The big one…well, one of the two big ones…opens Thursday: the San Francisco International Film Festival.
And although it’s not officially a festival, the Lark will screen four classics in 4K digital this week . I discuss three of them below. (I haven’t seen the fourth, Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion.)
A- Blancanieves, Embarcadero, opens Friday. Could The Artist have started a trend in new silent films–all in narrow screen and black and white? But while The Artist looked to Hollywood for its inspiration, Blancanieves–a loose and very Spanish adaptation of Snow White–follows the more expressionistic silent film of Europe. The result is a story that could not possibly have worked as well with sound and color. Dark and atmospheric, Blancanieves holds you as it finds new twists in the old story. Major kudos for Maribel Verdú, who plays the evil stepmother with a relish that’s a joy to watch. The story is familiar, but writer/director Pablo Berger provides plenty of surprises. In the end, he stands the whole Prince Charming thing on its head. See my full review.
A- What Maisie Knew, Castro, Thursday, 7:00. This family drama follows the aftereffects of a very angry, messy, and vindictive divorce–as seen through the eyes of the bickering couple’s young daughter. We see nothing that she doesn’t see, or hear anything she doesn’t hear. Of course we realize, even if she doesn’t, that both of her parents are jerks. Julianne Moore plays Maisie’s monster of a mother, an aging rock star incapable of relating to another human being as anything other than an extension of herself. Maisie’s art dealer father (Steve Coogan) fights for joint custody not out of love but revenge. Luckily for her, there are better adults in her life, but they may not be enough to make up for her lousy parents. Opening night of the San Francisco International Film Festival.
A Raging Bull, Kabuki and various CineMark Theaters, Wednesday. Martin Scorsese put a cap on 70’s cinema with Raging Bull, his study of boxer Jake La Motta. It isn’t an easy film to watch; the experience is not unlike a fierce pummeling, but it’s absolutely worth it. Robert De Niro gives one of the great physical performances in cinema, changing from a taut athlete to a man who has let himself go, and at no point does he ask for our sympathy–which is primarily reserved for the other people in his life. Scorsese and cinematographer Michael Chapman make brilliant use of black and white, allowing us to experience the emotional brutality of the fights.
A+ Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade, United Artists Berkeley, Thursday, 9:00. I agree with common wisdom: Raider of the Lost Ark is a masterpiece of escapist action entertainment. But I split with the herd on this second sequel; to my mind, it improves on near-perfection. The action sequences are just as well done, but the pacing is better; this time Spielberg knew exactly when to give you a breather. Best of all, adding Sean Connery as the hero’s father humanizes Jones and provides plenty of good laughs. Once again they’re fighting Nazis to recover an ancient religious relic of extreme importance (this time, the holy grail). Just don’t confuse The Last Crusade with the wretched Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.
A+ Groundhog Day, Lark, Friday & Sunday, 7:00; Saturday & Wednesday, 9:15. Spiritual, humane, and hilarious,Groundhog Day wraps its thoughtful world view inside a slick, Hollywood comedy. Without explanation, the movie plunges its self-centered protagonist into a time warp that becomes his purgatory, living the same day over and over for who knows how long (it could be thousands of years). Bill Murray’s weatherman goes through stages of panic, giddiness, and despair before figuring out that life is about serving others. And yet not a frame of this movie feels preachy. Fast-paced and brilliantly edited, it’s pure, inescapable, but not escapist, entertainment. Even in its darkest, most hopeless moments, something comes up to make you laugh–usually Sonny and Cher singing "I’ve Got You, Babe." For more on this great comedy, see Wait 20 Years, and Then You Can Call a Groundhog Day a Classic. Presented in 4K digital.
B+ Frenzy, Pacific Film Archive, Wednesday, 7:00. Hitchcock’s penultimate movie isn’t up to his best work, but it’s good enough to remind you of just how amazing a talent he was. An innocent-accused-of-murder thriller set and shot in his native England, it harkens back to the low-budget potboilers that first made him famous. It’s also his only R-rated film, and it’s interesting to see what he did without the confines of censorship. This isn’t quite his last masterpiece, but it’s his last really good film–and the first really good one he had made in years.
A Samsara, Castro, Monday. Ron Fricke (Baraka) provides us with a succession of stunningly beautiful and occasionally shocking images, accompanied by a hypnotic musical score and almost no other sound. I sat, enraptured, my eyes and mouth open in astonishment. Although there’s no real story, Samsara is structured like one. Or if not a story, then at least a journey. Fricke shot Samsara in the 70mm format, providing a level of detail impossible to capture with today’s digital cameras or with standard 35mm film. The filmmakers have stated that Samsara is best seen in 4K digital projection, a format that the Castro doesn’t support. See my full review as well as More on Samsara, 70mm, and 4K Digital Projection. On a double bill Monday with Chasing Ice.
A+ The General, Pacific Film Archive Gallery B, Friday, 7:30. Buster Keaton pushed film comedy like no one else when he made this one. He meticulously recreated the Civil War setting. He mixed slapstick comedy with battlefield death. He hired thousands of extras and filmed what may be the single most expensive shot of the silent era (then used that shot as the setup for a gag whose punch line is a simple close-up). The result was a critical and commercial flop in 1926, but today it’s rightly considered one of the greatest comedies ever made. In this special Cine/Spin presentation, UC student DJs will spin records to provide a presumably hip-hop accompaniment for the film.
A Psycho, Pacific Film Archive, Saturday, 8:30. You may never want to take a shower 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 be rooting 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. I’ll always regret that I knew too much about Psycho before I saw it for the first time; I wish I could erase all memory of this movie and watch it with fresh eyes. Part of the series Alfred Hitchcock: The Shape of Suspense.
A+ Lawrence of Arabia, Castro, Sunday. 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 excellent projection–either 70mm or DCP–preferably 4K–to do it justice. The Castro has the screen, but only 2K digital projection. In other words, this isn’t the optimal Lawrence experience, but it’s pretty damn close. For more on this epic, read The Digital Lawrence of Arabia Experience and Thoughts on Lawrence of Arabia.
A Dr. Strangelove, Lark, Friday, 9:15; Saturday, 7:00, Sunday, 4:45; Wednesday, 7:00. A psychotic general named Jack D. Ripper (Sterling Hayden) orders his men to bomb the USSR and start World War III. But have no fear! The men responsible for avoiding Armageddon (three of whom are played by Peter Sellers) are slightly more competent than the Three Stooges. We like to look back at earlier decades as simpler, less fearful times, but Stanley Kubrick’s “nightmare comedy” reminds you just how scary things were back then. Presented in 4K digital.
B+ The Bridge on the River Kwai, Lark, Sunday, 1:30; Tuesday, 7:00. The longer it’s been since you’ve seen David Lean’s World War II adventure, the better it gets in your memory. That’s because the brilliant story of an over-proud British POW (Alec Guinness) sticks in the mind. But to see the actual movie again is to be reminded that Guinness’ tale is just a subplot (the actor only received third billing). The bulk of Kwai is a very well made but conventional action movie with some uncomfortably Hollywoodish elements. Remember the Burmese porters who all just happen to all be beautiful young women? In one way, Kwai is like sex: When it’s good, it’s fantastic, and when it’s bad, it’s at least entertaining. Presented in 4K digital.. Read my Blu-ray review.
B+ The Truman Show, Pacific Film Archive, Wednesday, 3:10. Before reality television reared its mediocre head, writer Andrew Niccol and director Peter Weir foresaw it in this comic fable about a man raised unknowingly in a giant television studio. Although prophetic in many ways, The Truman Show takes the concept way beyond plausibility, suggesting a television show that would be economically and legally impossible (that’s why I call it a fable). A few months after this picture came out, The Ed Show offered a far more realistic prophesy of reality TV. Part of the series and class Film 50: History of Cinema: The Cinematic City.
B- Foreign Correspondent, Pacific Film Archive, Friday, 9:00. Not one of Hitchcock’s best, but fun, with a couple of great Hitchcockian set pieces. It’s also an anti-Nazi film from a time when such a thing was still controversial in America (it was only Hitchcock’s second American film, made at a time when his native England was fighting for its life). Part of the series Alfred Hitchcock: The Shape of Suspense.
C The Sound of Music, New Parkway, Friday and Saturday. Many people love it, but I find the biggest money maker of the 1960s lumbering, slow, and dull. Not funny or romantic enough for light entertainment, yet lacking the substance necessary for anything else. And most of the songs give the impression that, by their last collaboration, Roger and Hammerstein had run out of steam. On the other hand, the Todd-AO photography of Alpine landscapes makes this one of the most visually beautiful of Hollywood movies–in a picture-postcard sort of way.
B The Big Lebowski, Clay, Friday and Saturday, midnight. Critics originally panned this Coen Brothers gem as a disappointing follow-up to their previous endeavor, Fargo. Well, it isn’t as good as the Coen’s masterpiece, but it’s still one hell of a funny movie. It’s also built quite a cult following;The Big Lebowski has probably played more Bay Area one-night stands in the years I’ve maintained this site than than any three other movies put together.