A The Producers (original, 1967 version), Pacific Film Archive, Friday, 7:00. A long, long time ago, before digital cinema and even Dolby Stereo, Mel Brooks was actually funny. And he was never funnier than in his directorial debut. Both Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder (in his star-making performance) play comedy to the hilt as a desperate pair scheming to make a fortune off a Broadway musical called "Springtime for Hitler." The 1960s wasn’t a great decade for American-made comedies, but The Producers stands out as a gorgeous, laugh-inducing gem. Part of the series Jokers Wild: American Comedy, 1960–1989.
B+ Take the Money and Run, Pacific Film Archive, Friday, 8:50. Woody Allen’s directorial debut isn’t as impressive as Mel Brooks’, but it’s still pretty funny. A crudely shot mockumentary about a hopelessly inept criminal, Take the Money and Run is really just an excuse for gags, some of which would work better in a standup context. There’s no sense of the birth of a great filmmaker here, but there are more than enough laughs to make this a very enjoyable evening. Also part of the series Jokers Wild: American Comedy, 1960–1989.
A Sunset Boulevard, Castro, Sunday. Billy Wilder’s meditation on Hollywood’s seedy underbelly is the flip side of Singin’ in the Rain (now that would make a great double bill). Norma Desmond is very much Lena Lamont after twenty-two years of denial and depression. And in the role of Norma, Gloria Swanson gives one of the great over-the-top performances in Hollywood history. On a double bill with Picnic, which I saw long ago and liked pretty well.
A Fruitvale Station, San Jose Repertory Theatre, Saturday, 3:00. Includes a conversation with critic Kenneth Turan. The experience of watching this independent feature is very much like waiting for a time bomb. You watch Oscar Grant (Michael B. Jordan) go through the last day of 2008, knowing that he will be fatally shot by a BART cop in the early hours of the new year. Writer/director Ryan Coogler wisely avoids turning Grant into a saint, but makes us care very much for him. The last moments of the film–not including some documentary footage and the closing credits–will break your heart. Read my longer report. Part of Cinequest.
A- Moonrise Kingdom, Roxie, Saturday, 2:15. Wes Anderson at his most playful. Also at his sweetest and funniest.Two pre-teens in love run away–disrupting everything on the small New England island where the story is set. While the fantasy of young love makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, the adult reaction keeps you laughing–in large part because the main adults are played by major stars clearly enjoying a chance to clown around. They include Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Bruce Willis, and, best of all, Tilda Swinton as “Social Services." Part of the series Wes Anderson in 35mm.
A Boogle Nights, Castro, Wednesday. In Writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson’s epic story of the porn industry in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, we watch as cinema’s most disreputable genre transitions from gutter chic to soulless video.This tale of pornographers with delusions of talent provides us with several heart-wrenching characters, from Mark Wahlberg’s nice, well-endowed, but not-too-bright young man to Julianne Moore’s porn queen/mother hen (an Oscar-nominated performance). The excellent cast also includes Heather Graham, Don Cheadle, Burt Reynolds, William H. Macy, and Philip Seymour Hoffman. On a double bill with Flawless (which I haven’t seen); the second in a series of Philip Seymour Hoffman double bills.
A- Teenage, California Theatre (San Jose), 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 the doughboys of World War I, 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 as the world changed around them. Part of Cinequest.
B Nebraska, Castro, Monday. 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. On a double bill with Smile, which I haven’t seen in a very long time.
C+ Way Out West, Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum (although this is a talkie), Sunday, 4:00. Many fans count this western parody amongst Laurel and Hardy’s best movies, but I’m not one of them. It has its funny moments, including a very famous dance routine, but in too many places the film drags. Like so many of their features, it gets hung up in plot (a plot, by the way, which the Marx Brothers stole for their western parody, Go West). L&H were always at their best in plotless or near-plotless stories. On the other hand, the Museum will also screen "The Music Box,," a short subject that’s one of their best.