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

The Roald Dahl celebration in anticipation of “Wonka” – a prequel due Dec. 15 starring Timothée Chalamet and an oranged Hugh Grant as an Oompa-Loompa – wraps up this week at The Brattle Theatre with a screening of “Matilda” (1996) about the young genius (Mara Wilson) with extrasensory skills living with a family of disreputables (Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman) who starts at a school and gains a new view on life. It plays Sunday double bill with an encore screening of “The Witches” (1990).

The Brattle then shifts into special-events mode with the area premiere of Paul B. Preciado’s “Orlando, My Political Biography” (reviewed below), an “in conversation” documentary that explores author Virginia Woolf’s gender-melding 1928 classic by examining and celebrating the “Orlando-ness” of its subjects – 26 trans people ages 8 to 80. The weeklong run kicks off Friday. On Thursday, Grrl Haus Cinema sets up for a night of short films by women, trans and nonbinary artists “with a focus on low-budget and DIY productions.”

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The final Tuesday Retro Replay at the Landmark Kendall Square Cinema on the theme ’Tis the Season is “Rare Exports,” Finnish filmmaker Jalmari Helander’s cheeky and bloody 2010 spin on “A Christmas Story,” the 1983 classic about a boy and a BB gun. Filmed in Norway, the movie centers on a young boy who ventures into mountains where reindeer are found slaughtered and children disappear – and discovers that the Santa who lives there ain’t no Saint Nick. 

For the final Filmmaker Focus entry in anticipation of Yorgos Lanthimos’ “Poor Things” arriving next week, it’s the 2018 Oscar-winning historical piece “The Favourite,” with three knockout performances by Olivia Colman as a malady-afflicted Queen Anne; Rachel Weisz, following a role in Lanthimos’ “The Lobster” (2015) as an attending lady and lover; and Emma Stone, the new servant and prospective paramour in the developing love triangle and jockeying for power and favor. All three would be nominated – Stone and Weisz for Best Supporting – with only Coleman winning for Best Actress for her film-defining tour de force. Stone will star as a female Frankenstein’s monster of sorts in “Poor Things” and could be up for Best Actress for the turn; she won for her lonely, dance-happy soul in “La La Land” (2016). (Tom Meek)

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In theaters and streaming

‘The Boy and the Heron’ (2023)

Hayao Miyazaki (“The Wind Rises,” “Spirited Away”) continues to reach new heights with “The Boy and the Heron,” which pulls inspiration from his own life. The film follows 12-year-old Mahito, who is grieving the loss of his mother. One day, he encounters a mysterious heron who tells him she might still be alive, prompting an extraordinary adventure through fantastical realms. Displaying a dizzying blend of naturalism and magical realism, the film plays with the notion of balance as it offers a celebration of life and a rumination on the days left behind us. Ideas of heaven and hell play an integral part in the film, as Mahito traverses worlds seeking out the mother he gravely misses, holding out hope he’ll get to see her again. Aided by frequent collaborator Joe Hisaishi’s luminous, piano-driven score, the film is a haunting, ephemeral experience buoyed by Miyazaki’s long-established artistry. But even here, decades into his career, he’s finding ways to challenge himself, from the personal narrative to the severity of his color stories in which elements such as the deep blues of the ocean clash with rolling green fields. Exposing the truths of the human condition under the guise of fantasy, “The Boy and the Heron” manages the contradictory feat of finding whimsy in horror and joy through grief. Melancholy yet hopeful, it’s a staggering work of surrealism and heartfelt storytelling that ponders our ability to face the world without malice. (Allyson Johnson) At Somerville Theatre, 55 Davis Square, and Apple Cinemas Cambridge, 168 Alewife Brook Parkway, Cambridge Highlands near Alewife and Fresh Pond.

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‘Orlando, My Political Biography’ (2023)

Hailing from Spain, Ph.D. philosopher, museum curator and writer Paul B. Preciado, a globe-trotting transman, adds filmmaker to his resume with this feature debut. Trans and nonbinary people of different ages, nationalities and ethnicities play Orlando from Virginia Woolf’s 1928 novel “Orlando: A Biography,” which was the basis for Sally Potter’s gorgeous-to-behold “Orlando” (1992) starring Tilda Swinton as the titular gender-bending protagonist. Woolf’s aristocratic lover and novelist Vita Sackville-West (married at the time) inspired Woolf. The novel functions as a first-draft jumping-off point before Preciado’s performers-subjects go off-script in autobiographical monologues to discuss their experiences trying to live in “a normative regime.” Viewers unfamiliar with the source material may find it hard to discern where the novel ends and the confessional begins, but with patience will be able to keep up. Lyrical revisions include a dizzying pastiche of frilly Elizabethan collars, Turkish sultan sensuous harem chic, ’90s club kid vibes, leather biker aesthetic and ’60s go-go style. Preciado also creates whimsical liminal spaces envisioning a liberated world without dysmorphia and gender binarism. Like “Framing Agnes” at The Brattle in February, the movie celebrates trans people navigating a willfully ignorant medical bureaucracy that opposes anyone who does not conform to their restrictive vision of the world. A free exchange of hormones in a doctor’s waiting room leads to a spontaneous, colorful disco dance party. Preciado’s cheeky utopian realism depicts a future cis woman judge announcing the abolishment of sex assignment at birth, then issuing genderless identification to each person in the courtroom. (Sarah G. Vincent) At The Brattle Theatre, 40 Brattle St., Harvard Square.

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Eileen (2023)

William Oldroyd adapts Ottessa Moshfegh’s psychological thriller with dark, sinister polish. Given the nature of his protagonists, it probably helps that Oldroyd cut his teeth on “Lady MacBeth” (2016); there’s a historical aspect here as well, as “Eileen” is set in early 1960s Massachusetts. Our focus (Thomasin McKenzie, “Leave No Trace”) is a young woman without many prospects who lives with her alcoholic and abusive father (the underappreciated Shea Whigham). Her restraints loosen some when she takes a clerical position at a local prison for juvenile boys (the film was shot partly in New England, but much in New Jersey) and even more when she’s assigned to a new, highly educated youth psychiatrist, Dr. Rebecca St. John (Anne Hathaway). Rebecca, looking like Marilyn Monroe with all the icon’s command, smokes cigarettes seductively and has a take-charge edge. Her charisma and presence is undeniable, and Eileen is forever in awe. At Rebecca’s invitation, the two start to hang out and hit the area’s podunk dives. When one ruffian challenges the women, Rebecca lets fly with a nice right cross. As Eileen continues to blossom, there are slow reveals concerning Rebecca; the early tell is her disheveled home with dingy linoleum, dirty dishes piled high in the sink and cigarette butts brimming from ashtrays everywhere. To tell more on the what and why would be to ruin the treats to come. It’s a slow, controlled Hitchcockian burn, with masterful performances by the leads as well as Whigham and Marin Ireland, who enters late as an X factor. (Tom Meek) At Landmark Kendall Square Cinema, 355 Binney St., Cambridge, 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 Dec. 13, 2023, to remove a reference to an expected Grrl Haus profile.