Although I haven’t been able to review any of the new films playing at Cinequest, I’m discussing some of the technical presentations and revivals at the bottom of this newsletter.
Balboa Birthday Bash, Balboa, Sunday, 7:00. The Balboa Theater turns 87 Sunday, and doing it in style. The feature presentation: The 1924 version of Peter Pan, starring Betty Bronson as the boy who never grew up and the wonderful Ernest Torrence as Captain Hook. I haven’t seen this film in about 14 years, so I’m hesitant to give it a grade, but I enjoyed it reasonably well when I saw it. Live entertainment will include magician James Hamilton, songstress Linda Kosut, and pianist Frederick Hodges accompanying the feature and shorts.
A Lore, Embarcadero, Shattuck, opens Friday. What happens when your entire world–wealth, security, parental love, and the values you were raised with–dissolve almost overnight? When the Third Reich suddenly collapses and American soldiers arrest her Nazi parents, teenage Lore (Saskia Rosendahl) must guide her four younger siblings across a destroyed Germany to their grandparents’ home. Luckily, she acquires a companion more skilled than she at living off the land. But she couldn’t possibly trust him; after all, he’s a Jew. Filmmakers Cate Shortland and Robin Mukherjee don’t let you off with easy moralizing; decent, generous people can be ardent Nazis. And there’s no heart-warming realization of human decency. See my full review.
A The 400 Blows, Pacific Film Archive, Wednesday, 3:10. François Truffaut helped launch the French New Wave and modern cinema with this tale of a rebellious boy on the cusp to adolescence. Shot on a very low budget, it follows young Antoine (Jean-Pierre Léaud in the first of six films playing this role) as he cuts school, gets in trouble, discovers his parents’ marital problems, and refuses to fit in. Set to a brilliant jazz score, The 400 Blows captures the exhilaration and the horror (mostly the horror) of being 13. Part of the series and class Film 50: History of Cinema: The Cinematic City; lecture by Marilyn Fabe. Sold out.
A+ Hitchcock Double Bill: Spellbound & Notorious, Pacific Film Archive, Friday, 7:00 (Notorious starts at 9:10). The A+ goes to Notorious, one of Hitchcock’s best. In order to prove her patriotism, scandal-ridden Ingrid Bergman seduces, beds, and marries Claude Rains’ Nazi industrialist, while true love Cary Grant grimly watches. Grant’s secret agent sent her on this deadly and humiliating mission, where she literally sleeps with the enemy on his orders. He reacts with blind jealousy. The Nazi, on the other hand, appears to truly love her. Sexy, romantic, thought-provoking, and scary enough to shorten your fingernails. I discuss the film more deeply in my Blu-ray Review. Spellbound, made just before Notorious, is a little too much of a psychological mystery to be an effective thriller, but it has enough Hitchcock style, plus star wattage from Bergman and newcomer Gregory Peck, to make a fine entertainment. Separate admissions required for each film, with a discount if you buy tickets for both films. Part of the series Alfred Hitchcock: The Shape of Suspense.
A+ Hitchcock Double Bill: Rear Window & To Catch a Thief, Stanford, Thursday through next Sunday. The A+ goes to Rear Window–Alfred Hitchcock at his absolute best. James Stewart plays a news photographer temporarily confined to his apartment and a wheelchair, amusing himself by watching his neighbors. Then he begins to suspect that one of them committed murder. 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. To Catch a Thief is more like a vacation on the Riviera than the tight and scary thriller one expects from the master of suspense. Not one of his best work by a long shot, it nevertheless provides a few good scenes and sufficient fun.
B Shanghai Express, Roxie, Sunday. "It took more than one man to change my name to Shanghai Lily." Josef von Sternberg’s exotic pre-code adventure follows multiple Europeans stuck in the political turmoil of a China that could only exist on a Hollywood soundstage. The result comes perilously close to dull melodrama, but it’s raised almost to a fine art by glorious camerawork and art direction, some clever dialog, and entertaining performances by Marlene Dietrich and Anna May Wong. On a double bill with Waterloo Bridge. Part of Hollywood Before the Code.
A Chinatown, UA Berkeley, Thursday, 9:00. Roman Polanski maybe a rapist, but you can’t deny his talent as a filmmaker (which doesn’t excuse his actions as a human being). And that talent was never shown better than in this neo-noir tale of intrigue and double-crosses set in Los Angeles in the 1930s. Writer Robert Towne fictionalized an actual scandal involving southern California water rights, mixed in a few personal scandals, and handed it over to Polanski, who turned the script into the perfect LA period piece.
It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, Alameda, Tuesday and Wednesday. Although I haven’t seen it in about 20 years, I’m reasonably confident that this three-hour, big budget, slapstick comedy is very much worth missing. And yes, I do realize that some people consider it a classic. I loved it when I was a kid–in fact, for some years it was my favorite movie. My parents hated it, which probably made me love it all the more. Decades later, I showed it to my son when he was about the age I was when I loved it. I found it loud, overdone, and very nearly laughless. He agreed.
A Hitchcock Double Bill: Strangers on a Train & Rope, Stanford, through Sunday. The A goes to Strangers on a Train. A rich, spoiled psychotic killer (the worst kind) convinces himself that a moderately-famous athlete has agreed to exchange murders. The athlete soon finds himself hounded by suspicious cops who think he’s killed his wife and a psycho who thinks the athlete owes him a murder. The other movie on the double bill, Rope, comes from one of the best screenplays Hitchcock ever commissioned. But it’s marred by some bad casting and an experimental approach that doesn’t really work.
A+ Lawrence of Arabia, Camera 12, San Jose, Sunday, 1:15. Lawrence isn’t just the best big historical epic of the 70mm roadshow era, it’s one of the greatest films ever made. Stunning to look at and terrific as pure spectacle, it’s also an intelligent study of a fascinatingly complex and enigmatic war hero. T. E. Lawrence—at least in this film—both loved and hated violence, and tried liberating Arabia by turning it over to the British. No, that’s not a flaw in the script, but in his character. This masterpiece requires a very large screen and either 70mm film or 4K DCP digital projection. The Camera 12 will screen it in 4K. For more on this epic, read Great Projection Saturday, Part 2: 70mm & Lawrence of Arabia and The Digital Lawrence of Arabia Experience.
A+ Taxi Driver, Camera 12, Wednesday, 7:15. When I think of the 1970s as a golden age of Hollywood-financed serious cinema, I think of Robert De Niro walking the dark, mean streets of New York, slowly turning into a psychopath. Writer Paul Schrader and director Martin Scorsese put together this near-perfect study of loneliness as a disease. It isn’t that De Niro’s character hasn’t found the right companion, or society has failed him, or that he doesn’t understand intimacy. His problems stem from the fact that he’s mentally incapable of relating to other human beings. This is a sad and pathetic man, with a rage that will inevitably turn violent. For more about Taxi Driver, see my Blu-ray review.
A&I Forum: 4K – Experience Restoration to New Cinema, Camera 12, San Jose, Saturday, 3:30. Grover Crisp, Sony’s Executive Vice President of Asset Management & Film Restoration, will be on hand to discuss 4K restorations of classic films. The festival’s Web site promises "stunning examples from classic films restored in 4K by Sony Pictures; an insider’s look at incredible new technologies that are revitalizing both the theatrical and home experiences; and a premier look at what you can expect in the future of cinema."