Dear readers: I realize my blog has been all but dormant recently. My father was ailing the last few months, and I was his medical representative. He died last Friday. In addition, I was directing a one-act musical comedy, which will have its one-and-only performance at Ashkenaz this Saturday. You can understand why I had little time for movies.
Cinequest opens its 13-day run on Tuesday. And that’s the only festival this week.
Oscar on the Big Screen, Sunday, various times at various theaters. You don’t have to stay home to watch the Academy Awards. Various movie theaters will screen it live, often with stand-up comics, raffles, costume competitions, and other distractions. For my own experiences with public Oscar parties, see Oscars at the Cerrito and Oscars at the Rafael. Check the listings below to find the Oscar party you want to attend.
A+ 8½, Castro, Wednesday. Funny, exhilarating, perplexing, and tragic, Federico Fellini’s masterpiece is not only the greatest film ever made about writer’s block and the ultimate cinematic statement on the male midlife crisis, it’s also a movie about making a movie–where the movie being made appears to be 8½. Marcello Mastroianni stars as a filmmaker in a creative crisis, obviously modeled after Fellini (if I looked like Federico Fellini, I’d want my fictitious alter ego to look like Marcello Mastroianni, too). Filled with one memorable and unique scene after another–my favorite would probably be the outdoor café, where Sandra Milo makes a grand entrance in an absurd carriage–Fellini’s autobiographical surreal comedy lacks nothing except a coherent plot. It has no use for one. On a double bill with Albert Brook’s Modern Romance, which I haven’t seen.
A Shadow of a Doubt, Pacific Film Archive, Friday, 9:00; Stanford, Thursday through next Sunday. In Alfred Hitchcock’s first great American film, a serial killer (Joseph Cotton at his most charming) returns to his small-town roots. When his favorite niece (Teresa Wright) begins to suspect that all is not right with her beloved Uncle Charlie, her own life is in danger. Cotton’s performance makes the movie. Most of the time he’s warm, friendly, and relaxed. But he can turn brooding and dark, and say things that no well-adjusted person could possibly say. Written in part by Thorton Wilder, best remembered for the play Our Town. The locations were shot in Santa Rosa. The PFA screening is part of the series Alfred Hitchcock: The Shape of Suspense. At the Stanford, it will play on a double bill with Rope; see below for details.
B Rope, Stanford, Thursday through next Sunday. Not Alfred Hitchcock’s worst film, but easily his most frustrating. Hitchcock was working from a terrific screenplay (by Arthur Laurents, adapted by Hume Cronyn from a play by Patrick Hamilton). Two young men, clearly homosexual (although that couldn’t be stated in those days), kill an acquaintance for thrills, then throw a party with the body hidden in a chest. Unfortunately, Hitchcock made two major errors. First, he cast James Stewart in a role that in 1948 was still outside his acting range (it wouldn’t be for long). Second, he made the movie in eight ten-minute shots that give the impression of a single 80-minute take (which wasn’t technically possible back then). That later decision robbed him of the ability to edit, and Hitchcock without editing is handicapped Hitchcock. On a double bill with Shadow of a Doubt (see above).
A The Central Park Five, Castro, Thursday. Ken Burns sets aside his usual historical style to examine a far more recent story of five young men convicted of a horrible crime that they did not commit. A white woman was brutally raped and left for dead in Central Park. New York’s finest arrested five black and Puerto Rican teenage boys, all of whom confessed under police interrogation, even though there was no physical evidence linking them to the crime and considerable evidence for their innocence. Most Ken Burns documentaries help us understand how we, as Americans, got to where we are. This one shows us exactly where that is. Read my full review. On a double bill with Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion, which I haven’t seen.
A+ The Third Man, Pacific Film Archive, Wednesday, 3:00. Classic film noir with an international flavor. An American pulp novelist (Joseph Cotten) arrives in impoverished, divided post-war Vienna to meet up with an old friend who has promised him a much-needed job. But he soon discovers that the friend is both a wanted criminal and newly dead. Or is he? Writer Graham Greene and director Carol Reed place an intriguing mystery inside a world so dark and disillusioned that American noir seems tame by comparison. Then, when the movie is two thirds over, Orson Welles comes onscreen to steal everything but the sprocket holes. Part of the series (and UC class) Film 50: History of Cinema: The Cinematic City. With a lecture by Marilyn Fabe.
A- Skyfall, Castro, Friday. Daniel Craig continues to rewrite the whole idea of James Bond in his third outing as fiction’s favorite spy. This time he suffers a traumatic experience in the pre-credit sequence, disappears, then comes back months later, physically and emotionally unfit to serve. Of course he serves, anyway. This may be the first Bond film set mostly in Brittan, and the first since The World is Not Enough to give Judi Dench a part worthy of her acting talents. Her M carries the story almost as much as Craig’s conflicted and emotionally tortured Bond. And speaking of Craig’s unromanticized interpretation of the character, has anyone else noticed that he never ends the picture happily in a beautiful woman’s arms?
B Argo, Castro, Tuesday. Ben Affleck’s truth-based political thriller holds together very well for most of its runtime, even though we know the ending. After Iranians took the American embassy in 1979, a CIA specialist (Affleck, who also directed) takes on the assignment of rescuing a handful of Americans hiding in the Canadian embassy. His far-fetched plan: Create the illusion of a movie company scouting for locations. The Hollywood and Washington scenes are played very effectively for laughs, while the Tehran scenes provide equally-effective thrills. But in the final half hour, Affleck and his screenwriters provide three saved-in-the-last-second moments that might work for Indiana Jones, but are two too many for an allegedly true story. Another complaint: The real person that Affleck plays, Tony Mendez, is Hispanic and looks it. Affleck is unquestionably white.
B- Alfred Hitchcock Double Bill: Rebecca & Suspicion, Stanford, Through Sunday. Rebecca earns this double bill it’s B-. With its few fleeting moments of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock’s first American film feels little like a Hitchcock movie. Basically a weepie, it stars Joan Fontaine as a young American who marries a British aristocrat (Laurence Olivier), only to find that she has to compete with the memory of his dead first wife. Although it’s not what Hitchcock fans expect, it’s still an entertaining melodrama, with a fine, over-the-top performance by Judith Anderson as the brooding servant who cannot bear to think that a usurper has replaced her lady (her performance provides the most Hitchcockian moments in the picture). This was Hitchcock’s only Best Picture Oscar winner. The second feature, Suspicion might have been as good as Rebecca, or even better, if it had not been for the studio demanding a happy ending.
D LOL, Roxie, Saturday, 3:15. I hate panning a movie made on the extreme cheap by young, eager filmmakers–especially when they try an unusual approach to explore an interesting subject, like Internet addiction’s affects on young men’s love lives. But there’s a good reason why this approach–non-actors improvising without a script or even a plot outline–has remained unusual. It doesn’t work. The result is a really bad movie. This is one case where a independent’s low budget isn’t overcome by talent.The camerawork and sound are as amateurish as the acting and (lack of) writing.