The Tiburon International Film Festival continues through the week.
A+ City Lights, Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, Saturday, 7:30. Charlie Chaplin’s Birthday. In Charlie Chaplin’s most perfect comedy, the little tramp falls in love with a blind flower girl and befriends a suicidal, alcoholic millionaire, but neither of them know the real Charlie. The result is funny and touching, with one of cinema’s greatest endings. Sound came to movies as Chaplin was shooting City Lights, resulting in an essentially silent film with a recorded musical score composed by Chaplin himself. Cinema has rarely achieved such perfection. Read my Blu-ray review. Bruce Loeb will accompany the short subjects ("The Bond" and "The Tramp," both Chaplin’s), but the feature will have Chaplin’s recorded soundtrack.
A+ Groundhog Day, Castro, Friday. 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. On a Harold Ramis double bill with Caddyshack, which I saw long ago and barely remember.
A Sunset Boulevard, Alameda, Tuesday and Wednesday. 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.
A- Ben-Hur, Castro, Sunday, 1:00. Novelist Lew Wallace ripped off the plot of The Count of Monte Cristo, set the story in Roman-occupied Judea, and had the title character cross paths with Jesus. Hollywood’s second film version of the best-selling book easily surpasses all of the other big, long religious epics that Hollywood churned out in the 50s and early 60s. It even surpasses the 1925, silent original. Ben-Hur makes a rousing tale, a good story, and a visual feast. Say what you will, Charlton Heston is perfect for the role. The chariot scene still beats almost every other action scene shot. Only in the final hour, when Christianity gets ladled on thick, does it drag a bit. Ideally, this should be shown in 70mm or 4K DCP; the Castro will be screening it in 2K.
B Liv & Ingmar, Tiburon Playhouse Theater, Saturday, 12:00 noon. 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. Part of the Tiburon International Film Festival.
B- Blazing Saddles, Oakland Paramount, 8:00. The most beloved western comedy of all time doesn’t do all that much for me. Sure, it has moments of great laughter as it lampoons everything from the clichés of the genre to institutional racism to the clichés of every other genre. But for every joke that hits home, two are killed by Mel Brooks’ over-the-top, beat-the-audience-over-the-head directing style. If you’re looking for western laughs, Paleface, Son of Paleface, Support Your Local Sherriff, and Shanghai Noon all beat Blazing Saddles. I believe this is the first R-rated film that the Paramount has shown in its Movie Classics series. On the other hand, Blazing Saddles would probably be PG-13 today.
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.
B The Big Lebowski, UA Berkeley, Thursday, 9:00. Critics originally panned this Coen Brothers gem as a disappointing follow-up to their previous endeavor, Fargo. Well, it isn’t as good as Fargo, but it’s still one hell of a funny movie. It’s also built quite a cult following; The Big Lebowski has probably played more Bay Area one-night stands in the years I’ve maintained this site than than any other three movies put together.