What’s Screening: November 15 – 21

What’s in Bay Area movie theaters this week? Two very good new movies. The Cotton Club with your choice of double bill. Molly Ivins and King Henry V. Drunken actors and gay cowboys. And film festivals from France, South Asia, and Napa.


Cotton Club Double Bills at the Castro

I saw Francis Ford Coppola’s 1984 musical drama, The Cotton Club, in 70mm when it was new. The music – recreations of performances from the days of segregation and prohibition – were just amazing. The story, on the other hand, never really touched on the racial issues of a top nightclub where only black people could be onstage and only white people in the audience.

Coppola recently added about 12 minutes to create The Cotton Club Encore. I don’t know if it’s an improvement.

But I do know that the Castro has come up with an interesting way to present the new version. By which day you choose to see it, you can pick which great Warner Brothers movie from the 1930s to be seen first:

B+ Gold Diggers of 1933, Sunday, 5:05

Before Fred Astaire teamed up with Ginger Rogers, Warner Brothers were putting out a whole different type of musical; smart, sassy, funny, definitely pre-code, and with Busby Berkeley production numbers that defy logic and physics. Gold Diggers of 1933 is the best early-thirties’ Warners musical; upbeat, sexy, and entertaining, but never really letting you forget that there’s a depression going on out there. This is the one that starts with Rogers singing We’re in the Money!

A the Roaring Twenties, 6:00

Interesting how the best gangster movie of the 1930s arrived years after the genre quieted down. Perhaps historical perspective helped. James Cagney returns home from WWI, discovers that he can’t get an honest job, and then finds work in a new, emerging industry: illegal bootlegging. He rises to the top of the racket, only to discover that it won’t bring him happiness, a nice girl, or security. Humphrey Bogart, on the edge of stardom, plays a much less sympathetic hoodlum.

New films opening

A- ÁGA, Roxie, Saturday through Tuesday

Life moves slowly in remote, far-north latitudes. People do difficult and dangerous chores by hand. Things don’t change much. And yet, Milko Lazarov’s new film, Ága, is never boring. Their world may be beautiful, but the couple are in trouble. They’re growing older and can’t move as fast as they used to. On top of that, the wildlife is disappearing. Fish, reindeer, and other game they depend on are harder to find. This film is as much about climate change as it is about two aging people living in a yurt. Read my full review.

A- Marriage Story, Clay, Albany Twin, opens Friday

This funny, heartwarming, and yet deeply satirical film should be called Divorce Story. You know from the start the marriage is over. The only question left is who gets the kid. The actress wife (Scarlett Johansson) wants to go home to LA and take the boy with her. The husband (Adam Driver) has an important career in New York. Soon both are burning a fortune on divorce lawyers – played by Laura Dern, Alan Alda, and Ray Liotta. And yet, they still have just a little bit of affection for their soon-to-be exes. Read my full review.

Promising events

Starship Troopers, Balboa, Tuesday, 7:30

I skipped Paul Verhoeven’s special effects heavy science fiction war movie when it opened in 1997. I suspected it was just an excuse for digitally created bloodshed and an advertisement for war. I still haven’t seen it. But I’ve since read that it’s more a satire on war and fascism than a simplistic action movie. One of these days I’ll have to see it.

Another chance to see

A- The Silence of Others, The Magick Lantern (Richmond), Friday, 7:30

Spain became a democracy when Franco died in 1975…but one without justice, since an amnesty law blocked the ability to prosecute crimes against humanity. The result is a country that knows little about its horrible past. This epic and yet intimate documentary follows several survivors who lost parents and children, along with those who were tortured, in their quest to put the worst kind of criminals on trial. A sad but hopeful film about a horrible time that is in danger of being forgotten.

B+ Raise Hell: The Life and Time of Molly Ivins, Lark, Friday, 2:10; Monday, 8:50; Wednesday, 4:15

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.

B The King, Castro, Tuesday

It takes a while to get used to watching the story of Henry V without Shakespeare’s language, but director/co-writer David Michôd has a very different take on the historical events. Such a radical approach requires new and modern dialog. In this version, Prince Hal/King Henry starts out as a near pacifist, very unwilling to go to war. But by the end, he’s a cold-blooded killer. The biggest character change is Falstaff, who is no longer comic relief. True, he’s a bit too loving of wine and women, but he’s also a brilliant and courageous tactician, and becomes the King’s best and most important adviser.

Recommended revivals

A A Star Is Born (1954 version), Castro, Wednesday

The second film with this title and basic story is one of the best. Judy Garland plays a singer who breaks into Hollywood as a singing and dancing star, making it a musical for the first time. Of course, this is the sort of realistic musical where people break into song only because they’re rehearsing or performing. In fact, the joyful songs in the films-within-the-film play a strange counterpoint to the serious story, reminding us of the artifice of Hollywood make-believe.

A Brokeback Mountain, New Parkway, Thursday, 9:00

Heath Ledger turns the stereotype of the strong, silent cowboy on its head, playing a man so beaten down and closed off from the world that every word is a struggle. Unable to come out of the closet, he can’t openly acknowledge who he really is without rejecting another, equally important part of his identity–the strong, manly cowpoke. Jake Gyllenhaal and Michelle Williams are also brilliant as his lover and his wife. One of only a handful of films that significantly changed society for the better.

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

This month’s selection of four short comedies get better as they go along. The Fireman is one of the weakest of Charlie Chaplin’s Mutual shorts. Fatty Arbuckle’s Back Stage, co-starring Buster Keaton, is pretty funny but not exceptional. But Pass the Gravy (starring Max Davidson) and the Laurel and Hardy entry, Two Tars, are both howlingly funny.

Continuing engagements

Frequently-revived classics

8 thoughts on “What’s Screening: November 15 – 21

  1. I like the COTTON double features but I am still trying to figure out the Castro double bill of THE OX BOW INCIDENT and MY COUSIN VINNEY. A sort of law theme? And I guess weddings bring together The Godfather and Altman’s THE WEDDING—sort of.

  2. I like the COTTON CLUB double features but I am still trying to figure out the Castro pairing of THE OX BOW INCIDENT and MY COUSIN VINNEY. A sort of law theme? And I guess weddings bring together The Godfather and Altman’s THE WEDDING—sort of.

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