This is a big week for Bay Area movie lovers. You have a choice between serious, international cinema with The SFFilm Festival in several theaters, or old-time Hollywood movies at Oakland’s Grand Lake. If you want to know what to see at SFFilm, check out my articles SFFilm Festival previews and SFFilm Fest Previews, Part 2. My recommendations for Hollywood fun are throughout this newsletter.
Festivals & Series
The Unholy Three (1925), Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, Saturday, 7:30
I’ve not yet seen this late silent horror film directed by Tod Browning and starring Lon Chaney – and that’s enough to make me want to see it. From what I’ve read, it’s strange, grotesque, and wonderful. The Three in the title refers to a trio of sideshow circus performers who turn to a life of crime. Jon Mirsalis will provide live music for the feature along with two shorts: Felix Dopes It Out and The Uneasy Three.
A+ Singin’ in the Rain (1952) & A Sunset Boulevard (1950), Grand Lake, Thursday
֍ Full double bills start at 4:40pm & 6:45
Part of Hollywood’s Golden Era. I’ve waited for this double bill for years. True, Singin’ in the Rain is a funny, happy musical, but Sunset Boulevard is a dark tragedy about forgotten stars. Think about it, Singin’s hilarious’ Lina Lamont is Sunset‘s Norma Desmond after waiting 20 years for the fans that will never return.
A+ Some Like It Hot (1959) & A- The Palm Beach Story (1942), Grand Lake, full double bill starts at 4:25pm & 6:45
Part of the Hollywood’s Golden Era.
Some Like it Hot: I’m not sure if this gender-bending farce is the best American film comedy of all time, but it’s close. I doubt you could find a more perfect example of comic construction, brilliantly funny dialog, and spot-on timing. There are no random gags here; every laugh comes from the characters and the tightly built situations. Read my Blu-ray review.
The Palm Beach Story: It’s not just the absurdity of casting singer Rudy Vallee as the millionaire rival trying to win Claudette Colbert from husband Joel McCrea. It’s also The Weenie King, the Ale and Quail Club, Toto, and the most ridiculously happy ending ever filmed.
A His Girl Friday (1940) & A It Happened One Night (1934), Grand Lake, double bills at 4:40pm & 6:45pm
Part of the Hollywood’s Golden Era.
His Girl Friday: Howard Hawks turned the hit play The Front Page into a love triangle by changing a major character’s gender, and so was born one of the funniest screwball comedies of them all–with some of the fastest dialog ever recorded.
It Happened One Night: Frank Capra’s breakthrough hit foreshadowed the screwball comedy to come, made Columbia a major studio, and Clark Gable became a leading man. Read my report.
A+ The Lady Eve (1941), Grand Lake,
֍ Saturday, 12:30pm
֍ Sunday, 1:00pm; 5:00pm; 9:00pm
Part of the Hollywood’s Golden Era. Like most great screwballs, Preston Sturges’ The Lady Eve looks at class differences. It also examines the problems between a free-spirited woman and an uptight man (Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda). Stanwyck plays the younger half of a father/daughter team of card sharks, who makes the mistake of falling in love with her current mark – a shy, scientifically minded, naïve aristocrat played wonderfully by Fonda. The result: crazy hijinks in glamorous settings. Read my appreciation.
A+ The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek (1944), Grand Lake, 4:45; 8:25
Part of the Hollywood’s Golden Era. Has there ever been an ingénue with a more perfectly comical name than Trudy Kockenlocker? Or a code-era Hollywood movie that so deftly outwitted the censors of its time? There are funnier movies than The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek, but not many, and none this funny that flew in the face of traditional morality with such glee. With its deft mixture of physical and verbal comedy, and its daring break from the conventions of its day, The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek is a masterpiece. Read my full report. On a double bill with Harvey.
A Jason and the Argonauts (1963), Orinda, Saturday, 8:30pm
No other movie so successfully turns Greek mythology (or at least the family-friendly version) into swashbuckling adventure, while remaining true to the original spirit of the tales. As the gods bicker and gamble on the fates of mortals, Jason and his crew fight magical monsters and scheming human villains. Todd Armstrong and Nancy Kovack are unbearably stiff in the lead roles, but Nigel Green shines as cinema’s most articulate Hercules. But the real star, of course, is Ray Harryhausen’s hand-made special effects.
A The Big Lebowski (1998), various theaters, Sunday & Thursday, check times and places
The Coen Brothers’ most beloved film takes a Raymond Chandler-type story and replaces the tough, noirish private detective with a drunken pothead slacker who cares only for bowling and prefers to be called The Dude (Jeff Bridges). The concept and the execution are damn near perfect. Aside from genre parody, there’s a thin, barely tangible sense of Zen to the movie. It’s as if you could throw yourself out into the universe and everything will come out okay…unless it doesn’t. Read my Blu-ray review.
A- Dazed and Confused, New Mission
֍ Saturday, 3:00pm
֍ Tuesday, 4:50pm
֍ Wednesday, 4:50
Think American Graffiti set in the stoned ’70s. As the school year ends in a small Texas town, students and recent alumni head out looking for pot, parties, and sex. Some of them find it. Since Richard Linklater isn’t George Lucas (thank God), Dazed and Confused finds depths in the many characters. The young, largely unknown cast includes such future stars as Milla Jovovich, Ben Affleck, Parker Posey, and Matthew McConaughey.
A- Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), New Mission, Monday, 7:00pm
The first Indiana Jones movie doesn’t have much of a story. The plot is just an excuse to take us from one action sequence to another. But these action sequences are amongst the best filmed. They’re brilliantly choreographed, exciting, and despite the fast cutting, completely clear. A river of comedy runs through it all, reminding the audience not to take the story seriously. Warning: There’s a thin vein of unthinking racism. Also known as Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. Read my full essay.
B+ Amarcord (1973), Lark
֍ Sunday, 10:00am
֍ Sunday, 5:00pm
֍ Monday, 6:00pm
Federico Fellini’s nostalgic, autobiographical, yet decidedly weird comedy about village life is always enjoyable. Set in the late 1930’s, Fellini celebrates horny teenagers, confused adults, and distracted clergy, while treating fascists as comic opera buffoons. Amarcord succeeds frequently but not consistently, and it succeeds best when it’s just trying to be funny. Read my full review.
- Tokyo Story, Roxie, Saturday, 1:05pm
- Spirited Away, Roxie, Sunday, 8:20pm ֍ Tuesday, 8:10pm
- Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, 4-Star, Saturday, 11:00am
- El Topo, 4-Star, Thursday, 4:20pm & 7:30pm
- Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Balboa, Thursday, 4:20pm & 7:00pm
- The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, various theaters, throughout the week.
- Purple Rain, Grand Lake, Saturday, 6:00pm & 9:00pm
- Wayne’s World, New Parkway, Sunday, 9:30pm (Party at the Parkway)
- Hairspray (the original, 1988 version), Wednesday, 7:30pm ֍ Thursday, 7:30pm