What’s Screening: Dec 9 – 15

I’ve been down with the flu for the last week, so I missed the Day of Silents. I don’t know when I’ll be healthy enough to go to a theater without disturbing the people around me.

And that’s unfortunate, because there’s a lot of good stuff playing this week, including the Rafael‘s eight-film Kirk Douglas retrospective in honor of his 100th birthday.

New films opening

B+ Mifune, Opera Plaza, Shattuck, opens Friday

As the title suggests, this biography of Toshiro Mifune concentrates on his samurai films, especially those he made with Akira Kurosawa (arguably cinema’s greatest collaboration between auteur and actor). If you have any interest in Japanese films, you’re going to enjoy this movie. And you’ll probably learn a few things you didn’t know–including some fascinating facts about the earliest sword-fighting silents. Interview subjects include Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg. Read my full review.

B Old Stone, Opera Plaza, Shattuck, opens Friday

In the confusing aftermath of a traffic accident, a taxi driver (Chen Gang) makes a crucial decision that saves a man’s life. But in doing so, he becomes personally liable for the victim’s medical expenses. Johnny Ma’s first feature shows us a man economically trapped for committing a good deed. But Old Stone loses its way in the third act, when it shifts from serious social drama to attempted thriller. Read my full review.

Promising events

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Rafael, Saturday, 7:15

I haven’t seen Disney’s adaptation of Jules Verne in a very long time, but I remember it fondly despite many obvious flaws. Among its strengths: James Mason’s performance of Captain Nemo as a surprisingly sympathetic villain. But what really makes this screening exciting is the presentation by filmmakers Craig Barron and Ben Burtt on how the movie was made. Part of the series Kirk Douglas, Happy Hundred.

The Three Colors Trilogy, Pacific Film Archive

I haven’t seen Krzysztof Kiéslowski’s trilogy – based around the three symbolic colors of the French flag – in many years. I remember liking all three dramas, but I had a hard time connecting them as a trilogy. Maybe that’s because I’m not French. Here’s their screening times:

  • Blue, Friday, 7:00
  • White, Sunday, 7:00
  • Red, Wednesday, 7:00

Popcorn for Breakfast: More Looney Tunes in 35mm, Roxie, Saturday, 10:00am

What better way to start a rainy Saturday morning than twelve classic Looney Tunes. At least three of the 12–Duck! Rabbit! Duck!, Rabbit of Seville, and Rabbit Hood–are clear masterpieces. Kids under 12 free.

Noir double bill: The Lady from Shanghai & Gilda, Castro, Sunday

I haven’t seen either of these classics in years, so I’m not going to give either of them a grade. I recall liking individual scenes from Orson Welles’ Lady from Shanghai, but not caring for the movie as a whole. But I did like Gilda.

Recommended revivals

A+ The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, Pacific Film Archive, Sunday, 3:00

Clive Wynne-Candy is an officer and a gentleman. A career soldier in His Majesty’s army, he believes in following the rules of combat–even against an enemy willing to commit atrocities. The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp follows Wynne-Candy from his dashing youth to a somewhat foolish old age. Filmmakers Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger provide warmth, heartbreak, laughs, and several viewpoints on what it means to be a soldier and a decent human being. Read my essay and my Blu-ray review. DCP from digital restoration.

A+ Paths of Glory, Rafael, Friday, 5:00; Sunday, 5:30

Stanley Kubrick doesn’t just show us that war is hell. He illustrates how powerless men go through that hell for the benefit of powerful men. When an impossible mission inevitably fails, the officers who planned it arranges for three enlisted men to be tried for cowardice, convicted, and executed–it’s easier than admitting the generals’ mistake. Kirk Douglas plays the honorable officer who tilts at the windmills of corrupted military justice. Part of the series Kirk Douglas, Happy Hundred.

Double bill: Swing Time & The Cocoanuts, Stanford, Friday through Sunday

The A goes to Swing Time, the second-best Astaire/Rogers vehicle (after Top Hat). Don’t worry about the lightweight plot. Enjoy the great Dorothy Fields/Jerome Kern songs, the beautiful dancing, and the comic dialog. The “Never Gonna Dance” number is one of the saddest, most sublime dances ever filmed. Like many early talkies, the first Marx Brother movie, The Coconuts, is little more than a stage play performed for an unmoving camera. Groucho and Chico often seem uncomfortable with the new medium, but they have their occasional moments of brilliance. Harpo, on the other hand, gives one of his best performances. I give it a B-. Read my Blu-ray review.

A Spartacus, Rafael, Saturday, 2:00; Monday, 6:30

This very fictionalized version of the famous Roman slave revolt is simply the most powerful, intelligent, and coherent toga epic from the golden age of toga epics. And yes, I know that sounds like weak praise, but it isn’t. Stanley Kubrick’s only work as a director-for-hire doesn’t give us the glory of Rome, concentrating instead on the horror, cruelty, and exploitation of an empire. Star and Executive Producer Kirk Douglas gave Dalton Trumbo a well-deserved screen credit, which helped end the blacklist. Part of the series Kirk Douglas, Happy Hundred.

B+ Bullitt, Castro, Friday, 7:00

Age hasn’t been altogether kind to this once cutting-edge police thriller. But it has its pleasures, especially Steve McQueen’s exceptionally cool charisma and the best car chase ever shot on the streets of San Francisco. Another marker: To my knowledge, McQueen’s single use of the word “bullshit” marks the first time anyone said such a word in a Hollywood movie. On a double bill with Dirty Harry, which I haven’t seen in decades.

Lebowskies (frequently-revived classics)

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