You can return to the films of 2020 at The Brattle and watch ‘Pig,’ ‘Gunpowder Milkshake,’ more
Film Ahead is a weekly column highlighting special events and repertory programming for the discerning Camberville filmgoer. It also includes capsule reviews of films that are not feature reviewed.
The Brattle continues its rewind of the best of 2020 this week with “Shirley,” Josephine Decker’s gothic take on “The Lottery” author Shirley Jackson’s complicated marriage and the creative catalyst for her timelessly macabre tale; Kelly Reichardt’s “First Cow,” one of the last films released as the Covid shutdown descended (and the Day’s top film of 2020 – and fitting, as Reichardt cites The Brattle as one of her main inspirations to get into filmmaking); and “Shadow in the Cloud,” Roseanne Liang’s zany, unofficial World War II take on “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” the classic 1963 “Twilight Zone” episode starring William Shatner. This time it’s Chloë Grace Moretz (“Kick-Ass”) seeing gremlins.
In theaters and streaming
Nic Cage movies these days are hit (“Color Out of Space,” sort of) or miss (“Primal,” “Jiu Jitsu”). His latest effort, with a title that may draw snickers, is his best in years. Here the quirky thespian plays a hermit living in the Pacific Northwest foraging for truffles with his prized fungus-finding co-pilot, the entity of the title. One night the sow is stolen and Cage’s Rob sets off to the city to find her. There’s an after-hours fight club along the way, and beaten and bloody Rob takes a seat at a five-star restaurant and is revered by the owner/chef as something of a celebrity. It’s as if the grand hobo king sat down at the Ritz. Not to give too much away, but the taciturn and moody Rob is not too far from the enigmatic rendering of celeb chef Anthony Bourdain painted in Morgan Neville’s recent bio-doc “Roadrunner.” The stylish delivery comes from first-time filmmaker Michael Sarnoski. Keep that name in mind, because if “Pig” is an appetizer for what’s to be served next, I’ve got a bib on and a fork in hand. At Landmark Kendall Square Cinema, 355 Binney St., Kendall Square.
‘Gunpowder Milkshake’ (2021)
So much to want to like here: Michelle Yeoh, Angela Bassett and Carla Gugino (“Watchmen,” if you required a reference) as retired assassins who now work in a library of arms (think of Harry Potter’s school venue with rows of books packed with pistols and grenades). It’s a neat and quirky backdrop, and good fun to see the trio come out from behind the counter and get back into action. There’s not as much kick in the main tale, about a younger killer named Sam (Karen Gillan, who played Nebula in “Guardians of the Galaxy” and other Marvel Universe flicks) taking charge of a parentless kid (Chloe Coleman) wanted by the mob. It was Sam, tasked by said mob, who offed dad (or close enough), so you can tell early on where the web of tangled agendas and dubious alliances is heading. A mother-daughter drama, with Lena Headey a force as Sam’s mom, adds some complexity, and Paul Giamatti brings the serrano ham as the heavy; but overall the slick noir-cum-slapstick never gets all its elements to blend. It’s as if someone asked Quentin Tarantino to remake “Spy Kids” and denied him the use of any fake blood. On Netflix.
‘Space Jam: A New Legacy’ (2021)
A totally unnecessary updating to a concept that, while fun for a hot moment back in 1996, was too much of a mashup to really hold its own – though its “what the eff” facial expressions from Michael Jordan, a notoriously stoic NBA legend, kind of outacts his successor, LeBron James. Here King James is asked to endorse Warner 3000, a virtual-reality game with an algorithm that inserts the star’s likeness into gamescapes in people’s homes that include variations on Harry Potter and “Game of Thrones.” Part of the film’s inserted sentimental appeal is that LeBron’s son, Dom (Cedric Joe, not James’ real son) wants to be a gamer and not an NBA jammer. Dad’s none too happy with the reveal, but before they can work through the issue the two get sucked into Warner 3000, where Don Cheadle, the artificial intelligence running it all, stages a basketball game between the Toons and the Goons. Bugs, Daffy and Porky Pig are recruited for Team LeBron. References to “Mad Max: Fury Road” (2015) and even “Casablanca” (1942) make for fun, quirky Easter eggs, as does Michael B. Jordan (“Fruitvale Station”) popping up when Sylvester is asked to recruit Michael Jordan (Air Jordan, not B. Jordan). Other than that, it’s like watching warmup drills. On HBO Max and at Apple Cinemas Cambridge, 168 Alewife Brook Parkway, Cambridge Highlands near Alewife and Fresh Pond) and AMC Assembly Row 12, 395 Artisan Way, Assembly Square, Somerville.
Solitary confinement as a prison treatment has come under the social justice microscope. In Aaron Fjellman’s socially pointed drama, Dr. Harlow Reid (Edi Gathegi), an affluent African American psychiatrist, is convicted of murdering his wife (Angela Sarafyan) and sentenced to life in federal prison. Ultimately he lands in solitary, where, maintaining his innocence and struggling to file an appeal, he descends into a madness deepened by the abusive visits of a vindictive female guard (Melora Hardin) and the haunting images of his dead wife. The filmmaker, inspired by the story of a family friend, essentially puts us in that claustrophobic cell with Reid, making us live his madness – seeing people who are not there, hearing voices from outside that may or may not be real, reliving what happened on that boat with his wife and even questioning his own innocence. It’s disorienting by design, and should lend feeling to a bigger conversation of true justice for people of color and the inhumanity of solitary confinement. For rent or sale on Amazon Prime Video, YouTube and other services.
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.