Back to the Drive-In: 5 to Watch

Little Fugitive by Morris Engel, Ruth Orkin, & Ray Ashley at YBCA's Cinemaniacs! series

Little Fugitive by Morris Engel, Ruth Orkin, & Ray Ashley at YBCA's Cinemaniacs! series

The heat makes everyone a little daft. Even normally rational film programmers and curators lose themselves for hours rummaging around in the basement, the attic, and the storage locker. They return to the land of the living, blinking in the sunlight, with reels of sizzling celluloid at the outer bounds of movie love. Lunatic plots, crazy casting, off-the-wall dialogue — it may not be art, but who can resist a quivering hunk of unadulterated id? (Only someone who believes there ain’t no cure for the summertime blues.) It’s August, and the fever is upon us all.

Hell Without Limits
Hell Without Limits

Longtime Yerba Buena Center for the Arts film curator Joel Shepard opened the gates to an endearing array of genre-crazy barbarians for a series with the apt title, Invasion of the Cinemaniacs, which is part of the seventh edition of the center’s Bay Area Now triennial. Treasures abound, from Jesse Hawthorne Ficks’ salute to 1980s-90s exploitation director William Lustig (Aug. 15-16, with the director on hand) to Michael Guillen’s excavation of Hell Without Limits (El Lugar Sin Límites), S.F. International Film Festival Kurosawa Award-winner Arturo Ripstein’s powerhouse 1978 saga of a cross-dressing flamenco dancer and a macho hunk with malevolent motives (Aug. 23, with the director present). The lowbrow highlight, I humbly submit, is Death Wish 3 (Aug. 9), a revenge sequel to a revenge sequel to a revenge picture that offers the added pleasure of SF Bay Guardian editor Cheryl Eddy revealing her secret Charles Bronson crush to the world. (I’m just guessing.) For more information, visit ybca.org.

Viva Las Vegas
Viva Las Vegas

The long running Paramount Movie Classics series at Oakland’s glorious downtown palace picks the perfect month to mark the 50th anniversary of the hot-rod landmark Viva Las Vegas (Aug. 15). The timeless pairing of Elvis Presley and Ann-Margret can still raise temperatures, regardless of your gender. Widely acknowledged as one of the three best pictures Elvis made in an admittedly spotty film career (curse you, Col. Parker), Viva Las Vegas has charisma and charm to burn. Let’s not forget the King’s sublime voice, which shines on the rockers and ballads alike. Ann-Margret sings a couple numbers, too, momentarily taking our mind off her other assets. For more information, visit paramounttheatre.com.

Brown Bread
Brown Bread: The Story of an Adoptive Family

There’s nothing campy about Brown Bread: The Story of an Adoptive Family, Sarah Gross’ resonant portrait of her exceptionally diverse Northern California clan. One of six children from a range of backgrounds and races adopted and raised by exceptional parents, Gross delves into her siblings’ grown-up lives to see if class and racial differences exist, and persist. An entrepreneur, a Stanford professor, a manual laborer, a filmmaker who lives in Germany — the “cast” offers ample opportunity for revelation and insight. The Berlin-based filmmaker will be in town for the Aug. 10 screening at the Roxie, then jets off with her documentary to the Isle of Wight Film Festival. For more information, visit roxie.com.

The Muppet Movie
The Muppet Movie

It’s been 35 years, believe it or not, since The Muppet Movie rolled into theaters and won the hearts of children and adults for all time. The brilliant Jim Henson and Frank Oz assembled an iconoclastic supporting cast that includes Milton Berle, Edgar Bergen, Mel Brooks, James Coburn, Madeline Kahn, Dom DeLuise, Elliott Gould and Bob Hope. The real draw, of course, is Kermit the Frog, who holds the proceedings together without a single wrong croak. Screening Aug. 16 in a family matinee, The Muppet Movie is one of several standouts at the Castro this month: the sing along Wizard of Oz (Aug. 8-10), Luchino Visconti’s monumental and profound The Leopard with Burt Lancaster (Aug. 24) and David Lean’s always compelling Lawrence of Arabia (Aug. 30-Sept. 1) For more information, visit castrotheatre.com.

The Shack on 101
Shack Out on 101

It may be impossible to find a drive-in theater still in operation, but any warm-weather outdoor screening offers a passable replica (without the veneer of privacy, of course) of that offbeat movie experience. The Pacific Film Archive’s contribution to the blanket-on-the-grass genre is Shack Out on 101 (Aug. 27), a singular 1955 oddity starring Lee Marvin as a short-order cook in a greasy spoon in the vicinity of a high-level research facility. Secrets! Spies! Traitors! PFA curator Steve Seid must have spent a lot of time in the vault digging up this delirious contribution to Cold War angst. Hmmm, maybe it’s a warning from another time to ours, what with the Russkies rattling their sabers in the Ukraine and Chechnya. I jest, but soon enough we’ll be up to our button-down collars in serious films with global themes. For more information, visit bampfa.berkeley.edu.

Author

Michael Fox

Michael Fox has written about film for a variety of publications since 1987. He is the curator and host of the long-running Friday night CinemaLit film series at the Mechanics' Institute,  an instructor in the OLLI programs at U.C. Berkeley and S.F. State, and a member of the San Francisco Film Critics Circle.

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