No film festivals this week, but there are still a whole lot of theaters screening Star Wars: The Force Awakens (I have tickets for this Thursday). Here are some other films screening around the Bay this week.
A- Spotlight, Piedmont, Shattuck, already playing
A quartet of dogged and determined journalists at the Boston Globe blows open the Catholic Church’s sex abuse scandal. Most of the characters are nominally Catholic, complicating their feelings about the work. Based on a true story, Spotlight celebrates real investigative journalism, backed up by an editor and publisher who are willing to take chances. An excellent cast headed by Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, and Liev Schrieber brings drama to a story whose ending we already know.
A+ My 3 favorite MGM musicals in 2 double bills: Singin’ in the Rain & another great musical, Castro, Wednesday and Thursday
If I had to name the best work of pure escapist entertainment to ever come out of Hollywood, I would probably pick this 1952 MGM musical about the talkie revolution of the late 1920s. Take out the songs, and you still have one of the best comedies of the 1950′s, and the funniest movie Hollywood ever made about itself. But why take out the songs? They’re the best part. The double bill varies depending on the day you go:
- A The Band Wagon, Wednesday
I give a very high A to The Band Wagon, easily the best Fred Astaire vehicle without Ginger Rogers. What sets it apart is a small dose of reality in the otherwise frivolous mix. Astaire’s character, an aging movie star nervously returning to Broadway, is clearly based on Astaire himself.
- A On the Town, Thursday
Three sailors arrive in New York for a 24-hour leave–barely enough time to see the sights, drink in the atmosphere, and fall in love. What makes On the Town so special–beyond the great songs, terrific choreography, and witty script–is the prevailing sense of friendship and camaraderie between the sailors and the women who fall for them.
A+ Charlie Chaplin double bill: City Lights & Modern Times, Castro, Tuesday
The A+ goes Charlie Chaplin’s most perfect comedy, City Lights. The little tramp falls in love with a blind flower girl and befriends a suicidal, alcoholic millionaire, but neither of them know the real Charlie. The result is funny and touching, with one of cinema’s greatest endings. Read my Blu-ray review. In Modern Times, Chaplin rings laughter out of assembly lines, mechanization, and the depression, with the tramp moving from job to job and jail to jail. I give it an A-. Made after the talkie revolution, both of these movies are essentially silent films released with recorded musical accompaniment.
A+ The Godfather, Part II, Castro, Monday
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. Read my A+ discussion. On a very strange double bill with Woody Allen’s Radio Days.
A+ Casablanca, Roxie, Friday & Saturday
You’ve either already seen the best film to come out of the classic Hollywood studio system, or you know you should. Let me just add that no one who worked on Casablanca thought they were making a masterpiece; it was just another sausage coming off the Warner assembly line. But somehow, just this once, the sausage came out perfect. For more details, see Casablanca: The Accidental Masterpiece. On a double bill with Bob the Gambler (AKA Bob Le Flambeur), which I have to admit I’ve never seen.
A Trumbo, Aquarius, Lark, opens Friday; New Parkway, opens Saturday
Jay Roach turns the story of blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo into a lively, entertaining, and important drama. Bryan Cranston of Breaking Bad makes a funny and complex Trumbo, and the rest of the cast—almost all of them playing real people—all do a fine job, with Helen Mirren’s Hedda Hopper standing out. As with all biopics, there’s a lot of fiction here, but it gets to the heart of the true story about a dark but important era in the history of Hollywood and America.
Read my full review. [[12/28 correction: I did not write a full review of this film. I did write, in 2008, a full review of a documentary also called Trumbo, and mistakenly added a link here. My apologies, and my thanks to Lea D. for catching my error.]]
A- Bridge of Spies, New Parkway, opens Friday
Steven Spielberg’s cerebral cold war espionage drama pits a New York lawyer (Tom Hanks) against a USA unwilling to give a Russian spy a fair trial. But when the USSR shoots down an American spy plane and captures the pilot, the lawyer finds himself learning new skills quickly as a top-secret negotiator arranging a spy swap. Bridge of Spies captures the fear and paranoia on both sides at the very moment when the Berlin Wall was going up. The Coen brothers worked on the screenplay, which shows flashes of what was probably their wit. Read my full review.
A Janis: Little Girl Blue, Roxie, opens Saturday
Janis Joplin’s voice seemed to come out of nowhere. But in reality, it came out of the pain and joy and despair and sexuality of a young woman brimming with so much emotion that you felt she might explode. If you’ve ever loved Janis Joplin’s work, this film will reignite that love. If you don’t understand what she was all about, it makes a great introduction to one of the greatest and most influential performers in popular music. Filmmaker Amy Berg put together a touching documentary that finds the right interviews and keeps the music front and center. Read my full review.