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:
Here’s some rare good news: Two weeks in a row we’ve had first-rate horror flicks. Last week, Chuck Wilson touted writer/director Gerald Johnstone’s Kiwi shut-in shears-and-teddy-bear freak-out Housebound, which is available on demand and totally worth your time if you’re the kind of person intrigued by that description.
And now this week Rob Staeger is championing Brad Anderson’s Stonehearst Asylum, a throwback Poe adaptation whose pleasures (unlike Housebound) do not involve splattering the lead actresses with gore. Staeger calls this “a Halloween treat,” a film “of the sort Vincent Price used to star in.” The story: A young doctor turns up at the asylum of the title to gain experience working with the mentally ill, not realizing that the man who seems to be in charge — Dr. Lamb (Ben Kingsley) — is actually a patient who has imprisoned the staff. Staeger adds:
Complicating matters is that Lamb seems much more humane in his methods than the primitive psychiatry of the era, getting better results by eschewing torturous aversion therapies…and yet he shows little mercy to the imprisoned hospital staff, enlisting a thuggish maniac (David Thewlis) as his enforcer. Anderson never forgets that his primary job is ratcheting up the suspense, but the implicit criticism of psychiatry without compassion makes this confection unusually filling.
It was only a matter of time: Gérard Depardieu has at last gotten his Taken. This week Danny King reviewed the hard-to-Google thriller Viktor, which opens in New York on Friday and is available on demand everywhere. Depardieu plays Viktor, a man just released from prison for — as King puts it — “the relatively elegant charge of art-thievery.” But don’t think an aesthete can’t kick ass! King writes:
But make no mistake: Once Viktor gets wind of his son’s recent murder, his sense of culture doesn’t mean he’s against a surge of violence. A typical example: Before tearing chunks of skin out of the thigh of a corrupt Italian lawyer (Marcello Mazzarella), he enjoys a steak and a glass of red wine in his victim’s company.
King spent the week touring the latest works of Europe’s most beloved performers. He also reviewed Erik Poppe’s 1,000 Times Good Night, starring Juliette Binoche as an Irish photojournalist addicted to life in combat zones. Despite a tense opening involving a suicide bomber in Kabul, King found the film “a routine if occasionally affecting melodrama.” He writes:
Poppe depicts Rebecca’s psychological shock in fairly rote terms: pensive showers and nightmarish recollections, both in traumatized slow motion. Binoche, an undoubtedly great actress working here in English, sells Rebecca’s maternal regret. But when someone says, “You do it for the excitement and the danger. And that’s why you’re great,” it’s clear that Poppe is trying to paint Rebecca as addicted to the visceral risk of her job (shades of The Hurt Locker). That’s something Binoche never quite convinces us of.
Yours truly also had the pleasure of seeing one of this continent’s great talents in a routine genre flick: Becky Ann Baker, so devilish as the mother on Freaks and Geeks, almost walks away with 23 Blast, the latest based-on-a-true-story Christian football flick. The movie’s better than you might expect, well-performed and occasionally touching; Baker’s few scenes involve her as a physical therapist helping a struck-blind high school athlete fight to find his place in a now-dark world. For all that, the movie may be most memorable for its often ridiculous dialogue:
“It is so easy for you!” one boy shouts, shirtless and sculpted, from the back of a rusted-out pickup truck.
“Easy?” his teammate shoots back. “I’m blind!”
E-Team, a new doc from Netflix (and soon to be available there) also seems to be following staling Hollywood tradition. Katy Chevigny and Ross Kauffman’s film follows four Europe-based Human Rights Watch caseworkers, at first focusing on their adventures rather than their cases. But there’s something of a lesson here, Steve Erickson writes in his review:
Initially, these are presented almost as if E-Team were a fictional adventure film and [caseworker Anna] Neistat a female Indiana Jones. The emphasis on the team’s daring amid mass chaos seems a bit off: This threatens to become yet another film about white Americans and Europeans telling the stories of Third World people. But the rest of the film does much to redeem that dubious trope: E-Team is ultimately about activists trying to summarize the crimes of Syria’s Assad regime in a way that will inspire the world’s media and governments to take action.
The hero-worship stuff feels warmer in James Keach’s new doc, Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me, which follows the great singer/picker on the road with his family for 115 concerts in the months after he is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. The film’s warm and moving and occasionally harrowing. From my review:
Valedictory and elegiac, Keach’s film captures a performer who only truly seems to inhabit himself during the performances. He keeps patting the back of his neck when he’s onstage, a strange sight explained by Kim Woolen, his impressive, attentive, deeply loving fourth wife: When the crowd cheers him, the hairs back there stand up and tingle. The movie might stir that in you, too.
You no doubt know about Vertigo already. But it’s back, again, in a new re-re-re-restoration at Film Forum. Our Sam Weisberg has taken a peek, and he offers this comparison to its last official release. This edition:
…removes some of the 1996 restoration’s cheesiest blunders (an overkill of seagull cries in the San Francisco Bay scenes, for instance). The color scheme — the eerie cornflower hue of the dawn sky in the riveting rooftop chase, the funereal grays and browns of the perpetually haunted James Stewart’s suits — is rendered more piercing.
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