In Bay Area Virtual Cinema: July 31 – August 6

Fire, vampires, con artists, a murder mystery, and polar bears. But if these don’t seem tempting, how about Ella Fitzgerald and Ai Weiwei? Here are a few movies you can stream at home while helping local theaters get by this week.

Virtual Festivals

Bay Area theaters with virtual cinema

New films available

B+ Carmilla (2019), Davis Varsity

This very sexy vampire movie manages to be quite kinky without any actual sex. In a time and place where even thoughts of sexual arousal were forbidden, teenage Lara (Hannah Rae) lives with her emotionally distanced, widowed father and an extremely strict housekeeper (Jessica Raine). The smallest act of disobedience is paid off with corporal punishment. Then Carmilla comes into Lara’s dreary world and Lara starts having strange dreams of blood and sex. Read my review.

B+ Rebuilding Paradise (2020), opens Friday, Roxie, Balboa, Cerrito, Elmwood, Rafael, or Vogue

Remember the notorious Camp Fire that destroyed Paradise, CA? This spellbinding documentary starts, as you’d expect, with news clips and home videos of people trapped while flames leap all around them. But the film asks a much more interesting question: How do you rebuild the town and community you love? Director Ron Howard avoids narration and concentrates on those willing to rebuild. Townspeople deal with FEMA, PG&E, and other bureaucratic entities. Teenagers graduate when there’s no usable school building. And yet almost everyone interviewed tells people how much they love Paradise and why they’re not leaving. Read my full review.

Not quite new

A Parasite (2019), New Mission

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?

B+ Knives Out (2019), New Mission

This old-fashioned murder mystery, set mostly in a big mansion, feels like Agatha Christie with giggles. Not over-the-top comedy, but with enough laughs to lighten the story and remind us not to take it too seriously. Daniel Craig plays the brilliant detective (well, occasionally brilliant), speaking in a not-quite believable southern accent. The cast includes Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, LaKeith Stanfield, Christopher Plummer, and Frank Oz, but the lesser-known Ana de Armas carries the film.

Recommended and available

A Picture of His Life (2019), Roxie

Amos Nachoum, a veteran of Israel’s Yom Kippur war, turned his PTSD into something incredible, magical, and insanely dangerous. As an underwater wildlife photographer, Nachoum photographs sharks, sea lions, and other giant predators of the deep, often very, very close (you should check out his photography). This documentary by Dani Menkin and Yonatan Nir follows him as he sets out to do something no one else has ever done; photograph a swimming polar bear from inside the water. For more information, see my SF Jewish Film Festival report.

A- Ella Fitzgerald: Just One of Those Things (2019), Balboa, Cerrito, Lark

Ella Fitzgerald was all about the sound. Heavy set, she wasn’t conventionally beautiful. She couldn’t be successful at her childhood ambition as a dancer. But when she sang, everyone listened. This documentary isn’t entirely about the music. It’s also about being a black woman in most of the 20th century. Even when she was rich and famous, she was still locked out of clubs. Fitzgerald herself avoided discussing race issues publicly until the Civil Rights era. Read my full review.

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.

Old but recommended

A Let the Right One In (2008), New Mission

This is one of the great vampire movies. After all, what better place for a vampire than a Swedish winter? The nights are very long, snow covers everything, and people drink heavily and seem depressed to begin with. It’s like Bergman, only with undead bloodsuckers. Let the Right One In is also a coming-of-age story, about first love between a boy about to turn 13 and a girl who has been 12 “for a very long time.” Read my full review.