Film

CinemaDope: Neighborhood Watch

Small theater, big films

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Thursday, March 29, 2012
Jojo Whilden Photo, Courtesy of Roadside Attractions
Maya Rudolph and Jennifer Westfeldt in Friends with Kids

For a small venue, Northampton's Pleasant Street Theater certainly manages to get a lot done. With just two theaters—and one of them with fewer than 50 seats—the venerable house still manages to squeeze in midnight shows, baby-friendly matinees, and special screenings among the usual fare: those hard-to-find independent and studio releases that have provided the neighborhood theater with an enthusiastic audience for decades. If anything, the theater has only continued to expand its offerings.

This week Pleasant Street brings a lot to the table, but first, a mea culpa: when we went to press last week, I fully expected We Need To Talk About Kevin—one of the year's most hard-hitting films—to be screening by the weekend. It was not. It's now due to open at Pleasant Street on March 30, and while I won't recap the story (last week's column can be found at valleyadvocate.com), the film is certainly worth seeking out. In the meantime, we look at some of the other films screening this week at the theater.

Friends With Kids is the film that is being sold—rather misleadingly—as a follow-up to Bridesmaids. While it does reunite a good chunk of that film's cast (Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Jon Hamm, and Chris O'Dowd are all on board), it is a film all its own. Written and directed by Jennifer Westfeldt (who played the title role in Kissing Jessica Stein a decade ago), it spins a modern tale of love, friendship, and family that finds a social circle's last unwed pair deciding to have a child together—but still date other people.

In Darkness, from Polish director Agnieszka Holland, is a more somber offering. Based on the true story of Leopold Socha, it shares a remarkable history from one of our darkest times. Socha, a sewer worker and small-time criminal in Nazi-occupied Poland, stumbles into what he at first views as merely a money-making scheme: hiding the ghetto's Jews in the maze of the sewer network. But great evil can breed unlikely bonds, and it isn't long before Socha finds himself protecting the hunted for more noble reasons.

Also at PST is Pariah, a coming-of-age story co-presented by the Out! For Reel LGBT Film Series. Director Dee Rees' film focuses on a young African-American woman living in Brooklyn with her parents. A good student and a budding poet, Alike (Adepero Oduye) is balancing two shifts in her family's landscape: the strained state of her parents' marriage, and her own embrace of a lesbian identity. Pushed by her mother to befriend a colleague's daughter, Alike finds herself wondering who will make the best confidante.

And finally, Pleasant Street's Midnight Movie series continues with The Beyond, a classic of the Italian strain of horror films. From director Lucio Fulci—he also made, I kid you not, an earlier film called Don't Torture a Duckling—this film is about a New Orleans hotel built upon one of the "seven doors of death," which is a decided downer from a real estate point of view. Murders and other mayhem ensue, along with a spine-tingling soundtrack from Fabrio Frizzi.

*

Also this week: the Pioneer Valley Jewish Film Festival wraps up for another year with a pair of films showing on Thursday, March 29. At 7 p.m. in Smith College's Wright Hall, Avi Nesher's The Matchmaker screens. The "dramatic comedy" follows young Arik through Haifa in 1968 as his work for a local matchmaker introduces him to a colorful cast of characters.

At 7:30 the same day, the 2010 film Sarah's Key screens at Springfield College's Marsh Chapel. Julia Jarmond stars as an American journalist writing about an infamous mass arrest of Jews in Nazi-occupied France: the "Vel' d'Hiv Roundup" of 1942. In the course of her research, she discovers that the apartment she and her husband plan to inhabit was originally acquired by his family when its Jewish owners were deported decades earlier. Wrestling with her conscience, she resolves to discover the fate of the original occupants—whatever the result.

Jack Brown can be reached at cinemadope@gmail.com.

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