C California State of Mind: The Legacy of Pat Brown, Film Society/New People Cinema, Thursday. Do you know who shouldn’t make a documentary about an historically important politician? That politician’s grandchild. Director and narrator Sascha Rice is the granddaughter of former California Governor Pat Brown, the niece of former and current Governor Jerry Brown, and the daughter of one-time candidate-for-governor Kathleen Brown. She’s too close to the subject, and seems reluctant to say much that might be negative about grandpa (although, to her credit, she occasionally does —very briefly). She paints his first term as heroic triumph of late New Dealism, and his second as heroic tragedy in the face of rising conservatism. Every so often, she’ll fast forward to more recent Brown victories and defeats. There’s some interesting history here, but she never looks at things deeply enough to be insightful. With one exception, every Democratic governor we’ve had in this state in the last 70 years has been a Brown (the exception was a Gray); I would have enjoyed some discussion of why.
B Ninotchka, Castro, Thursday. Garbo’s first comedy and penultimate film is sweet, charming, romantic, and quite funny. It also nails perfectly the absurdities of Communism–still well respected by many Americans in 1939. As Garbo’s character points out, “The last mass trials were a great success. There are going to be fewer but better Russians.” But it’s not quite as good as you might expect when Ernst Lubitsch directs a screenplay by Billy Wilder? On a double bill with Grand Hotel, which I haven’t seen since college and have no desire to see again.
A+ Raiders of the Lost Ark, United Artists Berkeley, Thursday, 8:00. Steven Spielberg directed it, and the bad guys are Nazis, but it’s as far from Schindler’s List as a great movie can get. What else can I say? If you object to mindless, escapist action flicks on principle, you won’t see it anyway. If you don’t, you probably already love it. I’m guessing that they’ll be screening the new digital presentation.
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.
Winchester ’73, Stanford, 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.