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Coronavirus edition: DocYard’s ‘Choice,’ stretched-out superheroes, ‘Tina’ doc

This column by Tom Meek was originally published in Cambridge Day,a YourArlington partner, and is republished with permission.Take Shelter during coronavirus

With Covid-19 social-distancing mandates and shutdown restrictions in place, movie theaters continue to be closed, though loosening lies ahead. As a result, this column is focusing on films you can find streaming or on demand on platforms such as Xfinity, Netflix or Amazon Video. You can help cherished cultural institutions and organizations such as The Brattle Theatre and Independent Film Festival Boston in this crisis with small things, such as renewing memberships early and adding a few dollars as a donation, buying a gift certificate or merch, or looking for them as a beneficiary of the Amazon Smile program, in which a part of your Amazon purchases go to help the nonprofit of your choice. The Harvard Film Archiveand Brattle Theatre are also offering various virtual offerings, primarily in the form of curated film lists. Please visit their websites for information.

Local and virtual

To celebrate Women’s History Month, Cambridge Day and the Boston Women’s Film Fest host a film forum discussion Tuesday, March 23, around movies chronicling different aspects of the female experience in U.S. history. See the three films (“North Country,” “Pariah” and “Maya Lin: A Clear Vision”) and join the conversation. The event is free and open to the public with a suggested donation to On the Rise, a Cambridge nonprofit that helps homeless women find shelter and work opportunities. For details and to sign up, go to the EventBrite page.

Brattle Theatre

The 37th Annual Boston LGBTQ+ Film Festival arrives April 1 virtually (it screens normally at the Brattle Theatre). The program of 23 features and 17 shorts packages runs throughout the month of April. Highlights include “Leading Ladies,” Ruth Caudeli’s experimental, improvised narrative in which five woman come together to reveal truths behind long propagated lies; “Raw! Uncut! Video!,” Alex Clausen and Ryan’s White love letter to fetish porn that chronicles the rise and fall of homegrown gay porn studio Palm Drive Video in the 1970s and ’80s; “Ma Belle, My Beauty,” Marion Hill’s tale of a polyamorous trio over the year; shorts for all – seniors, BIPOC, Trans, Latinx, men, women; and of course the “GTFO” program, billed as a showcase of the outrageous, outrageous and over-the-top and coming with a viewer warning to “Maybe don’t bring your mom.”

The DocYard is running the U.S. premiere presentation of Xue Gu’s audacious debut feature feature, “The Choice,” a film that opens and ends with the same, hourlong take of a family discussing their aunt’s intensive care. The film is available through Thursday; on Wednesday Xue will join curator Abby Sun for a live filmmaker Q&A.

In theaters, streaming

‘Tina’ (2021)

Based on Jennifer Mathieu’s popular YA novel, this sprightly yet deeply dark tale about racism and sexism perpetuated by white male culture in a typically generic high school is an empowering victory lap for young women who feel marginalized – think “Heathers” (1988) via “Legally Blonde” (2001). The film also marks SNL alum Amy Poehler’s directorial debut. The film lacks balance, but raises a multitude of deeply relevant social issues. The bad guy here (Patrick Schwarzenegger, Arnold’s son), the jock QB golden boy, is a bit too off the shelf in his unmitigated repugnance, entitled by the school’s blind eye (Marcia Gay Harden as the principal). The transformation of Vivian (Hadley Robinson, “I’m Thinking of Ending Things”) from introvert to covert feminist leader carries the film as her invention (Moxie, an anonymously published guerrilla school tabloid) brings women together. Issues of race and cultural pressures pepper the perimeter smartly. Poehler plays Robinson’s mom, and Alycia Pascual-Pena serves notice with a quietly affecting performance as the new girl drawing the ire of the self-appointed Adonis. Streaming on Netflix.

‘Quo vadis, Aria’ (2020)

Talia Lugacy bridges generations and gender with a dark yet lyrical tale about vets suffering from PTSD and trying to heal. The film feels like a documentary as it follows a group of Vietnam and Iraq War vets who work on a collaborative art project using old uniforms. It starts with an Iraq vet dying in public from an OD; the rest of the film focuses on Will (Sam Adegoke), a vet and PTSD mentor who feels tremendous guilt over that death – one he feels was on his watch. Later he takes on Isabelle (Lugacy), another vet suffering and disowned by her mother for serving. Lugacy’s laconic style is neorealistic, in the same way Chloe Zhao’s works have come to recognized. Lugacy and Adegoke not only forge chemistry between their troubled souls, but inhabit the weariness and pain of their characters as if they lived it. The dialogue at turns gets too preachy about war and social support; the film is best in its more somber and intimate moments. Streaming on Amazon Prime.

‘Zack Snyder’s Justice League’ (2021)

A Cold War spy thriller about real-life British operative Greville Wynne (Benedict Cumberbatch), a businessman pressed into action because of his Russian business contacts and freedom to travel through the country, that helped resolve the Cuban Missile Crisis. Cumberbatch is fun to watch in the role, as his Wynne is something of a putz in the cloak-and-dagger universe. He’s human and flawed and has a taste for the drink – an asset, it turns out. Jessie Buckley (so good in “I’m Thinking of Ending Things”) is affecting as Wynne’s wife, but in the bigger pantheon of Cold War events and thrillers, fictional and not, “The Courier” feel like a footnote when lined up against “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” (2011), “The Spy Who Came in From the Cold” (1965), “A Most Wanted Man” (2014) and “Bridge of Spies” (2015). Showing at Landmark Kendall Square Cinema, 355 Binney St., Kendall Square.

‘Crisis’ (2021)

Nicholas Jarecki – the scion of commodity brokers – tackled the dirty side of the family biz with “Arbitrage” in 2012; here he’s after big pharma and the opioid pandemic. The cast list is a potent cocktail featuring Gary Oldman (“Dark Hours,” “Mank”), Armie Hammer (“Call Me By Your Name”), Evangeline Lilly (“Lost”), Michelle Rodriguez (“Girlfight”) and Greg Kinnear (“Little Miss Sunshine”). The plot, a weave of three narratives, could have used a bit more of a clinical trial test run before release; the threads don’t all dovetail fully, and one in particular outshines the others disproportionately. The two pat chapters have Hammer as an undercover agent trying to take down an illegal blackmarket opioid ring, and Lilly as a mother out to avenge the death of a son who was hooked on the drug. The thread that’s head and shoulders more compelling than the others has Oldman as a boozy college prof who finds big pharma doing what big tobacco did, pushing an addictive product while obfuscating data and information and in short willfully creating a public heath hazard. He gets muzzled by his university higher-up (Kinnear) and threatened by corporate goons and attorneys. It’s the storyline you want to get hooked on, but guns and predictable double dealings keep numbing your cerebral sensibilities. Available on Amazon Prime, Vudu and other services.whitespace

‘The Human Voice’ (2020)

Pedro Almodóvar’s English-language debut is the third film by the Spanish director to pay homage to Jean Cocteau’s 1930 play of the same title. What we get in the 30-minute short is Tilda Swinton in a flowing red gown waiting for a lover to come to her cavernous flat and pick up his belongings, all neatly packed into suitcases. They never show, and so we get Tina venting her ire to a dog about said person who isn’t there, but is embodied by a suit laid out on the bed. What’s it all mean? It’s a meander, but this is Almodóvar (“Pain and Glory”) and Swinton (“Only Lovers Left Alive,” “Suspiria”) two of the best at their trades. The monodrama never quite gets substantial, but it is a fun watch – namely dues to Swinton’s indelible countenance. The film plays alongside Almodóvar’s 1988 classic “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.” The short did not make the Academy Awards-nominated list, but you can catch all the ones that did in Kendall Square starting Thursday. Showing at the Landmark Kendall Square Cinema, 355 Binney St., Kendall Square.

Tom Meek is a writer living in Cambridge. His reviews, essays, short stories and articles have appeared in the WBUR ARTery, The Boston Phoenix, The Boston Globe, The Rumpus, The Charleston City Paper and SLAB literary journal. Tom is also a member of the Boston Society of Film Critics and rides his bike everywhere.

This film listing was updated Sunday, March  28, 2021.

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