What’s Screening: May 4 – 10

A rock star on the supreme court, a love triangle amongst spies, musical Milos, and three film festivals – all on Bay Area screens while I’m in New York State.

I wrote this newsletter a little early, so it may not include everything it should.


New films opening

A- RGB, Embarcadero Center, New Mission, Rafael, opens Friday

There’s nothing objective about this documentary on Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The filmmakers clearly believe that the Supreme Court’s progressive hero is a rock star, a superhero, and a major bulwark protecting American democracy. I believe that, too. But I didn’t know until I saw this film that young women not only see Ginsburg as a role model, but tattoo her likeness on their bodies. An entertaining and enlightening film about someone I’m afraid to lose. Read my full review.

B Bye Bye Germany, Opera Plaza, Shattuck, opens Friday

For obvious reasons, most surviving German Jews migrated to Israel or the USA after the war. But some 4,000 remained in Germany. This humor-laced drama fails to explain why, but it offers a compelling story about one Jew who stayed there to revive his dead family’s linen business. The story is entertaining, often funny, and occasionally terrifying. There’s one deeply sad moment.

Promising events

Cold Water, Roxie, five screenings this week

I have yet to see Olivier Assayas’s autobiographical story, made in 1994, of wayward youths in 1968 France. On the other hand, almost no Americans have seen it. It’s been out of circulation for years, and I don’t think it ever had an American release. The film recently received a new 4K digital restoration, so the Bay Area has chance to finally catch it.

Great double bills

A+ Notorious & Spellbound, Stanford, Friday through Sunday

In Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious, a scandal-ridden Ingrid Bergman proves her patriotism by seducing and marrying Claude Rains’ Nazi industrialist while true love Cary Grant grimly watches. Sexy, romantic, thought-provoking, and scary enough to shorten your fingernails. Read my Blu-ray Review. Spellbound is a little too much of a psychological mystery to be an effective thriller, but it has enough Hitchcock style, plus star wattage from Bergman and newcomer Gregory Peck, to make a fine entertainment.

A Amadeus (director’s cut ) & B+ Hair, Castro, Sunday

Milos Forman’s two musicals! In Amedeus, the successful composer Salieri (F. Murray Abraham) sees that the struggling Mozart (Tom Hulce) is the bigger talent, so he sets out to destroy his rival. A story of talent, jealousy, and the creative spark, accompanied by some of the best music ever written. The Broadway “tribal love-rock musical” Hair was plotless and pretty much unfilmable. So Forman and screenwriter Michael Weller created their own story around the songs and characters. One of the best films about the late 1960’s counterculture, made only a few years after it ended.

Recommended revivals

A One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Castro, 7:00
Ken Kesey’s novel offered a perfect opportunity for Milos Forman to explore his favorite topics: totalitarianism and rebellion. What’s the insane asylum except a dictatorship in miniature, with Nurse Rachet (Louise Fletcher) as the dictator and McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) as the resistance. The supporting cast includes such not-yet-famous actors as Danny De Vito and Christopher Lloyd. On another Milos Forman bill with Man on the Moon, which I haven’t seen.

Airplane!New Mission, Wednesday, 7:45
They’re flying on instruments, blowing the autopilot, and translating English into Jive. So, win one for the Zipper, but whatever you do, don’t call him ShirleyAirplane! throws jokes like confetti – carelessly tossing them in all directions in hopes that some might hit their target. Surprisingly enough, most of them do. There’s no logical reason a movie this silly can be so satisfying, but then logic never was part of the Airplane! formula. I’d be hard-pressed to name another post-silent feature-length comedy with such a high laugh-to-minute ratio

A- The Virgin Spring, Pacific Film Archive, Wednesday, 7:00

Up until the last few minutes, this Ingmar Bergman film, set in medieval rural Sweden, is damn near perfect – then it falters. Drenched in Christian and pagan worship (mostly Christian), the powerful story involves rape, murder, destruction of innocence, revenge, and that old Bergman theme: the absence of God. This was Bergman’s first collaboration with cinematographer Sven Nykvist, and when you see the images Nykvist created, you can understand why Bergman never used anyone else for that job. Part of the series Bergman 100: The Silence of God.

B+ Midnight Cowboy, Castro, Tuesday, 7:00

The only X-rated film to ever win Best Picture (it was eventually re-rated R without changes), Midnight Cowboy also made Jon Voight a star and proved that Dustin Hoffman was more than The Graduate. Voight plays a naïve Texan who comes to New York thinking he’ll make a lot of money as a prostitute. As I said, he’s naïve. Hoffman plays a grifter who becomes his only friend. A gritty study of two lost souls in the heartless city. The Castro will screen it on a double bill with My Own Private Idaho, which I vaguely remember liking.

Lebowskies (frequently-revived classics)