The Act of Killing
A breakthrough hit for documentary filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer (that one of its executive producers is Werner Herzog probably doesn’t hurt), The Act of Killing tells the story of Anwar Congo and Adi Zulkadry, the notorious heads of a North Sumatran death squad believed to have been responsible for more than 1,000 assassinations under Suharto in mid-’60s Indonesia.
Rather than relying on interviews or historical footage, Oppenheimer features Congo and Zulkadry reenacting their murders for his camera — not just portraying their own parts in their crimes, but standing in for their victims as well.
The Oscar nominations haven’t been released yet, but The Act of Killing is probably a good bet for you to watch if you’re trying to cram for the Academy Awards: It’s already made the short list of documentary features, in addition to earning slots on dozens of 2013 top-ten lists (including this very site’s Wesley Morris) and a 95 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Morris: “The killers think it’s a cinematic glorification when, really, it’s an X-ray.”
New and Notable
The last decade or so has brought us no shortage of pop-cultural products that revolve around fundamentalist Muslim terrorists. But very few of them have approached the subject from the perspective of a legal prosecution, as Closed Circuit does.
Set in London, Closed Circuit stars Eric Bana and Rebecca Hall as lawyers assigned to represent an accused terrorist after the somewhat suspect death of his first one. Because they’re each going to be in charge of different aspects of his defense, they find themselves on opposite sides of a Chinese wall, but as the danger and tension ramp up, the two have to figure out a way to get each other the information that could keep them from disaster.
“In Theaters”/Early Release Picks
A Fantastic Fear of Everything
It’s nice to know that when Simon Pegg isn’t racing around the galaxy in the Star Trek films or continuing his career-long collaboration with Edgar Wright, he still has the capacity to do something totally weird.
In A Fantastic Fear of Everything, which is available on VOD in advance of its theatrical release, Pegg plays Jack, an unpublished children’s book author whose isolation and true-crime reading have made him completely paranoid. (Anglophiles will want to know that it’s based on the novella Paranoia in the Launderette by Bruce Robinson, who wrote and directed the cult favorite Withnail & I.)
Available the same day as its theatrical release, Jamesy Boy tells the (true) story of James Burns, played here by Spencer Lofranco. Once the kind of kid whose mother (Mary-Louise Parker) would speak up for him when he’s on the verge of getting kicked out of school, James eventually gets involved in a gang … and then sent to prison.
In addition to Parker, the film features Ving Rhames as one of James’s fellow inmates, James Woods as a prison guard, Taissa Farmiga as a girl who likes James, and a bunch of people from The Wire, who are probably starting to get sick of being typecast as thugs.
Though Quentin Tarantino can be a divisive figure in the world of film, surely we all can agree on one thing: We owe him a debt for the part he played in turning Zoë Bell into a movie star. … OK, she’s not quite a movie star yet. But maybe this will be the movie that makes her one!
On demand the same day as its theatrical release, Raze features former stuntwoman Bell in her first starring role, and it kind of sounds like the role she was born to play. Bell’s Sabrina has the misfortune of being a prime physical specimen who crosses paths with a couple of villains (Sherilyn Fenn and Doug Jones) who are in the business of kidnapping fit women, imprisoning them, and making them fight one another to the death, on threat of harm to their loved ones if they don’t participate. Call me bloodthirsty, but: Yes. I’m in. I hope she gouges lots of girls’ eyes out.