Iranian Filmmakers, Los Angeles Detectives and Scary Movies

Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi is back in theaters with the timely and self-referential drama No Bears. Photo courtesy of Celluloid Dreams.


By Glenn McDonald

Every other week, our Movie Night! column previews the best upcoming films showing in Chapel Hill theater—for those who still like to go out to the movies. While COVID remains an issue, all local venues have taken measures to make their spaces safe. Also please remember that bookings and schedules change all the time, so always check online before heading out.

No Bears

Opening Feb. 10 at the Chelsea

Iranian director Jafar Panahi is one of the great activist-artists of our time, a humanitarian of astonishing courage and a filmmaker who has truly mastered his craft. He’s been a target of Iran’s current regime for years and making movies, for him, is a dangerous line of work. He’s also, by all accounts, humble, compassionate and remarkably funny. It’s kind of amazing, really.

On Feb. 3, Panahi was released from jail in Iran after serving six months on charges of “propaganda against the regime.” He was also imprisoned, in part, for making No Bears, his latest film and winner of the Special Jury Prize at the 2022 Venice Film Festival.

No Bears is a very meta kind of affair—Panahi plays himself—and it deals with themes of injustice, repression, resistance and the power of art. It’s also about a middle-class city guy who gets mixed up in a semi-comic feud out in the sticks. As with everything Panahi directs, it’s got layers within layers. To get a sense of the film, check out the official trailer and this insightful review from film critic A.O. Scott, if you have access to The New York Times.

Panahi is a fierce proponent of the notion that, in dangerous times, the personal is the political. He’s a great storyteller, too. It’s always a good idea to see what he’s up to.


Opening Feb. 16 at Silverspot

Opening next week, the period crime thriller Marlowe has Liam Neeson bringing his late-career tough-guy persona to 1939 Los Angeles. Neeson plays Philip Marlowe, author Raymond Chandler’s famous hardboiled detective. Alas, the trailer suggests that the film is going to play like an actioner—it’s mostly Neeson punching out goons in nice suits. That’s dispiriting.

There’s reason for hope, however. The director is Irish filmmaker Neil Jordan, who knows his business, and the supporting cast looks like fun: Danny Huston as the heavy; Diane Kruger as the femme fatale; Jessica Lange as the other femme fatale; plus Alan Cumming, Colm Meaney and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje.

Let’s hope for the best with this one. Half the fun with these old-school period pieces is seeing what the production direction team does with the costumes and set design (and the vintage cars). I’ll be interested to see how Neeson comes off. Philip Marlowe is one of the iconic film noir roles in Hollywood history, having been played in the past by Humphrey Bogart, Danny Glover, James Garner and Elliot Gould.

Quick Picks

It’s surely a sign of the times that horror films—especially low-budget indies—are so popular and profitable these days. There are several to choose from just now, playing at Silverspot, the Varsity and the Lumina. You’ve got M3GAN (scary robots!), Consecration (scary nuns!) She Came from the Woods (scary summer camp!) and Knock at the Cabin (scary existential dilemmas!)

Next up for Silverspot’s Flashback Cinema series: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (the best of the series, IMHO). Next week, it’s Murder on the Orient Express (the 1974 one).

For the next few weeks, the Lumina will be rotating back in several of this year’s Oscar nominees, including The Fabelmans and Everything Everywhere all at Once.

The Chelsea is also holding over several nominees this week, including EO, Tár, Women Talking and Living.

Glenn McDonald is a Chapel Hill freelance writer and contributing film critic with Indy Week.

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