What’s Screening: March 22 – 28

CAAMFest continues through Monday. And that’s the only festival this week.

B+ On the Road, Embarcadero, Shattuck, Aquarius, Rafael, opens Friday. Jose Rivera and Walter Salles came maddeningly close to making a great film out of Jack Kerouac’s highly-regarded, biographical  novel. The sense of time and place are letter-perfect. The characters are rich, surprising, believable, and sexy. On the Road captures the dizzy and seductive joys of a drug-soaked and sexually wild youth, as well as the less joyful results of this lifestyle. The lead performers, Sam Riley, Garrett Hedlund, and Kristen Stewart (of Twilight fame) bring wild abandon, sexual urgency, and subtle characterization to their roles. But in trying to capture the full arc of the novel, it bogs down at times, and the picture is marred by stunt casting in the smaller roles. Read my full review.

ROAR! The Roaring 1920’s Movie Musical, Castro, Saturday. I have no idea if this is any good, but it would certainly be an unusual experience.The Castro’s Web site describes it as "the all singing, all dancing, roaring 1920’s black and white movie musical! Celebrate the razzle dazzle of Hollywood’s golden era in this unique Bay Area cinema extravaganza. The film features over 160 local youth ages 5-25."

A+ Hitchcock Double Bill: North by Northwest & Notorious, Stanford, Thursday through next Sunday. Each of these films earns its own A+. In North by Northwest, Cary Grant plays an unusually suave and witty everyman in trouble with both evil nbnwforeign spies (who think he’s a crack American agent), and the police (who think he’s a murderer). And so he must escape almost certain death again and again while spending quality time with a very glamorous Eva Marie Saint (danger has its rewards). In the far more serious but still entertaining Notorious, a scandal-ridden Ingrid Bergman proves her patriotism by seducing, bedding, and marrying Claude Rains’ Nazi industrialist while true love Cary Grant grimly watches. Grant’s secret agent sends her on this deadly and humiliating mission, then reacts with blind jealousy. Sexy, romantic, thought-provoking, and scary enough to shorten your fingernails. I discuss the film more deeply in my Blu-ray Review.

A Lord of the Rings Marathon, New Parkway, imageSunday, 11:00am. Peter Jackson’s mammoth adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic fantasy does remarkable justice to the original, while remaining an exceptional and moving entertainment in its own right. As with the novels, Jackson’s films are at their best when they show us hobbits, but the taller characters seem less stodgy here than on the page. I’m not sure whether they’ll be screening the theatrical or extended versions. They expect it to be over about 9 or 10PM.

B+ The Ten Commandments, Castro, Sunday, 2:00.  I enjoy a strange relationship with the biggest commercial hit of the 1950s. With its simplistic characters, corny dialog, and overriding atmosphere of pomposity, The Ten Commandments is the ultimate unintentional comedy. And yet, it’s also a rich, generous, and entertaining spectacle, and a visually lovely motion picture. It has one truly impressive, low-key performance (Cedric Hardwicke as Sethi). At times, it even succeeds in its simplistic spirituality. Besides, it’s a fun way to get in the mood for Passover. The Castro will be screening the 4K restoration digitally (in 2K). Considering how terrific the Blu-ray release looks (read my review), that’s very promising.

A Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, Lark, Sunday, 3:00. An eccentric inventor, his long-suffering dog, snooty aristocrats, cute bunnies, and whole lot of clay make up the funniest movie of 2005. I vote for putting this G-rated, claymation extravaganza on a double-bill with that other hilarious British comedy with a killer rabbit, Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

A- The Master, Castro, Monday and Tuesday. Presented in 70mm! 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. 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,

D Vertigo, Alameda, Tuesday and Wednesday. I’m not recommending Vertigo? Yes, I know that Sight and Sound has declared it the greatest film ever made, and there won’t be a chance to correct that error until 2022. Nevertheless,Vertigo tops my list of the Most Overrated Films of All Time.This isn’t like any other Alfred Hitchcock movie; it’s slow, uninvolving, and self-consciously arty.

C+ Hitchcock Double Bill: Vertigo & Dial M for Murder, Stanford, through Sunday. The C+ goes to Dial M for Murder, which was to my knowledge the only 20th-century 3D film made by a major auteur. Dial M isn’t great Hitchcock–it’s pretty much a straightforward adaptation of a stage play–but it’s a good play and Hitchcock knew what to do with it. Forced against his will to use the new-fangled double-lens camera, Hitchcock pretty much ignored the obvious 3D effects popular at the time. But when he finally throws something at the camera, he knows exactly what he’s doing. Unfortunately, the Stanford will not present the movie in 3D. See above for my thoughts on Vertigo.