What’s Screening: January 29 – February 4

We’ve got two festivals this week, but both close Sunday: Noir City and the Bay Area International Children’s Film Festival.

But only three days later, the Pacific Film Archive will open again for business in its new digs.

B- 45 Years, Embarcadero Center, Shattuck, Aquarius, Rafael, opens Friday

Not much happens in Andrew Haigh’s chamber drama about a married couple approaching their 45th anniversary. The wife (Charlotte Rampling) discovers that her husband (Tom Courtenay) almost married someone else years before they met. They talk calmly to each other, and only once does one of them seem to be on the verge of maybe getting a bit warm under the collar. The film’s calm and even tone is both its strength and its weakness. We can’t help but sympathize with them and consider the inevitable problems of a long marriage, but the film gets dull the conflict seems silly. Read my full review.

A The Seventh Seal, Pacific Film Archive, Thursday, 7:30

A knight (Max von Sydow) returning from the Crusades plays chess with Death (Bengt Ekerot) while the plague ravages the land. But while the knight thinks about eternity, his life-embracing squire (Gunnar Björnstrand) reminds us what it really means to be human. Filled with wonderful characters, religious allegory, and sly humor, it bursts with a love of humanity and a fear for our place in the universe. Yes, it’s the often-parodied Ingmar Bergman movie that became the cliché of 1950s European art films, but that never would have happened if it hadn’t been so good. Introduced by Barbro Osher and Linda Haverty Rugg. New 35mm print.

A His Girl Friday, Balboa, Thursday, 7:30

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.

A Chimes At Midnight, Alamo Drafthouse New Mission, Friday through Sunday

Duty to country conflicts with loyalty to friends in one of the best and most unusual Shakespeare adaptations in the cinema. As adapter and director, Orson Welles combined the best parts of Henry IV Part I (my favorite Shakespeare play), Henry IV Part II (a weak sequel with a great final act), and Merry Wives of Windsor to create a whole greater than its parts–funny, rousing, and ultimately tragic. And if anyone was ever born to play Falstaff, it was Orson Welles.

A+ Double bill: Casablanca & Notorious, Stanford, through Sunday

Each of these movies earns an A+ on its own. The people who made Casablanca thought it was just another sausage coming off the Warner assembly line. But somehow, this story of love, loyalty, and adultery in Vichy-occupied North Africa came out almost perfectly. Read my article, Casablanca: The Accidental Masterpiece. In Notorious, a scandal-ridden Ingrid Bergman proves her patriotism by seducing and marrying Claude Rains’ Nazi industrialist while true love Cary Grant–who sent her on this mission–grimly watches. Sexy, romantic, thought-provoking, and scary enough to shorten your fingernails. Read my Blu-ray Review.

B- Blazing Saddles, several CineMark Theaters, Sunday (matinee only) and Wednesday)

The most beloved western comedy of all time doesn’t do all that much for me. Sure, it has moments of great laughter as it lampoons everything from the clichés of the genre to institutional racism to the clichés of every other movie genre. But for every joke that hits home, two are killed by Mel Brooks’ over-the-top, beat-the-audience-over-the-head directing style. If you’re looking for western laughs, Paleface, Son of Paleface, Support Your Local Sheriff, and Shanghai Noon all beat Blazing Saddles.

B+ Brooklyn, Lark, opens Friday

In this essentially American tale, a young woman immigrates from a small village in Ireland to the Big Apple, where she finds work, friendship, glamorous clothing, and romance. About halfway through the nearly two-hour runtime, things were going so well for her that I found myself wondering how the filmmakers could sustain the story. Then tragedy forces her to return to Ireland, and her home town becomes the collective villain, trying to keep her “where she belongs.” The film is set in the early 1950s.

Noir City

All screenings at the Castro.

B+ Scarlet Street, Saturday, 4:15 (complete show starts at 1:00)

If you’re lonely, bored, professionally unfulfilled, and stuck in a bad marriage, beware of beautiful women who seem interested in you–especially if you look like Edward G. Robinson. A cashier who dabbles in painting on the side (Robinson) falls for a dame who easily wraps him around her finger (Joan Bennett). Soon he’s stealing from his boss and letting the dame take credit for his suddenly successful paintings. You know this isn’t going to go well. A fine noir written by Dudley Nichols and directed by Fritz Lang. The last feature on a triple bill with the 1944 versions of The Lodger and Bluebeard.

B+ The Red Shoes, Friday, 7:15

This 1948 Technicolor fable about sacrificing oneself for art makes a slight story. Luckily, the characters, all fanatically devoted to their work, and all very British, make up for it—at least in the first half. Unfortunately, the final hour weighs down with more melodrama than even a well-acted film can bear. On the other hand—and this is why The Red Shoes holds on to its classic status—the 20-minute ballet sequence is a masterpiece of filmed dance, and no other picture used three-strip Technicolor this expressively. I’ve discussed The Red Shoes in more detail.

B+ The Bad and the Beautiful, Friday, 7:15

The same year he made The Band Wagon, Vincente Minnelli used a Citizen Kane-like multiple flashback structure to tell the story of a talented, outwardly nice Hollywood producer (Kirk Douglas) who only seems evil to those who get close enough to know him . As realistic a look at how Hollywood changes and corrupts those who serve it as tinsel town has ever dared to make. On a double bill with The Big Knife.

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