Sunday, July 14, 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. 


Local focus

The eclectic lineups at The Brattle Theatre keep coming with a five-day run of the 30-year anniversary restoration of Chen Kaige’s beguiling and beautiful to behold “Farewell My Concubine” (1992). It stars the indomitable Gong Li (“Raise the Red Lantern,” “Miami Vice”) with Leslie Cheung and Zhang Fengyi as a courtesan and a pair of male actors (one who plays female roles) caught in a love triangle – Cheung’s performer has a thing for Fengyi, who falls for Li’s commanding sensuality – across the decades encircling the Chinese Cultural Revolution. The film and Kaige, who before the film had even shot a Duran Duran video, would go on to register one of the very best films of the great 1990s Chinese film movement alongside entries from Ang Lee (“The Wedding Banquet”) and Zhang Yimou (“Ju Dou” and “Raise the Red Lantern”). Also beginning Friday is an extended run and the area premiere of the Adams family’s moody, grim chiller, “Where the Devil Roams” (reviewed below).

The Revolutions per Minute Festival presents a trilogy of socially focused films by experimental filmmaker-choreographer Sarah Friedland on Tuesday, with Friedland in attendance. On Wednesday, for fans of the ’70s British band King Crimson and Toyah and Robert Fripp’s Sunday Lockdown Lunch videos (cheeky good Covid fun, give ’em a look), there’s Toby Amies’ “In the Court of the Crimson King: King Crimson at 50,” a look at the band and seminal member Fripp, a guitarist who’s worked with the likes of Bowie and Brian Eno. Queuing up later in the week is the 35th Boston Jewish Film Festival, with Brattle-hosted screenings of the World War II documentary “Resistance: They Fought Back,” and the comedy “I Like Movies” (who doesn’t?). The former will have co-directors Paula S. Apsell and Kirk Wolfinger in attendance, while the latter will have director Chandler Levack and teen actor Isaiah Lehtinen – who plays a kid who wants to make films à la “The Fabelmans” (2022) – on hand via Zoom. Both films play Thursday.


The Tuesday Retro Replay theme at the Landmark Kendall Square Cinema for November is A Month of Giving Hanks – really about cinematic fave Tom Hanks, beginning with “The Burbs” (1989), in which Hanks’ uptight suburbanite thinks his new neighbors are a satanic cult. Carrie Fisher stars as his wife and Bruce Dern and Cory Feldman star as some of those quirky folk next door.

For the Filmmaker Focus on Wednesdays, in anticipation of “Poor Things” by Yorgos Lanthimos, the lens turns to previous works (“The Lobster,” “The Favourite”) beginning with the enigmatic dystopian psychological thriller that put him on the map, “Dogtooth,” in which the patriarch of a family forbids his children from venturing outside the walls of their compound because of the purported horrors that lurk, such as flesh-eating cats. The highly anticipated “Poor Things” is a tale of repression and sexual liberation starring Emma Stone, Willem Dafoe and Mark Ruffalo based on Alasdair Gray’s 1992 novel. Did I mention there’s reanimation and other themes that borrow from the mind of one Ms. Mary Shelly? To be continued.


If you dig shredding down a mountain on two long blades, flying off a craggy cliff face and into a bowl of chest-high powder – or are awed by those that do – the folks from Warren Miller Entertainment and similarly minded ski junkies have you and your extreme sports fantasies covered with the 2023 Quality Ski Time Film Tour and “Warren Miller’s All Time,” setting up at the Somerville Theatre. Given the 80 degree temps here recently, it could feel early, but, hey, this is New England; give it two days.


The “Out of the Ashes – The US-ROK Security Alliance & South Korean Cinema” program kicks off at the Harvard Film Archive to run through December. Before we were delighted by the edgy, socially provocative cinema out of South Korea by such auteurs as Park Chan-wook (“The Handmaiden,” “Oldboy”) and Bong Joon-ho (“Parasite,” “The Host”), there were the embers smoldering from the Korean War and the birth of the Republic of Korea under the U.S. Security Alliance in the early 1950s. “Out of the Ashes” looks at the films of that era and the effects the country-dividing war, American alliance, U.S. culture and the brimming Cold War had on them. Starting Friday is Shin Sang-ok’s neo-realistic tale of corruption “The Flower in Hell” (1958) on the same bill with a recent digital restoration of “Nakdong River” (1952), depicting the Nakdong River Defense Line Battle of the Korean War. The pair also play Sunday. On Saturday it’s Yong-min Lee’s “Holiday in Seoul” (1956) taking notes from the American romantic pleaser “Roman Holiday” (1953) with Gregory Peck and the impeccable Audrey Hepburn, as well as “Yongary, Monster from the Deep” (1967), an early Japanese-Korean collaboration with a guy in a rubber suit stomping toy-model towns. Also on Sunday, the HFA will screen a series of shorts illuminating the multilayered influences of the official U.S. postwar presence’s Information Service on Korean cinema. (Tom Meek)


In theaters and streaming

‘When Evil Lurks’ (2023)

If “The Exorcist: Believer” (2023) made you lose faith in possession movies, this Argentinean horror film will restore it, as it features the most merciless, mean-spirited Mephistophelian invader since “Hereditary” (2018). Writer and director Demián Rugna starts from scratch and cooks up new rules on how demonic possession works: as a viral infection without a divine antidote (“The Power of Christ compels you!”). The infected, the “Rotten,” ooze pus and appear like a zombie-esque bloated, decaying corpse, but is a possessed living person pregnant with a demon. Only a skilled “Cleaner” knows how to kill a Rotten and abort the devilish fetus without spreading the contamination. Set in contemporary times, long after most have forgotten the last outbreak – which until the film’s opening occurred only in cities – we settle in with the rural-residing Yazurlo brothers, Pedro (Ezequiel Rodriguez) and Jimi (Demián Salomon), who stumble upon the tools and shredded body parts of a Cleaner. They soon discover that a neighbor has become a Rotten and alert the authorities, with disastrous results. In creating an unrelenting, provocative, Antichrist/Nativity possession flick that ratchets up the tension continually, Runa proves an adept hand at possession horror. Instead of shepherds and wisemen heralding the coming of a savior, or a priest with a vial of burning holy water, those in power intone questionable judgment and become harbingers of chaos and panic. (Sarah G. Vincent) On Apple TV+ and Shudder.


‘Rustin’ (2023)

The charismatic Colman Domingo (“Zola”) carries this biopic as pioneering Gandhian U.S. civil rights and gay-rights activist Bayard Rustin, one of Martin Luther King Jr.’s close advisers and a key organizer of the 1963 March on Washington. The film begins with earlier false accusations of Rustin having an affair with King (Aml Ameen) and his subsequent resignation from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, marking his political and professional nadir. The criminalization of homosexuality functions as a dangling threat to Rustin and his associates as he struggles with the heartbreaking reality that his willingness to fight for others’ rights will not be reciprocated for him as a gay man. Despite facing rampant homophobia from prominent figures of the Civil Rights Movement such as the NAACP’s Roy Wilkins (a disastrously stunt-casted Chris Rock) and Rep. Adam Clayton Powell Jr. (Jeffrey Wright, perfectly painting a magnificent bastard), Rustin reunites with King and orchestrates the zenith of his achievements, the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. More on target with “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” (2020), director George C. Wolfe suffers a bit of a letdown employing a restless, whirling camera better suited to a sweeping musical than the dialogue-laden screenplay that co-writer Julian Breece researched for two years by interviewing Rustin’s friends and colleagues. Because Rustin’s words are inherently awe-inspiring, and the dapper Domingo delivers them with consistent excellence, the movie moves up more notches than it might otherwise. (Sarah G. Vincent) At Landmark Kendall Square Cinema, 355 Binney St., Cambridge, and on Netflix starting Nov. 17


‘The Persian Version’ (2023)

Revelations after a one-night stand at a Halloween costume party inspire Iranian American writer-filmmaker and divorcée Leila (Layla Mohammadi) to tackle her strained relationship with her mother, Shireen (Niousha Noor). By imagining Shireen as one of her characters, Leila uncovers common themes in their lives, including their struggle to give birth to first-born girls. Writer and director Maryam Keshavarz’s autofiction dramedy proves a genre-defying, fourth-wall-breaking delight. Instead of telling her family’s story in chronological order from the ’60s to the 2000s, Keshavarz jumps between eras, lingering on ’80s nostalgia: big hair, colorful wardrobes and vibrant music, which includes a choreographed dance sequence to a Middle Eastern-infused cover of Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.” While Leila is the culture-bridging main protagonist, Keshavarz arranges for her narrative weaver to explore other family members’ perspectives, including Mamanjoon (Bella Warda), Leila’s maternal grandmother, whose yarn has a gunslinging Western flavor and reveals the scandal that motivated Shireen and Ali (Bijan Daneshmand), Leila’s father, to immigrate to the United States. Though Leila is an engaging and sympathetic character, Shireen’s saga is the more engrossing as she ascends from child bride to enterprising businesswoman and champion to immigrants trying to achieve the American dream. It’s a fast-paced, quick-witted film, by a filmmaker about a filmmaker coming to terms with her family and her identity, but Keshavarz does her best to help her audience keep up by superimposing text messages onscreen or using organic dialogue to orient the viewer to the time and location of each scene. (Sarah G. Vincent) At Landmark Kendall Square Cinema, 355 Binney St., Cambridge.


‘Where the Devil Roams’ (2023)

Meet the Adams family, and I don’t mean the one with Cousin Itt. These Adamses also deal in the ghoulish, but with much more sinister effect. The family I speak of are the DIY filmmaking trio of Toby Poser, John Adams and their daughter Zelda, who have written, directed, starred in, shot and edited a series of macabre art house horror flicks including “Hellbender” (2021) and “The Deeper You Dig” (2019). “Where the Devil Roams” takes place in the Depression-era northern Midwest, where their Seven, Maggie and Eve are performers in a traveling road show that features white-faced goth performers (some replete with Betty Boop bobs and Pinhead-like facial piercings) that seem right out of an angry, edgy Marilyn Manson or Nine Inch Nails video from the 1990s. Blood is spilled early and often, and the film begins with a grim scene of a young Maggie murdering her mother with an awl at the behest of her older sister. Seven (John Adams), a World War I vet, suffers from PTSD, so when Maggie (Poser) has to off a series of rich fops (such as the banker who bought their farm from under them, or a Norwegian mistaken for a hated German), she blindfolds Seven and gets to the task with an ax, frying pan or any practical item suitable for bashing in crania or dismembering. Eve (Zelda Adams) and Seven remain largely taciturn throughout, unless singing onstage. There’s much mention of the titular devil, and in a few cases Seven and Maggie meet retribution when those hacked come hacking back, occasionally losing a hand or a leg themselves. Eve proves pretty good at stitching them back together, but fresh parts are needed from time to time, so you know how that’s going to go.  Considering the lo-fi budget, the practical effects here are quite impressive (silent-era framing and dark backdrops that obfuscate as much as they provide lush enrichment), as is the era reconstruction and edgy, frenetic modern score that would likely do Marilyn Manson and Trent Reznor proud. “Where the Devil Roams” is elevated by unique, grisly and outré flourishes.(Tom Meek) At The Brattle Theatre, 40 Brattle St., Harvard Square, Cambridge.


‘Fingernails’ (2023)

For his sophomore feature, Christos Nikou (“Apples,” made in 2020 during the pandemic and about a pandemic) tackles the scientific prospects of love in a not-so-distant future when couples take a test to see how compatible their love is or isn’t by having a fingernail sent to a lab for testing. Living a banal existence, Anna (Jessie Buckley, “Men”) is an unemployed teacher married to Ryan (Jeremy Allen White of “The Bear,” in a thankless part) who ultimately finds herself at a Love Institute (run by Luke Wilson) where couples, through shock and underwater therapy, prep for the grim fingernail pull and often shocking test results. She strikes up a relationship with senior test consultant Amir (Riz Ahmed, “The Sound of Metal”). As she and Amir connect more, questions of her relationship with Ryan and the meaning of true love ensue. If the semi-dystopian landscape where human relationships are managed by a social process sounds a bit like Yorgos Lanthimos’ “The Lobster” (2009), know that fellow Greek countryman Nikou worked on “Dogtooth” with Lanthimos. “Fingernails” provokes initially, but never really pierces. It feels restrained and dour, though the strong cast helps. (Tom Meek) On Apple TV+.

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.