Pixar into Disney

Now that Disney has bought Pixar, what will become of the two companies? Disney CEO Robert (anyone’s better than Eisner) Iger promises to “welcome and embrace Pixar’s unique culture.” But didn’t a Disney executive say something like that once about Miramax?

Yes, this is another case of a big company swallowing up a small one in an allegedly win-win situation (and it probably is win-win for the stockholders). Pixar creative head John Lasseter–now Disney’s Chief Creative Officer–may improve the behemoth’s animated features in the short run, but he may eventually find himself too busy and overextended to manage the magic that he’s brought to Pixar. He’ll make a few costly mistakes, get fired, and Pixar will be just another brand name for Disney movies, just like Touchstone, Miramax, and Dimension. Meanwhile, Steve Jobs will stay on to make sure that no computer or portable music player seen in a Disney movie lacks an Apple logo.

Lasseter isn’t the first great animation pioneer to profit handsomely by combining good story sense with cutting-edge technology. I can name another, one who refused to sign away control of his film, his characters, and his small studio. He eventually set up his own distribution system and did quite well. Yes, Walt Disney.

In other news, the 8th Annual San Francisco Independent Film Festival is coming soon, opening on February 2. As usual, it looks like an eclectic collection of features made for less money than Hollywood spends on a single film’s catering. After opening at the Castro, it moves to Roxie and the Women’s Building where it will run until the 14th.

Then there’s the 4th San Francisco Korean American Film Festival, which runs from the 7th through the 12th at the 4 Star, the Presidio, and assorted non-commercial auditoriums. The festival includes films from Korea and by Korean-Americans. Judging from the film descriptions, a great many of the selections are commercial movies; of course, they’re commercial movies from Korea, which is something we don’t see much in this country.

Speaking of parts of the world that make films that are rarely seen in this country, selections from the New York African Film Festival are coming to the Pacific Film Archive, starting Friday. (It’s films from Africa we rarely get to see; we see plenty of them from New York.)

More good news. You’ll finally get a chance to see Go for Zucker!, which I called the Best Movie You Probably Didn’t See in my 2005 round-up. It will screen for at least one week in Berkeley and San Francisco in early March. If it’s popular, it will stick around.

For more good news, here’s what’s screening now:

Recommended: A History of Violence, 4Star, Roxie, ongoing. David Cronenberg has turned what could have been a conventional Hitchcockian thriller into a meditation on the nature, the lure, and the destructiveness of violence. Viggo Mortensen goes way beyond Aragorn as a small-town family man who kills two thugs in self-defense, then finds gangsters at his door who think he’s one of them. The violence is both visually gruesome (this is Cronenberg, after all) and emotionally harrowing. Life doesn’t return to normal just because you’ve killed all the bad guys. But on one level, it’s still Hollywood: The good guys are impossibly talented fighters. But that’s okay; the movie would be unbearable without that one bit of fantasy.

Not Recommended: Gone With the Wind, Stanford, Friday through Sunday, then coming back the following Friday for another three days. I have a weakness for big historical epics, but the biggest of them all just leaves me flat. And no, it’s not because it’s “politically incorrect.– The first part is okay, but boredom sets in after the intermission. In fact, the post-war section is kind of like a slasher flick; x number of characters have to die before the movie ends and you can go home.

Recommended: Pride and Prejudice, 4Star, opens Friday. A sweet romance about class-defying true love, set during a time when marriage was a business proposition. The latest adaptation of this oft-filmed novel is an endearing entertainment (I haven’t read the book, or seen the BBC miniseries, so I’m not bothered by any failure to live up to Jane Austin’s intentions.) The British cast does an excellent job, and token Yank Donald Sutherland is simply grand. But Pride and Prejudice belongs to Keira Knightley; this is the first movie I’ve seen that lets her shine in what is unambiguously the starring role. And shine she does.

Not Recommended: Fear & Loathing In Las Vegas, Castro, Sunday. Oh, how Terry Gilliam has fallen! Monty Python’s token Yank made three of the best movies of the 1980’s, then his career collapsed and took his talent with it. Fear & Loathing In Las Vegas reeks; a confused, ugly, and meaningless exercise–which would be forgivable if it also wasn’t boring and witless. On a double-bill with the much better Trainspotting.

Recommended: Trainspotting, Castro, Sunday. Scary, frantic, painful, exhilarating, and unlike anything else you’ve ever experienced. That’s probably a fair description of heroin addiction. Add to those adjectives funny and very, very Scottish, and you’ve got Trainspotting. On a double-bill, unfortunately, with Fear & Loathing In Las Vegas.

Recommended: The Big Lebowski, Castro, Tuesday. Critics originally panned this Coen Brothers gem as a disappointing follow-up to the Coen’s previous endeavor, Fargo. Well, it isn’t as good as Fargo, but it’s still one hell of a funny movie.

Recommended: Winter Soldier, Rafael, Wednesday and Thursday. Who knew that 95 minutes of people talking about atrocities would be so riveting? In 1971, more than 125 Viet Nam veterans bore witness to the war crimes in which they themselves participated. This filmed record of the event, shot in grainy, black and white close-ups, was hardly seen at the time. Today, as Americans debate what we are and are not allowed to do to our suspected enemies, it is all the more relevant. Watch for a young John Kerry near the beginning.

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