Not much is happening in festivals this week. Cinema by the Bay opens today and continues through Sunday. That’s all until next week.
On the other hand, you can see one family movie written and directed by Brad Bird on Saturday, then another one on Sunday. In fact, it’s a very family-friendly newsletter this week…if you don’t count Showgirls.
A Cléo From 5 to 7, Pacific Film Archive, Friday, 8:45. One of the best films of the French New Wave, Cléo From 5 to 7 follows a young woman as she wanders through Paris on a summer evening. But it isn’t simply a joyful lark; she’s waiting for test results that will determine if she has cancer. Shot mostly in black and white with some surprising uses of color, Cléo meditates on life from the point of view of someone who may not have a lot of it left. There’s even a silent movie tribute starring Jean-Luc Godard. Directed by Agnès Varda, whose La Pointe Courte I recently praised. Part of the series Afterimage: Agnès Varda on Filmmaking.
A The Incredibles, Pacific Film Archive, Sunday, 3:00. The first decade of the century was the golden era of superhero movies, and Brad Bird’s first film for Pixar was one of the best. Not based on a comic book series (although you can’t ignore similarities to The Fantastic Four), it follows a married couple of retired superheroes as circumstances force them to pull out the spandex and save the world once again. And this time, with their kids. A rousing and utterly enjoyable entertainment, The Incredibles also brings up issues of conformity, adolescence, and the dangers of wearing a cape. Part of the series Behind the Scenes: The Art and Craft of Cinema with Randy Thom, Sound Designer; Thom will be attending in person.
B+ The Iron Giant, Balboa, Saturday, 10:00am. The young hero of Brad (The Incredibles) Bird’s first feature befriends a massively-huge robot from outer space. Hey, Steven Spielberg’s Elliot only had to hide the diminutive ET. The robot seems friendly enough, but there’s good reason to believe he was built as a weapon of mass destruction. Using old-fashioned, hand-drawn animation with plenty of sharp angles, Bird creates a stylized view of small-town American life circa 1958 that straddles satire and nostalgia, and treats most of its inhabitants with warmth and affection. A good movie for all but the youngest kids.
A+ Two wonderful comedies, both set on ocean liners: The Lady Eve & Monkey Business, Stanford, Thursday through next Sunday. The A+ goes to Preston Sturges’ magical screwball comedy, The Lady Eve. Like all great screwballs, it looks at class differences, as well as the differences between a free spirited woman (Barbara Stanwyck) and an uptight man (Henry Fonda). Stanwyck plays the younger half of a father/daughter team of card sharks, who makes the mistake of falling in love with her current mark–a wonderfully naïve Fonda. The result: crazy hijinks in glamorous settings. In Monkey Business, the Marx Brothers play stowaways on an ocean liner, hiding from the crew while insulting the captain, the passengers, and–just to provide a little plot–good and bad gangsters. On its own, I’d give it an A-.
Sesame Street Presents Follow That Bird, New Parkway, Friday, 4:00; Saturday, 12:00 noon. I had a very young Sesame Street fan in the house when this feature film briefly hit theaters. It became his first theatrical movie experience. I haven’t seen Follow That Bird in many years, so I hesitate to grade it, but I remember it fondly. Like a Muppet movie (which, in a sense, it is), Bird serves up silly jokes, pleasant but forgettable songs, colorful visuals, and celebrity cameos–all extremely family friendly. It also celebrates diversity and criticizes bigotry. If it were made today, it would probably be attacked by Fox News.
Showgirls, New Parkway, Saturday, 10:30. Another one I haven’t seen in years. I would probably give it an F if I had seen it recently enough to grade, but it would be a fun F. This NC-17-rated mess is offensive, stupid, sexist, and fails utterly as drama, social commentary, or erotica. On the other hand, it has one of the funniest sex scenes ever shot, although I don’t think it was intended to be funny. Part of something that the New Parkway is calling Crapsterpiece Theater.
B+ The Wizard of Oz, in 3D, Castro, Sunday. The B+ actually goes to the flat original; I haven’t seen the movie in its new, artificially-created 3D version, and I really don’t see the point. Even in 2D, I like the movie well enough, but it never struck me as the masterpiece that everyone else sees. It’s a good, fun movie, but not quite fun enough to earn an A. On the plus side, it sports clever songs, lush Technicolor photography, and one great performance (Bert Lahr’s Cowardly Lion).
B The Big Lebowski, New Parkway, Sunday, 9:20. 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. A Party at the Parkway.
A Comedy Double Bill: Christmas in July & Animal Crackers, Stanford, through 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.