A Samuel Fuller Triple Bill: Pickup on South Street, Park Row, & A Fuller Life, Castro, Sunday. The A goes Pickup on South Street, a fantastic Cold War noir written and directed by the great Samuel Fuller. A pickpocket (Richard Widmark) steals a wallet containing top secret microfilm that was on its way to Soviet agents. Before you can say "Alfred Hitchcock," this petty thief is being chased about by the feds and the reds. Snappy dialog, well-choreographed action scenes (without today’s quick cutting), and the always wonderful Thelma Ritter keep it lively. This is my favorite Fuller film; I’ve written about it in more detail. Park Row, on the other hand, is Fuller at his didactic worst. This ode to the brave men of the 19th century newspaper business is mawkish and preachy. I haven’t seen A Fuller Life, Samantha Fullers’ documentary about her father.
A The Cartoon Genius of Chuck Jones, Oddball Films, Friday, 8:00. Few filmmakers understood comedy as well as animator extraordinaire Chuck Jones, who directed over 200 six-minute cartoons for Warner Brothers from the late 30s to the early 60s–many of them masterpieces. This evening’s selection includes such Warner gems as Rabbit Seasoning, Beep Prepared, and Duck Dodgers in the 24 1/2th Century. But it leaves out much of his best work, including One Froggy Evening, What’s Opera, Doc, and Duck Amuck–possibly because they’re shown so often. Amongst his non-Warner work, Oddball will show the World War II training film Pvt. Snafu vs. Malaria Mike and Jones’ 1975 TV adaptation of Rikki-Tikki-Tavi. All in 16mm.
B Tommy, Balboa, Thursday, 7:30. Ken Russell’s over-the-top film version of Pete Townsend’s and The Who’s rock opera hits you over the head with all the subtlety of Beach Blanket Babylon, turning a parable of spiritual quest into a carnival satire of materialism and cults. Oliver Reed proves he can’t sing as he plays a male version of the stereotypical evil stepmother. He’s not the only embarrassment in the all-star cast, but Roger Daltrey and Ann-Margaret, sing, dance, and act like the professionals they are. So do Eric Clapton, Tina Turner, and Elton John in smaller roles. Townsend’s music is still brilliant, and if this isn’t the best version of Tommy, it’s certainly the most fun.
C- Gone With the Wind, various CineMark Theaters, Sunday and Wednesday. I love big historical epics, but the biggest of them all just leaves me flat. First, there’s the blatant white supremacy. I’m used to racism in old movies, and generally just wince. But the racism in Gone with the Wind makes me cringe. The entire story depends on assumptions of white masters and black slaves as the natural order (you can read my in-depth comments). Leaving racial issues aside, the first part is pretty good, but boredom sets in after the intermission. The picture has one thing going for it: It used color far more creatively and effectively than any previous movie.
A- The Ladykillers (1955 version), Rafael, Sunday. In the 1950s, Britain’s Ealing Studios made several droll but wonderful comedies starring Alec Guinness, often about crime. In The Ladykillers, probably the darkest Ealing comedy, Guinness leads a gang on a complex heist, and part of the complexity involves renting a room. But when their sweet, old landlady finds out that they’re not really musicians, their only option is to kill her–a task that proves far more difficult than they expected. Perhaps a more descriptive title would have been The Incompetent Ladykillers. Not be be confused with the Coen Brothers remake. The last film in the series Alec Guinness at 100.
B To Have and Have Not, Castro, Wednesday. This production ignited the Bogart-Bacall romance, which itself ignites the screen. Aside from the considerable charisma and sexual sparks that its stars set off, it’s an entertaining tale of war-time intrigue but not really an exceptional one. A good movie with a couple of great scenes. On a double bill with Dark Passage, which I have yet to see.
A+ Casablanca, Alameda, Tuesday and Wednesday. What can I say? You’ve either already seen the best film to come out of the classic Hollywood studio system, or you 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 To Kill A Mockingbird, Lark, Sunday, 1:10; Wednesday, 4:00. The film version of Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel manages to be both a nostalgic reverie of depression-era small town Southern life and a condemnation of that life’s dark and ugly underbelly. Gregory Peck’s Atticus Finch is the ultimate decent and moral father, a character so virtuous he’d be unbelievable if the story wasn’t told through the eyes of his six-year-old daughter. (Had there been a sequel set in her teen years, Atticus would have been an idiotic tyrant.)
A Dr. Strangelove, Roxie, Sunday. 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. On a Kubrick double bill with The Shining, which I’ve never seen. I have more to say on both Dr. Strangelove and Stanley Kubrick. Both films in 35mm.
F Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Balboa, Saturday, 10:00am. 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, now Spielberg’s wife, gives a performance about 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, child-like Indians from their evil, fanatical compatriots.
B The Hundred-Foot Journey, New Parkway, opens Friday. An Indian family in a small French town set up an eatery across the street from a famous and highly-regarded French restaurant, and the battle of culinary cultures begins. The first half is a lot of fun, but the main conflict gets settled–not very believably–way too soon. Then you spend too much time watching everyone be happy while waiting for two separate couples to realize that they’re in love. But I have to give kudos to cinematographer Linus Sandgren; this is the best photographed new film I’ve seen in a long time.