What’s Screening: December 17 – 23

With Christmas around the corner, plenty of the vintage movies screening this week have a Yuletide theme. For instance, there’s that seasonal movie where our hero climbs into a building to separate the naughty and nice. But don’t despair, Die Hard isn’t the only holiday movie on the big screen this week.

But, as usual for this time of year, there are no festivals.

Special online events

Mill Valley Film Festival Conversations & Panels

Most films screened at the Mill Valley Film Festival are followed by a discussion with the filmmakers. Now, you can view these discussions at home. For instance, you can watch the Passing conversation with Rebecca Hall, Ruth Negga, and Nina Yang Bongiovi. It’s all free on YouTube.

New films opening

C+ Revolution of Our Times (2021), Roxie, Saturday, 1:00pm; Sunday, 12:30pm

I so much wanted to give this documentary a better review. When you watch adolescent students march in the streets of Hong Kong, knowing that the Chinese government will inevitably crush them, you can’t just ignore it. But the film has so many problems. It has no real construction. You rarely get connected to any of the demonstrators. And most of all, it could have been 45 minutes less and still get the same message across.

Promising events

The Cotton Club Encore (1984/2019), BAMPFA, Saturday, 3:30

4K digital restoration! I saw Francis Ford Coppola’s tribute to the famous New York 1920s club with all it’s beautiful jazz and ugly racism. I saw it when it was new and loved the recreations of long gone performances, but was disappointed by the various stories within the sprawling plot. I’ve been told that Coppola’s new cut is considerably better.

Theatrical revivals

A+ Die Hard, New Parkway, Thursday, 9:15pm

The original Die Hard is easily one of the best action films ever made. On Christmas eve, very evil people who don’t care how many innocent bystanders die, take over a partly built skyscraper. Luckily, one man (Bruce Willis) is in the building but out of their control. Barefoot and initially armed with only a pistol, he must do what he can to stop them and save the hostages – which include his estranged wife. The movie’s power comes from its willingness to spend time on character development before the action starts, and by allowing the hero to be physically and emotionally vulnerable.

A+ It’s a Wonderful Life, New Parkway, Wednesday, 12:00 noon; Thursday, 3:00pm; Rafael, Saturday & 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+ Brazil (1985), Roxie, Saturday, 9:15pm; Wednesday, 9:05pm

35mm! Director’s cut: One of the best black comedies ever filmed, and the best dystopian fantasy ever. In a bizarre, repressive, anally bureaucratic, and thoroughly dysfunctional society, one government worker (Jonathan Pryce) escapes into his own romantically heroic imagination. But when he finds a real woman who looks like the girl of his dreams (Kim Greist), everything starts to fall apart. With a very funny Robert De Niro as a heroic plumber. Read my Blu-ray review.

A+ Casablanca (1942), Sunday & Wednesday, check theaters and times

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 like any other moderately-budgeted film that came out of the Warner assembly line that year. 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- The Red Shoes (1948), Roxie, Saturday, 4:00pm; Thursday, 6:30pm

Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s extravaganza about the world of ballet dramatizes the sacrifices necessary to become a great artist. The story is sometimes weak – especially in the second half – but often very strong. The 20-minute ballet sequence at the film’s center may be the best dance sequence in a narrative film. No other film used three-strip Technicolor so perfectly.

A Spirited Away (2001), Roxie, Sunday, 6:00pm;

35mm/subtitles. Hayao Miyazaki’s masterpiece is a beautiful, complex, and occasionally scary tale of a young girl cast into a strange and magical world. The intriguing and imaginative creatures, not to mention the moral dilemmas, are beyond anything that Dorothy ever had to deal with in Oz. A truly amazing work of animation.

Continuing engagements

Frequently-revived classics