Sunday, July 14, 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

Belmont World Film kicks off its 21st Family Festival on Saturday at Apple Cinemas Cambridge with the U.S. premiere of the animated French musical “Yuku and the Himalayan Flower,” about a mouse on a quest to heal her grandmother, who was injured in a fight with a cat. The fest aimed at families with children 3-13 runs through Monday in Cambridge with a shorts program Honoring Martin Luther King Jr. taking place at The Brattle Theatre. Other highlights include animated shorts from Weston Woods Studios (Saturday, Apple Cinemas), which has been at it for 70 years; “Sea Sparkle,” a Dutch entry about a girl who searches for the sea monster she thinks is responsible for her father’s disappearance (Saturday, Apple Cinemas); “Kung Fu Lion” (Monday, Brattle); “Adventures in the Land of Asha,” in which a young boy with a rare disease who can’t attend school forms a relationship with an Indigenous girl (Saturday, Apple Cinemas) and “Titina,” an animated Norwegian film about a celebrity pooch (Monday, Brattle). Other screenings will be held at the West Newton Cinema and Regent Theatre in Arlington on Jan. 21, when the closeout features a screening of the much heralded “Totem,” about a Senegalese girl in Netherlands who navigates differences in race and culture when her brother and mother are arrested. The festival hosts an introductory filmmaking workshop at the Belmont Media Center on Jan. 21.

Speaking of local focus, Ghana-born Massachusetts Institute of Technology alum Arthur Musah’s documentary “Brief Tender Light” airs on PBS on Monday and will be available to stream there through April. It follows four African undergraduates navigating the halls of MIT and U.S. society as they look to become agents of change back home in Nigeria, Tanzania, Rwanda and Zimbabwe.

The “Refreshed, Renewed, Restored” program at The Brattle rolls on with Glauber Rocha’s contemplation of race, religion and class in Brazil, “Black God, White Devil” (1964), in which a cowhand kills his landlord and gets involved in a cult. Rocha, who made the Latin American Western when he was 25, remains an underappreciated visionary. The other two films of his Brazilian Western trilogy (“Entranced Earth” and “Antonio das Mortes”) should also get their due in restorations. “Black God” plays Friday and Saturday. 

Michele Soavi’s eerie giallo “Cemetery Man” (1994), starring Rupert Everett as the groundskeeper where the dead don’t stay dead, is a macabre treat Friday and Saturday. Isaac Julien’s landmark gay Black drama “Young Soul Rebels” (1991) follows on Sunday and Monday. Rounding out the program is action with cops under the gun in the pairing of “The Raid: Redemption” (2011) and John Carpenter’s “Assault on Precinct 13th” (1976) on Tuesday.

Other fun stuff coming to The Brattle include area premieres of Ethan Coen’s documentary “Jerry Lee Lewis – Trouble in Mind” on Friday and one of the Day’s top films of 2023, Celine Song’s haunting portrait of longing, “Past Lives,” on Thursday. There’s also a free, one-time-only screening of “Made in Massachusetts: 100 Years of Filmmaking in the Bay State” – an epic, three-hour chronological compilation of scenes from more than 200 films and television shows shot in Massachusetts between 1922 and 2022. The Mass rewind happens Sunday.

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The 50th Year Celebration at Landmark Theatres continues this week at the chain’s Kendall Square Cinema with a screening of “Chinatown” (1974), the Robert Towne-scripted, Roman Polanski-helmed crime drama about water rights in 1920s Los Angeles. It would make a good double play with “L.A. Confidential” (1997), as both are set in the same loose era in bourgeoning Tinseltown with seedy tales of corruption and power grabs that pull at the strings of the central action. Here it’s Jack Nicholson’s P.I., Jake Gittes, hired by a well-off socialite (Faye Dunaway) to investigate a possible extramarital affair by her husband, the head of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. Nicholson and Dunaway as antihero and imperiled woman at the crossroads are doing top-shelf work as two actors at their prime, bolstered by legendary director John Huston as a pugnacious, grandfatherly figure with more than a few skeletons in his closet. The film, which plays Tuesday, is pretty much the definition of neo-noir and marked the apex of the New Hollywood movement in film, which produced all-time classic after all-time classic until it was upended by the blockbuster and the need for big budgets, formulas and ready-made target markets. Towne saw the film as the cornerstone of a trilogy. It was never realized, though Nicholson took the director’s seat for a first sequel, “The Two Jakes,” in 1990. That effort received mixed reviews and registers largely as a cinematic footnote. (Tom Meek)

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In theaters and streaming

‘Anselm’ (2023)

Wim Wenders, the German filmmaker behind “Wings of Desire” (1987), “Buena Vista Social Club” (1999) and the current Japanese selection for Best International Feature, “Perfect Days,” also has been a pioneer in the realm of the 3D documentary, first with “Pina,” a 2011 tribute to German choreographer Pina Bausch, and now with this embrace of controversial German artist and sculptor Anselm Kiefer. Kiefer’s works include transmogrified mannequins with various intriguing objects for their heads and sleek airplane fuselages that seem to be covered by white, post-apocalyptic ash. They make for good eye-popping use of 3D as Wenders’ camera explores the artist’s 200-acre estate and a manse that boast halls of Greco-Roman spaciousness. What made the artist born in 1945 come under scrutiny was his early use of Nazi text and propaganda pieces in his art. Many questioned if he was a promoter of or sympathizer with the fascist regime, but in archival footage he responds matter of factly that his intent was for people to not forget and to continue to have an important conversation. Wenders smartly takes a Frederick Wiseman approach, just observing his subject in action and letting the historical archives and his subject do the occasional talking. For dramatic re-creations from earlier years, Wenders’ grandnephew and Anselm’s real-life son plays Anselm at different ages. It’s a somber, immersive journey brought together by technological device, an anchoring tenor and spikes of wonderment and emotional revelation. (Tom Meek) At Landmark Kendall Square Cinema, 355 Binney St., Cambridge.

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‘The Book of Clarence’ (2023)

Deep in debt and trying to prove he’s not worthless, atheist hustler Clarence (LaKeith Stanfield, so good in the witty, biting “Sorry to Bother You”) poses as a messiah to make money. His commitment to the con transforms him into a believer and savior. The reformed charlatan goes all in on Jesus (Nicholas Pinnock, who bears a striking resemblance to Denzel Washington), who performs some pretty cool miracles. Despite accusations of blasphemy, writer and director Jeymes Samuel (“The Harder They Fall”) is faithful in spirit to traditional Biblical epics such as “Ben-Hur” (1959), but the film is a mixed bag: The first half devotes too much time to establishing the setting; the second half, once Clarence begins to repent of his selfish, dissolute ways, the pacing picks up, though many of the supporting characters are more interesting than Clarence, including chariot racer Mary Magdalene (the underutilized Teyana Taylor), Jesus’ mom, Mary (Alfre Woodward) and the revolution-minded Barabbas (Omar Sy), whose physical prowess resembles an ancient Greek mythological figure. Then there’s the conversational Pilate, played by James McAvoy (“Atomic Blonde”). Notice that British actors play Roman occupiers, a double metaphor for colonizers and sadistic bad-apple cops, who are hunting down all messiahs, while Nigerian-accented, dark-skinned Black actors play the Israelites, a dream come true for moviegoers who are tired of Jesus looking like a California surfer. Samuel refers to that in a long running joke involving an unrecognizable Benedict Cumberbatch. The film’s shot in Matera, Italy, a popular location for directors making films about ancient Israel, be it Pier Paolo Pasolini or Mel Gibson. (Sarah G. Vincent) At 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.