What’s happening in Bay Area cinema as January turns into February? We’ve got laughs from Preston Sturges, Bill Murray, and Monty Python. Also noir from Pedro Almodóvar, or satire from Boots Riley.
I had to prepare this newsletter earlier than usual for personal reasons. That means that if a screening is announced at the last minute, I might miss a few things.
Festivals & Series
- SF IndieFest opens Thursday
Another chance to see (theatrically)
A+ The Last Laugh (1924), BAMPFA, Saturday, 5:00pm
If the clothes make the man, what happens to the man when he loses the clothes? Does it destroy his self-esteem? Or the esteem in the eyes of his friends and family? That’s exactly what happens in F.W. Murnau’s 1924 masterpiece, The Last Laugh, where an aging hotel doorman (Emil Jannings) must trade in his fancy uniform for a men’s room attendant’s plain coat. Read my A+ appreciation and my Blu-ray review. Live piano accompaniment by Judith Rosenberg. Part of the series F. W. Murnau: Voyages into the Imaginary.
A+ The Lady Eve (1941), BAMPFA, Sunday, 5:00pm
Like all great screwballs, Preston Sturges’ The Lady Eve looks at class differences. It also examines the problems between a free-spirited woman and an uptight man (Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda). Stanwyck plays the younger half of a father/daughter team of card sharks, who makes the mistake of falling in love with her current mark – a shy, scientifically minded, naïve aristocrat played wonderfully by Fonda. The result: crazy hijinks in glamorous settings. Read my appreciation. Part of the series Ball of Fire: Barbara Stanwyck.
A+ Groundhog Day (1993), Balboa, Wednesday, 7:30pm
Spiritual, humane, and hilarious, Groundhog Day wraps its empathetic world view inside a slick, Hollywood comedy. Without explanation, the movie plunges its self-centered protagonist into a type of purgatory, living the same day over and over until he finds enlightenment. Bill Murray’s weatherman goes through stages of panic, giddiness, and despair before figuring out that life is about serving others. And yet not a frame of this movie feels preachy. Fast-paced and brilliantly edited, it’s pure entertainment. For more on this great comedy, see my essay.
A Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975) Elmwood, Friday & Saturday, 10:40pm
The sing-along-version! Bump your coconuts and prepare the Holy Hand Grenade, but watch out for the Killer Rabbit (not to mention the Trojan one). The humor is silly and often in very bad taste, and the picture has nothing of substance to say beyond ridiculing the romantic view of medieval Europe. But the Pythons’ first feature with an actual story (well, sort of) keeps you laughing from beginning to end. Arguably the funniest film of the 1970s, and certainly the funniest of the 1070s.
A Boogie Nights (1997), New Mission, Sunday, 3:15pm; Monday, 6:45pm
Paul Thomas Anderson’s epic tale tells the stories of porn stars with delusions of talent – including Mark Wahlberg’s nice, well-endowed young man, and Julianne Moore’s porn queen/mother hen. Set in the late 70s and early 80s, Boogie Nights tracks porn’s fall from gutter chic to soulless video. The excellent cast includes Heather Graham, Don Cheadle, Burt Reynolds, William H. Macy, and Philip Seymour Hoffman.
A- Bad Education (2004), Roxie, Saturday, 9:15pm
35mm! Pedro Almodóvar dips his finger (and other parts) into this very modern, very gay film noir. But since this is Almodóvar, it hits you with bright colors that look nothing like classic noir. A successful filmmaker (Fele Martínez) gets thrown for a loop when his childhood boyfriend (a gorgeous and often cross-dressing Gael García Bernal) turns up with a script to sell about their childhood and a sexually-abusive priest. Expect a lot of sex (all male on male), a lot of flashbacks – most about the horrors of a Catholic education – and some mind-jolting plot twists.
A- Sorry to Bother You (2018), Balboa, Tuesday, 7:30pm
Telemarketer Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield) rises quickly in the company (thanks to his “white voice”), while his co-workers go on strike, creating a wedge between him and his friends (and lover). Meanwhile, something very sinister is going on. Boots Riley’s first movie is at times hysterically funny, and in its commentary on wealth and poverty, occasionally shocking. It’s almost always entertaining. Riley creates a very dark view of current American society, where poor people will do anything to keep a roof over their heads. Read my full review.
B+ The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975), Balboa, Saturday, 11:00pm
With the Bawdy Caste Live Shadow Cast! This is in no way, shape, or form a great movie. It’s cheaply shot. The songs, while catchy, are hardly great rock. The characters are broad clichés, and the plot is almost non-existent. But it’s a crazy, funny, absurd celebration of everything sexual, with Tim Curry carrying the movie as a cross-dressing mad scientist. Also starring a very young Susan Sarandon. Read my report.
B Donnie Darko (2001), Elmwood, Friday & Saturday, 10:40pm
How many alienated-teenager-in-suburbia-time-travel-science-fantasy comedies can you name? Okay, there’s Back to the Future and its sequels, but add the adjectives horrific and surreal to that description, and Donnie Darko stands alone. And how many alienated movie teenagers must deal with a slick self-help guru and a six-foot rabbit named Frank (think Harvey, only vicious). It’s not entirely clear what’s going on in this strange movie, but that just adds to the fun.
C Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967), Balboa, 7:30pm
One of the major movies of 1967, this seems hopelessly out of date today. In some ways, it was out of date then. A liberal San Francisco couple (Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy in his last film) get thrown for a loop when their surprisingly stupid daughter comes home with a brilliant, black fiancé (Sidney Poitier). Interesting today primarily as a relic of the past.