What’s Screening: January 23 – 29

We’ve got film festivals:

And we’ve got movies:

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

Excelsior Moveable Movie Palace, Comedy Cookie Jar #1, Art House Gallery in Berkeley, Sunday, 7:30. Excelsior does more than just present silent films. It also attempts to take you back to the days when these moves were new. In their first public presentation, they’ll screen six short comedies that might have been shown in 1929 (although the earliest was actually released in 1923). The stars of the movies include Laurel & Hardy, Charlie Chase, Harry Langdon, and Rudolph Valentino. Yes, I said Rudolph Valentino. Ellen Hoffman will accompany everything on piano. See my article.

Shouting at the Screen with Wyatt Cenac and Donwill with "That Man Bolt", Roxie, imageFriday, 11:00pm. This sounds like something fun for Mystery Science Theater 3000 fans. Rapper Donwill and Daily Show veteran Wyatt Cenac with crack wise at a screening of a largely-forgotten 1973 blaxploitation flick called That Man Bolt. If it wasn’t so late in the evening, I’d probably be there. Part of SF Sketchfest.

B How the West Was Won, various CineMark Theaters, Sunday (matinee only) and Wednesday. Cinerama, a three-lens, three-strip process that projected a huge image onto a deeply-curved screen, was the Imax of the 1950s. Although deeply flawed, its imageimmersive effect was greater than Imax’s. The last and best three-strip Cinerama film tells a multigenerational story that’s simple, hokey fun (and even simpler history). But the real pleasure is in the spectacle, whether it’s a buffalo stampede, a train wreck, or a tracking shot through an old river town. I don’t know if the movie will be screened locally on one of CineMark’s XD screens, but if it is, it will be well worth catching. Otherwise, not so much. I discussed the film in this PC World slideshow.

A Fort Apache, Alameda, Tuesday and Wednesday. Even though it’s told entirely from the white man’s point of view, the first and best film in John Ford’s cavalry trilogy leaves no doubt who the victims were in the western conquest. Very loosely inspired by the Battle of Little Bighorn, it tells the story of a regiment doomed by an incompetent and bigoted commanding officer (Henry Fonda In one of his few unsympathetic parts). This arrogant, by-the-book colonel’s contempt for the Apaches leads to war, and then to disaster. (He doesn’t like the Irish–Ford’s own ethnic group–much, either)., John Wayne plays the open-minded man of reason. Co-starring Monument Valley.

A Alfred Hitchcock double bill: Shadow of a Doubt & Under Capricorn, Stanford, Thursday through next Sunday. The A goes to Hitchcock’s first great American film, Shadow of a Doubt. A serial killer (Joseph Cotton at his most charming) returns to his small-town roots. When his favorite niece (Teresa Wright) begins to suspect that all is not right with her beloved Uncle Charlie, her own life is in danger. Under Capricorn is a reasonably entertaining but unexceptional romantic melodrama set in 19th century Australia. Hitchcock didn’t make many period pieces, and this one shows you why. On its own, I’d give it a B-.

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

A- Battleship Potemkin, Pacific Film Archive, Wednesday, 3:10. Make no mistake; this ground-breaking movie is brilliant but simplistic Communist propaganda. The workers and sailors are all good comrades working together for a better world. The officers, aristocrats, and Cossacks are vile filth who deserve to die. A couple of them are so evil they actually twirl their mustaches. And yet, the story of mutiny, celebration, attack, and escape stirs your blood. And it does this primarily through editing techniques that were revolutionary in 1925 and still impressive today. More than 85 years after it was shot, the Odessa Steps massacre is still one of the greatest, if not the greatest, action sequence ever edited. Read my essay. Accompanied by Judith Rosenberg on piano. Part of the series and college class, Film 50: History of Cinema.

B+ This is Spinal Tap, New Parkway, Friday, 10:30. The mockumentary to end all rockumentaries. Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, imageand Harry Shearer play the subject of this fake documentary–an English heavy metal band of questionable talent on a disastrous American tour. Director Rob Reiner plays, appropriately enough, the documentary’s director. Uneven, but often brilliantly hilarious, although you need a good grounding in rock music and concert movies to get most of the jokes. On a scale of one to ten, the best scenes rate an eleven.

C+ Interstellar, New Parkway, opens Friday. Christopher Nolan’s space epic tries hard to be another 2001: A Space Odyssey–plot points, individual shots, and at least one character imagecomes straight from Kubrick’s work. But whereas Kubrick explained very little, Nolan fills his picture with badly-written expository dialog. And yet, the movie still confuses audiences. And when it’s not confusing, it’s often dumb. On the other hand, it’s visually stunning, and deserves to be seen on the biggest screen available. It’s often exciting and suspenseful. And for most of its runtime, it carries a strong sense of doom for both the main characters and the human race as a whole.

C But I’m A Cheerleader, Castro, Tuesday, 7:30. This very broad satire of homophobia and gayimage conversion therapy has its heart in the right place, but heavy-handed direction ensures that more jokes miss than hit the funny bone. Even the usually hilarious Cathy Moriarty can seldom provoke laughter here. And when the heroine finally gets a chance to use her cheerleading skills, it’s obvious that star Natasha Lyonne didn’t train enough for the part. Lyonne will be in attendance for the screening, which SF Sketchfest is presenting as a Peaches Christ Experience.

C- Gone with the Wind, Balboa, Thursday, 7:30. 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 Gone with the Wind goes beyond that, basing its entire story on the assumption that white masters and black slaves are just 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. Even if you like GWTW, it’s a very long movie to start at 7:30 on a weeknight.

B+ Alfred Hitchcock double bill: Dial M for Murder & Young and Innocent,Stanford, through Sunday. The B+ goes to Dial M for Murder. Despite the gimmick of 3D, this imageadaptation of a Broadway play feels stagy. But it was a good play, and Hitchcock handled it well.  For more on the film, see Rethinking Dial M for Murder. The Stanford will not be screening the movie in 3D. Alfred Hitchcock made Young and Innocent just before The Lady Vanishes, but aside from one great tracking shot, it feels like the new Master of Suspense was just going through the motions.

What’s Screening: January 16 – 22

The holiday season film festival drought is officially over.

C Appropriate Behavior, , Roxie, opens Friday. There’s nothing really wrong with Desiree Akhavan’s tale about a twenty-something, bisexual, Iranian immigrant trying to find her place–professionally but mostly romantically and sexually–in Brooklyn. Butimage there’s nothing really right about it, either. As played by Akhavan herself, Shirin comes off as a self-centered, alcoholic brat. She mopes. She doesn’t give anyone a straight answer. She goes to bars, drinks heavily, and sleeps around. Then she blows her top when she catches Maxine kissing a man. The other characters seem to exist only for Shirin’s benefit. Allegedly a comedy, it made me chuckle a few times. Read my full review.

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

A All About Eve, various CineMark Theaters, Sunday (matinee only) and Wednesday. Here’s your chance to explore imagethe sordid ambition behind Broadway’s (and by implication, Hollywood’s) glamour. Anne Baxter plays the title character, an apparently sweet and innocent actress whom aging diva Bette Davis takes under her wing. But Eve isn’t anywhere near as innocent as she appears. Fasten your seatbelts; it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

A Babe, New Parkway, Friday through Monday, matinees only. At least among narrative features, Babe is easily the greatest work of imagevegetarian propaganda in the history of cinema. It’s also a sweet, funny, and charming fairy tale about a pig who wants to become a sheep dog. This Australian import helped audiences and critics recognize and appreciate character actor James Cromwell, and technically broke considerable ground in the category of live-action talking-animal movies. Warning: If you take your young children to this G-rated movie, you may have trouble getting them to eat bacon.

A+ Alfred Hitchcock double bill: To Catch a Thief & Notorious, Stanford, Friday through Sunday. The A+ goes to Notorious, where a scandal-ridden Ingrid Bergman Notoriousproves her patriotism by seducing, bedding, and marrying Claude Rains’ Nazi industrialist while true love Cary Grant grimly watches. Grant’s secret agent sends her on this deadly and humiliating mission, then reacts with blind jealousy. Sexy, romantic, thought-provoking, and scary enough to shorten your fingernails. I discuss the film more deeply in my Blu-ray ReviewTo Catch a Thief, on the other hand, is more like a vacation on the Riviera than the tight and scary thriller from the master of suspense. But it provides a few good scenes. After all, 106 minutes of Cary Grant and Grace Kelly in Monaco,  photographed in the beauty of VistaVision, can’t be all bad.

A Double Indemnity, Pacific Film Archive, Saturday, 8:30. Rich but unhappy (and evil) housewife Barbara Stanwyck leads insurance salesman Fred MacMurray by the nose from adultery to murder in Billy Wilder’s near-perfect imagethriller. Not that she has any trouble leading him (this is not the wholesome MacMurray we remember from My Three Sons).  Edward G. Robinson is in fine form as the co-worker and close friend that MacMurray must deceive. A good, gritty thriller about sex (or the code-era equivalent) and betrayal, Double Indemnity can reasonably be called the first true film noir. Too bad the movie, part of the PFA series Ready for His Close-Up: The Films of Billy Wilder, is conflicting with Noir City.

B+ The Thin Man, Castro, Monday, 7:00; Balboa, Thursday, 7:30. . Here we have a murder mystery, a screwball comedy, imagea wallow in classic MGM glamour, and a 93-minute commercial for alcohol as the secret to a happy marriage. Also the start of a very long franchise. William Powell and Myrna Loy make great chemistry as Nick and Nora Charles, the rich, drunk-and-in-love couple with a little murder to clear up. The mystery and the comedy never quite jell, but it’s so fun to watch Powell and Loy together that you really don’t care. The Castro screening–a double bill with the first of many sequels, After the Thin Man–is part of Noir City.

B+ Sherlock Jr., Pacific Film Archive, Wednesday, 3:10. There’s nothing new about special effects. Buster Keaton used them extensively, in part to comment on the nature of film itself, in this story of a projectionist who dreams he’s a great detective.The sequence where he enters the movie screen and finds the scenes changing around him would be impressive if it were made today; for 1924, when the effects had to be done in the camera, it’s mind-boggling. Since it’s Keaton, Sherlock Jr. is also filled with impressive stunts and very funny gags. This is an extremely short “feature,” running only about 45 minutes (depending on the projection speed). As part of the PFA’s ongoing series and class, Film 50: History of Cinema, the presentation will include a lecture by Emily Carpenter and musical accompaniment by Judith Rosenberg.

B+ Alfred Hitchcock double bill: Dial M for Murder & Young and Innocent, Stanford, Thursday through next Sunday.  The B+ goes to imageDial M for Murder. Despite the gimmick of 3D, this adaptation of a Broadway play feels stagy. But it was a good play, and Hitchcock handled it well.  For more on the film, see Rethinking Dial M for Murder. The Stanford will not be screening the movie in 3D. Alfred Hitchcock made Young and Innocent just before The Lady Vanishes, but aside from one great tracking shot, it feels like the new Master of Suspense was just going through the motions.

C+ Suspicion, Castro, Saturday, 1:30. If there ever was an Alfred Hitchcock film ruined by the studio, it was his imagethird American movie, Suspicion. And the sad part is that it could have been one of his best. Joan Fontaine stars as a young bride who begins to suspect that her new husband, Cary Grant, just may be a serial killer, and that she’s in line to be his next victim. Alas, the powers that be felt that Hitchcock’s original ending was a little too much of a downer, and not sufficiently positive about the sanctuary of marriage. The result is a thriller that falls apart so badly at the end that it negates everything that came before. On a double bill with something called The Bigamist. Part of Noir City.

A- Birdman, Lark, 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.

A- Force Majeure, Lark, Thursday, 2:00. The carefully controlled, not-quite-natural outdoor experience of a fancy ski resort becomes a metaphor for the veneerof a troubled marriage in this imageSwedish 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 loses 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.

A Boyhood, Rafael, Opera Plaza, limited run starts Friday. The best new film I saw in 2014. Fifty years from now, people will still watch Richard Linklater’s intimate epic. Shot off and on over a period of 12 years, Boyhood imageallows us to watch young Mason and his family grow up and older. It isn’t an easy childhood. His parents are divorced, neither of them 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.

What’s Screening: January 9 – 15

Still no film festivals, but that will change next week.

B+ Agnes Varda: From Here To There, Roxie, Friday through Sunday. The concept is simple: Legendary filmmaker Agnès Varda travels the world, visiting old friends imageand making new ones. But this is more than just a five-part, 225-minute home movie. The friends she visits are brilliant artists, and she introduces us to them and their work. And all the while, her impish curiosity and joyful personality shine through. The Roxie will screen different episodes at different times; check the schedule to see how you can see all of them.

A Timbuktu, Rafael, Sunday, 1:00. An armed group of Muslim fanatics have taken over the fabled city and the nearby countryside, banning music, smoking, soccer, and almost everything imageelse. The new rulers at first seem calm and friendly, and reluctant to actually enforce all of these rules. But as the film progresses, the fanatics become less of a joke and more of a mortal threat. Meanwhile, cow herder and loving family man Kidane must face the consequences of his own acts, made worse by the pitiless people running the new government. A beautiful, atmospheric look at a town newly captured by totalitarianism. Part of the series For Your Consideration.

A Sunset Blvd., Pacific Film Archive, Thursday, 7:30. Billy Wilder’s meditation on Hollywood’s  seedy underbelly is the flip side of Singin’ in the Rain (now that would imagemake 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. This is both the PFA’s first screening of 2015, and the opening for the archive’s new series, Ready for His Close-Up: The Films of Billy Wilder.

A+ Rear Window, Castro, Saturday. 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. On a double bill with Road Games.

A- Force Majeure, Lark, Sunday, 5:50; Tuesday, 1:00; Wednesday, 12:30. 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.

A- Two Days, One Night, Rafael, Friday, 7:30. The boss gives his employees a choice: Either Sandra (Marion Cotillard) keeps her job, or everyone else receives a large bonus. Over the weekend, Sandra must visit 16 workers and convince a majority to sacrifice €1,000 for her sake. To make matters worse, Sandra is recovering from severe depression and has become dependent on pills. This latest film from the Dardenne brothers gives us modern capitalism in a nutshell. Workers, who would naturally be allies, are forced to fight over the limited resources available to pay non-management employees. Rather than becoming a political tract, this film feels like a very real situation, where everyone must make a difficult decision that will inevitably result in moral compromise. Another part of the series For Your Consideration.

B Citizenfour, Lark, opens Friday. Laura Poitras’ camera puts us in  the Hong Kong hotel room while imageEdward Snowden tells Glenn Greenwald about the NSA’s horrendous destruction of our privacy. Those four days of interviews make up the film’s centerpiece. Snowden comes off mostly as a self-effacing nerd who understands right from wrong. But the long discussions in the hotel room become visually boring, despite the important and fascinating story at their core. Read my longer essay.

A+ The Godfather, Davies Symphony Hall, Friday and Saturday, 8:00. With live accompaniment of Nino Rota’s score by the  Francisco Symphony Orchestra. Francis Coppola, taking the job simply because he needed the money, turned imageMario Puzo’s potboiler into the Great American Crime Epic. Marlon Brando may have top billing, but Al Pacino owns the film (and became a star) as Michael Corleone, the respectable youngest son reluctantly and inevitably pulled into a life of crime he doesn’t want but for which he proves exceptionally well-suited. A masterpiece of character, atmosphere, and heart-stopping violence. I should mention that I have never seen The Godfather (or any other talkie) with live music accompaniment, and I’m not really sure of the point.

B+ The Shining, Castro, Friday. Stanley Kubrick turned a brilliant novel into a very good movie, and imagesomehow got credited for making a masterpiece. When you come right down to it, The Shining is a basic haunted house story, except instead of a house, the setting is a large resort hotel, closed for the winter, and populated only with the caretaker and his wife and son. Jack Nicholson plays the father, not so much as a man slowly going insane, but as someone halfway there already–a major mistake that hurts the story considerably. Shelley Duvall plays his very suffering wife. Read my Book vs. Movie report. On a double bill with Ingmar Bergman’s Hour of the Wolf, which I haven’t seen.

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

A Boyhood, New Parkway, Sunday, 12:20. The best new film I saw in 2014. Fifty years from now, people will still watch Richard Linklater’s intimate epic. Shot off and on over a period of 12 years, Boyhood imageallows us to watch young Mason and his family grow up and older. It isn’t an easy childhood. His parents are divorced, neither of them 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.

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: January 2 – 8

No festivals this week. In fact, there’s almost nothing coming out this week that I can tell you about. Just these two:

B Tillie’s Punctured Romance, Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, Saturday, 7:30. This reasonably funny comedy from 1914 packs considerable historic interest. To my knowledge, it’s the first American feature-length comedy. It was Marie Dressler’s first imagemovie. It’s Charlie Chaplin’s first feature, the only one where he played a villain, and the only feature he starred in that he didn’t direct. Chaplin and Mabel Normand try to bilk the naïve Tillie (Dressier) out of a fortune that she may or may not have, with results that are often funny but also often fall flat. Directed by Mack Sennett, who discovered Chaplin and arguably created the basics of silent comedy. With two short subjects. Frederick Hodges accompanies it all on piano.

A- Birdman, Castro, Thursday. 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. On a double bill with Persona, which I haven’t seen in a long time and should probably revisit.

What’s Screening: December 26 – January 1

No festivals this week, but I do have a disclaimer: I wrote this newsletter a week early in order to give myself some vacation time. I may miss some screenings, or include some that have since been postponed.

A Metropolis,Thursday, 7:30. The first important science fiction feature film still strikes a considerable visual punch, and with the latest restoration, tells a compelling story. 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. The Balboa website doesn’t mention accompaniment,  so I assume it will screen with the recorded score. The opening title in the new Balboa Classics series.

C+ Very strange, very long slavery double bill: Gone with the Wind & Django Unchained, Castro, Sunday, 2:30. If you’re going to show a loved yet undeniably pro-slavery classic like Gone with the Wind, balancing it out with something that attacks slavery makes a lot of sense. The C+ goes to Django Unchained, which is clever, entertaining, way over the top in its gruesome violence, and utterly hollow on the inside. It uses a great crime against humanity as an excuse for a splatter-filled revenge flick. Read my more complete opinion. Gone with the Wind rates only a C-. As entertainment, the first half is pretty good and the second half pretty boring. Much worse, the entire story depends on assumptions of white masters and black slaves as the natural order. You can read my in-depth comments. Warning: These two films have a combined runtime of over 6 1/2 hours, and that doesn’t include the two intermissions.

B Citizenfour, New Parkway, Tuesday, 7:00.  Laura Poitras camera puts us in  the Hong Kong hotel room where imageEdward Snowden told Glenn Greenwald about the NSA’s horrendous destruction of our privacy. Those four days of interviews make up the film’s centerpiece. Snowden comes off mostly as a self-effacing nerd who understands right from wrong. But the long discussions in the hotel room become visually boring, despite the important and fascinating story at their core. Read my longer essay.

A+ Bogart Double Bill: Casablanca & The African Queen, Castro, Friday. The A+ goes to 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, The African Queen would still rate an A. The start of World War I traps an earthy working-class mechanic (Bogart) and a prim and proper missionary (Katherine Hepburn) behind enemy lines and hundreds of miles of jungle. It’s a bum and a nun on the run, facing rapids, insects,German guns, and romance between two moderately-attractive middle-aged people in filthy clothes.

A All About Eve, Castro, Saturday. Here’s your chance to explore imagethe sordid ambition behind Broadway’s (and by implication, Hollywood’s) glamour. Anne Baxter plays the title character, an apparently sweet and innocent actress whom aging diva Bette Davis takes under her wing. But Eve isn’t anywhere near as innocent as she appears. Fasten your seatbelts; it’s going to be a bumpy ride. On a double bill with The Women, which I haven’t seen.

B+ The Ten Commandments, Stanford, Friday through Sunday. 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.

A+ Singin’ in the Rain, Castro, Thursday. . In 1952, the late twenties seemed like a fond memory of an innocent time, and nostalgia was a imagelarge part of Singin’ in the Rain’s original appeal. The nostalgia is long gone, so we can clearly see this movie for what it is: the greatest musical ever filmed, and perhaps the best work of pure escapist entertainment to ever come out of Hollywood. Take out the songs, which are easily the best part of the movie, and you still have one of the best comedies of the 1950′s, and the funniest movie Hollywood ever made about itself.

B+ The Music Man, Castro, Monday. One of my childhood  favorites doesn’t quite look like a masterpiece anymore. But it’s still big, dazzling, funny, and filled with catchy tunes. Robert Preston carries the picture as imageProfessor Harold Hill, the conman who pretends to be a music teacher, and deep down wants to be one. The cast is rounded out with Shirley Jones, Buddy Hackett, Paul Ford, and the Buffalo Bills (this may be the only major Hollywood movie featuring a barbershop quartet). Shot in Technirama–a process that used twice as much film for each frame than standard 35mm–The Music Man really should be experienced on a large, wide screen. On a double bill with My Fair Lady, which I saw once on Laserdisc about 20 years ago.

B+ MGM 30s double bill: The Thin Man & A Day at the Races, Castro, Tuesday. The B+ goes to The Thin Man, which manages to be a murder mystery, a screwball comedy, a imagewallow in classic MGM glamour, and a 93-minute commercial for alcohol as the secret to a happy marriage. Also the start of a very long franchise. William Powell and Myrna Loy make great chemistry as the rich, drunk-and-in-love pair with a little murder to clear up. I can only give a B- to Marx Brothers’ sixth film, A Day at the Races. By this time, the Brothers had become tame. The movie has some funny scenes, but Groucho, Harpo and Chico had lost a lot of their edge when they made this one.

B+ The Wizard of Oz, Oakland Paramount, Friday, 8:00. I don’t really have to tell you about this one, do I? Well, perhaps I have to explain why I’m only giving it a B+. Despite its clever songs, lush Technicolor photography, and one great performance (Bert Lahr’s Cowardly Lion), The Wizard of Oz never struck me as the masterpiece that everyone else sees. It’s a good, fun movie, but not quite fun enough to earn an A.

What’s Screening: December 19 – 25

The only festival this week is  A Coppola Family Affair, a weekend-long celebration of films by Francis and his family. I’m placing the Coppola movies at the bottom of this newsletter.

C+ Pioneer, Opera Plaza, starts Friday. Early in this Norwegian thriller, a professional deep-sea diver—who is also a loving husband and father–tells his imagebrother and diving partner that this will be his last dive. He wants to spend time with his family. Yes, this is another thriller from the cliché playbook. The surviving brother (Aksel Hennie, the star of wonderful Headhunters), is blamed for the fatal accident, and spends the rest of the movie trying to uncover the evil conspiracy. The movie improves considerably in the last act, with a climax that wasn’t at all what I expected. But that wasn’t enough to make it more than an okay thriller. Read my full review.

A+ Die Hard, Castro, Sunday. The 1980s was a great decade for big, loud action movies, and this just may be the best. Bruce Willis plays a New York cop in LA for imageChristmas, hoping to win back his estranged wife and kids. But then a group of Not Very Nice People take over the office building where his wife works (and where he’s visiting) and holds everyone hostage. Willis spends most of the movie playing cat-and-mouse with the bad guys, bonding with an LA cop over a walkie-talkie, and mumbling about his rotten luck. The result is top-notch entertainment–even if its politics lean a bit to the right. One a double bill with Scrooged, which I haven’t seen.

B+ Dear White People, New Parkway, opens Friday. Justin Simien’s first feature is funny, dramatic, and insightful. The main characters, African-imageAmerican students in an overwhelmingly white ivy league school, philosophize a bit, but  that’s what young college students do. Samantha (Tessa Thompson), whose campus radio program provides the film’s name, is the most militant and political. Lionel (Tyler James Williams) wears a giant afro and is too insecure to come out of the closet. Everything comes together at the climax (this is not a spoiler) where a group of largely white students throw an extremely racist Halloween party.

A+ It’s a Wonderful Life, Balboa, Saturday; Castro, Monday; Rafael, Sunday; Stanford, Wednesday (Sold out); various CineMark Theaters, Sunday & Wednesday. wonderfullifeThere’s a rarely-acknowledged dark side to Frank Capra’s feel-good fable. George Bailey (James Stewart) saves his town and earns the love of his neighbors, but only at the expense of his own dreams and desires. Trapped, frustrated, and deeply disappointed, George needs only one new disaster to turn his thoughts to suicide. The extremely happy (some would say excessively sappy) ending works because George, whose main problems remain unsolved, has suffered so much to earn it.

A Comedy Short Subject Night, Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, Saturday, 7:30. Charlie Chaplin’s Easy Street is one of the best comedies from his Mutual period, which by definition makes it one of his best short Big Businesscomedies. It may be Chaplin’s first experiment in social criticism, getting laughs in a story that deals with grinding poverty, violent street fights, battered wives, and drug addiction. Big Business shows off the special art of Laurel and Hardy better than any other silent short. Buster Keaton didn’t like The High Sign, his first short as director and star. And yet it has moments of brilliant comedy, and climaxes with an amazing indoor chase. I haven’t seen the Charlie Chase entry, There Ain’t No Santa Claus.

B+ The ShiningClay, Friday and Saturday, midnight. Stanley Kubrick turned a brilliant novel into a very good movie, and imagesomehow got credited for making a masterpiece. When you come right down to it, The Shining is a basic haunted house story, except instead of a house, the setting is a large resort hotel, closed for the winter, and populated only with the caretaker and his wife and son. Jack Nicholson plays the father slowly going insane as someone halfway there from the start–a major mistake that hurts the story considerably. Shelley Duvall plays his very suffering wife. Read my Book vs. Movie report.

A Coppola Family Affair

All films are at the Roxie.

A- Apocalypse Now, Friday, 7:30; Sunday, 7:00. You can see Francis Coppola’s talent melt away in his Vietnam War epic. Most of Apocalypse Now achieves a powerful, hypnotic,image surreal brilliance. A modern updating of Heart of Darkness, it follows an army operative (Martin Sheen) assigned to terminate the command of a rogue officer ("terminate, with extreme prejudice"). He travels with four sailors upriver in a small boat, and the river itself becomes a metaphor for the insanity of this particular war. Then, in the last act, they arrive at their destination, meet Marlon Brando, and the whole movie collapses under its own (and Brando’s) weight. The Roxie will screen the original cut, which is way better than the longer Apocalypse Now Redux, which I’d probably give only a B-. The Friday screening includes a conversation with sound designers Richard Beggs and Walter Murch.

B+ Hearts of Darkness, Saturday, 7:30. Making-of documentaries are seldom worth going to a movie theater for, but this record of how Apocalypse Now came to be is an imageexception to that rule. But then, the making of Apocalypse Now is one of the great stories in cinema history. One star had a heart attack. Another arrived grossly overweight. A typhoon destroyed the set. The director didn’t know how he would end the picture…or whether the picture would end him. Coppola’s wife Eleanor filmed the whole expedition, and that footage made this fascinating documentary possible.  Eleanor Coppola in person.

B+ Palo Alto, Sunday, 4:00. Based on a collection of short stories by James Franco (who also imageacts in the film), Palo Alto exams a handful of teenagers reaching an emotional boiling point.  Fueled by booze, pot, and raging hormones, they deal poorly with the choices they’re making on their way to adulthood. Drunk driving, random vandalism, inappropriate student-teacher relationships, and other serious mistakes mar these kid’s lives. Yet you really hope they get their acts together. A slick yet compassionate and well-acted drama. Read my full review. Gia Coppola in person. Sold out.

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.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 67 other followers