In Bay Area Virtual Cinema: June 5 – 11

Movies used to be a form of escapism. But if you look at the films streaming through our closed theaters to our living rooms this week, you’ll find many motion pictures that reflect what’s on the streets.

Virtual Festivals

Bay Area theaters with virtual cinema

Special online events

A- Environmental Youth Forum w/ 2040 (2020), Rafael, Tuesday, 3:00

The film: You’d expect a film titled 2040 to bring you into a dystopian nightmare – especially if it’s about climate change. But this documentary is surprisingly upbeat. Filmmaker Damon Gameau sets out to show us the much better world we could live in if only society would make the right decisions. He travels the world, finding technologies and, more importantly, how to use those technologies for the benefit of humanity. And he does it all with a dash of humor.
The event: After the screening, at 4:30, Gameau and several activists will take part in a Livestream discussion.

New films available

C Tommaso (2020), Rafael, Roxie, opens Friday

Abel Ferrara’s latest film doesn’t quite do what it should (whatever that is). It’s not horrible. It succeeds in making you worry about the confused protagonist – an American screenwriter living in Rome (Willem Dafoe). His marriage to a much younger woman is crumbling. He adores his young daughter. He’s a reformed alcoholic, and he has a very strong, but not very helpful imagination. The film never develops his wife into a real person. Tommaso climaxes in a way that’s surprising only because it’s so clichéd.

Not quite new

A I Am Not Your Negro (2016), Cerrito, Elmwood, opens Friday

The African-American experience, summed up in the words of James Baldwin, read by Samuel L. Jackson, while director Raoul Peck provides visual context from old news footage, talk shows, and scenes shot for this powerful documentary. Every American should see I Am Not Your Negro. Unfortunately, only those already sympathetic to its message will likely catch it. Read my full review.

A- Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am (2019), Cerrito, Elmwood, opens Friday

I’ve never read a book by Toni Morrison. But then, I rarely read fiction. Nevertheless, I was mostly entranced with her story, as told mostly by the Nobel Laureate herself (she died while this film was in theaters). Of course it’s all very positive, since when she’s not talking, a close friend of hers is. It appears that the people interviewed were encouraged to dress however they want, which gives the film a visual flair. The film left me wanting to read some of her books.

A- Whose Streets? (2017), Cerrito, Elmwood, opens Friday

The police murder of Michael Brown rocked the town of Ferguson, Missouri – and the nation. This incendiary documentary does more than tell you the story. It puts you on the ground – thanks largely to smartphones and social media – with the people who marched, protested, and rioted as their city became a symbol of all that’s wrong with America. Read my full review.

C+ Hail Satan? (2019), Balboa, opens Friday

Like the Satanic Temple itself, this documentary has a message to preach, and does so tongue in cheek. The message is a good one: We need to protect the separation of church and state in a government being taken over by fundamentalist Christians. But you get almost the whole point in the first 15 minutes. After that it’s mostly repetition. Read my full review.

Recommended and available

B+ American Trial: The Eric Garner Story (2019), Lark

Remember Eric Garner? The cry “I can’t breathe” should remind you. This improvised dramatization of the trial that never happened is like no courtroom film I’ve ever seen. (If you recall, the policeman who killed Garner, Daniel Pantaleo, was exonerated by a grand jury.) Most of the cast are legal professionals making up their own dialog. The only exceptions are actor Anthony Altieri as Pantaleo, and Garner’s widow, Esaw Garner, playing herself with incredible courage. I don’t think I’ve seen a more realistic trial movie, even if it’s occasionally dull. The film also contains some documentary footage.

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

It’s rare for a comedy to turn into a thriller – especially a thriller that forces you to feel the losses that result in violence. And yet, writer/director Sasie Sealy manages that task with surprising flair. 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.

Old but recommended

A Life Itself (2014), BalboaVogue, 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.

B+ The Grey Fox
(1982), BAMPFA

With his gentle eyes, bushy mustache, and unique charisma, stuntman-turned-actor Richard Farnsworth carries this Canadian post-western. Farnsworth plays a former stagecoach robber in a world without stagecoaches, so he turns to robbing trains. He’s essentially a kind man in a violent profession, in the wrong century, and yet he manages to find love and friendship. Beautifully shot. You sometimes must remind yourself that this is a work of fiction.