Five Star ‘Act of Killing’; Campy ‘God Forgives’: Movies

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Source: Drafthouse Films via Bloomberg

Former Indonesian death squad leaders in preparation to recreate murders in "The Act of Killing." The Drafthouse Films documentary is playing in New York.

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Source: Drafthouse Films via Bloomberg

Former Indonesian death squad leaders in preparation to recreate murders in "The Act of Killing." The Drafthouse Films documentary is playing in New York. Close

Former Indonesian death squad leaders in preparation to recreate murders in "The Act of Killing." The Drafthouse... Read More

Source: Drafthouse Films via Bloomberg

Director Joshua Oppenheimer invited former leaders of Indonesia's paramilitary to stage vignettes, including this musical scene, in "The Act of Killing." The Texas-born filmmaker lives in Denmark. Close

Director Joshua Oppenheimer invited former leaders of Indonesia's paramilitary to stage vignettes, including this... Read More

Source: Drafthouse Films via Bloomberg

Participants in Indonesia's 1965-66 massacre of Communists in "The Act of Killing." They are treated as war heroes. Close

Participants in Indonesia's 1965-66 massacre of Communists in "The Act of Killing." They are treated as war heroes.

Source: Radius-TWC via Bloomberg

Ryan Gosling as Julian in "Only God Forgives." This is the second film collaboration between director Nicholas Winding Refn and Gosling ("Drive"). Close

Ryan Gosling as Julian in "Only God Forgives." This is the second film collaboration between director Nicholas... Read More

Source: Radius-TWC via Bloomberg

Kristin Scott Thomas as Crystal in "Only God Forgives." The film is playing across the U.S. Close

Kristin Scott Thomas as Crystal in "Only God Forgives." The film is playing across the U.S.

Source: Radius-TWC via Bloomberg

Vithaya Pansringarm stars as Chang in "Only God Forgives" in this handout photo taken on March 20, 2012. The film is written and directed by Nicolas Winding Refn. Close

Vithaya Pansringarm stars as Chang in "Only God Forgives" in this handout photo taken on March 20, 2012. The film is... Read More

Photographer: Nicole Rivelli/Roadhouse Attractions via Bloomberg

Kristen Wiig and Annette Bening as Imogene and Zelda in "Girl Most Likely." The film, from Roadhouse Attractions, is playing across the U.S. Close

Kristen Wiig and Annette Bening as Imogene and Zelda in "Girl Most Likely." The film, from Roadhouse Attractions, is... Read More

Photographer: Nicole Rivelli/Roadhouse Attractions via Bloomberg

Kristen Wiig and Darren Criss as Imogene and Lee in "Girl Most Likely." The film is the big-screen debut for "Glee" star Criss. Close

Kristen Wiig and Darren Criss as Imogene and Lee in "Girl Most Likely." The film is the big-screen debut for "Glee" star Criss.

Photographer: Nicole Rivelli/Roadhouse Attractions via Bloomberg

BKristen Wiig and Annette Bening as Imogene and Zelda in "Girl Most Likely." The film is directed by Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini ("The Nanny Diaries"). Close

BKristen Wiig and Annette Bening as Imogene and Zelda in "Girl Most Likely." The film is directed by Shari Springer... Read More

Atrocity hides beneath a grandfather’s gentle smile in “The Act of Killing,” Joshua Oppenheimer’s remarkable, unnerving documentary portrait of barbarity and its lasting legacies.

Oppenheimer, a Texas-born filmmaker living in Denmark, set out to record survivors of Indonesia’s bloody anti-Communist campaign of 1965-66.

When they proved too fearful (their torturers remain in power), Oppenheimer shifted his attention to the killers themselves.

Now elderly men hailed as national heroes for the extermination of more than a million countrymen, the old death-squad leaders couldn’t have been more welcoming to Oppenheimer’s cameras.

“At first we beat them to death,” boasts Anwar Congo, a former paramilitary leader and the film’s primary subject, “but there was too much blood.” His tidy solution (demonstrated with pride): wire garrotes.

Oppenheimer, in a move of real inspiration, invited Congo and several compadres to make their own movie, recreating vignettes (in any style or genre, from noir to musical) of their murderous pasts.

Rape Jokes

Congo, a lifelong fan of Hollywood gangsters and Elvis movies, jumped at the chance, fretting only about whether he should dye his gray hair black.

On its surface, then, “The Act of Killing” (executive produced by Errol Morris and Werner Herzog) becomes a documentary about the making of Congo’s film, interspersing interviews and behind-the-scenes footage with the surreal, melodramatic and improvised recreations of long-ago murders.

“Humor is a must,” says one of the “actors,” a rotund man who costumes himself in outlandish drag and jokes about raping his victims.

Oppenheimer’s cameras capture unforgettably candid moments (imagine eavesdropping on wrinkled Nazis in truthful reverie).

During rehearsals for an interrogation scene, one of Congo’s actors recalls the real-life abduction and murder of his Chinese stepfather, dissolving into a weird, hysterical laughter as the former executioners sit stony faced.

Even Congo’s facade of indifference begins to crack, as the act of recreating old atrocities resurrects ghosts, stirs nightmares and wracks his body with ungodly retches, a testament to both the power and uselessness of art confronting violence.

“Is it all coming back to me, Josh?” a crying Congo asks the director, the ultimate too-little-too-late. “I don’t want it to.”

“The Act of Killing,” from Drafthouse Films, is playing in New York (select theaters beginning July 26). Rating: ***** (Evans)

‘God Forgives’

The aestheticized brutality that spiffed up “Drive,” the first collaboration between the Danish-born director Nicholas Winding Refn and the dreamy-eyed hunk Ryan Gosling, has been inflated to such demented levels in “Only God Forgives” that the movie becomes that treasured rarity, a genuine camp disaster.

Gone is Gosling’s sweet little half-smile; here no act of violence is so simple as stomping a man’s head in. “Only God Forgives” offers a fastidiously composed torrent of slashing, burning, braining, blinding, stabbing, piercing, clobbering, shooting, amputating and, at a special moment, disemboweling.

Faucets spew blood, a pipe organ wails and scarlet bordello lighting heats up every room in the city of Bangkok.

Vithaya Pansringarm plays a Terminator-like cop who croons karaoke and twirls a Thai sword with the dexterity of a majorette. Kristin Scott Thomas is even better (which, in this context, means even worse) as a gangster momma who loses one of her boys and alights in town to play the goddess of vengeance.

Told that he was killed for raping and murdering a 16-year-old girl, she coolly replies, “I’m sure he had his reasons.”

Refn must have had his, too, and whatever they were, I’m grateful. Ludicrous, awful, irresistible!

“Only God Forgives,” from Radius-TWC, is playing across the U.S. Rating: *** (Seligman)

Charmless Wiig

Ocean City, the New Jersey town battered by Hurricane Sandy, certainly didn’t need the drab, unfunny “Girl Most Likely” invading its shores.

A whiny, charmless Kristen Wiig plays Imogene, a once-promising Manhattan playwright forced by circumstance to move back to the ramshackle beachside home of the tacky, casino-loving mom (Annette Bening) she resents.

Directed by Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini (“The Nanny Diaries”), “Girl” pads the mother-and-child reunion with a houseful of cartoon eccentrics: a simpleton brother (Christopher Fitzgerald) obsessed with crabs, mom’s shady CIA boyfriend (Matt Dillon) and the unlikely Lee, a wannabe singer (Darren Criss) with a Yale degree and (inexplicably) eyes for Imogene.

What Lee sees in the snobby, off-putting Imogene remains as mysterious as what the red-hot Wiig saw in Michelle Morgan’s shabby sub-sitcom script.

“Girl Most Likely,” from Lionsgate/Roadside Attractions, is playing across the U.S. Rating: * (Evans)


What the Stars Mean:

***** Fantastic
**** Excellent
*** Good
** So-So
* Poor
(No stars) Avoid

(Greg Evans and Craig Seligman are critics for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are their own.)

Muse highlights include Jeremy Gerard on theater and New York Weekend.

To contact the writers on the story: Greg Evans at gregeaevans@yahoo.com and Craig Seligman at cseligman@mindspring.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.

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