Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 13 / 29 March 2018

April approaches at the Castro Theatre


Sally Hawkins and Octavia Spencer work in a hidden high-security government lab, in director Guillermo del Toro's "The Shape of Water."
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April finds Castro Theatre programmers at no loss for offbeat and sometimes spine-chilling double bills and career retrospectives. The month begins with the theatre hosting several programs from the 60th San Francisco International Film Festival, from April 4-17.

The Shape of Water Mexican master storyteller Guillermo del Toro ("Pan's Labyrinth") casts an otherworldly spell with this disturbing if visually imaginative fable set against the backdrop of 1962 Cold War America. In the hidden high-security government lab where she works as a cleaner, Elisa (Sally Hawkins), a mute woman, is trapped in a life of lonely isolation. Elisa's world is radically up-ended when she and co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer) stumble upon a top-secret classified experiment. The emotional rollercoaster excitement of the classic monster movie combines with shadowy film noir, adding the power of a love story. Michael Shannon plays a very dark hand as the film's major heavy, while veterans Richard Jenkins, Doug Jones and Michael Stuhlbarg fill in the gaps in a story that's boundary-stretching even for del Toro. (4/3)

San Francisco International Film Festival at the Castro, highlights (4/4-17):

A Kid Like Jake Silas Howard ("Transparent") directs this drama about a child whose behavior and orientation cross all the usual gender lines. (4/4)

Tribute to Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman for their career body of work. This SF-based gay filmmaking team has amassed a large body of queer documentaries: Oscar-winning "The Times of Harvey Milk," about the pioneering SF elected public official (1984); "Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt" (1989); "The Celluloid Closet," the doc about LGBTQ people in American film, based on Vito Russo's breakthrough book (1995); "Paragraph 175," about the infamous Nazi Germany law outlawing same-sex relationships (2000); "Howl" (2010); and "Lovelace," about the life and career of porn movie star Linda Lovelace (2013). Along with the live audience Q&A, the tribute will feature a screening of Epstein and Friedman's latest work, "End Game," a 40-minute examination of end-of-life issues. (4/15)

Don't Worry He Won't Get Far on Foot Queer filmmaker Gus Van Sant ("My Own Private Idaho") offers a portrait of Portland wheelchair-bound cartoonist John Callahan as played by Joaquin Phoenix, with supporting performances from Rooney Mara and Jonah Hill. (4/15)

Persona (1966) A Swedish actress (Liv Ullman) suffers a disabling mental breakdown. Her recovery is supervised by a nurse (Bibi Andersonn) who slowly takes over her personality. A mid-career poetic classic from European giant Ingmar Bergman. With Margaretha Krook and Gunmar Bjornstrand.

3 Women (1977) Only Robert Altman could pull off this moody psychological thriller set in a posh retirement home. An impressionable young woman (Sissy Spacek) develops an odd attachment on a co-worker (Shelley Duval) who has her own delusions about her sexual appeal and social prowess. (both 4/18)

The Big Lebowski (1998) The Coen Brothers get everything right in this loosey-goosey shaggy-dog tale that finds Jeff Bridges' clueless slacker rubbing shoulders with a humorless crime boss. With John Goodman and John Turturro. Restored print.

Up in Smoke (1978) Cheech and Chong were born to unleash this pot comedy on a world where it's finally legal. A delightful 86 minutes spent in search of the perfect joint. With stellar supporting cast: Stacy Keach, Tom Skerritt and Edie Adams. (both 4/20)

Grease Sing-A-Long (1978) Adaptation of Broadway musical that celebrates 50s pop culture. With John Travolta, Olivia Newton John, Stockard Channing, Eve Arden, Sid Ceasar and Dody Goodman. 40th anniversary restoration. (4/21-22)

Night of the Living Dead (1968) George Romero's masterful original B&W zombie creature feature still cooks.

Dawn of the Dead (1978) Romero turns zombies into a franchise with this successful horror remake. (both 4/27)

L'Avventurra (1960) First of a trilogy of films by Michelangelo Antonioni about the meaninglessness of modern life. With Monica Vitti, Gabriele Ferzetti and James Addams.

L'Ecuse (1962) In the suburbs of Rome, the translator Vittoria breaks off her engagement with her writer boyfriend, Ricardo, after a troubled night. Vittoria goes downtown to meet her stock-market-addicted mother. She meets the broker Piero on a day of a market meltdown. The materialist Piero and the absent Vittoria begin a monosyllabic relationship. 

Red Desert (1964) Antonioni leaned rather heavily on the red pigment in his first color drama. Monica Vitti and Richard Harris star, Harris riding the wave of his brutal rugby working-class hit "This Sporting Life." At the time, loving this barren mini-epic earned you frequent-flier film-snob miles. Now you're on your own.

Blowup (1966) Antonioni hit the jackpot with his first English-language feature. The then-too-cool-for-school David Hemmings is a swinging London fashion photographer whose infatuation with young female models is the catalyst for a chilling murder mystery. 

The Passenger (1974) This English-language excursion finds pistol hot Jack Nicholson (fresh off box-office hits "Chinatown," "Five Easy Pieces"  and "The Last Detail") as a world-trotting TV reporter who mysteriously switches identities with a dead man in an isolated Middle Eastern motel. Unforgettable ending. (all 5, 4/28)

The Great Silence (1968) The Spaghetti Western taken to the highest or lowest power, with a plot that centers on the late-19th-century persecution of the Mormons.

Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) Sergio Leone established his reputation as an adaptor of the Western genre for mind-blowing purposes. Here he delivers. Once-in-a-career performance from normally straight-laced Henry Fonda, as a cold-blooded killer who has a penchant for murdering redheads. (both 4/29)


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