What’s Screening: May 17 – 23

The Playground Film Festival keeps on going. And if you need something noirish, I Wake Up Dreaming continues through the week.

And this week, the Balboa starts Popcorn Palace, a series of kiddie matinees every Saturday at 10:00am. The series starts with a collection of independent, child-friendly, animated shorts.

B Something in the Air, Opera Plaza, Shattuck, opens Friday. Youthful innocence takes strange forms. For Gilles, a French high school student in 1971, it takes the imageforms of radical activism and artistic ambitions. Sometimes those drives support each other in Olivier Assayas’ loose tale, and at other times they conflict. Something in the Air doesn’t grab you like a great film; you often have to force yourself to stay involved. But the effort is worthwhile. As Gilles grows beyond his radical idealism–even if he never quite renounces it–you’ll find yourself appreciating how we all mature and find ourselves. And yes, the esoteric Marxist arguments are intended to look ridiculous. Read my full review.

C+ Cleopatra (1963 version), Shattuck, Wednesday. New digital restoration. At 243 minutes, this widescreen epic clocks in as the longest single theatrical release by a major American studio. And at an estimated 40 million 1963 dollars, it’s probably the imagemost expensive. It’s also very dependent on a large screen and a large format to work (it was shot in Todd-AO and originally screened in 70mm). In most theaters and with most projectors, the first half (Rex Harrison as Julius Caesar) is mildly entertaining, and the second half (Richard Burton as Mark Antony), unbearably boring. But with a large enough screen and a good enough print (or DCP), the movie’s spectacle makes it much more fun. The first half becomes spectacular entertainment and the second…well, not quite as boring. Frankly, I can’t imagine any screen in the Shattuck doing it justice.

A+ Rear Window, Castro, Saturday. Alfred Hitchcock at his absolute best. James Stewart is riveting as a news photographer temporarily rearwindow_thumb[1]confined to his apartment and a wheelchair, amusing himself by spying on his neighbors (none of whom he knows) and guessing at the details of their lives. Then he begins to suspect that one of them committed murder. As he and his girlfriend (Grace Kelly) begin to investigate, it slowly begins to dawn on us that they’re getting into some pretty dangerous territory (something they don’t realize until it’s almost too late). 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. On a double bill with Body Double, which I haven’t seen.

A Sweet Smell of Success, Roxie, Saturday. Burt Lancaster risked his career to produce this exploration of the seamy side of fame. He plays New York gossip columnist J. J. Hunsecker–a truly repellent and imagedespicable character who happily bathes in the adulation and fear of the people around him. Tonight’s main victim: a whinny Broadway press agent (Tony Curtis belying his reputation as a bad actor), terrified that his career will collapse if Hunsecker doesn’t praise the right client. In addition to everything else, Hunsecker–who’s based loosely on the actual Walter Winchell–has a rather too-close relationship with his kid sister. From a script by Clifford Odets and Ernest (North by Northwest) Lehman. On a double bill with All Night Long, which I haven’t seen. Part of the I Wake Up Dreaming series.

A+ The Godfather Trilogy, New Parkway, Sunday, 11:00am. The A+ goes to the first two films. Francis Coppola, taking the job simply because he needed the money, turned Mario Puzo’s potboiler into the Great American Crime Epic. Marlon Brando maygodfather have top billing, but Al Pacino owns the film (and became a star) as Michael Corleone, the respectable son inevitably and reluctantly pulled into a life of crime he doesn’t want but fits him like a glove. Great as The Godfather is, the sequel (which is also a prequel) tops it. By juxtaposing the rise of Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando in the first film, a young Robert De Niro here) with the moral fall of his son Michael (Al Pacino again), Puzo and Coppola show us how the decision a seemingly good man makes to care for his family will eventually destroy the very people he loves. I recommend you leave before Part III starts.

A Shadow of a Doubt, Castro, Tuesday. In Alfred Hitchcock’s first great American film, a serial killer (Joseph Cotton at his most charming) returns to his small-town roots. When his favorite niece (Teresa Wright) begins to suspect that all is not right with her beloved Uncle Charlie, her own life is in danger. Cotton’s performance makes the movie. Most of the time he’s warm, friendly, and relaxed. But he can turn brooding and dark, and say things that no well-adjusted person could possibly say. Written in part by Our Town playwright Thorton Wilder. The locations were shot in Santa Rosa. On a double bill with Stoker, which I haven’t seen.

A- Milk, Castro, Wednesday. Yep, I’m always a sucker for a historical epic, and it’s such a rare treat to see one set in a time and place where I actually lived. Sprawling but never boring, and inspiring without preaching, Milk tells the story of America’s first openly gay elected official, from his closeted time in New York to his Castro activism, his all-to-brief service in City Hall, and his untimely assassination. I’ve always known that Sean Penn was a great actor; it’s nice to know that he can do “happy” as well as more tragic emotions. James Franco is also very good as what in a more conventional film would be called the "chick" part.

B+ Black Swan, Castro, Thursday. Natalie Portman loses her grip on reality (and wins an Oscar) in this over-the-top psychological melodrama set in the world of ballet. imageBetween her dominating mother, the artistic director trying to awaken her suppressed sexuality for the sake of art (yeah, right), and the other ballerinas who may be friends or enemies, she has a lot on her mind. No wonder she has a hard time holding on to it. Deliciously fun entertainment. Not to be confused with the 1942 Tyrone Power pirate movie, The Black Swan, which is also deliciously fun entertainment. On a double-bill with Dancer in the Dark.

A+ Raiders of the Lost Ark, Clay, Friday and Saturday, midnight. Steven Spielberg directed it, and the bad guys are Nazis, but it’s as far from Schindler’s List as a great movie can get. But then, it’s great in an entirely different way. There’s absolutely nothing to take seriously in Raiders of the Lost Ark, and no message to help uplift you. The story is fundamentally preposterous, and the hero, Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) is no more an archeologist than I am a butterfly. But the energy is so high, the action scenes so brilliantly choreographed and edited, and the whole story told with such enthusiasm and wit, that the rest of it just doesn’t matter. If you object to mindless, escapist action flicks on principle, you won’t see it anyway. If you don’t, you probably already love it.

B+ Bridge on the River Kwai, Stanford, Friday. 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 bridgeriverkwaiPOW whose actions become arguably treasonable (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 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. Read my Blu-ray review.