Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 7 / 15 February 2018

August highlights at
the Castro Theatre


Frances (Greta Gerwig) and Sophie (Mickey Sumner) in director Noah Baumbach's Frances Ha.
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Baumbach, De Niro, Dern, de Wilde, Gerwig, Newman, Scorsese: this month, they're uncorking the good stuff at our favorite movie palace, the Castro Theatre.

Frances Ha This instant classic draws much of its sublime goofiness from Noah Baumbach's pitch-perfect collaboration with actress Greta Gerwig, a saintly, large-boned girl about to be evicted from her womb-like straight-girl friendship with the restless Sophie (Mickey Sumner).

"I love you, Sophie, though you love your cell phone with all its e-mail messages more than me."

"We're like a lesbian couple who don't have sex anymore."

Frances Ha makes deft use of Gerwig's hysterical clumsiness – perhaps never has a woman playing a dancer been so appealingly klutzy – while she aces her scenes with the cute-boy supporting cast. As with Baumbach's brilliant declaration of independence from Woody Allen The Squid and the Whale, Frances Ha reveals the import of its jokey title only at the end. (8/20)

Hud The sun has just come up over a desolate Texas Panhandle town. A skinny high-school-age boy in rancher drag, clutching a tiny transistor radio, stops in front of the town's bar as the owner sweeps up broken glass.

"Hey, did you have some trouble in here last night?"

"I had Hud in here is what I had."

In this Martin Ritt-directed 1963 classic, Irving Ravetch and Harriet Frank, Jr. took Larry McMurtry's poetic, interior monologue of a novel – the Texas Panhandle seen through the eyes of Lonnie (Brandon de Wilde), a dreamy rancher-boy – and gave it a handsome-bastard anti-hero – the role of a decade for Paul Newman, a character whom many at the time recognized as a thinly disguised Lyndon Baines Johnson. Hud is out to lay every farm babe in the county, and lay waste to any man who stands in the way of his scheme to trade cattle land for oil-gushing acres. By film's end, Hud is the only family member left to inherit a perilous future, but not before getting a tongue-lashing from the bitterly alienated Lonnie. (8/21)

Midnight Cowboy John Schlesinger's gritty buddy film features Jon Voight as a hayseed in over his head who tries to sell himself as a cowboy lothario, but whose utter incompetence as a hustler buys instead the company of the world's sorriest pimp, Ratso Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman). Vividly adapted by Waldo Salt from James Leo Herlihy's novel set in Manhattan's lower depths. Schlesinger presents an acutely accurate picture of 1969 NYC, with cameos by the Warhol crowd, WABC DJ Ron Lundy ("It's 10 o'clock in the greatest city in the world!") and a huge neon sign with the Big Apple mantra: "MONY." (8/21)

Raging Bull I used to torture the queer boys in my private cinema club with annual screenings of Raging Bull. I somehow delighted in their pained expressions when confronted with the wild-animal soundtrack that accompanied the mashing of noses and jaws, or the risibly homophobic dialogue: "I don't know whether to fuck him or fight him."

This genius-level work embeds us in the head of a delusional, crafty wife-beater who by movie's end commands our full attention, if not our hearts. "I'm not an animal!" This is no creaky cheat of a film classic. It has dialogue resembling blank verse, a soundtrack mixing real sound with the music of the director's parents' courtship, and an aching portrait of Scorsese's childhood, where the cops would clear the streets of kids before a mob hit. But it's as rigorous an examination of the roots of American violence as Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood, with dark comedy beats paralleling the Coen Brothers' A Serious Man. (8/14)

The King of Marvin Gardens This darkly comedic melodrama is cradled in seedy Atlantic City before its gambling days, and features Jack Nicholson, post-Easy Rider and pre-Chinatown, as he joined Hackman, Hoffman and Pacino as a member of a new caste: stars with everyman looks and character-actor chops. Nicholson is a reclusive radio monologist who stumbles across a bitterly ironic tale featuring his small-time loser brother (a reptilian Bruce Dern). It should resonate strongly with fans of HBO's Boardwalk Empire. (8/14)

Blue Velvet "I don't know if you're a detective or a pervert."

"That's for me to know and you to find out."

Sandy Williams (Laura Dern) is getting a little wet for Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan) in the first act of the greatest American film of the Reagan era (1986). Noir to the core yet a completely original oedipal comedy, this is a B-movie only when you're searching to download it online. In this work of true genius by one of the rare film artists (David Lynch) who is able to channel his unconscious without pretense, homoeroticism runs riot. Two Oscar-worthy turns: MacLachlan and Dennis Hopper, who won for Hoosiers but really deserved the statue as the murderous thrillseeker Frank Booth. The good boy tries to outrun the bad daddy, while the Madonna and the whore nervously await the outcome. (8/22)

Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb As Stanley Kubrick and Terry Southern crafted a cautionary tale from a serious book, they found the subject matter – mutually assured destruction, the battle of the H-bomb superpowers – to be so outlandish it could only be staged as the darkest of black comedies. Some of the more bizarre scenes, such as a custard pie-throwing fight in the WH war room, were excised in the final cut, but what remains is primo: a preemptive strike against his own base by a lunatic general (Sterling Hayden); Peter Sellers as a worried RAF officer assigned to Hayden's Jack D. Ripper; a perplexed president; and the creme de la creme, a mad scientist with the vocal stylings of Henry Kissinger and the hand signals of you-know-who, "Mein Fuhrer." (8/28)


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