Screen Grabs

Screen Grabs: Ramen Heads, Tiny Dance, Que Viva Mexico!

Mmmmm... Ramen Heads

SCREEN GRABS Cinephiles might want to spend their entire weekend at the Roxie, which is offering the awesome revival series “Dark Side of the Dream” as a collaborative effort between former Roxie programmer Elliot Lavine’s I Wake Up Dreaming and current one Don Malcolm’s Midcentury Productions. But not everybody likes that sort of thing (PS what’s wrong with you?!), so here are some other delectable choices in what’s quite a rich week for movie lovers. Which judgment includes the arrival of Isle of Dogs, a new animated film by nearly the only American director (Wes Anderson) we allow to be a weirdo on a major-studio budget, and whose last venture into this particular form (The Fantastic Mr. Fox) was absolute gold. 

Were the 1970s great for movies? Damn straight, as exemplified by this one-night Castro double bill of two incredible films that were popular successes at the time, though they’re both far too idiosyncratic to attract a wide audience now. Peter Bogdanovich’s 1973 Paper Moon was an outright hit, despite being a B&W Great Depression seriocomedy about a dubious alliance between a con man (Ryan O’Neal) and the child he “adopts” primarily as a business partner (Tatum O’Neal). It would prove Bogdanovich’s (The Last Picture Show, What’s Up Doc?) last hit for over a decade, until Mask (1985). 

There was a more mixed response to Stanley Kubrick’s much more costly 1975 Barry Lyndon, with Ryan O’Neal as the titular early 19th century rogue who charms his way from humble beginnings to marital wealth. Nonetheless, it was a relative box-office success—an near-unthinkable result now for a three-hour period epic of glacial pace and emotional remoteness. One of Kubrick’s more divisive efforts, it remains a thing of extraordinary, hypnotic beauty to some, a flaccid indulgence to others. No one has ever doubted the extraordinary effects achieved by director of photography John Alcott. Even those who found the Thackeray-based saga a stilted bore had to admit it was a ravishing one. Sun/25, Castro. More info here

I guess there’s still some hippie weirdness left in Berkeley: Where else would a public institution program a retrospective of films by the marvelous Cruikshank as a kiddie matinee? Not that the wee ones won’t enjoy it… but you may have to explain the concept of “head film” afterward. Her antic, insanely colorful, humorously surreal sensibility proved adaptable to such mainstream outlets as Sesame Street and several big feature assignments, contributing animation elements to films like Twilight Zone: The Movie and Top Secret! But she will always be the idol of High Times readers for her very trippy ‘toons starring quarrelsome critter couple Quasi and Anita: Quasi at the Quackadero (which is in the National Film Registry!) and Make Me Psychic. Fear not for your children’s herbal wellness: Even a pot-o-phobe like me can’t get enough Cruikshank. Sat/24, PFA. More info here

If you stick around at the PFA after the hour of Cruikshank madness, you can tally a double bill arguably even higher-contrast than Paper Moon and Barry Lyndon. Que Viva Mexico! was genius Russian filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein’s attempt to make a six-part, semi-documentary epic about Mexican history and peasant struggle. But the funding ran out, among other problems, leaving him with fifty hours of footage that were only exhibited in fragmentary form during his lifetime. 

Decades later, surviving collaborator Grigori Alexandrov edited that raw footage into a feature based as closely on Eisenstein’s intended structure as possible. The result naturally isn’t entirely complete, or cohesive. But it’s full of stark, stunning B&W images like nothing anybody else was creating in 1931. They suggest what a phenomenal career the Soviet maker might’ve had abroad if politics and commerce hadn’t conspired to hobble his genius—and place him at the fickle mercy of Stalin’s cultural watchdogs. This “Film to Table” screening is followed by a “four-course, prix-fixe meal in a convivial, dinner-party atmosphere” at the PFA’s cafe Babette. There’s a reprise screening (without attached dinner) on April 4. Sat/24, PFA. More info here

If like me you more or less abandoned Italian pasta for various Asian noodles some time ago—were udon always hiding in the supermarket? How could they have eluded notice for so long?!?—you will probably drool at the very thought of this new documentary. It lets Japan’s “Ramen King” Osamu Tomita take us on a “tasting tour” of the slurpable starch’s master chefs, while also filling us in on its history and fanatical fans. In a word (well, sort of a word): Mmmmmm. Opens Fri/23, Opera Plaza and Shattack Cinemas. More info here.

‘This Black’ screens at the Tiny Dance Film Festival.

The fourth annum of this dance-oriented mini-festival reminds me of a great line by rock critic Robert Christgau, reviewing the album in which Elton John’s hit “Tiny Dancer” first appeared: “Just how small is she?” But there will be no Elton (as far as we know) in this showcase for “the complicated relationship between body and lens—and the choreographers who traverse both forms.” The three distinct programs, all comprised of shorts under ten minutes’ length, encompass work by not just American talents but ones from as far afield as Norway, Slovenia, Singapore and Italy. Sat/24-Sun/25, Roxie. More info here

One of the most flummoxing critical and audience failures of recent years to my mind was Max Winkler’s directorial debut Ceremony (2011), a wickedly astute sort of latterday screwball comedy in which a neurotic loser (Michael Angarano) pulls every dirty trick in the book to win back the woman (Uma Thurman) he’s obsessed with. So there’s hope for this new black comedy in which an already edgy teen leaps off the cliff of irresponsible behavior once her mom’s boyfriend’s crazy son renders home life untenable. It’s co-written by Matt Spicer, whose own directorial debut Ingrid Goes West was one of last year’s more adventuresome American movies. Opens Fri/23, Embarcadero and Shattuck Cinemas. More info here

For decades a staple in church basements and revival tents, Cecil B. DeMille’s 1927 Biblical epic is rarely seen today. San Francisco Silent Festival very special screening of this newly restored Biblical epic, partly shot in two-tone Technicolor, features David Briggs playing live accompaniment on Grace Cathedral’s 7,466-pipe (!) organ. This reverent depiction of New Testament events, with H.B. Warner as Jesus, is no Passion of the Christ—you won’t risk vomiting from all the torture. Sat/24, 7 pm, Grace Cathedral. More info here

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

Israeli film 'Foxtrot' comes to Embrcadero Cinema

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.   

Screen Grabs: Bombshell, Beuys, new Brazilian films…

Hedy Lamarr, the subject of 'Bombshell' in 1941's 'Ziegfeld Girl'

SCREEN GRABS The big noise at the multiplex is going to be Selma director Ava DuVernay’s leap into big-budget fantasy cinema with A Wrinkle in Time, from Madeleine L’Engel’s beloved children’s book. But if the annual couture orgy of the Oscars put you in a mood for more old-school glamour, the movie to see this week is no doubt Alexandra Dean’s Bombshell, which opens at Landmark Theaters throughout the Bay Area. 

This documentary chronicles the tempestuous life of Hedy Lamarr, the Vienna-born actress who was often considered (and promoted as) the most beautiful woman in the world. After becoming notorious for a nude scene in the 1933 Czech Ecstasy, she made her way to Hollywood and duly became numbered among the “more stars than there are in Heaven” at MGM. 

It was a stormy stardom not much calmed by numerous marriages, or the poor reviews that usually greeted her performances in roles she was seldom happy with. Her later years were a familiar cautionary tale of vanished wealth, substance issues, and too much plastic surgery. 

But Dean celebrates Lamarr as a woman whose greatest achievement garnered little notice: She had a hand in coming up with the concept of “frequency hopping,” a technological innovation that was not used by the Allies in WW2 as she’d hoped, but eventually proved key to the development of many latter-day systems including GPS and wifi. 

Other openings and film events this coming week, all opening Friday unless otherwise noted:

Another arresting 20th-century figure is captured in Andres Veiel’s documentary about a giant in modern art. Joseph Beuys survived German Luftwaffe service (including a plane crash) to gradually emerge as one of the most progressive artists of the postwar era, introducing elements of performance and provocation into work that also encompassed more traditional sculpture and painting. Fri/9-March 15, Roxie Theater. More info here

This portrait of an artist is not actually opening at the Roxie, but at area Landmark theaters instead—though you might have expected otherwise, since it’s a sequel to Rivers and Tides, the 2001 documentary that was one of Roxie Releasing’s biggest-ever hits. 

Director Thomas Riedelsheimer again trains his camera on English visual artist Andy Goldsworthy, whose site-specific sculptures make use of the local natural elements—and are designed to change with them over time. Now highly sought after around the world, he’s seen here at work in numerous locations, including San Francisco. Basically “more of the same” without being repetitious, Leaning will delight fans of the prior film while serving as an affable and accessible introduction for newbies. Fri/9-March 14, Opera Plaza Theater. More info here

Chaos at the White House and the possibility of impeachment are raising innumerable comparisons to the Nixon era—making this as good a time as any to look back at another period of intensely “divided” American society. No issue was more of a hot button fifty years ago than the Vietnam War, with an escalating youth-centric movement opposing it and President Nixon digging in for a bitter, eventually failed long haul. 

This in-progress PFA series showcases vintage “self-portraits of America at war.” Showing Sunday is the most famous documentary on the subject, Peter Davis’ excoriating, Oscar-winning 1974 Hearts and Minds. Much more rarely seen is David Loeb Weiss’ 1968 No Vietnamese Her Called Me N****r, which links the experiences of African-American soldiers with the roiling changes of the Civil Rights era back home. It will be shown Thursday March 15 in a new digital restoration, introduced by UC Berkeley prof Abdul R. JanMohamed. Through April 19, BAMPFA. More info here

A less traumatic look at the past will be on tap with this Other Cinema calendar’s Archive Evening, a recurring showcase for the inimitable ephemera collection of local archivist Rick Prelinger. Casting a wider geographic net than his annual programs of vintage San Francisco and Detroit found-footage, this program of “Home Movie Revelations and Provocations” promises old celluloid non-fiction weirdness from drunken St. Louis contractors to 1930s southwestern desert shots. Sat/10, Part of the Media Archaeology 2 program at Artists Television Access. More info here.  

This two-week Center for the Arts series highlights three genre-bending recent works from Brazil, all of them Bay Area premieres. Alfonso Uchoa and Joao Dumans’ Araby (Arabia) is a road-trip drama in which a discovered journal reveals an older man’s secret, extraordinary life. Juliana Rojas and Marco Dutra’s Good Manners offers supernaturally-tinged fantasy in which a professional relationship between two very different women goes in, er, some very “different” directions. (Hint: The directors thank literary fairy-tale-horror fabulist Angela Carter in the credits.) Finally, Gabriela Amaral Almeida’s Friendly Beast is like The Petrified Forest with a lot more blood, as employer/employee tensions at an upscale restaurant are not helped by the arrival of two armed robbers. It’s a black-comedy thriller that might appeal to fans of early Tarantino. Sat/10-Sun/25, YBCA. More info here.

Making a low-key local bow at the 4-Star, which continues to premiere films that otherwise elude theatrical release in the Bay Area, David Freyne’s Dublin-set first feature is an intelligent and offbeat variation on zombie cinema. A virus has already swept through Europe, reducing the infected to violent, cannibalistic psychosis. Now the plague has been contained, and most surviving suffers have been cured. But while they couldn’t control their actions “under the influence,” they must suffer the horror and guilt of recalling their deeds—and much of society isn’t ready to accept or forgive them. Sam Keely plays one such “re-integration” candidate, taken in by his widowed American sister-in-law, who doesn’t know he killed his own brother before being “cured.” Serious-minded and well-acted, this is really more of a drama with strong elements of political allegory (echoing both Ireland’s historical “troubles” and current European immigration fears) than it is straight horror. Still, the horror elements eventually arrive full-force. Opens Fri/9, 4-Star. More info here

Screen Grabs: Noir City 16, Mexican Maladies, Window Horses …

Noir City 16 promises thrills and chills at the Castro

SCREEN GRABS If ever there was a week that called for straying off the multiplex path, it’s one in which the only notable new wide release is Maze Runner: The Death Cure—the latest chapter in a franchise that absolutely nobody under the age of 20 knows anything about, secure in the faith that they’re not missing anything good. 

Ergo, it’s a perfect moment to turn the Wayback Machine six or seven decades to accommodate the 16th edition of Noir City (January 26-Feb 4), which re-inhabits the Castro for eleven days starting this Friday. This year Eddie Muller’s retro festival steps forward one year with each succeeding double-bill, starting with Friday’s 1941 duo of murder mystery I Wake Up Screaming (a rare dramatic vehicle for musical pin-up queen Betty Grable) and southern gothic tale Among the Living

Later highlights include two with the great 40s duo of Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake (This Gun for Hire, The Blue Dahlia), Hitchcock’s classic Shadow of a Doubt, the seldom-revived omnibus Flesh and Fantasy, lesser-sung Bogart vehicle Conflict, and amusingly tawdry 1953 new-blonde-in-town meller Wicked Woman

While some of the offerings may already be familiar to jaded noir aficionados, several are likely to be discoveries, including a brand new 35mm restoration print of 1950’s obscure The Man Who Cheated on Himself, a San Francisco-set, independently produced suspenser featuring Lee J. Cobb, the normally squeaky-clean Jane Wyatt as a vamp, and Gun Crazy’s John Dall. Dust off your fedora, head to the Castro and brace yourself for some vintage thrills. Thurs/26-Sun/4, Castro Theatre.

There are, however, plenty of other worthy-looking prospects at local arthouses if you’re looking for something a little more contemporary:

There’s another form of nostalgia on tap in Brian Taylor’s manic, delicious black comedy. Remember when Nicolas Cage was a reliably thrilling source of gonzo performance in inspired showcases like Raising Arizona and Vampire’s Kiss? Before he started seeming like just an occasionally amusing ham in not-so-inspired movies like the heinous Wicker Man remake and those vacuous National Treasures

Well, lapsed fans, happy days are here again, as he’s ideally deployed playing one Dad among many in a pristine suburban community where one day a mystery phenomenon abruptly induces all the resident parents to really, really want to kill their kids. There’s no explanation as to how or why this has happened—just terrific high energy and a lot of outre laughs. Cage is hilarious as this homicidal Dagwood, but arguably the movie is stolen by Selma Blair in a more tonally diverse but equally funny turn as his suddenly just-as-bloodthirsty spouse. If your sense of humor is on the mordant side and you need some cheering up, trust me: This movie is like getting plastered with no risk of hangover. Opens Friday, Roxie. More info here

Riad Doueiri’s acclaimed Lebanese feature is a vividly dramatic microcosm of the social, poiitical, and cultural clashes that seem to dominate our world today—not least in the Middle East, where their roots often seem to stretch back over millennia. In a Beirut neighborhood, the chance-forced relationship between a native Christian resident businessman and a Palestinian-refugee building contractor begins poorly with a petty conflict. Because both men are alpha-male “Type A” personalities who can’t bring themselves to apologize or back down, this interpersonal discord soon spirals out of control, until it becomes a matter of highly public controversy. 

Lebanon’s Oscar submission feature is a discomfiting drama that puts a distinctive spin Rodney King’s timeless question, “Can’t we all get along?” Opens Friday, Clay Theater. More info here.

For over half a century, Arturo Ripstein has been Mexico’s most unpredictable as well as laureled auteur, his voluminous output encompassing stark neorealism, operatic melodrama, black comedy, surrealism and more. Center for the Arts celebrates that career span with a short tribute consisting of his very first and most-recent features. 

Ripstein’s 1966 debut Time to Die, shown in a new restoration, is a B&W “existential neo-Western” written by none other than literary legends Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Carlos Fuentes. Also shot in striking monochrome is 2015’s bizarre quasi-noir Bleak Street, a tale of hapless criminal mischief involving middle-aged Mexico City prostitutes and pint-sized luchadores (aka masked wrestlers a la Santo). Incredibly, it’s based on a true story. Thurs/25-Sun/28, YBCA. More info here

After scoring a hit with the terrific Birdboy: The Forgotten Children, the Roxie returns to the adult animation well with this very different Canadian feature. Sandra Oh voices Rosie, a fast-food worker who moonlights as an aspiring poet and dreams of visiting Paris. But instead her writing wins an invitation to a conference in Shiraz, Iran, of all places, where her culture-shocked insecurity isn’t helped much by the non-camaraderie of stereotypically humorless German scribe Dietmar (Don McKellar). 

Ann Marie Fleming’s mix of history, mythology, comedy and empowerment—not to mention disparate visual techniques—owes a conspicuous inspirational debt to Nina Paley’s Sita Sings the Blues from a decade ago. Her film isn’t in that league, but it still has appeal both antic and aesthetic. Opens Friday, Roxie. More info here.

A prize of some sort should have gone to whoever convinced normally penny-pinching Golan Globus Productions to spend $25 million—a huge budget at the time—on this 1985 sci-fi thriller from the director of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, about a sexy lady vampire who arrives via Halley’s Comet to suck the you-know-what (I mean life-force, you filthy slobs!) from Earthlings. 

The result was, alongside Howard the Duck and Ishtar, one of the most notorious and costly box-office bombs of the decade. And like them, it has its defenders. The combination of daft plot, elaborate production, Lovecraftian concepts and a hardworking if less-than-starry cast (including Mathilda May, Steve Railsback, Peter Firth, and pre-Star Trek Patrick Stewart) make Lifeforce a garish horror-fantasy worthy of its cult following. (By the way, Howard the Duck—in 70mm!—is also being shown by at the Alamo this week, on Sat/27.) Wed/31, Alamo Drafthouse. More info here

Screen Grabs: Hump! Festival, Eisenstein, Bloody Moon …

The Hump! Film Festival returns for amateur thrills of all kinds.

SCREEN GRABS In an instance of art imitating life, this week’s notable film events are heavy on politics and Russia, with sidenotes of sex, gore, and introspection. If it’s light escapism you’re looking for, you won’t find much here—even Friday’s biggest commercial opening, the un-previewed 12 Strong, does not sound like a fun time. (It dramatizes a real-life U.S. Special Forces unit’s mission in Afghanistan immediately after 9/11.) That seems fair enough: After all, 2018 is clearly not going to be for the faint-hearted. 

A century ago, silent cinema was at its artistic zenith (as well as its commercial endpoint), and Hollywood was already dominating much of global exhibition. Yet no nation’s filmic output seemed more urgently modern than that of the still-practically-newborn Soviet Union, which at least in its early years supported art in arious media as experimentall bold as its previously-untried governmental system. No single filmmaker—arguably anywhere—had more influence on others than Sergei Eisenstein, whose startling leaps forward in montage in many ways set the template for modern film editing. Yet his extraordinary career was also a tragic one, ultimately bound to the whims of the repressive Stalinist regime like many a lesser-known talent. 

This PFA series looks at a remarkable time and place in movie history, encompassing several famous classics by Eisenstein himself (Strike, Battleship Potemkin, Ivan the Terrible etc.) as well as additional works by his brilliant contemporaries including Dovzhenko, Pudovkin and Kuleshov. It kicks off with 1916’s A Life for a Life, one of the few remaining features from Russia’s pre-Revolutionary film industry. Each screening will feature live musical accompaniment and a lecture by UC Berkeley’s Anne Nesbet, an expert in the field. Wed/17-Wed/April 25, Pacific Film Archive. More info here

A Russia that would surely be unrecognizable to Sergei and his colleagues is on jaw-dropping display in this compilation of dashcam footage uploaded by drivers and downloaded by director Dmitri Kalashnikov. It’s apparently a Wild West on wheels in the Near East, with spontaneous interactions with pedestrian crazies and entrapping police, drives through epic fires, and no end of calamitous crashes preserved for your vicarious pleasure. 

At about 75 minutes, the hair-raising hilarity is just enough to leave you craving more, not enough to leave you exhausted and tire-marked. The Road Movie is proof that truth is stranger than fiction—particularly when it’s going 100 mph through a blizzard, sliding off an embankment into a river, then floating down said river as the passengers simply laugh. Opens Friday, Roxie. More info here.

2017 gave us Mother! In 2018, there is unlikely to be a more masochistic viewing experience than this documentary by Greg Barker about the last months of the Obama White House. While handling crises involving Iran, Syria, Cameroon, and more, the administration dealt with the looming matter of Presidential “legacy” and prepared handing things over to a new regime—which absolutely no one, it’s clear here, really imagined would turn out to be Donald Trump’s. 

Casting a particular spotlight on the roles of UN Ambassador Samantha Power and Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes (with just occasional access to The Man himself), this intimate behind-the-scenes record may catch personnel in somewhat best-behavior mode, what with the camera being on and all. Yet it’s clear that whatever the administration’s failings, its personnel were distinguished by deep expertise, ability to compromise, and genuine good intentions. Why is seeing this 2016 flashback a masochistic experience? Duh: Look at what we’ve got now. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll want to slit your wrists if you haven’t already. Opens Friday at Bay Area theaters. 

An international prize winner at the time, Tomas Gutierrez Alea’s 1968 Cuban feature nonetheless took five full years to get any US release, landing on numerous critics’ 1973 “best” lists. Even then, it remained so little-seen that the PFA’s current limited run of a 4K restoration represents the now half-century-old film’s Bay Area theatrical debut. (Though you’ve probably never seen Memories, you may be familiar with Alea from his arthouse hit a quarter-century later, Strawberries and Chocolate.) 

A sort of semi-dramatic essay film that’s equal parts neo-realism, political documentary, and experiment, it follows a jaded bourgeois man (Sergio Corrieri) in the weeks after his unhappy wife and nearly everyone else he knows have fled Havana for the US in the wake of the Batista government’s overthrow. There’s not much “plot,” beyond our protagonist’s desultory involvement with a neurotic aspiring actress. But there’s a lot of intriguing footage of life in a land on which an “iron curtain” had rapidly descended after years of being a virtual U.S. colony, plus an interesting, ambivalent perspective on the transitional period Communist Cuba had already largely left behind when Memories was made. Thurs/18-Sat/3 (three shows only), Pacific Film Archive. More info here

The 13th annual edition of the Dan Savage-curated amateur sex film festival is back with a new best-of compiled from its larger “hometown” Seattle and Portland events. Sure to play arpeggios all up and down the Kinsey scale, it offers twenty-one shorts including such savory titles as Desert Pussy, Is Queefing an Instrument? and Dildrone (hint: its exactly what you think). Our favorite description, for A Sunday Hike, is “The Blair Witch Project meets an anarchist EDM festival in this witchy, magical, queer porn.” Once a strictly-local affair, at this point Hump flicks are submitted from all over—if you get inspired (and freaky), you might have one yourself in next year’s lineup, competing for such prizes as Best Humor or Best Kink. Wed/17-Sat/27, Victoria Theatre. More info here

It’s been a criticism of some directors from Bogdanovich to Tarantino and beyond that they make movies that are over-much about other movies. But homage, imitation, and pastiche are different from self-reflection and analysis. The latter attributes are what’s on display in this PFA series of documentaries that “interrogate the medium” in terms of its sociiopoilitical impact and moral aspirations, both good and ill. 

The globe-spanning selections encompass looks at an original Nazi propaganda feature (Yael Hersonski’s Israeli A Film Unfinished), Ross Lipman’s Notfilm about the 1965 collaboration between Buster Keaton and Samuel Beckett, Chris Marker’s Tarkovsky investigation One Day in the Life of Andrei Arsenevich, and films about film preservation or its lack (the German Cinema: A Public Affair, Uruguayan A Useful Life). This Sunday, Bill Morrison will present in person Dawson City: Frozen Time, his wonderful recent chronicle of a Canadian Gold Rush town and the cache of “lost” silent films that was found in the icy ground under a building there. Sat/20-Thurs/Feb. 22, Pacific Film Archive. More info here.

The Madrid-born director best known as Jess Franco (he accumulated many onscreen pseudonyms) had a fairly respectable entry into films, his career taking off with 1961 horror hit The Awful Dr. Orloff. He spent the rest of that decade making a variety of genre films with some notable international stars like Klaus Kinski, Eddie Constantine, Jack Palance, and Christopher Lee. But at decade’s end his fortunes began to decline, resulting in ever-shrinking budgets and ever-sleazier projects. Not that it seemed to bother him—indeed, he seemed quite content to make a wildly prolific body of violent, sexploitative work right up to his 2013 death. (Some sources estimate he made over 200 features; the precise number is anyone’s guess.) 

One of his better-regarded films from the ’80s is this 1981 thriller, a for-hire gig cashing in on the then-ultrahot slasher vogue kickstarted by Halloween. Five years after disfigured youth Miguel is institutionalized for killing a girl at a party, murders begin targeting pretty students at the language boarding school his family runs. It’s a bloody cheesefest that, like many of Franco’s films, is distinguished by a mix of elements by turns senseless, inept, eccentric, and stylish. The dreadful dubbed dialogue provides one level of entertainment, while gorehounds will be satisfied by the array of gruesome deaths provided (red-hot fireplace tongs, anyone?). Let’s hope the Drafthouse found an uncut print of this movie that was banned in the UK as a “video nasty.” Tues/23, Alamo Drafthouse. More info here

Screen Grabs: Ida Lupino, Intent to Destroy, Stars Never Die….

'Ida Lupino: Hard, Fast, and Beautiful' is a retrospective of the glamorous star's work behind the camera.

You know the flood of awards-bait prestige releases has truly subsided when Liam Neeson is once again chasing bad guys in yet another interchangeable thriller. Paddington 2 aside, this week’s big commercial release is The Commuter, the erstwhile Schindler’s List star’s fourth collaboration with Spanish director Jaume Collet-Serra.

The latter didn’t make Taken, the 2008 sleeper that turned the now nearly 70-year-old Irish actor into an unlikely action hero… but he might as well have. The Commuter has Neeson as a “businessman caught up in a criminal conspiracy during his daily commute home,” one that also involves Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Jonathan Banks and Sam Neill. These movies all hit the same basic notes, but they’re invariably decent (if forgettable) entertainment — which is more than you can say of, for instance, everything with “X-Men” in the title.

But there’s quite a bit of more promising fare out there this coming week. The major event for many will be the arrival of a new Paul Thomas Anderson film, Phantom Thread, which stars Daniel Day Lewis (in purportedly his last role — he’s announced his retirement from acting) as a fictive top women’s couture designer in late 1950s London. He’s accustomed to picking pretty new model-muses for “inspiration,” then discarding them when “done,” but his latest (Vicky Kris) may not be so easily gotten rid of.

PTA’s films are always as divisive as they are distinctive. We usually love them; this one we didn’t. But you’ll go anyway, right? As you should. (Note: The Alamo Drafthouse is showing Phantom Thread in its 70mm shooting format.)

Also simultaneously worthwhile and somewhat disappointing is Germany’s Oscar-submission feature In the Fade, with Diane Kruger as a Hamburg woman undone when her Turkish emigre husband and their child are killed in an explosion. Adding insult to injury, it soon emerges this was a deliberate racist attack by far-right neo-fascists. This revenge thriller is engrossing and well-acted, but iy’s a somewhat less nuanced treatment of a hot-button subject than one might expect from director-cowriter Fatih Akin (Head-On, The Edge of Heaven).

Three revivals should also be noted in brief, though they couldn’t be more different: One is late Russian master Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1986 final feature The Sacrifice, a stunningly photographed (by Sven Nykvist) metaphysical abstract that the Roxie will show in a new 4K restoration this Thursday through Sunday. Another, also at the Roxie (Friday-Sunday), is Soviet emigre Slava Tsukerman’s 1982 cult classic Liquid Sky, a sci-fi punk fantasia with Anna Carlisle in an androgynous dual role. Then there’s Tommy Wiseau’s inimitable 2003 The Room, which is finally seeing a wide release in the wake of its comedic making-of reenactment The Disaster Artist becoming a sleeper hit. Yes, you can enjoy the latter without seeing the former. But trust me, if you haven’t seen the original, you haven’t fully lived yet.

Some other arrivals that might fly further under the radar:

Forget Coco, Loving Vincent and the rest — the best animated feature of 2017 (though it’s getting to us a bit late) is startlingly original work by Spanish co-directors Alberto Vazquez and Pedro Rivero, based on the former’s graphic novel. Mixing the childlike, dystopian and simply twisted, it’s a bizarre tale of a post-environmental-catastrophe world in which anthropomorphic survivors look like big-eyed bunnies, kittens, etc., but deal with some starkly violent, non-cute realities. Those include insanity, crime, drug addiction, black marketeering, prejudice, and police brutality.

You’ve probably seen similar mixes of surreal humor, adult issues and pop fantasy in comics form, but it feels utterly fresh onscreen. Birdboy (which was previously called Psychonauts on the festival circuit) is not only visually striking and conceptually jarring, it packs surprising poignance into its unpredictable progress. Not to be missed, particularly for animation fans. Opens Fri/12, Roxie. More info here.

Gloria Grahame was an idiosyncratic blonde who made a lasting impression in several superior noirs and a few other films, like It’s A Wonderful Life and the musical Oklahoma! But her stardom was all too brief, curtailed in part by the scandal of her marrying (not at the same time) both Rebel Without a Cause director Nicolas Ray and his son. By the late 70s, between sparse movie and TV jobs, she was reduced to less-than-prestigious regional stage work. It was during one such gig that she became involved with Peter Turner, a much younger aspiring English actor.

Turner’s memoir about their affair is now this film by Paul McGuigan (Gangster No. 1, Lucky Number Seven), with Annette Bening as the erstwhile Hollywood luminary who trudges back to her old (but still-young) flame, played by Jamie Bell, when she suffers a probably-terminal cancer relapse at age 57 in 1981. Bening doesn’t evoke Grahame much physically, and she’s too authoritative a presence to fully inhabit the flightier, more childish aspects of her role’s personality. But it’s still a compelling performance, matched by supporting turns from Julie Walters, Kenneth Cranham, Frances Barber, Vanessa Redgrave, and others. A well-written tale told in somewhat a-chronological order, Film Stars Don’t Die isn’t flawless, but it’s intelligent and touching. Opens Friday at Bay Area theaters.

Another hardboiled dame whose career intersected with the noir era was Ida Lupino, a London-born actress who nonetheless usually “played American” in her Hollywood career, which peaked at Warner Brothers in the early 1940s. When that petered out, she turned to directing — a door that had been all but closed to women in Hollywood for decades. While most of her work in that realm was on TV series (everything from “The Twilight Zone” to “Gilligan’s Island”), today there’s a special regard given to the half-dozen noirish “B” features she directed between 1949-53. Barely noticed at the time, they’re now prized for their economical craft and subtly female perspective within the typically male-driven  thriller genre.

This PFA series cast a spotlight on films from both that period (such as The Bigamist, The Hitch-Hiker, and daring 1950 rape drama Outrage) and from her earlier zenith of fame, when she co-starred with the likes of Bogart and Jean Gabin, directed by such greats as Fritz Lang and Raoul Walsh. Sat/13-Sat/Feb. 24, Pacific Film Archive. More info here.

In 2016 two ambitious multinational period dramas were released, focusing on a seldom-portrayed yet still-controversial section of early 20th century history: The genocide of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians by forces of the Ottoman Empire, which a full century later Turkish authorities continue to deny happened at all. Hotel Rwanda director Terry George’s The Promise was a fictionalized expose, with Oscar Issac, Christian Bale and other Western marquee stars. Joseph Ruben’s The Ottoman Lieutenant, partly funded by the Turkish government, was a romanticized whitewash with the less-starry likes of Josh Hartnett.

Neither film was a critical or box-office success. But The Promise did generate another, highly acclaimed feature: This documentary by Joe Berlinger (Paradise Lost). It was originally commissioned as a behind-the-scenes “making of” for the more commercial enterprise, then developed into a freestanding, in-depth examination of both the Armenian Genocide and its continued suppression from the historical record by many global powers (including the US). It’s a penetrating look at an act that, sadly, set the precedent for globe-spanning government “purges” of unwanted citizens that have only increased in number and frequency as we’ve entered a new century. Opens Friday/12, Roxie. More info here.

Before he took a long, not-entirely-voluntary sabbatical finally broken by 2008’s gloriously rude Bad Biology, Frank Henelotter had a great decade as one of the high VHS era’s cultiest horror directors. He started with 1982’s grotesque Basketcase, finished with its (second) sequel, and perhaps peaked in notoriety with the hilariously self-explanatory Frankenhooker.

But probably the best single feature of that initial run was this 1988 indie classic about a boy (Rick Hearst) and his best friend — a mysterious “small, disgusting creature” that attaches itself to his brain-stem base, providing rushes of hallucinogenic euphoria while indulging its own needs via homicidal attacks. Grungy, macabre, funny, and oddly touching, this weird-ass portrait of a truly addictive relationship will make for a particularly special Terror Tuesday at the Alamo. Tues/16, Alamo Drafthouse. More info here

Screen Grabs: The Green Fog, Quest, Hostiles, Happy End …

In 'The Green Fog,' director Guy Maddin remakes 'Vertigo' with footage from other films

SCREEN GRABS The holidays are over, but the holiday movies remain, or in some cases are still arriving—a few awards-bait features opened only for qualifying runs in New York and LA before year’s end. The biggest such is Steven Spielberg’s The Post, about one real-life coverup spanning several Presidencies that unraveled during Nixon’s second term, handing the NY Times and Washington Post a big scoop not long before the regime-ending scandal of Watergate. 

This paean to the power of a free press could hardly be more timely, yes. Still, it’s the kind of prestige mediocrity that inevitably gets nominated for umpteen Oscars not because it’s good—it isn’t—but because it’s “that kind of movie,” and because its major talents already have a walk-in closet worth of Oscars between them. Showboating lead performances by Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks only underline the obviousness of an enterprise whose good intentions are compromised by its air of banal self-congratulation. 

There are, however, a fair number of more interesting films on tap this week:

To close its 60th anniversary program last year, the San Francisco International Film Festival had the excellent idea of commissioning beloved Canadian iconoclast Guy Maddin (The Saddest Music in the World) and his recent collaborators Evan and Galen Johnson to make a film with a likewise newly commissioned score by Jacob Garchik, played by the Kronos Quartet. The starting premise was to “remake Vertigo without using footage from the Hitchcock classic,” instead weaving a wide variety of archival clips—”golden age” Hollywood classics, ’70s thrillers, TV series, recent hits, all shot and/or set in San Francisco—to create a “parallel universe” version.

If you were lucky enough to see the Castro world premiere with live musical accompaniment last spring, or if you’d like to see the delightful results again, the Roxie is bringing The Green Fog back, this time with the score soundtracked. This collage feature may recall Vertigo only in the vaguest ways, but it’s a wonderful tribute to SF as a much-mined movie location, as well as a frequently hilarious prank of mash-up absurdism. You’ll catch not just your favorite local landmarks, but a bizarre array of stars ranging from Bogart and Joan Crawford to John Saxon, Sandra Dee, Richard “Shaft” Roundtree, and a particularly funny emphasis on that definitive non-representative of “San Francisco values,” Chuck Norris. Opens Fri/5 (four shows only), Roxie Theater. More info here.

The upside to the fact that they don’t make many Westerns these days is that when they do make one, it’s no throwaway—it’s usually pretty good. This latest by director Scott Cooper of Crazy Heart and Black Mass is an ambitious tale set in 1892, when a US Army captain on the verge of retirement (Christian Bale) is ordered to escort a dying, long-imprisoned Cheyenne chief (Wes Studi) back to his ancestral lands—a most unwelcome task, given the history of violent enmity between the two. En route their party—which grows to include a frontierswoman (Rosamund Pike) whose entire family has been killed by raiders—is under constant threat of attack by both white outlaws and warring tribes. 

A mournful tale of loss and forgiveness, Hostiles might strike some as too “politically correct,” as it labors a bit artificially at times to orchestrate reconciliation between the US government, settlers, Natives, and even African Americans. (Jonathan Majors plays a black Army corporal, in a cast whose other notables include Stephen Lang, Adam Beach, Peter Mullan and Call Me By Your Name’s Timothee Chalamet.) Nonetheless, it’s an engrossing period adventure with strong performances and plenty of handsome scenery. Opens Friday at Bay Area theaters. 

After the triumph of formerly SF-based Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight and other films in 2016, 2017 emerged an equally strong year for African-American cinema: Not just in narrative features like Get Out and Mudbound, but in myriad strong documentaries about current and historical issues in the black community. Making its local debut a year after an acclaimed Sundance premiere, Jonathan Olshefski’s film chronicles several years in the lives of the Raineys, a couple in North Philadelphia who persevere despite some shocking, unexpected setbacks that we live through right alongside them. 

It’s a powerful testament to the hurdles related to race, crime, financial hardship, and so forth that frequently arise even for black families who “do everything right.” Sober, gainfully employed, loving parents who stress the importance of education, the Raineys don’t fit any racist stereotype of how African-Americans “only have themselves to blame” for failing to advance in our supposedly classless society. Opens Friday, Roxie. More info here.

Austrian writer-director Michael Haneke has only been a staple on the US arthouse circuit for fifteen years, since The Piano Teacher memorably initiated his enduring collaboration with Isabelle Huppert. So it might not have registered that he’s 75 years old—old enough to begin repeating himself, certainly. This latest (his first since 2012’s Amour) feels like a respectable but rote retread, critiquing bourgeoise hypocrisy and social inequities without the stronger impact he’s usually managed before. 

A mother’s overdose lands a 12-year-old girl (Fantine Harduin as Eve) in the Calais household of a remarried father (Mathieu Kassovitz) she’s had little to do with until now, and who isn’t exactly a natural in the paternal role. Also under that roof are his sister (Huppert), an icy businesswoman whose attentions do nothing to help a hapless adult son (Franz Rogowski); and their senile tycoon father (Jean-Louis Trintignant), who wishes Death would hurry up to claim him. It takes him a while to realize that budding little dormant-volcano-of-dysfunction Eve might help. 

There’s the usual masochistic Haneke payoff of some truly cringe-worthy moments—notably a classic “ruined dinner party” climax, and one memorably over-the-top karaoke performance that’s a rare comedy highlight for this director. Still, this is a comparatively minor work by a major artist. Opens Friday at Bay Area theaters. 

While the SF Main Library continues its series of local punk films, the Drafthouse offers a one-night look at NYC’s underground music of the late 1980s. Video artist Charles Atlas’ 1989 Put the Blood in the Music takes the pulse of Manhattan music-makers at the time, with particular emphasis on avant-garde composer and improviser John Zorn as well as the emerging noise-rock gods Sonic Youth. Others heard from in passing include Lydia Lunch, performance artist Karen Finley, veteran scenester John Cale, and the Times critic John Rockwell. Little seen outside one UK television broadcast, it’s a valuable time capsule whose subjects positively reek of that classic “downtown” Noo Yawk combination of brattiness and pretension. Mon/8, Alamo Drafthouse. More info here.

There’s nothing pretentious in the least about the next night’s Terror Tuesdays selection, 1980 Italian exploitation flick Contamination. It, too, reflects its cultural moment—when nearly every piece of horror shlock felt compelled to imitate the chest-bursting gore of recent smash Alien. There are plenty of exploding bodies in this mostly Earthbound tale of humanity imperiled by acid-filled space-creature eggs that turn out to have been secretly brought back by a recent mission to Mars. British actor Ian McCulloch (not to be confused with the Echo and the Bunnyman frontman) plays the “good” astronaut. There’s also a bad one—and a giant green alien “cyclops” straight out of a cheesy 1960s Japanese sci-fi thriller. Other attractions include a score by rock soundtrack specialists Goblin (of Argento’s Suspiria) and some really terrible dubbed English dialogue. Offered in a new restoration transfer, Contamination (also known as Toxic Spawn) was directed by Luigi Cozzi, also responsible for the camp classic Star Wars ripoff Starcrash (1978) and Lou Ferrigno’s two wonderfully ridiculous Hercules movies. Tues/9, Alamo Drafthouse. More info here

Seemingly half the Bay Area film community will soon be leaving for Park City, Utah for the biggest annual event in national indie film and video. They’ll be braving the freezing cold to take their chances on whatever they can score tickets for at the Sundance Film Festival. But while you’re waiting for the breakout films (last year’s big ones included The Big Sick, Get Out, and Call Me By Your Name) to reach theaters, you can catch up with some of last year’s best short-form Sundance selections in this traveling program. It runs a prize-winning international gamut from documentary to narrative to experimental. 

One we’ve already seen (as part of the Pacific Film Archive’s Polish Animation series) is Renata Gasiorowska’s Pussy, a delightful line-animation about a woman’s dedicated, albeit much-interrupted, quest for masturbatory fulfillment.  Also on tap are actress Kristen Stewart’s directorial debut Come Swim, Peter Huang’s Canadian 5 Films About Technology, and several more. Opens Friday, Roxie. More info here

Favorite films of 2017

Sion Sono's wild 'Antiporno' plays at the Roxie.

SCREEN GRABS Hollywood has already loaded the multiplexes with both entertainment fluff and awards bait for your between-holidays viewing pleasure, so openings this week are very, very few. However, there are a handful of worthy repertory gigs (at those venues not actually shuttered until after NYE), plus one live event so special we couldn’t resist including it… at least during this really slow week. 

Toward the bottom of this week’s column are two lists of my favorite films of the year — narrative and documentary. Enjoy.

A rival to Takashi Miike as the cultiest living Japanese director, Sion Sono has attracted a whole lot of fan attention over the last couple decades with such variably outré entries as Suicide Club, Noriko’s Dinner Table, Strange Circus, Exte: Hair Extensions, Love Exposure, Why Don’t You Play In Hell, Tokyo Tribe, and many more. One genre he’s dabbled in more reluctantly than others (unlike horror, action and teen drama) is sexploitation. Tasked with contributing to a reboot of Nikkatsu Studio’s “roman pornos”—stylish softcore opuses that flourished in the 1970s—he delivers this willfully perverse exercise in flashy aesthetics, surreal logic, and social critique. 

A vainglorious pop celebrity (Ami Tomite) greets yet another day of tedious fame, taking out her frustrations on a readily humiliated assistant (Mariko Tsutsui). But fourth-wall-breakings, flashbacks, pure fantasy, and more soon twist their routine into a sexed-up (yet weirdly anti-erotic) female Groundhog Day. Whether there’s much meaning under all Sono’s toying with time, reality, and identity will be a matter of personal opinion. But few will deny the frequently knockout visual invention he manages to pack into 76 garishly colorful minutes. Opens Friday, Roxie. More info here

The 89-year-old French artist has topped many award lists this year with her latest film Faces Places, a charming collaboration with photographer JR, who is 55 years her junior. That documentary—which chronicles their travels around France meeting ordinary small-town folk to create giant art installations—plays the last of a short run at the Pacific Film Archive this Thursday. 

The day prior, the PFA also shows one of Varda’s most famous early works. Cleo from 5 to 7 tells the tale (more or less in”“real time”) of a pop singer who anxiously wanders Parisian streets one afternoon as she awaits the results of a cancer biopsy. With a score by Michel Legrand and appearances by Godard and Anna Karina, this unique 1961 feature could hardly be more of a nouvelle vague snapshot. Faces Thurs/28, Cleo Wed/27, Pacific Film Archive. More info here

The hills may not be alive, but the Castro definitely will be awash in the sounds of music from Julie Andrews—and you—as this popular participatory experience settles in for a week-long run. When it was released in 1965, Robert Wise’s adaptation of the Rogers & Hammerstein stage musical ran for a whole lot longer than that—for years, in fact, in some locations. (Its initial theatrical release alone lasted nearly five.) It was the highest-grossing film ever, stealing that crown from 1939’s Gone With the Wind, though much less time would elapse before The Godfather (then Jaws, then Star Wars, and so on) would yank it away again. 

You can sing your little heart out to “My Favorite Things,” “Climb Ev’ry Mountain,” “Edelweiss,” “The Lonely Goatherd” et al., assuming your voice holds out for 174 minutes. Holding up very well these days is Andrews’ now-octogenarian costar Christopher Plummer, who frightened children as the stern Baron Von Trapp. He’s currently frightening moviegoers as imperious billionaire miser J. Paul Getty in All the Money in the World—the role he notoriously took over on short notice, re-shooting all the scenes already completed by Kevin Spacey after the latter’s sexual harassment Waterloo. But never mind: The Sound of Music is so wholesome you’ll forget sex (let alone sexual misconduct) even exists for three hours. Tues/26-Mon/1, Castro Theatre. More info here.

2017: Worst year ever? Let’s hope so. However, at least you can bid a happy adieu to that mess via one live albeit definitely film-related event on New Year’s Eve: Jeff Goldblum with the Mildred Snitzner Ochestra at cabaret-scaled Feinstein’s at the Nikko. Yes, this is a musical event. Did you know Goldblum plays (as one critic recently put it) “a mean jazz piano”? Neither did we. But then, is there anything the man who saved the world in Independence Day—and also memorably just about destroyed it in this year’s Thor: Ragnarok—can’t reasonably be expected to do? Surely not. 

Reportedly he mixes plenty of audience participation and film trivia in with his Thelonious Monk and “Caravan” during these unpredictable live shows, of which there will be two Sunday evening. Frankly, Jeff Goldblum could play the kazoo and/or read the phone book for an hour and it would probably be gold. If 2018 sees the end of life as we know it, at least you can say you ended 2017 in the company of one of the entertainment world’s most entertaining personalities. Sun/31, Feinstein’s at the Nikko. More info here.

Not that you asked, but here are my movie top tens (in chronological rather than preferential order) for 2017:



God’s Own Country

Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer

The Lost City of Z

The Sense of an Ending

Brigsby Bear

Patti Cake$


The Square

Good Time

Runners-up: John Wick: Chapter 2, Get Out, The Belko Experiment, Free Fire, Logan, Logan Lucky, Ingrid Goes West, The Florida Project, The Other Side of Hope, Thor: Ragnarok, Life and Nothing More, Atomic Blonde.


Keep Quiet

Joshua: Teenager vs. Superpower

Living Stars

Mr. Gaga

Long Strange Trip (first half)

Dawson City: Frozen in Time


Brimstone & Glory

Faces Places

LA 92

Runners-up: Too many to mention. We are living in a golden age for non-fiction cinema.

Screen Grabs: A Christmas weekend movie bonanza

Brazil is part of a Terry Gilliam double-feature at the Roxie, Fri/22

We are now in that time of year where for many, going to the movies means finding something “suitable for the whole family.” Ergo this week brings Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart and Jack Black in Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, a fantasy adventure which is expected to be huge despite early word that it is possibly even worse than the Robin Williams movie it remakes. Much more of a commercial gamble is The Greatest Showman, that very rare thing today—an original movie musical—starring Hugh Jackman as P.T. Barnum, with Michelle Williams, Zac Efron, Rebecca Ferguson and Oakland’s own Disney-groomed Zendaya in support roles. (It is not, rather strangely, connected at all to the widely successful 1980s stage musical Barnum.) There’s will also inevitably a whole lot of singing, as well as girl power, in Pitch Perfect 3

Elsewhere, the year-end march of award hopefuls continues with famed TV writer Aaron Sorkin’s Molly’s Game, his big-screen directorial bow. It’s dramatized true story, with Jessica Chastain as a sidelined Olympic skier who turned her intensely competitive nature towards orchestrating extremely high-stakes, questionably-legal poker games. Slick and extremely garrulous in the Sorkin style, it’s this year’s Portrait of a Winning Asshole, in the tradition of Wolf of Wall Street and The Big Short—except this time the asshole is a woman! Yay? Laden with showy speeches (at one point Kevin Costner arrives to basically deliver the entire movie’s psychological depth in checkoff-list form), it ends on perhaps the emptiest note of Inspirational Uplift ever. But it’s still more fun than The Post

Those looking for family-unfriendly entertainment with no redeeming social consciousness whatsoever will get the gift of Father Figures, a slab of raunchy R-rated comedy in which Owen Wilson, J.K. Simmons, Christopher Walken, Ed Helms and others are men behaving badly. 

But if I were you, I’d go see something among the below instead: 

Struggling heartland couple Paul and Audrey (Matt Damon, Kristen Wiig) are chasing that American Dream, but not getting any closer. In this seriocomic fantasy penned by Alexander Payne and his usual writing partner Jim Taylor, they mull the titular option: Being scientifically shrunk to minute size, in which form they’d enjoy the relatively luxurious life their modest savings can bankroll in a specially designed Lilleputian community. 

Gradually moving from quirky social satire to something more weighty—even addressing such topics as income inequality and global warming—this is not another home run from the director of Election, Sideways, The Descendants, Nebraska and so forth. But it’s a welcome if mixed-bag leap of the imagination that is never dull, and ultimately quite rewarding. Perhaps the oddest duck amongst 2017 Christmas releases, Downsizing is refreshing for the risks it takes, and for the thoughtful sociopolitical commentary it pulls off within a rather soft-edged whimsical concept. Opens Friday at area theaters. 

No doubt more curiosity will be directed at this year-end release, however, if only because of the bizarre high-profile circumstances that engulfed its completion: When Kevin Spacey became persona non grata due to umpteen sexual harassment accusations, director Ridley Scott re-cast his part… in the already completed movie. Nine presumably frenetic days were spent filming Christopher Plummer (who says he was semi-prepared anyway as an early candidate for the role) as wealthy, miserly industrialist J. Paul Getty in a drama about his grandson’s kidnapping for ransom in 1973. Michelle Williams again, Mark Wahlberg and Charlie Plummer (no relation) also figure in the cast. 

Will the last-minute rehaul complicate Scott’s usual meticulous craftsmanship? Money wasn’t press-screened in time to provide an answer. Still, his fascinating true story has got to make for a better movie than his profoundly disappointing recent Alien prequels. Opens Friday at area theaters.

Yet another ripped-from-headlines tale… yeesh, can’t Hollywood do anything but docudramas and sequels anymore? (Hats off again to Downsizing.) However, there is plenty to like about Suicide Squad’s Margot Robbie as Tonya Harding, the Olympics-aspiring US figure skater who notoriously was involved—to what degree is still murky—in an attack on rival skater Nancy Kerrigan. 

Director Craig Gillespie and scenarist Steven Rogers’ film gets a little too cute at times with winky fourth-wall-breaking and other gimmicks that feel second-hand. Yet like The Disaster Artist, this is a comedy about hapless real people that nonetheless ultimately manages to avoid ridiculing them. Robbie is terrific as the fiercely determined, not-especially-likable heroine, and Allison Janney is terrifyingly good as her monstrous stage mother. I, Tonya finally does have its cake and eat it too: It gets us to laugh at “white trash” culture, yet also underlines how hard it can be to transcend just such class divisions in our supposedly “classless” society. Opens Friday at area theaters.

Surely Tonya Harding would have been happier if she hadn’t been pushed into a “princessy” competitive arena and had instead been allowed to flaunt a mohawk and slamdance to the Misfits. This kickoff program to a four-part series at the SF Main Public Library features “shorts and clips from 1977-1980,” presented by the San Francisco History Center’s SF Punk Archive. It will include archival performances by local punk legends The Nuns, CRIME, The Avengers, Mutants, Dils and more. Further installments in the series will play Dec. 30, Jan. 6 and Jan. 10. Free, but advance reservations are advised. Wed/20, SF Main Library. More info here

On the other hand, the Nancy Kerrigans of the world can feel safe attending either of two utterly wholesome celluloid traditions at SF’s favorite movie palace. On Friday it’s none other than Frank Capra’s deathless 1946 classic. with James Stewart as the small-town Everyman who loses all hope and gains it all back on Xmas Eve. Admit it: You, too, cry when you see this thing. And its political edge might seem a little sharper this year. A few days later, the Castro brings back the Sing-a-Long Sound of Music, which may not have a Yuletide theme—but it’s got singing nuns fer Chrissakes! Life: Fri/22, Music: Tues/26-Mon/1, Castro Theatre. More info here.

Mercifully for some, there’s much less conventional holiday-revival fare going on a few blocks down in the Mission. Midnights for Maniacs presents a 100-minute director’s cut of this infamous 1980 black-comedy slasher, the first but not the last horror film to feature a homicidal Santa Claus. It has been designated the favorite Xmas-themed movie of John Waters—even more so, presumably, than Santa Claus Conquers the Martians with little Pia Zadora. Sat/23, Roxie Theater. More info here.

Striking even more of a counter-programming note are the two vintage Terry Gilliam dystopian fantasias the Roxie is screening in 35mm prints tonight. There is indeed a Christmas theme buried in the crazy quilt of 1985’s surreal comic blowout Brazil, as well as Twelve Monkeys from a decade later. Jonathan Pryce plays the hapless protagonist negotiating a demented future in the former; Bruce Willis a time-tripping victim of fate (and manic Brad Pitt) in the latter. This double bill of mind-warping imagination and visual excess will render your seasonal cheer that much more inebriated. Fri/22, Roxie Theater. More info here

Screen Grabs: California Typewriter, Lost Landscapes of San Francisco …

Tom Hanks with some of his collection of 250 typewriters, in 'California Typewriter'

It’s a big weekend for family entertainment, with not only the new Star Wars joint (The Last Jedi—one of the falsest “last” promises in the history of movies, one suspects) but also Ferdinand, a new animated film based on the same children’s book about a flower-loving bull that inspired a famous Disney cartoon short eighty years ago. Even SF Symphony gets into the act with several performances of Home Alone. Yes, the 1990 comedy with Macauley Culkin will be projected at Davies Hall while the orchestra plays John Williams’ score live. (Maybe they’ll throw in his Star Warstheme as a bonus.) Roll over, Beethoven.

Fortunately, there are plenty of local alternatives for those seeking celluloid entertainment of a more grownup nature.

Two well-reviewed documentaries are opening at Landmark Theaters: Israeli directors Alon and Shaul Schwarz’s Aida’s Secrets probes the very complicated saga of how two Jewish brothers born in a European refugee camp just after WW2 came to be raised on different continents, unaware even of each other’s existence. Bobbi Jo Hart’s Rebels on Pointe chronicles the over half-century history to date of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, an all-male “drag ballet” ensemble whose parodies of classical dance have proven enduringly popular despite some initial hostility and the ravages of the AIDS epidemic.

The Roxie offers a single screening Tue/19 of Barney’s Wall, a new doc about legendary Grove Press publisher and censorship foe Barney Rosset. Co-presented by City Lights and Litquake, the program will also feature a live panel discussion with speakers including director Sandy Gotham Meehan.

There’s also the arrival of one of the year’s most acclaimed films, Call Me By Your Name from Italian director Luca Guadagnino (I Am Love), with rich-kid teen Timothee Chalamet and visiting American Armie Hammer drifting into romance in the idyllic 1983 Tuscan countryside. It’s certainly a handsome piece of escapist-touristic fantasy, though I remain skeptical of Guadagnino, who often seems truer to his sideline as a luxury-product advertiser than he does to the narrative and psychological depth his feature films skim over. (For one thing, this movie completely avoids the specter of AIDS, which would have been very much on the minds and in the conversations of any Italians mulling a gay affair with an American in 1983. I know—I was there.) In the end, this pretty posefest feels like an upscale homophile version of a Nicholas Sparks adaptation, albeit with less conflict. I’ll stick with the grittier, heartfelt God’s Own Country as the celluloid gay love story of the year. 

Elsewhere, there’s a variety of limited runs and special events: 

Dennis Hopper spent his later years as a dutiful industry staple, playing villains in blockbusters, collecting fine art and renouncing aspects of his hedonistic past as a registered Republican. But he never really shook the wild-man image of a self-proclaimed James Dean acolyte turned surprise counterculture king of New Hollywood as director of 1969’s Easy Rider, the low-budget “biker flick” whose colossal success helped kick-start an era of more adventurous and independent filmmaking. He followed it up with The Last Movie, a wildly self-indulgent 1971 flop that is nonetheless one of the most truly experimental features ever to come out of a major studio (which hated it). He stumbled along in a druggy stupor until sobering up and re-emerging as an actor in 1986 with the one-two punch of a sympathetic turn (for which he got an Oscar nomination) in Hoosiers and a terrifying one in David Lynch’s Blue Velvet

That latter film will be featured in this week-long tribute ballasted by Nick Ebling’s new documentary Along for the Ride, which views Hopper’s eventful life and career through the perspective of his longtime assistant/minder Satya de la Manitou. There will also be screenings of Tony Scott’s 1993 Tarantino-written True Romance, wherein Hopper has a memorable scene opposite Christopher Walken; the rare 1985 featurette A Hero of Our Time; several short films by Hopper’s close artist friend Bruce Conner; and Out of the Blue, the intense 1980 family psychodrama that’s probably the best thing Hopper ever directed. Opens Friday, Roxie Theater. More info here.

A more recently deceased American film great is Demme, who began toiling in the B-movie factory of Roger Corman, making such idiosyncratic drive-in treasures as Caged Heat and Crazy Mama before beginning to ascend towards the Oscar-winning likes of The Silence of the Lambs. Yet he never lost his taste for edgier projects, whether filming performances by Talking Heads, Neil Young and Spalding Gray, or taking on such dicey later commercial projects as the criminally underrated version of Toni Morrison’s Beloved, Rachel Getting Married and the little-seen A Master Builder,playwright Wallace Shawn’s take on Ibsen. 

Center for the Arts provides a one-night tribute to the filmmaker (who passed away last April at 73) with 1993’s AIDS-themed drama Philadelphia, a somewhat overrated hit, and 1998’s Storefront Hitchcock, a concert showcase for quirky British singer-songwriter Robyn Hitchcock that premiered at the SF International Film Festival and has barely been seen since. Thurs/14 and Sun/17, YBCA. More info here

Named after Herb Permillion’s Berkeley typewriter-repair store, a stubborn holdout in the digital age, Doug Nicol’s documentary celebrates the history and mystique around the humble machine whose heyday lasted about a century—from the 1880s to the advent of the personal computer. Enthusiasts interviewed include actor Tom Hanks (who owns some 250 of them), recently deceased playwright Sam Shepard, and musician John Mayer, as well as sculptor Jeremy Mayer (no relation to the last), whose artworks make use of discarded typewriter parts. Yes, typewriters (and paper) are bulky. But what physical artifacts will survive—let alone reside in museums—when future literary manuscripts and policy documents exist only as bytes? Where’s the romance in an On the Road found not on an endless roll of paper, but on iCloud? Sat/16, Fri/22, Sat/23, Thurs/28, Pacific Film Archive. More info here

Another limited run at the PFA is a newly restored print of the 1945 drama that kicked off Joan Crawford’s contract at Warner Brothers (she’d spent the two decades prior at MGM) and snagged her that elusive Oscar. She plays the waitress whose homemade pies eventually propel her up a ladder of entrepreneurial success, turning her daughter (Ann Blyth) into a society debutante—and a horribly bratty ingrate who even steals mom’s boyfriend (Zachary Scott). Based on a pulp fiction by James M. Cain (of The Postman Always Rings Twice), this domestic noir was purportedly turned down by Bette Davis before La Crawford and director Michael Curtiz recognized its possibilities. The recent TV miniseries remake with Kate Winslet, directed by Todd Haynes, hews closer to the excellent novel; but this B&W classic retains its own strengths as deluxe vintage melodrama. Fri/15, Sat/23, Wed/27, Pacific Film Archive. More info here.

The latest edition of this beloved annual event—so beloved that, in fact, this year it occupies two nights at the Castro—is an audiovisual archaeological dig into the past of our rapidly changing city. At least the past caught on film, from the beginning of the 20th century to the Me Decade. Favorites from prior programs will be abetted by new finds that we’re promised will include clips of vintage North Beach nightlife, as well as behind-the-scenes footage from the local shooting of Peter Bogdanovich’s 1972 screwball comedy What’s Up, Doc?, with Barbra Streisand and Ryan O’Neal. Audience participation in terms of location identification and other insights. Proceeds benefit archivists Rick & Megan Prelinger’s SOMA “famed experimental research” facility the Prelinger Library. Tues/12-Wed/13, Castro Theatre. More info here

Speaking of experimentation, The Other Cinema ends its latest ATA calendar with as usual with a night of recent short film and video works in that vein. The eclectic mix will include the world premiere of Anthony Buchanan’s Oriental Flames, plus new titles by Linda Scobie, Isaac Sherman, Tommy Becker, Misha Steier, Kent Lambert, Mike Morris and more. Many of the filmmakers featured will be present, with one (Ellie Vanderlip) providing her own live banjo accompaniment. Sat/16, Artists Televison Access. More info here.