22 Films to See This Weekend: Tsai Ming-liang, Shirley Clarke, Harun Farocki + More

22 Films, Film

Sundays may be a “wan, stuff shadow of a robust Saturday” or a day of “forced leisure for folks who have no aptitude for leisure,” but a weekend is still a weekend. We wait for the pleasure of a Friday night, knowing the burdens of the work week have a brief respite, and what better way to indulge seeing some great films—be it new to you treasures or your favorite classics. And this weekend from BAM and MoMA to The Film Society of Lincoln Center and Nitehawk Cinema there are more than enough wonderful films showing for you to happily disappear into. Here are 22 films that have us running straight to the theater.

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***FRIDAY, APRIL 10***

BLADE, Stephen Norrington
BAM

Wesley Snipes delivers one of his most iconic roles as an ice-cool half-vampire, half-mortal who becomes a protector of the mortal race by slaying evil vampires in increasingly spectacular fashion. This gripping sci-fi-horror hybrid launched a franchise, but the original remains the most entertaining.

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THE BROTHER FROM ANOTHER PLANET, John Sayles
BAM

In Sayles’ witty urban spin on the runaway slave narrative, a mute extraterrestrial (Joe Morton, in a remarkably expressive performance) crash-lands in Harlem after a spaceship accident and finds himself on the run from two mysterious white hunters. Stylishly shot by Spike Lee collaborator Ernest Dickerson, The Brother From Another Planet offers a thought-provoking spin on the use of the black image in science fiction.

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GREMLINS, Joe Dante
Anthology Film Archives

Joe Dante’s GREMLINS was produced by Spielberg and became a huge hit, but it’s no E.T. True, its ‘hero,’ Gizmo the mogwai, is an adorable, wide-eyed, furry little creature of unknown origins (by way of Chinatown). But, given as a gift to our human protagonist Billy (Zach Galligan), Gizmo comes along with three rules: never expose it to bright light, never get it wet, and never, EVER feed it after midnight. Needless to say, rules (especially in horror movies) are made to be broken, and soon the placid town of Kingston Falls is overrun with murderous, anarchic, and not at all furry Gremlins, who lay a path of destruction which Dante delights in portraying. A bona fide 1980s popcorn-movie classic whose mischievous spirit and Looney Tunes-inspired havoc remain fresh thirty years later, GREMLINS is also graced with one of the best latter-day performances by Dick Miller, as Billy’s Gremlins-menaced neighbor Mr. Futterman.

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GREMLINS 2, Joe Dante
Anthology Film Archives

With Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates, Corey Feldman, and Dick Miller.
Rare is a sequel that bests the original, but GREMLINS 2 manages to outsmart and undermine its blockbuster predecessor a hundred times over. A parable for our times (circa 1990), this improbable tale takes place in the towering Manhattan super-building of Clamp Enterprises, where poor furry Gizmo is being used as a guinea pig by gonzo billionaire Daniel Clamp (played with a Donald Trump-like zeal by the rubbery John Glover). Next thing you know Gizmo gets wet and, well, hell breaks loose. Luckily his pals Billy (Zach Galligan), Katie (Phoebe Cates) and Murray (Dick Miller, natch) are there to help save him and New York from the whacked-out antics of the deplorable, deadly Gremlins. Simultaneously a tribute to the great sight gags of Frank Tashlin and a riotous parody of disaster movies in the Irwin Allen mold, this great meta-film is 100% Joe Dante.

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SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS, Joel McCrea
Anthology Film Archives

(1942) Slated to shoot the sequel to his boffo Ants in Your Pants of 1939, director Joel McCrea would rather make socially significant O Brother, Where Art Thou?, so he sets out to explore Human Misery, with peekaboo-hairdoed Veronica Lake along for the ride. Approx. 90 min. 35mm.

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RIO, 100 DEGREES, Nelson Pereira dos Santos
MoMA

1956. Brazil. Directed by Nelson Pereira dos Santos. With Jece Valadão, Glauce Rocha, Roberto Batalin. A major turning point in the history of Latin American cinema, Rio, 100 Degrees presents the eponymous city through a neorealist lens. Shooting on location and using a largely nonprofessional cast, Pereira follows a group of young, black peanut vendors as they travel from the favelas to the beaches of Copacabana to the peak of Sugarloaf Mountain. During their encounters, the filmmaker casts an unflinching gaze on class stratification in Brazil, depicting the life of the nation’s underclass in a manner so unprecedented that filmmaker Glauber Rocha dubbed it the developing world’s first truly revolutionary film. 35mm. In Portuguese; English subtitles. 100 min.

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CHRISTMAS IN JULY, Preston Sturges
Film Forum

(1940) Dick Powell thinks he’s won $25,000 in a radio slogan contest (his entry: “If you can’t sleep, it isn’t the coffee, it’s the bunk”) and acts accordingly — until he realizes… Approx. 67 min. 35mm

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BARREN LIVES, Nelson Pereira Dos Santos
MoMA

1963. Brazil. Directed by Nelson Pereira dos Santos. With Átilá Iório, Maria Ribiero, Orlando Macedo. Widely cited as the film that helped launch Cinema Novo, Barren Lives stands as one of Pereira’s most celebrated films. Based on the novel by Graciliano Ramos, the film follows an itinerant family and their dog as they travel across the parched, pitiless landscape of the sertão in Northeast Brazil and eke out a meager living. Opting for a naked, unfiltered lens and the use of natural lighting, the director offers an unsparing portrait of grinding poverty through a series of striking formal maneuvers. Though set in 1941, two decades prior to the film’s production, Barren Lives resonated deeply with a contemporary situation in which little had changed for the region’s struggling agrarian workers. It is a work of considerable effect, achieved through limited means. 35mm. In Portuguese; English subtitles. 100 min.

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VIVE L’AMOUR, Tsai Ming-liang
Museum of the Moving Image

Dir. Tsai Ming-liang. 1994, 118 mins. Archival 35mm print. Chen Chao-jung, Lee Kang-sheng, Yang Kuei-mei. Winner of the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival and, for critic Robin Wood, Tsai’s “finest,” Vive L’Amour is the film that introduced him to an international audience, garnering comparisons to Antonioni’s studies in urban anomie. Lee plays Tsai’s emblematic onscreen double Hsiao-kang, who works in the funeral urn business and is unsurprisingly death-obsessed. When he goes to attempt suicide in a mostly vacant apartment building, Hsiao is distracted by the sounds of a steamy affair between a real-estate agent and a street vendor in an adjacent apartment. As Hsiao shadows them, a strange love triangle emerges, with tension building until the wrenching emotional outburst of the famous final shot.

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HEARTBEATS, Xavier Dolan
MoMA

2010. Canada. Directed by Xavier Dolan. Best friends Francis and Marie are inseparable—until they both fall for Nicholas, a handsome newcomer. As the trio spends their days and nights together, the two friends passive-aggressively vie for Nicholas’s attention and analyze his every gesture. Heartbeats establishes Dolan’s visual lexicon, with highly stylized slow-motion scenes and riffs on a generation of classic cool; Marie is a doe-eyed, cigarette-poised Audrey Hepburn, and Francis, who keeps a stick-figure tally of his misfortunes in romance, is a melancholy James Dean. Humorous and heartbreaking, the emotional three-way is a contemporary update on Francois Truffaut’s Jules and Jim, with all the neuroses of the 21st century. In French; English subtitles. 101 min.

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***SATURDAY, APRIL 11***

ORNETTE: MADE IN AMERICA, Shirley Clarke
BAM

The great experimental filmmaker Shirley Clarke painted this portrait of avant-garde jazz pioneer Ornette Coleman—who was once asked by NASA to compose music to coincide with their space program. Clarke blends thrilling performance excerpts, futuristic music videos, and imaginative reenactments of Coleman’s childhood, resulting in an invigorating document of a unique artist and original thinker.

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WHAT FAROCKI TAUGHT, Jill Godmilow
The Film Society of Lincoln Center

A shot-for-shot remake of Harun Farocki’s Inextinguishable Fire, translated into English and shot on color Kodachrome. Every motion is exquisitely reproduced—from the self-inflicted cigarette burn at the beginning, to a woman reacting to evening news coverage of the Vietnam War by putting her head on her husband’s shoulder—though the precision is occasionally underscored by Godmilow superimposing Farocki’s original over her reproduction. In a short epilogue, Godmilow is interviewed about her project on the set, expanding her thoughts in a voiceover recorded later: “We don’t have a name for this type of film… it replaces the documentary’s pornography of the real.”

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INEXTINGUISHABLE FIRE, Harun Farocki
The Film Society of Lincoln Center

Among the most powerful antiwar films ever made, Farocki’s short unsentimentally traces the connections between the state, corporate interests, and scientific research by dramatizing the internal workings of the Dow Chemical plant in Midland, Michigan, surrounding the development of napalm. With the haunting refrain “A chemical corporation is like a set of building blocks. We let each worker have one block to work with. Then we put the blocks together to make whatever our clients request,” the film builds upon repetitions and news footage from Vietnam to illustrate the devastating consequences of a populace divided and disempowered by capitalism.

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SORORITY GIRL, Roger Corman
Anthology Film Archives

One of the earliest films in both Corman’s and Dick Miller’s filmographies, SORORITY GIRL is a scathingly brutal cheapie that traces the downward spiral of spoiled, sociopathic rich girl Sabra (Susan Cabot). Schooled in emotional stuntedness and inhumanity by her haughty, hateful mother, she wreaks havoc on her fellow sorority members at the University of Southern California, shamelessly exploiting and persecuting them. Typically for Corman, what would have been a cynical exploitation film in almost anyone else’s hands is, despite the conditions of its production, a blunt but remarkably perceptive portrait of a sociopath – though there’s bitchy fun to be had too!

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LANDSCAPE SUICIDE, James Benning
The Film Society of Lincoln Center

For his career-long excavation of the American national character, James Benning found two of his most striking case studies in a pair of murderers whose crimes took place 30 years and more than half the country apart. Landscape Suicide, like many of Benning’s films, consists largely of footage of places, landscapes, and roads accompanied by—or paired with—speech. The speech, in this case, comes from the court testimonies of Bernadette Protti, who stabbed one of her California high-school classmates to death in 1984 over an insult, and Ed Gein, the infamous Plainfield, Wisconsin, killer who made trophies out of his victim’s bodies, read aloud by actors directly to the camera. Benning’s America is a country terrified equally by the wilderness to which it’s in thrall and the civilization it’s set up to keep that wilderness at bay—and nowhere in his work does that tension become more chillingly clear. New 16mm print courtesy of the Austrian Film Museum.

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RIO, NORTHERN ZONE, Nelson Pereira dos Santos
MoMA

1957. Brazil. Directed by Nelson Pereira dos Santos. With Grande Otelo, Malu, Jece Valadão. While Pereira’s previous film, Rio, 100 Degrees, offered a panoramic view of the city and its inhabitants, here he focuses on the inner life of a single protagonist, the struggling composer Espírito da Luz Cardoso (a character modeled on the musician Zé Keti, who appears briefly in the film). Discovered on the train tracks at the film’s outset, clinging to life, he begins to recall key episodes of his recent past through a series of flashbacks—memories of new love found and lost, of a son who turned to a life of crime, and, perhaps most crucially, of his songs. Despite facing numerous hardships, including dealings with exploitative businessmen looking to profit from his art, Espírito remains optimistic, buoyed by the spirit of his music. Rio, Northern Zone is a powerful drama of inequity, set to a samba beat. 35mm. In Portuguese; English subtitles. 90 min.

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THE BACHELOR PARTY, Delbert Mann
Museum of the Moving Image

Originally written and produced for live television in 1953, this film reteams writer Paddy Chayefsky and director Delbert Mann, and reflects the painful realism of their previous collaboration, the Oscar-winning film Marty. The “swinging bachelor” was a trope of fiction at this time, but this film poetically undoes the clichés of male camaraderie and presents both the issues of fidelity and loneliness with an unflinching eye. −Matthew Weiner

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THE ALIENIST/A VERY CRAZY ASYLUM, Nelson Pereira dos Santos
MoMA

1957. Brazil. Directed by Nelson Pereira dos Santos. With Grande Otelo, Malu, Jece Valadão. While Pereira’s previous film, Rio, 100 Degrees, offered a panoramic view of the city and its inhabitants, here he focuses on the inner life of a single protagonist, the struggling composer Espírito da Luz Cardoso (a character modeled on the musician Zé Keti, who appears briefly in the film). Discovered on the train tracks at the film’s outset, clinging to life, he begins to recall key episodes of his recent past through a series of flashbacks—memories of new love found and lost, of a son who turned to a life of crime, and, perhaps most crucially, of his songs. Despite facing numerous hardships, including dealings with exploitative businessmen looking to profit from his art, Espírito remains optimistic, buoyed by the spirit of his music. Rio, Northern Zone is a powerful drama of inequity, set to a samba beat. 35mm. In Portuguese; English subtitles. 90 min.

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BOYS, Tsai Ming-Iiang
Museum of the Moving Image

While preparing to shoot this short feature for television, Tsai discovered and auditioned a young man working as a guard at a video arcade. This was Lee Kang-sheng, Tsai’s muse-to-be, who has appeared in all of his feature films to date. Lee plays a junior-high student who bullies and blackmails a younger boy, then receives the same treatment at the hands of some older students, in what could be a practice run for the presentation of dog-eat-dog youth in the following year’s Rebels of the Neon God. One of ten television features Tsai wrote between 1989 and 1991, Boys offers a rare glimpse into his apprenticeship period. “I decided to be more accepting of Hsiao-kang’s acting, rather than force him to react quicker,” said Tsai. “If that’s the way he reacts, that’s the way he is.”

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THE HOLE, Tsai Ming-Iiang
Museum of the Moving Image

Dir. Tsai Ming-liang. 1998, 95 mins. Archival 35mm print from UCLA Film & Television Archive. With Yang Kuei-mei, Lee Kang-sheng, Miao Tien. Part musical, part-apocalyptic fable, and entirely without precedent, Tsai’s fourth feature begins a week shy of 2000, as Taipei is in the grip of a mysterious epidemic (“Taiwan Fever”) ensuing after a monsoon. Lagging behind the evacuation, Hsiao-kang meets his downstairs neighbor when a plumber accidentally creates a hole connecting their apartments, a breach that gradually widens. Tsai contrasts the dreariness of the apartment block with the splendiferous production numbers set to the lip-synched music of Grace Chang, sequences that are lavish expressions of bottled-up desire.

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THE RIVER, Tsai Ming-Iiang
Museum of the Moving Image

Dir. Tsai Ming-liang. 1997, 115 mins. Archival 35mm print. With Miao Tien, Lee Kang-sheng, Lu Yi-ching. “Perhaps the most harrowing of Tsai’s meditations on urban isolation… trains the director’s unblinking gaze on the breakdown of the nuclear family.” (Elvis Mitchell). Talked into playing a dead body on a film shoot, Hsiao-kang agrees to lie face-down in the polluted Tamsui River, and shortly thereafter develops a mysterious neck pain. The lingering effects create tension in the apartment that he shares with his parents, which each member of the family escapes to pursue some kind of satisfaction on their own. Concluding with a startling eruption of repressed desire, The River is among Tsai’s most divisive and uncompromising works.

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***SUNDAY, APRIL 12***

REBELS OF THE NEON GOD, Tsai Ming-Iiang
The Film Society of Lincoln Center

Tsai Ming-liang’s feature debut introduces antihero Hsiao-kang (Lee Kang-sheng, who has reprised the role in nearly all of Tsai’s later works, including Stray Dogs, NYFF51), a sullen youth sharing a Taipei apartment with his mother and cabbie father who believes he’s the reincarnation of a spiteful god. Something of a low-key anarchist, Hsiao-kang impulsively drops out of his college-prep course and pockets the tuition money. Striking out on his own, he falls in with the bikers who vandalized his father’s cab (Chen Chao-jung and Jen Chang-bin) and the disaffected girl (Wang Yu-wen) who follows them around. A stark but sympathetic portrait of teenage alienation, Rebels of the Neon God reimagines Rebel Without a Cause amid a nocturnal landscape of urban decay, a Taipei bathed in the glow of arcade machines, noisy mopeds and festering back-alley sludge. A perversely funny and haunting sign of things to come in Tsai’s singular and acclaimed career, Rebels of the Neon God deserves to be counted among the most auspicious debuts of the past several decades. A Big World Pictures release.

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EDVARD MUNCH, Peter Watkins
The Film Society of Lincoln Center

Peter Watkins’s three-and-a-half-hour magnum opus is less a portrait of the great Norwegian painter Edvard Munch than it is an exposure of the artist’s frayed inner life. Indelible images of the painter’s childhood occur and recur; ecstatic moments of human connection punctuate long stretches of boredom, loneliness, and frustration; aesthetic debates within Munch’s Berlin intellectual circle, which included the playwright August Strindberg, unravel at length. The result is an artist biopic—complete with dry voiceover narration—that moves with the logic of a free verse poem or a stream-of-consciousness novel. On one level, Edvard Munch is an exhaustive portrait of a particularly fervent moment in European politics and culture. On another, it’s a painfully intimate study of an individual with a particularly acute sense for, as one character in the film puts it, “the mysterious anguish of life”—and the cathartic anguish of art.

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EASY LIVING, Mitchell Leisen
Film Forum

(1937, Mitchell Leisen) Working girl Jean Arthur is bonked on the head with a mink coat while riding on an open-air Fifth Ave. bus, mistaken for the mistress of Wall St. lion Edward Arnold, given the ne plus ultra of Manhattan penthouse suites, and finds love in the Automat with fresh-faced Ray Milland. Approx. 86 min. 35mm.

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REMEMBER THE NIGHT, Mitchell Leisen
Film Forum

(1940, Mitchell Leisen) Assistant NYC D.A. Fred MacMurray brings his maiden aunts in Indiana a Christmas present: convicted shoplifter Barbara Stanwyck. Classic Sturges comedy romance, his last screenplay for another director. Approx. 94 min. 35mm.

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THE AMULET OF OGUM, Nelson Pereira dos Santos
MoMA

1974. Brazil. Directed by Nelson Pereira dos Santos. With Ney Santanna, Anecy Rocha, Joffre Soares, Maria Ribeiro, Jards Macalé, Emmanuel Cavalcanti. After Firmino, a blind balladeer, is robbed by a gang of thugs, they demand a performance, and he proceeds to tell them a tale about the Amulet of Ogum. The story centers around a young man, Gabriel, who is granted invincibility after taking part in an Umbanda ceremony, and who, because of his supernatural abilities, soon becomes embroiled in Caxias’s violent underworld. The Amulet of Ogum is a crime picture and much more, combining the genre with Brazil’s syncretic religious traditions, which during this period had been actively suppressed by the government. In Portuguese; English subtitles. 112 min.

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