Seven Indie Movies out This Weekend You Don't Know About but Should
Each week new movies open in New York (and online) by the dozen. The Voice reviews all of 'em. Here are some you might not have heard about that got our critics excited, for better or worse:
This week the great Michael Atkinson bites into Ana Lily Amirpour's A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, finding much to relish in this highly touted "feminist-vampire diss of Shariah norms." Atkinson writes:
A lovely post-punk lark with one foot in '80s ironic-indieland and the other in Iran, Ana Lily Amirpour's feature debut could become a totem for a hipster world mad for jukebox funkiness, vampires, and gender-politics righteousness. It's got all the gumballs, from the shadowy-retro black-and-white HD to an all-Persian (or Persian American) soundtrack that travels from rockabilly to spaghetti western. That it's set in an underpopulated comic-book "Iran" (shot in the San Joaquin Valley), where everybody speaks Farsi but seems lost in an old Aki Kaurismäki movie anyway, just peppers the stew.
Calum Marsh also celebrated the heady work of emerging talents, recommending a beauty of a double feature at The Tank: Lev Kalman and Whitney Horn's films Blondes in the Jungle and L for Leisure. Of course, Marsh bristles at the somewhat backhanded "emerging" cliche -- as he points out, "Kalman and Horn's talent had emerged as far back as 2009." Here he is on the "blissful, eccentric 48-minute short" Blondes in the Jungle:
A deeply idiosyncratic period comedy, shot on location in Honduras in sumptuous 16mm, Blondes in the Jungle concerns the rather dilatory efforts of a trio of American students to find the Fountain of Youth -- an endeavor variously delayed by the appearance of a salmon-blazered cocaine dealer ("the farmer who grew this shit is 10 miles that way") and, more inexplicably still, Bret Easton Ellis, who literally parachutes in for moral guidance. The film, as you may have guessed, has a somewhat elusive aspect that defies classification.
Marsh also toasts Albert Serra's Story of My Death, a work conceived of by its director as utterly "without precedent." Like Amirpour and Kalman and Horn, Serra borrows from our cultural history while shoving at the boundaries of his medium -- Story of My Death features Casanova and Dracula. Here's Marsh on what makes it singular:
The 144-minute film was culled from nearly 450 hours of footage -- not one second of which, owing to Serra's distaste for multiple takes, was repeated. In order to create a simple conversation, Serra might shoot three hours of improvised dialogue; in editing, he would assemble an exchange using unrelated sentences, resulting in a sequence that seems to emerge spontaneously onscreen. It's an audacious technique, but an effective one: This is a film of dazzling vitality and animation.
Diana Clarke contributes a stirring rave of Guido Santi and Tina Mascara's Monk With a Camera: The Life and Journey of Nicholas Vreeland, a doc examining the life of Nicholas Vreeland, grandson of ex-Vogue editor Diana Vreeland -- and now a camera-wielding Tibetan Buddhist monk. Clarke and the film examine the key question: Wait, how isn't a camera one of those worldly pleasures a monk should forsake? Clarke writes:
But an eye for detail and delicacy -- noticing and valuing an ant, which he feels must be protected from the destructive force of an errant human foot -- is as much Buddhist ethos as good editorial instinct. Nicky's photography is meditation; while living at a monastery in India, he creates spare studies of his room, his desk -- and the sale of those simple photos allows the monastery an unusual, financial transcendence.
Zachary Wigon savored Late Phases, the latest horror film from the promising Adrián García Bogliano (Here Comes the Devil), just about to the end. Wigon calls it the "best film in which a blind individual gets trigger-happy with a series of firearms" and praises its steady, sturdy buildup and its genre philosophizing. He writes:
The filmmakers wisely reveal the werewolf early, as this shifts the source of suspense from an obvious question (Will there turn out to be a monster?) to a more mystifying one (Why is there a monster?). In addition to the careful parceling-out of information and anticipation, the film benefits enormously from [Nick] Damici's lead performance: Gruff, funny, aggressive, and, of course, commanding sympathy, the character compellingly entices the audience to board this ride.
Yours truly took a gander at the Vicious Brothers' new on-the-cheap horror extravaganza Extraterrestrial, and, after dutifully grumbling about the familiar/predictable setup and the uninvolving characters, I made with the compliments:
Great slabs of red light give the alien-invasion scenes unsettling power, and writer-director team the Vicious Brothers spring some first-rate shock-scares: The willowy, black-eyed spaceman out the window here is much scarier than the one that professional real-life UFO profiteer Stan Romanek insisted was real on 20/20 a few years back. And the bits you couldn't guess before going in are doozies, especially the one where the dude handcuffs himself to a tree to escape being sucked up into a flying saucer's light-shaft tractor beam.
But I had no complaints at all when reviewing The King and the Mockingbird, Paul Grimault's animated jewel that at long last hits American screens after two delays of about 30 years apiece since the film's inception. The story -- "a gently surrealist gloss on Hans Christian Andersen, steeped in Tintin, Metropolis, Snow White, and the full despots-versus-workers history of the 20th century" -- involves a mad and greedy king who falls in love with a portrait of a shepherdess, but wouldn't you know that she sneaks out of the painting that holds her and larks off with a boy from a picture down the wall.
Grimault's frames do the opposite of the lovers': The director invites us in, to play and dream. The adventure descends to an undercity whose beleaguered residents have only heard rumors of the sun; meanwhile, the mockingbird of the title lights out hither and yon, the only critter in the kingdom with the temerity to laugh at the powerful. He's brash, almost vaudevillian -- and wholly inspiring as a model of joyous, principled dissent.
While you're here, listen to this week's film podcast.
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