The Oakland International Film Festival, which I failed to list here last week, continues through Sunday. The Sonoma International Film Festival opens Wednesday, then the Tiburon International Film Festival opens Thursday.
A+ Seven Samurai, Alameda, Tuesday and Wednesday. If you think all action movies are mindless escapism, you need to set aside 3½ hours for Kurosawa’s epic masterpiece. The basic story–a poor village hires warriors to defend them against bandits–has been retold many times since, but Kurosawa told it first and told it best. This is an action film with almost no action in the first two hours. But when the fighting finally arrives, you’re ready for it, knowing every detail of the people involved, the terrain to be fought over, and the class differences between the peasants and their hired swords. One of the greatest movies ever made, and–I believe–the first subtitled classic being shown in a multiplex "classics" series. See my Kurosawa Diary entry.
A Lore, New Parkway, Monday, 7:00. What happens when your entire world–wealth, security, parental love, and the values you were raised with–dissolves 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.
B- The Birds, Pacific Film Archive, Thursday, 7:00. Alfred Hitchcock’s only out-and-out fantasy has some great sequences. The scene where Tippi Hedren calmly sits and smokes while more and more crows gather on playground equipment, and the following attack on the children, are classics. The lovely Bodega Bay location adds atmosphere and local color, and many of the special effects were way ahead of their time. But the story is weak, the ending unsatisfactory, and that lovely scenery plays side-by-side with obvious soundstage mockups. Worse yet, new-comer Hedren doesn’t provide a single believable moment. She’s beautiful, but utterly lacking in acting talent or charisma. Part of the series Alfred Hitchcock: The Shape of Suspense.
A Airplane!, Cerrito, Thursday, 7:00. They’re flying on instruments, blowing the autopilot, and translating English into jive. So win one for the Zipper, but whatever you do, don’t call him "Shirley." Airplane! throws jokes like confetti–carelessly tossing them in all directions in hopes that some might hit their target. Surprisingly enough, most of them do. There’s no logical reason why a movie this silly can be so satisfying, but then logic never was part of the Airplane! formula. I’d be hard-pressed to name another post-silent feature-length comedy with such a high laugh-to-minute ratio.
D+ Flushed Away, Lark, Sunday, 3:00. Aardman Animations of Chicken Run and Wallace & Gromit fame abandon clay for computer graphics. That might have worked if they hadn’t also exchanged most of that quirky Aardman humor for predictable plot, conventional characters, and obvious moral lessons. As entertainment, this tale of the London sewers falls closer to Chicken Little than Chicken Run.
C+ Django Unchained, Castro, Sunday and Monday. Typical Tarantino–clever, entertaining, way over the top in its gruesome and entirely unrealistic violence, and utterly hollow on the inside. Like Inglorious Basterds, it uses a great crime against humanity as an excuse for a splatter-filled revenge flick that’s also a tribute to a particular kind of action movie. In this case, the crime is slavery and genre the spaghetti western. The story is idiotic, with the heroes often picking a ridiculously difficult route to their goal, and showing no qualms whatsoever over killing other human beings. But I have to admit that I often enjoyed it, even if I felt guilty about doing so.
A+ The Godfather, Kabuki and various CineMark Theaters, Wednesday. Francis Coppola, taking the job simply because he needed the money, turned Mario Puzo’s potboiler into the Great American Crime Epic. Marlon Brando may have top billing, but Al Pacino owns the film (and became a star) as Michael Corleone, the respectable youngest son inevitably and reluctantly pulled into a life of crime he doesn’t want but for which he seems exceptionally well-suited. A masterpiece of character, atmosphere, and heart-stopping violence, recently restored by the master of the craft, Robert A. Harris.
A Chinatown, Roxie, Saturday. 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. Archival 35mm print. On a Polanski double bill with Frantic, which I haven’t seen. Also on the program: a live, transcontinental Skype interview with Roman Polanski.
C Rosemary’s Baby, Roxie, Sunday. Some things are scarier than Woody Allen–or Roman Polanski, but this may not be one of them, since Polanski’s first American film barely works. Mia Farrow looks fidgety and nervous as a pregnant wife who slowly begins to suspect that she’s carrying the devil’s spawn, and that everyone she thought she could trust is in on it. Slow enough to let you see what’s coming a mile off, it never quite builds the sense of dread that the material, and the director, were capable of bringing to it. On a Polanski double bill with Death and the Maiden, which I remember liking a lot when it was new.
A Hitchcock Double Bill: The Birds & Psycho, Stanford, through Sunday. That A goes to Psycho, which could result in you never wanting to take ashower again. In his last great movie, Alfred Hitchcock pulls the rug out from under us several times, leaving us unsure who we’re supposed to root for or what could constitute a happy ending. In roles that defined their careers, Janet Leigh stars as a secretary turned thief, and Anthony Perkins as a momma’s boy with a lot to hide. See above for my thoughts on The Birds.
Note: I altered this post on April 7, adding the Tiburon festival.