What’s Screening: January 31 – February 6

What’s playing in Bay Area arthouse cinemas this week? A great Bogart double bill, a remake played for laughs, more Agnès Varda, a bit of Fellini, China’s horrible birth control policy, and alcohol as the secret to a happy marriage. Also, three film festivals.


Promising events

The Assistant (2019), BAMPFA, Tuesday

I haven’t seen this new drama by Kitty Green; it hasn’t yet opened in the Bay Area. A young woman (Julia Garner) gets an assistant job in an entertainment company and finds how the cards are stacked against her gender. What makes the event especially tempting is a discussion with producer James Schamus. Aside from understanding the art and business of cinema like few others, he’s also an excellent and witty interview subject.

Another chance to see

A- One Child Nation, BAMPFA, Sunday, 3:00

The true-life horror stories within this documentary may leave a wound in your heart. For some 35 years, China had a strict and cruel policy–each woman could only have one child. Reducing the population seemed like a good idea at the time, but under a totalitarian regime, this policy destroyed homes, created an underground market of babies, and infanticide. Co-director Nanfu Wang was a product of this law. She eventually migrated to America, and with her camera she returned to China and interviewed people from her own village and largely her own family.

Great double bills

A+ Casablanca (35mm, 1943) & A The Maltese Falcon (35mm, 1941), Stanford, Friday through Sunday

Casablanca: You’ve either already seen the best film to come out of the studio era’s sausage grinder, or you know you should. For more details, see Casablanca: The Accidental Masterpiece.
The Maltese Falcon: Screenwriter and first-time director John Huston perfectly adapted Dashiell Hammett’s novel by sticking almost word-for-word to the book and picking the best cast imaginable. This movie is truly the stuff that dreams are made of.

Recommended revivals

A+ 8 1/2 (1963), BAMPFA, Thursday

Funny, exhilarating, perplexing, and tragic,  is not only the greatest film ever made about writer’s block and the ultimate cinematic statement on the male midlife crisis, it’s also a movie about making a movie, where the movie being made appears to be 8½. Filled with one memorable and unique scene after another, Fellini’s autobiographical surreal comedy lacks nothing except a coherent plot, and it has no use for that. Read my A+ appreciation. Part of the series Federico Fellini at 100.

B+ The Thin Man (1934), New Mission, Monday, 3:25

Here we have a murder mystery, a screwball comedy, a wallow in classic MGM glamour, and a 93-minute commercial for alcohol as the secret to a happy marriage. Also the start of a very long franchise. William Powell and Myrna Loy make great chemistry as Nick and Nora Charles, the rich, drunk-and-in-love couple with a little murder to clear up. The mystery never quite jells, but it’s so fun to watch Powell and Loy together that you really don’t care.

B Vagabond (1985), SFMOMA, Saturday, 1:00

I think Agnès Varda intended this as a cap on the hippie movement, and it’s not a fond farewell. The plot is pure Citizen Kane, except instead of a newspaper magnate, the dead protagonist is a young woman hitchhiker who froze to death in a ditch. Then come the flashbacks and interviews with people who crossed her path over the course of her last winter. Neither Varda nor actress Sandrine Bonnaire make her likeable. She’s dirty, smelly, unreliable, prone to theft, and doesn’t even thank the people who help her along the way. I would have liked to know the characters better. The film doesn’t quite hold together, but it has some powerful scenes. Part of Modern Cinema: Agnès Varda.

B The Mummy (1999), New Parkway, Saturday, 3:20

Officially a remake of the 1932 Boris Karloff classic, this 1999 comedy/adventure follows the original’s plot but doesn’t even try to remake the atmosphere. Instead, with its big action sequences and tongue-in-cheek dialog, it feels more like an Indiana Jones rip-off. Starring Brendan Fraser and a not-yet-famous Rachel Weisz, showing us a gift for slapstick that she hasn’t shown us since.

Continuing engagements

Frequently-revived classics