B+ Magician: The life and times of Citizen Welles, Opera Plaza, Rafael, Shattuck, opens Friday. Every cinephile must contemplate the strange phenomenon of Orson Welles. His first film, Citizen Kane, has frequently been called the "greatest film ever made." And yet he spent most of his life a failure, scrambling to raise money to make films, few of which made any money back. Chuck Workman’s documentary wisely replaces the usual voice-of-god narration with interviews–both archival and original–with friends, co-workers, admirers, lovers, and, of course, Welles, himself. Magician suffers from an ignore-the-warts perspective, but it’s still an informative and entertaining look at a very entertaining artist. Read my full review.
A Fantasy adventure double bill: King Kong (1933 version) & The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, Castro, Saturday. This is actually a triple bill, but I haven’t seen John Carpenter’s remake of The Thing, so I’m not discussing it. The A goes to the original King Kong. The first effects-laden adventure film of the sound era still holds up, thanks to Willis O’Brien’s breathtaking special effects, an intelligent script by Ruth Rose, and the evocative score by Max Steiner. But most of all, there’s Kong himself–the stuff of nightmares, but also confused, loving, majestic, and ultimately doomed. Ray Harryhausen’s 7th Voyage of Sinbad earns an honest B+. The stop-motion animation is splendid, and the story, while trivial, is fun.
B+ The Red Balloon (and other treats), Balboa, Saturday, 10:00am. Here’s a children’s masterpiece from France that doesn’t need subtitles. I first saw The Red Balloon in a museum screening at a very young age, and it stunned me with its wit, charm, simple story, and semi-sad ending–I hadn’t realized such a thing was possible. Director Albert Lamorisse uses visuals, music, and sound effects to tell his story of a young boy and his loyal pet balloon. The result is 34 minutes of pure charm–admittedly, not enough for a full feature. S0 the Balboa will screen The Red Balloon with assorted classic cartoons. Read my full review.
A Lovers on the run double bill: Moonrise Kingdom & Badlands, Castro, Wednesday. The A goes to Terrence Malick’s first feature, Badlands. A very young Martin Sheen and an even younger Sissy Spacek play lovers on a shockingly casual killing spree. Beautifully photographed, Badlands leaves you feeling shocked, confused, sympathetic, and terrified. Moonrise Kingdom, on the other hand, is just plain fun–Wes Anderson at his most playful.Two pre-teens in love run away–disrupting everything around them–especially the hapless and very funny authority figures played by Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Bruce Willis, and Tilda Swinton as “Social Services." I give this one an A-.
A Bringing Up Baby, Stanford, Friday through Sunday. How does one define a screwball comedy? You could say it’s a romantic comedy with glamorous movie stars behaving like broad, slapstick comedians. You could point out that screwballs are usually set amongst the excessively wealthy, and often explore class barriers. Or you could simply show Howard Hawks’ Bringing Up Baby, a frivolous and hilarious tale about a mild-mannered paleontologist (Cary Grant), a ditzy heiress (Katharine Hepburn), and a tame leopard (a tame leopard). On a double bill with This is the Night–the opening program for the Stanford’s new Cary Grant series.
B The Man Who Fell to Earth, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Sunday, 2:00. Movies were pretty weird in the ‘70s, but they didn’t get much weirder than this—at least with a major director and stars. David Bowie plays an alien who comes to Earth in search of water, but instead discovers capitalism, TV, alcohol, and human sex. Yet it’s not entirely clear what the film is about. Nicolas Roeg directed it, so you know that the movie won’t be about story. But the images are intriguing, the central characters are puzzles that cry out to be solved, and it has some very sexy scenes for your enjoyment. If for no other reason, see it to remind yourself what science fiction films could be like in the years between 2001 and Star Wars. Part of the series Cracked Actor: David Bowie On Screen.
A Blade Runner, Alameda, Tuesday and Wednesday. Based on Philip K. Dick’s novel 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.
B+ Spirited Away, New Parkway, Sunday, 1:00. Hayao Miyazaki’s masterpiece is a beautiful, complex, and occasionally scary tale of a young girl cast into a strange and magical world. The intriguing and imaginative creatures, not to mention the moral dilemmas, are beyond anything that Dorothy ever had to deal with in Oz.. A truly amazing work of animation. I’m knocking down the film’s grade from A to B+ because the New Parkway will screen the English dubbed version rather than the original Japanese one with subtitles.
A Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem, Lark, opens Friday. Viviane Amsalem moved out of her husband’s home years ago. But her remote and stubborn spouse won’t give her a divorce. The resulting court case spans years in this chamber drama set in Israel, where only the husband can initiate a divorce. The filmmakers chose a simple, direct, and very effective way to tell their story. Although the film covers many years in the lives of the main characters, it’s entirely set in a small, plain judicial chamber and an adjoining waiting room. While clearly an indictment of Israeli marital laws, it’s also an intimate tale of a very bad marriage, told in an atmosphere of extreme claustrophobia. Read my full review.
A- Birdman, New Parkway, opens Friday. Michael Keaton plays a has-been movie star, who may or may not have superpowers, hoping to gain artistic respectability by writing, directing, and performing in a Broadway play. Edward Norton plays an actor who already has the respect of critics, but is only fully himself when he’s on stage. Like Hitchcock’s Rope, Birdman pretends it was shot in a single take. But unlike Rope,the gimmick works this time around–better technology, I suppose. Much of the film is hysterically funny, but the picture is just a bit too long, and in the end it doesn’t quite satisfy. From Alejandro González Iñárritu, whose Babel was my favorite film of 2006.
B+ The Imitation Game, Castro, Thursday; New Parkway, opens Friday. This very British biopic takes considerable liberties in dramatizing the life of Alan Turing. For instance, he appears to have severe Asperger, when the real Turning had nothing of the sort. But it successfully results in an effective, entertaining, and sympathetic tragedy about a man who played important roles in both winning World War II and laying the groundwork for computers, but was hounded to suicide by an intolerant society. Like so many English period pieces, The Imitation Game works primarily as a showcase for actors. Cumberbatch does a variation on his Sherlock Holmes, but he digs deeper here. His emotional struggles are more real. Keira Knightley plays the only woman on his team. See my longer article.
Mystery Science Theater 3000, New Parkway, Friday, 10:30. Regular readers know that I’m a fan of the classic bad-movie-with-commentary TV show, Mystery Science Theater 3000. I have never seen an episode on the big screen with a full audience, but I suspect I’d enjoy it–especially if it’s a really good episode. I hope this will be a good episode, no one is telling us which one will be screened.