This week in Bay Area screens: 3 new films, 7 film festivals, plus Bridesmaids, M, Touch of Evil, and Monsoon Wedding.
- The Berlin & Beyond Autumn Showcase continues through Saturday
- The Alameda International Film Festival continues through Sunday
- So does the Cinematografo International Film Festival and Industry Forum
- Also through Sunday, the Napa Valley Film Festival
- And yes, New Italian Cinema closes on Sunday
- The 3rd i South Asian Film Festival continues through Sunday, then pops up again for one day next week.
- the SF Urban Film Fest opens Monday and runs into the next week
New films opening
A- Lady Bird, Embarcadero, Alamo Drafthouse New Mission, opens Friday
As you would expect from Greta Gerwig, this coming-of-age film is both touching and funny. Every character seems real and worthy of our sympathy, and yet their foibles make us laugh. Christine, who prefers the nickname Lady Bird, is a senior in a Sacramento Catholic high school. She hates Sacramento, and hates her money-obsessed mother. Class issues play a major part here, since Lady Bird’s family is on “the wrong side of the tracks.” Many of her friends and potential boyfriends live in mansions. The story is set in 2002, as America is about to invade Iraq. Read my full review.
A- God’s Own Country, Opera Plaza, Shattuck, opens Friday
Johnny (Josh O’Connor) works hard on his family’s sheep farm, and is emotionally cut off from everyone. His only release – I wouldn’t call it pleasure – is fast, meaningless sex with men he doesn’t want to know. Then Johnny’s parents hire Gheorghe (Alec Secareanu) to help run the farm. The two young men become lovers, and for the first time in Johnny’s life, he discovers what it’s like to truly love someone. The movie starts dreary and desperately sad, but it becomes sweetly romantic. Read my full review.
B Wait for Your Laugh, Opera Plaza, Shattuck, Rafael, opens Friday
If you recognize the singer and comedian Rose Marie, it’s probably from The Dick Van Dyke Show; she played Sally, the only woman on the writing staff. This entertaining but very one-sided documentary follows the former musical prodigy (and daughter of a gangster) through her career in vaudeville, nightclubs, and television. Now 94, she tells her story with enthusiasm and joy, but the film is very much her version of her life, with limited comments from others. Nevertheless, this documentary captures her energy, work ethic, and talent. That’s something worth catching. Read my full review.
A M, Berlin & Beyond Autumn Showcase, Goethe-Institut, Friday, 8:30
In his first talkie, director Fritz Lang showed us a Germany sinking into corruption, depression, and paranoia. The paranoia is understandable; someone is murdering little girls and successfully eluding the police. Eventually the underworld must do what the authorities cannot and stop the killer. Peter Lorre became famous as the oddly sympathetic child molester, driven by inner demons he cannot control. I’m not sure film noir would ever have happened without M.
B+ The Divine Order, Berlin & Beyond Autumn Showcase, Goethe-Institut, Saturday, 7:30
Swiss women didn’t get to vote until 1971. This feel-good drama about that struggle places the fight not in metropolitan Zurich but in a small, provincial, and very conservative town. The year is 1970, but the culture seems stuck in the 19th century. A bored housewife who can’t get a job without her husband’s permission (Marie Leuenberger) teams up with a few other women to turn the town upside down for their cause. The Divine Order is a feel-good crowd pleaser, and for a political film, that’s not always a bad thing.
B+ Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey, Cinematografo International Film Festival and Industry Forum, Kabuki, Friday, 8:30
I’m not a Journey fan, but this music documentary made me like the band’s new lead singer, Arnel Pineda. He’s charismatic, energetic, down-to-earth, and funny. He also has a great set of pipes. Ramona S. Diaz’s documentary shows how he became a part of Journey. Band members, desperate for a new singer, found the poverty-stricken, Manilla-based Pineda on Youtube, flew him out to California, worked with him for a few weeks, then took him on the most successful tour in Journey’s long history. This true-life fairy tale lacks conflict–the worst thing that happens to Arnel is a head cold–but Pineda has such a magnetic personality you don’t really care.
B LA 92, Napa Valley Film Festival, Lincoln Theater, Saturday, 8:30
I’ve reviewed two films about the Rodney King riots in less than three months. Of the two, this is the one to see (the other is Gook). This documentary starts with the 1965 Watts riots, then brings us to 1991, when four police officers needlessly and horribly beat King. Then it covers the trial, the disappointing verdict, and the riots – which take over about half of the film’s runtime and at times feel repetitive. LA 92 tells this story almost entirely in archival video, mostly television news coverage, giving it a powerful immediacy. The filmmakers will be present.
D- Fritz Lang, Berlin & Beyond Autumn Showcase, Goethe-Institut, Friday, 6:00
I don’t know if this fictional version of how Lang was inspired to create M is historical accurate, and I don’t care. But I do care if it’s believable, dramatic, and interesting, and Fritz Lang fails on all these points. For one thing, Heino Ferch isn’t convincing in the lead role. For another, the filmmakers expect us to believe that the police let Lang watch over their shoulders during the biggest case in all of their careers. The only good scenes involved his troubled marriage with screenwriter Thea von Harbou; now that relationship could make a great movie!
A Bridesmaids, New Parkway, Thursday, 9:00
What do you expect from a Judd Apatow movie? A lot of laughs. Raunch. Some gross-out humor. Close friendships tested. A reasonable quantity of heart. And a modern male point of view. Bridesmaids provides all but the last one, and you can thank screenwriters Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo for giving this Apatow-produced comedy a thoroughly feminine perspective. Wiig also stars as a maid-of-honor whose life seems to be going down the tubes, and taking her best friend’s wedding with it.
A Touch of Evil, Alameda, 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.
A- Monsoon Wedding, New Parkway, Sunday, 5:30
Not quite comedy, not quite drama, and not quite Bollywood. Mira Nair puts together several narrative strands as families come together for a arranged Indian marriage where old and new collide. The bride and groom have never met, but the bride has a good career and a married lover. Things go bad for almost everyone, usually in a comedic way, although one strand of the story becomes dark and serious. A very entertaining movie all around.
A- A Streetcar Named Desire, Alamo Drafthouse New Mission, Sunday, 12 noon (sold out), Monday, 1:25
You can see why this film made Marlon Brando a star. His Stanley Kowalski is strong, impulsive, violent, and scary – and you can’t take your eyes off him. You can easily see why his wife Stella (Kim Hunter in another brilliant performance) keeps coming back to him despite the horrible way he treats her (and everyone else). Unfortunately, I can’t give much praise for Vivien Leigh, who goes way over the top with her Blanche DuBois. Read my report. New digital restoration.
Lebowskies (frequently-revived classics)
- My Neighbor Totoro
(dubbed), New Parkway, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Tuesday
- Mystery Science Theater 3000, New Parkway, Friday, 10:30PM
- I am not Your Negro, Elmwood, Wednesday, 7:00. MY REVIEW.