MVFF: The Good, the Bad, the Ugly, and the Lark

Wednesday night I finally got to a 2014 Mill Valley Film Festival event–a screening at the Lark of one of my favorite westerns, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

imageBelieve it or not, this was my first visit to the Lark. Yes, I’ve been covering it at Bayflicks for years, but this was the first time I actually stepped inside.

The Lark is a modest-sized neighborhood theater of the sort that dotted the small towns and suburbs before the invention of the multiplex. The art deco décor has been lovingly restored. The lobby is small, with two small areas off to the side where people can sit and talk.

The screen isn’t huge, but it’s big enough to create a real movie feel. The seats are comfortable, with good drink holders.

Before the movie, Festival Executive Director Mark Fishkin came onstage and introduced James Hetfield of Metallica, who hosted the screening. Metallica is this year’s Artists in Residence, and each member of the band got to select a favorite film to be screened.

Hetfield talked briefly about The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, and how it had influenced him. He discussed the three main characters, the use of close-ups, and–not surprisingly–Ennio Morricone’s iconic score. The film started at about 7:15.

The Great, the Crazy, and the Iconic

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly is an epic quest motivated purely by greed. Three violent and deadly criminals, all very skilled at their job, set out to recover $200,000 in stolen gold. None of them knows exactly where the loot is hidden, but individually each has a piece of the puzzle. They constantly change allegiances, sometimes collaborating with and then double-crossing each other.

Meanwhile, war rages around them. Director/co-writer Sergio Leone set this western in the American Civil War. Issues like succession and slavery never comes up, but the destruction is vast and senseless. As the rebel army retreats from a town, an innkeeper loudly hails the Confederacy, while privately telling his wife that the Yanks will be better because they pay in gold. Another town has been battered to ruins–perhaps an echo of Leone’s adolescence in World War II Italy. Twice a day, armies clash over a bridge that both sides want and no one can hold. Soldiers on both sides speak with sarcastic hate of their commanders.

And through it all, our three lead characters (I can’t quite call them all protagonists) cheat, threaten, bribe, and murder their way to their ultimate goal.

The Good: Clint Eastwood plays his iconic Man With No Name, although in this film his friends call him Blondie. He’s a thief and a con artist, a quick and deadly draw who feels no remorse after killing someone. When he tires of his partner, he leaves him in the middle of the desert without horse, food, or drink. In any other movie, he’d be the villain. But he doesn’t kill without reason, and he occasionally displays acts of generosity to minor characters. By this film’s standards, that makes him the good guy.

The Bad: Lee Van Cleef’s Angel Eyes stands amongst the vilest villains in film history. His nickname is clearly ironic–his eyes look as evil as Satan. He tortures people for information, robs prisoners, and murders with the slightest of motives. His only code of honor: If he takes the money, he sees the job through. Early on, he kills two men because each of them paid him to kill the other one–and he shoots one of them in cold blood.

The Ugly: The Jewish-American actor Eli Wallach played Mexican banditos in at least three movies, but only here did he make the character funny, touching, lovable, and utterly horrible. His Tuco–devious, dumb, proud, and as wily as a rat–carries The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. When he’s out for vengeance, his cruelty surpasses Angel Eyes. But when he needs the victim of that cruelty, he becomes the dependable partner–just so long as you don’t turn your back. More than anything else, Wallach’s performance raises this movie from very good to great.

Leone and his collaborators tell the story of these men in a flashy and daring style. In addition to the close-ups and musical score I’ve already discussed, there’s the striking use of the widescreen frame, splashy editing–especially in the climatic three-way gun duel–and the dark humor that pervades the picture.

Versions and restorations

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly is an Italian film with American stars, shot in Spain, and set in the American west. Like most Italian films of its day, it was shot without recording a dialog track. All of the dialog was dubbed in separate Italian and English versions (and other languages too, I assume).

Leone’s original cut ran 175 minutes–too long for the American distributor, United Artists. So Leone cut it back to 161.  The cuts were made before the English dubbing; the removed scenes could not easily to restored to the film.

That was fixed in 2003, when MGM/UA created the Extended English Language version. They restored and redubbed the cut scenes. Eastman and Wallach dubbed their parts, but another voice actor talked for the late Van Cleef. They also added a scene that Leone had cut from the Italian version, bringing the running time to 179 minutes. They also remixed the soundtrack, taking it from mono to Dolby Digital 5.1.

So the film has now grown by 18 minutes from the version I first fell in love with. I have mixed feelings about the changes, and I still cling to my 161-minute DVD. Some of the recovered scenes add atmosphere and character development. Others fill in plot gaps that never really needed to be filled. I love both versions, but I love the shorter one more.

This year, MGM/UA gave this picture a 4K digital restoration. They stuck to the 179 extended version, and–I’m glad to say–they restored the mono soundtrack. The festival screened the film from a 4K DCP, with the mono sound.

Aside from a rather ridiculous MGM 90th Anniversary trailer (see MGM 90th Anniversary…without MGM), it was a great presentation, showing the deep colors and heavy grain expected in a Techniscope production of the 1960s. Unless there’s an archival dye-transfer print from the original release somewhere, this is as good as the picture can get.

Overall, a very good evening.

The Two Faces of January: The Best Thrillers Take Their Time

A thriller

  • Written by  Hossein Amini, from a novel by Patricia Highsmith
  • Directed by  Hossein Amini

The less you know about The Two Faces of January when you walk into the theater, the more you’re going to enjoy it. So I’m going to try talking about this thriller without giving away much of the plot.

Wish me luck.

The Two Faces of January is the best new thriller I’ve seen since Headhunters, but it’s a very different kind of thriller. Headhunters was funny and outlandish, telling a preposterous story in an entertaining way. But the events in January feel like they could happen, and if you make the wrong mistake, they could happen to you. The picture gives you time to become familiar with the characters, then draws them into a life-or-death situation that seems entirely likely, but impossible to escape.

Screenwriter/director Hossein Amini adapted the story from a novel by Patricia Highsmith. Her other novels include Strangers on a Train and The Talented Mr. Ripley–quite a track record. It follows the fortunes, and mostly the misfortunes, of three Americans spending leisure time in Greece in the early 1960s. The period setting doesn’t play an important role; the film could have been set it in the present without losing any atmosphere.

I think I can safely tell you a bit about the three lead characters. When we first meet them, Chester and Colette MacFarland (Viggo Mortensen and Kirsten Dunst) are a wealthy, attractive, and happy couple on vacation in Greece. Rydal (Oscar Isaac) has been living in Greece for a year, is estranged from his family back in the States, and is scratching out a living as a tour guide–with some petty larceny thrown in for good measure.

image

Rydel knows the culture and speaks the language. In one early scene, he helps Chester buy Colette a bracelet, and uses his linguistic skills and knowledge of the currency to pocket a considerable amount for himself.

Of course there’s going to be a triangle. All three stars are exceptionally good looking (that’s why they’re not just actors but stars). And Colette, much younger than her husband, is obviously attracted to the young and handsome Rydel.

But no, the love triangle doesn’t drive the story. That’s a job for crime and deception. Who’s the criminal? And who’s deceiving who? I think I better stop there.

The Two Faces of January marks Amini’s debut as a director, although he has been an established screenwriter for years (The Wings of the Dove, Drive). Yet he handles the film like a pro. Marcel Zyskind’s photography captures both the beauty of the locations and the terror of the characters’ predicament. The editing by Nicolas Chaudeurge and Jon Harris holds and builds the suspense despite the relatively slow pacing by thriller standards.

The slow pacing does a lot to make The Two Faces of January such a wonderful film. Not only does it allow the story and the characters to breath; it also adds to the suspense.

And if you love to be scared at the movies, you really need to see The Two Faces of January. And you need to see it with as much ignorance as possible.

What’s Screening: October 3 – 9

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

B+ 2001: A Space Odyssey, Pacific Film Archive, Friday, 7:30. I used to worship Stanley Kubrick’s visualization of Arthur C. Clarke’s imagination, but it hasn’t aged all that well. We’ve seen the actual year, and know that Clarke and Kubrick got 2001almost everything wrong. Although I’ve lost my love of Stanley Kubrick, there’s no denying the pull of2001’s unorthodox storytelling and visual splendor–if you can see it properly presented. 2001 was shot for 70mm projection on a giant, curved, Cinerama screen–an experience that’s simply not available in the Bay Area today. The PFA’s modest screen can’t provide the full experience. Part of the series, Eyes Wide: The Films of Stanley Kubrick.

B- Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, UC Berkeley’s Crescent lawn, Friday, 8:00. Free outdoor screening. Tim Burton’s first feature revels in its own peeweesbigadvensilliness. Pee-Wee Herman, before children’s television and indecent exposure, is a strange, almost neurotically innocent creature. The movie is uneven, and most of the jokes are extremely dumb, but the oddball charm cannot be denied. Besides, the last sequence, reworking the plot as a Hollywood action flick, is alone worth the price of admission. Part of the PFA series, Endless Summer Cinema.


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

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

Mill Valley Film Festival

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

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

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

B+ Clouds of Sils Maria, Sequoia, Friday, 8:45 (sold out; rush tickets may be available at showtime), Rafael, Monday, 1:00.A great actress (Juliette Binoche) reluctantly accepts a part in a revival of the play that made her famous. But this time, she’ll be playing imagea different, older character. To prepare for the role, the actress and her personal assistant (Kristen Stewart) take up residence in a remote house located in an astonishingly beautiful part of the Swiss Alps. As they run lines, they almost unconsciously work through their own complicated relationship, which only  slightly echoes play’s characters. This isn’t quite a two-person film, but Binoche and Stewart truly carry the picture.

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

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

Little nutrition: My review of Soul of a Banquet

D documentary

  • Directed by Wayne Wang

Note: This documentary will screen twice at the Mill Valley Film Festival. Details below. I am posting a full review now because this picture was not on the Festival’s list of films for which reviewers were asked to hold reviews.

In his first documentary, the usually reliable Wayne Wang appears to have missed the point. He suggests that his subject, restaurateur Cecilia Chiang, led a fascinating and exciting life (and is still living it). But he gives us little information, and spends most of the picture just showing us food.

According to Wang’s interview subjects (primarily food author Ruth Reichl and Chez Panisse owner and founder Alice Waters) Chiang changed everything about Chinese food in America–and all of it for the better. Before she opened her restaurant, The Mandarin, in San Francisco in 1961, Chinese restaurants served what Reichl describes as "peasant food." Then Chiang apparently came along, and we’ve been happily eating delicious Chinese gourmet food ever since.

image

But the film gives us little or nothing to support these claims. Was The Mandarin commercially successful? That never comes up. Did other Chinese restaurants start following her lead? Having seen the movie, I can’t tell you. But if they didn’t, how was she influential? We’re told off-handedly that The Mandarin no longer exists, but we’re never told when or why it closed.

In the interview-heavy first part of the film, Wang occasionally shows us the workings of a high-class Chinese restaurant kitchen. As I watched these, I assumed they were taken in The Mandarin. When the film casually mentioned that The Mandarin is no more, I felt cheated.

And what about that fascinating and exciting life? We’re given only a handful of enticing tidbits. We know she grew up in China, the youngest daughter of a large and wealthy family. An off-hand comment and some quick math in my head told me that she left China before 1942. She was married and living in Japan in 1961 when, as tourist, she almost accidentally acquired a San Francisco restaurant. In the film’s best sequence, she describes a heart-breaking 1972 visit to her family China, when the Cultural Revolution was winding down but still powerful and deadly.

But these little facts just leave us wondering. Why did she leave China? How did she end up in Japan? (With what little I know about the Japanese occupation of China, I can imagine the worst.) What happened to her marriage when she started a restaurant thousands of miles from her husband and home? How did she replace her tourist visa with something more permanent?

What little information we get is concentrated into that first part of this three-part, 78-minute feature. The second section shows her supervising a staff of professional cooks preparing a lavish banquet for friends in her apartment. Very little is explained. We see mostly extreme close-ups of knives chopping food. The knives are handled with exceptional skill, but you can only watch so much of this sort of thing.

In the third and final part, we watch the banquet. As each dish is served, she explains what it is, we get close-ups of the scrumptious-looking delicacy, and we watch her guests (which include Reichl and Waters) joyfully examine and then eat the wonderful concoctions.

This endless parade of close ups, intended to produce a sensual experience that cinema can only create by suggestion, felt very much like pornography. And like so much pornography, it eventually became boring.

Now I have to come clean about something that may have affected my reaction to these scenes. I’m a vegetarian, and have been for a very long time. When I look at meat, no matter how well cooked and displayed, I don’t see it as food. I see it as a dead animal.

On the other hand, I love Chinese food. It’s one of my favorite cuisines. So I think that one prejudice probably cancelled out the other.

Whether you eat meat or not, I don’t think you’ll find much to love about Soul of a Banquet. It lacks the information needed to back up its argument. It lacks a sense of what can and cannot be recreated in a visual medium. And frankly, despite the wonderful and creative people in front of and behind the camera, it lacks soul.

Mill Valley Film Festival Soul of a Banquet screenings:

  • Rafael,  Sunday, October 5, 5:00. Director Wayne Wang and subject Cecilia Chiang in attendance.
  • Sequoia, Tuesday, October 7, 2:15.

Mill Valley Film Festival Preview, Part II

Since I wrote Part 1, I’ve managed to see three additional movies that will screen at the upcoming Mill Valley Film Festival. Here’s what I thought of them, in order of best to worst.

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

  • Sequoia, Saturday October 4, 3:00
  • Rafael, Monday, October 6, 3:30

B- For Those About to Rock: The Story of Rodrigo y Gabriela
image
For the first two thirds of its 84-minute runtime, this is yet another music documentary woefully lacking in music. We watch and hear Rodrigo Sanchez and Gabriela Quintera talk about their music and their struggles to get recognized. We learn how they developed their unique style–which I’d describe as instrumental, acoustic heavy metal with a Latin flare–in their native Mexico City, and how they found fame in Ireland. But you only hear the music itself in brief snatches, much of it as basic movie background music. You never hear a song all the way through, and get only quick glimpses of what makes these two worth being the subject of a documentary. But then, almost an hour into the movie, it becomes the concert film it should always have been, and thus becomes exciting and magical.

  • Rafael, Sunday, October 5, 8:00
  • Rafael, Tuesday, October 7, 2:15

C Tu Dors Nicole
image

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

  • Rafael, Friday, October 10, 3:45
  • Sequoia, Saturday, October 11, 8:45

Kubrick in digital and on film

Digital or film? For cinephiles, that’s the great controversy of our age. And the arguments get particularly agitated when talking about classic pictures made at a time when digital projection wasn’t an option.

But in the coming weeks, you get your chance to watch two Stanley Kubrick classics on 35mm film, and then again on DCP–the digital format used for professional theater projection. The films are Dr. Strangelove and The Shining.

This Sunday, September 28, the Roxie will screen both films as a double bill. Then, as part of their ongoing series, Eyes Wide: The Films of Stanley Kubrick, the Pacific Film Archive will screen Dr. Strangelove on Sunday, October 4. On Friday, October 24, they’ll screen The Shining. Both pictures will be screened off DCPs.

What motivated their decisions?

PFA programmer Steve Seid told me that that when he requested the films from Warner Brothers, and "they said only Eyes Wide Shut was on film." In other words, he had no choice about The Shining.  I neglected to ask him about Strangelove, which is not owned by Warner.

And what about the Roxie? Seid, who’s on the Roxie board, told me that they don’t have the DCI-compliant projector needed for DCPs. The best they can do, digitally, is Blu-ray. That can look very good on a theater screen, but not as good as a 35mm print.

The Roxie double bill is in conjunction with the Spoke Art gallery, which is running a Kubrick tribute art show which, unfortunately, closes today. Art Spoke’s owner, Ken Harman, provided the prints for the Roxie. Harman told me that "The choice to go 35mm was mostly an aesthetic one, I’m by no means a ‘purist’ and appreciate DCP, however being able to view films in 35mm is getting more and more rare…"

Harmen did not tell me where he got the prints. Seid assumes "that the Roxie found either archival or private prints." In that case, those prints should really be a treat.

What’s Screening: September 26 – October 2

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

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

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

B Tommy, Balboa, Thursday, 7:30. Ken Russell’s over-the-top film version of Pete Townsend’s and The Who’s rock opera hits you over the head with all the subtlety of Beach Blanket Babylon, turning a parable of imagespiritual quest into a carnival satire of materialism and cults. Oliver Reed proves he can’t sing as he plays a male version of the stereotypical evil stepmother. He’s not the only embarrassment in the all-star cast, but Roger Daltrey and Ann-Margaret, sing, dance, and act like the professionals they are. So do Eric Clapton, Tina Turner, and Elton John in smaller roles. Townsend’s music is still brilliant, and if this isn’t the best version of Tommy, it’s certainly the most fun.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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