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9 DEAD GAY GUYS Filled with wordplay, horseplay, and foreplay, this gleefully offensive film depicts the antics of Byron (Brendan Mackey) and his best mate Kenny (Glenn Mulhern), two lazy Irish lads in London. Unwilling to work a real job, but in need of money to subsidize their booze intake, Byron performs blowjobs on queers—namely Jeff (Steven Berkoff)—for money. Like Byron, Kenny, too, claims he is straight, but he soon gets into performing oral sex acts to buy “beverage breakfasts and liquid lunches.” However, when a man nicknamed “The Queen” (Michael Praed) dies from being electrocuted with a cattle prod, and his lover, an Orthodox Jew known as Golders Green (Simon Godley), is left bereft, Byron and Kenny take it upon themselves to solve the mystery of whodunnit. They are motivated by the large stash of cash that is rumored to be in Golders Green’s enormous bed. Lab Ky Mo is generally mocking—or, as the British would say. “taking the piss out of”—this situation by making the whole film a series out outrageous episodes that poke fun at sexual and ethnic stereotypes. Of course some gags are more shameful than others, and a few bits are just altogether unfunny. It all depends on one’s taste, and this film works best for viewers who do not have any. “9 Dead Gay Guys” introduces a group of supporting players including Donkey-Dick Dark, a well-endowed African man, Dick-Cheese Deepak, an Indian with a nasty foreskin condition, and the Desperate Dwarf, a three and a half foot tall gentleman whom no one will fuck because they are all size queens. These colorful characters are certainly politically incorrect, but the film prides itself on being an equal opportunity offender. Quad Cinema. (G. Kramer)

Mambo Italiano If you were a fan of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”—and, admit it, like just about everyone else, you probably were—you’re definitely in for a treat with “Mambo Italiano.” But even if you didn’t just love Nia Vardalos’ long-running, record-breaking, cliché-ridden yuck fest, with its two-dimensional characters and sitcom scenarios, there’s still a darn good chance you’ll be taken in by the irresistible charm and surprising emotional tug of what can best be described as “My Bigger Fatter Gay Italian Tony ‘n Tino’s Wedding.” Comparisons between “Mambo” and “Greek Wedding” are inevitable, and for good reason. Both are quirky-but-loving portraits of immigrant families and their often volatile idiosyncrasies. Both are bombastic and obvious, funny and earnest. But even though it isn’t likely that “Mambo Italiano” (or any other film, for that matter) will ever duplicate the unpreceden­ted––and unexpected––success of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” this effervescent French Canadian import, set a quarter century ago, is actually a distinctly better movie. Playing citywide. (M. Rucker)

Demonlover French director Olivier Assayas’ Demonlover resists criticism. Not because it’s a great film, but because its faults are inseparable from its strengths. At a Q & A after a screening at the Walter Reade last winter, actress Connie Nielsen said that she wanted to appear in the film because it contained everything that scares her. Assayas posits a global cultural zeitgeist based in murderous corporate machinations and a human libido warped by Internet pornography. Nielsen may be repulsed by these subjects, but Assayas seems simultaneously disgusted and fascinated by them. In the end, the fact of Demonlover offers a better critique of these new media than does its narrative. Unfortunately, coming to terms with the new media has reduced a very gifted filmmaker’s ideas, which he expresses brilliantly in interviews, to a trendy muddle. Lincoln Plaza Cinema. (S. Erickson)

THIRTEEN thirteen tells the story of Tracy, a good girl gone bad. A diligent student, she shares openly with her mother, Melanie (Holly Hunter), about her life. Tracy’s dad is MIA, so Melanie, a recovering alcoholic, makes ends meet by styling hair at home. Tracy tries to help—until she meets Evie, the hottest and coolest girl in school, who teaches Tracy about her wily ways. What makes this film distinctive, and alarmingly compelling, despite of the clichéd concept of adolescent trials and tribulations, is its raw vitality. Director Catherine Hardwicke uses the brutally honest fashion of a documentary, complete with oral sex, three-somes, lap dances, drug abuse and suicide attempts, to successfully avoid a sappy moralizing tone. Without a typical teen flick plot, Hardwicke strings together vignette-like scenes to follow Tracy as she makes decisions, usually for the worse. The performances of Ms. Wood and Ms. Reed are impeccable, perhaps since Ms. Reed co-wrote the screenplay based on her own life, and both girls were thirteen during the filming. Holly Hunter’s portrayal of Melanie is unwavering, consistently strong while tragically vulnerable. If thirteen does for adolescent girls what Larry Clark’s Kids (1995) did for urban teens, it will be a widely discussed film. Devoid of any neat conclusions, the film succeeds in lending yet more insight into the state of adolescence, particularly during its youngest year. Playing citywide. (M. Hellerer).

AND NOW LADIES AND GENTLEMEN A charming nonviolent jewel thief (Jeremy Irons) with a penchant for Bulgari baubles suffers blackouts and winds up in Morocco, where he meets a lovely Parisian chanteuse who also has a brain tumor.  It could be an update to Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief, but this classy, lovely-to-look-at film suffers from substandard story-telling and a protagonist who’s just too boring. The story often moves as slowly as the people we see trudging through the Atlas mountains. Why not just GO to Morocco? More costly than seeing a film set there, but more infinitely more interesting than sitting through this utterly uninteresting, unsuspense­ful—and sleepy—tale. Bring your own pillow. Playing at the AMC Empire 23. (S. J. Bookey)

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Autumn Spring Movies that have three older people as their focus too offer founder on the rocks of sentimentality or a moralistic retrospection. Given that tendency, it’s refreshing to see Autumn Spring, in which the underlying philosophy is “It’s going to be a wonderful day.” Autumn Spring brims with humanity and humanism. Director Vladimir Michalek generously shoots this wonderful older trio in close-ups. These characters––and indeed the actors themselves––lived through Nazi occupation and then Stalinism for decades. They have earned their lovely wrinkles and Michalek dwells on them with veneration. The film has won a variety of film festival awards as well as four Czech Lion awards back home (for best lead actor, best lead actress, best supporting actor, and best screenplay). The film finds power in a deceptively simple idea––that life is best experienced by those who want to live, rather than those who only plan on living. Playing at the Quad and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas. (S.Bookey).

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Bend it like Beckham This is one of the most charming, unabashedly exuberant British movies to hit these shores in quite some time. If you loved Billy Elliot, you won’t want to miss this giddy flick, which does for girls and soccer what the previous film did for boys and ballet. The only disappointing aspect is a poorly conceived love triangle between Jess (Parminder Nagra), Jules (Keira Paxton), and their coach (Jonathan Rhys Meyers). Early on, it looks as though the girls are going to become more than just teammates, which would have made for a more authentic development. Sadly, that setup is played merely for laughs. Nevertheless, the film remains a certified crowd-pleaser. Even if you don’t like sports, chances are, you’ll be cheering enthusiastically along with everyone else by the time the blooper-filled closing credits roll. At Cinema Village. (M. Rucker).

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Capturing the Friedmans Andrew Jarecki’s film is a chilling saga of a family torn apart by a series of terrible crimes – child pornography, sexual abuse, and pedophilia. It tells the story of the Friedmans, who, in 1988, came under fire for the crimes just listed, using remarkable home movies as well as a series of “talking head” segments that give a complete picture of their family dynamic. While the audience will draw their own assumptions about what may or may not have happened, it is to Jarecki’s credit that he is able to prompt viewers to respond objectively to the case. And although the film deals with difficult subject matter, there is a sense of humor on display. Playing at Village East. (G. Kramer).

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Dirty Pretty Things Director Stephen Frears seeks to expose, with this British romantic thriller, an immigrant group of struggling forgottens from beneath the surface of the bustling London streets. Okwe (Chiwetel Ejiofor), red-eyed from working double shifts as a cab driver by day and a hotel porter by night, and the virginal Muslim Senay (Audrey Tautou), Okwe’s Turkish roommate and fellow refugee, lead the hunt to uncover an underground organ trade. The pair find allies in Guo Yi (Benedict Wong), a hospital crematorium worker, and Juliette (Sophie Okonedo), a Pretty Woman-esque lovable prostitute, who, united by their poverty, alienation, and dreams of the good life, come together to form a kind of unusual family. The subtlety and coolness of their portrayals balance out the melodramatic plot and save the film from becoming overbearing. This film, though, is hugely disturbing and difficult to watch. Frears saves us from none of the gore of the kidney-removing surgeries, nor does he sugarcoat the treatment of women by their employers. Nonetheless, the audience relates easily to the familiar Hollywood romance, the recognizable characters, and a suspenseful, thrilling plot, and is, therefore, drawn in. But the film’s multicultural foundation, serious and challenging subject matter, and broad worldview render it rare. A mostly typical movie, then, becomes fiercely unique. Playing citywide. (M. Hellerer).

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The Holy Land This film melds the voguish high-concept Israeli-Palestinian film genre with a decidedly lower concept––the nice Jewish boy who is too preoccupied with sex to study the Talmud. Taking the advice of a Rabbi, the boy proceeds to have sex with a prostitute in Tel Aviv – where he makes new friends. In focusing on the mixed bag of friends he meets, the film suggests that people with widely divergent agendas can compartmentalize their ideologies to the extent that they can be both extremists and friendly acquaintances with someone from the enemy camp. The Holy Land makes a terrific anti-war/anti-terrorism statement in showing the almost schizophrenic nature of ideological hatred contrasted with amicable personal relations. The discontent in the end doesn’t really work––the actions of one of the characters have tragic consequences for another, without either realizing their link. At Village East. (S. Bookey).

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Le Divorce Based on the critically acclaimed 1997 Diane Johnson novel of the same name, Le Divorce is a witty examination of the seemingly insurmountable divide between French and American cultures. Like the French, it is smart, funny, and incredibly chic, but, at the same time, distinctly impersonal. A little harder tug at the heartstrings could have made for a more compelling movie, though it nevertheless succeeds on the strength source material and, more importantly, the irresistible allure of the City of Light. We experience the incredible city, with its mystifying system of manners and mores, through the bright and naïve American eyes of Isabel (Kate Hudson), an aimless but winsome young woman who, upon arrival in Paris to stay with her poetess sister Roxanne (Naomi Watts), fancies herself quite the young sophisticate. The central conflict in Le Divorce lies, as it does in so many matters of real-life matrimonial dissolution, in the division of property. With her perpetually twinkling eyes and blinding grin, Hudson is terrific as the fresh-faced and faux pas-prone Isabel. However, despite obvious efforts to establish an element of intrigue, the film fails to generate any real suspense as it twists and turns toward a conclusion. More than anything, it succeeds as a glorious travelogue of Paris. Director James Ivory may not be the best at packing an emotional punch, but he definitely knows how to give us the ooh-la-la. Playing at the Paris Theater. (M. Rucker).

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The Magdalene Sisters This film recounts the horrors borne by a group of “wayward girls” inside a 60s laundry run by the Magdalene order of nuns in Ireland. Peter Mullan takes on the Catholic Church’s fundamentally oppressive belief that woman is born of sin. The film is made up of a series of anecdotes about working life within the laundry. While Mullan’s attention to detail and verité camerawork authentically evokes the grimy and oppressive, conditions, the filmmaker forsakes any broader perspective with his nearly total preoccupation with the horrors inside the asylum. The script benefits enormously from the earnestness and talent of a young cast, but Mullan offers no direction to the actresses, beyond a jittery and plaintive desperation, in accounting for the distance between their lives in the laundry and the world outside. While the film’s younger actresses shine, the older members of the cast bobble. Thematic introspection is also lacking. But, in evaluating his overall results, many will conclude that the film’s full censure by the Vatican strongly suggests Mullan has turned in a job well done. Playing Citywide. (E. Gonzalez)

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Once Upon a Time in the Midlands A heartfelt romantic comedy conceived somewhat strangely as a sort of modern day, Anglo-Saxon Western, complete with mariachi score, the story concerns Jimmy (Carlyle), a good for nothing petty thief, who, figuratively speaking, rides into town after umpteen years hoping to reclaim his ex-wife, Shirley (Shirley Henderson) and estranged daughter Marlene (Finn Atkins), and gallop off with them into the sunset. One thing stands in his way, however––Dek (Rhys Ifans), Shirley’s doltish-but-devoted boyfriend. Out of this situation springs a considerable amount of supplemental hijinx, involving a middle-aged wannabe country singer, a trio of bumbling crooks, and a bingo-loving bar maid, among others. Director Shane Meadows, who co-wrote the script with Paul Fraser, has a knack for capturing the dreary tedium, and frequent absurdity, of working-class English life. Thankfully, he doesn’t force the Western theme, referencing it mainly through subtle musical cues during the occasional standoff between characters. Those characters are wonderfully portrayed by an assortment of British actors ranging from the acclaimed (Kathy Burke, frequent Absolutely Fabulous guest, as Jimmy’s take-no-bullshit sister, and Henderson, amazing as the conflicted Shirley) to the undiscovered (Atkins, terrific as Jimmy’s exasperated daughter). When it comes down to it, Once Upon a Time in the Midlands is an engaging charmer in its own right, with absolutely no comparisons to other British films required. Playing citywide. (M. Rucker).

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The Secret Lives of Dentists There’s no longer anything subversive about the notion that American suburbia is hell. For its first 40 minutes, The Secret Lives of Dentists promises something different––a nuanced, realistic look at that milieu. In particular, it addresses the way marriage can feel impossible, as its protagonist suggests, and yet continue to be rewarding. The film goes off the rails, unfortunately, when Leary is in the picture and he plays him in too one-dimensional a fashion to be convincing even as someone’s alter ego. The Secret Lives of Dentists is all the more frustrating because it does get a great deal right. The film not afraid to show the grating aspects of child rearing––such as an infant puking on one’s shirt––and family life. Altman’s influence on the carefully crafted sound design is obvious––at one point, it mixes Dana’s opera singing with David talking to the kids and serving Brussels sprouts. The three child performers are convincingly natural, and the film has a real feel for everyday life. It shies away from melodrama and back story (despite Dave’s flashbacks), taking us straight to the middle of a relationship that’s reached an impasse. Alas, monsters from the id and suburban family angst don’t make a successful mixture. Playing citywide. (S. Erickson).

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Suddenly (Tan de Repente) The protagonists are crop-haired, leather-jacketed bikers, two young women cruising around Buenos Aires, looking for… actually, nothing, but who knows what might come along? One of them calls herself Lenin, the other, prettier one, calls herself Mao. What happens to come along on the sidewalks of Buenos Aires is Marcia (Tatiana Saphir), a jowly, overweight, unhappy lingerie salesgirl, and when Mao walks up to her out of a clear gray sky and says, “Do you want to fuck?” the movie Suddenly has shifted into second gear. There was once (back in 1954) a very taut, tense little thriller called Suddenly, starring Frank Sinatra as a hired presidential assassin. This Suddenly, an Argentinean release, is not that picture, and, though certainly a road movie, it is not Thelma & Louise either, because the males here are not the enemy per se. As filmmaking goes, I would put it alongside the earliest work of, for example, John Cassavetes––which was 44 years ago. Yet that is considerable praise. And, like Cassavetes’ Shadows, it has another kiss of heaven; it’s in black and white––which makes its sustained studies of faces, particularly of Lenin’s gritty, endearing Aunt Blanca (Beatriz Thebaudin), whom we meet in the latter portion of the film, all the more telling. The young director Diego Lerman has indeed learned that much cinema. Is it worth the journey? Yes, I think so, just for what it asks of you by way of filling in the blanks. Playing at Film Forum. Through September 9. (J. Tallmer).

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Venus Boyz The compelling documentary Venus Boyz explores the world of drag kings—women who dress up and perform as men. As director Gabriel Baur’s film vividly illustrates, as with drag queens, camp and parody are also important in this form of gender-bending which burst on the public stage at the Club Casanova in New York in 1996. However, the half dozen women profiled here also made clear that they don male apparel primarily because there is just something more empowering about being a man. Venus Boyz speaks volumes about “female masculinity” and the discussions of the butch/femme dichotomy are useful for understanding these women as well as the broader impact of gender in our society. The message may not always offer a coherent view of the issue, but the topic is certainly a provocative one. Playing at the Quad. (G.Kramer).

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THIRTEEN thirteen tells the story of Tracy, a good girl gone bad. A diligent student, she shares openly with her mother, Melanie (Holly Hunter), about her life. Tracy’s dad is MIA, so Melanie, a recovering alcoholic, makes ends meet by styling hair at home. Tracy tries to help—until she meets Evie, the hottest and coolest girl in school, who teaches Tracy about her wily ways. What makes this film distinctive, and alarmingly compelling, despite of the clichéd concept of adolescent trials and tribulations, is its raw vitality. Director Catherine Hardwicke uses the brutally honest fashion of a documentary, complete with oral sex, three-somes, lap dances, drug abuse and suicide attempts, to successfully avoid a sappy moralizing tone. Without a typical teen flick plot, Hardwicke strings together vignette-like scenes to follow Tracy as she makes decisions, usually for the worse. The performances of Ms. Wood and Ms. Reed are impeccable, perhaps since Ms. Reed co-wrote the screenplay based on her own life, and both girls were thirteen during the filming. Holly Hunter’s portrayal of Melanie is unwavering, consistently strong while tragically vulnerable. If thirteen does for adolescent girls what Larry Clark’s Kids (1995) did for urban teens, it will be a widely discussed film. Devoid of any neat conclusions, the film succeeds in lending yet more insight into the state of adolescence, particularly during its youngest year. Playing citywide. (M. Hellerer).

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Updated 5:17 pm, July 20, 2018
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