What’s Screening: July 19 – 25

This week in Bay Area movie theaters: a new comedy about death, a massive epic about totalitarianism, rock and roll gone wrong, masterpieces by Orson Welles and Martin Scorsese, and a trip out of this world. Also film festivals frozen, haunted, and Jewish.


The Week’s Big Event

Moon landing’s 50-year anniversary

Saturday marks the 50th anniversary of the moon landing. It seemed incredible when it happened, but now we wonder “What was the point?”

Nevertheless, three Bay Area movie theaters mark the day. The Rafael will screen the 1989 documentary For All Mankind, with an added touch of humor and fantasy with Georges Méliès’ A Trip to the Moon. The New Parkway will screen this year’s documentary, Apollo 11. The Roxie will screen 2001: A Space Odyssey, which aside from being a cinematic masterpiece, was the last fictional trip to the moon before the real one. But I’m not sure how the extremely immersive 2001 will work on the Roxie’s small screen.

What’s missing? Last year’s First Man, plus Ron Howard’s story of the moon landing that never was: Apollo 13.

New films opening

B+ The Farewell, Embarcadero Center, New Mission, opens Friday; Aquarius, Piedmont, Shattuck, opens Thursday

Lulu Wang’s comedy confrontation between the Chinese and Chinese-American sides of the same family provides a lot of laughs, held up by a serious structure built around mortality. Billi, a New Yorker of Chinese descent (Awkwafina), travels to China, along with the rest of her family, for a final goodbye to her dying, beloved grandmother. But following Chinese custom, no one tells Grandma that she’s dying. Only Billi disapproves of the deception. The family goes as far as to create a sham wedding as an excuse for everyone coming to town. Funny and touching. Read my full review.

Promising events

The Human Condition, BAMPFA

I must confess: I have not yet seen Masaki Kobayashi’s epic trilogy (more than nine hours, total) about Japanese fascism and Russian Communism in and after World War II. Each film will screen on a different day. All part of the series Against Authority: The Cinema of Masaki Kobayashi.

Another chance to see

A- Free Solo, The Magick Lantern, Friday, 7:30

Alex Honnold just may be crazy. As a free solo rock climber, he doesn’t use a rope; one small slip and he’s dead. This documentary, directed by Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, follows his preparations for becoming the first person to climb El Capitan without protection. Honnold comes off as a nice guy but an emotionally stunted one; his girlfriend can’t get him to talk about feelings. Chin and Vasarhelyi made the wise choice of showing us how and where the cameras are placed. In the last act, while Honnold climbs that deadly rockface, the suspense is almost unbearable. An REI Outdoor School Instructor will speak about rock climbing and the film’s challenges.

Great double bills

A+ Citizen Kane & A+ The Third Man, Stanford, Saturday through Tuesday

Citizen Kane: How does any movie survive a 70-year reputation as The Greatest Film Ever Made? By being very, very good. As Orson Welles and his collaborators tell the life story of a newspaper tycoon through the flashback memories of those who knew him, they also turn the techniques of cinema inside out. Read my A+ appreciation
The Third Man:
Writer Graham Greene and director Carol Reed place an intriguing mystery inside post-war Vienna – a world so dark and disillusioned that American noir seems bright by comparison. Then, when the movie is two thirds over, Orson Welles comes onscreen to steal everything but the sprocket holes. See my A+ article.

Recommended revivals

A+ Taxi Driver, New Parkway, Friday, 10:30pm

When I think of the 1970s as a golden age of Hollywood-financed serious cinema, I think of Robert De Niro walking the dark, mean streets of New York, slowly turning into a psychopath. Writer Paul Schrader and director Martin Scorsese put together this near-perfect study of loneliness as a disease. It isn’t that De Niro’s character hasn’t found the right companion, or society has failed him, or that he doesn’t understand intimacy. His problems stem from the fact that he’s mentally incapable of relating to other human beings. This is a sad and pathetic man, with a rage that will inevitably turn violent. Read my Blu-ray review.

A- Gimme Shelter, BAMPFA, Friday, 8:45

The dark side of Woodstock. Merely four months after the ultimate festival of hippy utopia, the Rolling Stones concert at Altamont showed how easily sex, drugs, and rock and roll could slip into a nightmare. The Maysles brothers caught the disastrous concert, where hippies and Hells Angels fought violently and sometimes fatally just offstage, and turned it into a requiem for the death of flower-child idealism. Part of the series It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll.

B+ Scarlet Street, BAMPFA, Friday, 6:30

If you’re lonely, bored, professionally unfulfilled, and stuck in a bad marriage, beware of beautiful women who take an interest in you–especially if you look like Edward G. Robinson. You’ll likely fall for a dame and before you know it, you’ll be stealing from your boss and letting the dame take credit for your suddenly successful paintings. It won’t end well. A fine noir written by Dudley Nichols and directed by Fritz Lang. Part of the series Fritz Lang’s America.

Frequently-revived classics