Monday, August 14, 2006

Hot Tix: August 16-22

There are lots more 70mm films this week at the Castro (see last week's entry for my rant about 70mm film), and two competing MIDNIGHT shows. And mark your calendars for a weekend-long film-a-thon to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Beatles' final gig, at Candlestick Park, in 1966, coming up Aug.26-27. See Friday's post for a glorious rant about John Lennon.

Do let me know if you actually attend any of these shows. There's a direct email link now, to the right. You know how to whistle, don't you?

Now, this week's picks:

Elvis Presley left the building 29 years ago next Wednesday. To celebrate his assumption by space aliens, the
Parkway Theater in Oakland presents the Elvis D-Day Bash, Thursday, 8/17. Featuring one of the dumbest movies the King of Rock 'n' Roll ever made (and that is one heck of a competition, let me tell you) Clambake (United Artists, 1967), with Shelley (The Donna Reed Show, Coach, “Johnny Angel,” Annette Funicello's best buddy) Fabares, Bill (My Favorite Martian, The Incredible Hulk, Yvonne “Batgirl” Craig's boyfriend) Bixby, and Angelique (Shahna from the “Gamesters of Triskelion” episode of Star Trek) Pettyjohn. Elvis plays a rich playboy who trades places with a water-skiing instructor—also played by the King, and the yoks begin. Songs include: oh, heck, it's 1967! Elvis recorded nothing deserving of his name that year. Look for the mountains of Florida, and a young Terri Garr frooging her heart out. Cari Lee and the Saddle-ites (who sound damned fine—check out their MP3s!) will set the musical tone.

If you have to pick only one
Kenzo Mizoguchi film to see during the retrospective at the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley, Osaka Elegy (Daiichi Eiga, 1938) is it. He explores the colliding worlds of the 1930s in Japan's chief commercial center, Osaka, as he shows us the development of young woman who becomes a mistress to her boss at the telephone company so she can better assist her family financially. As she leaves the traditional ways of her family behind for the luscious art deco world of her capitalist sugar daddy, she finds herself more adrift and over her head. Full of deep focus and traveling shots, this is a glorious proto-feminist film from a nation on the verge of a backslide to imperialism that imperiled the world. Friday, 8/18, 7 p.m. Plays with Ugetsu Monogatori (Daiei, 1956), Mizoguchi's anti-military film set in 16th Century Japan. Plays at 8:45 p.m.

Everyone's seen the picture of
Harold Lloyd hanging several stories above downtown Los Angeles from the hands of a giant clock. See Safety Last! (Hal Roach, 1923), the movie this stunt is from this Friday, 8/18, 7:30 p.m., at the Stanford Theater in Palo Alto. The incomparable Chris Elliott will provide live musical accompaniment on the mighty Wurlitzer pipe organ. Lloyd was the third member of the silent era's trio of great comedians, the others being Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, and Safety Last! is one of his funniest features. For years, Lloyd's films were unavailable, because his estate refused (at his instructions) to let TV stations cut them up for commercials. Fortunately, because of this restriction, most of Lloyd's features have survived intact, with very little if any damage or loss of quality. His granddaughter, Suzanne Lloyd, has had the films restored and preserved, and is making them available again, and we should sing her praises high and low for this gift.

Although Midnight Mass is done for the year, Peaches Christ isn't ready to be assumed to her reward yet, as she still has to host the
Underground Short Film Festival, MIDNIGHT Saturday, 8/19, at the Bridge Theater. There are 17 films, ranging from one minute to nine minutes in length, and they're all by new filmmakers. They cover a wide range of subjects and styles, ranging from Deadly Finger and Deadly Finger Returns by Jose Montesinos (which looked damned funny in the festival trailer), to Uphill Both Ways' Sock Puppet Porn (ditto). I've seen one of the films in the collection, Steffen Frech's Torsten Kretchmar: Dunkleheit, and can say that it's brilliantly edited and damned funny. I believe I've also seen another, Dichotomy, by Joe Fitzgerald. If it's the film I think it is, it is visually arresting and insanely complex for a two-minute short. If it's not, I'll just say that Fitzgerald is an incredibly talented young filmmaker who you will worship once you see his work. Really. I do.

It's guilty pleasure time, with a midnight screening of Tron (Walt Disney, 1982), the original, cheesiest and most fun of all computer game movies, in glorious 70mm. See Jeff Bridges, Bruce Boxleitner and Cindy Morgan become glowing avatars (now there's a word you don't hear much anymore) in a Pac-Man-inspired “digital” landscape. David Warner is the bad guy. Duh. The “science” is wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong. The fantasy is so outlandish that Chevy Chase movies seem rational in comparison. The costumes are goofy. The visuals are really cool. But the best thing is the sound. The soundscape of this film is one of the most inspired bits of mechanical fantasy you'll ever hear. And did I mention it's in 70mm!!! Brought to you by the marvelous Jesse Ficks and his Midnights for Maniacs crew, at the
Castro Theater, Saturday, 8/19, at MIDNIGHT!

The war films of the 1930s are remarkable, because if your reference is limited to the past 20 years, it can be hard to believe that Hollywood ever made anti-war movies. But it did, and
Frank Borzage's Three Comrades (MGM, 1938) deals with the horrors of World War I (the first of many “War to End All Wars”) and hints heavily at the economic situation of the Depression era. The screenplay is by F. Scott Fitzgerald (The Great Gatsby) from a novel by Eric Maria Remarque (All Quiet on the Western Front). Robert Taylor, Franchot Tone, Robert Young and Margaret Sullavan star, 6:30 p.m. Saturday, 8/19, at the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley. With The Mortal Storm (MGM, 1940), Borzage's frank examination of the rise of the Nazi Party in Germany and its impact on the Jewish population. With Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullavan, 8:30 p.m.

It's Gary Cooper nights at the
Stanford Theater in Palo Alto, with a double feature of Love in the Afternoon (Allied Artists, 1957) and High Noon (Kramer/United Artists, 1952), Saturday 8/19 through Monday, 8/21. Billy Wilder directed Love in the Afternoon as an homage to one of his mentors, the master of the witty romantic adventure, Ernst Lubitsch. Cooper pursues French cellist Audrey Hepburn in Paris, using a private detective played by Maurice Chevalier, who just happens to be the cellist's father. 7:30 p.m. each day, plus 3:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Fred Zinneman's High Noon is legendary as the first adult western made in Hollywood. Cooper is the retiring sheriff whose plans to leave town with his new wife (the incomparable Grace Kelly) are interrupted by the arrival of a group of old enemies. The townsfolk refuse to help the sheriff, who now faces a moral dilemma: run away and be safe, or defend a townful of ingrates for no reason other than it's his duty? This one is required viewing in Hildreth's Film 101 course. 9:55 p.m. each day, plus 5:55 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Marlene Dietrich and Gary Cooper made two films together, and you can see their second, Desire (Paramount, 1936), at the
Pacific Film Archive, Sunday, 8/20 at 5:30 p.m. Directed by Frank Borzage, this is a smart and sexy spy thriller produced by Ernst Lubitsch. The Lubitsch touch combines with Borzage's passion beautifully, creating a film that is as romantic and it is cynical. Dietrich and Cooper are a fantastic screen duo, and this may be their best outing together.

The third film in Deep Mehta's elements trilogy, Water (Fox Searchlight, 2005), caused a firestorm of protest among Hindu fundamentalists in India, who prevented the film from being made in 2000 by burning the sets and then tossing the remains into the Ganges River. Mehta's feminist approach is an easy target for fundamentalists, and by dealing with historic and religious aspects of Indian life, she attracts a great deal of negative attention in her native country (she's lived in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, since 1973). Water was shot in Sri Lanka under a false title, and there is no definite date for its release in India. Set in 1938, during British colonial rule, it details the life of a child bride who finds herself widowed at the age of seven years. Difficult but rich, Mehta's films are a far cry from Bollywood, and provide a glimpse of life as lived by far too many people, still. It's at the
Red Vic, Sunday, 8/20, at 2:00 p.m., 4:30 p.m., and 7:00 p.m., and Saturday, 8/21, at 7:00 p.m. And 9:30 p.m.

Kenneth Branagh may be the Orson Welles of our era. A brilliant actor who proved to be a damned fine film director, undone by a meddling studio who wouldn't leave well enough alone—Nah, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and the subsequent damage to his career was Branagh's own damn fault. He should have stuck with the William Shakespeare films, like his stunning adaptation of Hamlet (Castle Rock/Columbia, 1996). The Bard does not adapt easily to film, as his plays are truly of their original medium, the stage. But Branagh makes daring choices (like casting Billy Crystal as a gravedigger) and expands the frame of the play to fit the expanse of the wide, wide screen. There are many brilliant reasons to see this film, from Derek Jacobi's turn as Claudius, to Judi Dench as Hecuba, Branagh himself as the prince, and the titanic Brian Blessed as the ghost that kicks it all off. But the best reason is that the
Castro Theater is showing it in glorious 70mm!!! Sunday, 8/20, 2:00 p.m. And 7:00 p.m.

Jacques Tati's Mr. Hulot character is as iconic in France as Charlie Chaplin's Little Tramp, and he's just as funny and touching. In 1967, Tati unveiled his grandest comedy with Mr. Hulot, the epic Playtime. In an expensive and grand homage to Chaplin's Modern Times (Chaplin/United Artists, 1936), Mr. Hulot becomes trapped in the bizarre architecture of a futuristic Paris. The mid-century modern architectural styles are skewered relentlessly. Tati literally built a small city of steel and glass as his set. The production took three years to complete, and longer to recoup its investment. It was also the penultimate appearance of Mr. Hulot. At the Castro Theater, in 70mm!!!, Tuesday, 8/22, at 7:00 and 9:30 p.m.

Copyright 2006 by Richard Hildreth. All rights reserved.

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