Movie Tickets: "Dark Shadows," "God Bless America," "La Haine"

Our picks for the best in film over the next seven days.
Joel Murray and Tara Lynne Barr in God Bless America. Photograph courtesy of Dark Entertainment.
Joel Murray and Tara Lynne Barr in God Bless America. Photograph courtesy of Dark Entertainment.


God Bless America

Bobcat Goldthwait returns with another of his
biting black comedies, this one a takedown of everything he finds
execrable in modern American
culture (specifically reality television, celebrity worship,
cable news blowhards, and political correctness). The film centers
on Frank (Joel Murray, shining in his first starring
role), a put-upon office worker who finds himself out of a job after a
kind gesture toward
a coworker lands him with a sexual harassment claim. When he
discovers that on top of that, he’s also got a brain tumor, he
decides to go out in a blaze of glory, taking with him every
representative of the worst of popular culture he can get in
his gunsights. He meets up with a teenage girl sympathetic to
his rampage, and the two go on an all-out cross-country killing
spree.

What starts as revenge-fantasy wish fulfillment takes
an even darker turn as Goldthwait has his characters push things too
far. In the process, he points the finger squarely back at the
audience, suggesting that the same sense of satisfaction we
get from Frank taking “justice” into his own hands is part of
the strange fascination we all have with the ugly sensationalism
Frank is attempting to exact justice on. The film can sometimes
come off as angry polemic, but Goldthwait’s willingness to
point the finger back not just at us, but at himself (Frank
feels very much like a stand-in for the director) makes the film
a fascinating analysis of our own worst natures and a wakeup
call for a culture in decline.

View the trailer. Opens tomorrow at West End Cinema.


Headhunters

Attention,
Game of Thrones fans: Not getting enough of the
charming-but-incestual Prince Charming, Jaime Lannister? You may want to
check out this Norwegian
crime thriller, in which that series’
Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, a Danish actor, plays a former mercenary who becomes the target of an overachieving headhunter and art thief, played by

Aksel Hennie. (Hennie is the star, though US
trailers for the film have highlighted Coster-Waldau’s involvement to
capitalize on his draw
among HBO watchers.) The film was a huge hit in Norway,
garnering the second-biggest box office debut in that country’s history,
and the inevitable English-language remake is already in the
works.

View the
trailer.
Opens tomorrow at E
Street
Cinema
.



Dark Shadows

Tim Burton and
Johnny Depp team up yet again, for yet another remake of a (semi-) familiar property–in this case the strange 1960s vampire soap opera

Dark Shadows. On the surface, this seems like just the sort of story that could break the nearly unbroken string of diminishing returns
in Burton/Depp pairings. Just like
Sweeney Todd–the only really good Burton live-action
film of the past decade or so–it’s a dark story laced with quirky black
humor,
about an 18th-century gentleman cursed into vampirism by a
spurned lover who happens to be a witch, who locks him in a metal
coffin and buries him for what is meant to be an eternity. Only
he’s unearthed some 200 years later and must learn to live
in the 1970s with the decidedly weird remnants of his
once-powerful family.

For the first half of the film, Burton plays up the
campy humor and references the high melodrama of the original series,
even shooting some scenes with setups that recall daytime soap
conventions. The film looks absolutely gorgeous, and Depp doesn’t
overplay Barnabas Collins as has become his habit in recent
Burton films and in the
Pirates of the Caribbean series. Unfortunately, Burton abandons that approach for an effects-heavy, action-packed second half that’s neither funny
nor thrilling, and mostly just boring. In this context, bizarre touches such as stunt-casting
Alice Cooper as his late-twentysomething self just seem like acts of desperation in a film that held a great deal of promise.

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

Horses in Cinema

America’s longtime fascination and love for the
stately beasts of burden that helped build this country–plowing our
fields,
pulling our wagons, transporting us until we developed
mechanical means of conveyance–has long been reflected in the movies.
We’re just over a week away from the biggest local event for
thundering hooves, the Preakness, and to celebrate the running
of that race, the AFI has put together an eight-film collection
of movies. It gets started Saturday afternoon with a free
screening of a film with a semi-local focus, 1961’s
Misty, based on Marguerite Henry’s classic children’s
book about the annual gathering and auctioning of the wild ponies that
roam
Chincoteague Island. A pair of kids fall for one of these
horses and her young foal, Misty, and have to find a way to raise
the money to buy them at the auction. Saturday also features
screenings of
National Velvet, featuring a 12-year-old Liz Taylor, and the more recent 2010 film about racing’s most famous horse,
Secretariat (with an appearance at that screening from Secretariat’s jockey,
Ron Turcotte).

View the trailer for National Velvet. Saturday through Thursday at the
AFI. Check the
website
for complete listings.


Where Soldiers Come From

The Arts, Military + Healing
Initiative
, an effort to
help veterans deal with
the aftermath of the experience of war through artistic
expression, begins a weeklong public workshop here in DC this weekend
called “Transforming War and Trauma Experience through the
Arts.” The Corcoran is participating in a number of events and
workshops for the initiative, including this screening of
writer/director
Heather Courtney‘s 2011 documentary about a
group of childhood friends who join the National Guard after high
school. Courtney spends four
years documenting the group, from enlistment through a
deployment to Afghanistan, demonstrating the long-term effects of war
on the psyches of these young men. Critics have praised
Courtney’s approach for its depoliticized approach to the human story
of the men, and the important work done by the film in
reminding us that once soldiers have completed their service to this
country, it’s time for us to step up and assist them in dealing
with the after-effects of that service.

View the
trailer.
Next Thursday, May
17, at the Corcoran. Free;
pre-registration

required.

Blu-ray Pick of the Week:

La Haine

French actor-director
Mathieu Kassovitz burst onto the world stage in 1995, when he was just 28, on the strength of his second feature as director, the trenchant
analysis of race and class relations in France,
La Haine (English translation: “Hate”). Shot in stark
black and white, the film follows three young men from the suburban
Paris housing
projects on a day following rioting in their neighborhood,
after a friend of theirs was been beaten by the police. Kassovitz
creates a multicultural trio that represent various populations
of the French projects, with one young man of African descent,
another who is Maghrebin, and a third (played by
Vincent Cassel, in one of the most unforgettable film performances of the 1990s) who is Jewish.

Kassovitz sets these three loose all over Paris,
resulting in a portrait of a city and a nation hopelessly divided along
racial
and class lines, with a culture of violence always near the
boiling point thanks to a feeling of being trapped among those
in the neighborhoods and antagonistic government and police
policies. This is a film that wears its influences–from Martin
Scorsese to Spike Lee–proudly, yet feels wholly the work of its
author. Despite being inspired very much by the tensions present
at the time it was made, the film hasn’t lost a bit of its
impact more than 15 years later.

This film has been available on DVD via Criterion for some time, but this week sees the film’s US debut on Blu-ray.

Special Features: English-language commentary from Kassovitz; an introduction from
Jodie Foster (who was heavily involved in
getting the film US distribution); a documentary made ten years after
the film’s release; a
featurette on the real-life setting of the film, including
interviews with sociologists; behind-the-scenes production footage;
and deleted/extended scenes.

View the trailer.

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