The SF Green Festival opened on Wednesday, but I just found out about it on Thursday. It runs through next Wednesday. Cinequest is on and will continue to run this week and beyond. Another pre-code festival, Hollywood Before the Code: Nasty-Ass Films For a Nasty-Ass World, opens Friday and runs through the week. And the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival opens Thursday.
B+ Balboa’s 86th Birthday Bash, including Safety Last, Balboa, Sunday, 7:00. The B+ is for the feature, Safety Last, a piece of which is seen in the current film Hugo. Harold Lloyd’s iconic image–hanging from a large clock high over a city street–comes from this boy-makes-good-by-risking-his- neck fairytale. Lloyd made better pictures, but even run-of-the-mill Lloyd is damn funny. And once he starts climbing that building, there’s nothing run-of-the-mill about this one. The laughs–and thrills–don’t stop. But the whole event looks like it could easily earn an A. It includes several shorts, some of them from George Méliès (another Hugo reference). Live entertainment will include songstress Linda Kosut and, according to the Balboa, Méliès himself performing magic (I suspect an imposter). Author John Bengtson will offer an illustrated lecture on Safety Last’s locations. Frederick Hodges will accompany the movies on piano. “Audience members are encouraged to dress in their best jazz age clothing as we recreate a night at the movies in 1926.”
A The Apartment, Rafael, Sunday, 6:30. How do you top Some Like It Hot? Billy Wilder found the answer in this far more serious comedy about how powerful men exploit both women and less-powerful men. Jack Lemmon gave the best of his many great performances here as a very small cog in the machinery of a giant, New York-based insurance company. His small desk sits in a sea of other small desks that seems to disappear off the horizon. His strategy for getting ahead? He loans his apartment out to company executives—all married men–who use it for private time with their mistresses. With Fred MacMurray as the top exploiter and Shirley MacLane as the woman who Lemmon’s character loves and MacMurray’s character uses. Read my Blu-ray review. Film historian Joseph McBride will be on hand to discuss the picture.
B Freaks, Roxie, Saturday. A morality tale set in a circus sideshow, Freaks presents actual, severely deformed people, and dares you to look at them and accept them as full human beings. It also gives you a good scare. Certainly one of the strangest films ever to come out of that most conservative of studios, MGM. On a double bill with Island of Dark Souls, which I saw way back in 1975 under extremely strange circumstances but hardly remember now. Part of Hollywood Before the Code: Nasty-Ass Films For a Nasty-Ass World.
Ball of Fire, Pacific Film Archive, Sunday, 2:00. Can you possibly go wrong with Howard Hawks directing a screwball comedy from a script by Billy Wilder (one of Wilder’s last before making the leap to writer/director)? It’s been too many years since I’ve seen Ball of Fire for me to say with absolute certainty that you can’t go wrong, but from what I remember, this one isn’t up to Hawks’ or Wilder’s best work, but it’s still a worthy entertainment. Part of the PFA’s series Howard Hawks: The Measure of Man.
A Metropolis, Alameda, Wednesday and Thursday; Cerrito, Thursday, 7:00. The first important science fiction feature film still strikes a considerable visual punch,and with the latest restoration, tells a compelling story, as well. The images–workers in a hellish underground factory, the wealthy at play, a robot brought to life in the form of a beautiful woman–are a permanent part of our collective memory. Even people who haven’t seen Metropolis know them through the countless films it has influenced. Recently-discovered footage, which restores it to something very much like the original cut, elevates the story of a clash between workers and aristocrats from trite melodrama to grand opera. Read my longer report and my Blu-ray review. I’m guessing that this will use the recorded score rather than live accompaniment..
B To Have and Have Not, Pacific Film Archive, Tuesday, 7:00. This production ignited the Bogart-Bacall romance, which itself ignites the screen. Aside from the considerable charisma and sexual sparks that its stars set up, it’s an entertaining tale of war-time intrigue but not really an exceptional one. A good movie with a couple of great scenes. Part of the PFA’s series Howard Hawks: The Measure of Man.
A- Scarface (1931 version), Roxie, Friday. The best of the three films that started the 1930’s gangster genre, Scarface tracks the rise and demise of Tony Camonte, a violent thug who becomes a big shot by virtue of his total lack of virtue (Paul Muni acting a little over the top for my taste). When he first sees a tommy gun, he joyfully cries out “Hey, a machine gun you can carry!” And that’s when one is shooting at him. Soon he’s using one to mow down his enemies and innocent bystanders alike. But he does love his kid sister. In fact, maybe he loves her too much. Written by Ben Hecht and directed by Howard Hawks, and you can’t find a better team than that. Part of Hollywood Before the Code: Nasty-Ass Films For a Nasty-Ass World.
A Trouble in Paradise, Stanford, Saturday through Monday. What’s so fascinating and entertaining about witty, sophisticated crooks that makes us want to root for them? I’m not sure, but this near-perfect pre-code screwball proves that whatever it is, it works. Yet another wonderfully amoral Lubitsch comedy about sex, love, money, and larceny. On a double-bill with One Hour With You, which I’ve never even heard of.
A Manhattan, Castro, Wednesday. Made soon after Annie Hall (his first drama, Interiors,came in between), Manhattan doesn’t quite measure up to Woody Allen’s masterpiece, but it’s still one of his best. A group of New Yorkers fall in and out of love, cheat on their significant others, and try to justify their actions, all in glorious widescreen black and white, and accompanied by Gershwin. Read my Blu-ray review. On a double bill with Welcome to LA, which I haven’t seen.
A- Throne of Blood, Pacific Film Archive, Wednesday, 3:10. Kurosawa stands Shakespeare on his head with this haunting, noh- and kabuki-inspired loose adaptation of Macbeth.Toshiro Mifune gives an over-the-top but still effective performance as the military officer tempted by his wife (Isuzu Yamada) into murdering his lord. The finale–which is far more democratic than anything Shakespeare ever dared–is one of the great action sequences ever. Read my Kurosawa Diary entry. Part of the class and series Film 50: History of Cinema, Film and the Other Arts.
B+ The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (American version), Castro, Sunday. Daniel Craig gets top billing as a discredited journalist who’s taken on an unusual assignment, but Rooney Mara steals the movie—which is only appropriate as she plays the title character. And what a character she is: emotionally maladjusted, punked-out, heavily pierced and tattooed, and an absolutely brilliant hacker with a strong sense of right and wrong. Together, they dig up the horrible past of a powerful family living in the remote north of Sweden. I should warn you that the film contains one of the most horrific rape scenes I have ever seen. But I believe it would have been a lesser film without it.
F Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, UA Berkeley, Thursday, 8:00. Oh, how Terry Gilliam has fallen! Monty Python’s token Yank made three of the best movies of the 1980’s, then his career collapsed and took his talent with it. Fear & Loathing In Las Vegas reeks; a confused, ugly, and meaningless exercise–which would be forgivable, if it also wasn’t boring and witless.