DocFest continues this week and beyond. You’ll find my totally non-fiction festival recommendations and warnings at the bottom of this newsletter.
A On the Town, Cerrito, Thursday, 7:00. Three sailors arrive in New York for a 24-hour leave. That’s precious little time to see the sights, drink in the atmosphere, and fall in love. What makes On the Town so special–beyond the great songs, terrific choreography, and witty script–is the prevailing sense of friendship and camaraderie. These three sailors and the women who fall for them all seem to genuinely like each other. The movie also treats sexuality in a surprisingly upbeat and positive way for a 1949 Hollywood feature. The women in the story (Vera-Ellen, Ann Miller, and the infinitely funny Betty Garrett) are as motivated by lust as the men (Gene Kelly, Jules Munshin, and Frank Sinatra). It’s just too bad that screenwriters Adolph Green and Betty Comden updated their own wartime stage musical to the post-war period, losing the urgency that came from not knowing if the sailors would come back alive. Unfortunately, the Cerrito will be screening On the Town off of a DVD; no over version is available.
Rossellini double bill: Journey to Italy & Stromboli, Castro, Sunday. I haven’t seen either of these important films, both of which star Ingrid Bergman (Rossellini and Bergman became lovers while shooting Stromboli). But their reputations proceed them, and I suspect they’re worth catching. (Whether I’ll have the time is another matter.) They’ve both been newly restored, and will be screened off DCPs–which will upset some people but not me.
B+ Belle de Jour, Castro, Thursday. About as close as one gets to a Luis Buñuel commercial hit, for reasons that probably had more to do with sex than art. Catherine Deneuve–stunningly beautiful as ever–plays a bored housewife who starts working in a brothel. Why? That’s never explained, but she certainly doesn’t need the extra cash. At least I think she starts working in a brothel; I’m not sure because a lot of the story takes place in her imagination. Although not as profound as it thinks it is, it’s funny and charming and sexy and playful in ways unlike any other movie. On a double bill with Roman Polanski’s early thriller Knife in the Water, which I still haven’t seen.
C- Popeye, Balboa, Saturday, 10:00am. Robert Altman’s one attempt at a big-budget family musical manages to be both extremely odd and utterly mediocre. The story is a mess, the gags are too outrageous to be funny (there are some things that only work in animation), and Harry Nilsson’s songs are utterly forgettable. The only real joy is watching actors who are both recognizable as themselves as near-perfect physical embodiments of the cartoon characters–especially Shelley Duvall’s amazing likeness to Olive Oyl. Part of the Balboa’s Popcorn Palace series of kiddie matinees.
B+ The Source Family, New Parkway, Tuesday, 7:00. Not what you’d expect from a documentary about an early 70s LA-based cult and hippy commune. Told almost entirely from the point of view of former commune members, the film paints a largely nostalgic picture of early new age spirituality and anti-materialistic idealism. But while it presents leader Jim Baker as a truly holy man whose insights improved the lives of his followers, it also shows how his megalomania and libido compromised and hurt the family. Read my full review. Note: When I first wrote about this film, it was called simply The Source.
A+ Raiders of the Lost Ark, various CineMark theaters, Sunday & Wednesday; Kabuki, Wednesday. 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. Part of CineMark’s month-long Steven Spielberg series.
A- From Up on Poppy Hill, New Parkway, opens Friday. Warm, sweet, and nostalgic, this whimsical dramatic comedy from Studio Ghibli focuses on a teenage girl falling on love for the first time. Set in the early 1960s, it tells its love story against a backdrop of students trying to save an old, rundown clubhouse. But first love never runs smooth, and family histories threaten to derail it before it begins. A rare animated feature without talking animals, fantasy creatures, magic, or broadly caricatured human beings. I don’t know whether the New Parkway will screen the subtitled or dubbed version. For more on this picture, see Friday Night Report: Rare Hitchcock and New Studio Ghibli
B+ Ghostbusters, New Parkway, Friday, 4:00; Saturday, 12:30. Comedy rarely gets this scary or this visually spectacular. Or perhaps I should say that special-effects action fantasies rarely get this funny. Either way, it’s not a bad way to pass an afternoon.
A- Public Sex, Private Lives, Roxie, Saturday, 9:01 and Wednesday, 9:00. Skip this movie if you’re simply looking for titillation. But if you’re really curious about the performers who make a living (and apparently a good one) having sex–kinky sex, actually–on camera, this is a must. It follows the lives of three porn stars–Lorelei Lee, Princess Donna, and Isis Love–all of whom have gone from merely performing to taking significant part in the creative process. This sympathetic documentary looks at prejudice, how relationships work in the adult film industry (yes, people get jealous), what it’s like to be a porn star’s parent–or child, and the dangers of obscenity trials and Child Protective Services. All three subjects come off as intelligent and thoughtful.
B- Edible City, Roxie Saturday, 5:00 and Monday, 7:00. Talk radio may belong to the right in this country, but the left controls documentaries. This piece of agitprop (or perhaps I should say agriprop) tells you why we should all support the movement to grow edibles in urban environments, and let the people take control of their own food sources. I’m in complete sympathy with these goals, and agree that for many reasons we need to shorten the space between food creation and consumption. But I would have liked more numbers on land available and how many people that land can feed, varied diet, and other issues. I would also have appreciated the thoughts of well-meaning people (not corporate hacks) willing to discuss the downsides (I assume there are some).
C- The Pirate Bay Away From The Keyboard, Aquarius Sunday, 9:00. This Swedish fly-on-the-wall cinéma vérité documentary examines the the controversial file-sharing Web site Pirate Bay, and the lawsuit against it. The stakes are high–copyright laws versus freedom of the Internet. The legal and moral issues are complex and thought-provoking. Unfortunately, director Simon Klose seems more interested in simple personalities and hero worship than complex issues and moral ambiguity. The movie has its moments–a discussion of WikiLeaks, a drunken tirade–but mostly it’s just people being self-righteous. Although the film gives everyone a chance to defend their view, it’s clearly on the side of the pirates. I expect a lot of youthful cheers and applause when it’s screened. And yet, despite a request in the credits to "Please share this film online," I had to enter a password to preview it for review.