What’s Screening: July 22 – 28

We’ve got five film festivals running this week, along with a lot of very good classic movies.

Festivals

Recommended revivals

A Sunset Blvd, Pacific Film Archive, Wednesday, 7:30

Billy Wilder’s meditation on Hollywood’s seedy underbelly looks like the flip side of Singin’ in the Rain (now that would make a great double bill). Norma Desmond is very much Lena Lamont after twenty-two years of denial and depression. And in the role of Norma, Gloria Swanson gives one of the great over-the-top performances. Part of the series Vienna and the Movies, even though it was shot and set in Hollywood. The film will be introduced by David Thomson.

A M, Pacific Film Archive, Saturday, 6:00

In this early talkie, director Fritz Lang shows us a Germany sinking into corruption, depression, and paranoia. The paranoia is understandable; someone is murdering little girls and successfully eluding the police. Eventually the underworld must do what the authorities cannot and stop the killer. Peter Lorre became famous as the oddly sympathetic child molester, driven by inner demons to kill. I’m not sure film noir would ever have happened without M. Another part of the series Vienna and the Movies.

A- Harold and Maude, Roxie, Monday and Wednesday, 7:00

This 1971 comedy fit the late hippy era as perfectly as Pink Floyd and the munchies. At a time when young Americans were embracing non-conformity, free love, ecstatic joy, and 40-year-old Marx Brothers movies, this counterculture romance between an alienated and death-obsessed young man and a woman four times his age made total sense. The broad and outrageous humor helped considerably. But I do wish that screenwriter Colin Higgins had found a better ending. See my full discussion. A tribute to the now-gone Red Vic movie theater.

A- Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,
Stanford
, Saturday through Tuesday

Corrupt political bosses appoint a naive, young idealist (James Stewart) senator because they 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 left-wing American patriot. Besides, it’s just plain entertaining. On a Frank Capra double bill with Lady for a Day.

B+ Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978 remake), New Mission, Tuesday, 10:15

Phil Kaufmans San Francisco-based remake of the classic alien invasion movie isn’t quite as good as the low-budget, 1956 original, but it comes close. One by one, Donald Sutherland’s friends and loved ones turn into emotionless pod people, and he knows that he too will be lost if he can’t stay awake. A very good sci-fi thriller. Kaufman will attend and introduce the film.

B+ M. Hulot’s Holiday, Pacific Film Archive, Saturday, 3:30

Jacques Tati’s second feature, and his first as the hapless Mr. Hulot, is odd, plotless, nearly dialog-free, and in its own quiet and reserved way, pretty damn funny. The pipe-smoking Hulot takes a vacation at a seaside resort, and while anarchy doesn’t exactly break out, it pops up a bit from just below the surface.

B+ Iron Monkey, Great Star Theater, Saturday, 5:00

I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a Hong Kong action flick that felt so much like a Hollywood swashbuckler. The evil rulers of a village are stealing everything they can while oppressing the people. Luckily for the average peasant, a masked criminal called Iron Monkey robs from the rich and gives to the poor. Meanwhile, a traveling physician and his young son, both martial arts masters, turn up to help. Funny, rousing, and thoroughly entertaining. a (Not Just) Hong Kong Action Film Series screening.

B+ Bullitt, Roxie, Sunday, 5:00

Age hasn’t been altogether kind to this once cutting-edge police thriller. But it has its pleasures, especially Steve McQueen’s exceptionally cool charisma and the best car chase ever shot on the streets of San Francisco. Another marker: To my knowledge, McQueen’s single use of the word “bullshit” marks the first time anyone said such a word in a Hollywood movie. On a double bill with Blow-Up, which I saw so long ago I had to lie about my age to get in.

Lebowskies (frequently-revived classics)

Adapting Shakespeare: Ran and Chimes at Midnight

400 years after his death, people still love William Shakespeare. I can think of no other story teller whose works have remained popular so long. His talent, obviously, has a lot to do with it. But so is his adaptability. His plays, written with almost no stage directions, give actors and directors countless interpretations.

Most Shakespeare productions, either on stage or in film, stay loyal to his work. A production of Hamlet may be shortened, and set in a time and place that the Bard of Avon could never imagine. But the dialog would all come from Hamlet.

But some imaginative directors can take a Shakespeare play–or five of them–and create something totally new.

Within a few days of each other at the Pacific Film Archive, I caught two of the most imaginative, and two of the best, Shakespeare adaptations ever recorded on film. Not coincidentally, they were made by two of the 20th century’s greatest filmmakers: Orson Welles and Akira Kurosawa.

The PFA didn’t screen these films as part of a Shakespeare series. They were just classic films that had recently received beautiful, new digital restorations. Both films were screened off 4K DCPs.

Chimes at Midnight

Orson Welles stuck almost entirely to Shakespeare’s language in his 1966 retelling of the Falstaff story. But he didn’t stick to one particular work. The dialog comes from five separate plays.

Most of Chimes at Midnight comes from the plays Henry IV, Part 1 and Part 2, with a smattering of dialog from Richard II, Henry V, and The Merry Wives of Winsor. From these plays, it tells the tragi-comic story of Sir John Falstaff and his doomed friendship with Prince Hal–the future King Henry V.

Years before I knew that this film existed, I wanted someone would make it. Henry IV, Part 1 is my favorite Shakespeare play. I never cared much for Part 2, except for the brilliant ending that closes the story much better than anything in Part 1. Welles combined the two plays to use the best from each of them.

Quick rundown on the story: King Henry IV (John Gielgud), struggles with a rebellion and his own guilt in the overthrow and murder of Richard II. He also worries about his oldest son, Hal (Keith Baxter), who’s spending his time drinking, carousing, and whoring with a bunch of lowlifes led by a fat, drunken, lying knave named Sir John Falstaff (Welles). Inevitably, Hal will have to set aside his wild ways and take on his royal responsibilities.

It would be tough to find a more perfect actor to play Falstaff than Orson Welles. He was extremely overweight by the 1960s, and yet he still had that star charisma. His Falstaff is rowdy, tricky, mostly joyful, often funny, and inevitably heading for disaster. Like Shakespeare’s tragic heroes, he’s a good man with a tragic flaw. But his flaw is his zest for life.

The cast also includes Jeanne Moreau, Fernando Rey, Margaret Rutherford, and Ralph Richardson’s voice narrating from Holinshed’s Chronicles.

As is true with so much of Welles’ work, Chimes at Midnight was made with very little money. Shot in Spain in black and white, it’s a remarkably beautiful film for its budget. Welles and his collaborators create a battle with a smattering of extras, shoot the castle scenes in old, crumbling ruins, and re-imagine the ultimate Merry Olde England pub and bawdy house.

But the low budget shows itself in the soundtrack. Almost all of the dialog had to be post-dubbed after the shooting–and not always with the same actor who had played the role onscreen. The lips don’t always match, and the sound is often too clean for the onscreen environment. I found this a big problem early on. Eventually, I got used to it.

I might not have gotten used to it if it wasn’t otherwise such an excellent film.

Ran

William Shakespeare created his saddest, most hopeless tragedy in King Lear. And Akira Kurosawa loosely adapted it in his saddest, most hopeless film, Ran.

Kurosawa altered the story considerably. In the most obvious change, the three daughters become three sons. When your story is set in 16th-century Japan, giving land and castles to daughters would have been unthinkable.

But another alteration takes Ran into a deeper space than Lear. Kurosawa tells us something about the aging warlord’s past. The Lear figure Hidetora (Tatsuya Nakadai) is now a senile old man, but was once a cruel and fearsome warrior. He attacked and destroyed his neighbors without pity, killing his rivals, forcing their daughters into marriage, and blinding children who might one day want revenge.

He’s carrying some very bad karma, and he will pay for that karma before the film ends. So will his sons–two of which are as bad as he used to be. Many innocent people will suffer as well. Kurosawa shows no optimism in Ran. The evil will pay for their sins, but that’s of little comfort to their victims. (The title, Ran, loosely translates into English as chaos.)

While turning Lear’s two evil daughters into evil sons, Kurosawa also created one of cinema’s great villainesses in the oldest brother’s wife (Mieko Harada). Seemingly the proper Japanese high-born wife, she manipulates her husband and, after his death, her brother-in-law in her desire to destroy Hidetora’s family. We understand her reasons; Hidetora killed her family and forced her into marriage, but she doesn’t care how many good people must die for her vengeance.

Kurosawa and his collaborators created a stunningly beautiful film in Ran, but it’s often a strangely ugly beauty. The exceptionally gory battle scenes run with a bright red, and a sense of unnecessary yet inevitable death. A castle siege, with no sound except haunting music, may be the best medieval battle scene ever filmed.

I discussed Ran at greater length in 2010–also after a PFA screening. It was screened then off a new 35mm print which I described at the time as “beautiful.” Was that better than the new DCP? How should I know; that was six years ago. But I’d call the digital version beautiful, as well.

What’s Screening: July 15 – 21

We’ve got a ridiculously large selection of great classics screening this week–most of them at the Pacific Film Archive.

Festivals

Promising events

Streetcar San Francisco: Transit Tales of the City in Motion, Balboa, Wednesday, 7:00

This collection of shorts highlight the history of San Francisco public transportation. It promises to “feature archival footage, new and original short films, highlights from the OpenSFHistory collection, and other historically-inspired surprises.” Presented by Western Neighborhoods Project.

Republican National Convention Viewing Party, New Parkway, Wednesday & Thursday, 6:00
Just in case you’d rather watch it in a crowd…probably a booing crowd.

Recommended revivals

A+ Paths of Glory, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Friday, 7:30; Sunday, 4:00

Stanley Kubrick doesn’t just show us that war is hell. He illustrates how powerless men go through that hell for the benefit of powerful men. 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 the generals’ mistake. Kirk Douglas plays the honorable officer who tilts at the windmills of corrupted military justice. Part of the series Kubrick in Black & White.

A+ Preston Sturges double bill: The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek & The Great McGinty, Stanford, Wednesday through next Friday

The A+ goes to The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek. At a time when it was impossible for a Hollywood picture to criticize the American military or suggest that a young woman could get pregnant out of wedlock, Preston Sturges made a very funny comedy about a teenage girl who goes out with some soldiers and comes back in a family way. Read my A+ appreciation. Sturges’ directorial debut, The Great McGinty, isn’t near as funny as Morgan’s Creek, but this story of a crooked politician who goes straight and thus ruins his life has its charms and laughs. I give it a B-.

A The Mill and the Cross, Pacific Film Archive, Wednesday, 7:00

Lech Majewski recreates the making of Bruegel’s painting The Way to Calvary, using 21-century art and technology. True to Bruegel’s style, the film starts with the day-to-day lives of ordinary, 16th-century peasants, then moves on to the religious clashes of the day. Using nature, paint, and digital effects, Majewski creates a visual feast that moves from the world of Bruegel’s experience into the world of his imagination. Read my full review. Part of the series Guided Tour: Museums In Cinema.

A The Killing, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Saturday, 7:30; Sunday, 2:00

Stanley Kubrick started his Hollywood career with this crackerjack noir heist thriller. A career criminal (Sterling Hayden) orchestrates a complex racetrack robbery likely to net two million 1956 dollars. But he needs collaborators, and needless to say, human frailty gets in the way. Hayden’s rat-a-tat-tat delivery does wonders for snappy, pulp-heavy dialog like “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.”

A- Comedy Short Subject Night, Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, Saturday, 7:30

In One AM, Charlie Chaplin plays his rich drunk character in what’s basically a solo performance, too soused to find his way to bed. The Scarecrow isn’t Keaton’s best two-reeler, but it still provides plenty of laughs. In High and Dizzy, Harold Lloyd finds himself high on a skyscraper; a comic dilemma he’d perfect to an art in Safety Last.
You’re Darn Tootin’ stands amongst the best silent Laurel and Hardy shorts. With Greg Pane on piano.

B+ Wings of Desire, Pacific Film Archive, Sunday, 7:15

Wenders’ fantasy about angels in Berlin offers a view of the city as a land of interior monologues. Two angels (Bruno Ganz and Otto Sander) watch over the people, listen to their thoughts, and comfort them in their pain. Then one of them falls in love with a trapeze artist, and finds himself longing for mortality. Wenders couldn’t have known it when he made the film in 1988, but he was capturing the last months of a divided city; the wall seen in the film would soon come down. With Peter Falk as a strange version of himself. Part of the series Wim Wenders: Portraits Along the Road.

Lebowskies (frequently-revived classics)

Late Spring at the Pacific Film Archive

As people grow, the way they relate to their family inevitably changes. Some fight the change, and others accept it.

I went to the Pacific Film Archive Wednesday night to see Yasujirô Ozu’s 1949 masterpiece, Late Spring, about a young woman resisting change. She wants to stay with her widowed father, but he senses that it’s time for her to make a life without him.

Noriko (Setsuko Hara) is 27, and seems completely happy living with and taking care of her father (Chishû Ryû). No other actor in the history of cinema could radiate kindness and joy like Hara, and she makes us know with absolutely certainty that she’s contented in her life.

But her father worries about her. Most women her age are married. If things don’t change soon, she will be lonely after he’s gone. So, with the help of friends and family, he searches for a suitable husband and–with far more difficulty–convince her to marry.

Today, a film about a woman being pressured into marriage would carry a strong feminist message: A woman can lead a full and happy life without being chained to a man. I’m not entirely sure if Ozu felt that way when he made Late Spring. Probably not, but the film actually works within that point of view. After all, she doesn’t meet that perfect man. But Ozu never looks down on the father and the others trying to bring Noriko to the alter. They’re clearly acting on what they believe are her best interests.

Besides, Noriko is already chained to a man she loves–her father.

Noriko’s reluctance to change makes her judgmental of change in others–a surprising character trait on someone so warm and friendly. She calls a divorced male friend “dirty” (with a smile) because he remarried.

Late Spring is shot and edited in Ozu’s patented simple, elegant style. Especially in interiors, he kept the camera low–only a few inches from the ground–and rarely moved it. You take in the room and see how everyone reacts to each other.

Ozu’s slow editing pace helps bring you into the world of the characters. He shows us a tea ceremony, trolley rides, Tokyo and rural streets, and a good bit of a Noh play. As an American born in the second half of the 20th century, I found these moments fascinating and enlightening. But I couldn’t help wondering how these scenes may have effected Late Spring‘s intended audience. For them, much of this must have felt like boring old life.

While Ozu’s camera stays on day-to-day life, much of the story is concealed–another common part of Ozu’s style. For instance, we never see the man everyone is pressuring Noriko to marry.

Late Spring has recently benefited from a new 4K restoration, and the PFA screened it off a 4K DCP. I’m getting a little tired of praising the latest 4K restoration; starting with Children of Paradise in 2012, they’ve all been gorgeous. Late Spring’s restoration had a few washed out moments, but other than that, it looked great.

Late Spring will screen again on Sunday, July 17, 5:00.

A+ List: The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek (also Lone Star & My Darling Clementine)

Has there ever been an ingénue with a more perfectly comical name than Trudy Kockenlocker? Or a code-era Hollywood movie that so deftly outwitted the censors of its time? There are funnier movies than The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek, but not many, and none this funny that flew in the face of traditional morality with as much glee.

With its deft mixture of physical and verbal comedy, and its daring break from the conventions of its day, The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek earns a spot on my A+
list
, where I honor the great films that I have loved for decades.

But before we get to Trudy Kockenlocker’s dilemma, I’d like to name two other A+ movies that I’ve already written about:

  • Lone Star: John Sayles’ portrait of a small Texas town
    turned 20 last month, and I’ve just added it to this list. I discuss it in this Fandor Keyframe article.
  • My Darling Clementine: You can read my Blu-ray review.

Now, back to The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek.

To truly understand the miracle of this movie, you should know a bit about the restrictions Hollywood filmmakers had to contend with in 1944. Amongst many other limitations, you could not show a woman visibly pregnant. You could not even use the word pregnant. And that unmentionable condition could only be the natural result of a marriage license.

Those rules went into effect in 1934. But the reality of World War II added more restrictions. You had to celebrate patriotism, and could not show the American military in anything but a positive light.

Despite these restrictions, writer/director Preston Sturges created a comedy about a small-town teenage girl who goes out partying with a whole platoon, and comes home pregnant. And he did it without breaking any of the rules. For instance, Trudy vaguely remembers that she got married on her night with the boys–even though she can’t remember her husband’s name or face.

Even crazier, the story works as a parody of the Christmas story. Trudy, like Mary, is a virgin who gets impregnated by an unseen entity. She has to leave town. And when she finally gives birth–during the Christmas season, no less–she gives birth to a miracle. Of course, since it’s a Preston Sturges movie, it’s a very funny miracle.

If you’re going to have fun with the Christmas story, you need a Joseph, and Sturges created the perfect comic Joseph in Norval Jones, and found the perfect actor to play him in comedian Eddie Bracken. Rejected by the draft board, Norval is the loser without a uniform that no one wants. Bracken, a homely fellow who could never be a straight leading man, gives him a jittery fear of almost everything, but a sense of gallantry that inevitably wins you over.

Norval is hopelessly in love with Trudy, and she uses him horribly. When she becomes pregnant, he’s the obvious fall guy. And a fall guy is an important thing to have when the girl’s father is the town’s short-tempered constable.

That short-tempered constable is played by William Demarest–the brightest gem in Sturges’ regular repertory company of comic supporting actors. Specializing in playing cranky men with little education, his characters tended to be rough, gruff, and suspicious. His performance as Trudy’s father is one of his best–tough and bossy, but completely unable to control his daughters.

Speaking of those daughters, Betty Hutton rocketed to stardom through her performance as Trudy. She’s impulsive, confused, and terrified. Even after she realizes that she loves Norval (don’t tell me you didn’t see that coming), she’s overwhelmed with fear. And she carries her end of the comic dialog with the perfectly-timed training of the professional she was.

Diana Lynn plays Trudy’s younger but smarter sister with ironic detachment. She has many of the film’s best punchlines, usually at her father’s expense. He’s not always sure that he’s been insulted.

The laughs are nearly constant, and well varied between dialog and slapstick. Rapid-fire comic dialog was one of Sturges’ strengths, and in many scenes you have to listen closely to get all the gags. And the physical comedy is just as impressive. Demarest was in his 50s when he shot The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek, yet he takes several impressive and always funny pratfalls that most people wouldn’t do at 30. Bracken could fall almost as well, and in one great moment walks through a screen door.

From 1940 through ’44, Sturges wrote and directed some of the funniest, most daring, and sexy comedies to come out of Hollywood’s factories. I’ve already told you about The Lady EveThe Miracle of Morgan’s Creek is even better. To my mind, it’s his masterpiece.

And Paramount, which owns the film, has made it available for free on its  Paramount Vault Youtube channel.

This article was altered hours after it was posted. I corrected the headline, and added the final paragraph about streaming the movie.

Jewish Film Festival Preview, Part 2

Since I last wrote about this year’s San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, I’ve seen five more films and a TV show that will screen at this year’s festival. Here’s what I thought of them, in order from best to worst:

A The Settlers

I found this documentary extremely difficult to watch, but also desperately important to experience. It tells the history of the West Bank settlements, mostly through the words of determined, militant, racist, religious fanatics with a worthat’s at odds with basic human decency. It leaves you feeling that there’s no hope for a just peace–probably because there really isn’t any hope. You won’t get this one out of your system easily.

A- Natasha

This coming-of-age drama deals with cultural conflicts and the side effects of sexual exploitation. Mark is 16, lives in a suburb of Toronto, and doesn’t know what to do with his life. Then members of his extended family arrive from Russia. One of them, Natasha, is 14 years old, sexually experienced, and has just become his cousin by marriage. She’s sullen whenever her mother is around, but loosens up (maybe too much) when free of maternal contact. The two teenagers soon become lovers, but that clearly can’t last. A very touching film.

What makes this a Jewish film? The characters are all ethnically Jewish, but their Russian identities seem far more important to the story than their Jewish ones.

B+ Germans and Jews

How do today’s German’s deal with the horrible crimes committed by their parents and grandparents? How can they face their own prejudices in a country with almost no Jews? And how do modern Jews relate to modern Germans? Janina Quint points her camera and microphone at several thoughtful and intelligent Germans and Jews, and gets insightful and fascinating answers. One Israeli-raised Jew claims he feels safer in Germany than in Israel. As I watched this conventionally-made documentary, I couldn’t help wishing that the USA would face its own crimes as well as the Germans have faced theirs.

B+ Song of Songs

Most films about shtetl life give it a nostalgic glow, with only the anti-Semites outside causing real trouble. But this story of a 10-year-old boy with a wild imagination barely mentions pogroms. His problems stem from a sadistically stern teacher and a crush on a beautiful orphan girl living with his family. The simple story is slow, low-key, and touching. If for no other reason, see Song of Songs for the photography, which appears to have been inspired by Vermeer.

  • Castro, Wednesday, July 27, 12:00 noon
  • Roda, Wednesday, August 3, 2:05

B- How to Win Enemies

I can’t really call this Argentine crime mystery a thriller, but it has a likeable protagonist and a nice little puzzle of a story (even if I guessed the bad guy way too soon). Lucas, a young lawyer working in the family business and a fan of crime fiction, falls for a con and loses a lot of money. While everyone else insists that he was just a random mark, Lucas is certain that he was targeted by someone who knows him well. And thus a mystery must be solved.

What makes this a Jewish film? Lucas is Jewish, and the film uses his brother’s very Jewish wedding as a framing device.

C The Writer

The new TV show by Sayed Kashua is even more autobiographical than his hit Arab Labor. This time, his alter-ego protagonist is the creator or a sitcom called Arabic Work (I don’t know if the title difference is intentional or a subtitle error), and is so obviously Kashua it’s almost embarrassing. The Jew/Arab conflict barely appears here. The story of a commercially successful, desperately unhappy man blurs the line between fiction and autobiography a little too much.

You can also read my previous reviews of four other SFJFF films.

What’s Screening: July 8 – 14

Bruce Lee, John Wayne, Bugs Bunny, and pregnant nuns grace this week’s Bay Area screenings.

And not only Bugs Bunny. This weekend we get two collections of Loony Tune classics, both in 35mm.

Festivals

The (Not Just) Hong Kong Action Film Series continues Friday through Sunday, as it will throughout July.

New films opening

B+ The Innocents, Clay, Albany, Rafael, opens Friday
Only months after the end of World War II, a Polish nunnery experiences a rash of new-born babies–the result of multiple rapes. A young, French doctor does what she can to help them, but she must fight with the extremely strict mother superior. The story becomes a battle between grim-faced, unbending religion and humanism–both secular and spiritual. Read my full review.

B Hunt for The Wilderpeople, Embarcadero, Guild, California, Rafael, opens Friday

This New Zealand comedy starts out wonderful, touching, and very funny, but it wears out its welcome too soon. The story concerns a troubled boy (Julian Dennison) sent to a new foster home in the very rural outback. Soon the boy and his reluctant foster father are living in the woods, and the government creates a dragnet to catch these two escapees from civilization. Read my SFIFF report.

Promising events

A Salute to Chuck Jones, Castro, Sunday, 12:00

A celebration of Warner Brothers’ most talented animator. The short cartoons to be screened, all in 35mm, include such classics as What’s Opera, Doc?, One Froggy Evening, Feed the Kitty, Duck Amuck, and Rabbit of Seville. The ticket prices are high–$17 to $150–but it’s a benefit for the Cartoon Art Museum and the Chuck Jones Center for Creativity.

Popcorn for Breakfast presents: Looney Tunes in 35mm, Roxie, Saturday, 11:00am

If the above Salute to Chuck Jones is too pricey for you, here’s another Loony Tune collection that also includes many of the best short cartoons to come out of Warner Brothers (although not my favorite, Duck Amuck). And this one costs only $8; free for kids under 12.

Enter The Dragon, Great Star Theater, Saturday, 3:00 & 9:00

I haven’t seen this movie in years, and while I liked it when I saw it, I was never a big fan. This is the flick that brought the martial arts genre to America, and made Bruce Lee famous on this side of the Pacific, even if he didn’t live to enjoy the fame. Look closely to catch Jackie Chan as a nameless fighter unlucky to go up against Lee. Part of the (Not Just) Hong Kong Action Film Series.

Recommended revivals

A+ Ran, Pacific Film Archive, Friday, 7:00

New 4K Restoration
I doubt anyone else ever made a movie as sad, as tragic, as despairing of the human condition, and yet as beautiful as Kurosawa’s reworking of King Lear. To watch Ran is to experience, in your gut, that many people are capable of unspeakable evil. And while these people inevitably pay the price for their ambitions, so do countless innocents. Unlike Shakespeare, Kurosawa considers what his king did before he became old, and it isn’t pretty. The film, on the other hand, is as visually gorgeous as movies get. Read my Kurosawa Diary entry.

B+ Iron Monkey, Great Star Theater, Saturday, 7:00

I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a Hong Kong action flick that felt so much like a Hollywood swashbuckler. The evil rulers of a village are stealing everything they can while oppressing the people. Luckily for the average peasant, a masked criminal called Iron Monkey robs from the rich and gives to the poor. Meanwhile, a traveling physician and his young son, both martial arts masters, turn up to help. Funny, rousing, and thoroughly entertaining. Another (Not Just) Hong Kong Action Film Series screening.

B+ Hitchcock/Truffaut, Pacific Film Archive, Thursday, 7:00

In the early 60s, François Truffaut interviewed Alfred Hitchcock and together they created one of the great books on filmmaking. Now documentarian Kent Jones has turned that book into a film. He rightly focuses on cinematic technique as he explains the creation of the book and what it taught filmmakers. Top directors, including Wes Anderson, Richard Linklater, and Martin Scorsese, talk onscreen about Hitchcock’s work–how he used camera placement, editing, and other tools of the filmmaker’s art. I enjoyed the movie very much, but I’m biased. Read my full review.

B+ Shanghai Noon, Great Star Theater, Sunday, 3:00

Jackie Chan and a not-yet-famous Owen Wilson star in this outrageous sendup on the Western. As a Chinese Imperial Guard on a mission to Nevada to rescue a princess, Chan gets to play the fish out of water. Wilson plays a would-be train robber who thinks he’s the star of a dime novel. Despite their very different comic styles, the two stars find great chemistry. The sequel, Shanghai Knights, is even better. Another part of the (Not Just) Hong Kong Action Film Series.

B The 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 he 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.

B The Searchers, Castro, Sunday, 6:00

A bitter and racist Civil War veteran (John Wayne) spends years searching for his niece, kidnapped by Comanches. At first he wants to save her, but as the years go by, he starts talking about killing her, because she’s now “more Comanch than white.” Talk about an anti-hero. Shot in VistaVision, the movie looks splendid, has many great moments, and contains one of Wayne’s greatest performances. The closing shot itself is unforgettable. Most John Ford fans consider The Searchers his masterpiece. I disagree. I find it marred by a rambling, occasionally absurd plot, and a very unlikable protagonist (probably Wayne’s least sympathetic character). On a double bill with the much better The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, which I list below in the Lebowskies.

B Roman Holiday, Stanford, Saturday through Tuesday

Gregory Peck and “introducing” Audrey Hepburn fall in love through an extremely contrived plot in this entertaining romantic comedy. She’s a runaway princess, and he’s a reporter hoping for a scoop. But the real star is Rome; shooting overseas locations was a new thing in the early 1950s. Directed by William Wyler, from a story by Dalton Trumbo. On a double bill with Midnight.

Lebowskies (frequently-revived classics)

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