What’s Screening: September 28 – October 4

Hal Ashby, Paul Greengrass, Rafael Sabatini, Mel Brooks, The Beatles, Ingmar Bergman, and a bunch of smart kids – along with six (count ’em, six!) film festivals – in Bay Area movie theaters this week.


New films opening

A Science Fair, Opera Plaza, Shattuck, opens Friday

Highly-motivated high school students compete in local, national and international science fairs for fun and college tuition. This inspiring documentary introduces us to several brilliant students, including a Muslim girl stuck in a high school where no one cares, a German boy working on aeronautics, two kids from Brazil trying to stop the Zika virus, a slacker with poor grades but a talent for AI, and a teacher who pushes her students very hard.

B+ Bisbee ’17, New Mission, Rafael, opens Friday

Robert Greene’s documentary initially feels distant and slow, but improves as it goes along. In 1917, Bisbee, Arizona was a prosperous mining town. But many of the miners wanted a part of that prosperity and joined the union. So the company, the sheriff, and a group of new deputies rounded them up – along with their sympathizers – herded them into cattle cars, and freighted them to the middle of the desert. To mark the event’s centennial, the townspeople reenacted this dark piece of local history for Greene’s cameras. Read my full review.

B+ Hal, Opera Plaza, Shattuck, opens Friday

I was just becoming serious about cinema when Hall Ashby started directing. He was never respected as a major auteur, but he directed many of the important films of the 1970s, including Harold and Maude, Shampoo, and Being There. Amy Scott’s enlightening but conventional documentary celebrates Ashby as a constantly stoned, humanist rebel fighting the front office to make films with important messages.

Preview screenings of upcoming movies

22 July & Tribute to Paul Greengrass, Rafael, Tuesday, 7:00

The California Film Institute will honor the director of United 93, Bloody Sunday, and three Bourne movies (I believe it was Greengrass who joked that the next installment would be called The Bourne Redundancy). The onstage conversation will be followed by a screening of his new film, 22 July, which recreates the right-wing terrorist attack that hit Norway in 2011.

Promising events

The Sea Hawk, Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, Saturday, 7:30

No, this isn’t the Errol Flynn version from 1940, but the original 1924 production that actually follows Rafael Sabatini’s novel (the Flynn version has no connection whatsoever to the novel it’s allegedly based on). If I can recall the film properly (it’s been a long time), Milton Sills couldn’t buckle his swash like Flynn, or like Sills’ contemporary Douglas Fairbanks. But I remember it being reasonably entertaining.

Recommended revivals

A The Producers, BAMPFA, Sunday, 7:00

New digital restoration. A long, long time ago, before digital cinema and even Dolby Stereo, Mel Brooks was actually funny. And he was never funnier than in his directorial debut. Both Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder (in his breakout performance) play comedy to the hilt as a desperate pair scheming to make a fortune off a very bad Broadway musical called Springtime for Hitler. A gorgeous, laugh-inducing gem. Read my report. Part of the series Mark Morris Presents: In the Age of Pepperland.

A A Hard Day’s Night, BAMPFA, Saturday, 3:30

When United Artists agreed to finance a movie around a suddenly popular British rock group, they wanted something fast and cheap. After all, the band’s popularity was limited to England and Germany, and could likely die before the film got into theaters. We all know now that UA had nothing to worry about. The Beatles are still popular more than half a century later. What’s more, Richard Lester’s A Hard Day’s Night still burns with outrageous camerawork and editing, subversive humor, and a sense of joy in life and especially in rock and roll. Part of two series: Movie Matinees for All Ages and Mark Morris Presents: In the Age of Pepperland.

A- The Atomic Cafe, Rafael, Saturday, 7:30

Historically and hysterically fascinating, this 1982 documentary takes an unusual approach to nuclear war, Communism, and the first years of the Cold War. There’s no new footage, no narration, and very few facts. Instead, directors Jayne Loader, Kevin Rafferty, and Pierce Rafferty present TV clips, educational movies, military training films, and other bits of propaganda. The resulting montage provides a sense of what Americans were being told, and how they felt, when the red hordes and nuclear war had us all petrified. The movie ends with a nuclear attack on America, created in the editing room from various old clips.

A- The Virgin Spring, BAMPFA, Wednesday, 3:10

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 results, you can understand why Bergman never again used anyone else for that job. As with all screenings in the series and class In Focus: Ingmar Bergman, there will be a lecture by Linda H. Rugg.

Frequently-revived classics