This Week’s Movies

Revolution Summer, Roxie, opens Friday. Young people looking for sex, drugs, and violent revolution wander through a predominately-white Oakland in a film allegedly set today but feeling like the early 1970′s. The acting by young unknowns is uniformly excellent, especially Mackenzie Firgens in the starring role. But the slow pace, overuse of close-ups, and clumsy storytelling alienate the viewer. The occasional corny speech and title card commentary don’t help.

Harry Potter Marathon, Castro, Friday through Monday. If the DVDs seem more muggle than magic, the Castro screens the first four Harry Potter movies as a quadruple feature Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. The first two films, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, follow the books with religious fidelity but little imagination, doing little beyond turning Rowling’s clever prose into less than clever images. Things improve considerably with the third movie, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. But the series really kicks into high gear as the kids mature in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. (Click the linked titles above for microreviews.)

and Star Wars, Creek Park, San Anselmo, Friday and Saturday, 8:30. In 1977, George Lucas made the most entertaining light action movie since Errol Flynn died. Over the next six years, he made two sequels that deepened, rather than cheapened, the original. Then he had to ruin it all by continually tinkering with his best work and taking the originals out of circulation. Because the original trilogy depended very much on a detailed image on a giant screen, and because Lucas has since released two altered versions, how I grade the original Star Wars depends on what version is being shown and in what format. Friday night, Film Night in the Park will screen the original, 1977 version; Saturday night, the latest, 2004 alteration. Both will be DVD presentations.

The French Connection, Castro, Thursday. Perhaps the grittiest, filthiest, most realistic contemporary drama to ever win the Best Picture Oscar. A mystery and a character study about a foul-mouthed, violent, and borderline racist police detective (Gene Hackman in the best performance of his career), The French Connection sinks you into a dirty business and the people who have to do it. It also includes one of the best car chases in movie history. On a William Friedkin Double Feature with To Live and Die in L.A.

Valley Girl, Parkway, Tuesday, 9:15. Was there ever a less promising film to become a classic? Made on a miniscule budget, financed by people more concerned with tits than story, with a title ripped off from a recent hit novelty song, it was just one of many teenage sexploitation movies then glutting the early-’80s drive-ins. Yet writers Wayne Crawford and Andrew Lane and director Martha Coolidge made it the ultimate teenage romantic comedy. Valley Girl sports Nicolas Cage in his first major role and makes some of the best use of rock ‘n’ roll ever in a non-concert movie. A National AIDS Marathon Training Program benefit.

Golden Door, Lark, opens Friday. Emanuele Crialese begins his immigration allegory with two men climbing a mountain, barefoot, each carrying a sharp stone in his mouth. From there, Crialese fills his tale with strange, beautiful, and occasionally bewildering imagery. He also fills it with fascinating people and a dry, sardonic humor. Many of his characters–Italian peasants emigrating to America–are superstitious, ignorant, maybe even stupid, but they’re decent people and we care very much for them. We also care for the considerably more worldly Englishwoman who joins them on their journey, but in part because she’s played by Charlotte Gainsbourg. Through these people’s eyes and experiences, Crialese shows us the entire process of leaving a community, crossing the ocean in steerage, and navigating the inspections and bureaucracy of Ellis Island, all in more detail than I’ve ever seen it before. A unique, remarkable, and funny motion picture.

Le Doulos, Pacific Film Archive, Friday, 6:30. Why have I never seen a French film noir before? True, Americans invented the genre, but the French named it. Le Doulos doesn’t add anything really new and exciting to the genre (besides some brief nudity–something that wasn’t allowed on American screens in 1962), but it’s a darkly fun story of double-crosses and quadruple-crosses amongst hardened criminals. The story confused me a few times, but it all comes together in some surprising ways at the end.

Torn Curtain, Creek Park, San Anselmo, Sunday, 8:30. By the mid-1960′s, many people felt that the aging Alfred Hitchcock had lost his touch. Torn Curtain makes a good argument that they were right. This cold war thriller has one great scene (the murder in the farm house) and another good one (the discussion in the classroom as security alarms go off), but aside from that it just doesn’t work. A large part of the problem: Paul Newman and Julie Andrews fail utterly to produce the romantic and sexual sparks that the story so utterly depends on. Another Film Night in the Park DVD presentation.

La Vie En Rose, Elmwood, opens Friday. Early in this Edith Piaf biopic, a hunched, aged-before-her-time Piaf walks up to a recording studio microphone. She looks bored and mildly annoyed. When she starts singing in that incredible voice, she still looks bored and annoyed, her facial expression contrasting sharply with her soaring vocals. I knew then that La Vie En Rose wasn’t going to be a happy film about the redemption of art. Marion Cotillard gives one of cinema’s great performances as Piaf, whose short life–at least in writer/director Olivier Dahan’s view–was about as miserable as a life can get. Horrendous childhood, bad luck, and her own selfish and unpleasant personality hurt her at every turn. This isn’t an easy film to watch, but it is also impossible to ignore. Great songs, too.

Stardust, Parkway, opens Friday. Magic. Every positive implication of that word applies to Matthew Vaughn’s adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s fantasy novel. No attempt to describe the plot can do it justice, so let me just say it concerns a callow youth (Charlie Cox), a fallen star (Claire Danes), an evil witch temporarily restored to her youthful beauty (Michelle Pfeiffer), seven evil princes, and a flamingly gay pirate (Robert De Niro). Like Princess Bride, Stardust manages to mix silly humor with likable (I wouldn’t go so far as to call them realistic) characters and thrilling fantasy swashbuckling. Easily the best action film I’ve seen this year.

The Bourne Ultimatum, Cerrito, opens Friday. A hand-held camera, incoherently fast editing, an ear-shatteringly loud soundtrack, and a modicum of very subtle left-wing posturing don’t add up to a great action movie. Director Paul (United 93) Greengrass and his three screenwriters deliver one exhausting chase after another, offering loud percussion music and cutting so fast you can’t tell what’s going on. Even when the picture slows down for the occasional dialog scenes, the camera shakes so much you pray for a tripod. Some real suspense and interesting (if not entirely original) ideas manage to poke their way through the technique, but in the end they’re overwhelmed by the visual and literal noise.

Less Classics at the Cerrito

The Cerrito Classics series looked like a big hit when the theater launched it late last year. The very first presentation, The Wizard of Oz, sold out both shows. If the first screening I attended, Rear Window in January, didn’t sell out, it was close. Audiences seemed to appreciate the fact that, even if a movie is available on DVD, there’s no substitute for 35mm and an audience of strangers.

It all seemed to go against conventional wisdom, which says that commercial revival house cinema is dead.

Unfortunately, conventional wisdom appears to be winning. Starting in October, Cerrito Classics will go from an every weekend event to two weekends a month. In honor of Halloween, October’s Classics will both be at the end of the month, with the original version of The Mummy October 20 and 21, and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein the 27th and 28th.

According to Speakeasy Theaters Programmer and Publicist Will Viharo, “over the past year or so, most of the classics have only drawn an average of 20-50 people per show, making it less than cost effective as they [are] not only expensive to rent, but we have to hire an extra projectionist” for archival prints that require changeover projection.

“The reality is most people…prefer new, heavily marketed, mainstream movies over ‘classics’ that are simply too esoteric for their tried-and-true tastes,” explains Viharo. That’s always the case, of course, in any popular art. People want to see, hear, and read what everyone is talking about, not something that’s been around for years. There are always people interested in the classics, of course, but DVDs and cable TV have siphoned off a lot of that market. It’s tough for any theater to compete against Turner Classic Movies.

Not that the Cerrito is about to go under. Viharo also told me that “attendance for new films has improved dramatically over the last couple of months…We are drawing from the same pool of patrons as the megaplexes, it’s just that people are choosing to see stuff like The Simpsons and Die Hard on a couch with beer.”

I can’t argue with that; the Cerrito has become my family’s favorite theater. Geography has a lot to do with it (the Cerrito is less than two miles from my home), but so has the food, the couches, the low ticket prices, and the general atmosphere of the place.

Viharo says that the changes make “my job easier but far less satisfying.” So if you want Will to work harder but enjoy greater job satisfaction, go to a few Cerrito Classics.

The Best in Digital Projection

I’ve finally seen 4K digital projection–the cutting edge of image reproduction without film. I’m talking about an image with more than four times the resolution of the best HDTV; the technology that Imax may use to replace Imax.

And my verdict: it’s okay, but it didn’t wow me.

On Monday night I attended a special screening of William Friedkin’s 1980 Cruising at the Castro. Warner Brothers has just given the movie a 4K digital restoration, and rather than running off new 35mm prints, they’ve made it available to theaters digitally. The Castro is renting a Sony 4K projector for the film’s one-week run, opening September 7.

In this post I’ll stick to my impressions of the technical presentation. For my thoughts on Cruising, click here.

In order to study the image as closely as possible, I sat in the front row (pretty common for me). The screen filled almost my entire field of vision. If there were digital artifacts to be seen–pixilation, flattened colors, details dropping off in the darkest or lightest areas of the frame–I would have noticed them.

And I didn’t. What I saw could very easily have passed for film.

But it didn’t look great. Long shots, and even medium long shots, looked soft, and even close-ups lacked detail. Bright colors (and there aren’t many in this film) popped in an unnatural way. The image was very grainy, although it looked like film grain, not the digital variety.

And therein lies the problem: I don’t know if those problems came from the digital transfer and projection, or the original film source materials. In fact, I’m not even sure they’re problems and not artistic choices. There was a certain gritty look to New York-based crime dramas of the 1970s, and that look may not be the best way to show off 4k projection.

The presentation pleased Friedkin–or so he said. He came on stage to talk and answer questions before the movie (yes, the Q&A stupidly came before the movie). He made an interesting slip of the tongue when praising the presentation we were about to see. “You’re gonna love this print,” he promised, forgetting that there was no actual print involved. This was, to his mind, the best possible way to show Cruising.

One more thing: Friedkin took time out during Q&A to criticize studio heads who allow old films to rot, and praise lab technicians who preserve and restore them. He reported that the expert who scanned Cruising told him that he’d only seen one negative in worse condition. The Godfather.

Now that’s scary.

This Week’s Movies

To the Stars by Hard Ways, Pacific Film Archive, Friday, 8:45. I saw this environmentally-themed space adventure, the Soviet Union’s answer to Star Trek and Star Wars, many, many years ago. I remember being impressed with the first half but less so as it went along. According to the PFA’s description, an English-dubbed version called Humanoid Woman appeared on Mystery Science Theater 3000. I’m a fan of the series, but I never saw that episode. Part of the series From the Tsars to the Stars: A Journey Through Russian Fantastik Cinema.

Double Bill: Citizen Kane & The Maltese Falcon, Stanford, Saturday through Tuesday. It’s hard to think of two better first films by new novice directors–especially two from the same year. Despite the historical connection, they’re very different movies and thus make an odd double bill. But with two pictures this good, who cares?

Metropolis, Castro, opening Friday for a one-week engagement. The first important science fiction feature film still strikes a considerable visual punch. The images–workers in a hellish underground factory, the wealthy at play, a robot brought to life in the form of a beautiful woman–are a permanent part of our collective memory. Even people who haven’t seen Metropolis know it through the countless films it has influenced. But the beautiful imagery only make the melodramatic plot and characters seem all the more trite. The Castro will not, unfortunately, provide live accompaniment.

American Graffiti, Cerrito, Saturday, 6:00 and Sunday, 5:00. 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. Another Cerrito Classic.

8 1/2, Washington Square Park, San Francisco, Saturday, 8:30. Funny, exhilarating, perplexing, and tragic, 8½ is not only the greatest film ever made about writer’s block as well as the ultimate cinematic statement on the male midlife crisis, it’s also a movie about making a movie, where the movie being made appears to be 8½. Filled with one memorable and unique scene after another, Fellini’s autobiographical surreal comedy lacks nothing except a coherent plot–something it has no use for. Unfortunately, this will be a DVD presentation.

Sabotage, Stanford

, Thursday and next Friday. One of many little thrillers Alfred Hitchcock made in England in the 1930s when he was, in retrospect at least, still learning his craft. The plot concerns the owner of a London movie theater committing acts of mayhem and destruction on the side, and the negative effect this has on his family life. Many years later, Hitchcock admitted regretting how he handled what everyone agrees is the best scene in the movie. Definitely the work of someone who was not yet the Master, but just the Apprentice of Suspense. On a double bill with Green for Danger.

Hairspray, Parkway, opens Friday. In the early 1960′s, Americans died horrible, violent deaths over issues of racial equality. And now it’s a musical! Well, why not? The Hollywood version of the Broadway musical based upon John Water’s original independent film celebrates the spirit of the civil rights movement by turning it into one big, happy dance contest on local daytime TV. The result is charming, upbeat, and very funny, with pleasant musical numbers, joyous dancing, political themes that would have been radically dangerous 45 years ago, and John Travolta in a fat suit and a dress. What’s not to like?

Previews of Coming Attractions

England in the ’60′s. Cross dressers in the –˜20s. Gay bars in the –˜80s. All in September and October.

Some interesting stuff on the way.

First, there’s the new Pacific Film Archive schedule, which includes Look Back at England: The British New Wave, a series of 17 then cutting-edge English films from the late 1950′s through the 60′s. These include the film version of Look Back in Anger (the seminal stage play of the era), Georgy Girl (I never saw the movie, but I’ll never forget the song), and two movies that have been remade in recent years: Alfie and Bedazzled. The later’s jumping nuns sequence could make a list of the 100 funniest scenes ever filmed.

Also on the schedule: Girls Will Be Boys, a look at women dressed as men, mostly from the silent and early sound periods. Plus tributes to Shyam Benegal, Olivier Assayas, Tomu Uchida, and Sergio Leone.

And now for something completely technical:

No film will roll when the Castro screens Cruising for a week starting September 7. Although Warner Brothers is giving William Friedkin’s 1980 S&M gay bar murder mystery a small theatrical run prior to a big DVD release, they haven’t struck any actual prints. Instead, Warners has scanned the film at a very high 4K resolution, and the Castro is renting a Sony 4K digital projector for the occasion. I’ve never seen 4K projection, which some say rivals 70mm in image quality. Whatever you think about the film, which was originally panned and vilified as homophobic, the presentation will be exciting.

Speaking of grand presentations at the Castro, this year’s 70mm festival opens a few days after Cruising closes. It’s considerably less spectacular than last year’s extravaganza, but it has some good stuff. It will include, of course, Lawrence of Arabia and 2001 (you can’t have a 70mm festival without them). Other promising selections include Patton, Ghostbusters, and Terminator II.

While Cruising plays the Castro, the Cerrito will aim at an entirely different demographic. In Poop-sponsored kiddie matinees on September 8 and 9, they’ll present Follow That Bird, the only feature film built around the characters and alternative reality of Sesame Street. I had a very young Sesame Street fan in the house when this movie was new, and it became his first theatrical movie experience. I haven’t seen Follow That Bird in many years, so I hesitate to grade it, but I remember it fondly. Like a Muppet movie (which, in a sense, it is), the movie serves up silly jokes, pleasant but forgettable songs, colorful visuals, and celebrity cameos. It also celebrates diversity and criticizes bigotry. If it were made today, no doubt it would instead tell children that they have to believe in themselves.

This Week’s Movies

No End in Sight, Rafael, ongoing. You may think you know how badly the administration bungled the war in Iraq, but Charles Ferguson‘s documentary tells the story so carefully, so dispassionately, and so authoritatively that you’re awed by the enormity of these people’s incompetence and the tragedy of its results. And you feel in your gut not only that today’s situation is hopeless, but that it didn’t have to be this way. Most Iraq war documentaries focus on the regular folks caught in the war, but Ferguson tells most of the story through the people who ran the occupation during its first few months, such as Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and former Ambassador-to-Iraq Barbara Bodine. No End in Sight is easily be the best documentary of the year so far, as well as the most depressing. Click here for a full review.

Stardust, Presidio, ongoing. Magic. Every positive implication of that word applies to Matthew Vaughn’s adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s fantasy novel. No attempt to describe the plot can do it justice, so let me just say it concerns a callow youth (Charlie Cox), a fallen star (Claire Danes), an evil witch temporarily restored to her youthful beauty (Michelle Pfeiffer), seven evil princes, and a flamingly gay pirate (Robert De Niro). Like Princess Bride, Stardust manages to mix silly humor with likable (I wouldn’t go so far as to call them realistic) characters and thrilling fantasy swashbuckling. Easily the best action film I’ve seen this year.

Le Doulos, Castro, opening Friday for limited, 1-week run. Why have I never seen a French film noir before? True, Americans invented the genre, but the French named it. Le Doulos doesn’t add anything really new and exciting to the genre (besides some brief nudity–something that wasn’t allowed on American screens in 1962), but it’s a darkly fun story of double-crosses and quadruple-crosses amongst hardened criminals. The story confused me a few times, but it all comes together in some surprising ways at the end. Presented in a new 35mm print.

Dial “M” for Murder, Stanford, Saturday through Tuesday. John Ford never made a 3D movie. Neither did Akira Kurosawa, Orson Welles, or Charlie Chaplin. But Alfred Hitchcock did–the only director in his class to try the short-lived medium. Dial M isn’t great Hitchcock–it’s pretty much a straight adaptation of a stage play–but it’s a good play and Hitchcock knew what to do with it. Forced against his will to use the new-fangled double-lens camera, Hitchcock pretty much ignored the obvious 3D effects popular at the time. But when he finally throws something at the camera, he knows exactly what he’s doing. Unfortunately, the Stanford will not present the movie in 3D.

High and Low, Pacific Film Archive, Tuesday, 7:30. After his two great action comedies (Yojimbo and Sanjuro) and before his last black and white historical epic (Red Beard), Akira Kurosawa made one of the best crime thrillers of the 1960’s. Toshiro Mifune (who else?) stars as a successful businessman who thinks he’s off the hook when a kidnapper snatches the wrong boy, leaving the businessman’s son safe. But the kidnapper still insists that the ransom (large enough to destroy Mifune’s tenuous hold on his company) be paid, forcing the man into a moral dilemma. Can he let another man’s son die for his career? Most of High and Low takes place in a single living room, and Kurosawa uses the wide, Tohoscope frame brilliantly in the confined space.

Mafiosa, Red Vic, Tuesday and Wednesday. I laughed many times, often with hearty enthusiasm, during this rediscovered “classic– 1962 Italian comedy. But I also spent too much time wondering when it was going to get funny, or at least interesting, again. The best moments come early, with the resulting culture shock when the factory manager protagonist (the great comic actor Alberto Sordi) brings his blonde wife and children to his native Sicily–a place that appears only slightly more civilized than Borat’s Kazakhstan. But director Alberto Lattuada and his five credited writers fail to either consistently keep the comic pace or layer in enough reality to hold our interest when the humor slacks off. And when Mafioso takes a serious turn in the third act, that lack of reality is nearly fatal.

La vie en rose, 4Star, opening Friday. Early in this Edith Piaf biopic, a hunched, aged-before-her-time Piaf walks up to a recording studio microphone. She looks bored and mildly annoyed. When she starts singing in that incredible voice, she still looks bored and annoyed, her facial expression contrasting sharply with her soaring vocals. I knew then that La Vie En Rose wasn’t going to be a happy film about the redemption of art. Marion Cotillard gives one of cinema’s great performances as Piaf, whose short life–at least in writer/director Olivier Dahan’s view–was about as miserable as a life can get. Horrendous childhood, bad luck, and her own selfish and unpleasant personality hurt her at every turn. This isn’t an easy film to watch, but it is also impossible to ignore. Great songs, too.

Ratatouille, Elmwood, opening Friday. Brad Bird keeps proving himself the most original, talented, and interesting animator since Chuck Jones. While there’s nothing really original about building a cartoon around sympathetic, anthropomorphic rodents (just ask Walt Disney), Bird does something totally different. He gives us the unpleasant, relatively realistic image of rats in the kitchen–he even lets our skin crawl at the spectacle–but he still gets us rooting for the rat. And for the hapless, human chef-in-training who intentionally sneaks a rat into a gourmet restaurant. The animation is, as you’d expect from Pixar, technically perfect, but you don’t really notice it except as an afterthought. You’re too caught up in the story to notice how it was made.

Sicko, Parkway, opening Friday. It’s probably impossible to review Sicko objectively. If you agree with Michael Moore on the subject at hand, you’re going to like the film. If you don’t, you won’t. So let me begin by saying that I’m in favor of universal healthcare, and find the American system of treating the sick a national disgrace. On the other hand, I’m not comfortable with unquestioned praise for Cuba–a totalitarian dictatorship without the free press necessary to question government statistics and representations. As a movie, Sicko entertains as it educates, enrages, and rouses the rabble. Yes, Moore could have made a stronger case if he had honestly reported the problems of the Canadian, British, and French healthcare systems while showing their superiority (if he asked anyone what they pay in taxes, it didn’t make the final cut), and if he had left Cuba out entirely. A year ago, An Inconvenient Truth proved that a widely-distributed documentary can shift the paradigm; let’s hope Sicko does this, as well.

My Effect on the Government

Since I write about technology professionally, I should be used to my prose going out of date quickly. But Sunday just took the cake! In my full-length review of No End in Sight, I guessed that Karl Rove has already seen this film as he likes to keep tabs on his enemies.

So what happens Monday morning? Karl Rove resigns. The nerve!

It’s probably a coincidence, but just in case there’s some cause and effect involved:

I’m sure Dick Cheney has seen Sicko, as it will help remind our physically weak Vice President that he’s one of the few people in America with decent health care.

Alberto Gonzales has to have caught Stardust. It’s the perfect movie for a man who can’t separate fantasy from reality.

And, of course, Our Most Perfect and Beloved President„¢ has surely seen Live Free or Die Hard, because like John McClane, he’s the only person who can save America.

Okay, I await their resignations.

Speaking of disappointments, the Stanford has a week’s worth of 3D movies coming up…all in glorious 2D. That’s right. Saturday through Tuesday they’re presenting Dial “M” for Murder, the only 3D film made by one of film history’s great directors (Alfred Hitchcock). Then, Wednesday through Friday, they’re screening Creature from the Black Lagoon. And neither movie will be screened in 3D.

What makes this really sad is that, to my knowledge, the Stanford is one of only two theaters in the area equipped to project the dual-system 3D in which both movies were shot.

Oh, well.

No End in Sight

I’m tempted to say that someone should force the people running the White House to watch Charles Ferguson’s riveting but depressing documentary. But what would George W. Bush get out of it? He knows that neither he nor his loyal advisors make mistakes, and therefore everything in this film must be wrong. And I suspect that Karl Rove has already seen it; he’s not the sort to let such truth crimes go unanswered.

And what a truth crime it is! You may think you know how badly the administration bungled the war in Iraq, but No End in Sight tells the story so carefully, so dispassionately, and so authoritatively that you’re awed by the enormity of these people’s incompetence and the tragedy of its results. And you feel in your gut not only that today’s situation is hopeless, but that it didn’t have to be this way. Despite the temptation to make jokes about the title, No End in Sight’s 102 minutes (there’s apparently a 146-minute version playing in Europe) zips by quickly–surprisingly quickly a depressing film consisting mostly of talking heads.

Ferguson is no Michael Moore. There’s no grandstanding here, no wacky humor, and no obvious rabble-rousing. I’m not even sure, despite some early references to the lies that got America into this war, if he thinks that invading Iraq was a bad idea from the start.

But Ferguson clearly finds the administration’s handling of the occupation to be one very bad idea after another. With the thoroughness of a first-class detective, this computer-tycoon-turned-first-time-filmmaker examines how Cheney and company ignored the best advice of the most knowledgeable people, placed its trust only in those whose opinion it wanted to hear, and created a horrible and incurable mess.

For instance, the film spends a good deal of time on the decision to disband the Iraqi army. The administration believed, against Pentagon advise, that they didn’t need an enormous army for the occupation. Since there weren’t enough American soldiers there to do the job properly, the existing Iraqi army (most of whom felt no great love for Saddam) were an obvious asset, and one the occupiers on the ground in Iraq wanted to use. But the order came down to disband the Iraqi army, turning this promising asset into 200,000 unemployed, angry men with guns. The insurgency picked up steam very soon after that.

Most Iraq war documentaries focus on the regular folks caught in the war, whether they are American soldiers or Iraqi civilians. Ferguson does a bit of that, but he tells most of the story through the people who ran the occupation during its first few months. These include former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, former Ambassador-to-Iraq Barbara Bodine, Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, and General Jay Garner. Their evidence is damning.

No End in Sight is easily be the best documentary of the year so far. It won’t make as much money as Sicko–and not only because it lacks Moore’s humor and box office status. Moore showed us a dreadful situation and a way to fix it. Ferguson shows us a worse situation and tells us how it could have been avoided. But as the film’s title implies, there’s not a fix this time.

So follow what I assume is Karl Rove’s example, and see No End in Sight. It won’t make you happy, but chances are it won’t offend you as much as it probably offended Karl.

This Week’s Movies

Double bill: San Francisco and The Maltese Falcon, Castro, Saturday, 7:00. The Castro celebrates its 85th Birthday with two studio-era classics set in San Francisco but shot, of course, in Hollywood. The big, silly, melodramatic special effects vehicle San Francisco tries to have it both ways, celebrating the non-conformist, hedonistic, open-minded joy that–at least to the screenwriters–symbolized the Barbary Coast, while covering itself in a thick layer of Christian moralizing that’s as annoying as it is laughable. Highlights include a spectacular earthquake and fire, plus the best song ever written about a city. Dashiell Hammett’s novel The Maltese Falcon had been filmed twice before, but screenwriter and first-time director John Huston did it right with the perfect cast and a screenplay that sticks almost word-for-word to the book. The ultimate Hammett picture, the second-best directorial debut of 1941 (after Citizen Kane), an important precursor to film noir, and perhaps the most entertaining detective movie ever made.

Way Out West, Castro, Saturday, 11:00am. I hesitate to pan this movie because of the low price and double bill, but here goes: Laurel and Hardy made some of the funniest short films ever shot. Unfortunately, economics forced them into features, and their utterly inept characters seldom worked well within the longer format. This dreary western parody, for instance, barely has enough laughs to fill a two-reeler. If you want to experience how great L&H could be, catch Sons of the Desert or Blockheads (their two best features) or just about any of their shorts. On the other hand, as part of its 85th Birthday Celebration, the Castro will screen Way Out West along with several Bugs Bunny cartoons, and they’ll probably have enough laughs to make up for the feature’s shortcomings. Besides, the entire presentation costs only 25 cents.

Singalong Wizard Of Oz, Castro, Saturday, 2:00. 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 under normal conditions, not quite fun enough to earn an A. On the other hand, a sing-along Wizard of Oz, preceded by a Monique Argent concert as part of the Castro’s 85th Birthday Celebration, may be worth seeing.

The Bourne Ultimatum, Balboa and Presidio, ongoing. A hand-held camera, incoherently fast editing, an ear-shatteringly loud soundtrack, and a modicum of very subtle left-wing posturing don’t add up to a great action movie. Director Paul (United 93) Greengrass and his three screenwriters deliver one exhausting chase after another, offering loud percussion music and cutting so fast you can’t tell what’s going on. Even when the picture slows down for the occasional dialog scenes, the camera shakes so much you pray for a tripod. Some real suspense and interesting (if not entirely original) ideas manage to poke their way through the technique, but in the end they’re overwhelmed by the visual and literal noise.

City Lights, Rafael, Friday, Saturday, Monday, and Tuesday. In Charlie Chaplin’s most perfect comedy, the little tramp falls in love with a blind flower girl and befriends a suicidal, alcoholic millionaire, but neither of them know the real Charlie. The result is funny and touching, with one of the great tear-jerking endings. Sound came to movies as Chaplin was shooting City Lights, resulting in an essentially silent film with a recorded musical score composed by Chaplin himself.

Silent Running, Pacific Film Archive, Wednesday, 7:30. First, a disclaimer: My late stepfather, John H. Newman, cut the sound effects on this sci-fi ecological parable. He considered it the best work he ever did. As a teenager, I got to hang around the post-production offices one day and watch everyone shoot special effects. The movie today feels somewhat preachy and heavy-handed, with a story about as believable as testimony by Alberto Gonzales. But the 2001-influenced special effects make nice eye candy (director Douglas Trumbull was one of Kubrick’s effects specialists), the robots clearly influenced R2D2, Bruce Dern gives a good performance in a nearly one-man show, and the movie has its heart in the right place. Great sound effects, too.

Casablanca, Stanford, Saturday through Tuesday. What can I say? You’ve either already seen it or know you should. Let me just add that no one who worked on Casablanca thought they were making a masterpiece; it was just another movie coming off the Warner assembly line. But somehow, just this once, everything came together perfectly.

Sicko, Cerrito, opens Friday. It’s probably impossible to review Sicko objectively. If you agree with Michael Moore on the subject at hand, you’re going to like the film. If you don’t, you won’t. So let me begin by saying that I’m in favor of universal healthcare, and find the American system of treating the sick a national disgrace. On the other hand, I’m not comfortable with unquestioned praise for Cuba–a totalitarian dictatorship without the free press necessary to question government statistics and representations. As a movie, Sicko entertains as it educates, enrages, and rouses the rabble. Yes, Moore could have made a stronger case if he had honestly reported the problems of the Canadian, British, and French healthcare systems while showing their superiority (if he asked anyone what they pay in taxes, it didn’t make the final cut), and if he had left Cuba out entirely. A year ago, An Inconvenient Truth proved that a widely-distributed documentary can shift the paradigm; let’s hope Sicko does this, as well.

Death of the Masters

I wasn’t going to write anything about the two great icons of European cinema who died last week. Why join the chorus of mourning bloggers writing about the same thing? Besides, I’ve often found Bergman’s films easier to admire than to love, and I’ve never cared for Antonioni.

But some of the idiocy I’ve been reading and hearing moved me to act. I’m referring specifically, but not exclusively, to Camille Paglia Art movies: R.I.P. piece on Salon.com. The general tone is that Bergman’s and Antonioni’s deaths mark the end of film as a serious art form.

No, Paglia, art film will survive their deaths, just as it survived their retirements and the end of their most creative periods. True, there will never be another Bergman, or another Antonioni. And there will never been another Ford, Hitchcock, Kurosawa, or Chaplin. Or another Shakespeare, Dickens, or Bach. Not because the human race is devolving into artless cretins, but because every great artist is unique. If they weren’t unique, why would we love them so much?

Their friends and family should mourn the deaths of Ingmar Bergman and Michelangelo Antonioni as everyone mourns the loss of someone close whom they can never again talk to, joke with, or hug. But fans should be happy that these men lived long and (presumably) happy lives, and left behind important bodies of work.

Maybe I’ll reexamine some of my favorite Bergmans, perhaps I’ll even take the time to watch the complete, television version of Fanny and Alexander. Who knows–I might even give L’Avventura a second try.

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