The theaters are opening up…or at least a few of them are; you can learn more from G. Allen Johnson’s recent Chronicle article. But it may be too late for some. Alamo Drafthouse, the company that owns the New Mission, has filed for bankruptcy.
Anyway, here’s what’s happening this week in Bay Area cinema: Discussions on Irish rock and Ingmar Bergman, five new movies screening in real theaters, Agnès Varda’s TV miniseries, and seven movies you can see outdoors while sitting in your car.
Special online events
B Max von Sydow: The Magician (1958), BAMPFA, event on Friday, 11:00am
The Film: Was this really directed by Ingmar Bergman? Well, it starts like The Seventh Seal, but as time goes by, it feels like it was made by Ernst Lubitch. Max von Sydow, wearing intentionally unbelievable makeup, plays the head of a 19th-century troupe of traveling players. Their specialty is magic. They arrive at the home of a wealthy family who does not like this kind of entertainment. Of course, you know the players are going to get the upper hand.
The event: When you buy a ticket to watch the film, you get access to Friday’s discussion headed by Linda H. Rugg. This is all part of the series Max von Sydow: The Best Stradivarius.
B+ Watch Party: Crock of Gold (2020), Wednesday, March 17, 5:30
The Movie: If you’re not familiar with The Pogues, you have a treat to discover. For some 27 irregular years, this Irish band melded punk rock, traditional folk music, and deeply-felt left-wing politics. But this documentary isn’t about the band. It’s about the lead singer and main songwriter, Shane MacGowan. I would have liked more about his bandmates, but MacGowan’s own story is a fascinating one. Read my full review.
The event: Watch the movie, enter the Virtual Scener Theater for a discussion with direction Julien Temple.
New films in theaters!
A The Father (2020), Embarcadero Center, opens Friday
Losing a parent to senility must be torture (see The Artist’s Wife). But Florian Zeller’s excellent chamber film shows something more horrific – how it feels as your own mind recedes. Most of The Father is seen from the view of a man losing his memory (Anthony Hopkins in one of his best performances). His daughter (Olivia Colman – also great) tries to find a way to keep her father safe while she plans to move out of town. But as his mental capabilities collapse, we can’t be sure that we’re watching reality or a waking dream. A frightening view of something that many of us will experience.
Already in theaters
A Nomadland (2020), Embarcadero Center, Rafael, opens Friday
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.
A Minari (2020), Theater: Rafael, opens Friday; Drive-in: Fort Mason Flix, Wednesday, 5:30
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- The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020), Embarcadero Center, opens Friday
Another movie set in my adolescence, but this time, it’s not a documentary. 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 went in ready to throw the book at the hippies, yippies, and Panthers, and never changed his mind. Meanwhile, some of the defendants – especially Abbie Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen) and Jerry Rubin (Jeremy Strong) – set out to turn the courtroom into a clown show. Dramatic, historical, and sometimes hysterical. Other recognizable actors in the film include Eddie Redmayne, John Carroll Lynch, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Frank Langella, and Michael Keaton.
B+ Borat Subsequent Moviefilm (2020), Embarcadero Center, opens Friday
The long-awaited sequel is as sick and nasty as the original (and I mean that as a compliment). It’s also almost as funny. I suspect that this time around more of the scenes we see were shot with people in on the joke (the biggest exception being Rudy Giuliani. This time, the idiot journalist goes to America to give his teenage daughter (Maria Bakalova) to Mike Pence. Unfortunately, the racism isn’t as shocking as it was in 2006.
B+ Agnès Varda: From Here to There (2011), BAMPFA, Sunday, March 14 through Sunday, March 21
Free to BAMPFA members! The concept is simple: Legendary filmmaker Agnès Varda travels the world, visiting old friends and making new ones. But this is more than just a 225-minute home movie. The friends she visits are brilliant artists, and she introduces us to them and their work. And all the while, her impish curiosity and joyful personality shine through. This is not so much a movie but a documentary miniseries, cut up into five 45-minute episodes. The way I saw it – in one sitting with a single, five-minute intermission – it was grueling.
Drive-in movies this week
B+ Star Wars (AKA A New Hope, 1977), Lark Drive-in, Thursday, 8:30
The first Star Wars movie is the only one that works on its own, without a need for sequels or prequels. It introduces the main characters and provides a lot of excitement. Good and evil are clearly defined. Farm boy Luke Skywalker discovers he has a heritage and a destiny. Roguish space pirate Han Solo must learn that there’s more to fight for than himself. Princess Leia knows who she is and what she must do from the start. And with CP3O and R2D2, we have a comic team of robots that could almost rival Laurel and Hardy. It’s just a big piece of fun. Unfortunately, the version you’ll see will not be exactly what it was in 1977.
B Mad Max: Fury Road (2015), Fort Mason Flix, Thursday, 8:30
You have to understand three things about this movie: 1) It’s basically two long motor vehicle chases broken up with short bits of dialog. 2) It’s surprisingly feminist for this sort of movie; the plot involves a woman warrior rescuing a tyrant’s enslaved harem. 3) The title character is basically a sidekick, although we see the story through his eyes. The movie is filled with crashes, weapons, hand-to-hand combat, acts of courage, close calls, and fatal errors. It’s fast, brutal, and for the most part very well-choreographed.
B+ Desperately Seeking Susan (1985), Fort Mason Flix, Friday, 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).
Drive-in movies next week
Because drive-in showings sell out quickly, I’m listing next week’s offerings.
A+ Goodfellas (1990), Fort Mason Flix, Saturday, March 20, 8:30
Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) was just another crook working for the mafia, until he went too far. Martin Scorsese’s brilliant retelling of Hill’s life follows him from his enthusiastic, adolescent leap into crime until, 25 years later, he rats on long-time friends to save his neck (no, that isn’t a spoiler). Liotta narrates most of the film as Hill, who clearly loved his life as a “wise guy.” But while the narration romanticizes the life of crime, Scorsese’s camera shows us the ugly reality. Goodfellas is dazzling filmmaking and incredible storytelling. Read my A+ essay.
A Airplane! (1980), Lark Drive-in, Friday, March 19, 8:30
They’re flying on instruments, blowing the autopilot, and translating English into Jive. So win one for the Zipper, but whatever you do, don’t call him Shirley. Airplane! throws jokes like confetti – carelessly tossing them in all directions in hopes that some might hit their target. Surprisingly enough, most of them do. There’s no logical reason a movie this silly can be so satisfying, but logic never was part of the Airplane! formula. I’d be hard-pressed to name another post-silent feature-length comedy with such a high laugh-to-minute ratio.
A Frozen (2013), Lark Drive-in, Saturday, March 20, 8:30
By the time this Disney animated feature came out, my kids could go to the movies by themselves, and therefore I missed a real treat. Yes, it follows the conventional formula for Disney animated features – with a fairyland princess, a handsome hunk, songs, and adorable animals. But this time, you’ve got two princesses, one becoming queen, both basically good but with a sibling rivalry that could destroy the kingdom. And you don’t know which handsome hunk will marry the ingenue we really care about. It’s also beautiful to look at.
A- Promising Young Woman (2020), Fort Mason Flix, Thursday, March 25, 8:30
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 in 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 an intelligent thriller where the protagonist is out to force people to confront their sins.