The Bay Area film festival scene looks dark and dreary this week. But that’s a good thing! Noir City opens tonight and runs through the week and beyond.
A Gun Crazy, Castro, Friday, 8:00. No, this movie isn’t about Fox News and the NRA. Written under an assumed name by blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, Gun Crazy combines the crime thriller with a love story. Peggy Cummins and John Dall play a loving couple as excited by firearms as they are by each other. Naturally, their proclivities do not keep them within the law. Both are crack shots, but Dall’s character can’t bring himself to shoot a living creature. Suspense and sexual tension burn through this low-budget masterpiece. Opening night of Noir City, with Peggy Cummins in person.
B+ Sparrows, Rafael, Thursday, 7:00. Sparrows’ plot feels like the stereotype of a silent film melodrama. An evil miser keeps children imprisoned and enslaved on what’s basically an island in the middle of a swamp. When it’s in his interest to kill them all, sweet and beautiful Molly (who else but Mary Pickford) must lead them to safety. The story is as silly as it sounds, but the photography and tints are so gorgeous, and Pickford is such a delight, that you forgive it all. I’m hoping the Rafael screens the same gorgeous print I saw some years back at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival. Christel Schmidt, editor of Mary Pickford: Queen of the Movies, will introduce the presentation, which will also include the original trailer, outtakes, and piano accompaniment by Dan Redfeld.
A The Best of RiffTrax Live: Plan 9 from Outer Space, quite a lot of theaters, Thursday. In this theater-only broadcast of a live presentation, three MST3K veterans add comic commentary to Plan Nine from Outer Space,allegedly the worst film of all time. The clumsy dialog and wooden acting are a wonder to behold, but they’re brilliant drama compared to the sets and the continuity. Assuming this is the same performance I saw on Blu-ray (read my review), it gets off to a slow start and drags in the pre-show, but picks up and moves into delirious humor when the main feature finally starts. The movie is funny enough on its own, but with the RiffTrax commentators riffing on it, I laughed so hard I was gasping for breath.
A- The Master, Opera Plaza, return engagement opens Friday. As you probably know, Paul Thomas Anderson loosely based The Master on Scientology and it’s founder, L. Ron Hubbard. But this is no more a critique of Hubbard’s cult than Citizen Kane is an attack on Hearst newspapers. The story is really about an alcoholic drifter (Joaquin Phoenix) who finds himself in the circle of a charismatic cult leader (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Neither man is trustworthy; one steals from his hosts, the other runs what he may or may not consciously realize is a scam. Amy Adams gives The Master’s third great performance, as the "great" man’s wife–sweet on the outside but inwardly hard as nails. The film suffers from a weak third act. This is one of two new films shot in the 70mm format. For more on the film and the format, see The Master, by a Master, in Masterly 70mm and When You Least Expect It: The Return of 70mm,
A+ North by Northwest, Pacific Film Archive, Wednesday, 7:00. Alfred Hitchcock’s light masterpiece, not as thoughtful as Rear Window or Notorious, but more entertaining than both of them combined. Cary Grant plays an unusually suave and witty everyman in trouble with evil foreign spies (who think he’s a crack American agent), and by the police (who think he’s a murderer). And so he must escape almost certain death again and again while chased from New York to Mount Rushmore. On the bright side , he gets to spend some quality time with a very glamorous Eva Marie Saint (danger has its rewards). Part of the series Alfred Hitchcock: The Shape of Suspense.
A Sunset Boulevard, Castro, Sunday. Billy Wilder’s meditation on Hollywood’s seedy underbelly is the flip side of Singin’ in the Rain (now that would make a great double bill). Norma Desmond is very much Lena Lamont after twenty-two years of denial and depression. And in the role of Norma, Gloria Swanson gives one of the great over-the-top performances in Hollywood history. As part of Noir City, Sunset Boulevard plays a double bill with–no, not Singin’ in the Rain–but Repeat Performance, another "Show Biz Noir," but one I haven’t seen.
A+ Rear Window, Pacific Film Archive, Friday, 7:00. Alfred Hitchcock at his absolute best. James Stewart is riveting as a news photographer temporarily confined to his apartment and a wheelchair, amusing himself by watching his neighbors (none of whom he knows) and guessing at the details of their lives. Then he begins to suspect that one of them committed murder. As he and his girlfriend (Grace Kelly) begin to investigate, it slowly begins to dawn on us that they’re getting into some pretty dangerous territory (something they don’t realize until it’s almost too late). Hitchcock uses this story to examine voyeurism, urban alienation, and the institution of marriage, as well as to treat his audience to a great entertainment. Another part of the series Alfred Hitchcock: The Shape of Suspense.
B+ Sing-A-Long Wizard of Oz, Lark, Sunday, 3:00. I don’t really have to tell you about this one, do I? Well, perhaps I have to explain why I’m only giving Oz a B+. Despite its clever songs, lush Technicolor photography, and one great performance (Bert Lahr’s Cowardly Lion), The Wizard of Oz never struck me as the masterpiece that everyone else sees. It’s a good, fun movie, but not quite fun enough to earn an A. I have never experienced the Sing-A-Long version.