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

The Independent Film Festival Boston’s Fall Focus is in full swing at The Brattle Theatre. See last week’s preview for film suggestions, or the IFFB website.

Also this Thursday at The Brattle, the Hutchins Center for African & African American Research at Harvard University and The Resilient Sisterhood Project presents “Aftershock” (2022), Paula Eiselt and Tonya Lewis Lee’s documentary chronicling the disproportionate maternal death rate of Black women failed by the U.S. health care system. The filmmakers will be in attendance for a Q&A.

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For the ’80s horror Retro Replay at Landmark Kendall Square Cinema on Tuesday it’s the follow-up to the original “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” (1974) – the 1986 sequel that stars Dennis Hopper (“Easy Rider,” just off “Blue Velvet”) as a former Texas Ranger out to get the serial-killing Sawyer clan for the murder of his nephew and niece in the first film. An interesting addition to the bloody Sawyer circle is Bill Moseley (“Devil’s Rejects”) as Chop-Top. Director Tobe Hooper cast Moseley from his appearance in “The Texas Chainsaw Manicure,” a cheeky short spoof that broke ground in graphic horror. (Yup, we’ve got a Hooper and a Hopper, and Hooper would be the one to direct the Steven Spielberg written-produced “Poltergeist,” and we all know the name of Richard Dreyfuss’ marine biologist in “Jaws.” All that, and no Kevin Bacon.)

For Kendall Square’s Filmmaker Focus, in anticipation of Alexander Payne’s “The Holdovers” opening this month, it’s a few of the films that influenced Payne (“Sideways,” “Election”), beginning with “Ace in the Hole” on Wednesday. The 1951 film directed by Billy Wilder (“Some Like it Hot,” “Sunset Blvd.”) stars a cleft-chinned Kirk Douglas as a down-on-his-luck former New York journo who now works a small beat job for an Albuquerque, New Mexico, rag and decides to exploit a man trapped in a cave to relaunch his career.

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Over at the Somerville Theatre, the great Talking Heads rock-doc “Stop Making Sense” (1984) carries on, and for the Saturday midnight screening, it’s a Tarantino favorite: “Carny,” a forgotten curio from 1980 starring Gary Busey and The Band guitarist Robbie Robertson as carnival workers who scam customers into wasting money on their dunk-tank act. Things get interesting when Jodie Foster’s 18-year-old Donna, fed up with her annoying boyfriend and dull grind as a waitress, joins the show as an exotic dancer. The casting alone is worth the price of admission.

Also this week as Halloween comes near is Sinister Cinema, a screening of the local horror shorts “Don’t Fall From Grace” and “Canary” on Thursday. Star Ariana Pérez and the films’ directors, Carley Byers and Chuck Vuolo, will hold a Q&A afterward, when prizes will be given for best customer costumes.

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At the Harvard Film Archive this week it’s the “Filmmaker, Guest Worker: Želimir Žilnik’s Expatriates” program with the relentlessly political Serbian director showing several of his works beginning with “The Second Generation” (1983), about teens coming home from years abroad who can’t adjust to Yugoslavian schools, and “Oldtimer” (1989), in which an aging rocker and journalist takes a road trip to a vacation through nations torn by turmoil. The films play Friday and Saturday, respectively.

Then James Baldwin is back in the lens with an encore screening of Dick Fontaine’s “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” (1982) and “James Baldwin Abroad,” a series of shorts made about the civil rights activist by various international directors at diverse ports around the globe (Paris, Istanbul and London) in the ’60s and ’70s. Both play Sunday.

On Monday, with the label “From the Harvard Film Archive Collection” – cinematic treasures pulled from the archive – it’s “Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors” (1965), Sergei Parajanov’s magical-realism tale of a Ukrainian man who falls in love with the daughter of the man who killed his father. (Tom Meek)

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In theaters and streaming

‘Dicks: The Musical’ (2023)

This unhinged, profane, chaotic musical comedy that adapts the off-Broadway musical “Fucking Identical Twins” by its stars, Josh Sharp and Aaron Jackson, will become an instant cult classic for grown theater kids with a taste for sacrilegious, absurd shenanigans. On their first day at a recently merged Manhattan company, two entitled, womanizing, competing lead salesmen, short-haired Craig (Sharp) and long-haired Trevor (Jackson), discover that they are identical (wink) twins separated at birth à la “The Parent Trap” (1961). Each parent took a baby to raise when Evelyn (scene-stealer Megan Mullally, from “Will & Grace“) and Harris (comedy legend Nathan Lane) split. By swapping identities, the lewd work rivals-turned-besties conspire to get their parents to remarry so they can become a “real family,” but Evelyn and Harris’ bizarre behavior make their children’s dream seem impossible. Adding to the mayhem is Bowen Yang as God – yup, the almighty – shirtless but wearing a mylar jacket, shorts and hat and draped in necklaces. Everyone’s wishes come true in the most unimaginable, blasphemous and raunchy way possible. Director Larry Charles (“Borat”) translates the modest, two-man theatrical production to the big screen without missing a beat and adds a luxurious, glamorous sheen that strangely evokes the chic madness of “Grey Gardens” (1975) sans the decay. The fast-paced jokes elicit laughs that drown out the next punchline, which often include inexplicable, unexpected horror and sci-fi elements thanks to puppets and practical effects. (Sarah G. Vincent) At Landmark Kendall Square Cinema, 355 Binney St., Cambridge; Somerville Theatre’s Crystal Ballroom, 55 Davis Square; and AMC Assembly Row 12, 395 Artisan Way, Assembly Square, Somerville,whitespace

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‘Silver Dollar Road’ (2023)

Haitian director Raoul Peck’s latest documentary is a poignant portrait of a quotidian Wakanda, a North Carolina seafront neighborhood where the queens and kings – unlike in the Marvel Universe – have no superpowers. The Reels, a wholesome fishing and farming family, would like to be left to their normal if idyllic life on land they’ve occupied since antebellum times and owned since 1911; instead they have been forced to fight against big-money developers in court, leading to an excessively punitive incarceration of eight years for two of the family members and an ensuing, Herculean marathon of civil protest. The film has many legal minds as talking heads, including North Carolina Supreme Court justice and former Reels attorney Anita Earls, but overall Peck shies from the instinctual choice of making a legal drama that would cast the Reels as losing supporting characters in their own story. Instead, Peck moves in a countercultural direction, choosing to recount the Reels’ history and capture the contemporary, quixotic customs of the bucolic, Black-owned neighborhood. This utopian realism is contrasted with similar, now gentrified neighborhoods that sport rapidly erected ahistorical Confederate monuments and lack the vibrant, verdant environment that defines Silver Dollar Road. Unlike “I Am Not Your Negro” (2016), this film adaptation of ProPublica journalist Lizzy Presser’s July 15, 2019, article published in collaboration with The New Yorker depicts an American town as the United States could be: filled with Black joy and free from images of state violence inflicted on Black bodies. (Sarah G. Vincent) On Amazon Prime Video.


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.