Wednesday, June 19, 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 “(Some of the) Best of 2022” rewind of last year’s cinematic highlights comes to a conclusion at The Brattle Theatre this week with Chloe Okuno’s thriller “Watcher,” in which an American housewife (Maika Monroe) relocates with her husband to Romania and is stalked by a mysterious follower. Questions about her sanity are raised by her husband and Bucharest police who find no trace of the stalker. “Watcher,” a nifty little fllm that surprises the way “Barbarian” did last year, plays Tuesday, and Wednesday brings more women isolated and in peril, a double feature of Martine Syms’ “The African Desperate” and one of the Day’s top films of 2022, “Emily the Criminal,” in which Aubrey Plaza – likely better known for her recent “White Lotus” and “SNL” stints – gives a knockout performance as a take-no-shit Gen-Zer eyeball-deep in debt who can’t get a job and slides into crime. Rounding out “Some of the Best” is Rita Baghdadi‘s documentary “Sirens,” about the all-women metal band Slave to Sirens stirring youthful angst and challenging cultural norms in Beirut. Also this week, The Brattle has two area premieres: Chase Joynt’s “Framing Agnes,” a dramatized documentary about a woman who came to light as part of a 1950s study on sexual identity (played by trans performer Zachary Drucker), and Pete Ohs’ “Jethica,” in which a harrowed woman (Ashley Denise Robinson) sees a dude named Kevin (Will Madden) everywhere she goes – and she’s on a road trip.

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The Tuesday Stanley Kubrick Retro Replays over at the Landmark Kendall Square Theatre wrap this week with a screening of wheat I consider one of the director’s less well-regarded masterpieces, “Full Metal Jacket” (1987), a deft revisionist take on the Vietnam War told in chapters – one at a U.S. Army boot camp, the other with the wet-behind-the-ears young grunts thrown into it. The narrative’s from the point of view of Pvt. Joker (Matthew Modine), a drafted pacifist who takes up the post of a military reporter and embeds with a frontline platoon, but R. Lee Ermey’s performance as a no-nonsense drill instructor rivals that of Louis Gossett Jr. in “An Officer and a Gentleman” (1982). Kubrick shot the whole flick on a soundstage in England. Kubrick’s “Doctor Strangelove” (1964) and “Paths of Glory” (1957) were antiwar as well, and as far as engrossing critical takes on the unwise American involvement in Vietnam, “Metal Jacket” is right up there with “Apocalypse Now” (1979) and “Platoon” (1986).

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Over at the Somerville Theater there’s a weeklong run of John Carpenter’s pre-“Halloween” urban crime drama “Assault on Precinct 13” (1976). The film, a loose reimagining of Howard Hawks’ “Rio Bravo” (1959) starring John Wayne and Dean Martin, tells of a derelict L.A. police precinct that comes under siege by a gangland faction. The lo-fi production values and Carpenter’s classic synth score add to the experience, while echoes from the storming of the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, make this timelessly germane. Also: For Black History Month, the theater screens the silent film “Within Our Gates” (1920) by Oscar Micheaux, considered to be the first Black-made film. Parts of the story, about a woman struggling with racial identity, take place in Boston.

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The “Kinuyo Tanaka – Actress, Director, Pioneer” program continues this week at the Harvard Film Archive with the Kenji Mizoguchi-helmed masterpiece “Sansho the Bailiff” (1954), with Tanaka playing an imperiled mother who flees the cruel Sansho with her children after her husband, a public-minded governor, is exiled in feudal Japan. It plays Monday. On Saturday it’s another of many Mizoguchi-Tanaka collaborations, “The Life of Oharu” (1952), in which Tanaka has a taboo relationship with a lower-class suitor (the great Toshiro Mifune). Sunday marks an encore presentation of one of Tanaka’s directorial efforts, “Forever a Woman” (1955), paired with “Equinox Flower” (1958) – about the rift between a wealthy business man (Shin Saburi) and his daughter (Yoshiko Kuga), with Tanaka as the tycoon’s concerned wife. Yasujirô Ozu (“Tokyo Story”) directs.

On Friday the HFA trains its lens on another groundbreaking female in film, Joyce Chopra, who will be on hand for a screening of her 1985 breakthrough film “Smooth Talk” and a signing of her new memoir, “Lady Director.” Talk about local and on point: Chopra, after college, opened a folk cafe in Harvard Square where Joan Baez played. She would later be hired to shoot the film adaptation of Jay McInerney‘s critically acclaimed big ’80s novel, “Bright Lights, Big City,” but was fired just weeks in, considered too inexperienced after McInerney criticized the script by Chopra’s husband, Tom Cole, for being too drug-free. (Cocaine dusted nearly every page of the novel.) Cole said he was under instruction by producer Sydney Pollack to maintain the wholesome image of lead actor Michael J. Fox. The details, gender inequities of the biz experienced at the time and more are all in Chopra’s memoir and certain to make for a lively in-person discussion, and if you haven’t seen “Smooth Talk,” this is a rare opportunity; it’s hard to find. The film was based on the Joyce Carol Oates (“Blonde”) short story, “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?,” itself inspired by the Tucson, Arizona, murders committed by Charles Schmid. In it, drifter Treat Williams, channeling James Dean, shows up at the house of a 15-year-old girl (Laura Dern) and plies her with words and promises, as menacing as he is enticing. The film cast shades of Terrence Malick’s “Badlands” (1973). After her “Big City” kerfuffle, Chopra prospered in TV, though it’s too bad she never really got to stretch the artistry she demonstrated with “Smooth Talk.” (Tom Meek)

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In theaters and streaming

‘Skinamarink’ (2022)

Siblings 4-year-old Kevin (Lucas Paul) and 6-year-old Kaylee (Dali Rose Tetrault) wake up at home alone one day in 1995 with only the television to comfort them. Objects no longer obey the laws of physics. Doors and windows vanish and reappear, mom and dad beckon from upstairs, but they’re not really there. It’s an eerie limbo Canadian director Kyle Edward Ball has put these kids in, framing each scene by showing only a fraction of the characters’ bodies, which in the parents’ bedroom has an unsettling effect that may remind some of the final scene in “The Blair Witch Project” (1999). Ball’s feature debut is an oneiric mix of subscribers’ nightmares from his YouTube channel as well as some autobiographical elements. Ball shot in his childhood home, and confessed that the protagonists are surrogates for him and his sister. Imagine if director Chantal Akerman, one of Ball’s inspirations, deconstructed and remade “Poltergeist” (1982) except with dissonant audio, screeching jump scares and without adults. The experimental horror film is full of throbbing rooms of darkness and told from an unreliable, distorted POV with a liminal dimensional rift throw in for good measure.That may tug on an moviegoer’s overactive imagination and should sit well with cult enthusiasts and perhaps art house horror connoisseurs, but not so much parents who might not be able to handle seeing children in peril. (Sarah Vincent) At Somerville Theatre, 55 Davis Square.


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.