What’s Screening: October 28–November 3

The United Nations Association Film Festival wraps Sunday. French Cinema Now continues through Wednesday, and Silicon Valley Jewish Film Festival keeps going through this week and beyond.. Cinema by the Bay opens Thursday.

And, of course, there are a lot of Halloween events this week. I’ve placed them at the end of this newsletter.

B+ Powell, Cardiff, & Pressburger & Technicolor double bill: The Red Shoes & Black Narcissus, Castro, Saturday & Sunday. The Red Shows, a 1948 Technicolor fable, examines the sacrifices one makes for art. The story starts well but devolves into highly unbelievable melodrama. On the other hand—and this is why The Red Shoes remains a classic—the 20-minute ballet at the center is amongst the greatest dance sequences ever filmed, and no other picture used three-strip Technicolor so expressively. See War and Ballet @ the PFA for more on this. Not much more than a well-done but silly melodrama, Black Narcissus is nevertheless a must if you love old-fashioned three-strip Technicolor. No one could work emotional magic with that clumsy but beautiful medium like cinematographer Jack Cardiff, and this is amongst his best work. Note: I listed this double bill last week in error.

B+ Forbidden Planet, Stanford, Saturday and Sunday. Nothing dates faster than futuristic fiction, and with its corny dialog and spaceship crewed entirely by white males, Forbidden Planet is very dated. But MGM’s 1956 sci-fi extravaganza still holds considerable pleasures. The Cinemascope and Eastmancolor art direction pleases to the eye, Robby the Robot wins your heart, and the story—involving a long-dead mystery race of super-beings—still packs some genuine thrills. It’s also an interesting precursor to Star Trek. On a double-bill with the 1960 version of The Time Machine, which I haven’t seen in a very long time.

A Budd Schulberg/Elia Kazan Double Bill: On the Waterfront & A Face in the Crowd, Stanford, Friday. It’s best to look at On the Waterfront as aonthewaterfront drama about finding the courage to do what’s right. Marlon Brando brilliantly plays a half-bright longshoreman torn between his moral obligation to testify against a corrupt union and the serious and dangerous consequences of being a stool pidgin. On that level, it’s a brilliant motion picture. But things get uglier when you put it into a political and autobiographical context. When they made this picture, both writer Budd Schulberg and director Elia Kazan had recently named names to get off the anti-Communist blacklist; the movie can be interpreted as justification for their acts of cowardice. A Face in the Crowd isn’t at the same level, but Andy Griffith gives a strong dramatic performance as a hobo turned into a media sensation.

Halloween-Themed Events

B The Man Who Laughs, Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, Saturday, 7:30. Lon Chaney had already moved to MGM, so Universal cast Conrad Veidt as The Man Who Laughs. Not that the character’s so happy; as a child his face was intentionally themanwholaughsdisfigured, leaving it stuck in a huge grin. Between Veidt’s reputation (he usually played villains) and the sinister look of his makeup (which later inspired the creation of Batman’s Joker), you’d expect him to be an evil genius who must be defeated. But this time, Veidt gets to play a disfigured hero. Set in 17th Century England and dealing with circus acts, evil monarchs, and lecherous aristocrats, The Man Who Laughs entertains in that big, fun Hollywood way. Shown with three shorts, and all accompanied by Jon Mirsalis on the Kurzwell.

Halloween Spooktacular, Roxie, Friday through Wednesday. Six nights of mayhem and oddities. The shows include The Hunger, a three-film tribute to Twin Peaks, and a rarely-seen movie called Some Guy Who Kills People.

Bal-O-Ween Spooktacular, Bal Theatre, San Leandro, Saturday, 6:00. A costume contest, John Stanley (late of Creature Features), the first ever award of the Bay Area Horror Hall of Fame, and “every person in attendance will have the chance to win A REAL DEAD BODY!! Raffled off right from the stage!! LIVE!!” (It doesn’t promise a human body.) And two movies: Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein and The Little Shop of Horrors (I’m not sure which version).

The San Francisco Neighborhood Theater Foundation Takes Over the Balboa

The San Francisco Neighborhood Theater Foundation, which runs the Vogue, is joining forces with current Balboa manager Gary Meyer to keep that theater open. (I bet you didn’t even know it was in danger of closing.)

The Balboa was built in 1926, making it one of the oldest continuing movie theaters in the Bay Area. The already small theater was split into a duplex in the 1970s.

Details haven’t been announced yet, but the foundation is leasing the theater through 2024, which suggests a reasonably long commitment. The Foundation will host an open house at the Balboa to discuss plans for the theater. The event will be on Saturday, November 5, at 10:00am.

But I already know of one important difference in how the Balboa will be run: During Meyer’s reign, it was a for-profit institution (although I doubt it was often profitable). Now it will be run by a non-profit. That means you can now make donations to help pay for necessary repairs. Visit the Foundation’s web site and click the Join & Donate link on the left.

Miracle Mile: A Little Miracle I Just Discovered

I discovered a rare gem Friday night–a modestly-budgeted Hollywood film from 1988 called Miracle Mile. I’d never heard of it before, and have no idea if it ever played the Bay Area. Without a doubt, this is the  very best dark and suspenseful romantic comedy I’ve ever seen about the end of civilization as we know it.

Miracle Mile starts out as a gentle, witty, charming, and sweet-natured romantic miraclemile1comedy. Harry and Julie (Anthony Edwards and Mare Winningham) meet in a natural history museum and fall in love. He even meets her parents.

Then, in the wee hours of the morning, Harry answers a wrong number and discovers that the U.S. has fired nuclear missiles at the USSR, and that in a little more than a hour, their missiles will reach us. He spends the rest of the movie trying to find his new love and bring her to the airport in time to escape the coming holocaust.

That phone call completely changes the picture’s tone. It’s still  funny, but it’s no longer sunny and upbeat (although it remains extremely romantic). Now the film becomes dark and suspenseful, and the laughs come from Harry’s desperation and frustration. As he struggles to arrange an escape, find Julie, bring her along, and keep the escape plan from falling apart, everything that could go wrong does. Harry, a struggling musician, is not your Hitchcockian everyman who discovers inner strengths and abilities when faced with mortal disaster. He’s just a guy, newly in love, doing everything he can in an impossible situation. More often than not, his actions take an impossible situation and make it worse.

As the film reaches its climax, the humor all but drains away. Writer/director Steve De Jarnatt wants us to miraclemile2take nuclear destruction very seriously. In Dr. Strangelove, Stanley Kubrick could make World War III funny right up to the end because he never allowed us to truly care for his film’s buffoonish characters–who also happen to be the people who destroy the world. But in Miracle Mile, Harry and Julie and most of the people they meet are warm, loving, and completely innocent. Armageddon may be funny from the War Room. On the streets of LA, it’s a tragedy.

The title refers to the small, upscale Los Angeles community in which most of the film is set.

Can you see the film? Not properly. The DVD is available on Netflix, but it’s cropped to the wrong aspect ratio. There’s a least one decent 35mm print available—I saw it. If there are any theater managers reading this, MGM now owns the movie.

I’m in New York, and saw Miracle Mile.at the 92Y Tribeca. The screening was part of a Doomsday Film Festival & Symposium. De Jarnatt and Edwards were there to talk about the film and answer questions afterwards.

What’s Screening: October 21 – 27

A lot of festivals going on. Berlin & Beyond continues through Wednesday, and Docfest continues through the end of the week. Both the Children’s Film Festival and the Petaluma Film Festival open Friday and run through the weekend. United Nations Association Film Festival also opens Friday, but continues through the end of the month. French Cinema Now opens Thursday. The Silicon Valley Jewish Film Festival opens Sunday and continues, in fits and starts, for nearly a month.

The Bridge School Benefits, Embarcadero, Monday, 7:00. If you live in the Bay Area and care at all about rock music (or education), you’ve probably heard of Neil Young’s annual Bridge School Benefits, where major rockers perform acoustically to raise money for a school for impaired children. This film, which I haven’t seen, contains performances from throughout the concert’s 25-year history. It will play just this one night before being released on DVD.

A The Last Picture Show, Pacific Film Archive, Saturday, 8:40. This film put director Peter Bogdanovich on the map (as well as Jeff Bridges and Cybill Shepherd),lastpictureshow and he never again made a picture half this good. Filmed in deep-focus black and white, it studies a group of teenagers in a small Texas town in the early 1950s. The town appears to be blowing away (the title refers to the community’s single movie theater, struggling to stay open). There’s no conventional plot; the youths work, play, experiment with sex, and dream of their lives to come. Think American Graffiti (made two years later), set eleven years earlier, and played for reality rather than laughs. A somber and sexy examination of a dying town, a country in transition, and the behavior of people everywhere. Part of the series The Outsiders: New Hollywood Cinema in the Seventies.

A To Kill a Mockingbird, Stanford, Saturday & Sunday. The film version of Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel manages to be both a nostalgic reverie of depression-era small town Southern life and a condemnation of that life’s dark and ugly underbelly. Gregory Peck’s Atticus Finch is the ultimate decent and moral father, a character so virtuous he’d be unbelievable if the story wasn’t told through the eyes of his six-year-old daughter. (Had there been a sequel set in her teen years, Atticus would have been an idiotic tyrant.) On a double bill with something called Black Legion; I haven’t seen it, but the IMDB description has me curious.

B+ Powell, Cardiff, & Pressburger & Technicolor double bill: The Red Shoes & Black Narcissus, Castro, Saturday & Sunday. The Red Shows, a 1948 Technicolor fable, examines the sacrifices one makes for art. The story starts well but devolves into more melodrama than even a well-acted film can bear. On the other hand—and this is why The Red Shoes remains a classic—the 20-minute ballet at the center is amongst the greatest dance sequences ever filmed, and no other picture used three-strip Technicolor this expressively. See War and Ballet @ the PFA for more on this. Not much more than a well-done but silly melodrama, Black Narcissus is nevertheless a must if you love old-fashioned three-strip Technicolor. No one could work emotional magic with that clumsy but beautiful medium like cinematographer Jack Cardiff, and this is amongst his best work.

Giorgio Moroder Presents Metropolis, Castro, Camera 3, Thursday. Now that you’ve had a chance to see Metropolis as it was originally meant to be seen, you can catch the wrong version. For this 1984 reissue, Moroder put together what was then the best possible Metropolis restoration. But then he added bright tints, subtitles in place of the intertitles, and a rock soundtrack to mask the sound of Fritz Lang spinning in his grave. Actually, I haven’t heard the soundtrack, but long ago I saw this version with live accompaniment by the Club Foot Orchestra. It held up, but the alterations didn’t make me happy.

A Budd Schulberg/Elia Kazan Double Bill: On the Waterfront & A Face in the Crowd, Stanford, Wednesday through next Friday. It’s best to look at On the Waterfront as aonthewaterfront drama about finding the courage to do what’s right. Marlon Brando brilliantly plays a half-bright longshoreman torn between his moral obligation to testify against a corrupt union and the serious and dangerous consequences of being a stool pidgin. On that level, it’s a brilliant motion picture. But things get uglier when you put it into a political and autobiographical context. Both writer Budd Schulberg and director Elia Kazan named names to get off the anti-Communist blacklist, after which they made this film to justify their acts of cowardice. A Face in the Crowd isn’t at the same level, but Andy Griffith gives a strong dramatic performance as a hobo turned into a media sensation.

Pre-Halloween Double-bill: Nosferatu & The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, Sunday, 4:00. I really don’t know what to make of this presentation, which is why I’m not giving Nosferatu it’s usual A. It seems normal enough that the Silent Film Museum would, in late October, screen these two classic, German, silent horror movies. But they’re promising a “New score, dialog [yes, dialog], and sound effects by HobGoblin” that promise to be “Tongue-in-cheek.” It could be fun, but it could also turn into a disaster like last year’s San Francisco Film Festival screening of the silent 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, only with better films to ruin.

A- Young Frankenstein, Cerrito, Thursday, 7:00. Once upon a time, Mel Brooks had youngfranktalent. And never more so than in 1974, when he made this sweet-natured parody and tribute to the Universal horror films of the 1930′s (specifically the first three Frankenstein movies). Gene Wilder wrote the screenplay and stars as the latest doctor to be stuck with the famous name (which he insists on pronouncing “Frankenshteen). But blood is fate, and he’s destined to create his own monster. Wilder is supported by some of the funniest actors of the era, including Marty Feldman, Madeline Kahn, Cloris Leachman, and Peter Boyle as the monster. To my knowledge, Young Frankenstein was only the third Hollywood-financed black and white feature made after 1967. A Cerrito Classic repeat screening.

Black and White Films in a Color World

I’ve read a lot about the birth of color movies, but little about the reverse transition: the near death of black and white. (I say “near death” because, thankfully, a few films are still made in shades of gray.)

Until the late 1930’s, almost every Hollywood film was in black and white. A decade later, color was still an exception, but no longer a rare one. Without statistics in front of me, I’d hazard a guess that the percentage of color Hollywood movies shot in 1949 was equivalent to the number of 3D ones in 2011. And they fell into the same genres and markets: children’s fare, animation, and big crowd pleasers.

The scales tipped in the 1950s. By the end of that decade—at least for titles financed by the major American studios—color was the norm and black and white the not-so-rare-exception. Technology had a lot to do with that change. Eastmancolor negative film replaced the cumbersome (and monopoly-controlled) Technicolor three-strip process. The new emphasis on wide screens and large formats complimented color. And Hollywood was competing with a new entertainment medium, television, then still largely in black and white. (I’m limiting this discussion to Hollywood product. Other countries and American independents continued to use black and white a bit longer.)

In 1961, it was still still possible for Disney to make a black-and-white children’s comedy (The AbsentMinded Professor), but that wouldn’t last. Within a few years, black and white was exclusively reserved for adult fare—serious dramas and mature comedies of the sort that would today be released by Focus Films or the Weinstein Company. Black and white films from that era include To Kill a Mockingbird, Dr. Strangelove, The Apartment, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, and The Americanization of Emily.

To my knowledge, In Cold Blood (1967) was the last black and white Hollywood film of the 1960s. And it was with the 1967 Oscars that the Academy dropped separate Color and Black and White Cinematography awards.

Black and white was reborn, as an occasional artistic option in a color world, with The Last Picture Show in 1971. In his Criterion commentary track, director Peter Bogdanovich explains that he wanted black and white to make deep-focus photography practical, and because he felt it was a better medium for capturing an actor’s face. But he sold the studio on it as a way to better evoke the early 1950’s setting.

And that became the primary reason why any Hollywood movie has been shot in black-and-white since—to evoke a period when that was the norm. Pictures as different as Young Frankenstein, Raging Bull, Pleasantville, Good Night and Good Luck, and Sin City were either set at a time when movies (or television) was predominately black and white, or paying homage to the cinema of such a time.

Of course, black and white has other advantages, especially in gruesomely violent films like Raging Bull and Schindler’s List. When we watch filmed violence in color, we react to the spectacle—the spouting red blood grosses us out. But black and white drains away the spectacle, leaving us with only the emotional horror of the incident we’ve just seen.

We’ve lived in a nearly all-color cinematic world for a long time now. That’s not going to change. But I hope that there will always be filmmakers wanting to work in black and white, studio executives willing to finance them, and an audience that wants to watch them.

What’s Screening: October 14 – 20

Do you ever get the feeling that the Bay Area has too many film festivals? Neither do I, except when I try to cover them in any meaningful way for this blog. So I’ll just let you know that they’re happening:

The Mill Valley Film Festival is still running, although it closes Sunday. Both the Arab Film Festival and Taiwan Film Days open tonight and play through the weekend. Also opening tonight is Docfest, although that will run considerably longer.  And Berlin & Beyond opens Thursday. Another four festivals open next week.

And now, a few screenings that aren’t part of a festival:

A+ Double Bill: The Third Man & Citizen Kane, Stanford, Saturday and Sunday. In The Third Man, an American pulp novelist (Joseph Cotten) arrives in impoverished post-warthirdman Vienna to meet up with an old friend. He soon discovers that the friend is both a wanted criminal and dead. Writer Graham Greene and director Carol Reed place an intriguing mystery inside a world so dark and disillusioned that  it makes American film noir seem tame. Then, when the movie is two thirds over, Orson Welles comes onscreen to steal the picture and make it his own. Speaking of Welles, how did Citizen Kane survive a half-century  reputation as the Greatest Film Ever Made? 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 tell you what Rosebud is: It’s a McGuffin.

Amateur Night: Home Movies from American Archives, Pacific Film Archive, Saturday, 6:30. There’s nothing more boring than watching your friends’ home movies. But strangers’ home movies, from a different time and place, can reveal surprising flavors from the past. Home movie expert Dwight Swanson and film archivist Pamela Jean Vadakan will present 16 clips never intended to be shown publically, but presumably worth seeing. Even Alfred Hitchcock will get into the act. Part of the Oakland Museum of California’s Home Movie Day.

rosemarysbaby_picC Rosemary’s Baby, Castro, Wednesday.  Roman Polanski’s first American film barely works. Mia Farrow looks fidgety and nervous as a pregnant wife who slowly begins to suspect that she’s carrying the devil’s spawn, and that everyone she thought she could trust is in on it. Slow enough to let you see what’s coming a mile off, it never quite builds the sense of dread that the material, and the director, were capable of bringing to it. On a double bill with Inferno.

Comedy Short Subject Night, Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, Saturday, 7:30. Buster Keaton’s “The Haunted House” and Laurel and Hardy’s “Liberty” are prime examples of what made silent comedy shorts so wonderful. Keaton starts his story in a bank before moving to the apparently ghost-filled abode of the title. Stan and Ollie, on the other hand, fight for their right to be free and end up trapped in Harold Lloyd territory. I haven’t seen Chaplin’s “Behind the Screen” or Charley Chase’ “Forgotten Sweeties.”

A+ Double Bill: Top Hat & The Gay Divorcee, Stanford, Friday. If escapism is a valid artistic goal, Top Hat is a great work of art. From the perfect clothes that tophateveryone wears so well to the absurd mistaken-identity plot to the art deco set that makes Venice look like a very exclusive water park, everything about Top Hat tells you not to take it seriously. But who needs realism when Fred Astaire dances his way into Ginger Rogers’ heart to four great Irving Berlin tunes (and one mediocre one)? The Gay Divorcee, on the other hand, is only B- material on its own. Arguably the first true Astaire-Rogers movie, it’s a flawed entertainment with one great dance number, a few funny lines, and some historical interest.

Movies and Showmanship

I know people who use the word showmanship to refer to a high technical quality in motion picture presentation—usually referring to old-fashioned technology.

I don’t. When I think of "showmanship," I don’t think of movies. I think of circuses, magic shows, and rock concerts. Showmanship isn’t about technology, but about live human beings putting on a show.

Which isn’t to say that showmanship isn’t an important part of the movie-going experience, and one that’s been lacking in recent decades. Showmanship means a skilled projectionist who really cares. It means curtains that open on the studio logo. It can also mean someone coming down to the front of the theater and welcoming the audience before the film begins. Sometimes it means the director or producer coming to the theater for Q&A.

Movie showmanship took its biggest fall when sound came in and a night at the movies ceased to be a live concert. It enjoyed something of a second, if lesser, golden age with the roadshow movies of the 50s and 60s. But it all but disappeared when the multiplex came in in the 70s.

Showmanship is not about the width of the film. True, those roadshow movies of the 50s and 60s came in large formats like Cinerama and 70mm. But 70mm enjoyed huge popularity in the 80s, while showmanship was dying or already dead. And Imax–the largest format of them all–never had much of a feel for showmanship.

Today, movie theaters are in trouble, but–at least here in the Bay Area–film festivals seem to be thriving. Check the Current Festivals box on the right; as I write this, there are nine current and upcoming festivals listed. What do film festivals offer that regular theaters don’t–other than films not considered commercial enough to get a regular release? Care. Projectionists who are paying attention. People introducing every film. Filmmakers in attendance. Occasionally, even live music.

That’s showmanship.

What’s Screening: October 7 – 13

The Mill Valley Film Festival continues through this week and beyond. My festival reviews are at the end of this newsletter.

A+ The Third Man, Castro, Sunday. Classic film noir with an international flavor. An American pulp novelist (Joseph Cotten) arrives in impoverished, divided post-war thirdmanVienna to meet up with an old friend who has promised him a much-needed job. But he soon discovers that the friend is both a wanted criminal and newly dead. Or is he? Writer Graham Greene and director Carol Reed place an intriguing mystery inside a world so dark and disillusioned that American noir seems tame by comparison. Then, when the movie is two thirds over, Orson Welles comes onscreen to steal everything in the movie except the sprocket holes. On a double bill with the original, 1947 version of Brighton Rock.

B+ Clash of the Wolves, New People (formerly VIZ Cinema), Sunday, 7:30. Rin Tin Tin was the best non-human movie star the medium ever produced. This German shepherd could emote, follow the action, and do his own stunts. And he was charismatic as all hell. In many ways, Clash of the Wolves was a typical, silly, B western from 1925; you really have to put yourself into the mindset of an eight-year-old boy to enjoy it. But like the best of movie stars, Rin Tin Tin gives a performance that turns a mediocre movie into a fun piece of entertainment. Author Susan Orlean will be on hand to discuss and promote her new book, Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend. Unfortunately, the screening will be off a DVD, with a recorded piano score by Martin Marks. It’s a fine score (I have the DVD), but the last time it played in the Bay Area (a 35mm print at the Rafael in 2005), Jon Mirsalis accompanied the movie on an electric piano, to much better effect.

A- Young Frankenstein, Cerrito, Thursday, 7:00. Once upon a time, Mel Brooks wasyoungfrank talented. And never more so than in 1974, when he made this sweet-natured parody and tribute to the Universal horror films of the 1930′s (specifically the first three Frankenstein movies). Gene Wilder wrote the screenplay and stars as the latest doctor to be stuck with the famous name (which he insists on pronouncing “Frankensteen). But blood is fate, and he’s destined to create his own monster. Wilder is supported by some of the funniest actors of the era, including Marty Feldman, Madeline Kahn, Cloris Leachman, and Peter Boyle as the monster. To my knowledge, Young Frankenstein was only the second Hollywood-financed black and white feature made after 1967. A Cerrito Classic.

A Badlands, Pacific Film Archive, Saturday, 6:30. Terrence Malick’s first feature introduced us to one of the most daring and unique filmmakers to ever work for Hollywood. Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek (very young at the time) play lovers who go on a shockingly casual killing spree; it never seems to occur to them that they’ve done anything wrong. Told through Spacek’s first-person narration, we get the impression at times that it’s little more than a camping trip. Beautifully photographed (of course), Badlands leaves you feeling shocked, confused, sympathetic, and terrified.

A+ Double Bill: Top Hat & The Gay Divorcee, Stanford, Wednesday through tophatnext Friday. If escapism is a valid artistic goal, Top Hat is a great work of art. From the perfect clothes that everyone wears so well to the absurd mistaken-identity plot to the art deco set that makes Venice look like a very exclusive water park, everything about Top Hat tells you not to take it seriously. But who needs realism when Fred Astaire dances his way into Ginger Rogers’ heart to four great Irving Berlin tunes (and one mediocre one)? The Gay Divorcee, on the other hand, is only B- material. Arguably the first true Astaire-Rogers movie, it’s a flawed entertainment with one great dance number, a few funny lines, and some historical interest. In fact, you could easily mistake The Gay Divorcee for an inferior rip-off of the very similar but vastly-superior Top Hat. But Top Hat is the rip-off—it just happens to be superior to the original.

A Killer of Sheep, Pacific Film Archive, Friday, 9:00. Yes, Virginia, people made great low-budget films before digital video. Shot in 16mm in 1977, Charles Burnett’s neorealistic non-story lets us examine the day-to-day life of an African-American slaughterhouse employee struggling with poverty, family problems, and his own depression. Hauntingly made with a mostly amateur cast, Killer of Sheep takes us into a world most of us know about but have never actually experienced. Part of the series The Outsiders: New Hollywood Cinema in the Seventies.

Mill Valley Film Festival

B- Small, Beautifully Moving Parts, Sequoia, Saturday, 4:00; Rafael, Monday, 9:00. Sarah, a young, very pregnant technology geek (AnnasmallbeautpartsMargaret Hollyman), sets out to find her estranged, irresponsible living-off-the-grid mother. Sarah’s unique personality and Hollyman’s infectious performance are almost enough to carry this modest trifle. Here is a woman who sits on the toilet, admiring the technology behind a disposable pregnancy test before it gives her the news that will change her life. But she isn’t a stereotypical nerd, either; she mixes well with people and has a loving partner whom the filmmakers fail to flesh out as a character. But as this short (73 minutes) feature reaches its half-way point, you’ll begin to realize that it’s not really going anywhere.

C California State of Mind: The Legacy of Pat Brown, Rafael, Tuesday, 8:00. Do you know who shouldn’t make a documentary about an historically important politician? That politician’s grandchild. Director and narrator govbrownsSascha Rice is the granddaughter of former California Governor Pat Brown, the niece of former and current Governor Jerry Brown, and the daughter of one-time candidate-for-governor Kathleen Brown. She’s too close to the subject, and seems reluctant to say much that might be negative about grandpa (although, to her credit, she occasionally does —very briefly). She paints his first term as heroic triumph of late New Dealism, and his second as heroic tragedy in the face of rising conservatism. Every so often, she’ll fast forward to more recent Brown victories and defeats. There’s some interesting history here, but she never looks at things deeply enough to be insightful. With one exception, every Democratic governor we’ve had in this state in the last 70 years has been a Brown (the exception was a Gray); I would have enjoyed some discussion of why.

A+ Raiders of the Lost Ark, Century Cinema – Corte Madera, Monday, 7:00. 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. If you don’t, you probably already love it. I’m guessing that they’ll be screening the new digital presentation.

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