With all the other festivals going on lately, I somehow missed the South Asian Film Festival, which opened last Wednesday. It continues through Sunday.
A Double Feature: Hail the Conquering Hero & The Great McGinty, Stanford, Saturday through Monday. Only the great writer/director Preston Sturges could have found a way to satirize patriotic hoopla at the height of World War II. In Hail the Conquering Hero, a meek and easily frightened civilian (Eddie Bracken) can’t return to his small town–if his mother found out he failed his physical, it would break her heart. So four battle-hardened marines help him out by loaning him a uniform and taking him home, praising his heroism all the way. Of course there are complications in one of Sturges’ best movies. Sturges’ directorial debut, The Great McGinty, is mild by comparison, but its cynical story of a crooked politician who goes straight and ruins his life is a promise of the great works ahead.
A Nowhere Boy, Opera Plaza, opens Friday. A teenage boy in 1950s Liverpool, highly intelligent but rebellious and occasionally violent, feels the pull of two very different mother figures in his life—his irresponsible but fun-loving mother, and the strict aunt who raised him. His growing love of rock and roll provides some solace, but not enough to heal the wounds of a broken family. Only the audience knows that in a few short years, that musical love will bring him fame and fortune, or that the fame will eventually lead to an early death. I went into theatre knowing a considerable amount about John Lennon’s life. I went out knowing a whole lot more about his emotional makeup. Or at least more about how some very talented filmmakers assume that makeup was like. Read my full review.
A Century Ago: The Films of 1910, Rafael, Thursday, 7:00. Once again, century-old one-reelers will come to the Rafael for a retrospective on one year in the evolution of cinematic art. With the theme "Refining the One-Reeler," the 1910 edition will concentrate on filmmakers refining their narrative techniques. Hosted by Randy Haberkamp, with piano accompaniment by Michael Mortilla.
A+ Ran, Castro, Thursday. I doubt anyone else ever made a movie as sad, as tragic, as despairing of the human condition, and yet as beautiful as Kurosawa’s reworking of King Lear. To give yourself over to it is to experience, in your gut, that many people are capable of unspeakable evil, that while these people inevitably pay the price for their ambitions, so do countless innocents. Unlike Shakespeare, Kurosawa considers what his king did before he became old, and it isn’t pretty. The film, on the other hand, is as visually gorgeous as movies get. Read my Kurosawa Diary entry.
B+ The Red Shoes, Cerrito, Thursday evening. This 1948 Technicolor fable about the sacrifices one makes for art makes a slight story. Luckily, the characters, all fanatically devoted to their art, and all very British, make up for it—at least in the first half. Unfortunately, the final hour weighs down with more melodrama than even a well-acted film can bear. On the other hand—and this is why The Red Shoes holds on to its classic status—the 20-minute ballet at the center is a masterpiece of filmed dance, and no other picture used three-strip Technicolor this expressively. I discuss The Red Shoes in more detail at War and Ballet @ the PFA.
B The Big Lebowski, Cerrito, Friday and Saturday, midnight. Critics originally panned this Coen Brothers gem as a disappointing follow-up to the Coen’s previous endeavor, Fargo. Well, it isn’t as good as the Coen’s masterpiece, but it’s still one hell of a funny movie. It’s also built quite a cult following; The Big Lebowski has probably played more Bay Area one-night stands in the years I’ve been maintaining this site than than any three other movies put together.