A Much Ado About Nothing, Albany, Aquarius, Century San Francisco Centre 9, opens Friday. Most of us don’t associate Joss Whedon with Shakespeare, yet he’s done wonders with one of the Bard’s most popular comedies. Set in modern Italy and shot (in black and white) in Whedon’s own LA mansion, it makes the Elizabethan language sound natural as the characters talk about love, marriage, and jealousy. Much Ado has always been a tricky play to stage–screamingly funny in the first half, it glides near the edge of Othello-like tragedy in the second. Whedon finesses these problems in ways that feel effortless, resulting in an exceptional entertainment. Read my full review.
Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Incredibly Strange Creatures who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-up Zombies, New Parkway, Friday, 10:45. Regular readers know that I’m a fan of the classic bad-movie-with-commentary TV show, Mystery Science Theater 3000. I honestly don’t know how I ever missed this particular episode. In fact, I’ve never seen any version of Ray Dennis Steckler’s messterpiece, although I know its reputation and have laughed at the name. Much as I would love to see this episode–especially with a live audience–there’s no way I’ll be able to attend. Oh, well.
B+ Cabaret, New Parkway, Thursday, 6:30. Back in the spring of 1973, I was angry (but not surprised) when the obviously commercial Godfather beat Bob Fosse’s Weimar-era musical for the Best Picture Oscar. Time proved me wrong, and while I wouldn’t today put Cabaret in the same class as The Godfather, it’s still a dazzling piece of style.
B The Man Who Fell to Earth, Pacific Film Archive, Thursday, 7:00. Movies were pretty weird in the ‘70s, but they didn’t get much weirder than this—at least with a major director and stars. David Bowie plays an alien who comes to Earth in search of water, but instead discovers capitalism, TV, alcohol, and human sex. Yet it’s not entirely clear what the film is about. Nicolas Roeg directed it, so you know that the movie won’t be about story. But the images are intriguing, the central characters are puzzles that cry out to be solved, and it has some very sexy scenes for your enjoyment. If for no other reason, see it to remind yourself what science fiction films could be like in the years between 2001 and Star Wars.
B+ The Ten Commandments (1956 version), Stanford, Saturday and Sunday. I enjoy a strange relationship with the biggest commercial hit of the 1950s. With its simplistic characters, corny dialog, and overriding atmosphere of pomposity, The Ten Commandments is the ultimate unintentional comedy. And yet, it’s also a rich, generous, and entertaining spectacle, and a visually lovely motion picture. It has one truly impressive, low-key performance (Cedric Hardwicke as Sethi). At times, it even succeeds in its simplistic spirituality. Read my Blu-ray review.
D Moulin Rouge (2001 version), New Parkway, Saturday, 10:30. Did this frenetic yet lifeless absurdity really resurrect the movie musical, or did it just happen to come out the year before Chicago? I admit that the whimsical, neo-Méliès art direction evokes a pleasant fantasy of Paris at the start of the 20th century, but the songs–all pop hits from the 1980′s and ’90′s–destroy that mood. The dance numbers are so heavily edited that we can’t tell if anyone in the cast can actually take a step. I don’t object to the lightweight plot (Top Hat is no War and Peace), but the ingénue’s fatal disease feels like a tacked-on attempt at depth. On the other hand, live burlesque by the Barely Legal Crowd Pleasers may improve the movie.
F Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Castro, Tuesday. Oh, how Terry Gilliam has fallen! Monty Python’s token Yank made three of the best movies of the 1980’s, then his career collapsed and took his talent with it. Fear & Loathing In Las Vegas reeks; a confused, ugly, and meaningless exercise. That would be forgivable, if it also wasn’t boring and witless. On a double bill with The Doors, which I haven’t seen in a very long time; I don’t recall liking that one much, either.
The Lodger, Sunday, 7:30. This is the first Alfred Hitchcock movie with anything like a typical Alfred Hitchcock story. In fact, it combines two of his favorite plot devices: the psychotic killer and the innocent accused (he would go on two combine these elements again in Young and Innocent, Frenzy, and most effectively in Strangers on a Train). I haven’t seen The Lodger in a very long time (which is why I haven’t given it a grade), but I remember enjoying it. Of course it’s a must for Hitchcock fans.
B Blackmail, Friday, 8:00. Hitchcock’s first talkie was also his last silent –making two versions was common practice in 1929. I’ve seem both and the silent one (which the festival is screening) is better. A young woman commits an indiscretion, putting her in a situation where she has to kill a man in self defense. A witness sees this act as a ticket to comfort. This is Hitchcock in an incubator, preparing to blossom a few years later into the master of suspense. By the way, am I the only one who thinks Donald Calthrop, who plays the blackmailer, is a dead ringer for Kenneth Branagh? Accompanied by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra.
A- Public Sex, Private Lives, New Parkway, Saturday, 7:00. 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 New Parkway Sunday, 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, Roxie, Saturday, 7:00 and Wednesday, 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.