commenced five seconds later—Evil Dead genius Sam Raimi cashed in his massive Hollywood credit and did something for fun. The result was this return to crazily energetic 2009 horror comedy, which nobody disliked yet nobody much saw, either. 

The already-near-forgotten Alison Lohman—surely a testament to the industry’s prime meat-grinding turnover of talented young actresses—plays a haplessly lightweight bank employee stuck with telling a weird old lady that her mortgage won’t be renewed. Uh-oh: Guess who gets stuck with a curse of terror and damnation. Drag Me to Hell is mean, fun, nuts, and hilarious. No, it doesn’t have Bruce Campbell. But it has the almost-equally-lovable Justin Long. It will afford a particularly delightful Terror Tuesday at the Alamo. More info here.

Fans of anime have been well-served at the Roxie of late, and this week-long run of a 2004 cult favorite affords a special treat. Masaaki Yuasa’s surreal ‘toon, based on Robin Nishi’s “semi-autobiographical” comics, follows a loser-loner comics artist (guess where the “autobiographical” part comes in!) down a rabbit’s hole as his redemptive pursuit of a childhood love leads to no end of phantasmagorical weirdness. 

Numerous animation techniques are deployed to depict a willfully random story designed to make its protagonist’s—and your—mind go ka-blam. In yea olden times, they called this sort of thing a “head movie.” Be prepared, though: It’s noisier and ruder than, say, Fantastic Planet or The Holy Mountain. Fri/16-March 22, Roxie, more info here.  

It failed to gain the popular and Oscar-bait traction it seemed to so blatantly reach for, but Steven Spielberg’s drama of the battle between journalists and Nixon’s White House even (just) before Watergate did at least score points for massive relevancy. If you missed it, here it is on the Castro screen, with Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks delivering two particularly showboating performances. 

The co-features are more interesting: Two vintage movies about other real-life American muckraking triumphs. Mike Nichols’ 1983 Silkwood also stars Streep (as the titular nuclear-plant whistleblower), but is perhaps better remembered as the movie that launched support player Cher as a serious actress. Better than either film is Alan Pakula’s 1976 All the President’s Men, a superb reconstruction of the Watergate scandal—with then-superstars Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford fairly self-effacing as Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, who broke the whole thing open in a way one fears might not be possible (or worse, impactful) today. Castro Theater, Tue/20-Wed/21, more info here.   

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