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. 

whitespace

Local focus

It’s area premiere week at The Brattle Theatre, with extended runs of Charlotte Regan’s Sundance darling, “Scrapper,” and C.B. Stockfleth’s alt-rock doc “The Elephant 6 Recording Co.” (reviewed below). The former, the sublimely dark Grand Jury Prize winner at this year’s Park City film fest, revolves around the bike-thieving adventures of a precocious 12-year-old girl (Lola Campbell, impressive in a big-screen debut) who secretly lives alone in a working-class London flat after her mother dies. The sharply composed film’s a Brattle staff pick playing through Thursday and marks the feature debut of Regan, who has a long résumé of shorts. Wednesday and Thursday has a Maggie Cheung birthday double feature celebration with “Irma Vep” (1996) and “Days of Being Wild” (1990). In “Vep,” directed by Oliver Assayas (“Personal Shopper”), Cheung plays a metafictional version of herself as an actor being cast in a Parisian remake of the 1915 French film series “Les Vampires” in which, as the production gets underway, the line between film role fantasy and reality begins to blur. The name Irma Vep is an anagram for vampire, which in the serial is an order of underworld anarchists, not supernatural bloodsuckers. Assayas, who was married briefly to Cheung after they met on the set of the film, would shoot the recent 2022 streaming series of “Vep” with Alicia Vikander (“Ex Machina”) in the lead role. “Days of Being Wild” would mark the first film in Kar-Wai Wong’s love trilogy co-starring Tony Leung. “Day of Being Wild” was followed by the sublime and critically acclaimed “In the Mood for Love” (2000) and the futuristic, time-shifting “2046” (2004). All three are shot stunningly by Christopher Doyle, who worked on several other projects with Kar-Wai. The film centers on a young man (Leslie Cheung) who learns that the woman he thought was his mother is not.  Cheung, who rose to fame as a Hong Kong action star, often opposite Michelle Yeoh and Jackie Chan, stepped away from acting in 2013 and has become Unicef’s ambassador to China.

whitespace

whitespace

This week’s weird and wild Retro Replay Tuesday at the Landmark Kendall Square Cinema carries on “The Wonderful and Strange World of David Lynch” program with “Wild at Heart,” the director’s 1990 follow-up to “Blue Velvet” (1986), though in between he launched that captivating TV show about Laura Palmer. You can catch elements of “The Wizard of Oz” (1939) in the plot of lovers (Laura Dern and Nicolas Cage) on the run from a wicked, angry mother (Oscar-nominated Diane Ladd, Dern’s real-life mom) and her minions (Willem Dafoe among them). The relationship between films is highlighted by “Lynch/Oz,” which premiered at The Brattle this year. “Wild at Heart” is based on a novel by Barry Gifford, who would co-write the script for Lynch’s next film, “Lost Highway,” and features Lynch regulars including Harry Dean Stanton, Jack Nance (“Eraserhead”) and Isabella Rossellini. The Retro Replays are now a wallet-friendly $5.

whitespace

Independent Film Festival Boston partners with the Somerville Theatre this week (it hosted a “Sight and Sound Summer Vacation” top 10 last month of screenings from the magazine’s critics poll) with “Streaming Soderbergh” – a showcase of the past three films by the arty American auteur behind such critically acclaimed hits as “Traffic” (2000), “Out of Sight” (1998) and “Ocean’s Eleven” (2001). This newer trio came out during the pandemic and ended up primarily on streaming platforms with minor theatrical appearances. The best of the lot is “No Sudden Move” (2021), a pseudo neo-noir about old-town Detroit with “Traffic” alums Don Cheadle and Benicio del Toro as shadowy operatives given a “babysitting” gig by a faceless employer. The plot, which has something to do with catalytic converters, has an incredible ensemble including Brendan Fraser as a bloated, baby-faced heavy pre-“The Whale” (2022), Ray Liotta, Jon Hamm and Matt Damon. It plays Saturday; a day earlier the cynical Steven Soderbergh tackles all things AI (Siri and Alexa, at least) with “Kimi” (2022) following a customer support tech (Zoë Kravitz) who stumbles upon evidence of a murder deep in the data archives. On Sunday, it’s Meryl Streep as a frustrated Pulitzer Prize-winning author on a long cruise across the pond in “Let Them All Talk” (2020).

Speaking of Soderbergh, the Saturday midnight play just so happens to be “Out of Sight,” the canny adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s crime novel with George Clooney as an urbane bank robber, Jennifer Lopez as the U.S. marshal on his ass (take that any way and every way) and Albert Brooks as the white-collar criminal who becomes Clooney’s mark. One of Soderbergh’s best, if not the best. And speaking of recent classics, Wednesday it’s Harrison Ford as the wry relic hunter Indiana Jones in the franchise-defining original, “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1981), with Indy battling Nazis, snakes and supernatural forces.

whitespace

Three programs roll forth this week at the Harvard Film Archive, beginning with the multiyear “Shochiku Centennial Collection” celebration of a legendary Japanese studio with a screening of “Demon Pond,” Masahiro Shinoda’s 1979 tale of fantasy, romance and revenge centered around a pond in a Japanese village that contains mysterious creatures. It plays Friday. On Saturday, it’s a dial back to Ozu Yasujirō, whose complete works just played the HFA, with “The Flavor of Green Tea Over Rice” (1952), which – as most Ozu films do – chronicles tremors within the stoic walls of domestic life. Also Saturday is Oshima Nagisa’s crime drama “The Sun’s Burial” (1960). Representing the “Música de Câmara: The Cinema of Rita Azevedo Gomes” program on Sunday, it’s one of the Brazilian director’s favorites, the 1947 classic “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir” with Gene Tierney as a widow who moves into a seaside cottage and discovers it’s occupied by the ghost of a shipping captain (Rex Harrison). The film, directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz (“All About Eve”) also stars a young Natalie Wood as the widow’s daughter. And for the “Chile Year Zero” protest films/documentaries – also on Sunday – the HFA screens Pablo Perelman’s “Latent Image” (1987), which follows a politically neutral photographer struggling with the suspicious disappearance of his brother. Also this week comes a special screening of Jessica Sarah Rinland’s contemplation on conversation, “Those That, at a Distance, Resemble Another.” The 2019 experimental documentary centers on an elephant tusk. If that has you wondering and curious, also know that the Argentinian Rinland will be in person at the Monday screening to help sate some of your need to know. (Tom Meek)

whitespace

In theaters

‘The Elephant 6 Recording Co.’ (2022)

C.B. Stockfleth’s immersive documentary chronicles the quiet, avant-garde, grassroots music movement of the 1990s that launched such bands as Olivia Tremor Control, Neutral Milk Hotel, Elf Power and The Apples in Stereo, among others. The loose musical concept originated with four friends – Bill Doss, Will Cullen Hart, Jeff Mangum and Robert Schneider – who grew up together in Louisiana making experimental, psychedelic DIY home recordings in the 1980s as they played with feedback and tape looping à la Brian Eno. (About that “elephant” tag: As one member puts it, it was “the most absurd thing that we could think of.”) After high school the four would go their separate ways, Magnum, described as “the Salinger of indie rock,” would front Milk Hotel; Schneider, an animated sort who would become the face of the Apples, describes the frenetic pop genre’s catalyst as a jumping off from the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s concept and the trippy influences of John Cale during the early years of the Velvet Underground. Actor Elijah Wood provides the intro and appreciative, wide-eyed context. The 6 movement spanned cities (Denver and Atlanta included) and as to what one might consider “experimental,” there’s one band playing home appliances in a seedy joint. Most of the artists portrayed reflect on living hand to mouth, with many of their collaborations coming from tossing in with like-minded musicians in a cramped one-bedroom apartment. One of the film’s most poignant moments comes as Hart recalls the death of Doss in 2012 from an aneurysm. Mangum, arguably the 6’s most successful figure, casts an enigmatic, moody shadow. With a balanced, lived-in eye Stockfleth taps into the energy and vibe of the esoteric, indie rock footnote as well as the passion and influences that carry forth from it now. (Tom Meek) At The Brattle Theatre, 40 Brattle St., Harvard Square, Cambridge.

whitespace

‘Love, Charlie: The Rise and Fall of Chef Charlie Trotter’ (2021)

With all that’s going on here in the Boston food scene – a long-purported toxic workplace cooked up by Barbara Lynch at No. 9 Park and Menton, among her other top-regarded eateries, and the ignominious #MeToo push-out of Mario Batali at Eataly, it’s eye-opening yet no surprise to drink in this bio-doc about Chicago restauranteur Charlie Trotter, who was at the forefront of the celebrity chef movement but something of well-known crank and demanding kitchen figure before there was “The Bear.” If the name Trotter doesn’t have the culinary pop of a Gordon Ramsay, Wolfgang Puck or Emeril Lagasse (the last two are talking heads in the documentary), it’s because Totter preceded them, one of the early TV faces from the kitchen like Julia Child with the late 1990s PBS series “The Kitchen Sessions with Charlie Trotter.” Rebecca Halpern’s approach is pretty by-the-numbers. A self-taught cook, Trotter graduated college with a bachelor’s in political science but got the foodie bug traveling abroad. He opened his eponymous Chicago with funding from his parents, bringing to fine dining the farm-to-table concept and tasting menus; he was also an early adopter of having vegetarian options on the menu. His restaurant would garner a Michelin star rating and be cited as one of the best in the world, and he mentored other chefs and took on underprivileged youth. But he also was a bundle of nerves and bellicose explosions, so much so that he was cast as his cantankerous self in “My Best Friend’s Wedding.” Halpern, an obvious fan, remains fairly balanced, documenting the bridges burned by Trotter as his empire began to crumble and his subsequent declining health due to stress. He died, bitter and in near self isolation, yet still Halpern is able to conclude on the bright side by underscoring his brief, bright legacy and lasting influence. (Tom Meek) On Amazon Prime.

whitespace

‘Cassandro’ (2023)

This dramatized biopic about the Mexican wrestler known as the Liberace of Lucha Libre charts the metamorphosis of Saúl Armendáriz (Gael Garcia Bernal) from drab nobody into his triumphant, flamboyant wrestling persona and alter ego, Cassandro. Documentarian Roger Ross Williams, an Emmy winner and the first Black director to win an Oscar for a short (in 2010, for “Music by Prudence”), here expands his 13-minute “The New Yorker Presents: The Man Without a Mask” (2016, adapting a William Finnegan article from 2014) into his dramatic directorial feature debut. Williams, who is gay, and co-writer David Teague set out to avoid tragic stereotypical tropes by leveraging underdog sport movie formulas to chart Saúl’s rise, and Bernal imbues him with an ingenue’s wide-eyed enthusiasm. The masked wrestler’s regal and resplendent feminine costumes are the main attraction, but his acrobatic, dramatic moves evoke the aura of a superhero. His secret weapon is his showmanship as he uses a burlesque pantomime to fend off attacks by acting as if they were flirtatious advances. His chief inspiration, his mother, Yocasta (Perla De La Rosa), becomes the poignant, effective foundation for this character study. The mother-and-son duo are the heart of the film as he echoes the great athletes’ mantra to buy a house for his mother. It’s a story of dignity and transition that’s universally accessible no matter how you enter the ring. (Sarah G. Vincent) At Landmark Kendall Square Cinema, 355 Binney St., Cambridge, and on Amazon Prime Video starting Sept. 22.

whitespace

A Haunting in Venice’ (2023)

The third film revolving around Kenneth Branagh as Agatha Christie’s famous mustachioed detective, Hercule Poirot, is not as much of a horror movie as the ads make it out to be. Branagh, also returning as director, and writer Michael Green take the first cinematic stab at a vast reimagining of the British crime novelist’s “Hallowe’en Party” (1969). As we begin, Poirot lives in seclusion in post-World War II Venice, a departure from the novel’s original era and location of 1960s England. Retired from investigating homicides, Poirot lets his old friend, American writer Ariadne Oliver (Tina Fey, an intriguing casting choice), convince him to attend a Halloween séance to expose medium Mrs. Reynolds (Michelle Yeoh) as a fraud. Several murders immediately follow, and Poirot is back to his old ways: interrogating colorful characters at the beyond-the-material-world party, including, but not exclusively, host opera singer Rowena Drake (Kelly Reilly, “Yellowstone”) and shell-shocked Dr. Leslie Ferrier (Jamie Dornan, Christian Grey of the “Fifty Shades” franchise). Some viewers maybe be satisfied by the sumptuous period whodunit set in an exotic location, but hard-core horror fans expecting more than an atmosphere of dread will dismiss the dutch angles and jump scares as dull gimmicks employed to disguise a mediocre mystery. (Sarah G. Vincent) At Landmark Kendall Square Cinema, 355 Binney St., Cambridge; 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.