What’s Screening: August 17 – 23

No festivals this week. But we do have a whole lot of A+ classics.

A+ Great Gangster Movie Double Bill: The Godfather & Goodfellas, Castro, Saturday. Two A+ films on one double-bill! Francis Coppola, taking the job simply because he needed the money, turned The Godfather into the Great American Crime Epic. Marlon Brando got top billing, but Al Pacino owns the film (and became a star) as Michael Corleone, the respectable son inevitably and reluctantly pulled into a life of crime he doesn’t want but seems born to possess. Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas follows the career of a mid-level mafia operative, and shows us both what’s seductive about a life of crime and how it inevitably turns to betrayal and destruction. Two of the three greatest films ever made about organized crime.

A+ The Godfather, Part II, United Artists Berkeley, Thursday, 9:00. And here’s the third. After you see The Godfather on Saturday at the Castro, you’ve got five days to cross the bay and catch the even better sequel. By juxtaposing the rise of Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando in the first film, a young Robert De Niro here) with the moral fall of his son Michael (Al Pacino again), Mario Puzo and Francis Coppola show us the long-term effects of what seemed at the time to be the right decision. In the nostalgically-lit De Niro scenes, the young Vito proves to be the ultimate family man. He cares only for his wife and children, and turns to crime to better support them. But in the Michael scenes, set some thirty years later, we see the ultimate disastrous effects of that decision. Michael is a monster, destroying his family to save it. But he’s a tragic monster who senses his own emptiness.

A+ Very Interesting Western Double Bill: Brokeback Mountain & Red River, Castro, Sunday. Here we’ve got two great films exploring the very core of the western hero archetype, one openly gay, and one with a subtle (and possibly unintentional) homoerotic undertow. In Brokeback Mountain, Heath Ledger turns the stereotype of the strong, silent cowboy on its head, playing a man so beaten down and closed off from the world that every word is a struggle. Unable to come out of the closet, he can’t openly acknowledge who he is without rejecting another, equally important part of his identity. Jake Gyllenhaal and Michelle Williams are also brilliant as his lover and wife. John Wayne gives one of his best performances in Red River, showing us the villain in the hero and the hero in the villain as a western Captain Bligh. Montgomery Clift (gay in real life) plays the adopted son who becomes his Fletcher Christian. The A+ goes to Red River, largely because of my reluctance to give that grade to a relatively new film.

A+ Jaws, Kabuki & various CineMark Theaters, Thursday. People associate Jaws with three men in a boat, but the picture is more than half over before the shark chase really starts. The picture begins as a suspenseful, jaws2witty variation of Henrik Ibsen’s classic play, An Enemy of the People, but with a central character more conflicted and less noble (Roy Scheider). Then the three men board the boat and the picture turns into Moby Dick. Jaws‘ phenomenal success changed how Hollywood operates, creating the summer blockbusters which are now all that the major studios care about. Yet by today’s standards, it’s practically an independent film, albeit one that could scare the living eyeballs out of you. See my Blu-ray review for more on Jaws.

A- Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Stanford, Friday through Tuesday. Corrupt political bosses appoint a naive, young idealist (James Stewart) senator because mr_smith_goes_to_washingtonthey think he’s stupid. The second and best film in Frank Capra’s common-man trilogy, Mr. Smith creeks a bit with patriotic corniness today, and seems almost as naive as its protagonist. But it has moments–Stewart’s speech about how “history is too important to be left in school books,” for instance–that can still bring a lump to your throat. And it’s just plain entertaining. On a double bill with The Philadelphia Story.

B Kansas City Confidential, Castro, Thursday. One man conceives of the perfect crime, then brings three hardened criminals in on it. Everything goes smoothly, with an innocent bystander taking the wrap. But when that bystander is released for lack of evidence, he has business to attend to. This taut little noir from 1952 delivers the goods, muddying the moral waters while providing suspense and entertainment. The title is misleading, however; most of the story takes place in a reasonably nice resort in Borados–a strangely pleasant setting for any noir, let alone one called Kansas City Confidential. See my longer report. On a double bill with Baby Face.

B The Big Lebowski, Camera 3 Cinema, Saturday, 9:30. Critics originally big_lebowski[1]panned this Coen Brothers gem as a disappointing follow-up to their previous endeavor, Fargo. Well, it isn’t as good as the Coen’s masterpiece, but it’s still one hell of a funny movie. It’s also built quite a cult following; The Big Lebowski has probably played more Bay Area one-night stands in the years I’ve maintained this site than than any three other movies put together.