What’s Screening: April 26 – May 2

SFFilm left me with a lot of reviews to write and post. Here are the first three. Also in Bay Area theaters, Satan, assumed witches, another Satan, a Wim Wenders double bill, deep loneliness in the inner city, Maori feminism, Monty Python, and early Hitchcock. Just remember that “Life’s a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death!”

Also three film festivals.


New films opening

A- Ramen Shop, Clay, Shattuck, Rafael, opens Friday

Ramen Shop isn’t really about food. It’s about family, history, and redemption. A young Japanese man in Singapore wants to learn about his family. His parents are gone, and he knows that his mother had a very sad life. Through cooking, and especially through the art of cooking ramen, he makes connections to great cooks and more importantly, his past. Yes, it’s a feel-good movie, but one that truly feels true. Read my full review.

B Red Joan, Embarcadero Center, Guild, Albany Twin, Piedmont, opens Friday

Judith Dench gets top billing, but she only plays the old Joan. Sophie Cookson plays the young Joan in the flashbacks that make up most of this well-acted story about the ethics of science. While working on the atom bomb during and after World War II, Joan breaks the Secrets Act for ethical reasons. Decades later, the older Joan must suffer the consequences. One of those British films where everyone gives a great performance. Read my full review.

C+ Hail Satan?, Embarcadero Center, California (Berkeley), opens Friday

Like the Satanic Temple itself, this documentary has a message to preach, and does so tongue in cheek. The message is a good one: We need to protect the separation of church and state in a government being taken over by fundamentalist Christians. But you get almost the whole point in the first 15 minutes. After that it’s mostly repetition. Read my full review.

Promising events

Animation Celebration! Part 2, Roxie, Sunday, 4:30; Tuesday, 7:00

Another collection of short, American-made cartoons from the middle of the 20th century. I haven’t seen any of these ones, but chances are they’ll be entertaining.

Another chance to see

A I Am Not a Witch, BAMPFA, Saturday, 5:45

In an unnamed African country (shot in Zambia), villagers accuse a young girl of being a witch. She’s forced to live with other “witches,” all old women. They’re treated like slaves, with thick ribbons substituting as chains. A government official takes her under his wing, exploiting her alleged powers for profit. Writer/director Rungano Nyoni uses cinematic techniques that keep the audience emotionally distant, which somehow makes the protagonist’s treatment feel all the worst. A powerful film.

B+ Satan & Adam, Elmwood, Thursday

In 1986, a chance meeting of blues musicians created magic. Sterling Magee (aka Mr. Satan), black and old, had had a good career as a session musician, but was now playing on the street. Adam Gussow, white and young, had no real career at all. Teaming up as Satan & Adam, they had a good ten-year run before life intervened. Director V. Scott Balcerek tells the story so seamlessly and so entertainingly that I sometimes suspected it was a hoax (it’s not). Flowing with joy and music, and with a full sense of the racial issues involved, Satan & Adam tells a story so strong you might (as I did) suspect it’s fiction.

Great double bills

Two by Wim Wenders: A The American Friend & B+ Wings of Desire, Castro, Monday, 7:00

The American Friend: Dennis Hopper plays Patricia Highsmith’s Tom Ripley, who convinces a dying man (Bruno Ganz) to become a hitman to support his family. Of course, things go wrong, and the suspense ratchets up considerably.
Wings of Desire:
Wim Wenders’ fantasy about angels in Berlin offers a view of the city as a land of interior monologues. Then one of them falls in love with a trapeze artist and finds himself longing for mortality. With Peter Falk as a strange version of himself.

Recommended revivals

A Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Lark, Sunday, 3:30

Audience participation & Sing-along version! Bump your coconuts and prepare the Holy Hand Grenade, but watch out for the Killer Rabbit (not to mention the Trojan one). The humor is silly and often in very bad taste, and the picture has nothing of substance to say beyond ridiculing the romantic view of medieval Europe. But the Pythons’ first feature with an actual story (well, sort of) keeps you laughing from beginning to end. After Airplane!, the funniest film of the 1970s—and of the 1070s as well.

A Moonlight, New Mission, Saturday, noon

Barry Jenkins’ second feature follows a resident of the inner city from childhood to adolescence to young adulthood, examining three stages of his life. Three different actors play Chiron, a young man unsure of his sexuality who must learn to at least appear macho to survive in the tough streets. Mahershala Ali carries the first act as drug-dealer who is also a gentle and kind father figure. Read my full review. Q&A with producer Andrew Hevia.

A- Whale Rider, New Parkway, Saturday, 2:55

Modern concepts of equality come face to face with ancient customs in this New Zealand fable. Within a 21-century Maori community, a young girl (Keisha Castle-Hughes) sets out to learn and practice rituals intended only for men. Despite the PG-13 rating – earned by one use of the word shit and a marijuana joke you could miss if you blink – this is a family film.

B+ Blackmail, Rafael, Monday, 7:00

A beautiful young woman ditches her Scotland Yard detective boyfriend, flirts with an artist, then has to kill him in self-defense. The next morning she’s at the mercy of a blackmailer. Alfred Hitchcock’s second thriller already shows touches of the master. The heroine’s night wanderings after the incident, her reaction to casual gossip about the murder, and the blackmailer’s breakfast prove that even this early, Hitchcock could keep us on the edge of our seats. Blackmail was both Hitchcock’s first talkie and his last silent. The Rafael will screen the silent version, with accompaniment by The Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra.

B- Auntie Mame, Lark, Tuesday, 4:30; Thursday, 6:10

Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee’s stage play (based on Patrick Dennis’ novel) is a wonder – a comic celebration of a free spirit who lived life to the fullest. The movie version follows the play almost word for word and preserves Rosalind Russell’s great performance. But Morton DaCosta’s stage-bound direction traps the story inside its theatrical roots. The usually dependable screenwriters Betty Comden and Adolph Green (Singin’ in the Rain, The Bandwagon) failed to find clever ways around Hollywood’s stricter-than-Broadway censorship.

Frequently-revived classics