Four film festivals opening this week. Both Taiwan Film Days and the American Indian Film Festival start today. And, speaking if Indians, the 3rd i South Asian Film Festival starts Wednesday. French Cinema Now starts Thursday.
A 12 Years A Slave, Kabuki, Embarcadero Center, California (Berkeley), Piedmont, CineArts at Sequoia, opens Friday. True story: In 1841, Con artists kidnapped Solomon Northup–a free-born African American living in upstate New York–and sold him into slavery down south. Movie: This film shows us the horrors of slavery through the eyes of an educated man turned into a beast of burden. Chiwetel Ejiofor gives an Oscar-worthy performance as Northup, horrified, trapped, and mostly helpless. Beautiful yet daring photography, combined with minimalist editing, intensify the horrors. Easily the best new film I’ve seen this year. Read my full review.
A Kill Your Darlings, Shattuck, Aquarius, opens Friday. Daniel Radcliffe goes from boy wizard to young poet in this story of Allen Ginsberg’s short time as a Columbia freshman. The film focuses on Ginsberg’s friendship with Lucien Carr, played as a lightning rod of rebellious charisma by Dane DeHaan. Carr guides Ginsberg into the lifestyle that would later be called The Beats. He encourages him to break literary rules while introducing him to alcohol, cigarettes, pot, and interesting people. Of course there’s sexual tension with the still-in-the-closet Ginsberg, and also a murder (yes, it really happened). Read my full review.
The Best Years of our Lives,Alameda, Tuesday and Wednesday. I haven’t seen the 1946 Best Picture Oscar winner in too long a time to give it a grade, but I suspect the grade would be a high one. Running almost three hours, it follows the troubles of three returning World War II veterans trying to integrate themselves back into small-town American life. The most touching of the three is played by newcomer Harold Russell, who–like the character he plays–lost both of his hands serving his country. (The other two are played by movie stars Fredric March and Dana Andrews.) An appropriate movie to show just before Veteran’s Day.
A Gun Crazy, Stanford, Thursday through next Sunday. No, this movie isn’t about Fox News and the NRA. Written under an assumed name by blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, Gun Crazy combines the crime thriller with a love story. Peggy Cummins and John Dall play a loving couple as excited by firearms as they are by each other. Naturally, their proclivities do not keep them within the law. Both are crack shots, but Dall’s character can’t bring himself to shoot a living creature. Suspense and sexual tension burn through this low-budget masterpiece. On a double bill with In a Lonely Place, which I have never seen.
C- Vertigo, Davies Symphony Hall, Friday, 8:00. Accompanied by the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra.Sold out. I recently revisited everybody else’s favorite Alfred Hitchcock film, officially now the greatest film ever made, and I liked it better this time, so much that I’m bringing its grade up from D to C-. My main problem with the movie is that neither the story nor most of the characters make any sense, and I don’t believe anyone’s motivations. The film contains one wonderful, believable, and likeable character, Barbara Bel Geddes’ Midge, but we don’t see enough of her to offset everything else. Yes, the film is very atmospheric, but that’s just not enough. I don’t need to stare at a screen to experience San Francisco’s fog.
A Breathless, Castro, Wednesday. Regular readers know that I’ve never cared much for Jean-Luc Godard, but I happily make an exception for his feature debut. A film noir with a driving, reckless energy and the exhilaration of young artists breaking all of the rules, Breathless blew into theaters in 1960 and movies haven’t been the same since. Off-the-cuff photography, jump cuts that dare to break continuity, and charismatic young stars (Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg) make this conventional criminals-on-the-run story something very special. On a double bill with Bonjour Tristesse, which I have not seen.
A Babe, Albany, Saturday and Sunday, 10:30am. At least among narrative features, Babe is easily the greatest work of vegetarian propaganda in the history of cinema. It’s also a sweet, funny, and charming fairy tale about a pig who wants to become a sheep dog. This Australian import helped audiences and critics recognize character actor James Cromwell’s exceptional talent, and technically broke considerable ground in the category of live-action talking-animal movies. Warning: If you take your young children to this G-rated movie, you may have trouble getting them to eat bacon. Part of Landmark’s Family Film Series.
A- Moonrise Kingdom, , Castro, Sunday. Wes Anderson at his most playful. Also at his sweetest and funniest.Two pre-teens in love run away–disrupting everything on the small New England island where the story is set. While the fantasy of young love makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, the adult reaction keeps you laughing–in large part because the main adults are played by major stars clearly enjoying a chance to clown around. They include Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Bruce Willis, and, best of all, Tilda Swinton as “Social Services." On a Wes Anderson triple bill with The Royal Tenenbaums, and Bottle Rocket, both of which I recall liking very much but haven’t seen in years.
C+ Blue Jasmine, New Parkway, Rafael, opens Friday. Cate Blanchett can do anything. In Woody Allen’s latest, she gives a great performance in an otherwise shallow and unbelievable drama. Once an obscenely rich socialite, the unhinged Jasmine (Blanchett) is now broke and moves in with her working-class but level-headed sister (Sally Hawkins). Spoiled and narcissistic, she makes everyone else miserable. Much of the film looks and sounds unrealistic (the working-case men all seem to come from New Jersey), and Allen’s script gives us no reason to care about Jasmine. Read my longer essay.
A Touch of Evil, Stanford, through Sunday . Orson Welles’ film noir classic, and one of his few Hollywood studio features. He lacked the freedom he found in Europe,but the bigger budget–and perhaps even the studio oversight–resulted in one of his best. As a corrupt border-town sheriff, Welles makes a bloated, scary, yet strangely sympathetic villain. Janet Leigh is a lovely and effective damsel in distress. As the hero, a brilliant Mexican detective, Charlton Heston is…well, he’s miscast, but not as badly as some people say. On a double bill with The Caine Mutiny, which I last saw on commercial TV in the 1970s.