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. 


Local focus

Things get into the holiday mood this week at The Brattle Theatre with a four-day run of Frank Capra’s timeless “It’s a Wonderful Life” (1946), in which an idealist (Jimmy Stewart) who has given much to his community winds up in need himself. The alternative telling of what might be without Stewart’s everyman starts to ring the bell for its wings on Friday.

Then it’s onto a “Holiday Adjacent” program of such cheeky near-Christmas spins as “Die Hard” (1988), with Bruce Willis’ punchy New York cop crawling through the air ducts of Los Angeles’ Nakatomi Plaza in an effort to take out a hive of thieves holding hostages that include his estranged wife (Bonnie Bedelia). The great Alan Rickman helps cement the film as an action classic as the suave and sadistic Euro-villain at the helm of the scheme. You can get your  yippee-ki-yay on Friday, then on Saturday it’s a well-distributed bag of ecstasy that lights up the L.A. rave scene in Doug Liman’s sneakily sharp time capsule “Go” (1999), starring Katie Holmes, Sarah Polley, Taye Diggs and Timothy Olyphant.

The shock-in-the-box, programming wise, is the newly minted holiday staple “Rare Exports,” Finnish filmmaker Jalmari Helander’s bloody 2010 take on “A Christmas Story” (1983), the modern classic about a boy and a BB gun. Here, however, the guns are no toy pea shooters, but double-barreled shotguns. Filmed in Norway, the flick centers on a 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. “Exports,” moving over from a Kendall Square showing last week, plays the late slot Sunday.

Others on the slate include Jim Jarmusch’s cabbie chronicles from around the world, “Night on Earth” (1991), with Roberto Benigni, Rosie Perez and Winona Ryder as those running the meter in such spots as Helsinki, New York and Los Angeles; my favorite film of 2021, David Lowery’s “The Green Knight”; and Tom, Nicole and Stanley playing and orchestrating stately sex games in “Eyes Wide Shut” (1999). Every time I see Kidman’s performance in this final work by Kubrick, it becomes more and more provocative and raw. The films play Wednesday, Tuesday and Thursday respectively.


The “Attack of the B-Movies” program is back at the Somerville Theatre and kicking into seasonally festive mode with “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians” (1964), in which the Martian ruler decides to kidnap Santa because the children of the red planet are lazy and under the influence of too much pop culture from Earth. It plays Saturday and Tuesday on a double bill with the Roger Corman B-classic “Little Shop of Horrors” (1960), centered around a giant, hungry alien Venus flytrap and featuring a very young Jack Nicholson in a bit part.


The Harvard Film Archive wraps things up for 2023 with a screening of the British period piece “The Go-Between” (1971) directed by Joseph Losey (“Mr. Klein,” “Don Giovanni”) on Friday. The film tells the story of a boy who becomes the “go-between” for a forbidden love affair between his friend’s sister (Julie Christie) and a neighboring farmer (Alan Bates). The film, adapted from L.P. Hartley’s novel by Harold Pinter (“Sleuth,” “The French Lieutenant’s Woman”) explores themes of class and social mores around sex and public posture in post-industrial England.


In theaters and streaming

‘Wonka’ (2023)

The musical prequel to Roald Dahl’s 1964 novel “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” is the Disneyfication of “Boardwalk Empire” with chocolate substituting for alcohol. After traveling the world for seven years in a quest to become an artisanal chocolatier, a young, naïve, wide-eyed Willy Wonka (Timothée Chalamet) arrives at the Galeries Gourmet, a town square in a fantasy town where the top three chocolate tycoons dominate: Slugworth (Paterson Joseph), Prodnose (Matt Lucas) and Fickelgruber (Mathew Baynton). Wonka dreams of opening his own shop but quickly learns that the odds are stacked against him. He needs to sell chocolate to have money; he needs money to have a shop; and he needs a shop to sell chocolate – a vicious circle indeed. Falling into debt and facing the threat of spending his life working a dead-end job, magical showman Wonka finds a way to level the playing field by creating Rube Goldbergian contraptions, street barking and teaming up with other unfortunate souls. The “Paddington” pair of director and co-writer Paul King and co-writer Simon Farnaby succeed at crafting a colorful, crowd-pleasing, suitable-for-all-ages holiday hit without disappointing fans of the definitive, classic original adaptation “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory” (1971) starring the iconic Gene Wilder or falling into the pitfalls of Tim Burton and Johnny Depp’s over-the-top eccentric, though faithful, 2005 spin on the Dahl classic. The elfin Chalamet can sing and leads a talented, all-in ensemble, including an almost unrecognizable Olivia Colman and a rakish Hugh Grant as Lofty, an Oompa-Loompa. (Sarah G. Vincent) At Apple Cinemas, 168 Alewife Brook Parkway, Cambridge, Landmark Kendall Square Cinema, 355 Binney St., Kendall Square, AMC Assembly Row 12, 395 Artisan Way, Assembly Square, Somerville.


‘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.

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.