Every single year for the past decade, the first weekend in May has been dominated by the release of a new Marvel movie, something from either the Marvel Cinematic Universe or the X-Men division, to start the summer off with a bang – or, more accurately, a ca-ching. The rest of the studios have cleared out of its way; the indies, on the other hand, have glutted the marketplace with counter-programming options. Here’s what’s worth seeing and skipping.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2: Look, it’s fine. There’s nothing particularly offensive or insulting about James Gunn’s follow-up to his modestly subversive comic book movie from three years back. But there’s also nothing particularly exciting about it; Gunn amps up the daddy-issue pathos, which is good and well, but the picture still leans primarily on rehashing the glibness and gags of the first film. Here’s our full review.
The Dinner: With a cast like this one (Richard Gere, Steve Coogan, Laura Linney, Rebecca Hall) and a writer/director like Oren Moverman (The Messenger, Time Out of Mind), you’ll probably expect more than this muddled domestic drama delivers. Coogan is trapped in an all but unplayable role, veering wildly from Woody Allen-esque witticisms to mental breakdowns, and Moverman’s script keeps circumventing the tension of the central event with unnecessary flashbacks and side trips (I have a shiny silver dollar for anyone who can explain the Gettysburg sequence). It has its moments, but they’re too few and far between considering the talent on hand. Our Tribeca review is here.
The Lovers: The better choice, for grown-ups looking for movies about grown-ups, is this sly, funny, and melancholy story of a long-married couple on the verge of separation accidentally rediscovering their passion, and cheating on their lovers with their spouse. This could’ve been the set-up for a dopey sex comedy, but writer/director Azazel Jacobs (Terri) and his terrific cast Debra Winger, Tracy Letts, Melora Walters, and Aiden Gillen) play the humanity of the situation, its tenderness and its sadness, with an evenness and purpose that’s sort of astonishing. Read more in this month’s indie guide.
Take Me: There’s more than a little of the recently departed Jonathan Demme in this brisk black comedy from director/star Pat Healy; it has a fondness for wild story turns and tonal shifts, and the willingness to tap into some real darkness. Healy, one of our most reliable character actors, is predictably great as the bumble-fuck entrepreneur who hires himself out to people who’d like to be kidnapped, but the revelation is Taylor Schilling, uproariously funny and screwball brash as the client who is anything but a victim. More in the indie guide.
Chuck: Yes, yes, it’s another boxing movie. But this seriocomic drama is about Chuck Wepner, the man who was the loose inspiration for Rocky, so it dodges familiarity by making familiarity part of the text, which is sort of genius (and aided immeasurably by the self-aware narration). And Liev Schreiber, who also gets a script credit, is bang-on as the lovable palooka who hits a point when charm and semi-celebrity aren’t good enough, and he has to decide what kind of man he wants to be. Here’s our indie guide review.
Burden / Julian Schnabel: A Private Portrait: This weekend offers an embarrassment of riches for you art lovers, with two new documentaries about causes célèbres of that world. Burden profiles provocative ‘70s performance artist Chris Burden, who forwarded the notion that good art is not only confrontational but, as one observer puts it, scares the shit out of you; directors Timothy Marrinan and Richard Dewey approach his work with precisely the right mixture of skepticism and reverence. Schnabel is a looser work, a hang-out documentary that captures the painter, filmmaker, and general artiste in all his cockiness and controversy. Both films are enlightening – and inspiring — likely to find you reaching for a paintbrush, camera, or keyboard yourself. Here’s more on Burden, and more on Schnabel.