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

Treats and twists abound at The Brattle Theatre beginning Friday with new restorations of “Victims of Sin” (1951) and “Messiah of Evil” (1973). The former, a Mexican noir about a cabaret dancer who adopts the child of a murderous pimp, was directed by Mexican moving picture legend Emilio Fernández, who most might know from his roles in such Sam Peckinpah classics “The Wild Bunch” (1969) and “Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia” (1974); as a filmmaker he won the Palme d’Or for “María Candelaria” (1944) and adapted Steinbeck’s “The Pearl” (1947). “Victims” gets a four-day run. “Messiah,” a ’70s grindhouse classic about a seaside cult where residents are turned into vampirelike creatures, goes Friday to Sunday. It was directed by the husband-and-wife team of Gloria Katz and Willard Huyck. Huyck would the same year pen the script for “America Graffiti” and later direct the box-office bomb “Howard the Duck” (1986). Also on Friday is a screening of “There’s Always Tomorrow” (1956) that reunites stars Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray from “Double Indemnity” (1944) in another tale of passion as old flame and ignored husband seek a spark. The screening is hosted by Marsha Gordon, author of “Becoming the Ex-Wife: The Unconventional Life & Forgotten Writings of Ursula Parrott,” a new biography about the Boston-born novelist whose work was often adapted during the Golden Age of Hollywood – including, as you might guess, “There’s Always Tomorrow.”

Also queuing up this week is the celebration of fantastical works penned by Roald Dahl (in anticipation of the upcoming “Wonka” starring Timothée Chalamet?) with screenings of such instant classics as “The Witches” (1990) Thursday directed by Nicolas Roeg (“Walkabout,” “Don’t Look Now”) and starring Angelica Huston; quirky and twee animation from Wes Anderson (“Asteroid City,” “Island of Dogs”) with “Fantastic Mr. Fox” (2009) with the voice talents of George Clooney and Meryl Streep; and “James and the Giant Peach” (1996) directed by Henry Selick, whose CV includes “The Nightmare Before Christmas” (1996) and “Coraline” (2009). “Fox” and “Peach” are Tuesday and Saturday. And Sunday, the Revolutions Per Minute Festival set up to look at the short experimental works of Boston-based experimental filmmaker and sculptor Douglas Urbank, with Urbank in attendance. 

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This month’s Tuesday Retro Replay at the Landmark Kendall Square Cinema theme is ’Tis the Season, holiday curios to pull you away from the mall scene. First up is the 35th anniversary of the wildly wry Bill Murray comedy “Scrooged” (1988), a loose adaptation of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” centered on Murray’s TV exec as the crotchety old coot who says “Bah, humbug!”

For the Filmmaker Focus series in anticipation of Yorgos Lanthimos’ upcoming “Poor Things,” it’s the Greek filmmaker’s “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” (2017), starring Colin Farrell as a hapless man caught between fate and hubris as he was in Lanthimos’ “The Lobster” (2015). Here Farrell plays a successful doctor (married to Nicole Kidman’s similarly successful doctor) who’s beholden to the whims of a peculiar teen (Barry Keoghan, who also starred with Farrell in last year’s “The Banshees of Inisherin” and is equally devilish in Emerald Fennell’s currently playing “Saltburn”). The why of the obligation – illegitimate child, scammer, demon or worse – takes a while to take hold, and that’s the heart of the film’s slow-burn allure. The gifted ensemble. 

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At the Harvard Film Archive, the “Under the Underground – the Visionary Cinema of Kanai Katsu” program wraps up this week with screenings of “The Kingdom” (1973), part of Katsu’s “Smiling Milky Way Trilogy” about a poet who becomes depressed when his editor suggests he’s a sellout. It plays Friday with the more experimental (and full of unique camera effects) “The Stormy Times” (1991), which has been described aptly as a series of visual poems. For the HFA’s other ongoing program, “Out of the Ashes – The US-ROK Security Alliance and the Emergence of South Korean Cinema,” it’s an encore presentation of Lee Man-hee’s “The Marines Who Never Returned” (1965) on Saturday as well as an encore screening of Yu Hyun-mok’s “Aimless Bullet” (1961) and Han Hyung-mo’s “Female Boss” (1959), another film that, as the titles implies, frames the rising empowerment of women in postwar Korean society, the other being his “Madame Freedom” (1956), which played earlier in the program. “Aimless Bullet” and “Female Boss” play Sunday. And on Monday it’s the recently restored and lost until 2016 “The Oath of the Sword” (1914), produced by a Los Angeles company described as the “first company in America to be owned, controlled and operated by Japanese.” The title of the film refers to the antiquated practice of hara-kiri (suicide by sword for sin or dishonor) that, as Chekov would have it, comes into play when a betrothed couple spends four year apart as the groom-to-be attends college at the University of California, Berkeley, and his wife-to-be takes company with a sea captain. The newfound silent will be presented with a live musical accompaniment.

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In theaters and streaming

‘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 on Dec. 20.

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‘The Shift’ (2023)

Angel Studios, a faith-based production company out of Utah, gets behind this loose adaptation of the story of Job as a young, square-jawed man named Kevin (Kristoffer Polaha, who looks and sounds like the mayhem guy from the Allstate commercials) under much financial and work pressure in the material world. He wakes from a car crash (the Steri-Strips over the eye further add to the the “mayhem” likeness) in some sort of dystopian limbo. Looming over him is a steely-eyed gent (Neal McDonough) who goes by the monicker The Benefactor. Later, in a cozy diner, folk cower at the sight of him as he offers Kevin a job as a “shifter” and baits him with questions such as “What is my real name?” Clues given have to do with horns – but just what is the “shift” of the title? That had me some too, but it’s the alter realities that The Benefactor and his minions can send people to: a personal hell, idyllic paradise or somewhere in between. For Kevin, it’s getting back to his wife, Mollie (Elisabeth Tabish), but to do so he must submit to the  whims of The Benefactor, who also has at his disposal in the Gotham-esque limbo-scape stormtrooper-garbed henchpeople whose face-obscuring helmets look as unwieldy as they do corny. McDonough is fiery and amusing in his hammy, demonic part and Tabish show touches of fawning Gal Godot allure at turns, but the heavy-handedness forgoes a beer at a bar for a cup of tea down the road, and a stage-play-like conclusion saps the intermittent intrigue. It’s an ambitious jab at fusing sci-fi fantasy with a lesson in faith (quotes from the Book of Job separate acts), but it never quite works. At 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.

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