Recommendations and Warnings: Chaplin, Rats, and Balloons

The Red Balloon and White Mane, Rafael, Lumiere, and Shattuck, opens Friday for one week. Janus Films put two Albert Lamorisse short children’s films together into one feature-length package. Lamorisse’s masterpiece “The Red Balloon” introduced me to a cinema beyond Hollywood when I was too young to read subtitles. They’re not necessary; Lamorisse uses visuals, music, and sound effects to tell his story of a young boy and his loyal pet balloon. The boy walks to school, goes to church, runs from bullies”“all the while a balloon follows him attentively (if a bit mischievously). There’s no need to understand what little dialog Lamorisse gives you. “White Mane” has a bit more dialog, and a new, irritating English-language narration. The story of a wild horse and the people who want to tame him (boy good; men bad) is cloying and sentimental”“something “The Red Balloon” avoids through magic and wit. The horse movie has some strikingly beautiful images, but they’re not enough to make up for a story that feels thin and stretched even at 40 minutes. Click here for a more detailed write-up.

Music at the Elmwood. Two famous concert movies in HD and 5.1 digital sound. On Monday: Bob Marley Live at the Rainbow. Tuesday: Led Zeppelin The Song Remains the Same. I haven’t seen the Marley film, which isn’t too surprising since this is a North American premiere. I saw The Song Remains the Same in 35mm and 4-track magnetic sound at the U.C. Theater of blessed memory way back in 1983. I’m sure of the year because I went with my then wife, who was pregnant. It was the first time she felt the baby kick.

The Kid and The Pilgrim, Pacific Film Archive, Saturday, 4:45. Charlie Chaplin’s first feature, The Kid, isn’t among his best”“there are times when you can feel him stretching to fill six reels, and others where the sentimentality overwhelms. But it has some of his best routines, most built around his very young co-star, Jackie Coogan. This may be the only time Chaplin allowed someone else to steal one of his films, and it was the right decision. The future Uncle Fester imitates Chaplin perfectly as an abandoned child raised by the little tramp. The Pilgrim, which is either Chaplin’s last short or his second feature, depending on how you want to define a four-reel movie, improves considerably on The Kid. Chaplin creates one of his best roles as an escaped convict posing as a clergyman in a story that mixes comedy and social commentary while keeping the sentimentality at a minimum. Part of the PFA’s Charles Chaplin series. Unfortunately, these silent films will not have live accompaniment.

The Circus, Pacific Film Archive, Saturday, 3:00. Made in between Chaplin’s two feature masterpieces (The Gold Rush and City Lights), The Circus can’t help but suffer by comparison. But it’s funny and touching enough to be liked–if not loved–on its own merits. This time around, the Little Tramp finds himself hired as a stagehand by a small circus, and accidentally becoming a comic star without knowing it. He also falls in love with the circus owner’s beautiful daughter, who sees him only as a good friend. The story feels like a denial of Chaplin’s personal life at the time; he was a womanizer with a young wife he wanted to shed, and an artist who knew very well that great comedy doesn’t just happen. In the case of The Circus, he merely made good comedy. As combined part of the PFA’s Movie Matinees for All Ages and Charles Chaplin series, The Circus will be shown with Chaplin’s recorded own score (including a dreadful song he sings himself) rather than live accompaniment. For more details, read about The Altered Charlie Chaplin Problem.

Ratatouille, Cerrito, Saturday, 2:00, Sunday, 1:00. 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.

Sunnyside, A Day’s Pleasure, and Pay Day, Pacific Film Archive, Friday, 4:00. I don’t think you can put together a worse selection of late Charlie Chaplin shorts. “Sunnyside” is pretty good–not a masterpiece, but a pleasant enough comedy. But “A Day’s Pleasure,” and “Pay Day” may be the worst movies Chaplin made after gaining full control of his work. I don’t think there are three good laughs in their combined four reels. As part of their Charles Chaplin series, the PFA will present these shorts with Chaplin’s own score on the recorded soundtrack.

Donnie Darko, Red Vic, Friday and Saturday. How many alienated-teenager-in-suburbia-time-travel-science-fantasy comedies can you name? Okay, there’s Back to the Future and its sequels, but add the adjectives horrific and surreal to that description, and Donnie Darko stands alone. And how many alienated movie teenagers have to deal with a slick self-help guru and a six-foot rabbit named Frank (think Harvey, only vicious). It’s not entirely clear what’s going on in this strange movie, but that just adds to the fun.