Tuesday, July 23, 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 Brattle Theatre shows some deep love for actor Jean Arthur as part of its “Columbia 100: Jean Arthur, Sweetness with Spine” program. Arthur, who died in 1991, made more than 90 films, more than holding her own with iconic A-list leading men, yet her legacy seems strangely overshadowed behind those of Greta Garbo, Katharine Hepburn and Bette Davis. Flash quiz: Do you recall that Arthur played opposite Alan Ladd in the Western classic “Shane” (1953)?

The Brattle lineup includes such classics as “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” (1939) with James Stewart as the newbie pol of the title and “Mr. Deeds Goes to Town” (1936) with Gary Cooper, both directed by Frank Capra and on a double bill Saturday (“Smith” plays solo on Friday). Then it’s two with Arthur opposite Cary Grant in “Only Angels Have Wings” (1939) and “The Talk of the Town” (1942) on Sunday. The doubles keep coming with an early John Ford entry co-starring baby-faced tough guy Edward G. Robinson, “The Whole Town’s Talking,” with “If You Could Only Cook,” both made in 1935 and playing Monday; “Too Many Husbands” (1940) with Fred MacMurray of “My Three Sons” fame and “More Than a Secretary” (1936) on Tuesday; and “Adventure in Manhattan” (1936) and “The More the Merrier” (1943), for which she garnered her only Oscar nod, on Thursday. On Wednesday, Arthur again pairs with Capra and Stewart for the big-screen adaption of George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart’s satirical comedy about class and stature, “You Can’t Take it With You” (1938). The movie would win Best Picture and Best Director for Capra, who won two times earlier for “It Happened One Night” (1935) and “Deeds.”

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The Retro Replay on Tuesday at the Landmark Kendall Square Cinema shifts theme, albeit ever so slightly, for the month of February, transitioning from a 50th Year Celebration with movies loosely from 1974 to a love letter slate for the New Hollywood movement – which is pretty much films from a 15- to 20-year period that envelops 1974, or roughly the mid-’60s to 1980, when the studios gave directors such as Francis Ford Coppola, Martín Scorsese, Roman Polanski and William Friedkin free rein to make their artistic visions unadulterated. Others notching significant contributions during the era, which waned with the advent of the blockbuster (“Star Wars” and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”) were Monte Hellman (“Two Lane Blacktop”), Robert Altman (“The Long Goodbye,” “McCabe & Mrs. Miller”), John Cassavetes (“A Woman Under the Influence”), Terrence Malick (“Days of Heaven) and Hal Ashby (“Harold and Maude,” “Being There”). The movement was also referred to as the American New Wave, named in part after the French New Wave that preceded, influenced and dovetailed with it, and was considered one of the most essential and defining movements in cinema.

This week’s play is Arthur Penn’s groundbreaking 1967 true-crime gangster flick “Bonnie and Clyde” starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway. The dark film is considered the cornerstone of New Hollywood and pushed boundaries in the degree of graphic violence portrayed on screen – the concluding shootout would enable Sam Peckinpah to dial up his bookending “The Wild Bunch” (1969) showdowns to a very bloody 11. Beatty, known for his matinee-idol good looks and caddish lifestyle (cue the Carly Simon) plays against type as the sexually dysfunctional Clyde Barrow. The excellent cast also includes Estelle Parsons, Michael J. Pollard and two Genes – Wilder and Hackman. Other American classics on the slate are “Easy Rider” (1969), “The Graduate” (1967) and “Dirty Harry” (1971).

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Several programs carry on at the Harvard Film Archive, beginning with “Moolaadé” on Friday as part of the “Ousmane Sembène, Cinematic Revolutionary” program. The 2004 film wrestles with the issue of female genital mutilation in Africa. For the ongoing embrace of Spanish filmmaker Victor Erice it’s an encore screening of “Close Your Eyes” (2023) on Sunday, and for the HFA’s nod to the 1970s film mag “Afterimage” as part of “Afterimage … For a New, Radical Cinema” program, on Saturday the Archive screens two trippy avant-garde entries from the Zanzibar Group’s archives: the 1968 experimental feminist film “Deux fois” by Jackie Raynal, and “The Inner Scar” (1972) starring pop icon Nico, her son and Pierre Clément. Both are best described as cinematic collages that, while told from a female perspective, differ vastly in composition and context – near contrasts.

The HFA also brings in Brazilian filmmaker and activist Ana Vaz for screenings of her experimental shorts on Sunday, and on Monday exhibits her feature debut “It Is Night in America” (2022), an eco-horror wake-up call about endangered species and humans’ impact on the planet. Vaz, a founding member of the collective Coyote, an interdisciplinary group that works in the fields of ecology and political science through experimental forms, will be in attendance for a conversation after both films.

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In theaters and streaming

‘The Promised Land’ (2023)

Danish film icon Mads Mikkelsen, better known here for his turns as a cannibal in the TV series “Hannibal” and more recently as a time-traveling Nazi in the last Indiana Jones chapter, teams up with director Nikolaj Arcel, who penned Mikkelsen’s “Riders of Justice” (2020), for this historical tale of a man living on the fringe, trying to tame the wilderness and fend off others wanting in on his fortune. Mikkelsen plays real-life military man Ludvig von Kahlen, who for all his service to the king doesn’t have much to show for his service and winds up cultivating the northern part of 18th century Denmark known as the heath – a stretch of sandy scrub that no other can transform into arable land. His secret is potatoes, something new from Germany. Things take seed well initially, as von Kahlen gets along with the shunned Roma people who inhabit the area, but neighboring noble Frederik De Schinkel (Simon Bennebjerg), a sadistic, entitled egomaniac who can’t be outdone, leans in to poke around. Things get bloody real fast. The area, as we know from von Kahlen’s arrival, is relatively lawless, and it’s better to shoot first and ask questions later. Based on Ida Jessen’s 2020 novel “The Captain and Ann Barbara,” the film sees a grudge germinated by Arcel alongside slow-sprouting character development. The main reason to see “The Promised Land” is Mikkelsen’s stone-hewn masculinity. The film was the Danish shortlist entry for the Oscars’ 2023 Best International Feature entry (its native title translates loosely into “The Bastard”), and a film that proves that taters and revenge is a dish best served in the cold, barren Jutland Heath. At Landmark Kendall Square Cinema, 355 Binney St., Cambridge.

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‘Argylle’ (2024)

Mathew Vaughn looked like the next Guy Ritchie when he popped out the British crime noir “Layer Cake” (2004) – which also teed off the career of Bond-actor-to-be Daniel Craig – and then served up the dark, comedic “Kick-Ass” (2010) before settling, like Ritchie, for a semi-silly, semi-entertaining series (“Kingsman” for Vaughn, “Sherlock Holmes” for Ritchie). Now he goes full silly with an inane spy spoof that could have used some of the kind of self deprecating reverie of the 1967 “Casino Royale” starring Peter Sellers and Woody Allen as Bonds. Here we get Bryce Dallas Howard as an introverted author who pens bestselling thrillers built around secret agent Argylle (Henry Cavill, trading in his “Superman” cape for a misspelled sock) and his regulars (John Cena and Oscar-winner Ariana DeBose, both wasted). She falls into a real-world game of intrigue when a phalanx of baddies comes after her on a train and an unassuming agent comes to her rescue (Sam Rockwell, likable and a hysterical offset compared with more classic spy studs). The next two hours – yes, the movie is long, too long – sees the plot flip and fold inward on itself. The whats and whys don’t matter, and if I shared much more I’d violate my no-spoilers oath, though it’s hard to spoil something that’s fetid out of the can. There are bits of cutesy, semi-invigorating action, but the narrative is bloated, inert and fails to wow. The true insult is the smug, avuncular grin it wears from frame one and beams even brighter and more irritatingly as you realize you’re caught up in a joyless espionage slog that also wastes the talents of Bryan Cranston, Catherine O’Hara and Sofia Boutella. About the only one who comes out well is Samuel L. Jackson, who always holds his own in the middle of a cinematic meltdown. After all, he was the only reason to see “Snakes on a Plane” (2006), right? 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.


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.