A Cheatin’, Elmwood, Roxie, opens Friday. Visuals reflect emotional states in this dialog-free romance by Bill Plympton, arguably the strangest, most brilliant animator around. For instance, when a wife reaches out to touch her estranged husband, her hand keeps extending across great distances as she tries to bridge the widening gap in their widening bed. The story of love, lust, and jealousy is funny, touching, heartbreaking, and carried entirely by Plympton’s surreal and instantly recognizable hand-drawn animation. Read my full review.
A- Ex Machina, Kabuki, opens Friday. This surprisingly intelligent film about artificial intelligence follows two men–one of whom is clearly insane–as they go beyond the Turing test to determine if a "female" robot is truly sentient. The story is basically Frankenstein, and like that classic, it’s not all-together believable, but still manages to bring up important questions. Can you be human without sexuality? Can the titans of tech do whatever they want with our private deeds and thoughts? If you create a sentient machine, is it immoral to replace it with version 2.0? And how does the sexual objectification of women fit in here? Read my full review.
B+ Clouds of Sils Maria, Embarcadero, Albany, Rafael, opens Friday. A great actress (Juliette Binoche) reluctantly accepts a part in a revival of the play that made her famous long ago. But this time, she’ll be playing a different, older character. To prepare for the role, the actress and her personal assistant (Kristen Stewart) take up residence in a remote house located in an astonishingly beautiful part of the Swiss Alps. As they run lines, they almost unconsciously work through their own complicated relationship, which only slightly echoes play’s characters. This isn’t quite a two-person film, but Binoche and Stewart truly carry the picture. Read my full review.
A Trouble in Paradise, Stanford, Wednesday and Thursday. What’s so fascinating and entertaining about witty, sophisticated crooks that makes us want to root for them? I’m not sure, but this near-perfect pre-code screwball proves that whatever it is, it works. Yet another wonderfully amoral Ernst Lubitsch comedy about sex, love, money, and larceny. Starring Miriam Hopkins, Kay Francis, and Herbert Marshall. On a double bill with We Live Again, which I have not seen.
B+ Wendy and Lucy, Pacific Film Archive, Wednesday, 3:10. Wendy (Michelle Williams) hopes she can find work in Alaska, but first she has to get to Alaska. Traveling with her dog Lucy, she sleeps in her car and watches every penny. In other words, she can’t afford disaster. And when her car breaks down in a small Oregon town, one disaster leads to another. A sobering film for economic hard times. Read my full review. Part of the series and college class, Film 50: History of Cinema.
A- Harold and Maude, Castro, Wednesday. The 1971 comedy Harold and Maude fit the late hippy era as perfectly as Pink Floyd and the munchies. At a time when young Americans were embracing non-conformity, free love, ecstatic joy, and 40-year-old Marx Brothers movies, this counterculture romance between an alienated and death-obsessed young man and an almost 80-year-old woman made total sense. The broad and outrageous humor helped considerably. But I do wish that screenwriter Colin Higgins had found a better ending. See my full discussion. On a double bill with A New Leaf, which I haven’t seen.
Excelsior Presents The Ciname Obscura 16mm Crazy Quilt, Art House Gallery, Berkeley, Sunday, 7:30. This collection of 16mm clips promises to include "Camp, Schlock, and Weird Stuff of Every Description," including "short films, soundies, clips, fragments of early TV, home movies, adult entertainment, cartoons, educational subjects and just plain oddities."
A Disaster triple bill: Airplane, San Francisco, & Airport 1975, Castro, Saturday. The A goes to Airplane, where they’re flying on instruments, blowing the autopilot, and translating English into jive. I’d be hard-pressed to name another post-silent feature with such a high laugh-to-minute ratio. San Francisco, a big, silly, melodramatic special effects vehicle from 1936, earns a B-, thanks to the earthquake, the fire, and the great title song. It also tries to have it both ways–celebrating the non-conformist, hedonistic city by the bay while covering itself in a thick layer of Christian moralizing. I haven’t seen Airport 1975, and I plan to keep it that way.
A+ Raiders of the Lost Ark, Castro, Sunday. Steven Spielberg directed it, and the bad guys are Nazis, but it’s as far from Schindler’s List as a great movie can get. But then, it’s great in an entirely different way. There’s absolutely nothing to take seriously in Raiders of the Lost Ark; just entertainment at its purist. The story is fundamentally preposterous, and the hero (Harrison Ford) is no more an archeologist than I am a butterfly. But the energy is so high, the action scenes so brilliantly choreographed and edited, and the whole story told with such enthusiasm and wit, that everything else just doesn’t matter. On a double bill with 1941, which I’ve never seen.
A Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Castro, Friday. The most-loved Star Trek movie gives us everything that its predecessor failed to deliver: an exciting and entertaining adventure starring the seven actors and characters that we learned to love from the original TV show.–and a chance for several of those actors to shine. This has almost everything you would want in a Star Trek movie. On a double bill with the 1960 version of The Time Machine which I haven’t seen in decades.
B+ (maybe A) Aliens, New Parkway, Thursday, 9:30. Less of a horror film and more of an action flick (or, arguably, a war movie), it strands a platoon of marines on a barely hospitable planet infested with the big, egg-laying predators. Sigourney Weaver stars again. I suspect that the New Parkway will screen the original, 137-minute cut, which deserves a B+. But I’m hoping they screen the 154-minute director’s cut, which goes into more character detail and is a much better film. I’d give that version an A.
A The Big Lebowski, New Parkway, Monday, 9:30. 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.) Subject to change due to Warriors playoffs.
B+ Sing-Along Wizard of Oz, Lark, Sunday, 3:00. 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. I have not experienced the sing-along version.
C Sound of Music, various CineMark Theaters, Sunday and Wednesday. Many people love it, but I find the biggest money maker of the 1960s just plain bland–not funny or romantic enough to be light entertainment, yet lacking the substance to be anything else. And most of the songs give the impression that, by their last collaboration, Roger and Hammerstein had run out of steam. On the other hand, the Todd-AO photography of Alpine landscapes makes this one of the most visually beautiful of Hollywood movies–in a picture postcard kind of way.