What have we got in Bay Area cinema this week? Stiff upper lips, a powerful dog, the mafia, a cowardly lion, Halloween in June, William Goldman’s enchanting and funny fairy tale, and of course, sex.
Also, two festivals.
Festivals & Series
- Doc Fest ends on Thursday
- The Castro Theater’s 100th Birthday Celebration opens today and runs beyond this week
New films opening theatrically
B Benediction (2022), Opera Plaza, Rafael, Sebastopol, opens Friday
British poet Siegfried Sassoon (Jack Lowden) gets the biopic treatment in this not-always excellent film. It starts in the First World War. He’s in uniform, but he’s decided the war was immoral. His refusal to fight could bring him in front of a firing squad, but good connections (that he doesn’t want) save his life. But the film goes off the tracks when it focuses on his sex life, especially with his very bad relationship with actor and composer Ivor Novello. But when Sassoon’s poetry is spoken on the soundtrack, all the film’s faults melt away. Written and directed by Terence Davies.
New films opening streaming
A A Sexplanation (2021), available Tuesday in several streaming services
Here’s sex education for all types, and especially for those who like to laugh. Alex Liu – raised Catholic, turned out gay – talks to all sorts of people about everyone’s favorite activity. He talks to sex experts, anti-sex experts, a Republican politician, a Catholic priest, and even his own parents. Alex visits Salt Lake City’s Planned Parenthood clinic, which stop more abortions than anyone else in the country. But what makes this sex-positive documentary so exceptional is that Liu is upbeat, charismatic, and very, very funny. It’s worth watching the closing credits.
Another chance to see (theatrically)
A- The Power of The Dog (2021), Lark, Saturday, 6:30pm
It didn’t take me long to figure out how this movie would end, but I was wrong. I like that. In 1925 Montana, a non-functioning family is running a ranch. One brother is more businessman than cowboy (Jesse Plemons). His wife is an alcoholic (Kirsten Dunst). But the other brother (Benedict Cumberbatch) is the real problem – a piece of major macho, to the point of rarely bathing. No one likes him, and there’s a reason for it. Another worthy film from Jane Campion.
A+ GoodFellas (1990), Rafael, Saturday, 7:00pm
In honor of the late Ray Liotta. Henry Hill (Liotta) was just another crook working for the mafia, until he went too far. Martin Scorsese’s brilliant retelling of Hill’s life follows him from his enthusiastic, adolescent leap into crime until, 25 years later, he rats on long-time friends to save his own neck (no, that isn’t a spoiler). Liotta narrates most of the film as Hill, who clearly loved his life as a “wise guy.” But while the narration romanticizes the life of crime, Scorsese’s camera shows us the ugly reality. Goodfellas is dazzling filmmaking and incredible storytelling. Read my A+ essay.
B+ Wizard of Oz (1939), Sunday & Monday, check webpage for theaters and times
Judy Garland 100th birthday celebration! I don’t really have to tell you about this one, do I? Well, perhaps I must explain why I’m only giving it a B+. Despite its clever songs, lush Technicolor photography, and one great performance (Bert Lahr’s Cowardly Lion), The Wizard of Oz never struck me as the masterpiece that everyone else sees. It’s a good, fun movie, but not quite fun enough to earn an A.
B+ Halloween (1978), New Mission, check time & dates
John Carpenter made a very good low-budget thriller that started a very bad genre: the slasher movie – also known as the dead teenager flick. An escaped psycho racks up several kills on the scariest night of the year. Yes, the story is absurd – the guy seems capable of getting into any place and sneaking up on anyone. Carpenter and co-screenwriter Debra Hill take the time to let us know these teenagers, and that makes all the difference. By the time the killer goes after the mature, responsible girl (Jamie Lee Curtis), you’re really scared.
A- The Princess Bride (1987), Lark Drive-In, Saturday, 9:00pm
William Goldman’s enchanting and funny fairy tale dances magically along that thin line between parody and the real thing. Cary Elwes and Robin Wright, back when they were young and gorgeous, made a wonderful set of star-crossed lovers. Mandy Patinkin has a lot of fun as a revenge-filled swashbuckler. There’s no funnier swordfight anywhere. On the other hand, some of the big-name cameos can grate on your nerves.
- To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything! Julie Newmar, New Mission, check times and dates
- Return of the Jedi, Rafael, Saturday, 4:15