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16 articles


Tribeca's Maddest Midnight Movies

14 April 2015 9:00 PM, PDT

Subculture-portrait documentaries don’t get much more absurd than Bodyslam: The Revenge of the Banana, one of five films to be featured in the genre-centric Midnight section of this year’s Tribeca Film Festival. Ryan Harvie and John Paul Horstmann’s lovingly loopy movie is a study of the Seattle Semi-Professional (Ssp) Wrestling cabaret, which for a decade was put on at a city bar by misfits who found community through clotheslines and crotch-shots.

These performers are a deranged crew led by Josh Black, who takes the stage as Ronald McFondle (his finishing move? The anal fist!). Harvie and Horstmann’s nonfiction film is not only an amusing snapshot of a strange underground scene, but a bizarre real-life drama of betrayal and treachery courtesy of »


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Thriller Unfriended Is the Rare Good Film About the Internet

14 April 2015 9:00 PM, PDT

The trolling is coming from inside the house! Mere emojis can't capture the plugged-in joys of the first hour or so of haunted-internet teen flick Unfriended, which knives with dexterous wit The Way We Live Now. Here's a clutch of horny high school dopes hanging out on Skype, getting doxed to death by what seems to be the vengeful ghost of Laura Barns (Heather Sossaman), a young woman who committed suicide a year before. (She had been cyberbullied.)

We see this play out exclusively through the screen of another young woman's laptop: Blaire (Shelley Hennig) indulges in amusingly listless sex-chat with her boyfriend, Mitch (Moses Jacob Storm), scored to songs from the Spotify account she occasionally clicks up from the taskbar. Sometimes, after a scare, she'll Google »


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FX's Hillbilly Noir Justified Was the Forgotten Prestige TV Show

14 April 2015 9:00 PM, PDT

No show wears its love for language and land more proudly than FX's Justified, which ends its six-year run on April 14. Based on a novella by Elmore Leonard and starring squinty-eyed sex symbol Timothy Olyphant, the hillbilly noir never received the critical adulation or the audience one might expect for such a consistently moving and entertaining series. Boasting some of the best writing, acting, directing, and mythologizing anywhere on television, Justified left the innovations and the boundary-pushing to its more self-serious Golden Age cohorts, delving instead into the familial histories and economic dysfunctions that make its setting, Kentucky's Harlan County, such a dangerous place to call home. Justified's soul rests not in its heart, but at i »


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Your Best Bet at Tribeca This Year: Avoid Celebrity Fare

14 April 2015 9:00 PM, PDT

Fourteen years in, the Tribeca Film Festival has taken a step back to look at the bigger picture, and finally realized what was making it hang cockeyed. In previous editions of the sprawling, populist-skewing showcase, the original mission — to stimulate economic growth in downtown, post–9-11 Manhattan — was forgotten in an increasingly decentralized event with programming as far away as the Upper West Side. But suddenly, all eleven theaters of Battery Park's Regal Cinemas will now play host to premieres, and Varick Street's 150,000-square-foot Spring Studios serves as a communal hub — a new home to fest lounges, panel talks, immersive installations that deconstruct storytelling, even a restoration of the Sinatra-starring 1949 musical On the Town. »


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Roar Is an Animal Anti-Masterpiece

14 April 2015 9:00 PM, PDT

A normal movie ends with the American Humane Association's assurance that "No animals were harmed." But Tippi Hedren's doomed 1981 obsession Roar isn't normal. The Aha's seal is the first thing on screen — yet, if the authorities had a safety code for humans, Roar would fail. This odd, slight, and near-deadly tribute to nature wound up as a mad masterpiece of mankind's folly. And this re-release feels kind of like stumbling across the giant heads of Easter Island. You're fascinated more by the how, what, and why than the actual artistic result. So much sweat and pain, for this?

In 1971, Hedren, her producer husband Noel Marshall, and their four kids (Marshall's sons and Hedren's teen daughter Melanie Griffith) decided to adopt a lion. Ten years later, »


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Fact, Fiction, or In-Between, Agnes Varda's Films Illuminate Lives

14 April 2015 9:00 PM, PDT

In the 60 years since she made her first film, the inexhaustibly curious Agnès Varda, who turns 87 next month, has always worked outside the limits of either/or. "What I'm trying to do — what I've been trying to do all along — is to bridge the border of these two genres, documentary and fiction," Varda told me when I interviewed her fifteen years ago. Her ingenious hybridizing is spotlighted in the second week of Art of the Real, the Film Society of Lincoln Center's showcase of boundary-expanding nonfiction work, which continues through April 26. Made between 1955 and 2000, the three shorts and seven features — a mere sampling of her extensive filmography — on view in "The Actualities of Agnès Varda" point the way forward for future cross-pol »


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A Somber Mood Hangs Over Cross-Cultural Romance Felix and Meira

14 April 2015 9:00 PM, PDT

Music is used sparingly in Felix and Meira, and each song is key to expressing unspoken emotion. After Shulem (Luzer Twersky) leaves his modest home in Montreal's Hasidic enclave to attend prayers, his wife, Meira (Hadas Yaron), puts on a forbidden record, "After Laughter (Comes Tears)," letting Wendy Rene's plaintive voice convey her own longing. But it's Leonard Cohen's "Famous Blue Raincoat" that captures the exquisite melancholy of Maxime Giroux's romantic drama, where loss and resignation are as important as desire and freedom. When a dissatisfied Meira meets the aimless Felix (Martin Dubreuil), they have little in common aside from a love of drawing and a religion they view quite differently. (His version of »


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Alex of Venice Is a Poignant Snapshot of a Woman Remaking Her World

14 April 2015 9:00 PM, PDT

There's a line at the end of a Chekhov play that goes, "Life's gone on as if I'd never lived." This does a passable job summarizing Chris Messina's Alex of Venice, a trifling yet nonetheless poignant snapshot of a young woman trying to come to terms with both immediate personal crises and the dawning knowledge that — to paraphrase Trip Harrison from Meatballs — maybe it all just doesn't matter. An "overworked environmental lawyer" (like there's any other kind these days), Alex (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is not only attempting to stop a new hotel development in Southern California's vanishing wetlands (like there's any other kind these days), but also dealing with the burden of being the only remotely competent adult in a collection of giant children. </ »


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The Action Epic The Dead Lands Drops You Into a War Between Tribes

14 April 2015 9:00 PM, PDT

Like a Kiwi cousin to Mel Gibson's historical indigenous spectacle Apocalypto, director Toa Fraser's feral action epic drops viewers into the warring rivalries of Maori tribes (subtitled for your pleasure) in some indiscriminate, pre-colonial New Zealand. Chockablock with macho athleticism, a stylized variation on the ancient martial art mau rakau that implements short-handled paddles, and taunting tongue-flicks that would make Gene Simmons envious, the film is undeniably elevated by its exotic milieu. It's a shame, then, that it's stuck with such a familiar coming-of-age call to adventure: Falsely accused of desecrating ancestral remains by the duplicitous Wirepa (Te Kohe Tuhaka), unskilled chieftain's son Hongi (Boy's James Rolleston, now »


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Affliction Drama The Road Within Succumbs to Sentimental Uplift

14 April 2015 9:00 PM, PDT

It sounds like the perfect setup for a legendary tasteless joke: A boy with Tourette's, an anorexic girl, and an obsessive-compulsive neat freak steal a car and head for the beach. Had writer-director Gren Wells shown just a tad more irreverence or daring or creativity, The Road Within could have provided a whopper of a punchline. But this is, of course, a movie about affliction, and it ultimately succumbs to the bland, sentimental uplift we've come to expect from such outings. After his mother dies, Vincent (Robert Sheehan) is installed at a mental institution by his cold, career-obsessed father (Robert Patrick, of Terminator 2 fame). The twitch- and temper-tantrum-prone Vincent quickly becomes the bane of his control-freak roommate Alex's (Dev Pa »


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Big-Hearted Indie Tangerines Stands Up to War by Harvesting Fruit

14 April 2015 9:00 PM, PDT

Small in scale if huge in heart and scope, Tangerines uses four characters to limn the religio-nationalistic hostilities unleashed by the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1992. But what a foursome! Or, actually, make that what a one. Tangerines' lead, renowned Estonian actor Lembit Ulfsak, is cool-headed, even witty at times as Ivo, curtailing violence between two wounded, vengeance-driven enemies: Ahmed (Giorgi Nakashidze), a Muslim Chechen mercenary for Abkhazia; and Niko (Mikheil Meskhi), a Christian separatist on the Georgian side. Admonishes Ivo, "No killing in this house." Maybe he should hire on at the U.N. Other ethnic Estonians were driven off the land, but Ivo is sticking it out in his farmhouse, helping a neighbor (Elmo Nüganen) h »


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The Classic Tale of Money vs. Abs Is Told Again in Beyond the Reach

14 April 2015 9:00 PM, PDT

In 1972, novelist Robb White wrote the desert thriller Deathwatch, about a rich hunter named Madec who accidentally kills a human in the Mojave and decides to cover up his mistake by murdering his guide. Two years later, it was turned into the film Savages, starring Andy Griffith in the lead role. Griffith was unexpectedly great as a big-city bigwig, but the decades since have given us Michael Douglas, the slick-haired snake-oil actor who seems to have been slithering toward this part for 40 years. Now Douglas gets a crack at the character in Jean-Baptiste Léonetti's remake Beyond the Reach. Today, the millionaire sniper stalks his prey in a $500,000 Mercedes SUV stocked with an espresso machine. Yet while Madec sautés asparagu »


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Monsters: Dark Continent Asks an Important Question Between CGI Creature Battles

14 April 2015 9:00 PM, PDT

Gareth Edwards's 2010 debut, Monsters, was set in Mexico and drew parallels between its heroes' efforts to keep the gigantic lifeforms in the "infected zones" and real-life U.S. border policy. This 2015 follow-up, helmed by Tom Green, moves the action to the Middle East, where sometime in the future our latest war against insurgents is now complicated by gargantuan arthropods (rendered with impressive and convincing CGI). Monsters: Dark Continent spins its wheels in Detroit and the early days of a squad's tour of duty before the glimmer of a plot arrives in the form of a rescue mission, and even that is only thin connective tissue between episodes of danger and despair. It's taxing to watch, and Green moves between scenes with Malick-inspired ellip »


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The Latest Melting Glaciers Doc Antarctic Edge Doesn't Waste Time with Ice Porn

14 April 2015 9:00 PM, PDT

By now, sobering docs about melting ice at the ends of the world are a reliable source of pleasure and anxiety: Gape at the glacial peaks, the whirling starscapes, the electric-chiffon dance of the northern and/or southern lights. Laugh with the penguins and admire their hardiness. Dream of what it might be like to be one of the scientists stapling trackers to waterfowl or plumbing icebergs for core samples. And tremble at what their findings mean for the rest of us. Informative and workmanlike, Antarctic Edge is more a bad-news rundown than one of the meditative masterpieces of the genre. (Last year gave us two: Daniel Dencik's Expedition to the End of the World and Anthony Powell's sublime Antarctica: A Year on Ice.) Here, we're hanging wi »

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True Story Aims to Expose Journalistic Malpractice, but Mostly Exposes James Franco

14 April 2015 9:00 PM, PDT

The sequence that opens True Story tells you plenty about what you’re in for: A rumpled teddy bear drifts down from our vantage point like a puffy brown snowflake, landing with slow-motion deliberateness on the form of a Pj-clad toddler curled up in a suitcase, seemingly asleep. She’s like an Egyptian king being readied for the sendoff into the afterworld, a few remnants of little-girl life — a pink tutu, a pair of ballet slippers — nestled around her still form. Even if we don’t know what’s coming next, we can guess: An unseen somebody zips the suitcase closed and drops it into the drink. The next time we see it, it’s being hauled from some as-yet unidentified body of water, seaweed and slime clinging to its zipper. The coroner op »


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Disney's Monkey Kingdom Is Wonderful -- and Full of Lies

14 April 2015 9:00 PM, PDT

Truth in film takes another jolly beating in Disneynature's Monkey Kingdom, a documentary-like nature flick with the last-century chutzpah to pass off its marvelous footage of some months in the life of a single-mom macaque as a full-fledged princess story, with three acts, a tearful exile, and her ascent, in the final reels, to the throne. (Oops, spoiler for the anthropomorphized-monkey movie.) It's something like a Cinderella story: Simian starlet Mya boasts a likable face and a bobbed fringe of hair that suggests a ginger Moe Howard, but she's at the bottom of the Tasty Fig Tree of Life, eating scraps while her monkey-band's royalty chews fresh fruit in the top branches. The upper caste includes three red-faced sisters who, in movie narrative terms, are Heathers or Mean »


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