I dedicate this week’s newsletter to film historian and filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich (July 30, 1939 – January 6, 2022).
Considering what Omicron is doing all over the world, we have a surprising number of vintage movies playing in real theaters. We’ve got major works from Peter Jackson, F.W. Murnau, Wong Kar Wai, The Coen Brothers, Steven Spielberg, Buster Keaton, and more.
But still no festivals.
New films opening theatrically
A- Parallel Mothers (2021), Embarcadero Center, New Mission, opened yesterday
Two pregnant, unmarried women meet in the maternity ward in Pedro Almodóvar’s latest film. Both pregnancies were accidents. Janis (Penélope Cruz) is comfortable and heading into middle age. She’s poised and well off. And not surprisingly, she’s happy about the major change coming into her life. But Ana (Milena Smit) is a boyish girl, apparently right out of high school. She’s frightened. The two become friends, and then lovers. But Janis is keeping secrets. Meanwhile, a forensic archeologist brings back the horrors of the Franco era. Read my full review.
B+ A Hero (2021), Embarcadero Center, Albany Twin, Rafael, opens Friday
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), although he’s allowed to 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.
New films opening streaming
A In the Same Breath, streaming on HBO Max
Be prepared to be angry and to cry, as you watch people lose their loved ones while governments try to brush a pandemic under the rug. While director Nanfu Wang receives secret video footage from China, she also records the beginning of the pandemic in the States. The film compares democracy and dictatorship in how they deal with this crisis’ early stages. Trump’s democracy just barely won. In one amazing sequence, many Chinese newscasters all say the exact same words. On the other hand, only in America do people call it a hoax. Powerful.
? The Lord of The Rings: The Fellowship of The Ring (2001), New Mission, Friday, 5:30pm; Saturday, 5:45pm; Sunday, 2:00pm
I loved Peter Jackson’s version of J.R.R. Tolkien’s trilogy when I saw it a long time ago. I’d have to watch the films all over again before I could make a judgement on them now. The theater’s website tells us that there will be a “pre-recorded cast Q&A with your screening.” The Two Towers and The Return of the King will play later in January. And yes, these are the extended versions.
A+ Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927), BAMPFA, Saturday, 7:00pm
Haunting, romantic, and impressionistic, F. W. Murnau’s first American feature turns the mundane into the fantastic and the world into a work of art. The plot is simple: A marriage, almost destroyed by another woman, is healed by a day of reconciliation and romance in the big city. But the execution – with its stylized sets, beautiful photography, and expressionist performances – makes it both touchingly personal and abstractly mythological. Although this late silent film was originally released with a music-and-effects soundtrack, this presentation will be accompanied by Judith Rosenberg on piano. Read my Blu-ray review.
A In the Mood For Love (2000), Balboa, Tuesday, 7:30pm
Wong Kar Wai’s brilliant film about adultery has no sex, little touching, and we never see who we believe are the adulterous couple. A handsome man and a beautiful woman live in the same apartment building. Both of their spouses are out of town, and they just may be out of town together. Inevitably, the two leads fall slowly in love. While there’s no sex, almost every shot is filled with deep eroticism. Starring Maggie Cheung, Tony Chiu-Wai Leung, and the color red.
A- Office Space (1999), Balboa, Thursday, 7:30pm
Work…there’s a reason they have to pay you to show up. In this broad and funny satire by Mike Judge, three young men struggle with their jobs in a soul-killing tech company. They conspire to fool the computers and skim enough money off the top to allow for early retirement; hopefully, the amount will go unnoticed. Jennifer Aniston plays the waitress whose job is as soul-killing as theirs but pays considerably less. Stephen Root steals the movie as the employee whose soul was crushed long ago.
A- Blood Simple (1984), Balboa, Saturday, 8:00pm
35mm! The Coen Brothers’ first film shows a promise of what they’d become. An exceptionally dark, violent, gruesome, and funny noir, it tells a story that is totally incoherent to the characters onscreen, but completely logical to the audience. You’ve got an adulterous couple (half of which is Frances McDormand in her first movie role), a violently vengeful husband (Dan Hedaya), and a private detective with less morals than your average snake (M. Emmet Walsh).
A- Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), Vogue, Wednesday, 7:30pm
The original Indiana Jones movie is, in most people’s eyes, the best, even if I disagree. But I still consider it a wonderful (if somewhat racist) roller coaster of a movie, giving you one thrill or joke after another. The movie doesn’t really have much of a story. The plot about Nazis trying to steal the Ark of the Covenant is just an excuse to take us from one action sequence to another. But these action sequences are amongst the best filmed. Read my longer comments on the film.
B+ Sherlock Jr. (1924), Rafael, Sunday, 3:00pm
Buster Keaton used special effects to comment on the nature of film in his third feature film, where he plays a projectionist who dreams he’s a great detective. The sequence where he enters the movie screen and finds the scenes changing around him would be impressive if it were made today; for 1924, it’s mind-boggling. Since it’s Keaton, Sherlock Jr. is also filled with impressive stunts and very funny gags. This is an extremely short “feature,” running only about 45 minutes, depending on the projection speed. Musical accompaniment by Ruth Kahn and violinist Mads Tolling.
B+ American Graffiti (1973), BAMPFA, Thursday, 7:00pm. Also New Mission: Monday, 3:30pm; Tuesday, 6:45pm; Wednesday, 3:15pm
A long time ago, in a Bay Area that feels very far away, George Lucas made an entertaining (and extremely profitable) comedy without a body count, a big budget, or special effects. Talk about nostalgia. You can also talk about old-time rock ‘n’ roll. American Graffiti makes great use of early 60s music in one of the most effective and creative sound mixes of the ’70s.
C+ Dementia 13 (1963), BAMPFA, Friday, 7:00pm
Francis Coppola’s first feature, a Roger Corman quicky, has some nice touches, but not enough to make it a must see. It begins with a woman hiding her husband’s natural death for inheritance reasons. Her in-laws have considerable mental problems, and soon things get very weird. Let’s just say that Coppola (who also wrote the screenplay) borrows something surprising from Hitchcock. Even more surprising, Tom Petty borrowed a line of dialog from Coppola. Followed by a talk with American Zoetrope film archivist James Mockoski.