This Week’s Recommendations

Sorry I’m a bit late with the newsletter this week. Rosh Hashanah.

I’ve also changed my weekly newsletter (what you’re reading). I now list ongoing engagements of reviewed films at the bottom, without repeating the reviews.

Delirious, Lumiere and Shattuck, opens Friday for one-week run. It’s official: Low-budget independent films can be as slick and lightweight as Hollywood entertainment–and as entertaining. Tom DiCillo’s comedy about paparazzi and the celebrities they prey upon lightly satirizes our obsession with the rich and famous, but still falls for the glamour of its supposed target. Basically a buddy movie only marginally more realistic than Blades of Glory, it offers nothing in the way of any real insight. On the other hand, it offers likeable characters, a touch of cynicism, a bit of suspense, Gina Gershon in very tight pants, and plenty of laughs built organically into the story. For those not interested in Gina Gershon, you also see plenty of Michael Pitt. But it’s Steve Buscemi who steals the picture (and gives it indie cred) as a self-hating paparazzi–excuse me, “licensed professional.”

Shadow of a Doubt, Stanford, Friday through Tuesday. In Alfred Hitchcock’s first great American film, a serial killer (Joseph Cotton at his most charming) returns to his small-town roots. When his favorite niece (Teresa Wright) begins to suspect that all is not right with her beloved Uncle Charlie, her own life is in danger. The locations were shot in Santa Rosa. On a double feature with Laura.

Brokeback Mountain, Castro, Sunday. Ang Lee’s gay love story may one day seem as dated as Kramer vs. Kramer and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, but today it looks like a masterpiece. Heath Ledger turns the stereotype of the strong, silent cowboy on its head, playing a man so beaten down and closed off from the world that every word is a struggle. (I sometimes wonder how many people caught the richness of this film’s use of classic Hollywood western iconography.) Jake Gyllenhaal and Michelle Williams are also brilliant as his lover and wife. And, of course, screenwriters Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana, working from a short story by E. Annie Proulx, deserve considerable credit.

All My Loving & The Pink Floyd and Syd Barret Story, Roxie, Monday, 9:00. For one night only, the Roxie presents two documentaries, each just under an hour, about ’60s British rock ‘n’ roll. The Pink Floyd and Syd Barret Story is the better of the two, and it’s not a must-see by a long shot. John Edginton has fashioned a workable and reasonably interesting documentary about Syd Barret, a major force in Pink Floyd in the group’s early years, before nsanity, possibly brought on by too much acid, destroyed his career. All My Loving is a “classic” BBC doc from 1968 that hasn’t aged well, at all. Rock stars pontificate. People who hate rock pontificate. The narrator speaks with such formality you think he’s introducing the queen. The choices of songs and performance clips are almost always poor, and the footage from Vietnam and the Holocaust just seemed tacked on for attempted relevance. Click here for a slightly longer review.

Once, Lark, opens Friday. The most romantic picture since Before Sunrise, Once charms you with winning characters, an odd kind of low-key suspense, and terrific music. The music comes out of the story, which concerns two talented but unprofessional musicians (Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová) becoming close friends and collaborators. There’s clearly a romantic attraction, but you’re never quite clear where it’s going to go. Wherever it goes, it gets there musically; if the film isn’t a hit, the singer/songwriter-style soundtrack will be. Sorry, but I have to say it: You’ll want to see Once twice. Also continuing at the Parkway.

Stardust, Cerrito, opens Friday. Magic. Every positive implication of that word applies to Matthew Vaughn’s adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s fantasy novel. No attempt to describe the plot can do it justice, so let me just say it concerns a callow youth (Charlie Cox), a fallen star (Claire Danes), an evil witch temporarily restored to her youthful beauty (Michelle Pfeiffer), seven evil princes, and a flamingly gay pirate (Robert De Niro). Like Princess Bride, Stardust manages to mix silly humor with likable (I wouldn’t go so far as to call them realistic) characters and thrilling fantasy swashbuckling. Easily the best action film I’ve seen this year. Also continuing at the Parkway.

La Vie En Rose, Balboa, opens Friday. Early in this Edith Piaf biopic, a hunched, aged-before-her-time Piaf walks up to a recording studio microphone. She looks bored and mildly annoyed. When she starts singing in that incredible voice, she still looks bored and annoyed, her facial expression contrasting sharply with her soaring vocals. I knew then that La Vie En Rose wasn’t going to be a happy film about the redemption of art. Marion Cotillard gives one of cinema’s great performances as Piaf, whose short life–at least in writer/director Olivier Dahan’s view–was about as miserable as a life can get. Horrendous childhood, bad luck, and her own selfish and unpleasant personality hurt her at every turn. This isn’t an easy film to watch, but it is also impossible to ignore. Great songs, too. On a Double Feature with Paris, je t’aime. Also continuing at the Elmwood.

Hairspray, 4Star, opens Friday. In the early 1960’s, Americans died horrible, violent deaths over issues of racial equality. And now it’s a musical! Well, why not? The Hollywood version of the Broadway musical based upon John Water’s original independent film celebrates the spirit of the civil rights movement by turning it into one big, happy dance contest on local daytime TV. The result is charming, upbeat, and very funny, with pleasant musical numbers, joyous dancing, political themes that would have been radically dangerous 45 years ago, and John Travolta in a fat suit and a dress. What’s not to like? Also continuing at the Lark.

The Big Lebowski, Piedmont, Friday and Saturday, midnight. 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. It’s also built quite a cult following;The Big Lebowski has probably played more Bay Area one-night stands in the last two years than than any three other movies put together.

Ongoing Engagements