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 July 3 – June 5.
Because keeping the media's version of Amy Winehouse as your own would be tragic….
Director: Asif Kapadia
A burnout. A drug addict who wasted her talent. A freakishly great singer who sported a beehive hairdo and gave awkward, often uncomfortable interviews in which she was clearly high and/or drunk.
Those are the ways in which most people saw, and still see, Amy Winehouse, the critically beloved jazz/soul singer who died from alcohol intoxication in 2011, at the age of 27.
Those perceptions are all wrong.
In his heartbreaking and exceptional documentary Amy, filmmaker Asif Kapadia (Senna) does right by Winehouse, dispelling the English crooner's posthumous reputation by capturing the real woman behind the media’s skewed perspectives. With the help of Winehouse’s family members and closest friends, Kapadia wrangled together a surplus of never-before-seen footage, mostly shot on phones and camcorders, of the singer's life starting when she was 18 and following her all the way through her tumultuous career, including the recording sessions behind her U.K. breakthrough album Frank (2003) and the star-making worldwide chart-topper Back To Black (2006). Winehouse’s parents, best friends, former managers and bodyguards, not to mention collaborator/admirer Tony Bennett, recount their experiences with her through voiceover, but they’re never seen outside of the home video footage and personal photographs. Amy steadfastly remains all about Winehouse.
Kapadia’s dedication to presenting the real woman behind the celebrity lends Amy a strikingly revelatory edge. Before intoxicants and depression have pushed her off the intoxicant deep end (and Kapadia doesn’t pull back from showing her with drugs and looking physically ragged), Amy's Winehouse—meaning, the real Winehouse—is charming, bubbly and can light up rooms with her smile and sense of humor. She's everybody's friend and nobody's target. As her fame builds, though, her inability to cope with the attention, interviewers' recorders and flashing lights gradually destroys her. A couple of negative influences in her life add to the devastation: her father, Mitchell, a fame-chaser who at one point can be heard saying she "doesn’t need rehab" when she so clearly does and later shows up to her post-overdose rehab with reality TV show cameras, and Blake Fielder-Civil, the pseudo-rocker she desperately loved but who enjoyed milking her financial success and sticking narcotics in her face more than looking out for her well-being.
In its final half-hour, Amy turns overwhelmingly sad. You helplessly watch an amazingly talented young woman slip away from the addictions she can’t fight alone, her hands figuratively reaching out for help but constantly getting batted away by paparazzi cameras, late-night talk show hosts' jokes and the rest of pop culture’s aloof insensitivity. When she dies, it’s all the more upsetting to hear Winehouse’s inner circle mourn the loss of the radiant but delicate and ultimately self-destructive loved one. They’d known the real Winehouse for 27 years; sadly, Amy's audience only gets to know that person for the film’s two-hour duration.
The only "burnout" that'll remain is the viewer whose heart has been scorched.
Where to see it: Landmark Sunshine Cinema, Friday and Saturday at 11:15 a.m., 1:45 p.m., 4:15 p.m., 7:00 p.m., 9:55 p.m., 11:45 p.m.; Sunday at 11:15 a.m., 1:45 p.m., 4:15 p.m., 7:00 p.m., 9:55 p.m.
AMC Loews Lincoln Square 13, Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 9:15 a.m., 12:30 p.m., 3:45 p.m., 7:00 p.m., 10:15 p.m.
Because it's more than just a meat market….
Magic Mike XXL (2015)
Director: Gregory Jacobs
Stars: Channing Tatum, Joe Manganiello, Matt Bomer, Jada Pinkett Smith, Adam Rodriguez, Donald Glover, Kevin Nash, Elizabeth Banks, Amber Heard, Gabriel Iglesias, Andie MacDowell, Stephen “tWitch” Boss
If there’s ever been a movie that’s truly critic-proof, it’s Magic Mike XXL, the sequel to Steven Soderbergh’s light and breezy 2012 film that made male strippers cool for both women and men.
The first Magic Mike at least had the essence of a plot, with cool-guy dancer Mike (Channing Tatum) going through an existential crisis while mentoring a new on-stage recruit and trying to launch his own handmade furniture business. Magic Mike XXL, however, has no plot, nor any real conflict. After three years off the pole, so to speak, Mike reconnects with his former troupe and heads on a shenanigan-heavy road trip from Tampa to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, for the annual stripper convention. That’s it—that’s the entire plot.
But people (okay, women) will buy tickets to see Magic Mike XXL for reasons other than narrative tension—they’ll go to see some likable bros disrobe and gyrate to old-school hip-hop tracks. And in that regard, Magic Mike XXL, directed by Soderbergh’s longtime assistant director, Gregory Jacobs, is a nearly two-hour-long money shot. Tatum and his co-stars, particularly a totally game Joe Manganiello, salvage the film’s non-existent character development through sheer magnetic charm, a kind of gender-neutralizing energy that makes it okay for guys to laugh while their girlfriends ogle the screen. That’s exemplified in a scene where Manganiello performs an impromptu routine in rinky-dink convenience store, to the sounds of the Backstreet Boys’ “I Want It That Way.”
Beneath the rampant muscles and comedy, though, lies a subtle yet hugely commendable sense of pro-women positivity. What Magic Mike XXL doesn’t have in plot, it makes up for with an almost hell-bent sense of giving its female audience members and women characters everything they desire. Tatum and his cohorts repeatedly talk about how they, not the women’s husbands, are the only ones asking the ladies “what they want”; the elaborate dance sequences function as extended moments of shameless fan-service, with Tatum grinding on women of all shapes, colors and sizes. The great but long-absent-from-the-screen Andie MacDowell shows up for a scene where she and her fellow middle-aged lady friends are treated like queens by the fellas.
Unexpectedly feminist, Magic Mike XXL isn’t unlike another one of this summer’s cinematic high-points, Mad Max: Fury Road: both look like bro-friendly movies on the surface but their sensory overloads are quietly aimed more towards women. And both are, in their own odd ways, revolutionary.
Where to see it: Opening in wide release
When it comes to how film portrays the Mexican drug war, there's nothing scarier than the real thing….
Cartel Land (2015)
Director: Matthew Heineman
Recent TV prestige dramas have been all over the Mexican drug world, most popularly in Breaking Bad and seen on a lesser scale in FX’s underrated and now-canceled series The Bridge. But the best of those, even Breaking Bad mastermind Vince Gilligan at his peak level of creative intensity, has much on Cartel Land, filmmaker Matthew Heineman new documentary that’s been making the festival rounds, including a stop at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, before its official release this weekend. It’s to-the-gut visceral, and it makes those Salamanca cousins seem softer than a Doublemint gum commercial’s twin models.
Heineman doesn’t examine Mexico’s drug war through testimonials from experts and scholars and the comfort of far-away editing bay—he drops himself right in the thick of the action on both sides of the border, dodging gunfire with his camera and giving viewers the feeling of near-death danger. Along the way, he uses Cartel Land’s ground-level access to show the war’s typically unsung victims, following anti-drug protesters who later turn up hanged or beheaded.
This is the closest anyone would ever want to get to Mexican drug trade without having to actually move weight or tote automatic weapons. It’s also the in-your-face wake-up call some will need to finally pay attention to one of this country’s all-too-real nightmare situations.
Where to see it: IFC Center, Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 10:40 a.m., 12:35 p.m., 2:45 p.m., 5:00 p.m., 7:15 p.m., 9:30 p.m.
Catch up with one of this year's Tribeca Film Festival's most celebrated award-winners….
Men Go to Battle (2015)
Director: Zachary Treitz
Stars: Tim Morton, David Maloney, Rachel Korine, Kate Lyn Sheil, Steve Coulter, Emily Cass McDonnell
Some first-time filmmakers working with small budgets take the relatively easy way out and just shoot a bunch of actors talking to each other in a room for 80 minutes, but not Zachary Treitz. Basically doing the hardest thing possible for a rookie director with minimal funds, the Kentucky-born and New York-based rookie made a Civil War period drama, and it’s as deeply realized and authentic as any Hollywood-backed Civil War film you can think of, if not more so than most. Which is why Treitz won the Best New Narrative Director prize at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival for Men Go to Battle, following its world premiere. And now you can see why.
Men Go to Battle will have its first post-TFF screening this Friday night, July 3, via this summer’s Rooftop Films program. A building-top in 2015 Brooklyn doesn’t seem like an ideal place to watch a film set in 1861, but, hey, beggars can’t be choosers. In Men Go to Battle, two confederate brothers living in Kentucky do their best to keep their land secure as Union troops intrude and a charming woman comes in between them. It’s an intimate story, the kind most first-time directors tackle, but with the added difficulties and resulting impressiveness that come from transplanting commonplace themes over 150 years in the past.
Where to see it: Industry City, as part of Rooftop Films' Summer Series, Friday at 8:00 p.m.
If you've never seen one of science fiction's most misunderstood cult classics, here's your chance….
Starship Troopers (1997)
Director: Paul Verhoeven
Stars: Casper Van Dien, Denise Richards, Dina Meyer, Neil Patrick Harris, Jake Busey, Patrick Muldoon, Clancy Brown, Michael Ironside
One might think it’s laughably over-reaching to weigh the metaphorical implications of a movie about giant alien bugs that stars Denise Richards, but to do so would be to reveal that you’ve never seen Paul Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers, and that’d just be embarrassing. So just go with here.
Because, indeed, Starship Troopers is sneakily clever sci-fi satire, firing its massive laser guns directly at the fascism of war and the perils of being so gung-ho about militarized violence. Smartly, Verhoeven—the one-time genre madman who also directed RoboCop (1987) and Total Recall (1990) before crapping the bed with Showgirls (1995)—tucks his weighty messages inside a huge, campy and wildly over-the-top popcorn action movie, replete with stiff acting, insane carnage and some rough-looking CGI that’s easier to forgive when you’re watching the film as a self-aware jab at Hollywood’s more serious-minded wartime cinema.
Where to see it: Nitehawk Cinema, Friday and Saturday night at 12:05 a.m.