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.

Loving Vincent
Directed by Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman
Good Deed Entertainment
Now Playing, Lincoln Plaza Cinemas

There’s a glorious tension in Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings, the thick paint holding each of the artist’s gestures like an insect in amber, and the long-hardened material still appearing to shiver and pulse. Animators Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman free that contained movement to make Van Gogh’s brushstrokes breathe in Loving Vincent, an engrossing exploration of the artist’s final days rendered in his signature painting style.

Like the work of Van Gogh, whose audacious imagery has been reproduced into ubiquity, their first feature is at once audacious and safe. After a live-action shoot with actors cloaked in the garb of Van Gogh’s subjects, Kobiela and Welchman led an animation team in hand-painting the images, so Postman Roulin looks like his 19th century French counterpart, but is also recognizably Chris O’Dowd.

It’s Roulin’s son Armand (Douglas Booth) who undertakes a Citizen Kane quest, interviewing those touched by Van Gogh to create his own portrait of the troubled outsider. Kobiela, Welchman and Jacek Dehnel have written a thorny narrative, with two observant daughters, the gregarious Adeline Ravoux (Eleanor Tomlinson) and aloof Marguerite Gachet (Saoirse Ronan), enriching this compelling vision of the dogged man who engendered derision as much as adoration.

These reminiscences are depicted in flashbacks that employ the gelid black and white of film noir instead of Van Gogh’s blazing, assaultive colors. It’s the most daring decision in Loving Vincent, a visual reminder that the artist beloved into cliche could feel an encroaching darkness that his voluminous letter writing and extensive artistic output could barely keep at bay. Serena Donadoni

 

Realive
Written and directed by Mateo Gil
Syfy Films
Opens September 29, Cinema Village

Mateo Gil, the co-writer of 1997’s Open Your Eyes, returns to cryonics with Realivea film with less overt mystery than that virtual-reality head trip but which reveals itself in similar measured doses. Set in 2084, Realive opens as a med-tech company is reviving a cryogenically frozen cadaver — Marc (Tom Hughes), a young artist who died 60 years earlier. The film oscillates between Marc’s rehabilitation and his memories of the past, which are deteriorating due to a byproduct of his restoration. The revived Marc doesn’t have the full life he’d hoped for — he begins his new life incredibly weak, and must remain attached to machines via an umbilical cord for much of the day. We see his former life in a collage of flashing memory, overlaid with elegiac musings on human experience, almost as if Terrence Malick were the Lazarus in question. Hughes’ Marc seems disassociated with his life and his sometime girlfriend Naomi (Game of Thrones’ Oona Chaplin), but after his revival the memories of her grow in importance as he considers what he’s lost. Realive’s greatest strength is that it takes its premise so seriously, engaging with its moral and spiritual questions. Is a life devoid of the connections we’ve forged any life at all? Rob Steager

 

Literally, Right Before Aaron
Written and directed by Ryan Eggold
Screen Media Films
Opens September 29, Village East Cinema

Literally, Right Before Aaron features one of the most uncomfortable flirting scenes in recent cinematic memory. In a flashback, Adam (Justin Long) approaches Allison (Cobie Smulders) in the college library. Allison is reading and understandably doesn’t want to be disturbed, but Adam has other ideas. “A book’s not going to have sex with you, and I want to, very badly,” he says. Improbably, this line works, but the bulk of the film revolves around the time after the ensuing relationship: Allison is now getting married to Aaron (Ryan Hansen)  the jock counterpoint to Adam’s nerd  and Adam, an avatar of smarmy male entitlement, isn’t taking it well. Early on, he impulsively proposes to his current girlfriend only to say they should break up minutes later, and he spends much of the runtime stewing over Allison’s impending nuptials and then trying to ruin the wedding. It’s hard to get what Allison once saw in this guy  Smulders plays her with a sharp, bemused quality that stands in contrast to Adam’s whining. There have been so many indies featuring man children that Literally, Right Before Aaron is likely meant as commentary on this trope. Adam is full of himself, and the film doesn’t necessarily support this, but it doesn’t say anything interesting about his emotionally stunted egotism either. Brief appearances from Lea Thompson, as Adam’s long-suffering mother, and Peter Gallagher, as the amusingly pompous nature documentarian, are a welcome respite. The film ends with a riff on the final moments of The Graduate, a frustrating suggestion of a much better work. Abbey Bender

 

Abundant Acreage Available
Directed by Angus MacLachlan
Gravitas Ventures
Opens September 29, Cinema Village

The small tobacco farm in East Bend, N.C., where Angus MacLachlan filmed the lean, elegiac drama Abundant Acreage Available is a vision of bygone rural life, a contained microcosm where hard work and self-reliance could sustain a family for generations. Cinematographer Andrew Reed captures the harsh beauty of post-harvest winter in sharp relief: crunchy stalks left in the field, the sky a crystalline blue. When Tracy Ledbetter (Amy Ryan) appears, she seems to be a natural part of the landscape.

That’s how Tracy feels, tied to the land where she is burying the ashes of her father, still in the plastic box provided by the crematorium. Her staunchly religious brother Jesse (Terry Kinney) argues that the remains should go in consecrated ground, even if it’s just the Triggerstrom family cemetery, dug by their predecessors on the 50-acre farm. As if summoned, three gray-haired Triggerstrom brothers materialize the next morning, their tent an alien outcropping on the barren terrain.

It’s a great horror movie setup, but MacLachlan (Goodbye to All That) looks kindly upon his mortality-minded characters. The alluring Hans (Max Gail) initiated their pilgrimage after his cancer diagnosis, garrulous Tom (Francis Guinan) survived a stroke and placid Charles (Steve Coulter), like the steely Tracy, is a long-suffering caregiver. After a lifetime of routine punctuated by loss, these aging adults fall back into roles as children and siblings. Treading common ground, they seek comfort in the suffocating succor of family, afraid to release the burdens that grief will unleash. Serena Donadoni

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