Charlie Chaplin: The Little Tramp at 100 Years, The irreplaceable David Shepard will provide commentary for a two-hour survey of the great comedian and filmmaker. The show will include three complete shorts–Kid Auto Races in Venice, Mabel’s Married Life, and Easy Street–along with excerpts from his other films. When Shepard isn’t talking and the movie doesn’t have its own soundtrack, Judy Rosenberg with accompany on the piano.
B+ The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Shattuck, opens Friday. This big, splashy, fun, CGI-heavy action flick has a small, character-driven independent art film hidden inside. Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) is a teenager in crisis. His parents deserted him when he was young. His girlfriend is about to desert him. A now-powerful old friend is putting him in a moral dilemma . The widowed aunt who’s raising him (Sally Field) can barely make ends meet. And because he has superpowers, he feels responsible for stopping all the crime in New York City. The personal story and the big action set pieces merge easily into a single whole. Not as good as the first Spider-Man 2 (yeah, I know that sounds weird), but worth catching. I’ve written more on this one.
A Dr. Strangelove, Cerrito, Thursday, 7:00. A psychotic general named Jack D. Ripper (Sterling Hayden) orders his men to bomb the USSR and start World War III. But have no fear! The men responsible for avoiding Armageddon (several of them played by Peter Sellers) are slightly more competent than the Three Stooges. We like to look back at earlier decades as simpler, less fearful times, but Stanley Kubrick’s “nightmare comedy” reminds you just how scary things were back then. I have more to say about Dr. Strangelove.
B+ The Iron Giant, New Parkway, Sunday, 12:30. The young hero of Brad (The Incredibles) Bird’s first feature befriends a massively-huge robot from outer space. Hey, Steven Spielberg’s Elliot only had to hide the diminutive ET. The robot seems friendly enough, but there’s good reason to believe he was built as a weapon of mass destruction. Using old-fashioned, hand-drawn animation with plenty of sharp angles, Bird creates a stylized view of small-town American life circa 1958 that straddles satire and nostalgia, and treats most of its inhabitants with warmth and affection. A good movie for all but the youngest kids. A benefit for Urban Montessori.
A- The Grand Budapest Hotel, Castro, Friday and Saturday. Once again, Wes Anderson is playing with us, and what fun it is to be played. In this story within a story within a story, the concierge of a magnificent European hotel (Ralph Fiennes) takes a young bellhop under his wing and teaches him about hostelry and life, while also trying to save his skin from some very well-connected thugs. All quite silly, except that I think there’s a message about the rise of Fascism in there somewhere (the innermost story is set in the early ’30s). The hotel, which sits on a high mountain’s peak, is one of those places that you want to visit but could only exist in a movie. This is the sort of picture where the local newspaper is called The Trans-Alpine Yodeler.
C- The Creature from the Black Lagoon, New Parkway, Saturday, 3:00. Set in a previously-unexplored tributary of the Amazon–that looks suspiciously like the Universal back lot–Creature follows a small group of scientists, plus a colorful local fisherman, as they search for fossils and find something stranger–a sort of man-fish highbred that doesn’t appear to be particularly well-adapted for anything. All very silly and unintentionally funny. This screening will not be in 3D. Read my longer comments.
F Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, New Parkway, Thursday, 9:15. Absolutely the worst Indiana Jones movie ever. First, Spielberg and company tried to make it dark and atmospheric, but only succeeded in making it unpleasant. Second, leading lady Kate Capshaw may have captured Spielberg’s heart (they’re still married), but her performance here is as enticing as nails on a chalkboard. And finally, the movie is horribly, irredeemably, D.W. Griffith-level racist. Two years after Attenborough’s Gandhi,Spielberg and Lucas assure us that India needed white people to protect the good, but helpless and child-like Indians from their evil, fanatical compatriots.
A+ Rear Window, Lark, Sunday, 3:30. Alfred Hitchcock at his absolute best. James Stewart is riveting as a news photographer temporarily confined to his apartment and a wheelchair, amusing himself by spying on his neighbors (none of whom he knows) and guessing at the details of their lives. Then he begins to suspect that one of them committed murder. As he and his girlfriend (Grace Kelly) begin to investigate, it slowly dawns on us (but not them) that they’re getting into some pretty dangerous territory. Hitchcock uses this story to examine voyeurism, urban alienation, and the institution of marriage, as well as to treat his audience to a great entertainment.
A Astaire/Rogers double bill: Swing Time & Roberta, Stanford, Wed Friday. The A goes to Swing Time, the second-best Astaire/Rogers vehicle (after Top Hat). Even by Astaire-Rogers standards, the plot is lightweight: Gambler Fred and dance teacher Ginger fall in love, fight, break up, fall in love again, and repeat the cycle, all the while singing and dancing. The Dorothy Fields/Jerome Kern songs (“Pick Yourself Up,” “The Way You Look Tonight,” “A Fine Romance”) are among the best of that decade, and the dancing more than does them justice. The “Never Gonna Dance” number is one of the saddest, most sublime dances ever. On its own, Roberta earns only a C-. It’s really an Irene Dunne vehicle, with Astaire and Rogers in supporting roles. They’re not onscreen enough to turn this dull musical love story into a winner.
A- From Up on Poppy Hill, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Sunday, 3:30. Warm, sweet, and nostalgic, this whimsical dramatic comedy from Studio Ghibli focuses on a teenage girl falling in love for the first time. Set in the early 1960s, it tells its love story against a backdrop of students trying to save an old, rundown clubhouse. But first love never runs smooth, and family histories threaten to derail it before it begins. A rare animated feature without talking animals, fantasy creatures, magic, or broadly caricatured human beings. For more on this picture, see Friday Night Report: Rare Hitchcock and New Studio Ghibli. Part of the series Astonishing Animation: the Films of Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli.
A Spirited Away, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Saturday, 7:00. Hayao Miyazaki’s masterpiece is a beautiful, complex, and occasionally scary tale of a young girl cast into a strange and magical world. The intriguing and imaginative creatures, not to mention the moral dilemmas, are beyond anything that Dorothy ever had to deal with in Oz.. A truly amazing work of animation. Another part of the series Astonishing Animation: the Films of Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli.