What’s Screening: April 18 – 24

The Tiburon Intl. Film Festival closes today (although, according to their schedule, their last screening was yesterday). The big one (or at least one of the two big ones), the San Francisco International Film Festival, opens Thursday.

B+ The Lost Boys, New Parkway, Thursday, 9:15. This clever and funny–and even imageoccasionally scary–teenage vampire movie was shot in Santa Cruz and is clearly set there (even though they give the town another name). So you’ve got the undead dealing with summer on the beach, the boardwalk, and teenage angst. But then, what do you do when peer pressure tells you to become an immortal bloodsucker? Hey, all the cool kids are doing it. A lot of fun in a horror movie that refuses to take itself seriously.

C+ Yankee Doodle Dandy, Alameda, Tuesday and Wednesday. This Warner Brothers biopic about singer/dancer/songwriter George M. Cohan doesn’t have much imageof a story. It has some exciting dancing sequences that show off a side of James Cagney’s talent that we usually don’t see. But when Cagney isn’t dancing, it’s just not that interesting. As the title suggests, the picture has a lot of patriotic hoopla–which is understandable for a movie made as we were entering World War II.

B+ Johnny Guitar, Castro, Wednesday. A very unusual western from Nicholas Ray. For one thing, the main rivalry is between two women: good saloonimageowner Joan Crawford and bad businesswoman Mercedes McCambridge. But don’t think this is a feminist picture. The women’s hatred stems from romantic jealousy, and the title character hero (Sterling Hayden) is a former lover of Crawford hired as her bodyguard. It’s fun, and strange, with lesbian overtones, but far from a must for western lovers. On a double bill with Fritz Lang’s Rancho Notorious–which, I have to admit–I’ve never seen.

B+ The Ten Commandments, various CineMark theaters, Friday & Sunday, 2:00; Wednesday, 2:00 & 7:00. I enjoy a strange relationship with the biggest commercial hit of the 1950s. With its simplistic characters, corny dialog, and overriding atmosphere of pomposity, The Ten Commandments is the ultimate unintentional comedy. And yet, it’s also a rich, generous, and entertaining spectacle, and a visually lovely motion picture. It has one truly impressive, low-key performance (Cedric Hardwicke as Sethi). At times, it even succeeds in its simplistic spirituality. Read my Blu-ray review. I should note that the Friday screening is on Good Friday, the Sunday screening on Easter, and both are during Passover.

C- Harry Potter & the Sorcerer’s Stone, Roxie, Sunday, 4:20. Although entertaining, the first Harry Potter novel showed little of the power, complexity, character, wit, and imageentertainment value of the sequels. The first Harry Potter movie, trying desperately to be as faithful to the book as possible, showed even less. However, this particular screening may be more entertaining than the original. According to the Roxie’s website, "A spell was cast onto the soundtrack, and now it’s something magically different for this screening." I have no idea what that spell is.

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

B The Big Lebowski, Clay, Friday through Sunday, midnight. Critics originally panned thisimage Coen Brothers gem as a disappointing follow-up to their previous endeavor, Fargo. Well, it isn’t as good as Fargo, but it’s still one hell of a funny movie. It’s also built quite a cult following; The Big Lebowski has probably played more Bay Area one-night stands in the years I’ve maintained this site than than any other three movies put together.

What’s Screening: April 11 – 17

The Tiburon International Film Festival  continues through the week.

A+ City Lights, Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, Saturday, 7:30. Charlie Chaplin’s Birthday. In Charlie Chaplin’s most perfect comedy, the little tramp falls in citylightslove with a blind flower girl and befriends a suicidal, alcoholic millionaire, but neither of them know the real Charlie. The result is funny and touching, with one of cinema’s greatest endings. Sound came to movies as Chaplin was shooting City Lights, resulting in an essentially silent film with a recorded musical score composed by Chaplin himself. Cinema has rarely achieved such perfection. Read my Blu-ray review. Bruce Loeb will accompany the short subjects ("The Bond" and "The Tramp," both Chaplin’s), but the feature will have Chaplin’s recorded soundtrack.

A+ Groundhog Day, Castro, Friday. Spiritual, humane, and hilarious, Groundhog Day wraps its thoughtful world view inside a imageslick, Hollywood comedy. Without explanation, the movie plunges its self-centered protagonist into a time warp that becomes his purgatory, living the same day over and over for who knows how long (it could be thousands of years). Bill Murray’s weatherman goes through stages of panic, giddiness, and despair before figuring out that life is about serving others. And yet not a frame of this movie feels preachy. Fast-paced and brilliantly edited, it’s pure entertainment. For more on this great comedy, see Wait 20 Years, and Then You Can Call a Groundhog Day a Classic. On a Harold Ramis double bill with Caddyshack, which I saw long ago and barely remember.

A Sunset Boulevard, Alameda, Tuesday and Wednesday. Billy Wilder’s meditation imageon 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.

A- Ben-Hur, Castro, Sunday, 1:00. Novelist Lew Wallace ripped off the plot of The Count of Monte Cristo, set the story in Roman-occupied Judea, and had the title character cross paths with Jesus. Hollywood’s second film imageversion of the best-selling book easily surpasses all of the other big, long religious epics that Hollywood churned out in the 50s and early 60s. It even surpasses the 1925, silent original. Ben-Hur makes a rousing tale, a good story, and a visual feast. Say what you will, Charlton Heston is perfect for the role. The chariot scene still beats almost every other action scene shot. Only in the final hour, when Christianity gets ladled on thick, does it drag a bit. Ideally, this should be shown in 70mm or 4K DCP; the Castro will be screening it in 2K.

B Liv & Ingmar, Tiburon Playhouse Theater, Saturday, 12:00 noon. Ingmar Bergman and Liv Ullmann comprise one of the great teams in film history.  Their  romantic imagerelationship lasted only five years. But their artistic collaboration, and their friendship, lasted nearly 40. Dheeraj Akolkar tells the story–or more precisely, lets Ullman tell the story–in this concise, interesting, but flawed 83-minute documentary. The basic problem: It concentrates too much on the romance and friendship but not enough on the collaboration. I wanted more about filmmaking. Read my full review. Part of the Tiburon International Film Festival.

B- Blazing Saddles, Oakland Paramount, 8:00. The most beloved western comedy of all time doesn’t do all that much for me. Sure, it has moments of great laughter as it lampoons everything from the clichés of the genre to imageinstitutional racism to the clichés of every other genre. But for every joke that hits home, two are killed by Mel Brooks’ over-the-top, beat-the-audience-over-the-head directing style. If you’re looking for western laughs, Paleface, Son of Paleface, Support Your Local Sherriff, and Shanghai Noon all beat Blazing Saddles. I believe this is the first R-rated film that the Paramount has shown in its Movie Classics series. On the other hand, Blazing Saddles would probably be PG-13 today.

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 The Big Lebowski, UA Berkeley, Thursday, 9:00. Critics originally panned this imageCoen Brothers gem as a disappointing follow-up to their previous endeavor, Fargo. Well, it isn’t as good as Fargo, but it’s still one hell of a funny movie. It’s also built quite a cult following; The Big Lebowski has probably played more Bay Area one-night stands in the years I’ve maintained this site than than any other three movies put together.

What’s Screening: April 4 – 10

Both the Sonoma Film Festival and the Food & Farm Film Fest play through Sunday. And the Tiburon Intl. Film Festival officially opens Thursday.

B+ The Red Shoes, Castro, Thursday. 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 at the center is a masterpiece of filmed dance, and no other picture used three-strip Technicolor this expressively. I discuss The Red Shoes in more detail at War and Ballet @ the PFA.

A Amadeus, Pacific Film Archive, Saturday, 5:00. In this tale of two composers, the driven, determined, and successful Salieri (F. Murray Abraham) desires greatness and thinks he’s achieved it. Then he meets Mozart (Tom Hulce), who just seems amadeusto happily glide through life, with brilliant music pouring out of his head. Only Salieri can see that Mozart is the better composer, and that drives him into some very dark places. A story of talent, jealousy, and the creative spark, accompanied by some of the best music ever written. This director’s cut is significantly longer than the version that won the 1984 Best Picture Oscar; I like both of them. Introduction by Paul Zaentz. Part of the series More Than Fantasy: In Memoriam, Saul Zaentz (1921–2014).

A+ The Lady Eve, Stanford, Friday through Sunday. Like all great screwballs (and it my opinion, this is the best), The The Lady EveLady Eve looks at class differences as well as the differences between a free-spirited woman and an uptight man (Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda). Stanwyck plays the younger half of a father/daughter team of card sharks, who makes the mistake of falling in love with her current mark–a wonderfully naïve Fonda. The result: crazy hijinks in glamorous settings. On a double bill with Lady of Burlesque, which I have not seen.

B+ Don’t Stop Believin’, Lark, Friday, 8:00. I’m not a Journey fan, but this music documentary made me a fan of the band’s new lead singer, Arnel Pineda. He’s charismatic, energetic, down-to-earth, and funny. He also has a great set of pipes.dont_stop_believinRamona S. Diaz’s documentary tells the story of how he became a part of Journey. Band members, desperate for a new singer, found the poverty-stricken, Manilla-based Pineda on Youtube, flew him out to California, worked with him for a few weeks, then took him on the most successful tour in Journey’s long history. This is a true-life fairy tale lacks conflict–the worst thing that happens to Arnel is a head cold–but Pineda has such a magnetic personality you don’t really care. The  Miles Schon Band will play after the movie.

A+ Raiders of the Lost Ark, UA Berkeley, Thursday, 9:00. 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, and no message to help uplift you. 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 the rest of it just doesn’t matter. If you object to mindless, escapist action flicks on principle, don’t see it; otherwise, you probably already love it.

C+ Blue Jasmine, Castro, Wednesday. Cate Blanchett can do anything. In Woody Allen’s latest, she gives a great performance in an otherwise shallow and unbelievable drama. Once an imageobscenely rich socialite, the unhinged Jasmine  (Blanchett) is now broke and moves in with her working-class but  level-headed sister (Sally Hawkins). Spoiled and narcissistic, she makes everyone else miserable. Much of the film looks and sounds unrealistic (the working-case men all seem to come from New Jersey, despite the San Francisco setting), and Allen’s script gives us no reason to care about Jasmine. Read my longer essay. On a double bill with A Woman Under the Influence, a film that blew me away when I saw it nearly 40 years ago.

What’s Screening: March 28 – April 3

Yet another identity film festival, Czech That Film (yes, that’s really the festival’s name), runs Sunday through Wednesday. On that same Wednesday, the Sonoma Film Festival opens its own five-day run. And then, on Thursday, the Food & Farm Film Fest opens.

And if you’re not going to a festival, you can check out any of these:

A- La Pointe Courte, Pacific Film Archive, Wednesday, 3:10. Ever admire an artist for their daring, original work, and then discover who they stole it from? I experienced that revelation over and over again while watching Agnès Varda’s first feature–arguably imagethe first film of the French New Wave. Set in a small, somewhat impoverished fishing village, it introduces us to fishermen worried about government health inspectors, a family with the very sick child, a teenage girl with an over-protective father, and young lovers visiting the man’s childhood home. Varda shows an instinct for camera setup that rivals John Ford’s. Read more at Friday Night at the PFA. Part of the class and series Film 50: History of Cinema.

A Sweet Smell of Success, New Parkway, Thursday, 9:15. Burt Lancaster risked his career to produce this exploration of the seamy side of fame. He plays New York gossip columnist J. J. Hunsecker–a truly repellent and imagedespicable person who happily bathes in the adulation and fear of the people around him. Tonight’s main victim: a whinny Broadway press agent  desperate to get his client into Hunsecker’s column(Tony Curtis in a great performance). In addition to everything else, Hunsecker–who’s based loosely on the actual Walter Winchell–has a rather too-close relationship with his kid sister. From a script by Clifford Odets and Ernest (North by Northwest) Lehman.

A+ Some Like It Hot, New Parkway, Sunday, 3:00. The urge to sleep with Marilyn Monroe comes head to head with the urge to keep breathing in Billy Wilder’s comic masterpiece. After witnessing a prohibition-era gangland massacre, two struggling musicians (Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon) hide from the mob by dressing in drag and joining an all-girl orchestra. But can they stay away from Ms. Monroe and her ukulele? There are comedies with higher laugh-to-minute ratios, and others that have more to say about the human condition. But you won’t find a better example of perfect comic construction, brilliantly funny dialog, and spot-on timing. Read my Blu-ray review.

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

A Young Frankenstein, Pacific Film Archive, Friday, 8:50. 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. Part of the series Jokers Wild: American Comedy, 1960–1989.

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 Oz 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.

C+ Le Week-End, Magick Lantern, Friday through Sunday. On their 30th anniversary, a very unhappy English couple go to Paris for a weekend. Whether they even hope it will rekindle something seems unlikely.This dark and depressing imagedrama about a marriage in horrible decline has several very good scenes (even some funny ones) and one fully-realized, interesting, and sympathetic lead character. But it suffers from an overly manipulated story and another lead character so despicable as to be unbelievable. The result provides sadness without insight. A lot of talent went into Le Week-End. Very little of it shows. Read my full review.

What’s Screening: March 21 – 27

The only local film festival this week is CAMMFest, which closes on Sunday.

C+ Le Week-End, Albany, Embarcadero, Guild, Kabuki, Rafael, opens Friday. On their 30th anniversary, a very unhappy English couple go to Paris for a weekend. Whether they even hope it will rekindle something seems unlikely.This dark and depressing imagedrama about a marriage in horrible decline has several very good scenes (even some funny ones) and one fully-realized, interesting, and sympathetic lead character. But it suffers from an overly manipulated story and another lead character so despicable as to be unbelievable. The result provides sadness without insight. A lot of talent went into Le Week-End. Very little of it shows. Read my full review.

King of Comedy, Castro, Tuesday. I haven’t seen Martin Scorsese’s meditation on celebrity and its wannabes imagefor a long time, so I’m reluctant to give it a grade. But if I gave it one, it would probably be an A. Robert De Niro plays a frustrated, delusional, and hopelessly-inexperienced comic who kidnaps a popular TV talk show host (Jerry Lewis), hoping that it will bring him his big chance. Sandra Bernhard gives a wonderful turn as his accomplice. On a double bill with Clint Eastwood’s directorial debut, Play Misty for Me.

A One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Pacific Film Archive, Saturday, 5:30. Ken Kesey’s novel offered a perfect opportunity for Milos Forman to explore his favorite imagetopics: totalitarianism and rebellion. What’s Nurse Rachet’s insane asylum ward but a dictatorship in miniature? While the movie belongs to Jack Nicholson (one of many Oscar winners), the entire cast is letter perfect. In fact, supporting players like Danny De Vito and Christopher Lloyd hardly seem the unknowns they were in 1975. Part of the series More Than Fantasy: In Memoriam, Saul Zaentz (1921–2014).

B- Muppets Take Manhattan, Balboa, Saturday, 10:00am. By the mid-80s, Jim Henson’s Muppet franchise was beginning to fray around the edges–a victim of its imageown seemingly unstoppable success. The basic formula–felt puppets interacting with movie stars and other real people–was beginning to get a bit tiresome. But enough of the jokes land properly to make it a worthwhile way to spend an hour and a half, especially with kids. It also contains a ridiculously obvious plug for Henson’s then-upcoming kiddie TV show, Muppet Babies.

B+ The Trials of Muhammad Ali, Rafael, Monday, 12:00 noon, free. A well-made documentary about a great subject, The Trials of Muhammad Ali looks at a man who is arguably the most important athlete of the last 50 years. At the age of 22,image with very little experience, Cassius Clay became the heavyweight champion of the world. A devout member of the Nation of Islam, he changed his name to Muhammad Ali, took on controversy, and risked both jail and a destroyed career for resisting the draft ("No Viet Cong ever called me a nigger"). Eventually, he would return to the ring and more triumphs. Director Bill Siegel has made a competent and conventional documentary, but Ali’s story and charisma makes it a very moving and exciting tale.

A+ North by Northwest, Castro, Sunday. Alfred Hitchcock’s light masterpiece, not as thoughtful as Rear Window or nbnwNotorious, 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 double bill with Silver Streak, which I haven’t seen in a very long time.

C The Sound of Music, UA Berkeley, Thursday, 9:00. Many people love it, but I find the biggest money maker of the 1960s lumbering, slow, and dull. Not funny or romantic enough for light entertainment, yet lacking the substance necessary for anything else. And most of the songs give the impression that, by their last collaboration, Roger and Hammerstein had run out of steam. On the other hand, the Todd-AO photography of Alpine landscapes makes this one of the most visually beautiful of Hollywood movies–in a picture-postcard sort of way. It’s also a very long movie to start at 9:00 on a weeknight.

A Dallas Buyers Club, Kabuki, opens Friday. Matthew McConaughey gives the performance of his career (so far) as the real-life Ron Woodroof, a Texas good-old-boy diagnosed with AIDS in 1985. He was image_thumb3supposed to die in 30 days, but he did some research, started smuggling pharmaceuticals not approved by the FDA, and kept himself and a whole lot of other people alive for a long time. Yes, this is very much a feel-good movie, but one that acknowledges an inevitable, early death. In the supporting cast, Jared Leto stands out as a dying transvestite.

What’s Screening: March 14 – 20

What’s going on in Bay Area film festivals? Cinequest ends its 2014 run on Sunday. And CAMMFest (formerly the Asian-American Film Festival) continues through the week and beyond.

Here are some interesting films screening around the bay.

B+ Eat Drink Man Woman, New People Cinema, Monday, 6:20. Ang Lee’s third feature and second art house hit examines how a loving family turns into an empty imagenest as the children spread their wings. The widowed family patriarch, a master professional chef, expresses his love for his three daughters by cooking elaborate and delicious meals. But his daughters have their own careers and romantic entanglements, and they’re slowly pulling away from their father. A poignant, funny, and loving look at how one particular family goes through a transition that all experience. Part of CAMMFest.

A+ Grapes of Wrath, various CineMark theaters, Sunday (2:00 matinee only) and Wednesday. No one associates serious social criticism with classic, studio-era  Hollywood. Yet this 20th Century-Fox production of John imageSteinbeck’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 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 Shrek, New Parkway, Friday, 4:00; Saturday, 12:20, Sunday, 12:30. Enough bad sequels can make us forget how much we loved the original, and in the case of Shrek, the original was imagevery lovable indeed. This story of an ogre on a reluctant quest to save a princess turns both traditional fairy tales and their Disneyfied adaptations inside out. The evil prince’s castle looks like Disneyland, familiar characters make odd cameos, and that old song “Have You Seen the Muffin Man” gets turned into a scene from Gitmo. But it isn’t all just for laughs. In the third act, it rips apart one of the worst lessons that children can pick from these old stories, providing a happy ending that neither Grimm nor Disney could have imagined. The computer animation–ahead of the curve in 2001–still impresses today.

A Mary Poppins, Oakland Paramount, Friday, 8:00.The best live-action movie Walt marypoppinsDisney ever made is, not surprisingly, one of the great all-time children’s pictures. Julie Andrews may have won the Oscar through a sympathy vote, but she really lights up the screen in her first movie appearance, managing to upstage Dick Van Dyke and some wonderful special effects. So what if it takes liberties with the books?

B The Fifth Element, New Parkway, Tuesday, 9:00. This big, fun, special effects-laden science  fantasy adventure refuses to take itself seriously. It never manages to fifthelementbe particularly exciting, but it succeeds in being rousing and funny – intentionally funny – eye candy. It’s also one of the few futuristic movies that’s neither utopian nor dystopian, making it–for all the silliness of the plot–relatively realistic. Chris Noessel of Make It So will be on hand to introduce the movie.

A+ Classic 40s double bill: Double Indemnity & Casablanca, Stanford, Friday through Thursday. The A+ goes Casablanca. No one who worked on this movie thoughtcasablanca they were making a masterpiece; it was just another sausage coming off the Warner assembly line. But somehow, this time, everything came together perfectly. For more details, see Casablanca: The Accidental Masterpiece. On its own, Double Indemnity would still receive an A. Rich and evil housewife Barbara Stanwyck leads insurance salesman Fred MacMurray from adultery to murder. Not that she has much trouble doing it; this is not the wholesome MacMurray of “My Three Sons”. A good, gritty thriller about sex (or the code-era equivalent) and betrayal.

A+ Rear Window, UA Berkeley, Thursday, 9:00. Alfred Hitchcock at his absolute best. James Stewart is riveting as a news photographer temporarily confined to his apartment and a wheelchair, amusing himself by spying on his neighbors (none of whom he knows) and guessing at the details of their lives. Then he begins to suspect that one of them committed murder. As he and his girlfriend (Grace Kelly) begin to 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- Science fiction double bill: Gravity in 3D and Silent Running, Castro, Monday, 7:00. In 1968, 2001: A Space Odyssey made me want to be an astronaut. In 2013, Gravity (which wins this double bill its A-) cleared any such desire that still lingered. Easily the most imagetechnically realistic view of space travel ever created on Earth, Gravity not only makes you feel like you’re there; it makes you desperately want to return home. On its own, I’d give Silent Running a B. I loved this movie when it was new (my stepfather worked on it), but today it feels somewhat preachy and heavy-handed. On the good side, the special effects make nice eye candy, the robots clearly influenced R2D2, Bruce Dern gives a good performance in a nearly one-man show, and it’s heart is in the right place.

A The Wolf of Wall Street, New Parkway, opens Friday. In this based-on-a-true-story epic, his best film since Goodfellas,Martin Scorsese takes us into a glamorous world and makes it look ugly and imagedegenerate. Leonardo DiCaprio brings energy, charisma, recklessness, and charming evil to the lead role of a crooked stockbroker swimming in very profitable larceny. He’s also swimming in drugs and whores. Funny and grotesque, Wolf occasionally tricks you into rooting for DiCaprio’s Jordan Belfort, but not for long. Everything in this fast-paced, three-hour film just fits perfectly. People will talk about the Popeye sequence for years to come.

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 7 – 13

Cinequest continues throughout this week and beyond. CAMMFest (AKA, the even formerly known as the Asian-American Film Festival) opens Thursday.

And, although it’s not officially a festival, the Roxie will run a series on Wes Anderson in 35mm, celebrating both one of our most iconoclastic auteurs and his preference for photochemical cinema.

A The Producers (original, 1967 version),  Pacific Film Archive, Friday, 7:00. A long, long time ago, before digital cinema and even Dolby Stereo, Mel Brooks image was actually  funny. And he was never funnier than in his directorial debut. Both Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder (in his star-making performance) play comedy to the hilt as a desperate pair scheming to make a fortune off a Broadway musical called "Springtime for Hitler." The 1960s wasn’t a great decade for American-made comedies, but The Producers stands out as a gorgeous, laugh-inducing gem. Part of the series Jokers Wild: American Comedy, 1960–1989.

B+ Take the Money and Run, Pacific Film Archive, Friday, 8:50. Woody Allen’s imagedirectorial debut isn’t as impressive as Mel Brooks’, but it’s still pretty funny. A  crudely  shot mockumentary about a hopelessly inept criminal, Take the Money and Run is really just an excuse for gags, some of which would work better in a standup context. There’s no sense of the birth of a great filmmaker here, but there are more than enough laughs to make this a very enjoyable evening. Also part of the series Jokers Wild: American Comedy, 1960–1989.

A Sunset Boulevard, Castro, Sunday. Billy Wilder’s meditation on Hollywood’s  imageseedy 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. On a double bill with Picnic, which I saw long ago and liked pretty well.

A Fruitvale Station, San Jose Repertory Theatre, Saturday, 3:00. Includes a conversation with critic Kenneth Turan. The experience of watching this imageindependent feature is very much like waiting for a time bomb. You watch Oscar Grant (Michael B. Jordan) go through the last day of 2008, knowing that he will be fatally shot by a BART cop in the early hours of the new year. Writer/director Ryan Coogler wisely avoids turning Grant into a saint, but makes us care very much for him. The last moments of the film–not including some documentary footage and the closing credits–will break your heart. Read my longer report. Part of Cinequest.

A- Moonrise Kingdom, Roxie, Saturday, 2:15. Wes Anderson at his most playful. Also at his sweetest and funniest.imageTwo pre-teens in love run away–disrupting everything on the small New England island where the story is set. While the fantasy of young love makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, the adult reaction keeps you laughing–in large part because the main adults are played by major stars clearly enjoying a chance to clown around. They include Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Bruce Willis, and, best of all, Tilda Swinton as “Social Services." Part of the series Wes Anderson in 35mm.

A Boogle Nights, Castro, Wednesday. In Writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson’s epic story of the porn industry in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, we watch as cinema’s mostboogienights disreputable genre transitions from gutter chic to soulless video.This tale of pornographers with delusions of talent provides us with several heart-wrenching characters, from Mark Wahlberg’s nice, well-endowed, but not-too-bright young man to Julianne Moore’s porn queen/mother hen (an Oscar-nominated performance). The excellent cast also includes Heather Graham, Don Cheadle, Burt Reynolds, William H. Macy, and Philip Seymour Hoffman. On a double bill with Flawless (which I haven’t seen); the second in a series of Philip Seymour Hoffman double bills.

A- Teenage, California Theatre (San Jose), 7:00. Using a combination of archival footage and dramatic recreations, Matt Wolf’s documentary explores British, German,imageand American youth from 1904 through 1945. Through excerpts from diary entries, read by young actors, we get to know the the doughboys of World War I, the flaming youth of the 20s, sub debs, swingers, help cats, Hitler Youth, and Rosie the Riveters. Driven by Bradford Cox’s art-rock musical score, Teenage documents not facts but emotions, tracking the feelings of those stuck between childhood and adult responsibility as the world changed around them. Part of Cinequest.

B Nebraska, Castro, Monday. A good film, but not as good as I’ve learned to expect from Alexander Payne. Yes, Bruce Dern hits the nail on the head for his first lead role since Silent Running. And yes, the movie is filled image_thumb[3]with Payne’s trademark human touch and low-key humor. But this father/son road movie, with the father sinking into dementia as the son deals with his own emotional problems, could have lost 20 minutes and have been a better film for it. And the ending sinks too deeply into sentimentality. But the good moments, and there are plenty, make up for a lot of the weaknesses. On a double bill with Smile, which I haven’t seen in a very long time.

C+ Way Out West, Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum (although this is a talkie), Sunday, 4:00. Many fans count this western parody amongst Laurel and Hardy’s image best movies, but I’m not one of them. It has its funny moments, including a very famous dance routine, but in too many places  the film drags. Like so many of their features, it gets hung up in plot (a plot, by the way, which the Marx Brothers stole for their western parody, Go West). L&H were always at their best in plotless or near-plotless stories. On the other hand, the Museum will also screen "The Music Box,," a short subject that’s one of their best.

What’s Screening: February 28 – March 6

If you live in the South Bay, you won’t have to travel far for a festival. The San Jose-based Cinequest opens Tuesday.

UpOscars2014The Academy Awards, Balboa, Cerrito, Lark, New Parkway, Rafael, Roxie, Sunday (check theaters for show times). Yes, you can watch Hollywood’s annual ritual of patting itself on the back in the comfort of your own home. You can even ignore it entirely. Or you can go to a movie theater and enjoy the Oscars as a community ritual. But before you do, you should read about my past experiences watching them at the Rafael and the Cerrito. I haven’t decided if I’m going to any of them this year, although the Roxie’s benefit, "where the Little Guy strikes back by yelling stuff at the big screen," sounds interesting.

Too Much Johnson, Pacific Film Archive, Monday, 7:00. Did you know that Orson Welles made a silent feature three years before Citizen Kane? In 1938, while directing a revival of a 19th-century stage comedy, Welles decided to film silent sequences to be played before the acts. The result, which Welles never completed and which was lost for decades, has recently been restored. Introduced by Paolo Cherchi Usai, with Judith Rosenberg on piano.

A The Past, New Parkway, opens Saturday.This intimate family drama examines a married but long-separated couple. The man returns from far away to manage the divorce. He finds a dangerously dysfunctional family, with a selfish, manipulative, and possibly insane mother, a new boyfriend trying to be a father while trapped in a moral dilemma, and children in desperate need a sympathetic parental figure. The story moves quietly from one crisis to another, without ever feeling forced or melodramatic. Between this new film and A Separation (read my review), I’m ready to declare writer/director Asghar Farhadi our era’s Ozu.

A Dallas Buyers Club, Castro, Tuesday; also continuing at the New Parkway. Matthew McConaughey gives the performance of his career as the real-life Ron Woodroof, a Texas good-old-boy diagnosed with AIDS in 1985. He was image_thumb3supposed to die in 30 days, but he did some research, started smuggling pharmaceuticals not approved by the FDA, and kept himself and a whole lot of other people alive for a long time. Yes, this is very much a feel-good movie, but one that acknowledges an inevitable, early death. In the supporting cast, Jared Leto stands out as a dying transvestite. On a double bill at the Castro with Mud, which I haven’t seen.

A The Apartment, Pacific Film Archive, Saturday, 8:30. 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. Opening night for the series Jokers Wild: American Comedy, 1960–1989.

A+ Rear Window, various CineMark Theaters, Sunday and Wednesday. Alfred Hitchcock at his absolute best. James Stewart is riveting as a news photographer temporarily confined to his apartment and a wheelchair, amusing himself by spying on his neighbors (none of whom he knows) and guessing at the details of their lives. Then he begins to suspect that one of them committed murder. As he and his girlfriend (Grace Kelly) begin to 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 Philip Seymour Hoffman double bill: Capote & The Master, Castro, Wednesday. I can’t think of a historical figure more challenging imagefor an actor than Truman Capote–you can’t do that voice without sounding  like a broad comic parody. Yet Philip Seymour Hoffman makes it work as the film follows Capote’s trail through the research and writing of his last and most-praised book, In Cold Blood. Read my longer comments. In The Master, Hoffman plays a cult leader loosely based  on Scientology’s L. Ron Hubbard, as seen through the eyes of an alcoholic drifter (Joaquin Phoenix). For more on the film, see The Master, by a Master, in Masterly 70mm. This is the first of four Wednesday double bills honoring Hoffman.

A The Wolf of Wall Street, Castro, Monday.  In this based-on-a-true-story epic, his best filmimage since Goodfellas, Martin Scorsese takes us into a glamorous world and makes it look ugly and degenerate. Leonardo DiCaprio brings energy, charisma, recklessness, and charming evil to the lead role of a crooked stockbroker swimming in very profitable larceny. He’s also swimming in drugs and whores. Funny and grotesque, Wolf occasionally tricks you into rooting for DiCaprio’s Jordan Belfort, but not for long. Everything in this fast-paced, three-hour film just fits perfectly. People will talk about the Popeye sequence for years to come.

A-  Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Stanford, Saturday and Sunday. Corrupt political bosses appoint a naive, young idealist (James Stewart) senator because mr_smith_goes_to_washingtonthey think he’s stupid. They’re wrong. The second and best film in Frank Capra’s common-man trilogy, Mr. Smith creeks a bit with patriotic corniness, and seems almost as naive as its protagonist. But it has moments–Stewart’s speech about how “history is too important to be left in school books,” for instance–that can still bring a lump to the throat of any leftwing American patriot. And it’s just plain entertaining. On a double bill with American Madness, which I saw a very long time ago and liked pretty well.

A+ Casablanca, Cinemark Century 9, Tuesday, 7:30, free. What can I say? You’ve either alreadycasablanca seen it or 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. I don’t know if this multi-city TCM-sponsored presentation will be projected off of a DCP or broadcast via satellite. Hope for the superior image quality of DCP.

A- The Princess Bride, Clay, Friday, midnight. 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.

What’s Screening: February 21 – 27

No festivals running this week. But the CineMark chain is playing Best Picture nominees throughout the week, and I’ll list those at the bottom of this newsletter.

B+ The Strong Man, Balboa, Sunday, 7:00. Frank Capra’s first feature proves to be a marvelous vehicle for silent comedianimage Harry Langdon, who for a very brief time came close to toppling Chaplin off his throne. Langdon plays the assistant to a vaudevillian strong man, hoping to find his beautiful war-time pen pal. The ultimate innocent child-like man, Langdon has a shocking  sexual encounter (shocking to him, not to the audience), fights off a cold to the annoyance of everyone around him, and cleans up a small town at the mercy of bootleggers. Charming, extremely funny, and occasionally preachy, The Strong Man shows Capra’s already-considerable talents at the start of his career. This Balboa’s 88th Birthday Bash will also include performances by the Coffee Zombie Collective and Parlor Tricks, an introduction by Frank Capra biographer Joe McBride, and musical accompaniment (for the feature) by Fredrick Hodges. Fore more on this movie, see The Strong Man at the PFA.

A- Coen Brothers Double Bill: No Country for Old Men & A Serious Man, Castro, Wednesday. The A- goes to A Serious Man. Just when you think the Coen Brothers couldn’t get any stranger, they make this extremely depressing comedy about a middle-aged college professor watching his life fall apart in the days before his stoner son’s Bar Mitzvah. Set in 1967 and grounded in Jewish mysticism, this is a comic tale of utter desperation. I’d only give a B+ to the Coen’s Oscar winner, the extremely dark and depressing No Country for Old Men. While appreciating the film’s craftsmanship,  I found the never-ending stream of casual murders off-putting. Javier Bardem makes one very smart, very evil, and very scary villain. Read my full review.

A Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, New People Cinema, Sunday, 3:00. There’s so much historical importance bound up in this marital drama that you can easily overlook how image good it is. Told in almost real time, the picture examines a dysfunctional marriage in crisis, held together by mutual denial. This was the first big-screen adaptation of an Edward Albee play, director Mike Nichols’ first film (his second would be The Graduate), the only decent film to come out of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton’s marriage, and the first Hollywood film to come out with an age restriction—more than two years before the rating system was established. The film would probably be rated PG-13 today. Heavy and powerful.

C+ Dracula (1931), UA Berkeley, Thursday, 9:00. The film that started Universal’s famed horror series, and the first to star Bela Lugosi in the role that made him image famous, really doesn’t deserve its classic status. The picture suffers from stilted blocking and too much mediocre dialog–common faults in early talkies, especially those based on stage plays. But it has a few wonderful moments, most of which are wordless. On the other hand, Dracula may be the earliest film that a modern multiplex has screened on its weekly classic series.

C The ZigZag Kid, New Parkway, Sunday, 12:30. Days before his bar mitzvah, the son of a great detective and a long-imagedead mother finds himself on a journey of adventure and personal discovery. His main companion just might be a master criminal. The story is not quite rousing enough to be fine escapist entertainment, and only rarely thoughtful enough to be anything else. A few clever plot twists keep it from being entirely predictable. Innocuous, mildly charming, and modestly entertaining, The Zigzag Kid is safe for any child old enough to read subtitles. Co-presented by the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival

A 20 Feet from Stardom, Vogue, Friday and Saturday. Morgan Neville’s wonderful documentary covers the full history of rock and roll from the point of view of the women who stand behind the stars, adding vocalimage texture to the music. We meet the amazing Merry Clayton (“Rape! Murder! It’s just a shot away!”), relative newcomer Judith Hill, and Darlene Love–who actually did quite a bit of lead singing without credit (“He’s a Rebel”). Big name stars (Springsteen, Jagger) pop up among the talking heads (as do The Talking Heads), but this time, the spotlight points to the lesser-known artists who made it all work. And for once, we get a musical documentary that’s filled with music–and joy, laughter, and inspiration. A celebration of the human voice. Part of a series on Oscar-nominated documentaries.

A Sing-Along Mary Poppins, Castro, Saturday and Sunday. I have not seen the Sing-Along Mary Poppins; the following comments are about the shut-up-and-marypoppinswatch version. The best live-action movie Walt Disney ever made, and one of the great all-time children’s pictures. Julie Andrews may have won the Oscar through a sympathy vote, but she really lights up the screen in her first movie appearance, managing to upstage Dick Van Dyke and some wonderful special effects. So what if it takes liberties with the books?

A- On the Waterfront, various CineMark Theaters, Sunday, 2:00; Wednesday, 2:00 & 7:00. A thug-run union and conflicted loyalties drive this revered drama, shot on location in New York. Even amongst a brilliant cast with everyone at their best,image Marlon Brando stands out as a half-bright dock worker struggling between conflicting loyalties to his family and society as a whole. Yet the story takes a turn that removes that inner conflict a little too easily. And then there’s the issue of the film’s political and autobiographical context. Both writer Budd Schulberg and director Elia Kazan named names to get off the anti-Communist blacklist, after which they made this film to justify their acts of cowardice. For more on this film, see Finishing up the PFA’s 4K Series.

A+ Some Like It Hot, Pacific Film Archive, Saturday, 6:00. The urge to sleep with Marilyn Monroe comes head to head with the urge to keep breathing in Billy Wilder’s comic masterpiece. After witnessing a prohibition-era gangland massacre, two struggling musicians (Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon) hide from the mob by dressing in drag and joining an all-girl orchestra. But can they stay away from Ms. Monroe and her ukulele? There are comedies with higher laugh-to-minute ratios, and others that have more to say about the human condition. But you won’t find a better example of perfect comic construction, brilliantly funny dialog, and spot-on timing. Read my Blu-ray review.

B Border Incident, Pacific Film Archive, Friday, 8:40. Nothing provides perspective like a 65-year-old film about one of today’s most controversial subjects. This 1949 thriller about illegal immigration gives a Mexican detective hero played by a real Mexican (Ricardo Montalban) –a rarity in those days. The immigrants are treated sympathetically as exploited victims of the evil smugglers and plantation owners.  Border Incident is a well-made thriller providing suspense, entertaining if not realistic characters, a modicum of humor, and the most ridiculously unbelievable quicksand I have ever seen in a movie. Part of the series Against the Law: The Crime Films of Anthony Mann. For more on this film, see Crime on both sides of the border: Saturday at Noir City

A- The Princess Bride, New Parkway, continuing. 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.

CineMark Oscar Movie Week

To see what theaters a particular movie is playing in, click the movie title link and enter your zip code.

A 12 Years a Slave, Saturday, 7:00, Wednesday, 9:30. True story: In 1841, con artists kidnapped Solomon Northup–a free-born African American living imagein upstate New York–and sold him into slavery down south. This film, based on Northup’s memoirs, shows us the horrors of slavery through the eyes of an educated man turned into a beast of burden. Chiwetel Ejiofor gives an Oscar-worthy performance as Northup, horrified, trapped, and mostly helpless. Beautiful yet daring photography, combined with minimalist editing, intensify the horrors. Easily the best new film I saw last year. Read my full review.

A The Wolf of Wall Street, Friday, 9:20, Monday, 9:45. Back in September, I suggested that Martin Scorsese could have done The Great Gatsby justice. Now I know for sure. In this based-on-a-true-story epic, his best filmimage since Goodfellas,he takes us into a glamorous world and makes it look ugly and degenerate. Leonardo DiCaprio brings energy, charisma, recklessness, and charming evil to the lead role of a crooked stockbroker swimming in very profitable larceny. He’s also swimming in drugs and whores. Funny and grotesque, Wolf occasionally tricks you into rooting for DiCaprio’s Jordan Belfort, but not for long. Everything in this fast-paced, three-hour film just fits perfectly. People will talk about the Popeye sequence for years to come.

A- Gravity, Friday, 7:00. Thursday, 4:30. Presented in 3D. In 1968, 2001: A Space Odyssey made me want to be an astronaut. In 2013, Gravity cleared any such desire that still lingered. Easily the most imagetechnically realistic view of space travel ever created on Earth, Gravity not only makes you feel like you’re there; it makes you desperately want to return home. An environment with no air, no up or down, and nothing to stop you from drifting is not a nice place to raise your kids. Yes, the story is simplistic and not always realistic (just how close are all those space stations?), but it’s suspenseful, and far more believable than any other recent special effects blockbuster.

B Nebraska, Saturday, 1:15, Monday, 7:00, A good film, but not as good as I’ve learned to expect from Alexander Payne. Yes, Bruce Dern hits the nail on the head for his first lead role since Silent Running. And yes, the movie is filled image_thumb[3]with Payne’s trademark human touch and low-key humor. But this father/son road movie, with the father sinking into dementia as the son deals with his own emotional problems, could have lost 20 minutes and have been a better film for it. And the ending sinks too deeply into sentimentality. But the good moments, and there are plenty, make up for a lot of the weaknesses.

What’s Screening: February 14 – 20

Both SF IndieFest and the Mostly British Film Festival continue through the rest of this week. In the newly-dead movie star department, the New Parkway will run several Seymour Hoffman films this week, while the Stanford will screen Shirley Temple marathons Saturday and Sunday.

And I have added another theater to the Bayflicks family, the Magick Lantern in Pt. Richmond.

A My Favorite Year, Vogue, Sunday, 12:00 noon. The Alan Errol Flynn-like Alan Swann couldn’t have been much of a stretch for Peter O’Toole, yet this gem contains  what is probably his best comic performance. Set in the world of live TV in 1954, it imageprovides an exhilarating story and a steady stream of belly laughs. O’Toole’s Swann is an egotistical, alcoholic, has-been matinee idol doing a guest stint on a variety comedy show. Mark Linn-Baker is the young writer assigned to keep him sober and out of trouble. Everything comes together in one of the most absurd, unbelievable, yet totally satisfying climaxes ever filmed. This American comedy is part of the Mostly British Film Festival.

A Capote, New Parkway, Sunday, 5:35 . I can’t think of a historical figure more challenging for an actor than Truman Capote–you can’t do that voice without sounding  like a broad comic parody. Yet Philip Seymour Hoffman makes it work in imagean Oscar- winning performance. The story sticks to the years that Capote researched and wrote his last and most-praised book, In Cold Blood. Hoffman creates a witty and self-centered Capote, utterly unable to handle his mixed feelings about a cold-blooded killer, or the sudden literary success of his research assistant, To Kill a Mockingbird author Harper Lee (Catherine Keener). Read my longer comments. Part of the New Parkway’s Philip Seymour Hoffman Tribute.

A Double Bill: Baraka & Samsara, Castro, Sunday. Here, for one ticket, you can see both of Ron Fricke’s amazing large-screen meditations. Both work without plot, narration, or explanation; they simply present images of nature, humanity, and spirituality. Even if you don’t see a message, you’re captivated by the music and the clear and perfect visuals. Both films were shot in 65mm, with a frame nearly three times that of standard 35mm. The Castro will screen them in 2K DCP; acceptable, but 4K would have been better. See my full review of Samsara, as well as More on Samsara, 70mm, and 4K Digital Projection.

A- On the Waterfront, Castro, Thursday. A thug-run union and conflicted loyalties drive this revered drama, shot on location in New York. Even amongst a brilliant cast with everyone at their best, imageMarlon Brando stands out as a half-bright dock worker struggling between loyalty to family and to society as a whole. Yet the story takes a turn that removes that inner conflict a little too easily. And then there’s the issue of the film’s political and autobiographical context. Both writer Budd Schulberg and director Elia Kazan named names to get off the anti-Communist blacklist, after which they made this film to justify their acts of cowardice. On a double bill with The Night of the Following Day, which I haven’t seen.

A- Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Stanford, Friday. Corrupt political bosses appoint a naive, young idealist (James Stewart) senator because mr_smith_goes_to_washingtonthey think he’s stupid. Their wrong. The second and best film in Frank Capra’s common-man trilogy, Mr. Smith creeks a bit with patriotic corniness today, and seems almost as naive as its protagonist. But it has moments–Stewart’s speech about how “history is too important to be left in school books,” for instance–that can still bring a lump to the throat of any leftwing American patriot. And it’s just plain entertaining.

B- Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Pacific Film Archive, Friday, 7:00. Howard Hawks’  musical battle of the imagesexes contains a handful of wonderful dance numbers and some good comic moments, but there are too many weak scenes to wholeheartedly recommend it. The real surprise is in the leading ladies. Gentlemen helped turn Marilyn Monroe into a star, but co-star Jane Russell blows her out of the water, giving a far funnier and sexier performance. Part of the series Funny Ha-Ha: American Comedy, 1930–1959.

A+ Citizen Kane, Pacific Film Archive, Wednesday, 3:10. How does any movie survive a half-century reputation as the Greatest Film Ever Made? By being really, really good. image True, there are films more insightful about the human condition, pictures more dazzling in their technique, and movies more fun. But I’d be hard pressed to name any this insightful that are also this dazzling and fun. As they tell the life story of a newspaper tycoon through the flashback memories of those who knew him, Orson Welles and his collaborators turned the techniques of cinema inside out. Now I’ll tell you what Rosebud really is: a McGuffin. Part of the series and class Film 50: History of Cinema.

A- The Princess Bride, New Parkway, Friday, 6:15 & 9:15, Saturday, 10:10, Tuesday, 9:30. William Goldman’s enchanting andimage funny fairy tale, The Princess Bride,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. The 6:15 screening is a  Valentine’s Day Dinner and Movie.

Harold and Maude, Clay, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, midnight. After imageWoodstock, this comedy about a young man and a much older woman is the ultimate cinematic statement of the hippie generation. At least that’s how I remember it. I loved it passionately in the 1970s. But I haven’t seen it in a long time and I’m not sure how well it’s aged.

A+ Casablanca, New Parkway, Friday, 5:45. What can I say? You’ve either already casablancaseen it or 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 Valentine’s Day Dinner and Movie.

B The Hunger Games, Castro, Monday. It’s a gladiator movie, of course. Sure, it’s all dressed up in science fiction hardware and leftwing economic attitudes, but it’s still at heart a gladiator movie. In a dystopian future, 24 mostly unwilling teenagers are placed in a forest filled with hidden TV cameras and forced to fight to the death for the entertainment of the crowd–mostly the upper class. The result is pretty good for a modern Hollywood blockbuster. For more on this, see On the Moral Dilemma of Gladiator Movies. On a double bill with the sequel, The Humber Games: Catching Fire; I haven’t seen that one.

C+ Good Ol’ Freda, Vogue, Saturday, 2:00. How much more is there to say about The Beatles? Not much, apparently. This documentary focuses on the young woman who became their secretary soon imageafter Brian Epstein signed them, and stayed with them in that capacity until they broke up. She sheds some light on the early days, as the band quickly moved from a local phenomenon with a small following to the biggest stars of all time. But once they achieve major fame, she has little to say that you probably haven’t heard before. Most of all, she talks about how she’s always refused to talk about The Beatles. She comes off as extremely principled but not particularly interesting. Good music, though. Another part of the Mostly British Film Festival.

Mystery Science Theater 3000, New Parkway, Friday, 10:00. 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- Teenage, New Parkway,  Thursday,  7:00. Using a combination of archival footage and dramatic recreations, Matt Wolf’s documentary explores British, German,imageand American youth from 1904 through 1945. Through excerpts from diary entries, read by young actors, we get to know the youngsters who fought two world wars, the flaming youth of the 20s, sub debs, swingers, help cats, Hitler Youth, and Rosie the Riveters. Driven by Bradford Cox’s art-rock musical score, Teenage documents not facts but emotions, tracking the feelings of those stuck between childhood and adult responsibility. Part of SF IndieFest.

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