Only Four Recommendations and Warnings

Since I now leave first-run Hollywood and indiewood fare out of the weekly report, my recommendations and warnings on pretty short this week.

Helvetica, Roxie, opens Friday. Director Gary Hustwit clearly feels passionate about typefaces. So do the graphic designers he interviews. Some consider the ubiquitous san serif font for which the movie is named to be brilliant and almost sacred, while another half joking blames Helvetica for the Iraq war. Unfortunately, Hustwit fails to pass this passion on to the audience. Had I known more about the subject going in, I might have enjoyed Helvetica. It’s no coincidence that its best moments are the few where it offers facts instead of opinions. Hustwit appears to have made a documentary for people already familiar with the subject. Click here for my full review.

Doctor Zhivago, Castro, Sunday. The last time I mentioned David Lean’s follow-up to Lawrence of Arabia in my weekly newsletter, I said that it “lacks that masterpiece’s depth, and Omar Shariff is horribly miscast, but it’s still a spectacular epic. On the other hand, I’ve never seen it on the big screen, so it might be a better film than I recall.” Since then, I have seen it on the big screen (although not as big a screen as the Castro) and can now recommend it enthusiastically. This is one of the great romantic historical epics. I’m even willing to forgive the casting of Omar Sharif, who doesn’t look Russian but still gives a fine performance. For more on the big-screen Zhivago experience, see Dr. Zhivago at the Cerrito.

Baraka, Red Vic, 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. Because the larger film format so enhances this picture, I grade Baraka A when presented in 70mm, but only B in 35mm.

It’s a Wonderful Life, Stanford, Monday, 9:00. There’s a rarely-acknowledged dark side to Frank Capra’s feel-good fable. George Bailey (James Stewart) saves his town and earns the love of his neighbors, but only at the expense of his own dreams and desires. Trapped, frustrated, and deeply disappointed, Bailey needs only one new disaster to turn his thoughts to suicide. The extremely happy (some would say excessively sappy) ending works because Bailey, whose main problems remain unsolved, has suffered so much to earn it.