Another movie theater bites the dust

Another movie theater bites the dust.

Without so much as a press release, Landmark Theaters quietly closed Berkeley’s Act I & II a few weeks ago. The company won’t comment on the closing, but it’s a good guess that this relatively old two-screener wasn’t making the bottom line.

It was no palace, but the Acts was a good theater, especially downstairs. It has a decent-sized screen, good sound, friendly help. I believe it was one of the first theaters in Berkeley with Dolby stereo.

Landmark showed a lot of good films there. My first Act experience was Animal House back in 1978. My last was CSA: The Confederate States of America. Among the many in between were Kagemusha, La Cage Aux Folles, Chariots of Fire, Lone Star, Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet, Romance, and a revival showing of Raiders of the Lost Ark. In 1998, I took a woman there to see Shakespeare in Love; we’re now married. Recently, it’s been the main home of Landmark’s East Bay one-week engagements and midnight movies (in other words, the Landmark presentations I list here).

Landmark Theaters once dominated downtown Berkeley. In addition to the Act I & II, they had the Berkeley
(gone), the Fine Arts (sold, run independently as a wonderful revival house, but now gone), and their great flagship, the UC (gone and sorely missed). All they have left there is the California and the Shattuck.

On a happier note, the San Francisco International Film Festival is opening as this goes out Thursday night. I only caught four of the films in previews, but you’ll find three of those, and other items, below.

Recommendation: Inside Man, 4Star and Presidio, ongoing. Looks more like Spike Lee than Match Point looks like Woody Allen, but not by much. Going slick and commercial, Lee and screenwriter Russell Gewirtz fashioned an effective and entertaining puzzle thriller. The game here is guessing what a character will do next, and the story offers enough surprises to keep you guessing and usually guessing wrong. I suspect Lee took this relatively apolitical Hollywood assignment because he needed a hit; and he’s earned it. It’s nice to know he can do light entertainment.

Recommended: The Princess Bride, Clay, Saturday and Sunday, midnight. William Goldman’s enchanting and funny fairy tale dances magically along that thin line between parody and the real thing. There’s no funnier swordfight anywhere.

Recommended: In Bed, Castro, Saturday, 9:15; Kabuki, Monday, 3:15. Before you’ve seen anything but credits, In Bed treats you to the sound of a very long orgasm. When the screams of delight are over, we see two people who’ve just had incredible sex but don’t know what to say to each other. This modest film from Chile, with a cast of two and set entirely in a motel room, sticks to the essentials of a one-night stand–”lust and conversation. Writer Julio Rojas and director Mati as Bize catch the intimacy that casual sex can produce in near-total strangers. Like My Dinner of Andre, In Bed is primarily a film about conversation, but this time, the dialog is punctuated not by dinner courses but by some of the steamiest sex ever put on the screen. Part of the San Francisco International Film Festival.

Recommended: The Life I Want, Kabuki, Saturday, 9:15; Monday, 8:30; Thursday, 6:00. Two actors, a novice and a movie star, fall in love on the set of a period romance, and then find themselves incompatible. Their relationship parallels the movie they’re making, but director/co-writer Giuseppe Piccioni handles this contrivance far better than Peter Ho-Sun Chan did  in superficially similar Perhaps Love. Sandra Ceccarelli and Best of Youth’s Luigi Locascio glow as the lovers; we like them even when we see them at their worst. A clear-eyed view of love, acting, and the process of movie-making. Part of the San Francisco International Film Festival.

Noteworthy: Not So Quiet Silents with Alloy Orchestra, Castro, Sunday, 1:00. Silent films were never silent–”especially when there were children in the audience. The Alloy Orchestra, returning for a second year to the San Francisco International Film Festival, will provide part of the accompaniment for this selection of family-friendly silent shorts. The audience will provide the rest. I know one of the shorts involved, Buster Keaton’s One Week; it’s a good one.

Recommended: Annie Hall, Red Vic, Sunday and Monday. Almost every Hollywood film deals on some level with romantic love, but very few accurately capture the complex, dizzying ups and downs of that common experience. And no other captures it as well, or as hilariously, as Annie Hall.

Recommendation with Reservations: The Pirate, Stanford, Sunday through Tuesday.  Not Vincent Minnelli’s best musical, or Gene Kelly’s, but still a splendid entertainment. With songs by Cole Porter and dance numbers choreographed by Kelly and Robert Alton. The mistaken-identity story debunks one romantic myth (that of pirates) while building up another (actors). On a double-bill with The Clock.

Recommendation with Reservations: Black Narcissus, Castro, Monday and Tuesday. Not much more than a well-done but silly melodrama, Black Narcissus is nevertheless a must if you love old-fashioned three-strip Technicolor. No one could work emotional magic with that clumsy but beautiful system like cinematographer Jack Cardiff, and this is his best work. On a double-bill with Age of Consent.

Noteworthy: Werner Herzog honored with Film Society Directing Award, Castro, Wednesday, 7:30. This year, the San Francisco International Film Festival gives its Directing Award (AKA, The Honor Formerly Known as the Akira Kurosawa Award) to a filmmaker who truly deserves it: Werner Herzog. In addition to a screening of his soon-to-be-released-in-the-US 2005 science fiction film The Wild Blue Yonder, the evening will include clips from previous pictures and a personal appearance. But Herzog will probably not eat his shoe.

Not Recommended: See You in Space, Kabuki, Thursday, 4:00. Hungarian filmmaker Eg Veled fails to pull off an Altman-like multithreaded film about people looking for love in all the wrong places. There’s little connection between the stories, and little to care about with the characters. The one unique gimmick, a cosmonaut stuck in a space station while his marriage falls apart on Earth, doesn’t really go anywhere. One positive note: The zero-gravity effects are the best I’ve seen since Apollo 13. Part of the San Francisco International Film Festival.

Recommended: Raiders of the Lost Ark, Parkway, Thursday, 9:15.  Steven Spielberg directed it, and the bad guys are Nazis, but it’s as far from Schindler’s List as a good movie can get. What else can I say? If you object to mindless, escapist action flicks on principle, you won’t see it anyway. If you don’t, you already know it’s wonderful. The first Parkway Tribe Night screening.

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