What’s Screening: December 26 – January 1

No festivals this week, but I do have a disclaimer: I wrote this newsletter a week early in order to give myself some vacation time. I may miss some screenings, or include some that have since been postponed.

A Metropolis,Thursday, 7:30. The first important science fiction feature film still strikes a considerable visual punch, and with the latest restoration, tells a compelling story. The images–workers in a hellish underground factory, the wealthy at play, a robot brought to life in the form of a beautiful woman–are a permanent part of our collective memory. Even people who haven’t seen Metropolis know them through the countless films it has influenced. Recently-discovered footage, which restores it to something very much like the original cut, elevates the story of a clash between workers and aristocrats from trite melodrama to grand opera. Read my longer report and my Blu-ray review. The Balboa website doesn’t mention accompaniment,  so I assume it will screen with the recorded score. The opening title in the new Balboa Classics series.

C+ Very strange, very long slavery double bill: Gone with the Wind & Django Unchained, Castro, Sunday, 2:30. If you’re going to show a loved yet undeniably pro-slavery classic like Gone with the Wind, balancing it out with something that attacks slavery makes a lot of sense. The C+ goes to Django Unchained, which is clever, entertaining, way over the top in its gruesome violence, and utterly hollow on the inside. It uses a great crime against humanity as an excuse for a splatter-filled revenge flick. Read my more complete opinion. Gone with the Wind rates only a C-. As entertainment, the first half is pretty good and the second half pretty boring. Much worse, the entire story depends on assumptions of white masters and black slaves as the natural order. You can read my in-depth comments. Warning: These two films have a combined runtime of over 6 1/2 hours, and that doesn’t include the two intermissions.

B Citizenfour, New Parkway, Tuesday, 7:00.  Laura Poitras camera puts us in  the Hong Kong hotel room where imageEdward Snowden told Glenn Greenwald about the NSA’s horrendous destruction of our privacy. Those four days of interviews make up the film’s centerpiece. Snowden comes off mostly as a self-effacing nerd who understands right from wrong. But the long discussions in the hotel room become visually boring, despite the important and fascinating story at their core. Read my longer essay.

A+ Bogart Double Bill: Casablanca & The African Queen, Castro, Friday. The A+ goes to Casablanca. No one who worked on this movie thoughtcasablanca they were making a masterpiece; it was just another sausage coming off the Warner assembly line. But somehow, this time, everything came together perfectly. For more details, see Casablanca: The Accidental Masterpiece. On its own, The African Queen would still rate an A. The start of World War I traps an earthy working-class mechanic (Bogart) and a prim and proper missionary (Katherine Hepburn) behind enemy lines and hundreds of miles of jungle. It’s a bum and a nun on the run, facing rapids, insects,German guns, and romance between two moderately-attractive middle-aged people in filthy clothes.

A All About Eve, Castro, Saturday. Here’s your chance to explore imagethe sordid ambition behind Broadway’s (and by implication, Hollywood’s) glamour. Anne Baxter plays the title character, an apparently sweet and innocent actress whom aging diva Bette Davis takes under her wing. But Eve isn’t anywhere near as innocent as she appears. Fasten your seatbelts; it’s going to be a bumpy ride. On a double bill with The Women, which I haven’t seen.

B+ The Ten Commandments, Stanford, Friday through Sunday. I enjoy a strange relationship with the biggest commercial hit of the 1950s. With its simplistic characters, corny dialog, and overriding atmosphere of pomposity, The Ten Commandments is the ultimate unintentional comedy. And yet, it’s also a rich, generous, and entertaining spectacle, and a visually lovely motion picture. It has one truly impressive, low-key performance (Cedric Hardwicke as Sethi). At times, it even succeeds in its simplistic spirituality. Read my Blu-ray review.

A+ Singin’ in the Rain, Castro, Thursday. . In 1952, the late twenties seemed like a fond memory of an innocent time, and nostalgia was a imagelarge part of Singin’ in the Rain’s original appeal. The nostalgia is long gone, so we can clearly see this movie for what it is: the greatest musical ever filmed, and perhaps the best work of pure escapist entertainment to ever come out of Hollywood. Take out the songs, which are easily the best part of the movie, and you still have one of the best comedies of the 1950′s, and the funniest movie Hollywood ever made about itself.

B+ The Music Man, Castro, Monday. One of my childhood  favorites doesn’t quite look like a masterpiece anymore. But it’s still big, dazzling, funny, and filled with catchy tunes. Robert Preston carries the picture as imageProfessor Harold Hill, the conman who pretends to be a music teacher, and deep down wants to be one. The cast is rounded out with Shirley Jones, Buddy Hackett, Paul Ford, and the Buffalo Bills (this may be the only major Hollywood movie featuring a barbershop quartet). Shot in Technirama–a process that used twice as much film for each frame than standard 35mm–The Music Man really should be experienced on a large, wide screen. On a double bill with My Fair Lady, which I saw once on Laserdisc about 20 years ago.

B+ MGM 30s double bill: The Thin Man & A Day at the Races, Castro, Tuesday. The B+ goes to The Thin Man, which manages to be a murder mystery, a screwball comedy, a imagewallow in classic MGM glamour, and a 93-minute commercial for alcohol as the secret to a happy marriage. Also the start of a very long franchise. William Powell and Myrna Loy make great chemistry as the rich, drunk-and-in-love pair with a little murder to clear up. I can only give a B- to Marx Brothers’ sixth film, A Day at the Races. By this time, the Brothers had become tame. The movie has some funny scenes, but Groucho, Harpo and Chico had lost a lot of their edge when they made this one.

B+ The Wizard of Oz, Oakland Paramount, Friday, 8:00. I don’t really have to tell you about this one, do I? Well, perhaps I have to explain why I’m only giving it a B+. Despite its clever songs, lush Technicolor photography, and one great performance (Bert Lahr’s Cowardly Lion), The Wizard of Oz never struck me as the masterpiece that everyone else sees. It’s a good, fun movie, but not quite fun enough to earn an A.