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Wednesday, February 28, 2024

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MoviesScreen GrabsScreen Grabs: All hail the mighty Godzillafest!

Screen Grabs: All hail the mighty Godzillafest!

Monster mayhem at the Balboa and Castro, a strikingly oceanic documentary, Korean and Italian mobsters, more in cinemas

SCREEN GRABS It’s a monstrous week at the movies, capped by an entire weekend with the official “king” at the Balboa: Godzillafest takes over both that theater’s screens Fri/23-Sun/25 for a giant monster mash encompassing films from the Japanese franchise that’s still going strong after 65 years.

The eleven features being screened will feature the big green guy in many of his Tokyo-destroying adventures (though not, oddly, the original 1954 one), plus other rubber-suits-runs-amuck-through-miniature-cityscapes epics like War of the Gargantuas, Rodan, Destroy All Monsters, and Frankenstein Conquers the World, plus this year’s CGI-dominated U.S./Japan co-production Godzilla: King of the Monsters. There will also be live “vendors, artists and prizes.” In a nod to the fact that many of these movies were originally marketed to kids, the matinee showings will be English-dubbed prints, while evening shows will be in Japanese with subtitles. More info here.

At the Castro there will be two days of competing vintage mayhem all from 1982. Friday offers the hard-R-rated remakes of The Thing (John Carpenter) and Cat People (Paul Schrader), with their respective emphases on gore and erotica. Saturday is more kid-leaning, though not in a good way: Who can forget little Heather O’Rourke getting sucked into a TV by malevolent forces in the original Tobe Hooper Poltergiest, while cult favorite Halloween III: Season of the Witch targets the nation’s children with a sinister costume-mask conspiracy. It’s the chapter in that franchise so eccentric it doesn’t even bother to feature Michael Myers. (These films are preceded on Thursday by yet another memorable 1982 double bill, sci-fi classics Blade Runner and Tron.) More info here.

Fresh horror arrives in new multiplex entry Ready or Not, which was not available for preview by deadline. But its black-comedy-thriller tale of a bride marrying into a wealthy family, only to discover her in-laws’ intentions are anything but friendly, has gotten some very positive advance notices. There’s also Angel Has Fallen, the latest in a franchise that’s gotten very little critical acclaim whatsoever, and hasn’t even been all that commercially successful. Nonetheless, here we are again with Gerard Butler’s Secret Service agent saving the President (Morgan Freeman, not Twitler) once more from shadowy hostile forces. Expect dumb fun of a “yep, things sure blowed up real good” variety.

In another vein entirely is one more film we weren’t able to preview, veteran Israeli director Avi Nesher’s new drama The Other Story, a densely plotted overview of religious, political and lifestyle conflicts amongst overlapping lives in modern-day Tel Aviv. It opens Friday at the Opera Plaza in SF and Elmwood in Berkeley. More info here.

Also opening Friday (unless otherwise noted) are a slew of films we did manage to catch in advance:

Beauty is a beast in this visually stunning new documentary shot and exhibited at unusually high frames-per-second rates, for maximum image clarity. Nature documentaries began as a way for audiences to glimpse something they might not otherwise get the chance to see in person. Perhaps it’s time to admit that their function now is largely to record things that soon enough no one will be able to see—wildlife on the verge of disappearing, landscapes that will be submerged or otherwise forever altered.

Victor Kossakovsky’s feature is free of narration, text or any other commentary, offering merely the spectacle of water in myriad forms. It’s an element we can’t live without. But maybe we’re about to find we can’t live with it, either—as the melting of polar ice much-evidenced here is on track to drastically raise sea levels and otherwise upset what’s left of Mother Earth’s delicate balance.

Much of what’s here is beautiful, but we seldom forget that it’s also a progress of disintegration, sometimes a violent one—as part of a glacier abruptly collapses, or icebergs bob haplessly into the water, losing bulk by the minute. Not until the last reel do we glimpse the ugly future this majestic spectacle portends: Already-flooded human habitats that may never be habitable for land-life (of any species) again. A magnificent visual poem with a tragic undertow, Aquarela is marred only by a sometimes distractingly inappropriate, headbanging score by Eicca Toppinen of cello-based metal band Apocalyptica. At area theaters.

The Gangster, the Cop, the Devil
South Korean director Won-Tae Lee’s splashy thriller is anchored by entertaining performances from Don Lee aka Ma Dong-seok as a bearish crime boss and Lee Mu-yeol as a recklessly cocky police detective. These two professional enemies become unlikely allies when the latter is the first to suspect the former was nearly killed not by a gangland rival, but a serial killer (Kim Seong-gyu) attacking random strangers. As much a mismatched-buddy comedy as a suspense exercise, this is slick, colorful genre fun with some good action sequences. A Hollywood remake (produced by Sylvester Stallone) is already in the works. Alamo Drafthouse. More info here.

Bunuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles
In 1930, Luis Bunuel was a Spanish expat ensconced in the Parisian avant-garde, with two legendary surrealist films already under his belt. 1929’s notorious short Un Chien Andalou was a scandalous success—somewhat to his annoyance, as he’d wanted to mortify the bourgeoise, not titillate them. But the following year’s feature L’age d’Orrealized those hopes a little too effectively. The appalled response to his blasphemous, absurdist tale of two horny yet perpetually pried-apart lovers was enough to get the film banned (in some countries for many decades), and close all doors to financing for his future projects.

This new animated biopic by Salvador Simo chronicles his soldiering on nonetheless with what would become 1933’s Las Hurdes: Tierra Sin Pan aka Land Without Bread, a documentary (with some staged and surreal elements) about life in a remote, impoverished mountain region of Spain. With a skeleton crew of friends and a shoestring budget, the filmmaking was an adventure in itself. It’s an intriguing footnote to a fabled career, in an unexpected form—though I admit to having been a little nonplussed by the film’s conventional line-drawing style, which is almost plain enough for a Scooby-Doo episode.

The Roxie will also be showing two related programs this weekend: “A Bundle of Bunuel,” which brings together all three of his above-named earliest films, at 6 pm this Sunday; and (Sat/24 at 7 pm) 1962’s corrosive satire The Exterminating Angel, made towards the beginning of his final career phase as a celebrated European arthouse master. Roxie. More info here.

Nicola (Francesco di Napoli) is a 15-year-old in Naples whose poor neighborhood is entirely at the mercy of various organized-crime elements. Naturally ambitious, he turns a stupid blunder into an opportunity to work for a local don, collecting protection money from local shopkeepers—and squaring off against rival racketeers. Of course, power corrupts, particularly among the young and dumb. It’s not long before Nicola’s gang of impulsive teenage idiots with guns are overreaching themselves, risking their own necks as well as those of anyone who happens to get in the way.

Claudio Giovannesi’s film is an adaptation of a novel by Roberto Saviano, the investigative reporter turned dramatist (Gomorrah) whose portraits of mafioso have hit so close to home that he’s had to live under 24/7 police protection for years. By all reports the film makes his protagonist made considerably more sympathetic (and his deeds less heinous) than in the book.

As a result, we don’t fully believe the ruthlessness Nicola eventually demonstrates, and it’s somewhat frustrating that Piranhas abruptly ends just when it seems to be headed towards a real, consequential conclusion. Nonetheless, this is a strong, well-directed look at how delinquency can easily turn into career criminality in a milieu where that’s the most inviting “profession” available—if you survive long enough to enjoy the spoils, of course. Opera Plaza. More info here

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