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August 15-21, 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 Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Episodes scheduled: "Once More With Feeling" and "Doppelgangland" (1999/2001), featuring the mighty yet flighty slayer (Sarah Michelle Gellar) in two of her best adventures. In "Doppelgangland," the gentle Willow (Alyson Hannigan) is replaced by her corseted, wicked vampire alter-ego. "Once More With Feeling"—a sing-along version—was the well-beloved show's endeavor to re-create the MGM musical; tensions mount among the gang as the recently resurrected Buffy finally reveals the truth about what her afterlife was like. The mixture of comedy and drama expresses itself in a suite of tunes, performances commanded by a song-and-dance demon named Sweet (the superb Hinton Battle): "I can bring whole cities to ruin/ and still have time to get a soft-shoe in." (Plays Aug 17 at midnight in Campbell at Camera 7 and Aug 18 at midnight in San Jose at Camera 12.)

Movie Times Dial M for Murder/Sabrina
(Both 1954) In London, a foolproof murder-for-hire plan goes awry, when the victim (Grace Kelly), who is supposed to die quietly, grabs a huge pair of scissors. This Hitchcock thriller is a stagey one, despite the scissors scene. John Williams steals the show as the mustard-keen Inspector Hubbard. Anthony Dawson, as the cashiered captain blackmailed into the plot, is also amusing. Also starring Robert Cummings and Ray Milland, unfortunately. BILLED WITH Sabrina. Audrey Hepburn plays the daughter of a chauffeur on a Long Island estate who for years has nursed a crush on the family's younger playboy son (William Holden), but the responsible elder brother (Humphrey Bogart) eventually turns her head. (Plays Aug 18-21 in Palo Alto at the Stanford Theatre.)

Movie Times High Noon
(1952) It's not really deeper than a movie where a cowpoke says, "Sometimes, a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do." However, this real-time Western is good and tense. It gave Gary Cooper one of his best roles as a frontier marshal under pressure from his Quaker bride (Grace Kelly) and the cowardly town that forsakes him. (Free. Plays Aug 17 in Campbell at sundown at Casa de la Cultura Mexica, 247 E. Campbell Ave. Bring blankets or lawnchairs.)

Movie TimesIt's a Gift/Follow Thru
(1934/1930) Never to be forgot is a rancorous, never quite sober and never quite drunk individual, here aliased as Mr. Bissonette (W.C. Fields). Bissonette endures that death of a thousand cuts which is our daily lot. First, he is cut literally, when he tries to shave and is interrupted by his dreadful family. Then he is cut metaphorically, when his grocery store is vandalized by the kumquat-seeking Mr. Muckle (Charles Sellon) and by a catastrophic infant (Baby LeRoy). Trying for a nap, he's disturbed first by an insurance agent seeking one Karl la Fong and then by a lively discussion of emetics between a pair of birdbrains. Neither syrup of squill nor ipecac wins the debate; the scene is the greatest example of existential futility in the cinema. The story turns happy; Bisonette, who learns to take the bitter with the sour, ends in the double embrace of a hammock and a whiskey sour. And his lookalike grandson will be known as Homer Simpson. BILLED WITH Follow Thru. A hit golfing musical from the early days of sound, with Nancy Carroll as a golf pro's daughter in love with an instructor on the links. It brought future Tin Man Jack Haley from Broadway to Hollywood. The movie, in early Technicolor, debuted the songs "Button Up Your Overcoat" and the beguiling Hell-set musical number "I Want to Be Bad." (Plays Aug 16-17 in Palo Alto at the Stanford Theatre.)

Movie Times Never 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. 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 silent movies. Tonight: The Three Musketeers (1921), Douglas Fairbanks Sr.'s hit follow-up to The Mark of Zorro. Fairbanks has the lead as D'Artagnan, with Barbara La Marr as the evil Milady and Fairbanks' discovery Marguerite de la Motte as the good Constance. Eugene Pallete is in it, but he plays the scholarly Aramis not the burly Porthos, oddly enough. Show up early, this brings out crowds. With shorts: The Big Swim (1926) featuring Mutt and Jeff, and every anarchist's favorite movie Cops (1921) starring Buster Keaton. Jon Mirsalis at the piano. (Plays Aug 18 at 7:30 in Fremont at the Edison Theater, 37417 Niles Blvd.;

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. Bring a lawnchair or a blanket.)

Movie Times The Wizard of Oz
(1939) A movie that's life itself for so many people on the outskirts of life. The Wizard of Oz is famous for the unquenchable yearning in Judy Garland's voice, for the witty Tin Pan Alley songs that never could have been written with such enviously easy panache if the composers had known what the film was going to mean to the world 50 years later. The Wizard of Oz is salted with pure horror: the winged monkeys and the disappearance of the Wicked Witch, achieved with a hydraulic elevator and a cloak full of dry-ice smoke. It exists beyond the usual standards of criticism, which is why critics tend not to write too much about it. Still, The Wizard of Oz is one of those small categories of films where what's onscreen is immaterial to the reactions it rouses in those watching it: the hopes of escape, the misfit's aching memories of persecution and solitude. (Plays Aug 17 at sundown in St. James Square. Bring a lawnchair or a blanket.)

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