Sunday, April 21, 2024

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. 


Local focus

The area premiere run of Panah Panahi’s mesmerizing “Hit the Road” (reviewed here last week) continues this week at The Brattle Theatre, while special engagements include a 25th anniversary showing (with a new 35 mm restoration print) of David Lynch’s “Lost Highway,” starring Balthazar Getty, Bill Pullman, Patricia Arquette and Robert Blake, before he got into trouble for his own bit of domestic horrors. It feels like a warmup for “Mulholland Drive” (2001), held by many as the director’s magnum opus. The weeklong run begins Friday. For those who love the quirky, gothic stop-motion animation of the Quay Brothers, there’s “Mad God” from special effects innovator Phil Tippett (“Jurassic Park,” “Robocop”) starring filmmaker Alex Cox (“Sid and Nancy,” “Repo Man”) as the Last Human in a futuristic steampunk landscape. The passion project took Tippett nearly 35 years to achieve – of course, he was busy with his day job along the way. The cult-hit-to-be plays the late slot on Wednesday and Thursday. Also, in line with Lynch’s “Lost Highway,” The Brattle kicks off its “Lost in America” program with Frank Capra’s “It Happened One Night” (1934), which marks the first onscreen pairing of Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert.


Over at the Harvard Film Archive, the “Complete Federico Fellini” series continues with “The White Sheik” (1952) and “The Miracle” (1948, directed by Roberto Rossellini but starring Fellini) on Monday; a Friday encore screening of “8½” (1963), which also played last week; and Rossellini’s neorealist-defining “Rome, Open City” (1945), to which Fellini contributed to the script, on Saturday. 


The “70 mm & Widescreen Fest” continues to click away in the big house over at the Somerville Theatre with Curtis Hanson’s dark neo-noir “L.A. Confidential” (1997, Monday and Tuesday), about deep corruption in 1950s tinseltown. The incredible cast includes Guy Pearce, Russell Crowe, Kevin Spacey, Kim Basinger and Danny DeVito. The film was nominated for nine Oscars and won for Best Screenplay (adapted from the James Ellroy novel) and Best Supporting Actress for Basinger, looking ever-so Veronica Lake-like. Also queuing up is ’70s disaster flick “Airport” (1970), with a rich potpourri of performers featuring Burt Lancaster, George Kennedy, Jaqueline Bisset, Dean Martin, Jean Seberg and Maureen Stapleton; and “Spartacus” (1960), Stanley Kubrick’s sweeping sword-and-sandal epic starring Kirk Douglas as the titular slave turned gladiator, Tony Curtis, Jean Simmons, Laurence Oliver and Herbert Lom. Both films play Thursday and into next week. For you midnight cult warriors, there’s a restored print of Hsin-Yi Chang’s gonzo 1981 “Conan”-esque adventure “Thrilling Bloody Sword.” The FX are dated, but that only adds to the film’s charm. If you want to load up, see “Mad God” at the Brattle earlier in the week and cap your Saturday night with this midnight showing. 


In theaters and streaming

‘Just an Illusion’ (2020)

Jay Meyers’ chronology of his 11-year boat journey with his father and brothers is something of a meandering curio that’s more personal travelog than anything else; it feels like you’re watching someone’s home-movie highlight reel of a unique vacation experience as footage bounces around in time and locale. The Meyers are a Midwest family sailing a 28-foot sailboat (the Illusion) down the carp-choked Mississippi River, with the ocean delta in Alabama the ostensible goal. Logistics regarding financing and whether the trip you see is linear in time, geography and such are hard to glean, which is somewhat frustrating. What you get are a lot of unglamorous details of backed-up toilets, those invasive carp and the hazards of not being a seasoned sailor when in shallow waters. Those cautionary tales (and others shared by the brothers sitting in their living rooms and offices and reflecting back) get mixed in with shots of dad looking like a sagacious old tar at the helm, the family splashing about in the muddy brown Mississippi and other moments of giddy triumph. What we don’t get is enough of just who the Meyers are as individuals, their desires or fears, or the family dynamic; the slack narrative keeps them aloof and just out of reach. The pop-grunge soundtrack by Aurelio Damiani and Christian Carpenter Fields gets overused, though it aptly underscores the whimsical nature of the film and the Meyerses’ dreamy aquatic drift. On Amazon Prime Video.


‘Elvis’ (2022)

This biopic depiction of the king of rock ’n’ roll by cinematic raconteur Baz Luhrmann (“Strictly Ballroom,” “Romeo + Juliet” and “The Great Gatsby”) begins in his typically frenetic style, with hyper flash-cut vignettes of the young Elvis (Austin Butler, a Mansonite in “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”) shaking and twitching before a gaggle of screaming girls. It settles into something more palpable and real, becoming an internal (and financial) struggle for the singer’s identity and soul. Our unofficial narrator is Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks, bringing as much humanity as one can to the part), an abject con artist who had his hooks deep into Elvis and shackled him to Vegas casinos to pay off his own gambling debts – something Presley was kept in the dark about. By the end you genuinely feel the artist never really got to achieve his vision of connecting with gospel and soul more deeply, and touring the world, because of Parker’s gaslighting and control. The charismatic Butler does a fine, if somewhat inconsistent, rendering (something like 16 other actors have played Elvis, including Kurt Russell, Nic Cage and Val Kilmer), but nothing will knock you for as big of an emotional loop as the real footage of Presley’s last performance. It’s haunting and a heartbreaker. At Landmark Kendall Square Cinema, 355 Binney St., Kendall Square; Apple Cinemas Cambridge, 168 Alewife Brook Parkway, Cambridge Highlands near Alewife and Fresh Pond; Somerville Theatre, 55 Davis Square; and AMC Assembly Row 12, 395 Artisan Way, Assembly Square, Somerville.


‘Official Competition’ (2021) 

Mariano Cohn and Gastón Duprat’s semi-meta deconstructionist filmmaking venture is a sharp exploration of egos that are near-Trumpian in size, though none would compare the players here with our former, regularly disgraced Potus. No, what we get is a dicey blend of personas that starts with Penelope Cruz, with a big red mane of frizzy wildness, as Lola, a boundary-pushing director hired by a billionaire to adapt a Nobel Prize-winning novel named “Rivalry” for the screen. The ambitious project lands popular actor Felix (Antonio Banderas) and Iván (Oscar Martínez), a quiet man who prefers the stage and swims under the vocational tag of “thespian.” The title of the film, and the name of the film within the film, underscore the ongoing sword fighting and penis envy between the two leads – not to say that Lola can’t get into the act too, as she smokes cigarillos, enjoys a young woman dancing in just their personals and, when neither male lead can kiss the object of their rivalry convincingly enough for a scene, she steps in to show them how it’s done. It’s a tour de force by Cruz with the guys there to support her mission – not that she needs it. At Landmark Kendall Square Cinema, 355 Binney St., Kendall Square.

Tom Meek is a writer living in Cambridge. His reviews, essays, short stories and articles have appeared in WBUR’s The 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.