Reviewed in brief.
Indie director Kelly Reichardt ("Old Joy," "Wendy and Lucy") creates films that aren't a pleasure to watch but claw at your imagination for weeks. Her latest, a minimalist saga of manifest destiny starring Michelle Williams as a plucky proto-feminist, follows a three-family wagon train on the tedious, dangerous Oregon Trail in the 1840s. Pioneer visions of a new Eden in the golden West are long gone. The pace has slowed to a crawl, water is scarce, terrain is barren and the settlers have plenty of evidence that their blowhard guide, Meek (Bruce Greenwood, in a haystack beard), is completely lost. While the life-or-death drama of the journey is absorbing, the film's critique of America's creation myth (and subsequent U.S. adventures in arid realms) is crushingly solemn. Reichardt serves the broccoli of historical pedantry, deliberately withholding the delicious cheese sauce of entertainment. Her long lateral takes and unapologetically glacial tempo are an avant-garde rebuke to the whole notion of the fast-galloping western. Her ideal viewer doesn't subscribe to "Guns & Ammo" but "Artforum International."
It's regrettable that an issue as significant as religion is usually treated in film with either sanctimony or scoffing. Roland Joffe, whose Jesuit adventure epic "The Mission" was a 1986 Academy Award best picture nominee, is one of the few contemporary filmmakers willing to take faith seriously on its own terms. His latest, "There Be Dragons," is a rousing epic on the life of Josemaria Escriva, founder of the theologically conservative Opus Dei organization. This is bravura old-school filmmaking, a sweeping, large-scale family drama/war story/romance. Dougray Scott plays a reporter whose research into the life of a Catholic candidate for sainthood uncovers his own family secrets dating to the Spanish Civil War. Charlie Cox ("Stardust," "Casanova") plays Escriva as a charming, caring, charismatic person. His counterweight in the film is Manolo ("American Beauty's" Wes Bentley), a childhood friend swept up in wartime violence. Both the left and the right have it in for the apolitical priest, while Manolo kills indiscriminately, more from personal grievance than political conviction. The film offers a stirring vision of virtue struggling to survive amid rampant violence, a message that ought to resonate with people of all faiths and rationalists alike. Bernardo Bertolucci and David Lean used to make movies like this. More, please. COLIN COVERT
Fans of the genre will enjoy this mean, lean (just over an hour) German zombie movie. Opening on a note of "When Heinrich Met Sally" light comedy, the film suddenly shifts gears and rockets ahead into a suspenseful tale of urban survivalism. Our depressive hero Michi (Michael Fuith) comes to visit his ex-girlfriend's Berlin apartment building to patch things up, and wouldn't you know it? Zombies! Director Marvin Kren makes the most of the abbreviated running time, torqueing up the tension and drizzling on dollops of character development so that we mourn the passing of each new casualty. There's impressive ingenuity in the film's do-it-yourself aesthetic (it couldn't have cost much, but it's way more entertaining than the microbudgeted "Paranormal Activity"). Michi logically thinks his way through each twist and turn. What a joy to see a body-count movie where the main figure is actually clever and methodical. Now I know precisely what to do when I'm locked in a room with a slavering mob of the undead pounding on the door. Social historians should feel free to read political significance into outbreaks of inhuman savagery in a Germanic context. The rest of us will jump and yell and hide behind our popcorn buckets.
To capture street style for the New York Times, octogenarian Bill Cunningham cruises city streets on a bicycle. He prefers shooting in the rain and snow, when he can catch people off-guard. "He who seeks beauty will find it," he said. Although he documents glamour, Cunningham wears the blue work shirt of French street sweepers and, at the time of the documentary's shooting, slept in a cramped space between file cabinets filled with every negative he has ever taken. Filmmaker Richard Press offers a humorous, touching and insightful portrait about a subject who clearly would have preferred to stay behind the camera. -- SARA GLASSMAN