What’s Screening: December 25 – 31

The Bicycle Thief, Roxie, opens Friday. I haven’t seen Vittorio De Sica’s neo-realismbikethief4[1] masterpiece in at least 20 years, so I’m officially unqualified to recommend it. But I remember something stunning and moving, and probably relevant to our economically uncertain times. The Roxie will screen a new 35mm print.

A- A Christmas Story, California Theater, San Jose, Friday, 7:30. Sweet, sentimental Christmas movies, at least those not authored by Charles Dickens or Frank Capra, generally make me want to throw up. But writer Jean Shepherd’s look back at the Indiana Christmases of his youth comes with enough laughs and cynicism to make the nostalgia go down easy. A holiday gem for people who love, or hate, the holidays.

A Steamboat Bill, Jr., Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, Saturday, 7:30. One of Buster Keaton’s best, both as a performer and as the auteur responsible for the entire picture (it’s the last film in which he would enjoy such control). Steamboat Billsteamboatbill (Ernest Torrence) already has his hands full, struggling to maintain his small business in the wake of a better-financed competitor. Then his long-lost son turns up, not as the he-man the very-macho Bill imagined, but as an urbane and somewhat effete Keaton. You can look at Steamboat Bill, Jr. as a riff on masculinity or a study of small-town life as an endangered species. But it’s really just a lot of laughs seamlessly integrated into a very good story,and you really can’t ask for more. And it contains what’s probably the most thrilling and dangerous stunt ever performed by a major star. With Harold Lloyd and Laurel and Hardy shorts. Bruce Loeb accompanies on piano.

A+ The Adventures of Robin Hood, California Theater, San Jose, Saturday and Sunday. Not every masterpiece needs to provide a deep understanding of the human condition; some are just plain fun. And none more so than this 1938 Errol Flynn swashbuckler. For 102 minutes, you get to live in a world where virtue–graceful, witty, rebellious, good-looking, and wholeheartedly romantic virtue–triumphs completely over grim-faced tyranny. Flynn was no actor, but no one could match him for handling a sword, a beautiful woman, or a witty line, all while wearing tights. And who else could speak treason so fluently? The great supporting cast includes Olivia de Havilland, Basil Rathbone, and Technicolor, a name that really meant something special in 1938.

B+ Baraka, Red Vic, Wednesday (and continuing next week). Strange, haunting, beautiful, and terrifying, Baraka defies description. Without plot, narration, or clip_image0024_thumb[1] explanation, it simply presents images of nature, humanity, and sprituality. 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 much enhances this picture, I grade Baraka A when presented in 70mm, but only B+ in 35mm.