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September 13-19, 2006

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This Week's Revivals

By Richard von Busack

Movie Times Chicago
(2003) It's based on the 1942 screwball comedy Roxie Hart, about a self-promoting would-be nightclub star (Renée Zellweger), her rival (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and the hot-shot lawyer they share (Richard Gere). It features the words and music of John Kander and Fred Ebb. The film seems like dated work, with its tired double entendres and retreaded mid-'70s dourness. One is grateful for the blues number by Queen Latifah and the "Cellblock Tango" routine, with the dancers taking up those angular, splayed Expressionist spasms that made the fame of Chicago's original choreographer, Bob Fosse. Still, the film is blighted with three leads whose singing and dancing abilities are marginal. Seeing Zeta-Jones and Zellweger together, I had hoped for something like the brash title sequence of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes: a contrast of girl-power styles, between blonde fluffiness and brunette ballsiness. Unfortunately, the two female leads are less like dancers than synchronized walkers; they've been coached just about to the point where they can do a Charleston. And they don't take five dance steps without an edit. Director Rob Marshall relies heavily on editing to conceal their lack of experience, but this attack just makes the routines all the harder to see and even more overemphatic and quaint than they are already. (Plays Sep 14 at sundown in San Jose in St. James Park; free; bring a blanket or a chair.)

Movie Times The Human Comedy/Presenting Lily Mars
(Both 1943) Fresno's William Saroyan wrote the source novel for this very sentimental study of a small town during wartime. It was said to be Louis B. Mayer's favorite movie of the hundreds he financed. Mickey Rooney got the Best Supporting Actor nomination, but by all accounts it's young Jackie Jenkins who steals the show. BILLED WITH Presenting Lily Mars. Judy Garland stars as a young girl with a longing to be on the stage; the Tommy Dorsey and Bob Crosby orchestras guest star. (Plays Sep 19-21 in Palo Alto at the Stanford Theatre.)

Movie Times Only Angels Have Wings/Bringing Up Baby
(1939/1938) In a squalid seaside town in Ecuador, pilots face death daily hauling mail over the Andes. We meet the pilots at their hangout, Dutchman's, and learn of their fierce code through the arrival of a stranger, a visiting showgirl. Only Angels Have Wings is a beloved cult item that brings out the eloquence in many a critic. Jean Arthur's brave, classy heroine facing off against Cary Grant's supposedly disinterested pilot is some people's ideal vision of grace under pressure, in men and women alike. If seen late at night, it might look like a forgotten classic of director Howard Hawks' career. But despite the atmospheric sets, it's often preposterous, even beyond the common level of a picture about male heroics. Compare it to the similar but superior Henri-Georges Clouzot film The Wages of Fear, which is smart enough to ask the right questions about what the cargo was, why these lives are so cheap and who sent the men to die in the first place. BILLED WITH Bringing Up Baby. Abstracted paleontologist Cary Grant has a bone to pick with chatty heiress Katherine Hepburn; in some ways the epitome of the screwball comedy, if you mean by "epitome" something that Preston Sturges wasn't involved in. (Plays Sep 15-18 in Palo Alto at the Stanford Theatre.)

Movie Times Raiders of the Lost Ark
(1981) Steven Spielberg and George Lucas' homage to movie serials led the way to decades of films every bit as flat as the movies this film satirized. As scholar/adventurer Indiana Jones, Harrison Ford plays it straight-faced in the usual Republic studio array of perils (gibbering natives, effete Nazis, supernatural artifacts). Karen Allen is the sturdiest lead female the series had, and the real snakes certainly beat the digitized serpents in Snakes on a Plane. One of the first thrill-ride movies, it's made to be nonstop and mindless, but there's merit to critic Jonathan Rosenbaum's idea, which I'll paraphrase: if Citizen Kane's line is "I think it would be fun to run a newspaper," Raiders of the Lost Ark could be summed up with "I think it would be fun to shoot an Arab." (Plays midnight Sep 15-16 and noon Sep 16-17 in Palo Alto at the Aquarius Theater; also plays Sep 21 at sundown in St. James Park in San Jose at sundown; free; bring a blanket or a chair.)

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