What’s Screening: February 14 – 20

What’s in Bay Area art house cinemas this week? Still more Agnès Varda, but this time with something by her husband, Jacques Demy. Also Kurosawa and Monty Python double bills. And works by Spike Lee, Alfonso Cuarón, Hal Ashby, and Paul Thomas Anderson. But only one film festival.

I have to wonder, what would Pauline Kael say about all this?


New films opening

A- What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael (2018), Opera Plaza, Rafael, Shattuck, opens Friday
Kael was the most important film critic in the country fifty years ago. She celebrated well-made trash and panned overly self-conscious art. She attacked the auteur theory and almost singlehandedly made Bonnie and Clyde an important film. Director Rob Garver’s enjoyable documentary, filled as much with movie clips as with interviews, entertains as it informs. I left this documentary wanting to read more of Pauline Kael’s movie reviews. I wonder how Kael, who died in 2001, would have reviewed this film.

Promising events

The Young Girls Turn 25 (1993), Saturday, 3:30

25 years after Jacques Demy made his second musical, The Young Girls of Rochefort, Agnès Varda returned to Rochefort and made this documentary about the earlier movie. (Varda was Demy’s widow.) Young Girls will screen early the same day, so you can see Demy’s narrative and Varda’s documentary in the same afternoon. (I haven’t seen the documentary.) Part of the series Agnès Varda: An Irresistible Force.

A Mystery Love Film from the 90’s, Balboa, Friday, 9:00

35mm! According to the Balboa’s website, “Are we talking about the 1590’s, the 1990’s or both? Who’s to say?” I’m betting that the secret movie will be Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet (1996). But that’s just a guess.

Great double bills

A+ Ikiru (1952) & Drunken Angel (1948), Stanford, Friday through Sunday

Ikiru: One of the greatest serious dramas ever put up on the screen. Takashi Shimura gives the performance of his lifetime as an aging bureaucrat, emotionally cut off from his family and dying of cancer. A deep and moving meditation on mortality and what it means to be human. Read my Blu-ray Review.
Drunken Angel:
In this post-war noir, a gruff, short-tempered, and alcoholic doctor (Takashi Shimura) tries to save a young, tubercular gangster played by Toshiro Mifune in the film that made him a star. Read my Kurosawa Diary entry.
Both films in 35mm! Part of the Stanford’s Kurosawa series.

A Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975) & A Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979), Castro, Wednesday, 7:00

Monty Python and the Holy Grail: Bump your coconuts and prepare the Holy Hand Grenade, but watch out for the Killer Rabbit (not to mention the Trojan one). The humor is silly and often in very bad taste, but the Pythons’ first feature with an actual story keeps you laughing. 35mm!
A Monty Python’s Life of Brian: Not quite as funny as Holy Grail, the Pythons’ third feature digs a little deeper than its predecessor. A hapless citizen of Roman-occupied Judea, mistaken for the messiah, gets into deeper and deeper problems.

Recommended revivals

A+ Do the Right Thing (1989), New Parkway, Thursday, 9:00

Spike Lee’s masterpiece just may be the best film about race relations in America. For a 30-year-old film, it feels very much like the here and now. By focusing on a single block of Brooklyn over the course of one very hot day, Lee dramatizes and analyzes everything wrong (and a few things right) about race relationships in America. And yet this beautifully made film is touching, funny, warm-hearted, and humane. Read my Blu-ray review.

A Children of Men (2006), New Mission, Monday, 7:00

One of the rare thrillers that actually keeps you guessing what will happen next. Set in a dystopian, near-future Britain living under a Fascism that looks all too familiar, the British government rounds up illegal aliens the way the Nazi’s rounded up Jews. With humanity slowly dying out due to a mysterious, world-wide infertility, a former radical (Clive Owen) is forced to think beyond himself. Directed by Alfonso Cuarón. A Big Screen Science presentation about the science within the science fiction.

A- La Pointe Courte (1955), SFMOMA, Saturday, 1:00

Ever admire an artist for their daring, original work, and then discover who they stole it from? I experienced that revelation over and over again while watching Agnès Varda’s first feature– arguably the first film of the French New Wave. Set in a small, somewhat impoverished fishing village, it introduces us to fishermen worried about government health inspectors, a family with a very sick child, a teenage girl with an over-protective father, and mostly two young lovers visiting the man’s childhood home. Varda shows an instinct for camera setups that rivals John Ford’s. Part of the series Modern Cinema: Agnès Varda.

A- Harold and Maude (1971), Castro, Friday, 7:00

35mm. At a time when young Americans embraced non-conformity, free love, ecstatic joy, and 40-year-old Marx Brothers movies, this counterculture romance between an alienated and death-obsessed young man and an almost 80-year-old woman made total sense. The broad and outrageous humor helps considerably. But I do wish screenwriter Colin Higgins had found a better ending. See my full discussion. On a double bill with Trust (1990), which I haven’t seen.

A- Phantom Thread (2017), New Mission, Wednesday, 6:30; Thursday, 3:45

70mm! It takes a long time to get emotionally involved in this story about a 1950s fashion designer (Daniel Day-Lewis) and the woman who loves him (Vicky Krieps). But as you begin to realize just how egotistical and obsessive this man really is, you get drawn inevitably into the story. A woman would have to be insane to put up with him. And yet Krieps’ character not only puts up with him, she does so in ways that could kill him. Lesley Manville plays the designer’s sister, who oversees his life and work. Great acting, along with exceptional camerawork by writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson.

B Le Bonheur (1965), SFMOMA, Saturday, 3:15.

Not one of Agnès Varda’s best, but that’s hardly a condemnation. A young family man falls in love with another woman–but he still loves his wife. It’s the best of both worlds…but only for the man, and it can’t last forever. Despite the bright colors and Mozart on the soundtrack, little things such as signage (unfortunately, not all of it subtitled) suggests something sinister lurking below all this happiness. The movie is, at times, very sexy. But the ending is both exceedingly happy and horrifyingly grotesque. Part of the series Modern Cinema: Agnès Varda. This film also has a continuing engagement at the BAMPFA, Friday, 5:00

B- The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967), BAMPFA, Saturday, 1:00pm

Jacques Demy’s follow-up to The Umbrellas of Cherbourg doesn’t match his first musical. It’s lighter, following various stories about people not quite recognizing their true loves…until the movie provides multiple happy endings. The dancing is much more elaborate, but it’s derivative of West Side Story and An American in Paris…to the point of casting George Chakiris and Gene Kelly in supporting roles. There’s also an off-screen murder subplot that feels totally pointless. Part of the series Agnès Varda: An Irresistible Force…even though the film was only directed by Varda’s husband. Stay after (and yes, buy another ticket) for Varda’s documentary, The Young Girls Turn 25.

Continuing engagements

Frequently-revived classics