Note: I’ve corrected this newsletter since I published it.
Martin Scorsese will make two personal appearances at the Castro this week. Also three new films, comedies from Jacques Tati and The Naked Gun, those men with The Right Stuff, and that very scary Face in the Crowd.
And only two film festivals.
The Week’s Big Event
Martin Scorsese & The Irishman, Castro, Tuesday, 7:00
I don’t know yet if it’s a good movie, but the Bay Area’s premiere of Martin Scorsese’s newest and longest film, The Irishman, is certainly a major event. Starring Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci, it appears to be an epic crime story set after World War II. The film runs almost 3½ hours without an intermission, which may cause some discomfort. Tickets are sold out, but some may be available at rush. Martin Scorsese intends to introduce the film in person.
New films opening
A The Cave, Opera Plaza, opens Friday
This fly-on-the-wall documentary about the Syrian war left me shaken and disturbed. That’s appropriate. You can’t watch screaming, terrified children, cared for by hassled and exhausted adults, and not be changed – and it’s all real. In the besieged Syrian city of Eastern Al Ghouta, Dr. Amani Ballour does everything she can in an underground hospital while bombs and poison gas rain down from above. If this film has a flaw, it’s that it is just too much to bear. Read my full review.
B+ By the Grace of God, Opera Plaza, Shattuck, opens Friday
Decades after the crimes, the adult victims of a Catholic pedophile priest go after him in court. The film’s first 40 minutes are dreadfully boring, primarily because it focuses on a very boring man. But after a while we begin to meet other victims, and they’re much more interesting – especially the extremely troubled Emmanuel (Swann Arlaud). Meanwhile, the priest admits his crimes but treats them as minor transgressions, while the Cardinal fumbles over himself. By the end, it’s excellent. From the usually less serious François Ozon. Based on actual events.
B Frankie, Embarcadero Center, opens Friday
The revelry is understandably forced in this well-made but low-key drama about mortality. Frankie, the family matriarch (Isabelle Huppert, in a beautifully subtle performance), has cancer and probably won’t survive the year. She’s vacationing in Sintra, Portugal with her husband, her gay ex-husband, her adult son, a stepdaughter planning to leave her husband, and a teenage girl who seems more mature than anyone else in the hotel. It all takes place in one day. The cast includes Brendan Gleeson, Marisa Tomei, and Greg Kinnear. Read my full review.
Jour de fête, BAMPFA, Saturday, 3:30
I saw Jacques Tati’s first feature about 20 years ago in Germany, where this French movie was dubbed into German. But dialog isn’t that important in Tati’s cinema, so I caught much of what was going on and enjoyed it. BAMPFA will screen it in the original French with English subtitles. Part of the series Jacques Tati: Comedy as Choreography.
The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad, New Parkway, Sunday, 9:30
I loved the Naked Gun movies of the 1980s and ’90s, but I haven’t seen any in a long time. These flicks were silly, ridiculous, off the wall, and usually very funny. Not surprisingly, from the makers of Airplane.
Another chance to see
A Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese, Castro, Monday, 7:00
Martin Scorsese is expected to attend this tribute to his non-fiction films. Scorsese used archival 16mm footage and new interviews – some of them with fictitious people – to tell us the story of Bob Dylan’s near-mythical 1975-76 tour. This wasn’t just a Dylan tour; Joni Mitchell, Allen Ginsberg, Patti Smith, Roger McGuinn, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, and Scarlet Rivera came along for the ride. And then there’s Joan Baez, singing, dancing, imitating Dylan, and talking backstage with him about their history together. The rehearsal and performance footage intimately captures these musicians as they work and play. DocFest closing night.
A- Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracles, Lark, Friday, 2:15; Saturday, 4:30; Monday, 8:00; Wednesday, 2:10
Max Lewcowicz’s documentary about Fiddler on the Roof makes a good argument that the 1964 Broadway hit was a feminist work well ahead of its time. Clips from the 1971 movie and several stage productions (not all of them in English or Yiddish) show the many ways the characters can be interpreted. In telling the play’s story, Lewcowicz touches on everything from the Hollywood blacklist to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s wedding. Read my full review. Fiddler On the Roof will screen at the Lark, Saturday, 6:30 and Monday, 4:30.
B+ The Judge, BAMPFA, Sunday, 5:00
Kholoud Al-Faqih, the first woman appointed judge in a Middle Eastern Shari’a court (in this case, in Palestine), is a likeable and charismatic person. Erika Cohn’s camera follows her as she works mostly in divorce courts, trying to find the fairest solution to various problems. We also see her with her husband and children, and on a visit to her very proud parents. The filmmakers also interviewed disapproving conservatives out to destroy her career. Part of the series View Finders: Women Cinematographers.
A+ Goodfellas, Castro, Sunday
Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) was just another crook working for the mafia, until he went too far. Martin Scorsese’s brilliant retelling of Hill’s life follows him from his enthusiastic, adolescent leap into crime until, 25 years later, he rats on long-time friends to save his neck (no, that isn’t a spoiler). Liotta narrates most of the film as Hill, who clearly loved his life as a “wise guy.” But while the narration romanticizes the life of crime, Scorsese’s camera shows us the ugly reality. Goodfellas is dazzling filmmaking and incredible storytelling. Read my A+ essay. On a Scorsese double bill with Casino, which I remember liking although I didn’t think it was great.
A- The Right Stuff, Alameda, Wednesday
Philip Kaufman’s sprawling epic of the first Americans in space still holds up. Contrasting the quiet, lone-wolf heroism of test pilot Chuck Yeager with the Mercury astronauts, who worked as a team in the glare of intense media coverage, the film finds reasons to admire both approaches. Beautifully shot and well-acted, with Bay Area comedians showing up in small, funny roles.
B+ A Face in the Crowd, New Mission, Tuesday, 2:45
Andy Griffith gives an over-the-top but powerful performance as a down-and-out country singer turned television personality, then demagogue, in this surprisingly prescient drama about the effects of celebrity and politics. If you know Griffith only from his TV work, you’ll be surprised that he had this in him. The cast includes an excellent Patricia Neal, a not-yet-famous Walter Matthau, and a very young Lee Remick. The film’s occasionally preachy, as if writer Budd Schulberg and director Elia Kazan needed to be sure that everyone would get the message. A Mubi Free Victory Screening.
B The Invisible Man, Stanford, Saturday & Sunday
A lesser effort by director James Whale – Universal’s early 1930s “King of Horror.” But this H. G. Wells adaptation provides plenty of pleasures. Claude Rains, in his first film role, gives a distinctive voice to the unseen title character–a scientist whose invisibility has turned him into a megalomaniac. The story is full of holes and absurdities–even if he can’t be seen, a naked man running around the English countryside at night has some serious disadvantages–but it’s fun. On Werewolf of London, which I’ve yet to see.
- Fiddler On the Roof, Lark, Saturday, 6:30; Monday, 4:30
- Double bill: Dracula & The Black Cat, Stanford, closes Friday