Still no festivals this week. But you can watch a lot of Robin Williams (not all of which I list here).
A+ Lawrence of Arabia, Castro, Saturday through Monday; Rafael, Sunday. 4K digital projection at the Castro. Lawrence isn’t just the best big historical epic of the 70mm roadshow era, it’s one of the greatest films ever made. Stunning to look at and terrific as pure spectacle, it’s also an intelligent study of a fascinatingly complex and enigmatic war hero. T. E. Lawrence—at least in this film—both loved and hated violence, and tried liberating Arabia by turning it over to the British. No, that’s not a flaw in the script, but in his character. This masterpiece requires a very large screen and excellent projection–either 70mm or 4K DCP–to do it full justice, and that’s what the Castro will deliver. I do not know how the Rafael, which is screening Lawrence as part of its Alec Guinness at 100 series, will project the movie. For more on this epic, read The Digital Lawrence of Arabia Experience and Thoughts on Lawrence of Arabia.
A Babe, Lark, Saturday, 3:30, Sunday, 1:30. At least among narrative features, Babe is easily the greatest work of vegetarian propaganda in the history of cinema. It’s also a sweet, funny, and charming fairy tale about a pig who wants to become a sheep dog. This Australian import helped audiences and critics recognize and appreciate character actor James Cromwell, and technically broke considerable ground in the category of live-action talking-animal movies. Warning: If you take your young children to this G-rated movie, you may have trouble getting them to eat bacon. Part of the Lark’s Family Film Series.
A- The Fisher King, New Parkway, Sunday, 12:40; Monday, 8:20. (Note: I gave this film a B+ just two weeks ago. But I have since revisited it and upped the grade.) Terry Gilliam’s first film from someone else’s screenplay, and his first shot in his native USA, isn’t quite up to his best work. But it’s damn close. Jeff Bridges plays a guilt-ridden former shock jock who befriends a homeless lunatic (Robin Williams in one of his best performances) in hope of redemption. But helping this tragic victim of random violence involves both playing cupid and jumping down the rabbit hole of a brilliant but deeply unhinged mind. Only Williams could sing Lydia the Tattooed Lady and make it sound sweet and romantic.
A- Chaplin Shorts, Coastside Senior Housing, Half Moon Bay, Friday, 7:30. I only just discovered that there’s a silent film society in Half Moon Bay! This Friday, they’ll screen three Charlie Chaplin shorts from his First National period. These include two of my favorite short Chaplins: A Dog’s Life and The Idle Class. Unfortunately, the third is one of the worst First National’s, Payday. But the first two easily make up for the other. With Shauna Pickett-Gordon accompanying on piano.
B+ Ghostbusters, various CineMark theaters, week-long engagement starts Friday. Comedy rarely gets this scary or this visually spectacular. Or perhaps I should say that special-effects action fantasies rarely get this funny (at least intentionally so). Harold Ramis, Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, and Sigourney Weaver appear to be having a great time as they try to control the phantasm and monsters suddenly attacking New York City. Not a bad way to pass an afternoon.
C- Popeye, Castro, Friday, 7:20; New Parkway, Friday, 4:00; Monday, 3:00. Robert Altman’s one attempt at a big-budget family musical manages to be both extremely odd and utterly mediocre. The story is a mess, the gags are too outrageous to be funny (there are some things that only work in animation), and Harry Nilsson’s songs are utterly forgettable. The only real joy is watching actors who are both recognizable as themselves and near-perfect physical embodiments of famous cartoon character; consider Shelley Duvall’s amazing likeness to Olive Oyl. On a Midnites for Maniacs double bill with The Wiz.
A Life Itself, Castro, Wednesday. This totally biased, yet entertaining and informative documentary examines the life and death of Roger Ebert–the brilliant writer, passionate cinephile, and overweight alcoholic who became the first film critic to win a Pulitzer Prize, and then the most influential film critic of all time. But be prepared. This film spends a lot of time looking at a man without a jaw. It’s pretty disturbing at first, but Ebert’s upbeat and joking personality helps you adjust. And, of course, there’s a lot about movies here. Read my full review . On a double bill with Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction.