Lousy and Expensive

What this country needs is a really good, big budget, escapist action flick.

No, that sentence is neither oxymoronic nor sacrilegious. These things exist. Last year we had Star Wars III, Batman Begins, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, King Kong, and Narnia, all superb entertainments providing plenty of fun and computer-generated spectacle, while still managing to tell good stories.

This summer, so far, we’ve had Superman Returns and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest. That’s overbloated, overlong, and underwritten, times two.

I won’t go into detail. It’s been a crazy week for me, so I’ll cut right to this week’s movies.

Recommended: 2001: A Space Odyssey, Castro, Friday. I used to worship Stanley Kubrick’s visualization of Arthur C. Clarke’s imagination. But it hasn’t aged all that well; we’ve all seen the actual year, and know that Clark and Kubrick got almost everything wrong. Yet there’s no denying the pull of 2001’s unorthodox storytelling and visual splendor–if you can see it in the right theater. 2001 was shot for 70mm projection on a giant, curved, Cinerama screen, an experience that’s simply not available today in the Bay Area. The best we have is 70mm on the Castro’s flat screen. That’s good enough to make it worth catching. Part of the Castro’s 70mm Series series.

Recommended: Notorious, Stanford, Friday through Monday. One of Hitchcock’s best. In order to prove her patriotism, scandal-ridden Ingrid Bergman seduces, beds, and marries Claude Rains’ Nazi industrialist, while true love Cary Grant grimly watches. Sexy, romantic, thought-provoking, and scary enough to shorten your fingernails. On a double-bill with Casablanca.

Recommended: Casablanca, Stanford, Friday through Monday. What can I say? You’ve either already seen it 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 movie coming off the Warner assembly line. But somehow, just this once, everything came together perfectly. On a double-bill with Notorious; you don’t get two better films for one admission price.

Not Recommended: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, 4Star, opens Friday. Yet another bad sequel to a good movie. Whereas the original Pirates of the Caribbean tread lightly over its silly story, this one takes itself seriously. But as there’s nothing serious about the shallow and meaningless story, all we get is dark imagery and poor attempts at character development that get in the way of the fun. Worse yet, it ends with a cliffhanger; no one is supposed to see Dead Man’s Chest and skip the third installment. The two good action scenes aren’t enough to justify an otherwise dreary 2 ½-hour movie.

Recommended: Scoop, Balboa, opens Friday. It’s official: Woody Allen is back in form. Match Point was a good movie, but Scoop is better than good; it’s funny. Scarlett Johansson proves herself Allen’s best muse since Diane Keaton, while Allen himself returns to the luckless schlemiel of his early work, and discovers the character to be even funnier as an old man. Johansson plays a journalism student following a hot tip on a serial killer (given to her by a ghost), and Allen plays a magician who helps her. Hugh Jackman does the romantic lead chores as the suspect who turns Johansson’s thoughts to love.

Noteworthy: Cleopatra (1963) Castro, Saturday. At 243 minutes, this widescreen epic clocks in as the longest single theatrical release by a major American studio. And at an estimated 40 million 1963 dollars, it’s quite likely the most expensive. I found the first half mildly entertaining and the second half boring (despite a torrid off-camera affair, Burton and Taylor fail to light up the screen), but then I’ve never seen a good print of Cleopatra. I’ve heard that properly shown, this very big film comes alive as a visual feast. Happily, the Castro is properly showing a new print in their 70mm Series.

Recommended: Lawrence of Arabia, Castro, Sunday and Monday. Lawrence isn’tjust 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. This masterpiece isn’t worth seeing on DVD and barely worthwhile in 35mm. Shot in Super Panavision 70, it takes 70mm to reach it’s potential. Lawrence will be shown that way as part of the Castro’s 70mm Series.

Recommended: Baraka, Castro, Wednesday and Thursday. Strange, haunting, beautiful, and terrifying, Baraka defies description. Without plot, narration, or explanation, it simply presents images of nature, humanity, and humanity’s effect on nature. Even if you don’t see a message (there is one), you’re captivated by the music and the clear and perfect visuals. Baraka was one of the last films, and one of the few art films, shot in 65mm. Part of the Castro’s 70mm Series.