What’s Screening: November 9 – 15

The Italian Film Festival closes Saturday night, but New Italian Cinema opens tonight and runs through the weekend. Both Doc Fest and the Silicon Valley Jewish Film Festival continue through this week and beyond. Cinema by the Bay opens today and runs through the week.

B- Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Alameda, Tuesday and Wednesday. Howard Hawks’ musical battle of the sexes contains a handful of wonderful dance numbers and some good comic moments, but there are too many weak scenes to wholeheartedly recommend it. The real surprise is in the leading ladies. Gentlemen helpedturn Marilyn Monroe into a star, but co-star Jane Russell blows her out of the water, giving a far funnier and sexier performance.

Rebel Without a Cause, Castro, Friday. I haven’t seen the iconic teenage rebel movie (also the iconic James Dean flick) in well over a decade, so I won’t try to give it a grade. I remember it being touching, thoughtful, melodramatic, and over-the-top silly–yet it all seemed to work. One more thing: I remember it being unusually sexist–not so much  in its treatment of women but in its sense of proper and acceptable masculinity. On a double bill with This Property is Condemned (which I haven’t seen), this is the opening night presentation of a very special, three-day tribute to the late Natalie Wood.

A+ Grand Illusion, Pacific Film Archive, Saturday, 6:30. Set in a POW camp during World War I (and made two years before WW2), Grand Illusion sets the conflicts of nationality and class against the healing power of our common humanity. The French prisoners and their German guards try their best to be civilized in a world where civilization is not allowed. Jean Gabin stars as a French officer of common stock, but you’ll likely remember Erich von Stroheim as an aristocratic German facing the end of his way of life. The original negative was discovered and the film restored in the 1990s, but the new restoration (which I haven’t seen), is supposed to beat even that. Part of the series Grand Illusions: French Cinema Classics, 1928–1960.

A- French paraplegic double bill: The Intouchables &The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Castro, Thursday. The A- goes to The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, the moving story of a successful magazine editor in the prime of life (Mathieu Amalric) who suffers a stroke and wakes up with a full mind inside of an almost entirely useless body. Only by blinking can he communicate with the outside world, yet his determination drives him to write a book about his experiences. The film works best in the first half, where you see everything from his limited point of view, but I guess you The Intouchablescouldn’t carry the whole film that way. The Intouchables, a far more commercial work, follows the thorny but eventually healing friendship between a wealthy paraplegic and the African immigrant hired as his caregiver. Enjoyable, but predictable. Read my full review. Both films are based on true stories.

B Dr. Jack, Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, Saturday, 7:30.  This early Harold Lloyd feature lacks the strong sense of story and character found in his later silents, but it still delivers laughs. Its general attitude–preferring the common-sense small-town general practitioner to the fancy-pants medical specialist–was probably conservative in 1922. Today it feels like holistic medicine. Bruce Loeb accompanies on piano.

A+ Children of Paradise, Pacific Film Archive, Friday, 7:00. Shot while the Nazi occupation fell apart, Children of Paradise may be the most ecstatically French film ever made.children_of_paradise A three-hour epic set in the theater scene of early 19th-century Paris, it follows the life of a beautiful woman (Arletty) and four men who fall under her spell—each in his own unique way. The story is rich, romantic, and deeply in love with theatrical traditions. In this version of Paris, even the violent thugs see their lives as works of art. Written by Jacques Prévert and directed by Marcel Carné. Film purists will be happy to know that the PFA will screen a 35mm print, rather than the DCP screened last spring at the Castro; I do not know if this print is from the new restoration.  I discuss Children of Paradise in more detail here and here. Part of the series Grand Illusions: French Cinema Classics, 1928–1960. Last minute update: The print was struck in 2006, before the recent restoration.

A+ Raiders of the Lost Ark, UA Berkeley, Thursday. 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. But then, it’s great in an entirely different way. There’s absolutely nothing to take seriously in Raiders of the Lost Ark, and no message to help uplift you. The story is fundamentally preposterous, and the hero, Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) is no more an archeologist than I am a butterfly. But the energy is so high, the action scenes so brilliantly choreographed and edited, and the whole story told with such enthusiasm and wit, that the rest of it just doesn’t matter. 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.

B- Sing Along West Side Story, Castro, Sunday, 2:00. I’m commenting on the movie, not the sing-a-long experience. West Side Story swings erratically from glorious brilliance to astonishing ineptitude. The songs and dances–West Side Storyespecially the Jerome Robbins-choreographed dances–create a world of violent intensity and eroticism that both carry the story and shine in their own right. I’d be hard-pressed to think of a better choreographed widescreen musical. It also contains magnificent supporting performances by Russ Tamblyn, George Chakiris, and especially Rita Moreno. But the dialog is often stilted and stage-bound, and juvenile lead Richard Beymer is so bad he sinks every scene he’s in. Another part of the Castro’s Natalie Wood weekend.

C+ Buck Privates, Stanford, Friday. If you’re not already a fan of Abbott & Costello, their first movie won’t make you one. And if you are a fan, Buck Privates may cause you to question that allegiance. But it will make you a fan of the Andrews Sisters, who blow Bud and Lou out of the picture with their singing and dancing, and their fun personalities. On a double-bill with Hold That Ghost, another early Abbott & Costello vehicle.

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