Friday, May 17, 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 Brattle Theatre launches its “The Emperor & The Wolf: The Films of Akira Kurosawa & Toshiro Mifune” program this week. The director and actor combined for some of the most indelibly iconic films in cinematic history, collaborations that are up there with those of Fellini and Mastroianni and Scorsese and De Niro. Kurosawa is known mostly for his samurai westerns and takes on Shakespeare, but the program kicks off Tuesday with a pairing of noirs: “Stray Dog” (1949), in which Mifune’s green cop loses his gun to a pickpocket and scours the city to recover it and his pride; and “Drunken Angel” (1948), the duo’s first collaboration, about the relationship between a criminal enforcer and a doctor in postwar Japan. Wednesday brings another noir pairing, of “The Bad Sleep Well” (1960) and “High and Low” (1963, a fave of mine), in which Mifune plays an industrialist whose child is kidnapped by an underground faction. Thursday cues up the classic “Rashomon” (1950), which rewrote the rules of cinematic narrative, telling from four points of view the same story of a roadside ambush of a couple by a bandit. On Friday it’s another double feature: “The Hidden Fortress” (1958), the samurai classic about a warrior and two fools tasked to retrieve a princess from an impregnable fort that so inspired George Lucas and became the blueprint for “Star Wars” (1977) – ever notice how you never see the Death Star and Hidden Fortress in the same room together? – and the director’s samurai spin on “Macbeth,” “Throne of Blood” (1957). The weekend serves up the much-remade tale of a thin platoon of warriors going to bat for oppressed peasants, “The Seven Samurai” (1954), “Red Beard” (1965) and Kurosawa’s take on Maxim Gorky’s play about the goings-on in a tenement building, “The Lower Depths” (1957).

Also on Wednesday, The Brattle brings in the Grrl Haus program of International and Local Shorts. Grrl Haus is an org that promotes visual works by women and nonbinary, trans and genderqueer artists. 

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This week the Belmont World Film Festival queues up the New England premier of the Turkish film “Burning Days,” which weaves in themes of social amnesia, the environmental crisis and political injustice. Directed by Emin Alper, the slow-burn thriller follows the ordeal of a young prosecutor (Selahattin Pasali) who finds himself pulled into a political conflict during a murder investigation. It screens Monday at Apple Cinemas Fresh Pond.

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This week’s Tuesday “Perfect Pairs” Retro Replay at the Landmark Kendall Square Theatre has Bogart and Bacall in “Dark Passage” (1947), with Bogie playing a man in jail for the killing of his wife who escapes to prove his innocence. 

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The world cinema focus at the Harvard Film Archive shifts from Africa to Korea this week with the “Still Life With Hong Sangsoo” program. The quartet of screenings include “Walk Up,” Hong’s surreal 2022 work in which a film director is invited to a walk-up that has artist studios and a bar; when he exits to take a call and returns, it’s a different time and place. It screen Friday and April 23. Also on Friday is “Introduction” (2021), about a young man who travels from Seoul to Berlin to surprise his girlfriend. On April 23 there’s “In Front of Your Face” (2021), about a woman (Lee Hye-yeong, who’s in nearly all of Hong’s films) with a dark secret.

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For 420 Day (April 20) the cheeky folks at the Somerville Theatre fire up “Reefer Madness,” the 1936 propaganda film financed by a church to warn parents about the dangers of marijuana. The  cult curio, in which youths smoke pot and go on a rape and murder rampage, is shoddily made, full of paranoid “what ifs” and a knee slapper to take in. Breathe deep, but don’t take the film too seriously. (Tom Meek)

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In theaters and streaming

‘Showing Up’ (2022)

The latest from indie stalwart Kelly Reichardt (“First Cow”) reunites the director with early collaborator and recent Oscar nominee (for “The Fabelmans”), Michelle Williams (who starred in Reichardt’s “Wendy and Lucy” and “Meek’s Cutoff”). The focus this time is still the Pacific Northwest, where many of Reichardt’s films take place, but in the near contemporary time (“Cow” and “Cutoff” take place during the settling of the Pac-Northwest). The shaggy dog narrative is as much about family and familial dysfunction as about the art scene and its passive-aggressive competitiveness. Williams plays Lizzy, a sculptor who makes Degas-like statuettes of waifish young women. She can’t catch an art opening break and her landlord, also an artist (BU alum Hong Chau, so good in “The Menu” and Oscar-nominated for her caretaker part in “The Whale”), drags her feet in getting Lizzy’s hot water turned back on – she hasn’t has a shower in days. There’s also Lizzy’s dad, an established but eccentric artist himself (Judd Hirsch, also opposite Williams in “Fabelmans” and Oscar nominated for it) who’s got a bunch of random hippies hanging out at his cottage studio. It’s a dour yet quirky meander that revolves around the well-being of a wounded pigeon. (Tom Meek) At the Landmark Kendall Square Cinema, 355 Binney St.

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‘Renfield’ (2023)

The latest take on Dracula (if you want to call it that) is an absurdly silly mashup of superhero and horror genres that nearly rises from the-lack-of-studio-faith coffin based on the likability of its cast and their game efforts. The film takes place in modern-day New Orleans (hey, that’s Lestat’s turf) with Dracula (played by Nicolas Cage with glee) near emaciated and broke, with his immortal lackey Renfield (Nicholas Hoult, the blood-infused skinhead in “Mad Max: Fury Road) in group therapy for self-esteem issues despite getting super strength from eating bugs. Drac proves to be a pretty oppressive sort to work for, though he does have smooth Transylvanian charms that are brought out nicely and given a new spin by Cage, who wisely opts not to ape Bela Lugosi but does chew each scene he is in. When you have fangs, why not? Adding to the mix is Awkwafina as a traffic cop on the trail of blood, and the local Lobo gang who want in with the prince of darkness. Blood gets spattered everywhere – the camera practically needs windshield wipers – and while it’s pretty gruesome, it’s all done for comic hijinks. Hoult shines in a Hugh Grant kind of way, but Awkwafina, who so effectively colored outside the lines in “Crazy Rich Asians” (2018), has her comedic talents over-tapped to the point of anemic returns; it’s Brandon Scott Jones as the therapy group leader and Cage who garner the good giggles. At 93 minutes, this Chris McKay (“The Tomorrow War”) effort is a near tolerable pain in the neck. (Tom Meek) At the Landmark Kendall Square Cinema, 355 Binney St.; Somerville Theatre, 55 Davis Square; and AMC Assembly Row 12, 395 Artisan Way, Assembly Square, Somerville.

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‘Mafia Mamma’ (2023)

Facing an empty nest with her son going to college, suburban wife and mother Kristin Balbano (Toni Collette) has a pathetic life. Her man-child husband lives off the money that she earns at a pharmaceutical marketing agency, where her male coworkers regularly dismiss her ideas. That all changes when she goes to Italy for her estranged grandfather’s funeral and inherits his title as the head of a warring mafia family. While the film aims to be a mashup of “The Godfather” (1972) and Elizabeth Gilbert’s bestselling memoir, “Eat, Pray, Love,” with the last word replaced with an expletive, it’s a makeover movie with her mafia family teaching her how to be stylish and prioritize herself instead of men. Novelist and playwright Amanda Sthers conceived the premise, then teamed with television writers J. Michael Feldman and Debbie Jhoon for the script, with the usually confident Catherine Hardwicke (“Twilight”) directing. The filmmakers handle Kristin with kid gloves – too much so: All her kills are accidental, or in self-defense, though by the end she’s clearly quite good at all things lethal and shakes the entitled male oppressiveness that had been sapping her. Along the path there are touches of erotica, Eduardo Scarpetta as Kristin’s hotheaded cousin and the alluring Monica Bellucci (“Irreversible”) as the consigliere praising Kristin’s work. The blending of action and comedy for the most is inconsistent, and the film never nails either genre – unlike the gold standard, “The Spy Who Dumped Me” (2018), which delivered seamless action and laughs. (Sarah Vincent) At Apple Cinemas Cambridge, 168 Alewife Brook Parkway, Cambridge Highlands near Alewife and Fresh Pond, 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.