Saturday, July 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

Be our guest for a free screening of the upcoming film “Foe” at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Landmark Kendall Square Cinema. The film stars Academy Award nominees Saoirse Ronan (“Lady Bird”) and Paul Mescal (“Aftersun”) as Hen and Junior, a couple farming a secluded plot of land and trying to overcome challenges in their marriage when an uninvited stranger (Aaron Pierre) shows up and issues a proposal that will change everything. Based on bestselling author Iain Reid’s novel, and co-written by Reid and director Garth Davis (“Lion”), the film opens locally on Oct. 13. Ticket are free but limited. Go here to get your free pass. 

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Celebrating the release of “The Queer Film Guide: 100 Great Films That Tell LGBTQIA+ Stories” by critic Kyle Turner, The Brattle Theatre queues up some of Turner’s picks with notes from the book. Documentaries include Arthur J. Bressan Jr.’s “Gay USA” (1977), chronicling a decade of struggles for gay rights (Friday) and “Portrait of Jason” (1967), Shirley Clarke’s intimate profile of Jason Holliday, a dapper, flamboyant (lavender boas were a staple) gay male prostitute (Saturday). Clarke was living in Boston when she died in the late 1990s. Sunday, it’s all about the New York drag scene with Jennie Livingston’s well celebrated “Paris is Burning” (1990) on a double bill with “The Queen” (1968).

Many of the narratives in the program, with some big names behind the lens, were instant classics. On that list is “Bound” (1996), an erotic neo-noir that proved the jumping-off point for the Wachowskis and their “Matrix” franchise (Sunday, the late show); Gregg Araki’s spit in the face of the AIDS-ignoring mainstream America revenge fantasy, “The Living End” (1992, the late show Saturday); Pedro Almodóvar’s “Bad Education” (2004, Tuesday); and Sean Baker’s shot-on-iPhone trans bestie romp though the seedy underbelly of West Hollywood, “Tangerine” (2015, Monday). More subtle in context and lesser known but no less impactful are Donna Deitch’s sublime, slow emotional burn “Desert Hearts” (1985), about a newly divorced professor (Helen Shaver) connecting with another woman – a true rediscovery opportunity that should have cineastes and the cinematic-curious marking their calendars. It plays Sunday with Alice Wu’s “Saving Face” (2004) starring Joan Chen and Lynn Chen as a mother and daughter living in a Chinese diaspora with choices that challenge tradition. And finally, Stephen Winter’s unapologetic “Chocolate Babies” (1996), about Black queer power in New York during the AIDS crisis, plays with “Tangerine” on Monday.

Also at the Brattle on Monday is an Indigenous People’s Day double feature: Sky Hopinka’s meditation on the death myth of the Chinookan people in the Pacific Northwest, “Małni: Towards The Ocean, Towards The Shore” (2020), with “Lakota Nation vs. United States” (2022), detailing the legal fight of Lakota Nation to reclaim the Black Hills of South Dakota.

Grrl Haus Cinema sets up shop at the Brattle on Wednesday with an apt follow-on to Turner’s program showcasing international and local short films by women, trans and nonbinary artists, with a focus on low-budget and DIY productions.

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The ’80s horror Retro Replay on Tuesday at the Landmark Kendall Square Cinema is the original “A Nightmare on Elm Street” (1984), with a young Johnny Depp as one of many teens afraid to go to sleep lest they fall victim to Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund), the undead former child killer now attacking victims in their dreams. Directed by Wes Craven (“The Last House on the Left”), the cult slasher hit, like “Friday the 13th” and “Halloween,” found crossover appeal and endless spins – with two of the universes merging in the forgettable “Freddy vs. Jason” (2003). On Wednesday, for the Martin Scorsese-Leonardo DiCaprio filmmaker focus this week in anticipation of “Killers of the Flower Moon,” it’s the original Boston adventure for the director and actor in “The Departed” (2006), with Leo as an undercover cop trying to take down Jack Nicholson’s Whitey Bulger-esque mobster. The film, which won Academy Award bests for picture, directing, editing and script, features local players Matt Damon and Mark Wahlberg as bad cop and good cop. The framing of Boston and its accents isn’t supah authentic, but it passes. The best Boston movie to date remains “The Friends of Eddie Coyle” (1973).

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The Saturday midnight screening this week at the Somerville Theatre is one of producer Val Lawton’s favorites, “I Walked with a Zombie” (1943), starring Frances Dee, Tom Conway and James Ellison. Directed by Jacques Tourneur (who did Lawton’s original “Cat People” and “Out of the Past”), the narrative is a loose borrowing of “Jane Eyre” set on a Caribbean island and may have zombies … but may not. And for female pioneers in the silent era, it’s “She, who Dared” a concept-in-progress celebration of early 1900s filmmaker Lois Weber (“the greatest female filmmaker history forgot,” who made “Shoes” and “The People vs. John Doe”), with live musical accompaniment, on Sunday; Mary Pickford, a co-founder of United Artists, follows Monday in “The Little Princess” (1917).

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It’s filmmakers in person this week at the Harvard Film Archive with “People and Their Virtue. Two Films by Wang Bing” and “Trenque Lauquen by Laura Citarella.” Friday and Saturday, Wang, whose films have chronicled political oppression and other issues in China, will be on hand for a showcase of his latest documentaries (both 2023), “Man in Black,” an intimate look at composer Xilin Wang, the subject of political persecution, and “Youth (Spring),” about six migrant workers in the garment industry. Wang, who lives in France, said “Youth” marks the last film he will make in his native homeland. “Trenque Lauquen” is a 2022 Argentine-German mystery directed by Laura Citarella and starring Laura Paredes, who co-wrote the screenplay. The film’s inspired by the 1944 Otto Preminger film “Laura,” in which the titular character has gone missing. The two-part films screen Sunday (Part I) and Monday (Part II) with Citarella in attendance. (Tom Meek)

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In theaters

‘Reptile’ (2023)

Grant Singer, who’s worked mostly as a videographer – including with T-Swift – jumps to a bigger screen with this seedy neo-noir about two detectives (Benicio del Toro, who shares a screenwriting credit, and Ato Assandoh) trying to solve the grisly murder of a real estate agent (Ingrid Lutz). Suspects include her lover and fellow real estate dealer Will Grady (Justin Timberlake), who finds the bound body, stabbed 33 times and bearing curious bite marks, in an empty house they’ve listed; the redneck-y guy evicted by the the local real estate baron (Michael Pitt); and the ex-husband (Karl Glusman). Much goes on behind the closed doors of Timberlakes’s Grady, who is married and projects family values, and del Toro’s Tom Nichols, who suspects his plucky wife (Alicia Silverstone), who likes to play forensic games at night, might be having an affair. Set in a New England hamlet (though shot in Atlanta) named Scarborough (Maine?), “Reptile” weaves its way between class lines and shady backroom dealings in property, drugs and justice. It’s got a true-crime vibe to it with throw-back elements of 1970s cop dramas, as well as a tang of the Alex Murdaugh spectacle. Del Toro is magnetic, and his easy-uneasy chemistry with Silverstone is one of the main (Maine?) reasons to watch. as well as the dark, mood-setting cinematography by Mike Gioulakis (“Us,” “Old”). Singer, whose roots lay in shorter, punchier fare, could have applied some of that no-wasted-space methodology here. As is, there’s too much languorous self-indulgence that should have been cut. (Tom Meek) On Netflix.

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‘Flora and Son’ (2021)

Soon-to-be-divorced Dubliner Flora (Eve Hewson) hits every branch on the bad mom tree: wine-swilling, neglectful, profane, lascivious, self-absorbed, volatile, immature, sharp-tongued. So it comes as no surprise that 14-year-old son Max (Orén Kinlan) is running out of second chances with local law enforcement. During a drunken dumpster dive, Flora spots a guitar and decides why not – and when Max turns up his nose to the repaired instrument, Flora decides to take virtual lessons from Californian songwriter Jeff (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and, through music, discovers a deeper way to connect to herself and the people around her. Irish writer and director John Carney (“Once”) has made a career of recontextualizing musicals in realistic settings. His latest is a superlative character study about a flawed woman who recognizes her precarious situation and discovers a depth of potential and character. Hewson and Carney’s poignant portrait veers near to manipulative, eye-roll romance territory, but recovers as Flora’s thoughtfulness turns to family and community. It’s an eye opener and a good guffaw to see the almost naked teen girls twerking for homemade videos; Carney also delivers a superb, visual exegesis on class, and the journey of a flawed young woman learning to be a mom to a boy about to become a man. (Sarah G. Vincent) At Landmark Kendall Square Cinema, 355 Binney St., Cambridge and on Apple TV+.

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‘The Creator’ (2023)

The latest from Gareth Edwards is a luminous sci-fi epic showing that the hand behind “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” (2016) and “Godzilla” (2014) should skip the narrative orchestration and historical metaphors. Set in the near now of 2065, the United States has outlawed AI and declared Nimrata, AI’s creator, a terrorist. While undercover in New Asia to locate and take out Nimrata, an operative named Joshua (John David Washington) lives in marital bliss with a wife, Maya (Gemma Chan), he’s been duping, until his cover gets blown. They get separated in a grand melee and five years later, dangling Maya’s location as an incentive, the U.S. military gets Joshua to resume his mission, which now includes retrieving Nimrata’s secret weapon: a 6-year-old AI child (Madeline Yuna Voyles). Edwards and cowriter Chris Weitz, who was one of three “Rogue One” screenwriters, employ a derivative patchwork of sci-fi plot points from “Blade Runner 2049” (2017), the “Terminator” and “Matrix” franchises. Centering an American character in a thinly veiled story about the Vietnam War would have been cutting edge back in the 1980s, but in the 21st century it feels regressive, slack and inert, especially when the story suggests Maya is the more interesting character – yet she’s mostly the passive, off-screen love interest who gets fridged in the first act. The tone-deaf writers frame the marriage as a love story, not rape by deception; a similar real-life example was not seen as being so heroic when undercover officers from the Metropolitan Police Service in Britain were exposed for allegedly embedding with the female activists they were surveilling to better infiltrate their groups, having decadeslong relationships with them and children who are now adults and just learning the truth. (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.

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‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’ (2023)

Desperate to keep her job, true-crime radio host Carla (May Kelly, who resembles Lindsay Lohan) and her colleagues retrace the steps of two hikers who went missing in the woods. After stumbling across an isolated house and not so prepared for the trek, the group asks a homeowner, Mary (Christine Ann Nyland), for help, but they are unaware that this middle-aged woman is deranged and lives with some dude named Lamb (Gaston Alexander). Lamb (baa) is not a man wearing a sheep costume, but a homicidal maniac who looks inexplicably like he left Dr. Moreau’s island and embraces Leatherface’s aesthetics: His fleece is red with blood. This is clearly not an adaptation of the 19th century Massachusetts nursery rhyme, but the latest British budget horror production in a trend of making a movie stemming from childhood lit once it enters the public domain – ripe for bloody exploitation. While the narrative leads to an absorbing team dynamic, no satisfying, cohesive story coalesces from the dueling themes of true crimers being punished for their ambition and the damaging cycle of abuse and shame. (Sarah G. Vincent) On Amazon Prime Video.

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‘The Exorcist: Believer’ (2023)

The power of Christ compels you to not see this direct sequel to “The Exorcist” (1973). Tween friends Angela Fielding (Lidya Jewett) and Katherine (Olivia O’Neill) go missing after a detour in the woods, then reappear three days later exhibiting bizarre behavior and unusual wounds. Fifty years after actor-turned-exorcist-ritual expert Chris MacNeil (an underutilized Ellen Burstyn) had demon Pazuzu evicted from her daughter Regan (Linda Blair), more parents – widower Victor Fielding (Leslie Odom Jr.) and churchgoing couple Tony (Norbert Leo Butz) and Miranda (Jennifer Nettles) – wrestle with unnamed demon(s) to get their daughters’ souls back.

Eager to get their mediocre mitts on another horror franchise, most recent “Halloween” trilogy director and co-writer David Gordon Green and co-writer Danny McBride team up with Scott Teems (pun semi intended), who penned “Halloween Kills” (2021), and a relative newcomer, sophomore feature writer Peter Sattler, to create this sixth “Exorcist” film with plans to make more (two are in the planning). The religious panoply of parents – an atheist, Catholics and Protestants – turn to an oncologist turned hoodoo practitioner to conduct an ecumenical exorcism that feels like the final, weakest episode of “Lost.” The diluted expulsions rites render ineffectively and blandly onscreen and feel as if no research went into them. “It Lives Inside” (2023) didn’t notch rave reviews, but this abomination proves that it is better to choose one mythology and stick to it; otherwise, audiences just get a bargain-basement, stale possession story rehash. The movie also makes tasteless references to 9/11 and the 2010 Haiti earthquake, which likely might be forgivable in a better movie. (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.