No film festivals this week. Not many films I can tell you about, either. If it wasn’t for the Castro, this would be a very short newsletter.
On the other hand, the newsletter has a whole new look–one that should be more mobile friendly.
A Orson Welles Centennial Double Bill: Touch of Evil & Magician: The Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles , Castro, Sunday
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 a profit. Welles’ noir classic, Touch of Evil, earns this double bill an A. Along with directing, Welles makes a bloated, scary, yet strangely sympathetic villain. Janet Leigh is a lovely damsel in distress, and hero Charlton Heston, though miscast, manages the role well. Chuck Workman’s documentary about Welles, Magician, suffers from an ignore-the-warts perspective, but it’s still an informative and entertaining look at a sometimes great artist. I give it a B+. Read my full review.
A Matt Shepard is a Friend of Mine, New Parkway, Saturday, 4:20; Tuesday, 7:00.
If a film makes me cry, it gets an A. This documentary about the horrific, homophobic murder of a young gay man had me all but audibly sobbing. In 1998, Matthew Shepard was savagely beaten, tortured, tied to a fence, and left to die. In telling his story, Director Michele Josue wisely focuses on his friends and–more importantly–his parents. The result is deeply sad, but also inspiring, because you meet so many decent, loving human beings. Read my full review.
A+ The Godfather, UA Berkeley, Thursday, 9:00.
Francis Coppola, taking the job simply because he needed the money, turned Mario Puzo’s potboiler into the Great American Crime Epic. Marlon Brando may have top billing, but Al Pacino owns the film (and became a star) as Michael Corleone, the respectable youngest son reluctantly and inevitably pulled into a life of crime he doesn’t want but for which he proves exceptionally well-suited. A masterpiece of character, atmosphere, and heart-stopping violence.
A- The Grand Budapest Hotel, Castro, Tuesday.
Once again, Wes Anderson is playing with us, and what fun it is to be played. In this story within a story within a story, the concierge of a magnificent European hotel (Ralph Fiennes) takes a young bellhop under his wing and teaches him about hostelry and life, while also trying to save his own skin from some very well-connected thugs. All quite silly, except that I think there’s a message about the rise of Fascism in there somewhere (the innermost story is set in the early ’30s). The hotel, which sits on a high mountain’s peak, is one of those places that you want to visit but could only exist in a movie. This is the sort of picture where the local newspaper is called The Trans-Alpine Yodeler. On a double bill with The Hotel New Hampshire.
B The Wrecking Crew, Castro, Monday
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. On a double bill with Danny Collins.
B- The Birds, Castro, Saturday.
Alfred Hitchcock’s only out-and-out fantasy has some great sequences. The scene where Tippi Hedren calmly sits and smokes while crows gather on playground equipment, and the following attack on the children, are classics. The lovely Bodega Bay location adds atmosphere and local color, and many of the special effects were way ahead of their time. But the story is weak, the ending unsatisfactory, and that lovely scenery plays side-by-side with obvious soundstage mockups. Worse yet, new-comer Hedren doesn’t provide a single believable moment. She’s beautiful, but utterly lacking in acting talent or charisma. On a double bill with Q, which I haven’t seen.