This week in Virtual Cinema, you can meet a new American family, discover the horrors that come after a rape, and watch Spike Lee’s masterpiece. But if you really want to leave home and watch a really big screen, you have drive-in options from The Black Messiah to Austin Powers. You can even join a discussion on ’70s porn.
- The Jewish Film Festival Winterfest continues through Sunday.
Special online events
A Thrillville Movie Club: Boogie Nights (1997)
The movie: Writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson’s epic tale tells the stories of porn stars with delusions of talent – including Mark Wahlberg’s nice, well-endowed young man, and Julianne Moore’s porn queen/mother hen. Set in the late 70s and early 80s, Boogie Nights tracks porn’s fall from gutter chic to soulless video. The excellent cast includes Heather Graham, Don Cheadle, Burt Reynolds, William H. Macy, and Philip Seymour Hoffman.
The event: First, watch the film before Saturday afternoon. Then, at 3:00, join in on the Zoom discussion.
New films opening
A Minari (2020), Balboa, Cerrito, Elmwood, Landmark Theaters, Lark, Roxie
A Korean family just moved from California to Arkansas, where they can afford to buy land for a farm – the father’s dream. He’s a hard worker and knows farming, but he’s overly optimistic. Problems come up without good solutions. The marriage becomes strained. The young son has a heart condition that could be fatal. Surprisingly, they don’t have problems with racists; the local, apparently all-white church welcomes its new neighbors. But you might want to read my comments about the tech hell I experienced to watch the movie.
A- Test Pattern (2019), Roxie
Shatara Michelle Ford’s powerful drama about date rape condemns society almost as much as it condemns the rapist. Renesha’s life seems wonderful – a great job and a loving boyfriend (even if he’s white) – until she drank too much in a bar and woke up in a stranger’s bed. As the boyfriend drives her from one hospital to another, no one seems to care about the black rape victim. Unlike most movies, Test Pattern doesn’t wrap things up cleanly. Read my full review.
A+ Do the Right Thing (1989), New Mission
Spike Lee’s masterpiece just may be the best film about race relations in America. For a 30-plus-year-old film, it feels very much like the here and now. By focusing on a single block of Brooklyn over the course of one very hot day, Lee dramatizes and analyzes everything wrong (and a few things right) about race relationships in America. And yet this beautifully made film is touching, funny, warm-hearted, and humane. Read my Blu-ray review.
A I Am Not Your Negro (2016), New Mission
The African-American experience, summed up in the words of James Baldwin, read by Samuel L. Jackson, while director Raoul Peck provides visual context from old news footage, talk shows, and scenes shot for this powerful documentary. Every American should see I Am Not Your Negro; unfortunately, only those already sympathetic to its message will likely catch it. Read my full review.
Drive-in movies this week
(2020), Solano Drive-in, Capitol Drive-in, check times and dates on website
After Fern loses her husband, job, and home (Frances McDormand), she goes on the road in her van, working temporary jobs, getting by, and befriending other “nomads.” She doesn’t consider herself homeless, and this is what she always wanted. Most of the cast are real people playing versions of themselves, although David Strathairn of Good Night, and Good Luck fame plays another vagabond who wants a closer relationship with Fern. On one level, it’s about people who were thrown out of society when they’re no longer needed, but at other times it seems like a viable way of life (until the van breaks down). Written and directed by Chloé Zhao, who made The Rider – the best overlooked film of 2017. One of McDormand’s best performances.
(2020), Fort Mason Flix, March 2, 8:00
If you have trouble with streaming Minari at home (see above), you can watch it out of doors…if you can find a parking space. The presentation is sold out.
A- Daughters of the Dust (1991), Fort Mason Flix, Friday, February 26, 8:00
The story is simple, but the layers of atmosphere and culture make it something special. Set in an island off the Carolinas at the beginning of the 20th century, Julie Dash’s first film brings us into the Gullah way of life at a time where it appears to be dying. An old woman, one old enough to remember slavery well, watches as members of her extended family move north to find better lives. Arthur Jafa’s beautiful cinematography helps create a sense of magic at a time when magic seems to be dying out.
B+ Judas and the Black Messiah (2021), Solano Drive-in, Capitol Drive-in, check times and dates on website
If anyone is the hero of this movie, it’s Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya), the charismatic leader of the Chicago Black Panther Party. He was willing to fight for his people and risk his life for them. But the movie isn’t really about Hampton. It’s mostly about Bill O’Neal (LaKeith Stanfield), a thief turned FBI informant who will eventually help the G-men murder Hampton. J. Edgar Hoover (Martin Sheen under a lot of makeup) didn’t want Hampton behind bars; he wanted him dead. No one here is completely innocent, including Hampton; and the film discusses killings done by the Party.
B- Creed (2015), Fort Mason Flix, Sunday, February 28, 7:00
Between the excellent Fruitvale Station and the groundbreaking Black Panther, Ryan Coogler made a pretty good boxing movie with an interesting gimmick: Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky, now an old man, trains the up-and-coming protagonist (Michael B. Jordan). Reasonably heartwarming and entertaining, it has one big problem: The guy we’re supposed to root for is already rich and doesn’t need to get punched in face to make a living. That makes it hard to cheer for him.
Drive-in movies next week
Because these showings sell out quickly, I’m listing next week’s offerings.
A Blade Runner (Final Cut) (1982), Fort Mason Flix, Friday, March 5, 8:00
Based on Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, Blade Runner remains surprisingly thoughtful for ’80’s sci-fi – especially of the big budget variety. It ponders questions about the nature of humanity and our ability to objectify people when it suits our needs. The art direction and music alone would make it a masterpiece. Read my longer essay.
A Parasite (2019), Fort Mason Flix, Sunday, 7:15
This hilariously cruel comedy thriller about the haves and the have nots earned its surprising Best Picture Oscar. 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 (Snowpiercer, The Host) 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?
A The Incredibles (2004), Fort Mason Flix, Sunday, March 7, 4:00
The first decade of the century was the golden era of superhero movies, and Brad Bird’s first film for Pixar was one of the best. Not based on a comic book series (although you can’t ignore similarities to The Fantastic Four), it follows a married couple of retired superheroes as circumstances force them to pull out the spandex and save the world once again. And this time, with their kids. A rousing and utterly enjoyable entertainment, The Incredibles also brings up issues of conformity, adolescence, and the dangers of wearing a cape.
B+ Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997), Fort Mason Flix, Wednesday, March 10, 8:30
Bad sequels can ruin one’s memory of a good original, and that’s very much the case with the first Austin Powers movie. Parodying everything about 1960s swinging London, and especially the early James Bond movies, it takes one cliché after another and blows each one to bits. Both the brilliant but bucktoothed spy Austin Powers (Mike Myers), and his arch-enemy, Dr. Evil (Mike Myers), are frozen in 1967 and thawed out in 1997, where they’re clearly fish out of water. Myers also wrote the screenplay.