Monday, May 27, 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 Brattle Theater rolls forth with special presentations this week. In mid-run are a restored version of Věra Chytilová’s “Daisies” (1966) and the area premiere of Alli Haapasalo’s “Girl Picture.” Also premiering is critic and historian Mark Cousins’ “The Story of Film: A New Generation,” a look at the state of cinema over the past decade and where we are heading, highlighting such recent fare as “Parasite,” “The Farewell,” “Frozen” and “Black Panther.” The film’s a loose follow-up to Cousins’ 2011 miniseries “The Story of Film: An Odyssey,” which took a deep if whimsical look at films of the 20th century. Cousins’ style is one of wonderment and reverence, while asking probing questions and dishing out bits of knowledge even the most versed cineastes might not know. His amiably hypnotic style is not too far off from that of Werner Herzog, save that one needs to swap out the German accent for an Irish one. The film’s five day-run begins Friday and includes several sidebar screening of films featured in the documentary. On this week’s slate are Leos Carax’s somberly gonzo “Holy Motors” (2012, Friday), Lucrecia Martel’s tale of Spanish imperialism gone awry “Zama” (2017, Saturday), Jennifer Kent’s creepy boogeyman tale “The Babadook” (2014, also Saturday) and the Safdie brothers’ “Good Time” (2017, playing Sept. 11) starring Robert Pattinson (“High Life”) as a petty thief who makes one bad life decision after another. 

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The “Early Kiarostami” program kicks into gear this week at the Harvard Film Archive, as detailed by our feature focus last week. Abbas Kiarostami made two films about school children, “Homework” (1989) and “First Graders” (1984), and seemingly on cue the HFA screens on Monday “Learning to Be Human. The Open-Ended Educational Film,” essentially a series of short films for school kids made during the New Hollywood-era ’70s. They include “The Bike,” “The Lost Puppy” and the sexually loaded (can’t imagine this making it to a classroom these days) “The Fur Coat Club.” The screening also includes the edgy “The Boy Who Liked Deer,” one of two educational films directed by Barbara Loden, who made only one feature – the critically acclaimed “Wanda” (1970), about a lonely housewife who takes up with a petty thief.

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At the Somerville Theatre this week, dark hearts are on parade with a weeklong exhibition of “Apocalypse Now: Final Cut,” Francis Ford Coppola’s 40th anniversary re-tinkering of his Vietnam War take on Joseph Conrad’s anti-colonialist novel “Hearts of Darkness.” There are four versions of the film. The 1979 theatrical release is, for my money, still the one to see. An overloaded 2001 “Redux” blew the film up to 202 minutes from 147, adding in a provocative visit to a French plantation where politics and colonialist aspirations are put on display for what they are; the whimsical theft of a surfboard; and a second meet-up with the Playboy bunnies so well inserted into the film in an earlier, brief USO appearance, bouncing vibrantly around on a river-buoyed stage to Creedence Clearwater Revival’s ever electric “Suzie Q.” They’re wasted in the added mud-slogged fuel for frolic fest up-river, a scene totally unnecessary and one highly criticized when the “Redux” was released. Between those two cuts there was a “working” or “First Assembly” version that made its way out as something of a bootleg, a rough cut more for diehard fanatics and trivia hounds. “Final Cut” is somewhere between the original release and the “Redux” in length: Gone is that second bunny encounter; the plantation scene remains in shorter form. Across all versions, what remains pure cinematic magic is the film’s craftsmanship and the obvious passion that went into it from top to bottom. (The film nearly killed Coppola financially and physically, after he crushed it with the first two “Godfather” films and “The Conversation” just a few years earlier.) The perfectly cast ensemble gives nuanced, lived-in performances, starting with Martin Sheen’s no-nonsense Capt. Willard. The film doesn’t work without him – despite this version, like the “Redux,” taking something away from Willard’s otherwise indelibly cool aura by including the sneaky theft of Lt. Col. Kilgore’s surfboard with a snarky grin on his mug. The film editing and Oscar-winning sound editing are critical, like Vittorio Storaro’s dark yet lush cinematography (he won an Oscar for his work here and would again for “Dick Tracy” and “The Last Emperor”) and the immersive techno score that sounds like something that might have been cooked up by Vangelis (of “Chariots of Fire” and “Blade Runner”) but was done by Coppola and his father Carmine. Seeing this version as a 4K restoration on the Somerville’s big screen with Dolby surround sound is an end-of-summer cinematic treat that’s not be missed. 

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The Landmark Kendall Square Cinema wrapped up its “Happy Birthday Mr. Hitchcock” party last week with “Vertigo” (1958). This month’s Retro Replay theme is, aptly, “Back to School” – let the Storrowing commence – and kicks off Tuesday with the indelibly raunchy, slightly inappropriate then and now but infectiously hilarious “National Lampoon’s Animal House” (1978) starring the late John Belushi, Tim Matheson and Tom Hulce (“Amadeus”) as the never-say-die social misfits of the Delta Tau Chi fraternity of Faber College. It’s a joyous time capsule from a generation ago about a generation beyond that. The casting is lightning in a bottle, with Kevin Bacon as a militant preppy, John Vernon as the maniacal, zero-tolerance dean, Lynn-born Verna Bloom (“After Hours,” “High Plains Drifter”) as his boozy wife, Bruce McGill as D-Day and Donald Sutherland as a stoned, new-agey professor. National Lampoon magazine was a spinoff of the Harvard Lampoon, located in the famous Lampoon Castle designed by Edmund M. Wheelwright on Mount Auburn Street in Harvard Square. Other upcoming films in the “School” series include “Fame” (1980), “The Breakfast Club” (1985) and “Mean Girls” (2004).

For folks who still have an itch for Hitch, “Loving Highsmith” plays this week as part of the Kendall’s regular theatrical features. It’s Eva Vitija’s documentary about the enigmatic mystery novelist Patricia Highsmith, whose debut novel “Strangers on the Train” was adapted to the screen by Hitchcock.


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.