Coronavirus edition 50: Valentine’s Day movies, DocYard and Brattle picks, and ‘Minari’ arrives
Film Ahead is a weekly column designed to highlight special events and repertory programming for the discerning Camberville filmgoer.
Three Romantic Films for Valentine’s Day
As you indulge in the Hallmark holiday with your significant other today, here are three very different films to cuddle up with:
‘Isn’t It Romantic’ (2019)
Rebel Wilson stars as an unlikely romantic target of a hunky real estate developer (Liam Hemsworth). Wilson’s bubbly effervescence carries the film, as do the goofy fun, musical dance numbers; Adam Devine, Priyanka Chopra (“The White Tiger”) and Betty Gilpin (“The Hunt”) costar. Available on demand.
Jumping to a period piece of staid emotions and taboo relations, “Ammonite” depicts the slow-burn yearning between two women – real-life paleontologist Mary Anning (Kate Winslet) and a depressed young bride left in her charge (Saoirse Ronan). The chemistry between the two leads richly denotes withheld feelings with subtlety and effect, and Gemma Jones is a force as Mary’s cantankerous and disapproving mother. (Read our full review from Nov. 13.) Available on demand.
And finally, the classic pairing of Bogie and Bergman, “Casablanca” plays as part of the Brattle Theatre’s virtual offerings. Here’s looking at you.
Local and virtual
The DocYard kicks off its 2021 season virtually with “The American Sector,” a humorous road doc that centers around slabs of the Berlin Wall that have, over the past 30 years, somehow made their way to America. Directors Courtney Stephens and Pacho Velez will attend a live, virtual Q&A with DocYard Curator Abby Sun at 7 p.m. Monday. For tickets and information, click here.
New entries from Brattle Theatre’s Virtual Screening Room include “Lapsis,” Noah Hutton’s psychological sci-fi teaser about an amiable schlep (Dean Imperial, looking a lot like James Gandolfini), a delivery driver by day who takes an extra job laying cable for an ominous “quantum system” to pay for a clinic visit for his brother, who suffers from something called omnia – think high tech-triggered mono. Then there’s a restoration of Tom Noonan’s 1994 dark talkie, “What Happened Was …” The film, an adaptation of Noonan’s stage play, unfurls over the course of a quiet dinner between two socially awkward coworkers played by Noonan, the tall bald character actor (think John Malkovich on Xanax, with lifts) best known for his sharp, small parts as a serial killer in “Manhunter” (1986) and a heist member in “Heat” (1995), and Karen Sillas (“Female Perversions”). The two form a palpably uncomfortable chemistry that ebbs and flows over the course of a long meal where every line of dialogue pokes with quirk and purpose. I recall being riveted by the wry internalized texture of the film when it came out – this is a very esoteric cinematic gem to take in, not widely available. Also for the theater starved but safe-minded, the Brattle continues to offer screening slots for you and your bubble to rent the house and take in a film of your choosing.
In theaters and streaming
Lee Isaac Chung’s semi-autobiographical tale tells of a Korean family that transplants from L.A. to a rural Arkansas farm in the 1980s. It’s a quiet tale of American idealism as Jacob (Steven Yeun, of “The Walking Dead” and “Burning”) finds 50 acres to grow Korean vegetables, as well as racism. The ensemble here, while not the flashiest – recently, that would be “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” “The Trial of the Chicago 7” and “One Night in Miami” – is empathetic and identifiable (real character vs. copies of icons tend to do that) with Alan Kim as the 7-year-old David, Chung’s younger self; the mother, Monica (a fiery Yeri Han), greatly displeased by the move; Will Patton as an overly religious out-of-work farmer who throws in with Jacob; and Youn Yuh-jung as the grandmother whom one of the children says “smells like Korea.” The film was part of Cambridge Day’s Top 10 Films of 2020. Playing virtually through Feb. 25 in a partnership between Independent Film Festival Boston and The Brattle Theatre (slots are running out) and at the Kendall Square Cinema.
‘The Act of Reading’ (2019)
Director Mark Blumberg, who failed his high school book report on “Moby-Dick,” doubles down by reaching out to his former teacher and signs up for an in-person “Moby-Dick” book marathon. The film hopscotches around New England (New Bedford is where Melville sailed out of, and landlocked Pittsfield where he penned the book) and hits some interesting notes – the “maybe” homoerotic relationship with Nathaniel Hawthorne, who allegedly helps Melville shape his classic tome, as well as some neurological testimony around dyslexia and the act of reading. Where the film doesn’t quite hold together is Blumberg’s meandering quest for redemption and the overshare of a fractious relationship with his girlfriend.
‘Happy Cleaners’ (2021)
Julian Kim and Pete S. Lee’s film makes a great bookend to “Minari,” as it too is about the plight of Korean Americans facing subtle and not-so-subtle acts of racism in modern-day America, as well as intergenerational conflicts. The Chois run a long-standing cleaning service in Flushing, New York; son Kevin (Yun Jeong) wants to go to school in L.A. to get away from the monotony and Korean way of life; it’s telling that when he and his sister Hyunny (Yeena Sung, the film’s subtle star) talk to their parents (Charles Ryu and Hyang-hwa Lim) they speak in English, while the parents speak in Korean. Funny/revealing scenes include a takeout order for Hyunny, whose name is pronounced wrong six ways to Sunday, and Kevin’s reaction; meeting the not-quite-an-asshole millennial who just took over the building the Chois’ service has been in for almost 20 years, with a lease renewal coming up; and grandma Choi (Jaehee Wilder) forced to go back to work. I’d love to see a road movie with her and Youn Yuh-jung’s grandmother from “Minari” – it makes me smile just typing it. Streaming on Amazon Prime and other platforms.
Robin Wright stars and makes her directorial debut with this “Into the Wild”-esque get-away-from-society sojourn. That 2007 film about an idealist’s trek to Alaska gone wrong was directed by her ex, Sean Penn; here Wright plays Edee, a woman who’s come to the mountain basin of the Wyoming wilds to get away from it all. Just what she’s running from remains enigmatic for a good long time, and she’s ill prepared when she arrives, for which Mother Nature gives her a good beatdown. But there are good Samaritans in mountains as well. The film becomes an internal odyssey as Edee steels up and learns a new way of life; the vistas are captivating, the human drama could have been more so. Playing at Landmark Kendall Square Cinema.
‘The Map of Tiny Perfect Things’ (2021)
Somewhat of a teenage time-rewind version of “Groundhog Day” (1993) but not as sharp or witty, and because of the rom-com aspect, perhaps “Palm Springs” (2020) is a better yardstick. That earlier Bill Murray hit gets multiple references as Mark (Kyle Allen, also in Steven Spielberg’s upcoming “West Side Story” remake) goes through a rewinded day over and over until Margot (Kathryn Newton, “Big Little Lies”) drops in on his routine. He’s drawn to her immediately; she’s aloof. But they start to carve out new adventure in their 24/7 auto-repeat universe. The two have solid enough chemistry, though Mark feels too much like a generic good-looking bro. Matters do get more serious, but in the end, it’s underdeveloped fluff – fun, mind you, but still fluff. Streaming on Amazon Prime.
‘The Mauritanian’ (2020)
More indignities enacted by the U.S. government in response to 9/11 documented on film, this one taking place at the infamous Guantanamo Bay military compound in Cuba (targeted for closing again by President Joe Biden). Based on Mohamedou Ould Salahi’s book “Guantánamo Diary,’’ the film tells of the 14-year imprisonment of bureaucracy and torture at Gitmo suffered by Salahi (played by French actor Tahar Rahim) and Nancy Hollander (Jodie Foster), the human rights attorney who takes his case. His crime? He got a phone call from a relative who may have connections to al-Qaida. The film, directed by Kevin Macdonald (“The Last King of Scotland’’) clicks best when Hollander is navigating the litany of redacted documents and the impeding, Kafka-esque process the military throws in her way. Super impressive is Benedict Cumberbatch doing a smooth Southern accent as a Marine prosecutor on the other side of the aisle. It’s not so much about where it goes, but how it goes and the shortcuts the country took, employing torture and human rights violations in the name of security. Foster and Rahim picked up Golden Globe nods for their turns here, and rightfully so. Playing at Landmark Kendall Square Cinema and streaming in March.
Thomas Keith’s documentary focus on the effects of bullying and hothead culture, especially among teens and on those targeted by race and/or for not being cisgendered or straight. Keith captures some disturbingly graphic footage and chronicles several tragic suicides before leveling his aim at Trump and the bully culture his presidency inspired. “Trump expresses an aggressive attitude that’s affiliated with success in business,” one talking head (a Boston College professor) says. The film’s a hodgepodge of dissertations around its central theme. It may not be a seamless documentary, but it is moving and illuminating about an ill that too often seems celebrated when it should be neutered. Streaming for free on TubiTV.
‘Clay’s Redemption’ (2020)
Carlos Boellinger’s stylish flick is fun late-night fare, even if it feels like there are three films in one fighting to get out. At the beginning we’re told a lot of mumbo-jumbo about gods and immortals; then we drop into what seems to be a gorgeously shot, lo-fi underworld noir with Clay (Akie Kotabe) doing the bidding of handlers to bring in an asset (Nuuxs as Maya, clad in the kind of see-through plastic garb Joanna Cassidy wore in “Blade Runner”). On the surface it plays like “The Asphalt Jungle” (1950) by way of “Alphaville” (1965). The rain-slicked neon landscape (shot late at night, guerrilla style, in London) and purposefully pulsating score go a long way, but copious amounts of hammy overacting and talk of gods and realms detract from what may have made a slick thriller. Streaming on Amazon Prime.