Pixar! Vampires! And more new movies to tide you over 'till the return of a certain web-slinger...
This week: Frameline continues. Where have you been?
Hollywood's great hopes this week involve, as Game of Thrones would say, "the pointy end": the arrow-slingin' grrl rebel (a character type that's all the rage lately) in Pixar's Brave and and the monster-staking activities of the 16th prez in Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. (Let's be honest, Abe: mash-ups are kinda 2001, and vampires are so 2008.) Our reviews below.
Also from the factory of mass-marketed dreams is Steve Carell's uninspiring road trip into the apocalypse, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World. Read Dennis Harvey's review here.
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter Are mash-ups really so 2001? Not according to the literary world, where writer Seth Graham-Smith has been doing brisk trade in gore-washing perfectly interesting historical figures and decent works of literature — a fan fiction-rooted strategy that now reeks of a kind of camp cynicism when it comes to a terminally distracted, screen-aholic generation. Still, I was strangely excited by the cinematic kitsch possibilities of Graham-Smith’s Lincoln alternative history-cum-fantasy, here in the hands of Timur Bekmambetov (2004's Night Watch). Historians, prepare to fume — it helps if you let go of everything you know about reality: as Vampire Hunter opens, young Lincoln learns some harsh lessons about racial injustice, witnessing the effects of slavery and the mistreatment of his black friend Will. As a certain poetic turn would have it, slave owners here are invariably vampires or in cahoots with the undead, as is the wicked figure, Jack Barts (Marton Csokas), who beats both boys and sucks Lincoln’s father dry financially. In between studying to be a lawyer and courting Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), the adult Lincoln (Benjamin Walker) vows to take revenge on the man who caused the death of his mother and enters the tutelage of vampire hunter Henry (Dominic Cooper), who puts Abe’s mad skills with an ax to good use. Toss in a twist or two; more than few freehand, somewhat humorous rewrites of history (yes, we all wish we could have tweaked the facts to have a black man working by Lincoln’s side to abolish slavery); and Bekmambetov’s tendency to direct action with the freewheeling, spectacle-first audacity of a Hong Kong martial arts filmmaker (complete with at least one gaping continuity flaw) — and you have a somewhat amusing, one-joke, B-movie exercise that probably would have made a better short or Grindhouse-esque trailer than a full-length feature — something the makers of the upcoming Pride and Prejudice and Zombies should bear in mind. (1:45) (Kimberly Chun)
Brave Pixar's latest is a surprisingly familiar fairy tale. Scottish princess Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald) would rather ride her horse and shoot arrows than become engaged, but it's Aladdin-style law that she must marry the eldest son of one of three local clans. (Each boy is so exaggeratedly unappealing that her reluctance seems less tomboy rebellion than common sense.) Her mother (Emma Thompson) is displeased; when they quarrel, Merida decides to change her fate (Little Mermaid-style) by visiting the local spell-caster (a gentle, absent-minded soul that Ursula the Sea Witch would eat for brunch). Naturally, the spell goes awry, but only the youngest of movie viewers will fear that Merida and her mother won't be able to make things right by the end. Girl power is great, but so are suspense and originality. How, exactly, is Brave different than a zillion other Disney movies about spunky princesses? Well, Merida's fiery explosion of red curls, so detailed it must have had its own full-time team of animators working on it, is pretty fantastic. (1:33) (Cheryl Eddy)
And, as always, there's more! A doc shot on the frontlines of the Middle East conflict; a doc shot on the frontlines of the sexual-assault epidemic in the American military; a heroin movie; and a "claustrophobic conspiracy thriller" opening at the Roxie that looks to be this week's hidden-gem pick.
5 Broken Cameras Palestinian Emad Burnat bought his first camcorder in 2005 with the intention of bottling family memories, but when Israeli forces began the construction of settlements in Bil'in (his home village in the West Bank) Burnat stumbled into activist-filmmaker territory. In documenting his community's nonviolent resistance to the Israeli occupation, Burnat's friends and family (much like his cameras) are shot at, injured, and even killed. His son Gabreel's first words are "wall" and "cartridge," epitomizing the psychological toll of the struggle. Israeli forces are depicted as an eerily faceless entity, with colonialist aspirations run amok. Burnat isn't interested in highlighting the political delicacy of the situation, and frankly, he's given us something far more powerful than your average piece of fair-and-balanced journalism on the Israel-Palestine conflict. Splitting the difference between home-video montage and war-zone nightmare, 5 Broken Cameras skillfully merges the political and the personal, profoundly humanizing the Palestinian movement for independence. (1:30) (Taylor Kaplan)
The Invisible War Kirby Dick's searing documentary takes a look at the prevalence of rape within U.S. military ranks, a problem whose unbelievably high levels of occurrence would long ago have caused huge public outcry and imposed reform in any other institutional context. Yet because it's the military — where certain codes of loyalty, machismo, and insularity dominate from the grunt level to the highest ranks — the issue has not only been effectively kept secret, but perpetrators almost never suffer any disciplinary measures, let alone jail time or dishonorable discharges. Meanwhile the women — some studies estimate 20% of all female personnel (and 1% of the men) suffer sexual assault from colleagues — are further traumatized by an atmosphere that creates ideal conditions for stalking, rape, and "blame the victim" aftermaths from superiors. (Indeed, for many the superior to whom they would have reported an attack was the one who attacked them.) Most end up quitting promising service careers (often pursued because of generations of family enlistment), dealing with the serious mental health consequences on their own. The subjects who've come forward on the issue here are inspiring in their bravery, and dedication to a patriotic cause and vocation that ultimately, bitterly betrayed them. Their stories are so engrossing that The Invisible War is as compulsively watchable as its topic and statistics are inherently appalling. (1:39) (Dennis Harvey)
Oslo, August 31st Heroin movies are rarely much fun, and Oslo is no exception, though here the stress lies not in grisly realism but visceral emotional honesty. Following an abortive, Virginia Woolf-esque suicide attempt during evening leave from his rehab center, recovering addict Anders visits Oslo for a job interview. He reconnects bittersweetly with an old friend, tries and fails to meet up with his sister, and eventually submerges himself in the nightlife that once fueled his self-destruction. Expressionistic editing conveys Anders’ sense of detachment and urge for release, with scenes and sounds intercut achronologically and striking sound design which homes in on stray conversations. A late intellectual milieu is signified throughout, quite humorously, by serious discussions of popular television dramas, presumably an update of similar concerns addressed in Pierre Drieu La Rochelle’s 1931 novel Le Feu follet, on which the film is based. (1:35) (Sam Stander)
Ultrasonic Is it madness to imagine a stylish new twist on the claustrophobic conspiracy thriller? Multi-hyphenate director, co-writer, and cinematographer (and musician and software engineer) Rohit Colin Rao manages just that with this head-turning indie feature film debut, while managing to translate a stark indie aesthetic encapsulated by Dischord and Touch and Go bands, lovers of Rust Belt warehouses and waffle houses, culture vultures who revere both Don DeLillo and Wisconsin Death Trip, and critics who lean too hard on the descriptor “angular.” Musician Simon York (Silas Gordon Brigham) is one denizen firmly placed in that cultural landscape, but the pressures of funding his combo’s album, coping with the diminishing returns of his music teacher livelihood, and anticipating the arrival of a baby with his wife, Ruth (Cate Buscher), seem to be piling on his murky brow. Simon begins to hear a hard-to-pin-down sound that no one else can detect, though Ruth’s eccentric and possibly certified conspiracy-theorist brother Jonas (Sam Repshas) is quick to affirm — and build on — his fears. Painting his handsome, stylized mise-en-scène in noiry blacks and wintry whites, Rohit positively revels in this post-punk jewel of a world he’s assembled, and it’s a compelling one even if it’s far from perfect and ultimately shies away from the deepest shadows. (1:30) Roxie. (Chun)
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