Each week new movies open in New York (and online) by the dozen. The Voice reviews all of ’em. Here’s some you might not have heard about that got our critics excited, for better or worse:
Chris Packham reviews Default, the third Somali-pirate film to open in New York in the last month. (The others: The superb Fishing Without Nets and the ambitious Last Hijack.) Default‘s found-footage approach proves distracting for our critic, who found himself thinking about the technique more than the pirates:
One of the biggest problems with the fake documentary form is finding an excuse to keep the cameras rolling at all times. Default resolves that issue at the outset: “Continue filming or you will be shot!” shouts the pirate leader, although the audience is never offered an explanation for why anyone was documenting a news crew boarding a plane in the first place.
It might be fun to find footage of the real-life Packham fuming while watching the new comedy Eternity: The Movie, about a comically awful ’80s r&b duo. Packham carps:
Some period montages happen, and they rise to the top of the charts before falling in love with the same woman. Meanwhile, the dialogue is overgrown with moronic gay entendres that the characters are too stupid to get and that most audiences are too enlightened to laugh at. The jokes are slow and obvious, and the editor lingers over every one like a sleepy drunk over a basket of tater tots, stoically holding the shot long after any reasonable person would have concluded that a punchline had occurred.
More fun than that, even: Just watching Housebound, a New Zealand horror-comedy-mystery-whatever flick that won raves from Chuck Wilson.
In an amazingly assured debut, writer-director-editor Gerard Johnstone mixes moments of high comedy (blocking a knife thrust with a toy xylophone) with gruesome little shocks (the accident with the lawn shears), and ends with a chase sequence that’s both goofy (a cheese grater as weapon) and suspenseful. If Steven Spielberg or James Wan (The Conjuring) see Housebound, they’re going to laugh, applaud, and immediately invite Johnstone to fly over and take a meeting.
Housebound isn’t playing New York theaters, but it is available on demand.
Wilson was less high on Ian McDonald’s Algorithms, a documentary covering the lives of three adolescent chess champions in India — make that three mostly blind chess champions. The material is fascinating, but Wilson writes:
Each child has devoted parents who’ve placed great trust in the boy’s mentor, Charudatta Jadhav, who went blind as a teenager, only to become a local chess legend. The depth of his obsession with creating an Indian world champion becomes clear in the film’s final third, when the boys compete in Greece. Rather abruptly, McDonald lets Jadhav’s viewpoint take over the film, to the detriment of the three boys, whose fates, after the big match, we never learn.
Diana Clarke finds the techniques of Vivien Lesnik Weisman’s documentary Hacker Wars less compelling than its revelations:
The documentary can sometimes feel like a video game, with cartoonish pinging graphics, but the real-life consequences of digital activity, from arrests to CIA monitoring and a total lack of privacy for ordinary citizens, heighten its stakes. As one journalist tells Weisman, “information is the weapon.” It’s worthwhile to understand how it’s being used.
Form and content are more fruitfully paired up in a more wrenching new doc, A Requiem for Syrian Refugees, Clarke says:
Director Richard Wolf gives his subjects, Syrians living in a refugee camp in northern Iraq, a platform to tell their truths. The result is urgent, deeply painful yet lovely in its aesthetics.
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