Spotted: Our Streets on Film

With Thor and Fast Five tearing up the box office, you know that the summer movie seasonhas officially begun. But, while the big blockbusters take place in lands far away, from Rio to Asgard, if you seek out the little indies—and there has been a flood of littler releases in the past couple weeks—you can find glimpses of local scenery.

The Beaver

 Let’s start with The Beaver, the new movie directed by Jodie Foster and starring Mel Gibson. The movie is dark and strange, about a man (Gibson) who experiences crippling depression and finds he can rejuvenate his life—if he only communicates through a stuffed beaver hand puppet. (The bad parts of his personality stay in his human form, he explains, while the good parts are channeled into the puppet. Somehow, this makes him talk like Ray Winstone.) The Beaver‘s release ran into trouble when it came to light again that Gibson is suffering from mental illness that no amount of hand puppets can heal.

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 In the film, though, his character has a shot, and he tries to give his family the suburban lifestyle they deserve. How does one accomplish this? A trip to Playland, of course. A quick, wordless montage of fun doesn’t mention the amusement park by name, but it’s unmistakable. The family even goes through the mouth of the Dragon Coaster.

 Changes are in store for Playland. I’d say its cameo inThe Beaver should help raise its profile—it is portrayed as a place of family togetherness, bonding, and fun, after all—but that’s if an audience will bother to go out and see it. Besides the off-screen Gibson drama, the film is dogged with only so-so reviews.  

An Invisible Sign

The next local sighting comes in a movie that’s also about a family coping with mental illness: An Invisible Sign. Never heard of it? That’s because the theatrical release is teeny-tiny: It’s only playing once a day at the IFC Center in New York City. But that doesn’t mean you have to head to the Metro-North to check it out if you want. The film is also available right now in On Demand—an option you may want to explore, because reviews make it seem like it might not be worth the a full-price theatrical ticket.

 The book is based on Aimee Bender’s fantastic novel, An Invisible Sign of My Own, about a girl (Mona, played by Jessica Alba) who retreats into the world of mathematics as a way of coping with her father’s sudden mental illness. But, in coping, she develops obsessions and compulsions of her own, and she has to figure out how to manage them as she starts a new job teaching math to elementary school kids.

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 All of these mental quirks make it hard to flirt with the cute science teacher. She does go on semi-sorta-kinda date with him, though. And the two of them go where I like to go on dates: the Tarrytown Music Hall. Only in the movie, it’s a movie theater. And the date doesn’t go so well, so Mona runs away. It does make for a nice scene of her sprinting down the streets of Tarrytown.

 For the last film, the local sighting is behind the camera, not in front. The documentary Hey, Boo: Harper Lee and ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, about everybody’s favorite English assignment, To Kill a Mockingbird, comes out this Friday. Its director, Mary Murphy, is a resident of Scarborough. Her film looks at the life of author Harper Lee—who stopped speaking to the press in the 1960s—and the historical context surrounding her creation of the novel. But it also looks at how the book has affected people now, and features interviews with Oprah Winfrey, Tom Brokaw, Anna Quindlen, Richard Russo, and others. You can find dates and showtimes here.

 Any other local sightings at the cinema this week? Let me know in the comments.


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