Director Clio Barnard's portrayal of the late playwright Andrea Dunbar received rave reviews at the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival.
A playwriting prodigy who had her first play premiered at London’s Royal Court Theatre when she was still in her teens, Andrea Dunbar’s life quickly became tragic. She spent the next 10 years descending into alcoholism, having three children by three different, often abusive fathers, and eventually dying at 29—appropriately, in a bar. Her own eldest daughter, Lorraine, would end up a heroin addict who neglected her own child to the point of death.
Filmmaker Clio Barnard offers up this film about Dunbar’s life, but doesn’t make this anything like a normal documentary, experimenting with the lines between documentary and narrative filmmaking. Barnard started with recorded interviews with Dunbar’s family and friends, but instead of going the talking-head documentary route, she enlists actors to play the part of these people. Yet she retains the recordings, having the actors lip-sync to the recorded interviews, including a large part for Lorraine, who’s life mirrors her mother’s in disturbing ways. The effect, both the distance of theatricality and the immediacy of truth, has garnered the film some of the best reviews for a documentary this year.
View the trailer. Opens on Friday at West End Cinema.
The setup for this French crime thriller is hugely simple. The pregnant wife of a nurse’s aide in a Paris hospital is kidnapped, and the ransom calls for him to smuggle out a patient who was involved in a crime, or his wife and unborn daughter will die. Director Fred Cavayé gets things moving in a hurry, and barely stops to take a breath for the film’s taut 84 minutes. There are multiple moving parts here, double-crosses, hidden allegiences, and things that might add confusing complexity if Cavayé wasn’t so effective at keeping things driving forward. This is practically one long, breathless chase, with a long, breathless literal chase through the subway tunnels of Paris as its action centerpiece. This is smart, thrilling, and as good as action movies get. That means you can probably expect a substandard US remake to hit theaters about a year from now. Get out and catch the original while you can.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes
After Tim Burton’s ill-advised 2001 remake of the 1968 Charlton Heston-starring “damned dirty ape” classic, one might be inclined to watch the trailer for this prequel, starring the suddenly ubiquitous James Franco, and wonder why we can’t just let sleeping chimpanzees lie. The new film reboots the series with a new origin story for a world ruled by primates, this one centering on a treatment—developed by Franco’s character, Will Rodman—for Alzheimer’s Disease that is being tested on chimpanzees. The “cure” is more effective than expected, though: It doesn’t just treat brain functions that aren’t working properly, but improves them to a staggering degree. The chimps soon become just as smart as people, in combination with their existing advantages in physical strength. The trailers look like they could go either way, for a trashy B-movie good time, or just plain trashy action, but the first spate of advance reviews out of this writing seem to indicate that this may not just be a good time, but perhaps even more thoughtful than it appears. Could the last month of the summer action movie season be starting on a high note?
View the trailer. Opens Friday at theaters all over the area.
The Secret of Kells
A surprise-entry underdog in the Best Animated Feature Oscar race in 2010, The Secret of Kells was hugely deserving of the honor. Kells takes place in a ninth century Irish abbey, as the monks there attempt to fortify the walls against the coming Viking scourge that threatens to eradicate them completely. They’re led by Abbot Cellach, a severe man with no time for fooling around, who thinks that his nephew Brendan’s interest in art—and in helping an elderly Abbot complete the illuminated religious text of The Book of Kells—is a waste of time and energy in dire and dangerous times. In order to help with the book, Brendan must journey into a forbidden forest to gather berries used for the ink, and along the way meets a fairie who doesn’t usually take kindly to intruders.
The film is well written and successfully combines elements of history with fantasy, but the real marvel here is the animation. Co-directors Tomm Moore and Nora Twomey and their team create a highly stylized world that incorporates traditional Irish imagery and ornamentation in inventive ways, while taking advantage of the medium by never being slaves to the notion of recreating any kind of realistic vision. Characters take on exaggerated and impressionistic shapes that are reflections of who they are rather than depictions of a recognizable world. A few digital flourishes are thrown in here and there, but for the most part, everything is hand drawn, and Kells proves, both in its story and in the way that it’s told, how much magic there is in the simplicity of pen and ink.
View the trailer. Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Renaissance Washington, DC Dupont Circle Hotel, presented by Solas Nua’s ongoing occasional film series, Irish Popcorn. Free admission and free popcorn.
Artist, writer, and filmmaker Miranda July’s sophomore feature has a talking animal, a heightened sense of whimsy, and a melancholy romanticism. Those are all aspects that it shares with July’s husband Mike Mills’s feature from earlier this year, Beginners, and may be a sign that the pair are launching a double-barreled assault of preciousness on moviegoers. That’s the cynical read anyway, for the camp that tends to be dismissive of July’s brand of off-kilter twee, which has been divisive both in her short fiction and her previous filmmaking. But if it’s a taste you’ve acquired, there are few better at delivering it than the perpetually sad-eyed, deadpan July.
The Future, adapted from a staged performance piece by July, stars her and Hamish Linklater as a 30-something couple on the verge of adopting a stray cat (who narrates the film). It’s a very adult-feeling decision that reveals to them their reticence up until now to commit to anything substantive in their lives. The cat is injured, so they must wait thirty days to pick him up, and in that month, they turn their lives upside down, as the film follows them on quirky flights of fancy into magical realism and surreal territory.
View the trailer. Opens Friday at E Street and Shirlington.
The Age of Stupid
This week the Goethe-Institut kicks off a new series of films—the Climate.Culture.Change film series—focusing on the social impact of climate change and how it affects how we live our lives. Each program, starting this Monday and continuing once a week for the rest of the month, features a collection of short films preceding a feature, most with introductions from officials at the environmental stainability think tank, the Worldwatch Institute, that is co-sponsoring the series. This week’s program features three German shorts ranging from an animated film to a mockumentary, all preceding the British film The Age of Stupid, which stars Pete Postlethwaite as archivist in a dystopian future, researching the year 2008 to look at all the ways that humanity failed to prevent the disaster that is his world.
View the trailer. The first program of the Climate.Culture.Change film series is this Monday at 6:30 p.m. at the Goethe-Institut, with additional programs each of the following three Mondays. $7 ($4 for Goethe-Institut members).
Blu-ray Pick of the Week: Better Off Dead
“I want my two dollars!” was the rallying cry of the paperboy in Better Off Dead, a 1985 John Cusack-starring, semi-surrealist comedy that might not be as well-known as some of Cusack’s other mid-’80s work, but retained a sizeable cult following. That’s due in large part to oddball touches like that bike-riding paperboy, who chases down Cusack’s Lane Meyer for payment of the newspaper money, whether Lane is on the street or skiing down a mountain. There’s a lot of black humor as well, as the title refers to Lane’s fervent desire to shuffle off this mortal coil after being dumped by his girlfriend. The only problem is that he’s so disaffected that his suicide attempts are invariably poorly executed, and end hilariously. Part ’80s high school flick, part sports underdog movie, but too resolutely and beautifully weird to fit very well into any box, this week’s Blu-ray release is a welcome one. Though with no extra features to speak of, it looks like we’ll have to wait for a 30th anniversary special edition to get some behind-the-scenes information.
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