What’s Screening: October 18 – 24

Roy Cohn, Paul Simon, the My Lai massacre, Arnold Schwarzenegger trying to save the world (before he knew about climate change), and a smattering of horror. All this and five film festivals on Bay Area screens this week.


New films opening

B+ Where’s My Roy Cohn?, Clay, Shattuck, opens Friday

Matt Tyrnauer’s documentary strongly argues that the famously malicious lawyer helped put our country into the mess we’re in. Cohn was certainly a major part of the problem. A self-hating Jew and a self-hating gay, he put Julius and Ethel Rosenberg on the electric chair, became famous as Joseph McCarthy’s chief counsel, worked for the mob, and taught Donald Trump how to be evil. Read my full review

Another chance to see

B+ Under African Skies, Lark, Saturday, 7:30

You can find plenty of political music documentaries, but few that examine both sides of a difficult controversy. This one examines the making of Paul Simon’s hit album Graceland, and the controversy over Simon’s breaking the South African cultural boycott of the time. Structured around a friendly 2011 chat between Simon and Artists Against Apartheid Founder Dali Tambo, it doesn’t come down with an easy answer. It also contains the expected jam session and mixing sequences. But what it never gives you is a song sung from beginning to end.

B+ The Whistleblower of My Lai, BAMPFA, Tuesday, 7:00

Don’t expect a conventional documentary about Vietnam, My Lai, or even Hugh Thompson – the helicopter pilot who was almost court marshaled for trying to stop a massacre and insisting on telling the world about it. Connie Field’s brief feature focuses largely on the Kronos Quartet, working with other musicians, to prepare and perform an opera about Thompson, dying of cancer, and thinking about the courageous act that changed, and to a large part ruined, his life. The film works best in the second half, when it’s less about the creation of the opera and more about its meaning. Part of the series Berkeley Film Foundation: Celebrating Ten Years of Local Filmmaking.

Recommended revivals

A Terminator 2: Judgment Day, New Mission, Sunday, 5:00

In one of those sequels that’s better than the original, a replica of the first movie’s killer robot (Arnold Schwarzenegger) returns from the future to help the good guys stop a worse killer robot and prevent a nuclear war. Linda Hamilton returns as the original’s intended victim, now a hard-as-nails and possibly insane heroine. The action scenes and special effects are outstanding, but so is the story of people surviving in extreme conditions. Along with the feature, you’ll get to see a 20-minute preview of the upcoming Terminator: Dark Fate.

A- Comedy Shorts Night, Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, Saturday, 7:30

This month’s collection of silent short comedies stick mostly to Halloween themes. The exception is Charlie Chaplin’s The Adventurer, where the tramp escapes from prison and nearly succeeds in breaking into society. Also on the program: Buster Keaton’s The Haunted House, Harold Lloyd’s Haunted Spooks, and Laurel and Hardy’s Habeas Corpus. All four are very funny, but be warned: Haunted Spooks contains no-longer acceptable racist humor.

A- Carnival of SoulsCastro, Monday, 8:35

This low-budget horror movie works in some very strange ways. A car goes off a bridge into a deep river, and one sole survivor comes out of the deep. She then drives to a new town where a job is waiting for her. But scary, dead-looking people seem to follow her. Has she lost her mind, or is she being pulled into the afterlife? The movie is creepy and atmospheric, and since it concentrates on her mental condition, it’s not exceptionally gruesome. Candace Hilligoss gives an excellent performance in the lead role. The rest of the cast is amateurish, but that only increases the sense of strange dread. On a double bill with Night Tide, which I’ve never seen.

B- Close-Up, BAMPFA, Saturday, 8:00

Abbas Kiarostami’s 1990 fiction/documentary hybrid starts out dull and confusing. But as it goes along, it improves considerably. Police arrest Hossein Sabzian, a con man with a deep love of cinema, for the crime of impersonating a famous director.  His trial, shot by Kiarostami, provides the film’s backbone. Other scenes were staged, using the actual people playing themselves. I don’t know how accurate these scenes are, but a running gag about a reporter constantly looking for a tape recorder suggests that Kiarostami stretched reality for entertainment’s sake.  Part of the series Abbas Kiarostami: Life as Art.

Continuing engagements

Frequently-revived classics