Found Footage and the End of the World

Matinee, Castro, Saturday, 12:00 noon. On one level, Matinee works as a nostalgic comedy, allowing us to laugh at the bad movies and outrageous attitudes of the early 1960’s. But there’s something deeper at work here. Writer Charles S. Haas and director Joe Dante use the premise of a cheap horror film’s small-town preview during the Cuban Missile Crisis to examine the nature of fear. It’s one thing to jump in your seat when the monster leaps out on the movie screen, and then laugh when you realize that it’s only make-believe. But everything changes when nuclear war is imminent outside the theater. And what about the fear of asking out a girl with a violent and jealous ex-boyfriend (even if he does write poetry)? Of course, things can’t get too scary when John Goodman and Cathy Moriarty steal the show as a crafty b-movie producer and his long-suffering girlfriend. And watch for John Sayles as a religious fanatic who might not be what he seems. As part of Shock It To Me weekend, Matinee will screen on a double bill with Gremlins 2: The New Batch.

Cowboys & Communists, Roxie, Sunday, 9:15, Tuesday, 7:00. Jessica Feast’s culture-clash documentary runs just over an hour, but it packs a lot of humanity into that time. When American expatriate Wally Potts opened his White Trash Fast Food bar and restaurant in formerly Communist East Berlin, it became a big hit–mostly with other refugees from Bush’s America. But to unrepentant Communist Horst Woitalla, living upstairs, it was one more indignity in a life going downhill since the Berlin Wall fell. Feast (who worked at the restaurant when she shot the film) gives both sides a fair shake. Potts and his employees and clientèle are fun and charismatic people, but Woitalla has a point: No one wants an open-all-night loud music club in their apartment building. Besides, no matter how we feel about Communism, and no matter how we react when Woitalla admits he feels nothing for those who died trying to escape, we can’t help but feel sorry for someone who lost his job and his security when the government that had always taken care of him collapsed overnight. Part of DocFest.

Found Footage Festival, Red Vic, Friday and Saturday; Parkway, Sunday. If you’re a fan of Mystery Science Theater 3000, you’re going to love this show. Nick Prueher and Joe Pickett collect the garbage of our video-saturated culture, and have built up a collection of public access TV shows, home movies, outtakes, instructional videos, and other oddities, which they’ve turned into a comedy routine of video montage and live standup. Even the weakest moments produce a reasonable stream of giggles. But the best sequences, such as the exercise video montage with appearances by Marky Mark (Wahlberg), Pat Boone, and a young Arnold Schwarzenegger, had me laughing so hard I could barely breath.

Manufacturing Dissent, Roxie, Saturday, 7:00, Sunday, 5:00. One expects a documentary critical of Michael Moore to be a right-wing polemic, but narrator/co-director Debbie Melnyk starts Manufacturing Dissent by telling us that she admires Moore and his politics. Yet, although she gives plenty of time to Moore’s defenders, the film leaves the impression that there’s much to admire. According to Melnyk and co-director Rick Caine, Moore plays a role that isn’t really him, has profited considerably from the Republicans and corporations he publicly attacks, and distorts facts to a degree that crosses an ethical line for a documentary. He also avoids interviews with those he thinks are out to get him–a hypocritical behavior for the maker of Roger and Me. Manufacturing Dissent isn’t as entertaining as Moore’s documentaries, but its far more evenhanded and gives Moore’s fans (of which I’m one) something to think about. Part of DocFest, but will open with a regular run next week.

City Lights, Pacific Film Archive, Saturday, 3:00. In Charlie Chaplin’s most perfect comedy, the little tramp falls in love with a blind flower girl and befriends a suicidal, alcoholic millionaire, but neither of them know the real Charlie. The result is funny and touching, with one of the great tear-jerking endings. Sound came to movies as Chaplin was shooting City Lights, resulting in an essentially silent film with a recorded musical score composed by Chaplin himself. Another PFA Movie Matinees for All Ages.

Sunset Blvd., Creek Park, San Anselmo, Saturday, 8:30. Billy Wilder’s meditation on Hollywood’s seedy underbelly is the flip side of Singin’ in the Rain (now that would make a great double bill). Norma Desmond is very much like 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 in history. Warning: Like all Film Night in the Park presentations, it’s just off of a DVD.

3:10 to Yuma, Cerrito, opens Friday. Good news: The western is very much alive! The second film version of Elmore Leonard’s short story doesn’t feel like a neo-western, an anti-western, or a western parody. It feels like a great, classic western, and stands a good chance of achieving classic status in future decades. Like all great westerns, it offers plenty of action and suspense, but is really about men, how they relate to each other, and the difficult moral choices that the frontier forces on them. Russell Crowe, as a notorious criminal, and Christian Bale, as a rancher desperate enough to take a very dangerous job, both bring to the film the right look, talent, charisma, and American accent. (Has anyone else noticed that this very American story stars an Aussie and a Welshman?) Despite a third act filled with implausible motivations, 3:10 To Yuma is thoughtful, intelligent, testosterone-pumping entertainment.

Once, Cerrito, 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.

The Bourne Ultimatum, Parkway, opens Friday. A hand-held camera, incoherently fast editing, an ear-shatteringly loud soundtrack, and a modicum of very subtle left-wing posturing don’t add up to a great action movie. Director Paul (United 93) Greengrass and his three screenwriters deliver one exhausting chase after another, offering loud percussion music and cutting so fast you can’t tell what’s going on. Even when the picture slows down for the occasional dialog scenes, the camera shakes so much you pray for a tripod. Some real suspense and interesting (if not entirely original) ideas manage to poke their way through the technique, but in the end they’re overwhelmed by the visual and literal noise.

Ongoing Engagements