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. Browse our entire film section over at villagevoice.com/movies.
Finally, just as it’s warm enough to be outside, the art houses are giving you reasons to stew in the dark.
First up, Ernest Hardy raves about Julius Onah’s The Girl Is in Trouble, a whirling story of Lower Manhattan boasting a star-making lead turn from Alicja Bachleda as the girl who — well, you read the title. Hardy writes:
Onah, working from a script he co-wrote with Mayuran Tiruchelvam, whips this tale of a damsel in distress into a dizzying but firmly controlled spin through Lower East Side nightclubs, flashbacks to Wall Street’s Wild West heyday, immigrant tales past and present, drug deals gone bad, musical instruments (violin, guitar, Serato mixing equipment) that serve as emotional touchstones, and the murder that sets the tale in motion.
Zachary Wigon found much to love in Hal Hartley’s latest, Ned Rifle, the wrap-up to a trilogy Hartley kicked off way back in Henry Fool. Liam Aiken stars as an eighteen-year-old who emerges from foster care on a quest to murder his criminal father. Not long before leaving, he discovers that his uncle Simon (James Urbaniak) is a former poet laureate who — in what Wigon cites as the film’s “most Hartleyesque touch” — now does stand-up on YouTube.
Ned sets out accompanied by a fan of Simon’s (Aubrey Plaza) who, in a gag that can’t help but recall Whit Stillman, is perpetually referred to as “winsome.” Hartley and Stillman emerged on the American indie scene simultaneously, and much like his confrere, Hartley is a gifted practitioner of mannered, dry comedy; but what emerges during Ned’s journey is, unexpectedly, a narrative tension that moves the film almost into thriller territory.
Yours truly also happily praised the return of a longtime indie darling. This week, online and in the city, viewers have the chance at last to gape at the latest hand-drawn lulu from animator Bill Plympton. Cheatin’, his first feature since ’08, is a marvel, of course, the story of 1940s-looking lovers who fall for each other and then get caught up in adulterous madness. It’s also self-distributed, which is both encouraging — attaboy, Plympton! — and tragic: All year long, small distributors clog our screens with unimaginative junk, but they passed on this?
From my review:
There’s no dialogue, but there are many tears, most of which, in that sublimely Plymptonian way, shimmer into revelatory new shapes as we watch. The tale involves much sex — inexplicit yet specific, hilarious yet heartbreaking — plus a couple attempted murders and a bit of crackpot body-snatching magic. The early scenes, of the couple falling for each other, offer more inspired gorgeous wonder than late Malick films, and the emotions are more piercing; the climax, while cluttered with incident, offers the don’t-miss-it chance to see a master dream up a pungent freak-out.
Note that you can see Cheatin’ on iTunes, and that a collection of Plympton’s wondrous shorts is now available there, too, in HD, which does not stand for “hand-drawn.”
Back in the real world, Diana Clarke celebrates the new doc The Hand That Feeds, an earnest look at the New York food-service workers who went on strike at the Upper East Side Hot & Crusty in 2012.
Over the course of the film — long for a documentary, though it doesn’t feel that way — Mahoma López organizes with fellow restaurant workers, activists, and lawyers. López is a singularly tender, compelling, and articulate campaigner in this high-stakes struggle for justice, filmed with the urgency and suspense of a Hitchcock thriller.
And Serena Donadoni relished the time she spent in Cut Bank, Montana, setting of Matt Shakman’s debut feature, Cut Bank, the story of a small-town con man (Liam Hemsworth) for whom things don’t quite work out. Donadoni notes that Shakman has directed episodes of Fargo — and finds that the film holds up to the standards of both that show and the Coen brothers’ own films:
Shakman (who directed episodes of FX’s Fargo) envisions the real Cut Bank, Montana, as an outpost of Coen country, with eccentric residents, comfortably worn décor, and a kitschy penguin statue. But Shakman trades their comic violence and bleak humor for benevolent empathy and powerful vulnerability.
But not everything’s stellar this week. Taking on John Martoccia’s Death of a Tree, Hardy found himself wondering why so much entertainment crafted exclusively for a Christian audience tends to be so bad. Of this film, he writes:
A lot of that particular brand of cultural product is artistically and psychologically simplistic to the point of ludicrousness. Death of a Tree, written and directed by John Martoccia, is filled with so much unintentional humor that it quickly slips into the realm of parody — and stays there.
Hardy’s examples make us glad it’s close enough to spring that there’s no excuse to sit and take what this film’s giving:
Full of swipes at liberals, abortion (oh, does abortion come in for a flailing), and premarital sex, the film is relentlessly on message. Every conversation is a heavy-handed meditation on guilt and redemption, with language lifted directly from religious tracts and not even slightly molded into the way actual human beings talk to one another.
Browse our entire film section over at villagevoice.com/movies.
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