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.

Viceroy’s House
Directed by Gurinder Chadha
IFC Films
Opens September 1, IFC Center

With the vivid historical drama Viceroy’s House, director Gurinder Chadha (Bend It Like Beckham) accomplishes two goals: presenting the viewpoint of people affected by the machinations of a powerful ruler, and portraying Lord Mountbatten, reviled for the 1947 partition of India (which formed Pakistan and prompted a devastating mass migration), in a different light. The former is achieved through the taboo interfaith romance of two fictional servants at the Delhi palace that housed the British colonial government, and the latter with the premise (based on The Shadow of the Great Game: The Untold Story of Partition, written by Mountbatten’s aide-de-camp Narendra Singh Sarila) that the savvy viceroy was duped by political advisers who’d already devised the boundary for strategic advantage. Lord and Lady Mountbatten are dispatched as the last great white saviors of India, tasked with overseeing the peaceful transfer of power to local hands. Hugh Bonneville and Gillian Anderson play them as charming and benevolent figures, whose noblesse oblige seems to have in it some genuine empathy. Both valet Jeet (Manish Dayal) and translator Aalia (Huma Qureshi) find reasons to be hopeful, but it’s already too late. Waves of violence roil across India, which Chadha presents via newsreels and infighting between Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs at the staff compound. Screenwriters Chadha; her husband, Paul Mayeda Berges; and Moira Buffini (Tamara Drewe) render Jeet and Aalia as Lean-esque lovers buffeted by historical forces. Using the trappings of old-fashioned romanticism, Chadha envisions the cataclysmic upheaval of millions in the traumatic lives of a few. Serena Donadoni

 

Unlocked
Directed by Michael Apted
Lionsgate
Opens September 1

The goofy but efficient action movie Unlocked has an ace director in Michael Apted (Coal Miner’s Daughter), and a star-filled cast, yet the only thing anyone’s likely to remember is the bit with the rottweilers. While tracking terrorists with a plan to detonate a chemical bomb in London, CIA agent Alice Racine (Noomi Rapace) moves from one showdown to another, including an elevator stalemate that she tips in her favor by the clever use of two pissed-off dogs. Narrow escapes and cool kills are Alice’s specialty, which Rapace manages to suggest is a gig fueled by both sorrow and adrenaline. In a novel twist, there’s a powerful woman in Alice’s life — an MI5 boss (Toni Collette) who may be up to no good, which is surely true of the men on this mission, who include Michael Douglas (CIA handler), John Malkovich (CIA boss), and Orlando Bloom (sexy thief who may really be a mercenary). As written by first-time screenwriter Peter O’Brien, Unlocked feels like a 1970s-style conspiracy thriller, which makes it a perfect fit for the 76-year-old Apted, whose wonderfully varied career includes the James Bond flick, The World Is Not Enough. Apted surely knows the digital countdown clock on the big bomb will prompt laughter, but he also understands that real heroes save the day with only seconds to spare. Chuck Wilson

 

The Layover
Directed by William H. Macy
Vertical Entertainment and DirecTV
Opens September 1, Village East Cinema

Early in his career, William H. Macy co-founded the St. Nicholas Theater Company with David Mamet and gave acclaimed performances in such plays as American Buffalo and The Water Engine. It’s probably thanks to this finely honed theatrical sensibility that the Macy-directed The Layover lacks an outfit-swapping shopping montage. But there’s no getting around the zany hot-air balloon ride. Lifelong friends Meg (Kate Upton) and Kate (Alexandra Daddario) book a spontaneous tropical holiday flight that gets diverted to St. Louis because of a hurricane; they wind up trashing their whole friendship in a degrading war over their hot seatmate Ryan (Matt Barr). To accept these characters, you have to suspend your disbelief and any knowledge about real-life women. Meg is a slobby free spirit and Kate is a fussy square, so early on, you might think, “Oh, this is just a gender-swapped Odd Couple.” But by the time the film smears Daddario around the floor of a filthy gas station men’s room and then drops her in a pile of garbage, you’re like, “Fuck The Layover and fuck movies in general. From now on, I’m listening to radio dramas.” It’s completely unfair to compare these characters to (say) Abbi and Ilana on Broad City, funny women who derive dignity from their friendship. But that’s a show written, created, and performed by women, while this film’s creative trust is a clueless, retrograde sausage festivus. For writers David Hornsby and Lance Krall, these characters are less like women and more like betta fish they can drop into the same tank to watch them rip each other apart. Chris Packham

 

The Teacher
Directed by Jan Hrebejk
Film Movement
Opens August 30, Film Forum

A little power corrupts absolutely in this caustically clever Slovak-language dramedy from the prolific Czech director-writer team of Jan Hrebejk and Petr Jarchovsky (Divided We Fall, Up and Down). Set in 1983 Bratislava, with the Iron Curtain as a tangible onscreen presence, the film stars an impeccably ruthless Zuzana Maurery as a widowed middle-school educator who manipulates her pupils’ futures by making inappropriate personal demands of their parents. Those who comply with Ms. Drazdechova’s orders (tidy up her home! fix her appliances! smuggle a cake to her sister in Soviet Russia!) are blessed with advance quiz answers; those who refuse are blackmailed with failing grades and public embarrassment. Even the frustrated headmistress, fully aware of this deviousness, won’t shut it down for fear of Comrade Drazdechova’s power as the local Communist Party leader. Through parallel editing, the classroom also becomes the stage for a secret parents’ meeting, in which the decision to sign a petition to remove the teacher forces tense, 12 Angry Men–style deliberations. The setup may be as unsubtle as a metaphoric morality lesson about Europe’s not-too-distant past, or perhaps it’s politically timeless; it’s not a far leap to also think about a certain someone’s insane need for backscratching loyalty within the White House. Aaron Hillis

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