SCREEN GRABS For those not hustling out to the week’s big commercial opening, Stephen King-derived “evil clown” horror sequel It Chapter Two, there’s a great deal else happening this week film-wise. Serious new dramas we weren’t able to get to in advance are Gavin Hood’s Official Secrets, a fact-based tale of international political skullduggery with Keira Knightley as a British whistleblower; and Chanya Button’s Vita & Virginia, with Gemma Arterton and Elizabeth Debicki as the Bloomsbury literary luminaries Sackville-West and Woolf. The first has gotten mixed early reviews, the second rather unfavorable ones.
The Pacific Film Archive’s autumn calendar is kicking off with continuations of two large-scale series that started earlier in the year, Abbas Kiarostami: Life as Art (resuming this Sun/8, running through Nov. 24), and View Finders: Women Cinematographers (Thurs/5 through Nov. 21). The second installment of the latter contains several documentaries amongst features highlighting the work of d.p.’s including Ellen Kuras, Iris Ng and Joan Churchill. More info here.
Several new documentaries are opening at local theaters, all of them focusing on stellar creative individuals. We previewed the one about singer Linda Ronstadt (see below), but there’s also Stanley Nelson’s Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool, a portrait of the jazz master at the Roxie; Jamie Catto’s Becoming Nobody, about Harvard prof turned psychedelic guru turned Buddhist sage Ram Dass nee Dr. Richard Alpert (also at the Roxie, as well as the Elmwood and Rafael); and (at Opera Plaza) Stephen Wilkes’ Jay Myself, which follows photographer-artist Jay Maisel as he undergoes the arduous process of leaving his vast Manhattan home (a former Bowery bank) after nearly half a century. Forced out by property taxes, he’s compelled to pack up 36,000 square feet crammed with a compulsive collector’s esoterica, en route logging what is (at $55 million) the largest private real estate sale in the city’s history.
Meanwhile the Mechanics Institute’s Film Lit program is dedicated this month to the American films of recent PFA retrospective subject Fritz Lang. It kicks off this Friday with the first Hollywood film by this expat director who’d fled Nazi Germany. The 1936 Fury is a forceful indictment (esp. for normally milquetoast studio MGM) of vigilantism and mob violence in which Spencer Tracy is an innocent man mistaken for a kidnapper, and nearly lynched by the residents of a small town more eager to satisfy its vengeful bloodlust than wait out the tedious process of legal justice. Subsequent films in the series are You and Me, a seldom-revived 1938 drama with Sylvia Sidney and George Raft as ill-starred ex-criminal lovers, and music by Kurt Weill; plus two of Lang’s solid later noirs, the Zola-derived Human Desire (1954) and serial killer thriller While the City Sleeps (1956). More info here.
Backing up its ever-provocative marquee messages with some onscreen political messaging, the Grand Lake in Oakland is hosting the 9-11 Truth Film Festival next Wed.—yes, September 11. Billed as “Deconstructing a Myth With Truth,” this 15th annual event promises to address WTC “truther” theories, other “false flag” conspiracies, miscellaneous “deep state deceptions” and more in a program of films and live speakers. If all that sounds a little too woo-woo for your taste, keep in mind: What could be more bizarrely improbable than our escalating current national political reality? Info: More info here.
If semi-truth is sufficiently stranger than fiction for you, there’s always the Castro’s current week-long run of Tarantino’s revisionist history Once Upon a Time…In Hollywood. Over the weekend, it will share the screen with two movies of special related relevance: 1967’s Valley of the Dolls, the famously bad (but very popular) adaptation of Jacqueline Susann’s trashy bestseller that gave Sharon Tate her big break (albeit via her worst performance). That’s playing Sat/7 at noon; on Sunday, it’s the comparatively little-known 1969 Model Shop, French director Jacques Demy’s only American film. Starring 2001’s Gary Lockwood and A Man and A Woman’s Anouk Aimee as star-crossed almost-lovers, it’s a mixed bag, but has acquired a reputation in recent years for being one of the best representations of Los Angeles life and geography in the period when Once Upon a Time… is set. More info here.
Nothing this week promises to be wiggier, however, than another Castro event. No longer hunky but plenty crusty, the inimitable Glenn Danzig of The Misfits (and, of course, Danzig) will arrive next Tuesday to host a single screening of his feature directorial debut. When it premiered at the genre festival Cinepocalypse last June, horror omnibus Verotika immediately set the internet on fire, with lucky witnesses comparing it to the likes of Ed Wood Jr.’s beloved “worst movie ever” Plan 9 From Outer Space as well as Tommy Wiseau’s latterday campsterpiece The Room.
For his part, Mr. Danzig appeared to have been somewhat nonplussed that his purportedly T&A-crammed, gory and incoherent effort provoked laughter—a whole lot—where he meant it to be scary, or sexy, or whatever. But to his credit, the rock god appears to be going with the flow, taking the film on the road to fans and enjoying their reactions, even if they’re not the reactions he intended. If conflicting duties didn’t call me elsewhere, I’d be at this screening in a heartbeat. It just might be the greatest thing since Yma Sumac last hit town, apparently oblivious to a set-long wardrobe malfunction, forever yelling at her poor pickup band while still managing to run the gamut (more or less) of eight singing octaves. That was an unforgettable night’s entertainment, and we suspect Verotika will be another. Tues/10, Castro. More info here.
You can slide gently into that promised insanity by attending Saturday’s family-friendly Alamo Drafthouse screening of a true classic: The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T, the only movie Dr. Seuss ever wrote as a big-screen original. This musical fantasy set in a subterranean Hell of enforced piano lessons—every child’s nightmare!—was a commercial flop in 1953, but has since been appreciated as one of the great cinematic dives into inspired absurdism. Co-presented by Media Meltdown, it’s offered as the main attraction of an all-you-can-eat “cereal party.” So sleep in late and have breakfast at high noon, with or without any available children. Sat/7, Alamo Drafthouse. More info here.