Big Screen Berkeley: A weekend potpourri of recommended movies

Watch out for nutria in Rodents of Unusual Size

‘Rodents of Unusual Size’

I’ve probably said this before, but some weeks it’s hard to find a film to write about, let alone recommend. Sometimes, though, there are weeks like this one, when a surfeit of cinematic goodies are on offer and I feel compelled to write about all of them.

Pick of this week’s potpourri is Rodents of Unusual Size, opening on Friday Aug. 31 at San Francisco’s Alamo Drafthouse New Mission Theater (a screening at Oakland’s New Parkway Theater follows on Oct. 2). Shot in the bayous of southern Louisiana, the film relates the strange saga of nutria, the invasive species that pillage the land and increase erosion by devouring whatever vegetation they can sink their bright orange teeth into.

Originally from South America, nutria were imported to Louisiana during the Great Depression and promoted as a cheap source of farmed fur for poverty-stricken Cajuns. Freed from captivity during a vicious storm, a herd of nutria escaped into the wild where their proclivity to breed led to rapid overpopulation and the increasing destruction of coastal wetlands.

Since then, nutria have spread across the country, even setting up shop in the Sacramento Delta, but ROUS focuses on Cajun country, where a $5 bounty and a minor fur trade comeback have begun to rein in the reign of these twenty-pound ‘swamp rats’. They ain’t pretty, but the film looks great and introduces us to some quite remarkable animals.


Mohsen Makhmalbaf retrospective at BAMPFA

Gabbeh

Pacific Film Archive just released their fall calendar, and one of its highlights is the series ‘Between Politics and Poetry: Makhmalbaf Film House’, an 11-picture retrospective of the great Iranian director Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s work. The series kicks off at 8 p.m. on Saturday, Sep. 1 with a screening of Gabbeh, his mytho-poetic paean to the traditional Persian rug.

Makhmalbaf largely shuns the neo-realism we associate with Iranian cinema, and Gabbeh is a fine example of his semi-surreal style. Laden with symbolism and shot through with vibrant colors, the film will remind viewers of the works of Sergei Parajanov, Alejandro Jodorowsky, and – perhaps strangest of all – Jean Rollin.

’93Queen’

Ruchie Feier prepares challah in 93Queen

Meanwhile, Rialto Cinemas Elmwood has two very different documentaries opening on Friday. 93Queen looks at Brooklyn’s ultraorthodox Hasidic community, where women are supposed to stay home and raise children – a fate that doesn’t sit well with lawyer Ruchie (Ruthie) Feier, whose efforts to recruit and train an all-female EMT unit (while also running for office!) are the focus of director Paula Eiselt’s respectful and inspiring film. Let’s just say the local menfolk aren’t happy with Ruchie’s efforts.

‘The Magic Music Movie’

The Magic Music Band as seen in the film of the same name

Finally, The Magic Music Movie takes us on a trip to a time when hippies and Colorado went together like boiled beef and cabbage. During the late 1960s and 1970s, the Centennial State was a crash pad of sorts for counterculture types tired of the urban hassle, man; a place where you could breathe fresh mountain air and groove on the kind of mellow vibes delivered by Boulder’s Magic Music Band, the subject of this thoroughly enjoyable feature.

Yes, there will be flutes and bongos, and there’d probably be a hint of patchouli were Smell-O-Vision still a thing. To be honest, the Magic Music Band’s tunes – which sound like a lightweight version of Crosby, Stills and Nash – ain’t my cup of tea, but the film is ultimately about old friends reconnecting after forty years of separation. Accordingly, old hippies and their fellow travelers will dig it.