In Festival news, Cinema by the Bay continues through Monday, while Silicon Valley Jewish Film Festival just keeps going. Not Necessarily Noir II opens today (Friday) and runs through Tuesday. The 3rd i South Asian Film Festival opens its five-day run on Wednesday. On Thursday, the Animation Festival opens.
Winchester ’73, Stanford, Wednesday through next Friday. In the 1950s, director Anthony Mann and star James Stewart made three westerns that stand out as gritty and dramatic masterpieces of the genre. These films also helped Stewart find a new, rougher persona which he carried into his work with Alfred Hitchcock. I haven’t seen the first of these films, Winchester ’73, in a very long time and therefore won’t grade it. But I remember a powerful tale of a man driven by revenge. On a double bill with a noir I’ve never seen called Call Northside 777.
B Noir Double Bill: The Killers & Play Misty for Me, Roxie, Friday. The Killers isn’t called the "Citizen Kane of film noir" because it’s the best of its genre, but because of its multiple flashback story structure. When gangsters murder a gas station attendant (Burt Lancaster in his breakthrough role), an investigator starts asking questions and a life of crime is revealed. It’s a fun little movie, with Eva Gardner as the femme fatale who enjoys and exploits Lancaster’s beefcake lug. Clint Eastwood’s directorial debut, Play Misty for Me, shows nothing of the master craftsman who would emerge 20 years later. But he managed to pull off a reasonable thriller about a disc jockey who learns to regret that one-night stand with an unhinged fan. Set and filmed in Carmel. Part of Not Necessarily Noir II.
A+ Woody Allen Double Bill: Annie Hall & Hannah and Her Sisters, Castro, Wednesday. Almost every Hollywood film deals on some level with romantic love, but very few capture the complex, dizzying ups and downs of that common experience as accurately and entertainingly as Annie Hall—the only American comedy to make my short list of the Very Best Films of All Time. This is one romantic comedy that doesn’t resort to silly plot-driven contrivances or paint-by-the-number characters. It captures, in flashback, the entire arc of a modern relationship, from cautious flirtation to giddy joy to the moment when the couple must accept the reality of their "dead shark." In the lesser but still excellent Hannah and Her Sisters, various members and ex-members of an extended family suffer through their lusts, stupidities, and suicidal urges. Allen juggles an all-star cast (Mia Farrow, Michael Caine, Barbara Hershey, Max von Sydow and Allen, himself) and produces a story that’s cynical, funny, and surprisingly sweet.
B+ Johnny Guitar, Roxie, Sunday. A very unusual western from Nicholas Ray. For one thing, the main rivalry is between two women: good saloon owner Joan Crawford and bad businesswoman Mercedes McCambridge. But don’t think this is a feminist picture. The women’s hatred stems from romantic jealousy, and the title character hero (Sterling Hayden) is a former lover of Crawford hired as her bodyguard. It’s fun, and strange, with lesbian overtones, but far from a must for western lovers. On a double-bill with something called Female on the Beach. Another part of Not Necessarily Noir II.
A Alien, Camera 3, Thursday (and the following Saturday). In the wake of Jaws’ and Star Wars’ phenomenal success, someone had to make a big-budget movie about a large predator on a spaceship. But the obvious marketing value doesn’t explain how good this film actually is, and on so many levels. First you’ve got the extraordinary art direction, giving us a spaceship that feels like a strange and unsettling high-tech haunted house, yet is absolutely believable. Then there’s the working-class astronauts complaining about the food and pay–easily the most realistic people Hollywood has ever shot into space. Don’t forget the star-making performance by Sigourney Weaver, or the overriding sense of loneliness, corporate exploitation, and–dare I say it–alienation. It’s also one hell of a fun, scary ride.
A- The Man with a Movie Camera, Pacific Film Archive, Tuesday, 7:00. Several features from the late silent era recreated a day in the life of a city through documentary footage of people at work and play. But Dziga Vertov livened it up with strange and comical double exposures and visual effects, and by creating a maddenly fast pace in the editing room. He also made this movie something of a meta-documentary, spending considerable time following a cameraman traveling throughout the city filming what he sees. The result is exhilarating and entertaining. It’s also, of course, Communist propaganda. Vertov paints a picture of the Stalinist USSR as a place where people work hard, then play hard in healthy activities. No starving Ukrainians here. Judith Rosenberg will accompany the film on piano. Part of the series Kino-Eye: The Revolutionary Cinema of Dziga Vertov.
A Ray Harryhausen Double Feature: Jason and the Argonauts (1963 version) & The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, Stanford, Saturday & Sunday. Ray Harryhausen enjoys a unique plac ein the pantheon of noted filmmakers. This special effects “technician” neither wrote, produced, nor directed his films, yet he was their auteur, creating them from his own imagination. They were seldom masterpieces, but they were always entertaining fantasies made special by Harryhausen’s hand-made, character-driven special effects. Jason is his best work (and the one that earns that A), and 7th Voyage is also pretty good.
B+ The Man Who Fell to Earth, Castro, Thursday. Movies were pretty weird in the ‘70s, but they didn’t get much weirder than this—at least with a major director and stars. David Bowie plays an alien who comes to Earth in search of water, but who instead discovers capitalism, TV, and alcohol. (I’m tempted to say that he also discovers sex, but he left a wife and children behind on his native world.) Actually, it’s not entirely clear what the film is about. Nicolas Roeg directed it, so you know that the movie won’t be about story. But the images are intriguing, the central characters are puzzles that cry out to be solved, and it has some very sexy scenes to enjoy watching. If for no other reason, see it to remind yourself what science fiction films could be like in the years between 2001 and Star Wars.
D Helvetica, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Wednesday, 2:00. 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 others joking blame 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.