Short takes: SFIFF week two - Page 3

Prince Avalanche, Computer Chess, The Strange Little Cat, Waxworks, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and more picks from the huge fest

Computer Chess

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Philip Kaufman, US, 1978) Yes, Vertigo (1958) is very nice. But here is my alternate choice for Best San Francisco Movie Ever: 2013 SFIFF tributee Philip Kaufman's 1978 remake of the 1950s sci-fi classic. Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Jeff Goldblum, Veronica Cartwright, and Leonard Nimoy are among the locals who get very paranoid — with no pot brownies involved — when everyone around them starts turning coldly conformist. Given the film's fond evocation of the city's loopy, friendly, countercultural vibe at the time, this shift in the psychological weather really is alarming — arguably much more dramatically so than it was the vanilla small-town setting of Don Siegel's original or Abel Ferrara's military-base 1994 version. Wonderfully creepy, eccentric, stylish and humorous, it was Kaufman's first commercial success. He will appear at the Castro screening to discuss it, his career in general, and to accept his Founder's Directing Award. Sun/5, 7:30pm, Castro. (Harvey)

Waxworks (Paul Leni, Germany, 1924) Paul Leni's 1924 omnibus horror feature is considered one of the great classics of German Expressionist cinema. A young man (William Dieterle, who went on to a long Hollywood directing career) answers an ad seeking "an imaginative writer for publicity" work at a wax museum. There he's asked to write "startling tales" about specific wax figures, envisioning himself and the owner's comely assistant (Olga Belajeff) as hero and heroine in each narrative. The first and longest tale has the two of them as a couple who get unwanted attention from the tyrannical, lusty Caliph of Bagdad (Emil Jannings). It's an attenuated comic episode sparked by spectacular abstracted "Middle Eastern" sets. Next, Conrad Veidt (of 1920 Expressionist flagship film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari) plays Ivan the Terrible in a more macabre story of bloodthirst and madness. Finally, Werner Krauss is "Spring-Heeled Jack" (i.e. Jack the Ripper), terrorizing our protagonists in a brief riot of nightmarish superimposed images. SFIFF's annual silent film extravaganza at the Castro will be accompanied by a stellar quartet of musicians playing an original score: Mike Patton, Scott Amendola, Matthias Bossi, and William Winant. Expect an eclectic and propulsive evening of sounds equally schooled by punk, prog rock, and jazz. Tue/7, 8:30pm, Castro. (Harvey)

Before Midnight (Richard Linklater, US, 2012) Proving (again) that not all sequels are autonomic responses to a marketplace that rewards the overfamiliar, director Richard Linklater and his co-writers Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke reconnect with the characters Céline and Jesse, whom we first encountered nearly 20 years ago on a train and trailed around Vienna for a night in Before Sunrise, then met again nine years later in Before Sunset. It's been nine more years since we left them alone in a Paris apartment, Céline adorably dancing to Nina Simone and telling Jesse he's going to miss his plane. And it looks like he did. The third film finds the two together, yes, and vacationing in Greece's southern Peloponnese, where the expansive, meandering pace of their interactions — the only mode we've ever seen them in — is presented as an unaccustomed luxury amid a span of busy years filled with complications professional and personal. Over the course of a day and an evening, alone together and among friends, the two reveal both the quotidian intimacies of a shared life and the cracks and elisions in their love story. May 9, 7pm, Castro. (Lynn Rapoport) *

The San Francisco International Film Festival runs through May 9 at the Castro Theatre, 429 Castro, SF; New People Cinema, 1746 Post, SF; Pacific Film Archive, 2575 Bancroft, Berk; and Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, 1881 Post, SF. For tickets (most shows $10-15) and info, visit

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