What’s Screening: December 13 – 19

Frank Capra’s masterpiece. Cagney and Bogart. The movie that made Terry Gilliam famous and the one that created the word gaslighting. The creepy world of medieval Christianity. And remember, the family that runs an ambulance together struggles to make a living. All that and more on Bay Area movie screens this week.


New films opening

B+ Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound, Roxie, Saturday, 4:15; Sunday, 2:10; Thursday, 9:00

George Lucas once said that sound is half the movie. Midge Costin’s entertaining documentary argues that proposition well. Audio geniuses 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. Read my full review.

Another chance to see

A Midnight Family, Roxie, Wednesday, 7:00; Thursday, 7:00

The Ochoa family of Mexico City have a difficult, unusual, and occasionally profitable business. They run a freelance ambulance, spending their nights providing paramedic work and bringing patients to hospitals. Occasionally they get paid. Luke Lorentzen’s remarkable documentary follows them on their harrowing routes, trying to save lives and earn a few pesos within a poor and extremely corrupt system. I wrote more about this film in my SFFilm Festival report.

Recommended revivals

A+ It’s a Wonderful Life, Balboa, Saturday, 4:30; Sunday, 1:30

There’s a rarely-acknowledged dark side to Frank Capra’s feel-good fable. George Bailey (James Stewart) saves his town and earns the love of his neighbors, but only at the expense of his own dreams and desires. Trapped, frustrated, and deeply disappointed, George needs only one new disaster to turn his thoughts to suicide. The extremely happy (some would say excessively sappy) ending works because George, whose main problems remain unsolved, has suffered so much to earn it. Read my A+ appreciation. The Balboa will have four other Wonderful Life screenings, but these will be of the unacceptable colorized version.

A The Roaring Twenties, Stanford, Tuesday & Wednesday,

35mm. 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. On a double bill with John Ford’s Drums Along the Mohawk.

A Time Bandits, New Parkway, Sunday, 9:25

What would you do with a map of the universe’s flaws? For a band of unruly dwarves, the answer is easy: Make it the guide for a time-traveling crime spree. Unfortunately, Evil Incarnate believes that the map will give him unlimited power, and the Supreme Being wants it back. Terry Gilliam takes the children’s fairy tale for a ride in the movie that turned Monty Python’s animator into a major filmmaker. Read my Blu-ray review.

A- Gaslight, Castro, Friday, 7:05

A Victorian bride (Ingrid Bergman) seems happy in her new marriage, and no other actress could look at a man with love and passion like Ingrid Bergman. But her husband (Charles Boyer) keeps insisting that his lies are true, to the point where he appears to be intentionally driving her insane. Now you know why they call it gaslighting. This exceptional psychological thriller, a big-budget, noir period piece, was directed by George Cukor. On a double bill with The Lighthouse, which I have yet to see.

B+ Thousand Pieces of Gold, Roxie, Tuesday, 6:30

This low-budget Chinese western succeeds in making you feel good, while reminding you how badly Asians were treated in 19th-century America. A young woman (Rosalind Chao) is sold by her father and shipped to America. She lands in a small mining town in Oregon, where she’s essentially a slave. Slowly she gets on her feet and becomes her own person, thanks to her willpower and the help of a few new friends, the main one played by Chris Cooper. The low budget is easily visible, but it doesn’t really hurt the movie much. Based on a true story. Presented by CAAM and Comcast NBCUniversal.

B Häxan, Balboa, Friday, 8:00

Striking, frightening imagery holds up much of this Danish silent. Director Benjamin Christensen mixes documentary and narrative techniques to show us how medieval superstitions caused horror and mass hysteria, and how the Church cruelly tortured and killed men and women (mostly women) for consorting with Satan. Occasionally, Christensen seems to be just showing off. About a quarter of the film (mostly at the beginning and end) is downright boring. Nevertheless, it’s well worth watching. Live musical accompaniment by The Unsound Orchestra.

Continuing engagements

Frequently-revived classics

2 thoughts on “What’s Screening: December 13 – 19

  1. Lincoln, you forgot to mention that Thousand Pieces of Gold was the first feature of Bay Area documentarian Nancy Kelly. Also, could you please give the original release dates of the vintage movies you have info on? Thanks!

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