In Bay Area Virtual Cinema: July 17 – 23

Jim Jarmusch directs a jailbreak. Ai Weiwei makes art for prisoners of conscience. And Pauline Kael makes sense of it all. Also Jewish and Black film festivals.

Virtual Festivals

Bay Area theaters with virtual cinema

Special online events

Down by Law (1986), New Parkway, Saturday, 3:00

The movie: I haven’t seen Jim Jarmusch’s jailbreak comedy in a very long time, but I remember it fondly. Tom Waits, John Lurie, and Roberto Benigni play the hapless convicts. Benigni, if I recall properly, steals the show.
The event:
After you watch the movie, Zoom in to the Sunday, 3:00 discussion. Part of Will Viharo’s Thrillville Movie Club.

The International Vegan Film Festival, Saturday, 5:30

I often wondered what a vegetarian or vegan film festival would look like. I assume it would be a bunch of documentaries with the same theme, and maybe a screening of Babe or Chicken Run. But this isn’t really a festival. It’s a collection of five short documentaries, followed by a Zoom discussion.

Closing this week

A Rififi (1955), BAMPFA, closes Sunday!

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.

A- What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael (2018), BAMPFA, closes Sunday!

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- Ai Weiwei: Yours Truly (2019), BAMPFA, Lark, Roxie

This documentary, with its interviews with prisoners of conscience and their families, will leave you feeling guilty – and that’s a good thing. It’s not really about the Chinese artist and political agitator Ai Weiwei, but about the many peaceful dissidents imprisoned around the world. Much of the film concerns co-director Cheryl Haines’ 2014 collaboration with Weiwei to create an artistic installation on Alcatraz island about political prisoners. Weiwei couldn’t be there; he was not allowed out of China at that time. By the way, Weiwei now lives in the west and made the excellent but overlooked documentary Human Flow.

B+ John Lewis: Good Trouble (2020), BAMPFACerritoElmwood, New Mission, Rafael

It’s easy to worship John Lewis, the former civil rights hero turned senior congressman. He claims that he was arrested 40 times during the civil rights era, and five times more since he’s been in Congress. With Lewis narrating, we learn about the lunch counter protests, the Freedom Riders, the March on Washington, the church bombing in Birmingham, and so on. He’s a real hero, but the documentary makes him too good to be true. Read my full review.