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Good news: Your weekend moviegoing needs have been simplified. Every Thursday morning, our What To See guide will highlight the new releases opening in New York City and NYC repertory screenings that are most worth your time.
Here's your guide for the weekend of January 15 – January 17.
Love him or hate him, there's no denying that few directors can handle large-scale action as well as Michael Bay…
13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi (2015)
Director: Michael Bay
Stars: John Krasinski, James Badge Dale, Pablo Schreiber, Max Martini, Toby Stephens, David Giuntoli, David Costabile, David Denman, Dominic Fumusa, Alexia Barlier, Demetrius Grosse
The good news: Hilary Clinton’s name isn't said once in Michael Bay's 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi. A known right-winger, Bay could've turned this big-budget, clearly-trying-to-ride-the-American-Sniper-wave-of-cinematic-patriotism adaptation of Mitchell Zukoff's 2013 book about the unexpected attack by Islamic militants on a confidential CIA annex in Benghazi, Libya, on September 11, 2012, into a Clinton slander-fest. But, to the Transformers overlord’s credit, he didn't. That's not to say 13 Hours is the least bit subtle in its politics—a slow-motion shot of terrorists shredding an American flag apart with bullets is indicative of the film as a whole.
In an effort to put all of the budget into the visual spectacle, Bay recruited a likable crop of talented character actors and TV show scene-stealers, led by James Badge Dale (Iron Man 3, The Walk) and an impressively bulked-up and grizzled John Krasinski (The Office), to play the six former Navy SEALS, Marines, and Army Special Forces soldiers tasked with defending a vulnerably wide-open American compound targeted by hundreds of automatic-weapon-toting insurgents. After some brief character development scenes, all nicely performed by the in-command actors, 13 Hours devotes nearly two hours of its time to gunfire, bombings, snipers, fire blazes, snappy one-liners, and bullet-ridden Islamic baddies who are indistinguishable, they might as well all be wearing black masks.
About as subtle as bomb explosion, Bay's topical action thriller benefits greatly from the director’s singular handle on gargantuan action. Yet 13 Hours' greatest strength is also its biggest flaw. Few directors in Hollywood know how to orchestrate behemoth action sequences as deftly as Bay, and he's in peak form here, staging the rampant, and thankfully practical, violence with a sense of urgency that the CGI in his Transformers movies keeps at bay. With all of chaos done in camera, you can feel the danger. It's not a surprise, then, that the film's impact lessens whenever Bay gets too stylish, like a tracking shot ripped off from Bay’s own Pearl Harbor that follows a bomb as it zips through the clouds en route to decimating one of the CIA outpost's buildings. But the film’s bombastic anarchy often feels repetitive—there are only so many shots of American snipers blasting away anonymous bad guys one can take before the overall impact diminishes into video-game-like disconnect. Bay's good intentions of demystifying the Benghazi controversy in favor of honoring its bravest fighters feeds too directly into his love of cinematic firepower. The message gets lost in clouds of black smoke and drowned out by machine guns.
Being that it's such a dire month for Hollywood movie releases, it's easy to recommend 13 Hours for its sheer big-screen-ready grandiosity—even Michael Bay's loudest haters can’t deny his bang-boom mastery. And for the millions of people who cried at the end of Clint Eastwood's American Sniper, it'll no doubt leave them in similarly weepy hysterics. But for everyone else, a.k.a. the more discerning people who know one-sided propaganda when they see it, 13 Hours will momentarily thrill them before resonating as much as a round of Call of Duty.
Where to see it: Opening in wide release
If you missed Richard Gere in FRANNY at last year's Tribeca Film Festival, catch up with it now as…
The Benefactor (2016)
Director: Andrew Renzi
Stars: Richard Gere, Dakota Fanning, Theo James, Clarke Peters, Cheryl Hines, Dylan Baker
Richard Gere delivers a bravura performance as the title character, a rich eccentric man who worms his way into the lives of a deceased friend’s young daughter (Dakota Fanning) and her new husband (Theo James). Writer-director Andrew Renzi's narrative feature debut The Benefactor is a warm and winsome story that explores the pangs of the past and reflects on what it is to be family.
Renzi displays the nuances of a seasoned storyteller, constructing an emotional labyrinth around an endearing and enduring Shakespearian character. The Benefactor is a remarkable drama enlivened by incredible performances delivered by a versatile cast, bringing to life Renzi's powerful cinematic vision. —Frédéric Boyer (via the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival guide)
Where to see it: City Cinemas Village East
If Michael Bay doesn't do it for you, spend the weekend with Quentin Tarantino and James Cameron…
Jackie Brown (1997) and Aliens (1986)
Directors: Quentin Tarantino (Jackie Brown), James Cameron (Aliens)
Two weeks into the month so far, January 2016 is certainly living up to the month’s notorious reputation of being a real struggle at the local multiplex—that's the nice way of saying it. To be more blunt, the new release selection has been lukewarm garbage, spared from being "piping hot garbage" because Bayghazi is too technically sound to be totally written off. Living in New York City, fortunately, means you can avoid AMC and Loews and spend coin at the city’s best repertory houses, and they won’t disappoint this weekend.
First order of business: Head out to Brooklyn's Nitehawk Cinema on Saturday or Sunday afternoon to see Quentin Tarantino's constantly underrated Jackie Brown. With the acclaimed director's eighth film, The Hateful Eight, currently spraying blood and uncomfortable N-words onto eager audiences, there's been a lot of discussion about where each of Tarantino’s movies rank in his personal filmography, which is a good thing—now, people have a reason to revisit this slick, atypically understated 1997 crime flick. Both a love letter to Pam Grier and Tarantino's remixing of Elmore Leonard's Rum Punch, Jackie Brown features some of QT cinema's best performances and coolest soundtrack choices. It's also Tarantino's subtlest film, and, as such, contrasts nicely against the grandiose and grandly gore-filled The Hateful Eight.
Restraint is a non-factor in Aliens, though, which invades the IFC Center for a pair of midnight screenings on Friday and Saturday. In terms of sequels, it’s The Godfather Part II for the sci-fi and horror genres. Abandoning Alien director Ridley Scott's haunted-house-in-space chills, the young James Cameron—long before the softer box office giants Titanic and Avatar—goes absolutely bug-nuts with some of the greatest and most hardcore action sequences of all time. Aliens is a claustrophobic, rapid-fire shoot-'em-up anchored by those H.R. Giger’s amazing extra-terrestrial monsters and a crew of memorable characters, the best of which is, of course, Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley. You haven’t lived until you've heard her scream "Get away from her, you bitch!" on the big screen.
Where to see it: Jackie Brown - Nitehawk Cinema
Aliens - IFC Center
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