What’s Screening: January 14 – 20

I have stopped going to movie theaters because of Omicron. I just don’t think it’s safe – even though I wear a mask and have all the right shots. I’m not the only one who thinks that way. The Film Noir Foundation has postponed this year’s Noir City festival. And the New Parkway has gone back to being merely a take-out restaurant. Let’s hope things will change soon for the better.

But if you’re willing to sit in a theater for 90 or more minutes, you can still see a vintage movie on the big screen.

Theater changing

The Roxie has new, more comfortable chairs. Obviously, I haven’t tried them, yet.

The Week’s Big Event

Betty White 100th BDay Tribute, Balboa, Monday, 1:00pm – 7:00pm

Free! A six-hour marathon of Golden Girls episodes. Come and go throughout the day.

New films opening theatrically

B+ tick, tick… BOOM! (2021), Elmwood, opens Friday

Another new musical, and this one is about making a musical. Tick… is also a biography of Jonathan Larson (Andrew Garfield), the author of the Broadway hit Rent . Don’t expect to see or hear anything from that big hit. The film mostly focuses on Larson’s first, never-produced musical, Superbia. Larson struggles with money, lovers, and the business of show business–while his friends are dying of AIDS. The best scenes have Larson creating songs and showing them to the people who might change his life. By the way, Larson died of an aortic aneurysm just before Rent opened.

Theatrical revivals

A+ The Last Picture Show (1971), New Mission, Sunday, 12:10pm

Peter Bogdanovich’s masterpiece just may be the bleakest coming-of-age movie ever made. The two young men at its center, inherently nice guys, have no prospects and no real ambitions. They live in a depopulated town that looks like it will blow away with the next windstorm. College isn’t an option. Even sex is a confusing and often embarrassing experience. Made in 1971 and set about two decades earlier, the film refuses to make the 1950s nostalgic. Read my A+appreciation.

A Double Indemnity (1944), BAMPFA, Friday, 7:00

Rich, unhappy, and evil housewife Barbara Stanwyck leads insurance salesman Fred MacMurray by the libido from adultery to murder in Billy Wilder’s near-perfect thriller. Not that she has any trouble leading him (this is not the wholesome MacMurray we remember from My Three Sons).  Edward G. Robinson is in fine form as the co-worker and close friend that MacMurray must deceive. A great, gritty thriller about sex (or the code-era equivalent) and betrayal. Part of the series Ball of Fire: Barbara Stanwyck.

A The Conversation (1974), BAMPFA, Wednesday, 7:00

New 35mm print! Francis Coppola’s low-budget “personal” film, made between Godfathers I and II, is almost as good as the two epics that sandwich it. The Conversation concerns a professional snoop (Gene Hackman) who bugs peoples’ private conversations for a living. Remote and lonely, his emotional armor begins to crack when he suspects that his work could lead to murder. Walter Murch’s ground-breaking sound mix exposes us to layers of meaning within the titular recorded discussion as we hear it over and over again. Part of the series Francis Ford Coppola and American Zoetrope.

A- Selma (2014), Balboa, Monday, 7:30

I found it difficult at first to accept David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King, or Tom Wilkinson as LBJ. They didn’t look or sound right (they’re both British). But as the film progressed, I accepted them and got lost in the powerful and still (unfortunately) timely story. I had no problem accepting Carmen Ejogo’s spot-on perfect performance as Coretta Scott King. The film’s biggest strength comes from its picture of King as a flawed human being filled with doubts, exhaustion, and guilt–a man who would lie to his wife, badly, about his infidelities–but who is also a great hero. The film’s biggest mistake was letting us meet this real person before showing us the great orator that is his public image.

A- Shampoo (1975), New Mission, Tuesday, 6:30

At its most shallow, Shampoo works as a simple sex comedy about a straight, male hairdresser (Warren Beatty) who constantly gets laid. But the film is so much more than that. It’s also a serious drama about sexual excess, American politics, and wealth in Los Angeles. Beatty’s character wants to open his own shop, so he befriends a potential investor. The problem is that the hairdresser is doing it with the investor’s wife, mistress, and daughter. The women in his life are played by Julie Christie, Goldie Hawn, Lee Grant, and a very young Carrie Fisher. And it’s all set on election day 1968, as Nixon becomes president-elect (which no one seems to mind). Directed by Hal Ashby from a screenplay by Beatty and Robert Towne.

A- Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), Sebastiani, Monday, 7:00

The original Indiana Jones movie is, in most people’s eyes, the best, even if I disagree. But I still consider it a wonderful (if somewhat racist) roller coaster of a movie, giving you one thrill or joke after another. The movie doesn’t really have much of a story. The plot about Nazis trying to steal the Ark of the Covenant is just an excuse to take us from one action sequence to another. But these action sequences are amongst the best filmed.  Read my longer comments on the film.

B+ Cabaret (1972), Vogue, Wednesday, 7:30

Back in the spring of 1973, I was angry (but not surprised) when the obviously commercial Godfather beat Bob Fosse’s Weimar-era musical for the Best Picture Oscar. Time proved me wrong, and while I wouldn’t today put Cabaret in the same class as The Godfather, this story of decadence in pre-Nazi Germany is still a dazzling piece of style with an important message about the loss of freedom.

B Baby Face (1933), BAMPFA, Sunday, 4:30

This is the sort of film for which the term “pre-code” was coined. When we first meet Lily (Barbara Stanwyck), her cruel father pimps her out to working-class guys. But she’s smarter and more ambitious than that. She picks a big company, and climbs the corporate ladder – one bed at a time. A not-yet famous John Wayne shows up as one of her very short-term lovers. A year and a half after Baby Face came out, it could not have been released. On a double bill with Now, Voyager, which I must admit I have never seen. Another part of the series Ball of Fire: Barbara Stanwyck.

B- The Lodger (1927), New Mission, Monday, 6:30

Alfred Hitchcock’s second film and first thriller, The Lodger feels like the master in embryo. The plot and the atmosphere set up themes he would use repeatedly, but this first time, he doesn’t quite get it right. For instance, the protagonist just might be the murderer–a piece of mystery that robs the film of much of its potential suspense. It’s all made worse by Ivor Novello’s anemic and bizarre performance. But if you love Hitchcock, you must see The Lodger for its historical importance. This silent film is accompanied by Joe Williams of Austin Classical Guitar, featuring cellist Bion Tsang and the Texas Guitar Quartet.

C- The Blob (1958), Balboa, Tuesday, 7:30

16mm! This film contains a very important message: Your teenagers are better than you in every way possible. But then, the teenagers in this movie look like they’re pushing 30. A ridiculous movie, funny in its own, unintentional way. A meteor hits Earth near Small Town U.S.A. and out comes a small glob of Jell-o (well, it looks like Jell-o). This red mass gets bigger and bigger as it swallows up people (only adults; the kids are too smart). The cinematography is exceptionally bad; many shots just show brightly-lit people with a pure black background. A not-yet-famous Steve McQueen plays the teen hero.

Frequently-revived classics

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