What’s Screening: September 2 – 8

The very unusual Brainwash Movie Festival starts Saturday night, then doesn’t come back until next week. From Britain with Love continues at the Rafael.

It’s not really a festival, but the Castro is running a week-long Cary Grant celebration. I’m discussing four of those double bills, which I’m moving to the end of this newsletter.

A Bridesmaids, Castro, Wednesday. What do you expect from a Judd Apatow bridesmaidsmovie?  A lot of laughs. Raunch. Some gross-out humor. Close friendships tested. A reasonable quantity of heart. And a modern male point of view. Bridesmaids provides all but the last one, and you can thank screenwriters Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo for giving this Apatow-produced comedy a thoroughly feminine perspective. Wiig also stars as a maid-of-honor whose life seems to be going down the tubes, and taking her best friend’s wedding with it.

B+ The Bridge on the River Kwai, UA Berkeley, Thursday, 8:00. The longer it’s been since you’ve seen David Lean’s World War II adventure, the better it gets in your  memory. That’s because the brilliant story of an over-proud British bridgeriverkwaiPOW (Alec Guinness) sticks in the mind. But to see the actual movie again is to be reminded that the Col. Nicholson story is just a subplot (Guinness received third billing). The bulk of Kwai is a very well made but conventional action movie with some uncomfortably Hollywoodish elements. Remember the Burmese porters who all just happen to be beautiful young women? It’s kind of like sex: When it’s good, it’s fantastic, and when it’s bad, it’s at least entertaining. Read my Blu-ray review.

C+ Dial M for Murder, Cerrito, Thursday, 7:00. John Ford never made a 3D movie. Neither did Akira Kurosawa, Orson Welles, or Charlie Chaplin. But Alfred Hitchcock did–the only great filmmaker to try the stereoscopic medium before the 21st century. Dial M isn’t great Hitchcock–it’s pretty much a straightforward adaptation of a stage play–but it’s a good play and Hitchcock knew what to do with it. Forced against his will to use the new-fangled double-lens camera, Hitchcock pretty much ignored the obvious 3D effects popular at the time. But when he finally throws something at the camera, he knows exactly what he’s doing. Unfortunately, the Cerrito will not present the movie in 3D. One of their Cerrito Classics.

A The Lady Vanishes, Stanford, Friday. The best (and second to last) film Alfred Hitchcock made in England before jumping the pond, The Lady Vanishes stands among his best. This is Hitchcock light–starting out as a gentle comedy and slowly building suspense, but never taking itself too seriously. Only North by Northwest is more enjoyable. On a double-bill with The 39 Steps, which I haven’t seen in too long a time.

Cary Grant: Definitive Star, at the Castro

notoriousA+ Notorious, Tuesday. One of Hitchcock’s best. In order to prove her patriotism, scandal-ridden Ingrid Bergman seduces, beds, and marries Claude Rains’ Nazi industrialist, while true love Cary Grant grimly watches. Grant sent her on this deadly and humiliating mission, and she literally sleeps with the enemy on his orders. He reacts with blind jealousy. The Nazi, on the other hand, appears to truly love her. Sexy, romantic, thought-provoking, and scary enough to shorten your fingernails. On a double bill with Suspicion, which never stood a chance of being great Hitchcock, but could have been passable if the studio hadn’t demanded another ending.

A Bringing Up Baby, Saturday and Sunday. Brand new 35mm print. How does one define a screwball comedy? You could say it’s a romantic comedy with glamorous movie stars behaving like broad, slapstick comedians. You could point out that screwballs are usually set amongst the excessively wealthy, and often explore class barriers. Or you could simply show Howard Hawks’ Bringing Up Baby, a frivolous and hilarious tale about a mild-mannered paleontologist (Cary Grant), a ditzy heiress (Katharine Hepburn), and a tame leopard (a tame leopard). As part of the Castro’s Cary Grant series, Baby will be double-billed Saturday with another Hawks screwball, 1952’s Monkey Business (not to be confused with the Marx Brothers movie with the same name). Sunday, the second feature will be I was a Male War Bride (also directed by Hawks, but I regret to say that the Marx Brothers never used that title).

A Double bill: His Girl Friday & Only Angels Have Wings, Monday. For His Girl Friday, director Howard Hawks turned the hit play The Front Page into a love triangle by making ace reporter Hildy Johnson a woman (Rosalind Russell), and scheming editor Walter Burns (Cary Grant) her ex-husband. And thus was born one of the funniest screwball comedies of them all–with a bit of serious drama thrown in concerning an impending execution. In Only Angels Have Wings, Cary Grant heads a team of mail plane pilots in a remote corner of South America. There’s little plot here, just a study of men who routinely fly under very dangerous conditions, and how they cope with death as an every-day part of life.

A+ North by Northwest, Friday. Alfred Hitchcock’s nbnwlight masterpiece, not as thoughtful as Rear Window or Notorious, but more entertaining than both of them combined. Cary Grant plays an unusually suave and witty everyman in trouble with evil foreign spies (who think he’s a crack American agent), and by the police (who think he’s a murderer). And so he must escape almost certain death again and again while chased from New York to Mount Rushmore. On the bright side , he gets to spend some quality time with a very glamorous Eva Marie Saint (danger has its rewards). On a double bill with Charade, which I saw long ago and found only so-so.