Film

HIDDEN IN PLAIN SIGHT
Directed by John H. Smihula
Seventh Art, November 7 through 13, Anthology

Regarded by many as a terrorist training camp, the U.S. Army's School of the Americas has graduated some 60,000 Latin American soldiers, including several notorious future dictators. John H. Smihula's compelling video documentary aims for both hearts and minds in making the case against the SOA—a lightning rod for protesters against U.S. policy in Latin America. Smihula relies on interviews with anti-SOA activists and scholars, as well as military personnel and members of Congress on both sides of the issue, but makes no apologies for the emotionally charged nature of the stories told by survivors of SOA-trained death squads, forcefully intercutting a Salvadoran woman's testimony with images of dead bodies being loaded onto a truck. Even more unsettling is the film's subtle indictment of the American taxpayer's passive complicity; as its title suggests, this doc's essential subject is the limits of American tolerance for atrocity. —JOSHUA LAND


GLOOMY SUNDAY
Directed by Rolf Schübel
Menemsha, opens November 7, Quad

Dissolving four characters' lives into the dank smoke of the bitterest of torch songs, Gloomy Sunday fashions an apocryphal, pretty, and somewhat pat biography of the title ballad. Tracing the period around the Nazi invasion of Budapest, the movie mostly unfolds in Szabo, a swank eatery whose chief attractions (besides a buttered beef roll) are a comely hostess (Erika Maroszán) and a soul-sick house pianist (Stefano Dionisi). The latter's ode to the former—a punishing minor-key murmur into the void—sparks a suicide trend that crosses the Atlantic before the Germans "dump the last bucket of shit" on everyone's heads. Never mind the sumptuous period dressing—the movie is about nothing less than a song's power to make people live, love, or die. It's a winsome pipe dream, but Abel Ferrara's "Gloomy"-scored The Funeral nailed the song's bleak key better. —EDWARD CROUSE


MARTIN & ORLOFF
Directed by Lawrence Blume
Spit & Glue, opens November 7, Landmark Sunshine

Downside of being a famous comedian: pressure to cameo in your less funny friends' experiments. Despite lightning cameos by Tina Fey and dependably hilarious David Cross, this extended riff on an Analyze This theme—Upright Citizens Brigade founders Ian Roberts and Matt Walsh respectively play a suicidal marketing exec and his wacko therapist—flogs each jolting gag into SNL-style unconsciousness. Granted, an opening scene that finds psych ward returnee Roberts listening to a "sorry you tried to kill yourself" message from his boss while mopping dried blood from his bathroom tile is frat-comedy genius, and a marketing campaign involving Camp Fire Girls dressed as spareribs is as tasty as it sounds, but mostly, its unearned funnier-than-thou smugness plays like a DIY dorm-lounge homage. —LAURA SINAGRA


LOVE FORBIDDEN
Written and directed by Rodolphe Marconi
Strand, opens November 7, Quad

Mourning his brother's death and spurned by his girlfriend and parents, blocked filmmaker Bruce (Marconi) heads to Rome for a change of pace. He finds one with Matteo (Andrea Necci), an enigmatic philosophy student eager to join him in bed. Or does Matteo have something more sinister planned? The facile, derivative mind games played here are probably more meaningful for Marconi—who, not surprisingly, filmed this solipsistic DV odyssey while living in a villa like the one where Bruce stays—than they will be for anyone else. Cryptic, pseudo-poetic asides come across as merely pretentious: Repeated cutaways to statues will not make your film Contempt, nor will fleeting references to serial killers make it Don't Look Now. —BEN KENIGSBERG


BILLABONG ODYSSEY
Directed by Philip Boston
Arenaplex, opens November 7

Here's some quick pointers for those who plan to attend this sponsored extreme-surfing doc while stoned, as most will. The opening sequence—in which the camera pulls back to reveal a wave so gigantic the dude riding it is reduced to a pinpoint—is indeed the best part of the film; it's not merely because your buzz is strongest then. Don't freak when you get confused by the poorly constructed reality-TV-style plot, which pits '80s pros Mike Parsons and Brad Gerlach against the San Diego Mavericks crew in a world-spanning big-wave hunt. And when you become seized with déjà vu paranoia, just chill out. Pretty much everything here—tow surfing, hydrofoil boards, token bit on women surfers—already appeared in this summer's equally halfass Step Into Liquid. —ED HALTER

 
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