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Morality Drama “The Ticket” Uses Blindness to Tell Us All to Open Our Eyes, Man

In Ido Fluk’s The Ticket, the miraculous restoration of one man’s blindness becomes a metaphor for a destructive kind of all-American tunnel vision. If blindness taught James Harvey (Dan Stevens) humility, being able to see again quickly transforms him into an egotistical monster chasing after purely material success. Thus, on his way to the top of the ranks at his real-estate firm, he leaves his wife Sam (Malin Akerman) for sexy co-worker Jessica (Kerry Bishé) while carelessly stomping on the affections of his blind colleague/friend Bob (Oliver Platt).

Fluk barely seems interested in James as a character beyond painting him as an Icarus-like totem, flying too high in a simplistic morality play. Without the nuances to give him convincing human dimension, James’ inevitable fall and attendant ineffectual attempts at redemption inspire little more than a contemptuous “too little, too late” shrug.

If Fluk’s film has any impact at all, much of it is thanks to Dan Stevens, who brings an empathy to James that occasionally complicates the director/co-writer’s two-dimensional view of the character. Fluk also begins and ends The Ticket with imaginative visualizations of James’ blindness, his disability presented onscreen as a disorienting series of blurry colors and sensations, with the sound design more vividly heightened than usual. In these abstract sequences, Fluk evinces a desire to explore an inner life that he otherwise forsakes for easy moralizing.

The Ticket
Directed by Ido Fluk

Shout! Factory

Opens April 7, Cinema Village

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Here Alone’s Undead Apocalypse Is Familiar but Still Compelling

There are two types of movies about the undead: those that call ‘em like they see ‘em (zombies!) and those that attempt to transcend horror’s usual rules and lingo. Here Alone is the latter, following a young family’s retreat from civilization after an epidemic ravages the country and turns almost everyone into something we’ll call not-zombies.

Director Rod Blackhurst’s film bounces between the present day’s eerie stillness and the first frenetic days of the plague as Ann (Lucy Walters) and her husband Jason (Shane West) seek refuge in the woods with their infant daughter. The setting would be bucolic were it not for the horde of bloodthirsty flesh feasters that counterproductively shriek whenever they’re on the hunt. Now, Ann forages for food in dead people’s houses while slathered in mud and excrement to hide her scent.

Walters ably carries Here Alone on her character’s weary shoulders. Ann becomes a staunch survivalist despite setbacks when she attempts to find edible berries (she barfs) or craft a trap out of Cheez Whiz and a cooler propped with sticks (it fails). Her involuntary hermetism is interrupted when she discovers teen Olivia (Gina Piersanti) hobbling along the road with injured stepfather Chris (Adam David Thompson).

The new additions to Ann’s camp bring more mouths to feed — and differing opinions about how to survive. Here Alone attempts to unearth what people do when faced with the absolute worst days of their lives — and why they even bother to go on.

Although writer David Ebeltoft’s post-apocalyptic story feels familiar at times (reminiscent of parts of Stephen King’s The Stand), the scenery and Blackhurst’s direction make Here Alone a verdant, suspenseful treat.

Here Alone
Directed by Rod Blackhurst
Vertical Entertainment
Opens March 31, Cinema Village

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Bill Paxton’s Offhand Mastery Powers On-the-Run Thriller “Mean Dreams”

Even if it were not for the fact that Mean Dreams has become Bill Paxton’s penultimate picture, Nathan Morlando’s thriller would be worth recommending entirely on its own merits. Start with cinematographer Steve Cosens (The Tracey Fragments), who uses sharp focus and the occasional faded Polaroid-style filter to lovingly caress every bump and contour of the jagged tree stumps and run-down farmhouses that litter the beautifully middle-of-nowhere setting. The effect makes this world alien yet universal: The two teens who will become our leads fall in love because they are literally the only boy and girl in the world as far as their eyes can see. Jonas (Josh Wiggins) is an only child who works on his parents’ farm; Casey (Sophie Nélisse) has just moved to town with single dad Wayne (Paxton), who’s a cop and has recently been reassigned.

For better or for worse, Paxton’s performance will be the focus of viewers’ attention, so it is decidedly to the good that he doesn’t just deliver. He gives a sort of master class on why we’ve loved him: Paxton was amazing in the role of regular guys, and equally compelling as the subversion of same. Here, our trust in him when he’s playing laid-back is expertly twisted once the actor snaps and reaches the end of his rope; like Luke Skywalker confronting Darth Vader, we can see in him the good person who went bad.

In Paxton’s first Mean Dreams scene, this dynamic is played for ambiguity: Wayne and Casey are in a new house, far from anything they know, and there’s a tension between them. Is it standard teenage-girl-forced-to-relocate huffiness, or something more sinister? Could be either, just as Wayne’s slightly menacing initial stance toward Jonas might just be typical cop-dad aggressive protectiveness, or a sign that this is a terrible human being.

Minor spoiler: It’s the latter. Casey potentially getting a boyfriend isn’t Wayne’s problem; being a murderous drunk is. When he beats Casey and tries to drown Jonas, the teenagers decide to run away together. Wayne pursues them, and the tension thickens when they discover evidence of activities far worse than the occasional alcoholic rage. Paxton seemed the epitome of well-adjusted but was adept at playing the opposite. At his side as the local police chief is Colm Feore, as coldly distant and sinister a sidekick as he could ask for, all restrained villainous ego to Paxton’s evil id.

The teen romance that’s front and center is as charming as it is chaste — these kids are too young to be getting it on, and so they don’t; they’re just looking for a break from their parents long enough to perceive the joys of their surroundings. Said surroundings are as much heightened beauty as Paxton’s bad dad is heightened evil, and show us the world as an infatuated young adult might see it. Morlando (Citizen Gangster) either has a great memory of what it was to be 15 or a powerful enough imagination to dream it again.

Bill Paxton’s last movie will be The Circle, a star-studded thriller with Tom Hanks, Emma Watson, John Boyega, Patton Oswalt and Karen Gillan, meaning that in one sense he’ll go out in splendor surrounded by friends. But Mean Dreams reminds us why we fell for him in the first place, as he and it are no-frills portraits of a heartland both good and ill, making every moment count.

Mean Dreams
Directed by Nathan Morlando
Vertical Entertainment
Opens March 17, Cinema Village
Available on demand

 

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Don’t Let Headshot’s Title Fool You: Iko Uwais’s Latest Is About Glorious Ass-Kicking

After kicking everybody’s asses in both The Raid and The Raid 2, Indonesian actor/stuntman/fight choreographer/action god Iko Uwais returns to beat down more — and shatter some skulls, too — in the aptly titled Headshot.

This time, he’s an amnesiac who’s nursed back to health by a cute, caring doctor (Chelsea Islan). Found washed ashore with one nasty head wound, he’s both physically and mentally carrying some painful remnants from his past life, when he was one of many kids trained as a killer by a despotic/psychotic crime lord (Sunny Pang). Of course, our John Doe’s past comes back to haunt him once that lord learns of his whereabouts, forcing the hero back into natural-born-killer mode when goons come after him and the doctor.

But who cares about the plot? This is about action. At a whopping two hours, Headshot doubles up (and down) on the carnage. With Uwais choreographing the insane fights and Indonesian genre vets the Mo Brothers catching every bloody, manic minute, both fists and bullets get dished out with equal, frenetic fury — and the movie offers plenty of “Oh shit!” moments.

Headshot is also a reminder that Hollywood seriously needs to build its own action films around Uwais (who had a supporting role in Star Wars: The Force Awakens). He’s set to co-star with Mark Wahlberg and Ronda Rousey in Peter Berg’s Mile 22, but Uwais has enough charismatic, bone-breaking swagger to headline his own.

Headshot
Directed by Timo Tjahjanto and Kimo Stamboel
XYZ Films and Vertical Entertainment
Opens March 3, Cinema Village

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‘The Daughter’ Brings an Ibsen Play to Australia, but His Spirit Is Still in 19th-century Norway

In his atmospheric debut film, Australian theater director Simon Stone whittles down The Wild Duck into a cautionary tale about welcoming home an emotional exile. While stage adaptations of Henrik Ibsen’s tragicomedy often emphasize its farcical elements, Stone sticks to tragedy in his naturalistic version, set in densely planted logging forests and a rural community of abandoned factories and few opportunities. This loose modern adaptation presents long-buried secrets as landmines on the road to happiness and strips away the play’s philosophical clash between idealism and illusion, Ibsen’s rationale for an alienated scion of the ruling class wielding truth like a weapon — and destroying his best friend’s fragile family structure by revealing the lie it was built upon.

When Christian Nielsen (Paul Schneider) reunites with Oliver Finch (Ewen Leslie) after nearly 20 years, they leap back to being teenagers, overlooking the time apart and events that made their paths diverge. Christian has reluctantly returned to attend the wedding of his father Henry (Geoffrey Rush), who’s just announced that the Nielsen family business, a sawmill that employs most of the town, will be shutting down. This barely registers for Christian, who’s surrounded by memories of his mother’s suicide and trying to prevent the collapse of his own marriage. He’s easily pulled into his old friend’s warm embrace, and spends more time at the comfortably ramshackle Finch household than he does in his father’s imposing mansion.

Stone and Leslie make Oliver an enviable figure (instead of Ibsen’s pitiable photographer), grateful for the happiness he found after experiencing his own crisis. He’d planned on law school, not driving a forklift at the sawmill, but still feels passion for his supportive wife Charlotte (Miranda Otto), treasures bantering with whip-smart teenage daughter Hedvig (Odessa Young), and provides a stable environment for his father Walter (Sam Neill), who’d been in prison for financial fraud. Oliver sees a contented life instead of a compromised one, and thinks little about the Finch family’s ties to Henry. Christian’s revelation makes him reconsider everything.

These faint echoes of Ibsen don’t lift The Daughter above the average family drama about exposing secrets and lies, but Stone’s addition — the sense that accumulated disappointment triggers tragedy — is poignant. While Christian and Oliver discuss how their solid foundations collapsed, Hedvig is experiencing it. After every setback, she slowly rights herself, only to confront another piece of astounding information. The adults around Hedvig handle her anguish with a laid-back urgency: They want to protect and comfort her, but their roiling emotions push her immediate needs aside.

Hedvig’s fate is still tied to that of a wild duck shot down by the squire and cared for by her disgraced grandfather. This resilient creature resides in Walter’s forest within a forest, an enclosed wildlife refuge that Hedvig helps tend. Stone views Hedvig and the wild duck as victims of careless wealthy men, each deserving of a second chance. It’s his biggest divergence from Ibsen’s 1884 play, in which both are offered up for sacrifice. Hedvig’s life, her intelligence and potential, are central to The Daughter, and despite the trauma she faces, Stone would rather see her fly than drown.

The Daughter
Directed by Simon Stone
Kino Lorber
Opens January 27, Cinema Village

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The Latest Climate-Change Doc Finds Hope Amid Rising Sea Levels

Coming out at just the right time — another way of saying “at any point in the last 50 years” — is yet another climate-change documentary, this one more optimistic than most.

Director Jared P. Scott makes the relatively novel choice of going past the simple presentation of data on average temperature and sea level and the like. Scott’s case, aided visually by interstitial subject headings in the form of an interconnected lattice of words, is that climate change impacts every aspect of human society, and indeed is the outright cause of many of its biggest, seemingly unconnected, problems, like the Syrian Civil War.

Bringing in more than strictly meteorological topics is a compelling strategy, as it lends a novel feel to the film without ever deviating from the central subject. Scott’s filmmaking does a smooth job of linking A to B to Z, with slick, studiously understated montage and an effective music score, although some of the arguments made seem a bit of a stretch, as if climate change is being shoehorned into things artificially.

Be that as it may, the ultimate conclusion, as with any serious contemplation of climate change, is that We Have to Do Something, which is true. Unlike most other studies of its kind, however, The Age of Consequences ends on a hopeful note: a lingering bird’s-eye view of a field of solar panels, perhaps the most optimistic image known to the climate-change genre.

The Age of Consequences


Directed by Jared P. Scott

PF Pictures

Opens January 27, Cinema Village

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Patricidal Thriller ‘My Father Die’ Is as Artless as Its Title

My Father Die may boast a bizarrely graceless title, but that’s the least of this revenge saga’s shortcomings, which number in the dozens and conspire to make it an early contender for worst of 2017.

Written and directed by Sean Brosnan (son of Pierce), this pointless, affected and rancid piece of Southern-fried bayou pulp concerns a young boy named Asher who watches as his supernaturally psycho dad (Gary Stretch) kills his older brother (Chester Rushing) — and smacks Asher around so bad he loses his hearing. Then, as a deaf adult, Asher (Joe Anderson) endeavors to kill his pa upon the homicidal man’s release from prison.

What follows is a grungy vengeance mission full of black-and-white flashbacks set to faux-Mailickian narration (“Mother Earth knows life moves in cycles”), webcam porn, deviant preachers, Down’s syndrome–afflicted priests, cherubic children, S&M–style masturbation, violent rape, perfunctory shootouts, random appearances by The Dukes of Hazzard alum John Schneider and the repeated sight of Asher strutting about in slow motion while holding a shotgun and wearing sunglasses and his brother’s wolf-skin headdress.

Biblical paintings are also sprinkled throughout the action in an attempt to give this Gummo-by-way-of-Southern Comfort stew some heft. Yet from homophobic start to misogynistic finish, My Father Die is a parade of thrift-store images and scenarios as dull as they are repugnant.

My Father Die
Written and directed by Sean Brosnan
Film Rise
Now playing, Cinema Village

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New Doc Reminds Us That the Earliest Climate-Change Scientists Have Been Sounding the Alarm for Decades

Here’s a new variation on the despairing climate-change doc: Luc Jacquet’s Antarctica: Ice and the Sky showcases a scientist who has been sounding the alarm about carbon emissions and the melting ice caps for so long that now he’s well over eighty and has passed a lifetime watching the world not bother to solve the problem.

The film opens with aged Claude Lorius walking through an unearthly tunnel of blue and white in the heart of a glacier, the persistent drip and crackle around him evidence that even this mighty ice-cave is impermanent. Then he gazes at a barren valley that, via CGI, fills back up with glacial ice, taking us back in time just sixty years, to Lorius’s first visit to Antarctica, in 1956, which we see in a generous sampling of vintage footage.

Lorius describes the thrill and the hardship, the beauty and the thrill of discovery. Lorius’s teams were at the cutting edge of the core-sample process that revealed, by drilling into glaciers, the record of the composition of the atmosphere in centuries and millennia past. In subsequent expeditions, the evidence becomes clear: As the amount of carbon in the atmosphere increases, so does the temperature.

Much of the film consists of last-century scientists marveling at tubes of ancient ice or drilling for such samples. A couple of scenes have some power: a montage of Lorius testifying on TV about the dangers we face, all the way back in the 1980s; the closing monologue, wherein he wonders about the world his children’s children will inherit. The film itself is more a record than a narrative: proof to the future that, yeah, we knew.

Antarctica: Ice and the Sky
Directed by Luc Jacquet
Music Box Films
Opens January 20, Cinema Village

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The Latest Banksy Doc Demonstrates, Again, That Almost All Responses to Banksy Are Wrong

Amid the massive racial, social, and economic inequalities in the Western world, street art might have been a less effective, less visible response had it not become incredibly sophisticated.

Arguably its greatest practitioner is the anonymous Banksy, whose elaborate, multilayered stenciling technique defines the form the way Andy Warhol’s soup cans crystallized Popism in the early 1960s. His paintings appear in high-visibility public spaces around the world, sometimes with the consent of building owners, but usually applied guerilla-style under cover of night.

Saving Banksy, in documenting the struggle of art consultant Brian Greif to preserve a single Banksy painting — one of the artist’s trademark Che Guevara rats — inadvertently demonstrates that nearly every response to Banksy’s work is wrong. Municipalities like San Francisco issue citations to building owners for failing to remove what they call graffiti; greedy art collectors steal Banksy’s work from their sites (and contexts) and sell them for millions at auction; museums refuse to accept the work from preservationists like Greif, ostensibly because Banksy is unavailable to offer authentication (to do so would be admitting to a crime). But the curators at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art also seem cartoonishly dismissive of street art, a form they can’t referee.

The film includes interviews with top street artists, critics, and one absolutely psychopathic collector who once ripped Banksy’s work from the Palestine side of the West Bank barrier wall. Indeed, even Greif’s preservationist response is somewhat misguided, since the painting was made to occupy a specific place. The only appropriate response to Banksy’s art, one perhaps impossible, is to look at it and leave it for others to see.

Saving Banksy
Directed by Colin Day
Candy Factory Films
Opens January 20, Cinema Village

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Mexican Horror Debut ‘We Are the Flesh’ Inspires Rare Revulsion

“There is no such thing as love,” one character tells another in Emiliano Rocha Minter’s punishing debut film, We Are the Flesh. “Only demonstrations of love.” This declaration, made before a fresh debasement, is almost a thesis statement for this Mexican grotesquerie, dedicated to separating intention and morality from action.

It’s the philosophy of Mariano (wild-eyed Noé Hernández), a squalid Svengali who enthralls two siblings who stumble upon his postapocalyptic lair and agree to follow his rules in exchange for food. Mariano enlists Fauna (María Evoli) and Lucio (Diego Gamaliel) in building a makeshift cavern, a structure that first suggests an elaborate blanket fort made from furniture and cardboard but expands into a womblike catacomb while the building it’s in largely vanishes.

It’s one of many dissociations from the outside world, experienced equally by the siblings and the film’s audience. The mind games lead to incest, bloodletting, and rape, carnality Minter presents unflinchingly, as something to savor.

The film assaults the connection between spirit and flesh, but the strength of the revulsion it inspires is a signal that that bond is not so easily broken. Filmgoers who brave We Are the Flesh may regret seeing it. Forgetting it is another matter entirely.

We Are the Flesh
Written and directed by Emiliano Rocha Minter

Arrow Films

Opens January 20, Cinema Village