In Bay Area Movies: October 23 – 29

The Rafael is coming back into action, but if you’re still not ready to sit down in an indoor space with strangers (I’m not), you’ve got drive-in and streaming options galore. But no film festivals – physical or virtual.

Special online events

A I Wake Up Streaming: M (1951), Roxie, Tuesday, 7:00, on a double bill with Open Secret

The event: Before Tuesday night, you watch the two movies at home. Then, Tuesday at 7:00, you go on Zoom to discuss the double bill.
The movie: I couldn’t believe a remake of Fritz Lang’s masterpiece could be as good as the original. And yet, Joseph Losey’s version just might be an improvement. The killer seems more like a normal person rather than Peter Lorre, which of course makes him scarier. Losey spends more time on the grieving parents, creating greater urgency. And at least some of the organized criminals who search for the killer are well fleshed-out – especially the alcoholic lawyer. The camerawork and sound effects make Los Angeles look like a very sick place. I have never seen Open Secret.

October Online Happenings, Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum

Celebrate the weekend before Halloween with some silent curiosities, including:

  • The Terror of Dracula: No, not the 1958 Hammer flick, but a very cutdown version of the original Nosferatu.
  • The Spieler: I know almost nothing about this late silent starring Alan Hale Sr. (usually a supporting actor). Greg Pane will provide music.
  • Ringling Brothers Circus Parade footage
  • And more

B+ Thrillville Movie Club: The Shining, discussion Saturday, 3:00

The event: You screen the movie in the safety of your own home before Saturday afternoon. Then, at 4:00, you Zoom into a discussion about the film.
The movie:
For once, the cliché is true; Stephen King’s novel, The Shining, is much better than the movie. Stanley Kubrick, brilliant as he was, missed the main character’s love for his family – without which it’s little more than a sequence of scares. The sense of a good man struggling with his inner demons entirely disappears. Kubrick added some surprising and effective touches, but overall, he turned a brilliant novel into a pretty good horror flick. Read my longer article.

New and streaming

A- The Antenna

This Turkish horror picture scared me out of my socks, but it also had something to say about media and the Internet, and how entertainment technology can control people in a totalitarian state. The government is installing a new satellite dish on the top of a large apartment building. In theory, the residents should now have clear, perfect entertainment, direct from the authorities. What they get, of course, is a living hell. Read my full review. Note: I reviewed The Antenna on the assumption that it would stream via virtual cinema through a Bay Area theater. That never happened. But you can still stream it.

New films actually in theaters

A- The Trial of the Chicago 7, Rafael, Wednesday

Aaron Sorkin’s suspenseful courtroom drama, based on actual events, takes you back to another time when another president was getting out of hand. The Nixon administration set out to make an example of arresting seven members of the new left, and the trial became major news for months. The judge (Frank Langella) openly despised the defendants and had no indention to be fair. Meanwhile, some of the defendants, especially Abbie Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen) and Jerry Rubin (Jeremy Strong), set out to turn the courtroom into a circus. Dramatic, historical, and sometimes hysterical. Other recognizable actors in the film include Eddie Redmayne, John Carroll Lynch, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, and Michael Keaton.

New to me

C+ Irmi (2020), BAMPFA

This personal documentary, made by the subject’s daughter, starts out fascinating, but gets duller as it goes. Irmi Selver was born in Germany, 1906. As a young wife and mother, she had to leave her native country and eventually Europe. Her husband and children died on the way. And yet, she built a new family and a new life. Judging from the photos and home movies that take up much of the film, that life was a happy one. But once the tragedy is in the past, the film is simply about a comfortably wealthy, upbeat grandma.

Drive-in movies

A+ The Last Waltz (1978), Lark Drive-In, Saturday, 9:15

The Band played their final concert on Thanksgiving night, 1976. Their guest performers included Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Muddy Waters, and Joni Mitchell. Martin Scorsese brought a crew of talented filmmakers to record the show and created the greatest rock documentary ever made. Scorsese and company ignored the audience and focused on the musicians, creating an intimate look at great artists who understood that this was a once-in-a-lifetime event. Read my A+ appreciation.

A Blindspotting
(2018), Dinner and a Drive-In Pier 70, Saturday, 8:00, hosted by the Balboa and the Vogue

Collin (Daveed Diggs) is only days away from the end of his extremely harsh one-year probation. If he breaks any rules, he’ll go to prison for a year. That’s a big problem since his best friend from childhood, Miles (Rafael Casal), happily pulls out his gun at any or no provocation. They’re both Oakland ghetto kids, but Miles is white, so he gets away with things that could get Collin shot. The film has no conventional story structure but lets us in on the lives of several Oakland natives, and how they react not only to the police, but to the gentrification all around them. For an almost plotless movie, it’s extremely suspenseful.

A A Star is Born (2018), Lark Drive-In, Friday, 7:00

The same old tragedy still carries that emotional punch. A major star, ruining his life and career with alcohol, falls in love with a talented nobody. As his career self-implodes, his lover’s fame skyrockets. This fourth version is at least as good as the 1954 classic starring Judy Garland and James Mason.  Lady Gaga holds the screen and proves she’s a movie star as well as a singer/songwriter (she also wrote most of the film’s excellent songs). Co-star Bradley Cooper proves that along with acting, he can sing, write, and direct. Sam Elliott has a major supporting role.

B+ Ghostbusters (1984), Lark Drive-In, Thursday, 6:15

Comedy rarely gets this scary or this visually spectacular. Or perhaps I should say that special-effects action fantasies rarely get this funny (at least intentionally so). Harold Ramis, Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, and Sigourney Weaver appear to be having a great time as they try to control the phantasms and monsters suddenly attacking New York City.

B+ Halloween, Capitol Drive-in, check days and times

John Carpenter made a very good low-budget thriller that started a very bad genre: the slasher movie – also known as the dead teenager flick. In the original Halloween, an escaped psycho racks up several kills on the scariest night of the year. Yes, the story is absurd–the guy seems capable of getting into any place and sneaking up on anyone–but Carpenter and co-screenwriter Debra Hill take the time to let us know these particular teenagers, and that makes all the difference. By the time he goes after the mature, responsible one (Jamie Lee Curtis), you’re really scared.

B+ The Lost Boys, Solano Drive-in, Capitol Drive-in, check days and times

This clever and funny–and even occasionally scary–teenage vampire movie was shot in Santa Cruz and is clearly set there (even though they give the town another name). So, you have the undead partying in the summer on the beach, on the boardwalk, and dealing with teenage angst. But then, what do you do when peer pressure tells you to become an immortal bloodsucker? Hey, all the cool kids are doing it. A lot of fun in a horror movie that refuses to take itself seriously.

B- What We Do in the Shadows, Lark Drive-In, Thursday, 8:45

This vampire mockumentary’s basic idea is funny and promising: An unseen documentary camera crew follow the afterlives of four vampires who share a house in a modern city. They argue about household chores, go out looking for victims, and talk directly into the camera about their undead existence. But the basic idea begins to wear out around the half-way point. The jokes are still funny, but they come farther apart. Read my full review.