09/08/16 9:08am

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After playing at over 140 festivals, the award-winning documentary Landfill Harmonic is finally having a big screen debut in New York City. Co-directed by Brad Allgood and Juliana Penaranda-Lofus, the film follows the journey of one very unlikely children’s orchestra from the slums of Paraguay to arenas all across the world. Why so unlikely? Each instrument in the orchestra is made from garbage. (more…)

07/21/16 11:18am

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We’ll need to get a few things out of the way before I tell you why Ghostbusters, both the original and the reboot, is a great movie, why it’s not *just* a fluffy comedy, and why you, as a card carrying New Yorker, should go see it immediately, as a point of pride and honor.

Ghostbusters is about GHOSTS and what are ghosts but our own projected fears? What could be more revealing about us as a culture?

Ghostbusters, the 1984 version, is probably the movie I have seen the most in my life.

•I did not view the much hated, and admittedly terrible trailer for the new movie until after I actually watched the movie itself.

•Like many critics of the new movie, I would much prefer a sequel or new chapter in the series to a reboot. And yet, it really is fun to watch and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

•Most importantly, they both highlight the impersonally communal experience of living in New York City.

In the endless, unsolvable internet battle* over whether or not the movie is funny, whether people who don’t like it are misogynists, and whether the critics who did like it and took the time to write about it are simply politically motivated feminists, the two sides keep pointing out that both versions are fluffy comedies that should never be expected to shoulder any sort of cultural burden at all.

That is just not true. (more…)

07/20/16 4:19pm

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When I sat down for a screening of Don’t Think Twice, the new comedy from Mike Birbiglia, I was in a mood. It had been a long day at work, I had just booked it across midtown in a most unfavorable pair of heels, and, frankly, I wasn’t all that excited about the film I was about to see. Many indie films are a slow burn, sure, but a feature length film about improv comedy subculture? I didn’t have the highest expectations. An hour-and-a-half later, discreetly trying to wipe my tears with my sleeve, I had zero desire to leave the theatre.

Don’t Think Twice, actor, writer, and comedian Mike Birbiglia’s sophomore feature film, is the story of an improv group known as The Commune working in a dingy New York theatre. The six of them work for small crowds and for even smaller sums, are often on the prowl for a modicum of something that can be deemed as success. They also seem totally blissed out in one other’s company, a series of friendships that have clearly withstood the test of time and some awful jokes. They’re led by Miles (Birbiglia), a 30-something improv teacher with an affinity for sleeping with his younger students and claiming he’s always inches, just inches away from making it big. Then there’s spunky but spoiled Lindsay (Tami Sagher), whimsical Allison (Kate Micucci), and slightly pathetic Bill (Chris Gerhard). Gillian Jacobs and Keegan-Michael Key round out The Commune as Jack and Samantha, the romantic couple of the group. Although most of them live together in a crappy loft and pretty much all of the group suffers through a series of mundane day jobs, they’re happiest when doing what they’re best at: getting on a stage a few nights a week and fearlessly shooting the shit. (more…)

06/09/16 12:28pm

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You probably don’t look at DVD covers much any more, or movie posters either. If you did, you’d notice that pretty much every movie that could plausibly be called “indie”–it was shot with just a premise and no script, the only camera used in filming was an iPhone, Ethan Hawke is in it–comes emblazoned with medallions announcing that it was featured in a whole pile of film festivals. The problem is that appearing in a festival is no guarantee that the movie is actually any good (just like having a $100 million budget isn’t a promise that a movie will even make sense).

Luckily we have BAM to sort through the festival scene and select the best, most thought provoking, most of-the-moment films to play at BAMcinemaFest, which kicks off next Wednesday, June 15.

Since it started in 2009, BAMcinemaFest has found its identity as a curated cut of movies that tap into some set of larger conversations happening in our culture. Past picks have included Boyhood, Tangerine and Ain’t Them Bodies Saints and each year’s program includes feature-length narrative films as well shorts programs and documentary. This year’s line-up is packed with movies that challenge ideas of identity, gender, adulthood, and what a film should accomplish. And yes, there’s some Ethan Hawke in the mix. Here are few that will keep you deep in conversation after the movie ends. (more…)

05/05/16 9:53am
Alexander Olchs stands in front of Metrograph. Photo: @MetrographNYC via Instagram

Alexander Olch stands in front of Metrograph. Photo: @MetrographNYC via Instagram

Alexander Olch, didn’t “fall in love with movies watching them on my computer.” Instead, the founder of the new Metrograph theater on the Lower East Side grew up grew up going to New York City’s Art Deco movie palaces like The Ziegfield, The Paris, and The Beekman, places that, as he puts it, “When you walk in the door, you know something special happens here.”

I’ve been noticing people who come here who you never find at the Angelika or the Quad…now is a really good time to be a film buff in NYC.” –Tim Chung

While New York is lucky that arthouse stalwarts like the Film Forum, the Angelika and Anthology Film Archives are still showing films, the number of repertory theaters and movie houses in general hasdeclined significantly since the days of the Bleecker Street Cinema and the 8th Street Playhouse (which we have to thank for the tradition of midnight Rocky Horror screenings). First television, then multiplexes and now, Netflix have all played a part in the downward trend.

But a second wave of indie theaters is luring us off our couches. Through their brilliant curation, the social component of pairing cult classics with cocktails, and the draw of seeing works of art in their intended form, we’ve entered a new golden era of theaters that aims to elevate the movie-going experience.

(more…)

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04/20/16 3:29pm

Equals-film-images-3458eea8-1d18-4d22-87bb-ab12ce1fc17It almost seems that writers and filmmakers have grown weary of weaving stories around human emotion—they’re become more interested in crafting worlds devoid of it. In Drake Doremus’ third feature film, Equals (which stars Kristen Stewart and Nicolas Hoult), we’re invited into a place called The Collective. The Collective is an idyllic society—its people (who are called Equals) go about their various jobs, eat nutritious meals, take a lot of showers, go to sleep, wake up, and do it all over again. They do all of this, always, with unwavering composure and pleasant attitudes—they’re a new breed of humans who have no emotions, and therefore exist in a mechanized world free of violence, depression, or any troubles at all.

Cue the hollow sounds of ambient electronica.

Silas (Hoult) is a young Equal who works as designer. He lives a sterile, normal life until he’s infected with SOS (Switched-On-Syndrome), a cancerous disease that activates a whole slew of emotions in people who have been bred to survive without them. In The Collective, SOS usually leads to suicide, or being shipped off to a mysterious clinic called The Den, where it seems people die anyway. It’s not long before Silas notices that his co-worker Nia (Stewart) shows signs of being infected as well, though she’s able to hide it, a difficult survival tactic. After a montage of inquisitive glances that quickly turn into palpable longing, Silas and Nia embark on a lustful, forbidden romance, often conducted in the dreamy neon lavatories where everyone is reduced to silhouettes. It’s not just skin they’re after—it’s more of an all-consuming desire to, well, be human, in all the ways we were meant to be human.
(more…)

12/17/15 10:00am
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Saoirse Ronan stars in Brooklyn.

In Brooklyn, the movie adaptation of Colm Toibin’s 2009 novel of the same name, Eilis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan, who you may recognize from Hanna) is defined by her tensions: between countries, men and identities. Eilis can find only occasional work in post-WWII Ireland, and cannot help her sister, Rose (Fiona Glascott), support their weary, widowed mother (Jane Brennan). Ever practical, Rose arranges for a new job, a new home, an entire new life a ocean away for Eilis, who waves tearfully to both of them from her ship’s bow, in a classic emmigrant tableau.

It’s on the boat ride to the U.S. that the movie first reveals its tendency to condense and elide Toibin’s sharp observations in favor of neater endings and heightened melodrama, surprising from writer Nick Hornby, whose novels and past screenwriting endeavors have deftly balanced humor with with piercing observations about relationships. (more…)

08/19/15 1:21pm

the boyThere’s no shortage of films (and TV shows for that matter) about serial killers and psychopaths these days, and perhaps this should come as no surprise. There’s something almost compulsively compelling about the existence and nature of individuals capable of the ultimate act of transgression and disrespect that is murder. Plenty of films exploit these characters, and our enduring fascination with them, but others also manage to make an honest and chilling attempt to understand why these people do what they do. As more than a few such films have shown (my favorite being, A Young Poisoner’s Handbook), the best way to truly understand is to start at the beginning. Whether killers are born or grown, their childhoods always tell the tale best.

The Boy, which opened this week at Cinema Village, and was written by Ditmas Park resident Clay McLeod Chapman, ponders that nature/nurture by inviting us into a grim family gothic. Open on Ted (Jared Breeze) a tiny, blonde 9-year-old collecting roadkill off a lonely stretch of mountain road. Immediately we feel just how crushingly lonesome Ted’s life is–together he and his father John (David Morse) run a desolate roadside motel where Ted fills his hungry heart and empty hours by practicing his hospitality jargon and scraping up roadkill, for which his morose father pays him 25 cents a corpse. (more…)

10/15/14 9:00am
"Stations of the Elevated" opens at BAM this Friday. Photo: BAM

“Stations of the Elevated” opens at BAM this Friday. Photo: BAM

Stations of the Elevated is a weird film, to be perfectly blunt. If you have more than a passing interest in graffiti and the evolution of street art in New York City, then you’ve probably seen the documentary Style WarsStations, which has been billed as “the earliest filmed document of graffiti,” by BAM, where it opens Friday for a one-week run, is nothing like that.

An entirely visual exploration of the graffiti that festooned New York City’s subway cars when it was filmed in 1977, Stations makes no explicit comment on graffiti or the culture surrounding it, features no footage of people painting tags on subway cars or anything else, and has zero interviews. It’s all just footage of cars, in a trainyard in the Bronx and rolling through elevated stations, intercut with footage of billboards also visible from those stations, all set to a soundtrack by Charles Mingus.  (more…)

09/18/14 4:00pm

Jimmy Bologna, a longtime employee, incredulously recounts Nathan Handwerker’s complicated, bizarre, and frequent taste testing of “naked” hot dogs.

 Famous Nathan, a recent documentary by Lloyd Handwerker explores the history of a very special restaurant: a little family-owned hot dog joint on the Coney Island boardwalk. Founded in 1916 by a hardworking Jewish immigrant named Nathan Handwerker (the director’s grandfather) Nathan’s Famous was a neighborhood hub throughout much of the twentieth century, flourishing even during the Depression.

Famous Nathan, which will screen Saturday, Sept. 20 at the Coney Island Film Festival, is essentially a very well-produced home video about an interesting Brooklyn family. But with that in mind, there are some truly wonderful and insightful interviews with former employees, friends and family. Though the interviews are, ultimately, about hot dogs, what emerges is a surprisingly intimate and charming narrative, with many scene-stealing characters and Coney Island legends. (more…)