What’s Screening: January 27 – February 2

Only Fathom Events seems to realize that this week contains Groundhog Day. Anyway, I’m giving you some previews for the upcoming SF IndieFest. After that, there’s music from Singin’ in the Rain, My Fair Lady, and The Who’s Tommy. Other than that, there’s a family film about the human brain. Also the best sports movie of all time, a drama of the Black Panthers, and that galaxy far, far, away.

Festivals & Series

Festival Recommendations: SF IndieFest

B Rough Edges (2022)
֍ Roxie, Thursday, 8:45
֍ Streaming through the festival

This is a very sexy movie. The problem is that for much of the picture, it’s all sex. Two young people in the BDSM community connect. Is it love or just their libidos? She’s a bottom and he’s a top, and they have a lot of very extreme adult fun. But the movie gets boring after a while; even the best movie sex becomes dull without conflict. By the time that there’s tension, it’s too late. I saw the film before the soundtrack was complete, so what you’ll hear is probably better than what I experienced. One good thing: the bondage community is shown in a positive light.

B Punk Rock Vegan Movie (2022), Saturday, Roxie, 2:15pm
Before I saw this documentary by musician and animal activist Moby, I had no idea that there was a link between punk rock and veganism. I’m no punk fan, although I often agree with what these musicians are saying. According to this documentary, most punks would tell us that we should switch to a plant-based diet (which, actually, is a good idea). Moby doesn’t play music in the film, but he pops up occasionally to make bad jokes.

B- The Other Fellow (2022), Streaming through the festival

How is it like to have been named James Bond (it’s probably worse than Lincoln Spector). People don’t believe you when you’re introduced. Others laugh. This documentary investigates the name “James Bond” and how people respond to it. The original real-life James Bond was an ornithologist, and Ian Fleming picked it up when he created his famous spy. Some stories seem repetitive, others are heart wringing, such as the young woman who had to get away – with a child – from a toxic relationship.

New films opening theatrically

A- All Quiet On the Western Front, (2022), Elmwood, Sebastopol, Opera Plaza, Rafael, opening Friday

It’s about time the German film industry turned Erich Maria Remarque’s powerful anti-war novel into a film. Hollywood did it in 1930. If you’re looking for something that closely follows the book or the earlier movie, you’ll be disappointed. But if you want to be reminded of the horrors of mass conflict, this one does the job. Thanks to better cinema technology and lack of censorship, this version brings to life all the dirty, bloody, crazy, horrible experience of war.  Like Stanley Kubrick’s Paths of Glory, this version also takes you into the comfort of the general staff, who eat very good food while the soldiers starve and get slaughtered. The film’s main problem: Compared to the other versions, the ending is overdone.

Another chance to see (theatrically)

A Inside Out (2015), 4-Star, Saturday, 11:00am

Funny, technically dazzling, and suitable for adults, Pixar shows its magic touch in this family-friendly animated feature. When a young girl gets uprooted to San Francisco, her brain must deal with loss, fear, confusion, and hope. Inside Out is set almost entirely within her brain, where anthropomorphized emotions–Joy, Fear, Anger, Disgust and Sadness–become the film’s main characters. A lot of research into the human mind went into this film, making it more thoughtful and all the more entertaining.

B+ Judas and the Black Messiah: (2021), 4-Star
֍ Wednesday, 7:30pm
֍ Thursday, 4:30pm

If anyone is the hero of this movie it’s Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya), the charismatic leader of the Chicago Black Panther Party. He was willing to fight for his people and risk his life for them. But the movie isn’t really about Hampton. It’s mostly about Bill O’Neal (LaKeith Stanfield), a thief turned FBI informant who will eventually help the G-men murder Hampton. J. Edgar Hoover (Martin Sheen under a lot of makeup) didn’t want Hampton behind bars; he wanted him dead. No one here is completely innocent, including Hampton; and the film discusses killings done by the Party.

B+ Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood (2019), New Mission, Saturday, 11:00am

Anyone with a wicked sense of humor will enjoy this essentially silly romp, heading towards the horror of the Tate murders. Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt make a fine pair as a has-been TV western star and his combination stuntman, chauffeur, and best friend. I turned 15 in the summer of 1969…in Hollywood, but Quentin Tarantino’s latest movie wasn’t the nostalgic wallow I expected. I know enough about the time and place to see how Tarantino changed history, and changed it fine.

Theatrical revivals

A+ Hoop Dreams (1994), New Mission, Sunday, 3:00pm

I’d be hard pressed to name another documentary that feels so much like a narrative feature. This cinéma vérité story follows two talented and charismatic inner-city teenagers hoping to win basketball scholarships. The film involves likeable supporting players, plot twists, joy, disappointment, and suspense – as if the film was shot from a script. The filmmakers followed both athletes through five years through middle school and high school, while creating an epic masterpiece running nearly three hours. It doesn’t take long for you to become completely invested in their stories. Hoop Dreams is really about the American dream, and the people who are mostly disqualified from attaining it. Warning: The film was shot by analogue video cameras with very low resolutions. Read my Blu-ray review.

A+ Groundhog Day (1993), various theaters, Thursday

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+ Singin’ in the Rain (1952), New Mission, Sunday, 11:30am

BRUNCH! In 1952, the late twenties seemed like a fond memory of an innocent time, and nostalgia was a large part of Singin’ in the Rain ‘s original appeal. The nostalgia is long gone, so we can clearly see this movie for what it is: the greatest musical ever filmed, and perhaps the best work of pure escapist entertainment to ever come out of Hollywood. Take out the songs, which are easily the best part of the movie, and you still have one of the best comedies of the 1950′s. It’s also the funniest movie Hollywood ever made about itself. Read my A+ appreciation.

A Miracle Mile (1988), New Mission, Wednesday, 10:00pm

This apocalyptic romantic comic tragedy thriller sits high on my list of little-known gems. It starts out as a gentle, witty, charming, and sweet-natured romantic comedy. Then the young man answers a wrong phone number and discovers that Soviet missiles are fast approaching (the film was made in 1988). The tone remains funny, in a very dark and suspenseful way, as he searches for his new love and tries to arrange a seemingly hopeless rescue. By the final act, there’s little humor and plenty of horror. Read my Blu-ray review.

A- A Serious Man (2009), BAMPFA, Sunday, 7:00

Sold out! One of the Coen Brothers strangest, and one of their most Jewish films. In this very depressing comedy, a middle-aged college professor watches his life fall apart in the days before his stoner son’s Bar Mitzvah. Set in 1967, and grounded in Jewish mysticism, this is a comic tale of utter desperation. Part of the series Joel Coen in Person.

B+ Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977), Lark
֍ Sunday, 7:00pm
֍ Monday, 7:00pm

The first Star Wars movie is the only one that works on its own, without a need for sequels or prequels. It introduces the main characters and provides a lot of excitement. Good and evil are clearly defined. Farm boy Luke Skywalker discovers he has a heritage and a destiny. Roguish space pirate Han Solo must learn that there’s more to fight for than himself. Princess Leia knows who she is and what she must do from the start. And with CP3O and R2D2, we have a comic team of robots that could almost rival Laurel and Hardy. It’s just a big piece of fun. Unfortunately, the version you’ll see will not be exactly what it was in 1977.

B+ My Fair Lady (1964), Vogue, Wednesday, 7:30pm

George Bernard Shaw’s 1912 play Pygmalion brilliantly examined issues of class, culture, and gender roles in an intimate story deftly balanced between drama and comedy. The musical version adds spectacle, which is completely unnecessary, yet doesn’t hurt the movie. Rex Harrison makes a wonderful Henry Higgins–tyrannical, cruel, and yet slowly falling in love without understanding why. But as Eliza Doolittle, Audrey Hepburn is miscast. Stanley Holloway steals the movie as Eliza’s happily slothful father; his two songs are the movie’s musical highlights. Read my essay.

B Tommy, Balboa (1985), Monday, 7:30pm

Ken Russell’s over-the-top film version of The Who’s rock opera hits you over the head with all the subtlety of Pete Townsend smashing a guitar, while turning a parable of spiritual quest into a carnival satire of materialism and cults. Oliver Reed proves he can’t sing as he plays a male version of the stereotypical evil stepmother, but Roger Daltrey and Ann-Margaret sing, dance, and act like the professionals they are. So do Eric Clapton, Tina Turner, and Elton John in smaller roles. Townsend’s music is still brilliant, and if this isn’t the best version of Tommy, it’s certainly the most fun.

Continuing engagements

Frequently-revived classics