Family Fundamentals

Directed by Arthur Dong (Opens October 11, at the Quad)

A highlight of the last New Festival, Arthur Dong’s documentary compassionately explores the seemingly irreconcilable situation between conservative Christian parents and their estranged gay and lesbian children. The latter never see themselves as victims, but struggle doggedly against the former’s intransigence. Dong doesn’t cast aspersions on the parents, opting instead to deftly probe the fallout of the hurt, betrayal, and rage felt on both sides. For Pentecostal church leader Kathleen Bremner, whose daughter, Susan Jester, came out in 1984 and whose grandson David is gay, the response to her offspring’s sexuality takes the form of narcissistic injury. “This is all about her, not about us,” Susan observes. Gay Republican Brian Bennett served as chief of staff to and shared a father-and-son bond with former U.S. Congressman Bob Dornan, but they severed ties in 1997, when Brian came out. Although Brian freely admits his ex-boss is a “grade A homophobe,” he’s still trembling before G.O.P. —Melissa Anderson

Knockaround Guys
Directed by Brian Koppelman and David Levien (New Line, opens October 11)

“Turn off the part of your brain that thinks,” Taylor (Vin Diesel) advises his less-experienced amigo, moments before Knockaround Guys‘ Woo-zy finale. “Just react.” That Diesel intones everything like he just made the yeshiva football squad means the audience tends to react with laughter. Brian Koppelman and David Levien’s rancid mob flick has a Road to Perdition-ish primal scene, Dennis Hopper as a handball-playing underboss, and son Barry Pepper resembling a young Christopher Walken and squinting wildly for emotion. The violence is so ludicrously overdubbed one begins to imagine the sound guy blowing up and clapping a series of brown paper bags. The inevitable double- and triple-crosses arise, but the only drama is in waiting to hear how John Malkovich’s reedy consigliere will pronounce his next line. —Ed Park

Directed by David Twohy (Dimension, opens October 11)

WWII seamen and a rescued-from-a-shipwreck British nurse (Olivia Williams) become understandably nervous when something starts knocking on the hull of their damaged submarine. Because the craft is packed with nastily ambitious officers, Weird Tales-obsessed crew, and undisposed-of corpses, the sub is a magnet for what one man calls malediction de mer. Though the genre collisions (horror/WWII submarine/undersea Macbeth) are as jarring as the sound design, the cumulative effect is one of claustrophobic creepiness; director David Twohy (Pitch Black) leaves few dark, slimy compartments unexplored. By the time the spooked-out seamen find themselves in a flooded sub-basement, and start whispering about mutiny, assessing the high body count, and wondering if they might be dead already and just don’t know it, it’s clear that Below is setting an even more unpredictable course. —Justine Elias

A Cuban Legend
Directed by Bette Wanderman (October 11 through 17, at Cinema Village)

Those skeptical of high culture’s ability to transform everyday life might take a lesson from muralist, sculptor, and neighborhood shaman Salvador Gonzalez. The dignified, cigar-chomping whirlwind at the heart of Bette Wanderman’s A Cuban Legend, Gonzalez has dedicated his life to enshrining Havana’s Afro-Cuban traditions in the dazzling, two-block riot of contour and color known as Hamel’s Alley. No static installation, this kaleidoscopic barrio boasts Yoruban shrines, raucous musical gatherings, and a steady profusion of eye-catching refuse re-imagined as art. Rather less assured in its lo-fi aesthetic than its subject’s vivid paintings and junkyard sculptures, Wanderman’s doc is an unabashed display of clunky videography and scattershot editing. The strong raw material ends up eclipsed by relentless meandering, though Gonzalez himself is rarely less than galvanizing. Humble, too—which makes his gifts as an artist and a community leader all the more remarkable. —Nick Rutigliano

Ash Wednesday
Directed by Edward Burns (IFC, opens October 11)

With more swagger than Saint Pat on Snake Day, Edward Burns struts around 1983 Hell’s Kitchen in search of a Sopranos audition. He’s a tolerable rake, but in his mobbed-up screenplay you can still hear those gears a’grindin’—racing straight from concept to Conan’s couch. Burns gets genius points for his faux-pious ash-smudged Irish, Puerto Rican, and Italian killers. Russell Fine’s kinetic camerawork outperforms the plot (explained through conversations between characters who already know the things they’re hearing from one another): Burns’s Francis hides brother Sean (Elijah Wood, more Frodo than Fredo) from vengeful thugs. Back from exile, Sean seeks his wife who, believing him dead, now loves the amoral Fran. Papist brogue-ing and Did yoo fawh-kin think about thadt?s abound. Guns are fired. But threats never seem as real as Burns asserts, which might explain why this film’s been moldering long past Easter Sunday. —Laura Sinagra

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