Both the American Indian Film Festival and French Cinema Now continue through Sunday. 3rd i’s South Asian Film Festival also plays through Sunday, but will resurrect itself for one day next week. Both the New Italian Cinema and the Chinese American Film Festival start Wednesday.
A- Dead Man, Castro, Friday. Here you have a western written and directed by Jim Jarmusch, which by definition makes it a very weird flick. The plot, concerning a timid accountant from Cleveland (Johnny Depp) who becomes a wanted outlaw within a day of getting off the train, sounds like a Bob Hope comedy. But despite some quirky humor, Dead Man is is mostly dead serious. It’s also, to my knowledge, the first black and white western since The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. The supporting cast includes John Hurt, Gabriel Byrne, and Robert Mitchum. This isn’t one of Jarmusch’s better known films, but it’s one of his best. On a MiDNiTES for MANiACS double bill with a very different western starring Depp, this year’s The Lone Ranger (which I have made a point of not seeing).
B+ The Goddess, Pacific Film Archive, Friday, 7:00. A silent tragedy made years after America and Europe had adopted sound, The Goddess may be the best performance from the legendary Chinese star Ruan Lingyu. Here she plays a single mother forced into prostitution to support her young son. She wants him to have the best of everything, including an education at a top school, but all that would be lost should the wrong people find out what she does for a living. Her pimp, of course, is not sympathetic to her needs. Judith Rosenberg will accompany this imported print (with English intertitles) on piano.
B- Comedy Double Bill: The Great McGinty & The Cocoanuts, Stanford, Thursday through next Sunday. Like many early talkies,The Coconuts is little more than a stage play performed for an unmoving camera. Luckily, both the play and the movie were Marx Brothers vehicles–their first experiment with a long narrative form, and their first motion picture, respectively. All of the brothers except Harpo seem uncomfortable with the new medium (maybe he didn’t worry about standing next to a hidden microphone). The Coconuts, while funny, doesn’t live up to the wonders they would soon unleash. Likewise, Preston Sturges’ directorial debut, The Great McGinty, manages to be reasonably funny without the lunacy and laughs of his later masterpieces. At least the basic plot, about a crooked politician who goes straight and thus ruins his life, is a promise of the great works ahead.
A Safety Last, Cerrito, Thursday, 7:00. Even Alfred Hitchcock never mastered that delicate balance between comedy and suspense as well as Harold Lloyd, who made that balance perfect in Safety Last‘s final act.. The first two thirds of the feature–with Harold struggling with a lousy job and a girlfriend who thinks he’s a successful executive–makes an excellent piece of comic work. It provides more than enough laughs for a comedy twice as long. But the final third, where Harold climbs a skyscraper, is clearly the single greatest extended comic sequence in the history of movies. Indeed, the sight of Lloyd, hanging from the minute hand of a clock far above a busy city street, is one of the strongest, most memorable images in the history of cinema. Read my Blu-ray review. Rather than live accompaniment, the Cerrito will present Safety Last with the musical track that comes on the DCP. I’m guessing that will be Carl Davis’ excellent score.
A Blade Runner, Alameda, Tuesday and Wednesday. Based on Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, Blade Runner remains surprisingly thoughtful for ’80’s sci-fi–especially of the big budget variety. It ponders questions about the nature of humanity and our ability to objectify people when it suits our needs. Yet it never preaches. The script’s hazy at times; I never did figure out some of the connections, and a couple of important things happen at ridiculously convenient times. But art direction and music alone would make it a masterpiece. I’ve written more on this film.
B To Have and Have Not,Castro, Sunday. This production ignited the Bogart-Bacall romance, which itself ignites the screen. Aside from the considerable charisma and sexual sparks that its stars set off, it’s an entertaining tale of war-time intrigue but not really an exceptional one. A good movie with a couple of great scenes. On a double bill with Dark Passage, which I have yet to see.
Weekend (1967 version), Castro, Wednesday. I saw Jean-Luc Godard’s satire many years ago. I don’t remember it well enough to give it a grade, but if I did, I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t be a high one. I remember finding the early scenes mildly amusing as it attacked obvious targets, but it quickly bogged down into agitprop. I’m sorry, but two workmen staring into the camera, eating their lunch, while an unseen narrator gives the audience a lecture on Marxist dialectics, doesn’t make good art, good entertainment, or even good agitprop. But then, with the single exception of Breathless, I’ve yet to see a Goddard film I could stand. On a double bill with David Cronenberg’s Crash, which I haven’t seen.
B The Big Leboweski, Castro, Thursday. Critics originally panned this Coen Brothers gem as a disappointing follow-up to their previous endeavor,Fargo. Well, it isn’t as good as Fargo, but it’s still one hell of a funny movie. It’s also built quite a cult following; The Big Lebowski has probably played more Bay Area one-night stands in the years I’ve maintained this site than than any other three movies put together. On a double bill with Robert Altman’s version of The Long Goodbye, which I saw decades ago and liked.
Mystery Science Theater 3000, 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 have never seen an episode on the big screen with a full audience, but I suspect I’d enjoy it–especially if it’s a really good episode. I hope this will be a good episode, no one is telling us which one will be screened.
F Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, UA Berkeley, Thursday, 9:00.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.
A Gun Crazy, Stanford, through 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.