The United Nations Association Film Festival opened last night (sorry, I missed it in last week’s newsletter) and runs through the 27th. Sister Cities Cinema: Zurich / SF opens today and plays through the weekend. I’ve placed Festival capsules at the bottom of this newsletter.
C+ Zaytoun, Opera Plaza, Shattuck, Rafael, opens Friday. A Palestinian boy in 1982 Lebanon helps an Israeli prisoner escape. His price? To travel with the POW and plant a tree by his parents’ old home. Of course the two hate and mistrust each other, and not-altogether-convincingly learn to love each other. The film provides an evocative picture of war-torn life in Beirut 30 years ago, and the two leads are likeable. But it suffers from unexplained plot points and a weak ending. Read my full review.
Cinematic Titanic Farewell Tour, Castro, Saturday, The Doll Squad, 7:00, The Astral Factor, 9:30. Could the revered tradition of bad movies with comic commentary be coming to an end? Cinematic Titanic, one of two troops made up of Mystery Science 3000 veterans, is giving up live performances. I’m kicking myself that I won’t be able to attend either of these performances. For more on this group, see Joel Hodgson, Mystery Science Theater, and Cinematic Titanic and The Cinematic Titanic Experience. Separate admission required for each film.
A Key Largo, Stanford, Thursday through next Sunday. In the 1930’s, movie stars like Edward G. Robinson got to kill punk character actors like Humphrey Bogart. But by 1948, Bogey was the top star and Robinson the supporting player (and a great one). Set in a lonely Florida hotel during a hurricane, war veteran Bogart faces off against gangster Robinson. Most of the movie is talk, but when Richard Brooks and Huston himself adopt a Maxwell Anderson stage play, and Huston directs a solid and charismatic cast, who needs more than talk? On a double bill with Orson Welles’ The Lady from Shanghai, which I haven’t seen in decades.
A Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, New Parkway, Friday, 4:00; Saturday, 12:30. An eccentric inventor, his long-suffering dog, snooty aristocrats, cute bunnies, and whole lot of clay make up the funniest movie of 2005. I vote for putting this G-rated, claymation extravaganza on a double-bill with that other hilarious British comedy with a killer rabbit, Monty Python and the Holy Grail–which, oddly enough, is playing at the New Parkway later Friday night.
A All About Eve, Oakland Paramount, Friday, 8:00. Here’s your chance to explore the sordid ambition behind Broadway’s (and by implication, Hollywood’s) glamour. Anne Baxter plays the title character, an apparently sweet and innocent actress whom aging diva Bette Davis takes under her wing. But Eve isn’t anywhere near as innocent as she appears. Fasten your seatbelts; it’s going to be a bumpy ride.
B 2001: A Space Odyssey, Alameda, Tuesday and Wednesday. 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. I have no idea how the Alameda will project 2001 or onto what size screen.
A Monty Python and the Holy Grail, New Parkway, Friday, 10:30. Bump your coconuts and prepare the Holy Hand Grenade, but watch out for the Killer Rabbit (not to mention the Trojan one). The humor is silly and often in very bad taste, and the picture has nothing of substance to say beyond ridiculing the romantic view of medieval Europe. But the Pythons’ first feature with an actual story (well, sort of) keeps you laughing from beginning to end. After Airplane!, the funniest film of the 1970s—and the 1070s.
B The Cat and the Canary, Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, Saturday, 7:30. Americans in the 1920s just couldn’t take haunted houses seriously. But they sure enjoyed laughing at them. Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, and Charley Bowers all made very funny short subjects set in spooky old mansions. This feature-length haunted house comedy, centered on the reading of an eccentric millionaire’s will, provides plenty of good laughs as well. Also on the bill: Winsor McCay’s “Dreams of a Rarebit Fiend” and Fatty Arbuckle’s “Good Night, Nurse” (co-starring Buster Keaton). With Jon Mirsalis providing music on the Kurzweil.
C+ Fiddler on the Roof, Castro, Sunday. Q&A with the star, Topol. When I first saw the last of the big Hollywood roadshows as a teenager, I hated the movie so much that my mother accused me of being a self-hating Jew. That was odd because I had loved the original stage play. (My objections were that the production values were too big, and the comic timing was off.) Revisiting it again decades later, I can appreciate what director Norman Jewison was trying to do. Rather than making a musical comedy with a period setting and a serious undertone, he attempted to turn it into a historical spectacle with songs. The result isn’t entirely satisfactory, but it has its moments. Presented by the Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund.
A The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Stanford, through Sunday. Three down-on-their-luck Yankees (Humphrey Bogart, Tim Holt, and the director’s father,Walter Huston) prospect for gold in Mexico. They find and stake out a profitable mine before discovering that they don’t really trust each other. Writer/director John Huston, working from B. Traven’s novel, turned a rousing adventure story into a morality play about the corruption of greed, much of it shot in the remote part of Mexico where the story is set. On a double bill with Force of Evil, an excellent noir starring John Garfield, which I haven’t seen recently enough to grade.
All films at the New People Cinema.
A The Conversation, Friday, 9:30. Francis Coppola’s low-budget “personal” film, made between Godfathers I and II, is almost as good as the two epics that sandwich it. The story of a professional voyeur, and therefore, indirectly, a story about filmmaking, The Conversation concerns one Harry Caul (Gene Hackman), a professional snoop who bugs people’s private conversation for a living. Remote and lonely, his emotional armor begins to crack when he suspects that his work is about to result in murder. Walter Murch’s sound mix is one of the best ever, exposing us to layers of meaning within the titular recorded discussion.
B The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, Saturday, 1:00. This utterly charming documentary follows a good-natured San Francisco slacker who devotes his life to caring for a flock of once-domesticated, now feral parrots in the titular neighborhood. Loose and pleasant, the movie opens a window into the life of an unusual human being, his charges, and even filmmaker Judy Irving, but it never goes really deep. On the other hand, the story catches much of what is wonderful about the Bay Area, and leaves you feeling good all over.
B Medicine for Melancholy, Saturday, 7:00. One could describe this low-budget indie as the African-American version (and the Bay Area version) of Before Sunrise. We discover the two characters as they discover each other, maneuver around their mutual attraction, and talk about their very different attitudes about life and race. Tracey Heggins and a pre-Daily Show Wyatt Cenac make attractive and likable leads, and for the first hour they’re completely worth spending time with. But two-thirds of the way through the movie takes a wrong turn to nowhere. Beautifully shot with a color palette so desaturated it often looks like black and white. Read my more in-depth report.