Early and Excellent Kubrick at PFA

As I discussed last week, I lost a lot of my love of Stanley Kubrick over the decades. But I didn’t lose my love for all of his pictures. And amongst my favorites are his first two Hollywood pictures, The Killing and Paths of Glory. Saturday night, I revisited these favorites at the Pacific Film Archive, where they were screened as part of the series Eyes Wide: The Films of Stanley Kubrick.

Some historical background: Kubrick started his career with two super-low budget independent features–Fear and Desire and Killer’s Kiss. I saw Fear and Desire some years ago and hated it (Kubrick eventually disowned it), and have never seen Killer’s Kiss. The PFA screened them Thursday night, but I was unable to attend.

Although it wasn’t a commercial success, Killer’s Kiss impressed enough people to bring Kubrick into the Hollywood system, albeit on a low budget. United Artists financed and released his next two pictures, The Killing and Paths of Glory.

The PFA screened them in reverse order, showing Paths of Glory first.

Paths of Glory

To my mind, this is Kubrick’s masterpiece (with Dr. Strangelove a close second). This World War I tale of ruthless generals and the common foot soldiers they see as disposable pawns, shows Kubrick at his best. His visual flare brings a powerful contrast to the film’s two major settings: the ugly, dirty, and dangerous trenches of the front, and the opulent palace where the generals’ live in comfort and luxury.

The story is simple, but powerful. In 1916, with the war at a long stalemate, two French generals (Adolphe Menjou and George Macready) decide to take a German position that everyone knows can’t be taken. With little time to prepare and almost no support, the men leap out of their trenches and attack–only to be mowed down. The survivors understandably run back to their trenches. Unable to admit that their plan was impossible, the generals order that three men be arrested as examples, tried for cowardice, found guilty, and shot.

Before Saturday night, I had last seen Paths of Glory on a rented, Criterion Blu-ray about a year ago. I don’t remember when I last saw it theatrically, but I think it was in the 1980s.

Paths of Glory is one of the rare Kubrick films that allows us to care about the characters. This is especially true with the three condemned "examples," charged for failing an impossible task and knowing without a doubt that they will be executed. Each was chosen by their superior officer. One of them, played by Ralph Meeker, knows that his truly cowardly lieutenant (Wayne Morris) has reasons for wanting him dead.

Kubrick generally avoided heroes, but he got one in Paths of Glory–Kirk Douglas as Colonel Dax–the lawyer-turned officer who leads the charge and becomes the men’s defense attorney. Douglas was the first big star to appear in a Kubrick film, and he probably demanded a rewrite to make his part larger and more noble. In a late scene, he angrily tells off a top-ranking general, calling him a "degenerate" and promising that "I’ll go to Hell before I ever apologize to you again." Kubrick generally avoided such moral preaching.

Kubrick’s visual sense comes to fully glory here. Tracking shots through the trenches help illustrate the claustrophobic, horrific nature of men’s predicament. Another tracking shot, leading up to the executions, help emphasize the ritual aspects of these legal and ceremonial murders. The court martial, or perhaps I should say the kangaroo court martial, is set in an opulent room whose floor suggest a chessboard.

World War I produced more great films than any other war. This is one of the best.

The Killing

It’s hardly surprising that a young filmmaker breaking into Hollywood in 1956 would start with a noir. After all, these gritty crime films were cheap to make and popular with audiences. But The Killing proved to be one of the best of the genre.

In this classic heist thriller, an experienced criminal (Sterling Hayden) orchestrates a complex racetrack robbery likely to net two million 1956 dollars. Of course, he needs collaborators. And each one of them has to do his job at the exact right time for everything to work.

Needless to say, human frailty is going to get in the way.

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Kubrick and screenplay collaborator Jim Thompson (working from a novel by Lionel White) found a unique structure to tell the story. It’s not in pure chronological order, but it’s not a flashback, either. Instead, the movie follows one member of the gang, then leaps back in time to follow someone else. The film’s eye-of-God narrator helps the audience keep all of this straight with simple statements like "Three hours earlier, Johnny left his apartment and headed for the motel." (Someone needs to write an essay on Kubrick’s use of spoken narration.)

Hayden’s Johnny Clay is a professional, but most of his collaborators are breaking the law for the first time, motivated by a desperate need for money. The most heartbreaking is Joe Sawyer’s racetrack bartender, who needs money to help the very sick wife he loves so much.

But Elisha Cook Jr.’s character is a different kind of marriage problem. He hopes that if he had more money, his dreadful, scornful, adulterous wife (Marie Windsor) might actually love him. We feel little sympathy for Cook’s character, and none at all for Windsor’s, but these two are clearly the most entertaining people in the story. When Clay meets that awful wife, he sees her for exactly what she is. "You’ve got a great big dollar sign there where most women have a heart."

As it should be, The Killing is filled with such snappy, pulp-heavy dialog–probably written by Thompson. In hiring a sharpshooter, Clay argues that the risks are limited. "You’d be killing a horse – that’s not first degree murder, in fact it’s not murder at all, in fact I don’t know what it is."  Hayden’s rat-a-tat-tat delivery makes that like explosive and funny.

Before Saturday night, I had last seen The Killing at the UC Theater, probably in1996 or 1997. I was glad to remake its acquaintance.

Digital projection done mostly right

Both movies were made by United Artists after 1951, which means that they’re now owned by MGM/UA. But MGM/UA no longer distributes its own films. Criterion has released both of these films for home use. Other UA titles have been released on video by Fox and Kino.

A company I’d never heard of, Park Circus, now distributes these two titles theatrically on DCP. Both films started with a Park Circus logo, and then the MGM lion. Every UA film, no matter who distributes it, now starts with the MGM lion–even though none of them are real MGM films. And that lion is in color, even before a black and white film.

Other than that, this were excellent transfers. Whoever supervised the digital mastering respected the film look and the grain structure. They kept the original mono soundtracks, without trying to convert them to 5.1. Both movies looked and sounded great, and still felt like works of their time.

What’s Screening: September 5 – 11

The drought is over! At least, the film festival draught. CAAMFest San Jose opens today and runs through Sunday. And the California Independent Film Festival opens Thursday.

A Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan, New Parkway, Saturday, 3:00. The most-loved Star Trek movie gives us everything that its predecessor failed to deliver: an excitingimage and entertaining adventure starring the seven actors and characters that we learned to love from the original TV show.–and a chance to let several of those actors shine. Ricardo Montalban reprises his supervillian Khan from one first-season episode. This has almost everything you would want in a Star Trek movie.

A Dog Day Afternoon, Castro, Thursday. Two incompetent robbers (Al Pacino and John Cazale, both fresh from Godfather II) try to hold up a bank and find themselves in a hostage situation in one those rare comedies based on an actual news story. dogdayaftPacino’s character, the brains behind the plot, is a basically nice guy who wants to help everyone. That’s a real problem when you’re threatening to kill innocent bystanders. He only wants the money to pay for his boyfriend’s sex change operation. But Cazale’s character is slow, dumb, and potentially violent. The result is touching, tragic, and very funny. On a double bill with The Dog.

B+ East of Eden, Pacific Film Archive, Friday, 8:50. Most people remember this John Steinbeck adaptation as the movie that brought us James Dean. That seems imagereasonable. Dean electrifies the screen as an alienated teenager at odds with his strict and religious father and his ever-so-upright younger brother. An updating of the Cain and Abel story set in early 20th-century rural California, Eden occasionally steers towards the over-dramatic, but for the most part it’s an effective story of a generation gap made a decade before that term was coined. Dean became a star instantly after this film’s release. Five months later, with two other films in the can, he was dead. Part of the series James Dean, Restored Classics from Warner Bros.

A Bringing Up Baby, Cerrito, Thursday, 7:00. How does one define a screwball comedy? You could say it’s a romantic comedy with glamorous movie starsbringing_up_baby behaving like broad, slapstick comedians. You could point out that screwballs are usually set amongst the excessively wealthy, and often explore class barriers. Or you could simply show Howard Hawks’ Bringing Up Baby,a frivolous and hilarious tale about a mild-mannered paleontologist (Cary Grant), a ditzy heiress (Katharine Hepburn), and a tame leopard (a tame leopard).

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

B+ Under African Skies, Balboa, Thursday, 7:30. You can find plenty of political music documentaries, but few that examine both sides of a difficult controversy. This doc, which covers the making of Paul Simon’s hit album Graceland and the controversy over Simon’s breaking Under_African_Skiesthe South African cultural boycott of the time, is the exception. Structured around a friendly 2011 chat between Simon and Artists Against Apartheid Founder Dali Tambo, it asks whether it was right for Simon to have recorded music in South Africa when he did, and doesn’t come down with an easy answer. Despite a few brief scenes of jam sessions, it left me wishing they had included more concert footage; you seldom get to hear a song from beginning to end.

B+ Bridge On the River Kwai, Rafael, Sunday. The longer it’s been since you’ve seen David Lean’s World War II adventure, the better it gets in your  memory. That’s because the brilliant story of an over-proud British bridgeriverkwaiPOW whose actions become arguably treasonable (Alec Guinness) sticks in the mind. But to see the actual movie again is to be reminded that Guinness’ tale is just a subplot (the actor received third billing). The bulk of Kwai is a very well made but conventional action movie with some uncomfortably Hollywoodish elements. Remember the Burmese porters who all just happen to all be beautiful young women? Read my Blu-ray review. Part of the series, Alec Guinness at 100.

B Fantastic Mr. Fox, Balboa, Saturday, 10:00am. There’s a cartoon-like quality to a lot of Wes Anderson’s work, so it isn’t surprising that imagehe would eventually try his hand at animation. 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 A Hard Day’s Night, New Parkway, Friday, 10:30. When United Artists agreed to finance a movie around a British rock group, they wanted something fast and cheap. After all, the band’s popularity was limited to England and Germany, andimage could likely die before the film got into theaters. We all know now that UA had nothing to worry about. The Beatles still have a following. And 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 Chinatown, UA Berkeley, Thursday, 9:00. Roman Polanski may be a rapist, but you chinatowncan’t deny his talent as a filmmaker (which doesn’t excuse his actions as a human being). And that talent was never better than when he made this neo-noir tale of intrigue and double-crosses set in Los Angeles in the 1930s. Writer Robert Towne fictionalized an actual scandal involving southern California water rights, mixed in a few personal scandals, and handed the whole story over to Polanski, who turned the script into the perfect LA period piece.

A+ Paths of Glory, Pacific Film Archive, Saturday, 6:30. It’s not enough to show that war is hell. A great war movie should also show that poor men go through that hell for the benefit of richer, more powerful men. Perhaps that’s why World War I, so obviouslyimage pointless, has inspired more great films than any other war. Stanley Kubrick’s addition to the cannon is one of the best. When an impossible mission inevitably fails, the officers who planned it arrange for three enlisted men to be tried for cowardice, convicted, and executed–it’s easier than admitting their mistake. Kirk Douglas–in the first performance by a major star in a Kubrick film–plays the honorable officer who tilts at the windmills of corrupted military justice. Another part of the series Eyes Wide: The Films of Stanley Kubrick.

Kevin Kline and Swashbucklers

I first saw Kevin Kline in the film version of the 1983 film version of The Pirates of Penzance. He played the Pirate King, and he was perfect for the part–handsome, graceful, athletic, and funny. It struck me that, if he had been born 50 years earlier, he could have been a great swashbuckling star, right up there with Douglas Fairbanks and Errol Flynn.

So I was delighted, less than a decade later, when I found out that he’d been cast as Fairbanks in Richard Attenborough’s biopic, Chaplin. That movie disappointed me in many ways, but casting wasn’t one of them. Kline made a great Fairbanks.

And now, more than 20 years later, he’s playing Errol Flynn in The Last of Robin Hood. Of course, he’s playing an old Errol Flynn. About to turn 67, Kline could no longer play the Flynn who leaped with such grace in the 1930s.

On the other hand, Flynn died at 50, so Kline still has to play someone considerably younger than himself.

But then, on the other other hand,  Kline at 66 looks better than Flynn at 50. Errol Flynn did not take good care of himself.

Kline has appeared in a lot of excellent movies that had nothing to do with swashbuckling: Sophie’s Choice, The Big Chill, Silverado, Soapdish, The Ice Storm, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream to name a few.

But it’s nice to see that his talent for swashbuckling has been recognized. He never got to star in a real swashbuckler, but twice now, he has starred as a real swashbuckler.

And unless it gets really horrible reviews, I plan to see The Last of Robin Hood.

How I lost my love for Stanley Kubrick

45 years ago, when I was a teenager enthralled by 2001: A Space Odyssey, Stanley Kubrick was not only the greatest living filmmaker, but the greatest filmmaker of all time (I didn’t know much film history back then). Today, I see him as a flawed genius–a brilliant visual artist lacking the warmth and empathy needed to be a great auteur.

With a complete retrospective about to open at the Pacific Film Archive, it seemed like a good time to discuss his checkered career and my reactions to it..

The first Stanley Kubrick film I ever saw was Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (the title links in this article point to the webpages for the films’ upcoming PFA screenings). I must have been about ten, and I didn’t know it was a Stanley Kubrick film; I didn’t know what director was back then. I but liked this dark satire about the cold war and the fear of nuclear Armageddon very much. I still do. I discussed the movie in more detail last year.

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I was not quite 14 when I saw 2001: A Space Odyssey at the Warner Cinerama on Hollywood Blvd. On the huge, deeply-curved screen, it blew me away. I felt like I was in space. This was my first confrontation with film as a serious art form. I instantly became a ardent fan of Stanley Kubrick (and screenplay collaborator Arthur C. Clarke).

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But over the years, with each new long-awaited release, I lost my affection for Kubrick’s work. A Clockwork Orange was interesting, but flawed. Barry Lyndon was an unbearable bore. I didn’t bother to see The Shining, despite–or perhaps because–I loved Stephen King’s novel so much. The book worked because King made you care deeply about Jack and his family. By 1980, I had realized that Kubrick didn’t care, and didn’t want you to care, about any of his characters.

Sometimes, not caring about the characters helped the film. If we had cared about anyone in Strangelove, we wouldn’t have laughed. And the shallow, barely-emotional astronauts of 2001 suggested a dehumanized future.

Kubrick’s best work, in my opinion, came early in his career, before the coldness really took hold. His first Hollywood film, The Killing–easily one of his best–is cool, but not too cold. A brilliant noir about a complex robbery, it’s precise and distant, like much of Kubrick’s work. But the movie seems to like its ill-fated crooks, especially Sterling Hayden as the brains behind the heist.

His next, Paths of Glory, is to my mind his absolute best. A brilliant war and anti-war film, it shows not only the hell of battle but the corruption and heartlessness at the top. But now, for the first time, Kubrick had a really big star–Kirk Douglas. Douglas wasn’t about to play someone that the audience wouldn’t root for, and Kubrick had to alter his screenplay to make the star’s character more of a conventional movie hero. Yes, this was Hollywood commercialism, but in this case, it worked for the quality of the picture.

Kubrick’s other collaboration with Douglas, Spartacus, is easily his warmest work. It doesn’t feel at all like a Stanley Kubrick film. And that’s not surprising, because it really wasn’t one. It wasn’t Kubrick’s idea. He came in a week into production to replace a fired director. He had no say in the screenplay or the casting. At the risk of offending hardcore auteurists, Spartacus was directed by Stanley Kubrick, but it is not a Stanley Kubrick film. And frankly, I think it’s all the better for it.

In the late 1950s, Stanley Kubrick was a brilliant, young, promising filmmaker. But a decade later, he seemed to have lost his touch with humanity. He had become a photographer.

What’s Screening: August 29 – September 4

Still no festivals this week. But you can watch a lot of Robin Williams (not all of which I list here).

A+ Lawrence of Arabia, Castro, Saturday through Monday; Rafael, Sunday. 4K digital projection at the Castro. 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, and that’s what the Castro will deliver. I do not know how the Rafael, which is screening Lawrence as part of its Alec Guinness at 100 series, will project the movie. For more on this epic, read The Digital Lawrence of Arabia Experience and Thoughts on Lawrence of Arabia.

A Babe, Lark, Saturday, 3:30, Sunday, 1:30. 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. Part of the Lark’s Family Film Series.

A- The Fisher King, New Parkway, Sunday, 12:40; Monday, 8:20. (Note: I gave this film a B+ just two weeks ago. But I have since revisited it and upped the grade.) Terry Gilliam’s first film from someone else’s screenplay, and his first shot in imagehis native USA, isn’t quite up to his best work. But it’s damn close. Jeff Bridges plays a guilt-ridden former shock jock who befriends a homeless lunatic (Robin Williams in one of his best performances) in hope of redemption. But helping this tragic victim of random violence involves both playing cupid and jumping down the rabbit hole of a brilliant but deeply unhinged mind. Only Williams could sing Lydia the Tattooed Lady and make it sound sweet and romantic.

A- Chaplin Shorts, Coastside Senior Housing, Half Moon Bay, Friday, 7:30. I only just imagediscovered that there’s a silent film society in Half Moon Bay! This Friday, they’ll screen three Charlie Chaplin shorts from his First National period. These include two of my favorite short Chaplins: A Dog’s Life and The Idle Class. Unfortunately, the third is one of the worst First National’s, Payday. But the first two easily make up for the other. With Shauna Pickett-Gordon accompanying on piano.

B+ Ghostbusters, various CineMark theaters, week-long engagement starts Friday. Comedy rarely gets this scary or this visually spectacular. Or perhaps I should say imagethat special-effects action fantasies rarely get this funny (at least intentionally so). Harold Ramis, Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, and Sigourney Weaver appear to be having a great time as they try to control the phantasm and monsters suddenly attacking New York City. Not a bad way to pass an afternoon.

C- Popeye, Castro, Friday, 7:20; New Parkway, Friday, 4:00; Monday, 3:00. Robert Altman’s one attempt at a big-budget family musical manages to be both imageextremely odd and utterly mediocre. The story is a mess, the gags are too outrageous to be funny (there are some things that only work in animation), and Harry Nilsson’s songs are utterly forgettable. The only real joy is watching actors who are both recognizable as themselves and near-perfect physical embodiments of famous cartoon character; consider Shelley Duvall’s amazing likeness to Olive Oyl. On a Midnites for Maniacs double bill with The Wiz.

A Life Itself, Castro, Wednesday. This totally biased, yet entertaining and informative documentary Siskel and Ebert in the early daysexamines the life and death of Roger Ebert–the brilliant writer, passionate cinephile, and overweight alcoholic who became the first film critic to win a Pulitzer Prize, and then the most influential film critic of all time. But be prepared. This film spends a lot of time looking at a man without a jaw. It’s pretty disturbing at first, but Ebert’s upbeat and joking personality helps you adjust. And, of course, there’s a lot about movies here. Read my full review . On a double bill with Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction.

September at the Castro

Have you checked out the Castro‘s Coming Soon page? Here you’ll find the September schedule–sans links to more details. A few events worth noting:

  • The month begins with the end of a three-day run for Lawrence of Arabia, which should look wonderful with the Castro’s new 4K projector. August 30-September 1.
  • Not surprisingly, Robin Williams gets two double bills (the first two Sundays of the month, plus another mid-week appearance). The movies are Good Will Hunting, Dead Poets Society, The Fisher King, Good Morning Vietnam, and The World According to Garp.
  • If…, a favorite from my youth, plays Wednesday, 9/10 on a double bill with The Chocolate War. I guess that works, but everyone who went to the movies in the 70s knows that If… belongs on a double bill with O Lucky Man, which is sort of a sequel.
  • The very next day, they’re screening the wonderful Dog Day Afternoon, with something called The Dog. Maybe they should bring in Rin Tin Tin.
  • Antonioni’s great study of pollution and madness, Red Desert, plays a double bill with Mickey One on Wednesday, September 24.
  • My favorite Samuel Fuller flick, Pickup on South Street, plays Sunday, 9/28, with Park Row and something called A Fuller Life.
  • Stepping into early October, we have Jaws 3-D. I’ve never seen it, and like all of the Jaws sequels, it has a horrible reputation. They shot it in 3D (very rare in those days) because back then calling a movie Title of a Past Hit 3 was considered a confession that it was a really lousy picture.

What’s Screening: August 22-28

Still no film festivals. We’ll get some in September.

B+ To Be Takei, Kabuki, opens Friday; Rafael, Thursday, 7:00 (one screening, only). Who would have guessed that, almost 50 years after Star Trek first premiered, George Takei would be the most beloved imagemember of the original cast. And why not? A childhood in a World War II relocation camp for Japanese Americans, a part in the iconic sci-fi TV series, and coming out as gay at age 67 all make for a great story. Jennifer M. Kroot has created an ordinary documentary about this extraordinary person,  filled with interviews, video of Takei and husband Brad Altman going about their daily business, and old movie and TV clips. It’s the story, not the story-telling, that makes this film worth seeing. Read my full review. Director Kroot in person Friday at the Kabuki and Thursday at the Rafeal.

A All Quiet on the Western Front, Pacific Film Archive, Wednesday, 7:00. The first great talkie war movie delivers a powerful anti-war message. When The Great War (AKA World War I) breaks out, a young, naïve imageGerman student patriotically and enthusiastically volunteers for the grand adventure he had been taught to expect. What he finds instead is a non-stop hellhole with no good guys or bad guys…just losers no matter what side they’re on. A rare Hollywood film that looks at war from the enemy’s side; I doubt it could have been made if it had shown our authority figures pushing our boys to the slaughterhouse. Part of the series Over the Top and into the Wire: WWI on Film.

A- Knocked Up, Pacific Film Archive, Sunday, 7:00. Writer/Director Judd Apatow tops his The 40 Year Old Virgin in another raunchy-yet-sweet comedy about the complexities and problems of romance. This time around, a rising television personality (the stunningly gorgeous Katherine Heigl) shares a drunken one-night stand with a slacker stoner (the stunningly dumpy Seth Rogen), then discovers she’s pregnant. As the two leads, their friends, and their families react to this life-changing accident, Apatow explores romantic entanglements and the effects of expectant parenthood–all while providing plenty of laughs. Read my full review. Part of the series Rude Awakening: American Comedy, 1990–2010.

A The Leopard, Castro, Sunday. 4K digital projection. For a three-hour film where almost nothing happens, Luchino Visconti’s 1963 epic is remarkably spell-binding. The sumptuous Technirama photography helps. Aristocrats led by patriarch Burt Lancaster live through a theleopardrevolution that changes Italy’s government, but leaves their lives hardly effected. Visconti was an aristocrat by birth but a Marxist by inclination, and his film shows considerable nostalgia for the days of fancy balls and peasants who knew their place, but also understands why this society had to die. The Leopard is a big, bold film about people barely touched by momentous events. It’s graceful in design and shows great sympathy for its flawed characters. I enjoyed it immensely. Read my longer report.

A+ Paths of Glory, Pacific Film Archive, Friday, 7:00. It’s not enough to show that war is hell. A great war movie should also show that poor men go through that hell for the benefit of richer, more powerful men. Perhaps that’s why World War I, so obviouslyimage pointless, has inspired more great films than any other war. Stanley Kubrick’s addition to the cannon is one of the best. When an impossible mission inevitably fails, the officers who planned it arrange for three enlisted men to be tried for cowardice, convicted, and executed–it’s easier than admitting their mistake. Kirk Douglas–in the first performance by a major star in a Kubrick film–plays the honorable officer who tilts at the windmills of corrupted military justice. Another part of the series Over the Top and into the Wire: WWI on Film.

A- The Lavender Hill Mob, Rafael, Sunday. New digital restoration. In one of the best Ealing comedies, Alec Guinness plays a imagemeek, low-level bank clerk who decides he’s going to become very wealthy very quickly–by stealing a large amount of gold and smuggling it out of the country. He has no experience in crime, but he gathers together a more experienced gang to help him in this endeavor. The result is one of the funniest heist films ever made.  Part of the series Alec Guinness at 100.

A Before Midnight, Castro, Thursday. In this threequel to Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) imagehave been living together for nine years, and they might as well be married. They have twins, a life together, and bodies transitioning into middle age. Like the previous films, this one takes place in a single day, but this time, they’re vacationing in Greece, and they drive, share a talkative dinner with six other people, and spend considerable time in a hotel room. And they fight. Hard. They still love each other, but you’re not sure if the relationship will last. The result is both sad and sexy. Read my full review. On a double bill with The Lovers on the Bridge.

A Monty Python Live (Mostly), Cerrito, Monday, Thursday, 7:00; Elmwood, Wednesday, 7:00. I know this isn’t technically a movie, but it’s screening in movie theaters and that’s what counts. The five surviving imagemembers of Monty Python, along with a large dancing troupe and the ever-adorable Carol Cleveland, celebrate everything Python in this recorded stage performance. We get old routines with new twists, new routines hopelessly twisted, and clips from the old TV show that often upstage the live acts (Philosopher’s Football is especially hilarious with a full audience). Everyone but the dancers have aged, but they’re just as talented and silly as they were 45 years ago.

C+ Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon, Stanford,Friday. It’s Sherlock Holmes vs. Nazi spies (and Professor Moriarty) in the fourth Rathbone/Bruce Holmes picture and the second one made by Universal. imageThe low budget shows, and the plot is filled with holes, but it’s still fun to watch Rathbone as the best-cast Sherlock Holmes ever. But the real mystery:Who at Universal thought that Rathbone looked good in that ridiculous hairstyle (which would be abandoned a picture of two later). On a double bill with Charlie Chan in London, which I haven’t seen. I discuss both of these series in a recent article.

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