Oscars at the Cerrito

I discovered just how fun an Oscar party can be. It happened last night at the Cerrito. cerrito

But I must confess: I did not, after all, come costumed as a lesbian gardener ballet dancer with an eye patch. A few people were costumed as movie characters, however, and a great many dressed up formally for the evening.

Each one of us received a bag of goodies as we entered. Mine included a glow wand, a pen, some candy, a CD from a musician I’d never heard of, and a cheap, cardboard horn. I don’t know how identical the bags’ contents were, but I can say with absolute certainly that there were a lot of glow wands, and a lot of cardboard horns. The later contributed to the general merriment.

Houselights were up for the red carpet preshow, and down for the actual program. During commercials, the screen went blank, the houselights came up, and Rialto Cinemas employee Melissa Hathaway (no relation, I assume, to show co-host Anne Hathaway) came onstage with trivia questions.

Throughout the entire evening, other Cerrito employees moved through the theater giving out hors d’oeuvres. This was in addition to the Cerrito’s normal snack bar offerings, which are more like a restaurant’s than a movie theater’s.

Few contestants stood up for the costume contest. The winner was dressed as Helena Bonham Carter’s queen from The King’s Speech. She didn’t get my vote, however (the choice was made by a panel of judges, not the audience). I liked the woman dressed as Rooster Cogburn. (I took some photos, but I’m not satisfied with the results.)

The enthusiastic audience enhanced the show itself. People cheered and applauded, with remarkably little booing. When the Cinematography and Sound Mixing winners made a point of thanking their union crews, the East Bay crowd gave their approval. I wasn’t the only person to applaud silent-film historian Kevin Brownlow for his life-achievement award.

Speaking of life-achievement awards, I’m amongst those who resents that these are now done at a separate, non-televised ceremony. These were always the best part of the Oscars for me.

The show itself was entertaining, and the winners predictable. But I can’t help wondering: Did the majority of Academy members who saw both Toy Story III and The Illusionist really think the kiddie movie deserved the Best Animated Feature award? Or has voting for the Pixar entry simply become a reflex action?


With its celebration of technology and independent filmmaking, Cinequest always seemed like a festival I should attend. But San Jose a big schlep for me, and I’ve yet to make it.

But that doesn’t mean you should miss it. It runs the first 12 days of March.

The festival kicks off this year with Passsione, a documentary about music by indie movie star and sometimes director John Turturro. He’s also receiving this year’s Maverick Spirit Award. The festival closes officially on the 12th with Soul Surfer, although two other screenings are scheduled after that at another theater.

Considering its techie slant, one shouldn’t be surprised that Cinequest will embrace 3D, this year. They’re even embracing an old 2D film that’s been recently converted to 3D. That’s sacrilege! Well, it would be sacrilege if the masterpiece in question wasn’t Plan 9 From Outer Space. The festival will also screen two collections of 3D shorts, Bats, Boards and Bugs and 3opolis.

Outside of Plan 9, the only film they’re showing that I know is Nosferatu, with Dennis James accompanying on the California Theater’s organ.

I’m going to try to preview a few other movies before they’re screened. If I succeed, I’ll tell you about them.

What’s Screening: February 25 – March 3

Cinequest opens Tuesday night, if only as a reminder that not all festivals open on a Thursday. But then, the Green Film Festival opens on Thursday.

And here’s something strange: There’s not a show in this newsletter I can give a grade to. No A‘s, no F‘s, and nothing in between. There are two movies here I really like, but one I haven’t seen in 20 years (which disqualifies it from a grade) and the other is one of three short subjects on the program.

Oscar Parties, Balboa, Cerrito, Lark, Rafael, Roxie. See my recent post for details.

10 Year Anniversary, Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, Saturday, 7:30. The Museum has been presenting films since February 2001, so it’s time for a celebration. The feature is Lilac Time (I haven’t heard of it, either), starring Gary Cooper as a WWI aviator and Colleen Moore as his French love interest. With three short subjects and Jon Mirsalis accompanying on a Kurzwell, which I think is a digital piano.

Silent Comedies of the 1920s, Pacific Film Archive, Friday, 7:00. The PFA is presenting three obscure silent comic shorts on a night that I can’t attend (damn them). The only one of the three I’ve seen is "Pass the Gravy." I don’t want to give away too much about this Max Davidson two-reeler—let’s just say it involves feuding fathers, young people in love, a prize chicken, and one of the funniest dinners on film. If the other shorts are as funny, this will indeed be an evening of merriment.  And since it’s part of the series and symposium, Cinema Across Media: The 1920s, it will presumably be an evening of education, as well.

The Harmony Game: The Making of Bridge Over Troubled Water, Balboa, Thursday. Documentary on the making of the Simon and Garfield album 40 years ago. I haven’t seen it, but I thought it was worth mentioning here, anyway.

The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T., Pacific Film Archive, Wednesday, 3:10. The only Dr. Seuss feature film made during his lifetime, and as creative, visually daring, and funny as any kid’s fantasy ever to come out of Hollywood. At least that’s how I remember it, many years from my last screening. Even the sets, photographed in three-strip Technicolor, look as if Seuss had painted them himself. The PFA will screen a vault print as part of the series, and class, Film 50: History of Cinema

Shoah, Pacific Film Archive, Part 1, Saturday, 5:00; Part 2, Sunday, 1:00. I admit that I have never seen this much-acclaimed, epic Holocaust documentary. When I was offered me a review copy recently, I turned them down. I couldn’t imagine spending more than nine hours watching a series of interviews about mass genocide. I’m not proud of that decision. But I thought I should note that the film contains no historical footage, is a recent addition to Roger Ebert’ Great Movies series, and  has been restored for its 25th anniversary.

Oscar Parties

The rule used to be that you watched movies in theaters and TV at home. Today, so many of us watch movies at home that we need to get out once in awhile to watch TV in the theater.

And why not do it with the biggest movie night on television: The Academy Awards? Comedy is usually better with an audience.

Here are the theaters playing the Oscars on their big screens Sunday night:

Balboa: Writer/performer Reed Kirk Rahlmann will host what the Balboa is promising to be the "most relaxed and fun Oscar® party in town." They’re giving away prizes for the best costume; I dare you to come as a Winter Bone.

Cerrito: I’ll be attending this one, so if you come, keep an eye out for me and say "Hello." The Cerrito probably has the best food of any local theater, and the most comfortable chairs, which makes it a good choice for a long show (other theaters are bringing in boxed gourmet dinners, but the Cerrito doesn’t have to bring them in; it has a real kitchen). Like the Balboa, they’re giving away prizes for costumes based on the movies;  I saw The Kids are All Right, Black Swan, and True Grit at the Cerrito, so maybe I should come as a lesbian gardener ballet dancer with an eye patch.

Lark: Food-wise, the Lark seems to be giving the Cerrito a run for its money. They’ve got quite a menu planned from various local eateries. And yes, a costume contest. The price is high, though: $55.

Rafael: For what it’s worth, this is the "Only official Bay Area Oscar night event sanctioned by the Academy." It includes a gourmet boxed dinner and a silent auction, but no costume contest. As I write this, the Rafael’s Oscar event is the only one I’ve attended–two years ago. Unfortunately, I can’t say I enjoyed it much. Despite my negative review, it’s already sold out.

Roxie: They’re calling this one "Up the Oscars!" which suggests that it might be the only unofficial Bay Area Oscar night event condemned by the Academy. They’re encouraging patrons to "bring your ill-tempered attitude and vent with an equally irascible ilk while we attempt to distract you with prizes and a variety of shenanigans…" These include (you guessed it) a costume contest, "all calculated to keep your blood from boiling as misconceived musical numbers are performed and unworthy winners are announced."

The Leopard at the Castro

Historical epics like Lawrence of Arabia, Gandhi, and Cleopatra tell us stories about people who changed history. Others–what I call passive epics–concentrate on people whose worlds are changed by the history happening around them. Gone With the Wind, Ben-Hur, and Dr. Zhivago fit into this category.

Luchino Visconti’s 1963 film The Leopard takes this passivity even further. The aristocratic, Sicilian  protagonists live through a revolution that changes Italy’s government, but their lives are hardly effected, and certainly not for the worst. True, one young man becomes engaged to the daughter of a common-born but wealthy businessman, which would have been unthinkable a generation before. But that causes little conflict because its good for both familie, and besides, they love each other. Since they’re played by Alain Delon and Claudia Cardinale, how could they not?

My wife and I caught the new restoration of The Leopard at the Castro Sunday night.

Visconti was an aristocrat by birth but a Marxist by inclination. He clearly understood and sympathized with those born and raised to have absurd entitlement issues, and the film shows considerable nostalgia for the days of fancy balls and peasants who knew their place. But it also understands why this type of life had to go away.

I must admit that I know nothing about the revolution, set at around the same time as our Civil War, portrayed here. I’ll probably look it up and read a bit about it soon.

For a three-hour film where almost nothing happens, The Leopard is remarkably spell-binding. The visuals help immensely. The film was shot in Technirama, the same large-frame, widescreen format used for Sparticus and The Big Country. This yields a fine-grain image with exceptionally saturated colors–perfect for beautiful rooms, ballroom dances, and one well-staged battle scene.

With its baroque proscenium and large screen, the Castro was the perfect place to experience this massive film.

Burt Lancaster’s lead performance as the family patriarch centered the film and held theleopardeverything together. The producers cast Lancaster against Visconti’s wishes, but the director soon accepted the wisdom of their choice. Even robbed of his voice (his lines were dubbed into Italian), Lancaster gives a brilliant performance–one of the best of an distinguished career. His character is strong but aging, a man who takes charge of everyone and every situation as if it’s second nature. But he’s painfully aware that neither he nor his way of life, both of which survive this revolution, can last forever.

Few stars since the talkie revolution have had as strong a physical presence as Lancaster, or as expressive a face. Initially, the disconnect between Lancaster’s face and someone else’s voice threw me off, but not for long. Whoever dubbed him into Italian did a good job.

The Leopard is a big, bold film about people barely touched by momentous events. It’s graceful in design and shows great sympathy for its flawed characters. I enjoyed it immensely, but I also left the theater wondering whether there was a point to it. After all, if the Communists had allowed Zhivago to maintain his practice unchanged, and he continued to enjoy both his wife and Lara, would we care about him?

The Leopard continues at the Castro today (Monday).

What’s Screening: February 18 – 24

No festivals this week.

A Double bill: Chinatown & L.A. Confidential, Castro, Thursday. Roman Polanski chinatownmay be a rapist, but you can’t watch Chinatown and deny his talent as a filmmaker. (Not that that in any way excuses his actions as a human being.) Writer Robert Towne fictionalized an actual scandal involving Southern California water rights to create this neo-noir tale of intrigue and double-crosses set in Los Angeles in the 1930s. Polanski turned it into the perfect LA noir period piece. Speaking of LA noir period pieces, L.A. Confidential – a tale of corruption in the LAPD in the early 1950s – makes a perfect second feature.

A Inside Job, Red Vic, Sunday and Monday. Once again, I have to ask myself if I liked this documentary because it was well-made, or because I believe in the filmmaker’s point of view. My answer: both. Let me put it this way: Charles Ferguson’s Inside Job covers much of the same ground as Michael Moore’s Capitalism: A Love Story, and from a very similar point of view. But while Moore grandstands, preaches, and stages funny scenes, Ferguson digs deeper into the problems that caused of the financial crisis, the reasons those problems have not been solved (short answer: They still make the rich richer), and the serious consequences they have for the future of this nation. Moore concentrated on entertaining; Ferguson on being clear and making a case.

A Metropolis, Pacific Film Archive, Saturday, 6:00. The first important science fiction feature film still strikes a considerable visual punch,and with the latest restoration, tells a compelling story, as well. 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 them through the countless films it has influenced. Recently-discovered footage, which restores it to something very much like the original cut, elevates the story of a clash between workers and aristocrats from trite melodrama to grand opera. Read my longer report. Digitally projected, and using the recorded score rather than live accompaniment..

A The Dark Knight, Castro, Wednesday. As far back as Memento, the Nolan brothers have seen evil as an influence very likely to corrupt those dedicated to fighting it. Here no one, including Bruce Wayne/Batman himself (Christian Bale) gets away without moral compromises. But what can you expect when fighting the Joker, who is absolutely nuts in Heath Ledger’s almost-final performance. For more details, see my full review. Playing with Zodiac as the last of three Fincher-Nolan double bills.

Shoah, Pacific Film Archive, Sunday, Part 1, 11:30am; Part 2, 5:15. I admit that I have never seen this much-acclaimed, epic Holocaust documentary. When I was offered me a review copy recently, I turned them down. I couldn’t imagine spending more than nine hours watching a series of interviews about mass genocide. I’m not proud of that decision. But I thought I should note that the film contains no historical footage, is a recent addition to Roger Ebert’ Great Movies series, and  has been restored for its 25th anniversary.

B Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows Part 1, Red Vic, Friday and Saturday. Did Warner Brothers rip-off Potter fans by splitting the last book into two films so theyhpdeathyhal1 could get in an eighth movie? Or did they rightfully see this as the best approach for adapting a very long book? Whether they did it for commercial reasons or not, it was the right decision. The movie is fun, scary, and suspenseful, although like most of the Potter films, it does little but visualize what most of us have already read. The fact that you go in knowing there will be no resolution is kind of annoying, but it’s better than finding that out in the theater.

B Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, Cerrito, Friday and Saturday, Midnight. Tim Burton’s first feature revels in its own peeweesbigadvensilliness. 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 film, is alone worth the price of admission.

B+ The Oscar-Nominated Live-ActionShort Films, Aquarius, opens Friday for one week. In theory, these are the best five short, live-action, narrative film to play in American theaters in 2010. That brings up a question: Did any short subjects play in American theaters last year? However they qualify, they’re overall a worthy selection, with one remarkable gem, three good little pleasures, and only one near-turkey. Read my full review.

B The Oscar-Nominated Animated Short Films, Aquarius, opens Friday for one week. This collection of seven short cartoons (the five nominees and two that should have been nominated) range from conventional to creative, hilarious to poetic, and masterful to mediocre. "The Lost Thing" and the not-nominated "Urs" are the best. If you’re thinking about bringing your kids, all of these shorts are child appropriate, and most of them are child-entertaining. Some may even be child-enlightening. Read my full review.

B Bedlam, Stanford, Friday. A good, fun little low-budget horror film from 1946, set in the legendary madhouse. With Boris Karloff, of course. On a double bill with The Body Snatcher.

Technical Formats and the Best Picture Oscar

If The Social Network wins the big prize this month, as many think it will, it will be the first picture to do so not shot on film. The Mark Zuckerberg biopic was shot digitally.

A year ago, a lot of people thought that Avatar was going to win, and it would have achieved that distinction. Instead, The Hurt Locker, becoming the first film shot in a low-cost, small film format (Super 16) to gain the big prize.

The Best Picture Oscar is meaningless as a way to recognize great films. But it can be invaluable in determining the collective mind of the Hollywood industry. It generally takes a few years after a new artistic or technical trend appears before it shows up in a Best Picture, but when it does, you know the trend has accepted.

Consider these milestones:

Sound: The first Oscars were given in May of 1929, as the studios were abandoning silents. But the Best Picture award went to a silent film, Wings. That the second one went to a talkie, The Broadway Melody (not just a talkie but a musical), shows how quickly silents became obsolete.

Color: The first feature shot entirely in three-strip Technocolor, Becky Sharp, came out in 1935. The first to win Best Picture, Gone with the Wind, in 1939. That seems reasonable considering how slowly color became common. But Wind, which boosted Technicolor’s business and popularity considerably, was the last color winner until An American in Paris, 12 years later.

Widescreen: The widescreen revolution, which permanently and literally changed the shape of motion pictures, happened in 1953. Suddenly, the screens were wider, color was becoming the norm, and many films were even in stereo. And for three years, the award went to black-and-white films that were as narrow as the new standards allowed. But when the Academy finally acknowledged the wide screen in 1957 (with the ’56 awards), they did it in a big way, with Around the World in 80 Days.

Large Formats: And by big, I mean big. Around the World was the first of seven Best Picture winners shot in extra-large 65mm formats (the last was Patton, for 1970). Five of those seven won between the years 1959 and 1965, when a large film negative and roadshow presentation (reserved seats and an intermission) signaled an important film. Until The Hurt Locker, these were the only Oscar winners shot on something other than standard 35mm film. And unlike The Hurt Locker, these sacrificed budget for image quality; not the other way around.

So what does it mean when a small format film wins Best Picture one year, and a digital one may quite probably win the next? That Hollywood is accepting technologies, both old and new (Super 16 has been around for decades), that were considered not-quite-respectable only a couple of years ago.

For good or bad, things are changing.

Silent Film Festival Winter Event

I devoted yesterday at the Silent Film Festival Winter Event. Great way to spend a Saturday. Here are the details:

It’s Mutual: Charlie Chaplin Shorts

Before the movie started, I visited the retail section on the Castro‘s mezzanine. At the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum table, I bought a bumper sticker – "Films have a right to remain silent." Downstairs in the theater, I was delighted to see a lot of families with kids. It’s good to start them early.

Do I have to say that all three shorts were hilarious? I didn’t think so.

One thing that struck me was the emphasis on work – a theme you find throughout silent short subjects. Think about how many two-reelers you’ve seen set in a store or factory or farm, with the star playing an inept employee. The first short screened, "The Pawnshop," is a classic example. The second, "The Rink," has many gags about Chaplin as a waiter before he puts on skates. The third one, "The Adventurer," was the exception. He played an escaped convict, which put him closer to the tramp character his onscreen persona would evolve into. Curiously, in both that and "The Rink," he pretends to be an aristocrat.

Another observation: The early Chaplin character can be exceptionally selfish and cruel–even sadistic. When he’s not making people miserable through incompetence, he’s doing it on purpose, hitting and kicking them with little or no justification.Yet you root for him. That’s star power.


This French epic update of a Emile Zola novel disappointed me. The story about stock market speculation (as timely in 1928 as it is now) was slow to start and difficult to follow, making it one of only a handful of silent films I’ve seen that would have been better as a talkie. The presentation didn’t help. The intertitles were in French, and rather than having someone read the translation out-loud, the festival projected yellow subtitles onto the film image. Long and wordy intertitles was broken up into series of short subtitles.

The movie had a handful of great scenes, including the suspenseful take-off of an airplane and a big party where everything goes out of control. But these weren’t enough to make it’s nearly three-hour runtime enjoyable. And even with these, I found myself wondering if the scene was great on its own, or only because of the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra‘s brilliant score.

In fact, Mont Alto made the movie bearable. When the picture was dull, I could at least enjoy the concert. The group complimented their music with occasional and creative sound effects. For instance, during the above-mentioned airplane scene, someone used a salad spinner to simulate the plane’s propeller.

With the possible exception of Carl Davis (who I’ve never seen perform live), the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra are the best silent film accompanists working today.

La Bohème

Officially based on the same stories as Puccini’s opera, but actually taking its plot from the opera itself (which was still under copyright when the film was made), this MGM version is one piece of sweet and sad romance.

It helps to have the director and star of The Big Parade (King Vidor and John Gilbert, respectively). But the spotlight really belongs, both as star and auteur, to Lillian Gish, who gives a beautiful, funny, and heart-breaking performance as Mimi. Gish, who was instrumental in inventing the art of film acting, had a great deal of control over the picture. She used it to good advantage, without sacrificing other actors’ performances to her own glory.

This is grand, romantic tragedy that takes you from the despair of poverty through the dizzying ecstasy of new love to inevitable disaster, all set against Paris in the early 1830s.

For copyright reasons, and much to Gish’s displeasure, the film could not be accompanied by Puccini’s music during its original, 1926 run (although it wouldn’t surprise me if a few theaters got away with it under the radar). In 1979, Dennis James created a new score based on Puccini’s music. The elderly Gish gave that score her wholehearted approval. James performed that score last night.

What’s Screening: February 11 – 17

IndieFest continues through the week. And the Silent Film Festival Winter Event plays Sunday.

Silent Film Festival Winter Event, Castro, Saturday, all day. Regular readers shouldn’t be surprised that I consider this the big event of the week. The day begins at 1:00 with a trio of Chaplin Shorts from his Mutual period, accompanied by Donald Sosin on piano. That’s followed at 3:30 by the French epic L’Argent, with the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra providing the music. Finally, King Vidor’s adaptation of La Bohème at 8:00, with Dennis James on the Mighty Wurlitzer.

B+ The Oscar-Nominated Live-ActionShort Films, Lumiere, Opera Plaza, Rafael, Shattuck, opens Friday for one week. In theory, these are the best five short, live-action, narrative film to play in American theaters in 2010, which brings up a question: Did any short subjects play in American theaters last year? However they qualify, they’re overall a worthy selection, with one remarkable gem, three good little pleasures, and only one near-turkey. Read my full review.

B The Oscar-Nominated Animated Short Films, Lumiere, Opera Plaza, Rafael, Shattuck, opens Friday for one week. This collection of seven short cartoons (the five nominees and two that should have been nominated) range from conventional to creative, hilarious to poetic, and masterful to mediocre. "The Lost Thing" and the not-nominated "Urs" are the best. If you’re thinking about bringing your kids, all of these shorts are child appropriate, and most of them are child-entertaining. Some may even be child-enlightening. Read my full review.

Special Screening: Heaven Can Wait (1943 version), Stanford, Saturday, 7:30. I’ve never seen this movie, and I have no opinion on it. But for this one screening (out of five over the weekend), the Stanford will show an original nitrate, dye-transfer, Technicolor print. I believe this is the first screening of a nitrate print in the Bay Area since before I’ve been writing this blog. On a double-bill with The Gang’s All Here.

A+ Double Bill: McCabe & Mrs. Miller & Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid, Castro, Thursday. That very high grade goes exclusively to McCabe, the best of the anti-mccabemillerWesterns of the late 60s and early 70s, and one of the most perfectly photographed films ever made. Few people realize, at least on first viewing, how much the plot of Robert Altman’s genre-bending mood poem resembles a traditional western: A lone stranger with a dangerous reputation rides into a remote frontier town, tries to settle down to a peaceful existence, but is soon menaced by a trio of hired killers. Yet there’s nothing conventional about this sad yet beautiful tale of prostitution, alienated community, unrequited love, and a west that seems not so much wild as stranded in the middle of nowhere. Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid, by contrast, would earn about a B- on its own. There’s little exceptional about this workable glorification of the famous killer. On the other hand, it clearly shows you why Bob Dylan never became a movie star.

B+ Fight Club, Castro, Wednesday. This is one strange and disturbing flick. Edward Norton wants to be Brad Pitt. Who wouldn’t? Pitt’s a free-spirited kind of guy and a real man. Besides, he’s shagging Helena Bonham Carter (who plays an American, and would therefore never use the verb shag). On the other hand, he just might be a fascist. Or maybe…better not give away the strangest plot twist this side of Psycho and Bambi, even if it strains credibility more than a Glenn Beck conspiracy theory. And Bonham Carter gets to say the most shocking and hilariously obscene line in Hollywood history. On a double bill with  As Insomnia – the second of three David Fincher/Christopher Nolan double bills the Castro is playing on consecutive Wednesdays.

B The Fifth Element, UA Berkeley, Thursday, 8:00. This big, fun, special effects-laden science  fantasy adventure refufifthelementses to take itself seriously. It never manages to be particularly exciting, but it succeeds in being rousing and funny – intentionally funny – eye candy. It’s also one of the few futuristic movies that’s neither utopian nor dystopian, making it, for all the silliness of the plot, relatively realistic.

A+ Annie Hall, Red Vic, Sunday through Tuesday. Almost every Hollywood film deals on some level with romantic love, but very few accurately capture the complex, dizzying ups and downs of that common experience. And no other captures it as well, or as hilariously, as Woody Allen’s one unassailable masterpiece. This is a romantic comedy like no other. Not only is it funnier than most, without resorting to silly contrivances to keep the plot going or paint-by-the-number characters. It captures, in flashback, the entire arc of a modern relationship, from cautious flirtation to giddy joy to the moment when they must accept the reality of their "dead shark."

A+ Casablanca, Oakland Paramount, Friday, 8:00. What can I casablancasay? 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. And that, astonishingly enough, is about it.

B Bedlam, Stanford, Thursday (and the following Friday). A good, fun little low-budget horror film from 1946, set in the legendary madhouse. With Boris Karloff, of course. On a double bill with The Body Snatcher.

A The Band Wagon, Cerrito, Saturday and Sunday, 11:00am. Singin’ in the Rain’s producer and writers teamed up with director Vincente Minnelli to make the one great Fred Astaire vehicle without Ginger Rogers. Their trick? They blended a small dose of reality into the otherwise frivolous mix. For instance, Astaire’s character, an aging movie star nervously returning to the Broadway stage he abandoned years before, is clearly based on Astaire himself. The result is a sly satire of Broadway’s intellectual aspirations, lightened up with exceptional songs and dances including “That’s Entertainment” and “I Love Louisa.” A Cerrito Classic.

C- Rope, Pacific Film Archive, Friday, 7:00. Not Hitchcock’s worst film, but easily his most frustrating. Hitchcock was working from a terrific screenplay (by Arthur Laurents, adapted by Hume Cronyn from a play by Patrick Hamilton), but he made two major 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. Part of the series The Films of Claude Chabrol and Alfred Hitchcock.

B Worst in Show, Roxie, Wednesday, February 9, 9:15; Sunday, February 13, 2:30. There’s one thing you know going into a documentary about Petaluma’s Ugliest Dog Contest: You’re going to see an awful lot of adorably ugly dogs. (Believe it or not, even the one shown here looks lovable when cuddling with his owner.) What’s surprising is how involved the human contestants become, and why. There’s a real shot at fame and modest fortune by having your dog win this contest, which is covered by media from all over the world. And there are controversies. Should dogs qualify who are ugly because disaster or disease have disfigured them–opening up charges of exploitation–or just those who come by it naturally. But even here, the Chinese Crested are arguably bred for ugliness, giving them an unfair advantage. The festival web site lists Worst in Show as a 90-minute movie, but the review screener sent to me by the festival runs just under an hour. Part of IndieFest.

Nude Nuns with Big Guns, Roxie, Saturday, 11:30. No grade, no recommendation, and no warning. No opinion whatsoever. I just like the name so much I had to include it in the schedule. Another, probably weirder part of IndieFest.

Academy Award-Nominated Live-Action Shorts


As I promised in my last post, here are my thoughts on the five films nominated for the Best Live-Action Short Subject Oscar. They’re playing, as a single feature, next week at various theaters around the Bay Area.

These are, overall, a bit better than this year’s animated shorts. They’re also longer on average. No one had to add extra, non-nominated films to fill out the show.

They’re also, oddly enough, largely British. Two of the films are from England, and another from Ireland, with one each from Belgium and the good ole US of A.

The Confession: In the longest and weakest short, a young Catholic boy preparing for his first confession takes part in a practical joke, with disastrous results. It’s hard to manage complex moral and religious issues of family and faith in less than half an hour, and despite a few good moments, the filmmakers fail to do so.

The CrushThe Crush: Seeing it right after "The Confession," I worried that this story of an eight-year-old boy in love with his teacher would make similar mistakes. Much to my relief, It doesn’t. I can’t call this a wonderful little film, but it’s certainly enjoyable.
God of Love: A love-sick singer and darts champion receives the answer to his prayers in a package of magic darts. Funny, silly, yet very sweet. The main characters are all in a jazz band, so there’s some good music, as well.

Na Wewe: This Belgian film set in the war-torn African country of Burundi will terrify Na Weweyou with its grim look at racially-motivated, paramilitary murder. Yet oddly, it will also make you laugh. A Hutu militia stops a minivan and tries to separate out the Tutsis for slaughter. But identifying strangers by ethnicity isn’t so easy, and soon becomes an absurd comedy with potentially horrific consequences. By far the best film in the group.

Wish 143: A 15-year-old boy dying of cancer, granted one wish by a charity, asks to lose his virginity. While much of "Wish 143" is played for laughs, it’s no farce. The filmmakers take seriously both the young man’s frightful situation and the moral Wish 143dilemma of the priest charged with making wishes come true.


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