What’s Screening: Jan 20 – 26

Bach, Keaton, Erdmann, and a lot of film noir play on Bay Area screens in the first week of the Trump regime.


  • SF Sketchfest continues through the week and beyond, although there are no movie events after Thursday.
  • Noir City opens tonight, and continues into next week. I’m giving this festival its own section below.

New films opening

A- Toni Erdmann, Embarcadero, opens Friday

Imagine a Marx Brothers movie weaved into a reasonably realistic family comedy/drama running almost three hours. And for the most part, it works. An incorrigible practical joker tries to reconnect with his estranged, very successful, uptight, and corporate daughter. She’s clearly unhappy, and his slovenly dress and inappropriate remarks embarrass her at every turn. Toni Erdmann contains what may be cinema’s funniest nude scene. But at 162 minutes, it could use some trimming. Read my full review.

Promising events

Erin Brockovich, New Mission, Monday, 7:00

It’s been many years since I’ve seen Steven Soderbergh’s political drama about the real-life, working class, single mom who became an environmental activist and helped win a massive lawsuit against PG&E. I remember liking it. Soderbergh will be there in person. Let’s hope that unlike the last time I saw him talk, he slows down and answers questions.

Ocean Waves, Roxie, through Sunday

This 1993 animated feature from Studio Ghibli has never before been seen in the United States. I don’t know much about it beyond that.

The Mads Are Back, New Mission, Friday, 9:00

Mystery Science Theater 3000 alumni’s Trace Beaulieu and Frank Conniff (AKA Dr. Clayton Forrester and TV’s Frank) will screen a really bad movie (title unannounced) and provide their comic commentary. Part of SF Sketchfest.

Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach, Pacific Film Archive, Thursday, 7:00

I’ve never heard of this film by Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet, but it sounds interesting. Built loosely on correspondence between Johann Sebastian Bach and his second wife, it focuses not on them but on the music being created. The cast were entirely musicians, and the music was recorded live.

Recommended revivals

A+ The General, Pacific Film Archive, Saturday, 3:30

New digital restoration. Buster Keaton pushed film comedy like no one else in this masterpiece. He meticulously recreated the Civil War setting. He mixed slapstick comedy with battlefield death. He hired thousands of extras and filmed what may be the single most expensive shot of the silent era (then used that shot as the setup for a gag whose punch line is a simple close-up). The result was a critical and commercial flop in 1926, but today it’s rightly considered one of the greatest comedies ever made. Read my A+ essay. Judith Rosenberg will accompany on piano.

A- Rebel Without a Cause, various Cinemark theaters, Sunday and Wednesday

James Dean became a star in this melodramatic message picture about what’s wrong with kids these days. And what is wrong? Parents don’t spend time with their kids and boys need fathers who are man enough to put the womenfolk in their place. And yet, thanks largely to Dean’s electrifying, frightening, and sympathetic performance, it’s a far better movie than it has any right to be. As a middle-class juvenile delinquent adjusting to a new school, Dean defined the word teenager for several generations. Of course, he got a lot of help from director Nicholas Ray, and supporting players Natalie Wood and Sal Mineo as his only friends. In very wide early Cinemascope.

Noir City

All shows at the Castro

A The Killing, Monday, 7:15

Stanley Kubrick started his Hollywood career with this crackerjack noir heist thriller. A career criminal (Sterling Hayden) orchestrates a complex racetrack robbery likely to net two million 1956 dollars. But he needs collaborators, and that means human frailty will get in the way. Hayden’s rat-a-tat-tat delivery does wonders for snappy, pulp-heavy dialog like “You’d be killing a horse – that’s not first degree murder. In fact, it’s not murder at all. In fact, I don’t know what it is.” On a double bill with Cruel Gun Story.

A- The Ladykillers, Tuesday, 7:15

In the 1950s, Britain’s Ealing Studios made several droll but wonderful comedies starring Alec Guinness, often about crime. In what is probably the darkest Ealing comedy, Guinness leads a gang on a complex heist, and part of the complexity involves renting a room. But when their sweet, old landlady finds out that they’re not really musicians, their only option is to kill her–a task that proves far more difficult than they expected. Perhaps a more descriptive title would have been The Incompetent Ladykillers. Not be be confused with the Coen Brothers remake. On a double bill with The League of Gentlemen.

B+ Kansas City Confidential, Saturday, 1:30

One man conceives of the perfect crime, then brings three hardened criminals in on it. Everything goes smoothly, with an innocent bystander taking the wrap. But when that bystander is released for lack of evidence, he has business to attend to. This taut little noir from 1952 delivers the goods, muddying the moral waters while providing suspense and entertainment. The title is misleading, however; most of the story takes place in a reasonably nice resort in Borados–a strangely pleasant setting for any noir, let alone one called Kansas City Confidential. See my longer report. On a double bill with Violent Saturday.

Lebowskies (frequently-revived classics)