Wednesday, June 12, 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

A scene from David Grubin’s “Free Renty: Lanier v. Harvard.”

The 31st Woods Hole Film Festival is queuing up next weekend. Yes, the doc fest is in person, and it’ll great to be down by the water in this heat wave. While we don’t normally promote film events outside Camberville, there are many films and filmmakers here with Cambridge ties. 

David Grubin’s “Free Renty: Lanier v. Harvard” (July 31) details Tamara Lanier’s fight to force Harvard University to cede possession of daguerreotypes made of her great-great-great grandfather – an enslaved man named Renty. Cambridge director Garrett Zevgetis’ “On These Grounds” (Aug. 2) follows healer and activist Vivian Anderson, who uprooted her life in New York City after a viral video inspired her to support a Black teenager who was pulled from her school desk and thrown across the floor by a white police officer in South Carolina. Then there’s Sara Archambault of Cambridge-based The DocYard (which plays at The Brattle Theatre but is on hiatus) as producer of “A Decent Home” (Aug. 3), directed by renowned photographer-cinematographer Sara Terry. It addresses urgent issues of class and economic inequity through the lives of mobile home park residents who can’t afford other housing. The Q&A will include Terry and George McCarthy of the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, based in Cambridge. Also the LEF Foundation, based in Cambridge, is one of the film’s funders. 

Also playing is Harvard professor Peter Galison’s animated documentary “Shattering Stars” (July 31) about Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, an Indian physics prodigy who at age 19 was publicly humiliated when his major discovery about black holes collided with accepted physics. Decades later he won a Nobel Prize for the discovery, though the experience shattered his ambitions. And not to cede all local educational connections to Harvard, there’s Thomas Verrette’s “Zero Gravity” (Aug. 6), about a diverse group of middle-schoolers who compete in the nationwide, MIT-sponsored Zero Gravity competition to code satellites aboard the International Space Station. 


Judy adoration (the Judy Garland Centennial Celebration) continues at The Brattle Theatre with screenings of “The Harvey Girls” (1946), costarring Angela Lansbury, Cyd Charisse and Ray Bolger – who starred with Garland in “The Wizard of Oz” (1939) – and “Meet Me in St. Louis” (1944), directed by Vincente Minnelli (Garland’s husband No. 2 of five). Both play Monday and Tuesday. On Wednesday, the Lamplighter Brewery sets up for an indie double bill of Greta Gerwig’s big-splash directorial debut, “Lady Bird” (2017) – it was nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Picture and writing and directing for Gerwig – and Ari Aster’s joyously demented follow-up to “Hereditary” (2018), “Midsommar” (2019). The cross-over on the double bill, besides both films being by hot new maverick filmmakers, is hard to discern. The Lamplighter folks will be on tap to serve beer pairings in this kickoff of an ongoing program of “takeovers” by local concessions vendors at The Brattle. Also on the slate this week are Thursday’s “Midnighter” cult curios “Basket Case” (1982) and David Lynch’s seminal atmospheric immersion, “Eraserhead” (1977), and then it’s onto special engagements. They include the area’s premiere run of Lucile Hadžihalilović’s “Earwig,” about a girl with ice cubes for teeth (sounds like it could easily be part of a future “Midnighters” slate), and a 20-year commemoration of Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s “Distant,” about a Turkish photog suffering an existential crisis. 


The “Complete Federico Fellini” program at the Harvard Film Archive moves onto some of the director’s later works, including his nod to “the eternal city,” “Roma” (1972, Monday and Friday), in which Fellini makes a rare cameo; his take on the the notorious womanizer “Casanova” (1976, Saturday) with Donald Sutherland as the all-too-eager libertine; and “The Ship Sails On” (1983, Sunday), about the intertwining of lives aboard a luxury liner on a journey to scatter the ashes of a famous opera singer.


This week’s Big Screen repertory at the Somerville Theatre is Mel Brooks’ bitingly satirical Western comedy, “Blazing Saddles” (1974), with Cleavon Little as the first black sheriff in a racist shanty town. Brooks regulars Gene Wilder, Madeline Kahn and Harvey Korman are in the cast, as well as the indelible Slim Pickens. Bold and audacious, “Saddles” seems even more relevant today, even if it seems unlikely a film like it could get made now. It pokes the bear and elicits plenty of guffaws no matter how many times you’ve seen it.


Tuesday night’s Road Life Retro Replay at the Landmark Cinemas Kendall Square is George Miller’s triumphant return to the “Mad Max” series, “Fury Road,” some 30 years after his third installment “Thunderdome” (1985) seemed to bring the franchise to a screeching end. Not that it was bad, but compared with the 1979 original and trilogy gem “The Road Warrior” (1981), it felt something less, and not the right way to close things out. This 2015 reinvention has nothing to do with Mel Gibson; Tom Hardy fills the role of Max. (Miller says he views Max as akin to Superman or James Bond: an ageless entity who can be played by many.) We hardly get to meet Max before he’s abducted and used as a sack of blood to mainline-infuse albino warriors on a relentless mission. The film’s real center is Charlize Theron as Furiosa, a wasteland warrior with a bionic arm, and the rolling party in pursuit of Furiosa’s cargo that’s led by a monster truck crowned by a gore-metal guitar player and a cascade of amps. It’s a garish, dystopian spectacle that is essentially one long car chase through the desert – exhilarating, surprising and not to be missed on the big screen. This is the last in the “road life” series; next month is Hitchcock.


In theaters and streaming

‘Fire of Love’ (2022)

Sara Dosa’s documentary about renowned French volcanologists Katia and Maurice Krafft has tons of eye-popping footage of flowing rivers of boiling lava and bellowing volcanos. It’s “wow” with a capital W and ever mesmerizing, if not hypnotic, and you can easily get why the Kraffts became so obsessed with these earth-shaping phenoms. Of course there’s sudden danger that comes with storm-chasing volcanic eruptions, and the couple died in the 1991 eruption of Japan’s Mount Unzen. The film’s title is purposefully multilayered, referring to the couple’s love for one another as well as their unquenchable passion for all things hot, molten and flowing. Narrated by Miranda July with a warm but oddly flat and twee intonation, the film transforms the Krafft’s vast ’87 archive into a world-hopping travelogue punctuated by eruptions and opulent rivers of red. In construct, “Fire of Love” calls to mind Werner Herzog’s “Grizzly Man” (2005), because there too an obsession with something massive and lethal threatens to become deadly in nearly every frame – and ultimately does. Too bad “Love” lacks Herzog’s infectious wryness and existential curiosity. At Landmark Kendall Square Cinema, 355 Binney St.


‘Anything’s Possible’ (2022)

Billy Porter, who starred in the trans-gay series “Pose,” set against the AIDS crisis of the ’80s and ’90s, gets behind the lens for this “Clueless”-like high school romp about a confident yet guarded Black, transgender teen growing up in Pittsburgh with ambitions of New York or L.A. As Kelsa, Eva Reign is confident and bold, even if the film, Porter’s directorial debut, could use more of the same. Kelsa’s besties, dance diva Em (Courtnee Carter) and punker Chris (Kelly Lamor Wilson), have big personalities, even if we don’t know much else about them. Kelsa’s interested in Khal (Abubakr Ali) a reflective, kind Egyptian Muslim boy, and there are the mean girls and a transphobe, which doesn’t become a factor until later. The use of zoological classifications by Kelsa and crew to let you know who’s who (baboons, wolves, meerkats, etc.) at school keeps things clicking along, as does Porter’s vitality and deviously sharp sense of fashion. On Amazon Prime Video.

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.