In Bay Area Virtual Cinema: May 8 – 14

What’s screening through Bay Area movie theaters? An Israeli Romeo and Juliet. Last year’s big winner at a bargain basement price. Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Pauline Kael. And one of the greatest noirs of all time. And we even have a festival.

We still can’t go to the movies, but we can still see new and old films while helping the theaters survive.

Virtual Festivals

Bay Area theaters with virtual cinema

Special online events

Spaceship Earth with follow-up livestreaming Q&A, Cerrito, Elmwood, New Mission

I haven’t seen this documentary, but it sure seems fascinating. Eight “biospherians” sealed themselves off in a dome for two years. The idea is to see if humans can survive in a completely contained environment. It didn’t work well. I don’t know who will be doing the Q&A, but it will happen Sunday 3:00pm.

New films available

B+ Crescendo (2019), Balboa, Cerrito, Elmwood, Vogue

The film’s opening sets you up for an Israeli/Palestinian version of Romeo and Juliet, but the real focus goes not to the star-crossed lovers, but to the youth orchestra to which they belong. The whole point of this orchestra, aside from making music, is to bring together young people who have been raised to hate each other. That turns out to be a far more difficult chore than getting the young musicians to rehearse. To make the story more complicated, the maestro lives under the shadow of the horrible sins of his highly placed Nazi parents.

Not quite new

A Parasite (2019), New Mission (only $4 rent/$10 buy)

The first non-English film to win Best Picture is a hilariously cruel comedy thriller about the haves and the have nots. 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 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?

A- RGB, Balboa, Vogue, opening Friday

There’s nothing objective about this documentary on Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The filmmakers clearly believe that the Supreme Court’s progressive hero is a rock star, a superhero, and a major bulwark protecting American democracy. I believe that, too. But I didn’t know until I saw this film that young women not only see Ginsburg as a role model but tattoo her likeness on their bodies. An entertaining and enlightening film about someone I’m afraid to lose. Read my full review.

A- What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael (2018), BAMPFARafael, Lark, Rafael, Roxie, available Friday

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 single-handedly 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.

Recommended and available

A Sword of God (2018), Alameda, available now

Religious conflict breeds anger, hysteria, and violence in this powerful, Polish tale. Set on a northern island in the early middle ages, Bartosz Konopka’s frightfully striking film pits Christianity against a more humane pagan tradition. Two men from the mainland arrive in a small boat. Their intent: to convert the “heathens.” One is the sort of fanatic who sees violence as a religious tool. The other is gentle and unsure of his faith. Eventually, they will have to go their separate ways. Read my full review.

B+ Nuestras Madres (Our Mothers), (2020), Lark

Ernesto is a young, handsome, and very committed government investigator trying to identify the bones of the many buried in mass graves. The military and guerilla fighters fought each other for decades in what can reasonably be called genocide. Not surprisingly, the indigenous people in their farming villages took the worst of it. While helping a widow trying to find her husband’s body, Ernesto finds a thread to his own missing father – a guerilla who disappeared before Ernesto could get to know him. Nuestras Madres is a very short, stripped-down feature; only 78 minutes long – but effective. Read my full review.

B+ Capital in the Twenty-First Century (2020), Rafael, available Friday

I can’t tell you how many documentaries I’ve seen about economic inequality. But this one is different. It’s kind of fun while it makes you angry. The movie is filled with clever visuals, including clips from old and relatively new Hollywood movies, and lively, popular music. And it’s not just about America; it covers multiple nations, world wars, and the one percent as a worldwide phenomenon. Read my full review.

Old but recommended

A Rififi (1955), BAMPFA, Roxie, available now

The best caper movie I’ve ever seen. Four Parisian criminals – including two loving husbands, one of whom is about to become a father – take on an exceptionally complex heist. Of course, having someone to love can be dangerous in this kind of work. The heist itself belongs in any list of great extended sequences: some 30 minutes with neither dialog nor music as the thieves go through their carefully choreographed crime. But even with the most competent professionals, things go wrong.

B Band of Outsiders, (1964), BAMPFA

I don’t think this Jean-Luc Godard picture would work at all without Anna Karina. She’s not only beautiful, but she has a youthful innocence that overcomes her less-interesting two male co-stars (Sami Frey and Claude Brasseur). The film is at its best when they’re just fooling around with the energy of youth; the dance scene in the restaurant is a great moment in cinema. But we all know from the start that Band will eventually become a crime story, and here it’s that Godard turns it into another type of movie altogether.