Thursday, June 13, 2024

This week would have marked the 66th birthday of one Prince Rogers Nelson, the artist once and forever known as Prince. To celebrate, The Brattle Theatre hosts a double feature of two of Prince’s most indelible big-screen appearances. “Purple Rain” (1984) is one of pop’s greatest and most effective works of self-mythology, a sort of auto-biopic in which Prince dramatizes an idealized version of his own rise to superstardom, presenting the Minneapolis funk scene as the hippest place on earth and himself as its mercurial epicenter. (And make no mistake: Though “Purple Rain” was directed by first-time filmmaker Albert Magnoli, Prince is unmistakably its auteur.) As in the films of Elvis and the Beatles, the plot is largely dopey and simplistic, but it is more than effective as a vehicle for Prince’s larger-than-life charisma and some truly electric live performance. By the time “Sign ‘o’ the Times” (1987) was released three years later, Prince no longer needed either a plot or a co-pilot: directed by Prince himself and centered on his landmark double album of the same name, “Sign ‘o’ the Times” is as infectious a concert film as has ever graced the screen. Both screen Thursday and are guaranteed to make U go crazy.


This weekend sees 4K restorations of two very different classics of world cinema. Opening Friday and running all week at the Somerville Theatre is a 25th anniversary rerelease of Tom Tykwer’s “Run Lola Run” (1999), a jittery, pulse-pounding thriller and one of the most purely exhilarating films of the 1990s indie film boom. If you need a comedown from that blast of adrenaline and EDM, you can head to The Brattle for an equally stunning restoration of Andrei Tarkovsky’s “Nostalghia” (1983), which runs Friday through Monday. The first film made by the director after his self-exile from Russia, “Nostalghia” is among Tarkovsky’s most personal films, and an essential, occasionally overlooked entry in his filmography.

For self-reflection in a more buoyant vein, The Brattle has the Cambridge premiere run of Vera Drew’s “The People’s Joker” (2022), which runs Friday through Sunday. That film, you may recall, made headlines when it was pulled abruptly from the Toronto International Film Festival’s lineup following a stern letter from Warner Bros.’ legal department. Those issues ironed out, we are now free to see “The People’s Joker” for what it is: a raucous, punk-rock story of self-discovery told through a cockeyed pop-cultural lens. Drew uses the rough beats from “Joker” (2019), as well as iconography from just about every Batman iteration since the golden age of comics, to tell a fractured version of her own story of coming out as trans while making her way through New York’s alt-comedy scene. Just as importantly, Drew uses her own comic and visual instincts, honed as an editor for the likes of “The Eric Andre Show” and “Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!,” to create something more akin to underground comix than superhero fare, with a joke a second and nearly as many wildly different animation styles. It’s as funny a film as you’re likely to see this year – and as heart-wrenchingly personal.

Pride Month programming continues at the Landmark Kendall Square Cinema on Tuesday with another visually audacious tale of gender euphoria: John Cameron Mitchell’s “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” (2001). Mitchell stars as the title character, a genderqueer East German glam-rocker who mentors a young musician (Michael Pitt) to superstardom while continuing to play with her own band at hilariously dismal seafood restaurants and dive bars. “Hedwig” is a dizzying experience on the big screen, featuring jaw-dropping visuals and some of the best rock-opera tunes this side of “Tommy” (“Wig in a Box,” a 2003 tribute album featuring everyone from Sleater-Kinney to Yoko Ono to Boston’s own Jonathan Richman covering the soundtrack’s songs, is equally essential). Watching it with an audience and a full theatrical sound system is enough to make anyone feel like Miss Beehive 1963.

The Brattle’s Peele Apart series continues, as it must, with Jordan Peele’s second film, “Us” (2019). An expansive allegory about an underground nation of doppelgangers beneath our feet, “Us” is stranger and far more dense than Peele’s debut; I was slightly disappointed with it initially compared with the tight “Twilight Zone” thrills of “Get Out” (2017), but have found more to discover with each subsequent rewatch and have now probably returned to it more frequently than its predecessor. Fittingly, “Us” is here paired with two equally discomfiting stories of families fighting for survival. On Tuesday, it runs in a double feature with Michael Haneke’s original German version of “Funny Games” (1997), a truly upsetting post-horror film about a family held captive by a pair of blankly terrifying sociopaths. It is perhaps only in comparison to “Funny Games” that Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining” (1980), which fills out the bill on Wednesday and Thursday, might be viewed as a more lighthearted chaser. Like the Schobers of “Funny Games” and the Torrences of “The Shining,” the Wilsons of “Us” are isolated and pushed to the brink of madness – with the added possibility that they, themselves, might be the monsters.

Wednesday sees the return of one of the Somerville Theatre’s signature series: the annual 70 mm and Widescreen Film Festival, dedicated to rare and prestige prints of some of the most eye-popping films ever to come out of Hollywood. The series opens with David Lean’s “Lawrence of Arabia” (1962), perhaps the best-use case for the 70 mm format. Lean’s sprawling desert vistas are almost overwhelming in the ultra-wide frame, particularly when projected on a screen as gigantic as that of the Somerville’s main house. In these conditions, its nearly four-hour runtime practically speeds by. Of course, “Lawrence” has more going for it than visuals – Peter O’Toole’s performance as the main character is rightly hailed as one of the greatest in film history – but despite what certain streaming magnates might tell you, if you’ve watched it only on your phone, you truly haven’t watched it at all.

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.