What’s Screening: January 25 – 31

What’s in Bay Area movie theaters this week: Quentin Tarantino, Humphrey Bogart, Mel Brooks, Fritz Lang’s German mythology, and the best film about the Warsaw Ghetto, along with two film festivals.


The Week’s Big Event

A Who Will Write Our History, Embarcadero Center, Sunday, 1:00

I’ve seen a lot of films, narrative and documentary, about the Warsaw Ghetto, but I never felt the reality of life in that hellhole until I saw this one. Throughout the Ghetto period, a group of courageous Jews wrote down everything they could. If the Germans had found out what they were doing, they would have been killed and their writings destroyed. To tell this story, director Roberta Grossman broke a lot of rules – mixing narrative and documentary techniques – to create a stronger emotional punch. The effect was stunning.

Promising events

The Nibelungen, Part I: Siegfried’s Death, BAMPFA, Saturday, 4:30

I first saw Fritz Lang’s two-part epic tale, based on old German myths, in the early 1970s. It blew me away. Of course, I was only 18, so I was easily blown over. But I saw it again about 20 years ago and I still liked it. I’d probably like it again. Siegfried kills a dragon, wins a nation, marries Kriemhild, and is murdered. Part II: Kriemhild’s Revenge screens a week later. Judith Rosenberg will accompany this silent film on piano.

Reservoir Dogs, New Mission, Monday, 7:00

It’s been way too long since I’ve seen Quentin Tarantino’s directorial debut, so I won’t give it a grade. I remember being shocked, grossed out, and disgusted, as well as thoroughly entertained.

Another chance to see

A Three Identical Strangers, New Mission, Thursday, 7:00

This is one of the best documentaries I saw last year. In 1980, three young men who didn’t know each other, all of them adopted, discovered that they were identical triplets. Filmmaker Tim Wardle created an original, deeply empathetic documentary about their lives, their brief celebrity, and the discovery that they and their adoptive parents were guinea pigs in a long-term, secret, nature/nurture experiment. Wardle breaks generally-accepted documentary rules to create a fresh way of telling his story. Read my full review.

A- The Silence of Others, New Mission, Saturday, 4:00

Spain became a democracy when Franco died in 1975…but one without justice. An amnesty law blocked the ability to prosecute crimes against humanity. The result is a country that knows little about its horrible past. This epic and yet intimate documentary follows several survivors who lost parents and children, along with those who were tortured, in their quest to put the worst kind of criminals on trial. A sad but hopeful film about a horrible time that is in danger of being forgotten.

A- RBG, New Mission, 7:00

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 last one, 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.

Recommended revivals

A+ Casablanca, Vogue, Thursday, 7:30

You’ve either already seen the best film to come out of the classic Hollywood studio system, or you know you should. Let me just add that no one who worked on Casablanca thought they were making a masterpiece; it was just another sausage coming off the Warner assembly line. But somehow, just this once, the sausage came out perfect. For more details, see Casablanca: The Accidental Masterpiece.

A Young Frankenstein, New Parkway, Sunday, 9:00

Once upon a time, Mel Brooks had talent. And he showed it off beautifully in this sweet-natured, 1974 parody and tribute to the Universal horror films of the 1930′s (specifically the first three Frankenstein movies). Gene Wilder wrote the screenplay and stars as the latest doctor to be stuck with the famous name. With Marty Feldman, Madeline Kahn, Cloris Leachman, and Peter Boyle as the lovable but clumsy creature.

B+ The Wizard of Oz, various theaters, Sunday, 2:00; Tuesday & Wednesday, 7:00

I don’t really have to tell you about this one, do I? Well, perhaps I must explain why I’m only giving it a B+. Despite its clever songs, lush Technicolor art direction, and one great performance (Bert Lahr’s Cowardly Lion), The Wizard of Oz never struck me as the masterpiece that everyone else sees. It’s a good, fun movie, but not quite fun enough to earn an A or even an A-. A Fathom Events presentation of the movie’s 80th anniversary.

Continuing engagements

Frequently-revived classics