A Kill Me Three Times, Opera Plaza, Shattuck, opens Friday. Simon Pegg stars as a professional killer surrounded by amateurs in this very funny thriller from Australia. This is the sort of movie where a gruesome, bloody murder is interrupted by a ringtone, and the murderer delays pulling the trigger to answer the call. I can’t tell you a lot about the plot without giving too much of it away, but I can tell you that it reminded me of the Coen brothers’ first film, Blood Simple. With Alice Braga as the very nice person that everyone wants to kill. Read my full review.
B+ Invasion of the Body Snatchers double bill: Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) & Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), Roxie, Friday. The best alien invasion movie of the 1950’s (and no, that’s not damning with faint praise), is noir, sci-fi, and political allegory. Whether it’s an anti-Communist parable or an anti-McCarthy one depends on your point of view. The 1978 remake, made in San Francisco, isn’t quite as good as the original, but it’s still an enjoyable thriller. Each film earns a B+. Phil Kaufman, who directed the 1978 version, will be there in person.
B+ Unforgiven, Castro, Sunday, 6:25. For most of the film’s runtime, Unforgiven brilliantly critiques and deconstructs the western genre. Violence is ugly, painful, and cruel. What’s more, it never solves anything. "It’s a hell of a thing, killin’ a man," says Eastwood’s character, "You take away all he’s got and all he’s ever gonna have." But it all falls apart in the last act, when it becomes worse than unbelievable. It destroys everything that the film said up until that point, and turning a great film into a disappointment. You can read my longer essay, but be warned; it has spoilers. On a double bill with American Sniper.
A Bonnie and Clyde, Alameda, Tuesday and Wednesday. This low-budget gangster movie, produced by and starring Warren Beatty , hit a nerve with young audiences in 1967 and became a big surprise hit. Shocking in its time for both the violence and sexual frankness (matching a horny Bonnie with an impotent Clyde), it still hits below the belt today. The title characters become alienated youth, glamorous celebrities, good kids who made a bad decision, selfish jerks, and tragic heroes with a sealed fate.
A+ Brazil, Balboa, Tuesday, 7:30. One of the best black comedies ever filmed, and the best dystopian fantasy on celluloid. In a bizarre, repressive, anally bureaucratic, and thoroughly dysfunctional society, one government worker (Jonathan Pryce) tries to escape into his own romantically heroic imagination. But when he finds a real woman who looks like the girl of his dreams (Kim Greist), everything starts to fall apart. With Robert De Niro as a heroic plumber. This is the second and best of Gilliam’s three great fantasies of the 1980’s, and the only one clearly intended for adults. Read my Blu-ray review.
A The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, Balboa, Thursday, 7:30. Considering the unethical behavior of the three leads, Sergio Leone’s epic Civil War western should have been called The Bad, the Worse, and the Totally Reprehensible. While the Civil War rages around them, three outlaws battle lawmen, prison guards, and each other for a fortune in stolen gold. They’re all killers, but morality is relative when armies are slaughtering thousands. Check your scruples at the door and enjoy the double- and triple-crosses, the black comedy, the beautiful Techniscope photography of Spain doubling as the American west, and Ennio Morricone’s legendary score. Read my longer report.
A Sunset Boulevard, Castro, Wednesday. Billy Wilder’s meditation on Hollywood’s seedy underbelly is the flip side of Singin’ in the Rain (now that would make a great double bill). Norma Desmond is very much Lena Lamont after twenty-two years of denial and depression. And in the role of Norma, Gloria Swanson gives one of the great over-the-top performances in Hollywood history.
A The Big Lebowski, Castro, Thursday. I revisited this cult favorite last year, seeing it for the first time in a theater, and it’s a much better movie than I remembered. This is one exceptional comedy–a Raymond Chandler story where Philip Marlowe has been replaced with a happily unemployed, perpetually stoned, thoroughly inept slacker who calls himself "the Dude" (Jeff Bridges). Behind the laughs, you can find a thin, barely grasped sense of Zen–as if you could throw yourself to the universe and everything will come out okay…unless it doesn’t. The wonderful supporting cast includes Sam Elliott, John Turturro, Julianne Moore. Philip Seymour Hoffman, and John Goodman as the funniest Vietnam vet ever to suffer from PTSD. (Actually, his friends do most of the suffering.) On a double bill with Cutter’s Way.
A- The Princess Bride, New Parkway, opens Friday. William Goldman’s enchanting and funny fairy tale dances magically along that thin line between parody and the real thing. Cary Elwes and Robin Wright , back when they were young and gorgeous, make a wonderful set of star-crossed lovers. And Mandy Patinkin has a lot of fun as a revenge-filled swashbuckler. There’s no funnier swordfight anywhere, and who can forget cinema’s greatest acronym, ROUS (rodents of unusual size). On the other hand, some of the big-name cameos can grate on your nerves.
B+ Under African Skies, Lark, Saturday, 8:00. You can find plenty of political music documentaries, but few that examine both sides of a difficult controversy. This doc, which covers the making of Paul Simon’s hit album Graceland and the controversy over Simon’s breaking the South African cultural boycott of the time, is the exception. Structured around a friendly 2011 chat between Simon and Artists Against Apartheid Founder Dali Tambo, it asks whether it was right for Simon to have recorded music in South Africa when he did, and doesn’t come down with an easy answer. Despite a few brief scenes of jam sessions, it left me wishing they had included more concert footage; you seldom get to hear a song from beginning to end. Also on the bill: The Vukani Mawethu Choir.
B+ British Genius Double Bill: The Imitation Game & The Theory of Everything, Castro, Monday. Two very good showcases for English acting., The Imitation Game takes considerable liberties with the life of Alan Turing, but successfully provides an entertaining story. See my longer article. Since Stephen Hawking is still alive, we can safely assume that The Theory of Everything is the authorized version. But it still works as a drama covering many decades in the man’s life. Read my full comments. Each film earns an B+ on its own merits.
B- What We Do in the Shadows, Balboa, Lark, opens Friday. This vampire mockumentary’s basic idea is funny and promising: A documentary camera crew follow the afterlives of four vampires who share a house in a modern city. They argue about household chores, go out looking for victims, and talk directly into the camera about their undead but still active existences. But the basic idea begins to wear out around the half-way point. The jokes are still funny, but they come farther apart. From the creators of HBO’s Flight of the Conchords. Read my full review.
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.