Enjoy ‘Breakfast Club’ and other comfort food, and we have reviews of ‘Saloum,’ ‘Pearl,’ more
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.
Remembering Jean-Luc Godard
The world lost a cinematic pioneer last week when director Jean-Luc Godard passed away. Godard was a major cornerstone of the French New Wave movement. Before he took up a camera, he was a critic with fellow New Waver-to-be François Truffaut at Cahiers du Cinema, where the seeds for “auteur theory” (that the director is the author of the film) took root, later more widely popularized by American critic Andrew Sarris. Between the Golden Stage and Blockbuster eras, cinema became wildly inventive, experimental and human. The French New Wave, Italian Neo-Realism (led by Fellini), Kurosawa and New Hollywood produced some of the greatest films ever made. That includes Godard’s “Breathless,” about a petty gangster (Jean-Paul Belmondo) who shoots a police officer in a moment of panic and shelters in the flat of his girlfriend (Jean Seberg), a deconstructive homage of noir (and a fond farewell to Bogart, who had just died) that caught fire. It was made in 1960, along with Hitchcock’s “Psycho,” both in black and white and tapping into a bleak underbelly of the human condition with universal appeal. Apart from genre, the films were produced differently – Hitch through the studios, while the foundation of the New Wave was shooting on location with minimal crew, often with just ambient light and a degree of improv.
Godard went in many different creative directions, making documentaries and shorts and even delving into sci-fi with “Alphaville” (1965), something of a futuristic noir before there was “Blade Runner” (1982) and clearly influenced by Chris Marker’s “La Jetée” (1962, remade as “12 Monkeys”). His last feature-length endeavor, “Goodbye to Language” (2014), was a 3D visual narrative about a woman ruing the death of her lover after their affair is discovered by her husband. My favorite Godards were mostly his ’60s works after “Breathless”: the trippy, socially satirical “Weekend” (1967); a take on street kids swept into gangster schemes in “Band of Outsiders” (1964); the film-set meta of “Contempt” (1963), starring Brigitte Bardot and Jack Palance; and “One + One” (1968), Godard’s nearly two-hour music video of the Rolling Stone’s “Sympathy for the Devil,” with Mick and crew on tap. In 1985, he roiled the Archdiocese of Boston and drew many of its faithful into the streets protesting his modern-day retelling of the Virgin Mary story in “Hail Mary.” He was an iconoclast up till his very last splice, one who will be reverend, emulated – likely without genuine success – and missed. (Tom Meek)
A bit of shameless self-promotion: You can catch a free screening Tuesday of Aynsley Floyd’s crowdsourced documentary “Turkey Town” at the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline. The Cambridge tie-in – part of that crowdsourcing – is that this guy shot several clips of the gobblers who have taken over Cambridge streets and uprooted gardens. The film examines the challenges of living with wild turkeys, who were rewilded in the 1970s and have made a comeback over the past few years inside Route 128. Folks from the Mass Audubon Society and other wildlife experts, as well as Floyd, will be on hand after the screening. Floyd, who lives in Brookline and has an MFA in film and media arts from Emerson College, says her next doc will be about those who rehabilitate injured wild animals. (Tom Meek)
The “Taking the Bleak with the Sweet: The Films of Mike Leigh” program continues this week at The Brattle Theatre with one of my favorite of his flicks, “Naked” (1993), a dark character study of a sociopath (David Thewlis, giving a lived-in performance) who commits sexual assault and seeks shelter in the abode of an ex-girlfriend and her flatmate. The film, which plays Monday and Thursday, is a beguiling, lurid depiction of cruel games and the philosophy that one can be beyond reproach or consequence. Others on the Leigh slate are the aptly titled “Bleak Moments” (1971), revolving around a secretary with an intellectually disabled sister, awkward boyfriend and eccentric neighbor, playing Tuesday; and perhaps the most critically hailed of all Leigh’s films (and rightly so), “Secrets & Lies” (1996). The film, about a young black woman (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) who was adopted at birth and seeks out her biological, factory worker mother (Brenda Blethyn), was nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Picture; Jean-Baptiste and Blethyn were nominated as well, and Leigh as both writer and director – he’s been nominated seven times, but this was his only nod behind the lens, as the rest were for scripts. “Secret & Lies” plays Wednesday.
This week’s “New Restorations” slate is an olio of far-ranging subjects. First up is Lodge (“Clean, Shaven”) Kerrigan’s “Keane” (2004), about a schizophrenic (Damian Lewis, so good as Steve McQueen in “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”) searching for his missing daughter in New York City. It and the restored kung fu classic “Drunken Master II: The Legend of Drunken Master” (1994) play Friday and Saturday. “Alma’s Rainbow” (1994) comes Saturday and Sept. 25, and Mira (“Salaam Bombay!”) Nair’s romance, “Mississippi Masala” (1991) is Sept. 25-26. It stars Denzel Washington and Sarita Choudhury as an interracial couple (she’s Indian, and her dad is suing Idi Amin for taking their Ugandan land; he’s African American, so) in the notoriously racially turbulent Southern state. (Tom Meek)
At the Harvard Film Archive, the “¡Rebeladas! Una Approximación al Cine de Mujeres en Latinoamérica” program of Latina-made film starts Friday with Camila José Donoso’s documentary “Casa Roshell,” about a Mexican nightclub where men can explore being women (2017). On Saturday and Sept. 25, it’s a double play of Sara Gómez’s “One Way or Another” (1977) about the relationship between a factory worker and a schoolteacher who have very different political views of revolutionary Cuba. Also on Saturday is Margot Benacerraf’s documentary “Araya” (1959), which follows the daily toil of life on the titular barren Venezuelan peninsula. Lourdes Portillo’s true-crime doc “The Devil Never Sleeps” (1994) plays Sept. 25. Many screenings have accompanying shorts from other Latina filmmakers. Separate from the “¡Rebeladas!” program and for those who love all things green and blossomed, there’s Leandro Listorti’s botanical contemplation “Herbaria” (2022) on Monday.
Today the Harvard Art Museums cues up for its “Screens for Teens” – free films for young people and mainly about young people – “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” (2020), about teen abortion. Sidney Flanigan is a relative newcomer in the lead performance but feels like a veteran. Other films on the fall slate include the Korean zombie-apocalypse thriller “Train to Busan” (2016), the travails of indigenous teens in “Portraits from a Fire” (2021) and “The Muppets Christmas Carol” (1992). Registration is suggested, as seating is limited. (Tom Meek)
Amid all the tabloid hoopla over Olivia Wilde’s just-in-theaters spin on futuristic female oppression “Don’t Worry Darling,” namely the rift between the director and star Florence Pugh (“Midsommar,” “Black Widow”), the Somerville Theatre is showing Pugh in her Oscar-nominated turn in Greta Gerwig’s 2019 adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women” on Tuesday and Wednesday. The film, which was shot here, was the top film of 2019 as picked by the Boston Society of Film Critics. For the midnight classic on Saturday it’s “Wait Until Dark,” the classic horror-thriller by Terence Young, who normally made Bond films (“Dr. No,” “Thunderball,” “From Russia With Love”), starring the iconic Audrey Hepburn as a blind woman in a New York beset by hoodlums (Alan Arkin and Richard Crenna) searching for a heroin-stuffed doll. (Tom Meek)
This week’s “Back to School” Retro Replay Tuesday at the Landmark Kendall Square Cinema is the John Hughes detention-hall classic “The Breakfast Club” (1985) starring Emilio Estevez, Anthony Michael Hall, Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald and Ally Sheedy. The diverse stereotypes represented – jock, sensitive nerd, bad boy, preppy princes and alterno-arty girl – collide off each other in the cooped-up quarters. Troubles and revelations arise and, natch, there’s some group-bonding hijinks as they rail against institutional oppression and adults who can’t see them for who they are. (Tom Meek)
In theaters and streaming
Sly Stallone slips into a superhero role for the first time since “Judge Dredd” (1995). It’s a stiff adaptation by Julius Avery, who showed such promise with the World War II zombie flick “Overlord” (2018). The rigidness has nothing to do with Sly’s age; he’s actually a game go and quite charismatic. It’s the execution. The set is a trash-strewn fictional city, a Gotham, I guess, where lore has it that two immortal twin brothers imbued with superpowers – Samaritan and Nemesis – became mortal enemies and fought to the death, wreaking havoc in the streets. Now 13-year-old street urchin and petty thief Sam (Javon Walton), enamored with the twins’ legacy, thinks his tenement apartment neighbor Joe (Stallone) may just be one of the twins. I mean, the guy gets blasted by a passing truck and thrown in the air and is able to rise back in ambulatory form quicker than Deadpool. Sam’s shenanigans get him into deep trouble with the mob, and Joe has to pull up his hoodie and get into it. The mob head (Pilou Asbæk, with frosted hair and looking like the baddie who goes toe to toe with Charlize Theron in “Atomic Blonde”) is able to channel the evil twin via a mask and magical hammer. It’s fun to see Stallone walk through raining bullets like Schwarzenegger’s Terminator, but other than that it’s a creaky, joyless ride. (Tom Meek) On Amazon Prime Video.
‘See How They Run’ (2022)
Tom George’s murder-mystery-cum-comedy has the trappings of the brilliantly raucous 1976 whodunit “Murder by Death,” which starred Peter Sellers, Truman Capote and Peter Falk among a stellar ensemble. It’s not as sharp, but then again the script of that ’70s romp was penned by Neil Simon. The setup here is a 1950s London production of Agatha Christie’s long-running play “The Mousetrap” that’s to be turned into a cinematic adaptation. But even before the screenwriter (David Oyelowo) can write page one, the director (Adrien Brody, great in the small part) is found dead backstage during a performance. What ensues is a deconstructive bit of nod-and-wink wit work as the investigation takes root with all suspected and, as it goes on, more bodies added to the pile. Agatha herself makes an appearance (Shirley Henderson) and the detectives on the case are devilishly named Inspector Stoppard (Sam Rockwell) and rookie Constable Stalker (Saoirse Ronan) – the former clearly a play on playwright Tom Stoppard and the latter a multilayered joke, as Stalker is fan struck by all the famous thespians. The film loses some of its edge as it wear on and Rockwell seems a bit off for a part that begs for Sellers, but Brody and Ronan (“Little Women,” “Lady Bird”) keep things clicking along. It’s good murder-mystery fun and feels a bit like a warmup for David O. Russell’s “Amsterdam,” which opens next month. (Tom Meek) At AMC Assembly Row 12, 395 Artisan Way, Assembly Square, Somerville.
Bangui’s Hyenas, a trio of famed mercenaries who act more like heroic neo-Western vigilantes with the fraternal bond of the Three Musketeers, are forced to detour during a recent mission with a drug dealer. Chaka (Yann Gael), their logistician, decides to restock in his hometown despite the misgivings of the trio’s grey-dreaded, mystic Minuit (Mentor Ba, whose character’s name translates loosely to “midnight” in English). After they stash their take of illicit gold from the mission, Rafa (Roger Sallah), an orange-bearded hedonist, drags the group to a quirky resort area called the Baobab Camp where they reunite with an old acquaintance, Omar (Bruno Henry), who’s not a welcome sight. The slide into horror comes when an ancient curse is unearthed and all at the camp, including the trio, are in instant peril. The crime-thriller preamble, followed by the incurrence of the supernatural, makes for fast-paced, stylish action in the hands of Congolese filmmaker Jean Luc Herbulot, delivering in his sophomore effort. The title refers to an actual location and an ancient kingdom in Senegal; the opening scenes take place amid the chaos of a 2003 coup in Guinea-Bissau. For those unfamiliar with the region’s history and folklore it plays like a simple mashup of action-thrillers and horror, with what rises from that ancient curse manifesting itself via demonic possession, with an evil overlord pulling the strings. It’s a bit overwrought, and ultimately style overtakes substance, but the former helps distract from noticing the latter until a denouement that leaves us with loose ends and a bleak conclusion. (Sarah Vincent) At The Brattle Theatre, 40 Brattle St., Harvard Square, through Thursday.
Ti West’s “X” took the mumble-gore concept and elevated it to a polished art form, paying homage to 1970s horror classics while breaking new ground. It was good fun to see Mia Goth (“Suspiria”) pull double duty as an budding porn star and the bloodthirsty octogenarian who rents a film crew a farmhouse cottage to make their sex tape. The name of that murderous elder was Pearl, and this is her origin story: Born to a strict, demanding German mother (Tandi Wright) and, as we catch up with her as a young woman, still living with that overly righteous mom (think Piper Laurie in “Carrie”) and invalid father (Matthew Sunderland) in the same Texas farmhouse. It’s 1918, Pearl’s husband (whose elder incarnation is in “X” too) is off fighting in World War I and, because of tuberculosis, everyone’s wearing masks just as we were during Covid. Pearl’s an odd one – part dour daughter and part rebellious hellion who’s frequently aroused sexually and steps out on her husband with a scarecrow (seriously) and the local projectionist (David Corenswet). Somewhere in there, her murderousness begins. Whether it’s lust or dashed dreams that triggers it, or more a mental illness (she keeps telling people “Something’s not right with me”), is unclear. What is clear is Goth’s deep and impressive immersion here, projecting broad emotions and conveying persona changeups on a dime. It’s a nice bookend to “X” but lacks that film’s verve and energy, partly because you know where it’s heading. Come to think of it, “X” with grim reaper granny Pearl would make a great double bill with “Barbarian,” in which a similar ghoulish nana roams the abandoned slums of Detroit. (Tom Meek) At Apple Cinemas Cambridge, 168 Alewife Brook Parkway, Cambridge Highlands near Alewife and Fresh Pond; the Somerville Theatre, 55 Davis Square; and AMC Assembly Row 12, 395 Artisan Way, Assembly Square, Somerville.
‘The Woman King’ (2022)
Gina Prince-Bythewood (“Beyond the Lights,” “The Old Guard”) creates an economic epic in her latest, the historical action-drama “The Woman King.” Inspired by true events, the film follows Viola Davis’ Nanisca, a general tasked with training the next set of Agojie, the all-female warrior unit protecting the West African kingdom of Dahomey between the 17th and 19th centuries. Set in the 1820s, the film is fully formed, with set details and vibrant costuming adding to the layers of these characters, this community and the forces they’re up against as the Dahomey kingdom looks to extradite themselves from the slave trade. Davis is the main star here, imposing and regal as warrior and protector, but the entire cast is filled with talents who burn bright. John Boyega, in perhaps his loosest, most fun role to date, drips with charisma, while Thuso Mbedu anchors the story with her character’s youthful naivety but profound want to help her kingdom prosper. But it’s Lashana Lynch (following a turn in last year’s “No Time to Die”) as the weathered and spirited warrior Izogie who announces herself as a force to be reckoned with; her physicality and athleticism working in tandem with soulful eyes. Prince-Bythewood and cinematographer Polly Morgan have created a vast world filled with color and triumph, and a bone-rattling action flick as well as a timeless piece of entertainment packed with moments of celebration, competition, death and reunion. Prince-Bythewood has made some wonderful films, but “The Woman King” may be her very best. (Allyson Johnson) At 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.