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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 March 4 – March 6.
Finally, a kids movie for fans of The Godfather, Chinatown, crime noir, Idris Elba, and, most importantly, social justice…
Directors: Byron Howard, Rich Moore, Jared Bush
Stars: Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Idris Elba, Shakira, J.K. Simmons, Jenny Slate, Tommy Chong, Octavia Spencer, Bonnie Hunt, Alan Tudyk
The political climate is so hot right now, even the most genre-specific new movies are feeling the burn. Two of this weekend's wide-release debuts, in particular, reflect both sides of the proverbial agenda-dipped coin. On one side, the mindlessly violent action movie sequel London Has Fallen aims directly at the people who think Donald Trump's America would be, *cringe*, great, with its mow-'em-down approach to terrorists and its unsubtle "America, hell yeah!" sentiment that's written in bullet holes. On the other side, though, is Disney's superb new animated gem Zootopia, a joyously fun romp for the kids that also features some of the sneakiest and most compelling social commentary seen in a Hollywood movie in years, let alone a big-screen cartoon.
Zootopia's surface is palatably lighthearted. Riffing on crime noir and buddy comedies, Disney's best movie since 2012's Wreck-It Ralph follows a kindhearted go-getter rabbit named Judy (voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin), who's always dreamed about becoming a police officer in a world where animals walk, talk, and function like humans, thanks to the elimination of the animal kingdom's "predators and prey" class system. But due to their minuscule size and unimposing nature, bunnies never become cops. In the metropolitan city of Zootopia, however, Judy beats the odds by graduating from the academy, joining Zootopia's male-dominated force, and convincing her stoic boss (a ram voiced by Idris Elba) to let her work a "missing persons," or "animals," case to prove her crime-solving mettle.
Through happenstance, Judy teams up with a con artist fox named Nick (voiced by Jason Bateman) and uncovers a conspiracy: The local government is secretly producing a toxic drug that reverts the predator species back to their vicious ways. The government's larger mission, as Judy and Nick learn, is to take advantage of the fact that 90% of Zootopia are prey—by making the citizens fear the minority 10%, the government can maintain its power. Sound familiar? The true beauty of Zootopia is how cleverly its creative team masks profound racial justice themes with lovable characters, genuine laughs, and a wonderfully feel-good spirit. Unsubtle, geared-towards-adults nods to The Godfather and Chinatown complement sillier moments like a hilariously disastrous trip to a DMV run by sloths seamlessly, and Bateman's work as the slick-tongued Nick is some of the actor's best comedic work post-Arrested Development.
Those vibrant touches are catnip for younger viewers; grown-ups, though, won't miss the narrative's calls for equality that are layered within. The parallels between Zootopia's "prey" and African-Americans are specifically omnipresent. After someone tells Judy that she's "cute," she retorts with, "We [meaning, bunnies] can call ourselves cute"; when Nick stands next to an ewe, he grabs a handful of her puffy wool out of the same ignorant curiosity with which Caucasians look at black people's hair. Neither scene feels preachy, though—this is a Disney animated movie, after all, and a first-class one at that. The racial commentary simply blends in with the audience's laugh track. —Matt Barone
Where to see it: Opening in wide release
Heads up, Tina Fey fans (i.e., everyone alive): Here's her best leading movie role yet…
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (2016)
Directors: Glenn Ficarra, John Requa
Stars: Tina Fey, Margot Robbie, Martin Freeman, Christopher Abbott, Billy Bob Thornton, Alfred Molina, Nicholas Braun, Sheila Vand
US Weekly's review of Whiskey Tango Foxtrot describes co-directors' Glenn Ficarra and John Requa's (Bad Santa, Crazy, Stupid, Love.) dramedy as a "war-zone version of Eat, Pray, Love," which sounds insufferable. Why not a "Vietnam-set reimagining of Steel Magnolias" next, then? But don't let that caution-triggering description keep you away from Whiskey Tango Foxtrot this weekend, because if there's any actress who can sell the hell out of a wartime Eat, Pray, Love, it's Tina Fey. Everything's better with Fey, including the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival, where the hilarious multihyphenate will be on hand for a special Tribeca Talks: Storytellers event.
She's already conquered television (SNL, 30 Rock), politics (by out-Palin-ing the actual Sarah Palin), and awards show excellence (through co-hosting the Golden Globes with Amy Poehler), but Fey hasn't quite exploded on the big screen yet—it's been her one weak spot. It's not that Fey hasn't made good movies; Mean Girls is, of course, a religion, and last year's Sisters did a fine job of repurposing the raunchy humor usually restricted to guys like Seth Rogen and Will Ferrell for middle-aged women protagonists. It's just that she’s been waiting for the right project to show off her range and capabilities as a film's lead.
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is that project. Fey plays a cable news producer going through a midlife crisis while stationed in Afghanistan amidst the Islamic country's political conflicts and social marginalization of women. Starting with 2008's Baby Mama, Fey has been relegated to romantic comedies, making her perhaps the least obvious choice for this potentially dicey material. But, unsurprisingly, she rises to the atypical casting challenge. The Wrap film critic Alonso Duralde writes, "[Whiskey Tango Foxtrot] pushes Fey toward a film career that’s as uncompromising, unpredictable and intelligent as her TV work."
Bring it on, Ms. Fey. —M.B.
Where to see it: Opening in wide release
This 2015 Tribeca Film Festival world premiere does for babysitters what Jaws did for oceans and Psycho did for in-bathroom bathing…
Director: Michael Thelin
Stars: Sarah Bolger, Joshua Rush, Carly Adams, Thomas Bair, Susan Pourfar, Chris Beetem
After their regular babysitter can't make it, the Thompson family turns to her friend Anna to supervise the children while they go out to celebrate their anniversary. At first Anna seems like a dream come true for the kids, as she allows them to play with things that are usually off-limits. But, as her behavior becomes increasingly odd, the kids soon find out that her intentions are dark and twisted, and that she is not Anna at all.
Understanding that the scariest villains have relatable motivations, director Michael Thelin imbues realism into this story and its characters. As the sitter's emotional wreckage comes to the surface, the children react in the only way they know how. Emelie’s slow-burning first act soon escalates dramatically into a multidimensional, nail-biting thriller. — Mallory Lance (via the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival guide)
Where to see it: Cinema Village
There's a new haven for cinephiles in NYC, and its programmers are coming out swinging…
The Metrograph's opening weekend: "Surrender to the Screen" series and Noah Baumbach's "Dream Double Feature"
When the historic Ziegfeld Theatre closed last month, New York City's move lovers were, understandably, seriously bummed out. But they also overlooked this year’s related string of good news—NYC is about to welcome a slew of new cinephile-friendly repertory and art-house venues. There's the under-construction Alamo Drafthouse in Brooklyn and the reopening of the Quad Cinema in downtown Manhattan, but first, say hello to the Metrograph, an old-school-themed cinema haven on Ludlow Street, in the Lower East Side, that opens this Friday, March 4, and it's wasting no time in establishing its high-caliber pedigree.
More than just a movie-house, The Metrograph also features a restaurant, the Commissary, designed to promote post-screening discussions over food and drinks, and a bookstore, Metrograph Books, that's fully stocked with directors' and actors' biographies, long-form film studies, and other movie-dedicated texts. Those extracurricular options are both in service, of course, to the actual theaters, all of which will be blessed by the Metrograph's inaugural series, "Surrender to the Screen," a collection of undeniable classics and cult favorites that all plots and individual scenes that take place inside movie theaters. For genre heads, it's all about An American Werewolf in London (1981), the deranged Italian splatter flick Demons (1985), Joe Dante's Matinee (1993), and the original The Blob (1958), with Steve McQueen; for "best movies of all time" completists, there's Taxi Driver (1976), The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985), and The Last Picture Show (1971); and for those who like kitschy curiosities, don't miss The Last Dragon (1985), Brian De Palma's Femme Fatale (2002), and the Madonna-led Desperately Seeking Susan (1985).
Smartly, the Metrograph will show off its attendee star power this weekend, too. Noah Baumbach (director, The Squid and the Whale, Frances Ha) has programmed a bizarre yet kinda brilliant double feature for Saturday night: George Miller's 1998 kiddie gem Babe: Pig in the City (yes, the guy who directed Mad Max: Fury Road also made that adorable talking pig movie) and Stanley Kubrick's perverse and decidedly adult Eyes Wide Shut (1999). As Baumbach explains, "Both movies take place in strange alternate cities. Part storybook, part nightmare. I've never been to these places, but I know what they are."
For that alone, how can you not already love the Metrograph? — M.B.
Where to see it: The Metrograph
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