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. It runs Friday to Friday as of this edition, a change from the previous Sunday-to-Sunday approach.

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Local focus

At The Brattle Theatre this week it’s a double deuce beginning Wednesday with a screening of the 2021 documentary “The Automat” about the mechanical food server – part robot, part vending machine – invented in the late 1800s that became an iconic part of Americana in the 1940s and ’50s (hello, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”). Featured in Lisa Hurwitz’s doc are comedic icons Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks, as well as actor Elliott Gould and even Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Hurwitz will be on hand to discuss the film, which pairs with “Easy Living” (1937) starring Jean Arthur and Ray Milland in a madcap rom-com written by Preston Sturges (“Sullivan’s Travels”) that features the devices. On Thursday it’s a twofer featuring rock-funk deity Prince, who died in 2016 and will have a highway in Minnesota named after him to be adorned with purple road signs: First, the 1987 rock doc “Prince: Sign O’ the Times” with Sheena Easton and drummer Sheila E; then the semi-autographical “Purple Rain” (1984), in which the guitar hero battles a rival performer and pursues a romance with a beauty named Apollonia (played by a beauty pageant winner and singer named Apollonia). The film remains an iconic time capsule, as well as a tribute to the man who radically pushed and blurred the lines between musical genres with seamless innovation. 

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The “Harrison Ford’s … Other Films!” Retro Replay program at the Landmark Kendall Square Theatre kicks off with “Air Force One” (1997) Tuesday. The thriller directed by Wolfgang Petersen (“Das Boot”) stars Ford as the Potus whose ride from Moscow has been hijacked by a Communist extremist played by Gary Oldman; the prez, stripped of his protective guard, must jump into bare-knuckled action. The idea seemed a bit hokey back then, given that it was the mid-1990s and the Berlin Wall had come down a few years earlier. (I slightly prefer the more realistic “Executive Decision,” which came out a year earlier.) But given the current infestation of troll farms and the situation in Ukraine …

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Italian gaiety takes center stage at the Somerville Theatre this week with a screening of a newly restored 4K version of Dino Risi’s rarely seen 1961 comedy “Una Vita Difficile,” about a reporter (Alberto Sordi) who refuses to fall in line with the fascists (an accompaniment for the theater’s “Fuck the Nazis” program?). “Life is Difficult” plays Monday and Tuesday. And speaking of Nazis, John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd team up as Jake and Elwood to piss off a whole lot of brownshirts as well as the Chicago police in the “The Blues Brothers” (1980), directed by John Landis (“An American Werewolf in London”) with great bits from Aretha Franklin (singing “Think”) and Carrie Fisher as Jake’s jilted and very dogged ex. It plays Wednesday. (Tom Meek) 

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In theaters and streaming

‘Sanctuary’ (2023)

Zachary Wigon’s psycho-erotic thriller is an edgy clash of wills that feels stagey – in a good way. Nearly all the action takes place in a posh hotel room. It’s not unlike “Secretary” (2002), which starred James Spader as a reclusive attorney who acts out his semi-sadistic sexual desires on his demurring assistant (Maggie Gyllenhaal). Here, the power dynamic feels much the same at first glance: Hal (Christopher Abbott, “Black Bear” and “Possessor”), the scion of a recently dead luxe hotel chain owner (shades of HBO’s “Succession”) engages with a subordinate named Rebecca (Margaret Qualley), who’s really an escort/dominatrix working off a fantasy request. She doesn’t touch; what she does do is verbally tantalize, provoke and control. In their initial encounter, Rebecca walks Hal through the steps to self-relieve his heightened arousal. He does all the work, she pulls all the strings. Naturally, not all is as it appears, and the power dynamic parlor game changes as identities morph and backgrounds become more clear, though the lines between what the characters want, what they’re really showing and what’s role-playing becomes nicely blurred. The lush, red-themed cinematography by Ludovica Isidori adds a deepening simmer to the emotional turbulence. The real dart in Wigon’s arsenal, however, is Qualley, who delivered such a confident, sensually aware performances in “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” (2019) and “Stars at Noon” (2021) and does the same here, and more completely. So much of the film hangs on her ability to emotionally shapeshift on a dime with the camera close on her wide, luminous eyes and delicate-featured countenance, and she pulls it off with seemingly nonchalant brilliance. (Tom Meek) At Landmark Kendall Square Cinema, 355 Binney St.

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‘You Hurt My Feelings’ (2023)

A contemporary Manhattan family’s comfortable routine gets disrupted when writer and teacher Beth Mitchell (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and her sister, Sarah (Michaela Watkins), overhear Beth’s husband, therapist Don Mitchell (Tobias Menzies, “Game of Thrones”), confide to his brother-in-law Mark (Arian Moayed, “Succession”) that he does not like his wife’s new novel. Writer-director Nicole Holofcener reunites with Louis-Dreyfus to outdo their independent dramedy hit “Enough Said” (2013), with Holofcener per usual capturing the realistic yet casual ebb and flow between work, home and leisure while creating organic, three-dimensional characters. Louis-Dreyfus and Menzies anchor the film as a long-married, still-in-love couple who must find their way from rupture to repair. At the epicenter are well-intentioned lies that the film’s hypothesis has it are the lubricant that makes relationships work, while honesty makes each character question their grasp of reality, self-worth and professional choices. Beth’s story is the film’s drive, but Don’s world is arguably more compelling because of the exposure of his work and potpourri of patients, including real-life wife and husband Amber Tamblyn and David Cross playing a miserable married couple vocal about Don’s professional inadequacies. The film’s a provocative probe into one’s self-worth and esteem rounding midlife and trying to find truth within and within others close to them. (Sarah G. Vincent) At Landmark Kendall Square Cinema, 355 Binney St. and Somerville Theatre, 55 Davis Square.

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‘The Boogeyman’ (2023)

Lester Billings (David Dastmalchian) arrives unannounced at his therapist’s home office claiming a creature killed his kids. This uneven adaptation of a Stephen King short story departs from the source, which stopped at the therapist’s door. The therapist, Will Harper (Chris Messina, so good in “Air” as Michael Jordan’s rambunctious agent) earlier this year)), a widower and father, remains skeptical until the beast (a metaphor for grief?) shows up and terrorizes his family. Will’s daughters, Sadie (Sophie Thatcher) and Sawyer (Vivien Lyra Blair), prove more emotionally resilient than their dad – especially Sadie. Director Rob Savage and the production team succeed at evoking the terror of what lies unseen in the shadows, and Thatcher and the rest of the cast do their best. The story, though, feels underdeveloped. In context and scope it’s akin to Parker Finn’s 2022 surprise hit “Smile” (2022), which makes “Boogeyman” feel like a weak-kneed knockoff even though King penned the short in 1973, decades before Finn’s cinematic splash. (Sarah G. 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.