Pick of the week: “Pete’s Dragon” (Netflix) — I’m not sure who saw David Lowery’s ’50s crime drama “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” and thought “That guy should totally reboot a ’70s Disney movie featuring an animated dragon.” But I’m glad they did, because Lowery’s take is refreshingly old-fashioned storytelling that they don’t do much in family films anymore, relying on heart and emotion as much as effects. Although that is a pretty good-looking dragon.
I used to think it was pretty special that I got to age along with the Richard Linklater’s “Before” series. When “Before Sunrise” came out I was 26, when “Before Sunset” came out I was 35, and when “Before Midnight” came out I was 44. Tracking, more or less, with the aging of the characters, getting a surprise visit from them every 9 years.
It was special for watching the movies, but also for those nine-year gaps in between. Linklater’s preoccupation, from “Boyhood” to “Dazed and Confused” to “Slacker” has always been about time, how it shapes us and how we shape it in memory. These nearly-decade long intermissions gave me the chance to age, too, and track my own trek into middle age along with Celine and Jesse.
But the occasion of the release of all three films in a boxed set from the Criterion Collection has me rethinking that specialness a little. Because, as valid as it is to see the films over an 18-year span, seeing them all together reveals new things to the viewer, reveals them not just as an ongoing project but a single, unified work of art.
Pick of the Week: “What We Do in the Shadows“ (Amazon Prime) — My full review is here. Before “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” and making Thor funny in the upcoming “Ragnarok,” New Zealand filmmaker Taika Waititi co-created and starred in this hilarious mockumentary about a group of vampires living together in a flat. The usual roommate run-ins are heightened when all of the tenants are immortal, and not cleaning up after yourself involves geysers of blood all over the walls. Jemaine Clement and Rhys Darby of “Flight of the Conchords” also appear.
“Always Shine” screens at 10:30 p.m. Friday night at the Union South Marquee Theatre, 1208 W. Dayton St. as part of the Directress Film Festival. FREE.
And you thought Emma Stone’s auditions in “La La Land” were rough. In the opening scene of Sophie Takal’s “Always Shine,” an actress named Beth (Caitlin FitzGerald) is auditioning for a sexually humiliating part in a lousy horror movie, sobbing as she offers an unseen killer her body in exchange for sparing her life. We hear the producers leering off-camera as she debases herself, chortling as she all but strips in front of them to get the part.
Then we see what’s shot like another audition, this time an actress named Anna (Mackenzie Davis) seeming to audition for the part of a pissed-off customer at an auto repair shop. Only, when the scene ends, we realize that she’s not auditioning for role — she really is at an auto shop, really is pissed off.
The pairing of those two scenes is key. “Always Shine” comes off in many ways like a brutal commentary on Hollywood sexism, on the way the industry uses and disposes of women. And that’s part of it. But, ultimately, “Always Shine” is about the way society in general looks at women, how they are often forced to perform roles for men in certain ways — to play submissive, or flirty, or the “cool girl” — in order to be seen and heard.
Pick of the Week: “Captain Fantastic” (Amazon Prime) — My full review is here. Jimmy Kimmel joked at the Oscars about how few people had seen this movie that got Viggo Mortensen a Best Actor nomination — now you can rectify that. Mortensen is terrific, both majestic and wounded, as a widower who has raised his five kids off the grid in the wilds of the Pacific Northwest. It’s a tough but idyllic existence — but when his late wife’s parents attempt to take custody of the kids and bring them into the modern world, he has to reckon with how he’s raised them. He’s both like no parent ever and like every parent.
“End of Fall” has its Wisconsin premiere at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Beloit International Film Festival, with an encore showing at 2:30 p.m. Sunday. For more information on the festival, which runs through March 5, visit beloitfilmfest.org.
Something wicked is happening out in those Wisconsin woods. In addition to the finely wrought revenge drama “Uncle John,” shot near Lodi, comes the rural noir “End of Fall,” shot near Lake Geneva. Both films eschew big plot twists or excessive violence for an almost meditative look at crimes and punishments.
Included on the Criterion Collection edition of Kirsten Johnson’s documentary “Cameraperson” is a 2015 short film she made from her time in Afghanistan, “The Above.” The documentary profiles not a person but a thing — a whale-sized surveillance balloon that the U.S. military put into the air over Kabul for reasons that remain classified.
In shot after shot, we see Afghan residents going about their daily lives, all with this big white blimp hanging in the background, watching. The balloon is meant to be inobtrusive, but once you notice it, you can’t unnotice it, and knowing it’s there over your shoulder must color everything done by the watched. It could be the eye of God — or the lens of a cameraperson.