Classics–Not So Common

I wasn’t as clear as I should have been in last week’s newsletter. I didn’t mean to imply that San Francisco still enjoyed a huge market for revival house cinema.

There was such a market 30 years ago. In the late 1970’s, cinephiles not wishing to leave the City’s borders could catch classics any day of the week at the Castro, Roxie, 4Star, Gateway, Richelieu, and other theaters. The Avenue showed silents every Friday night with Bob Vaughn on he Wurlitzer. Even music clubs would occasionally pull out a 16mm projector and show Laurel and Hardy shorts or early animation.

Today, with the Balboa‘s recent change in policy, only the Castro and Red Vic show classics with any frequency in the City itself. In the entire Bay Area, only the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum and the Stanford, both non-profits that are open far less than 365 days a year, devote their schedules exclusively to classics. The Pacific Film Archive (another non-profit) shows classics frequently, and the Parkway, Rafael, and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (three out of four, non-profits) show them occasionally.

Truly independent films (as opposed to “indiewood” pictures financed and released by the major studio’s boutique subsidiaries) do somewhat better. They’re the Roxie‘s bread and butter, frequently screen at the Castro, Rafael, and Red Vic, and can be seen occasionally now and then at most of the other theaters Bayflicks covers..

And as long as you’re deciding what movies to see in theaters:

Recommended, with Reservations: Sabrina (1953), Stanford, Friday through Monday. Light, upbeat, romantic comedy isn’t what we associate with Billy Wilder. We associate it even less with Humphrey Bogart. On the other hand, it’s exactly what we expect from a young Audrey Hepburn. The work of a great master who doesn’t appear to be trying very hard, Sabrina just floats along, nice and friendly, occasionally funny, never challenging, and moving towards a resolution as predictable as a full moon. The result is pleasant, but nothing more.

Not Recommended: Azumi, Lumiere and Shattuck, opens Friday. Does the world really need a self-consciously hip samurai movie? The young fighters in Azumi use words like “cool” (at least in the English subtitles) and fight to electronic, semi-rock music. That would be forgivable if the characters and story were interesting, but it’s hard to care about a group of youthful government assassins with a master who tests his students by ordering them to kill their best friends. (The youngsters occasionally question such orders, but never enough to rebel.) This leaves nothing to hang onto but the endless, Hong Kong-inspired fights, filled with the now clichéd flying people and overloud sound effects, all washed down with more gushing blood than a busy day in a slaughterhouse.

Recommended: Four Weeks in June, Century Cinema 16, Mountain View, Saturday, 6:00; Roda Theatre, Wednesday, 9:15. An alienated young woman in trouble with the law (for violently attacking her philandering boyfriend) befriends an old woman with a secret past. By keeping close to the dark edges of both characters, writer/director Henry Meyer avoids the story’s obvious sentimentality and gives us two wounded souls in search of healing. Think of it as Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont with fully-developed human beings. Part of the Jewish Film Festival.

Noteworthy: The Lighthouse by the Sea, Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, Saturday, 7:30. I haven’t seen (or even heard of) this 1924 Warner Brothers B picture, and the name, frankly, isn’t promising. (Where would you put a lighthouse? In the Desert?) But it stars Rin Tin Tin, the most charismatic and talented movie star to ever wear a full-body fur coat, so it can’t be a complete loss. Accompanied by Molly Axtmann on the piano

Recommended: Raiders of the Lost Ark. Dolores Park, San Francisco, Saturday, 8:30. Steven Spielberg directed it, and the bad guys are Nazis, but it’s as far from Schindler’s List as a great movie can get. What else can I say? If you object to mindless, escapist action flicks on principle, you won’t see it anyway. As with all Film Night in the Park presentations, it is, unfortunately, a DVD presentation.

Not Recommended: Roots (2005); Century Cinema 16, Sunday, 11:30am; Roda Theatre, Berkeley, Monday, 2:00. A conman pays Ukrainian villagers to pretend they’re the long-lost relatives of western Jewish tourists. Any competent laughsmith could have made a hilarious farce out of this story. A really talented one could have mixed real pathos in with the laughter. Alas, writer Gennady Ostrovsky and director Pavel Loungin are neither talented nor competent. Roots (not to be confused with the American miniseries) is slow, plodding, nearly laughless, and lacks a single likeable nor interesting character. And the love story subplot is about as romantic and sexy as a colonoscopy. Part of the Jewish Film Festival.

Recommended: Forgiving Dr. Mengele, Century Cinema 16, Sunday, 4:15; Roda Theatre, Tuesday, 6:45. “Getting even has never healed a single person.” I didn’t think there was anything new for a Holocaust documentary to say, but then I’d never before seen one about Eva Mozes Kor. A survivor of Mengele’s notorious “experiments” at Auschwitz, and now a real estate agent in Indiana, Kor devotes herself to keeping the memory of the Shoah alive, even running a small museum in her adopted home town. Yet this feisty little woman has done something else altogether remarkable, and controversial among survivors. She has publicly forgiven the mass murderers who killed her family and turned her childhood into a living hell. An expertly-made documentary about a remarkable human being. Part of the Jewish Film Festival.

Recommended: Local Call!, Century Cinema 16, Sunday, 7:15. What’s scarier than your dead father calling you constantly from beyond the grave? The phone bills. That’s what Sergio Castellitto discovers in this very funny French comedy that appears to be inspired by the Book of Job. As his father (voiced by Michel Serrault) continues to harass him about a coat, and the phone bills send him into poverty, every other aspect of his respectable, middleclass life falls apart. Director/co-writer Arthur Joffé meditates hilariously on memory, communication, Jewish spirituality, and the precariousness of our comfortable lives. Part of the Jewish Film Festival.

Recommended, with Reservations: Blues by the Beach, Roda Theatre, Monday, 8:30; Century Cinema 16, Thursday, 2:30. A potentially great picture fell into the filmmakers’ laps. The focus of their documentary about a popular Tel Aviv music bar changed in a second through the murderous act of a suicide bomber. But they fumbled the ball, spending far too much time on their own problems and not enough on the folks who made the bar a special place. The result isn’t a complete loss–you couldn’t go completely wrong with the subject matter–but a less narcissistic Blues by the Beach would have been so much better. Part of the Jewish Film Festival.

Recommended: Plagues & Pleasures on the Salton Sea, Red Vic, Tuesday through Thursday. Created by an irrigation accident in the early 20th century, the Salton Sea is California’s largest lake and was once a major tourist destination (I camped there one childhood winter). Now, it’s a shrinking, rotting mess, and home to a small community of eccentrics, nostalgia buffs, and people who can’t afford to live anywhere else. Chris Metzler and Jeff Springer caught the whole weird and wonderful history and spirit of the place in this entertaining documentary on the death of the American dream. Narrated by John Waters–an oddly appropriate choice.

The Balboa’s Problems and the Silent Film Festival

Gary Meyer of the Balboa wrote a decidedly depressing newsletter last week. In case you don’t subscribe, you’ll find it on his Web site’s Latest News page. Scroll down to “NO NEW CALENDAR?”

Courtesy of Patrick Crowley

Meyer informed his theater’s fans that the Balboa cannot continue its programming policy of classics and little-known independents. The audience for the old and offbeat, according to Meyer, simply isn’t there. “To cover the film rental and other costs of showing classics, we need an average of 200 people a day. In reality it has been more like 60. We are not alone. San Francisco audiences are simply not attending classic films at any theaters on a regular basis.”

I can’t claim Meyer’s expertise, but my experience last weekend seems to contradict that statement. I spent Saturday at the Castro for the San Francisco Silent Film Festival. The crowds were huge. The final presentation of the night, Pandora’s Box, sold out the 1,600-seat theater. And its not just the live music. The Castro’s 2005 70mm festival was a sufficiently big hit to justify a sequel next month.

Of course, the Castro has two advantages over the Balboa: It’s centrally located, and it’s a huge, elaborately decorated palace with a giant screen, a great sound system, and now-unique capabilities like 3D and 70mm. The theater is almost as much of a draw as the movie. That simply isn’t the case with the Balboa.

That’s really too bad, as Meyer is probably the best programmer working in the area. Aside from bringing Best of Youth to Bay Area moviegoers, he’s put together several great repertory series at the Balboa, and brought some interesting people to talk about them.

For the time being, the Balboa will show second-run Hollywood and indiewood films, mostly on double-bills (something that makes it almost unique these days). There are some special presentations planned for the fall, including a Janus film festival, a Louise Brooks series, and the John Barrymore silent version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, which will have live accompaniment by the Devil Music Ensemble.

Speaking of silent films (and Louise Brooks), some quick comments on my day at the Silent Film Festival: Bucking Broadway was fun, and while it showed a strong visual flare, you’d never guess that its director (John Ford) would go on to become the greatest of all western auteurs. No one could reasonably call the Mary Pickford melodrama Sparrows a great film, but it is a gorgeous one, all the more so in a newly-restored and tinted print. Pandora’s Box, on the other hand, is a great film, and Clark Wilson did a splendid job accompanying it on the Castro’s organ. The print, however, was a disappointment.

But the big, delightful surprise was Julien Duvivier’s Au Bonheur Des Dames, a little-known 1930 Emile Zola adaptation about a giant department store and the people it displaces. If it wasn’t for the total cop-out of an ending (possibly inserted at the studio’s insistence), Au Bonheur Des Dames would equal The Crowd as the greatest serious drama of the silent era. The Hot Club of San Francisco‘s accompaniment was as good as the movie.

Unfortunately, Au Bonheur Des Dames isn’t easily available in this country. The print screened Saturday, from the Cinémathèque Française, had the original French titles, which were translated orally in the theater. So if you weren’t there, you may have missed that one for good.

But here are some movies you can still make:

Recommended: Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans, Pacific Film Archive, Friday, 7:00. Haunting, romantic, and impressionistic, F. W. Murnau’s first American feature turns the mundane into the fantastic and the world into a work of art. The plot is simple: A marriage, almost destroyed by another woman, is healed by a day in the city. But the execution, with its stylized sets, beautiful photography, and talented performers, makes it both touchingly personal and abstractly mythological. Basically a silent, Sunrise was one of the first films released with a soundtrack (music and effects, only), and that’s how the PFA will present it. The PFA’s other film for the evening (not quite a double bill, as separate admission is required, but there’s a discount if you see both) is 7th Heaven; same studio, same star, same year, and also with a “silent” with a recorded musical score. Both are part of the PFA’s Janet Gaynor series.

Recommended: Wallace & Gromit in Curse of the Were-Rabbit, Old Mill Park, Mill Valley, Friday, 8:30. An eccentric inventor, his long-suffering dog, snooty aristocrats, cute bunnies, and whole lot of clay make up the funniest movie of 2005. I vote for putting this G-rated, claymation extravaganza on a double-bill with that other hilarious British comedy with killer rabbits, Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Unfortunately, this will be a DVD presentation.

Not Recommended: Cars, Balboa, opens Friday. So much for the animation studio that could do no wrong. Pixar’s first bad movie suffers from two inexcusable faults. First, the protagonist is neither likeable nor interesting, despite being voiced by Owen Wilson, who is quite capable of being both. And second, the 116-minute picture is too long for its few laughs and predicable characters. Cars provides plenty of opportunity for wandering minds, and mine wandered towards some very basic problems with the premise. These wouldn’t have bothered me in an entertaining picture. On a double-bill with Water, which I haven’t seen but suspect is a very different kind of movie.

Recommended: Who Killed the Electric Car?, Parkway, opens Friday. In the mid-90’s, General Motors released an electric car so wonderful that Chris Paine made this documentary about it. But GM leased these cars rather than selling them, and very few people got their hands on one. Then GM pulled the plug (so to speak) on the entire line, ceasing production and reclaiming all existing cars. Paine turns all of this into an informative, very partisan, yet breezy documentary. Interview subjects include a GM saleswoman turned activist, NIMH battery inventor Stanley Ovshinsky, and movie stars who were among the few people allowed to lease these cars (this may be the only progressive documentary with a positive image of Mel Gibson).

Not Recommended: Vertigo, Stanford, Saturday through Monday. What? I’m not recommending Vertigo? Everyone else thinks it’s a masterpiece, but it’s on my short list of the Most Overrated Movies of All Time. Vertigo isn’t like any other Hitchcock movie; it’s slow, uninvolving, and self-consciously arty. On a double-bill with To Catch a Thief, discussed below.

Recommended, with Reservations: To Catch a Thief, Stanford, Saturday through Monday. More like a vacation on the Riviera than the tight and scary thriller one expects from the master of suspense. Not his best work by a long shot, but it has a few good scenes and thus sufficient fun. Besides, 106 minutes of Cary Grant and Grace Kelly in Monaco, photographed in the beauty of VistaVision, can’t be all bad. On a double-bill with Vertigo.

Noteworthy: Harold and Maude, Red Vic, Sunday through Wednesday. After Woodstock, this comedy about a young man and a much older woman is the ultimate statement of the hippie generation. I loved it passionately in the 1970’s, but I haven’t seen it in a long time and I’m not sure how well it’s aged.

Not Recommended: Roots (2005), Castro, Tuesday, 12:00 noon. I hate watching great ideas made into bad movies. Any competent laughsmith could have made a hilarious farce out of this story of a conman who pays Ukrainian villagers to pretend they’re the long-lost relatives of western Jewish tourists. A really talented one could have mixed real pathos in with the laughter. Alas, writer Gennady Ostrovsky and director Pavel Loungin are neither talented nor competent. Roots (not to be confused with the American miniseries) is slow, plodding, nearly laughless, and lacks a single likeable nor interesting character. And the love story subplot is about as romantic and sexy as a colonoscopy. Part of the Jewish Film Festival.

Recommended: Forgiving Dr. Mengele, Castro, Tuesday, 5:00. “Getting even has never healed a single person.” I didn’t think there was anything new for a Holocaust documentary to say, but then I’d never before seen one about Eva Mozes Kor. A survivor of Mengele’s notorious “experiments” at Auschwitz, and now a real estate agent in Indiana, Kor devotes herself to keeping the memory of the Shoah alive, even running a small museum in her adopted home town. Yet this feisty little woman has done something else altogether remarkable, and controversial among survivors. She has publicly forgiven the mass murderers who killed her family and turned her childhood into a living hell. An expertly-made documentary about a remarkable human being. Part of the Jewish Film Festival.

Recommended: Local Call!, Castro, Tuesday, 10:00. What’s scarier than your dead father calling you constantly from beyond the grave? The phone bills. That’s what Sergio Castellitto discovers in this very funny French comedy that appears to be inspired by the Book of Job. As his father (voiced by Michel Serrault) continues to harass him about a coat, and the phone bills send him into poverty, every other aspect of his respectable, middleclass life falls apart. Director/co-writer Arthur Joffé meditates hilariously on memory, communication, Jewish spirituality, and the precariousness of our comfortable lives. Part of the Jewish Film Festival.

American Movie Critics

I’m currently reading Phillip Lopate’s huge anthology, American Movie Critics. Like all anthologies, it’s a mixed bag, offering the fascinating and the dull, the witty with the obtuse, the literate with the commercial. But almost everything in the book is at least of only historical interest.

For instance, the book proves that in key ways, our attitudes about this strange mix of art and business hasn’t changed much. Seventy years ago, critics were already complaining that new movies aren’t as good as old ones, and that American movies lack the artistry of European cinema. Meanwhile, other critics praised the latest American releases and criticized the closed minds of the hopelessly elite and nostalgic. Like today, the mediocre outnumbered the good, the good outnumbered the great; and the masterpieces weren’t always recognized in their own time.

My main complaint: The individual articles aren’t dated. When Pare Lorentz begins an article with “During the past five years,” I really want to know what five years he’s talking about.

Another thing: Movie reviewing appears to be a dangerous job. Each reviewer included gets his or her own little biography, and a surprising number of these literate cinephiles died depressingly young. Harry Alan Potamkin lived only to 33; André Sennwald, 28. Otis Ferguson, whom Lopate calls the first of “the five greatest American film critics,” was killed in action during World War II at the age of 36. And the amazing James Agee? To paraphrase Tom Lehrer, it is indeed a sobering thought that, by the time James Agee was my age, he had been dead for six years.

Before I recommend some movies for this week and thus risk my own life, a quick note about the Jewish Film Festival: I’ll be using my red dot () icon for movies expecting a theatrical release after the festival (no guarantee). Consider these films less of a priority than movies that will only show at the festival.

Recommended: Good Night and Good Luck, Creek Park, San Anselmo, Friday, 8:30. George Clooney made a terrific historical drama by sticking rigorously close to well-documented historical facts; it’s not supposed to happen that way. Good Night and Good Luck is about the battle between legendary television journalist Edward R. Murrow (David Strathairn) and Senator Joseph McCarthy (Senator Joseph McCarthy), and that’s all it’s about. We don’t meet Murrow’s family; we never see his home. Instead, Clooney sticks to what matters, and at a time when elected officials are calling McCarthy a “hero for America,” it matters. As a Film Night in the Park screening, this is a DVD presentation.

Recommended: The Adventures of Robin Hood, Stanford, Friday through Monday. Not every masterpiece needs to provide a deep understanding of the human condition; some are just plain fun. And none more so than this 1938 Errol Flynn swashbuckler. For 102 minutes, you get to live in a world where virtue–graceful, witty, rebellious, good-looking, and wholeheartedly romantic virtue–triumphs completely over grim-faced tyranny. Flynn was no actor, but no one could match him for handling a sword, a beautiful woman, or a witty line, all while wearing tights. And who else could speak treason so fluently? The great supporting cast includes Olivia de Havilland, Basil Rathbone, and Technicolor, a name that really meant something special in 1938. On a double-bill with The Wizard of Oz.

Recommended: The Wizard of Oz, Stanford, Friday through Monday. You don’t really need me to tell you about this one, do you? On a early Technicolor double-bill with The Adventures of Robin Hood.

Noteworthy: Bucking Broadway, Castro, Saturday, 11:00am. Stagecoach, My Darling Clementine, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Long before John Ford directed many of the greatest westerns ever filmed, he made this recently-discovered 1917 Harry Carey oater. I haven’t seen it and can’t say if it’s any good, but if you love Ford’s work, you’ll want to find out for yourself. The San Francisco Silent Film Festival is presenting Bucking Broadway accompanied by Michael Mortilla on the piano, and with personal appearances by Ford biographer Joseph McBride and Harry Carey, Jr.–the son of Bucking Broadway’s star and an actor himself in many later Ford pictures.

Recommended: Pandora’s Box, Castro, Saturday, 8:20. Nearly 70 years after her last film, cinephiles still debate whether Louise Brooks was a first-class talent or just a beautiful woman in the hands of a great director. Whatever, her oddly innocent femme fatale wins our sympathy as well as our lust as she sends men to their destruction without, apparently, understanding what she’s doing. A great example of what the silent drama could do in the hands of a master; in this case, G.W. Pabst. Clark Wilson will accompany the film on the Castro’s Wurlitzer pipe organ for the San Francisco Silent Film Festival.

Noteworthy: Laurel and Hardy Silent Shorts, Castro, Sunday, 12:30. I hope I don’t have to tell you that Laurel and Hardy were as funny as funny gets, but I may have to add that they were just as funny in silent pictures–the medium in which they were first teamed and developed their classic characters–as they were with sound. This program includes at least one of their best two reelers, “Liberty.” The San Francisco Silent Film Festival is presenting these shorts with piano accompaniment by Michael Mortilla.

Recommended: Blood Simple, Rafael, Sunday, 7:00. The Coen Brothers burst onto the scene seemingly out of nowhere with this atmospheric and grotesquely violent thriller. The noirish plot, involving adultery and murder (both real and faked), makes perfect sense to the viewer, although it’s unlikely that anyone within the story will ever figure it all out. One of the movies that defined today’s independent film movement, and screened this week as part of the Rafael’s Sundance Art House Project series.

Recommended: Show People, Castro, Sunday, 8:00. We remember Marion Davies, if we remember her at all, as William Randolph Hearst’s mistress and the inspiration for Citizen Kane’s talentless second wife. But King Vidor’s 1928 backstage-in-Hollywood comedy proves her a considerable talent. The story of knockabout slapstick going up against self-consciously arty cinema must have seemed all too autobiographical to Davies, a natural comedienne whose benefactor wanted to show off her class. Speaking of class, Dennis James will accompany the movie on the Castro’s Wurlitzer pipe organ as the closing show of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival.

Recommended: The Conformist, Red Vic, Sunday and Monday. It takes more than good men doing nothing to create fascism. According to Bernardo Bertolucci’s haunting character study, it also takes mediocre men with career ambitions. Jean-Louis Trintignant is chilling as a bland cog in the machine, ready to use his honeymoon in homicidal service to Mussolini. With Stefania Sandrelli as his not-too-bright bride and Dominique Sanda, in a star-making performance, as the object of everyone’s desire.

Recommended, with Reservations: Johnny Guitar, Castro, Tuesday and Wednesday. A very unusual western from Nicholas Ray. For one thing, the main rivalry is between two women: good saloon owner Joan Crawford and bad businesswoman Mercedes McCambridge. But don’t think this is a feminist picture. The women’s hatred stems from romantic jealousy, and the title character hero (Sterling Hayden) is a former lover of Crawford hired as her bodyguard. It’s fun, and strange, but far from a must for western lovers. On a double-bill with Rancho Notorious.

Recommended: Smoke Signals, Rafael, Wednesday, 7:00. Funny how ethnicity can make all the difference. Remove Smoke Signal‘s Native American angle and what have you got? A road picture about a jock and a nerd. But writer Sherman Alexie and director Chris Eyre take us into a society that few of us know firsthand while dealing with issues (family history, the nature of friendship, forgiveness) we have all experienced. Besides, they’ve created a very special jock and nerd, two young male Indians connected by a tragic accident from their infancy but in no way friends, leaving the reservation to collect the remains of the jock’s absentee father. Occasionally episodic, frequently funny, but always heartfelt. Part of the Rafael’s Sundance Art House Project series.

Recommended: Four Weeks in June, Castro, Thursday, 8:00. An alienated young woman in trouble with the law (for violently attacking her philandering boyfriend) befriends an old woman with a secret past. By keeping close to the dark edges of both characters, writer/director Henry Meyer avoids the obvious sentimentality and gives us two dark, wounded souls in search of healing. Think of it as Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont with fully-developed human beings. The San Francisco Jewish Film Festival‘s opening night presentation.

Movies for the Week of July 7, 2006

Want to hear something amazing? Watching movies is more fun than writing about them.

With that in mind, I’m going to skip this week’s editorial and go directly to the movies.

Recommended: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Commons Park, Ross, Friday, 8:30. I agree with common wisdom: Raider of the Lost Ark is a masterpiece of escapist action entertainment. But I split with the herd on this second sequel; to my mind, it improves on near-perfection. The action sequences are just as well done, but the pacing is better; this time Spielberg knew exactly when to give you a breather. Best of all, adding Sean Connery as the hero’s father humanizes Jones and provides plenty of good laughs. Just don’t confuse The Last Crusade with the wretched Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. And don’t confuse this DVD presentation with how the movie looks on real film.

Noteworthy: Brainwash Drive-In/Bike-In/Walk-In Movie Festival, Alliance for West Oakland Development Parking Lot, Friday and Saturday nights, 9:00. Despite the name, Brainwash TV has nothing to do with Fox News. In one of the odder Bay Area movie traditions, this strangely-named organization projects short subjects in an Oakland parking lot one weekend every summer. It’s different program each night, so attending Friday is no excuse for not attending Saturday.

Recommended: The Hidden Blade, Opera Plaza and Shattuck, opening Friday. Those who loved Yoji Yamada’s Twilight Samurai are going to like this one a lot, too. Like his previous period film, The Hidden Blade concerns itself with the daily life of lower-rung samurai at the end of the Tokugawa Shogunate. Masatoshi Nagase stars as a samurai in love with a peasant girl and intimidated by new, western methods of warfare just coming to Japan. Matters get worse when a close friend is accused of treason. The misleading title suggests an action flick, something that The Hidden Blade only becomes–”in a calm, meditative way–”in the final act. While it lacks Twilight Samurai’s urgent desperation, and ends a little too happily, it’s still an intriguing, unglamorous look at the warrior’s life.

Not Recommended: Cars, Lark, opening Friday. So much for the animation studio that could do no wrong. Pixar’s first bad movie suffers from two inexcusable faults. First, the protagonist is neither likeable nor interesting, despite being voiced by Owen Wilson, who in live action is usually both. And second, the 116-minute picture is too slow for the slight story and shallow characters. Cars provides plenty of opportunity for your mind to wander, and mine wandered towards some very basic problems with the premise that I wouldn’t have noticed in an entertaining movie.

Recommended: Citizen Kane, Union Square, Saturday, 8:30. How does a movie survive a half-century reputation as the Greatest Film Ever Made? By being really, really good. True, there are films more insightful about the human condition, pictures more dazzling in their technique, and movies more fun. But I’d be hard pressed to name many this insightful that are also this dazzling and fun. Now I’ll identify Rosebud: It’s a McGuffin. Unfortunately, this will be a DVD presentation.

Recommended: American Graffiti, Rafael, Saturday, 7:00; free. A long time ago, in a Bay Area that feels far, far away, George Lucas made an entertaining (and extremely profitable) movie without action, a big budget, or special effects. Talk about nostalgia.

Recommended: Around the World in 80 Days (1956), Stanford, Saturday through Monday. If ever there was a movie that depended on a big screen in a big theater, this is it. Watch Mike Todd’s comic spectacular on TV–”even on the well-made widescreen DVD–”and you’ve got a pretty good 90-minute comedy stretched out to three hours. Watch a good print on a huge screen with the original stereo mix (which emphasizes the width of the screen in way that modern mixes don’t), and you’ve got a highly entertaining mix of comedy, circus, and period travelogue. It helps to know enough old movie stars; a lot of the fun is watching them pop up in one bit part after another. The Stanford will screen an original Technicolor dye transfer print with four-track magnetic stereo sound, turning this into a very special experience.

Recommended: Memento, Rafael, Wednesday, 7:00. Only this exceptional thriller by Christopher Nolan. And how many tell the story backwards, putting you into the mind of someone who can’t remember what just happened? Okay, but how many give that man a mental disability that guarantees failure and makes him extremely dangerous both to himself and to innocent bystanders? Too many to name. How many thrillers center on a hero bent on identifying, and then killing, the man who murdered his wife? (If you didn’t understand the above, try reading it after watching Memento.)

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