SCREEN GRABS The big noise at the multiplex is going to be Selma director Ava DuVernay’s leap into big-budget fantasy cinema with A Wrinkle in Time, from Madeleine L’Engel’s beloved children’s book. But if the annual couture orgy of the Oscars put you in a mood for more old-school glamour, the movie to see this week is no doubt Alexandra Dean’s Bombshell, which opens at Landmark Theaters throughout the Bay Area.
This documentary chronicles the tempestuous life of Hedy Lamarr, the Vienna-born actress who was often considered (and promoted as) the most beautiful woman in the world. After becoming notorious for a nude scene in the 1933 Czech Ecstasy, she made her way to Hollywood and duly became numbered among the “more stars than there are in Heaven” at MGM.
It was a stormy stardom not much calmed by numerous marriages, or the poor reviews that usually greeted her performances in roles she was seldom happy with. Her later years were a familiar cautionary tale of vanished wealth, substance issues, and too much plastic surgery.
But Dean celebrates Lamarr as a woman whose greatest achievement garnered little notice: She had a hand in coming up with the concept of “frequency hopping,” a technological innovation that was not used by the Allies in WW2 as she’d hoped, but eventually proved key to the development of many latter-day systems including GPS and wifi.
Other openings and film events this coming week, all opening Friday unless otherwise noted:
Another arresting 20th-century figure is captured in Andres Veiel’s documentary about a giant in modern art. Joseph Beuys survived German Luftwaffe service (including a plane crash) to gradually emerge as one of the most progressive artists of the postwar era, introducing elements of performance and provocation into work that also encompassed more traditional sculpture and painting. Fri/9-March 15, Roxie Theater. More info here.
LEANING INTO THE WIND
This portrait of an artist is not actually opening at the Roxie, but at area Landmark theaters instead—though you might have expected otherwise, since it’s a sequel to Rivers and Tides, the 2001 documentary that was one of Roxie Releasing’s biggest-ever hits.
Director Thomas Riedelsheimer again trains his camera on English visual artist Andy Goldsworthy, whose site-specific sculptures make use of the local natural elements—and are designed to change with them over time. Now highly sought after around the world, he’s seen here at work in numerous locations, including San Francisco. Basically “more of the same” without being repetitious, Leaning will delight fans of the prior film while serving as an affable and accessible introduction for newbies. Fri/9-March 14, Opera Plaza Theater. More info here.
Chaos at the White House and the possibility of impeachment are raising innumerable comparisons to the Nixon era—making this as good a time as any to look back at another period of intensely “divided” American society. No issue was more of a hot button fifty years ago than the Vietnam War, with an escalating youth-centric movement opposing it and President Nixon digging in for a bitter, eventually failed long haul.
This in-progress PFA series showcases vintage “self-portraits of America at war.” Showing Sunday is the most famous documentary on the subject, Peter Davis’ excoriating, Oscar-winning 1974 Hearts and Minds. Much more rarely seen is David Loeb Weiss’ 1968 No Vietnamese Her Called Me N****r, which links the experiences of African-American soldiers with the roiling changes of the Civil Rights era back home. It will be shown Thursday March 15 in a new digital restoration, introduced by UC Berkeley prof Abdul R. JanMohamed. Through April 19, BAMPFA. More info here.
CENTERS AND EDGES
A less traumatic look at the past will be on tap with this Other Cinema calendar’s Archive Evening, a recurring showcase for the inimitable ephemera collection of local archivist Rick Prelinger. Casting a wider geographic net than his annual programs of vintage San Francisco and Detroit found-footage, this program of “Home Movie Revelations and Provocations” promises old celluloid non-fiction weirdness from drunken St. Louis contractors to 1930s southwestern desert shots. Sat/10, Part of the Media Archaeology 2 program at Artists Television Access. More info here.
EXCITANTE! NEW FILMS FROM BRAZIL
This two-week Center for the Arts series highlights three genre-bending recent works from Brazil, all of them Bay Area premieres. Alfonso Uchoa and Joao Dumans’ Araby (Arabia) is a road-trip drama in which a discovered journal reveals an older man’s secret, extraordinary life. Juliana Rojas and Marco Dutra’s Good Manners offers supernaturally-tinged fantasy in which a professional relationship between two very different women goes in, er, some very “different” directions. (Hint: The directors thank literary fairy-tale-horror fabulist Angela Carter in the credits.) Finally, Gabriela Amaral Almeida’s Friendly Beast is like The Petrified Forest with a lot more blood, as employer/employee tensions at an upscale restaurant are not helped by the arrival of two armed robbers. It’s a black-comedy thriller that might appeal to fans of early Tarantino. Sat/10-Sun/25, YBCA. More info here.
Making a low-key local bow at the 4-Star, which continues to premiere films that otherwise elude theatrical release in the Bay Area, David Freyne’s Dublin-set first feature is an intelligent and offbeat variation on zombie cinema. A virus has already swept through Europe, reducing the infected to violent, cannibalistic psychosis. Now the plague has been contained, and most surviving suffers have been cured. But while they couldn’t control their actions “under the influence,” they must suffer the horror and guilt of recalling their deeds—and much of society isn’t ready to accept or forgive them. Sam Keely plays one such “re-integration” candidate, taken in by his widowed American sister-in-law, who doesn’t know he killed his own brother before being “cured.” Serious-minded and well-acted, this is really more of a drama with strong elements of political allegory (echoing both Ireland’s historical “troubles” and current European immigration fears) than it is straight horror. Still, the horror elements eventually arrive full-force. Opens Fri/9, 4-Star. More info here.