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.

 

Ascent

Directed by Fiona Tan

Antithesis Films

Opens June 7, Film Forum

Showing free

In Fiona Tan’s glorious ode to a Japanese volcano, Mount Fuji is both geological marvel and malleable symbol, its solidity and grandeur inspiring conquest and contemplation. Fuji stands as one of the world’s great backdrops, appearing in countless snapshots (and studio portraits) from the introduction of photography in the late nineteenth century and reaching omnipresence in our record-everything age of digital cameras and phones. Tan digs into the great archive of Fuji images to build Ascent, which consists only of photographs, voiceovers, and sound effects. Tan (History’s Future) anchors the non-narrative film with the voice of Mary grieving for her deceased lover, Hiroshi. Mary’s reveries reveal that the gulf between them is cultural (Tan’s crisp English and the character’s anthropological approach to Japan identify her as a Westerner) as well as aesthetic: She’s a writer and translator who processes the world through words; he’s a photographer who understands the language of what he sees. The voice of Hiroshi (Hiroki Hasegawa) contrasts Mary’s ruminations with a first-person account of climbing Mount Fuji, a documentary section that’s especially enhanced by Hugo Dijkstal’s sound design. Tan wanders through many genres in the eighty-minute Ascent, but she balances flights of fancy (fables and film theory) with grounded observations (Fuji as World War II propaganda). More than a narrated slideshow, this portrait of a mountain offers a way of seeing something immense through fragments, the captured experience of walking its surface or seeing the snowcapped peak in the distance equally awesome. Serena Donadoni

 

Moscow Never Sleeps

Written and directed by Johnny O’Reilly

Snapshot Productions

Opens June 9, Village East Cinema

Irish filmmaker Johnny O’Reilly exhibits such a confident understanding of Moscow in his latest Russian-language film that you’d think he was a native. He captures the Russian capital with grand landscape photography before zeroing in on intimate, familial territories as he weaves the story of several characters over the course of a day. It’s Moscow City Day, to be specific — a day of celebration — but we’re led to believe otherwise when one of the leads wakes up in a hospital and, told he’s in neither heaven nor hell but in Moscow, responds, “Must be hell.” We also meet his wife, his mistress, and his “prodigal son,” who rekindles a romance with his ex, a pop singer, who now lives with a rich businessman who flees the country after a deal goes bad. There’s also an alcoholic man whose senile mother is bound for a senior home, as well as two teen stepsisters who get involved in a seedy situation with a gang of hoodlums. There’s a lot happening here — perhaps too much. Moscow Never Sleeps is ambitious to a fault. While O’Reilly flexes an ability to tie together several narratives, he introduces so many characters that some of their stories must fall by the wayside. It’s a shame, because that muddles the more interesting vignettes. Kristen Yoonsoo Kim

 

Camera Obscura

Directed by Aaron B. Koontz

Chiller Films

Opens June 9, Cinema Village

Movie curses — recall the ones in Ladyhawke and Beauty and the Beast — are logical algorithms following rules designed to calculate a function of maximum pain. The cursed camera in Camera Obscura produces a photo of a dead person in any location it shoots. The only way to save the victim in the photo is to murder a different person in exactly the same place, employing the same m.o. But victims who are saved will continue appearing, murdered, in successive shots until they finally die. Jack (Christopher Denham), a photojournalist reduced by PTSD to real estate shoots, receives the spooky camera from his fiancée (Nadja Bobyleva) as an anniversary gift. As soon as he figures out its curse, she begins appearing in gory murder scenes, forcing him to commit a series of murders to prevent her death. The implied conditional logic governing the camera’s curse doesn’t extend to the film’s amateurish discontinuities; writer-director Aaron B. Koontz has other things on his mind than ensuring that his unnatural dialogue matches the onscreen action. Though it’s not very scary, the film mines suspense from Jack’s attempts at luring his victims and hiding his tracks. He kills a prostitute in an empty suburban house, then has to murder the real estate agent who catches him. A hardware store clerk turns out to be improbably resilient, bouncing back from a ridiculous, escalating sequence of violent blows and stabs, a blackly funny scene that briefly transcends the film’s plodding pace and dumb characters. Chris Packham

 

The Hunter’s Prayer

Directed by Jonathan Mostow

Saban Films and Lions Gate

Opens June 9, Village East Cinema

The Hunter’s Prayer should be a good time-killer, a bit of B-movie pulp boasting nifty, exciting action sequences supplied by director Jonathan Mostow (who gave us the forever-underrated Kurt Russell highway thriller Breakdown twenty years ago). Set all over Europe, the movie has Avatar leading man Sam Worthington (who also serves as a producer) as an Iraq war vet and junkie who gets hired to kill an American teenager (Mila Kunis dead ringer Odeya Rush) whose family was mowed down back home. When the tortured assassin has a change of heart, he and his onetime target spend the rest of the movie bouncing from country to country, running away from killers. Unfortunately, once the action is over we get to the story, which is based on a 2004 novel by Kevin Wignall and adapted by several screenwriters (including an uncredited Oren Moverman). It’s insipid and uninspired: All the people who are trying to track down this pair, from sleazy guns-for-hire to a crooked FBI agent (Transparent’s Amy Landecker), are nothing more than barely developed, murderous assholes. The worst of these is the main villain himself (Downton Abbey’s Allen Leech), a slick, slimy piece of Eurotrash who breeds killer dogs, makes his son call his mom a “whore,” and is basically too much of a snobby dick to be taken seriously as a baddie. Even though the movie tries to sneak in some subtext about children paying for the sins of their fathers, the biggest sin The Hunter’s Prayer commits is being too dumb to enjoy. Craig D. Lindsey

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