The Savages, Sequoia Theatre, Mill Valley, Thursday, 7:00. Laura Linney and Phillip Seymour Hoffman both turn in brilliant performances (what else do you expect) as siblings coping with a father losing himself into dementia. Not that they feel much love towards this father (Philip Bosco), whose parenting skills were apparently only slightly better than those of their absent mother, but they do feel responsibility. Writer/director Tamara Jenkins, in her first feature since 1998′s Slums of Beverly Hills, avoids sentimentality, tragedy, or easy lessons, being content to show us a difficult moment in every family, made all the more worse in a dysfunctional one. Opening night of the Mill Valley Film Festival.
His Girl Friday, Piedmont, Saturday. Director Howard Hawks turned Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur’s hit play The Front Page into a love triangle by making ace reporter Hildy Johnson a woman (Rosalind Russell), and scheming editor Walter Burns (Cary Grant) her ex-husband. And thus was born one of the funniest screwball comedies of them all–with a bit of serious drama thrown in about an impending execution. Part of the Piedmont’s 90th Anniversary Film Festival.
The Palm Beach Story, Stanford, Saturday through Tuesday. No one wrote and directed screwball comedies as well as Preston Sturges, and if this one doesn’t quite come up to the brilliant level of The Lady Eve, it’s still too good to earn a mere B. It’s not just the absurdity of casting singer Rudy Vallee as the millionaire rival ready to win Claudette Colbert from husband Joel McCrea. It’s the Weenie King, the Ale and Quail Club, Toto, and the most ridiculous happy ending ever filmed.
Safety Last!, Piedmont, Friday. Harold Lloyd’s iconic image, hanging from a large clock high over a city street, comes from this boy-makes-good-by-risking-his- neck fairytale. Lloyd made better pictures, but even mediocre Lloyd is funnier than most comics. And when he starts climbing that building, the laughs–and thrills–don’t stop. Part of the Piedmont’s 90th Anniversary Film Festival, this silent film will be presented with recorded–rather than live–accompaniment. I suspect it will be the same score heard on the DVD.
Cyrano de Bergerac, Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, Saturday, 7:30. Silent filmmakers had so many ways of adding color to their movies that they used the term natural color to describe hues actually captured by the camera–what we today just call color. One of the most extraordinary, and expensive, techniques they had involved hand-cut stencils that allowed them to effectively paint detailed colors onto black-and-white prints.To my knowledge, this French 1925 version of the famous play is the only feature film to use stencil coloring throughout. I haven’t seen it, so I have no opinion on the movie as drama, but I suspect it will be beautiful to look at. The Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum will screen a color, 35mm print, accompanied by David Giovacchini and the Ahl-i Nafs.
Lawrence of Arabia, Piedmont, Tuesday. 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. This masterpiece isn’t worth seeing on DVD and loses something even in 35mm. Shot in Super Panavision 70, it takes 70mm to reach it’s full potential. As part of the Piedmont’s 90th Anniversary Film Festival. Lawrence will be screened, alas, in 35mm–although in the 1980′s the Piedmont screened films in 70mm.
Donnie Darko, Cerrito, Thursday, 9:15. How many alienated-teenager-in-suburbia-time-travel-science-fantasy comedies can you name? Okay, there’s Back to the Future and its sequels, but add the adjectives horrific and surreal to that description, and Donnie Darko stands alone. And how many alienated movie teenagers have to deal with a slick self-help guru and a six-foot rabbit named Frank (think Harvey, only vicious). It’s not entirely clear what’s going on in this strange movie, but that just adds to the fun. A City of Hope Walk for Breast Cancer benefit.
Sweet Smell of Success, Cerrito, Saturday and Sunday. It’s been too long since I’ve seen Burt Lancaster’s Broadway noire for me to trust my memory with a wholehearted recommendation. But not by much. Lancaster risked his career by producing this exploration of the seamy side of fame and by playing a truly despicable character. The result, if I recall correctly, is fantastic. Tony Curtis co-stars, from a script by Ernest (North by Northwest) Lehman. The last weekly Cerrito Classic.
Stardust, Elmwood, opens Friday. Continuing at the Parkway. 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.
Hairspray, Elmwood, opens Friday. Continuing at the 4Star. 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?
Sicko, Red Vic, Friday through Sunday. 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.
- Balboa & Presidio: 3:10 To Yuma
- Balboa & Parkway: Once
- 4Star & Cerrito: The Bourne Ultimatum
- Elmwood: Ratatouille
- Elmwood: La Vie En Rose