What do we have in Bay Area movies this week? A drummer losing his hearing, a couple of virtual cinema suggestions, and Moses splitting the Red Sea in a real theater (just in time for Passover). At the drive-in, you can watch some of the best of Hitchcock, Wilder, and the Coens, along with a loveable pig and a gourmet rat. You can even get into a discussion about Memento, but don’t try to do it backwards.
- CineQuest continues through Wednesday
Special online events
A Thrillville Movie Club: Memento, Saturday, 3:00
The movie: Before he started making Batman movies, Christopher Nolan created one low-budget, terrific thriller. Guy Pearce is a man bent on identifying, and then killing, the man who murdered his wife. But due to a brain injury, he can’t hold a memory long – making him dangerous to himself and others. The film is told mostly from end to start, so that like the protagonist, you don’t know what just happened.
The event: First, watch the movie. Then, on Saturday at 3:00pm, join the discussion.
Relatively new in theaters
A- The Sound of Metal (2020), Embarcadero Center, Shattuck
This film may make you understand how Beethoven felt. Ruben is losing his hearing (Riz Ahmed gives an excellent performance). This is a horrible situation for anyone, but Ruben plays drummer in a heavy metal duet. This is more than his career; his professional partner is also the woman he loves. But now he must learn new ways to communicate with the world, and try to build a new life. The story occasionally seems to go one way and then another, adding to the feeling of Ruben’s confusion. Not surprisingly, the sound mix is exceptional.
Still going in virtual cinema
A- Mayor (2020), BAMPFA
Running a large, modern city is difficult enough; it’s much harder when you’re occupied. This documentary follows Musa Hadid, the mayor of Ramallah – a large Palestinian city where Christians and Muslims mingle peacefully. At first, Hadid struggles like any other mayor – getting new doors for a school or setting up the city’s Christmas tree. But few mayors deal with settlers shooting at citizens, while the Israeli government won’t allow them to build a much-needed sewage plant. Then President Trump formally recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and everything goes crazy. The film climaxes with a one-sided battle as Israeli soldiers storm into the city shooting gas and brandishing guns. A powerful doc about trying to have a normal life under occupation.
B Mandabi (1968), BAMPFA
Ousmane Sembene, often called “The father of African Cinema,” shows the writer/director’s sardonic wit in this early work. Its protagonist, Ibrahim, is a truly unlikeable person. He’s cruel to his two wives, he hasn’t worked in years, he eats loudly, has a swollen ego, and he’s an idiot. Suddenly, everything’s coming up roses when he gets a very large money order from a nephew in Paris. Of course, word gets around. What’s more, how can he cash the order; he has no ID or even a birth certificate. Smarter and richer men recognize a mark when they see one.
B+ The Ten Commandments (1956), Sunday and Wednesday, check theaters and times
I enjoy a strange relationship with the biggest commercial hit of the 1950s. With its simplistic characters, corny dialog, and overriding atmosphere of pomposity, The Ten Commandments is the ultimate unintentional comedy. And yet, it’s also a rich, generous, and entertaining spectacle, and is a visually lovely motion picture. It also has one truly impressive, low-key performance (Cedric Hardwicke as Sethi). At times, it even succeeds in its simplistic spirituality. Read my Blu-ray review.
Revivals at the drive-in
A+ Rear Window (1954), Fort Mason Flix, Friday, 8:45
Alfred Hitchcock at his absolute best! James Stewart is riveting as a news photographer temporarily confined to his apartment and a wheelchair, amusing himself by spying on his neighbors (none of whom he knows) and guessing at the details of their lives. Then he begins to suspect that one of them committed murder. As he and his girlfriend (Grace Kelly) investigate, it slowly dawns on us – but not them – that they’re getting into some pretty dangerous territory. Hitchcock uses this story to examine voyeurism, urban alienation, and the institution of marriage, as well as treating his audience to a great entertainment. Read my A+ Appreciation.
A+ Fargo (1996), ), Fort Mason Flix, Wednesday, 8:30
The ultimate crime-gone-wrong thriller and the Coen Brothers’ masterpiece, Fargo treads that thin line between the horrific and the hilarious while never forgetting the humane. With star-making performances by William H. Macy, as a man in way over his head, and Frances McDormand, as a very pregnant cop with a lot of empathy and common sense. Also starring the bleakest snowscapes in American cinema. Read My Thoughts on Fargo.
A Sunset Boulevard (1950), Fort Mason Flix, Wednesday, 5:30
Billy Wilder’s meditation on Hollywood’s seedy underbelly is the flip side of Singin’ in the Rain (now that would make a great double bill). Norma Desmond is very much Lena Lamont after twenty-two years of denial and depression. And in the role of Norma, Gloria Swanson gives one of the great over-the-top performances in Hollywood history.
A Babe (1995), Lark Drive-in, Friday, 8:30
This Australian fantasy just might be cinema’s greatest work of vegetarian propaganda. It’s also a sweet, funny, and charming fairy tale about a pig who wants to be a sheep dog. This was the film that made audiences and critics recognize and appreciate character actor James Cromwell. It also broke considerable ground technically in the category of live-action talking-animal movies. Warning: If you show this G-rated movie to your young children, you may have trouble getting them to eat bacon again.
A Black Panther (2018), Alameda Pop-Up Drive In, Saturday, 7:45
Yes, it was revolutionary in the age of Trump to make a huge-budget superhero movie with an almost entirely Black cast. But Black Panther is more complex than a simple good vs. bad action flick with dark complexions. The main villain has a serious point. And the hero must face some ambiguously moral choices. But I wish the filmmakers had confronted the absurdity of monarchy. It’s also an amazingly fun action movie.
A- Ratatouille (2007), Lark Drive-in, Saturday, 8:30
While there’s nothing original about building a cartoon around sympathetic, anthropomorphic rodents (just ask Walt Disney), Brad Bird does something totally different. He plays with the unsettling image of rats in the kitchen–he even lets our skin crawl at the spectacle – but he still gets us rooting for the varmints. And also for the hapless, human chef-in-training who intentionally sneaks a rat into a gourmet restaurant. The animation is, as you’d expect from Pixar, technically perfect, but you don’t really notice it except as an afterthought. You’re too caught up in the story to think about how it was made.