Film Ahead is a weekly column highlighting special events and repertoire programming for the discerning Camberville movie buff. It also includes capsule reviews of films that are not subject to a feature film review.
The region’s premiere of Panah Panahi’s haunting “Hit the Road” (reviewed here last week) continues this week at The Brattle Theater, while special engagements include a 25th anniversary screening (with a new 35mm restoration print) of David Lynch’s “Lost Highway,” starring Balthazar Getty, Bill Pullman, Patricia Arquette and Robert Blake, before he is in trouble for his own little domestic horrors. It feels like a warm-up to “Mulholland Drive” (2001), considered by many to be the director’s magnum opus. The week-long race begins on Friday. For those who enjoy quirky, gothic stop-motion animation from the Quay Brothers, there’s special effects innovator Phill Tippett’s “Mad God” (“Jurassic Park,” “Robocop”) with filmmaker Alex Cox ( “Sid and Nancy”, “Repo Man”) as the last human in a futuristic steampunk landscape. It took Tippett almost 35 years to complete this passion project – of course, he was busy with his day job in the process of The cult hit-to-be plays the late-night slot Wednesday and Thursday. Plus, in line with Lynch’s “Lost Highway,” The Brattle kicks off their “Lost in America” program with “It Happened One Night” (1934) by Frank Capra, which marked the first screen pairing of Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert.
More at Harvard Film Archives, the “Complete Federico Fellini” series continues with “The White Sheik” (1952) and “The Miracle” (1948, directed by Roberto Rossellini but starring Fellini) on Monday; a Friday encore screening of “8½” (1963), which also played last week; and “Rome, Open City” (1945) defining Rossellini’s neorealism, to which Fellini contributed the screenplay, on Saturday.
The “70 mm & Widescreen Fest” continues to take place in the big house of the Somerville Theater with Cutis Hanson’s dark neo-noir “LA Confidential” (1997, Monday and Tuesday), about the deep corruption in the town of Tinseltown in the 1950s. The incredible cast includes Guy Pearce, Russell Crowe, Kevin Spacey, Kim Basinger and Danny DeVito. The film was nominated for nine Academy Awards and won Best Screenplay (Adapted from James Ellroy’s novel) and Best Supporting Actress for Basinger, still resembling Veronica Lake. The 70s disaster film “Airport” (1970) also lined up, with a rich medley of performers including Burt Lancaster, George Kennedy, Jaqueline Bisset, Dean Martin, Jean Seberg and Maureen Stapleton; and “Spartacus” (1960), Stanley Kubrick’s sword-and-sandal epic starring Kirk Douglas as the titular slave turned gladiator, Tony Curtis, Jean Simmons, Laurence Oliver and Herbert Lom. Both movies play Thursday and next week. For you warriors of the Midnight Cult, there’s a restored copy of Hsin-Yi Chang’s 1981 gonzo “Conan” adventure “Thrilling Bloody Sword.” The FX are dated, but that only adds to the film’s charm. If you want to refuel, catch “Mad God” at the Brattle earlier in the week and cap off your Saturday night with this midnight screening.
In theaters and streaming
“Just an Illusion” (2020)
Jay Meyers’ timeline of his 11-year boat trip with his father and brothers is a kind of meandering curiosity that’s more of a personal travel diary than anything else; it feels like watching someone’s home movie of a once-in-a-lifetime vacation experience as images bounce through time and place. The Meyers are a Midwestern family sailing a 28-foot sailboat (the Illusion) on the carp-choked Mississippi River, with the ocean delta in Alabama as their apparent goal. The logistics around funding and whether the journey you see is linear in time, geography and such are hard to glean, which is somewhat frustrating. What you get are plenty of unglamorous details about bottoming toilets, those invasive carp, and the dangers of not being a seasoned shallow-water sailor. These cautionary tales (and others shared by the brothers sitting in their living rooms and offices and mirroring each other) intertwine with shots of dad looking like a shrewd old tar at the helm, the family wading through the muddy brown Mississippi and other dizzying moments of triumph. What we don’t understand is just who the Meyers are as individuals, their desires or fears, or family dynamics; the soft narrative keeps them aloof and just out of reach. Aurelio Damiani and Christian Carpenter Fields’ pop-grunge soundtrack is overused, though it rightly highlights the film’s whimsical nature and the Meyers’ dreamy aquatic drift.
This biographical portrayal of the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll by cinematic storyteller Baz Luhrmann (“Strictly Ballroom,” “Romeo + Juliet” and “The Great Gatsby”) begins in his typically frenetic style, with hyper flash-cut vignettes from the young Elvis (Austin Butler, a Mansonite in “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”) was shaking and shaking in front of a group of screaming girls. It settles into something more palpable and real, becoming an internal (and financial) struggle for the singer’s identity and soul. Our unofficial narrator is Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks, bringing as much humanity to the role as possible), a despicable con man who had his hooks deep in Elvis and chained him to Vegas casinos to pay off his own gambling debts – something Presley was kept in the dark. In the end, you really feel the artist never really got to fulfill his vision of connecting more deeply with gospel and soul, and traveling the world, because of the gaslighting and control by Parker. The charismatic Butler renders fine, if somewhat inconsistently (something like 16 other actors have played Elvis, including Kurt Russell, Nic Cage and Val Kilmer), but nothing will knock you for an emotional loop as big as the real footage. from Presley’s Last Performance. It’s haunting and heartbreaking.
‘Official Competition’ (2021)
Mariano Cohn and Gastón Duprat’s semi-meta-deconstructionist cinematic adventure is a sharp exploration of near-Trump-sized egos, though none would compare the actors here with our regularly disgraced former Potus. No, what we get is a risque mix of characters that starts with Penelope Cruz, with a big red mane of kinky savagery, like Lola, a boundary-pushing director hired by a billionaire to adapt a Nobel Prize-winning novel titled “Rivalry ” for the screen. The ambitious project lands popular actor Felix (Antonio Banderas) and Iván (Oscar Martínez), a quiet man who prefers the stage and swims under the professional label of “thespian”. The title of the film and the name of the film in the film emphasize the sword fights and penis envy between the two protagonists – not to say that Lola can’t get in on the act either, because she smokes cigarillos, enjoys a young woman who only dances in their encounters, and when neither of the leading men can embrace the object of their rivalry convincingly enough for a scene, she steps in to show them how it’s done . It’s a tour de force from Cruz with the guys there to support her mission – not that she needs it.
Tom Meek is a writer living in Cambridge. His reviews, essays, short stories, and articles have appeared in literary journals The ARTery, The Boston Phoenix, The Boston Globe, The Rumpus, The Charleston City Paper, and WBUR’s SLAB. Tom is also a member of the Boston Society of Film Critics and bikes everywhere.