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Hip-Hop Biopic Excellence, Superman Goes Full 007, Matthew McConaughey Gets Stoned & More

The best new movies and repertory screenings for you to check out in NYC over the weekend.

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 August 14 – August 16.

Because it's about time you "witness the strength of street knowledge"…
Straight Outta Compton (2015)
Director: F. Gary Gray
Stars: Corey Hawkins, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Jason Mitchell, Paul Giamatti, Aldis Hodge, Neil Brown Jr., R. Marcus Taylor, Marlon Yates, Jr., Corey Reynolds, Keith Stanfield, Alexandra Shipp

Hip-hop in 2015 is a worldwide cash cow, a commercialized industry in which the freedom of expression is paramount, yet too few artists are using that freedom for anything more than one-dimensional braggadocio. Hip-hop back in 1988, however, was the Wild West, a wide-open and relatively untapped terrain in which artists had the opportunity to, if they were so inclined, raise hell and disrupt the machine. The forbearers of such button-pushing musical anarchy were N.W.A., the quintet of young South Central Los Angeles rabble-rousers. Their debut album, Straight Outta Compton, roared with inner city truths, unbridled anger and uncut profanity. It rattled the PC community’s cages while turning California into a rap landmark and forever changing the face of not only hip-hop but also music as a whole.

Everyone knows the aftermath, pun intended, of N.W.A.’s rise and fall, specifically the solo ascensions of members Dr. Dre and Ice Cube, two of current pop culture’s biggest stars. But few people older than, say, 30 know what actually happened during the group’s heyday, from the Jerry Heller to the political heat they caused with "Fuck the Police" and their brotherhood-killing internal beefs. That’s all covered with vibrant energy and comprehensiveness in Straight Outta Compton, the best hip-hop biopic since Eminem’s slightly fictionalized 8 Mile. Director F. Gary Gray (Ice Cube’s Friday collaborator) and co-producers Dre and Cube recruited an ace cast of young actors to play their group’s young counterparts—Cube son, O’Shea Jackson Jr., and Jason Mitchell (playing Eazy-E) are especially superb.

At nearly two-and-a-half hours long, it’s as overcrowded and bombastic as N.W.A.’s seminal yet somewhat overzealous debut album. Straight Outta Compton’s first half is dynamite, offering a fast-paced and intimately focused look at the group’s origins and how their camaraderie stayed strong as their profiles loudly evolved into mainstream lightning rods. It’s in the overly ambitious second half, though, where Gray’s film sidesteps true greatness—once N.W.A. breaks up, the film settles into a Behind the Music-like succession of greatest biographical hits. There’s Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins) making the "Nuthin’ But a 'G' Thang" beat while Snoop Dogg (Keith Stanfield) just so happens to be nearby; there’s Ice Cube working on the Friday screenplay while his wife asks about Eazy-E.

The magic of Straight Outta Compton, however, is that even in their obviousness, those moments are undeniable crowd-pleasers. It’s a byproduct of how well the first half establishes N.W.A.’s world and how endearingly the young cast embodies five controversial figures who, until now, have largely been misunderstood.

Where to see it: Opening in wide release

If you thought the stars of Man of Steel and The Lone Ranger were duds, you're in for a pleasant surprise…
The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015)
Director: Guy Ritchie
Stars: Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, Alicia Vikander, Hugh Grant, Elizabeth Debicki, Jared Harris

Whether you love or hate Zack Snyder's Man of Steel, it’s hard to argue against one truth: Henry Cavill's Superman is a Man of Snooze. Overly stoic and seemingly robotic, Cavill's depiction of Clark Kent/Supes is all chiseled six-pack abs and bulging biceps and zero gravitas or charm. But it seems that Cavill isn't to blame for Man of Steel's blandness. He just needs the right director. In The Man From U.N.C.L.E., a big-screen adaptation of the 1960s TV series, Cavill is debonair, charming and surgical with his deadpan comedic timing—he’s James Bond with a pulse that’s full of more than just martinis.

Some of the credit should go to director Guy Ritchie (Rock N Rolla, Sherlock Holmes), one of Hollywood’s best purveyors of style-over-substance grandeur. He dresses his and co-writer Lionel Wigram’s The Man From U.N.C.L.E. hollow script in so much visual and audio lavishness that Cavill and his similarly dull-in-everything-prior co-star Armie Hammer only needed to show up in the proper ’60s-era costuming to look good here. The film's story is standard secret agent fare, with Cavill’s dashing and lady-killing American spy, Napoleon Solo, teaming up with the humorless Russian agent Illya Kuryakin (Hammer) to both protect a plucky and beautiful German mechanic (Alicia Vikander) while preventing a glamorous arms dealer (Elizabeth Debicki) from destroying the world with a nuclear weapon.

The pedestrian story is inconsequential, though. Pumping The Man From U.N.C.L.E. up with a wonderfully jazzy soundtrack and his usual trickery (split screens, hyper-edited action sequences), Ritchie’s more concerned with giving the spy cinema genre a much-needed facelift than he is with subverting any narrative expectations. And with Cavill, Hammer and Vikander, he’s assembled a winning trio with unexpectedly great comedic chemistry.

Where to see it: Opening in wide release

Because if you’re not a Greta Gerwig believer by now, this will convert you…
Mistress America (2015)
Director: Noah Baumbach
Stars: Greta Gerwig, Lola Kirke, Heather Lind, Cindy Cheung, Kathryn Erbe, Michael Chernus, Matthew Shear

It'd be all too easy for us to simply laugh at Brooke, the flighty, frenzied pulse of Noah Baumbach’s Mistress America, a snappy screwball modernization that operates as something like the sparkling gene-splice of Nicole Holofcener’s Walking and Talking and Peter Bogdanovich’s What's Up, Doc? The film follows Tracy (Lola Kirke), a lonely Barnard freshman who is swooped under the wing of her future stepsister Brooke (Gerwig, a co-writer), a self-deluding thirtysomething with impossible entrepreneurial dreams, a wealthy Greek boyfriend, and an illegal commercial loft. She’s the type of droll but dizzy Manhattan ditz who says things like, "You are much more of an asshole than you initially appear," and, "There’s nothing I don’t know about myself—that’s why I can’t do therapy."

Any half-capable comedienne would be able to sell Baumbach’s pithy witticisms with all the flair and force they require. Gerwig, however, isn't any half-capable comedienne. Sure, her punchlines are as peerless as they’ve ever been, and Gerwig can still make you cackle by just manically brushing her long blonde tresses on the side of a highway or freezing her face into a stiff, bug-eyed smile while making a grand descent down the red steps in Times Square. But Gerwig locates something more stirringly and suggestively sad within Brooke that a lesser actress might have likely skipped over. She gently unearths the poignantly painful core within a person who’s terrified, like we all are, of being seen as inauthentic or unimportant but too fickle to fully change her reckless ways. It’s a fleeting impression in what is, at heart, a daffy, fast-paced comedy. But it sticks.

Kirke, last seen doing a terrifically terrifying Miley Cyrus impression as a raspy Southern drifter in Gone Girl, acquits herself more than well as the brainy yet greener Tracy and the tender, tempestuous relationship between the film's two female leads is an especially refreshing sight in a summer release. But this is still Gerwig's multicolored fireworks show through and through. When Mistress occasionally lapses or overexcites itself, as in an extended mid-film set piece in a Greenwich glass house, Gerwig brings it back with punch, calming and re-focusing her and Baumbach's shared storytelling vision.

Brooke already feels like a welcome addition to Gerwig's growing gallery of messy, memorable modern women. She's like Carole Lombard with a flat iron and an Instagram account. To borrow the title of another admirable, female-led summer comedy, she’s a trainwreck. But, in Gerwig's hands, she's also something close to glorious. —Matthew Eng

Where to see it: Landmark Sunshine Cinema, Thursday at 7:15 p.m. and 9:30 p.m; Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 12:15 p.m., 2:00 p.m., 2:15 p.m., 3:45 p.m., 4:15 p.m., 7:15 p.m., 8:15 p.m., 9:30 p.m., 10:05 p.m., 11:30 p.m. (A Q&A with Gerwig follows the 7:15 p.m. show on Friday and a Q&A with Baumbach follows the 7:15 p.m. show on Saturday.) (No 11:30 p.m. show on Sunday.)

Lincoln Plaza Cinemas, Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 11:00 a.m., 11:50 a.m., 12:50 p.m., 1:40 p.m., 2:40 p.m., 3:35 p.m., 4:35 p.m., 5:35 p.m., 6:30 p.m., 7:40 p.m., 8:30 p.m., 9:45 p.m., 10:25 p.m. (A Q&A with Baumbach follows the 6:30 p.m. show on Friday and a Q&A with Gerwig follows the 6:30 p.m. show on Saturday.)

For anyone who's looking to challenge their fear of heights...
Meru (2015)
Directors: Jimmy Chin, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi

Sad truth: most of us are wimps. "Thrill seeking" for us wimps is the high dive at the nearest water park, or a rollercoaster that spins upside down or goes backwards—all things that adventurous 12-year-olds will do without hesitation. Because, again, we’re all the opposite of badass. But that’s why movies like the new documentary Meru are always so welcome: they make their viewers feel daring by association.

Which, yup, is a joke. But Meru, which won the audience award at this year's Sundance Film Festival, isn't a joke. Shot in large stretches at a stomach-dropping 18,000 feet in the air, it's an immersive and enthralling look at climbers trying to conquer India's gargantuan Mount Meru, namely its Shark's Fin point. With cameras fastened to their gear, the climbers scale and chisel their ways through the ice-covered and extremely dangerous mountainside. Clouds in the sky breathtakingly pass by in real time; pieces of granite plummet down to the ground, dragging your eyes right down with them to remind you that, holy crap, you’re 18,000 feet in the air.

You're not, of course, but Meru co-directors Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi do a remarkable job of making it seem that way. Also one of the film’s on-camera interview subjects, Chin is one of the climbers you see clinging onto Mount Meru in the film's harrowing third act; his confessionals detailing how he’s not afraid of dying and how the death of his mother inspired him to not live in fear add a profound weight to the already-intense action. He makes the wimpy feel simultaneously inspired. (And, let's face it, über-wimpy for sitting in a theater while he’s on friggin' Mount Meru.)

Where to see it: Angelika Film Center, Friday and Saturday at 10:00 a.m., 12:10 p.m., 2:30 p.m., 5:00 p.m., 7:20 p.m., 10:05 p.m., 12:00 a.m.; Sunday at 10:00 a.m., 12:10 p.m., 2:30 p.m., 5:00 p.m., 7:20 p.m., 10:05 p.m.

To experience two complete opposite ends of NYC's repertory spectrum…
Ms. 45 (1981) and Dazed and Confused (1993)
Directors: Abel Ferrara (Ms. 45), Richard Linklater (Dazed and Confused)

For a great representation of the diversity found in New York City's repertory screening options, look no further than these two cult classics. Their only shared trait, besides being, you know, motion pictures, is their sheer disregard for genre conventions.

On the far more cynical side, there’s Ms. 45, one of those grungy NYC exploitation gems that leave you feeling both dirty and invigorated. It’s not as fascinatingly repulsive as William Lustig’s Maniac, but it’s no less icky. Directed by NYC veteran Abel Ferrara (Bad Lieutenant), though, Ms. 45 weaves intelligent satire and social commentary into its nastiness. The stunning Zoe Lund plays a mute woman who gets raped twice in an NYC back alley; rather than going to the NYPD, she acquires some firearms and goes on a homicidal rampage while dressed as a nun at a ridiculously '80s Halloween costume party. Nobody's safe, not even Mr. Met. (Seriously, Mr. Met makes a cameo in this. It's amazing.)

Even funnier than the Mets mascot fleeing from bullets is Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused, one of indie cinema's greatest comedies. Long before he made the Oscar-adored Boyhood, Linklater was a young ruffian with a lot to say about teen relations and, well, getting high, and those hilarious and character-driven thoughts were funneled into this ensemble look at '70s teenage stoner culture, set in Texas on the last day of the high school year. There's no Mr. Met, unfortunately, but there is a young, then-unknown Ben Affleck playing a bullying jackass and a young, then-unknown Matthew McConaughey as cinema’s ultimate skirt-chasing super-senior.

Where to see it: Ms. 45, BAM Rose Cinemas, Saturday at 4:15 p.m., 9:00 p.m.

Dazed and Confused, Nitehawk Cinema, Saturday and Sunday at 11:45 a.m.



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