I just found out about the Silicon Valley Jewish Film Festival, which has been running for almost two weeks and is still not over. Sorry about that. Here are some other current festivals:
- The American Indian Film Festival opens Saturday and runs through this week and beyond.
- The San Francisco Dance Film Festival starts its four-day run Thursday.
- So does French Cinema Now.
- And so does the South Asian Film Festival.
In addition to the festivals, the Balboa will screen an Alfred Hitchcock Marathon Saturday. But I’m not sure it’s technically a marathon, since the tickets are sold separately. I discuss the individual movies at the bottom of this newsletter.
A Terminator 2: Judgement Day, Rafael, Thursday, 7:00. Rare 35mm Print. In James Cameron’s sequel to the movie that put him on the map, a replica of the first movie’s killer robot (Arnold Schwarzenegger) returns from the future. But this time, he’s here to help the good guys, stop a worse killer robot, and prevent a nuclear war. Linda Hamilton returns as the original’s intended victim, now a hard-as-nails and probably insane heroine. The action scenes and special effects are outstanding, but what really makes the sequel work is the small-scale story of people trying to survive in extreme conditions while working to block Armageddon. And yet, I’m not entirely comfortable with the idea that a robot can make a better father than a flesh-and-blood man. The first movie in a series hosted by Dennis Muren, the Senior Visual Effects Supervisor at Industrial Light & Magic,.
B The Graduate, Balboa, Tuesday, 7:30. People seeing The Graduate today may have trouble understanding what an amazing breakthrough it was in 1967. In those days, Hollywood didn’t make movies about middle-aged married women seducing young men. Nor, outside of musicals, did they have montages accompanied by pop songs that were not in themselves part of the story (a really boring cliché by now). They also didn’t make movies that pictured the entire World War II generation as hypocrites. The Graduate is no longer revolutionary, but it’s still a well-made romantic comedy with serious overtones that gets Bay Area geography all wrong.
D Romeo+ Juliet, New Parkway, Sunday, 9:00. Updating Shakespeare to the present (or the more recent past) has been all the rage for the last 20 years or so. Sometimes it works brilliantly, but not so in Baz Luhrmann’s ultra-frantic take on the Bard’s most famous romantic tragedy. Set in a modern-day “Verona Beach,” this R&J uses its setting as a gimmick, distracting us from the story rather than enhancing it. For instance, we see a close-up of a very modern rifle with the brand name Sword before Benvolio cries out “Put up your swords.” On the rare occasions when the settings don’t distract, the flashy editing does. A lot of great Shakespeare films were made in the 1990s, but this isn’t one of them.
A+ Lawrence of Arabia, Alameda, Tuesday and Wednesday. Lawrence isn’t just the best big historical epic of the 70mm roadshow era, it’s one of the greatest films ever made. Stunning to look at and terrific as pure spectacle, it’s also an intelligent study of a fascinatingly complex and enigmatic war hero. T. E. Lawrence—at least in this film—both loved and hated violence, and tried liberating Arabia by turning it over to the British. No, that’s not a flaw in the script, but in his character. This masterpiece requires a very large screen and excellent projection–either 70mm or 4K DCP–to do it full justice. I do not know how the Alameda will project Lawrence or on what size screen. For more on this epic, read The Digital Lawrence of Arabia Experience and Thoughts on Lawrence of Arabia.
A Nosferatu, New Parkway, Saturday, 3:00. You best forget about sexy vampires before you go see the first film version of Dracula (an unauthorized version that got the filmmakers sued by Bram Stoker’s widow). Max Schreck plays Count Orlok (the name change didn’t fool the court) as a reptilian predator in vaguely human form. This isn’t the scariest monster movie ever made, but it’s probably the creepiest. Not to be confused with Werner Herzog’s 1979 remake. I don’t know what digital version they’ll be showing (I know it’s not film because the theater doesn’t support it). With live musical accompaniment by the 29th Street Swingtet, co-presented by film curator Jeff M. Giordano.
A- The Princess Bride, Castro, Sunday. William Goldman’s enchanting and funny fairy tale dances magically along that thin line between parody and the real thing. The then-young and gorgeous Cary Elwes and Robin Wright make a wonderful set of star-crossed lovers, and Mandy Patinkin has a lot of fun as a revenge-filled swashbuckler. There’s no funnier swordfight anywhere, and who can forget cinema’s greatest acronym, ROUS (rodents of unusual size). On the other hand, some of the big-name cameos really grate on your nerves. On a double bill with Guardians of the Galaxy.
B+ The Iron Giant, New Parkway, Thursday, 9:30. The young hero of Brad (The Incredibles) Bird’s first feature befriends a massively-huge robot from outer space.Hey, Steven Spielberg’s Elliot only had to hide the diminutive ET. The robot seems friendly enough, but there’s good reason to believe he was built as a weapon of mass destruction. Using old-fashioned, hand-drawn animation with plenty of sharp angles, Bird creates a stylized view of small-town American life circa 1958 that straddles satire and nostalgia, and treats most of its inhabitants with warmth and affection. A good movie for all but the youngest kids.
C How to Marry a Millionaire, Stanford, Friday through Sunday. This lavish 1953 romantic comedy succeeds only moderately at being either romantic or funny, despite the talents of Lauren Bacall, Betty Grable, and Marilyn Monroe (who had only just achieved star status). As the title suggests, it’s about women not so much looking for love as fishing for a sugar daddy–hardly romantic. But How to Marry a Millionaire was one of the first two films shot in Cinemascope, and the first with an intimate, contemporary, non-spectacular story. That alone gives it historical interest. On a Lauren Bacall double bill with Designing Woman, which I haven’t seen.
A Boyhood, New Parkway, opens Friday. Fifty years from now, people will still watch Richard Linklater’s intimate epic. Shot off and on over a period of 12 years, Boyhood allows us to watch young Mason and his family grow up and older. It isn’t an easy childhood. His parents are divorced, neither of them has much money, Dad is immature and Mom has bad taste in men. But Boyhood avoids the sort of horrible situations that drive most narrative films, and it’s all the better for it. By using the same actors over such a long period of time, Linklater creates a far more realistic picture than could be done with aging makeup or switching from a child actor to an adult one. Read my full review.
B The Hundred Foot Journey, Castro, Wednesday. An Indian family in a small French town set up an eatery across the street from a famous and highly-regarded French restaurant, and the battle of culinary cultures begins. The first half is a lot of fun, but the main conflict gets settled–not very believably–way too soon. Then you spend too much time watching everyone be happy while waiting for two separate couples to realize that they’re in love. But I have to give kudos to cinematographer Linus Sandgren; this is the best photographed new film I’ve seen in a long time.
Mystery Science Theater 3000, New Parkway, Friday, 9:30. 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.
Alfred Hitchcock Marathon at the Balboa Saturday
A+ Rear Window, 3:00. Alfred Hitchcock at his absolute best. James Stewart is riveting as a news photographer temporarily confined to his apartment and a wheelchair, amusing himself by spying on his neighbors (none of whom he knows) and guessing at the details of their lives. Then he begins to suspect that one of them committed murder. As he and his girlfriend (Grace Kelly) investigate, it slowly dawns on us (but not them) that they’re getting into some pretty dangerous territory. Hitchcock uses this story to examine voyeurism, urban alienation, and the institution of marriage, as well as to treat his audience to a great entertainment.
A Psycho, 6:00. You may never want to take a shower again. In his last great movie, Alfred Hitchcock pulls the rug out from under us several times, leaving the audience unsure who we’re supposed to be rooting for or what could constitute a happy ending. In roles that defined their careers, Janet Leigh stars as a secretary turned thief, and Anthony Perkins as a momma’s boy with a lot to hide. I’ll always regret that I knew too much about Psycho before I ever saw it; I wish I could erase all memory of this movie and watch it with fresh eyes.
B Rope, 1:00. Not Alfred Hitchcock’s worst film, but easily his most frustrating, in large part because Hitchcock was working from a terrific screenplay (by Arthur Laurents, adapted by Hume Cronyn from a play by Patrick Hamilton). Two young men, clearly homosexual (although that couldn’t be stated in those days), kill an acquaintance for thrills, then throw a party with the body hidden in a chest. Unfortunately, Hitchcock made two big errors. First, he cast James Stewart in a role that in 1948 was still outside his acting range (it wouldn’t be for long). Second, he made the movie in eight ten-minute shots that give the impression of a single 80-minute take (which wasn’t technically possible back then). That later decision robbed him of the ability to edit, and Hitchcock without editing is handicapped Hitchcock.
B- The Birds, 8:30. Alfred Hitchcock’s only out-and-out fantasy has some great sequences. The scene where Tippi Hedren calmly sits andsmokes while more and more crows gather on playground equipment, and the following attack on the children, are classics. The lovely Bodega Bay location adds atmosphere and local color, and many of the special effects were way ahead of their time. But the story is weak, the ending unsatisfactory, and that lovely scenery plays side-by-side with obvious soundstage mockups. Worse yet, new-comer Hedren doesn’t provide a single believable moment. She’s beautiful, but utterly lacking in acting talent or charisma.