The new year isn’t that new anymore. This week the Pacific Film Archive returns from its winter break, and the first film festivals of 2014 open. First, For Your Consideration starts its run today (Friday), previewing 14 possible nominees for the Best Foreign Film Oscar. Then Berlin & Beyond, opens Wednesday.
I’m not listing Saturday’s big Charlie Chaplin event, The Little Tramp at 100, as a festival; it’s only three programs on one day. But I’m segregating those three screenings at the bottom of this schedule.
B Liv & Ingmar, Opera Plaza, opens Friday. Ingmar Bergman and Liv Ullmann comprise one of the great teams in film history. Their romantic relationship lasted only five years. But their artistic collaboration, and their friendship, lasted nearly 40. Dheeraj Akolkar tells the story–or more precisely, lets Ullman tell the story–in this concise, interesting, but flawed 83-minute documentary. The basic problem: It concentrates too much on the romance and friendship but not enough on the collaboration. I wanted more about filmmaking. Read my full review.
B+ My Man Godfrey, Pacific Film Archive, Thursday, 7:00. Like all screwball comedies, this depression-era story of a bum-turned-butler finds humor in both romance and class warfare. Yet Godfrey addresses class issues more pointedly than most screwballs. Perhaps that’s a result of its time—it was made in 1936, early for a screwball but right in the middle of the depression. Godfrey blows it badly in the third act, however, but that shouldn’t keep you from enjoying the first two. This is both the PFA’s first screening of 2014, and the first movie in the Archive’s mammoth, six-month-long laughfest, Funny Ha-Ha: American Comedy, 1930–1959.
B Fantastic Mr. Fox, Balboa, Saturday, 10:00am. There’s a cartoon-like quality to a lot of Wes Anderson’s work, so it isn’t surprising that he would eventually try his hand at animation. Based on a story by Roald Dahl, Fantastic follows the adventures of a very sophisticated but not altogether competent fox (voiced by George Clooney) as he tries to outwit a farmer and keep his marriage together. Children and adults will find different reasons to enjoy this frantically-paced comic adventure.
A- The Princess Bride, various Cinemark Theaters, Sunday and Wednesday. Saturday and Sunday, midnight. William Goldman’s enchanting and funny fairy tale, The Princess Bride, dances magically along that thin line between parody and the real thing. The then-young and gorgeous Cary Elwes and Robin Wright make a wonderful set of star-crossed lovers, and Mandy Patinkin has a lot of fun as a revenge-filled swashbuckler. There’s no funnier swordfight anywhere, and who can forget cinema’s greatest acronym, ROUS (rodents of unusual size). On the other hand, some of the big-name cameos really grate on your nerves.
Mystery Science Theater 3000, New Parkway, Friday, 10:30. 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.
A- Gravity, Castro, Sunday. Presented in 3D. In 1968, 2001: A Space Odyssey made me want to be an astronaut. In 2013, Gravity cleared any such desire that still lingered. Easily the most technically realistic view of space travel ever created on Earth, Gravity not only makes you feel like you’re there; it makes you want to return home. An environment with no air, no up or down, and nothing to stop you from drifting is not a nice place to raise your kids. Yes, the story is simplistic and not always realistic (just how close are all those space stations?), but it’s suspenseful, and far more believable than any other recent special effects blockbuster.
All of these screenings happen on Saturday at the Castro.
A+ The Gold Rush, 7:30. In this epic comic adventure, Chaplin’s tramp travels through the frozen Yukon of the Alaskan gold rush, gets marooned in a cabin with two much larger men, nearly starves to death, nearly becomes dinner, and falls in love with a dancehall girl who scarcely knows he’s alive. Within this story you’ll find some of Chaplin’s funniest set pieces, including the Thanksgiving dinner of boiled shoe, the dance of the rolls, and my favorite–the fight over the rifle that always points at Chaplin. Accompanied by San Francisco Chamber Orchestra with Timothy Brock conducting Chaplin’s score. Read my Blu-ray Review.
A Our Mutual Friend: Three Chaplin Shorts, 1:00. Chaplin hit an artistic peak in 1916 (his third year in movies) when he moved to the Mutual Film Corporation. There he shot twelve amazing shorts in a little over a year. The Festival will screen three of these two-reelers–"The Vagabond," "The Cure," and "Easy Street." The first is sweet, touching, and funny. The other two are masterpieces. Accompanied by Jon Mirsalis on piano.
B The Kid, Charlie Chaplin’s first feature,The Kid, isn’t among his best–there are times when you can feel him stretching to fill six reels, and others where the sentimentality overwhelms. But it has some wonderful routines, most built around his very young co-star, Jackie Coogan. This may be the only time Chaplin allowed someone else to steal one of his films, and it was the right decision. The future Uncle Fester imitates Chaplin perfectly as an abandoned child raised by the little tramp. Also on the program: A Chaplin look-alike contest and the Tramp’s first appearance in "Kid Auto Races in Venice." Also accompanied by San Francisco Chamber Orchestra with Timothy Brock conducting Chaplin’s score.