B+ Mysteries of the Krell: Making the Sci-Fi Epic Forbidden Planet, Rafael, Saturday, 7:00. The B+ goes to the feature, Forbidden Planet, although the accompanying talk could make the evening even better. Nothing dates faster than futuristic fiction, and with its corny dialog and spaceship crewed made up entirely by white males, Forbidden Planet is very dated. But MGM’s 1956 sci-fi extravaganza still holds considerable pleasures. The Cinemascope and Eastmancolor art direction pleases to the eye, Robby the Robot wins your heart, and the story—involving a long-dead mystery race of super-beings—still packs some genuine thrills. It’s also an interesting precursor to Star Trek. For this special event, visual effects artist Craig Barron and sound designer Ben Burtt will discuss the making of this ground-breaking film. For more on Burtt’s personal appearances, see The Sound of Wall-E at the Rafael and SF Silent Film Festival Report 1: Wings. For more about the feature, see Forbidden Planet & Bad Day at Black Rock @ the Castro.
A Samsara, Castro, Saturday and Sunday. Ron Fricke (Baraka) provides us with a succession of stunningly beautiful and occasionally shocking images,accompanied by a hypnotic musical score and almost no other sound. I sat, enraptured, my eyes and mouth open in astonishment. Although there’s no real story, Samsara is structured like one. Or if not a story, then at least a journey. Fricke shot Samsara in the 70mm format, providing a level of detail impossible to capture digitally or with standard 35mm film. The filmmakers have stated that Samsara is best seen in 4K digital projection, but the Castro will screen it in 35mm. See my full review as well as More on Samsara, 70mm, and 4K Digital Projection.
A Century Ago: The Films of 1912, Rafael, Monday, 7:00. Every December, the Rafael reminds us that the art of cinema is now more than a century old, by providing a selection of 100-year-old films. I don’t know what they’ll be showing, but I suspect there may be a short feature in there. The films will be screened off a restored, hand-cranked projector. Michael Mortilla will provide piano accompaniment.
A+ It’s a Wonderful Life, Alameda, Tuesday and Wednesday. There’s a rarely-acknowledged dark side to Frank Capra’s feel-good fable. George Bailey (James Stewart) saves his town and earns the love of his neighbors, but only at the expense of his own dreams and desires. Trapped, frustrated, and deeply disappointed, Bailey needs only one new disaster to turn his thoughts to suicide. The extremely happy (some would say excessively sappy) ending works because Bailey, whose main problems remain unsolved, has suffered so much to earn it.
White Christmas, Rafael, Sunday, 1:00. I’ve never seen this 1954 musical, and have no real desire to see it. But in addition to the movie, the event includes a discussion on VistaVision, the semi-widescreen, large format in which White Christmas was shot. There were a lot of large formats in the ’50s, but more films were shot in VistaVision than all of the others, primarily because for six years, Paramount shot all of its films that way. White Christmas was the first.
Snake in Eagle’s Shadow, Roxie, Thursday. I don’t remember this early Jackie Chan comedy enough to give it a grade, but I do recall a very conventional martial arts plot livened up with some very funny comedy and that patented Chan charm. This is your chance to see Chan as he was just figuring out that he was primarily a comedian. On a double bill with Seven Grandmasters, which I have never seen. You can hardly blame me; according to the Roxie, they’re screening the only known 35mm print.
Cerrito Theater’s 75th Anniversary & You Can’t Take It With You, Cerrito, Thursday, 7:00. Come celebrate the theater’s advancing age (and ignore the fact that it was dark most of that time). There will be live music from Cookie Reese’s "Any Reason," (formerly known as "Hot Popcorn"), and Frank Capra 1938 Oscar winner, based on a play by George Kaufman. It’s been way too many years since I’ve seen You Can’t Take it With You for me to tell you about it. But it’s nice to know that this December, you can go to a movie theater and see a Capra film that isn’t It’s a Wonderful Life.
A- A Christmas Story, Cerrito, Saturday and Sunday, 11:00 AM. Sweet, sentimental Christmas movies, at least those not authored by Charles Dickens or Frank Capra, generally make me want to throw up. But writer Jean Shepherd’s look back at the Indiana Christmases of his youth comes with enough laughs and cynicism to make the nostalgia go down easy. A holiday gem for people who love, or hate, the holidays.