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Indie Spotlight: 'The Last Laugh,' 'Kiki' and 'Wolves'

A new documentary looks at Holocaust jokes, another looks at NYC's ballroom scene and Michael Shannon is awesome (again).
The Last LaughKikiWolves

‘The Last Laugh’
3 (out of 5) Globes

This doc on joking about off-limits subjects like the Holocaust plays a little differently now that f—ing Nazis are back in the mainstream. It was a more innocent time, back when it first hit festivals a year ago, when you could watch a treasure trove of comedy legends discuss the line separating good taste and great humor without thinking about that punchable pr— Richard Spencer. But it remains an enlightening conversation.

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And the movie is that: a conversation, not a thesis erecting an argument. The likes of Mel Brooks, Sarah Silverman and Gilbert Gottfried — no stranger to Nazi jokes — discuss humor’s role in challenging social mores, and in providing a perverse kind of solace in the face of unimaginable horrors. Our panelists don’t all agree, but that’s for the best. One comic will say child molestation is never, ever, ever funny; the film will then smash-cut to Louis C.K.’s infamous “SNL” monologue. It presents its topic as an ongoing discussion, and it’s up to you if you think the “survivor” bit on “Curb Your Enthusiasm” is hilarious or offensive, or a lot of both.

‘Kiki’
3 (out of 5) Globes

Another, less accidentally timely doc comes in the form of “Kiki,” a deep-dive into NYC’s ballroom scene. Its population is largely gay and trans people of color, who’ve found a large and rich support system amongst a scene first documented in 1990’s “Paris is Burning.” “Kiki” is a spiritual sequel, of sorts, finding today’s members fighting some of the same battles: some have been kicked out of their homes, disowned by parents, attacked by prejudiced police. (The Village has the most bigoted officers, semi-surprisingly.) When the filmmakers catch up with them, they’ve had eight years of Obama, giving the illusion that the country was chilling out. They’re not out of the woods yet, though, and watching members of the dance club and drag scene speak with more confidence than trepidation proves bittersweet two months into a new regime.

‘Wolves’
2 (out of 5) Globes

There are many fine and furious moments in “Wolves” — a bit of a shock, that, since it’s the latest from Bart Freundlich. The guy responsible for making 1997’s “The Myth of Fingerprints,” the Sundance movie you’d never believe wasn’t a deadly parody, Freundlich has long used his clout to wrangle great casts to barely elevate dodgy material. (He also made this.) His newest trick involves baldly ripping off James Toback’s “The Gambler,” with a reliably live-wire Michael Shannon as a compulsive better whose debts have gotten way out of hand. Freundlich is in over his head here, which may be why he centers instead on his son (Taylor John Smith), an NYC high school basketball god wrestling with an overloaded and undercooked array of problems, from a looming scholarship to impregnating his girlfriend to a semi-incestuous mom (Carla Gugino). The overly-contrived basketball game finale is classic Freundlich (which is to say eye-rolling), but there are times even he, not just his excellent actors, gets things right.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge

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