Movie Tickets: “The Watch,” “The Queen of Versailles,” “Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry”

Our picks for the best in film over the next seven days.
Richard Ayoade, Vince Vaughn, Ben Stiller, and Jonah Hill in The Watch. Image courtesy of 20th Century Fox.
Richard Ayoade, Vince Vaughn, Ben Stiller, and Jonah Hill in The Watch. Image courtesy of 20th Century Fox.

The Watch

The reviews out for
The Watch, the latest film written by the
Superbad/Pineapple Express team of
Seth Rogen and
Evan Goldberg, have so far been pretty dismal. I wasn’t able to catch the local press screening,
but even just watching the trailers, it feels apparent that some of the freewheeling
charm of those films seems to be missing from this story of a bunch of dads who start
a neighborhood watch program only to get more than they bargained for when they uncover
an alien plot for world takeover. But even as much as this looks like it’ll be disappointing,
I’m likely to see it, and the reason for that has nothing to do with the three familiar
faces on the poster (Ben Stiller,
Vince Vaughn, and
Jonah Hill). It’s that fourth guy,
Richard Ayoade, likely unfamiliar to most US eyes, whom I’m counting on to make this a salvageable
experience.

Whatever failings the movie might have, I can’t help but feel a little goodwill towards
it for potentially raising the profile of Ayoade, a British comic actor/writer/director
well known in the UK for
The IT Crowd and
The Mighty Boosh, and who wrote and directed his debut feature,
Submarine, last year. Ayoade is an actor with an extreme gift for deadpan and generating laughs
while displaying the least possible amount of emotional affect, which is why his casting
is particularly interesting here, given that
Chris Tucker—pretty much Ayoade’s stylistic opposite—was originally considered for the role. So
if you do catch
The Watch this weekend, notice the new face in the foursome and let this be your gateway drug
to seek out more of Ayoade’s work.

View the trailer. Opens tomorrow at a
number of area theaters.


The Unbearable Lightness of Being

These days, if you’re headed to the theater to see a
film that’s nearly three hours
long, it probably features super-powered heroes in capes. But
in 1988, the notion
of the sprawling romantic epic (which I’ve
argued

was essentially killed off by
Titanic) was still alive and well, and that year director
Philip Kaufman tackled
Milan Kundera’s complex existential novel about Czech society in and around the Prague Spring of
1968.
Daniel Day-Lewis stars as a doctor in Prague with two lovers, played by
Juliette Binoche and
Lena Olin, both of whom have other sexual affairs of their own. All of these personal dramas
are set against the political upheaval of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia and
the difficulties faced by the country’s intellectual and artistic classes in the face
of oppression. This Sunday’s screening at the National Gallery will be preceded by
a discussion with Columbia University professor
Annette Insdorf, who recently wrote a
book

on Kaufman’s work; a signing will precede the discussion and
screening.

View the trailer. Sunday at 4:30 PM at
the National Gallery of Art, with the book signing
at 3:45 PM.


The Queen of Versailles

Pity the poor Siegel family. They wanted nothing more than to build a new home for
themselves, a humble roof to shelter their heads, but that house was left unfinished
after the 2008 financial crisis, leaving them to see . . . well, to see how the other
99.99 percent live.
David Siegel is the founder of Westgate Resorts, the largest timeshare company in the world, and

Lauren Greenfield’s documentary watches as the billionaire and his much youger wife, Jackie, seek to
build what would have become the largest single-family home in the world at 90,000
square feet. Just to give you a sense of scope, the house would have had a full-size
baseball field inside it. But things start to unravel for Siegel and his company,
as his business was built on cheap mortgages and subprime lending; the ship everyone
else is sinking in is one he helped build. Greenfield’s documentary tries to observe
as objectively as possible though, neither mocking nor particularly sympathizing the
couple as things go south for them.

View the
trailer.
Opens tomorrow at
Shirlington

and Bethesda
Row
.


Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry

This documentary focuses on Chinese artist and political activist
Ai Weiwei, who, after serving as artistic consultant for Beijing’s Olympic stadium for the
2008 Games, became a little less popular with the Chinese government due to his outspoken
opinions and international fame. Director
Alison Klayman follows Ai starting in 2009, capturing the wildly charismatic figure over the course
of a couple of years, as he goes from visting the site of the 2008 Sichuan earthquakes
(and making unpopular statements about the government’s complicity in the deaths there
due to shoddy building practices) to international art openings to eventually finally
angering authorities enough that they arrest and hold him for nearly three months.
When the film premiered in the Washington area last month during the Silverdocs festival,

Washingtonian’s Sophie Gilbert called
it

an “insightful, weighty look at one of the most fascinating
figures in contemporary
art.”

View the trailer. Opens tomorrow at Landmark
E Street
.


Night of the Living Dead: Reanimated

A few years ago, director
Mike Schneider gathered a crew of animators from all over the world to pay tribute to and reimagine
one of the most celebrated horror films of the century:
George Romero’s zombie classic,
Night of the Living Dead. The concept was simple: Take the original film’s soundtrack and replace Romero’s
images with animation of various styles. The result is a grab bag of animation that
includes hand-drawn and CGI, puppetry and stop-motion, making a familiar and well-loved
film into something entirely new and different.

View the trailer. Monday at 8 PM at McFadden’s.
Washington Psychotronic Film Society screenings are free, but a
$5 donation is suggested.

Blu-ray/DVD Pick of the Week:

Silent House

This remake of a little Uruguayan art-house horror
film by the same name is built
around what could have been a tired gimmick: it’s made to look
like it takes place
in real time, in a single camera shot. Audiences hated it when
it was released back
in the spring, and critics were pretty mixed on it, too. And
while I thought it was
inferior to the original, largely due to a typical American
horror ending that feels
the need to explain way too much, I still found plenty to
recommend in it. First and
foremost among those things is how the technique itself
heightens the tension and
fear in very different way from how a normal horror film would;
I talk at more length
about what the single-shot adds to the film in my piece on it
over at the
Atlantic.

The other reason to see this film is
Elizabeth Olsen, who made a huge splash at Sundance last year with the double shot of this film and
the much more well-received
Martha Marcy May Marlene. MMMM is unquestionably the far better film, but even in what could have been a generic
scream queen role of a girl trapped in a remote house and being stalked by unknown
entitities, Olsen brings a believable intensity that sells the movie even when the
plot starts falling apart around her. Don’t expect greatness from this film, but watch
it late at night in the dark and see if it doesn’t give you some genuine chills.

Special Features: A commentary track with directors
Chris Kentis and
Laura Lau.

View the trailer.

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