What’s Screening: August 28 – September 3

No festivals this week. But a very, very special event happening Sunday:

A+ The Crowd, Castro, Sunday, 7:00

If you get to one movie this week, this is the screening you should attend!
A young man comes to New York, dreaming of success and wealth. But reality refuses to live up to his dreams–perhaps because he dreams too much– in King Vidor’s 1928 masterpiece. Told with daring photography, real locations, surreal sets, and subtle pantomime, The Crowd brings you through dizzying joy and wrenching tragedy as it follows the story of an ordinary man who refuses to accept that he’s ordinary. As a rule, the silent cinema was weakest with straight drama, but The Crowd is the glorious exception. It’s a rare film and difficult to see; unavailable on disc and currently not streaming anywhere (at least legally). Read my longer appreciation. Bruce Loeb will accompany The Crowd on the Castro’s Mighty Wurlitzer pipe organ. And here’s another reason not to miss the screening. This is the very last time a silent film will be accompanied by the Wurlitzer before it will be replaced with a high-tech imitation.

A The Killing, Balboa, Tuesday, 7:30

Stanley Kubrick started his Hollywood career with this crackerjack noir heist thriller. A career criminal (Sterling Hayden) orchestrates a complex racetrack robbery likely to net two million 1956 dollars. But he needs collaborators, and each one of these collaborators (none experienced in crime) has to do his job perfectly. Needless to say, human frailty is going to get in the way. Hayden’s rat-a-tat-tat delivery does wonders for snappy, pulp-heavy dialog like “You’d be killing a horse – that’s not first degree murder. In fact it’s not murder at all. In fact I don’t know what it is.” I wrote about The Killing in more detail in 2014.

A Stop Making Sense, New Parkway, Friday, 10;30

The Talking Heads and film director Jonathan Demme and realized that a concert film doesn’t have to be a documentary. They barely show us the audience and never the backstage in this lively concert film (actually compiled from three different concerts). But what an amazing piece of rock and roll performance art they provide! Strange dance moves, great riffs, puzzling and possibly profound lyrics, and a very big suit, all backed by a beat that makes Stop Making Sense the most danceable motion picture ever to receive a theatrical release. And with its living room-like décor, the New Parkway just may be the best movie theater for dancing.

A The Apartment, Balboa, Thursday, 7:30

Billy Wilder won a Best Picture Oscar for this serious comedy about powerful men exploiting both attractive women and their male underlings. Jack Lemmon gave one of his best performances as a very small cog in the machinery of a giant, New York-based insurance company. In order to gain traction in the rat race, he loans his apartment to company executives—all married men–who use it for private time with their mistresses. With Fred MacMurray as the top exploiter and Shirley MacLane as the woman he exploits and Lemmon loves. Read my Blu-ray review.

A Airplane!, various CineMark Theaters, Sunday (matinee only) and Wednesday

They’re flying on instruments, blowing the autopilot, and translating English into Jive. So win one for the Zipper, but whatever you do, don’t call him “Shirley.” Airplane! throws jokes like confetti–carelessly tossing them in all directions in hopes that some might hit their target. Surprisingly enough, most of them do. There’s no logical reason why a movie this silly can be so satisfying, but then logic never was part of the Airplane! formula. I’d be hard-pressed to name another post-silent feature-length comedy with such a high laugh-to-minute ratio.

A Apu Trilogy, Lark, Sunday, full trilogy starts at 11:00am

Epic in scope, Satyajit Ray’s three-film masterwork follows the life of poverty-born Apu from birth through young adulthood. None of the films has a plot in the conventional sense, but they all brim with drama, laughter, joy, suspense, and heart-breaking tragedy. In other words, they’re about life–specifically life in early 20th-century India, and that means life in a society where dying of old age is rare. Subrata Mitra’s atmospheric photography, Ravi Shankar’s wonderful score, and a terrific cast (four actors of different ages play the title character) make this an exceptional cinematic experience. Read my longer article.

A+ Some Like It Hot, Oakland Paramount, Friday, 8:00

The urge to sleep with Marilyn Monroe comes head to head with the urge to keep breathing in Billy Wilder’s comic masterpiece. After witnessing a prohibition-era gangland massacre, two struggling musicians (Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon) hide from the mob by dressing in drag and joining an all-girl orchestra. But can they stay away from Ms. Monroe and her ukulele? There are comedies with higher laugh-to-minute ratios, and others that have more to say about the human condition. But you won’t find a better example of perfect comic construction, brilliantly funny dialog, and spot-on timing. Read my Blu-ray review.

C The Sound of Music, Balboa, Saturday, 10:00am

Many people love it, but I find the biggest money maker of the 1960s lumbering, slow, and dull. Not funny or romantic enough to be light entertainment, yet lacking the substance to be anything else. And most of the songs give the impression that, by their last collaboration, Roger and Hammerstein had run out of steam. On the other hand, the Todd-AO photography of Alpine landscapes makes this one of the most visually beautiful of Hollywood movies–in a picture postcard kind of way.

A Listen To Me Marlon, Roxie, opens Friday

I’ve seen a lot of documentaries about movie stars. But I’ve never before seen one quite like this. Brando recorded his thoughts and feelings into tape recorders over the course of his life, and director Stevan (not a misspelling) Riley used these recordings in place of the usual voice-of-God narration. You won’t get as many facts in Listen to Me Marlon as you would in a conventional documentary, but you’ll get a far stronger sense of exactly what made this great actor tick. Read my full review.

A The End of the Tour, New Parkway, opens Friday

Based on a true story about the meeting of two brilliant minds, The End of the Tour provides something rare in movies–intellectual discussion. In 1996, journalist and budding novelist David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg) spent several days interviewing suddenly respected novelist David Foster Wallace (Jason Segel). They bond, sort of, but Lipsky wants access to Wallace’s private thoughts, and Wallace is reluctant to open up. Segel turns Wallace into a fascinating character–deeply troubled and, despite his fame, deeply insecure.

A- Best of Enemies, Lark, opens Saturday

In the tumultuous year of 1968, the ABC television network put the reactionary William F. Buckley Jr. and the progressive Gore Vidal on TV to debate the issues of the day. They were both erudite, east-coast intellectuals, and their world views were as different as they could get. This breezy and entertaining documentary offers a plausible argument that those debates changed American TV news, and thus changed America. If you’re at all interested in recent American history, see this film. Read my full review.

September Preview

A few things to look forward to next month:

  • After a summer recess, the Alameda relaunches its Classic Movie Series on the 15th with the Elvis Presley vehicle Blue Hawaii, which I vaguely remember seeing as a kid. My memories of the other two films–Three Days of the Condor and The Seven Year Itch–are also vague.
  • The Balboa‘s Thursday classic series will cover Hollywood in the 60s with four well-chosen films: The Apartment, To Kill a Mockingbird, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Midnight Cowboy. They’re
    also screening heist films every Tuesday throughout the month.
  • The Castro has a lot of good stuff, of course, including Nashville (9/17), Lawrence of Arabia (9/18-20), Midnight Cowboy (9/24), and a double bill of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and Sorcerer (9/27).
  • The Castro will also do an all-day Vittorio De Sica series on 9/26. Oddly, it’s skipping his Neorealism masterpiece, The Bicycle Thief.
  • After a summer hiatus, the Cerrito restarts its Classics series with Stanley Kubrick’s Lolita.
  • The I Wake Up Dreaming series of very dark noirs will play in Berkeley’s California Theater Wednesdays throughout the month. I’ll be able to see noir on the big screen without crossing the bay!

Finally, I want to clear up some confusion concerning two documentaries on the same subject. This year’s San Francisco Jewish Film Festival presented a doc called The Go-Go Boys: The Inside Story of Cannon Films. It focused on Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, who built a successful Israeli movie studio, moved to Los Angeles, churned out low-budget action flicks at record speed, made huge amounts of money, became a power in Hollywood, and then saw their business empire collapse.

I screened that documentary before the Festival, enjoyed it moderately well, and gave it a B.

So I was surprised a few weeks ago to discover that a documentary about Cannon Films called Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films would be coming out in September. Had a new distributor changed the name?

No. It’s actually another documentary. According to this blog post by George Rother, “Neither Golan nor Globus participated in Electric Boogaloo. True to old form, they immediately set about making their own documentary, The Go-Go Boys: The Inside Story of Cannon Films. It beat Electric Boogaloo
into theaters by three months. I can’t think of a more appropriate swan song for Golan, ” who died earlier this month.

The A+ List: The Godfather

The Godfather tricks you into rooting for some very bad people. You accept the Corleones because they love each other as family, and because they are ruled over by a seemingly fair, loving, generous, and successful patriarch.

That patriarch, Don Vito Corleone, helps the community, plays with kittens and his grandchildren, and reminds his reckless and impulsive eldest son that “a man who doesn’t spend time with his family isn’t much of a man.” But this warm and sweet old man made his fortune, and continues to enlarge it, in crime. Vice, violence, and even murder are part of his successful business strategy.

I first saw The Godfather in the spring of 1972, during its first run engagement. I loved it from the start, although it took a few years for me to realize just what a breathtaking masterpiece it is. It easily makes my A+ list of films that I have loved for decades. To make the grade, it must be the perfect embodiment of its genre or stand beyond genre. It must be at least 20 years old, so I know that it’s stood the test of time.

For the few reading this who haven’ seen The Godfather, this sweeping crime epic tells the story of a high-level but aging mafia boss (Marlon Brando) who passes his crown to his youngest and smartest son, Michael (Al Pacino in the role that made him a star). At the beginning, Michael is a warm, sweet guy who loves his family but wants nothing to do with the business. His WASP girlfriend Kay (Diane Keaton) signifies his movement away from Sicilian values. But incidents beyond his control (well, maybe) drive him into the family business. And as he proves to be extremely capable at that business, his blood turns to ice water. The warmth that made you like Michael, and made you forgive Vito despite his sins, disappear entirely in the new Michael.

godfather pass torch_resized

The screenplay by Mario Puzo (based on his novel) and Francis Ford Coppola (who also directed) gives us time to meet the family and drink in the atmosphere. A long wedding scene early in the movie introduces most of the main characters, with Kay playing the outsider who becomes the audience’s surrogate as she’s introduced to her boyfriend’s family. Then the action moves from the East Coast to Hollywood for a self-enclosed subplot that doesn’t push the story forward but gives us an idea of how the family operates. The main story–involving the new drug trade (the film is set just after World War II)–begins more than 30 minutes into the story. And that is absolutely the right pacing for this story.

Coppola and cinematographer Gordon Willis (known in the business as “The Prince of Darkness”) create an atmosphere that’s both noir and epic, with powerful contrasts of dark and light. In the first scene, the Don meets with various people on business in his dark and shadowy office, while his daughter’s wedding outside gleams with joy and sunlight. These contrasts continue throughout the movie, especially when a crime war runs darkly through the streets of New York while Michael hides in the beautiful, sun-swept mountains of Sicily.

The Godfather is filled with remarkable set pieces. There’s the opening scene where a local undertaker begs the Don for justice he could not get from the courts. There’s the hospital sequence, when Michael has to think fast and bluff armed gunmen to save his father’s life–and then realizes with surprise that his hands aren’t shaking. There’s the climatic baptism scene, where Michael at the church alter repeatedly renounces Satan while his henchmen rub out his real or imagined enemies.

But my favorite is a very subtle one. Michael and Kay come out of a movie theater and flirtatiously joke with each other. Then they disappear behind a newsstand. When they reappear, Kay’s face reflects some very bad news that Michael hasn’t seen.

The title The Godfather could refer to either the Don or Michael, and their fate are clearly intertwined. Vito became a criminal so that Michael and his three siblings could lead a better life. But his decision eventually destroys all of them, either literally or spiritually.

I’ll discuss more of that in my next A+ article, on The Godfather, Part II.

What’s Screening: August 21 – 27

Only one small film festival this week, but it looks like a fun one: Ring-a-Ding-Ding: The Movies of Frank Sinatra.

A On the Town, Vogue, Saturday, 7:30

Three sailors arrive in New York for a 24-hour leave. That’s precious little time to see the sights, drink in the atmosphere, and fall in love. What makes On the Town so special–beyond the great songs, terrific choreography, and witty script–is the prevailing sense of friendship and camaraderie. These three sailors and the women who fall for them all seem to genuinely like each other. The movie also treats sexuality in a surprisingly upbeat and positive way for a 1949 Hollywood feature. The women in the story (Vera-Ellen, Ann Miller, and the infinitely funny Betty Garrett) are as motivated by lust as the men (Gene Kelly, Jules Munshin, and Frank Sinatra). It’s just too bad that screenwriters Adolph Green and Betty Comden updated their own wartime stage musical to the post-war period, losing the urgency that came from not knowing if the sailors would come back alive. Part of Ring-a-Ding-Ding: The Movies of Frank Sinatra.

B+ Sparrows, Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, Saturday, 7:30

Sparrows‘ plot feels like the stereotype of a silent film melodrama. An evil miser keeps children imprisoned and enslaved on what’s basically an island in the middle of a swamp. When it becomes clear that he will kill them all, sweet and beautiful Molly (who else but Mary Pickford) must lead them to safety. The story is as silly as it sounds, but the photography and tints are so gorgeous, and Pickford is such a delight, that you forgive it all. I’m hoping that Niles screens the same gorgeous print I saw some years back at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival. With the shorts Slippery Slickers and Mum’s the Word. With Frederick Hodges on the piano.

B+ Forbidden Planet, Balboa, Thursday, 7:30; Stanford, Saturday through Tuesday

Nothing dates faster than futuristic fiction, and with its corny dialog and spaceship crewed entirely by white males, Forbidden Planet is very dated. But MGM’s 1956 sci-fi extravaganza still holds considerable pleasures. The Cinemascope and Eastmancolor art direction pleases the eye, Robby the Robot wins your heart, and the story—involving a long-dead mystery race of super-beings—still packs some genuine thrills. It’s also an interesting precursor to Star Trek. The Stanford will present Forbidden Planet on a double bill with the 1960 version of The Time Machine.

A The Manchurian Candidate (original, 1962 version), Vogue, Sunday, 6:30

Bad dreams keep bothering Korean War veterans Lawrence Harvey and Frank Sinatra. Were they brainwashed by Communists? And where do the rabid anti-Communists fit in? Easily the best political thriller to come out of the cold war, The Manchurian Candidate finds villains on both political extremes. As the nominal hero, Sinatra proves he really is an actor, but Angela Lansbury steals the film as cinema’s most evil mother–a woman of outsized beliefs and a burning hatred of anyone who disagrees with her. Read my Blu-ray review. Another part of Ring-a-Ding-Ding: The Movies of Frank Sinatra.

B The Fifth Element, New Parkway, Friday

This big, fun, special effects-laden science-fantasy adventure refuses to take itself seriously. It never manages to be particularly exciting, but it succeeds in being rousing and intentionally funny eye candy. It’s also one of the few futuristic movies that’s neither utopian nor dystopian, making it feel–for all the silliness of the plot–relatively realistic.

B+ 2001: A Space Odyssey, Castro, Saturday and Sunday

I used to worship Stanley Kubrick’s visualization of Arthur C. Clarke’s imagination, but it hasn’t aged all that well. We’ve seen the actual year, and know that Clarke and Kubrick got almost everything wrong in the prediction department. Although I’ve lost my love of Stanley Kubrick, there’s no denying the pull of 2001‘s unorthodox storytelling and visual splendor–if you can see it properly presented. 2001 was shot for 70mm projection on a giant, curved, Cinerama screen. The Castro’s screen is quite large, but not that large, and it’s flat. And Warner Brothers makes it available digitally only in 2K; 4k better simulates 70mm. On a double bill with Capricorn One on Saturday and Zardoz on Sunday.

B Fantastic Mr. Fox, Balboa, Saturday, 10:00am

There’s a cartoon-like quality to a lot of Wes Anderson’s work, so it isn’t surprising that he would eventually make a real cartoon. Based on a story by Roald Dahl, Fantastic follows the adventures of a very sophisticated but not altogether competent fox (voiced by George Clooney) as he tries to outwit a farmer and keep his marriage together. Children and adults will find different reasons to enjoy this frantically-paced comic adventure.

B- Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, Castro, Friday, 9:10

Tim Burton’s first feature revels in its own silliness. Pee-Wee Herman, before children’s television and indecent exposure, is a strange, almost neurotically innocent creature. The movie is uneven, and most of the jokes are extremely dumb, but the oddball charm cannot be denied. Besides, the last sequence, reworking the plot as a Hollywood action flick, is alone worth the price of admission. On a double bill with The Goonies, which starts at 7:00.

B+ Mad Max: Fury Road, Castro, Wednesday; New Parkway throughout the week

You have to understand three things about this movie: 1) It’s basically one long motor vehicle chase broken up with dialog scenes. 2) It’s surprisingly feminist for this sort of movie; the plot involves a woman warrior rescuing a tyrant’s enslaved harem. 3) The title character is basically a sidekick. The movie is filled with crashes, weapons, hand-to-hand combat, acts of courage, close calls, and fatal errors. It’s fast, brutal, and for the most part very well-choreographed. The film makes effective use of 3D, and should be seen that way. Unfortunately, the Castro will screen it flat.

A- Best of Enemies, Albany Twin, opens Friday

In the tumultuous year of 1968, the ABC television network put the reactionary William F. Buckley Jr. and the progressive Gore Vidal on TV to debate the issues of the day. They were both erudite, east-coast intellectuals, and their world views were as different as they could get. This breezy and entertaining documentary offers a plausible argument that those debates changed American TV news, and thus changed America. If you’re at all interested in recent American history, see this film.

A The Hidden Fortress, Stanford, Friday

Akira Kurosawa showed astonishing range within the samurai genre (as well as outside the genre). Seven Samurai is an epic drama with fully-developed characters and realistically unpredictable violence; Yojimbo is a black comedy; Throne of Blood is stylized Shakespeare. But The Hidden Fortress is just plain fun–a rousing, suspenseful, and entertaining romp. It was also his first widescreen film, and contains two comic peasants (Minoru Chiaki and Kamatari Fujiwara) who were the inspiration for R2D2 and C3PO. See my Kurosawa Diary entry and my Blu-ray review.

The A+ List: The General (and The Gold Rush)

The Gold Rush and The General are, by widely considered the two great masterpieces of silent comedy. Walter Kerr called them epic comedies. Both films easily make my A+ list.

For a film to earn that grade, it must be the perfect embodiment of its genre or stand beyond genre. It must be at least 20 years old (so I know that it’s stood the test of time), and I personally must of have known and loved the film for decades.

I don’t need to tell you about Charlie Chaplin’s The Gold Rush again. I’ve already written a Blu-ray review and a piece about seeing it with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra.

So let’s get to…

The General

I feel a little uncomfortable praising a Civil War comedy that asks us to root for the Confederates. After all, the South’s rebellion was an act of treason committed in defense of slavery. After all, I’ve been very critical of Gone with the Wind and The Birth of a Nation.

And yet, here I am, discussing the genius of a movie where the lovable hero proudly waves the Stars and Bars–clearly a cue for audience applause–in the climactic battle.

On the other hand, as he waves, he steps on a “rock” that turns out to be the back of a cowardly Confederate officer. Buster Keaton, the film’s auteur as well as its star, wasn’t much interested in politics. But he sure enjoyed making fun of the military.

(Several of Keaton’s films, including The Seven Chances, contain racist humor that’s shocking by today’s standards–although completely acceptable in the 1920s. Luckily, he used no such humor in either The General or his other film set in the antebellum South, Our Hospitality.)

Keaton based The General on a true story that held mythical power in the South in the 1920s. In the film’s very fictionalized version, Northern spies hijack a Southern train, and the engineer (Keaton) gives chase to recover his beloved engine. (He doesn’t know that his former girlfriend, who rejected him for not being a soldier, has been kidnapped, as well.) Two locomotive chases dominate the movie. In the first, Keaton chases the spies. In the second, after Buster has retrieved his train and his girl, they’re chased by what feels like the entire Union army.

Keaton loved trains, and he used them frequently as giant comic props. But in The General he created the ultimate train comedy, and arguably the ultimate train movie. Every aspect of running a 19th-century steam locomotive–from chopping wood to tanking up on water to switching tracks becomes cause for comedy.

As does the hardware of war. In the first chase, Buster tries to attack the villains with a snub-nosed canon. As is so often the case with Keaton’s work, the inanimate object appears to be alive–and malevolent.

In the second chase, he adds another wrinkle–the girlfriend. She doesn’t know trains, and therefore makes comic mistakes far greater than Keaton’s. When he tells her to add wood to the fire, she throws in one small stick. Annoyed, he hands her a twig. Not understanding his sarcasm, she dutifully throws that one in as well. His reaction is priceless.

But she also shows some common sense. She improvises a trap for the oncoming Union trains that Keaton clearly thinks worthless. When the trap springs on the hapless bluecoats, it gets one of the film’s biggest laughs.

The General just might be the most beautiful and spectacular comedy ever filmed. Shot mostly in rural Oregon, it’s filled with breathtaking scenery. And sometimes that scenery is filled with massive armies moving across the landscape or–in the climax–in battle.

But Keaton knew how to use spectacle in the service of comedy. One particular shot, which just may be the single most expensive shot of the silent era, shows a train attempt to cross a burning bridge and fall to its doom, while soldiers below ford the river. It was done without models, and the visuals take your breath away. But it’s also a setup for a gag whose punchline is a medium shot of a one man on horseback.

If The General has a moral–and I don’t really think it does–it’s that the professional technician is superior to the professional soldier. Buster makes a lot of mistakes, but the officers on both sides pretty much make nothing but mistakes. And one very funny moment, involving a Northern train engineer, shows us that the technical professionals are the smart ones everywhere.

I’m not sure, but I may have seen The General more times than any other single feature film. I first saw it in a college lecture hall, off a 16mm print, with no sound except the laughing students. I’ve heard it with live accompaniment by Bob Vaughn (at least three times, probably more), Christoph Bull (my single favorite General experience), The Alloy Orchestra (twice), and others I don’t remember. I’ve owned it on Laserdisc, DVD, and now on Blu-ray.

I’ve yet to tire of it.

What’s Screening: August 14 – 20

The Japan Film Festival continues through Sunday.

A Apu Trilogy, Lark, various dates throughout the week (details below)

Epic in scope, Satyajit Ray’s three-film masterwork follows the life of poverty-born Apu from birth through young adulthood. None of the films has a plot in the conventional sense, but they all brim with drama, laughter, joy, suspense, and heart-breaking tragedy. In other words, they’re about life–specifically life in early 20th-century India, and that means life in a society where dying of old age is rare. Subrata Mitra’s atmospheric photography, Ravi Shankar’s wonderful score, and a terrific cast (four actors of different ages play the title character) make this an exceptional cinematic experience. Read my longer article.

A+ Kurosawa double bill: Rashomon & Throne of Blood, Stanford, Saturday through Tuesday

In Rashomon, Akira Kurosawa reminds us that we can never really know anything. Visually beautiful and deeply atmospheric, this eight-character chamber piece recounts the same crime four times by different eyewitnesses, and none of their stories match. An easy A+. See my Kurosawa Diary entry and my Blu-ray review. In Throne of Blood, Kurosawa creates a haunting, noh- and kabuki-inspired loose adaptation of Macbeth. Toshiro Mifune gives an over-the-top but still effective performance as the military officer tempted by his wife (Isuzu Yamada) into murdering his lord. I give it an A-. I have a Kurosawa Diary entry and a Blu-ray review of this one as well.

A- The Thief of Baghdad (1924 version), Saturday, 7:30

What’s more fun than state-of-the-art special effects? State-of-the-art special effects circa 1924. Douglas Fairbanks’ spectacular Arabian Nights fantasy never actually fools you into thinking a horse can fly, but the clever effects and imaginative set design inspire awe and delight all the same. As does Fairbanks’ completely unrealistic performance as the energetic and happily ambitious thief. Don’t expect actual Arabian flavor here; this is pure early Hollywood fancy. And don’t expect 21st century racial attitudes in Fairbanks’ treatment of the Chinese. A lot of fun, but not up to the 1940 Technicolor remake. With two shorts. Accompanied by Jon Mirsalis on the Kurtzweil.

A The Hidden Fortress, Stanford, Wednesday through next Friday

Akira Kurosawa showed astonishing range within the samurai genre (as well as outside the genre). Seven
Samurai is an epic drama with fully-developed characters and realistically unpredictable violence; Yojimbo is a black comedy; Throne of Blood is stylized Shakespeare. But The Hidden Fortress is just plain fun–a rousing, suspenseful, and entertaining romp. It was also his first widescreen film, and contains two comic peasants (Minoru Chiaki and Kamatari Fujiwara) who were the inspiration for R2D2 and C3PO. See my Kurosawa Diary entry and my Blu-ray review.

A- Rebel Without a Cause, Balboa, Thursday, 7:30

James Dean received top billing is this melodramatic message picture about what’s wrong with kids these days. And what’s wrong? Parents don’t spend time with their kids and boys need fathers who are man enough to put the womenfolk in their place. And yet, thanks largely to Dean’s electrifying, frightening, and sympathetic performance, it’s a far better movie than it has any right to be. As a middle-class juvenile delinquent adjusting to a new school, Dean defined the word teenager when it was still a new concept. Of course, he got a lot of help from director Nicholas Ray, and by supporting players Natalie Wood and Sal Mineo as his only friends. In very wide early Cinemascope.

B+ The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, Balboa, Saturday, 10am

The first and best of Ray Harryhausen’s three Sinbad movies. In fact, of all his movies, only Jason and the Argonauts is better. The stop-motion animation is splendid, and the story, while trivial, is fun. Not a must-see like Jason, but still an entertaining escape into a fantasy past. 7thVoyage is an important movie in Harryhausen’s career; his first in color, his first period piece, and his first out-and-out fantasy after a series of sci-fi pictures involving aliens or monsters wreaking havoc on major metropolitan areas. I discuss the movie in more detail in Earthquakes and Monsters.

A+ The Third Man, Rafael, opens Friday

New 4K restoration. Classic film noir with an international flavor. An American pulp novelist (Joseph Cotten) arrives in impoverished, divided, post-war Vienna to meet up with an old friend who has promised him a much-needed job. But he soon discovers that the friend is both newly dead and a wanted criminal. Writer Graham Greene and director Carol Reed place an intriguing mystery inside a world so dark and disillusioned that American noir seems bright by comparison. Then, when the movie is two thirds over, Orson Welles comes onscreen to steal everything but the sprocket holes. See my A+ article.

A Tangerine, New Parkway, Rafael, opens Friday

Sometimes a new movie blows apart every concept you had about what a motion picture can be. Sean Baker’s tale of a transgender prostitute out for justice creates just that sort of magic. Fast, frenetic, funny, and sad, Tangerine looks like no other movie I’ve ever seen, probably because it was shot entirely on iPhones. And yes, that works, allowing the filmmakers to capture the tarnished glamour of today’s Hollywood. The most exciting and original new film I’ve seen this year. Did I tell you it’s a Christmas movie? Read my full review.

A The End of the Tour, California (Berkeley), Piedmont, opens Friday

Based on a true story about the meeting of two brilliant minds, this film provides something rare in movies–intellectual discussion. In 1996, journalist and budding novelist David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg) spent several days interviewing suddenly respected novelist David Foster Wallace (Jason Segel). They bond, sort of, but Lipsky wants access to Wallace’s private thoughts, and Wallace is reluctant to open up. Segel turns Wallace into a fascinating character–deeply troubled and, despite his fame, deeply insecure. Excellent film.

B+ Mr. Holmes, Opera Plaza, opens Friday

Ian McKellen plays Sherlock Holmes as an old man and as a very old man—mostly the later—in this entertaining but not too deep drama. Retired from solving crimes, Holmes is now a 90ish beekeeper (the film is set in 1947–about 20 years after Doyle wrote his last Holmes story), living with a widowed housekeeper and her young son. Holmes is in a race against time, trying to write down the true story of his last case—to correct Watson’s exaggerations—before senility sinks too deep. For Holmes fans, and I’m one of them, this is a wonderful gift. For everyone else, it’s still an enjoyable day at the movies. Read my full review.

B+ Sing-Along Wizard of Oz, Castro, Friday through Sunday

I don’t really have to tell you about this one, do I? Well, perhaps I have to explain why I’m only giving it a B+. Despite its clever songs, lush Technicolor photography, and one great performance (Bert Lahr’s Cowardly Lion), The Wizard of Oz never struck me as the masterpiece that everyone else sees. It’s a good, fun movie, but not quite fun enough to earn an A. I have not experienced the sing-along version.

A The Bad Sleep Well, Stanford, Friday

Few people know Kurosawa’s dark, contemporary, and suspenseful tale of corruption and revenge—and that’s a shame. It concerns a large, successful, and thoroughly corrupt corporation, and a young man (Toshiro Mifune) out to destroy it from the inside. First he marries the president’s crippled daughter—an act that everyone reads as blind ambition. But the real motive is revenge. Kurosawa reveals the reasons for and depth of that revenge slowly in a startling, suspenseful, and bleak story that provides neither catharsis nor easy answers. See my Kurosawa Diaries entry.

? Mystery Science Theater 3000, New Parkway, Friday, 10:30.

Regular readers know that I’m a fan of the classic bad-movie-with-commentary TV show, Mystery Science Theater 3000. I have never seen an episode on the big screen with a full audience, but I suspect I’d enjoy it–especially if it’s a really good episode. I hope this will be a good episode; no one is telling us which one will be screened.

C- Vertigo, Clay, Friday and Saturday, 11:55PM

I know. For many cinephiles, this isn’t just Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece, but one of the greatest films ever made. But I just don’t get it. Neither the story nor most of the characters make any sense, and I don’t believe anyone’s motivations. The film contains one wonderful, believable, and likeable character, Barbara Bel Geddes’ Midge, but we don’t see enough of her to offset everything else. Yes, the film is very atmospheric, but that’s just not enough. I don’t need to stare at a screen to experience San Francisco’s fog.

The A+ List: The Third Man and its new restoration

I missed the new restoration of the greatest film noir of them all, The Third Man, when it played in my local theaters. But last week I visited family in New York City, and I caught it at the Film Forum.

What a great film! It easily belongs on my A+ list of films that I’ve loved dearly for decades, and continue to love.

American film noir came out of the moral desolation of the Second World War–we had saved the world from fascism, but only by killing tens of millions of people. The Third Man, set and shot in Vienna, showed real desolation of the bombed-out city. The destruction of our humanity gets a powerful visual metaphor–always a benefit in cinema.

The Vienna of The Third Man suffers other indignities. The victorious powers have divided the city into sections, and it’s controlled by a not-always-collaborating group of Russians, French, American, and British soldiers.

The original screenplay by Graham Greene brings us deeper and deeper into this world of moral compromise. American pulp novelist Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten) arrives in Vienna, strapped for cash, but with a promise of a job by an old friend named Harry Lime. But Martins soon discovers that Lime has just died in a car accident. Then a British officer (Trevor Howard) tells him that Lime was a horrible criminal. Naturally, Martins sets out to clear his friend’s name.

I won’t go into the story beyond that. If you’ve seen it, you already know it. If you haven’t, just see it.

The film has a lot of fun with Martins’ apparently dreadful western novels, which have titles like The Lone Rider of Santa Fe and Death at Double-X Ranch (although none of the names are as garish as Blazing Guns on the Chisholm Trail). We meet one ardent fan of his work; needless-to-say a comic relief character.

Greene and director Carol Reed fill the picture with other entertaining and sometimes fascinating characters. Lime’s lover (Alida Valli) mourns him more than anyone, but her devotion will cost her considerably. And Orson Welles shows up at the end of the second act in a pivotal role. His charm, wit, and wonderful voice steal the picture.

Producers Alexander Korda and Davis O. Selznick provided enough money to realize Greene’s and Reed’s joint vision. Robert Krasker’s camerawork casts deep noir shadows, yet also shows the expanse of the ancient and ruined city. And Anton Karas’ music, performed entirely on a zither, is one of the most memorable and effective scores in cinema.

Indeed, the score was so important that the opening credits are super-imposed over an extreme close-up of the zither strings. The main theme was a hit record in 1950.

The final chase, in the ancient sewers below the city, is spectacular, exciting, and unlike any other chase. In the end, Martins gets a chance to be the western hero he writes about. Not that that does him any good. (And no, that’s not much of a spoiler.)

About the restoration: At this point, I’ve seen so many excellent 4K restorations that they rarely surprise me. This is just another one. But I noticed details I had never caught before, such as a small but very racist poster on a café wall .

I saw a beautiful 35mm print of The Third Man early last year. I think this digital version is better, but it’s impossible to accurately compare the image quality from two screenings more than 18 months apart. But I’m glad that we have both good 35mm prints and an excellent DCP.

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