Film

Tracking Shots: This Week in Film

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

 

Chronically Metropolitan
Directed by Xavier Manrique
The Film Community
Opens August 4, Village East Cinemas

Chronically Metropolitan suffers from an incurable case of Whiny White Boy Syndrome — and from a terrible title. Prodigal son Fenton (yes, Fenton) returns to Manhattan after a self-imposed exile thanks to backlash for his too-autobiographical New Yorker story. His father — an author, professor and bedder of students — has gotten into a car crash caused by an ill-advised combination of road head and coke bump. Here, Chris Noth does his best Al Pacino rasp, bringing rascally charm to the wily professor. That accident coincidentally comes just before Fenton’s ex, Jessie, marries her new British boyfriend. Wouldn’t you know, Fenton now is eager to win her back, publish the next Great American Novel, and fix his rep. Both father and son are glorified man-children who literally write themselves as the leads of their own stories. So it shouldn’t be surprising that Chronically Metropolitan’s women are underserved by both the script and the leads, tossed aside once the thrill of the chase has subsided. Director Xavier Manrique’s film fails to drum up more than clichés about rich-people problems. This feels like a waste when the cast includes Noth and Mary-Louise Parker, who are delightfully nasty as bickering parents, no thanks to stale dialogue. Aside from a nod to Parker’s pot-slinging mom from Weeds, there’s little to cheer in this self-serious family drama that includes such predictable shenanigans as adultery, divorce, and trying to stop a wedding. Tatiana Craine

 

Brave New Jersey
Directed by Jody Lambert
Gravitas Ventures
Opens August 4, Cinema Village
Available on demand

On October 30, 1938, the Columbia Broadcasting System aired Orson Welles’s War of the Worlds radio drama, which was essentially found-footage horror — radio fiction imitating the form of radio documentary — and which famously inspired real-world panic. If you scrape off all the crusty barnacles of historical anecdote, Welles’s broadcast holds up. It’s sophisticated and surprisingly convincing, even to a jaded contemporary listener. As the characters in director Jody Lambert’s Brave New Jersey react with terror to the radio drama, it’s easy to imagine perfectly rational, intelligent adults being fooled as Welles’s announcers cut to panicked field correspondents and then to shocking statements from Washington officials. (“I would never fall for that!” you may shout, before downloading a Word macro that encrypts your documents folder and demands a Bitcoin ransom.) The film has an outstanding cast of mainly comic performers, including Tony Hale, Mel Rodriguez, Dan Bakkedahl, and Anna Camp, so the weightlessness of the script is a letdown. After Welles’s broadcast, the townsfolk of Lullabye, New Jersey, self-actualize in panic. The pompous dairy baron immediately abandons his wife and children for a mistress; the burned-out reverend (Bakkedahl) experiences a fiery renewal of his faith; wilting Mayor Clark Hill (Hale) attempts to rally the town and keep people from turning on one another. The residents divide into first responders who want to fight for the community and cowardly self-preservationists who take flight. Schoolteacher Peg (Camp), the sharpest character, does both, joining the town’s defensive posse and ditching the dullard she’s supposed to marry. Lambert aims for gentle, Lake Wobegon–ish nostalgia, but the jokes never land, the undifferentiated small town confers no sense of location, and its eccentrics aren’t particularly weird. Chris Packham

 

Fun Mom Dinner
Directed by Alethea Jones
Momentum Pictures
Opens August 4, Village East Cinema
Available on demand

Joining the recent boom of girls-just-wanna-have-fun cinema (and more specifically, the moms-gone-wild subgenre) is Fun Mom Dinner, a perfectly enjoyable way to spend 81 minutes. In her debut feature, Alethea Jones directs a dream team of mismatched matriarchs (Toni Collette, Molly Shannon, Katie Aselton, and Bridget Everett) from a script by first-time screenwriter Julie Rudd (whose husband, Paul Rudd, makes a cameo). Emily (Aselton) is the new mom in town who agrees to a night out with Jamie (Shannon), the Instagram hot mom, and Melanie (Everett), the militant traffic warden mom. Emily brings along her old friend Kate (Collette), the mom who hates other moms and prefers smoking joints to attending PTA meetings. The four mothers start with little in common, and even some bad blood, but they end up sharing an unforgettable (and unsurprising) evening while their men (Adam Scott, Rob Huebel) stay at home with the kids. Initial missteps get resolved with a little vaping (as they often do), and the film rolls along on a mixed bag of hit-or-miss jokes. Jones briefly employs some suggestive shots and cuts to create the illusion that she’s straying from the plot’s predictability, but the façade doesn’t hold for long. In the end, Fun Mom Dinner plays out exactly like you’d expect it to — some punchlines, a plot snag, and unexpected bonding. A familiar routine isn’t necessarily a bad one, though; there are far worse ways to spend the night than with a bunch of moms letting loose. Kristen Yoonsoo Kim

 

It’s Not Yet Dark
Directed by Frankie Fenton
FilmRise
Opens August 4, Village East Cinema

Don’t be surprised if you see It’s Not Yet Dark and start feeling bad — not about its subject, writer and artist Simon Fitzmaurice, but mostly about yourself and your own life. Fitzmaurice is an Irish husband and father who was stricken with MND (motor neuron disease), a neurological disorder that causes muscle weakness and, eventually, paralysis. Dude can’t walk, swallow, or breathe without help. And yet, as this documentary shows, that hasn’t stopped the aspiring poet and filmmaker from achieving what he wants to accomplish. The movie is based on his memoir, from which Colin Farrell narrates passages throughout. We also see him directing his first feature, My Name Is Emily, mostly using a computer and, with his eyes, typing what he wants to say. Dark never lets the audience forget that there is still a living, breathing, creative spirit inside Fitzmaurice’s still body. Thanks to Farrell’s serving, essentially, as an inner monologue, we learn that Fitzmaurice doesn’t believe in sitting on his ass, waiting for the end. Even if he’s here for a limited time, he’s ready to make some lasting artistic dents. And with director Frankie Fenton getting loving interviews from Fitzmaurice’s family and friends (including his wife, Ruth, whom the artist continues to be crazy about), it’s clear he has quite the support system encouraging him to keep on pushing. Yes, It’s Not Yet Dark is an uplifting portrait of a debilitated man driven to excel by a relentless desire to live life and love those who surround him. But it might make you walking folk feel you haven’t done a got-damn thing in your pitiful, pathetic existence. Craig D. Lindsey

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