What can you do cinematically this week in the Bay Area? You can talk with Viola Davis and about Quentin Tarantino. You can watch documentaries about dogs and poison. And you can see this year’s greatest outdoor movie, Nomadland, on the big screen, in a real theater!
But no festivals this week.
Special online events
B A Conversation with Viola Davis & Oprah about Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (2020), Netflix
The film: Provide excellent actors with good dialog, put them in an enclosed place, and you will likely get an excellent stage play. But if you carelessly try to turn it into a movie, the theatrical roots show through. That’s the problem with the otherwise excellent film adaptation of August Wilson’s play, set in a 1920s recording studio. Viola Davis and the late Chadwich Boseman (in his last film) brilliantly carry the picture.
The event: If you haven’t seen Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, catch it on Netflix. Then register for the free discussion. Oprah Winfrey will moderate the discussion Saturday at 5:00pm PST.
Thrillville Movie Club: Reservoir Dogs (1992), New Parkway
The movie: It’s been way too long since I’ve seen Quentin Tarantino’s directorial debut, so I won’t give it a grade. I remember being shocked, grossed out, and disgusted, as well as thoroughly entertained.
The discussion: First, watch the movie. Then, at 3:00, Saturday afternoon, follow this Zoom link to discuss the film.
New films opening
B The People vs. Agent Orange (2020), streaming through the Balboa, Rafael, Vogue; and theatrically at the Rafael, 4:00, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday
During the Vietnam war, the American military dropped thousands of tons of Dow Chemical’s Agent Orange. It created massive damage to the countryside and the human population. But when the war was over, Dow needed new customers, so Agent Orange came back to be dropped on to American forests. This doc offers a lot of information about an especially important issue. But the film also hits you on the head with the proverbial mallet. And as with so many political documentaries, it will only be seen by people who already agree with what it says. Read my full review.
C+ Stray (2020), streaming at the Cerrito, Elmwood, Rafael, and Roxie. Also at the Fort Mason Flix drive-in, Wednesday, 5:30
Don’t expect a happy documentary about the wonderful relationship between people and our four-footed best friends. This documentary is about something far less enjoyable: How wild dogs manage in urban areas without a human to give them food and shelter. That’s a good subject for a doc, but how often can you watch the same dog walking, sleeping, or scrounging for food. Another problem: Without narration, it doesn’t give us enough information on how these beautiful animals survive in the big city. Read my full review.
In a real theater
A Nomadland (2020), Rafael, Friday & Saturday, 3:45 or 7:00; Sunday, 12:30 & 3:45
In one of her best performances, Frances McDormand plays a woman who lost her husband, job, and home. So, she goes on the road in her van, working temporary jobs, getting by, and befriending other “nomads.” It’s truly what she wants, and the film suggests this is a viable way of life (until the van breaks down). Most of the cast are real people playing versions of themselves, although actor David Strathairn pops up occasionally. Written and directed by Chloé Zhao, who made the best overlooked film of 2017, The Rider.
Another chance to see
A M.C. Escher: Journey to Infinity (2018), Cerrito, Elmwood, Lark
The big shock in Robin Lutz’s documentary, M.C. ESCHER: Journey to Infinity, comes early. The creator of so many mind-bending woodcuts didn’t consider himself an artist, but a mathematician. And he hated the hippies who loved his work. But he wished that he could have worked with Walt Disney. This very entertaining documentary covers his life and work, with British actor Stephen Fry reading from Escher’s own biographical writings (translated into English, of course). A wide range of music keeps the story going. Read my full review.
A- Promising Young Woman (2020), New Mission
If you’re a heterosexual male human, this film will likely make you feel guilty – even if you know you never did any of the horrible things that men do in this powerful thriller. Terrible events in Cassandra’s past have ruined her life (Carey Mulligan plays the part brilliantly). She dropped out of medical school, still lives with her parents at age 30, and doesn’t date. But she hangs around to…you’ll have to see the film. She has become an avenger of date rapists and gang rapists – and no, this isn’t a bloody revenge flick. It’s more like a more intelligent thriller where the protagonist is out to force people to confront their sins.
A The Seventh Seal, BAMPFA, Rafael
A knight returning from the Crusades (Max von Sydow) plays chess with Death – hoping to live a little longer while the plague ravages the countryside. But while the knight ponders God’s silence, his life-embracing squire (Gunnar Björnstrand) reminds us what it really means to be fully alive. Meanwhile, a married couple of traveling players (Nils Poppe and Bibi Andersson), find a simple happiness. Filled with wonderful characters, religious allegory, and sly humor, The Seventh Seal bursts with a love of humanity and a fear for our place in the universe. Part of the series Max von Sydow: The Best Stradivarius.
Drive-in movies this week
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.
Drive-in movies next week
Because these showings sell out quickly, I’m listing next week’s offerings.
B+ Desperately Seeking Susan (1985), Fort Mason Flix, Friday, March 12, 8:00
Funny and sexy, Susan Seidelman’s comedy thriller (written by Leora Barish) sparks with bright colors and infectious pop music while celebrating the down and dirty over the respectable middle class. Rosanna Arquette stars as a bored, unhappy housewife who loses her memory and takes on the identity of the very wild Susan, a happy slut played by a not-yet-famous Madonna (she hit the big time while the film was in post-production).