What’s Screening: Jan 29 – Feb 4

This week in mostly virtual Bay Area moviegoing: Listen to reviewers about reviewing, discuss Casablanca with the Thrillville crowd, restore home movies, catch films about autism and striking workers, along with three enjoyable entertainments at the drive-in. Also, three film festivals.


Special online events

Film Criticism In the Time of Covid, Sundance at the Roxie, currently available

Seven local film critics – Eric Kohn, B. Ruby Rich, Justin Chang, Carlos Aguilar, Pam Grady, Lisa Kennedy, and Randy Myers – talk about the current state of film reviewing. They discuss big movies and small films, deadlines, and the differences between pre-pandemic festivals and today’s virtual experience. You can watch this hour-long roundtable discussion for free.

A+ Thrillville Movie Club: Casablanca (1942), New Parkway, Saturday, 3:00

The movie: You’ve either already seen the best film to come out of the classic Hollywood sausage machine, or you know you should. Let me just add that no one who worked on Casablanca thought they were making a masterpiece. It was made with the same people and techniques as was every other film made on the Warner assembly line. Yet somehow, the machine turned out a masterpiece–one of the great American films. Perhaps it’s the million monkeys on a million typewriters theory. Somehow, just this once, the sausage came out perfect. For more details, see Casablanca: The Accidental Masterpiece.
The event: Watch Casablanca before Saturday afternoon. Then join the Zoom discussion at 3:00.

The After After Life of Home Movies, Roxie, Friday, 6:00

Preservationists work hard to save classic films, but what about the old pictures fading away in the closet? Members of the Center for Home Movies will discuss how we can preserve movies intended only for your family.

Virtual movies new to me

B+ The Reason I Jump (2020), Balboa, Roxie

This documentary tries and sometimes succeeds in letting us understand how very autistic, non-verbal children communicate and view the world. But for the most part, it shows how parents care for and try to connect to such a child. Filmmaker Jerry Rothwell introduces us to five people, mostly adolescents, who cannot communicate in ways most people do, and how their parents deal with it. To understand how autistic people see the world, the film contains passages from the book The Reason I Jump, written by the autistic Naoki Higashida when he was just a 13-year-old.

C+ Stand! (2020), Lark

Think of this picture as a low-budget, kind-of-okay version of West Side Story, with songs, a Romeo and Juliet romance, and set in 20th-century, New World slums. But this time, it’s Winnipeg just after World War I. A young Ukrainian boy and a young Jewish girl fall in love – something that never would have happened in the old country. But this time, the romantic plot is overwhelmed by the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919. The film looks cheap – not good for such a grand, historical theme, and none of the songs are memorable. And there’s no dancing.

Drive-in movies

A+ GROUNDHOG DAY (1923), Fort Mason Flix, Wednesday, 8:00

Spiritual, humane, and hilarious, Groundhog Day wraps its empathetic world view inside a slick, Hollywood comedy. Without explanation, the movie plunges its self-centered protagonist into a type of purgatory, living the same day over and over until he finds enlightenment. Bill Murray’s weatherman goes through stages of panic, giddiness, and despair before figuring out that life is about serving others. And yet not a frame of this movie feels preachy. Fast-paced and brilliantly edited, it’s pure entertainment. For more on this great comedy, see my essay.

A Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015), Alameda, Saturday, 6:30

J.J. Abrams understands Star Wars far better than he ever understood Star Trek. In fact, he understands it better than George Lucas ever did. He knows that a Star Wars movie must be big and exciting, with mind-blowing action sequences and special effects. It also needs not-quite-believable, bigger-than-life characters and a simplistic view of good and evil. And most important, Star Wars isn’t science fiction; it’s Tolkien-style fantasy with sci-fi hardware.

A- Wallace & Gromit: the Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005), Fort Mason Flix, Wednesday, 5:00

An eccentric inventor, his long-suffering dog, snooty aristocrats, cute bunnies, and a whole lot of clay make up the funniest movie of 2005. I wish someone would put this G-rated, claymation extravaganza on a double-bill with that other hilarious British comedy with a killer rabbit, Monty Python and the Holy Grail.