What’s Screening: November 21 – 27

The end-of-the-year film festival draught approaches. A lot of festivals ended last week. Only three are still running, and they’ll close before Thanksgiving.

And now, this week’s movies that I actually have an opinion about:

B+ The Better Angels, Opera Plaza, Shattuck, Rafael, opens Friday. This story of Abe Lincoln’s childhood concentrates on his relationship first with his mother, who died when he was very imageyoung, and then with the loving and supporting stepmother who recognized something special in this uneducated backwoods boy. Braydon Denney, a talented child actor who looks remarkably like a young Abraham Lincoln, plays Abe as a boy torn between the rural life that is all he’s ever known and a larger world that pulls at his curiosity. The artful, widescreen, black-and-white cinematography produces a distancing effect, as if we’re watching an old memory. Read my full review.

A+ The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Oakland Paramount, Friday, 8:00. As much as any other artist, John Ford defined and deepened the myth of the American West. libertyvalanceBut in his last masterpiece,The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Ford tears that myth down, reminding us that a myth is, when you come right down to it, a lie. Avoiding beautiful scenery and even color (a black and white western was a risky investment in 1962), Ford strips this story down to the essentials, and splits the classic Western hero into two: the man of principle (James Stewart) and the gunfighter (John Wayne).

A+ Capitalist epic double bill: Citizen Kane & There Will be Blood, Castro, Sunday. The A+, of course, goes to Citizen Kane, a movie so good it survived a half-century reputation as the Greatest Film Ever Made. As Orson Welles and hisimage collaborators tell the life story of a newspaper tycoon through flashbacks, they turn the techniques of cinema inside out. The result in revolutionary, insightful, and just plain fun. There Will Be Blood earns its own A for its big, sprawling, and spectacular telling of not just a moment in history, but a 30-year transition in the life of an oil speculator with frightful ambitions and even more frightful inner demons. Read my full review.

B+ The Triplets of Belleville, Balboa, Saturday, 10:00am. A modern, low-tripletsbellevillebudget, dialog-free animated film for adults (and teenagers; it’s rated PG-13). The story involves a French champion bicyclist who’s kidnapped by mobsters and brought to America to…Never mind, it’s just too weird to explain. But who cares? The jokes are funny, the visuals are clever and original, and the music swings (the triplets of the title are an aging big band trio).

A Blade Runner – The Final Cut, New Parkway, Friday, 10:30. Based on Philip K. Dick’snovel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, Blade Runner remains surprisingly thoughtful for ’80’s sci-fi–especially of the big budget variety. It ponders questions about the nature of humanity and our ability to objectify people when it suits our needs. Yet it never preaches. The script’s hazy at times; I never did figure out some of the connections, and a couple of important things happen at ridiculously convenient times. But art direction and music alone would make it a masterpiece. I’m assuming this is the same final cut I saw in 2008, and not a more final cut made since.

A Comedy Short Subject Night, Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, Saturday, 7:30. The Museum has a great selection of shorts this week. Like all of Chaplin’s Mutual’s, Pass the GravyThe Rink is an excellent example of two-reel comedy. The Boat is one of Keaton’s best shorts. Leave ‘em Laughing isn’t my favorite silent Laurel & Hardy, but it delivers on what the title promises. But the real treat is Pass the Gravy, starring the pretty-much-forgotten Max Davidson. I don’t want to give away too much about this minor masterpiece—let’s just say it involves feuding fathers, young people in love, a prize chicken, and one of the funniest dinners on film.

B- Blazing Saddles, Castro, Wednesday. The most beloved western comedy of all time doesn’t do all that much for me. Sure, it has moments of great laughter as it lampoons everything from the clichés of the genre to imageinstitutional racism to the clichés of every other movie genre. But for every joke that hits home, two are killed by Mel Brooks’ over-the-top, beat-the-audience-over-the-head directing style. If you’re looking for western laughs, Paleface, Son of Paleface, Support Your Local Sherriff, and Shanghai Noon all beat Blazing Saddles. On a ’70s comedy double bill with What’s Up Doc?, which I’ve never seen (and no, it doesn’t star Bugs Bunny).

A Boyhood, Castro, Tuesday; Elmwood, opens Wednesday. Fifty years from now, people will still watch Richard Linklater’s intimate epic. Shot off and on over a period of 12 years, Boyhoodimage allows us to watch young Mason and his family grow up and older. It isn’t an easy childhood. His parents are divorced, neither of them has much money, Dad is immature and Mom has bad taste in men. But Boyhood avoids the sort of horrible situations that drive most narrative films, and it’s all the better for it. By using the same actors over such a long period of time, Linklater creates a far more realistic picture than could be done with aging makeup or switching from a child actor to an adult one. Read my full review.

C- Gone with the Wind, Stanford, Friday. I love big historical epics, but the biggest of them all just leaves me flat. First, there’s that blatant white supremacy. I’m used to racism in old movies, and generally just wince. But the racism in Gone with the Wind makes me cringe. The entire story depends on assumptions of white masters and black slaves as the natural order (you can read my in-depth comments). Leaving racial issues aside, the first part is pretty good, but boredom sets in after the intermission. The picture has one thing going for it: It used color far more creatively and effectively than any previous movie. 35mm print.

What’s Screening: November 14 – 20

A lot of festivals this week, most of which will be closed by the end of the week.

Whether in festivals or not, there aren’t many films playing this week for which I can give an honest opinion. But here are the opinions I can give:

A+ The Thief of Bagdad, Rafael, Sunday, 4:30. One of the greatest fantasy adventures ever made, thiefbagdad1940and made decades before Star Wars clones glutted the market. The special effects lack today’s realism, but they still pack an emotional punch (my daughter, when she was young, found this giant spider scarier than the ones in Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings). The sets are magnificent, the dialog enchanting, and the story’s randomness gives it a true Arabian Nights flavor. And all in glorious Technicolor. Since there are no available 35mm prints, and it hasn’t been prepared for DCP, the Rafael will screen it from an HD CAM tape previously used at the Film Forum. Part of a series hosted by Dennis Muren, the Senior Visual Effects Supervisor at Industrial Light & Magic,.

Made in Niles, Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, Saturday, 7:30. To celebrate the Museum’s 500th Saturday imagenight show, they’re screening six short subjects made in Niles, mostly by the Essanay Film Company. These will, of course, include starring turns by Broncho Billy and Charlie Chaplin. But they’re also screening a brand-new short made by Niles enthusiasts, Broncho Billy and the Bandit’s Secrets. Frederick Hodges will accompany on piano.

A Metropolis, Castro, Saturday. 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 and my Blu-ray review. With the recorded score rather than live accompaniment.. On a double bill with the newly-restored Robocop, which I haven’t seen in a long time but remember liking.

B When Comedy Went To School, Oshman Family JCC, Sunday, 4:00. This sweet, nostalgic documentary looks at the culture, traditions, and humor that defined the Catskills from the 1930s through the 1960s, and in doing so created the art of standup comedy. Like all documentaries covering recent history, When Comedy Went to School contains a lot of interview footage, but this time around, the interview subjects are amongst the funniest people alive. This very short feature moves at a good clip and covers a lot of ground, but ignores one important side of the story: What did these comics learn in this "school." Read my full review.

A- Force Majeure, Aquarius, opens Friday. The carefully controlled, not-quite-natural outdoor experience of a fancy ski resort becomes a metaphor for the veneer imageof a troubled marriage in this Swedish drama set in the French alps. When an avalanche threatens his family, Tomas fails to protect them as he should. Soon his wife loses all respect for her husband, and Tomas losses all respect for himself. All this is set within a resort that appears to be just a bit more realistic than Disneyland.  Force Majeure studies courage and fear, and the destructive behavior that can destroy a marriage. But it’s about the artificial worlds we create for our own enjoyment. See my full review.

Mystery Science Theater 3000, New Parkway, Friday, 10:30. Regular readers know that I’m a fan of the classic bad-movie-with-commentary TV show, Mystery Science Theater 3000. I have never seen an episode on the big screen with a full audience, but I suspect I’d enjoy it–especially if it’s a really good episode. I hope this will be a good episode, no one is telling us which one will be screened.

C- Gone with the Wind, Stanford, continues through the week. I love big historical epics, but the biggest of them all just leaves me flat. First, there’s the blatant white supremacy. I’m used to racism in old movies, and generally just wince.But the racism in Gone with the Wind makes me cringe. The entire story depends on assumptions of white masters and black slaves as the natural order (you can read my in-depth comments). Leaving racial issues aside, the first part is pretty good, but boredom sets in after the intermission. The picture has one thing going for it: It used color far more creatively and effectively than any previous movie. 35mm print.

What’s Screening: November 7 – 13

Quite a few festivals this week:

And here’s some individual films you might want to catch or avoid.

A- Force Majeure, Opera Plaza, Albany Twin, Rafael, opens Friday. The carefully controlled, not-quite-natural outdoor experience of a fancy ski resort becomes a metaphor for the veneer imageof a troubled marriage in this Swedish drama set in the French alps. When an avalanche threatens his family, Tomas fails to protect them as he should. Soon his wife loses all respect for her husband, and Tomas has lost all respect for himself. All this is set within a resort that appears to be just a bit more realistic than Disneyland.  Force Majeure studies courage and fear, and the destructive behavior that can destroy a marriage. But it’s about the artificial worlds we create for our own enjoyment. See my full review.

The Best Years of our Lives, Castro, Tuesday, 6:00. I haven’t seen the 1946 Best Picture Oscar winner in too long a time to give it a grade, but I suspect the grade would be a high one. Running almost three hours, it follows the troubles of three returning World War II imageveterans trying to integrate themselves back into small-town American life. The most touching of the three is played by newcomer Harold Russell, who–like the character he plays–lost both hands serving his country. (The other two are played by Fredric March and Dana Andrews.) Director William Wyler understood something about returning veterans; this was his first film after returning from the war himself. On a very strange Veteran’s Day double bill with the first Rambo movie, First Blood.

A- Two Days, One Night, Vogue, Saturday, 7:00. The boss gives his employees a choice: Either Sandra (Marion Cotillard) keeps her job, or everyone else receives a large bonus. Over the weekend, Sandra must visit 16workers and convince a majority to sacrifice €1,000 for her sake. To make matters worse, Sandra is recovering from severe depression and has become dependent on pills. This latest film from the Dardenne brothers gives us modern capitalism in a nutshell. Workers, who would naturally be allies, are forced to fight over the limited resources available to pay non-management employees. Rather than becoming a political tract, this film feels like a very real situation, where everyone must make a difficult decision that will inevitably result in moral compromise. Part of French Cinema Now.

A Charlie Chaplin Selected Mutual Shorts, Cerrito, Thursday, 7:00. Chaplin’s 12 two-reelers made for the Mutual The Pawnshopcompany represent short silent comedy at its finest. The Cerrito will screen four shorts: The Pawnshop, The Rink, The Immigrant, and The Adventurer–all of them winners.For more on the Mutuals, see Chaplin at the Castro: My Report on a Wonderful Day and Silent Film Festival Winter Event. If the Cerrito was playing these films with live accompaniment, I’d be giving this screening an A+.

B+ Clouds of Sils Maria, Vogue, Sunday, 9:00. .A great actress (Juliette Binoche) reluctantly accepts a part in a revival of the play that made her famous. But this time, she’ll be playingimage a different, older character. To prepare for the role, the actress and her personal assistant (Kristen Stewart) take up residence in a remote house located in an astonishingly beautiful part of the Swiss Alps. As they run lines, they almost unconsciously work through their own complicated relationship, which only  slightly echoes play’s characters. This isn’t quite a two-person film, but Binoche and Stewart truly carry the picture. also Part of French Cinema Now.

B The Pink Panther (original, 1963 version),  Alameda, Tuesday and Wednesday. The original Pink Panther imagewas never intended to be an Inspector Clouseau movie, or a Peter Sellers vehicle. It was meant to be a charming European comedy of manners starring David Niven. But when Peter Ustinov dropped out at the last minute, Sellers was cast in the supporting role of the bumbling detective. It’s a tribute to Sellers’ performance that we now think of him as the star. But the scenes without him, which are most of the movie, are only okay.

B The Graduate, Castro, Wednesday. Young people seeing The Graduate today may have trouble understanding what an amazing breakthrough it was in 1967. In thoseimage days, Hollywood didn’t make movies about middle-aged married women seducing young men. Nor, outside of musicals, did they have montages accompanied by pop songs that were not in themselves part of the story (a really boring cliché by now). They also didn’t treat the older generation as hypocrites. The Graduate is no longer revolutionary, but it’s still a well-made romantic comedy with serious overtones. It also gets Bay Area geography all wrong. On a double bill with Rushmore.

C- Gone with the Wind, Stanford, two-week run starts Friday. I love big historical epics, but the biggest of them all just leaves me flat. First, there’s the blatant white supremacy. I’m used to racism in old movies, and generally just wince.But the racism in Gone with the Wind makes me cringe. The entire story depends on assumptions of white masters and black slaves as the natural order (you can read my in-depth comments). Leaving racial issues aside, the first part is pretty good, but boredom sets in after the intermission. The picture has one thing going for it: It used color far more creatively and effectively than any previous movie. 35mm print.

What’s Screening: October 31 – November 6

I just found out about the Silicon Valley Jewish Film Festival, which has been running for almost two weeks and is still not over. Sorry about that. Here are some other current festivals:

In addition to the festivals, the Balboa will screen an Alfred Hitchcock Marathon Saturday. But I’m not sure it’s technically a marathon, since the tickets are sold separately. I discuss the individual movies at the bottom of this newsletter.

A Terminator 2: Judgement Day, Rafael, Thursday, 7:00. Rare 35mm Print. In James Cameron’s sequel to the movie that put him on the map, a replica of the first movie’s killer robot (Arnold Schwarzenegger) returns from the future. But this time, he’s here to help the good guys, stop a worse killer robot, and prevent a nuclear war. Linda Hamilton returns as the original’s intended victim, now a hard-as-nails and probably insane heroine. The action scenes and special effects are outstanding, but what really makes the sequel work is the small-scale story of people trying to survive in extreme conditions while working to block Armageddon. And yet, I’m not entirely comfortable with the idea that a robot can make a better father than a flesh-and-blood man. The first movie in a series hosted by Dennis Muren, the Senior Visual Effects Supervisor at Industrial Light & Magic,.

B The Graduate, Balboa, Tuesday, 7:30. People seeing The Graduate today may have trouble understanding what an amazing breakthrough it was in 1967. In those imagedays, Hollywood didn’t make movies about middle-aged married women seducing young men. Nor, outside of musicals, did they have montages accompanied by pop songs that were not in themselves part of the story (a really boring cliché by now). They also didn’t make movies that pictured the entire World War II generation as hypocrites. The Graduate is no longer revolutionary, but it’s still a well-made romantic comedy with serious overtones that gets Bay Area geography all wrong.

D Romeo+ Juliet, New Parkway, Sunday, 9:00. Updating Shakespeare to the present (or the more recent past) has been all the rage for the last 20 years or so. Sometimes it works brilliantly, but not so in Baz Luhrmann’s ultra-frantic take on the Bard’s most famous romantic tragedy. Set imagein a modern-day “Verona Beach,” this R&J uses its setting as a gimmick, distracting us from the story rather than enhancing it. For instance, we see a close-up of a very modern rifle with the brand name Sword before Benvolio cries out “Put up your swords.” On the rare occasions when the settings don’t distract, the flashy editing does. A lot of great Shakespeare films were made in the 1990s, but this isn’t one of them.

A+ Lawrence of Arabia, Alameda, Tuesday and Wednesday. 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. No, that’s not a flaw in the script, but in his character. This masterpiece requires a very large screen and excellent projection–either 70mm or 4K DCP–to do it full justice. I do not know how the Alameda will project Lawrence or on what size screen. For more on this epic, read The Digital Lawrence of Arabia Experience and Thoughts on Lawrence of Arabia.

A Nosferatu, New Parkway, Saturday, 3:00. You best forget about sexy vampires before you go see the first  film version of Dracula (an unauthorized version that got the filmmakers sued by Bram Stoker’s widow). Max Schreck plays Count Orlok (the name change didn’t fool the court) as a reptilian predator in vaguely human form. This isn’t the scariest monster movie ever made, but it’s probably the creepiest. Not to be confused with Werner Herzog’s 1979 remake. I don’t know what digital version they’ll be showing (I know it’s not film because the theater doesn’t support it). With live musical accompaniment by the 29th Street Swingtet, co-presented by film curator Jeff M. Giordano.

A- The Princess Bride, Castro, Sunday. William Goldman’s enchanting imageand funny fairy tale dances magically along that thin line between parody and the real thing. The then-young and gorgeous Cary Elwes and Robin Wright make a wonderful set of star-crossed lovers, and Mandy Patinkin has a lot of fun as a revenge-filled swashbuckler. There’s no funnier swordfight anywhere, and who can forget cinema’s greatest acronym, ROUS (rodents of unusual size). On the other hand, some of the big-name cameos really grate on your nerves.

B+ The Iron Giant, New Parkway, Thursday, 9:30. The young hero of Brad (The Incredibles) Bird’s first feature befriends a massively-huge robot from outer space.

Hey, Steven Spielberg’s Elliot only had to hide the diminutive ET. The robot seems friendly enough, but there’s good reason to believe he was built as a weapon of mass destruction. Using old-fashioned, hand-drawn animation with plenty of sharp angles, Bird creates a stylized view of small-town American life circa 1958 that straddles satire and nostalgia, and treats most of its inhabitants with warmth and affection. A good movie for all but the youngest kids.

C How to Marry a Millionaire, Stanford, Friday through Sunday. This lavish 1953 romantic comedy succeeds only moderately at being either romantic or funny, despite the talents ofimage Lauren Bacall, Betty Grable, and Marilyn Monroe (who had only just achieved star status). As the title suggests, it’s about women not so much looking for love as fishing for a sugar daddy–hardly romantic. But How to Marry a Millionaire was one of the first two films shot in Cinemascope, and the first with an intimate, contemporary, non-spectacular story. That alone gives it historical interest. On a Lauren Bacall double bill with Designing Woman, which I haven’t seen.

A Boyhood, New Parkway, opens Friday. Fifty years from now, people will still watch Richard Linklater’s intimate epic. Shot off and on over a period of 12 years, Boyhoodimage allows us to watch young Mason and his family grow up and older. It isn’t an easy childhood. His parents are divorced, neither of them has much money, Dad is immature and Mom has bad taste in men. But Boyhood avoids the sort of horrible situations that drive most narrative films, and it’s all the better for it. By using the same actors over such a long period of time, Linklater creates a far more realistic picture than could be done with aging makeup or switching from a child actor to an adult one. Read my full review.

B The Hundred Foot Journey, Castro, Wednesday. An Indian family in a small French town set up an eatery across the street from a famous and highly-imageregarded French restaurant, and the battle of culinary cultures begins. The first half is a lot of fun, but the main conflict gets settled–not very believably–way too soon. Then you spend too much time watching everyone be happy while waiting for two separate couples to realize that they’re in love. But I have to give kudos to cinematographer Linus Sandgren; this is the best photographed new film I’ve seen in a long time. On a double bill with Love is Strange.

Mystery Science Theater 3000, New Parkway, Friday, 9:30. Regular readers know that I’m a fan of the classic bad-movie-with-commentary TV show, Mystery Science Theater 3000. I have never seen an episode on the big screen with a full audience, but I suspect I’d enjoy it–especially if it’s a really good episode. I hope this will be a good episode, no one is telling us which one will be screened.

Alfred Hitchcock Marathon at the Balboa Saturday

A+ Rear Window, 3:00. Alfred Hitchcock at his absolute best. James Stewart is riveting as a news photographer temporarily confined to his apartment and a wheelchair, amusing himself by spying on his neighbors (none of whom he knows) and guessing at the details of their lives. Then he begins to suspect that one of them committed murder. As he and his girlfriend (Grace Kelly) investigate, it slowly dawns on us (but not them) that they’re getting into some pretty dangerous territory. Hitchcock uses this story to examine voyeurism, urban alienation, and the institution of marriage, as well as to treat his audience to a great entertainment.

A Psycho, 6:00. You may never want to take a shower again. In his last great movie, Alfred Hitchcock pulls the rug out from under us several times,image leaving the audience unsure who we’re supposed to be rooting for or what could constitute a happy ending. In roles that defined their careers, Janet Leigh stars as a secretary turned thief, and Anthony Perkins as a momma’s boy with a lot to hide. I’ll always regret that I knew too much about Psycho before I ever saw it; I wish I could erase all memory of this movie and watch it with fresh eyes.

B Rope, 1:00. Not Alfred Hitchcock’s worst film, but easily his most frustrating, in large part because Hitchcock was working from a terrific screenplay (by Arthur Laurents, adapted by Hume imageCronyn from a play by Patrick Hamilton). Two young men, clearly homosexual (although that couldn’t be stated in those days), kill an acquaintance for thrills, then throw a party with the body hidden in a chest. Unfortunately, Hitchcock made two big 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.

B- The Birds, 8:30. Alfred Hitchcock’s only out-and-out fantasy has some great sequences. The scene where Tippi Hedren calmly sits andimagesmokes while more and more crows gather on playground equipment, and the following attack on the children, are classics. The lovely Bodega Bay location adds atmosphere and local color, and many of the special effects were way ahead of their time. But the story is weak, the ending unsatisfactory, and that lovely scenery plays side-by-side with obvious soundstage mockups. Worse yet, new-comer Hedren doesn’t provide a single believable moment. She’s beautiful, but utterly lacking in acting talent or charisma.

What’s Screening: October 24 – 30

No festivals this week, but some good movies.

And a lot of scary ones. I’m putting the Halloween movies–which make up the bulk of this newsletter–at the bottom.

B+  2001: A Space Odyssey, Castro, Sunday and Monday. I used to worship Stanley Kubrick’s visualization of Arthur C. Clarke’s imagination, but it hasn’t aged all that well. We’ve seen the actual year, and know that Clarke and Kubrick got 2001almost everything wrong. Although I’ve lost my love of Stanley Kubrick, there’s no denying the pull of 2001’s unorthodox storytelling and visual splendor–if you can see it properly presented. 2001 was shot for 70mm projection on a giant, curved, Cinerama screen–an experience that’s simply not available in the Bay Area today. The Castro’s large, flat screen is about the best we can do. On a double bill Sunday with The Tree of Life (see below), and on Monday with Giuseppe Makes a Movie (which I haven’t seen)

B+  The Tree of Life, Castro, Sunday. Terrence Malick made a career of taking risks (if someone who has made only five films in 40 years can be said to have a career). tree_of_lifeBut sometimes, when you go out on a limb, the branch breaks. His latest film works beautifully when it concentrates on a loving but troubled family in the 1950s—a story with no plot and many conflicts. The contemporary scenes with Sean Penn as one of the young sons, now a middle-aged man, don’t play as well. Few are as convincing as Penn at looking miserable, but Malick provides us with so little about his current life that we’re not sure why he’s so upset. And then there are the scenes that are just plain weird. But it’s a Malick film, so at least it’s always beautiful to look at. On a double bill with 2001: A Space Odyssey (see above).

A The Two Faces of January, Aquarius, opens Friday; New Parkway, opens Sunday.. The Two Faces of January is the best new thriller I’ve seen since Headhunters, but it’s a very different imagekind of thriller–more cerebral, less fun, and more plausible. When we first meet them, Chester and Colette MacFarland (Viggo Mortensen and Kirsten Dunst) are a wealthy, attractive, and happy American couple vacationing in Greece in the early 1960s. Then they meet Rydal (Oscar Isaac), also American, but scratching out a living as a tour guide–and supplementing his earnings with petty larceny. Of course there’s a love triangle, but the story is really about crime and deception. But who’s the criminal? And who’s deceiving who? Read my full review.

C+ The Zero Theorem, Lark, opens Saturday. Terry Gilliam’s new film  feels like a less-effective retreat of his brilliant Brazil. Like that far superior picture, imageit’s set in a dystopian society that may be in the future, but in some strange ways feels like the past. Christoph Waltz stars as a brilliant programmer and mathematician trying to solve an impossible problem while his corporate overlords track him closely and watch everything he does. Although visually exciting and occasionally provocative, The Zero Theorem doesn’t actually go anywhere. See my full review.

Halloween

A Night of The Living Dead, Alameda, Tuesday and Wednesday. This is fear without compromise. The slow, nearly unstoppable ghouls (sequels and imitations would later rename them zombies) were shockingly gruesome in image1968. Decades later, the shock is gone. But the dread and fear remain, made less spectacular but more emotionally gripping by the black and white photography. Night of the Living Dead is scary, effective, occasionally funny, and at times quite gross. It can be viewed as a satire of capitalism, a commentary on American racial issues, or simply as one of the scariest horror films ever made. Read my essay.

A Psycho, various CineMark Theaters, Sunday, 2:00; Wednesday, 2:00 & 7:00; UA Berkeley, Thursday, 9:00. You may never want to take a shower again. In his last great movie, Alfred Hitchcock pulls the rug out from under us several times,image leaving the audience unsure who we’re supposed to be rooting for or what could constitute a happy ending. In roles that defined their careers, Janet Leigh stars as a secretary turned thief, and Anthony Perkins as a momma’s boy with a lot to hide. I’ll always regret that I knew too much about Psycho before I ever saw it; I wish I could erase all memory of this movie and watch it with fresh eyes.

B+ Halloween, Balboa, Wednesday and Thursday, Castro, Wednesday. In 1978, John Carpenter made a very good low-budget thriller that started a very bad genre: the slasher movie–also known as the dead imageteenager flick. In the original Halloween, an escaped psycho racks up a number of victims on the scariest night of the year. Yes, the story is absurd–the guy seems capable of getting into any place and sneaking up on anyone–but Carpenter and his co-screenwriter Debra Hill take the time to let us know these particular teenagers, and that makes all the difference. By the time he goes after the mature, responsible one (Jamie Lee Curtis), you’re really scared. The Castro will screen Halloween on a double bill with something called Strange Behavior.

B+ Ghostbusters, Castro, Friday. Comedy rarely gets this scary or this visually spectacular. Or perhaps I should say imagethat special-effects action fantasies rarely get this funny (at least intentionally so). Harold Ramis, Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, and Sigourney Weaver appear to be having a great time as they try to control the phantasm and monsters suddenly attacking New York City. Not a bad way to pass an afternoon. On a double bill with Innerspace, which I saw a long time ago and remember not liking.

B The Phantom of the Opera (1925 version), Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, Saturday, 7:30. I haven’t seen the musical, but the original, silent Phantom is a tough one to beat (despite some pedestrian passages). Lon Chaney makes the perfect phantom–tragic, frightening, and yet strangely romantic. The demasking scene will stick in your memory for life. The newly-restored print (which I assume the Museum is showing) recreates the original tints, 2-color Technicolor, and painted stencil colors. With three shorts, including the Chaplin/Arbuckle vehicle The Rounders. Piano accompaniment by Frederick Hodges.

B Cabin in the Woods, New Parkway, Wednesday, 9:00. And speaking of dead teenager movies…By the 21st century, the only way to approach this sort of story was to make itimagean ironic comment on the genre (like Scream). This time around, a group of corporate white collar workers control, watch, and bet on the fate of four teenagers who leave town for a weekend and find only horror. By showing us the kid’s suffering through the uncaring eyes of the office workers, filmmakers Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon force us to confront the voyeuristic nature of the genre. But the movie’s ending just didn’t do it for me.

What’s Screening: October 17 – 23

The Bay Area ReelAbilities Disabilities Film Festival closes Sunday. The  Arab Film Festival continues through the end of this week. The Petaluma International Film Festival opens its three-day run today. And Bertolucci – A Film Series, takes up one glorious day on Saturday.

Bertolucci – A Film Series, Castro, Saturday. Here’s your chance to see four of Bernardo Bertolucci’s major works in one day–and go to a party as well.The Last Emperor The films are The Conformist (12:30),  The Sheltering Sky (3:00), The Last Emperor (6:00), and Last Tango in Paris 9:30. The Last Emperor will be screened in its new 3D conversion; Bertolucci has approved the change, but it still makes me feel uncomfortable. The party, at 8:30 in the Castro’s mezzanine, is called "Inside the Forbidden City," and will have Italian and Chinese food. Of the four, there’s only one I’ve seen recently enough to write about, so…

A The Conformist, Castro, Saturday, 12:30. It takes more than good men doing nothing to create fascism. According to Bernardo Bertolucci’s haunting imagecharacter study, it also takes mediocre men with career ambitions. Jean-Louis Trintignant is chilling as a bland cog in the machine, ready to use his honeymoon in homicidal service to Mussolini. With Stefania Sandrelli as his not-too-bright bride and Dominique Sanda, in a star-making performance, as the object of everyone’s desire. Part of Bertolucci – A Film Series.

A The Dark Knight, Castro, Friday. As far back as Memento, the Nolan brothers have seen evil as an influence imagevery likely to corrupt those dedicated to fighting it. In what is by far the best Batman movie ever made, 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 final performance. For more details, see my full review. On a MiDNiTES for MANiACS double bill with Reign of Fire.

A Lauren Bacall double bill: Key Largo & To Have and Have Not, Stanford, Friday through Sunday. The A goes to Key Largo. Set in a lonely Florida hotel during a hurricane, war veteran Humphrey Bogart faces off against gangster Edward G. Robinson. Most of the movie To Have and Have Notis talk, but when Richard Brooks and John Huston adopt a Maxwell Anderson stage play, and Huston directs a solid and charismatic cast, who needs more than talk? But I can’t honestly give To Have and Have Not anything higher than a B. Yes, the Bogart-Bacall romance ignites the screen. But aside from the  sexual sparks, it’s just a moderately entertaining tale of war-time intrigue.

C How to Marry a Millionaire, Castro, Sunday. This lavish 1953 romantic comedy succeeds only moderately at being either romantic or funny, despite the talents of imageLauren Bacall, Betty Grable, and Marilyn Monroe (who had only just achieved star status). As the title suggests, it’s about women not so much looking for love as fishing for a sugar daddy–hardly romantic. But How to Marry a Millionaire was one of the first two films shot in Cinemascope, and the first with an intimate, contemporary, character-and-dialog driven story. That alone gives it historical interest. On a Lauren Bacall double bill with Written on the Wind, which I haven’t seen.

B Frankenstein (1931 version), Alameda, Tuesday and Wednesday. Frankenstein did more than create a monster. He turned James Whale into a top director and Boris Karloff imageinto a major star (no mean feat since Karloff neither spoke in the film nor received screen credit). Several individual scenes are masterpieces of mood, horror, and crossed sympathies, but there’s so little story that the movie feels like a warm-up for the infinitely superior sequel, Bride of Frankenstein. Still, it was one of the most influential horror movies ever made, and Jack Pierce’s makeup for the monster is still iconic more than 80 years after the film’s release.

B+ Comedy Short Subject Night, Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, Saturday, 7:30. This month’s collection of silent shorts has an unsurprising Halloween theme. imageOne AM (which actually  has no Halloween connection) has Chaplin playing his rich drunk character, too soused to find his bed. Like all of his Mutuals, it’s very funny. The Haunted House is one of Buster Keaton’s best shorts. Harold Lloyd’s Haunted Spooks is very funny, but be warned: It suffers from racist humor. I haven’t seen Laurel and Hardy’s Habeas Corpus. Greg Pane will accompany everything on piano.

C+ The Black Cat, Castro, Thursday. Not all Universal horror films were carefully crafted by artists like James Whale. Low-budget auteur Edgar G. Ulmer threw this imagequickie together for very little money, and it looks it. But this silly story of revenge, lost honeymooners, a very modern spooky castle, and fear of cats offers a good share of laughs, some of them intentional. But why did Universal pick a cheapie like this for the first pairing of its two biggest horror stars–Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi? On a double bill with the 1935 version of The Raven, which I haven’t seen.

A Boyhood, New Parkway, opens Friday. Fifty years from now, people will still watch Richard Linklater’s intimate epic. Shot off and on over a period of 12 years, Boyhoodimage allows us to watch young Mason and his family grow up and older. It isn’t an easy childhood. His parents are divorced, neither of them has much money, Dad is immature and Mom has bad taste in men. But Boyhood avoids the sort of horrible situations that drive most narrative films, and it’s all the better for it. By using the same actors over such a long period of time, Linklater creates a far more realistic picture than could be done with aging makeup or switching from a child actor to an adult one. Read my full review.

A The Big Lebowski, New Parkway, Friday, 10:30. I recently revisited this cult favorite, seeing it for the first time in a theater, and it’s a much better movie than I remembered. This is one exceptional comedy–a Raymond Chandler story where Philip Marlowe has been replaced with a happily unemployed, perpetually stoned, thoroughly inept slacker who calls himself "the Dude" (Jeff Bridges). Behind the laughs, you can find a thin, barely grasped sense of Zen–as if you could throw yourself to the universe and everything will come out okay…unless it doesn’t. The wonderful supporting cast includes Sam Elliott, John Turturro, Julianne Moore. Philip Seymour Hoffman, and John Goodman as the funniest Vietnam vet ever to suffer from PTSD. (Actually, his friends do most of the suffering.)

What’s Screening: October 10 – 16

The Mill Valley Film Festival finishes Sunday. But don’t’ despair. The Arab Film Festival opens today (Friday). The  one-day Berlin & Beyond Autumn Showcase happens Saturday. And the Bay Area ReelAbilities Disabilities Film Festival opens Wednesday.

Plus, there are all of these:

A The Two Faces of JanuaryEmbarcadero Center, Shattuck, opens Friday; Rafael, opens Monday. The Two Faces of January is the best new thriller I’ve seen since Headhunters, but it’s a very different imagekind of thriller–more cerebral, less fun, and more plausible. When we first meet them, Chester and Colette MacFarland (Viggo Mortensen and Kirsten Dunst) are a wealthy, attractive, and happy American couple vacationing in Greece in the early 1960s. Then they meet Rydal (Oscar Isaac), also American, but scratching out a living as a tour guide–and sublimating his earnings with petty larceny. Of course there’s a love triangle, but the story is really about crime and deception. But who’s the criminal? And who’s deceiving who? Read my full review.

A+ Night of the Living Dead, New Parkway, Saturday, 9:30.  This is fear without compromise. The slow, nearly unstoppable ghouls (sequels and imitations would rename them zombies) were shockingly gruesome in image1968. Decades later, the shock is gone. But the dread and fear remain, made less spectacular but more emotionally gripping by the black and white photography. Night of the Living Dead is scary, effective, occasionally funny, and at times quite gross. It can be viewed as a satire of capitalism, a commentary on American racial issues, or simply as one of the scariest horror films ever made.Read my essay.

A+ The Last Waltz, Balboa, Thursday, 7:30. On Thanksgiving night, 1976, The Band played their final concert at San Francisco’s legendary Winterland Ballroom. Among their performing guests were Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Muddy Waters, and Joni imageMitchell. The filmmakers were just as talented: director Martin Scorsese,  cinematographers Michael Chapman and Vilmos Zsigmond, and art director Boris Leven. No wonder this was the greatest rock concert movie ever made. Scorsese and company ignored the audience and focused on the musicians, creating an intimate look at great artists who understood that this was a once-in-a-lifetime event.

A+ Sunrise, Castro, Saturday, 8:00. Haunting, romantic, and impressionistic, F. W. Murnau’s first American feature sunriseturns the mundane into the fantastic and the world into a work of art. The plot is simple: A marriage, almost destroyed by another woman, is healed by a day of reconciliation and romance in the big city. But the execution, with its stylized sets, beautiful photography, and expressionist performers, makes it both touchingly personal and abstractly mythological. Basically a silent film, the 1927 Sunrise was one of the first films released with a soundtrack (music and effects, only). But the Castro will have live organ accompaniment by Warren Lubich.

A- Two Days, One Night, Sequoia, Saturday, 5:45; Rafael, Sunday, 2:00. The boss gives his employees a choice: Either Sandra (Marion Cotillard) keeps her job, or everyone else receives a large bonus. Over the weekend, Sandra must visit 16 workers and convince a majority to sacrifice €1,000 for her sake. To make matters worse, Sandra is recovering from severe depression and has become dependent on pills. This latest film from the Dardenne brothers gives us modern capitalism in a nutshell. Workers, who would naturally be allies, are forced to fight over the limited resources available to pay non-management employees. Rather than becoming a political tract, this film feels like a very real situation, where everyone must make a difficult decision that will inevitably result in moral compromise. Part of the Mill Valley Film Festival.

A+ Cary Grant double bill: Notorious & Only Angels Have Wings, Stanford, Saturday and Sunday. The A+ goes to Notorious, where a scandal-ridden Ingrid Bergman Notoriousproves her patriotism by seducing, bedding, and marrying Claude Rains’ Nazi industrialist while true love Cary Grant grimly watches. Grant’s secret agent sends her on this deadly and humiliating mission, then reacts with blind jealousy. Sexy, romantic, thought-provoking, and scary enough to shorten your fingernails. I discuss the film more deeply in my Blu-ray Review. In Only Angels Have Wings, Cary Grant heads a team of mail plane pilots in a remote corner of South America. There’s little plot here, just a study of men who routinely fly under very dangerous conditions, and how they cope with death as an every-day part of life. On its own, I’d give this one an A-.

A Rome Open City, Castro, Wednesday. Roberto Rossellini helped create Italian neorealism in this dark tale of the German occupation. Gritty and at times horrifying, it imagevividly recreates the physical dangers and mental strains of living under Nazi rule. Technically, I suppose, it shouldn’t count as neorealism, since two major parts are played by established stars: Anna Magnani takes the central role of a pregnant woman who discovers that her fiancé is working for the underground, and the usually comic Aldo Fabrizi takes on a rare dramatic role as a priest who finds he has to administer to more than just souls. On a double bill with The Fugitive Kind.

A Key Largo, Castro, Sunday. In the 1930’s, movie stars like Edward G. Robinson got to kill punk character imageactors like Humphrey Bogart. But by 1948, Bogey was the top star and Robinson the supporting player (and a great one). Set in a lonely Florida hotel during a hurricane, war veteran Bogart faces off against gangster Robinson. Most of the movie is talk, but when Richard Brooks and John Huston adopt a Maxwell Anderson stage play, and Huston directs a solid and charismatic cast, who needs more than talk? On a double bill with Harper, which I haven’t seen.

C Tu Dors Nicole, Rafael, Friday, 3:45; Sequoia, Saturday, 8:45. Like its main character, this low-key French-Canadian comedy/drama seems to make a point of going nowhere. That would be fine if it was already in an interesting place. imageThe protagonist is a young woman sharing in her parent’s comfortable home (while they’re out of town) with her brother and his band. Early on, writer/director Stéphane Lafleur shows a nice touch for quiet, off-beat humor, with an awkward end to a one-night-stand and a 10-year-old boy with the baritone voice of a large man. But the humor dries up soon, and then there’s nothing left but characters who–aside from some occasional moments–are neither deep nor interesting. Another part of the Mill Valley Film Festival.

B+ American Graffiti, Rafael, Thursday, 7:30. Benefit for the Friends of the San Rafael Public Library. A long time ago, in a Bayimage Area that feels very far away, George Lucas made an entertaining (and extremely profitable) movie without action, a big budget, or special effects. Talk about nostalgia. You can also talk about old-time rock ‘n’ roll–American Graffiti makes great use of early 60s music in one of the most effective and creative sound mixes of the ’70s.

A Spartacus, Castro, Saturday, 1:00. This very fictionalized version of the famous Roman slave revolt is simply the most powerful, intelligent, and coherent toga epic from the golden age of imagetoga epics. And yes, I know that sounds like weak praise, but it isn’t. Stanley Kubrick’s only work as a director-for-hire doesn’t give us the glory of Rome, concentrating instead on the horror, cruelty, and exploitation of an empire. Star and Executive Producer Kirk Douglas gave Dalton Trumbo a well-deserved screen credit, which helped end the blacklist. For more, see Cemeteries and Gladiators, On the Moral Dilemma of Gladiator Movies, and How I lost my love for Stanley Kubrick.

B+ This Is Spinal Tap, UC Berkeley’s Crescent lawn, Friday, 8:00. Free outdoor screening. The mockumentary to end all rockumentaries. Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, imageand Harry Shearer play the subject of this fake documentary–an English heavy metal band of questionable talent on a disastrous American tour. Director Rob Reiner plays, appropriately enough, the documentary’s director. Uneven, but often brilliantly hilarious, although you need a good grounding in rock music and concert movies to get most of the jokes. On a scale of one to ten, the best scenes rate an eleven. Part of the PFA series, Endless Summer Cinema.

B- A Clockwork Orange, Pacific Film Archive, Saturday, 8:30. Stanley Kubrick’s strange, “ultra-violent” dystopian nightmare about crime and conditioning seemed imageself-consciously arty in1971, and it hasn’t improved with time. But several of its scenes–the Singin’ in the Rain rape, the brainwashing sequence, Alex’s vulnerability when he’s attacked by his former mates–are brilliant, as is Malcolm McDowell’s performance as a hooligan turned helpless victim. But it just doesn’t add up. Part of the series Eyes Wide: The Films of Stanley Kubrick.

A Chinatown, Oakland Paramount, Friday, 8:00. Roman Polanski may be a rapist, chinatownbut you can’t deny his talent as a filmmaker (which doesn’t excuse his actions as a human being). And that talent was never better than when he made this neo-noir tale of intrigue and double-crosses set in the Los Angeles of the 1930s. Writer Robert Towne fictionalized an actual scandal involving southern California water rights, mixed in a few personal scandals, and handed the whole story over to Polanski, who turned the script into the perfect LA period piece.

C- Popeye, Balboa, Saturday, 10:00am. Robert Altman’s one attempt at a big-budget family musical manages to be both imageextremely odd and utterly mediocre. The story is a mess, the gags are too outrageous to be funny (there are some things that only work in animation), and Harry Nilsson’s songs are utterly forgettable. The only real joy is watching actors who are remain recognizable as themselves while managing near-perfect physical embodiments of famous cartoon character; for the best example, consider Shelley Duvall’s amazing likeness to Olive Oyl.

C- Vertigo, Castro, Monday and Tuesday. I recently revisited everybody else’s favorite Alfred Hitchcock film, officially now the greatest film ever made, and I liked it better this time, so much that I’m bringing its grade up from a D to a C-. My main problem with the movie is that neither the story nor most of the characters make any sense, and I don’t believe anyone’s motivations. The film contains one wonderful, believable, and likeable character, Barbara Bel Geddes’ Midge, but we don’t see enough of her to offset everything else. Yes, the film is very atmospheric, but that’s just not enough. I don’t need to stare at a screen to experience San Francisco’s fog. New 4K restoration.

Mystery Science Theater 3000, New Parkway, Friday, 10:30. Regular readers know that I’m a fan of the classic bad-movie-with-commentary TV show, Mystery Science Theater 3000. I have never seen an episode on the big screen with a full audience, but I suspect I’d enjoy it–especially if it’s a really good episode. I hope this will be a good episode, no one is telling us which one will be screened.

B- Terror by Night, Stanford,  Friday. In the early 1940s, Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce starred in 12 low-budget, updated Sherlock Holmes adventures for Universal. This is one of the best, with our heroes riding on a imagenight train while tracking a jewel thief who’s not above murder. The enclosed setting of the train, combined with the rumbling of the tracks, adds atmospheric suspense that you usually don’t get in these films. True, the identity of the villain is both ridiculously obvious and totally unbelievable, but Rathbone was such a great Holmes that you can forgive such silliness. On a double bill with a Charlie Chan picture called Castle in the Desert, which I have not seen. For my thoughts on both of these series, see Charlie Chan, Sherlock Holmes, and the Strange Case of the Stereotyped Detective.

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