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

The Brattle Theatre is undergoing some renovations this week, yet films are still spinning, beginning with the area premiere of the documentary “Four Daughters” (reviewed below) about a Tunisian woman and her four daughters, two of whom disappear due to extremist ties. The Oscar-nominated film gets a four-day run starting Friday. Also on Friday, to remember the late great Carl Weathers – who had a brief stint as an Oakland Raider football player but soared to fame as Rocky Balboa’s finely chiseled ring rival, Apollo Creed – there’s a three-day run of the sci-fi thriller “Predator” (1987), helmed by John McTiernan (“Die Hard”). Weathers starred opposite other hard-to-kill macho types including governors-in-waiting Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jesse Ventura as well as Bill Duke and and Sonny Landham (who plays a badass named Billy here, as he did in “48 Hrs.”) trying to survive the wrath of an invisible alien stalker looking to take on and take out Earth’s biggest and baddest.Weathers was that incarnate on the screen.

Also to honor the career of the recently passed, legendary director Norman Jewison, whose CV includes such classics as the Boston-shot “The Thomas Crown Affair” (1968), “Jesus Christ Superstar” (1973) and “In the Heat of the Night” (1967), it’s the dark 1987 rom-com “Moonstruck,” which scored Oscars for Cher as a engaged woman who falls for the younger, hot-headed brother (Nicolas Cage) of her fiancé (Danny Aiello). Local legend Olympia Dukakis plays her mother. The film, never before screened at The Brattle, plays Tuesday on a 35 mm print, which is apt – March 5 (3/5) is “Reel Film” day.

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This New Hollywood Retro Replays at the Landmark Kendall Square Cinema, which began in January as a rolling celebration of the theater chain’s 50th year anniversary with iconic films from the period – roughly 1974, when the New Hollywood movement was at its height – has carried forth through February and now March with more genre-defining classics such as “The Getaway” (1972) and “Jaws” (1975). For this Tuesday entry it’s film critic-turned-filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich’s “The Last Picture Show” (1971), starring a very young Jeff Bridges and Cybill Shepherd (whom Bridges was dating at the time, until she started seeing Bogdanovich on set despite Bogdanovich’s wife being part of the crew). It’s a heralded adaptation of Larry McMurtry’s semi-autobiographical tale about youth growing up in a dying North Texas town and their inability to break out. The film cemented Bogdanovich as a director to watch after three years earlier catching filmgoers’ eye with “Targets,” a satirical spin on the Charles Whitman shootings that starred Boris Karloff, and elevated Shepherd, relatively unknown at the time too – her key role in “Taxi Driver” would come five years later. Ben Johnson (who also appears in “The Getaway”) and Cloris Leachman would pick up Oscars for their small but pivotal roles as the town’s cinema owner, Sam the Lion, and a troubled middle-aged housewife having an affair with a high school senior (Timothy Bottoms).

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No real repertory theater per se is at the Somerville Theatre this week, but there is the area premiere and an extended run of Mike Cheslik’s runaway indie hit “Hundreds of Beavers,” a goofy comedy about a drunken applejack seller who runs into a horde of marauding giant beavers (dudes in suits) in the snowy north. Shot in silent-era styled black and white, “Hundreds of Beavers” is something of a live-action, slapstick cartoon that blends the nightmare-comedy vibe of “The Evil Dead” (1981) with the physical comedy of Keaton and Chaplin.

 

The “Afterimage … For a New, Radical Cinema” program at the Harvard film Archive wraps up with screenings of Peter Whitehead’s 1969 documentary “The Fall” about the demise of the counterculture revolution (Friday) and Raúl Ruiz’s 1978 surrealist “The Hypothesis of the Stolen Painting” (Saturday) about an art collector trying to find and re-create a famous missing painting – perhaps he knew something about the Gardner heist before it happened?. On Sunday, it’s an encore presentation of “Wind from the East,” the 1970 experimental essay about Western films directed by the late Jean-Luc Godard with Jean-Pierre Gorin and Gérard Martin. Also on Saturday is “The Troublesome Cases,” genre-defining shorts by Ruiz, Derek Jarman (one of the groundbreakers in gay cinema), Jeff Keen and surrealist Jan Svankmajer. Afterimage founder and editor Simon Field will be on hand Saturday to discuss the films and the life and times at the 1970s culture magazine the program so warmly embraces.

Speaking of encores and wrap-ups, the program “This is the Us. Two Films by Hong Sangsoo” concludes Sunday with another screening of Sangsoo’s 2023 film “in water.” In a neat one-off, on Saturday the HFA screens Bong Joon Ho’s “Memories of Murder” (2003), a chilling fictionalization of the investigation into Korea’s first documented serial killer in the 1980s. The film, an early effort from the auteur behind the only non-English language film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture, “Parasite” (2019), is not far off in texture and style from David Fincher’s great, too short-lived profiler series “Mindhunter.” Longtime Bong collaborator Song Kang-ho (“Parasite,” “The Host”) plays one of the lead investigators trying to find the link between the killings and end the streak. And finally, the films of this year’s McMillan-Stewart fellow, Cameroonian filmmaker Jean-Pierre Bekolo, queue up with a screening of “The Bloodettes” (2005) on Monday. The experimental thriller revolves around two sex workers trying to dispose of one of their client’s bodies. The Harvard-hosted fellowship was set up in 1997 to honor filmmakers from francophone Africa in an effort bring their work to the United States. (Tom Meek)

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In theaters and streaming

‘Four Daughters’ (2023)

This Cannes’ L’Oeil d’Or feature documentary winner and current Oscar nominee examines the ordeal of a Tunisian mother, Olfa Hamrouni, who rose to notoriety in 2016 for criticizing her government when two of her four daughters, Rahma and Ghofrane Chikhaoui, ran away to join the Islamic State group, a transnational, radicalized and militarized Islamic extremist group that has been known as Isis and Daesh. What’s telling isn’t so much the mother’s recounting but what director Kaouther Ben Hania unearths not only in interviews with Olfa and the remaining daughters, Eya and Tayssir Chikhaoui, but in re-created scenes using the real-life participants and actors. The hybrid approach, which involves Olfa in the creative process, isn’t far off from Joshua Oppenheimer’s visceral “The Act of Killing” (2012), in which leaders of Indonesian militias who committed war crimes were afforded the opportunity to craft their own narrative with grim results and tellingly wistful memories. The same is true here, with many reveals shocking and rewriting the narrative. Cycles of abuse are documented and the scars of past traumas reopened. The Oscar nod for Ben Hania is her second; the first was for her sophomore feature, “The Man Who Sold His Skin” (2020), which became the first Tunisian nominee for Best International Feature Film. Her bold and colorful delving into female adolescent rebellion and domestic dysfunction is a cautionary tale for those who think the worst aspect of burgeoning womanhood is how girls dress or may kiss a boy. (Tom Meek) At The Brattle Theatre, 40 Brattle St., Harvard Square, Cambridge.

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‘Perfect Days’ (2023)

It’s intriguing to think that Japan’s selection and official nominee for the Best International Feature Oscar this year is directed by a German filmmaker – the legendary Wim Wenders (“Wings of Desire,” “Paris, Texas”). “Perfect Days,” which borrows its moniker from the classic Lou Reed tune, depicts the quiet, quotidian routine of Hirayama (Koji Yakusho), a public servant who cleans toilets, listening to Van Morrison, Patti Smith and the Velvet Underground on cassette tape and taking pictures of that fading afternoon light coming through the trees (the Japanese term for it is “komorebi,” as we learn) with an old-school camera. The film echoes the somber, dark tonality of Yasujiro Ozu’s “Tokyo Story” (1953) and Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s “Drive My Car” (2021) – fine company, for sure – where something troubling is being held back but always at the fore. Hirayama is clearly struggling with or escaping a trauma, but he’s not a broken soul, or at least not outwardly to us or those he encounters during his daily journey through Tokyo’s upscale Shibuya district. He’s accompanied by his rambunctious younger co-worker Takashi (Tokio Emoto), who rattles away while Hirayama simply reacts with a brimming smile or furrowed brow. He’s a taciturn but expressive sort. The toilets that Hirayama tends are no ordinary loos, but part of the Tokyo Toilet project, 17 public facilities designed by artists and architects that are essentially pieces of structural art one for relieving yourself in. One, a de facto piece of interactive performance art, is an all-glass facility that’s translucent to the world – you can see the potty and the sink from nearly every vantage point in the park, but once you trigger the “occupied” lever, it magically turns opaque red. About the worse Hirayama and Takashi encounter is some vomit. The are dutiful and prideful in their job, though one has to wonder if Fenway and Foxboro might change that demeanor. Much of the film is a slow, somber burn as we become ingrained in Hirayama’s routine. Later there are several subtle disruptions – frayings in the routine – that start to reveal Hirayama’s past and journey to the present (“Now is now,” he often whimsically says).

The toilet project was the genesis for the film. Wenders, who clearly has a thing for art – his previous work was the 3D documentary “Anselm,” about the titular German artist – was approached to craft a film around the flushables and concocted the narrative with Yakusho in mind. Yakusho, whose long, impressive career includes such diverse staples as the 1985 noodle-shop Western “Tampopo,” the dance floor hit “Shall We Dance?” (1996) and Takashi Miike’s samurai adventure “13 Assassins” (2010), deservingly won the Best Actor at Cannes and should have been on the current Academy nominations slate as well. No matter, the collaboration yields a quiet symphony of subtle movements that will reap great rewards for the patient and observant. (Tom Meek) At the Landmark Kendall Square Cinema, 355 Binney St., Cambridge.

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‘Cabrini’ (2024)

Alejandro Monteverde’s biopic enshrining the first sainted U.S. person chronicles the travails of the titular sister Francesca Cabrini (Cristiana Dell’Anna), who, after immigrating to America in the early1900s, suffers a degree of shock when she discovers that the “land of opportunity” narrative isn’t just a false myth but something far worse: a never-ending nightmare of poverty and peril. Witnessing the plight of her community – poor living conditions, disease and worse – she undertakes betterment for her immigrated ilk, most specifically the impoverished orphans, of which there is no shortage. Relegated initially to the rat-infested cesspool known as the Five Points, which as portrayed feels right out of “Gangs of New York” (2002), Cabrini squares off with then-NYC mayor Gould (John Lithgow) and other chauvinistic xenophobes happy to make a buck off the backs of immigrants getting half pay and working in unsafe, hazardous conditions. Monteverde clearly has a niche; he also made “Sound of Freedom,” the story of an anti-child trafficking vigilante that did surprisingly well at the box office last year but triggered controversy over its conservative Christian values and lead actor Jim Caviezel’s QAnon conspiracy theories. Dell’Anna, who starred in the “Gomorrah” TV series, impresses, imbuing Cabrini with a palpably rigid resolve and caring demeanor. Much of what’s shown on screen feels like a deep Wikipedia dive, but it does bring forward some of the shameful missteps in our past (exploiting desperate immigrants) and shines a light on those who persevere to right those wrongs. Cabrini’s legacy has seen hospitals and community centers erected around the globe. You can argue the whole propaganda angle, but doesn’t every film have one? (Tom Meek) 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.