Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston in Wanderlust, opening tomorrow. Photograph courtesy of Universal Pictures.
While fans of Wet Hot American Summer wait to find out if the long rumored sequel/prequel is really happening, they can take solace in the latest film from Summer writer/director David Wain. In Wanderlust, Wain regular Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston star as a fast-paced, high-powered New York City couple who are forced to move in with Rudd’s character’s Atlanta-based family after he loses his job. Unwilling to deal with his racist boor of a brother, they decide to turn on, tune in, and drop out at a local hippie commune populated by a cast that includes Justin Theroux, Alan Alda, Malin Akerman, and Lauren Ambrose.
Cinema is all about the moving image, but there are some filmmakers who have experimented with the seemingly incongruous notion of using stills in the context of a movie. One of the most famous examples is La Jetée by enigmatic French filmmaker Chris Marker: a short film composed entirely of stills and narration that served as the inspiration for Terry Gilliam’s time-twisting love story 12 Monkeys. The set of short films that includes Marker’s work will also have a title from Sergei Eisenstein, among others, and later programs concentrate on different aspects of still photographs in film.
Saturday at 2:30, Sunday at 4:30, and a third program next Sunday, March 4, at 4:30, at the National Gallery of Art.
Polish director Agnieszka Holland has done most of her work over the past 20 years in English-language productions (including multiple episodes of the HBO series The Wire and Treme), but her most acclaimed works have been foreign language films produced in Europe, usually centered on World War II and the Holocaust. It’s been well over 20 years since she’s made a film like that, but with In Darkness, she returns to that theme, and has garnered her first Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Film since 1985’s Angry Harvest.
In Darkness takes place in the Polish city of Lvov during the German occupation of the ’40s and tells the true story of Leopold Socha, a Catholic sewer worker in the city who hides a group of Jews in the dank tunnels once the Germans begin rounding up residents of the ghettos to head to concentration camps. The film makes good on its title: Much of it takes place in those dim catacombs, flashlights creating grainy images robbed of their color, which heightens the despair and desperation of their situation as they wait to see whether they can survive the war, hunger, and madness.
The artistic collaboration between writer/director Oren Moverman and Woody Harrelson that began with the 2009 film The Messenger bears yet more fruit with their latest, Rampart. Harrelson once again delivers some of the best work of his career for the director, this time playing a drunk, violent, racist cop from Los Angeles’s notorious “rampart” division, the anti-gang unit that was the center of a massive corruption scandal during the late-’90s setting of the film. Harrelson has a tough assignment, playing a character that borders on irredeemable, and reaching deep to humanize him enough to avoid completely alienating the audience. It’s a messy, anxious film, much like the character Harrelson plays, and while it’s more difficult to like than Moverman’s previous directorial effort, it still has plenty of rewards.
Those whose interest in classic silent cinema was piqued by this year’s Best Picture nominees Hugo and The Artist have a couple of greats coming up this weekend at the AFI. The Alloy Orchestra is in town, an ensemble that provides live musical accompaniment for silent films, and after providing the soundtrack for the newer, longer cut of Fritz Lang’s masterpiece Metropolis on Friday night (as part of the AFI’s ongoing “Things to Come” series), they’ll be back on Saturday for The Black Pirate. Fans of the suave, mustachioed character played by Jean Dujardin in The Artist will enjoy this look back at one of the real-life figures he was modeled on, Douglas Fairbanks. If you’ve ever seen that oft-referenced clip of Fairbanks using a knife to slow down his descent on a ship’s sail, this is the film it originally comes from, and has plenty of classic swashbuckling action to go along with it, as well as being one of the very first films shot with any kind of color.
Last chances to catch up on Oscar nominees are all over town this week with the big night coming up this Sunday. As they do every year, the National Archives offers screenings of all the nominees in each of the three short film categories, along with all of the nominated documentary features. The documentary features are spread out between now and right before the ceremony, while all of the live action and animated shorts are on Saturday and the documentary shorts screen Sunday morning. Those documentary shorts will be vital for all the Oscar completists out there: While West End Cinema has been screening them for a few weeks now, they’ve been unable to screen one of the nominees, God Is the Bigger Elvis, making Sunday the one and only opportunity for most local audiences to catch that title.
The series started last night, and continues through Sunday afternoon at the National Archives. Check the website for the complete schedule. All screenings are free, with seating available on a first come, first served basis. Arrive early! These screenings very often have more people lined up to get in than they have seats.
Blu-ray/DVD Pick of the Week: World on a Wire
Tireless German director Rainer Werner Fassbinder almost worked himself to death directing 40 feature films in 17 years, most of which he also wrote, as well as a number of stage plays and television shows. It might have technically been a mix of sleeping pills and cocaine that killed him in 1982, but the breakneck pace of his work was surely a contributing factor. In 1973 he was working primarily in German television, but his small-screen work often was just as cinematic as his movies; the TV shows just had longer stories to tell. One of those stories was World on a Wire, a two-part miniseries adaptation of Daniel Galouye’s pulp-science-fiction novel Simulacron-3. The science fiction setting was unusual for Fassbinder, though he kept things grounded in a futuristic but recognizable world that didn’t require elaborate effects to attain. The film explores the notion of artificial realities long before anything like that would be possible, as well as artificial intelligences and how they might integrate into human society. Lost to audiences for many years, the film was recently restored for a theatrical run in select cities, and now for this brand new Criterion release.
Special Features: A 50-minutes making-of documentary, a half hour interview with German film scholar Gerd Gemünden, a trailer for the recent theatrical release, and a booklet with an essay from critic Ed Halter.