Like almost everyone else, I haven’t seen a movie in the theater in more than a year. But come Friday, that will change. Berkeley’s Shattuck Cinema opens tomorrow with eleven films from this year and last. I’ve seen seven of these films, but only at home.
And yes, I know that other theaters have been running movies for weeks, but not in my neighborhood.
All movies are better on the big screen, but some films depend more upon the theatrical experience more than others. And it’s not just about screen size. It’s also about experiencing emotions with the people around you.
Here are the seven Shattuck movies I’ve seen, in order of how important the big screen helps the experience:
The probable experience: My favorite movie of last year is filled with outdoor scenery caught by cinematographer Joshua James Richards. The American landscape becomes a major character. A film that should work best in a theater.
The movie: After Fern (Frances McDormand) loses her husband, job, and home, 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- The Trial of The Chicago 7
The probable experience: The riot scenes may be immersive on the big screen. Besides, there are plenty of moments when the audience can applaud or laugh together.
The movie: 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.
The probable experience: Another outdoor movie – always good for the big screen. But a small farm doesn’t contain the beautiful landscapes of Nomadland. There’s a suspenseful climax where the audience can gasp together.
The Move: 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 (another reason to see it in a theater).
The probable experience: The recreations of old-time Hollywood and San Simeon might be more fun on a big screen, especially in widescreen black and white.
Yes, it’s fun to watch David Fincher’s recreation of 1930s and early 40s Hollywood, even when the inaccuracies stick out. Gary Oldman plays Herman Mankiewicz, who wrote the Citizen Kane screenplay (or co-wrote depending on who you believe). The main story has Mank writing the script while two women take care of him. As one would assume in a film about Kane, the film has plenty of flashbacks – but this time, they’re about MGM in the 1930s. Shot in black and white to make it look like the movies of that time, but also in ‘scope to make it look modern.
A- Promising Young Woman
The probable experience: There’s nothing visually spectacular here, but there are moments when the audience around you will gasp together.
The movie: 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.
B+ Judas and the Black Messiah
The probable experience: The film contains crowds, which are always more impressive on the big screen. Also, I suspect that the violence will feel more horrific.
The Movie: 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.
A The Father
The probable experience: This is a truly excellent film, and one you should see. But it’s basically two (or occasionally three) people in an apartment. This is not the film for celebrating returning to the theaters.
The movie: 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.