Thursday, June 20, 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 area premieres of Chase Joynt’s experimental documentary on the trans experience “Framing Agnes” and Pete Ohs’s stalker ghost story “Jethica” continue their runs through the week at The Brattle Theatre. For Super Bowl Sunday, for those who don’t know (or care) that quarterback Tom Brady retired (again), know what “80 for Brady” (reviewed below) is about and only vaguely know even of the Puppy Bowl, The Brattle’s got you covered like a ball-hawking DB with a “Superb Owl” double shot: Jim Henson’s “Labyrinth” (1986) starring the Thin White Duke as a goblin king opposite Jennifer Connelly and a bevy of Muppet beasties, and the original “Clash of the Titans” (1981), with an all-star ensemble that includes Burgess Meredith (Rocky’s ring man, and in the 1939 “Of Mice and Men”), Claire Bloom, Harry Hamlin (who is in that “80 for Brady” dreck), the great Laurence Olivier, Maggie Smith (“Downton Abbey”) and the original Bond girl, Ursula Andress. And no, you’re not seeing “Super Bowl” misspelled – each fantasy film features a friendly strigiform – that is, an owl – on whom the plot pivots.

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The Tuesday Retro Replays over at the Landmark Kendall Square Theatre switch to all things Billy Wilder with “Wild About Wilder” for February. The series kicks off with the deconstructed dark kiss blown at Golden Age Hollywood and fading fame, “Sunset Boulevard” (1950), starring Willam Holden as a washed-up screenwriter beholden to faded screen star Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson). The self-referential material has “Greed” (1924) director Erich von Stroheim playing Desmond’s over-devoted butler and Cecil B. DeMille as himself (“Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up”). The film was nominated for 11 Academy Awards, winning three, but none in the major categories. Wilder himself has won six Oscars and is one of 18 directors to win two for directing (“The Lost Weekend,” “The Apartment”); only three other directors have won more (Frank Capra and William Wyler with three, and John Ford with four). Other films on the monthlong slate are “Sabrina” (1954) for Valentine’s Day, “Some Like it Hot” (1959) and “Double Indemnity” (1944).

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Over at the Somerville Theater there’s more of the Daniels’ Oscar-nominated attention-deficit-disorder-satiating adventure into the multiverse, “Everything Everywhere All at Once” on Monday and Tuesday. Also playing throughout the week is Orson Welles’ 1962 adaptation of Franz Kafka’s totalitarian nightmare “The Trial” starring Anthony Perkins (“Psycho”), then three from director Joanna Hogg and Tilda Swinton with their latest “The Eternal Daughter,” a ghost story with Swinton playing mother and daughter, as well as “The Souvenir” (2019) and “The Souvenir: Part II,” in which Swinton plays alongside real-life daughter Honor Swinton Byrne, playing a young woman in a challenging relationship with a charismatic but untrustworthy man (Tom Burke).whitespace

 

At the Harvard Film Archive, there’s “Nobody’s Hero,” the latest from French filmmaker Alain Guiraudie (“Stranger by the Lake”), about a city in a panic from recent acts of terrorism and a lonely soul’s relationship with a prostitute. It plays Monday and Sunday, and has further February dates. On that theme of money for pleasure, on Sunday the “Kinuyo Tanaka – Actress, Director, Pioneer” program begins to wind down with “Girls of the Night” (1961), about a woman trying to adapt after an anti-prostitution law is put in place in late 1950s Japan. It shows Feb. 12. (Tom Meek)

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In theaters and streaming

‘80 For Brady’ (2023)

With last week’s announcement that Tom Brady is retiring from football (again), and without his Brazilian sugar mama’s uber-model money to fall back on (though there is that big broadcast contract, but then also that crypto scandal), Brady transitions to a new career (well, maybe more of a dilettante side hustle?) as film producer and actor with a little help from some industry vets: writer, actor and producer Kyle Marvin of “The Climb” (2019), making his directorial debut, and writing duo Emily Halpern and Sarah Haskins, who penned “Booksmart” (2019). The story’s inspiration came from a North Attleboro “Over 80 for Brady” fan club consisting of five widowed lifelong friends. A grandson pitched the story, and Hollywood transformed the gaming grannies into four adventure-seeking, mischief-making ladies hustling to get into the 2017 Super Bowl (with its amazing comeback against Atlanta) and swooning over the then New England Patriots quarterback’s good looks – a vanity project indeed. Lou (Lily Tomlin, an Oscar away from an Egot) is so focused on getting to the game that she almost loses sight of her real goal, creating memories with her best friends: bewigged, Barbie-like bombshell-turned-author Trish (Oscar winner Jane Fonda), gambling widow Maura (Rita Moreno, who has her Egot) and fun nerd Betty (Oscar winner Sally Fields). Sadly, Tomlin’s line delivery is wooden and inert, even with her “Grace and Frankie” costar Fonda; she’s better doing deprecating physical humor or when paired with Brady. Moreno, the sole focus of the costume designer’s favor, commands every scene she’s in. Fields has natural chemistry with everyone – even an unseen man through a port-a-potty door. That’s about all that works. Flush twice. (Sarah Vincent and Tom Meek) At Apple Cinemas Cambridge, 168 Alewife Brook Parkway, Cambridge Highlands near Alewife and Fresh Pond; Landmark Kendall Square Cinema, 355 Binney St.; and AMC Assembly Row 12, 395 Artisan Way, Assembly Square, Somerville.

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‘Infinity Pool’ (2023)

Suffering writer’s block for six years, novelist James Foster (Alexander Skarsgård, “The Northman”) looks for inspiration by vacationing at a resort on La Tolqa, a fictional island, thanks to his accompanying rich wife, Em Foster (Cleopatra Coleman, television’s “The Last Man on Earth”). Ignoring Em’s reservations, James accepts an invitation to hang out from fellow tourist Gabi (scream queen Mia Goth), an alleged fan. James accidentally hits a local while driving Gabi’s rental car and discovers Gabi’s real (and dark) attraction to the island. It’s a worthy third feature from Brandon Cronenberg following “Antiviral” (2012) and “Possessor” (2020) that continues the body horror family business – he’s the son of renowned Canadian director David (“Crimes of the Future,” “Scanners”) and Carolyn Zeifman, who worked with dad since “Rabid” (1977). Here the junior Cronenberg shows a distinct, varied visual style: the panoramic vistas of winding seaside roads perforated by the claustrophobic, chaotic bursts of violence that Gabi and her gang of adult privileged delinquents engage in; or depicting James’ ongoing kaleidoscope of internal transcendent epiphanies that come to light at a disco, jail and even at an orgy. Cronenberg’s universe exaggerates reality to critique postmodern colonialism and cultural appropriation. Without understanding or respecting the Tolqans, Gabi and James consume Tolqan culture and leverage it to project their own “brutal” nature back on the native people. In one scene, they wear grotesque Tolqan masks to terrorize and intimidate a local official. Goth (of “Suspiria” and recent retro horror collabs with Ti West “X” and “Pearl”) steals the show as she lounges on the hood of a moving car brandishing a gun, swigging wine out of a bottle, fussing with a bucket of fried chicken and screaming, “Jamesieeeeeee!” (Sarah Vincent) At Somerville Theatre, 55 Davis Square and AMC Assembly Row 12, 395 Artisan Way, Assembly Square, Somerville.

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‘Rickshaw Girl’ (2021)

With the largely positive critical reaction to the Indian colonial-era actioner “RRR” (on Netflix) and this socioeconomic cultural delve, one could argue that South Asian entertainment exports are finally being recognized as something more than Bollywood dance spectacles. Directed by Amitabh Reza Chowdhury from Mitali Perkins’ book, “Rickshaw Girl” follows the trajectory of teen Naima (a likable Novera Rahman) whose family doesn’t have much to get by on or approve of her dreams of being a painter. When her father, a rickshaw driver, is ailing and needs money for meds, Naima takes up gig jobs such as being a maid; when none pan out, she takes up dad’s rickshaw by night. Because it’s a profession limited to men, Naima cuts her hair and dresses like a boy, revealing social issues of gender identity, equality and subjugation. There is a dance number, and the vibrant Bengali locales entice, but ultimately the film suffers from not bringing anything new to the trope and its flat emotional affect. (Tom Meek) On Amazon Prime Video.

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‘Alive’ (2023)

Set in the present-day United Kingdom, a zombie outbreak leads to crossed paths. Dan (Neil Sheffield), a furtive man, lives in an isolated, boarded-up country home. Teenager Helen (Ellen Hillman), her boyfriend, Kevin (Kian Pritchard), their teacher and her little brother, Barney (Andrew May-Gohrey) are heading to a rumored uninfected island. Rounding out the parties are Father Albert (Stuart Matthews) and his congregation, who aspire to enter “the valley,” another purported safe haven where offering up a fertile uterus is the price of admission. Each group becomes a standard-bearer for the future of society. Dan is a throwback and maintains the standards of the old society – accepting the stigma of sickness, unwilling to abandon his humanity and showing mercy to strangers. The congregation has a veneer of kindness, but embraces the brutal realities of this new world, reveling in zombie kills and entrapping and using other survivors to achieve their own agendas. Helen is the moral visionary who balances the challenges of the new world while retaining her autonomy and human compassion in the face of a threat more dangerous than zombies: humans who seek to offer her as broodmare trade bait. The CGI is dreadful, and half the movie is consumed by overused, forgettable zombie tropes. That said, without being pedantic, the story becomes a viable metaphor to critique contemporary politics, including the dehumanization of womb-bearers and those who become infected during a pandemic. While the denouement’s Roddenberry-esque aspirational optimism may strain suspension of disbelief, it is preferable to the rote logistics of survival in a dystopian world. (Sarah Vincent) On Amazon Prime Video.


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.