Thursday, July 18, 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

Continuing with cool sci-fi and beyond in the “Lost in Alphaville: Noir & Technology” program at The Brattle Theatre are Friday encore screenings of “Blade Runner” (1982), the timeless classic from Ridley Scott (now in theaters with “Napoleon”), and “Alphaville” (1965) from French new wave icon Jean-Luc Godard, in which a U.S. secret agent seeks a missing person on a space colony. The two play on a double bill like most of these tech-noir flicks, paired by theme. On Saturday it’s hardcore noir with “Kiss Me Deadly” (1955) from Robert Aldrich (“The Longest Yard,” “The Dirty Dozen) and Dick Powell’s “Split Second” (1953). The former is adapted from Mickey Spillane’s pulp novel about PI Mike Hammer (Ralph Meeker), who gets more than he bargains for when he picks up a hitchhiker (Cloris Leachman); it directly influenced “Alphaville” as well as many other crime noirs of the French new wave, and has been praised by Quentin Tarantino. Powell’s edgy tale of survival revolves around prison escapees and their hostages holing up in a doomed Nevada ghost town.

Things turn Sunday to tech-noir and New Hollywood – you have to appreciate how the Brattle has played with the theme and boundaries – with “The Anderson Tapes” (1971), directed by the great Sidney Lumet (“12 Angry Men,” “Dog Day Afternoon”) and starring Sean Connery when he had only one more official Bond to go (“Diamond are Forever”) as a safecracker out to do a final job. A young Christopher Walken and Dyan Cannon co-star. The “tech” in this case is the high-surveillance building the team must breach for the heist. Holding to that surveillance theme, the film is paired with Francis Ford Coppola’s masterpiece, “The Conversation” (1974), about a high-tech snoop (Gene Hackman) trying to solve a possible murder. The aural looping, retelling of events from different angles and agendas and descent into madness is all-time riveting in a film sneaked in quietly between the first two “Godfather” films.

More to the program’s overriding theme is a combo of 1995 thrillers, “The Net,” starring Sandra Bullock and Dennis Miller, and an adaptation of Will Gibson’s cyberpunk novel “Johnny Mnemonic” with a young Keanu Reeves. Given what Internet tech was like when Amazon was just launching, and selling only books, “The Net” might seem a little dated, but that makes it a fun time capsule; in the film starring the man who would go on to play The One in the “Matrix” series, Reeves here plays a courier with a batch of dangerous data downloaded into his head. The astounding list of co-stars includes Dolph Lundgren, Henry Rollins, Ice-T and Udo Kier, but the film would be pretty much a one-off for director Robert Longo, primarily a photographer and videographer for R.E.M. and other bands. The screening will be a special black-and-white presentation that should prove poetically evocative of Godard’s “Alphaville.” 

Running as a one-off on Monday is “Ex Machina” (2014), the thought-provoking directorial debut of screenwriter Alex Garland (“28 Day Later,” “The Beach”) that revolves around an AI experiment that takes unforeseen turns as the alluring Frankenstein’s monster-esque creation at the core proves more human than human. The primary trio of actors – Alicia Vikander, Domhnall Gleeson and Oscar Isaac, as creation, naive analyst assigned to assess the former and creator – give deep, character-driven performances, and the steep green mountainsides of Norway make for a lushly stunning backdrop.

Other pairings this week include new lives in new bodies with Brandon Cronenberg (son of body-transformation horror icon David Cronenberg) making an eerie espionage thriller of sorts, “Possessor” (2020), and “Seconds” (1966) from John Frankenheimer (“The Manchurian Candidate”), in which a disillusioned, middled-aged banker (John Randolph) tries an experimental procedure to swap his appearance and identity (becoming Rock Hudson), with profound consequences. Hudson gives one of his most nuanced performances, and Frankenheimer lays off the didactic to create a riveting psychological thriller. Rounding out the program Thursday are mysterious videotapes dropped off by unseen couriers with David Lynch’s warmup to “Mulholland Drive” (2001), “Lost Highway” (1997), and “Caché” (2005), a slow-burn psychological thriller from Michael Haneke (“Funny Games,” “The White Ribbon”) starring French icons Daniel Auteuil and Juliette Binoche (“High Life”) as a couple terrorized by tapes observing their daily lives. The hunt for the who and why place you in the position of the unnerved couple, where many are suspect and answers are slim.

A free screening of “Real Women Have Curves” (2002) is Monday as part of an Elements of Cinema program. The film is about a young Latina (America Ferrera, in her debut) struggling with her desire to go to college and her mother’s more traditional demands. It’s co-presented by the American Repertory Theater as a teaser for its upcoming theatrical production. 

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Wrapping up a Month of Giving Hanks is a Tuesday Retro Replay at the Landmark Kendall Square Cinema of the classic rom-com “Sleepless in Seattle” (1993), which lifted Tom Hanks’ and Meg Ryan’s big-screen careers (they were TV stars in the early ’80s) as well as director Nora Ephron, who to that point had been more of a writer (“Silkwood,” “When Harry Met Sally” and “Heartburn,” for which she adapted her memoir about being married to Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein). The film revolves around a Seattle widower (Hanks) urged by his son to go on talk radio and share his grief and desire to connect, which is heard by a journalist (Ryan) on the other side of the country. Themes of fate and true love are at the core; the three would reunite five years later for the less successful “You’ve Got Mail.”

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At the Somerville Theatre, Saturday and Sunday is all about a fabulously fastidious boy, his bike and the start of Tim Burton’s movie career with “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure” (1985). The film plays as part of the revolving “Off the Reel … Onto the Dance Floor” program in which Identical Cousins presents a “We ’R’ All Pee-wee” dance party upstairs at the Crystal Ballroom after the Sunday screening. Ten to 1 says there’ll be a “Tequila” dance-off, attendees in bowties and a brief moment of silence for Pee-wee portrayer Paul Reubens, who died in July.

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At the Harvard Film Archive comes a deeper delve into Japanese experimental works as part of the in-progress “Under the Underground – the Visionary Cinema of Kanai Katsu” program with a screening of Katsu’s black-and-white-and-color 1971 composition “Good-bye” on Monday. The film uses surrealistic touches to confront the issue of Japanese colonialism and the challenging history it shares with Korea. The soon-to-wrap program ties in nicely with the HFA’s other ongoing program, “Out of the Ashes – The US-ROK Security Alliance & South Korean Cinema.”

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‘Maestro’ (2023)

Bradley Cooper’s directorial follow-up to his redo of “A Star is Born” (2018) is a cinematic smorgasbord in 1940s-style black and white accentuated by a poetic switch to color later in the film, frame-ratio shifts to underscore dramatic action and some wildly impressive long shots; you don’t realize until they’re nearly over how complex and demanding they must have been on all participating. The subject is renowned “West Side Story” composer and New York Philharmonic conductor Leonard Bernstein, who also scored “On the Waterfront” and “On the Town,” his rise, the woman by his side throughout and his not-so-closeted existence as a gay man. As a biopic, the film’s not that different from the 2004 Cole Porter pic “De-Lovely” starring Kevin Kline in milieu (mid-20th-century America), subject (musical genius) and context (sexual duality), but the craftsmanship and performances here are something else. Cooper goes all-in behind the lens and even more so before it, with a solid Brooklyn-ese accent and a palpable bounce whenever ascending the podium to conduct. Beyond Cooper’s passion for the project, which registers in nearly every frame, the story here is cinematographer Matthew Libatique, who shot Cooper’s “Star” and many Darren Aronofsky projects (“Pi,” “Noah”), and Carey Mulligan (“Drive,” “Promising Young Woman”) as Bernstein’s wife, Felicia Montealegre. Their bond and their explosions on screen work to such effect primarily because of Mulligan’s nuanced rendering of Felicia as strong, pragmatic and aware, as she dials in early to her husband’s wandering sexual proclivities. The inclusion of their daughter Jamie (Maya Hawke, excellent) in many of their soul-bearing scenes adds emotional layers. It’s an impressive sophomore outing and a nice spin through a period when idealism and the American Dream could intersect. At Landmark Kendall Square Cinema, 355 Binney St., Cambridge, and on Netflix next month.

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‘Frybread Face and Me’ (2023)

During the summer of 1990, 11-year-old Benny (Keir Tallman) longs to see his favorite band, Fleetwood Mac, coming to his hometown of San Diego, but instead, due to suddenly shifting circumstance, gets sent to his maternal grandma’s house on a Navajo reservation in Arizona. Nana Lorraine (Sarah H. Natani) speaks only Navajo and lives in a house with just a generator to supply electricity. English-speaking, fractious, self-styled macho cowboy Uncle Marvin (Martin Sensmeier) tends the sheep, mends fences and mocks Benny for playing with dolls – action figures that Benny uses to reenact soap opera plots. When cousin Dawn, aka Frybread Face (Charley Hogan) arrives, the city kid and the country girl take a while to hit it off but eventually bond. With the support of executive producer Taika Waititi, first-time feature writer and director Billy Luther’s semi-autobiographical, gentle coming-of-age story offers an understated, seldom seen slice of quotidian Native American life without onscreen dysfunction or oppression driving the story. The modest story focuses on the culture clash of two misfits finding common ground in their shared circumstances: feeling as if their parents abandoned them and finding comfort in unfamiliar, sparse surroundings. Luther does a deft job of showing how indigenous men adopt and perpetuate Western normative masculine roles, whereas Benny is less occupied with gender. At times he dresses up like Stevie Nicks, and later he joins Grandma and Dawn in their routine of weaving and washing their long hair as if it’s an instinctual communal act, not a grand statement about identity. (Sarah G. Vincent) On Netflix.


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.

This post was updated Nov. 18, 2023, to delete a part that referred to events taking place in December.