It’s not much of a week for festivals, but New Czech Films comes back for two more days on Wednesday and Thursday. And then there’s:
Charlie Chaplin Days, downtown Niles (including the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum), Saturday & Sunday, 11:00am – 4:30. Charlie Chaplin spent a year making movies in Niles (now part of Fremont), and the town is celebrating. Both days, the Museum will screen a selection of Niles-shot Chaplin shorts, plus a 1974 documentary called "The Movies Go West." On Saturday, they’ll also screen a 1964 TV documentary, When the Movies Came from Niles, and, in the evening, Chaplin’s first feature, The Kid (with Bruce Loeb at the piano). Sunday will include a lookalike contest and a pie fight. Both days you can enjoy carnival games and the steam train.
A+ Grand Illusion, Castro, Friday through Sunday. I can’t believe that this is the first time that Jean Renoir’s masterpiece has played the Bay Area since I began writing this blog! Set in a POW camp during World War I (and made two years before WW2), Grand Illusion sets the conflicts of nationality and class against the healing power of our common humanity. The French prisoners and their German guards try their best to be civilized in a world where civilization is not allowed. Jean Gabin stars as a French officer of common stock, but you’ll likely remember Erich von Stroheim as an aristocratic German facing the end of his way of life. The original negative was discovered and the film restored in the 1990s, but the new restoration is supposed to beat even that.
B The Intouchables, Embarcadero Center Cinema, opens Friday. I really can’t complain about France’s latest big commercial hit. As you’d expect, it’s a crowd pleaser. Based on a true story, it follows the thorny but eventually healing friendship between a wealthy paraplegic and the African immigrant hired as his caregiver. Of course it’s a box office bonanza–the movie is funny, heartwarming, and celebrates life, it stars two men of exceptional talent and charisma, and it’s as carefully designed as a well-made clock. But it’s also just as predictable. Read my full review.
A+ Red River, Stanford, Friday through Sunday. John Wayne gives one of his best performances, showing us the villain in the hero and the hero in the villain as the Captain Bligh figure in this western variation on Mutiny on the Bounty. The character starts out as your classic Wayne hero—strong, stubborn, a man of his word who is quick with a gun. But these traits prove his moral undoing as he leads others on a dangerous cattle drive. To make matters worse, it’s his adopted son (Montgomery Clift in his first major role) who leads the rebellion. David Thomson will introduce Saturday’s 7:30 screening. On a Howard Hawks double bill with O. Henry’s Full House, which I haven’t seen.
A- Titanic, Castro, Wednesday and Thursday. It went insanely over budget, then went on to become the most successful film of its time, thanks largely to teenage girls who couldn’t get enough of Leonardo DiCaprio. No wonder so many cinephiles hate Titanic. Too bad for them. This is big, broad, rousing entertainment told on an epic scale, and worth every minute of its long running time. Writer/director James Cameron perfectly balances intimate melodrama of a doomed love with the big adventure of a doomed ship, giving us romance, class warfare, history, tragedy, suspense, sex, and plenty of special effects. Unfortunately, almost 15 years after its original release, he also gave it 3D. I’d rather watch it flat, but that’s not how the Castro will show it. Maybe next time.
A- Live Theater on the Big Screen: Frankenstein, Kabuki, Saturday through Monday. Finally, something directed by Danny Boyle that I actually liked! Playwright Nick Dear starts his adaptation with the monster’s lonely birth, putting the focus on the creature. This poor child-man’s journey, and his inevitable clash with his arrogant creator, make up the heart of the play. A lot of philosophy and religion get discussed, but it never feels forced. In Saturday’s screening, Jonny Lee Miller plays the monster and Benedict Cumberbatch plays Frankenstein. Sunday and Monday, they switch roles (I saw it with Cumberbatch as the monster). For more on this, see Live Theater on the Big Screen and Frankenstein.
B- The Crowd Roars, Stanford, Wednesday and Thursday. James Cagney plays a champion race car driver with a girlfriend (Ann Dvorak) who–for some unexplained reason–he doesn’t want to introduce to his family. That’s bad to begin with, but worse when he brings his kid brother (the extremely innocent-looking Eric Linden) into the business. The characters and relationships seem silly and plot-driven. This is the sort of picture where, early on, a sidekick kisses a pair of baby shoes and puts them in his car before a race. No way that guy will live to the fadeout. Despite the name cast and director (Howard Hawks), The Crowd Roars feels like a B movie–quick-paced, witty, and over in 85 minutes. I enjoyed it the way I enjoy Bs–with lowered expectations. You can read more on this movie here. On a double bill with a very late Hawks movie, Red Line 7000, which will be screened in 16mm.