Weekend Film Agenda February 20

lola Lola Montes was a 19th century cabaret dancer who managed to fit copious amounts of fame, fortune, and failure into a mere four decades of life. Born Elizabeth Gilbert in 1821 in County Sligo, Ireland, her turbulent early life eventually led her to reinvent her adult self as a dancer whose scandalous debut in England was followed by her escape to the Continent where she became famous in a time when celebrity was much harder to achieve than it is today. Known at least as much for her celebrated affairs with such notables of the day as composer Franz Liszt and King Ludwig I of Bavaria, Montez was never far from scandal: after a failed return to England, she moved to the US where she had a successful career as a dancer and actor as well as a lecturer and author before her untimely death. French director Max Ophuls released his film version of Montez’s life in 1955; the original release was a failure and the film was torn into pieces for re-release, destroying the director’s version. Future attempts at restoration were not entirely successful, until a careful reconstruction was made starting in 2006. This revived version opens at SIFF Cinema this Friday. The story of her glamourous but complicated life is told in a series of flashbacks framed around the narrative device of a circus ringmaster presenting Lola Montez to an audience who pay 25 cents per question to ask the performer about her life. Between chapters of her dramatic life story, Lola prepares a trapeze act; symbolically climbing higher and higher up the rope ladder as her real life lovers become richer and richer. She reaches the pinnacle and prepares to make a dangerous leap from the platform, but will she jump?

Saturday morning’s Film4Families feature at SIFF iis: Escape to Witch Mountain. Two young orphans on the run from the greedy industrialist eager to exploit their psychic powers find an unlikely ally in the grumpy but kind-hearted old man who aids them in their desperate flight to a location marked on a mysterious map where they hope to discover the truth of their murky origins. While the movie is not without its flaws–many of the special effects were bad even for the 70s–it’s an enjoyable thriller suitable for the whole family. [Note: my previous listing of this film was in error, 2/21 is the actual screening date.]

Medicine for Melancholy opens Friday at NWFF. A remarkable debut film from director Barry Jenkins, Medicine for Melancholy stars Wyatt Cenac (from The Daily Show) and Tracey Heggins as two African-American twentysomethings whose one-night-stand gets extended when Cenac’s character pursue’s Heggins’ and charms her into spending more time with her. Much more than an ordinary romantic comedy, Melancholy invites the viewer into the private conversation of the couple as they wander about the streets of San Francisco, learning more about each other as they talk about the important issues of their lives. Not the least of these issues is what it means to be black in San Francisco, a city whose black population has been greatly reduced by gentrification. The naturalistic of the movie is an excellent canvas for the conversations of the characters; masterful performance by both leads give the feeling of eavesdropping on this fascinating pair as they share their differing attitudes and opinions on class and self-idealization. Jenkins will be on hand to present his fine film in person from February 23 through February 26.

Also at NWFF: Ballast, a thoughtful, quiet rumination of the effects of suicide on its survivors named by noted film critic Roger Ebert as one of the top 20 films of 2008.

The Grand Illusion follows last week’s Akira Kurosawa feature with another by the legendary director. The Hidden Fortress is a lively adventure that George Lucas cited as one of his primary influences on the creation of Star Wars. Blending humor and action, The Hidden Fortress pairs a pair of bumbling peasants with a heroic general and princess intent on a mission to smuggle a royal treasure from enemy lands. It’s an engaging story all on its own; watching for the elements that inspired Lucas make it all the more fun.

For a gorier sort of samurai tale, stick around the Grand Illusion for their weekend late night screening of Shogun Assassin, a series of bloody tales featuring a disgraced Shogun and his son selling violence to the highest bidder.

Johnny who? Central Cinema screens the original film version of Roald Dahl’s classic kid novel, here titled Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. Gene Wilder is appealing as the wacky and reclusive candy maker who opens his factory for a select tour featuring some seriously heinous kids (and one good one), all of whom get deliciously just desserts.

Midnight at the Egyptian: sci-fi love story The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

Get ready for the Academy Awards by heading to the Varsity Theater for packages of this year’s Oscar nominated short films, in both live action and animation.

3 Comments so far

  1. John Eddy (jaydeflix) on February 21st, 2009 @ 4:21 pm

    Please tell me I’m not crazy and this post *did* say that Chocolate was going to be playing this weekend at the Egyptian at Midnight?

  2. Zee Grega (zeegrega) on February 21st, 2009 @ 9:44 pm

    I don’t know if you’re crazy or not but I only had The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind about which I have zero opinion. Did they screen Chocolate instead?

  3. John Eddy (jaydeflix) on February 21st, 2009 @ 11:40 pm

    No, but I swear I saw in the weekend film agenda that Chocolate was the midnight movie at the Egyptian this week. Maybe I somehow blurred charlie and the chocolate factory.

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