The bad news: The Castro Theater is no longer a movie theater. The good news: Other Bay Area theaters are showing plenty of vintage movies.
The end of the Castro
For decades, the Castro Theatre has been the perfect movie palace for opening a film festival or just for watching vintage cinema. And now it’s over. Another Planet Entertainment, which controls Berkeley’s Greek Theatre, Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, and the Outside Lands music festival, now controls the Castro. I don’t think they’re interested in showing old movies.
New films opening theatrically
D- Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn (2021), Roxie, opens Saturday
This Romanian film starts with hardcore porn. A very happily married couple are enjoying each other immensely. But a video of their hanky-panky turns up accidentally on the Internet, and now the wife may lose her job. That could have been an excellent drama or comedy. Instead, it’s a mess, going into three sections, only one of which is about the story. We see the wife shopping. We get a lecture on Romanian history. The movie is two thirds over before you finally get to the meat of the film.
A+ Citizen Kane (1941), Vogue, Friday & Thursday, 7:30pm
How does any movie survive an 80-year reputation as the “Greatest Film Ever Made?” One obvious reason is that it’s very, very good. But that’s not enough. True, there are films more perceptive about the human condition, pictures more dazzling in their technique, and movies more fun. But I’d be hard pressed to name any film this insightful that’s also as technically dazzling and fun to watch. As Orson Welles and his collaborators tell the life story of a newspaper tycoon through the flashback memories of those who knew him, they also turn the techniques of cinema inside out. Read my A+ appreciation.
A+ Casablanca (1942), various theaters, Sunday & Wednesday
You’ve either already seen the best movie to come out of Hollywood’s studio-era sausage factory, or you know you should. Let me just add that no one who worked on Casablanca thought they were making a masterpiece. They thought it was just another moderately-budgeted flick coming out of Warner’s assembly line. Yet this time, the machine turned out a masterpiece–one of the great American films. Perhaps it’s the million monkeys on a million typewriters theory. Somehow, just this once, the sausage came out perfect. For more details, see Casablanca: The Accidental Masterpiece.
A+ Fargo (1996), Balboa, Thursday, 7:30pm
The ultimate crime-gone-wrong thriller and the Coen Brothers’ masterpiece, Fargo treads that thin line between the horrific and the hilarious while never forgetting the humane. With star-making performances by William H. Macy, as a man in way over his head, and Frances McDormand, as a very pregnant police officer with a lot of empathy and common sense. Also starring the bleakest snowscapes in American cinema. Read My Thoughts on Fargo.
A Nosferatu (1922), BAMPFA, Saturday, 7:00pm
Forget about sexy vampires; the first film version of Dracula doesn’t have one. In this unauthorized rip-off that got the filmmakers in legal trouble, Max Schreck plays Count “Orlok” as a reptilian predator in vaguely human form. This 1922 silent isn’t the scariest monster movie ever made, but it just might be the creepiest. Not to be confused with Werner Herzog’s 1979 remake. Read my Blu-ray review. Piano accompaniment by Judith Rosenberg.
A Nightmare Alley (1947 version), Roxie, Saturday, 5:00pm; Sunday, 6:05pm
35mm! A carnival makes a frightening backdrop for a film noir, especially if it stars Tyrone Power and Joan Blondell. No one can trust anyone else, whether they’re playing with magic tricks, money, or sex (“My heart is like an artichoke; there’s a leaf for everyone.”) Power plays a mentalist supposedly reading minds, but his real talents are those of the carney – tricks and fakeries. With the help of his wife (Blondell), he becomes famous; but as he rises, he’s just digging a bigger hole to fall into.
A The Maltese Falcon (1941), Vogue, Friday, 4:30pm; Thursday, 4:30
Dashiell Hammett’s novel had been filmed twice before, but screenwriter and first-time director John Huston did it right with the perfect cast and a screenplay (by Huston) that sticks almost word-for-word to the book. The ultimate Hammett motion picture, the second-best directorial debut of 1941 (after Citizen Kane), an important, early film noir, and perhaps the most entertaining detective movie ever made. This movie is truly the stuff that dreams are made of.
A- Frida (2002), Balboa, Tuesday, 7:30pm
In Julie Taymor’s biopic of artist Frida Kahlo, paintings turn into real life and life turns into paintings. Salma Hayek gives a great performance as Kahlo, who painted the pain she felt from her damaged body. Alfred Molina also stands out as her husband, the much more famous (at that time) Diego Rivera. When I first saw this film, I assumed Hayek, who also produced, did all the nude scenes to show off her body. Now I know that Harvey Weinstein forced her to.
A- Paris, Texas (1984), Balboa, Wednesday, 7:30pm
Harry Dean Stanton gives a masterful, understated performance as an amnesiac who walks out of the desert and back into the lives of his family. Missing for years, he’s taken in by his brother’s family, which now includes his own son. As the man’s memory slowly returns, he becomes obsessed with earning his son’s love and finding out, not so much the mystery of his own disappearance, but that of his wife’s.
B+ Apocalypse Now: Final Cut (1979/2019), BAMPFA, Thursday, 7:00pm
How do you review a movie when it keeps changing? The original version, an adaptation of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness set in the Vietnam war, is brilliant. Well, at least until Martin Sheen reaches his destination and the whole movie collapses under its (and Marlon Brando’s) weight. I give that version an A-. But since then, Coppola has recut the film twice. The second cut, Apocalypse Now Redux, made everything worse. I give it a B-. Apocalypse Now: Final Cut is better than Redux, but it’s still not as good as the original.
B+ Belle de Jour (1967), Vogue, Wednesday, 7:30pm
About as close as one gets to a Luis Buñuel commercial hit, for reasons that probably have more to do with sex than art. Catherine Deneuve plays a bored housewife who starts working in a brothel. At least I think that’s what happens; a lot of the story takes place in her imagination. Although not as profound as it thinks it is, it’s funny and charming and sexy and playful in ways unlike any other movie.
B+ Pride and Prejudice (2005), New Mission, Monday, 6:20pm
A sweet romance about class-defying true love, set during a time when marriage was a business proposition. In this 2005 adaptation of Jane Austen’s oft-filmed novel, the British cast does an excellent job, including token Yank Donald Sutherland. But Pride and Prejudice belongs to Keira Knightley, who really shines as Elizabeth Bennet. Not to be confused with Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.
B- Blazing Saddles (1974), Elmwood, Friday & Saturday, 10:40pm
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 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.
C+ Irmi (2020), BAMPFA, Sunday, 2:00pm
This personal documentary, made by the subject’s daughter, starts out fascinating, but gets duller as it goes. Irmi Selver was born in Germany, 1906. As a young wife and mother, she had to leave her native country and eventually Europe. Her husband and children died on the way. And yet, she built a new family and a new life. Judging from the photos and home movies that take up much of the film, that life was a happy one. But once the tragedy is in the past, the film is simply about a comfortably wealthy, upbeat grandma.