What’s available this week? An ugly dog ruins a family. Shrek and Chadwick Boseman go to the drive-in. Norma Rae Bangladesh-style. A Scandinavian vampire. Two music documentaries – one starring Jimmy Carter.
Bay Area theaters with virtual cinema
New films coming
B Jimmy Carter: Rock & Roll President (2020), available Wednesday, Balboa, Rafael, Vogue
It’s a ridiculous title for a political documentary, and yet it’s appropriate. This extremely flattering documentary about the 39th President spends most of its time covering Carter’s love of music. But that’s not the most important thing about a former leader of the free world. And yet I can’t pan the film entirely. Between the great music and Carter’s innate decency, it’s an enjoyable movie to watch. And yes, it does discuss running the country, but that’s not the main topic.
New to me
A- Made in Bangladesh (2019), Lark, Rafael, Roxie
The women working in an apparel factory are badly exploited. But one of them, the extremely determined Shimu (Rikita Nandini Shimu – an actress with very determined eyes) is tired of overtime pay that never materializes. After an activist connects with Shimu, she sets out to form a union. This is the sort of woman who, at 14, ran away from an arranged marriage. We assume she chose the husband she has now, but as her union work takes over her life, the marriage suffers. And if she fails, she and many other workers will lose their jobs. Yes, the story has been done before (remember Norma Rae), but this time it’s done very well and it’s worth revisiting.
B+ My Dog Stupid! (2019), Cerrito, Elmwood, Rafael
The title suggests a comedy, and there are a few laughs early on, but this French drama about a family falling apart is essentially serious. Everyone is already on edge when the father, a once-successful writer (Yvan Attal), adopts a huge, ugly dog with all of his male organs intact. The dog makes everything worse. The mother is on anti-depressants and drinks before noon (Charlotte Gainsbourg). One son is constantly stoned and turns in school essays written by his mother. And meanwhile, Stupid (yes, that’s what they name the dog) is humping everything in sight.
A Black Panther, Solano Drive-in, playing through the week; check time on website
Yes, it was revolutionary in the age of Trump to make a huge-budget superhero movie with an almost entirely Black cast. But Black Panther is more complex than a simple good vs. bad action flick with dark complexions. The main villain has a serious point. And the hero must face some ambiguously moral choices. But I wish the filmmakers had confronted the absurdity of monarchy. It’s also an amazingly fun action movie.
A Shrek (2001), Lark Drive In, Friday, 8:00
Enough bad sequels can make us forget how much we loved the original, and in the case of Shrek, the original is very lovable indeed. This story of an ogre on a reluctant quest to save a princess turns both traditional fairy tales and their Disneyfied adaptations inside out. The evil prince’s castle looks like Disneyland, familiar characters make odd cameos, and that old song “Have You Seen the Muffin Man” turns very gruesome (in a funny way). In the third act, Shrek rips apart one of the worst lessons that children learn from these old stories, providing a happy ending that neither Grimm nor Disney could have imagined.
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.
A Jazz On a Summer’s Day (1959), Balboa, BAMPFA, Cerrito, Elmwood, Rafael, Roxie
The concert documentary didn’t start with Woodstock, Gimme Shelter, or even Monterey Pop. But it just may have started with Jazz on a Summer’s Day. Shot in and around the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival, and released a year later, it’s one of the best of its kind. But what else can you expect with Louis Armstrong, Anita O’Day, Mahalia Jackson, and even a little upstart named Chuck Berry. The filmmakers were smart enough to celebrate the joy in the audience as well as in the performers. Read my full review.