A The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, Castro, Wednesday. Terry Gilliam followed Brazil with this big, splashy fantasy spectacular about the legendary teller of tall tales. The Baron’s alleged exploits had been filmed at least twice before, but no one else succeeded in making them so exhilarating, so funny, or so exciting. An escapist work that celebrates the very idea of escapism, Munchausen suggests there is little difference between an imagined victory and a real one—an absurd concept, but you buy it and cheer for it as you watch the movie. Star cameos include Oliver Reed, Robin Williams, Sting, and Gilliam’s Python partner Eric Idle. Then unknowns in the cast include Sarah Polley and Uma Thurman. On a double bill with Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life, as the final of the Castro’s three Gilliam Wednesdays (although Gilliam only directed the Meaning of Life’s prologue).
A Chinatown, UA Berkeley, Thursday, 8:00. Forget it, Jake. Roman Polanski may be a rapist, but you can’t deny his talent. And that talent never shown better than in this neo-noir tale of intrigue and double-crosses set in Los Angeles in the 1930s. Writer Robert Towne fictionalized an actual scandal involving southern California water rights, mixing a few personal scandals in, as well, and handed it over to Polanski, who turned it into the perfect LA period piece.
B West Side Story, Pacific Film Archive, Saturday, 4:00. West Side Story swings erratically from glorious brilliance to astonishing ineptitude. The songs and dances– especially the Jerome Robbins-choreographed dances–create a world of violent intensity and eroticism that both carry the story and shine in their own right. I’d be hard-pressed to think of a better choreographed widescreen movie. It also contains magnificent supporting performances by Russ Tamblyn, George Chakiris, and especially Rita Moreno. But the dialog is often stilted and stage-bound, and juvenile lead Richard Beymer is so bad he sinks every scene he’s in.
A+ Annie Hall, Red Vic, Friday through Sunday. Almost every Hollywood film deals on some level with romantic love, but very few accurately capture the complex, dizzying ups and downs of that common experience. And no other captures it as well, or as hilariously, as Annie Hall.
A+ Casablanca, Rafael, Sunday, noon. Free! What can I say? You’ve either already seen it or know you should. Let me just add that no one who worked on Casablanca thought they were making a masterpiece; it was just another movie coming off the Warner assembly line. But somehow, just this once, everything came together perfectly. And that, astonishingly enough, is about it.