In festival news, New Italian Cinema continues through Sunday, and the Chinese American Film Festival keeps going until Tuesday. The United Film Festival opens today and runs through Sunday. After a few day’s hiatus, 3rd i’s South Asian Film Festival returns for one more day on Saturday.
B- Persistence of Vision, Rafael, Thursday, 7:00. Filmmaker Kevin Schreck in person. When a talented and successful artist consciously sets out to make his masterpiece, the result can be a disaster. That’s what happened to animator Richard Williams. For more than 30 years, in between commercial endeavors such as Roger Rabbit and a lot of actual commercials, Williams pushed his staff to create the ultimate, no-compromise animated feature. They created amazing visuals, but Williams couldn’t bring himself to finish the work, and it was eventually taken away from him. Williams refused to be interviewed for this documentary, and the lack of his presence shows. But filmmaker Kevin Schreck interviewed a lot of his former employees, so we get a good view of what happened. And the animated sequences are astounding–especially when you consider that they’re pre-CGI. Not a must-see, but interesting.
A Amadeus (director’s cut), Castro, Saturday. In this tale of two composers, the driven, determined, and successful Salieri (F. Murray Abraham) desires greatness and thinks he’s achieved it. Then he meets Mozart (Tom Hulce), who just seems to glide through life, enjoying everything, while brilliant music just pours out of his head. Only Salieri can see that Mozart is the better composer, but that knowledge, mixed with his own ambitions, drives him into some very dark places. A story of talent, jealousy, success, and the creative spark done in opulent style and accompanied by some of the best music ever written. This director’s cut is significantly longer than the version that won the 1984 Best Picture Oscar, but I’m not sure which one I prefer. Each has its advantages. On a double bill with another 1984 movie about music makers, Purple Rain.
A Boogie Nights, New Parkway, Thursday, 9:15. In Writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson’s epic story of the porn industry in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, we watch as cinema’s most disreputable genre transitions from gutter chic to soulless video.This tale of pornographers with delusions of talent provides us with several heart-wrenching characters, from Mark Wahlberg’s nice, well-endowed, but not-too-bright young man to Julianne Moore’s porn queen/mother hen (an Oscar-
winning nominated performance). The excellent cast also includes Heather Graham, Don Cheadle, Burt Reynolds, William H. Macy, and Philip Seymour Hoffman. But it seems like an awfully long movie to start at 9:15 on a weeknight. This paragraph was altered after a reader pointed out some errors.
A+ Very Long David Lean Epic Double Bill: Lawrence of Arabia & Doctor Zhivago, Castro, Sunday, 1:00. The A+ goes to Lawrence. Stunning to look at and terrific as spectacle, it’s also an intelligent character study. The film portrays Lawrence as a complex and enigmatic war hero who loves and hates violence, and tries to liberate Arabia by turning it over to the British. For more, read Thoughts on Lawrence of Arabia. Not quite as good as Lawrence, Doctor Zhivago still packs a reasonably big wallop. Against the background of the Russian Revolution and subsequent civil war, we follow the story of a decent man torn between his wife and another woman who is so clearly his soul mate. Read my report on Dr. Zhivago at the Cerrito.
A Comedy Double Bill: Christmas in July & Animal Crackers, Stanford, Thursday through next Sunday. The A goes to the Marx Brothers’ second film. An early talkie based on a Broadway play, Animal Crackers overcomes its technical crudity by delivering a lot of laughs. “Marxist” humor always tears down the pompous and the self-important, and Animal Crackers’ society party makes the perfect setting for the Brothers’ special form of anarchy. In Christmas in July, writer/director Preston Sturges created a charming yet bitter comedy of the American Dream. Dick Powell stars as a lowly clerk who thinks he has the makings of a brilliant adman. Curiously, Sturges appears to have borrowed some plot points and themes from King Vidor’s very serious masterpiece,The Crowd.
D Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Sunday. Yet another movie that many people love but I just don’t get. Written by Roger Ebert and directed by nudie king Russ Meyer, it’s a sex comedy that fails to be either erotic or funny. The story, involving a girl band that travels to Hollywood and ends up hanging around with some pretty weird people, never really goes anywhere. Despite the title, it really has nothing to do with the now forgotten bestseller Valley of the Dolls or the movie based on it. Part of the series X: The History of a Film Rating, although by today’s standards it just might get away with a PG-13.
B Them!, New Parkway, Sunday, 6:00. The best giant mutant insect movie of the 1950′s. Hmmm, that sounds like damning with faint praise. Okay, how about this? A thoughtful, entertaining film about the dangers of nuclear testing…specifically the dangers caused by giant, mutated ants. Let me try that again. Not only is the scientist more intelligent than the military, but so is his beautiful and available daughter (who only screams once). A Thrillville presentation.
C But I’m a Cheerleader, New Parkway, Sunday, 3:00. This very broad satire of homophobia and gay conversion therapy has its heart in the right place, but heavy-handed direction ensures that more jokes miss than hit the funny bone. Even the usually hilarious Cathy Moriarty can seldom provoke laughter here. And when the heroine finally gets a chance to use her cheerleading skills, it’s obvious that star Natasha Lyonne didn’t train enough for the part.
A The African Queen, Oakland Paramount, Friday, 8:00. 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.
C+ Cleopatra, Alameda, Tuesday and Wednesday. New digital restoration. At 243 minutes, this widescreen epic clocks in as the longest single theatrical release by a major American studio. And at an estimated 40 million 1963 dollars, it’s probably the most expensive. It’s also very dependent on a large screen and a large format to work (it was shot in Todd-AO and originally screened in 70mm). In most theaters and with most projectors, the first half (Rex Harrison as Julius Caesar) is mildly entertaining, and the second half (Richard Burton as Mark Antony), unbearably boring. But with a sufficiently large screen and a good enough print (or in this case, DCP), the movie’s spectacle makes it much more fun. The first half becomes spectacular entertainment and the second…well, not quite as boring. I have no idea how large the screen will be at the Alameda.
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.
Rebel Without a Cause, Castro, Thursday. I haven’t seen the iconic teenage rebel movie (also the iconic James Dean flick) in well over a decade, so I won’t try to give it a grade. I remember it being touching, thoughtful, melodramatic, and over-the-top silly–yet it all seemed to work. One more thing: I remember it being unusually sexist–not so much in its treatment of women but in its sense of proper and acceptable masculinity. On a double bill with Francis Coppola’s Rumble Fish.
B- Comedy Double Bill: The Great McGinty & The Cocoanuts, Stanford, through Sunday. Like many early talkies,The Coconuts is little more than a stageplay 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.