Indie and Art Film Highlights in May

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May brings new “specialty” films to this region’s theaters and performance spaces as well as some unusual and fascinating special one-off screenings. Here’s a selective look at the intriguing ones, starting with the most eagerly awaited—at least by this writer—new entry right at the top. [See my recommendations for April here. Some of those films might still be showing in area theaters.]

“Showing Up”

Showing Up

[Watch the trailer. Showing now at Mariemont Theatre, Mariemont.]

I never miss a Kelly Reichardt film. They’re so exquisitely nuanced, with carefully developed characters and a searching, keenly observant sensibility that’s crucial to her independent spirit. Showing Up is her eighth feature since 1994 and fourth collaboration with Michelle Williams. Here the actress—fresh off an Oscar nomination for her work in The Fabelmans—plays Lizzy, a woman who makes small-scale sculptures in her apartment while also working at an art school. Showing Up is the story of how she tries to fit into her community in idiosyncratic Portland, Oregon.

Subtle, yes, but according to New York Times critic Manohla Dargis, it’s also revelatory: “Together, Reichardt and Williams—with little dialogue and boundless generosity—lucidly articulate everything that Lizzy will never say and need not say, opening a window on the world and turning this wondrous, determined, gloriously grumpy woman into a sublime work of art.” To repeat myself, don’t miss it.

Sick of Myself

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

Booked for one screening only at the Woodward Theater is the highly regarded Sick of Myself, a new “unromantic comedy” from Norwegian director Kristoffer Borgli. It’s about a young woman who seeks to win more attention from her rising-art-star boyfriend and chooses a truly sick way. She acquires a Russian anti-anxiety drug that’s been recalled because it causes a severe skin disease, and then uses it knowing the drawbacks. Somehow, the media attention she draws from her ailment nets her a modeling contract. Be prepared to laugh flinchingly.

“Champion”

Champion

[Watch the trailer. Showing at 1 p.m. May 3 at Cinemark Oakley Station and 6 p.m. May 3 at AMC Newport and Regal Deerfield Town Center.]

Back in 2012, the Opera Fusion collaboration by Cincinnati Opera and UC’s College-Conservatory of Music workshopped a new still-in-progress opera called Champion by the famed jazz trumpeter/band leader/composer Terence Blanchard, with libretto by playwright Michael Cristofer (The Shadow Box). It was based on the life story of the U.S. Virgin Island-born boxer Emile Griffith, a physically powerful man who kept his gay private life on the quiet side. But when a rival fighter, Benny Paret, taunted him about it at a match, Griffith responded with punches so furious that Paret fell into a coma and died soon afterward.

At the packed theater where the CCM student vocalists sang, you could sense this was something new and important we were hearing—and that sense was heightened by Blanchard’s comments afterward. Champion went on to debut in St. Louis in 2013 and received strong reviews. Now, the New York Metropolitan Opera is presenting it, which means that Fathom Live Events is beaming a “live in HD” performance to movie theaters across the country. While the actual live showing will have occurred (on April 29 at 12:55 p.m.) by the time you read this, there are encore screenings on May 3.

Pioneers of Queer Cinema (series)

[May 4-25 at Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus]

We’re lucky to have in this region a cinematheque/film studies program as excellent as the one presented by Ohio State University’s Wexner Center for the Arts. The quality of its programming puts the Columbus center on the national A-list of artful film-programming venues, side by side with Los Angeles’ American Cinematheque, Berkeley’s Pacific Film Archive, and New York’s Museum of Modern Art.

May brings the Pioneers of Queer Cinema series to Columbus with four programs: Rob Epstein’s 1984 Oscar-winning documentary The Times of Harvey Milk at 7 p.m. on May 4, along with shorts; Cheryl Dunye’s 1996 feature The Watermelon Woman at 7 p.m. May 11; Tom Joslin’s 1977 Blackstar: Autobiography of a Close Friend at 7:30 May 18, with shorts; and the 1993 film Dottie Gets Spanked by now-acclaimed director Todd Haynes (Cincinnati-filmed Carol and Dark Water) paired with Bill Sherwood’s landmark 1986 Parting Glances for a 1 p.m. May 20 showing. The final presentation, a selection of shorts, occurs at 7 p.m. May 25.

This touring series is drawn from the extensive Outfest UCLA Legacy Project’s collection of 44,000 moving-image holdings related to LGBTQ filmmaking. At the May 4 screening, Todd Wiener, motion picture curator for UCLA’s Film & Television Archives, will speak about the archives’ history and current activities. 

“Everything Went Fine”

Everything Went Fine

[Watch the trailer. Starting May 5 at Mariemont Theatre.]

The newest film from Francois Ozon, a French director of admired films about prickly adult relationships, is a family drama in which an elderly art collector who’s suffered a stroke asks his daughter for help ending his life. In The Guardian newspaper, Peter Bradshaw praised Ozon’s film for its unsentimentality, “encapsulated by the throwaway gesture in the title itself, leaving us to decide what it exactly is in the end which has gone well. And the final shot of a dead person, the supremely difficult moment to bring off, is haunting in its lack of emotional affect.” As the global movement grows for humane end-of-life medical procedures to avoid prolonged human suffering, expect more artfully dramatic cinematic treatments like this of the subject. 

“RRR”

RRR

[Watch the trailer. Showing at 4 p.m. May 13 at Garfield Theatre, downtown.]

I’m eagerly awaiting the screening of this 3-hour Telugu-language Indian epic that combines thrilling action, song and dance, Bollywood-style choreography, high drama, elaborate set design, and engrossing mythologized history about two leaders of the country’s anti-British revolution. The movie comes to Cincinnati World Cinema’s Garfield Theatre for just one screening on a Saturday afternoon. I have seen—along with 140 million others—the wildly invigorating video of a song from the film, “Naatu Naatu,” that won this year’s Oscar for Best Original Song. Wow!

Set in the 1920s, the film’s story is based on two actual heroes of India’s fight for freedom, Alluri Sitarama Raju and Koaran Bheem. In the movie, they bond after the British kidnap a girl from her village. The film’s director and co-writer, S.S. Rajamouli, has said Quentin Tarantino’s 2009 Inglourious Basterds was a strong influence.

Yellow Rose

[Watch the trailer. Showing at 7:30 p.m. May 15 at Woodward Theater.]

Yellow Rose has won a following on the festival circuit for its evocative, atmospheric journey into a quintessentially Americana place: smalltown Texas. Director/co-writer Diane Paragas chronicles the efforts of Filipina teenager trying to leave her family to start a career as a country music singer. Eva Noblezada, who originated the role of Eurydice in the Broadway production of Hadestown, plays the girl. Also in the cast is Dale Watson, a genuine giant of country/Americana music who’s especially known for reviving truck-driving songs.

Dog Day Afternoon

[Showing at 7 p.m. May 15 at Esquire Theatre and 7 p.m. May 17 at Mariemont Theatre.]

They do still make movies like they did in the 1970s, one of Hollywood’s greatest decades: edgy, downbeat, questioning of American values and grittily realistic. But such films don’t command the national conversation now the way they did then, when there was a large, restless public hungry for daring movies that captured their deeply disillusioned mood about the country, which had lost the war in Vietnam and was in shock over the corrupt President Nixon.

Released in 1975, Dog Day Afternoon is one of the best (and still most timely) of all 1970s movies, a landmark in the great director Sidney Lumet’s long career. Working with one of our greatest actors, Al Pacino, Lumet tells the true story of two men—Pacino as Sonny and the outstanding John Cazale as Sal—whose amateurish attempt to rob a bank results in a hostage situation and police siege. Sonny is trying to raise money to help his partner, Leon (Chris Sarandon), get sex reassignment therapy.

Cincinnati film historian Joe Horine will lead a post-screening discussion about the film, focusing on its ongoing relevancy and how Pacino’s performance compares with his body of work. Horine believes it’s among his finest. 

“Jack and the Beanstalk” (left) and “Robot Monster”

Jack and the Beanstalk / Robot Monster

[Showing at 7 p.m. May 24 at Wexner Center for the Arts.]

It would be a mistake to think that the only films being restored and re-celebrated by film buffs are French New Wave classics and Ingmar Bergman explorations of life’s traumas. There’s also a lot of fun, goofy stuff staging triumphant returns, too. This Wexner Center for the Arts double bill of new restorations offers two charmingly dated films: the full color 1952 adaptation of the fairytale Jack and the Beanstalk, starring the comedy duo of Abbott and Costello, and Robot Monster from 1953, an early example of 3-D filmmaking. The Wexner’s website describes the monster as bearing “a striking resemblance to someone in a gorilla suit wearing a diving helmet.” Bob Furmanek, president and founder of the 3-D Film Archive, will speak at the screening. And if you’re wondering who’s on first, it’s Abbott and Costello, natch.

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