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:
Diana Clarke found much to wonder at in Warsaw Uprising, a genre-bending collage documentary about the citizens of Warsaw attempting to overthrow their German occupiers in 1944 — as the Russians march on the city. Jan Komasa’s film is made up of footage shot in ’44. Clarke writes:
Colorized and tinted toward realism, backed by dialogue derived from expert lip-reading, and voiced-over with commentary from fictitious U.S. airmen and reporters, Warsaw Uprising quickly becomes hyper-real, a fast-moving photograph of idyllic street scenes — pinkened lips, sepia stone — that turn to rubble. The end of the film — and of the uprising — is no surprise. What is: The lovers giggling and teasing one another while discussing the war with a reporter is not staged, demonstrating that life continues despite war and deprivation, that it includes these things.
Nick Schager emerged edified from his immersion in documentarian Frederick Wiseman’s National Gallery, a three-hour engagement with the “images, sounds, and atmosphere” of Britain’s National Gallery. Schager finds the film profound and challenging, like most of Wiseman’s work. He writes:
What emerges from these seemingly disparate yet inherently connected sequences is a sense of constant dialogue — between an artist’s intentions and a viewer’s perspective; a museum’s needs and its clientele’s desires; the past and the present; experts and students; the “reality” of a piece of art and the illusory “magic” it creates; and between painting, music, dance, and film itself. Using unassuming compositions and piercing edits to convey the experience of visiting the Gallery, Wiseman creates an invigorating portrait of various modes of storytelling, and of the endless mysteries — and thus opportunities for investigation, analysis, and debate — that art (and life) affords us.
Michelle Orange notes that the career-survey doc 21 Years: Richard Linklater seems a touch out of step — its study of the Austin auteur only touches upon this year’s Boyhood, for example. But those curious about Linklater and his process will enjoy some discoveries:
Still, there is pleasure to be had in the reminiscences of Jack Black, Ethan Hawke, Keanu Reeves, and the much-indulged Matthew McConaughey on their “sneaky Shakespeare.” The notion that Linklater is more tricky than he seems recurs: Calm and a spirit of collaboration belie his near-complete control on set; an interest in the ephemeral, the subaltern, the engaged-but-aimless has deflected from the director’s highly developed thematic and aesthetic drives.
Michael Atkinson had enough fun with Sion Sono’s kitchen-sink meta-yakuza freakout Why Don’t You Play in Hell? to recommend it to audiences up for (what he calls) “a cut-artery farce.” The film demanded that Atkinson expend terrific energy just trying to describe it:
Here we have, over a 10-year span, a movie-drunk amateur “cinema club” called the Fuck Bombers getting entangled with a mob war that evolves, preposterously, into a film shoot, so as to showcase one boss’s punky actress-daughter, to impress her mother, who’s getting out of prison after slaughtering the other gang’s men in a lake of blood years earlier, when the little girl was the star of an infectious toothpaste commercial…That’s a sliver of it, and it just gets more manic, as the inevitable clash of clans is fought and “directed” for the Bombers’ cameras in an endless mega-set-piece filthy with bouncing severed heads, samurai-sword hackings, spoofy gags, and machine-gun-blasting cameramen in mid-dolly.
Yours truly took on the not-bad-but-more-of-the-same found-footage horror film Hangar 10 — and wound up trying to set down everything nonsensical about this now-ubiquitous genre in just 220 words or so. Hangar 10 posits that somebody “found” video proving the existence of aliens, footage shot by a couple schmoes who broke into an abandoned military base in England. Fair enough. But imagine that the person to find it was you — could you possibly justify the way it’s presented here?
Having lucked into the greatest discovery in human history, you could do the sensible thing and alert the world’s scientists. Or you could painstakingly assemble that footage into a narrative feature concerned with the backstories and group relations of the dopes wielding the video cameras. You could pad it out with many quick, queasy pans of trees and skies, and lots of shots of the film crew arguing over whether the foo lights they keep seeing are UFOs or experimental aircraft. You could resist the urge to jump ahead to the good stuff, the world-changing stuff, the stuff that — in the case of Hangar 10 — is legitimately creepy and impressive, once it finally comes. You could do all that, but you wouldn’t, because that would be goddamn ridiculous.
Don’t mistake the haunted-plantation PG-13 horror bore Jessabelle for last month’s haunted-dollie R-rated cheap-scare pleasure Annabelle. This one’s a shriek-y but molasses-slow ghost mystery involving old VHS tapes and a likable Sarah Snook confined to a wheelchair. But the closest to a compliment I could give it was back-handed:
The best suspense director Kevin Greutert develops is meta: Will the inevitable voodoo knives-and-babies climax come across as a racist boondoggle? Greutert’s savvy enough to sprinkle some white folks among his houngans and mambos, but Jessabelle still plays out as Haitian traditions ruining the life of a nice-ish white lady.
Violet Lucca also has matters of principle in mind while reviewing Daniel Ribeiro’s The Way He Looks, a coming-of-age tale about a blind boy, Gabriel (Fabio Audi), who realizes he’s gay. In this case, though, there’s enough that’s strong in the film to make it possibly worth your time:
The shuffling of who’s an important/close friend transcends the specificity of being gay and disabled, and that experience is rarely depicted as realistically as this. But the film crosses into self-parody in moments like the (mandatory) shower scene, in which the camera, assuming Gabriel’s perspective, slowly pans down Leonardo’s naked, slippery backside. The manner in which it’s shot makes apparent this is perhaps more for the audience’s benefit than for the sake of establishing interior feelings; it’s no less gratuitous than would be a lingering close-up of a cute neighbor girl’s low-cut blouse in the straight equivalent of this movie.
Maybe it’s a rule of thumb that horror films premiering a week after Halloween are ones that Hollywood doesn’t have much faith in. Rob Steager appreciates the somewhat retro approach to vampirism of fangs-in-the-night horror flick Blood Ransom. On title cards at the opening, the movie goes so far as to insist that its neck-biters “play by different rules” — but, as Staeger warns, what rules they do play by are never quite clear. He adds:
While the portentous glances and oblique dialogue of the undead evoke stylish ’70s Euro-vampires — as do the trippy cuts and fade-outs — [Blood Ransom] feels more like a low-budget ’80s potboiler. Fewer cops and more full-tilt vampire batshittery might not have resulted in a more coherent movie, necessarily, but almost certainly would’ve made for a more captivating one.
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