The Other Side of the Mirror: Bob Dylan live at the Newport Folk Festival 1963–1965, Rafael, Friday through Sunday. There have been plenty of Bob Dylan documentaries, and several concert film where Bob Dylan made an appearance, but not nearly enough films that simply catch him in performance. A record of Dylan’s performances at the 1963, ’64, and ’65 Newport Folk Festivals, The Other Side of the Mirror is a portrait of the artist as an evolving young man. In ’63, he’s so nervous that Joan Baez has to help him tune is guitar, and all of his songs are overtly political. By ’64 he’s commanding the stage and mixing the politics with the metaphysical issues of Mr. Tambourine Man. And in his legendary 1965 performance, he blew the lid off the entire folk scene (and offended most of his fans) by bringing the Paul Butterfield Blues Band on stage and rocking out. I’ve read about Dylan’s folk years from many sources; but there’s nothing like watching them–without narration or an overt viewpoint of the 21st century. You have to be a real Bob Dylan fan to love this movie, but since I’m a very real Bob Dylan fan, I’m giving it an A. By the way, this brief run precedes the film’s DVD release. If you don’t catch it at the Rafael, I highly recommend buying or renting it.
Winterland, Roxie, Friday, 4:30. This quiet, low-key drama about Kurds in Norway examines a marriage off to a very bad start. Renas (Raouf Saraj) has been living in the rural north long enough to be comfortable and friendly with his Norwegian co-workers, although outside of work, his social life appears centered on other Kurds. Then he brings over a wife he never met from the old country (Shler Rahnoma as Fermesk). Neither of them have been exactly honest in their letters and phone calls. What’s more, the vast, cold, empty, but beautiful landscape alienates and depresses Fermesk. Slowly, with anger and difficulty, they have to work things out. Running only 52 minutes, Winterland isn’t quite a feature, but it’s too long to be a short. The Arab Film Festival is therefore screening it with Rabia’s Journey and West–¦East.
Spider-Man Triple Bill, Castro, Saturday. Sam Raimi’s three movies on the popular superhero/alienated teenager are a decided mixed bag, going from the okay to the great to the dreadful. It’s been awhile since I saw the first Spider-man, so I haven’t written a review of it, but I remember liking the parts about Peter Parker acquiring, discovering, and figuring out what to do with his powers. But the action story that dominated the second half was just sort of okay, and many of the special effects weren’t even that.Spider-Man 2, on the other hand, brings the comic book superhero movie into the realm of real art, perfectly balancing and blending its character-driven story with the action. Then Spider-Man 3 blows it all. The story requires the characters we know and love to act like idiots, and even the CGI-bloated action sequences seem more intent on impressing you with sheer size than adding actual excitement.
Seven Chances, Pacific Film Archive, Saturday, 3:00. Director/Star Buster Keaton didn’t like this comedy about a young man in financial trouble who must marry that day or lose a fortune, but artists are rarely the best judges of their own work. Keaton turned this silly plot (forced on him by his producer) into one of the most efficient feature-length laugh machines ever filmed. Watch it with an audience, and you seldom get a chance not to laugh. The climatic chase, involving hundreds of brides and an avalanche, may be the funniest sequence ever. But be warned: By today’s standards, Seven Chances is quite racist and sexist. Accompanied by Judith Rosenberg on piano as on of the PFA’s Movie Matinees for All Ages.
Billy Wilder Double Bill, Stanford, Saturday through Tuesday. Sunset Blvd., 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. Some Like It Hot may not be, as the American Film Institute called it, the greatest American film comedy yet made. But Billy Wilder’s farce about desperate musicians, vicious gangsters, and straight men in drag definitely belongs in the top 20. And its closing line has never been beat.
Ratatouille, Red Vic, Sunday and Monday. Brad Bird keeps proving himself the most original, talented, and interesting animator since Chuck Jones. While there’s nothing really original about building a cartoon around sympathetic, anthropomorphic rodents (just ask Walt Disney), Bird does something totally different. He gives us the unpleasant, relatively realistic image of rats in the kitchen–he even lets our skin crawl at the spectacle–but he still gets us rooting for the rat. And for the hapless, human chef-in-training who intentionally sneaks a rat into a gourmet restaurant. The animation is, as you’d expect from Pixar, technically perfect, but you don’t really notice it except as an afterthought. You’re too caught up in the story to notice how it was made.
Jason Bourne Triple Bill, Castro, Sunday. I haven’t seen Bourne 1 or 2 recently enough to write about them, but I remember liking them but not loving them. With The Bourne Ultimatum, however, 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.
The Lost Boys, Piedmont, Saturday and Sunday, midnight. A clever and funny, and even occasionally scary teenage vampire movie shot in Santa Cruz. What do you do when peer pressure tells you to become an immortal bloodsucker? Hey, all the cool kids are doing it.
Once, Elmwood, 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 IrglovÃ¡) 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.