Monday, July 22, 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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One of the Somerville Theatre’s most beloved series is “Silents, Please!,” its ongoing program of early cinema classics with live musical accompaniment by keyboardist Jeff Rapsis. On Sunday comes one of the biggies: Fritz Lang’s 1927 science fiction masterpiece “Metropolis.” Words such as “influential” don’t begin to describe the impact Lang’s film has had on the past century of genre filmmaking; trace elements of the film’s allegorical narrative and staggering production design can be found in everything from “Star Wars” and “Blade Runner” to “The Matrix” and Denis Villeneuve’s “Dune” films. Rapsis, who has set up a performance circuit across New England and beyond, improvises his scores, watching the film along with the audience just as musical accompanists did in days of old. Watching these films with live music in the Somerville’s grand main hall feels a bit like traveling into the past, even as Lang sends you far into a too-plausible future.

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If you’re looking for sci-fi of a more recent vintage, the Massachusetts Space Film Festival brings an overlooked 21st century gem to The MIT Museum on Friday. Released in 2009, Duncan Jones’ “Moon” stars Sam Rockwell as a lonely astronaut serving a three-year contract on an isolated lunar mine. Two weeks before he’s set to return to Earth, he makes a startling discovery: an unconscious man lying on the surface of the moon who happens to look exactly like him. I wouldn’t dream of spoiling what happens next, but suffice to say the story has more than one surprise up its sleeve. (It’s worth noting that Jones is the son of David Bowie, making him something of an expert in space oddities.) After the screening, space law professor Alissa J. Haddaji and author Erika Nesvold lead a workshop on the ethics of space travel, of which the events of “Moon” can only be considered a significant lapse. The museum is at 314 Main St., Kendall Square, Cambridge.

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The Landmark Kendall Square Cinema continues its monthlong celebration of the “New Hollywood” of the 1970s on Tuesday with one of that era’s thorniest masterpieces: Michael Cimino’s 1978 Best Picture winner “The Deer Hunter.” Then and now, the film has been a source of controversy, both for its potentially insensitive portrayal of Vietnamese people and for its harrowing scenes of Russian roulette (which have been linked to several subsequent real-life deaths). But Cimino’s work here is undeniable, from the scope of his battle scenes to the matter-of-fact way in which he depicts the ravaging effects war in general, and Vietnam in particular, have had on the American psyche. It also contains one of the decade’s best casts, including Robert De Niro, Meryl Streep and cult legend John Cazale (in his final role before his untimely death at age 42). But it’s Christopher Walken’s star-making performance that steals the show, tracking his character’s descent from likable working-class to the sort of chilling, blank psychosis for which the actor has become known. Few who have seen “The Deer Hunter” will ever forget the look on Walken’s face during his final, terrifying scene.

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Also on Tuesday, The Brattle Theatre presents a “Great Gatsby” double feature in honor of “Gatsby!,” a musical adaptation that begins its local run next month at the A.R.T. First up is Jack Clayton’s 1974 adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s great American novel, with Robert Redford as the erstwhile Jay Gatz, Mia Farrow as Daisy Buchanan and Sam Waterston (a long way from “Serial Mom”) as Nick Carraway. We then jump forward four decades to Baz Luhrmann’s typically maximalist take on the material; here, Gatsby is played by Leonardo DiCaprio (as worthy an heir to Redford’s roles as any), with Carey Mulligan as Daisy and Tobey Maguire as Nick. The two films make for a fascinating study in contrasts, and may very well inspire a trip to one of Harvard Square’s fine cocktail bars immediately afterward. (Both films play again Thursday, but not as a double feature.)

For a very different double feature, return to The Brattle on Wednesday for the two finalists in the theater’s “Best Cinemapocalypse” poll (think March Madness brackets, but for dystopian cinematic visions of the future). In one corner, we have “Children of Men,” Alfonso Cuarón’s indelible vision of a world in which humanity is no longer able to procreate. In the other, Terry Gilliam’s 1995 cyberpunk classic “12 Monkeys,” in which a time-traveling Bruce Willis attempts to avert a global pandemic at the hands of a band of eco-terrorists. Mainlining these two films back to back might sound like a bummer way to spend an evening, and you may be right, but think of it this way: at least, in the comfort of The Brattle’s seats, we get to choose our apocalypse – and any dystopia involving a nutzoid performance by Brad Pitt as a mental patient can’t be all bad, right?

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The Arlington Capitol’s “Good for Her” series of (occasionally morally dubious) female empowerment narratives continues with John Waters’ “Serial Mom,” which screens Saturday and again Tuesday. “Serial Mom” tends to get something of a short shrift among Waters’ fans – it’s neither as shockingly transgressive as “Pink Flamingos” nor as winningly accessible as “Hairspray” – but it’s one of the director’s most bitingly satirical works. Kathleen Turner plays Beverly Sutphin, an all-American matriarch in the June Cleaver vein whose nuclear family (Sam Waterston as her dentist husband, Ricki Lake and Matthew Lillard as her teenage kids) projects a facade of apple-pie wholesomeness. What none of her family or neighbors realize is that she’s also a cold-blooded killer, brutally murdering her husband’s more annoying patients, the teenage doofus who stands her daughter up for a date and anyone else who dares challenge her family’s suburban idyll. If you can get past the scenes of tongue-in-cheek violence (prepare to see a woman bludgeoned to death with a leg of lamb while “Tomorrow” from “Annie” blares in the background!), this is one of Waters’ most purely funny films, a gleeful skewering of mainstream Americana on an unusually high (for Waters) budget. It also features a wonderful performance from Turner, who clearly relishes the chance to let her hair down and play a bad mother for the ages. The theater is at 204 Massachusetts Ave., Arlington.


Oscar Goff is a writer and film critic based in Somerville. He is film editor and senior critic for the Boston Hassle and his work has appeared in the monthly Boston Compass newspaper and publications such as WBUR’s The ARTery and iHeartNoise. He is a member of the Boston Society of Film Critics, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, and the Online Film Critics Society.