Wednesday, July 17, 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 22nd Belmont World Film Festival kicks off Monday at Apple Cinemas Cambridge at Fresh Pond with a screening of “The Queen of My Dreams,” a romantic coming-of-age comedy directed by Fawzia Mirza about a Pakistani Canadian woman whose relationship with her Muslim parents is strained when she comes out as a lesbian. Mirza joins the audience via Zoom after the screening for a conversation about the film; the screening is preceded by a dinner reception featuring Pakistani cuisine and Canadian sweets. This year’s film series is themed “Transformation/Preservation” and runs Tuesday to May 20, with screenings at Fresh Pond, the Embassy Theater in Waltham and the West Newton Cinema.

Speaking of film fests, the Boston Underground Film Festival is in full swing at The Brattle Theatre, and you can guarantee things are going to get weird. Highlights include “Off Ramp,” the adventures of two chummy Juggalos (masked Insane Clown Posse fan-bros) en route to a Juggalo gathering. What could possible go wrong for a duo from a group once named by the FBI as a “loosely organized hybrid gang”? Well, a bad-ass sheriff and rival gang bangers. The film makes its New England premiere Friday with filmmaker Nathan Tape in attendance. Also making area premieres are Amanda Nell Eu’s “Tiger Stripes,” in which a Malay girl hitting puberty gets claws and fangs and a bit of bloody payback; and Jason Wu’s Korean sleepwalking nightmare, “Sleep.” They play Saturday and Friday, respectively. Others likely to rivet are Chris Nash’s arthouse slasher flick “In a Violent Nature,” which hangs with the killer instead of his prey, on Saturday; earth-marooned aliens going through an identity crisis in Zach Clark’s quirky sojourn “The Becomers,” also on Saturday with Clark in person; “Infested,” which strands audiences in a poor French neighborhood overrun by spiders, again on Saturday; and “Boy Kills World” starring Bond girl Famke Janssen and Pennywise himself, Bill Skarsgård (“It” and “Barbarian”) as a deaf man in a dystopian future out to revenge his murdered family. Enjoy the voice of H. Jon Benjamin (unforgettable as voices on “Archer” and “Bob’s Burgers”) as Boy’s Inner Monologue.

Also queuing up at The Brattle is the ongoing Il Cinema Ritrovato touring program in conjunction with the film studies program at the University of Massachusetts at Boston. The tour is inspired by the Bologna, Italy-based film restoration festival, where all films on the slate have been screened. This week’s slate includes Charlie Chaplin’s sophomore feature, “A Woman of Paris: A Drama of Fate” (1923), and the anti-patriarchy anthem “Thelma & Louise” (1991). Chaplin’s silent was a departure from the comedy shorts he had been cranking out since 1914 and focuses on Edna Purviance’s Marie St. Clair, separated from her love and, in limbo, becoming the mistress to a businessman. It screens Thursday and Saturday. The Ridley Scott-helmed ’90s classic paired Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon as friends who go on a liberating road trip that takes a turn into dark territory, becoming a fuck-it-all fugitive road chase. Harvey Keitel and a young, ripped Brad Pitt co-star. It plays Thursday.

Rounding out the week is an extended run of DK and Hugh Welchman’s period piece “The Peasants” – animated astonishingly in oil paints. The 19th-century-set film follows the travails of Jagna, a lithe young peasant who draws the attention of prominent men and the ire of women. The fast-moving narrative is not far off from Joan of Arc, or our goings-on here once in Salem. The run begins Monday.

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Tuesday’s New Hollywood Retro Replay at the Landmark Kendall Square Cinema closes out the March slate (an April one is coming, which is good news) with Robert Altman’s great political farce “Nashville” (1975), revolving around the political campaign of a populist running on the Replacement Party ticket – yup, in Altman’s universe you have more choice, but that’s not to say it makes for better candidates. Being this is an Altman film, it has a kitchen sink ensemble (regular collaborators Lily Tomlin, Julie Christie, Karen Black, Elliot Gould, Shelly Duvall and Keith Carradine among the many), free-flowing and serendipitously intersecting plots (this is Nashville, so the country and gospel music industries are front and center) and quirk aplenty. Altman’s ensemble pieces feel like a road map for Wes Anderson; other classic Altman ensembles amid rambling intrigues include “The Player” (1992) and “Short Cuts” (1993).

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The “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid” and “Yacht Rock” programs roll on this week at the Somerville Theatre. For the noir-focused former it’s a double pairing Monday of Fred MacMurray getting played by Barbra Stanwyck in “Double Indemnity” (1944) and Ray Milland on a bender like “Leaving Las Vegas” (1995) in “The Lost Weekend” (1945). For that soft-rock latter, it’s DJ anxiety when a liberal rock station decides to allow military recruitment ads in “FM” (1978). Also this week, the theater kicks off its “A Tale of Two Studios” program (MGM and Columbia) with two early silents, “He Who Get Slapped” (1924) with Lon Chaney as a clown trying to rescue the woman he loves and mutiny and madness on the high seas in “The Blood Ship” (1927). The pair play Wednesday with a live score by accompanist Jeff Rapsis. 

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Over at the Harvard Film Archive, the films of this year’s McMillan-Stewart fellow, Jean-Pierre Bekolo, come into sharp focus with screenings of the Cameroonian’s colonial-themed “Aristotle’s Plot” (1996) on Friday; tale of a death row inmate in “Miraculous Weapons” (2017) Saturday; and “Le president” (2013), about Paul Biya, the ruler of Cameroon for nearly 40 years, on Sunday. Bekolo will be in attendance at each to discuss his works and life in Cameroon. Also getting off the ground this week is “The Practice and Other Works by Martín Rejtman,” focusing on the works of the Argentinian filmmaker with an eye on class and class struggle. First up is Rejtman’s debut “Cropped Head” (1992, “Rapado” in the original title), a minimalist tale about a young man who loses his bike and wallet and his identity in society. It plays Monday.

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In theaters and streaming

‘Road House’ (2024)

As much love as there is out there for Patrick Swayze, little nostalgia will be stoked by this unnecessary remake of his 1989 throw-down grind, which really wasn’t that necessary in the first place. Granted, there are changeups – it’s more a sequel or reboot than a remake, as Dalton (Jake Gyllenhaal) starts out in the Texas bar-brawling circuit (a “Fight Club” underground in which you can make good cash) and gets recruited to bounce at a bayside tiki bar in the Florida Keys where nightly mayhem reigns and the cops won’t step in. The bar owner invokes Hemingway to lure him and Dalton saddles up reluctantly and rides in, but what he’s confronted with, more than myriad beefy brawlers who challenge his alpha male perch, is flat, banal dialogue and lackluster orchestration by director Doug Liman (“Go,” “Edge of Tomorrow”) and the filmmaking team. Gyllenhaal, as royally ripped as he was in boxer flick “Southpaw” (2015), doesn’t quite fit the part of an intellectual pugilist as did Swayze’s simmering cobra waiting to strike. (I don’t think Gyllenhaal’s Dalton has a philosophy degree, just an inability to use the Internet.) No, he’s a passive-aggressive nice guy who once over the edge doesn’t know how to back down, just bloodlust. The persona makes about as much sense as going to Texas to recruit a Florida doorman – I mean, if you ran a car wash in Boise, would you go to Bangor to find a chamois hand? That said, MMA star Conor McGregor is swanky good fun as the baddies’ cheeky enforcer, as is Billy Magnussen as the rich prick trying to manipulate real estate prices with Dalton the fly in the ointment. Wasted are Daniela Melchior (Ratcatcher 2 in “The Suicide Squad”) and Jessica Williams as the bar owner. The fight scenes are brutal and over the top. I will give the film an extra half clap for Fred, the lone, semi-renowned Australian pine that grows out of a concrete block of the Seven Mile Bridge that connects the Keys to mama Florida. Don’t know what I am talking about? Give the tree a google and you can skip the price of a ticket to save for your own trip to the Keys. On Amazon Prime Video.


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.