What’s Screening: November 5 – 11

I’ve been busy lately, which is why this is the only article I posted this week. But we’ve got a documentary about China that the Chinese government probably won’t like. What else might you like? How about films from the Coen Brothers, Alain Resnais, or Francis Coppola – all at their peak? Or maybe a dark noir set in the world of carnies. What about anime, or a hungry alien? And biggest of all, you can spend a whole day in Middle Earth.

We also have five film festivals for your enjoyment.

Festivals & Series

Festival recommendation

A Ascension (2021), Doc Stories festival, Castro, Friday, 8:00pm; also available streaming Saturday

If you think America is the land where people desperately fight for a piece of the pie, you should see how it works in so-called “socialist” China. Jessica Kingdon’s spellbinding, narration-less documentary shows the People’s Republic as a country of paupers scrambling to raise themselves financially – or at least to create the image of wealth and good breeding. But it’s an impossible dream for most, and even those few who gain the dream find only environmental disaster. Director Jessica Kingdon and producers Kira Simon-Kennedy and Nathan Truesdell are expected to attend.

Theaters opening

The Aquarius opens Thursday, November 11, probably with Belfast and Julia.

The Week’s Big Event

Lord of the Rings Marathon, New Parkway, Sunday, 12:00 noon

Over 20 twenty years ago, Peter Jackson did something almost impossible: He created a cinematic version of J.R.R. Tolkien’s masterpiece – beautiful, exciting, and reasonably close to the book. The three films – The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the Kingtake up pretty much a full day. But I’m not giving grades to these three very long films; I haven’t seen them in ages. You’ll have to buy separate tickets for each film.

Theatrical revivals

A+ Fargo (1996), Roxie, Saturday, 4:10

In person: Todd Melby, author of a Lot Can Happen in the Middle of Nowhere: The Untold Story of Making Fargo. 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 The Conversation (1974), BAMPFA, Saturday, 7:00pm

35mm, Dye Transfer Technical print! Francis Coppola’s low-budget “personal” film, made between Godfathers I and II, is almost as good as the two epics that sandwich it. The Conversation concerns a professional snoop (Gene Hackman) who bugs peoples’ private conversations for a living. Remote and lonely, his emotional armor begins to crack when he suspects that his work could lead to murder. Walter Murch’s ground-breaking sound mix exposes us to layers of meaning within the titular recorded discussion as we hear it over and over again. Part of the series Afterimage: Walter Murch in Conversation. Sound designer Walter Murch in discussion with Fyodor Urnov.

A Nightmare Alley (1947), BAMPFA, Sunday, 7:00;

A carnival makes a frightening backdrop for a film noir, especially if it stars Tyrone Power and Joan Blondell. No one can trust anyone else, whether they’re playing with magic tricks, money, or sex (“My heart is like an artichoke; there’s a leaf for everyone.”) Power plays a mentalist supposedly reading minds, but his real talents are those of the carney – tricks and fakeries. With the help of his wife (Blondell), he becomes famous; but as he rises, he’s just digging a bigger hole to fall into.

A Alien, New Parkway, Thursday, 9:30pm

An extremely adaptable predator gets onboard a cargo ship in deep space, and soon the seven crew members are fighting for their lives. The movie provides more than extremely well-crafted suspense and action, and for the first time in cinema, space travelers are portrayed not as heroic astronauts, but as blue-collar truckers. They complain about the food and their pay. And as the story unfolds, you realize just how expendable these people are in the eyes of the corporation that employs them. This is the film that made Sigourney Weaver a star.

A- Hiroshima mon amour (1959), BAMPFA, Thursday, 7:00

The film starts with a couple in bed, presumably naked, locked in love’s embrace. But their talk is not about love–or even sex. They’re talking about the bomb and Hiroshima. The man wants to make sure that his lover has seen everything of importance in this victimized city and understands what it means. It’s an intimate, hopeless love story set against the ruins of a massively horrific war that scarred everyone involved. Read my longer essay. Part of the series Marguerite Duras: The Seamless Past and Present.

B+ Princess Mononoke, New Parkway, Subtitled: Saturday, 9:00pm; Dubbed: Friday, 4:30pm; Saturday, 12:40pm; Thursday, 4:00pm

For much of its runtime, this animated, action fantasy from Japan takes you on a wild and exciting ride. The hand-drawn characters, the strange animals, and the amazing moments of fear, struggle, and love are surprisingly powerful. But the climactic battle between animals and people drags on too long, seemingly just for the point of making things big. The environmental message is both obvious and shallow. Too extreme for young children.

C+ High Society (1956), check for theaters, dates, and times

To watch this Technicolor musical, a remake of The Philadelphia Story, is to understand why screwball comedy died. It also makes you appreciate how wonderful Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, and James Stewart were in the original. The 1965 musical version replaces them with Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly, and Frank Sinatra – fine actors, but their comedic skills just don’t measure up. On the other hand, this version has Louis Armstrong, and that makes up for a whole lot.

Continuing engagements

Frequently-revived classics