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. 


Local focus

The extended run of Albert Serra’s gorgeously shot spy thriller “Pacifiction” (reviewed below), revolving around a French diplomat (Benoît Magimel) who discovers subterfuge and shifting political agendas while stationed in Tahiti, continued this week at The Brattle Theatre.

The Brattle is also home to the 23rd rendition of the Boston Underground Film Festival, with all things weird, wild and totally WTF programmed by the self-titled “purveyors of all things strange.” It kicks off Wednesday with “The Unheard,” the latest from local filmmaker Jeffrey A. Brown (“The Beach House), about a young woman (Lachlan Watson) who undergoes an experimental procedure and begins to have aural hallucinations of her mother, who recently and mysteriously vanished. Brown will attend, along with the film’s Cambridge-based screenwriting brothers Michael and Shawn Rasmussen, the tandem behind Alexandre Aja’s 2019 gator-gone-berserk chiller “Crawl” and the John Carpenter-directed “The Ward” (2010).

Other highlights include the Sundance sci-fi sensation “Divinity,” about brothers who kidnap a mogul. The Steven Soderbergh-produced project plays Saturday and features an ensemble that includes Stephen Dorff, Scott Bakula and Bella Thorne. Then there’s a unique spin on Frankenstein with “The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster” (March 26); the latest absurd horror from French filmmaker Quentin Dupieux (“Rubber,” “Deerskin”), called “Smoking Causes Coughing” (Thursday); Neon’s hotly anticipated eco-terrorist thriller “How to Blow Up a Pipeline” (March 26); the Norwegian curio “I’m Sick of Myself” (Saturday); and several shorts packages with such eye-catching labeling as “Butter My Noodle” and “Trigger Warning.” It’s provocative on paper and promises to be strange onscreen.


The Tuesday Retro Replay at the Landmark Kendall Square Theatre in the “Seeing Double: Welles and Lean” series serves up Orson Welles’ dark, border town noir “Touch of Evil” (1958) starring Charleston Heston and Janet Leigh as lovers ensnared in political corruption and murder. Welles cast himself as a grotesque police enforcer on the take, and Hollywood legend Marlene Dietrich gives a deep performance as a lonely soul time has passed by. The screening commemorates the B-masterpiece’s 65th anniversary.


The 14th annual Ciclismo Classico Bike Travel Film Fest rolls in Monday at the Somerville Theatre. On Wednesday comes a screening of Ben Lawrence’s 2021 documentary about the political imprisonment of Wikileaks journalist Julian Assange and the struggle to free him. Assange’s father and brother will be on hand after the screening for a conversation with Harvard professor Biella Coleman. Also on Friday, Channel Zero, the local film consortium obsessed with unearthing old classics, will screen “The Black Cat” (1934) and “Detour” (1945) as well as director Elmer G. Ulmer’s 1955 noir, “Murder is My Beat,” starring Barbra Payton as the femme fatal and Paul Langton and the cop enrapt by her charms.


The Harvard Film Archive continues its “Remapping Latin America Cinema: Chilean Film/Video 1963-2013” with a screening of Marilú Mallet’s “Unfinished Diary” (1982) and Angelina Vázquez’s “Fragments from an Unfinished Diary” (1983) playing March 26. Also as part of the Latin American focus, on Friday the HFA brings in filmmaker Andrés Di Tella to show and talk about his 2007 film “Photographs” as part of its “Archives and Memory” theme. Shifting its cultural lens, the HFA exhibits a series of Korean shorts revolving around celestial bodies as part of the “Youjin Moon, Inner and Outer Space” on Monday. (Tom Meek)


In theaters and streaming

‘Boston Strangler’ (2023)

Police have settled on the Boston Strangler being Albert DeSalvo, like the 1968 film directed by Richard Fleischer (“Soylent Green”) with Tony Curtis as DeSalvo. There are those who believe the 13 women strangled between 1962 and 1964 were committed by more than one person, and that’s where Matt Ruskin’s update comes in. It focuses on two female journalists at the Boston Record-American (later merged into the Boston Herald) who examined crime scene details across police departments and came up with a portrait of killer who had a pattern and a signature – why the spree was also called the Silk Stocking Murders – well before profiling and patterns became protocol. (That practice came shortly afterward, as brilliantly depicted in David Fincher’s underappreciated Netflix series “Mindhunter.”) The focus is on Keira Knightley’s Loretta McLaughlin, a staff writer relegated to the style section, testing Sunbeam toasters and itching to do investigative work. When she begs her boss (local hero Chris Cooper) for the opportunity to poke around, he gives it to her under the condition she’s doing it on her own time. Loretta later pairs up with Carrie Coon’s Jean Cole, a veteran reporter who’s figured out how to navigate the waters of sexism and misogyny, namely by taking none of it and giving it right back. The film becomes a testimony to the women’s tenacity and acumen as they paint a grim picture missed by police and bigger papers such as The Boston Globe. The film hits some snags of tedium and pacing, but it’s not enough derail the intrigue of the hunt. Coon has done a lot of supporting work, and it’s great to see her stretch out more here. She and Cooper are superb, as is Ruskin’s recreation of 1960s Boston. Like Fincher’s “Se7en” (1995), it’s shot with in dark, foreboding, muted tones and echoes that director’s real-life hunt for a killer in “Zodiac” (2007). (Tom Meek) On Hulu.


‘Inside’ (2023)

Greek director Vasillis Katsoupis’ feature debut revolves around Nemo (Willem Dafoe), an art thief who gets trapped inside a Manhattan penthouse when the heist goes awry. The film’s essentially a survival story set in an allegedly habitable environment – someone’s posh home – in one of the most crowded cities in the world, but Nemo’s circumstances are reminiscent of what a marooned sailor on a desert island (think Tom Hanks in “Cast Away”) would face: no human contact, no fresh water, fluctuating temperatures (due to a malfunctioning thermostat) and a dwindling supply of food, which is an unappetizing olio of condiments, molding starches and dog food. Shot in chronological order, Nemo initially tries to escape and later, defeated, begins to hallucinate from isolation and lack of sustenance. His co-stars are the art pieces by Egon Schiele and other semi-renowned artists. Their themes, which deal with the dysfunctional, indifferent and isolationist, echoes the dilemma of the film’s protagonist. Some may complain about the thin plot or its implausibility (how is he not found?), but the bleak narrative is a character study of an unreliable, unraveling narrator who claims to value art above all else and discovers that his dream is a nightmare. (Sarah Vincent) At Landmark Kendall Square Cinema, 355 Binney St., Kendall Square.


‘Pacifiction’ (2023)

Albert Serra’s contemplation on colonialism has the setup, pacing and intrigue of a John le Carré or Graham Greene novel in which people from Western countries gather in a foreign locale, often tropical and lush, and hang out at the expat hotel posing as someone else as they orchestrate their hidden agendas. It’s also got the trouble-in-paradise quirk most recently brought to us by “The White Lotus,” “Triangle of Sadness” and “Infinity Pool.” The setting is Tahiti as we embed with a French envoy by the name of De Roller (Benoit Magimel), who dresses in Tom Wolfe white-linen suits, wears Bono-esque tinted glasses and has a neatly blown coif also similar to the Irish band’s frontman. As part of his duties, De Roller oversees a parade of boats from the back of a Jet Ski, white suit and all, his pants hardly rolled up. There’s a plot in the air that the French may bring nuclear testing back to the Polynesian island (they did it from the ’60s through the 1990s), and this does not sit well with De Roller, as he’s become ingrained with the locals and involved with the local nightclub manager (Pahoa Mahagafanau). The film moves in languid, dreamlike wisps in which you can practically hear waves crashing on the beach in every scene. It mesmerizes as it raises issues of colonialism and exploitation. The title, given the locale and De Roller’s conundrum, is a devilish little play and a perfect accent on Serra’s carefully crafted vision. (Tom Meek) The Brattle Theatre, 40 Brattle St., Harvard 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.