What’s Screening: December 10 – 16

We’ve got two new films – one about I Love Lucy and another about going into debt in Iran. For more action, we have a Jackie Chan double bill. There’s also Brian De Palma’s idea of Paradise, the Dude and his friends, Harold and his true love, and a really bad Santa. With all that, it could be a wonderful week.

Festivals & Series

New films opening

B Being the Ricardos (2021), Albany Twin, Aquarius, Embarcadero Center, Piedmont, Rafael, Rialto, opens Friday

Writer/director Aaron Sorkin shows us the sweat in creating comedy – particularly in the making of I Love Lucy. Most of the film, inspired by television history, follows one problematic week in the life of making the popular series (I’m pretty sure that these problems didn’t really happen at the same time). Not everything is set in that week; flashbacks tell us how Ball and Arnaz fell in love and got the show on the ground. The big problem is that in a film about comedy, there’s very few laughs.

Preview screenings of upcoming movies

B+ A Hero (2021), Rafael, Tuesday, 4:00

Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi dazzled me with A Separation, The Past, and The Salesman. But I’m not so sure if A Hero is as good as his previous three films. Perhaps I just don’t know enough about the Iranian legal system. Rahim (Amir Jadidi) sits in prison for an unpaid debt (sounds Dickensian) – except when he gets out on leave. When his fiancée finds a purse full of some very expensive baubles, returning it to the owner becomes very difficult. Whatever Rahim does, it’s wrong. Part of For Your Consideration.

Promising events

Phantom of the Paradise, Roxie, (1974) Wednesday, 6:30

It’s been well over 45 years since I’ve seen Brian De Palma’s bizarre mixture of FaustPhantom of the OperaThe Picture of Dorian Gray, tied up with ’70s rock and roll. I don’t remember it enough to give it a grade, but I think it was a wild ride.

Theatrical revivals

A+ It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), Balboa, Sunday, 1:00pm

There’s a rarely-acknowledged dark side to Frank Capra’s feel-good fable. George Bailey (James Stewart) saves his town and earns the love of his neighbors, but only at the expense of his own dreams and desires. Trapped, frustrated, and deeply disappointed, George needs only one new disaster to turn his thoughts to suicide. The extremely happy (some would say excessively sappy) ending works because George, whose main problems remain unsolved, has suffered so much to earn it. Read my A+ appreciation.

A Chungking Express (1994), BAMPFA, Friday, 7:00

A strange and inexplicable movie…mostly in a good way. Chungking Express contains two separate boy-meets-girl stories, one told after the other. The men in both stories are cops obsessed with food and looking for love. One woman is a master criminal who carries a gun and is willing to use it. The other is an eccentric waitress who loves The Mamas and the Papas. Writer/director Kar-Wai Wong and cinematographer Andrew Lau Wai-Keung find ways to tell a story and make cinema new all over again. Part of the series Big Screen: Highlights from a Year of Virtual Cinema.

A The Big Lebowski (1998), Balboa, 7:00pm

The Coen Brothers’ most beloved film takes a Raymond Chandler-type story and replaces the tough, street-smart private detective with a drunken pothead slacker who cares only for bowling and calls himself The Dude (Jeff Bridges). The concept, and the execution, is damn near perfect. Aside from genre parody, there’s a thin, barely grasped sense of Zen to the movie. It’s as if you could throw yourself out into the universe and everything will come out okay…unless it doesn’t. Read my Blu-ray review. On a stoned detective double bill with Inherent Vice (which I’ve never seen).

A- Harold and Maude (1971), Roxie, Thursday, 6:00

35mm! At a time when young Americans embraced non-conformity, free love, ecstatic joy, and 40-year-old Marx Brothers movies, this counterculture romance between an alienated and death-obsessed young man and an almost 80-year-old woman made total sense. The broad and outrageous humor helps considerably. But I do wish screenwriter Colin Higgins had found a better ending. See my full discussion.

B+ Jackie Chan double bill: Balboa, Police Story (1985) & Story 2 (1988), Thursday, 7:00;

Police Story: Jackie Chan is my generation’s Buster Keaton – a filmmaker, a movie star, a comedian, and a fearless acrobat. In Police Story, he drives a car down a hillside shanty town, hangs on a moving bus with his hands and an umbrella, and slides down several floors on an electric cable with lights blowing up in his face.
Police Story 2: The first (of three) Police Story sequels is surprisingly light on slapstick, but still provides thrills. The plot is much more complicated, involving revenge, dynamite, and corporate extortion. The stunts are once again incredibly thrilling and exciting.

B Bad Santa (2003), Balboa, Wednesday, 7:30pm

This R-rated movie uses classical music brilliantly for comic effect in ways I never heard before. Other than that, it’s a very dark comedy that goes wrong when it tries to be sentimental. Billy Bob Thornton plays a deeply alcoholic department store Santa with tendencies to swear at the children and pee on his chair. But that’s just a front. He and his sidekick (little person Tony Cox) rob from the stores they work at. I’m not talking about pilfering, but safe cracking. Things change when the drunken Santa falls in with a troubled and bullied boy. At first, Santa plans to rob the kid’s house, but soon he becomes a father figure to a kid without other parental figures.

B- Flowers of Shanghai (1998), BAMPFA, Saturday, 7:00 & Thursday, 7:00

You’ll need a lot of concentration to follow Hsiao-Hsien Hou’s extremely formalized film set in a 19th-century brothel. The handful of courtesans talk, argue, smoke opium, and hope that a regular customer will buy and marry one of them (apparently that happened back then). Each scene is covered in a single shot with little camera movement. If you can keep interested enough to follow the story, you may learn about how such houses, and the people who worked in them, lived. Part of the series Big Screen: Highlights from a Year of Virtual Cinema.

Frequently-revived classics