Today is Black Friday–a very appropriate date to open Another Hole in the Head Film Festival. It runs through December 19, and is the only Bay Area film festival at the moment.
A RiffTrax Live Presents Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, various theaters, Thursday. The very title should tell you that Santa Claus Conquers the Martians is an outstanding work of entertainingly horrible cinema, and is just rife for comic riffing. Mystery Science Theater 3000 deconstructed it beautifully in 1991, More recently, the MST3K veterans that make up RiffTrax redid it without repeating a single joke for the early version. I’ve seen, and loved, both versions on TV, and suspect that the RiffTrax one will be even funnier live. The actual live performance will happen on the East Coast, and we’ll get to see it via satellite.
A Comedy double bill: Sullivan’s Travels & Horsefeathers, Stanford, Thursday through next Sunday. The A goes to Horsefeathers, but Preston Sturges’ Sullivan Travels on its own would still get an A-. A Hollywood satire, Travels follows a successful film director (Joel McCrea) as he tries to learn about common people. It ends a stirring speech proclaiming the film’s message, which is basically "Movies shouldn’t have messages." In Horse Feathers, the Marx Brothers go to college, where they major in puns, pranks, and chasing Thelma Todd. The only film where all four perform different variations on the same song–each sillier than the last. Whatever it is, I’m against it.
A+ Jaws, Balboa, Thursday, 9:00. People associate Jaws with three men in a boat, but the picture is more than half over before the shark chase really starts. For that first half, it’s a suspenseful, witty variation of Henrik Ibsen’s classic play,An Enemy of the People, but with a central character more conflicted and less noble (Roy Scheider). Then the three men board the boat and the picture turns into a more exciting version of Moby Dick. Jaws‘ phenomenal success helped create the summer blockbuster, yet by today’s standards, it’s practically an art film–albeit one that could scare the living eyeballs out of you. The Castro will screen it on a double bill with Rocky, which I haven’t seen since it was new. For more on Jaws, see my Blu-ray review and Book vs. Movie article. A 35mm screening as part of the Another Hole in the Head Film Festival.
A+ Lawrence of Arabia, Pacific Film Archive, Sunday, 3:00. Lawrence isn’t just the best big historical epic of the 70mm roadshow era, it’s one of the greatest films ever made. Stunning to look at and terrific as pure spectacle, it’s also an intelligent study of a fascinatingly complex and enigmatic war hero. T. E. Lawrence—at least in this film—both loved and hated violence, and tried liberating Arabia by turning it over to the British. No, that’s not a flaw in the script, but in his character. This masterpiece requires a very large screen and excellent projection–either 70mm or DCP–preferably 4K–to do it justice. The PFA has a modestly-sized screen, but they will be projecting Lawrence in 4K. In other words, this isn’t the optimal Lawrence experience, but it’s reasonably close. For more on this epic, read The Digital Lawrence of Arabia Experience and Thoughts on Lawrence of Arabia. The opening film in the series The Resolution Starts Now: 4K Restorations from Sony Pictures.
B Hugo, Balboa, Saturday, 10:00am. Martin Scorsese’s family film (that almost sounds like an oxymoron) proves to be reasonably entertaining. But then, its very plot seems intended to enchant cinephiles like myself. I doubt I would have liked it near as much if it had been about the meat-packing industry. Scorsese uses the latest CGI and 3D technology brilliantly to draw the audience into the universe of the story. And while that story is slight and cliché-ridden, it has the virtue of touching on early film history and ending with a message—integrated into the story—of the importance of film preservation. Read my Thoughts on Hugo. They will not be presenting it in 3D.
A Kill Your Darlings, New Parkway, 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.
C Sing-Along Sound of Music, Castro, opens Friday and runs off and on through next Sunday. Many people love it, but I find the biggest money maker of the 1960s lumbering, slow, and dull. Not funny or romantic enough to be light entertainment, yet lacking the substance to be anything else. And most of the songs give the impression that, by their last collaboration, Roger and Hammerstein had run out of steam. On the other hand, the Todd-AO photography of Alpine landscapes makes this one of the most visually beautiful of Hollywood movies. I’ve never experienced a Sing-Along Sound of Music presentation, however, so this might be more fun.
A+ Two wonderful comedies, both set on ocean liners: The Lady Eve & Monkey Business, Stanford, through 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-.