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

Rare curios kick things off at The Brattle Theatre with extended runs of Fran Rubel Kuzui’s “Tokyo Pop” (1988) and Ágnes Hranitzky and Béla Tarr’s “Werckmeister Harmonies” (2000). The former, about a fed-up NYC grrl rocker who hops a plane to Tokyo (she’s played by Carrie Hamilton, Carol Burnett’s daughter, who died from cancer in 2002), was Kuzui’s indie effort before “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” (1992). The latter takes place in an unnamed Hungarian village where the arrival of a demagogue sparks madness and violence alluding to the Holocaust and spread of communism. The film by Hranitzky and the visionary Tarr, who most recently produced the Icelandic hills horror film “Lamb” (2021), has been considered one of the most essential films of the 2000s. It and “Tokyo Pop” are not available in the streaming universe that I can find, so mark your calendars and run to the box office.  

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The “100 Years of Warner Brothers” centennial celebration rolls forth with Edmond O’Brien, James Cagney and Virginia Mayo in the Raoul Walsh-directed gangster classic “White Heat” (1949) on a double bill with Bogie in the John Huston-helmed “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” (1947), a tale of fortune found, greed and loathing. The pair play Monday and Tuesday.

On Wednesday the ongoing love-in for editor Dede Allen queues up John Hughes’ teen-angst classic “The Breakfast Club” (1985) on a double bill with the first big-screen take of “The Addams Family” (1991) directed by Barry Sonnenfeld (“Men in Black”) and starring Anjelica Huston, Christina Ricci, Christopher Lloyd and Raúl Juliá as the comedic clan of odd and macabre.

And finally, for Thrill Ride Horror Thursday, Leigh Whannell, the other half of the “Saw” creative team with James Wan, got behind the camera for “Upgrade” (2018), a near-future tale in which cars are driverless and a meek city dweller (Logan Marshall-Green, “Prometheus”) gets a brutal beatdown but is put back together “Six Million Dollar Man” style with AI and other techno advances so he can exact a little payback. “Upgrade” plays with last year’s “Chucky” gal pal “M3gan,” a hit in which a life-sized, AI-imbued doll (Amie Donald as the body and Jenna Davis as the voice) grows protective of her 9-year-old charge (Violet McGraw) and takes matters into her own bloody hands, including challenging mommy (Allison Williams) on her parenting abilities. Wan co-wrote the script. 

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The Tuesday Hitchcock Retro Replay celebration (Part 2, mind you) at the Landmark Kendall Square Cinema wraps up this week with “The Lady Vanishes” (1938) starring Margaret Lockwood as a young woman traveling Europe who believes an elderly woman on a train has disappeared. An early classic mystery from the maestro co-starring the debonair Michael Redgrave.

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The International Film Festival Boston’s “Sight and Sound Summer Vacation” of top films from the magazine’s influential critics’ survey carries on Friday through Wednesday at the Somerville Theatre. There are screenings of Stanley Kubrick’s existential sci-fi classic “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1969); Kar-Wai Wong’s sublime tale of longing  “In the Mood for Love” (2000) starring Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung; the last chapter of Yasujiro Ozu’s Noriko Trilogy, “Tokyo Story” (1953); Chantal Akerman’s long (more than three hours) but well worth it portrait of a struggling single mother who turns to sex to help make ends meet, “Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du commerce, 1080 Bruxelles” (1975); that instant classic that Orson Welles made at age 25, “Citizen Kane” (1941); and one of Alfred Hitchcock and James Stewart’s four collaborations, the dizzying thriller “Vertigo” (1958).

The Saturday midnight screener this week is Michael Ribbo’s “The Peanut Butter Solution” (1985), a fantasy flick in which the tasty goop of the title is a secret ingredient in magic potions. And evoking the Kennedys, the 1979 conspiracy theory film “Winter Kills” begins a several-day run Thursday with Jeff Bridges as the younger brother of the (fictional) assassinated president and John Huston as a controlling, old-lion patriarch.   

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In theaters and streaming

‘Werckmeister Harmonies’ (2000)

Béla Tarr’s hard-to-see masterpiece – it’s not streaming – is shot in impressive long takes, 39 shots for a 145-minute running time. The opening frame is 11 minutes alone, versus the eight-ish-minute long take for Robert Altman’s “The Player” (1992), with opulent, dream-state black-and-white cinematography by six directors of photography. Even though the tale (based on longtime Tarr collaborator László Krasznahorkai’s 1989 novel “The Melancholy of Resistance”) takes place in a singular, unnamed Hungarian town, it has the epic scope of Václav Marhoul’s masterful 2020 sweep across War World II Europe, “The Painted Bird,” as the village falls into chaos and violence and motifs of the Holocaust and spread of communism come into focus. “Werckmeister Harmonies” is told from the POV of a young, wide-eyed newspaper deliverer named János (Lars Rudolph, “Run Lola Run”) who observers the town’s descent into madness when a carnival of sorts rolls in and the charismatic leader of the troupe, an entity known as the Prince, proves to have a polarizing effect. Near apocalyptic at times and, in one scene, hauntingly reminiscent of the village mob out with torches in a mad search for Frankenstein’s monster, the film is also imbued with deft touches of Fellini-esque absurdity.  The title refers to the musical theorist Andreas Werckmeister (1645-1706), whose theories on harmonies are cited by one musicologist in the film as a reason for humankind going askew. At The Brattle Theatre, 40 Brattle St., Harvard Square, Cambridge.


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.