What’s Screening: December 6 – 12

There’s plenty of conflict in Bay Area movie theaters this week: The gays v. the church. The rich v. the poor. Terrorists v. one good cop. Sherlock Holmes v. Professor Moriarty. The sound of movies v.the sound of silents. Also AOC, Toni Morrison, Miles Davis, Martin Scorsese, and some of the best silent comedy shorts ever made.

Also, the two last film festivals of 2019.


New films opening

C+ Temblores, Opera Plaza, opens Friday

This drama about a gay man with a fanatically Christian wife and family has one very big problem: We never really get to know the guy. The film keeps him at an emotional distance. That’s a major problem for a film about a man being emotionally tortured. With the help of Guatemala’s conservative courts, he loses his job and worse, rights to visit his children. His only option is anti-gay “conversion therapy.” Read my full review.

Preview screenings of upcoming movies

B+ Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound, Roxie, Thursday, 6:30

George Lucas once said that sound is half the movie. Midge Costin’s entertaining documentary argues that proposition well. Audio geniuses such as Walter Murch, Ben Burtt, and Gary Rydstrom show us what they can do. Directors like Steven Spielberg and David Lynch praise them for doing it. Told chronologically for the most part, from the Vitaphone to digital sound, this film covers much of the technical advancements of the last 50 years and the artistic changes that came from them. But it ignores all the important changes that happened in movie sound during the 1950s.

Promising events

Film Composing in Real Time: A Workshop with Donald Sosin, BAMPFA, Sunday, 1:30

I’m kicking myself that I won’t be able to attend this talk. Sosin is one of the best silent film pianists around. In this presentation, he’ll talk, and presumably play, as he discusses the art of adding music to movies.

Trading Places, New Parkway, Thursday, 9:30

I haven’t seen this Eddie Murphy/Dan Aykroyd comedy since 1983. As a bet, two filthy rich brothers (Ralph Bellamy and Don Ameche) destroy the life and career of their young protégée (Aykroyd) and replace him with a panhandler (Murphy). I remember liking it very much.

Another chance to see

A They Shall Not Grow Old, various theaters, Saturday

I generally disapprove of colorizing and other technologies that make old movies look like new movies, but this is different. The British cameramen who, more than 100 years ago, shot this World War I footage were recording reality, not creating art. Much more recently, Peter Jackson’s team took these jerky, flat, black-and-white, and badly-worn newsreels, and turned them into smooth, colorful, 3D records of a long-lost past. It’s not always perfect; occasionally the faces look painted, but for the most part, it put me in the trenches to a degree I never experienced before.

A- Knock Down the House, New Parkway, Sunday, 12:00 noon

Rachel Lears’ documentary celebrates left-leaning women running in Democratic primaries against entrenched white male politicians. And the word celebrate fits; the audience I saw it with were clapping and cheering. The star, of course, is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. She’s funny, charismatic, and open. Unfortunately, she’s the only winner of the four. The others all lost their primaries. Too bad Ilhan Omar isn’t in the movie. This documentary is streaming on Netflix, but you won’t get the clapping and cheering there. Co-presented by the Appreciating Diversity Film Series.

A- Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am, BAMPFA, Friday, 4:00

I’ve never read a book by Toni Morrison. But then, I rarely read fiction. Nevertheless, I was mostly entranced with her story, as told mostly by the Nobel Laureate herself (she died while this film was in theaters). Of course, it’s all very positive, since when she’s not talking, a close friend of hers is. It appears that the people interviewed were encouraged to dress however they want, which gives the film a visual flair. The film left me wanting to read some of her books.

B Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool, BAMPFA, Saturday, 8:15

I don’t think you could not enjoy a documentary about Miles Davis; the music itself makes the movie worth watching. And the music is the best thing about this BBC/PBS production. Of course, you learn about Davis, but director Stanley Nelson has made a very conventional and unexceptional documentary. People who knew Davis tell us about his life, his substance abuse problems, and the constant changes in his music. But when you come right down to it, it’s the music that makes this movie watching.

Recommended revivals

A+ Analog Time Machine Presents DIE HARD, Roxie, Thursday, show starts 8:30; movie starts 9:15

The original Die Hard is easily one of the best action films ever made. Very evil people, who don’t care how many innocent bystanders die, take over a partly built skyscraper. Luckily, one man (Bruce Willis) is in the building but out of their control. Barefoot and initially armed with only a pistol, he must do what he can to stop them and save the hostages – which include his wife. The movie’s power comes from its willingness to spend time on character development before the action starts, and by allowing the hero to be physically and emotionally vulnerable. Read my A+ appreciation. This special Analog Time Machine presentation will involve a DJ set and other entertainments.

A The King of Comedy, BAMPFA, Wednesday, 7:00

Martin Scorsese’s meditation on celebrity and fandom (written by Paul D. Zimmerman) feels like Taxi Driver without the violence. Rupert Pupkin (Robert De Niro) thinks he’s a brilliant comedian. Instead of working his way up in the clubs, he stalks a famous TV comedian (Jerry Lewis in a fine, serious performance). Sandra Bernhard steals every scene she’s in as another crazy fan. Although basically a serious film, it’s often quite funny. J. Hoberman and Reyna Cowan will discuss the film after the screening. Opening night of the very short series, Afterimage: J. Hoberman on Movie Culture in the Age of Reagan. The series closes the next night with River’s Edge.

A Silent Comedy Shorts, Noe Valley Library, Tuesday, 6:30

Three of the best silent comedy shorts ever made in one showing. In Big Business, Laurel and Hardy set out to sell Christmas trees and end up demolishing a house and a car. In The Rink, Charlie Chaplin fails as a waiter, then makes havoc at a roller rink. Finally, in One Week, a newly married Buster Keaton builds a house that…well, you have to see it to believe it. This presentation lacks musical accompaniment, but I suspect that the laughter will provide enough sound.

A- The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Stanford, Tuesday and Wednesday

The second of 14 Sherlock Holmes films starring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce is the best in the series. It’s also the last of to be made on a decent budget. Here, Holmes and arch-villain Professor Moriarty (George Zucco) appear to like and even admire each other, even though they know that one of them must eventually destroy the other. Ida Lupino plays the lady in distress. Double-billed with Alfred Hitchcock’s last British movie, Jamaica Inn, which I saw long ago and didn’t care for.

Continuing engagements

Frequently-revived classics