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. 

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Local focus

 

Love for all things Lynchian as part of the “Damn Fine Cinema: The Films of David Lynch” series continues this week at The Brattle Theatre with screenings of the auteur of weird’s more signature early works; my Lynch fave, “Blue Velvet” (1986) is on Monday and Tuesday, as is “Wild at Heart” (1990). Lynch’s crossover film, “The Elephant Man” (1980) follows Wednesday, shot in gorgeous black-and-white by Oscar-winner Freddie Francis (“Sons and Lovers” and “Glory”) with an A-list cast that includes Anne Bancroft, Anthony Hopkins, John Gielgud and John Hurt in the title role. Also Wednesday is Lynch’s much-talked-about studio muddle of Frank Herbert’s beloved sci-fi novel “Dune” (1984), which Dino De Laurentiis allegedly obliged Lynch to do to get financing for “Blue Velvet.” The series wraps up Thursday with “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me” (1992), the big-screen contemplation of what happened to the television series’ Laura Palmer. The Brattle then switches gears for “The Adventures of Antoine Doinel.” Don’t know who that is? He’s a character portrayed by actor Jean-Pierre Léaud in five films directed by François Truffaut. The series kicks off Friday with Truffaut’s most seminal effort, “The 400 Blows” (1959), about tribes of Parisian youth that roam the streets; “Stolen Kisses” (1968) is Saturday, along with the short “Antoine and Colette” (1962). The other films, “Bed and Board” (1970) and “Love on the Run” (1979) play next week.

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The Brattle sojourns into the experimental Sunday with Grrl Haus Cinema, a collection of short films and video art made by women and non-binary, trans and genderqueer artists. There are two programs featuring works by local filmmakers, but the slate comes with some trigger warnings worth noting before you head out. Also Sunday is the Revolutions Per Minute Fest’s presentation “Attention Wonders,” showcasing short works by local filmmaker Robert Todd. There’s a post-screening discussion with filmmaker Ernesto Livon-Grosman of Boston College and Harvard Film Archive staffer and filmmaker Brittany Gravely.

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Over at the Harvard Film Archive this week you can watch the films of Han Okhi and the Kaidu Club for free online. The virtual program features micro contemplations on Korean society “Running Koreans” (1993 and 2002) and “The Silence of Love” (1991).

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A month of goofy Christmas sidebars start Tuesday as part of the Landmark Kendall Square Cinema’s Retro Replays, with Zach Galligan and Phoebe Cates in the comedic beastie romp “Gremlins” (1984) – don’t feed them after midnight – directed by Joe Dante (“Piranha,” “The Howling”). The 30th anniversary of “Batman Returns” (1992) with Danny DeVito as The Penguin and a purr-fectly cast Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman is next week. (Tom Meek)

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In theaters and streaming

‘Nanny’ (2022)

Writer-director Nikyatu Jusu’s debut, which claimed the 2022 Sundance Film Festival’s Grand Jury Prize, tells the dreamlike sojourn of a Senegalese immigrant named Aisha (Anna Diop), who’s excited to start a job working for breadwinning executive mom Amy (Michelle Monaghan) and care for Amy’s daughter, Rose (Rose Decker). Aisha’s future seems promising, and she belongs to a thriving, inclusive community of color that represents the spectrum of the African diaspora (i.e., African and Caribbean). Marriage is in the cards with Malik (Sinqua Wells), who has a psychic grandmother (Leslie Uggams of “Deadpool”), but Aisha begins to suffer bad dreams, disassociates, loses time and hallucinates. Multiple reasons are explored: the psychological strain of being separated from her son and the pressure of working for an exploitive, hypocritical liberal family are considered, and a scientific explanation and a spiritual one. The madness is often shown through folkloric figures such as Mami Wata, a water spirit who predates the traditional concept of a mermaid, and spiders, who represent Anansi, a trickster god. This postmodern reprise of Ousmane Sembène’s “Black Girl” (1966) almost earns a pat, happy ending. The entire cast delivers textured, three-dimensional performances and Jusu weaves in provocative themes of exploitation, microaggression and mental illness. (Sarah Vincent) At Landmark Kendall Square Cinema, 355 Binney St. and on Amazon Prime Video starting Dec. 16.

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‘Please Baby Please’ (2022)

Brandishing a clear reverence for David Lynch’s “Blue Velvet,” Amanda Kramer’s “Please Baby Please” nearly buries itself in eccentricities. It stays afloat due to the commitment of its performers, a clear-eyed vision and a playful atmosphere that imbues the screen with rich colors and dizzying vibrancy. Recently married Suze (Andrea Riseborough) and Arthur (Henry Melling) witness a murder by a gang of leather-clad greasers and embark on an awakening of their sexual identities. Patrick Meade Jones’ cinematography bathes the story in fluorescent baby blues and fuchsias, moving the lighting as if to hover a spotlight over the head of the performers and make them stand out against the backdrop. Visually engaging as it may be, the film wouldn’t succeed without performers able to anchor the story, and Riseborough and Melling show a willingness to give themselves over to the roles. Riseborough stands out in particular, demonstrating precise control over her physicality as she transitions from feline grace to something more assertive and stereotypically “masculine” as she hovers and leans, placing herself in the ways of others. While the script begins to wear thin and certain chamber piece sequences in which characters monologue at one another grow tiresome, the film never loses control and finishes with an immersive and satisfying crescendo. (Allyson Johnson) Available for rent and purchase online.

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‘The Inspection’ (2022)

Elegance Bratton’s autobiographical account is about Ellis, a gay Black man (Jeremy Pope) joining the Marines because his mother (Gabrielle Union) kicks him out and, as a homeless Black man, he decides his time on the street is something of a death sentence. Pope’s Ellis tells us he’s going to make his life mean something, but this is during the don’t-ask, don’t-tell era, when a whiff of “gay” would mean being hazed in brutal ways you’ve seen in other boot camp dramas such as “Full Metal Jacket” (1987) and “A few Good Men” (1992). “The Inspection” is not on par with those films in terms of production and scope, but it is deeply personal and moving. Pope does so much behind the eyes to convey the pain of enduring cruelty and repressing his identity during a hateful time, and Bokeem Woodbine sparks fire as an unrelenting drill sergeant, propelling the film the way R. Lee Ermey and Louis Gossett Jr. did in “Metal Jacket” and “An Officer and a Gentleman” (1982) respectively. (Tom Meek) At Landmark Kendall Square Cinema, 355 Binney St.

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‘The Fabelmans’ (2022)

Steven Spielberg’s nostalgic and self-indulgent semi-autobiographical tale – a theme this week – frames a young filmmaker coming of age during the end of the Great Age of Hollywood in an America rife with antisemitism. We begin with a young Sammy Fabelman (Mateo Zoryan, replaced as the character ages by Gabriel LaBelle, of the “American Gigolo” television series) reluctantly taken to his first film by doting parents (Paul Dano and Michelle Williams). The film, “The Greatest Show on Earth” (1952), and the experience spark an awakening as Sammy becomes obsessed with the film and recreating the train crash scene with miniatures, concocting something of a home movie studio. Then, because dad lands a dream job with IBM in California, the Fabelman clan relocates to the cauldron of cinematic wonders; Sammy, surrounded by blond Adonises, is bullied regularly for being Jewish, but instead of folding Sammy takes up a camera. The results, often shared with the community, is more a uniting salve than a harsh light on inequities and othering. It’s an odyssey of self-definition and embracing one’s inner passion that moves poetically in chapterlike strokes and gives insight into one of the most creative cinematic minds of our generation, a jagged, bittersweet sojourn that made Spielberg the visual fable spinner he is. The solid ensemble includes a gruff Judd Hirsch and Seth Rogen as extended Fabelman kin and a quirky, deft cameo choice as the aged John Ford (not to be named, as it’s a ticklish surprise that should not be ruined, but I will say the person is named elsewhere in this column). It may be the most inspired casting of the year. (Tom Meek) At Landmark Kendall Square Cinema, 355 Binney St. and AMC Assembly Row 12, 395 Artisan Way, Assembly Square, Somerville.


Cambridge writer Tom Meek’s 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.