What’s Screening: August 28 – September 3

No festivals this week. But a very, very special event happening Sunday:

A+ The Crowd, Castro, Sunday, 7:00

If you get to one movie this week, this is the screening you should attend!
A young man comes to New York, dreaming of success and wealth. But reality refuses to live up to his dreams–perhaps because he dreams too much– in King Vidor’s 1928 masterpiece. Told with daring photography, real locations, surreal sets, and subtle pantomime, The Crowd brings you through dizzying joy and wrenching tragedy as it follows the story of an ordinary man who refuses to accept that he’s ordinary. As a rule, the silent cinema was weakest with straight drama, but The Crowd is the glorious exception. It’s a rare film and difficult to see; unavailable on disc and currently not streaming anywhere (at least legally). Read my longer appreciation. Bruce Loeb will accompany The Crowd on the Castro’s Mighty Wurlitzer pipe organ. And here’s another reason not to miss the screening. This is the very last time a silent film will be accompanied by the Wurlitzer before it will be replaced with a high-tech imitation.

A The Killing, Balboa, Tuesday, 7:30

Stanley Kubrick started his Hollywood career with this crackerjack noir heist thriller. A career criminal (Sterling Hayden) orchestrates a complex racetrack robbery likely to net two million 1956 dollars. But he needs collaborators, and each one of these collaborators (none experienced in crime) has to do his job perfectly. Needless to say, human frailty is going to get in the way. Hayden’s rat-a-tat-tat delivery does wonders for snappy, pulp-heavy dialog like “You’d be killing a horse – that’s not first degree murder. In fact it’s not murder at all. In fact I don’t know what it is.” I wrote about The Killing in more detail in 2014.

A Stop Making Sense, New Parkway, Friday, 10;30

The Talking Heads and film director Jonathan Demme and realized that a concert film doesn’t have to be a documentary. They barely show us the audience and never the backstage in this lively concert film (actually compiled from three different concerts). But what an amazing piece of rock and roll performance art they provide! Strange dance moves, great riffs, puzzling and possibly profound lyrics, and a very big suit, all backed by a beat that makes Stop Making Sense the most danceable motion picture ever to receive a theatrical release. And with its living room-like décor, the New Parkway just may be the best movie theater for dancing.

A The Apartment, Balboa, Thursday, 7:30

Billy Wilder won a Best Picture Oscar for this serious comedy about powerful men exploiting both attractive women and their male underlings. Jack Lemmon gave one of his best performances as a very small cog in the machinery of a giant, New York-based insurance company. In order to gain traction in the rat race, he loans his apartment to company executives—all married men–who use it for private time with their mistresses. With Fred MacMurray as the top exploiter and Shirley MacLane as the woman he exploits and Lemmon loves. Read my Blu-ray review.

A Airplane!, various CineMark Theaters, Sunday (matinee only) and Wednesday

They’re flying on instruments, blowing the autopilot, and translating English into Jive. So win one for the Zipper, but whatever you do, don’t call him “Shirley.” Airplane! throws jokes like confetti–carelessly tossing them in all directions in hopes that some might hit their target. Surprisingly enough, most of them do. There’s no logical reason why a movie this silly can be so satisfying, but then logic never was part of the Airplane! formula. I’d be hard-pressed to name another post-silent feature-length comedy with such a high laugh-to-minute ratio.

A Apu Trilogy, Lark, Sunday, full trilogy starts at 11:00am

Epic in scope, Satyajit Ray’s three-film masterwork follows the life of poverty-born Apu from birth through young adulthood. None of the films has a plot in the conventional sense, but they all brim with drama, laughter, joy, suspense, and heart-breaking tragedy. In other words, they’re about life–specifically life in early 20th-century India, and that means life in a society where dying of old age is rare. Subrata Mitra’s atmospheric photography, Ravi Shankar’s wonderful score, and a terrific cast (four actors of different ages play the title character) make this an exceptional cinematic experience. Read my longer article.

A+ Some Like It Hot, Oakland Paramount, Friday, 8:00

The urge to sleep with Marilyn Monroe comes head to head with the urge to keep breathing in Billy Wilder’s comic masterpiece. After witnessing a prohibition-era gangland massacre, two struggling musicians (Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon) hide from the mob by dressing in drag and joining an all-girl orchestra. But can they stay away from Ms. Monroe and her ukulele? There are comedies with higher laugh-to-minute ratios, and others that have more to say about the human condition. But you won’t find a better example of perfect comic construction, brilliantly funny dialog, and spot-on timing. Read my Blu-ray review.

C The Sound of Music, Balboa, Saturday, 10:00am

Many people love it, but I find the biggest money maker of the 1960s lumbering, slow, and dull. Not funny or romantic enough to be light entertainment, yet lacking the substance to be anything else. And most of the songs give the impression that, by their last collaboration, Roger and Hammerstein had run out of steam. On the other hand, the Todd-AO photography of Alpine landscapes makes this one of the most visually beautiful of Hollywood movies–in a picture postcard kind of way.

A Listen To Me Marlon, Roxie, opens Friday

I’ve seen a lot of documentaries about movie stars. But I’ve never before seen one quite like this. Brando recorded his thoughts and feelings into tape recorders over the course of his life, and director Stevan (not a misspelling) Riley used these recordings in place of the usual voice-of-God narration. You won’t get as many facts in Listen to Me Marlon as you would in a conventional documentary, but you’ll get a far stronger sense of exactly what made this great actor tick. Read my full review.

A The End of the Tour, New Parkway, opens Friday

Based on a true story about the meeting of two brilliant minds, The End of the Tour provides something rare in movies–intellectual discussion. In 1996, journalist and budding novelist David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg) spent several days interviewing suddenly respected novelist David Foster Wallace (Jason Segel). They bond, sort of, but Lipsky wants access to Wallace’s private thoughts, and Wallace is reluctant to open up. Segel turns Wallace into a fascinating character–deeply troubled and, despite his fame, deeply insecure.

A- Best of Enemies, Lark, opens Saturday

In the tumultuous year of 1968, the ABC television network put the reactionary William F. Buckley Jr. and the progressive Gore Vidal on TV to debate the issues of the day. They were both erudite, east-coast intellectuals, and their world views were as different as they could get. This breezy and entertaining documentary offers a plausible argument that those debates changed American TV news, and thus changed America. If you’re at all interested in recent American history, see this film. Read my full review.

What’s Screening: August 21 – 27

Only one small film festival this week, but it looks like a fun one: Ring-a-Ding-Ding: The Movies of Frank Sinatra.

A On the Town, Vogue, Saturday, 7:30

Three sailors arrive in New York for a 24-hour leave. That’s precious little time to see the sights, drink in the atmosphere, and fall in love. What makes On the Town so special–beyond the great songs, terrific choreography, and witty script–is the prevailing sense of friendship and camaraderie. These three sailors and the women who fall for them all seem to genuinely like each other. The movie also treats sexuality in a surprisingly upbeat and positive way for a 1949 Hollywood feature. The women in the story (Vera-Ellen, Ann Miller, and the infinitely funny Betty Garrett) are as motivated by lust as the men (Gene Kelly, Jules Munshin, and Frank Sinatra). It’s just too bad that screenwriters Adolph Green and Betty Comden updated their own wartime stage musical to the post-war period, losing the urgency that came from not knowing if the sailors would come back alive. Part of Ring-a-Ding-Ding: The Movies of Frank Sinatra.

B+ Sparrows, Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, Saturday, 7:30

Sparrows‘ plot feels like the stereotype of a silent film melodrama. An evil miser keeps children imprisoned and enslaved on what’s basically an island in the middle of a swamp. When it becomes clear that he will kill them all, sweet and beautiful Molly (who else but Mary Pickford) must lead them to safety. The story is as silly as it sounds, but the photography and tints are so gorgeous, and Pickford is such a delight, that you forgive it all. I’m hoping that Niles screens the same gorgeous print I saw some years back at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival. With the shorts Slippery Slickers and Mum’s the Word. With Frederick Hodges on the piano.

B+ Forbidden Planet, Balboa, Thursday, 7:30; Stanford, Saturday through Tuesday

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 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. The Stanford will present Forbidden Planet on a double bill with the 1960 version of The Time Machine.

A The Manchurian Candidate (original, 1962 version), Vogue, Sunday, 6:30

Bad dreams keep bothering Korean War veterans Lawrence Harvey and Frank Sinatra. Were they brainwashed by Communists? And where do the rabid anti-Communists fit in? Easily the best political thriller to come out of the cold war, The Manchurian Candidate finds villains on both political extremes. As the nominal hero, Sinatra proves he really is an actor, but Angela Lansbury steals the film as cinema’s most evil mother–a woman of outsized beliefs and a burning hatred of anyone who disagrees with her. Read my Blu-ray review. Another part of Ring-a-Ding-Ding: The Movies of Frank Sinatra.

B The Fifth Element, New Parkway, Friday

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

B+ 2001: A Space Odyssey, Castro, Saturday and Sunday

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 almost everything wrong in the prediction department. 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. The Castro’s screen is quite large, but not that large, and it’s flat. And Warner Brothers makes it available digitally only in 2K; 4k better simulates 70mm. On a double bill with Capricorn One on Saturday and Zardoz on Sunday.

B Fantastic Mr. Fox, Balboa, Saturday, 10:00am

There’s a cartoon-like quality to a lot of Wes Anderson’s work, so it isn’t surprising that he would eventually make a real cartoon. Based on a story by Roald Dahl, Fantastic follows the adventures of a very sophisticated but not altogether competent fox (voiced by George Clooney) as he tries to outwit a farmer and keep his marriage together. Children and adults will find different reasons to enjoy this frantically-paced comic adventure.

B- Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, Castro, Friday, 9:10

Tim Burton’s first feature revels in its own silliness. 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 flick, is alone worth the price of admission. On a double bill with The Goonies, which starts at 7:00.

B+ Mad Max: Fury Road, Castro, Wednesday; New Parkway throughout the week

You have to understand three things about this movie: 1) It’s basically one long motor vehicle chase broken up with dialog scenes. 2) It’s surprisingly feminist for this sort of movie; the plot involves a woman warrior rescuing a tyrant’s enslaved harem. 3) The title character is basically a sidekick. The movie is filled with crashes, weapons, hand-to-hand combat, acts of courage, close calls, and fatal errors. It’s fast, brutal, and for the most part very well-choreographed. The film makes effective use of 3D, and should be seen that way. Unfortunately, the Castro will screen it flat.

A- Best of Enemies, Albany Twin, opens Friday

In the tumultuous year of 1968, the ABC television network put the reactionary William F. Buckley Jr. and the progressive Gore Vidal on TV to debate the issues of the day. They were both erudite, east-coast intellectuals, and their world views were as different as they could get. This breezy and entertaining documentary offers a plausible argument that those debates changed American TV news, and thus changed America. If you’re at all interested in recent American history, see this film.

A The Hidden Fortress, Stanford, Friday

Akira Kurosawa showed astonishing range within the samurai genre (as well as outside the genre). Seven Samurai is an epic drama with fully-developed characters and realistically unpredictable violence; Yojimbo is a black comedy; Throne of Blood is stylized Shakespeare. But The Hidden Fortress is just plain fun–a rousing, suspenseful, and entertaining romp. It was also his first widescreen film, and contains two comic peasants (Minoru Chiaki and Kamatari Fujiwara) who were the inspiration for R2D2 and C3PO. See my Kurosawa Diary entry and my Blu-ray review.

What’s Screening: August 14 – 20

The Japan Film Festival continues through Sunday.

A Apu Trilogy, Lark, various dates throughout the week (details below)

Epic in scope, Satyajit Ray’s three-film masterwork follows the life of poverty-born Apu from birth through young adulthood. None of the films has a plot in the conventional sense, but they all brim with drama, laughter, joy, suspense, and heart-breaking tragedy. In other words, they’re about life–specifically life in early 20th-century India, and that means life in a society where dying of old age is rare. Subrata Mitra’s atmospheric photography, Ravi Shankar’s wonderful score, and a terrific cast (four actors of different ages play the title character) make this an exceptional cinematic experience. Read my longer article.

A+ Kurosawa double bill: Rashomon & Throne of Blood, Stanford, Saturday through Tuesday

In Rashomon, Akira Kurosawa reminds us that we can never really know anything. Visually beautiful and deeply atmospheric, this eight-character chamber piece recounts the same crime four times by different eyewitnesses, and none of their stories match. An easy A+. See my Kurosawa Diary entry and my Blu-ray review. In Throne of Blood, Kurosawa creates a haunting, noh- and kabuki-inspired loose adaptation of Macbeth. Toshiro Mifune gives an over-the-top but still effective performance as the military officer tempted by his wife (Isuzu Yamada) into murdering his lord. I give it an A-. I have a Kurosawa Diary entry and a Blu-ray review of this one as well.

A- The Thief of Baghdad (1924 version), Saturday, 7:30

What’s more fun than state-of-the-art special effects? State-of-the-art special effects circa 1924. Douglas Fairbanks’ spectacular Arabian Nights fantasy never actually fools you into thinking a horse can fly, but the clever effects and imaginative set design inspire awe and delight all the same. As does Fairbanks’ completely unrealistic performance as the energetic and happily ambitious thief. Don’t expect actual Arabian flavor here; this is pure early Hollywood fancy. And don’t expect 21st century racial attitudes in Fairbanks’ treatment of the Chinese. A lot of fun, but not up to the 1940 Technicolor remake. With two shorts. Accompanied by Jon Mirsalis on the Kurtzweil.

A The Hidden Fortress, Stanford, Wednesday through next Friday

Akira Kurosawa showed astonishing range within the samurai genre (as well as outside the genre). Seven
Samurai is an epic drama with fully-developed characters and realistically unpredictable violence; Yojimbo is a black comedy; Throne of Blood is stylized Shakespeare. But The Hidden Fortress is just plain fun–a rousing, suspenseful, and entertaining romp. It was also his first widescreen film, and contains two comic peasants (Minoru Chiaki and Kamatari Fujiwara) who were the inspiration for R2D2 and C3PO. See my Kurosawa Diary entry and my Blu-ray review.

A- Rebel Without a Cause, Balboa, Thursday, 7:30

James Dean received top billing is this melodramatic message picture about what’s wrong with kids these days. And what’s wrong? Parents don’t spend time with their kids and boys need fathers who are man enough to put the womenfolk in their place. And yet, thanks largely to Dean’s electrifying, frightening, and sympathetic performance, it’s a far better movie than it has any right to be. As a middle-class juvenile delinquent adjusting to a new school, Dean defined the word teenager when it was still a new concept. Of course, he got a lot of help from director Nicholas Ray, and by supporting players Natalie Wood and Sal Mineo as his only friends. In very wide early Cinemascope.

B+ The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, Balboa, Saturday, 10am

The first and best of Ray Harryhausen’s three Sinbad movies. In fact, of all his movies, only Jason and the Argonauts is better. The stop-motion animation is splendid, and the story, while trivial, is fun. Not a must-see like Jason, but still an entertaining escape into a fantasy past. 7thVoyage is an important movie in Harryhausen’s career; his first in color, his first period piece, and his first out-and-out fantasy after a series of sci-fi pictures involving aliens or monsters wreaking havoc on major metropolitan areas. I discuss the movie in more detail in Earthquakes and Monsters.

A+ The Third Man, Rafael, opens Friday

New 4K restoration. Classic film noir with an international flavor. An American pulp novelist (Joseph Cotten) arrives in impoverished, divided, post-war Vienna to meet up with an old friend who has promised him a much-needed job. But he soon discovers that the friend is both newly dead and a wanted criminal. Writer Graham Greene and director Carol Reed place an intriguing mystery inside a world so dark and disillusioned that American noir seems bright by comparison. Then, when the movie is two thirds over, Orson Welles comes onscreen to steal everything but the sprocket holes. See my A+ article.

A Tangerine, New Parkway, Rafael, opens Friday

Sometimes a new movie blows apart every concept you had about what a motion picture can be. Sean Baker’s tale of a transgender prostitute out for justice creates just that sort of magic. Fast, frenetic, funny, and sad, Tangerine looks like no other movie I’ve ever seen, probably because it was shot entirely on iPhones. And yes, that works, allowing the filmmakers to capture the tarnished glamour of today’s Hollywood. The most exciting and original new film I’ve seen this year. Did I tell you it’s a Christmas movie? Read my full review.

A The End of the Tour, California (Berkeley), Piedmont, opens Friday

Based on a true story about the meeting of two brilliant minds, this film provides something rare in movies–intellectual discussion. In 1996, journalist and budding novelist David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg) spent several days interviewing suddenly respected novelist David Foster Wallace (Jason Segel). They bond, sort of, but Lipsky wants access to Wallace’s private thoughts, and Wallace is reluctant to open up. Segel turns Wallace into a fascinating character–deeply troubled and, despite his fame, deeply insecure. Excellent film.

B+ Mr. Holmes, Opera Plaza, opens Friday

Ian McKellen plays Sherlock Holmes as an old man and as a very old man—mostly the later—in this entertaining but not too deep drama. Retired from solving crimes, Holmes is now a 90ish beekeeper (the film is set in 1947–about 20 years after Doyle wrote his last Holmes story), living with a widowed housekeeper and her young son. Holmes is in a race against time, trying to write down the true story of his last case—to correct Watson’s exaggerations—before senility sinks too deep. For Holmes fans, and I’m one of them, this is a wonderful gift. For everyone else, it’s still an enjoyable day at the movies. Read my full review.

B+ Sing-Along Wizard of Oz, Castro, Friday through Sunday

I don’t really have to tell you about this one, do I? Well, perhaps I have to explain why I’m only giving it a B+. Despite its clever songs, lush Technicolor photography, and one great performance (Bert Lahr’s Cowardly Lion), The Wizard of Oz never struck me as the masterpiece that everyone else sees. It’s a good, fun movie, but not quite fun enough to earn an A. I have not experienced the sing-along version.

A The Bad Sleep Well, Stanford, Friday

Few people know Kurosawa’s dark, contemporary, and suspenseful tale of corruption and revenge—and that’s a shame. It concerns a large, successful, and thoroughly corrupt corporation, and a young man (Toshiro Mifune) out to destroy it from the inside. First he marries the president’s crippled daughter—an act that everyone reads as blind ambition. But the real motive is revenge. Kurosawa reveals the reasons for and depth of that revenge slowly in a startling, suspenseful, and bleak story that provides neither catharsis nor easy answers. See my Kurosawa Diaries entry.

? 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- Vertigo, Clay, Friday and Saturday, 11:55PM

I know. For many cinephiles, this isn’t just Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece, but one of the greatest films ever made. But I just don’t get it. 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.

What’s Screening: August 7 – 13

The SF Jewish Film Festival finishes up Sunday. And the Japan Film Festival opens today and runs into next week. Jewish Film Festival movies are listed at the bottom of this newsletter.

A Manos Sucias, Roxie, Friday & Saturday

A rare chance to see an exceptional film not generally available in this country. Two brothers, barely on speaking terms, team up to deliver a very large shipment of cocaine down river in this Colombian thriller. It’s the end of them if they’re caught by the police. But things will be far worse if they don’t deliver all of their shipment. Manos Sucias does more than hold us in suspense. It shows us how society works and how people live in a very different part of the world than what most of us are used to. You may never get another chance to see this film.

A Listen To Me Marlon, Opera Plaza, Rafael, opens Friday

I’ve seen a lot of documentaries about movie stars. But I’ve never before seen one quite like this. Brando recorded his thoughts and feelings into tape recorders over the course of his life, and director Stevan (not a misspelling) Riley used these recordings in place of the usual voice-of-God narration. You won’t get as many facts in Listen to Me Marlon as you would in a conventional documentary, but you’ll get a far stronger sense of exactly who made Brando tick.

A The End of the Tour, Embarcadero, Shattuck, opened last night (sorry about that)

Based on a true story about the meeting of two brilliant minds, this film provides something rare in movies–intellectual discussion. In 1996, journalist and budding novelist David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg) spent several days interviewing suddenly respected novelist David Foster Wallace (Jason Segel). They bond, sort of, but Lipsky wants access to Wallace’s private thoughts, and Wallace is reluctant to open up. Segel turns Wallace into a fascinating character–deeply troubled and, despite his fame, deeply insecure. Excellent film.

A- Best of Enemies, Embarcadero, California (Berkeley), Aquarius, opens Friday

In the tumultuous year of 1968, the ABC television network put the reactionary William F. Buckley Jr. and the progressive Gore Vidal on TV to debate the issues of the day. They were both erudite, east-coast intellectuals, and their world views were as different as they could get. This breezy and entertaining documentary offers a plausible argument that those debates changed American TV news, and thus changed America. If you’re at all interested in recent American history, see this film.

Kurosawa double bill: Yojimbo & Stray Dog, Stanford, Saturday through Tuesday

The A goes to Yojimbo, where a masterless samurai (Toshiro Mifune) wanders into a small town torn apart by a gang war. Disgusted by everyone, he uses his wits and amazing swordsmanship to play the sides against each other. In the hands of Akira Kurosawa, the result is an entertaining action flick, a parody of westerns, and a very dark black comedy rolled into one. Read my Kurosawa Diary entry. I’d only give Stray Dog a B+ on its own. This 1949 police procedural about a rookie detective (Toshiro Mifune) who loses his gun to a pickpocket, works best as a straight-up thriller, and doesn’t work at all when it tries to say something meaningful. I have a Kurosawa Diaries entry on this one, too.

A The Bad Sleep Well, Stanford, Wednesday through next Friday

Few people know Kurosawa’s dark, contemporary, and suspenseful tale of corruption and revenge—and that’s a shame. It concerns a large, successful, and thoroughly corrupt corporation, and a young man (Toshiro Mifune) out to destroy it from the inside. It begins with his wedding to the president’s crippled daughter—an act that everyone reads as blind ambition (the engagement won him a job as the president’s personal secretary). But the real motive is revenge. Kurosawa reveals the reasons for and depth of that revenge slowly in a startling, suspenseful, and bleak story that provides neither catharsis nor easy answers. See my Kurosawa Diaries entry.

A Strangers on a Train, Balboa, Thursday, 7:30

One of Hitchcock’s scariest films, and therefore one of his best. A rich, spoiled psychopath (the worst kind) convinces himself that a moderately-famous athlete has agreed to exchange murders. The athlete soon finds himself hounded by suspicious cops who think he’s killed his philandering wife, and a psycho who thinks the athlete owes him a murder.

A Jason and the Argonauts, Balboa, Saturday, 10:00am

No other movie so successfully turns Greek mythology (or at least a family-friendly version of Greek mythology) into swashbuckling adventure, while remaining true to the original spirit of the tales. As the gods bicker and gamble on the fates of mortals, Jason and his crew fight magical monsters and scheming human villains. Todd Armstrong and Nancy Kovack are unbearably stiff in the lead roles, but Jason contains several wonderful supporting roles, including Nigel Green as cinema’s most articulate Hercules. But the real star, of course, is Ray Harryhausen’s hand-made special effects.

A Galaxy Quest, New Parkway, Thursday, 9:30

There’s no better way to parody a well-known genre than to write characters who are familiar with the genre and find themselves living what they thought was fiction. And few movies do this better than Galaxy Quest. The cast of a long-cancelled sci-fi TV show with a fanatical following (think Star Trek) find themselves on a real space adventure with good and bad aliens. Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, and Alan Rickman star. The funniest film of 1999–one of the best years for comedy in recent decades.

C+ The Iron Mask, Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, Saturday, 7:30

Douglas Fairbanks must have felt melancholy as he made what he knew would be his last silent film. Based on Dumas’ oft-filmed The Three Musketeers sequel, The Iron Mask is unusually dark for a Fairbanks movie, with several likeable characters meeting untimely deaths. But writer-producer-star Fairbanks lacked the knack for serious drama, resulting in an odd juxtaposition of bad melodrama and entertaining swashbuckling. Also on the program: the very funny Snub Pollard short It’s a Gift! Jon Mirsalis will provide the musical accompaniment on the Kurtzweil.

A Blade Runner, Castro, Sunday

Based on Philip K. Dick’s novel 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. 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. Read my longer essay.

B+ Aliens, Castro, Wednesday, 7:00

Less of a horror film and more of an action flick (or, arguably, a war movie), Aliens strands a platoon of marines on a barely hospitable planet infested with the big, egg-laying predators. Sigourney Weaver, made famous by the original film, stars again. The Castro’s website gives the film a 137-minute runtime, suggesting that this is the original cut. Too bad. I’d prefer the 154-minute director’s cut, which goes into more character detail and is a much better film. In fact, I’d give that version an A. On a double bill with Blue Steel.

A+ The Third Man, Roxie, opens Friday

New 4K restoration. Classic film noir with an international flavor. An American pulp novelist (Joseph Cotten) arrives in impoverished, divided, post-war Vienna to meet up with an old friend who has promised him a much-needed job. But he soon discovers that the friend is both newly dead and a wanted criminal. Writer Graham Greene and director Carol Reed place an intriguing mystery inside a world so dark and disillusioned that American noir seems bright by comparison. Then, when the movie is two thirds over, Orson Welles comes onscreen to steal everything but the sprocket holes. See my longer discussion on Noir City Opening Night.

A+ Ikiru, Stanford, Friday

One of Akira Kurosawa’s best, and one of the greatest serious dramas ever put up on the screen. Takashi Shimura gives the performance of his lifetime as an aging government bureaucrat dying of cancer. Emotionally cut off from his family–including the son and daughter-in-law with whom he lives–he struggles to find some meaning in his life before he dies. A deep and moving meditation on mortality and what it means to be human, Ikiru manages to be deeply spiritual without ever mentioning God or religion. Read my Kurosawa Diary entry.

SF Jewish Film Festival

A- My Shortest Love Affair, Rafael, Saturday, 8:30

Funny, serious, sexy, and true to life, this French gem catches the struggles and futility of a bad romance. Months after a one-night stand resulted in pregnancy, Louisa (Karin Albou, who also wrote and directed) and Charles (Patrick Mimoun) move in together to raise their soon-to-be-born child. But they’re hopelessly incompatible. They like different music. He’s allergic to her cat. She takes her Jewish identity seriously; he doesn’t. But worst of all, they’re horrible together in bed. Attempts at sex continually turn into arguments. (Both stars are naked for much of the film, and you can clearly see that Albou was very pregnant while directing and acting with her clothes off.) The only misstep is the ending, which is too quick and convenient.

B+ Dough, Rafael, Sunday, 6:20

This feel-good comedy succeeds in making you laugh and in making you feel good. Why not? The marijuana-laced challah makes the onscreen characters laugh and feel good. You have to suspend a lot of disbelief to accept the absurdities of the story and the conventional comic tropes, but if you do you can sit back and enjoy the movie. The story involves an orthodox kosher baker (Jonathan Pryce) who hires a Muslim, African refugee teenager (newcomer Jerome Holder) as his apprentice. And of course they bond while the bakery thrives. It’s a movie.

B The Go-Go Boys: The Inside Story of Cannon Films, Rafael, Sunday, 4:20

Two cousins, Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, built a successful Israeli movie studio, then moved to Los Angeles, mass-produced action flicks, made huge amounts of money, became a power in Hollywood, and then saw their business empire collapse. Hilla Madalia’s documentary, filled with interviews and film clips, entertains and informs, but isn’t really exceptional. Both men, and especially the more artistic Golan, make good on-screen interview subjects, and their interviews carry the movie.

B A La Vie (To Life), Lakeside Theater (Oakland), Saturday, 6:30

Three Auschwitz survivors, best friends in the camp, reunite at a French beach resort in 1962. The story concentrates on Hélène (Julie Depardieu), who is very much in love with her husband, who was castrated by the Nazis. Understandably, her desires and her loyalties are in serious conflict. Rose (Suzanne Clément) seems at first to be the healthiest mentally, but her short temper belies issues she doesn’t want to surface. Lily (Johanna ter Steege) seems way ahead of her time as an activist for a feminist, egalitarian Judaism. The story is reasonably well-told, but predictable.

C The Law, Lakeside Theater (Oakland), Sunday, 6:30

A great cause doesn’t always make a great film. France’s struggle to legalize abortion in the mid-1970s comes off as a lot of compromises and backdoor deals done in smoke-filled rooms (literally smoke-filled; it’s France in the 1970s). The film’s heroine, Minister of Health Simone Veil (Rue Mandar) comes off as steadfast and strong, but not particularly interesting. A subplot concerning a young photographer who wants to become a real journalist shows some human interest, but not enough. The real story, of pregnant women facing disaster, comes in only rarely.

C- Mr. Kaplan, Rafael, Friday, 6:20

In Uruguay at the end of the 20th century, an old, senile Jewish man almost randomly decides that an equally old German man is a Nazi in hiding. So he teams up with an unemployed, alcoholic loser of an ex-cop to bring the mass murderer to justice. Writer/director Alvaro Brechner tries to mix broad comedy with sentimental drama, but he only moderately succeeds with either style, and never brings them satisfactorily together. I figured out the “surprise” ending less than half an hour into the movie.

What’s Screening: July 31 – August 6

This weekend marks the end of Pacific Film Archive screenings in its 15-year-old “temporary” theater. The PFA will reopen early next at their new location near downtown Berkeley.

In festival news, the Brainwash Movie Festival reopens today and closes Saturday. As I write this, the programs have not yet been released. But the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival continues through this week and beyond. You’ll find my SFJFF micro-reviews at the bottom of this newsletter.

A Tokyo Story, Pacific Film Archive, Sunday, 8:15
This is the very last PFA screening in the current building

One of the great films about family in all of its troubling complexities. An elderly couple travel to Tokyo to visit their busy and overworked adult children. Everyone greets them with the proper respect, but only a widowed daughter-in-law offers real warmth. Soon the elderly couple are moved from one house to another like King Lear–except that this time the children feel guilty about it. Death hangs over the last part of the film. You don’t need to have experienced the life changes in Tokyo Story to appreciate it. And if you haven’t experienced them, you will. Read my Blu-ray review. Part of the series Cinema According to Víctor Erice.

A+ City Lights, Pacific Film Archive, Saturday, 4:00

In Charlie Chaplin’s most perfect comedy, the little tramp falls in love with a blind flower girl and befriends a suicidal, alcoholic millionaire, but neither of them know the real Charlie. The result is funny and touching, with one of cinema’s greatest endings. Sound came to the movies as Chaplin shot City Lights, resulting in an essentially silent film with a recorded musical score composed by Chaplin himself. Cinema has rarely achieved such perfection. Read my Blu-ray review. Part of the series Cinema According to Víctor Erice.

A+ Bicycle Thief, Pacific Film Archive, Saturday, 8:45

If you want to understand Italian neorealism, the desperation of poverty, or simply the power of cinema, you have to see Vittorio De Sica’s masterpiece. This film pits the desperately poor against the desperately poor, in a story that you know can’t possibly end well. And yet, there are many touches of beauty, human kindness, and humor. Unemployed Antonio finally gets a job–in part because he owns a bike. Then, on his first day on the job, his bike is stolen. Most of the film follows a desperate search through Rome, hoping against hope to find the bike. Read my longer appreciation. Part of the series Cinema According to Víctor Erice.

A The World of Apu, Rafael, Sunday

in the final chapter of Satyajit Ray’s Apu Trilogy, the adult Apu leaves college, but seems reluctant to grow up. Like his father, he’s a dreamer, and assumes that good things will come his way. His best friend from college does much better, but then, he came from a rich family. One good thing does come his way: He marries, almost by accident, and finds happiness and true love. But tragedy is never far away in Apu’s world. See my discussion of the entire trilogy.

A+ Ikiru, Stanford, Wednesday through next Friday

One of Akira Kurosawa’s best, and one of the greatest serious dramas ever put up on the screen. Takashi Shimura gives the performance of his lifetime as an aging government bureaucrat dying of cancer. Emotionally cut off from his family–including the son and daughter-in-law with whom he lives–he struggles to find some meaning in his life before he dies. A deep and moving meditation on mortality and what it means to be human, Ikiru manages to be deeply spiritual without ever mentioning God or religion. Kurosawa followed Ikiru with Seven Samurai, a very different and even better masterpiece, and one where Shimura got to play an action hero. Read my Kurosawa Diary entry.

A Wallace & Gromit: the Curse of the Were-Rabbit, New Parkway, matinees every day except Wednesday

An eccentric inventor, his long-suffering dog, snooty aristocrats, cute bunnies, and whole lot of clay make up the funniest movie of 2005. I vote for putting this G-rated, claymation extravaganza on a double-bill with that other hilarious British comedy with a killer rabbit, Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

A+ Seven Samurai, Stanford, Saturday through Tuesday

If you think all action movies are mindless escapism, you need to set aside 3½ hours for Kurosawa’s epic masterpiece. The basic story–a poor village hires warriors to defend them against bandits–has been retold many times since, but Kurosawa told it first and told it best. This is an action film with almost no action in the first two hours. But when the fighting finally arrives, you’re ready for it, knowing every detail of the people involved, the terrain to be fought over, and the class differences between the peasants and their hired swords. One of the greatest movies ever made. See my Kurosawa Diary entry.

A Sunset Boulevard, Balboa, Thursday, 7:30

Billy Wilder’s meditation on Hollywood’s seedy underbelly is the flip side of Singin’ in the Rain (now that would make a great double bill). Norma Desmond is very much Lena Lamont after twenty-two years of denial and depression. And in the role of Norma, Gloria Swanson gives one of the great over-the-top performances in Hollywood history.

B The Kid, Pacific Film Archive, Sunday, 3:0

Charlie Chaplin’s first feature, The Kid, isn’t among his best–there are times when you can feel him stretching to fill six reels, and others where the sentimentality overwhelms. But it has some wonderful routines, most built around his very young co-star, Jackie Coogan. This may be the only time Chaplin allowed someone else to steal one of his films, and it was the right decision. The future Uncle Fester imitates Chaplin perfectly as an abandoned child raised by the little tramp. The music, alas, will not be live.

A- Iris, Castro, Wednesday

Iris Apfel, a fixture in the New York fashion scene well in her 90s, dresses herself in loud, bright, and absurd clothes, augmented with even crazier accessories. And yet she looks great. Apfel still embraces her work with enthusiasm, and thus embraces life. Maysles follows her as she attends shows, shops in specialty stores in Harlem, shows off all of the absurd toys in her apartment, and treats her husband of more than 60 years to his 100th birthday party. And she’s almost always smiling. Read my full review. On a double bill with Grey Gardens–which I really have to see one of these days.

B+ Mr. Holmes, Balboa, opens Friday

Ian McKellen plays Sherlock Holmes as an old man and as a very old man—mostly the later—in this entertaining but not too deep drama. Retired from solving crimes, Holmes is now a 90ish beekeeper (the film is set in 1947–about 20 years after Doyle wrote his last Holmes story), living with a widowed housekeeper and her young son. Holmes is in a race against time, trying to write down the true story of his last case—to correct Watson’s exaggerations—before senility sinks too deep. For Holmes fans, and I’m one of them, this is a wonderful gift. For everyone else, it’s still an enjoyable day at the movies. Read my full review.

San Francisco Jewish Film Festival

A- My Shortest Love Affair, California (Berkeley), Monday, 6:15

Funny, serious, sexy, and true to life, this French gem catches the struggles and futility of a bad romance. Months after a one-night stand resulted in pregnancy, Louisa (Karin Albou, who also wrote and directed) and Charles (Patrick Mimoun) move in together to raise their soon-to-be-born child. But they’re hopelessly incompatible. They like different music. He’s allergic to her cat. She takes her Jewish identity seriously; he doesn’t. But worst of all, they’re horrible together in bed. Attempts at sex continually turn into arguments. (Both stars are naked for much of the film, and you can clearly see that Albou was very pregnant while directing and acting with her clothes off.) The only misstep is the ending, which is too quick and convenient.

B+
Dough, California (Berkeley), Wednesday, 6:30

This feel-good comedy succeeds in making you laugh and in making you feel good. Why not? The marijuana-laced challah makes the onscreen characters laugh and feel good. You have to suspend a lot of disbelief to accept the absurdities of the story and the conventional comic tropes, but if you do you can sit back and enjoy the movie. The story involves an orthodox kosher baker (Jonathan Pryce) who hires a Muslim, African refugee teenager (newcomer Jerome Holder) as his apprentice. And of course they bond while the bakery thrives. It’s a movie.

B The Go-Go Boys: The Inside Story of Cannon Films, California (Berkeley), Sunday, 6:30

Two cousins, Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, built a successful Israeli movie studio, then moved to Los Angeles, mass-produced action flicks, made huge amounts of money, became a power in Hollywood, and then saw their business empire collapse. Hilla Madalia’s documentary, filled with interviews and film clips, entertains and informs, but isn’t really exceptional. Both men, and especially the more artistic Golan, make good on-screen interview subjects, and their interviews carry the movie.

C- Mr. Kaplan, Castro, Sunday, 5:35

In Uruguay at the end of the 20th century, an old, senile Jewish man almost randomly decides that an equally old German man is a Nazi in hiding. So he teams up with an unemployed, alcoholic loser of an ex-cop to bring the mass murderer to justice. Writer/director Alvaro Brechner tries to mix broad comedy with sentimental drama, but he only moderately succeeds with either style, and never succeeds in bringing them satisfactorily together. I figured out the “surprise” ending less than half an hour into the movie.

What’s Screening: July 24 – 30

The San Francisco Jewish Film Festival runs through this weekend and beyond. And the Brainwash Movie Festival opens tonight, runs through the weekend, takes the week off, then revives for next weekend. I’ve placed the festival films that I’ve seen at the bottom of this newsletter.

A+ Red River, Balboa, Thursday, 7:30

John Wayne gives one of his best performances, showing us the villain in the hero and the hero in the villain as the Captain Bligh figure in this western variation on Mutiny on the Bounty. The character starts out as your classic Wayne hero—strong, stubborn, a man of his word who is quick with a gun. But these traits prove his moral undoing as he leads others on a dangerous cattle drive. To make matters worse, his adopted son (Montgomery Clift in his breakout role) leads the rebellion. Read my Blu-ray review and Book vs. Film discussion.

A- Aparajito, Rafael, Sunday

As is so common with trilogies, the middle film is the weakest. But with the Apu Trilogy, the weakest can be far from weak. In Aparajito, Apu grows from late childhood into late adolescence, and his view of India and the world widens considerably. He excels in school and becomes excited by science. In many ways, it’s a more optimistic film than its predecessor; this kid just might be going places. But there’s a heavy price to pay for advancement out of his class. His now widowed mother can’t bear to lose her last surviving child to the world. See my discussion of the entire trilogy.

B+ This Is Spinal Tap, Lark, Saturday, 8:00

The mockumentary to end all rockumentaries. Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, and 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.

B+ American Graffiti, Balboa, Tuesday, 7:30

A long time ago, in a Bay 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.

Blade Runner, New Parkway, Friday, 10:30

Based on Philip K. Dick’s novel 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. 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. Read my longer essay.

The Big Lebowski, UA Berkeley, Thursday, 9:00

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.) Read my full report.

B+
Scarlet StreetStanford, through Friday

If you’re lonely, bored, professionally unfulfilled, and stuck in a bad marriage, beware of beautiful women who seem interested in you–especially if you look like Edward G. Robinson. A cashier who dabbles in painting on the side (Robinson) falls for a dame who easily wraps him around her finger (Joan Bennett). Soon he’s stealing from his boss and letting the dame take credit for his suddenly successful paintings. You know this isn’t going to go well. A fine noir written by Dudley Nichols and directed by Fritz Lang. On a double bill with Father of the Bride.

San Francisco Jewish Film Festival

A- My Shortest Love Affair, Castro, Wednesday, 6:30; CineArts (Palo Alto), Thursday, 6:15

Funny, serious, sexy, and true to life, this French gem catches the struggles and futility of a bad romance. Months after a one-night stand resulted in pregnancy, Louisa (Karin Albou, who also wrote and directed) and Charles (Patrick Mimoun) move in together to raise their soon-to-be-born child. But they’re hopelessly incompatible. They like different music. He’s allergic to her cat. She takes her Jewish identity seriously; he doesn’t. But worst of all, they’re horrible together in bed. Attempts at sex continually turn into arguments. (Both stars are naked for much of the film, and you can clearly see that Albou was very pregnant while directing and acting with her clothes off.) The only misstep is the ending, which is too quick and convenient.

The Go-Go Boys: The Inside Story of Cannon Films, Castro, Saturday, 6:50; CineArts (Palo Alto),Monday, 6:30

Two cousins, Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, built a successful Israeli movie studio, then moved to Los Angeles, mass-produced action flicks, made huge amounts of money, became a power in Hollywood, and then saw their business empire collapse. Hilla Madalia’s documentary, filled with interviews and film clips, entertains and informs, but isn’t really exceptional. Both men, and especially the more artistic Golan, make good on-screen interview subjects, and their interviews carry the movie.

A La Vie (To Life), CineArts (Palo Alto), Saturday, 8:30

Three Auschwitz survivors, best friends in the camp, reunite at a French beach resort in 1962. The story concentrates on Hélène (Julie Depardieu); married and very much in love with a man who was castrated by the Nazis (Hippolyte Girardot), her desires and her loyalties are in serious conflict. Rose (Suzanne Clément) seems at first to be the healthiest mentally, but her short temper belies issues she doesn’t want to surface. Lily (Johanna ter Steege) seems way ahead of her time as an activist for a feminist, egalitarian Judaism. The story is reasonably well-told, but predictable.

The Law, Castro, Tuesday, 9:00, CineArts (Palo Alto), Wednesday, 8:50

A great cause doesn’t always make a great film. France’s struggle to legalize abortion in the mid-1970s comes off as a lot of compromises and backdoor deals done in smoke-filled rooms (literally smoke-filled; it’s France in the 1970s). As the film’s heroine, Minister of Health Simone Veil (Rue Mandar) comes off as steadfast and strong, but not particularly interesting. A subplot concerning a young photographer who wants to become a real journalist shows some human interest, but not enough. The real story, of pregnant women facing disaster, comes in only rarely.

C-  Mr. Kaplan, CineArts (Palo Alto), Thursday, 8:35

In Uruguay at the end of the 20th century, an old, senile Jewish man almost randomly decides that an equally old German man is a Nazi in hiding. So he teams up with an unemployed, alcoholic loser of an ex-cop to bring the mass murderer to justice. Writer/director Alvaro Brechner tries to mix broad comedy with sentimental drama, but he only moderately succeeds with either style, and never succeeds in bringing them satisfactorily together. I figured out the “surprise” ending less than half an hour into the movie.

What’s Screening: July 17 – 23

The Frozen Film Festival opens today and runs through the weekend. Meanwhile, the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival opens Thursday night.

Here’s what else is screening:

Tangerine, Embarcadero Center, California (Berkeley), opens Friday

Sometimes a new movie blows apart every concept you had about what a motion picture can be. Sean Baker’s tale of a transgender prostitute out for justice creates just that sort of magic. Fast, frenetic, funny, and sad, Tangerine looks like no other movie I’ve ever seen, probably because it was shot entirely on iPhones. And yes, that works, allowing the filmmakers to capture the tarnished glamour of today’s Hollywood. The most exciting and original new film I’ve seen this year. Did I tell you it’s a Christmas movie? Read my full review. Special appearances by filmmakers at the Embarcadero (Friday after the 7:30 show) and the California (Saturday, after the 7:20 show)

B+ Mr. Holmes, Clay, Albany, Piedmont, Guild, opens Friday

Ian McKellen plays Sherlock Holmes as an old man and as a very old man—mostly the later—in this entertaining but not too deep drama. Retired from solving crimes, Holmes is now a 90ish beekeeper (the film is set in 1947–about 20 years after Doyle wrote his last Holmes story), living with a widowed housekeeper and her young son. Holmes is in a race against time, trying to write down the true story of his last case—to correct Watson’s exaggerations—before senility sinks too deep. For Holmes fans, and I’m one of them, this is a wonderful gift. For everyone else, it’s still an enjoyable day at the movies. Read my full review.

Panther Panchali, Rafael, Sunday

Our hero’s birth starts this first chapter of Satyajit Ray’s great Apu Trilogy, which then skips a few years so we can know him as a curious and mischievous child. Upbeat in nature, Apu seems to delight in the world around him–despite considerable hardship. His rural family lives in desperate poverty, and his educated but dreamy father’s unrealistic optimism doesn’t help. Apu’s mother is far more level-headed, and that makes her far more scared. Meanwhile, Apu and his older sister Durga play and fight and avoid their responsibilities. There’s a great deal of joy in this film, but a greater deal of tragedy. The Rafael will screen the trilogy chronologically over the course of three Sundays. Read my Apu discussion.

B+ Scarlet Street, Stanford, Wednesday through next Friday

If you’re lonely, bored, professionally unfulfilled, and stuck in a bad marriage, beware of beautiful women who seem interested in you–especially if you look like Edward G. Robinson. A cashier who dabbles in painting on the side (Robinson) falls for a dame who easily wraps him around her finger (Joan Bennett). Soon he’s stealing from his boss and letting the dame take credit for his suddenly successful paintings. You know this isn’t going to go well. A fine noir written by Dudley Nichols and directed by Fritz Lang. On a double bill with Father of the Bride.

Early British Hitchcock double bill: The Lady Vanishes & the 39 Steps, Castro, Sunday

If you walked into The Lady Vanishes without knowing it was directed by Alfred Hitchcock, you’d spend nearly half an hour thinking you were watching a very British screwball comedy. Then a nice old lady disappears on a moving train, and everyone denies that she was there. Now it feels like Hitchcock! Of his work, only North by Northwest is more entertaining. Read my Blu-ray review. Although The 39 Steps is the lesser of these twoit’s very well made and an important step in Hitchcock’s transition to the Master of Suspense. The basic story, which he’d repeat twice again, involves an everyman (Robert Donat) chased both by evil foreign spies and the police.

Tommy, Lark, Saturday, 8:00

Ken Russell’s over-the-top film version of Pete Townsend’s and The Who’s rock opera hits you over the head with all the subtlety of Pete Townsend smashing a guitar, while turning a parable of spiritual quest into a carnival satire of materialism and cults. Oliver Reed proves he can’t sing as he plays a male version of the stereotypical evil stepmother, but Roger Daltrey and Ann-Margaret sing, dance, and act like the professionals they are. So do Eric Clapton, Tina Turner, and Elton John in smaller roles. Townsend’s music is still brilliant, and if this isn’t the best version of Tommy, it’s certainly the most fun.

Double Indemnity, various CineMark theaters, Sunday, Monday, and Wednesday

Rich, unhappy, and evil housewife Barbara Stanwyck leads insurance salesman Fred MacMurray by the libido from adultery to murder in Billy Wilder’s near-perfect thriller. Not that she has any trouble leading him (this is not the wholesome MacMurray we remember from My Three Sons).  Edward G. Robinson is in fine form as the co-worker and close friend that MacMurray must deceive. A great, gritty thriller about sex (or the code-era equivalent) and betrayal, Double Indemnity can reasonably be called the first true film noir.

Pulp Fiction, Castro, Saturday

Quentin Tarantino achieved cult status by writing and directing this witty mesh of interrelated stories involving talkative killers, a crooked boxer, romantic armed robbers, and a former POW who hid a watch in a very uncomfortable place. Tarantino entertainingly plays with dialog, story-telling techniques, non-linear time, and any sense the audience may have of right and wrong. On a double bill with Robert Altman’s Short Cuts, which I haven’t seen in a very long time.

To Kill A Mockingbird, Elmwood, Sunday, 11:00am; Stanford, Saturday through Tuesday

The Elmwood will screen the film digitally off a DCP; the Stanford 35mm film. So you can choose your preferred technology, or go to both theaters and compare them.
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’s only believable because the story is told through the eyes of his six-year-old daughter, Scout. (It’s worth noting that in the new sequel to the novel, the now-grown Scout discovers her father’s flaws.) The Stanford will screen it on a double bill with Billy Wilder’s comic murder mystery, Witness for the Prosecution.

B+ Fight Club, UA Berkeley, Thursday, 9:00

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 more credibility than a Fox News commentary. And Bonham Carter gets to say the most shocking and hilariously obscene line in Hollywood history.

West Side Story, Oakland Paramount, Friday, 8:00

West Side Story swings erratically from glorious brilliance to astonishing ineptitude. The songs and dances–especially 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. See West Side Story in 70mm for more on the movie–even though the Paramount will screen the movie in 35mm (and, I assume in mono).

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