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.

 

Paulina

Directed by Santiago Mitre

Cinema Slate

Opens June 23, Spectacle Theater

It’s hard to watch Paulina without wishing for vengeance. The film concerns a woman (Dolores Fonzi) who suspends her legal education to become a civics teacher in a poor town on Argentina’s northeastern border. With this setup, and an opening scene of tense conversation between Paulina and her father (Oscar Martínez) in which he decries her “romantic hippie fantasy,” the story could take a familiar turn of principled defiance turning into victory, but Paulina purposefully subverts all expectations. Shortly after beginning her teaching job, Paulina is raped by a group of young men, including a couple of her students. The scene is challenging to watch, and so too is its aftermath. Paulina refuses to be a victim and doesn’t want her attackers to be prosecuted. More shocking still (yet underplayed), she becomes pregnant and refuses to get an abortion. While these decisions are deeply personal, and Paulina’s refusal to move fully toward tragedy or the violence of pulpy rape-revenge is provocative, the film is ultimately frustrating for the unending opacity of Paulina’s psychology. We don’t know much about Paulina — her father sums it up best in a late scene: “You’re obsessed with an incomprehensible crusade.” Plainly, she tells him, “Being a victim doesn’t help me.” To hear a woman who has been raped utter these words does have some power, as the longstanding narrative of victimhood remains deeply problematic. At the same time, Paulina doesn’t seem to help herself, either. As the end credits roll, the camera follows her as she walks forward, in close-up. But we’re no closer to this enigmatic, passive, yet oddly defiant woman than we were when the film started. Abbey Bender

 

Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press

Directed by Brian Knappenberger

Netflix

Opens June 23, IFC Center

None of the three major media stories that Brian Knappenberger explores in his facile documentary Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press gets the in-depth coverage it deserves, and that’s by design. Knappenberger is more interested in what they have in common than in what each one reveals about our media ecosystem. Instead of truly digging into the ethical morass and bizarre self-delusion at the heart of Hulk Hogan’s successful libel suit (Bollea v. Gawker Media), Knappenberger uses it to exhibit the anti-democratic ideology of venture capitalist Peter Thiel. This case takes up an hour of the 93-minute documentary, and Knappenberger (The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz) methodically presents all the players who would collide in that Florida courtroom, building to the revelation that Thiel bankrolled Hogan’s litigation against Gawker. The final half-hour exposes another secret deal: casino magnate and Republican kingmaker Sheldon Adelson’s acquisition of Nevada’s largest newspaper, the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Knappenberger also revisits Donald Trump’s rallies, where the then-candidate propagated violent hostility toward members of the media and the institutions they represent. United in their disdain for First Amendment freedom of the press, the conservative billionaires and their instigator-in-chief have big plans to remake society, and they don’t like being challenged by pesky reporters. Knappenberger views these men as commanding and vindictive, threatening to silence noble, besieged, hardworking, truth-telling journalists. There’s no self-reflexive media criticism in Nobody Speak, only the simple plea for Americans to resolutely support journalism, in both principle and practice. Serena Donadoni

 

Good Fortune

Directed by Joshua Tickell and Rebecca Harrell Tickell

Paladin

Opens June 23, Village East Cinema

John Paul DeJoria is, by all accounts, an amazing man with an even more amazing life story, having overcome two separate instances of homelessness, multiple divorces, and many failed career ventures before co-founding Patrón Tequila and Paul Mitchell and in the process becoming a philanthropic billionaire who gives back to people and the planet. Too bad, then, that Good Fortune is such a doggedly hagiographic nonfiction portrait, reducing his entire saga and ethos to PR-style slogans. Narrated by pal Dan Aykroyd as if he were providing overblown voiceover for a 1940s newsreel, Joshua Tickell and Rebecca Harrell Tickell’s documentary employs flashy aesthetics (split screens, color filters, archival-media montages); a boisterous score; and interviews with DeJoria, his relatives, and acquaintances to recount the rags-to-riches tale, which is embellished with asides about how much DeJoria loved his mother and cares for his kids. Throughout, DeJoria’s own recollections sound rehearsed, while everyone else’s comments come across as tailored for soundbites. No doubt, these talking-head assertions about DeJoria’s charitable attitude toward work and life — from his support of eco-conservationist efforts to his backing of heart-in-the-right-place entrepreneurs to his providing free meals to those who work for him — are true. Alas, they’re delivered in a celebratory one-note package that feels like something cooked up by a publicity team. Nick Schager

 

Food Evolution

Directed by Scott Hamilton Kennedy

Abramorama and Black Valley Films

Opens June 23, Village East Cinema

What Scott Hamilton Kennedy captures in his scrupulous, optimistic documentary Food Evolution is the new reality for American scientists: the challenge of reaching a public bombarded by conspiracy theories and fearmongering. The March for Science on Earth Day was prompted by recent federal government policy (the defunding of scientific research), but also by the more general political agenda to devalue scientific findings. In exploring the heated rhetoric about the prevalence of genetically modified organisms in our agriculture system (over 90 percent of corn, cotton, soybeans, and sugar beets planted in the United States are GMOs), Kennedy (The Garden) offers a methodology for scientists to systematically address bias with fact. Food Evolution opens with a milestone for the anti-GMO movement, when local legislators on Hawaii Island passed a ban in 2013. Prominent anti-GMO activists calmly assert terrifying scenarios about widespread health and environmental danger (peppered with qualifiers such as “possibility”). By contrast, molecular biologist Dennis Gonsalves can barely suppress his fury as he stands by his development of the rainbow papaya, a genetically engineered solution to the ringspot virus that had decimated the major Hawaiian crop. Kennedy splits GMOs into two categories: those concentrating on biological diseases (banana wilt) or environmental factors (drought resistance), and those engineered to work with specific herbicides — particularly seeds created by Monsanto. Much of the antipathy toward GMOs focuses on that reviled chemical company, but there’s also a strong undercurrent of distrust in corporations and institutions. Kennedy unabashedly admires scientists, and Food Evolution is his rallying cry to make advocacy as important as lab work. Serena Donadoni

 

All the Rage

Directed by Michael Galinsky, Suki Hawley, and David Beilinson

The Film Collaborative

Opens June 23, Cinema Villageg

As a longtime physician at the Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine at the New York University Medical Center, John Sarno diagnosed psycho-emotional causes for certain musculoskeletal, gastrointestinal, or other ailments, which struck many over the years as quackery. By positioning their documentary as a paean to him, though, Michael Galinsky, Suki Hawley, and David Beilinson manage to undercut his theory’s legacy. Beginning in the 1980s, Sarno was a best-selling author, and he has counted several neurotic celebrities, including Larry David and Howard Stern, among his contented patients. Despite his theory’s science-y name — “tension myoneural syndrome” — he was resistant to scientific scrutiny, and spends much of the film lamenting mainstream medicine’s rejection of his ideas. The idea that stress, including the lingering effects of childhood trauma, plays a role in physical ailments is no longer so radical, however, despite Western medicine’s proclivity for prescription remedies. Research has shown how, absent biological reasons for pain or illness, emotional distress may be a valid cause, and therapy and behavioral changes a valid treatment. Here, though, celebrity testimonials drown out the scientists, and Galinsky’s haphazard exploration of his own back pain is a major distraction. From the start, he suggests it could stem from childhood, dominated by a chronically enraged father who was tragically killed by a car as he crossed the street. For a guy struggling to complete a film dedicated to salvaging Sarno and TMS’s medical bona fides, though, Galinsky spends a curious amount of time undergoing acupuncture. Daphne Howland

 

Ripped

Directed by Brad Epstein

Screen Media Films

Opens June 23, Village East Cinema

There are two slivers of potentially interesting ideas underlying Ripped. First, there’s co-writer and director Brad Epstein’s ambition to combine stoner comedy with a time-travel yarn: Two slackers in 1986, Harris (Russell Peters) and Reeves (Faizon Love), suddenly find themselves in 2016 after inhaling some CIA-bred, top-secret marijuana. And then there’s its fantastical twist on Judd Apatow’s usual case studies of arrested development: Though Harris and Reeves have lost thirty years of their lives, they still act like horny teenagers in the present, making them literal, rather than just psychological, man-children. But Apatow’s bros, for all their flaws, generally exude more charm than this insufferable pair, with their rampant self-interest and penchant for female objectification. Perhaps Epstein intends us to see Harris and Reeves as Eighties relics bringing attitudes of a more regressive era to the modern age. But the film doesn’t establish the culture Reeves and Harris come from, so many of the fish-out-of-water jokes simply thud. But then, much of the humor in Ripped fails to inspire more than a mild chuckle at best, in part because Epstein’s deliberate pacing sucks the air out of countless scenes. Ripped could be seen as that rare achievement: a stoner comedy that you can enjoy only if you’re actually stoned. Kenji Fujishima

 

Nowhere to Hide

Directed by Zaradasht Ahmed

East Village Entertainment

Opens June 23, Village East Cinema

Zaradasht Ahmed’s documentary Nowhere to Hide opens with a blunt shot of an Iraqi man walking the wide-open spaces of central Iraq’s Diyala Province — alone, tired, vulnerable to any danger. For the rest of the movie, that man, Iraqi ER nurse Nori Sharif, guides us on a journey where almost everyone he encounters lives life that way. Filmed right after the United States withdrew troops from Iraq, Hide follows Sharif, who serves as both star and a sort of co-director, as he records with a small camera the carnage that comes into his emergency room. He also talks to everyday folk who’ve been tragically affected, physically or personally, by the Iraq war. But as the years go on, damage and destruction continue, courtesy of several warring factions (including, of course, ISIS), prompting him and his family to leave their home and find shelter right before his town is obliterated. Hide shows caring nurse Sharif turn into a shrewd, alert video journalist. Never balking at filming graphic imagery or life-shattering moments, he captures just how madness and mayhem have become sadly commonplace for his people. Whether it’s footage of the latest car-bomb aftermath, fresh bullet holes visible in his hospital walls, or one of Sharif’s daughters finding a bullet in the street, both Sharif and Ahmed make sure audiences leave Nowhere to Hide well aware that Iraq remains a war zone — one where innocent people remain caught in the crossfire. Craig D. Lindsey

 

In Pursuit of Silence

Directed by Patrick Shen

Cinema Guild

Opens June 28, Cinema Village

Patrick Shen’s In Pursuit of Silence argues for an antidote to our loud, hectic, tech-driven society. He visits with psychologists, ornithologists, and monks, explores John Cage’s 1952 piece 4’33 (the one in which musicians don’t play a note), and collects persuasive notions on the value of mindful pauses and contemplation. The flip side is tragic: a school so close to railroad tracks that students lose hours of instruction as passing trains drown out their lessons; workers and city dwellers forced to tolerate unhealthily high-decibel environments. But Shen overplays his hand. “All of us know that the most essential things in life are exactly what we can’t express,” says one expert. “Silence is our natural milieu,” says another, “and the farther we get away from silence, the more we lose our humanity.” Such diktats pile up, accompanied by the counterintuitively generous use of a serene but nondescript piano score. The music, pronouncements and footage of quiet scenery can’t hide the confusion in Shen’s rich material. Consider Cage’s 4’33, forged after the composer spent time in an anechoic chamber and designed to show that any sound, or no sound at all, is “music.” It was a koan angrily rejected by its first audience; today, people clap. One especially fine rendition is a 1993 piano recording by Frank Zappa, a musician whose natural milieu was hardly silence. “The disgusting stink of a too-loud electric guitar,” he reportedly once said, “now that’s my idea of a good time.” Daphne Howland

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