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Davis, Crawford Back On The Silver Screen

Classics at the Balboa top list of films to see

Photo caption:

Photo credit: Warner Brothers

Joan Crawford and Bette Davis deliver gothic horror as famous sisters in a twisted relationship in "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?"

"Fasten your seat belts, it's going to be a bumpy night!" That's right, because Bette Davis and Joan Crawford are back on the big screen at the Balboa Theater.

If you enjoyed the recent series "Feud: Bette and Joan" on FX and its portrait of the off-screen rivalry between legendary stars Bette Davis and Joan Crawford then you need to check out the on-screen work of these iconic actresses.

The Balboa Theater is hosting "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?" (the only film the two actresses appeared in together) on Saturday night and a double feature of Davis in "All About Eve" and Crawford in "Mildred Pierce" on Sunday afternoon. The Balboa Theater, with its old-school movie palace elegance and gorgeous big screen, is the perfect place to host a tribute to these cinema icons.

The trio of films serves up a perfect mix, with "Baby Jane" catching them at the ends of their illustrious careers and then the double feature allowing each to shine in her prime.

Classics At The Balboa Top this Week’s Cinema Junkie List

"Fasten your seat belts, it's going to be a bumpy night!" That's right, because Bette Davis and Joan Crawford are back on the big screen at the Balboa Theater.

The classics

Davis is wicked fun as Margo Channing in the sharply written "All About Eve." The film is a razor sharp portrait of ambition and celebrity. Davis chews up the scenery with a voracious appetite, while Anne Baxter as Eve is all subtle calculation. Look for a young Marilyn Monroe and two of the best character actors in the universe, George Sanders and Thelma Ritter.

Then Crawford takes center stage in the woman's film "Mildred Pierce." She grabbed an Oscar as the long-suffering mother who sacrifices all for her bratty daughter. Directed by Michael Curtiz (of “Casablanca” fame) and adapted from a novel by hard-boiled author James M. Cain, the film drips with ripe melodrama and noir style.

But perhaps it’s “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?,” the film that paired the two aging stars in a gothic thriller, that audiences will be most eager to see after “Feud” teased us with delicious behind the scenes gossip about the rivalry of the two stars and the lengths to which they were willing to go to keep their careers alive. When this film came out — and even today still — it was shocking to see how horrific these once glamorous stars were willing to let themselves appear. Director Robert Aldrich emphasizes the contrast by providing luminous images of them in their youth, like salt in the wound. This is an audacious and perverse film that is not to be missed on the big screen, whether you are seeing it for the first time or the hundredth.

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Photo credit: Kino Lorber

The "morgue" of files that The New York Times obit writers can draw on are seen in the new documentary, "Obit."

Plus: Doc on death

A new film worth checking out is “Obit” (opening May 19 for a week at Landmark’s Ken Cinema) about the dedicated staff of obituary writers at The New York Times.

Most of us probably don’t think much about the people who slave away writing obits but director Vanessa Gold tries to change that with her documentary. Her portrait reveals how these people whose job is to write about people who have just died are really in the business of celebrating amazing lives. The people she interviews, especially Margalit Fox, are articulate and engaging and make you appreciate the craft and skill they bring to their job.

But with many things in this era of immediate gratification, the care and time they take to put a life into 500 words may be a dying vocation.

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Photo credit: Sony Pictures Classic

Diane Lane and Alec Baldwin play a married couple in Eleanor Coppola's "Paris Can Wait."

A trifle from a Coppola

Sofia Coppola is generating considerable buzz for the feminist edge she is giving the remake of “The Beguiled” that opens next month.

Meanwhile, her mom, Eleanor, is slipping under the radar with her first narrative feature, “Paris Can Wait.” But maybe that’s as it should be.

Eleanor Coppola has done documentary work, and for her first narrative film, she has decided to make a semi-autobiographical story about a woman at a crossroads. Diane Lane plays Anne, a woman married to a movie producer (Alec Baldwin) who loves her but can’t always make time for her. When her travel plans are disrupted, she ends up on a road trip to Paris with her husband’s charming French business partner (Arnaud Viard). The film boasts nice performances, lovely scenery and food to die for, but it is also wholly unexceptional and completely forgettable.

Despite the personal connection she has to the story, the film never feels intimate in its details and Anne is never fully fleshed out. Plus Coppola does not invest it with any particular style.

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Photo credit: Universal

Daniel Kaluuya plays an African American man who discovers that some horrific things are happening at the home of his white girlfriend in "Get Out."

Must-see on Blu-ray

I want to end with a film that I missed reviewing when it opened earlier this year, Jordan Peele’s “Get Out.” It has the trappings of a horror film but underneath it is so much more. It uses horror film tropes to suck us into a story about a young African-American man (Daniel Kaluuya) who visits the weird family estate of his Caucasian girlfriend (Allison Williams).

The film is rich with layers of social meaning and context that make it worth seeing more than once. Peele’s subtle and not so subtle social commentary is provocative and it proves that horror can be a compelling and effective genre for dealing with serious issues like race and class.

Although this film is better in a movie theater, I can’t encourage you enough to check it out in any way you can — see it with people and have a discussion after. It is nothing short of brilliant. I can’t wait to see what Peele does next.

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