Each week new movies open in New York (and online) by the dozen. The Voice reviews almost 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.
So, maybe you don’t want to spend your weekend coughing dust and exhaust in George Miller’s wasteland. Or maybe you would prefer to engage with the troubles of our actual world. Whatever the case, our critic Diana Clarke is championing a pair of fascinating docs.
First up is Felix Moeller’s Forbidden Films, which screens for free at Film Forum through the weekend and into next week. Films examines long-banned Nazi propaganda flicks, showing chunks of the foul films themselves — Clarke writes, “think bewigged Aryan nobility in nineteenth-century ballrooms, hook-nosed Jews drawing maps of global domination in the shape of David’s star” — as well as a variety of audience reactions to them today. Clarke, fascinated, writes:
A French teenager is insightful about the discrepancy of danger between cultures, suspecting that the films could do more damage in her own country, which hasn’t dealt as honestly with its history, than in Germany, where Nazi history is part of popular conversation. A German film scholar believes that honest dialogue necessitates trust and openness. But a middle-aged German man declares, after a screening of an anti-Polish film, that more people should know that Poland actually provoked World War II. They were asking for it!
After contemplating the worst of humanity, Clarke turned her attention to the end of our days. One Cut, One Life is a collaboration between the documentarians Ed Pincus and Lucia Small. At the time of filming, Pincus was facing a terminal illness, and the much younger Small was reeling from the deaths of two friends. The doc examines their day-to-day coping — and finds meaning and joy in its own creation. Clarke writes:
Despite their sorrow, the film’s driving narrative force is capricious, precarious feeling — what pulls us, and why. As Ed becomes sicker, the film grows more intimate. The camera lingers on postcard pictures of flowers, touched with motion by the wind. Ed and Lucia film one another and speak straight into the cameras about their hardships and desires, placing the act of filmmaking at the center of the documentary.
A little cheerier, despite its body count, is the gorgeous Slow West, John Maclean’s impressive stab at reviving the western. Starring Michael Fassbender as a bounty hunter and Kodi Smit-McPhee as the lovesick schnook who makes the mistake of hiring him, this one’s either a goof with a somber heart or a tragedy that keeps spilling over into comedy. Trying to work out just what Maclean’s after is one of the film’s pleasures. From my review:
Its central journey lives up to the title: Maclean finds time to savor rivers and starscapes and layers of light and mountainous land. The dialogue is flighty yet weighty, each line like some delicate woodcut. “A railroad to the moon,” the schnook imagines, before offering up this lament: “First thing we’ll do when we get there is hunt the natives down.”
Our Danny King is raving about L for Leisure, a sparkling comedy-of-behavior about grad students vacationing around the world in the early Nineties. The ensemble and the filmmakers are, King writes, “invitingly attuned to the rhythms of everyday living,” something altogether too rare in movies today. He adds:
Flipping between silly, seemingly lightweight conversations and rousing displays of landscape-attentive montage (the combination of 16mm and John Atkinson’s original score produces a reverie-like effect), Horn and Kalman indulge in both the trivial and the significant. The directors, both born in 1982, season these episodes with period-specific touches: discarded Capri Sun packets, “AIDS Dance” posters lining a tennis-court fence, and a Texas teen wearing a Jordan-era Chicago Bulls hat.
Stephanie Zacharek, meanwhile, is pleased and shaken by Good Kill, a drama of drones and war from director Andrew Niccol. Unlike many topical indies, Good Kill, Zacharek says, isn’t fusty and pedantic — she calls the film “immediate and vital” and notes that “it doesn’t leave you feeling like you’ve got all the right answers.”
Good Kill star Ethan Hawke previously collaborated with Niccol on Gattaca and Lord of War. Zacharek notes how Hawke, over the years, has become more accomplished, writing that the film’s
moral conscience has a great face: that of Ethan Hawke, who has always been a thoughtful, quietly expressive actor, but who seems to be finding even subtler shades of color as he rounds the bend toward middle age. He’s not so much expanding his range as deepening it. Hawke plays…a man who holds his anguish tight and close, as if, somewhere along the line, his heart had turned into a fist.
Finally, let me encourage theater-hounds to get down to the Anthology Archives this weekend for a series of docs going behind the scenes of some of the most daring and accomplished theatrical productions of our time, including doozies from the Wooster Group and the Elevator Repair Service. The don’t-miss film here is Standing By: Gatz Backstage, from director Shaun Irons, which immerses us in a milieu most of us will never experience: the moment-to-moment drift of time and energy backstage of a demanding play.
From my review:
The perspective here is all backstage, with occasional from-the-wings glimpses of Gatz itself. These illustrate the theme of actorly transformation: Irons will show us performers waiting for a cue, changing their clothes, eyeballing Wimbledon on a silent TV, sometimes gossiping in whispers or psyching each other up with goofy boogying just beyond the audience’s view. They seem in between selves, not the people we saw show up at the theater, and not the ones they will presently embody, either. Then they step onstage and seem whole again.
Fury Road is a marvel itself, but it will be around forever — who knows when you’ll get the chance to see Standing By again? Choose wisely with your screen-time, New York!
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