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

April showers at the Castro Theatre


Bill Murray and Punxsutawney Pete
in Harold Ramis' Groundhog Day.
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This April at the Castro Theatre is highlighted by a glorious tribute to the late film-comedy maven Harold Ramis.

Groundhog Day (1993) Prior to his legendary teaming with director Wes Anderson, Bill Murray's biggest claim to comedy immortality came from his pitch-perfect take on a cynical, self-absorbed TV weatherman's existential time-warp exile in Punxsutawney, PA. The genius of Harold Ramis' satire (based on a story by co-screenwriter Danny Rubin) is that we have no idea how many times Murray's Phil Connors must relive the worst day in his life. Rubin's original script had Phil in this bucolic purgatory for 10,000 days (a kind of Zen conceit). With touches of black and even borderline nihilist humor, including one positive homo gag, this brazenly brilliant tour de force refutes the notion that you can't deal with cosmic issues on Hollywood time. With a touch of irony that mimics the film's stuck-in-time structure, Ramis confessed that the final in-bed moments between Murray and Andie MacDowell took 25 takes to nail the proper final note of reckless abandon. (4/11, with Caddyshack)

National Lampoon's Animal House (1978) This early Harold Ramis script (co-written with Douglas Kenney and Chris Miller) is a deceptively low-brow black-comedy spoof on the worst excesses of college frat-boy life circa 1962. It centers on an absurdly misbehaving collection of misfits and unrepentant, hard-drinking underachievers, the members of Delta House. Director John Landis' decision not to pull his punches on even the most absurdly childish stunts – as when a fat frat-boy induces cardiac arrest in a white stallion by firing a starter pistol inside the Dean of Students' office – pays uproarious dividends. That dean, played by character actor John Vernon with touches of a Nixon-like level of paranoia and skullduggery, puts the boys of Delta on "double secret probation," leading to a town-and-gown showdown that borders on Armageddon. This is the ultimate guilty pleasure, a movie whose every hysterical beat is resolutely incorrect. (4/12, part of a Remembering Harold Ramis program with National Lampoon's Vacation and Stripes)

The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) Some time during the filming of his first studio feature, 1972's Boxcar Bertha, Barbara Hershey handed director Martin Scorsese a book that would practically consume his professional life for two decades. His 1983 stab at filming Nikos Kazantzakis' 600-page novel in Israel was nixed by a variety of forces, including Moral Majority vigilantes. Undaunted, and with the help of writer Paul Schrader, the nation of Morocco, and actor Wilhelm Defoe as Christ, Scorsese shot this 164-minute version, which thrilled believers and non-believers alike with the screen's most human-like Jesus, betrayed by the first Judas (a red-bearded Harvey Keitel) with a Brooklyn accent. (4/13, with Resurrection)

Pina (2011) Dance fans will appreciate Wim Wenders' hypnotic 3-D capture of choreographer Pina Bausch's pioneering modern-dance programs. Wenders' incendiary camerawork – full-body images, monorail-performed dances, dancers of all ages – allows us sweaty proximity to art in action. (with:)

The Red Shoes (1948) Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger created this valentine to ballerinas that lured untold legions of little girls into the world of classical dance. (both 4/10)

The Great Beauty (2013) Our full immersion into the sublime wackiness of modern Italian culture gets a major upgrade in Paolo Sorrentino's beautifully composed, completely surreal, yet grounded tour through a remorseful rake's reflections on love, loss, death and regret. Our peerless guide, an aging writer who got his lifetime pass to Rome's "beautiful people" decadence by penning one unforgettable novel a long time ago, is now living next door to the Colosseum while floating down a social river of half-remembered escapades and old friends with badly kept secrets. As he frames a silent moment where two aging Lotharios weep on each other's shoulders, Sorrentino reminds us of the rocking 1960s, when Italian films were must-see events that could change your life. (4/16, with Je t'aime, Je t'aime)

Brad Davis as Billy Hayes in director Alan Parke's Midnight Express.

Midnight Express (1978) Oliver Stone's Oscar-winning screenplay both bolstered the mythic status of American Billy Hayes' drug-fueled ordeal in a notorious Turkish prison, and significantly distorted the queer side to Hayes' saga. A view of this Alan Parker-directed thriller should be followed by a reading of Hayes' riveting memoir. (4/17, with William Friedkin's Sorcerer)

Wild at Heart (1990) David Lynch's stab at topping his act of genius, underground moral thriller Blue Velvet, is a tad over-the-top, but Nicolas Cage and Laura Dern are a fetching Elvis and Marilyn on the lam, with a special co-starring turn from San Francisco's own actor/poet J.E. Freeman. (4/25, with Mauvais Sang)

Top Gun (1986) Tom Cruise's career really gained air speed in this (now in 3-D) sky romp, as the leader of a naval aviation school trio of fighter pilot hot dogs. (with:)

Cocktail (1988) Cruise trades a cockpit for a cocktail shaker in this very-80s exercise in cocky charm. (both 4/26)

It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963) Stanley Kramer's nearly three-hour stab at concocting the funniest Hollywood chase caper ever, with perhaps the greatest all-star cast – Spencer Tracy, Sid Caesar, Milton Berle, Mickey Rooney, Ethel Merman, Jonathan Winters – never reaches the sublime state of its 1930s-era prototypes, but the wacky pratfalls do add up to an experience that's never dull. (5/3, with Pee-Wee's Big Adventure)


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