After last week’s wealth of great new wide releases, this week offers up only the Tyler Perry-starring action thriller Alex Cross and the fourth Paranormal Activity film. The Rotten Tomatoes scores of those two combined doesn’t even reach 50 percent, so it’s probably a good week to look to smaller releases.
Of those, one should definitely hold some appeal for those out there lamenting the long, Aaron Paul-less months between the two halves of the final season of Breaking Bad. Paul co-stars in Smashed, a drama with comedic touches from director James Ponsoldt about an alcoholic couple in a booze-fueled tailspin that only one of them wants to pull out of. The one trying to get sober here—and the main focus of the movie—is Kate, played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead in a performance that’s widely being hailed as the most honest and affecting she’s given. Husband-and-wife sitcom stars Megan Mullaly and Nick Offerman also turn up in supporting roles, she as the principal of the school where Kate teaches (and where, in her lower moments, she’s also drunk while with the kids), and he as a colleague who gets her to go to AA. But the film focuses on the friction that occurs in the marriage of Winstead and Paul’s characters, when one partner decides to go dry while the other is still gleefully getting blitzed every night.
Given that weak slate of new wide releases, now’s also a good time of year to catch up on old horror flicks, and as it does every year, the AFI has a great selection of scary movies running from now until Halloween. That includes the standard annual presentation of Nosferatu with live musical accompaniment, as well as Shaun of the Dead, which has become a regular at this time of year, as well. There are also well-known titles such as Carrie and the trashy Tarantino/Rodriguez double feature Grindhouse, which also coincides with Silver Spring’s annual Zombie Night on Saturday the 27th. But there are also some lesser-seen titles: the Bob Hope comedy-with-scares of The Ghost Breakers, and Sam Neill and Isabelle Adjani (who won Best Actress at Cannes for her performance) in the full cut of Andrzej Zulawski’s notorious 1981 Possession. Leading things off last night and continuing with screenings throughout the festival in a brand new 35-millimeter print is Wake in Fright, an Australian classic from 1971 about a British teacher terrorized by the locals in a small outback town.
This weekend the National Building Museum hosts a unique event that allows you to see not only the work of amateur filmmakers from around the area, but also, potentially, your own. Started in 2002, Home Movie Day occurs around the world and offers the chance for people with home movies to bring their films—which they may lack the ability to play at home these days—to a public event to see them screened. So if you have 8-millimeter, Super 8, or 16-millimeter films at home, you can bring them out, and they’ll thread them through the projectors and let you see them on the big screen. Or just show up to see what everyone has brought. The event’s website also offers advice on how you can get those films transferred to digital formats, and how to preserve them so that they aren’t lost to time.
Saturday from 11 AM to 2 PM at the National Building Museum.
Composer Dmitri Shostakovich was a giant of Russian classical music in the 20th century, and his compositions weren’t limited to the concert hall. His rise coincided with the state-sponsored interest in cinema in the Soviet Union, and he did a great deal of work in the movies, as well. The National Gallery will be screening a number of films that he provided scores for over the next three weekends. This weekend gets underway with two classic Soviet takes on Shakespeare, both by Grigori Kozintsev: his 1971 King Lear, adapted from his own pre-WWII stage adaptation of the play, and his 1964 adaptation of Hamlet, which takes an unusually visual approach that excises even some of the most famous dialogue, and which Laurence Olivier declared his favorite adaptation—despite his own 1948 version often having been cited as the definitive one.
At last, an in-depth look at an artist most people are familiar with, even if they don’t know his name: Wayne White. White’s work first came to a mass audience in the ’80s on Pee-wee’s Playhouse and Shining Time Station, among others, as well as in music videos from Peter Gabriel’s seminal “Big Time” to the Méliès homage in the set design of the Smashing Pumpkins’ “Tonight, Tonight.” Director Neil Berkeley chronicles the life of this artist in a film that’s managed to gain wide acclaim by rising above biographical documentary convention. Berkeley includes a great deal of White’s work interspersed with the interview segments, uses White as his own narrator, and incorporates parts of a one-man biographical show that is White’s latest project. That gives the film a highly personal perspective, and the interviews allow for engaging discussions on the nature of art, particularly for an artist who straddles the line between commercial, pop culture work for hire, and more traditional notions of what an artist is.
One of the AFI’s best annual series is this collection of film noir, programmed and presented in collaboration with the Film Noir Foundation. It includes a great mix of standard titles everyone’s already seen alongside lesser-known films from the genre’s heyday, sometimes titles that aren’t available for home viewing. This year includes classics such as John Huston’s Key Largo, Orson Welles’s The Lady from Shanghai, and Jules Dassin’s The Naked City, all from 1948. There are also two other features from Dassin: the 1947 prison drama Brute Force starring Burt Lancaster, and 1949’s Thieves’ Highway, also with Lancaster and Lee J. Cobb. There’s also an 85th anniversary presentation of Josef von Sternberg’s 1927 silent film, Underworld, with live musical accompaniment from the Ally Orchestra. Things get underway on Saturday with Richard Brooks’s 1952 journalism drama, Deadline—U.S.A., which stars Humphrey Bogart as the editor of a New York newspaper that’s about to go under (timely, no?) and his efforts to take down a criminal in the paper’s final issue.
Two coming-of-age stories are out on DVD this week, and together they’d make a fantastic double feature probably just bordering on the edge of too much quirk and twee—but always staying on the good side of that divide. One is Wes Anderson’s popular hit from this summer, Moonrise Kingdom, about two kids on a New England island community in the 1960s who run off together, prompting a manhunt from their oddball collection of parents, scout leader, and local cop. Turn Me On, Dammit!, meanwhile, is a Norwegian film about a teen girl just coming into her own sexually, prone to inopportune masturbation and wild flights of fancy, in a film that takes a sweet, frank at the awkwardness of discovering one’s body.
Special features: Moonrise includes two making-of featurettes, and Turn Me On has some deleted scenes and interviews with the director, editor, and cinematographer.