In Bay Area Virtual Cinema: July 23 – 30

The march on Selma, a Chasidic rabbi in Montana, graffiti wars, one film festival, and reminders of other pictures available in Bay Area virtual cinema.

But here’s some bad news: The San Francisco Green Film Festival has been killed off by the pandemic – and I’m not just talking about just this year. Judging from the organization’s website, it won’t be back in 2021 or beyond.

Virtual Festivals

Bay Area theaters with virtual cinema

Helping all theaters

The very concept of movie theaters may disappear in the wake of COVID-19. What can you do? Check out #SaveYourCinema on Twitter or visit the website. Write to your senators and representatives. Do what you can.

Special online events

Popcorn PopUp: Selma (2014), Balboa, popcorn 4:00; movie & discussion 7:30

The event: First you go to the Balboa Theater (masks on, of course) to buy popcorn, beer, and other treats. At 7:30, you watch the film at home, followed by a Zoom discussion.
The film: This dramatic film shows us a picture of Martin Luther King as a flawed human being filled with doubts, exhaustion, and guilt, but who is also a great hero. It takes a while to accept David Oyelowo as King and Tom Wilkinson as LBJ (they’re both British).

B The Rabbi Goes West, Rafael, Sunday, 5:00

Live-stream discussion after the film. Rabbi Chaim Bruk, a witty, likable, funny, and charismatic Chasidic rabbi, leaves New York to bring his extreme form of Judaism to Montana (yes, there are Jews in Montana). Directors Amy Geller and Gerald Peary not only follow him on his crusade, but they also interview rabbis who have already made Montana their home. Many of these, especially those in congregations with women rabbis, do not feel happy about this proselytizing newcomer. A fascinating film until it becomes repetitious.

New films available

B- Days of the Whale (Los días de la ballena, (2019)

Cristina and Simon are lovers, artists, and activists. They paint beautiful and politically powerful graffiti throughout the city. But when gang graffiti appears across the street from the leftist organization they belong to, Christina declares war. But the gangs aren’t likely to stick to fighting with paint. Meanwhile, a beached whale is dying. This film isn’t quite exciting enough to be called a thriller, but it manages an almost constant sense of dread. Read my full review.

Recommended and available

A Up From The Streets – New Orleans: The City Of Music (2019), Cerrito, Elmwood

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.

A 2040 (2020), Rafael, Tuesday, 4:30

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 all. And he does it all with a dash of humor. Read my full review.

A- Beanpole (2019), BAMPFA

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/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.

B+ John Lewis: Good Trouble, (2020), BAMPFA, Cerrito, Elmwood, Lark, New Mission, Rafael, Roxie

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. Since I wrote my full review, Lewis has passed on, making the film more poignant.

B+  Lucky Grandma (2019), Balboa, New Mission, Roxie, 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

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.

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