No festivals this week. That’s a rarity.
However, the Pacific Film Archive starts its Hitchcock 9 series this week (the same films that the Silent Film Festival screened in June), and I’m listing those titles at the bottom of this newsletter.
B+ Frances Ha, Castro, Tuesday; ongoing at the Roxie. I sometimes look back at a particular twelve months in my mid-twenties and think "That’s when I really became an adult." (Other times I think I haven’t got there yet.) This Greta Gerwig/Noah Baumbach comedy studies that period of personal reckoning. The title character(played by Gerwig, who also co-wrote the screenplay with director Baumbach) has been out of college for a few years, but she’s living on unrealistic dreams, and unlike her best friend, doesn’t seem ready to make that difficult transition into maturity. There’s no plot; just an assortment of incidents–jobs, places to live, men to sleep with–as she moves slowly and reluctantly into true adulthood. The result is quirky, touching, and funny.
F Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Castro, Friday, 7:00. Absolutely the worst Indiana Jones movie ever. First, Spielberg and company tried to make it dark and atmospheric, but only succeeded in making it unpleasant. Second, leading lady Kate Capshaw may have captured Spielberg’s heart (they’re still married), but her performance here is as enticing as nails on a chalkboard. And finally, the movie is horribly, irredeemably, D.W. Griffith-level racist. Two years after Attenborough’s Gandhi, Spielberg and Lucas assure us that the British Empire was necessary to protect the good, but helpless and child-like Indians from the evil fanatical Indians. The first film in a MiDNiTES for ManiACS triple bill.
Ray Harryhausen: Special Effects Titan, Rafael, Sunday, 7:00. I haven’t seen this documentary on the only special effects wizard to become an auteur and a star–an auteur because no matter who directed them, they were Harryhausen movies, and a star because his name brought people to the theater. The film is almost certainly biased (it was produced by the Ray & Diana Harryhausen Foundation), but it should be interesting.
A A Hijacking, New Parkway, opens Saturday. This isn’t your typical, fun, swashbuckling pirate movie. One truly harrowing thriller, A Hijacking puts you on a Danish cargo ship captured and held for ransom by Somali pirates. You experience most of the story through the eyes of the ship’s cook (Pilou Asbæk), a decent fellow and happily-married man who finds himself an expendable pawn in high-level negotiations. The film cuts between the ship and the offices of the company that owns it, where the CEO (Søren Malling) unwisely decides to do the negotiating himself. A work of fiction, A Hijacking feels like the real thing.
A- The Prince of Egypt, New Parkway, Friday, 4:00; Saturday, 12:30. It’s impossible to discuss this animated version of the Exodus story without comparing it to DeMille’s The Ten Commandments, but they take very different approaches to the tale. DeMille’s version of the Moses story is a four-hour mix of wonderful spectacle and unintentionally hilarious piety, washed down with the silliest of melodrama. But Prince of Egypt takes the story seriously and treats the characters as complex human beings, and thus creates true drama. For this Jew at least, this version is a real, spiritual experience.
A The African Queen, Stanford, Saturday through Tuesday. Humphrey Bogart, Katharine Hepburn, Africa, and Technicolor all make for splendid entertainment in John Huston’s romantic comedy action adventure. The start of World War I traps an earthy working-class mechanic (Bogart) and a prim and proper missionary (Hepburn) behind enemy lines and hundreds of miles of jungle. It’s a bum and a nun on the run, facing rapids, insects, alcohol (he’s for it; she’s against it), German guns, and an unusual (for Hollywood) romance between two moderately-attractive middle-aged people in filthy clothes. Beautifully restored. See my Blu-ray review. On a double bill with Beat the Devil.
B+ 2001: A Space Odyssey, Castro, Sunday. I used to worship Stanley Kubrick’s visualization of Arthur C. Clarke’s imagination, but it hasn’t aged all that well. We’ve seen the actual year, and know that Clarke and Kubrick got almost everything wrong. Yet there’s no denying the pull of 2001’s unorthodox storytelling and visual splendor–if you can see it properly presented. 2001 was shot for 70mm projection on a giant, curved, Cinerama screen–an experience that’s simply not available in the Bay Area today. The Castro has a reasonably large flat screen, and they’ll be showing it in 2K DCP. It really deserves a 4K DCP (or 70mm), but the Castro lacks a 4K projector and besides, I don’t think that Warner Brothers has even made it available in 4K. On a double bill with the original, Soviet version of Solaris.
C+ Serenity, New Parkway, Friday, 10:30. Ever hear of a science fiction TV series called Firefly? Like many superb, original shows that somehow made it onto a weekly network schedule, Firefly failed to find an audience and soon died. This big-screen spin-off is a gift from the series’ creators to the handful of people who saw the show and wanted more. And while it’s nice to see all of the characters again, its attempt to close the story is a bit of a let-down. So if you haven’t seen Firefly, skip the movie and see the show; it’s streaming on Netflix.
B+ Prince Avalanche, Roxie, opens Friday. This meandering, character-driven comedy follows two men painting lines in the middle of a seldom-used country road. Alvin (Paul Rudd) loves the outdoors and solitude, and sees himself as wise and in touch with nature. He also sees his younger partner, Lance (Emile Hirsch), as a hopeless idiot who only wants to party and get laid. They’re sort of related– Lance is Alvin’s girlfriend’s kid brother. The two argue, fight, meet an old trucker, get drunk, and bond. That’s pretty much it. But the scenery, the humor, and the warmth make that enough for a very pleasing entertainment. For more on the film, see SFIFF: A Hijacking and a Working-Class Prince.
All films screened at the Pacific Film Archive, with piano accompaniment by Judith Rosenberg.
A- The Ring, Saturday, 6:15. My favorite Hitchcock silent (not counting the ones I haven’t yet seen) presents us with a love triangle in the world of boxing. Two boxers love the same woman, and she loves both of them. Although our sympathies go mostly to the boxer who knew her first and is most committed to a relationship, both his rival and the girl are drawn sympathetically, as well. It’s a virtuoso work, filled with experimental use of the camera and the editing table. Hitchcock shows us the after-effects of a knockout blow for the point of view of the victim, and a flirting wife viewed by her husband in a mirror down the hall. Much of the first half is set in a carnival, and there’s a nice sense of camaraderie between the characters.
B The Pleasure Garden, Wednesday, 7:00. For a new director’s first film, The Pleasure Garden is surprisingly assured–creatively using all the cinema’s tools to tell a good story. Based on a popular novel of the time, it follows two young women, both dancers, as their professional and love lives go in different and contrasting directions. One goes aggressively after money and becomes very wealthy. The other–the nice one–marries the worst cad you could imagine. The movie really picks up in the last act, when the action moves to "The East" (country unnamed), where exotic diseases and even more exotic women improve the atmosphere and story. The climax involves one of Hitchcock’s best murder scenes–one that left the audience gasping in horror. Pretty impressive for a newcomer.
B- The Lodger, Friday, 7:00. His second film and first thriller, The Lodger feels like Alfred Hitchcock in embryo. The plot and the atmosphere set up themes he would use again and again, but this first time, he doesn’t quite get it right. For instance, it’s often referred to as his first use the "innocent accused" plot repeated in39 Steps, Strangers on a Train, North by Nortwest, and others. But it’s more of a mystery than any of those later works, leaving the audience to wonder if the strange new boarder really is the murderer terrorizing London. This robs the film of much of its potential suspense; we have a hard time rooting for someone that we think might be a serial killer. It’s all made worse by Ivor Novello’s anemic and bizarre performance . But if you love Hitchcock, you have to see The Lodger just for its historical setting.