Critic’s Pick: Screen Glories
In this season of rebirth and renewal, no greater rite of spring 2017 awaits the local revival-calendar enthusiast than the return of the Quad Cinema, relaunching under new ownership after going dark in 2015 for major renovations. The compact West 13th Street movie house — the first multiplex to open in the city, in 1972 — will devote one of its four screens to repertory programming, which promisingly kicks off with the unexpected: “Lina Wertmüller: Female Trouble” (April 14–30), an extensive retrospective devoted to the polarizing Italian filmmaker. During her 1970s prime, Wertmüller became the first woman to be nominated for a Best Director Academy Award for Seven Beauties (1975), just one of the titles excoriated by critics like Molly Haskell, who called out the regista for her “gallery of female grotesques.” The May 21 return of another landmark institution — David Lynch and Mark Frost’s Twin Peaks — occasions BAMcinématek’s “Peak Performances” (May 12–24), a wide-ranging constellation of films that feature those who starred in the cult TV show’s first iteration (1990–91). The series’ inspired organizing principle makes a cherished musical like West Side Story (with TP crackpots Richard Beymer and Russ Tamblyn in breakthrough roles) the logical listmate of Eighties Southern-fried erotica Two Moon Junction (with Sherilyn Fenn, here two years before she displayed her cherry-stem-knotting skills on the spooky serial). Spotlighting only one screen divinity, Metrograph’s “Marlene Dietrich,” opening May 24, brings together more than a dozen of the Teutonic titaness’s movies. All bear out Kenneth Tynan’s observation that the actress “stormed the senses, looking always tangible but at the same time untouchable,” words that especially resonate in the films she made with Josef von Sternberg, which constitute an unsurpassable septet of sumptuous delirium. — Melissa Anderson
How can movies foment dissent against authoritarian leadership? Williamsburg’s Spectacle looks eastward with two recent documentaries from the Estonian production company Marx Film that capture the resistance in Ukraine and Russia against the regime of Vladimir Putin. In The Term (2014), filmmakers Pavel Kostomarov and Aleksei Pivovarov track the contentious re-election of Putin and concurrent protests in Moscow, as well as the political leaders (Alexei Navalny) and cultural figures (Pussy Riot) who fought but failed to change the oppressive climate. In Kiev/Moscow (2015), director Elena Khoreva examines both the mass resistance in Ukraine and the fighting along the border of Donetsk to explore the influence and control of the Russian state. Spectacle, 124 South 3rd Street, Brooklyn, spectacletheater.com — Peter Labuza
Taut thriller or absurdist comedy? The latest from 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days (2007) director Cristian Mungiu takes a deadpan approach to toeing this line. After a student is attacked before her college entrance exams, her father attempts to manipulate her scores when the school refuses to grant her an extension. As he involves his family and friends in the scheme, his social exchanges only make the situation more surreal. Staged in even-handed two-shots and defying moral judgment, the Romanian-language Graduation deftly balances humor with increasing horror. Sundance Selects, ifcfilms.com — P.L.
‘A Woman’s Work: Anne-Marie Miéville’
Consideration of Jean-Luc Godard’s re-emergence in the Eighties too often focuses entirely on the legend himself, when little of his work in that period would have been possible without the collaboration of his partner, Anne-Marie Miéville. BAMcinématek here honors her with a series that spans the pair’s deeply political works from the late Seventies (including a documentary on Palestinian freedom fighters), Miéville’s scripted features directed by Godard, and her rarely screened directorial work from the Nineties. BAMcinématek, 30 Lafayette Avenue, Brooklyn, bam.org — P.L.
With a nod to the traditions and values of American cinema of the Seventies, James Gray invests his tales with scrupulously detailed production design and lived-in gestures and performances that elevate his work. Metrograph presents a look at his oeuvre, from his quietly devastating debut, Little Odessa (1994), to the evocatively shot (by the late Harris Savides) Sunnyside gangster tale The Yards (2000) to the modern romance Two Lovers (2008), starring a hushed Joaquin Phoenix. All this backstory leads to an early screening of a new feature, his first shot outside of New York: the period epic The Lost City of Z, which follows Charlie Hunnam as an early-twentieth-century explorer searching the Amazon for an ancient metropolis. Metrograph, 7 Ludlow Street, Manhattan, metrograph.com — P.L.
‘The Complete Wiseman: Part 1’
One of the most important figures in nonfiction filmmaking for the past half-century, the lawyer-turned-documentarian Frederick Wiseman has dedicated himself to dissecting the institutions that undergird American life. (The movie that started it all, 1967’s Titicut Follies, depicted the inhuman brutalities of a Massachusetts mental hospital.) Film Forum’s two-part retrospective of the man’s massive filmography will proceed chronologically. The scope, specificity, and occasionally daunting length of Wiseman’s films allow complex portraits of systems to emerge; time and again, he’s reached beyond the obvious Foucaultian dynamic to locate indelible moments of humanity. No one will forget the LSD-tripping teen in Hospital (1970), or the workers of Welfare (1975) stepping outside their doors for a chance to breathe, or the letter from a deceased Vietnam veteran that closes High School (1968). Film Forum, 209 West Houston Street, Manhattan, filmforum.org — P.L.
Once branded as a shock-generating director prone to coupling horrifying scenes of anguish with sobering religious themes, Bruno Dumont has, in recent efforts, embraced a more comic mode. His latest film takes aim at the French aristocracy of 1910, with co-stars Juliette Binoche and Fabrice Luchini shouting each line with pointed vapidity. Once again murder and mystery abound for Dumont, as two buffoonish inspectors (one oversize and one petite) investigate mysterious disappearances along the northern French coast while the noble go about their stiff-upper-lipped business. Dumont’s rigorous framing and lush landscapes create a spirit of inclusivity amid the recurring displays of bad behavior. Kino Lorber, kinolorber.com — P.L.
King Arthur: Legend of the Sword
The customary self-seriousness of the contemporary Hollywood blockbuster has long grown tedious, but director Guy Ritchie has always carried a few singular tricks up his sleeve. His TV-to-screen adaptation of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (2015) turned the swinging-Sixties spy series into a fashion parade with a machismo-oriented, and at times homoerotic, competition between its two male leads (Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer). His new historical endeavor, King Arthur, might not offer similar avenues for delightful drollness, but it does have Jude Law (lately one of the internet’s favorite actors, owing to the memes surrounding HBO’s The Young Pope) chewing the scenery as Vortigern, the villainous ruler of Britain. Warner Bros., kingarthurmovie.com — P.L.
‘Moustapha Alassane: Pioneer of the Golden Age of Nigerien Cinema’
The films of Moustapha Alassane, perhaps the most idiosyncratic director to emerge from Niger, mix genre, style, and national identity into movie magic. MoMA’s retrospective sheds light on a filmmaker who, over the past five decades, integrated the stories of his culture into various forms (animation, documentary, fiction) to create a genuinely populist cinema. Humorous shorts like Bon Voyage Sim (1966) and Kokoa (1985) reimagine the political landscape of Africa through animated amphibians, while The Return of an Adventurer (1966) demonstrates the imposition of Western values on Nigerien society through the use of cowboy iconography in chronicling a gang of hooligans. Museum of Modern Art, 11 West 53rd Street, Manhattan, moma.org — P.L.
The Museum of the Moving Image’s series provides a selection of James Caan’s chameleonic performances that make internal tensions brim with a steely coolness. Thief (1981) and The Gambler (1974) remain the eternal classics, with Caan disappearing into characters who attempt to control their untenable addictions. Caan’s later roles in movies like Bottle Rocket (1996), his face and voice grizzled through age, put forth a funnier sensibility. Caan has also provided weight to slighter films: Kathy Bates may have won an Oscar as the overbearing villain of the Stephen King adaptation Misery (1990), but her antics wouldn’t be as terrifying without Caan’s pleading and squealing to anchor them in genuine psychological terror. Museum of the Moving Image, 36-01 35th Avenue, Queens, movingimage.us — P.L.
Likely modeled after the success of the big-screen reboot of 21 Jump Street, Paramount’s revival of the Nineties beach drama comes packaged with self-conscious irony. With an original story from the creators of Reno 911!, the film casts Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron as mismatched lifeguards solving crimes. Both actors have displayed pitch-perfect self-aware humor in the past, making them well suited to pull off a riotous intersection of earnest conviction (while dutifully saving beachgoers) and utter ridiculousness (while tossing off cheeky one-liners). Not to mention their both possessing the toned physiques that were the show’s bread and butter. Paramount Pictures, thebaywatchmovie.com — P.L.