WE THE ANIMALS (Jeremy Zagar, 2018)
Angelika Film Center, 18 West Houston St. at Mercer St., 212-995-2570
Landmark at 57 West, 657 West 57th St. at 12th Ave., 212-757-2280
Opens Friday, August 17
Documentarian Jeremy Zagar’s first feature, We the Animals, is a deeply sensitive and intimate coming-of-age drama about a ten-year-old boy on the cusp of starting to understand issues of race, class, and sexuality. Based on the 2011 novel by Justin Torres, a fictionalized version of his real family story, We the Animals is set in upstate New York in the 1990s, where Paps (Raúl Castillo) and Ma (Sheila Vand) are raising three young boys, Manny (Isaiah Kristian), Joel (Josiah Gabriel), and Jonah (Evan Rosado). Paps is a security guard from Puerto Rico, while Ma is of Italian-Irish heritage and works the graveyard shift at a brewery. The boys all sleep in the same room; they often huddle together and call out, “Body heat! Body heat!” as if they are one. But Jonah, the youngest, is a little different. He’s more delicate, needing more of his mother’s love and touch. He hides a notebook under the bed in which he writes down thoughts and draws pictures of flying and freedom, which are inventively brought to life by animator Mark Samsonovich. When Paps and Ma have a fight and the father leaves, it affects Jonah more than his brothers. He soon starts hanging around with a local non-Latinx teenager who introduces him to pornography, but it’s not the women who Jonah finds himself intrigued by. As his parents’ relationship continues to be volatile, Jonah grows more distant with his brothers as he explores new aspects of who he might be — or become.
Zagar (In a Dream, Captivated: The Trials of Pamela Smart) incorporated his documentary experience in making We the Animals, giving it a realistic feel as the story unfolds at a slow but natural pace. Cinematographer Zak Mulligan favors a handheld 16mm camera to further enhance the believability of the narrative. Zagar spent two and a half years first casting the boys, then working with them — all three first-time actors — before filming began. Zagar, who cites Lynne Ramsay (Ratcatcher, Morvern Callar) and Ken Loach (Kes, Riff-Raff) as major influences, and co-screenwriter Daniel Kitrosser remain faithful to the book, but Zagar often kept the camera rolling after a scripted scene, allowing the boys to improvise in character, and Zagar and coeditor Keiko Deguchi ended up using some of that footage in the final film. The story deals with masculinity and machismo very honestly and directly, with their impact clear on the mother and her three boys. It’s all a kind of fever dream, one in which Jonah, wonderfully portrayed by Rosado, has created his own separate world, an escape from the brutality he sees in his father and the victimization of his mother. Despite that, the film still manages to be bittersweet and gentle, with a warm soundtrack by Nick Zammuto. An absolute gem that won the Innovator Award at the Sundance Film Festival, We the Animals opens August 17 at the Angelika and the Landmark at 57 West. The first weekend features a trio of postscreening Q&As at the Angelika, with Castillo, Vand, and Torres at the 7:20 show on Friday, Castillo, Vand, Kristian, and Torres after the 7:20 show on Saturday, and Castillo and Torres following the 2:40 show on Sunday.
West 135th St. between Malcolm X Blvd. & Frederick Douglass Blvd.
Saturday, August 18, and Sunday, August 19, free, 12 noon – 10:00 pm
Festival continues through August 25
The theme of the 2018 Harlem Week festival is “Women Transforming Our World: Past, Present & Future,” along with the subtheme “The Community within the Community,” saluting LGBTQ rights. The festivities continue August 18 with “Summer in the City” and August 19 with “Harlem Day,” two afternoons of a wide range of free special events along West 135th St. Saturday’s programs include Harlem Senior Citizens Synchronized Swimming, the NYC Children’s Festival in Howard Bennett Playground (with a parade, exhibits, games, arts & crafts, live music and dance, health testing, and sports clinics), the Harlem Week Higher Education Fair (with more than fifty colleges and universities), “Dancing in the Streets” with live performances and WBLS DJs, the International Vendors Village, the Fabulous Fashion Flava Show, the “Uptown Saturday Concert” (with Sarah Vaughan National Competition winner Ashleigh Smith, Bishop Marvin Sapp, Raheem Devaughn, and the Jeff Foxx Band), and the Imagenation Outdoor Film Festival in St. Nicholas Park. Sunday’s “Harlem Day” celebration features live performances on three stages, the International Vendors Village, the Upper Manhattan Auto Show, Our Health Village, the Upper Manhattan Small Business Expo & Fair, USTA Children’s Tennis Clinics, and the second day of the NYC Children’s Festival (with a Back to School theme).
Robert F. Wagner Jr. Park, Battery Park City
20 Battery Pl.
August 11-18, free
The thirty-seventh annual Battery Dance Festival takes place August 11 to 18, featuring more than two dozen companies from around the world. Formerly known as the Downtown Dance Festival, the event is hosted by the New York City-based Battery Dance, which was founded by artistic director Jonathan Hollander in 1976. The free festival will begin August 11 in Robert F. Wagner Jr. Park with a screening of Rob Fruchtman’s new documentary, Moving Stories, about Battery Dance Company’s trip to India, Romania, Korea, and Iraq to work with at-risk youth. For the following six days at 7:00 in Wagner Park, there will be free dance performances, with Battery Dance, Ariel Rivka Dance Company, Hivewild, Martha Graham School, Caterina Rago Dance Company, and Anno Kachina, Christopher Nunez, and Hussein Smko on Sunday, Iker Karrera Dance Company, Douglas Dunn + Dancers, JOIN Ensemble, Jamal Jackson Dance Company, and AThomas Project on Monday, Battery Dance, Asya Zlatina and Dancers, Iker Karrera Dance Company, DANAKA | Dana Katz, and Citadel + Compagnie on Tuesday, Parul Shah Dance Company, Sandip Mallick and Musicians, Anuj Mishra with Kantika Mishra and Neha Singh, and Piyush Chauhan and Preeti Sharma on Wednesday (for the annual Indian celebration, this year titled, Kathak!), Daniel Gwirtzman Dance Company, Peridance Contemporary Dance Company, Citadel + Compagnie, Paranoyak Crew, and Skopje Dance Theater on Thursday, Damir Tasmagambetov, Ballet Nepantla, Paranoyak Crew, and Mophato Dance Theatre on Friday, and Battery Dance, Skopje Dance Theater, and Mophato Dance Theatre on Saturday (at the Schimmel Center at Pace; advance RSVP is required).
“Having the opportunity to perform and teach around the world, it is only natural that we would bring back to our home in Lower Manhattan the amazing treasures we discover overseas,” Hollander said in a statement. “With countries from Africa, Asia, Europe, North America, and South America this summer, we will celebrate and explore vibrant forms of dance in a setting that represents New York’s history as a destination for immigrants.” In addition to the film and dances, there will be free workshops at 1:30 on August 12 with Battery Dance, 10:30 on August 13 with Iker Karrera Dance Company, at 10:30 on August 14 with Paranoyak Crew, at 12:30 on August 14 with Sandip Mallick, at 10:30 on August 15 with Citadel + Compagnie, at 10:30 on August 16 with Mophato Dance Theatre, and at 10:30 on August 17 with Skopje Dance Theater. Advance registration is required here.
TRAUMA (Lucio A. Rojas, 2017)
United Artists Midway 9
108-22 Queens Blvd.
Friday, August 10, $15, 11:59 pm
Festival continues through August 12
Lucio A. Rojas’s Trauma opens with a brutal, extraordinarily difficult-to-watch scene that is severe torture porn, daring viewers to look away as it goes places I won’t even begin to describe here. If you stick around to see what happens next, you might just feel dirty and shameful and maybe even hate yourself for doing so. That said, Rojas doesn’t hide what he has done; he has made a ferociously savage film that the opening credits say was inspired by real events, initiated by the ruthless barbarity of the Pinochet regime toward its own people in Chile. The trailer itself is NC-17, and the film is described as “extreme horror.” It has been awarded honors at the Mórbido Film Festival (Special Mention), Horrorant Fright Nights (Best Cinematography), and Vancouver Badass Film Festival (Best Actress). And now it’s the Midnight Madness Grindhouse selection on Friday night at the Kew Gardens Festival of Cinema. The first scene, which involves a mother and son in a grisly, gruesome situation, takes place in 1978; thirty-three years later, four young women — Andrea (Catalina Martin), her sister, Camila (Macarena Carrere), Camila’s girlfriend, Julia (Ximena del Solar), and Camila and Andrea’s cousin Magdalena (Dominga Bofill) — are going on vacation to a remote house that, little do they know, has quite a history, one that even local cops Pedro (Eduardo Paxeco) and Diego (Claudio Riveros) choose not to share with them. Soon they are at the mercy of Juan (Daniel Antivilo), a monster of a man — the 1978 child grown up — and his son, Mario (Felipe Rios), whose relentless evil knows no bounds.
Evoking such genre favorites as Saw, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Hostel, Rojas outdoes all of them in his depiction of depravity, gore, and mayhem. Rojas (Sendero, Perfidia) is a skillful filmmaker and a brash manipulator; Trauma is not for the mere horror aficionado but for those fans who thirst for more. The movie reaches down dark and deep, showing things that really don’t need to be seen, even if they happened exactly as Rojas depicts, however unlikely that is. (There are numerous flashbacks as the story shifts between 1978 and 2011.) I have no problem with terrifying films filled with lots of blood and guts; however, Rojas’s attempts to relate the destruction and repression wrought by Pinochet get lost in all the abhorrent torment, while his biblical theme concerning the sins of the father gets overplayed. It’s essentially an exploitative women-in-danger flick — yes, there is nudity and sex because, well, you know — taken to another level. There’s a reason the Kew Gardens Festival of Cinema advises, “Absolutely no refunds will be given under any circumstances, including walk-outs.” Consider yourself warned.
Flying high off his international success with Easy Rider in 1969, cowriter, director, and star Dennis Hopper was given carte blanche by Universal for his next film, 1971’s The Last Movie, a controversial picture that, despite winning the Critics Prize at the Venice Film Festival, led to Hopper’s unofficial exile from Hollywood for nearly a decade. The Last Movie has now been released in a gorgeous 4K digital restoration made by Il Cinema Ritrovata from the original 35mm camera negative, screening at Metrograph through August 8. As documented in Nick Ebeling’s 2017 Along for the Ride and elsewhere, The Last Movie was a longtime labor of love for Hopper and his cowriter, Stewart Stern (who had penned Rebel without a Cause, in which Hopper played a key role), but it ended up being a critical and financial flop. Over the years, there have been occasional rare screenings as the film’s legend grew, and the restoration proves that the mythos was fully justified. Hopper stars as Kansas, a movie wrangler working on a Western about Pat Garrett (Rod Cameron) and Billy the Kid (Dean Stockwell) in Chinchero, Peru, directed by one of the toughest auteurs of them all, the great, cigar-chomping Samuel Fuller (Pickup on South Street, Shock Corridor). Kansas is with former prostitute Maria (Stella Garcia), but he is instantly attracted to the fur-wearing Mrs. Anderson (Julie Adams), the wife of a wealthy factory owner (Roy Engel). Kansas’s best friend, Neville Robey (Don Gordon), wants Mr. Anderson to invest in his gold mine while both Anderson and Maria become jealous of Kansas’s romantic interest in Mrs. Anderson. In addition, following the accidental death of a stunt man during a dangerous scene, the local community of Chinchero blames Kansas and begins making their own movie directed by the vengeful Tomas Mercado (Daniel Ades), using real violence and fake equipment, creating a kind of passion play with Kansas at the center, much to the chagrin of the concerned priest (Tomas Milian), who was never in favor of Hollywood bringing its decadence to his town. It all leads to a stunning, unforgettable finale that questions much of what has come before.
Hopper, who was also a photographer and painter, said about the film, “The Last Movie is something that I made in Peru. I won the Venice Film Festival with it, and Universal Pictures wouldn’t distribute it. You should think about [Jean-Luc] Godard a little when you watch it. I made it because I’d read him say that movies should have a beginning, a middle, and an end — but not necessarily in that order. I was trying to use film like an Abstract Expressionist would use paint as paint. I’m constantly reminding you that we’re making a movie — I’m constantly making references to the fact that maybe you’re just being silly sitting in an audience, being sucked into a movie and starting to believe it — and then I jar you out of it. It’s not a very pleasant experience for most audiences.” But things have changed significantly over the last half-century, and audiences are now more attuned to watching nonlinear, more unorthodox films that merge fiction and reality and challenge them with purposely confusing plot twists and character development. Some scenes repeat, while others might have been lost — several times a title card identifies that a scene is missing, but it is impossible to know whether that is true or Hopper is playing with the viewer yet again. (The film was edited by David Berlatsky, Antranig Mahakian, and Hopper.) In fact, Tomas and the priest regularly refer to moviemaking as a game. It’s also not always clear when we’re watching the film, the film-within-a-film, or even a different film as Hopper explodes genre tropes to continually defy expectations. At one point the soundtrack features Kris Kristofferson singing “Me and Bobby McGee,” but the camera soon finds Kristofferson himself, guitar in hand, warbling away. Thus, when we later hear a song by John Buck Wilkin, we look for him as well.
Beautifully photographed by László Kovács, The Last Movie turns Kansas into a kind of Jesus figure. Both text and image often reference various stories from the Bible, directly and indirectly, including Jesus being whipped, his relationship with prostitute Mary Magdalene, a celebration around a golden calf, Jesus rising from a cave, and Christ being led to the cross. All seven deadly sins — gluttony, lust, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, and pride — enter the narrative. The color red plays a significant role, as if staining the land with blood, from fake movie blood to the color of Kansas’s truck. Everyone ends up guilty of something, with some paying a higher price than others; as the original 1971 production notes explain: “Every character in the film is an innocent. Only as they are tarnished by their participation in the games do they become agents of their own destruction. The dreams that they succumb to are all encompassed in or produced by the American dream. Their sin, however, is the movies.” Hollywood has done them in, as it will Hopper himself, who filled the cast with such nonconventional, mostly non-Hollywood actors as Henry Jaglom, Toni Basil, Severn Darden, Sylvia Miles, Warren Finnerty, Peter Fonda, Clint Kimbrough, John Phillip Law, Russ Tamblyn, and Michelle Phillips, who was married to Hopper for eight days. The two-time Oscar-nominated Hopper went on to direct such films as Out of the Blue, Colors, and The Hot Spot and appear in such works as Apocalypse Now, Blue Velvet, Hoosiers, True Romance, and Speed before passing away in May 2010 at the age of seventy-four. His legacy is now cemented with the restoration of The Last Movie, a masterpiece that should finally get the due it, and Hopper, deserves.