• [The Daily] BAMcinemaFest 2017

    By David Hudson

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    New York’s BAMcinemaFest opens tonight with Aaron Katz’s Gemini and closes on June 24 with Alex Ross Perry’s Golden Exits. “Now celebrating its ninth year, this modest yet prestigious festival, so shrewdly curated, so reliably comprehensive a treasury of contemporary American independent cinema, has become filmgoers’ most exhilarating annual opportunity for discovery, a glimpse of what’s really happening on the vanguard of the country’s movie screens,” writes Calum Marsh in the Village Voice.

    Gemini, notes Marsh, “tells the story of an ordinary nobody (Lola Kirke, marvelous) pitched without warning into a pulpy, lurid whodunit, a larger-than-life noir teeming delightfully with hardboiled detectives, unseemly paparazzi, and double-crossing femmes fatales. An uncanny, exquisite synthesis of naturalism and genre, the film is a heady cocktail of high style and lo-fi whose sum effect is irresistible.”

    As for Golden Exits, you’ll find an excellent overview at Critics Round Up. Dispatching back to the New York Times from Sundance in January, Manohla Dargis wrote that “Perry affirms that he’s both one of the most talented younger filmmakers working in American movies, and a great writer of roles for women. The story involves the effect, direct and indirect, that a young woman (Emily Browning) has on a group of friends and strangers, including two sets of sisters (Lily Rabe, Analeigh Tipton, Chloë Sevigny and a hilariously acerbic Mary-Louise Parker).”

    The Centerpiece this year is En el Séptimo Día, and Kenji Fujishima, focusing on the opening weekend in his preview for Brooklyn Magazine, writes: “This new film from Jim McKay—whose last feature was Our Song way back in 2000 (and which will be playing at a free outdoor screening at Brooklyn Bridge Park’s Pier 1 on June 22)—distinguishes itself in the way it marries two seemingly incompatible genres: working-class neorealist drama and sports movie.”

    And there are two Spotlight screenings, Gillian Robespierre’s Landline (CRU and a Sundance roundup) and David Lowery’s A Ghost Story (CRU and Sundance). Landline "is bigger, richer, shaggier, and more satisfying than Robespierre’s Obvious Child, though obviously a product of the same irreverent imagination,” wrote IndieWire’s David Ehrlich in January. And: “It’s a rare privilege to see a contemporary American film as ambitious, emotionally honest, and just-plain-breathtaking as David Lowery’s Sundance entry A Ghost Story,” wrote Dan Schoenbrun for Filmmaker. With Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara, Will Oldham, and Sonia Acevedo. And David Lowery will take part in a Q&A following the screening.

    Tomorrow, the festival presents Peter Nicks’s The Force, and Filmmaker’s Vadim Rizov suggests that “if you haven’t been paying attention to police brutality-related news these last few years (and you really should be), this would make for a good synoptic primer.”

    And Sophie Mayer for Sight & Sound: “A heartfelt, closely observed story of a Pakistani-American lawyer balancing caring for her mother, falling in love with bookstore-owner Alma, and training as a wrestler, Signature Move builds on [Jennifer] Reeder’s summoning, in her shorts, of the inner worlds of desire as they meet the outer realities of politics, both family and national.”

    Friday, Jim Strouse’s The Incredible Jessica James, and here’s Matt Prigge in Metro: “Acerbic Daily Show alum Jessica Williams finally gets her first big movie role, playing a struggling playwright who falls for a divorcee (Chris O’Dowd). See it for Williams, but also see it for supporting player Lakeith Stanfield—one of the great treasures of modern movies (see: Short Term 12, Get Out, War Machine).”

    Then, Lauren Wolkstein and Christopher Radcliff’s The Strange Ones, “a movie perfectly engineered to seduce,” writes Stephen Saito. “It teases what its about, it whispers in your ear with diegetic sound often building into a rhythm that entrances, it intoxicates with splashes of colors that hold off the darkness, and it knows exactly how to hold you in its thrall.”

    Saturday and Princess Cyd. Matt Prigge: “A coming-out story for people tired of coming-out-story cliches, the latest from Stephen Cone (Henry Gamble’s Birthday Party) hangs with a 16-year-old (Jessie Pinnick) as a summer trip to her aunt’s (Rebecca Spence) leads to her falling for a tomboyish woman (Malic White). The genre’s stereotypes are either ignored or inverted, all while it gently and meaningfully explores one girl’s sexuality in the modern age.”

    Then, Columbus, “the first feature directed by Kogonada, who makes distinctive artistic use of classical styles and of popular actors who are at home in them.” The New Yorker’s Richard Brody singles out Haley Lu Richardson, who “vaults to the forefront of her generation’s actors with this performance, which virtually sings with emotional and intellectual acuity. . . . Few performances—and few films—glow as brightly with the gemlike fire of precocious genius.”

    Michelle Pfeiffer “is often the sole figure onscreen in Where is Kyra?, playing a Brooklyn woman who falls into increasingly dire circumstances after the passing of her ailing mother,” writes Bilge Ebiri in the Voice. Andrew Dosunmu, “whose last film was the sublime Mother of George (written, like Kyra, by Darci Picoult) and cinematographer Bradford Young sheathe Kyra in oppressive darkness . . . Rarely on film has the sheer debilitating exhaustion of poverty been so clearly conveyed.”

    “There are plenty of stories about domestic housewives who grow tired of their oppressive routines,” writes IndieWire’s Eric Kohn, “but none quite like Marianna Palka’s vicious feminist satire Bitch, in which the writer-director-star plays a woman who takes on the identity of a wild dog. It’s a blunt metaphor, but Palka transforms an absurd premise into a chilling look at the destruction of the nuclear family with a vivid, snarling vision driven by the propulsive energy of its biting critique.”

    Sunday. Kenji Fujishima on Dina: “Dan Sickles and Antonio Santini’s vérité documentary is essentially a love story—albeit one between two mentally disabled people, both somewhere on the autism spectrum. But there’s no trace of the sickly sweet sentimentality of, say, Garry Marshall’s The Other Sister here. Instead, Dina is an unsparing yet warmly affectionate chronicle of the difficulties Dina Buno faces in trying to forge a lasting romantic connection with fiancé and eventual husband, Scott Levin.”

    Wind River is “the third film written and the first one directed by Taylor Sheridan, who penned Sicario and Hell or High Water,” notes A. A. Dowd at the A.V. Club. “Having done flavorful, crackerjack wonders in the American Southwest, the former Sons of Anarchy actor heads north to Wyoming for his directorial debut, a snowbound noir starring Jeremy Renner as a government game hunter teaming up with a green FBI agent (fellow Avenger Elizabeth Olsen) to solve the rape and murder of a young woman on the local Native American reservation.” All in all, Dowd’s a bit let down, but at Critics Round Up, we find Laura Kern, writing for Film Comment, calling Wind River “clearly the work of a master wordsmith . . . Moody and mesmerizing, the film is part procedural and part human drama, accentuated with social commentary and jarring bursts of extreme violence.”

    Nanfu Wang’s I Am Another You “begins as a kind of immersive nonfiction profile,” writes Calum Marsh. “Wang happens by chance upon a subject who interests her, a young drifter named Dylan—free-spirited and ‘homeless by choice,’ he insists—and she chooses to live for several weeks with him on the streets, recording a life lived in obstinate defiance of social convention. But as Wang probes further, challenging her assumptions (and our own), she finds in Dylan not a charismatic vagabond but an addict in the throes of untreated mental illness. It’s a canny bit of human-interest reportage and criticism of the form at once.”

    Sunday is capped off with a program of short films by Chloe Domont, Jay Giampietro, Francisco Lezama and Agostina Galvez, and Dane Mainella.

    Monday. “Sabaah Folayan’s Whose Streets is an on-the-ground chronicle of the protests in Ferguson, Mo. that erupted after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson,” writes Sam Adams for Slate. “Although periodic title cards bring in both national and historical context, charting the protests’ amplification through social media and their resonance with the writings of Frantz Fanon and others, the movie’s perspective is overwhelmingly first-person, without the tidy frames of media reports or official statements.” And “as protests against the current administration continue to spring up at a moment’s notice, it’s easy to see them following the template established by BLM and Occupy Wall Street, who’ve done the groundwork for the anti-Trump movement even if not all their short-term objectives have been met.”

    We turn to BAM itself for word on Snowy Bing Bongs, directed by Rachel Wolther and Alex H. Fischer and starring Tallie Medel, Sunita Mani, and Eleanore Pienta: “This blissfully bonkers whatzit from unclassifiable dance-comedy trio Cocoon Central Dance Team is part psychotropic performance art spectacle, part absurdist sketch show.”

    “James N. Kienitz Wilkins’s kaleidoscopic documentary Common Carrier is comprised entirely of superimpositions that roughly sketch the struggle of a handful of modern artists in this technology-riddled world,” writes Elissa Suh in the Notebook. “Initially jarring, the relentless stream-of-consciousness of the collage-like textures becomes a lyrical entropy, bathed in gold summer light. Bewilderingly cosmic, the film gives unexpected rise to a sticky miasma of apprehension and political disquietude, punctuated by the occasional radio clips referencing the then-upcoming 2016 election.”

    Tuesday. John DeFore in the Hollywood Reporter: “Writers/directors Alex and Andrew Smith, who found some fans at Sundance fifteen years ago with The Slaughter Rule, return with an old-fashioned man-versus-nature tale, Walking Out, in which the roles of father and son are reversed. Playing a son who must take the lead when a mishap strands him and his father (Matt Bomer) in the wintry wilds of Montana, Josh Wiggins makes an excellent and restrained stand-in for moviegoers who, more than likely, will have no idea what they'd do in his shoes.” Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times: “Classic filmmaking of the most persuasive kind.”

    Wednesday, June 21. The Big Sick was a big hit when it premiered at Sundance. Jason Bailey at Flavorwire: “The Big Sick is, in many ways, an outright dramatization of how stand-up comic Kumail Nanjiani and his wife Emily V. Gordon met, fell in love, and sort of continued to do so while she was in a medically-induced coma. Nanjiani doesn’t even bother giving his character a different name . . . But that authenticity and candor is part of what makes The Big Sick shine so brightly—it’s got the lived-in coziness and complicated wit of a James L. Brooks movie.”

    Back to Elissa Suh: “Most Beautiful Island, lensed in a dreamy Super16 that reeks thoroughly and not unpleasantly of the 70s, secreting a dread and grit noticeably absent in today's anodyne New York and New York-set films. Director Ana Asensio pulls double duty as protagonist Luciana, an undocumented worker deadened to and bristling at her daily chores of survival: hawking restaurant fliers, wardrobe changes in public spaces, stiffing a cab. . . . Asensio sequesters us to loitering long-takes in this slowburn thriller that becomes a riveting fable of immigrant struggles.”

    Thursday, June 22, and Michael Almereyda's Marjorie Prime. “The premise is both simple and tricky,” writes Filmmaker's Vadim Rizov: “in the future, your deceased loved ones can be brought back as holograms for company. Marjorie (Lois Smith), aging and losing her memory, has her late husband Walter (Jon Hamm), eternally in his 40s, for company, a development which makes her daughter Tess (Geena Davis) a little nervous. From this low-key sci-fi premise, Marjorie gets complicated” and “the spirit of late Resnais (e.g. Mélo, You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet) hangs heavy.”

    Friday, June 23, begins with Matt Spicer’s Ingrid Goes West, starring Aubrey Plaza and Elizabeth Olsen. “A protagonist marching into a wedding and macing the bride is a helluva way to start your movie,” writes Flavorwire's Jason Bailey. “But it also establishes the stakes of this pitch-black comedy, making it clear that our main character is not only not quite right, but fully capable of acting on it.”

    “A startlingly evocative and unrelentingly weird hair-twirler,” Janicza Bravo’s Lemon “opens with a long pan through an amber-colored living room that both announces its razor sharp aesthetic control and introduces us to slumbering Isaac (Brett Gelman, who also co-wrote), a mediocre and clearly crazy Jewish-American Prince of an actor and theater instructor.” Brandon Harris, dispatching to Filmmaker from Rotterdam: “Featuring wonderful supporting turns from actors as reliable and underutilized as David Paymer, Fred Melamed and Rhea Perlman, Lemon is a film that deserves a big audience stateside.”

    Saturday, June 24. It’s Michael Almereyda again, here with Escapes, which “examines the films of Hampton Fancher, whose moderately successful acting career over nearly 20 years would ultimately be eclipsed by his first foray into screenwriting.” Dennis Harvey for Variety: “He wrote the original drafts adapting Philip K. Dick’s ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?’ into what became Blade Runner, sharing credit in the end with David Webb Peoples. . . . The tale of how Fancher came to play a key role developing one of the great sci-fi movie classics emerges almost as an afterthought late in his voiceover narration, which has the feel of a master cocktail-fete raconteur on a merely average night.” Grasshopper Film, though, has a nice quote from Jonathan Lethem: “Hampton Fancher has worlds falling out of his sleeves. His irresistible voice, with all its surreal U-turns, has been spectacularly netted by Almereyda.”

    Jairus McLeary and Gethin Aldous’s The Work won the Documentary Grand Prize at SXSW in March. “Imagine a Tony Robbins session with a bunch of testosterone-fueled convicts and you’ll start to get an idea of The Work, an emotionally riveting documentary that may very well be the most powerful group therapy ever caught on camera,” writes IndieWire's Eric Kohn.

    Updates, 6/15: Back to Brooklyn Magazine, where Kenji Fujishima hands a set of questions to the directors with work at the festival who actually live in Brooklyn: Ana Asensio (Most Beautiful Island), Sabaah Folayan, co-director (with Damon Davis) of Whose Streets?, Jim McKay (Our Song and En el Séptimo Día), Alex Ross Perry (Golden Exits), Gillian Robespierre (Landline), Jim Strouse (The Incredible Jessica James), James N. Kienitz Wilkins (Common Carrier), Lauren Wolkstein and Christopher Radcliff (The Strange Ones), and Rachel Wolther and Alex H. Fischer (Snowy Bing Bongs).

    Flavorwire’s Jason Bailey recommends Bitch, Whose Streets?, Columbus, Escapes, Our Song, Where Is Kyra?, A Ghost Story, and The Work.

    Don’t miss Escapes, advises David D’Arcy: “Fancher, a Brooklyn resident who may now be one of the borough’s oldest hipsters, knows how to tell a story, and there are a lot more where the stories in this film came from. Let’s hope for a book.”

    The Playlist writes up a list of “8 Must-See Films,” Gemini, A Ghost Story, Golden Exits, Ingrid Goes West, Landline, En el Séptimo Día, Wind River, The Strange Ones, and Princess Cyd.

    Updates, 6/16: Filmmaker’s Scott Macaulay and Vadim Rizov have written up their recommendations: Princess Cyd, A Ghost Story, Escapes, Columbus, Most Beautiful Island, The Force, Marjorie Prime, Common Carrier, Whose Streets?, En el Séptimo Día, and Golden Exits.

    In Review Online has posted its first dispatch: Justin Stewart on Gemini and The Force, Lawrence Garcia on Princess Cyd and Columbus, Luke Gorham on I Am Another You, and Alex Engquist on Signature Move.

    Updates, 6/17: Mike Hale profiles Jim McKay for the New York Times: “From 1996 to 2005, he made four movies shot, all or in part, in the city, including Our Song (2000), the story of three friends in a Crown Heights marching band that kicked off the career of an unknown actress named Kerry Washington. After 2005, he left the world of low-budget independent moviemaking for television, piling up directing credits on shows like The Wire, Big Love, and The Good Wife. But the streets of Brooklyn still called. Now, Mr. McKay, 55 and a resident of South Park Slope, is unveiling his first feature in 12 years: En el Séptimo Día (On the Seventh Day), a story of bicycle delivery men and soccer, set and filmed in the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Sunset Park and Carroll Gardens.”

    “Is there a director more generous to his characters than Stephen Cone?” asks Jose Solís at the Film Stage. “Watching his films, one gets a sense that he doesn’t use the medium simply to tell stories but to exercise his curiosity and discover the things that make us human. In the hands of another filmmaker, Princess Cyd’s two leads would’ve been pitted against each other and engaged in battle until a facile discovery in the denouement made them realize how much they had in common and led to a warm reconciliation. But not in Cone’s film, perhaps for the very notion that no one else is interested in telling the stories of characters such as these—perhaps because no one else can.”

    Updates, 6/20: Craig Hubert for Hyperallergic on Common Carrier: “Rarely has a film captured so sharply the modern precariousness of working from home, of the artist’s struggle to balance freedom and dependence. To be an artist, Wilkins says toward the end of his film, is to be on ‘strike against life.’”

    Variety’s Owen Gleiberman: “Fernando Cardona, the star of Jim McKay’s supremely confident and captivating independent feature En el Séptimo Día (On the Seventh Day), has the most hypnotic face I’ve seen on an actor in months. . . . In another context, you could see him as a real player, but Cardona’s José, an undocumented Mexican immigrant who works as a delivery guy in Brooklyn, doesn’t speak much English, and the image he presents is quiet, passive, and cautiously controlled. One false move could destroy everything he’s worked for. Cardona uses that stillness to express unspoken currents of fear, hope, and desire; he comes off like a boy in the body of a man who’s a very old soul.” More from David D’Arcy.

    In his second round for Brooklyn Magazine, Kenji Fujishima writes about Whose Streets?, The Big Sick, Most Beautiful Island, Marjorie Prime, Ingrid Goes West, and Golden Exits.

    Updates, 6/22:En el Séptimo Día is an intimate character study, but it’s also an excitingly kinetic film, almost half of it involving José dashing through the restaurant’s kitchen and peddling furiously through a Brooklyn that may seem familiar to some of us but which is seldom shown through the eyes of a character who is one of the invisibles,” writes Amy Taubin for Artforum. “Cinematographer Charles Libin is good at moving the camera and stealing exteriors, and McKay’s improvised documentary approach to street life (lots of close-ups of people who don’t figure in the cast of characters) deepens the movie, allowing us to see the world that José and his teammates only precariously inhabit.”

    More from Ryan Swen at the Film Stage, where Jose Solís writes about Escapes, noting that “reading about Fancher’s life doesn’t compare to hearing him narrate it, and Almereyda makes the most of this Dickensian hero’s qualities.”

    In Review Online’s second dispatch features Sam C. Mac on Golden Exits, Justin Stewart on The Big Sick, A Ghost Story, and Marjorie Prime, and Paul Attard on Escapes and Dina.

    Update, 6/24: With Princess Cyd, Stephen Cone “proves it’s possible for men to write sexually liberated, empowered, autonomous women,” writes Jude Dry for IndieWire.

    Update, 6/25: “Though demanding and decidedly not entry-level, the thicket of superimposed images and sounds in Common Carrier is never less than a pleasure to navigate,” writes Bradley Warren at the Playlist.

    For news and items of interest throughout the day, every day, follow @CriterionDaily.

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