Before COVID-19, I usually saw new films theatrically near home…the East Bay. But until this week, I couldn’t buy a streaming ticket that would help a theater within biking distance. Now that’s changed. I’m happy to announce that three East Bay theaters – the BAMPFA, the Cerrito, and the Elmwood – are now selling streaming tickets.
Bay Area theaters streaming films
Helping a theater: BAMPFA
The Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive, part of the University of California, has been screening classic and unusual films since 1967. This week, BAMPFA jumped onto the streaming wagon with Beyond the Visible: Hilma af Klint and the The Whistlers. I haven’t seen either yet, so I have no opinion about them. The Whistlers, a Romanian political thriller, sounds exciting.
If you want to help BAMPFA while the theater is closed, visit the Ways to Give page. You can become a member – although the advantages won’t mean much until the Museum is open. You can join the Curator’s Circle, the Annual Fund, the Sponsorship Fund, and more. And for the time being, your tax-deductible donation will be doubled by a wealthy family that doesn’t want to be identified.
Special online events
A- Livestream Q&A What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael (2018); Q&A Sunday, 7:00
Kael was the most important film critic of her time. 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.
Before Sunday evening, stream the film and register for the Q&A with Director Rob Garver.
B+ Livestream Q&A Thousand Pieces of Gold (1991), helping the Rafael, Cerrito and Elmwood; Q&A Sunday, 5:00
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.
Before Sunday afternoon, stream the film and register for the Q&A with stars Rosalind Chao and Chris Cooper, along with filmmakers Nancy Kelly and Kenji Yamamoto.
New films streaming
C- The Booksellers (2019), helping the Balboa and Vogue, Rafael
I love used book stores; I can barely pass one without going inside. But I don’t need to spend thousands of dollars on a rare copy of a book I can buy new for pocket change. Perhaps that’s why I just couldn’t get into D.W. Young’s documentary about people who buy and sell extremely expensive books. It starts out interesting, and I’m sure I could enjoy spending time in many of these people’s stores. But as the documentary introduces us with one seller after another, it becomes repetitive and boring. At least one interview subject admits that they’re selling to rich, white people. I couldn’t help feeling that most of the books discussed belong not in a private collection but in an archive, library, or museum.
A- Beanpole (2019), helping the Balboa and Vogue; or the Lark.
Within minutes after this Russian film starts, the extremely tall title character (Viktoria Miroshnichenko) commits something horrifically evil. We’re never really sure why she did this unspeakable act, but director and co-writer Kantemir Balagov clearly wants us to figure things out on our own. Set in Stalingrad only months after the war, life is still difficult, and Beanpole’s work in the hospital is a daily reminder of victory’s cost. Her best friend Masha (Vasilisa Perelygina) wants a baby but can’t conceive one, so she insists that Beanpole do it for her. On the whole, everyone is miserable in Stalingrad, but small acts of kindness help. Cinematographer Kseniya Sereda finds unusual ways to look into the Russian soul.
A- Sorry We Missed You (2019), helping the Roxie
Imagine a food that you absolutely hate, but you eat it anyway because it’s good for you. That’s the experience of seeing Ken Loach’s grim but necessary attack on the gig economy. A man struggles to make money delivering packages. In theory, he’s an independent contractor, but he’s much worse off than an employee. His wife, a nurse, is also in the gig economy. Neither of them has time to take care of their children. With almost no happy moments, Sorry We Missed You is like an empathy bomb, forcing you to care for the working poor. Read my full review.
B+ Bacurau (2019), helping the Rafael or Roxie
The Brazilian town of Bacurau is so small and unimportant that it’s not even on Google Maps. But something evil is coming its way. We know there’s something evil when an overturned truck is filled with empty, now-broken coffins. And yet, for a large part of the picture, we get to sit back and enjoy the people and the atmosphere. I’m not telling you where the evil comes from, but the final act feels like a Sam Peckinpah western, and a good one. Sônia Braga plays the no-nonsense doctor.
Old but recommended
B+ Strange Culture, helping the Roxie
This documentary/narrative hybrid mixes scripted drama performed by professional actors with the real-life people those actors are playing. Steve Kurtz woke up one morning to find his wife dead. Then he was arrested as a bioterrorist. The terrorism charges have been dropped, but as of the time the film was completed, he was still awaiting trial for mail fraud (although no one was defrauded). It’s hard to go wrong with so powerful a story, and writer/director Lynn Hershman Leeson makes an effective piece of agitprop.
Not connected to a theater
A Fanny’s Journey, ChaiFlicks
I didn’t have much good to say when I discussed Menemsha Films‘ new streaming service ChaiFlicks a little while ago. But now the subscription service is adding extras to one of their best features, including a 20-minute documentary about the real Fanny.
In occupied France, a school mistress attempts to smuggle a group of Jewish children to safety. But as the school mistress and other adults fade away, 13-year-old Fanny (Léonie Souchaud) must take on the responsibility to bringing these kids to safety. The suspense builds almost unbearably as the children, some too young to understand what’s really going on, move from one dangerous situation after another. And yet the kids can still play and smile and laugh like children. A powerful tale of a struggle to survive against a government that wants you dead. Based on a true story. Read my full review.