What’s Screening: January 20 – 26

Last week we were walloped by massive waterfalls from the sky. And this week? You must pick between noirs from the year of 1948 or half of the Coen brothers. Along with one of the brothers, Bay Area cinemas will be showing vintage movies from Martin Scorsese, F. W. Murnau, Jacques Tati, David Lynch, Howard Hawks, the Wachowski’s, Brad Bird, William Wyler, and, of course, Joel Coen.

Festivals & Series

  • Noir City opens tonight and closes through the week and beyond.

Promising events

Joel Coen in Person, BAMPFA

Right now, half of the Coen Brothers are here in the Bay Area. From January 21 through 29, the older Coen (Joel) will show films he made and others he really likes. And he’ll talk about both. I don’t know if Joel’s wife, Frances McDormand, will be there too.

New films opening theatrically

B+ The Son (2022), Sebastopol, Cerrito, Orinda, other theaters, opens Friday

I’m not sure if this is a brilliant film, or a very well-made mess. A teenage boy has serious mental problems. His parents, who are divorced, try desperately to find out what’s causing the problem and how to fix it. The boy lies about going to school and everything else. He may be suicidal. The brilliant cast includes Hugh Jackman, Laura Dern, Vanessa Kirby, Anthony Hopkins, and the young Zen McGrath. The main characters, who seem to be intelligent, do the most stupid things. If you know anything about writing plays and screenplays, you’ll know how the movie ends very early. I’m not sure if that was intended.

Another chance to see (theatrically)

B+ Crazy Rich Asians (2018), 4-Star, Wednesday, 5:00pm & Thursday, 9:45pm

The setup suggests a ’30s or ’40s screwball comedy: When the boy brings his girlfriend home, she discovers his family is filthy rich and his mother doesn’t approve of the match. But the comedy never reaches the madcap intensity of screwball. In fact, if you’re only looking for laughs, Crazy Rich Asians will disappoint you. The film’s pleasures come from the likable characters; especially the super-smart heroine (Constance Wu) who must overcome the formidable and snobbish mother (the great Michelle Yeoh).

Theatrical revivals

A+ Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927), BAMPFA, Saturday, 3:pm

Sold out! 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. Yet it’s the execution – with its stylized sets, beautiful photography, and expressionist performances – that makes it both touchingly personal and abstractly mythological. Read my Blu-ray review. Although this late silent film was originally released with a music-and-effects soundtrack, Judith Rosenberg will provide live music on piano. Part of the series Joel Coen in Person.

A+ Taxi Driver (1976), New Mission, 7:00pm

When I think of the best of 1970’s Hollywood, my mind goes to Robert De Niro walking the dark, mean streets of New York, slowly turning into a psychopath. Writer Paul Schrader and director Martin Scorsese put together this near-perfect study of loneliness as a disease. It isn’t that De Niro’s character hasn’t found the right companion, or that society has failed him, or that he doesn’t understand intimacy. His problems stem from his inability to relate to other human beings. This is a sad and pathetic man, with a rage that will inevitably turn violent. Read my Blu-ray review.

A Playtime (1967), Vogue, Wednesday, 7:30pm

Monsieur Hulot and assorted other specimens of humanity wander adrift and befuddled in a very modern Paris. That’s all there is of a plot in Jacques Tati’s large-scale comedy, and that’s all that’s needed. On one level, Tati is commenting on modern architecture. On another, he’s just making us laugh in his odd, almost meditative way. And even when you’re not laughing, you’re fascinated by the little details of Tati’s city-sized universe.

B+ The Iron Giant (1999), New Parkway, Thursday, 9:30pm

The young hero of Brad Bird’s first feature befriends a massively-huge robot from outer space. The robot seems friendly enough, but there’s good reason to believe he was built as a weapon of mass destruction. Using old-fashioned, hand-drawn animation with plenty of sharp angles, Bird creates a stylized view of small-town American life circa 1958. The result straddles between satire and nostalgia and treats most of its inhabitants with warmth and affection. A good movie for all but the youngest kids.

B+ Mulholland Drive (2001), Balboa, Friday, 8:00pm

The plot is both extremely conventional and almost non-existent at the same time, and I’m not even going to try to explain it. And yet almost every individual scene seems to feel like a masterpiece. As you expect from writer/director David Lynch, it’s heavy on atmosphere, complexity, and erotica. You can almost reach out and touch the weirdness. Naomi Watts is just amazing. Even Ann Miller of the old MGM musicals plays a part.

B To Have and Have Not (1944), 4-Star, Monday, 5:30pm & Tuesday, 9:30pm

This production ignited the Bogart-Bacall romance, which itself ignites the screen. Aside from the considerable charisma and sexual sparks of its stars, it’s an entertaining tale of war-time intrigue, but not really an exceptional one. A good movie with a couple of great scenes.

B The Matrix Reloaded (2003), Balboa, Thursday, 7:30pm

Since the first movie gave us most of the exposition, the second one was almost entirely action. Along with the Kung Fu and digital effects, we get big, many-to-one, impossible fights – indoors, outdoors, and even on a freeway. There’s also an underground city in danger of being destroyed. It ends with a cliffhanger.

B Roman Holiday (1953), several theaters, Sunday & Wednesday

70th Anniversary! Gregory Peck and a not-yet-famous Audrey Hepburn fall in love through an extremely contrived plot in this entertaining romantic comedy. She’s a runaway princess, and he’s a reporter hoping for a scoop. But the real star is Rome; shooting Hollywood films overseas was a new thing in the early 1950s. Directed by William Wyler, from a story by blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo.

C+ Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989), Balboa
֍ Sunday, 11:00am (dubbed)
֍ Monday, 7:30pm (subtitled)

Japan’s Studio Ghibli doesn’t always make great movies. This one, set in a very quaint and fantasized Europe, isn’t all that much. A young witch moves to the big city, makes friends, and loses her powers. But then, her only powers are flying with a broom and having two-way conversations with her cat. Of course, a big disaster gives our protagonist a chance to become a heroine. Not much.

Continuing engagements

Frequently-revived classics