What’s Screening: December 12 – 18

Only one festival, Another Hole in the Head, runs this week. It closes Monday.

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

Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Castro, Friday. It’s been a very long time since I’ve seen this 1988 comic fantasy about animated characters and flesh-and-blood people living imageside by side in late 1940’s Hollywood. I remember it being funny, outrageous, and delightful for anyone who loves old cartoons. The special effects were cutting edge for their day, but still based on pencil, ink, and an optical printer. Today, of course, they’d be digital, and would lose a lot of their old-time charm. On a double bill with Ed Wood, which I also haven’t seen in a long time but didn’t care for when I saw it.

A- Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, Rafael, Sunday. New digital restoration. 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. Besides, it’s just plain entertaining.

B Fantastic Mr. Fox, Castro, Sunday, 1:00. There’s a cartoon-like quality to a lot of Wes Anderson’s work, so it isn’t surprising that imagehe would eventually make a real cartoon. Based on a story by Roald Dahl, Fantastic follows the adventures of a very sophisticated but not altogether competent fox (voiced by George Clooney) as he tries to outwit a farmer and keep his marriage together. Children and adults will find different reasons to enjoy this frantically-paced comic adventure.

A Nosferatu, New People Cinema, Saturday, 9:00. You best forget about sexy vampires before you go see the first  film version of Dracula (an unauthorized version that got the filmmakers sued by Bram Stoker’s imagewidow). Max Schreck plays Count Orlok (the name change didn’t fool the court) as a reptilian predator in vaguely human form. This isn’t the scariest monster movie ever made, but it’s probably the creepiest. Not to be confused with Werner Herzog’s 1979 remake. With live musical accompaniment by DJ Tasho Nicolopulos, using only horror movie soundtrack vinyl records. Part of Another Hole in the Head.

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

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

Found Footage Festival, Roxie, Friday, 9:30. The world is full of unwanted VHS cassettes, which is a good thing forimage Nick Prueher and Joe Pickett. They mine comic gold from the unwanted dregs of the video universe. I haven’t seen their seventh installment, but it promises to include “A new exercise video montage featuring a Christmas-themed workout, a martial arts fitness regimen called ‘Tiger Moves,’ and a tape called ‘Butt Camp’.” Read my report on their sixth installment. .

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: December 5 – 11

If the lack of film festivals this time of year scares you, we’ve got a festival that will scare you even more. Another Hole in the Head opens tonight (Friday) and runs through this week and beyond.

A Wild, Kabuki, California, Guild, opens Friday. Judging from this adaptation of her memoirs, Cheryl Strayed led a pretty wild life before she walked into the real wild and got herself together. This film adaptation of Strayed’s memoir follows her as she imagehikes the Pacific Crest Trail and learns how to be a fully in-the-moment adult human being. She learns self-reliance and makes friends, and becomes physically stronger, but she also runs out of water, gets lost in the snow, and faces the very real possibility of rape. Interspersed with the hike, flashbacks show us what sort of person she was before the difficult and dangerous three-month voyage. We learn about her struggling but loving mother who died too soon, and the self-destructive streak that destroyed Cheryl’s marriage. Read my full review.

Found Footage Festival, New Parkway, Wednesday, 9:15; Roxie, Thursday and next Friday, 9:30. The world is full of unwanted VHS cassettes, which is a good thing for imageNick Prueher and Joe Pickett. They mine comic gold from the unwanted dregs of the video universe. I haven’t seen their seventh installment, but it promises to include "A new exercise video montage featuring a Christmas-themed workout, a martial arts fitness regimen called ‘Tiger Moves,’ and a tape called ‘Butt Camp’." Read my report on their sixth installment. .

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

A+ Brazil, New Parkway, Thursday, 9:30. One of the best black comedies ever  filmed, and the best dystopian fantasy on celluloid. In a bizarre, repressive, anally brazilbureaucratic, andthoroughly dysfunctional society, one government worker (Jonathan Pryce) tries to escape into his own romantically heroic imagination. But when he finds a real woman who looks like the girl of his dreams (Kim Greist), everything starts to fall apart. With Robert De Niro as a heroic plumber. This is the second and best of Gilliam’s three great fantasies of the 1980’s, and the only one clearly intended for adults. Read my Blu-ray review.

A A Hard Day’s Night, New Parkway, Sunday, 9:00. When United Artists agreed to finance a movie around a suddenly popular British rock group, they wanted something fast and cheap. After all, the band’s popularity was limited to England and imageGermany, and could likely die before the film got into theaters. We all know now that UA had nothing to worry about. The Beatles are still popular all over the world. What’s more, Richard Lester’s A Hard Day’s Night still burns with outrageous camerawork and editing, subversive humor, and a sense of joy in life and especially in rock and roll.

A Boyhood, Castro, Thursday. 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 Spirited Away, New Parkway, Saturday, 2:25, Wednesday, 6:15. Hayao Miyazaki’s masterpiece is a beautiful, complex, and occasionally scary tale of a young girl cast into a strange and magical world. The intriguing and imaginative creatures, not to mention the moral dilemmas, are beyond anything that Dorothy ever had to deal with in Oz.. A truly amazing work of animation. I don’t know whether the film will be presented in the original Japanese with subtitles, or if it will be the English dubbed version.

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

What’s Screening: November 28 – December 4

No festivals this week. But we do have some movies.

B+ The Cranes Are Flying, Pacific Film Archive, Friday, 5:30. War has a nasty way to interfering with true love. This sweet Russian story of young lovers separated by The imageGreat Patriotic War (AKA World War II) never comes off as Soviet propaganda (it was made during Khrushchev’s “thaw”), but as a clear-eyed look at the realities of romance in difficult times. This was one of the first post-Stalin Soviet films to get wide play in the West, where it helped remind at least some moviegoers that the Cold War enemies were just human beings. Part of the PFA’s series, Discovering Georgian Cinema.

B+ Holiday double bill: Christmas in July & Holiday Inn, Stanford, Saturday and Sunday. “If you can’t sleep at night, it’s not the coffee, it’s the bunk.” The B+ goes to Preston Sturges’ Christmas in July, a Christmas in Julycharming yet bitter comedy about the American Dream. Dick Powell stars as a lowly clerk who thinks he has the makings of a brilliant adman. Curiously, Sturges appears to have borrowed some plot points and themes from King Vidor’s very serious masterpiece, The Crowd. On its own, the musical Holiday Inn earns only a C for putting the talents of Fred Astaire, Bing Crosby, and Irving Berlin to only modest use. It has one song that became a standard ("White Christmas"), and a very racist tribute to Abraham Lincoln.

A- A Christmas Story, Alameda, Tuesday and Wednesday. Sweet, sentimental Christmas movies–at least those not authored by Charles Dickens or Frank Capra–make me want to throw up. But writer Jean Shepherd’s look back at the Indiana Christmases of his youth comes with enough laughs and cynicism to make the nostalgia go down easy. A holiday gem for people who love, or hate, the holidays.

B- The Lost World, Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, Saturday, 7:30. Even though it’s over 85 years old, Hollywood’s first big man vs. dinosaur epic isn’t that different from today’s blockbusters. Like them, it uses amazing special effects to prop up what’s otherwise an extremely silly movie. Of course, the silliness is of the 1920s variety–overacting and fake-looking facial hair, and the FX are technically crude by today’s standards. But model animator Willis O’Brien (who would make King King eight years later) infused his dinosaurs with weight and thought, which sells them to the viewer. With Frederick Hodges on the piano. See my earlier report on The Lost World & Dengue Fever.

A Fruitvale Station, New Parkway, Friday, 9:10. Free. The experience of seeing 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.

A Spirited Away, New Parkway, Thursday, 9:30. Hayao Miyazaki’s masterpiece is a beautiful, complex, and occasionally scary tale of a young girl cast into a strange and magical world. The intriguing and imaginative creatures, not to mention the moral dilemmas, are beyond anything that Dorothy ever had to deal with in Oz.. A truly amazing work of animation. I don’t know whether the film will be presented in the original Japanese with subtitles, or if it will be the English dubbed version.

Harold and Maude, Balboa, Tuesday, 7:30. 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.

C Sound of Music, Lark, Friday and Sunday, 1:00; Castro, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Tuesday. Many people love it, but I find the biggest money maker of the 1960s lumbering, slow, and dull. Not funny or romantic enough to be light entertainment, yet lacking the substance to be anything else. And most of the songs give the impression that, by their last collaboration, Roger and Hammerstein had run out of steam. On the other hand, the Todd-AO photography of Alpine landscapes makes this one of the most visually beautiful of Hollywood movies–in a picture postcard kind of way. The Castro presentation will be the Sing-Along version, which I have never seen.

What’s Screening: November 21 – 27

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s Screening: November 14 – 20

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

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

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

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

A Metropolis, Castro, Saturday. The first important science fiction feature film still strikes a considerable visual punch,and with the latest restoration, tells a compelling story, as well. The images–workers in a hellish underground factory, the wealthy at play, a robot brought to life in the form of a beautiful woman–are a permanent part of our collective memory. Even people who haven’t seen Metropolis know them through the countless films it has influenced. Recently-discovered footage, which restores it to something very much like the original cut, elevates the story of a clash between workers and aristocrats from trite melodrama to grand opera. Read my longer report and my Blu-ray review. With the recorded score rather than live accompaniment.. On a double bill with the newly-restored Robocop, which I haven’t seen in a long time but remember liking.

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

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

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

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

What’s Screening: November 7 – 13

Quite a few festivals this week:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s Screening: October 31 – November 6

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

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

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

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

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

A+ Lawrence of Arabia, Alameda, Tuesday and Wednesday. Lawrence isn’t just the best big historical epic of the 70mm roadshow era, it’s one of the greatest films ever made. Stunning to look at and terrific as pure spectacle, it’s also an intelligent study of a fascinatingly complex and enigmatic war hero. T. E. Lawrence—at least in this film—both loved and hated violence, and tried liberating Arabia by turning it over to the British. No, that’s not a flaw in the script, but in his character. This masterpiece requires a very large screen and excellent projection–either 70mm or 4K DCP–to do it full justice. I do not know how the Alameda will project Lawrence or on what size screen. For more on this epic, read The Digital Lawrence of Arabia Experience and Thoughts on Lawrence of Arabia.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alfred Hitchcock Marathon at the Balboa Saturday

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

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

B Rope, 1:00. Not Alfred Hitchcock’s worst film, but easily his most frustrating, in large part because Hitchcock was working from a terrific screenplay (by Arthur Laurents, adapted by Hume imageCronyn from a play by Patrick Hamilton). Two young men, clearly homosexual (although that couldn’t be stated in those days), kill an acquaintance for thrills, then throw a party with the body hidden in a chest. Unfortunately, Hitchcock made two big errors. First, he cast James Stewart in a role that in 1948 was still outside his acting range (it wouldn’t be for long). Second, he made the movie in eight ten-minute shots that give the impression of a single 80-minute take (which wasn’t technically possible back then). That later decision robbed him of the ability to edit, and Hitchcock without editing is handicapped Hitchcock.

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

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