Summer classics play the Castro Theatre
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The Castro Theatre ends June and kicks off July with an arresting series of big dramas from SF's Francis Ford Coppola and NYC-raised expat Stanley Kubrick. The Castro lets you judge how these signature classics have stood the test of time.
"Psycho" (1960) It takes a special artist to pull off a career game-changer as he turns 60, and boy, did Alfred Hitchcock succeed in a big way. "Psycho" begins with an afternoon sex tryst between a bored secretary, Marion Crane (Janet Leigh), and boyfriend Sam Loomis (John Gavin). Back at work, Marion impulsively steals $40,000 from her boss. Hitch fools us into thinking the movie is about this petty crime until 40 minutes in, when both we and Marion are blindsided by a maniac who stabs her 14 times in a shabby shower at the Bates Motel.
"Psycho" proved a career turning-point for co-star Anthony Hopkins. As "mama's boy" motel manager Norman Bates, he'd appear in three not-so-terrific sequels. The career of the (gay off-screen) actor was both helped and trivialized by this type-casting. The 45-second shower sequence is arguably Hitch's scariest, most effective scene, taking pleasure in breaking the Hollywood rule: anyone can die in the first act except the star. Shot in glorious B&W, "Psycho" is a thriller/gorefest that never grows old.
Plays with "Sisters" (1972), Brian De Palma's homage to "Psycho." Intrepid reporter (Jennifer Salt) gets dangerously entangled with a pair of homicidal Siamese twins. (both 6/28)
"Sing-A-Long Sound of Music" (1965) This family-friendly event combines a treasured classic with a yummy collection of off-screen audience treats. With Julie Andrews, Christopher Plummer and Eleanor Parker, and a score by Rodgers and Hammerstein. (6/29-30, 7/1-2, 5-6)
"Jaws" (1975) My choice for summer blockbuster "guilty pleasure." Then-20something Steven Spielberg took a pulp page-turner and created an adult thriller with first-rate cast and script. His sea tale combines an infernal killing machine with a trio of male actors who bond while taking shots at each other's pride and masculine bluster. Robert Shaw's bullshitting macho proves surprisingly thoughtful and vulnerable as he regales his shark-hunting mates, Roy Scheider's land-lubber police chief and Richard Dreyfuss' youthful shark expert, with a true-life shark-attack tale that cost the lives of WWII-era naval shipmen. A modern "Moby Dick" without literary baggage.
"Duel" (1971) Spielberg expanded on his made-for-TV version, a spine-chilling adventure as a solitary motorist (Dennis Weaver) is terrorized by the unhinged driver of an oil tanker who appears to be out for blood. Spielberg dips into his youthful trick-bag to illustrate Hitchcock's theory: that the most powerful screen thrills appear suddenly out of nowhere on a stretch of open highway in broad daylight. (both 7/3)
"The Godfather" (1972) Al Pacino takes over the reins of his New York crime family in the first part of Francis Ford Coppola's brilliant trilogy based on Mario Puzo's pulpy bestseller. Oscars for Best Picture, Actor (Marlon Brando) and Screenplay (Coppola and Puzo). Coppola is well-known in the movie business for prodigious feats of ghost-writing for other filmmakers. Here we view a protean film genius out in the open, getting all the credit he so richly deserves for what amounts to an Italian American origin-myth epic. Brilliant supporting cast, many of whom would go on to great heights with other directors: Diane Keaton, Robert Duvall, James Caan, Richard Castellano, Talia Shire, Sterling Hayden, Abe Vigoda, Richard Conte.
"The Godfather Part II" (1974) It's rare that the sequel to a mega-Oscar winner lives up to the original, let alone comes close to surpassing the first film. Coppola succeeds by creating two riveting plots: one traces the early life of Marlon Brando's Don Corleone; the second, the slightly depressing reign of Al Pacino as present-day "Godfather" don. The nearly four-hour epic is much more than just a slick gangster flick. It becomes a compelling retelling of the classic rags-to-riches immigrant story, at a time when those tales are both potent and poignant. (both 7/8)
"Barry Lyndon" (1974) At a tad over three hours, this Stanley Kubrick adaptation of an 18th-century novel by William Makepeace Thackeray will seem long to some, but for me it has always had a trance-like, hypnotic quality. With a strong title performance from 70s pretty-boy Ryan O'Neal, lead from the sentimental 1970 big-screen soap "Love Story." Co-stars Marisa Berenson, Patrick Magee, Murray Melvin and Hardy Kruger.
"Filmworker" (2017) The story of Leon Vitali, a young man whose character in Kubrick's "Barry Lyndon" fights a duel with Ryan O'Neal's rogue Sir Lyndon Barry. This doc follows Vitali's decision to quit acting and serve as an assistant to Kubrick. (both 7/9)
"The Shining" (1980) Based on the Stephen King novel. A man (Jack Nicholson) goes mad while serving as the caretaker of a snowbound resort. Fascinating idea goes off the rails as Nicholson overacts beyond the point of camp. Chasing after his wife (Shelley Duval) with an axe, Nicolson pops through a door exclaiming, "Here's Johnny!," an over-the-top reference to late-night talk host Johnny Carson. The movie's debut was promoted by a trailer showing elevator doors opening, a river of blood flowing out. A cool idea that just didn't work onscreen.
"Full Metal Jacket" (1987) Kubrick's Vietnam drama features a verbally abusive Marine Corps drill instructor played harrowingly by R. Lee Ermey, himself a retired DI. Balance of the film is a combat drama with a strong turn from Matthew Modine as a battle-tested Marine. Among the best of a small number of good Vietnam War combat films, with the first-half training footage upstaging Kubrick's take on the actual fighting. (both 7/10)
"Eyes Wide Shut" (1999) Kubrick's final work completed in his lifetime stars then-real-life partners Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman as a married couple who part after she reveals a sexual fantasy. A seldom-screened Kubrick masterpiece that received much attention at the time of his death. Co-stars Sydney Pollack and Alan Cumming.
Screens with "Filmworker" (both 7/11)
"The Beatles Yellow Submarine" (1968) For those who think the Beatles on film begin and end with the full-action classics "A Hard Day's Night" and "Help," the 50th anniversary edition of this splendid animation will be a revelation. With the boys at the height of their musical powers, cartoon versions of John, Paul, George and Ringo travel to "Pepperland" to save citizens from the "Blue Meanies." It's pure, silly fun, a soundtrack brimming with Beatles songs including "All You Need is Love," "When I'm 64," Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds," and the title ballad. Directed by George Dunning. (7/15-18)
"San Francisco Jewish Film Festival 38" The Castro serves as West Bay home for the world's longest-running showcase for Jewish-themed narratives and docs, with an emphasis on Holocaust and contemporary Middle East affairs. Our capsule reviews will appear in the July 19 issue. (7/19-29)