What’s Screening: December 8 – 14

Here are some good movies to catch before Star Wars takes over the multiplexes.

And no film festivals this week. In fact, in less I’ve missed something, no film festivals for the rest of the year.

New films opening

A The Shape of Water, Embarcadero Center, Alamo Drafthouse New Mission, opens Friday

Only Guillermo del Toro could make a grand, romantic, suspenseful, and horrifying sequel to The Creature from the Black Lagoon. Sally Hawkins stars as a mute cleaning woman in a huge, highly secure research center in the early 1960s. When a strange fish/man arrives for dissection, she senses its pain and sets out to free it. Octavia Spencer and Richard Jenkins play her eventual partners in crime, while Michael Shannon makes a wonderfully despicable villain. The creature looks very much like the one from the fifties movies, but far more expressive. Your heart goes out to him from the start. Read my full review.

A Darkest Hour, AMC Metreon, Albany Twin, Guild, opens Friday

This historical drama follows Winston Churchill’s first month as prime minister – a time when a Nazi takeover of Britain and the death of civilization seemed inevitable. Gary Oldman gives an admirable performance as Churchill, despite the layers of latex makeup. This is not the fearless leader that the world saw during the war, but the struggling, self-mocking, and self-doubting human being he hid from the public while facing heavy political pressure to negotiate with Hitler. Read my full review.

C+ The Other Side of Hope, Opera Plaza, Shattuck, Rafael, opens Friday

Khaled (Sherwan Haji), a Syrian refugee who has entered Finland illegally, hopes to gain legal residency. The government wants to deport him, and three right-wing thugs threaten to murder him. Unfortunately, that strong story thread is interwoven with a much weaker one, concerning the middle-aged Wikström (Sakari Kuosmanen), who walks out on his wife, wins a fortune playing poker, and uses the money to buy a restaurant. These two threads conflict so badly with each other that they don’t really work together. Read my full review.

Promising events

Hall Ashby double bill: Harold and Maude & Being There, Castro, Monday, 7:00

I’ve written enough about Harold and Maude (I give it an A-), but I want to talk a bit about Being There – a film that I have not seen since its original 1979 run. An unusually quiet satire, Being There follows the adventures of an extremely naive and stupid man who knows only about gardening and watching TV (Peter Sellers). He stumbles into the corridors of power, where important people listen to his idiotic drivel and think he is profound. It’s sort of like Forrest Gump, without the sentimentality. A big hit in 1979, it’s largely forgotten today, despite its prediction of the dumbing down of politics.

Noir Noël – French Xmas Noir, Roxie, Wednesday, 7:15

Christmas and film noir go together like Cheerios and motor oil. And yet, the Bay Area will have two holiday-oriented noir programs this month. The first one has another twist: The movies are French. Who Killed Santa Claus, made during the occupation, allegedly carries a subtle message of resistance that the Nazis missed. Paris Pickup, from 1962, is one of those movies where a one-night-stand proves to be a really bad idea – especially when a beautiful woman brings you home on Christmas eve. I have not seen either film.

Recommended revivals

Yorgos Lanthimos double bill: Dogtooth & Alps, Roxie, Saturday, 7:00

The A goes to Dogtooth, a very dark satire of over-protective parenting – and arguably totalitarianism. The parents homeschool and brazenly lie to their three teenagers, none of whom have ever stepped out of the home. But with puberty bubbling up, things may have to change. Dogtooth contains horrifying outbursts of violence, explicit sex (none of it erotic), and a lot of deadpan humor. Read my full article. Alps has just enough continuity to make you try and follow the story, but there’s no story to follow. And yet, it was often utterly compelling and strangely funny. I give it a B. Read my full review.

A Cléo from 5 to 7, Pacific Film Archive, Saturday, 6:00

One of the best films of the French New Wave, Agnès Varda’s Cléo From 5 to 7 follows a young woman as she wanders through Paris on a summer evening. But it isn’t simply a joyful lark; she’s waiting for the results of her cancer screening. Shot mostly in black and white with some surprising uses of color, Cléo meditates on life from the point of view of someone who may not have a lot of it left. There’s even a silent movie tribute starring Jean-Luc Godard. You can read my longer report, but you’ll have to scroll down a bit. Part of the series The Art of Cinematography.

B+ Force of Evil, Roxie, Saturday, 1:00

John Garfield plays a crooked lawyer in the numbers racket, about to make a fortune by making his gangland boss an even bigger fortune. But this lawyer worries that the deal will destroy his morally-upright brother’s small business. Oddly, the brother is also in the number racket, but he’s small time and refuses to use violence. Shot in New York as both film noir and the blacklist were heating up, Force of Evil is a short, powerful punch of a movie, leading up to a terrifically suspenseful final act. On a Agitprop! 2 triple bill with The Ear aka Ucho and Punishment Park.

B+ Bullitt, Castro, Thursday

Age hasn’t been altogether kind to this once cutting-edge police thriller. But it has its pleasures, especially Steve McQueen’s exceptionally cool charisma and the best car chase ever shot on the streets of San Francisco. Another marker: To my knowledge, McQueen’s single use of the word “bullshit” marks the first time anyone said such a word in a Hollywood movie. On a double bill with 48 Hrs, which I saw and kind of liked in 1982.

Catch it again

A- Big Sonia, Tuesday, 12:00 noon
Big Sonia.png
At 92, Sonia Warshawski is a remarkable woman. She has been running a tailor shop for decades. She’s warm and friendly to everyone. She wears loud clothing. And she has plenty to talk about. As a holocaust survivor, she watched her mother forcibly marched into the gas chamber. But she survived, made her way to Kansas, and married another survivor (one who could laugh about the experience). They had children, and started the tailor shop. Her husband eventually died, but she keeps on going. Read my Jewish Film Festival report.

Continuing Engagements

Lebowskies (frequently-revived classics)