Sunday, June 23, 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. 

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Local focus

The cult fare playing at The Brattle Theatre as part of the “Midnighters” series has the propaganda-film-turned-stoner-anthem “Refer Madness” (1936) paired with the Jimmy Cliff rasta classic “The Harder They Come” (1972) on Thursday. The Judy Garland Centennial Celebration continues Monday and Tuesday with the 1954 George Cukor version of “A Star is Born” (the movie had been made five times; this is the third) with Garland’s upcoming actress in love with James Mason’s fading star who struggles with the bottle. 

On the special engagements slate, The Brattle has a new restoration of “Daisies,” the 1966 film by Czech director Věra Chytilová, in which young women named Marie (one blonde, played by Ivana Karbanová, and a brunette played by Jitka Cerhová) decide to take their slice of life’s pie by partying it up and scamming older men. Shades of Harmony Korine’s “Spring Breakers” (2013), to be sure. Don’t believe me, just look to Chytilová‘s 1992 effort “The Inheritance or Fuckoffguysgoodday.” Making a perfect thematic pairing with “Daisies” is the area premiere of Alli Haapasalo‘s “Girl Picture.” The film about three girls daydreaming through the dark Finnish months and “Daisies” get extended runs beginning Friday. For Labor Day Weekend, it’s a three-day run of Charlie Chaplin’s Depression-ara classic “Modern Times” (1936), the actor/director’s last stint as the Little Tramp as a cog in a never-stopping factory and a thorn in management’s side. (Tom Meek)

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The summer-themed repertory programming at the Somerville Theatre wraps up this week with Tuesday and Wednesday screenings of Robert Altman’s sardonic take on U.S. culture and politics, “Nashville” (1975), set against a presidential candidate’s populist campaign and the titled town’s music industry. The film features nearly two dozen main characters whose lives intersect, a narrative technique Altman mastered and put to good use in later projects “The Player” (1992) and “Short Cuts” (1993). The excellent ensemble includes David Arkin, Barbara Baxley, Ned Beatty, Karen Black,  Keith Carradine, Geraldine Chaplin, Shelley Duvall and Lily Tomlin. Carradine would win the Oscar for Best Song, and the film was up for Best Picture against some very stiff competition: “Jaws,” “Dog Day Afternoon,” “Barry Lyndon” and the winner, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”

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This week’s “Happy Birthday, Mr. Hitchcock” offering – part of the Retro Replay Tuesdays at the Landmark Kendall Square Cinema – is “Vertigo” (1958), one of the director’s most popular films. It’s about a former police detective (James Stewart) with a deathly fear of heights who’s hired to prevent the suicide of an old pal’s wife (Kim Novak) – but as with most Hitch flicks, not all is as it appears. Acrophobia, and the sense of it, plays a large role, as does the score by longtime Hitch collaborator Bernard Herrmann. His frenetic use of violin strings made the shower scene in “Psycho” (1960) so frantic and chilling, and he scored Martin Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver” (1976) right before his death. (Tom Meek)

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In theaters and streaming

‘Funny Pages’ (2022)

As the film’s log line puts it: “When Robert, a high school student and aspiring cartoonist, rejects the comforts of suburban life, dropping out of school and leaving home, he finds an unwilling teacher and unwitting friend in Wallace – a former low-level comic artist.” That would be so, if it were only so simple. This navel-gazing coming-of-age tale plays like a self-indulgent student film, only with a (slightly) bigger budget. As sometimes happens with rookie outings, Owen Kline’s first feature has a script lacking in structure, stakes and wit, and his directing is all but non-existent. It’s like watching a feature put together by a community cable TV class. Had Kline’s story gone somewhere it might have held our interest. Instead it’s stuck in neutral, with Robert (Daniel Zolghadri, “Eighth Grade”) moving from scene to scene with a bewildered expression. More attention to the visuals in a film about cartooning would have been nice, but the camerawork here is uniformly sloppy, the images flat and washed out. There are endless close-ups of Robert’s unsavory entourage (a profusely sweating, creepy middle-aged landlord, a best friend with a severe case of acne, an artist with a hairlip and a speech impediment, let alone a morbidly obese naked and hairy middle-aged mentor). All appear to have been cast less for their acting chops than for their freakish looks. “Funny Pages” staggers and stumbles through its mercifully brief 90 minutes, and when the nonsensical denouement arrives there’s a sense of relief at the prospect of finally turning the page on this unfunny mess. (Federico Muchnik) At the Landmark Kendall Square Cinema, 355 Binney St.

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‘The Good Boss’ (2021)

Folks who relished Javier Bardem’s villainous turns in “No Country for Old Men” (2007, for which he won an Oscar) and as the gummy Bond enemy Silva in “Skyfall” (2012) should enjoy his effort in this corporate-shark pic from writer-director Fernando León de Aranoa. Bardem’s benevolent-appearing Blanco runs a Spanish company that makes industrial scales. “Sometimes you have to trick the scale to get the exact weight,” he says. The same could be said about his conduct. Up for a business excellence award, Blanco carries on inappropriate relations with young female employees and his outwardly chummy magnanimity turns out to be a veneer for a smarmy, ego-filling agenda. When one fed-up employee (Óscar de la Fuente) get pissed off and sets up a protest line outside the factory, prospects for the award start to slip away and Blanco begins to unravel. Thoughts of Gordon Gekko or “Margin Call” (2011) are apt, but de Aranoa is more interested in plumbing the soul of a duplicitous sort who wants to appear otherwise – think our former U.S. Prez if he had charm and style. The script goes off-page some, but that’s no matter; Bardem, so good at slipping into his characters, holds it all together with venomous charm. (Tom Meek) At the Landmark Kendall Square Cinema, 355 Binney St. 

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‘Me Time’ (2022)

John Hamburg, the writer and occasional director behind the “Meet the Parents”/“Fockers” films, cues up this inert scat fest staring Kevin Hart (“Jumanji”) and Mark Wahlberg (“Ted”) as lifelong besties Huck Dembo (Wahlberg getting the WTF name) and Sonny Fisher (Hart), a stay-at-home dad who thinks his wife (Regina Hall, “Support the Girls” and “Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul.” next week) may be having a thing with a new-agey philanthropist who solicits her architectural expertise 24/7. For Huck’s 30th, Sonny nearly dies going body-suit cliff gliding; now, for his 44th, he wants his own private Burning Man. A loan shark with a hammer-wielding enforcer, mouth-to-mouth with a tortoise and freaky fecal pranks make their way into this flaccid stab at comedy. The slight plays on race and LQBTQ portrayals are curious at best, if not ill-advised, and even the majestic John Amos (“Good Times,” “Coming to America”) gets wasted as Hall’s father constantly in a shouting match over nothing with Hart’s Sonny. (Tom Meek) On Netflix.


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.