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Venus Boyz
Directed by Gabriel Baur
First Run
Opens August 22, Quad

One part time capsule of New York's once flourishing drag king scene and one part gender-theory primer, Baur's doc earnestly—if not altogether adroitly—examines masculinity as a performance, demonstrating that biology is not destiny. A drag king show at the Slipper Room in the late '90s reveals many painfully unfunny or unconvincing moments of gender illusion—with the exception of Mildred Gerestant, alias Dréd, whose charismatic spoofs of Shaft-style maleness combine canny XY deconstruction and alluring stage presence. Many kings think of their work as therapeutic; Mo B. Dick, né Maureen Fischer, remarks, "Instead of an angry woman, I became a funny man." The intersexed Del LaGrace Volcano—the film's most articulate interlocutor—notes, "I know five men who personally have vaginas." Surgery, hormones, or simple self-identification dissolve anatomical and sexual binaries, leading to a newfound sense of liberation—giddily displayed as a bewhiskered Del shops for a sari. —Melissa Anderson


Dust
Written and directed by Milcho Manchevski
Lions Gate
Opens August 22, AMC Empire

A spaghetti Western transplanted to the hardscrabble plains of Macedonia, Dustis the second feature by Milcho Manchevski, whose Before the Rain showed Macedonia as a tinderbox of tensions. Here, he reaches back a century to find parallels in violence between East and West. In present-day Lower Manhattan, an elderly woman (Rosemary Murphy) compels a young burglar (Adrian Lester) to hear her story. One hundred years ago, two brothers, gunmen on the American frontier, fall for a French prostitute (Anne Brochet). The younger (Joseph Fiennes), weds her; the embittered elder (David Wenham), finds himself embroiled in the Macedonian revolution. After several plot twists, a remote village idyll, and too many shoot-outs, the brothers meet again—but by then, plausibility and our ear drums have been strained to their limits. Manchevski has a rare visual intelligence, whether filming the face of a dying woman or Times Square's reflection in a windshield. But in reaching for a cubist style of storytelling, he sacrifices character and motivation. —Leslie Camhi


The Adventures of Robin Hood
Directed by Michael Curtiz and William Keighley
August 22 through 28,
Film Forum

William Keighley and Michael Curtiz's rambunctious 1938 masterpiece—and Hollywood's definitive swashbuckler—is back, in a picture-book-handsome new 35mm color restoration. In the most engaging performance of his career, Errol Flynn is jaunty, romantic, and larger than life, but also slyly funny as the Saxon knight who takes on the nasty Normans who have usurped the rule of England while King Richard has been out of town liberating the Holy Land from the "infidels." Flynn's magnificent climactic battle with villain Basil Rathbone is a model of the genre, and Eric Wolfgang Korngold's magical, Oscar-winning music delineates all the characters as it strides and lilts along. Robin Hood is movie pageantry at its best, done in the grand manner of silent spectacles, brimming over with the sort of primitive energy that drew people to the movies in the first place. Film Forum's program includes Chuck Jones's hilarious cartoon parody Rabbit Hood(1949), in which an animated Bugs Bunny meets a live Errol Flynn. —Elliott Stein


Open Range
Directed by Kevin Costner
Touchstone
In release

Nothing saps a genre like self-awareness. Pity the western, then, manhandled by a generation of (mostly) well-meaning revisionists laboring under the belief that making explicit what was once implicit ensures a more meaningful film than, say, Tall in the Saddle. Kevin Costner doesn't just fall into this trap with Open Range, he jumps into it willingly. It could have been worse—the smirky pastiche of Young Guns and its ilk is more insulting—but was it necessary to ditch narrative innovation to rub our noses in all those textbook Big Themes? Director-producer Costner plays Charley Waite, an itinerant cowpoke with a violent past and an aversion to settling down (read: civilization). His like-minded crew, helmed by Robert Duvall, run afoul of a cattle baron and are drawn into a bloody showdown that leads Charley to reconsider his isolative, nomadic ways (read: the frontier is dead, boys). A fetching, plucky town spinster (Annette Bening) helps bring him along. The scenario recalls everything from High Noon to Unforgiven, but Costner is less interested in grappling with the grim ambiguities underlying those films than in codifying them. There's still much to like, including the warm, thoughtful performances and cinematographer James Muro's fearless use of natural light. In the end, though, Charley's crusty assessment of events—"Nothing that's been happening in this town is much of a surprise"—is all too knowingly accurate. —Mark Holcomb


Autumn Spring
Directed by Vladimír Michálek
First Look
Opens August 22

Exhorting its carpe diem message with the sunny conviction of a Modern Maturitycover spread, this wisp of a Czech heart-warmer dubiously offers up amateur imposture as a form of geriatric empowerment. Retired thespian Fanda (Vlastimil Brodsky) spends his golden days posing as other people (we meet him mid-prank, pretending to be a wealthy musician in the market for a mansion). Together with best friend Eda (Stanislav Zindulka), Fanda squanders precious time and cash on his improv ruses, nettling put-upon wife Emílie (Stella Zázvorková), who channels her resentment into obsessively squirreling away funeral money in large tin canisters. Close calls with death instruct husband and wife in the error of their ways, though not before the two seasoned leads have slam-dunked a few harrowing scenes of lived-in dysfunction. The reconciliatory finale comes with a sad footnote: Czech New Wave veteran Brodsky killed himself shortly after the film was released in his native country—an eerie rebuke to the movie's spunky and life-affirming vision of old age. —David Ng

 
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