Movies I’ve recently seen: Chevalier ֍ Air ֍ The Last Seduction ֍ Bend of the River ֍ Book Club: The Next Chapter

I missed Blackberry at SFFilm, and it’s nowhere playing in the East Bay. It looks like cinema is dying. What can we do? First of all, get off the couch and go see a movie.

Here are five films that I’ve seen in May. Three were new and I saw them theatrically. In each of these theaters, there were less than six patrons in the audience.

The other two were vintage movies I saw at home by streaming via The Criterion Channel.

Here are the movies, from best to worst.

B+ Chevalier (2022)

This sumptuous costume picture starts with a violin duel between Amadeus Mozart and the movie’s protagonist, Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges. Born a black slave before the French Revolution, he became a brilliant musician, composer, swordsman, and lover. I don’t know how much Stefani Robinson’s screenplay fits with actual history, but Robinson and director Stephen Williams bring us a sweeping and beautiful story of European racism. Don’t worry about subtitles; the movie is entirely in English.

I saw Chevalier at Berkeley’s only commercial cinema, the Elmwood.

B+ Air (2023)

This is a funny story about a shoe. In the early 1980s, shoe salesman Sonny Vaccaro (Matt Damon) helps Nike bring even more money by bringing Michael Jordan into the company. It’s not saving the world, but it makes rich people even richer. Viola Davis plays Jordan’s mother…and this mother is also a brilliant agent. The cast includes Jason Bateman, Ben Affleck (who also directs), Chris Tucker, but no one plays Jordan – you only see old clips and the back of his head. Considerable nostalgia for the old days.

I saw Air at the Albany Twin.

B The Last Seduction (1994)

In the old days of cinema censorship, even in the darkest noir, you could know that the femme fatale would get her punishment. But by the 1990s, that evil woman just might get away with it. In The Last Seduction, Linda Fiorentino plays a femme fatale who uses her sexuality to amass a very large amount of money. It’s easy – all the men are horny and stupid.

B Bend of the River (1952)

I had several reasons to watch this western. First, it was directed by Anthony Mann and starred James Stewart. That team made Winchester ’73 and The Man from Laramie; both exceptional. But mostly I wanted to see Stepin Fetchit in a film made too late for Stepin’s lazy “coon” shtick. That was a disappointment; he kept his regular slow dumb act. Otherwise, it’s a pretty good western.

D Book Club: The Next Chapter (2023)

Here’s proof that a great cast cannot help a comedy if you have an awful script. Four old friends (Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen, and Mary Steenburgen) go off to Italy, where they enjoy the beautiful scenery, buy marriage gowns, drink a lot of wine, flirt with Italians, and lose their luggage. By the way, they all seem to be very rich. There’s nothing about books anywhere in the movie. When I saw the film, I didn’t know it was a sequel. Maybe if I had seen the original, it would have been better…but probably not much.

I saw the film at the Albany Twin. Aside from my wife and I, there were only two other patrons in the theater.

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