In Bay Area Virtual Cinema: May 22 – 28

Music and plastic, a lucky grandma fighting the mob, and the dullest gay man on the planet. They’re all streaming via otherwise closed Bay Area movie theaters.

Virtual Festivals

Bay Area theaters with virtual cinema

Helping a theater: The Roxie

I discovered the Roxie, set in the middle of the Mission district, soon after I moved to the Bay Area in 1975. I fell in love with its funky (but clean) atmosphere. Back then, and up until COVID-19, it showed independent films, extremely independent films, and repertory. It also hosted many a film festival.

The Roxie – one of the oldest movie theaters in the world – is a nonprofit organization. If you want to help during these difficult times, you can donate or become a member. You can also visit the theater’s Virtual Cinema page, and buy e-tickets for movies you can stream at home. The Roxie receives 50% of your ticket price.

Special online events

B Q&A on The Story of Plastic (2019), Rafael, free Friday through Tuesday

The Event: Livestream Q&A with director Deia Schlosberg and Ecology Center Executive Director Martin Bourque, Tuesday, 6:30. Hosted by the Rafael.
The Movie: This film, which you can stream free through Tuesday, will almost certainly make you feel guilty. If climate change is our biggest environmental threat, garbage – and especially single-use plastic – is a big second. Using interviews from people from all over the world, Deia Schlosberg’s documentary explains everything from fracking (in order to get the basic materials out of the ground), to the oxymoron of plastic recycling, to clogged rivers and oceans, to poisons in the air. The film is very preachy, and it’s sometimes repetitive, especially near the end.

A Q&A on Up From the Streets: New Orleans: The City of Music (2019), BalboaCerrito, RafaelRoxie, Vogue, opens Friday

The event: Free, online Q&A with musician Terence Blanchard, film director Michael Murphy, and Ben Jaffe, Creative Director of Preservation Hall and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Tuesday, 6:00. Hosted by the Rafael.
The movie: Most musical documentaries get the balance off. They tell you about these brilliant artists, but they rarely give you a chance to enjoy the music. But this one gets the balance right. There’s music almost throughout, all of it great. True, only a few songs are played from beginning to end, but they’re the right songs. And if filmmaker Michael Murphy couldn’t find the time to play a song completely, he picks the best moment in that song. You can almost dance from beginning to end. The film also provides an interesting history of American popular music. Read my full review.

New films available

B+ Lucky Grandma (2019), Balboa, Lark, New Mission, Vogue, opens Friday

It’s rare for a comedy to turn into a thriller – especially a thriller that forces you to feel the losses that result from violence. And yet, writer/director Sasie Sealy manages that task with surprising flare. Veteran actress Tsai Chin, with a stone face almost like Buster Keaton’s, plays the chain-smoking Grandma of the title to perfection. When a stash of gang money drops into her lap, she hires a large but kindly bodyguard (Hsiao-Yuan Ha) who becomes her best friend. The film brilliantly changes from comedy to thriller. Read my full review.

D+ José (2018), Roxie, opens Friday

A gay coming-of-age story should not be boring – especially if the movie is sexually explicit. But in José, the main character is, himself, exceptionally boring. José barely works and seems to have no ambition. As played by Enrique Salanic, he’s a slacker…about as dull as he could get. And yet, somehow, José has a boyfriend who could easily get a better catch (Manolo Herrera). Read my full review.

Not quite new

A- RGB (2018), BalboaLarkVogue, 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.

Recommended and available

A Spaceship Earth (2020), BAMPFACerritoElmwood, New MissionRoxie

In 1991, eight adventurers with a scientific sense went into a large biosphere to live completely enclosed for two years, recycling their own oxygen and water while growing their own food. It didn’t work entirely as it was supposed to, and some cheating was involved. But the worst cheating, unsurprisingly, came from the money men. This interesting but unexceptional documentary covers the entire adventure, from long before the concept came to be up until the present.

B+ Crescendo (2019), BalboaCerritoElmwood, LarkRafael,

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.

B+  Capital in the Twenty-First Century (2020), Cerrito, 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 Life Itself (2014), Lark, opens Friday

This totally biased, yet entertaining and informative documentary examines the life and death of Roger Ebert–the brilliant writer, passionate cinephile, and overweight alcoholic who became the first film critic to win a Pulitzer Prize, and then the most influential film critic of all time. But be prepared. This film spends a lot of time looking at a man without a jaw. It’s pretty disturbing at first, but Ebert’s upbeat and joking personality helps you adjust. And, of course, there’s a lot about movies here. Read my full review.