Movie Tickets: "Margaret," "The Pirates," and "Two Years at Sea"

Our picks for the best in film over the next seven days.
Hugh Grant as the Pirate Captain in The Pirates!, opening Friday. Photograph by Aardman Animations for Sony Pictures Animation.
Hugh Grant as the Pirate Captain in The Pirates!, opening Friday. Photograph by Aardman Animations for Sony Pictures Animation.


Margaret

Playwright and screenwriter
Kenneth Lonergan‘s 2000 directorial debut,
You Can Count on Me, was an indie hit, receiving a number of awards and generating the kind of buzz that heightens expectations for a follow-up.
In 2005, he set cameras rolling on that sophomore effort,
Margaret, which stars Anna Paquin as a Manhattan high
school student who accidentally causes the death of a pedestrian and
then engages
in futile attempts to somehow set things right. After shooting,
though, Lonergan set about the arduous process of editing
a sprawling and ambitious film that he saw as a massive
three-hour piece. The studio saw things differently, and it took six
years of arguments and legal wrangling for the film to finally
see the light of day, in the two-and-a-half-hour version that
opens this week at West End.

This shortened version (the full cut will have to wait
for DVD) was unceremoniously dumped by its distributor, Fox
Searchlight,
which screened it in only a handful of theaters with barely a
hint of promotion. But then a curious thing happened: While
the reviews from the handful of critics who were able to see it
were mixed–many cities, including DC, didn’t even get press
screenings last December when
Margaret was initially released–the critics who liked
it were bowled over by it, even as they admitted its faults. Nearly all
of those
reviews can be boiled down to: “It’s a mess. But it’s a mess
that you must see by any means necessary.” The most vocal of
these critics campaigned tirelessly to arrange more screenings
and even a slightly expanded release. It’s thanks to them that
the film’s theatrical run, while always extremely limited, has
extended for months beyond that initial dumping. This week
it finally makes its way to one DC theater; hopefully dedicated
film fans who have been waiting months and years to see the
film will turn out to support this kind of rare filmmaking
ambition.

View the trailer. Opens tomorrow at West End.


Monsieur Lazhar

Philippe Falardeau‘s film about an Algerian
substitute teacher who takes over an elementary school class after the
suicide of their beloved
teacher was one of the five nominees for Best Foreign Film at
last year’s Academy Awards. Nominees in that category are typically
heavy in theme, and to some extent this film is no exception.
But there’s a lighthearted inspiration infused throughout
Monsieur Lazhar that makes it also touching, but never
maudlin. The familiar notes of the educational drama are all here, as a
teacher with
a style somewhat foreign to his students and peers attempts to
win over his class and his fellow teachers. But the French
know how to mine this territory better than most–the wonderful
documentary
To Be and to Have, and Laurent Cantet’s excellent 2008 film
The Class immediately spring to mind–and
Lazhar is no exception. The result is largely a feel-good film that never feels compelled to blunt any of its rougher edges.

View the
trailer
. Opens tomorrow at E
Street, Bethesda
Row
,

and Cinema Arts.


The Pirates! Band of Misfits

Aardman Animations may not put out a lot of films–the company made a name largely on the strength of director
Nick Park‘s Academy Award-winning
Creature Comforts and
Wallace & Gromit animated shorts, and this is only
the fifth feature film it’s released in 12 years. But the consistent
quality and immediately
recognizable style of stop-motion style have made any new
Aardman film something to look forward to. For its latest, Aardman
cofounder
Peter Lord co-directs with
Jeff Newitt an adaptation of one of Gideon
Defoe’s comic novels about a band of misfit pirates who encounter
historical and literary
characters along their journeys. In this film, that’s Charles
Darwin (a caricatured version, best not confused with an accurate
historical representation), who meets the pirates when they try
to pillage his ship, and realizes that the pirates’ pet “parrot”
is actually a dodo bird, thought extinct for more than 150
years. That sets the group on a course for London and a science
convention where Darwin (David Tennant) hopes to wow the scientific community, and the Pirate Captain (Hugh Grant) hopes to score some loot and impress his peers enough to give him the Pirate of the Year award. Needless to say, things
don’t go quite as planned, but it’s just as fantastic a ride as one expects of Aardman.

View the
trailer
. Opens tomorrow at
theaters across the
area
.


Sound of My Voice

Writer, actor, and Georgetown grad
Brit Marling returns following last year’s Sundance darling
Another Earth with
Sound of My Voice, which she also cowrote, this time with director and fellow Georgetown grad
Zal Batmanglij. The film, which also premiered
at Sundance last year, is a psychological thriller that finds Marling
playing the leader
of a cult who claims she’s from nearly 50 years in the future.
Two documentary filmmakers infiltrate the group in the hopes
of debunking the whole situation, only to find things are not
quite what they seem.

View the
trailer
. Opens tomorrow at
Georgetown

and Bethesda
Row
.
Star Brit Marling will be at
Bethesda for the 7:25 PM screening tomorrow for a Q&A,
which I will be moderating.


Two Years at Sea

Documentary filmmaker
Ben Rivers made a short
film
about Jake Williams, a hermit
living a solitary life with his cat and
a handful of birds, released in 2006. He returned to Jake to
make this feature, an experimental, black-and-white documentary
that spends most of its time simply observing the man going
about his daily activities. There is a momentary nondocumentary
touch that takes this further from anything audiences are used
to, but it’s a singular experience that
New York Times critic found well worth the time when
she
wrote

about the film’s screening in the “Views from the Avant Garde”
section of last fall’s New York Film Festival.

Next Thursday, May 3, at 8 PM at the Hirshhorn.

DVD Pick of the Week:

The Innkeepers

There’s never a shortage of low-budget horror films
springing up in theaters and disappearing as quickly as they arrived,
taking in huge amounts of money their first weekend before
folks realize they were never much good to begin with. Director

Ti West makes small, low-budget horror films
with a twist: They eschew shock value and cheap scares in favor of
creepy atmosphere
and thoughtful, deliberate pacing. His films are the kind of
scary movies we should demand, rather than the ones we get and
often accept.

While filming his modern cult classic
House of the Devil a few years back, West and his crew
stayed in a Connecticut hotel called the Yankee Pedlar, which was
rumored to be haunted.
Running with that idea, West decided to make a decidedly
old-fashioned haunted house movie. In his film, it’s the last weekend
the Pedlar is open, and two disinterested clerks are riding out
the final days in the mostly empty hotel, passing the time
by trying to collect evidence of the place’s ghosts. Nothing
much happens for most of the film–just the two of them talking–but
it’s just that resistance to easy scares and commitment to
slowly building tension that makes West one of the best, most
underappreciated
talents working in horror today.

You can read my full take on the film, and my
interview with director Ti West, over at the
Atlantic.

Special Features: Two commentary tracks, both with West, one featuring actors, and the other with the producers and the sound
designer, plus a making-of featurette.

View the trailer.

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