What’s Screening: November 9 – 15

On Bay Area screens this week: Masterpieces by Renoir, Keaton, Bergman, Welles, Laurel, and Hardy, along with three new movies and six film festivals.


New films opening

A A Private War, Albany Twin, opens Friday

You can’t frequently place yourself in danger without emotional scars – even if you’re doing it for the best possible reasons. Marie Colvin (Rosamund Pike in an outstanding performance) may have been the most courageous news reporter in the history of journalism, running into war zones to report on the carnage. Screenwriter Arash Amel and director Matthew Heineman turn eleven years of her life (from when she lost an eye in Sri Lanka to when she lost her life in Syria) into a study of a driven, fearless, empathetic, but emotionally broken human being. Read my full review.

B+ The Great Buster: A Celebration, Opera Plaza, Shattuck, opens Friday

I’m giving this film a relatively high B+ for one simple reason: It contains some of the funniest visual gags ever recorded on film. But they’re all clips from other movies shown out of context. If you recently discovered the joys of Buster Keaton, this biographical documentary will help you learn who he really was. But if you want an introduction to his work, you’re better off seeing the original silent movies. And if you, like me, have loved Keaton for years, Peter Bogdanovich’s documentary has little new to add. Read my full review.

C Monrovia, Indiana, Elmwood, Opera Plaza, opens Friday

Frederick Wiseman’s latest documentary studies life in a small, agricultural town in what we might call Trump country. We see people at work. We see people joking around and telling funny stories. We see people in church – several churches. And when we don’t see people, we see crops. This might have been a very good film at 90 minutes. At 143, it’s a slog. There are too many scenes that go on way too long; a Mason ritual that’s fascinating for five minutes goes on for at least 15. When the town council meetings are the most exciting thing in the movie, you know you have a problem. Read my full review.

Another chance to see

A Science Fair, Lark, Monday, 6:20; Wednesday, 12:10 (matinee)

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 an American 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.

Recommended revivals

A+ Grand Illusion, Castro, Monday

Set in a POW camp during World War I (and made two years before WW2), Grand Illusion sets the conflicts of nationality and class against the healing power of our common humanity. The French prisoners and their German guards try their best to be civilized in a world where civilization is all but outlawed. Jean Gabin stars as a French officer of common stock, but you’ll likely remember Erich von Stroheim as an aristocratic German facing the end of his way of life. Read my A+ appreciation. On a Veteran’s Day double bill with Coming Home, which I saw and liked some 40 years ago, but I’m not sure it holds up.

A+ The General, Roxie, Monday, 6:35

New digital restoration. Buster Keaton pushed film comedy like no one else in his slapstick epic adventure. He meticulously recreated the Civil War setting. He mixed slapstick comedy with battlefield death. He hired thousands of extras and filmed what may be the single most expensive shot of the silent era – as a setup for a punchline. The movie flopped in 1926, but today it’s rightly considered one of the greatest comedies ever made. Warning: The movie sides with the Confederates. Read my A+ appreciation. The musical accompaniment will be whatever comes with the DCP.

A+ Cries and Whispers, BAMPFA, Wednesday, 3:10

No horror movie can come close to the fear, dread, and dark hatreds of Ingmar Bergman’s deep chamber drama. To watch it is to face the end of a slow and painful death by cancer. But that’s not all. This film, centered around four women and set almost entirely in one house, forces you to face the neglect and out-and-out cruelties with which we treat those who should be closest to us. How do you face the death of someone you love? Or worse yet, someone that you think you should love, but there’s very little love in your soul. This is not escapist entertainment. Read my Blu-ray review. With a lecture by Linda H. Rugg.

A Dogtooth, New Mission, Wednesday, 10:35

This very dark satire of over-protective parents – and arguably totalitarianism – examines an upper-middleclass nuclear family so insular it borders on incest. 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 the least bit erotic), and a lot of deadpan humor. Read my full article.

A Touch of Evil, Castro, 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. On a double bill with one of Alfred Hitchcock’s worst thrillers, Stage Fright.

A- Block-Heads, Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, Sunday, 4:00

Laurel and Hardy made some of the funniest two- and three-reel shorts ever projected, but their longer features suffered from the need to provide an actual plot. The boys made one of their few good features with Block-Heads (another is Sons of the Desert). Laughs are scarce for the first 15 minutes, but the remaining 45 minutes are well worth the wait. And as for the plot…it’s just Stan and Ollie trying to go home, cook a meal, and clean an apartment. There’s very little in the world funnier than that. With the shorts Lucky Corner (starring Our Gang) and Sherman Said It (Charley Chase). All three films are talkies.

Continuing engagements

Frequently-revived classics