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.

Tragedy Girls
Directed by Tyler MacIntyre
Gunpowder & Sky
Opens October 20, AMC Empire 25

If Scream and Heathers shacked up and had murderous, millennial offspring, the result might look a lot like Tragedy Girls. Tyler MacIntyre’s darkly hilarious slasher flick mashes up the best of the old horror tropes (like machete-wielding murderers) with some new sinister twists. Midwestern high school seniors Sadie (Brianna Hildebrand) and McKayla (Alexandra Shipp) are hunting for viral fame on social media, sharing their lurid accounts of a murder spree. But it’s not enough just to chronicle the exploits of a conveniently local serial killer (Kevin Durand) — they want to be ahead of the game. The two kidnap the slasher in hopes of getting some tips of the trade. When he refuses, Sadie and McKayla aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty.

MacIntyre and Chris Lee Hill’s screenplay is rife with absurdity, glorious carnage, jet-black humor — and best of all, a solid relationship at its core. Likes and shares aren’t the only drivers for these teens’ sociopathy; their penchant for the macabre runs deeper. And thanks to Hildebrand and Shipp’s undeniable BFF chemistry, these sweet sociopaths really hook you.

The devious duo, despite their best efforts to execute some gruesome murders, end up with victims whose (sometimes slapstick) deaths are ruled accidental…which doesn’t exactly slay on social media. But as these blood-lusting cheerleaders know: Practice makes perfect. Tatiana Craine

 

Killing Gunther
Written and directed by Taran Killam
Saban Films and Lionsgate
Opens October 20, Village East Cinema

In the pretend-documentary Killing Gunther, the directing debut of the actor Taran Killam, a motley assemblage of killers-for-hire join forces to orchestrate and document an attempt to eliminate the world’s most notorious assassin (Arnold Schwarzenegger). Killam, who plays the mastermind of the narrative, Blake Hammon — a character he savvily invests with crisp, Leonardo DiCaprio–like enunciations — relishes introducing the crew’s panel of obtuse personalities, each of whom purports to possess a salient specialty. Among them are Donald Piznowski (Bobby Moynihan), a supposed expert in explosives, a calling he speaks of with an aw-shucks kind of pride (“That was the day I was like, ‘I think I want to blow people up for a living,’” he says following a get-to-know-you anecdote); the put-upon tech-ops/intel wiz Gabe Beals (Paul Brittain), who, in his first to-camera interview, helpfully clarifies his proficiencies, muttering “technology operations and intelligence” under his breath; and Pak Yong Qi (Aaron Yoo), who deals in poisons and thus proves disastrously unhelpful during the inevitable firefights. It’s little more than a diverting sketch, but its characters justify its ninety minutes, and Killam’s unremitting enthusiasm is occasionally contagious. There’s something archly aloof about this incompetent mini-society of assassins practicing its trade out in the open — without inciting objection from the outside world. This attitude engineers many rich background beats, like one involving the jealous father (Peter Kelamis) of the team’s most competent member (Hannah Simone). He runs screaming through the streets, brandishing a sword in the direction of the crewmate who’s interested in his daughter; nearby, a girl painting in the park observes this, shrugs it off, and then just goes back to painting, as one does. Danny King


Dealt
Directed by Luke Korem
Sundance Selects
Opens October 20, IFC Center

The way director Luke Korem introduces his subject in Dealt is the documentary equivalent of the magician’s practiced patter, with ardent testimonials introducing audiences to the astounding art of card mechanic Richard Turner. It takes a while for Korem to show his hand, but when he divulges at last that Turner is blind, this isn’t treated as a big reveal. His matter-of-fact approach mirrors Turner’s view that blindness and his remarkable card expertise are two completely separate things.

In his illuminating, beautifully composed portrait, Korem (Lord Montagu) follows these parallel tracks until Turner finally allows them to converge, and does so without the pitfalls of an uplifting narrative. As Turner’s degenerative eye disease progressed, he went from a fidgety kid to a man in perpetual motion. His idea of masculinity meant taking risks and denying weakness. After 13 years, Turner finally achieved a black belt in karate, and never once thought that someone whose profession depends on the sensitivity and dexterity of his fingers might be wary of breaking boards with his hands.

Korem balances Turner’s single-minded pursuit of achievement sans limitations with the enlightening perspective of family members who cherish Richard without following his path, including a blind sister who prizes self-sufficiency (using a guide dog and screen reader), and a son who doesn’t bemoan the father who named him Asa Spades. He may have begun the years-long project to illustrate Turner’s accomplishments, but Korem ended up with a richer profile of a perfectionist who realizes he still has things to learn. Serena Donadoni


Never Here

Directed by Camille Thoman
Vertical Entertainment
Opens October 20, Cinema Village

Voyeuristically creeping cinematography, opaque plot twists, and unnerving sonic hums/whooshes/crackles may be hallmarks of that imprecise descriptor “Lynchian,” but there’s more substance than pastiche in performance artist and documentarian Camille Thoman’s ambitious narrative feature debut. An elegantly fragmented psychological noir (by way of suspenseful character study) concerning identity loss and morality within art, the film stars a wonderfully engaging Mireille Enos as Miranda, a NYC-based installation artist whose work stalks its subjects, aesthetically and literally. At her opening for an exhibit based on the life of a man she only knows through his misplaced cell phone, the subject himself turns up and shocks her by feeling victimized: “You’ve done a bad thing.” Later that night, Miranda’s art dealer and married lover (a predictably refined Sam Shepard, in his final role) witnesses an assault outside her apartment window, though she covers for their clandestine affair by pretending his description of the assailant is her own. The investigating detective (Vincent Piazza) also happens to be Miranda’s ex-flame, complicating the deception and increasing her anxieties while she obsesses over a warped new project: shadowing the guy she believes committed the crime. Up through the ambiguous ending, Thoman withholds the story’s bigger puzzle pieces, which is satisfying when the focus is on Miranda’s quietly traumatic unraveling. Yet as a mystery, Never Here teases too much naturalism to get away with the haunting abstruseness Lynch does in his masterful return to Twin Peaks. Aaron Hillis

 

A Silent Voice
Directed by Naoko Yamada
Eleven Arts
Opens October 20, Village East Cinema

In the same year that an abusive anti-Semitic drunkard and all-around terrible human is in a high-profile family comedy after having once been nominated for Best Director, a film like Naoko Yamada’s anime A Silent Voice, about a violent man seeking redemption while his victim largely blames herself, plays as tricky at best. Shoya Ishida (Miyu Irino) is a sixth-grade bully who wastes no time tormenting the new girl in class, the hearing-impaired Shoko Nishimiya (Saori Hayami). This includes constantly destroying her hearing aids, and even physically attacking her — a sequence that is visually coded as a rape — when she persists in trying to be his friend. Their paths cross again several years later, and a despondent and vaguely suicidal Ishida tries to make amends with Nishimiya and her friends and family while also trying to work through his own social anxieties. It’s likely that much of A Silent Voice’s nuance has been lost in the adaptation from the source manga, and it certainly has a different resonance in its native Japan, but the synopsis describes his friendless-outcast status as “the tables turning” and “Shoya finding himself the victim,” which, no. It has some interesting visuals, but A Silent Voice demands investment in the redemption of someone who’s impossible to root for. And seriously, fuck Mel Gibson. Sherilyn Connelly

 

The Paris Opera
Directed by Jean-Stéphane Bron
Film Movement
Opens October 20, Quad Cinema and Film Society of Lincoln Center

Access is imperative for a documentary like The Paris Opera, a behind-the-scenes portrait of the title organization’s 2015 season under new director Stephane Lissner. Yet as it turns out, it’s the sole reason Jean-Stéphane Bron’s nonfiction film exists — since the doc itself certainly has little in the way of an actual point to make. From meetings about finances, labor issues, and scheduling to rehearsals with opera singers, ballet dancers, and young and adult orchestral musicians to conversations conducted in offices, at press conferences, and in the makeup chair, no day-to-day aspect of this grand operation is ignored. Such sprawling comprehensiveness, however, comes at the expense of a narrative or thematic focus. Only in the figure of 21-year-old aspiring baritone Mikhail Timoshenko — who must learn French while preparing to take the spotlight — does the movie find an engaging (if sporadically seen) center of attention; otherwise, its many people, topics, and dilemmas get dispatched almost as quickly as they’re introduced. Beautifully shot and gracefully edited, The Paris Opera presents the myriad difficulties faced — and small and large triumphs achieved — by the artistic institution, which continues to thrive almost 350 years after it was founded. Unfortunately, the film has nothing much to say other than that the enterprise is inherently complicated — which isn’t point enough for 110 minutes of screen time. Nick Schager

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