As the festivals turn: Noir City continues through Sunday. And San Francisco IndieFest opens Thursday. I have, unfortunately, been too busy to review any of the IndieFest films, but you’ll find comments on two Noir City features at the bottom of this newsletter.
A Breathless, Pacific Film Archive, Friday, 7:00. Jean-Luc Godard broke all the rules and created something dazzling and exciting in his very first film (which in my opinion is by far his best). There’s nothing special about the noirish plot: Young lovers go on a crime spree, the man murders a cop, and now they’re on the run. But the wild and energetic camerawork, the crazy editing (I believe it’s the first film to cut within a shot), and the sexual energy of stars Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg are like nothing anyone had ever seen before. And, in the case of Godard, like nothing he would ever make again. Part of the series Jean-Luc Godard: Expect Everything from Cinema
A Jason and the Argonauts, Balboa, Saturday, 10:00am. No other movie so successfully turns Greek mythology (or at least a family-friendly version of Greek mythology ) into swashbuckling adventure, while remaining true to the original spirit of the tailes. As the gods bicker and gamble on the fates of mortals, Jason and his crew fight magical monsters and scheming human villains. Todd Armstrong and Nancy Kovack are unbearably stiff in the lead roles, but Jason contains several wonderful supporting roles, including Nigel Green as cinema’s most articulate Hercules. But the real star, of course, is Ray Harryhausen’s hand-made, character-driven special effects.
A- Blue is the Warmest Color, Castro, Monday. This three-hour, dead-serious drama about young French lesbians captures the full arc of a long relationship. It does this through the eyes of Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos), a high school girl at the start of the movie and an elementary school teacher by the end. She meets the older, more experienced Emma (Léa Seydoux) and sparks fly. Over the years they build a life together, than grow apart. A few gaps in the story annoyed me. For instance, as a teenager, Adèle doesn’t come out to her parents; when she’s an adult, we never see or hear about them. But for the most part, the intense emotions and careful pacing deftly capture an experience that almost all human beings can understand and relate to. And yes, there’s some very explicit soft-core sex, and yes, it would have been a weaker movie without it.
A M, Pacific Film Archive, Pacific Film Archive, In this early talkie,director Fritz Lang shows us a Germany sinking into corruption, depression, and paranoia. The paranoia is understandable; someone is murdering little girls and successfully eluding the police. Eventually the underworld must do what the authorities cannot and stop the killer. Peter Lorre became famous as the oddly sympathetic child molester, driven by inner demons to kill again and again. I’m not sure film noir would have ever happened without M. Part of the series and class Film 50: History of Cinema.
A+ Groundhog Day, various CineMark theaters, Sunday (2:00), Wednesday (2:00 & 7:00); New Parkway, Friday through Monday. Spiritual, humane, and hilarious,Groundhog Day wraps its thoughtful world view inside a slick, Hollywood comedy. Without explanation, the movie plunges its self-centered protagonist into a time warp that becomes his purgatory, living the same day over and over for who knows how long (it could be thousands of years). Bill Murray’s weatherman goes through stages of panic, giddiness, and despair before figuring out that life is about serving others. And yet not a frame of this movie feels preachy. Fast-paced and brilliantly edited, it’s pure entertainment. For more on this great comedy, see Wait 20 Years, and Then You Can Call a Groundhog Day a Classic.
B+ Grandma’s Boy, Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, Saturday, 7:30. The best of Harold Lloyd’s early features, Grandma’s Boy hints at the brilliant comic story teller that Lloyd would soon become. Shy Harold lacks the courage needed to win the girl (or anything else), so his grandmother improvises a magic talisman and concocts a story to help him build up his nerve. Not Kid Brother or The Freshmen, but an important step in the direction of those masterpieces. Warning: The mothball scene may asphyxiate you with laughter. Also on the program: a couple of Keystone shorts, one each with Chaplin and Arbuckle. Judy Rosenberg with provide piano accompaniment.
B+ Inequality For All, New Parkway, Tuesday, 7:00. I suppose I should be raving about this wonderful documentary, if only because it speaks truth about important issues of our times. Well, it does speak truth, and I agree with just about everything that the film’s subject, economist Robert Reich, says here. But the simple fact that it confirms my existing beliefs doesn’t make it great art. And since very few people who don’t already agree with it will ever see it, its impact on society will be minimal. But Reich is an engaging person–funny and self-effacing, and very intelligent–resulting in an entertaining movie. Co-presented by The Berkeley FILM Foundation with Q&A following the film.
B Nebraska, Balboa, opens Saturday. A good film, but not as good as I’ve learned to expect from Alexander Payne. Yes, Bruce Dern hits the nail on the head for his first lead role since Silent Running. And yes, the movie is filled with Payne’s trademark human touch and low-key humor. But this father/son road movie, with the father sinking into dementia as the son deals with his own emotional problems, could have lost 20 minutes and have been a better film for it. And the ending sinks too deeply into sentimentality. But the good moments, and there are plenty, make up for a lot of the weaknesses.
All screenings at the Castro.
A The Wages of Fear, Friday, 9:00 (double bill starts at 7:30). You’ll find few other thrillers this painfully suspenseful. Four poverty-stricken Europeans,desperately stranded in South America, take on a frightfully dangerous job because their only other choice is starvation. They agree to transport a very large quantity of nitroglycerin, in two ill-equipped trucks, across poorly-maintained mountain roads. But Wages of Fear is more than just a thriller. Director and co-writer Henri-Georges Clouzot had some strong opinions on poverty, exploitation, and American economic imperialism, and he used this nail-biting movie to discuss them. An exceptional work. On a double bill with a variation on M called The Black Vampire.
Pépé Le Moko, Saturday, 12:00 noon. I saw this 1937 French crime drama some 15 or 20 years ago, and liked it quite a bit, although I don’t remember it well enough now to officially grade it. Jean Gabin plays the title character, a dashing crook who stays where he is safe–inside the labyrinth of Algiers’ famous Casbah, where only criminals and natives know their way about. I suppose the film could reasonably be called romanticized imperialism, but I remember enjoying it very much.