Film

Tracking Shots: This Week in Film

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The Village Voice reviews most movies opening in New York. Here’s some you may have missed.

 

Wakefield

Written and directed by Robin Swicord
IFC Films
Opens May 19, Landmark Sunshine

In Robin Swicord’s Wakefield, an adaptation of the late E.L. Doctorow’s short story of the same name, disillusioned lawyer Howard Wakefield (Bryan Cranston) chases a raccoon from his decrepit backhouse and…never returns. The story’s not science fiction; Howard doesn’t get swallowed by a black hole. He’s still among the living, though he prefers to keep his wife, Diana (Jennifer Garner), and children (Victoria Bruno and Ellery Sprayberry) in the dark on his whereabouts after a single night’s impromptu escape from reality stretches into a year-long break of scrounging through the neighbors’ refuse for a meal. From his vantage point on the second floor of the backhouse, Howard spies on his family through a many-mullioned round window that appropriately resembles an eye. Imagine Rear Window, but instead of deconstructing a murder, Wakefield is deconstructing a marriage. The film is almost entirely set in this backhouse, like a one-man show driven by Cranston’s surprisingly subtle performance. Occasional flashbacks zip us into Howard and Diana’s turbulent relationship, revealing to the audience — though not to Howard — that it’s he who has been in the wrong all these years. Through voiceover, Howard muses about what he thinks his wife is saying or doing, accenting his imitations of Diana’s voice with an annoying up-pitch. His assumptions are cold and ridiculous: She must be flirting with that handsome younger guy at the search-party get-together! Swicord turns what could be a dark or one-note premise into a sometimes charming, sometimes heartbreaking meditation on a man’s loss of self after having set out to conquer the job, wife, house, and kids he thought would make him happy. April Wolfe

 

The Survivalist

Directed by Stephen Fingleton
IFC Films
Opens May 19, IFC Center

It’s a mean, grim world — or what’s left of it — in The Survivalist. Set in a postapocalyptic age in which society has collapsed after the cessation of oil production, the movie mostly follows an unnamed Irish woodsman (Martin McCann) who plants food, says very little, and always has a shotgun ready to blow away an intruder. His quiet life is disrupted when a woman (Olwen Four) and her daughter (Mia Goth) show up at his doorstep looking for food and shelter. The mother offers her offspring to the dude as some intimate company, which his lonely ass reluctantly accepts. From then on, the movie becomes a quiet yet tense chamber piece, as the still-suspicious man and the women carry on an uneasy union, the visitors sticking around to help with the crops. But even when the three begin to trust one another and live a harmonious existence, it’s hardly worth celebrating. They still have to keep up their guard in this treacherous world. Directed with a muted tone but a scenic eye by Brit first-timer Stephen Fingleton, The Survivalist, like most postapocalyptic movies, is both dire and oddly poetic. McCann’s character may be armed, but the guy is often as jittery as a chihuahua, while Four and Goth’s far-from-helpless duo maintain a steely reserve. They’ve all done bad things, for this is a bad world — and yet there will always be some natural beauty here and there. Craig D. Lindsey

 

Icaros: A Vision

Directed by Leonor Caraballo and Matteo Norzi
Factory 25
Opens May 19, Metrograph

Here’s the second spring 2017 feature to track an American into the Peruvian Amazon to sample the healing (and hallucinogenic) powers of ayahuasca, a potent shaman’s brew that demands you clear out not just your schedule but, for weeks, your diet. Unlike The Last Shaman, a documentary, Leonor Caraballo and Matteo Norzi’s Icaros is, technically speaking, a fictional narrative, though that designation suggests more in the way of story than the filmmakers are after. The opening credits identify Icaros as “a vision,” and we become familiar with the ailments faced by patients known as “passengers”: Angelina (Ana Cecilia Stieglitz), Leonardo (Filippo Timi), and (eventually) a local shaman (Arturo Izquierdo). We see them in scenes of quiet, well-observed rainforest life and then, at night, in their spirited psychedelic journeying. Lying on bedrolls in a thatched hut, the patients choke down their verdurous concoctions and then, eyes closed, swim through existence itself. The in-the-brain fireworks are memorable and personalized. Angelina sees something like the readout of the MRI machine she was loaded into back in the States, the results this time effervescently pulsing, forever shaping into something else: cells replicating under a microscope, then, seconds later, the slow frothing of magma. The young shaman, meanwhile, is losing his eyesight, and whenever Icaros takes his perspective a complex mosaic layers itself across the world, its angles those favored by local fabric makers and also those of a sun-baked, mazelike ancient structure Caraballo and Norzi’s camera snakes through. Once in a while a narrator relates facts about the forest; occasional CGI flourishes don’t disappoint so much as they remind us of the challenges of summoning to the screen what the brain simply creates. Icaros comes closer than most movies manage. Alan Scherstuhl

 

Legion of Brothers

Directed by Greg Barker
CNN Films
Opens May 19, Cinema Village

On The Walking Dead, Andrew Lincoln’s Rick Grimes has three standard questions he asks all newcomers in that overly fake Southern accent of his. The second: “How many peeeeple have yuh keeeeled?” It’s a bit of a party foul, to say the least, to ask a soldier that in real life, but Legion of Brothers bluntly delivers what veterans often consider the correct answer: If you can keep count, it probably wasn’t enough. Afghanistan war documentaries have steadily hit theaters every year since 9/11, but most tend to be immediate, filmed in the months before release. With the hindsight of 16 years, CNN Films’ newest nonfiction film on the topic takes a longer view, using a familiar structure not unlike that of VH-1’s Behind the Music. The Green Berets in those initial covert missions of the war racked up big successes very quickly — and on horseback, no less! — but over time, poor management and misdirection led to trouble and tragedy. A simple mistake in targeting coordinates results in massive friendly fire casualties; the Bush administration’s too-quick shift to Iraq does Afghanistan no favors. We know most of the men we follow onscreen will survive, as the story begins with them older, grayer, and talking trash around a backyard barbecue. But it’s clear in their eyes that they’ve seen some shit—and this doc not only gives us a glimpse of it too, but adds valuable context in a way not many others do. Luke Y. Thompson

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