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Criticwire Picks: 'Marina Abramović' Doc Leads Slate of Sundance Vets

Photo of Steve Greene By Steve Greene | Criticwire June 13, 2012 at 1:38PM

Criticwire Picks: 'Marina Abramović' Doc Leads Slate of Sundance Vets
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Five months after its premiere under the US Documentary Competition banner at Sundance, Matthew Akers’ "Marina Abramović: The Artist is Present" has reached its theatrical release. With a B+ average, it’s our Criticwire Pick for this week.

"Marina Abramović: The Artist is Present."
"Marina Abramović: The Artist is Present."

The film opens today in New York, where exhibit featured in the doc took place two years ago -- at the Museum of Modern Art. (For those without ready access to Manhattan but who might happen to have HBO instead, the film will have its broadcast premiere next Monday night.)

Writing at the Documentary Channel Blog, Christopher Campbell explains that the film might have appeal for those who would easily reject performance art, as Akers initially did. "He was skeptical, too, but thankfully he doesn’t take the first-person approach that many doc-makers might when entering a project out of skepticism," Campbell writes, "and so the film has a more subtle way of bringing us into an appreciation of Abramović while Akers is simultaneously warming up to her work from behind the camera."

While Eric Kohn, in his Indiewire review, doesn’t deny that the scenes depicting Abramović’s preparation aren’t informative and conversation-stimulating, he argues that it strips her resulting installation of its intrigue. "One can glean so much from observing Abramović's art that the experience of explaining her procedure in clinical terms has the sterile effect of reading a spoiler. While theoretically interesting in hearing the sober-minded Abramović break down her intentions, the weeks of build-up to her show deaden the aura of mystery surrounding it," Kohn writes.

Joining the Abramović documentary at the top of this week’s new releases is "Your Sister’s Sister," the latest directorial output from Lynn Shelton. Mark Duplass plays a man who, on vacation in the Pacific Northwest, becomes involved in a series of events that are mostly revealed in the main trailer. (Sorry, everyone who went and saw "Safety Not Guaranteed" last weekend. You’re totally OK with spoilers, right?)

Twitch’s Christopher Bourne’s glowing review of the film gives supreme credit to the directorial work, which he says "is the great pleasure of seeing Shelton so beautifully build and expand on her already impressive achievements, delivering (as always) the laughs that come from her characters being placed in rather uncomfortable situations, but adding an emotional weight that enhances both the comedic and serious moments to brilliant effect." Tim Grierson highlights the trio of lead performances, all of whom create a comfortable atmosphere in which their characters become fully realized. He writes, "While the movie's secrets and confessions are involving, 'Your Sister's Sister' is so good because of its conversations. Whether it's the late-night bonding session between Jack and Hannah or the sisters' chats about matters of the heart, there's a piercing, refreshing realness to the dialogue that lacks mannerism or gimmick." One of the lone dissenters in the discussion around 'Your Sister’s Sister' seems to be Kevin Jagernauth, whose review at The Playlist decries the film for failing where Grierson saw clear success. "Realistic? Perhaps. But even at a coffee shop you tend to zone those overheard conversations out, and we found ourselves doing the same here as they kept going on (and on and on)."

Finally, at Indiewire, Marshall Fine and Rene Rodriguez discuss the film for this week's Critical Consensus column.

Whether Ice-T is now primarily known as an actor or as a member of Body Count (or, God help us, a reality TV figure), the title "documentarian" can now be added to his list of ventures. His first effort as a director is "Something from Nothing: The Art of Rap," a film where he interviews over four dozen prominent figures in the world of rap, asking them each the same 15 questions about the artform. Shadow and Act’s Tambay Obenson, while admiring Ice-T’s intention, had trouble gleaning the deeper insight into the music genre hinted at within the film’s premise. "The casual nature of the film makes it feel like a bunch of mostly guys and a few gals with similar passions, hanging out and rapping with one another," Obenson explains. "And I actually liked that quality about it, but I can't say that I learned much here, even though that's what I was really looking forward to: a master class in lyricism."

Echoing Obenson’s sentiments that the film may a tad self-indulgent, DVDTalk’s Jason Bailey raises the issue of Ice-T’s being selective with his interview scope while the rest of the film strives for being comprehensive. Bailey writes, "Our journey through hip-hop is suspiciously Coast-centric; Ice-T spends the first half or so in New York, makes a brief stop in Detroit to talk with Eminem, and then goes to Los Angeles. Wait, no Atlanta? No New Orleans or Florida?"

Also opening this week is the Ethan Hawke and Kristin Scott Thomas vehicle "The Woman in the Fifth" and the genre-spanning “Extraterrestrial,” the latest feature from “Timecrimes" director Nacho Vigalondo.

Criticwire: Films Opening This Week
NOTE: The averages listed here are current as of the publishing of this article and are subject to change as new grades come in.

Marina Abramović: The Artist is Present (Film Page)
Average Criticwire rating: B+ (8.909 out of 13.0)

Your Sister's Sister (Film Page)
Average Criticwire rating(8.727 out of 13.0)

Extraterrestrial (Film Page)
Average Criticwire rating(8.0 out of 13.0)

Something from Nothing: The Art of Rap (Film Page)
Average Criticwire ratingB- (7.4 out of 13.0)

The Woman in the Fifth (Film Page)
Average Criticwire rating(5.429 out of 13.0)

For more information about this week’s releases and those scheduled for the weeks to come, be sure to check out the Coming Soon section.


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