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August 8-14, 2007

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This Week's Revivals

By Richard von Busack


Movie Times Back to the Future
(1985) Michael J. Fox and frizzy-haired scientist Christopher Lloyd ride the gull-winged DeLorean into the past to fix a troubled family's destiny. Contemporary critics decried this movie's Reaganautic subtext. It's all there. Director Robert Zemeckis let his retrograde thing hang out later in Forrest Gump. The scene of Fox teaching the black kids how to play rock & roll is, as critic Michael Weldon observed, one of the most irritating movie moments of the decade. This observation means a lot, since (bearing in mind that not much survives of cinema 1900-1910), the 1980s were roundly the worst decade for cinema of the last century. In this movie's defense, it had charm, impressive effects and Lloyd. (Plays Aug 15 at 8:45pm in Redwood City at Courthouse Square; free.)

Movie Times Casablanca/In a Lonely Place
(1942/1950) You must remember this. In a remarkable studio re-creation of North Africa, an elaborate story of wartime loss and love is played out. Club owner Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) is confronted by his old lover (Ingrid Bergman) and her husband (Paul Henreid), who try to shake the isolationist Rick into action against the Nazis. Not a movie, but the movies, as Umberto Eco argued; every film genre is sampled and merged, played by a cast that included 34 nationalities. BILLED WITH In a Lonely Place. The title comes from J.M. Synge, but the sentiment is all Nicholas Ray, cinema's reigning Mr. Vicissitude, whose furious work mirrored the bipolar disorder that tormented him. Bogart has extraordinary range here as screenwriter Dixon Steele, 86ed from the movie studios for his drinking and his terrible temper. Suffering from postwar syndrome, a "rage that only requires a victim" (Ray's own words), Steele finds his last human hope in the form of his neighbor, Laurel Gray (Gloria Grahame), an ex-kept woman trying to retrieve her self-respect. When Steele is accused of a murder, their fragile affair is strained to the breaking point. During the making of In a Lonely Place, Ray was separating from Grahame, his wife at the time. There's a theory that the atmosphere of loss, of life going haywire, is due to the real-life split-up. Bogart—who could be something of an empty threat in his later movies—is dangerous one last time here. (Plays Aug 11-14 in Palo Alto at the Stanford Theatre.)

Movie Times The Day the Earth Stood Still
(1951) Science fiction with a message. Michael Rennie plays a galactic ambassador who tries to interrupt the Cold War and pays the price. J. Lockard Martin is his robot bodyguard, Gort. A prestige production in its way, with real-life journalists and commentators taking part—an early example of Larry Kingism. (Plays Aug 10 at sundown in Campbell at Casa de la Cultura Mexica, 247 E. Campbell Ave; free.)

Movie Times Edward Scissorhands
(1990) A young Frankenstein of a foundling (Johnny Depp) with garden shears for hands finds his way in a bland suburb, with the help of a kindly Avon Lady. A bit awfully wistful, though Johnny Depp is mesmerizingly strange, and the waltz Danny Elfman wrote for the soundtrack worms its way into you. (Plays Aug 10 at sundown in San Jose in St. James Square.)

Movie TimesNever Weaken/Speedy
(1921/1928) Thwarted by love, Harold Lloyd decides to throw himself off a building. BILLED WITH Speedy. An enchanting Harold Lloyd comedy about "Speedy" Swift, a lad too befuddled by baseball to hold down an honest job. His girlfriend's grandpa is the owner/operator of the last horse-drawn trolley in New York City. The traction monopoly has hired leg-breakers to put the old man out of business. Lloyd outfoxes the thugs as he tours New York in extensive footage that's so detailed that it's like a time machine voyage—the film includes a captivating extended sequence at the long-gone amusement park Luna Park. Babe Ruth himself turns up in a small part, to be greeted enthusiastically by Lloyd's Speedy: "Gee, Babe, you've done more for baseball than cheese did for Switzerland!" Dennis James at the Stanford's Wurlitzer. (Plays Aug 15 in Palo Alto at the Stanford Theatre.)

Movie Times Niles Essanay Film Museum
Regularly scheduled program of silent films. Tonight: The Count (1916). Charlie Chaplin is a tailor's apprentice who disguises himself as a royal; the main sequence is a dance number that demonstrates why W.C. Fields used to call Chaplin "the greatest ballet dancer who ever lived." Also: "Captain Kidd's Kids" (1919) with Harold Lloyd and Bebe Daniels; Buster Keaton in "The High Sign" (1921), in which Buster Keaton encounters that dreaded secret society "The Blinking Buzzards." And: "That's My Wife" (1929) with Laurel and Hardy. Music by Molly Axtmann and Stephen Spies. (Plays Aug 11 at 7:30pm in Fremont at the Edison Theater, 37417 Niles Blvd; www.nilesfilmmuseum.org.)

Movie Times Over the Hedge
(2006) Forest creatures migrate to the suburbs and cutely terrorize homeowners in CGI kid fest. (Plays Aug 8 at 8:45pm in Redwood City at Courtyard Square; free.)

Movie Times Pillow Talk
(1959) An archaic sort of a thing called a party line is the key to this prime romantic comedy, Suave Manhattan bachelor Rock Hudson shares his telephone line with his downstairs neighbor Doris Day, who is appalled to listen to him sweet-talking any number of single women; when Hudson turns his sights on Day, he poses as a Texas oilman to seduce her. Epic use of widescreen for comedy, and a famous hangover scene are part of the fun. (Plays Aug 15 in San Jose at sundown at San Pedro Square; free.)

Movie Times The Rocky Horror Picture Show
(1975) Call it what you like: flotsam from the wreckage of the '70s, a piece of the Old World before AIDS, herpes and Reagan, or the ultimate cult musical. The fact remains that someone out there apparently hasn't seen this one yet, so here's hoping it makes a new generation of preteens a little more comfortable with their sexuality. (Plays Aug 10 at midnight at in Campbell at Camera 7 and Aug 11 at midnight in San Jose at Camera 12.)

Movie Times The Sky's the Limit/I'll Be Seeing You
(1943/1944) Fred Astaire in the typical Fred Astaire role, modified slightly for wartime. In the past, he's been a song-and-dance man mistaken for a gigolo. Here, he's a Flying Tiger pilot who poses as a civilian slacker to avoid all the fuss and adulation. Joan Leslie co-stars. BILLED WITH I'll Be Seeing You. Ginger Rogers stars as an essentially nonviolent murderess paroled from jail; Joseph Cotton is a shell-shocked soldier who doesn't want to talk about the war: together they find a bit of understanding. (Plays Aug 8-10 in Palo Alto at the Stanford Theatre.)

Movie Times Three on a Match
(1932) Three childhood acquaintances from meet up years later. They grow up to be a snobby socialite (Ann Dvorak), an ex-con turned gold-hearted chorine (Joan Blondell) and a hard-working poor girl (Bette Davis). This Pre-Code Mervyn Le Roy picture is a racy, hard and fast melodrama spiced with everything from alcoholism to hints of prison lesbianism to cheesecake shots—starring Davis, who certainly has the physique for them, even if she looks rather uncomfortable. The downside is an extremely annoying child actor, there to represents neglected maternal duty; here is a kid who shouldn't have stayed in the picture. Dvorak, so good at playing down and dirty (as in the original Scarface,) seems to flinch at the role of a very bad mother, but then again this has always been a role that sticks in certain actresses' throats. Still, Dvorak is excellent pantomiming sexual incompatability with her husband (Warren Williams) just as she is showing catlike satisfaction with her new boyfriend. Blondell's common sense and wisecracks would be as welcome onscreen today as they were 75 years ago: who else gets to play the easygoing floozy as the moral center of the story? Humphrey Bogart has a small but fierce role as a collection agent in the employ of a gangster (Edward Arnold). The film begins; a series of three Pre-Code movies at the Villa Montalvo continuing through September, including the highly recommended Barbara Stanwyck picture Baby Face (Sep 23) and even more of the lovable Blondell in Gold Diggers of 1933 (Sep 30). (Plays Aug 12 at 7 in Saratoga at Villa Montalvo, 15400 Montalvo Rd.)


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