Must-Watch (and Maybe-Watch) Movies This Week

Each week, the Village Voice reviews the dozen or so films that open in theaters both locally and nationwide. Because we understand that you probably won’t read every single one of these reviews (although we think you should give it a try), here’s the definitive guide to what you should watch.

You Should Definitely Watch


“Through sensitive portraiture and vigorous investigative reporting, it tracks the struggle of minority police officers within the NYPD to reshape the culture of law enforcement itself. ‘The reality of it is law enforcement uses black bodies to generate revenue,’ bluntly states one officer.” — Alan Scherstuhl (full review)


“Over the course of his journeys, the film’s protagonist, the legendary Russian monk and icon painter Andrei Rublev, confronts jealousy, pettiness, carnality, and unspeakable violence. He even kills a man himself, in an attempt to save a woman from rape and murder during a brutal Tartar raid. Once criticized for the lack of emotion in his icons — his work, we’re told early on, is technically brilliant and subtle, but has ‘no awe…no faith that comes from the depths of his soul’ — he finds himself unable to paint, even unwilling to speak. Rublev is a mesmerizing portrait of an artist and cleric undone by a world that is cruel, chaotic, unexplainable.” — Bilge Ebiri (full review)


“Writer-director Andrew Bujalski frames most of Support the Girls as an almost real-time delineation of chaos, but his storytelling elegance — delicate, nearly invisible foreshadowing; cogent evocations of backstory — adds reflective layers to the surface anarchy.” — Danny King (full review)

Worth Watching


“This new version, directed by Danish filmmaker Michael Noer, brings to the story a refreshing intensity and sweep, and even a sense of adventure. It’s also unflinching when it comes to violence, misery, and gore: We feel the savagery of the heat and the hatred, the sheer primordial guck in which these prisoners toil. That in turn makes the call of freedom that much more enthralling, and the rough, barbed alliance between Charrière (Charlie Hunnam) and Louis Dega (Rami Malek) that much more convincing.” — Bilge Ebiri (full review)


“The footage, like most of the searching cine-essay John McEnroe: In the Realm of Perfection, was shot in competition at the French Open in the early 1980s by Gil de Kermadec, a filmmaker specializing in the study of tennis technique. The whir of the specialized camera equipped for slow-motion shots seemed a roar on a hushed tennis court, another distraction for the sensitive champion to rail against. De Kermadec, we learn, had come to believe that the performance of athletes in competition differed from their performance in drills or tutorials, so he captured them in actual matches. He produced a contemporary study of McEnroe’s technique, complete with early Eighties computer animation charting every pivot of his serve.” — Alan Scherstuhl (full review)

The Rest

THE HAPPYTIME MURDERS: “So, a couple of decades from now, it might be interesting to watch this often glum detective procedural in which the populations who have endured American racism have been Find-Replaced with horny puppets.” — Alan Scherstuhl (full review)

THE BOOKSHOP: “Writer-director Isabel Coixet’s period drama The Bookshop, for instance, is so bloody British that the story’s central concern is that an aristocratic heiress is quietly making it difficult for a young widow to run a bookshop in a small fishing town.” — April Wolfe (full review)

SEARCHING: “The film has promise, but the tech keeps getting in the way of the performances.” — April Wolfe (full review)

MAISON DU BONHEUR: “The film is a portrait of a woman, Juliane Sellam, 77 at the time of filming, and her home, dedicated to processes — behold her recipe for bread for Shabbat — and striking still-life shots. Here are fruit and herbs in bowls before an open window, a breeze easing through them; here are the fashionable Sellam’s pumps and heels, a collection Galapagan in abundance and variety.” — Alan Scherstuhl (full review)

ARIZONA: “Director Jonathan Watson’s super-violent Arizona is a well-done but chilly and essentially unlovable black comedy with one tiny spark of warmth — Rosemarie DeWitt’s performance as Cassie, a real estate broker who finds herself underwater financially after the 2006 housing market collapses.” — Chris Packham (full review)

AN L.A. MINUTE: “Daniel Adams’s An L.A. Minute makes you suffer through its satire of celebrity culture and never redeems itself, despite the potentially interesting duo of Gabriel Byrne and Kiersey Clemons as leads. The stars seem out of place with each other and in this movie, with creators who have no idea what they want to say.” — Kristen Yoonsoo Kim (full review)

WHAT KEEPS YOU ALIVE: “What Keeps You Alive’s ability to keep going and going and going is impressive, but seasoned low-budget-genre director Colin Minihan (Extraterrestrial) grounds the twisty shenanigans in something deeper — or at least gives it the old college try.” — Matt Prigge (full review)

THE OSLO DIARIES: “The Oslo Diaries is a striking document, mixing never-before-seen footage shot by the negotiators themselves and current reflections from participants, including the final interview of former Israeli president Shimon Peres.” — Jordan Hoffman (full review)

BLUE IGUANA: “While writer-director Hadi Hajaig says he was inspired by acclaimed, quirky-but-scary movies like Jonathan Demme’s Something Wild and George Armitage’s Miami Blues, this new Iguana appears more like the work of someone who has watched Guy Ritchie’s early, Tarantino-knockoff films too damn much.” — Craig D. Lindsey (full review)

HOT TO TROT: “Hot to Trot is the wrong title for this engaging movie, not least because it was used thirty years ago for a Bobcat Goldthwait vehicle about a talking horse.” — Elizabeth Zimmer (full review)


The New “Papillon” Makes Its Break With Fresh Intensity and Emotion

Shit-streaked, blood-soaked, and mud-caked, the French penal colony inmates of Papillon make for a compellingly sorry spectacle — men reduced to the status of animals, their bodies and faces turning to dirty, leathery sinew before our eyes. It’s impressive, and imperative: Seeing them like this makes the necessity of escape that much more critical. How could any human survive a day in this place, let alone a year, or two, or ten?

Papillon is based on the writings of Henri Charrière (played here by Charlie Hunnam), a Parisian thief who in 1931 was condemned, for a murder he did not commit, to a distant prison in the colony of French Guiana and spent much of his time there planning his escape. The story was filmed before in 1973 with Steve McQueen as Charrière (nicknamed “Papillon” for the butterfly tattoo on his chest) and Dustin Hoffman as Louis Dega, a meek fellow prisoner and counterfeiter whose hidden money and logistical smarts aided Charrière in his efforts to flee. The director of that earlier film was Franklin J. Schaffner, who was fond of mounting stately period epics like Patton and Nicholas and Alexandra. And you can sense, in the 1973 effort’s languor and cerebral stoicism, a self-importance that pushes against the milieu of desperation. It’s still a fine movie — the stony McQueen and the mousy Hoffman make a good team — and has some cred today as a macho classic, but this is one case where a contemporary remake doesn’t seem like an entirely terrible idea.

This new version, directed by Danish filmmaker Michael Noer, brings to the story a refreshing intensity and sweep, and even a sense of adventure. It’s also unflinching when it comes to violence, misery, and gore: We feel the savagery of the heat and the hatred, the sheer primordial guck in which these prisoners toil. That in turn makes the call of freedom that much more enthralling, and the rough, barbed alliance between Charrière and Dega (played here by Rami Malek) that much more convincing. Without Charrière, Dega cannot survive. Without Dega, Charrière cannot escape.

The script, by Aaron Guzikowski, remains a lot more faithful to the 1973 film (which was penned by two legends, Dalton Trumbo and Lorenzo Semple Jr.) than to Charrière’s written accounts, the veracity of which have always been in some dispute anyway. Both pictures feature lots of on-the-nose dialogue, the words working like cheat sheets to the characters’ motivations and the films’ themes: “This is for the greater good that is French expansion,” the prisoners are told in this new version, as they’re sent off to the colonies. “As for France, she has disowned you.… Forget France!” Or, here’s a line from Dega: “I should know how to throw a punch, given how often my father used to beat me.”

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Nobody talks like this! But in Schaffner’s film, the unrealistic, expository dialogue meshed well with the director’s classicism. In this new version, there’s something of a disconnect between the immediacy of Noer’s stylistic approach and the unconvincing words the characters are uttering. Even so, the performers are excellent. Hunnam has, over the past several years, proven himself an actor of surprising refinement and grace, capable of physically articulating the subtlest of emotions. (His turn in The Lost City of Z might have been last year’s most undervalued performance.) He’s best here in the more quiet moments, achieving a deep, unreal stillness that can, with the slightest shift, reveal confidence or ruin. We understand early on that he’s a man who can and will protect the mousy Dega from the prison’s more loathsome denizens. But later on, after years of solitary confinement, abuse, and humiliation, we also sense the existential change that has come over Charrière. From beneath his steely exterior, a certain fragility slowly comes to the fore.

As for Malek, he manages the opposite: He’s angular and fidgety, nervous and weak, but beneath all that vulnerability we sense a certain toughness, a killer instinct waiting to surface. (Spoiler alert: It does.) In a world that brings out the worst in everybody, these two men bring something good out of each other. It is both agonizing and joyful to watch.

Directed by Michael Noer
Bleecker Street
Opens August 24


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