Both SF IndieFest and the Mostly British Film Festival continue through the rest of this week. In the newly-dead movie star department, the New Parkway will run several Seymour Hoffman films this week, while the Stanford will screen Shirley Temple marathons Saturday and Sunday.
And I have added another theater to the Bayflicks family, the Magick Lantern in Pt. Richmond.
A My Favorite Year, Vogue, Sunday, 12:00 noon. The Alan Errol Flynn-like Alan Swann couldn’t have been much of a stretch for Peter O’Toole, yet this gem contains what is probably his best comic performance. Set in the world of live TV in 1954, it provides an exhilarating story and a steady stream of belly laughs. O’Toole’s Swann is an egotistical, alcoholic, has-been matinee idol doing a guest stint on a variety comedy show. Mark Linn-Baker is the young writer assigned to keep him sober and out of trouble. Everything comes together in one of the most absurd, unbelievable, yet totally satisfying climaxes ever filmed. This American comedy is part of the Mostly British Film Festival.
A Capote, New Parkway, Sunday, 5:35 . I can’t think of a historical figure more challenging for an actor than Truman Capote–you can’t do that voice without sounding like a broad comic parody. Yet Philip Seymour Hoffman makes it work in an Oscar- winning performance. The story sticks to the years that Capote researched and wrote his last and most-praised book, In Cold Blood. Hoffman creates a witty and self-centered Capote, utterly unable to handle his mixed feelings about a cold-blooded killer, or the sudden literary success of his research assistant, To Kill a Mockingbird author Harper Lee (Catherine Keener). Read my longer comments. Part of the New Parkway’s Philip Seymour Hoffman Tribute.
A Double Bill: Baraka & Samsara, Castro, Sunday. Here, for one ticket, you can see both of Ron Fricke’s amazing large-screen meditations. Both work without plot, narration, or explanation; they simply present images of nature, humanity, and spirituality. Even if you don’t see a message, you’re captivated by the music and the clear and perfect visuals. Both films were shot in 65mm, with a frame nearly three times that of standard 35mm. The Castro will screen them in 2K DCP; acceptable, but 4K would have been better. See my full review of Samsara, as well as More on Samsara, 70mm, and 4K Digital Projection.
A- On the Waterfront, Castro, Thursday. A thug-run union and conflicted loyalties drive this revered drama, shot on location in New York. Even amongst a brilliant cast with everyone at their best, Marlon Brando stands out as a half-bright dock worker struggling between loyalty to family and to society as a whole. Yet the story takes a turn that removes that inner conflict a little too easily. And then there’s the issue of the film’s political and autobiographical context. Both writer Budd Schulberg and director Elia Kazan named names to get off the anti-Communist blacklist, after which they made this film to justify their acts of cowardice. On a double bill with The Night of the Following Day, which I haven’t seen.
A- Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Stanford, Friday. Corrupt political bosses appoint a naive, young idealist (James Stewart) senator because they think he’s stupid. Their wrong. The second and best film in Frank Capra’s common-man trilogy, Mr. Smith creeks a bit with patriotic corniness today, and seems almost as naive as its protagonist. But it has moments–Stewart’s speech about how “history is too important to be left in school books,” for instance–that can still bring a lump to the throat of any leftwing American patriot. And it’s just plain entertaining.
B- Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Pacific Film Archive, Friday, 7:00. Howard Hawks’ musical battle of the sexes contains a handful of wonderful dance numbers and some good comic moments, but there are too many weak scenes to wholeheartedly recommend it. The real surprise is in the leading ladies. Gentlemen helped turn Marilyn Monroe into a star, but co-star Jane Russell blows her out of the water, giving a far funnier and sexier performance. Part of the series Funny Ha-Ha: American Comedy, 1930–1959.
A+ Citizen Kane, Pacific Film Archive, Wednesday, 3:10. How does any movie survive a half-century reputation as the Greatest Film Ever Made? By being really, really good. True, there are films more insightful about the human condition, pictures more dazzling in their technique, and movies more fun. But I’d be hard pressed to name any this insightful that are also this dazzling and fun. As they tell the life story of a newspaper tycoon through the flashback memories of those who knew him, Orson Welles and his collaborators turned the techniques of cinema inside out. Now I’ll tell you what Rosebud really is: a McGuffin. Part of the series and class Film 50: History of Cinema.
A- The Princess Bride, New Parkway, Friday, 6:15 & 9:15, Saturday, 10:10, Tuesday, 9:30. 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. The 6:15 screening is a Valentine’s Day Dinner and Movie.
Harold and Maude, Clay, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, midnight. After Woodstock, this comedy about a young man and a much older woman is the ultimate cinematic statement of the hippie generation. At least that’s how I remember it. I loved it passionately in the 1970s. But I haven’t seen it in a long time and I’m not sure how well it’s aged.
A+ Casablanca, New Parkway, Friday, 5:45. What can I say? You’ve either already seen it or know you should. Let me just add that no one who worked on Casablanca thought they were making a masterpiece; it was just another sausage coming off the Warner assembly line. But somehow, just this once, everything came together perfectly. For more details, see Casablanca: The Accidental Masterpiece. A Valentine’s Day Dinner and Movie.
B The Hunger Games, Castro, Monday. It’s a gladiator movie, of course. Sure, it’s all dressed up in science fiction hardware and leftwing economic attitudes, but it’s still at heart a gladiator movie. In a dystopian future, 24 mostly unwilling teenagers are placed in a forest filled with hidden TV cameras and forced to fight to the death for the entertainment of the crowd–mostly the upper class. The result is pretty good for a modern Hollywood blockbuster. For more on this, see On the Moral Dilemma of Gladiator Movies. On a double bill with the sequel, The Humber Games: Catching Fire; I haven’t seen that one.
C+ Good Ol’ Freda, Vogue, Saturday, 2:00. How much more is there to say about The Beatles? Not much, apparently. This documentary focuses on the young woman who became their secretary soon after Brian Epstein signed them, and stayed with them in that capacity until they broke up. She sheds some light on the early days, as the band quickly moved from a local phenomenon with a small following to the biggest stars of all time. But once they achieve major fame, she has little to say that you probably haven’t heard before. Most of all, she talks about how she’s always refused to talk about The Beatles. She comes off as extremely principled but not particularly interesting. Good music, though. Another part of the Mostly British Film Festival.
Mystery Science Theater 3000, New Parkway, Friday, 10:00. 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- Teenage, New Parkway, Thursday, 7:00. Using a combination of archival footage and dramatic recreations, Matt Wolf’s documentary explores British, German,and American youth from 1904 through 1945. Through excerpts from diary entries, read by young actors, we get to know the youngsters who fought two world wars, the flaming youth of the 20s, sub debs, swingers, help cats, Hitler Youth, and Rosie the Riveters. Driven by Bradford Cox’s art-rock musical score, Teenage documents not facts but emotions, tracking the feelings of those stuck between childhood and adult responsibility. Part of SF IndieFest.