In repertory, Newton-John luminous in ‘Grease,’ every Mad Max; reviews of ‘Glorious’ and ‘Beast’
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 Theatre pays tribute to Olivia Newton-John on Wednesday with a screening of the sock-hop musical classic “Grease” (1978) co-starring John Travolta as her hunky greaser love interest from the other side of the tracks. For the “Midnighters” series, it’s “Freaks,” director Tod Browning’s dark 1932 follow-up to “Dracula” (1931), about a carney where the sideshow spectacles take back the night. It’s part of a a double bill with the Ramones-powered teen rebel flick, “Rock ’n’ Roll High School” (1979) on Thursday. The Judy Garland Centennial Celebration picks two intriguing choices: Nazi war trial epic “Judgment at Nuremberg” (1961) with an all-star cast including Burt Lancaster, Richard Widmark, Maximilian Schell (who won an Oscar for it), Montgomery Clift, Marlene Dietrich, Spencer Tracy and William Shatner (yes, you read that right); and “A Child is Waiting” (1963), again pairing Garland with Lancaster in a John Cassavetes film also starring the director’s wife, Gena Rowlands. They play Monday and Tuesday, respectively.
Finally and gloriously, The Brattle turns next weekend into a mini “Mad Max” fest with all four George Miller-helmed installments: “Mad Max” (1979), “The Road Warrior” (1981), “Beyond Thunderdome” (1985) and “Fury Road” (2015). The first three star Mel Gibson as the antihero surviving in a post-apocalyptic world where gas is a fought-for resource, while the last 2015 chapter has Tom Hardy as Max alongside Charlize Theron’s cyborg Furiosa – and now water is the scarce commodity. Miller cast Hugh Keays-Byrne in the role of Immortan Joe, who holds the keys to the water supply; he played the chief baddie, Toecutter, in the original “Mad Max.” The Brattle series arrives the same time as Miller’s much anticipated new film, “Three Thousand Years of Longing,” starring Tilda Swinton and Idris Elba. (Tom Meek)
Continuing its run this week at the Harvard Film Archive this week is Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s haunting “Memoria” (2021), starring Tilda Swinton as a woman who hears weird noises in the jungle at night. (Tom Meek)
Summer themes run deep in this week’s double-feature repertory programming at the Somerville Theatre. First up it’s “Dirty Dancing” (1987) and “Now and Then” (1995) – the former, about a dance camp in the Catskills, rekindled Patrick Swayze as a star and made one out of Jennifer Grey as “Baby.” One thing touched on in the film ever so subtly and so relevant today is a pro-choice decision Baby makes – the 1963 setting being pre-Roe v. Wade. “Now and Then” would make a solid pairing with “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” (2005), as it’s about women trying to maintain their connections over time; Rosie O’Donnell, Demi Moore, Rita Wilson and Melanie Griffith are the “now,” and Christina Ricci, Gaby Hoffmann, Thora Birch and Ashleigh Aston Moore are the “then.” The two play Monday and Tuesday, and then it’s onto some (socially) hot times in the city from Spike Lee with his signature eye-opener on race and equity, “Do the Right Thing” (1989) and “Crooklyn” (1994) on Wednesday and Thursday. There’s coming of age and rebirths with “Stand By Me” (1986) and “On Golden Pond” (1981), which pairs Henry Fonda with daughter Jane – Fonda senior and actress Katharine Hepburn won Oscars for their performances; it was Fonda’s first (though Hepburn’s fourth) and his final film. Last on the week’s double slate are some dark summer sojourns into the occult, with Ari Aster’s solstice eden gone gonzo “Midsommar” (2019) and George Romero’s “Season of the Witch” (1972), in which a bored housewife (Jan White) falls in with the new woman in the ’hood (Virginia Greenwald) who runs the local coven – not to be confused with the 2011 Nic Cage medieval pic of the same title – with the catchy Donovan song making its way in too. They play Aug. 28 and into next week. (Tom Meek)
The Retro Replay at the Landmark Kendall Square Cinema on Tuesday is part of the “Happy Birthday, Mr. Hitchcock” party: “Strangers on a Train” (1951), the first big-screen adaptation of a Patricia Highsmith novel (from her first novel). Highsmith would become famous for her five novels about charming sociopath Tom Ripley (film adaptations include Wim Wender’s “The American Friend”; “Purple Noon”; and “The Talented Mr. Ripley”) and “The Price of Salt,” which Todd Haynes would adapt in 2015 as “Carol” starring Cate Blanchett as something of a version of Highsmith, whose sexual orientation clashed with the social norms of the 1940s and ’50s. Hitchcock paid just $7,500 for the rights to the story about a shady drifter (Robert Walker) and tennis star (Farley Granger) who meet by chance and plan tit-for-tat murders. Raymond Chandler has the script credit, but wrote almost none of what’s onscreen – Hitchcock and the writer of mysteries parted acrimoniously (as many did with Hitchcock), but Chandler’s name remained because the studio wanted the name recognition. It’s said that the bulk of the script was written by Czenzi Ormonde (who is co-credited), production associate Barbara Keon and Hitchcock’s wife, Alma Reville. The film echoes the theme of the well-off trying to get away with murder that is the signature of one of my faves: Hitchcock’s “Rope” (1948), based on the Leopold and Loeb murder. (Tom Meek)
In theaters and streaming
Wes (Ryan Kwanten of “True Blood”) gets stuck in an isolated rest stop bathroom, which is already a nightmare – well, because it’s a public loo. An upbeat, enthusiastic voice (J.K. Simmons, Academy Award-winner for “Whiplash”) announces itself from the next stall, excited for the company and asking a favor, something more than to just pass the toilet paper. In this Lovecraftian-inspired horror comedy, there are several mysteries: How did Wes’ last relationship end? What is his stall neighbor’s true identity? And what is the nature of the requested favor? Director Rebekah McKendry, a professor at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts and co-writing a horror-ized sequel of the Kristin Dunst cheerleader comedy “Bring It On” (2000), pays dutiful homage to Richard Stanley’s “Color Out of Space” (2019). Along the way, viewers may wonder if Wes has suffered from a mental breakdown, but the story satisfies regardless of interpretation. Kwanten, onscreen the entire time, has facial expressions and body language that help ground the sensational premise. The limited number of cast members and restricted location heightens the tension because the viewer is as trapped as the protagonist. It’s an arresting odd-couple character study, bleak yet wrapped up with an ending worthy of “Tales of the Crypt.” (Sarah Vincent) On Shudder.
Dr. Nate Samuels (Idris Elba, “Pacific Rim”) and daughters Meredith (Iyana Halley) and Norah (Leah Jeffries) visit family friend Martin (Sharlto Copley, “District 9”) at an animal reserve in South Africa – a historically rich location, but devoid of deeper significance here – where family tension takes a back seat to surviving a lion out for vengeance against all humans. Enjoying this creature feature (done before, “Ghost in the Darkness”) will depend on your surroundings: If multiple pandemics are not a deterrent, arm yourself with buttered popcorn at a theater with clever patrons willing to talk to the screen for dumb fun. The cast is better than the film deserves and has terrific chemistry – deft at making themselves than likable enough to hope they survive, stupid enough to punch a CGI lion (yeah, not smart). If you get aggravated when characters fail to follow the simplest don’t-do-that conventions, this still conjures crowd-pleasing results. Abandon any sense of logic when it comes to this Liam Neeson-like lion, a creature turned villain for following instincts like the shark from “Jaws” (1975). He’s indomitable, but unlike most felines, has a poor sense of smell and hearing, and night vision isn’t his forte. It’s no “Roar” (1981), but there are poachers to serve as political and Serengeti chum. (Sarah Vincent) At Landmark Kendall Square Cinema, 355 Binney St.; 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.
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.