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

Improving on the New Year resolutions we all vow and never keep, The Brattle Theatre makes good with a “Refreshed, Renewed, Restored” program of newly restored or remastered films. It begins with a Friday-to-Sunday run of a recently refreshed print of Nancy Savoca’s “Household Saints” (1993), an indie about three generations of Italian American women. Based on Francine Prose’s novel, the eclectic cast includes Lili Taylor (“I Shot Andy Warhol”), Michael Imperioli (“The Sopranos”), Tracey Ullman, Victor Argo, Vincent D’Onofrio and Marianne Leone. “The Many Miracles of Household Saints,” Martina Savoca-Guay’s documentary about her mom’s movie, screens Saturday. Savoca was pregnant with Savoca-Guay when she made “Saints.” Oscar-winning actor Chris Cooper (“American Beauty,” “The Bourne Identity”) and wife Leone, who has collaborated with Savoca on films beyond just “Saints,” will take place in a Q&A for the documentary, while the Friday and Saturday screenings of “Saints” will have Savoca in the flesh.

Speaking of flesh – the “new flesh,” that is – also screening Friday and Saturday is a director’s cut of David Cronenberg’s cult body-mutilation flick “Videodrome” (1983), starring pop punk icon Debbie Harry with James Woods, who portrays a cable TV entrepreneur chasing remote broadcast snuff films.

From there, the three Rs shift gears with an encore showing of “Farewell My Concubine” (1992) starring Gong Li in a love triangle spanning 70 years in 19th century China. The film’s 30th-year anniversary remastered cut played last year at The Brattle too. The second coming shows Sunday on a double bill with “Suzhou River” (2000), Lou Ye’s contemplative drama about a courier and shady businessman. The film got the director banned from making movies by the Chinese government the first of two times. (“It’s never entirely clear to me why,” the director told The New York Times in 2019.) Sticking with Asian cinema, though now from Japan, a pairing of Shinji Sōmai films plays Wednesday: In “P.P. Rider” (1983), high schoolers tangle with the yakuza; “Typhoon Club” (1985) finds students trapped in a gymnasium during a five-day storm.

On Tuesday, two mismatched girls try to launch a punk rock band in “Times Square” (1980), teamed with “Mirror Mirror” (1990), in which a tormented girl finds gazing into her reflection in a cursed object holds temptation and evil. Horror icon Karen Black co-stars as the girl’s mom. Also on tap for “Renewal” week is one of many classic Alfred Hitchcock-Jimmy Stewart collaborations – “The Man Who Knew Too Much” (1956) – and a quirky delve into the life of a low-level Jewish mobster named Harry Plotnik (Martin Priest) and his madcap way back into the fold after a stint in prison in “The Plot Against Harry” (1989). They play Monday and Thursday, respectively.

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For its 50th Year Celebration, the Landmark Kendall Square Cinema showcases classics from 1974. First up is Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Godfather Part II,” which won three more Oscars than Part I two years earlier. Robert De Niro was not at the ceremony to get his award for playing the young Vito Corleone – following Marlon Brando, who played an older Vito Corleone in the original and did not attend that year’s ceremony; he famously sent Sacheen Littlefeather, a Native American, in his stead to make a statement about injustices against Indigenous people in the Americas and in Hollywood films. John Wayne allegedly was not happy.

Other films upcoming on the celebratory slate are “Chinatown” and “Days of Heaven.” (Tom Meek)

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In theaters and streaming

‘Society of the Snow’ (2023)

J.A. Bayona’s no stranger to despair or disaster. In “The Orphanage” (2007) and “A Monster Calls” (2016), forces from beyond serve as means for a young protagonist to deal with trauma, and “The Impossible” (2012) framed a family trying to survive the massive 2004 Thai tsunami. Here Bayona revisits the infamous ordeal of Flight 571, which crashed in the Andes in 1972. To survive the 72 days, those still alive after the crash resort to consuming the dead to keep going. It’s not the first time such an act has captivated – the Donner party still looms vividly – but this is one that has been committed and recommitted to film: “Survive!” (1976) and “Alive” (1993), as well as a fictional rejiggering in the ongoing series “Yellowjackets,” about a girls soccer team in the Canadian wilderness. Bayona’s film is derived from a book by journalist Pablo Verici written well after those films and homing in on the human aspects of grief, loss and uncertainty, with less focus on gruesome acts. Many aboard the plane were part of the Uruguayan Old Christians rugby team, which remains the focus; but to provide perspective and an anchor, Bayona and his writers choose to embed with Numa Turcatti (Enzo Vogrincic), a law student who serves as de facto narrator and moral aperture. The re-creations of the crash and ensuing storms (shot in the Spanish Sierra Nevadas) are as well done as the mayhem Bayona achieved with that Thai tsunami a decade ago. The young ensemble is near flawless, and the score by Michael Giacchino (“Star Trek,” “Ratatouille”) proves reflective of the survivors’ mood and the harsh environment’s ever-looming perils. The film is Spain’s Best International Feature entry for the Oscars, and on the short list. It’s also Bayona’s first Spanish-language film since “The Orphanage.” (Tom Meek) On Netflix.

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‘Night Swim’ (2024)

Some features built up from shorter fare should have stayed short. After swapping jobs, director and co-writer Bryce McGuire and co-writer Rod Blackhurst expand a sleek 2014 short and make a derivative, underdeveloped film, disappointing anyone hoping the first horror film of 2024 would provide a good fright. After the Waller family buys and moves into a suburban Minnesota house with a pool, they begin hearing inexplicable sounds, see flickering lights and glimpse murky forms in the shadows. Even in the movies, it’s hard to find an affordable house. An ailing dad (Wyatt Russell, “The Falcon and The Winter Soldier”) starts to mend ahead of prognosis, so much so the rest of the family ignores the supernatural shenanigans until mom (Oscar nominee Kerry Condon, so good in “The Banshees of Inisherin”) uncovers the pool’s dubious history. McGuire and Blackhurst deserve kudos for inventing a new mythology around water, but may displease anyone aware of existing European folklore. The ensemble cast perform as if they are in a movie that matters and deserve a deeper plot that might flesh out their characters and culminate in a cohesive crescendo. Humor and portent are wasted. McGuire and Blackhurst rummage through horror classics, including Stephen King’s discarded drafts of “It” and “The Shining,” and deliver a diluted flick with few bloody kills and cheap pulled punches. (Sarah G. VincentAt 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.