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. 


Local focus

Making its area premiere at The Brattle Theatre is “Pictures of Ghosts” from acclaimed Brazilian director Kleber Mendonça Filho, who caught audiences’ attention with his modern-day, llano-based spaghetti western “Bacurau” (2019). Filho’s current effort, a quieter, more personal one to be sure, is a love letter to cinema and the town of Recife, where he grew up. The poetic documentary follows the transformation of the city from its cultural heyday to the decline of its classic movie palaces. Of the many appearing in the film is countrywoman and “Bacurau” actor Sonia Braga. The film plays an extended run Friday through Tuesday.

Later in the week is an olio of events, including the “Leap Day” film poll winners (from among films never screened at The Brattle) that yielded the beauty pageant road-trip-to-hell sojourn “Little Miss Sunshine” (2006), and the 1997 Japanese psychological horror flick “Perfect Blue,” in which the lines between reality and alter-reality blur for an aspiring singer. Grrl Haus Cinema sets up on Wednesday for a lineup of experimental shorts made by women, nonbinary, trans and genderqueer artists.

On the free front, on Tuesday, the Independent Film Festival Boston swoops in for a screening of “Spaceman” directed by Johan Renck (of the “Chernobyl” series) and starring Adam Sandler as the first Czech astronaut (yup, you read that right) in space. The impressive ensemble includes Carey Mulligan (“Promising Young Woman), Paul Dano (“There Will Be Blood”), Lena Olin (“Chocolat”) and Isabella Rossellini (“Blue Velvet”). For the Monday Elements of Cinema screening it’s “Silent Running” (1972), one of two features directed by special-effects pioneer Douglas Trumbull (“Blade Runner”). One could argue it’s the original eco-terrorist film: The setting is a deep-space scow carrying Earth’s last vestige of flora, cared for by Bruce Dern as the gruff tree hugger taking a stand along with a trio of cute robots named Huey, Dewey and Louie. The post-screening conversation will be led by Matthew Nash, professor of visual arts at Lesley University. While both screenings are free, tickets are limited and go quickly.

There’s also the ongoing 40th year celebration of the Talking Heads rock-doc “Stop Making Sense” on Saturday.


The New Hollywood Retro Replay Tuesday at the Landmark Kendall Square Theatre is the one that cemented Clint Eastwood as a box office mega force, “Dirty Harry” (1971), directed by Don Siegel (“Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” “The Shootist”). Eastwood’s antiestablishment cop, dead set on putting bad guys away with his iconic .44 Magnum hand cannon, captured and cultivated the machismo of the era. He acts regardless of rules and regs in tracking down a serial killer known as Scorpio (Andrew Robinson), who taunts the San Francisco police with each bloody notch. Clint’s laconic nature and the cocky, take-no-shit one-liners made this maverick-cop thriller a fist full of dollars then and still packs a wow.


Encore presentations fill the slate of the Harvard Film Archive as the “This is Us. Two Films by Hong Sangsoo” and “Ousmane Sembène, Cinematic Revolutionary” programs wind down with screenings of Sangsoo’s 2023 films “in water” on Sunday and “In Our Day” on Friday, and Sembène’s well regarded “Guelwaar” (1992) also on Sunday. The “Afterimage … For a New, Radical Cinema” program carries onward with a screening of nonlinear shorts (dreamlike collages) by experimental American filmmaker Hollis Frampton (1936-1984) on Saturday. There’s one Monday from the literal archives – the Godfrey Cambridge Collection at Houghton – with “Cotton Comes to Harlem,” the 1970 blaxploitation cop thriller-comedy starring Cambridge (“Watermelon Man,”The President’s Analyst”) as NYPD officer Grave Digger Jones in the Ossie Davis-directed cultural cornerstone. Redd Foxx is in the mix too. (Tom Meek)


In theaters and streaming

‘Drive-Away Dolls’ (2024)

Considering the fantastic cast and punchy setup, this is a bit of a toe stub for Ethan Coen in his second outing (his other being the 2022 rock-doc “Jerry Lee Lewis: Trouble in Mind”) since splitting in 2019 with his brother Joel from a partnership that generated some of the most revered films of the recent cinematic past – “Fargo” (1996) and “No Country for Old Men” (2007) among them. These drive-away dolls are lesbians on a road trip to hell (well, Florida) to deliver a car and visit one’s nana. The car contains wanted cargo (a MacGuffin with shades of “Repo Man” that doesn’t have the greatest of payoffs) with a bunch of shady goons in hot pursuit. The lines between the sexually liberated Jamie (Margaret Qualley) and demure bestie Marian (Geraldine Viswanathan) are drawn starkly in nearly every scene; along the way Jamie brings hookups back to their various motel rooms as the bookish Marian heads to the lobby to read Henry James during playtime. It’s a buddy movie with romantic possibilities – a soccer club spin-the-bottle makeout session forces the issue. Coen and his co-writer, wife Tricia Cooke, who edited projects such as “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” (2000) and “The Big Lebowski” (1998), borrow too much from their shared canon, namely C.J. Wilson and Joey Slotnick as idiosyncratic goons (and that is literally how the are referred to in the credits) whose opposite approaches to dealing with an escalating situation feel ripped slackly from “Fargo.” Qualley, so good in “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” (2019) and last year’s “Sanctuary,” furthers her blossoming CV with an energetic, scene-pushing presence bolstered by an affable southern twang, and Viswanathan makes for a good offset. The chemistry between the two carries the uneven mishmash as it stumbles early and struggles to regain its quirky vibe. Also in the mix, in small raucous parts, are Matt Damon as a Florida Man, Colman Domingo as the goon handler, Pedro Pascal on ice, Beanie Feldstein (“Booksmart”) as Jamie’s brash law enforcement ex and Bill Camp as the car dispatcher no one listens to. At least this not-quite-fully-baked road comedy with a prize dildo set gone missing is a fast 84 minutes. (Tom Meek) At Somerville Theatre, 55 Davis Square, and AMC Assembly Row 12, 395 Artisan Way, Assembly Square, Somerville.


‘Madame Web’ (2024)

After a near-death experience, paramedic Cassandra “Cassie” Webb (Dakota Johnson), starts experiencing déjà vu and other ESP strangeness. Set in 2003 Queens, Cassie has a vision of some guy named Ezekiel Sims, a muscular man who dons a black costume and kills three teenagers (Sydney Sweeney, Isabela Merced and Celeste O’Connor), and at the premonition point intervenes and protects them. That inspires her to explore the source of her and Ezekiel’s powers, which predate the birth of Peter Parker, the Spider-Man most of us know. The Sony Spider Universe that “Madame Web” is a part of includes “Venom” (2018), “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” (2021) and “Morbius” (2022), and while it might not be the worst of the lot, it’s so low-energy, lackluster and middling that it may be the least memorable. Except for Adam Scott and Zosia Mamet in small, quirky parts, the cast has no chemistry and most line reads feel leaden and stiff. Director S.J. Clarkson, who has delivered strong visuals in television series that include Marvel’s “Jessica Jones” (2015-2019) and “The Defenders” (2017) on Netflix, resorts to regurgitating images from the X-Men franchise and the Ancient One of “Doctor Strange” (2016). The film does maintain one inscrutable, unsolved mystery: Sony’s reason to rehire “Morbius” co-writers Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless to write another script (along with Claire Parker – no relation to Peter). The film’s only winning narrative asset is the tension of how without any physical superpowers, Cassie can trump Ezekiel’s daunting physical prowess. (Sarah G. Vincent) At 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.