A Best of Looney Tunes Cartoons, Sebastiani Theatre, Saturday, 9:30am. For much of the mid 20th century, Warner Brothers’ cartoon division ran wild, making some of funniest and cleverest seven-minute shorts ever drawn. This collection, concentrating on the work of the great director Chuck Jones, includes "The Dot & the Line," "Ali Baba Bunny," and the immortal "What’s Opera Doc." Let’s hope it also includes my all-time favorite, "Duck Amuck." All in 35mm prints. Part of the Sonoma International Film Festival.
A Matinee, Rafael, Thursday, 7:00. On one level, Matinee works as a nostalgic comedy, allowing us to laugh at the bad movies and outrageous attitudes of the early 1960′s. But there’s something deeper at work here. Writer Charles S. Haas and director Joe Dante juxtapose a cheap horror film with the Cuban Missile Crisis to examine the nature of fear. It’s one thing to jump in your seat when the monster leaps out on the movie screen. But everything changes when nuclear war is imminent just outside the theater. And what about the fear of asking out a girl with a violent and jealous ex-boyfriend (even if he does write poetry)? Of course, things can’t get too scary when John Goodman and Cathy Moriarty steal the show as a crafty b-movie producer and his long-suffering girlfriend. And watch for John Sayles as a religious fanatic who might not be what he seems. One of the little-known gems of the 1990s. David Templeton & screenwriter Charlie Haas in person.
A Double bill: Touch of Evil & Blood Simple, Castro, Friday. Two excellent noirs, each of which deserves an A on its own merits. In Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil, the director plays a corrupt border-town sheriff–bloated, scary, and yet strangely sympathetic. Janet Leigh is a lovely and effective damsel in distress. True, Charlton Heston is miscast as the Mexican hero, but not as badly miscast as some people say. One of Welles’ best work. The Coen Brothers made a name for themselves with the atmospheric and grotesquely violent Blood Simple. The noirish plot, involving adultery and murder (both real and faked), makes perfect sense to the viewer, although it’s unlikely that anyone within the story will ever figure it all out.
B+ Z, Pacific Film Archive, Friday, 8:40. Costa-Gavras’ breakout film–at least for American audiences–put us in the middle of the military coup that brought fascism to Greece in the 1960s. Fast-paced even when it’s talky, and accompanied by one of the most audaciously exciting scores in movie history (by Mikis Theodorakis), Z speeds through its combination of edge-of-the-seat thrills and left-wing polemics. With Yves Montand as the progressive candidate targetted for assassination, Irene Papas as his long-suffering wife, and Jean-Louis Trintignant as the magistrate who looks like a fascist but doesn’t act like one. When it was new, Z became the very first subtitled film I ever saw. Part of the series And God Created Jean-Louis Trintignant.
A The Conformist, Pacific Film Archive, Thursday, 7:00. It takes more than good men doing nothing to create fascism. According to Bernardo Bertolucci’s haunting character study, it also takes mediocre men with career ambitions. Jean-Louis Trintignant is chilling as a bland cog in the machine, ready to use his honeymoon in homicidal service to Mussolini. With Stefania Sandrelli as his not-too-bright bride and Dominique Sanda, in a star-making performance, as the object of everyone’s desire. Part of the series And God Created Jean-Louis Trintignant.
B The Pink Panther (original, 1963 version), Castro, Tuesday. The original Pink Panther was never intended to be an Inspector Clouseau movie, or a Peter Sellers vehicle. It was meant to be a charming European comedy of manners starring David Niven. But when Peter Ustinov dropped out at the last minute, Sellers was cast in the supporting role of the bumbling detective. It’s a tribute to Sellers’ performance that we now think of him as the star. But the scenes without him, which are most of the movie, are only okay. This TCM presentation will include actor Robert Wagner in person.
C Old San Francisco, Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, Saturday, 7:30. Well, I’m glad someone remembered the Earthquake anniversary, even if they’re remembering it with aristocratic Spaniards, corrupt Chinese, a caged dwarf, an Irishman in love, and an evil land speculator with a humiliating secret–all shaken by the 1906 earthquake and stirred with lurid melodrama. Silly and offensively racist, but still fun, Old San Francisco offers considerable historical interest with its fascinating glimpse at how Hollywood (and white America) saw the world in 1927. With its pre-Jazz Singer Vitaphone music-and-effects soundtrack, the essentially silent Old San Francisco stands as an important early film in the transition to sound. But you won’t hear that soundtrack at Niles; Greg Pane will be tickling the ivories. Also on the bill: Two short subjects shot in San Francisco in 1906.
B+ American Graffiti, Alameda, Tuesday and Wednesday. A long time ago, in a Bay Area that feels very far away, George Lucas made an entertaining (and extremely profitable) movie without action, a big budget, or special effects. Talk about nostalgia. You can also talk about old-time rock ‘n’ roll–American Graffiti makes great use of early 60s rock-n-roll.
C+ High Society, Stanford, Friday. To watch this VistaVision and Technicolor musical remake of The Philadelphia Story is to understand why screwball comedy died. It also makes you appreciate how wonderful Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, and James Stewart were in the original. High Society’s Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly, and Frank Sinatra are fine, but their comedic skills just don’t measure up. On the other hand, this version has Louis Armstrong, and that makes up for a whole lot. On a double bill with Silk Stockings, a 1950s musical remake of Ninotchka (do you sense a theme here); I haven’t seen this one in decades but I remember mildly liking it.
A- Moonrise Kingdom, Castro, Saturday. Wes Anderson at his most playful. Also at his sweetest and funniest. Two pre-teens in love run away–disrupting everything on the small New England island where the story is set. While the fantasy of young love makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, the adult reaction keeps you laughing–in large part because the main adults are played by major stars clearly enjoying a chance to clown around. They include Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Bruce Willis, and, best of all, Tilda Swinton as “Social Services." On a Wes Anderson double bill with Rushmore, which, I must confess, I haven’t yet seen.
D Marnie, Pacific Film Archive, Saturday, 8:15. I’ve seen most of Alfred Hitchcock’s films, and of the ones I’ve seen, Marnie is undoubtedly the worst. More of a physiological mystery than a thriller, it follows the adventures of a beautiful woman (Tippi Hedren) who is both frigid and a compulsive thief. Sean Connery plays the aristocrat who loves her and sets out to cure her. This kind of story depends entirely on the stars, who must have looks, charisma, and acting talent to pull it off. Connery has the looks and the charisma–although perhaps not enough charisma to let us forgive him for raping Marnie on their wedding night. All Hedren has is looks; and the part is so far beyond her it’s embarrassing. Part of the series Alfred Hitchcock: The Shape of Suspense.
A Lawrence of Arabia, United Artists Berkeley, Thursday, 9:00. One of the greatest films ever made. Stunning to look at and terrific as pure spectacle, Lawrence is 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, wanted desperately to become something he could never be, and told himself that he was liberating Arabia while knowing deep down that he was turning it over to the British. This masterpiece requires a very large screen and either 70mm film or 4K DCP digital projection for its full effect. I’m knocking this down from an A+ to an A because this theater doesn’t have a really large screen (and it has some really small ones), they often don’t bother to remove the 3D lens, effectively downgrading 4K to 2K, and who wants to start a four-hour film at 9:00 on a weeknight?
B- The Birds, Castro, Sunday. Alfred Hitchcock’s only out-and-out fantasy has some great sequences. The scene where Tippi Hedren calmly sits andsmokes 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.