Monday, October 10, 2016

A potpourri of new films

I'm still on the US East Coast, and caught these films over the past couple of weeks.

White Girl (d. Elizabeth Wood). This is the best new film I’ve seen in months. The story of a promiscuous and drug-taking young Brooklynite (Morgan Saylor) (photo left) wasn’t exactly my cup of tea. But I took a chance, and it’s terrific, an exhilarating if alarming plunge down the rabbit hole of the sordid side of a creative class millennial’s life. All the performances are good but it’s not cliché to say Saylor is phenomenal. At New York’s Angelika Film Center.

The Dressmaker (d. Jocelyn Moorhouse) stars Kate Winslet, based on the novel by Rosalie Ham. It’s a comedy-drama, true, but leaves you wondering what it really wants to be – a comedy or a drama – because each side is so well-honed. Some people will find the story, set in the Australian hinterland, charming, or the Fifties fashions wonderful, but to me the film was claustrophobic (a small group of characters within a desolate community) and derivative (the grown-up sophisticated daughter returns home to stick it to the hayseeds). In wide release.

The Birth of a Nation (d. Nate Parker). This story about early 19th century slave revolt leader Nat Turner, played by Parker, was a disappointment. Three-quarters of the movie, leading up to the rebellion in antebellum Virginia, is a plodding series of mini sketches, not the dynamism borne of accumulated repressions building to the cataclysm one might expect. In wide release.

Ovation (d. Henry Jaglom) is a story about what goes on backstage in the theatre. It focuses on a group of actors at a regional theatre performing a play, The Rainmaker, and their friendships, romances and petty disputes, all the while worrying about whether the production will close or find a savior in a new underwriter. Jaglom’s films are ensemble pieces with numerous character driven subplots. Always absorbing, he doesn’t disappoint here. At Cinema Village, New York.

37 (d. Puk Grasten). This is a drama inspired by the 1964 Kitty Genovese murder in Queen’s, New York, infamous because it became symbolic of modern society’s indifference to others around them. The 37 refers to a (mis)reported news story that 37 people had witnessed the murder but did nothing, creating in popular culture and sociologically the phenomenon known as the “bystander effect.” Here is a peek into the lives of a few of them, leading up to and during the half hour of Genovese’s mugging, stabbing and rape. The film’s close-ups, soundtrack and effects give the feeling of a horror movie. At Cinema Village, New York.

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