What’s happening this week in Bay Area movie-watching? Mank appears in a real movie theater! Virtually, you can stream the rip-roaring silent melodrama The Signal Tower, along with dramas by Ryan Coogler and Nicholas Ray. And at the drive-in, you can revisit Casablanca, Mary Poppins, Wall-E, and more. But no festivals.
New films opening in real theaters
B Mank (2020), Embarcadero Center, opens Friday
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 The Signal Tower (1924), available to San Francisco Silent Film Festival members, through Sunday
The Signal Tower gives you everything you want in a melodrama. A likeable hero, a dastardly villain, and a family in danger. The rip-roaring climax involves a horrible storm, a run-away train, a wife in peril, a husband torn between his family and his professional obligations, and a little boy with a loaded revolver. Rip-roaring entertainment, and recently restored. With music by Stephen Horne.
A Fruitvale Station (2013), New Mission
The experience of seeing this independent feature is very much like waiting for a time bomb. You watch Oscar Grant (Michael B. Jordan) go through the last day of 2008, knowing that he will be fatally shot by a BART cop in the early hours of the new year. Writer/director Ryan Coogler wisely avoids turning Grant into a saint but makes us care very much for him. The last moments of the film–not including some documentary footage and the closing credits–will break your heart. Read my longer report.
A In a Lonely Place (1950), New Mission
Nicholas Ray critiqued masculinity in many of his films, but rarely as strongly as he does here. Early on, the movie feels like an exposé of Hollywood. Then it becomes a murder mystery. It ends up as a study of the worst of masculinity. Humphrey Bogart, in one of his best performances, plays a screenwriter who hasn’t had a hit in a decade. He’s a man whose violent temper makes any good relationship impossible. Charming and friendly, he will inevitably lash out physically at those he loves. Gloria Grahame plays the woman with the bad luck to fall in love with him. An amazing character study disguised as film noir.
Drive-in movies this week
A+ Casablanca (1942), Fort Mason Flix, Tuesday, 5:30
You’ve either already seen the best film to come out of the classic Hollywood sausage machine, or you know you should. Let me just add that no one who worked on Casablanca thought they were making a masterpiece. It was made with the same people and techniques as was every other film made on the Warner assembly line. Yet somehow, the machine turned out a masterpiece–one of the great American films. Perhaps it’s the million monkeys on a million typewriters theory. Somehow, just this once, the sausage came out perfect. For more details, see Casablanca: The Accidental Masterpiece.
A Mary Poppins (1964), Fort Mason Flix, Sunday, 5:00
The best live-action movie Walt Disney ever made is, not surprisingly, one of the great all-time children’s pictures. Julie Andrews may have won the Oscar through a sympathy vote, but she really lights up the screen in her first movie appearance, managing to upstage Dick Van Dyke and some wonderful special effects. So what if it takes liberties with the books?
A Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), Fort Mason Flix, Tuesday, 8:30
Young Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) lives in fascist Spain with a cruel and powerful stepfather. Her reality is horrible, but so is the fantasy realm into which she frequently escapes. But at least the fantasy world, which may or may not be a figment of her imagination, holds out the possibility of hope. Guillermo del Toro fashions a nightmare inside of a nightmare, filled with dark, gruesome, and often gory imagery, a child’s fantasy that’s appropriate only for adults, and an unforgettable experience.
A- Wall-E (2008), Lark Drive-in, Friday, 8:00
Andrew Stanton and Pixar made a courageous movie. When Disney finances your big-budget family entertainment, it takes guts to look closely and critically at our consumer culture, obesity, and planetary destruction. Making an almost dialog-free film also took a fair amount of backbone. WALL-E wimps out in the third act–which is both disappointing and probably inevitable–and while that diminishes Stanton’s achievement, it doesn’t destroy it. Read my full review and my report on the Sound of Wall-E .
B+ Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988), Fort Mason Flix, Saturday, April 3, 5:30
This exceptionally clever comic fantasy puts animated characters and flesh-and-blood people living side by side in late 1940’s Hollywood. Mere mortal Bob Hoskins must deal with Bugs Bunny, Mickey Mouse, Betty Boop, and other famous pen-and-ink characters who, unlike him, can be hit over the head with an anvil and just shake it off. Funny, outrageous, and delightful for anyone who loves old cartoons. The special effects – based on pencil, ink, and an optical printer – were cutting edge for their day and still impress.
B Lost In Translation (2003), Fort Mason Flix, Saturday, 8:30
Sophia Coppola introduced us to Scarlett Johansson and gave Bill Murray his best performance since Groundhog Day in this strange meditation where almost nothing happens. Murray plays an American movie star in Tokyo to shoot a whiskey commercial. Johansson plays the bored wife of a photographer. They sense a bond, but what you expect to happen never does. That’s okay, because it probably wouldn’t happen in real life, either. Coppola allows us to enjoy these people’s company, and their reaction to a foreign culture, for 104 minutes. Presented by The House of Suntory.