Austrian director Stefan Ruzowitzky, best known for his 2007 Academy Award-winner The Counterfeiters and his two-part Anatomy horror series, returns to English-language filmmaking for the first time in more than a decade with this taut, snowbound thriller. Eric Bana and Olivia Wilde star as a brother and sister attempting to make their getaway after a heist only to have their car flip over on the icy roads, leaving them to try to complete the journey on foot. They split up, and she finds a mark she can con into leading them to shelter near the border, but he and his parents (played by Sissy Spacek and Kris Kristofferson) are having their own issues, leading to a Thanksgiving dinner showdown that should make any arguments at our own holiday meals seem tame in comparison. Not everything here works, but Ruzowitzky shows a real gift for using the snowy backdrop to the best advantage of the story. Bana, finally freed from the bland good-guy leads he’s been taking too many of in recent years, gives his best performance in recent memory as a crook who is charismatic, cruel, and deeply religious.
View the trailer. Opens Friday at E Street Cinema.
AFI Holiday Classics Series
If you’re looking for a little traditional (or nontraditional) holiday cheer (or angst) at the movies as the end of the year approaches, the AFI offers up its usual array of holiday classics and slightly left-field picks. That gives you opportunities for big-screen viewings of the usual suspects like A Christmas Carol (Muppet and non-Muppet versions), It’s a Wonderful Life, A Christmas Story, and Miracle on 34th Street, but also films that take place around the holidays that we don’t necessarily immediately associate with the season. Those include films one of Billy Wilder’s most enduring masterpieces, The Apartment, and the debut of Whit Stillman’s anxious wit in 1990’s Metropolitan. That last movie, along with Miracle on 34th Street, will be featured this weekend, alongside Remember the Night, Preston Sturges’s last film as just a writer before he started directing that same year. Barbara Stanwyck stars as a shoplifter who gets nicked during the holiday season, is given leave to visit her family for the holiday, and ends up falling for the assistant district attorney, played by Fred MacMurray, who offers to drive her to her family’s place.
View the trailer for Remember the Night. Now playing at the AFI. Check the schedule for complete listings.
Waiting for Lightning
Skateboarder Danny Way has been a fixture in the sport from a very young age, winning
his first competitive event in the mid-’80s at the age of 11. Jacob Rosenberg’s documentary
about Way is part profile, part document of a single stunt as an example of the daredevil
spirit that has driven him for his entire career. The stunt is simple in concept,
gargantuan in scope: Way wants to jump over the Great Wall of China, and builds a
massive ramp with the blessing of the Chinese government. Rosenberg follows the usual
format for this kind of documentary, interspersing scenes of the preparation for the
big event with archival footage of Way’s earlier career and talking head interviews
with the big names of the sport to talk about his history.
View the trailer. Opens Friday at West
Focus! On Video Art and Short Film
L’Alliance Française presents two programs of video art and experimental shorts on Friday and Saturday evening at Malmaison in Georgetown. Each program is made up of films by artists from Quebec, with Friday’s selections centering on the theme of borders (interpreted a number of different ways by various artists), and Saturday’s program on landscapes, especially as expressions of mood and emotion. The each short will be followed by a brief discussion/Q&A with Philippe Gajan, director of the “Lab” selection of the Festival du Nouveau Cinéma in Montreal, which I’m moderating.
Watch Li Alin and Cécile Martin’s Expose, one of the shorts screening on Friday night’s program.
Friday and Saturday at 6:30 PM at Malmaison.
Nudes! Guns! Ghosts! The Sensational Cinema of Shintoho
Toho is probably the best known Japanese movie studio in the West, the company responsible for releasing everything from Godzilla and associated monster movies to many of the films of Akira Kurasawa. In the mid-1940s, they financed a smaller outfit called Shintoho, which struck out on its own after some initial financial success. It would only survive into the early ’60s, but became notorious for low-budget exploitation films, many of which would gain cult followings. The Freer opens up a retrospective on the studio this weekend, starting with a Sunday triple feature of Ghost Story of Yotsuya (a revenge tale about the wronged wife of a samurai), Ghost Cat of Otama Pond (vengeance again, this time with the titular ghost cat), and Vampire Bride (a dance student is pushed off a cliff by her rivals, comes back a monster, and—you guessed it—seeks revenge).
View a clip from Ghost Stories at Yotsuya. Starting this Sunday at the Freer, continuing through
December 21. Check the complete
schedule for titles and
Blu-ray/DVD Pick of the Week: Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry
This week’s big Blu-ray release is Christopher Nolan’s trilogy-ending blockbuster The Dark Knight Rises. But that doesn’t really need any more promotion, so I’ll point out that Alison Klayman’s acclaimed documentary, which played at Silverdocs earlier this year, is out this week. The film, which documents the recent career of the charismatic and engaging artist, including international openings and arrest in his home country of China, was one of 15 movies that just made the short list for the Best Documentary Award at this year’s Academy Awards.
Special Features: An interview with director Alison Klayman.
View the trailer.