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July 5-11, 2006

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This Week's Revivals

By Richard von Busack


Movie Times Around the World in 80 Days
(1956) While the current Disneyfied version looks like it has its charms—and Steve Coogan and Jackie Chan are born entertainers—David Niven must remain the quintessential Phileas Fogg, the phlegmatic Englishman who wagers to circle the globe in under three months. Mexican cinema's favorite comedian Cantinflas plays Passepartout, and the trusty character actor Robert Newton—he's the actor who taught pirates to say "harr-r-r-r"—plays the dogged but misguided detective Fix. Very long but a genuine spectacle, particularly in widescreen Todd AO, and the cast has a record number of celebrated cameos, making it an indispensible wild card in a game of "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon." S.J. Perelman got the co-screenwriting Oscar, an award he didn't deign to pick up in person. (Plays Jul 8-10 in Palo Alto at the Stanford Theatre.)

Movie Times Best in Show
(2000) At the 125th Mayflower Dog Show in Philadelphia, contestants use their dogs as a temporary passport into show business. Quite the cast in this savage mockumentary by Christopher Guest: Guest as a Southern oddball with a bloodhound; comedic masters Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara as Gerry and Cookie Fleck, a couple transporting their Toto-oid Norwich terrier to the show. Scott (John Michael Higgins) and his boyfriend, Stefan (McKean), are hairburners who raise Shih-Tzus. Hamilton and Meg Swan (Parker Posey and Michael Hitchcock) are the most savage caricature of grasping, infantile yuppies since the Booth-Braines in High Hopes. Jennifer Coolidge plays a bimbo (of course) who does a really disturbing thing with her lips to imply a collagen job that's overpressurized. The funniest of the lot is Fred Willard as Buck Laughlin, an obtuse TV reporter covering the show. The best-in-show Laughlin has the most tantalizing backstory. Was he some sportscaster busted down to the dog-show beat? An ex-anchorman whose Percodan addiction caused him to compliment a weather-girl's boobs on the air? Inanities spring from him without effort: tired baseball metaphors and gouts of instant poignancy. When a vicious dog is hauled out of the ring, Laughlin intones, "She's being led off in disgrace, but she's still a champion." Guest contrasts the wisdom of dogs, all natural performers, with the vainness of the people who try to pervert their dogness into a human-pleasing spectacle. (Plays Jul 5 at sunset in San Jose at the Cinema San Pedro Square; free; please, no outside food or drink.)

Movie Times A Hard Day's Night
(1964) Ironical pop stars George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Paul McCartney and John Lennon are chased around England by their demented female fans. Director Richard Lester creates the modern style of the music video in stunt-film techniques designed for TV commercials—speed-up and slow-motion, ultra-close-ups juxtaposed with helicopter shots. It seems as if he were trying to make rock music itself visual, trying to show onscreen the tension between shout and murmur, chorus and verse: the call of the singer, the screaming response of the crowd. Ringo is the one I picked in the schoolyard game where you had to choose just one Beatle to be your friend for life. In one slow, thoughtful moment in this frantic film, Ringo walks off a hangover by an unclean canal on a Sunday morning, his ordinarily soulful face given that saintly look a hangover always gives you—my favorite passage in the film, though most prefer the glimpse of the plain blonde girl weeping her heart out over George. Youth won't endure, but chronic Beatlemania never dies. (Plays Jul 12 at sunset in San Jose at the Cinema San Pedro Square; free; please, no outside food or drink.)

Movie Times Lost Horizon/Random Harvest
(1937/1942) Frank Capra adapted James Hilton's famous novel about the lost Tibetan kingdom of Shangri-La, where the wise rule, and lives can last centuries. To this paradise comes a great British politician (Ronald Colman) sickened by the prospect of upcoming war. Perhaps this film is most valuable as an early example of New Age art, as it was The Celestine Prophecy of its day: here we see the usual vagueness, the disquieting imperialist undertones, the implicit threat underneath the offer of spiritual awakening and longevity. Jane Wyatt, Edward Everett Horton and Sam Jaffe co-star. BILLED WITH Random Harvest. Greer Garson and Ronald Colman star in a drama of an amnesiac soldier's return and his love for a music-hall singer who's so hard to remember and so easy to forget. A popular upper-lip stiffener. (Plays Jul 5-7 in Palo Alto at the Stanford Theatre.)

Movie Times The Story of Mankind/Raffles
(1957/1930) Disaster-movie king Irwin Allen starts his apocalyptic career with a suitably grand subject. After creation of a Super H Bomb, humanity stands ready to be judged worthy to continue its existence, with the Devil (Vincent Price) trying to gather his own and a celestial lawyer, "The Spirit of Mankind" (Ronald Colman), defending us humans. Stock-footage galore (mostly outtakes from Land of the Pharaohs) and an array of skits—Groucho bamboozling the Indians out of Manhattan; Harpo as a harp-playing Isaac Newton clobbered repeatedly by apples; Hedy Lamarr as Joan of Arc; Virginia Mayo as Cleopatra and Peter Lorre as Emperor Nero ("Burn, burn! My lovely Rome!"). "If the High Tribunal ever catches this picture, we're goners"—critic Philip K. Scheuer. A chimera once exclusively entertaining to deviants and drunkards at 4am on the late show, it is presented in a new 35 mm print. BILLED WITH Raffles. Colman stars as a gentleman safecracker called out of retirement to help a pal. A model for cat-burglar movies ever after; Kay Francis co-stars. (Plays Jul 11-13 in Palo Alto at the Stanford Theatre.) (RvB)


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