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Sex and Broadcasting Celebrates the Unlikely Story of Wfmu

18 November 2014 9:00 PM, PST

The title is a tease. Sex and Broadcasting, Tim K. Smith’s long-overdue documentary on Wfmu -- America’s most celebrated freeform radio station -- isn’t at all sexy. (In fact, the film loudly flaunts the bodacious unsexiness of the Jersey City station’s variously overweight and grizzled DJs.) But Smith's film, which premiered at Doc NYC on Saturday and plays once more this Thursday night, is a funny, woozy, infectiously cheery look at a still-persevering (though struggling) national treasure.

Unsurprisingly, Wfmu’s shaggy-dog charm continues to be its saving grace. In the nearly 20 years since station manager Ken Freedman saved Wfmu from its bankrupt owner -- the now-defunct Upsala College -- countless record labels have either shut do »


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The Sweetness of A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

18 November 2014 9:00 PM, PST

A lovely post-punk lark with one foot in '80s ironic-indieland and the other in Iran, Ana Lily Amirpour's feature debut could become a totem for a hipster world mad for jukebox funkiness, vampires, and gender-politics righteousness.

It's got all the gumballs, from the shadowy-retro black-and-white HD to an all-Persian (or Persian American) soundtrack that travels from rockabilly to spaghetti western. That it's set in an underpopulated comic-book "Iran" (shot in the San Joaquin Valley), where everybody speaks Farsi but seems lost in an old Aki Kaurismäki movie anyway, just peppers the stew.

Story propulsion takes a backseat to archness, but that won't bother some of us, for whom a feminist-vampire diss of Shariah norms is long overdue. We're in Bad City, a desolate »


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Stay Mellow with Blondes in the Jungle and L for Leisure

18 November 2014 9:00 PM, PST

The watchword for Lev Kalman and Whitney Horn's L for Leisure is "mellow" — both its presiding sensibility and, from the mouths of the placid intellectuals who are the film's carefree heroes, its oft-invoked refrain.

L for Leisure premiered this January at the International Film Festival Rotterdam, where it proved the most notable exponent of the festival's Bright Future program, a sidebar for emerging talent. But Kalman and Horn's talent had emerged as far back as 2009. That was the year of Blondes in the Jungle, a blissful, eccentric 48-minute short feature and a precursor to the washed-out, laid-back splendor further refined by Leisure. It's a remarkable debut.

A deeply idiosyncratic period comedy, shot on location in Hondura »


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Post-Paterno, Happy Valley Finds Penn State Thumbing Its Wounds

18 November 2014 9:00 PM, PST

Here's a terrifying thought: What if there's one thing in your life you feel so passionately about that you miss out on the bigger truths? That your love of a team or a community — or your aggrievement against other teams and communities — might blind you into wearing an "I Am Darren Wilson" shirt, or attacking feminist critics of video games, or gathering with your neighbors to chant "Fuck the media!" just because your university fired your favorite football coach for failing to take meaningful action against a serial pedophile.

To outsiders, the tears of Penn State fans seem pretty far down the list of tragedies ramified by the Jerry Sandusky case, in which a celebrated assistant coach was convicted of molesting young boys. In Happy Valley, a r »


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Mockingjay Is Sharp on Propaganda but Soft on Celebrity

18 November 2014 9:00 PM, PST

Over the first two Hunger Games films, we've watched coal miner's daughter Katniss Everdeen become the pawn, then the pest, of the Capitol, whose President Snow (Donald Sutherland) has enslaved the adults of the 12 poorer Districts and annually commanded that they together sacrifice 24 of their children to likely death in public combat. Now in Mockingjay, the third film (with a final to come), Katniss has ascended to the face of the Districts' violent insurrection, and in turn, director Francis Lawrence keeps his camera close to star Jennifer Lawrence's sad eyes as she strides through the rubble Katniss has triggered. Many have died in her name, yet Mockingjay only occasionally shows us the corpses, charred wraiths whose exposed ribcages look like mouths screaming f »


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The Rapturous Flamenco Flamenco Offers Just What It Promises

18 November 2014 9:00 PM, PST

The magnificent dance film Flamenco Flamenco begins, as it must, with a lady in red. Scarlet red, the dress clings to the impossibly lithe body of Sara Baras, Spain's preeminent female dancer, who stretches her long arms to the sky, and then, with a slight hitch of that dress and an inward smile, begins tapping her thick high heels against the floor, hard and fast, and then faster still, in a rhythm that is, all at once, the sound of power and sex and hope.

Flamenco, whose roots date back to 18th-century Spain, embodies life's core themes, so it's no wonder 82-year-old writer-director Carlos Saura can't get it out of his system. Of his 40 films, 10 have been designed around flamenco music and dance, including the musical dramas Blood Wedding (1981) and the O »


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The Mesmerizing Doc Little Hope Was Arson Examines a Town After Church Burnings

18 November 2014 9:00 PM, PST

Theo Love's mesmerizing documentary Little Hope Was Arson is as evenhanded as it is unsettling. On the surface, it's the story of Jason Bourque and Daniel McAllister, two angry, drug-addled East Texas youths who, in 2010, felt betrayed by their religion and burned down 10 local churches. But Love neither condemns nor condones the boys' crimes (we don't even know if he thinks they truly deserve their quintuple life sentences, which seem awfully harsh). And, while capturing the variously inflammatory and despondent reactions of relatives and townsfolk, he ensures that no one else in this predominantly Southern Baptist community is cast as villainous or heroic. Even the most wrathful parishioners — some of whom want the boys killed — are somehow empatheti »


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Bro-Centric Rom-Com All Relative Calls for a Strenuous Suspension of Disbelief

18 November 2014 9:00 PM, PST

The Manhattan of writer-director J.C. Khoury's bro-centric romantic comedy All Relative is one where bored housewives spit wine into the mouths of their playboys as a seduction tactic, where twentysomethings wait a month and a parental meeting before having sex, and where iPhones exist but no one uses them to post photos of their significant others on Facebook or Instagram. As the title hints, Harry (Jonathan Sadowski), a Columbia graduate student, is in for a sexual romp strongly reminiscent of Benjamin Braddock's in The Graduate. He recovers from a turn as the cuckolded fiancé by becoming "the other man." But, as his best friend advises him in the opening monologue, Harry just needs to think of romance as the French do — a journey, not a destination »


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Pseudo-Doc The Circle Examines a Lifelong Romance Between Two Men

18 November 2014 9:00 PM, PST

Stefan Haupt's pseudo-documentary The Circle examines the lifelong romance between two men, Ernst Ostertag and Röbi Rapp, and the ways it intertwined with the rise and fall of a groundbreaking Zürich organization dedicated to fostering gay community and erotic expression. That group's magazine, Der Kreis, circulated internationally for more than 30 years, lasting through the intense censorship of the World War II era and well into the more free-spirited '60s. This is a fascinating and often tumultuous story, which Haupt chronicles through a mixture of interviews with the real Ostertag and Rapp (now married, they appear as a pair) alongside dramatized vignettes that, as the film wears on, feel like annoying interruptions. Haupt's reenactments giv »


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In David Bowie Is, Don't Expect Much Insight on the the Music

18 November 2014 9:00 PM, PST

David Bowie Is offers up dozens of sentence-completing phrases to the quasi-fragment that serves as its title, but the most helpful/descriptive never gets appended: How about David Bowie Is Not in This Movie, Really, as It's Basically a Pleasant Survey of a Traveling Museum Exhibit of Bowie's Archives With an Emphasis on Those Glorious Costumes, Although We Must Admit That Their Talismanic Qualities Are Diminished Somewhat When the Exhibit Is Mediated Through This Documentary, Because Nobody Will Ever Say, "I Can't Believe I'm Looking at Actual Clothes David Bowie Actually Wore — On a Screen!" If you accept what David Bowie Is is, there are revelations to be had, here, especially in early photos of the star-to-be: At 16, he looks like he already had h »


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Reach Me Is a Tone-Deaf Melodrama

18 November 2014 9:00 PM, PST

Writer/director John Herzfeld (15 Minutes, Two of a Kind) earnestly tries and spectacularly fails to dilute the acrid pretentiousness of Reach Me, a tone-deaf everything-is-connected melodrama, by cutting his characters' pseudo-enlightened philosophizing with goony broad humor. Herzfeld wants ideal viewers to identify with Roger (Kevin Connolly), an online yellow journalist who overcomes his initial disbelief and heeds authorial voice Teddy (Tom Berenger), a self-help guru whose trite individualist ideology boils down to "Courage means moving forward in spite of your fears." But while Roger's character-defining skepticism makes him semi-relatable, all of Herzfeld's other protagonists are either painfully earnest personifications or tediously manic counterex »


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Late Phases Asks Not 'Is There a Werewolf,' but "Why Is There a Werewolf?'

18 November 2014 9:00 PM, PST

Two key elements in horror movies are anticipation and pacing, with the latter simply the heightening and lowering of the former. With Late Phases, Adrián García Bogliano artfully engages with those tools, crafting a narrative whose close feels a touch underwhelming only in relation to the impressive buildup. In the most entertaining tough-old-crank turn this side of Gran Torino, Nick Damici stars as Ambrose, a blind Vietnam vet who has no sooner moved into the placid retirement community of Crescent Bay than he becomes auditory and olfactory witness to a murder committed by a werewolf. After the beast also kills Ambrose's seeing-eye dog, Shadow, the vet vows revenge. (And how! Wait Until Dark this isn't — file Late Phases</i »


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Haitian Emigre Film Stones in the Sun Shares the Story of Three Brooklyn Families

18 November 2014 9:00 PM, PST

A tiny-budgeted, over-earnest shot at fashioning a Paul Haggis-Crash-like topical weave from the crisis of Haitian émigrés coming to New York in the late '80s, Patricia Benoit's indie has the lit-glam distinction of featuring novelist Edwidge Danticat in a key role. It doesn't help — like most of us non-pros, Danticat can't open up for the camera, and in any case Benoit gives her cast little to do besides bicker and glower over past violence, revisited in flashbacks. The story traces three small families in Brooklyn disheveled by the appearance of immigrating relatives: Danticat is the mopey sister dropping in on middle-class real estate broker/single mom Michele Marcelin; Wbai-ish activist radio pundit Thierry Saintine deals with his alkie politico-t »


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Food Chains Follows the Activism of Tomato Pickers Who Ask for a Penny More

18 November 2014 9:00 PM, PST

To me it means life, it means memories," says Gerardo Reyes Chavez, a farmworker advocate featured in the documentary Food Chains. He's talking about food itself. Director Sanjay Rawal follows the activism of Chavez and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (Ciw), a group of tomato pickers who've had the audacity to ask for a penny more per pound of tomatoes, an amount they say would contribute mightily to their quality of life. In characteristic face-value fashion, they call it the Fair Food Program, and major corporate food purveyors, from Walmart to McDonald's, have signed on. With the help of accomplished photography and sometimes mournful, sometimes upbeat Latin music, the film fosters a very human connection to these pickers, whose eloquence comes from their »


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Alien Abduction Doc Extraterrestrial Is Soaked in Genre Tradition

18 November 2014 9:00 PM, PST

Here's a game: Jot down the plot elements you expect to see in a cabin-in-the-woods UFO horror flick before you settle in for the garishly effective Extraterrestrial. Odds are you could plot the picture out knowing nothing more than its premise, right down to the anal probes, the jokes about the anal probes, and one even more hackneyed plunge into the darkest of places: Yes, characters venture into an unlit basement to check the fusebox. But if you take this stuff as tradition rather than cliché, Extraterrestrial might win you over in variety and execution — that's "execution" in both meanings, as the film improves markedly once its unappealing cast starts becoming chum for E.T.s. Great slabs of red light give the alien-invasion scenes »

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V/H/S: Viral Features Four Fitfully Unsettling Stories

18 November 2014 9:00 PM, PST

None of the four short films featured in horror omnibus V/H/S: Viral is consistently involving, but they are all fitfully unsettling thanks to their creators' mutual fixation on gross trompe l'oeil visual effects. Each propulsive segment features a handful of disturbing sequences: the sudden disappearance of a woman who gets sucked into her chair; a brief close-up of a cloaked skeleton as it attacks an off-camera meat puppet. But such pleasures barely compensate for the vapidity of V/H/S: Viral's sketches. Shorts like "Dante the Great" and "Bonestorm" are most representative of the film's fleeting charms, as both follow hatefully moronic thrill-seekers who inexplicably document supernatural mishegoss as if their lives depended on it. Both installments' characters »

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The Sleepwalker Reinvents the Dysfunctional Family Movie

18 November 2014 9:00 PM, PST

Just in time for Thanksgiving, it's your yearly "hell is family members" film. However, The Sleepwalker distinguishes itself from most entries in this angst-ridden genre by way of superb writing, smoldering performances, and hauntingly beautiful imagery from first-time director Mona Fastvold. Kaia (Gitte Witt) and boyfriend Andrew (Christopher Abbott) are in the midst of renovating her father's remote, fire-destroyed house when half-sister Christine (Stephanie Ellis) suddenly reappears after a long absence. The two sisters awkwardly attempt to reconnect, an effort complicated by Christine's erratic behavior (her new pregnancy prevents her from taking her usual meds) and her wealthy, U.N. human rights officer beau, Ira (Brady Corbet). Like any crazy girl who's ma »


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Death Metal Angola Argues That Death Metal Was Born in Africa

18 November 2014 9:00 PM, PST

Nearly all art is reactionary, and death metal is no different. The extreme nature of this usually apolitical subgenre (whose most influential outposts are Tampa, Florida, and Gothenburg, Sweden) takes on new meanings in Death Metal Angola, Jeremy Xido's documentary charting the rise of heavy music in the wake of that south African nation's decades-long civil war. For many of the budding musicians interviewed here, the genre's aggressive qualities aren't just a coping mechanism, but also a means of recontextualizing their personal and national traumas — stories of lost loved ones are the norm, not least because an orphanage run by a saint of a woman named Sonia Ferreira hosts much of the footage. "I think the beats in death and black metal are derived from Af »


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Despite Missteps, Four Moons Provides Compelling Drama

18 November 2014 9:00 PM, PST

Watching Sergio Tovar Velarde's Four Moons can feel like witnessing a young musician performing with an emotional intensity that heavily outweighs her technical skill. The film is earnest and nobly intentioned, though its execution doesn't measure up. The narrative comprises four stories of gay males struggling with their individual sexualities, desires, and responsibilities, in a multi-character setup that, thankfully, does not contrive to converge. The strands: A married poet (Alonso Echánove) falls for a male prostitute (Alejandro Belmonte) at the sauna; a gay couple (Alejandro de la Madrid and Antonio Velázquez) become strained by infidelity; two childhood friends (Cesar Ramos and Gustavo Egelhaaf) reconnect at college and begin secretly dating; and a y »


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The Marvelous Monk With a Camera Examines the Paradox of Fame and Humility

18 November 2014 9:00 PM, PST

Nicholas Vreeland has a shaved head and a famous last name. The first, obvious and gleaming, advertises his humility and his life as a Tibetan Buddhist monk. The second, subtle and refined, suggests just how hard that humility was to come by. Diana Vreeland, Nicky's grandmother, was the editor-in-chief of Vogue from 1963 to 1971, and her understated, impeccable vision made dandies of her offspring, especially Nicky; even after renouncing worldly pleasures, he polishes his Birkenstock sandals until they gleam. This paradox is the subject of the marvelous documentary Monk With a Camera. Polishing shoes is practical; they last longer. Nicky has a harder time locating such tangible value in photography, the one vestige of his old life that he cannot forsake. »

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