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 May 15 - May 17.
Because you like things that are amazingly badass…
Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
Director: George Miller
Stars: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Zoë Kravitz, Riley Keough, Abbey Lee, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Courtney Eaton
The biggest compliment one can pay to Mad Max: Fury Road: it’s a multimillion-dollar Hollywood studio movie that feels nothing like an expensive Hollywood studio movie. It’s a demented oddity transported from some alternate universe where clinically insane artists somehow get to make studio projects. It’s the antidote for the increasingly standardized and predictable Marvel superhero flicks, like Avengers: Age of Ultron. And it deserves to make all the money this weekend.
The long-awaited fourth installment in the Mad Max franchise, 70-year-old series director George Miller’s comeback is grungy, loopy, and breakneck post-apocalyptic adrenaline rush. And, once again, Miller is 70 years old! Whereas most of his peers are collecting their retirement cash, Miller has cranked out a singular action extravaganza that makes recent blockbusters like Furious 7 look like Herbie: Fully Loaded. In a desolate, sand-covered 2060 wasteland, former cop and grieving father Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy, perfectly cast) reluctantly joins forces with a super-tough big rig driver (Charlize Theron, kicking serious amounts of ass) to evade disfigured evil warlord Immortan Joe’s (Hugh Keays-Bryne) advances and protect five scantily clad women, or “breeders,” from reverting back to being Joe’s sex slaves.
Essentially a two-hour chase movie, Mad Max: Fury Road energetically pummels the senses. Within its first 20 minutes, during which the effects of Miller’s decision to speed up the film’s frame rate settle in, you’ll begin feeling as delirious as the film’s characters themselves, particularly the baldheaded Neanderthals driving muscle-powered trucks, throwing exploding spears, and playing guitars that shoot fire out of their fenders. If you’re on Miller’s maniacal wavelength, it’s a euphoric kind of crazy. Because he’s a wonderful madman, Fury Road’s creator mostly forewent CGI and shot the massive action set-pieces practically, with real explosions, dangerous crashes, and actors whose deer-in-headlights expressions are as genuine as the audience’s wide-eyed glee.
Movies this simultaneously elegant, intelligent, well-made, and deranged don’t come around often, especially from Hollywood and screened in over 3,000 theaters. You’d be wise to support its freakish individuality.
Oh, and we didn’t even mention the tanker truck that’s powered by breast milk. (Yup, Fury Road is in a twisted league of its own.)
Where to see it: Opening in wide release
Because you love karaoke as much as you love movies…
Pitch Perfect 2 (2015)
Director: Elizabeth Banks
Stars: Anna Kendrick, Brittany Snow, Rebel Wilson, Hailee Steinfeld, Hana Mae Lee, Ester Dean, Alexis Knapp, Chrissie Fit, Shelley Regner, Adam DeVine, Anna Camp, Katey Sagal, Birgitte Hjort Sorensen, Keegan-Michael Key, Skylar Astin, Ben Platt
Counter-programming doesn’t get much better than this. As tremendous as the film is, Mad Max: Fury Road’s aggressive brand of nonstop, body-rocking action isn’t necessarily for everyone. Some people don’t want to get kicked in the gut for two straight hours—they’d rather sing along to Montell Jordan’s “This is How We Do It.”
For them, Pitch Perfect 2 is a no-brainer. The sequel to 2012’s surprise cult hit, it’s essentially more of the same: the Barden Bellas’ a capella singing group is once again trying to win a big competition, this time on an international stage. But Pitch Perfect 2’s plot mechanics aren’t as important as its dominating charm and overarching female-empowerment themes. Led by the impossibly lovable Anna Kendrick (seriously, just follow her on Twitter and Instagram to see why) and the audacious, she’ll-do-anything-for-a-laugh Rebel Wilson, it’s the rare big-deal summer movie that’s predominantly female, right down to its director, actress-turned-filmmaker Elizabeth Banks.
Plus, it’s really damn funny. You don’t have to love Pat Benatar to appreciate the gleeful silliness of Rebel Wilson and co-star/Workaholics cast member Adam DeVine’s waterbound cover of the singer’s “We Belong.”
Where to see it: Opening in wide release
Hear stories from young artists who normally go overlooked...
Know How (2014)
Director: Juan Carlos Pineiro Escoriaza
Stars: Joshua Elijah Adams, Deshawn Brown, Niquana Clark, Michael De, Gabrielle Garcia
If you’re a die-hard basketball fan, you know that some of the world’s best ballers don’t even play in the NBA—they’re running streetball pickup games in Harlem’s Rucker Park. Similarly, aspiring filmmakers with unique voices don’t uniformly flock to, say, the Tribeca Film Institute seeking grants and tutelage. Many of them are ascending through New York City’s Possibility Project, a nonprofit organization designed to push the city’s underprivileged youngsters towards the arts.
Cinema doesn’t get much more independently minded than Know How, a somewhat docu-styled film written and acted by members of NYC’s foster care system. Like the best filmmakers, they’ve written about what they know—in this case, that’s bullying, sexual abuse, and drugs, lending Know How a genuine quality that pushes it beyond feeling like an after school special.
Best of all, the kids themselves will be in attendance at Cinema Village this weekend. The experience will be twofold: you’ll watch their movie while also seeing their dreams materialize.
Where to see it: Cinema Village, Friday and Saturday at 7:00 p.m. (each screening to be followed by a Q&A with producer Paul Griffin and the film’s cast)
For anyone who watched American Sniper and thought, “I wish this was a better movie”…
Good Kill (2015)
Director: Andrew Niccol
Stars: Ethan Hawke, January Jones, Zoë Kravitz, Jake Abel, Bruce Greenwood
How much do you really know about drone warfare? Do you realize that it’s not far removed from playing first-person shooter video games from the comfort of your couch? Except that with drones, real people die. In large numbers. And it’s as detached as death gets.
The power in Andrew Niccol’s timely and strongly acted Good Kill lies in how it presents that coldness. Ethan Hawke plays a drone pilot who, much like Bradley Cooper in American Sniper, is exceptional when it comes to professionally killing foreigners but is also having trouble reconciling with the rampant homicides, both at home with his family and while on the clock. A highlight during this year's Tribeca Film Festival, Good Kill bests Clint Eastwood’s Oscar-nominated movie, though, by never devolving into a live-action, kill-the-Iraqi video game—Niccol keeps the action squarely centered on Hawke’s emotions.
Where to see it: IFC Center, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at 10:45 a.m., 12:45 p.m., 2:50 p.m., 5:10 p.m., 7:30 p.m., 9:50 p.m.
If you've been hoping that Michael Fassbender would become the next Clint Eastwood…
Slow West (2015)
Director: John Maclean
Stars: Michael Fassbender, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Ben Mendelsohn, Caren Pistorius, Rory McCann
At this point, saying that a new movie is reminiscent of the Coen Brothers is as tired as labeling a young and lyrically gifted New York rapper the next Nas. But sometimes, comparisons are obvious for a reason. Not only is Slow West a Coens-esque western, it’s the best Coens-esque western out there, even better than the Academy Award-winning directors’ own cowboys-and-guns effort, 2010’s True Grit.
Impressively for a first-time filmmaker, Slow West, which screened during TFF 2015, director John Maclean inconspicuously see-saws between midnight-dark comedy and brutal violence, all in service to character-driven drama. Michael Fassbender goes full John Wayne as a no-bullshit frontiersman who’s acting as a personal bodyguard to a lovestruck teenager (Kodi Smit-McPhee) determined to find the girl he loves, who just so happens to have a bounty on her head.
The always great and grizzled Ben Mendelsohn plays the heartless bastard looking to kill her, a role that gives the Aussie character actor plenty of room to menacingly gnaw through scenery. With he and Fassbender on opposing sides, Slow West builds up to a guns-blazing showdown that finds Maclean channeling Sergio Leone more than the Coens. And frankly, there aren't enough movies in recent memory worthy of the Leone comparison.
Where to see it: Angelika Film Center, Friday and Saturday at 10:50 a.m., 1:00 p.m., 3:10 p.m., 5:20 p.m., 7:30 p.m., 10:00 p.m., 12:00 a.m.; Sunday at 10:50 am., 1:00 p.m., 3:10 p.m., 5:20 p.m., 7:30 p.m., 10:00 p.m.
But if Slow West is a bit too modern-looking for you…
Johnny Guitar (1954)
Director: Nicholas Ray
Stars: Joan Crawford, Sterling Hayden, Mercedes McCambridge, Scott Brady, Ward Bond, Ben Cooper, Ernest Borgnine, John Carradine
After you’ve seen the year’s best new western (until Quentin Tarantino’s sure-to-be-awesome The Hateful Eight opens), peek into the genre’s history books with one of its most imposing female heroes: Joan Crawford as the tough-as-nails Vienna in Nicholas Ray’s unsung gem Johnny Guitar. Showing young bucks like Michael Fassbender how it’s done, the naturally intimidating Crawford owns the screen as a well-meaning saloon owner who goes to bat for some local cowboys who’ve been accused of committing a robbery.
In how she commands the kind of movie that’s typically male-driven, Crawford is, in a way, a foremother to Fury Road’s Charlize Theron. Just without a name as next-level as Imperator Furiosa.
Where to see it: Anthology Film Archives, Saturday at 4:45 p.m.
Because real-life history can be scarier than any fictional horror movie…
FORBIDDEN FILMS: The Hidden Legacy of Nazi Films (2014) and Jud Süss (1940)
Directors: Felix Moeller, Veit Harlan
Westerns like Johnny Guitar are pleasant ways to travel back in time, but the most fascinating journeys backwards can be anything but pleasant. In his must-see documentary FORBIDDEN FILMS, cinema historian Felix Moeller analyzes 40 otherwise impossible to watch Nazi Propaganda films, all of which were banned in Germany—for immediately understandable reasons.
Blowing out their Nazi-centric weekend of programming, Film Forum will also show the rare Jud Süss, a centerpiece in FORBIDDEN FILMS that was overseen by Adolf Hitler’s righthand man Joseph Goebbels and treated as required viewing for Nazi soldiers. In 1940, it was Germany’s biggest movie; nine years later, director Veit Harlan was charged with “crimes against humanity” simply because he made the film.
And now you can see why.
Where to see it: Film Forum - Forbidden Films, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at 2:30 p.m., 4:40 p.m., 7:00 p.m., and 9:10 p.m.
Jud Süss, Friday at 12:15 p.m. (introduced by The New School professor Noah Isenberg), Saturday at 12:15 p.m. (introduced by The New Yorker film editor, Richard Brody), and Sunday at 12:15 p.m. (introduced by The Nation's film critic Stuart Klawans)
Catch up with one of Marty Scorsese's most underappreciated movies…
After Hours (1985)
Director: Martin Scorsese
Stars: Griffin Dunne, Rosanna Arquette, Teri Garr, John Heard, Catherine O’Hara, Linda Fiorentino, Verna Bloom, Tommy Chong, Cheech Marin
Martin Scorsese’s name is synonymous with gangster cinema (Goodfellas, Casino) and hard-hitting character studies (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull), but screwball comedy? Indeed, Scorsese’s a master at that, too, and the proof is in After Hours, a terrific piece of zany storytelling that’s too often skipped over in the iconic director’s filmography.
An unpredictable film that bleeds ’80s New York City authenticity, After Hours follows the beleaguered Paul Hackett (Griffin Dunne) as he tries to meet up with a mysterious and beautiful woman (Rosanna Arquette), but with a catch: everything that can possibly go wrong for Paul goes incredibly wrong. A sort of absurdist and revisionist The Odyssey complete with a raving mob of punks, eccentric nude artists, and Cheech and Chong, After Hours is Scorsese at his most wonderfully unhinged. It's Wolf of Wall Street Scorsese, just 30 years earlier.
Where to see it: IFC Center, Friday and Saturday at 12:05 a.m.