Good news: Your weekend moviegoing needs have been simplified. Every Thursday morning, our What To See guide will highlight the new releases opening in New York City and NYC repertory screenings that are most worth your time.
Here's your guide for the weekend of April 29 – May 1.
A strong early contender for the year's best thriller…
Green Room (2016)
Director: Jeremy Saulnier
Stars: Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, Patrick Stewart, Alia Shawkat, Mark Webber, Macon Blair, Joe Cole, Callum Turner
With only two films, writer-director Jeremy Saulnier has established himself as a master of realistic nightmares. After starting out with the exaggeratedly gruesome horror-comedy Murder Party, the Brooklyn-based filmmaker did a stark 180 with Blue Ruin, a powerfully naturalistic, vengeance-minded thriller about an unexceptional guy feeling his way through a tragically misguided revenge plot. Whereas most other directors would've played its inherent genre beats for crowd-pleasing wildness, Saulnier kept Blue Ruin deeply rooted in believability. The character’s decisions felt authentic, while violence never felt gratuitously heightened.
In Green Room, Saulnier pulls off an even trickier balancing act, elevating the carnage to an almost exploitation-film level without losing any of Blue Ruin’s sincerity. The set-up is straight out of Assault on Precinct 13's playbook, and the execution is pure John Carpenter nodding. Four young punch rockers, known as The Ain't Rights (and led by Anton Yelchin and Alia Shawkat) take a seedy gig inside a grungy bar run by a group of humorless Neo-Nazis, whose master is played with calculated menace by a chillingly understated Patrick Stewart. After one of the band’s members witnesses a murder backstage, the Nazis trap them inside the venue with the intent to permanently silence them—until The Ain't Rights decide to fight back.
Once the Ain’t Rights hear the titular room's door lock, Saulnier stages Green Room's escalation of brutality with exceptional precision. A scene in which character’s arm gets shredded on the unseen side of a door, for instance, focuses on the victim's reaction yet packs the same impact as any slasher movie’s gnarliest kill; Saulnier cares more about the emotional devastation than any visual money-shots, though he does include a few well-earned moments of oh-shit bloodshed. At its grisliest, though, Green Room still gives all of its characters, particularly the Aryan Nation villains, palpable humanity. When a bad guy dies, it's not a stand-up-and-cheer, it's surprisingly upsetting.
Although Green Room repeatedly tests the viewer's stomach for gore, Saulnier doesn't do sadism. He’s the kind of mature storyteller who's able to work one of modern film's most heart-wrenchingly sweet dog scenes into an otherwise hardcore movie in which someone’s stomach gets ripped open with a box-cutter. He makes B-movies for the A-movie crowd.
Where to see it: Expanding in wide release
Because who can resist a cute kitten that dodges bullets in slow-motion and dresses like 50 Cent...?
Director: Peter Atencio
Stars: Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele, Method Man, Gabrielle Union, Will Forte, Jason Mitchell, Nia Long, Rob Huebel
Following the critical success and cultural impact of their hilarious and smart Comedy Central sketch show, Key & Peele, comedians Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele could've used their first leap into movie-making to push social agendas and shatter racial taboos, but what makes Keanu so delightfully charming is that they've done the opposite. Instead of capitalizing on their cable TV fame to change the world, they've made Malibu's Most Wanted for the cat meme crowd. And while it's not without its comedic misfires and on-the-nose clichés, Keanu is so endearingly goofy and earnestly acted that its lowbrow nature is a positive.
That’s largely due to its eponymous feline, an adorable and impressively emotive kitten that gives the best cat performance since Inside Llewyn Davis' Ulysses. Key and Peele play middle-class cousins who pose as slang-kicking gangsters in order to rescue Keanu, whom Peele’s character had recently taken in off the streets, from a widely feared drug kingpin named Cheddar (and played by Method Man). As the bullets start to fly,Keanu settles into an action-heavy vibe that's reminiscent of the Beverly Hills Cop films; wisely, Key, Peele, and first-time director Peter Atencio know that slow-motion shots of a kitten fleeing from gunfire are comedy gold.
Written by Peele and Alex Rubens, Keanu's fish-out-of-water scenario isn't immune to lazy jokes that fall way beneath Key & Peele's standards, like whenever Key spews pseudo-hip-hop lines like "wordness to the turdness." But it's mostly powered by the comedy duo's penchant for absurdity, most notably during a hilarious sequence in which a surprise cameo is delivered with madcap insanity. Moments like that one remind you that Key and Peele are too subversive and intelligent to simply ape Jamie Kennedy.
Where to see it: Opening in wide release
Now that Tribeca 2016 is over, catch up with one of the Festival's most impressive sleeper hits...
The Family Fang (2016)
Director: Jason Bateman
Stars: Nicole Kidman, Jason Bateman, Christopher Walken, Maryann Plunkett, Jason Butler Harner, Kathryn Hahn
Nicole Kidman and Jason Bateman are Annie and Baxter Fang, the offspring and reluctant collaborators of Caleb and Camille Fang (Christopher Walken and Maryann Plunket). Celebrated and controversial performance artists, Caleb and Camille's work put innocent bystanders in the midst of elaborate staged scenes that frequently featured their young children. When the elder Fangs go missing under mysterious circumstances, Annie is convinced it's just another elaborate prank-cum-art piece, while Baxter suspects something else might be afoot. In digging into the unraveling mystery, the siblings begin to unpack long dormant and unresolved issues from their unorthodox childhoods.
Following up his delightfully raunchy debut Bad Words, Bateman turns his directorial attentions to more mature material, telling a dysfunctional family story that is at once idiosyncratic and identifiable, while never losing his distinctive sense of humor. Deeply felt and caustically funny, Bateman's sophomore feature is an unpredictable and unique take on the dysfunctional family drama genre. —Cara Cusamano (via the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival guide)
Where to see it: Angelika Film Center
If you're not up on Studio Ghibli, the world's best animation studio, here's your chance to fix that…
Princess Mononoke (1997) and Spirited Away (2001)
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Animated movies are much deeper than Pixar and Disney. To many critics, in fact, the best animation doesn't come from either of those major stateside companies, but, rather, from Japan, where Studio Ghibli has been producing some of the most visually decadent and narratively complex big-screen cartoons of the last 30+ years. But way too many American moviegoers aren't familiar with what co-founders Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata have been doing for illustrated cinema for the past three decade. Put it this way: Loving animated flicks without appreciating Studio Ghibli's output is like claiming to be a hip-hop head and totally ignoring lyrical giants like Nas, Eminem, and Scarface.
This weekend, New York City's animation fans will have the chance to either reignite their Ghibli joneses or experience Hayao Miyazaki’s brilliance for the first time. Two of NYC's best repertory theaters, Brooklyn's Nitehawk and Lower Manhattan's The Metrograph, will screen two of the director’s best movies: Princess Mononoke, a thrilling fantasy epic that features one of the coolest female warrior characters this side of Xena, and the Oscar-winning Spirited Away, about a 10-year-old girl who gets lost in an amusement park and enters a heightened world of make-believe. (Note to Nitehawk and Metrograph's programmers: The latter would make a great double bill with Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth.)