No festivals this week, but some good movies.
And a lot of scary ones. I’m putting the Halloween movies–which make up the bulk of this newsletter–at the bottom.
B+ 2001: A Space Odyssey, Castro, Sunday and Monday. I used to worship Stanley Kubrick’s visualization of Arthur C. Clarke’s imagination, but it hasn’t aged all that well. We’ve seen the actual year, and know that Clarke and Kubrick got almost everything wrong. Although I’ve lost my love of Stanley Kubrick, there’s no denying the pull of 2001’s unorthodox storytelling and visual splendor–if you can see it properly presented. 2001 was shot for 70mm projection on a giant, curved, Cinerama screen–an experience that’s simply not available in the Bay Area today. The Castro’s large, flat screen is about the best we can do. On a double bill Sunday with The Tree of Life (see below), and on Monday with Giuseppe Makes a Movie (which I haven’t seen)
B+ The Tree of Life, Castro, Sunday. Terrence Malick made a career of taking risks (if someone who has made only five films in 40 years can be said to have a career). But sometimes, when you go out on a limb, the branch breaks. His latest film works beautifully when it concentrates on a loving but troubled family in the 1950s—a story with no plot and many conflicts. The contemporary scenes with Sean Penn as one of the young sons, now a middle-aged man, don’t play as well. Few are as convincing as Penn at looking miserable, but Malick provides us with so little about his current life that we’re not sure why he’s so upset. And then there are the scenes that are just plain weird. But it’s a Malick film, so at least it’s always beautiful to look at. On a double bill with 2001: A Space Odyssey (see above).
A The Two Faces of January, Aquarius, opens Friday; New Parkway, opens Sunday.. The Two Faces of January is the best new thriller I’ve seen since Headhunters, but it’s a very different kind of thriller–more cerebral, less fun, and more plausible. When we first meet them, Chester and Colette MacFarland (Viggo Mortensen and Kirsten Dunst) are a wealthy, attractive, and happy American couple vacationing in Greece in the early 1960s. Then they meet Rydal (Oscar Isaac), also American, but scratching out a living as a tour guide–and supplementing his earnings with petty larceny. Of course there’s a love triangle, but the story is really about crime and deception. But who’s the criminal? And who’s deceiving who? Read my full review.
C+ The Zero Theorem, Lark, opens Saturday. Terry Gilliam’s new film feels like a less-effective retreat of his brilliant Brazil. Like that far superior picture, it’s set in a dystopian society that may be in the future, but in some strange ways feels like the past. Christoph Waltz stars as a brilliant programmer and mathematician trying to solve an impossible problem while his corporate overlords track him closely and watch everything he does. Although visually exciting and occasionally provocative, The Zero Theorem doesn’t actually go anywhere. See my full review.
A Night of The Living Dead, Alameda, Tuesday and Wednesday. This is fear without compromise. The slow, nearly unstoppable ghouls (sequels and imitations would later rename them zombies) were shockingly gruesome in 1968. Decades later, the shock is gone. But the dread and fear remain, made less spectacular but more emotionally gripping by the black and white photography. Night of the Living Dead is scary, effective, occasionally funny, and at times quite gross. It can be viewed as a satire of capitalism, a commentary on American racial issues, or simply as one of the scariest horror films ever made. Read my essay.
A Psycho, various CineMark Theaters, Sunday, 2:00; Wednesday, 2:00 & 7:00; UA Berkeley, Thursday, 9:00. You may never want to take a shower again. In his last great movie, Alfred Hitchcock pulls the rug out from under us several times, leaving the audience unsure who we’re supposed to be rooting for or what could constitute a happy ending. In roles that defined their careers, Janet Leigh stars as a secretary turned thief, and Anthony Perkins as a momma’s boy with a lot to hide. I’ll always regret that I knew too much about Psycho before I ever saw it; I wish I could erase all memory of this movie and watch it with fresh eyes.
B+ Halloween, Balboa, Wednesday and Thursday, Castro, Wednesday. In 1978, John Carpenter made a very good low-budget thriller that started a very bad genre: the slasher movie–also known as the dead teenager flick. In the original Halloween, an escaped psycho racks up a number of victims on the scariest night of the year. Yes, the story is absurd–the guy seems capable of getting into any place and sneaking up on anyone–but Carpenter and his co-screenwriter Debra Hill take the time to let us know these particular teenagers, and that makes all the difference. By the time he goes after the mature, responsible one (Jamie Lee Curtis), you’re really scared. The Castro will screen Halloween on a double bill with something called Strange Behavior.
B+ Ghostbusters, Castro, 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. On a double bill with Innerspace, which I saw a long time ago and remember not liking.
B The Phantom of the Opera (1925 version), Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, Saturday, 7:30. I haven’t seen the musical, but the original, silent Phantom is a tough one to beat (despite some pedestrian passages). Lon Chaney makes the perfect phantom–tragic, frightening, and yet strangely romantic. The demasking scene will stick in your memory for life. The newly-restored print (which I assume the Museum is showing) recreates the original tints, 2-color Technicolor, and painted stencil colors. With three shorts, including the Chaplin/Arbuckle vehicle The Rounders. Piano accompaniment by Frederick Hodges.
B Cabin in the Woods, New Parkway, Wednesday, 9:00. And speaking of dead teenager movies…By the 21st century, the only way to approach this sort of story was to make itan ironic comment on the genre (like Scream). This time around, a group of corporate white collar workers control, watch, and bet on the fate of four teenagers who leave town for a weekend and find only horror. By showing us the kid’s suffering through the uncaring eyes of the office workers, filmmakers Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon force us to confront the voyeuristic nature of the genre. But the movie’s ending just didn’t do it for me.