LAFF: the Best of the Fest

Totally blogged out: Joshua Leonard in Bitter Feast

1428 "We don't know what to do at all." That statement, spoken by a Chinese woman whose home has been demolished by the government without her permission, functions as the thesis of this episodic, verité-style documentary shot in the aftermath of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. Setting up a fascinating contrast between the "official" version of events captured by the state media and the rage and frustration of those struggling to rebuild far from photo ops, the theme of power brokers failing to serve people who can't fathom self-sufficiency in the wake of unforeseen disaster hits eerily close to home. (Regal; Sun., June 20, 1:45 p.m., Mon., June 21, 8 p.m.) (Karina Longworth)

CRITIC'S PICK  BITTER FEAST The premise seems like an extra act to Ratatouille: a disgraced celebrity chef (James LeGros) kidnaps a food blogger (Joshua Leonard) who slammed him, forcing a regime of torture and cooking lessons upon his quarry. In writer-director Joe Maggio's delightfully nasty Bitter Feast there are no heroes, only levels of villainy, with two outsize egos bruised in different ways. Once the premise is launched, the film settles down to a simple series of mind-game one-on-ones between the chef and the blogger, each struggling to hold on to the safety of his carefully cultivated persona. Zesty fun for its actors, Feast is at once a sly parody of the celebrity-chef culture spawned by all the cable cooking shows and competitions, and a creepy little chamber-piece. Even Maggio's point of view on blogging captures something unique: Leonard's character likens himself to the Iron Sheik, applying an unlikely but apt wrestling analogy to online provocation. The film's wonderfully wicked sensibility should come as no surprise to fans who notice the involvement of Larry Fessenden as producer and in a small role as a sleazy private detective. Fessenden, recently feted at the Aero, has become more influential and important as a producer and general facilitator of low-budget horror (not to mention his work with art-auteur Kelly Reichardt) than for the films he directs. If Bitter Feast is any indication, Joe Maggio is a name that can be placed alongside Fessenden protégé Ti West as one to watch out for. (Downtown Independent; Fri., June 18, 9:45 p.m., Sun., June 20, 10 p.m.) (Mark Olsen)

CANE TOADS: THE CONQUEST (IN 3-D) In no way a traditional, factual documentary, Cane Toads is a lighthearted, funny follow-up to director Mark Lewis' 1988 Cane Toads: An Unnatural History. In deadpan fashion reminiscent of early Errol Morris, we meet the scientists, toad hunters and toad lovers who debate their legacy — or try to end it. Maps, graphics and fake newsreels indicate the toads' relentless westward progress. As one scientist says, "It's become a footrace across Australia. And the best athletes are breeding with each other. We call it the Olympic Village effect." Toad sex, unfortunately, isn't acrobatic enough to justify the 3-D gimmickry. But when a veterinarian squeezes a toxic toad gland at the screen, you may jump as high as Kobe. (Regal; Fri., June 18, 10:30 p.m.) (Brian Miller)

CAMERA, CAMERA A barely feature-length sketch of shallow impulses. Westerners go to Laos, a third-world country with no free press, spend their money on booze and whores and use their cameras to bring back mementos of their own self-indulgence. Director/cinematographer Malcolm Murray trains his camera on other cameras, collaging the subjective impressions of tourists with his own footage of the locals' daily lives. Vividly colorful and elegantly edited to ambient rock by bands like Explosions in the Sky and Godspeed You Black Emperor, Murray's imagery is impressive, even if his "interviews" with visitors — often shot in dark rooms illuminated only by the screens of the amateur photographers' digital cameras, their faces obscured, their general cultural and generational pedigrees coming through via their "like"-peppered narration — verge on exploitative. The point — that travelers are so prone to treat exotic locations as blank canvases for their own desires that they can't see what's right in front of their faces — is well made, even if adding an extra layer of mediation is hardly a solution. (Regal; Sat., June 19, 4 p.m., Mon., June 21, 10:15 p.m., Wed, Jun 23, 5 p.m.) (K.L.)

CIRCO "The circus is tough and beautiful," says one talking head in Aaron Schock's documentary on the small, struggling, family-owned Circo Mexico. It's an apt description of the film itself, a riveting patchwork of interconnected family dramas — difficult in-laws, money-driven arguments, the tensions between honoring family tradition and forging one's own path. Schock's camera — he does lovely work as the cinematographer — follows the Ponce family (who've been in the circus biz for more than 100 years) as they tackle the vagaries of a life that's intrinsically hard-knock, all while working toward a final image that's both triumphant and sad. (Regal; Fri., June 18, 7:45 p.m. Sat., June 19, 4:30 p.m., Mon., June 21, 5 p.m.) (Ernest Hardy)


COLD WEATHER Director Aaron Katz (Quiet City) has been one of the leading lights of the recent wave of naturalistic, low-budget, mostly digital "little" movies breaking out of film festivals. Cold Weather, with its dolly shots, car chases and extraordinary color saturation, is Big. Doug (Cris Lankenau) drops out of a forensic-science program in Chicago, moves in with his sister (Trieste Kelly Dunn) in Portland, takes a graveyard-shift factory job and wastes away his days reading Sherlock Holmes novels and hanging out ... until his ex-girlfriend (Robyn Rikoon) shows up and touches off some shady business that requires Doug to put his vague detective skills to work. Cold Weather is an impressive genre experiment: a pulp fiction of tro­ublesome dames and distinctly costumed villains, wedded to conversational comedy, with Doug's banter with a co-worker played by Raul Castillo serving as a sharply scripted affront to the notion that the kids these days just make up their dialogue as they go along. If Cold Weather leaves you wanting more from Dunn, you're in luck: The actress takes center stage in Brett Haley's extraordinary competition entry, The New Year. (Downtown Independent; Sat., June 19, 10 p.m.; Regal; Mon., June 21, 7:30 p.m.) (K.L.)

CYRUS See Ella Taylor's review in Opening This Week. (Regal; Fri., June 18, 8:p.m.)

CRITIC'S PICK  DISCO AND ATOMIC WAR Equal parts The Last Bolshevik and Drunk History. With tongues partially in cheek, filmmakers Jaak Kilmi and Kiur Aarma lay out the case that communism was killed by Western pop culture, in the form of Finnish television broadcasts that drifted across the Estonian border. Narrating in deadpan English, weaving together incredible footage from Soviet archives with unmarked re-creations that almost pass for real home movies, Kilmi and Aarma detail their boyhood obsessions, the seduction of entire families by disco dance shows and Dallas reruns — and the increasingly absurd lengths taken by the state to maintain some semblance of control over the viewing habits (and thus, the hearts and minds) of the body politic. Disco is wrapping up its festival run and no U.S. release date has yet been set, making its LAFF screenings all the more essential. (Downtown Independent; Fri., June 18, 7:30 p.m., Regal; Sun., June 20, 10 p.m.) (K.L.)

DOG SWEAT This Iranian film gets its title from slang for American booze, sold illegally in the back alleys of Tehran. An absorbing docu-soap narrative, shot under the radar in a country where the official film industry is closely controlled by the government, Dog Sweat catalogs the codes, negotiations, doublespeak and deception that it contends the average young Tehranian relies on to carve out a semblance of personal freedom. Comparisons may be inevitable to No One Knows About Persian Cats, another recent film made on the down-low about the secret lives of Iranian youth, but Dog Sweat's tighter narrative structure allows for a much deeper investment in its characters, effectively elevating their mostly romantic frustrations into a reflection of the larger problems of life in a closed state. (Regal; Sat., June 19, 10:15 p.m., Regal; Sun., Jun 20, 4:45 p.m., Thurs., June 24, 5 p.m.) (K.L.)

DOWN TERRACE A truly bizarre, and mostly successful, genre hybrid: both an In the Loop–style British improv comedy and a psychologically potent peek behind the scenes of a gangster family à la The Sopranos, with the casual, slow-build relationship dynamics (and shaky camera work) of mumblecore, spotted with brutal, out-of-nowhere violence. Thick British accents plus lo-fi production values can make Down Terrace a tough listen at times, but this funny, gripping and above-all strange film is worth the work. (Regal; Sat., June 19, 4 p.m., Thurs., June 24, 10:15 p.m.) (Also screening at Cinefamily on Sat., June 19.) (K.L.)

It's old news that cultural innovators rarely reap the benefits of their innovation, and in fact often pay dearly for coloring outside the lines. Still, watching those truisms play out in the wrecked lives and professional disappointments of hometown heroes/cult darlings, Fishbone is painful indeed. Co-directors Chris Metzler and Lev Anderson have penned a cinematic valentine to the group via astounding archival concert footage, rapturous testimonials (Perry Farrell, Flea, George Clinton, Gwen Stefani and others) and original footage that often breaks your heart in this charting of the group's thwarted rise and chaotic fall. There's some groovy animation and cool narration by Laurence Fishburne, but the real star of this show is the still-ahead-of-its-time genius of Fishbone. (Regal; Sat., June 19, 10 p.m., Mon., June 21, 8 p.m.; Wed., June 23, 5:30 p.m.) (E.H.)

CRITIC'S PICK  FAREWELL A gorgeous, deceptively simple work of experimental nonfiction. In 1929, Hearst journalist Lady Grace Drummond-Hay became the first woman to fly around the world, embedded on the 21-day inaugural worldwide voyage of the LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin passenger airship. Hearst commanded Drummond-Hay to file stories in the air to fellow passenger Karl Henry von Wiegand, her professional mentor and, unbeknownst to anyone else, sometime lover. Working from Drummond-Hay's published stories and private diaries, filmmaker Ditteke Mensink constructs an intimate, dishy narration (delivered by actress Poppy Elliott), which she illustrates with a montage of stunning found footage, including newsreels shot on and off the Graf. With scant footage of Wiegand and Drummond-Hay together, Mensink makes the most of nonliteral juxtapositions of spoken word and image. Their complicated relationship (underlined by Drummond-Hay's melancholic, very modern-feeling neurotic split between professional propriety and personal desire) comes fully alive. With the trip taking place weeks before the market crash and encompassing unrest in Berlin and Stalinist Russia, Farewell backgrounds soap opera with history in the best way: Imagine a Lifetime movie directed by Dziga Vertov. (Regal; Sat., June 19, 7 p.m., Tues., June 22, 5 p.m., Sat., June 26, 7:30 p.m.) (K.L.)


A FAMILY A renowned, family-owned Copenhagen bakery is in danger of crumbling when paterfamilias Richard Rheinwald (scene-stealer Jesper Christensen) falls ill. Who will carry on the dynasty? Richard's adult daughter, Ditte (Lene Maria Christensen), has been offered a dream job in New York, but her father assumes she'd be willing to take over the business without ever having been involved before. Ditte doesn't consult with her boyfriend before making some intense decisions, Richard's second wife doesn't wish him to have hospice care, and the old man himself grows increasingly belligerent over his mortality and his empire's uncertain future. Threatening to be an epic saga with its beautifully nostalgic opening montage — in which archival footage, home videos, a spidery DIY font and a wistful indie ballad trace the Rheinwald ancestry back to German immigrants — the third feature from Danish auteur Pernille Fischer Christensen (A Soap) proves to be a more intimate melodrama about the disproportionate nature of familial obligations. Some may find the drama anemic because it's not heightened like a movie-movie, but its strength lies in subtly poignant moments, as when Richard slowly squeezes the life out of a sad, stale dinner roll — a doubly bitter metaphor for his fear of mortality and disdain for inferior breads. (Regal; Sat., June 19, 7 p.m., Sun., June 20, 1:30 p.m., Wed., June 23, 4:45 p.m.) (Aaron Hillis)

CRITIC'S PICK  FOUR LIONS With its finger on every button and wired for a cultural explosion, British satirist Chris Morris' brilliant, raucously irreverent take on Islamic jihadism follows a hapless, bickering quartet of wannabe suicide bombers as they plot to blow up London. Whether they are disguising themselves in ridiculous ostrich and Ninja Turtles costumes, filming propaganda videos in close-up so that their tiny AK-47s look actual size, practicing high-pitched female voices to indiscreetly ask for "12 bottles of bleach, please" or communicating secretively online as animated puffins, the absurdity of these fools underscores that even the most wrongheaded ideologies belong to humans, not faceless boogeymen. Terrorism is no laughing matter, of course, and Morris is no fool. He employs complex tonal shifts so that farce turns to tragedy on a dime, which then gives the violence enough weight that we have to ask ourselves why we're laughing — the sign of a truly radical comedy. (Regal; Thurs., June 24 7:30 p.m., Sun., June 27, 1:30 p.m.) (A.H.)

GASLAND As if there weren't reason enough to worry about domestic oil drilling, Josh Fox's knockout documentary exposes the shocking costs of natural-resource exploitation. After receiving a letter from a corporation offering six-figure compensation for permission to drill on the land of his family's Hudson Valley home, Fox learned that such companies specialize in a process called "fracking" — a method of natural-gas extraction that tends to leave large amounts of fuel in an area's water supply. He then set out on a road trip, documenting American families feeling the effects of fracking: flammable tap water; spontaneous combustions; dying livestock; sudden, inexplicable serious illnesses. Fox, the figurehead of an agitprop theater collective in Manhattan, paints himself not entirely ingenuously as a banjo-plucking commoner, but his indignation is rightfully genuine and appealingly scrappy, and the material he collects from real Everyperson fracking victims around the country is undeniably frightening. You have at least two chances to get your panic on: LAFF's screening on June 20, and Gasland's premiere on HBO June 21. (Regal; Sun., June 20, 2:15 p.m.) (K.L.)

CRITIC'S PICK  KATALIN VARGA An old-country magic haunts director Peter Strickland's exceptional debut — an unpredictable tale of a steely-nerved woman's revenge. Shot in Transylvania and somehow dwelling in both past and present, the compact film follows a kerchiefed young mother as she flees her husband with her son and tracks down two men who wronged her years ago. Katalin is played by remarkable Romanian first-timer Hilda Peter, a lank, almost mischievously intense actress who captivates with her avidity, as well as bouts of eyes-wide-open panic. Her Katalin is a compellingly ambiguous tragic figure, forging ahead with her seduce-and-destroy mission, as she conceals facts from her boy. Strickland's resourceful sound design is terrific, settling a pregnant silence on the often breathtaking countryside, bringing in frenetic Gypsy violin for a campfire dance, or dropping a cell-phone burble at just the right macabre moment. It's almost worth it for the boat scene alone, in which Katalin unspools a monologue for the ages while waters whirl vertiginously behind her. (Regal; Wed., June 23, 8 p.m.) (Nicolas Rapold)


LIFE WITH MURDER After 18-year-old Jennifer Jenkins is brutally murdered, her parents' grief is compounded by the arrest of their only son for the crime; they spend the next decade trying to prove his innocence, as friends and (some) family fall away, and the law refuses to budge. In this masterfully orchestrated documentary, director John Kastner slowly combines crime-scene video, police-interrogation footage and talking-head interviews into a slowly sketched psychological profile that is devastating (the father's debilitating grief, in particular, is painful to witness) as the truth finally comes out and the parents learn what really happened to their daughter. (Regal; Fri., June 18, 9:45 p.m.; Sun., June 20, 4 p.m., Mon., June 21, 5 p.m.) (E.H.)

MARWENCOL Jeff Malmberg's first feature is a portrait of Mark Hogencamp, a brain-damaged artist who creates and photographs a one-sixth-scale replica of a World War II–era town, with action figures and Barbie dolls standing in for Nazis, catfighting waitresses, and an American fighter pilot — the latter a surrogate for Hogencamp himself. Fusing several different strands of contemporary nonfiction filmmaking that rarely coexist within the same film, Marwencol deals with social issues (mental disability, alcoholism, sexual identity) in an extraordinarily personal way. Hogencamp's story unfolds so organically that it seems as though the subject is talking directly to the viewer, gradually revealing more of himself as one would with a stranger turned confidant, as if we're earning his trust as the film goes along. (Regal; Fri., June 18, 10 p.m., Thurs., June 24, 7:45 p.m.) (K.L.)

CRITIC'S PICK  THE NEW YEAR A slow-building stunner of a character study. Trieste Kelly Dunn stars as Sunny, a budding writer who returned to her working-class hometown of Pensacola to take care of her sick academic father, and got stuck. Her routine, and her safe relationship with a sweet but unremarkable local dude, are thrown into relief when Isaac (Ryan Hunter), Sunny's high school rival–turned–New York hipster stand-up comedian, comes home for the holidays. As Sunny's quarter-life crisis sneaks up on her and then explodes, director Brett Haley steers far away from sad-young-person movie clichés. The supporting players are expertly cast and all turn in solid performances, but this is Dunn's show. In a sense, she's playing a dual role: Sunny as seen by others, quiet, dutiful, nearly selfless, and the repressed Sunny, ambitious, resentful and desperate to do something for herself for a change. As the days drop down to the end of the year, pressure mounts for Sunny to figure out which version of herself she's going to be, a crisis of self-confrontation embodied in a single long shot of Dunn's face in a mirror, which will break your heart. (Regal; Fri., June 18, 10:15 p.m., Tues., June 22, 4:45 p.m., Wed., June 23, 7:30 p.m.) (K.L.)

ONE LUCKY ELEPHANT "Flora is an example of all that can go wrong, with the best of intentions," says one talking head, speaking of the titular elephant. Captured as a baby after her mother was slaughtered, the elephant Flora was adopted by David Balding, who runs a small circus in St. Louis. The two developed a parent-child relationship, their mutual love becoming the source of great pain as the elderly man tries to find a new home for his increasingly angry "daughter." The film raises all sorts of questions about the moral and ethical issues around humans and our relationships to wild animals, but director Lisa Leeman demonizes no one in this smart, layered and unexpectedly moving documentary. (Regal; Sat., June 19, 6:30 p.m., Fri., June 25, 5 p.m.; Sat., June 26, 1:45 p.m.) (E.H.)

PARADE Early on in Isao Yukisada's adaptation of Yoshida Shuichi's novel, one half-expects to hear the Friends TV theme dubbed in Japanese, as we're introduced to four 20-somethings who share a cramped Tokyo apartment. Self-obsessed, regularlyhungover and prone to sitcomlike roommate disputes, these mismatched tenants (a college student, an illustrator, a film-biz type and an aspiring actress) don't know who invited the bleach-blond rent boy (effeminate heartthrob Kento Hayashi) to move in, just as a string of serial killings has blotted the area. It's a compelling watch, if only for its game-changer of an ending. When did this become an existential thriller? (Regal; Tues., June 22, 7:30 p.m., Wed., June 23, 10 p.m.) (A.H.)


THE PEOPLE VS. GEORGE LUCAS The most damning thing in The People vs. George Lucas turns out to be the title. While Alexandre O. Philippe's documentary comes on like it's going to present a strong, reasoned case that the creator of the Star Wars universe is above all else more bottom-line businessman than mythmaking artiste, the power of the franchise's fandom is simply too strong. The film transforms into more of a reconciliation and apologia than an indictment. Philippe tries to make the anti-Lucas case — with plenty of the rhetorically ridiculous "raped my childhood" thing — but what the film uncovers most of all is that fans' conflict is not so much with Lucas and the twin trilogies but within themselves, pulled between the objects of their own affection and derision. (Ford Amphitheatre; Wed., June 23, 8:30 p.m.) (M.O.)

THE RED CHAPEL Director Mads Brügger sets up a cultural exchange through which he and two young Danish-Korean comedians, Simon and Jacob, are allowed to visit North Korea to mount a performance in collaboration with the state. Brügger has convinced the North Koreans that the trio are a Kim Jong Il–sympathetic theater troupe called The Red Chapel; in actuality, Simon and Jacob (who is developmentally disabled and refers to himself as "spastic") have no real act — just some wigs, a whoopie cushion and a suspiciously sincere acoustic cover of "Wonderwall." Brügger is no theater producer but a journalist determined to prove that "comedy is the soft spot of all dictatorships." At its core: A staged hidden-camera stunt, comparisons between Chapel and the work of Sacha Baron Cohen may be inevitable. If the smoking guns found in this invaded world are less over-the-top than the revelations of racism and homophobia that prop up Borat and Bruno, the hilarious Chapel also feels less manufactured. (Downtown Independent; Sat., June 19, 7:30 p.m., Regal; Thurs., June 24, 7:45 p.m.) (K.L.)

THUNDER SOUL A danceable doc about the Kashmere High School Stage Band of the 1970s, whose theme song, "Kashmere," was resurrected from obscurity by DJ Shadow for his "Holy Calamity" single. The band members of the early '70s come back home to play for band director Prof, now 92 and frail as a whisper. The players are older, thicker, out of tune and decades out of practice. Director Mark Landsman cuts back and forth between vibrant vintage footage and the present-day stumbles of middle-aged men and women trying to get their grooves back. The movie becomes a rush against time — a thriller with a sound track to match. (Ford Amphitheatre; Sat., June 26, 8:30 p.m.) (Robert Wilonsky)

THE TILLMAN STORY Returning from their first tour in Iraq, a platoon buddy recalls Pat Tillman saying, "This war is so fucking illegal." An atheist who told his wife he didn't want a military or religious funeral service if he died in combat, Tillman was mourned in the stadiums where he was previously a football star. As we get to know his family in this somber, affecting documentary, they speak of that awkward spectacle — grieving in public, cheerleaders prancing before them, fans wearing Tillman's No. 40 Arizona Cardinals jersey in tribute. What a way to go for such an intensely private and thoughtful young man. Director Amir Bar-Lev (My Kid Could Paint That) gains excellent access to the very sympathetic Tillman clan, who remain angry but resigned to the government and media misappropriation of their son as martyr and war hero. He adds little, unfortunately, to what's been well-reported since Tillman's 2004 death by friendly fire. It's impossible to prove a White House cover-up, no matter how many news clips he interjects of Bush, Rove and Cheney. (Regal; Sat., June 19, 9:45 p.m., Downtown Independent; Sun., June 20, 1:30 p.m.) (B.M.)

TINY FURNITURE Writer/director Lena Dunham stars as Aura, a recent film-theory grad, YouTube artist and family black sheep who moves home to the Tribeca loft shared by her artist mom and annoyingly graceful, accomplished younger sister. Aura takes a restaurant job, falls into ill-defined and ill-advised relationships with two dudes, and becomes obsessed with old journals documenting her mom's own lost 20s. Awkward sex and acute ego skewering ensue. Indisputably autobiographical (Dunham's real mom and sister play Aura's mom and sister; the family apartment plays itself), Tiny Furniture has earned the 23-year-old Dunham comparisons to Woody Allen. She's a gifted comedienne, eager to plumb her insecurities over her imperfect physical appearance for both poignancy and laughs. Dunham's willingness to put it all out there both physically and emotionally may be tied to the fact that she's gestated her talent in Web video. Consider Tiny Furniture the "oversharing" impulse of contemporary Internet culture, embodied in (and stabilized by) comparatively old-fashioned cinematic technique. (Regal; Sat., June 19, 7:30 p.m., Mon., June 21, 10 p.m.) (K.L.)


UPSTATE After the death of her mother, Liz (Iracel Rivero) takes a road trip to visit Steve (Max Arnaud), a former partner in crime now living in the middle of nowhere with his decade-older wife, Sylvia (Suzan Mikiel Kennedy). Awkwardness gives way to crisis, which more or less resolves in trippy psychological inquiry. Directors Andrew Luis and Katherine Nolfi initially seem to be pitting the women against each other, even while slowly revealing their similarities; it's suggested that they could be two versions of the same woman, 10 years apart. After a bumpy start, Upstate clicks into place about halfway through, when the tension between Liz and Sylvia builds to a peak, and the film's more pedestrian love-triangle plot beats are absorbed by a highly assured, hazy hangout vibe reminiscent of Olivier Assayas in party mode. Shooting on 16 mm, the filmmakers at times achieve an intimacy that feels hyperreal. Too bad Steve is characterized as such a grating goofball that it's never clear what either of these complicated, comely women would ever see in him. Maybe that's the point? (Regal; Mon., June 21, 7:45 p.m., Thurs., June 24, 5 p.m., Fri., June 25, 9:45 p.m.) (K.L.)

WAITING FOR "SUPERMAN" In this summer of pumped-up fictional action heroes, it seems doubtful we'll see a more courageous or inspiring individual than Geoffrey Canada, the real-life president and CEO of Harlem Children's Zone, an organization dedicated to keeping inner-city kids in school. Canada is one of the key figures in the fight for the future of the U.S. classroom, which propels Davis Guggenheim's sobering documentary Waiting for "Superman." Painfully aware that his children can attend stellar private schools that other parents can't afford, the Oscar-winning director of An Inconvenient Truth briskly covers the many obstacles impeding American students' ability to learn — incompetent public school systems, stubborn unions, a dearth of truly committed teachers. "Superman" may be too glossy to be the final word on the subject, but Guggenheim's examination of how our nation's poor educational system jeopardizes all our futures resonates with genuine concern for the complexity of the crisis. (Regal; Mon., June 21, 8 p.m., Tues., June 22, 5:15 p.m.) (Tim Grierson)

CRITIC'S PICK  WHERE ARE YOU TAKING ME? For the first several minutes of director Kimi Takesue's documentary, viewers may well be asking the question in the film's title. Delivered sans voice-over or any establishing context, Takesue's film drops the audience into an elliptical journey through layers of life in modern Uganda: a high-society wedding (whose groom looks like he's attending a funeral); a female weight-lifting competition; a break-dance battle that's stolen by a young child. Once you're acclimated to the unforced pace, the wonderfully composed images (some quite painterly) wash over you. It's only near the end that any reference to the country's bloody history arises, and you realize you've been watching a poetic corrective to lingering stereotypes. (Regal; Sun., June 20, 7:30 p.m., Mon., June 21, 9:45 p.m., Thurs., June 24, 5:15 p.m.) (E.H.)

CRITIC'S PICK  THE WOLF KNIFE In her photographs and videos, visual artist/filmmaker Laurel Nakadate often uses her body as a loaded weapon, playing with her ability to "pass" as a younger lady in ways both relatively harmless (as a Yale MFA student, she dressed as a Girl Scout and sold cookies door to door with a hidden surveillance camera on her sash) and downright dangerous (she's also made videotapes with strange men who try to start conversations with her, sometimes on solo road trips that she's described as "my little version of Lolita, only Lolita's on her own, taking herself on a trip"). Her second feature film, The Wolf Knife, explores these reverse–Little Red Riding Hood dynamics further. An ultra-low-budget road-trip flick, Wolf stars Christina Kolozsvary as Chrissy, a scrappy, pouty, ballsy would-be bombshell totally skeeved out by her mom's new fiancé. June (Julie Potretz), Chrissy's shyer, blonder, effortlessly hot best friend, offers to tag along on a journey to track down Chrissy's real dad. Once they hit the road, we never see the girls in transit — we catch up with them once they've flopped out in sweaty motel rooms, where they munch Cheetos and feed each other secrets and lies. For its first hour, Wolf is a loose but evocative portrait of the relationship between two girls alienated from everyone but each other, still feeling out the difference between affection and attraction and discovering the relationship between cause and effect, dying for attention but a long way from being able to manipulate desire. And then the limbo snaps, and everything goes gloriously off the rails: Two desperate, unbearably tense confrontations raise the stakes, revealing Chrissy to be more sociopathic than the average mixed-up teen girl, and The Wolf Knife to be far bolder and more controlled than it initially seems. (Downtown Independent; Sun., June 20, 7:30 p.m., Regal; Tues., June 22, 5 p.m., Wed., June 23, 10 p.m.) (K.L.)


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