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Weekly Movie Guide: Lots to See, New and Old

By Aaron Dobbs
October 6, 2005

Although we wouldn't want to drown ourselves too much in a gigantic lake of hyperbole, a peak at this weekend's local film offerings is enough to make any cinephile utterly giddy. The New York Film Festival will be wrapping up with a tremendous program including what is billed as Michelangelo Antonioni's "preferred cut" of his classic 1975 Jack Nicholson starrer The Passenger. (We'll have a final bit of NYFF coverage tomorrow.) Plus, two of our NYFF faves open for non-festival goers: Noah Baumbauch's The Squid and the Whale (which actually opened yesterday) and George Clooney's Good Night, and Good Luck (opening tomorrow). We highly recommend you check out both of these films which have a great chance of making our own Best of 2005 list.

But wait ... there's more, such as worthwhile holdovers like A History of Violence and Serenity, the latter of which -- with its resounding critical approval and tons of buzz -- surprised us with its poor showing at the box office last week, barely able to crack $10 million and utterly failing at challenging Jodie Foster and a jumbo jet for the top spot. With all these options (and more), what's a poor movie-lover to do?

Two Gothamist Picks: A good place to start would be at Film Forum where beginning tomorrow you can witness the genius that is French filmmaker Robert Bresson's Pickpocket. The film is scheduled to play for one week only, and Film Forum's high standards virtually guarantee that this new 35 mm print will be spectacular.Pickpocket takes a certain degree of patience, but the more you allow yourself to be enveloped by the events onscreen, you'll likely find an interesting and relatively unique cinematic experience. By film's end, like much of Bresson's work, Pickpocket allows viewers to discover more about themselves than the characters whose lives they were just witness to. As a special bonus, the 7 PM show tomorrow will be introduced by writer-directorPaul Schrader. That show is sure to sell out soon.

Street Fight is an absolutely amazing documentary about one of the most violent political campaigns in recent memory. No, not Bush vs. Gore, Bush vs. Kerry, or even Rove and Delay vs. everyone they don't like. This was the 2002 race for mayor of Newark between four-time incumbent and entrenched political boss Sharpe James and 32-year-old former football All-American, Rhodes Scholar and Yale Law School graduate Cory Booker. One of the most interesting political campaign documentaries in recent memory, Street Fightpremiered and won the Audience Award at this year's Tribeca Film Festival as well as at the Hot Docs and Silverdocs festivals. It screens Tuesday at IFC Center as part of their "Stranger Than Fiction" series, and director Marshall Curry will be there to introduce and answer questions about the film.

More from the week to come after the jump:

Midnight Movie Smackdown: IFC Center could have made our little attempts to link their midnight movies with those at the Landmark Sunshine a bit easier had they programmed The Doors. Then the Val Kilmer link would have worked magnificently because the Sunshine will be showing a young, pre-nutso Kilmer in the underrated '80s comedy classic Real Genius. But alas, IFC decided it was more important to kick their midnight supremacy up a notch by showing not one, but two movies: the landmark Rolling Stones tour docGimme Shelter at midnight and Pink Floyd The Wall at 12:05 AM. As an added bonus, while the Landmark only screens Friday and Saturday nights, the IFC Center screens both films Friday, Saturday and Sunday, obviously banking on the unemployed stoners for those Sunday shows.

So what else is new?Good Night, and Good Luck and The Squid and the Whale are only two among several new releases this weekend. We're most excited by Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, the first feature-length film version of Brit Nick Park's hysterical duo. Even though the trailer is a bit chick-flick treacly, we also can't help but be intrigued by the combo of Toni Collette, Shirley MacLaine and Cameron Diaz teaming up with Curtis Hanson for In Her Shoes. We can't explain exactly why we expect to be disappointed by Two for the Money other than the fact that Al Pacino looks like he's simply playing by the numbers (no pun intended) and director D.J. Caruson is no David Mamet or Oliver Stone. And althoughWaiting ... doesn't yet seem to be challenging Jennie McCarthy's Dirty Lovefor lowest metacritic score we've ever seen, from what we've been hearing, we have faith that as the reviews poor in, it could mount a challenge.

Opening in more limited release: Before the Fall (Napola) (opens tomorrow at the Quad Cinema) won the Audience Award for Best International Film at last year's Hamptons Film Festival. This German film tells the story of a young boxer in Nazi Germany sent to a Napola in order to be trained to be a killing machine and future leader of the Third Reich.

There is only one reason to sit through the morose, been-there done-that, modern melodrama that is Mark Milgard's Dandelion (opening tomorrow at the Landmark Sunshine), and its not for a pre-JetBlue accidentperformance by Taryn Manning. Rather, Dandelion was shot by Tim Orr who is probably the most talented young cinematographer working today. He's made 13 films in the last five years, and his work is arguably the best part of all of them. Considering that some of those films are quite good in their own right, that's saying something.

We don't know much about The Gospel, but it sounds a little bit like an African-American, R&B, church-going version of The Jazz Singer. If it's not, you know, that's a pretty good idea. Maybe somebody should make it. It certainly sounds more appealing than the wannabe Shakespearean comedy A Tale of Two Pizzas (opens Friday at AMC Empire 25): two Yonkers-based pizzeria-owning families, a son of one, a daughter of another -- throw-in the two Vincents required to appear in any movie featuring Italian-Americans (mafia related or not) --Frank Vincent and Vincent Pastore. We could be wrong, but it sounds a little cheesy (sorry) to us. Slightly more intriguing is Never Been Thawed (opens Friday at Cinema Village), a mockumentary about frozen-food enthusiasts, but not to eat them -- they're collectors. We worry any time a mockumentary isn't directed byChristopher Guest, especially when the subject is a bit absurd like here. Few things are more absurd than zombie pictures, but that's not always a bad thing, and last year Shaun of the Dead helped reinvigorate the concept of the horror-comedy that never goes all the way to slapstick. In that tradition comes Zombi Honeymoon (now playing at the Two Boots Pioneer).

Finally, the documentary The Aggressives takes a look at a segment of the lesbian community now known as "aggressives," butch women with a more urban and street style of dress and attitude.

The rest of the week, day-by-day

The New York Film Festival may end on Sunday, but it's fantastic sidebar celebrating Japan's Shochiku Company continues through Oct. 20. Take a peak at what the fuss is all about tonight at the Walter Reade Theater with No Advice Today a/k/a Doctor's Day Off and Japan's first ever all-color feature, Carmen Comes Home.

Lots of good stuff on Friday this week, and if Zombie Honeymoon whetted your appetite for the undead, you'll want to be at the Two Boots Pioneer at 10:45 for a fantastic zombie double-feature: first, the film that reinvented the genre in 1968, Night of the Living Dead followed by the aforementioned hysterical zombie romantic comedy, Shaun of the Dead, firmly entrenched in the tradition of George A. Romero's Living Deadfilms.

If you're into architecture and urban spaces, particularly as it historically relates to this fair city of ours, you'll want to check-out "Wild Walls New York", particularly the film series playing at Anthology Film Archives which encompasses three different programs of shorts playing playing on consecutive days Friday through Sunday. Also at Anthology Friday through Sunday is the groundbreaking docudrama The Battle of Algiers.

Fulfilling its mission as a museum and educating in addition to simply exhibiting, "Rebels with a Cause: The Cinema of East Germany", a comprehensive retrospective of films produced in the half of Germany shrouded behind the Iron Curtain from 1946-1992. Most of these films have never been seen or even heard of by international audiences, and all of them provide a glimpse -- directly or indirectly -- at the oppressive society that existed there for nearly half a century. We can't suggest any one film, so it's a bit of a crapshoot, but one with odds at least as interesting as simply playing the Pass line.

Meanwhile, in Ft. Greene, BAMcinématek kicks-off a new three day series of new and classic activist films called "Call for Change: Third World Newsreel", co-curated with the organization Third World Newsreel, an organization created in 1967 that, per their website, is "committed to the creation and appreciation of independent and social issue media by and about people of color, and the peoples of developing countries around the world."

The last day of MoMA's salute to production company Killer Films features three of the best and most representative films from the Killer library: Hedwig and the Angry Inch at 4 PM, Swoon at 6:30 PM and Boys Don't Cry at 8:30 PM.

Another weekend, another trio of Billy Wilder masterpieces at The Museum of the Moving Image. OK, masterpieces might be a bit overdone for all three of these films -- among the Wilder oeuvre, Love in the Afternoon (which actually screens Saturday) isn't much more than a trifle of a romantic comedy, but it's still better than most. But Sunday's programming is worth sitting through two films. At 2 PM is Avanti!, also a relatively minor Wilder work, but also the film that really marked the beginning of the end of his career. And few comic actors ever performed better for Wilder than his Avanti! star, Jack Lemmon; the two worked together seven times! When Avanti! is finished, you'll want to stick around for what actually is one of the greatest romantic comedies of all time, Sabrina at 4:30 PM (and screening at the same time on Saturday). If you've only seen the 1995 remake, you are actually required by the laws of nature to attend one of these screenings. Think of it as penance and the only road to redemption. It's really for your own good.

Before American audiences en masse came to love him for operatic martial arts epics Hero and House of Flying Daggers, Chinese directorZhang Yimou was already a major figure on the international scene, and lovers of art house and foreign cinema were well-acquainted with him and most of his career. One of his earliest and best films was the agonizingly beautiful Raise the Red Lantern featuring a breathtaking performance by Chinese beauty Gong Li. As part of their annual Next Wave Festival, BAM will be premiering a new ballet adaptation of the film (performed by the National Ballet of China and directed by Zhang himself) on Tuesday (10/11, running until 10/15). So it makes perfect sense that BAM will screen the film on Monday at 7 and 9:30 PM, along with two other earlier Zhang films: The Story of Qiu Ju on Tuesday and Shanghai Triad on Oct. 18.

The French Institute celebrates the career of Gérard Depardieu with a two month long series every Tuesday. This week features two films that were among the last to be directed by master French filmmaker Francois Truffaut: The Woman Next Door and The Last Subway.

Scandinavia House continues tribute to Greta Garbo, in celebration for what would have been her 100th birthday. On Wednesday, Scandinavia House will screen an adaptation of Leo Tolstoy's "Anna Karenina" starring Garbo (one of two she actually made) -- Love is one of her most famous silent films and it was a box office sensation upon its 1927 release. Garbo starred opposite her Flesh and the Devil co-star John Gilbert. The two became such a popular on-screen romantic couple in Flesh and the Devil that MGM titled the film in order to be able to create the tag line: "Greta Garbo and John Gilbert in Love." The studio had director Edmund Goulding shoot both happy and sad endings for the film with the Great Depression-afflicted audiences of the U.S. seeing the happy. Scandinavia House won't say which one they'll show.

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