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‘Deeper Than Y’

Clocking in at only an hour, Deeper Than Y is a lithe documentary about the trials and rewards of reaching advanced age, as well as a gentle rebuke to a society that has little time for the elderly. The mostly gray-haired members of a water exercise class at the Vanderbilt YMCA in midtown share their stories and reflect on how it feels to be slowing down at a time when the pace of life is accelerating. The interviews are lively, though not all documentary subjects are created equal, as becomes apparent when Gerty Agoston is introduced. A Hungarian American pulp novelist whose apartment is adorned with pictures of Nixon and Reagan, Agoston published her first book, My Bed Is Not for Sleeping, in 1968, followed by the more provocatively titled My Husband Is a Magnificent Whore. The other stars include Mel and Andrew, a gay couple who recently celebrated their 36th anniversary, and Frannie, a nonagenarian who talks about finding true love at 66 and continuing to flirt into her 10th decade. The subjects seem happy to have made it so far, but they lament the physical pain of aging; says 86-year-old Ira, with a twinkle in his eye, “How does it feel getting old? Rotten.”

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’20 Centimeters’

To snip or not to snip? That’s the question facing Marieta (Mónica Cervera), a transvestite hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold looking to ditch her “dangler,” in this shabby movie-musical. A would-be diva, Marieta is living platonically with Tomás, a strangely anemic dwarf, when an inconvenient case of narcolepsy that has her waking up on the streets of Madrid leads her to look for safer work. Meanwhile, Marieta’s zaftig neighbor Berta plots their mutual escape to Brazil in a perfunctory subplot that sets up the should-she- stay-or-should-she-go-now denouement. The musical numbers are dreadful and the jokes barely register, but more disappointing is how rote the exploration of the transgender dilemma is. Lacking the campy excellence and unexpected poignancy of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, the movie is one long, formulaic drag. Eventually, Marieta meets a hot grocer with a “peach ass” who likes her package, but though she’s smitten with him, her longing for a pussy prevails. There are a few moments worth perking up for, such as the bizarre techno-goth send-up of the “Thriller” video, but the rest of 20 Centimeters is a flaccid bore.

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‘Ritchie Boys’

The horror of war gets gently upstaged by the wit and wisdom of the vets interviewed in this solid WWII doc. The Ritchie Boys were mostly refugees of Nazism who came to America filled with rage at the rape of Europe and ready to take up arms against Hitler. Many were artists or intellectuals, not exactly natural fighters, but still desperate to enlist and help liberate their homelands. Listening to these men reminisce about their experiences at Camp Ritchie, where they were trained as interrogators of P.O.W.’s, is an education. These are men who know of what they speak; they’re also eloquent, erudite, and funny as hell. Sitting in on a car ride with two of the Ritchie Boys feels like wandering backstage at a Friars Club roast. Of course, war is serious business and these soldiers know that better than anyone. If civilians could smell the stench of war for just a second, says one, they’d become pacifists. Another counters the romantic notion of a parachute jump, saying that nobody jumps out of a plane, they step out. The film happily sticks to its regal subjects, avoiding speculation about whether military interrogations aren’t quite what they used to be.

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‘Train Man: Densha Otoko’

Adapted from a Japanese bestseller that’s apparently based on true events, Train Man: Densha Otoko is a lot like its protagonist: sweet, weird, and likable despite some irritating quirks. The title refers to the online moniker of a nerd (Takayuki Yamada) who intervenes when a cute girl is drunkenly harassed on a train. When the nebbish hero receives a thank-you gift from the girl, he turns to his chat room buddies—seen almost exclusively in annoying split screens— for advice on how to win her over. Despite a makeover that reveals the hapless otaku (“geek”) as a heartthrob in hiding, the pitiful Mr. Train can hardly speak to his lady love without hyperventilating. A winning effort for the most part, Train Man could do without the treacly “true love” sentiments that stink up the last third, but no matter. The movie’s really a paean to the joy of busting out and taking a chance—even if that just means asking a girl on a date.

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‘Iraq for Sale’

“Cash rules everything around me,” a great poet once remarked. One need look no further than Robert Greenwald’s harrowing new documentary on the Iraq war for proof of this aphorism. Both a trenchant indictment of war profiteering in Iraq and a memorial for those not included in the military’s death toll, Iraq for Sale is a work of intense disillusionment; the wounds are fresh and the testimony of civilian contractors and their bereaved family members is appropriately raw. Truck drivers who went to Iraq believing their safety to be a priority of Halliburton/KBR, only to be sent down a road to certain death, don’t mince words when talking about the kind of men they believe their former bosses to be. And as Greenwald’s chronicle of corporate greed and impropriety unfolds, a larger question emerges: At what point do these companies and the Pentagon become indistinguishable? Greenwald resists the temptation to paint with broad, incriminating brushstrokes and we only glimpse former Halliburton CEO Dick Cheney toward the end of the film, even as he hovers over the proceedings like an invisible puppet master. For those who have let the war drift into the background noise of talking heads, Iraq for Sale is a much needed reminder of the criminal negligence of those who led the troops into this mess and those who have gotten rich off of it.

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‘The Beales of Grey Gardens’

Improbably resurrected this year as a Broadway musical, the Maysles brothers’ Grey Gardens (1975) documented the bizarre home life of two aristocratic shut-ins, Edith Bouvier Beale and her daughter, Little Edie. Living in an unkempt East Hampton mansion, Jackie Kennedy’s aunt and cousin bicker, sing, and play dress-up in a vérité fever dream that plays like Sunset Blvd. rewritten by Tennessee Williams. Disparaged by many critics for its condescension, it was exploitative but also impossible to look away from. Making its debut as a midnight movie, The Beales of Grey Gardens is ess entially leftovers: footage from the original shoot that, not surprisingly, offers more of the same and lacks the first film’s sense of revelation. It’s not clear that we needed another hour and a half of shrill Little Edie’s wan philosophizing and conspiratorial gibberish. But there’s still the occasional moment of terror, as when the psychologically domineering mom castigates her daughter for putting out a fire with an expensive blanket. And when former beauty Edie sings, “You Ought to Be in Pictures,” the regret could break your heart.

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‘Two Drifters’

Arriving from Portugal, this ludicrous melodrama of female hysteria is an oddly compelling bit of cinematic folly. The story begins with the death of a young man named Pedro on the day of his first anniversary with studmuffin boyfriend Rui. While Rui consoles himself with anonymous head in the steam room, Pedro’s neighbor, the newly dumped and possibly pregnant Odete, grows obsessed with the death of the neighbor she never knew. Odete’s behavior swiftly turns psychotic when she announces to Pedro’s mother that she is carrying the dead man’s child. And as Odete swings from simply creepy to certifiably batshit, so goes the story. All indications are that director João Pedro Rodrigues wants us to take his film seriously—even as Odete lies over Pedro’s grave moaning “Fuck me” and humping the ground. But if you can look past the film’s inexplicably straight face, Two Drifters is an enjoyably daffy picture. Odete ultimately assumes Pedro’s appearance and woos Rui, and the climactic scene of the two consummating their crazy love is a brilliantly queasy finale.

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‘La Tropical’

He likes the way I shake my ass,” a giggling dancer in La Tropical says of director-photographer David Turnley. The Pulitzer- winning photojournalist, who does seem to have a booty fixation, introduces us to the Salon Rosado at La Tropical, a dance hall in a barrio outside of Havana, by training his lens on a succession of gyrating rumps. But Turnley isn’t just an ass ogler; he’s also a historian, if not a particularly talented one. In telling the story of La Tropical, which occupies roughly the same cultural real estate in Cuba as the Apollo Theater does here, he attempts to illuminate the history of race relations in Cuba, with mixed results. The documentary is at its best when it narrows in on a subplot, such as that of star-crossed lovers and dance partners Daivel and Aymé. When Turnley ventures into broader political or sociological commentary, one wishes that he’d step back and let the music, uniformly and ass-shakingly irresistible, take center stage.

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‘Revoloution’

You say you want a revoloution? Careful what you wish for. Director Bret Carr—in addition to co-writing, producing, and singing the theme— stars as stuttering pugilist turned powerful communicator Lou Benedetti in this self-proclaimed “epic indie,” which plays more like an extended afterschool special. The low-budget Revoloution (which has apparently been playing festivals under equally awful titles for several years now) brings us the transformation of a boxer whose career is cut short when he learns he has an inoperable aneurysm. Forced to cope with life outside of the ring, Lou must confront his demons, namely an abusive father (played in flashbacks by Carr with a mustache and sunglasses). And so, with the help of kindly street vendor Kumar, matronly Starla, and the flamer who runs the pet store, Lou manages to overcome his stutter—as well as his anger, his homophobia, his inability to relate to others, and well, pretty much everything else. Cue Rocky theme. Proving the old adage about the road to hell, Revoloution at least has its heart in the right place.

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‘Following Sean’

In the thick of the free-loving freak show that was Haight Ashbury in 1969, a four-year-old boy named Sean offhandedly confessed to filmmaking student Ralph Arlyck and his movie camera that he liked to “smoke grass.” Knowing good material when he saw it, Arlyck edited his footage of the pot-smoking tot into a 15-minute short that became, along with Altamont and the Manson murders, a grim herald of the short-circuiting ’60s. Thirty years later, the filmmaker tracks down his subject, wondering whether he’s become a speed freak or a Wall Street banker, and is surprised to find a smart and sober electrician with a wry sense of humor. But the film, contrary to its bland title, isn’t merely about Sean; Arlyck, like fellow essayist Ross McElwee, prefers to work from the inside out, seamlessly weaving together his own story with Sean’s. Arlyck’s compulsion is to our great fortune. Patient and elegant, his film is a quietly devastating meditation on family, work, and the unrelenting passage of time.