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.

Boston

Directed by Jon Dunham

CINEMAflix

Opens September 22, Cinema Village

Sport, powered by dreams and rife with obstacles, is rich in drama, which is why cinema has greedily mined the sports pages for eons. It can be tough for documentaries, with their talking heads and fact-filled narration, to compete against glossy Hollywood fantasy. Boston, Jon Dunham’s film about that city’s marathon, is a contender — an emotional comeback story, interspersed with thrilling moments in its history, without gloss, cliche or even nostalgia. The doc begins in 2014, as the city and the race’s organizers prepare for the 118th Boston Marathon, a year after two bombs went off near the finish line. Founded in 1897 (launching the modern, ex-Olympic urban marathon), the marathon is a test of endurance that culminates at the grueling “Heartbreak Hill.” The event has been shaken time and again by world events and social change (not least its belated acceptance of women, who’d already run it on the sly), but has always evolved to run another day. That continuity seemed in jeopardy after the bombing. The Boston Marathon has been a supreme spectator sport as much as a world-class athletic one, and the backpacks that exploded on that Patriots Day were behind the barricades, killing three and injuring hundreds. Dunham is a marathoner himself and a storyteller, aided by Leonard Feinstein’s sharp editing. In deciding to continue its century-old footrace three years ago, Boston faced fundamental questions about human values in a free society challenged by terrorism and fear. Boston, like the city itself, is strong indeed. Daphne Howland

 

Last Rampage

Directed by Dwight Little

Epic Pictures

Opens September 22

The desert noir Last Rampage, directed by former Nineties action-movie helmer Dwight Little (Marked for Death, Murder at 1600), is based on the true story of Gary Tison (played here by Robert Patrick), a criminal who busted out of an Arizona penitentiary in 1978 with the help of his three sons and a fellow inmate, who then all hightailed it to Mexico. While on the lam, he shows his boys that he has no qualms gunning down innocents who get in the way of his road to freedom. For a movie based on fact (the filmmakers follow the outlines of the case), there’s not a lot to the story. Patrick, who also produced, may seem to have given himself the plum role, but Tison is written as nothing more than a textbook, piece-of-shit killer. Nevertheless, Patrick tunes his sociopathic tendencies to 11 — Tison is ready to rub out one of his own if he doesn’t get what he wants. Patrick isn’t the only character actor indulging in pulpy hamminess. Bruce Davison (as the old, determined sheriff chasing after him), Heather Graham (covered in a brunette wig and librarian glasses as Tison’s wife) and the late John Heard (rocking a laughable, Southern accent as the prison warden) are also all guilty of going over the damn top. Even though this dusty bit of true crime is limp and flimsy as hell, Last Rampage does give a few seasoned actors the opportunity to chew all the scenery they can in a 93-minute movie. Craig D. Lindsey

 

The Tiger Hunter

Directed by Lena Khan

Shout! Factory

Opens September 22, UA Kaufman Astoria 14

Stories of immigrant life are more important than ever. It’s a shame, then, when such stories are told in a predictable fashion. The Tiger Hunter, a 1979-set drama about a young aspiring engineer who emigrates to Chicago from India, relies too heavily on cutesy, perfunctory period references. The outfits look straight out of a cheap Seventies Halloween costume kit, but the colors onscreen are too bright and digital to feel period appropriate, and when a character mentions The Dukes of Hazard it doesn’t do much more than elicit a small nod of recognition. The film follows a familiar plot: Sami (Danny Pudi) tries to make it in America and experiences culture shock, but everything works out pretty much OK. At a fountain, where Sami offers a bit of pointed social commentary in his observation that Americans are casually willing to throw money away, he meets another immigrant and moves in with him and his affable roommates — who all share a single bed. The men work together to figure out how to engineer a microwave (yet another reminder that it’s the Seventies), impressing Sami’s boss at the company where he works as a lowly draughtsman. We don’t get much in the way of Sami’s psychology; his father (the tiger hunter), died when he was young, and the flashbacks to Sami’s childhood seem to come from a different movie, one that might focus more on hero worship and self-actualization and present a more unique perspective than this rather watered-down portrait of the immigrant experience. Immigrant stories certainly don’t demand tragedy to be legitimate, but The Tiger Hunter, with its pastiche of fish-out-of-water comedy and pointy collared shirts, ultimately feels weightless. Abbey Bender

 

Shot

Directed by Jeremy Kagan

Paladin

Opens September 22, Village East Cinema

Jeremy Kagan’s drama Shot makes no bones about being propaganda; before the final credits roll, a title card enumerates the numbers of gun deaths in the U.S. every day and urges viewers to take action. (Um, Spoiler Alert?) But the gun-control message is so rote that it’s of secondary interest to the film’s ambitious structure. When sound editor Mark (Noah Wylie) gets shot by a stray bullet, the film proceeds in an approximation of real time, following both Mark and Miguel (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.), the teenager who shot him, during the immediate consequences of the event. For the next hour, Mark and his estranged wife, Phoebe (Sharon Leal), edge toward reconciliation during their sudden medical emergency, while, often in split screen, Miguel, a bullied teen who was buying the black-market gun for self-protection, looks for guidance on what to do with the weapon, and whether he should confess to the shooting. The scenes in the hospital are Shot’s strongest; it’s compelling to watch medical professionals (including Xander Berkeley and Malcolm Jamal-Warner) dispassionately save Mark’s life, while sidestepping the possibility of nerve damage. Eventually the film abandons the real-time conceit, jumping ahead five months as the characters deal with guilt, disability, and trauma, culminating in an intense final confrontation…and an underlying whiff of a Very Special Episode. Rob Staeger

 

Elizabeth Blue

Written and directed by Vincent Sabella

Global Digital Releasing

Opens September 22, Cinema Village

A diagnosed schizophrenic, first-time filmmaker Vincent Sabella has dramatized his struggles with mental illness in a semiautobiographical picture, Elizabeth Blue, which he wrote and directed. His protagonist Elizabeth (Anna Schafer) also battles schizophrenia, though hers is a rare form in which her hallucinations materialize into what she perceives as tactile presences. We’re first introduced to Elizabeth through close-ups of her tics, like her shaking leg and restless, tapping fingers, as she tells her mother over the phone about two big changes in her life: one, that she’s leaving the hospital; and two, that she’s moving in with her fiancé, Grant (Ryan Vincent). Planning a wedding is stressful for anyone, but in Elizabeth’s condition, the pressure sets off even more delusions, with voices in her head telling her Grant will leave her and that if she really loves him, she should kill herself to relieve him of his burden. Sabella shows he knows how to set up a scene, opening with an impressive single-take shot and experimenting with camera techniques to heighten Elizabeth’s sense of instability (he shakily backs away from her in solitary moments of anxiety, and later opens a scene with Elizabeth out of focus, slowly bringing her to sharp forefront). These notable moments unfortunately don’t add up to much, and the showier flourishes — like when Elizabeth’s hallucinations resemble a home invasion horror movie — throw all subtlety out the window. Elizabeth inspires empathy, but it often feels like we’re being told to feel a certain way by being shown so much rather than being allowed to naturally warm up to her. Kristen Yoonsoo Kim

 

Hong Kong Trilogy: Preschooled, Preoccupied, Preposterous

Directed by Christopher Doyle

Opens September 22, Metrograph

A gently impressionistic survey of three generations in a city under socio-economic transformation, this quasi-fictional Hong Kong triptych — directed over 10 days by master cinematographer Christopher Doyle (In the Mood for Love, Hero, Paranoid Park) in his adoptive hometown — offers modest pleasures yet never quite commits to being contemplative poetry or probing journalism. That neither-fish-nor-fowl quality can be frustrating when the subjects are diverse, fascinating and alluringly photographed. Expanded from a short that asked grade-schoolers lofty questions about their hopes and dreams (“Why are there are so many gods in this world?”), the film unusually juxtaposes unrehearsed interviews as the freeform soundtrack to its nonprofessional cast’s improvised scenes. Pet Shop Boy likes to chill with zoo flamingos, while adorably chubby Vodka Wong deals with parental neglect and has an amusingly sad run-in with police over littering. The older Beat Box addresses his political discontent as a human drum machine in the second and most valuable segment, concerning the young pro-democracy activists of 2014’s Umbrella Movement, who publicly camped out in protest by the tens of thousands. But before there’s any sign of an urgent, Medium Cool–like docudrama, Doyle aloofly switches gears for an ageist look at how basic senior citizens can be on a speed-dating tram excursion. It’s all a curious humanist experiment with anecdotal surprises and whimsy, but its motives aren’t in sharp focus like Doyle’s hotshot imagery. Aaron Hillis

 

Happy Hunting
Directed by Joe Dietsch and Louie Gibson
Vertical Entertainment
Opens September 22, AMC Loews Jersey Gardens
Nobody involved with Happy Hunting is going to win any acting trophies and some of the film’s worst actors deliver oversized Cheesecake Factory servings of dialogue. But the film’s best actor, Martin Dingle Wall, is really good as Warren, a man with full-blown alcohol withdrawal syndrome thrust into a survival scenario.
Directors Joe Dietsch and Louie Gibson fashion a surprisingly effective, well-paced thriller about psychopathic rednecks hunting the deadliest prey: other psychopathic rednecks. A few times a year in a creepy border town called Bedford Flats, a sun-blasted grid of shacks and trailers on the edge of a dried-up lake, the citizens empty out the jail cells, release all the drifters and black sheep into the desert, and compete in teams to kill the most fugitives.
The directors establish a strong sense of location as Warren arrives in town and interacts with seemingly friendly residents. Attempting to dry out, he steals a bottle of pharmaceutical painkillers in a moment of weakness; he wakes up handcuffed in the desert with other prisoners. The teams hunting them include a middle-aged couple in a minivan, a pair of camo-clad survivalists and one grizzled old Army sniper who targets his victims at expansive distances. As Warren fights back, he establishes alliances and enmities; Wall strikes a convincing balance between Warren’s withdrawal tremors and tactical competence — a resourceful alcoholic, he uses a park outpost’s coffee machine and cleaning chemicals to distill ethanol to ease his symptoms. Violent and relentless, the script, by Dietsch and Gibson, makes smart narrative loops and defies its own implausibility with tight internal logic. Chris Packham.

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