The Act of Killing, directed by Joshua Oppenheimer (not rated, 115 minutes)
This unsettling documentary, which screened during the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival in October, is an astonishing and disturbing incursion into the dim territories of human identity and the ways we deceive ourselves. Made over the course of several years by Joshua Oppenheimer, Christine Cynn and a mostly anonymous crew, it presents us with the spectacle of cheerful murderers who’ve not only gotten away with it but are celebrated as national heroes.
It focuses on 72-year-old Indonesian Anwar Congo and his friends, who have been dancing their way through cinematic musical numbers, twisting arms in film noir gangster scenes, and galloping across prairies as yodeling cowboys. Their foray into filmmaking is being celebrated in the media and debated on television, even though they are mass murderers.
When the government of Indonesia was overthrown by the military in 1965, Anwar and his friends were promoted from small-time gangsters who sold movie theater tickets on the black market to death squad leaders. They helped the army kill more than 1 million alleged communists, ethnic Chinese and intellectuals in less than a year. As the executioner for the most notorious death squad in his city, Anwar claims to have killed 1,000 people with his own hands. And he demonstrates how it’s done for the camera.
Now a revered figure in Indonesia, Congo is seen as one of the founding fathers of the politically important paramilitary youth group that grew out of the death squads. They gather for rallies, in their garish camouflage uniforms, where they are flattered by government ministers who offer no apologies, saying that the nation needs gangsters to “beat up” those who won’t toe the line. Our critic, Philip Martin, wrote: “The film descends into madness as a film-within-a-film begins to take over; when Congo plays one of his own victims, he swings from delusional ubermensch to a pathetic, self-pitying mess. There is nothing exceptional about him. He was simply, as Hannah Arendt observed of Eichmann, ‘thoughtless.’”
Runner Runner (R, 91 minutes) A disorganized, generic and truncated drama in which Richie (Justin Timberlake), a Princeton student who pays for his education by winning at online gambling, travels to Costa Rica to confront devious online mastermind Ivan (Ben Aflleck) whom Richie believes has swindled him. With Gemma Arterton, Anthony Mackie; directed by Brad Furman. “Director Furman and cinematographer Mauro Fiore make lovely work of the tropical light, but the film has none of the loose-limbed energy of Furman’s stealth hit The Lincoln Lawyer,” says critic Kimberley Jones in the Austin Chronicle.
Closed Circuit (R, 96 minutes) This complicated, low-key conspiracy drama demands that its viewers pay close attention. The story, directed by John Crowley, centers on a sensational terrorism case involving an explosion at a busy London market. The case brings together lawyers Martin Rose (Eric Bana) and Claudia Simmons-Howe (Rebecca Hall), who once were lovers, to defend heroin addict Farroukh Erdogan (Denis Moschitto), a Turkish immigrant accused of orchestrating the attack. With Ciaran Hinds, Julia Stiles, Jim Broadbent. “Ultimately, the far-fetched plot is its undoing, crippling what could have been acompelling insight into the dirty works of the security services without recourse to over-familiar action set pieces,” says critic Tim Evans for the website Sky Movies.
I’m So Excited! (R, 95 minutes) The latest sex-infused comedy from Spanish director Pedro Almodovar concerns a technical failure that has endangered the lives of the people on board Peninsula Flight 2549 heading from Spain to Mexico. The pilots are striving, along with their colleagues in the ControlCenter, to find a solution. The flight attendants and the chief steward are attempting, in the face of danger, to forget their problems and devote themselves body and soul to the task of making the flight as enjoyable as possible for the passengers, while they wait for a solution. With Antonio Banderas, Penelope Cruz, Paz Vega, Hugo Silva. “The party in the sky comes to represent Almodovar’s faith in the power of imagination, which allows us to transcend even the most horrifying tragedies,” says critic Ben Sachs in the Chicago Reader.
Thanks for Sharing (R, 112 minutes) This overly ambitious comedy, directed by Stuart Blumberg, follows three people who become friends while attending 12-step meetings to help treat sex addiction. On the surface Adam (Mark Ruffalo), an overachieving environmental consultant, Mike (Tim Robbins), a long-married small-business owner, and Neil (Josh Gad), a wisecracking emergency-room doctor, have little in common, except the need to deal with their shared problem. As they navigate the rocky shores of recovery, Adam, Mike and Neil become a family that encourages, infuriates and applauds each other on the journey toward a new life. With Gwyneth Paltrow, Pink, Joely Richardson.
Linsanity (PG, 88 minutes) A religiously tinged documentary about Jeremy Lin, a state high school basketball champion and all-Ivy League at Harvard who was undrafted and unwanted by the NBA. Directed by Evan Leong, the film isn’t particularly stylish, but it makes the most of often exciting basketball footage, as well as showcasing a sweetly goofy side of Lin, now playing for the Houston Rockets. “Lin’s deep Christian faith even provides for a couple of humorous moments, like when he quashes his plan to make a cocky remark to the press about schooling Kobe Bryant: ‘I asked myself, would Jesus say that?’” says critic Sara Stewart in the New York Post.
MovieStyle, Pages 33 on 01/10/2014
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