The Albert Maysles Memorial Film Festival opens tonight and runs through the week. Although I’ve seen several of the films to be screened, I haven’t seen any of them recently enough for me to offer an opinion.
A- Iris, Clay, Shattuck, Rafael, opens Friday. Iris Apfel, a fixture in the New York fashion scene well in her 90s, dresses herself in loud, bright, and absurd clothes, augmented with even crazier accessories. And yet she looks great. Apfel still embraces her work with enthusiasm, and thus embraces life. Maysles follows her as she attends shows, shops in specialty stores in Harlem, shows off all of the absurd toys in her apartment, and treats her husband of more than 60 years to his 100th birthday party. And she’s almost always smiling. Read my full review.
A+ Hoop Dreams, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Saturday and Sunday, 2:00. I’d be hard put to name another documentary that feels so much like a narrative feature. This cinéma vérité story of two inner-city teenagers hoping to win basketball scholarships offers charismatic protagonists, interesting and likeable supporting players, plot twists, joy, disappointment, and suspense–just like the best narrative features. The filmmakers followed both boys through high school, and over the nearly three-hour running time (and the five years of shooting), you become completely invested in their story and their families. The picture is really about the American dream, and the people whom society all but disqualifies from attaining it. Read my Blu-ray review. Part of the series Basketball Jones.
A- Man with a Movie Camera, Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, Saturday, 7:30. Several features from the late silent era recreated a day in the life of a city through documentary footage of people at work and play. But Dziga Vertov livened it up with strange and comical double exposures and visual effects, and by creating a maddeningly fast pace in the editing room. He also made this movie something of a meta-documentary, spending considerable time following a cameraman traveling throughout the city filming what he sees. The result is exhilarating and entertaining. It’s also, of course, Communist propaganda. Vertov paints a picture of the Stalinist USSR as a place where people work hard, then play hard in healthy activities. No starving Ukrainians here. Fredrick Hodges will accompany the film on piano.
A His Girl Friday, Stanford, Friday through Sunday. Director Howard Hawks turned Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur’s hit play The Front Page into a love triangle by making ace reporter Hildy Johnson a woman (Rosalind Russell), and scheming editor Walter Burns (Cary Grant) her ex-husband. And thus was born one of the funniest screwball comedies of them all–with some of the fastest dialog ever recorded, yet always clear and almost always funny. And as a side bit, there’s a bit of serious drama thrown in about an impending execution. On a double bill with Wedding Present.
A+ Taxi Driver, Castro, Wednesday. When I think of the 1970s as a golden age of Hollywood-financed serious cinema, I think of Robert De Niro walking the dark, mean streets of New York, slowly turning into a psychopath. Writer Paul Schrader and director Martin Scorsese put together this near-perfect study of loneliness as a disease. It isn’t that De Niro’s character hasn’t found the right companion, or society has failed him, or that he doesn’t understand intimacy. His problems stem from the fact that he’s mentally incapable of relating to other human beings. This is a sad and pathetic man, with a rage that will inevitably turn violent. For more about Taxi Driver, seemy Blu-ray review. On a double bill with Rolling Thunder.
A+ The Godfather Part II, Balboa, Thursday, 7:30. By juxtaposing the material rise of Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando in the first film,a young Robert De Niro here) with the moral fall of his son Michael (Al Pacino again), Mario Puzo and Francis Coppola show us the long-term effects of what seemed like a good idea at the time. De Niro plays young Vito as a loving family man who cares only for his wife and children, and turns to crime to better support them. But in Michael–consolidating his empire some thirty years later–we see the ultimate disastrous effects of that decision. Pacino plays him as a tragic monster who senses his own emptiness. My apologies for failing to note last week’s screening of The Godfather.
A Fargo, Castro, Tuesday; New Parkway, 9:30. The ultimate crime-gone-wrong thriller and theCoen Brothers’ masterpiece,Fargo treads that thin line between the horrific and the hilarious while never forgetting the humane. With star-making performances by William H. Macy, as a man in way over his head, and Frances McDormand, as a very pregnant cop with a lot of empathy and common sense. Also starring the the bleakest snowscapes in American cinema. Read My Thoughts on Fargo. On a double bill with Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter.
A Cheatin’, Roxie, Sunday, 5:15. 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.
B The Wrecking Crew, Lark, Saturday, 8:25; Wednesday, 8:00. Now you can meet the artists behind the addictive riffs on “Da Doo Ron Ron,” "California Dreamin’," and the theme music for Mission: Impossible. This mostly entertaining documentary introduces the successful but little-known musicians who added magic to some of the best songs of the 1960s. The musicians profiled include Carol Kaye or the late Tommy Tedesco (the director’s father); you may not know those names, but you’ve heard their playing. The film lacks a strong narrative line, and thus sags a bit in the middle. But for the most part, it’s a fun look at how professional music gets (or got) made. Read my full review.
B+ Clouds of Sils Maria, Shattuck, Guild, 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.
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.