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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 October 16 – October 18.
Because Netflix's first original movie really deserves to be seen on a big screen…
Beasts of No Nation (2015)
Director: Cary Joji Fukunaga
Stars: Abraham Attah, Idris Elba, Ama K. Abebrese, David Dontoh, Grace Nortey, Opeyemi Fagbohungbe
So much has been said about Cary Fukunaga's ability to shoot the hell out of an intense situation. That mostly stems from his virtuosic work on HBO's True Detective, and it'll continue now that his latest film, Beasts of No Nation, is finally opening in a limited number of theaters and widely on Netflix, making it the online streaming service’s inaugural foray into original movie production and releasing.
There’s another Fukunaga one-take tracking shot special in Beasts of No Nation, with the director following his protagonist, 11-year-old child soldier Agu (first-time actor Abraham Attah), through a rundown apartment building in an unnamed African country as he and his gun-toting peers clear the premises out while raping and pillaging its powerless inhabitants. But Beasts of No Nation’s most impressive visual is devoid of action, or behind-the-camera trickery: Agu and two of his fellow soldiers are sitting beneath a truck to hide from the rain, mere inches away from a flowing river of blood-drenched water. The shot encapsulates the film so amazingly that it could’ve been used for the official poster.
Beasts of No Nation puts the grotesque realities of war right in the viewer's face. Little kids drive machetes into crying adults’ heads and shoot women while they’re being raped. It's no wonder that Fukunaga's film could only receive distribution from Netflix—not even universal heartthrob Idris Elba’s presence can soften its massive blows. In fact, he's the one administering most of its blows. Elba, the film’s only recognizable face, plays the Commandant, the children’s stern, take-no-prisoners leader who makes them ingest hallucinogenic drugs and sexually violates the ones he likes best, namely Agu. In a towering performance, Elba downplays the Commandant’s malevolent nature; he coolly embodies the character's explosiveness and delivers his forceful speeches with a measured confidence. In the Commandant's mind, he's the shit.
In Agu's eyes, the Commandant is the monster he's stuck with. Fukunaga captures Beasts of No Nation's grisliness through Agu's point-of-view, which drives home the film's anti-war impact. Attah’s remarkable performance grounds it in heartfelt realism. Over two visceral hours, you see the gradual decimation of a child’s heart and soul, piece by piece, caused by combat; Attah's soft-spoken yet emotional narration accentuates every soul-crushing moment, at one point, during a burst of one-sided destruction, asking, "God, are you watching what we are doing?" This could have been Apocalypse Now starring a kid, but Fukunaga's optimism-sprinkled script and Attah steer it away from wallowing in defeat. When the 14-year-old actor sits near that aforementioned bloody rain, he's the center of attention. You barely even notice the red life-liquid surrounding him.
Where to see it: Landmark Sunshine Cinema, Friday and Saturday at 11:00 a.m., 1:45 p.m., 4:30 p.m., 7:15 p.m., 10:30 p.m.; Sunday at 11:00 a.m., 1:45 p.m., 4:30 p.m., 7:15 p.m., 10:00 p.m.
If you're looking for a good cry, this emotionally draining film is the ultimate fix…
Director: Lenny Abrahamson
Stars: Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay, Joan Allen, William H. Macy, Sean Bridgers, Tom McCamus
There's a moment midway into Room that overpowers your heartstrings with incredible force. It'd be a huge spoiler to break down the scene’s details, but what can be said here is that it involves 9-year-old actor Jacob Tremblay conveying a whirlwind of emotions without saying a word, and that it's both cathartic and terrifying. He simply looks up at the sky. Once the sequence mercifully concludes, and Tremblay’s character, the 5-year-old Jack, has emerged from the ultra-tense situation unscathed, it's a Herculean task to not sob uncontrollably while wanting to applaud.
That duality of feelings permeates the entirety of Frank director Lenny Abrahamson's adaptation of Emma Donoghue’s beloved 2010 novel. It's a 110-minute endurance test for the tear ducts. The perennially underrated Brie Larson gives one of the year’s strongest performances as Joy, or "Ma," as her son Jack calls her; having been kidnapped by a sexual deviant, only referred to as "Old Nick," at age 19, Joy has been confined inside her captor’s backyard shed for seven years, five of which she's spent raising the child born out of the sex Old Nick has forced onto her.
Room shifts from a claustrophobic thriller into a post-traumatic stress drama once Joy and Jack manage to break free from the 11-by-11-foot prison's walls, and it's in the film’s second half where Larson kicks into overdrive. As Joy tries to adjust to normal life, her depression and guilt dominate, and Larson makes you feel every bit of hurt and anguish. She proves that 2013's underrated Short Term 12 wasn't a fluke—she's so much better than most actresses of her generation that it's scary. The same can definitely be said for Tremblay, too, who somehow handles his character's heartbreaking journey with multi-layered nuance. Together, Larson and Tremblay forge a loving and tender chemistry that helps Room sidestep the inherent misery of its subject matter. You'll won't cry because of them—you'll cry with them.
Where to see it: Angelika Film Center, Friday and Saturday at 10:45 a.m., 1:30 p.m., 4:15 p.m., 7:00 p.m., 10:05 p.m.; Sunday at 10:45 a.m., 1:30 p.m., 4:15 p.m., 7:00 p.m., 9:45 p.m.
Just in case you've forgotten that Steven Spielberg is an unparalleled master behind the camera…
Bridge of Spies (2015)
Director: Steven Spielberg
Stars: Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Alan Alda, Amy Ryan, Austin Stowell, Jesse Plemons, Sebastian Koch, Michael Gaston
It takes a special kind of director to make the Cold War feel like multiplex-fitted good times. More often than not, the historical period of mistrust and paranoia between American and the Soviet Union receives dry treatment; even when the films are strongly made, like 2011's Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, their, for lack of a better word, coldness leaves them inaccessible for mainstream popcorn devourers. They play like social studies lessons rather than populist entertainment. But in the hands of the almighty Steven Spielberg, the Cold War espionage in Bridge of Spies feels vibrant. He finds the everyman humanity in that late-1950s era and mines it for crowd-pleasing enjoyment.
Based on real events, Bridge of Spies stars Tom Hanks as James Donovan, an inconspicuous insurance lawyer from Brooklyn who, in 1957, was assigned a whopper of a criminal case: he had to defend Rudolf Abel (played terrifically by theater giant Mark Rylance), a Russian immigrant who'd been suspected of being a Russian spy. Shortly after Donovan lost the trial, and his client ended up behind bars, an American spy plane pilot named Francis Powers (Austin Stowell) crashed above Russia and became the red country's prisoner. As if he wasn’t in deep enough already, having turned into American citizens' least favorite person for trying to help a supposed spy, Donovan had to negotiate the exchange of Abel for Powers, along with an unexpected third party.
There's a palpable elegance to Bridge of Spies, Spielberg's most satisfying movie since 2005’s Munich. It’s restrained and confident, channeling the old-fashioned, fish-out-of-water dramas that used to star disarming actors like Jimmy Stewart. Spielberg has the perfect modern-day star to facilitate that in Hanks, whose natural charms and instant likability undercut the film's high-stakes drama and underlying darkness. There are moments of real horror in Bridge of Spies—in one scene, Donovan watches helplessly as young Germans are gunned down while trying to flee from a Berlin prisoner camp. There are also long stretches filled with the kind of daunting Cold War banter that can be stuffy. But Spielberg and Hanks save Bridge of Spies from its own genre’s usual imprisonments.
Where to see it: Opening in wide release
This year, Hollywood's best Halloween movie is unabashedly for the kids…
Director: Rob Letterman
Stars: Jack Black, Dylan Minnette, Odeya Rush, Ryan Lee, Amy Ryan, Jillian Bell, Ken Marino, Timothy Simons
For horror fans who are currently in their 20s or 30s, author R.L. Stine is just as important, if not more so, than Stephen King. Stine's Goosebumps books hold up as fun, imaginative, and often legitimately frightening examples of kid-friendly scares, which is why galleries compiling the best Goosebumps book covers are web-traffic gold, and why Columbia Pictures smartly jumped on the property to produce this equally child-ready movie adaptation. It's a Jumanji-esque parade of Stine's wildest monsters and ghouls, including Slappy the ventriloquist’s dummy and the Abominable Snowman of Pasadena. There are even some playful jabs thrown at Stephen King, because, yes, Goosebumps is meta horror, but it's meta-ness is comparable to The Cabin in the Woods, not MTV’s Scream.
Jack Black, doing the best version of his usual shtick, plays a fictionalized version of R.L. Stine, who, in this case, is a recluse hiding out in nondescript suburbia with his aggressively sheltered daughter, Hannah (Odeya Rush). When teen good-guy Zach (Dylan Minnette) moves in next door and catches Hannah's attention, Stine isn't happy, but for good reason: Stine has all of his books' manuscripts closed with lock and key, and if any of the books are opened, that particular tale's monster will surface in real life; thus, he doesn't want anyone inside his home. So, naturally, Zach and his goofy new friend, Champ (Ryan Lee), sneak into Stine’s house to see Hannah and accidentally unleash all of the books’ villains.
Directed by Rob Letterman (Monsters vs. Aliens) with nonstop energy, Goosebumps is a cinematic rollercoaster without any fear-inducing upside down turns or backwards action. It's never scary, unless you're of the age where CGI werewolves sporting basketball shorts and sniffing produce in a supermarket are nightmare material. But what Goosebumps lacks in unease it makes up for with intelligence and enthusiasm in spades. It's a celebration of Stine's books' audience's spirit more than the series' contents. In a way, Goosebumps is what a Cabin in the Woods sequel based on Stephen King characters might look like.
Where to see it: Opening in wide release