Coronavirus edition, XVI: Films to shelter with, from the silliest of spies to harrowing abuse doc
Film Ahead is a weekly column designed to highlight special events and repertory programming for the discerning Camberville filmgoer.
With the Covid-19 outbreak, social distancing mandates and shutdown restrictions in place, movie theaters have been shuttered. As a result “Film Ahead” is focusing on films you can find streaming or on demand on platforms such as Xfinity, Netflix or Amazon Video. You can help cherished cultural institutions and organizations such as The Brattle Theatre and Independent Film Festival Boston in this crisis with small things such as renewing memberships early and adding a few dollars as a donation, buying a gift certificate or merch, or looking for them as a beneficiary of the Amazon Smile program, in which a part of your Amazon purchases go to help the nonprofit of your choice. The Harvard Film Archive and Brattle Theatre are also offering various virtual offerings, primarily in the form of curated film lists. Please visit their websites for information.
‘My Spy’ (2020)
Silly “Spy Kids” (2001)-cum-“Kindergarten Cop” (1990) fluff once intended for an early summer big screen run (it was being shown on the drive-in screen at Wellfleet) before coronavirus, but now hitting the steaming platforms. Dave Bautista, the wrestler turned actor (“Guardians of the Galaxy,” “Blade Runner 2049”) plays a special ops commando turned CIA agent who on assignment in Chicago pairs up with a precocious and resourceful 10-year-old (Chloe Coleman) who wants in on the action – and has the goods on the operative to make him play by her rules. The chemistry between the leads, and focus on a young girl dealing with social issues at school, bolsters what otherwise would be a pat comedy. Directed by Peter Segal (“Tommy Boy,” “Get Smart”).
‘The In-Laws’ (1979)
The fathers of the bride- and groom-to-be have never met, and when they do the more free-spirited of the two (Peter Falk) – who claims to be a CIA operative – ropes his anal-retentive dentist counterpart (Alan Arkin) into a wacky scheme that has them jumping through some dicey scenarios in New York City and a jaunt to Central America as the deadline for the rehearsal dinner draws dangerously near. An apex odd-couple comedy powered by Falk’s dry delivery, with just the right arch of the eyebrow. Dated, nonsensical but perfectly so.
‘Knives Out’ (2019)
A good, old-fashioned whodunnit with a healthy serving of droll comedy. Yes, comparisons to classics such as “Murder by Death” (1976) and “Clue” (1985) are apt. That first film had Truman Capote, Peter Sellers and that “In-Laws” guy, Peter Falk, among its eye-grabbing cast; here we have Chris Evans trading his “Captain America” duds for J.Crew garb, Michael Shannon, Jamie Lee Curtis, dandy Don Johnson, Toni Collette and the impeccable Christopher Plummer. The real centerpiece, however is Bond boy Daniel Craig as a drawling private gumshoe named Benoit Blanc. Filmed locally, a fun family popcorn munch. (Read the full review from Nov. 26.)
‘American History X’ (1998)
Given where we are, many people are turning to Ibram X. Kendi’s “How To Be An Antiracist” – well, here’s a quick burn on how to go from white supremacist to humanist. Prison can do a lot to harden and change a man; in the case of Derek Vinyard (Edward Norton) it transitions him from a top flight neo-Nazi enforcer to his own person, which makes for a complex reunion with an adoring younger brother (Edward Furlong) being indoctrinated into the local neo-Nazi chapter and his former chapter head (Stacy Keach). It’s a gripping drama and a useful take on learning how to unlearn systemic beliefs.
‘The Lost Boys’ (1987)
Last week director Joel Schumacher passed away. He was perhaps most famous for “St. Elmo’s Fire” (1985), the Val Kilmer and George Clooney “Batman” films and this very 1980s vampire tale featuring a snarling Kiefer Sutherland as a fanged blood fiend who looks something like an escapee from a Duran Duran tribute band. Schumacher began his career as a stylist and costume designer, reflected here with the big hair and killer leather garb. “Boys” is something of the nerdy dude version of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” before there was Buffy. Intriguing fact: Schumacher wrote the script for “Sparkle” (1976, remade in 2012 with Whitney Houston in her last role), which he envisioned as the black version of “Gone with the Wind.” Budget constraints restricted that.
A surprising reboot by Schumacher after those garishly ridiculous “Batman” misdeeds, chronicling the antics of a “Cool Hand Luke” (1967) styled anti-hero (Colin Farrell, in perhaps one of his finest performances) who in boot camp at Fort Polk, Louisiana (called Tigerland), takes pleasure in tripping up the brass as his squad preps for Vietnam. It’s nothing like the first half of “Full Metal Jacket” (1987), but an intriguing companion watch.
‘Falling Down’ (1993)
‘D.C. Cab’ (1983)
Amazing mostly for an eclectic cast that included Max Gail (“Barney Miller”), Bill Maher, Gary Busey, Otis Day (“Animal House”) and Mr. T., who turned his snarling badass from “Rocky III” into a lifetime of 15 minutes, the film is an early selection from Schumacher’s directorial efforts that revolves around the sometimes comic antics of cabbies in our capital. The ’70s TV show “Taxi” had it down better, with better wit and cohesion.
‘Athlete A’ (2020)
The title of Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk’s documentary reflects the moniker given to the initial gymnast (now revealed to be Maggie Nichols) who outed USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar as a serial sex abuser. Perhaps more outraging (if that’s possible) than Nassar’s myriad transgressions on underaged women is the team brass who not only enabled but systematically hushed reports against him. The saga of the survivors is harrowing: too young to know better, thinking this was part of what it takes, and so on. The doc is a bit heavy-handed, and though big names such as Simone Biles and Aly Raisman get brought up often, the Olympic stars are never on lens besides in archival footage.
‘Welcome to Chechnya’ (2020)
David France’s 2012 Oscar-nominated documentary, “How to Survive a Plague,” detailed gay activism in the face of the AIDS crisis; here he chronicles the anti-gay purge in Chechnya under Ramzan Kadyrov and the underground railroad set up by activists to get gays, who were being systematically targeted and killed, to safe havens. Harrowing, with some disturbing footage to take in, but ultimately there are highs and hope. It premieres Tuesday on HBO.
Tom Meek is a writer living in Cambridge. His reviews, essays, short stories and articles have appeared in the WBUR ARTery, The Boston Phoenix, The Boston Globe, The Rumpus, The Charleston City Paper and SLAB literary journal. Tom is also a member of the Boston Society of Film Critics and rides his bike everywhere.