The grand old dame is back. After stepping away from the movie scene for a while to focus on live theater and musical events, Northampton's historic Academy of Music is bringing up the curtain on some films again this week. And, true to its mission as a community hub, the Academy is screening two films over the weekend that are not vapid blockbusters, but films with more local ties.
First up is Susan Saladoff's 2011 documentary Hot Coffee, which is screening Friday evening at 6 p.m. at a free-admission show sponsored by the Massachusetts Academy of Trial Attorneys. The film's tag line—"Is Justice Being Served?"—is underscored on the poster by an image of an upturned McDonald's coffee cup pouring out greenbacks, a reference to the infamous "too hot coffee" case that was such a cultural lightning rod that it became the center of a Seinfeld episode.
If anyone has the answer, Saladoff may be that person. After a 25-year career spent representing victims of corporate negligence, she left the practice behind in 2009 to make Hot Coffee, her first feature-length film. In it, she explores how the influence of big business has effectively limited the common man's access to the court system—and not, as one might expect, by simply lobbying for changes to the law, but also by launching wide-reaching and subtle public relations campaigns to convince voters that the system needs reform. By painting high-profile lawsuits as frivolous money-grabs that will cost taxpayers money (the McDonald's case proves an interesting study), big business interests, claims Hot Coffee, have been able to turn public opinion against legitimate grievances—in effect getting us to punish ourselves.
The following night, the theater nurtures a homegrown talent when it hosts the premiere of In The Valley, a film from director and Agawam native Corey Moquin. Co-produced with fellow UMass grad Joe Paul (who also wrote the screenplay), In The Valley is a tense crime drama about one man's search for his missing nephew. It's set and shot in the Pioneer Valley, and most of the supporting cast and crew—right down to the musicians on the soundtrack—is made up of locals. It's not often one gets the chance to support a film made so entirely in our own backyard. Catch the trailer at inthevalleymovie.com.
Also this week: Amherst Cinema brings in A Dangerous Method, a historical drama from David Cronenberg (Eastern Promises) that plays up a possible love triangle between giants in the history of psychology. Michael Fassbender, seen to great effect recently in Shame, here plays a young Carl Jung; his mentor Freud is played by the estimable Viggo Mortensen (The Road). The woman who comes between them—in films like these, she is always known that way, whatever her true history might have been—is Sabina Spielrein, a young patient and later a colleague of Jung's (she is played here by Keira Knightley). Their pre-war romance and its repercussions forms the basis for this story of the early days of analysis.
And finally this week, Amherst will do its part to celebrate Valentine's Day with a special showing of Notorious, the Hitchcock classic about two lovers caught up in a deadly game of espionage. Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman star as the government agent and the American daughter of a Nazi spy trying to bring down a ring of war criminals. Valentine couples should take special note of the film's famous kiss—an almost three-minute affair that skirted the era's infamous Production Code by having the stars pause every three seconds (the longest an onscreen kiss was allowed to last) to murmur sweet nothings. The Production Code had no idea: it ended up being one of movie history's most erotically charged liplocks.
Jack Brown can be reached at email@example.com.