Alexander the Last: Writer-director Joe Swanberg's pensive, neo-realist films (I'll refrain from using the "M" word that has come to define his work like Hannah Takes the Stairs) possess a unique ability to draw attention to themselves by doing nothing other than presenting a solid, simple story. Unlike his large-looming contemporary, Mark Duplass (Humpday), Swanberg eschews concept in favor of execution, and Alexander is all performance. Starring Jess Weixler, who I found utterly unbearable in Peter and Vandy, achieves liftoff here as a local-theater actress resisting the urge to fall for her co-star while her husband's off on tour. The result is an insightful and deceptively sexy film that demands little but gives a lot.
Belzec: It speaks to how little cinematic (and otherwise) attention has been paid to the atrocities that took place at the Belzec extermination camp, where the Nazis mass-murdered between 400,000 and 600,000 Jews and Poles during the Holocaust, that an IMDb search for the movie's title brings up Law and Order actor Richard Belzer. As filmmaker Giullaume Moscovitz finds in this well-researched documentary, the residents of the former site don't remember much more these days. Moscovitz visits that site (the SS sloppily attempted to cover it up by planting a forest there) and even talks to one survivor (possibly the only living one) who was forced to help build the gas chambers. Like the camp itself, little attention has been paid this film, which would be more of a travesty if the woman conducting the interviews behind camera wasn't so smugly badgering to her subjects, as in one exchange where she chastises a couple of neighborhood kids for getting the death count wrong.
Flame and Citron: Yes, we're still talking about the Holocaust. (It was a big deal, OK?!) This one comes from Danish filmmaker Ole Christian Madsen, who's quickly coming into his own. It involves a duo of hit men (the film is based on a true story) who take on the mission of executing Danish Nazis, whom they perceive as traitors. Eventually becoming the most hated and wanted rebels in Germany, their conspicuous appearance ("Flame" is nicknamed for his bright red hair) and increasingly brazen executions gradually trap them. It's like Munich meets Inglourious Basterds, and with Madsen's gorgeous direction and sharp ear for dialogue, that's a comparison that goes deeper than the surface.
The September Issue: It's easy to buy this documentary's thesis — that Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour is the fashion world's, if not the world's, most influential woman — when even Jay-Z is rapping about her on the radio every day ("Empire State of Mind"). The woman, whose persona was co-opted for the Meryl Streep role in The Devil Wears Prada, is larger than life in public, but in the day-to-day operations of her magazine, she's simply an effective boss. Director R.J. Cutler finds this other side in a fascinating film about Wintour and her circle of employees, each of whom are at least as interesting as anything found within Vogue's historically overstuffed (five pounds heavy!) September 2007 edition.
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