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 Belmont World Film Festival screening Monday at Apple Cinemas Cambridge is a notable one, as “The Old Oak” marks the alleged last film from legendary filmmaker Ken Loach (“Riff-Raff,” “Ladybird Ladybird”). The film, about a pub in a dying mining town in Northeast England, syncs with Loach’s long-running focus on the gritty underbelly of the working class and the struggles they face in the day-to-day and the dim prospects of tomorrow. The people of the township are further confronted with challenges of the new and their own prejudices when Syrian immigrants start to flow in. The Belmont World Film Festival runs through May 20.

The Il Cinema Ritrovato touring program – a partnership with the film studies program at the University of Massachusetts at Boston focusing on restored classics – rolls on at The Brattle Theatre beginning with the angry-young-man Italian drama “Fists in the Pocket” (1965) by Marco Bellocchio. From compatriot Dario Argento, before he made his name with “Suspiria” in 1977, is the cult curio “The Bird with the Crystal Plumage” (1970), a psychological thriller about an American expatriate in Rome who tries to track down a serial killer after witnessing a failed murder attempt. The films play Friday. 

On Saturday it’s “Cinema’s First Nasty Women: Queens of Destruction,” silent shorts made by and featuring – well, I’ll let you figure it out. Things also go classic with “Caught” (1949) starring James Mason, Robert Ryan and Barbara Bel Geddes, in which marrying the millionaire of your dreams turns out to be a nightmare, and Stanley Kubrick’s feature debut, “Fear and Desire” (1952), in which four soldiers find themselves trapped behind enemy lines. The film’s not in the universe of the director’s masterworks such as “A Clockwork Orange” (1971) and “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968), but it stars Paul Mazursky, who would go on to direct “An Unmarried Woman” (1978) and “Harry and Tonto” (1974). Sunday brings a free screening of Joe Dante’s “The Movie Orgy” (1968), a five-hour love letter to cinema in clips and snippets from the man who would go on to make “Rock ’n’ Roll High School” (1979) and “Gremlins” (1984). Rounding out the program Sunday with touches of global flavor are “Hyenas” (1992) from Senegalese filmmaker Djibril Diop Mambéty, about a wealthy woman who returns to her impoverished village to settle an old score, and Tomás Gutiérrez Alea’s “Memories of Underdevelopment” (1968), in which a Cuban bourgeois intellectual is left behind by his family after the Bay of Pigs attack.

 

The legacy of character actor M. Emmett Walsh, who died last week, is honored with some of his indelible gems at The Brattle starting Wednesday. Walsh was never one to be top billed, but he made films shine with his drawl and slightly sinister demeanor. Probably the apex comes in the Coen brothers’ noirish debut, “Blood Simple” (1984) – still one of their all-time bests in a career that boasts several – in which Walsh plays a private detective working at the behest of a husband (Dan Hedaya) to trail a wife he suspects of having an affair (Frances McDormand). It might make a good double bill with Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Conversation,” but this time shares a night with “Straight Time” (1978), the Ulu Grosbard (“True Confessions”) crime drama starring Dustin Hoffman as a small-time hood trying to reintegrate into society. “Blood Simple” plays again Thursday with John Michael McDonagh’s “Calvary” (2014), with Brendan Gleeson as a priest dealing with the moral dilemma of a dark confession. Also on Wednesday is another of Walsh’s crowning roles, as the head of the LAPD “Blade Runner” unit in Ridley Scott’s 1982 dark but neon-basked vision of the future. In one classic scene, he tells Harrison Ford’s retired Deckard that if he’s not back in the blade-running game, “he’s small people.” “No choice?” Yup, no choice but to get to The Brattle for sci-fi’s cinematic top dog.

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Celebrating Women’s History Month, the Cambridge Public Library screens the 2016 film “Queen of Katwe.” Directed by Mira Nair (“Monsoon Wedding,” “Salaam Bombay!”), the film revolves around the real-life story of Phiona Mutesi (Madina Nalwanga), a 9 year-old living in the slums of Katwe, Uganda, whose world changes after an outreach program exposes her to chess and she becomes an instant world-class prodigy playing in the game’s upper echelons. The fantastic cast includes Lupita Nyong’o (“12 Years a Slave”) and David Oyelowo (“Selma”). The 1 p.m. Saturday screening is free. Past screenings in the program include Sarah Polley’s “Women Talking” (2023).

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The Tuesday New Hollywood Retro Replay at the Landmark Kendall Square Cinema re-ups for April with some of the very grittiest ’70s crime dramas from guys named Scorsese, De Palma, Lumet, Cimino and Friedkin, an A-list of American New Wavers. First up is the true-crime drama “Serpico” (1973), directed by Sidney Lumet (“12 Angry Men,” “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead”) and starring Al Pacino as the NYC police officer who refuses to take bribes or engage in shakedown or corruption schemes. For his honesty Serpico has to watch his back from both sides of the law. The pairing of director and actor paid dividends: Pacino was Oscar nominated for his part and would be again two years later when he re-teamed with Lumet for “Dog Day Afternoon.”

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Queuing up at the Harvard Film Archive is “Chronicles of Changing Times. The Cinema of Edward Yang.” The program honors the work of a filmmaker in the vanguard of the Taiwanese New Wave in the 1980s, yet who made only 10 films before dying of cancer in 2007. Like Kore-eda or Ozu, his films are filled with deeply emotive contemplations and intricate family complexities. His greatest accomplishment perhaps was his final feature, “Yi Yi” (2000, “A One and a Two”), which screens Friday. It centers on a struggling engineer and his extended, three-generation family in Taipei. On Saturday it’s the true-crime, slightly “Rashomon”-esque, “A Brighter Summer Day” (1991) and on Sunday, the cheeky “A Confucian Confusion” (1994). 

Also on Sunday there’s an encore screening of McMillan-Stewart fellow Jean-Pierre Bekolo’s “Aristotle’s Plot” (1996) and, speaking of New Hollywood and perhaps for April Fools Day – because there’s a lot of psychological dekes and plot twists in which everything’s not as it appears – it’s that filler Francis Ford Coppola cranked out between his two “Godfather” films, “The Conversation” (1974). The film centers on Gene Hackman’s tech-savvy PI, who’s investigating the possible affair of the wife (Cindy Williams of “Lavern and Shirley” fame) of a well-connected businessman when he discovers a possible murder plot. Coppola layers in the Big Brother paranoia of the the Watergate era (which ties into AI, social media and fake news today) without getting political. It’s a deep character dive into a moral conundrum that slides into mania, and Coppola has you so rooted in Hackman’s POV you can feel him waver and crack as he gets played by outside forces outwitting him at his own game (if that is even what is happening). The film co-stars Coppola regulars Harrison Ford, Frederic Forrest, Robert Duvall (uncredited) and John Cazale. This would be one of four greats Coppola would commit to celluloid during the ’70s (the others being, the two “Godfather” films and “Apocalypse Now”). Poetically, and sadly, Cazale would also make four of the greatest films of the decade before his 1978 death (the others being “The Godfather,” “The Deer Hunter” and “Dog Day Afternoon” with Pacino and Lumet).


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.