SMITHEREENS (Susan Seidelman, 1982)
7 Ludlow St. between Canal & Hester Sts.
July 29 – August 4
I’m a little worried about Metrograph’s weeklong presentation of Susan Seidelman’s underground cult classic, the one and only Smithereens. The Lower East Side art house is proclaiming that it is showing a new 35mm print, but a lot of the charm of the low-budget wonder is its gritty, less-than-polished attitude. I’m afraid it could be like when you hear a crystal-clear old album on CD that sends you back to the vinyl LP so you can hear every beloved scratch and pop. Regardless, Smithereens, the first American indie to be shown in competition at Cannes, is a fab tale set in the East Village punk / new wave scene of the late 1970s, as a tough-talking young woman from the New Jersey suburbs seeks to find her place in the burgeoning city subculture. Susan Berman, who was discovered in the audience at an off-Broadway play, makes her film debut as Wren, an annoying, unlikable wannabe desperate to become part of the music business. Wearing ever-more-fashionable punky get-ups, she wanders the streets seeking fame, plastering Xeroxes of her face all over and claiming to be on the guest list at the Peppermint Lounge. The innocent Paul (Brad Rijn), recently arrived from Colorado and living in his cool van in a postapocalyptic abandoned courtyard, immediately falls for Wren, but she has her eyes set on Eric (Richard Hell), the leader of a band who has plans to make it big in California. Wren is an unapologetic user, taking advantage of Paul, Eric, her landlady, her family, and her few friends, but Berman imbues her with just enough sublimated tender charm to keep you glued to her trainwreck of a life.
Seidelman made Smithereens over the course of eighteen months on a shoestring budget of $40,000, employing fellow NYU students and editing the film during several breaks in production that led to important recasting. The screenplay was written by Peter Askin, who later directed the original off-Broadway version of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, and Ron Nyswaner, who went on to write Swing Shift and The Painted Veil. Cinematographer Chirine El Khadem shot the film on the fly in 16mm, giving it a guerrilla feel that matches the pulsating soundtrack by Glenn Mercer and Bill Million of the Feelies (in addition to songs by the Raybeats and Richard Hell and the Voidoids). Berman, who prepared for the role by watching Federico Fellini’s Nights of Cabiria at Seidelman’s request, is a whirlwind in her first movie of what would be a sparse career, playing Wren with a freewheeling abandon, little caring who she steps on as she desperately seeks some kind of stardom. “I just wanna be in a swimming pool, eating tacos, and signing autographs — that’s all,” she says. You might not like Wren, but you won’t be able to take your eyes off her. Watch out for bit parts played by Amos Poe and Chris Noth. Smithereens will be screening in a new 35mm print at Metrograph July 29 to August 4, with Seidelman (Desperately Seeking Susan, Making Mr. Right) in attendance at the 7:00 show on opening night to talk about this seminal work.
JASON BOURNE (Paul Greengrass, 2016)
Opens Friday, July 29
Perhaps Universal named the fifth Jason Bourne film Jason Bourne because The Bourne Idiocy would probably not have made for very good box office. The fifth entry in the action-espionage series based on the Robert Ludlum character is a lackluster, repetitive bore. Oh, there are plenty of chases, fistfights, and shootouts in locations around the world, but there is rarely any legitimate drama to fill in the gaping plot holes. After skipping The Bourne Legacy, Matt Damon is back as the mysterious government killing machine, still on the run from the CIA, which is now headed by Robert Dewey (an incredibly craggy-faced Tommy Lee Jones). Dewey has hired the Asset (Vincent Cassel) to take out Bourne, who is digging into his past, trying to uncover his father’s (Gregg Henry) role in the top- secret Treadstone program in order to find out more about himself.
A wooden Julia Stiles is back as Nicky Parsons, while Alicia Vikander is new as CIA agent Heather Lee. Every character is one note, lacking any depth, wearing the same pout, frown, or scowl through the whole film. Written by Greengrass (Bloody Sunday, Captain Phillips) and editor Christopher Rouse, the film tries to be clever by including subplots that directly and indirectly reference Julian Assange, Edward Snowden, and Apple’s fight with the FBI over gaining access into locked iPhones, as social media tech guru Aaron Kalloor (Riz Ahmed) questions his dealings with Dewey, and Bourne meets Christian Dassault (Vinzenz Kiefer), a cyberterrorist hacking into any information he can get his hands on. As the film travels to Greece, London, Berlin, Washington, DC, and, ultimately, Las Vegas, the story grows more convoluted and ridiculous. At one point we thought that maybe it was a parody and we were misreading it, but alas, it seems to be serious, which is a shame, because Damon is a riveting screen presence but has nowhere to go in this disappointing mess of a film.
GLEASON (Clay Tweel, 2016)
Landmark Sunshine Cinema, 143 East Houston St. between First & Second Aves., 212-330-8182
AMC Loews Lincoln Square 13, 1998 Broadway at 68th St.
Opens Thursday, July 28
“It’s not gonna be easy but it’s gonna be awesome,” Steve Gleason promises his unborn child in the extraordinary documentary Gleason, a heartbreaking yet uplifting tale about dedication, family, and never giving up. On September 26, 2006, scrappy New Orleans safety and special teams stalwart Gleason became an all-time inspirational Saints hero when, on Monday Night Football, he blocked Atlanta Falcon Michael Koenen’s punt less than a minute and a half into the Saints’ first home game in the Superdome following the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina the previous summer. The play, which resulted in a touchdown when the ball was recovered by Curtis DeLoatch in the end zone, has been memorialized with a statue titled “Rebirth” in front of the stadium. But Gleason became a different kind of hero five years later when the undrafted free agent was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, a generally fatal neuromuscular disease. Right after that, the Washington State native, who at the age of thirty-four was given three to five years to live, found out that his wife, artist and free spirit Michel Varisco, was pregnant with their first child, a boy. Determined to pass on as much of a legacy as he could to his unborn baby, Gleason began a vlog, a series of deeply personal five-minute videos in which he spoke openly and honestly about how they would never have the traditional father-son relationship but he wanted the boy to know that he was loved and cherished. But that is only the beginning of an incredible story that is poignantly told in Gleason.
Directed and edited by Clay Tweel (Make Believe, Print the Legend), the film features powerful clips from Gleason’s video journal; intimate footage shot by Ty Minton-Small and David Lee, who lived with Gleason, Varisco, and their son, Rivers, for two years; and interviews with family members and friends as Gleason’s physical conditions worsens but his heart and will grow stronger. “People will say, ‘Oh, it’s such a sad, tragic story,’ Gleason explains in the film. “It is sad, and so they’re right, but it’s not all sad. I think there is more in my future than in my past.” Gleason, with Michel’s father, Paul Varisco, form Team Gleason, a grass-roots nonprofit organization dedicated to helping people with ALS have a better quality of life, taking them on adventure vacations and giving them access to cutting-edge technology that increases their ability to communicate as the disease destroys their speech and movement. Among Steve’s famous friends and supporters are Saints quarterback Drew Brees and his wife, Brittany, and Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready and singer Eddie Vedder. Steve and Michel hold nothing back, sharing their deepest fears and insecurities while his condition deteriorates. As he tries to get the most out of his limited time with Rivers, Gleason also reexamines his troubled relationship with his father, Mike, a born-again Christian who is often at odds with his son. The real superstar of the film, however, is the brave and courageous Michel, who devotes her life to her husband and son despite increasing difficulties. In a statement about the film, Michel said, “I hope people who need a good laugh or a heavy cry can get that from this film. I hope people who need to be reminded to love their kids or their friends can get that from this movie. I hope people with ALS who want to use this film to show others what their lives really are like can get that from this movie. I hope people who have strained relationships with their parents will want to work on those relationships after they watch this movie. I hope people who have wanted to do something great in life will go ahead and do it after seeing this movie. People have told me that they have gotten all of these things from watching Gleason. And I think that’s pretty awesome.” Gleason, which is not always easy to watch, achieves all that and more, and indeed, that’s pretty awesome. The Sundance hit opens July 28 at Loews Lincoln Square and the Landmark Sunshine, with Tweel and Michel Varisco participating in a Q&A after the 4:45 screening at Landmark on July 30.
Who: White Lung
What: Panorama festival
Where: Randall’s Island Park, Panorama Stage
When: Sunday, July 24, $125, 1:10
Why: A classic punk foursome, Canadian quartet White Lung features singer-songwriter Mish Barber-Way front and center in their latest video, “Dead Weight,” but she’s obviously anything but dead weight, as evidenced on the group’s outstanding fourth studio album, Paradise (Domino, May 2016). In a recent interview with the the Line of Best Fit, Barber-Way noted: “I write for a living, so I’m always reading and researching. I did studies about bestiality, gender politics of pedophiles, female murderers who help their spouses rape and torture, biology, motherhood. I picked the brains of sex therapists, psychologists, white supremacists, cosmetic surgeons (the most interesting doctors to interview), and gynecologists. I was all over the place. This work all informs my lyrics, obviously. It’s what I am thinking about.” Paradise, which was shortlisted for the prestigious Polaris Prize, contains such tracks as “Hungry,” “Below,” “Demented” (in which Barber-Way declares, “I hate all that I see”), and the furious “Kiss Me When I Bleed” and “Sister.” No stranger to New York, White Lung played a gleefully anarchic set at the 2013 4Knots festival at the South Street Seaport; singer-songwriter Barber-Way, guitarist Kenneth William, bassist Lindsey Troy, and drummer Anne-Marie Vassiliou will be back in the city for the Panorama music, art, food, and technology festival on Sunday, playing the Panorama Stage at 1:10; that day’s bill also includes, among others, the Black Madonna, Grace Potter, Kurt Vile & the Violators, and Holy Ghost! You can find the full schedule and set times for all three days here.