It’s hard to be mad at director Kris Swanberg’s leisurely stroll towards motherhood, but it’s also hard to recommend to those outside the target demographic. Observant, low-key, and, ultimately, benign, ‘Unexpected’ coasts by on goodwill and charm, when it could have tackled so much more.
Director Matthew Heineman’s embedded examination of impassioned citizens fighting Mexican drug cartels is surrounded by moral quicksand. ‘Cartel Land’ is also packed with more revelations and plot twists than most Hollywood dramas. Boots-on-the-ground guerilla filmmaking has never looked better or posed more thought-provoking questions.
Digging for Fire comes perilously close to having something interesting to say about relationships and lurking curiosities. Unfortunately, it lacks the narrative focus and observational humor to be more than a mild diversion. It’s the kind of film where the secondary characters exist only to further the plot, while the main characters always say exactly what’s on their mind. It’s not a bad movie, exactly, but it never quite reaches the emotional heights that it’s reaching for.
Jennifer Phang’s 2012 short film, Advantageous, was a haunting rumination on the nature of existence in a world that no longer needs you. This feature-length adaptation maintains Phang’s assured visual narrative, but a sluggish script makes for some frustrated viewing at times. Still, Phang is a filmmaker to watch. Her impeccable eye yields plenty of surprises, making Advantageous a fascinating little sci-fi gem.
Comedian and activist Barry Crimmins is a very simple man. He has but two humble objectives in his life; “Overthrow the United States government and close the Catholic Church.” Bobcat Goldthwait’s assured documentary, Call Me Lucky, spends half its running time paying homage to Crimmins’ invectives and the other half illuminating their painful source. It’s hilarious, heartbreaking, and life-affirming stuff from a director who continues his evolution into a serious filmmaker.
Alex Gibney might be the most important documentarian working today. In Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, he immerses us in the bizarre world of Scientology. Exhaustively detailed, Gibney intertwines testimonials and archival footage to pull back the curtain on this shadowy religious organization. Darkly hilarious and endlessly fascinating, Going Clear is investigative filmmaking at its best.
It’s about midway through the new romantic-comedy Results that you realize the filmmakers have no clue what they’re trying to accomplish. Writer-director Andrew Bujalski loves his script so much that he doesn’t realize it’s unfilmable. There are three main characters, two separate stories, and zero reasons to care about what’s happening. With so many talented people doing perfectly good work on the screen, it’s baffling how this movie could be such a complete mess.
Kyle Patrick Alvarez’s The Stanford Prison Experiment is a darkly comedic dramatization of a frightening real life experiment conducted in 1971 by Dr. Phillip Zimbardo. It spun wildly out of control over the course of just 5 days. Two dozen Ivy league men are drawn to the experiment for money. Screened for good mental health and randomly assigned positions as guards or prisoners, conformity is set to be examined under the the microscope in the basement of prestigious Stanford. The experiment starts out informally as they are given uniforms and plopped into their cells and guard rooms. It soon spirals into degrading mental abuse and physical deprivation. That this happened is not in question but how systematic torture ensued couldn’t have been anticipated. The Stanford Prison Experiment is a claustrophobic tale of ego and wits under duress that retains suspense not in the outcome but in its execution.
John Crowley’s Brooklyn (based on the novel by Colm Tóibín, screenplay by Nick Hornby) is a sweeping romantic epic that emphasizes the power of the protagonist over her own life, a rarity in a woman’s story. Eilis (Saoirse Ronan of Hanna and The Grand Budapest Hotel) moves to Brooklyn, New York from small town Ireland to escape the oppressive nature of her traditional home and demanding heritage. Although she loves her mother and sister, she slowly forges a new path in America for herself. Ronan skillfully draws out excruciating homesickness, the excitement of new emotional bonds, and the first steps of confidence in a positive direction with a pained poise.
A sad tale of a close-knit community built on tragedy and trying to edge out an existence in the aftermath of their own making frames the gritty documentary Pervert Park. 120 sex offenders living in a trailer park termed Florida Justice Transitions talk out how they came to such a desperate place through counseling sessions and communal healing. This cluster of convicted sex offenders must stay away from children, schools, bus-stops and other places where they are seen as a threat to the public. While many grew up amidst abuse, others had no such excuses. The subjects explain themselves to the camera, giving us stories of pain perpetuated throughout generations, how moments of stupidity echo through decades, the effects of sensory addiction, and various tales of entrapment.