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 Brattle Theatre queues up two very diverse but equally excellent programs this week, beginning with a tribute to recently passed activist and actor Harry Belafonte (Day-O!). “Odds Against Tomorrow” (1959) has Belafonte as a gambling addict in a noir directed by Robert Wise (“West Side Story”) and co-starring Robert Ryan (“The Wild Bunch”), Ed Begley and Shelley Winters (“The Poseidon Adventure”) on Wednesday with Robert Altman’s “Kansas City” (1996); on Thursday it’s the Belafonte classic “Carmen Jones” (1954) co-starring Dorothy Dandridge. Then it’s on to all things quirky and twee with “The Compleat Wes Anderson,” beginning with an observant director’s debut, “Bottle Rocket” (1996), on Friday; his spin on Salinger’s the Glass family “The Royal Tenenbaums” (2001) and “Rushmore” (1998) on Saturday; and adult-themed animation with “The Fabulous Mr. Fox” (2009) and “Isle of Dogs” (2018) on May 14. Also for Mother’s Day, The Brattle screens Hitchcock’s indelible “mommy’s dearest because she is me” psycho-thriller, “Psycho” (1960).

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This week’s Tuesday “May’d Men: Scorsese & De Niro” Retro Replay at the Landmark Kendall Square Theatre is the 1980 boxer biopic “Raging Bull” about pugnacious pugilist Jake LaMotta. De Niro famously toned up for his ring scenes, then added 50 pounds of fat to play the aged LaMotta. He won an Oscar for his transformation and fiery embodiment. The film was nominated in nearly every other category (picture, director, Joe Pesci and Cathy Moriarty in supporting categories as well as Michael Chapman for his lush black-and-white photography), but would win just one other award – in the editing category, a historic win as it went to longtime Scorsese collaborator Thelma Schoonmaker, the first woman to win the category. She and Scorsese became acquainted working as co-editors on the fantastic (and fantastically edited) “Woodstock” (1970) rockumentary.

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At the Somerville Theatre it’s a double double with two from Martin Scorsese – the crime classic “Goodfellas” (1990), in which the recently passed Ray Liotta acts step in step with Pesci and De Niro in their prime, and the late-night “what could possibly go wrong?” romp through New York City, “After Hours” (1985) on Thursday – and two tough-guy classics featuring Bogie on Friday: “The African Queen” (1951) with Katharine Hepburn, and “Key Largo” (1948) with Lauren Bacall and Edward G. Robinson.

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Programs in process roll forth at the Harvard Film Archive this week. The “Still Life With Hong Sangsoo” retrospective has an encore screening of “The Novelist’s Film” (2020, Friday) and “Hotel by the River” (2018, Saturday and May 14). “Med Hondo and the Indocile Image” has a screening of “Black Light” (1994), about a black man shot by a corrupt cop, on Monday, followed by “Polisario, A People in Arms” (1978), on May 14. (Tom Meek)

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In theaters and streaming

‘The Pope’s Exorcist’ (2023)

Set in the summer of 1987, an American widow and her two kids inherit a decrepit, isolated Spanish abbey. Once her son starts talking in a deep, demonic voice and hurting himself, the inexperienced and on-edge Father Esquibel (Daniel Zovatto) alerts Rome. The Pope (Franco Nero, the original “Django”) orders seasoned, unconventional Father Gabriele Amorth (Russell Crowe) to investigate. Amorth scoots to Spain on his Lambretta to team up with Esquibel and exorcise a demon more powerful than any have faced before. Borrowing a page from James Wan’s “The Conjuring” franchise, writers Michael Petroni (“The Rite,” “Miracles”), Evan Spiliotopoulos (“The Unholy”) and newcomer R. Dean McCreary use a real-life figure to authenticate a fictional story and take a regressive, dangerous step while creating an alternate history. The narrative blames all post-Inquisition atrocities committed in the Roman Catholic Church’s name on the demon, who infiltrated the Vatican as if it was Hydra in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, exculpating the church of a history it still struggles to atone for, including the global sexual abuse of children that has affected many in Massachusetts. IRL the church never used the devil-made-me-do-it defense. As a horror movie, the possession flick feels like a step back when movies such as “Hereditary” (2018) and found-footage films such as the “Paranormal Activity” franchise breathed fresh life into the genre. Australian director Julius Avery (“Overlord”) gives flashes of evocative images – a disembodied male arm embracing a sleeping woman, a naked, blood-covered woman taunting the young priest – but not enough to carry a story that defies logic. (Sarah Vincent) At Apple Cinemas Cambridge, 168 Alewife Brook Parkway, Cambridge Highlands near Alewife and on Amazon Prime Video.

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‘Judy Blume Forever’ (2023)

With short, wavy, reddish-blonde hair, wearing an olive-green blouse and bright blue rimmed glasses that frame her open, effervescent face, author Judy Blume holds her book “Deenie” and reads an excerpt about a teacher defining masturbation to her class. It’s one of many drolly deft scenes in this documentary from directors Davina Pardo and Leah Wolchok about the beloved author of the film’s title, which weaves together a montage of talk show clips, still photographs, archival footage, home video, quips from adoring fans and some snappy animation to capture the author’s iconically, casually controversial presence. (The title is a reference to Blume’s book “Forever,” which depicted teens having sex.) Faithful fans of Blume’s books also get a chronological account of the 83-year-old’s life story, and for them this deep dive will be a dream come true. For those interested in the person behind “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” but otherwise unfamiliar with her work, the details may be a bit much. There are some neat clips of readers who recall their childhood correspondence with a responsive and attentive author, and they resonate more than famous talking heads such as Lena Dunham and young-adult writers reflecting on Blume’s influence and significance. Blume’s reflections on Reagan-era attempts to ban her books feel hauntingly like the current culture wars Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is waging in the public education system and with Disney. (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.