What’s Screening: November 20 – 26

This week in pandemic movie watching, we have a talk with Charlie Chaplin’s son and two new films in actual theaters. What’s more, Coppola, Coogler, Spielberg, and Leone just might entice you to the drive-in. And we even have a virtual festival.


Special online events

Charlie Chaplin double bill & discussion: B The Circus & C Limelight, Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, Discussion: Saturday, 10:00pm

These aren’t amongst Chaplin’s most remembered films, but there’s something very special about them: Chaplin plays a comedian in both movies. In a sense…especially with Limelight, he’s playing a version of himself.
The Circus: The Tramp finds himself working in a small circus, where he accidentally becomes a star clown without knowing it. He also falls in love with a beautiful girl who sees him only as a friend. Not a masterpiece, but very funny at times. You can read my Chaplin Diary entry.
Limelight: In his last American film, Chaplin plays an aging music hall comedian who pontificates on life and love as he nurses a crippled ballet dancer (Claire Bloom). But Limelight contains the only known filmed sequence of Chaplin and Buster Keaton working together, and it’s brilliant. Read my Chaplin Diary entry.
The event: Watch the two movies before Sunday morning. Then, at 10:00am, join the Zoom discussion with Dan Kamin, Hooman Mehran, Jason Allin and Chaplin’s son Eugene Chaplin. The Zoom URL should be available before Saturday

New films opening in theaters

B+ The Last Vermeer (2020), various theaters (not all AMC), opens Friday

Art, fame, and Nazis make a potent mix in this story set in the Netherlands after the fall of the Third Reich. It’s hard to tell if someone was collaborating or doing their bit to hurt the occupation. This is not a serious anti-Nazi drama. Although based on actual events, much of what happens is more dramatic than plausible. To a large degree it’s a work of entertainment – which is probably why it’s in English. Guy Pearce gives a very engaging performance as a charming, funny, unpredictable, and sociopathic art dealer. Read my full review.

B- Collective (2019), Rafael, BAMPFA, opens Friday

In 2015, a Bucharest nightclub called Colectiv (not a spelling error) caught fire during a crowded rock concert. The building lacked emergency exits, and 27 people died immediately. Far more were seriously injured and died later. But that was only the start of the scandal. Investigating reporters discover deep problems in the country’s medical services, including water-downed disinfectants. An important story worth telling, but the documentary often fails to keep your interest. Read my full review.

Drive-in movies

A+ The Godfather (1972), Fort Mason Flix, Wednesday, 8:00

Francis Coppola, taking the job simply because he needed the money, turned Mario Puzo’s potboiler into the Great American Crime Epic. Marlon Brando may have top billing, but Al Pacino owns the film as the son who does not want a life of crime – but proves exceptionally well-suited for the job. A masterpiece of character, atmosphere, and heart-stopping violence. Read my A+ list essay.

A Black Panther (2018), Lark Drive-In, Friday, 9:00

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- Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), Fort Mason Flix, Monday, 9:00

The original Indiana Jones movie is, in most people’s eyes, the best, even if I disagree. But I still considerate it a wonderful (if somewhat racist) roller coaster of a movie, giving you one thrill or joke after another. The movie doesn’t really have much of a story. The plot about Nazis trying to steal the Ark of the Covenant is just an excuse to take us from one action sequence to another. But these action sequences are amongst the best filmed.  Read my longer comments on the film.

B A Fistful of Dollars (1964), Fort Mason Flix, Saturday, 6:00

Sergio Leone’s second film and first western is a blatant, almost scene by scene rip-off of Kurosawa’s Yojimbo. A lone gunfighter, incredibly talented at killing, wanders into a small town torn apart between rival gangs. Disgusted by their behavior, the gunfighter offers his services to one gang and then the other, playing them against each other. Dollars provides reasonable entertainment, mixing action, suspense, and comedy, even if it doesn’t stand up to the original. Presented by Istituto Italiano di Cultura San Francisco. You can order a special $25 drive-in dinner online from Montesacro Pizzeria Romana San Francisco.

Continuing engagements