07/15/15 10:01am
07/15/2015 10:01 AM |

Directed by Judd Apatow
Opens July 17

Much of today’s big- and small-screen comedy exists in a landscape staffed, designed, or at the very least branded by Judd Apatow, but the canny director-producer perhaps makes his biggest impact now through the talent he has encouraged, most notably Lena Dunham in Girls and Amy Schumer in Trainwreck, but dating back to casting unconventional leads (Steve Carell in 40-Year-Old Virgin, Seth Rogen in Knocked Up) or the prescient lineup of underdog TV touchstone Freaks & Geeks. That may also amount to a strategy that preserves his viability when his movies fail to connect (This Is 40, Funny People), but Trainwreck, written by its star, powers into theaters with a formidable head of steam thanks to Schumer’s success and enduring viability as a subject for magazine features—which makes her self-casting as a staff writer for a misogynistic lad mag another installment in the comic’s running satire on the culture and the industry.


07/15/15 9:55am
photo Courtesy of Sundance Selects

Directed by Christian Petzold
Opens July 24

One of the major themes in the work of German director Christian Petzold (Barbara, Yella) is personal repression, and subsequent awareness, of the disturbing historical past. Addressing regeneration through intense suffering with more than just its title, Phoenix marks not only an apotheosis of Petzold’s career-long examination of memory in relation to national cataclysm, but also a critique of the mind-easing revisionism offered by mainstream depictions of genocidal oppression, whether serious (Schindler’s List) or facetious (Django Unchained).


07/15/15 9:48am
photo courtesy of Cinema Guild

Horse Money
Directed by Pedro Costa
Opens July 24 at the Film Society of Lincoln Center
following “The Films of Pedro Costa,” July 17–23

The first time Pedro Costa brought his camera to Portugal’s Fontainhas district, a now-defunct impoverished neighborhood on the outskirts of Lisbon, he brought a crew with him; the result was Ossos (1997), in which Clotilde (Vanda Duarte) and her lover struggle to deal with their unwanted baby. For In Vanda’s Room (2000), the breakthrough film in which Fontainhas residents (most notably Vanda Duarte) play fictionalized versions of themselves as documentary footage depicts the demolition of their neighborhood, Costa first immersed himself in the community, shooting over 150 hours of footage as a one-man crew. Colossal Youth (2006) took a similar approach and introduced viewers to Ventura, a Cape Verdean immigrant who carries with him the story of an entire generation.


07/15/15 8:00am
photo courtesy of IFC Films

The Stanford Prison Experiment
Directed by Kyle Patrick Alvarez
Opens July 17

This harrowing dramatization of the infamous titular incident is hardly the first film to take it as its subject. But previous inspirees, from 2001’s Das Experiment to its straight-to-DVD American remake, The Experiment, have been “based on” Dr. Philip Zimbardo’s questionable research into power dynamics, resembling it rather than re-creating it; whether for provocation or titillation, those depictions moved past mere sadism into manslaughter, their filmmakers not realizing that such hyperbole wasn’t necessary; as The Stanford Prison Experiment so efficiently demonstrates, the real story is horrible enough without embellishment.


07/15/15 7:48am
Courtesy of Roadside Attractions

Mr. Holmes
Directed by Bill Condon
Opens July 17

About halfway through Bill Condon’s Mr. Holmes, the aging detective (Ian McKellen) visits a cinema and sees for the first time how his adventures have been adapted for the screen. As he watches the cheap melodrama unfold he scoffs at the quality of the storytelling, and one can’t help wondering how this incarnation of Sherlock would react to Robert Downey Jr.’s action-packed escapades or Benedict Cumberbatch’s near-robotic sleuthing—these two actors having redefined the iconic character for the 21st century. In comparison with slicker recent screen versions, Mr. Holmes initially comes off as laughably staid and old-fashioned, and something more suited to a Sunday evening TV slot than the big screen, but there is a depth and wisdom to be found behind the film’s doddery façade for the patient viewer.


07/15/15 7:36am
Photo Courtesy of The Film Arcade

Directed by Kris Swanberg
Opens July 24 at Village East Cinemas

The image of a pretty young woman sitting on a toilet is an indie film cliché. In Kris Swanberg’s Unexpected, such a scene comes early: our protagonist, Samantha Abbott (Cobie Smulders) takes a pregnancy test which turns out to be positive, providing the foundation of the story. Samantha is a teacher at an inner-city Chicago high school on the brink of closure, and she quickly learns that one of her best students, Jasmine (Gail Bean), is also pregnant. Both decide to keep their babies and an unlikely bond is formed.


07/15/15 7:18am
Courtesy of Drafthouse Films and Participant Media

The Act of Killing, documentary director Joshua Oppenheimer’s first film about the 1965 genocide in Indonesia, jump-started a national dialogue about an atrocity that had been a toxic secret for decades. Largely unknown in the rest of the world, the killings were actively celebrated in Indonesia, where the perpetrators, who are still in charge of the government, described their gruesome deeds in heroic and triumphant terms. But as impressive as that was, it is not the most extraordinary thing about the film. After something much more transformational than merely revealing buried truths or eliciting the easy sympathy of moviegoers for victims from a far-off time and place, Oppenheimer sought out perpetrators, not victims, to tell the story of the genocide, inviting them to reenact their crimes for the cameras. It is deeply unsettling to watch mass murderers matter-of-factly act out some of their more horrific deeds, often enlisting terrified locals to reluctantly reenact the tortures, rapes and murder they are still traumatized by. It is even more disturbing to get to know the perpetrators well enough to see ourselves in them.

In The Look of Silence, the second of his films about the genocide, Oppenheimer switches to a victim’s point of view.


07/15/15 6:19am
image courtesy of Kino Lorber

A Hard Day
Directed by Kim Seong-Hoon
Opens July 17 at the Village East

A Hard Day’s title is somewhat misleading: the 24-hour period in which homicide detective Go (Lee Sun-kyun) kills a man while speeding, possibly under the influence, away from his mother’s funeral and back to police headquarters, in order to hide evidence of his unit’s corruption from Internal Affairs, is over within the first thirty or so minutes of Kim Seong-Hoon’s black-comic thriller. But the film maintains its momentum thereafter, with a finger-trap murder inquiry and blackmail scheme, cleverly interwoven and made constricting moment-to-moment with recursive obstacles—it’s the kind of movie in which a character who must load a gun must first, invariably, decide whether or not to retrieve the bullet he’s just fumbled away. It plays like a feature-length version of Robert Walker losing Farley Granger’s cigarette lighter down the storm drain in Strangers on a Train.


07/10/15 6:50am
07/10/2015 6:50 AM |


Directed by Dito Montiel
Opens July 10

When a busy working actor dies unexpectedly, an extended wake continues onscreen. James Gandolfini died in the summer of 2013, but his final work in The Drop didn’t surface until over a year later. Three Philip Seymour Hoffman movies came out after his January 2014 passing, and his final one, the last Hunger Games movie, won’t debut until the fall. And here now is Robin Williams, gone just under a year, in Boulevard his final onscreen performance after two posthumous releases in 2014 (one more, his voice-only work in Absolutely Anything, will follow this year in Europe, and probably next year in the U.S.).

It finds Williams in understated, dramatic mode, rather than the pseudo-edgy bluster he played up in The Angriest Man in Brooklyn and Merry Friggin’ Christmas; though of course it doesn’t really matter in that his legacy is assured, I’m glad this one went last.