What’s Screening: September 13 – 19

In Bay Area movie theaters this week: Molly Ivins, struggling in San Francisco, great music from the ’70, Art House Theater Day, and films by Billy Wilder, Abbas Kiarostami, Robert Downey Sr., and J.J. Abrams. But only one film festival.


The Week’s Big Event

Art House Theater Day, Wednesday

The Art House Convergence celebrates not only unusual and non-commercial cinematic works, but the theaters that show them. These Bay Area theaters are celebrating Art House Theater Day with these movies Wednesday:

New films opening

B+ RAISE HELL: The Life & Times of Molly Ivins, Opera Plaza, California, opens Friday

This biographical documentary follows the life of the late, great Texan newspaper columnist and rabble rouser. It’s surprising just how Texan Ivins was…despite her leftist views. For instance, she hunted and drank a lot of beer. But what makes the movie especially enjoyable are the clips of her talking, usually in front of audiences. When she compares her cancer to Newt Gingrich…well, her Texas accent makes it all the funnier.

Another chance to see

A- The Last Black Man In San Francisco, Castro, Saturday; New Parkway, every day but Tuesday

A sad eulogy for San Francisco, which will never be what it once was. Two young men, a carpenter and a playwright, fix up an empty house that once belonged to the family, even though they know they can’t possibly live in a home on sale for $4 million. Cinematographer Adam Newport-Berra shoots The City in a way that looks nothing like any other San Francisco movie; It’s still magical, but no longer beautiful. The musical choices remind us of the long-gone Summer of Love.

B+ Unsettled: Seeking Refuge In America, Rafael, Monday, 12:00 noon

Being gay in some parts of the world can be a death sentence, and the only hope is to get refugee status in a country where one’s sexuality isn’t a capital crime. Tom Shepard’s moving documentary follows four such refugees with hopes of a safe home. But the process takes years, and during that time these likeable people must live in limbo. To make matters more difficult, they must struggle with a new culture and language, find homes and jobs, and get immigration lawyers they can afford. An inspiring study of people hoping for a better life.

Great double bills

A- Amazing Grace & A- Wattstax, Castro, Sunday

Amazing Grace: Aretha Franklin, belting out some of the greatest Gospel music ever recorded, performed at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Watts. How can you get better?
The Staple Singers, The Bar-Kays, Kim Weston, and Isaac Hayes give great performances to excited audiences and well-placed cameras. Best of all, a not-yet-famous Richard Pryor adds his own very funny asides.

Recommended revivals

A Where Is the Friend’s Home?, BAMPFA, Friday, 7:00

An exceptionally kind eight-year-old boy goes on what seems like an epic journey in his young eyes. He sets out to return a classmate’s notebook. Without the notebook, the classmate can’t do his homework, and the overly strict teacher already has it in for the poor kid. But finding the classmate’s home isn’t easy. He lives in a neighboring town that our protagonist doesn’t know. There’s apparently no phone service. And few adults care about this young boy’s journey. Filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami had a knack for looking at the world as a child. Part of the series Abbas Kiarostami: Life as Art. Digital restoration.

A Double Indemnity, Stanford, Saturday through Tuesday

Rich, unhappy, and evil housewife Barbara Stanwyck leads insurance salesman Fred MacMurray by the libido from adultery to murder in Billy Wilder’s near-perfect thriller. Not that she has any trouble leading him (this is not the wholesome MacMurray we remember from My Three Sons).  Edward G. Robinson is in fine form as the co-worker and close friend that MacMurray must deceive. A great, gritty thriller about sex (or the code-era equivalent) and betrayal. On a double bill with True Confession, which I’ve never seen.

B+ Putney Swope, New Mission, Wednesday, 7:30

Before Robert Downey, Jr., there was just plain Robert Downey – maker of absurd, offensive, and very independent comedies. In this 1969 feature, the single, token black executive in a Madison Ave. ad agency accidentally becomes the top dog. Suddenly, this meek negro becomes a militant black, and things get very surreal. Even Mel Brooks gets into the cast. Part of the Art House Theater Day.

B- Star Trek (2009, J.J. Abrams version), New Mission, Monday, 7:00

J.J. Abrams did a great job casting this big-screen reboot of the original show. The new stars look and act right, and it’s fun to watch these younger versions of Shatner, Nimoy, and so on. But while the original show was about humanistic values and social commentary, this film is all about action. And as an action movie, the new Star Trek is well-done but routine. As part of the New Mission’s big Screen Science series, Jeffrey Silverman and Aaron Lee will discuss the science behind the fiction.

B- The Landlord, Castro, Saturday, 1:15 matinee

Beau Bridges plays a spoiled rich kid who buys an apartment house in a Brooklyn ghetto with the intention of evicting the residents. Instead, he becomes involved with their lives. The scenes with Bridges’ rich family play as broad, exaggerated farce, while Pearl Bailey does another stereotype as the wise, ethnic mother figure.  In the end, you get a lot of good scenes and a few near great ones, but it never jells into a single work. First-time director Hal Ashby had greater work ahead of him.

Continuing engagements

Frequently-revived classics