What’s Screening: March 27 – April 2

The Sonoma International Film Festival runs Through Sunday, which is the only day for the Albany Film Festival.

B The Wrecking Crew, Opera Plaza, Rafael, Shattuck, opens Friday. Now you can meet the artists behind the addictive riffs on “Da Doo Ron Ron,” "California Dreamin’," and the theme music for Mission: Impossible. This mostly entertaining Carol Kayedocumentary introduces the successful but little-known musicians who added magic to some of the best songs of the 1960s. The musicians profiled include Carol Kaye or the late Tommy Tedesco (the director’s father); you may not know those names, but you’ve heard their playing. The film lacks a strong narrative line, and thus sags a bit in the middle. But for the most part, it’s a fun look at how professional music gets (or got) made. Read my full review. Director Denny Tedesco will do Q&A at these times and locations:

  • Rafael: Friday, 7:00 show
  • Shattuck: Saturday, 2:35 show
  • Opera Plaza: Saturday, 7:25 show

A- Elevator to the Gallows, Castro, Thursday. Louis Malle launched his directing career, and arguably the New Wave, with this noir tale of a perfect crime gone wrong. Laced with dark, ironic humor, the film cuts back and forth between a murderer (Maurice Ronet) trapped in an elevator in a building closed for the weekend, the murderer’s lover (Jeanne Moreau) wandering the streets searching for him, and two young lovers enjoying a crime spree in a stolen car (they stole it from the murderer). And all of is set to a powerful jazz score by Miles Davis. Read my longer comments. On a double bill with Orson Welles’ The Trial, which I saw long ago and didn’t like.

B+ The Red Shoes, Lark, Sunday, 1:00; Wednesday, 5:30. This 1948 Technicolor fable about  sacrificing oneself for art makes a slight story. Luckily, the characters, all fanatically devoted to their art, and all very British, make up for it—at least in the first half. Unfortunately, the final hour weighs down with more melodrama than even a well-acted film can bear. On the other hand—and this is why The Red Shoes holds on to its classic status—the 20-minute ballet sequence is a masterpiece of filmed dance, and no other picture used three-strip Technicolor this expressively. I’ve discussed The Red Shoes in more detail.

B West Side Story, Balboa, Thursday, 7:30. West Side Story swings erratically from glorious brilliance to astonishing ineptitude. The songsWest Side Story 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 Balboa will not be showing it in 70mm..

A- Selma, New Parkway, opens Friday. I found it difficult at first to accept David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King and Tom Wilkinson as LBJ. They didn’t look and sound right. But as the film progressed, I accepted them and got lost in the powerful imageand (unfortunately) still timely story. I had no problem accepting Carmen Ejogo’s spot-on perfect performance as Coretta Scott King. The film’s biggest strength comes from its picture of King as a flawed human being filled with doubts, exhaustion, and guilt–a man who would lie to his wife, badly, about his infidelities–but still a great hero. The film’s biggest mistake was letting us meet this real person before showing us the great orator that he is his public image.

B+ Beyond Clueless, Sonoma Woman’s Club, Thursday, 3:15. Charlie Lyne’s documentary examines the thrills, terrors, and transitions of teenage life through the looking glass of high schoolimage movies. Just about every feature film focusing on adolescents from the last 20 years makes at least a cameo appearance, from American Pie,  Election, Spider Man, Mean Girls, Pleasantville, Donnie Darko, and, of course, Clueless. The uncredited narrator goes into detail about a few movies–including Bubble Boy, Disturbing Behavior, and The Faculty–to examine issues like peer pressure, sexuality, and moving on with your life. Not particularly deep, but useful if you are, recently were, or have a teenager. And certainly entertaining. Part of the Sonoma International Film Festival.

What’s Screening: March 20 – 26

We’ve got three festivals this week:

A Matt Shepard is a Friend of Mine, Elmwood, opens Friday. If a film makes me cry, it gets an A. This documentary about the imagehorrific, homophobic murder of a young gay man had me all but audibly sobbing. In 1998, Matthew Shepard was savagely beaten, tortured, tied to a fence, and left to die. In telling his story, Director Michele Josue wisely focuses on his friends and–more importantly–his parents. The result is deeply sad, but also inspiring, because you meet so many decent, loving human beings. Read my full review.

C+ Living is Easy with Eyes Closed, Rafael, Roxie, opens Friday. This is a very pleasant picture. For almost two hours, you get to hang out with three very likeable imagepeople who, in their travels together, meet other likeable people (and some who aren’t that nice). The scenery is lovely. In 1966 Spain, a middle-aged Beatles fanatic sets out by car to meet John Lennon, who’s in Spain shooting a movie. On the way, the fan picks up one young teenager and then another, and they become something of a temporary family. The movie is sweet, upbeat, and touching. But that’s about it. Read my full review.

The Great Nickelodeon Show, Vogue, Thursday, 8:00. In the early 20th century, the imagenickelodeons were the first theaters to specialize is showing motion pictures. They screened one-reel shorts and slideshows, added sing-a-longs and live vaudeville, and charged only five cents admission. This recreation of the experience will have shorts from Melies and Griffith, a contortionist, illustrated songs, and Frederick Hodges accompanying the movies on piano. But no, they can’t afford to let you in for five cents. Admission is $12.

A- The Great Dictator, Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, Sunday, 4:00. Charlie Chaplin made his one good talkie on his first attempt, playing dual roles as a Jewish barber (basically the tramp with a voice and an imageethnicity), and Der Fooey, Adenoid Hynkel, Dictator of Tomania. Slapstick and dark satire seldom work well together, but they do here. Many people criticize the final scene, where Chaplin faces the camera and pleas for peace, tolerance, and democracy, but I’ve seen audiences burst into applause as it concludes. I have to admit that I’ve burst into applause myself. With Paulette Goddard (his wife at the time) as the barber’s romantic interest and Jack Oakie as the Mussolini-like Napaloni – Dictator of Bacteria.

A Leonard Nimoy Tribute Star Trek Double Bill: The Wrath of Khan & The Search for Spock, Balboa, Wednesday, 7:00. The A goes to The Wrath of Khan, the most-imageloved Star Trek movie ever. It’s an exciting and entertaining adventure starring the seven actors and characters that we learned to love from the original TV show.–and a chance to let several of those actors shine. The sequel, The Search for Spock, is only a moderately entertaining actioner, with some interesting scenes of the crew off-duty on Earth. Nimoy is hardly in this one, but it’s his debut as a director. I’d give it a C+.

B+ Beyond Clueless, Burlingame Hall, Thursday, 3:15. Charlie Lyne’s documentary examines the thrills, terrors, and transitions of teenage life through the looking glass of high schoolimage movies. Just about every feature film focusing on adolescents from the last 20 years makes at least a cameo appearance, from American Pie,  Election, Spider Man, Mean Girls, Pleasantville, Donnie Darko, and, of course, Clueless. The uncredited narrator goes into detail with a few movies–including Bubble Boy, Disturbing Behavior, and The Faculty–to examine issues like peer pressure, sexuality, and moving on with your life. Not particularly deep, but useful if you are, recently were, or have a teenager. And certainly entertaining. Part of the Sonoma International Film Festival.

B+ Aliens, UA Berkeley,Thursday, 9:00. Like most sequels, James Cameron’s first big-budget movie isn’t as good as the original Alien, but it comes close.. Less of a imagehorror film and more of an action picture (or, arguably, a war movie), it strands a platoon of marines on a barely hospitable planet infested with the big, egg-laying predators. Sigourney Weaver stars again. Unfortunately, the UA will screen the original, 137-minute cut. Cameron’s 154-minute director’s cut, which to my knowledge has never been shown theatrically. That one goes into more character detail and is a much better film. I’d give that version an A.

A The Maltese Falcon, Alameda, Tuesday and Wednesday. Dashiell Hammett’s novel had been filmed twice maltesefalconbefore, but screenwriter and first-time director John Huston did it right with the perfect cast and a screenplay (by Huston) that sticks almost word-for-word to the book. The ultimate Hammett motion picture, the second-best directorial debut of 1941 (after Citizen Kane), an important precursor to film noir, and perhaps the most entertaining detective movie ever made. This movie is truly the stuff that dreams are made of.

A+ Some Like It Hot, Castro, Sunday; Balboa, Thursday, 7:30. The urge to sleep with Marilyn Monroe comes head to head with the urge to keep breathing in Billy Wilder’s comic imagemasterpiece. 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. The Castro screening is a double-bill with the only other Wilder/Monroe collaboration, The Seven Year Itch.

A+ Rear Window, various CineMark Theaters, Sunday, 2:00; Wednesday, 2:00 & 7:00. Alfred Hitchcock at his absolute best. James Stewart is riveting as a news photographer temporarily confined to his apartment imageand 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 Blade Runner, Oakland Paramount, Friday, 8:00. 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 imagevariety. 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. Read my longer essay.

B The Man Who Fell to Earth, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Saturday, 7:30. Movies were pretty weird in the ‘70s, but they didn’t get much weirder than this—at least with a major director and stars. David Bowie plays an alien who comes to Earth in search of water, but imageinstead discovers capitalism, TV, alcohol, and human sex. Yet it’s not entirely clear what the film is about. Nicolas Roeg directed it, so you know that the movie won’t be about story. But the images are intriguing, the central characters are puzzles that cry out to be solved, and it has some very sexy scenes for your enjoyment. If for no other reason, see it to remind yourself what science fiction films could be like in the years between 2001 and Star Wars. Part of the series Cracked Actor: David Bowie On Screen.

What’s Screening: March 13 – 19

We’ve got two current film festivals for you. CAAMFest continues its run through this week and beyond, while A Rare Noir is Good to Find opens Thursday.

B+ Magician: The life and times of Citizen Welles, Opera Plaza, Rafael, Shattuck, opens Friday. Every cinephile must contemplate the strange phenomenon of Orson Welles. His first film, Citizen Kane, has frequently been called the "greatest film ever made." And yet he spent most of his life a failure, scrambling to raise money to make films, few of which made any money back. Chuck Workman’s documentary wisely replaces the usual voice-of-god narration with interviews–both archival and original–with friends, co-workers, admirers, lovers, and, of course, Welles, himself. Magician suffers from an ignore-the-warts perspective, but it’s still an informative and entertaining look at a very entertaining artist. Read my full review.

A Fantasy adventure double bill: King Kong (1933 version) & The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, Castro, Saturday. This is actually a triple bill, but I haven’t seen John Carpenter’s remake kingkong33of The Thing, so I’m not discussing it. The A goes to the original King Kong. The first effects-laden adventure film of the sound era still holds up, thanks to Willis O’Brien’s breathtaking special effects, an intelligent script by Ruth Rose, and  the evocative score by Max Steiner. But most of all, there’s Kong himself–the stuff of nightmares, but also confused, loving, majestic, and ultimately doomed. Ray Harryhausen’s 7th Voyage of Sinbad earns an honest B+.  The stop-motion animation is splendid, and the story, while trivial, is fun.

B+ The Red Balloon (and other treats), Balboa, Saturday, 10:00am. Here’s a children’s masterpiece from France that doesn’t need subtitles. I first saw The Red Balloon in a museum screening at a very young age, and it stunned me with its wit, charm, simple story, and semi-sad ending–I hadn’t realized such a thing was possible. Director Albert Lamorisse uses visuals, music, and sound effects to tell his story of a young boy and his loyal pet balloon. The result is 34 minutes of pure charm–admittedly, not enough for a full feature. S0 the Balboa will screen The Red Balloon with assorted classic cartoons. Read my full review.

A Lovers on the run double bill: Moonrise Kingdom & Badlands, Castro, Wednesday. The A goes to Terrence Malick’s first feature, Badlands. A very young Martin Sheen and an even younger Sissy Spacek  play imagelovers on a shockingly casual killing spree. Beautifully photographed, Badlands leaves you feeling shocked, confused, sympathetic, and terrified. Moonrise Kingdom, on the other hand, is just plain fun–Wes Anderson at his most playful.Two pre-teens in love run away–disrupting everything around them–especially the hapless and very funny authority figures played by Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Bruce Willis, and Tilda Swinton as “Social Services." I give this one an A-.

A Bringing Up Baby, Stanford, Friday through Sunday. How does one define a screwball comedy? You could say it’s a romantic comedy with glamorous movie starsbringing_up_baby behaving like broad, slapstick comedians. You could point out that screwballs are usually set amongst the excessively wealthy, and often explore class barriers. Or you could simply show Howard Hawks’ Bringing Up Baby, a frivolous and hilarious tale about a mild-mannered paleontologist (Cary Grant), a ditzy heiress (Katharine Hepburn), and a tame leopard (a tame leopard). On a double bill with This is the Night–the opening program for the Stanford’s new Cary Grant series.

B The Man Who Fell to Earth, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Sunday, 2:00. Movies were pretty weird in the ‘70s, but they didn’t get much weirder than this—at least with a major director and stars. David Bowie plays an alien who comes to Earth in search of water, but imageinstead discovers capitalism, TV, alcohol, and human sex. Yet it’s not entirely clear what the film is about. Nicolas Roeg directed it, so you know that the movie won’t be about story. But the images are intriguing, the central characters are puzzles that cry out to be solved, and it has some very sexy scenes for your enjoyment. If for no other reason, see it to remind yourself what science fiction films could be like in the years between 2001 and Star Wars. Part of the series Cracked Actor: David Bowie On Screen.

A Blade Runner, Alameda, Tuesday and Wednesday. 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 imagevariety. 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.

B+ Spirited Away, New Parkway, Sunday, 1:00. Hayao Miyazaki’s masterpiece is a beautiful, complex, and occasionally scary tale of a imageyoung girl cast into a strange and magical world. The intriguing and imaginative creatures, not to mention the moral dilemmas, are beyond anything that Dorothy ever had to deal with in Oz.. A truly amazing work of animation. I’m knocking down the film’s grade from A to B+ because the New Parkway will screen the English dubbed version rather than the original Japanese one with subtitles.

A Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem, Lark, opens Friday. Viviane Amsalem moved out of her husband’s home years ago. But her remote and stubborn spouse won’t give her a divorce. The resulting court case spans years in this chamber drama imageset in Israel, where only the husband can initiate a divorce. The filmmakers chose a simple, direct, and very effective way to tell their story. Although the film covers many years in the lives of the main characters, it’s entirely set in a small, plain judicial chamber and an adjoining waiting room. While clearly an indictment of Israeli marital laws, it’s also an intimate tale of a very bad marriage, told in an atmosphere of extreme claustrophobia. Read my full review.

A- Birdman, New Parkway, opens Friday. Michael Keaton plays a has-been movie star, who may or may not have superpowers, imagehoping to gain artistic respectability by writing, directing, and performing in a Broadway play. Edward Norton plays an actor who already has the respect of critics, but is only fully himself when he’s on stage. Like Hitchcock’s Rope, Birdman pretends it was shot in a single take. But unlike Rope,the gimmick works this time around–better technology, I suppose. Much of the film is hysterically funny, but the picture is just a bit too long, and in the end it doesn’t quite satisfy. From Alejandro González Iñárritu, whose Babel was my favorite film of 2006.

B+ The Imitation Game, Castro, Thursday; New Parkway, opens Friday. This very British biopic takes considerable liberties in dramatizing the life of Alan Turing. For instance, he appears to have severe Asperger, when the real Turning had nothing of the sort. But it successfully resultimages in an effective, entertaining, and sympathetic tragedy about a man who played important roles in both winning World War II and laying the groundwork for computers, but was hounded to suicide by an intolerant society. Like so many English period pieces, The Imitation Game works primarily as a showcase for actors. Cumberbatch does a variation on his Sherlock Holmes, but he digs deeper here. His emotional struggles are more real. Keira Knightley plays the only woman on his team. See my longer article.

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.

What’s Screening: March 6 – 12

In the festival scene, Cinequest continues through Sunday, and CAAMFest starts Thursday.

A+ The Crowd, California Theatre (San Jose), Friday, 7:30. 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 silent masterpieceimage. 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 can’t quite accept that he’s ordinary. Perhaps the best realistic drama of the silent era. This is not only a brilliant film, but a rarely-shown one, unavailable on DVD or Blu-ray. For more on The Crowd, read The American Dream turns into a nightmare, and a great American film needs to be seenWith Dennis James accompanying at the Wurlitzer organ. Part of Cinequest.

A Very long, Russian Revolution double bill: Doctor Zhivago & Reds, Castro, Sunday, 1:00. Talk about a long day at the movies! These two very different epics (each of which would earn an A on its own) have a combined runtime of over 6 1/2 imagehours. In Doctor Zhivago, David Lean paints a tale of a decent man torn between his wife and another woman, while the Russian Revolution and subsequent civil war swirls around them. For more on the big-screen Zhivago experience, see Dr. Zhivago at the Cerrito. Warren Beatty’s Reds, on the other hand, follows the private lives of early American Communists–particularly journalist/activist John Reed (Beatty) and his lover Louise Bryant (Diane Keaton). They eventually get to Russia, where they find both romance and disaster.

A+ My Darling Clementine, Cerrito, Thursday. By all rules of the western genre, this John Ford masterpiece shouldn’t work. The plot, the primary motivations, and the action all but disappear for the imagewhole middle part of the movie. And yet it’s one of the greatest westerns ever made, providing a powerful sense of myth as it tells the (overwhelmingly fictional) story of  the shootout at the O.K. Corral against the backdrop of a stunningly photographed Monument Valley. This is history converted into legend. And yet, the characters seem down-to-earth, and can surprise you with their all-too-human frailties and contradictions. Read my Blu-ray review.

A- La Dolce Vita, Castro, Wednesday. Yes, this story of a gossip journalist (Marcello Mastroianni) living on the outskirts of the rich and decadent has many great moments. Consider the opening shot of Jesus flying through the air via helicopter, or  the imageclimactic out-of-control party. The famous fountain scene is absolutely stunning. And there’s the heart-wrenching moment when photographers surround a woman before she’s told that her husband and children are dead. The entire film makes brilliant use of the Cinemascope frame, with a punch line timed not by editing or performance, but by an expectation of when the audience will notice the right edge of the screen. But the story doesn’t really go anywhere, and there are long, dull areas in between the brilliance. I can’t quite call it a masterpiece. On a very strange double bill with Artists and Models, a Dean Martin/Jerry Lewis comedy from 1955.

A+ The Grapes of Wrath, Alameda, Tuesday and Wednesday. No one associates serious social criticism with classic, studio-era  Hollywood. Yet this 20th Century-Fox production of JohnimageSteinbeck’s flip side of the California dream pulls few punches. As the desperately-poor Joad family moves from Oklahoma to California in their rickety truck, only to find poverty, bigotry, and exploitation, the picture shows us an America where mere survival is a victory and revolution a logical reaction. John Ford directed from producer Nunnally Johnson’s screenplay, but a lot of credit must go to studio head Darryl Zanuck for the courage to make a film that exposes the ugly underbelly of American capitalism.

A Sunset Boulevard, various CineMark theaters, Sunday (matinee only) and imageWednesday. 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+  2001: A Space Odyssey, Clay, Friday and Saturday, 11:55. 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–and you’re not going to get that experience at the Clay.

B L’avventura, Pacific Film Archive, Wednesday, 3:10. Michelangelo Antonioni’s story of the young and amoral hardly counts as an adventure–although it almost starts as one.image A group of wealthy young adults yacht to a deserted island, where one of them mysteriously disappears. The others look for her, then give up and go about their meaningless lives. I hated L’avventura when I saw it in college. When I saw it again recently, I realized the point of how it played with my expectations. This is not about rescuing a friend or lover; but about the shallowness of modern relationships. Part of the series and university class, Film 50: History of Cinema.

B+ The Wizard of Oz, Balboa, Saturday, 10:00am. 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.

A Timbuktu, Lark, Friday, 1:20; Thursday, 4:50. Abderrahmane Sissako’s remarkable film feels a bit like one of those Altman movies about intertwining lives. But these lives have been severely disrupted by Timbuktuan armed group of Muslim fundamentalists. Music, smoking, soccer, and women with bare hands are now forbidden. At first, even the occupiers act calm and friendly, and reluctant to enforce the new rules. But as the film progresses, the fanatics become less of a joke and more of a mortal threat. Timbuktu’s overall sense of tragedy and helplessness sneaks upon you slowly. I suspect that’s how it happens in real life. Read my full review.

A Wild, Castro, Monday. Judging from this adaptation of her memoirs, Cheryl Strayed led a pretty wild life before she walked into the real wild and got herself together. This film adaptation of Strayed’s memoir follows her as she hikes the Pacific Crest Trail and learns how to be a fully in-the-moment adult human being. Interspersed with the hike, the film shows us flashbacks that reveal what sort of person she was before the difficult and dangerous three-month voyage. We learn about her struggling but loving mother who died too soon, and the self-destructive streak that destroyed Cheryl’s marriage. Read my full review. On a double bill with A Most Violent Year, which I haven’t seen.

B+ Whiplash, Castro,Tuesday; New Parkway, opens Saturday. Set in a fictitious music conservatory, Whiplash follows a young and ambitious jazz drummer (Miles Teller) as he is tortured and abused by a horrificallyimage cruel music teacher. The film’s key pleasure is watching veteran character actor J.K. Simmons, in the Oscar-winning role of a lifetime, as the most evil music teacher since The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T. Other pleasures include the music (of course) and Teller’s way of making you root for the protagonist, even though he’s pretty much a dick. But the film is set in an almost all-male world (although I’ve been told since I first wrote about it that this is actually pretty accurate in jazz), and the teacher would realistically have been fired years ago.

B+ The Theory of Everything, New Parkway, opens Saturday. Like so many British pictures, this Stephen Hawking biopic provides a showcase for great acting. Hawking is the sort of character that cries out for an Oscar–he’s a real person, he’s British, and he has a disability. Eddie Redmayne makes full use of that opportunity, catching not only Hawking’s brilliance and his disability, but also his impish humor. I’m not quite ready to say this is the best performance of the year, but it’s certainly the most noticeable. Felicity Jones co-stars as his first wife and does an excellent job, Very well made but not exceptional. Read my longer comments.

A Hitchcock double bill: Psycho & The Birds, through Sunday. The A goes to Psycho, where Alfred Hitchcock leaves the audience unsure who we’re supposed to root for or what could constitute a imagehappy ending. Janet Leigh  and Anthony Perkins defined their careers in Hitchcock’s last masterpiece. But I can only give a B- to the film that followed it. The Birds has some great sequences. The scene where Tippi Hedren calmly sits and smokes while crows gather on playground equipment, and the following attack on the children, are classics. But the story is weak, the ending unsatisfactory, and new-comer Hedren–while beautiful–is utterly lacking in acting talent or charisma.

What’s Screening: February 27 – March 5

The Noise Pop Film Festival continues through Sunday, while Cinequest runs through this week and beyond.

Here’s what else is screening:

A Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem, Embarcadero, Rafael, Shattuck, opens Friday. Viviane Amsalem moved out of her husband’s home years ago. But her remote and stubborn spouse won’t give her a divorce. The resulting court case spans years in this chamber drama imageset in Israel, where only the husband can initiate a divorce. The filmmakers chose a simple, direct, and very effective way to tell their story. Although the film covers many years in the lives of the main characters, it’s entirely set in a small, plain judicial chamber and an adjoining waiting room. While clearly an indictment of Israeli marital laws, it’s also an intimate tale of a very bad marriage, told in an atmosphere of extreme claustrophobia. Read my full review.

Balboa Birthday Bash, Balboa, Sunday, 7:00. The Balboa Theater celebrates its 89th imagebirthday with live entertainment, champagne, cake, and, of course, a movie. Among the acts: magician and escape artist Big Al Catraz (hey, I didn’t make up that name), musical burlesque by Kitten on the Keys, and "Industrial Ragtime" by Parlor Tricks. The movie will be Chicago, not the Oscar-winning musical from 2002, but the original, silent version . With piano accompaniment by Fredrick Hodges. Hosted by Gary Meyer.

B+ Whiplash, Kabuki, opens Friday. Set in a fictitious music conservatory, Whiplash follows a young and ambitious jazz drummer (Miles Teller) as he is tortured and abused by a horrifically imagecruel music teacher. The film’s key pleasure is watching veteran character actor J.K. Simmons, in the Oscar-winning role of a lifetime, as the most evil music teacher since The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T. Other pleasures include the music (of course) and Teller’s way of making you root for the protagonist, even though he’s pretty much a dick. But the film is set in an almost all-male world (although I’ve been told since I first wrote about it that this is actually pretty accurate in jazz), and the teacher would realistically have been fired years ago.

B+ Clouds Of Sils Maria, California Theatre (San Jose), Sunday, 7:15. A great actress (Juliette Binoche) reluctantly accepts a part in a revival of the play that made her famous long ago. But this time, she’ll be playingimagea 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. Part of Cinequest.

A Lack of Privacy double bill: The Lives of Others & Citizenfour, Castro, Wednesday. The A goes to The Lives of Others. Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck creates a very intimate, human story about the horrors of Communism and all forms of totalitarianism, and turns it into a suspenseful thriller. In East Germany, an up-and-coming secret police officer must gather dirt on a playwright–for reasons that are utterly absurd. Slowly, bit by bit, the secret policeman comes to identify with his prey and lose faith in the Socialist ideal. In Citizenfour, Laura Poitras’ camera puts us in  the Hong Kong hotel room where Edward Snowden tells Glenn Greenwald about the NSA’s horrendous destruction of our privacy. But the long discussions become visually boring, despite the important and fascinating story at their core. I give this one a B. Read my longer essay.

A+ Casablanca, Oakland Paramount, Friday, 8:00. You’ve either casablancaalready seen the best film to come out of the classic Hollywood studio system, or you know you should. Let me just add that no one who worked on Casablanca thought they were making a masterpiece; it was just another sausage coming off the Warner assembly line. But somehow, just this once, everything came together perfectly. For more details, see Casablanca: The Accidental Masterpiece.

A Hitchcock double bill: Psycho & The Birds, Thursday through next Sunday. The A goes to Psycho, where Alfred Hitchcock leaves the audience unsure who we’re supposed to root for or what could constitute a imagehappy ending. Janet Leigh  and Anthony Perkins defined their careers in Hitchcock’s last masterpiece. But I can only give a B- to the film that followed it. The Birds has some great sequences. The scene where Tippi Hedren calmly sits and smokes while crows gather on playground equipment, and the following attack on the children, are classics. But the story is weak, the ending unsatisfactory, and new-comer Hedren–while beautiful–is utterly lacking in acting talent or charisma.

A- The Princess Bride, Balboa, Saturday, 10:00am. 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.

A Timbuktu, New Parkway, opens Saturday. Abderrahmane Sissako’s remarkable film feels a bit like one of those Altman movies about intertwining lives. But these lives have been severely disrupted by Timbuktuan armed group of Muslim fundamentalists. Music, smoking, soccer and women with bare hands are now forbidden. At first, even the occupiers act calm and friendly, and reluctant to enforce the new rules. But as the film progresses, the fanatics become less of a joke and more of a mortal threat. Timbuktu’s overall sense of tragedy and helplessness sneaks upon you slowly. I suspect that’s how it happens in real life. Read my full review.

A- Selma, Lark, opens Friday. I found it difficult at first to accept David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King and Tom Wilkinson as LBJ. They didn’t look and sound right. But as the film progressed, I accepted them and got lost in the powerful and image(unfortunately) still timely story. I had no problem accepting Carmen Ejogo’s spot-on perfect performance as Coretta Scott King. The film’s biggest strength comes from its picture of King as a flawed human being filled with doubts, exhaustion, and guilt–a man who would lie to his wife, badly, about his infidelities–but still a great hero. The film’s biggest mistake was letting us meet this real person before showing him as we all know him, as a great orator.

A- Birdman, Kabuki, opens Friday. Michael Keaton plays a has-been movie star, who may or may not have superpowers, imagehoping to gain artistic respectability by writing, directing, and performing in a Broadway play. Edward Norton plays an actor who already has the respect of critics, but is only fully himself when he’s on stage. Like Hitchcock’s Rope, Birdman pretends it was shot in a single take. But unlike Rope,the gimmick works this time around–better technology, I suppose. Much of the film is hysterically funny, but the picture is just a bit too long, and in the end it doesn’t quite satisfy. From Alejandro González Iñárritu, whose Babel was my favorite film of 2006.

B- What We Do in the Shadows, Guild, starts Friday. This vampire mockumentary’s basic idea is funny and promising: An unseen documentaryimage camera crew follow the afterlives of four vampires who share a house in a modern city. They argue about household chores, go out looking for victims, and talk directly into the camera about their undead but still active existences. But the basic idea begins to wear out around the half-way point. The jokes are still funny, but they come farther apart. From the creators of HBO’s Flight of the Conchords.  Read my full review.

C- Vertigo, Castro, Saturday through Monday. 70mm. 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 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.

A+ North by Northwest, Stanford, through Sunday. Alfrednbnw Hitchcock’s light masterpiece, not as thoughtful as Rear Window or Notorious, but more entertaining than both of them combined. Cary Grant plays an unusually suave and witty everyman in trouble with evil foreign spies (who think he’s a crack American agent), and by the police (who think he’s a murderer). And so he must escape almost certain death again and again while chased from New York to Mount Rushmore. On the bright side , he gets to spend some quality time with a very glamorous Eva Marie Saint (danger has its rewards). On a Hitchcock double bill with The 39 Steps, which I haven’t seen in decades.

What’s Screening: February 20 – 26

The Noise Pop Film Festival opens today (Friday). And Cinequest opens Tuesday. And the Oscars are Sunday.

Oscar Parties, Balboa, Cerrito, Lark, Rafael, Roxie, Sunday, click on these theater links for starting times and more information. Yes, both the awards and the ceremonies tend towards the ridiculous. But the show is usually entertaining, and sometimes, the right film wins. And like movies themselves, the whole event can be much more entertaining on the big screen, especially when you add costume contests and/or prizes. The Roxie in particular promises a "meeting of malcontents gathered to vent right back at the Holly-white Boys Club bent on publicly patting itself for another year of mediocrity." You can read my Oscar party reports of passed years at the Rafael and  Cerrito.

Pre-Oscar Party, Magick Lantern, Saturday, 1:00. As a fundraiser to bring the theater back to life, the Magick Lantern will have an Oscar party a day early. They promise live music, Oscar ballots, a short film by Camille Cellucci, and Cellucci herself discussing how the Oscars are run.

B- What We Do in the Shadows, Embarcadero, Shattuck, Rafael, opens Friday. This vampire mockumentary’s basic idea is funny and promising: An unseen documentaryimage camera crew follow the afterlives of four vampires who share a house in a modern city. They argue about household chores, go out looking for victims, and talk directly into the camera about their undead but still active existences. But the basic idea begins to wear out around the half-way point. The jokes are still funny, but they come farther apart. From the creators of HBO’s Flight of the Conchords.  Read my full review.

A+ North by Northwest, Stanford,Thursday through next Sunday. Alfrednbnw Hitchcock’s light masterpiece, not as thoughtful as Rear Window or Notorious, but more entertaining than both of them combined. Cary Grant plays an unusually suave and witty everyman in trouble with evil foreign spies (who think he’s a crack American agent), and by the police (who think he’s a murderer). And so he must escape almost certain death again and again while chased from New York to Mount Rushmore. On the bright side , he gets to spend some quality time with a very glamorous Eva Marie Saint (danger has its rewards). On a Hitchcock double bill with The 39 Steps, which I haven’t seen in decades.

A The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Balboa, Thursday, 7:30. Three down-on-their-luck Yankees (Humphrey Bogart, Tim Holt, and the director’s father,imageWalter Huston) prospect for gold in Mexico. They find and stake out a profitable mine before discovering that they don’t really trust each other. Writer/director John Huston, working from B. Traven’s novel, turned a rousing adventure story into a morality play about the corruption of greed, much of it shot in the remote part of Mexico where the story is set.

A Galaxy Quest, Balboa, Wednesday, 7:00. 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 whatimage 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.

A Jason and the Argonauts (1963 version), Balboa, Saturday, 10:00AM. No other movie so successfully turns Greek mythology (or at least a family-friendly version of Greek mythology) into swashbuckling jasonargonautsadventure, 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 Spirited Away, Clay, Friday and Saturday, 11:55PM. Hayao Miyazaki’s masterpiece is a beautiful, complex, and occasionally scary tale of a young girl cast into a strange and magical world. The intriguing and imaginative creatures, not to mention the moral dilemmas, are beyond anything that Dorothy ever had to deal with in Oz.. A truly amazing work of animation.The film will be presented in the original Japanese, with subtitles

Metropolis, Swedish American Hall, Friday, 7:00. I’m not giving this Metropolis screening the usual A, because the website gives it a 77-minute runtime.  That’s about half the length of the so-called Complete Metropolis. This is even five minutes shorter than the Giorgio Moroder special edition. But even in a truncated version, the first important science fiction feature film should still strike a considerable visual punch. 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. Live accompaniment by Chrome Canyon. Part of the Noise Pop Film Festival.

A Wild, New Parkway, opens Saturday, 7:20. Judging from this adaptation of her memoirs, Cheryl Strayed led a pretty wild life before she walked into the real wild and got herself together. This film adaptation of Strayed’s memoir follows her as she hikes the Pacific Crest Trail and learns how to be a fully in-the-moment adult human being. Interspersed with the hike, the film shows us flashbacks that reveal what sort of person she was before the difficult and dangerous three-month voyage. We learn about her struggling but loving mother who died too soon, and the self-destructive streak that destroyed Cheryl’s marriage. Read my full review.

A- Birdman, Aquarius, opens Friday. Michael Keaton plays a has-been movie star, who may or may not have superpowers, imagehoping to gain artistic respectability by writing, directing, and performing in a Broadway play. Edward Norton plays an actor who already has the respect of critics, but is only fully himself when he’s on stage. Like Hitchcock’s Rope, Birdman pretends it was shot in a single take. But unlike Rope,the gimmick works this time around–better technology, I suppose. Much of the film is hysterically funny, but the picture is just a bit too long, and in the end it doesn’t quite satisfy. From Alejandro González Iñárritu, whose Babel was my favorite film of 2006.

B Citizenfour, New Parkway, Saturday, 3:45 & Wednesday, 6:30; Roxie, Sunday through Tuesday. Laura Poitras’ camera puts us in  the Hong Kong hotel room whereimage Edward Snowden tells Glenn Greenwald about the NSA’s horrendous destruction of our privacy. Those four days of interviews make up the film’s centerpiece. Snowden comes off mostly as a self-effacing nerd who understands right from wrong. But the long discussions in the hotel room become visually boring, despite the important and fascinating story at their core. Read my longer essay.

B+ The Imitation Game, Lark, opens Friday. This very British biopic takes considerable liberties in dramatizing the life of Alan Turing. For instance, he appears to have severe Asperger, when the real Turning had nothing of the sort. But it successfully resultimages in an effective, entertaining, and sympathetic tragedy about a man who played important roles in both winning World War II and laying the groundwork for computers, but was hounded to suicide by an intolerant society. Like so many English period pieces, The Imitation Game works primarily as a showcase for actors. Cumberbatch does a variation on his Sherlock Holmes, but he digs deeper here. His emotional struggles are more real. Keira Knightley plays the only woman on his team. See my longer article.

C+ Alfred Hitchcock double bill: Vertigo & The Trouble with Harry, Stanford,Thursday through next Sunday. The C+ goes to The Trouble with Harry. Alfred Hitchcock laced his thrillers with humor, but his second and last attempt at an out-and-out comedy succeeds in merely being pleasant–despite the Hitchcockian theme of a dead body that everyone wants to hide. Although Vertigo is officially now the greatest film ever made, I can’t give it more than a C-. Neither the story nor most of the characters make any sense, and I don’t believe anyone’s motivations.  Yes, the film is very atmospheric, but that’s just not enough.

What’s Screening: February 13 – 19

aIndieFest and the Mostly British Film Festival continue through this week.

A Romeo & Juliet (1967 version), Castro, Saturday, 8:00. Star Leonard Whiting in person. Franco Zeffirelli’s version of Shakespeare’s popular romantic tragedy changed forever how filmmakers approached the Bard–and changed it for the better. Beautiful, violent, funny, sexy, sad, and lusciously romantic, it makes the 400-year-old play new (well, 1960’s new) and immediately exciting. Zeffirelli’s decision to cast actual teenagers in the leading roles was controversial at the time, but was absolutely the right thing to do. Warning: ticket prices are very high for this special event.

B+ Beyond Clueless, Roxie, Saturday and Thursday, 7:15. Charlie Lyne’s documentary examines the thrills, terrors, and transitions of teenage life through the looking glass of high school imagemovies. Just about every feature film focusing on adolescents from the last 20 years makes at least a cameo appearance, from American Pie,  Election, Spider Man, Mean Girls, Pleasantville, Donnie Darko,and, of course, Clueless. The uncredited narrator goes into detail with a few movies–including Bubble Boy, Disturbing Behavior, and The Faculty–to examine issues like peer pressure, sexuality, and moving on with your life. Not particularly deep, but useful if you are, recently were, or have a teenager. And certainly entertaining. Part of IndieFest.

A Giant, various CineMark Theaters, Sunday & Wednesday. James Dean only plays a supporting role in George Steven’s sprawling epic about 20th-century Texas. The picture really imagebelongs to Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor as a couple who marry almost on a whim and have to find common ground in the long decades of their marriage. As they age, the world evolves around them, with a world war, changing attitudes about race and gender, and a cattle economy transitioning to an oil-based one. Dennis Hopper plays Hudson and Taylor’s grown son, while Dean grows from his usual alienated youth to a middle-aged man.

B Akeelah and the Bee, Balboa, Saturday, 10:00am. A talent forimage spelling gives Akeelah—a poor, eleven-year-old African American—a shot at escaping the ghetto. But first, she’s going to have to learn about more than words from her mentor, played by  Laurence Fishburne. Yes, it’s inspirational, but that’s not always a bad thing.

C- The Eagle, Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, Saturday, 7:30. Rudolph Valentino in an extremely silly imagemelodrama, with the saving grace of not taking itself seriously. The top hearthrob of the 1920s holds the screen well–even for a straight male like myself for whom he doesn’t excite sexual fantasies. But even a silly melodrama deserves a better resolution than the one that The Eagle provides. If you really want to learn what Valentino was all about, see The Son of the Sheik. With Frederick Hodges on piano.

B Ninotchka, Pacific Film Archive, Saturday, 6:30. Garbo’s first comedy and penultimate film is sweet, charming, romantic, and quite funny.image It also nails perfectly the absurdities of Communism–still well respected by many Americans in 1939. As Garbo’s character points out, “The last mass trials were a great success. There are going to be fewer but better Russians.” But it’s not quite as good as you might expect when Ernst Lubitsch directs a screenplay by Billy Wilder. Part of the series Ready for His Close-Up: The Films of Billy Wilder; it’s nice to see the PFA include a film that Wilder wrote but didn’t direct.

A+ Some Like It Hot, New Parkway, Saturday, 6:30; Pacific Film Archive, Saturday, 8:40. 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. Also part of the series Ready for His Close-Up: The Films of Billy Wilder.

A The Apartment, Pacific Film Archive, Sunday, 7:00. How do you top Some Like It Hot? Billy Wilder found the answer in this far more serious comedy about powerful men exploiting both 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. Read my Blu-ray review. Another part of the series Ready for His Close-Up: The Films of Billy Wilder. I mistakenly left The Apartment out of the original version of this newsletter. I fixed that Sunday afternoon.

B West Side Story, Castro, Saturday, 1:00. West Side Story swings erratically from glorious brilliance to astonishing ineptitude. The songsWest Side Story 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.

A Double Indemnity, Balboa, Thursday, 7:30. Rich but unhappy (and evil) housewife Barbara Stanwyck leads insurance salesman Fred MacMurray by the libido from imageadultery 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 good, gritty thriller about sex (or the code-era equivalent) and betrayal, Double Indemnity can reasonably be called the first true film noir.

A Blade Runner – The Final Cut, Castro, Monday and Tuesday. 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 imagevariety. 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 even more final cut made since.

C+ Alfred Hitchcock double bill: Vertigo & The Trouble with Harry, Stanford, Thursday through next Sunday. The C+ goes to The Trouble with Harry. Alfred Hitchcock laced his thrillers with humor, but his second and last attempt at an out-and-out comedy succeeds in merely being pleasant–despite the promising theme of a dead body that everyone wants to hide.. Although Vertigo is officially now the greatest film ever made, I can’t give it more than a C-. Neither the story nor most of the characters make any sense, and I don’t believe anyone’s motivations.  Yes, the film is very atmospheric, but that’s just not enough.

A Timbuktu, Shattuck, opens Friday. Abderrahmane Sissako’s remarkable film feels a bit like one of those Altman movies about intertwining lives. But these lives have been severely disrupted by Timbuktuan armed group of Muslim fundamentalists. Music, smoking, soccer and women with bare hands are now forbidden. At first, even the occupiers act calm and friendly, and reluctant to enforce the new rules. But as the film progresses, the fanatics become less of a joke and more of a mortal threat. Timbuktu’s overall sense of tragedy and helplessness sneaks upon you slowly. I suspect that’s how it happens in real life. Read my full review.

A- Two Days, One Night, Lark, opens Friday. 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. Read my full review.

A- Birdman, Cerrito, opens Friday. Michael Keaton plays a has-been movie star, who may or may not have superpowers, imagehoping to gain artistic respectability by writing, directing, and performing in a Broadway play. Edward Norton plays an actor who already has the respect of critics, but is only fully himself when he’s on stage. Like Hitchcock’s Rope, Birdman pretends it was shot in a single take. But unlike Rope,the gimmick works this time around–better technology, I suppose. Much of the film is hysterically funny, but the picture is just a bit too long, and in the end it doesn’t quite satisfy. From Alejandro González Iñárritu, whose Babel was my favorite film of 2006.

B+ The Theory of Everything, Lark, opens Friday. Like so many British pictures, this Stephen Hawking biopic provides a showcase for great acting. Hawking is the sort of character that cries out for an Oscar–he’s a real person, he’s British, and he has a disability. Eddie Redmayne makes full use of that opportunity, catching not only Hawking’s brilliance and his disability, but also his impish humor. I’m not quite ready to say this is the best performance of the year, but it’s certainly the most noticeable. Felicity Jones co-stars as his first wife and does an excellent job, Very well made but not exceptional. Read my longer comments.

D- Jacky and the Kingdom of Women, Roxie, Sunday, 7:115; Thursday, 9:30. This French satire imagines a society of reverse sexism. The women are leaders and warriors. The men are sex objects and obedient husbands. (Eight years ago I wrote and performed in a imageone-act play with the same theme.) But two problems sink Jacky. First, the fantasy society in which it’s set–sort of a combination of North Korea, the Islamic State, and horse worship–is too bizarre to use for making a satirical point. There’s nothing to recognize. Second, it’s just not funny. My favorite moment was a chase; not because it made me laugh–it didn’t–but because it held the promise that the movie would soon be over. It didn’t even keep that promise. IndieFest‘s closing night disappointment.

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.

A Alfred Hitchcock double bill: Strangers on a Train & The Lady Vanishes,Stanford, through Sunday. If you love Alfred Hitchcock and you love trains, this is the double bill for you. In Strangers on a Train, a rich, spoiled psychotic killer (the worst kind) strangersontrainconvinces 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 wife, and by a psycho who thinks the athlete owes him a murder. 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 enjoying a very British screwball comedy. Then a nice old lady disappears on a moving train, and everyone denies that she had ever been there. Now it feels like Hitchcock! Read my Blu-ray review. Each film earns an A on its own merit.

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