Sunday, June 16, 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

School is out (college anyhow) and the alums are back on campus, so for its “Reunion Week” program The Brattle Theatre queues up an olio of 25th-, 50th- and 75th-year anniversary cinematic staples, beginning with Bogie and Bacall in the John Huston-directed noir “Key Largo” (1948) on Wednesday and Harvard grad Darren Aronofsky’s debut sci-fi pontification “Pi” (1998) on Wednesday and Thursday. Then it’s Hitchcock’s “one shot” take on the Leopold and Loeb thrill-kill murder, “Rope” (1948) on Thursday; on Friday, the Dude abides in the Coen brothers’ instant classic “The Big Lebowski” (1998), playing with the Robert Altman neo-noir, “The Long Goodbye” (1973). Saturday, it’s a fierce and furious triple with Steven Spielberg’s World War II classic “Saving Private Ryan” (1998), Bruce Lee’s indelible martial arts espionage thriller “Enter the Dragon” (1973) and Pam Grier (“Jackie Brown”) taking it to the man in “Coffy” (1973). Rounding out the week, on May 28 it’s “The Spirit of the Beehive” (1973) and Vittorio De Sica’s neorealist defining tale of heartbreak and humanity, “Bicycle Thieves” (1948).

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The Tuesday “May’d Men: Scorsese & De Niro” Retro Replay at the Landmark Kendall Square Theatre this week is Scorsese’s hardboiled 1991 remake of J. Lee Thompson’s 1962 crime-noir, “Cape Fear.” De Niro does the impossible, equalling Robert Mitchum’s virulent menace while adding his own spin to the relentless, lurking psycho terrorizing a lawyer, who he felt did him wrong (Nick Nolte), and his family (Jessica Lange and Juliette Lewis). Noting the prior film’s place in the cinematic pantheon, Scorsese casts 1962 stars, Mitchum and Gregory Peck, who played the Nolte part, in supporting roles and the haunting score by Elmer Bernstein is a homage infused reworking of Bernard Herrmann’s brilliant 1962 crafting that deepened the darkness and tensions on screen. Interestingly one of the last films the masterful and eccentric Herrmann scored (he did many a Hitchcock film, including “Psycho” and both “Fears” were made with intentional Hitchcockian flourishes) was Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver” (1976).

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This week at the Somerville Theatre there’s a trove of repertory treasures beginning with the revolving “Fuck the Nazis” program on Wednesday with a double down of “Casablanca” (1942), featuring Bogie and Bergman as one of the most iconic cinematic pairings on the historical screen, and Gregory Peck, David Niven and Anthony Quinn in “The Guns of Navarone,” directed by Lee J. Thompson (the original “Cape Fear,” and “Conquest of the Planet of the Apes”). On Thursday it’s another double shot, this time from director William Wyler with the Academy Award-sweeping “The Best Years of Our Lives” (1946) about World War II vets with PTSD trying to readjust back into society and the rom-com that launched Audrey Hepburn as a major Hollywood force, “Roman Holiday” (1953). Then it’s all things David Lynch with “The Elephant Man” (1980), my fave, “Blue Velvet” (1986), the defining work “Eraserhead” (1977) and the “what really happened to Laura Palmer” big-screen score “Twin Peaks Walk With Me” (1992), Friday though Sunday.

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As we move into graduation preparations, the Harvard Film Archive continues its Abbas Kiarostami retrospective, “Late Kiarostami,” with the Iranian filmmaker’s last film “24 Frames” (2017), a collage of imagery and humanity, on Monday; an encore screening of the director’s seminal film “Taste of Cherry” (1997) and the Japan-set follow-up to “Certified Copy,” “Like Someone in Love” (2012) on Friday. “Certified Copy” (2010), with the ethereal Juliette Binoche, is Saturday. (Tom Meek)

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In theaters and streaming

‘White Men Can’t Jump’ (2023)

Not sure that a remake of the 1992 Ron Shelton sports curio starring Woody Harrelson and Wesley Snipes was necessary, but this updating is passable enough to make the bench. As the Black and white oddballers who bond for street hustle ball in L.A. and later team up for a two-on-two tourney, Sinqua Walls (“Friday Night Lights”) and Jack Harlow (“Scoob!”) have pretty good chemistry as the brooding never-was Kamal and shaggy-dog-goofball-with-mad-skillz Jeremy. Updates include smart devices, barcode scans and viral phenoms, but the rest is pretty much cut-and-paste. As with the original, deep matters concerning race are largely left off court, even though it’s comically front and center and, given the climate today, a tad more tugging than ha-ha. If you’ve seen the original, despite it being released 30 years ago, it’ll all come back to you like muscle memory at the foul line and likely won’t show you any new crossovers; for those curious and hungry for more b-ball entertainment as the Celtics look to go deeper in the playoffs, here’s a little bounce pass to send you to the rim during warmups. (Tom Meek) On Hulu.

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‘Giving Birth to a Butterfly’ (2021)

Diana (Annie Parisse) asks Marlene (Gus Birney), her adult son’s pregnant (not with his child) girlfriend, for a favor: She fell for an Internet scam, lost the family’s savings and needs a ride to the culprit’s address. The goal is to recover the money without her family finding out. Eager to win over Diana, Marlene agrees and keeps it all secret. The quest becomes something of a bonding session as they confide in each other about their unsatisfying family lives, but takes on a more surreal and oneiric texture before they arrive. This directorial debut by Theodore Schaefer works best when depicting quotidian interactions in which families under the same roof are isolated from each other because each exists in their own delusion. Diana’s domineering husband Daryl (Paul Sparks, Parisse’s husband) dreams of opening his own restaurant. Marlene’s mom (Constance Shulman, Birney’s mom) is a harmless Norma Desmond type who does not notice that she is about to be a grandma. Schaefer’s exploration of the two-sided theme of the banal, meager wage-earning life and perpetuation of traditional Greek culture is evocative, but never conveys a cohesive vision to unite the butterfly, deer, feline and twin imagery and literary allusions that get bantered about. A dream is more interesting to the dreamer than those hearing about it. (Sarah Vincent) On Fandor.

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‘The Mother’ (2023)

In this hard-boiled thriller, Jennifer Lopez stars as assassin simply known as “The Mother” who does one last, dirty job for a network of intelligence agencies and comes in for a debriefing that turns out to be a bloodbath – literally. And what’s that, our agent is expecting? Because of the perils of her line of biz, the baby girl is given up for adoption and mom goes underground in Alaska as a sharpshooter keeping wolves away from livestock. Twelve years later, other wolves – operatives from back in the day (Gael Garcia Bernal and Joseph Fiennes) show up and want the girl (Lucy Paez) to ferret mom out. Turns out either one of these cardboard nasties could be the dad, too. The action bounces from Tlingit Bay to the bustling streets of Havana – nothing like a good car chase that ends with a wedding bouquet toss – and most excitingly in the world-hopping action, Cincinnati. The no-nonsense Lopez (“Hustlers”) holds the standard issue together and the action, as directed by Niki Caro (“Whale Rider,” “Mulan”), clicks by with the rapid-fire confidence of Lopez’s mom on the trigger. (Tom Meek) On Netflix.

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‘Monica’ (2022)

Director and co-writer Pallaoro introduces the titular character (Trace Lysette) in a close-up of her bare face and blue tattooed shoulders as she lies in a tanning bed listening to loud music. She gets a call from someone whose voice and identity are not revealed to us; all we know is that it sends Monica, a transgender woman living an isolated existence, on a road trip to her childhood home (Cincinnati, in the lens again). Upon arrival, Monica learns that her mother (Patricia Clarkson) is dying and does not recognize her, but the reason would be a spoiler for viewers unfamiliar with Lysette’s work in the streaming series “Transparent.” The gorgeously constructed first half feels like a labor of love for Lysette, Pallaoro and crew, who chose a lush, counterintuitive color palette for Monica, namely a teal and orange motif that reflects her appearance, apartment decor, a hotel room along the way and the conflict of emotions within. The acting and aesthetics compel, but the second half turns into an unrealistic fantasy as the family reconciles easily. It feels like there are still messier parts in the past to work through. (Sarah Vincent) At Landmark Kendall Square Cinema, 355 Binney St., Kendall Square and Somerville Theatre, 55 Davis Square.

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‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3’ (2023)

It’s not hard to tell “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” is James Gunn’s endgame for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He’s been with the Guardians since 2014; this threequel brings the mishmash crew of subscript heroes together after an especially long break – “Vol. 2” was in 2017 – caused in part by Gunn’s firing after a right-wing panic over long disavowed tweets. Cast members demanded his return, and Disney smartly relented, but DC in the meantime snatched Gunn up to lead its own entire superhero universe. Knowing this is the end, Gunn goes back to the beginning: the origins of Rocket (the voice of Bradley Cooper), as a scarred, genius gun nut raccoon who has no idea what a raccoon is. This means Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Drax (Dave Bautista) and the gang going to messy, loud war with the High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji, sufficiently maniacal) and an army of mutated and mutilated animals – PETA members may take exception. It’s an intensely emotional ride that feels as unmistakably, satisfyingly final as anything in the MCU short of Tony Stark’s death. There’s goodbyes, callbacks and dancing, and an estranged version of original team member Gamora (Zoe Saldana) returns long enough to relearn that the Guardians are a family, but no longer hers, and the message is unmistakable: Gunn – er, Gamora – has found a home elsewhere. The Guardians as we knew ’em are over. (Marc Levy) At Landmark Kendall Square Cinema, 355 Binney St.; 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.

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‘Polite Society’ (2023)

Ria (Priya Kansara), a Pakistani British teen and aspiring martial artist stuntwoman, is alarmed when her supportive older sister, Lena (Ritu Arya), a depressed art school dropout, seems to abandon her dreams after getting engaged to Salim (Akshay Khanna), a posh geneticist and très eligible bachelor whom they met at his family’s lavish Eid festival. Ria and her school friends try to sabotage the relationship with awkward sitcom-esque schemes – i.e., cheesy fake mustache undercover operations – but Ria’s mission becomes more urgent when she discovers that Lena’s life is in danger. Writer and director Nida Manzoor makes a feature film debut reminiscent of Edgar Wright’s early work (“Shaun of the Dead,” “Hot Fuzz”). Instead of relying on the affable cast’s chemistry and credible crafting of their characters, Manzoor ruptures every solid relationship to increase the tension and concern that Ria will not succeed alone. Rescue, not reunion, is the driving force as the film steers into the denouement. The betrayal within Ria’s family and among her friends may be too bombastic for some to remain invested. The fight choreography and costume design are stunning and help disguise the film’s flaws. The South Asian diaspora elements and feminist themes help ground the film’s minor excursions into sci-fi. If Manzoor stuck to the mature drama without cheap jokes and narrative tropes, the action comedy could have notched another star. (Sarah Vincent) On Amazon Prime Video.

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Fast X’ (2023)

The series that keeps on grinding away even though the creativity tank hit E a few chapters back. The additions of John Cena (“Peacemaker”), Helen Mirren (“The Long Good Friday”) and Charlize Theron (“Atomic Blonde”) intrigue, but by “X” we’re overloaded with the regular crew that’s been around Vin Diesel’s Dominic Toretto for so long – Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), girlfriend/mother to his kid (Leo Abelo Perry); the head-butting duo of Roman and Tej (Tyrese Gibson and Ludacris); ace wheelman Han (Sung Kang); Mia (Jordana Brewster), the posse’s voice of reason from the start; and the amicably brutish Shaw (Jason Statham). The film unfolds in disjointed, globe-spanning chapters: Letty and and Theron’s Cipher in a prison in Antartica, Dom and the core lads in Rome trying to stop a box-truck-sized bowling ball of a bomb from taking out the Vatican, and uncle Jakob trying to get Dom’s son to a safe place. The fly in the ointment is some fancy fanatic named Dante (Jason Momoa, “Aquaman” himself) who rigs that bomb in Rome and seems to be everywhere all the time at once, pissed that Dom took down his dad and his nefarious network in a previous film. As Dante, Momoa is intermittently the most garish and freshest thing on the screen as he channels the likes of the late Ray Liotta in nearly any role he’s played and an early Brad Pitt in “Kalifornia” (1993). Brie Larson of “Captain Marvel” is also added to mix as an agency operative who just further roils the water. It’s a crowded, revved-up affair that hangs on Dom’s bristling machismo. That worked when the series was muscular and lean, but – and many will walk in not knowing – “Fast X” is just the first of two parts (see “Dune”). (Tom Meek) At Landmark Kendall Square Cinema, 355 Binney St.; 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.