What’s coming to Bay Area arthouse cinemas this week? One of last year’s best films rereleased in black and white. Also pictures by Kurosawa, Varda, Lubitsch, and Huston. All that along with Rudolph Valentino, college students, the Oscars, and four film festivals.
- SF Urban closes Sunday
- SF IndieFest closes Thursday. Read my preview.
- Berlin & Beyond opens Friday and closes Thursday. Read my preview.
- The Mostly British Film Festival opens Thursday. Read my preview.
The Week’s Big Event
Sunday comes the Oscars! You can watch the show at home, ignore it completely, or go to a movie theater and enjoy the ceremony with a crowd.
This year, at least eight Bay Area theaters will project the Oscars on their big screens. Some have costume contests, improv comedians, and other treats. Here are the theaters screening the big event.
- Roxie, 3:00. If I didn’t have other plans Sunday, this Up The Awards Benefit Bash would be my choice. Attitude, comic commentary, strange shorts, and a claim of being commercial-free.
- Rafael, 3:00. Free champagne & popcorn; beer, wine & gourmet boxed dinners (not free). Contests, too.
- Lark: 4:00. Jan Wahl & Jerry Goldstone will do emcee chores, while musical guests Tin Sandwich play on the Red Carpet.
- Balboa, 3:30, with comedian Dominique Gelin
- Cerrito, 4:00. This benefit for the Contra Costa Civic Theatre will have prizes and passed appetizers.
- Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, 5:00. Broncho Billy Anderson’s own Oscar will be in attendance.
- Alameda, 3:30
- New Parkway, 4:30
Parasite (black & white, 2019), Embarcadero Center, opens Friday; New Mission, Friday, 10:10am & 12:15 (just after noon); Lark, see times here
This hilariously cruel comedy thriller about the haves and the have nots just may be my favorite film of 2019. A young man in a desperately poor family fakes his education so he can tutor the daughter of a very rich couple. Soon his sister, father, and mother are working there as well, without their employers knowing they’re related. Filmmaker Bong Joon Ho (Snowpiercer, The Host) makes us laugh and cheer as these con artists wheedle themselves into this wealthy family. But in the second half, comedy turns slowly to horror. Rarely do you find a more entertaining critique of the class system. But which family is the parasite? Now you can see it in noirish black and white. (I gave the color version an A.)
A+ The Seven Samurai (1954), Stanford, Friday through Sunday
35mm! If you think all action movies are mindless escapism, you need to set aside 3½ hours for Kurosawa’s epic masterpiece. The basic story – a poor village hires warriors to defend them against bandits – has been retold many times since, but Kurosawa told it first and told it best. This is an action film with almost no action in the first two hours. But when the fighting finally arrives, you’re ready for it, knowing every detail of the people involved, the terrain that will be fought over, and the class differences between the peasants and their hired swords. One of the greatest movies ever made. Read my essay. The first film in the Stanford’s new, six-week Kurosawa series.
A The Maltese Falcon (1941), New Mission, Monday, 3:45
Dashiell Hammett’s novel had been filmed twice before, but screenwriter and first-time director John Huston did it right with the perfect cast and a screenplay (by Huston) that sticks almost word-for-word to the book. The ultimate Hammett motion picture, the second-best directorial debut of 1941 (after Citizen Kane), an important, early film noir, and perhaps the most entertaining detective movie ever made. This movie is truly the stuff that dreams are made of.
A- One Sings, the Other Doesn’t (1977), SFMOMA, Saturday, 1:00
Agnès Varda’s small epic sometimes feels like the best of the hippy era – as opposed to her Vagabond, which shows the worst. It follows two young women from 1962 to 1976 – not always in chronological order. Suzanne (Thérèse Liotard) is an unwed mother who struggles to care for her two children and eventually works in family planning. Pomme (Valérie Mairesse, the subtitles call her Apple) writes and sings feminist folk songs; she’s not a famous recording artist, but she gets by. They experience troubles and tragedy, but overall the film feels optimistic. A few scenes were filmed in Iran, soon before the revolution; Varda didn’t know that she was filming a country about to drastically change. Part of the series Modern Cinema: Agnès Varda.
B+ Dear White People (2014), New Parkway, Friday, 10:30
Justin Simien’s first feature is funny, dramatic, and insightful, and successfully avoids preaching. The main characters talk about their philosophies and ideals, but they’re all young college students, and that’s what young college students do. And when they’re African-American students in an overwhelmingly white Ivy League school, you should expect some anger in their talk. Samantha (Tessa Thompson), whose campus radio program provides the film’s name, is the most militant and political. Lionel (Tyler James Williams) wears a giant afro, writes for the school paper, and is too insecure to come out of the closet. Everything comes together at the climax (this is not a spoiler) where a group of largely white students throw an extremely racist Halloween party.
B+ Ninotchka (1939), Cerrito, Thursday, 7:00
Thanks to the great Ernst Lubitsch, Greta Garbo’s first comedy and penultimate film is sweet, charming, romantic, and quite funny. She plays a loyal Russian Communist who comes to Paris to supervise three bumbling comrades messing up government business. But she’s soon charmed by both capitalism and Melvyn Douglas. The Billy Wilder script nails the absurdities of Communism: “The last mass trials were a great success. There are going to be fewer but better Russians.”
B The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921), Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, Saturday, 7:30
Rudolph Valentino danced, female hearts fluttered, and a star was born. Aside from that justifiably famous tango sequence, the lavishly-produced Four Horseman makes for an entertaining evening. This World War I epic follows two Argentinian families who find themselves on different sides of the European war. The antiwar message is significantly diluted, however, by an insistence on blaming everything on the Germans. Preceded by two shorts: Harold Lloyd’s Ask Father, and Will Rogers’ Valentino parody, The Cowboy Sheik. Frederick Hodges will accompany these silent films on piano.