Wednesday, July 17, 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

Perhaps the greatest B-movie of all time comes Friday and Saturday to The Brattle Theatre. “Touch of Evil” (1958), Orson Welles’ bookend to a storied career that began with “Citizen Kane” and something of a troubled child during its production, is a deft, eerie psychological noir of corruption and drugs that takes place in a seedy Mexican border town and stars Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh, Marlene Dietrich and a grotesquely bug-eyed Welles as an unscrupulous detective. It was famously taken away from the director, but for the 40th anniversary restoration effort, Universal Pictures gave Welles’ notes to editor Walter Murch (“The Conversation”) to try to cut it as close to the original vision as possible. This is the 25th-year restoration celebration of that cut, which had an area premiere at The Brattle.

Beside the visceral distortion-angle cinematography by Russell Metty (“Spartacus,” “Omega Man”), the unsettling Latin-jazz score by Henry Mancini (“Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” “The Pink Panther”) adroitly underscores the sense of amoral chaos and perpetual peril. In the Whit Masterson novel “Badge of Evil” that the movie was based on, Heston’s narcotics officer was an Anglo; Welles made Heston’s Vargas a Mexican to challenge Hollywood on the portrayal of Mexicans in film. The decision remains a hot topic.

From there The Brattle moves onto its “Warner Brothers in the ’80s: Enter the Blockbuster” program, playing off of Bruce Lee’s final flick and the slate ahead. It’s chock full of holiday fare funny and freaky, with such staples as “Gremlins” (1984) and “Lethal Weapon” (1987) (“Don’t feed them after midnight” and “I’m too old for this shit”) on a Christmas Day double bill. Tuesday it’s “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” with Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Stephen King’s novel “The Shining” (1980) – did you know that some of the unused footage of the Torrance family coming to The Overlook Hotel was reused at the end of the original cut of “Blade Runner” (1982)? On Wednesday, things dip into the comic with Goldie Hawn joining the army in “Private Benjamin” (1980) and Amy Irving (“Carrie”) finding romance through a Jewish matchmaker in “Crossing Delancey” (1988), directed by Joan Micklin Silver, who made the Boston-shot “Between the Lines” (1977) based on the early days of the late, great alternative newspaper The Boston Phoenix. Rounding out the week is a gonzo Michael Keaton as the puckish incarnation from beyond in Tim Burton’s fantastically inventive grim comedy “Beetlejuice” (1988). Thursday’s when you can get your Day-O on. 

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The Harvard Film Archive may be shut down for the holiday break, but online you can see “Cinema Before 1300,” an illustrated lecture by medievalist Jerome Hiler, who shares with audiences stained-glass images from France and the U.K. and illuminates its historical, religious and cultural significance, including as what HFA director Haden Guest calls “a precursor to cinema.” The free film is available for streaming through March 15. (Tom Meek)

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In theaters and streaming

‘The Color Purple’ (2023)

In 1909 Georgia, abusive father Alfonso (Deon Cole from “Black-ish”) marries off 14-year-old Celie (Phylicia Pearl Mpasi, in a stunning onscreen debut) to wife-beating Mister (Colman Domingo, “Rustin”), who pines after force-of-nature singer Shug Avery (Taraji P. Henson, holding center court). It separates Celie from her only loved one, her little sister Nettie (Halle Bailey of “The Little Mermaid”). After decades of being treated like a whipped mule, the adult Celie (“American Idol” winner turned Broadway star Fantasia Barrino, who reprises her role from the original 2005 production), finds friendship with voluptuous, strong-willed Sofia (Danielle Brooks, reprising her role from the 2015 Broadway revival), the wife of her stepson Harpo (a fully utilized Corey Hawkins, in contrast to the wasting of talents in “The Last Voyage of the Demeter”). When Celie meets Shug, she discovers hope, self-worth and the will to fight and escape hardship. Fans of director Steven Spielberg’s beloved 1985 film, the first adaptation of Alice Walker’s 1982 novel, need not fear that this well-deserved Golden Globe nominee is a remake – it comes with blessing of producer Spielberg, is co-produced by Oprah Winfrey, Spielberg’s Sofia, and gets a brief cameo from Whoopi Goldberg, the original adult Celie. The impeccable ensemble cast and director Blitz Bazawule, who directed Beyonce’s visual album “Black Is King” (2020), prove that lightning can strike twice with this inspiring, spirited musical rendition of Walker’s classic tale about womanhood and the Black experience in the early 1900s. (Sarah G. Vincent) At Landmark Kendall Square Cinema, 355 Binney St., Cambridge; 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.

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‘The Iron Claw’ (2023)

Generations of the Von Erich family have become famous professional wrestlers since the 1960s. With the blessing of Kevin, the oldest surviving member, writer and director Sean Durkin creates an entertaining yet tragic fictionalized sports biopic about the first two generations, starting with domineering patriarch Fritz (Holt McCallany), before shifting focus to the rise and fall of four of Fritz’s sons: devoted family man Kevin (Zac Efron, who transformed his body to resemble a young Lou Ferrigno), showman David (Harris Dickinson of “Triangle of Sadness”), potential Olympian discus thrower Kerry (Jeremy Allen White of “The Bear”) and musician-cameraman Mike (the rising Stanley Simons). God-fearing Doris (consummate character actor Maura Tierney) and her adult sons put their faith in Fritz’s steering of the family ship until their numbers begin to dwindle due to out-of-ring tragedy. Recreating the on-screen high points of the family’s boisterous television promotions and wrestling appearances including the infamous Ric Flair, Durkin reflects his admiration for the sport and its theatricality, making depictions of the vocation’s pitfalls sympathetic, not a mocking exposé. Add “Iron Claw” to the emerging genre of films cautioning straight white men away from the physical and psychological hazards of becoming a wrestler, whether as an Olympian in “Foxcatcher” (2014) or a professional showman in “The Wrestler” (2008). (Sarah G. Vincent) At Landmark Kendall Square Cinema, 355 Binney St., Cambridge; Somerville Theatre, 55 Davis Square; and AMC Assembly Row 12, 395 Artisan Way, Assembly Square, Somerville.

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‘Ferrari’ (2023)

With his business on the brink of financial ruin and the shadow of death falling over his personal and professional life, a single-minded Enzo Ferrari (Adam Driver), a former Italian racing car driver, racing team founder and auto industrialist, is more focused in 1957 on winning the Mille Miglia, a perilous 1,000-mile race, and reviving the faltering biz than dealing with domestic matters with his wife, played with fiery zeal by Penelope Cruz. When did auteurs hold a meeting to decide that Adam Driver is Italian? The first hour feels borrowed from Ridley Scott’s “House of Gucci” (2021), over-relying on a melodramatic caricature of how Italian characters act. Unlike Scott, director Michael Mann’s intention is not to ridicule his subject but to bring his decadeslong admiration for Brock Yates’ 1991 Ferrari biography to theaters. Before plunging viewers into the chaotic story, he should have provided more context and explored deeper themes like “Ford v Ferrari” (2019), for which Mann served as an executive producer. Instead, he holds the false assumption that his audience is coming to his latest film with as much knowledge about the subject as he has. The film finally gets on track in the second half with intense performances from Driver and Cruz as husband and wife parrying for control of the company – she brings much of the money to the table initially. The denouement features an unflinching accident that will likely leave theatergoers traumatized but may not translate as well to smaller screens. (Sarah G. Vincent) At Landmark Kendall Square Cinema, 355 Binney St., Kendall Square; Somerville Theatre, 55 Davis Square; and AMC Assembly Row 12, 395 Artisan Way, Assembly Square, Somerville.  

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‘Leave the World Behind’ (2023)

I love dystopian tales, though most I read disappoint. Rumaan Alam’s “Leave the World Behind” hit the middle ground. Adapted by “Mr. Robot” creator Sam Esmail as a Netflix offering starring Ethan Hawke, Oscar-winner Julia Roberts (“Erin Brockovich”) and multiple Oscar-winner Mahershala Ali (“Green Book,” “Moonlight”), like Alam’s book it begins with promise as the Sandfords (Hawke and Roberts, with Farrah Mackenzie and Charlie Evans as their kids) rent a lavish house in the Hamptons. The Wi-Fi is a bit wonky, the top-shelf booze in the liquor cabinet is in tantalizing view to renters but under lock and key and not to be had – and while at the beach, a giant oil tanker slowly but surely runs aground, sending all the well-to-dos scattering. Shortly afterward the Internet effectively dies, the news is slim and flickering and power comes and goes. Adding to the weirdness is the self-driven pile up of white Teslas that block any return to the city and the menacing mob of deer who seem to know what’s up. Then the house’s owner, G.H. Scott (Ali) and his daughter Ruth (Myha’la) show up seeking a safe place and offering a VRBO discount so they can hang out in the guest suite. Matters of race and class get touched upon with a feather, while the rest of what’s going on gets left annoyingly vague – something that worked better in “White Noise” (2022) or “The Trigger Effect” (1996). Roberts and Hawke’s characters are drawn with the thinnest of brushes, though the film does find some daubs of intrigue in the teasing tensions between Robert’s Amanda and G.H. and Hawke’s Clay and Ruth and the insert of Kevin Bacon as a “get off my lawn” survivalist. (Tom Meek) On Netflix.

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‘The Boys in the Boat’ (2023)

There was a time when George Clooney the filmmaker showed promise and bite with his game take on Chuck Barris’ gonzo autobiography “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind” (2002) and a dark look at newsman Edward J. Murrow taking on McCarthyism in the 2005 “Good Night, and Good Luck.” With such watered-down fare as “The Monuments Men” (2014) and the turgid sci-fi last-survivor yawn “The Midnight Sky” (2020), he’s been more “what was” than “could be,” though he did notch a bit of a reprieve with the palpably felt “Tender Bar” in 2021. That said, his adaptation of Daniel James Brown’s beloved nonfiction tale of the Washington University crew team that goes to Berlin in 1936 and wins gold moves with all the grace an overladen trash scow. Missing are the deep Depression-era travails that confront main subject Joe (Callum Turner, “Green Room”), whom Brown interviewed for the book late in his life. What we have is a by-the-numbers, remedial execution with such an over-the-top cartoonish rendering of Hitler that it becomes about all one can think about – boys in what boat? Clooney must have been sipping scotch and watching Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator” (1940), which was intentional in its farce. Joel Edgerton (“Loving”) rights the ship some as stoic Wash U crew coach Al Ubrickson. The period re-creations and touches on class division in America at the time intrigue some, but get roiled in the eddies of Clooney’s flat, perfunctory strokes. (Tom Meek) Opening Christmas Day at Kendall Square and Assembly Row.


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.