What’s Screening: October 20 – 26

This week, Bay Area movie screens host refugees, Winnie-the-Pooh, rare and bad videos, six film festivals, zombies, aliens, and the Marx Brothers.


New films opening

A Human Flow, Embarcadero, Shattuck, Rafael, opens Friday

Refugees are on the move; more than any since World War II. In this haunting documentary, filmmaker Ai Weiwei introduces you to a cross section of these millions without a country. He shows the squalor they’re forced to live in; their fear and frustration. But he also shows them joking and laughing and playing with their children. Weiwei has something important to tell us about human life and human dignity, and how societies can crush both. But most importantly, it’s about how we can, and must, save lives and restore dignity. Read my full review.

A Bending the Arc, Opera Plaza, opens Friday

If this documentary doesn’t make you feel guilty, you’re probably a sociopath. The film covers more than 30 years of struggle as Partners in Health fight tuberculous, AIDS, and Ebola in the poorest places on the globe. They also fight the World Bank and other organizations that have written off whole populations as expendable. With no narration but plenty of on-camera interviews, Bending the Arc shows how altruism, determination, optimism, and a willingness to learn from your mistakes can make a better world. We should all behave like these people.

B+ Goodbye Christopher Robin, Embarcadero, opens Friday

This is a typical, well-made British period piece – beautifully shot and acted, with plenty of stiff upper lips. That doesn’t make it bad, but it makes it conventional. World War 1 veteran A. A. Milne (Domhnall Gleeson) suffers from PTSD, which isn’t helped by his beautiful but cold wife (Margot Robbie). While playing with his son Christopher Robin (Will Tilston), he creates Winnie-the-Pooh stories that the world would soon love. But fame falls hard on the young boy. The movie is touching and sad, and will make you think differently about these books you’ve probably loved since childhood. Read my full review.

Festival Screenings

A- Wonderstruck, Modern Cinema, SFMOMA, Sunday, 3:30

Writer Brian Selznick and director Todd Haynes create a very special kind of magic in this story about two deaf kids – living 50 years apart, who run away to New York City and gravitate to the Museum of Natural History. In 1977, the newly-deaf Ben (Oakes Fegley) sets out to discover the father he never knew. In 1927, born-deaf Rose (Millicent Simmonds) searches for her missing mother. Each will find something important in the museum. Haynes uses color and black and white, muted sounds, and even puppets to tell this enchanting double story. Read my full review.

B+ Cabaret, Modern Cinema, SFMOMA, Saturday, 2:00

Back in the spring of 1973, I was angry (but not surprised) when the obviously commercial Godfather beat Bob Fosse’s Weimar-era musical for the Best Picture Oscar. Time proved me wrong, and while I wouldn’t today put Cabaret in the same class as The Godfather, this story of decadence in pre-Nazi Germany is still a dazzling piece of style with an important message about the loss of freedom.

Promising events

The Found Footage Festival, Grand Lake Theater, Thursday, 8:00; also next week Friday and Saturday at the Roxie

The world is full of unwanted VHS cassettes, which is a good thing for Nick Prueher and Joe Pickett. They mine comic gold from the unwanted dregs of the video universe, which they serve up every so often with this unique combination of standup comedy and very bad videos. I’ve yet to see this “festival” live (I intend to fix that Thursday night), but I’ve seen their 2007 and 2012 shows on DVD, and found them hysterical. This year’s selection promises to include local news bloopers, a prank pulled by Pickett and Prueher, and “The Law Enforcement Guide to Satanic Cults.”

The Thing, Alamo Drafthouse New Mission, Saturday through Monday

I confess. I have yet to see John Carpenter’s remake of Howard Hawks’ The Thing. But what makes this screening special is that New Mission will project a 70mm print. I don’t know if it’s a new or archival one.

2 Scary Shorts + Filmmaker Q&A, Albany Library, Tuesday, 7:00

Thinking about making a low-budget horror movie? The Albany Library will screen two locally-made short horror movies: Orientation and The Spirit Machine. After the screenings, filmmakers Timothy Plain and Hannah Scharlin-Pettee will discuss how they made their movies on the cheap, using do-it-yourself special effects, followed by a Q&A with the audience.

Recommended revivals

A Horse Feathers, Pacific Film Archive, Friday, 4:00; Saturday, 4:30; Sunday, 2:00

At Huxley College, the professors are pompous windbags and the students care only about football. But with Groucho Marx running the college, whatever it is, he’s against it. In what little plot there is, Groucho goes to a speakeasy and hires the wrong football players (Chico and Harpo). Horse Feathers does something musically unique for a Marx Brothers film: Each brother gets to serenade the beautiful and talented Thelma Todd in their own rendition of the film’s romantic song, Everyone Says I Love You. This is one of their funniest. Read my Blu-ray review.

A Touch of Evil, Castro, Wednesday

Orson Welles’ film noir classic, and his last Hollywood studio feature. He lacked the freedom he found in Europe, but the bigger budget–and perhaps even the studio oversight–resulted in one of his best works. As a corrupt border-town sheriff, Welles makes a bloated, scary, yet strangely sympathetic villain. Janet Leigh is a lovely and effective damsel in distress. As the hero, a brilliant Mexican detective, Charlton Heston is…well, he’s miscast, but not as badly as some people say. On a Welles double bill with The Trial, which I saw once and didn’t like.

A Night of the Living Dead, Alamo Drafthouse New Mission, Tuesday

This is fear without compromise. The slow, nearly unstoppable ghouls (sequels and imitations would later rename them zombies) were shockingly gruesome in 1968. Decades later, the shock is gone. But the dread and fear remain, made less spectacular but more emotionally gripping by the black and white photography. Night of the Living Dead is scary, effective, occasionally funny, and at times quite gross. It can be viewed as a satire of capitalism, a commentary on American racial issues, or simply one of the scariest horror films ever made. Read my essay. New 4K Restoration.

B+ Aliens, Castro, Thursday

Alien had only one monster, but James Cameron’s sequel strands a platoon of marines on a barely hospitable planet infested with the big, egg-laying predators. It works as a horror film, an action flick, a war movie, science fiction, a feminist work (the climatic fight is between two mothers fighting for their babies), and a condemnation of capitalism. Sigourney Weaver, made famous by the original film, stars again. Unfortunately, the Castro will screen the original cut. If this was the 154-minute director cut, I’d give it an A.

B- Apocalypse Now Redux, Pacific Film Archive, Sunday, 6:30

You can see Francis Coppola’s talent melt away in his Vietnam War epic. This modern updating of Heart of Darkness achieves a powerful, hypnotic, surreal brilliance as it follows an army operative (Martin Sheen) on a mission to terminate the command of a rogue officer. They arrive at their destination, meet Marlon Brando, and the whole movie collapses under its own (and Brando’s) weight. But the PFA will screen the longer and very much inferior Redux version (I give the original cut an A-). Part of the series Marlon Brando: The Fugitive Kind, even though Brando only pops up at the end.

Continuing engagements

Lebowskies (frequently-revived classics)