April Brings a Shower of Excellent Indie Films and One-Off Events

New month? No problemista. Check out these art and indie theatrical recommendations.
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Judging by what’s currently known about art and specialty film screenings in April as well as this last weekend of March, the next month is shaping up as an exciting and eclectic time for both new first-run movies and special event presentations. Check out my March preview column for independently-produced movies that might still be playing on local screens.

“Problemista”

Problemista

[Watch the trailer. Currently running at the Esquire Theatre, AMC Newport on the Levee, and AMC West Chester.]

This film is getting good word of mouth after opening exclusively at the Esquire and The Neon in Dayton, and it has the kind of edgy hipness that its distributor A24 (Everything Everywhere All at Once) is known for. Alejandro (Julio Torres, also the film’s writer/director) is an El Salvador toy designer trying to break through in New York. He meets an art critic (Tilda Swinton), the girlfriend of an eccentric artist (RZA), and all sorts of problems subsequently ensue for this problemista.

“The comedian Julio Torres presents himself like an alien from outer space, an unsmiling observer of Earth paraphernalia,” says The New York Times critic Amy Nicholson. “Born in El Salvador, but seeming to hail from somewhere between Andy Kaufman’s fictional Caspiar and Mork’s planet Ork, Torres uses his stand-up, his Saturday Night Live skits (he wrote for the show from 2016 to 2019) and now his eccentric filmmaking debut to indulge his fixations, including plastic toys and ostentatious sinks.”

Remembering Gene Wilder

[Watch the trailer. Opens March 29 at the Mariemont Theatre.]

“Remembering Gene Wilder”

The crowd at the recent Jewish & Israeli Film Festival loved this new documentary, and some got a bit teary toward the end of the film as it covered Wilder’s decline and death in 2016 from Alzheimer’s. I found the film best when it combined film footage; interviews with Mel Brooks, Carol Kane, and others; and Wilder’s own words to revisit his film career in a substantive way. It does a particularly good job of positing that one of his lesser-regarded films, The Frisco Kid (1979), is actually one of his better ones. In it, Wilder portrays a Polish rabbi in the Old West who is befriended by a bank robber (Harrison Ford).

Overall, anyone who fondly recalls his comedies like The Producers, Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein, and Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask) will find this doc rewarding, even if some of the stereotyped humor, especially in Brooks’ films, hasn’t aged all that well. Wilder’s acting has, as has the appeal of his sweet personality.

“They Shot the Piano Player”

They Shot the Piano Player

[Watch the trailer. Currently playing at the Mariemont Theatre.]

Spanish directors Fernando Trueba and Javier Mariscal received an Oscar nomination in 2012 for their drivingly musical animated film Chico and Rita, a favorite of repertory cinemas. Now they’ve returned with something similar but also quite complex, an animated film that mixes its lovely South American musical score (bossa nova!) with a serious based-on-history story. Jeff Goldblum voices a New York music journalist searching for what happened to Brazilian piano virtuoso Francisco Tenório, who disappeared in Argentina in 1976 when that country fell under military rule. The film reportedly contrasts the 1960s freedom, symbolized by the music, in many South American countries with the following decade’s political repression.

Variety’s Chris Willman had this to say about the film: “There may be no subgenre of music quite as exclusively devoted to releasing pheromones as bossa nova. So the fact that They Shot the Piano Player is wallpapered with classic examples of the stuff has the strange effect of lulling you into a kind of peaceful, easy feeling for virtually the entire length of the movie, even as its interviewees are recalling the pervasive dread in the region in the ’70s or discussing the military coups that claimed Tenório as one of thousands of never officially reported victims.

Baby Peggy in Captain January

[Screens at 7 p.m. April 12 at Music Hall Ballroom.]

This month brings a veritable cornucopia of special event screenings featuring both new and old films, and one of the most fascinating ones in this 1924 title. It’s being presented by Friends of Music Hall, featuring Tedde Gibson’s musical accompaniement on the Mighty Wurlitzer Organ and a Q&A on Baby Peggy’s amazing life.

Baby Peggy was born in 1918 as Peggy-Jean Montgomery and had already made 150 short comedies by 1924 after becoming a major American entertainer. Captain January, one of her few surviving feature-length films, is adapted from an 1890 children’s novel about a lighthouse keeper and his adopted daughter. I’ve seen it (full disclosure: my wife works for the Friends of Music Hall), and it’s simply unbelievable how a child actress could perform so naturally and convincingly.

At her peak of popularity, Baby Peggy had her own line of endorsements that included dolls in her likeness, jewelry, milk, and other products. While she eventually grew out of her character, Montgomery enjoyed a long life and died in 2020 at age 101. Captain January, by the way, was remade in 1936 starring another gifted child actor who followed in Baby Peggy’s significantly large footsteps: Shirley Temple.

Morvern Callar

[Watch the trailer. Screens at 7:30 p.m. April 18 at the Esquire Theatre.]

In March, I went to a special screening at the Esquire of an obscure and intensely experimental 1966 film, Daisies, made in Czechoslovakia during a brief period when the Iron Country nation was free from Russian political domination. The amazing film was presented by Covington’s Conveyor Belt Books. I was shocked to see the Esquire’s largest theater almost full with an enthusiastic audience. Where did these people come from for such an unfamiliar movie? I asked Brandon DiSabatino, co-owner of the deeply curated second-hand bookstore, and he says via email, Knew Daisies would be a big hit with the folks from our store. These kids know the good stuff.”

Those kids—as well as us adults—will get another chance to appreciate “good stuff” with Conveyor Belt’s next monthly presentation, a daring and tough-edged 2002 film by the gifted Scottish director Lynne Ramsay. A brief description might make this sound like a movie about healing: Morvern (Samantha Morton) and a friend decide to tour Scotland after Morvern’s boyfriend commits suicide. But the film isn’t that pat—her boyfriend left behind the manuscript of his unpublished novel, which is dedicated to Morvern, and she replaces his name with hers before sending the manuscript to a publisher recommended in his suicide note. She also tells everyone that her boyfriend left her and moved abroad. Be prepared for a challenging and rewarding art film.

Vergiss Meyn Nicht

[Watch the trailer. Screens at 5 p.m. March 31 at the Esquire Theatre.]

This 2023 German documentary may not be easy to pronounce, but it’s an important movie to know and is presented here by the University of Cincinnati-sponsored 2024 EU Film Festival. The film’s German title, which translates as Don’t Forget Me, is one of the reasons for the film’s importance—it wants us to remember and honor Steffen Meyni, a young film student who in 2018 began chronicling an environmentalist community that took root in the tree tops of a German forest in order to prevent its destruction. Meyni filmed community life using a 360-degree helmet camera but died from a fall during a confrontation with police trying to clear the site.

The film’s credited directors (Fabiana Fragale, Kilian Kuhlendahl, and Jens Mühlhoff) based their work on his footage and have given it the English title of Lonely Oaks.

Celebrating Julia Reichert

[Screens at 6:30 p.m. April 18 at the Contemporary Arts Center, downtown.]

Julia Reichert in the 1970s

The Over-the-Rhine International Film Festival is skipping this year in favor of sponsoring a few special events and preparing a spring 2025 return. The first occurred in February at the Freedom Center with an appearance by film critic and documentarian Elvis Mitchell.

The second event is a remembrance of the late Oscar-winning documentarian Julia Reichert, who lived in Yellow Springs, Ohio, and died in 2022. Her husband, filmmaker Steven Bognar, will participate in presenting three of her short films as a means of exploring her roots, and then they’ll debut a new 30-minute documentary about her assembled from archival footage and photos. Afterwards, Bognar will discuss Reichert’s legacy with tt stern-enzi, the festival’s artistic director. Reichert won her Oscar in 2020 for the documentary American Factory, produced by Barack and Michelle Obama.

“Femme”

Femme

[Watch the trailer. Screens at 7:30 p.m. April 1 at the Woodward Theater, Over-the-Rhine.]

The Woodward Theater is finding growing public interest in its programming of new art films and music documentaries, scheduling them every Monday in April. The series kicks off with this film about how drag queen Jules, brutally attacked by a homophobic stranger and who subsequently—when out of drag—recognizes his aggressor Preston in a gay sauna. Jules then starts to insinuate himself into the closeted Preston’s life, with revenge in mind.

“Nathan Stewart-Jarrett and George MacKay bring alpha performances to this psychodrama of sexual danger from first-time feature directors Sam H. Freeman and Ng Choon Ping, developed from an earlier award-winning short film,” says Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian.

The Napa State Tapes

[Watch the trailer. Screens at 7:30 p.m. April 8 at the Woodward.]

This fabled rock film features one of the greatest punk/psychobilly bands ever, the Cramps, and shows them playing their wild, exciting music in 1978 for patients of Northern California’s Napa State Hospital, a psychiatric institution. In addition to the relatively short film, the Woodward presentation includes an opening live music set by the Mutants and a 2021 documentary providing background on how the Cramps’ show came about and on the Bay Area collective Target Video that packaged and released this footage.

In the online production notes, Jason Willis of Vimeo says, “The grainy black-and-white video footage also provided a vision of humanity to this world of mental health. The punks, also dismissed as outsiders to society, felt a camaraderie to the Napa State residents.”

Bye Bye Tiberias

[Watch the trailer. Screens at 7:30 p.m. April 15 at the Woodward.]

This Palestinian movie was acquired for U.S. distribution by Women Make Movies in December 2023 and is making its local first-run debut. The documentary by Lina Soualem is about how her mother, Hiam Abbass, left her family and their Arab Israeli/Palestinian village seeking an acting career abroad. When she returns, it is with a child, Soualem.

“The title gives a clue to what Soualem considers the critical turning point in the family’s fortunes: their 1948 expulsion from their home and farm in Tiberias during the war that followed the partition of Palestine and the declaration of the independent State of Israel,” writes Alissa Simon in Variety. “Relocating to the village of Deir Hanna, her great-grandfather lost his mind and died, leaving his seamstress wife Um Ali and eight children, including Soualem’s grandmother Nemat, a teacher. Restless Hiam, one of Nemat’s 10 children, always felt suffocated by village life and managed to leave Deir Hanna to live abroad in her early 20s.”

“With Love and a Major Organ”

With Love and a Major Organ

[Watch the trailer. Screens at 7:30 p.m. April 22 at the Woodward.]

This Canadian fantasy drama is directed by Kim Albright and stars Anna Maguire as a young woman who brings new meaning to the word “heartbroken.” Woodward’s website tells you all you need to know to understand the film’s premise: “In an alternate world where hearts are made of objects and suppressing emotions is self-care, a lonely woman rips out her own heart for the man she loves, only to discover that he has run away with it.”

David Rhodes Brown: Playing Dangerously

[Screens at 7:30 p.m. April 29 at the Woodward.]

The final April Monday presentation is a world premiere documentary about the beloved Cincinnati musician David Rhodes Brown, who died in 2022.

Support the Girls

[Watch the trailer. Screens at 3 p.m. April 28 at the Garfield Theatre, downtown.]

Cincinnati World Cinema, working with Voice of Black Cincinnati, presents a second chance to see this 2018 humane comedy, with thoughtful and wise observations about women in the workplace, that was overlooked when initially released. Regina Hall stars as the manager of a Hooters-like establishment called Double Whammies, where she tries to be fair to her employees and protect them from customer harassment.

In Britain’s Independent publication, Clarisse Louhrey praises the film and especially Hall: “While they’re surrounded by patrons who see them as nothing more than objects and caregivers, the waitresses have still found solidarity in each other, creating a web of protection that actually ends up outdoing the average workplace. Any hint of sexual harassment is immediately confronted. A customer is ejected, without question, for calling a waitress fat. No one is left alone to deal with their own childcare. Even those who get fired are offered help to get back on their feet.”

“Do Not Expect Too Much from the End of the World”

Do Not Expect Too Much from the End of the World

[Watch the trailer. Screens at April 19-21 at the Speed Art Museum in Louisville.]

Louisville is a really nice city for a weekend visit: You can walk a dramatic pedestrian bridge across the Ohio River, check on the city’s progress with becoming the capital of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, view Bob Dylan’s not-yet-open Last Refuge bourbon bar in the city’s fashionable NuLu district, and see the excellent collection at the Speed Art Museum, which has a beautiful contemporary addition that opened in 2016. The Speed also has a superb cinematheque programmed by a full-time curator, Dean Otto.

This new and highly praised 163-minute Romanian movie, directed by Radu Jude, can be the perfect centerpiece for an overnight Louisville visit. The hard-to-briefly describe film tells the story of a woman producing a workplace safety movie and turns into an exploration of how this country, movies, and the entire world are adapting (or not) to the 21st century. It’s been getting rave reviews, including a Critic’s Pick from The New York Times’ Manohla Dargis. Here’s some of what she says: “Late in Radu Jude’s Do Not Expect Too Much From the End of the World, the movie shifts tones. Our heroine, a funny, foul-mouthed gofer who’s racking up miles driving in Bucharest … the sneakily charismatic Ilinca Manolache, is a production assistant toiling for a foreign company that’s making a workplace safety video in Romania. Among her tasks is interviewing men and women who have been injured on the job, the idea being that one will make a camera-friendly cautionary tale for workers. As she changes gears, and the movie switches between black-and-white film and color video, Angela flips off other drivers, acidly critiques all that she encounters, creates TikTok videos and effectively maps the geopolitical landscape of contemporary Romania. At one point, she meets the German director Uwe Boll, who’s known to have trounced a few of his critics in boxing matches.”

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