What’s Screening: November 21 – 27

The end-of-the-year film festival draught approaches. A lot of festivals ended last week. Only three are still running, and they’ll close before Thanksgiving.

And now, this week’s movies that I actually have an opinion about:

B+ The Better Angels, Opera Plaza, Shattuck, Rafael, opens Friday. This story of Abe Lincoln’s childhood concentrates on his relationship first with his mother, who died when he was very imageyoung, and then with the loving and supporting stepmother who recognized something special in this uneducated backwoods boy. Braydon Denney, a talented child actor who looks remarkably like a young Abraham Lincoln, plays Abe as a boy torn between the rural life that is all he’s ever known and a larger world that pulls at his curiosity. The artful, widescreen, black-and-white cinematography produces a distancing effect, as if we’re watching an old memory. Read my full review.

A+ The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Oakland Paramount, Friday, 8:00. As much as any other artist, John Ford defined and deepened the myth of the American West. libertyvalanceBut in his last masterpiece,The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Ford tears that myth down, reminding us that a myth is, when you come right down to it, a lie. Avoiding beautiful scenery and even color (a black and white western was a risky investment in 1962), Ford strips this story down to the essentials, and splits the classic Western hero into two: the man of principle (James Stewart) and the gunfighter (John Wayne).

A+ Capitalist epic double bill: Citizen Kane & There Will be Blood, Castro, Sunday. The A+, of course, goes to Citizen Kane, a movie so good it survived a half-century reputation as the Greatest Film Ever Made. As Orson Welles and hisimage collaborators tell the life story of a newspaper tycoon through flashbacks, they turn the techniques of cinema inside out. The result in revolutionary, insightful, and just plain fun. There Will Be Blood earns its own A for its big, sprawling, and spectacular telling of not just a moment in history, but a 30-year transition in the life of an oil speculator with frightful ambitions and even more frightful inner demons. Read my full review.

B+ The Triplets of Belleville, Balboa, Saturday, 10:00am. A modern, low-tripletsbellevillebudget, dialog-free animated film for adults (and teenagers; it’s rated PG-13). The story involves a French champion bicyclist who’s kidnapped by mobsters and brought to America to…Never mind, it’s just too weird to explain. But who cares? The jokes are funny, the visuals are clever and original, and the music swings (the triplets of the title are an aging big band trio).

A Blade Runner – The Final Cut, New Parkway, Friday, 10:30. Based on Philip K. Dick’snovel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, Blade Runner remains surprisingly thoughtful for ’80’s sci-fi–especially of the big budget variety. It ponders questions about the nature of humanity and our ability to objectify people when it suits our needs. Yet it never preaches. The script’s hazy at times; I never did figure out some of the connections, and a couple of important things happen at ridiculously convenient times. But art direction and music alone would make it a masterpiece. I’m assuming this is the same final cut I saw in 2008, and not a more final cut made since.

A Comedy Short Subject Night, Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, Saturday, 7:30. The Museum has a great selection of shorts this week. Like all of Chaplin’s Mutual’s, Pass the GravyThe Rink is an excellent example of two-reel comedy. The Boat is one of Keaton’s best shorts. Leave ’em Laughing isn’t my favorite silent Laurel & Hardy, but it delivers on what the title promises. But the real treat is Pass the Gravy, starring the pretty-much-forgotten Max Davidson. I don’t want to give away too much about this minor masterpiece—let’s just say it involves feuding fathers, young people in love, a prize chicken, and one of the funniest dinners on film.

B- Blazing Saddles, Castro, Wednesday. 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 imageinstitutional racism to the clichés of every other movie 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. On a ’70s comedy double bill with What’s Up Doc?, which I’ve never seen (and no, it doesn’t star Bugs Bunny).

A Boyhood, Castro, Tuesday; Elmwood, opens Wednesday. Fifty years from now, people will still watch Richard Linklater’s intimate epic. Shot off and on over a period of 12 years, Boyhoodimage allows us to watch young Mason and his family grow up and older. It isn’t an easy childhood. His parents are divorced, neither of them has much money, Dad is immature and Mom has bad taste in men. But Boyhood avoids the sort of horrible situations that drive most narrative films, and it’s all the better for it. By using the same actors over such a long period of time, Linklater creates a far more realistic picture than could be done with aging makeup or switching from a child actor to an adult one. Read my full review.

C- Gone with the Wind, Stanford, Friday. I love big historical epics, but the biggest of them all just leaves me flat. First, there’s that 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. 35mm print.