What’s Screening: October 24 – 30

No festivals this week, but some good movies.

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

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

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

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

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

Halloween

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s Screening: October 17 – 23

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

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

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

A The Dark Knight, Castro, Friday. As far back as Memento, the Nolan brothers have seen evil as an influence imagevery likely to corrupt those dedicated to fighting it. In what is by far the best Batman movie ever made, no one–including Bruce Wayne/Batman himself (Christian Bale)–gets away without moral compromises. But what can you expect when fighting the Joker, who is absolutely nuts in Heath Ledger’s final performance. For more details, see my full review. On a MiDNiTES for MANiACS double bill with Reign of Fire.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s Screening: October 10 – 16

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

Plus, there are all of these:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s Screening: October 3 – 9

The Mill Valley Film Festival, which opened last night, runs through this week and beyond. My festival recommendations and warnings are at the end of this newsletter.

A Gandhi, Castro, Sunday, 7:00. The closest thing to a 60’s style historical epic since Patton, Richard Attenborough’s masterpiece follows the life of Mahatma Gandhi fromimage his days as a young lawyer in South Africa through his bittersweet triumph and his assassination. Yes, the film simplistically worships its protagonist, but it also describes the general arc of his life in an  entertaining way (with factual liberties, of course), and effectively dramatizes his revolutionary techniques of non-violent resistance. What’s more, the film is visually spectacular and centers around an Oscar-winning and star-making performance by Ben Kingsley.

B Way Down East, Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, Saturday, 7:30. Lillian Gish at her best as a naïve young woman who gets impregnated by a cad, loses her baby, and then has to run away and hide her shameful past. The film suffers from moralizing intertitles image(a frequent Griffith problem) and gratingly bad comedy relief, but the central story is still moving and effective, thanks largely by Gish’s performance. The climatic chase across ice flows is one of the best action sequences of the era, thanks largely by Gish’s willingly to put herself in real danger (if only her leading man, Richard Barthelmess, had been quite so courageous.)

B The Invisible Man, Cerrito, Thursday, 9:00. A lesser effort by director James Whale, Universal’s early image1930s "King of Horror." But  this H. G. Wells adaptation provides plenty of pleasures. Claude Rains, in his first film role, gives a distinctive voice to the unseen title character–a scientist whose invisibility has turned him into a megalomaniac. The story is full of holes and absurdities–even if he can’t be seen, a naked man running around the English countryside at night has some serious disadvantages–but it’s fun.

A Samsara, Castro, Wednesday. Ron Fricke (Baraka) provides us with a succession of stunningly beautiful and occasionally shocking images, accompanied by a hypnotic musical score and almost no other sound. I sat, enraptured, my eyes and mouth open in astonishment. Although there’s no real story, Samsara is structured like one. Or if not a story, then at least a journey. Fricke shot Samsara in the 70mm format, providing a level of detail impossible to capture with today’s digital cameras or with standard 35mm film. See my full review as well as More on Samsara, 70mm, and 4K Digital Projection. On a double bill with Lucy, which I haven’t seen.

M*A*S*H, various CineMark Theaters, Sunday (2:00 only) and Wednesday. I never cared much for what everyone else considers an important comedy. Even inimage 1970, when it was new and I was right smack in the middle of its demographic, I found it only a moderately funny military comedy with pretensions of significance. I saw it again about ten years later, and felt that age had only turned it into a misogynistic, moderately funny military comedy with pretensions of significance. This may sound sacrilegious, but I prefer the TV show that spun off from it. I’m not giving it a grade because it has been a very long time since I’ve seen it.

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

A Young Frankenstein, UA Berkeley, Thursday, 9:00. Once upon a time, Mel Brooks hadyoungfrank talent. And he showed it off beautifully in this sweet-natured, 1974 parody and tribute to the Universal horror films of the 1930′s (specifically the first three Frankenstein movies). Gene Wilder wrote the screenplay and stars as the latest doctor to be stuck with the famous name (which he insists on pronouncing “Fronkenshteen). But blood is fate, and he’s destined to create his own monster. Wilder is supported by some of the funniest actors of the era, including Marty Feldman, Madeline Kahn, Cloris Leachman, and Peter Boyle as the lovable but clumsy creature.

A Psycho, New Parkway, Saturday, 3:00; Clay, Friday and Saturday, midnight . You may never want to take a shower again. In his last great movie, Alfred Hitchcock pulls the rug out from under us several times,image leaving the audience unsure who we’re supposed to be rooting for or what could constitute a happy ending. In roles that defined their careers, Janet Leigh stars as a secretary turned thief, and Anthony Perkins as a momma’s boy with a lot to hide. I’ll always regret that I knew too much about Psycho before I saw it for the first time; I wish I could erase all memory of this movie and watch it with fresh eyes.

B+ 2001: A Space Odyssey, Pacific Film Archive, Friday, 7:30. 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 of2001’s unorthodox storytelling and visual splendor–if you can see it properly presented. 2001 was shot for 70mm projection on a giant, curved, Cinerama screen–an experience that’s simply not available in the Bay Area today. The PFA’s modest screen can’t provide the full experience. Part of the series, Eyes Wide: The Films of Stanley Kubrick.

B- Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, UC Berkeley’s Crescent lawn, Friday, 8:00. Free outdoor screening. Tim Burton’s first feature revels in its own peeweesbigadvensilliness. 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. Part of the PFA series, Endless Summer Cinema.


A Dr. Strangelove
, Pacific Film Archive, Saturday, 8:40. A psychotic general named Jack D. Ripper (Sterling Hayden) imageorders his men to bomb the USSR and start World War III. But have no fear! The men responsible for avoiding Armageddon (several of them played by Peter Sellers) are almost as competent as the Three Stooges.  We like to look back at earlier decades as simpler, less fearful times, but Stanley Kubrick’s “nightmare comedy” reminds you just how scary things were back then. Another part of the series, Eyes Wide: The Films of Stanley Kubrick.

C- Vertigo, Balboa, Tuesday, 7:30. I recently revisited everybody else’s favorite Alfred Hitchcock film, officially now the greatest film ever made, and I liked it better this time, so much that I’m bringing its grade up from a D to a C-. My main problem with the movie is that neither the story nor most of the characters make any sense, and I don’t believe anyone’s motivations. The film contains one wonderful, believable, and likeable character, Barbara Bel Geddes’ Midge, but we don’t see enough of her to offset everything else. Yes, the film is very atmospheric, but that’s just not enough. I don’t need to stare at a screen to experience San Francisco’s fog.

Mill Valley Film Festival

A Hide and Seek, Sequoia, Saturday, 3:00; Rafael, Monday, 3:30. Four young adults, two women and two men, move into a large and remote country house, intent on a life of self-discovery and sex. Mostly sex. That sounds like a wild fling, but everything is oddly still-1planned and organized. For instance, they have a schedule defining who will sleep with whom each night. Of course, things won’t stay that organized. For a drama and character study, Hide and Seek is unusually upbeat, and has surprisingly little dialog. Much goes unexplained–finances, for instance. And yet, through looks, gestures, and some well-chosen words, we come to know these four extremely well–and not only because we see a lot of them with their clothes off. A remarkable work, and a pretty explicit one.

A The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Lark, Wednesday, 7:00. Considering the unethical behavior of the three leads, Sergio Leone’s epic Civil War western should have been called The Bad, the Worse, and the Totally Reprehensible. But morality is relative when armies are slaughtering thousands, and besides, it doesn’t really enter into Leone’s tongue-in-cheek point of view. While the war rages around them, three outlaws battle lawmen, prison guards, and each other for a fortune in stolen gold. Check your scruples at the door and enjoy the double- and triple-crosses, the black comedy, the beautiful Techniscope photography of Spain doubling as the American west, and Ennio Morricone’s legendary score. Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef are fine, but Eli Wallach’s performance as the half-bright, devious Tuco steals the picture.

A- The Empire Strikes BackCentury Cinema, Corte Madera, Monday, 5:00 & 8:30.  The second (and in most people’s view, best) Star Wars movie plays the Mill Valley festival for the second time in five years. While I don’t love Empire as much as most fans, it’s still an excellent piece imageof big entertainment, with many great action set pieces and a considerably darker, more morally-complex story. On the other hand, it has some serious continuity errors that have bothered me since 1980. Nevertheless, I’d give this an A+ if they were showing the original, pre-digitally-altered version. On the other hand, the Century, with its giant, curved screen, is the place to see it.

B+ Clouds of Sils Maria, Sequoia, Friday, 8:45 (sold out; rush tickets may be available at showtime), Rafael, Monday, 1:00.A great actress (Juliette Binoche) reluctantly accepts a part in a revival of the play that made her famous. But this time, she’ll be playing imagea 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.

B- For Those About to Rock: The Story of Rodrigo y Gabriela, Rafael, Sunday, 8:00 ; Rafael, Tuesday, 2:15. For the first two thirds of its 84-minute runtime, this appears to be yet another music documentary woefully lacking in music. We watch and hear Rodrigo Sanchez and Gabriela Quintera talk about their work and their imagestruggles to get recognized. We learn how they developed their unique style–which I’d describe as instrumental, acoustic heavy metal with a Latin flare–in their native Mexico City, and how they found fame in Ireland. But you only hear snatches of the music itself. and that could easily leave you wondering why these two are worthy of a documentary. But then, almost an hour into the movie, it becomes the concert film it always should have been, and thus becomes exciting and magical.

D Soul of a Banquet, Rafael,  Sunday, 5:00 (Director Wayne Wang and subject Cecilia Chiang in attendance), Sequoia, Tuesday, 2:15. In his first documentary, the usually reliable Wayne Wang appears to have imagemissed the point. He suggests that his subject, restaurateur Cecilia Chiang, led a fascinating and exciting life. But he gives us little information, and spends most of the picture just showing us food. The biographical first third offers tantalizing hints at Chiang’s history and her importance in the development of Chinese-American cuisine, but Wang doesn’t give us enough information to prove his argument. The following two thirds is just food porn, with close-ups of succulent dishes being prepared, served, and eaten. Read my full review.

What’s Screening: September 26 – October 2

The Iranian Film Festival runs through the weekend. And the fall’s biggie, the Mill Valley Film Festival, opens Thursday.

A Samuel Fuller Triple Bill: Pickup on South Street, Park Row, & A Fuller Life, Castro, Sunday. The A goes Pickup on South Street, a fantastic Cold War noir written and directed by the great Samuel Fuller. A pickpocket (Richard Widmark) steals a wallet containing top secret microfilm that was on its way to Soviet agents. Before you can say "Alfred Hitchcock," this petty thief is being chased about by the feds and the reds. Snappy dialog, well-choreographed action scenes (without today’s quick cutting), and the always wonderful Thelma Ritter keep it lively. This is my favorite Fuller film; I’ve written about it in more detail. Park Row, on the other hand, is Fuller at his didactic worst. This ode to the brave men of the 19th century newspaper business is mawkish and preachy. I haven’t seen A Fuller Life, Samantha Fullers’ documentary about her father.

A The Cartoon Genius of Chuck Jones, Oddball Films, Friday, 8:00. Few filmmakers understood comedy as well as animator extraordinaire Chuck Jones, who directed over 200 six-minute cartoons for Warner Brothers from the late 30s imageto the early 60s–many of them masterpieces. This evening’s selection includes such Warner gems as Rabbit Seasoning, Beep Prepared, and Duck Dodgers in the 24 1/2th Century. But it leaves out much of his best work, including One Froggy Evening, What’s Opera, Doc, and Duck Amuck–possibly because they’re shown so often. Amongst his non-Warner work, Oddball will show the World War II training film Pvt. Snafu vs. Malaria Mike and Jones’ 1975 TV adaptation of Rikki-Tikki-Tavi. All in 16mm.

B Tommy, Balboa, Thursday, 7:30. 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 Beach Blanket Babylon, turning a parable of imagespiritual 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. He’s not the only embarrassment in the all-star cast, 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.

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

A- The Ladykillers (1955 version), Rafael, Sunday. In the 1950s, Britain’s Ealing Studios made several droll but wonderful comedies starring Alec Guinness, often imageabout crime. In The Ladykillers, probably the darkest Ealing comedy, Guinness leads a gang on a complex heist, and part of the complexity involves renting a room. But when their sweet, old landlady finds out that they’re not really musicians, their only option is to kill her–a task that proves far more difficult than they expected. Perhaps a more descriptive title would have been The Incompetent Ladykillers. Not be be confused with the Coen Brothers remake. The last film in the series Alec Guinness at 100.

B To Have and Have Not, Castro, Wednesday. This production ignited imagethe Bogart-Bacall romance, which itself ignites the screen. Aside from the considerable charisma and sexual sparks that its stars set off, it’s an entertaining tale of war-time intrigue but not really an exceptional one. A good movie with a couple of great scenes. On a double bill with Dark Passage, which I have yet to see.

A+ Casablanca, Alameda, Tuesday and Wednesday. What can I say? 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 To Kill A Mockingbird, Lark, Sunday, 1:10; Wednesday, 4:00. The film version of Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel imagemanages to be both a nostalgic reverie of depression-era small town Southern life and a condemnation of that life’s dark and ugly underbelly. Gregory Peck’s Atticus Finch is the ultimate decent and moral father, a character so virtuous he’d be unbelievable if the story wasn’t told through the eyes of his six-year-old daughter. (Had there been a sequel set in her teen years, Atticus would have been an idiotic tyrant.)

A Dr. Strangelove, Roxie, Sunday. A psychotic general named Jack D. Ripper (Sterling Hayden) imageorders his men to bomb the USSR and start World War III. But have no fear! The men responsible for avoiding Armageddon (several of them played by Peter Sellers) are slightly more competent than the Three Stooges.  We like to look back at earlier decades as simpler, less fearful times, but Stanley Kubrick’s “nightmare comedy” reminds you just how scary things were back then. On a Kubrick double bill with The Shining, which I’ve never seen. I have more to say on both Dr. Strangelove and Stanley Kubrick. Both films in 35mm.

F Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Balboa, Saturday, 10:00am. Absolutely the worst Indiana Jones movie ever. First, Spielberg and company tried to make it dark and atmospheric, but only succeeded in imagemaking it unpleasant.  Second, leading lady Kate Capshaw, now Spielberg’s wife, gives a performance about as enticing as nails on a chalkboard. And finally, the movie is horribly, irredeemably, D.W. Griffith-level racist. Two years after Attenborough’s Gandhi,Spielberg and Lucas assure us that India needed white people to protect the good, child-like Indians from their evil, fanatical compatriots.

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

What’s Screening: September 19 – 25

The big event this week is the one-day Silent Autumn festival. I’ve placed festival films at the bottom of this newsletter.

C+ The Zero Theorem, 4-Star, Elmwood, opens Friday. In the 1980s, Terry Gilliam’s new film  feels like a less-effective retreat of his brilliant Brazil. Like that far superior picture, imageit’s set in a dystopian society that may be in the future, but in some strange ways feels like the past. Christoph Waltz stars as a brilliant programmer and mathematician trying to solve an impossible problem while his corporate overlords track him closely and watch everything he does. Although visually exciting and occasionally provocative, The Zero Theorem doesn’t actually go anywhere. See my full review.

A Giant, Pacific Film Archive, Saturday, 7:00. 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. As James Dean’s last picture, it’s appropriate that Giant closes the series James Dean, Restored Classics from Warner Bros.

B+ American Pie, UA Berkeley, Thursday, 9:00. It’s easy to dismiss a Hollywood-financed horny teenager comedy as commercial schlock–especially one followed by imagetwo sequels. But this story of four male high school seniors determined to lose their virginity, and help their friends do the same, manages to be both raunchy and sweet, as well as very funny. Despite the Hollywood polish, it’s a reasonably accurate look at young, male sexuality. I know; I’ve been there.

A Red Desert, Castro, Wednesday, 7:00. No one has ever called Michelangelo Antonioni’s study of pollution and madness a thriller, yet it filled me with a red_desertsense of foreboding and dread that Alfred Hitchcock seldom matched. Monica Vitti holds the screen as a housewife and mother struggling to maintain her slipping sanity. It’s no surprise she’s breaking down; her husband manages a large factory spewing poison into the air, water, and ground (Antonioni made absolutely sure that his first color film would not be beautiful). Carlo Di Palma’s brilliant camerawork adds to the sense of mental isolation. On a double bill with Mickey One, which I haven’t seen.

A+ Charlie Chaplin’s Silent Short Films, Roxie, Sunday, 2:00. Free admission for kids under 12. This selection includes three films from Chaplin’s amazing Mutual imageperiod–The Adventurer, Easy Street, and The Immigrant. All three are near-perfect examples of silent comedy. Also on the program, his second film and first as the Tramp, Kid Auto Races at Venice. Live scores provided by local musicians V.Vale, Ethan Li, Kevin Baricar, Benji Marx, and Matt Norman. Part of the Roxie Kids series.

B- Rebecca, Alameda, Tuesday and Wednesday. With its few fleeting moments of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock’s first American film feels little like a Hitchcock movie.imageBasically a weepie, it stars Joan Fontaine as a young American who marries a British aristocrat (Laurence Olivier), only to find that she has to compete with the memory of his dead first wife. This entertaining melodrama includes a fine, over-the-top performance by  Judith Anderson as the brooding servant who cannot bear to think that a usurper has replaced her lady. This was Hitchcock’s only Best Picture Oscar winner, which just goes to show you how silly the Oscars can be.

B To Be Takei, New Parkway, opens Friday. Who would have guessed that, almost 50 years after Star Trek first premiered, George Takei would be the most beloved imagemember of the original cast. And why not? A childhood in a World War II relocation camp for Japanese Americans, a part in the iconic sci-fi TV series, and coming out as gay at age 67 all make for a great story. Jennifer M. Kroot has created an ordinary documentary about this extraordinary person, filled with interviews, video of Takei and husband Brad Altman going about their daily business, and old movie and TV clips. It’s the story, not the story-telling, that makes this film worth seeing. Read my full review.

B Tarzan and His Mate, Stanford, Monday and Tuesday. The second and the best of the Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan movies, while still juvenile–and, let’s face it, racist–imageentertainment, feels very different from the dumb sequels that followed. At this stage in their lives, Weissmuller and Maureen O’Sullivan made a very sexy Tarzan and Jane, and since the movie was pre-code, the sexuality didn’t have to be hidden. (Okay, the nude swimming scene was cut soon after the film’s release, but it has since been restored.) The stars’ chemistry and the story’s general outlandishness makes for a fun evening. On a double bill with something called Love Is a Headache.

B+ Fight Club, New Parkway, Friday, 10:30. This is one strange and disturbing flick. Edward Norton wants to be Brad Pitt. Who wouldn’t? Pitt’s a free-spirited kind of guyfight_club 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.

A Dr. Strangelove, various CineMark Theaters, Sunday (2:00) and Wednesday (2:00 & 7:00). A psychotic general named Jack D. Ripper (Sterling Hayden) imageorders his men to bomb the USSR and start World War III. But have no fear! The men responsible for avoiding Armageddon (several of them played by Peter Sellers) are slightly more competent than the Three Stooges.  We like to look back at earlier decades as simpler, less fearful times, but Stanley Kubrick’s “nightmare comedy” reminds you just how scary things were back then. I have more to say about Dr. Strangelove.

A+ Raiders of the Lost Ark, Balboa, Saturday, 10:00am. Steven Spielberg directed it, and the bad guys are Nazis, but it’s as far from Schindler’s List as a great movie can get. But then, it’s great in an entirely different way. imageThere’s absolutely nothing to take seriously in Raiders of the Lost Ark; just entertainment at its purist. The story is fundamentally preposterous, and the hero (Harrison Ford) is no more an archeologist than I am a butterfly. But the energy is so high, the action scenes so brilliantly choreographed and edited, and the whole story told with such enthusiasm and wit, that everything else just doesn’t matter. If you object to mindless, escapist action flicks on principle, don’t see it; otherwise, you probably already love it.

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

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

B Walking the Camino, Magick Lantern, Friday and Saturday. For centuries, religious Christians have walked the Camino de Santiago–a 800kmimage pilgrimage across northern Spain. Today, spiritual seekers of all kinds, as well as those just looking for adventure, take the arduous route. This documentary follows a handful of walkers, each going for their own reasons and finding, if not what they were looking for, than at least something worth knowing. The film is pleasant, and provides a sense of what the journey might be like (obviously, no film can recreate the actual experience). Warning: You’re likely to come out of the theater ready to make the journey yourself.

Silent Autumn

All films at Saturday at the Castro.

A+ The General, 7:00. Buster Keaton pushedgeneral film comedy like no one else when he made this one. He meticulously recreated the Civil War setting. He mixed slapstick comedy with battlefield death. He hired thousands of extras and filmed what may be the single most expensive shot of the silent era (then used that shot as the setup for a gag whose punch line is a simple close-up). The result was a critical and commercial flop in 1926, but today it’s rightly considered one of the greatest comedies ever made. With musical accompaniment by the Alloy Orchestra.

Another Fine Mess: Silent Laurel and Hardy Shorts, 11:00am. Of all the great silent comedians, only the team of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy made a seamless imagetransition into talkies. They’re equally good in each medium. The Festival has announced three shorts to be screened. I’ve only seen one of them, Big Business, but if the other two (Should Married Men Go Home? and Two Tars) are as good as that one, this selection would easily earn an A+.  Musical accompaniment by Donald Sosin.

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, 9:00. I haven’t seen Caligari in a great many years, so I’m not going to give it a grade. The story of a murderous hypnotist and his somnambulist slave would make a fairly conventional horror movie, but three important factors keep Caligari above the conventional. 1) The impressionistic sets and photography make it look like nothing you’ve ever seen in a genre picture. 2) The surprise ending can really throw you for a loop, and is still debated nearly a century after the film’s release. And 3) The horror genre was too new to have any conventions when this film was made. Musical accompaniment by Donald Sosin.

What’s Screening: September 12 – 18

The California Independent Film Festival continues through Sunday. And the Legacy Film Festival on Aging, which opens today (Friday), plays through Sunday.

A Woman of the Year, Lark, Sunday, 3:30 & Wednesday, 5:50. One of only a handful of Hollywood films that accurately conveys the ups, downs, and sideways motions of romantic love as a long-term commitment(Annie Hall is another). Sexist by today’s standard, this love story between two independently-minded professionals was cutting-edge feminist for its time (or at least as cutting-edge feminist as MGM would allow). And its sense of two people who love each other but can’t easily stay compatible never ages. It also started one of Hollywood’s most famous on-screen and real-life romances–that of Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn. Directed by George Stevens from a screenplay by Ring Lardner Jr. and Michael Kanin.

A- Rebel Without a Cause, Pacific Film Archive, Friday, 9:10. The only film where James Dean received top billing is a shallow, silly, melodramatic message picture about what’s wrong with kids these days. And here’s what’s wrong: Their parents don’t spend time with them, and the 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 defines 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. Part of the series James Dean, Restored Classics from Warner Bros.

B Lost in Translation, UA Berkeley, Thursday, 9:00. I can’t believe it’s been over a decade since Sophia Coppola introduced us to Scarlett Johansson, and gave Bill Murray his best performance since imageGroundhog Day. And she did it by making a film in which nothing of note happens. Murray plays an American movie star in Tokyo to shoot a whiskey commercial. Johansson plays the bored wife of a photographer. They sense a bond. And what you expect to happen never does. But that’s okay because it probably wouldn’t happen in real life, either. Coppola allows us to enjoy these people’s company, and their reaction to a foreign culture, for 104 minutes.

A- The Fisher King, Castro, Sunday, 7:00. Terry Gilliam’s first film from someone else’s screenplay, and his first shot in imagehis native USA, isn’t quite up to his best work. But it’s damn close. Jeff Bridges plays a guilt-ridden former shock jock who befriends a homeless lunatic (Robin Williams in one of his best performances) in hope of redemption. But helping this tragic victim of random violence involves both playing cupid and jumping down the rabbit hole of a brilliant but deeply unhinged mind. Only Williams could sing Lydia the Tattooed Lady and make it sound sweet and romantic. On a double bill with Good Morning, Vietnam, which I recall liking, but not loving, when it was new.

A Sons of the Desert, Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, Sunday, 4:00. Feature films weren’t Laurel and Hardy’s strong point; something about their humor workedimage best in the short form. But Sons of the Desert is one of only two exceptions that prove the rule (the other being Blockheads). This simple tale of two married men trying to have a good time away from their wives is loose, leisurely, and very funny.  With the short subjects Midnight Patrol and Something Simple. That last one stars Charley Chase, not Laurel and Hardy.

B Walking the Camino, Magick Lantern, Friday through Sunday. For centuries, religious Christians have walked the Camino de Santiago–a 800kmimage pilgrimage across northern Spain. Today, spiritual seekers of all kinds, as well as those just looking for adventure, take the arduous route. This documentary follows a handful of walkers, each going for their own reasons and finding, if not what they were looking for, than at least something worth knowing. The film is pleasant, and provides a sense of what the journey might be like (obviously, no film can recreate the actual experience). Warning: You’re likely to come out of the theater ready to make the journey yourself.

A Spartacus, Pacific Film Archive, Saturday, 7:00. This very fictionalized version of the famous Roman slave revolt is simply the most powerful, intelligent, and coherent toga epic from the golden age of imagetoga epics. And yes, I know that sounds like weak praise, but it isn’t. Stanley Kubrick’s only work as a director-for-hire doesn’t give us the glory of Rome, concentrating instead on the horror, cruelty, and exploitation of an empire. Star and Executive Producer Kirk Douglas gave Dalton Trumbo a well-deserved screen credit, which helped end the blacklist. For more, see Cemeteries and Gladiators, On the Moral Dilemma of Gladiator Movies, and How I lost my love for Stanley Kubrick. Part of the series Eyes Wide: The Films of Stanley Kubrick. 

B+ The Iron Giant, Balboa, Saturday, 10:00am. The young hero of Brad (The Incredibles) Bird’s first feature befriends a massively-huge robot from outer space. Hey, Steven Spielberg’s Elliot only had to hide the diminutive ET. The robot seems friendly enough, but there’s good reason to believe he was built as a weapon of mass destruction. Using old-fashioned, hand-drawn animation with plenty of sharp angles, Bird creates a stylized view of small-town American life circa 1958 that straddles satire and nostalgia, and treats most of its inhabitants with warmth and affection. A good movie for all but the youngest kids.

C- The Nutty Professor (1963 version), various CineMark Theaters, Sunday (matinee only) and Wednesday. As a young child, I adored Jerry Lewis, but as I matured Iimage found his comedy grating and tremendously unfunny. Today, The Nutty Professor is considered his masterpiece, and I suppose it is–in the sense that it’s not all that awful. The basic concept–a very clever twist of Jekyll and Hyde–is audacious and thought-provoking, especially for what is basically a children’s movie. But the execution is so clumsy and clunky that to a large degree, it sinks the wonderful concept.

C+ Universal Horror Double Bill: The Black Cat & Dracula (1931 version), Stanford, Saturday and Sunday. imageLow-budget auteur Edgar G. Ulmer made The Black Cat for very little money, and it looks it. But this silly story of revenge, lost honeymooners, a very modern spooky castle, and fear of cats offers a good share of laughs, some of them intentional. Dracula is a much more important movie–it started Universal’s famed horror series–but it really doesn’t deserve its classic status. The picture suffers from stilted blocking and too much mediocre dialog–common faults in early talkies. But it has a few wonderful moments, most of which are wordless. Each of these films would earn a C+ on its own.

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.

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