God bless art houses. It’s safe bet that without them we’d never see knockouts like “Tangerine” or “The Tribe,” films that look at specific communities with attitude and style.
These head-spinners opened in Kansas City on Friday and are medicine for eyes and ears lulled into sleepwalking by the usual Hollywood product.
▪ “Tangerine” — Sean Baker’s bawdy comedy about a transgender prostitute’s Christmas Eve search for her faithless pimp — could hardly be better timed. In the wake of Caitlyn Jenner’s big coming out (see story, D12), the trans world is suddenly in the spotlight, and this film — shot on a tiny budget using the director’s smartphone (don’t worry, it looks great) is a small classic.
Kitana Kiki Rodriguez’s lead performance is like something out of the era of screwball comedy. And for all the raunch, the film has a big, big heart. At the Tivoli.
▪ For something truly bracing and astringent, try “The Tribe,” now showing at Alamo Drafthouse. Set in a rundown school for the deaf, Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy’s Ukrainian drama has no spoken dialogue or subtitles.
Like the central character, a teenage boy new to the institution, we are thrown into the small criminal empire these kids have built on greed, ambition and a contempt for the hearing world.
The director’s use of long takes forces us to pick up visual clues in much the same way a hearing-impaired person would.
▪ “Infinitely Polar Bear,” opening July 31 at the Tivoli and Glenwood Arts, has generated the sort of advance buzz on which art house hits are made.
Maya Forbes’ directing debut — it was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at January’s Sundance Film Festival — is a comedy with Mark Ruffalo as a manic-depressive dad raising two young daughters in the mid-’70s. Zoe Saldana co-stars.
Based on writer/director Forbes’ own childhood, the film is a fond remembrance. Some critics have accused Forbes of sugarcoating mental illness, but audiences seem not to mind.
Next week also sees the arrival of a documentary for the entire family. “A Lego Brickumentary,” opening Friday at the Screenland Crossroads, explores the worldwide fascination with those tiny plastic building blocks that work like catnip on the human imagination.
Kief Davidson (a documentary Oscar nominee) and Daniel Junge (a documentary Oscar winner) explore the phenomenon; Jason Bateman narrates.
Meanwhile, the Tivoli this week continues its ambitious programming of unusual docs and live stage performances:
▪ “Antony and Cleopatra”: Eve Best (“Nurse Jackie’s” sexy surgeon gal pal) plays the Queen of the Nile in this Globe Theatre mounting of Shakespeare’s Roman tragedy. Screens at 1 p.m. Sunday.
▪ “The New Rijksmuseum”: Oeke Hoogendijk’s epic documentary follows a decade-long effort to renovate Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum, one of the world’s great repositories of art. But it’s not just about paintings and sculpture — the project spawned years of bureaucratic resistance and public protest, becoming one of the most challenging museum construction projects ever. 7 p.m. Tuesday.
▪ “Girl With a Pearl Earring (and Other Treasures from the Mauritshuis Museum Netherlands)”: David Bickerstaff’s doc investigates the history of and questions raised by Johannes Vermeer’s 1665 portrait of a young woman wearing a turban and what appears to be a large pearl earring. Who was she? How and why was it painted? Why is it so revered? Hugh Bonneville (of TV’s “Downton Abby”) is one of our guides. 7 p.m. Thursday.
Find more of Robert W. Butler’s reviews at butlerscinemascene.com.