What’s Screening: August 3 – 9

Conventional war, nuclear war, a secret marriage, and jigsaw puzzles. All that and a closing festival on Bay Area screens this week.

Warning: I had to write this newsletter a week early. It’s likely missing several worthwhile screenings.


New films opening

A- Puzzle, Embarcadero Center, opens Friday

As I watched this drama about a very conventional housewife who discovers her worth through jigsaw puzzles, I found myself waiting for the conventional clichés of serious dramatic films. But to my joy, those expectations never materialized. When I expected an emotional explosion, I saw quiet tears, instead. Kelly Macdonald, in an Oscar-worthy performance, plays the blue-collar wife and mother whose life opens up. Read my full review.

Promising events

Donovan’s Reef, New Mission, Saturday, noon

One of John Ford’s last films, and his very last with John Wayne…and it’s not even a western. I’ve yet to see this roughhouse comedy about two aging white men (Wayne and Lee Marvin) on a small Polynesian island. They’re friends, but they often get angry and come to blows. Among the plotlines, Marvin’s character tries to hide from his grown daughter the fact that he has another child…and this one isn’t all white. The screening promotes Jason Henderson & Adam Foshko’s book California Tiki: A History of Polynesian Idols, Pineapple Cocktails and Coconut Palm Trees.

Recommended revivals

A Ivan’s Childhood, BAMPFA (formerly Pacific Film Archive), Saturday, 6:00

The point of Andrei Tarkovsky’s beautiful and haunting tale is that 12-year-old Ivan never really gets to have a childhood–or at least not an adolescence. It’s World War II. Germans have killed his family, so he joined the partisans. These Russian soldiers want to send him east to safety, but he refuses. The Nazis made his life impossible, and controlled anger is all he has left. Read my longer report. Part of the series Andrei Tarkovsky: Sculpting in Time (not be confused with the 1915 BAMPFA series called The Poetry of Time: Andrei Tarkovsky).
A Miracle Mile, Castro, Thursday, 7:00

This apocalyptic romantic comic tragedy thriller sits high on my list of little-known gems. It starts out as a gentle, witty, charming, and sweet-natured romantic comedy. Then the young man answers a wrong phone number and discovers that Soviet missiles are fast approaching (the film was made in 1988). The tone remains funny, in a very dark and suspenseful way, as he searches for his new love and tries to arrange a seemingly hopeless rescue. By the final act, there’s little humor and plenty of horror. Read my original report and my Blu-ray review. Writer/director Steve De Jarnatt and film noir expert Eddie Muller will discuss the film.
A Andrei Rublev, BAMPFA, Thursday, 7:00

How can a film that’s plotless, episodic, slow, and runs 205 minutes be so good? Andrei Rublev tells multiple stories in the life of the title character–a famous 15th-century religious painter. Sometimes an active participant and sometimes a passive observer, Rublev observes a world of poverty, faith, political and religious conflict, and horrifying, seemingly random violence. Andrei Tarkovsky’s great medieval epic questions the meaning of faith in a hostile universe, while emphasizing its immense importance. Truly magnificent. Another part of the series Andrei Tarkovsky: Sculpting in Time.

Continuing Engagements

Lebowskies (frequently-revived classics)