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

For school vacation week, The Brattle Theatre fires up its annual Bugs Bunny Film Festival, the 26th incarnation of the wascally wabbit fest that runs the week and beyond.

Also at The Brattle comes the area premiere (in an extended run Friday to Monday) of “The Sweet East” by “Good Time” (2017) cinematographer Sean Price Williams, now taking up the directorial seat. The film is a poke at contemporary American culture the way “Easy Rider” was back in the day (see below), following a South Carolina teen (Talia Ryder, “Never Rarely Sometimes Always”) who goes AWOL on a school trip to Washington, D.C., and winds up down the rabbit hole of East Coast mayhem.

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The New Hollywood Retro Replay on Tuesday at Landmark Theatre Kendall Square Cinema is the antiauthoritarian anthem “Easy Rider” (1969), Dennis Hopper’s DIY indie project produced by Peter Fonda in which the two counterculture Hollywood filmmakers play free spirits riding across America encountering those longing for a better, more peaceful tomorrow (this was in the wake of race riots, and of course the divisive Vietnam War was still going on) as well as a bunch of “get off my lawn” types who aren’t that far off from QAnon fanatics. Jack Nicholson nearly steals the film – a somber, reflective portrait embracing freedom and individuality – as a jocular, buttoned-up ACLU attorney looking to break out who joins the duo on their country-crossing sojourn. It was rumored that Nicholson was about to cash in his acting chips when this poke at America at the crossroads rolled on up.

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As detailed last week, the 49th incarnation of the Boston Science Fiction Film Festival carries on at the Somerville Theatre this week, including the 24-hour sci-fi ’Thon and tinfoil hat contest.

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The “Ousmane Sembène, Cinematic Revolutionary” program at the Harvard Film Archive comes into sharp focus – and aptly so, for Black History Month – as it nears its conclusion with encore presentations of the newly restored “Emitaï” (1971) on Saturday and the Senegalese novelist and filmmaker’s debut “Black Girl” (1966) and “Ceddo” (1977) on Sunday. For those unfamiliar with the socio-critical works by Sembène, several of his films are adaptations of his literary accomplishments – including “Black Girl,” which follows a young Senegalese nursery maid who moves to France to work for a white family, where the cultural and racial differences between employer and employee get forced to the fore – and historical chronicles of his homeland, as in “Ceddo,” which looks at the slave trade and forced conversion to Islam in Africa during the 17th century.

Also playing is Sembène’s “Faat Kiné” (2001), about female liberation in postcolonial Darfur. It plays Friday. Following on Saturday and Feb. 25 it’s “Guelwaar” (1992), based on the life of the Christian activist of the title. As Sembène’s narrative has it, Guelwaar is dead at the start of the film and the plot rewinds and jumps ahead to fill out the story of the man’s life – in construct it’s not unlike Costa-Gavras’ also loosely true “State of Siege” (1972). To quote the beloved film critic Robert Ebert from a 1994 review of the film, “Moviegoers have little curiosity. Most of them will never have seen a film about Africans, by Africans, in modern Africa, shot on location. They see no need to start now (and this indifference extends, of course, to African-Americans)” – but this film is both beautiful, revealing of the Senegal of the time, smart and challenging in its examination of the rejection of aid in favor of self-esteem. (Tom Meek)

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In theaters and streaming

‘Bob Marley: One Love’ (2024)

Reinaldo Marcus Green’s biopic about beloved reggae artist and devout Rastafarian Bob Marley (played here by Kingsley Ben-Adir, Stereotypical Ken’s best friend in “Barbie”) covers just under a year and a half in the life. Between December 1976 and April 1978, the icon makes a round-trip journey from his native Jamaica to Europe for rest and relaxation, the “Exodus” album recording session and a promotional tour with his band and wife, Rita (a scene-stealing Lashana Lynch). As Marley achieves greater success, he leverages his fame to preach peace and the gospel of his much-derided religion, becoming a lightning rod for warring Jamaican political parties. After an assassination attempt, signs of physical and psychological strain grow precipitously the longer he stays away from home. The uneven, montage-laden narrative overrelies on Marley’s genre-defining music and the cast’s strong performances to tie the story together. The writers of this musical biopic, including Terence Winter (“The Wolf of Wall Street”) and Zach Baylin (“King Richard,” “Creed III,” “Gran Turismo”) along with helmer Green (“Monsters and Men,” “Joe Bell,” “King Richard”) deserve credit for showing the musician’s nadirs and conflicts instead of sticking to the rose-colored moments, as do the Marley family members who authorized and produced it. While Green captures the Caribbean island’s natural beauty and the fraught era, the flashbacks fail to convey the emotional catharsis and reassurance that Marley, as god’s messenger, allegedly felt when transformed from childhood trauma and achieving so-called “enlightenment.” It’s a loving framing of one man, but not an emotionally complete picture. (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 Sweet East’ (2024)

Taking his cinematographer skills (“Good Time,” “Listen Up Phillip”) to the directorial chair, Sean Price Williams serves up this squirrelly fairytale-nightmare that’s not far off in construct from “The Wizard of Oz” or “Alice in Wonderland” as a young woman slips into the otherworld of East Coast extremism that exists just under the coverlet of the mainstream. On a class trip to D.C., Lillian (Talia Ryder, “Never Rarely Sometimes Always,” who wins the world here), a precocious yet reclusive South Caroline teen, gets separated from her school group during a gun-waving standoff in a fast food joint and gets swept away by a punked-out ecoterrorist wannabe (Nick Cave’s son Caleb) who takes her back to his den of insidious incels. Not the most ideal hero, and later, she’s scoped out by a literary professor (former porn star Simon Rex) who entices her with talk of Poe and human decency, and offers to put her up at his spacious pad (inherited from grandma) in New Jersey. The situation’s jailbait-creepy to be sure, but Lillian seems to be well wired in to what’s what and our fears are allayed some by her host’s kind affect – that is, until antisemitic verbiage begins to fall from his lips, we get peeks at Nazi insignia around the house and an occasional skinhead drops by to mutter in muted solemnness. What’s more concerning, the girl’s well-being or an arm of white supremacy being run out of the halls of a liberal academic institution? Ultimately, Lillian’s picked out from the streets of New York and cast in a colonial period piece unexpectedly directed by energetic Black filmmakers (Ayo Edebiri and Jeremy O. Harris) and opposite the indie film hunk du jour (Jacob Elordi of “Priscilla” and “Saltburn”). Meanwhile the prof and his crew are on a mission to find and reclaim Lillian. How that all goes is turned up a near-hyperbolic 11, and even after then Williams and writer Nick Pinkerton aren’t done with Lillian and her journey north and deeper into extremist culture. The skewering of toxic hate writhing just below the surface is tackled with the kind of dark comedic farce that Williams must have picked up from the Safdie brothers (“Uncut Gems”) when working on “Good Time,” but it’s Ryder that makes “Sweet East” as rousing as it is. As Lillian she is at once vulnerable and in control, intrepid and in peril. It’s a breakout performance that’s bound to pay extreme dividends. (Tom Meek) At The Brattle Theatre, 40 Brattle St., Harvard Square, Cambridge.


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.