Sunday, June 23, 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. 

whitespace

Local focus

The Brattle wraps up its Peter Greenaway focus this week with “The Belly of an Architect” (1987) starring Brian Dennehy as the titled designer with stomach issues and Chloe Webb (of “Sid and Nancy”) as his wife, as well as Greenaway’s 1988 follow-up, “Drowning by Numbers” about the marriage woes of three generations of women. The films play Tuesday and Wednesday respectively. On Friday, it’s all things jazz and Paris with Bertrand Tavernier’s “Round Midnight” (1986) starring legendary saxophonist Dexter Gordon. The film is co-presented by Cambridge Arts and the Cambridge Jazz Foundation, with an introduction by Gordon’s widow, Maxine, author of  “Sophisticated Giant: The Life and Legacy of Dexter Gordon.” The Brattle Theatre gets into retro arthouse horror Saturday with last year’s critically acclaimed, linked chillers from Ti West starring art-horror goddess Mia Goth in multiple roles: “X”  and “Pearl.” The former is a ’70s slasher throwback with Goth as an imperiled nubile, and the latter is the backstory of how a young woman in the 1920s grew up to have a murderous taste for blood. On a lighter note, March 5 is Reel Film Day, for which The Brattle cues up a double bill of classics: Gene Kelley’s toe-tappin’ “Singin’ in the Rain” (1952) and Preston Sturges’ “Sullivan Travels” starring Joel McCrea and Veronica Lake.

whitespace

whitespace

Barbra Stanwyck is at her sharp, commanding best as the seminal femme fatal in “Double Indemnity” (1944), this week’s (final) “Wild About Wilder” Retro Replay at the Landmark Kendall Square Theatre. In this edge-of-your seat thriller (sorry “Sharper,” reviewed below) Stanwyck’s bored housewife seduces an insurance salesman (“My Three Sons” dad Fred MacMurray) and enlists him into dark plots. The meticulously crafted story by Wilder and Raymond Chandler is classic noir, told from the moment of trauma (MacMurray’s insurance agent falling into his office with a gunshot wound) and in flashbacks. The secret sauce is Edward G. Robinson as the insurance adjuster sniffing around the adulterers. The film was nominated for seven Oscars (Stanwyck, best film and screenwriting among them).

whitespace

At the Somerville Theatre, all abide with The Dude on Saturday for a midnight screening of the Coen brothers’ signature bowling comedy noir, “The Big Lebowski” (1998), with Jeff Bridges as an L.A. slacker/aging hipster who’s mistaken for a millionaire by thugs orchestrating a shakedown. The shaggy-dog ensemble features Coens regulars John Goodman (“Raising Arizona”), Peter Stormare (the wood chipper guy in “Fargo”), Steve Buscemi (Stormare’s partner in “Fargo”) and John Turturro (“Barton Fink”), as well as Julianne Moore and Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea. 

For Women’s History Month on March 5, and as part of its “Silents” program, the Somerville Theatre will screen films starring early era cinematic pioneers Mary Pickford and Lillian Gish with a live score by accompanist Jeff Rapsis who, using a digital synthesizer, improvises to emulate the sounds of a silent-era orchestra pit. First up is “Annie Laurie” (1927), a saga about warring Scottish clans (many manly men in kilts) starring era mega-star Gish, followed by an an early adaptation of “Cinderella” (1914) with Pickford in the title role. Pickford would pick up the second Best Actress Oscar for her turn as a Southern belle in “Coquette” (1929) and co-founded the United Artists studio with husband Douglas Fairbanks.

whitespace

The Harvard Film Archive closes out its Black History Month program with a screening of Kathleen Collins’ “Losing Ground” (1982), which follows a philosophy professor (Seret Scott) who grows jealous of her artist husband (Bill Gunn) and his model (Maritza Rivera). The film is one of the first distributed films directed by a black female filmmaker. “Losing Ground” plays Monday, with Scott giving an artist talk and performance before the screening. On Friday the HFA moves deep into its “Remapping Latin America Cinema: Chilean Film/Video 1963-2013” program with Raúl Ruiz’s “Little White Dove” (1973), about a poor schoolgirl and a well-to-do young man who become romantically involved, and darker fare, including contemplations on killing with Miguel Littin’s “Jackal of Nahueltoro” (1969) and Alejandro Fernández Almendras’ “To Kill a Man” (2014) screening on Saturday. Things remain dark March 5 with José Luis Sepúlveda’s “El Pejesapo” (2007), about a maladjusted man who fails suicide. Leaning into Women’s History Month, there’s “Naomi Campbel” (2013), directed by Camila José Donoso and Nicolas Videla about a transwoman who tries to gets plastic surgery via reality TV. 

whitespace

In theaters and streaming

‘EO’ (2022)

In spirit, an updating of the Robert Bresson 1966 classic “Au hasard Balthazar,” a story about a mistreated donkey that ultimately becomes a provocative contemplation on Christ. This Polish Oscar entry for Best International Feature says much about humanity, as the people who meet and interact with a wayward ass meandering across the country’s photogenic landscape treat it with wide-ranging regard – contempt and compassion among them. Jerzy Skolimowski, best known for his 1982 film “Moonlighting” about a Polish laborer in London (played by Jeremy Irons), has produced a focused narrative that’s big in scope and rich in visuals. It has the great French actor Isabelle Huppert in a small part as a countess. On Amazon Prime Video.

whitespace

‘Sharper’ (2023)

Benjamin Caron’s con-game-within-a-con-game thriller has an enviable cast, but its perfunctory plot manipulation and shallow, barely likable characters make it a slow simmer with just enough close-to-boil points to make it watchable. It would be lucky to be grouped in with “House of Games: Part 2” (if there were such a thing) or “The Sting II” (1983). The film’s told in chapters around its four main roles: Sandra (Briana Middleton), a bright doctoral candidate doing her dissertation on radical feminism, Tom (Justice Smith) a Greenwich Village bookshop owner with a thing for signed first copies of “Jane Eyre” who’s gone through some dark times, Max (Sebastian Stan), the dashing, mysterious X-factor, and Madeline (Julianne Moore), who may or may not be Max’s mom and who’s dating an establishment New York billionaire (John Lithgow). Sandra walks into Tom’s shop and also has a love for all things Brontë, but naturally not everyone is as they appear. Caron pulls back the veils through different POVs, and while we get new information that changes the context of the narrative, much that goes on in “Sharper” feels like any one of the characters could easily unravel the ever-twisting ruse with a good google. Perhaps love, sex and Brontë makes them blind? Caron’s slick, opulent framings and crossed-path revisions do intrigue, but this watcher always felt one step ahead, which, combined with the self-interested players, nearly had me in hate-watch mode by the end. I could see this cast sail with a smarter script and deeper, more empathetic characters, but as it is, the one who loses here is the watcher. On Apple TV+.


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.